Early this week it was in the high 80s here and in Denver. Now, it is snowing there and freezing cold here. Why such weather in May? Why are 500-year floods and hurricanes the new normal? Earth is warmer because we are burning so much oil and coal. The average global temperature increased 1º every 50 years in the 20th century and is increasing up to twice that rate now. (About 37 percent of Americans don’t apply the label “global warming” to this fact.)
Creating Plant Life
Either God created earth or it simply spontaneously formed from nothing, an effect without cause, as a sphere of pure energy the size of a peanut. (Duh!) Either way, earth began 13.8 billion years ago as a molten ball of magma composed of eight elements including no carbon. Atmosphere (air) is 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent Oxygen, and a miniscule 0.03 percent carbon dioxide. Depending on temperature, the water content of air varies from 0 percent in arctic regions to 7 percent at 104°F in the tropics.
Human and animal life depends on plant life which depends on carbon, so how did we get all this vegetation with so precious little carbon? Light interacts with a green dye called chlorophyll to capture or “fix” carbon dioxide and water from air in creating carbon compound involved in the vegetation on which humans and animals depend.
Coal is created from decomposing vegetation in swamps and sea floors. Most coal was created about 200,000,000 years ago, and depending on how much of it stacked up and for how long it lay dormant retained from 2 percent (anthracite) to 40 percent (lignite) of its moisture. With 20 feet of vegetation compacting down to one foot of coal, the thickest coal seam in the world in China at 400 feet must have resulted from 8000-foot layers of vegetation!
Coal is very undemocratically distributed mostly in six countries (China, U.S., Russia, India, South Africa, Australia) and five states (Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Montana). Top producers are China (46 percent) and the U.S. (13 percent).
Coal occurs beneath 12,000 square miles of the Eastern one-third of Oklahoma in seams lying at varying depths from the surface to hundreds of feet underground. It is mined using methods that vary according to the depth of the seam. Coal at the surface is scooped up with giant buckets and, in the past, leaving mountains truncated, valleys occluded, and streams polluted. Now, laws force coal companies to restore the environment of mine sites. Underground coal is reached by either vertical or sloping shafts where voracious machines chew out seams.
Coal can be crushed and mixed with water to form a slurry which can be moved to market through pipes. Typically, coal is in mile-long unit trains. Several such trains a day cross the Oklahoma Panhandle going from Wyoming mines to Texas power stations.
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Though coal can be gasified using a process the Third Reich invented in WWII (synga), baked into coke for use in steel production, burned for home heating, most of it is consumed in generating 40 percent of the world’s electrical power, two-thirds of it in Asia.
About 93 percent of U.S. coal is used to generate 39.5 percent of our electricity. At that rate, we have a 168-year supply. Because cleaning or “scrubbing” the CO² emissions from coal emissions is expensive, natural gas is rapidly replacing coal—relegating coal stocks to 247 out of 261 in Zacks Industry Ranking of stocks.
Combustion simply reverses the process of coal creation by releasing all that carbon dioxide into the air where nature never intended it to be. All that CO² is warming the atmosphere thereby increasing it capacity for holding water e.g., ergo, bigger hurricanes and rainstorms.
Weather now is crazier and more destructive. After tropical storm Irene devastated the Northeast Aug. 28, 2011, we took a bus tour through New England and the Canadian Maritimes. Early that fall, 25 inches of rain fell, three times the historic average of 8 inches. It took out road barriers, bridges, low-lying houses, killed 49 people, and inflicted $10 billion in damages. Super-storm Sandy in 2012 killed 130 people and caused $75 billion in damages.
Worse, there is not only more rain, it is falling in briefer intervals of time on paved surfaces that can’t absorb it leading to rapid runoff and the resulting flooding.
In March, our family used .9 MWH of electricity which released 1,800 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere if generated by coal and 55 percent or 1,100 pounds if produced by natural gas. Given its price advantage, natural gas will eventually replace coal in power generation. As Holdenville native and OSU benefactor T. Boone Pickens says, natural gas produces about one-half as much carbon dioxide recommending it as a temporary or “bridge” fuel weaning us from coal and oil. Coal and petroleum have for centuries tempted us with the cheap and easy source of fuel. Now we realize their deadly consequences. God also gave us a way of escape between Charybdis and Scylla. [1 Cor. 10”13] Ultimately, we shall have to go back to sources of energy God gave us like sun, wind, waves, and geothermal (magma).
Next Week: Tar Creek