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Is the ocean carbon sink sinking?

Filed under: — david @ 1 November 2007 - (Español)

The past few weeks and years have seen a bushel of papers finding that the natural world, in particular perhaps the ocean, is getting fed up with absorbing our CO2. There are uncertainties and caveats associated with each study, but taken as a whole, they provide convincing evidence that the hypothesized carbon cycle positive feedback has begun.

Of the new carbon released to the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion and deforestation, some remains in the atmosphere, while some is taken up into the land biosphere (in places other than those which are being cut) and into the ocean. The natural uptake has been taking up more than half of the carbon emission. If changing climate were to cause the natural world to slow down its carbon uptake, or even begin to release carbon, that would exacerbate the climate forcing from fossil fuels: a positive feedback.

The ocean has a tendency to take up more carbon as the CO2 concentration in the air rises, because of Henry’s Law, which states that in equilibrium, more in the air means more dissolved in the water. Stratification of the waters in the ocean, due to warming at the surface for example, tends to oppose CO2 invasion, by slowing the rate of replenishing surface waters by deep waters which haven’t taken up fossil fuel CO2 yet.

The Southern Ocean is an important avenue of carbon invasion into the ocean, because the deep ocean outcrops here. Le Quere et al. [2007] diagnosed the uptake of CO2 into the Southern Ocean using atmospheric CO2 concentration data from a dozen or so sites in the Southern hemisphere. They find that the Southern Ocean has begun to release carbon since about 1990, in contrast to the model predictions that Southern Ocean carbon uptake should be increasing because of the Henry’s Law thing. We have to keep in mind that it is a tricky business to invert the atmospheric CO2 concentration to get sources and sinks. The history of this type of study tells us to wait for independent replication before taking this result to the bank.

Le Quere et al propose that the sluggish Southern Ocean CO2 uptake could be due to a windier Southern Ocean. Here the literature gets complicated. The deep ocean contains high concentrations of CO2, the product of organic carbon degradation (think exhaling fish). The effect of the winds is to open a ventilation channel between the atmosphere and the deep ocean. Stratification, especially some decades from now, would tend to shut down this ventilation channel. The ventilation channel could let the deep ocean carbon out, or it could let atmospheric carbon in, especially in a few decades as the CO2 concentration gets ever higher (Henry’s Law again). I guess it’s fair to say that models are not decisive in their assessment about which of these two factors should be dominating at present. The atmospheric inversion method, once it passes the test of independent replication, would trump model predictions of what ought to be happening, in my book.

A decrease in ocean uptake is more clearly documented in the North Atlantic by Schuster and Watson [2007]. They show surface ocean CO2 measurements from ships of opportunity from the period 1994-1995, and from 2002-2005. Their surface ocean chemistry data is expressed in terms of partial pressure of CO2 that would be in equilibrium with the water. If the pCO2 of the air is higher than the calculated pCO2 of the water for example, then CO2 will be dissolving into the water.

The pCO2 of the air rose by about 15 microatmospheres in that decade. The strongest Henry’s Law scenario would be for the ocean pCO2 to remain constant through that time, so that the air/sea difference would increase by the 15 microatmospheres of the atmospheric rise. Instead what happened is that the pCO2 of the water rose twice as fast as the atmosphere did, by about 30 microatmospheres. The air-sea difference in pCO2 collapsed to zero in the high latitudes, meaning no CO2 uptake at all in a place where the CO2 uptake might be expected to be strongest.

One factor that might be changing the pressure of CO2 coming from the sea surface might be the warming surface waters, because CO2 becomes less soluble as the temperature rises. But that ain’t it, as it turns out. The surface ocean is warming in their data, except for the two most tropical regions, but the amount of warming can only explain a small fraction of the CO2 pressure change. The culprit is not in hand exactly, but is described as some change in ocean circulation, caused maybe by stratification or by the North Atlantic Oscillation, bringing a different crop of water to the surface. At any event, the decrease in ocean uptake in the North Atlantic is convincing. It’s real, all right.

Canadell et al [2007] claim to see the recent sluggishness of natural CO2 uptake in the rate of atmospheric CO2 rise relative to the total rate of CO2 release (from fossil fuels plus land use changes). They construct records of the atmospheric fraction of the total carbon release, and find that it has increased from 0.4 back in about 1960, to 0.45 today. Carbon cycle models (13 of them, from the SRES A2 scenario) also predict that the atmospheric fraction should increase, but not yet. For the time period from 1960 to 2000, the models predict that we would find the opposite of what is observed: a slight decrease in the atmospheric fraction, driven by increasing carbon uptake into the natural world. Positive feedbacks in the real-world carbon cycle seem to be kicking in faster than anticipated, Canadell et al conclude.

There is no real new information in the Canadell et al [2007] analysis on whether the sinking sink is in the ocean or on land. They use an ocean model to do this bookkeeping, but we have just seen how hard it is to model or even understand some of the observed changes in ocean uptake. In addition to the changing ocean sink, drought and heat wave conditions may change the uptake of carbon on land. The infamously hot summer of 2003 in Europe for example cut the rate of photosynthesis by 50%, dumping as much carbon into the air as had been taken up by that same area for the four previous years [Ciais et al., 2005].

The warming at the end of the last ice age was prompted by changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun, but it was greatly amplified by the rising CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. The orbits pushed on ice sheets, which pushed on climate. The climate changes triggered a strong positive carbon cycle feedback which is, yes, still poorly understood.

Now industrial activity is pushing on atmospheric CO2 directly. The question is when and how strongly the carbon cycle will push back.
 
—–

Canadell, J.G., C.L. Quere, M.R. Raupach, C.B. Field, E.T. Buitehuis, P. Ciais, T.J. Conway, N.P. Gillett, R.A. Houghton, and G. Marland, Contributions to accelerating atmospheric CO2 growth from economic activity, carbon intensity, and efficiency of natural sinks, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, doi 10.1073, 2007.

Ciais, P., M. Reichstein, N. Viovy, A. Granier, J. Ogee, V. Allard, M. Aubinet, N. Buchmann, C. Bernhofer, A. Carrara, F. Chevallier, N. De Noblet, A.D. Friend, P. Friedlingstein, T. Grunwald, B. Heinesch, P. Keronen, A. Knohl, G. Krinner, D. Loustau, G. Manca, G. Matteucci, F. Miglietta, J.M. Ourcival, D. Papale, K. Pilegaard, S. Rambal, G. Seufert, J.F. Soussana, M.J. Sanz, E.D. Schulze, T. Vesala, and R. Valentini, Europe-wide reduction in primary productivity caused by the heat and drought in 2003, Nature, 437 (7058), 529-533, 2005.

Le Quere, C., C. Rodenbeck, E.T. Buitenhuis, T.J. Conway, R. Langenfelds, A. Gomez, C. Labuschagne, M. Ramonet, T. Nakazawa, N. Metzl, N. Gillett, and M. Heimann, Saturation of the Southern Ocean CO2 sink due to recent climate change, Science, 316 (5832), 1735-1738, 2007.

Schuster, U., and A.J. Watson, A variable and decreasing sink for atmospheric CO2 in the North Atlantic, J. Geophysical Res., in press, 2007.


680 Responses to “Is the ocean carbon sink sinking?”

  1. 51
    Mike Donald says:

    #28
    [Response: Mr. Christy is the guy who made a sign error in his analysis of satellite temperature records, with the result that satellites didn’t show the warming measured on the ground. This was a big argument in the denialist quiver until Mears cleaned up the mess. David]

    And I bet you Christy never admitted the mistake and let it fester in the web. A classic symptom of sceptic-cemia!

  2. 52
    pete best says:

    Re #48. Potentially energy savings via efficiency gains only have a limited worth because people use the money saved to expend energy some other way. This has just been reported on in the UK during some CO2 savings exercises.

    At present cars use gasoline, biofuel is no replacement for it but a supplement to it only. Replacements are a fair way off but yes hydrogen looks promising as some cars are about to be released that use it. However you have to produce and store hydrogen and I for one doubt that as serious undertaking as this is will be implemented in time due to cost reasons even if we can produce the stuff sustainably.

    If peak Oil is correct then come 2018 world growth is going to be threatened, maybe before then. The situation is more pressing politicially then anyone thinks is peak oil is real and almost here.

    Maybe sustainables can remedey our elctricity and heating needs but what comes after natural gas for heating homes. Some kind of electric house heating system that means we are going to need to produce a lot of electricty via sustainable means, generate our hydrogen, increased population and industry needs.

    I doubt that any single body has though it through enough.

  3. 53
    Natural GW Steve says:

    David,

    Why do you differentiate between Fossil Fuel CO2 and I suppose natural CO2 being “taken” up.

    Thanks,

    Steve

    [Response: Natural CO2 cycles between the land, the ocean, and the atmosphere very quickly. But before we started adding fossil fuel carbon to the mix, the fluxes of CO2 balanced pretty much. Nothing was changing with time. So fossil fuel carbon versus carbon that was already in play is one way to divide things, another is net (one way) versus exchange (two way) fluxes. David]

  4. 54
    AK says:

    Re: #52 pete best

    However you have to produce and store hydrogen and I for one doubt that as serious undertaking as this is will be implemented in time due to cost reasons even if we can produce the stuff sustainably.

    I tend to agree, which is why I’ve been pushing sodium fuel cells, though without any success. (Of course I have just an amateur’s understanding of the technology.)

    Although it would take some development, there’s been at least one sodium fuel cell bus running since the mid ’90′s (see next to bottom paragraph here).

    I won’t describe all of what I’ve worked out of the design advantages (and downsides) here, but I started a thread elsewhere.

    What I will mention is that it can work like a battery, needing only electricity to recharge (which we already have a distribution system for), but at potentially much higher recharge rates.

    The longer term issue is where to get power in the first place. IMO nuclear is the only feasible answer, preferably from the big reactor in the sky. I prefer solar power satellites, as they would have a smaller eco-footprint (you could put a rectenna over a peat bog or prairie), but I admit that earth-based solar panel installations will probably come first. (Does anybody here know whether you need fluorine processes in building power photovoltaic cells?)

  5. 55
    Hank Roberts says:

    Mike McDonald wrote:
    > And I bet you Christy never admitted the mistake ….

    Mike, you lost your bet.

    Before posting your belief, use the “Search” box at top of the page:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/11/more-satellite-stuff/

  6. 56
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    re 42

    David said, “The technology exists to cut CO2 emissions to safe levels at reasonable cost.”

    This simple statement begs several questions. (1) What are the technologies. (2) Where have they been implemented. (3) Where are the data that validate the reduction in emissions. (4) What are safe levels for emissions. (5) What were the costs for implementing the proven technologies. (6) What are reasonable costs. (7) Where are the data that validate that the emission levels from the implemented technologies are safe.

    =========================

    I also think maybe statement might have been more accurate if David had couched it in terms of proposals and what we have already. Blanket statements always leave something to be desired but, to be fair, this is a subject that comes up frequently here, so I think your complaint is somewhat unfair. If you’re interested, there are the digital equivalent of reams of info on this site in many of the discussions on other threads that preceded this between people who seem to have a great deal of knowledge in the area, and maybe someone who was involved could point you in that direction.

    But regarding answers, while I’m not a scientist, engineer or (shudder) statistician…

    1) Let’s see…Solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, nuclear all come readily to mind. Agro-fuels are another, but I want to see more in that area, not just in terms of potential, but how well it will hold up in a warming world where agriculture might not be as abundant as it is currently, and where hungry mouths are on the increase.

    2) Not to be smart, but I think a simple Google search would likely give you a general idea, which is why I don’t think it needs to be answered here Wind, for example, has been around for decades and is on the increase.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power

    Likewise, solar power…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power

    …both photovoltaic…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photovoltaic

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photovoltaic_cell

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_solar_cells

    …and the concentrated focusing of reflected sunlight…

    http://www.solarpaces.org/CSP_Technology/docs/solar_tower.pdf

    …are pretty easy to find. And let’s not forget passive solar:

    http://www.esru.strath.ac.uk/EandE/Web_sites/01-02/RE_info/passive_solar.htm

    http://www.nrel.gov/learning/re_passive_solar.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_solar

    Obviously they are far from perfect, but I think you could make a reasonable argument that if we really applied ourselves to the problem of increasing efficiency, anything is possible. And the more we apply ourselves, the more we will inevitably innovate and find even better ways of doing things. One need only look at what was spun off from the space program, or from the development of the transistor, to understand this.

    3, 4 & 7) Can’t answer that for you, though, again, though I’d bet a google search might help you. Maybe someone else here with actual expertise in this area can also illuminate things for you. But, aside from production emissions in the factory where the equipment is manufactured, what emissions do YOU think will be emitted by solar or wind generators? Or by geothermal power generators?

    And define “safe” while you are at it. IPCC safe? Or toxic emission safe, something fossil fuels most definitely are not. Again, re AGW, I believe this is information that is readily available, in this case in the IPCC report, in terms of what is projected as needed to acquire some sort of climate equilibrium. Extrapolate from there.

    5) Costs. I would like to propose an additional question you might wish to ask in concert with this question: What would be the cost, given the increasingly obvious and detrimental effects of GHG-forcing, of continuing on as we are (business as usual)?

    The short answer to 5: Who knows? Historically the introduction of new technologies has always been expensive. Look at the development of nuclear energy, of the U.S. Space Program. (Though I do recall a speech given to Congress in the late 70s, maybe the early 80s, by Robert A. Heinlein, later published under the title “Spinoff”, that suggested that the spin-offs from that program ended up paying for a large part of it, at least, up until the Space Shuttle.) The simple truth is new tech is ALWAYS expensive. (And if anyone wants to start drawing comparisons between Heinlein and Crichton, you’re just being silly. There is no comparison; the former actually had integrity.)

    And in terms of costs are you looking in terms of short-term, or long-term? Short-term I would venture it would be prohibitively expensive. But given the nature of the emergency (and I use the word deliberately) I believe this is really a long-term question. In that case, if I was a betting man, I would say the answer is business as usual would be more expensive. Not just because of the GHG issue, either, particularly when you consider the effects of oil-based pollution on the biosphere.

    Like it or not, we are reaching or have surpassed peak oil, as the demand continues to rise with more countries moving forward technologically and production increases being at best minimal. Look at it this way: sooner or later we will reach a juncture where it will cost a dollar’s worth of energy to extract a dollar’s worth of energy. That day is not here yet. But it is safe to predict that is we haven’t reached the point of dwindling returns on investment, we will soon. So we’re going to have to replace this form of energy with something else.

    Nuclear fission is not a long-term solution, imho, from what I’ve picked up over time – if all the reactors anyone would desire to build were built globally, odds are the supply of fuel won’t last the century. Even if it did, with each new reactor you raise the odds of something bad happening, something with long-term ramifications on a continental basis. (Look into the history of the effects of Chernobyl for details or, even better, the events at Palo Verde in Arizona today, for an idea of the ongoing potential for problems these plants present.). And, of course, there is long-term storage of wastes. Fusion has been “just around the corner” since it was first proposed; so I wonder if we’ll ever pull it off – right now it remains less “sure” than a number of the alternatives being considered. Not that I would know with any sense of expertise…I’m not a physicist, after all, just an interested observer.

    But it seems that ideally we want a technology that was cheap and relatively dependable. So solar and wind are obvious candidates. I think the real problem in this area are storage batteries and their impact. Maybe someone could address that?

    6). Define “reasonable cost”. What would you consider a reasonable cost: perhaps something that involved not changing the manner in which you conducted your day-to-day life? Or how about keeping our technological edge? Perhaps something that didn’t force us to change the way we live at its most fundamental level?

    Consider: we’ve always known that sooner or later we were going to have to change the way we did business. Only a fool could believe at this point in our history that we have an unending supply of fossil fuels to power our civilization. Yet we’re carrying on as if we believe just that and now it would appear the bill is coming due, global warming notwithstanding. Whatever the alternate technology or technologies may be, it is obvious that some countries are already researching and developing them (wind is very big in Europe, as I understand it), and it could be argued that, as with stem cell research, the U.S. is surrendering a technological edge to other counties by dragging its feet in the mud while it pursues policies that can best be described as counterintuitive to reality regarding what we’re faced. Ask yourself: as the century progresses, which country or group of countries do you think will be better positioned to maintaining their ability to survive and thrive: a country selling the technology, or one forced to buy it because it wasn’t willing to invest when it was obviously time to do so?

    I think whatever happens, we’re going to have to learn to give up a lot of things we take for granted, change our way of doing business and commuting, nationally and globally. I think there are hard years ahead, many hard years, and the sooner we resign ourselves to the understanding this, the sooner we might be able to address this with a hope of coming out intact on the other end. Perhaps in the end only real question is whether we want to willingly accept these inevitable changes, or to have them forced on us by our own lack of foresight.

  7. 57
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #s 28/47/51: To all appearances Christy bought himself a Bob Carter mask for Halloween and forgot to take it off.

    The Mears correction was so very, very public that Christy couldn’t avoid accepting it, but he and Spencer continue to err on the low side. There should be a comprehensive reanalysis out from RSS (Mears) in the pretty near future, and in a sane world that would put this debate to bed permanently. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to live in a sane world.

    Folks may recall the CCSP report a couple of years ago on resolving discrepancies in the various temperature data sets. Christy and Spencer were brought into that process and signed off on its conclusions (which because of the perceived need to get them on board was much softer on S+C’s past work than would have been the case had they remained outside the process). Just a few months later C+S popped up at the Marshall Institute with a presentation of their new analysis that repudiated what they had just agreed to in the CCSP report, noting that of course had only their new stuff been ready in time they would not have agreed to the report’s conclusions. I sincerely hope their CCSP co-authors learned their lesson on this one.

    AGU members will have noticed that Christy’s recent major foray outside the satellite temp data analysis field (a paper purporting to show that increased temps in the California central valley are an artifact of irrigation) was comprehensively refuted a couple of weeks ago on the front page of Eos. I cannot help but think that the prominence of that refutation (which occupied the entire front page even though the more typical practice is to put part of such articles on an inside page so that something else can be featured as well) was intended as a message to Christy.

    Spencer, in the meantime, has branched out into an attempted revival of Lindzen’s “iris” hypothesis. While some skeptic/denialist commenters in another RC thread waxed hopeful about its implications, my impression is that the field doesn’t take it seriously (although since it did get published perhaps it will get a formal refutation at some point).

    For some reason S+C seem engaged in doing what they can to destroy what were at one point a couple of pretty good scientific reputations.

  8. 58
    Al Tekhasski says:

    David, you wrote: “the pCO2 of the water rose twice as fast as the atmosphere did, by about 30 microatmospheres. The air-sea difference in pCO2 collapsed to zero in the high latitudes”

    Wouldn’t it be reasonable to conclude that changes in water pCO2 were caused by some mechanism that is internal to ocean waters, and not by the relatively small external rise in CO2 concentrations attributed to humans? It certainly looks like the effect (water pCO2) should not be bigger that the cause (air pCO2)…

  9. 59
    dhogaza says:

    For some reason S+C seem engaged in doing what they can to destroy what were at one point a couple of pretty good scientific reputations.

    Spencer has also endorsed Intelligent Design Creationism. I’m not trying to reopen that subject, but this should make it clear that views that are a bit unusual for scientists to hold.

  10. 60
    Mark A. York says:

    RE#13

    Joseph Romm, nice piece in Slate with the duel with Landsberg. Good work!

  11. 61
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. #57, Steve Bloom:

    For some reason S+C seem engaged in doing what they can to destroy what were at one point a couple of pretty good scientific reputations.

    The reason is clearly idealogical. Both are libertarians, and both work for several of the libertarian lobby groups that have been spreading a great deal of disinformation about science in order to further their anti-regulation agenda. Christy is a member of the Independent Institute‘s Panel on Global Warming, while Spencer actively supports the Tech Central Science Foundation, the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, the Heartland Institute and the infamous George C. Marshall Institute.

  12. 62
    Matt says:

    Go and check out the James Lovelock lecture on the royal society website. 3 or 4 down on the right hand menu :

    http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/

    I was there and it was quite shocking to be in the middle of some of the worlds finest minds and not one of them was inclined to question his frankly apocalyptic take on AGW.

    Keep up the good work Real Climate.

  13. 63
    Mike Hall says:

    Thanks for an excellent site. I’m an engineer by training & have been following the climate change issue for some years.

    This may be considered a little off topic, but please bear with me, as you may well find this interesting, I hope.

    One thing I have suspected from day one is that climate change & it’s effects would not be a ‘linear’ event, but characterised by feedbacks forcing sharply one way or the other – at some point. Forgive my simplicity here, but in light of the plethora of positive feedbacks & sq-root-of-very-little in the negative feedback corner, this screams out for a precautionary approach.

    Forgive me again for my simplicity, but when the effects begin to lose linearity & show signs of heading round the ‘knee’ of the curve, as they have this last few years, we should be putting that precautionary approach on an urgent, emergency action basis.

    Which, of course, is not happening….

    In fact, when one takes account of likely substantial ‘export’ of emissions to China etc. (see New Economics Foundation ‘Chinadependence’ report), ‘business as usual’ best describes the results of the recent years’ political rhetoric, diplomacy & ‘greenwash’.

    I have no doubt that we already have enough technological & scientific know-how to readily change course from these tipping points to anhilation.

    So why aren’t we ?

    I’ve been pondering this question for some time, and if you’re still with me, I’d like to share with you some thoughts & conclusions on this, and hopefully you might consider my post a little less ‘off-topic’.

    We have a massive ‘system’ problem in collective decision making mechanisms we describe as ‘politics’ or ‘democracy’. They are neither fit-for-purpose nor democratic.
    Importantly, they contain virtually no feedback loops for our vital ecosphere and none at all that have a horizon much beyond the next ‘election’. The ‘Economics’ (money) subsystem is equally flawed & short term in outlook. The main ‘Information’ (Media)subsystem is clearly not fit-for-purpose either.

    These outdated systems, born & little changed from pre-industrial fuedal societies ensured wealth & privilege for the few, misery & premature death for the many.

    Economic growth of the Industrial age disguised or hid the worst realties of these systems of ‘governance’.

    Unfortunately, we have reached the planets limits to our continued growth.

    Under ‘feudal’ control, the inevitable large contraction of the ‘majority’ population on global scale will likely be very nasty indeed. The destruction of life on Earth (for a few hundred thousand years at least) is also possible.

    However, help is at hand.

    Capitalism 3.0 by Peter Barnes, proposes the best, workable, system ‘overhaul’ I’ve yet seen – by far, and, in true ‘commons’ spirit, it’s available for free pdf download.

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/353333/Capitalism-3-0-Peter-Barnes

    Do read it.

    All we have to lose is our super-rich elites & their selfish agenda.

    Thank you for indulging my oblique ? / off ?topic post – I’ll not make a habit of it.

  14. 64
    Ike Solem says:

    When you dissolve CO2 in water, it enters the carbonate equilibration system in the ocean:

    CO2 + H2O = H2CO3 -> [HCO32-] – [CO32-] -> CaCO3

    As the ocean’s acidity increases (especially in the surface waters), this will reduce the ability of marine organisms to form calcium carbonate shells, because the carbonate equilibrium will be pulled to the left.

    This is why, originally, it was thought there’d be no problems with CO2 emissions:

    Arrhenius did not see that as a problem. He figured that if industry continued to burn fuel at the current (1896) rate, it would take perhaps three thousand years for the CO2 level to rise so high. Högbom doubted it would ever rise that much. One thing holding back the rise was the oceans. According to a simple calculation, sea water would absorb 5/6ths of any additional gas. (That is roughly true over a long run of many thousand years, but Högbom and Arrhenius did not realize that if the gas were emitted more rapidly than they expected, the ocean absorption could lag behind.)

    However, the mixing time of the oceans is around 1,000 years under today’s ocean circulation conditions. This means that the past century of fossil fuel CO2 emissions hasn’t had time to equilibrate with the oceans. Furthermore, if we look at geological history, it turns out that huge surges of CO2 into the atmosphere can linger for a very long time. The event 55 million years ago resulted in changes in ocean carbonate chemistry that persisted for 100,000 years.

    We can guess why that might have happened – extinction of marine animals that produce calcium carbonate shells is one reason, and a thermal stratification of the oceans that reduced mixing rates is another.

    Notions that “the natural system will respond as needed to restore the balance” (i.e. Dr J. above) are teleological nonsense. It is true that, eventually, the land and oceans will absorb the fossil carbon that we’ve transferred from fossil fuel reserves into the atmosphere, but 100,000 years is a long time to wait for that to happen, isn’t it?

  15. 65
    inel says:

    Re: #56, #49 and #42 and the original #7

    Some readers might be interested to hear that the Institution of Engineering and Technology launched a new journal in September 2007—IET Renewable Power Generation—that may provide more details. There are plenty of tools available to us *now* to reduce emissions and increase energy-efficiencies, as well as schemes to capture carbon dioxide—though its storage is less well-advanced, but extraction, injection and storage projects like the one involving the Utsira aquifer over Statoil’s Sleipner West gas production field in the Norwegian North Sea do show promise.

    In any case, engineers are addressing this issue of emissions reductions from as many angles as possible, so many more solutions are in the short-, medium- and long-term pipelines! It does not help, though, if technologies exist and remain underdeployed, nor for engineers to design products that remain on store shelves, or are bought and not used. So, my message to Sarah is this ~ please do not despair, but do keep asking questions that move this whole game forward (like “How can I switch to renewables *now*?” etc.)

    The following link should work for non-members of the IET, and you should be able to access these papers until 31 December 2007 (after that, contact me). The description that goes with the Call for Papers is as follows:

    IET Renewable Power Generation

    All research published in IET Renewable Power Generation is free to download via the IET Digital Library during 2007.

    Scope

    This new journal from the IET brings together the topics of renewable energy technology, power generation and systems integration. Other technologies having a direct role in sustainable power generation such as fuel cells and energy storage will also be covered, as will system control approaches such as demand side management, that facilitate the integration of renewable sources into power systems, both large and small. Specific technology areas covered by the journal include:

    wind power technology and systems
    photovoltaics
    solar thermal power generation
    geothermal energy
    fuel cells
    wave power
    marine current energy
    biomass conversion

    The journal provides a forum for the presentation of new research, development and applications of renewable power generation. Demonstrations and experimentally based research are particularly welcome. Research that explores issues where the characteristics of the renewable energy source impact on the power conversion and where the wider system control or operation are central to the challenge of integration are particularly encouraged.

    The journal is technology focused covering design, demonstration, modelling and analysis, but papers covering techno-economic issues are also welcome.

    In addition, there are many opportunities for engineers to share best-practices, such as this seminar next week:

    Emissions Reduction in the Oil, Gas and Chemical Industries – Technical Advances in Emissions Reduction

    and most of these events are completely invisible to the public. Engineers typically get minimal attention from the media, until a product is unveiled (or a disaster happens) …

    Finally, there are two articles that appeared in Power Engineer Magazine on carbon capture and storage (CCS). (I just posted them on my blog for general interest.) They share a title—both are Dead and Buried!

  16. 66
    David Price says:

    Re 56
    From what I have read the best hope for a replacing fossil fuels in the long term is geothermal. In the next few years advances in drilling technology should enable us to access hot rocks from practically anywhere on the Earths surface.
    The snag is that it might take up to 10 years, time we may not have.

  17. 67
    James says:

    Re #52: [...but what comes after natural gas for heating homes. Some kind of electric house heating system...]

    Not to get too far off into technical details, but most houses can get most of their heating needs from solar. Even retrofitting decent insulation can slash the amount of energy used for heating and cooling.

    After that, sewage plants generate a lot of methane, and what’s that but natural gas?

  18. 68
    Diane Wills says:

    The whole situation looks dire to me, too. All the climate models I’ve heard about have been too mild (things are getting worse faster than any of them predicted).

    Many have asked why, with available affordable technologies to reduce CO2 use, why isn’t anything being done about it? The answer is simply lack of political will. People simply don’t care, and they’re stupid (we’re obviously not an intelligent species; if we were, we would have not gotten ourselves into this mess in the first place). I don’t see anything meaningful being done about it. People like their cars and Americans don’t (and won’t) give them up. In spite of the obesity epidemic, people still want to drive everywhere, and live in suburbia, even if it means 1-2 hour commutes (long commuters are one of the fastest growing segments of our society, and I read somewhere there is enough of them now to stop any meaningful action on global warming).

    So nothing will be done about it.

  19. 69
    Mark A. York says:

    Well Honda has a natural gas car. It has 0 emissions. Methane as a rule doesn’t burn. It just emits.

  20. 70

    6). Define “reasonable cost”. What would you consider a reasonable cost: perhaps something that involved not changing the manner in which you conducted your day-to-day life? Or how about keeping our technological edge? Perhaps something that didn’t force us to change the way we live at its most fundamental level?

    I dunno. These days I like to turn the grid off to my house just to make sure I can run without it. I also like to walk outside and watch the meter spin backwards.

    Okay, changing my lifestyle. When I switched from incandescents to CFLs my house stayed so much cooler that I was forced to open the windows to get some air exchange. My net lifestyle change was smaller electric bills (click the link under my name for a graphic) and more fresh air. Oh, and immunity from short term grid loss, and survivability in the event of a longer term loss. It’s a hard life. Someone has to live it, I guess.

    There are entire subdivisions being built where I live that have 3KW solar arrays on the roof. I have 2100 watts — but room for more ;)

    There’s an entire subculture out there that’s already cutting carbon emissions to the bone and they don’t have anything near Gore’s wealth. Which he uses to spew carbon into the atmosphere at a frightening rate.

    One of my ex’s refuses to use CFLs for outdoor lights. Why? Because they won’t turn on and off with photocell switches. Except that they are cheaper to run 24/7 than incandescents are to run 12/7 on average, year round.

    The problems of saving energy aren’t real — most are imagined, just as the “savings” that comes from running incandescents with 4 times the power consumption, and a fraction of the life expectancy are imagined. Oil has been trading over $90/bbl lately. The people who are going to experience lifestyle changes are the ones who don’t start making the change to energy saving and renewable energy technologies.

  21. 71
    John Mashey says:

    House heating, cooling, hot water: one or more, depending on circumstances:

    0) design the house sanely in first place; reflective blinds; seal airgaps; check out house with infrared thermometer, improve insulation, check windows. If you build with thick walls in first place, they tend to soak up heat during day, give it off at night, which works well in Southwest.

    1) geothermal heat pumps heat or cool
    2) solar thermal for heat and/or hot water
    3) solar -> electricity [PV or CSP] -> electric heat, on-demand hot-water
    4) wind -> electricity ->electric heat, on-demand hot-water
    (people are starting to build a variety of devices that may be mor practical at home)

    Of course, the issue of batteries remains, but there is interesting work going on.

    5) solar thermal for pool, turn gas heater off.

    There are people around here building regular suburban detached houses, but off the grid, zero external energy, designs.

  22. 72
    Charles Muller says:

    Reading Canadell 2007, I observe that tere’s still a lot of uncertainty in measurments of carbon cycle. For exemple, uncertainty in annual fossil fuel + land use emissions is 0,5+0,4=0,9PgC/y. That’s nearly 41% of ocean sink (2,2PgC/y). And the airbone fraction graph (2A Atmospere) exhibits a strong variability, with most recent value not so high (higher values in the 1980′s, a 5yr smoothing for the trend would be interesting). A point I misunderstand in this graph for 2C is why the year 1998 does not show a net decrease in ocean fraction (with warmer oceans due to El Nino)

    The trends observed by Le Quere et al. are eve smaller, as they concern just the Southern Ocean (0,08PgC/y/dec). And, if I carefully read their paper, the attribution-detection of the cause of this trend is not clear (a modification of winds, itself bound to SAM, ozone depletion or surface temp. gradients due to GW).

    Mots of carbon cycle models announce a positive feedback for the century, bt I’m not convinced that these recent works are enough to infer a strong feedback.

    [Response: The uncertainty in the land use change carbon emission, and therefore also in the "missing sink" terrestrial uptake, is particularly bad. 2 Gtons is more mass than the entire mass of humanity, going to ground every year, but we can't find it. There are other uncertainties too, in every part of the story. But the fact that all indications, uncertain as they may be, point in the same direction seems to me significant. David]

  23. 73

    #57. All Christy and acolyttes offer is the same old song. They are the enlightened amongst a field of inferiors. Free lancing nothing but half baked theory rhymes in line with their frank assetion of incompetence with respect to understanding climate. They have credentials of substance but offer no substance to absorb as reason. Aside from exclaiming the variability of climate, without clear causations, it just varies that is all they know for sure. This key premise is shattered everytime it gets warmer at multiple locations around the world simultaneously. Probably allergic to weather maps, they haven’t noticed the sheer strength in this warming. Rather, they rely on their foes as fodder to criticize, a venting target no matter how right they were. Bottom line, they serve no purpose, like a bunch of guys at a bar blabbering the same old nonsense. What science they offer, flawed MSU trends, and Iris which remained shut when all this polar ice as melted, past climate which has no semblance with todays environment, it is a good thing that the climate varies! Yet it got warmer every single year since they refuted global warming. A vast majority of people on Earth already knew more than they claimed, about to be humiliated they changed their tune, global warming exists because its all around us. But at the end they failed the test of their greatest peer, which was once their future, it didn’t get cooler, but steadily warmer, from this lesson, they learned to fear most the future, having based their science on stature giving them the right to dispute anything at will, instead of practicing physics and chemistry leading them to the inevitable repeatable conclusions. The lot of them remain silent about what will come next, because they simply don’t have a clue. Spending vast energies in finding a cunning contrarian prose must be taxing, leaving very little time to do science.

  24. 74
    petefontana says:

    Great posts.
    When I started out reading this blog, I would have categorized myself as somewhere between a climate skeptic and a climate denialist. I think this has changed and I am grateful for the helpful information found in this discussion, particularly. It has been an absolutely eye opening experience. I think I have a much clearer understanding of what climate scientists have to say about our world and I certainly believe that the danger is real. There can be absolutely no denial. Not for me, anyway. The danger is incredibly real and we are not safe.

  25. 75
    pete best says:

    Re #58, solar would be useless in the UK winter for heating a current home. In the summer then yes it works but we only need hot water then. Thats the real issue, its cold and winter becuase there is not Sun.

    I believe that other solutions may be applicable such as trans continental grids that use wind and solar from disparate sources to produce hydrogen etc and provide some electricity. I am sure it can bge solved but market forces are being quite slow to react.

  26. 76
    pete best says:

    On the ability of humans to resolve AGW in time I would say this. It seems that the argument has moved on from if it is happenning to what to do about it which is good. However reticence is all around and the first world is loathe to give up any of its current lifestyle it would seem in the numbers necessary to make a difference and hence new technology must be key to resolving the issue.

    So the first issue is population growth and longevity. 6.5 billion now to 9 billion by 2050, after that the global population is set to fall but 9 billion people is a lot to feed, clothe, house and give purposeful modern lives to.

    Increased economic growth is fuelled by increase fuel usage and by 2030 the world will need 50% more energy then it consumes now. The vast majority of this is presently scheduled to come from fossil fuels because at this present moment in time with current economic and politicial thinking this is what works!! What is needed is new thinking in this area and new politics and economics with regard to promoting alternative energy strategies. Will it happen in time, maybe but it not looking good presently.

    Oil is not going to be replaced by anything soon. Yes it may be mitigated by biofuels (first generation) but world food prices are rising to so this is not going to work to reduce oil use by any significant amount.

    Efficiency gains are nearly always wiped out by people spending the money on other fuel consuming activities. This is awkward and will require a lot of thought to resolve. Oh I know tax is probably the only way here.

    Sustainables and all that probably can work some kind of AGW miracle, hydrogen to maybe if we can produce enough of it, make enough cars and store it across the world in lot of small tanks called gasoline stations. But this troubles me because of time. I doubt that 40 years in long enough to replace the oil infrastructure of the world if we has the technology now. Heating buildings and home and new types of energy efficient buildings etc can help but it is not the whole picture and what about the energy used in making things and the role of plastics in society. Peak oil could make people think about energy security a lot sooner that AGW and hence much AGW strategy could go out of the window when freezing winters start nipping at our heels.

    Coal is unlikey to get sequestered for a least a decade, just to get it going initially. To say that humankind would ramp up rollout in another decade is wishful thinking to my mind.

    its not looking good.

  27. 77
    P K says:

    Toward the end of your comments, you say “The infamously hot summer of 2003 in Europe for example cut the rate of photosynthesis by 50%, dumping as much carbon into the air as had been taken up by that same area for the four previous years”. Please, could you be so kind as to explain why the rate of photosynthesis was cut. Also, do you mean, when you say that the result was to “dump carbon into the air”, that carbon was actually released by plants into the air or rather, that it was not taken up by photosynthesis?

    [Response: Ciais et al conclude that it was a deficit of rainfall in eastern Europe, and heat in western Europe, that drove the response. The carbon storage of the landscape is determined by the balance of photosynthesis and respiration, so there's less photosynthesis, the carbon stock could decrease. David]

  28. 78
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Thanks for this post. These kinds of positive feedbacks need to be presented. I don’t think the general public or our leaders have any idea about them….they’re just thinking linearly.

    RE cost effective technology, there’s an engineer/architect in Naperville who specializes in passive solar for the Chicagoland area. He has a home that uses about the same amount of energy for heating/cooling as a gas streetlight. And he doesn’t even have PV solar panels or wind generators — just passive solar, good design, excellent insulation, and a highly efficient combination water heater/home heater. But his roof is oriented to be perfect for addition of PV panels.

    The house costs about 5% more than a conventional house, but pays for that difference within 10 or 20 years (I can’t remember), then goes on to save money. And it doesn’t look weird or stand out. You’d never know it was a passive solar home. And it’s very very comfortable.

  29. 79
    Eli Rabett says:

    Let me take a shot at #31 from Alex Tolley. Go to scholar.google.com which is a search engine for scientific literature and type in “climate change”. What you get will surprise you, it is almost all about biological effects and how to deal with them. The literature has moved on. This is something I noticed during the latest attempt to falsify Oreskes’ survey.

    Fergus Brown did the same thing with”global climate change” and got the same sort of result. I’ll quote his conclusions:

    “Firstly, that there is a vast body of evidence through all disciplines that global climate change is a matter of importance which is seriously addressed by each of these disciplines.

    Secondly, that the vast majority of this research points towards impacts of global climate change which are negative, destructive, undesirable or, under certain circumstances, even alarming in their implications.

    Thirdly, that the global warming which is consistently established as a causal agent in these impacts is potentially dangerous, either to specific or general objects, and that this inference is made time and time again on the basis of existing observation and due diligence in methodology.”

  30. 80
    Eli Rabett says:

    The issue of religious belief has crept in here wrt Christy and Spencer. First, what I am about to say is as neutral as I can make it, and also reflects my opinion. I have known many professional engineers and scientists and many more science and engineering students. People are very good at compartmenting. The percentage of religious believers is very high in the US among S&E folk. Of that many are literalists. The numbers may not be as high as in the general population, but they are high.

    In so far as they can compartment their religious beliefs from their professional life there is no issue, they simply separate them. A Civil Engineer who builds roads has no conflict with any religious beliefs. Same goes for a condensed matter physicist or a physical chemist. THE SAME IS TRUE FOR NON-BELIEVERS. Of course the rubber hits the road for biology and medicine.

  31. 81
    Diane Wills says:

    “The lot of them remain silent about what will come next, because they simply don’t have a clue.”

    I see the climate skeptics changing their tune that it is better to adapt than to reduce carbon use (it is not in their nature to remain silent, they tend to be windbags). Their claim now is it is much cheaper to adapt, that reducing carbon use would damage the economy way too much.

    Regarding the use of passive solar, how does that work when things really heat up and you don’t get the cold winters? Doesn’t your house end up getting way too hot? These architectural solutions for energy use don’t seem to make sense to me given a changing climate, since the house is being built for a particular climate that is changing rapidly now. It seems that the best architectural solutions would be building a house to reduce cooling costs (I think it is a waste of money to build a house to reduce heating costs since winters are getting warmer fast).

    On another note, since there are real climate scientists on this list, I’ve heard on some of the TV historical shows, that the relatively stable climate of the last 10,000 years, that has allowed human civilizations to thrive, is actually an anomaly. I’ve seen this on a History Channel show about the 5-billion year history of the earth and elsewhere as well. Are these shows just saying this because they’re sponsored by SUV ads by car companies (so we won’t feel so bad about climate change) or is there any real truth to this? I haven’t read up much on paleoclimatology, but would like to learn more about it. The show I’m thinking about said that naturally occurring climate changes have been quite common, and the climate of the last 10,000 years has been unusually stable. This would imply that even in the current era of the Earth, that past ice age cycles had unstable climates. But, given the companies that support these shows, I tend to take it with a grain of salt and want to know what real paleoclimatologists think.

    Another question I have is, in past eras (such as when the dinosaours roamed the Earth), the show said that the carbon in the atmosphere was really high, I believe much in excess of 450 PPM (I don’t remember what the exact number was). Back then, it was tropical even at the poles. I’d like to hear from a paleoclimatologist what the Earth’s temperature was really like during those times, and how much of it was desert, what the estimated CO2 amount in the atmosphere was, and if the Equator was unlivable (200 degrees or more). I’ve really been wondering this lately. If the Earth was warm enough for the poles to have temperate climates, what was the climate at the Equator (too hot to support any life at all)? I’d like to know, just to get an idea of what we’ve got to look forward to. How hot will the Equator get? Personally I believe that all the worst-case scenarios will be exceeded, and we’re just going to have to learn to live with the results of run-away global warming. Presumably all the fossil fuels we’re burning have carbon that was, at one time, in the atmosphere, and over millions of years went into plants that died and later got buried and turned into coal and oil. When all the coal and oil is used up, all that carbon will be in the atmosphere again, all at once. Will the CO2 level in the atmosphere, at that point, be higher than it ever was in the entire history of land-based plant life on the planet? Just really curious. Or, once all our coal and oil is used up (which I firmly believe it will be, at which point man will have to cut way back on energy use and get what energy he can out of alternative sources) will the CO2 level in the atmosphere still be less than or equal to what it was at some previous era that included land-based plant life?

    It is hard for me to believe that in the dinosaour era (what you hear a lot about) there were so many tropical areas and so much water (the fossil fuels were formed from plants dying in swamps and not decomposing) when the planet was so much warmer. It seems like today’s global warming is turning everything into a desert, through excessive heat, dryness, and wildfires, that occur too frequently for plants to grow back. Here in the Pacific Northwest, in Western Oregon, we’re still getting near-normal rain (although longer dry periods than before) and it is still green with lots of trees, but I can’t help but feel that we’re next for massive wildfires like Southern California got (like in the next 10 years, at the accelerating rate of changes). And if fires like that hit here, it will be really bad due to the large trees.

    On the issue of the world’s forests buring, shouldn’t we be encouraging logging of ALL our forests at this point, especially the rainforests, and using the logs for building lumber (not paper production) as opposed to either letting people burn the forests (as in tropical rainforests) or letting nature burn them (as in the U.S. and Canada)? I don’t think I support trying to save the rainforest any more. I think burning the rainforest should be strictly prohibited (with the death penalth) but the owners of the rainforest should be encouraged to log it and sell the lumber (the wood is top-notch and it is a shame to see it all being burned, when you can’t get wood like that for building any more in this country). That would keep the carbon sequestered for some time to come. And the people would make money selling the logs, then get to do what they want with them (grow beef, soy, or palm oil for biofuels) once they’ve sold the logs. That would be an economic incentive to those currently burning the rainforest. And I think we should encourage it and just write off the rainforests as gone. Since they’re going to be burned anyways, why not just stop the burning and encouraging the logging of them and the use of the wood for building? And that includes U.S. forests as well (even the old growth ones). And logging the northern forests has the added side effect of cooling the planet since the dark green traps heat. Indonesia, which is now the 3rd highest producer of greenhouse gasses due the burning of its rainforests, would probably drop to the bottom of the list if, instead of burning its rainforests, would chop them down and sell the wood for home building (or woodworking or any durable product use). I think the environmentalist’s attachment to trying to save the rainforest is a lost cause, and is causing countries with the rainforest to prohibit loggin, thus the people burn them so they can get land for raising whatever they’re raising. Does anyone agree here? At this point, we’re in damage control, and we’re going to lose a lot of species anyways, so let’s not make this change any more painful than it needs to be.

  32. 82
    Rod B says:

    The post implied that we don’t know for certain what caused the pCO2 of the North Atlantic to rise twice the rise of atmospheric pCO2 in the 94-05 decade. Is this accurate? Is there a current best guess for the cause?

    [Response: I don't think the cause of the change is known well enough to answer the important questions (1) has there been an increase in uptake someplace else, and (2) is this a trend or an fluctuation. David]

  33. 83

    So how much does increased exposure of Arctic Ocean waters to the atmosphere mitigate for either the North Atlantic’s stopped uptake, or for albedo changes?

    [Response: Don't know what the effect of the exposed Arctic has on ocean carbon uptake; good question. David]

  34. 84
    James says:

    Re #70: [One of my ex’s refuses to use CFLs for outdoor lights. Why? Because they won’t turn on and off with photocell switches. Except that they are cheaper to run 24/7 than incandescents...]

    Which of course begs the question: why have outdoor lights at all? Why waste energy & money lighting up the outdoors when you’re not outside? (Or even then: I often read outside on summer nights, using a small LED light that uses 2 rechargable AAA cells.) I think this is a prime example of where the only new technology needed is an attitude change, and one that would be helped considerably by an increase in the price of electricity.

  35. 85
    Dr. Francis T. Manns says:

    I’m more concerned about te intellectual climate.

  36. 86
    lgl says:

    The co2 uptake is closely linked to the temperature:
    http://virakkraft.com/tempco2corr.mht
    It seems to be pretty much unaffected both by emissions and concentration in air. If temp anomaly were to drop down to -0.6 oC all our emissions would be absorbed.
    The north-atlantic uptake slows down simply because the temp is increasing so much there.

  37. 87
    Hank Roberts says:

    That virakkraft.com page is a mess of code, nothing renderable at least by my browser.

    But your description doesn’t make sense, unless you’re assuming that emission and concentration aren’t correlated with temperature, for temperature to be the only thing related to uptake. Whatever you’re doing there isn’t physical chemistry.

  38. 88
    Rod B says:

    This may be a good place to re-ask a question. Some sources describe the largest carbon sink by far as terrestrial carbonaceous rock fed in large part by atmospheric CO2 absorbed by rain. How come I never hear of this? Is it valid? Or is there a time reason why it has no geologically short term effect? Couldn’t this be a mitigating or negative forcing effect, as in more CO2 means higher temps means more evaporation means more condensation means less CO2?

    [Response: Chemical weathering does take up CO2, maybe 0.1 Gton C per year. This dominates the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere on geological time scales (myr), but is kinda small on anthropogenic time scales. David]

  39. 89
    Steve Reynolds says:

    47> Ray Ladbury: And finally to allege that those who advocate addressing climate change are condemning the third world to poverty is the biggest lie of all.

    Ray, do you really think it helps your cause to call those who sincerely disagree with you liars? This is a controversial issue with considerable evidence on Christy’s and Lomborg’s (and my) side of the issue. We could be wrong, but for myself at least, it is a sincerely held position.

  40. 90
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. #66, David Price

    From what I have read the best hope for a replacing fossil fuels in the long term is geothermal … The snag is that it might take up to 10 years, time we may not have.

    A much bigger snag is that the US (which has probably the biggest potential of any country in the world to reduce its GHG emissions by utilising geothermal) recently cut the geothermal research budget to zero.

  41. 91
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod, this has been asked before and the answer hasn’t changed.
    Your “some sources” ought to be identified by now, what are they?

    If we can look at where you get these ideas we can help with them.

    > terrestrial carbonaceous rock

    Limestone, probably?

    > fed

    You can’t feed rock.

    > in large part by atmospheric CO2 absorbed by rain

    What?

    Probably they’re trying to talk about how acid rain increases the rate at which limestone dissolves.

    Somewhere you’ve gotten word salad. It’s not helpful. What’s the source?

    Biogeochemical cycling. Rate of change.

  42. 92
    lgl says:

    #87
    Sorry about that, it’s a mhtml file from a powerpoint slide.

    I’m not doing physical chemistry, I’m just refering to historical records showing that in colder years nearly all emissions are absorbed while in warmer years almost nothing is absorbed.

  43. 93
    Dave Rado says:

    Re. 89, Steve Reynold’s, it may be sincere in your case, but if as you claim it is sincere in Christy’s and Lomborg’s case, why do they completely ignore all the evidence (summed up in the IPCC reports) that it is the poorest countries which stand to suffer by far the most as a result of global warming, despite having made a negligible contribution to the problem? And how does this tally with the fact that the US Administration rejected Kyoto primarily because the poorest countries were not being asked to reduce their emissions in the current agreement?

  44. 94
    Rick Brown says:

    Re: various posts about forests.

    #27 weather tis better… question about deforestation and forest re-growth and David’s inline response to the effect that, in the long run, it all balances out. David’s correct, of course, but the answer seems incomplete in the context of AGW, where I think it’s essential to consider the time value of carbon, i.e., carbon stored (or emissions avoided) today are worth more than carbon stored/emissions avoided in the future. After clearcut logging, even if promptly re-planted, a forest site will be continue to be a net carbon source for a decade or more due to decaying residue. Given how crucial it is to avoid emissions and maintain sinks now and over the next couple of decades, we should take no solace in the fact that forests regrow; a tiny pool of regrowth is no substitute for the large pool of a mature forest. Even though the rate of sequestration slows as trees mature, mature and old-growth forests tend to continue to act as net carbon sinks.

    32 Cat Black and 81 Diane Wills and the presumed benefits of converting forests to wood products. As intuitively appealing as this may sound (and despite much promotion along these lines by the timber industry), it doesn’t really pencil out, especially if you again consider the time value of carbon. Logging a mature or old growth forest and processing trees into wood products release large amounts of carbon to the atmosphere. In the Pacific Northwest, with our exceptionally large trees, the best current estimate is that 50 percent of the harvested carbon (the biomass is about 50 percent carbon) is emitted to the atmosphere in the first year; and only about 25 percent is turned into long-lived wood products (the other 25 percent is left on the ground to decay). Elsewhere, the portion emitted is higher. This doesn’t count fossil fuels used in logging, transportation of logs, etc. Following Diane’s suggestion to avoid short-lived products like paper would improve storage somewhat, but not significantly. Even in the timber industry’s rosy scenario where wood is substituted for concrete, intensive forest management, wood products and substitution would take several decades to store more carbon than simply letting forests grown. It’s beside the point that there’s no real basis for the assumption that wood will substitute for concrete. The possibility that forests will burn sometime in the future doesn’t seem an adequate justification for logging them now with the guaranteed associated emissions.

    David’s inline response to Cat Black #32 about carbon in soils of prairies and forests. It may not be definitive, but the one reference that falls to hand for me on this shows forest soils consistently storing about twice as much carbon as grassland soils for nine subregions of the U.S. (Birdsey, R. 1996. Carbon storage for major forest types and regions in the conterminous U.S. Pages 1-26 in N. Sampson, and D. O. Hall, editors. Forests and global change, volume 2: Forest management opportunities for mitigating carbon emissions. American Forests, Washington DC.) (Apologies that this reference is not readily available, but it seems to be the standard for the forest and wood products, etc. figures.)

    There’s more that could be said about all this, but this is too long already. Hope it helps.

  45. 95
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “… to allege that those who advocate addressing climate change are condemning the third world to poverty is the biggest lie of all.”

    Steve Reynolds replied: “… for myself at least, it is a sincerely held position.”

    With all due respect, it would seem that the only way that someone could “sincerely” believe that addressing global warming will “condemn the third world to poverty” is for the person to be profoundly ignorant. Essentially every national and international organization that is working to address poverty in the developing world recognizes that (1) the developing world is already experiencing severe impacts from global warming which are aggravating poverty, that (2) the rapidly worsening effects of global warming will hit the developing world especially hard, and the developing world will be much less able to deal with such effects than the rich world, and that (3) global warming threatens to thwart and wipe out whatever reductions in poverty might be achieved by aid from the rich world to the developing world (eg. the Millennium Development Goals).

    The idea that addressing global warming will perpetuate or exacerbate poverty in the developing world is not only wrong, and baseless, it is in fact the exact opposite of the truth.

    So why do you “sincerely” believe it?

  46. 96
    Steve L says:

    Not the time or place to respond to Steve Reynolds (#89 right now), perhaps, but I’d just like to point out that suggesting an attempt to rein in CO2 emissions is argued against on one hand as being cover for a left wing conspiracy to shift wealth to poor countries and on the other hand for condemning the third world to poverty. This has nothing to do with the science, but surely this is fascinating enough to warrant some discussion at another location (perhaps Steve R has a suggestion for an appropriate forum).

  47. 97
    Joe Duck says:

    Ray:
    I have said many times that mitigating climate change and facilitating development are two sides of the same problem–that of developing an economy that is both ecologically and economically sustainable.

    Sounds great, and if this was the consensus opinion from the economics world we’d have a lot more agreement on how to proceed with mitigation efforts.

    Unfortunately many economic analyses suggest that mitigation costs are so great they’ll hurt development in the poor countries far more than they’ll help them with benefits from less pollution and less AGW. The Stern report suggested otherwise, but does some of the math in an unusual way. Lomborg’s approach is a more standard economics treatment.

    It is interesting how the economics debate, like the hockey stick stats controversy, boils down to some pretty nuanced stats that are very hard for many to follow (including me).

    Steve:
    This is a controversial issue with considerable evidence on Christy’s and Lomborg’s (and my) side of the issue. We could be wrong, but for myself at least, it is a sincerely held position.

    Wow, that was very nicely put.

  48. 98
    Daniel C. Goodwin says:

    Re: 89 “do you really think it helps your cause to call those who sincerely disagree with you liars?”

    On the question Ray Ladbury raises, viz. whether “those who advocate addressing climate change are condemning the third world to poverty,” I’m moved to chime in that I also find this line of argument (which Ray denounces) particularly disingenuous and disgusting.

    There have been numerous climate-trend studies which show the most severe effects of climate-change occurring in the poorest regions of the world. Around Bangladesh, water problems incessantly escalate on both sides: the demise of Himalayan glaciers and the rise of the Indian ocean. Meanwhile, Africa’s Sahel region grows more hellish every year. No previous “crime against humanity” approaches the scale of the genocide we now commit against poor nations with our pollution. There is a very serious global-justice issue here which is seldom if ever addressed.

  49. 99
    David B. Benson says:

    Daniel C. Godwin (93) — Yes. Which is one reason for liking Biopact’s approach.

    http://biopact.com/

  50. 100
    Joe Duck says:

    No previous “crime against humanity” approaches the scale of the genocide we now commit against poor nations with our pollution.

    Daniel this is the key point of contention, and if there was a good reason to believe this I’d be happy to donate to mitigation efforts rather than malaria nets. I’d encourage you to read up on this – there is a crime in our lack of funding for simple health remedies which could save some ten thousand people. Every day. Sure, I will vote to pull that from the military budget but as we prioritize research and spending to improve standards of living we should recognize where the money will do the most good. Also important to note that Sahel conditions appear to be more a product of regional climate change rather than global AGW.


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