666c466bf04f79a0a3a0a89b Controlling The Roadmap To The Future

Controlling the roadmap to the future

June 14, 2024
How we can use process control knowledge to lead the charge to sustainability
Last November, my new book, Controlling the Future, was published by the International Society of Automation (ISA).It describes the contributions the automation profession can make to control non-industrial processes, such as the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) and global warming. The following is an excerpt of an interview with ISA about the book.
Q: Why is this textbook important?
A: We’ve entered the post-Holocene period called the Anthropocene Epoch. In this period, life on Earth began to be altered by humans, and our influence impacts both physical and cultural environments. In our physical world, we burn through resources at an unsustainable rate. Meanwhile, in our cultural environment, we allow artificial intelligence (AI) to do all it can, rather than limiting it to only what it should. In this sense, we’ve reached a fork in the road of human evolution, and now we must decide if we’ll continue on our present road—a big dead end—or if we’ll finally take control of our future. In this book, I present a roadmap for the latter option, which will protect the only home we have, and lead us to a clean and sustainable future.
Q: What’s unique about your textbook?
A: Many books have been written about the human footprint and the changes needed to make it less harmful. These books were either written by specialists, who have unique knowledge of only some aspect of global conditions (rising sea levels, fierce storms, deforestation, droughts or declining biodiversity) or global cultural environments. Other authors usually describe new equipment or designs that can impact these large and complex processeses. Both of these types of books are valuable, but neither group deals with the totality of these large multivariable processes.
My book doesn’t fit into either of these categories. I know about the total behavior of processes, which I’ve been studying for more than 50 years. Therefore, I can analyze mutivariable processes in their totality by reviewing their capacitances, inertias, accelerations, time constants, feedbacks, tipping points, integral accumulations or interactions among their component sub-processes. As such, I can determine the overall dynamic behavior (personality) of all processes, including AI or climate change.
I’m neither an alarmist nor a denier. When analyzing a process, I’m only interested in the factual data that describe the past behavior of the process to determine the controls needed to direct its future behavior.
Q: What are some key points readers can take away from this book?
A: The Human Factor: Humans respond quickly only if their wallets are impacted. They must not only be convinced that conversion to green energy is good, but must also be shown that the conversion creates good jobs and profits to all. This is because lower energy costs and support from subsidies, carbon taxes and other incentives will also occur when voters demand them.
Global Heat Balance: The temperatures of all objects stay stable if the quantity of heat entering them is the same as the heat leaving. If we want to stop warming, it’s equally effective to reduce the heat entering our planet or increase the heat leaving Earth. This increase can be achieved by increasing the heat Earth reflects into space. As of today, the focus is solely on reducing heating by decarbonization (Figure 1), while the potential for cooling is neglected. My calculations show increasing the albedo of Earth (whitening the human footprint) would be as effective in reducing global warming as decarbonization.

Energy Storage: The energy from most green sources is only intermittently available. It must be converted into continuous usage through storage. Batteries are not large enough or safe enough to meet the storage requirement, particularly if we consider that the existing grid is old and undersized, and the global electricity load is expected to triple in a decade. Permanent and new solutions to meet the need for green energy storage are needed, and hydrogen storage is a natural solution. The salt cavern storage of green hydrogen is already functioning. For example, a major installation is under construction in Utah. It will store as much green hydrogen as 25% of all the battery capacity in the U.S. (11.1 TWh).

Q: Can we afford the cost of the green conversion?
A: At the end of World War II, the grant loans of the European Recovery Program (Marshall Plan) totaled about 5% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). They were paid back by the end of the century, resulting in a 25% rise in Europe’s GDP. Today, global GDP is about $100 trillion and roughly 1% is needed to pay for decarbonizing our energy economy, and keeping global warming from exceeding about 2 °C.
I believe this temperature limit can be met because free-market forces already support this goal. This is demonstrated by the continuing drop in the costs of renewable energy and green energy’s increasing share of the total energy mix (Figure 2).

Green energy is not only cheaper, but it’s also less dangerous and quicker to deploy than fossil fuels. In addition, fossil fuels will continue to cause even more damage due to both shortages and the coming energy wars. I’m still optimistic because public opinion is changing. I believe that future generations will be as smart as our stone age ancestors, who switched to using bronze, not because they ran out of stone, but because bronze was better. I hope that we’ll follow the example of our ancestors, and  will leave fossil fuels where they are.

Q: What is the main conclusion of your book?

A: The atmosphere would be black if greenhouse gases had color. The weight of the stuff we’ve already put up in the air is greater than everything we’ve ever built on the ground (Figure 3).

Similarly, my message also emphasizes that we’ve already lost one-third to two-thirds of our biodiversity. This is more than half of our coral reefs or forest areas (equaling twice the area of the U.S.). Meanwhile, ice melting has already reduced Earth’s reflectivity by 0.5W/m2. We have little more than a decade to get serious about stopping global warming, otherwise it will rise to greater than 2.5 °C, making the regions near the tropics unlivable, and producing an unstoppable wave of migration that can destroy civilization. I also have an equally important message. We know how to fix things, and we have roadmaps like this book that describe how to fix these problems.
About the Author

Béla Lipták | Columnist and Control Consultant

Béla Lipták is an automation and safety consultant and editor of the Instrument and Automation Engineers’ Handbook (IAEH).

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