Archive for March 26th, 2019

Thermonuclear Fusion As A Moral Imperative To Avoid Ultimate Climate Catastrophe

March 26, 2019

90% of energy comes from burning fossil fuels. We have a climate crisis without precedent in 66 million years. True, Earth had bigger climate changes than what we have seen so far. So far, we have seen one degree Celsius, worldwide, but five degrees are around the corner.

True, at the warmest, something like 50 million years ago, overall planet temperature may have been 5 degrees Celsius higher. And true, when the climate oscillated furiously in the last 2.6 million years, sometimes it was 5 degrees Celsius colder than now, during the “Glacial Maxima”, or even one degree Celsius or so  higher, during the Eemian (115, 000 years ago, the last warm episode, caused by geometrical conjunction of Earth orbit details and the disposition of the continents towards the North Pole).

True some oscillations were fast and furious, like the famous “Dryas” episodes, the first one of which was 18K ago, or so (a mini glaciation suddenly affected Europe, caused by a brutal shut-down of the Gulf Stream beyond a place forward of Iceland, caused by a sudden lid of sweet, light, super cold water from the flow of an enormous cold lake).

However, most big changes were slow, species had time to evolve. Interestingly, the erratic climate of the last 50,000 years may have led to the extinction of the Neanderthals (in a theory mixing the exponential function with the concept of “quasi-extinctions”… from yours truly…) So climate violence is not without consequences.

But, as I said, the changes, especially the warming episodes, were rather slow. Not so now. Not only we are facing potentially the greatest warming since the Carboniferous, or maybe the greatest warming, ever, but we are facing it at a torrid pace: millions of years packed in a century or two.

Greta Thunberg The 15-Year Old Child spoke, and she spoke well!:

We are stuck because the worldwide production of energy is dominated by fossil fuels, and other burning of carbon made materials… the so-called “biofuels”, which sounds good until one realizes that it means burning forest and the like…

Not only the burning of enormous amounts of carbon generating humongous CO2 is disastrous, but it is getting ever worse. At some point, soon, the climate will break.

Yes, it  is not just a question of “climate changing”, and “global warming”. At some point soon, the climate will break. Actually ice shelves in Antarctica and glaciers in Greenland have been observed, disintegrating literally in minutes.

What to do? Miracles! Science made miracles. Science fabricated miracles already. Indeed one unexpected good surprise already happened: Photovoltaic cells (PV). PV is now the cheapest unsubsidized energy source, and even more so, when the dramatically adverse health consequences of fossil fuels are taken into account (probably much more than ten million dead each year, worldwide). However PV cannot work everywhere, and are not enough for 100% transportation, residential and industrial usage, except in relatively small zones in the middle of some deserts, like the Sahara. And that’s after digging for fossil water, and vast construction, CO2 intense, of buildings and exportation of industrial finished products.

Notice that the amount of waste varies enormously, per country and per capita. For example, look for France. France creates only one percent (1%) of the world CO2. That’s amazing, considering that France has the world’s fifth GDP. Yes, bigger than Great Britain, and only less than Germany, Japan, the PRC, and the US. In particular, Russia, with twice the population of France, and much smaller GDP, emits 5 times the CO2. US citizens, per capita, make three times more CO2 than the French….

The problem is: how do we make enormous quantities of energy in a way that doesn’t create enormous pollution? Not all countries have sun and wind, and water (although California does). A first approach is nuclear fission. That has bad reputation, because it was, for decades, mostly a military program. So safety shortcuts were taken. Also now California, which is full of sun, water, towering mountain ranges all over (thus hydro trivers), and oil, has decided to close its last nuclear reactor. California is where they fabricate most movies and thus most moods.

Much of the USA’s wealth rests on the fact that, for nearly 160 years, the USA was the world’s primary oil producer. Actually the world petroleum industry, was born in Pennsylvania in 1859, when “Colonel” Drake found how to extract “rock oil”.

Recently the Trump administration reinstated in full the US funding for ITER, the International THERMONUCLEAR Experimental Reactor constructed in France.

Thermonuclear fusion is the only enormous energy source that can be envisioned at this point. It is not a question of its possible existence some day, but of its profitability (ITER targets producing ten times more energy than is poured in from the French energy grid). However, because of the bad mood of the powers that be, funding for ITER was slowed down to a trickle. that’s all the more abysmal as ITER is a world project so everybody, and not necessarily the most competent countries, pitch in with some equipment of their own making…

Thus some circles started to agitate for a US thermonuclear reactor (after good results of a brand new thermonuclear reactor in Germany). A US reactor will enable to get the best talent to concentrate best practices.

Why do the powers that be love fossil fuels so much? Because oil means lots of power in very few hands. That goes very well with the present day oligarchy: oiligarchy promotes oligarchy. Countries where oil production is concentrated, with the exception of Norway are all more or less corrupt (yes, Canada, we are looking at you, kid). Massive plutocratic corruption then trickle down: some major Obama administration officials, like Susan Rice, his “National Security Adviser”, son of her dad, a director of the US Federal Reserve, had million of dollars in the stock of oil pipeline….

As Greta said, we need to listen to science, knowledge. We need more knowledge to get out of this mess. The alternative is the old fashion way: reduce human population massively, by culling. A good nuclear winter and killing 95% of humanity would give the biosphere a respite.

Otherwise, the most recent research (2019) shows that the atmosphere could heat up so much that clouds won’t form as they do now, and a further jump of eight (8) degree Celsius would occur. That is astounding. But it’s not just a theory. Actually, it was the other way around: such jumps were found in the fossil record, and couldn’t be explained… until now. Now that we have found that a tripling of the CO2 would make clouds disappear.

That explains why crocodiles have, more than once in the past, enjoyed the Arctic ocean, and sunned them on  beaches in Greenland graced by palm trees.

After such a jump of eight degrees Celsius globally, from the disappearance of clouds, on top of a rise of five degrees, at least half of the presently inhabited lands would be too hot for biological life, aside from the sort of bacteria which live below volcanoes (thermophilic bacteria). Is that what we want?

If that’s not what we want, there is only one solution: more brainiacs, more science, enough of it to replace the 90% of present day energy production by thermonuclear fusion. At this point, it’s just a matter of building big reactors.

Patrice Ayme



Note 1: Oh, by the way, once we become good at the simplest thermonuclear fusion, we could use the fusion of Helium 3 (there is quite a bit in space, including Saturn, Jupiter, and the Moon). The charm of Helium 3 is that it fuses in such a way that it does not fling neutrons at the reactors’ walls (because it produces no neutrons). Hence there would be no radioactivity whatsoever (thus the reactor could last centuries…)


Note 2: I thank my daughter Athena, 9 years old, to draw my attention to Greta and ask me more information on the subject at hand (my verbal answer is distilled in the essay above… poor child…)