Global lukewarming: adapt or mitigate?

Blizzard Nemo follows Hurricane Sandy, and drought spreads from the plains to the American Southwest. Last year was the warmest U.S. year on record. The media reminds us that extreme weather is a consequence of global warming and that we can expect more such events as the atmosphere warms.      

But as to storms, we note that the past seven years overall have been one of the quietest hurricane periods in the past century. And we should remember storms like the Long Island Express of 1938, which killed more than 600 people and the Midwest’s Great Blizzard of 1978. Category 5 hurricanes Andrew (1992) and Camille (1969), along with others, were much stronger than Sandy. Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service using tree ring data have identified six multiyear droughts between 1750 and 1950. All of them were more severe than anything in recent memory because they persisted for years.

 We now have data on world 2012 temperatures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors global temperatures. Our recently warmer lower 48 is less than 2 percent of the earth’s surface. Despite our high temperatures, the average global surface temperature for Jan.-Dec. 2012 was 1.03 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average but essentially unchanged from average global temperatures in the 2003 to 2012 period. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, but global temperatures are taking a 10-year breather for reasons that are not well understood. Perhaps we are entering a period of global lukewarming, and that adaption will be as effective as costly mitigation programs.

Mitigation programs are focused on reducing the burning of carbon-based fossil fuels by substituting renewables like wind, solar and biofuels.

Intermittent and costly wind and solar are not effective as large-scale additions to carefully balanced electric grids. Germany is the poster country for solar energy with half a million roof top and other solar panel systems.

These require $10 billion in annual subsidies. The German Physical Society writes, “Photovoltaics are fundamentally incapable of replacing any other type of power plant.” Essentially, every solar array must be backed up with a conventional power plant as a reserve, creating an expensive double infrastructure. The same is true for variable output wind turbines.

We currently use 40 percent of our corn and 40 million prime crop acres to produce ethanol, which meets about 6 percent of our gasoline consumption. The result is increased world grain prices and stresses to soils, ground water and the environment from monoculture corn and additional nitrogen fertilizers. A University of Minnesota study also showed that on average in the United States, 142 gallons of water are needed to grow and process the corn for 1 gallon of ethanol.

Congress passed the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. That act called for the production of 100 million gallons of non-food cellulosic biofuel in 2010, rising in stages to one billion gallons in 2013. But there is no effective production process for cellulosic or algae biofuel, and the most we have produced in any year is about 5 million gallons at a very high cost.

Undaunted, President Barack Obama’s administration has awarded $510 million for the construction of cellulosic and algae biofuel production plants for military jet fuel. 

The motive is to lessen dependence on countries “that don’t share the same values as the United States.”

But there is a new reality with U.S. energy production and consumption. New oil and gas supply is emerging and fossil fuel demand is being reduced by conservation and costs. Oil imports are declining to the point that all our needs may soon be coming from friendly Western Hemisphere sources.

It’s time to join the pause in global lukewarming by pausing in the building of multibillion-dollar renewable energy projects which produce little usable energy. There is time to put some of the money on research into what is really happening with our climate.