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Hit the brakes hard

Filed under: — group @ 29 April 2009 - (Español)

There is a climate splash in Nature this week, including a cover showing a tera-tonne weight, presumably meant to be made of carbon (could it be graphite?), dangling by a thread over the planet, and containing two new articles (Allen et al and Meinshausen et al), a “News & Views” piece written by two of us, and a couple commentaries urging us to “prepare to adapt to at least 4° C” and to think about what the worst case scenario (at 1000 ppm CO2) might look like.

At the heart of it are the two papers which calculate the odds of exceeding a predefined threshold of 2°C as a function of CO2 emissions. Both find that the most directly relevant quantity is the total amount of CO2 ultimately released, rather than a target atmospheric CO2 concentration or emission rate. This is an extremely useful result, giving us a clear statement of how our policy goals should be framed. We have a total emission quota; if we keep going now, we will have to cut back more quickly later.

There is uncertainty in the climate sensitivity of the Earth and in the response of the carbon cycle, and the papers are extremely useful in the way that they propagate these uncertainties to the probabilities of different amounts of warming. Just looking at the median model results, many people conclude that a moderately optimistic but not terribly aggressive scenario such as IPCC B1 would avoid 2°C warming relative to pre-industrial. But when you take into account the uncertainty, you find that there is a disturbingly high likelihood (roughly even odds) that it won’t.

Schmidt and Archer N and V figureBoth papers come to the same broad conclusion, summarized in our figure, that unless humankind puts on the brakes very quickly and aggressively (i.e. global reductions of 80% by 2050), we face a high probability of driving climate beyond a 2°C threshold taken by both studies as a “danger limit”. Comparing the two papers is obscured by the different units; mass of carbon versus mass of CO2 (moles, anyone? Is there a chemist in the house?). But chugging through the math, we find the papers to be broadly consistent. Both papers conclude that humankind is already about half-way toward releasing enough carbon to probably reach 2°C, and that most of the fossil fuel carbon (the coal, in particular) will have to remain in the ground.

We feel compelled to note that even a “moderate” warming of 2°C stands a strong chance of provoking drought and storm responses that could challenge civilized society, leading potentially to the conflict and suffering that go with failed states and mass migrations. Global warming of 2°C would leave the Earth warmer than it has been in millions of years, a disruption of climate conditions that have been stable for longer than the history of human agriculture. Given the drought that already afflicts Australia, the crumbling of the sea ice in the Arctic, and the increasing storm damage after only 0.8°C of warming so far, calling 2°C a danger limit seems to us pretty cavalier.

Also, there are dangers to CO2 emission other than the peak, such as the long tail of the CO2 perturbation which will dominate the ultimate sea level response, and the acidification of the ocean. A building may be safe from earthquakes but if it is susceptible to fires it is still considered unsafe.

The sorts of emission cuts that are required are technologically feasible, if we were to build wind farms instead of coal plants, an integrated regional or global electrical power grid, and undertake a crash program in energy efficiency. But getting everybody to agree to this is the discouraging part. The commentary by Parry et al advises us to prepare to adapt to climate changes of at least 4°C, even though they recognize that it may not be possible to buy our way out of most of the damage (to natural systems, for example, including the irreversible loss of many plant and animal species). Anyway, how does one “adapt” to a train wreck? There is also the fairness issue, in that the beneficiaries of fossil energy (rich countries today) are not the ones who pay the costs (less-rich countries decades from now). We wonder why we were not advised to prepare to adapt to crash curtailing CO2 emissions, which sounds to us considerably less frightening.

p.s. For our German-speaking readers: Stefan’s commentary on the KlimaLounge blog.

604 Responses to “Hit the brakes hard”

  1. 201
    pete best says:

    Re #64, He may have made some mistakes Anne in his book but as he is a physics lecturer at Cambridge university you can hardly ignore him and his work. The UK/EU average is 125 KWh/d per person which is a lot of energy to be using. The average US citizen uses twice that, 250 KWh/d.

    Electric motors are 90% efficient but it all depends on how the electricity is generated. Presently a electric car plugged into the grid is only around 40% efficient overall due to the generation of grid electricity from coal, nuclear and gas mainly (here in the UK)and that makes them a lot less efficient than you say. Now I would suggest you would say that they can be fueled by some other means from electricity generated via solar means on your house but thats not a global solution, only a local one for people living in suitable solar capable areas. Here in the UK solar is a lot less useful in our winter, very poor and would not power a electric car.

    The future wil have to be electric vehicles but aircraft and freight are not ideally suited as yet for electric transport (if they ever will be) so although it will one day be an effective solution it is as yet not an answer.

    One 2 MW wind turbine is around 32% efficient in electricity generation the windiest part of the UK so it can generate around 2 GWh per annum. In the UK we use 400 TWh per annum so lets ee how many turbines to produce 25% of that. To produce 1 TWh we need 500 turbines or 50,000 to produce 25%. Oh I am sure that wind turbines put out at sea in deep waters can one day generate 5 MW or lets say 5 GWh per annum but that just means more space between them and hence its a massive job.

  2. 202
    LPF says:

    Many thanks to Anne (64) for exposing one of the many problems with MacKay’s work. Anyone taking his figures at face value, without looking at the proper peer-reviewed research, and without questioning his motives, and without really thinking about what they’re being told, should take great care.

    Throughout the first 100 pages, MacKay systematically underestimates renewables and overstates demand. He then hugely overstates the potential for nuclear, and understates the risk; and although he makes a great deal about his own energy conservation, his estimates at the national level are very conservative.

    Britain has more than enough potential renewables to meet current demand, and enough renewable resource to meet demand several times over, once we’ve implemented sensible cost-effective energy efficiency measures. The same for Europe, and North America, and South America, and Africa, and Asia.

    Which is a good job, given the shortage of high-grade uranium ore, the huge unmanageable risks associated with nuclear plants and nuclear proliferation, the large amounts of embedded carbon in uranium refining and processing (and other GHG emissions from the nuclear industry), and the insanity of developing a huge strategic fuel dependence on countries such as Russia.

  3. 203
    Mark says:

    “100 Mark: Power plants make the wrong isotope of plutonium for bombs. ”

    Uh, how do you work that out?

    You have a fissionable material, it can engender a chain reaction, you have material for a bomb.

    If it cannot engender a chain reaction, how can you extract power from it by fissioning?

  4. 204
    Mark says:

    “100 Mark: France recycles nuclear fuel.”

    Yup, so? If we triple the fissioning going on, do they have enough to work with?

    There are many things that cannot be used as fuel but are radioactive (else what do you think we were talking about with the Yucca Mountain?). If we triple the number of power stations, where do we put the radioactive waste (such that teh terrists can’t get at it)?

  5. 205
    Mark says:

    dhgoza pronounces:

    “Wind farms *do* do damage, and indeed a proliferation of them is very likely to lead to the extinction of several species of bird here in the US.”

    Yes, they DO damage. Even breathing in does damage.

    But that’s not the point I want to probe you about. It’s the second half.

    Please show me the proof that leads you do think it very likely to lead to extinction of several species of bird in the US.

    I am all agog in anticipation.

  6. 206
    Mark says:

    “We don’t have 55 million lesser prairie chickens, the fact that cats in the UK kill 55 million house sparrows and starlings doesn’t mean that wind farms can’t harm lesser prairie chickens, ferruginous hawks, and other sensitive species.”

    Well, given that the UK currently have NO lesser prairie chickens, it would be quite hard for windfarms to wipe them out.

    And skyscrapers harm lesser prairie chickens, ferruginous hawks and other sensitive species.

    Yet you keep building them and you don’t fix the problems with the multitude of skyscrapers you have to reduce their death rate contribution to those sensitive species.

    Maybe you ought to ask yourself: are these species in danger even if we DON’T build wind farms? I think they would be. They were endangered before there were more than a handful of windfarms to harm them, so you can hardly blame them for these birds troubles.

    Have you also checked what the death rate IS from windfarms per modern turbine? I don’t think you have. I think all your information is from the much smaller and therefore faster rotating (which means harder to fly past without getting creamed) wind turbines.

    Guess what? That’s been changed.

    This happens occasionally when people complain (as they rightly did) about the death toll on birds by the turbines being used at the time.

  7. 207
    Mark says:

    “The idea that all the ice can melt is preposterous because no amount of warming, natural or otherwise, will drop the average temperatures by enough to completely melt the poles.”

    So why is it when I put my coffee in a thermos flask or my hot dinner in a thermal pack for traveling, the hot food stays hot and the hot coffee stays hot?

    After all, it can be away from the heating element for hours and hours, no heat going in. Surely keeping stuff hot is impossible without some heating element!!!

  8. 208
    Mark says:

    “An 80% reduction of CO2 emissions takes things back to the level of 1900 or so, when things were much dirtier. ”


    So they had photovoltaic cells in the 1900s? They used geothermal plants way back then? They had huge MW wind turbines with the technology they had back then?


    How come that never gets told in history lessons?

  9. 209
    Manu Phonic says:

    My questions in comment #65 received no answer. I’ll try again more succinctly:

    Several proposals for coal and petroleum replacements have been made that still don’t get much attention. (I listed some.) What are their relative merits and feasibility? By rational, dispassionate criteria, which of them are most deserving of our investments?

  10. 210

    EL writes:

    China, for example, will be a developing nation burning fossil fuels for a long time to come. China is not going to switch over to a more expensive technology during the development process.

    And suppose renewable energy becomes cheaper than coal?

  11. 211

    Manu Phonic,

    Electricity from wind is already cheaper than from nuclear (11 centers per kwh compared to 15), and solar thermal power is rapidly dropping.

  12. 212
    Ricki (Australia) says:

    Gavin, sorry, I saw that further down the comments. Think before open mouth—

    However, I do believe we must look harder at what the worst case might look like. Especially as over the years the predictions appear to be getting worse not better. As one person said above, ‘we are playing catch-up’.

    In my opinion, we will continue to play catch-up over the next 10-20 years wit outcomes becoming progressibvely worse. We have to cut through this with a jump to educated estimates rather than purely data based information. This is demanded by the potential impact we can already state is definately happening. We no longer have the luxury to avoid estimating.

    Policy settings are often based on a leaders vision of the future. We have to find that vision. Scientists such as yourselves have the best understanding of the true situation to interpret what you see and make the jump to that vision.

  13. 213

    beyondtool — check out Tim Lambert’s Deltoid blog ( for a thorough refutation of Plimer’s idiotic book.

  14. 214
    Mark says:

    And further to BPL’s post #210, China are already building massive amounts of wind farm turbines and using them. China are also attacking what EL sees as “the number one problem” of overpopulation by forcing couples to have fewer children.

    So why don’t you get off their back until your government (I know the UK isn’t) attack the problems as comprehensively as the Chinese government does. Their government may be repressive (though I now hardly see the difference between what China did and what my NuLab government is doing) but they are taking AGW a lot more seriously than most of the developed first world.

  15. 215
    Mark says:

    Pete best in #201 says
    “but as he is a physics lecturer at Cambridge university you can hardly ignore him and his work.”

    Yes you can.

    Here’s an example of how professors can get it wrong even when they AREN’T trying to hide a lie:

    One question for my final year exam was to prove the law of inertial induction and show that it has the following form (and then puts an equation that eventually boils down to F=a, rather than F=ma).

    They forgot a mass term.

    Now what makes you think you can’t ignore his work when he’s taken the best options for nuclear and the worst options for renewables and forgotten to say so?

  16. 216
    Mark says:

    “If the justification of fighting global warming is for the sake of humankind, the burden on the underprivileged should be considered before a solution is proclaimed.”

    Two problems. First: The second does not follow from the first. Since mankind also includes the privileged. Secondly: since the underprivileged are going to get it in the shorts well before the priviliged get theirs and that the costs for mitigation will come mainly from the privileged, avoiding climate change is a priori taking the underprivileged class into account and given highest billing.

    After all, someone who can’t afford a holiday to a foreign country each year will not be affected when such flights are banned, will they. And the privileged can afford to move whereas the poor cannot afford a new home unless some sucker buys the one underwater.

  17. 217
    pete best says:

    Re #202, you are being overly cynical of his work and his motives. As he is a academic at Cambridge University he is not linked in any way to any fuel and he is indeed not pushing any technology. His motives are made clear, people talking nonsense (BBC, Politicians mainly) about the nature of energy and its sources.

    This report by the GWEC (Global Wind Energy Council) for 2008 and 2009 says a lot and it says some things that are a major issue. First off is that the USA is powering up its wind capability and has installed 25 GW of it which sounds amazing to us here in the UK until you read its only equivilent to just over 1% of the USA energy requirement. 7 million homes of electricity to meet 1% of your needs. In energy terms the USA is a major user and yes the economics and politics of renewable energy are in place and hence the ability to expand from 1% to 25% come 2020 should be possible if you keep on ramping up production each year by around 50%. So if the USA can install another 25 GW next year (8 GW in 2008) then yes meeting 25% might be possible but its highly unlikely at the moment. You might increase capacity by 10 GW in 2009 and maybe 15 GW in 2010 etc but making 25% mark is a long way off. OK so the USA has CSP capacity too but its a long time coming.

    David Mackay might be making a few assumptions about his work but he has the pedigree to do it and he knows the extent of it all. For the UK, its another measure as well. We are at 3 GW installed based and we need to go to 6 GW and then 12 GW (around a 6th of peak demand of 75 GW). So that is double and double again come 2020. That is a huge amount of wind and all of these turbines have a very large fossil fuel footprint making them and deployng them especially when you have to deploy upwards of 20,000 here and hell knows how many in the USA (250,000 would not suprise me).

    And of course no one is mentioning oil use, UK uses 2 Mbpd and the USA closer to 20 Mbpd. Replacing that with electricity will be needed as well. Big issues and big scalable solutions required. We need to ramp up production and deployment is we are going to offset CO2 emissions in any significant way and then we need to sort out India and China too in the long term.

  18. 218
    EL says:

    210 – I would refer to the basic economics of supply and demand. Wind power for example is becoming more expensive due to the demand place upon it.

  19. 219
    pete best says:

    RE #215, How do you know that he has given the best for nuclear and the worst for wind?

    Says it all about wind. Its amazing stuff and some countries (Germany) has installed a lot of it but its still requires herculean investment and manufacturing and deployment.

    Nuclear is another option and a much needed one. Clean coal if it ever scales and the coal industry wants to pursue it is also needed. Wind can only supply around 20-30% of our electricity needs, we need others unless you want to spand a lot of money gearing up our energy efficiency by insulating and rendering all of the UK 26,000,000 homes for starters. How many is that is the parts of the USA that need it and how many cooling insulation in the houses and offices that need air conditioning. It a massive problem.

    Everyone needs to make assumptions and people do get things wrong. Even university guys. I am sure he is not that far away from the ideas of energy production and efficiency.

  20. 220

    MikeN writes:

    Why are you suggesting wind power instead of nuclear power which clearly has a larger capacity?

    In what way does nuclear power “clearly [have] a larger capacity” than wind power?

  21. 221

    Wilmot McCutchen writes:

    Renewables — Solar and wind are presently only a tiny fraction of power supply. They are intermittent, so they are unreliable for baseload power over 20%, and connecting them to the existing grid is an unsolved problem.

    Solar thermal plants store excess heat from the day in molten salts, which they then use to run the turbines at night. Some achieve nearly 24/7 operation this way. And with a smart grid, the solar during the day and the wind at night can average out, especially over large areas. Then there’s geothermal, which is available 24/7, ocean thermal ditto, and biofuels, which can be burned at any time. What we need is to stop whining about how things haven’t been proven at scale, and just start building.

  22. 222

    Jim Bullis writes:

    Either we have to find a way for us and the Chinese and Indians to use a lot less energy, or nuclear has to get serious reconsideration.

    Or we have to switch to renewable sources of energy.

  23. 223
    Stuart Harmon says:


    The Guardian newspaper has a very sobering article on CO2 emissions.


  24. 224
    Mark says:

    210:”Wind power for example is becoming more expensive due to the demand place upon it.”

    And when there is more demand on nuclear fuel? And operationally, all it uses up is wind. That doesn’t follow the laws of supply and demand.

    In what sense is your point there a special consideration for wind power?

  25. 225

    James writes:

    It was only a few months ago that people were quoting $5 billion/plant – then I pointed out that equivalent solar would run at least $6 billion…

    And it was only a few weeks ago when I pointed out that your single-minded reliance on comparing capital costs misses the fact that nukes need fuel and solar and wind don’t, and that goes into electricity costs as well. That’s one reason why wind is 11 cents per kilowatt hour in California and nuclear is 15.

  26. 226

    Edward Greisch writes:

    Power plants make the wrong isotope of plutonium for bombs

    Does that isotope not have a critical mass, even if it’s larger than the critical mass for the other isotope?

  27. 227

    co2isnotevil writes:

    Obsessing about CO2 is counter productive

    You’ve never taken a course in atmosphere physics, have you?

  28. 228

    Edward Greisch writes:

    Nuclear is the cheapest and safest way to get electricity.

    Wind already generates power for less than nuclear (11 cents per kwh versus 15 cents in California). And to say nuclear is the SAFEST is just bizarre. Safer than wind? Safer than solar? How many solar thermal plants have melted down and released huge amounts of radioactivity? How many wind turbines have had steam explosions and killed plant workers? How many geothermal plants have given kids thyroid cancer?

  29. 229
    Mark says:

    re #219.

    And how herculean was getting 100GW of capacity from nuclear power?

    Pretty darn near 7-tasks worth.

  30. 230

    John Bartlett writes:

    There is a case in point – in New Zealand last year there was much interest in government in moving forward with schemes to start dealing with climate change. With the general election last year (2008), the government changed and one of the parties in the new coalition is at too low a level to appreciate the problem and so it has been agreed that the issue with be placed with a committee for the details to be further analysed yet again.

    It’s a bad sign that they just fired their top climate scientist, Jim Salinger, for talking to the press.

  31. 231
    Ray Ladbury says:

    There is a world of difference between realism and defeatism. Saying that sustainability will be difficult is realism. Saying it is impossible is saying that ultimately civilization is temporary. The defeatists are the true prophets of doom. They say we cannot change, even if we must. MacKay’s book is realistic about the challenges that face us. It does not say that those challenges are insurmountable. In any case, there simply is no choice if we wish to convey civilization to future generations. We have to develop a sustainable civilization. We will face unpalatable choices down the line. Personally, I don’t think we will be able to make it without resorting to nuclear power, geoengineering and serious reductions in consumption. (I will be more than happy if somebody proves me wrong.) Our options would have been more palatable had we not spent 20 years debating established physics, and they are much better now than they will be if we wait 20 years.

    We can take solace, though, that history remembers the visionaries more than the defeatists:

    “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”–JFK

  32. 232
    pete best says:

    Re #229, We need it all but its a daunting proposition. I have seen some other work that plents renewables on current deployment lines and its grim reading.

    Look under renewables and see what he is projecting. Read what he says in relation to the entire global energy contraints.

  33. 233
    Steve Reynolds says:

    “You can have as big a solar-powered house as you want. – gavin”

    I imagine that to the people of India and China that sounds a lot like: “Let them eat cake.”

    [Response: Actually, I think you’d find a huge number of people in China and India who’d be happy to have cleaner sources of energy – and the potential for solar in India is huge. They’d also be pretty happy at the concomitant reduction in air pollution, indoor smoke, bronchial disorders, polluted water and smog which contribute to premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of their fellows. I don’t think that the citizens of Delhi are keen to go back to the old polluting buses they just got rid of for instance. And frankly, I resent these continual suggestions that doing something about carbon emissions implies some anti-third world agenda – it’s low rhetoric of a most despicable kind. – gavin]

  34. 234
    Dean Flugstad says:

    The old axiom” Actions speak louder than words” is one my wife and I try to follow. I am not a scientist so I depend on groups like National Resource Defense Council and Amory Lovins at the Rocky Mountain Inst. as our model of forward looking groups that are actualy doing something rather than just talking about it.
    I do not brag but inform when I say we donate $1,000/year to these groups and have for years. Do you out there feel these are good places to invest our environmental donation dollars? Or are there better ways to get bang for our bucks?

  35. 235

    Barton Paul Levenson writes:

    Solar thermal plants store excess heat from the day in molten salts, which they then use to run the turbines at night. Some achieve nearly 24/7 operation this way. And with a smart grid, the solar during the day and the wind at night can average out, especially over large areas. Then there’s geothermal, which is available 24/7, ocean thermal ditto, and biofuels, which can be burned at any time. What we need is to stop whining about how things haven’t been proven at scale, and just start building.

    We also need to start debunking the claims of why those things don’t work, because certain beliefs have legs that need to be cut off.

    1). With a “smart grid”, or even just “smart devices”, much of the trouble with intermittent sources can be removed. This was proven at the Pacific Northwest National Labs “GridWise” project, and has been in use in parts of New England, for quite some time. No massive grid upgrade, just smarter loads.

    2). Solar and wind are complementary because it tends to be windy when it is cloudy and / or rainy. During a recent cloudy stretch, I =wish= I’d had wind. Not sure where I put it, but if I’d had it, I would have stayed off the grid.

    3). The biggest problem continues to be “Not In My Backyard”, not “The technology is not mature enough.” I’m working on an invention that will make suburban wind (and solar, but mostly wind) more feasible for when energy self-sufficiency outweighs “that’s too ugly!”

    4). Gavin is absolutely right — anyone can have a huge and wasteful house if they make the renewable energy to pay for it. I was off-grid much of April (TXU Energy is ripping me off, so I turned them off and ran off solar.) I didn’t get rid of the 3 HD TVs, cable boxes, DVR, computers, stereos, landscape lighting or anything else — including the electric motorcycle. The future is energy ABUNDANT with renewable energy, not energy SCARCE as with fossil fuels.

  36. 236
    Konstantin says:

    Re:#223 The author of this is Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president. He is both a known euro-sceptic and a conservative. He believes that capitalism can do no wrong, and that liberalism, environmentalism, social democracy and all that are but backdoor communism. It is an
    attitude common among older people from my part of the world (Ex-Warsaw Pact) who resent everything Left as reminiscent of their suffering under the communists, worship industrialization and development and are blind to information-age ideas such as interdependence, complexity, network cascades, sustainability etc.
    The man is so behind the times he’s not even wrong.

  37. 237
    Dan says:

    re: 185. “The first step in this is to make electricity from coal much more expensive because the utilities will need to generate the money to pay the carbon tax (or offsets or whatever you want to call them). This cost will be passed on to the consumer, so those who purchase coal generated electricity will definitely be paying more.”

    The exact same thing was said in the US in the 1980s about SO2 and NOx emission reductions to reduce acid deposition. Coal companies, fossil-fuel fired power plants and various industries whined and whined about costs and pending economic doom. They were 100% wrong in all their overblown cost estimates (the federal government estimates were correct, BTW). What followed was a decade of strong economic growth while SO2 and NOx emissions began to decline.

  38. 238

    Ray writes:

    “There is a world of difference between realism and defeatism. Saying that sustainability will be difficult is realism.”

    No, saying that it will be DIFFICULT is also defeatism.

    I bought a pair of boat shoes recently. They included the amount of energy required to produce them — 3.1KWH. Intrigued, I sat down and computed the cost of making that 3.1KWH in a sustainable manner. The answer was about $1.40 or so. If that company were to do that — “We built 3.1KWH worth of production using the profits / add-on fees / whatever from the sale of these shoes” — they wouldn’t wondering where electricity comes from in the future.

    The only DIFFICULTY is just doing it.

  39. 239
    dhogaza says:

    And skyscrapers harm lesser prairie chickens, ferruginous hawks and other sensitive species.

    No, they don’t, which just shows how ignorant of the subject you are.

    As to my claim that several species could be pushed to extinction if extensive wind farms are build in their diminished habitat, on my side regarding lesser prairie chicken I have a refereed paper in BioScience.

    On your side you have the ignorant misunderstanding that the lesser prairie chicken is a migratory species that flies into skyscrapers.

    Tch tch.

    I’ll take the opinion of researchers who’ve studied the problem over Mark’s “authoritative” personal opinion.

    The call for intelligent siting of windfarms is not a call to stop building them.

  40. 240
    EL says:

    221 – The intermittent problem with wind is huge. Electrical grids need a guaranteed peak capacity, and wind cannot assure it. California, for example, experienced a heat wave that caused wind power to drop to an average of 4% capacity for 7 days. Think about 7 days without power, and you will see why this will not be the main solution. Denmark is another great example of this problem. They export most of their wind energy because it’s so variable.

    Solar panels would be nice if you could put them in outer-space. Securing it would be extremely difficult considering the environment, and the technology to get the power back to earth would likely be difficult.

    Biofuel is snake oil because it impacts food production and pricing unless a non-food item was chosen.

    Geothermal technology brings goodies out of the ground such as mercury, antimony, and arsenic that can get into the water supply and kill you.

    Nuclear power is an effective solution, and some of the miniature plants prove to be very promising. BUT it’s so damn dangerous to export to other countries.

    I’m passing out —- * poof *

  41. 241
    Alex says:

    I can’t counter specific criticisms of MacKay’s book but I find it deeply distasteful that some are questioning his motives. I attended a lecture course he gave a few months ago (indeed, will soon be examined upon it…) and it is clear he cares very deeply about the environment, is certainly not driven by any ideology and is a thoroughly decent bloke to boot. In his book he goes into great detail about his own efforts to save energy in his own home. If you have a problem with his figures why not be useful and point them out to him? Might make it into the 2nd edition, who knows? But in any case I think you are missing the point – a major purpose of the book is to give the reader the tools to make his own calculations, not about nailing energy consumption in the UK to 1% from first principles.

  42. 242
    dhogaza says:

    Well, given that the UK currently have NO lesser prairie chickens, it would be quite hard for windfarms to wipe them out.

    On the other hand, the UK does have a very small remnant population of golden eagles, and it would be quite easy to intentionally site windfarms in such a way as to wipe them out, if that were my goal.

    Or to do so accidently, if someone who chooses to pretend the potential doesn’t exist were in charge of siting.

    I challenge you to find a single documented case of a golden eagle in the UK killed by flying into a skyscraper.

    Now, of course, since golden eagles are sparse with an extremely limited modern range in the UK, it’s extremely easy to site windfarms away from them so as to cause them no harm whatsoever.

    That’s the point. With adequate information, siting can be done in such a way as to not harm sensitive species. Your attitude and insistent ignorance – typical of the industry 15-20 years ago, though here in the US at least they’ve been forced to acknowledge potential problems and to do pre-licensing species inventories and post-installation monitoring of mortality – is not helpful.

    When such issues first came up, the wind industry tried to label US conservationists as being “anti-environmental”. Whatta load of …

  43. 243
    ccpo says:

    Someone had asked for costs of wind power. Here’s an analysis of wind power in the U.S.

    Turbines are now 1.5-3.5 MW and appear to have ERoEI of 30-200:1, with energy paybacks of a few months. Life-cycle analysis indicates that wind energy, is low FF use, and CO2 emissions (5-40 g/kWh) about 25 to 100 times less than coal-fired electricity…

    A UK study looked at sites up to 800km separation (North/South), and found a low correlation between distant sites, so that >80% of the time a wind grid would be producing >30% average output…


  44. 244
    Hank Roberts says:

    Edward G., what’s your source, please? Why do you believe that?
    Did you try the suggested search?

  45. 245
    J. Bob says:

    Gavin- I assume you mean temperature variability, and it looks like about 0.5 deg. Above the trend line. Which is not far from “computed global temp” variations above normal. What is interesting, is that it seems to be somewhat consistent to the shape of the global temp anomaly over the past 2-3 decades. While I admit, it is a simple analysis, just using EXCEL and VB option, on one spot on the globe, it does provide some interesting insight as to past temp variations over a 350+ year range. So if I were to go back to “Occum’s Razor” mythology between man causing recent temp rise, versus the sun, at this time I’ll go with the sun.

    [Response: actually no. You are claiming that 57 year periodicity in solar drives temperature change. What percentage of the variability in the solar input is in this frequency band? (Answer it’s tiny). Yet you think this trivial variance controls temperature when all other frequencies are ineffective. Thanks, but that is not convincing. – gavin]

    [Response: and by the way, its “Occam”, not “Occum”. – mike]

    #129 – Part 2 – Is that a question or statement? I’m not sure what your getting at.

    #182 – Edward – If you had taken the job, you might have had a chance to see Moscow and the Kremlin.

  46. 246
    Hank Roberts says:

    Hat tip to a response by Kristen Sheeran, Portland, Or., in
    “presses dicier”

  47. 247
    SecularAnimist says:

    James wrote: “Right now there’s a certain production capacity [for photovoltaic panels]: so many watts per year. Ramping that up significantly requires years of lead time to build factories & equipment … it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that the time & cost to do all this, and get say 100 GWatts of solar panels out there generating power, is going to be much different from that needed to build 100 nuclear plants.”

    With all due respect, many of your comments on this subject are full of rough guesses and assumptions that you say “seem reasonable”, and short on empirical facts.

    Nanosolar has a thin-film PV production tool that “prints” PV panels by depositing nanopartical ink on rolls of flexible substrate. One of these machines currently costs $1.65 million, and has a production capacity of 1 Gigawatt of PV panels per year. Compare and contrast that with the cost of building a 1 GW nuclear power plant.

    Consider also the following obseration from Nanosolar’s CEO Martin Roscheisen:

    In our new solar cell technology, we use an active material called CIGS, a Copper based semiconductor. How does this stack up against enriched Uranium?

    Here’s a noteworthy fact, pointed out to me by one of our engineers: It turns out that 1kg of CIGS, embedded in a solar cell, produces 5 times as much electricity as 1kg of enriched Uranium, embedded in a nuclear power plant.

    Or said differently, 1kg of CIGS is equivalent to 5kg of enriched Uranium in terms of the energy the materials deliver in solar and nuclear respectively.

    The Uranium is burned and then stored in a nuclear waste facility; the CIGS material produces power for at least the warranty period of the solar cell product after which it can then be recycled and reused an indefinite number of times.

    James wrote: “And again, my position is that we ought to start doing both right now.”

    And again, my position is that (1) nuclear power is not needed, since we can get all the electricity we need, and more, from renewables; (2) nuclear cannot possibly be expanded enough, quickly enough to have any significant impact on reducing GHG emissions in the time frame that’s needed, while renewables can be (and already are); and (3) resources invested in expanding nuclear power would be far more effectively invested in renewables and/or efficiency, and the opportunity costs of nuclear therefore mean that putting resources into nuclear power hinders rather than helps the effort to quickly reduce CO2 emissions from generating electricity.

  48. 248
    Hank Roberts says:

    Krugman’s getting interesting responses with links, which some may not already know about. This fellow posted his own relevant research:
    Felix Creutzig, Dongquan He. Climate change mitigation and co-benefits of feasible transport demand policies in Beijing. Transportation Research D, Apr 2009. pdf.

    His page also leads also to links to:

    Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory

    Interview with Dan Kammen on Renewable Energies
    Apr 21 2009 | California Climate Change Extension
    “negotiations group” says ReCaptcha

  49. 249
    David MacKay says:

    To the person who called my book (Sustainable Energy – without the hot air) “misleading”, please could I encourage you to actually read the book before telling people how “misleading” it is? All the points you make _are_ made in the book. For example, I devote a chapter to explaining how electric vehicles are more efficient than petrol cars; and at the end of the chapter on petrol cars the endnotes make perfectly clear the distinction between the average energy consumption of car-driving in the UK today, and the consumption of the typical person who chooses to drive. Why do people have this urge to be nasty, to snipe, and to accuse me of being an idiot? I am trying to help! David,

  50. 250
    Hank Roberts says:

    Related, and a reminder the problem hasn’t been solved yet:
    University of Colorado March 31, 2009
    … according to a new study by researchers in California and Colorado.
    … “As the rocket launch market grows, so will ozone-destroying rocket emissions,” said Professor Darin Toohey of CU-Boulder’s atmospheric and oceanic sciences department. “If left unregulated, rocket launches by the year 2050 could result in more ozone destruction than was ever realized by CFCs.”


    EU ODS Regulations
    * No change to halon critical use list but EC chaired regulatory committee given authority to change the list and/or set time limits
    * DG Environment proposal contains the following end dates for aviation critical uses
    o Cargo compartment fixed systems – cannot be installed on new aircraft after 2015, end of critical use exemption is 2030
    o Cabin/crew compartment portables – 2010, 2015
    o Engine nacelles and APU – 2010, 2030
    o Lavatory (potty bottles) – 2008, 2015
    o Dry bays – 2010, 2030; Inert fuel tanks – 2008, 2030