Sunday, February 21, 2016

Climate Change – mankind’s hubris

You have heard me often complain on activists and overzealous environmentalists who attempt to save the planet from climate change or global warming. It is not that I don’t care about the environment or that I am in the pocket of BIG Oil. But I think our focus on CO2 is misdirected
As far as I am concerned there is no BIG OIL that controls how we think, BIG OIL that suppresses more energy efficient, or  fossil fuel independent methods of propulsion. Yes, there are the ‘Seven Sisters’ or what they have evolved into. But really, the majority of oil producing countries have a national oil industry controlled by their national governments (whether they are dictatorships or democratically elected). In the West, in particular in North America, anyone can start an oil company and there are literally hundreds of these companies if not thousands. Last time I looked Calgary counted around 400 hundred companies ranging in size from a few barrels to close to half a million of barrels per day (that is barrels equivalent – i.e. including their natural gas production). So to think that there are six of seven humongous companies that huddle together to control 92 million barrels of oil and gas per day, as well as discoveries in propulsion technology is kind of simplistic.
I have to disclose, I love hiking or being in the mountains and I also love to travel the world to visit beautiful spots. My passion is geology (not meteorology), I love to study how our earth was formed – especially sediments rather than fire breathing volcanoes although they are awesome as well. I also work as a geologist and that means I work in the oil industry. Other geologists work in the mining industry and a few work for government in a research or regulatory capacity. Does that mean that I am evil? That I am corrupt? If you walk through Calgary these days, you see many geologists walking around without work; not because they spoke up against climate change or on the other side defended climate change concepts. They were laid off for pure economic reasons – the fall in oil prices and elsewhere the fall of other commodity prices. Those geologists are not in love with oil companies nor are they controlled by the sinister BIG OIL syndicate.
Many petroleum geologists and reservoir engineers work with reservoir simulation to try to forecasts reservoir performance. To do that geologists create as detailed a reservoir rock description as they can and reservoir engineers try using fluid mechanical principals to describe the fluid flow (oil, gas and water) through that reservoir. First they try to recreate past production that may go back since the reservoir was discovered; sometimes decades ago. Trying to calibrate the model's calculated production with actual past production is called ‘history matching’ and requires often that the reservoir engineer tweaks many parameters and assumptions. Once the history is matched the same parameters and assumptions are extrapolated into the future sometimes 5 to 25 years forward. In spite of having simulated numerous reservoirs all over the world for many years, simulations provide often only rough forecasts. Even worse, the forecasts are very dependent on the quality of the data entered and yet worse on the parameter adjustments by the reservoir engineer.  These adjustments (euphemistically called ‘tweaking’) can vary greatly from engineer to engineer even when there is an abundance of data. The ‘solution’ is not unique!  The same data set with different geologist/engineer teams can throw off completely different conclusions.  Simulations, like so many other technical evaluations in the oil and gas industry can only indicate what next operational step makes most sense. 
If a matter as ‘simple’ as a tiny oil reservoir is so difficult to forecast, how can we expect to state with any accuracy that with the current CO2 atmospheric content something as complex as earth’ climate is going to be 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer in 50 years?  Even if we understand to some degree many mechanisms that play a role in creating a climate there are numerous others we don’t understand at all – we probably don’t even know of their existence. How come we still cannot forecast with any degree of accuracy stock market performance for the next year or month, why do we believe we can forecast climate when many of its aspects we are only beginning to understand?
Geologists in the 1970s were afraid for a new ice age; Patrick Moore, founder and former executive of Green Peace left that organization because of his disgust for the organization’s change from science driven to politically driven. In a recent speech, Patrick – a scientist with a PhD in ecology – claims that on a geological time scale basis current CO2 content is far too low! CO2 is not a toxic gas but a basic constituent of life on earth. According to Patrick, if CO2 remains at the current LOW levels (as measured over geologic time not just a few decades) life on earth will be destroyed within 2 million years or so.  So who is right, the climate modelers or Patrick?  Who is right geology/engineer team1 or team2?
What is climate change or global warming really about?  It is about change!  Because climate always changes and climate is related to sea-level changes and the amount of sea that covers the earth (or better the availability of land suitable for human occupancy). If sea level rises a meter (it did rise many tens of meters since the last ice age – no kidding) what would happen to densely populated areas positioned near sea-level? They would likely flood! Countries like the Netherlands, Pakistan, Egypt’s Nile delta with Cairo, New Orleans.  What about land suitable for agriculture? You see, concepts like global warming and climate change are speaking to our fears. Homo Sapiens is a conservative creature that is afraid of change and is afraid of having to adapt to new conditions. What are the ramifications of sea-level rising in the Indus Valley? Past flooding of the Indus has already destroyed entire civilizations (e.g. the Harappan Civilization) and now we may have to deal with more sea-level changes.  Rather than adapting to nature man is arrogant and thinks it can control climate with CO2 being the boogey man. Everyone springs on the band wagon! The religion of global warming or climate change has been born and currently florishes. And we mankind think that we can stop it if only we control our CO2 emissions! Dogma and a need for easy answers are the basis of our hate for CO2. We should rather focus on living in a sustainable world that continuously changes.
Geologists have mapped out the times of sea-level change and climate going back billions of years – I am not kidding. It shows the general relationship between climate (with cold and warm periods) versus sea-level. It is not precise – no geologist would claim so. We think in millions of years not decades. The occurrence of ice caps on this planet is not common. It not only depends on earth’s temperature but also on oceanic currents and related to that on the configuration of continents. The Burgess Shale Geoscience foundation has published a book titled “Climate Change and Landscape in the Canadian Rocky Mountains”. It is an easy read for most people. The figure below is scanned from this book and it shows the relation between earth’s temperature (or climate) and sea-level.  Mind you, geologists know that our atmosphere has also evolved over time (eras) strongly influenced by plant life that added oxygen to our atmosphere. Patrick Moore in his speech tells more about the role of CO2 and O2 and how it relates to the evolution of the atmosphere.
Yes, we should be concerned to keep our backyard, the planet earth, clean and sustainable but to think that we can control this planet and its evolution is just plain human hubris. Certainly when done in terms of climate hysteria. If Patrick Moore is right (I really don’t know) maybe, we’ll thank today’s China for its CO2 emissions that saved life from extinction 2 million years in the future. Now would that not be ironic!

Click fpr details - figure from Climate and Landscape published by 'The Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation'

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