Thursday, March 20, 2008

Climate Change and Energy Action

Climate Change and Energy: The Wasan Action Framework

Declaration and Recommendations of the Interdisciplinary Round Table on Climate Change and Energy Strategies

13-16 Sept. 2007, Wasan Island, Muskoka Lakes, Ontario, Canada,

Sponsored by

Science for Peace, David Suzuki Foundation and Breuninger Foundation.

The first clear warnings of danger due to emissions of greenhouse gases due to human activity emerged 25 years ago. Prudence would have called for precautionary action at that time to slow down the growth in emissions of greenhouse gases. Since then, the scientific understanding of the impact of human activity on global warming has been overwhelmingly confirmed; key predictions based on that understanding have started to occur. Evidence has emerged that the potential impacts of global warming will be much worse than predicted even five years ago.

Individuals, corporations, and all levels of government around the world have a duty to act as global citizens on the basis of the danger posed to life on Earth and to the well-being of the human race as whole.

1. We declare that human induced climate change and energy security, in particular peaking of the world oil supply are crucial issues requiring immediate action.

2. We declare agreement with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) working group 1 on the physical basis of climate change that: “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations”. [1]

3. We identify as the root causes of this crisis:

a) the large per capita overconsumption and waste of natural resources in the industrialized countries

b) the growth paradigm (economic growth for its own sake)

c) the large and growing human population

d) the very large dependence on fossil fuel based energy

e) the resistance by vested interests to necessary change in energy technology

f) the lack of appropriate political leadership

g) the lack of global governance to protect the global commons

4. We propose a global solution framework: We must begin immediately to

a) curb overconsumption and give priority to efficiency, conservation and the avoidance of waste

b) promote lower birthrates by empowerment of women through educational, economic and social measures, including access to birth control information and services

c) focus globally and locally on developing low impact renewable energy infrastructure and technologies (e.g., small-scale biomass, geothermal, hydro, ocean energy, solar, wind) to its full potential, so as to avoid large scale biofuel usage and nuclear energy

d) reduce carbon emissions by creating a just and universal framework through the implementation of appropriate incentives, government regulation, legislation and taxation

e) preserve forests, especially tropical rainforests

5. We urge implementation of solutions:

a) all levels of government as well as the UN and international organizations can and should embrace the Wasan Action Framework

b) media, corporations, the educational system from kindergarten to university and all civil society should collaborate on implementing this Wasan Action Framework

Interdisciplinary Round Table on Climate Change and Energy Strategies

Wasan Island, Muskoka Lakes, Ontario, Canada, September 13-16, 2007

Participants who unanimously voted for the Wasan Action Framwork

Alton, Janis

Co-Chair, Canadian Voice of Women

for Peace, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Bartlett, Albert

Emeritus Professor of Physics,

University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA

Breuninger, Helga

Director, Breuninger Foundation,

Stuttgart, Germany

Burkhardt, Helmut

Emeritus Professor of Physics,

Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Creighton, Phyllis

Science for Peace, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Etcheverry, José

Policy Analyst, David Suzuki Foundation;
Professor, Dept. of Environmental Studies,
York University, Toronto,
Ontario, Canada

Farlinger, Shirley

Freelance writer; journalist,

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Ford, John

Issue Advocate for Energy,

Green Party of Ontario; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Goldin Rosenberg, Dorothy

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education,

University of Toronto, Toronto Ontario, Canada

Gómez, Ana María

Assistant Executive Director,

Centro Mario Molina, Mexico

Gómez, Emmanuel

Project Engineer, Climate Change Program,

Centro Mario Molina, Mexico

Harvey, Danny

Professor, Dept. of Geography,

University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Heaps, Toby A.A.

President, Editor & Co-founder, Corporate Knights, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Hu, Amy

Climate Change Program, David Suzuki Foundation, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Kennedy, Joy

United Church of Canada;

Treasurer CANET, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Litman, Todd A.

Founder & Executive Director, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Lutes, Mark

Policy Analyst, Climate Change & Energy,

David Suzuki Foundation, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

McInnis, Bert

Co-founder, WhatIf? Technologies,

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Marchand, Claude

Professor, Glendon, York University,

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Paul, Derek

Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Peltier, Dick

Director, Centre for Global Change Science,

University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Philp, Ian

Lawyer on UN missions, Ontario, Canada

Reijerse, Fidel

Founder & President, ResCo Energy Inc.,

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Schreyer, Edward

Chancellor, Brandon University,
Brandon, Manitoba, Canada;
Former Premier of Manitoba &

Former Governor General of Canada

White, Marlene

Community Partnerships Manager,
Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada;
Federal Liberal Candidate, Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock

Technical resource specialists who did not vote

Hughes, David

Natural Resources Canada,
Geological Survey of Canada,
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Love, Peter

Chief Conservation Officer,

Conservation Bureau,
Div. of the Ontario Power Authority,
Ontario, Canada

Mokry, Manfred

Manager Technology,
Mercedes-Benz, Canada,
Ontario, Canada;
member of the Association of

International Automobile Manufacturers of Canada

Roberts, Mary Jane

Senior Policy Analyst,
Federation of Canadian Municipalities,
Ontario, Canada

Tainter, Joseph

Department Head, Environment and Society,

Utah State University, Logan, Utah, USA

Zwiers, Francis

Director, Climate Research Division,

Environment Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

[1] IPCC, 2007: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Page 10.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Limits to Large Scale Use of Biofuels

Physical Limits to Large Scale Global Biomass Generation for Replacing Fossil Fuels*

Helmut Burkhardt

Professor of Physics Emeritus

Ryerson University, Toronto


In a coarse grain global analysis, the average total power used by humans is given, and compared with total insolation on land. The theoretically possible, as well as the actual overall efficiency of the conversion of solar energy by technical and biological means are determined. The resulting limitations of biomass energy for replacing fossil fuels are considered. Other problems of energy farming are analyzed. Conclusions are drawn, and future energy policies are recommended.


There is a worldwide trend to switch from fossil fuels to biomass energy. While it may be useful to use biomass waste and energy farming in some locations, the large scale use of biomass to replace fossil fuels is problematic and needs careful analysis. The first step is to see what the energy needs of humankind are.

Average Total Power Consumption

Humankind’s total primary energy consumption is some 470 EJ/a [1], which translates into an average total power of some 15 TW. With a world population of 6.5 billion people [2], the average total power use is at present 2300 W per person.

Total energy use of countries can be derived from the same sources, or from [3]. Canada for example uses 14.3 EJ/a, which translates into average power of 0.46 TW, or 14 kW/person. By comparison, Niger’s total energy use recorded is 0.017 EJ/a. which translates into an average power consumption of 43 W/person.

The power consumption by each of the three sectors industry and commerce, households, and transportation - is approximately 33% of total power; in per capita terms, the average world citizen consumes 800 W for each sector: production/trade, residential, and transportation.

Electricity is practical in many applications, and hence an essential part of total power in each sector. According to the US Energy Information Administration [4], the global average electric power used is 300 W/person, in Canada 2000 W/person, and in Niger 2 W/person.

The composition of the world’s primary energy can be found on a University of Michigan website [5]. In approximate numbers:

Oil 36% 5.4 TW 830 W/person

Coal 23% 3.9 TW 630 W/person

Natural gas 20% 3.0 TW 460 W/person

Nuclear 7% 1.1TW 160 W/person

Hydro 2% 0.3 TW 46 W/person

Biomass and wastes 11% 1.7 TW 254 W/person

Solar wind geothermal 1% 0.1 TW 15 W/person

Fossil fuels supply at present the bulk of world energy; as their availability is limited, and as their use contributes to global warming, they need to be replaced.

Insolation: the Physical Base of Green Energy

The solar constant at the Earth’s orbit is 1370 W/m2 perpendicular to the solar rays. 30 % is reflected back into space. Thus, the Earth receives 960 W/m2 into its cross section (1.27 x 1014 m2), which is a total insolation available at the Earth’s surface of 1.22 x 1017 W, or 19 MW/person for the present world population; solar energy received at the Earth’s surface is some 10 000 times more than humans are presently using from other resources.

Distributed over the surface of the sphere, which is four times the cross section, insolation yields a day and night global average of 240 W/m2 on the surface. Equatorial regions get some 400 W/m2, while the inhabited regions in higher latitudes will receive around 200 W/m2 on a horizontal surface [6]. Using the global average insolation, 10 m2/person of horizontal surface receive the amount of energy presently used by humans on a global average.

Technical Solar Energy Conversion

The collection area required to satisfy human energy needs depends on the efficiency of the collection method. Solar cells reach efficiencies greater than 20% [7], producing on average some 50 W/m2 of electrical power. Electrical energy can supply both the electricity proper, and transportation. Therefore, in order to supply 300 W/person electrical power consumption and 800 W/person in transportation needs, some 22 m2/person of solar cell collectors are required.

The global average need for thermal power is 1200 W/person; this is determined by subtracting electrical power and the power for transport from the total power. The achievable solar thermal efficiency is above 60% [8], which delivers on average 145 W/m2 of thermal power. Therefore, the direct use of solar thermal power requires a collector surface of approximately 8.3 m2/person.

In total, technical collection of all of humankind’s present energy needs requires solar collector area of some 30 m2/person on buildings or on dry land. By contrast, biomass conversion of solar energy is less efficient, and requires water, fertilizers, and biologically productive land.

Biomass Energy Generation in Theory and Practice

The central part of the solar spectrum is photosynthetically active radiation. Only 45% of solar radiation energy is carried by this part of the spectrum. A further reduction of biological solar energy conversion efficiency is due to the fact that some of the qualified photons absorbed by the plant fail to perform photosynthesis; the quantum efficiency is given as 25%, which reduces the conversion efficiency to 11%. In addition, some of the solar radiation is reflected, and photosynthesis requires respiration, which requires energy. Thus, a realistic expectation for the efficiency by which solar radiation energy can be converted into biomass energy is 3% to 6% [9]. This theoretical efficiency is 10 times lower than the technical conversion efficiency. Hence some 300 m2/person of biologically productive land is required to supply the total present energy needs of humankind. In addition, transpiration of water is required for this photosynthesis to take place. Water needs for transpiration depend on conditions; the University of Prince Edward Island website states that from 250 to 700 g water is needed for the photosynthesis of 1 g of dry biomass [10].

In practice, the efficiency of biomass conversion is much less than the theory predicts. An energy crop data base developed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory [11] offers realistic yields of unirrigated switchgrass and hybrid poplar plantations. The data for Barbor, Alabama may serve as an example. The median annual yield for switch grass, planted on former cropland, is 8.6 dry tons/acre; for hybrid poplar it is 4.1dry tons/acre. In SI units this represents an average dry matter production rate per square metre of 61µg/s, and 29 µg/s respectively. Using a heating value of 15 kJ/g, the biomass power generation rate is 0.92 W/m2 for switchgrass, and 0.44 W/m2 for hybrid poplar. These values represent the energy harvested. The net overall efficiency is further reduced by the energy requirements to plant, harvest, dry, transport, and to process the crop into a suitable transportation fuel, as well as by the thermodynamic efficiency in electricity generation. In the end, the realistic overall power of biological conversion of solar energy to satisfy present human needs is less than 0.5 W/m2. Therefore, replacing the 2080 W/person presently derived from fossil fuels and nuclear energy with biomass energy requires more than 4000 m2/person of biologically productive land.

GlobalLimits to Food and Energy Crops

A study of net primary productivity and energy fixation for the world done by Lieth [12] confirms the low efficiency of biological conversion of solar energy; only tropical rainforests and wetlands generate biomass energy at a rate of 1 W/m2; other forms of vegetation have lower yields.

According to Lieth 1.4 x 1013 m2 of land worldwide is cultivated or used for permanent crops; this amounts to 2150 m2/person. The land used worldwide for agriculture produces biomass energy at a rate 0.36 W/m2, or 774 W/person. Systematic utilization of agricultural waste and byproducts of the food system can contribute a few hundred watts per person to the total power consumption. However, to supply the remaining present energy needs from biomass is physically not feasible, as it requires an additional 4000 m2/person of biologically productive land, which is not available on Planet Earth.

There are other reasons that prevent the large scale use of biomass for oil replacement. Energy farming is in direct competition with food production for land, for water, and for fertilizer. It is no secret that humankind is already struggling to eliminate hunger; therefore, to take land, water, and fertilizers away from food production is, in a global perspective, not an option. For example, according to Lester Brown [13], the average use of one SUV powered by ethanol would require an amount of grain sufficient to feed 26 people.

Furthermore, energy farming, like agriculture, is an enemy of biodiversity. Any land taken away from wilderness destroys habitat and contributes to the mass extinction of species. However, this will inevitably happen with increasing use of biomass fuels. Indonesia is planning to cut down rainforests in order to supply more palm oil [14]. Brazil threatens the Amazon rain forest by exporting ethanol from sugarcane, and soya based diesel fuel [15].

The destruction of rainforests through energy farming is illustrated on the Biofuelwatch website [16]. Many European environmental organizations are calling for an immediate moratorium on incentives for the development of biofuels; the moratorium is available on the EcoNexus website [17]. By contrast, most governments are actively promoting energy farming. For example, Prime Minister of Canada has recently earmarked 1.5 billion Dollars for the development of biofuels [18].

The problems of large scale global use of biomass can be visualized by comparing it with food energy. A person needs some 100 W of food energy -- some 2000 Cal/day. Driving the present world energy system with biomass power of 2300 W/person is equivalent to feeding an additional 23 ‘energy slaves’ for each person; it is quite obvious that a healthy world ecosystem cannot spare sufficient biomass production capacity to feed the equivalent of 156 billion human beings.


The replacement of fossil fuels in the present world energy system by direct technical conversion of solar energy requires some 30 m2/person of solar collectors, and this is technically feasible. Due to the lower efficiency of biological collection of solar energy, the land area needed for bulk replacement of fossil is 4000 m2/person, which is not available on planet Earth. Furthermore, energy farming is in direct competition with food production for biologically productive land, water, and fertilizer; last but not least the use of biofuels contributes to further reduction of biodiversity in the Earth’s ecosystem.

Policy Recommendations to Governments Worldwide

· Limit biomass energy to waste utilization and discourage energy farming

· Implement the Contraction and Convergence Principle, as suggested by the Kyoto Agreement, for the sake of global energy justice

· Prevent further growth of total power consumption by managing world population as well as power consumption per person

· Place highest priority on research, development, and large scale implementation of technical solar energy conversion


1. US Energy Information Administration, World Primary Energy

2. US Census Bureau

3. IAEA Energy and Environment Data Reference Bank:

4. US Energy Information Administration, World Total Net Electricity

5. Keoleian, Gregory A., University of Michigan. World Total Primary Energy Supply in 1998:

6. Pidwirny, Michael. Physical Geography, University of British Columbia, Kelowna. Insolation

7. Spectrolab, Sylmar CA

8. Lovegrove, Keith, Solar Thermal Group, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia. Concentrating Solar Thermal Systems Table 1

9. Kazuhisa Miyamoto, Osaka University, Osaka, Japan, Editor. “Renewable biological systems for alternative sustainable energy production”. FAO Agricultural Services Bulletin – 128, Chapter 1.2.1.

10. University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. Energy Environment and the Economy resources. “Photosynthesis water needs”

11. Graham R.L. et al., Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Energy Crop County Level Database.

12. Lieth, H.F.H. “Net primary productivity and energy fixation for the world”. In: Primary Productivity of the Biosphere, (H. Lieth, and R.H. Whittaker, eds.). Ecological Studies 14. Springer-Verlag, New York and Berlin. 1975 pp. 203-215.

13. Lester Brown, Refocus Weekly, July 26, 2006, Washington, DC, USA: “Environmentalist questions the popularity of green fuels”.

14. Eric Wakker, April 2006, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The Kalimantan Border Oil Palm Mega-project.

15. Biofuelwatch 2006. “Case Study Brazil”

16. Boofuelwatch, “Agrofuels: toward a reality check in 9 key areas”:

17. EcoNexus,Call for an immediate moratorium on EU incentives for agrofuels”

18. Shawn McCarthy, The Globe and Mail, 2007-07-06: “Harper unveils biofuel plan”

* Presented at the Round Table on Forestry September 22, 2006, organized by the
Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto, and Science for Peace, and published in Physics in Canada, Vo. 63, No. 3, July-Sept. 2007, p113.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The First Step to Sustainability

Reducing the Ecological Footprint by Changing Technology
Helmut Burkhardt

Is Homo Sapiens in trouble?
The Global Footprint Network (1, 2) tells us that our ecological footprint is 1.4 times bigger than the ecologically productive area our planet has to offer; half of it is the carbon footprint that results from burning coal, oil, and natural gas. Terefore, our technology based civilization in its present form is not sustainable. The extinction rate of species is one indicator for the seriousness of the situation. At present between 20 000 and 100 000 species are disappearing per year (3). The gravity of this becomes obvious when comparing this with the natural extinction rate of some three species a year in the pre-technology era. Without radical changes and swift sapient action humans may be among the disappearing species.

The root causes of our problems
It is necessary to understand and to eliminate the root causes of the problem. Humankind’s environmental impact (I) is determined by three factors. Population (P), affluence or consumption per person (A), and the kind of technology used (T). The famous IPAT equation by Ehrlich and Holdren summarizes the root causes of environmental destruction(4)

I = P * A * T

Each of the factors is of importance for the total impact. Using the Ehrlich-Holdren formula, our present technology factor can be illustrated by taking the extinction rate of 30 000 species per year as a measure for humanity’s environmental impact, the global average energy consumption rate of 2.3 kW/cap, and the present world population of 6.5 billion humans. The result is: T = 2 species per year extinct for each GW of energy used by humans. By comparison, Ontario’s total energy use is some 120 GW, and thus we are responsible for the disappearance of some 240 species a year .

The solution
James Lovelock claims there is no solution. Climate change will destroy our civilization, and therefore, the action he recommends is to enjoy live while we can 5. With due respect for Lovelock’s scientific contributions, we should not give up so easily. The Wasan Action Framework on Climate Change and Energy6 indicates the solutions to choose as well as the directions to avoid. What can be done about each of the three root causes of our problem?

First: the number of people. On a global scale, it is practically impossible to reduce the number of people, because life and procreation are basic rights for everyone. When resources run out, and anthropogenic climate becomes hostile, will human numbers be reduced by WW3? I have no idea on how to deal in a peaceful way with population as a cause for the collapse of our civilization. Any suggestions?

The UN population conferences are a start. The recommendations of the last one in Cairo in 1994 were on educating empowering and women with regard to the reproductive process. However, these were not fully implemented. Two religious groups, the Catholics, and the Muslims did not sign the agreements to begin with, and the money pledged for implementation did not come forth either.

Much more attention must be given to the population question by all sectors of society. I suggest that Science for Peace Global Issues Project put a serious effort into the planning of a population Round table, which in turn should follow up with promoting an intensification of the UN population discussions with great urgency.

Second: the per capita consumption of vital natural resources, including energy. Efficiency is a key word for all. Improving the overall efficiency requires better technology, but also better societal infrastructure, and better individual attitudes. Changing of technology requires financial means for research, development and implementation. Changing infrastructure and personal habits is even harder to achieve, and will take time. Unfortunately, more conservation can only be asked of the rich. For the sake of global justice the more numerous poor should be allowed to consume a bit more per capita, to lift them out of miserable poverty. Therefore, it is likely that the global average of consumption per capita will rise in the future, even with the rich tightening their belts.

Third: Technology as a root cause of homo sapience’s problems. The kind of technology we are using today severely burdens the ecosystems; in particular, the environmentally damaging fossil fuels based energy technology. This technology change is feasible, it is urgent, and must be done as quickly as possible if we are not to exhaust the ecological capital of our planet.

It is a scientific certainty, that renewable energy resources alone can drive the world economy now, and in the long term. The main resources that are technically feasible too are solar, wind and geothermal energy resources. The swift and forceful development and implementation of these technologies can solve our climate change and energy problems by removing the carbon part of our ecological footprint. This technical fix can make our technology based civilization sustainable for some time, until the other two root causes can be addressed. Inevitably, the question of economical feasibility of the technology change will arise. My answer is that it is more economical than the alternative: what is the cost of Armageddon?

In addition to knowing the right direction it is essential to know where not to go. Nuclear power should not be used, because it makes us vulnerable, and leads to nuclear weapons proliferation, as experience shows in India, Pakistan, Israel, and likely Iran. Large scale biomass use should be avoided, because it competes with food, and is environmentally destructive. Branson’s Virgin Airlines are bragging about the first transatlantic flight of their Jumbo Jet with ‘green’ biofuels. I figured out, that in one day of flying the ‘hungry’ Boeing 747 gobbles up the amount of biomass that could supply the daily bread for 1.5 million people.

The path to the solution Scientists and engineers must convince the media and all educators that there are feasible solutions. All together must then educate the public, and the decision makers that the world economy can be driven by renewable energy resources alone. One essential task on the way to implementation of feasible solutions is to remove the obstacles to change created by social inertia, and vested interests in the existing system, which may bring short term financial gains by using up the global ecological capital of the global commons.

1 Global footprint
2 Footprint details for Canada
3 Extinction rate of species
4 Root causes of environmental impact
5 Lovelock’s non-solution
6 The Wasan Action Framework on Climate Change and Energy