RealClimate logo


Technical Note: Sorry for the recent unanticipated down-time, we had to perform some necessary updates. Please let us know if you have any problems.

Unforced Variations: Jan 2014

Filed under: — group @ 2 January 2014

First open thread of the new year. A time for ‘best of’s of climate science last year and previews for the this year perhaps? We will have an assessment of the updates to annual indices and model/data comparisons later in the month.


662 Responses to “Unforced Variations: Jan 2014”

  1. 201

    Apparently Rush has excited more than sufficient amusement already with yesterday’s idiocy. Yet I couldn’t avoid piling on:

    https://www.facebook.com/kevin.mckinney.1840

    Thanks for the pointer, Chuck. That was fun.

  2. 202
    Mal Adapted says:

    Kevin McKinney:

    or should I have written in Cockneyese “nothink”?

    I think that’s supposed to be “nuffink”.

  3. 203
  4. 204
    patrick says:

    http://www.climate.gov/news-features/event-tracker/wobbly-polar-vortex-triggers-extreme-cold-air-outbreak

    Retweeted by Gavin:

    View our maps to see how a wobbly #polarvortex triggered the extreme #cold outbreak this week http://go.usa.gov/ZdM5

  5. 205

    204 Patrick, that NOAA description is far better than what I’ve seen on TV by many presenters. But its the “wobbly polar vortex” the whole vortex, which has been greatly confused by TV weather presenters. This vortex always happens during winter, even summer, the term was misused and rather confused with what appeared to be a Cold Low , or a smaller vortex over Northern USA. This smaller vortex was called “Polar Vortex” by many, which wasn’t correct, I watched it form in the sub-Arctic and it is a spin-off from the Vortex. But it influenced a counterclockwise circulation greatly. Changing the weather scene from very cold to soon quite warm. A better way to identify this phenomena is with density of the entire atmospheric column, through density weighted temperature calculation, this apparent extension of the Polar Vortex is very cold near its center, very much unlike most Low pressures or cyclones. I suggest more names to avoid confusion, I call these Cold Temperature North Poles, usually as with the NOAA November example there is only one massively cold zone. Even NOAA’s wavy polar vortex pattern is misleading as presented, because it confuses cold zones with very warm cyclones which are part of the pattern by marking pressure heights. So this presentation does not differentiate vital differences felt on the ground.
    I make my case on my blog: http://eh2r.blogspot.ca/

  6. 206
    Hank Roberts says:

    Is the cold air cold enough to have ozone depletion be a problem down into the lower latitudes? Anyone measuring ultraviolet/sunburn levels this winter in the US?

  7. 207
  8. 208
    Tony Weddle says:

    Secular Animist,

    I don’t know why you answered a different question, unless you’re saying that a zero-carbon civilisation would inevitably be worse than the present one.

    Kevin,

    You also seemed to have answered a different question from the one I asked Secular Animist, who claimed that there was more than enough energy all around us; all we have to do is convert it to useful forms. The implication is that the energy all around us is not already in a useful form. That energy must be having an impact in our biosphere, why is that not useful? A follow on question would probably be: how much of the energy all around us can be converted to forms that are useful to us, without having unintended consequences for us? Perhaps related to this is a piece of research I read about a couple of years ago about the limits of wind energy, without causing detrimental effects, but there is little research in this area. I do also wonder about the resources needed to harness the “energy all around us” plus the EROEI on that.

  9. 209
    Tony Weddle says:

    I saw this on the Scientific American website: Polar Vortex Chill Fails to Make History.

    It seems to be promoting the idea that the freezing conditions are nothing that hasn’t been seen before. Is this right? Have there been other times in recorded history when parts of every state have seen sub-zero temperatures on the same day? How about country-wide average temperature, has it been this low before in recorded history?

  10. 210
  11. 211
  12. 212
    Hank Roberts says:

    > unless you’re saying that …

    Oh, such clever trolling. I bet you hook him and can play him for days.

    Or maybe not.

    Did you know it was below freezing in Hawaii this week?
    They have this mountain you may have heard of – Mauna Loa ….

  13. 213
    patrick says:

    Kevin McKinney #193–I think fuel cells are coming faster and more widely than just about any 1 can possibly imagine. But I’ve never been a fan of the particular version you cite, for reasons stated in paragraphs 7 & 8 here:

    http://www.fastcompany.com/1561844/how-does-bloom-box-energy-server-work

    I like what’s happening for medium/light duty warehouse forks and what is being tested for range extenders on current electric delivery vans–besides back-up power for critical infrastructure.

  14. 214
    patrick says:

    Kevin McKinney #193–Plus I think distributed generation and graduated solutions–the lot–are coming faster and more widely than just about any 1 realizes.

  15. 215
    patrick says:

    Secular Animist #195–I didn’t write that. I wote: “Below the link is text posted on YouTube with the video segment titled, ‘Tom Murphy: The Fossil Fuel Joyride Is Over.’”

    I was trying to con-text-ualize the video for you. (As were others.) It does seem a bit outdated, doesn’t it? I think the words just mean that Murphy doesn’t expect sustainability to be a cake-walk.

    I agree with you, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Murphy does too. The video is from a conference dedicated to the idea that human ingenuity is an infinite resource. He’s a macro guy and a physicist and a mathematician, too.

    He’s a great resource. So use him. Why don’t you send him (faculty at UCSD or the “Do the Math” blog) the PDF you posted #176 and see what he has to say? I like it myself.

    He was using a different TW-yr world energy use number from the one in the PDF.

  16. 216
  17. 217
    Christopher Yaun says:

    IPCC5 figure 8.34 identifies radiative forcings by source, chemical and value in a simple, visual and clear presentation and answers my question. Total net forcing of SO2 plus BC are near neutral to slightly positive. Therefore the answer to my question is “NO!”. The SO2 and BC generated by burning fossil fuels and cooking fires etc exert a miniscule positve forcing on average global temps. Thanks to whoever suggested that I might find my answer in the IPCC5.

  18. 218
    Christopher Yaun says:

    2, 9, 18, 23, 32, 35, 37, 39, 41, 42, 43, 52, 54, 61 et others regarding energy conservation: It can be argued that we consume 1100 units of energy to gain 4 units of light. A simple model works like this: Extract 100 units of energy (UOE) from the Earth. 5 UOE are consumed during extraction, refining and shipping to market.

    Burn the remaining 95 UOE in a state of the art power plant:
    - 63 UOE degrade as waste heat plus CO2
    - 32 UOE reach the buss bar as electricity.
    - 10% line loss, 29 UOE reach the end user.

    Burn that 29 UOE in an incandescent light bulb:
    - 25 UOE degrade as waste heat.
    - 4 UOE are converted to light.

    If the building is empty or the room is unoccupied that light is wasted. If air conditioning is required to cool the building our model will consume 75 UOE (and a lot of water) to eject the waste heat from the building. Working backward: 75 units>>>300 units enter the building>>>330 units at the buss bar>>>990 units burned>>>add 5%>>>roughly 1000 units extracted.

    A whole host of workable schemes for reducing CO2 can be derived from this exercise.

    I build and maintain the HVAC controls in large commercial buildings. I could write a book about the energy waste that goes unchecked. If every $1-2million in energy bills bought one qualified engineer tasked with reducing that energy bill he/she could easily pay his/her salary many times over with simple energy conservation measures.

  19. 219
    patrick says:

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/behind_the_Lines_CO2_shotput.html

    “While attending the recent AGU conference, some of us were struck by a statistic presented by Professor Richard Alley: On average, a person’s contribution of carbon dioxide waste to the atmosphere is forty times greater than their production of solid trash to landfills when measured as mass. …

    “We put 40 pounds of C02 into the air for every pound of household trash we put into landfills.”

    Skeptical Science: “Talking Trash on Emissions,” 7 Jan.

  20. 220
    DIOGENES says:

    From CP today:

    “A major new study in Nature finds “our climate is more sensitive to carbon dioxide than most previous estimates.”

    The result, lead author Steven Sherwood told me, is that on our current emissions path we are headed toward a “most-likely warming of roughly 5°C [9°F] above modern [i.e. current] temperatures or 6°C [11°F] above preindustrial” temperatures this century.”

    Which, if one believes Lynas and others who have studied the impacts of such temperatures, means extinction of our species by century’s end. And, his computations don’t include the major carbon feedback mechanisms, so end of century may be optimistic.

    [Response: discussed here - gavin]

  21. 221
    DIOGENES says:

    Tony Weddle #208,

    ” The implication is that the energy all around us is not already in a useful form. That energy must be having an impact in our biosphere, why is that not useful?”

    I think SA’s point is that we have enormous amounts of solar, wind, ocean current and wave, etc, energy all around us, and, rather than exploit it fully, we continue down the self-destructive path of burning carbon. However, this type of situation is not restricted to energy. Go to one of the better supermarkets. All around the shoppers is outstanding food whose consumption would reduce many types of illness today. Yet, look at what they put in their shopping carts. So, having good stuff available, whether it is energy, food, water, or anything else, doesn’t mean that it will be used. There are external and internal forces that will determine how these resources are used.

  22. 222
    patrick says:

    @ 208 Now about that “EROEI on that”–tell it to Kleiner Perkins or, more specifically, to Bill Joy, a founder of Sun Microsystems:

    http://fora.tv/2011/10/26/Audience_Q__A_with_Energy_Panelists

    I was going to put this up before. This is ‘Q&A with Energy Panelists’ at the same conference where Tom Murphy talked. It’s ain’t no love fest, no group-think.

    Time horizon is everything. It further depends on to whom you wish to ascribe the externalized-and-exported health care costs of burning the products of ancient sunlight in heat engines.

    “I’m a refugee from the information sciences…and what I’m doing now is working on the physical sciences.” –Bill Joy, “Energy: Finding the Right Mix” (same source).

  23. 223
    JGarland says:

    Re. the “No warming for 15 years meme”:

    Some may have heard the “It hasn’t warmed in 15 years” meme a few times (especially in the last couple of days!). Just out are the satellite data numbers provided by Dr. Roy Spencer http://www.drroyspencer.com/2014/01/uah-v5-6-global-temperature-update-for-dec-2013-0-27-deg-c/). Here is the analysis for the past 15 years using his reported annual numbers:

    In R:

    > Temp Years fit summary(fit)

    Call:
    lm(formula = Temp ~ Years)

    Residuals:
    Min 1Q Median 3Q Max
    -0.19033 -0.08184 0.01324 0.05747 0.18780

    Coefficients:
    Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)
    (Intercept) -28.798412 13.002328 -2.215 0.0452 *
    Years 0.014432 0.006482 2.227 0.0443 *

    Signif. codes: 0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1

    Residual standard error: 0.1085 on 13 degrees of freedom
    Multiple R-squared: 0.2761, Adjusted R-squared: 0.2204
    F-statistic: 4.958 on 1 and 13 DF, p-value: 0.04428

    Clearly global warming has suddenly magically returned after mysteriously disappearing!

    I wonder what Dr. Curry will say now about “the last 15 years”?

  24. 224

    #215–Patrick, you seem to be talking about companies like Plug Power & Ballard, which are using PEM fuel cells in the markets you mention. Indeed, that sounds promising. For those interested, there’s some info on the former company at their website:

    http://www.plugpower.com/AboutUs.aspx

    Sounds good to me–and I note that elsewhere, there is expectation that Plug Power will at last (after 15 years) turn a profit:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-06/plug-power-sees-electric-car-fuel-cells-and-first-profit.html

    In the original context in which I wrote, though, the high operating temps of the Solid Oxide Fuel Cells were seen as ‘a feature, not a bug’:

    For peak-power applications, this technology has an advantage because a fuel cell operates as a high-temperature electrolysis unit producing hydrogen when operated in reverse.

    –Charles Forsberg, 2009, “The Real Path to Green Energy: Hybrid Nuclear-Renewable Power.

    Dr. Forsberg has recently come out with a paper advocating for hybrid nuclear systems:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421513007003

    To help forestall (I hope) another round of the nuclear/renewable heebie-Jeebies: I’m not advocating it, just noting it exists–though I’ll admit that I do find it refreshing to see an example of someone considering synergies between the two, rather than bashing the ‘other non-carboniferous guys.’

    And here in Georgia, we’re going to have Vogtle operating for decades to come–up to six decades if they finish Units 3 & 4, which I expect they will, despite the 14-month slippage (regarding which, some reports are still claiming that ‘construction is ahead of schedule’) and the $14 billion price tag (presuming no further over-runs.) It would be nice to see that investment helping to jump-start solar here–there’s a very good solar resource here which is woefully under-utilized, and which is currently not receiving much attention overall, despite the “Green Tea” alliance’s prevailing over Georgia Southern Power at the PSC earlier this year.

    Conceptually, with or without nuclear, it does make a lot of sense to have a “sink” for high renewable-output periods–from what I’ve been reading, that’s one of the keys to the Danish success in using high proportions of wind power: during windy periods, excess electricity can (in many cases) be used to heat water very efficiently via electrode boilers and used for heating. (The Danes have a lot of combined heat and power schemes operating at the community level, so this approach fits in well with established infrastructure.)

    Synfuel production could qualify, too, providing the efficiencies were reasonable. As Forsberg describes it in the 2009 piece:

    …when significant electricity output is coming from wind farms, the steam from nuclear plants would be diverted [from direct power production] to the high-temperature electrolysis system with wind providing electricity for high temperature electrolysis and to the grid. The nuclear and wind systems would each do what they do most economically to maximize efficient… hydrogen production.

    If implemented here in Georgia, such a scheme would presumably use solar electricity, not wind. If it led to additional closures of coal plants, I’d be all for it. Of course, some of those coal plants are closing anyway–as elsewhere in the US, cheap natural gas is taking up most of the slack:

    http://www.ajc.com/news/business/georgia-power-to-close-coal-oil-units/nTpSx/

    It’s a significant deal, cumulatively; the story above says that “Currently, the amount of coal that Georgia Power uses to produce electricity stands at 47 percent, down from 70 percent five years ago.” It doesn’t quantify what the proportion will be after the closures of the 15 further plants, though you could derive a rough estimate from other information in the story.

  25. 225

    #202–”I think that’s supposed to be “nuffink”.”

    No, Mal, in Rush’s case, it’s definitely ‘nothink.’ ;-)

  26. 226

    #218–”It can be argued that we consume 1100 units of energy to gain 4 units of light…”

    Which is why windows are such a good idea. When we bought our current house, the living room was a cave, requiring artificial light 24/7 for just about anything except snoozing on the couch. Changed that permanently and for less than $1000–could have been *much* cheaper, but we went for a ‘Cadillac’ sky-light, which bumped up the cost by a factor of more than two, IIRC.

    I’m sure it’s been paid back many times over in livability plus energy savings, if not in the latter alone.

    “I build and maintain the HVAC controls in large commercial buildings. I could write a book about the energy waste that goes unchecked.”

    Perhaps you should–*somebody* needs to!

  27. 227
    Hank Roberts says:

    Thanks to <a href="Kevin McKinney, above for a thoughtful detailed summary of some of the synergies possible, far more than I’d thought about.

    There’s a beginning toward a decent discussion of that at a relevant Bravenewclimate blog topic. I hope you’ll press the point over there.

  28. 228

    …And this just in on the energy storage front: there’s an announcement of a new technology for flow batteries using organic molecules (quinones) instead of metal solutions:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/organic-battery-hailed-as-cheap-renewable-energy-solution-1.2489300

  29. 229
    Hank Roberts says:

    An example of blocking, I think — look at this for Jan. 8:
    http://weather.msfc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/basicLooper.pl?category=cira&regex=conus_tpw&title=CIRA%20Total%20Precipitable%20Water&time_drop=show

    Total water in the air available that could precipitate.
    North America is dry, dry, dry.

  30. 230
    SecularAnimist says:

    For Kevin McKinney and others who have expressed interest in energy storage, renewable energy, and related matters, I would like to again commend to your attention the website http://www.CleanTechnica.com.

    It is an excellent “news feed” blog that follows current developments in the solar, wind, storage, smart grid, EV and related industries, with original content as well as articles reposted from other sites. They do take comments, and occasionally there are some pretty interesting discussions, but I find it of value mainly for keeping up with these VERY rapidly evolving and growing fields.

    There is a lot more going on in those fields — with both the deployment of existing technologies and the development and commercialization of new ones — than most people seem to realize, probably because of the rather poor coverage of them in the general media.

  31. 231

    “Is the cold air cold enough to have ozone depletion be a problem down into the lower latitudes? Anyone measuring ultraviolet/sunburn levels this winter in the US? -”

    Not likely you can always check with TOAST http://www.ospo.noaa.gov/Products/atmosphere/toast/index.html

  32. 232
    Mal Adapted says:

    #202–”I think that’s supposed to be “nuffink”.”

    No, Mal, in Rush’s case, it’s definitely ‘nothink.’ ;-)

    D’oh! Please make allowances, I’m humor-impaired.

  33. 233

    #230–Thanks, SA–I peruse Cleantechnica nearly daily, and have even commented there once or twice. It is indeed a good source on all things renewable. They even discussed the Forsberg proposal:

    http://cleantechnica.com/2013/11/08/hybrid-nuclear-plants-help-stem-global-warming/

    Just to reiterate, my remarks above should not be taken as advocacy. I love renewables, but there is a lot to think about in today’s scene, IMO. And priority one for me is getting rid of as much coal as possible, as soon as possible. (“War on coal?” Hell, yeah–unless there’s real CCS, which at the moment seems unlikely ever to be economic without the personal intervention of Harry Potter, or perhaps Hermione.)

  34. 234
    Hank Roberts says:

    > http://www.CleanTechnica.com

    Agreed, much there, and links from there out to much more:

    … In both of Shell’s new scenarios, which are led by Jeremy Bentham (Vice President Business Environment and Head of Shell Scenarios), the company sees global CO2 emissions dropping to zero by 2100, but through very different means. In the first, its projection is that solar will account for 37.7% of primary energy use by 2100….

    The report includes … three paradoxes, … the prosperity paradox, the connectivity paradox, and the leadership paradox; the structure of the global economy; …

    … contrasting worlds, two panoramas:

    Mountains where the benefits of an elevated position are exercised and protected, and those who are currently influential hold on to power;

    Oceans with rising tides, strong currents, and a volatile churn of actors and events with an irregular accommodation of competing interests….
    … with consequences for energy developments over half a century….”

    So — who do you think they’d rather work for, the rich, or the poor?

  35. 235
    SecularAnimist says:

    FYI … National Academy of Sciences webinar tomorrow, Friday 1/10 …

    http://nas-sites.org/americasclimatechoices/other-reports-on-climate-change/2013-2/abrupt-impacts-of-climate-change/

    Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises

    Both abrupt changes in the physical climate system and steady changes in climate that can trigger abrupt changes in other physical, biological, and human systems present possible threats to nature and society. Abrupt change is already underway in some systems, and large scientific uncertainties about the likelihood of other abrupt changes highlight the need for further research. However, with recent advances in understanding of the climate system, some potential abrupt changes once thought to be imminent threats are now considered unlikely to occur this century.

    This report summarizes the current state of knowledge on potential abrupt changes to the ocean, atmosphere, ecosystems, and high latitude areas, and identifies key research and monitoring needs. The report calls for action to develop an abrupt change early warning system to help anticipate future abrupt changes and reduce their impacts.

    Upcoming Webinar

    Please join us for a webinar this Friday, January 10 at 2 pm EST. Speakers will include James White from the University of Colorado at Boulder, who chaired the report’s authoring committee, and committee members Anthony Barnosky from the University of California at Berkeley and Richard Alley from Penn State University.

  36. 236
  37. 237
    Hank Roberts says:

    arrrRRRGHHHhhhh …. U. Colorado/NAS webinar

    Scheduled for the exact same time slot as the White House program on the same subject:

    Friday, January 10th at 2:00 p.m. ET for We the Geeks: “Polar Vortex” and Extreme Weather, for a conversation with leading meteorologists, climate scientists, and weather experts about … what we know about extreme weather events in the context of a changing climate. 

    This can’t be a conspiracy.
    Isn’t 2pm Eastern also the usual deadline for the evening’s news stories to be turned in?

    “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” – Will Rogers

  38. 238
    patrick says:

    http://www.nature.com/news/us-cold-snap-fuels-climate-debate-1.14485

    Retweeted by Gavin:

    Good article by @jefftollef on whether the polar vortex affecting N America is linked to climate change: http://is.gd/4B4v6O

  39. 239
    patrick says:

    205 wayne davidson: Thanks. I had looked at how you conceptualize it, and I had looked at the 700mb graphic you provide. I am not dismissing the complexity you point out. I’m taking it in. The NOAA climate news page does say, “‘Polar vortex’ is the new buzzword of 2014 for the millions of Americans learning about its role…” The good news is that the conversation is happening. The page is to help people understand what they’re hearing. The text links add color:

    http://www.noaa.gov/features/02_monitoring/warmarctic.html

    …and video (Arctic Report Card 2013):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPAc5D3Tow0

    The reason I put it up #204 is that the January 5 polar view it shows helped me understand the jet stream maps I was seeing at that time:

    http://squall.sfsu.edu/crws/jetstream.html

  40. 240
    Tony Weddle says:

    Diogenes,

    Well, yes, but let me be more explicit. The energy flows on this planet currently produce the planet we see. For example, solar energy is used for NPP (and for natural conversion to other forms of energy), which is eaten by other species, etc. Wind moves some resources around, mixes the air, etc. Tides, waves, rivers, and so on, support certain characteristics of the world we live in. Of course, fossil fuels are an abomination and maybe renewable energies will be better, but if we pile ahead with renewables, there are almost certain to be unintended consequences (assuming all the energy we desire could be practically obtained that way). We need to see the big picture, because ploughing ahead on some path, wearing blinkers, has not had good results so far. We need to make sure we take the blinkers off, in future.

  41. 241
    prokaryotes says:

    Re Elizabeth Barnes study conclusions

    Yet, other studies show a statistical correlation ( Francis et al 2012, Screen 2013 for instance). Further info with video presentation

    Notice that Barnes only investigated till 2011, but 2012 was a record low sea ice extent – which is of particular concern because of the logarithmic? properties identified.

    Explained here by Gavin

    Changes in the temperature profiles, in turn, affect the circulation, triggering a development of a local blocking structure when the sea-ice extent is reduced from 80% to 40%. But Petoukhov and Semenov also found that it brings a different response when the sea-ice is reduced from 100% to 80% or from 40% to1%, and hence a non-linear response. http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/12/cold-winter-in-a-world-of-warming/

  42. 242

    Patrick, thanks for the neat links. Especially Natures article. Elizabeth Barnes apparently is not looking at the right holistic data. First of all it would be very hard to recognize a slowing jet stream because it varies with height. But rather much easier to prove that the scope of winter, its extent, is less. The latest cold wave outbreak (weather underground has the best definition) , was small, did not happen as at other side of the world, hence it was more isolated, that is the biggest clue that many can readily observe. During the last 10 years, there was such very freezing events but mostly only in one area , as opposed to the past.

    The latest jet stream shape on top of Greenland is very strange,

    http://squall.sfsu.edu/gif/jetstream_norhem_00.gif

    although jet streams can take any shape,
    they tend to join next to where the densest atmosphere is. A broken up jet stream pattern at mid-winter implicates smaller cold zones. Which is what logic would dictate if the world was warmer.

  43. 243
    JGarland says:

    @236 I don’t think any educated blogger would try arguing over there must be significant warming over all 12 year windows in the record. And Curry is at least that.

    Or do I give too much credit?

  44. 244
    MARodger says:

    MLO CO2 level for December 2013 (396.81 ppm) is up 2.53ppm over the 12 months.

    While the size of the annual CO2 rise peaked in the Spring & has been generally dropping since, we are now well past the mildly positive ENSO conditions of mid-2012 and the 5.4GtC required for such a rise appears to require a ramping up of the Airborne Fraction. If reports of 36GtCO2 emissions prove correct, that is 9.8GtC FF+C emissions & RF=55%. With land use added into the mix, an RF of 45% (the value it has roughly hovered at since 1959) would require Land Use emissions of 2.2GtC which is miles higher than any past estimates from say CDIAC. Thus my worry that RF may be on the rise.

  45. 245
    wili says:

    wayne @#242 siad: “The latest jet stream shape on top of Greenland is very strange”
    Is that a new polar vortex trying to form?

  46. 246
    DIOGENES says:

    Tony Weddle #240,

    “but if we pile ahead with renewables, there are almost certain to be unintended consequences (assuming all the energy we desire could be practically obtained that way). We need to see the big picture, because ploughing ahead on some path, wearing blinkers, has not had good results so far. We need to make sure we take the blinkers off, in future.”

    The ‘big picture’, as I see it, is the following. If we continue BAU with respect to fossil fuel, and all indications are that we will, today’s models predict on the order of 5 C by end of century. People who have studied potential life under these conditions believe many species will go extinct, including the human species. If we add the major positive feedback mechanisms to these models, the heating will be accelerated, and nearer-term extinction is possible. This, to me, is the default case we face today.

    Now, many experts believe we have no choice but to transition rapidly to a non-carbon economy. Will such an economy have ‘unintended consequences’? Undoubtedly, but it has the potential to avoid extinction, and that is, or should be, our main concern today.

    While potential ‘unintended consequences’ in the long-term is a valid concern, my concern is more fundamental. To get to the long-term, we have to go through the short-term. Can we, in fact, get through the short-term such that we will have a long-term that includes survival of our species. McPherson believes we can’t, but that is a very minority opinion; not necessarily wrong, but minority, nevertheless.

    Two climate experts I respect, who may be speaking for a large segment of the credible climate community, are Hansen and Anderson. They have both made the point that going beyond about 1 C global mean temperature increase will have very adverse effects, using terms such as ‘deleterious’, ‘dangerous’, etc. They don’t define these terms because of the uncertainties in what happens when we go beyond prior Holocene experience, but my interpretation is that some or all of the important feedback processes could accelerate out of our control, with the most devastating of consequences. They both state that the international target of 2 C is very dangerous.

    They both offer recommendations for getting over the short-term hump to arrive at the long-term in reasonable (not unscathed) shape. I have a difficult time seeing the compatibility of their recommendations, since their assumptions have differences. Beyond that, I don’t see how the transition to renewables alone will get us over the short-term hump. Anderson flatly states that we cannot stay within the 2 C ceiling based on supply side changes alone; he posits a scenario of at least 10% reduction in global emissions annually for the interim period in order to stay within 2 C. He does not present an emissions reduction estimate for 1 C, but one assumes it would be far greater than 10% per year, if in fact 1 C is possible given what we have put in the pipeline already. Hansen assumes a ceiling of about 1.1 C, and proposes a combination of renewables, nuclear, and reforestation. My reading of the tea leaves is we need the combination of strong renewables introduction coupled with strong demand reduction, and possibly some strong carbon capture methods as well.

    So, yes, there may be unintended consequences from accelerated introduction of renewables (or nuclear), and there would certainly be unintended consequences from strong demand reduction, but the days of effecting the transition painlessly have long passed. We will need some compromise that includes accelerated renewables, accelerated nuclear, accelerated reforestation, accelerated demand reduction, etc. Unfortunately, the only acceleration I am seeing now is by Australia, Canada, USA, Russia, etc to extract their remaining fossil reserves as rapidly as possible to maximize revenues.

  47. 247
    Radge Havers says:

    Re: Education
    (FYI for Ed G.)

    Chad Orzel has written some posts riffing on the whole lit-for-physicists and physics-for-lit-heads thing:

    http://scienceblogs.com/principles/2014/01/08/on-the-checking-of-boxes/
    http://scienceblogs.com/principles/2014/01/09/what-i-learned-from-the-liberal-arts/

  48. 248
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Tony Weddle,
    Ultimately, a civilization that is sustainable on a timescale of centuries must be based on renewables. There isn’t another choice. And if we adopt other energy infrastructures before plowing ahead with renewables, then we create new industries with a vested interest in slowing progress toward renewables. By all means, we need to try to understand the consequences of our choices. However, given how limited our choices are, that isn’t an overwhelming task.

  49. 249
    prokaryotes says:

    A trio of researchers (two from the University of Chicago, the other from Princeton) has proposed a new theory to explain the sudden breakup of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in 2002. In their paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, Alison Banwell, Douglas MacAyeal and Olga Sergienko suggest that the breakup came about due to the sudden drainage of one surface lake causing others to drain leading to a chain reaction that ultimately led to the entire ice shelf being torn apart.

    When Antarctica’s Larsen B Ice Shelf (once roughly the size of Rhode Island) suddenly collapsed twelve years ago (over a two week period) many blamed global warming—prior to the collapse scientists had observed large stretches of surface water on the shelf, the result of warmer air—it was suggested that the surface water made its way down into crevices causing the shelf to break apart due to pressure from within. In this new effort, the researchers don’t refute the claims of the ultimate cause of the collapse, i.e. global warming, but they do suggest it was a much more complicated process than most have assumed.
    To gain a better understanding of what might have occurred, the researchers built a computer simulation to emulate the conditions that existed prior to the shelf collapsing. By adjusting multiple variables, the researchers say that it became clear that rather than surface water causing the collapse, it was more likely due to the sudden drainage of just a single lake. When that one lake drained, it caused other lakes nearby to drain, leading to a cascading event that resulted in virtually all of the lakes on the ice shelf draining in a very short period of time. The draining of the lakes led to chaotic stresses all across the shelf causing it to crumble and fall apart. Their theory is bolstered, the team says, by satellite observations just prior to the breakup that showed empty lakes all across the ice shelf.
    The researchers are unable to explain why the first lake drained, though they suggest it might have been due to a process many years in the making, brought on by global warming. Warmer water under the shelf, for example, may have weekend its structure and perhaps eventually caused a hole to develop in the ice beneath one of the deeper lakes, allowing the lake water to seep through.

    Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-01-trio-explanation-breakup-larsen-ice.html#jCp

    Then consider this recent finding

    ‘Massive’ reservoir of melt water found under Greenland ice http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25463647

  50. 250
    Hank Roberts says:

    Larsen breakup theory — see previous topics at RC, over past years. If anyone has read the papers, I’d be curious to know what’s new about this. I’ve gotten to mistrust university press release hype on science.

    /search?q=site%3Arealclimate.org+larsen+surface+lake+drain+breakup


Switch to our mobile site