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GCI TECH NOTES©
Global Warming - Potential Impacts on the Cement Industry
Global warming - is it real, and how will it impact the cement industry? Since the Kyoto Conference, this has been a growing concern for many including those of us working with the cement industry. Both scientific papers and newspaper reports provide contradicting assessments. Some politicians are using the issue to their advantage - "the sky is falling" and anyone opposing them on the issue is "anti-American" or worse. (Almost sounds like McCarthyism revisited.) In order to sort through the mess, the issue will be examined from three perspectives; the science, the politics and, given the realities of those, the potential impacts on the cement industry.
Is Global Warming Real? - The Science
Global warming is real. That is, real global warming has been going on since the end of the last ice age. This is well before man started creating extra CO2. That said, it is critically important to differentiate between global warming caused by increases in CO2 versus that which is occurring naturally for what may be a variety of reasons. The difficulty is that this difference is rarely acknowledged by the press or politicians. While keeping this in mind, consider the following scientific observations:
• Surface temperatures have increased 1 to 1.5F during the last 130 years. Most of that increase occurred prior to 1940 and prior to the larger increase in CO2. The National Center for Atmospheric Research suggests that 75 percent of any increase [in global temperature over the last century] may be due to natural causes such as solar output, cloud effects and the vertical mixing of ocean waters. It is also noted that the earth warmed to a higher degree before the industrial revolution than after.
• Of the amount of man-made CO2 that scientists calculate has been released into the atmosphere during the last few centuries, half cannot be accounted for in actual measurements. Scientists believe that additional sinks for CO2, in the ocean or on land, are yet to be discovered and/or properly quantified. There is some data to suggest that the higher the CO2 goes, the more active those sinks will become, thus negating a significant fraction of emitted CO2.
• One of the most difficult aspects for the modelers has been accounting for the impact of additional moisture in Earth's atmosphere. As the climate warms, additional moisture forms more clouds which reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth - a natural negative feedback loop. More moisture in the air, conversely, increases greenhouse warming. None of the models developed can yet be used to accurately predict the past, yet they are being used to provide the basis for prediction of future warming. "It is clear that we are not yet in a position where we can predict global warming effects with any real accuracy."(1)
• Air temperatures (not surface) measured by satellite over the last 20 years show no significant global warming.
• Many surface temperature measurements have failed to take into account the heat island effect from cities and growing urban areas.
• Increasing ocean levels and receding glaciers are often cited as evidence for global warming. In fact, both are true. The problem is that both have been occurring since prior to significant increases in CO2 levels and there is no evidence that the past rate of change has been recently impacted.
• CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Increasing levels will have a warming impact. How much is entirely uncertain. There are sources of "global cooling" that could actually negate the impact.
• Impacts of global warming (man-made or natural) are largely speculative in nature. Speculation of both positive and negative impacts exist, but the press generally presents only the negative, and it is usually presented as a more certain result than science can currently demonstrate.
• Solutions to global warming (again whether man-made or natural) in both the scientific and popular press focus almost entirely on reducing levels of increased CO2. Virtually no attention is given to substantially less costly engineering solutions such as solar mirrors or seeding the upper atmosphere with fine particulate. In addition to being less costly, many of these options have the advantage of allowing the world to wait and determine if a problem really exists. These solutions can be implemented and fine-tuned over much shorter time scales than the CO2 reduction alternative.
Is Global Warming Real? - The Politics
Global warming is a political reality. Clearly, the political version of "global warming" has little to do with the science. The USEPA has established a web site (http://www.epa.gov/globalwarming/) that is both one-sided in its limited examination of the science and clearly partisan as it blatantly touts the Clinton Administration's efforts to deal with the "problem". The following two quotes provide the clearest synopsis of the politics of global warming. "A global climate treaty must be imple-mented even if there is no scientific evidence to back the greenhouse effect."(2) "We've got to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing -- in terms of economic policy and environmental policy."(3)
What the future of global warming politics will bring is largely dependent on two factors: the next administration (Al Gore has been riding this for a long time) and what happens beyond Kyoto. The Kyoto agreement is unlikely, at this point, to be ratified by the U.S. Senate since it is missing critical features which the Senate had unanimously demanded prior to the agreement. Unless the current administra-tion can significantly supplement the Kyoto agreement with side agreements by China and India, it is unlikely to move forward. Nevertheless, the Clinton Administration and any future Gore Administration will clearly use this to forward their own agenda.
Potential Impact on the Cement Industry
Short term impacts of global warming politics is unlikely to impact the U.S. cement industry. Proposed MACT rules and continuous monitoring requirements are a larger focus. Longer term (and perhaps shorter term for plants in Europe) carbon taxes loom as a growing threat. Carbon taxes could easily destroy the last of the wet and semi-wet process kilns. In addition, carbon taxes could result in the export of a large portion of the cement industry's capacity to developing countries. Alternatively, we could see a new round of protectionistic barriers erected to prevent this from occurring. (The two wrongs to make a right scenario.) Regardless, there are two ways that the cement industry can begin to address the issue (beyond the obvious political fight). Sources of fuel originally derived from renewable resources, i.e. plant fibers, are likely to be exempt from any carbon tax. Municipal waste (mostly paper) derived fuel may be the best source although rice hulls, wood chips, etc. have certainly been used when they are available. If carbon taxes become a reality, locking up long term contracts for these types of fuel could provide a significant financial edge to a cement plant. The second potential is the use of precalcined or partially precalcined wastes from other industries as raw material substitutes. The TXI patented process for using steel mill slag, called CemStar, appears to be a good example. This approach, in addition to decreasing energy related CO2 emissions, also decreases calcining related CO2 emissions.
Global warming is scientifically demonstrable; global warming caused by increased CO2 emissions by mankind is not scientifically demonstrable. Which definition is used is a critical factor in any discussion of the issue. Regulatory controls to regulate CO2 emissions could be implemented in Europe in as little as two to three years. While it is unlikely that similar controls will be in place in the U.S. in that time frame, the next two to three years is when the political juggernaut can most easily be deflected.