Tag: Carbon dioxide

What legacy do we wish to leave others?

What on earth are we all doing!

I started writing this early morning last Friday, 10th May.  It was prompted by a post then just in from Christine’s blog 350 or bust. I didn’t have the heart to republish it for a few days.

Then as the news of the atmospheric CO2 concentration passing 400 parts per million (ppm) moved more and more into mainstream news, I found myself morphing from sadness and puzzlement into anger and then into some form of determination to ‘do something‘, however insignificant that might be.

Because if humanity does not turn back from our carbon-based lifestyle pretty damn soon then those who are, say, 20 years or more younger than me (I’m 68), are in for some very tough, very rough times indeed.

So over the next two or three days, I shall focus on this topic simply from the motivation of wanting to join the numerous others around the world who are also recognising this moment in the history of man.

Ergo, for today that post from Christine. But I make no apologies for staying with the theme for much of this week.


Rolling The Dice: CO2 Concentration Hits Record High Amid Global Inaction On Climate Change


Via The Guardian:

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 399.72 parts per million (ppm) and is likely to pass the symbolically important 400ppm level for the first time in the next few days.

Readings at the US government’s Earth Systems Research laboratory in Hawaii, are not expected to reach their 2013 peak until mid May, but were recorded at a daily average of 399.72ppm on 25 April. The weekly average stood at 398.5 on Monday.

Hourly readings above 400ppm have been recorded six times in the last week, and on occasion, at observatories in the high Arctic. But the Mauna Loa station, sited at 3,400m and far away from major pollution sources in the Pacific Ocean, has been monitoring levels for more than 50 years and is considered the gold standard.

“I wish it weren’t true but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400ppm level without losing a beat. At this pace we’ll hit 450ppm within a few decades,” said Ralph Keeling, a geologist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography which operates the Hawaiian observatory.




Source: Scripps Institute of Oceanography


For more on the awful implications of this milestone in human history, check out the links below (hint: it isn’t good news for humans or animals or the ocean).

More links:

As CO2 Concentrations Reach Ominous Benchmark, Daily Updates Begin

The Keeling Curve: A Daily Update of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide From Scripps Institute of Oceanography At UC San Diego

Greenhouse Gas Levels Near Milestone: Highest in Millions of Years


Modelling the future.

Can we trust the predictive output of computer modelling?

I would be the first to admit that this is not an area where I have anything more than general knowledge.  However, what prompted me to think about this topic was a chance conversation with someone here in Payson.  We were chatting over the phone and this person admitted to being less than fully convinced of the ’cause and effect’ of man’s influence on the global biosphere.

When I queried that, what was raised was the idea that all modelling algorithms used in climate change predictions must incorporate mathematical constants.  I continued to listen as it was explained that, by definition, all constants were, to some degree, approximations.  Take, for example, the obvious one of the constant π, that Wikipedia describes as: a mathematical constant that is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Pi, of course, would have to be rounded if it was to be used in any equation.  Even taking it to thirty decimal places, as in 3.14159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83279, would mean rounding it to 3.14159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83280 (50288 being the 30th to 35th decimal places).

OK, so I must admit that I was leaning to the viewpoint that this person had a valid perspective.  I then asked Martin Lack, he of Lack of Environment and a scientifically trained person, for his thoughts.  The rest of this post is based on the information that Martin promptly sent me.

One of the links that Martin sent was to this post on the Skeptical Science blogsite.  That post sets out the common skeptics view, namely:

Models are unreliable
“[Models] are full of fudge factors that are fitted to the existing climate, so the models more or less agree with the observed data. But there is no reason to believe that the same fudge factors would give the right behaviour in a world with different chemistry, for example in a world with increased CO2 in the atmosphere.”  (Freeman Dyson)

The author of the Skeptical Science posting responds,

Climate models are mathematical representations of the interactions between the atmosphere, oceans, land surface, ice – and the sun. This is clearly a very complex task, so models are built to estimate trends rather than events. For example, a climate model can tell you it will be cold in winter, but it can’t tell you what the temperature will be on a specific day – that’s weather forecasting. Climate trends are weather, averaged out over time – usually 30 years. Trends are important because they eliminate – or “smooth out” – single events that may be extreme, but quite rare.

Climate models have to be tested to find out if they work. We can’t wait for 30 years to see if a model is any good or not; models are tested against the past, against what we know happened. If a model can correctly predict trends from a starting point somewhere in the past, we could expect it to predict with reasonable certainty what might happen in the future.

So all models are first tested in a process called Hindcasting. The models used to predict future global warming can accurately map past climate changes. If they get the past right, there is no reason to think their predictions would be wrong. Testing models against the existing instrumental record suggested CO2 must cause global warming, because the models could not simulate what had already happened unless the extra CO2 was added to the model. All other known forcings are adequate in explaining temperature variations prior to the rise in temperature over the last thirty years, while none of them are capable of explaining the rise in the past thirty years.  CO2 does explain that rise, and explains it completely without any need for additional, as yet unknown forcings.

I strongly recommend you read the full article here.  But I will republish this graph that, for me at least, is a ‘slam dunk’ in favour for modelling accuracy.

Sea level change. Tide gauge data are indicated in red and satellite data in blue. The grey band shows the projections of the IPCC Third Assessment report (Copenhagen Diagnosis 2009).

Not only does this show that the data is within the range of projections of the modelled output, more seriously the data is right at the top end of the model’s predictions.  The article closes with this statement:

Climate models have already predicted many of the phenomena for which we now have empirical evidence. Climate models form a reliable guide to potential climate change.

There is a more detailed version of the above article available here.  Do read that if you want to dig further down into this important topic.  All I will do is to republish this,

There are two major questions in climate modeling – can they accurately reproduce the past (hindcasting) and can they successfully predict the future? To answer the first question, here is a summary of the IPCC model results of surface temperature from the 1800’s – both with and without man-made forcings. All the models are unable to predict recent warming without taking rising CO2 levels into account. Noone has created a general circulation model that can explain climate’s behaviour over the past century without CO2 warming. [my emphasis, Ed.]

Finally, back to Lack of Environment.  On the 6th February, 2012, Martin wrote an essay Climate science in a nut fragment.  Here’s how that essay closed:

If I were to attempt to go even further and summarise, in one single paragraph, why everyone on Earth should be concerned about ongoing anthropogenic climate disruption, it would read something like this:

Concern over anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is not based on computer modelling; it is based on the study of palaeoclimatology. Computer modelling is based on physics we have understood for over 100 years and is used to predict what will happen to the atmosphere for a range of projections for CO2 reductions. As such, the range of predictions is due to uncertainty in those projections; and not uncertainties in climate science. Furthermore, when one goes back 20 years and chooses to look at the projection scenario that most-closely reflects what has since happened to emissions, one finds that the modelled prediction matches reality very closely indeed.

In his email, Martin included these bullet points.

  • Concern over anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is not based on computer modelling.
  • It is based on our understanding of atmospheric physics (and how the Earth regulates its temperature).
  • Computer modelling is based on this physics (which we have understood for over 100 years).
  • Models have been used to predict temperature and sea level rise for a range of projections for CO2 emissions. 
  • The wide range of predictions was due to uncertainty in those emissions projections not uncertainties in climate science. 
  • This can be demonstrated by looking at predictions made over 20 years ago in light of what actually happened to emissions.
  • The model predictions for both temperature and sea level rise are very accurate (if not slightly under-estimating what has happened).

Sort of makes the point in spades!  The sooner all human beings understand the truth of what’s happening to our planet, the sooner we can amend our behaviours.  I’m going to pick up the theme of behaviours in tomorrow’s post on Learning from Dogs.

Finally, take a look at this graph and reflect!  This will be the topic that I write about on Thursday.

Future of the car?

The mistake we all make is to look behind us and think the future will be the same.

Let me start with something that is not really news.  Not news in the sense that it has been very widely reported.  I’m speaking of the probability, the high probability, that this year’s summer ice area in the Arctic will be a record low, with all the implications that this carries.  Let me refer to a recent BBC news item that included a stunningly powerful chart.

Scientists at the US National Snow and Ice Data Center said data showed that the sea ice extent was tracking below the previous record low, set in 2007.

Latest figures show that on 13 August ice extent was 483,000 sq km (186,000 sq miles) below the previous record low for the same date five years ago.

The ice is expected to continue melting until mid- to late September.

“A new daily record… would be likely by the end of August,” the centre’s lead scientist, Ted Scambos, told Reuters.

“Chances are it will cross the previous record while we are still in ice retreat.”

The US National Snow and Ice Data Center may be found here.

So to the piece that generated the title of this post, the future of the car.

On the 17th August, I wrote an article highlighting the fact that the U.S. leads the world in cutting CO2 emissions.  That was endorsed by an item published on the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) website, that said,

U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions resulting from energy use during the first quarter of 2012 were the lowest in two decades for any January-March period. Normally, CO2 emissions during the year are highest in the first quarter because of strong demand for heat produced by fossil fuels. However, CO2 emissions during January-March 2012 were low due to a combination of three factors:

  • A mild winter that reduced household heating demand and therefore energy use
  • A decline in coal-fired electricity generation, due largely to historically low natural gas prices
  • Reduced gasoline demand

It was the last item that caught my eye.  Because it resonated with an article on Chris Martensen’s Peak Prosperity blog just over a week ago.  That article, written by Gregor Macdonald, was called The Demise of the Car.

About a third of the way into the article, Gregor writes,

But it’s not just India that has incorrectly invested in automobile transport. The other giant of Asia, China, has also placed large resources into auto-highway infrastructure.

It appears that at least a decade ago, the developing world made the same assumption about future oil prices as was made in Western countries. The now infamous 1999 Economist cover, Drowning in Oil, reflected the pervasive, status-quo view that the global adoption of the car could continue indefinitely. A decade later, however, we find that after oil’s extraordinary price revolution, the global automobile industry is now starved for growth.

Then a little further down in this interesting article there is this,

More broadly, however, global governments are captured by sunk-cost decision making as the past 60-70 years of highway infrastructure investment is now a legacy just too painful to leave behind. Interestingly, whether citizens and governments want to face this reality or not, features of the oil economy are already going away as infrastructure is increasingly stranded. Moreover, there are cultural shifts now coming into play as young people are no longer buying cars – in the first instance because they can’t afford them, and in the second instance because it’s increasingly no longer necessary to own a car to be part of one’s group. See this piece from Atlantic Cities:

Young People Aren’t Buying Cars Because They’re Buying Smart Phones Instead

Youth culture was once car culture. Teens cruised their Thunderbirds to the local drive-in, Springsteen fantasized about racing down Thunder Road, and Ferris Bueller staged a jailbreak from the ‘burbs in a red Ferrari. Cars were Friday night. Cars were Hollywood. Yet these days, they can’t even compete with an iPhone – or so car makers, and the people who analyze them for a living, seem to fear. As Bloomberg reported this morning, many in the auto industry “are concerned that financially pressed young people who connect online instead of in person could hold down peak demand by 2 million units each year.” In other words, Generation Y may be happy to give up their wheels as long as they have the web. And in the long term, that could mean Americans will buy just 15 million cars and trucks each year, instead of around 17 million.

If future car sales in the US will be limited by the loss of 2 million purchases just from young people alone, then the US can hardly expect to return to even 15 million car and truck sales per year. US sales have only recovered to 14 million. (And that looks very much like the peak for the reflationary 2009-2012 period)

Indeed, the migration from suburbs back to the cities, the resurrection of rail, and the fact that oil will never be cheap again puts economies – and culture – on a newly defined path to other forms of transport and other ways of working.

It’s a long and interesting article that demonstrates an old truth, no better put than in this quotation reputed to have been said by John F. Kennedy,

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

And now to do something.

The cumulative effect of millions of decisions brings about change!

Yesterday’s Post was about personal change.  It came on the back of a short series that was triggered by the Bill McKibben essay in Rolling Stone magazine that I republished on 31st July.  If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour and read it soon.

The essay highlighted the challenge of how we change our ways, that is at a personal level, which is why I decided to devote a complete Post to the subject of change.  There was no doubt that the McKibben essay opened our eyes to the need for change, if they weren’t open already.  So being clear about the need for change and how, initially, it can make us feel less sure of ourselves, where do we go from here?  As John Fisher explains, within the change process, there is the stage where things start to happen.  This is what he writes about that stage,

Moving forward

In this stage we are starting to exert more control, make more things happen in a positive sense and are getting our sense of self back. We know who we are again and are starting to feel comfortable that we are acting in line with our convictions, beliefs, etc. and making the right choices. In this phase we are, again, experimenting within our environment more actively and effectively.

Keep this stage in mind as you journey along your individual path towards reducing your impact on the planet.  It really does act as a beacon for you, as a candle in the darkness.

OK, there’s an old saying in business ‘if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it!‘  So let’s start off by calculating the CO2 we are presently responsible for.

There are a number of CO2 calculators available on the Web but this one from The Resurgence Trust website seems as good as any.  Easy to use and it provides a starting point from which to plan your attack!  Make a promise to calculate your present CO2 output, soon!

Then to the plan of action!  A web search on reducing CO2 produces a huge number of results and I recommend that you undertake your own trawl to find the information that ‘rocks your boat’.  But on the Brave New Climate website there’s a summary that caught my eye, especially how it was introduced:

Top 10 ways to reduce your CO2 emissions footprint

Posted on 29 August 2008 by Barry Brook

Solving climate change is a huge international challenge. Only a concerted global effort, involving the governments of all nations, will be enough to avert dangerous consequences. But that said, the individual actions of everyday people are still crucial. Large and complex issues, like climate change, are usually best tackled by breaking down the problem into manageable bits.

For carbon emissions, this means reducing the COcontribution of each and every one of the six and a half billion people on the planet. But what can you, as an individual person or family, do that will most make a difference to the big picture? Here are my top ten action items, which are both simple to achieve and have a real effect. They are ranked by how much impact they make to ‘kicking the COhabit’.

Then follows ten solid recommendations:

  1. Make climate-conscious political decisions.
  2. Eat less red meat.
  3. Purchase “green electricity“.
  4. Make your home and household energy efficient.
  5. Buy energy and water efficient appliances.
  6. Walk, cycle or take public transport.
  7. Recycle, re-use and avoid useless purchases.
  8. Telecommute and teleconference.
  9. Buy local produce.
  10. Offset what you can’t save.

Each of these recommendations is supported by great web links and plenty of advice.  So don’t just skip through those 10 options, go here and commit to doing something!

And when you are ready to involve others beyond your family, 350.org has a great selection of resources for potential organizers.

We can make a difference!

A journey of tears.

Day by day we threaten the planet we all live on.

It struck me recently that there is no easy journey of change.  Must have been like that since time immemorial.  Using the phrase ‘no easy journey’, is a safe interpretation!  The reality for all thinking, feeling individuals when we look at the madness of where mankind has arrived and the journey ahead must cause us all to weep; not all that infrequently I suspect.  Hence my choice of title for today’s Post on Learning from Dogs.

Maybe I am drawn to this reflective mood because I have finished James Hansen’s book, Storms of my Grandchildren.  To say it has disturbed me is a massive understatement.  But let me not wander off into some emotional haze but come back to the journey.

The road to hell.

Let’s take coal.  Here are Hansen’s thoughts on “Old King Coal” going back to 2007.  Note: CCS stands for carbon capture and sequestration.

Scientific data reveal that the Earth is close to dangerous climate change, to tipping points that could produce irreversible effects. Global warming of 0.6°C in the past 30 years has brought the Earth’s temperature back to about the peak level of the Holocene, the current period of climate stability, now of nearly 12,000 year duration, and more warming is “in the pipeline” due to human-made greenhouse gases already in the air. The Earth’s history tells us that the world is approaching a dangerous level of greenhouse gases, a level that would produce accelerating sea level rise, extermination of many animal and plant species, and intensification of regional climate extremes, including floods, storms, droughts and forest fires. It is urgent to slow emissions, as another decade of increasing emissions would practically guarantee elimination of Arctic sea ice, accelerating disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet, and regional climate deterioration during coming decades.

The most important time-critical action needed to avert climate disasters concerns coal. Consider: 1) one-quarter of fossil fuel CO2 emission remains in the air for more than 500 years, 2) conventional oil and gas reserves are sufficient to take atmospheric CO2 at least to the vicinity of the “dangerous” level, and it is impractical to capture their CO2 emission as it is mostly from small sources (vehicles), 3) coal reserves are far greater than oil and gas reserves, and most coal use is at power plants, where it is feasible to capture and permanently sequester the CO2 underground (CCS = carbon capture and sequestration). Clear implication: the only practical way to keep CO2 below or close to the “dangerous level” is to phase out coal use during the next few decades, except where CO2 is captured and sequestered.

The resulting imperative is an immediate moratorium on additional coal-fired power plants without CCS. A surge in global coal use in the last few years has converted a potential slowdown of CO2 emissions into a more rapid increase. But the main reason for the proposed moratorium is that a CO2 molecule from coal, in effect, is more damaging than a CO2 molecule from oil. CO2 in readily available oil almost surely will end up in the atmosphere, it is only a question of when, and when does not matter much, given its long lifetime. CO2 in coal does not need to be released to the atmosphere, but if it is, it cannot be recovered and will make disastrous climate change a near certainty.

The moratorium must begin in the West, which is responsible for three-quarters of climate change (via 75% of the present atmospheric CO2 excess, above the pre-industrial level), despite large present CO2 emissions in developing countries. The moratorium must extend to developing countries within a decade, but that will not happen unless developed countries fulfill their moral obligation to lead this moratorium. If Britain should initiate this moratorium, there is a strong possibility of positive feedback, a domino effect, with Germany, Europe, and the United States following, and then, probably with technical assistance, developing countries.

A spreading moratorium on construction of dirty (no CCS) coal plants is the sine quo non for stabilizing climate and preserving creation. It would need to be followed by phase-out of existing dirty coal plants in the next few decades, but would that be so difficult? Consider the other benefits: cleanup of local pollution, conditions in China and India now that greatly damage human health and agriculture, and present global export of pollution, including mercury that is accumulating in fish stock throughout the ocean.

There are long lists of things that people can do to help mitigate climate change. But for reasons quantified in my most recent publication, “How Can We Avert Dangerous Climate Change?” a moratorium on coal-fired power plants without CCS is by far the most important action that needs to be pursued. It should be the rallying issue for young people. The future of the planet in their lifetime is at stake. This is not an issue for only Bangladesh and the island nations, but for all humanity and other life on the planet. It seems to me that young people, especially, should be doing whatever is necessary to block construction of dirty (no CCS) coal-fired power plants. No doubt our poor communication of the matter deserves much of the blame. Suggestions for how to improve that communication are needed.

OK, before I finish off, enjoy Hansen’s interview on CBS’s “Late Show with David Letterman” which has found it’s way onto YouTube, (I found the sound level pretty low!)

All of us who embrace this beautiful planet and acknowledge the extraordinary set of circumstances that enabled man to achieve so much must now weep.  Weep for what we have unwittingly done to Planet Earth, and hope our tears bring about change.

Helping the planet – afterthought

A valuable contribution from a reader.

Yesterday, I posted an item built around a visit by Prof.  Nicole Darnall, ASU, outlining the practical ways that a society can respond to the present challenges.

That post prompted a email to me from a Environmental Specialist who did not have the authority to speak publicly.  Nonetheless, it seems perfectly valid to voice those views, as follows:

Dear Mr. Handover:

I found your posting via a Google alert I’ve set up. I like your idea of trying to pull the high-flying concept of saving the planet down to a local level by referencing analysis from a local expert.

But I wonder whether you chose the right expert; e.g., if Dr. Darnall’s forecast is correct, then her recommendation of Meatless Mondays won’t go far and fast enough. It can’t even be said to be a good start — as its very name locks people into thinking that just one meatless day suffices. In fact, no consumer product is ever marketed by asking consumers to use it just one day a week; e.g., very little Pepsi-Cola would be sold by prodding consumers to drink it one day a week, conceding that Coca-Cola remains the drink of choice the rest of the week. A City University of London prof might be making more sense when he recommends one meat day per week, see Eat meat on feast days only to fight obesity, says adviser.

Producing meat is harmful for the environment as growing animals requires energy and water, and cows produce the greenhouse gas methane Photo: Christopher Jones

Preceding Dr. Darnall’s recommendation is her assessment, which states that methane has 21 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide.  But climate authorities now say methane has 25 times the effect of CO2 over a 100-year timeframe and 72 over a 20-year timeframe — which many use because methane’s half-life in the atmosphere is only about 10 years — while others use even higher figures;  e.g., see Cornell Gas Study Stirs Heated Debate

A study examining the greenhouse impacts of methane leaks in the unconventional natural gas industry has proved highly controversial.

Below you can see I’ve addressed some even more basic points to Dr. Darnall directly;  I haven’t yet had any reply.

The Environmental Specialist also included some important and pertinent points that had been sent to Dr. Darnall but I have decided to delay including that ‘letter’ for a short while in the hope that Dr. Darnall will reply.  But read the items that are linked to above.


Do also read the comments that came in to yesterday’s Post.

A day off

Apologies to all but circumstances have conspired to steal any time today (Saturday) to put together a post for tomorrow (Sunday) or ‘today’ for you the reader, if you follow me!

But here’s a very interesting if scary website that I will return to in due course.

http://co2now.org/ which is introduced thus,

What the world needs to watch

Global warming is mainly the result of CO2 levels rising in the Earth’s atmosphere. Both atmospheric CO2 and climate change are accelerating. Climate scientists say we have years, not decades, to stabilize CO2 and other greenhouse gases. To help the world succeed, CO2Now.org makes it easy to see the most current CO2 level and what it means. So, use this site and keep an eye on CO2.  Invite others to do the same. Then we can do more to send CO2 in the right direction.

Once again that website is CO2Now. org.