Open Mind

The Big Thaw

June 12, 2008 · 182 Comments

The blogosphere is buzzing with discussion of new research soon to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, Accelerated Arctic land warming and permafrost degradation during rapid sea ice loss (Lawrence et al. 2008, GRL, in press, scheduled for publication tomorrow), a collaboration between researchers from NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) and NSIDC (National Snow and Ice Data Center). Their research indicates that, in large part due to the rapid reduction of summer sea ice in the arctic, land areas in the far north will warm much faster than the rest of the globe. This would lead to rapid melting of permafrost, which in turn could release massive stores of CO2 trapped in the permafrost.


Last summer witnessed a truly stunning reduction of arctic sea ice:

The ice loss was due to a combination of two factors. First, the arctic is indeed warming faster than the rest of the planet. Second, prevailing wind patterns shifted so that polar ice (which is floating on the arctic ocean) drifted to lower latitudes, making it even more vulnerable to melting. The result was a reduction in arctic sea ice for which the adjective “stunning” is actually rather mild.

The latest monthly sea ice extent data from NSIDC shows that arctic sea ice recovered this winter, and as of May 2008 was above last year’s levels:

However, the most recent daily observations indicate a reduction in late May/early June, so that at present sea ice extent is slightly below last year’s level:

Whether or not this summer’s ice loss will approach or exceed last year’s record-breaking values is an open question. On one hand, the Arctic has indeed been warming faster than the rest of the globe, and a lot of multi-year ice was lost last year, so that far more of this year’s polar ice cap is 1st-year ice, which is much thinner and more vulnerable to melting than multi-year ice; these factors would indicate that we may indeed break the record again. On the other hand, we may not see the same wind patterns as last year, so the ice pack may not be blown about like it was; this indicates that we may not break the record this year. Only time will tell.

But the new research isn’t concerned with single exceptional years as much as it is with the coming decades, and this is presaged by the long-term trend. Then trend has been inexorably downward, and the loss of Arctic sea ice accelerated about mid-2001:

From late 1978 (the beginning of satellite observations) until 2001.4, Arctic sea ice extent declined at a rate of about 37,000 km^2/yr, but from 2001.4 to the present it’s been declining far more rapidly, at a rate of 131,000 km^2/yr. The rapid loss of Arctic sea ice, especially during summer and autumn, can be expected to continue. And it’s this loss of Arctic summer/autumn sea ice that is at the root of forecasts for dramatically rapid warming of north polar land areas, and the consequent rapid melting of permafrost areas.

The research uses the CCSM3 climate model to study both the progress of sea ice change and the changes in Arctic climate. Almost all model runs show a “Rapid sea Ice Loss Event” (RILE) during which sea ice declines dramatically for a 5-10 year period. When sea ice declines, not only does the open water absorb more incoming solar energy (albedo change), but the open water can exchange heat between the warmer ocean and the colder air, dumping lots of heat in the Arctic region. This warms the Arctic land climate dramatically, both air and ground temperature rising, and the rising ground temperature leads to rapid degradation of permafrost. This is summed up in the abstract:


Coupled climate models and recent observational evidence suggest that Arctic sea ice may undergo abrupt periods of loss within fifty years. Here, we evaluate the impact of rapid sea ice loss on terrestrial Arctic climate and ground thermal state in the Community Climate System Model. We find that western Arctic land warming trends during rapid sea ice loss are 3.5 times greater than secular 21st century climate-change trends outside these periods. The accelerated warming signal extends up to 1500km inland and is apparent throughout most of the year, peaking in autumn. Idealized experiments using the Community Land Model, with improved permafrost dynamics, indicate that an accelerated warming period substantially increases ground heat accumulation – the earlier the event the greater the long-term impact. For warm permafrost, enhanced heat accumulation can lead to rapid degradation. For colder ground, heat accumulation preconditions permafrost for earlier and/or more rapid degradation under continued warming.

The Arctic is already warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe, but this is greatly amplified during RILE events. Here’s the simulated change in September Arctic sea ice extent, and October-December Arctic surface air temperature, during a typical RILE (the solid line shows sea ice extent, the dashed line surface air temperature)

The additional warming due to sea ice loss is greatest in exactly the regions where permafrost exists presently:

According to the study, “We find that the secular 21st century land warming trend is augmented by a factor of 3.5 during RILEs, which is likely to have adverse impacts on permafrost.” In fact they conclude that permafrost is greatly affected, “may trigger rapid degradation of currently warm permafrost and precondition colder permafrost for subsequent degradation under continued warming. This sea ice loss – land warming relationship may be immediately relevant given the record low sea ice extent in 2007.”.

To test whether the rapid Arctic warming events are truly the result of sea ice loss, the authors compared Arctic climate from model runs in which climate forcing factors were held constant except for the extent of Arctic sea ice:

Clearly the loss of sea ice, with its consequent albedo decrease and release of ocean heat to the atmosphere, has a profound impact on temperature changes in the Arctic.

Why should we care about the melting of Arctic permafrost? When permafrost soil melts, it releases frozen water which can discharge fresh water into the oceans. It also destabilized the ground, with important impacts on infrastructure in populated Arctic areas. And of course, the changes in temperature, solidity of the ground, and the water cycle cause significant changes for Arctic ecosystem.

But an even more dramatic consequence of permafrost melting may be in store for the next generation — or even for our generation. Permafrost soil holds about 200 to 800 Gt (gigatonne) of carbon, and its melting can release this frozen carbon store to the atmosphere. The carbon can be released as CO2, or with anaerobic bacterial processes it can be transformed to methane (an even more potent greenhouse gas). Considering that the entire atmosphere presently has about 770 Gt carbon (almost entirely CO2), the amount of additional carbon in permafrost is enough to double earth’s atmospheric carbon load. In fact it has been estimated that rapidly melting permafrost could add 1 to 4 Gt carbon release per year, as much as half the present emissions from human activity — a substantial increase in carbon emissions and a very unpleasant feedback on an already stressed global climate system.

The atmospheric release of a massive store of sequestered carbon is one possible hitherto-unanticipated feedback in the climate system, one which may quite literally be disastrous, not just for the Arctic but for the entire planet; CO2 is a well-mixed atmospheric gas and the extra CO2 from permafrost loss will reach to all corners of the globe. We simply can’t afford an extra 4 Gt/yr carbon emissions which will sustain long enough to double the atmospheric CO2 load. It’s an example of how our present actions may lead to unanticipated and very unpleasant consequences. It also emphasizes the importance of drastic reductions in human greenhouse-gas emissions now, not later. If we can eliminate our own climate-changing activities, we can delay and/or reduce, or possibly even avoid, a very nasty feedback in the carbon cycle due to permafrost. If we continue to drag our feet, sacrificing the long-term good for short-term comfort, we may well be headed for a future which is far worse than even the most dire predictions of the doomsayers.

Categories: Global Warming

182 responses so far ↓

  • Hank Roberts // June 12, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    I’d change “hitherto unanticipated” to “long anticipated” per the record. Hitherto unmodeled, perhaps.

    http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=1051-0761(199105)1%3A2%3C182%3ANPRITC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-X

    Cassandra.

  • B Buckner // June 12, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Tamino,

    You say:
    “When sea ice declines, not only does the open water absorb more incoming solar energy (albedo change), but the open water can exchange heat between the warmer ocean and the colder air, dumping lots of heat in the Arctic region.”

    Two points. First, when the sun is at its highest in June, almost the entire Arctic Ocean is covered with ice, even last year, so no decrease in albedo at that time. When the ice extent bottoms out in September, the sun barely rises above the horizon, so no decrease in albedo at that time either.

    Second, the open water will heat the atmosphere somewhat, but much of the heat will be lost to space thereby providing an overall cooling effect on the planet.

    [Response: Since satellite observations began, average sea ice extent anomaly has declined by about 1.5 million km^2. That's a lot of area converted from ice to open water -- a significant change in albedo. My guess is that the loss of heat by additional radiative cooling is far outweighed by the gain of heat by albedo reduction.]

  • Hank Roberts // June 12, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    Sorry, try this link, the above breaks:
    http://www.jstor.org/pss/1941811 works

    * Northern Peatlands: Role in the Carbon Cycle and Probable Responses to Climatic Warming
    * Eville Gorham
    * Ecological Applications, Vol. 1, No. 2 (May, 1991), pp. 182-195
    Ecological Society of America

  • Sue // June 12, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    I’ve started making NSIDC (National Snow and Ice Data Center) my first Internet stop of the day to check on ice extent — its a sobering way to start the day. Thanks for the link to the new research.

  • dhogaza // June 12, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    In fact it has been estimated that rapidly melting permafrost could add 1 to 4 Gt carbon release per year, as much as half the present emissions from human activity

    And if it happens, I can just hear the denialsphere’s spin - “but 1/3 of the annual increase in CO2 is due to NATURAL causes!” …

  • Frank O'Dwyer // June 12, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    “the amount of additional carbon in permafrost is enough to double earth’s atmospheric carbon load”

    Doesn’t this assume the worst case of 800G and the entire 800G remains in the atmosphere? Wouldn’t about half be absorbed by sinks?

    Also if it is 4G per year (worst case again) then this might take 200 years…though it would accelerate due to the feedbacks I assume?

  • Gareth // June 12, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    Thanks, HB. Excellent post. I hope this paper is the first of many to examine the consequences of sea ice loss on NH climate - something I’ve been banging on about for ages. The implications go way beyond permafrost: there are also the shallow clathrates north of Russia to worry about, not to mention the huge ecosystem changes that will be forced by such rapid rates of warming.

    There’s only one part of your post I find it hard to accept: that there’s time to stop this by reducing emissions now. Given the current rate of change - and the 20-30 year climate commitment, that seems like an increasingly vain hope. We essentially have to hope that the next 30 years of warming is not sufficient to render the Arctic ice free in summer. Look’s like it’s gong to happen a lot sooner than that.

    We’re out into the unknown unknowns, and not many people have realised that yet…

  • Bob Tisdale // June 13, 2008 at 12:15 am

    Tamino: Have you posted on causes of Arctic temperature rises of similar magnitude? I can recall three:
    1. A doubling of CO2
    2. A 20% increase in solar irradiance
    3. El Ninos
    I’m sure there are other influences, but I think those are the big three.
    Was it you who discussed it, or did I pick that up somewhere else?

    [Response: It must have been somewhere else. A 20% increase in solar irradiance would be 48 W/m^2 of climate forcing -- quite impossible.]

  • Hank Roberts // June 13, 2008 at 12:52 am

    Frank,
    > Wouldn’t about half be absorbed
    > by sinks?

    If you pour a bathtub full of water into your bathtub that’s already full, would the drain magically enlarge?

    Sinks are biological and chemical processes, and we’re already adding CO2 far faster than the sinks work; they only handle half of the current fossil carbon.

    Yes, that will expose a lot of limestone and dolomite, and increasing the rate of weathering — the very slow geochemical sink will work faster. With topsoil washing away, plant growth on land will work slower. Oceans, who knows.

    Like last time. Many examples; one is:

    http://ic.ucsc.edu/~jzachos/eart120/readings/Schmitz_Puljate_07.pdf
    http://64.233.179.104/scholar?hl=en&lr=&safe=off&q=cache:IDqTAjQM5goJ:ic.ucsc.edu/~jzachos/eart120/readings/Schmitz_Puljate_07.pdf+petm+Spain+Portugal+erosion
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&lr=&safe=off&q=related:IDqTAjQM5goJ:scholar.google.com/

  • george // June 13, 2008 at 1:25 am

    There is some evidence that soot may be a significant contributor to arctic warming

    I believe that NASA scientist James Hansen was one of the first to propose the possible role of soot in warming.

  • Tom Woods // June 13, 2008 at 5:20 am

    I’m not expecting nearly as far a drawback in the extent and area of the sea-ice this year as last. The sea-ice drift vectors in the arctic as of late indicate that ice is being blown towards the Alaskan and western Siberian coasts as opposed to into the Greenland Sea. Most ice above 80N has shown very little drift over the last month.

    In all sea-ice should drop to a level about 300,000 sq.mi. larger in area than last season, which would still be a record low, if not for last year.

    There’s still a chance that the North Pole will be ice-free for a period being that thinner 1st year ice exists over that region and may just melt away. I’m expecting a half horse-shoe shaped area of sea-ice extending from the central Siberian coast eastwards across the high arctic to north of Greenland. The areas most susceptible to loss will be the Beaufort, Barents, Kara and Laptev seas.

    The area from 120E to the Prime Meridian on northward to 90N will see large reductions in sea-ice due to wind direction while the Beaufort Sea will have lower concentrations of sea-ice due to the large fracture that developed in the sea-ice in December and continued to appear until February. This fracture caused fast ice to break off Banks Island, The McClure Strait and The Amundsen Gulf, becoming incorporated into the Beaufort Gyre. This fracture left the fast ice that developed in the McClure Strait to thereafter not enough time to withstand the summer melt. Unless the fast ice between Baffin and Devon Islands holds this summer, the Northwest Passage will also likely has a 3-4 week ice-free period from late August to mid September.

  • Bob Tisdale // June 13, 2008 at 8:47 am

    My mistake. Slipped a zero in on the TSI. It should be 2% increase. I’ve got the notes and no source.

    Regards

    [Response: A 2% increase in TSI would still be 27.2 W/m^2 of TSI, 4.8 W/m^2 of climate forcing, and that's impossibly big. Trust me -- it didn't happen.]

  • andy // June 13, 2008 at 11:17 am

    When plotting and calculating the Greenland 10-year average temperature series, current Greenland temperature 10-y average is coming close to the values of 1930-40. What a pitty there isn’t sea ice data from that time, but as the Greenland records indicate, the Arctic temperature has had similar increases (1930 to 1940) as current one (1990 to 2005).

    I don’t have the link anymore, but Google “Greenland temperature history” and article including Briffa et al. And of course, here is brave assumption that Greenland coastal temp has something to do with Arctic sea ice extent.

  • Pete // June 13, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    “And it’s this loss of Arctic summer/autumn sea ice that is at the root of forecasts for dramatically rapid warming of north polar land areas, and the consequent rapid melting of permafrost areas.”

    I’d quite like to see how this statement works in practice using real numbers.

    There’s a nice diagram here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Day_length.jpeg showing the useful daylight hours in the Arctic. As everyone probably knows it is 24 Hours on June 21st and 0 Hours in December. The time at which the Arctic receives maximum exposure to incoming Solar Radiation in Summer it usually has full reflective capabilites anyway. By the time the Ice is at Min in Sep/Oct the useful capture area/time is already dimininishing rapidly anyway. Considering the area is <5% of the surface area of the Globe, and receives the least of all incoming Solar Radiation than anywhere else, has anyone ever calculated the numbers we are talking about here assuming two scenerios. 1) Assuming a normal Sea Ice Cover September-October, and 2) Assuming no Sea Ice at all September-October. Anyone know the values we are talking about?

  • Hank Roberts // June 13, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Bob Tisdale, try 0.2%

    The variations in total solar irradiance (TSI) remained at or below the threshold … other sources suggest a 0.2% increase in solar irradiance since 1675. … en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_variation

  • steven mosher // June 13, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    dhog, all increases in C02 are natural. human are neither alien nor supernatural. We are doing what comes comes naturally.

  • dhogaza // June 13, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    dhog, all increases in C02 are natural. human are neither alien nor supernatural. We are doing what comes comes naturally.

    Oh, Lord, not another round of language quibbles. Got tired of quibbling about “natural” twenty years ago during the Old Growth wars.

    1. Present in or produced by nature: a natural pearl.

    Mosher’s definition of “natural” means that a cultured pearl is actually a natural pearl.

    2. Of, relating to, or concerning nature: a natural environment.

    In the world according to Mosher, the inside of my house is a natural environment.

  • Bob Tisdale // June 13, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    Tamino: I agree. It hasn’t happened. It’s the input/output of GCMs.
    If the tropospheric response (amplification in the Arctic and enhancement in the tropics) to El Ninos is the same as a 2% increase in TSI, or a doubling of CO2, and since TSI and CO2 haven’t increased by those amounts in the recent past, it leads me to believe the current bout of excessive Arctic temperatures are the result of El Ninos, or something else other than CO2 or TSI.

  • Mario // June 13, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    > try 0.2%
    If it was 0.2%…
    in a “linear” world, thinking, as we should, in absolute Kelvin degrees, for a 0,2% TSI variation, we would expect …. humm …. about 0,5 Kelvin degree temperature increment.

    [Response: The relationship between TSI and temperature is most certainly not linear; it's more like quartic. It's approximatly linear for small variations, but not even approximately so over the range from 0 to 288 K or so. So your calculation is completely invalid.]

    Now, add or subtract some non linear factors (inertias, positive/negative feedbacks…) still to be properly understood (!), and it seems that we are in the right order of magnitude of the climate variations we presently see and measure…

    And - just as a reminder -in this very site, in last October we were discussing about the opposition between the “it’s just the sun” and AGW explanations…

    >Mario // October 16, 2007 at 8:01 pm

    >>So, we must all hope that the next [solar] cycle is really, really low.

    >>If it is, it will give us some real information at last.

    >>And lets all agree that this is going to be, if it works out, a critical test.

    >Admirable post, right to the point:

    >in a time in which “scientific” certainties
    > seem to some [like me] far less solidly established than
    >other like to assume them to be,

    >it woud be a true [godly] gift, if instead
    > of words and models, we could get a kind of >“crucial experiment” between the two main competing candidate theories.
    >If really next solar cycle will be very weak,
    > perhaps we will end it with some surprises, but >almost surely with a more solid
    > understanding and fewer doubts.

    Some months have elapsed, some new data has ben delivered to us ….

    What then about saying that recent temperature data give obviously a boost to “it is just the sun” forecasters ?
    (and remember than forecasting, was then “about the future”, the most precious and rare variant, in good “science”)

    I’m not saying that they have “proved” their point,
    this would fall in the well known “it’s settled” fallacy,

    ut, what however should be amply settled is that my “impression”, remarked upon in the same thread, was fully justified:

    > Now, given the large number of surprises we continue to experiment in climate
    > matters, I’m surely not alone in having the impression that a large part of what
    > is presented as a solid body of knowledge, capable of reliable predicting
    > the future climate, could be largely [an overfitting artifact].

  • David B. Benson // June 13, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    “Continuous monitoring of total solar irradiance now covers the last 28 years. The data show a well-established 11-year cycle in irradiance that varies by 0.08% from solar cycle minima to maxima, with no significant long-term trend.”

    IPCC AR$ WG1 Technical Summary, TS2.4, p. 30.

  • Hank Roberts // June 13, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    illconsidered.blogspot.com/2006/03/co2-rise-is-natural.html
    http://www.google.com/search?q=define%3Anatural
    Of course, you can find support for your personal opinion about the meaning of any word, if you’ll accept any source that happens to agree with yours:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=define%3Ais

  • luminous beauty // June 14, 2008 at 12:14 am

    mosh,

    Equivocation fallacies are intellectually dishonest.

  • climatewonk // June 14, 2008 at 12:20 am

    Steven Mosher, that’s disingenuous. Humanity’s burning of fossil fuels is a choice. Polluting is a choice. Using clean energy is a choice. These are not the product of biological evolution, the product of unthinking natural behavior.

    Yes, humans are natural to the planet, but our production of CO2 from fossil fuel burning is not the same as the cow belching methane gas or the release of CO2 by other “natural” residents of the planet, plant or animal. They don’t have much choice, do they?

    We do.

  • Brian Klappstein // June 14, 2008 at 3:21 am

    If rapid ice loss should lead to accelerated permafrost melting, some of the observational proxy data aren’t singing with the choir. Specifically, methane, which should be released by warming peat bogs has not increased significantly since the late 90’s.

    Regards, BRK

    [Response: You're mistaken; methane has shown a measurable increase in the last year, after having been stable since the 90s.]

  • chriscolose // June 14, 2008 at 4:02 am

    Just a clarifying point:

    I would add that the albedo impact on temperature is small to none in the summertime, rather the extra energy either goes into melting or evaporation because of the presence of of ice and open water (surface air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean are constrained to be close to the freezing point in summer). Most of the albedo impact on surface temperature is in the spring and autumn months
    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/imbalance/lat_height.html

  • Hank Roberts // June 14, 2008 at 6:07 am

    Here’s the sort of interaction that worries ecologists:
    http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2486.2008.01638.x

    Here’s why it’s happening:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v452/n7184/full/452162a.html

  • Raven // June 14, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    climatewonk says:
    “Steven Mosher, that’s disingenuous. Humanity’s burning of fossil fuels is a choice. Polluting is a choice. ”

    You must be kidding. The are 6.5 billion people on this planet and there are no viable alternatives to fossil fuel burning that can keep those people alive. CO2 emissions are not a choice - they are an absolute necessity.

    Now it is possible that some technological breakthough will allow humanity to live without CO2 but that breakthough is not guranteed which means we have no choice but to continue to use our current technology until a viable replacement is found and widely deployed.

  • george // June 14, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Mario said

    If it was 0.2%…
    in a “linear” world, thinking, as we should, in absolute Kelvin degrees, for a 0,2% TSI variation, we would expect …. humm …. about 0,5 Kelvin degree temperature increment.

    Not quite:

    here’s what i get:

    (1366 W/m^2)*0.002*0.25*0.7 = 0.5 W/m^2 of climate forcing
    where 1366 W/m^2 is the solar “constant”, the factor of 0.7 accounts for albedo and 0.25 accounts for the geometry

    assuming 1 W/m^2 results in a change of about 0.7 deg C, that means a 0.2% increase in TSI would be expected to result in about a 0.35 deg C increase in global temp — ie, about half the actual increase over the last century (0.74C).

    But it is by no means generally accepted by solar scientist that TSI has increased by even 0.2% over the period of relevance (from beginning of industrial period, from about 1850)

    In fact, the assessment of the scientists involved with IPCC was that the radiative forcing increase due to change in TSI over the period 1850 - 2000 was only about 0.2 W/m^2, which would equate to only about 0.08% change in TSI and would have been expected to result in only about a 0.14C change in temp.

    *The solar forcing can be seen on IPCC fig 2.23 in AR4

    IPCC also says solar forcing was

    “about an order of magnitude less than the total greenhouse gas contributions”,

    which were 2 W/m^2 over the period 1850-2000 (as shown on the same fig 2.23)

  • Brian Klappstein // June 14, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    “[Response: You're mistaken; methane has shown a measurable increase in the last year, after having been stable since the 90s.]”

    Since when do the posters here think a one year change is relevant in interpreting climate parameters? Anyone on this forum who notes mid troposphere cooling or some such empirical evidence recently hostile to AGW theory is immediately bludgeoned with statistics and comments like:

    “…eight years doesn’t make a trend…”

    “…only natural variability…”

    etc.

    But hey, if one year changes are significant, then let’s get started. I’m all for it since there’s something to be learned from 1 year changes too. In that theme, did anyone else note that methane actually declined between 2004 and 2006, when the arctic ice loss was in its maximum period of decline?

    Regards, BRK

  • Hank Roberts // June 14, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    Quoting from the Wikipedia page linked above. Mario, it appears you latched onto the number apart from the time span. Your conclusion doesn’t follow from the numbers.

    —–excerpt—-
    # Since the Maunder Minimum, over the past 300 years there probably has been an increase of 0.1 to 0.6%, with climate models often using a 0.25% increase.
    ——end excerpt—–
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_variation#Changes_in_total_irradiance

    Warning, don’t rely on brief excerpts. Look at the original source cited. For Wikipedia, always, also look at the history of changes.

  • cce // June 14, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    The amount of money spent on alternative energies in relationship to the size of the world’s economy is pathetic and incompetent. The reason that there is no viable alternative to fossil fuels is because society has made the choice to spend money on everything but.

    It’s also illustrative that we have to debate the difference between “natural” and manmade. The natural world makes no decisions for itself. It just happens. Human populations owe their existence to human inventions, not the least of which is nitrogen fixing fertilizers, modern medicine, and cheap fossil fuels to make it all possible. In the near future, we will either owe our existence to alternative energies, or we will watch any semblence of our way of life (sometimes literally) evaporate.

  • B Buckner // June 14, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Hank Roberts - Plants and oceans together have consistently removed about 45% of the fossil based CO2 we have put in the atmosphere at increasing rates for the at least the past 45 years. See AR4WG1, Section 7.3.2.1. So the “bathtub drain” is in fact enlarging.

  • Hank Roberts // June 14, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Brian, don’t play stupid. You know what matters is the number of observations.

    Global annual temperature change has one observation per year per planet, and you need enough observations to detect a trend. Yes.

    Methane or CO2 concentrations are taken at many sites every day. And you need enough observations to detect a trend. Yes.

    The faux-incompetent ploy is so outdated.

  • chriscolose // June 14, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    I agree, we are a long way away from predicting what methane levels will be doing in the near future. I’m also surprised by Tamino’s comment on the one year variation, and at least one paper (http://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/reference/bibliography/2006/aff0601.pdf ) suggests the levelling is due to an increased sink rather than changes in sources. I don’t know if anyone claims we can say with high confidence what future long-term trends will do.

  • David B. Benson // June 14, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    Brian Klappstein // June 14, 2008 at 5:31 pm — There is a difference between ‘measurable’ and ’significant’. The latter word is almost surely going to have a rather special meaning for a statistician.

  • Hank Roberts // June 15, 2008 at 12:09 am

    Palaeoclimate: Windows on the greenhouse
    Ed Brook
    Nature 453, 291-292(15 May 2008)
    doi:10.1038/453291a
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v453/n7193/full/453291a.html
    http://www.nature.com/natur/journal/v453/n7193/images/453291a-f1.2.jpg

    Nature 453, 383-386 (15 May 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06950

    Orbital and millennial-scale features of atmospheric CH4 over the past 800,000 years
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v453/n7193/full/nature06950.html

  • Gareth // June 15, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Thanks for those links, Hank. I think the Shakova AGU paper on methane outgassing from the East Siberian Shelf is most relevant: see discussion here at Hot Topic. Someone might want to check my sums, so that I can sleep at night…

  • Hank Roberts // June 15, 2008 at 1:32 am

    Raven: physical chemistry is far easier to understand than radiation physics. High school education should suffice to understand ocean pH.

  • Brian Klappstein // June 15, 2008 at 2:06 am

    Hank:

    “…Global annual temperature change has one observation per year per planet, and you need enough observations to detect a trend….”

    Surprised you would say that Hank, since we all know that the temporal resolution of most climate related data sets is daily or better. In other words whats stopping me from doing May to May comparisons, or April to April?

    You don’t really think there is only one number for growth for one year do you?

    Regards, BRK

  • george // June 15, 2008 at 2:13 am

    “If rapid ice loss should lead to accelerated permafrost melting, some of the observational proxy data aren’t singing with the choir. Specifically, methane, which should be released by warming peat bogs has not increased significantly since the late 90’s.”

    It would seem that measuring atmospheric methane concentration might not be the best way to gauge whether permafrost is indeed melting. Might better measure that directly.

    There are many sources of methane, melting permafrost being only one. Just because atmospheric methane concentration has leveled off does not necessarily mean that methane release by permafrost has also leveled off. It may be that other sources have released less methane since that time — or that sinks have taken up more.

    The fact that permafrost is melting is not in doubt. And the fact that such melting releases methane is also not in doubt. Nor is the fact that such release has gone up over the past few decades.

    http://www.physorg.com/news76777896.html

  • Tom G // June 15, 2008 at 2:18 am

    Brian…
    Read your last paragraph and then think about it.

  • Hank Roberts // June 15, 2008 at 3:53 am

    Chuckle.
    http://www.google.com/search?q=Brian+Klappstein

  • Barton Paul Levenson // June 15, 2008 at 11:32 am

    Raven writes:

    The are 6.5 billion people on this planet and there are no viable alternatives to fossil fuel burning that can keep those people alive. CO2 emissions are not a choice - they are an absolute necessity.

    In the short term, you’re right. In the long term, there are plenty of other possible power sources.

    Now it is possible that some technological breakthough will allow humanity to live without CO2 but that breakthough is not guranteed which means we have no choice but to continue to use our current technology until a viable replacement is found and widely deployed.

    We already have things we know will work — solar thermal power and wind power. Solar photovoltaic is coming along quickly, geothermal has a huge potential, ocean thermal has barely been tapped, biomass (excepting corn ethnoal, of course) can be a huge source, and of course, conservation and electricity/heat cogeneration can have an immense impact.

  • Mario // June 15, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    George said:
    >(1366 W/m^2)*0.002*0.25*0.7 = 0.5 W/m^2 of climate forcing
    >where 1366 W/m^2 is the solar “constant”,
    > the factor of 0.7 accounts for albedo and 0.25 accounts for the geometry

    I do not think that albedo and geometry factors should enter in the argument, because this is a “comparison”, between now and 300 years ago

    Now with the temperatures of 300 years ago albedo (probably) and geometry (surely) played an identical (…*0.25*0.7) part they are playing with the present ones.

    Apart disregarding the role of “internal heat” of planet Earth, the real problem, in this type of proportional computation is just the linearity/non linearity question:

    how well - that is -an energy variation in input, translates in a proportional temperature variation in output?

    In pure theory absolute temperature is a perfectly linear correspondent of energy, (see Wikipedia “thermal energy”) but even for small and simple system it can’t obviously be fully so:

    if you double the “thermal energy” transferred to a physical body it’s unlikely its temperature will double too, because thermal losses to the outside universe will, very likely, grow more then twice.

    So I fully agree with Tamino that “linear thinking” is, for the whole story, inadequate, or as he said: “It’s approximatly linear for small variations”

    But my argument does not require that linearity holds from zero Kelvin to 288 but only from 288 K to 288,5 which seems to me to be in fact a “small variation”

    Hank Roberts says
    > Quoting from the Wikipedia page linked above. Mario, it appears you
    > latched onto the number apart from the time span.
    > Your conclusion doesn’t follow from the numbers.

    In fact I quoted - and definetly intended to quote - not from Wikipedia, but from your own statement in this thread
    > Bob Tisdale, try 0.2%
    > The variations in total solar irradiance (TSI) remained at or below the threshold …
    > other sources suggest a 0.2% increase in solar irradiance since 1675. …
    > en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_variation

    I wanted just to show that even this 0.2% low figure is high enough to give credibility to the “it’s just the Sun” explanation.

    Now you say that instead a 0.2% TSI increase a better guess is 0.25%
    I can’t see what or how much this increase (!) detracts from my conclusion.

    In fact my main conclusion was that, even if it’s unpleasant to admit, present human knowledge about climate things tends, as shown by the frequency of “surprises”, to grossly overvaluate its powers.

  • climatewonk // June 15, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    Raven, not kidding. We’ve only been burning fossil fuels as a main energy source for a very short time. We need energy, yes, but there is no reason it has to be fossil fuels or even dirty fossil fuels. We could use alternatives and develop them so that everyone is able to benefit from development. What is lacking is political will and proper investment.

  • Hank Roberts // June 15, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    Sorry, Mario, but looking at only one factor among the many known factors doesn’t support what you want to conclude.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a2/Climate_Change_Attribution.png

    For your your preferred single factor to have caused the observed changes, all the other known factors must add up to zero. Understand why?

  • David B. Benson // June 15, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    Mario // June 15, 2008 at 2:25 pm — Have you read “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart:

    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/index.html

    ? You do understand the radiative forcing of CO2, yes?

  • Hank Roberts // June 15, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    Mario, I don’ t know how much you’ve read but here’s a good place to start:

    http://www.pubs.royalsoc.ac.uk/media/proceedings_a/rspa20071880.pdf
    Excerpts follow:
    Abstract:

    “There is considerable evidence for solar influence on the Earth’s pre-industrial climate and the Sun may well have been a factor in post-industrial climate change in the first half of the last century. Here we show that over the past 20 years, all the trends in the Sun that could have had an influence on the Earth’s climate have been in the opposite direction to that required to explain the observed rise in global mean temperatures. ”

    and

    “5. Conclusions
    There are many interesting palaeoclimate studies that suggest that solar variability had an influence on pre-industrial climate. There are also some detection–attribution studies using global climate models that suggest there was a detectable influence of solar variability in the first half of the twentieth century and that the solar radiative forcing variations were amplified by some mechanism that is, as yet, unknown. However, these findings are not relevant to any debates about modern climate change. Our results show that the observed rapid rise in global mean temperatures seen after 1985 cannot be ascribed to solar variability, whichever of the mechanisms is invoked and no matter how much the solar variation is amplified.”

    Read the references. Use Google Scholar, read the subsequent papers citing these papers.

    And check Coby Beck’s compilation. It will save you from retyping old stuff others have done.
    http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/what_we_do/climate_change/problems/cause/climate_sceptics/index.cfm

  • Mario // June 15, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    Hank Roberts says:
    > Sorry, Mario, but looking at only one factor
    > among the many known factors doesn’t
    > support what you want to conclude.

    Sorry, but “what I wanted to conclude” here, was not “it’s just the Sun”,

    but

    from the surprisingly high number of surprises in climate matters,

    from the evidence of recent data, suggesting the Sun’s role was quantitatively underestimated (except by those few who predited it right!)

    I conclude - with confidence - this and only this:

    “man presently does not understand climate well enough, to forecast with confidence what will happen”

    But I understand this type of argument to be so impopular to become completely “invisible”,

    because nobody answers it, while I am costantly “confuted” on what I didn’t asserted.

    (I only said that “it’s just the sun” theories have been boosted from recent data - I suppose nobody can deny this - but told also very clearly that I do not consider them”proved” or decisively corroborated, as the recent cooling is too short…)

    So, after thanking all for the interesting links I was supplied with, let’see again, say in six months time.

    We will then have some additional temperature data to match with theories
    and, let’s make a forecast, probably new surprises for too self-assured forecasters.

  • george // June 15, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    mario said:

    “I do not think that albedo and geometry factors should enter in the argument, because this is a “comparison”, between now and 300 years ago”

    They matter if you want to know the change in radiative climate forcing for a given change in TSI — ie, if you are trying to figure out how much temperature is likely to go up for a given change in TSI.

    It is just such a change in climate forcing that causes the temperature change. For a small change in radiative forcing, temperature change is directly proportional to forcing change.

    If i am wrong in thinking that those factors (0.25 for geometry and 0.7 to account for albedo) actually do matter, then so are a lot of other people including all the scientists in IPCC, along with our gracious host (HB), who said above

    [Response: A 2% increase in TSI would still be 27.2 W/m^2 of TSI, 4.8 W/m^2 of climate forcing, and that's impossibly big. Trust me -- it didn't happen.]

    Move the decimal point over one place to the left to change 2% to 0.2% and HB’s 4.8W/m^2 becomes 0.48 which I rounded to 0.5 W/m^2.

    mario continues:

    I wanted just to show that even this 0.2% low figure is high enough to give credibility to the “it’s just the Sun” explanation.

    Unfortunately, it does not. The simple calculation I did above indicates that a 0.2% change in TSI would only account for about 0.35C, or roughly half of the warming that has occurred since 1850.

    My calculation assumed a sensitivity factor of 0.7 deg C for each 1 W/m^2 of climate forcing.

    The number given here is 0.8 instead of the 0.7 ( deg C/W/m2) used above, but that does not change the argument materially (Wikipedia also explains the factors for geometry and albedo, incidentally)

    In order for a 0.2% change in TSI to account for the 0.74C warming that has occurred, climate sensitivity would have to be about 1.5 (deg C/W/m^2)

    While certainly not impossible, such a climate ’sensitivity’ would actually be outside the “likely” range specified by the IPCC : 0.54 - 1.22 ( degC/W/m^2 )

    note: the sensitivity range normally given by IPCC is for CO2 doubling: 2C - 4.5C with a “best’ value of 3C .
    But this is readily converted to the more general case above by dividing by 3.7W/m^2 (the change in radiative forcing for a CO2 doubling)

    but as i indicated above, IPCC and most solar scientists do not believe that TSI change was as large as 0.2% over the relevant period (1850-present). in fact, most think that it was less than half that.

  • Hank Roberts // June 15, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    Found at the link Gareth posted above, this from scientists on an icebreaker in the Arctic; followup includes a comment from Dr. Lawrence:
    http://blogs.nature.com/news/blog/2008/06/on_board_the_amundsen_how_sea.html

  • Brian Klappstein // June 16, 2008 at 12:39 am

    Tom G.:

    “…Brian…
    Read your last paragraph and then think about it….”

    If I rephrase the sentence to “You don’t think there is only one number for growth within a year?” does it make more sense?

    The point I was trying to make is that Hank is wrong in his assumption that methane and temperature are statistically different. In the sense that both have datasets with a temporal resolution of at daily they are the same.

    So any argument that states a one year trend in methane is more significant than an 8 year trend in temperature is possibly right, but not for the reason that Hank states, i.e. there is only one datapoint for temperature growth in a year.

    Regards, BRK

  • Mike // June 16, 2008 at 2:36 am

    Why do idiots keep talking about the “sink” absorbing “half” the CO2? The concentaration is increasing linearly! Every year the emissions increase, yet the rate of concentration increase is the same as it was twenty years ago. Half toady, half twenty years ago, same rate of increase. Makes perfect sense…….NOT!

  • Raven // June 16, 2008 at 2:37 am

    “We already have things we know will work — solar thermal power and wind power.”

    Neither technology has been proven to be some thing that can be deployed on the scale required. Now it is possible that 10-15 years from now we will have a few large scale projects that will allow us to *start* talking about replacing the existing CO2 emitting sources. At that point it would still take another 50+ years to complete any conversion. Until then we have to keep emitting CO2.

    “Solar photovoltaic is coming along quickly, geothermal has a huge potential…”

    Pure speculation. Perhaps you are right and they will be the energy source of the future 100+ years from now but we need power now and those technologies are not going to help much.

    The bottom line is you people better hope you are wrong about CO2 because you are fooling yourselves if you think ‘alternative’ technologies will provide any significant reductions in CO2 emissions over the next 50 years. Until then emitting CO2 is a necessity of life.

  • Hank Roberts // June 16, 2008 at 5:29 am

    > both have datasets with a temporal resolution of
    > at daily they are the same.

    Where’s this global daily temperature dataset?
    Source please?

  • Hank Roberts // June 16, 2008 at 5:30 am

    Raven, please read:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v437/n7059/abs/nature04095.html

  • anon // June 16, 2008 at 7:50 am

    Raven is indeed correct. It is a total illusion to think alternative power can support our present lifestyle. It is a grave disservice to the planet to put about the idea that it can.

    The first thing we have to do is get rid of cars, trucks and suburbs and air travel. And that is only the start.

  • dhogaza // June 16, 2008 at 10:47 am

    The bottom line is you people better hope you are wrong about CO2 because you are fooling yourselves if you think ‘alternative’ technologies will provide any significant reductions in CO2 emissions over the next 50 years.

    I think you have this backwards. We know we’re right about many aspects of CO2 (though you’re welcome to go into the lab and prove the basic physics to be wrong).

    Hope doesn’t trump fact, and yet it seems to be your sense of defeatism that drives your denialism.

    Can’t do anything about it, therefore the science MUST be wrong.

    Those of us who “get” the basic science aren’t the ones fooling ourselves …

  • Barton Paul Levenson // June 16, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    Raven writes:

    “We already have things we know will work — solar thermal power and wind power.”

    Neither technology has been proven to be some thing that can be deployed on the scale required.

    Says who? You?

    What would prevent deploying them on a large scale? Especially since, in the case of windmills, other countries already HAVE deployed them on a large scale? Denmark gets 16% of its electricity from windmills, you know. There are big wind farms in Germany and Britain and they’re building bigger ones. There’s even a big wind farm in Texas now.

    “Solar photovoltaic is coming along quickly, geothermal has a huge potential…”

    Pure speculation.

    What is speculative about it? For photovoltaics just google it and check the price per watt and the production in different years. PV sales are growing at something like 30% a year. As to the potential of geothermal, that’s just a fact of geology. The Earth does get hotter the deeper you go, and you can run a turbine off the temperature difference.

  • J // June 16, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    Mike writes: Why do idiots keep talking about the “sink” absorbing “half” the CO2? The concentaration is increasing linearly! Every year the emissions increase, yet the rate of concentration increase is the same as it was twenty years ago. Half toady, half twenty years ago, same rate of increase. Makes perfect sense…….NOT!

    Sorry, but you’re wrong. In the 1970s, CO2 at MLO was increasing by 1.2 ppm per year. In the 1980s-1990s the rate was 1.6 ppm per year. Since 2000 it’s averaged 2.1 ppm per year.

    In other words, not only is the concentration increasing, but the rate of increase is increasing.

  • Eli Rabett // June 16, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    It’s fairly clear that wind can be deployed, you just have to look at northern Europe to see this written into the landscape. OTOH you don’t see a single windmill in France.

  • george // June 16, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Raven is indeed correct. It is a total illusion to think alternative power can support our present lifestyle.

    Ah, but who says “our present lifestyle” is sacred or even worth perpetuating.

    It’s no secret that we Americans are incredibly wasteful, of energy and everything else.

    For example, many European countries use just half the energy per capita that we do and their “standard of living” is nonetheless just as high as — and in some cases actually higher than — it is in the US.

    So, whether renewable energy can support “our present lifestyle” might be the wrong question entirely.

    It’s clear that a switch to renewable energy and other alternatives is going to require major changes in lifestyle, but what is not clear (notwithstanding the claims of libertarians and others) is that this would necessarily be a bad thing.

    If the European lifestyle is any indication, it might even be a good thing for us here in the US: less traffic, less pollution, more leisure time, less stress, etc.

    And it would certainly not be a bad thing for the rest of the world if 5% of the world’s population in the US stopped using 25% of the energy and other resources.

  • Heretic // June 16, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Actually there are a few Eli, I’ve seen some in the Rhone valley, where the Mistral can generate a lot of power. There are very few, however, possibly because nuclear provides such a large share of the electricity produced. Windmills have also met widespread NIMBY opposition.

  • Hank Roberts // June 16, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    > sinks
    We’re being visited by the “witnessing” crowd who proclaim their faith-based climate scenarios.

    You can look this stuff up.
    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/1995/94GB01779.shtml
    And much else over many years
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=le+quere+sinks+carbon
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/316/5832/1735

    Those of you stating beliefs without sources in the literature, would you be willing to say why you believe what you so often repeat in climate forums?

    God will provide? Best of all possible worlds? Saucer people or Free markets will fix everything? Better planets will be cheaper later?

  • Ken // June 16, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    Geothermal is most definitely more than “pie in the sky” and the only reason it would require 100 years to implement, is if we continue to do absolutely nothing to move off coal.

    http://geothermal.inel.gov/publications/future_of_geothermal_energy.pdf
    http://www1.eere.energy.gov/geothermal/index.html

  • Rainman // June 16, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    In regards to alternatives to oil, here in the NW solar is a tough sell due to cloud cover (especially this year). When you mention wind farms large numbers of enviromentalists / whoever start saying ‘not in my back yard’, ‘what about the birds’, ‘it destroys the scenery’, etc…

    You can’t have it both ways.

    I still say go nuclear. It’s the most dependable source we have for the time being.

  • Briso // June 16, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Hank Roberts // June 16, 2008 at 5:29 am

    > both have datasets with a temporal resolution of
    > at daily they are the same.

    Where’s this global daily temperature dataset?
    Source please?

    http://discover.itsc.uah.edu/amsutemps/data/amsu_daily_85N85S_chLT.r001.txt

  • steven mosher // June 16, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    hank, you put such a trust in citing sources.
    How about access to real data?

  • steven mosher // June 16, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Eli. wind power is great

    ( dead birds aside)

    Do a post on a Kennedy and wind power.

    Go ahead. you wont.

  • steven mosher // June 16, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    george.

    cites please. otherwise you are a flat earther a creationist, and a believer in ID.

  • Hank Roberts // June 16, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Briso, that’s air temperatures measured at three altitudes; determining a global temperature trend needs much more data. Did you find papers relying on that data set? Worth looking for. Mosher may be able to help you.

  • george // June 16, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Mosher:

    At least I’m not a liar (”Piltdown Mann”)

  • dhogaza // June 16, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    George: good call.

    When you mention wind farms large numbers of enviromentalists / whoever start saying ‘not in my back yard’, ‘what about the birds’, ‘it destroys the scenery’, etc…

    The bird issue is mostly one of siting and design, and suggesting that one must sacrifice large numbers of raptors in order to build wind farms is as stupid as Wired’s recent suggestion that we should liquidate old-growth forests in order to save the planet from global warming.

    The industry has been forced to learn due to the effort of conservationists who not only care about environmental issues, but about the welfare of wildlife and the preservation of our biological heritage, as well.

    Modern, well-sited, well-designed windfarms have a non-zero but tolerable impact on birds. The fact that the wind power industry was forced, kicking and screaming, to figure out how to make it so is not the fault of those of us who dragged them along by suing for monitoring, mitigation, and better design. They could’ve gone willingly.

    And, to be honest, after the first few rounds of battle, largely have.

    It turns out that some of the things that make wind-powered turbines more economical also reduce their impact on birds.

    Monolithic towers rather than the derrick-style supports used at Altamont Pass, for instance, don’t tempt raptors to perch-hunt from the support (and getting whacked when flying to perch or diving to prey).

    There’s good evidence that larger mills, which are favored now by builders of wind farms, are more obvious to all birds (not just raptors), and therefore safer.

    And, oh, I live here in the PNW, and windfarms are sprouting up all over. If you’re one of those westsiders who never make it out to the columbia river plateau you might not have noticed.

  • Rainman // June 16, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    Dhog: Yeah, I’m a westsider, haven’t been out the Gorge in a few years.

    Everything you said about design/siting etc, is true. While the conservationalists have driven the design somewhat, I think they have hurt the effort in the long run. I saw a program about a wind farm off the coast of Holland (I think) that was amazing. The blades (3 bladed) were something like 150 ft.

    I’m also intrigued with the solar tower project. Think that one was in Australia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_updraft_tower

  • David B. Benson // June 16, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    Mario // June 15, 2008 at 9:28 pm — Its not the sun.

    Sunspot TSI proxy:

    http://www.globalwarmingart.com/wiki/Image:Sunspot_Numbers_png

    versus temperature goes up noticably in the last 100 years.

  • george // June 16, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    Steven Mosher says:

    george.

    cites please. otherwise you are a flat earther a creationist, and a believer in ID.

    I can only assume this is in reference to my statement above about standard of living and per capita energy use (since I did reference the TSI stuff above)

    many European countries use just half the energy per capita that we do and their “standard of living” is nonetheless just as high as — and in some cases actually higher than — it is in the US.

    So, here’s a breakdown of per capita energy use by country.

    The following European countries use roughly half (or less) the energy per capita as the US (the reference number for the US is 8.35)

    Netherlands 4.76 ( 57% the US )
    France 4.25 ( 51% of the US)
    Germany 4.13 (49.5%)
    UK 3.89 (46.6%)
    Ireland 3.86 (46.2%)
    Switzerland 3.7 (44.3%)
    Denmark 3.64 (43.6%)
    Austria 3.52 (42.2%)
    Italy 2.97 (35.6%)

    Now, on to “standard of living.”

    I’m sure some are going to balk at whatever measure I choose for standard of living, but let me simply say that standard of living certainly involves far more than just per capita GDP. In fact, most people would consider absurd to simply use that (and most don’t)

    Here’s one measure that is used by the UN:

    Human development index

    here’s how it is described

    The Human Development Index (HDI) is an index combining normalized measures of life expectancy, literacy, educational attainment, and GDP per capita for countries worldwide. It is claimed as a standard means of measuring human development, a concept that, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) refers to the process of widening the options of persons, giving them greater opportunities for education, health care, income, employment, etc.

    The index for the US is 0.951 (that’s our reference)

    Here’s the same index for those European countries listed above

    Netherlands 0.953
    France 0.952
    Germany 0.935
    UK 0.946
    Ireland 0.959
    Switzerland 0.955
    Austria 0.948
    Italy 0.941

    let’s see.

    out of those 9 European countries that use about half the energy per capita as the US, 4 of them have a HDI above that of the US and most of the rest are very close (about the same)

    Practically speaking, I honestly do not know what the difference between an HDI of 0.946 (UK) or even 0.935(germany) and 0.951 (US) would mean.

    What does a 1.7% difference (germany) from the US number signify?

    Probably not much is my guess. Anyone who has been to Germany several times like I have knows that they enjoy pretty much the same high standard of living that we enjoy here in the US*

    *some would argue “higher”, but if I did that here, I would certainly be called a “socialist” (or worse) — in addition to “a flat earther a creationist, and a believer in ID” . :)

    I wonder: To what do I owe such an honor?

  • george // June 16, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    oops,

    Left Denmark off my HDI list above

    It has an HDI of 0.949 or very comparable to the US (0.951) BUT Denmark only uses about 43.6% the energy per capita as the US.

    I might also note that there are a few other European countries that use significantly less energy than the US per capita (albeit more than half) that also have an HDI that is very comparable to that of the US

    Again the US HDI is 0.951

    ________Energy consumption __HDI
    Norway 68%of US _______ 0.968
    Sweden 68% of US _______ 0.956
    Belgium 69.2% of US_______0.946

  • Brian Klappstein // June 16, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    Hank Roberts:

    “…Briso, that’s air temperatures measured at three altitudes; determining a global temperature trend needs much more data….”

    Why not just do the gracious thing and admit you were wrong Hank. Both global temperature and methane are data are collected daily, and thus are subject to the same statistical interpretations over similar time frames.

    You may be intuitively right Hank; the 1 year up tick in methane may be more significant than the 8 year cooling trend in the mid troposphere; after all the methane data appear less noisy.

    But to argue that without proper reference to statistics looks to be the dreaded “cherry picking” syndrome.

    Regards BRK

  • dhogaza // June 16, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    Everything you said about design/siting etc, is true. While the conservationalists have driven the design somewhat, I think they have hurt the effort in the long run

    Only true if you honestly believe that we must sacrifice other environmental standards to the altar of wind energy.

    There’s no need to do so. This is the kind of thinking that’s gotten us in trouble with other technologies.

    If it’s broke, there’s nothing wrong with fixing it, and to blame those who insist on fixes being implemented, well, to me that’s just a weird way of thinking.

    NIMBY protests are a different matter, and can’t be blamed on science-based conservation, insistence on mitigation, etc.

  • Lost and Confused // June 16, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    Unless I am mistaken, those numbers are rather meaningless george. None of the European countries you listed are remotely close to the United States in size. Without accounting for the differences in size, you fail to show the United States is any more wasteful. This is not to say your point is wrong, but rather you failed to prove it.

    That is, unless you consider having increased transportation overhead due to the size of the country as being “wasteful.”

  • Hank Roberts // June 16, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    Brian, cite welcome. No hurry.

  • Rainman // June 16, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    Dhog: Not so much sacrificing to the alter, but not impeding progression of the technology.

    Any tech needs to be implemented and then lessons are learned from that implementation. The lowered amount of feedback from implementation slows down innovation or delays failures/successes.

    I’m not saying throw down windfarms or whatever willy-nilly, that is foolish. But the cost of the legal battles, etc drains research budgets and drives up the break-even point for that energy source. That makes it less cost effective than the current ‘evil’ tech we want to replace. Not good for anyone.

  • Hank Roberts // June 16, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    Here’s a source on methane trend measurement through 2005 (conference proceedings available as a CD-ROM from the publisher)

    Variations in trends in global methane concentrations, 1978-2005: Six years of ery slow net global atmospheric. methane growth. F.S. Rowland, I.J. Simpson, …
    Program: http://www.ncgg4.nl/Prelprog.pdf
    Proceedings:
    http://www.millpress.nl/shop/catalogue%20media/978-90-5966-043-4.pdf

  • L Miller // June 16, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    Perhaps even more telling then energy/person is CO2/person

    metric tons/person of CO2

    US 20.4
    Norway 19.1
    Japan 9.5
    France 6.2
    Ireland 10.4
    UK 9.8
    Germany 9.8
    Belgium 9.7
    Netherlands 8.85
    Austria 8.5
    Italy 7.7
    Switzerland 5.5
    Sweden 5.5

    (Norway is probably high due to its oil industry. It’s the biggest producer in Europe and one of the world’s top 5 exporters of oil.)

    Size isn’t a relevant argument. No one drives across the US to get to work. Even in the US 100 miles is a long commute, and these countries are more then large enough for people to live that far from work if their infrastructure was designed that way. There may be some case for saying the US would use a little more energy for transportation, but that’s not nearly enough to account for the huge difference.

  • Brian Dodge // June 16, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    “That is, unless you consider having increased transportation overhead due to the size of the country as being “wasteful.”
    CHOOSING to live 25 miles from where you work;
    CHOOSING to drive to work in a Hummer;
    CHOOSING to eat produce flown across the country instead of locally grown food;
    CHOOSING to live in a 10000 sq.ft McMansion heated to 75F in the winter and cooled to 65F in the summer;
    THAT’S WASTEFUL.

  • Lost and Confused // June 17, 2008 at 12:05 am

    Brian Dodge, nothing in your post demonstrates those are more common in the United States than in other countries. Your post does not address the issue.

    L Miller, your dismissal is faulty. Size is not relevant due to an individual’s personal consumption being greater (though that plays some role), but rather the infrastructure’s increased requirements. To get the energy per capita measurements, the total amount of energy used by the country is divided by the population. This means energy not directly consumed by an individual is still relevant.

    Think of merchandise. Distributing merchandise across a small country is fairly easy, requiring little energy. Distributing the same merchandise across a larger country (United States) is more difficult, consuming far more energy. The trucking industry of the United States consumes a great deal of energy, which will increase the energy per capita measurement.

    I do not know how much of an impact the size of a country would impact energy per capita, but it is not something which can simply be ignored.

  • Chad // June 17, 2008 at 12:56 am

    Off topic: I see that you apparently use Excel for your calculations and graphs. Do you ever use Matlab? If so, what kind of calculations do you use it for?

  • Lost and Confused // June 17, 2008 at 1:23 am

    Something struck me as I briefly looked at the numbers. Finland’s population density is one of the three lowest in Europe. It has an energy per capita consumption equal to 74% the United States level. Norway, another of the three least densely populated European countries has an energy per capita consumption equal to 68% the United States level. It is interesting to see Norway and Finland are both extremely high in energy per capita for European countries. Both have low population density, as does the United States. It seems quite plausible there would be some connection.

  • Dano // June 17, 2008 at 2:24 am

    That is, unless you consider having increased transportation overhead due to the size of the country as being “wasteful.”

    Pshaw.

    This argumentation depends on the premise that reg’lur folk travel all over the country.

    This is, of course, false.

    Americans’ VMT is much higher, their consumption is much higher, their homes are more wasteful, to be sure.

    That has nothing to do with country size, but wealth and consumption.

    Smarter contrarian/denialist/delusionist fringe argumentation , please.

    Best,

    D

  • Lost and Confused // June 17, 2008 at 3:03 am

    From Dano, “This argumentation depends on the premise that reg’lur folk travel all over the country.”

    My post that got crossed with this discusses why this is not true. Energy per capita would clearly be influenced by country size in a number of ways. Blindly dismissing its impact is ridiculous. If there is reason to believe its impact would be minute, then the reason should be given.

    It is telling when people like Dano interpret demands for rigorous methodology as “contrarian/denialist/delusionist fringe argumentation.”

  • dhogaza // June 17, 2008 at 4:11 am

    Not so much sacrificing to the alter, but not impeding progression of the technology.

    Any tech needs to be implemented and then lessons are learned from that implementation. The lowered amount of feedback from implementation slows down innovation or delays failures/successes.

    So the crux of your argument is that feedback by conservationists has lowered feedback.

    Think hard about this. Like, maybe you should’ve thought hard about it before stating something so silly?

    The hazards of derrick-style supports for raptor populations were documented by biologists. This led to regulatory pushes to not allow such supports to be used. Now, industry wouldn’t go back to derrick supports if you begged them to.

    Exactly how did this feedback hurt the industry or hinder anything?

    I suppose you’ll also argue that pushback on the energy industries due to global warming are slowing down the industry’s natural inclination to reduce CO2 emissions (cough cough).

    It is interesting to see Norway and Finland are both extremely high in energy per capita for European countries. Both have low population density, as does the United States. It seems quite plausible there would be some connection.

    It’s also possible that Norway and Finland are *bleeping* cold in winter.

    I’ve heard this might be the case. In fact, though I’ve not been to Norway, I do remember flying into Copenhagen to fix client problems one spring. I was going to a conference in the south of france, and got a last-minute call to switch to Copenhagen to fix some software issues at Danish National Radio and only had a few hours to buy tickets, repack, etc.

    Put in some warmer clothes, but not warm enough. As we descended towards the Danish island, I saw broad swaths of white.

    “Oh, I didn’t realize that Denmark had such nice huge white beaches!”

    Lower … “oh my, it’s all ICE! Miles and miles of it!”

    Nothing like it in the lower 48. Norway’s further north.

    So perhaps these places are just cold and have higher energy consumption than their neighbors further south for the obvious reason.

  • Philippe Chantreau // June 17, 2008 at 4:32 am

    Very clever, L&C. We should obviously leave aside the more basic considerations such as the latitude dependent ones.

  • Hank Roberts // June 17, 2008 at 4:51 am

    > I do not know how much …

    http://www.google.com/search?q=how+much+of+an+impact+the+size+of+a+country+would+impact+energy+per+capita%3F

    http://www.prb.org/Articles/2006/LifestyleChoicesAffectUSImpactontheEnvironment.aspx

  • george // June 17, 2008 at 5:08 am

    Lost and confused said

    Unless I am mistaken, those numbers are rather meaningless george. None of the European countries you listed are remotely close to the United States in size. Without accounting for the differences in size, you fail to show the United States is any more wasteful.’

    So, are you suggesting that if, like Europe, the United States of America were made up of a bunch of (50?) smaller, semi-autonomous units, then the US would use significantly less energy per capita than it currently does? (ie, more in line with the roughly 50 countries of Europe?)

    Lost and confused also said

    It is interesting to see Norway and Finland are both extremely high in energy per capita for European countries. Both have low population density, as does the United States. It seems quite plausible there would be some connection.

    So, less dense means more energy use?

    Somehow, I would have thought it would be the other way around: the less dense you are, the less energy you use — and the more money you save! :)

    In all seriousness, you don’t have much familiarity with Europeans and their energy and resource use habits, do you?

    It’s not really any deep secret that Europeans tend to be more conservative (in the true sense of the word) than Americans — ie, when it comes to energy and resources.

    I suspect it has far more to do with the historic availability (and hence cost) of energy and resources than anything else.

    If something is less available, it costs more, and if it costs more, people naturally look for ways to use — and waste — less of it.

    This is precisely what happened in the US in response to the 1973 oil embargo (which has an obvious lesson for today)

    On the other hand, a country like Norway with only 5 million people that has nearly half the oil reserves of the US (nearly 4% those of Saudi Arabia!) probably has far less incentive for conserving.

    But the latter fact — that Norway has all that oil and nonetheless still only has 68% of US per capita energy use — actually tells you something about Norwegians (and probably not about population density)

    You really have to be careful about reading too much into population density, at any rate. There are many ways that population density can lead one astray.

    For example, it could be that most people in a particular country with a large land area happen to live on a relatively small fraction of the total land area. In that case, the population density arrived at by diving population by total land area would not mean much, since the population density where most people were actually living would be considerably higher than the (total population)/ (total land) number.

    Take Finland, for example: “Around 5.3 million people reside in Finland, with the majority concentrated in the southern part of country.”
    So the 16/square km has to be taken with a grain of salt.

  • Raven // June 17, 2008 at 5:28 am

    On Danish wind power:

    http://www.countryguardian.net/vmason.htm

    “Almost a fifth of the electricity produced annually in Denmark is generated by wind, yet only about 6% of the country’s electricity demand is satisfied directly from this source. Possibly two-thirds of its wind power output cannot be used to satisfy domestic needs at the moment of generation, and has to be exported (often at reduced prices) to preserve the integrity of the grid. Savings in carbon emissions are minimal. Public opposition and reduced subsidies have halted the deployment of on-shore wind turbines for the time being, but political and commercial interests are pressing to integrate much larger amounts of wind power into radically altered domestic and international transmission systems. ”

    On our current power needs:

    sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/climate_change/001444meantime_back_in_th.html

    “The Center for Global Development estimates that there are 25,339 power plants around the world that emit carbon dioxide. If the world starts replacing or converting these plants to carbon free energy production at the rate of one plant per day, then it will take 69 years to make all of these power plants carbon neutral, and an 80% conversion would take 56 years. If you’d like assume that most emissions come from the largest plants, you can cut those numbers in half or even by 2/3 and the point remains. At a conversion rate of one plant per week — using only the top 1/3 emitters — it would take 145 years to convert 80% of these 1/3 (162 years to convert the entire 1/3).”

    If CO2 is the problem then adaption is the only practical response. I could support expendures on adaptation measures because I believe the would accomplish something useful. Spending money on trying to stop CO2 emission is an execise in futility.

  • Lost and Confused // June 17, 2008 at 5:53 am

    “Very clever, L&C. We should obviously leave aside the more basic considerations such as the latitude dependent ones.”

    Not at all. I have never said anything to that nature. If the temperature of the region has a meaningful impact, it should be examined as well. However, I find it hard to believe a temperature difference could cause the entire discrepancy in energy consumption. Finland and Denmark are consuming some 150% or more energy per capita than other European countries. While the temperature would presumably have some impact, it would be silly to write the entire difference off to it without serious justification. Looking at all sides is necessary for a method to be rigorous.

    Interestingly enough, Finland is more temperate than it would appear just by looking at a map. I believe it is due to it being located next to the ocean, allowing it to be warmed by the Gulf Stream.

    Also Hank Roberts, your post is meaningless. Nothing in the link even attempts to answer the question. Throwing out irrelevant links amounts to little more than trolling.

  • Philippe Chantreau // June 17, 2008 at 7:34 am

    Mosher 6/16 @ 4.57.
    Dead birds. Right.
    http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05906.pdf
    Excerpt:
    “it does not appear that wind power is responsible for a significant number of bird deaths”
    The table at the end is also informative.

    Audubon is very clear on their position about wind power but various right wing groups have worked very hard at building strawmen about this. Surely, someone so acutely versed on real data as you are wouldn’t buy into their BS, would you?

  • Julian Flood // June 17, 2008 at 8:04 am

    quote When sea ice declines, not only does the open water absorb more incoming solar energy (albedo change), but the open water can exchange heat between the warmer ocean and the colder air, dumping lots of heat in the Arctic region. This warms the Arctic land climate dramatically, both air and ground temperature rising, and the rising ground temperature leads to rapid degradation of permafrost.unquote

    Robert Essenhigh’s analysis of this circumstance suggested that, far from dumping heat into the Arctic, major ice melting would lead to rapid increases of low level cloud cover and snow dump, leading to an albedo increase and cooling. Well, it looks like we’re about to find out.

    [Response: And Lawrence et al. 2008 (GRL, in press) suggest nothing of the kind. Their research indicates that albedo change adds a lot of heat to the arctic *and* open water exchanges more heat with the atmosphere, both factors causing arctic air and land to warm dramatically Guess whose analysis I believe is more likely correct?]

    You say that solar input changes of 48 w/m^2 are quite impossible: the albedo of low level stratus cloud is 50 (ish), of open water essentially zero. So, for areas of the Arctic ocean which have an input of greater than 96 w/m^2, it would be all too possible — what is the power input at high latitudes?

    [Response: We were talking about solar output. That has not changed by 48 W/m^2 any time recently, and it's not going to.

    And as to albedo change, it's not clouds we're talking about it's ice. Ice relfects a lot more than open water, so when ice changes (the theme of this post) unless something else changes to compensate (and there's zero evidence that it does) albedo is reduced and the climate warms.]

    There was a suggestion some years ago that the reduction in acid rain falling on the tundra would lead to increased methane emissions, something I’ve not yet seen mentioned as happening. I would expect these emissions to be biased towards the lighter carbon isotopes and look forward to the signal being recognised as such.

    If oil spill from Sakhalin and the Alaskan North Slope is implicated, all bets are off.

    JF

  • Nick // June 17, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    L&C, the European trucking industry is not just intranational, it’s international.

  • Barton Paul Levenson // June 17, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    anon posts:

    Raven is indeed correct. It is a total illusion to think alternative power can support our present lifestyle. It is a grave disservice to the planet to put about the idea that it can.

    Find out the total human energy use — aw, heck, I’ll give it to you. It’s about 20 terawatts.

    Find out how many watts Earth gets from the sun. Find out how much is available through global winds. Divide A by B to see that your statement is nonsense.

    The first thing we have to do is get rid of cars, trucks and suburbs and air travel. And that is only the start.

    This is an old, old denialist trope — “The global warming eco-Nazis want everyone to abandon technology and live in mud huts!” No, we just want to switch to renewable sources of power and insulate our homes. Excuse me if that seems like living in mud huts to you.

  • Dano // June 17, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    If CO2 is the problem then adaption is the only practical response.

    Ah. So the rest of the planet disagrees and is already doing the R&R for mitigation.

    You have a responsibility, young Raven, to stop the madness and somehow convince the world that your small-minority view is compelling.

    Best,

    D

  • Jim Eager // June 17, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Raven said: “Until then emitting CO2 is a necessity of life.”

    No, it is a necessity of life style.

    A grossly inefficient one to which we have become all too accustomed.

    Reducing dependence on fossil carbon will require great change in your life stile.

    That’s the reality that you will not accept.

  • Hank Roberts // June 17, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    > nothing in the link
    Two links. The first was Google’s return from the question you asked. The second was a single example therefrom. Wisdom and reading ability are up to you.

    Using “search within results” at the bottom of the page refines your search within the “Results … about 2,070,000 English pages” Google provided if you find nothing therein.

    And –if I ever reply to anything you post here again, shame on me.

  • Tom G // June 17, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    L&C
    Finland located next to the ocean?
    Warmed by the Gulf Stream?
    Just exactly what map are you looking at?

  • Jim Eager // June 17, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Lost and Confused wrote: “It is interesting to see Norway and Finland are both extremely high in energy per capita for European countries. Both have low population density, as does the United States. It seems quite plausible there would be some connection.”

    There is: latitude and central heating.

  • Jim Eager // June 17, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Raven wrote: “Spending money on trying to stop CO2 emission is an execise in futility.”

    So much for that portion of the human population that relies on the marine food chain.

    But I’m alright, Jack, I don’t eat fish.

  • Rainman // June 17, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Dhog: What I thought would be possibly an interesting conversation about alternative energy options and how viable they are in the northwest turned into you ranting again.

    *sigh*

  • Rainman // June 17, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Perhaps that last statement was partially incorrect. You replied to me in the top half, but to someone else in the bottom (no wonder rebuttal made no sense to me, teaches me to read the quoted material first).

    However, you did go quite far in the your last statement. I believe the last part of my post addresses your concern, but perhaps you don’t.

    “I’m not saying throw down windfarms or whatever willy-nilly, that is foolish. But the cost of the legal battles, etc drains research budgets and drives up the break-even point for that energy source. That makes it less cost effective than the current ‘evil’ tech we want to replace. Not good for anyone.”

  • Philippe Chantreau // June 17, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    Finland near the Ocean and warmed by the Gulf Stream eh?
    You’re earning your name, Lost and Confused.

    Take a look at that map again, make sure you locate the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia.
    Then, take a closer look at that Gulf Stream, wikipedia can help:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Ocean_currents_1943_%28borderless%29.png

  • adder // June 17, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    A few facts about energy consumption in Finland (statistics from 2005): Heating of buildings 22%; Traffic 17%; Industry 48%; Other 13%. So yes, both low population density (traffic) and location in the north (heating) contribute, but the biggest consumer is pulp and paper industry, which is very energy intensive.

  • Bart // June 17, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    Could somebody confrim if the temperature on the Antarctic has indeed been stable over the past decades? It is my understanding that it has, but that it wasn’t predicted to warm (yet) anyway. Somebody commented on my blog regarding this.

  • Lost and Confused // June 17, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    From Wikipedia’s article on Finland, specifically the climate section, “Finland is near enough to the Atlantic Ocean to be continuously warmed by the Gulf Stream, which explains the unusually warm climate considering the absolute latitude.” I would change my wording from “next to” to “near,” but otherwise I stand by my statement Phillip Chantreau and Tom G. Finland is a more temperate region than its location would make one think, due to being warmed by the Gulf Stream.

    Hank Roberts, it was a mistake (a typo, to be precise) on my part to say “link” instead of “links.” Either way, nothing in either link answered the question. They were irrelevant links. Also, there is a degree of absurdity when you say,, “And –if I ever reply to anything you post here again, shame on me.” As I recall, you still refuse to retract a number of false claims you made about me. Your condescending attitude is silly, and I suspect I am the silly one for responding to you.

    As a thought, perhaps this discussion should be moved to Open Thread? It seems rather off topic here.

  • dhogaza // June 17, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    “I’m not saying throw down windfarms or whatever willy-nilly, that is foolish. But the cost of the legal battles, etc drains research budgets and drives up the break-even point for that energy source. That makes it less cost effective than the current ‘evil’ tech we want to replace. Not good for anyone.”

    This “blame anyone who opposes allowing industry to do what they want for any problems said industry might have” is not helpful.

    Protections for migratory birds are a matter of federal law. When people break that law, and are sued as a result, those upholding the law are not responsible for any harm done.

    Your “logic” could be applied to any polluter, producer of tainted goods, etc.

    I happen to have an old-fashioned belief that those who break laws ought to be brought to justice. Gosh, now I’m a bad guy.

  • Lost and Confused // June 17, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    I think this will be my last post on this discussion in this thread. I will continue the discussion in Open Thread as needed.

    Ultimately george, I am not disagreeing with your position. The United States may very well be more wasteful than other countries. I simply do not think energy per capita consumption can demonstrate this. An example of why that measurement is insufficient on its own is the difference in population density. A widely spread population increases the costs of infrastructure, increasing the energy consumption.

    Another example is the temperature. Posters here have implied Finland’s energy per capita consumption is 150% or more that of other European countries due to its temperature. If this were true, clearly energy per capita consumption would not be an effective measurement of wastefulness. Canada has the second highest energy per capita consumption. Looking at just that measurement, one would be led to believe Canada is approximately as wasteful as the United States. If temperature explains Finland’s high levels, then clearly it would play a role in Canada’s.

    Everyone can agree the United States is wasteful. All countries are. The disagreement comes from how do we measure how wasteful each country is?

  • David B. Benson // June 17, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    Bart // June 17, 2008 at 5:17 pm — Yes. Little warming. I am under the impression this is thought due to the so-called ozone hole.

  • Rainman // June 17, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    Dhog: See… you are taking my statements to the extreme. I’m working towards the middle here, but you don’t appreciate that.

    This unfortunately is the way you handle any conversation here. You take the extreme end of a statement and just keep beating on it like the twitching somehow indicates life.

    Nevermind. I’d hoped for an open conversation, but I got the rant again.

  • Hank Roberts // June 17, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    Bart, David, Antarctic temperature and ozone depletion are connected:
    http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/prrl/2008-15.html

    See particularly:
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v451/n7176/full/nature06590.html
    (see also cites and citing article links)

    “Two factors make the warming at the end of the last ice age and the warming today rather different. One is the rate of warming. The other factor is the ozone hole over Antarctica.”

  • David B. Benson // June 17, 2008 at 8:41 pm

    Check these delta temperature maps.

    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/gistemp/do_nmap.py?year_last=2008&month_last=5&sat=4&sst=1&type=trends&mean_gen=1212&year1=1997&year2=2007&base1=1971&base2=2000&radius=1200&pol=reg

    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/gistemp/do_nmap.py?year_last=2008&month_last=5&sat=4&sst=1&type=trends&mean_gen=1212&year1=2003&year2=2007&base1=1971&base2=2000&radius=1200&pol=reg

  • David B. Benson // June 17, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Hank Roberts // June 17, 2008 at 7:47 pm — Thank you for the links.

  • dhogaza // June 17, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    See… you are taking my statements to the extreme. I’m working towards the middle here, but you don’t appreciate that.

    But conservationists HAVE taken the middle ground, working with the industry (and the regulatory system) to lessen the impact of wind mills on wildlife.

    And, to their credit, unlike so many other industries, the wind power industry has also worked cooperatively to find that middle ground.

    Strangely, you don’t hear the wind power industry claiming that dire harm has resulted from the process, nor do conservationists oppose wind farms per se (nor have we ever).

  • Jim Eager // June 17, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    L&C wrote: “Canada has the second highest energy per capita consumption. Looking at just that measurement, one would be led to believe Canada is approximately as wasteful as the United States.”

    Sadly, it is.

    It also has a large pulp & paper industry, like Finland.
    And a large mining industry.
    And the Athabasca tar sands, Canada’s largest single generator of CO2 emissions.

  • dhogaza // June 18, 2008 at 4:46 am

    And the Athabasca tar sands, Canada’s largest single generator of CO2 emissions.

    And that’s before the resulting oil is burned, right? (much exported to the US where it counts against us, not Canada).

    Good point, those who think we can go on burning oil as usual like to point to tar sands and oil shale as alternatives to intelligent alternative energy technologies.

    Have to wonder if they’re aware of the huge environmental costs associated with such oil recovery.

    Last year, on one of my somewhat frequent flights to Europe, I had a daylight polar route flight from here to … well, some place to transfer to Madrid (Frankfurt? A’dam? I don’t remember).

    Flying over the Canadian Tundra, clear skies, suddenly saw huge scars on the land. And a river flowing clear until it reached an oil sands processing plant, turning deep beige below. Waste from processing spilling downriver as far as I could see, and smoke pouring up from the stacks.

    Out of site, out of mind. Such conditions would not be tolerated in the lower 48, nor Europe.

    But some want to tell us that this is our path towards a sustainable future - dig up the last remnants of fuel and pretend all is well for the future (regardless of the CO2-driven AGW issue).

  • Barton Paul Levenson // June 18, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    Raven posts:

    If CO2 is the problem then adaption is the only practical response.

    Do you mean “adaptation?”

    I could support expendures on adaptation measures because I believe the would accomplish something useful. Spending money on trying to stop CO2 emission is an execise in futility.

    So we should just keep on letting the problem get worse and worse? You know, the worse it gets, the harder and more expensive adaptation becomes. So your argument is basically a non-starter.

  • Barton Paul Levenson // June 18, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    JF posts:

    Robert Essenhigh’s analysis of this circumstance

    Wasn’t he the guy who argued that carbon dioxide couldn’t be driving global warming because it provided less than 10% of the greenhouse effect?

    http://members.aol.com/bpl1960/Essenhigh.html

  • george // June 18, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    OK, Lost and Confused.

    I found some interesting information about Finland

    Though it’s not population density per se that determines energy use, something that is related to that — distance between cities and towns — is one of the things that has boosted Finland’s per capita energy consumption over what it might otherwise be.

    And so has the latitude of Finland (by way of increased heating requirements), though I would note that virtually the entire country of Finland is above 60 deg N latitude, so comparing that to the US is not really warranted. Only an exceedingly small percentage of the people in the US live at or above that 60 deg N latitude (ie, in northern Alaska).

    But perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that despite having a per capita energy consumption that was 150% of the US in the late 1980’s, that was down to only 77% of the US consumption by 2000 — ie, in roughly a decade!

    In other words, in a very short time, Finland’s per capita energy consumption changed by roughly a factor of 2(!) relative to that of the US.

    Which makes you wonder what the reason for the relative change was.

    US per capita consumption was fairly flat from about 1980 to 2000. (It has gone up by almost 50% since(!), but the comparison stats i gave above were for 2000)

    This means that almost all the change of Finland relative to the US was due to efforts on the part of Finland.

    Since the 1970s, the government has made considerable efforts to spur energy conservation. Domestic energy prices have been maintained at realistic levels–gasoline prices were among the highest in all European countries–encouraging the public to conserve. The government raised energy efficiency standards for home construction and renovation, cutting energy use for heating by 30 to 40 percent over a decade. Finland pioneered the development of district heating, which used otherwise-wasted energy from power plants. Observers predicted that this efficient source of domestic heat would supply half the country’s homes by the year 2000.
    http://countrystudies.us/finland/92.htm

    So, I accept that there are several things that affect per capita energy consumption, but I think that the case of Finland actually demonstrates that efficiency and conservation can have a large impact on that statistic.

  • michel // June 21, 2008 at 8:13 am

    The argument seems to be that a 1 degree warming from CO2 will provoke a 2-4 degree further warming from water vapour increases. This will then provoke massive increases in methane from the permafrost as it thaws, which will lead to yet more warming.

    Perfectly plausible.

    In the history of the planet, how many warmings of 1 degree have their been, how many were followed by the extra 2-4 degrees due to water vapor, and how many then led to the permafrost methane release?

    Like, does this happen every few thousand years, every few tens of thousands, every hundreds of thousand? I can’t get too worried if its a one in several million chance….

    Just checking.

  • dhogaza // June 21, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    Like, does this happen every few thousand years, every few tens of thousands, every hundreds of thousand? I can’t get too worried if its a one in several million chance….

    Why would this add up to a “one in several million chance”?

    The real question would be, given equivalent initial conditions, how often has a 1 degree warming + 2-4 feedback warming due to water vapor NOT led to massive increases in methane from permafrost.

    The frequency with which initial conditions arise are irrelevant if we know we’re in that state today, or will be in the near future.

  • David B. Benson // June 22, 2008 at 12:30 am

    michel // June 21, 2008 at 8:13 am — Yes, the radiative forcing of CO2 (equivalent) so far is about 0.3 K. Yet the warming since reference year 1850 CE is about 0.7–0.8 K.

    There is still another 0.5+ K of committed warming as the oceans warm up.

    Something similar happened in previous interglacials, with the radiative forcing being due to orbital changes. Earlier interglacials 2 and 4 were noticably warmer than the current one (so far). No methane ‘run-away’ then.

    I don’t (yet) expect one this time around. Peak oil and peak coal will put ends to the continued additions.

    That said, clearly the sooner everybody stops buring fossil fuels the better for a predictable climate.

  • matt // June 22, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    This is an old, old denialist trope — “The global warming eco-Nazis want everyone to abandon technology and live in mud huts!” No, we just want to switch to renewable sources of power and insulate our homes. Excuse me if that seems like living in mud huts to you.

    NREL models an absolutely an upper bound of 40% wind generation by 2030. Assuming we achieve that, and solar is another 20%, are you OK with the remaining 40% coming from nuclear?

  • David B. Benson // June 22, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    matt // June 22, 2008 at 6:25 pm — Sure. But why not some of it from biofuels? Seems highly likely.

  • dhogaza // June 22, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    How about some percentage coming from better energy efficiency?

    Actually, mud huts are pretty good …

    Well, straw bale with adobe facing works … :)

  • Hank Roberts // June 22, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Matt, look again at the first post of this thread and think about the reasoning.

    Look at practical experience since the first gas crisis started some people trying to conserve:

    ” Since 1974, California has held its per capita energy consumption essentially constant, while energy use per person for the United States overall has jumped 50 percent….”
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/16/AR2007021602274.html

  • Lost and Confused // June 23, 2008 at 12:24 am

    I am baffled. I keep seeing this claim parroted by Hank Roberts, “Since 1974… energy use per person for the United States overall has jumped 50 percent….” It was previously stated by george, who was kind enough to provide a link to data on energy consumption in the United States. Here is that link again:

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/pdf/pages/sec1_12.pdf

    There is a problem. This data clearly shows energy consumption per capita has not seen this kind of increase. Indeed, energy consumption per capita has remained practically constant for thirty years. Where does this claim originate?

    Also, why should anyone care about California’s conservation programs if they have only maintained the same energy consumption per capita rate, instead of decreasing it? As far as I can tell, the entire country has managed the same.

  • matt // June 23, 2008 at 3:37 am

    DHogaza: How about some percentage coming from better energy efficiency?

    Because nobody has been able to demonstrate this comes close to solving the problem. The Japanse showed a slight reduction after a massive effort, but it quickly vaporized. As Hank notes below, CA is our most “oppressive” government in the US wrt consumption and it’s only managed to remain flat.

    Thus, unless there’s an existence proof showing that conservation on a massive scale can work, then it’s simply a dream.

    Biofuels may indeed be capable of solving the enormous “base load” problem, but again, it hasn’t been demonstrated on a massive scale and I’m not aware of any large energy agency that thinks it can.

  • Biker Trash // June 23, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    re: dhogaza // June 18, 2008 at 4:46 am

    “Out of site (sic), out of mind.”

    Yep, the exhaust of the engines on the plane were out of your sight.

    What’s good for you, is not good for me, I guess.

  • Hank Roberts // June 23, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    So, Matt, as you said

    > NREL models an absolutely an upper bound of
    > 40% wind generation by 2030. Assuming we
    > achieve that, and solar is another 20%, are you
    > OK with

    that, sufficient to keep everyone at the California per capita level? The excess could be used to build up the needed infrastructure while buying down the old tech. Ten percent for turnover cost.

    That means not paying the big coal companies for coal left in the ground. They’ll have to write that off, just like the banks are writing off bad loans — as overly optimistic investments made on the assumption their value could only go up forever.

  • dhogaza // June 23, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    Yep, the exhaust of the engines on the plane were out of your sight.

    What’s good for you, is not good for me, I guess.

    Do you have a point? I didn’t think so …

  • luminous beauty // June 23, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Matt,

    Here’s your nuclear power:

    Studies showed that for economic systems, 40% or more of the total heat stored in the rock is recoverable. We also considered the more conservative recoverable estimates of 2% and 20%. Even at 2%, the amount of energy that could be realistically recovered, leaving economics and cost considerations aside, is more than 3,000 times the current total energy consumption of the US, including transportation uses.

    Short version:

    http://energy.senate.gov/public/_files/PettyTestimony092607.doc

    Long version:

    http://geothermal.inel.gov/publications/future_of_geothermal_energy.pdf

  • Philippe Chantreau // June 24, 2008 at 12:24 am

    Luminous has a point. It’s incomprehensible that we don’t undertake a massive effort toward maximization of geothermal resources. The potential exists and the return on investment is likely to be superior to nuclear.

  • elspi // June 24, 2008 at 4:56 am

    Matt-”Because nobody has been able to demonstrate this comes close to solving the problem. ”

    How about we do the math. A hummer gets about 8 mpg. A Prius gets about 50. (and costs half as much). If we drive both cars 200 miles, the one uses 25 gallons and the other uses 4. Switching from a hummer to a Prius gives us a reduction of more than 80%.

    Wow, I guess you are right there is no way that energy efficiency would work at all.

    Why, you ask, didn’t this work for “The Japanse” (sic).
    (Hint: What auto maker makes the Prius?)

    When you are extravagantly wasteful (like us) you can save alot by just stopping the stupid.

    Maybe you could buy a real penis extender instead of the hummer. (your SA would be much more impressed)

  • Rainman // June 24, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    elspi: That would work if everyone owned a hummer, but that’s not the case.

    Also, what percentage of energy usage is personal transport? I don’t have numbers, but I recall the vast majority of energy usage is electricity generation and commercial transp0rt. There’s only so much improvement you can get when towing 25ton+ loads with a tractor-trailer combo. (although… a hybrid tractor is an interesting idea.)

  • steven mosher // June 24, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    Luminous Thanks for that link

    here’s the money quote

    “To sum up, based on our technical and economic analysis, a reasonable investment in R&D and a
    proactive level of deployment in the next 10 years could make EGS a major player in supplying 10%
    of U.S. base-load electricity by 2050.”

    every little bit helps.

    on the other hand one could say you cant drill your way our of the problem.

  • t_p_hamilton // June 24, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Lost and Confused said:”
    I am baffled. I keep seeing this claim parroted by Hank Roberts, “Since 1974… energy use per person for the United States overall has jumped 50 percent….” It was previously stated by george, who was kind enough to provide a link to data on energy consumption in the United States. Here is that link again:

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/pdf/pages/sec1_12.pdf

    There is a problem. This data clearly shows energy consumption per capita has not seen this kind of increase. Indeed, energy consumption per capita has remained practically constant for thirty years. Where does this claim originate?”

    It was in the Washington Post, although they did not give a source. Consumption has gone up 50% because the population has gone up 50%, maybe the original source was confused about that.

    One can definitely see the impact of the CAFE standards around 1980.

  • matt // June 24, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    elspi: How about we do the math. A hummer gets about 8 mpg. A Prius gets about 50. (and costs half as much). If we drive both cars 200 miles, the one uses 25 gallons and the other uses 4. Switching from a hummer to a Prius gives us a reduction of more than 80%.

    Fortunately (or unfortunately) we don’t use contrived examples to demonstrate the outcome we want. Instead, those that actually do this stuff for a living look at figures like “per capita energy consumption” (BTU, kwh, etc) to understand where things have gone and where they are headed. The Japanese have worked harder than anyone else, and were able to demonstrate a few % points of reduction in consumption, but only for a few short years.

    Check out the doe site. You’ll find a wealth of info there that shows just how poorly conservation actually works.

  • Hank Roberts // June 24, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    Rainman, Google:

    “Approximately 30% of energy use in the USA is due to transportation … the net benefit of recycling is orders of magnitude smaller than the gains that can be achieved from switching to more fuel-efficient vehicles. Despite this, perception and policy in the USA have focused on recycling rather than personal vehicle choice and increased reliance on public transportation.”
    linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1462901103000066

    “Cars, trucks, and other passenger vehicles … 20 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions….”
    http://ans.engr.wisc.edu/eic/TransportationForm.html

    But yes, one government department making one line item decision causes more energy inefficiency than all transportation:

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/12/12/BA1FTSBR2.DTL
    State sues U.S. over utility pole transformers
    December 12, 2007

    —–excerpt follows—–

    If the department [US DOE] simply required new transformers to be as efficient as the best equipment already on the market, … enough energy would be saved to eliminate the need for nearly 20 large power plants by 2038.

    That would also reduce the annual output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide by 700 million tons, more than the amount emitted by all U.S. cars ….

    The Energy Department has said … there was no reliable way to measure the potential economic benefits from reducing carbon dioxide emissions….

    California is also among the states that have filed a similar suit challenging new federal efficiency standards for commercial air conditioning and heating units.

    The Energy Department did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

    ——end excerpt——–

  • matt // June 24, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    LB noted Geothermal.

    Geo is delivering about 0.5% of our electricity today in the US, with wind and around 2% and solar around 1% I think.

    NERL believes wind can grow from the 2% figure to the 40% over the next 20 years. that’s growing 20X over 20 years. Note that is their max upper bound in their publication. That represents a staggering 20% YoY improvement, which is approaching the staggering gains the semiconductor industry has acheived over the last 30 years. But outside of semiconductors, there aren’t many cases where humans have EVER experienced a 20% YoY improvement in anything (cost, size, efficiency, etc) for any significant length of time. It is really remarkable.

    So, again, if geothermal is 0.5%, solar is 1% and wind is 2%, that’s 3.5%. If 20% YoY growth for 20 years is considered a staggering success, you are still needing a huge portion covered by an always present source. WHAT IS THAT SOURCE?

    You can’t state “biomass” and leave it at that. You have to pick something that is functioning at some level today, and show that it has a path to grow to a certain level in a certain time. Note that currently NERL flags availability of copper and magnets and steel as potentially preventing widespread deployment. That is exactly the type of thinking that people need to do when they regurgitate the latest thing they read about in Mother Jones.

    So, even if the energy industry hits a 100% home run and wildly exceeds everyones estimates for uptake, then renewables won’t be more than 40 or 50% of our total in 25 years. What do you want for the other ~50%? Coal? Nuclear?

  • Hank Roberts // June 25, 2008 at 2:34 am

    Conservation and efficiency will be the fastest response, as each previous energy shock has shown in California. Government is always astonished when people willingly reduce their energy demand (and water demand). It’s made the difference each crisis so far.

    And most of the cheap easy no-regrets conservation steps remain available to take.

    Yes, other stuff’s needed — but look at the time frame required. Building a smart grid will go faster (thanks to the existing railroad and pipeline rights of way) than building more point source generation sites, so the smarter the grid the smaller and more dispersed the generation sites can be. That’s the argument against committing now to a big expensive dumb grid and a few big expensive fission plants to dominate it — it’ll take a long time and better choices can be made faster.

  • EliRabett // June 25, 2008 at 3:39 am

    WRT utility pole transformers, the hidden issue is that absent regulation stockholders would kill any utility that installed the best available technology as it would cut into current profits. That is why regulation is key to enable management to step forward.

  • elspi // June 25, 2008 at 3:55 am

    “Approximately 30% of energy use in the USA is due to transportation”

    By moving closer to work and using more fuel efficient carss, we reduce this to about 5%.
    The thing about the SUVs is that although not all the cars are SUVs, almost all the gas is used by SUVs.

    Hank pwned you on the transmission loss, so we have already shown how to reduce by 50%.

    That would be “GAME OVER MAN”

  • george // June 25, 2008 at 5:10 am

    Lost and Confused said:”

    “I am baffled. I keep seeing this claim parroted by Hank Roberts, “Since 1974… energy use per person for the United States overall has jumped 50 percent. It was previously stated by george,”

    Somehow, an honest misread of a graph on my part ended up driving some off into never-never land.

    Certainly not my intention! In fact, the incorrect statement in question was actually an aside (placed in parentheses).

    My main point was about how Finland had significantly reduced their per capita energy consumption basically over a single decade through conservation efforts.

    But the fact that conservation and efficiency improvements can make a significant difference in the amount of energy people use is really nothing profound and I am a little surprised (baffled, actually) that some seem to find this idea so controversial.

  • Lost and Confused // June 25, 2008 at 5:16 am

    The population increase was what I guessed caused the confusion t_p_hamilton. I just find it remarkable people can point to California as a shining example of conservation because it has maintained a constant energy consumption per capita.

    The entire country has done the same, so why would anyone be impressed by California’s actions? If anything, this should be an issue of shame for California.

  • Hank Roberts // June 25, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    > the hidden issue is that absent regulation
    > stockholders would kill any utility that
    > installed the best available technology

    And that’s why the utilities joined in the lawsuit — they want the Dept. of Energy to require use of the currently most efficient off-the-shelf transformers so they will all use them.

    Those things on the poles stay there for decades.

    It’s just incredibly stupid for the DOE to have taken the position over and over in many regulations that conservation and efficiency have no value they can figure out.

  • luminous beauty // June 25, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    Matt,

    Is Mother Jones published by MIT?

    I didn’t know that.

  • Rainman // June 25, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    Hank, thanks for that. I was posting in between emergencies at work. (Improper planning from others => emergency for me)

    More interesting info on energy usage and efficiency gains over the past 30 years.
    http://www.need.org/needpdf/infobook_activities/IntInfo/ConsI.pdf

  • Hank Roberts // June 25, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    > efficiency

    Good work checking, glad y’all did, I suggest anyone interested in the facts try — as I’ve already done — emailing the sources cited and asking them for a basis or correction.

    Tamino, I suggested the Wa. Post journalist comment here, hope that’s ok and they show up.

    Same numbers show up elsewhere, so I asked several different people to support what they published and explain why the published numbers are so different.

    (I suspect it’s consumer vs. total, or electricity vs. total, or some other unstated difference in the sources used)

    This is why citation matters and how corrections can happen.

  • Hank Roberts // June 25, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    PS, Tamino, I know this is way off topic by now; would an energy efficiency thread be appropriate, given the disjunction between the federal and California numbers?

    Here’s the publications page for the man quoted by the article cited above (and in many other places).
    http://www.energy.ca.gov/commission/commissioners/rosenfeld_docs/index.html
    Those with more time may want to check more, I’ll come back to it but not for a few days.

    Sorry for the digression, glad for the cite-checking action.

  • Hank Roberts // June 25, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Ah, this probably explains the confusion.
    (and this is why journalists, also, should cite sources, sigh, why should we readers have to dig for them….)

    The article’s probably talking about per capita electricity sales.
    http://www.energy.ca.gov/2007publications/CEC-999-2007-023/CEC-999-2007-023.PDF
    See slide 9 in that PDF. US and CA had both been on a steady increasing trend up til 1974. Since then over the period charted the US went from 8,000 to 12,000 kwh/person after only a slight drop during the first oil crisis; Ca. had much more of a drop during that base year, to 6,000 kwh/person, bounced back but quit trending upward thereafter.

    Electricity’s where individual choices matter the most for conservation.

    I’m sure there’s much more to dig out on this issue; new thread maybe? Sorry for the digression, again, wanted to try to nail down the confusion that was rising.

  • matt // June 25, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    So based on all this, will folks acknowledge that the efficiency route is not going to deliver anything substantive? We can all want it to, but it just won’t happen.

    Assuming massive uptake in alt energy, we still have somewhere around 50% that will need to come from someplace. Nuclear? Or head in sand???

    BTW, I’d venture the carbon tax would need to be about $10,000/ton to make swapping transformers out on every pole in the US. At today’s current carbon tax rates ($25/ton), the payback cycle is way too long because the losses per transformer are are fairly small (there’s 40M transformers in the US).

  • David B. Benson // June 26, 2008 at 12:09 am

    Hank Roberts // June 25, 2008 at 7:38 pm — There is always an Open Thread, if you are feeling guilty.

  • Nick Barnes // June 26, 2008 at 11:51 am

    On the subject of a numerate approach to sustainable energy production, I strongly recommend David Mackay’s draft book “Sustainable Energy - without the Hot Air”. He’s a Cambridge contemporary of mine, but seems to have made something of his life. :-)
    http://www.withouthotair.com/

  • luminous beauty // June 26, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    Matt,

    50% is enough to replace all the coal.

    Coal is 50% of electrical generation but more than 80% of carbon emissions.

    Nothing to sniff at.

    The problems with ramping up nuclear include massive inputs to those material bottlenecks you mention plus concrete, and very high initial investment costs ($2000-$6000/kWe).

    Can’t agree on efficiency. The potential exists. It is the will that is lacking. Your’s apparently.

    No carbon tax necessary to swap out transformers, just consistent codes. Utilities will pay the higher costs. Again, no taxes involved, except utilities earning credits by improving efficiency, when and if a cap and credit system is put in place.

  • Hank Roberts // June 26, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    Investing in electrical efficiency pays off even for large business tenants - as a DOE group demonstrated by upgrading the landlord’s transformers in their rented office building. Cite and excerpt in the ‘open thread’ since this is so far off topic. Y’all come on over.
    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2008/05/10/open-thread-2-2/#comment-19388

  • Hank Roberts // June 26, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    On topic for a change: correlating local with satellite measurements of ice thickness.

    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2008/2007JC004456.shtml
    Abstract

    Ice thickness and surface roughness measurements of first-year (FY) sea ice were collected with a fix-mounted helicopter-borne electromagnetic (HEM) -laser system in Amundsen Gulf in April to May 2004. The modal ice thickness values are in good qualitative agreement with different ice types identified in synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery and shown on ice charts produced by the Canadian Ice Service. Modal ice thickness values which generally represent level ice thicknesses were about 2.0 m over landfast ice. A large range of modal ice thicknesses was observed in the mobile ice region, with values of about 0.2 m (young ice) in leads (where there was high radar backscatter), 0.6 m (thin FY ice) in the polynya (where there was medium to high backscatter), and about 1.1–1.9 m (thick FY ice) elsewhere. High surface roughnesses are strongly associated with high radar backscatter in SAR imagery, and are observed in areas of large shear. The ratio of the standard deviations of ice draft and averaged roughness in an area of landfast ice is in good agreement with the ratio of the standard deviations of ice draft and ice-equivalent roughness expected from isostasy, with constant level ice and snow thickness. However, the standard deviation of ice-equivalent roughness may be significantly underestimated, due to differences in snow thickness between level and deformed ice, and limitations of the laser processing method. Modal ice (plus snow) thicknesses measured with the HEM system are within the range of historical values measured at Cape Parry.

    Received 19 July 2007; accepted 26 February 2008; published 14 June 2008.

  • matt // June 26, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    LB: Coal is 50% of electrical generation but more than 80% of carbon emissions.

    Please read and understand about “base load”. You can’t just add up percentages and call it “done” when they match.

    The problems with ramping up nuclear include massive inputs to those material bottlenecks you mention plus concrete, and very high initial investment costs ($2000-$6000/kWe).

    Next, figure out how many tons of steel are needed to get 40% of the our energy from wind. An 80 meter tower weighs almost 100 tons. And then take a GUESS at how much concrete is needed to hold up all those towers. Hint: It’s very, very close to the concrete needed to build all the nuclear plants we’d need if nuclear were going to solve another 40% of our problem.

    No carbon tax necessary to swap out transformers, just consistent codes.

    My point was there’s a reason the swapping isn’t occuring right now is because it doesn’t come close to paying for itself from an efficiency perspective. Why would anyone do it? They’d only do it if a huge carbon tax were in place–much larger than what we currently have. If the carbon tax gets to be more than a few hundred dollars, then there will be a landslide towards nuclear. Sweden put a $100/ton carbon tax in place in the 1991, and raised it to $150 in 1998. They are now almost all nuclear.

    Personally, I’d love to see a massive carbon tax because it’d move us to nuclear much more quickly.

    You seem to be operating in this fantasy region where you’d just make someone do something for now explainable reason other than because you said so.

  • matt // June 26, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    Nick Barnes: On the subject of a numerate approach to sustainable energy production, I strongly recommend David Mackay’s draft book “Sustainable Energy - without the Hot Air”.

    I opened a chapter at random and the man notes that the mantra “every little bit helps” is a joke when applied to global warming. Thank god. I am so sick of reading crap in the newspapers telling us to turn of the water when brushing teeth or how if we all moved to hybrids the problem would be solved.

    If AGW is true, and if we all get to consume equally, then the reductions required as so massive that in the end the hybrid driver looks almost as bad as an SUV driver. It’s kind of like a 325 pound man calling a 400 pound man fat.

    Usually I’m against just about any government involvement in issues. However, if the goverment could identify a way that technology could get us to reduce CO2 by 90% while still maintaining a similar standard of living, I’d be all for it. Personally I’m convinced it is nuclear + electric cars. Batteries (or super caps) are really the last blocking bit. I wish on 9/12 that GWB would have advertised a $50B xprize staged over several years and milestones and funded from a $0.10/gal gasoline tax for a safe energy storage device that deliverd 4X the gravimetric storage density of LiIon at 1/10 the cost in quanties sufficient to meet world demand. What a missed opportunity.

  • Hank Roberts // June 26, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    > steel, concrete
    Don’t forget to factor in how long wind, compared to fission plan, structures will remain in service, and the disposal cost after the service life. Steel and concrete lasts a long time except in neutron flux conditions where embrittlement occurs fairly rapidly, and is recyclable, except when radioactive.

    Just saying, total cost matters over time.
    Not to us, but to the next generation.

  • Hank Roberts // June 26, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    http://www.nature.com/climate/2008/0807/full/climate.2008.60.html
    Hat tip to Deltoid, http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2008/06/nigel_lawson_in_need_of_climat.php

  • Hank Roberts // June 26, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

    Excerpt follows:

    Thinner ice already showing weakness

    As mentioned, the thin ice that covers much of the Arctic Ocean is showing signs of early breakup, with large polynyas off the coast of Alaska, the Canadian Archipelago, and Baffin Bay. Coastal polynyas are not unusual, at this time of year, but the polynyas we are currently seeing appear larger and more numerous than usual. This is partly because of the thinner, weaker ice cover.

    Thorsten Markus at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center has noted the size of the North Water polynya at the northern end of Baffin Bay, which typically forms in May. The polynya is much larger than normal, possibly nearing its largest area on record.

    Inuit report that sea ice is starting to break up near Baffin Bay much earlier than normal this year. They have observed wide cracks in the ice already forming, according to NSIDC scientist Shari Gearheard, who lives and works in the Baffin Island hamlet of Clyde River.

    Polynyas are a source of heat for the atmosphere in spring; in summer, however, they are large absorbers of solar energy. Resultant warm ocean surface waters then eat away at the ice edge, accelerating melt.

  • Hank Roberts // June 27, 2008 at 12:08 am

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/06/080620-north-pole.html
    hat tip to:
    http://www.desmogblog.com/new-on-the-endangered-species-list-perennial-arctic-ice

  • Barton Paul Levenson // June 27, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Nick Barnes writes:

    On the subject of a numerate approach to sustainable energy production, I strongly recommend David Mackay’s draft book “Sustainable Energy - without the Hot Air”.

    I don’t. His conclusion that renewables can never provide all of Britain’s energy depends on his assumptions about how much renewable sources can provide, and I don’t agree with his figures. He’s assuming very low efficiency for solar and wind. The highest amount he’ll allow is 24 watts per square meter for solar. When you consider that the mean global average sunlight in the climate system is 237 watts per square meter, he’s telling us that solar energy will never be more than 10% efficient. Sorry, I don’t buy it. He also completely neglects the huge potential of hot dry rock geothermal.

  • Nick Barnes // June 27, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    10% overall efficiency for solar electricity is quite good. Is that Mackay’s figure for solar in the Sahara or here at home? I’d be very lucky indeed to average 24W per square metre from solar electric panels on my roof (south-facing, 53.4 N, 2.26 W).

    I think he is overly pessimistic about advances, in solar electric in particular. But his book is still a huge breath of fresh air compared to the usual innumerate nonsense we are fed by the media (e.g. this week about the newly-opened Glendoe hydro plant). And I think he is exactly right with his overall prescription (electrified transport, increased efficiency, and a nuke/renewables generation mixture, with radical landscape changes necessary to make up the load).

  • matt // June 27, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    BPL: His conclusion that renewables can never provide all of Britain’s energy depends on his assumptions about how much renewable sources can provide, and I don’t agree with his figures. He’s assuming very low efficiency for solar and wind.

    Your head is in the sand. What feels right in your gut doesn’t matter. You need to find an “existence proof” for what you believe, and show how it scales. Currently NREL strongly disagrees with you. Can you name a credible agency that believes renewables can get anywhere near 100% in 25 years for close (2X) to the cost of today’s energy while delivering amost the same reliability?

    You can’t. And you don’t want nuclear. Thus the stalement that ensures the status quo (oil) continues on its merry march.

    BTW, for those that believe taxes will help with consumption, some interesting data is out on gas purchases. For all the screaming and bellyaching about gas prices today in the US, consumption is down….get ready for this…a whopping 2% over last year while prices have climed 33%. This should be fascinating to watch this play out. Perhaps a doubling in price is a 10% reduction, tripling in price is a 25% reduction. Hmmm. Prices will have to be sky high before we solve the CO2 problem.

  • matt // June 27, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    Hank: Steel and concrete lasts a long time

    Absolutely fair point. The steel, copper and magnets used in a wind generator can be recycled.

    I’m simply rebutting the assertion that building enough wind farms requires a material investment that is substantially less than building a similar output of nuclear plants.

  • michel // June 28, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    The most important thing for people to get straight on is the scale of the changes needed. There is no way the UK is going to continue its present lifestyle but on renewables. No way. If you are serious about this, think bicycles, think trains, think trams, think gasoline at £5 or £10 a liter. Think canal barges for freight. Think massive rebuilding of houses to insulate them. Think an end to chemical agriculture, and many many more people working on the land, with scythes at that. And maybe horse drawn transport.

    It is not going to be a few windmills and solar panels dotted around, and hybrids on the freeways and we’ll all carry on as usual driving 5 miles to Tesco or Sainsburys every couple of days.

    McKay’s ratings have to do with how much fossil fuel generating capacity gets replaced. You really do need 10 x the solar capacity to replace a certain level of fossil provision. Replace. Not supplement. Wind is almost as bad.

  • Hank Roberts // June 28, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Matt, an investment that can be recycled, compared to an investment you will pay more to bury as radioactive waste after 30 years. It’s shortsighted to compare them only as one time transactions; compare the yield over time.

    Admittedly our mortgage bankers have the same problem with longterm planning (sigh).
    But …
    http://images.ucomics.com/comics/db/2008/db080628.gif
    … we digress. Anyone want to talk about melting ice?

  • FredT34 // June 28, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Eli Rabett wrote : “OTOH you don’t see a single windmill in France.”

    Well you should come back here… French wikipedia states that France produced 2,5 GW wind electricity in 2007, using 1718 windmills. And they’re building more and more…

    And windmills and birds : UK estimates that each year, ONE bird is killed by a windmill, 10 Millions by cars.

    Windmills encounter much serious limits 1) when there’s no wind, which leads (at least in Denmark) to burning CO2-dirty coal, 2) in quite massive cement/concrete and steel needed - very CO2-dirty industries, too.

    Anyway, we’re just bugging around with our computers on these off-topic subjects - while Arctic thaws. If you consider even our poor data about Arctic ice average *thickness* loss instead of average *extent* loss, well, Arctic summer sea ice may well disappear very, very soon…

  • Phil. // June 28, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Re Hank on improved energy efficiency.
    At my university the heating plant was up for refurbishment some of the faculty made a proposal to the trustees that instead a cogeneration facility be built. On considering the economics this won the day and has been in place for over a decade, we generate our base electricity (top up off the grid at peak) and provide all the heating and AC at a considerable savings. With the current fuel costs the decision looks better and better (it’s recently been tested using Soy derived fuels).

    http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pwb/07/0312/2a.shtml

  • Hank Roberts // June 28, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2008/2008GL033365.shtml

    “… Between 1996 and 2007, Pine Island Glacier sped up 42% and ungrounded over most of its ice plain. Smith Glacier accelerated 83% and ungrounded as well. Their largest speed up are recorded in 2007. Thwaites Glacier is not accelerating but widening with time and its eastern ice shelf doubled its speed. Total ice discharge from these glaciers increased 30% in 12 yr and the net mass loss increased 170% from 39 ± 15 Gt/yr to 105 ± 27 Gt/yr. Longer-term velocity changes suggest only a moderate loss in the 1970s. As the glaciers unground into the deeper, smoother beds inland, the mass loss from this region will grow considerably larger in years to come.”

  • Hank Roberts // June 28, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2008/2008GL033472.shtml

    Sequestration doesn’t help for very long to delay the effect of burning fossil carbon:

    “Abstract

    The long-term response of Greenland to anthropogenic warming is of critical interest for the magnitude of the sea-level rise and for climate-related concerns. To explore its evolution over several millennia we use a climate-ice sheet model forced by a range of CO2 emission scenarios, accounting for the natural removal of anthropogenic CO2 from the atmosphere. Above 3000 GtC, the melting appears irreversible, while below 2500 GtC, Greenland only experiences a partial melting followed by a re-growth phase. Delaying emissions through sequestration slows significantly the melting, but has only a limited impact on the ultimate fate of Greenland. Its behavior is therefore mostly dependent on the cumulative CO2 emissions. This study demonstrates that the fossil fuel emissions of the next century will have dramatic consequences on sea-level rise for several millennia. “

  • Hank Roberts // June 28, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    Oops. How did nitrogen trifluoride as a greenhouse gas get overlooked til now?

    This is an industrial chemical used in the semiconductor industry.
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=NF3+nitrogen+trifluoride

    And it’s an extremely powerful greenhouse gas.
    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2008/2008GL034542.shtml

    “Abstract

    Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) can be called the missing greenhouse gas: It is a synthetic chemical produced in industrial quantities; it is not included in the Kyoto basket of greenhouse gases or in national reporting under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); and there are no observations documenting its atmospheric abundance. Current publications report a long lifetime of 740 yr and a global warming potential (GWP), which in the Kyoto basket is second only to SF6. We re-examine the atmospheric chemistry of NF3 and calculate a shorter lifetime of 550 yr, but still far beyond any societal time frames. With 2008 production equivalent to 67 million metric tons of CO2, NF3 has a potential greenhouse impact larger than that of the industrialized nations’ emissions of PFCs or SF6, or even that of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants. If released, annual production would increase the lower atmospheric abundance by 0.4 ppt, and it is urgent to document NF3 emissions through atmospheric observations. “

  • Hank Roberts // June 29, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    A reminder that, once warming is started, permafrost warming drives itself by the added heat from oxidation/respiration of the living organisms:

    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2008/2008GL033639.shtml

  • Hank Roberts // July 18, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1034590/The-baby-Antarctic-penguins-frozen-death-freak-rain-storms.html

    —excerpt follows—-

    Last updated at 11:44 PM on 12th July 2008

    * commentsComments (0)
    * Add to My Stories Add to My Stories

    Tens of thousands of newly-born penguins are freezing to death as Antarctica is lashed by freak rain storms.

    Scientists believe the numbers of Adelie penguins may have fallen by as much as 80 per cent …

    In the past five years, torrential rains have become increasingly common there. We saw Adelie penguin chicks shivering during nearly six days of continuous storms.

    ‘If it had been snow, like in the old days, their down would be perfectly equipped to cope. But they can’t take rain. It’s like wearing a down jacket that gets soaking wet.

    ‘At night, the temperature would dip and the next morning we’d find them dead from hypothermia.

    ‘Other marine creatures like seals in the Antarctic are born with fur, but penguin chicks have nothing to protect them.

    ‘It is all very well talking theoretically about how the ice cap could disappear – but watching penguins walking among the skeletons of their young is the most powerful evidence of climate change I have seen.’

    … Biologist Professor P. Dee Boersma, of the University of Washington in Seattle, has published a study in the magazine BioScience in which she says that the warming climate is also threatening the Emperor penguin.

    She visited East Antarctica in December 2006 – less than two years after March Of The Penguins was shot – and says it would be unrecognisable to anyone who saw the film.

    ‘I saw no Emperor penguin chicks, no sea-ice and fewer than a dozen small icebergs.

    I was just shocked,’ she said.

    ‘It was the first time our expedition leader had seen the area free of ice since he started going there in the Eighties.

    ‘There was no way chicks could have survived. In late September, when they would have been little more than half grown, we were told a large storm had hit the area. Emperor chicks are similar to the Adelie – they are downy and not waterproof and could not survive in the cold sea for any period of time.

    Athena Dinar, a spokeswoman for the British Antarctic Survey, said that 50 years ago two days of snow were recorded for every one day of rain at the region’s Faraday meteorological station. ‘Now, in the past few years, the trend is two days of rain to every one day of snow.’

Leave a Comment