How is the heat distributed?
Never Mind Carbon Dioxide, How Long Will The Oxygen Last?
How do we measure cost and success?
The energy economy of pre-agricultural peoples was perfectly sustainable. You hunted, you gathered, and if you didn't get enough, you starved. If the animals hunting you succeeded, you died. If a predator species consumes its prey to extinction, it starves too.
The ancient Empires and the Middle Ages ran on an energy economy that was almost perfectly sustainable. Some Empires appear to have collapsed because they depended upon irrigation techniques that left salt behind when the water evaporated, and eventually the soil was not fit for agriculture. Egypt was lucky in this respect. The High Aswan dam may be changing that. A significant part of the sustainability came from a death rate that was very close to the birth rate, occasionally helped along by warfare, famine, and disease.
Life was nasty, brutish, and short for most people.
The aristocratic classes had lives that were somewhat less nasty and less brutish than the general population.
A very few of them spent some of their leisure time studying the facts which make modern industrial civilization possible.
For a majority of its people, life in a modern industrial civilization is superior to that of the mediæval aristocrats. Unfortunately, modern industrial civilization depends mostly upon energy sources that were produced by solar energy and laid down in very long time periods in the past. We use that energy in sometimes ridiculously profligate ways.
Rocket science is dead easy by comparison with the distribution of energy in even a simple river. The middle of the Mississippi, which looks so quiet and smooth, is moving faster than many a turbulent mountain stream. The equations get worse for atmospheric behavior, because river water is fairly homogeneous and incompressible, whereas air is compressible and contains water vapor that changes from gas to liquid and releases a lot of heat when it does so.
That's how a thundercloud can generate electrical discharges packing enough energy to explode electrical distribution transformers in one flash, or severely damage unprotected buildings.
Typically, even the equations for hydraulic flow change from smooth to turbulent when the speed reaches a critical number, which depends upon the depth of the water. It seems probable that adding heat to the atmosphere will increase its turbulence, making the weather both more chaotic and more violent.
In fact, the publication "Physics Today" from MIT has an article August 2006, page 74 by Kerry Emanuel (professor of atmospheric sciences) on the thermodynamics of hurricanes, which says that a hurricane is a near-perfect Carnot cycle heat engine, efficiently converting the warmth of the ocean surface into storm wind energy, because the top of the hurricane, which radiates the heat out into space, is at a much lower effective temperature.
The temperature difference is what drives any heat engine, and in this case it is directly caused by the greenhouse effect.
A mere one degree Celsius increase in the temperature of the area of ocean under a tropical storm represents a vast amount of heat energy, far more than what the inhabitants of a city suffer when the temperature of their air rises several degrees. In fact most of the heat that your air conditioner deals with is carried in the water vapor that it condenses and allows to drip away outside your house.
This seems to me to imply that the extra global warming brought in by the increase of greenhouse effect will not be quietly and evenly distributed throughout the world, but will aggravate the more unpleasant weather phenomena.
Well, yes, but:
The main hypothesis to account for the fact that this planet has free oxygen in its atmosphere is that the oxygen, as well as the coal and probably the petroleum under the ground, was the product of photosynthesis. The weight of the atmosphere standing upon any square inch of the Earth's surface is measured by any barometer. It is equivalent to the weight of a column of mercury about thirty inches high. We know the surface area of the Earth, and can therefore compute the atmosphere's total mass. We know the proportion of oxygen, and can compute its total mass.
According to the great physicist Lord Kelvin, at the British Association meeting in Toronto, in 1897.
The average weight of the air is 14.9 pounds to the square inch, which gives a total weight for the earth of 1,020 million million tons of oxygen.According to the Internet, for example at the zapatopi website in some reports of Kelvin's announcement, the "million million" which is a billion in Britain,
He deduces that there is not more than 340 millions of millions of tons of fossil fuel on the earth ;
50,000 years seems like plenty of time, but it's only twice the half-life of the isotope 239Pu, the core of the bomb that devastated Nagasaki. Put it another way, a quarter of the plutonium left over from the Cold War's bombs will still be around in fifty thousand years. Plutonium metal does not spontaneously explode, in fact the problem of building such a bomb depends upon a lot more than just knowing how much plutonium to get.
But we could use it up for energy.
Kelvin also gave an estimate for biofuels production:
In regard to the effect of sunlight in storing energy and fuel, the present rate of sunshine is equivalent to the production of two tons of vegetation per square metre, per thousand years; an estimate agreeing very closely with the growth of German forests and of English hay-fields.Two tons per square metre per thousand years is equal to two thousand tons per square kilometre per year.