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Start here

Filed under: — group @ 22 May 2007 - (Slovenčina) (Polski)

We’ve often been asked to provide a one stop link for resources that people can use to get up to speed on the issue of climate change, and so here is a first cut. Unlike our other postings, we’ll amend this as we discover or are pointed to new resources. Different people have different needs and so we will group resources according to the level people start at.

For complete beginners:

NCAR: Weather and climate basics
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions: Global Warming basics
Wikipedia: Global Warming
NASA: Global Warming update
National Academy of Science: America’s Climate Choices (2011)
Encyclopedia of Earth: Climate Change Collection
Global Warming FAQ (Tom Rees)
Global Warming: Man or Myth? (Scott Mandia, SUNY Suffolk)
Oxford Begbrooke: Climate Basics

There is a new booklet on Climate Literacy from multiple agencies (NOAA, NSF, AAAS) available here (pdf).

The UK Govt. has a good site on The Science of Climate Change (added Sep 2010).

The portal for climate and climate change of the ZAMG (Zentralaanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik, Vienna, Austria). (In German) (added Jan 2011)

Those with some knowledge:

The IPCC AR4 Frequently Asked Questions (here (pdf)) are an excellent start. These cover:

RealClimate: Start with our index

Informed, but in need of more detail:

Science: You can’t do better than the IPCC reports themselves (AR4 2007, TAR 2001).

History: Spencer Weart’s “Discovery of Global Warming” (AIP)

Art: Robert Rohde’s “Global Warming Art

Informed, but seeking serious discussion of common contrarian talking points:

All of the below links have indexed debunks of most of the common points of confusion:

Please feel free to suggest other suitable resources, particularly in different languages, and we’ll try to keep this list up to date.


293 Responses to “Start here”

  1. 201
    Dick Veldkamp says:

    Re #197 (Ray)

    Ray, I admit there is some merit in the argument that it is too late to be choosy about energy sources, but I myself am not convinced yet.

    It seems to me that nuclear (and “clean” coal, and some other things) are being pushed as a technofix that would render changing our lifestyle unnecessary – clearly a fata morgana.

    When do we get serious about energy conservation? Only the other week 5 more coal power stations were announced in the Netherlands “because energy demand keeps growing”. Yeah, right. Like it’s a natural phenomenon.

  2. 202
    Christoffer Torris Olsen says:

    The IPCC FAQ link seems to be broken.

  3. 203
    Dick Veldkamp says:

    #200 Nuclear CO2 free?

    I am just saying that the CO2 production while running a nuclear plant is NOT zero because of ore extraction, which takes considerable amounts of energy (admittedly the net result of the whole chain is positive at present).

    There’s other problems with nuclear too, but it is not my intention to repeat the whole discussion here.

    Taking fission material from missiles is an interesting thought, but you (or Ray) would have to produce some numbers to show that it is feasible, and that the amount available is relevant for energy production.

  4. 204
    Hank Roberts says:

    >IPCC FAQ
    The IPCC isn’t friendly to links directly to the files — the files get renamed when they’re edited, and become “404 not found”

    IPCC says:
    “Please access the Summary for Policymakers (SPM), the Technical Summary (TS), chapters and other material from the following table of links. Links to the Supplementary Material pages are also provided.

    START HERE: http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/wg1-report.html

    The FAQ is the fourth one down from the top (as of this moment)

  5. 205
    ray ladbury says:

    Dick,
    As I said above, if we took advantage of the nuclear material in the warheads decommissioned by the Soviets (as we should be for reasons of self preservation in any case), we would never have to turn over another spade to dig for nuclear fuel. I am all for increased conservation and for meeting as much of increased demand (because demand will increase regardless of how well we conserve) with renewables as possible. Whatever demand renewables cannot meet competitively will likely be met by coal (which will likely not be clean) or nuclear, and I don’t think we can afford to overlook the latter. I do believe that conservatives will look at our willingness to accept a role for nuclear power as a litmus test of our concern over climate change. They already dismiss concerns over nuclear power as overblown, and some of them are. Some of them are real, I readily concede–waste disposal and proliferation being the main ones. My concerns over these risks are, however, dwarfed by my concern over the effects of climate change, and so if I have to accept nuclear power as a solution, or even as a token political compormise, I am willing to do so.

  6. 206

    Re #199:

    [...but solar technology is wide open. Rather than investing in schemes like new nuclear power stations or hypothetical 'buried emissions' coal-to-liquid conversion plants, we should be building solar panel manufacturing facilities and wind turbine facilities...]

    Who’s “we”, here? Check your news, and you’ll discover that those things are being done now. But as I keep saying, they’re not magic. Like every technology, they have their limitations. Pretending those limits don’t exist is a recipe for failure.

    So far you’re the only person who doesn’t seem aware that solar has limitations that have been taken into consideration.

    Nationwide, the capacity factor for solar is 0.18, meaning for every megawatt of installed capacity, there are 180 kilowatts generated. I’d think that the people installing solar know that. Additionally, the average for cloud cover in this corner of the planet is about 28 percent, and again, I’d think the people who are installing solar are well aware of that. I can go on down the list of problems and limitations that solar has which are well known — average insolation for Central Texas, based on experience is approximately 5 hours, a little more or a little less, depending on where you are exactly. That factor has to be taken into consideration when sizing a system for a given production, so again, I think the people installing solar have to be aware of that fact.

    The biggest problems with solar aren’t at either the utility scale installation, or even the large residential grid intertie installation level. Values like insolation, site orientation, shading, etc are taken into consideration for large installations. The biggest problems with solar are with the “Keep your car battery charged with solar power!” or “Run your RV on solar!” level. Utterly unrealist insolation values, conversion inefficiency issues, failures to understand or consider power factor, stepped square wave (“modified sine wave”) inverters with horrible power output, etc. ad nauseum all creep in with smaller installations.

    In my experience, the people who scream the loudest about how horrible solar is are utilities. Solar is a disruptive technology — if it’s a bright sunny day, and I’ve got capacity to spare, I can undercut every other producer out there (save wind) because my incremental prices are very low. The expensive producers, which are coal and natural gas, have got to know that, and based on my personal experience, companies with a vested interest in selling coal and natural gas power will lie through their teeth about how lousey solar and wind power are.

  7. 207

    [[Pointing out that the sun doesn't shine at night, or that wind turbines don't produce energy when the wind isn't blowing counts as hysterical doomsaying? ]]

    No. Saying we have to have nuclear because renewables can never do it all by themselves counts as hysterical doomsaying.

    [[Analyses of the behavior of the electrical grid (made by power systems engineers), and the cost and performance of real-world technology, likewise?
    Come to that, where's this anti-renewables lobby that's supposedly doing the doomsaying?
    ]]

    Um, that would be you.

    [[ Has renewable energy become a religion, so that daring to think that it might not perform miracles counts as heresy? ]]

    Have straw man arguments replaced relevant ones?

  8. 208
    David B. Benson says:

    Any thoughts regarding agrichar as an immediate, palative measure?

  9. 209
    Ike Solem says:

    Re#208, I’ve heard it called biochar, but it seems like an approach that has very few drawbacks. Essentially, what it involves is heating biomass in the absence of oxygen, which creates a liquid/gaseous fuel stream (essentially, the Fischer-Tropsch process for biomass instead of for coal). Such fuels would be largely CO2-neutral as they were formed via photosynthesis – depending on the agricultural procedures used, though.

    The residual carbon (essentially charcoal) is then plowed into depleted agricultural soils, where it stays. From the global warming perspective, this means that you’re taking CO2 out of the air via photosynthesis and burying it as organic carbon in the soils. I think the net storage through the entire process is around 20% of the photosynthetically fixed CO2? Seems like a win-win strategy – but you’d still have to stop burning coal and oil if you wanted to stabilize atmospheric CO2.

  10. 210
    Ike Solem says:

    RE the nuclear debate and why I called it a “dead-end technology”
    Global uranium reserves
    Quote: “If we would decide to replace all electricity generated by burning fossil fuel with electricity from nuclear power today, there would be enough economically viable uranium to fuel the reactors for between 3 and 4 years (O’Rourke, 2004; Storm van Leeuwen & Smith, 2004). Even if we were to double world usage of nuclear energy, the life span of uranium reserves would be just 25 years. Therefore any potential benefits to the climate are extremely temporary.”

    There is one nuclear reactor that we can rely on indefinitely for energy, however – the Sun, which is for our purposes inexhaustible. See solar energy resource.

  11. 211
    Timothy Chase says:

    David B. Benson (#208) wrote:

    Any thoughts regarding agrichar as an immediate, palative measure?

    Well, at first glance, it might be thought of as an environment-friendly alternative to traditional charcoal, but it has the potential for semi-permanently sequestering carbon on an unprecedented scale while enhancing agricultural productivity, so in this way, I would regard it as a great deal more than just a temporary expediency. Nevertheless, it will probably pay to keep in mind that a majority of the increase in ghg emissions since the 1990s (from 1 to 3 percent, roughly) has been due to the use of solid fuels – such as charcoal.

    It looks like it is a great improvement over traditional charcoal, both in terms of its production methods (it is much cleaner) and its ability to use a wide variety of biomass in its production – and thus cut down on deforestation and degradation of the associated soils. Byproducts of its production include gases and biofuels which may help to supply energy needs. When used to enrich the soil rather than as fuel, agrichar quite significantly enhances agricultural productivity by acting as a scaffold for a bacterial ecology which greatly benefits plants – and it results in the sequestration of carbon for centuries.

    I think it may be a great benefit to much of the world – currently half of the world still relies upon charcoal. At least temporarily, this would be a far better solution. But in the long run, it can mean the large-scale, semi-permanent sequestration of carbon, and meeting global hunger needs.

    And in the interim?

    Agrichar can be used to fuel its own production, and what is left over can be used to enrich the soil, growing the crops which meet hunger needs while producing wastes that can be used in the creation of more agrichar.

    Anyway, for those who aren’t already familiar with it, you might want to see:

    Birth of a new wedge: agrichar (terra preta)
    by Kelpie Wilson
    Published on 3 May 2007
    http://www.energybulletin.net/29250.htm

    I also have a technical review – but I will have to look it up.

    *

    Personally, I find it exciting – and a source of hope. Rice-husks in a kiln. Who woulda thunk?

    Anyway, I am fairly sold on the stuff, but I will most certainly be interested in hearing from others, pro or con, however inconceivable the latter may be.

  12. 212
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Ike, Nuclear power only makes sense if it is used with a breeder fuel cycle. That way, you are dealing with U238 vs. U235. The breeder cycle requires reprocessing of spent fuel as well–and that makes disposal easier. No solution makes sense if we adopt it stupidly.

  13. 213
    nicolas L. says:

    re: 210

    I think your calculations are based only on the proved, measured and economically viable reserves at present time… But most geologists and mining industrials would tell you that making this calculation is pretty useless to estimate the effective time we have before exhausting a viable use of a certain mineral. You have to take account of 2 other parameters to make a valid estimation:
    _ The amount of mineral that has been discovered but is not economically workable with present technical knowledge and energy market price. It doesn’t mean that it won’t be workable in a few years (with new technics and/or higher market prices).
    _ The amount of mineral not discovered at present time. This can represent a huge part of the total amount of mineral.

    These are the updated estimates for reserves, according to “Uranium 2005: Resources, Production and Demand”, a publication of OECD, NEA and IAEA:

    “Uranium 2005: Resources, Production and Demand, also known as the Red Book, estimates the identified amount of conventional uranium resources which can be mined for less than USD 130/kg, just above the current spot price, to be about 4.7 million tonnes.

    Based on the 2004 nuclear electricity generation rate this amount is sufficient for 85 years. However, total world uranium resources which could be available at market price are much higher. Based on geological evidence and knowledge of uranium in phosphates, the study estimates that more than 35 million tonnes are available for exploitation. ”
    http://www.nea.fr/html/general/press/2006/2006-02.html

    In the beginning of 2k, the estimated available reserves were 14,4 million Tonnes, we’re now at 35 million. This means the known reserves of uranium have more than doubled during the last 5 years or so… Why? Because we keep discovering new uranium reserves, and we’re likely to discover more.
    Nuclear energy being a non-renewable one, it will leave to a dead end some day and that’s a point no one can contest. But estimation of world reserves is a much more difficult thing, and data shows we’re not near from the pick uranium (contrary to pick oil, wich will probably come in the next 10 or 20 years).
    I think the problem is for now not about the uranium reserves. The radioactive wates management and the risk of accident is for me more important. As I’ve said it before (somewhere in one of those numerous and very instructive posts we find here at RC :) ), my point of view is that nuclear energy has its flaws, and if the AGW was not a sword over our heads I’d say we don’t need it. But giving the situation that is we must get away from fossil fuels as fast as we can, nuclear generated power is a path we’ll hardly escape from…

  14. 214
    Ray Ladbury says:

    All, while not directly relevant to climate, perhaps a few words on the difficulty of determining Uranium reserves. The intitial estimates of Uranium availability suggested that it was only available in a few locations–such as Poland, hence part of the concern among Manhattan Project scientists on the possession of these reserves by the Nazis. Subsequently, it was found that Uranium was much more widely available than thought. Why? Well, the initial estimates were based on cosmic abundance–and indeed, since all the Uranium in the Universe was made in the hearts of supernovae, you’d suspect there isn’t that much of it around. However, terrestrial elemental abundances don’t track cosmic abundances, in part because Earth is a differentiated body, with most of the iron in the core and most of the light, rock-forming elements at the surface. It turns out that Uranium, Thorium and other actinides preferentially associate with these rock-forming or lithophilic elements. Thus, Earth’s crust is enriched in actinides including thorium and uranium, but depleted in gold, platinum and other siderophilic (iron-loving) elements.
    The exact factor by which the crust is enriched is not known, but every estimate to date has been an underestimate.

  15. 215
    Dick Veldkamp says:

    Re #210 Available uranium

    It’s not just the price that determines how much uranium is available. Below some threshold you can never recover the energy it took to extract and enrich the uranium – regardless of which level the energy price went up to.

  16. 216
    Nick Gotts says:

    RE #212 [Nuclear power only makes sense if it is used with a breeder fuel cycle. That way, you are dealing with U238 vs. U235. The breeder cycle requires reprocessing of spent fuel as well--and that makes disposal easier.]

    The breeder cycle produces plutonium or U-233 – i.e. basic materials for nuclear weapons. If breeders are to make a serious contribution to future energy supplies, there’s going to be a lot more of this material around. If they are to contribute to energy supplies in many countries, either a lot of countries are going to be producing these materials, or most are going to have to agree to depend on other states’ continuing willingness to supply them. Secondly, once they bring breeders into the issue, nuclear power advocates have to drop the “proven technology” argument: although breeders have been built and operated, they have a patchy record of reliability, and no country has yet used them as a significant part of its electricity supply industry.

  17. 217

    Dick, in #215 –

    To some extent that’s a very important point. However, there are energy sources that have different values and availabilities. Liquid fuels are very “portable” and have a high energy density. Using a high availabilty, low portability energy source to create liquid fuels would be a very workable long-term solution, I believe.

    How true that sort of analysis would be for uranium and thorium would have to be determined by market forces. A uranium mine running on locally produced renewable energy could be thought of as “concentrating” the renewable energy they are consuming into a much more “portable” form.

    One thing any kind of uranium shortage might point to is a need for running around Iraq and Iran and recovering as much “depleted uranium” as we can find. I’m sure the people who live around that stuff wouldn’t mind getting rid of it …

  18. 218
    James says:

    Re #210: Your link “global uranium reserves” takes me to a site that has a big “Don’t Nuke” image at the top. Following a couple of the links in the sidebar is likewise revealing. For instance “WHO IS WISE? We’re small. We’re powerful. We’re anti-nuclear.” “WHO IS NIRS? In September 2000, WISE Amsterdam affiliated with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) in Washington D.C., USA. In the past we have often worked together in our struggle against nuclear energy.”

    Now maybe I’m being overly cynical here, but do you suppose these people might just possibly be a wee bit biased? Could you please explain to me why I should uncritically accept their statements?

    Be that as it may, let’s take their statement that if all electricity was generated by nuclear power “there would be enough economically viable uranium to fuel the reactors for between 3 and 4 years” as a working hypothesis, and see where that leads. Now we know that nuclear power currently supplies 20% of US electricity, so that means there’s only enough economically viable uranium to fuel the present reactors for at most 20 years, which would mean that there’s another crisis looming.

    Now we have a bunch of (presumably) greedy capitalists who want to make money by building nuclear reactors. They have enough money to hire engineers, geologists, and economists: how is that they all managed to miss this fact? Honestly, don’t you see the parallel to the sort of AGW denialist who claims to have found some flaw in the theories or models that has escaped all the climate scientists?

    All this is by the way, though. The plain fact, as others have mentioned, is that if you operate the right sort of plant, and process your spent fuel properly, you wind up with more nuclear fuel than you started with. Which in turn leads to a conclusion that may bother some people: nuclear power is a renewable resource :-)

  19. 219
    pat n says:

    re: 46

    I simply meant that the lynching (or confronting malfeasance, if you like) ought to be done with your Congressman or some such; it’s not RC’s job.

    … Comment by Rod B

    Rod,

    I did some confronting by going to Al Gore in 2000, senators Paul Wellstone (2002), Norm Coleman (2003), Mark Dayton (2006), Amy Klobachar (2007) and others, even lawyers They said they couldn’t help – climate change was not their job either.

  20. 220

    Since May of 2006, Adventure Books of Seattle has been gathering comments from people worldwide on the subject of global warming. The book is titled ‘A Thousand Voices’ and is edited by Geoff Nelder of Great Britain. Mr Nelder is the author of several reference books on the weather and is a Post-Graduate Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society. Interested participants simply fill in a webform (that asks NO personal questions) onsite and their comments are placed into the book.

    In between the comments are before-and-after pictures showing the damage caused by severe climate change. Both Greenpeace and the Office of Al Gore have expressed an interest in seeing the finished PDF file before publication.

    To learn more or to enter your article, opinion, or comment, just use the link shown below to see full details on the project.

  21. 221
    George Stroebel says:

    If the CO2 level in the atmosphere increases from burning fossil fuels and can be measured, why don’t we know how much the oxegen level decreases for the same reason. In other words if fossil fuels had never been discovered and burned, would the oxegen levels be much higher now? Even dangerously high.If not, why not?

  22. 222
    David B. Benson says:

    Here is a useful site for agrichar, aka biochar. I hope readers will pass the word about going carbon negative.

    http://www.shimbir.demon.co.uk/biocharrefs.htm

  23. 223
  24. 224
    Hank Roberts says:

    >IPCC FAQ
    START HERE: http://ipcc-wg1.ucar.edu/wg1/wg1-report.html
    The FAQ is the fourth one down from the top (as of this moment)

  25. 225
    ray ladbury says:

    George Stroebel, OK, think about this. What percentag of the atmosphere is O2–answer~19%. What percentage is CO2–answer 0.000382%. Any questions?

  26. 226
    pat n says:

    Re: 46, 4

    Rob B,

    I think people should be held accountable for wrongdoing to others and the environment but neither lynching nor confronting malfeasance seem appropriate for what I said in #4.

    Another example:

    WASHINGTON (AP)� The Bush administration is drastically scaling back efforts to measure global warming from space, just as the president tries to convince the world the U.S. is ready to take the lead in reducing greenhouse gases.

    From the website at Climate Science Watch:

    http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/index.php/csw/details/npoess_report_key_points/

    There needs to be accountability for wrongdoing on these matters of great concern.

  27. 227
    Phillip Shaw says:

    Re #226:

    I confess I’m not really surprised that the Bush administration is steering NASA away from climate science. After all, if they can no longer deny the facts, and they can’t spin the facts to fit their personal world view, the only thing left for them to do is to stop collecting facts. They are hoping that what we don’t know won’t hurt them. The truth really is inconvenient for the politicians of both parties who have failed in their duty to the Americans who elected them.

    There is an old saying that a Statesman looks to the needs of the next generation while a Politician looks no farther than the next election. I’m afraid we’ll be dealing with the consequences of political expediency for a long, long time to come. But every election, at every level, is an opportunity to replace today’s politicans with statesmen willing to tackle the tough problems ahead. It is up to us to get involved.

  28. 228
    SecularAnimist says:

    What I have learned from nuclear proponents on this thread is that nuclear power is a “proven technology” for reliably and safely generating electricity, but that it “only makes sense” if we go to breeder reactors, which is an unproven technology for reliably and safely generating electricity.

  29. 229
    James says:

    Re #228: If the “renewable energy can do it all” camp can invoke not-yet-developed technology, it seems only fair that the rest of us should too :-) But I think you misunderstand: it’s not that nuclear “only makes sense” with breeder reactors, it’s that the potential development of breeder reactors completely demolishes the “but there’s only enough uranium for XX years” line of argument.

    Of course that reasoning is faulty, anyway. The immediate problem is not finding a power source that will last forever, it’s finding one that can be deployed soon enough, and in sufficient quantity, to counteract the CO2 problem. If in fact there were only enough for 20 years or so, that’d give the renewable people more time to develop their technology. After all, if renewables are cheaper and/or more dependable than nuclear, they should eventually displace it, no? And if a bunch of greedy capitalist nuclear plant investors go broke in the process, why do you care?

  30. 230
    pat n says:

    Re 227. In government it is not only the politicians who have failed in their duty to the Americans but also the career civil servants, particularly those with NOAA’s National Weather Service, who spoke out in denial of climate change and global warming on and off the record for years to state and local government employees and media weather casters. The managers in the career agencies should be held accountable. During the 2000 election campaign a favorite saying of one of the parties was that those who were guilty of wrongdoing would be held accountable. I think its time for the US to practice what was preached.

  31. 231
    Rajesh Rawat says:

    Climate change is a global problem and has to be addressed by all the countries. Using energy from fossil fuels, as done by developed countries since the industrial revolution is no longer an option for the developing countries such as India and China to sustain their fast economic growth. There is an urgent need to develop renewable energy that has much lower life-cycle greenhouse gas footprint than fossil fuels. To make this transition, the developed countries will have to support developing countries financially and technologically to make the switch to clean alternative energy sources.

    Jatropha is one such promising biofuel crop with a much bigger impact in reducing greenhouse gases and also helping poor. Jatropha seeds produce very good quality oil and have a much higher yield than other oil crops. Moreover, jatropha plantation doesn’t displace food crops as it can be grown in marginal lands under wide agro-climatic conditions. In addition to bio-diesel, jatropha produces biomass that can be used for generating methane for captive use for the farmers. Jatropha plantation is labor intensive process hence creating jobs for poor indigenous people who otherwise are forced to live in extreme poor conditions in city slums. Due to the lack of carbon taxation on fossil fuels, however, it is not economically viable for poor farmers to plant jatropha.

    You can volunteer to neutralize your carbon footprint by supporting jatropha plantation. This will empower farmers, at the bottom of the pyramid, to be a part of the solution in this global climate crisis, while lifting themselves out of poverty. For more information, visit http://www.plantjatropha.com.
    Rajesh
    http://www.plantjatropha.com

  32. 232
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #229 [If the "renewable energy can do it all" camp can invoke not-yet-developed technology, it seems only fair that the rest of us should too :-) But I think you misunderstand: it's not that nuclear "only makes sense" with breeder reactors, it's that the potential development of breeder reactors completely demolishes the "but there's only enough uranium for XX years" line of argument.

    Of course that reasoning is faulty, anyway. The immediate problem is not finding a power source that will last forever, it's finding one that can be deployed soon enough, and in sufficient quantity, to counteract the CO2 problem.]

    SecularAnimist was of course quoting Ray Ladbury with respect to nuclear only making sense with breeder reactors. I’d guess that the reason Ray says this (correct me if I’m wrong, Ray) is that without breeders the kind of rapid expansion of nuclear power needed to make a significant dent in GHG emission soon enough would (if feasible in other ways) send uranium prices through the roof – they have increased about 400% in the last five years just on the prospect of a nuclear power revival. But once you bring in breeders, you not only have the problem that this is unproven technology, so far as supplying any significant amount of power is concerned, you also multiply the potential political, security and proliferation problems. I largely agree with you about the “renewable energy can do it all” camp: there is no non-fossil-fuel energy supply technology that will provide a technical fix in time i.e. the next 20 years or so – we need to rely mainly on cutting energy demand (by energy efficiency and lifestyle changes) in rich countries, and carbon capture and storage for China and India (not because this is such a wonderful thing in itself, but because there’s no way those countries won’t use their large reserves of cheap coal, unless their economies collapse). Longer term, clearly, non-fossil fuel energy supply is the way to go, and we can sensibly argue about what part if any nuclear power should have in that.

    It’s worth noting that the AR4 WGIII Summary for Policy Makers
    (http://arch.rivm.nl/env/int/ipcc/docs/FAR/ApprovedSPM0405rev4b.pdf) says (p.18):
    “Given costs relative to other supply options, nuclear power, which accounted for 16% of the electricity supply in 2005, can have an 18% share of the total electricity supply in 2030 at carbon prices up to 50 US$/tCO2-eq, but safety, weapons proliferation and waste remain as constraints.”
    Hardly suggests nuclear power is going to save us over the next 20 years, does it?

  33. 233
    Dick Veldkamp says:

    Nick, you sum it up nicely. Neither nuclear nor renewables can provide the technical fix soon. We need to cut down energy use – and do it fast.

    Unfortunately it seems that the G8 is going to lose another opportunity to finally do something meaningful.

  34. 234
    SecularAnimist says:

    James wrote: “The immediate problem is not finding a power source that will last forever, it’s finding one that can be deployed soon enough, and in sufficient quantity, to counteract the CO2 problem.”

    James, consider the statement that Nick Gotts quoted from the AR4: “Given costs relative to other supply options, nuclear power, which accounted for 16% of the electricity supply in 2005, can have an 18% share of the total electricity supply in 2030 at carbon prices up to 50 US$/tCO2-eq, but safety, weapons proliferation and waste remain as constraints.”

    In light of that projection that nuclear power might increase its share of electricity production — which is only one source of CO2 emissions — from 16 percent to 18 percent in 23 years, please explain your own assertion that nuclear can be “deployed soon enough, and in sufficient quantity, to counteract the CO2 problem.”

    Specifically, what do you envision as a realistic plan for expanding the user of nuclear power “soon enough, and in sufficient quantity, to counteract the CO2 problem” ?

  35. 235

    Neither nuclear nor renewables can provide the technical fix soon. We need to cut down energy use – and do it fast.

    That’s the ‘conservation of energy’ part of the solution, but we now know that alone is inadequate. What humanity needs is a Manhattan style space program, so that people can see first hand what is required for sustainable living. Clearly the ultimate solution intimately involves wind and solar, and for transportation, cryogenic oxygen and hydrogen :

    http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/stp/SOLAR/IRRADIANCE/irrad.html

    http://cosmic.lifeform.org/?p=302

  36. 236
    Ray Ladbury says:

    #233, Dick, my question is how likely you think it is that we will be able to reduce energy consumption sufficiently to make a difference when:
    a) About 50% of humanity lives in poverty and is clamouring to get out
    b) The nations these people live in are on the brink of economic takeoff
    c) About 1/3 of the human population live in nations where energy is considered a limiting factor in growth
    d) The West seems in no way inclined to reduce its own consumption nor to help the developing world adopt other energy alternatives

    We are told that fossil fuels are not an option for India and China. They seem to disagree, and not without reason. India is just barely holding together as it is, while the Chinese leadership is fearful that if they do not maintian 8% economic growth, they will go the way of dynasties past. Somehow we have to make this about more than sacrifice, or we will never get people to make the sacrifices.

  37. 237
    James says:

    Re #234: [Specifically, what do you envision as a realistic plan for expanding the user of nuclear power "soon enough, and in sufficient quantity, to counteract the CO2 problem"?]

    Are you asking if I have a detailed plan? No, and I think detailed plans in that sense are a mistake. In fact, I’m not even attached to the idea of nuclear power as the ultimate solution – I’m really objecting to the people who would a) rule out nuclear power based on the usual bogus arguments, and b) argue that some yet-to-be-perfected “renewable” technology is the solution, without any apparent thought about its limitations.

    For a realistic plan, if you’d call it that, I’d simply do two things. First, increase the effective cost of fossil-fuel energy by shifting to carbon taxes instead of sales taxes & VAT (in a revenue neutral way), and keep escalating that cost over the years. Second, remove all the artifical barriers to nuclear plant construction, so that it’s on the same footing as any other project. Then let the market go to work.

    But let me ask you a question, too: if not nuclear, then what? There was a report linked here a while back, written by renewable energy advocates, which stated that renewables plus conservation could realistically provide (IIRC) 40-60% of US energy demand in the next several decades. How do you propose to cover the rest? I see only three options: keep burning fossil fuels, expand nuclear power, or depend on a miracle happening.

  38. 238
    Dick Veldkamp says:

    #236 Ray, my answer to your question, for what it’s worth.

    I think that it would be technically difficult but possible to avert the worst if the West took the lead now (to give just one example, in the Netherlands household energy consumption could be reduced by 80%, industrial consumption by 50% according to a study done here – just by applying existing technology). The West could help the rest of the world developing by providing energy efficient technology.

    Politically it seems all but impossible to avert a catastrophe, it’s a typical case of the tragedy of the commons (for the classical description see http://www.garretthardinsociety.org/articles/art_tragedy_of_the_commons.html ). I am expecting the worst (>3 deg temperature rise, polar caps melting, … you name it).

    I am working in wind energy myself, and our output goes up by 20% each year. However as long as energy demand keeps growing, it is hopeless.

  39. 239
    SecularAnimist says:

    James wrote: “remove all the artifical barriers to nuclear plant construction, so that it’s on the same footing as any other project. Then let the market go to work.”

    First, what in the world do you mean by “artificial barriers”? After all, any regulatory requirements are by definition “artificial” since they are created by human beings. Are you suggesting that construction of nuclear power plants should be exempt from any regulation whatsoever? And why should nuclear power, which generates an endless stream of toxic waste, creates attractive targets for catastrophic terrorist attacks, and increases the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, be on “the same footing” as wind turbines or photovoltaics, which have none of those drawbacks?

    Second, as to “letting the market work”, when it comes to nuclear power the market is already working. That’s why no nuclear power plants have been built in the US in decades — because the “free market” won’t touch it, because in market terms nuclear power is a proven failure. That’s why the entire campaign of the nuclear industry for a “revival” of nuclear power in the US centers around getting the federal government (i.e. the taxpayers) to overrule the workings of the “market” by providing massive subsidies and guarantees for the construction of new plants.

  40. 240
    David B. Benson says:

    Earlier I posted a link to references regarding biochar. This offers many advantages, especially in the poorer countries. Perhaps it could also be a fossil fuel replacement?

  41. 241
    James says:

    Re #239: [First, what in the world do you mean by "artificial barriers"?]

    For instance, endless legal challenges after regulatory requirements have been met, or quasi-legal confiscations/closings.

    [And why should nuclear power, which generates an endless stream of toxic waste...]

    It doesn’t. The amount of waste produced by a nuclear power plant is tiny in comparison to even the non-CO2 waste produced by fossil fuel plants. Moreover, it is in solid form, so it stays where you put it. Fossil fuel waste is largely gas or particulates, which disperse into the environment.

    [...creates attractive targets for catastrophic terrorist attacks...]

    This is verging into politics, which we can’t discuss here, but I must say that you’d have to work awfully hard to create a less attractive target for an attack than a nuclear plant. Let’s see: you have a target that’s inside a thick steel shell which is surrounded by several feet of concrete, and you’ve got armed guards around that. Then stop to consider that if your terrorists somehow manage to penetrate all that, the worst that they can do is to cause public hysteria…

    [...and increases the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation...]

    Now this definitely is politics, but I’ll risk asking why you think building more nuclear plants in the US would increase this risk (or indeed, the terrorist risk) significantly, considering that there are currently around a hundred of them?

    [...wind turbines or photovoltaics, which have none of those drawbacks?]

    Why do you think those don’t have environmental effects?

    [That's why no nuclear power plants have been built in the US in decades -- because the "free market" won't touch it, because in market terms nuclear power is a proven failure.]

    If this is in fact the case, you shouldn’t be objecting to my suggestions, since the greedy capitalist investors either won’t build new nuclear plants, or will lose their money when they fail.

    But if nuclear power is a failure, how come those hundred or so plants are still running? Indeed, many of them have been bought from their original owners (mostly utilities that had only one or a few) by companies that specialize in running them?

    There are at least two reasons why no new plants have been built. First, there’ve been all those artifical barriers that increase the risk to investors. Second, nuclear power (and renewables too) have had to compete with fossil fuel power, which has artificially cheap because the operators get to just dump the majority of their waste (CO2) into the atmosphere, free of charge. Any subsidy that nuclear power gets is tiny in comparison.

  42. 242
    Dylan says:

    Is there anyone on realclimate willing to post a decent analysis of the Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics article proposing a period of global cooling in the next 20 years (Jan 07)? The only thing I’ve found so far is a comment from Gavin stating it was “rubbish”, which is hardly the sort of analysis I expect from real climate.
    Thanks,
    Dylan

    [Response:Just for once, I recommend the WCR take on this - “if you torture the data long enough it will confess” - though they're not sure about it - William]

  43. 243
    Nick Gotts says:

    [Dick,]

    Ray, I guess you won’t mind me answering too

    [my question is how likely you think it is that we will be able to reduce energy consumption sufficiently to make a difference when:
    a) About 50% of humanity lives in poverty and is clamouring to get out]
    Some increase in energy use by the poor is a humanitarian necessity. Clearly, we should help poor countries minimise this with energy-efficient and low-carbon technologies which they can maintain themselves. We can also learn from them in many cases (e.g. many traditional methods of building are highly energy-efficient in both construction and use phases).

    [b) The nations these people live in are on the brink of economic takeoff]
    Actually, I have some doubts about this, but it’s not something I’d want to halt if it is happening.

    [c) About 1/3 of the human population live in nations where energy is considered a limiting factor in growth]
    I’d be interested in where this figure comes from – I’m not disputing it, I just don’t have any relevant information.

    [d) The West seems in no way inclined to reduce its own consumption nor to help the developing world adopt other energy alternatives]
    Here’s where the big change is required. Like Dick, if I were a disinterested observer placing a bet, I’d need pretty good odds to bet on such a change, but I don’t think it’s impossible, and I don’t see a viable alternative. George Monbiot’s “Heat” is relevant here, although it deals solely with the UK, it aims for a 90% GHG emission reduction by 2030, and explicitly addresses political feasibility. The major lifestyle changes he considers necessary are in transport – halting the expansion of air travel and shifting as much medium-distance ground transport as possible to coaches.

    [We are told that fossil fuels are not an option for India and China. They seem to disagree, and not without reason.]

    Hence my advocacy of carbon capture and storage.

    [India is just barely holding together as it is, while the Chinese leadership is fearful that if they do not maintian 8% economic growth, they will go the way of dynasties past.]

    I doubt what you say about India. There have been constant predictions that it will break up or become a dictatorship ever since independence. Clearly disruption of the monsoons due to climate change would be a huge problem – one can only hope this gets through to the Indian elite in time. China, lacking India’s democratic safety-valves, I expect to encounter serious upheavals, with unpredictable consequences.

    [Somehow we have to make this about more than sacrifice, or we will never get people to make the sacrifices.]
    I agree. But who are the “we” here? This issue has to be one on which large numbers of people become politically active – enough to generate a counter-pressure to the short-termism of politicians. I think the key change has to be one of people coming to feel that they have greater control over their own lives, and responsibilities towards others – and I think these are psychologically and culturally linked. The last few decades have seen huge increases in material consumption in rich countries, but these have been accompanied by longer working hours, poorer protection for employees, huge increases in inequality with resulting greater greater economic and social insecurity, and declines in social cohesion and in participation in politics and civil society. Happiness, so far as it can be measured, has generally declined, and does not correlate with wealth across countries – and I think all this means there is at least the potential for persuading people of a need to shift goal priorities. We need to establish a common social goal of ensuring a viable future, and this can only be done if individuals see each other primarily as potential partners and collaborators rather than competitors and threats. Alongside such socio-cultural change we also need political and economic changes. I’d guess most of us here could agree on some of them e.g. a serious carbon tax. I think much more fundamental changes are needed, primarily an end to the idea that “the market” is going to solve the problem – but I think that that (at least in the Anglosphere) will only be politically acknowledged some time after the dogma is abandoned in practice.

  44. 244
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    re: 242

    I don’t know what the Chinese scientists expected to find when they went looking, but their research found that ~40% of climate change was due to CO2 increases. Were they expecting either 0% or 100%? To me, 40% seems like a lot to ascribe to one vector.

    As for an increase or a decrease in temps over the next 20 years, the underlying mechanisms always trump the descriptions. They don’t identify a mechanism.

  45. 245

    [[Second, remove all the artifical barriers to nuclear plant construction, so that it's on the same footing as any other project. Then let the market go to work. ]]

    While we’re at it, let’s repeal the Price-Anderson Act, so nuclear is really on a level footing with other sources of energy. Do that, and I’d gladly let the market go to work.

  46. 246

    [[There was a report linked here a while back, written by renewable energy advocates, which stated that renewables plus conservation could realistically provide (IIRC) 40-60% of US energy demand in the next several decades. How do you propose to cover the rest? I see only three options: keep burning fossil fuels, expand nuclear power, or depend on a miracle happening. ]]

    Realistically, we’re going to keep on burning fossil fuels for the rest. Unless you think we should expand nuclear so that it provides 60-40% of future US energy demand? Let’s see, how many plants would that require? About ten thousand? Or am I being unrealistically low?

  47. 247

    [[[...creates attractive targets for catastrophic terrorist attacks...]
    …you’d have to work awfully hard to create a less attractive target for an attack than a nuclear plant. Let’s see: you have a target that’s inside a thick steel shell which is surrounded by several feet of concrete, and you’ve got armed guards around that. Then stop to consider that if your terrorists somehow manage to penetrate all that, the worst that they can do is to cause public hysteria…
    ]]

    You’re saying if they had high-grade fissionable material, they could only use it to cause public hysteria? Is the phrase “nuclear bomb” one you’re familiar with? They’re not all that hard to build once you’ve got the fissionables. Then there are “dirty” bombs, which take even less engineering skill. Ten pounds of plutonium dust spread all over part of a city will result in quite a few cancers.

    But ignore that. Your assumption that terrorist attacks on nuclear targets would be directed at the plants is probably wrong. They would much more likely be directed at the transportation part of the cycle — i.e., hijacking trucks or railroad cars.

  48. 248
    James says:

    Re #246: [Unless you think we should expand nuclear so that it provides 60-40% of future US energy demand? Let's see, how many plants would that require? About ten thousand? Or am I being unrealistically low?]

    Unrealistically high, I think. The 100 or so (104, IIRC) nuclear plants currently operating in the US provide ~20% of current electricity consumption. Doesn’t take really complicated math to figure out that providing 40% would require an additional 100 plants, 60% would require 200, and so on. (Might take less, since some of the current 100 are older, smaller, and presumably less efficient.)

    As for future increases in demand, that’s where conservation & energy efficiency come into play. After all, it’s much easier to design so as not to use more, than it is to go back and change things that exist so as to use less.

    I do think, though, that your basic question is either shortsighted or deliberately misleading, because it applies equally well to any energy technology. How many solar cell factories would it take to supply 40-60% of future US energy demands, about ten thousand? How many wind turbines would it take, or geothermal plants, or generator-equipped hamster cages?

    There’s just no getting around the fact that reducing CO2 output will take a massive construction effort, no matter how it’s done.

  49. 249
    Dylan says:

    Re: 242

    Yes I’d read that article. But given the research did appear in a peer-reviewed journal, and raises doubts about the IPCC conclusions, it is inevitably going to get more attention than would otherwise be justified, if nothing else than an attempt to prove that Al Gore is “lying” (as he has stated that no such research exists).

    On an unrelated note, does there exist a good resource on demonstrating the validity of computer modelling as a form of science, looking at

  50. 250
    Hank Roberts says:

    Would you consider a link on ocean pH changes? I realize this is physical chemistry, not atmospheric physics, but it’s straightforward, changing with increasing CO2, and happening independent of all the other variables that clutter the climatology question. More CO2 in the atmosphere, more CO2 in the ocean, trouble at the base of the food chain.

    It’s the “even if warming could be prevented by smoke and mirrors, or doesn’t happen due to solar changes” reason for limiting CO2, fast.

    This isn’t bad; there may be more up to date sites:
    http://www.ipsl.jussieu.fr/~jomce/acidification/


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