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By Charles Rhodes, P.Eng., Ph.D.


For many middle aged Canadians the most obvious impact of the increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is diminished skiing and outdoor skating. From 1959 to 2013 the atmospheric CO2 concentration increased 25.5%. There was an accompanying increase in atmospheric water vapor concentration. The 2.44 degree C increase in annual average temperature that occurred in the Greater Toronto Area between 1965 to 2005 almost eliminated natural outdoor ice skating. There is a pronounced increased summer electricity consumption due to higher summer temperatures which have triggered an increase the air conditioning load.

Increasing the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from 280 ppmv to 560 ppmv (twice the historic norm) while holding other parameters constant causes a theoretical increase in atmospheric emission temperature of 3.15 degrees C.

Thermal runaway, which occurs at an atmospheric emission temperature of 273.15 degrees K, causes a step increase in atmospheric emission temperature of about 17.5 degrees K due to a decrease in planetary Bond Albedo from 0.30 to 0.10.

A world wide increase in average atmospheric temperature of 3.15 degrees C with a constant albedo will cause the snow line altitude to increase by about 360 m.
Graph of Temperature versus Height

However, the increased snow line altitude reduces the local albedo which further increases the temperature and hence further increases the snow line altitude. This problem is magnified by a further increase in temperature due to an increase in average atmospheric water vapor concentration. The increase in snowline altitude has already devastated the ski industry in both North America and Europe.

Remote northern communities rely upon winter ice roads for inward transportation of heavy supplies such as diesel oil, construction materials and canned food. The same winter ice roads are used for outward transportation of heavy items such as mineral concentrates. Even a small increase in winter average temperature significantly reduces the effective working life of a winter ice road.

The Canadian forest industry relies on severely cold winter temperatures to limit the populations of insect species that attack trees which are important for lumber and pulpwood. Even a small increase in winter temperature strongly impacts this insect control process. In recent years, as a result of Global Warming, the forests of British Columbia (BC) have been so damaged by such insects that heavy oil producers in Alberta may find that it is impossible to obtain consent for new pipelines through BC for the purpose of increasing fossil fuel exports. This issue has been aggravated by compensation delays and payment refusals by oil producers relating to tanker oil spills, by rising summer temperatures that increase river water temperature and hence reduce migratory fish populations and by over fishing off the BC coast by US Fishing boats. As a result of this combination of circumstances, the people of BC are acting to protect their remaining natural resources and may vote to prohibit new fossil fuel pipelines through BC.

The loss of fresh water storage on mountains due to an increased snow line altitude and depletion of lakes and aquifers during dry seasons due to increased evaporation are already devastating agriculture and livestock production in countries such as Kenya, that do not have major dams and sophisticated irrigation infrastructure. There are indications that food production in the US southwest is also at risk. Snow, in addition to holding water itself, keeps the ground underneath it frozen. This ground is usually saturated with rain in the autumn before the ground freezes. The loss of fresh water storage associated with a substantial snowline altitude increase is disasterous for both farmers and livestock producers. Both categories of food producers rely on the snowpack and underlying frost feeding rivers, lakes and aquifers to provide critically needed fresh water late in the following dry season. Addressing this problem will require many billions of dollars in capital for construction of fresh water reservoirs. The agricultural problems are compounded by the need to commit a large fraction of the agricultural output to synthetic fuel production.

There are already massive crop failures and livestock production failures due to fresh water shortages arising from increased evaporation. If the majority of fossil fuel use is not stopped almost immediately, much of the present younger generation will perish from starvation or from food shortage related conflict.

Global warming is increasing the electricity requirements for air conditioning. In addition to meeting greater sensible and latent heat loads, mechanical cooling systems must run much longer because the temperature at night does not drop enough to permit free cooling. Furthermore, local warming in urban centers further increases local temperatures.

A global warming increases the frequency and size of local hot spot atmospheric emission temperature transitions above 273.15 K (0.00 degrees C). which increases the frequency and violence of major storms. Shown below is a graph prepared by NOAA showing the gradual increase in annual violent storm damage.


The increase in global average ground level temperature causes more evaporation from dry land, leading to formation of deserts.

Warming of the oceans causes thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of floating ice. Melting of floating ice does not change the sea level. However, melting of floating ice decreases the local albedo which in turn accelerates warming of the polar oceans. The heat of fusion relating to the phase change between ice and water prevents the polar ocean temperature rising as long as floating ice is present.

Melting of the floating ice bordering Greenland and Antarctica has consequences that may affect many people now living. When the floating ice bordering these land masses melts, there will be nothing preventing the high pressure fluid under the Greenland and Antarctic glaciers from flowing into the adjacent oceans. In the ocean this fluid will reform into ice but will keep melting due to the net absorbed heat caused by global warming. This mechanism will cause continuing loss of land borne ice which in turn will cause a relatively rapid rise in sea level which will continue for at least 1 century after use of fossil fuels is completely stopped. This rise in sea level will inundate low level countries, existing seaport cities and farms located on river deltas.

In recent years coral reefs have exhibited bleaching as the coral life dies when the ocean water temperature exceeds 85 degrees F (29.5 degrees C). Many other marine species are potentially affected by high ocean temperatures and by changes in the acidity of ocean water caused by the ocean taking into solution excess carbon dioxide from combustion of fossil carbon. Each ton of fossil carbon burned ultimately converts 8.3 tons of insoluble calcium carbonate (limestone) from the ocean floor and from marine shells into water soluble calcium bicarbonate. This consumption of exposed marine calcium carbonate is having a profound effect on marine ecology.

If there is insufficient exposed calcium carbonate the oceans soon saturate with dissolved carbon dioxide, so that carbon dioxide is no longer removed from the atmosphere. Under these circumstances the half life of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises and the rate of increase of the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration due to combustion of fossil fuels also rises. Hence the time available for taking remedial action before the transient atmospheric CO2 concentration reaches 618.52 ppmv falls.

One of the most insideous effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is accelerated corrosion due to the decreased pH of rain water. This issue affects the maintenance costs and working life of materials and structures that are exposed to rain water. This issue is causing more rapid deterioration of major infrastructure items. There are four major failure mechanisms:
1. Direct corrosion of exposed steel;
2. Accelerated deterioration of steel protective coatings including: zinc galvanizing, paint, sacrificial electrode (magnesium), plastic;
3. Accelerated deterioration of the CaCO3 binding layer between cement and reinforcing steel in concrete.
4. Accelerated deterioration of limestone (marble) stairs and building facing due to conversion of water insoluble CaCO3 into water soluble Ca(HCO3)2.

Major components of the economy seriously affected by accelerated corrosion by rain water include:
1. Railway track and rolling stock;
2. Structural steel used in buildings and bridges;
3. Steel natural gas and oil pipelines;
4. Reinforcing steel used in buildings, bridges, dams, airport runways and other concrete structures;
5. Corregated steel used in roofing;
6. Nails used in roofing and siding;
7. Steel used in cars and trucks;
8. Galvanized steel electricity transmission towers;
9. Steel used in utility poles;
10. Cast iron storm sewer grates;
11. Cast iron water and sewer pipes;
12. Marble used for outdoor stairs, building facing and monuments.

The combined recreational, agricultural, fish, forest product, livestock, comfort, sea level, transportation and corrosion consequences of combustion of fossil carbon will cause major human population migrations, which migrations by themselves will lead to many difficulties.

Many people, both in Canada and abroad, are facing loss of their life savings, loss of farm or ranch production capacity, loss of sea food, inundation of their land or starvation as a result of the gluttonous ongoing use of fossil fuels by North American electricity generators, Canadian tar sands oil producers and Norh American vehicle owners. Both electricity generators and oil producers have alternative non-fossil fuel energy sources available to them at a higher cost. If the electricity generators, oil producers and their regulators do not voluntarily cease use of fossil fuels for prime energy production, their executives may soon become assassination targets. The message that Canadian and American electricity generators and oil producers should not be doing things that deprive persons in other coutries of critical resources necessary to sustain human life will likely be driven home with bullets if the responsible persons fail to act voluntarily.

Oil producers and OPA and OEB personnel that authorize further major long term use of fossil fuels may in effect be signing their own death warrants. The threat is not just Arab countries. The threatened countries include but are not limited to the UK, Netherlands, Italy, Bangladesh and the Philipines, all of which are facing near term multi-billion dollar expenditures to prevent inundation due to rising sea levels. The threat also includes North American owners of ski resorts, farms, ranches and ocean front properties. Many parties that own land in the Fraser delta in British Columbia, in Florida, on New York - New Jersey coast and on the US gulf coast are also at risk due to the rising sea level.

The problems triggered by combustion of fossil fuels will continue until governments of industrialized countries world wide accept that the extra costs caused by combustion of fossil carbon exceed the cost savings achieveable via combustion of fossil carbon, and act on that information by imposing fossil carbon taxes that are sufficient to discourage prime energy generation by combustion of fossil carbon. A reasonable estimate of the size of the fossil carbon tax that is required to prevent use of fossil carbon for prime energy generation is about $54.54 per tonne of extracted fossil carbon or about $200 per tonne of consequent CO2.

This web page last updated November 27, 2014

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