In August of 2013 a New York father was charged with criminally negligent homicide arising from the death of his 7-month-old son who he accidentally left unattended in his car for a half hour.

The temperature at the time of the incident was in the mid-80s but authorities believe the temperature inside the car reached 119 degrees.

Each year, dozens of children and untold numbers of pets left in parked vehicles die from hyperthermia, which is an acute condition that occurs when the body absorbs more heat than it can handle. In 2013 the total number of U.S. deaths of children left in cars was 43.

Hyperthermia can occur even on a mild day because the glass in the car’s window functions the same way greenhouse gases do in the Earth’s atmosphere. They allow short-wave solar radiation into the interior of the vehicle or to reach the surface of the planet but then trap the long-wave infrared radiation that is reflected back.

 

In a car there is a rapid build up of heat to lethal levels, while the sheer magnitude of the planet ensures we have a few more years before it too becomes an even greater kill zone. (The recent heatwave in Australia killed more that 200 in the southern state of  Victoria.)

We however are even more culpable than the man who accidentally forgot his child because we are willfully allowing the planet to be converted into a hothouse and are not taking the action that could prevent the death of thousands even as we continue to allow the buildup of greenhouse gases.

If the New Yorker had had an air conditioner in his car and had that air conditioner been running then his son would be alive today.

A car’s air conditioner uses cabin heat to boil a refrigerant such as R-134 in an evaporator situated usually in the passenger side footwell. Just as it takes a lot of heat to boil a kettle of water, it takes a lot of heat, which is taken up from the car’s cabin, to boil air conditioning refrigerant. Per the following diagram the low pressure vapor exits the evaporator, passes through an expansion valve, is compressed and then enters a condenser, usually in front of the radiator, where the heat from the cabin is dissipated to the atmosphere.

 

Ocean thermal energy conversion works for the planet the same way the air conditioner works for the car, with the added benefit of producing energy from the low pressure gas stream. The process also dissipates the heat building up in the ocean's surface waters into the largest heat sink that is available on the planet, the deep ocean.

Per the following diagram heat is extracted from the ocean surface, where the bulk of global warming heat currently resides, to boil the low-boiling-point working fluid in a vaporizer. The vapor then moves through a turbine, which produces power to a condenser, where the surface heat is given up to the deep water in the condensing process before the fluid is pump back to the surface to complete the cycle.

 

The recent MIT article, How the ocean reins in global warming, points out how a similar naturally occuring process buries atmospheric heat in the deep ocean and how this delays long-term global warming.

OTEC could replace all fossil fuels and enable the hydrogen economy allowing for the dissipation of the greenhouse gases that are causing global warming. It also would give us the necessary time to complete this energy system transformation in advance of the arrival of an irreversible climate tipping point.

If we are aware of the solution that could prevent the death of thousands yet do not act on that information, can be we any less culpable than the New York father?

I think not.