Sustainable carbon dioxide may be the answer

1 September 2007

A reader has told me that he has taken one of my remarks in earnest, and so much so that (being a college lecturer) he is proposing some academic research on the subject.

Among our reader’s interests is the automated optimisation of processes, including those of modern power systems, and he is by no means modest about the size of system he would like to study.

He has inferred (from something that, incautiously, I wrote on p49 of last April’s issue) that I share his ambition. This is because I ventured to point out that the best figure for the CO2 content of our atmosphere is not what a certain (likewise incautious) economist had publicly implied – namely zero – but has to be bigger than that to make our planet habitable. And I was foolhardy enough to use a phrase that excited our reader: ‘There may be an optimal range of atmospheric CO2’.

The idea of optimising, rather than – as an agitated public now seems to be demanding – merely reducing, the CO2 content of the atmosphere, may seem to you (as it does to me) rather too grand to contemplate in the present state of the relevant arts and sciences. Our reader has a larger vision. He imagines a fantastic global monitoring network, keeping tabs on CO2 concentrations at all significant points; and an even more fantastic global system of CO2 sources and sinks, whereby local and regional optima are maintained for the benefit of man, beast and crop.


He acknowledges that virtually new science, technology and industry will have to be brought into being for all this, but he insists that it is what we need rather than footling ‘carbon abatement’ schemes. He even has two candidate names for the overarching discipline – ceotutics or ceotutology – and he is sketching a syllabus of some sort for the consideration of his academic superiors.

I do wish him luck, but I doubt that I shall be reminding you too soon that you read about it here first.

When spinning reserve is true wisdom

Media pundits have been commending unorthodox energy sources as investment opportunities because they are ‘clean’ or ‘green’. Nowadays that may simply mean ‘because they avoid the greenhouse effect’. And of course the ‘greenhouse effect’ in mind is that of anthropogenic CO2 on environmental temperature, not the beneficial effect of CO2 deliberately injected into real horticultural greenhouses.

Incidentally, I see that that entertaining old naturalist and environmentalist, David Bellamy, is now literally in business to promote biodiversity: he seeks commercial profit with the help of that biodiversity (through better biofuel production, for instance) and thus looks for the means to further conservation.

One of the more-strictly money-getting opportunities that I have noted in the business press was presented by a manufacturer of new-technology equipment for use in place of batteries. The underlying principle of the equipment was an old one that keeps surfacing from time to time – storing energy in a spinning gyroscope – but new materials are forever adding to its attractions. In this case the manufacturer had put carbon fibre construction to good use and was meeting growing demand for his products.

The press report was well disposed toward this opening for investors but did not mention what might have interested some of them – the idiosyncratic behaviour of gyroscopes in what Isaac Newton and his many followers found it rewarding to believe was ‘absolute’ space. They might have marvelled at the notion of substituting spinning gyroscopes for batteries in many modern devices. Fortunately the company receiving financial praise in this case was one that fitted its gyroscopes into its uninterruptible power supply systems, and knew what it was doing.

It was not the sort of bubble start-up enterprise that would launch a new pocket or mobile product powered from a revolutionary source that might – what with nutations, precessions and other oscillatory excursions – turn the company’s shares into laughing stocks. What fun those irreverent investment tipsters would have had, reporting the performance of widgets with fidgets!

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