Monday, February 5, 2018

Climate Hawks


Did you ever have to make up your mind?

-Loving Spoonful

Forty thousand head men 
couldn't make me change my mind.

-Traffic

Greetings

I'm going to start off with public service announcement

The Clean Energy Jobs Bill is back before the legislature.

The bill will lower Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions by adopting a cap, trade, and invest plan — we will cap greenhouse gas emissions from major sources, trade emission permits to allow maximum market efficiency in reducing carbon pollution, and invest proceeds to help Oregon transition to a greener, cleaner future.  You can learn about the bill and join the fight to protect our future in two ways:
For those who want to learn more about the CEJ Billbefore Lobby Day:

On Monday, Feb 5 at 3 PM the Joint Environmental and Energy and Natural Resources Committees will roll out the CEJ Billwith an Informational Meeting in Room F at the Capitol.

and on WedFeb 7 at 3 PM the same Joint Committee will hold a Public Hearing regarding the bill in Room F.

and you can join your friends from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and Renew Oregon at the Clean Energy Jobs LOBBY DAY at the State Capitol on Monday, Feb. 12.  

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It may be a good idea to put this bill in perspective.  What can we hope to achieve?   What would we have to give up to get there?  Dave Roberts, a clear eyed "climate hawk"  displays what he sees as the best case scenario, as part of an article chiding environmentalists for getting in the way of implementing climate policy. see    Reckoning with Climate Change will demand ugly trade offs from environmentalists and everyone else  .  He says we can't meet our 2 degree target using solar and wind alone.   We also will need nuclear power, more dams, and loads of transmission lines running across sensitive habitats.

Mostly its because we waited so long, so we missed the gradual ramp down see e.g.


Implications for limiting warming to 2C




Here's what Roberts says it would take.   

It would mean an immediate, sustained global mobilization of a sort that has no precedent in human history.
If something like that mobilization were to happen, it would not be gentle or pretty. It would not unfold according to the best-laid plans of wonks. Some people, landscapes, and legitimately worthwhile priorities would suffer in the short- to mid-term.
One example: environmentalists often cite studies showing that high penetrations of renewables are possible in the US. But those studies all show that achieving high penetrations requires a country-spanning network of new transmission lines. If there’s a study showing how to fully decarbonize without tons of new transmission, I haven’t seen it. So yes, transmission lines connecting zero-carbon power sources and loads might disrupt some people and ecosystems, but systematically opposing them simply isn’t commensurate with being a climate hawk.
Another example: full decarbonization would require, among other things, an enormous industrial shift. Tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of jobs in polluting industries would be wiped out and workers displaced. There would be new jobs in clean energy, but the US has not typically handled such workforce transitions well. Being a climate hawk means accepting serious social and economic disruption.
Decarbonization will also involve a mind-boggling amount of manufacturing, building, and retrofitting. Multiple solar and wind gigafactories would be built every year. Renewables would cover every open surface. Every city would be as dense and transit-served as possible. Being a climate hawk means accepting that some natural areas will be turned over to energy production and that “the character of the neighborhood” is going to be disrupted by infill and multi-modal transportation systems.
Conservative climate hawks may have to tolerate climate solutions that involve heavy government intervention. Farmer climate hawks may have to tolerate swaths of their land being claimed for transmission lines or wind turbines. Wealthy climate hawks may have to tolerate restrictions on their consumer purchases or airline travel. Environmentalist climate hawks may have to tolerate large-scale carbon sequestration or new rivers given over to dams. And so on.
This is the future Roberts suggests that we need.   I am reminded of the "Chinese miracle".  New factories, new industries.  Forward !
So, lets put this activity in context.  How are we doing with respect to overshoot?    It just so happens that 15,000 scientists in 184 countries recently issued  a report :World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice"  which noted the a number of deteriorating trends
Among the negative 25-year global trends noted in the article are:
    • A 26 percent reduction in the amount of fresh water available per capita
    • A drop in the harvest of wild-caught fish, despite an increase in fishing effort
    • A 75 percent increase in the number of ocean dead zones
    • A loss of nearly 300 million acres of forestland, much of it converted for agricultural uses
    • Continuing significant increases in global carbon emissions and average temperatures
    • A 35 percent rise in human population
    • A collective 29 percent reduction in the numbers of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish
So, Robert's prescription would make some of those things worse.   But perhaps the additional impacts would be offset by the reduced impacts of climate change on the biosphere?
Well......no.     It turns out that climate change has had very little impact on species extinction.   This great extinction is bring caused by the ordinary things that humans do.   A recent article in Nature points out that main cause of species extinction is over consumption -  logging, fishing, agriculture, urban expansion, and pollution are the real culprits.     In fact climate change ranks very low.  see here

But even though climate change is going to have a very powerful impact on plants and wildlife world-wide, climate change has also become a sort of scape-goat, with a “growing tendency for media reports about threats to biodiversity to focus on climate change,” write the authors of a new study analyzing the impact each sector of our society has on life on Earth. According to their findings, the real culprits are staple human activities such as logging, hunting, or farming, which pose a far greater — and much more immediate — danger to Earth’s biodiversity.
“[Agriculture and rampant resource over-exploitation are] by far the biggest drivers of biodiversity decline,” the authors write in a comment published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
A team of scientists led by University of Queensland doctoral student Sean Maxwell analyzed thousands of species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species to determine exactly what we’re doing to put them on that list.
They found that over-exploitation, including logging, hunting, fishing and the gathering of plants is the biggest single killer of biodiversity, directly impacting 72 percent of the 8,688 species listed as threatened or near-threatened by the IUCN. Agricultural activity comes second, affecting 62 percent of those species, followed by urban development and pollution which threaten 35 and 22 percent respectively. Species such as the African cheetah and Asia’s hairy-noes otter are among the 5,407 species that find themselves threatened by agricultural practices, while illegal hunting impacts several populations such as the Sumatran rhino and African elephant.
Climate change on the other hand comes in on a surprising, if somewhat unimpressive, 7th place in the 11 threats identified by the team. Even when you combine all its effects, it currently threatens just 19 percent of the species on the list, the team reports. 


So add to that Robert's prescription of  a " ..... mind-boggling amount of manufacturing, building, and retrofitting. Multiple solar and wind gigafactories would be built every year. Renewables would cover every open surface"  

Of course, the alternative of doing nothing is much worse.   A recent article by David Spratt, author of Climate Code Red, puts the possible futures in perspective

 
Not going to zero emissions would be worse in the short term: other recent work shows warming would be 2.2-2.4°C by 2050 if we continue on the current high-emissions path.  And it would be disastrously worse not to go to zero emission very fast, due to the longer-term impacts: continuing on the current high-emissions trajectory would bring warming of 4.1–5°C by 2100.

Nevertheless,  Spratt, points out that even if we went to zero emissions tomorrow, we would be unlikely to avoid two degrees,
Thus, without solar radiation management (replacing anthropogenic aerosols from fossil fuel use with anthropogenic aerosols spread from planes or fired into the atmosphere) it will be difficult to avoid 2°C no matter what CO2 emissions path we take, and all but impossible not to overshoot 1.5°C by at least a third. It is not yet clear that there is demonstrable clear net environmental benefit from solar radiation management, and we should only do it if that is the case. But in not doing it, we need to be honest about what will be lost and what further tipping points may be crossed.

(Speaking of tipping points,  I suppose its worth pointing out here that a recent study suggests that 1.5 is likely to be the trigger to the beginning of the permafrost melt..  


      Roberts makes a good argument, but it contains a hidden premise.  It may be true that all of the things he mentions, nuclear plants, more dams, transmission lines crisscrossing the country will be needed, if we are to stop CO2 emissions,  and we are to continue to live a high consumption, high energy lifestyle.     But maybe its that lifestyle itself that is the problem.  Not just. for the climate.

 We want a functioning ecosystem.  We want to keep temperatures down.  And we want to continue our high consumption high energy lifestyle.  

We want all three.

But ,  perhaps Roberts is right.   We can't have all three.   

So, how about that lifestyle?

But how much energy do we really need?   Here is an interesting exploration of energy poverty and energy decadence

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Monday, January 15, 2018

After the horse has left the barn



I went to the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to get out of the rain

-  America

Well be riding Wildfire
  -Micheal Murphy



Greetings. And Happy New Year

     

      Personally, I'm not too sad to see 2017 go. 2017 was when we hit the carbon threshold of 400 ppm 400

Last year marked the first time in several million years that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 passed 400 parts per million. By looking at what Earth’s climate was like in previous eras of high CO2 levels, scientists are getting a sobering picture of where we are headed.
Last year will go down in history as the year when the planet’s atmosphere broke a startling record: 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. The last time the planet’s air was so rich in CO2 was millions of years ago, back before early predecessors to humans were likely wielding stone tools; the world was a few degrees hotter back then, and melted ice put sea levels tens of meters higher.
“We’re in a new era,” says Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s CO2 Program in San Diego. “And it’s going fast. We’re going to touch up against 410 pretty soon.”
There’s nothing particularly magic about the number 400. But for environmental scientists and advocates grappling with the invisible, intangible threat of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, this symbolic target has served as a clear red line into a danger zone of climate change.
(For an interesting discussion of some of the scientific papers from 2017 see "What we Lerned about the Climate System in 2017 That should send shivers down the spines of policy makers.")
And a few other disturbing things happened in 2017.  Are they canaries in a coal mine?    Some ecosystems are, or have, moved into new states.  Permanently. 

For instance, coral reefs     (I don't like it much when people start talking about " last rites for an ecosystem ")


A study published Thursday in Science by some of the world’s top coral experts amounts to last rites for the ecosystems often referred to as “the tropical rainforests of the sea.” Scientists surveyed 100 reefs around the world and found that extreme bleaching events that once occurred every 25-30 years now happen about every five or six years.
“These impacts are stacking up at a pace and at a severity that I had never anticipated, even as an expert,” says Kim Cobb, a climate scientist and coral researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “It’s really the rapidity of it that is so sobering and shocking — and for me personally, life-altering.”
“Before the 1980s, mass bleaching of corals was unheard of,” Terry Hughes, a coral scientist at Australia’s James Cook University and lead author of the new study, said in a statement.
The new study finds that 94 percent of surveyed coral reefs have experienced a severe bleaching event since the 1980s. Only six sites surveyed were unaffected. They are scattered around the world, meaning no ocean basin on Earth has been entirely spared.

Interview with one of the authors here


The region is now definitively trending toward an ice-free state, the scientists said, with wide-ranging ramifications for ecosystems, national security, and the stability of the global climate system. It was a fitting venue for an eye-opening reminder that, on its current path, civilization is engaged in an existential gamble with the planet’s life-support system.
In an accompanying annual report on the Arctic’s health — titled “the Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades” — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees all official U.S. research in the region, coined a term: “New Arctic.

This, of course, has devastating effects on the humans and other animals who relied on the " old arctic".    
The loss of sea ice is already having profound changes all the way down at the base of the Arctic food web. As more sunlight hits darkly-colored open water, more heat energy is retained, and temperatures are rising further. That’s kicking off what Mathis, of NOAA’s Arctic Program characterizes as “an almost runaway effect,” involving a lengthening of the growing season, a greening of the tundra, a surge in wildfires, and a boom in plankton growth. All that adds up to a wide-ranging disruption to patterns that Arctic natives have relied on for millennia.

But it also has other knock effects, like melting permafrost 

In the NOAA report, Arctic scientists lay out their best ideas of what this shift could mean for the world. Their depictions are sobering.
Take, for instance, the hypothesis of University of Alaska-Fairbanks permafrost scientist Vladimir Romanovsky: So far, 2017 has seen the highest permafrost temperatures in Alaska on record. If that warming continues at the current rate, widespread thawing could begin in as few as 10 years. The impact of such defrosting “will be very very severe,” Romanovsky says, and could include the destruction of local infrastructure — like roads and buildings — throughout the Northern Hemisphere and the release of additional greenhouse gases that have been locked for generations in the ice.

Roughly a quarter of the planet is slowly turning into a perpetual desert.

study published Monday inpre-industrialNature Climate Change contains a stark warning for humankind: If global temperatures rise 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels by 2050, between 20 and 30 percent of the world’s land surface could face desertlike conditions.
Swaths of Asia, Europe, Africa, Central America, and southern Australia would be hit particularly hard by drought and aridification, the long-term reduction of moisture in soil. More than 1.5 billion people currently live in these regions
Things would go much better, the researchers find, if we managed to stay within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. Manoj Joshi, one of the study authors from the University of East Anglia, said in a statement: “Our research predicts that aridification would emerge over about 20-30 percent of the world’s land surface by the time the global mean temperature change reaches 2 degrees Celsius.

 But two thirds of the affected regions could avoid significant aridification if warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
Kind of spooky -   read that last sentence again .   One third of the desertification happens before we hot 1.5  (2040?). 

“Loss of oxygen in many ways is the destruction of an ecosystem,” Breitburg says. “If we were creating vast areas on land that were uninhabitable by most animals, we’d notice. But we don’t always see things like this when they are happening in the water… These low-oxygen zones occur naturally, but have grown by more than 4.5 million square kilometers — an area roughly as large as the entire European Union—just since the mid-20th century. In part that’s because of rising temperatures.
  So, welcome to a new era
So, what are we doing about it ?  We have two responses   One is widely advertised. Another is a bit more hidden
The one that's obvious is called "decoupling ".    It is hoped that that by installing renewables, and making machinery more efficient, fossil fueled plants will become unnecessary.   The economy would grow, and fossil fuel use would shrink.      So far that hasn't really paid off. 
"... it is just not happening, at least at the global scale. Just take a look at this image:

Note how closely related the GDP an the world's energy consumption are. It is impressive because the GDP is measured in terms of money flows.

 For an interesting review of how little has been accomplished through efficiency efforts see here   (hat tip Sarah D).  This study shows how little fossil fuel has been displaced by renewable power to date . (2012)   But  still one hopes.   We need a substantial change.  Here is an illustration of what it would take.  From here

"...true "decoupling" would mean inverting the trend, as shown below (again from Le Petit's paper), where we see what we expect from the IEA scenarios



As you see, true decoupling is quite a challenge. 



Everyone seems to admit that "decoupling" will not get us to  1.5 or 2 degrees above pre industrial  So, the backstop is "Negative Emissions Technologies" , which essentially means sucking the carbon out of the air.  As more fully explained in this November 2017 video, by Kevin Anderson.  Anderson points out that not only  is our reliance on this technology hidden in the fine print,   technology not yet exist,  the policy makers are 

It also assumes that we can run things in reverse.  That we can put CO2 in the atmosphere now, and take it out later, and everything will go back to where it was.  This is apparently not the case for the ocean

"The researchers based their simulation on real-world carbon dioxide emissions from 1800 to 2005, and then projected those emissions into the year 2250. Then they simulated what would happen if technology could remove 18 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year—about half of present-day emission rates—from 2250 until 2700. The researchers found this did decrease atmospheric CO2 levels but could not restore the ocean’s preindustrial dissolved oxygen content or temperature. Even after 450 years of geoengineering, the model ocean was still almost as acidic as it would have been without any intervention at all.



 “It is clear that rather than trying to clean up a mess, it would be wiser to simply not create the mess in the first place.”



What can we expect in 2018?  Here's a hint.     Sacrifice areas.   
The IPCC is due to release a report on the likelihood and effects of achieving 1.5 degrees.  Reuters has obtained a draft .  It confirms that there is a   low probability of success: “There is very high risk that […] global warming will exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels [should emissions continue at the current pace].”The draft also states that meeting the climate goal would require an “unprecedented” leap from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy and extensive reforms everywhere from industry to agriculture."    

"Additionally, while curbing global temperatures would help reduce some of the worst impacts of climate change, including sea level rise and droughts, it would not be enough to protect the planet’s most fragile ecosystems, including polar ice caps and coral reefs.
One wonders what else will be sacrificed on the alter of the growth of the industrial economy.  The Amazon?  Low lying areas in South east Asa? 


And as for the Negative Emissions Technology ?

"Gabriel Marty, a climate change analyst and former U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) delegate for France, told Futurism that it’s too soon to speculate on the content of the final report.However, once it is released, he said readers should note the treatment of the uncertainties and risks of the so-called “bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)” technologies designed to suck carbon emissions out of the atmosphere.  The risks associated [with heavily relying on these technologies] must be clearly outlined,” said Marty. “They do not exist yet, the scale that would be needed would be enormous, and the adverse impacts on land and water resources would likely be huge.”According to sources familiar with the IPCC’s proceedings, the panel has been criticized in the past for being too coy about the limitations of BECCS and for understating their risks in order to present the 2 degrees Celsius target as “still viable.”

So it goes...

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Blowing Smoke


Ooops out of time
So tonight I'm going to
Party like it's 1999
    -Prince

What a nice surprise
Bring your alibis
   -The Eagles 

Greetings


     I just saw a book review of a book I'd like to read , it's called Bunk, The Rise of Humbug, Plagerists, Phonies, post Facts, and Fake News.  Review here.. Its kind of a history of hocum, and an inquiry into the human mind which continues to let itself be fooled.


    Of course the energy area is littered with hocum .  Best of all was, "too cheap to meter " .   How about "cold fusion" ?, or " abiotic oil" .   Mostly hog wash.    Ethanol from Algea?  From corn?  Balerrdash.   How about the hydrogen highway?    And of course,  natural gas, the "bridge fuel " (probably worse than coal) .   

     So,  I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised to see this article which explores  the reality behind  the "imaginary technology" of BECCS.  By putting our faith in this specter,  policy makers can embrace carbon budget busting programs with a straight face.  As one Obama era expect says,

    
 "The most important of the IPCC’s projections is that we’re screwed unless we can figure out how to take CO2 out of the atmosphere, because we haven’t acted fast enough,”



           Next up -"  green consumption",  or "Why cotton shopping bags may do more harm than good" .   All of us wealthy (and it's mostly the wealthy), concerned citizens, that  engage in earth friendly purchasing , which, although it makes us feel better, is  basically a waste of time.  So says Dave Roberts anyway, and he has a few studies to back him up.
      

Ecological footprint is mostly determined by wealth

The study was published in the June 2017 edition of the journal Environment and Behaviorwith a title that gives you some idea of what to expect: “Good Intents, but Low Impacts.”
Basically, research shows that the cynical view is roughly correct: Environmental identity will lead to some relatively low-impact (high-signaling) pro-environmental behaviors, but it rarely drives serious reductions in the biggest sources of lifestyle emissions. Environmental self-identification rises with income, but so do emissions.
(A 2012 study and a 2013 study, both based on a survey in Hungary, found roughly the same thing.)

The bottom line is pretty straight forward.  To really deal with our overshoot would require real lifestyle change.


"Consider what the average upper-middle-class American would actually have to do to make a substantial dent in her carbon footprint. Above all, she would have to drastically cut back on travel — virtually never fly and heavily favor walking and biking. She would have to give up meat and live in a small apartment in a dense, transit-served urban area. (On the issue of what it would truly mean to consume only the “fair” per-capita amount of energy, watch this hour-long talk by Saul Griffith. It will change your life


          But, we keep on falling for this stuff.    Why?  We want to beleive.  Can we rid ourselves of these psychological tendencies ?   Surely once we recognize our biases and limitations .   Perhaps.  But perhaps not.  See here


".... in his recent book Don’t Even Think About It, climate change activist George Marshall interviews the Nobel prizewinning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the leading scholar of cognitive biases, and tries to nudge him into saying that understanding our brains’ limitations will, at the very least, make it easier to overcome them. “I’m not very optimistic about that,” Kahneman replies, despondently sipping tomato soup. “No amount of psychological awareness will overcome people’s reluctance to lower their standard of living. So that’s my bottom line: there is not much hope. I’m thoroughly pessimistic. I’m sorry.” 
Green consumerism, material decoupling, sustainable growth: all are illusions, designed to justify an economic model that is driving us to catastrophe. The current system, based on private luxury and public squalor, will immiserate us all: under this model, luxury and deprivation are one beast with two heads.
There is some good news though.  In California they have implimented a cap and trade law.    See here.  Which just got an update see here     The next session of the Oregon legislature is set to take it up.  .
Here's a summary. from here
Oregon’s proposed program would cover approximately 100 businesses and have an emissions cap of 50 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. By linking with California, Ontario, and Quebec, Oregon would have access to a market with several hundred more compliance entities and an emissions cap ten times as large. Therefore, Oregon companies participating in a linked market would have significant flexibility in finding the lowest cost options to reduce their emissions. In addition to reducing compliance costs, linking a new Oregon market to one that has been in existence for several years will also reduce any volatility that Oregon businesses might experience. The twin benefits of least-cost compliance and minimal market volatility are clear benefits for Oregon in linking to a large market.
        Unlike some of the other ideas, mentioned above, this seems to be an idea that might actually make things better.  So that's good news.        Of course " better" is a pretty low bar.  At this point we are speeding towards a cliff at 80 miles an hour.  We need to put our foot on the brake.  But we are unwilling to do that.  It might affect our high energy lifestyle  

    Maybe cap and trade will lighten up on  the accelerator .  We just passed the sign that says "Last stop for 1.5 degrees".    We missed the turnoff.     Next comes the 2 degree cliff.  

      What does the future hold?  Well, of course renewable energy will be built out.  It is getting cheaper and cheaper.   The question is how fast.  Fast enough to avoid 2 degrees  ?  Probably not.  Fast enough to substitute for a depleting amount of fossil fuel?  Perhaps not .

     Ugo Bardi has dome some interesting modelling on the issue of energy transition.  See here.        He suggests that our build out is too slow.

According to these estimates, the current level of energy investments in new renewable energy is not sufficient to attain the transition within the assumed climatic and energetic constraints. <..>


In short, a transition that could maintain the “BAU” (business as usual) is technically feasible and physically possible if we were willing to increase of a factor of 5 (at the very least) our investments in it. Unfortunately, the trend is going in the opposite direction. The global investments in renewable energy seem to have levelled off and In 2016 were approximately at the same level as they were in 2010. Too little, too late.

So, basically, we are not making it. We are consciously choosing to go down the Seneca Cliffeven though we wouldn’t need to. It is maddening to think that we are failing at the challenge not because the transition is technologically unfeasible or unaffordable, but because the transition is politically inconceivable. Increasing investments in renewable energy requires sacrifices and this is a no-no in our world.

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