RealClimate logo

Unforced variations: Dec 2012

Filed under: — group @ 1 December 2012

A new meteorological season, perhaps some new science topics to discuss…

369 Responses to “Unforced variations: Dec 2012”

  1. 1
    Poul-Henning Kamp says:

    Have you noticed the new paper from Thomas Stocker ?

    He gave a presentation about in Copenhagen last monday, and he has done a execellent job of visualizing the climate-targets still within reach and what they will take.

    Article in Science:

    Non-paywalled german news-item with graph:

  2. 2
    Alastair McDonald says:

    Yes, Stocker concludes that we may have passed the point where reductions in carbon dioxide emissions (mitigation) can prevent us from passing to a state of dangerous climate change.

  3. 3
    Flakmeister says:

    Maybe this has been covered here before but I’ll fire it off anyway…

    The Fermi Paradox basically states “Where are all the aliens?”, well, I think we are starting to be able to understand the solution to this problem.

    I think it is safe to say that liquid water is required for a technically advanced society to develop. Likewise, carbon is going to be at the foundation of any biochemistry. If a planet is to have liquid water for the period of ~0.1 to say 1 billion years, then the planetary atmosphere must evolve to balance out the slow and steady increase in the stellar luminosity so as to maintain the Goldilocks conditions. There are are only so many possibilities that allows this to occur. The simplest solution is a earth like situation where slowly decreasing C02 levels turn the trick. However, that sequestered carbon is invariably going to be tied up in fossil fuels, which as we all know are really useful to a technologically developing civilization. The upshoot is that the amount of C02 required early on all but guarantees that there will be more fossil fuels available that can be safely burned. So the civilization has to able to make the leap beyond FF before reaching the climatic tipping point.

    The “carbon trap” scenario can be avoided by having a fast track evolutionary process in a system where the host star is relatively dim with a slowly changing luminosity. However, how realistic is it to have a technical civilization take only ~100 million years to arise?

  4. 4
    Chett Mitchell says:

    Topic: Climate education for the public

    Since things are so quiet, I wanted to share a good online resource I found out about recently.

    The site is MetEd (, operated by the University Consortium for Atmospheric Research. This site provides short, graphically intensive online courses in Meteorology, Hydrology, Climate Science and Remote Sensing. The classes are free, but you have to sign up for an account. Courses are typically 1-2 hours, with a lot of Flash animations. You can take a quiz at the end of a class and get a certificate of completion.

    I learned about MetEd when I took their StormSpotter training. They have literally hundreds of courses available. Courses are ranked on a difficulty scale of 0 to 5; I’ve found the courses higher than 2 pretty much incomprehensible, since they assume you are a working weather forecaster.

    Meted offers several climate-focused courses that could be understood by anyone. The three I wanted to suggest

    *Introduction to Climatology: a 1.5 hour course in the basics of climate driver at several different spatial and time scales. No math, lots of information!

    *”Climate Change: putting the pieces together”. MetEd’s main climate change course. About 2 hours. Sections have titles like “Is it real?”, “How do we know?”. Very good.

    *”Introduction to Climate Models” Might be hard to understand if you don’t know anything about modelling weather: the target audience is broadcast meteorologists. The message is climate models are different, but that’s OK.

    I would encourage all you climatology guys to check this site out and recommend it to lay people. It’s good stuff!

  5. 5
    Poul-Henning Kamp says:

    @2: Yes, I know the message Stocker delivers is not new, but his way of plotting the information into a single graphic is new, and very communicative.

    [Response: Perhaps I’m biased, but I rather like the way we portrayed the challenge in the Copenhagen Diagnosis report, see: this plot from the report (full report available here). – mike]

  6. 6
    wili says:

    from ClimateProgress:

    “IPCC’s Planned Obsolescence: Fifth Assessment Report Will Ignore Crucial Permafrost Carbon Feedback!”

    “A key reason the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change keeps issuing instantly irrelevant reports is that it keeps ignoring the latest climate science. We have known for years that perhaps the single most important carbon-cycle feedback is the melting of the permafrost.

    Yet a must-read new United Nations Environment Programme report, “Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost” reports this jaw-dropping news:

    ‘The effect of the permafrost carbon feedback on climate has not been included in the IPCC Assessment Reports. None of the climate projections in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report include the permafrost carbon feedback (IPCC 2007). Participating modeling teams have completed their climate projections in support of the Fifth Assessment Report, but these projections do not include the permafrost carbon feedback. Consequently, the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, due for release in stages between September 2013 and October 2014, will not include the potential effects of the permafrost carbon feedback on global climate.'”

    Presumably that means that methane hydrates are not included either.

    [Response: This is a little confused. First of all, there are no such things as ‘IPCC models’ (even if we sometimes refer to the CMIP3 and CMIP5 exercises as such). The IPCC can only assess information that has been made available by researchers and scientists elsewhere – it does no real independent research. The main complaint appears to be that the CMIP5 models don’t include unquantified and highly uncertain feedbacks involving permafrost methane. However, this is neither shocking nor surprising nor particularly important – though I appreciate that this might seem a little counter-intuitive.

    The CMIP5 suite of simulations included 4 future scenarios out to 2100. Now, clearly the number of potential scenarios that could be run is infinite, so the CMIP5 ones were picked to span a range of forcings at the year 2100: 2.6 W/m2, 4.5W/m2, 6 W/m2 and 8.5 W/m2. Those forcings include all changes of CO2 (anthropogenic or as a feedback). Some of the models (such as the GISS model), additionally included a range of CH4 feedbacks related to wetlands. Many simulations were also requested to calculate the range and importance of other feedbacks. Collectively, these simulations and any others that might have been performed focussed more specifically on permafrost emissions can be combined to generate a wider range of potential scenarios, as was done in AR4 for estimates of the CO2 feedbacks. Specifically for the set of runs for with interactive carbon cycles, those models are being run in a mode whereby they calculate the human contribution as a residual (ie. estimating the allowable amount of anthropogenic carbon). If there are additional sources of CO2 beyond those considered in those runs, that would simply reduce the allowed human emissions that would be consistent with the end concentration. The mistake being made here is that there is an assumption that specific simulations from CMIP5 are ‘predictions’ – they are not. They are projections contingent on the scenario. If you want to know what would happen under a different scenario, you need to do a little work – using the existing simulations as raw material. But to claim that because the mainline CMIP5 simulations didn’t run the scenario you care about that means that the IPCC report is already obsolete is not valid. – gavin]

  7. 7
    catman306 says:

    Here’s some geo-engineering that we might be able to all agree on:

    Fly tankers and fire planes high over areas of the permafrost where the surface temperature is below freezing but there is no snow. Equip the planes with snow making equipment.

    Even a very light dusting of snow will increase the albedo and prevent any further melting by solar radiation. Satellite observations can instruct the pilots where to fly.

    We have to DO something, don’t we?

  8. 8
    Jim Larsen says:

    “The main complaint appears to be that the CMIP5 models don’t include unquantified and highly uncertain feedbacks involving permafrost methane. However, this is neither shocking nor surprising nor particularly important”

    Paraphrasing Wili, “Users will make decisions using data where much or perhaps most of the effects are ignored!”

    Paraphrasing Gavin, “But developers stub out things that aren’t done yet. That’s how development works.”
    Stubs are just fine when building a system, but good developers knows that stubs should either be built out before the system is used, or the user must be protected from falling into a void.

    And this stub, natural carbon feedbacks, is likely to be immense. An orbital seasonal change with essentially no change in total planetary sunlight sent us from ice age to interglacial via carbon feedbacks. Now the stuff reported to the public doesn’t include carbon feedbacks even though our initial forcing is much greater and faster than the orbital one?

    Sorry, but the IPCC should be about science reporting in wartime, not ivory-tower pure-science. You have to have 100% of the pieces accounted for, with each piece fit in with educated guesstimates if that’s the best available for that piece of the puzzle. I can imagine that WW2 convoy captain, “We don’t know how many subs the Germans have, so we’ll make plans that totally ignore subs….”

  9. 9
    Hank Roberts says:

    Jim Larsen, you’ve effectively confused “the small wormy apple on the plate on the sideboard” with “all roughly spherical fruit anywhere ever”

    Many feedbacks have numbers attached.
    Look at the paleo work for the record of the past for the basis.

    The methane catastrophic emergency doesn’t have a number attached. Again, look at the paleo work for the physical basis.
    No past record to draw on, since the PETM at least.

    Sure, it may actually be a watermelon, not a small apple.
    Someone has to weigh the damn thing, though, not assume it’s huge.

    But it might be bigger and faster, you say?
    Than what? By how much?

    Simple answer, as Gavin says buried there at the end of his response. If there’s more than we know about, it gets subtracted from what we can add.

    It’s arithmetic.

  10. 10
    T Marvell says:

    Post 1- Stocker’s paper is at:

    It is based on the assumption that there is a linear relationship between CO2 and temperature. CO2 appears to be increasing expodentially. Some have claimed that there is a log-linear relationship, with CO2 logged. If that is the case, then Stocker’s warnings are too dire. But based on the last 32 years of monthly data, I get a better fit with the linear model than with the log-linear model. Such a short time-period, however, doesn’t tell us a whole lot.

    [Response: you are a little confused. The relationship stocker is using is between eventual temperature and cumulative emissions, not concentration. See the papers by Allen and Meinshausen (google ‘the trillionth tonne’). – gavin]

  11. 11
    Hank Roberts says:
    quotes one of the experts who’s been quantifying feedbacks:

    —-excerpt follows —-

    It is increasingly unlikely that global warming will be kept below an increase of 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels, a study suggests.

    Data show that global CO2 emissions in 2012 hit 35.6bn tonnes, a 2.6% increase from 2011 and 58% above 1990 levels.

    The researchers say that emissions are the largest contributor to future climate change and a strong indicator of potential future warming.

    The findings have been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

    Meanwhile, the data has been published in the journal Earth System Science Data Discussions.

    Many low-lying nations have used the UN conference, which is currently under way in Doha, to call for a threshold temperature rise less than 2C, arguing that even a 2C rise will jeopardise their future.

    “These latest figures come amidst climate talks in Doha, but with emissions continuing to grow, it’s as if no-one is listening to the scientific community,” said Corinne Le Quere, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia.

    “I am worried that the risks of dangerous climate change are too high on our current emissions trajectory,” Prof Le Quere said.

    “We need a radical plan.”

  12. 12
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, nature’s always got another surprise waiting:
    Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 January 3; 109(1): 59-62.
    doi: 10.1073/pnas.1118675109
    PMCID: PMC3252959
    Explosive eruption of coal and basalt and the end-Permian mass extinction

  13. 13
    Hank Roberts says:

    “… Here we describe datasets and a methodology developed by the global carbon cycle science community to quantify all major components of the global carbon budget, including their uncertainties….
    “… This paper is intended to provide a baseline to keep track of annual carbon budgets in the future.
    “All carbon data presented here can be downloaded from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (doi:10.3334/CDIAC/GCP_V2012).”

    Earth Syst. Sci. Data Discuss., 5, 1107-1157, 2012
    © Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed
    under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

  14. 14
    T Marvell says:

    Re post 10 – Allen et al look at CO2 concentration trends and compare that to temperature trends, past and hypothetical (Figures 1b and 1c). The curves are very similar, meaning a linear relationship between CO2 and temperature, but with a lag before reaching peak temperature. Both are apparently increasing expodentially.
    Expodential growth is a frightening concept, which most people probably understand, like something ballooning out of control. “If you think things are bad now, just wait because things are getting worse at a faster and faster pace.” I have not seen this idea pushed in the public discussions of global warming. It should be.

  15. 15
    Russell says:

    The November 8 Woodrow Wilson Center seminar on climate mitigation by ‘soft geoengineering is now online :

  16. 16
    David Goldstein says:

    It all may amount to futile gesture at this point, but…for a few years now, some of us have been posting on climate blogs and watching as the world simply goes even more quickly in the wrong direction. Has the time come to ‘put down our pens’? The scientists have done their good work. The politicians have NOT. The only possible bridge that I foresee (aside from scrambling responses to undeniable shock and catastrophe down the road) is this: For a critical mass of the people to bring pressure to bare- which means, essentially, getting out in the streets and, most likely, perform non-violent civil disobedience a la Vietnam war/civil rights. (along with financial pressure a la divestment campaigns) Here’s my question: If this is so, are you (the reader) willing to do this? Are you willing to ‘put your body’ on the line? Are you? To do so would be to ‘speak’ powerfully to your children and their children “I am doing what I can, though it may not suffice”. Lastly, I am not entirely naive- of course, this would have to occur as part of a sustained and well orchestrated campaign to have any chance of success. But- it IS coming to this. is calling a rally/protest/civil disobedience in Washington Feb 18th. Would you come…put your pen down…and, as well, lay your body down?

  17. 17


    For a critical mass of the people to bring pressure to bare- which means, essentially, getting out in the streets and, most likely, perform non-violent civil disobedience a la Vietnam war/civil rights. (along with financial pressure a la divestment campaigns) Here’s my question: If this is so, are you (the reader) willing to do this? Are you willing to ‘put your body’ on the line? Are you?

    Yes. Let’s get organized, ’cause willy-nilly won’t do it.

    And kudos to Dr. Hansen, who is already implementing that advice, with 3 arrests so far.

  18. 18
    Susan Anderson says:

    Sea Trial Leaves Shell’s Arctic Oil-Spill Gear “Crushed Like A Beer Can”

    The Arctic Challenger’s containment dome, crumpled after a field test in Puget Sound

    Shell Oil has been building and testing equipment designed for the Arctic Ocean here in Puget Sound. In September, a key test of underwater oil-spill equipment was a spectacular failure.

    It forced the energy giant to postpone drilling into oil-bearing rocks beneath the Arctic Ocean until next summer. Shell and its federal regulators have been tight-lipped about the failed test.

    But a freedom-of-information request reveals what happened beneath the surface of Puget Sound.


  19. 19
    wili says:

    @ #16–Yes, yes, yes–except we shouldn’t completely put down our pen while picking up our pitchforks. We do have to target new audiences, including of course decision makers on various levels.

    I just went to one of McKibben’s rallies and some follow-up organizing events. The divestment campaign looks like it is really on its way to being something big. But it requires lots of help from all informed and concerned parties. Some relevant web sites:

    And of course you can get involved and still do some blogging–it’s still important to keep up with the science.

    Speaking of which, Skeptical Science posted this abstract recently:

    Arctic sea ice limits methane emission from ocean and also absorbs methane from atmosphere

    Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean: Role of shielding and consumption of methane – He et al. (2012)

    ► We compared methane fluxes under two conditions, with and without ice cover.
    ► There is considerable methane potentially storing in central Arctic Ocean.
    ► Sea ice limits methane emission in Arctic.
    ► Sea ice absorbs methane in atmosphere potentially related to both photochemical and biochemical oxidation.

    Abstract: “Sources and sinks of methane, one of the most important greenhouse gases, have attracted intensive attention due to its role in global warming.

    We show that sea ice in the Arctic Ocean regulates methane level through two mechanisms, shielding of methane emission from the ocean, and consumption of methane.

    Using a static chamber technique, we estimated that the methane flux from under-ice water was 0.56 mg(CH4) m−2 d−1on average in central Arctic Ocean, relatively higher than that in other oceans, indicating considerable methane storage in this region under sea ice.

    Average methane flux on under-ice water was higher than that above sea ice, which suggests that sea ice could limit methane emission.

    In addition, negative fluxes on sea ice suggest that there are methane consuming processes, which are possibly associated with both photochemical and biochemical oxidation. Our results provide a general understanding about how sea ice in Arctic affects regional and global methane balance.”

    Citation: Xin He, Liguang Sun, Zhouqing Xie, Wen Huang, Nanye Long, Zheng Li, Guangxi Xing, Atmospheric Environment, Volume 67, March 2013, Pages 8–13,

    I had heard before that sea ice could react with atmospheric CO2, but I don’t recall seeing that it also reacts at the water-ice surface. How big of a deal is this? How much methane is being essentially scrubbed from the sea and air in the Arctic that could soon be free of most of this sink? Is this another major feedback?

  20. 20
    Candide says:

    It’s been a slow news week, but I just saw this today:

    UN climate talks deadlocked after days of wrangling

    I hadn’t been aware that more UN climate talks were underway, but my expectations are pretty low that anything of real importance will be agreed on. It’s not even easy to get some countries (including many “advanced” ones like the USA) to admit that AGW is real, let alone coming up with a workable proposal for dealing with it.

    Reading the article, the talks seems to be breaking down over which countries should make the most cuts. Cap & trade seems to be a big point of dispute.

    I’m not optimistic that even when it becomes painfully obvious that AGW is real (like an annual Hurricane Sandy flooding major cities) that politicians will act.

    One thing I have concluded though is that the so-called “cap & trade” is a poor, unworkable solution. Nor do I think that a carbon tax would be much better. Both of those approaches are based on the assumption that people can simply use less energy without any significant degradation in prosperity. While it’s true that there is some low-hanging fruit to be picked on the conservation side (ie more efficient light bulbs, smaller cars), I don’t expect that even super-efficient technology will reduce energy consumption by more than 25%. While every little bit helps, the other 75% has to come from somewhere.

    I’ve gradually been won over to the position that fourth-generation nuclear is the best technology currently available for no-carbon energy production on the scale that we use it now. I realize that pulling this off won’t be easy, and in the post-Fukushima world it’s going to be a hard sell. Hopefully, the prospect of New York and London disappearing beneath the waves will focus minds.

    Good well-informed discussion about fourth-generation nuclear over at but I suspect that most readers of this blog already know about that.


  21. 21

    #19–Yes, Candide, and thanks for the link. The talks are an annual rite, as part of the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) process. Unfortunately, they are by now a highly dysfunctional rite, or so it appears from the outside. There’s a little bit about the history of this at my article:

    (Also a quick take on the scientific history, from Fourier on down.)

  22. 22
    SecularAnimist says:

    [edit – nuclear is always off topic, sorry]

  23. 23
    Hank Roberts says:

    > How big of a deal is this? … Is this another major feedback?

    Wili, long ago, I led cave tours.
    Someone in each group, almost every time, would always ask:

    “How much of the cave hasn’t been explored yet?”

    You know the answer you’re looking for.

  24. 24
    Mati says:

    It will be interesting a post about stratospheric temperature trends, discussing Santer’s PNAS and Thompson-Seidel-Randel’s Nature new papers.
    Thanks for all the work!

  25. 25
    Hank Roberts says:

    Wili, Doing the Math: Carbon Zero is the moderate position.

    I’d rather see a negative number, by letting nature rebuild much of the carbon cycle we’ve destroyed without being aware of it. E.g. stop competing with the whales for krill, let them recover to where they handle iron fertilization.

    There are many other reasons to hope we don’t lose the sea ice, including keeping the primary productivity that occurs along the ice edge.

    Just asking “could this be a big scary number” doesn’t accomplish much.

    Look for real numbers. They’re available. Consider The effects of rerouting aircraft around the arctic circle on arctic and global climate
    DOI 10.1007/s10584-012-0462-0

  26. 26
    SecularAnimist says:

    The moderator replied to me (#22): “[edit – nuclear is always off topic, sorry]”

    Then perhaps you missed the comment by Candide (#20), which included the off-topic assertion, “fourth-generation nuclear is the best technology currently available for no-carbon energy production on the scale that we use it now” and the off-topic recommendation of “Good well-informed discussion about fourth-generation nuclear” at the pro-nuclear site Brave New Climate.

    That comment, which remains on the thread, is what I was responding to with my respectful and informative reply, which was deleted.

    [Response:It has nothing to do with your reply. Discussions about nuclear energy here never go anywhere and always end up repeating the same thing. It distracts from what can be done here. It is OT. – gavin]

  27. 27
    Hank Roberts says:

    Secular, see the right sidebar? The “Other Opinions” list links to relevant discussions of climate issues not on topic here; remind new commenters, see the over there.

  28. 28
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Candide — 4 Dec 2012 @ 1:54 AM

    You say- “I don’t expect that even super-efficient technology will reduce energy consumption by more than 25%.”

    I would be interested in what facts inform your opinion. If you are talking about what the U.S. has to do, a cursory search finds that there are several developed nations with a Human Development Index (HDI, which apparently supersedes and includes Standard of Living) that is very close to that of the U.S. (some better), with per capita CO2 emissions as low as 30% of the U.S. I realize that there are some mitigating factors specific to the U.S., but the difference between 25% and 60% is very large. Steve

    CO2/per capita/country-

  29. 29
    Magnus W says:

    Regarding the permafrost in #6 If the new paper(s) is right then the permafrost contribution will be quite substantial. Since this is rather new (?) information (the magnitude) I guess it is not in the scenarios (or are there enough runs with such high feedbacks?)… this in turn could easily fool governments which i do not think usually do what Gavin is talking about… making own calculations. They will simply look at some published plot and say ok for 2 degrees we can do this (just tracking CO2 output with the scenarios). So personally I think this is something that should be highlighted.

    [Response: There are too many things to highlight everything. This should indeed be brought up and future projections can use this information to adjust trajectories for allowable emissions contingent on a specific forcing path. Remember that RCPs are not predictions of exactly what will happen, rather they are explorations of the consequences of particular pathways. There are too many possibilities to have GCMs run through every potential eventuality. – gavin]

  30. 30
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 20 Candide –

    Both of those approaches are based on the assumption that people can simply use less energy without any significant degradation in prosperity.” – It should not be (maybe in some people’s minds it is). Consider idealized market response (including investment, R&D) to price signals (you can have some ‘corrective add-ons’ to handle market non-ideality, etc.); consider also the costs of (proactive or otherwise) adaptation have to be payed somehow. Here might be your other 75 %:

    451 – (note qualifying statement regarding 464’s link to BNC post)
    468 (start below first “______”)
    (??maybe also see my 531-532; see also 540 )
    … for the sake of completion see also Oct’s 766-767, 775, 694-695 …

  31. 31
    David B. Benson says:

    Matters nuclear can be discussed on the Brave New Climate Forum
    which is attached to the Brave New Climate site linked on the sidebar here.

  32. 32
    Hank Roberts says:

    > too many possibilities to have GCMs run through
    > every potential eventuality

    Is that an unknown unknown, or can you say what part of the possible potential eventualities can be run through? (maybe that’s a Spencer Weart type question, I suppose the answer changes for lots of reasons)

    [Response: this is a known unknown. We know that we don’t know how big an effect this will be. An unknown unknown is something like the polar ozone hole which was not anticipated at all, and not recognized for a year or two even when it happened. – gavin]

  33. 33

    Due to recent world wide temperature trends. The context of the medieval warming period is now clearer, using Europe as an example of a climate metric is dumb and or deceitful:

    What we know is this, when NW Europe plunges in unusual cold weather the Arctic usually goes the opposite way it gets warmer. When NW Europe plunges into the contrarian called “new ice age” :

    The Arctic warms incredibly. Some ice age indeed.

    And now the opposite, when NW Europe sizzles and is affected by a devastating heat wave. A large part of the Arctic cools:

    World wide temperature trends would deceive if only Medieval Europe is used, December 2010 the contrarian start of the new ice age would mean a deep worldwide freeze, 2010 was the warmest year in history, while 2003 if used as a stellar European example of medieval warming is a distant year away from the top warmest.

    Would someone also give us an idea about loud mouth Morano’s peer reviewed allegations about current US drought, hurricanes and so on being nothing to worry about since way worse events occurred when CO2 concentrations were lower. I smell a contrarian in need of an intervention.

  34. 34
    SecularAnimist says:

    Candide wrote: “I don’t expect that even super-efficient technology will reduce energy consumption by more than 25%.”

    From Phys.Org, April 2011:

    This flow chart of the estimated US energy use in 2009, assembled by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), paints a pretty sobering picture of our energy situation. To begin with, it shows that more than half (58%) of the total energy produced in the US is wasted due to inefficiencies, such as waste heat from power plants, vehicles, and light bulbs. In other words, the US has an energy efficiency of 42%.

    And a November 2012 Scientific American blog article says:

    For every one unit of energy that is converted into electricity in power plants today, two units of energy are thrown away. This wasted energy is primarily in the form of heat – or thermal energy – and, there is technology available today that can turn this waste into a usable energy stream.

    Combined Heat and Power (CHP) is a technology that combines power generation and usable heat capture equipment to increase the overall efficiency of the power plant … the majority of electricity generated in the United States comes from power plants fueled by fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil). These plants run with an efficiency in the ballpark of 33%. The remaining 67% is mostly released into the environment in the form of heat. In CHP facilities, the bulk of this heat is recovered and used, leading to real-world efficiencies of more than 75%. Some CHP facilities in the United States have documented overall efficiencies of more than 87%.

    We already have the technology to dramatically reduce US energy consumption with NO adverse impact on productivity or standard of living — simply by eliminating waste.

    As is the case with the technologies for harvesting solar and wind energy, what is urgently needed is not development of new “super” technology, but rapid deployment of the technologies that we already have at hand.

  35. 35
    pete best says:

    Doom doom doom really now. Cant avoid 2C really and a 1 in 5 chance of reaching 4C which at present levels of CO2 increase (3% per annum) is not looking good.

    Sea level rise is vastly underestimated and methane plumes all added into the mix.

    Personally I would suggest its time to know that severla recent studies from the world bank, PwC and IEA all reported te same thing, namely that we are heading for the cliff.

    The other more interesting article is the one about the 1200 power stations being built mainly in China and India which only really leads to one conclusion.(

    Of course the only possible explanation for the powers that be ignoring the facts of sciene is the idea of it all being only a probability and hence the cynics and deniers still hold sway.

    Fraking seems to be a new buzz word too, especially in the USA but its a false economy as it still locks us in to C02.

  36. 36
    InterestedPerson says:

    I tried to send this earlier but it was rejected because it said I didn’t enter an email address… so I apologize if this ends up on your comment list twice… Next time I’m going to copy my comment before I hit the say it button!

    Hopefully my questions will qualify as science Q’s:

    Are you (the climate scientists) scared by what you are seeing in the data?

    … which brings me to my next question: Is this idea I’ve been hearing recently about a 15 year window of opportunity before we go over a major tipping point really true, or is it nothing more than hype and fear? Or just an outlier opinion within the climate science community? If it’s probable, is it the reduced albedo that would drive us over the cliff, or methane release, or something else entirely?

    How do you reconcile your personal views, fears, hopes, and political persuasions with your work as scientists? Are you pressured to stay away from anything that might possibly be construed as political, or are you allowed to be involved at some level?

    I’m struggling to answer these questions for myself, especially with the lack of action on climate over the last 20 years and what seems like a dangerous situation (I’m not a climate scientist, though I would try to be one if I were smart enough, which I’m not…). Where’s that line in the sand? Or is there one? You being on the front lines, I’d be really interested in your opinions on this.

  37. 37
    wili says:

    A very nice piece on Arctic methane feedbacks, imvho:

    Mostly old news to those paying attention, but one point was new to me: that isostatic rebound from retreating/melting glaciers may create cracks in capping rock formations that are currently holding fossil methane in place, thus creating pathways to release of said methane to the atmosphere (if I understand it correctly).

    Yet another feedback mechanism? (Or, to use hank’s apt analogy–how deep is this cave, exactly?)

    The only general problem that I see with the article is that it seems to imply that all carbon in permafrost will come out as methane, which certainly is not the case.


  38. 38
    sidd says:

    Re:solar hot water enquiry from Kevin McKinney on climate dialogue thread

    if you just want domestic hot water see this page

    personally, i think if you have the parts, the skills and the time, you can halve his cost or better.

    some comments:
    1)if one lives in a climate that requires heated living space, the bang for the buck becomes deafening. look at pex subfloor hydronic heat. if you want lo grade process preheat for anything at all, you shoulda done it long time ago.
    2)big win in snowy zones is to mount the panels vertical facing south. that way you dont get too much heat in summer too.
    3)heat dump, you will get too much heat sometimes, where you wanna throw it away ?
    4)the bigger your heat storage tank the better, and insulate with 4 inch polyiso panels.
    5)at some point you will discover that you need a flat plate heat exchanger (50US$ and up), circulation pumps (~100US$), controllers, thermostats, and look hard at blowoff safeties, as in comment 3)

    cannot be more specific till i know the application


  39. 39
    Jim Larsen says:

    “there are too many possibilities to have GCMs run through every potential eventuality. – gavin]”

    Completely true yet not even close.

    When science is translated into politics 100% of ALL eventualities MUST be included EVERY time. Remember the sea level by 2100 fiasco? Scientists knew that the largest component of sea level rise by 2100 was probably going to be from melting ice, but they had huge error bars for the figure. Any sane person would give the whole picture, complete with error bars, but scientists decided to hide ice melt (via mentioning that it was left out). The result was so blatantly obvious that nobody in their right mind could ever believe anything else, even in foresight. Ice melt was determined to equal ZERO by the body politic. Scientists KNEW zero was WRONG. Scientists should have known that their technique would result in zero being the assumed answer. Thus, scientists were bone-ignorant wrong in their selection of communication techniques.

    Yet scientists learned zero from the incident. Now carbon feedbacks have big error bars and scientists are setting them to zero, with the little asterick saying “unknown” that everyone ignores….

    Gee, I wonder what the result will be?

  40. 40
    Jim Larsen says:

    Ref solar hot water:
    (capctcha error, and some id-iot decided that telling folks what the error is is wrong. so we all get plenty of “correct-ions”)

    So much de-pends on your skills and your tempera-ment. If you know plumbing and can watch your sys-tems to catch leaks and other problems (like over-heating meaning you need to change your magni-tudes), then do-it-yourself can turn a solar hot -water project into a nearly free fun adventure.

    Lots of hot water tanks get discarded every year. Some for rust. Some for up-grades. Some for a heating element burning out and with labor so high, heck, just replace the whole unit.

    So if you have access to a plumb-er, you can probably snag as many still water-tight gas and/or electric water heaters you want for $10 a pop.

    Solar water heating has many different faces. You can pre-heat your water. You can batch heat your water. You can thermo-siphon it. Hot water is NOT a one-size-fits-all issue.

    Two cheap discarded water heater uses:

    1. Take a gas water heater and run the exhaust of your current gas water heater through it, while piping the “new” water heater before your existing unit. You’ll snag a bit of the waste heat and also warm up the water just because input water temps are generally below amb-ient interior of building.

    2. Take an electric water heater and build an insulated box with the glazed top exposed to sunlight, using it as an input (as in 1) to your current water heater.

    3. Build or buy a flat -panel that you can place below your pre-heat tank. A thermo-siphon loop will keep your pre-heated water as warm as possible without pumping, along with all the issues that brings.

    4. Do the complex thing, as fits your situation or conforms to a retail system.

    Seriously, water heating requires a melding of user life-style and phys-ics. Don’t try this at home without help. This is probably the #1 most do-able re-newable system available, but it is also so personal that it requires a decent amount of thought before pulling the trigger.

  41. 41
    dbostrom says:

    Further to Sidd, also see BuildItSolar, a low BS-coefficient DIY oriented solar energy site. Loads of DHW stuff there.

    Give a thought to drainback systems. If you’re only doing DHW drainback obviates the need for heat dumping, antifreeze and a bunch of other complications that turn a simple idea into something needlessly expensive and failure-prone.

    Having just proselytized a particular mode, I’ll say that just as with bicycle handlebar style choices and myriad other things this can all become a bit religious and passionate in tone. Watch out for dogma, snake-oil.

  42. 42

    Comments 38-40:

    Thanks sidd, Jim L, and dbostrom. I’m looking at what’s to be a retirement home in central South Carolina, decent insolation, not snowy though an occasional winter fall will happen. I’m keen to make it as green as reasonably possible. Skills: moderate; some plumbing DIY experience, a bit more in carpentry. Money: tight. If that prompts any thoughts, then thanks in advance. If not, then I’m grateful for the links and ideas already provided!

  43. 43
    Hank Roberts says:

    Talked to an energy consultant last night after seeing _Lincoln_ (which, do). He said recently solar PV panels have become so cheap that solar thermal collectors have begun to be replaced with solar PV panels, routing the electricity to heaters.

    Same result: local hot air or hot water; eliminates the plumbing.

    Hm. Damn, spreadsheet time again.

  44. 44
  45. 45
    SecularAnimist says:

    I admire and commend the DIY folks who are building their own residential solar energy systems, both thermal (for water and space heat) and PV.

    It’s worth noting that nowadays, those of us who are not “handy” and don’t have the skills, resources or time to do such things can call up Home Depot, or any number of local or regional solar installers, and get complete turnkey systems installed, just as we would with a gas furnace, heat pump, or conventional water heater.

    Moreover, those of us who also don’t have a bunch of cash on hand can also call a number of companies like First Solar and SunRun, who will install complete turnkey systems with no up-front cost, under a leasing / power-purchase-agreement contract.

  46. 46
    Hank Roberts says:


    Photosynthesis makes oxygen and carbohydrate — the bottom of the food chain happens to a great extent in the oceans. But where?

    Surprise: it’s been happening under the sea ice all along, now that we look:

    “Previous large-scale, synoptic estimates of primary production in the Arctic Ocean typically assume that phytoplankton in the water column beneath the sea ice pack is negligible. However, massive phytoplankton blooms beneath a 0.8-1.3 m thick, fully consolidated, yet melt-ponded, sea ice pack were observed in the north-central Chukchi Sea in July 2011 (Arrigo et al., 2012) …. previous estimates of annual primary production in waters where these under-ice blooms develop may be ~10-times too low (Arrigo et al., 2012)….”

    Nice, safe, protected spot for photosynthesizers to reproduce. What could possibly go wrong with that?

  47. 47
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Kevin McKinney — 6 Dec 2012 @ 8:15 AM

    Kevin, from personal experience, my recommendation for your project is that you contact every solar designer/installer within 100 (even more) miles from your property and ask them how much work they do and if they will provide contact information of some owners of their completed systems. This process can be very informative. I found a well-established (25+ years) business, with many good client and peer recommendations, who would design my system and coach me in doing some or all of the work, or do the whole thing with his crew.

    The assembly of my system is in progress and will have 80 gal. storage for domestic hot water heated by the sun and wood during winter rains, 850 gal. hot water storage from the wood boiler for hydronic radiant floor heating. The biggest constraint on the design, besides money, was having off-grid solar because of the diminishing returns when trying to achieve the most efficiency with power hungry pumps and valves. I have visited home owners in my area who told me more than I needed to know about how their systems do and don’t work well and there are a very large number of factors to balance for each individual job that a pro can tell you about. I am very enthusiastic about getting out of my current tiny solar cabin. No more wood stove mess indoors and an, almost, elimination of my propane bill.

    Re- Comment by SecularAnimist — 6 Dec 2012 @ 12:48 PM

    Based on discussions with well-established alternative energy engineers I would recommend caution regarding “turnkey” systems because they often involve design decisions based more on their bottom line than your specific situation. The expense of a little independent expertise, even when considering a commercial package, can save money up front and a lot of potential grief later.


  48. 48
    sidd says:

    Re: Solar hot water

    Possibly the simplest project i helped put in:
    Take 1 barrel, lots of pex, fittings, safety valve set to 1 psi, water pump outta washing machine. Make a lidless wood box. Line with black edpm. Stuff a giant coil of pex in it. UV resistant polycarb lid. This is the collector. Stuff two giant coils of pex into the barrel. Hook up one loop to the collector thru water pump,and a tee into the safety valve. Run your cold water input to existing water heater thru the other coil in the barrel. Fill barrel with water. Insulate outside of barrel. Fill collector coil with antifreeze. Turn on pump. Point collector at the sun.

    (the “safety valve” that the farmer designed was a piece of rubber hose bent over and secured with a tunable hose clamp…i snuck in one night and replaced with a proper safety…rig is still in service supplying heat and unfrozen water to animals and farmhouse…at some point barrel was replaced by 250 gallon tote…polycarb needs replaced every few years…your mileage may vary…)


  49. 49
    Hank Roberts says:

    Solar power done right seems it’d be personally rewarding one way or another for everybody here. Devil in the details, as always.

  50. 50
    wili says:

    Here’s a link to the UN piece on permafrost melt:

    “Thawing of Permafrost Expected to Cause Significant Additional Global Warming, Not yet Accounted for in Climate Predictions ”

    “Once this process begins, it will operate in a feedback loop known as the permafrost carbon feedback, which has the effect of increasing surface temperatures and thus accelerating the further warming of permafrost – a process that would be irreversible on human timescales.

    Arctic and alpine air temperatures are expected to increase at roughly twice the global rate, and climate projections indicate substantial loss of permafrost by 2100. A global temperature increase of 3°C means a 6°C increase in the Arctic, resulting in an irreversible loss of anywhere between 30 to 85 per cent of near-surface permafrost.”