A Choice of Catastrophes

Civil Defense Perspectives January 2015 Volume 31 No. 2

All the calls for people to work to “Save the Planet” suggest that the Planet could have eternal life if only we banished the demon carbon dioxide to the nether regions of Earth. But of course the Planet had a beginning, and it will have an end. For perspective it is worth reviewing the late Isaac Asimov’s 1979 book A Choice of Catastrophes: the Disasters That Threaten Our World.

The heat death of the entire universe would seem to be an inevitable, inexorable end to everything not already destroyed.  The Earth could be rendered uninhabitable by collision with an asteroid, or by changes in the sun as it became a red giant and eventually a white dwarf. But on a smaller than astronomic scale, the force with the greatest likely impact is climate.  There have always been droughts, and floods, and storms, but could the Earth become a planetary Sahara or a planetary Greenland? The popular press in the 1970s was filled with threats of global cooling, which were endorsed by all major scientific organizations (http://tinyurl.com/q7pkmp4).

In the early 1800s, Swiss naturalist Jean Agassiz demonstrated that glaciers flowed and found evidence that vast ice sheets had once existed in many places. The Great Lakes of North America are “kettle holes” dug by glaciers. Asimov considered events that might trigger advance or retreat of glaciations.  “There are too many possible triggers and the difficult task is to choose among them.” Variations in the sun, such as the Maunder minimum that occurred at the time of the Little Ice Age, could contribute. Or the Earth might pass through a cloud of galactic dust. There are variations in the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit and the tilt of its axis, causing Milankovich’s “Great Seasons” lasting about 25,000 years. The changes in ocean temperature predicted from this theory agree well with evidence of two different types: the skeletons of one-celled protozoans called Radiolaria, and the ratio of oxygen-16 and oxygen-18 in sediments. Some species of Radiolaria do better in warmer water, and water containing O-16 evaporates more readily.

Yes, Asimov did think of the greenhouse effect. He predicted that a doubling of atmospheric COto 600 ppm (0.06%) would cause a slight increase in Earth’s temperature, and a halving could cause a decrease, and that such changes could be enough to end or begin a period of glaciations. An increase that large could be caused by volcanic eruptions.

Noting that atmospheric CO2 had increased from around 290 ppm in 1900 to 320 ppm around 1979, Asimov predicted a concentration as high as 360 ppm by 2000, at least partly because of burning hydrocarbon fuel. The temperature might be 1 °C higher in 2000 than in 1900 as a result. It would take much more than that to seriously affect the climate, he stated.

His prediction of a 30% rise in atmospheric CO2 was quite good, and the Earth is about 1 °C warmer than it was during the Little Ice Age—no need for billion-dollar computer models. But there was that dip in the 1970s despite the continual increase in CO2. The temperature fluctuation correlates with solar activity, not hydrocarbon use (http://tinyurl.com/227zg4).

While not discounting a “runaway greenhouse,” Asimov thought the burning of hydrocarbon fuels could continue for a long time without serious climatic effect—until a “safe, eternal, and copious” substitute could be found. By this he meant nuclear, not wind or solar. Until then, “fossil fuels” were indispensable.

The worst imminent catastrophe, he felt, one which could bring down human civilization, was energy starvation. Abundant energy is necessary for modern life itself, as well as for remedying problems ranging from pollution to water shortage.

Asimov discusses war, plague, overpopulation, the “graying” of the population, and many other horrors. What apparently did not occur to him was that humanity, even in the age of what he envisioned as the Global Computerized Library, would deliberately deprive itself of readily available energy, based on radiation phobia and unverifiable or even disproven climate models.

Facts and Fears about Energy Generation

Replacing Generating Capacity. While Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency Clean Power Plan calls for taking one-third of coal-fired plants off line over 5 years, it will take up to 15 years to fully implement replacement natural gas plants, writes Larry Bell. It requires permitting, additional pipelines, and expanded transmission lines (http://tinyurl.com/qcsjax2).

High Prices in New England. In December 2014, New Englanders saw a 40% increase in energy bills. They chose to go all-in for natural gas and renewables, but refused to build new pipelines or transmission lines to carry hydropower from Quebec. Then they shuttered Vermont Yankee Nuclear Generating Station, which has 20 more years of cheap, reliable, cold-resistant capacity (Forbes 12/12/14, http://tinyurl.com/pxc4n42).

Threatened Terrors. Earthquakes, tainted drinking water, and escape of a pollutant with potential deadly effects on people, so that storage sites would have to be monitored, perhaps forever, are the hazards of—capturing and burying CO2 from coal-fired power plants. There is also an “energy penalty” of 20%, as well as huge initial equipment costs. But it is needed, “scientists say,” if the world is to be saved from climate change (New York Times 7/21/14, http://tinyurl.com/nra6dg2).

Hydrocarbons Save the Environment. The use of coal reversed the deforestation of Europe and North America. The turn to oil halted the slaughter of whales and seals for their blubber. Fertilizer made from gas halved the land requirement for agriculture and freed it for wildlife. Ironically, no “nonrenewable” resource has ever run dry, while “renewable” resources have frequently been threatened: buffalo, forests, cod, and whales (Matt Ridley, “Fossil Fuels Will Save the World (Really),” WSJ 3/13/15).

The “Runaway Greenhouse.” The theory that the mild warming of a degree Celsius from doubling CO2 could be greatly amplified by water vapor in a positive feedback mechanism remains in IPCC models, but this high “sensitivity” assumption is likely to be wrong, states Ridley (ibid.).

Energy Density. To power the average American city (1,000 MWe for 100,000 homes) would require: 1 nuclear reactor, 2 Hoover dams, 6 gas turbines, 8 coal boilers, 23 biomass plants, 28 geothermal plants, 1,800 windmills, or 10 million solar panels (http://tinyurl.com/okzajw6).

Deniers in the Branch Carbonian Cult

The worldwide, U.N.-based climate-control organization, which is engaged in a frantic quest for endless billions of dollars in carbon-based taxes, meets all the requirements for a Gaia-worshiping cult, writes Jim Guirard: leadership by a self-glorifying, manipulative New-Age prophet; assertion of an apocalyptic threat to all mankind; promise of salvation from this pending apocalypse; devotion to an inspired text; and a strident intolerance of any criticism of the cult’s definition of the problem or its proposed solutions (http://tinyurl.com/og3lpnh).

Cult members are the real “deniers” of factors that cause climate change, including:

the science of solar cycles,
the science of decadal and centuries-long ocean cycles,
the science of variable jet streams and wind currents,
the science of Earth’s orbits around sun and tilts on its axis,
the science of outer-space cosmic/galactic winds,
the science of cloud formation and sunlight feed-back,
the science of both surface and sub-sea volcanic eruptions,
the science of sub-sea methane formations and releases,
the science of oceanic “sink” for and release of CO2, and
the science of econometric cost-to-benefit considerations.

No Nukes, No Water

California is suffering the worst drought in state history, and water rationing is in effect—for people (half the water is allocated to fish). But the San Onofre nuclear power station on the Pacific coast is being shut down because of anti-nuclear politics. Its three reactors could have produced enough electricity to desalinate enough water for the personal use of the entire population of California, write Art and Noah Robinson (WND 4/14/15, http://tinyurl.com/pz9m5ku).

Additionally, Carly Fiorina points out that California has not constructed a single new water infrastructure project for 50 years, despite a doubling of its population. A place once known as the Cantaloupe Center of the World now has 40% unemployment and is plagued with crime, food lines, and alcohol and drug abuse, as 300 billion gallons of water have flowed directly into the Pacific to protect the delta smelt (Time.com 4/7/15, http://tinyurl.com/nnejjxv).

Marie Curie Saves Soldiers in World War I

As the German army swept toward Paris, Marie Curie recognized that X-rays could save soldiers’ lives. She persuaded the government to allow her to set up military radiology centers, and raised donations to equip 20 mobile radiology installations. Enlisted soldiers called the vans petites Curies. She took crash courses in driving, anatomy, the operation of X-ray equipment, and auto mechanics (http://tinyurl.com/qzcfhx9). She and her 17-year-old daughter Irene worked on the battlefield for a couple of years, taking X-rays up to 18 hours a day, heedless of exposure. She saved the lives of many wounded soldiers and also saved many from lasting infirmity. She told her daughters that she wanted to be remembered as a soldier.

As Rod Adams, editor of Atomic Insights, points out, she had also processed many tons of pitchblende to separate polonium and radium, in a shed with walls that glowed from radium residues. Her exposure was probably not within the 700 mSv/y (70 R/y) tolerance standard established the year she died. Her death at age 67 was not premature for the time.

“If and when the LNT [linear no-threshold] model and methodology for radiation protection is trashed, we should revert to the 1934 standard of 0.2 R/day for protection of radiologists, about 70 R/y,” writes Jerry Cuttler.

For extensive discussion of LNT and radiation effects, see radiationeffects.org, the website of SARI, Scientists for Accurate Radiation Information.

Radiation Doses

Comments from SARI members:

The Roentgen (R) refers to the ionization produced in air by gamma radiation or X-rays, 2.58 x 10–4 Coulombs/kg. It is directly measurable. Yehoshua Socol of Falcon Analytics in Israel prefers it because it has a relationship to medicine, it is not too large (the 50% lethal dose is about 400 R cf. 4 Gray), and it is used by historical documentation and even now by U.S. emergency agencies. If one must use the new system, he suggests using cGy (centigray) = R. Michael Stabin of Vanderbilt University notes that if the exposure rate in the air is 1 R, the absorbed dose in air is 0.88 rad, and in soft tissue, 0.95 rad.

The equivalent dose in Sieverts (Sv) or rems is defined only for human tissue, for any form of radiation. James Welsh of the Univ. of Wisconsin writes that though the public has been bombarded with mSv, this metric is an estimate, or worse, a guess. It varies according to radiation “quality” (Q), energy, dose-rate, and biological endpoint. The Q-factor for alpha particles has been stated to be 20, but Welsh thinks it could range from 1 to 20.

Wade Allison, emeritus professor of physics at Oxford University comments that a more familiar unit might give the public a perspective on the size of doses: 1 Sv/y = 1 joule/y/kg =

1 watt-second/y/kg = 0.03 microwatts/kg, so that the limit to nonconsenting public of 1 mSv/y = 0.03 nanowatts/kg, and the limit for “post-U.S., illiterate hunter-gatherers exploring Yucca Mountain” of 0.1 mSv/y = 3.0 picowatts/kg.

Bobby Scott of Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute writes: “The ‘effective dose’ in Sieverts is based on a hypothetical LNT dose response for total detriment (somewhat mysterious concept that excludes acute lethality) and two unreliable LNT-based fudge factors.”


In 1894, W.C. Röntgen wrote: “It is almost always possible to compare the results of thought processes with reality to provide the experimental scientist with the proof he needs. If the result does not agree with reality, the former is necessarily incorrect, even if the speculation that led to the result was ever so ingenious or fanciful” (cited by A.N. Tschaeche of the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, Chemical Health & Safety, July/August 1996).

Tschaeche is among many who concluded that the LNT is wrong and should be discarded after imposing billions in regulatory costs to no benefit.

As of 2015, the LNT is still entrenched, not only for radiation but many other regulatory concerns. And “climate science” exempts itself from Röntgen’s wisdom.

Civil Defense Perspectives 31(2): January 2015 [published July 15, 2015]

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