RealClimate logo


Can planting trees save our climate?

Filed under: — stefan @ 16 July 2019

In recent weeks, a new study by researchers at ETH Zurich has hit the headlines worldwide (Bastin et al. 2019). It is about trees. The researchers asked themselves the question: how much carbon could we store if we planted trees everywhere in the world where the land is not already used for agriculture or cities? Since the leaves of trees extract carbon in the form of carbon dioxide – CO2 – from the air and then release the oxygen – O2 – again, this is a great climate protection measure. The researchers estimated 200 billion tons of carbon could be stored in this way – provided we plant over a trillion trees.

The media impact of the new study was mainly based on the statement in the ETH press release that planting trees could offset two thirds of the man-made CO2 increase in the atmosphere to date. To be able to largely compensate for the consequences of more than two centuries of industrial development with such a simple and hardly controversial measure – that sounds like a dream! And it was immediately welcomed by those who still dream of climate mitigation that doesn’t hurt anyone.

Unfortunately, it’s also too good to be true. Because apples are compared to oranges and important feedbacks in the Earth system are forgotten. With a few basic facts about the CO2 increase in our atmosphere this is easy to understand. Mankind is currently blowing 11 billion tonnes of carbon (gigatonnes C, abbreviated GtC) into the air every year in the form of CO2 – and the trend is rising. These 11 GtC correspond to 40 gigatons of CO2, because the CO2molecule is 3.7 times heavier than only the C atom. Since 1850, the total has been 640 GtC – of which 31 % is land use (mostly deforestation), 67 % fossil energy and 2 % other sources. All these figures are from the Global Carbon Project, an international research consortium dedicated to the monitoring of greenhouse gases.

The result is that the amount of CO2 in our air has risen by half and is thus higher than it has been for at least 3 million years (Willeit et al. 2019). This is the main reason for the ongoing global warming. The greenhouse effect of CO2 has been known since the 19th century; it is physically understood and completely undisputed in science.

Room for more trees? Sheep grazing on deforested land in New Zealand. (Photo S.R.)

But: this CO2 increase in the air is only equivalent to a total of just under 300 GtC, although we emitted 640 GtC! This means that, fortunately, only less than half of our emissions remained in the atmosphere, the rest was absorbed by oceans and forests. Which incidentally proves that the CO2 increase in the atmosphere was caused entirely by humans. The additional CO2 does not come from the ocean or anywhere else from nature. The opposite is true: the natural Earth system absorbs part of our CO2 burden from the atmosphere.

Conversely, this also means that if we extract 200 GtC from the atmosphere, the amount in the atmosphere does not decrease by 200 GtC, but by much less, because oceans and forests also buffer this. This, too, has already been examined in more detail in the scientific literature. Jones et al. 2016 found that the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere amounts to only 60% or less of the negative emissions, when these are implemented on the background of a mitigation scenario (RCP2.6).

We can also compare the “negative emissions” from tree planting to our other emissions. The 200 GtC would be less than one third of the 640 GtC total emissions, not two thirds. And the authors of the new study say that it would take fifty to one hundred years for the thousand billion trees to store 200 GtC – an average of 2 to 4 GtC per year, compared to our current emissions of 11 GtC per year. That’s about one-fifth to one-third – and this proportion will decrease if emissions continue to grow. This sounds quite different from the prospect of solving two-thirds of the climate problem with trees. And precisely because reforestation takes a very long time, it should be taboo today to cut down mature, species-rich forests, which are large carbon reservoirs and a valuable treasure trove of biological diversity.

There is another problem that the authors do not mention: a considerable part of the lands eligible for planting are in the far north in Alaska, Canada, Finland and Siberia. Although it is possible to store carbon there with trees, albeit very slowly, this would be counterproductive for the climate. For in snowy regions, forests are much darker than snow-covered unwooded areas. While the latter reflect a lot of solar radiation back into space, the forests absorb it and thus increase global warming instead of reducing it (Bala et al. 2007, Perugini et al. 2017). And increased regional warming of the Arctic permafrost areas in particular would be a terrible mistake: permafrost contains more carbon than all trees on earth together, around 1,400 GtC. We’d be fools to wake this sleeping giant.

And there are other question marks. Using high-resolution satellite maps and Google Earth, the researchers have analyzed where there is a suitable place for forests where none is currently growing, leaving out farmland and cities. With the help of machine learning technology, natural areas around the world were evaluated to determine the climate and soil conditions under which forests can thrive. The free and suitable land areas found in this way amount to 1.8 billion hectares – as much as the combined area of China and the USA.

But for many of these areas, there are probably good reasons why there is currently no forest. Often they are simply grazing lands – the authors respond that they have only assumed loose tree cover there, which could even be beneficial for grazing animals. The Dutch or Irish pastures would then resemble a savannah. Nevertheless, there are likely to be considerable obstacles of very different kinds on many of these areas, which are not apparent from the bird’s-eye view of the satellites. The authors of the study also write that it is unclear how much of the areas found would actually be available for planting.

Therefore, I’d still consider it optimistic to assume that half of the calculated theoretical planting potential can be realized in practice. Then we’re talking of 1-2 GtC of negative emissions per year. But that is precisely what we will need urgently in the future. The current global CO2 emissions can be reduced by 80-90 % through transforming our energy, heating and transport systems – but there will remain a rest that will be hard get rid of (e.g. from agriculture, industrial processes and long-haul flights) and that we will have to offset in order to stabilize the global climate.

The study by the ETH researchers has another important result that has hardly been reported. Without effective climate protection, progressive warming will lead to a massive loss of existing forest cover, especially in the tropics. At the same time, the models are not yet able to make reliable statements on how forests can cope with new extremes, fire, thawing permafrost, insects, fungi and diseases in a changing climate.

Global warming threatens massive forest losses (red), especially in the tropics. Fig. 3 from Bastin et al., Science 2019

The massive planting of trees worldwide is therefore a project that we should tackle quickly. We should not do that with monocultures but carefully, close to nature and sustainably, in order to reap various additional benefits of forests on local climate, biodiversity, water cycle and even as a food source. But we must not fall for illusions about how many billions of tons of CO2 this will take out of the atmosphere. And certainly not for the illusion that this will buy us time before abandoning fossil fuel use. On the contrary, we need a rapid end to fossil energy use precisely because we want to preserve the world’s existing forests.

Links

Would a large-scale tree restoration effort stop climate change? Forest expert Marcus Lindner from EFI points to the fires in Russia and the success story in China.

How to erase 100 years of carbon emissions? Plant trees-lots of them. National Geographic shows the importance of indigenous peoples as guardians of the forest.

Restoring forests as a means to many ends The commentary in Science on the Bastin study revolves around the question of how sustainable reforestation can be designed with multiple benefits beyond mere carbon storage.

Tree planting ‘has mind-blowing potential’ to tackle climate crisis Guardian

Analysis: How ‘natural climate solutions’ can reduce the need for BECCS Last year Carbon Brief prepared this analysis of how much carbon mitigation potential may be expected from “green” solutions like tree planting or biochar.

222 Responses to “Can planting trees save our climate?”

  1. 51
    zebra says:

    #44 Ray Ladbury,

    “forced sterilization”

    Yup. That’s the only alternative.

    It works pretty well in Japan and Italy, right?

  2. 52
    Scott E Strough says:

    @45 Russell,
    A representative of a farmers co-op contacted me a couple years ago about helping them obtain a better rating for their ethanol biofuel operation so they could reach carbon market standards, instead of having to sell to Brazil which brings a much lower price.

    I tried the best I could to help them. The technology for switchgrass conversion of biomass is mature and well proven. The last important step a bacteria GMO Caldicellulosiruptor bescii was developed for use in 2014. The only hurdle left is that the digesters for corn do not necessarily work for grass and in this case, I couldn’t help them. They were not able to replace the old corn digesters for ones capable of making ethanol from grass. There wasn’t any grant money available to do that either.

    Even worse, there was not even a way to change their corn production to a net sink for carbon, which would have also gotten their ethanol to pass. Because of the way the markets calculate, there is no incentive for farmers to produce more efficiently or with less inputs etc.. It’s all calculated in averages and from GAP averages compared to regional yield figures. No individual farmer nor co-op of farmers can have their own improved methods taken into account.

    It’s easy enough to do, but impossible to have it recognized by the bureaucracy that was designed to get rid of corn surpluses. I highly suspect the primary reason to be regulatory capture from the big boys like Archer Daniels Midland. Those guys are already facing poor margins and have probably blocked any attempt.

  3. 53

    E-P 42: the REAL solution (nuclear energy)

    BPL: Except that nuclear costs more than any other energy source and takes the longest to deploy. A new nuclear plant takes 10-15 years to complete, and even advanced nuclear takes at least four years. Meanwhile, a wind farm can go up in nine months. Nuclear is a technological dead end, dying because no one wants to invest in it any more.

  4. 54

    E-P, #42–

    Meanwhile, the REAL solution (nuclear energy)…

    Please, explain why it is that it’s basically impossible to find anyone willing to invest in nuclear construction in the US, and not much easier across most of the globe.

    Could it possibly be related to what happened here in my state of South Carolina, where the attempt to double the capacity of the Summer plant collapsed, leaving $9 billion in debt, without a single watt of power ever having been generated? (Note, by the way, that generic opposition to nuclear power here is not terribly widespread; 58% of our mix already comes from the Summer plant, and there’s not any detectible angst over that.)

    Why can’t ‘the REAL solution’ seem to make its way in the marketplace? And, given the short time frame we have to effectively mitigate emissions, and the relatively long time frame to plan and execute nuclear reactor projects, isn’t reliance on such a strategy a prime example of thinking that’s “superficially (and romantically) attractive” yet “unworkable?”

  5. 55

    to ENGINEER-POET, whatever you say about these oil-industry conspiracies, fine but irrelevant.

    The way I think about nuclear is that as long as building and maintaining nuclear power plants will require government oversight (how else to fund and insure?) and as long as Republicans are anti-government then we will be at a standstill and not much will be done wrt nuclear power. In other words, nuclear power has an inherent inability to build from scratch in a free market system.

    “And some people own that resource are banking on being able to sell every last barrel of it before switching to something else.”

    It’s possible that demand destruction of oil will happen before this occurs. It used to be that oil would create wealth, but now oil is a net consumer of wealth. For example, the shale oil in NoDak and Texas was predominantly funded by debt after the 2008 crash, and now that prices are dropping, guess who’s left holding the bag? The oil companies can’t repay the debt when there’s no future profits to be made.

    Guaranteed that my book has zero funding from the oil industry: Mathematical Geoenergy: Discovery, Depletion, and Renewal

  6. 56
    Mitch says:

    Paul is right about tight oil being funded by debt in the US. However, independent oil investors are the ones that are funding it, not big oil. Big oil comes in and buy up the bankrupt companies, or at least their assets.

    As for planting trees, it has been known since about 2005 or so that planting trees was only one wedge needed to get off fossil fuels. It is good to have a sense of what the potential is.

  7. 57
    Radge Havers says:

    E-P @ 26

    “Green New Deal”.  It calls for a massive repurposing of resources without actually doing the math on the specifics to be certain it would work

    However you choose to characterize it, the GND was introduced as a resolution not legislation, but rather as a vision and a set of goals. That’s reasonable SOP. Policy specifics, which will no doubt be really ambitious, are due early next year, hopefully followed by more productive conversation than the hysteria which followed the resolution.

    Suggesting that the GND is the product of an oil baron (or in your words “seems to be,” followed by somewhat conspiratorial linkages) and not The New Consensus is misleading

    BTW, the term “Green New Deal” has been kicking around in one form or another for quite a while now which can also be misleading in terms of attribution.

    BPL @ 53
    Yes. Nuclear —> cost.
    Not so much about “danger.”

    I tend to be suspicious lest there be trollery whenever I hear gritty talk of nuclear and/or AOC being thrown into the gears of a conversation…

  8. 58
    nigelj says:

    https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?arnumber=6021978

    “Is Nuclear Power Globally Scalable? By DEREK ABBOTT, Fellow IEEE School of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, S.A. 5005, Australia.

    This is an impressive detailed analysis of the challenges facing nuclear power, and why its not viable for nuclear power to be scaled up globally.

  9. 59
    Al Bundy says:

    #44 Ray Ladbury: “forced sterilization”

    zebra: Yup. That’s the only alternative.

    AB: Yeah, going to Naziesque absolutes is generally accompanied by the clang of one’s mind closing. Offer a guaranteed pension to folks who forego the traditional “breed-a-pension” system. Offer education and microloans to women. It doesn’t take much thinking to come up with viable solutions, but only if coming up with solutions is one’s goal.
    __________

    Scott Strough: They were not able to replace the old corn digesters for ones capable of making ethanol from grass.

    AB: Ethanol isn’t the optimal molecule to create. It takes digestion, which is fussy, slow, and expensive. On the other hand, methanol can be made catalytically, and it provides even more of its own oxygen than ethanol so smaller engines produce more power using methanol. That’s why race cars tend to use it. I haven’t dug to the bottom of this issue, but so far I think humanity is barking up the wrong chemistry set.

  10. 60
    Fred Magyar says:

    Ray Ladbury @ 44 says:

    I only see two alternatives to finding a way to feed them.

    1) Let them starve: In addition to the moral repugnance of this idea, there is the additional downside that this will result in unprecedented environmental degradation over much of the land area of the planet. I certainly hope you don’t advocate this.

    No, I most certainly do not advocate any such thing!

    The continent of Africa, unfortunately, has one of the highest projected human population growth rates for the next few decades. That means most wildlife there is pretty much already doomed. My point is, if that should occur, and it is almost a guarantee that it will, then there will be a contraction of the population. I don’t think it will be pretty, organized or humane. Moral repugnance notwithstanding… I don’t think anything can or will be able to be done to change that.

    As for a discussion of whether or not adding contraceptives into food given as aid to African countries, I think that is a topic that is so heavily infused with taboos that I will not attempt to address it here in a public forum. Which doesn’t mean I don’t think that it needs to be discussed.

    To be clear, my point in characterizing the goal of feeding 10 plus billion humans as a fools errand, was simply to state my belief that it is not possible on a rapidly warming planet, in ecological overshoot, because our agricultural systems are already stressed beyond capacity as it is and I don’t see how it could be accomplished with out just kicking the can down the road.

    Cheers!

  11. 61

    Barton Paul Levenson wrote:

    A new nuclear plant takes 10-15 years to complete, and even advanced nuclear takes at least four years.

    It very much depends on what handicaps the builders are forced to assume.&bnsp; Barakah unit 1 construction was started in 2012 and completed March 2018, and it would already be in operation if delays on the first units in Korea had not postponed the necessary operator training.  That’s 6 years.

    The Koreans did not have 2 major handicaps afflicting the US AP1000 projects:

    1.  Their workforce is not “green”, having never built an APR1400 before.
    2.  They are not contending with a hostile political or regulatory environment.  In a sane country, Gregory Jaczko never would have been allowed within a mile of the NRC.

    Meanwhile, a wind farm can go up in nine months.

    A wind farm does not a grid make.  What provides the backup for the wind farm, and can you decarbonize that backup?  I strongly suggest you read Roadmap to Nowhere, a comprehensive takedown of Mark Z. Jacobson’s “Solutions Project” which is the basis for the “Green New Deal”.  It’s written at the layman’s level.

    Nuclear is a technological dead end

    Tell you what.  Let’s put nuclear on an even legal footing with wind and PV:  same subsidies, same grid priority, same sales of renewable energy credits.  Let’s apply regulatory burdens according to the actual domestic mortality/morbidity they cause (and the same for coal and gas).  Then let’s see what gets built, shall we?

    no one wants to invest in it any more.

    The UAE would rather generate their electricity with uranium than domestic gas/oil.  It obviously looks like a good investment to them, and it’s not like they’re hurting for choices.

  12. 62

    Kevin McKinney wrote:

    explain why it is that it’s basically impossible to find anyone willing to invest in nuclear construction in the US, and not much easier across most of the globe.

    Simple, actually.  Nuclear is being built everywhere there isn’t a glut of natural gas and propagandists spreading radiophobia aren’t allowed to run rampant.  It’s being built even where natural gas IS abundant, but it can be sold for more than it’s worth as generating fuel.

    Could it possibly be related to what happened here in my state of South Carolina, where the attempt to double the capacity of the Summer plant collapsed, leaving $9 billion in debt, without a single watt of power ever having been generated?

    Actually, yes.  But you have to go back a few years.

    The contracts for the Summer and Vogtle expansions were signed in 2008:  fixed price, supposedly approved design.  But anti-nuclear activist Gregory Jaczko had been appointed to the NRC, and in February 2009 a new aircraft impact rule was adopted.  Jaczko managed to get the brand-new rule applied to the already-designed plant, which literally required redesigning many of the structures from the ground up (because thicker walls require heavier foundations).  That set the project back by months and added a pile of costs.  Then there was a dispute between the general contractor and regulators about the rebar in the “base mat”.  The original design had used the latest version of the spec to meet code, but the specific version had not been passed to the sub-architect and they used the older version of the same spec.  This kind of thing kept popping up and causing delays, adding costs.  They’re known as “teething pains” and they’re common in first-of-a-kind projects.

    China has completed 4 AP1000s already.  They don’t have hostile regulators.  I doubt they would allow Gregory Jaczko in the country.

    Why can’t ‘the REAL solution’ seem to make its way in the marketplace?

    Because there is no “marketplace”.  Certain producers receive massive subsidies and consumers with long-term steady power needs aren’t allowed to contract for them; they have to buy at spot prices.  “Renewable portfolio standards” mandate certain levels of purchase regardless of price.  What kind of marketplace is it when you’re told what you’ll buy and your taxes subsidize some producers at the expense of others?

    There certainly is a role for public policy in the electric grid, but it’s been used to pick winners (“renewables” in theory, but mostly natural gas by exempting it from the Clean Water Act) and losers (nuclear).  This is why there’s such widespread opposition to a carbon tax; it would reward the “wrong” emissions-free technologies.

    given the short time frame we have to effectively mitigate emissions, and the relatively long time frame to plan and execute nuclear reactor projects, isn’t reliance on such a strategy a prime example of thinking that’s “superficially (and romantically) attractive” yet “unworkable?”

    Back before radiophobia was our major concern, some nuclear plants went from application to license approval in under a year.  Note that we have never had civilian casualties from an accident at a commercial NPP in the US, even those approved so quickly and completed in just a few years.  Meanwhile, we have people dying from natural gas explosions and collisions with coal trains, not to mention the effects of the effluents.  What is this grossly drawn-out and costly approval and regulatory process doing for us, anyway?  (It’s easy to see what it does for the fossil industry, which doesn’t even pay for criteria pollutant emissions let alone GHGs.)

  13. 63

    Paul Pukite wrote:

    The way I think about nuclear is that as long as building and maintaining nuclear power plants will require government oversight (how else to fund and insure?)

    Do you have any idea how expensive this “government oversight” is?  NPPs pay outrageous fees for general “oversight”.  The fee schedule for 2019 is $278 per staff hour for matters like license applications and modifications, and the flat per-plant fees come to a whopping $530.5 million dollars just this year.

    What we get for that is ridiculous arguments about the particular version of a rebar spec (in a piece which is no doubt over-designed by a factor of 5) and niggling oversight of “minimization” of radiation exposures.  “Minimization” now requires several hours of planning per hour of actual work on the plant itself, multiplying the cost of even simple jobs.  The real irony is that almost all of this is make-work that literally would be better un-done.  If the NRC set a floor for reporting at, say, 10 mSv/day, 30 mSv/month and 120 mSv/yr for workers, everyone would still be perfectly safe and most of the planning and reporting could simply be forgotten.

    and as long as Republicans are anti-government then we will be at a standstill and not much will be done wrt nuclear power. In other words, nuclear power has an inherent inability to build from scratch in a free market system.

    The Republicans could strike an anti-government blow with my proposed change to exposure standards above.  They could strike an even bigger one by giving ownership of used fuel to the plant owners and returning the un-spent portion of the 1 mill/kWh fee for “disposal” to them.  Yes, the US government claims ownership of “spent” nuclear fuel and won’t let plant owners even move it off-site.  How’s THAT for govenment meddling?  Government could un-meddle with just one bill.

    I can guarantee you that the Republicans won’t do this, because they are firmly in the pockets of the fossil-fuel interests who want nuclear eliminated so they can have its market too.  (Vermont Yankee shut down because it could not strike a deal with the state utility, which happens to be owned by Gaz Metro, a Quebec gas company.  You can see the conflict of interest there, I trust.)

    It’s possible that demand destruction of oil will happen before this occurs. It used to be that oil would create wealth, but now oil is a net consumer of wealth.

    You can measure this more directly in Canada’s tar sands.  A great deal of natural gas is burned to make steam to liquefy and extract bitumen, which is further processed into something which can flow through pipelines and shipped out to be refined into mostly motor and aviation fuels.

    The EROEI of the tar sands may be negative, but natural gas is cheap and doesn’t make a really great motor fuel so it’s dollar-positive at some point.

    I’ve been watching people talk about the negative returns on investment of shale oil, and it amazes me that the supply has not been “shut in” until the price rises.  Where is the MONEY for this obvious mal-investment coming from?

    And here’s a chance to ride another of my hobby-horses, plug-in hybrid vehicles.  PHEVs can use natural gas at fairly high efficiency, via the electric grid; it doesn’t have to be converted to a liquid fuel first.  They will also switch seamlessly over to any kind of “renewable” energy or nuclear energy, because electricity is fungible.  We could achieve energy independence fairly quickly just by mandating that all new light-duty vehicles must have e.g. 20 miles of all-electric range by the year 2025.  This would only require about 3 Tesla Gigafactories for the batteries, and ZF and Continental have both announced electrified transmissions to make this change a drop-in option in new models.  Piece of cake.

  14. 64
    Killian says:

    AB: You’re an immature, childish, troll. Good job proving it yet again.

    My response to Jan was appropriate. He was rude, arrogant, patronizing and was called on it, as he should have been, all while touting the absolute worst possible solution to FF’s besides FF’s. So delusional, too.

    Yet, in every single response to me where others speak ill, you have words only for me. That, sir, makes you an unabashedly biased troll. You are, because of your utter pettiness, the most disgusting person here, worse even than the denialists, because your responses too often have no reason whatsoever than to screw with other people. You are the sole driver of the nearly-defunct Peanut Gallery. Hardly a heritage to fight for.

    Give nigelj credit, I don’t remember a Straw Man, et al., from him in quite a while. He’s made an effort to recognize his errors and has modified his behavior. Why? Don’t know. Maybe he’s shooting for something else and that is just an incidental after-effect. But who cares? He’s different and contributing better.

    You? A true troll and should be banned. Quiet, child.

  15. 65

    E-P 49: 1.) Voluntary action by Africans to stop their unsustainable population growth.
    2.) Involuntary birth control imposed by e.g. lacing food aid with contraceptives.
    3.) Collapse of the aid system and mass starvation. (Sooner is better; fewer to starve.)

    We already know they won’t do #1. #3 is what you’re trying to prevent. #2 is all that’s left.

    BPL: Voluntary birth control programs worked just fine in Bangladesh. If you’re trying to say black Africans are stupider than other people, there’s no evidence for that and it’s a racist thing to say.

  16. 66
    Jon Davies says:

    Helpful article. I do see a lot of suggestions for tree planting – even when this involves replacing natural grasslands with trees which arguably does not help at all in terms of carbon. I think people also associate planting trees with improving natural habitats for wildlife, when what is often needed is a variety of different habitats.

  17. 67
    Lontra Provocax says:

    Well, it’s over. Enjoy your fenced first world, and make worth the global genocide you’re celebrating.

  18. 68
    Antoine de La Rochefordiere says:

    Let’s suppose for a moment we manage to extract 200 GtC from the atmosphere (even over fifty to one hundred years) through massive tree planting. What strikes (and frightens) me is that this would only work once as a mitigation measure. Once we have put trees everywhere, if in parallel we continue emitting CO2 as we are doing, we won’t be able to use that same reforesting trick anymore (unless of course we also store all the carbon produced by trees in timber products so that the death of the old trees does not send their carbon back into the atmosphere through combustion or decay). Am I right, here? Is this sufficiently highlighted in the global debate on climate?

  19. 69
    Killian says:

    Ban this racist –> Engineer-Poet

    Ray Ladbury wrote:

    I only see two alternatives to finding a way to feed them.

    1) Let them starve: In addition to the moral repugnance of this idea, there is the additional downside that this will result in unprecedented environmental degradation over much of the land area of the planet. I certainly hope you don’t advocate this.

    2) Forced sterilization on an unprecedented scale. And I really don’t want to live on a planet where that happens or be part of a species responsible for that.

    At this point it is all but inevitable that these people will be born. Unless we become monsters, we have to try to find a way to care for them.

    Right now we ARE feeding them; Africa receives truly massive amounts of food aid from Europe, Australia and the Americas.

    Are we? A lot of sub-saharan Africans are subsistence farmers…

    If we are, why? Because we take their food for our tables, then have to ship food back to them because they aren’t growing their own food in order to grow food for export, often forced by gov’t policies, to feed us.

    This situation is not sustainable, especially if Africans flood out of Africa and consume the surpluses at their source.

    Well, you see, if Americans, e.g., didn’t consume 5x our share of world resources – including far more than our fair share of food – Africans would not be hungry, nor poor.

    Since the current African population explosion cannot be fed indefinitely, it won’t be. The choices we have are how it will end:

    1.) Voluntary action by Africans to stop their unsustainable population growth.
    2.) Involuntary birth control imposed by e.g. lacing food aid with contraceptives.
    3.) Collapse of the aid system and mass starvation. (Sooner is better; fewer to starve.)

    Because it hasn’t been shown that education of girls and women, alone, greatly reduces population growth rate, nor that giving them equality also reduces growth rates…

    We already know they won’t do #1. #3 is what you’re trying to prevent. #2 is all that’s left.

    So, yes, homicide and/or other inhumanity is so much better.

    In reality, the African consumption rate is so low compared to Americans they could triple their population to 3 billion and not push us over the limits of food production, or other limits. The entire problem with the resources of the planet lies with the OECD, and particularly the G20… or whatever the damned number is now.

    Your ignorance of well-known facts, if not outright racism, is noted, though apparently not Bore Hole-worthy.

  20. 70
    sidd says:

    Meta:

    Please, can we have a forced variations thread again ? A lot of the threadlets here in unforced might fit better there.

    sidd

  21. 71
    nigelj says:

    Mike, you appear to be concerned at the spike in MLO CO2 levels earlier this year from January to April, and that it might signify a step change in release of CO2 from the melting permafrost or some other natural process we are aggrivating by burning fossil fuels, however its hard to see why the permafrost would accelerate its melt quite so suddenly, and when I look at the latest MLO graphs on the NOAA website, this year is starting to follow the same pattern as the previous 4 years, so theres nothing unusual that sets it apart visually, no obvious step change compared to these previous years as below.

    https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/

    https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/weekly.html

    Maybe there is in the CO2 numbers for this year I dont know. Even if there was it could be higher emissions numbers, or a lot of forest fires happening at once by coincidence. You would need to see a change over a longer period to be sure there was a “step change” in the melting of the permafrost or numbers of forest fires. Changes in short term trends in the MLO data of a week to a year or two are probably natural variation unless they are very dramatic.

    Having said that its all a bit beside the point to me. We know we are waking up a monster with the permafrost, and we know numbers and size of forest fires have grown so are generating more CO2. When I first became interested in climate change in the early 1990s I thought there looked like an awful lot of potential positive feedback loops. Its also distinctly possible that the IPCC is underestimating the rate of change in arctic permafrost given various articles describing various holes appearing in the region. Some sort of step change cant be ruled out but would still take time to become obvious in MLO data.

  22. 72
    nigelj says:

    https://ratical.org/radiation/Chernobyl/CCreviewByKG.html

    New Book by three scientists concludes: Chernobyl death toll: 985,000, mostly from cancer (from the fallout over wide areas). A lot more than official estimates.

    Others say low level radiation is harmless (and Im not dismissing this, the body does have some natural defences against cancer so it could be true). But still, so much conflicting information, very frustrating.

  23. 73
    David B. Benson says:

    Nigel @58 — The paper by Abbott has been thoroughly treated, in bits and pieces, in the Energy section of the BNC Discussion Forum
    bravenewclimate.proboards.com
    I will be happy to engage there, not here. This is a thread about planting trees, trillions of trees, not nuclear, not Africans, not everything under the sun.

    Those who wish to engage about matters nuclear are invited to use that forum, designed for multiple conversations. Indeed, start a thread about world population in the Climate Change section.

    There is a reminder about civility and the necessity of providing references for your remarks. The moderation is post facto, so conversations can proceed more rapidly than here.

    Gavin Schmidt used to have a “no nuclear” rule here on Real Climate, stating that the conversation never went anywhere. But on the BNC Discussion Forum somehow progress occurs.

    Leave this thread for the pros and cons of growing trees. The moderators and at least I will thank you.

  24. 74
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Engineer-Poet,
    Just curious: Have you ever been to Africa? Didn’t think so. It shows in the pig-ignorant and racist assumptions you make about an entire continent. I could go through and refute your silliness line by line, but my experience tells me that it’s pointless to argue with morons like you.

    I will leave you with just one thought to see if you are capable of cognitive dissonance: If population in Africa is the problem, why is it that all the fossil fuels are being consumed outside of Africa?

  25. 75
    zebra says:

    Engineer-poet,

    You are more forthright than many people who tout nuclear, but still unclear about the basic questions that I usually raise.

    First, nuclear can’t compete with fossil fuels. So, what is the point of babbling on about how safe it is? Compared to a coal plant or gas plant or renewables, investing in a nuclear plant is just plain stupid.

    You people can never present a coherent plan for how to get from here to where you want to be; just a hodge-podge of complaints about how “unfair” it all is, which of course the people with other solutions can provide as well.

    If your product is as good as you think it is, you should be teaming up with other entities (wind, solar, conservation, EV, usw) who want to end fossil fuel use, instead of using every opportunity to denigrate them. Then let a true free (competitive, internalized) market sort out where and how each might be used.

    But, whenever I suggest this, it is the nuclear people who have seem to have less confidence in their technology. Sometimes, I speculate that they are really just false-flag Russian trolls wanting to list negatives about renewables. I’m not saying you are, but… what’s your plan?

  26. 76

    E-P 62: we have never had civilian casualties from an accident at a commercial NPP in the US

    BPL: This is true only if you define plant workers as “not civilians,” which is misleading and tendentious.

    http://bartonlevenson.com/NukeAccidents.html

  27. 77

    nigelj wrote:

    This is an impressive detailed analysis of the challenges facing nuclear power, and why its not viable for nuclear power to be scaled up globally.

    I’m reading it right now and I’m not impressed.  It has a host of errors, omissions and half-truths.  One error on page 2 is that NPPs must be decommissioned after 60 years.  This is not true.  Due to better-than-baseline neutron shielding, neutron embrittlement is proceeding at a much lower rate and it appears that many units originally licensed for 40 years may make it to 80 years.  Cavitation peening is a new method for placing metal surfaces under compression, eliminating stress cracks and further extending lifetimes.  Areva recently employed it during refurbishment of the Byron Generating Station Unit 2.  It won’t be the last time it’s used.

    Most industrial equipment has a useful life of around 50 years.  PV panels and wind turbines have useful lives much shorter than NPPs, so the first units installed will require replacement long before any “renewable Solution” can be completed.  Road Map to Nowhere goes into those issues in far greater detail than the IEEE piece.

    But the most egregious error is probably in the “waste” and uranium resource calculations.  The authors assume without argument that all used fuel is “waste” and the uranium resource is limited.  Both are manifestly false.  Our waste “problem” is political, not technological.  Used nuclear fuel is relatively easy to separate into reclaimed uranium, reclaimed plutonium and transuranics, and a molten salt solution containing the fission products.  The plutonium is fuel for fast-neutron breeder reactors and the uranium is breeding material; nothing goes to waste.  The current US inventory of used fuel contains enough energy run the whole country (not just the electric grid, THE WHOLE COUNTRY) for about 50 years.

    The “waste” problem is really 4 isotopes:  Sr-90, Cs-137, Tc-99 and I-129.  The first 2 have half-lives of about 30 years, so you only accumulate about 60 years’ worth of them in steady-state operation and they’re effectively gone 500 years after you quit making them.  We have wooden buildings over 500 years old that are still in use.  Tc-99 has a half-life of over 100,000 years and I-129 over 10 million years, so they’re thermally “cool”.  You can stash those in a salt dome a la WIPP and forget them.  (Not my idea, got it from Steve Piet.)

    The real elephant is the heap of “depleted uranium” that’s lying around.  This is the fraction that’s left over from enrichment to make LWR fuel.  The USA is sitting on about 800,000 TONS of this stuff, sufficient to power the whole country for over four HUNDRED years.  It is also breeding material for fast-neutron reactors.

    Then there’s thorium, which is about 3-4x as abundant as uranium and a byproduct of rare-earth refining.  You breed it to U-233:
    Th-232 + n -> Th-233 -> Pa-233 + β -> U-233 + &beta.
    AAMOF, a substantial amount of our problem with rare earths is the cost of disposing of the thorium byproduct in NRC-approved ways.  We literally have more of it than we know what to do with right now.

    This is why I don’t take “we can’t do nuclear because…” arguments seriously.  After a while you begin to see that they are all repeats of the same old falsehoods.

  28. 78

    Al Bundy wrote:

    methanol can be made catalytically, and it provides even more of its own oxygen than ethanol so smaller engines produce more power using methanol. That’s why race cars tend to use it. I haven’t dug to the bottom of this issue, but so far I think humanity is barking up the wrong chemistry set.

    You’re right, but since “biofuels” are a farm price-support program rather than an energy or climate program you’re not going to see that change any time soon.  Unless you can make it profitable to sell corn stover, maybe.

  29. 79
    Rey says:

    #61.

    “It very much depends on what handicaps the builders are forced to assume.”

    Yes, planning for safety is sooo inconvenient for business.

    “They are not contending with a hostile political or regulatory environment. In a sane country, Gregory Jaczko never would have been allowed within a mile of the NRC.”

    No, nooo. Can’t let an intelligent, whistle-blowing, non-industry lackey within the secret chambers of the NRC. Needs to be someone who will tow the party line and keep to the approved talking points.

    #62.

    “Simple, actually. Nuclear is being built everywhere there isn’t a glut of natural gas and propagandists spreading radiophobia aren’t allowed to run rampant.”

    I agree. While we’re at it, let’s stop those propagandists spreading misinformation about lots of other health, or potentially risky behaviors and policies. We can start with climate change. Can you think of a single death that can be positively and directly attributed to it? Oh wait, you support mitigation because you hope it will ultimately be beneficial to your business model, not because you actually believe it will be harmful, right?

    “Note that we have never had civilian casualties from an accident at a commercial NPP in the US”

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_and_radiation_fatalities_by_country

    Also we know they’re safe anyway right? https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Fukushima_Disaster:_The_Myth_of_Nuclear_Safety

    See above.

    “Back before radiophobia was our major concern, some nuclear plants went from application to license approval in under a year.”

    Right. Down with all these spurious “phobias”, starting with CO2 phobia.

    #63 is just WOW in its arrogance.

    “my proposed change to exposure standards above.”

    Who says you, an obviously Industry biased individual, should get to decide my or my family’s, or anybody else’s family exposures because it would be beneficial to your business model?

    “If the NRC set a floor for reporting at, say, 10 mSv/day, 30 mSv/month and 120 mSv/yr for workers, everyone would still be perfectly safe and most of the planning and reporting could simply be forgotten.”

    Right, don’t want to report those inconvenient (and biologically cumulative) releases under 10 mSv/day do we? Sorry dude. Your distortions and hand waving are easily seen through by most people. What’s next? Advocation for “radiation hormesis”? Thing is, most thinking people don’t think it’s a great trade off: A few years of electricity for the potential of radiological contamination of wide swaths of the earth for 1,000 years and more. But, I guess that’s a real head-scratcher huh?

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_civilian_radiation_accidents

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_nuclear_disasters_and_radioactive_incidents

  30. 80

    nigelj writes:

    https://ratical.org/radiation/Chernobyl/CCreviewByKG.html

    New Book by three scientists concludes: Chernobyl death toll: 985,000, mostly from cancer (from the fallout over wide areas). A lot more than official estimates.

    That 985,000 number has been going around for a very long time.  It’s based on the LNT theory, meaning it’s nonsense.  But LNT has lots of rabid supporters who either (a) make their living from the assumption that it’s true (the radiation protection racket), or (b) are paid by the fossil-fuel industry and hype risks of nuclear energy while failing to tell anyone that natural gas spews radon into the air and coal dumps enough uranium, thorium and radium that the plumes trigger the alarms at nuclear plants downwind.

    If you need protection from low-level radiation, kill the coal plants first!

    Others say low level radiation is harmless (and Im not dismissing this, the body does have some natural defences against cancer so it could be true).

    A Finn sarcastically asked for relocation assistance because large areas of Finland are more radioactive than the Fukushima evacuation zone limits.  Much of Colorado has natural radiation exposures several times the 2.5 mSv/yr limit as well.  I recall something like 8 mSv average.

    If there was going to be a cancer burden from chronic low-level radiation, it would have shown up in Colorado and Finland first.  It didn’t.  Therefore it doesn’t exist, QED.

    Colorado actually has lower cancer rates than less-radioactive areas like Florida.  This may be due to the radiation amping up DNA repair, or the lower oxygen levels decreasing the amount of oxidative damage.  Regardless, oxidative metabolism generates lots of DNA-damaging free radicals all by itself, and if a touch of radiation jacks up the production of damage detection and repair enzymes it could easily fix more damage than it causes.

    That appears to be the case.
    Colorado ski country has low cancer rates.
    Therapeutic use of radon.
    Japanese bomb survivors exposed to low doses live longer than controls.

  31. 81
    Scott E Strough says:

    @78 Engineer-Poet,
    Finally somebody gets it. I have waited years for someone else to say this. I felt like the lone voice calling in the wilderness for years. It’s a complex ever normal granary. It has nothing to do with food, nothing to do with efficiency, nothing to do with energy, nothing to do with climate mitigation. None of that. Many will sell it as if that’s the purpose, but it is categorically wrong.

    It’s a simple subsidy plan to subsidize the overproduction of grains, mostly corn, and then subsidize those industries that can use up that over production. Then the subsidies act as a sort of buffer stock scheme for price-support. That’s why the billions spent on crop insurance have both market price floors and also crop failure clauses.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffer_stock_scheme#/media/File:Buffer_stock_scheme_(single_price).svg

  32. 82

    Quoth zebra:

    You are more forthright than many people who tout nuclear, but still unclear about the basic questions that I usually raise.

    Questions don’t scare me.

    First, nuclear can’t compete with fossil fuels. So, what is the point of babbling on about how safe it is? Compared to a coal plant or gas plant or renewables, investing in a nuclear plant is just plain stupid.

    The coal plant and gas plant both use the atmosphere as an open sewer (and generate other nasty byproducts upstream and downstream as well).  The “renewables” require coal (a la Germany) or gas (a la the USA) to back up their inherent unreliability.

    If you are trying to STOP CLIMATE CHANGE, you cannot build any reliance on fossil fuels into your system.  While “renewables” may have a role, something else has to do the heavy lifting and it cannot be reliant on anything as fickle as the weather.  Nuclear power is the only candidate that scales (unless you want to go out in space to collect solar power).

    You people can never present a coherent plan for how to get from here to where you want to be; just a hodge-podge of complaints about how “unfair” it all is, which of course the people with other solutions can provide as well.

    As it happens, I am working on a sketch of just such a plan.  I was going to base it on 2 standard reactor modules:  an updated Fermi 1 equivalent at 200 megawatts thermal, and S-PRISM at 1000 megawatts thermal (though the output may have been downrated, I see 840 MW(t) in newer documents).  I may add a BN-800 equivalent (2100 MW(t)) if it has the passive air-cooling feature in common with S-PRISM.  Yes, S-PRISM is designed to be air-cooled indefinitely and thus walk-away safe.  The Fukushima meltdowns could never have happened at a plant using S-PRISM reactors.

    I have been going over US energy demand in detail.  The most difficult part to handle appears to be the January spike in natural gas consumption for space heating; combined residential and commercial gas consumption spikes to about 1.6 quads for the month, roughly 630 GW(t) average.  Instantaneous demand in cold snaps is no doubt considerably greater than that.  I’m going to assume a safety factor of between 1.5 and 2 when I get down to that level.

    If your product is as good as you think it is, you should be teaming up with other entities (wind, solar, conservation, EV, usw) who want to end fossil fuel use, instead of using every opportunity to denigrate them.

    Haven’t I made myself clear yet?  ALL of those entities are creatures of the oil (natural gas) interests.  Every measure written to promote them has had the absolute goal of killing nuclear energy.

    Remember Obama’s Clean Power Plan?  It was written by the NRDC and gave NO credit for keeping existing NPPs running; if a state shut down an NPP and replaced it with gas, its score went UP.  Further, power plants were limited to 550 gCO2/kWh but given NO credit for cutting emissions below that.  No credit for NPPs.  No credit even for CCGTs vs. open cycle.

    These entities may claim to want to end fossil fuel consumption, but the people who sign their paychecks don’t.  They are snakes and unfit to even associate with.

  33. 83

    Quoth BPL:

    This is true only if you define plant workers as “not civilians,” which is misleading and tendentious.

    By “civilian” I mean “member of the general public, not employed by the enterprise and paid to take associated risks”.

    Your list has exactly six fatalities at US commercial NPPs:  steam explosion at Surry 2 in 1972 killing 2, and another at the same plant in 1986 with 4 killed.  Precisely zero deaths are radiation-related.  This, from an industry which generates about 20% of the electric power in the country!  Doesn’t that sound remarkably safe to you?

    Compare the fatality rate from fossil-fired and hydro plants, if you dare to look that up.

  34. 84
    Cougar says:

    I don’t understand this line of thinking at all. Plants do not “sequester” carbon. Not posies and not entire forests, either. These are elements of the carbon cycle, and any carbon so entrained simply moves from one form to another, including into atmospheric CO2. And even if you did manage to create a new forest where none had ever existed (which I want to point out is ecologically and climatologically unlikely bordering impossible) then all you will have likely done is moved carbon from one physical location on the Earth to another, because in fact humans are felling forests at a prodigious rate, the equivalent of Alice running as hard as she can just to stay in one place. And once you made this new forest (and consumed the vast area of land and water resources you would need) it’s a one-shot; that land and water are used and you cannot do that again, in the same location. Yet people still clear land for oil palm plantations and to raise cattle in Brazile, nor will they allow you to show up after they have done so and replace the trees they just cleared for their own reasons. This entire approach is a fool’s errand and makes no sense of any kind to me. Nor does it buy us time, on the contrary trotting out the “we’ll plant trees” donkey will instead embolden everyone on the planet to carry on exactly as they are, and with the very generous approval of the fossil fuels companies. I don’t have an alternative “solution” (yes, in scare-quotes) but to paraphrase Neal Degrasse Tyson, the universe is under no obligation to offer you a solution. The only solution is to keep the buried fossil carbon out of the carbon cycle, and the only way to do this is to leave it in the ground. Period. If this solution creates its own problems, then that is all the proof you need that this is a “wicked problem”. Being an actual technical term, look it up, but you won’t much like the definition. It means we’re in serious trouble, like of a kind humans have never encountered. And if we are to deal with it then we need to understand the entire scope of the problem, being that there is dead carbon now finding its way back into the carbon cycle, and for this we are inescapably screwed. And there is no “unless” unless you want to talk about leaving the dead carbon in the ground. Which no one is willing, and therefore screwed we shall remain and I don’t care what other arguments anyone wishes to apply.

  35. 85
    nigelj says:

    David B. Benson @73 and Engineer Poet @77

    I just threw the research paper on nuclear power into the mix because I came across it recently. I agree I don’t think this is the right website to go further with technical discussions nuclear issues.

    Just a few general comments: I would say Abbots work appears to be published research, so informal internet criticisms lack the weight of a proper research study rebutting Abbot. The trouble is right now nuclear power is too slow to build in western countries to be useful for the climate issue. Technically nuclear power is as safe as wind power per mwatt hour, but the public are understandably suspicious, you cant really blame them.

    You nuclear enthusiasts need to get something like liquid salt reactors viable because they are safer and something different from water cooled reactors and it may change public perceptions. I’m a bit ‘agnostic’about nuclear power. We probably need a mix of nuclear power and solar and wind power, and it depends on each countries unique circumstances.

  36. 86

    E-P, #62–

    Nuclear is being built everywhere there isn’t a glut of natural gas and propagandists spreading radiophobia aren’t allowed to run rampant…

    Hm. Just which nations comprise “everywhere?” I wondered.

    According to the World Nuclear Association, there are 53 reactors currently under construction. Their database is here:

    https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/facts-and-figures/reactor-database-data/reactor-database-search.aspx

    Using that, I compiled this list of numbers of reactors per country, as follows (apologies for foratting):

    China 10

    India 7

    Russia 6

    South Korea 4
    UAE 4

    Bangladesh 2
    Belarus 2
    Japan 2
    Pakistan 2
    Slovakia 2
    Taiwan 2
    Ukraine 2
    USA 2

    Argentina 1
    Brazil 1
    France 1
    Finland 1
    Turkey 1
    UK 1

    Of the 53 projects, 43% are in China, India, or Russia. My takeaway is that nuclear reactors mostly get built where there’s a government that can make it happen by fiat.

    I had asked why nuclear power seemed unable to make its way in the marketplace. The response:

    Because there is no “marketplace”. Certain producers receive massive subsidies and consumers with long-term steady power needs aren’t allowed to contract for them; they have to buy at spot prices. “Renewable portfolio standards” mandate certain levels of purchase regardless of price. What kind of marketplace is it when you’re told what you’ll buy and your taxes subsidize some producers at the expense of others?

    That seems to me curiously irrelevant to the real problems of nuclear power: high levels of risk to financiers, and also high LCOE compared to both RE and fossil fuels. It’s also becoming less and less accurate at a descriptive level, as increasingly, subsidies on wind and solar are being removed because they are no longer needed.

    There’s also the reality that, for what it’s worth, nuclear has hardly gone without direct and indirect subsidies of its own over the years:

    https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/economic-aspects/energy-subsidies.aspx

    https://www.taxpayer.net/energy-natural-resources/nuclear-power-subsidies/

    Be that as it may, I would suggest that blaming nuclear’s troubles on “radiophobia” and “propaganda” is going to do very little to change the political and economic obstacles this technology faces.

    Meanwhile, wind and solar are surpassing the nuclear contribution and forcing coal off the grid. It isn’t yet fast enough, despite the amazing acceleration in uptake we’ve seen over the last decade plus, but it’s a lot easier to imagine increasing that rate than it is to imagine nuclear power pulling off a much more dramatic acceleration. (Or should that be “turnaround?”)

    And by “easier to imagine” I mean “more realistic.”

  37. 87

    All right, after getting zapped by some text-matching thing I’m putting forth one last effort to get stuff through it and then this will be my last mention of Africa.

    Quoth BPL:

    Voluntary birth control programs worked just fine in Bangladesh.

    They’re not working in Niger, Somalia, Congo, Mali, Chad, Nigeria….

    If you’re trying to say black Africans are stupider than other people, there’s no evidence for that

    There is plenty of evidence for that, but that is probably not the major factor.  In an environment where having too few clan/tribe members means being at risk of dispossession or extinction by the hostile neighbors, restricting births while the neighbors do not is suicidal.  When everyone is a back-stabber only a third party is capable of doing that for their common good.  (This is somewhat like the trolley problem, but you’re not picking who gets killed; you’re trying to prevent deaths, period.)

    Failing to restrict births means warfare or at least invasion (they’re invading Europe in hordes).  So, do you play God for the sake of less suffering, or just let the four horsemen of the apocalypse ride through the continent as they have for all of recorded history?  Maintain the status quo for now, and that’s what happens.  Cut off aid and migration and it happens sooner, to fewer.

    and it’s a racist thing to say.

    We have sunk a long, long way if facts can be declared “racist” and banished from rational discussions.  If you can’t even think about something despite it being true, you wind up with the unthinkable.

    Quoth Killian:

    Ban this racist –> Engineer-Poet

    Now there’s a voice of calm, deliberate reason, considering facts and possibilities without fear or favor.  NOT!

    A lot of sub-saharan Africans are subsistence farmers…

    The hordes living in massive slums around major cities in shacks with corrugated steel roofs aren’t farming at all.  29 African countries need food aid.

    If we are, why? Because we take their food for our tables

    What food would that be?  I have NEVER had any food of African origin save for perhaps chocolate made from African cacao beans.  Little vanilla seems to come from Africa proper.

    The list of US food imports by country doesn’t hit an African country until Ivory Coast at #17, under $1 billion/year.  The next African country to come up is Ghana at #40, about a quarter-billion dollars per year.  South Africa is #45 at about $160 million/year.

    I’d give you a country-by-country breakdown of African recipients of US food exports, but http://www.fas.usda.gov appears to be down at the moment.  However, it’s uncontested that the USA is the largest food exporter in the world.  We export lots of things like ammonia and nitrate fertilizers, which are used to grow food elsewhere.  Cheap US natural gas means cheap hydrogen which makes cheap ammonia and nitrates.

    then have to ship food back to them because they aren’t growing their own food in order to grow food for export, often forced by gov’t policies, to feed us.

    Since your claim is only backed by your unsupported word, while I’m citing primary sources, I have to say that’s BS. Shut. Up.

    if Americans, e.g., didn’t consume 5x our share of world resources – including far more than our fair share of food – Africans would not be hungry, nor poor.

    Americans grow and ship food to the entire world.  Americans are not responsible for Africans being poor.  Niger having 7.15 babies per woman is responsible for Niger being poor.  Niger cannot possibly build roads, schools, factories, powerplants etc. fast enough to keep pace.  Countries which expand population faster than infrastructure will get poorer.  They are responsible for what they do.

    the African consumption rate is so low compared to Americans they could triple their population to 3 billion and not push us over the limits of food production, or other limits.

    Are you insane?  (Rhetorical question.)  It takes roughly 1 bushel of maize to feed 1 adult human for a month, no extras.  That’s 12 bushels/capita/year.  Total US maize production in 2018 was 14.4 billion bushels, sufficient to feed only 1.2 billion people.  Americans like to eat too; the US only exported 2.45 billion bushels in 2018.  Those exports would only feed about 200 million Africans.  Who would feed the other 1.8 billion you think they can add?

    Who will build the roads, schools, powerplants, factories and everything else if they don’t take a pause from making more babies to feed?

    Your insanity is no longer a question.  It’s a certainty.

    Your ignorance of well-known facts, if not outright racism, is noted

    You are a hypocrite about knowledge of facts, and racism?  Feh.  That is a literal KGB propaganda word inserted into English as cultural weaponry, and what scares you is that it is losing its impact right before your eyes.

    But back to coal.  Phys.org notes that “some 20 countries are turning to coal, including nine in Africa (DRC, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambican, Niger, Senegal and Tanzania)… By 2025, more than 65 coal-fired power plants could be commissioned in these countries, representing a capacity of 50 GW (equivalent to more than 2% compared to global capacity in 2017).”  I’m not sure what to make of that, but South Africa burned about 278 million short tons of coal in 2016 (last year on record).  Per USAID, S. Africa only has about 51 GW of total generation so the planned coal-fired additions in Africa amount to roughly S. Africa’s entire generating fleet.

    I doubt S. Africa will build much more of anything.  It is falling apart before our eyes, like Zimbabwe before it (and for the same reason).  Rhodesia was the breadbasket of Africa; now as pathetic Zimbabwe, it needs food aid for at least 40% of its population (2019 update).

    Don’t use the “racis[t|m]” words unless you are prepared to defend them against facts.  Hint:  you have no factual defense and you will lose.

  38. 88
    Jon K. says:

    Ray Ladbury: “Fred Magyar@40: “o me, the elephant in the room is this profoundly misguided collective notion that we must find a way to feed 10 billion plus humans in the next few decades. I think that is a fool’s errand!”

    “At this point it is all but inevitable that these people will be born. Unless we become monsters, we have to try to find a way to care for them.”

    So let’s just throw up our hands and kick the can down the road since we evidently don’t want to deal with the issue. So what do we do when the population is 15 or 20,000,000,000? Well that’s okay. We won’t be astound to see the disaster.

  39. 89
    Russell says:

    RC might contemplate providing Killian with a Safe Zone of his own on the sidebar:

    The Crashing Bore Hole

  40. 90
    John says:

    While I do agree with EP’s seeming general position that political correctness and the easy way the word “fascist “ is tossed about these days to stifle opposition discussion, still, perhaps, it sounds like “Engineer Poet” might be benefited by a reading of Stephen Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, then familiarizing him/herself with the works of Margaret Mead and the nature vs nurture argument. Exhibit A could be Barack Obama. Kenyan blood, born in Hawaii, highly intelligent.

  41. 91
    Scott E Strough says:

    @84
    Cougar says,”And if we are to deal with it then we need to understand the entire scope of the problem, being that there is dead carbon now finding its way back into the carbon cycle, and for this we are inescapably screwed. And there is no “unless” unless you want to talk about leaving the dead carbon in the ground. Which no one is willing, and therefore screwed we shall remain and I don’t care what other arguments anyone wishes to apply.”

    There is only one. I repeat only one! And even it requires we also reduce fossil fuel use. That is the newly discovered Liquid Carbon Pathway back into the long carbon cycle. But as you correctly assessed, it isn’t trees or forests that do this. It’s the grasslands we have either plowed up or made dysfunctional by the hunting off of the megafauna.

    That’s the hidden path to get that fossil carbon that we released by using fossil fuels back into the deep geological time cycle for carbon. This is primarily because approx 40% +/- of the products of photosynthesis follow this symbiosis with AMF deep underground instead of being used for biomass. We sort of always knew especially C4 perennial grasses were more efficient at photosynthesis than trees, but never fully understood exactly where all that extra carbon really went.

    Sara Wright USDA soil scientist finally found it. Glomalin eluded detection until 1996 because, “It requires an unusual effort to dislodge glomalin for study: a bath in citrate combined with heating at 250 F (121 C) for at least an hour…. No other soil glue found to date required anything as drastic as this.” – Sara Wright.

    And it is that tight bond that resists oxidation combined with the location already below ground, that sends as much as 78% of the carbon sequestered this way deep into geological time frames rather than returning to the atmosphere as CO2.

    In essence this is the missing link to creating all the vast deep and fertile mollisols and related soils found worldwide under plains grasslands and savannas. And even a pretty high % of alluvial soils since even when eroded that carbon sticks to the mineral substrate pretty tight.

    The best news of all is that there is more carbon missing from the worlds agricultural soils worldwide than extra in the atmosphere. So as long as enough people make this change in agricultural methods, it would be impossible to reach saturation like will certainly happen with tree planting schemes.

    By all means plant trees where previous generations deforested, but don’t fool yourself into thinking this is an AGW reversal strategy. All that carbon eventually returns to the atmosphere. Instead it is far better to end all production of biofuels made from corn and soy and return that land to the grasslands and raise our animal foods on properly managed pasture.

    Biofuels take a lot of fossil fuels to produce. You gain little to nothing. But properly managed grasslands don’t even require fertilization generally.

  42. 92
    zebra says:

    #82 Engineer-Poet,

    “Questions don’t scare me.”

    Well, sure, since you don’t actually answer them. I asked you for a plan “to get from where we are now to where you want to be”.

    In the US, fossil fuel plants (and even wind and solar) are a far better investment choice than nuclear, for all the reasons people have mentioned. The fact that CO2 has a negative effect on the climate doesn’t prevent anyone from making the investment decision that will give them the best return in a certain time.

    Nothing you have said addresses that. The “sketch” you claim to be working on is where you want to be, not a plan for how to achieve that construct.

    There are obvious examples: One of them would be to follow the Socialist model used by France, where the Federal government nationalizes electricity generation, and mandates the use of nuclear. Is that your plan for the USA?

    If not that, what?

    As I said, I’ve presented a free-market approach to determine the optimal generation infrastructure, but nuclear proponents don’t appear confident enough in the superiority of their technology to accept it. You are confirming my observation.

  43. 93
    nigelj says:

    Engineer-Poet @80, that’s interesting, but we just dont know with any certainty whether low levels of radiation are harmless or not. As far as I can tell there’s no consensus on the issues as yet. Yes there are vested interests like fossil fuels distorting the picture but you yourself are part of that picture. Of course its a seductive theory, like the theory low levels of allergens and bacteria actually help strengthen the immune system, but it needs more proof.

    You mention Colorado and Finland as examples of slightly higher than normal background radiation, and having cancer mortality statistics in the normal range, but you must realise there are several other factors that might be keeping the numbers normal, like aspects of diet and environment that may be unique to those areas. It would need an in depth study, do you know of one?

    Anyway nothing in life is free, and all power sources have their advantages and disadvantages. We don’t want to be too one dimensional. I think if a country has awful wind and solar power potential, nuclear energy is viable option.

  44. 94
    nigelj says:

    Engineer Poet @82

    “Haven’t I made myself clear yet? ALL of those entities (wind and solar power) are creatures of the oil (natural gas) interests. Every measure written to promote them has had the absolute goal of killing nuclear energy.”

    This sounds like paranoid conspiratorial thinking! Its conjecture and you don’t present any real evidence, and it doesn’t make sense. Its not logical that fossil fuel interests would undermine themselves by promoting wind and solar power to defeat nuclear power. I think its more likely that plenty of politicians do not like nuclear power, because they representing people who don’t like nuclear power, so politicians are not too friendly towards nuclear power, and so the nuclear industry doesn’t get many subsidies or other favours.

    You also need to appreciate Nuclear Power has some serious risks, and as such it will be firmly regulated and rightly so. This is not a conspiracy against nuclear power, its sound normal practice. If you don’t like this, your best avenue is to stop complaining and develop technology with fewer risks. Like Zebra says “have a plan”.

  45. 95
    nigelj says:

    Engineer Poet @87 and elsewhere.

    Regarding your comments on Africa’s population explosion and their countries not doing much about this in a voluntary way. I recall reading an article a couple of years ago where two African countries handed out free contraceptives in some of their urban and rural areas, and as a result population growth rates dropped sharply. This is interesting, because it suggests this alone was powerful in reducing population growth, without needing huge improvements in women’s rights (which are desirable anyway), or huge improvements to health systems. I tried to find the article but sorry I couldn’t find it.

    It just seems most likely to me that Africa will slowly undergo a demographic transition to lower birth rates as has happened elsewhere. Yes there are tribal conflicts that act as an incentive to have large families, but not everywhere. I take your points but I think you are just much too pessimistic.

    Regarding your comments on Africa’s poor food production issues and high level of food imports: Its true that Africa’s food productivity is still low (about half the western world) and they do import food, but that productivity has improved slowly over the last century and early this century, and their food imports have dropped considerably as below:

    https://www.fas.usda.gov/data/turning-point-agricultural-exports-sub-saharan-africa

    Again you seem to take a very pessimistic view of the issues.

    Regarding your comments on Africa’s food exports: It’s true America doesn’t import much African food, and a lot of African countries don’t export significant amounts of food, but 7 African countries do have food exports as a large part of their exports as below.

    https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/05/which-are-africas-biggest-exports/

    My understanding is that the World Bank and IMF have encouraged food exports and monoculture, and this may be undermining some level of self sufficiency and creating too much reliance on a narrow band of exports. I’m not sure if this is wise, but its a complex question. We want Africa to participate in a global market economy, but not in ways that become stupid.

  46. 96
    nigelj says:

    Engineer Poet @82, just to clarify what I said which was: “I think its more likely that plenty of politicians do not like nuclear power, because they representing people who don’t like nuclear power, so politicians are not too friendly towards nuclear power, and so the nuclear industry doesn’t get many subsidies or other favours.”

    This would most likely include a wide cross section of people, so some fossil fuel interests, but also the general public who are often sceptical of nuclear power, environmentalists etcetra. And of course it goes both ways, politicians are clearly sometimes influenced by people sceptical of renewable energy, including fossil fuel interests and some in the general public.

  47. 97
    Al Bundy says:

    Lontra Provocax: Well, it’s over. Enjoy your fenced first world, and make worth the global genocide you’re celebrating.

    AB: There’s a level of deprivation that most people won’t tolerate in order to save the world. It’s generally any level that limits said human’s future consumption to less than 150% of its current consumption. (And, no, that isn’t a “scientific fact”)

    _______________

    Eng-Poet:The EROEI of the tar sands may be negative, but natural gas is cheap and doesn’t make a really great motor fuel so it’s dollar-positive at some point.

    AB: The steam needed for bitumen extraction is wet, low pressure, and cool. A nuclear pile can burn up nuclear waste while producing the steam needed to extract bitumen. Why build nuclear reactors when there’s so much utility for cheap and safe piles? For example, a pile-based battery can provide district heat and a bit of electricity. And your “instead of” motif, be it “yours” or “Others” (speaking of the impossibility of walking (wind and solar) and chewing gum (nukes) at the same time), hobbles your argument. Nukes are good for base load. Nuclear peakers are Just Plain Stupid. Don’t you think creating methanol and biodiesel and burning them in simultaneous-combined-cycle 3-stage combustion engines is much more logical for situations where shortages in wind, solar, hydro, pumped hydro, load curtailment, baseload nuclear, and batteries combined might inconvenience the Wealthy?

    And natural gas can be turned into methanol instead of liquifying bitumen. Lab Alley sells lab-grade methanol for $0.64/gallon in 55 gallon drums. ($1.44/gal gasoline equiv) Presumably burning-grade in bulk would be substantially cheaper.

    ___________________

    EP: I’ve been watching people talk about the negative returns on investment of shale oil, and it amazes me that the supply has not been “shut in” until the price rises. Where is the MONEY for this obvious mal-investment coming from?

    AB: When you’re holding worthless cards that are generally known to be aces, ya needs to bluff. (This works especially well if one is a GOPper as they are immune to facts and so are grand at bluffing)

    _____________

    EP: And here’s a chance to ride another of my hobby-horses, plug-in hybrid vehicles. PHEVs can use natural gas at fairly high efficiency, via the electric grid; it doesn’t have to be converted to a liquid fuel first. They will also switch seamlessly over to any kind of “renewable” energy or nuclear energy, because electricity is fungible. We could achieve energy independence fairly quickly just by mandating that all new light-duty vehicles must have e.g. 20 miles of all-electric range by the year 2025.

    AB: I’ve been riding that horse forever, though with a shorter range. Whenever it isn’t worth it to warm up an engine, which is about 5-10 miles, use electrons.

    By the way, gaseous fuels suck since they can’t be reasonably injected just prior to ignition. This prevents the design of an efficient engine. So if you want to burn CH4 in an engine with adequate efficiency you’re gonna have to go with LNG.

    _____________

    Killian: My response to Jan was appropriate

    AB: Are you speaking about the quotes of Jan’s that I cut-and-pasted? If so, you’re serving water and calling it thick broth. Note that nobody agreed with you and Russell responded with, “RC might contemplate providing Killian with a Safe Zone of his own on the sidebar: The Crashing Bore Hole”. So, please, cut and paste whatever offensiveness Jan spewed (expecting crickets accompanied by a lot of venom.)

    And if you think I pick on you, scroll up. I believe I “attacked” Ray just up thread. I ain’t shy and I don’t discriminate. I seriously have NO CLUE what you are complaining about with regard to Jan. His/her post was milquetoastesque.

  48. 98
    John says:

    #90 “While I do agree with EP’s seeming general position that political correctness and the easy way the word “fascist “ is tossed about these days to stifle opposition discussion,”

    I meant to say “racist” but my computer likes to change my words.

    Still I suppose that word is thrown around easily as well these days.

  49. 99
    David B. Benson says:

    On Africans:

    The most intelligent Washington State University undergraduate that I have conversed with was a Maasai from Kisumu, Kenya. From another source, this alertness is credited generally to the public education system of Kisumu, so good that its methods have been adopted by school districts in Oklahoma.

    In the previous century I knew a Lesotho princess, a student at Pomona College. Certainly a knowledgeable conversationalist on many matters academic.

  50. 100
    David B. Benson says:

    Cougar @84 — The same plot of ground can be repeatedly used to grow a forest and then cut it down to start again. The cut wood can be processed by pyrolysis, the solid so-called biochar then compressed into artificial anthracite and buried deep underground. There it will remain for time out of mind, just like natural coal beds.

    But yes, it would be a very good idea to stop cutting down already existing forests.

Leave a Reply

Comment policy. Please note that if your comment repeats a point you have already made, or is abusive, or is the nth comment you have posted in a very short amount of time, please reflect on the whether you are using your time online to maximum efficiency. Thanks.