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Olympian efforts to control pollution

Filed under: — gavin @ 14 March 2009

There is a new paper in Science this week on changes to atmospheric visibility. In clear sky conditions (no clouds), this is related mainly to the amount of aerosols (particulate matter) in the air (but is slightly dependent on the amount of water vapour as well, which is corrected for in this study). The authors report that the clear-sky visibility has decreased almost everywhere (particularly in Asia) from 1973 to 2007, with the exception of Europe where visibility has increased (consistent with the ‘brightening trend’ reported recently). Trends in North American stations seem relatively flat.

There is another story that didn’t get as much press when it came out late last year but that is highly relevant to this issue – whether any of the efforts that the Chinese authorities to reduce air pollution ahead of the Olympics last year had any impact. To the extent that they did, they might point the way to reducing aerosols and other pollutants across Asia, but it might also reveal how hard it is to do so.

The press release and abstract for the Science paper link their results to the ‘global dimming’ trends we have reported on in the past, but it’s worth perhaps pointing out that previous studies (and the term ‘global dimming” itself) have referred to all-sky conditions. So that includes changes in clouds – which are obviously a big factor in how much sunlight gets to the surface. Looking at the clear sky conditions (i.e. only when there are no clouds) can help attribute changes to aerosols or atmospheric dynamics say, but since aerosols affect clouds (the ‘indirect effect’) as well as circulation too, it is only a partial estimate of the true impact of aerosols.

But getting back to the Olympics…. Monitoring of pollutants near the surface has improved enormously in recent years with the various satellite instruments now in orbit (MOPITT, GOME, OMI and TES for instance (sounds like a comedy revue team, no?)). These instruments detect specific frequencies where pollutants are known to absorb and so can give a birds eye view of where the pollutants are and how they are changing. Among other things, the satellites can detect ozone, NOx, SO2, the total amount of aerosols and carbon monoxide. Each of these have different atmospheric lifetimes and so can be used either to detect point sources (from pollutants that only last a short time) or long range transports of pollution (from the longer lived pollutants). NO2 (a big component of NOx – which lumps together NO and NO2all of the reactive nitrogen oxides), is very short-lived and so tells you a lot about local sources. Carbon monoxide has a longer lifetime (a couple of months) and so can show the long-range impacts. Many of these pollutants have related industrial sources (car exhausts, coal burning, industrial production etc) and so can be used as proxies for many other pollutants (such as specific aerosols) which can’t (yet) be directly measured.

What do the results show? The team at GSFC have released preliminary images from the NO2 analysis showing the before and during the pollution controls. In both images, Beijing shows up as a huge hotspot of pollution, but relatively, the levels during the Olympics were significantly smaller:

August 2008 levels were therefore about 50% less than a similar period the year before. Meanwhile values at other hotspots in China were steady or got even worse. So there was a significant effect, but the scale of the task was indeed Olympian.

342 Responses to “Olympian efforts to control pollution”

  1. 151
    Patrick 027 says:

    OT, but I recently noticed that p. 768 of Chapter 10 in IPCC AR4 WGI states a negative cloud feedback in the model ensemble average, but Chapter 8 gives a positive value. I have heard elsewhere that the average is positive, so I assume that the Chapter 10 value is a typo (and the graph accompanying it on the same page is accidentally flipped). I do realize that it matters whether the cloud feedback is calculated before or after some other feedbacks (water vapor, lapse rate, surface albedo) – I had assumed that it is given after those unless stated otherwise but I haven’t read the whole of any of these chapters (far from it)…

  2. 152
    sidd says:

    I do apologize for this off topic comment, but I hope someone knowledgeable will reply:

    I just read the Pollard article in the latest issue of Nature, and I notice that in the methods section they have some difficulty adjusting basal sliding. In the body of the paper they mention that they allow basal sliding only where basal ice is at the melting point. Is this in the Pattyn model they use ? And if so, why is this justified ? Surely frozen ice can slide on rock ?

    They also derive an estimate for collapse of WAIS by dividing the ‘protected ice shelf melt rate,’ M_sub_p, of 1.9 m/yr by a modelled sensitivity from Beckman and Goose(Ocean Model v5, pp157-170, 2003) of 0.4 m/yr/C to obtain a required ocean temperature rise of 5C. I have been so far unable to obtain a copy of the Beckman reference. Would someone who has read it care to comment ?


  3. 153
    Hank Roberts says:

    Wait a minute, Chris.
    Did you watch any part of the Olympics?
    Read the topic here on olympic efforts at cleaning up the air?
    Ever hear of anything at all different about Chinese cities that’s reason not to generalize from limited information?
    Got a cite for your claim about what’s in the IPCC report?

    See if there’s a clue in here:

    Haunting Asia, a brown cloud blots out sun – International Herald …
    Nov 13, 2008 … The report identifies 13 cities as brown-cloud hotspots, among them Bangkok, … In some Chinese cities, the smog has reduced sunlight by as much as 20 … that can be traced to the emissions from coal-burning factories, …

  4. 154
    Chris says:

    Re 148 – Yes I am well aware of those other sources. However, GISS, HadCRUT, and all the other ‘global mean temperature’ sets are determined by the ground stations, which are subject to UHI. These are the temperature data used in arguments back and forth, for the most part. And of course some sites have always been in cities… but don’t make the mistake of forgetting that cities develop and grow. More buildings, more concrete, more asphalt etc. More UHI. And there are plenty of sites that were rural one hundred years ago, but aren’t any more.

    As an aside, glaciers receding is a silly thing to bring up because they’ve been doing that since the early 1800s.

    The point is that UHI was deemed insignificant (about .05 degrees of warming per century) but has now been shown to be about twenty times greater.

    [Response: No it hasn’t. You are confusing a global estimate with a local one. Even assuming that this was typical of all urbanised land areas (extremely unlikely), you’d only get a fraction of that. There is nothing ‘silly’ about glacier retreat, or Arctic sea ice decline, or increased surface melting on Greenland, or changes in phenology etc. etc. – gavin]

  5. 155
    Hank Roberts says:

    And, Chris, by cite, I don’t mean reference to the always busy websites you find when you paste your claim into Google.
    WTF, audit, septic, bingo.

  6. 156
    Hank Roberts says:

    Urban and rural temperature trends in proximity to large US cities: 1951-2000
    Brian Stone Jr *
    City and Regional Planning Program, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA

    urban heat island effect • climate change • urban planning • public health

    This paper presents a study of urban and rural temperature trends in proximity to the most populous metropolitan areas of the US. As data from urban meteorological stations are typically eliminated or adjusted for use in continental and global analyses of climate change, few studies have addressed how temperatures are changing in the areas most vulnerable to the public health impacts of warming: large cities. In this study, temperature data from urban and proximate rural stations for 50 large US metropolitan areas are analysed to establish the mean decadal rate of change in urban temperatures, rural temperatures, and heat island intensity over five decades. The results of this analysis find the mean decadal rate of change in the heat island intensity of large US cities between 1951 and 2000 to be 0.05 °C and further show a clear division in temperature trends between cities situated in the northeastern and southern regions of the country.
    Copyright © 2007 Royal Meteorological Society

    Digital Object Identifier (DOI)]10.1002/joc.1555

  7. 157
    ziff house says:

    Re 131, Patrick thank you for your post, answers a lot of questions that i couldn’t find myself googling.
    Question, if so little water vapor makes it to the stratosphere why is the stratosphere such a big factor in GW? I always thought of GW warming as mainly of the troposphere.

  8. 158
    Bill DeMott says:

    The article cited above (147) for falsifying the greenhouse effect cites the second law of thermodynamics as making the greenhouse effect impossible. This is strangely similar to the argument that the second law of thermodynamics falsifies evolution. In my opinion, this argument with respect to evolution might better be applied to the theory that life on earth is impossible because of the “second law of thermodynamics.” (Fortunately, no one has been arguing that a law of physics falsifies the existence of life). I agree with Gavin that almost anything can be published (in a peer-reviewed journal) somewhere, with enough persistence and by searching for a journal with low enough standards. I just hope that journalists do not give equal time and weight to such a publication in comparison to articles in Science, Nature and well-respected specialized journals. No doubt, if we every get a “falsification” of evolution published in an obscure scientific journal, certain blogs will be sure that such an article falsifies or at least balances 10s of thousands of studies that are supportive of evolution.

  9. 159
    Ike Solem says:

    Martin, you did say this, quote:

    “Have a look at the CO2 absorption spectrum: effectively you only have to look at the 15 µm = 666 cm^-1 band, which is very broad, and saturated in the middle, i.e., there you’re looking at the top of the atmosphere where temperature is around 220K (this is for the tropical atmosphere).”

    “What happens when you double CO2 is that the “flanks” of this inverted trapezoid move outward from the band centre. That’s what causes the CO2 part of the greenhouse effect.”

    Go and read the links posted above, because that is not what causes the “CO2 part of the greenhouse effect” – it’s a height-dependent effect, not based on the “inverted trapezoid”… That’s why the CO2 warming effect is greatest at mid-troposphere, where pressures are lower.

    Reducing aerosols is really a basic health issue – breathing 2X CO2 is not going to affect you personally, but breathing 2X particulate matter will, especially if loaded down with alkylated benzene derivatives, sulfate and nitrate particles, mercury, arsenic and all the other side products of dirty fossil fuel combustion.

    Biodiesel is a quick substitute that can be used in diesel engines, although availability is dependent on agriculture (algal biodiesel being the most promising alternative). Rather than being made up of thousands of different molecules, the residue of petroleum refining, biodiesel is simply fatty acids capped with methanol, with no sulfur or other contaminants.

    The engine experimental results showed that exhaust emissions including carbon monoxide (CO) particulate matter (PM) and smoke emissions were reduced for all biodiesel mixtures. However, a slight increase in oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emission was experienced for biodiesel mixtures.

    Nabi et al 2008, Biodiesel from cotton seed oil and its effect on engine performance and exhaust emissions, Applied Thermal Engineering, Nov 2008

  10. 160
    Mark says:

    “Question, if so little water vapor makes it to the stratosphere why is the stratosphere such a big factor in GW? I always thought of GW warming as mainly of the troposphere.”

    I don’t know exactly what you mean, but the stratosphere is important in disproving some alternative explanation of why temperatures are rising, not that they are an important effect in AGW.

    E.g. if it was solar input, then the entire atmosphere would heat up, including the stratosphere.

    From what I’ve understood.

  11. 161
    Hank Roberts says:

    Ziff, teh Google is teh friend of you:

    The first 2 results are from the RealClimate topic, already here, already written, that probably answers your question.

  12. 162
    snorbert zangox says:


    You may be correct, Gerlich and Tscheuschner may be wrong. I’ll be in a better position to judge after I have finished reading the article and have reviewed the links that you provided.

    I understand your reference to the obscure corner of the literature. However I also know that DeWitt was forced, by the dweebs who in compliance with Imhoff’s law rise to the top of scientific associations and journals by bent of their political acumen rather than their scientific talent and who never wish to rock the PC boat, to publish his re-test of quail egg thinning in an obscure corner of the literature. Such sources are not always without merit.

    [Response: Not always but mostly. And G&T is not being dismissed because it is obscure. I dismiss it because it’s nonsense (that is also obscure). – gavin]

    The web address to a PDF and free version of the article for anyone who is interested is

  13. 163
    Ian says:

    Anyone looking at the G&T article might want to read Arthur Smith’s detailed reply too: “Proof of the Atmospheric Greenhouse Effect,”

  14. 164
    wmanny says:

    re. 154r

    No [UHI] hasn’t [been shown to be about twenty times greater]. You are confusing a global estimate with a local one. Even assuming that this was typical of all urbanised land areas (extremely unlikely), you’d only get a fraction of that.

    Over at WUWT, the Jones et al paper is being characterized as a “small bombshell”, apparently due to the abstract’s conclusion:

    “Urban-related warming over China is shown to be about 0.1°C decade−1 over the period 1951–2004, with true climatic warming accounting for 0.81°C over this period.”

    Is this a semantics issue? (The previous sentence ends, “residual warming is…relatively small compared to the large-scale warming.”) Otherwise stated, is the paper corroborative or ground-breaking?

  15. 165
    David Donovan says:

    Snorbert wrote :

    “You may be correct, Gerlich and Tscheuschner may be wrong.”

    Gerlich and Tscheuschner are not only wrong they are epically wrong. Its so wrong, reading through it is like taking a long hot slow bus ride sitting next to a smelly unhinged talkative person who keeps offering you gum he has already been chewing while talking and inadvertently spitting in your face.

    It is so wrong the work could be considered high farce if the authors intended it to be so. If they indeed do take it seriously, then it is indeed a tragic state of affairs. G + T do have Phds. (I think) how someone with even a good Bsc. in Physics could come up with something like than and be serious about it is beyond me. It is to scientific papers what “Battlefield Earth” is to movies. I do not know much about G+T..I wonder if is there any chance the work is indeed a Hoax ?

  16. 166
    Crust says:

    Anyway, in his recent speech at the recent Heartland Institute denialist conference, Lindzen mostly makes what one might call political arguments, but he does make one argument that at least sounds substantive:

    We know that in the absence of feedbacks (in which water vapor and clouds allegedly act to amplify the effect of added CO2), an increase in temperature will lead to a certain increase in this heat radiation (also known as outgoing longwave radiation, OLR). With positive feedbacks, this amount of radiation will be reduced (in terms of the ‘blanket’ imagery, the blanket has gotten thicker). Current models do, indeed, predict this. We also know that the 1990s temperature was warmer than in the 1980s.

    During this period, satellites were measuring the emitted heat radiation. What at least four groups all confirmed was that emitted heat radiation during the ‘90s was not only much greater than what models predicted, but also greater than what would have been expected if there were no feedback at all.

    This implies that nature is, as any reasonable person might suppose, dominated by stabilizing negative feedbacks rather than destabilizing positive feedbacks.

    What’s really going on here? Forgive if this argument has already been dealt with at RC (I didn’t find it in a quick search of the site, but I may well have missed it).

  17. 167
    Aaron Lewis says:

    What is the over all opinion on :

    (Climate Literacy: “The Essential Principles of Climate Sciences” A Guide for Individuals and Communities)?

    It seems to have been signed off on by most US Government Agencies.

    My take is that it is generally good, but weak on the risk and impacts, and the potential for impacts to occur faster than currently expected.

    I would have hoped that at least one of the agencies would have taken a planning and engineering risk management perspective.

  18. 168
    ziff house says:

    As a lay[non math]person , the details don’t interest me that much, as long as the basic premise [CO2 traps heat and is increasing] remains sound. The various circuation coolings and heat sinks don’t matter much long term as the pot warms.

  19. 169
    Ike Solem says:

    Hank Roberts – for some odd news comparisons, try this:

    The byproduct of automobiles, slash-and-burn agriculture, wood-burning kitchen stoves and coal-fired power plants, these plumes of carbon dust rise over southern Africa, the Amazon basin and North America but are most pronounced in Asia, where so-called atmospheric brown clouds are dramatically reducing sunlight in many Chinese cities and leading to decreased crop yields in swaths of rural India, says a team of more than a dozen scientists who have been studying the problem since 2002.


    “Study pinpoints the main source of Asia’s brown air pollution cloud…Orjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University and colleagues have now removed the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the brown cloud. Burning of biomass, they report in Science, is the greater culprit.”

    That’s an odd spin, as it has been picked up by other reporters who now claim that the ABC is due mostly to biomass burning by poor people… even though the study in question more or less confirmed previous estimates of a 50-50 split between biomass and fossil fuel particulate matter over the Indian Ocean – based on only two data collection sites. It was a useful study that used a new technique to get at the question – but the reporting was highly distorting, and was continued at the NYT:

    The smoke is rising mainly from cooking fires fueled with firewood or dried dung. The indoor pollution from such fires annually kills more than 1.5 million people worldwide, mainly women and children, according to United Nations estimates.

    Although one article attempts to lay the blame at the feet of Indian villagers, both articles ignore a major source of particularly nasty particulate pollution, which is that put out by ships. Increased global trade is thus a major factor in increased regional air pollution, a politically touchy topic in the era of globalization – i.e., who is responsible – Persian Gulf oil producers and shippers, Chinese and Indian manufacturers, or their customers in Europe, Japan, the U.S., etc.?

    The aerosols do act as something like an urban heat island effect, in that they add to the effects of rising global CO2. This is true for the clouds of aerosols that hover over Southeast Asia:

    ‘Brown Cloud’ speeding up melt of Himalaya glaciers, 2007

    PARIS: The haze of pollution that blankets southern Asia is accelerating the loss of Himalayan glaciers, bequeathing an incalculable bill to China, India and other countries whose rivers flow from this source, scientists warned on Wednesday.

    In a study released by the British journal Nature, the investigators say the so-called Asian Brown Cloud is as much to blame as greenhouse gases for the warming observed in the Himalayas over the past half century. Rapid melting among the 46,000 glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau, the third-largest ice mass on the planet, is already causing downstream flooding late summer. But long-term worries focus more on the danger of drought, as the glaciers shrink.

    It should be clear that reducing aerosol pollution over China and India would have huge benefits for both climate and respiratory health, but the question is how to go about it. If we believe that biomass burning by poor people is the problem, then we should build them coal-fired power plants to replace their dung fires, right?

    However, dung is carbon neutral – grass fixes atmospheric carbon, the cow eats grass, some fraction of undigested cellulose passes through, dries out in the sun – and there is your fuel, rather dirty though. A better choice for the rural agriculturalist is chicken manure methane – farmers in China have discovered that buried pits of chicken manure generate methane and heat – attach a tube with a valve to the buried pit, and you have a clean-burning carbon-neutral fuel source, enough to cook with and heat a small residence.

    Thus, if we really want to reduce aerosol pollution in brown clouds, you need a multi-level approach that eliminates the use of coal, diesel and bunker fuel in favor of wind, solar, nuclear or natural gas – that would be the advanced industrialist’s approach – and at the other end of the spectrum, you need to replace open dung fires with efficient forced-air dung furnances, or, even better, locally produced biodiesel and biomethane.

  20. 170

    Ike, a very sensible discussion. I think we do need solutions at various levels of technological sophistication, and the poor of the world mustn’t be scapegoats for a problem that they have done least to create.

    (I’ll also say that first sentence you quote is a doozy, though. It took me about three readings to connect all those well-dispersed parts of speech.)

  21. 171
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Crust, FWIW, it sounds to me as if Lindzen is trying to resurrect his beloved Iris. That’s fine if you don’t mind ignoring the paleoclimate data, which shows significant excursions both above and below the current temparature range. And even if Lindzen were correct and the climate were meta-stable, one has to wonder how much it could be perturbed before entering a new regime.
    As to his argument that more radiation is escaping than expected, I think that is a wilde overestimate of the data quality. We don’t have near enough coverage to really determine radiative balance. Moreover, if Lindzen really wanted to know, I’d think he’d be crying out for DISCOVR to be launched with its Earth-observing instruments. Haven’t heard a word from him. So it sounds like typical Lindzen–truth be damned if it at least sounds reasonable.

  22. 172
    Maya says:

    David (165) – hahahaha, I loved that description. It’s the way I feel reading a few of the denialist arguments – they make so little sense to me that I don’t even know how to respond because I can’t figure out what their point is supposed to be. (And before anyone jumps on me for exaggerating, note that I said “a few” – as in, not all, only some.)

  23. 173
    David B. Benson says:

    sidd (152) — Cold ice sticks to the basal rock, which is rough. Just above there the ice can deform so there is a flow, the more the higher and further from edges.

    That’s my amateur take on it.

  24. 174
    Michael says:

    Kevin McKinney, I would tweek your statement slightly: …the poor of the world mustn’t PAY for a problem that they have done least to create. If coal is the cheapest and most readily form of energy for these people, we have no right to pressure them with restrictions. History will not look kindly on the haves of the world putting downward pressure on the have-nots, not matter how dire the emergency.

  25. 175
    Crust says:

    Ray Ladbury, thanks for the reply. So the basic point is the data quality on OLR is too poor to draw a conclusion. (BTW, sorry for the poor editing in my original comment.)

  26. 176
    SecularAnimist says:

    Michael wrote: “… the poor of the world mustn’t PAY for a problem that they have done least to create. If coal is the cheapest and most readily [available] form of energy for these people, we have no right to pressure them with restrictions.”

    No, we in the developed world have an obligation to provide technological and financial assistance to developing countries so that they can build healthy, sustainable economies based on clean, renewable energy, rather than following the dead-end road of fossil fuels which will lead inevitably to their ruin, and to famine, dislocation and death for hundreds of millions of their people.

    Your comment ignores the fact that the most catastrophic effects of unmitigated anthropogenic global warming are projected to fall hardest on the developing world, which will be least able to “adapt” to them.

    You seem to suggest that since the developed nations are historically responsible for the overwhelming majority of the accumulated anthropogenic excess of CO2, that nature will somehow allow developing nations to burn vast amounts of coal and release vast amounts of additional CO2 with impunity. Unfortunately, the physics of greenhouse gases have no sense of “justice”.

    Your comment also ignores that fact that many people — including government and corporate policy makers — in developing nations are well aware of the disastrous consequences that will inevitably follow from increasing the use of coal, and are working hard within their own societies to put their nations on a different path — the path of clean, sustainable renewable energy. China is already becoming a world leader in both wind and solar energy, and a major exporter of wind turbines and photovoltaics. Indeed China is projected to become the world’s top exporter of wind turbines this year.

    That’s the direction that needs to be encouraged and supported with funding and technology transfer from the developed world.

  27. 177
    sidd says:

    Re: the Pollard paper:

    Thank you Mr. Benson. I am yet unclear on the boundary conditions at the ice bottom interface. Reading the paper and the supplementary material indicates that they have to tune the basal sliding coefficient.

    In the dotearth blog: Bindschadler points out that the ice model is a longterm model and cannot capture short term dynamics, so 0.5m/century is a lower bound for the WAIS contribution to seal level rise.

    This is as I suspected, the timesteps are large for a 5 million year run.

  28. 178

    the G&T article may be both obscure and nonsense. But it LOOKS authoritative, and I, for one, would like to see at least two or three points of refutation.


  29. 179
    Bill DeMott says:

    165, 172–on reading the G&T paper, I kept asking myself, are these guys really serious? So maybe it is a hoax. Scientific papers are generally succinct and focused. Don’t anyone use the G&T paper as a model for writing

  30. 180
    dhogaza says:

    If coal is the cheapest and most readily form of energy for these people, we have no right to pressure them with restrictions. History will not look kindly on the haves of the world putting downward pressure on the have-nots, not matter how dire the emergency.

    Really? Even if failure to act burdens the have-nots far more than taking action would?

    Inherent in arguments like this is that either 1) warming isn’t harmful or 2) it won’t harm developing countries, neither assumption being warranted.

  31. 181
    Hank Roberts says:

    > the basic point is the data quality on OLR is

    a collection from many different satellites, over different years, in different orbits, with different instruments, that has to be put together.

    Why don’t we have better information? Because you have to get far enough away from your subject to capture the whole thing in the window, and put the instrument in a stable position, to accumulate a long time series.

    Why don’t we have eight years of data from that instrument? Ask Robert Park:

  32. 182
    Hank Roberts says:

    Here, let’s reprint the relevant part of that, with deserved hat tip to Robert Park.

    > the most fundamental question of climate science:
    > what is the energy balance between solar radiation
    > falling on Earth and reflected or reradiated energy?

    And why don’t we have eight years of data collected?

    You still need to click some links within this:

    WHAT’S NEW Robert L. Park Friday, 5 Dec 08 Washington, DC

    1. TRIANA: WHY DOES THIS ADMINISTRATION HATE IT SO MUCH? Could it be because Al Gore’s initials areon it? They changed the name, but the initials wouldn’t rub off. Three years ago while Congress was out of town for the Christmas break, I heard NASA was quietly terminating Triana, a.k.a. DSCOVR

    How could this happen? The $100 million observatory was already built. It was meant to answer the most fundamental question of climate science: what is the energy balance between solar radiation falling on Earth and reflected or reradiated energy? Global warming deniers all claim solar variation is the major factor in global climate change. Is it? Well, Triana is the only experiment that can unequivocally answer that question. But I couldn’t find a single global warming denier who wanted it tested. So I wrote an op-ed for the NY Times; but maybe nobody read it,

    It’s still timely; the NY Times should feel free to reprint it without change.

    2. DSCOVR: A DICK CHENEY SHOTGUN BLAST BLINDS THE WORLD. The Nov 19, 2008 online Nature news, reported that the NASA reauthorization bill ordered the agency to come up with a plan for DSCOVR. The article quoted Francisco Valero of Scripps, the mission’s principle investigator, who estimated that it would take $117 million to refurbish and launch DSCOVR. The Air Force offered to launch it, but incredibly, only if all Earth observation equipment is removed. This led me to wonder if there could be a national security reason. No, Dick Cheney just doesn’t want to hear about global warming. DeSmogBlog, the best of the environmental blogs, quotes an unnamed source within NASA who spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying Cheney was the hatchet man, intent from the beginning on killing DSCOVR, and keeping Bush’s fingerprints off the axe. And why did I have to learn about this from a UK science magazine and a Canadian blog? The only major U.S. paper that mentioned it was the Houston Chronicle.
    Excerpt above from:
    Robert L. Park Friday, 5 Dec 08 Washington, DC

    Main page:

  33. 183
    MC says:

    To comment on the actually post by Gavin:

    It’s very interesting that the pollution seemed to be redistributed rather than reduced overall. I could be wrong on this. If so ,it’s almost like the Chinese government inadvertently performed an experiment in sociology to see would every day habits change or would they just adapt. It looks like people dealt with the hassle of not drving in Beijing by going somewhere else.

    [Response: I doubt that pollution sources in China are that mobile. More likely there was simply an overall increase in pollution as economic activity increased, and only in Beijing did the authorities really make much effort to reduce it. – gavin]

  34. 184
    Hank Roberts says:

    Argh, the first link isn’t working now. It’s his January 6, 2006, column. Here’s the relevant paragraph:

    Friday, January 6, 2006
    Triana was never able to overcome its roots. NASA has quietly terminated what may have been its most important science mission. Critics of programs to limit emissions argue that climate change is caused by solar variation, not by atmospheric changes. There is one unambiguous way to tell: locate an observatory at L-1, the neutral-gravity point between Earth and Sun. It would have a continuous view of the sunlit face of Earth in one direction, and the Sun in the other, thus constantly monitoring Earth’s albedo. Al Gore initiated the observatory project in 1998 to inspire school children with a continuous view of climate unfolding on our fragile planet. It was even given a poetic name, Triana, the sailor on the Santa Maria who was first to sight the New World (WN 24 Jul 98) . But Triana’s importance to climate research, perhaps Earths biggest challenge, was not recognized until later. With urging from the National Academy, it was finished in 2001 and given a new name. It was still waiting to be launched when Columbia crashed. By then we had a new President and a new “vision.” It was put on hold. The official reason for killing it is “competing priorities.” The priority is to replace Gore’s vision of the world with the Bush vision of sending people back to the moon. We should all weep.

  35. 185
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Michael says “If coal is the cheapest and most readily form of energy for these people, we have no right to pressure them with restrictions. History will not look kindly on the haves of the world putting downward pressure on the have-nots, not matter how dire the emergency.”

    Uh, Dude, why are we forcing them to make do with a dirty and very finite source of energy while we are moving to cleaner and more sustainable forms? By all means we must find ways to meet the needs of developing nations, but that is in our interest as well as being a moral imperative. If we don’t find a way to do this with clean, renewable, carbon-free energy in a generation or two, there probably won’t be any more generations capable of doing so.

  36. 186
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 157 – some basic features of the climate system would be qualitatively similar without any of the atmosphere above the tropopause – that is, if the troposphere extended upward to infinitesimal pressures. The greenhouse effect would still work. But the stratosphere does modify the radiant energy budget of the troposphere a bit and also has roles in the fluid mechanical aspects of the system

    The stratosphere absorbs about 3 % of incident solar radiation, whereas the troposphere absorbs about 17 % and the surface about 50 % (mesosphere and thermospheric absorption is much smaller in comparison); a majority of the radiation emitted to space is from the troposphere; some comes from the surface (mostly in the wavelength interval of 8 to 12 microns) and some comes from the stratosphere. The radiative cooling to space and the radiant heating by the sun are displaced from each other; this is balanced by 1. LW radiation from the surface to the troposphere and from the surface and troposphere to the stratosphere (thus, net LW cooling is not equal to LW cooling to space) and from warmer to cooler levels in the atmosphere in general, and 2. within the troposphere and between it and the surface, by convection … and considering horizontal variations and temporal fluctuations and cycles: 3. horizontal advection and storage of heat in the ocean, troposphere, and stratosphere.

    The net stratospheric radiative heating and cooling are dominated by ozone (solar heating) and CO2 (LW cooling); H2O vapor dominates solar heating within the troposphere (with clouds being the next biggest contributer), while H2O vapor, clouds, and CO2 dominate net LW cooling in the troposphere.

    continued and Re 159 – clarification:

    CO2 contributes significant optical thickness to the atmosphere between about 12 and 18 microns, with an overall trend across multiple lines of an increasing effect towards about the center of that range (15 microns).

    Radiative forcing at a given level is (where applicable) the reduction in net upward LW (longwave, emitted by earth and atmosphere in significant amounts) radiation plus (where applicable) the increase in absorbed SW (shortwave, solar energy) radiation below that level (greenhouse gases also often have some SW absorption that modify the total effect), for a given climatic state – an imposed radiative forcing causes imbalances (relative to an equilibrium climate) that cause net heating and/or cooling; equilibrium is attained when feebacks: temperature changes combined with changes in optical properties (radiative feedbacks – water vapor, clouds, snow and ice) in response to the forcing combine to counteract the imposed imbalance – an imposed reduction in net upward LW radiation at the tropopause causes warming of the troposphere and surface, thus —(combined with stratospheric changes, other feedbacks (positive feedbacks require greater temperature changes to attain balance)) — increasing the net upward LW+SW radiation at the tropopause to balance the imposed change.

    Tropopause level radiative forcing is often given after stratospheric equilibration in response to radiative forcing of the the stratosphere that occurs in the absence of the tropospheric and surface responses.

    For example, the radiative forcing at the top of the atmosphere by an increase in solar brightness generally involves (at least for changes shorter than many millions of years, so far as I know) an increase in UV radiation, which heats the stratosphere; the initial radiative forcing at tropopause level is less than at the top of the atmosphere, by the amount absorbed in the stratosphere. However, after stratospheric equilibration, the stratosphere will be warmer and will emit more LW radiation downward, thus partially transfering the stratospheric forcing to the tropopause level. However the radiative forcing is distributed within the troposphere-surface system, convection couples the vertical levels so that they tend to warm together; the response is generally to warm the troposphere and surface (convection will slow down or speed up in response to slight changes in lapse rate caused by variations in radiative energy fluxes) (with some regional, diurnal cycle, seasonal, and phase of internal variability, etc, variations on amount and vertical distribution, as convection is not evenly distributed everywhere, the moist adiabatic lapse rate changes with temperature, radiative feedbacks are not evenly distributed, changes in evaporation rates affect surface temperature relative to air temperature above some level, all of this as well as precipitation will affect ocean currents and atmospheric winds and modes of internal variability, which feeds back into regional variations, etc…). The warming of the troposphere increases upward LW radiation at the tropopause (although this and other things will be affected by changes in the tropopause height), some of that is absorbed in the stratosphere, thus warming the stratosphere; some portion of which causes an additional downward LW radiative flux at the tropopause, etc, enhancing the warming of both a bit more.

    In the case of addition of a greenhouse gas, generally, this concentrates direct cooling to space toward higher levels and reduces it at the surface and, depending on the initial opacity and the shape of the spectrum, potentially at lower levels in the air. Because the temperature (with some regional and seasonal variations) generally decreases with height (tending toward a moist adiabatic lapse rate sustained by moist convection) within the troposphere, the result reduces upward LW radiation at the tropopause, as cooler air more effectively ‘hides’ the warmer surface and air below it. Because of the upward concentration of emission to space, upper levels will generally recieve less LW radiation from below, and with thin layers emitting more effectively in both directions, the stratosphere and layers above tend to cool (the top-of-atmosphere radiative forcing is less than the tropopause level radiative forcing).

    An increase in SW absorption by greenhouse agents can increase heating in the troposphere and stratosphere (depending on distribution) – by intercepting some of the radiation that would otherwise have been reflected to space, this can also result in overall top-of-atmosphere positive radiative forcing (warming) – but if the absorption within the stratosphere is greater, it will cause a negative SW forcing at the tropopause level – even if the tropopause level SW forcing is positive, while this by itself tends to warm the troposphere and surface, the surface SW radiative forcing would be negative (because of stratospheric and tropospheric SW absorption), thus tending to reduce convection (although this might not be the case after all feedbacks have occured – when this occurs regionally (brown clouds), there is not a perfect regional equilibration due to horizontal heat transport, so the slowdown in vertical convection may be a more obvious result (?) ).

    Anyway, the LW effects of greenhouse gases generally dominate over their shortwave effects (not so for clouds as they are, although this may not be so for changes in clouds in response to global warming) (stratospheric and tropospheric ozone can be treated seperately as ozone is chemically reactive, not well-mixed, and occurs for different reasons at different levels – tropospheric ozone causes a net positive (warming) radiative forcing at the tropopause and can be harmful to life; stratospheric ozone warms the stratosphere, cools the troposphere by SW effects but also has some LW warming effect, and is benificial in general to life on land and in the upper ocean). Increasing CO2 causes a net cooling of the stratosphere. Thus, with stratospheric equilibration, the tropopause level forcing will be somewhat reduced (from memory, maybe 13% – PS the tropopause level roughly 3.7 W/m2 forcing per doubling of CO2 figure is for equilibrated stratosphere and so far as I know, includes the SW effects). After stratospheric equilibration, however, the tropospheric and surface warming will have some warming effect on the stratosphere, as for solar forcing – the net effect is generally still to have a cooler stratosphere, but this illustrates how tropospheric and surface responses can be more similar to different forcings when the forcings are in terms of tropopause-level forcing with an equilibrated stratosphere (there will still be some differences – the regional variation in tropopause level forcing is a little different between CO2 and solar forcings (although regional variations in tropospheric and surface feedbacks, and similarities in other feedbacks, are similar and more important, I think) – volcanic forcings and tropospheric aerosols will have some different effects; black carbon at high latitudes can have a greater overall warming effect because it’s radiative heating is concentrated near a significant positive feedback – Regional and seasonal variations of Milakovitch forcings are the most important part of the Milankovitch forcing – ice sheet decay (that causes a global average warming) could be encouraged by conditions with a direct global average cooling effect (redirecting more solar energy on an ice sheet could initially result in some slight cooling by increasing the global average albedo, even though it may eventually melt the ice sheet). In summary, variations in the vertical, temporal, and spatial distribution of a radiative forcing can result in different global time average temperature changes in response to the same global time average equilibrated-stratosphere tropopause-level radiative forcing, and also the shape of the responses (changes in vertical convection, evaporation, precipitation, winds, regional effects, seasonal effects, diurnal cycles, modes of internal variability) may be different, even for the same global average surface temperature change. Similarities in feedbacks may reduce the differences between responses in proportion to the total magnitude of responses if the variations of the shapes of the feedbacks in space and time, etc, are large enough and can overcome the the variations of the forcings, as could be expected for feedbacks that occur with some shape in response to global average changes… See also ‘efficacy of radiative forcing’.

    As opacity increases, eventually it becomes saturated with respect to tropopause level forcing – the source of emission of LW radiation reaching the tropopause from below is concentrated more and more toward the tropopause, and thus occurs across a smaller temperature variation, and the radiative forcing can only occur when there is temperature variation across a shift in source of radiation. Likewise for downward radiation from above (increasing opacity from zero, at first, downward LW radiation increases as the stratosphere blocks the cold of space, but then it will tend to decrease (global average conditions) as the cooler lower stratosphere blocks the warmer upper stratosphere). Of course, climatic responses involve changes in tropopause height… Anyway, with respect to the tropopause-level radiative forcing, CO2 is saturated in the central portion of it’s band – I think between about 14 and 16 microns. Additional tropopause-level forcing from increasing CO2 comes from LW forcing outside this interval. The shape of the spectrum and the saturation at the center of the band results in a roughly logarithmic proportionality of radiative forcing to concentration – each doubling (within some range) of CO2 contributes about the same radiative forcing, by widenning the wavelength interval that surpasses some level of opacity. In the process, the wavelength interval of intermediate optical thickness for any sufficiently thick layer of air remains about the same; air-to-air net radiative transfer requires enough opacity for significant emission and absorption but enough transparency for significant transmission across a distance with significant temperature variation, so with such a spectrum, with saturation at the center of the band, setting aside variation in blackbody radiation over wavelengths (the effect will be small for slight shifts in the wavelength intervals of intermediate optical thickness), changing CO2 level will tend to affect mainly radiative transfers involving the surface and space, either between them or between one of them and the air, and not so much direct air-to-air transfers – when CO2 does not overlap any other absorption spectrums. CO2 can still affect air-to-air transfer when their are clouds and/or significant humidity – for example, by blocking radiative energy transfer from lower-level humidity and from lower-level clouds to the stratosphere. (For sufficiently thin layers of air, CO2 would not be saturated over the center of its band, and so air-to-air tranfers could be reduced more where there is a sharper temperature change over vertical distance.)

    The wavelength interval where CO2 is saturated relative to the tropopause results in an interval over which, from space, the brightness temperature does not vary much (except for the narrow spike in the middle where more or most emission is from the stratosphere) – hence the ‘upside down trapezoid’ description by Martin.

  37. 187
    Patrick 027 says:

    Regarding 174, Re (all Re 174) “the poor of the world mustn’t PAY for a problem that they have done least to create. If coal is the cheapest and most readily form of energy for these people, we have no right to pressure them with restrictions. History will not look kindly on the haves of the world putting downward pressure on the have-nots, not matter how dire the emergency.”

    I have heard that solar is actually already competitive with fossil fuels in areas without an electric grid … But anyway, it may not have been Michael’s intent to suggest that the poor SHOULD take the same well-worn path of the richer nations – it’s possible he made that statement regarding the wealthy’s rights or lack thereof to restrict or dictate to the developing world, just a brief point, fully aware of the other points others have brought up, in fact expecting that most would be aware of such things.

    To put it another way – we do have a right to pull (with incentives – ie funding for climate change adaptation costs, family planning, etc.) developing nations into properly-structured international agreements (carbon-equivalent taxes, trade agreements to correct for international variations in internal emissions taxes, to fund mitigation and adaptation, etc) provided that we, the wealthy nations, offer something in return (said funding above, for example). We don’t (yet) have the moral high ground to just say do as I didn’t do, even if it makes sense for them to do it. And whatever is or is not fair, it won’t happen if it is not presented in a manner that is acceptable.

  38. 188
    Patrick 027 says:

    … Interestingly, solar forcing, which generally warms both the stratosphere and surface+troposphere, greenhouse forcing, which generally warms the surface+troposphere and cools the stratosphere, and volcanic aerosols, which generally cools the surface+troposphere and warms the stratosphere (aerosols absorb some solar radiation), all cause an increase in the horizontal north-south temperature gradient in a part of the stratosphere in high latitudes, as especially does stratospheric ozone depletion (See graphs on p. 679 of chapter 9 of IPCC AR4 WGI – zonal averaged temperature over latitude and height). So do all of these contribute (to varying degrees, depending also on hemisphere) to variations in NAM and SAM, in proportion to the north-south temperature gradient change in that part of the stratosphere. I’ve read that it seems volcanic cooling and greenhouse warming as well as the ozone hole do seem to contribute to positive trends in NAM and SAM (ozone hole in SAM specifically) – what about solar forcing? If it is proportional to the temperature gradient change, than presumably anthropogenic greenhouse gas forcing will eventually dominate in the NAM, SAM trends if it does not already (especially or at least if the ozone hole heals over time)… (??)

  39. 189
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 165 – “Gerlich and Tscheuschner” I concur. My take on it:
    Jul 7, 2008 2:30:19 PM
    Jul 7, 2008 10:39:45 PM – Jul 8, 2008 12:36:35 AM

  40. 190
    Jerry Toman says:

    Michael: the operative terms here are “cheapest” and “most readily (available)” forms of energy for these people…

    We need to quickly demonstrate to “these people” that Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE) can be harvested much more cheaply than the energy in coal can be (without emitting carbon) and for most people is much more readily available than is coal. In fact, 6000 times more CAPE is dissipated in the atmosphere each day than the energy man produces using fossil fuels.

    At times of the year or day when CAPE, is not abundant, “waste heat” from industry, cities, power plants (even those based on renewables, eg geothermal) or warmed bodies of water can be processed in the same Atmospheric Vortex Engine and converted to electricity with an efficiency near 15%.


  41. 191
    Mark says:

    re: 190.

    Actually the cheapest and most readily available form of energy is not to use the energy in the first place.

    And in case you harp up with “but that would keep them poor!” intensive farming with chemicals increases yeilds, but the yields go down and you need more and more chemical help for your yields. Chemicals that cost money you could have spent elsewhere.

    A test was done (forget where, some developing nation, maybe a region of India) where old-style farming without chemicals was undertaken. Yields went *up* slightly from before and money didn’t have to be spent on Monsato products.

    Similarly for energy, not having to use energy is cheaper and doesn’t mean you can’t do all you wish. It merely means you can’t throw energy at the problem, you have to THINK first.

  42. 192
    Ike Solem says:

    Thanks for the Robert Park quotes, Hank, that explains a lot about Triana. If you ever pick up Jeremey Leggett’s “Carbon Wars” you’ll see that the same dynamic existed ever since the late 1970s – mostly based around economic fundamentals related to fossil fuels and geopolitical strategies that centered on control of global fossil fuel reserves – all during the Cold War, with nuclear issues always on the front burner. Nuclear issues are still on the front burner, and Middle East oil is still a matter of global geopolitical tension.

    It’s not just Triana – the National Biological Survey, the underfunded equivalent of the US Geological Survey, was also shut down – and there was the case of the employee of the Interior who was fired after putting a map of caribou breeding grounds up on an Interior website. Cheney’s attitude is thus that absence of evidence can serve as evidence of absence, at least in public relations terms, which makes sense for the CEO of Halliburton, whose first responsibility is to maintain profit margins for shareholders. Some of those shareholders are direct recipients of billions in taxpayer bailout money, as well.

    For anyone who has been paying attention to trends in academia, this is no surprise – as corporations extend their relationships with university administrators, various types of research fall out of favor – “disruptive” is the term. If your institution is deeply involved in public-private partnerships with Exxon, BP, General Electric and Dow Chemical, then they might not be thrilled to find that your school has the best organochlorine analysis lab in the region, and generates a steady flow of papers on organochlorine contents in seals, whales, shellfish, sediments, the water column, the atmosphere – especially when General Electric was among the largest producers of PCBs. Rather than questioning the research, they’d rather just see it not done.

    This has practical consequences; when the massive bunker fuel spill happened in San Francisco Bay, there was no one around to collect samples and figure out exactly what was in that fuel.

    In response to this new political reality, savy environmental scientists over the past decade have switched to purely natural lines of research – studying viruses in seals is fine, but studying polychlorinated biphenyl concentrations in seals will cost you your position. This is something of a side effect of the rise of patent-related research at public universities under the guise of private-public partnerships with pharmaceutical and biomedical concerns, which has lead to a steady shift towards “trade secret mentality” and away from open and transparent research. In particular, schools that receive large incomes from the licensing of patented products tend to develop administrations bent on protecting the income from those sources. Thus, if they are looking into a $5 billion public-private partnership with Dow Chemical and General Electric and a whole host of biotech firms, they might not be too supportive of organochlorine research – and they aren’t.

    The same goes for solar development research, but there you really have to blame Congress and the President, who together write the budget. If they wanted to, they could easily move $10 billion a year to renewable energy – they could have started in 1977, and we would have no need for fossil fuels by now. That was done in the 1950s with the Atomic Energy Commission (not the Manhattan Project), which built the national complex of nuclear facilities – dozens – in a few years – which resulted in the rapid construction of nuclear reactors and thousands of nuclear weapons, all within several decades. We don’t need a Manhattan Project for solar – that’s been done – we need a Renewable Energy Commission with the same level of clout that the AEC had. Can you hear the howls of outrage from the fossil fuel/finance sector?

    That also explains why solar and wind development can’t come up with the necessary billions needed for building infrastructure and manufacturing capacity – if you are selling solar panels and wind turbines, you are not selling fuel as well – but if you sell SUVs and gas turbines, you are also creating lifetime consumers for fossil fuels. The fundamental role that fossil fuels play as the leading commodity on economic markets is the factor that ties energy to finance, and the fact that the economy is still dependent on fossil fuels. Thus, if we give billions to Morgan Stanley, a big Halliburton investor, should we be surprised when they invest it in fossil fuel development, and not solar and wind development? Of course we should expect that – and if we budget $10 billion for renewables over 10 years while dumping hundreds of billions into AIG, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs – well, should we be surprised if Citigroup then invests $8 billion of that in Dubai (yes, fossil fuels) and not in Oklahoma wind farms? Likewise, Shell just dropped all their wind and solar investments, claiming they were un-economical.

    For Shell, they are, since with wind and solar, the fuel is free, and that would eventually undercut Shell’s business: selling fuel. This is particularly true for a cartel-based economic system that relies on fuel sales for liquidity – this also goes for the electricity supply. What you see right now is political pressure to increase electricity rates and fuel prices, and what effect would a large-scale renewable development program have on the price of fossil fuels? Do consumers prefer clean, zero-emission energy or do they prefer coal emissions?

    The fundamental problem, in many cases, appears to be an unwillingness to concede that there is no “free market” in energy, but that in fact the energy business is a cartel business, meaning that the so-called “free market model of the Western economic system” is largely a sham – and that’s hard for people to accept. It’s easier to believe that “solar costs too much”, especially if that’s the only message you hear.

    gavin’s comment gets to the heart of the matter:

    I doubt that pollution sources in China are that mobile. More likely there was simply an overall increase in pollution as economic activity increased, and only in Beijing did the authorities really make much effort to reduce it.

    If we can’t decouple increases in economic activity from increases in emissions and pollution, we have no hope. Of course, we can, but even the political supporters of “taking action on climate change” or of “rolling back global warming” can’t seem to bear to point to the real solutions, such as solar breeder systems…

    Solar breeder: a polysilicon producing and photovoltaic manufacturing facility that draws all power for operations from a solar PV array or from a concentrating solar power system, or from a solar thermal system.

    With such a system, economic activity is decoupled from the need for fossil fuels. Try getting the World Bank to finance one in Africa – they’ll put up $4 billion for a Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline, but not for that.

  43. 193

    Snorbert writes:

    You may be correct, Gerlich and Tscheuschner may be wrong.

    They are definitely wrong. Their analysis violates several laws of physics. It’s garbage from end to end. For a quick precis as to why, try the discussion here, which goes into it at length:

  44. 194
    David Donovan says:

    Re 178 Burgy.

    “The G&T article may be both obscure and nonsense. But it LOOKS authoritative, and I, for one, would like to see at least two or three points of refutation.”

    Use the sidebar to check out the current open tread on “Open Mind” and follow some of the links in the comments.

    Even if you do not want to wade through G+T and the associated voluminous rebuttals on the web, why not cut to the chase ? The ultimate test of any theory is if it is consistent with relevant measurements.

    Focusing on one of G+T’s main points (That the absorption of radiant energy emitted by the (colder)atmosphere by the surface violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics and thus can not occur) consider this…

    Given the surface temperature together with the atmospheric temperature and pressure profiles and the profiles of the main GHGs (H2O, O3, CO2), one can compute the long-wave spectrum that one would expect to be observed by a satellite looking down at the Earth. Similarly one can do the same for for a ground-based spectrometer looking up. If one preforms these calculations (using a computer and a data-base of spectroscopic properties for the gases) making “standard assumptions” (ie. Kirckhof’s Law, Plank’s Law etc..) one finds that one can simulate real observations to a pretty good degree of accuracy. IR spectral measurements have been, and are being made by various satellites (from Nimubus-4 in the 70’s to the AIRS instrument today etc..) and at various ground-based sites.

    Now if IR radiative transfer worked like G+T suppose there is no way one could simulate real observations ! You would not be anywhere close ! In fact, many upward looking IR device would see absolutely nothing ! Since for these devices the detector temperature is often held at a temperature of about 40 Deg C (for reasons of stability and the fact that fixing the detector temperature at 40C means only a heating system and not a combined heating/cooling system is needed). Since 40C is hotter than any temperature in the atmosphere below 100 km or so, then according to G+T, the absorption of IR photons by the detection device would violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics!
    Thus, according to G+T, such a device could not register any signal. Since IR detectors do not have to be cooled to temperatures below those encountered in the atmospheric column to measure down-welling IR radiances, any formulation of Radiative transfer following G+T must be very flawed indeed.

    (Note: IR instrument are often cooled when high precision and high spectral resolution are required since this does improve the Signal-to-noise ratio.)

  45. 195
    Chris Dudley says:

    Ike (#192),

    I disagree about requiring polysilicon foundries to run on solar power. Our mix of generation is our mix and we need to shift it quickly. Trying to get all pure will only slow things down. So long as building solar panels near hydro dams in Washington means that the power does not go to LA and LA uses fossil fuels to make up the difference, then it just does not matter. For grids on other continents, we can use a carbon tariff if we are really worried about the coal burned in China to make a solar panel, but so long at the energy pay back time is short, it is probably not too important.

    You are right that our energy priorities are misaligned and that undue fossil fuel and nuclear industry influence is largely responsible. But there is some good news too. World solar energy demand grew 110% in 2008 over 2007 and prices are beginning to come down as the supply constraints on polysilicon are reduced with new capacity. Nearly 6 GW of new PV capacity were installed in 2008.

    Thin film company First Solar announced recently that it has pushed its production cost below $1/Peak Watt and their product is considered to be pretty reliable (20 plus years). If their stuff lasts 30 years that is about $0.018/kWh production cost though the price will be higher with the balance of the system, profit and financing. As more production methods move into this cost regime, we should be seeing even greater growth in solar.

    All of this could have happened 20 years ago with better prioritized R&D but some very good things are happening now.

  46. 196
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Burgie #178, G&T (or Gin & Tonic, as I’m sure they were under the influence when they wrote this) have attempted to construct an edifice that looks imposing to the layman, but it is transparently laughable to anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with the physics.
    They go out of their way to bring in irrelevant digressions.
    They are verbose to the point of anasthesia.
    They don’t actually address any of the relevant radiative physics.
    They don’t have any data.

    Pauli once lamented of a paper that it was so bad it wasn’t even wrong. Wrong is correctable. G&T is BS from beginning to end.

  47. 197
    Michael says:

    Secular Animist, given the many thought paths you could take with the present level of economic and scientific understanding, why do you choose to identify with the solar/wind energy solution? Every solution out there has a certain vulnerability to failure, and certain cost/benefit ratios.

    ps don’t take this comment as a slight, I am genuinely interested in a response.

  48. 198
    James says:

    Mark Says (20 March 2009 at 6:43 AM):

    “Actually the cheapest and most readily available form of energy is not to use the energy in the first place.

    And in case you harp up with “but that would keep them poor!”…”

    In the light of current economic events, it might also be instructive to reflect on the perhaps subtle difference between wealth and simply “having stuff”, particularly when that stuff consists mainly of status symbols bought on credit. It’s perfectly possible to live a comfortable & satisfying life on far less energy than the average American or European uses.

  49. 199


    It was encouraging to see Pres. Obama’s enthusiasm for changing the motivation for future career choices away from the financial world in favor of “engineering, science, teachers, and doctors in his appearance with Jay Leno. Moving the discussion to the going forward mode seems like something we should be happy to see him do.

    But Help *&^%$#* There is a looming disaster, not to mention a national embarrassment in the stampede to plug-in electric cars which Pres. Obama seems to think is a good thing.

    This proves the need for engineers and scientists, none of whom should be unaware that heat energy does not equal electric energy. It depends on which way the conversion is done. If you make heat from electricity then heat energy does convert to electric energy and the equality holds; but if you try to make electric energy from heat you get very much less of that electric energy.

    Who cares? Well, everyone who thinks there is a global warming problem should care. Most people have figured that electric cars simply shift the pollution source to someplace over the hill, and that zero emissions is absolute &^%$#$%. But the next part of the problem seems to need a little more knowledge of basic physics; that is, it takes a lot more heat energy to make electric energy than you get out in electric energy. It is easy to understand that since half of the electric power comes from burning coal, and coal produces a lot more CO2 than any other fuel for making the same amount of heat, maybe there is something very wrong happening here.

    Sure, the combination of coal power, electric power distribution, battery losses, and electric motor losses could come out a little better than the old internal combustion engine, which might only get 20% efficiency from its traditional design. But wait, the Prius engine in that hybrid configuration was measured to get 38% efficiency (Argonne National Laboratory data). In the end, making this into a plug-in is a very bad idea.

    The problem is much broader. The car companies are making plans to convert their existing vehicles to plug-in operation. Others of influence are working in this direction; Andy Grove, ex CEO
    of Intel and James Woolsey, ex CIA Director for example.

    Unfortunately, Jay Leno seems to not understand such things and consequently Pres. Obama came away seriously misled.

    Surely there are many at RealClimate who understand that we will not be very successful at solving our problems if we proceed on the basis of flawed understanding of fundamental physics.

  50. 200
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 191, 192 – I’ve also read that many farmers use way more fertilizer than is useful (“Against the Grain” – Richard Manning); and that a car company bought up the public transportation system in L.A. and shut it down, resulting in some portion of the poverty in some L.A. neighborhoods today, and also that car companies were reluctant to adopt all-electric vehicle technology because it would have forced them to get out of their rut of basing profits on repairs and maintenance costs… (seems to me that for a ‘free market’, the CEOs are not all that competitive or efficiency-seeking). And completely OT, but why would it cost more money to make an in-state call then an out-of-state call (and not just across the border, either)? – and why does it cost less for a person living halfway between Madison WI and Minneapolis MN to drive to Madison, fly to Minneappolis, and then fly to Portland OR, then it does to drive to Minneappolis and then fly directly to Portland OR – it’s as if they’re paying people to fly from Madison to Minneappolis; it makes no sense at all! And don’t get me started on how the heck a bunch of alternative ‘plans’ are supposed to bring down costs via competition in Medicare part D…

    “With such a system, economic activity is decoupled from the need for fossil fuels. Try getting the World Bank to finance one in Africa – they’ll put up $4 billion for a Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline, but not for that.”

    I wonder if it’s because businesses often base risk/profit assessments on past histories and not enough on what is knowable about untried (on some scale) methods (too much genetic drift, not enough natural selection ??).