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Friday round-up

Filed under: — gavin @ 29 August 2008

Blogging has been a little light recently (apologies!), but here are a few pieces that have caught our eye this week.

First up, the Columbia Journalism Review has a twoparter on journalistic coverage of climate change inspired by comments from Jeff Huggins on the Andy Revkin’s Dot Earth blog. The key issues CJR addresses are familiar ones to readers here: how to communicate mainstream science in a way that doesn’t distort the reality of the consensus on many issues in favour of controversy on more cutting-edge topics. Definitely worth a read, and proof (if such were needed) that commenting on blogs can make a difference to coverage.

Next, the role of CO2 as a long-term climate forcing. The old CO2 lead/lag issue keeps making the rounds as a contrarian talking point (and made a brief resurgence here in comments this week) despite the fact that the existence of impact of climate on the carbon cycle in no way invalidates the impact of CO2 (as a greenhouse gas) on climate. However, there is a nice paper in Nature this week (Lunt et al, 2008) which looks at the various proposed triggers for the onset of the quaternary glaciations at the end of the Pliocene (~3 million years ago). These triggers involve, permanent El Nino events, the closing of the Isthmus of Panama, changes in orbital forcing, tectonic uplift of the Rocky mountains – and long-term decreases in CO2 as a function of very slow variations in sea floor spreading and chemical weathering. Lunt et al find that only the change in CO2 (400 ppm to 280 ppm) can explain the changes in the ice sheet. None of the other ideas come even close.

Thus, it looks very much like the climate changed radically due to this externally forced drift in CO2 (and tectonic is external for climate purposes on this timescale). As a corollary, this is an expansion of the idea we discussed a few months back, that the long term changes in the Earth system due to external forcings might be well be larger than the classical (Charney) sensitivity we often talk about.

Third. There has been a lot of discussion on energy futures in the comments – Nature had a good rundown of the scientific constraints on the different prospects. But this video is a quite entertaining discussion of why we just can’t get our heads around the issue from Dan Gilbert (h/t GH).

Finally, a commentary on the prospects for continued employment as an Arctic ice expert (h/t Climate Feedback).

148 Responses to “Friday round-up”

  1. 1
    Sarah says:

    The video link on energy futures discussion does not work and I would like to see it if possible.


    [Response: Fixed. thanks – gavin]

  2. 2
    Matthew Clement says:

    Re: Electricity without carbon: capture the sun and it can be done

    The obvious question, asked by many before, is why renewable energy hasn’t been made available on a large scale. In answering this question we must always remember that, also obvious, energy development still generally follows profitability. Imagining a renewable energy future-scenario is implausible when the profit motive dominates decision-making.

  3. 3
    danny bloom says:

    see Carlos Pascual and Strobe Talbott oped at WASH POST. “7 years left to fix claimate change”

  4. 4
    Peter Ward says:

    I would like to touch on the CO2 and climate forcing thread – but in a deep time way. I work on mass extinctions, and have had the chance this summer alone to look at late Ordovician strata in Nevada, Frasnian-Fammenian (Devonian) strata in Nevada and Australia, and KT boundaries in Montana and North Dakota. My question: all three times had putative CO2 higher than 1000 ppm, following Bob Berner’s GEOCARB model estimates. All three seem to show rapid sea level changes that suggest rapid ice melt/ice formation. How high can CO2 be and still allow ice caps? Is there any literature out there on this?

  5. 5
    Andrew says:

    Regarding the Friday roundoup blurb about the problems of news coverage of AGW: i.e. why most citizens of the U.S. don’t get it. Here’s a recent example of the problem in a recent news story about the coast guard and others preparing for the opening of new arctic shipping lanes because of the loss of the artic ice cap due to global warming.

    Taken from the article: The head of the Coast Guard, Adm. Thad Allen, carefully avoids the debate over climate change. It’s too early to say what the Coast Guard’s future operations here will be, but Allen is certain his agency will have a key role as the Arctic landscape is transformed by higher temperatures.

    “I’m agnostic to the science and the debate about what the cause is,” Allen said. “All I know is there’s water where there didn’t used to be.”

    That pretty much sums it up. It appears that Admiral Thad Allen can’t be seen admitting to global warming. Why? Retribution from his superiors? Teasing from his buddies? The absolute polarization of the debate by our government and he being a public employee?

  6. 6
    Ike Solem says:

    The real reason that renewables have not been developed is that the fossil fuel corporations and their paid-off cronies in politics have deliberately attacked and undercut renewable energy proposals for decades now.

    This is why there are thousands of pharmaceutical research programs in the U.S., and only a bare handful of renewable energy reserach programs. For whatever reason, the NSF decided to leave all issues surrounding research into clean energy to someone else, namely the Department of Energy.

    Has anyone ever looked at the DOE budget? A rough synopsis is here:

    The bottom line is that they spend almost nothing on real renewable energy programs – their budget for the “DOE Legacy Project” is twice that for solar research. Thier budget for nuclear weapons research is around 9 billion dollars, I think.

    As far as why the press doesn’t cover this? Well, it must be that the people who own the press and hire and fire journalists and editors also have significant holdings in fossil fuels, and so they routinely refuse to cover stories on the energy issue.

    We can predict that the American press will continue to refuse to link extreme weather events to global warming. That’s a very noticeable trend – American press reports on heat waves, massive floods and giant hurricanes always leave out any mention of the role that global warming might have played.

    The reason is really simple – if there really is an association between global warming and fossil fuel emissions, and there is, then that means that the fossil fuel companies could be held liable for damages – but only if they could be shown to have tried to to hide the truth from the public, as the tobacco companies did with their products.

    That shouldn’t be too hard to show, should it?

  7. 7
    Pascal says:

    Hi Gavin

    I have a problem of understanding for the Lunt et al 2008 paper.

    When they write:

    “suggest Eocene atmospheric CO2 of the order of 1,000 p.p.m.v., falling to levels as low as 200 p.p.m.v. in the Middle Miocene,”

    Why could Greenland avoid a glaciation when the CO2 was only 200ppm?

    For them, in the Pliocene, the fall from 400 to 280 ppm was sufficient and a fall from 1000 ppm to 200ppm in the Miocene was not?
    (I believe it was sufficient for Antarctica glaciation)

    can you explain me?

    [Response: Fair point – I don’t really know. However, judging from figure 6.1 in the IPCC report, it’s clear that the estimates for CO2 through the Cenozoic prior to the ice core records (including the Pliocene and Miocene) are pretty uncertain. – gavin]

  8. 8
    Hank Roberts says:

    Dr. Ward, great to see your question. I dropped a couple of recent abstracts on CO2 levels (papers that you’re likely well aware of already) at the end of the ‘Are geologists different?’ thread.

    On your query, I hope our hosts would consider a topic limited to people who know something about it (paging Figen, and others, who actually cite sources they’ve understood). It could go on for months or years if it attracted the people working on that one big question.

    Lunt et al.’s Nature paper is of course paywalled (trip to library for me). Their supplementary info is available:

  9. 9

    We have enough nuclear fuel for FIVE THOUSAND YEARS

    according to “Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy”, by B. Comby. “Breeding”
    fissionable fuel and recycling nuclear fuel greatly extends the supply. We have
    many possible uranium mines that we haven’t started mining. The reasons we are
    not doing so are political and psychological. Most people have an irrational fear
    of anything nuclear caused by coal industry propaganda.

    Everything, including yourself, is made of atoms. All atoms have nuclei. You
    have many atomic nuclei inside yourself since you are made of atoms. The
    simplest nucleus is one proton. That would be a hydrogen atom. An oxygen
    atom has 8 protons and either 8, 9 or 10 neutrons in its nucleus. All other nuclei
    also have neutrons. Uranium has 92 protons and either 143 or 146 neutrons. If it
    has 143 neutrons it is U235. If it has 146 neutrons, it is U238. Nuclear fuel is
    only 2% to 8% U235, the kind that fissions/divides, providing energy. The rest is
    U238 that doesn’t fission. A nuclear reaction happens when a neutron is captured
    by a nucleus. If a U235 nucleus captures a neutron, the nucleus and the atom split
    approximately in half and 2 or 3 neutrons are released because the 2 smaller
    nuclei don’t need so many neutrons. If a U238 nucleus captures a neutron, it
    ejects an electron and the neutron becomes a proton. The U238 thus becomes
    Plutonium 239. Plutonium is fissionable, which means that plutonium is a good
    fuel. If you add Thorium to the fuel, you can make more fissionable uranium. If
    a Thorium atom nucleus captures a neutron, it ejects an electron and the neutron
    becomes a proton. The Thorium atom thus becomes U233. U233 is fissionable.

    Depending on the design of the reactor and the mix of the fuel, the fuel % in the
    reactor can either grow or shrink. It is kind of like the fuel gauge can go either up
    or down, but it is more like the reactor can run hotter or cooler over time. The
    temperature is kept constant by adjusting the control rods. A breeder reactor is a
    reactor designed to make the fissionable part of the fuel load grow rapidly.
    In the US, fuel is left in the reactor for about 10 years, or 10% of the fuel is
    replaced each year. The reprocessing step sorts out the fuel and puts the
    percentage of fissionable fuel back to the starting percentage. In the process,
    plutonium may be removed and either wasted or used as fuel. If we add thorium
    to the fuel, we can make more uranium than we put in. Since the earth contains
    more than twice as much thorium as uranium, it would be wise to make thorium
    into uranium. By reprocessing nuclear fuel, we get an enormous, many centuries
    long fuel supply. The products of fission are also removed when fuel is
    reprocessed. These are just other ordinary atoms that are no longer useful as fuel.
    The quantity is very small. We should reprocess fuel to keep the fuel load at the
    correct percentage of fissionable fuel for the particular reactor design. Instead, we
    go through the expensive process of making more “virgin” fuel for each new fuel
    load. This greatly increases the price you pay for electricity. We are not
    reprocessing nuclear fuel for political reasons. France reprocesses fuel and France
    has a nuclear waste repository.

    I have zero financial interest in nuclear power, and I never have had a financial
    interest in nuclear power. My sole motivation in writing this is to avoid extinction
    by H2S gas. H2S is how global warming kills everybody if we don’t act.

    Coal is almost pure carbon, except for the URANIUM, ARSENIC, LEAD,
    MERCURY, Antimony, Cobalt, Nickel, Copper, Selenium, Barium, Fluorine,
    Silver, Beryllium, Iron, Sulfur, Boron, Titanium, Cadmium, Magnesium,
    Calcium, Manganese, Vanadium, Chlorine, Aluminum, Chromium, Molybdenum
    and Zinc that are coal’s impurities. Coal smoke and cinders are commercially
    viable ORE for the above elements.
    Chinese industrial grade coal is sometimes stolen by peasants for cooking. The
    result is that the whole family dies of arsenic poisoning because Chinese
    industrial grade coal contains large amounts of arsenic. Coal varies a lot.
    You have to analyze it not only mine by mine but even lump by lump.
    by Alex Gabbard
    Oak Ridge National Laboratory
    Oak Ridge, TN
    Selections from the 19th Annual Conference
    March 14,15,16, 1996
    Nashville, Tennessee

    Published by the
    Edited by Jack D. Arters, Ed.D.
    Conference Director
    The truth is, all natural rocks contain most natural elements. Coal is a rock.
    The average concentration of uranium in coal is 1 or 2 parts per million. Illinois
    coal contains up to 103 parts per million uranium. A 1000 million watt coal
    fired power plant burns 4 million tons of coal each year. If you multiply 4
    million tons by 1 part per million, you get 4 tons of uranium. Most of that is
    U238. About .7% is U235. 4 tons = 8000 pounds. 8000 pounds times .7% =
    56 pounds of U235. An average 1000 million watt coal fired power plant puts
    out 56 to 112 pounds of U235 every year. There are only 2 places the uranium
    can go: Up the stack or into the cinders.
    Since a reactor full fuel load is around 11 tons of 2% U235 and 98% U238, and
    one load lasts about 10 years, and what one coal fired power plant puts into the
    air and cinders fully fuels a nuclear power plant.
    Compare 4 Million tons per year with 1.1 tons per year. 1.1 divided by 4 Million
    = 2.75 E -7 = .000000275 =.0000275%. Remember that only 2% of that is
    U235. The nuclear power plant needs ~44 pounds of U235 per year. The coal
    fired power plant burns coal by the trainload. The nuclear power plant consumes
    U235 in such small quantities yearly that you could carry that much weight in a
    See also:

  10. 10
    Chris Colose says:

    #4 Peter Ward

    Depends on the “Faintness” of the sun (e.g., some things going on during the Ordovician), elevation, latitude, and other things. There’s probably a rather large range due to the logarithmic curve between temperature and CO2. I can’t imagine Greenland surviving in a 1000 ppmv world today (allowing for a sufficient response time), keeping all other Holocene variables constant. Antarctica would take a bit more than Greenland, and there’s also uncertainty in both climate sensitivity and the sensitivity of ice sheets to temperature change (they’d also get precipitation change as well).

  11. 11
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 4 – I think newer research suggests a dip in CO2 level around the time of the late Ordivician associated (and largely caused by) the chemical weathering of the Appalachian mountains.

    I didn’t think there was much ice at all around the time of the K/T impact.

    Don’t know enough about the Devonian to comment on that one.

    But generally, my understanding is that the three most intensive periods of glaciations in the Panerozoic – late Ordivician (right?) (brief), late Paleozoic (Permian? did it extend into the Carboniferous as well? not sure off hand) – (an extended period), and the later portion of the Cenozoic (~now) – these are all (including the new research I refered to above) associate with relatively low atmospheric CO2 levels.

  12. 12
    BillS says:

    One of the more annoying aspects of newspaper science reporting
    (I’ll pick on the NY Times because I read it every day) is the lack of
    informative links within a story. Two articles from August 26th and
    27th hopefully make the point.

    “Carbon Footprint: Savings at home” (Aug. 27th) contains nine
    html links — one to a previous NYTimes story and eight to public and
    non-public sites where the reader can find information pertinent to the

    “Wind Energy Bumps into Power Grid’s Limit” (Aug. 26th) contains
    eight html links — every one of them to a previous NYTimes story or
    such interesting tidbits as Bill Richardson’s biography and 334 news
    articles containing Gov. Richardson’s name. None of these links point
    me to one bit of information about the nation’s power grid!

    When I am done reading many newspaper science/technology articles,
    I frequently spend a lot of time searching Google for flesh to put on
    the bare bones of the article.

    By the way, the Columbia Journalism articles have great web links.

  13. 13
    Fred Jorgensen says:

    Re 5 and 6, it’s sad to see conspiracy fantasies rearing their heads in a scientists’ blog.
    What’s next? ‘911 Truthers’, ‘Who Killed the Electric Car?’.
    The public debating square is messy. The general public needs visible, imminent danger.
    The casual, scientific literate person, looking at global temperature vs CO2 graphs over the
    last 130 years has a great deal of difficulty linking the two in any calamitous way.
    Steady warming in the 1980s and 90s – not much of anything in the remaining 110 years.
    It’s a tough sell!

  14. 14
    catman306 says:

    When ‘natural gas’ burns, does it not produce CO2? Isn’t it just another ‘fossil fuel’, a global greenhouse climate changing fuel? Why all the excitement about increased use of natural gas in the US?

    (I probably know the answers, but I think the media does not.)

    [Response: CO2 emissions per Joule of useful energy are much less with natural gas. Still, it is a fossil fuel and only looks good relative to coal or oil. – gavin]

  15. 15
    Brian Dodge says:

    re 13 Fred Jorgensen – just what graphs are you lookin’ at?

    Is less ice => more sunlight absorbed => warmer air over Greenland => more melt => sea level rise => bad news for New Orleans, Miami etc
    too hard for the average Joe to grasp?

  16. 16
    Rod B says:

    “…That shouldn’t be too hard…”

    Yes, chasing, demonizing, and — My! Oh! My! — prosecuting bogeymen is always hard.

  17. 17

    Edward Greisch says in comment 9

    Most people have an irrational fear of anything nuclear caused by coal industry propaganda.

    The cupidity of many of our civil servants (and other tax beneficiaries) is influential. This is because their income is in large part hydrocarbon tax revenue, and nuclear energy makes that revenue go away.

    This being so, citizens don’t have actually to be paranoid about nuclear energy; all we have to do is be silent while our rulers falsely impute this error to us. Polls say different, suggesting Greisch has credulously slandered the public.

    … Since the earth contains more than twice as much thorium as uranium, it would be wise to make thorium into uranium.

    Maybe, but there’s no rush.

    … By reprocessing nuclear fuel, we get an enormous, many centuries long fuel supply.

    Actually, many centuries of uranium supply are about as certain as anything in nature, even with a once-through fuel non-cycle. Projections based on known reserves at current prices (ca. US$0.4 per mmBTU) are misleading in two ways.

    One, known reserves have been increasing at about ten times the rate of use. Two, current prices reflect an exceedingly low energy cost of extraction. A tonne of uranium now-a-days yields enough electricity to pulverize two million tonnes of hard rock, and pulverization is the bulk of the energy cost in extracting a very dilute mineral, such as the 2.2-to-2.8 ppm uranium in average continental crust. Thus, if much richer ores were not being found, one mass U could now-a-days, if richer ores were not being found, power the extraction from country rock of five masses.

  18. 18
    Steve Bloom says:

    Peter, you want DeConto and Pollard. See also this paper (Berner co-auth) and this related commentary, and this one (link to actual paper under the graphic) focused on the Ordovician. I’m confident there’s more in the pipeline.

  19. 19
    John Lang says:

    When one is discussing these topics, one needs to keep in mind the position of the continents as well.

    The more the continents are weighted toward the poles, the cooler the average temps on earth.

    Put lots of continents together at the poles or one of the poles and we have snowball earth.

    What was North America’s location 2.5 million years ago versus today and versus 5.0 million years ago. +/- 200 miles means ice ages versus no ice ages.

  20. 20
    S. Molnar says:

    Molnar’s Law strikes again. (I’m not saying it’s necessarily off topic on this thread, but I’ll take credit where I can.)

  21. 21
    A.C. says:


    What was the % yield on the U238 to Pu239 conversion in the reactors at Calder Hall? How much fissionable plutonium can one make from five masses of uranium derived from country rock?

    All things being equal, there may be no necessary connection between development of nuclear energy and development of nuclear weapons–though this has not been established….not by a long shot.

    But all things are never equal, and throughout its history nuclear power has been much more about getting people to do what you want them to without asking their opinion than it has been about providing electricity at low cost.

    Compare to wind and solar, which are inherently more egalitarian, both because they are available to everyone without cost and because they are much less useful in the context of centralized power grids.

  22. 22
    Hank Roberts says:

    > middle Miocene (Pascal, Gavin)
    Something complicated may have been going on for a while in there

    Orbitally-paced climate evolution during the middle Miocene …
    online version, at doi:10.1016/j.epsl. 2007.07.026. References. Abels, H.A., Hilgen, F.J., Krijgsman, …

    And always, a reminder, the planktonic organisms predominating may varied a lot under selection pressure as the climate and atmosphere were changing; I don’t know about that particular time. That’s a feedback far more variable and less repeatable than say geological weathering.

  23. 23
    Rod B says:

    re natural gas: another reason besides GW natural gas is pushed (T.Boone Pickens e.g.) is very little is imported. Pickens’ idea is to build wind farms to shift the power utilities use of natural gas to transportation (direct use or production of hydrogen) thereby reduce our need for oil, much of which is imported and out of our control.

    Incidentally, would someone inform Nancy Pelosi that natural gas is a fossil fuel? Shockingly, she thinks it is not!

  24. 24
    Rod B says:

    Brian (15) says “…Is less ice => more sunlight absorbed => warmer air over Greenland => more melt => sea level rise => bad news for New Orleans, Miami etc
    too hard for the average Joe to grasp?”

    Yeh, pretty much.

  25. 25
    Steve Bloom says:

    Clarification: The commentary actually refers to this paper on the relationship between Miocene climate, vegetation and CO2 levels (and is a big advance on what was known at the time of the AR4, noting Gavin’s response to #7).

  26. 26
    veritas36 says:

    What is the yield? (Energy recovered compare with energy input)I asked a friend in the department of energy a quarter century ago. The answer was below 1, when you consider waste disposal. Helen Caldicott’s book (she is an adamant anti-nuke) also says this. I don’t know that it’s true but I am not convinced that nuclear power — as least the uranium phase of it — yields energy (keep in mind it’s been government subsidized, including the supposed permanent waste disposal — which has yet to happen and won’t for at least 10 years.) Plus there are the massive environmental damage (pitchblende tailings) and accident risks (said to be less than 1 in 10 million years before Three Mile Island).
    I am so far from convinced nuclear is any kind of solution. Greisch’s discussion is an argument with selected numbers, not the whole picture. Lawyering.
    I have not studied how the conversion to plutonium changes the energy yield. (A minuscule amount of plutonium is deadly, making it an ideal terrorist weapon, or choice poison).
    What I think is, somebody should do the end-to-end energy yields, and the economics and throw in environmental considerations — on every energy choice, including nuclear.

  27. 27
    wittgenstein says:

    From Sarah Palin, McCain’s new VP pick:

    What is your take on global warming and how is it affecting our country?

    “A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.”

    Thought you all would be interested in this…and McCain’s one who, for all his faults, actually knows the human contribution to climate change. Won’t get my vote…now doubly won’t.

  28. 28
    Yeti says:

    In response to an interview question about global warming, Sen. McCain’s running mate Gov. Sarah Palin replied: “A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.” This denialist formulation is at odds with what her state’s own Alaska Climate Change Strategy web site says about attribution.

  29. 29
    Fred Jorgensen says:

    Re 15: Brian Dodge. You show a pretty dramatic graph in the Woodfortrees link,
    but try this:
    Slight rise until 1980s, then rise, then plateau from 1998. (And not so Wow!)
    (CO2 doesn’t show back to 1880, but we know has had a pretty steady rise)
    It’s tempting to mix axis and scales to fool the unwary [edit]
    where honest data is presented with mixed scales and ranges for dramatic effect!

  30. 30
    dhogaza says:

    “A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.”

    Naw, shooting wolves doesn’t change the environment. Naw, her new victory over banning of mining that may directly and negatively impact a huge native salmon run won’t lead to harmful mining activity that will change the environment and put fishermen out of business. Naw, nothing we can do will change the environment negatively.

  31. 31
    Jim Eaton says:

    On the endless nuclear debate:

    When I think of endless field of windmills or solar collectors, terrorism doesn’t come to mind.

    But when it suggested than we build large numbers of nuclear reactors, the hair does stand up on the back of my neck…

  32. 32
    pete best says:

    Re #27 and #28, no, it cannot be, a republican not believing in AGW, surely not !!!!! :)

    Lets get this straight. John McCain might believe in AGW but his strategy for dealing with it is hardly comprehensive. More like lip service.

  33. 33
    wam says:

    It seems another tipping point has been reached:

  34. 34
    tamino says:

    Republican vice-presidential candidate Palin’s denialism goes beyond climate science; she also advocates teaching creationism in science class.

  35. 35

    Another denier (do you think this magazine – Skeptic – is worth considering?)

    [Response: We’ve discussed this ad nauseum in the comments (concluding here). It’s nonsense from conception to execution to conclusion. – gavin]

  36. 36
    CL says:

    Re 33.

    I went to that site. Release of methane really scare me too. Theoretically, CO2 emissions can be controlled, but I can’t imagine any way of preventing emissions from permafrost, on land, or coastal shelves, or of methane from hydrates on/in the sea bed…

    However, one commentator (Al) says hydrates could only be liberated by volcanic activity, and increasing vegetation will mop up emissions from permafrost, and that global warming isn’t happening anyway…

    This is the big problem that the layman, and the public in general face. Who to believe ?

    Common sense says to me that the precautionary principle should be followed. If the deniers are right, nothing irretrievable has been lost. If the deniers are wrong, we’re all stuffed and cooked.

  37. 37
    Kieran Morgan says:

    The Independent (UK newspaper) is running the story on the NW and NE passages opening up simultaneously around the Arctic –

    The article states that this hasn’t happened in 125000 years, is this figure correct? Just want to make sure as the Independent has hyped things up a little too much at times. If true this should help shock some climate change sceptics out of their complacency – at least some of the ones I know.

    [Response: It’s likely true for recorded modern history (say since the 1700s) – but statements regarding longer time periods are highly speculative – it might be correct, but how would one know? These particular details are very subtle changes (unlike the large scale trends which are not subtle at all), and the proxy data for past climates doesn’t generally have this kind of granularity. – gavin]

  38. 38

    there may be no necessary connection between development of nuclear energy and development of nuclear weapons–though this has not been established….not by a long shot.

    It was established at Hiroshima.

  39. 39
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Fred #29, surely you can do better than that?


  40. 40

    I started reading the CJR articles, and when I got to how the media have not explained the carbon cycle well enough, I thought what about our educational system???!!! I learned about that in basic science classes in junior high school, required of ALL students. I mean, that’s right up there with “the earth, as we now understand it, goes around the sun (and not the more obvious converse).”

    I also learned about the natural greenhouse effect, but that may have been in a more advanced course not required, or my own independent reading (I can’t remember). So I was well-primed decades later to understand global warming.

    I have this sinking feeling now that we somehow reached the pinnacle of education in the 60s, and it’s been downhill ever since. We’re slipping into the Dark Ages.

    Of course, there were kids even back then (during the 60s pinnacle of education) who didn’t pay attention to the science teacher, or promptly forgot whatever they learned — and I seriously doubt they’d pick up knowledge about the carbon cycle from the newspapers, even if it were frontpage every day. And they probably don’t even watch TV news.

    As for the young people today, who are probably being forced to learn creationism along side evolution (and I think this IS the case, since I teach anthropology in college and the students don’t really know much about evolution, say it isn’t really taught), I suppose there’s no hope at all for a decent education….or an understanding of global warming. I know a high school teacher (of English, not science, thank goodness) who adamantly opposes the idea of global warming.

    It’s like we’re entering into perhaps one of the worst problems humanity has ever faced, with harms to our life support systems (including a decline in agri) — unwittingly, unknowingly. [A problem we could ameliorate by our actions cost-effectively to a 2/3 reduction in GHGs.] So we’ll blame our woes on illegal immigrants, or terrorists. We’ll die a dog’s death.

  41. 41
    Hank Roberts says:

    Good grief, folks, must you bring this endless nuclear argument to every new thread opened here?
    Can’t you keep it in one place instead of taking over every single topic as soon as it’s opened?

    [Response: I concur – no more nuclear power discussions on this thread. Thanks. – gavin]

  42. 42
    Lawrence Brown says:

    Re: #34 Tamino says:
    “Republican vice-presidential candidate Palin’s denialism goes beyond climate science; she also advocates teaching creationism in science class.

    I wonder how she’d feel about teaching the Big Bang Theory of the creation of the Universe in a Bible study class?

  43. 43
    Martin Vermeer says:

    [no more nuclear please]

  44. 44
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Gavin, don’t you think a comments policy should be designed rather than improvised? How nice of you to declare nuclear comments off-topic after Edward Greisch eating up half of the thread’s space for spelling out at kindergarten level some of the basics of nuclear fission. Anybody thinking we needed that is unequipped to have any opinion on the level that matters.

    Forgive me for believing for a moment that because one such un-thought-through and potentially disastrous idea for “fixing” the climate crisis, geoengineering, was even worthy of a post, that commenting on other such ideas, and on how interested parties are trying to lobby for them under the global warming prevention flag, would perhaps be remotely relevant too. Dr Strangelove is alive and kicking. Ugh.

    [Response: Look, I’m happy to have pretty much anything discussed in a moderate fashion (and it’s not worth my time to get any more directed than that), but Hank is correct, this continual hijacking of threads with the same discussion over and again is tedious for all concerned. Remember the definition of a fanatic? someone who can’t change their mind and won’t change the subject? Well, I’m changing the subject. You will undoubtedly get future opportunities to discuss this. – gavin]

  45. 45
    Martin Vermeer says:

    …but Hank is correct, this continual hijacking of threads with the same discussion over and again is tedious for all concerned

    Oh, I agree. Just criticising your timing.

    …and is that me you’re calling a fanatic? A thread hijacker? You know my commenting history.

    [Response: Indeed. But you know who I’m talking about. – gavin]

  46. 46
    Figen Mekik says:

    “someone who can’t change their mind and won’t change the subject”
    That’s a cool definition of a fanatic :)

    [Response: Churchill. – gavin]

  47. 47

    Fred Jorgenson posts:

    The casual, scientific literate person, looking at global temperature vs CO2 graphs over the
    last 130 years has a great deal of difficulty linking the two in any calamitous way.
    Steady warming in the 1980s and 90s – not much of anything in the remaining 110 years.
    It’s a tough sell!

    And that’s an example of why casual perusal of graphs doesn’t always tell you very much. Statistical analysis of trends might be more helpful.

    Although when I look at the NASA GISS or Hadley CRU temperature curves for the last 120 and 150 years, respectively, it sure does look like an exponentially rising curve to me.

  48. 48
    Aaron Lewis says:

    Lynm re #40

    You are correct.

    How is it that people that use cell phones can deny science. Don’t they understand that phones are proof that science works?

    On a freshman chemistry exam (1971), as an extra credit question, we were given production statistics for halogenated hydrocarbons. Based on what we had about free radical chemistry, we were expected to predict in a few minutes the ozone hole that would be detected in the mid 1970s. With all due respect to the climate modelers, predicting gross AGW is not that hard.

    However, in 1991, I worked in a large engineering firm. One of the tasks I was assigned, was clipping and circulating articles on global climate change, because some of the very technically sophisticated members in our group “just did not get it.” In 2001, some of those guys still “did not get it.”

    Some strong believe system allowed these guys to do complex engineering on a daily basis, and still not accept the calculations and even observations of AGW. Now, I believe that some people can do the science and accept AGW, and other people have deep rooted aversions to accepting AGW. I think that is a matter not of better education in atmospheric science, but a matter for psychologists, biologists, and anthropologists as to why some people cannot accept AGW.

  49. 49
    pete best says:

    Re #34, sounds like the new republican movement to me. All science is dross unless it is allowing us to defend our realm. Obama must surely win this time around otherwise the 10 years to a different path will become six.

  50. 50
    Ike Solem says:

    After reading that Nature article, I have to wonder. It’s as if you asked someone to design an agricultural system capable of feeding a billion people and they handed you back a list of crops you could possibly grow: corn, beans, sugarcane, wheat, soybeans, pineapple, coconut, lettuce…

    The energy mix issue is a lot more complicated, and could be presented much more coherently.

    First, let’s break energy supply into two forms: fuels (liquid, gaseous, or solid) and electric current.

    Electric current is the most adaptable and useful energy source – a flow of electrons from high potential to low potential. There are many ways to generate current, but it is more difficult to store electricity. Typical sources of electric current include nuclear reactors, natural gas- and coal-fired power plants, hydropower from dams, geothermal plants, biomass-fired power plants, and solar and wind power. The only long-term sustainable versions (century scale) are solar and wind.

    Fuels are used for heating and to drive combustion-based machinery, from internal combustion engines to steam boilers for generating electricity. All carbon-based fuels that we use were originally formed by photosynthesis, using atmospheric CO2 as the raw material – this is true for coal, oil, natural gas, and all biofuels.

    Liquid fuels have a special advantage over all other energy sources in that they are relatively easy to transport across long distances. The other advantage that fuels have over electricity is that they can easily be stored for use on demand. Electrical storage devices leak and have low capacity and are very expensive in comparison – but it is easy to charge up a battery using a gas-fired generator; it isn’t easy to convert CO2 to petroleum using electricity.

    How do this relate to plants?

    What plants actually do, at the biochemical level, is use sunlight to generate an electric current at a the nanoscale. Electrons are stripped off water, excited by light, and then the flow of electrons from high to low potential through the so-called electron-transport protein chain generates the raw materials for fuel production: ATP and NADPH. At that point, the plant has succeeded in converting solar energy to electrical energy to chemical energy – something that we humans still struggle with.

    The most promising long-term future energy supply system is to take the photosynthetic energy-conversion system and replicate the essential details using durable materials like silicon, industrial catalysts, and the like.

    One major step towards this goal might have been reached recently:

    Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera’s lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun’s energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.

    The key component in Nocera and Kanan’s new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water; another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas. The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water. When electricity — whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source — runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.

    This solves the main problem with wind and solar energy, the intermittent delivery. In this model, large-scale solar PV or wind farms would convert any excess energy into stored chemical energy, which could be converted back to electric current as needed.

    The long term hope would be to replicate the entire plant process, from capture of sunlight to fixation of CO2 to the level of hydrocarbons (fatty acids, biochemically speaking), in an industrial setting. Such a device would use sunlight and water to generate activated chemical intermediates, which would then be used to pull CO2 out of the air, just as plants do, and synthesize a stream of hydrocarbons. In goes sunlight, water and air, and out comes a stream of golden-yellow atmospheric carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuel, C6-C12 or so – gasoline.

    P.S. Nature repeated the old mantra of nuclear fusion solving all energy problems for the future. Say we did build some massive fusion reactor somewhere. There are a lot of problems with this notion, however. First, how much water would it take to cool it? It would operate on the standard boil-water-and-spin-a-turbine-to-generate electricity, right? Second, how would all that electricity be distributed to the end user? Third, you would need another,uranium or plutonium reactor to generate the heavy isotopes of hydrogen needed for the process, as well. The claim that “nuclear fusion will solve everything” has been repeated so many times that nobody even bothers to think about how it would work in practice.