Showing posts with label CO2. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CO2. Show all posts

Monday, June 24, 2013

Four Hiroshimas Every Second

The heat contributed to the atmosphere over the past 15 years due to rising CO2 levels is equivalent to four Hiroshima atomic bombs per second. So said John Cook at the Climate Action Summit in Sydney this weekend.

That puts it in context, doesn't it?

It doesn't leave me feeling relaxed and comfortable. Not at all. Most of this added heat has gone into the oceans rather than into the atmosphere, land, glaciers, ice sheets or sea ice.

Ocean temperatures affect world weather patterns because they drive ocean currents.  It's one big planetary system, and we're pumping an extra four Hiroshimas of heat into it, every second.

There's no time for complacency, no time to be relaxed and comfortable. You're not sitting on the sidelines. You're right in the middle of this big planetary system. It's time to tell policy-makers that we want strong action to cut back from four Hiroshimas every second to zero.

Send your elected representative a letter today telling her/him that you care. If YOU don't speak up, they'll never know you care. Instead, they'll only hear the loud and persistent voices of oil, coal and gas businesses telling them that this isn't happening and people don't care anyway.


News from the Transformation tab.   

Coal India, the largest coal mining company in the world, will invest in solar power in order to reduce energy bills and to diversify. Unlike ExxonMobil, Coal India is preparing a succession plan for the post-carbon world.

Friday, July 27, 2012

How much air in the tank?

Scuba divers pay a lot of attention to the amount of air in their tank. Their lives depend on it.

In the same way, climate scientists are keeping a close eye on the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Whereas scuba divers are concerned when their air supply runs low, scientists are concerned when the amount of greenhouse gases gets too high.

Scientists have calculated how much more CO2 we can add to the atmosphere and still stay within the limit of 2C warming. They calculate that the atmosphere can hold an additional 565 GT (gigatons) of CO2.  Two degrees centigrade is the target that world nations have agreed upon as a target. Scientists say this will give a 50% chance of avoiding the worst consequences of global warming.

Two degrees is not a get out of jail card, with 2C we have 100% chance of getting all the serious consequences of global warming (increased drought, heatwave, flooding, ocean acidification, storms and floods, and rising sea level) as well as a 50% chance of copping the very worst (massive loss of arable land, loss of coastal cities, mass species extinction, runaway global warming).

565 GT is the equivalent of about 15 GT a year between now and 2050. However, the IEA reports that the world emitted twice as much last year (31.6 GT in 2011) and the trend is rising. These figures give rise to two thoughts:
  • At current emission levels, we will reach the 2C 'safety' target by 2030 and extreme weather events will have quadrupled.
  • We need to halve our emissions right now and then reduce them to zero by 2050.
When a scuba diver's tank is running low, they don't ignore it ("Faulty dial, always lies"), or negotiate with it ("Come on, tank, give me another 30 minutes and I'll give you a shiny hologram sticker to make you look pretty.") or threaten it ("Give me more air or I'll kill your wife and children. I know where you live.")

It's the same with 565 GT. We can't ignore it or try to negotiate or threaten it. Yet this is exactly what the fossil fuel industry is doing. They are sitting on current known reserves of coal, oil and gas that would pump 2,795 GT carbon dioxide into the air if burnt. And they are busily looking for more - ExxonMobile spends $100 million every day on exploration for new reserves.

With a limit of 565 GT, the remaining 80% (2,230 GT) will be left in the ground as stranded assets unless carbon capture becomes economically viable.

The new Laggard to Leader report from Beyond Zero Emissions asks Australia to take the lead in recognising that 80% of the world's fossil fuel reserves cannot be used by putting a moratorium on new coal exploration and mining. Australia currently dominates world coal with 27% of all trade so our actions can have a big impact.

When Australia stops expanding its coal industry it will be like the scuba diver who recognises his tank is getting low and starts heading back to the surface.  At that point we'll be swimming hard, hoping we make it in time to avoid catastrophe.


The Transformation tab reports examples of progress towards a low-carbon future. Here's the latest snippet. 

Saudi Arabia announced that it would install 41,000MW of solar over the next two decades (25,000 in solar thermal and 16,000 in utility-scale solar PV). The Saudis are not wasting time – there’s too  much money to be saved. The cost of the initiative is estimated at $100 billion, but it is estimated to save 523,000 barrels a day, or more than $19 billion a year at current oil export prices). This month the Saudis announced that the first of their solar auctions, totaling 2,000MW, will be held early in 2013. The second round of 2,500MW will be held in 2014. Source: Reneweconomy.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Oxygen tanks help to make sense of the world

Last week my two daughters visited their 'Little Nana' in hospital. She is 92 years old and was recovering from a broken ankle. She doesn't always remember who they are, but they wanted to see her. They have lots of happy memories of childhood meals at her old kitchen table.

After some hellos and questions, they fell to chatting with each other. They got to talking about the weather and climate and Australian politics. After a few minutes, they realised that the woman in the next bed had joined their conversation and was listening with interest.

There was a pause in the conversation and the woman commented that she wasn't sure that the climate was really changing. My older daughter, Claire, smiled and said that there was a lot of evidence that temperatures were getting hotter and America was having record heatwaves right now.

They talked a bit more, and then the woman said,

"But how do they know how much carbon dioxide is in the air? I'm not sure they can measure that."

Claire is not a scientist and she didn't know how CO2 is measured, just that a lot of smart people have figured it out.

"I'm not sure how they measure it either, but the scientists are pretty smart," said Claire.

Then her younger sister, Lizzy, spoke up, "See that oxygen cylinder? That's pure oxygen that they put in the cylinders, so they must have a way to measure and separate the oxygen from other gases. So I guess if they can do that with oxygen, they must do that, or something similar, to measure carbon dioxide.''

The woman looked thoughtful and sounded a bit forlorn, "Maybe it really is getting hotter."

Back home, my daughters talked about their visit to their 'Little Nana' and they were pleased to recount their conversation with the woman in the next bed. They were particularly pleased by the serendiptity of the oxygen tank that allowed them to explain that scientists must know how to measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Truth be told, most of us don't have a clue about the amazing things scientists have worked out. We don't understand the fine detail of most medical treatment, but we're happy to benefit from it.


Kudos to Nathan Clark for the oxygen tank idea.

Those of you with a more technical interest can check out how the Earth System Research Laboratory measures CO2 in the atmosphere using infrared radiation. 

The Transformation page on this blog showcases examples of progress on addressing climate change. Here's the latest.

Australia will fund a $20 million Pacific Climate Change Science Program in Pacific countries and East Timor to better understand how the climate and oceans have changed and how they may change in the future. The 15 partner countries are the Cook Islands, East Timor, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Source: Australian Government.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Eureka! It's a bathtub budget!

When Archimedes noticed the water level in his bathtub go up, he had an "ah-ha" moment. The bathtub holds a limited amount of stuff whether it is water or humans. When you go over the limit, the bathtub overflows. His insight was to recognise that it doesn't matter whether it is water or a grubby human body, when you put too much in, the water spills over the edge.

Similarly, the atmosphere can hold a limited amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) before climate systems go crazy. It doesn't matter who puts them there, when there's too much we get climate catastrophe — droughts, ocean acidification, rising sea levels, storms and floods.

To stop the water spilling onto the bathroom floor, you have to turn the tap off. Even a small drip will cause the bathtub to overflow eventually. It's the same with the atmosphere, we will have to stop GHG emissions altogether or the climate system will go crazy. Carbon sinks don't work like a bath drain because they developed over millennia to balance the amount of natural CO2 emissions and they can't cope with the extra emissions humans have been putting out from fossil fuels. They can't drain it out as fast as we're putting it in, so the water level has been inching higher every year.

How soon do we need to turn off the tap and reduce our GHG emissions to zero? That depends on how close the bathtub is to overflowing. Is it half-full, or lapping the rim?

The best scientific advice is that the size of the GHG tub is about 350 ppm of CO2-e gases. This is a lot higher than the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm when the GHG bathtub was nicely balanced.  For thousands of years GHGs dripped into the tub and the leaky plug (carbon sinks that absorbed carbon dioxide) let them out  at the same rate. 350 ppm is higher and it will have some climate impacts, but they are likely to be manageable.

Right now, measurements of 400 ppm CO2 are starting to come in. This means that the tub is already overflowing. We have no time to waste to move to zero emissions as quickly as possible.  If we don't, we are driving headlong into catastrophe which guarantees that we'll have a big clean up job to do.

All our policies should be directed towards this bathtub budget. But how do we calculate our share of the bathtub budget? For social justice to prevail the only fair measure is to allocate a carbon budget for each per person on the planet. Based on 7 billion people, this works out to be about 5 tonnes of CO2-e per year (c.f. Serbia or Argentina). When world population has grown to the projected 9 billion, then our per-person budget will be 3.9 tonnes of CO2-e per year (think of Jordan or Turkey).

This means that Australia has to move quick-smart from something like 28 tonnes per person (the highest among OECD countries) down to 5 tonnes per person, and then be prepared to shave off a bit more.

Targets like "5% lower in 10 years time" aren't going to stop the bathtub from overflowing any time soon.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose!

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose! That's the rallying call for the Dillon Panthers.

Last night we watched the much awarded Friday Night Lights on DVD. We're up to Season 3.

Landry dumped his cute little blonde girlfriend to take up with Tyra again. On again, off again, what will happen next?

And Smash got dumped from TMU, just a couple of episodes after all the drama about whether he would get attractive offers and whether he'd make wise choices. On again, off again, where will he end up now?

We don't know, we just follow along from episode to episode. But somebody does know. Somebody has a pretty fair idea about the overall story arc.

The writer, producer and actors have a general idea about the long narrative arc for the series and for its characters. Actor Jon Hamm knows that Mad Men is intended to run for another three seasons and knows how it will end. Of course, he's not saying.

In life, we go along day by day, episode by episode, writing the script as we go along.

Weather happens day by day too, and we get the impression that we can't know what lies ahead, other than assuming more of the same.

But that's not quite true. Climate scientists who study the long term patterns (the larger story arc) have a pretty fair idea of what is coming in the longer term. They can read the signs.

They are saying things like,
Oceans are now 30% more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution. The last time the oceans were as acidic as this was 65 million years ago. The acidity caused mass extinctions at the bottom of the food chain and the dinosaurs died out.  
The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland.

Given their insider knowledge, and the future they are staring at, it is little wonder that climate scientists are taking a more active role in communicating the facts to policy makers and the general public.

We need our policy makers to have clear eyes – they need to look unflinchingly at the best scientific evidence. 

They need to have full hearts – passion and commitment.

Then, indeed, we can't lose

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose! Go Panthers!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair

Picture us in our separate towers, or bubbles, or bunkers, facing off against those with different views. The longer we stay in our tower, the more isolated we become and the less we are able to communicate with people outside our tower.

Unfortunately, we're not likely to get broad support for the rapid decarbonisation of the economy if we stay in our towers throwing missiles at those with other views. 
When climate scientists come out of their towers and communicate widely, or invite contrarians into their domain, Leo Hickman calls them Rapunzel scientists. He notes that Professor Richard Betts, a climate scientist who is head of the climate impacts research team at the Met Office Hadley Centre, has reached out to communicate with contrarians.

The climate debate has been so acrimonious at times that I'm sure Richard Betts feels like Kofi Annan in a meeting with Syria's Assad. Kofi Annan knows that if diplomacy is to be effective, Rapunzel has to reach out to the witch and be nice to her.

Of course, something is required from the witch as well. If she waltzes in and trashes the place, it's not very constructive. The trouble is – being unconstructive is an effective strategy for some vested interests. 

Industries with big investments in fossil fuels don't want economies to decarbonise. They prefer that society is divided into separate camps that are busy arguing, persuading, negotiating.

In the same way, it seems to suit Assad to host yet another visit from Kofi Annan, to prolong negotiations, agree to a cease fire, and then to carry on killing his citizens. Why does Kofi Annan keep doing it? Because until someone intervenes with firepower, diplomacy is the only game in town.

With climate change, the different towers will continue to play out their game until the evidence before our eyes causes contrarian towers to crumble. A good section of the Heartland Institute tower crumbled away this month. No Rapunzels were involved, just a stealth attack and a Unabomber own goal.


One of the most compelling pieces of evidence of damage caused by CO2 emissions is the acidification of the ocean.   

A recent report from EPOCA (European Project on Ocean Acidification) observes that ocean acidification is as high as it has been in 800,000 years. This is because the oceans have absorbed 30% of the CO2 humans have pumped into the atmosphere over the past 150 years.

In absorbing those emissions, the oceans have buffered humanity from the worst effects of a warming planet. This protection has come at a price as oceans become increasingly hostile for many of the little creatures at the bottom of the marine food web. In more acidic oceans critters relying on calcium carbonate for a home  – from corals to mollusks to the sea snail – have a harder time manufacturing their shells.

If snails, corals and mollusks collapse, entire ecosystems threaten to literally crumble away. Coral reefs support about 25% of all marine life, while sea snails account for more than 45% of the diet of fish like pink salmon.

Here's a 6-minute video that shows how all marine life depends on the pH value of oceans. Who'd have thought that oysters are not just for eating?