I didn’t realize that this would become a series, but there is so much to cover here. It’s not just about greenhouse gases and global warming. It’s about everything from economics to death rates of employees. So, in this post, we’re going to talk about pollution, in all forms and see why global warming deniers hate you and want you to die slow miserable deaths.
Let’s talk about global warming and greenhouse gases. It is a fact that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Now, let’s look at the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of various power generation technologies.
I’m using two differing sources for this. The first is Benjamin Sovacool’s Valuing the greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power: A critical survey. The second is from the Oxford research group, Secure Energy? Civil Nuclear Power, Security and Global Warming.
Both studies show that on a lifecycle (from building the facility to decommissioning, including fuel usage), that any renewable power produces less than 10% as much carbon dioxide as any fossil fuel. That’s using the worst renewable (geothermal) with the best fossil fuel (natural gas). If you use the best renewable (wind) and the worst fossil fuel (coal), then the renewable only produces 1% of the carbon dioxide of the fossil fuel.
The first source estimates that Wind produces 10 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity produce. Hydro electric does 13g, as does solar thermal. Solar photovoltaics are next with 32g, geothermal at 38g and nuclear at 66g.
There, there is a huge gap to the best (for CO2 production) fossil fuel. Natural gas produces 443g of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity produced. Diesel and fuel oil are both in at 778g, while coal ranges from 960 to 1050g.
The Oxford survey reports the following: coal = 755 g/kWh; natural gas = 385 g/kWh; biomass = 29 – 62 g/kWh; wind = 11 – 37 g/kWh; nuclear = 11 – 130 g/kWh
That’s just carbon dioxide.
Sulfur dioxide is some fun stuff. OSHA lists 5ppm (parts per million) of sulfur dioxide as the safety limit. Of course two other centers set the limit at 0.5ppm and 100ppm.
Let’s not forget about acid rain. Sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere (usually in the presence of nitrogen oxides, which are also emitted from power plants) combines with water to form H2SO4. Those of you familiar with Chemistry will recognize that as sulfuric acid. Not pleasant stuff. The sulfuric acid, then falls from the sky as acid rain.
Acid rain has killed lakes (i.e. removed all life from them), damaged forests, and does untold damage to human structures. There are some methods for removing sulfur compounds from the emissions of fossil fuel plants, but the global trend over the last few years has been an increasing amount of sulfur pollution (mainly due to China, unfortunately). The US does have a study downward trend
The following figures come from the EPA. (http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-and-you/affect/air-emissions.html)
Natural Gas remains among the best of the fossil fuels. Unfortunately, that’s like saying one is best marksman who is blind. Natural gas emits about a tenth of a pound of sulfur dioxide per megawatt hour of electricity. Note ‘mega’ and not ‘kilo’. If you scale up CO2 emissions to the same level, natural gas emits 385,000 grams of CO2 (which is about 850 pounds of carbon dioxide).
Oil is next best at a mere 12 pounds of sulfur per megawatt hour, while coal hits 13 pounds per megawatt hour.
What about nuclear, wind, solar, and hydro? Well, hydro is of slight concern, but only because of the build up of organic material at the base of the dam. It tends to decay and produce methane and minor amounts of sulfur dioxide.
But as far as sulfur dioxide… nuclear = 0. Wind = 0. Solar = 0. Geothermal = 0. Landfill gas and biomass do have very, very small amounts of sulfur dioxide produced.
So remember, global warming deniers want us to live with acid rain.
Nitrogen has a complete family of oxides, referred to as NOx. Yes, that’s Nox, like what racers inject into their cars to increase performance.
What are some of the health effects of NOx? Well, like sulfur dioxides, it forms acid rain too. Nitric acid in this case, which is really unpleasant to be around. NOx and organic volatiles react and result in low level production of ozone, which in direct contact with humans and animals is bad.
Ozone, in the upper atmosphere is good. It absorbs UV radiation. Unfortunately, a different chemical reaction (powered by energy from the sun) causes NOx compounds to destroy ozone in the upper atmosphere. Whoops, worst of both worlds. Removes ozone from the right place and makes it in the wrong place.
Don’t forget all the other compounds that NOx can result in from a variety of reactions, some of which are toxic and some of which are mutagens.
Now, let’s get back to some production figures, again from the EPA (same link as above).
Natural gas is again the winner out of fossil fuels with only 1.7 pounds per megawatt hour of electricity. Oil comes in second again with 4 pounds and coal, always running dead last, at 6 pounds per megawatt hour.
The others are exactly the same as far sulfur dioxide. Nuclear = 0. Wind = 0. Solar = 0. Geothermal = 0. Landfill gas and biomass do have very, very small amounts of nitrogen dioxide produced.
The lesson from this? Global warming deniers not only hate you and the planet and everything in and on it.