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Two degrees

Filed under: — david @ 8 July 2009

The countries of the G8 today approved a target of 2° C rise in global average temperature above the natural, preanthropogenic climate, that they resolve should be avoided. The Europeans have been pushing for 2 degrees as a target maximum temperature for several years, but this is something of a development for the Americans. We posted recently on two new papers about what it would take to limit global average warming, finding that it would require fairly strong change in trajectory. About 2° C as a target, we wrote,

… 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, a target of 2°C seems almost cavalier.

Nevertheless, we view today’s development as a constructive step.


411 Responses to “Two degrees”

  1. 301
    James says:

    Mark says (13 Jul 2009 at 8:51 am):

    “The position is that nuclear is good to go NOW.”

    The Voyagers, Galileo, Ulysses, Cassini, and others. All using small nuclear power sources (radioisotope thermal generators), all providing power for decades with no interruptions or service calls. How much more evidence do you need?

  2. 302
    Mark says:

    “The Voyagers, Galileo, Ulysses, Cassini, and others…”

    Safely a very long way away.

    With very low demands.

    Yeah.

    http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/science/index.html

    285W.

    You call that evidence???

  3. 303
    SecularAnimist says:

    James wrote: “How about the same for the anti-nukees? As in if they’d stop dragging in inflated cost estimates and such, I’d be more than happy not to have to point out how wrong they are”

    Yes, please, why don’t you “point out” once again that installing concentrating solar thermal power plants on one percent of the USA’s deserts is equivalent to paving the entire continent with solar panels and is an environmental disaster so horrific that nuclear war would be preferable. Then tell us how the actual cost overruns of billions of dollars, delays of several years and counting, and serious safety problems afflicting the “next generation” French AREVA reactor being built in Finland, are “inflated estimates” made up by “anti-nukees”. And you can conclude by asserting yet again that anyone skeptical of nuclear power is driven by religious mania.

  4. 304
    SecularAnimist says:

    James wrote: “The Voyagers, Galileo, Ulysses, Cassini, and others. All using small nuclear power sources (radioisotope thermal generators), all providing power for decades with no interruptions or service calls. How much more evidence do you need?”

    Evidence of what exactly? That an energy technology suitable for small-scale electricity generation in space probes can easily be scaled up to power the national grid? I’d say a whole lot more evidence is needed, if that’s what you are suggesting.

    And of course there is another energy technology that has been successfully used to generate electricity for space probes and satellites and space stations “for decades with no interruptions or service calls” — photovoltaics.

  5. 305
    Hank Roberts says:

    Warning — ASCII art, but relevant to the digression and those who prolong it:

    http://jni.sdf-eu.org/trolls.html

  6. 306
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Hank Roberts 13 Jul 2009 at 2:16 pm

    Sorry, the record’s stuck (SKKZZZK) the record’s stuck (SKKZZZK) the record’s stuck (SKKZZZK) the record’s stuck…

    How about if we don’t repeat ourselves? Can we do (not?) that?

  7. 307
    Angry Environmentalist says:

    I admit this is a step in the right direction, but in general I think the recent g8 summits were an across the board failure. They couldn’t even pass a no-brainer resolution like this one: http://bit.ly/e0c7K Very disappointing on the whole.

  8. 308
    David B. Benson says:

    Doug Bostrom (270) — Orbital forcing is rather dull for at least the next 20,000 years. NOt a current consideration.

  9. 309
    Doug Bostrom says:

    David B. Benson 13 Jul 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Tanks! I was working my way through Weart’s history hoping to get a handle on that while thereby also being made to absorb more information. I should probably finish doing so.

    Dr. Weart deserves some kind of medal, BTW.

  10. 310
    Edward says:

    Barton #208
    In brief you stated:
    “If 200 million Chinese citizens find themselves without fresh water, Shanghai is under water, Indians lose their fresh water if a billion or more people in Asia starve to death so be it. That’s what you’re saying, in effect…”

    That’s not what I’m saying, it’s what the countries of India and China have said to the G-8 or the world. We may not like their decisions, but they probably did not like being colonized and having their resources pillaged by European countries for centuries either.

    If there is to be a “CO2 solution” Europe and the USA must take the lead and experience the “pain” of being the first to make the transition. This is not something that the developed countries can shove down the throats of the developing countries. If China and India are not worried about dwindling water supplies “so be it”.

    The Aral sea has virtually disappeared as a result of diverting the inflows for irrigation and there are Chinese rivers that virtually dry up during the year for similar reasons.

    We need to clean our own house first and then we’ll be in a better position to sell India and China on changing course.
    thanks
    Ed

  11. 311
    Edward says:

    James #222
    Take your statement
    “Or are they instead interested in increasing their national GNPs, as a means of increasing the power & prestige of the leaders, with the effects on the ordinary people being a distant afterthought?”

    and apply that to the leaders of any government not just China and India. The G-8 countries would love to foist the burden of cleaning up their CO2 problem on the developing countries and are working round the clock to deflect any from their own countries.

    There are no clean hands in this mess but Europe and the USA created the problem and must lead the cleanup. China and India wil follow in 20-30 years but too late to keep CO2 much below 500ppm.
    Thanks
    Ed

  12. 312
    David B. Benson says:

    Doug Bostrom (309) — By all means read Weart’s excellent history, but for orbital forcing also see
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbital_forcing

  13. 313
    James says:

    SecularAnimist says (13 Jul 2009 at 2:07 pm):

    “Yes, please, why don’t you “point out” once again that installing concentrating solar ther/mal power plants on one percent of the USA’s deserts…”

    If you can’t possibly avoid the subject, why not first go back to that thread, or to the article you cited as a reference, and try to come to terms with the fact that your 1% figure is a grievous underestimate of what would be needed? Even the authors of that article admit that, though they still downplay the real requirements in order to sell their hopelessly over-optimistic plan.

  14. 314
    Doug Bostrom says:

    David B. Benson 13 Jul 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Thanks again, David. Mostly was curious about -where- we are in the grand polyphasic scheme of things. I did a paper about this ages ago, back when it was barely possible to do an FFT on a 8 bit microprocessor -if- one had a brother w/the chops do do the assembly language for free. Great fun, though as it turned out only repeating other folks’ work and we had pretty severe limitations on what we able to accomplish with the tools at hand.

  15. 315
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Just to be clear, when I say “paper” I mean an undergraduate paper for a glaciology class. Published I ain’t.

  16. 316
    Patrick 027 says:

    James – (and note to others – let’s not just repeat ourselves, but build upon what we’ve started) –

    “and try to come to terms with the fact that your 1% figure is a grievous underestimate of what would be needed?”

    Indeed, even I became a bit concerned with their 2100 numbers for land use – however,

    “their hopelessly over-optimistic plan.”

    In some ways optimistic, but in some key areas, actually pessimistic. They deliberately do not take into account energy use efficiency improvements and limit technological advancement beyond 2020 or so, to come up with a conservative estimate with respect to the potential for solar energy. I suspect land use can still be much less than their year 2100 numbers. In particular, as older panels’ performance degrades, new panels can be installed in optimal locations (approx. latitude-tilt, unshaded locations, in large plants and on roofs) while older panels might fill in the land area to boost summer production, or be moved to the south side of buildings to boost winter production, etc. Cheaper panels will also allow more efficient land use with closer spacing and reduced tilt. Energy consumption per capita has remained roughly constant over the last 2 or 3 decades in the U.S. – the “Solar Grand Plan” actually allows it to grow, whereas there is actually much potential for reduction.

  17. 317
    Vendicar Decarian says:

    ————————————————
    Subject: Heavy Boots
    Organization: University of Wisconsin
    Author: Unknown
    Originally posted 1985 approx.
    ————————————————

    HEAVY BOOTS

    About 6-7 years ago, I was in a philosophy class at the University of
    Wisconsin, Madison (good science/engineering school) and the teaching
    assistant was explaining Descartes. He was trying to show how things
    don’t always happen the way we think they will and explained that,
    while a pen always falls when you drop it on Earth, it would just
    float away if you let go of it on the Moon.

    My jaw dropped a little. I blurted “What?!” Looking around the room, I
    saw that only my friend Mark and one other student looked confused by
    the TA’s statement. The other 17 people just looked at me like
    “What’s your problem?”

    “But a pen would fall if you dropped it on the Moon, just more
    slowly.” I protested.

    “No it wouldn’t.” the TA explained calmly, “because you’re too far
    away from the Earth’s gravity.”

    Think. Think. Aha! “You saw the APOLLO astronauts walking around on
    the Moon, didn’t you?” I countered, “why didn’t they float away?”
    “Because they were wearing heavy boots.” he responded, as if this made
    perfect sense (remember, this is a Philosophy TA who’s had plenty of
    logic classes).

    By then I realized that we were each living in totally different
    worlds, and did not speak each others language, so I gave up. As we
    left the room, my friend Mark was raging. “My God! How can all those
    people be so stupid?”

    I tried to be understanding. “Mark, they knew this stuff at one time,
    but it’s not part of their basic view of the world, so they’ve
    forgotten it. Most people could probably make the same mistake.” To
    prove my point, we went back to our dorm room and began randomly
    selecting names from the campus phone book. We called about 30 people
    and asked each this question: 1. If you’re standing on the Moon holding
    a pen, and you let go, will it a) float away, b) float where it is,
    or c) fall to the ground?

    About 47 percent got this question correct. Of the ones who got it
    wrong, we asked the obvious follow-up question: 2. You’ve seen films of
    the APOLLO astronauts walking around on the Moon, why didn’t they fall
    off?

    About 20 percent of the people changed their answer to the first
    question when they heard this one! But the most amazing part was that
    about half of them confidently answered, “Because they were wearing
    heavy boots.”

    I say, science education must be at an all time peak !!!

    ————————————————
    Subject: Heavy Boots
    Organization: Iowa State University, Ames, IA
    ————————————————

    We read an article claiming that the average American does not know the
    correct answer to the following question:

    If a pen is dropped on a moon, will it:
    A) Float away
    B) Float where it is
    C) Fall to the surface of the moon

    So a bunch of us TA’s got together and gave our physics classes quizzes asking
    this question. Out of 168 people taking the quiz, 48 missed the question.
    The responses are below. Some people didn’t write comments. The spelling and
    grammer were not changed, however, clarifying comments are enclosed in []‘s.

    Physics 324 – Modern Physics for Engineers
    ——————————————

    “A body is at rest tends to stay at rest, plus there’s no gravity”

    “The gravity of the moon can be said to be negligible, and also the moon’s
    a vacuum, there is no external force on the pen. Therefore it will float
    where it is.”

    “The pen will float away because the gravitational pull of the moon, being
    approximately 1/6 that of the earth, will not be enough to cause the pen to
    fall nor remain stationary where it is. The gravatational pull of other
    objects would influence the pen”

    Physics 222 – Second Semester Calculus-based Introductory Physics
    —————————————————————–

    “Because moon has gravitation 1/6 of the gravitation of earth the force will
    be small toward the moon [so it will float away]”

    Physics 221 – First Semester Calculus-based Introductory Physics

    “It will fall to the earth by force of gravity and by the attraction between
    the earth and the moon”

    “Because the gravitational pull of the moon is much weaker than that of the
    earth. And object such as a pen is so lite that it will float”

    “Because there are no external forces if you let go [it will float where it is]

    “External forces that are present on the moon will attract the pen. There
    isn’t gravity on the moon as there is on earth so the pen won’t drop.”

    “Since there is no gravity it will float and fall slowly. It will not fall
    like in the ground quickly because there is no gravity”

    “The force of gravity on the moon is a fraction of the gravity on the earth,
    so the moon would not be able to attract the pen to inself. Rather, it would
    only be able to suspend the pen”

    “It will eventually fall to the surface of the moon because of the slight
    gravitational field plus the moment of inertia about the moon. Also with
    angular momentum being conserved, it must fall. I=MR^2″ [We were studying
    conservation of angular momentum when I gave this quiz]

    “The pen will fall to the surface of the moon. As we let go we will
    introduce some initial enerty into the pen thus putting it in a forward
    downward motion. Since on the moon there is no force of resistance the pen
    will fall very slowly towards the surface”

    “If you are standing on the moon holding a pen and you let go, it will float
    where it is. It will not fall to the surface of the moon because a
    gravitational force strong enough to cause this does not exist. In addition,
    the pen does not have a lot of external force on it, so it will not be likely
    to move”

    “The pen will fall to the surface of the moon because the moon generates a
    gravitational field by rotating and the pen must act under this force”.

    Physics 111 – First semester Non-calculus Physics
    ————————————————-

    “It will float where it is because there is no gravity force on the moon.
    Also, if you just let go there isno acceleration so it should just float
    where it is.”

    “There is no gravitational force on the moon, the pen therefore has no
    weight so its mass has no effect on ‘where it goes’. Plus, you know, there
    is no wind to blow the pen up there! =)”

    Astronomy 150 – Physics for humanities majors
    ———————————————

    “[It will float where it is] Because there isn’t a real strong gravity force
    on the moon. Actually it is like having none at all. If I remember right,
    it is only like 2.9m/s (force of gravity)”

    “It will float away because the gravity of the moon won’t pull it down to the
    surface, but it won’t stay where it is because there is always some force
    acting on mass – (even though the gravity of the moon isn’t strong enough)”

    “The gravity of the earth will pull it more than that of the moon, so it will
    float toward earth”

    “It’ll float away because your body is not able to stay completely still. So
    it would float in the direction your hand was shaking”

    “There is not much gravitational pull on the moon to have it fall to the
    surface. The pen is so small and light, it probably would not be affected
    by the gravitation of the moon so it would float away.”

    “There is no gravity in space so if you just let it go, it will just gently
    float away.”

    “It will float away because the gravitational force is less than here on the
    Earth where it would fall. I think it will float away because of what I have
    seen of the space rooms NASA uses to get astronauts ready for flight.”

    “Theoretically, it should float away because it has no mass, gravity does not
    pull the pen towards the surface at a great enough rate to make it fall,
    however it does have enough force to keep it floating and ultimately it will
    drift away.”

    “Because there is no gravity on the moon. Therefore it would float away
    because there is nothing to hold it there or to pull it to the surface of
    the moon”

    “[It will float away] Because there would be no gravitational force to hold
    it there or make it fall to the surface of the moon”

    “There is no gravitational pull on the moon to cause pen to come back towards
    surface. The pen would float away probably toward the gravitational pull of
    the earth.”

    “[It will float where it is] Because there is no gravitational pull. It will
    neither fall towards the moon because there is no gravity to pull it there
    nor is there any other gravitational force that will pull it away from the
    moon.”

    “Float where it is and will not move because there is no gravitational pull,
    it will not float away unless it is pushed.”

    “The gravity on the moon is such that it won’t be pulled to the surface, and
    since the pen won’t make any movement it should float where it is.”

    “It will float where it is until a force acts upon it. There is no gravity
    to act upon it.”

    Astronomy 120 – Physics for brain-dead
    ————————————–

    “[It will float away because there is] no gravity to hold it and no atmosphere”

    “[It will float away] because the gravity on the moon is not as great as it
    is on the earth”

    “Because the earth is a greater mass and the pen will be pulled toward the
    greater body because of gravity. The moon doesn’t have that great of a
    gravitational pull”

    “No gravitatational pull so it won’t fall and no force pulling it away so it
    will float where it is”

    “Lack of gravity on moon allows pen to float in space”

    “Because there is no gravitational pull on the moon, there is no pull towards
    the moon or away from.”

    “The moon doesn’t have gravity like the earth which would bring the pen down
    to the surface instead the moon’s atmosphere would cause it to float above
    the moon’s surface.”

    “Gravity will not pull it down, because there is less of it. It shouldn’t
    float away just because I’ve never seen it happen. There’s a balance between
    gravity and the opposite force.”

    “It would float where it is because gravity would not let it fall to the
    surface (there is no gravity) on the moon. It would not float away because
    it has no mass.”

  18. 318

    Heavy boots, indeed.

  19. 319
    Rod B says:

    Edward (311, etc), you make some good points, but I have one minor possible exception: Why do you say, “India and China will follow in 20-30 years”? Is that just an intuitive opinion? Or do you have some insight to their long-range plans?

  20. 320
    Patrick 027 says:

    Heavy boots – in defense of other fields of academia, I want to mention that one time after class, I had a discussion with my philosophy professor about quantum mechanics, and he seemed to be reasonably informed.

  21. 321
    save gaia says:

    @300 patrick 027
    I just ask if there is a diffrent appearance of earth emitted wavelength, a characteristic trend, due to the higher Co2 concentrations.
    Aware of this and taking in account the sharp rise and short time interval this should be a typical anomaly, an indicator for inteligent live on planets.
    Ofc this is a little odd, but not when you work on something seti related, right? (Sorry for my bad english)

  22. 322
    save gaia says:

    @317 I dont find this spectecular, infact its irrelevant and wrong to post wrong answers. This fail means just – more education.

  23. 323
    Mike Hall says:

    Prof David Wasdell proposes that a strategy based on temp. rise is flawed & suggests one based on net (radiative) energy forcing – what do you at realclimate think about this?

    http://www.apollo-gaia.org/PlanetEarth/index.htm

    Also, I’d be most interested to hear what you think about this (related) heat energy approach by Nordell & Gervet in Sweden?

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090713085248.htm

    Thanks for this excellent website!

  24. 324
    Mark says:

    “I had a discussion with my philosophy professor about quantum mechanics, and he seemed to be reasonably informed.”

    It did require them to be interested.

    The path to *using* quantum mechanics has, in my opinion, a lot of interest for a philosophy course. Though there are uncertainties, it’s possible to use the underlying principles that shape the uncertainties to produce a real result.

  25. 325

    James writes:

    “The position is that nuclear is good to go NOW.”

    The Voyagers, Galileo, Ulysses, Cassini, and others. All using small nuclear power sources (radioisotope thermal generators), all providing power for decades with no interruptions or service calls. How much more evidence do you need?

    These are thermoelectric converters using normal radioactive decay. They are not thermal engines like commercial nuclear reactors.

  26. 326

    Edward posts:

    If China and India are not worried about dwindling water supplies “so be it”.

    There’s a difference between, e.g., “China” and “the Chinese government.” It’s not the members of the Central Committee who are going to go without fresh water.

    Sorry, but everybody should be held to the same standard. CO2 from a Chinese power plant has the same effect on climate as CO2 from an American power plant. Period.

  27. 327
    John E. Pearson says:

    Re: 254 Edward Greisch says:

    “Read http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/intro/pu-isotope.htm
    more carefully.”

    I read it carefully the first time. This article also has some bearing on the issue:

    http://www.fas.org/rlg/980826-pu.htm

    I’m quite certain that Richard Garwin isn’t a stooge for the coal industry.

    My feeling is that if you’re claiming that any energy source is a wart-free panacea you’re not being honest. Proliferation, waste, and the possibility of accidents are issues with nukes. Earth quakes are an issue with geothermal power. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/business/energy-environm
    ent/24geotherm.html I think there must be some toxic chemicals involved in the production of PV cells. If we manufacture thousands of square miles of PV cells there will be environmental costs in both production and in placement. Rational discussions of energy policy in which inconvenient truths aren’t swept under the rug would be awesome to see.

  28. 328
    Mark says:

    “It’s not the members of the Central Committee who are going to go without fresh water.”

    However, as the Chinese well know, revolution comes when the general populace have nothing to lose.

    And there’s a lot more of them than any power structure that is meant to hold them.

    Governance is at the acceptance of the governed. Policing by the acceptance of those who are policed.

    A populace with nothing to lose is a danger to those in charge, and they hardly ever survive the change.

  29. 329
    James says:

    Barton Paul Levenson says (14 July 2009 at 6:13 AM):

    “These are thermoelectric converters using normal radioactive decay. They are not thermal engines like commercial nuclear reactors.”

    I don’t quite see your point. First, what exactly is “normal” about an isotope like PU-238, which has a half-life of around 87 years? It’s something that has to be created in a nuclear reactor (which I suppose technically classifies it as nuclear waste).

    Second, RTGs certainly are thermal engines. They typically convert the heat difference to electricity via thermocouples rather than Carnot-cycle engines, but that’s another engineering decision. RTGs are typically used in remote locations, like space probes, and a solid-state solution offers fewer failure modes than something with moving parts. There’s no reason you couldn’t use the heat to drive a steam turbine or Stirling engine, just as the steam turbines in a nuclear plant are basically identical to the ones in a coal-fired plant, or for that matter a solar thermal one.

    I think what you really meant is that RTGs aren’t fission reactors. That’s true enough, but (although I’m not a nuclear engineer by any stretch of the imagination) I think it’d be difficult if not impossible to build a fission reactor small enough to power just a single house.

  30. 330
    Mark says:

    “I think what you really meant is that RTGs aren’t fission reactors.”

    They are also out in space, where losses to the environment matter not a whit. Therefore you can build for maximum utility.

    This is not so workable here on planet earth…

  31. 331
    save gaia says:

    @317 E. Pearson,
    Not if you use solar mirrors to collect the sun, an at least 30 year old know-how as becoming popular in europe with the http://www.desertec.org project.

  32. 332
    Edward says:

    Rod B #319
    A good question. As an example China is comissioning a new Coal plant about once every week. They invested heavily to build that plant and it probably has a useful life of 20-30 years. There are additional power plants on the drawing board and in various stages of construction. If you got the the Chinese to agree to stop constructon on new coal power plants 3 years from now think of many will be finished between now and then and. The economic incentive to shut down a newly built coal power plant once it is up and running would have to be huge and to my knowledge the replacement “green” technology either does not exist or does not offer the Chinese a large enough incentive to switch.

    There is information that I’m sure I have not seen regarding China’s power generation but what I’ve read about has emphasized the building of coal plants.

  33. 333
    Edward says:

    #326 Barton
    You stated: “Sorry, but everybody should be held to the same standard. CO2 from a Chinese power plant has the same effect on climate as CO2 from an American power plant. Period.”

    Your argument may be persusive on this blog but the Chinese “people” or the Chinese “government” have not been persuaded and are continuing to build coal power plants.

    I’d be hesitant to appoint myself as final arbiter of what a group of people, culture or nation should do based on my judgement of what is important. In my opinion, if I were to switch places with someone in China I would not find that co2 global warming would be at the top of my list of worries regardless of what we might think of the repressive nature of their Government.

    Thanks
    Ed

  34. 334
    save gaia says:

    Related to my last comment i found this news at the very uptodate site solveclimate.com
    “Another perk for Desertec Solar, 240.000 new jobs alone in Germany”
    http://solveclimate.com/blog/20090708/another-perk-desertec-solar-project-240-000-new-german-jobs

  35. 335
    Chris Dudley says:

    James (#329),

    “I think it’d be difficult if not impossible to build a fission reactor small enough to power just a single house.”

    Difficult, yes. For a self-sustaining reaction, one needs a minimum thickness of fuel to ensure that neutrons actually get captured. This means that while one could keep the reaction damped down to provide a few kW of power, the heat would be spread out over the volume and difficult to convert to work.

    It turns out that small reactors for nuclear propulsion are really about the only appropriate use for nuclear power. These are more powerful that a few kW though. Large civilian reactors, because they are used for power generation, need to be considered as expensive batteries since transmuting the waste to stable isotopes, the only responsible solution to the waste problem, is likely going to cost as much energy as the reactors generate or more. Propulsion, on the other hand. is not about supplying power but getting around without the need to surface or refuel. So, transmuting the waste will not be a big deal.

  36. 336
    James says:

    Mark says (14 July 2009 at 2:48 PM):

    “This is not so workable here on planet earth…”

    (Sigh) In fact RTGs are used here on Earth, where reliable power is needed in remote places: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator

  37. 337
    G. Karst says:

    Re: James — 14 July 2009 @ 12:45 PM

    “I think it’d be difficult if not impossible to build a fission reactor small enough to power just a single house.”

    Canada built a self-contained, self cooling, self regulating, safe as a gas furnace, reactor called a “slow poke reactor”. While several were built and the technology proven, the public never considered residential reactors as a acceptable concept. Otherwise, we probably would not be discussing AGW now.

  38. 338
    Mark says:

    “(Sigh) In fact RTGs are used here on Earth, where reliable power is needed in remote places: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator

    Comment by James ”

    In fact that doesn’t change “This is not so workable here on planet earth…”

    If you have an RTG at a remote place, then you have to have a lossy grid to take it to where it’s needed.

    And the idea is that this would be IN SOMEONE’S HOUSE.

    Unless they don’t live there while they have an RTG, this is not going to work, is it.

    Go right back to the beginning of this argument and see again what this is all about. You have currently lost the plot.

  39. 339
    Mark says:

    “the Chinese “government” have not been persuaded and are continuing to build coal power plants.”

    Ed, the Chinese are also creating green power sources faster than anyone else.

    If you’re going to use your “point” to show that the chinese don’t care, I will equally validly use my point to prove that they do.

    Until the chinese stop producing green power, your position is unsupported rhetoric.

  40. 340
    Rod B says:

    Edward (332), Good point; but if you get them to build no more coal plants as of 3 years from now, that’s not just waiting them out and they’ll come along 20-30 years from now.

  41. 341
    Doug Bostrom says:

    James says 14 Jul 2009 at 7:51 pm

    I think RTG power is the cat’s pajamas, for certain applications. Yet the Russians have discovered that many of their unattended RTG generators have vanished, sometimes to turn up in the hands of the unwitting, such as the two hunters who used a navigation beacon power source to warm themselves in the dead of winter, having stripped off everything but the radioactive source from the unit in question. One died of acute radiation exposure on the spot, the other managed to crawl back to civilization. I don’t know what became of him.

    My point is, the appropriateness of a power source always includes human factors.

    Is the power source you’re using reasonably safe? This is contextual. For an unattended or lightly supervised power source, is it reasonably safe when exposed to the least informed and most technically incompetent person you can imagine? If not, it needs to offer virtues so overwhelmingly compelling that you can essentially strike safety off the specifications list.

    This is why GFCI outlets and circuit breakers are sprouting so rapidly in new construction. A 110V outlet is potentially lethal unless the user has a thorough background in how it works. The benefits of 110V point connections are so great that we’ve chosen to ignore the steady stream of fatalities occurring as the electrically uninitiated encounter all the possible outcomes of exploiting this convenience. Now we have a fix available to partially stem the flow of corpses, so we’re deploying it as quickly as possible.

    RTG generators although simple are not amenable to being made safe in the hands of the uninformed. On the other end of the scale, looking at the record of quality control problems in the construction and operation of bulk nuclear plants, I think they’re too complex to be operated by the kind of people we have available in the quantities needed to build and operated them, when combined with the relatively serious mess they make when somebody inevitably makes a mistake.

    Mark says 15 Jul 2009 at 8:46 am

    I hate to say it, but sometimes it’s really satisfying to see how quickly improvements can be made when building trade associations, architects etc. can be crushed by power from the top:

    http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/sciencetech/china-solar-hot-water-capacity-soon-to-be-equivalent-to-40-nuclear-plants/822

  42. 342
    Edward says:

    Mark #339
    I agree that the Chinese are developing “green” power but that description includes Hydro power the development of which is having devasting consequences on the environment in China as well as displacing tens of millions of people. The point is that the USA and Europe cannot “make” the Chinese do anything. If China can generate power more cheaply using the coal deposits at their disposal China will continue to do so. That’s why it’s so important for the US to develop an alternative that can clearly replace coal fired plants at a cost advantage to do so. Then you can make an economic argument to the Chinese that would be compelling. The argument that “the 100 year accumulation of CO2 the developed world has pumped into the atmo means you cannot build coal plants otherwise New York City floods” has not persuaded the Chinese to date.

    In answer to Rod #340, in order for China to not plan to build a coal plant 3 years out there has to be something on the table right now that makes more sense for them economically. Until you can make a switch in that pipeline you’ll be stuck with what gets built today for the next 20-25 years. That’s a lot of co2 “inertia” in the system and that’s why I’m pessimistic that anything substantive can be done to prevent 500ppm.
    Thanks
    Edward

  43. 343
    Doug Bostrom says:

    NY Times:

    ‘U.S. Officials Press China on Climate

    BEIJING — The top American energy and commerce officials called for China to do more to address global warming in speeches here on Wednesday, contending that the country was particularly vulnerable to a changing climate.

    Energy Secretary Steven Chu warned in a speech at Tsinghua University, China’s top science university, that if humanity did not reverse the pace of its ever-rising emissions of greenhouse gases, more people in China would be displaced by rising sea levels than in any other country.

    If China’s emissions of global warming gases keep growing at the pace of the last 30 years, the country will emit more such gases in the next three decades than the United States has in its entire history, said Mr. Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics.”‘

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/16/world/asia/16warming.html?hp

    How about if we step up and do something to lead by example? What about doing what the Chinese are doing with DHW? Ok, so the Chinese are ahead of us on that, dull as it is. So how about mandating modest grid tie systems based on pragmatic criteria in new construction? We’re excellent at pursuing the bleeding edge of technology because that’s where speculation of untold wealth is most seductive, yet we never actually seem to get around to seriously deploying anything we already know how to build.

    It’s -really- annoying to watch our magic market fail so badly

  44. 344
    James says:

    Chris Dudley says (14 Jul 2009 at 6:05 pm):

    “…transmuting the waste to stable isotopes, the only responsible solution to the waste problem, is likely going to cost as much energy as the reactors generate or more.”

    I don’t quite follow the logic. Quite apart from arguments about “responsible solutions” (let’s not do that again), an isotope that’s radioactive has potential energy – that’s what makes it radioactive, after all – so that in principle transmuting it to a more stable isotope* should release energy, which could be harnessed.

    *Of course there are no actual stable isotopes of anything, just ones with very much greater half-lives.

  45. 345
    James says:

    Mark says (15 Jul 2009 at 8:44 am):

    “If you have an RTG at a remote place, then you have to have a lossy grid to take it to where it’s needed.”

    (Deeper sigh) The remote place is where the power is needed. By putting an RTG on site, you avoid building the lossy (and long) grid connection.

    “And the idea is that this would be IN SOMEONE’S HOUSE.”

    Yes. Consider the house as a remote place :-)

    “Unless they don’t live there while they have an RTG, this is not going to work, is it.”

    Whyever not? Go back to the link and read the part about shielding.

  46. 346
    James says:

    G. Karst says (15 Jul 2009 at 8:13 am):

    “Canada built a self-contained, self cooling, self regulating, safe as a gas furnace, reactor called a “slow poke reactor”. ”

    Well, I SAID I wasn’t a nuclear engineer :-) Even so, the physical size and 20 KW power would be a bit of overkill for my house, since I average about 400 watts.

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

  47. 347
    Evan says:

    Sorry if this is off-topic, but I was disturbed to see USA Today highlighting this recent study taking shots at the IPCC climate models.

    http://blogs.usatoday.com/sciencefair/2009/07/could-we-be-wrong-about-global-warming.html

    Could you guys post a response her and/or there?

  48. 348
    Chris Dudley says:

    James (#344),

    With nuclear waste, one has to wait too long to harvest the energy from the decay. Your harvesting machine won’t last long enough. And, it is that lack of any mechanical solution that leads to transmutation as the solution. Unfortunately, that takes energy.

    I guess you thing the proton may be unstable?

  49. 349
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Evan 15 Jul 2009 at 1:43 pm

    I read a synopsis of the same finding at New Scientist. To these layman ears, it sounds as though it’s cause for more worry, if anything. The NS article had some speculation from other scientists about the unaccounted-for portion being due to methane or some other feedback process.

  50. 350
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Evan (347):

    I’m sure Gavin will be responding since he has published on this very subject, but as just a very preliminary first cut statement, I find it amazing that Zeebe et al (the study referred to by USA Today), don’t even cite Schmidt and Shindell (2003), not in the article nor in the supplemental material. How can that be?


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