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Advice for a young climate blogger

Filed under: — group @ 9 March 2009 - (Italian) (Español)

Congratulations! You have taken the first step towards attempting to communicate your expertise and thoughts to the wider world, which remains poorly served by its traditional sources of information when it comes to complex societally relevant issues like climate change. Your aim to clarify the science (or policy options or ethical considerations or simply to explain your views) is a noble endeavor and we wish you luck and wide readership. But do be aware that you are dipping your blog into sometimes treacherous waters. Bad things can happen to good bloggers. So in a spirit of blog-camaraderie, and in light of our own experiences and observations, we offer some advice that may be of some help in navigating the political climate relatively unscathed.

Be honest to yourself and your readers. If your aim is to educate, say so. If your aim is to push for more funding for your pet projects, or advocate for a specific policy, be upfront about it. Don’t however be surprised if people spend their time trying to find hidden motives in what you do. There is a school of thought had has decreed that any public speech must be directed towards public action and that there is no such thing as a pure information supply. In the widest sense this is probably true – everyone blogs, writes or speaks out for a reason. However, this is often interpreted as implying that all public speech must be either pro-or-con some very specific proposal. This is nonsense. One can criticize George Will’s or Alexander Cockburn’s misuse of climate science without agreeing or disagreeing or even having looked at their public policy proposals. Of course, the corollary of this position, that any such criticism of your statements must itself be directed at supporting the opposite political action is very rarely appreciated. On the other hand, assuming that criticism of your statements must be politically motivated is usually a mistake. Sometimes that is true, but there are enough exceptions that it should not be assumed.

Know that there are people who will misrepresent you. Climate science is perceived to have political, economic and ethical implications. Most of the what gets discussed really doesn’t have any such implication, but the ‘scientization‘ of political discourse on this issue means that micro-parsing of published work and blog postings is a common practice. Advocates of all stripes (though predominantly those outside the mainstream) will examine whether a new result or comment appears to project onto their particular agenda, and trumpet it widely if it does. The motives can range from specifically political to a desire for publicity or position, though the exact reasons are often obscure and mostly not worth debating. Thus 15th Century tree rings become an argument against the Kyoto Protocol, just as bacterial flagella are whipped into service when discussing the role of religion in public life.

In the specific world of climate-related blogs there are a number of conduits by which misrepresentations gain wider currency. Matt Drudge for instance, spends an inordinate amount of time finding crackpot climate science stories in fringe media and highlighting them on the widely-read Drudge Report. Marc Morano (who we hear is leaving his post as a staffer for Senator Inhofe) is a very diligent reader of the climate blogs (Pielke2, WUWT, RC etc.) and any misrepresentation found there, or criticism that could be misrepresented, will quickly find its way into many email in-boxes. From there, if you are lucky, further misrepresentations might find their way onto the Rush Limbaugh’s show (via Roy Spencer), or Glenn Beck as throwaway lines confirming (to them) the perfidy of mainstream climate science.

Be aware that the impact that you have might be very different from the impact that you think you should have. Over time, if you find yourself constantly misquoted or used to support positions or ideas you don’t agree with, think about why that might be. You will likely find yourself accused of ‘stealth advocacy’ i.e. of secretly agreeing with the misquoters. If that isn’t actually the case, remember that the abandonment of responsibility for your words (i.e. “how was I to know I would be misquoted so often?”) is not an option that leaves you with much integrity. Being misquoted once might be a misfortune, being misquoted more often smacks of carelessness.

Don’t expect the world to be fair. Read Mamet’s “Bambi v. Godzilla“, and in particular the section containing this line:

“In these fibbing competitions, the party actually wronged, the party with an actual practicable program, or possessing an actually beneficial product, is at a severe disadvantage; he is stuck with a position he cannot abandon, and, thus, cannot engage his talents for elaboration, distraction, drama and subterfuge.”

Since you are presumably stuck with a coherent set of ideas, you won’t be able to adopt ten mutually contradictory inconsistent arguments in the same paragraph, or engage in the cherry-picking, distortion or deliberate misquotation. Though it is occasionally instructive to show what you could have claimed if you didn’t have such ethical principles.

Don’t let completely unfounded critiques bother you. If you speak out in the public sphere, as sure as night follows day, you will be criticized. Some criticisms are constructive and will help you find your voice. Many are not. If you are successful, you will start to come across an online simulacrum of you that bears your name and place of work but who holds none of your views, has no redeeming character traits and would be a complete stranger to anyone who has actually met you. Ignore him or her. There are some people who will always be happier demonising opponents than honestly interacting with real people.

Don’t defame people. This should go without saying, but trivially accusing scientists of dishonesty, theft, academic malpractice and fraud pretty much rules you out of serious conversation. Instead it will serve mainly to marginalize you – though you may gain a devoted following among a specific subset. Don’t be surprised if as a consequence other people start to react negatively to your comments.

Correct mistakes. Again, it should go without saying that maintaining integrity requires that errors of fact be corrected as soon as possible.

Realize that although you speak for yourself, if you take mainstream positions, you will be perceived as speaking for the whole climate science community. Don’t therefore criticize unnamed ‘scientists’ in general when you mean to be specific, and don’t assume that the context in which you are speaking is immediately obvious to casual readers.

Avoid using language that can easily be misquoted. This is hard.

Don’t use any WWII metaphors. Ever. This just makes it too easy for people to ratchet up the rhetoric and faux outrage. However strongly you hold your views, the appropriateness of these images is always a hard sell, and you will not be given any time in which to make your pitch. This is therefore almost always counter-productive. This can be extended to any kind of Manichean language.

If you get noticed by the propagandists, wear that attention like a badge of honor. You will be in very good company.

If you get caught in a blogstorm, know that this too will pass. Being targeted like this is not very much fun (ask Heidi Cullen). But the lifecycle for a blog-related kerfuffle is a few days in general, and the blogosphere as a whole has an extreme attention deficit disorder. After finding that your post and followups were all anyone can talk about on Monday, it likely won’t get mentioned again after Thursday.

Recognize that humor is far more effective than outrage. But try and rise above the level of the schoolyard. Think Jon Stewart rather than Rodney Dangerfield.

If all of the above doesn’t put you off the idea completely, welcome to the blogosphere! Your voice is sorely needed.


434 Responses to “Advice for a young climate blogger”

  1. 301
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walter Manny says, “In a recession perceived by many to be a borderline depression, though, more coal plants are going to be built.”

    OK, Walter, ‘splain me this statement. First, in a recession/depression, demand for energy and other resources decreases, n’est ce pas? So why are we building more coal-fired plants? If you don’t buy Keynes, power plants should either cut back or close down if things get bad enough. If you do buy Keynes, why the hell should we be building coal-fired plants rather than investing in renewables?

    CO2 threatens to change the climate on which agriculture and much else necessary for civilization depend. It is not an overstatement to suggest maybe building more CO2 factories might not be wise. Moreover, it is not an overstatement to suggest that organizations that pay to disseminate lies and cover up good science might be subverting the truth, the understanding of which is a prerequisite for democracy.

  2. 302
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    It could hardly be argued that the American people just voted in hopes of a coal moratorium, though I am sure a few did. In a recession perceived by many to be a borderline depression, though, more coal plants are going to be built.

    What an odd statement. One of President Obama’s chief campaign points regarded increases in clean energy. People voted for just that.

    As for the recession, if there’s stimulus in coal, there’s an equal stimulus in other sources of energy. It would be an ideal time, in the current downturn in energy use, to invest in more modern infrastructure. While there’s a little slack in the system.

  3. 303
    Fernando Magyar says:

    http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/treder20090319/

    The Psychology of Climate Change

    Mike Treder

    Ethical Technology

    Posted: Mar 19, 2009

    Academics at Britain’s first conference on the psychology of climate change argued that the greatest obstacles to action are not technical, economic or political—they are the denial strategies that we adopt to protect ourselves from unwelcome information.

    Is there a “psychology of climate change”? According to this article from The Guardian, there is.

    Two points that leapt out at me from the linked article:

    Dr Myanna Lahsen, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Colorado, has speci alised (word split because of spam blocker) in understanding how professional scientists, some of them with highly respected careers, turn climate sceptic. She found the largest common factor was a shared sense that they had personally lost prestige and authority as the result of campaigns by liberals and environmentalists.

    One academic study of 192 sceptic books and reports found that 92% were directly associated with right wing free market think tanks. It concluded that the denial of climate change had been deliberately constructed “as a tactic of an elite-driven counter-movement designed to combat environmentalism”.

    Then again since Psychologists have a self admitted bias against conservatives one has to wonder, at least a little, about the effects of liberal bias on this particular analysis.
    For a bit of enlightenment see Jonathan Haidt’s lecture.
    http://thesciencenetwork.org/programs/beyond-belief-enlightenment-2-0/jonathan-haidt

  4. 304
    Rod B says:

    Without getting directly into the fight, but just to clarify: democratic “one man one vote” in our system specifically applies to electing representatives (and even here only in part) and specifically and very purposely, by our founding fathers for clear good cause, does NOT apply to setting policy.

  5. 305
    Joe says:

    More coal fired plants being built. Whether we like it or not, it seems that globally speaking, coal is the way…

    http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/1223/p01s04-sten.html

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/11/business/worldbusiness/11chinacoal.html

  6. 306
    Hank Roberts says:

    > setting policy

    It’s all in how you handle the details.
    Here’s an interesting idea:

    “… post on the Internet all requests by lobbyists who want to talk to any member of his administration about particular projects that would involve using the money from the Economic Recovery Act.

    All requests must be in writing, and details from meetings between Obama’s administration and lobbyists about stimulus projects also will be posted online …”

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29793439/

    The lobbyists are identifiable
    http://www.publicintegrity.org/investigations/climate_change/articles/entry/1180/
    so their employers will now be able to check the website and find out if they’re actually doing their job. This may be refreshing.
    http://www.publicintegrity.org/investigations/climate_change/articles/entry/%201171/

  7. 307
    wmanny says:

    re. 301, 302

    Ray, I’m not saying that more coal plants should be built, just that they will be. They are an affordable source of energy, perhaps a perceived job creator, and the Sierra Club can only do so much. Europe, as you know, has been engaged in a coal feast. The latest Gallup poll, if it is to be trusted, is not a good leading indicator for fewer coal plants being built.

    And Jeffrey, while it is true that Obama voters wanted clean energy among other things (it not being a single-issue campaign) I don’t know that he promised a coal moratorium or that a majority of voters were interested in one. He had to win coal states such as PA, remember.

  8. 308
    Rod B says:

    wmanny (306), in a campaign interview Obama explicitly said that his cap and trade or tax plan would make it impossible for new coal-fired power plants to be in business. ‘They could open’ he said, ‘but they will surely go bankrupt.’ He further implied that current coal plants did not have a secure future, whatever that means. The status of coal plants planned or under construction but not yet running is unclear — though Obama’s desire is. Sounds pretty much like a moratorium to me.

  9. 309
    SecularAnimist says:

    With regard to wmanny’s comments, unfortunately both Obama and his Secretary of Energy Steven Chu have “clean coal” — which does not exist and is an obscene lie, given the monstrous environmental damage caused by every step of the coal fuel cycle from mining through emissions.

    And worse, Steven Chu during his Senate confirmation hearing supported building more coal-fired power plants without carbon capture and sequestration technology, which of course also does not exist and is unlikely to exist for decades if ever.

    This, I think, is what James Hansen referred to recently as “greenwashing” and a failure of the democratic process.

    I would add that I was also very disappointed by Chu’s statements to a Congressional committee in which he supported expediting hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for the construction of new nuclear power plants, which will do nothing to reduce CO2 emissions within the necessary time frame, and will have enormous opportunity costs. Every dollar wasted on expanding nuclear power is a dollar that would be far, far more effectively spent on efficiency and renewables.

  10. 310
    Patrick 027 says:

    Regarding Coleman’s ‘work’ (Re 296 – “The Amazing Story Behind the Global Warming Scam”) – I started writing a rebuttal. It’s over 84 pages long now (with appendices). Don’t know what to do with it. Some parts need fact checking (details of chapter 10 of IPCC AR4 WGI) but I’m very confident of the big picture points.

    Solar cells are an ideal investment!

  11. 311
    David Horton says:

    I have tried to be good, really I have. Do you think I have succeeded here http://www.blognow.com.au/mrpickwick/131143/Wham_Bam_Climate_Spam.html ? I worry I might have just been a little bit unkind to denialists. Wouldn’t want them to lose “prestige and authority” (no 303).

  12. 312

    Just an idea about the G&T paper.

    Is it possible that it is a deliberate hoax — akin to Sokal’s paper of 20 years ago? Some terms used in it (gratuously) seem to indicate it may be.

    Burgy

  13. 313
    dhogaza says:

    Is it possible that it is a deliberate hoax — akin to Sokal’s paper of 20 years ago? Some terms used in it (gratuously) seem to indicate it may be.

    It was available online before publication, and (as I’m sure is no surprise to you) you’re not the first to ask the question. Quite some time ago. Everything I’ve read indicates that the paper is believed to be genuine.

  14. 314
    Richard Ordway says:

    #287 Leighton Says:

    In response to the question (#286), my intention was to suggest that Hansen sounds childish and petulant when he says (assuming the quote is accurate), “The democratic process doesn’t quite seem to be working….subverted by fossil fuel industry money”

    I’ve been around publishing science for 13 years. I’ve witnessed events as Hansen describes. It has interfered with many scientist’s work and resulted in a severe lack of evidence getting to the public that the public/USA needed to make health, monetary and economic decisions.

  15. 315
    Hank Roberts says:

    > assuming
    Assuming a lot besides accuracy, like context and tone of voice.
    > childish and petulant
    Remember most of the emotional tone perceived by people reading ASCII is projection, which isn’t conveyed by text so has to be supplied.

  16. 316
    Mark says:

    Leighton, how many people died from the misinformation and muddying by lobbiests for the tobacco industry? People that could have changed their life and stopped (or never taken up) smoking if they had been given the information then available WITHOUT the lobbying hiding it.

    Now if *I* were to give out some medical cure that actually contained something toxic and sat on, paid off, or rubbished anything that told someone about it, I would be in jail for it.

    And think about what would have happened if someone were found to have stuffed ballot boxes 20 years ago. They would have been done for treason (it would at LEAST be on the claims against them). But Diebold has more money than any human and their acknowldged misapplication of programming in their voting machines not only isn’t seeing them arrested but hasn’t even gotten money back for the purchase of the defective by design machines.

  17. 317
    truth says:

    The ‘democratic’ process has been working very well for the purposes of the populist message of the AGW consensus politicians [ but not for real democracy]—the AGW election campaigning certainly manages to change governments, and proponents do get their preferred candidates into power [ as happened in Australia, with Al Gore’s intervention ]—and in the US with Obama.
    But the reason that it works is that the voters are , in the main, deliberately kept uninformed about the alternative views and scientists, by a mainstream media that’s almost 100% promoting the consensus.
    Here in Australia, about 90% of respondents want an Emissions Trading Scheme and want it right now—-but when asked if they knew what an ETS entailed, almost the same numbers said they hadn’t a clue.
    They just know it’s what is expected of them if they want to be seen as saviours of the planet.
    What Hansen seems to be bemoaning is the fact that, once elected, the candidates who had the approval of the AGW consensus side can no longer ignore reality in the form of the real and competitive world of trade , export income, citizens’ livelihoods , inflation and the limitations of the renewable technologies.
    Regarding the latter[ limitations of renewables], the problems are spelt out by Nate Lewis of Cal Tech, , when he details the enormity of what would have to be done between now and 2050, to achieve the emission cuts aspired to—if nuclear, 10000 reactors built every second day , starting right now, would provide less than half what’s needed—-if wind, one million wind turbines would provide a fraction of the energy required, but even that only if viable electricity storage for dispatch on demand were available, and it’s not——if solar, one million roofs covered with solar panels every day from now to 2050 would provide less than half the requirement—and would need solar electricity storage technology not yet devised.
    Added to that, a new family of super-conductors has to be discovered for efficient transmission.
    Is he wrong?
    Surely these are the realities faced by Obama , Chu and other leaders, when they have to try to fulfil rash promises that seduced voters in election campaigns—and hence James Hansen’s frustrations with their back-pedalling.
    But surely he must know about the scientific limitations, if not about the economic realities.

  18. 318
    RichardC says:

    317 untruth, the USA has been under the control of a staunchly denialist crowd for eight years. They left the country in a dismal condition. It’s been two whole months since Obama took office, and he hasn’t back-peddled on AGW. You’re making stuff up.

  19. 319
    Jim Bouldin says:

    5000 nuke reactors a day for 40 years, really? I had no idea. Better get started on it eh?

    Cry us an ocean about how hard change will be, embellished with the necessary imaginary “facts” truth. Let us know when you want to discuss the reality of the earth’s climate system.

  20. 320
    Hank Roberts says:

    > he details the enormity of what would have to be done

    “enormity” is exactly the right word for what you’re spouting.

    Ten thousand reactors built every second day between now and 2050, you claim?

    Citation needed.

  21. 321
  22. 322
    Hank Roberts says:

    New from NOAA:

    Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science
    http://www.noaa.gov/climateliteracy.html
    and
    http://www.climatescience.gov.
    It is also being distributed to teachers attending the National Science Teachers Association meeting this week in New Orleans.

  23. 323
    Jim Eager says:

    One has to wonder why the untruth keeps banging their head against the wall expecting a different outcome from actual reality.

    BTW, good article in the current National Geographic on the futile state of agriculture in New South Wales and South Australia.

    Imagine, growing rice and cotton in that dry land.
    What were they thinking?

  24. 324
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 317:
    “that the voters are , in the main, deliberately kept uninformed about the alternative views and scientists, by a mainstream media that’s almost 100% promoting the consensus.”

    They are also kept in the dark about the alternative views on the Moon landings, biological evolution, … but is that really a problem? – it is not as if free speech has been banned; that information is fortunately (arguing against it helps educate about it) and unfortunately (can be a waste of time, effort, and money, and misleading half truths and outright falsehoods have won some people over) out there and available. Furthermore, consider what happens in school; we do not waste time debating endlessly whether water vapor condenses into clouds or whether nuclear reactions in the air produce water vapor out of nitrogen; we do not waste time going into detail regarding whether or not the Earth is round or revolves around the sun.

    “Regarding the latter[ limitations of renewables], the problems are spelt out by Nate Lewis of Cal Tech,”

    “10000 reactors built every second day , starting right now, would provide less than half what’s needed”

    That seems a bit over the top; about 100 nuclear reactors in the U.S. supply about 20% of U.S. electricity; 8% of all U.S. energy in fuel equivalent. (Do you really mean that the number of reactors increases by about 1,800,000 each year, that the world would have over 72,000,000 nuclear reactors by 2050, supplying an average power of roughly 250 GW (roughly 8% U.S. fuel equivalent power consumption)* 720,000 = 180,000 TW fuel equivalent – that this would be less than half, rather than thousands of times, the global power consumption by 2050, on the order of 40 TW fuel equivalent – 4 times the present energy consumption?!)

    …”if wind, one million wind turbines would provide a fraction of the energy required, but even that only if viable electricity storage for dispatch on demand were available, and it’s not”…”one million roofs covered with solar panels every day from now to 2050 would provide less than half the requirement—and would need solar electricity storage technology not yet devised.”…”
    Added to that, a new family of super-conductors has to be discovered for efficient transmission.”…

    First, improving power transmission efficiency would help even with reducing pollution from conventional sources. Leaving transmission nearly as is simply means that the same amount of renewable power is necessary to replace whatever amount of fossil fuels is not added or is cut – except that inverters are necessary to convert solar cells’ power to AC electricity (about 90 % or 95 % efficient and definitely affordable for large-scale operations at least – wheras for small scale operations, higher inverter losses, if necessary, might be partly compensated by the weighted-average reduced transmission losses) – new DC transmission lines can be built running across the country that would have low resistance without need of superconductors.

    Second, not all solar need be on roofs, and the more expensive solar power (solar cells, as opposed to perhaps water heaters and skylights/windows) do not belong in some neighborhoods where there are many tall trees, depending on the layout… An efficiency of 15 % conversion to electricity (waste heat can heat water, etc, so the total solar power used could replace more than that amount of electricity from fossil fuels) under typical annual average insolation on the cells (remember that tilting the cells can increase this from the horizontal area values) of 200 W/m2, supplies 30 W/m2; Total U.S energy in electrical equivalent (although you can’t actually replace all uses of fuel with their electrical equivalents, although in some cases you could replace fuel with less than their electrical equivalents (heat pumps)) electrical power is about 1.2 TW, about 1,200,000 MW/300 million people = 4,000 W/person, divided by 30 W/m2 yields about 133 square meters per person. Replacing only electrical energy usage, about 1,600 W/person, 53 square meters. Global 40 TW fuel equivalent is about 8 TW electricity, 8TW/9Gp (Shorthand for billion people) ~ 900 W/person, 30 square meters. Potential hot water/winter heating bonus! If typical urban/suburban population density 3,000 people/km2 then area per person is about 333 m2, 10 % of area is roofs (rough guesstimates – alter results accordingly when more accurate information is found): 33 square meters per person – in horizontal projection. If half of roof is angled equatorward at 30 degree angle – well you get the idea; half of all electricity could be supplied by rooftop solar power. But that might not even be the best use of solar cell technology – some fraction, along with solar thermal power, could be in large scale power plants in solar-rich regions. And what of transmission costs to solar-poor regions? Solar poor regions need not get all electricity from solar power!

    In general, smaller spatial scale temporal variability can be made up for partly by short-distance transmissions. Wind is often available at night and is in many places strongest in the darker seasons. Most energy is used during the day. Hydroelectric reservoirs, as well as biomass, geothermal, fossil fuels, and nuclear power, can be controlled to balance out temporal variability in solar, wind, wave, tides. If solar provides 70%, wind,waves,currents,tides provide 5 %, geothermal 5 %, biomass 5 %, hydroelectric 5 %, nuclear 5 %, then we only need fossil fuels for 5 %. The total can be reduced (from what it otherwise would be based on population growth and reduction of poverty) by increasing efficiency – oh, there is much room for that! If there are remaining peaks in solar power supply in time, those could be redirected to energy inputs in C s

  25. 325
    RichardC says:

    320 Hank, I’ll do a little search on that. Nukes are 16% of the world’s electricity and there are 439 reactors. at 10,000 reactors a day, 100% of the world’s electrical output could be built in 0.27 days. For ALL the world’s energy needs, it would take 0.7 days, assuming we built average-sized reactors.

  26. 326
    James says:

    Re “…if nuclear, 10000 reactors built every second day , starting right now, would provide less than half what’s needed…”

    I think someone really needs to do some arithmetic here. There are about 100 operating nuclear reactors in the US, which generate roughly 20% of the electricity. Simple arithmetic suggests that to generate it all from nuclear would require 400 new reactors, or about 10 per year between now and 2050. And of course existing hydro & geothermal, and new wind, solar, or what have you would reduce that number, as would increases in energy efficiency.

    As to whether a nuclear conversion program would be technically possible, the French managed to convert most of their electric generation to nuclear in about 35 years: http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf40.html

  27. 327

    “truth” wrote in 317:

    What Hansen seems to be bemoaning is the fact that, once elected, the candidates who had the approval of the AGW consensus side can no longer ignore reality in the form of the real and competitive world of trade , export income, citizens’ livelihoods , inflation and the limitations of the renewable technologies.

    Regarding the latter[ limitations of renewables], the problems are spelt out by Nate Lewis of Cal Tech, , when he details the enormity of what would have to be done between now and 2050, to achieve the emission cuts aspired to—if nuclear, 10000 reactors built every second day, starting right now, would provide less than half what’s needed–…

    Hank Roberts wrote in 320:

    “enormity” is exactly the right word for what you’re spouting.

    Ten thousand reactors built every second day between now and 2050, you claim?

    Citation needed.

    I found what he was recalling, but it isn’t exactly as he remembered it:

    Lewis’s numbers show the enormous challenge we face. The world used 14 trillion watts (14 terawatts) of power in 2006. Assuming minimal population growth (to 9 billion people), slow economic growth (1.6 percent a year, practically recession level) and—this is key—unprecedented energy efficiency (improvements of 500 percent relative to current U.S. levels, worldwide), it will use 28 terawatts in 2050. (In a business-as-usual scenario, we would need 45 terawatts.) Simple physics shows that in order to keep CO2 to 450 ppm, 26.5 of those terawatts must be zero-carbon. That’s a lot of solar, wind, hydro, biofuels and nuclear, especially since renewables kicked in a measly 0.2 terawatts in 2006 and nuclear provided 0.9 terawatts. Are you a fan of nuclear? To get 10 terawatts, less than half of what we’ll need in 2050, Lewis calculates, we’d have to build 10,000 reactors, or one every other day starting now. Do you like wind? If you use…

    We Can’t Get There From Here
    Political will and a price on CO2 won’t be enough to bring about low-carbon energy sources.
    Published Mar 14, 2009
    http://www.newsweek.com/id/189293

    I also found it in the PDF:

    • Nuclear (fission and fusion)
    • 10 TW = 10,000 new 1 GW reactors
    • i.e., a new reactor every other day for the next 50 years

    Powering the Planet
    Nathan S. Lewis, California Institute of Technology
    http://nsl.caltech.edu/files/energy.pdf

    … although for me at least the text was invisible until I copied and pasted it into Notepad.

  28. 328

    Is 20 Terawatts of renewable energy by 2050 doable?

    I am going to consider one “solar energy” possibility…

    Tera means 1012

    Solar can get about 100 watts per m2

    Therefore we are speaking of 1011 m2 per terawatt, or 104 sq km2 per terawatt.

    or ~2×105 km2 for all the world’s energy needs by 2050.

    The area of California is 411,048 km2. So we are talking about half the area of California, more or less.

    But how much would this cost?

    Assuming a $1 per m2, 2×1011, or 200 billion US dollars. In fifty years. Of course there will be replacement costs.

    Now how realistic is $1 per m2?

    Well, here is one possibility:

    Talk of the Nation, August 22, 2008 · Developers have created flexible sheets of ‘nanoantennas’ that could aid in getting energy from solar energy or from other heat sources. The sheets could harvest up to 80 percent of the infrared light that falls upon them and the researchers say the material could cost just pennies a [square] yard.

    Nano Heating
    Talk of the Nation, August 22, 2008
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93872974

    This is going off infrared radiation, not visible light. Works day and night, summer and winter, sunny or overcast.

    Seems doable.

  29. 329
    Hank Roberts says:

    Yep. That’s why I said ‘citation needed’ – it’s an utter waste of time in a science forum to reply to second-hand copypaste of stuff read somewhere else and pasted without understanding or citation.

    Paying attention to copypaste is a waste — why soak up an inordinate amount of time responding to this stuff?

  30. 330
    Hank Roberts says:

    Here’s Newsweek, making that claim:
    http://www.newsweek.com/id/189293?tid=relatedcl

    Here’s lots more copypaste:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=10000+reactors+every+other+day

    That’s the lesson for new bloggers, in my opinion. Get sources.
    Find out why people believe them. Deal with the source, not the second-hand opinion posted.

  31. 331

    CORRECTION to 328

    In the fourth line I wrote:

    Therefore we are speaking of 1011 m2 per terawatt, or 104 km2 per terawatt.

    … but that should have been 1010 m2. It appears to have been a typo as it did not affect the rest of my calculations. One other problem — I gave us fifty years, but it should have been forty. However, these are all round figures — so I don’t think that bit matters.

  32. 332
    David B. Benson says:

    Well, I can’t find the reference, but I recall reading an estimate that, from all non-food sources, humans globally consumed about 420 exajoules in 2006 CE.

    So I opine the energy needs are considerably largely than in the comments I just read. (A reasonable estimate for 2050 CE is 800 exajoules.)

  33. 333
    rando says:

    Re: 328. Sorry to respond to a thread ‘splinter’…but in a talk I attended this morning, the speaker diplayed an overhead projection of a (still very) frozen local lake with the sun nestled half-way on the horizon…could have been sun-rise or set for all I know, however, it did dawn on me how much the sun is largely under-rated for a number of things. What you’ve presented is quite interesting. I wonder what a few years of market driven R&D would do to improvements in efficiency and afford-ability in solar industry products. The ‘science’ does seem to be advancing quickly.

  34. 334
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 328 – I’ve been a bit skeptical of the nanoantenna idea – not that it couldn’t work with solar radiation, but the idea that it could do anything useful at night just doesn’t seem physically possible. To the extent that the nanoantennas are able to absorb the wavelengths of terrestrial IR (LW radiation, mostly longer than 4 microns) as opposed to solar IR (mostly shorter than 4 microns), they will also be able to emit the same amount of IR radiation, if they are the same temperature as the IR source (says the second law of thermodynamics). Otherwise, the nanoantennas would have to be kept cooler than there surroundings to work at night. With sufficient moisture and cloud cover, they might produce some energy under an night-time inversion (which is not so likely under sufficient moisture and cloud cover) – or else they could be floated on cold ocean currents in the subtropics, or flown on kites higher in the atmosphere looking down at the surface, etc…

    I think it’s just as well to focus on nanoantennas that convert solar IR to electricity. Solar thermal (mechanical heat engines, thermoelectric, thermophotovoltaic) can be stored as molten salt (or hot rock if combined with a geothermal plant), etc…

    Price: see my comments 229,236 at:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2009/03/olympian-efforts-to-control-pollution/langswitch_lang/de

  35. 335
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 328 continued – if the efficiency of a sheet is anywhere above 1%, if it costs only $1 per square meter, then I don’t think people would be dissappointed at all just because it doesn’t work at night (although for land use and copper wire reasons, we may want a bit more than 1% efficiency).

  36. 336
    Patrick 027 says:

    PS in case anybody was wondering –

    Commercially available solar cells generally range from 10 to 20 % efficiency. A number of natural surfaces have albedos in the same range, so the local climatological effect of the albedo of solar power plants may be near zero. At most (except maybe for some high efficiency concentrating devices that reflect all diffuse light in otherwise dark surfaces, and solar power devices that have to be cleared of snow) it would be on the order of the energy supplied, and actual energy usage is puny in comparison to the energy budgets of the climate system regionally and globally.

    Concentrating mirrors can focus direct solar rays onto conversion devices but lose the diffuse light. Under cloud cover, some of that diffuse light is reflected again off the clouds, enhancing the energy supply of flat panels in the same area.

  37. 337
    Lawrence Brown says:

    From the lead post ” Climate science is perceived to have political, economic and ethical implications.”

    Not only perceived but actually does have consequences in these disciplines.

  38. 338
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 332 – 420 EJ per year is about 13.31 TW.
    A few years ago, the U.S. used 100 EJ per year, just over 3 TW.

    These are fuel equivalents. For electrical power, 1 EJ of solar or other renewable electricity replaces about 2.5 EJ of fuel.

    800 EJ per year is about 25.35 TW. (PS a small matter, but I’m averaging over leap years).

    I wonder if those nanoantenna sheets have a high albedo in shorter solar wavelengths.

  39. 339
    david says:

    timothy, people developing new materials are always promoting themselves with talk of what might be possible using something related to their technology at some point in the future. Very few of these claims actually come off.
    The current price of Solar panels is more like $4 per watt (give or take a factor of 2), or $400 for your square meter.
    So at current prices we are talking more like 200 billion every 2 months (i.e. about as much as the current amount spent globally on weapons…).

  40. 340

    Patrick 027 wrote in 334

    Re 328 – I’ve been a bit skeptical of the nanoantenna idea – not that it couldn’t work with solar radiation, but the idea that it could do anything useful at night just doesn’t seem physically possible.

    I remember wondering the same thing myself — then assuming that there was simply something I didn’t understand. The experiments they performed were at a higher temperature — and that may have had something to do with it. Likewise, I do remember their saying that the same thing might be done with visible light — in which case sunlight has the Planckian temperature of the surface of the sun — and given the temperature differential between that and the and the Maxwellian temperature of the earth’s surface can of course be used to perform work. Hey — free energy!

    In any case, I just now checked a variety of forums to see if anyone had an answer. None to be found — and at least one arguing that the problem would be with the rectifier. So I have gone ahead and written the tech contact for the project. In all fairness to them, I haven’t seen any of their people mention converting the thermal radiation from the earth into electricity — but numerous people (myself included) have made that leap.

  41. 341
    Hank Roberts says:

    Can you guys shift to saying why and how this stuff matters to the new climate blogger? How you take a statement, do the research, and write it up in a coherent way so it adds something of longterm value?

    Like you were the blogger instead of the commenter? What’s useful?

  42. 342
    James says:

    Re “Assuming minimal population growth (to 9 billion people), slow economic growth (1.6 percent a year, practically recession level) and—this is key—unprecedented energy efficiency (improvements of 500 percent relative to current U.S. levels, worldwide), it will use 28 terawatts in 2050.”

    Well, there’s your problem. It’s not in supplying existing power demand, it’s setting up unsustainable future growth levels. The world can’t support 9 billion people, or a compounded economic growth that implies a parallel growth in energy consumption.

    The most obvious fallacy: if it’s impossible to build non-fossil fuel generation to meet this projected need, then how is it going to be possible to build the same amount of fossil fueled generation? Even ignoring questions of diminishing reserves of oil & coal, it takes roughly as much effort to build a GWatt of coal-fired generation as it does nuclear, solar, or wind. The task is of the same magnitude, whatever path is taken.

  43. 343
    Geoff Wexler says:

    [Trivial correction]

    Re: #215

    I have used the heat of fusion. You [Ray]insist on the mechanical equivelent of heat. What is the difference? There isn’t any.

    Answer: A factor of about 80.

    (Ray’s value of 334 joules/gm for latent heat of fusion of ice was correct.)

  44. 344
    John Mashey says:

    re: my suggestion in #192

    This thread is a good example of why I wished for some mechanism like that

    Does anyone want to propose:

    a) The fraction of posts that are clearly on the original topic.
    b) Those that might be.
    c) And those that would just get in the road of somebody who actually wanted to be a new climate blogger?

  45. 345
    truth says:

    Correction—I abjectly apologise to you all , and especially to Nate Lewis , whose quote I mangled by leaving out the word ‘one’.
    Is he wrong about the difficulty of all this though?
    If so, can you point out how the required energy will be provided more easily than he says?
    He was pointing out that focus on the near-term goals like cutting 20% of emissions by 2020, diverts too much attention from the research that’s required to bring about the massive breakthroughs that would be needed to meet the 2050 goals.
    Surely this is a debate that needs to be had, before economies and lives are damaged for no good result.

  46. 346

    david wrote in 339:

    Timothy, people developing new materials are always promoting themselves with talk of what might be possible using something related to their technology at some point in the future. Very few of these claims actually come off.

    We only need one.

    david wrote in 339:

    The current price of Solar panels is more like $4 per watt (give or take a factor of 2), or $400 for your square meter.

    So at current prices we are talking more like 200 billion every 2 months (i.e. about as much as the current amount spent globally on weapons…)

    That is current prices — times approximately a factor of two.

    Here is something different…

    Until energy from the sun can beat energy from coal at the marketplace, solar will remain a niche player, adorning the rooftops of those who care more for their green reputation than for their bottom lines. Enter Nanosolar, a San Jose-based start-up that manufactures thin-film solar panels. Unlike the bulky silicon panels that dominate the solar market, Nanosolar thin-film technology is light and extremely cheap to make. The key is the manufacturing process: while silicon panels need to be baked in batches, Nanosolar’s thin-film panels roll off the assembly line, as if from a printing press.

    Time’s Best Inventions of 2008
    25. Thin-Film Solar Panels
    http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1852747_1854195_1854153,00.html

    That is a little closer to market than nanoantenna sheets. Not waiting on nano-rectifiers.

    There will be breakthroughs. And the biggest technological break-throughs will come with solar.

  47. 347

    Here is someone who has reached market with solar at less than a dollar per watt:

    The company said that during the fourth quarter of last year, the manufacturing cost for its solar modules stood at 98 cents per watt, taking it below the $1 per watt mark for the first time.

    Mike Ahearn, chief executive at the company, hailed the achievement as a ” milestone in the solar industry’s evolution towards providing truly sustainable energy solutions”, adding that it provided evidence that solar manufacturers could prosper in the long term even as government subsidies are reduced.

    First Solar said it was confident that plans to more than double its production capacity through 2009 to more than one gigawatt would allow it to reduce costs further to a point where energy from solar panels can undercut that from natural gas and coal.

    First Solar reaches “dollar per watt milestone”
    Thin-film solar manufacturer claims to have produced modules at cost of 98 cents a watt
    BusinessGreen.com staff, BusinessGreen, 25 Feb 2009
    http://www.businessgreen.com/business-green/news/2237250/first-solar-reaches-dollar-per

  48. 348
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Less Trivial

    Re #143 and Kintisch (see #133)

    Should bloggers and educationists play down the most alarming but least certain?

    This seems to me to be one of the most important issues. Some people when told that they only have a short lease of life left go into psychological denial , others decide that they might as well throw every caution to the winds and have a good time. Too many warnings of the type that it is “may already be too late” can lead to heightened disbelief or inaction.

    There are also valid arguments on the opposite side. There is evidence that many people think that they can safely brush the AR4 under the carpet, they half believe it and half believe the deniers. They can point to the politicians who claim to accept its conclusions and feel reassured by this alone, and conclude that the problem will somehow be sorted. Perhaps a bit of shock therapy is necessary? I don’t include exaggeration or sloppy reporting.

    Then there is the technical question of dealing with low risk but high cost. The bankers chose the option of ignoring such risks altogether. But not the structural engineers. The designer of the tallest building described how he had to take into account risks of earthquakes which might occur once in 2,500 years. Is our experiment with fossil fuels designed with that degree of care? One final point, some of our buildings (in Europe) are many hundreds of years old , so is our culture. Five hundred or even a thousand years does not seem that long. Why do so many warnings stop in the year 2100 when we already know that the melting (for example) and the CO2 will continue for long after that date?

  49. 349
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Advice to new young bloggers

    Don’t bother to report on nano-heating that works off earthshine. Carnot would be turning in his grave.

  50. 350
    MJ says:

    Re #192 & 344

    John – the point you raise is one of interest to me. However, I think the good news for a new blogger is that this is generally not a problem in the beginning as it is unlikely that they will have many folks commenting on their posts. I have high hopes that someone out there right now is working on intelligent software to help solve this problem in that ‘on topic’ comments would be highlighted.

    I do think a new blogger should ponder what they might do should their blog be successful enough to get the level of comments for instance found here on RC. Policies up front will make it easier to manage should it become a problem.


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