ISA recently published Controlling the Future: Controlling Nonindustrial Processes: Preventing Climate and Other Disasters by Béla Lipták, a comprehensive analysis of how processes developed and perfected by the automation industry can be used to tackle the climate change problem.
To control a process, we must fully understand it. In Controlling the Future, Lipták analyzes global warming as a heat balance process that has been disrupted by burning fossil fuels. Now, even knowing the dangers that global warming presents, 8 to 10 billion tons of carbon are still being emitted yearly. As more tipping points in the disruption of this equilibrium are reached, global warming and the frequency of its catastrophic effects will only accelerate.
Béla Lipták generously gave his time to ISA, answering comprehensive questions about the writing process, the inspiration behind the book, and his expertise on climate change.
What unique perspective do you have that others who have written about climate change have missed? How is this book different, and what new information is presented?
I am not a climate alarmist, but I see the wounds we are inflicting on nature. The key message of this textbook is that the Earth is warming much faster than predicted by most models. This is because the present models mostly consider only the increase in the incoming heat caused by carbon emissions and largely neglect the decrease in the cooling effects caused by the melting snow and dropping albedo caused by the reduction in industrial pollution and aerosol emissions. The other main difference is that in my analysis, I apply the rules of the science of process control, which considers capacitance, inertias, accelerations, time constants, feedback, tipping points, integral accumulations, and interacting (artificial intelligence [AI]) effects when predicting the dynamic behavior of such nonindustrial process as climate change, while other models do not.
If readers take one message away from the book, what should it be?
The key message is that we are entering a new age, one in which the laws of nature no longer direct our evolution, because humans are starting to determine their future. This is occurring because our cultural environment is being influenced by uncontrolled AI development, and our physical environment is threatened by out-of-control nuclear and climate trends. In these respects, the main process control rule is that global processes can only be controlled by global action, which requires establishing global institutions that can overcome the resistance of political and corporate interests.
There are many recommendations for the steps that must be taken. If you were to write a short “recipe” for mitigating climate change, what would be the recommended first steps?
- Restore the credibility of science and prevent the development of a “truth-less” culture. This requires reaching a balance between guaranteeing freedom of speech while protecting against the spread of lies or falsehoods—such as what the 1,200 oil industry lobbyists did at the UN Conference in Darfur.
- Educate the coming generation (our future leaders) on facts such as these:
- The per capitadaily CO2 emission today is over 10 kg (over 20 pounds).
- The accumulated total quantity of CO2in the air is some 400 tons per capita.
- We have emitted more carbon into the air in 200 years than the asteroid impact that ended the age of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
- If CO2was not transparent, the Earth would be black by now.
- Follow the main rule of process control: a process can only be stabilized if the correction applied is powerful. In the case of climate change, this manipulation must change human behavior and the only powerful means of influencing that is financial interest. Therefore, we must not only convince the public that climate change is human-made and show we have the technical and the financial means to stop it but we must create the conditions that make this change in the financial interest of all.
- In short, for quick action, money must be the manipulated variable, and well-planned market forces must be formed to make it effective. Some of these market forces are already working because the damage caused by climate change is already exceeding the cost of converting to green energy, but this is not enough. More direct steps—such as carbon emission taxes (about 5¢/kg of CO2)—are needed. These taxes will not only make hydrogen less expensive than carbon-emitting fossil fuels, but they will also provide the funds needed to subsidize the conversion and help regions that presently suffer the most from the damage already being caused by climate change.
- The steps discussed in my book are too many to be listed, but their goals are not. These goals are not only converting to a carbon-free (hydrogen-based) energy economy but also being realistic about the steps needed during the transition, which probably include the temporary use of safe (underwater) nuclear energy.
- We must realize that eliminating the present CO2 emission (about 40 billion tons per year) is nothing compared to eliminating the 4,000 billion tons that are already in the atmosphere. The ultimate goal must be to reduce both, and the most obvious way to do that is by increasing the reflection of solar radiation back into space by making the human “footprint” on our planet lighter.
What steps can individuals take immediately to mitigate climate change?
- Use the ballot box to elect leaders who will pass legislation that supports the transition to green energy.
- In the case of existing homes, consider adding solar collectors, and using split heat pumps for cooling and heating as well as providing hot water.
- Switch to using electric cars and size the home’s solar or geothermal energy capacity to be able to charge electric cars overnight.
- Switch to using green fuel for trucks, buses, trains, ships and long-distance driving.
- In the longer range, when building new homes, use solar collecting roofs, windows, and other surfaces and provide energy storage for backup on sunless days. In addition, make driveways and parking areas surfaces light in color.
- In the more distant future (by the next century) reach a hydrogen-based and distributed lifestyle where reversible fuel cells (RFCs) generate electricity for the home from hydrogen stored in a tank that is replenished during sunless periods by trucks the same way as propane is today.
What encouraged you to write this book, and what encouraged you to work in this field?
On the one hand, I was encouraged by seeing the potential of applying the rules of process control to analyzing complex, multivariable, nonindustrial processes, and on the other hand by studying the work of John von Neumann, I realized that we are still not fully realizing the existential danger that he warned against 75 years ago.
 In 1955, von Neumann observed that carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by industry burning coal and oil may have changed the atmosphere's composition sufficiently to account for a general warming of the world. His research into meteorological prediction also led him to propose manipulating solar radiation absorption by changing the albedo of the reflecting surfaces of the planet (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_von_Neumann).