In this powerful book, Controlling the Future, author Béla Lipták addresses the problem of global warming from an automation and control process perspective and discusses how such processes can be used to prevent disasters.
What inspired you to write this book?
My main inspiration was the realization that AI is creating a new culture, climate change is creating a new physical environment, and both processes are out of control. In other words, humankind has reached a fork in the road of its evolution where it has to select one road that leads from the fossil to the green energy age or the other that is a dead end. I was also inspired by knowing that in the past, humankind fixed such global threats as the need to close the ozone hole in the atmosphere. I believe that the coming generation is also ready to “fix things,” all it needs is a roadmap of how to proceed and books like mine can provide that.
I wanted to gain recognition for my automation and control profession by showing that, in contrast with all other professions, it can also analyze the largest and most complex nonindustrial processes. This is not well understood! When I was teaching process control at Yale University, the course was offered as a chemical engineering course; and when I published my process control books, the publisher listed them among their electrical engineering volumes. These institutions had nothing against my profession; they did not even realize it existed. I hope this book shows that it does.
So, I spent the last several years in an effort to fully understand the dynamic “personality” of the multivariable and extremely complex process of climate change and to determine if my conclusions agree with the presently accepted predictions on where it leads.
Who is this book written for?
This book is not only for engineers and scientists but also for the wider public, particularly students. I intentionally left out equations and scientific jargon, and I described complex processes using everyday language so that anyone who wants to understand the effects of global warming (GW) and the role that artificial intelligence (AI) can play in limiting it can do so.
What is unique about this book? What separates it from all others?
I do not think this book has any competition. Other books discuss climate change, AI, or process control, but none combines all three. In contrast, my book analyzes the probable future effects of AI and GW using the tools of process know-how that accumulated over the last century. This book aims to provide the information needed to guide the coming generations into a physically safe, culturally healthy, and peaceful future.
What are the key takeaways from your book?
The key takeaway is that AI development and global warming are both out of control. The main problem with AI is that it is being developed to do what it can and is not restricted to doing only what it should. AI is a tool like a knife that can be very useful in the right hands but can do great harm in the wrong ones. This tool has no conscience and no moral standard; it just does what it is programmed to do.
AI can be very useful in solving complex algorithms, analyzing the climate change process, and optimizing the operation of the new infrastructure needed to serve the green energy economy. It is a very useful tool in the effort to stop GW.
The points below are some of the important takeaways in connection with GW:
- GW is caused by humans and can be stopped by humans.
- If CO2 were visible, the Earth would be dark! During the industrial age, the CO2 concentration in the air increased from 280 ppm to 412 ppm, and GW reached 1.2°C. I estimate that GW will rise by another 0.25°C per decade. Today the weight of the yearly greenhouse gas emission equals the weight of a million Empire State Buildings, and the daily per capita emission is 13 kg. This cannot go on!
- The excess heat our planet is absorbing today is roughly the same as the energy released by five Hiroshima bombs exploding every second.
- The events we are experiencing today—flooding, rainstorms, hurricanes, wildfires, extremely cold days due to polar vortexes, and so on—are mostly the consequences of the atmospheric changes.
- The mass of the oceans is hundreds of times greater than that of the atmosphere; therefore, their effects will come later and be much greater. The gigantic heat conveyor belts of the ocean currents bring heat from the tropics toward the poles and move solar heat down below the surface. If GW reduces these flows, that will upset the heat balance of the planet. GW is already increasing oceanic evaporation (7% per °C), acidification (30% since 1900), ice melting, and the killing of coral reefs, which provide oxygen for us and a healthy habitat for sea life. Most estimates do not fully consider these effects.
- The effects of GW tipping points, such as gigantic methane releases as permafrost melts or ocean degassing as CO2 solubility drops, are also often neglected.
- It is mostly understood that our lifestyle must change in many ways, but other needed changes are not well known. For example, we should start cooling the planet by “whitening” the human footprint by increasing the solar reflectability of our roofs, roads, building surfaces, and agriculture. Also, we should focus on mitigating GW and reduce our investments in adapting to it.
- Finally, we should subsidize the development of newer technologies like the use of two-directional heat pumps; green energy transport under the oceans and elsewhere; the designs of gridless, fully distributed energy supply technologies; and centralized district heating of cities.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future??
In spite of the Ukraine war, GW reached 1.2°C in 2023, and if left uncontrolled, it will reach the Paris limit of 1.5°C by 2030. Also, the risk that the “energy war” could lead to nuclear ones makes me pessimistic.
Fortunately, I know that if we start taxing greenhouse gas emissions and invest the collected sum (approximately 1% of the global GDP) in converting to a green economy, GW can be kept under 2°C. I also know that while the green infrastructure is constructed, there will be an unprecedented economic boom we have not seen since the Marshall Plan at the end of WW2. This, and the fact that we know what needs to be done and we know how to do it, makes me optimistic.
I am also optimistic because the free market forces are already supporting our efforts, as evidenced by the dropping cost of green energy and the increase in its share in the total energy mix. Also, our children are smart enough to follow the example of our stone age ancestors who switched to bronze, not because they ran out of stone but because bronze was better.
The main message of my book is that green energy is better!
About Béla Lipták
Béla Lipták was born in 1936 in Hungary. As a Technical University student, he participated in the revolution against the Soviet occupation. He escaped and entered the United States as a refugee in 1956. In 1959, he received an engineering degree from Stevens Institute of Technology; he received a master’s degree from the City College of New York in 1962; and later, he did graduate work at Pratt Institute.
In 1960, he became the chief instrument engineer at Crawford and Russell, where he led the automation of dozens of industrial plants for more than a decade. In 1969, he published the multivolume Instrument and Automation Engineers’ Handbook, which is currently in its fifth edition. In 1975, he received his professional engineering license and founded a consulting firm named Béla Lipták Associates PC, which provides design and consulting services in the fields of energy-related automation and industrial safety. Over the years, he lectured at many universities around the world, including Yale University, where he was an adjunct professor in 1987.
Béla Lipták published more than 300 technical articles on climate change, global warming, and the automation of the new infrastructure they require (www.controlglobal. com/voices/liptak.html), as well as more than 20 books on various aspects of automation, safety, and energy technology.
In 1973, he was elected a Fellow of the International Society of Automation (ISA); in 1995, he received ISA’s Technical Achievement Award; and in 2001, he was inducted into Control magazine’s Process Automation Hall of Fame. He was also the keynote speaker at many domestic and overseas conventions.