Sunday, May 17, 2015

Peeing in the punch bowl?

Everybody's funny
Now you funny too
     - George Thoroughgood    (House Rent Blues)
This is not my beautiful automobile
     -Talking Heads

     Well, I planted tomatoes today.  (Thanks to Mark H, for the starts)!    A lot earlier than last year,, but I guess we'll just have to get used to that...           
 Here's a part of a recent Op ed from Dr Oliver Geden (a German policy wonk) in  Nature
"Climate science advisers should use the time before Paris to reassess their role. Do they want to inform policy-makers or support the political process? The climate policy mantra — that time is running out for 2 °C but we can still make it if we act now — is a scientific nonsense. Advisers who shy away from saying so squander their scientific reputations and public trust in climate research"
      The use of the term "scientific" may be a slight exaggeration -  unless you include the "science" of psychology .(  For a fascinating tour through this particular psychological maze , check out this interview  with Per Stoknes   author of "What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming".)
          As  Dave Roberts at Vox  explains, it really means that its a alot tougher than it sounds
"Now policymakers are being told that emissions can peak in 2030 and still keep temperature rise under 2°C. To get that result in a modeling scenario, emissions have to fall 6 percent a year, even with large amounts of BECCS thrown in. To find that plausible, one has to imagine all of human society turning on a dime, beginning in 2030, deploying massive amounts of nuclear, bioenergy, wind, and solar, and doing so every year for decades.
"The climate community has been slow to concede defeat. Back in 2007, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report noting that the world could stay below 2°C — but only if we started cutting emissions immediately. The years passed, countries did little, and emissions kept rising. So, just this month, the IPCC put out a new report saying, OK, not great, but we can still stay under 2°C. We just need to act more drastically and figure out some way to pull carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere. (Never mind that we still don’t have the technology to do the latter

       After all, many things are "possible", but not likely, given what we have seen of  "human nature", at least so far..   Dave Roberts again.
"It's "possible," yes, but at a certain point that term loses much meaning. Something that would require human beings to quickly and fundamentally change their collective behavior may not violate the laws of physics, but it is unlikely, given what we know about human beings, path dependence, and political dysfunction. This is what I once called the "brutal logic of climate change."
          The result?   Two degrees will remain the goal - but maybe a long term goal, after we take a quick trip to 3 or maybe 4.   Meanwhile Hanson says its crazy to think 2 degrees is a safe level.   And Michael Mann says we'll hit 2 by 2036
Hope Break:
Here's a group that is serious, and willing to call a spade a spade.  Climate Mobilization  
"Our mission is to initiate a WWII-scale mobilization that protects civilization and the natural world from climate catastrophe. Climate truth is central to this mission. We believe that the climate movement’s greatest and most underutilized strategic asset is the truth: That we are now in a planet-wide climate crisis that threatens civilization and requires an immediate, all-out emergency response."
    See their well researched and  interesting manifesto here  (PDF 50 pages)
          One of the psychological barriers singled out by Per Stoknes , he calls "Identity".  You might call it "cultural inertia".  We have a difficult time accepting any idea that would would mean a change in our beliefs or behavior.from here
           "We filter news through our professional and cultural identity. We look for information that confirms our existing values and notions, and filter away what challenges them. If people who hold conservative values, for instance, hear from a liberal that the climate is changing, they are less likely to believe the message. Cultural identity overrides the facts. If new information requires us to change our selves, then the information is likely to lose. We experience resistance to calls for change in self-identity."       
         To me, this helps explain the limits we place on what is an acceptable way out.   Our high energy lifestyle, although really only 50 or 60 years old, has  become part of our identity.   Therefore, the only solutions that are acceptable must continue that way of life.  All else is "beyond the pale".  So we are continually hear about "efficiency (or carbon intensity), and renewables (or nuclear power).     And so we are told that through some combination we can save our lifestyle, and our biosystem.
      As for efficiency, this has been discussed here before and I won't burden you with it, now.  Here is an interesting non-traditional perspective - from a physicist, (who argues that efficiency doesn't "save" energy, but , in fact, causes it to be consumed faster !) - Rebound, Backfire and Jevons Paradox  
      As for low carbon energy production techniques, I find these very tempting.  Those of us with a little extra cash are tempted to  put up some solar panels, with a cool Tesla battery for nighttime.   We can be part of the solution, right?    And if its good for one person, it must be a good idea to have a fast massive build out.   What could be simpler?
     In an interesting series of articles in Low Tech Magazine, researchers put together some important data on the "simple" approach.  here and here.    The answers are somewhat counter intuitive.  First and individual in Oregon who installs a Chinese made panel, and battery system, will provide some benefit - but "rather small".  However, a "massive build out" if done too fats, will create a large "carbon burp" .  , or carbon debt.  As the build out will take decades, by the time the  carbon debt is "paid off"   and the benefits accrue to the biosphere, we will be well past 2 degrees.  (see below).  
        We seem to find ourselves in the "monkey trap", wanting to hold on to that high energy lifestyle, but by holding on , we make Climate chaos worse.     If we are really serious about avoiding 2 degrees, we should get the message out that we will need to get by with less.   But, saying that is about as popular as peeing in the punch bowl.
from here
"In conclusion, lithium-ion battery storage makes off-grid solar PV less carbon-intensive than conventional grid electricity in most western countries, even if the manufacturing of solar panels in China is taken into account. However, the advantage is rather small, which effects the speed at which solar PV systems can be deployed in a sustainable way. In the previous article, we have seen that the energy and CO2 savings made by the cumulative installed capacity of solar PV systems are cancelled out to some extent by the energy use and CO2 emissions from the production of new installed capacity. For the deployment of solar systems to grow while remaining net greenhouse gas mitigators, they must grow at a rate slower than the inverse of their CO2 payback time. [20, 21, 22]
For solar panels manufactured in China and installed in countries like Germany, the maximum sustainable growth rate is only 16-23% (depending on solar insolation), roughly 3 times lower than the actual annual growth of the industry between 2008 and 2014. If we also take lithium-ion battery storage into account, the maximum sustainable growth rate comes down to 4-14%. In other words, including energy storage further limits the maximum sustainable growth rate of the solar PV industry.
On the other hand, if we would produce solar panels in countries with very clean electricity grids (France, Canada, etc.) and install them in countries with carbon-intensive grids and high solar insolation (China, Australia, etc.), even off-grid systems with lithium-ion batteries would have GHG emissions of only 26-29 gCO2/kWh, which would allow solar PV to grow sustainably by almost 60% per year. This result is remarkable and shows the importance of location if we want solar PV to be a solution instead of a problem. Of course, whether or not there's enough lithium available to deploy battery storage on a large scale, is another question.

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