An ounce of prevention is worth a gigaton of cure!
With carbon dioxide in the atmosphere approaching alarming levels, even halting emissions altogether may not be enough to avert catastrophic climate change. Could scrubbing carbon dioxide from the air be a viable solution? A new study by scientists at the Carnegie Institution suggests that while removing excess carbon dioxide would cool the planet, complexities of the carbon cycle would limit the effectiveness of a one-time effort. To keep carbon dioxide at low levels would require a long-term commitment spanning decades or even centuries.
A new study by scientists at the Carnegie Institution suggests that while removing excess carbon dioxide would cool the planet, complexities of the carbon cycle would limit the effectiveness of a one-time effort. To keep carbon dioxide at low levels would require a long-term commitment spanning decades or even centuries.
Previous studies have shown that reducing carbon dioxide emissions to zero would not lead to appreciable cooling, because carbon dioxide already within the atmosphere would continue to trap heat. For cooling to occur, greenhouse gas concentrations would need to be reduced. “We wanted to see what the response would be if carbon dioxide were actively removed from the atmosphere,” says study coauthor Ken Caldeira of Carnegie’s Department of Global Ecology. “Our study is the first to look at how much carbon dioxide you would need to remove and for how long to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations low. This has obvious implications for the public and for policy makers as we weigh the costs and benefits of different ways of mitigating climate change.”
… The researchers found that removing all human-emitted carbon dioxide from the atmosphere caused temperatures to drop, but it offset less than half of CO2-induced warming. Why would removing all the extra carbon dioxide have such a small effect? The researchers point to two primary reasons. First, slightly more than half of the carbon dioxide emitted by fossil-fuels over the past two centuries has been absorbed in the oceans, rather than staying in the atmosphere. When carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere, it is partially replaced by gas coming out of ocean water. Second, the rapid drop in atmospheric carbon dioxide and the change in surface temperature alters the balance of the land carbon cycle, causing the emission of carbon dioxide from the soil to exceed its uptake by plants. As a result, carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere.
According to the simulations, for every 100 billion tons of carbon removed from the atmosphere, average global temperatures would drop 0.16° C (0.28° F).
Further simulations showed that in order to keep carbon dioxide at low levels, the process of extracting carbon dioxide from the air would have to continue for many decades, and perhaps centuries, after emissions were halted.
“If we do someday decide that we need to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to avoid a climate crisis, we might find ourselves committed to carbon dioxide removal for a long, long time. A more prudent plan might involve preventing carbon dioxide emissions now rather than trying to clean up the atmosphere later.”
Related Post: Why solar energy trumps coal power: Exclusive new Caldeira analysis explains “the burning of organic carbon warms the Earth about 100,000 times more from climate effects than it does through the release of chemical energy in combustion.”Google’s Renewable Energy Push
Dan Reicher, director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google Inc., spoke at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum Wall Street on Wednesday in support of a new government agency that would help clean technology companies bridge the “valley of death,” a gap in financing for the first full-scale demonstration.
We sat down with Reicher for a few minutes to talk about this initiative and renewable energy in general, with relation to Google. Reicher’s not just a Googler. He was formerly the vice president and co-founder of New Energy Capital Corp., a private equity firm funded by the California State Teachers Retirement System and Vantage Point Venture Partners. He also served as assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy at the U.S. Department of Energy from 1997 through 2001.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s chief executive officer called on lawmakers and investors to move toward a global carbon market and a “level playing field” in the fight against climate change. Investors have yet to get the signals they need to set long-term strategies for cutting emissions and participating in an integrated global market, CEO Peter Voser said in an interview today at the European Business Summit in Brussels.
“In Europe, we have the emissions-trading system, which is a viable way forward, but ultimately we need a global mechanism,” he said. “I think it will take longer than a couple of years, but the important thing is that we start, and we can adjust during the time.”
The European Union’s ETS program, the world’s largest cap- and-trade system, covers about 12,000 installations that need allowances for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit in burning fossil fuels. Those that produce more than their cap need to buy more permits; those that emit less can sell their surpluses. The value of transactions in the system rose to $118 billion last year, according to World Bank data.
The emission of the greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide has been structurally underestimated, as a result of the measuring methods used. This is the conclusion of the scientist Petra Kroon, who carried out research for the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft, The Netherlands) into an innovative method for measuring the emission of these gases. Kroon recently obtained her PhD degree for this much more accurate method, which also partly solves the problem of this systematic underestimation.
When it comes to greenhouse gases many of us think first of CO2. But a large proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions are actually other gases, such as N2O (nitrous oxide) and CH4 (methane). In the Netherlands the contributions of methane and nitrous oxide to the total emission of greenhouse gases are estimated to be 8% and 6% respectively. Worldwide these figures are 14% and 9%.
The emission of methane and nitrous oxide is largely the result of agricultural activities; nitrous oxide from fertilisers and methane mostly from cows. In peat pasture areas these emissions are particularly prevalent. PhD student Petra Kroon carried out measurements of methane and nitrous oxide for ECN and TU Delft on an intensively managed peat pasture, but the measuring techniques she used can also be used in other ecosystems.
Limiting climate change requires a revolution in the way the global economy generates and consumes energy. It is becoming increasingly clear that the current diplomatic approach — as evidenced by the results of last year’s Copenhagen Climate Conference and the follow-on talks completed in Bonn just this month — should be redesigned to meet this immense political, technical, and social challenge.
Almost two decades ago, the world’s nations, including the United States, ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, pledging to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations below dangerous levels. Since then, negotiators have aimed for a global agreement on the specific level considered dangerous and on binding targets for emission reductions that ensure this threshold will not be breached.
The Copenhagen negotiations aimed, but failed, to implement this plan. Nations expressed support for holding any increase in global average temperatures below 2° Celsius, but obligated themselves to no actions to ensure such an outcome. This is not surprising: this strategy requires nearly two hundred nations to commit themselves to march down a revolutionary path to combat a very serious but uncertain threat.
Officials have quarantined 28 cows that may have drunk toxic waste water from natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania, adding to concerns about health risks arising from exploiting the state’s vast shale deposits. The cows had access for at least three days to a pool that formed from a leaking waste water holding pond on a farm in Tioga County, north-central Pennsylvania, where East Resources Inc is drilling into the Marcellus Shale formation.The state agriculture department said on Thursday that the toxic water may have contaminated the cows’ meat and that they were quarantined on May 1. Some of the state’s farmers have reported cases of sick animals and birth malformations that they blame on toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), which energy companies use to draw gas from deep deposits.
Waste water from the gas drilling process contains chemicals injected into the ground to fracture the gas-bearing rock, as well as naturally occurring toxic substances that are disturbed deep underground during fracking and drilling.
The world’s second national carbon trading scheme ramps up from Thursday with the inclusion of sectors covering half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, but anger over the scheme could hurt the government. Rising electricity prices and higher fuel costs have worried some voters, farmers and businesses, which fear the higher costs could hurt their competitiveness.
Brokers say a modest price cap on carbon permits and limited supply mean trading in the scheme will initially be modest. Nonetheless, the government says the scheme, the only other national scheme outside Europe, is a crucial first step in curbing the growth of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, which have risen more than 20 percent over the past two decades.
The government, which faces elections next year, says it is balancing the need for a price on carbon emissions to meet New Zealand’s target under the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol, while defending the need to act now. Critics have called for a delay given the United States and Australia have struggled to win support for similar schemes.
A U.N. climate summit in Mexico later this year won’t broker a global accord on climate change, but may represent a positive intermediate step, the Italian environment minister said Thursday after co-hosting climate change talks. Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo said the year-end summit in Cancun will not represent a “turnaround” but can still end with a “shared framework agreement” that can serve as a basis for a future global agreement.
A December summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, fell far short of the goal of a full-fledged and legally binding accord setting emission reduction targets for major countries. Expectations for the Mexico summit have been lowered as a result. “Now we are all aware that conditions aren’t there for a global accord,” Prestigiacomo told reporters at the end of the talks held over two days in Rome.
U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern said “differences absolutely do remain” but insisted the focus remains on “how to bridge those gaps.” Looking at Cancun, he said “different people mean different things” by framework. “The thing that is important to us is that all the issues move forward together,” he said. “We would not support an outcome that picked off two or three issues and left others behind. I don’t think other countries would be supportive of that.”