Sunday, August 4, 2019

Energy Types

“Energy Types” could be a chapter heading in a physics textbook. Those who believe in the Creation event of Genesis 1:1 rest in the assurance that “In the Beginning, God created “The heavens and the earth.” Simply translated, that means “God created ALL things.” Heavens and the Earth includes not only the matter (mass) of the physical creation, but also the dimensions of energy, time, and space. Energy may be discussed as a topic by itself. On a deeper level scientists pose the relationship between energy and mass, known as mass/energy equivalence. On a simpler level we may isolate the topic of energy and consider types of energy and transitions between types of energy. Most texts identify up to a dozen types of energy including chemical, nuclear, mechanical, electrical, thermal, radiant, sound, and elastic. We’ll discuss two of the most important types of energy.   

Differences between chemical energy and nuclear energy provide a discussion take-off point. Chemical energy is stored in the configurations of electrons bound to atoms of chemical elements and compounds. By far, chemical energy reactions are the most common. We are reminded of our high school chemistry courses. When the bonds of electron configurations in the atoms or molecules are broken, the energy stored in the bonds is released. Burning of fossil fuels releases this energy to accomplish work such as moving an automobile forward or the production of heat and light. Elements such as carbon and hydrogen combine with oxygen to form carbon dioxide and water, respectively. An automobile burning gasoline acquires kinetic energy—the energy of motion, along with heat of combustion and perhaps a little light. Fossil fuels provide chemical energy stored and later released when burned. In modern times fossil fuels account for 80% of our energy needs.   

In contrast with chemical energy, nuclear energy is produced by the interactions of particles such as neutrons with the nucleus of the atom. Stored energy within the nucleus is far stronger than ordinary chemical forces. Therefore, the release of energy is also much stronger—as much as millions of times stronger. A subatomic particle called the neutron, originally discovered in 1932 by James Chadwick, is aimed at uranium nuclei. The nuclei of two new elements are formed when the uranium atom splits and neutrons are released. These additional neutrons collide with other uranium atoms and cause them to split. The process is called fission. In a nuclear bomb this chain reaction is very rapid and powerful. After the destructive bombs were produced to end World War II, many scientists researched more controlled chain reactions to produce useful energy. Nuclear reactors are water cooled. Control rods prevent dangerously rapid out-of-control fission in nuclear reactors.

World energy use since humanity first inhabited our planet has dramatically changed. During the Neolithic Age, also known as the Age of Agriculture beginning about 10,000 years BC, humanity utilized primarily animal and human energy power and the use of biofuel, the burning of wood, for cooking and warmth. It is fascinating to speculate on what life was like for our human forebears. In the days of prehistory before the time of Abraham and the Biblical chronicle of the Chosen People, the Creator interacted with humanity in a manner largely unknown, mysterious, and foreign to modern man. In Romans 1:20, the Apostle Paul refers to events “since the creation of the world.” The gospel writer states that “(God’s) eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” This passage likely refers to prehistoric humans who experienced God through the creation—through “what has been made.” Early man “did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (NAS Bible)

Perhaps if they had honored God or given thanks to their Creator, deeper Creation mysteries would have been revealed to them long before. Understanding the characteristics of our created cosmos involves not only a description of visible matter, but also the dimensions of “mass/energy equivalence,” and the dimensions of the “time/space continuum.” Modern scientists have researched and reported on the relationships of the multiple dimensions of mass/energy/time/and space. The more they discover about these relationships, the more coherent the created universe appears and the more our universe appears to be intelligently designed for the benefit of humanity.

Our contemporary use of fossil fuels, nuclear fuels, bio-fuels, hydro-fuels, and renewable fuels would be foreign to fully human residents of ancient, prehistoric times. In our time, fossil fuels account for 80% of our modern energy needs; 10% of our needs are supplied by biofuels, 5% by nuclear, and 5% by renewables. Electrical generation is produced 67% by fossil fuels, hydropower supplies 16%, nuclear energy 11%, and renewables 6%. Discovery and use of the full spectrum of energy resources is a phenomenon of the mysterious flow of human history and its progress. 

Modern science has clarified many mysteries of mass, energy, time, and space and their interconnections. However, modern scientific naturalism does not acknowledge and explain these interrelationships as the production of a divine Mind. From a theological perspective the “reality of Creation” includes the profound truths of the mass/energy equivalence and time/space continuum. Many applications and benefits of this reality have been and are yet to be discovered.

   

           

    

  

    


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Creation of Energy

Genesis 1:1 is one of the most frequently quoted verses in the entire Bible. It speaks of the creation of the heavens and the earth—all that exists—in the beginning. Before this divine creation, there was nothing. Theologians, philosophers, scientists, and laypeople have speculated and sometimes disagreed on the deeper meanings of creation ex nihilo—out of nothing. 

No doubt some recall flannel graph lessons during youthful days in Sunday School. These lessons presented a vivid visual portrayal of events on a board supported by a tripod. Children were impacted by images of beautiful animals, images of the sun, moon, and stars, and other visual descriptors of events as the subject of creation was taught. Sunday School pedagogues, especially those living several decades ago, found the visual imagery of flannel graphs effective in teaching Bible stories. They were also entertaining. A more profound challenge is to advance our students conceptually. What other concepts of the broad topic of creation could we address with our children as they advance toward maturity, or even with adults, without inappropriately boring them? Perhaps meaningful treatment of this topic is within reach more than we believe.       

The creation event was the origin of mass, energy, space, and time. This description of creation goes far beyond simple flannel graph visualizations of beautiful creatures and objects. Is this esoteric knowledge solely for scientists? Or does the topic have theological applications as we teach the topic of creation in our church educational program at all age levels? Let us elaborate: Scientists have connected mass and energy. A natural law describes their relationship in one way as the “Law of Conservation of Mass/Energy. Albert Einstein in 1905 proposed the equation E=mc2, posing the relationship between mass and energy. A brief definition of energy: The capacity or ability to do work. When work is accomplished, a push or pull force moves an object. Physical scientists are fond of defining and quantifying the terms mass, energy, space, time, work, force, motion, and acceleration. For good measure, teachers deal with other terms—gravity, force units such as the newton, and friction.

Before becoming too pedantic, we must express a truth in a simple form. When Genesis 1:1 speaks of God as the Creator of All Things, we must include Laws of Nature governing the activities of the physical Creation. All processes and activities of our daily lives are wondrously governed by natural laws set in place by God at the Creation event. All things includes ALL of dozens of physical constants quantitatively tuned to the precision of a metaphorical “razor’s edge.” Laws of Nature go hand in hand with physical constants. Laws of Nature are generalizations about the way the world actually is. Physical scientists have discovered regularities is the way matter behaves, including observations that the regularities are repeatable. Let us think what our world would be like if physical conditions were not predictable and repeatable, given the same initial conditions! If our creation were chaotic, life would also be chaotic. In fact, life would be impossible.

Young children learn about their world by observing the regularity of the laws which govern events in their surroundings. Cause and effect phenomena are plentiful as they learn to expend muscular energy to move their bodies, to swat the bell on their play pen (it rings every time), to push building blocks into desired positions, or to assemble a pile of blocks, being careful not to let them fall from the top of the pile if gravity takes over too early. Intentional use of energy assists in activities such as throwing, kicking, or batting a ball. Our grandchildren are currently fond of activities with balloons—wonderful instructional settings for lessons on the energy of air pressure. In home school venues there are many opportunities to apply and discuss energy applications in science classes by reminding students that our Creator is the Author of rational laws governing energy. In public school science settings students have many opportunities to tacitly infer a profound coherence in our natural world.  

With older children we discuss the fact that energy converts from one form to another without any loss of the combined amount of energy present. Energy conversions benefit humanity in multiple ways. For instance, coal, oil, and natural gas fossil fuel energy resources may convert to electricity, heat, light, motion, or work of many types. We will address the many dimensions of energy conversions in a future post. 

Creation of the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1) included the creation of energy, mass, time, and space. It is important for educators to include the wonders of energy/mass, and time/space dimensions of our physical universe when we speak of what God created In the Beginning as well as what he sustains in the present moment. We close with a personal favorite expression used many times in discussing the subject of Creation for children and adults alike: God had great ideas!               


   

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Moon Landing at 50 Years

As we write our calendar reads July 20, 2019—fifty years to the day after humans first set foot on our lunar companion during the Apollo 11 program. This is a day when active recall dominates our consciousness for a few hours. The overpowering incredible technological human achievement was fraught with equally incredible risks. President Kennedy’s May 25, 1961 speech to Congress stated a goal of “…landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” The last seven words may be more technologically challenging than the previous six.

My grandfather, born in 1880, proclaimed that it would not be God’s will for man to break loose from the earth and visit the moon. His death in 1960, however, was sandwiched between the first earth orbital flight of a space vehicle in 1957, and Russian and American astronauts’ manned orbital flights in 1961 and 1962. The Moon visit by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on July 20, 1969 was obviously “permitted” by the God of Creation who implanted the technical ability in humans to accomplish the feat.

On July 20, 1969 I was traveling with an uncle and cousin in New Mexico during the evening. We were hoping to rent a motel room to join the estimated 600 million earth residents who watched the historic events on live television. We were successful, arriving in our room sometime after 9:39 PM MDT when the Eagle’s hatch was opened. My memory is entering the motel room to a blinking television screen displaying astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the Moon’s surface. A few feet away was the Eagle Landing Craft. Micheal Collins was circling above them in the Command Module. It was a special, unforgettable moment!

Armstrong died in 2012. Aldrin and Collins are still alive and able to recount their experiences clear-mindedly. All three Apollo 11 astronauts were born in 1930.

Twenty-four astronauts have left the confines of Earth and have viewed the Earth from the Moon, 240,000 miles distant. Twelve of those astronauts descended to the surface and walked on it. They experienced an emotional high called the overview effect, defined as a cognitive shift in awareness in which the viewer is overwhelmed by a vision of the Earth from outer space.

The most touching expression of the overview effect may have been experienced by US moon astronauts seven months before Apollo 11. On Christmas Eve 1968 Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders, while in moon orbit, took turns reading the first ten verses of Genesis 1 while transmitting images of Earth from space on live television. 

On this anniversary of man’s first moon walk, we are thankful that our space program has enabled Earth residents to see a portion of God’s glory in creation. 



   

   

Friday, July 19, 2019

Fossil Fuels in Family History

Fossil fuel energy was a fundamental driver of the Industrial Revolution and subsequent revolutions of the past 250 years. Contemporary society’s technological, economic, and social development was birthed by the events of the Industrial Revolution. Without the meteoric rise of fossil fuels on the human scene, how different would our lives be? Prior to the Industrial Revolution fossil fuel energy may be portrayed as a mere whisper. In our modern society we might metaphorically describe the fossil fuel phenomenon as an amplified full-throated shout.  

The “big three” fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—rose and sometimes fell in popular use and appeal in the years since my personal family forbears arrived from Europe. Between my wife and me, three sets of grandparents arrived from Switzerland and The Netherlands from 1860 to the early 1900s. My third great-grandfather arrived even earlier and carved out a living in Northern New York from unspoiled wilderness. The Rudolph Virkler family, including his seven sons, initially did not utilize any fossil fuels according to our family genealogical history volumes. Instead, the fuel to heat primitive cabins in their New World home may be described as “biomass"—primarily wood. Biomass supplied virtually all their earliest energy needs in Northern New York.

Coal, first of the “big three,” became prominent in the 1800s. Before 1800 very little coal was mined compared with the 19th century, even though there are records of some use of coal for thousands of years. Likewise, small oil and natural gas seeps were known long before humanity began to utilize these fuels on a scale remotely resembling today’s level of use. Coal became important for powering primitive steamships. It was used to heat water for steam generation to drive pistons in steamships and railroad engines. In the mid-1800s coal was also used to produce iron and steel from mineral ores. Coal provided for generation of electricity, peaking in 1961. Coal fueled the Industrial Revolution which initially utilized energy supplied by water power and wind.

Rudolph Virkler sailed west to America in 1834 on a wind-driven ship in 42 days. Early steamships had barely begun to use coal to fuel their locomotion. Had they arrived in America a decade or two later the family may have arrived on a coal-driven steamship. During that family’s first fifty years in this country, the use of coal increased. Coal became a source of heat in homes beginning in 1885. In 2019 fewer than 130,000 homes in the US are heated by coal. 

In the 1930s and 1940s my century-old home in Central New York was heated by coal. Prominent in our basement was a coal burning riveted steel furnace. It was sometimes called an octopus furnace owing to the presence ductwork through which heated air flowed toward registers around the house by convection. Warm air is lighter than cold air and naturally rises by convection without being mechanically forced. Recalling the blast of heated air flowing from the main living room register early on cold winter mornings is still heart-warming.

Memories associated with this coal burning furnace are vivid and pleasant. My father was responsible for carrying the coal to the furnace, shoveling it in, and frequently removing the ashes. Ken Roginski, author of an article on The Old House Guy website, relates many stories triggering recall from my personal childhood: “Coal was delivered into a nearby basement window. Below the window was a sort of pen where the coal was stored.” The sound of coal being emptied from the coal truck, flowing down the tapered coal shute and into a bin in our cellar, is a fading memory I had not believed still existed. The rhythmic back and forth sound of the hand lever used to agitate the furnace grate so the coal ash could fall into the ash pit is another.

During my experience as a public school science teacher, I sometimes recalled childhood memories to reinforce science history. One example: the evolution of fossil fuels and their use by humans. Classroom students were amused by the anachronism of coal as fuel—in particular, my experience with a coal furnace during childhood. Most of my students’ families had modern central heating systems fueled by oil and later, natural gas.

Many home coal furnaces were converted to oil burners after coal fell from popularity. Some were modified; some were new installations. Many sent steam to radiators; some were modified to receive hot water. In 1951 my family moved to New Jersey. We burned oil to produce hot water; radiators transferred heat by radiant energy into the home. Petroleum became an important fossil fuel at about the turn of the 20th century. It has long outdistanced coal as an energy source.

After my sentimental experience with coal, three family homes since 1951 used oil to heat air or water in their central heating systems. Since 1989 three homes have consumed gas for their home heating fuel. This family progression from coal to oil to gas parallels the historic evolution of the popularity of fossil fuels: coal, then oil, followed by gas. Important natural gas discoveries in the United States since 2000 have trained the spotlight on the most recent fossil fuel to achieve increasing popularity. In the US coal use has declined substantially, oil use is still expanding, and natural gas use has increased dramatically.

Our memories help remind us that our timeless Creator intentionally supplied Earth’s inhabitants with plentiful deposits of coal, oil, and natural gas. The formation process from dead plants, algae, and zooplankton deposited in water consumed eons of time by human standards. 

When coal’s disadvantages became known, men appropriated other fuels such as oil and later, natural gas which burns cleaner than either coal or oil. The “big three” fossil fuels were support pillars for humanity’s Industrial Revolution. In turn the Industrial Revolution triggered technological, agricultural, and economic advances. Long before the surge of fossil fuel discovery and utilization, humanity had devised uses for biomass as fuel. Humanity’s use of wood for burning, garbage or manure to generate methane, or producing ethanol from the sugars in vegetable matter were evidence of creativity in humans. However, these processes do not compare with the creativity of God who provided humanity with plentiful coal, petroleum, and natural gas via wondrous chemical processes over millions of years of geologic history.

We have enjoyed “big three” products to heat our homes, power our internal combustion engines, produce electricity, clothe ourselves with fabric, and experience the utility of plastic goods in hundreds of products. There are thousands of petrochemicals and coal, petroleum, and gas by-products to enrich our life experience. Fossil fuels are examples of the exquisite provision of God for the welfare of humanity. For this we give thanks to God. 

          

   





        

  

  








Monday, July 8, 2019

Carbon Concerns

Articles about climate change are often intensely agenda-driven. We prefer to characterize climate as a wonder-driven topic. When I was a science teacher, I hoped my weather and climate units were approached with wonder. That unit was one of my favorites as an instructor because it enabled me to teach many fascinating principles of physical science, even though meteorology is taught as an earth science. As a teacher of weather/climate units half a century ago, I do not recall dealing with the topic of harmful fossil fuel carbon emissions and a dangerously warming Planet Earth. Neither were these issues high on the radar screen of media articles and broadcasts. But during the 1970s a tug of war developed between opposing camps. One camp, mainly communicating by media articles, proposed we were headed for a new Ice Age; another camp began to suggest global warming might become an issue. In the latter were scientists who began to study the effects of increasing CO2 emissions. 

Public concern about fossil fuels and their harmful emissions was practically non-existent before the mid-20th century. Scientists knew about the greenhouse gas qualities of carbon dioxide, but until roughly 1950 there was minimal concern about the warming of Earth’s atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels. Concern remained on the back burner of public awareness. The global warming proponents slowly won the day as CO2 levels in the atmosphere continued to show a significant increase. The CO2 composition of the atmosphere has significantly increased about 40% from 296 parts per million (ppm) in 1900 to 415 ppm in 2019. Publishers and scientists on the global warming side of the discussion still predominate, including those who predict looming planetary catastrophe. The average temperature of Earth has increased less than 1ºC since the Industrial Revolution while sea level has risen only 6.3” to 8.3.”

The beauty of a balanced treatment of weather and climate topics need not be overly obscured by harsh predictions of environmental catastrophe. We suspect that warnings of looming environmental catastrophe fundamentally dilutes genuine wonder at the beauty of our weather and climate systems.  

To put the matter in perspective, CO2 is only a tiny percentage of the composition of Earth’s atmosphere—about 0.04%. Textbooks in 1950 or 1960 would have reported the percentage of CO2 as approximately 0.03%. By a different metric the 2019 CO2 fraction of our atmosphere is about 1/2500, slightly increased from about 1/3300 in the early 20th century.   

A Center for Science Education graphic is an effective tutorial for expressing relative proportions of atmospheric gases. Envision a large rectangle representing the entirety of the atmosphere. The largest portion (blue) represents nitrogen (78%). Superimposed is a smaller rectangle, a red area representing oxygen (21%). Also superimposed is a very small green rectangle for argon—slightly less than 1% of the area of the rectangle. A tiny black rectangle represents CO2 (0.04%). A barely visible, miniscule rectangle represents all the remaining gases—mostly helium, neon, and methane, and tiny traces of others. Vitally important, life sustaining CO2 has earned a negative reputation because its molecule contains carbon. Some forms of uncombined carbon or other compounds of carbon can be harmful. Some people have generalized the life-giving compound, CO2, to be a harmful pollutant. This was aided by a 2007 Supreme Court 5-4 decision and subsequent EPA rulings. Many alarmists long to be carbon free or carbon neutral in our near future, a completely unrealistic goal.

Each atmospheric gas has its distinct role, including water vapor which varies from 0-4%. Water vapor and clouds are responsible for 75% of Earth’s greenhouse effect. There are many feedback effects between water vapor and CO2. If we attempt to correlate graphics of increasing atmospheric CO2 over a given time to graphics of increasing planetary temperature over an identical time frame, we may paint a misleading picture. CO2 has increased about 40% from its relatively consistent atmospheric amounts in the two centuries following the Industrial Revolution. On a line graph extending from the Industrial Revolution to the present, the curve rises substantially in the past century and has been described as shaped like a “hockey stick.” Planetary temperatures have increased 0.9ºC (1.4ºF) since the Industrial Revolution.

If graph scales are too big, too small, do not start at zero, or exclude relevant data, the graphs may deliberately shock or mislead. A famous saying claims we may prove virtually anything with statistics, including graphic statistics. Given: Earth’s temperatures are clearly on a slow rise. As stewards of our planet we must be aware of possible harmful effects of climate change as well as possible benefits. The recent 40% increase in atmospheric CO2 is assuredly a source of interest, even concern for humanity. But we must respond to the concern in a sensible and appropriate fashion. Currently the spectrum of concerned onlookers ranges from scientists of all stripes to politicians, theologians, ideologues, profiteers, catastrophists, and a plethora of others. Some members of society do not share any concern. Others are skeptical deniers.

Ken Bakke’s June 2019 Christianity Today article “God Gave Us Oil—Should We Keep Using It?” is a thoroughgoing balanced article dealing with many sides of climate change issues from a Christian perspective. It is well worth the effort to read it. Bakke quotes Alex Epstein, energy theorist, author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (2014) that “…turning away from oil would deny people in the developing world the same gifts that built and succored the West.” The Cornwall Alliance, a right-of-center network of Christian scholars in diverse fields, affirms on its website “that one way of exercising godly dominion is by transforming raw materials into resources and using them to meet human needs.” 

Bakke continues, “The Cornwall Alliance’s arguments are persuasive in many ways: There’s no denying that the gifts of oil and other fossil fuels have enabled countless other ‘good and perfect’ gifts that, as Scripture points out, came in some way or another from God. Their critique of carbon haters is that to suddenly change the rules of the energy game and deprive the rest of the world the quality of life that Americans enjoy is not especially loving.”

Will acres of solar panels, wind farms, and electric and hybrid cars lead to disappointment based on substituting nasty new environmental side effects for problems we already have? Bakke closes with the proposal that “…Americans, including Christians, will eventually have to learn to live with less.”

Carbon is a key component of all known life on Earth. Let us make a commitment to our Creator to manage carbon with utmost respect and wisdom.      







         








      

  


  

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Wondering About Fossil Fuels

Christianity Today in June 2019 published a lengthy article about the fossil fuel resource of petroleum. The magazine cover background was a colorful depiction of an oil slick on water to backdrop the title “God Gave Us Oil—Should We Keep Using It?” Only indirectly did the article by Ken Bakke, associate professor of English and of the Climate Center of Texas Tech University, refer to other fossil fuel resources. The same concerns Bakke expressed about petroleum could apply to the other “big three” fossil fuels—coal and natural gas.

Bakke relates the story of Edwin L. Drake in western Pennsylvania in 1859 who drilled the first successful oil well. Drake discovered a landmark technology for oil well drilling. “What followed was arguably the most rapid economic and cultural transformation of the world,” according to Bakke. Many theologians and historians credited God for the gift of plentiful oil at this point in human history. In the next century, “…America had powered itself to world dominance—with oil fueling the engine of its growth and prosperity.” Coal had earlier launched the Industrial Revolution, supplanting the energy formerly supplied by wind, wood, and water power.

In the late 18th century, “when economic and and technological advancements, enabled by coal and then oil, lengthened life expectancies and sent the population soaring on a near vertical trajectory to 7.7 billion today,” many things changed in our energy outlook. Oil has, indeed, been a gift from God. In like manner, we may relate the same for coal and the recently enhanced vision of the role of natural gas which has been discovered in many new deposits such as the Marcellus Shale in the Northeastern US.

The term Creator of All Things (Colossians 1:16) applies to the actions of God over eons of time. His creative work in our early universe and later when our galaxy and Solar System became physical realities spanned billions of years as humans reckon time. The work of God is not time constrained. People are subject to time awareness, limitations, and restrictions. God is not limited by constraints of time as are humans. People tend to construct historical timelines along which events are pinpointed. Actions of The Creator of All Things may extend over millions of years. So it is with fossil fuels formed over a sequence of changing conditions over many millions of years.

Ken Bakke’s wide-ranging six page article in CT recounts the millions of years of geologic processes which formed present day petroleum deposits upon which our modern societal growth and prosperity is firmly anchored. His account, though brief, is accurate: “There is no denying oil’s awesome power, harnessed from solar energy sequestered in simple ocean organisms that sank over eons to the sea floor. Under intense pressure, this dead carbon formed deposits that when mined and refined have such pent-up strength—as petroleum engineers like to tell it—that a mere teacup of gasoline can move a 1,000-pound vehicle a mile up a mountain road.” Coal was formed from land plant deposits formed in swampy areas and buried under layers of sediment. Over millions of year, algae, zooplankton and land plants were transformed into petroleum and coal. Pressure and heat chemically altered the organic materials into a multitude of different products accessible by multiple modern refining processes.

One cannot read or listen to media reports without encountering a heavy dose of climate change discussion. The climate change topic has thoroughly suffused our modern awareness. We are aware that the consumption of fossil fuels has elevated the CO2 content of the atmosphere by roughly 35%. Most of this increase has occurred in the past 75 years since the mid-20th century. Most 70 to 80-year old residents do not recall a climate change or global warming discussion when they attended high school. Currently we are aware that global temperature elevation, sea level rise, and perceived increases in the potency of weather events, are a source of concern for many 21st century residents. Modern belief is that increase in greenhouse gases (GHGs) is causative. There is little doubt that some global temperature increase is related to this cause but the magnitude of cause is in hot dispute. The science of climate change does not settle the argument concerning magnitude. Climate issues are exceedingly complex. GHGs are but one of multiple causes. Judgment of the amount of effect is connected with sometimes errant scientific analysis, intense ideology, and powerful politics. This results in disagreements about which solutions are appropriate, not to mention disagreements concerning how to implement them.

Bakke highlights “…the late 18th century, when economic and technological advances, enabled by coal and then oil, lengthened life expectancies and sent the population soaring on a near vertical trajectory to 7.7 billion today.” Most people in our population recognize these advancements. Bakke continues with an outline of the main concerns of his CT article: “Unquestionably, for our forebears and for so many of us, oil indeed has been a gift of God. Why then, in the public square today are oil and other fossil fuels increasingly spoken of as the source of looming catastrophe, like an addictive substance from which we are anxious to wean ourselves?”

The 2019-20 presidential campaign in the US has triggered extreme attention for the candidates for solving the problems perceived to be looming ‘catastrophically’ over the human race. We do not minimize legitimate concerns about climate change but we decry unjustified unrealistic alarmist solutions such as making our energy use “carbon free.” It has become the cause célèbre of many activists.

In the same manner in which discovery, drilling, mining, and refining technologies have enabled scientists to utilize God-given resources and abilities, we may be confident that many new technologies will enable us to continue to use fossil fuel resources to drive world growth and prosperity. Above all, we need wisdom from the Creator of All Things, including the Creator of fossil fuels. 

    





            

         



  









Saturday, June 22, 2019

Fossil Fueled Civilization

Petroleum, natural gas, and coal have been recent additions to the energy needs of civilized Earth residents. In general, these fossil fuels have come to full prominence in the last 150 years. While these fuels have helped power the fantastic growth of human population since 1800 and have contributed to the progress of our modern technological society, we are aware that consumption of fossil fuels has become a source of depressing worry for some residents owing to concerns about the release of the element carbon into the atmosphere. “Is the glass half full or half empty?” we ask. For the balance of this post, we recall a wonderful memory from our childhood.    

For the first thirteen years of my life I was privileged to live next door to my grandfather’s 150-acre farm in Baldwinsville, New York. In two minutes I could walk to the home site of many farm and wild animals I came to know and love. The farm property virtually surrounded my family’s nearby home, providing ready access to its barns, buildings, fields, woods, and creeks. I explored all of them with a sense of high adventure. In retrospect, I am grateful my constant presence was tolerated, even welcomed by my grandfather and uncles.

One may ask how the preceding information relates to the topic of fossil fuels. When my grandparents purchased the Central New York farm in 1927, the property possessed a unique feature separate from the beauty we described in the paragraph above. The farm had its own natural gas well! The farmhouse was heated with natural gas year-round at NO cost to the new owners. The small gas well was located in a field a few hundred feet from the farm house. Memories surrounding the gas well are still vivid. I recall family Christmas gatherings where the natural gas fireplace burned brightly. The entire home was heated by natural gas. In spring my grandfather boiled large quantities of maple sap from his many sugar maple trees using the natural gas supply from beneath the earth on his farm.

On several occasions the gas well needed to be “recharged.” The process involved “flaring,” in which excess pressurized gas was burned off. The flare was ignited by the well repair workmen when the pressurized gas bubbled up through a large puddle of water into the air. Watching a plume of fire burning directly from a puddle of water next to the well was a memorable experience. My research into early Baldwinsville gas wells revealed that this well may have been drilled in 1890 and may have been 1200 to 3000 feet deep. My search revealed that Gustav Leopold was a well driller from Pennsylvania who was summoned to Baldwinsville and later bought a house which was heated by a natural gas well drilled by him. It is possible that this was my grandparents’ farmhouse purchased in 1927. A New York State agency was recently contracted to cap old, non-working gas wells to mitigate their environmental hazard.

I have recently discovered that Baldwinsville was located at the far northern fringe of a sedimentary rock layer known as the Marcellus Shale. Only in the past 20 years has the Marcellus Shale formation achieved substantial national publicity because it has potential to supply huge amounts of natural gas to our energy hungry populace. It is now recognized as the largest field of natural gas in the US. The full potential of the Marcellus Shale was not recognized before the turn of the 21st century. Gas wells such as the one on my grandfather’s farm in the mid-20th century rarely produced commercial amounts of gas even though it tapped into the Marcellus Shale formation.

My childhood home town was only 14 miles from the town of Marcellus, NY for which the Marcellus shale formation was named. This vast geologic region includes much of New York, western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, West Virginia, and small parts of a few other states. It is an ancient Devonian rock layer formed long before the age of dinosaurs by water deposition of organic sediments—fossil plants, algae, and zooplankton. When such deposits are eventually buried deep beneath the surface of the earth and heated under pressure, chemical changes take place. New organic hydrocarbon compounds are formed. Natural gas is mostly methane with smaller amounts of other hydrocarbons. It is trapped within the shale but release and recovery is possible. A process known as hydraulic fracturing of the rock has been used to free the gas.

Recent discovery of the energy potential of the Marcellus Shale is a source of amazement. Theologically, we might consider the presence of a plentiful energy supply beneath earth’s surface as one example of the providential care of our timeless Creator for the human race. With respect to such a recent knowledge discovery, we are instructed that God gives humanity the ability to enlarge his knowledge, especially in our day of energy and environmental concerns. Man’s technological ability to discover prudent remedies for potential deleterious effects of fossil fuel consumption is constantly increasing. Perhaps the movement to wean ourselves from carbon in favor of less practical solar and wind power at the cost of trillions of dollars is a badly misdirected campaign. As a starter, we posit that transition to plentiful natural gas fuels reduces emissions of CO2 substantially. Research and development of carbon capture technologies for other fossil fuels, petroleum and coal, hold great promise.

Personally, I thank God I was privileged to glimpse a tiny slice of fossil fuel history by observing my grandparents’ natural gas well as a young child. Our human population has been providentially supplied with hundreds of minerals and energy sources. These resources sustain our modern society. It is only one example of the love showered on mankind by the Creator of All Things.         



    



   


  

Monday, June 10, 2019

Ecclesiastes: The Preacher's Scientific Musings

The Old Testament contains several Books of Wisdom, including the Book of Ecclesiastes. The meaning of Ecclesiastes is sometimes rendered “the Teacher” or “the Preacher.” Eugene Peterson, author of The Message translation, calls Solomon, the book’s probable writer, “the Quester,” because of the experiential stance of the writing in the book, giving voice to what is so basic among men and women throughout history. The author experiences a ‘quest,’ an active search for answers to profound observations concerning his life experiences. Some commentary consists of insightful, empirical observation about the world of nature.

Inspiration for our current post comes from the devotional for June 8, 2019 in the popular daily publication Our Daily Bread. The application section applied a lesson from the bowling alley where routine tasks must be repeated again and again. Bowling pins must be reset time and again. Many mundane tasks such as laundry, cooking, and mowing the lawn must be repeated, seemingly endlessly. The musings of Solomon are ambivalent in his Book of Wisdom. On one hand he complains about common cycles, expressing disappointment, doubt, discouragement, and even despair about the way things are, sometimes categorizing ordinary events of life as “meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Eugene Peterson colorfully paraphrases such repetitive events “…nothing but smoke—and spitting into the wind.”

An alternative interpretation of Solomon’s writings may be that he approached some daily cycles with realism and resignation, if not humor. Even in chapter 1 he observes, “What has been done will be done again: there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl.1:9 NIV.) Surely Solomon and his subjects were richly blessed by natural astronomical and meteorological cycles. In a day several thousands of years before the Scientific Revolution, the Quester took note of life sustaining phenomena such as the sun’s daily (diurnal) motion, atmospheric circulation, and the water cycle. His empirical analysis of these daily life-sustaining features of our environment argues against Solomon’s sometimes depressing observations. Solomon’s underlying respect for the majesty and righteousness of the Creator shines through his sometimes pessimistic tone. 

Solomon was a ‘preacher’ or ‘teacher.’ He was not a scientist in modern terms, but his  insights were scientific in terms of his observational skills. What did the ancients believe about the motion of the Sun which rises and sets and “hurries back to where it rises?” Until the Scientific Revolution, many ancients still believed in geocentrism: The Earth was the center of the universe and the Sun, Moon, and other planets revolved around the Earth. Many ancient people even believed in a flat earth. Many who did not subscribe to a flat earth had difficulty believing that the earth rotates since it seemed unreasonable that we would not “feel” the earth rotating at hundreds of miles per hour. This was within the scope of Solomon’s observational abilities. However, it was long before the days of humanity’s grasp of real vs apparent motion and their cause and effect relationship with respect to astronomical bodies.

In the arena of atmospheric circulation, our Quester was prescient in recognizing the meteorological cycles inherent in Earth’s wind flow. “The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course,” Solomon observed. In a more complex insight, we sense how deeply he mused about the sequence of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and the return flow of liquid water back to the sea from where it originated. We now speak of the modern water cycle, also known as the hydrological cycle.

Another scientific insight is presented in Chapter 3:1-8. Nine consecutive verses begin with the subject of time. The author claims there is an appropriate time frame for every human activity “under heaven.” Time is a linear dimension. As such, it is a scientific concept. Implanted along the dimension of time, according to Solomon, is the overarching flow of human experience as we strive to give temporal and eternal meaning to our lives.  

Other examples of physical recycling appear periodically within the twelve chapters of Ecclesiastes. A poignant example is the ultimate temporal fate of physical death for all in this world, both men and animals. In Eccl. 3:19-20 we read, “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both; as one (an animal) dies, so dies the other (man)…..All go to the same (physical) place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.” Along the pathway of life we are made aware of the relentless progress of senescence, the tendency of the human body to deteriorate physiologically as old age approaches. Senescence is an intrinsic characteristic of all living things in the firm grip of the Law of Entropy. Read about the approach of human senescence in the poetic description of the onset of old age in Eccl. 12:1-7.

In later chapters, Solomon offers hope. He offers “…the conclusion of the matter” in Eccl. 12:13: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” This advice overpowers the temporary discouragement experienced in our personal quest for life’s meaning.  



      



    



Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Recurring Spring Cycles

Consider the many natural cycles embedded in our life experience. We have described many types of cycles in past posts. Optionally, we recommend readers review our 2012 post entitled “The Ubiquity of Cycles” as an introduction to our discussion of several well-known recurring cycle phenomena associated with the spring season in North America:


As we write, approximately 75% of the astronomical spring has passed. The spring season is always positioned between the same seasons—always following winter, always preceding summer. Many secondary cycles are embedded within the primary cycle of annual seasons. Earth’s rotation causes cycles of light followed by dark, warm/cold temperature cycles related to day and night, or even less obvious daily cycle of elevated relative humidity in early morning. Virtually all weather statistics relate to cycles of one sort or another.

Dozens of natural astronomical and meteorological cycles are associated with our planet’s 23.4º axis tilt away from the perpendicular to its orbital plane. Some cycles, such as the day/night cycle, relate to Earth’s rotation. These two interlocking causes provide wonderful observable cycle phenomena by which humans are sustained, enriched, and even entertained. 

A famous astronomical cycle is illustrated by the presence of the huge prehistoric Stonehenge Monument in England. Huge boulders were positioned purposefully several thousand years BC. According to accepted theory, analysts have concluded that sightings from the center of the original Stonehenge structure align with momentary positions of the sun as aligned with the “heel stone,” a location several hundred feet outside the monument on the specific date of the summer solstice. The calendar date of the summer solstice marks the farthest northward advance of the sun owing to Earth’s axial tilt. This phenomenon is but one example of hundreds of repeating cycles governing the function of our physical world. Cycles of many types are examples of distinctive characteristics and unique attributes of our predictable and orderly planet.

In the home of your blog author, for many years we have observed what we have humorously dubbed “Homehenge” on the same few dates in April each spring. For several days sunlight streams through our elevated kitchen dormer window into the eyes of people seated in our “sun” room. New York City has its “Manhattanhenge” a cyclical, predictable phenomenon visible on certain east-west streets. Afternoon sunlight shines through narrow profiles of city buildings for a day or two on 42nd Street and other thoroughfares on May 28 each year.

Switching from astronomy to the animal world, we were delighted to spot our first Monarch butterfly on May  22. The well-known migration cycle of Monarch butterflies reveals itself each spring from south to north. Monarch reproduction consists of several months of four-stage metamorphosis (sub-cycles within the main migration cycle). The monarchs return to a specific Mexican forest in autumn. These working cycles, repeated annually, are spectacular examples of the living intelligence gifted to Monarchs by the Creator of all things, non-living and living. 

Migration cycles govern the springtime appearance and autumn return of dozens of beautiful bird species in local neighborhoods. Locally, we are blessed with a few species whose members occasionally remain for the winter, including crows, owls, cardinals, various woodpeckers, and sometimes a few robins and bluebirds. Titmice, nuthatches, and chickadees may be able to survive based on their access to preferred foods even in winter. Some of the most fascinating birds are noted for their remarkable migration behaviors, covering thousands of miles during their round trips to and from their wintering venues. Included are confirmed migrants—swallows, orioles, wrens, hummingbirds, scarlet tanagers, gray catbirds, and one of our favorites, the indigo bunting. Migration behavior seems inherently programmed. The most interesting migrations enable some species to return to a specific site year after year. We have affirmed this visually and auditorially with at least one species—the indigo bunting.

Nature’s spring cycles inspire reverent wonder. In our last paragraph we focused on the class aves. Birds of spring amply treat humanity to their distinctive diversity of size, color, adaptability, hunting proficiency, reproductive strategy, nest-building, flying skills, uniqueness of song, and territoriality. Many of these are cyclical traits.

Many natural cycles relate to the recycling of elements or compounds. For example, our planet possesses the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the oxygen cycle, and the carbon cycle. Other cycles involve regular, repeating events such as seasons and recurring annual positions of the sun at various positions on the ecliptic. The vernal equinox and the summer solstice illustrate this meaning. Without the many cycles governing our environment, Earth would not be the wonderful, life-sustaining planet we inhabit.