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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Particulate Matter - the next "Climate Change" battle

Particulate matter (aerosols) is going to be a challenge.  The majority, as in over half, of the particulate matter in the atmosphere appears to be natural.  Salt spray, pollen, dust, pine fresh scent are all forms of particulate matter.  Just like climate change, particulate matter is given a fairly vague set of categories, pm2.5 or particles 2.5 microns and less and pm10 or particles 10 micros to about 2.5 microns.  Since things like the aroma of pine trees to radioactive fallout can be in either of the two big categories, you are not likely to get all the information you need to figure out how you should stand on this soon to be controversial issue.

Here in the Keys our two big PM issues are hydrogen sulfate or sulfide and coral dust.  The rotten egg odor is associated with decomposing bay grasses and the coral dust is because we have a lot of traffic, foot and vehicle wise on coral.  We don't invest much money in maintaining manicured lawns which would reduce the coral dust but increase our water usage.

Two other main sources outside of our little slice of paradise are Saharan dust and smoke from wild fires on the mainland.  I had my first asthma like attack thanks to wild fire smoke that can fires around Lake City.  Not sure it was really asthma, but it lead to a chain of medical events that I would have been better off not experiencing.  The Saharan dust has caused a lot of problems including asthma cases in most of the Caribbean.   We also have lots of salt spray, but that appears to not be a problem.

These natural and man made aerosols provide an important function in the atmosphere, they can become cloud condensation nuclei.  Clouds will still form without nuclei, but at a much lower temperature.  Not to worry though, there seems to be plenty of both natural and not so natural aerosols around to create clouds.

In the US, man made aerosols were pretty obvious since they helped create smog.  That lead to the clean air act and over the past 40 plus years the US has done a fair job of cleaning up the air.  More can be done of course, but there is a point where it costs a great deal for very little improvement.

Aerosols due to too many people occupying the same area is nothing new.  London for example had to regulate people use hard coal rather than wood or more smoky coals.  Eventually, thanks to electricity most of the burning was centralized so it was further away from people and then as people move closer to these power sources and population expanded, processes were designed and installed to scrub the emissions.  A relatively modern coal power plant has wet scrubbers and even particle arrestors (filters) which removes most of the aerosol emissions.

The rest of the world as in the developing and undeveloped nations don't have our "advanced" 50 plus year old technology or cannot afford to use the technology they have because cleaning emissions cost money.  China for example has built a lot of close to state of the art coal power plants complete with emission controls but don't use the emission controls very much.  Since the electrical grids are limited, there are also plenty of the rural population using coal, wood and even dried dung for cooking and heating.  This creates a great deal of indoor air pollution which leads to premature deaths but exactly how many is a difficult thing to estimate.

Thanks to the green movement and fuel prices, the US has seen and increase in wood, often wood pellets, being used to replace oil fired boilers and space heaters.  Most of these are very efficient and produce little smoke, but everything needs to be maintained to maintain that high efficiency so there is a growing aerosol issue thanks to "sustainable" bio-fuel, aka wood.

U.S. Air Quality is a website that keeps track of such things.  Here is their April 27, 2015 post;

The south is experiencing a mix of smoke and dust--the smoke still coming from the weeks old agricultural burnings in Central America. Moderate to USG AQI's were recorded in southern Texas, Louisiana, and much of Florida today (EPA AirNow Combined Loop, top left). Smoke (light to medium in density) can be seen over the Mexican Gulf from the prescribed fires in Mexico and other northern Central American countries (NOAA HMS, top right). The plume off the coast of Florida is believed to be remnant smoke from these fires as well. MODIS Terra imagery (bottom left) shows a correspondence of high AOD with the presence of smoke over the coast of Florida as well as in Texas. The NAAPS Aerosol Model (bottom right) predicts not only smoke but dust to be a factor in the elevated AOD over western Texas, believed to have reached a surface concentration of 5.12 mg/m3, with smoke hitting a surface concentration of 64 µg/m3. The dust is presumably domestic, originally being kicked up in or around El Paso."

Agricultural burning is a big source but then agriculture in general is a big source.  Changes to "conservation farming" which generally requires genetically modified crops and "Round-Up" help reduce argicultural emissions, but then the warm and fuzzies are not very supportive of GMC and Monsanto in general.

On the power generation side of things, other than some very old coal power plants (~10% of all US plants), US power generation including demon coal, is pretty low in aerosol emissions.

The basic Green solution to aerosols is a revenue neutral carbon tax (RNCT).  With the RNCT, supposedly the money will be taken from the rich evil abusers of the atmosphere and given to the poor folks that are suffering because of our excesses.  Other than that you are not going to get very many details of how much money is involved, where the money really goes and how much good this redistribution of money is going to do.  You will get the same song and dance about how good taxation is going to save the world.  On top of that you will probably be  fined pretty severely should you do something stupid like build a camp fire or use that inefficient fire place that help sell you on that house you bought.

Since the Olympics btw, China has determined they might have to start using their emissions controls and I believe the US has promised to help finance that.  All the while China will be using its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to help other nations build  coal fired power plants so they can blackmail the developed world for some of that RNCT money.  The RNCT money by itself has too many strings attached, like not using cheap coal for example, for those developing nations to use for developing.

While all this is going on Germany, thank to its Green Fear of the atom is building more coal plants to fill in for all its "Alternate Energy Sources" which tend to be a bit unreliable at following electrical loads.

Germany is the Green poster child for the warm and fuzzies.  Since they are paying about four times the current US average electrical rate, it is obvious that if you throw enough money at a problem you will get Green approval, even when you use demon coal.

An energy mix, Coal, NatGas, Nuclear, Hydro and yes those "alternate energies", is a good way to go, but until some fairly major technological break through happens, the "alternate energies" have limits of about 20% maximum of the mix in most of the "developed" nations.

Since the Greenies have hard ons for Coal, Nuclear, GMC, Fracking and common sense, it is pretty unlikely that the RNCT "solution" is going to do much other that cost several times what it accomplishes.

Not to worry though, using the standard creative statistics they will show that if the RNCT reduces pm2.5 by x percent it will save y number of lives and be "invaluable".  Then once the RNCT is pushed through they will find another needed tax until they get at least half of whatever you might hope to make in your lifetime.  It takes a lot of money to keep saving the world.

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