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  1. Linux users not welcome :-(

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 9 Oct 2007 @ 12:15 PM

  2. I’m trying to understand that the implications of that 210 x 210 km figure. That’s 44000 square km. If Earth’s radius is 4000 km, then the cross-sectional area of Earth is about 50 million square km. (Note: cross-sectional area, not surface area.) This means the amount of energy we are using today is equivalent to about 0.0875% of the total solar insolation.

    That doesn’t sound like much, but at a 2% annual increase, it will only be about 350 years before humanity would be using an amount of energy equal to the total solar insolation on Earth. Could that possibly be right? Have I made a gross error here somewhere?

    What are the implications of this for growth and sustainability?

    Comment by Chris — 9 Oct 2007 @ 12:45 PM

  3. I have all due and considerable respect for Stefan. However, he does not mention that the notion of German politicans Merkel and Gabriel speaking at the convention when they are pushing the interests of the German energy cartel (RWE, E.ON, etc.) in all respects, inter alia by approving ca 40 coal-fired power stations and donating emission rights to those corporations in the near future, is quite risible.

    Stefan’s definition of “top” climate and energy experts is also questionable. Does top equal mainstream, ie non-radical,respectable and allegedly apolitical or mainstream political?

    Lastly, it is strange that nobody from any branch of the military and secret services in any country seems to have been invited to contribute at this conference. Yet those ladies and gentlemen are sure to be having their thoughts and making their plans, which we would all like to share.

    It is sad that climatologists, who by definition definitely did not choose their career because they wanted to be in politics, have not realised yet the implications of the current predicament for their own Weltanschauung.

    Comment by Spartacus — 9 Oct 2007 @ 1:03 PM

  4. I presume you mean ‘roll’ of plastic …, not ‘role’;

    and … there are questions about how noble was Nobel;

    and even … from the news I have seen today there might have been worthier recipients than gene-splitting and better hard-drives … what ever;

    and … there is a bug in your Comment Interface, not just for Unix I don’t think,

    be well.

    Comment by David Wilson — 9 Oct 2007 @ 1:03 PM

  5. Tim Flannery was quoted in an article posted at ENN.com stating that greenhouse emissions had reached 450ppm, 10 years ahead of predictions. This number is to be reported in an upcoming release from the IPCC. I assume this number represents all greenhouse gases being reported as Carbon Dioxide Equivalent units, though the story makes it sound like it is all CO2. Is this level 10 years ahead of IPCC predictions? And if so, is CO2 the culprit or are other GHG’s increasing faster than expected? Also, it’s weird, living in the USA, and hearing dispatches like Stefan’s from the outside where political speach actually sounds rational.

    Comment by Andrew Sipocz — 9 Oct 2007 @ 1:24 PM

  6. On a loosely related topic, ABC News highlighted the Southeastern US drought last night with a story on Atlanta’s water woes. It seems that unless very strong restrictions are initiated this major US city may run out of water in another year of minimal rainfall.

    Do any of the climatologists on this site want to comment on a possible connection of this drought and global warming via a strengthening of the Bermuda high? Furthermore, is it possible that this drying is the new norm? Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    Comment by Mike Tabony — 9 Oct 2007 @ 1:38 PM

  7. Martin, the first stream shows as:
    http://streamcm.eu/richmedia/pik-symposium2007/01/video.asx
    Possibly you can download it and then use VLC? Just guessing.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 9 Oct 2007 @ 1:43 PM

  8. Hank, sure… and Ubuntu is pretty good at handling Windows formats like WMF (which is used here). It’s about the message they are sending: scientists and social innovators especially need not bother. I mean, there are true open formats for streaming video too.

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 9 Oct 2007 @ 3:28 PM

  9. Mike Tabony (7) — see the second comment on the Spanish perspectives thread just below.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 9 Oct 2007 @ 3:34 PM

  10. Chris, by that time we’ll have 6,000 billion people living on Earth… also at a 2% growth rate. Won’t happen, in spite of Asimov’s fantasies ;-)

    I haven’t listened to the talk, but I suppose this 210×210 km refers to a surface area on the ground, cycling through the day-night cycle, not perpendicular to incident sunlight. A latter type surface receives 40,000 GW, enough to provide a 40 billion population with electricity at 100% efficiency. Photovoltaic isn’t very efficient and because of day/night a planetwide daisychain of such solar arrays would be needed, with cabling.

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 9 Oct 2007 @ 3:37 PM

  11. Solar thermal engines are being developed for good energy capture and storage by compressed air and other means.

    Still with human global populations projections of 9 billion by 2050 and energy use set to grow by 50% by 2030 I doubt more than 10% of that will be met by sustainables. We need to move fast on alternatives to fossil fuels and their infrastructures for therin lies the real problem, latency of global rollouts, 40 years probably and thats when the technology is actually ready.

    I doubt we can avoid 2 C, some scientists have said as much. Can we stop before 3 C is the big question?

    Comment by pete best — 9 Oct 2007 @ 4:23 PM

  12. “Carlo Rubbia (NP physics 1984) pointed out that a square of the size 210 x 210 km receives as much solar power as the whole world consumes in energy today.”

    Does that maybe mean how much the human world uses, for its technology, or does it include what we use to grow trees to build our houses and food to build our bodies, or does it include what the whole biosphere uses? If the latter, we may run out of PV space even sooner, unless we think we can do without the bioshere.

    On the other hand, if we put PV stations in space, we can expand the earth’s effective energy collecting cross-section. But how long can this go on? Might we be better off with some negative population growth, as well as per person energy use, and doing so very quickly?

    Comment by Dan Robinson — 9 Oct 2007 @ 4:26 PM

  13. Remember that it’s not about how much alternative “renewable” energy we use (perhaps while still increasing our carbon footprint, but about how little carbon, from whatever source, we cause to be burned. We hear about “carbon neutral” lifestyles, but this doesn’t seem to include the energy cost of building PVs, windmills, hybrid cars etc., or that of flying to sustainablility conferences instead of using the Internet.

    Comment by Dan Robinson — 9 Oct 2007 @ 5:05 PM

  14. Sustainability for how long?

    Somewhat related to this question is some new data about after the end of the Eemian, so also about conjectures about Out-of-Africa. First the current thought from Alan Templeton, based on genetic information, is that Homo spaiens sapiens, modern humans, left Africa about 135–95 kya, with 135 kya most likely, but anytime thereafter, up to 95 kya is almost as likely. The latest, best data puts the height of the Eemian at 134 kya and its end by 131 kya. So all that fits together quite well, in my estimation.

    The recent announcment

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071008171121.htm

    fits in beautifully with the above dates: The climate changed, at least in tropical Africa, and so humans moved elsewhere.

    Likely was not the first time and certainly not the last…

    Comment by David B. Benson — 9 Oct 2007 @ 5:08 PM

  15. Re #5 — see page 206 of AR4/Physical Science Basis (Chapter 2). About half the annual forcing increments from long lived greenhouse gases comes from methane. The usual images of methane forcing being less than half of CO2 (as in the SPM) compare 500 years worth of CO2 with 50 years worth of methane.

    Comment by Geoff Russell — 9 Oct 2007 @ 5:18 PM

  16. If the entire planet is at risk from GHG, why is Germany shutting down its nuclear plants and switching to coal? One can argue that it produces CO2 to create the nuke plants, but that CO2 has already been vented to the atmosphere. I just don’t understand that kind of thinking. But I guess I just don’t understand the kind of “rational” political debate that goes on in Germany.

    Comment by yorick — 9 Oct 2007 @ 6:35 PM

  17. There is a good article on the methane crisis at http://www.earthsave.org.

    Comment by Bird Thompson — 9 Oct 2007 @ 7:44 PM

  18. There is a good article on the methane crisis at http://www.earthsave.org.

    Comment by Bird Thompson — 9 October 2007 @ 7:44 PM

    Killing the cows will stop them from producing methane.

    Becoming a vegetarian does nothing as the cows will still be there.

    A far better strategy to reduce animal methane would be to suggest people switch away from eating ruminants, and then to kill off a major percentage of the ruminant population, both domestic and wild. It’s at least doable.

    I still have my grandfather’s Sharps buffalo gun: one shot one kill.

    Comment by J.C.H. — 9 Oct 2007 @ 10:11 PM

  19. Re #18 JCH [Becoming a vegetarian does nothing as the cows will still be there.

    A far better strategy to reduce animal methane would be to suggest people switch away from eating ruminants, and then to kill off a major percentage of the ruminant population, both domestic and wild. It’s at least doable.]

    Isn’t becoming a vegetarian one way of switching away from eating ruminants? If people do that, and preferably reduce or eliminate consumption of dairy products, the number of domestic ruminants kept will decrease in response to a reduction in demand. Populations of domestic ruminants are controlled and usually maintained by human intervention; if demand falls, some of the herds now maintained will not be economically viable. Individual domestic ruminants, of course, would continue to be slaughtered, but fewer would be bred to replace them – so over time, some of “the cows” would no longer be there – and the more people switch to vegetarianism and veganism, the fewer there will be. I haven’t yet found any comparative figures – does anyone have any? – but I’d be astonished if domestic ruminants were not responsible for most “ruminantogenic” methane, as their populations are huge, and they are bred to process large amounts of food. Your trusty buffalo gun could be usefully employed against destructive feral ruminant (or for that matter pig or rabbit) populations, particularly introduced populations on small islands, where extermination is practicable, but the environmental benefits would be reducing soil erosion and protecting biodiversity – the methane saving would be tiny.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 10 Oct 2007 @ 5:22 AM

  20. Dan Robinson says:

    [[ Might we be better off with some negative population growth, as well as per person energy use, and doing so very quickly?]]

    Do you volunteer to be one of the people who have to die, in order to make more room for the others?

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 10 Oct 2007 @ 6:24 AM

  21. To grasp the obvious, we must address population growth. Pushing carbon emissions reduction against the current population growth gradient doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. Hailing changes in energy sources strikes hollow without the population growth component. OTOH, maybe leaders figure AGW’s effects will eliminate excess population the hard way.

    Comment by ghost — 10 Oct 2007 @ 7:16 AM

  22. Re 21 and others. Development has proven the only effective form of population control. Wherever development has occurred, fertility has fallen. Wherever population control has been imposed by force it has ultimately failed–either because people rebel against it (e.g. Indira Gandhi’s India) or because it has led to a distortion of the population (the distorted sex ratios in China). Ironically, development necessarily entails some increase in energy consumption, at least in the poorest nations such as those of Sub-Saharan Africa. As many of these nations near economic takeoff, it is imperative that they have the option to choose clean and carbon neutral energy sources. It is not either-or when it comes to development and addressing climate change. We must do both, or both will fail.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 10 Oct 2007 @ 8:08 AM

  23. Did methane start rising again. Last figures I saw showed it leveling off around 2000 and flat. Was this complete “denialist” bunkum?

    Comment by yorick — 10 Oct 2007 @ 8:25 AM

  24. We know how to address population growth. And those tactics bring a lot of other benefits. Increasing education, income and life expectancy in any population will decrease the number of children born and increase the survival rate of those children. At the same time, the population will move away from less sustainable practices and undesirable social practices.

    As far as vegetarian practices go, be glad much of India is vegetarian. If that culture were more meat-eating, we’d have a lot more methane in the air from ruminants. We know it takes more energy to raise cattle for food than directly using that grain for human consumption. Natural grazing practices are quite different from much of our current meat manufacture system.

    It’s high time these prestigious institutes like Nobel begin to focus on this issue, it’s literally our future.

    As to the total area of land required for PV use, who says it has to be single-use? When I fly out of O’Hare, I see vast swathes of open rooftops exposed to sunlight nearly all year. When is power use the highest? The specious arguments against PV use don’t hold up well when exposed to practical application. Hopefully the recent developments pushing efficiency past 50% will be easily and efficient to manufacture soon. The other side of that is less efficient but extremely inexpensive methods, which may be good for home application.

    Comment by Terry Miesle — 10 Oct 2007 @ 8:31 AM

  25. Re 20: “Do you volunteer to be one of the people who have to die, in order to make more room for the others?”

    Barton, was this hyperbole necessary? All that needs happen is for the birth rate to drop below the replacement rate. Although world-wide the rate is in fact rising, this has already happened in most of the industrialized world, exactly where the highest per capita consumption is. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_territories_by_fertility_rate

    Comment by Jim Eager — 10 Oct 2007 @ 8:34 AM

  26. VIdeo does not play on Mac :-(
    Any chance that the videos can be converted to Quicktime and reposted?

    Comment by Bo Norrman — 10 Oct 2007 @ 8:59 AM

  27. Re #22 [All that needs happen is for the birth rate to drop below the replacement rate. Although world-wide the rate is in fact rising, this has already happened in most of the industrialized world, exactly where the highest per capita consumption is.]

    The global population is still rising, but the rate of growth is falling in all major regions:

    From “World Population Prospects
    The 2006 Revision
    Highlights” (http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/wpp2006/WPP2006_Highlights_rev.pdf)

    “Over most of human history, the world population grew very slowly if at all. Growth
    rates began increasing slowly during the 17th or 18th centuries as mortality started to decline. With
    accelerating gains in longevity, the growth rate of the world population increased, especially
    during the 20th century, when it reached a peak at 2 per cent per year in 1965-1970 (figure 2).
    Since then, the speed of population growth has been decelerating, largely as a result of falling
    fertility in the developing world. By 2005-2010, the population growth rate at the world level had
    reached 1.17 per cent per year and is projected to decline to 0.36 per cent per year by 2045-2050.”

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 10 Oct 2007 @ 9:01 AM

  28. ghost (#21) wrote:

    To grasp the obvious, we must address population growth. Pushing carbon emissions reduction against the current population growth gradient doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. Hailing changes in energy sources strikes hollow without the population growth component. OTOH, maybe leaders figure AGW’s effects will eliminate excess population the hard way.

    The global population is leveling off – and is currently projected to level out at 11 billion between 2040 and 2070.

    There are two main reasons:

    1. The availability of birth control. This may actually be viewed as a kind of counterweight to the earlier introduction of Western medicine which resulted in a reduced death rate without a reduced birth rate.

    2. The wealth effect. As the per capita income of a nation exceeds $(1964) 300/yr, population growth begins to decelerate, and as the per capita income continues to rise further, population growth continues to decelerate. The wealthier a nation is, the more education that is required of its citizens. In poor agrigarian societies, it is possible for a family to have their children work alongside them in the fields as early as age three and actually see the living standards of the family improve slightly.

    But with the introduction of more indirect methods of production and a greater division of labor, more education is required before a child is able to become a productive member of the family. Elementary school, high school, and by the time that we are talking about college, the child has become an adult who will in all likelihood move out of the home – and be concerned principally with maintaining their own household. At that point children become a luxury.

    *

    Many countries are already seeing negative population growths (particularly in Europe) – and others are leveling off around zero at this point (e.g., Japan springs to mind). The rest (with only a handful of exceptions) are decelerating. The best way to control population growth is the combination of birth control and higher standards of living.

    Of course climate change is going to make this more difficult, at least with respect to the standard of living. Business As Usual will hit the world economy very hard some time before the turn of the century. A study commissioned by the British government and lead by a former senior economist for the World Bank suggests that we could be looking at an economic crisis on the same order as the Great Depression. I suspect it would actually be deeper and a great deal more prolonged.

    *

    In fact there are those who would suggest that we should maintain the third world in a state of poverty – as advanced economies tend to produce a great deal more carbon dioxide per capita. However, without extreme measures of the sort that very few would likely endorse, third world countries will advance – only more slowly, and therefore with an extended period of higher population growth – and consequently a larger population once it stabilizes.

    *

    The alternative is to develop technologies with a smaller carbon footprint, particularly cheap renewable energy, and make them available to everyone – while simultaneously trying to lift the living standards of third world nations up to the level of modernized countries. Solar energy of the sort mentioned in the above essay is one such possibility. There are others.

    What I would suggest (and have suggested before) is that we should create an international Manhattan Project – for the development of cheap renewable energy.

    Ps

    My apologies for covering what I have covered before (albeit earlier in greater depth), but it seems on-topic, and no doubt it will be new to some.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 10 Oct 2007 @ 9:03 AM

  29. A few months ago, some people i work with did a similar calculation on solar potential. If you assume perfect conversion of all the energy that the sun delivers to our orbit, how big an area would you need to supply the world in electricity. Our number came out to a little over 120 sq miles (roughly on par to the 210 km^2 number).

    Now, we’d never realize this number for many reasons: atmospheric distortion, non-perpendicular alignment of the array, tracking errors, efficiency of the array (currently about 5% for cost-effective arrays and 10-15% for horrendously expensive arrays), etc.

    As an example of the current state of the art, there’s a solar power plant in Portugal that covers about 150 acres. Of the total amount of energy that the sun delivers to the earth over 150 acres, that powerplant captures and converts about 0.8% into electricity.

    For solar to become practical (and I fully believe it will), we have to attack those systemic inefficiencies. I fully believe we’ll figure out how to get a 30% efficient, cost effective array. Ideally it will be integrated with the shingles of our house.

    Comment by dean_1230 — 10 Oct 2007 @ 9:13 AM

  30. Good to see all those countries with TFRs of under 2 (the replacement rate) therefore leading the way toward negative population growth. We need negative population growth in terms of food animals too. Humans as a dominant species cannot maintain vast animal farms without producing huge amounts of methane (which is 21 times as potent a GHG as CO2) as well as depleting & polluting water & soil. We must change our lives.

    Comment by Bird Thompson — 10 Oct 2007 @ 9:41 AM

  31. Deer are smaller animals, but they produce a their fair share of methane. It’s basically a function of body size.

    Estimates of the deer population in the United States vary widely, but I think 40 to 60 million is a reasonable guess. There is also a fast growing buffalo population. Add in North America’s Elk, Moose, and Caribou, and it gets to be a healthy number and a lot of methane.

    If the buffalo commons were to be drained of cattle, then an enormous habitat for wild ruminants would suddenly be useless for anything else.

    It is not just as simple as going veggie. I don’t see any reason in the logic for allowing domestic ruminant populations to gradually decline over decades. It’s cruel, and that is just a gigantic amount of methane that could be nipped in the cud now.

    I also think there would be fierce, perhaps violent, resistance to forced vegetarianism. It’s far more reasonable to offer a red-meat alternative, which is easily achievable. After we’re done shooting Bambi and Elsie, we’ll eat Trigger.

    Comment by J.C.H. — 10 Oct 2007 @ 9:46 AM

  32. re Flannery , this story quotes him on greenhouse gases:

    “They’re all having an impact. Probably 75 percent is carbon dioxide but the rest is that mixed bag of other gases,” he said.

    So there you have it.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 10 Oct 2007 @ 10:05 AM

  33. As far as vegetarian practices go, be glad much of India is vegetarian. If that culture were more meat-eating, we’d have a lot more methane in the air from ruminants.

    India, by most estimates, has at least three times as many cows as the United States – at least 300 million cows to the United State’s 100 million.. They also have large populations of sheep and goats.

    Comment by J.C.H. — 10 Oct 2007 @ 10:18 AM

  34. yorick (#23) wrote:

    Did methane start rising again. Last figures I saw showed it leveling off around 2000 and flat. Was this complete “denialist” bunkum?

    Its leveled off for the time being. Pretty close to zero although not quite negative.

    But the thawing of the permafrost in Siberia, Canada and Alaska is just getting started. Shallow at this point and requires moisture. Have yet to hit the motherload of yedoma – and precipitation will be increasing in the subpolar as time goes on. Then there are the shallow water methane hydrates up along the northern coasts – and we recently discovered that they are closer to the surface than we had any reason to suspect. I understand the ocean currents around Antarctica are changing, too. Taking warm water deeper. Then there is the increased poleward flow of the ocean currents – partly driven by Hurricanes, I understand.

    But yes, the economic setback in Eastern Europe, improved methods of growing rice, the leveling off of the cattle population – we seem to be doing better with regard to our methane emissions. No more exponential growth. In fact it is quite possible that the growth rate of anthropogenic emissions is now negative. Not sure.

    In any case, it is good news.

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 10 Oct 2007 @ 10:32 AM

  35. Watch out Chris you are confusing miles with kilometers, Earth radius is 6 373 km.

    The big question is how are we going to curve GHGs and continue to develop at the same time, specially if China is lightning a coal thermo a week, taking advantage of it’s free coal. Yesterday Rajenda Pachauri stated if there isn’t a real price for coal, around US $ 60 or $ 80 a ton everything will be useless, but as cheap coal is one of the main reasons for China´s appeal for the industry to move there and China has declared it will not sacrifice its fast development at any cause, this is not to be a realty very soon.

    The other very difficult solution was given by Pachauri as well, it’s the changes in the way of life of big polluters at USA, Europe, and elsewhere (there are rich people driving SUVs and building mansions all around the world) specially if there are non rich people at the line expecting to get their share and their time to buy their own SUV.

    Comment by Jorge Ianiszewski — 10 Oct 2007 @ 10:39 AM

  36. I think it has nothing to do with animal methane tailing off. The United States has around 30 million fewer cattle than back when I punched them, but those cattle were just moved/replaced overseas.

    I think it’s things like better management of landfills and the oil and gas industry has fixed all their pipes.

    Comment by J.C.H. — 10 Oct 2007 @ 10:43 AM

  37. Re: Methane Emissions (#34)

    I was mistaken.

    Methane Emissions Rising (But You Wouldn’t Know It), Study Says
    Sean Markey
    for National Geographic News
    September 27, 2006
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/09/060927-methane.html

    Drying out of the wetlands is currently causing a reduction in nature’s output, but since 2000, our emissions have been increasing. Biomass-burning (e.g., clearing of land for farming and dry fuels in the third world) and fossil fuels appear to be the cause. China seems to be the source of the increase in methane from fossil fuels. With the recent increase in the rate of growth of carbon dioxide emissions (over the same period), this not good news.

    The inversion attributes this signal to decreasing anthropogenic emissions, in particular to the northern fossil source (Fig. 3). This is in qualitative agreement with the latitudinal CH4 differences analysed in Fig. 1b. After 1999, however, anthropogenic emissions increase again, especially in north Asia. This may reflect the booming Chinese economy. By 2003, we find that anthropogenic emissions recovered to their levels in the early 1990s.

    Contribution of anthropogenic and natural sources to atmospheric methane variability
    P. Bousquet, et al
    Vol 443|28 September 2006, pg 441

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 10 Oct 2007 @ 11:12 AM

  38. Re: Negative Population Growth
    It is interesting to consider the implications of negative population growth. First, it’s never happened during recorded history on a global scale. Those few occasions when it has happened regionally have been accompanied by severe upheaval. In the Dark/Middle Ages the population of Europe actually fell due to a combination of famine, plague and nearly continual warfare. Nobility and monasteries could not find enough peasants to work the land, so they offered very favorable terms to freemen to bind themselves and their families to a lord and his land in perpetuity. This was the beginning of feudalism in Europe, which clearly wasn’t such a good thing for the peasants.
    In Africa, from the late 1500s to the late 1800s the population fell as a result of the predations of the slave trade and colonialism (read “King Leopold’s Ghost”), and the continent is still recovering.
    The population of Soviet Russia fell slightly and briefly from ~1920-1945 due to the combined effects of civil war, famine, Stalinist purges and WW II, but this was a temporary effect. And of course, the population of native Americans plummetted after Europeans came, but the rise in European population shortly more than made up for this.
    Negative population growth has some very serious and odd economic implications. For instance, with 11 billion people, food will be in very short supply, and it will strain all of our technical capabilities to do so. However, as the population falls, we will still have high productivity. Inded, farmers will have to maintain that level of productivity to stay in business. Prices will fall. Markets will be glutted. Farmers will go out of business, but that will merely increase competitive pressures. Similar trends will be seen in manufacturing. Governments will struggle with their tax base and with providing services despite the shrinking population.
    So while negative population growth is essential and desirable, we should not think we are out of the woods if it occurs.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 10 Oct 2007 @ 11:26 AM

  39. re #31 [Deer are smaller animals, but they produce a their fair share of methane. It’s basically a function of body size.]

    Rather, of rate of increase of body size – and domestic animals are bred to grow fast.

    [Estimates of the deer population in the United States vary widely, but I think 40 to 60 million is a reasonable guess. There is also a fast growing buffalo population. Add in North America’s Elk, Moose, and Caribou, and it gets to be a healthy number and a lot of methane.]

    According to the USDA, the USA had just over 95m cattle in 2002. And they are going to be producing a lot more per head than deer. Add in sheep and goats, and it’s clear that even in the USA, considerably more methane will be coming from domestic than wild ruminants. The preponderance will be greater in more densely-populated parts of the world. I’ve found a figure in Wikipedia for total world cattle: 1.3 billion – I can’t vouch for it.

    [It is not just as simple as going veggie. I don’t see any reason in the logic for allowing domestic ruminant populations to gradually decline over decades. It’s cruel, and that is just a gigantic amount of methane that could be nipped in the cud now.]

    I don’t understand why it is cruel to allow a population to decline over decades. It is individuals, not populations, that suffer. I
    agree if you mean that there are reasons for wanting to abolish large parts of the livestock industry immediately: it often causes great suffering to the animals concerned.

    [I also think there would be fierce, perhaps violent, resistance to forced vegetarianism.] Which of course no-one has suggested. I do suggest that ruminant meat and dairy producers should have to buy permits to produce the greenhouse gases they do, raising the price of these items and so reducing demand, and hence the size of domestic herds.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 10 Oct 2007 @ 11:28 AM

  40. Barton Paul Levenson wrote: “Do you volunteer to be one of the people who have to die, in order to make more room for the others?”

    Well, we all have to die. We “volunteer” for that by virtue of being born. More to the point is to volunteer to be one of the people who does not reproduce, which I have done and encourage others to do as well.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 10 Oct 2007 @ 11:45 AM

  41. Which of course no-one has suggested. I do suggest that ruminant meat and dairy producers should have to buy permits to produce the greenhouse gases they do, raising the price of these items and so reducing demand, and hence the size of domestic herds.

    Good luck. The United States is a Republic. People vote. Vegetarians make up one percent of the population.

    I don’t see any substantive studies on wild ruminant methane production, so I’ll just speculate. First, they eat in the summer to get fat as fast as they can. The quality of food is better, so more of the hydrocarbon goes to fat – less methane production per unit of food, but still a lot of methane. Over the winter the quality of food diminishes, so they are unable to process as high a percentage of hydrocarbon to fat. That could actually mean more methane gets burped out if their volume of food intake is high – depends on the winter. The science seems to indicate that a rich diet, like the corn used to finish cattle, results in significantly less methane (more fat faster), and poor diets, like the grass feed to cattle on the range, tend to result in more methane.

    Comment by J.C.H. — 10 Oct 2007 @ 12:39 PM

  42. Coalfield fires — The linked article

    http://www.eoearth.org/article/Coal_fires

    states that the coalfield fires in China “only” contribute about 0.1–0.2% of the annual increase of carbon in the active carbon cycle, much less than earlier estimates.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 10 Oct 2007 @ 1:03 PM

  43. Re #31: [Deer are smaller animals, but they produce a their fair share of methane. It’s basically a function of body size.]

    I was thought that a lot of the methane production of cattle was due to their particular digestive system. IIRC the ruminants have multiple stomachs which sort of ferment their food, producing methane as a byproduct. Perhaps someone knows more detail?

    I’d be quite willing to switch from eating beef to venison :-)

    Comment by James — 10 Oct 2007 @ 1:06 PM

  44. Re 37:
    I understand that relatively stable methane levels in the atmosphere could be due to a shortening of the atmospheric life-time of methane, masking global increases in methane emissions. I read one study which suggests this possibility:

    Fiore, A. M., L. W. Horowitz, E. J. Dlugokencky, and J. J. West, 2006: Impact of meteorology and emissions on methane trends, 1990-2004. Geophysical Research Letters, 33, L12809, doi:10.1029/2006GL026199

    If this is correct, then we could be seeing be a very limited negative feedback from global warming just now which increases hydroxyl concentrations which in turn breaks down the methane faster. According to the authors of this study, such a negative feedback would only be limited, i.e. eventually rising methane emissions could well overtake any increases in hydroxyl in which case methane concentrations in the atmosphere would begin to rise again.

    Comment by Almuth Ernsting — 10 Oct 2007 @ 1:49 PM

  45. Depends. You won’t find venison replacing beef, too much risk of chronic wasting disease transmission.

    Methane production’s getting a lot of attention; lots of variables.
    http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0531513106001610
    http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=1796088

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 10 Oct 2007 @ 1:57 PM

  46. Funny how the argument always seems to revert to issues of control: What I eat, how I travel and how much I procreate. I am not sure I want to elect anybody who sees it as their business to attempt to control any of these three “freedoms”.

    But enough of politics, what is the best data source on methane production and absorption?

    Comment by bjc — 10 Oct 2007 @ 2:56 PM

  47. Re #40: Those who volunteer not to reproduce, will they have no demands on the younger generations when being older? will they never need help from the continously falling number of young people? Or will they all plan suicide at the onset of failing self-care?

    Comment by Francis Massen — 10 Oct 2007 @ 4:02 PM

  48. All of the western countries bar scandanavian ones probably are investing in coal fired power with he hope of CCS comping along to validate their choices. Hmmm, how likely is it really that CCS will ever make a massive difference to Co2 emissions ?

    40 years to cut co2 emissions globally by 80%. How likely is it ?

    Comment by pete best — 10 Oct 2007 @ 4:33 PM

  49. Ray Ladbury writes:

    [[Re 21 and others. Development has proven the only effective form of population control. Wherever development has occurred, fertility has fallen. Wherever population control has been imposed by force it has ultimately failed–either because people rebel against it (e.g. Indira Gandhi’s India) or because it has led to a distortion of the population (the distorted sex ratios in China). Ironically, development necessarily entails some increase in energy consumption, at least in the poorest nations such as those of Sub-Saharan Africa. As many of these nations near economic takeoff, it is imperative that they have the option to choose clean and carbon neutral energy sources. It is not either-or when it comes to development and addressing climate change. We must do both, or both will fail.]]

    While nothing you write here is wrong, you do leave out another strategy — local voluntary efforts implemented nationwide. That is having increasing success even in underdeveloped nations. An example is Bangladesh, where fertility has fallen from something like 7 per adult woman to 3.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 10 Oct 2007 @ 4:39 PM

  50. Francis Massen Says:
    10 October 2007 at 4:02 PM

    The Japanese are working on a robot to assist with elder care. Surely you are not suggesting elder care is a reason to reproduce at an unsustainable level?

    James Says:
    10 October 2007 at 1:06 PM

    I should have said deer are smaller ruminants. They are ruminants, so switching to eating them will do nothing to reduce animal methane. Keeping meat eaters in bambiburgers would require 100s of millions of deer.

    Somebody agrees with me. I had some Roo when I was in Australia; it has a bouncy flavor:

    http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,22562480-662,00.html

    Comment by J.C.H. — 10 Oct 2007 @ 4:39 PM

  51. Jim Eager posts:

    [[Re 20: “Do you volunteer to be one of the people who have to die, in order to make more room for the others?”

    Barton, was this hyperbole necessary?]]

    You said things would be made better with negative population growth. What that really means is, better for the survivors. It obviously has no effect on those who have died. You are tacitly assuming that you will be one of the survivors and not one of the dead.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 10 Oct 2007 @ 4:44 PM

  52. James (#43) wrote:

    I was thought that a lot of the methane production of cattle was due to their particular digestive system. IIRC the ruminants have multiple stomachs which sort of ferment their food, producing methane as a byproduct. Perhaps someone knows more detail?

    I did some digging. There are of course a great many different species of bacteria inhabiting the digestive system of a cow (or aphid for that matter, I would presume). Cows do indeed rely upon a fermentation process performed by eubacteria. However these aren’t the same bugs which are involved in the production of methane. There we are talking about methanogens – anaerobic archaea – living fossils left over from when the earth’s atmosphere was without oxygen. They take advantage of the process of fermentation and are responsible for the methane which cows produce. They would be similar to the bugs that produce methane in swamps – relying upon a wet, oxygen-free environment in which to do their nasty deed.

    I got this from below…

    Control of rumen methanogenesis by inhibiting the growth and activity of methanogens with hydroxymethylglutaryl-SCoA inhibitors
    M.J. Wolin, a, and T.L. Millera
    International Congress Series
    Volume 1293, July 2006, Pages 131-137
    Abstract: http://www.sciencedirect.com/..

    One of these little beasties is none other than methanosarcina acetivorans which has recently played a lead role in the study of the origin of life – due to its employment of what would appear to be the quite possibly the most primitive metabolic pathway.

    For those who are interested, please see:

    The Stepwise Evolution of Early Life Driven by Energy Conservation
    James G. Ferry and Christopher H. House
    Molecular Biology and Evolution 2006 23(6):1286-1292
    http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/23/6/1286

    Then there are the anaerobic sulfate reducers – eubacteria. They are responsible for the “rotten egg” smell. Digestive sytems are where some of the oldest beasties still live and thrive today, safely tucked away from the corrosive, poisonous gas we know as “oxygen.”

    Comment by Timothy Chase — 10 Oct 2007 @ 6:00 PM

  53. Re 49. Barton, Yes, another example is the the Dua Anak Cukup (Two children are enough) program in Indonesia, which has been pretty successful. I would also point out that money spent on educating girls in developing countries is one of the most effective investments in population control that can be made. However, most voluntary efforts at population control are coincident with development efforts. These nations will develop. The only question is whether the additional energy they consume will come from clean sources.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 10 Oct 2007 @ 7:46 PM

  54. Re 51 Barton: ” You said things would be made better with negative population growth. What that really means is, better for the survivors. It obviously has no effect on those who have died. You are tacitly assuming that you will be one of the survivors and not one of the dead.”

    Quite the contrary, since I won’t be around much longer, I’m assuming I’ll be among the dead.
    Since my partner and I have chosen to replace only one of us, I am assuming that our offspring may have some chance of being among the “survivors”, though.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 10 Oct 2007 @ 10:58 PM

  55. Has there been any recognition of what sustainability requires, regarding economic growth? It requires zero economic growth. Otherwise, even with occasional efficiency improvements, increasing amounts of resources are needed. Even renewable resources cannot support such a situation. Zero economic growth is required for sustainability but I doubt that many will realise that until it is too late to transition orderly.

    By the way, if an area 210km by 210 km receives more solar energy that the world currently uses in all energy, then a solar panel 2,100km by 210 km is needed to capture enough of that solar energy to meet our present energy requirements (assuming no growth in future). I have no idea if there are enough resources to build and implement panels and infrastructure of that total size. Also, has any scientist researched whether removing that amount of sunlight from a concentrated area, or even distributed globally, will have any impact on the environment, either locally or globally?

    Comment by Tony Weddle — 11 Oct 2007 @ 2:18 AM

  56. #55: The forcing caused by a doubling in CO2 is, according to the current understanding, 3 W/m^2, or for the whole Earth surface of 510 million km^2, 1530,000 GW. By comparison, an area of 210×210 km^2 perpendicular to infalling light at the top of the atmosphere intercepts 1366 W/m^2 on average, i.e., 60,240 GW, or 4%. As a percentage of the total infalling sunlight, 174,000,000 GW, it is only 0.03%.

    Your scenario is 10x bigger, but on the Earth surface, producing only a 2.5x larger effect.

    Solar cells are rather dark, similarly to desert rock, so the net albedo effect would be a small fraction of this. The electric energy generated is just released as heat in the areas of consumption, i.e., redistributed without changing the total balance.

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 11 Oct 2007 @ 10:26 AM

  57. Re # 43 James : ruminants

    The ruminants (Order Artiodactyla – cloven-hoofed mammals; Sub-Order Ruminantia) include deer, moose, elk, giraffe, cows, buffalo, et al). The first two of their chambered stomachs serve as microbial fermentation vats, where methane is produced. You can read more about this process at:
    http://arbl.cvmbs.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/digestion/herbivores/rumen_anat.html
    (Hint: Turn down your speaker volume.)

    The U.S. EPA website has some useful information about the scale of methane production by ruminants: http://www.epa.gov/rlep/faq.html

    Comment by Chuck Booth — 11 Oct 2007 @ 12:13 PM

  58. If you look at the improvements, there are problems. Fertilizers and improved diets come at a cost – perhaps more NOX and more CO2.

    For those unfamiliar with raising cattle, a cow-calf operation usually involves substantial grass feeding. The bulk of the animals and the bulk of their short lives are spent in the cow-calf phase. The grass diet creates more methane.

    Comment by J.C.H. — 11 Oct 2007 @ 12:54 PM

  59. Solar cells are rather dark, similarly to desert rock, so the net albedo effect would be a small fraction of this. The electric energy generated is just released as heat in the areas of consumption, i.e., redistributed without changing the total balance.

    ***

    You presume the only way to produce power from solar energy is via photovoltaics. While effective, and increasingly efficient, it’s not the only way. Solar-heated steam turbines are another effective method. Those would use lenses or mirrors, all means of concentrating light and infrared to heat a fluid. It’s just another steam engine, using something other than hydrocarbons. That heat can be stored for use after dark, as well, thus addressing the “sun don’t shine after dark” problem. Stay tuned, this is an interesting area.

    Comment by Terry Miesle — 11 Oct 2007 @ 2:56 PM

  60. As far as vegetarian practices go, be glad much of India is vegetarian. If that culture were more meat-eating, we’d have a lot more methane in the air from ruminants.

    India, by most estimates, has at least three times as many cows as the United States – at least 300 million cows to the United State’s 100 million.. They also have large populations of sheep and goats.

    ***

    Be glad more of the population ISN’T meat-eating, then. Their population is more than 3X ours. Meat is still expensive there, and for many, religiously forbidden. Don’t forget the resources used to raise livestock also causes emissions and pollution runoff, at greater levels as the process becomes more industrialized.

    Comment by Terry Miesle — 11 Oct 2007 @ 3:04 PM

  61. #29 “As an example of the current state of the art, there’s a solar power plant in Portugal that covers about 150 acres. Of the total amount of energy that the sun delivers to the earth over 150 acres, that powerplant captures and converts about 0.8% into electricity.”

    Are you sure of this. It seems like a very low efficiency, below even that for plant photosynthesis (~ 2-3%).

    #12 “On the other hand, if we put PV stations in space, we can expand the earth’s effective energy collecting cross-section. But how long can this go on? ”

    Essentially any extra energy trapped extra-terrestrially and used on earth acts as a device to pump in extra heat. Ideally one should try to trap the energy that would hit the earth and use that. Of course there are various offsets possible – such as trying to increase earth’s albedo to compensate for extra energy trapping.

    Theoretically, the higher efficient of PV cells to plants should suggest that if we replaced plant life with these cells, we could trap energy for energy and food production at a much higher rate than for plants.

    Comment by Alex Tolley — 12 Oct 2007 @ 10:34 AM

  62. The solution boils down to the following:
    1. Bring population growth under control – more of a developing world issue
    2. Bring down the per unit consumption of energy and other resources – more of a developed world issue

    The steps required to achieve these goals can be complex, e.g. improving literacy, women’s rights and access to birth control – in the south, / and change of lifestyle to one that imposes a lighter burden – in the north.

    Comment by Jay — 12 Oct 2007 @ 12:13 PM

  63. Re: #61

    Yea, the numbers were pretty close to being accurate (They survived significant reveiw from co-workers, some of which are experts at photovoltaics, at the time). The overall efficiency was calculated by taking the amount of energy delivered to the grid divided by the amount of energy the sun delivers to the same area.

    The big issue is where the losses come from. from what I remember, it broke down about like this:

    30% loss due to the latitude
    20% loss due to land taken up by officespace and roads rather than solar panels(assumed from an aerial view of the plant)
    90% loss of what’s left due to inefficient photovoltaic cells.

    those were the obvious big drivers. Other things that account for the low overall system efficiency are things like “balance of plant” issues (how much energy does it take to run the systems that capture the energy) and atmospheric losses (no idea how much is lost here). some of those issues are able to be improved (photovoltaic efficiency, for example) and some cannot (atmospheric issues and latitude), altho they can be designed around to some extent.

    The point is, even with current state of the art production facilities, there is a huge potential to solar. Typically when things are this inefficient, we’re good at improving them. One of the big issues with any sort of thermodynamic system is that we’ve pretty much hit the limit on overall system efficiency. There’s just not much left to improve. Therefore, we better move to something else.

    Imagine how much energy we would have available if we could make a solar power plant that operated at an overall efficiency of 10%. We could then power the world by converting only a few thousand square miles to powerplant.

    and there would be no need to even discuss controversial issues like forced family planning or demanding a change in lifestyle.

    Comment by dean — 12 Oct 2007 @ 12:14 PM

  64. Why is nuclear power completely ignored in the debate concerning global warming? There are IFR’s or ALMR’s which promise to use both U235 and U238 with much greater efficiency than current reactors. Some links I came across:

    http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/phy99/phy99xx7.htm

    http://cbll.net/articles/ifr

    I am not an Engineer or a Physicist, just a lowly economist. I would honestly like to know what makes us think Nuclear, in the form of integral fast reactors or advanced liquid metal reactors can’t help solve our energy sustainability problems.

    I have read somewhere that, provided we use 235 and 238 efficiently, the sun will go supernova before we run out of fuel. And, I am under the impression that, besides plant construction, nuclear does not produce the same sort of emissions as coal or natural gas fired plants.

    Comment by Michael — 12 Oct 2007 @ 1:21 PM

  65. RE #64

    The problem with nuclear is almost entirely political. the technical issues can be resolved and safe, nuclear power is commonplace.

    The politics has two sides to it. First is that there’s a perception that Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are the guaranteed end result of a nuclear powerplant. the second is that we don’t trust certain countries to have the knowledge and ability to build nuclear plants. it could be a fine alternative for the US and Europe, but it’s not a realistic world-wide resource (again, mainly for political reasons).

    Comment by dean — 12 Oct 2007 @ 2:03 PM

  66. RE #62

    I fundamentally refuse to accept that these are the only two solutions. With all the energy available around us (Solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear), there’s absolutely NO reason to assume we have to lower our standard of living.

    we just have to decide to go after these sources.

    Comment by dean — 12 Oct 2007 @ 2:07 PM

  67. Michael, as an economist, you can figure out why no insurance company has been willing to handle risk/liability for the nuclear power industry by looking at the length of time the waste is dangerous and comparing that to the lifetime of the plants in revenue service. Compare the economics of the Canadian “CANDU” system (which doesn’t need enriched uranium, nor reprocessing of ‘spent’ fuel, so has a less risky waste stream). The numbers are easy to find in your field.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 12 Oct 2007 @ 2:08 PM

  68. First is that there’s a perception that Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are the guaranteed end result of a nuclear powerplant.

    No, the assumption is that with a sufficient number of nuclear power plants at least one will have a catastrophic failure.

    Comment by Jeffrey Davis — 12 Oct 2007 @ 2:17 PM

  69. Re #67 I’ll check out the CANDU system. I have not seen the insurance figures. I wonder if coal plants dole out settlements for black lung and how that affects their insurance. Considering the relatively mild impacts (in terms of fatalities, when compared to the deaths due coal mining) of Three Mile Island , I would be surprised if insurance was the problem. I would imagine the greater problem is that the government isn’t commissioning the creation of new reactors. But, I don’t know this for certain.

    This is not my area of research, but basic political/economic insight might reasonably suggest the following problem with alternative fuels. Coal, natural gas, and oil are easily obtained and have great value if burned. However, they create greenhouse gases in the process, which yields negative externalities of unknown size and duration. [Even if we could all agree on the size of the impacts we expect to happen, there are all sorts of other hereto unimaginable potential impacts. It could be that the planet is resilient and will continue to be habitable without major incident, regardless of what we do. It could be that our expectations have been well molded by research and we pretty much know what will happen if we continue burning our stock of gas and coal. Or, it could be that the planet is even now struggling to cope with the tremendous fungal-esk bloom of human activity and we won't know what to expect when multiple systems begin to fatigue in the presence of our waste.]
    Politically speaking, even if a large group of individuals, say all of the developed nations, decided to tax the use of coal and gas in proportion to its expected harms, other people would burn their endowment of fossil fuels. Nothing short of a nearly global agreement could foreseeably stop people from burning something that is relatively worthless, coal, for something valuable, energy.

    If we are to have a global agreement, i.e. a massive political solution. It seems like a small drop in the political bucket to change peoples opinions about nuclear -supplant the fears of Three Mile Island with the reality of the dangers of any system that includes the mass production and distribution of energy and a dose of optimism concerning the technological advances in not just nuclear power, but all of the fields that could help promote the safe mass production of energy. Lets not forget that Three Miles Island happened over a quarter of a century ago. Had we even figured out it was a good idea to put wheels on luggage yet?

    I am all for taking the path of least technological resistance. Otherwise politicians can always say “The science just isn’t there yet” when really they mean “My constituency cannot see how to make money out of this yet.”

    Comment by Michael — 12 Oct 2007 @ 3:12 PM

  70. Well, there’s one PhD thesis out there that says TMI couldn’t have blown its containment the second time it was at risk (when they finally flooded the core) even if they’d done it the standard way, with ordinary water instead of the special strong solution of borate they actually made up, brought in, and used. That’s reassuring. I think. Maybe.
    http://www.osti.gov/bridge/servlets/purl/16911-VGVXER/webviewable/16911.pdf

    Of course the standard flood design uses water and would be used in a hurry.

    Note the thesus writer’s ironic allusion to the immortal phrase “spontaneous energetic disassembly” from the original TMI accident.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 12 Oct 2007 @ 3:35 PM

  71. The energy companies want people to believe that environmental regulation killed the nukes. I was a customer when one of the last nukes to be built powered up – Comanche Peak. My first “glow in the dark’ electricity bill was huge: simply awe inspiring. They were practically giving away natural gas and coal, so my coal-dust-encrusted bill was dirt cheap by comparison. Businessmen try not to make a habit of building plants that are at a distinct competitive disadvantage.

    Back in the 1980s they got burned by the crashing fossil-fuel prices, which remained very low throughout the hibernation of the nukes. Now the bear is awakening. Take a guess why? They blamed environmentalists because no energy man ever passes up a chance to blame environmentalists. They weren’t telling the truth. Surprised?

    Comment by J.C.H. — 12 Oct 2007 @ 4:29 PM

  72. [[I have read somewhere that, provided we use 235 and 238 efficiently, the sun will go supernova before we run out of fuel.]]

    The sun will never go supernova. You need a much more massive star for that. The sun will eventually become a red giant, and before that happens the Earth will already have become uninhabitable.

    Nuclear could be a good energy source if we could A) take care of the waste safely and B) prevent catastrophic accidents. But I suspect that if you really did create a system with safe reactors and safe waste disposal, the electricity it produced would cost more than conventional electricity, and thus there would be no reason to build it in the first place.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 13 Oct 2007 @ 10:06 AM

  73. #64: “I have read somewhere that, provided we use 235 and 238 efficiently, the sun will go supernova before we run out of fuel.”

    The sun will become a red giant somewhere around 5bn years from now. We don’t really need to worry about nuclear fission power running for that long. However, the reality is that sources of uranium are economically exploitable for about 1 century at current usage, let along ramping up production of reactors. Even assuming large, unknown untapped reserves, the idea that nuclear fission is a huge potential energy source is wrong.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power#Fuel_resources

    I suspect you may be confusing nuclear fission for nuclear fusion. There is a huge resource of deuterium on earth, it is just that no one yet knows how to make a fusion plant to use this fuel. Fortunately there is a vast nuclear fusion plant already in operation, it has a good record of stability and is safely situated 93 million miles away…

    Comment by Alex Tolley — 13 Oct 2007 @ 11:16 AM

  74. Re #66: [With all the energy available around us (Solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear), there’s absolutely NO reason to assume we have to lower our standard of living.]

    I really can’t see how any of the issues discussed in #62 imply a lowering of living standards. Of course they are to some degree subjective, or a matter of perspective. For instance, you might think (as a neighbor of mine does) that buying a large diesel pickup and the fuel to idle it for half an hour every morning represents an improvement of your living standard, but I assure you it decreases mine :-)

    That applies in a more general sense, too. It may for instance improve your living standard to have a car to drive to work every morning, but when everyone else in your town does the same, the result is hours wasted in traffic, and a lower overall quality of life.

    Comment by James — 13 Oct 2007 @ 12:18 PM

  75. #48: there’s a good wikipeia article on this (based on the IPCC report IIRC). The gist is that capturing the CO2 from the exhaust stream costs a lot of energy, but still less than the plant produces. You would end up burning up to 60% more — with all the associated problems — for releasing 90% less CO2.

    So, the ridiculously cheap power from coal-fired plants would become a little bit more expensive. How realistic such scenario is, depends entirely on people’s willingness to absorb this price hike.

    BTW underground storage in geological formations works. After all, that’s where much of our fossil fuels have been waiting for us over millions of years ;-)

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 14 Oct 2007 @ 12:21 PM

  76. Re #74:

    I disagree. Even your point about not driving to work impacts our standard of living.

    For example, I drive to work and it takes about 30 minutes one-way. By driving i am now able to run to the hobby shop and browse for whatever catches my eye over lunch. I can go out to lunch rather than having to eat in (and there’s nothing within walking distance). I can stop at the grocery store on the way home to pick up something for dinner. By driving I have freedom to go wherever I want. That’s a serious plus in the ‘quality of life’ category.

    Contrast that to riding the RTA. For me to be at my desk at the same time I am now, I’d have a 1-way ride time would be close to 2 hours. this in the city that just won the award for having the best public transportation system and with being right off the light rail line on one of the trip. So instead of spending one hour in my car, I’d spend 4 on a bus/rapid.

    You immediately jumped to owning a diesel truck, but what if that truck was a plug-in electric with the grid being powered by solar? I still get the freedom to do whatever I want whenever I want and I’m not hurting the co2 levels at all.

    Many points in the blog (and many more points in the overall environmental movement) are about controlling our lives. How many posts here talked about population control? That’s “quality of life”. Many here think cars should be eliminated or at least forced mass-transit use. That’s “quality of life”.

    I do not believe our goal should be to eliminate cars… I think our goal should be to figure out a way to have cars and no pollution! Most people drive no more than 150 miles a day. if you could recharge your car overnight and get 150 miles, then you could make a serious dent in the amount of gasoline consumed. Now imagine being able to recharge a battery in 15 minutes and getting 250-300 miles on a recharge. Truck stops would now have electric charging stations. Hotels would have outlets in their parking lots. Power companies would love it because this power drain would come mainly at off-peak times (overnight), thus allowing them to run more efficiently. And we’d not see a change in our lifestyle one bit! We’d still be free to go wherever we want!

    That should be our goal…

    Comment by dean_1230 — 15 Oct 2007 @ 7:51 AM

  77. “For example, I drive to work and it takes about 30 minutes one-way. By driving i am now able to run to the hobby shop and browse for whatever catches my eye over lunch. I can go out to lunch rather than having to eat in (and there’s nothing within walking distance). I can stop at the grocery store on the way home to pick up something for dinner. By driving I have freedom to go wherever I want. That’s a serious plus in the ‘quality of life’ category … You immediately jumped to owning a diesel truck, but what if that truck was a plug-in electric with the grid being powered by solar? I still get the freedom to do whatever I want whenever I want and I’m not hurting the co2 levels at all.

    I think the point is that your diesel truck isn’t a plug-in electric powered by a solar grid.

    Comment by Doug Watts — 16 Oct 2007 @ 2:08 AM

  78. no, the point is that people don’t want to give up the freedom that driving to work gives them. so instead of trying to convince them that they need to, why not try to figure out a way to let them have their freedom AND reduce pollution.

    Comment by dean — 16 Oct 2007 @ 6:44 PM

  79. RE: 78. Because adults are supposed to be responsible for the consequences of their actions and behaviors. It is not somebody else’s job to invent something that cleans up your messes for you; and until someone else does this you have the “freedom” to go pollute the public commons.

    Comment by Doug Watts — 17 Oct 2007 @ 6:34 AM

  80. You miss my point entirely…

    I agree that it’s our job to fix the problem. but I do not accept that the “fix” involves the removal of freedom.

    I also see a bigger reason for moving away from fossil fuels at this time. Mainly economical reasons. We’re now seeing that the production of oil is diminishing worldwide even as demand is increasing. Eventually we’ll run out. If we don’t start finding other methods for generating the energy we need, then the economic impact of being forced to (by not having any more oil) will be catastrophic. Someone talked about a Manhattan Project-like effort to develop renewable/sustainable energy. That’s a very sound idea that has gained absolutely no traction by any current politician (it’s such an important topic in the current US Presidential campaign that CNN doesn’t even list it as an issue).

    And that’s a crying shame!

    Comment by dean_1230 — 17 Oct 2007 @ 9:12 AM

  81. Hoping that it will contribute to this debate, here’s a letter I recently wrote to New Scientist.

    Fossil fuels should stay underground

    Let’s face it: the Kyoto Protocol has been a dismal failure. Riddled with loopholes like “carbon credits” that let rich countries off the hook from cutting back their domestic emissions, it was nonetheless decried as unfair by big polluters in those same countries, who lobbied against it so well that it took 7 years to be ratified by a quorum of signatory nations. Even then, its emissions targets are a fraction of those needed to meet its stated goal of “preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. With Kyoto being renegotiated amid dire news about the already-observed and projected effects of climate change, a fundamental rethink is imperative.

    Kyoto stands in total contrast to its forerunner, the Montreal Protocol, which former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan reportedly called “Perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date”. Indeed, by eliminating ozone-depleting chemicals which are also greenhouse gases, the Montreal Protocol has actually had more impact on climate change than several Kyotos (“Plugging the ozone hole cut global warming too”, New Scientist, 05 March 2007).

    One critical difference between the two protocols – which may partly account for this difference – is the fact that Montreal regulates production, not emission, of CFCs. Imagine a Montreal-style treaty which allows industry to produce CFCs in unlimited quantities, but makes governments responsible for ensuring that they don’t get released into the atmosphere: doubtless such a treaty would rival Kyoto in its worthlessness. Montreal works because it targets the manufacturing of CFCs, the only stage of the process where regulation can be effective. Even so, continued manufacture of illegal CFCs represents a serious problem (“Illegal CFCs imperil the ozone layer”, New Scientist, 17 December 2005.)

    Kyoto, on the other hand, set itself an impossible goal: to regulate the entire carbon cycle of the planet Earth, a vastly complex and often poorly-understood set of both natural and artificial processes; and to do so at the level of emissions, a globally distributed anti-bottleneck in the system. Not since the days of King Canute – or the Indiana House of Representatives’ 1897 attempt to legislate for the value of pi – has there been such a hubristic mismatch between governments’ ambitions and their capabilities.

    To successfully halt climate change – and failure to do so is a prospect awful to contemplate – government action must be clear, effective and foolproof. Using Montreal as a model, an effective successor to Kyoto could be a treaty which regulates countries’ rights to manufacture the substances mainly responsible for climate change: in effect, mandating substantial cuts in worldwide extraction of fossil fuels. This would not correct all the anthropogenic imbalances in the Earth’s climate system – but it would deal with the lion’s share and, more to the point, unlike Kyoto, it would be clear, unequivocal, and probably work. Other treaties on other aspects of the problem might also be necessary – why should one document be expected to do everything?

    Of course this would be difficult to achieve, since it amounts to mandating a global economic crisis – or if you believe the predictors of “peak oil”, exacerbating one which is already upon us. But the effects of such a crisis would be minor compared with the likely impacts of climate change, and there is at least one example – Cuba – of a nation that has successfully navigated major cuts in fossil fuel use, while largely maintaining its quality of life (“World failing on sustainable development,” New Scientist, 03 October 2007). This is largely a matter of people’s willingness to work together for sustainability – and we are more likely to do so if we voluntarily jump off the oil cliff than if we are pushed.

    What is necessary, then, is that enough fossil-fuel-producing nations should be convinced that it is in their own (and the world’s) best interest to become fossil-fuel-_stewarding_ nations instead: keeping their reserves underground where they are now, to be extracted later when more is known about how much we can safely burn, and how best to use it. In fact, given rising trends in oil prices, this approach may be economically justified for the countries in question, quite apart from considerations of climate change; or there may be climate-concerned investors who are willing to pay countries to artificially limit their production, either buying the oil, gas or coal itself (with the intent of leaving it in the ground), or purchasing options on its production that expire at a certain date in the future. But whatever happens, citizens concerned about climate change need to wake up to the fact that we can’t afford to rely on scientifically dubious carbon offsetting or sequestration, or on bending over backwards to limit our own emissions in the naive hope that the rest of the world will follow suit. The only safe place for the world’s remaining stocks of fossil fuels is to stay where they belong – underground.

    Robert Alcock

    Bilbao, Spain

    Comment by Robert Alcock — 23 Oct 2007 @ 3:59 PM

  82. Re 76-80. H-m-m, isn’t there an old saying about one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure? Some of us think that clean, reliable, efficient mass transportation would improve our quality of life. That’s at the personal level–with the bonus of benefiting the environment at the same time, so we’re actually looking at improving our quality of life in two ways. Unfortunately, the mass transportation industry was long ago steamrollered by the automotive industry. I want both–mass transportation and my safe, environmentally friendly automobile with the option of using whichever one is appropriate for a particular need to get somewhere. But too often mass transport loses out to autos, so we see little progress for the most part in really bettering the public transit systems.

    Reminds me that years ago a friend of mine was outraged at the building of the Washington Metro, considering it a monstrous boondoggle that “nobody would use.” Of course, she was willing to get up at 5:00 a.m. to drive into Washington before rush hour, but, what the hey. Anyhow, I wonder what D.C. traffic would be like today had the Metro never been built.

    Comment by Mary C — 23 Oct 2007 @ 5:32 PM

  83. re 82. Mary C.
    Regarding public transport systems, for the past 6 months I have been working in Karlsuhe,south western region of Germany, pop. approx 350,000 with extensive ferequent & quiet tram services through city and to points 60 km north and south (hi speed). City centre with the main 1km pedestrian shopping street is served only by trams, no cars or bicycles allowed. Cycle tracks are abundant, well maintained and car drivers respect bikers and of course lots of these kiddies carts behind mums and dads. Drunk cycle riders are not tolerated but helmets are not yet compulsary. Sure, Karlsruhe is the most bike-friendly city of Germany after Freiburg and on a par with the Netherlands. The irony is we are surrounded by some of the largest car and truck factories in Europe and the 4 lane highways with autos belting along at 160 km plus..
    Wealthiest area of Germany too, but it does bring home how easy it is to live in a carless city. European Union has recently passed a law that all regional trains must have space for bicycle riding passengers. In Denmark you often have to book ahead though..France, UK and other southern European countries have a lot of catching up to do…

    Comment by Svend Jensen — 23 Oct 2007 @ 6:56 PM

  84. In related news:

    http://www.scrippsnews.com/node/27819

    “In recent months, a Cold War-style game of imperial conquest has developed beneath the ice of the Arctic Ocean and the Northwest Passage, a submarine-driven dispute involving the United States, Norway, Denmark and especially Canada and Russia.”

    “This opens up the possibility of enormous oil and gas resources, larger than those stored in the Middle East, available to whoever can claim to own the roof of the world. It’s a dark irony that the burning of fossil fuels that contributed to the ice melt may end up making it possible to extract another century’s worth of earth-warming petroleum reserves from beneath that ice. But it’s a possibility that is driving countries like Canada to spend millions.”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 25 Oct 2007 @ 12:01 AM

  85. Hi Chris, Martin Veemer, Dan, Dean_1230, Tony Weddle and others:

    The 210 x 210 km is not a bad estimate. It mainly omits the efficiency of energy conversion.

    To use an example from web sources:
    The current world total primary energy supply (TPES) is about 15 Terra Watts (TW) or 15*10^12 Watts:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_energy_resources_and_consumption

    Insolation is about 1366 W/m^2 perpendicular to the suns rays at the top of the atmosphere. This declines to about 1000 W/m^2 at the earth’s surface and once you take into account the early morning, evening and night it is about 250 W/m^2 of mostly visible light:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insolation
    Using these numbers (15*10^12 Watts & 250 W/m^2) I get 245 x 245 km.

    We can do better by using measured useable insolations and a realistic photovoltaic efficiencies. Central Australia has an average solar insolation of 5.89 kWh/m2/day – about 245 W/m^2:
    http://www.apricus.com/html/solar_collector_insolation.htm

    Photovoltaic cell efficiencies continue to improve and have reached 42.8% for research cells:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_efficiency_solar_cells
    Let’s assume the near future will bring widespread affordable cells with 30% efficiency (my impression is that commercial cells are currently 8-12%). Used in Central Australia these 30% efficienct cells would provide about 74 W/m^2 for a total area of about 450 x 450 km. This is 2.6% of Australia’s area, 0.14% of the earth’s land surface area or 0.04% of the earth’s total surface area.

    Not trivial but not impossible.

    Comment by Bruce Tabor — 28 Oct 2007 @ 7:41 AM

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