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Hit the brakes hard

Filed under: — group @ 29 April 2009 - (Español)

There is a climate splash in Nature this week, including a cover showing a tera-tonne weight, presumably meant to be made of carbon (could it be graphite?), dangling by a thread over the planet, and containing two new articles (Allen et al and Meinshausen et al), a “News & Views” piece written by two of us, and a couple commentaries urging us to “prepare to adapt to at least 4° C” and to think about what the worst case scenario (at 1000 ppm CO2) might look like.

At the heart of it are the two papers which calculate the odds of exceeding a predefined threshold of 2°C as a function of CO2 emissions. Both find that the most directly relevant quantity is the total amount of CO2 ultimately released, rather than a target atmospheric CO2 concentration or emission rate. This is an extremely useful result, giving us a clear statement of how our policy goals should be framed. We have a total emission quota; if we keep going now, we will have to cut back more quickly later.

There is uncertainty in the climate sensitivity of the Earth and in the response of the carbon cycle, and the papers are extremely useful in the way that they propagate these uncertainties to the probabilities of different amounts of warming. Just looking at the median model results, many people conclude that a moderately optimistic but not terribly aggressive scenario such as IPCC B1 would avoid 2°C warming relative to pre-industrial. But when you take into account the uncertainty, you find that there is a disturbingly high likelihood (roughly even odds) that it won’t.

Schmidt and Archer N and V figureBoth papers come to the same broad conclusion, summarized in our figure, that unless humankind puts on the brakes very quickly and aggressively (i.e. global reductions of 80% by 2050), we face a high probability of driving climate beyond a 2°C threshold taken by both studies as a “danger limit”. Comparing the two papers is obscured by the different units; mass of carbon versus mass of CO2 (moles, anyone? Is there a chemist in the house?). But chugging through the math, we find the papers to be broadly consistent. Both papers conclude that humankind is already about half-way toward releasing enough carbon to probably reach 2°C, and that most of the fossil fuel carbon (the coal, in particular) will have to remain in the ground.

We feel compelled to note that even a “moderate” warming of 2°C stands a strong chance of provoking drought and storm responses that could challenge civilized society, leading potentially to the conflict and suffering that go with failed states and mass migrations. Global warming of 2°C would leave the Earth warmer than it has been in millions of years, a disruption of climate conditions that have been stable for longer than the history of human agriculture. Given the drought that already afflicts Australia, the crumbling of the sea ice in the Arctic, and the increasing storm damage after only 0.8°C of warming so far, calling 2°C a danger limit seems to us pretty cavalier.

Also, there are dangers to CO2 emission other than the peak, such as the long tail of the CO2 perturbation which will dominate the ultimate sea level response, and the acidification of the ocean. A building may be safe from earthquakes but if it is susceptible to fires it is still considered unsafe.

The sorts of emission cuts that are required are technologically feasible, if we were to build wind farms instead of coal plants, an integrated regional or global electrical power grid, and undertake a crash program in energy efficiency. But getting everybody to agree to this is the discouraging part. The commentary by Parry et al advises us to prepare to adapt to climate changes of at least 4°C, even though they recognize that it may not be possible to buy our way out of most of the damage (to natural systems, for example, including the irreversible loss of many plant and animal species). Anyway, how does one “adapt” to a train wreck? There is also the fairness issue, in that the beneficiaries of fossil energy (rich countries today) are not the ones who pay the costs (less-rich countries decades from now). We wonder why we were not advised to prepare to adapt to crash curtailing CO2 emissions, which sounds to us considerably less frightening.

p.s. For our German-speaking readers: Stefan’s commentary on the KlimaLounge blog.

604 Responses to “Hit the brakes hard”

  1. 351
    dhogaza says:

    What is it about wind farms that is killing off the little prairie chicken. That reason can’t be “it’s a critically endangered species”. That merely points to wind farms being a final straw. Yet what pushed them to being critically endangered? If they weren’t critically endangered, would wind farms be killing them off?

    The same logic can be used to justify “the final straw” action threatening *any* endangered species.

    We can’t undo the past. We can take sensitive species into consideration when siting wind farms in order to minimize future harm.

    Roughly 25% of bird species which breed in the US are on conservation watch lists. We’re in the midst of a major extinction event driven by human changes to the planet’s ecosystems. Maybe you think this is a trivial issue. Biologists don’t.

  2. 352
    Mark says:

    re EL, what does the sun have to do with wind power?


    a) the differential heating from the sun creates an energy imbalance which drives the air from the equator to the pole. This is the wind.

    b) you can also use solar power to run your electric grid when you have not enough wind

    And yes, wind power IS competitive to fossil fuels. How much did the US spend on securing the oil supplies? That’s costing.

    If your country doesn’t HAVE oil deposits (e.g. Japan), then your oil costs what you could have kept in trade balance and the loss of profit from your own country and given to a competitor.

    And wind power doesn’t cause global warming when operational.

  3. 353
    Mark says:

    Doug Wise, either it’s deliberate or he’s incompetent.

    Do we accept legal contract where there is small print buried on the third page of a 10-page contract?


    The very best slant to put on it is he’s being over pessimistic.

    Then again, why is he doing so?

  4. 354
    dhogaza says:

    Hybrid cars generally cost thousands of dollars more than a non-hybrid, plus the largest maker of hybrids, GM, is going into bankruptcy/government receivership.

    The Oregon State motor pool has been keeping data on operating (fuel, repair, maintenance, etc) costs of hybrids in its fleet vs. non-hybrid equivalents (almost, if not entirely, Prius vs. equivalent 4-door compact sedans).

    Over 100,000 miles, total cost to the state of the hybrid cars has been significantly less – operating costs about 40% less, offset to some degree by the additional extra cost. Anyway, they’ve concluded that the state saves money by buying hybrids if the total cost of ownership is taken into account.

    This is based on real-world data.

    And the the costs of hybrids is coming down. The redesigned Honda Insight is coming out with a base price of about $20K in the US. It’s roughly the size of the Prius. The hybrid technology inside isn’t quite as sophisticated as the Prius and it won’t be quite as efficient but their intent is to outsell the Prius and other competitors combined.

    BTW I do believe that Toyota is both a) larger than GM and b) selling far more hybrid vehicles than GM.

  5. 355
    Mark says:

    Re #332, “yes, that is very true (after reading more data) that its around 5-7 GWh per annum per turbine but the bigger they are the larger the space between them and hence the amount of land required yields not more energy (or a little more as the turbines are built higher.”

    And the land underneath is either farmed or left fallow.

    Which a bigger gap makes more fallow or more farmable.

    Building more nuclear power stations will take more land too…

  6. 356
    Ike Solem says:

    Renewable energy currently tends to have higher up-front costs than fossil fuel-based power systems do, but in the long run equipment depreciation is lower and the fuel (sunlight and wind) is free, thus any honest cost analysis over the lifetime of the power-generating equipment will conclude that solar is cheapest, wind second, nuclear third, and fossil fuels are unworkable in the long run due to the global warming issue.

    For solar, the main raw material is silicon, which is widely available. Production of silicon solar panels can be accomplished using power from solar panels; this would be the solar breeder facility approach.

    For wind, you have to rely on moving parts and steel. Unlike with solar, bigger wind turbines are usually better – the larger turbine towers and blades are more efficient (and safer) than small ones. With solar, the technology is modular, not size dependent. Turbine replacement costs are likely to be higher than solar PV panel costs, over system lifetime.

    With nuclear, upfront costs are high, but the end costs of decommissioning and of hot fuel rod treatment are even higher. Unlike with wind and solar, large volumes of cooling water are a necessity for nuclear power generation, which should also be factored into the costs. A 1 Gigawatt nuclear power plant converts 30 tons of low-enrichment uranium fuel per year, the waste products being a wide variety of fission products like cesium, strontium, etc. as well as about 1% plutonium, but the ’emissions’ are solid and are not released (unless there is an accident).

    Solar, wind and nuclear all operate on fundamentally different principles, which is reflected in how power generation looks over time. Solar follows seasonal sunlight abundance, with uncertainties from clouds and weather. Wind follows peak wind periods, which are more spatially and temporally variable than solar is. Nuclear is best operated in constant baseline mode, with no increases or decreases in power generation.

    To make these three power sources work well together, you need smart grid concepts, such energy storage and distribution systems. For example, if nuclear is providing 20% of electric generation, it can be run at steady baseline, maximizing fuel efficiency, while all the other variable demand can be met with solar and wind based power that has been fed into storage systems during the peak periods.

    Keep in mind also, that the demand for utility, in economic terms, does not automatically translate into the demand for energy, in physical terms. Thus, a low-energy electric vehicle provides the same utility as a high-energy fossil fuel vehicle, so a switch to electric vehicles would reduce energy demand, but not utility demand.

    That’s the basis of one of the fundamental flaws in modern economic theory – energy does not equal utility.

    With coal, the plants are cheap to build, the coal is cheap to mine, and a “natural monopoly” system of electricity generation and distribution helps lock out any renewable competition, leading to further economic advantages over renewables. However, if you want to stop altering the atmospheric composition, you have to stop burning coal and other fossil fuels.

    For a very balanced overview of the energy cost picture, see the following:

  7. 357
    Hank Roberts says:

    James, many of us take protection of habitat very seriously.
    But think like an ecologist, or at least a biologist, or you risk sounding like one of those “environ-mentalists” who know nothing except what they think is pretty nature.

    You point to Chernobyl, but that’s an old newspaper article and known wrong. The area is full of wildlife, because the animals move into the area where there are no people. The area is a reproductive sink — it’s not a place animals can successfully reproduce even replacement numbers.

    Like the Korean DMZ or many other areas that are out of bounds to human incursion, it’s full of wildlife. But read the research.

    Yes, don’t let development into desert habitat.
    Your passion is correct.
    Use real facts.

  8. 358
    Wilmot McCutchen says:

    Douglas Wise #331 — That’s very interesting information about the new generation (4th) of nuclear power, which can run on waste heat. No proliferation issues, plus it provides a way to use the waste instead of trying to find an underground dump for it. It seems to me that this is like geothermal.

    Since I see your invitation for comment has not yet been taken up, I hope you will excuse my presumptive ignorance when I inquire about the working fluid and about the cooling system.

    The organic Rankine cycle, which uses a high molecular weight refrigerant as the working fluid, can get high mass flow through a turbine from a low temperature heat source. It is a good working fluid for waste heat power harvesting. Is that what is used in 4th generation nuclear power?

    One major issue with nuclear plants (as well as coal and all other thermal power plants) is the fresh water wasted in heat rejection. Turbine exhaust steam condensing (to renew the Rankine cycle) conventionally involves wet cooling, where cooling water from the shell-and-tube steam condensers is sprayed into cooling towers, and an updraft carries vapor from evaporative cooling into the atmosphere. Water availability is a major siting issue, and fresh water is getting scarce. Does 4th generation nuclear power use dry cooling, such as the Heller system?

  9. 359
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    343 – Wind power competitive to fossil fuel technology?

    Did you factor in the long term costs re environmental damage, health, etc? Of course its expensive starting up. But it sounds like you are ignoring long-term in favor of short term.

  10. 360
    Wilmot McCutchen says:

    Hank Roberts #316 — I read that “patent troll” article; thanks for that. The original complaint was about “submarine patents” which manufacturers only became aware of after having tooled up to manufacture. But now we have publication after 18 months, so pending patents in the pipeline do not come as a surprise years and years after they are filed.

    The defense bar then adopted the “troll” smear so infringers could play the victim card. That article defines a “troll” as a patent holder who is not shipping product. In other words, your patent is worthless unless you are an established industrial player. Inventors must starve or be peons of corporations.

    So what is so evil about having a patent but no product yet? It is like saying that a prospector who is not already shipping gold bars has no right to his claim, and any big trespasser is welcome to open a mine on it? Getting to market with a new product is a long slog for a startup, and the only way to raise money is by means of intellectual property. Bravo for Niro and the others who bankroll new inventions. It is clear from the “troll” clamor that the real intent of this smear word is to stamp out the creation of new business and invention in America.

  11. 361
    Rod B says:

    Carbon’s cap-and-trade system is no way comparable to the sulfates of the 70s-80s in substance, scope or degree. You guys should stop trying to prove its benign economics by making the comparison.

  12. 362
    Hank Roberts says:

    “Abstract Due to their inherent safety features and waste transmutation potential, accelerator driven subcritical reactors (ADSRs) are the subject of research and development in almost all countries around the world….”
    “banks spadeful” says ReCaptcha.
    Modify the above search accordingly:

  13. 363
    James says:

    EL Says (2 May 2009 at 12:36 AM):

    “This downside can be witnessed at Denmark. They have to export most of their wind power due to this problem.”

    This is just wrong, though I most often see the mistake on the other side, from wind power advocates. There is, in fact, no “Danish” power system. There’s one integrated western European power grid. When the wind turbines in Denmark are producing more power than can be used locally (and indeed “locally” is an oversimplification of how an electric grid works), it flows through the rest of the grid; when they’re not meeting local demand, power flows in from France, Germany, Switzerland, or wherever.

  14. 364
    Doug Bostrom says:

    319 MikeN:

    “I’ve actually never sat in one, so perhaps Toyota has made something deceptively good. However, the last part is mostly bogus as much larger cars do not provide plenty fo leg room front and back.”

    Now those are remarkable admissions in light of your previous comments about “loss of comfort”. You’ve never bothered to try testing your hypothesis, and simultaneously you freely admit that the comfort you’re afraid of losing never existed in the first place?

    In light of that some folks might interpret your initial foray as purely reactionary. “I’m not going to bother trying anything new, I admit that what I’m advocating is pointlessly wasteful, yet I’m going to discourage anybody from trying something new.”

    Thanks for the clarification.

  15. 365
    Steve Reynolds says:

    gavin: “They’d also be pretty happy at the concomitant reduction in air pollution, indoor smoke, bronchial disorders, polluted water and smog which contribute to premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of their fellows. …I resent these continual suggestions that doing something about carbon emissions implies some anti-third world agenda – it’s low rhetoric of a most despicable kind.”

    I don’t think my comment suggested anything of the kind (at least I did not mean to). I don’t think anyone in this discussion has an ‘anti-third world agenda’.

    But certainly the worst of the ‘indoor smoke, bronchial disorders, polluted water’ problems are caused by a lack of electricity and fossil fuels (hence burning dung indoors for heat). You will not get third world people on your side by telling them they can’t have electricity until it is solar generated.

    [Response: You are again making up policy positions that I have not stated nor endorsed. If you want to have a conversation on strategies go ahead, but don’t make up stuff in order to make rhetorical points. Rural India and Africa require huge amounts of development and that development has bog all to do with developed world attempts to move to less carbon-intensive energy sources. If that development can be more efficient than not, then this is a plus, but it has nothing to do with the point that started this little thread where Mike suggested that reduced emissions was somehow automatically to be equated to reduced energy use. That was and remains false. – gavin]

    It seems to me that instead of putting efforts into restricting coal use in the third world, the efforts would be better spent on methods to encourage R&D to reduce the cost of cleaner energy generation to be competitive with coal.

  16. 366
    Mark Cunnington says:

    James says (322):

    This oft-mentioned idea is an outstanding example of not troubling to think through the implications. Start with basics: solar cell production capacity is limited, the cells are expensive. So why do you want to put them on a car, where they will seldom be optimally oriented towards the sun (and so generate much less than their rated power), and will reduce the car’s efficiency by adding weight & drag? Far better to leave the cells at home, on the roof, generating power whenever the sun’s shining and feeding that power to the grid…

    The only argument which I think is valid is that there will be a limitation to the production capacity of solar panels. But cells are getting cheaper and more efficient every year.

    Regarding the issue of non-optimal PV orientation on a car, if this was a major concern you could only put them on the more horizontal roof and trunk, and then you’d only be able to go 20-25 km a day for free instead of 40 km.

    They will not add drag if they are incorporated into the bodywork in manufacture, hence my point about the need for large mass production as the only way to do this economically.

    The extra weight is not really an issue, based on the weight of my backpacking solar panel, I’d be surprised if it came in over 100 pounds. And if it’s on a hybrid car with regenerative braking then you get a lot of that energy back.

    Regarding the comment that it would be better to put them on you roof, yes, technically, I agree, but converting your house to a grid-tied solar panel system is a moderately large undertaking for most people. A much smaller and easier way to incorporate solar panels into your energy life is to simply buy a car with them already installed on the car — maybe not as efficient, but more practical as a short term “solution” for most people.

  17. 367
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B. says, “Carbon’s cap-and-trade system is no way comparable to the sulfates of the 70s-80s in substance, scope or degree.”

    Hmm, so you’re saying that they should have stopped with trading a hog for 25 chickens, huh? That this whole trading stocks and futures, etc was a big mistake because it’s so much bigger?

    It’s a market, Rod. It operates on the same principles as every other market. It can be manipulated, as can all markets. It can be unhealthy, as can all markets. It can make a few people quite rich, as can any market. The sulfate cap and trade system has been tremendously successful, despite the cries of impending doom from the power companies when it was started. I have yet to hear any substantive criticism of the idea that would not be covered under the general admonishment: “Don’t screw it up!”

  18. 368
    James says:

    MikeN Says (2 May 2009 at 10:19 AM):

    “Mark, all true. Smaller cars are more expensive if equipped with hybrids, plus under a global warming regime, you would have to pay more money for the same size car.”

    False. Just for an example, the Honda Insight (the original, I should say) cost about $20K new, and is about the same size * shape as the Porsche 911, which costs around $60-80K new. (IIRC, as I was looking mostly at used prices.)

    “Higher fuel mandates would create even smaller cars like what Europe has.”

    There’s something wrong with this? Ever stop to think that if the US not-so-big-anymore 3 automakers had bothered to build the smaller cars that most Americans actually buy & drive, they might not be begging the government for taxpayer-funded bailouts?

  19. 369
    Shauna says:

    Re: #191 Edward

    1. Thanks for not being considerate.

    2. I simply said it was my understanding, which I welcome corrections for, as is the point of scientific discourse…And I misspoke when I said it was equivalent to BURNING coal, when I was referring to the similar pre-production processes.

    3. In addition, you are incorrect. In fact, nuclear is greater than coal in terms of CO2 through pre-production life cycles stages. Life cycle analysis in terms of GHG from CRADLE TO GRAVE, in general (but varies between situational studies) puts nuclear substantially less than coal, natural gas, and biomass and marginally less than PV solar. In general, it is more than geothermal and wind and roughly equivalent to hydro. Thin film solar is not always included in this evaluation but life cycle analyses I’ve read rank TF solar far lower than PV solar. (Paul Meier, University of Wisconsin-Madison/Nuclear Energy Institute). Other studies put nuclear in terms of life cycle substantially less than natural gas, oil and coal, equivalent to wind and solar (but more in future scenarios with expansion of wind and solar efficiency technologies), and more than geothermal and hydro. (Hiroki Hondo, 2005 Energy Vol.30 p 2042-2056).

    5. Also, the enrichment process (not the fission-in-the-reactor process) whether by gaseous diffusion, centrifuge methods or laser techniques is energy intensive – I was merely noting that looking at that portion in the life cycle is important when evaluating the CO2 footprint of nuclear as the energy required can and in the case of the nuclear plant nearest my home, does, come from burning fossil fuels…The end footprint depends on the energy mix of the country enriching. (Daniel Weisser in 2006, Energy Vol. 32 p.1543-1549). Regretfully I was not specific enough for you, in noting that I was talking about only the enrichment stage of nuclear’s life cycle as a non-positive when evaluating overall GHG friendly energy. These studies address pre-production of all the listed sources, of which nuclear is generally greater.

    6. Finally, I did not, and would not, say that nuclear should be absent from the energy mix. But given the life cycle footprint (based only on GHG in this instance and not on hazardous waste, recycling, resource extraction and decommissioning issues) it is seemingly not the singular solution. Expanding renewable energy resources, in my opinion, is far more sustainable in complex human and natural systems over both the current life cycles and the future potential.


  20. 370
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walt, sorry it’s taken awhile for me to reply. The thing about tipping points is we don’t know when they tip. We do know, however, that natural feedbacks pretty much all get worse with temperature. Conservation is needed to avoid tipping the system before we come up with effective mitigations and alternative energy solutions.
    I think there is no doubt we’re in for a warmer world. Our goal should be to limit the warming to levels where our global infrastructure continues to function at least somewhat until we can develop a truly sustainable infrastructure.

  21. 371
    Ray Ladbury says:

    When I say sustainable, i mean sustainable into the far distant future. I don’t think this necessarily means growth, although it may mean we need to redefine growth as something along the lines of improved standard of living via improved technology, etc. The extractive, increased-consumption notion of growth certainly isn’t sustainable. Nor, beyond a certain level of consumption does in equate to increased wellbeing. Some notion of growth, however, is probably needed for any economic system conceived to date.

    As to our ability to decrease consumption, I agree there’s huge scope (and need) for savings in the US, Europe, Japan, etc., but you’ll face serious backlash given that shopping is considered a “leisure activity”. In Juneau, AK, energy consumption rapidly fell 30-40% when prices doubled after an avalanche cut off cheap hydroelectric power. This is an interesting case study, as it was done spontaneously, which little planning or preparation. It shows people can make rational decisions when they need to.

    When past civilizations fell, some civilization outside always lived on and could mop up the mess or take the spoils. When a global civilization trying to support 9 billion people on already failing infrastructure falls, I rather doubt there will be much worth picking up. It’s a scenario, I’d like to put off as long as possible.

  22. 372
    James says:

    Hank Roberts Says (2 May 2009 at 11:30 AM):

    “You point to Chernobyl, but that’s an old newspaper article and known wrong.”

    I linked that particular article because it was the first thing that popped up with some good worth-a-thousand-words pictures. As to whether it’s wrong, read on.

    “The area is full of wildlife, because the animals move into the area where there are no people. The area is a reproductive sink — it’s not a place animals can successfully reproduce even replacement numbers.”

    That’s one hypothesis, but I think a little thought will show that the second half can’t be entirely correct. The Chernobyl “Dead Zone” is a preferred habitat because of the low human population, so animals which can migrate long distances do tend to migrate into it. But what of those animals whose typical travel range is much less than the size of the zone – “the coney you see dwell where she is kindled”? They must reproduce largely within the zone. This is even more true for plants, especially those whose seeds aren’t wind-dispersed. From the pictures, it’s apparent that they do exist & reproduce there.

    I can also think of a fairly obvious explanation for the “reproductive sink” effect. Predators tend to travel longer distances than prey, and are more likely to be subject to “control” in human-inhabited areas. Therefore predator population density will tend to be higher in the exclusion zone. More predators eat more prey, causing a net inward migration that is not at all a direct effect of radiation. I think you’d find a similar effect around any wildlife reserve. Have comparison studies been done?

    The point I want to make, though, is not that the radiation has had NO effect. It’s twofold: first, that whatever the effects may be, they’re a long way from the “Omigawd, it’s radioactive! We’re all gonna DIE!” hysteria of the more religious opponents of nuclear power; second, that the effects even seem to be less detrimental than just living around large numbers of humans.

  23. 373

    “Omigawd, it’s radioactive! We’re all gonna DIE!”

    Unless you quantify that in SI units of omigawdons, it’s just more nonsense from the pro nuclear grandstand crowd.

  24. 374
    dhogaza says:

    More predators eat more prey, causing a net inward migration that is not at all a direct effect of radiation. I think you’d find a similar effect around any wildlife reserve.

    Not at all true. Please do a little research.

  25. 375
    Ike Solem says:

    Ray, a few points:

    “The sulfate cap and trade system has been tremendously successful, despite the cries of impending doom from the power companies when it was started.”

    This is the mantra, but an analysis of the fuel cycle shows that what has happened is that sulfur content in ship bunker fuel has increased as sulfur content in diesel fuel has decreased. This topic is usually avoided by cap-and-trade proponents:

    Last year, the United States and the European Union each took major steps to remove sulfur from diesel fuel and dramatically reduce emissions from diesel-fueled trucks, buses and cars — thereby leading the way to a cleaner, more sustainable transportation future. – NRDC

    For the other side of the story, see this:

    Ships use the tar-like, sulfur-concentrated remains of petroleum left once the gasoline, oil and all other products have been extracted. This high-sulfur fuel is responsible for the significant environmental impacts of ship sulfur emissions.

    From the perspective of inner city pollution by aging diesel buses, cap-and-trade reduced the local city-scale pollution problem, but at the cost of the open ocean pollution problem:

    Our results indicate that international shipping can be a non-negligible factor in determining the radiative forcing of aerosols over specific regions with intensive ship activities. These places include the European, eastern Asian, and American coastal regions. The global mean aerosol radiative forcing caused by the ship emissions ranges from -12.5 to -23 mW/m^2, depending on whether the mixing between black carbon and sulfate is included in the model.

    Other work shows that shipping is one of the most significant sources of aerosols to the Arctic, thus influencing climate there. From a global climate perspective, sulfur cap-and-trade has done very little – and this can also be seen in the sulfate aerosol ice core records from the Arctic, which show a peak mid-century, and flat after that.

    It didn’t really work for sulfur, and will surely not work for fossil CO2 and long-term climate change, because for that question, it doesn’t matter where on the planet you burn fossil fuels, as CO2 has a long lifetime in the atmosphere. Outsourcing the pollution to a Third World country is not an option, and neither is capturing it all and burying it in the ground.

    There is only one viable way to remove carbon from the atmosphere (over millenia-scale timeframes), which is to covert atmospheric CO2 to a stable solid material, such as charcoal or calcium carbonate, and bury it. However, why should burying one ton give you the right to emit another ton? I go pick up a bag of litter off the road, does that give me the right to dump it all in my neighbor’s yard? “Don’t worry, it’s all been offset…”

  26. 376

    Re #67 Anne van der Bom

    Thank you again for the links in this post.

    I repeat your reference regarding Europe
    (–about-the-project.html) because it is so very useful in understanding the whole picture.

    For Europe, including UK, the future is absolutely electric powered cars. There is no other viable long term choice.

    This realization is secondary to the startling revelation to me that European energy policy is only incidentally connected to global warming concerns. The issue that must grip the hearts, minds, and souls of Europeans is that without big action there is no energy in the future that does not set up Russia with the power to dominate Europe. France figured this out way ahead of the rest of us. Realizing that this would be a power shift of historical significance, it is easy to understand the imposition of cap and trade policies. Global warming was a convenient persuasive argument in support of what had to take place. Cap and trade, and whatever form of taxes that also are, and might be, imposed fit with long standing European policies of limiting use of energy through pricing. Anne’s references also show other tax based incentives against use of energy in Europe, in addition to the cap and trade penalties that are more focused on CO2 issues.

    The effect of long term European attitudes has been to create a degree of order in energy usage that we in USA have rarely imagined. Denmark’s system is described in the second of your (Anne’s) references, where it is notable that they have what they call “district heating” where much of the heat produced for residential heating is coproduced with electricity, that is cogeneration. It gets two or three times as much electric energy out of their natural gas, or whatever fuel, as we typically manage with our central power plant system. (#2 on my list of Magnificent Blunders by the USA magnificent because it has enabled much prosperity, blunder because regarding efficiency, a horrible blunder it is.)(#1 Magnificent Blunder is side-by-side seating in automobiles.)

    Americans might remember inconvenience and human loss of world war. Europeans have known it far differently. The best bet for peace in Europe has always been maintenance of balance of power. This had relatively little to do with whether any country had bad or good intentions. The primary issue was always whether any one country had the power to dominate others. While I have no believe that Russian leaders are especially worse or better than leaders of any other country, the only way to not hand Russia a chain hooked to an iron collar around each European country is to get independent of external energy supplies.

    In America, we have a different long term choice so we can easily escape all this. Continuation of our wasteful vehicle systems can be assured by simply shifting from oil to coal. To do otherwise, the global warming argument will have to carry the day on its own. That is an awesome responsibility.

    Good luck to us all.

  27. 377
    pete best says:

    Re #349, Anne, An electric vehicle is not 5x more efficient than a ICE based one.

    26% efficient ultimately.

  28. 378
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Ray: “…natural feedbacks pretty much all get worse with temperature.”

    That is certainly not the case with one of the largest feedbacks: snow and ice albedo. As the area covered goes away, this positive feedback goes to zero.

  29. 379
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Rod B #318:

    A basic question that confuses me (and I admit I haven’t read the referenced papers or the latest posts here): why is the total emitted carbon (CO2) the key parameter and not the atmospheric concentration? Is it because there is a direct relationship between the two? If so, why make the distinction? Or does it somehow relate to some tipping point as opposed to general warming? If we pump X gigatonnes into the air but for some reason the concentration changes little, are we still screwed? Am I missing something simple here? Or misreading it?

    Good question. My take is that it has to do with the starting point chosen for these analyses: what does it take for the temperature anomaly at no point to exceed the “danger line” of +2 degrees Celcius. That is a different starting point from previous analyses, which typically answered the question, what will happen if we do this, or that, or that. It’s like reasoning backwards from acceptable consequences to what we can afford to do.

    When you use this kind of reasoning, you find immediately that the peak temperature occurs somewhere during the second half of this century, and peak emission somewhere in the first half. After that, emissions taper to zero — they must — CO2 concentrations go asymptotically to what corresponds to about half the total ever emitted — the other half going into the ocean and biosphere — and temps go asymptotically to the long-term equilibrium value for that concentration.

    So yes, the direct relationship exists. The reason why this is nevertheless useful is that the conclusions are insensitive to the timeline of emission: it is only to total that counts. This is in fact a very simple and straightforward way of thinking about this: anything we emit now, we cannot emit in the future. The more we postpone cutting emissions, the steeper the cuts will have to be when we find out the hard way that “doggie bites”. Or we may even have to engage in active CO2 drawdown, guaranteed to be pricier than not emitting the stuff in the first place.

    Hope this helps.

  30. 380
    Doug Bostrom says:

    #365 Mark Cunningham:

    If you don’t mind me inserting myself into the discussion, I can make a small contribution here. I’m modestly qualified to comment as I’ve been using PV for about 10 years in the arena of telemetry and telecommunications applications. I think I can supply some useful background information that will help move the conversation forward.

    First, let’s clarify that monocrystalline or polycrystalline cells of the type now seen on solar-powered racing cars are not really practical for application to production vehicles subject to the insults of daily driving. They’re inherently fragile both in the cell itself and the interconnects between cells. They are also relatively heavy once fully integrated into a functional array. Translation: a minor impact of the type frequently encountered by vehicles will likely cause noticeable degradation of an array’s output. Because of cell slicing and assembly constraints they’re also not friendly to aerodynamics without making the target vehicle unsuitable for normal road operations.

    Mono and polycrystalline cells do have the virtue of high efficiency which is why they’re a popular choice for competetive PV vehicle events.

    Mono and polycrystalline panel assembly requires lots of attention from either humans or robots during fabrication.

    Amorphous (often referred to as “thin film”) panels are eminently suitable for vehicular applications from a mechanical integration perspective. They are relatively light, they can easily be made to conform to fairly radical compound curves of the kind found on automobiles and they’re highly damage tolerant. In demonstrations for customers we’ve pounded on them with hammers, deformed and even punched holes in ’em with continued functioning of the panels without the need for expensive, cumbersome, lossy and fragile bypass diodes and the like.

    Amorphous panels are very easy to fabricate compared to the other two type. Although the capital barriers to creating a fabrication plant are initially higher hte continuing input of human or robotic labor is much lower once production commences.

    An important note with regard to amorphous panels in vehicular applications is that they have the great virtue of continuing to function when partially shaded. From the perspective of a solar panel shading is exactly akin to damage (though only temporaray, of course), and the response of the various technologies is the same as when they’re damaged. Partially shaded mono and polycrystalline panels will entirely cease functioning when shaded unless bypass diodes are incorporated into the panel. Amorphous panels drop in output proportional to the loss of illuminated area, a big benefit in many applications.

    Amorphous panels also tend to produce more juice in cloudy or hazy conditions though this benefit is offset by lower efficiency (see below).

    The bad news about amorphous cells is that they lag in efficiency compared to mono and polycrystalline cells. They also tend to degrade over time a bit more than the former types (the degradation curve does tend to flatten). So for a given square meter, an amorphous cell does not produce as much juice as a mono our polycrystalline type. Degradation is typically handled by oversizing panels at the time of fabrication though this somewhat compounds the inherent efficiency deficit of amorphous cells. Improvements are in all of these areas are being made, however.

    The efficiency deficit of amorphous cells is really not an issue for many applications. For instance, most of us can afford to cover only a fraction of our roof area with any type of PV technology, so as long as there’s available area untapped due to cost constraints it’s foolish to obsess about efficiency. For industrial sized grid applications efficiency is a real choice point, though. An example is that in our application we’re moving to amorphous cells since we have lots of room at the immediate base of towers, where things dropped tend to land.

    Regarding alignment to the sun, this is a real problem. As the incident angle of light moves from 90 degrees to a panel the amount of electricity generated falls off very rapidly. For a given target output the result is that arrays of panels have to oversized, currently a significant expense. Jame’s point about where to best apply whatever inventory of cells we have is valid; it seems to me very likely (though I’m too lazy to try to work it out with numbers) that even after working out transfer inefficiencies we’d find the cells we have actually have available better applied in fixed installations.

    We’re approaching the point where we can discuss “painting” surfaces with amorphous PV compounds on a commercial basis. Seems to me that’s where we might find some real excitment regarding autonomous or semi-autonomous solar vehicles.

  31. 381

    #375 Ike Solem,

    Much appreciation to you for your statement about offsets.

    On your other point that “the only viable way to remove carbon from the atmosphere —,” I offer my approach which is, “The most viable way to reduce CO2 from the atmosphere is to put a lot less into it and then let nature work through our past excesses.”

    I am perplexed by suggestions that we might reform CO2 as carbon where we formed the CO2 from carbon to get heat. Wouldn’t it take something like the same amount of heat put back in to get back to the carbon? Chemists, please advise.

    And why ever can we not stop calling CO2 “carbon” which most decidedly it ain’t? Your statement demonstrates how this verbal idiocy turns sentences into gibberish. There is only so much shorthand that the world can tolerate. After all, isn’t our biggest world problem ignorance?

  32. 382
    Martin Vermeer says:

    Steve Reynolds #378:

    That is certainly not the case with one of the largest feedbacks: snow and ice albedo. As the area covered goes away, this positive feedback goes to zero.

    True Steve. Very true. When ALL of the snow and ice on the planet goes away.

  33. 383

    #377 pete best,

    Thanks for that reference to the sane statement in Wikipedia. I might add that the 26% number is found under the heading “Disadvantages” rather than under “Efficiency.”

    To avoid getting people too riled up however, we should make clear that this is thermal efficiency only, meaning the ratio of output energy at the engine or electric motor shaft relative to the basic heat energy, wherever it goes into a heat engine.

    Then we should point out that the electric motor enables regenerative braking, which is not possible with a car heat engine. That is a big advantage of the hybrid, especially where a lot of start and stop driving is involved. The other big advantage of an electric motor, and this only is relevant to hybrids, is that the electric motor and batteries enable speed and load tuning of the internal combustion engine to get far greater efficiency than can be obtained where the engine has to provide large speed variation and load variation. Note therefore that the hybrid is far more important than many realize. That is why converting these to plug-in operation to enable tapping into coal as a heat source, is indeed quite a foolish act.

  34. 384
    Phil Scadden says:

    #336. Anne, built into your assumptions are passengers per car and fuel efficiency. Since your numbers dont add up to the retail energy sold in fuel, I suspect your numbers of being wrong – you have another explanation? Where is the missing petrol? Fuel sold at retail seems to me to be the most solid figure here.

    I’m struggling to get an unequivacol number for kWh/km for electric cars too. Can you point one out to me? I want one measures km in to terms of energy going into the car rather than energy going out the battery (so battery efficiency is considered). Performance no. that I find look suspiciously like motor efficiency. I am by the way all for electric. Cant come fast enough.

  35. 385

    #356 Ike Solem,

    Your anlysis seems very sound, but please read my #376 as you consider “the art of the possible.”

    This is the domain of engineers and, sorry to say, politicians. Science has established the requirement to cut CO2.

    Your conclusion that we must stop using coal and other fossil fuels needs to get the “possibility” test. What has been possible in Europe may not fare well in the USA where we have a 1000 year supply of coal. Much the same goes for China, and I think, India.

    My opinion is that we need to be more clever than to just demand that we stop using coal and other fossil fuels.

  36. 386
    J.S. McIntyre says:

    This is interesting:

    The Politics of Climate Hacking
    What happens if one country decides to start geoengineering on its own?

  37. 387
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Jim Bullis: “Science has established the requirement to cut CO2.”

    That is still a little too much for science. Science has established that there likely are some very significant consequences to not cutting CO2. Climate science does not provide the values and economic analysis to determine how much or whether to cut CO2 emissions.

  38. 388
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Martin: “…When ALL of the snow and ice on the planet goes away.”

    That need not happen for a significant reduction in the positive feedback. That feedback is much less now than during the last ice age.

  39. 389
    MikeN says:

    “I’ve actually never sat in one, so perhaps Toyota has made something deceptively good. However, the last part is mostly bogus as much larger cars do not provide plenty fo leg room front and back.”

    Now those are remarkable admissions in light of your previous comments about “loss of comfort”. You’ve never bothered to try testing your hypothesis, and simultaneously you freely admit that the comfort you’re afraid of losing never existed in the first place?

    I don’t know how that’s the conclusion you reach. I’ve sat in plenty of small cars front and back, just not the Prius. As for ‘comfort not existing’, I was disputing a specific point made about the Prius having plenty of leg room front and back.

    >Mike suggested that reduced emissions was somehow automatically to be equated to reduced energy use.

    Well switching to these other technologies makes electricity cost more, and this leads to reduced energy use. I would agree that the other countries are unlikely to switch to more expensive energy just to satisfy people in other countries.

    >the Honda Insight (the original, I should say) cost about $20K new, and is about the same size * shape as the Porsche 911, which costs around $60-80K new.

    I had no idea that these were comparable cars. I stand corrected.

    >stop to think that if the US not-so-big-anymore 3 automakers had bothered to build the smaller cars that most Americans actually buy & drive, they might not

    GM has more hybrid models than any other company. Toyota is building larger SUVs. If these are truly the cars Americans want, then there is no need for any mandates, higher CAFE limits, or gas taxes to push people in that direction.

  40. 390
    David B. Benson says:

    Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co. (381) By 2nd law, reversing the chemical reaction
    C + O2 –> CO2
    requires more energy than is liberated in the favored direction. Once one has CO2 and various ultra-mafic rock, the conversion to carbonate is slightly favored, leading to various weathering schmes; links were posted earlier.

  41. 391

    #390 David B. Benson,

    Thanks. Now that we can forget about remaking coal from CO2, (That does indeed sound like a perpetual motion machine.) where should we place our bets; on oysters or Papua rocks?

    Can we get anything like those Papua rocks a bit closer to home?

    I recently spoke with a Los Alamos physicist who would quite confidently proceed to give underground regions a thorough thumping based on underground nuclear testing experience. (It scares the living – – – out of me.) Would this fracture local formations adequately?

    #387 Steve Reynolds,

    I think we need science to help quite a lot with some of the planning, but sooner or later engineers have to decide when to stop quibbling. Actually this has to be a general decision. Engineers are not always so good at knowing when to stop analyzing.

  42. 392
    Doug Bostrom says:

    #389 MikeN:

    “I don’t know how that’s the conclusion you reach. I’ve sat in plenty of small cars front and back, just not the Prius. As for ‘comfort not existing’, I was disputing a specific point made about the Prius having plenty of leg room front and back.”

    It’s not my conclusion, it’s yours.

  43. 393
    James says:

    MikeN Says (2 May 2009 at 4:52 PM):

    “>the Honda Insight (the original, I should say) cost about $20K new, and is about the same size * shape as the Porsche 911, which costs around $60-80K new.

    I had no idea that these were comparable cars. I stand corrected.”

    All depends on your criteria for comparison. Yours was size, wasn’t it? The two are nearly the same size (the 911’s a bit wider & lower), close to the same shape, have about the same interior room… Or if you don’t like my choice, compare the Prius with say the BMW 3-series.

    “GM has more hybrid models than any other company.”

    Models, perhaps, thanks to its long-standing practice of selling what is essentially the same vehicle under many different model names. So you have for instance the Chevy Yukon, GMC something, Buick/Cadillac something else. Lots of different-nameplate models, each selling a few thousand units. So how do GM’s total hybrid sales stack up against those of Toyota or Honda?

  44. 394
    James says:

    dhogaza Says (2 May 2009 at 2:00 PM):

    “More predators eat more prey, causing a net inward migration that is not at all a direct effect of radiation. I think you’d find a similar effect around any wildlife reserve.

    Not at all true. Please do a little research.”

    I’d be more than happy to, if you can find some agency who’ll award a grant – say for three years – to someone with no publication record in the field :-)

    More to the point, why don’t you do the research? I offered what seems to me a plausible alternative hypothesis, carefully stating that it was only a hypothesis. Your response is a flat statement that it’s not at all true. Seems to me the burden of supporting your statement falls on you.

  45. 395
    David B. Benson says:

    Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co. (391) — Maybe shouldn’t count on oysters, as “Our analysis shows an intense wintertime minimum in CO32− south of the Antarctic Polar Front and when combined with anthropogenic CO2 uptake is likely to induce aragonite undersaturation when atmospheric CO2 levels reach ≈450 ppm. Under the IPCC IS92a scenario, Southern Ocean wintertime aragonite undersaturation is projected to occur by the year 2030 and no later than 2038.” from

    Southern Ocean acidification: A tipping point at 450-ppm atmospheric CO2

    Ben I. McNeil and Richard J. Matear

    PNAS December 2, 2008 vol. 105 no. 48 18860-18864:

    The USA has a fairly good supply of suitable near-surficial ultra-mafic rocks, mostly in the west and some elsewhere. Doesn’t require fracturing, just high pressure injection; will cause the formations to noticably swell up and surely will produce some micro-seisms.

    Could turn CO2 back into C using photosynthesis. To replace current use of fossil carbon I’ll want about 12 million km^2, well watered (Sahara Desert is close to 9 million km^2, could start there). For comparison, current arable lands appear to total about 1 million km^2 with another useable, but unused 0.3 million km^2.

  46. 396
    David B. Benson says:

    Rafael Gomez-Sjoberg (310) — Thank you for the links. I certainly recommend these to all, expecially the first.

  47. 397
    David B. Benson says:

    Correction: current arable lands total about 17.2 million km^2.

  48. 398
    dhogaza says:

    More to the point, why don’t you do the research? I offered what seems to me a plausible alternative hypothesis, carefully stating that it was only a hypothesis. Your response is a flat statement that it’s not at all true. Seems to me the burden of supporting your statement falls on you.

    Why should I do this for you?

  49. 399
    David Murray says:

    pete best, #332, Anne van der Bom, #346 and Phill Scadden, #383, try to reach a consensus number for the UK energy usage for motor vehicles. pete’s figure for the electrical equivalent of all UK oil use is 750 million kWh/day. With a UK population of 60 million the equivalent figure is 12.5 kWh/d/p.

    pete’s figure seems to include all oil consumption (i.e. cars, delivery vehicles and motorway monsters), and only allows a 25% conversion factor to go from oil to electricity.

    This is quite consistent with the 3.3 kWh/d/p number that Anne wishes to insert in David MacKay’s table 18.1 in lieu of his 40 kWh/d/p for private motor car usage.

  50. 400
    Hank Roberts says:

    C’mon, James, it’s not that hard. We’re talking library research, what you can do by talking to the reference librarian at your local library.
    They’re there to help you, they know far more about how to figure out how to look thing up than most of us amateur blog commenters.

    You can fake it from right there in your chair, by taking key words from your own notion and pasting them into Scholar. People here can help you a little — we do that because we can presume you, or someone who sounds like you, might be a youngster who’s honestly asking for help learning. It doesn’t really matter if you are or not — we try to set a good example.

    ReCaptcha is suggesting “at windmill” — make of that what you will.
    Yosef R. & Fornasari L. 2004. Simultaneous decline in Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) populations and Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes) reproductive success: coincidence or a Chernobyl legacy? Ostrich 75: 20-24. (; Eilat, Israel) — Steppe Eagles declined in numbers and Levant Sparrowhawk young:adult ratio declined sharply 1980s to 1990s suggesting Chernobyl had effects further east than previously thought.

    Applications of stable isotope analyses to avian ecology
    … Chernobyl as a population sink for Barn Swallows: … –