RealClimate logo

Sachs’ WSJ Challenge

Filed under: — gavin @ 19 September 2006

Jeffery Sachs of the Columbia Earth Institute has an excellent commentary in Scientific American this month on the disconnect between the Wall Street Journal editorial board and their own reporters (and the rest of the world) when it comes to climate change. He challenges them to truly follow their interest in an “open-minded search for scientific knowledge” by meeting with the “world’s leading climate scientists and to include in that meeting any climate-skeptic scientists that that the Journal editorial board would like to invite”.

RealClimate heartily endorses such an approach and, while we leave it to others to judge who the ‘world leading’ authorities are, we’d certaintly be willing to chip in if asked. To those who would decry this as a waste of time, we would point to The Economist who recently produced a very sensible special on global warming and proposed a number of economically viable ways to tackle it, despite having been reflexively denialist not that many years ago. If the Economist can rise to the challenge, maybe there is hope for the Wall Street Journal….

286 Responses to “Sachs’ WSJ Challenge”

  1. 101
    Pat Neuman says:

    re 98. … the folks in those offices have a good grasp of climate change and the issues. …


    The State Climatology’s Statement on Climate Change says:
    … While the State Climatology Office is not actively involved in scholarly work investigating the issue of climate change, our Office is often called upon to offer scientific opinions on the topic. The subject matter is of professional interest to us, but we make no claim of expertise in this highly complicated and politicized field of study. …

    I think their use of the words ‘highly complicated and politicized field of study’ for global warming science downplays the knowledge and seriousness of the subject and encourages a mentality for people to do nothing significant in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The words ‘highly complicated and politicized field of study’ for global warming science have also been used by supervisors of operational National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs), the NWS river forecast centers, NWS regional offices and NWS headquarters.

  2. 102
    Chris Rijk says:

    Here’s a couple of general comments on possible solutions to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

    An incandescent bulb, made of a wire filament encased in glass, emits only 5% of the energy it consumes as light; the rest is wasted as heat. Fluorescent lights, which consist of tubes filled with mercury vapour, are roughly four times more efficient. LEDs, however, contain no mercury and already rival fluorescents in efficiency. Upfront costs make them too expensive for most general lighting applications, but experts expect that to change over the next five years as prices come down and efficiencies go up.

    Worldwide about 20% of all electricity generated is used for lighting. Several studies reckon that LEDs could eventually cut that amount in half. That would not only save billions of dollars in electricity bills, but also significantly reduce energy demand, environmental pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions.

    I wonder how many people are killed or injured changing lightbulbs every year? If LED lighting becomes universal, since the bulbs last over 10x longer, that should reduce death/injury from changing them by over 10x. Also reduces maintenance costs of buildings. I wonder if the studies that look into the economics of climate change solutions factor in these sorts of benefits?

    Little wonder that many are calling biofuels “deforestation diesel”, the opposite of the environmentally friendly fuel that all are seeking.

    With so much farmland already taking the form of monoculture, with all that implies for wildlife, do we really want to create more diversity-stripped desert?

    Personally, I think that by far the most energy efficient means of transport (and hence, lowest CO2 emissions) would be for cars to be only powered by electric motors (no fuel burning engine at all). This simple Flash slide-show makes a pretty good summary:
    (click on each slide to advance it)

    Now, Tesla Motors are planning to start shipping their EV sports car in 9-ish months, so aren’t a neutral party – but they do give references for their figures. Still, with electic motors and batteries both being able to achieve over 90% efficiency, it’s not like there’s any technology today that can beat it by a non-trivial amount. (Shame super-conducting motors would be impractical for cars – though trains, boats and maybe even trucks could be possible). Tesla’s first car costs $100k or so but they’re planning to use the profits from it to develop cheaper more general purpose electric cars:

  3. 103
    Tom Catino says:

    New Technology Converts CO2 into Biofuel
    Hello All,

    Thanks for looking at this important new technology.

    C02 Exhaust to Ethanol

    GS CleanTechâ??s Carbon Dioxide Bioreactor
    Decreasing Emissions while Reducing Dependence on Foreign Oil
    Greenhouse gas emissions and energy dependence are two of the United States largest concerns. During 2005 alone, the United States released into the atmosphere over 5 billion metric tons of C02, an increase of over 600 million metric tons since 1994. Carbon dioxide is a well known greenhouse gas that absorbs and traps the infrared radiation that is reflected off the earthâ??s surface causing surface temperatures to increase.

    During 2005, the United States imported and consumed more than 200 billion gallons of oil. As our nation strives to become more energy independent and environmentally proactive, it is imperative that we implement new consumption practices that rely less on foreign oil and more on cleaner, greener sources of homegrown energy. We need to be better about conservation and we need to continue to innovate ways to consume natural resources in smarter, more efficient ways. GS CleanTech is committed to delivering innovative new technologies that help our clients achieve this and to help reduce their carbon footprint.

    GS CleanTechâ??s Objectives:
    GS CleanTechâ??s patented C02 Bioreactor reduces greenhouse gas emissions while creating an additional feedstock for renewable fuel production. If applied at ethanol facilities, it would boost fuel production by more than 15%, and if applied to coal fired power generation, it could produce more than 200 million gallons of renewable fuel annually for every 1,000 MW of electricity produced. Even more significant, however, is the relatively small footprint of the bioreactor. While traditional corn derived ethanol produces up to 450 gallons of fuel per acre, GS CleanTechâ??s C02 Bioreactor can produce more than 200,000 gallons of fuel per acre. With GS CleanTechâ??s C02 Bioreactor, our clients can reduce their carbon footprint while turning their exhaust carbon dioxide into a valuable source of clean, homegrown fuels.

    GS CleanTechâ??s C02 Bioreactor is an enclosed structure with the ability to convert a concentrated supply of C02 into oxygen and biomass. The biomass can then be converted into fuel through traditional means.

    All plants, including algae, need the following to live and grow: a supply of C02, light, a growth media and water with nutrients. The GS CleanTech C02 Bioreactor provides these resources in a compact, cost-efficient way.

    First, concentrated C02 is captured at power plants or other source and piped to the bioreactor. The sunlight is then collected using efficient parabolic mirrors that transfer and filter the light to a series of light pipes. The light pipes channel the light into the bioreactor structure where it is distributed and radiated throughout the structure using light panels. The algae requires as little as 1.5% direct light which means that our collected light can be distributed over a substantial surface area.

    Next, a growth media, such as polyester, is inserted between each lighting surface. Water, containing nutrients, continuously cascades down the growth media to facilitate the final required step for optimal growth.

    Finally, to harvest the algae, the flow rate of the water over the growth media is increased slightly to gently remove a portion of the algae, allowing a portion of algae to remain and to begin the next growth cycle. The removed algae is then collected and routed for conversion into renewable fuels.

    Our technology is also very flexible and can accommodate a variety of algae types. High starch, high oil, or high cellulose algae can be grown in our bioreactor depending on output fuel requirements.

    GS CleanTechâ??s C02 Bioreactor has the ability to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and to create an entirely new feedstock for cleaner and greener burning fuels. Our bioreactor can substantially reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are produced from ethanol, power generation other industrial facilities while generating a significant new source of revenue. GS CleanTechâ??s C02 Bioreactor is profitable for our customer and cleaner for the environment.

    Impact on Ethanol Facilities:
    About one third of the mass of the corn input into the ethanol production process exits the process at the fermentation stage in the form of carbon dioxide. GS CleanTechâ??s patented bioreactor technology uses algae to consume these carbon dioxide emissions. The algae use the carbon dioxide in the exhaust, sunlight and water to grow new algae, giving off pure oxygen and water vapor in the process. If properly cultivated, the algae double in mass every 7 to 12 hours and are harvested for conversion into clean fuels as they grow to maturity.

    GS CleanTech is currently deploying its first commercial scale pilot bioreactor system and anticipates use of the bioreactor technology at ethanol facilities to further enhance corn to clean fuel conversion efficiencies.

    Impact on Coal Gasification

    A standard coal gasification facility gasifies and partially oxidizes prepared coal with oxygen and heat into a hydrogen rich synthesis gas, or syngas. The syngas is combusted and converted into electricity in a gas-fired generator. The gasification stage of the process generates carbon dioxide emissions which, in some of the most advanced current practices, is compressed and sequestered underground in saline formations or the like. The carbon capture and sequestration stage of this process increases operating costs by more than 20% as compared to standard coal-fired gasification.

    As applied at a coal gasification facility, GS CleanTech’s bioreactor consumes exhaust carbon dioxide and has the potential to offset the substantial operating and capital costs associated with conventional oxygen production while producing a valuable biomass co-product that can be used to enhance the plant’s power output and/or add new revenues arising from the production and sale of biomass-derived fuels.

    Process Demonstration:

    sincerely, Tom Catino

  4. 104
    yartrebo says:

    Re #102:

    Too bad the coal to electricity step is only about 40% efficient, with additional losses in transmission lines and in the charger. The overall efficiency is in the range of 20%-30% for electric motors – roughly comparable to fuel powered hybrids. Electric cars are far heavier than comparable Otto or Diesel engine powered cars, reducing their efficiency somewhat. Electric cars would help reduce air pollution in cities, but they would not do much to help either energy efficiency or CO2 emissions.

    Electric cars are also very resource intensive because of the batteries. Every several years a tonne or so of batteries must be replaced (and hopefully recycled).

    The heart of the problem is the personal vehicle, which is only made worse by the average vehicle being maybe twice the size it needs to be (and maybe 20 times the size of a bicycle or a person walking). A trolley or train is efficient, both in capital and in energy, because it packs so many people on board per kg of vehicle, and in the case of trains, because of aerodynamic efficiencies of scale. Those same economies of scale allow them to be electrically powered by wires, which is far more efficient (mostly in capital) than any battery system can ever hope to be.

  5. 105
    Leonard Evens says:

    Perhaps George Landis doesn’t know that atmospheric CO_2 levels have varied between quite narrow limits since the end of the last ice age. During this time, we developed agriculture, cities, and all of our current civilization. It seems imprudent to increase that concentration so that it rises signifcantly out of that narrow range. We have already done that, and climate scientists claim that the results in global climate change are evident. I find their arguments convincing. Since the effects (for CO_2 at least) appear to be roughly proportional to the logarithm of the concentration, we may be able to afford the current increase. But if we double or worse the concentration, which is what should be expected with a business-as-usual scenario, then the consequences may not be to our liking. Climate scientists have some solid ideas about what may happen in these circumstances, which, again, I find convincing, but suppose they are wrong. In that case, there is no reason to assume things will go better than they predict rather than worse. Uncertainty in such matters is not our friend.

    Perhaps like the organisms that created an Oxygen atmosphere earlier in the Earth’s history, our species is only part of a natural process and we only have an illusion of being in control of what we do. If that is the case, what will happen will happen. Many lifeforms which couldn’t survive in an Oxygen atmosphere died off. So, it may be that lifeforms which can’t survive on a hotter planet will also die off. Let’s hope we are not one of them.

  6. 106 says:

    +RE 103
    This is an logic let me say very simple solution as i understand it on first sight.
    I will start to look more deeper into it. Just wonder how efficient it is.
    If this can be optimized to zero emmision(which is a matter of capacity=space) then this can greatly contribute to lowering CO2 emmisions.
    This should be applied to all kinds of static emmission contributers.
    Also vehicles need a device which collect emmision and then later at gas stations, collected compressed emmission gets transfered back to such an algae Co2 system.

    Also id like to read more comments on this technology.


  7. 107
    Grant says:

    Re: #103

    Why do I suspect that your post isn’t a relevant part of the scientific discussion here? I suspect it’s a marketing post. If true, that makes it “spam.”

    And if that’s true, then in my opinion, your post should be removed and you should be banned from future posts.

  8. 108
    yartrebo says:

    Re #106:

    The crux of the problem with this idea is that gasoline (represented by octane here) is an extremely dense and portable source of energy and the effluents are very bulky and hard to contain.

    Assuming that you burn your fuel in a pure O2 atmosphere and both the fuel and oxidizer are fully consumed, you get the following:
    2 C8H18 + 25 O2 –> 16 CO2 + 18 H2O
    C8H18 has a mass of about 114 g/Mil while CO2 has a mass of about 44 g/Mil. This means that the CO2 has 3.08 times the mass of the C8H18 (octane) that you burned. This is assuming that you can perfectly extract the CO2 from the exhaust stream, which isn’t practical. A more realistic (but still better than actual results) reaction is as follows:
    2 C8H18 + 25 O2 + 100 N2 –> 16 CO2 + 18 H20 + 100 N2
    For an input of 228 g of fuel, you now get an output of 3,828 g of exhaust to store on your vehicle. Not only must you store about 16.7 times the mass of your fuel, but most of the exhaust is a gas, which means expensive cryogenic or pressurized vessels. That the H2O is liquid, the CO2 solid, and N2 gaseous? at reasonable pressures (200 to 800 bars) and room temperature makes the engineering more than a bit difficult too. Even plain CO2 storage (if one can find a way to remove the N2 on-board a vehicle) will be difficult. And let us not forget that a substantial amount of energy (at least 10%, perhaps over 100% of the energy in the fuel burnt) is needed to compress and cool the effluent into a pressurized vessel.

    Using methanogenesis (ie., C2H6 + 2 H20 –> CO2 + CH4) would produce a small enough stream of exhaust that it could be stored (mostly by keeping atmospheric nitrogen out of the process), and both CO2 and CH4 are fairly easy to store in a pressurized vessel, but the reaction generates far less energy than combustion and I know of no man-made device that uses this reaction for power. It also means that one has to carry the oxidizer (H20) on board, further reducing the vehicle’s range.

    In short, carbon capture on vehicles is extremely impractical with current technology, especially in light of the slew of alternatives that exist.

  9. 109
    yartrebo says:

    I agree with Grant (#107). That post looks like a press release and I certainly don’t enjoy having to sift through them.

  10. 110
    Royce Fontenot says:

    Re #101


    The statement at the time was a compromise, if I recall correctly. The primary function (from what my mind can remember) of the statement was to acknowledge anthropogenic effects on climate change while 1) making everyone happy within the AASC and 2) acting as a “political shield” for AASC and it’s members on both sides of the debate. (Academic freedom can be endangered from both political parties…folks forget that, IHMO)

    As far as the NWS…I have heard some folks in the NWS make the same statement. Thankfully, while not speaking for my employer (the NWS…by the way)…I think the culture is shifting some, at least in my region. While still having to go through the review process at Region HQ…I’ve seen in general a great deal of encouragement on doing applied research such as the work you did at the RFC that you have previously mentioned. Of course…could be just my region.


  11. 111
    Pat Neuman says:


    Your comments in #110. are appreciated. In past years I thought highly of the individuals working in the State Climatology office in Minnesota. I knew Earl Kuehnast as a friend, which it seemed almost everybody did. The Fourteenth Annual Kuehnast Lecture Series is coming up (link below). I think Earl would have dealt with the global warming subject in an outspoken way. I have been outspoken on global warming since January of 2000 when I spoke at the inter-agency annual Spring Flood Outlook meeting, repeating the words of then NOAA director Dr. James Baker who spoke about global warming on the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather that week. It still bothers me that no one in any of the public agencies which I dealt with throughout my career while at the NWS Upper Midwest River Forecast Center was supportive of what I said at the meeting and later on. It still bothers me too that my supervisor told me before my presentation on spring snowmelt flood outlook procedures that I must not bring up the subject of global warming at the meeting. He told me to follow his example of 1993 when he told national media not to bring up the subject of global warming while interviewing him about the massive flooding in progress that summer. That’s 14 years of NWS public forecast offices not speaking out publicly about climate change in the U.S. and global warming. Isn’t anyone else at RC upset enough about that to try to help change that?

    14th Kuehnast Lecture Oct 4 2006 U. of Minnesota St. Paul Campus

  12. 112
    Pekka Kostamo says:

    RE 104: Fossil fuel to electricity conversion efficiency of 40% is generally accepted. In many cases, however, much higher total efficiency of fuel utilization can be achieved by means of the co-generation principle. The “waste” heat from electricity generation can be used for space heating or industrial process heating purposes.

    A total efficiency of 85 – 90 % can be achieved this way.

    The approach generally requires open markets for both electricity and heat energy, and a relatively high new investment in distribution of the heat component (i.e. pressurized hot water/steam networks). It has, however, proven financially viable even prior to the current (and future) price levels of fuels.

    The co-generation power production has been extensively applied in Northern Europe since the 1960’s, particularly in Finland where a saving of 20% of fossil fuel use has already been achieved. Extensive use of co-generation (and district heating in general) has also other clear advantages. Few smokestacks with low emissions, and an economical approach to the flexible fuel concept (including biofuels). A summary can be found in

  13. 113
    Chris Rijk says:

    Re: #104

    Too bad the coal to electricity step is only about 40% efficient, with additional losses in transmission lines and in the charger. The overall efficiency is in the range of 20%-30% for electric motors – roughly comparable to fuel powered hybrids. Electric cars are far heavier than comparable Otto or Diesel engine powered cars, reducing their efficiency somewhat. Electric cars would help reduce air pollution in cities, but they would not do much to help either energy efficiency or CO2 emissions.

    Your figures are mostly wrong – or rather out of date and incomplete.

    For a start, dissel doesn’t just appear – it has to be extracted, refined and transported. All that consumes a lot of energy – and generates CO2.

    The Tesla Roadster’s weight (planned production spec) is 2400 pounds / 1100Kg (the prototypes weight a bit more). That includes standard features like air-con. 0-60mph in 4 seconds, range 250 miles. Of the 1100Kg weight, the battery system is 450Kg – about 300Kg for the l-ion batteries themselves, 150Kg for packaging, cooling, safety, monitoring etc.

    Since you can charge it up at night, you can use off-peak rates of 5 cents per kwh (PG&E Schedule E-9 off-peak rate), which means $1 will get you 100 miles. You won’t get anything like 100miles/$1 in a similar spec diesel sports car (the Tesla Roadster isn’t designed for maximum efficiency, but peak performance, since the aim is to make it a competitive sports car). On 40% efficient coal power, the overhead of transmission, energy conversion to/from the car battery, and motor efficiency would bring that down to 28.5% – using 60% efficient natural gas power, that’d be 42.7%.

    For CO2 emissions, keeping all the fossil fuel power stations burning isn’t a solution either. Much greater use of wind, wave, tidal, geothermal, solar (and maybe nuclear) power will be needed anyway. Tesla actually offer a solar panel pack as an option with the Roadster – if solar power generation can become a lot more competitive (something many firms are working on) then that would change the economics of “green” electricity production significantly as it would become a standard feature on most houses/buildings.

    Electric cars are also very resource intensive because of the batteries. Every several years a tonne or so of batteries must be replaced (and hopefully recycled).

    In case of Tesla Roadster, that’s 300Kg of actual batteries – and they’re guaranteed for 5 years. And you would most certainly want to recycle them since you’d get a lot of money for it. Battery technology is something that should improve a lot though, in the coming years.

  14. 114
    yartrebo says:

    Re #113:

    Those specs look awfully optimistic if GM’s EV-1 or plug-in hybrids are anything to go by. 100miles/$4 (electricity is 20 cents/kW*h here, off peak) translates to 200W*h/mile or a power of 12kW at 60mph. This is unrealistically low and I’m skeptical that it’s true, considering that the power source (electric or gasoline) has no effect on how much power is needed.

    As far as the source goes – most electricity comes from coal, and that fraction is likely to increase in the future. Almost 100% of any new electricity demand (especially baseline demand) will come from new coal plants in the current political climate. From what I see in the news, very few of those are going to be co-generation plants or tied to district heating.

  15. 115
    Eric Swanson says:

    Re: #113, etc

    Transportation energy demand is mostly supplied by oil and amounts to an energy demand that is larger than the energy presently delivered as electricity. If a substantial portion of the transportation system were to convert to electricity, the increase in generation capacity would be very large. The present cost of off-peak electricity is the result of there being an excess capacity at that time of the day. If lots of people begin to use electric cars, that excess will no longer be available and the electric generating companies will begin to charge higher rates for that supply. Also, today’s cost of electricity includes the capital expenditures made over many previous decades. The cost of new power plants today will be much larger, the result of on-going inflation. Solar electric generation is great for meeting the daytime peak in electric demand, much of which is the result to air conditioning load. When the sun is shining, A/C demand goes up. But solar won’t be available at night. Wind may also be intermittent, thus that source can’t be relied upon as baseload in most locations.

    Of course, the Tesla 2400# 2 seat roadster isn’t a family car and is a long way from an SUV. I didn’t read the blog, but I suspect these cars will have a hard time passing the crash safety tests without being made much heavier. To sum up, don’t count your chickens until they are hatched. Let them build the first 100 and we will get some actual real world test results.

  16. 116

    To get back to the matter at hand, I’m don’t think that Dr. Sach’s well-intentioned suggestion will achieve anything, and it would probably be counter-productive. The writers on the WSJ editorial page are not dumb people — you couldn’t be dumb and give the casuistry they offer up on climate change the patina of common sense that they sometimes achieve. They know that they use discredited arguments, cherry-pick data, and elevate paid “experts” with an ax to grind. They read their own news pages as well as coverage elsewhere, and it doesn’t matter.
    Given their persistence in defending the indefensible, it’s easy to assume that they are looking at the issue through a purely ideological lens, and what they see is an issue whose proposed solutions entail regulation, international treaties (creeping world government in their eyes) and taxes — all things they find anathema. I suspect that they would love the idea of a forum like the one proposed because it would offer a new venue through which to attack the idea of consensus and the bona fides of the scientists who are concerned with the issue. In sum the proposed idea would give them an opportunity to perpetuate the notion that that the threat of climate change is still subject to debate, which is all the skeptics really want to acomplish. Wouldn’t it be better if the scientists concerned with the threat moved beyond debating what is settled and more towards what can be done?
    So, instead of trying to persuade the unpersuadable, why not alter the forum of the format slightly. Why not make invite them to join in discussing how to deal with the threat against various scenarios under which it might unfold? I doubt they’d go for this, of course, but on the off chance they did, maybe some new market-based ideas would come up.
    Just a thought.

  17. 117
    Chris Rijk says:

    Re: #114

    Transportation energy demand is mostly supplied by oil and amounts to an energy demand that is larger than the energy presently delivered as electricity. If a substantial portion of the transportation system were to convert to electricity, the increase in generation capacity would be very large.

    Yes, an all (or mostly) EV transportation system would need a lot of electricity generation. (Fortunately, being more efficient, not quite so much energy as the potential contained within oil products, but still a lot). Local micro-power generation won’t solve it all (unless super-cheap super-efficient PV is suddenly found to be possible – very unlikely) though would help in the long term.

    But the amount of oil is finite, and for renewable alternatives such as converting biomass to ethanol, it’d actually be more efficient to turn it into electricity at a large power plant to deliver to EVs – internal combustion engines in cars are not nearly so efficient as power plants. Using a given amount of land for solar power is also much much more efficient than using the same amount to grow biomass – and you can put solar power plants in deserts too.

    So for me, the bottom line is that electric vehicles are the most energy efficient form of transportation, making them the best long term solution. Not that it (or any competiting) solution would be easy or quick.

    If a substantial portion of the transportation system were to convert to electricity, the increase in generation capacity would be very large. The present cost of off-peak electricity is the result of there being an excess capacity at that time of the day.

    Other things being equal, yes – a large scale take-up of EVs would effect the electricity market (and also the oil market). Improvements in electrical efficiency in other products that tend to be used 24/7 would help offset that though, within limits.

    Also, today’s cost of electricity includes the capital expenditures made over many previous decades. The cost of new power plants today will be much larger, the result of on-going inflation. Solar electric generation is great for meeting the daytime peak in electric demand, much of which is the result to air conditioning load. When the sun is shining, A/C demand goes up. But solar won’t be available at night. Wind may also be intermittent, thus that source can’t be relied upon as baseload in most locations.

    Maybe in a few decades, the typical solution would be to have electric cars with easily replaceable batteries. During the day, local micro-power generation (PV + wind on roof or whatever) would help charge a spare battery (with excess being sold to the grid) and then the owner would swap batteries as appropriate. The viability of such things would certainly be varied though.

    For general purpose 24/7 renewable power generation, tidal power would be quite reliable. Wave might not be too bad either. Of course, that’s only when reasonably near the coasts.

    Of course, the Tesla 2 seat roadster isn’t a family car and is a long way from an SUV. I didn’t read the blog, but I suspect these cars will have a hard time passing the crash safety tests without being made much heavier. To sum up, don’t count your chickens until they are hatched. Let them build the first 100 and we will get some actual real world test results.

    They’ve built 10 prototypes so far and one has already been “sacrificed” for a set of crash tests. The car design is mostly by Lotus and is quite similar to the Elise (though using carbon fiber instead), so I’d be quite surprised if they had serious problems. And it’s not like weight = safety either. I’m not counting my chickens though – but they seem to know what they’re doing.

    Following the Roadster they plan to do a 4-door salon (“Project White Star”), and is supposed to be much cheaper ($50k or so) – mostly by re-using technology, or better 2nd gen. All the profits from the 1st gen car (the Roadster) are planned to be fed into R&D for the 2nd car (base work has already started). I wonder what the full specs will be like – it would be impressive if they could design a bigger car that was cheaper and had similar range to the 1st gen model – I imagine the main improvement would have to be the battery system, though I also image the car would be much more designed around efficiency.

  18. 118 says:

    +RE 108
    Thx, for cleaering this up for me.

  19. 119
    Woody says:

    The problem that I have with the posts at this site is that you seem to rationalize away anything that goes against your belief in significant global warming caused by mankind. You’re not any more objective than the WSJ.

    [Response: Hmmm… Our confidence that GW is happening and in some significant measure is due to human activities – and thus can be expected to continue – is based on a wide range of different pieces of information: theoretical studies of the impact of greenhouse gases, aerosols, solar; observational studies of land, ocean, sea ice, glaciers; modelling studies from energy balance models to fully coupled GCMs. Thus this is a large amount of evidence to shift. It is highly unlikely then that any one new study (let alone an editorial page article) will make much difference. However, many of the arguments that are made against the consensus are logically flawed, involve cherry picked data or studies, or demolish strawmen arguments. This kind of errors can be pointed out very clearly whenever they occur without regard to the conclusions that are subsequently being drawn (i.e. bad arguments are bad arguments regardless of the correctness of the supposed conclusion). If we only succeed in helping readers become more discerning in their appreciation of these ‘arguments’ then we will have served some purpose. Objectivity is something to be constantly strived for, but that is not the same as giving every argument equal weight. -gavin]

  20. 120
    Alvia Gaskill says:

    Geoengineering on Radio in Canada

    I’m not sure where this should go, but since this topic area started with a discussion of the reporting of climate science by the WSJ and the Economist, RealClimate readers may be interested in listening to “The Current” tomorrow morning on CBC Radio One.

    One of the topics will be geoengineering and the guests will include Frances Cairncross, the president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and a former editor of the Economist, Roger Angel from the Univ. of Arizona who will discuss the space borne mirror concept, Stephen Salter from the Univ. of Edinburgh who will discuss generation of marine clouds using a misting device and yours truly who gets to cover everything else (sulfate aerosols, ocean fertilization, what is geoengineering and why do they hate us, etc.) including the biggest coverup since Watergate if we got to do it, the Global Albedo Enhancement Project.

    The producers have told me that they want this to be a serious presentation of the potential benefits of climate engineering and that with 30 minutes or so devoted to it, there will be more time to flesh out some of the issues and developments more fully than is possible in the newspaper articles that have recently appeared.

    CBC Radio One is available online at

    and on Sirius Satellite Radio Channel 137. They also archive parts of some of their broadcasts.

    The program guide doesn’t show the geoengineering segment and it may have been deleted or rescheduled, although I note from a review of their previous weeks’ editions that there are usually three segments and only two are listed for tomorrow. Regardless, I am going to be in a local NPR studio Monday morning at 8am and will let everyone know if it has been rescheduled.

  21. 121
    Jim Dukelow says:

    Re #97

    The Storm van Leeuwen and Smith (SLS) report that mystery writer SecularAnimist cites and quotes (kindly providing a URL) is reminiscent of the sort of trash science hit pieces that the fossil energy disinformers commission, although the motivation here is clearly different. The SLS report was commissioned by the Green Party legislators in the EU as a background paper for the 2000 COP6 conference in the Hague. The Greens chose well-credentialed authors who could be reasonably expected to produce congenial conclusions, on the basis of earlier writings. The Green/SLS motivation is an obsession with preventing nuclear power from being considered as one of the tools for moving the world to a lower carbon future.

    I encourage RealClimate readers interested in this issue to read not only the SLS summary and the report, available at , but also the World Nulcear Association rebuttal at and the SLS rebuttal to the WNA rebuttal.

    For the moment, it might suffice to note some of the SLS introductory material. They write:

    Unique features of nuclear power

    The nuclear system has some unique features no other energy system has, being:

    o the energy source is a metal to be extracted from ores,

    o the generation of immense quantities of radioactivity,

    o the extremely long-term committments of 100-150 years,

    o very large uncertainties still exist regarding the completion of a nuclear project. [end quote]

    Third bullet first. I wouldn’t think RealClimate reader would be inclined to view fossil fuel use as NOT involving a 100-150 year commitment.

    The first bullet is true as far as it goes, but several of the renewable technologies, because of the low energy densities they are exploiting, require large amounts of metal that must be extracted from ores. Wind energy is a canonical example (I am a fan of wind energy — on a clear day I can look out my window and see on the order of 300 wind turbines).

    The second bullet is simply anti-nuclear cant. The uranium ore starts with each uranium atom sitting atop a long decay chain that will eventually produce over the course of a billion years or so on the order of 12 million electron volts of energy. If the uranium atom fissions, it will release 200 million electron volts, most of which is captured as heat with roughly 33% of that heat eventually converted to electrical energy. Left behind are two or three fission products that typically decay away in a far shorter time than the original uranium atom and with perhaps 10-20% of the energy release. The upshot is that the amount of radioactivity in cesium-137 and strontium-90,two of the most common fission products, is down by a factor of 1000 in 300 year and by a factor of a billion in a thousand years. In a thousand years the spent fuel, however it is being sequestered, is less radioactive than the orginal uranium ore.

    The very large uncertainties noted in the fourth bullet exist, but are largely a product of the skill of some of the Green organizations in working political and legal levers to delay siting and construction of nuclear plants, thereby greatly increasing their cost.

    France gets most of their electricity from nuclear. Finland and Japan are not far behind. China is building nuclear plants about as rapidly as they can finance them from internal funding and foreign investment. All of those countries have rejected the pseudo-analysis in the SLS report.

    Almost all of the societal costs of nuclear power are internalized in the costs of building and operating the plants. Almost all of their waste products are well sequestered from the biosphere. The fossil fuel industry dumps almost all of its waste into the atmosphere and into surface water and groundwater.

    Nuclear power is a complex technology requiring skilled implementation, but ought to be part of a comprehensive approach to reducing the use of carbon-based energy.

    Best regards.

    Jim Dukelow

  22. 122
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re 1,2, 4,5, et al.
    I used to subscribe to the WSJ and on many occasions was amused (and sometimes frustrated) to read news and business stories on topics related to evolutionary biology (e.g., discovery of an exciting new fossil dinosaur; breakthroughs in genetic engineering or gene therapy which were possible only because evolution is real), while the op-ed section ran commentaries, sometimes in the same issue, by creationists and ID proponents attempting to refute evolutionary theory. It made me realize the WSJ editorial staff is sometimes motivated by factors other than what is good for big business.

    I doubt the paper’s editors will take up Sachs’challenge – they have nothing to gain. And they certainly have their credibility to lose, though that does not seem to concern them when it comes to other issues.

  23. 123
    David Graves says:

    Another nuclear technology (also described on the WNA website, is Thorium fission. Actually, thorium is bombarded with protons to become fissile U232. The system has some attributes that may make it worth considering. Any turn down the nuclear path should only be done as part of comprehensive attempt at an AGW “solution”. As for #119 Woody, your (Gavin’s) comment should be carried at the ready by those who encounter denialists.

  24. 124
    George Landis says:

    The WSJ had another excellent editorial today about Richard Branson’s “gift” to Clinton’s Global Initiatives to solve global warming and thus save the planet. Interesting how the pro-AGW believers have been mostly silent on this incredibly generous and unselfish “donation” to save our species. Maybe you guys are smarter than I thought.

    [Response: Obviously I would agree… However, if you could post/link to a non-subscription version of the op-ed or at least some relevant quotes, it would be easier to see what you are talking about. – gavin]

  25. 125
    pete best says:

    Hopefully Branson will be looking into cellulistic ethenol or 2nd gen as it is known which I believe does have the attributes to go a long way towards saving us

  26. 126
    George Landis says:

    OK Gavin, it is very short, so a few quotes and paraphrases to give you the spirit of it:

    “There are plenty of reasons to cock a skeptical eyebrow at Richard Branson’s pledge, announced last week in the company of Al Gore and Bill Clinton, that he will devote $3 billion over the next 10 years to combat global warming. But we’ll give him this much, at least he puts his money where his mouth is. What he plans to do is invest in biofuels (ethanol and rapeseed) through his latest venture company, Virgin Fuels. There are real environmental questions (deforestation, intensive farming practices) about switching to biofuels, however the British government has mandated all fuel stations to get 5% of their gas from renewables by 2010. But who says you can’t do well by trying to do good? Unlike advocates of the Kyoto Protocol or similar top down, tax and spend regimes to fight global warming at least Branson sees innovation and technology through private sector investment as the best way to improve the enviroment. This is strikingly similar to the Bush administrations proposals put forward earlier this year in Sydney through the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. Those proposals were denounced by the usual environmental suspects as big business-Bush conspiracies, but if Branson does it, everyone says it’s cool.”

  27. 127
    David Biello says:

    On a related note, anybody catch James “global warming is the greatest hoax ever” Inhofe’s speech on the Senate floor today? It’s a corker, full of quotes sure to stand the test of time such as comparing the scientific consensus on global warming to the scientific consensus on Pluto before its demotion. Wow.

    [Response: Text is here…. – gavin]

  28. 128
    Dan says:

    re: 126. Branson and certain other large corporations are attempting to step up to the plate. Great news. What has lacked is any sort of leadership from the government side aside from the usual carefully krafted comments usually made around Earth Day each year. Luke-warm acknowledgement of the problem does not cut it from a government that ought to be show leadership here and abroad. Per 127, when you have Congressman making absurd comments such as Inhofe today, the government has a long way to go with respect to understanding science, the scientific process, and what is needed. Inhofe specifically has been shown this but fails to make an effort to learn. The Inhofes and other denialists of the world/government clearly are not smarter than anyone thought.

  29. 129
    Dan says:

    re: 127. It is somewhat ironic that Inhofe made his speech the same day as this report was released:
    Global temperature highest in milennia”

  30. 130
    Mark A. York says:


    Bravo! That’s about as deep as Woody can go. He and his ilk think that if you say something that’s enough to make it true. It isn’t.

  31. 131
    William Astley says:

    The above suggestions seem theoretical. Change the generation source of power, as opposed to addressing the foundation of the problem, over consumption of energy and materials. There is no discussion or support for the first steps which other countries have taken.

    For example, the price of gas in the US is $2.75/gal as compared to Europe $5.40/gal, due to higher gasoline taxes (US13% vs Europe 65%). European’s drive small fuel efficient cars (Many diesel. Diesel engine is approx. 30% more efficient than gasoline, due to fundamental reasons.) Average fuel efficiency (American cars) in 2005 is the same as the average fuel efficiency, in 1981, 25 miles/gallon. Higher prices for energy results in lower consumption. European’s use the gasoline tax to subside public transit which is one reason, European average energy use is 342 MBTU/person per year as compared to American 145 MBTU/person per year.

    Either the conservation argument due to there being a finite amount of fossil fuels on the planet or the protect the US economy argument, US imports 11MMbbl of oil per day and the US has a sever balance of trade problem could be used to justify a tax on gasoline. Similarly a tax on electricity would result in less use electricity use, through better insulated homes to reduce air condition use, more efficient types of lighting used, and so forth.

    Why is there no consensus on higher energy taxes, in the US?

  32. 132
    Will. Mattsson says:

    Why bother with the Wall Street Journal? This outfit has been far right for many years. Surely one can find many and better sources of scientific
    thought trolling the web than can be found on the pages of this neo-con rag. Surely one wouldn’t look for medical information in a magazine devoted to homeopathy? No one should have a problem getting all the info on global warming from alternate sources as respectable if not more so than the WSJ.

  33. 133
    Chuck Booth says:

    RE # 124, 126 George: I’m confused about your point here – are you being serious, or sarcastic?
    First, you wrote:
    “Interesting how the pro-AGW believers have been mostly silent on this incredibly generous and unselfish “donation” to save our species. Maybe you guys are smarter than I thought.” [Smarter? How so?]

    You then quoted the WSJ as saying:
    “Those proposals were denounced by the usual environmental suspects as big business-Bush conspiracies, but if Branson does it, everyone says it’s cool.”
    [So, have AGW believers ignored Branson’s donation, as you suggested, or praised it a “cool,” as the WSJ suggests?]

  34. 134
    Florifulgurator says:

    add #127
    Quoth Inhofe: “The American people know when their intelligence is being insulted.”

    [Response: Pretty much every time he gives a speech….. – gavin]

  35. 135
    George Landis says:

    Chuck, my tongue was firmly in my cheek (can’t see that on the blog words) when I made the remarks about the generous, unselfish stuff. The WSJ said the enviros think it’s cool, and Clinton has had much good press from the usual liberal media sources on it of course. However, I can see from perusing the numerous AGW blogs that the pro-AGW scientists are too smart to praise it (recognizing it for the capitalistic and self promoting and enriching act it was), so that is my read on it.

  36. 136
    Steven T. Corneliussen says:

    Comments 122 and 132, and others, call to mind an important distinction concerning the purposes of continually confronting the WSJ’s irresponsible opinion-page editors.

    On the one hand there’s the challenge of converting the benighted WSJ editorialists, which may well be hopeless, as many here say. But on the other hand are two other reasons to confront the WSJ continually anyhow.

    One is to press the WSJ editorial-page editors, whatever their own views, simply to hold an open discussion. Even they must admit that that means at least occasionally printing commentaries representing the scientific consensus, not seeking to debunk it. An open discussion is important because the WSJ opinion page reaches a large audience of influential people who, same as anybody, deserve a “fair and balanced” discussion.

    The other is to demonstrate continually to the world that scientists representing the international climate consensus seek earnestly and forthrightly to discuss what the WSJ editorial-page editors not only don’t believe, but won’t even discuss or allow to be presented to their readers. Especially because the WSJ is identified with powerful sectors of society, it’s useful to spotlight their unwillingness to conduct an open discussion.

  37. 137
    Marcus says:

    Re: #126: Mr Landis, one key difference between the Asia-Pacific Partnership and the Branson donation is money. I believe that the Asia-Pacific deal has just enough funding for administrative purposes, and leaves everything else to the voluntary public-private partnerships that it hopes to encourage. If the administration were to promise $3 billion for the partnership, that would be a better start. Though, really, we need much more than $3 billion for technology development. And still, when it comes down to it, we’ll need a carbon policy one day, because fossil fuels are just too cheap to compete with if you don’t include their externalities.

  38. 138
    lars says:

    Global warming?
    The words “global warming” provoke a sharp retort from Colorado State University meteorology professor emeritus William Gray: “It’s a big scam.”

    And the name of climate researcher Kevin Trenberth elicits a sputtered “opportunist.”

    – Hot & Cold Media Spin: A Challenge To Journalists Who Cover Global Warming


  39. 139
    Alvia Gaskill says:

    RE: 120 The CBC Radio broadcast of The Current has now been archived at

    You will need the infamous Real Player to hear it. We covered a lot of ground in 28 minutes (but not with plastic).

    I’ll have more to say about this program later, but I wanted to note that on last night’s ABC News there was a report about the recent NAS paper from Hansen and Wigley regarding the evidence that we will exceed the highest atmospheric temperatures in the last million years by 2050 and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.

    The last part is what got me. Tom Wigley, who just a few days ago outlined a plan to inject sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to stop the warming, was shown in the story. So which is it? We can do nothing, we should do nothing, we should only try to reduce emissions, we should do geoengineering, we should prepare for adaptation? Lots of mixed messages these days.

  40. 140
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    # 129 (Dan) the article is about this paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

    Global Temperature Change by Hansen et al
    Its an open access article

  41. 141
    Thom says:

    REF: 34

    “It’s analogous to dealing with a house fire by arguing about how the fire started and whether it will take two hours or three hours to burn the house down.”

    I disagree with the analogy. It does matter what caused it. If a broken gas main is fueling the fire, no matter how much water you put on the fire, until you turn off the gas, it will keep on burning. We need to understand how much is our portion. If it is only 10 percent. I doubt there is much we can do about overall global warming.

  42. 142
    JMG says:

    Re #s 85/92 etc.

    In trying to research the whole life-cycle CO2 emissions attributed to nuclear energy, I found this report (link below). My understanding is that the authoring institute is decidely anti-nuclear; that said, their conclusion—that nuclear produces about 40-60 grams/kWh—doesn’t seem so bad when you consider that coal (in US, 52% of electric is coal derived) emits nearly 2 lbs. per kWh in direct emissions (i.e., not even counting the whole life cycle).

    This 60 gms/kWh figure was a surprise to me; I thought the enrichment cycle and the embodied energy in the plants would lead to a much higher figure.

    Thus, I am finding ever more appeal in the grand compromise that Pierre H. suggested in “Catastrophe in Slow Motion” ( shut down one or two big coal burners for every nuke built.

  43. 143
    Peer says:

    “I disagree with the analogy. It does matter what caused it. If a broken gas main is fueling the fire, no matter how much water you put on the fire, until you turn off the gas, it will keep on burning. We need to understand how much is our portion. If it is only 10 percent. I doubt there is much we can do about overall global warming.”

    But since this means that anthropogenic global warming will fix itself the moment people realize that a leak gas pipe cannot supply them with an unlimited amount of steam power, there’s no need to worry..

  44. 144
    Woody says:

    Gavin,I was going to leave my comment with your response (#119) stand without further comment, until two others seemed to think that your response put a knife through my concerns. It doesn’t. I am not trying to be snarky or difficult, but your analysis of what you do is not how I and others see it.

    Essentially, in my opinion, anyone who agrees with your side, no matter how unqualified–such as an editorial cartoonist or a “concerned scientist” in an unrelated field, is praised; and, anyone who does not agree with you, although a reputable scientist, is taken apart in ways such as calling him an industry hack. Science is science no matter who pays for it, and there are a lot GW supporters with a financial conflict of interest who get accepted here.

    There are true nuts on both sides of the debate (and there is still a debate, despite Al Gore’s claims), but you fail to recongnize or call down the nuts on your side, which makes this as much of a cheerleading site as a science site.

    Rather than give you the usual suspects to criticize, I enjoy the variety of posts and comments at an additional site, which I think is honest and worthy of respect and your consideration. It is that of Jennifer Marohasy found at .

    Please don’t think that I’m trying to be a troll. I really am respectful of your site and just wanted to point out the difference in how I see things versus your regular crowd.

  45. 145
    JMG says:

    OK, the WSJ is not going to play–there is nothing for them to gain by showing that they are nothing but ideologues.

    Meanwhile, the people like Sen. Inhofe have the floor and all the publicity money can buy.

    Could the good scientists on this site do the whole world a favor and please, please, please annotate Inhofe’s speech yesterday with links to the best source for rebuttal?


  46. 146
    Leighton Anderson says:

    I read on the Welcome page that, “[i]n order to limit the scope to those issues where we can claim some competence, the discussion here is restricted to scientific topics. Thus we will not get involved in political or economic issues that arise when discussing climate change.” This policy statement appears massively violated in the current thread, especially in connection with gavin’s gratuitous slur in reference to Sen. Inhofe (see comment appended to #134). The Senator has a different understanding of the facts, so the right response is to insult him? I was attracted as a layperson to RC thinking that its contributors were above name-calling. It seems I was mistaken.

    [Response: It was a moment of weakness – but, hey… we’ve dealt with Inhofe’s grasp of the facts on many occasions ( and ) and there are limits to how many times it’s worth pointing out the errors he makes in logic or science. Given the initial theme on this thread though, the Senator has an open invitation to meet with me at any point to discuss climate science – that he chooses not to invite me (or any other ‘leading’ climate scientists) to his committee’s hearings should be indicative of his stance. – gavin]

  47. 147
    SecularAnimist says:

    Regarding the “excellent” WSJ editorial referenced by George Landis in comment #124 and subsequent comments, regarding Richard Branson’s investment in biofuels, the editorial is in fact representative of the nonsense spouted by the WSJ editorial board every day. Note their emphasis that Branson made his announcement “in the company of Al Gore and Bill Clinton” — consorting with Democrats! Oh, the horror!

    The reality is that everyone who is investing in clean, renewable energy technology — whether biofuels or photovoltaics or wind turbines or geothermal heatpumps or super-insulated passive solar-heated houses or solar hot water heaters or flex-fuel pluggable hybrid electric hypercars or whatever — is selling, or hoping to sell, a product on the market and wants to make a buck. Lots of bucks, actually.

    There is no contradiction whatsoever between providing climate-friendly solutions to energy needs and making a profit. In fact, the necessity of overhauling our basic energy technologies to deal with global warming is an enormous business opportunity, and smart capitalists all over the world are falling over themselves to invest in companies that are producing and deploying photovoltaics and wind turbines. The growth in those fields is already large, rapid and accelerating.

    And the editorial grossly misprepresents the Kyoto protocol, which as much as anything else it does is designed and intended to leverage government committments to reducing GHG to stimulate market innovations to accomplish the actual reductions, whether through cap-and-trade schemes or technological innovations.

    The problem for the folks whose interests the WSJ editorial staff serves is that a rapid, large scale-transition away from burning fossil fuels to clean renewable energy sources and dramatically improved efficiency is going to shift profits away from the ultra-rich fossil fuel barons and to other people and other companies. That’s why they and their bought-and-paid-for propagandists at the WSJ engage in such ridiculous demagoguery.

  48. 148
    SecularAnimist says:

    JMG wrote in #142:

    Thus, I am finding ever more appeal in the grand compromise that Pierre H. suggested in “Catastrophe in Slow Motion” […]: shut down one or two big coal burners for every nuke built.

    Well, if the nuclear industry gets its way and gets the taxpayers to foot the bill for an aggressive program of constructing new nuclear power plants — which, unlike wind turbines and photovolaics, the private market won’t touch unless the government (i.e. the taxpayers) provides massive subsidies and absorbs all the risks — and if that “grand compromise” is agreed, then we might be able to start shutting down a few coal-burning power plants in 15 years or so.

    Electricity from wind and photovoltaics can be brought online much faster, much more cheaply, more scalably, and without any of the risks of nuclear.

    Having said that, to date I am not aware of any fossil-fuel powered electricity generation plant anywhere in the world being shut down because it was “replaced” with wind, solar or nuclear power. Correct me if I’m wrong, but at this point, realistically, what we are talking about is replacing the construction of new coal or natural gas fired plants with alternatives.

    When the day comes that we actually start shutting down existing coal-fired power plants, I guess humanity will have actually gotten serious about dealing with global warming.

  49. 149
    Phillip Shaw says:

    Re #34 & #141:

    To paraphrase the old saying about models “All analogies are flawed, some analogies are useful”. The analogy I used in #34 was simply meant to illustrate my point, it is not worthy of too much debate in and of itself.

    I agree that we don’t fully know the relative proportions of the various natural and anthropogenic forcings that contribute to global warming. However, the fact that there are limits to our knowledge is neither a reason nor a justification for delaying action to reduce our GHG emissions. I am an engineer, not a climate scientist, but I am not aware of even a shred of credible science that suggests reducing GHG would exacerbate global warming. Indeed, every credible article I’ve read indicates that the solution(s) to global warming will involve reductions in GHG emissions.

    So, as an engineer, I believe that we, as individuals, as a nation, and as a species, should get busy implementing the measures we know will work. This includes improving the energy efficiency of industrial processes, energy conservation, and a major investment in the improvement and production of renewable energy generation technologies. The less fossil fuel we burn, the less GHG we emit.

    Continuing ‘business as usual’ for years until additional research refines our understanding of climate dynamics to a few more decimal places just seems foolish. The hotter we force the climate, the more catastrophic the consequences, and the more expensive the mitigation. If I’m wrong please help help me understand where I went astray.

  50. 150
    Dan says:

    re: 144. If you follow the scientific process which climate research does, there is really very little debate left at all. The “financial conflict of interest” point is quite a tired and very old red herring which has been addressed quite clearly.