Here are the interactive graphics from a recent Washington Post article. The original article is here. An online chat about the article/graphics is here.
Nature has published another landmark study showing how the complex interplay of human-generated pollution with natural systems worsens climate change. Their news article (subs. req’d) explains:
Rising levels of ozone pollution over the coming century will erode the ability of plants to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a new climate-modelling study predicts.
Ozone is already known to be a minor greenhouse gas, but the new calculations highlight another, indirect way in which it is likely to influence global warming by 2100. High levels can poison plants and reduce their ability to photosynthesize, says Stephen Sitch of the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Exeter.
Note this is actually a new amplifying feedback, since the hotter it gets the more ozone pollution is generated.
Below the fold is the rest of this article — and for you hardcore science types, I’ll end with the abstract of the original journal article.
Coal’s Doubters Block New Wave Of Power Plants – Wall Street Journal. Finally, some good news on the power front: “From coast to coast, plans for a new generation of coal-fired power plants are falling by the wayside as states conclude that conventional coal plants are too dirty to build and the cost of cleaner plants is too high.”
Floods Kill at Least 100 Across China – Reuters. “Severe flooding has hit about half of China” and “More than 1 million people have been evacuated.”
Veteran House Democrat Guards Turf on Energy – New York Times. That would be John Dingell (D-MI), duh.
What are the Dinosaurs of Detroit thinking? – USA Today opinion. “The Big 3 have opposed increased fuel economy standards. Do they know something the rest of us don’t?” They know how to lose market share….
Ed Wilson explains that the 21st century is a “bottleneck” for species, because of extreme stresses they will experience, most of all from climate change. He foresees a potentially brighter future beyond the fossil fuel era, beyond the peak human population will occur if developing countries follow the path of the developed world to lower fertility rates. Air and water can be clean and we will learn to live with other species in a sustainable way, using renewable energy. The question he asks is how many species will survive the tremendous pressure of the 21st century bottleneck. It is the question that I asked Sophie, how many of the animals?
Climate analyst Jesse Ausubel is getting a lot of press with his new, controversial, deeply flawed study, “Renewable and nuclear heresies”–UPDATE: available here and you can also get the main points from this 2005 Canadian Nuclear Association talk and the accompanying PPT presentation.
He says ramping up renewables would lead to the “rape of nature.” His study concludes:
Renewables are not green. To reach the scale at which they would contribute importantly to meeting global energy demand, renewable sources of energy, such as wind, water and biomass, cause serious environmental harm. Measuring renewables in watts per square metre that each source could produce smashes these environmental idols. Nuclear energy is green. However, in order to grow, the nuclear industry must … form alliances with the methane industry to introduce more hydrogen into energy markets, and start making hydrogen itself…. Considered in watts per square metre, nuclear has astronomical advantages over its competitors.
Uh, no, no, and no. Jesse popularized the notion that the economy has been decarbonizing for many decades (see Figure 2 of the PPT). This has led him to make a bunch of serious mistakes.
First, he basically thinks decarbonizing is all but inevitable with some effort on our part (i.e. pushing nukes and hydrogen hard). But if you look closely at Figure 3, you’ll see that in the last few years we’ve been “recarbonizing” — coal use has been soaring while natural gas use has stalled. (Also, even Ausubel’s historical decarbonization was an essentially meaningless trend, since it did not stop absolute carbon levels from soaring dangerously in recent decades.)
Second, if decarbonization is all but inevitable, then global warming will mostly take care of itself. He doesn’t come out and say this, but his talk never discusses the threat of climate change, which is much more likely to rape nature than renewables.
Third, he thinks hydrogen is the inevitable future. In fact it is a dead end — the energy carrier of the future is electricity, hopefully with cellulosic ethanol. Sorry, Jesse, no one in their right mind would use nuclear power to make hydrogen, especially since fuel cells just convert the hydrogen back to electricity — wasting some 75% of the original electricity and requiring you to buy expensive electrolyzers, hydrogen infrastructure, and fuel cells.
His fourth mistake, the land analysis, which got all the recent attention — “Renewable energy projects will devour huge amounts of land, warns researcher” — is the most serious, I think.
“Innovations in Energy” by Mark Fiore. Thank you to Earl for pointing this out.
A reader pointed me to a letter in the South China Morning Post, “Cold water on the warming debate” (subs. req’d). The writer, a senior research fellow of the HK Institute of Economics and Business, rehashes a number of mistaken argument I hear all too often:
Many people fail to knit together these two strands – climate change and the exhaustion of fossil fuels. If they did, they would see that the energy crisis, which is predicted as a result of the exhaustion of fossil fuel reserves, contains the seeds of the resolution of the global warming crisis. As fossil fuels become scarcer, their price is sure to rise. We see this already. Under market forces, this will accelerate substitution, largely towards nuclear energy. This will, in turn, redress the climatic concerns.
No. Conventional oil may be peaking, but the world has plenty of affordable coal, far more than is needed to destroy the climate (which is Hansen’s point). The climate problem is not self-resolving. Indeed, peak oil may drive us to liquid coal, a climate disaster. The article continues:
The timescales are, of course, unclear. The process may not be without some pain – with, for example, pollution persisting in some places and famine in others. But, at the end of the day, market forces are a more dependable mechanism than government diktat.
But why would market forces lead to reduced carbon dioxide emissions until carbon dioxide has a price? There’s more:
This afternoon Senator Lieberman hosted a hearing within the EPW’s Subcommittee on Private Sector and Consumer Solutions to Global Warming and Wildlife Protection. The hearing was entitled “Economic and International Issues in Global Warming Policy” and for as broad as that could be, there were actually two pointed questions at hand:
Witnesses spoke within the context of existing proposals and tended to side with either Lieberman-Warner or Bingaman-Domenici. More specifically, witnesses discussed cost containment, aka price controls or a safety valve, and occasionally, how to treat international carbon markets.
I thought the most articulate and resonant witness was Blythe Masters, Managing Director of JP Morgan Securities. Masters explained that a cap and trade system would “unleash the forces of supply and demand.” Like other testimonies, Masters contended that the primary way to lower the cost of compliance with regulations is to expand options for offsetting emissions (in essence, increasing the supply).
For example, the Kyoto Protocol does not allow the preservation of forests to be considered an offset when really, deforestation is a major source of emissions.
In three words, Masters advocated a cap and trade system that is flexible, broad, and long-term. And in order to be effective, it should have no price control.
A price control or safety valve mechanism would “directly decrease capital investment in low carbon technologies,” Masters argued, in addition to disabling the cost competitiveness of carbon capture and sequestration. A few of my other favorite points of hers were:
- Neither the acid rain nor EU cap and trade programs have safety valves; and
- While baselines may be necessary to control prices, upper bounds are not.
Which leads me to point out Masters’ warning, which she emphasized by pausing, looking up, and shooting the glance of an all-knowing mother to her child – a safety valve is simply “inappropriate.”
Garth Edward, from Shell, echoed some her concerns. His play on words was that we cannot have both an emissions cap and a price cap; one of the two has to give. Unfortunately, I think there’s a longer history of money championing environmental interests than the other way around.
More from James Hansen’s email:
I was invited to go on stage at “Live Earth” at the Meadowlands, between Jon Bon Jovi and Smashing Pumpkins performances. I agreed to this, on the condition that I could bring my grandchildren, Sophie and Connor. I assumed it would be like last year when I appeared with Al Gore before a young audience, with a rather impromptu discussion of global warming. Bad assumption. When I asked “Where’s Al?”, I was told that I would be going out alone, and didn’t I have something to put on the teleprompter? Hmm.
So you want to have greenhouse gas standards with teeth, but you want to minimize the risk they take too big a bite from the economy. And, of course, like Climate Progress, you don’t like the safety valve idea. What do you do? Banking and borrowing of course.
With “banking,” the right to emit carbon can be saved for future use. With “borrowing,” current emissions are extended against future abatement.
What is fascinating is that today a detailed banking and borrowing proposal, “Cost-Containment for the Carbon Market,” was put forward by four moderate senators — Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and John Warner (R-Va.) — with the help of Duke University’s environmental program.
A Greenwire piece (subs. req’d) notes “a top environmental group also didn’t shy away from the latest idea”:
“This is an interesting proposal to help address cost concerns while maintaining the integrity of the emissions cap,” said David Doniger, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Borrowing and repayment is far preferable to the safety valve, which breaks the cap by allowing firms to increase emissions with no payback requirement.
I agree. Kudos to the Senators for moving the debate forward. Here are more excerpts from the piece:
A Sacramento, CA publication — check it out. Quotable quote:
The thing that California has done the best is to sustain over an aggressive energy-efficiency effort. That has enabled the state to keep per capita energy consumption flat over the last three decades, whereas it has gone up 60 percent in the rest of the country.
Our top climate scientist has sent out a really, really long email (where does he find the time?), mostly discussing comments on his recent email essay on coal. I think Hansen is the clearest thinker on climate among the top scientists in the field, so I will reprint the email, breaking it up into several postings. The first one addresses “Coal-CO2 versus Oil-CO2” (a query that was also raised by a commenter here)
My statement that releasing a coal-CO2 molecule into the air is more harmful than setting free an oil-CO2 molecule caused puzzlement. Of course the molecules are identical. What I want people to recognize is a way of framing the climate problem that makes clear what action is required to avert disaster. Only two aspects of the physics must be understood:
(1) CO2 “lifetime”. A substantial fraction of the CO2 released to the air in burning fossil fuels will stay there for a very long time (about one-quarter is still there after 500 years).
(2) Fossil fuel reservoir sizes. There is enough CO2 in readily accessible oil and gas reserves to take atmospheric CO2 close to, and probably somewhat beyond, the “dangerous” level. The coal reservoir, not to mention unconventional fossil fuels such as tar shale, can take CO2 far beyond the dangerous level, producing, indeed, “a different planet”.
The widespread use of plug-in hybrid vehicles — which could be driven up to 40 miles on electric power alone — would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States without overloading the nation’s power grid, according to a new study.
The study, “Environmental Assessment of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles,” is by the Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council (whose new blog is the oddly-named Switchboard). Here’s a key chart:
Here are some more details on the study’s conclusions:
E&E Daily (subs. req’d) reports that the fireworks will be next week. The fuel efficiency debate will probably be front and center. Here are details:
Toyota Motor Co. will obtain permission from Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport by the end of July for the testing of a prototype plug-in Prius on public roads.
Toyota will be the first car maker to obtain permission for a plug-in hybrid test in Japan. After completing the road tests, Toyota will start building a way to market the model by leasing them to public (government and municipal) offices.
According to the report, Toyota is testing a lithium-ion battery pack in the plug-in. Earlier this year, Nikkei Business speculated that Toyota would
introduce the plug-in at the Tokyo Motor Show in November.
One of their readers offered a “slightly different” interpretation:
We weren’t going to come right out and make the direct attribution of the UK’s record floods to global warming, but those water-logged Brits are. PM Gordon Brown said
Obviously like every advanced industrial country we’re coming to terms with some of the issues surrounding climate change…. This has been, if you like, a one in 150 years set of incidents that has taken place in both Yorkshire and Humberside and now in Gloucestershire and the Severn.
Environment Secretary Hilary Benn went further. He noted that “the scientific consensus was that the climate was changing,” and added
The world is going to have to come to terms, so the scientists are telling us, with more extreme weather events and that’s why we need to anticipate them and try and plan for them.
Kudos to Benn and Brown. Let’s hope we soon get U.S. leaders who are equally blunt.
Fear not, Denyers, we can’t say for certain this is due to human-caused global warming, even though the theory predicts an increase in intense rain events. We can, however, say, this is what people in much of the planet will need to get used to if our leaders keep doing nothing.
No, it’s not an oxymoron. Here’s a hilarious video on the “principles of economics, translated.”
Great line: “Microeconomists are people who are wrong about specific things, and macroeconomists are wrong about things in general.” — though it turns out that line is a paraphrase of a line from P. J. O’Rourke’s, Eat the Rich.
Off topic? No — as the comic’s website explains, “When not performing stand-up, he consults on climate change and other environmental economics issues and teaches at the University of Washington.”
Climate Progress is getting more comments–and more thoughtful comments–which is great. In general, I don’t censor comments, even ones that are factually inaccurate–I say, bring it on, Deniers! The only comments I have been disallowing have swearing or vulgarity or spam. No need for that — this issue is simply too important.
Planet Gore has dug up “a leading international geologist and former expert IPCC reviewer,” Tom V. Segalstad, who is quoted as saying:
The IPCC postulates an atmospheric doubling of CO2, meaning that the oceans would need to receive 50 times more CO2 to obtain chemical equilibrium. This total of 51 times the present amount of carbon in atmospheric CO2 exceeds the known reserves of fossil carbon — it represents more carbon than exists in all the coal, gas, and oil that we can exploit anywhere in the world.
Ooh. Looks like all the leading climate scientists in the world made a simple, stupid mistake. Gosh, guess we can all go out and build all the coal plants we want — not!
The key to this nonsense is the worlds I have boldfaced. To paraphrase Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, “Tom, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in chemical equilibrium any more.”
That’s the whole point — we are spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere much faster than the oceans and other sinks can take them up. It takes thousands of years to reach equilibrium with the oceans — the planet will be cooked (and the near-surface ocean nearly lifeless) long before then. I’ll provide one of the many sources you can find on the Internet for this genuine fact below; as we’ll see, the real story — the ocean sink appears to be saturating — should actually make us more worried about global warming, not less.
Let’s call this PG Disinfotainment Watch #41 and #42 (for not bothering to use Google to find the truth). And let’s strip Tom (pictured here) of his doctorate for making a mistake that would get an undergraduate geology student a failing grade.