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Climate Hustle

Sober up: world running out of time to keep planet from over-heating

Posted on 7 November 2011 by John Hartz

The following article, written by Jeremy Hance, was originally posted on (Oct 24, 2011). It is reprinted here with permission. 

If governments are to keep the pledge they made in Copenhagen to limit global warming within the 'safe range' of two degrees Celsius, they are running out of time, according to two sobering papers from Nature. One of the studies finds that if the world is to have a 66 percent chance of staying below a rise of two degrees Celsius, greenhouse gas emissions would need to peak in less than a decade and fall quickly thereafter. The other study predicts that parts of Europe, Asia, North Africa and Canada could see a rise beyond two degrees Celsius within just twenty years.

Running out of time

How do we stay below a global rise of two degrees Celsius? According to a new study involving researchers various climate institutes, greenhouse gas emissions would need to peak during the decade and fall to 44 gigatons by 2020. Emissions this year are expected to hit 48 gigatons. Dropping 4 gigatons may appear easier than it is as experts consider many future emissions to already be 'locked in' due to fossil fuel power plants that are already running or currently under construction. In this case, some power plants would have to be abandoned altogether to keep the world under two degrees Celsius. However, even this scenario provides only a 'likely' avoidance of keeping warming below two degrees Celsius. For a much more certain effort (90 percent chance) emissions would need to peak during the decade but fall even more quickly. In addition, negative emissions, i.e. sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, would be required.

Castle Gate coal-fired power plant in Utah. Nearly half of the US's electricity is from coal, the most carbon intensive energy. Photo by: David Jolley.

Castle Gate coal-fired power plant in Utah. Nearly half of the US's electricity is from coal, the most carbon intensive energy. Photo by: David Jolley.

Given these findings international agreements and national pledges made to date will not keep the world below two degrees Celsius warming.

"There are significant risks that the [two degrees Celsius] target, endorsed by so many nations, is already slipping out of reach," write the authors.

Still, a number of poorer and climate-vulnerable nations are pushing for halting global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, a target viewed as safer for many parts of the world. The recent study found that none of the 139 models they surveyed, no matter how aggressive at cutting emissions, limited warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

"However," write the authors, "some scenarios in our set bring warming back below 1.5 Celsius by 2100: a first scenario does so with a probability of about 50 percent, and a second scenario with a 'likely' chance (better than 66 percent)."

In our lifetimes

Contrary to the perception that climate impacts are far in the future, new research and evidence shows that climate change is at our doorstep—if not already inside the house. The other study from Nature finds evidence that if greenhouse gas emissions remain high, the Earth will cross the two degree Celsius threshold by 2060. Even then many regions are set to pass the target much sooner as warming is not uniform throughout the world; in general the northern hemisphere warms quicker than the south.

"Large parts of Eurasia, North Africa and Canada could potentially experience individual five-year average temperatures that exceed the 2 degree Celsius threshold by 2030—a timescale that is not so 'distant'," the authors write.

Such a rise is expected to have impacts on agricultural production, sea levels, biodiversity, extreme weather, public health, food security, and even warfare. 

Political mire

Avoiding rising above two degrees Celsius is entirely possible: a recent study in Energy Policy found that fossil fuels could be wholly abandoned by 2050 with the world's energy needs met by electricity produced 90 percent from wind and solar sources alone. The final 10 percent could be generated by geothermal, hydro, wave, and tidal power. Ground transportation would be run by electricity or hydrogen fuel cells, and planes would be powered by liquid hydrogen.

Kentish Flats wind power in the UK. Photo by: Phil Hollman.

Kentish Flats wind power in the UK. Photo by: Phil Hollman.

However, the effort to push toward such an energy revolution has been stymied for decades by a lack of political will and finger pointing. The US, the world's historically largest emitter of climate change, blames rising powers like China and India for not doing enough as their emissions are rising the fastest. For their part, China and India blame the US and other wealthy nations for not accepting deeper cuts, since they share the brunt of historic responsibility.

Even after decades of increasingly dire warnings, the US has still not passed comprehensive federal legislation to combat global warming; Canada has abandoned past pledges in order to exploit its emissions-heavy tar sands; China continues to depend on coal for its energy production; Indonesia's effort to stem widespread deforestation is facing stiff resistance from industry; Europe is mulling pulling back on its more ambitious cuts if other nations do not join it; northern nations are scrambling to exploit the melting Arctic for untapped oil and gas reserves; and fossil fuels continue to be subsidized worldwide to the tune of $400 billion. Meanwhile global population continues to soar (set to hit seven billion at the end of this month) and greenhouse gas emissions remain on the rise. The only nation that appears to take climate change truly to heart is the small Pacific island nation of the Maldives, which has pledged to be carbon neutral—eliminating or off-setting all emissions—by 2020. The Maldives is imperiled by rising sea levels that could put parts of the islands underwater for good.

Not everything is gloom-and-doom. Australia is close to enacting its first tax on carbon emissions. California, the world's eighth-largest economy, has approved rules for its cap-and-trade program set to begin in 2013. Investment in clean energy has jumped 670 percent in less than a decade with China well out front and Germany moving aggressively to a renewable-energy society.

The next chance for the international community to come together to address climate arrives in little more than a month at the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa. However, international chatter ahead of the climate talks have expressed low expectations for any binding agreement.

EIA data on possible emission levels to 2030. Click to enlarge.

EIA data on possible emission levels to 2030. Click to enlarge.


Joeri Rogelj, William Hare, Jason Lowe, Detlef P. van Vuuren, Keywan Riahi, Ben Matthews, Tatsuya Hanaoka, Kejun Jiang and Malte Meinshausen. Emission pathways consistent with a 2 C global temperature limit. Nature Climate Change. DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE1258. 2011.

Manoj Joshi, Ed Hawkins, Rowan Sutton, Jason Lowe and David Frame. Projections of when temperature change will exceed 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. Nature Climate Change. DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE1261. 2011.

Mark Z. Jacobson, Mark A. Delucchi. Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials. Energy Policy, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2010.11.040

Mark A. Delucchi, Mark Z. Jacobson. Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part II: Reliability, system and transmission costs, and policies. Energy Policy, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2010.11.045

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Comments 51 to 100 out of 120:

  1. #50 Goalpost shift. Do you still contend that your statement in #34 that the current drought is "pretty normal", despite the Texas state climatologist stating, with evidence from the past century, that it is very clearly not normal?
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  2. skywatcher:
    It is normal for Texas to have droughts. Agree?

    Some droughts are worse than others. Is this drought extreme? Yes, it is. Is this drought extreme in the context of climate droughts? No it is not, it is part of a pattern of droughts in Texas.
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  3. #52 Your first sentence is a strawman that nobody ever disagreed with. But at least you now accept that this drought is not, in fact "pretty normal". Though you then contradict yourself with your last two statements. It is of course part of a pattern of droughts. What you neglect to mention is that it is, in fact, the most extreme single-year member of that pattern of droughts.

    So in a USA which sees record highs outpacing lows by 2:1 (and very likely to increase), and a series of damaging weather events, including, but not limited to, the Texas drought and Mississippi floods, which all just so happens to be what is predicted as the climate warms due to GHGs, some Americans seem to think that everything is OK because there have been some extreme events in the past and the 1930s were quite warm in the USA. If the impacts were limited to America, I'd be tempted to leave the nay-sayers to it and see how they like being frogs in the hot water. Sadly, the majority of Americans that want action on GHG emissions (see #37) would also cook. Alongside the fact that the impacts are global, and so we're all in the soup, we all need to move towards solutions as fast as possible. Seeing how difficult it is to get a single person to accept a small point (Camburn here, finally accepting that 2011 was extreme contrary to his earlier statement), it will be a long road.
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  4. Skywatcher:
    The drought of 2011 in Texas is not the most extreme drought. Did you read the climate history of Texas?

    Mississippi floods.
    History of Mississippi floods

    Yes, there have been extreme events in the past throughout the world. That is part of life and a chaotic climate. Will there continue to be extreme events in the future? Of course there will be.
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    [DB] Fixed bad URL.  Inflammatory snipped.  Hand-waving noted.

  5. Camburn : "We have had periods within the Holocene as warm as the projections from the models and survived quit well. In fact, one period was called the Holocene Optimum."

    As usual, things are not quite as simplistic as some would like them to be.

    From Wikipedia :

    ...increases of up to 4 °C near the North Pole.

    Northwestern Europe experienced warming, while there was cooling in the south [Central Europe was in between]

    The average temperature change appears to have declined rapidly with latitude so that essentially no change in mean temperature is reported at low and mid latitudes.

    In terms of the global average, temperatures were probably colder than present day (depending on estimates of latitude dependence and seasonality in response patterns).

    While temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere were warmer than average during the summers, the tropics and areas of the Southern Hemisphere were colder than average which comprised an average global temperature still overall lower than present day temperatures

    Northwestern North America had peak warmth first, from 11,000 to 9,000 years ago, while the Laurentide ice sheet still chilled the continent. Northeastern North America experienced peak warming 4,000 years later. Along the Arctic Coastal Plain in Alaska, there are indications of summer temperatures 2–3C warmer than present. Research indicates that the Arctic had substantially less sea ice during this period compared to present

    Current desert regions of Central Asia were extensively forested due to higher rainfall, and the warm temperate forest belts in China and Japan were extended northwards

    West African sediments additionally record the "African Humid Period", an interval between 16,000 and 6,000 years ago when Africa was much wetter due to a strengthening of the African monsoon

    While there do not appear to have been significant temperature changes at most low latitude sites, other climate changes have been reported. These include significantly wetter conditions in Africa, Australia and Japan, and desert-like conditions in the Midwestern United States. Areas around the Amazon in South America show temperature increases and drier conditions

    Bit of a mixed bag there, especially with the ice-melt and extra rain, although I suppose that would be simplistically looked at as being good for plants, etc.
    And the human population then ? About 10 million people, going by estimates I have seen. Compare that to the 7 billion around today, all within national boundaries; many on land which will be under water.
    Will we still survive "quite well" ? In a simplistic, ideal world : perhaps. In the real world : only if you exist in a state of denial.
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  6. There is a missing close quote in Camburn's post above....

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    [DB] Fixed, thanks!

  7. 54 Camburn: "drought of 2011 in Texas is not the most extreme drought"

    Not the worst in history perhaps, just the worst since 1789.

    Texas’ average PDSI this past summer (June through August) was -5.37 – the lowest, indicating the most severe drought conditions, since the start of the instrumental record in 1895. ... Going back to 1550, the tree-ring reconstructions reveal that only in 1789 was Texas’ PDSI number so low

    But you can believe that it's all just chaos if you want.
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  8. I do not understand ...

    That Hansen corresponds best to the question - is it: “ ... world running out of time to keep planet from over-heating.” - whether we use the "draconian" cutting in A. CO2 emissions in 10 years?

    I think the article about the interview with Hansen perfectly complements the work Hansen et al. 2011. (this was already cited earlier on this blog). The authors completely agree with the AGW theory, but one of their conclusions, however, is this: “THE IPCC CLIMATE MODELLING PROCESS IS UNRELIABLE ...”

    This can not be changed!

    If so ... then all time periods calculated in the above-cited works here are too short - is a simple (and only possible!) proposal - no other interpretation is possible. The authors of the work cited above (and author of the post) should take into account the conclusions of Hansen's prior to the publication of their work and fasting. The same applies to the huge doubts about the carbon cycle - should be included in the forecasts. Both works have “nothing in common” with the correct process of estimation and quantification of risk - should be withdrawn in the process of reviewing - to fundamentally rework and essential additions.

    Permafrost shows us that (under the assumptions of the theory of AGW) we have no chance to avoid "doubling of CO2," even if we have already reduced their emissions today to 90 or even 100%! (since the publication of the fourth IPCC report concluded that the amount of C in the permafrost is not about 750 and at least 1,670 Pg).

    As we can see, the vast majority of other comments here is "off topic" but certainly not mine.
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    Moderator Response:

    [John Hartz] Your use of all caps violates SkS posting policy. Please cease and desist.

  9. And since Camburn, (-Snip-) to write about drought is that my post please treat - in this case - in addition to His comments.
    Western states happened to build dams and water systems during a period that was unusually wet compared to the past 6,000 years,” he said. “Now the cycle has changed and is trending drier, which is actually normal. It will shift back to wet eventually, but probably not to the extremes seen during most of the 20th century.”, “The change in cycle regularity Abbott and his colleagues found correlates with documented activity of El Niño/La Niña. When the patterns became more intense, wet and dry cycles in the Pacific Northwest became more erratic and lasted longer, Abbott said.”
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    [DB] Moderation complaints snipped.

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can and will be rescinded if the posting individual continues to treat adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Moderating this site is a tiresome chore, particularly when commentators repeatedly submit offensive, off-topic posts or intentionally misleading comments and graphics or simply make things up. We really appreciate people's cooperation in abiding by the Comments Policy, which is largely responsible for the quality of this site.
    Finally, please understand that moderation policies are not open for discussion.  If you find yourself incapable of abiding by these common set of rules that everyone else observes, then a change of venues is in the offing.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.  Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter, as no further warnings shall be given.

  10. Arkadiusz Semczyszak @58, although you quote Hansen et al, 2011 as saying:

    "The IPCC climate modelling process is unreliable ..."

    those words appear nowhere in either the paper or the abstract. That you must resort to manufacturing quotes means you have sunk to a new low. There is no excuse for this, not even your fractured English.

    What is more, not only are you employing a fictional quote, you employ it in direct contradiction to Hansen's very considered opinion on the future trajectory of climate change. Those opinions are worth quoting rather fully:

    "Milankovic climate oscillations help define climate sensitivity and assess potential human-made climate effects. We conclude that Earth in the warmest interglacial periods was less than 1°C warmer
    than in the Holocene and that goals of limiting human-made warming to 2°C and CO2 to 450 ppm are prescriptions for disaster. Polar warmth in prior interglacials and the Pliocene does not imply that a significant cushion remains between today's climate and dangerous warming, rather that Earth today is poised to experience strong amplifying polar feedbacks in response to moderate additional warming. Deglaciation, disintegration of ice sheets, is nonlinear, spurred by amplifying feedbacks. If warming reaches a level that forces deglaciation, the rate of sea level rise will depend on the doubling time for ice sheet mass loss. Gravity satellite data, although too brief to be conclusive, are consistent with a doubling time of 10 years or less, implying the possibility of multi-meter sea level rise this century. The emerging shift to accelerating ice sheet mass loss supports our conclusion that Earth's temperature has returned to at least the Holocene maximum. Rapid reduction of fossil fuel emissions is required for humanity to succeed in preserving a planet resembling the one on which civilization developed."

    So contrary to your fictitious quote which makes Hansen into a skeptic about predictions of future events, Hansen is far from skeptical, and differs from the author of the above article only in being far more pessimistic about our future.
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  11. renewable guy @8
    Your assumption that 48 gigatons is the figure for all GHG's combined is wrong.
    2010 CO2 emissions = 10.5gtC = 38.5gtCO2. To achieve 48gtCO2 by 2020 would require a 25% increase over the decade. Over the last decade we mamanged a 29% increase.

    Some numbers I bashed off in a letter to my local paper a while ago was that we have emitted 2.4 trillion tons of CO2 in the last 150 years & emitting 1.2 trillion more would be seriously bad news, yet if we continue as we are we will achieve that extra 1.2 trillion in the next 20 to 30 years.
    There have been no skeptical letters in that paper since so perhaps its an effective message.
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  12. Developed countries and developing countries require access to power. China and India are showing dramatic increases in their GHG emissions. Other nations are rising, too. The US actually decreased last year, partially due to the economic downturn and partially due to using more natural gas in place of coal.

    Until other forms of "clean" power (dependable = nuclear, hydroelectric, geothermal, etc...) (not-so dependable (yet) wind, solar, etc...) are available, GHG emissions are going to go up. The best immediate response where combustion is required is to replace coal and oil with cleaner burning natural gas.
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  13. @Tom Curtis #61:

    I completely agree with you. Arkadiusz Semczyszak has sunk to a new low by manufacturing a bogus quote. I believe he should be permnanently banned from posting comments on SkS.
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  14. 61, Tom,

    The actual quote can be traced to a widely circulated and re-blogged article about the paper "Validation and forecasting accuracy in models of climate change" by Robert Fildes and Nikolaos Kourentzes. That article says:
    But new research from the Lancaster Centre for Forecasting at Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) does suggest that current forecasts can be made more accurate.

    Report co-author Robert Fildes, a forecast researcher...
    (i.e. not a climate scientist, not even close, and from a school of management to boot) and
    He stresses that his work should not be misinterpreted as being negative about climate modelling...
    The quote in question, in context says:
    Fildes argues that policymakers need to be responding to a wide range of other climate forcings – not simply greenhouse gases – and considering their effects regionally as well as globally. The IPCC climate modelling process is unreliable because it does not do so, he says, adding that the focus on greenhouse gases has been driven by a priori assumptions in the models themselves. This will have to change in the future, he adds.
    But that last bit is unsupported by any factual data. That's just his opinion. And a seriously poorly educated one at that.
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  15. 63, Sasqiatch,

    Until irrational resistance to forms of clean power (there's no reason to put "clean" in quotes) ceases, and until people stop ignoring the hidden costs of fossil fuel use, we'll be stuck where we are.

    And the hidden costs of FF use go beyond GHGs, pollution and ecosystem damage. The plain fact is that it is unsustainable in the long term, it is becoming increasingly expensive to find and recover, and it will never, ever provide enough energy for a continually growing and developing world.

    Sticking to fossil fuel use because it's cheap and easy (because we currently have an infrastructure that is 100% focused on FF energy) is a recipe for disaster. It's the modern, global equivalent of the Grasshopper and the Ants.

    Winter is coming, and instead of developing alternative forms of energy, the grasshopper is driving back and forth to the mall in his SUV.
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  16. In the above article it stated.......

    Avoiding rising above two degrees Celsius is entirely possible: a recent study in Energy Policy found that fossil fuels could be wholly abandoned by 2050 with the world's energy needs met by electricity produced 90 percent from wind and solar sources alone. The final 10 percent could be generated by geothermal, hydro, wave, and tidal power. Ground transportation would be run by electricity or hydrogen fuel cells, and planes would be powered by liquid hydrogen.

    Is there a reference for that statement at all?
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    Moderator Response: [John Hartz] I will ask the author of the article to provide a reference.
  17. Sphaerica @65 it appears that you have correctly identified the source of Arkadiusz' quote. Never-the-less, he clearly identifies the quote as being from Hansen, and indeed as the conclusion of a paper by Hansen. In fact it is neither. Therefore he has misrepresented Hansen and based his argument on a clear falsehood. That some other person with a different name on a different continent actually said the words makes the quote no less fictitious when ascribed to Hansen.

    While it is possible that he made a sincere error, that error shows at the minimum that his understanding of the science of AGW is poor. He clearly relies on extensive reading of papers in English to understand the the theory; but equally clearly his English is so bad that what he understands shows greater resemblance to what he desires to believe rather than what was actually written.
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  18. {How do we stay below a global rise of two degrees Celsius? According to a new study involving researchers various climate institutes, greenhouse gas emissions would need to peak during the decade and fall to 44 gigatons by 2020. Emissions this year are expected to hit 48 gigatons.}

    My interest is in clarification.

    However, despite the slow global economic recovery, 2010 saw the largest single year increase in global human CO2 emissions from energy (fossil fuels), growing a whopping 1.6 Gt from 2009, to 30.6 Gt (the previous record annual increase was 1.2 Gt from 2003 to 2004).

    I see two different numbers here. Is there a mistake or do I need to learn something here.

    I see 30.6 gigatons co2 for 2010 and yet I see 48 gigatons ghg's for 2011. This difference stuck out to me like a sore thumb. I see an 18 gigaton difference here.
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    Moderator Response: [Sph] These are references to two different measures. The first is actual CO2 emissions, while the latter is CO2e -- CO2 equivalents of all anthropogenic GHG emissions. See my comment below for more information.
  19. Sphaerica @ 65:
    Perhaps I should have used the word dependable. Right now neither wind nor solar sources are very effective in providing dependable power on a large scale. I hope that changes.

    And, don't be naive in assuming that the alternative forms of energy don't have ecosystem impact. Whether it is the impact to airborne wildlife, groundwater impact in the mining of rare metals, massive concrete bases, noise pollution, structural footprints, etc..., there is impact beyond that of greenhouse gas emissions.

    Natural gas is a very good intermediate solution. And, for the life of me, I do not understand why nuclear power is not considered feasible.

    Now, I am going to ride my bike home to eat lunch.
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  20. 67, Tom Curtis,

    No argument here.

    There are four behaviors I find utterly unacceptable:
    • Ignoring valid questions and arguments and just moving on to other points, or repeating the same thing over and over in complete oblivion to evidence presented to the contrary
    • Distracting readers with accurate information but with an invalid interpretation or only conveniently partial presentation of that information (like appinsys does)
    • Refusal to provide the sources for stated assertions so that their accuracy can be tested
    • Providing patently false information
    Of these, the last is the most reprehensible and easily, clearly and unarguably identified, and should not be tolerated in any fashion. At a minimum, a time-out is in order.
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  21. 69, Sasquatch,

    Every energy form considered is going to have drawbacks (obviously). Human existence and civilization destroys ecosystems. But to compare the potential for destruction represented by FF use to the damage caused by the rational and considered use of other energy forms is an unfair misdirection.

    Also, all energy sources other than FF will be considered expensive simply due to volumes (i.e. it's cheaper per unit to do a lot more of something). That is, an existing global infrastructure currently based on FF makes continued FF use cheap, while a dearth of working applications and demand for other sources make them comparatively expensive. If solar and wind power were used in greater volume then they would be cheap and FF use would be more expensive.

    So it's a catch-22. You don't want to extensively try other energy sources because FF is cheap because you aren't trying other energy sources.

    As long as we simply find reasons to avoid switching and putting effort into alternative energy sources we are on the road to perdition.
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  22. Sphaerica @ 72:
    You are avoiding the elephant sitting in the room. Dependability. Power has to be dependable. Right now, and for the near future, alternative energy is not dependable. It is also not capable of adequately supplying our energy needs.

    The technology is improving, and I hope to see it get to the point some day that we can depend on it.

    What are your personal thoughts on nuclear energy?
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  23. @ AusseinUSA

    As stated in the article that data is based on a comprehensive analysis published in the journal Energy Policy.

    You can read an article with more detail here:


    Links to the paper itself can be found here:
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  24. 68, renewable guy,

    I'm a little confused, but not entirely. I traced the 48Gt statement to section 3.2 of an advance copy of "The Emissions Gap Report" (final copy available here).

    That in turn attributed the number to "Misrepresentation of the IPCC CO2 emission scenarios" (Manning et al, 2010) available here.

    But I find no reference to the stated numbers, or any specific numbers, in the Manning remarks. I also find that that particular original statement has been dropped from the final copy of "The Emissions Gap Report" as far as I can see.

    But related material in the final report says this related to one of the figures:
    All emissions in this figure and chapter refer to GtCO2e (gigatonnes or billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent)—the global warming potential-weighted sum of the six Kyoto greenhouse gases, that is, CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs and SF6, including LULUCF CO2 emissions.
    So I think the difference is that the lower number represents actual CO2 emissions, while the higher represents all GHG emissions stated as CO2 equivalents (CO2e).
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  25. 73, Sasquatch,

    Please support your assertion that alternative energy forms are not dependable.

    [My personal thoughts on nuclear energy are that they are like every other energy form... they have their drawbacks, so we can't afford to go "all in" but we also can't afford to ignore them. There are some nuclear solutions that work in some situations, and for which the repercussions will be less than that of continued FF use. Nuclear energy does offer an alternative that in the short term is probably almost required to keep emissions below the 2˚C danger level. But going happily down the nuclear road without giving other solutions serious consideration and effort can ultimately be almost as bad as BAU FF use.]
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  26. @renewable guy #68:

    You cite the following statement from the OP.

    “How do we stay below a global rise of two degrees Celsius? According to a new study involving researchers various climate institutes, greenhouse gas emissions would need to peak during the decade and fall to 44 gigatons by 2020. Emissions this year are expected to hit 48 gigatons.”

    The figures in this statement are gigatons of annual greenhouse gas emissions expressed in CO2 equivalent. Fossil fuel emissions are a subset of these numbers.
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  27. renewable guy @68

    To clarify the numbers. You give 30.6 gtCO2 as 2010 emissions. This is likely a provisional figure for emissions CO2 from fossil fuel & cement production. Also provisional,
    CDIAC give this same figure as 9.139 gtC or about 34 gtCO2 which is higher although saying that, all the figures I have seen for 2010 have been 9.0+ gtC (or higher than 33 gtCO2)

    It is now necessary to add the emissions from land use change. Latest data I have seen is for 2005 but it had been 1.4 - 1.5 gtC for the preceding years. So a figure of 1.35 gtC is quite conservative.

    This yields a total 2010 figure of 10.5 gtC = 38.5 gtCO2.

    The 48 gtCO2 figure comes from "...would need to peak during the decade and fall to 44 gigatons by 2020. Emissions this year are expected to hit 48 gigatons." I would suggest the "this year" referred to is 2020. (I was always warned about using the word "this" in academic writing and here we find a good example of how not to use "this".)
    This is but my interpretation of the numbers used. If you are fussed to nail it down, the man to ask is the author wot wrote the lines, Jeremy Nance.
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    Moderator Response: [Sph] No, "this year" does refer to the current year. The difference lies in CO2 versus CO2-equivalent emissions. See the previous comments by John Hartz and myself.
  28. Sasquatch, the statement that renewable power sources are "not capable of adequately supplying our energy needs" is just ridiculous. Available solar power is greater than all other sources combined, and available wind power is greater than all other sources except solar.

    As to 'dependability'... if we ever run out of sunlight we'll have much bigger problems to worry about. You are presumably referring to the fact that the amount of sunlight / wind in a given area varies. Which is true... but hardly an insurmountable problem. Build a large and efficient enough grid and you can always transmit power from areas where the sun is shining / the wind blowing to areas where they are not. Build power storage and you can 'stockpile' energy for later use. Build high altitude wind or space solar facilities and the supply IS constant.

    As to environmental impact... miniscule in comparison to fossil fuels and potentially near zero if sited carefully. Distributed solar power is particularly promising... put solar power generators on building roofs, utility poles, parking lots, sidewalks, and possibly even roads (if durability issues can be worked out) and you'd be able to generate vastly more power than we currently use while taking up no additional land.
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  29. 79, CBDunkerson,

    Not to mention the fact that improved efficiency in things like building insulation, actual use of transportation (i.e. using more locally grown goods rather than transporting locally available items across continents) and other behavioral changes would also help.

    The solution entails a lot of changes, each done in considered moderation, as each makes sense, but without hesitation.

    The last part is the thing. Hesitating. Waiting. BAU. If we keep waiting until the situation is a nightmare, then it will be as dark and difficult as those like Sasquatch paint the situation to be.
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  30. @renewable guy #68, Sphaerica #75, and MA Rodger #78:

    When all else fails, read the source paper, i.e., Joeri Rogelj, William Hare, Jason Lowe, Detlef P. van Vuuren, Keywan Riahi, Ben Matthews, Tatsuya Hanaoka, Kejun Jiang and Malte Meinshausen. Emission pathways consistent with a 2 C global temperature limit. Nature Climate Change. DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE1258. 2011.

    To access a free PDF of this paper, click. here.
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    Moderator Response: [Sph] Thank you! I had hunted all over looking for a copy that I could download.
  31. The need for power is the root of the problem. Unless we're all prepared to return to living as in the middle ages i.e. with virtually no power needs other than to keep warm, we have to find and implement non-fossil fuel power generation immediately. Solar and wind are excellent green alternatives, but I wonder whether they can be deployed quickly in sufficiently large numbers to make any difference. I believe the time has come for a serious, Manhattan style public/privately funded project to develop and commercialise fusion reactors. Generating electricty using non-fossil fuels is the only real solution. Fossil fuel use should be restricted solely for air travel.
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  32. Sphaerica @ 73:
    From a site promoting the development of wind energy, wind turbines generate electricity 70-85% of the time, but not always at full output. That leaves 15-30% of the time that power has to come from somewhere else. Currently, the generated electricity is fed directly into the grid and there are not any viable methods for storing it.

    From Renewable UK ( the following is found: "Wind energy can be relied upon, even though the wind is not available 100% of the time. Wind turbines generate electricity for 70-85% of the time, but not always at full output. Most wind turbines start generating power at wind speeds of around 3 or 4 m/s (when the output is a few kilowatts), generate maximum ("rated") power at around 15 m/s and shut down to prevent storm damage at 25 m/s or above. The proportion of time that wind turbine is generating between these wind speeds depends on the average wind speed at the site. Most sites where wind turbines are installed in the UK have wind speeds in the range 7.5 - 9 m/s and so generate for 70-85% of the time."

    Solar dependability is obviously impacted by lack of direct, consistent sunlight. Also, the size of installations required to generate an appreciable amount of power can be prohibitive.

    From (
    •Solar radiation may only be collected during the daytime
    •Such things as weather, location, and seasons may affect sunlight availability
    •Solar technology is still too costly for most people
    •A lot of surface area is currently required for strong power, which means many, space-taking installations are needed"
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  33. Camburn - "We have had periods within the Holocene as warm as the projections from the models and survived quit well. In fact, one period was called the Holocene Optimum."

    Camburn, whether a warmer world is better or worse is not the point. The point is rate of change. The solar forcing producing the HCO was slow. Note also the lack of complex agriculture and a world of 7 billion.
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    Moderator Response: [Sph] World population corrected by 3 orders of magnitude. :)
  34. Sasquatch - I believe questions about dependable power should go to the Can renewables provide baseload power thread.

    That said, there's a very interesting paper from Stanford, Archer & Jacobson 2007, indicating that with wind farms alone, using 19 interconnected sites in the western US, that:

    "It was found that an average of 33% and a maximum of 47% of yearly averaged wind power from interconnected farms can be used as reliable, baseload electric power." (emphasis added)

    The multiple sites lead to some portion of the collection area receiving significant power at almost every moment. Adding solar into the mix, particularly thermal solar with thermal storage backup, should only improve those numbers.

    Natural gas, which you seem to prefer, is only slightly better than coal - it still leaves us in the hole, increasing greenhouse gases, and would be a foolish choice of direction.
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    Moderator Response: [Sph] Link fixed per request.
  35. Jeremy Hance @74 - Thankyou for the links, that is exactly what I was hoping for.

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  36. KR at 85:
    From a recent paper published by the University of Maryland, natural gas has about half the GHG impact of coal. That is more than slightly better.
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  37. Sasquatch - Yes, 50% is an improvement. But natural gas is still a CO2 source, still leads to increasing temperatures, and should be avoided if possible. All of the externalized costs discussions regarding coal apply as well to natural gas - the CO2 production is a societal cost not currently accounted for in natural gas prices, making it artificially cheap.

    In regards to the OP - the only gain from switching from coal to natural gas will be a few years (at most a decade or two) delay in reaching a two degree Celsius temperature rise. Fossil fuels are just a bad idea.

    All that aside - it appears quite possible to produce dependable baseload power with renewables.
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  38. Can anyone imagine a world which runs on wind or solar power, where some unexpected downside is uncovered (let's pretend that harnessing solar power leads to global cooling, or that the use of massive wind farms is altering the rotation of the Earth)?

    And the solution is to switch to fossil fuels?

    Imagine, then, that that entire power grid -- electric transmission lines, elaborate power-storage facilities using massive flywheels or molten salts or hydroelectric storage of some sort -- then needs to be replaced with the infrastructure needed to harness fossil fuels: oil wells, coal mines, methods of transporting the raw fuel, refineries and processing plants, methods of transporting the refined fuels (gas, coal, oil, LNG), the dangers of explosions, methods of distribution, the creation of coal and gas powered electrical power plants, and a whole, global fleet of vehicles (cars, trucks, ships, planes) that must be transitioned from electric power to internal combustion engines.

    Sasquatch finds seeming insurmountable problems in wind and solar power, because of very simple storage and peak availability issues.

    Can you imagine if that same logic were applied to a migration to fossil fuels instead of away from them?
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  39. 88 Sphaerica:

    Here's a good one:

    “A consensus of my friends who are scientists believe that a wind farm of this scale will shift the earth off its rotational axis and send it hurtling toward the sun in a matter of decades”

    The response?

    I think if you check carefully you’ll find that either
    a) your friends are not actually scientists
    b) they are pulling your leg

    Learn some physics. Maybe some maths. Hell, just learn something based on facts.

    Don't you just love that reply?
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  40. Sphaerica @ 88:
    It is not peak availability that I was referring to. But, since you brought it up, it really is an issue. My issue is with dependability based on current technology. It is not there yet. One day I hope it is. In the meantime (KR@87) we can use our existing infrastructure and burn cleaner sources of fuels (natural gas) until the technology catches up and we can have dependable power.

    Sphaerica, I know the drawbacks can be overcome, and I believe they will be within our lifetimes. But, until then they are inferior products that can at best augment our current methods of producing power.
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  41. I'd be interested which "projections from the models" have the globe staying as cool as the Holocene Optimum. I'm not sure that even the ones where emissions are magically set to zero from now have us staying that cool...

    Switching to renewables is a very positive move for society - the technology development, infrastructure development, manufacturing and maintenance has real potential to provide a large economic boost. Hands up which economies would like one of those?
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  42. Not sure if this is OT or not. In reply to several of the comments above about the viability of renewables. It is critical to distinguish between whether renewables are viable as a mainstream baseload power generating system toay, at current levels of penetration into the market and whether a virtually 100% renewables based system is viable are two very different questions. Its a bit of a chicken and egg question. Basically a 100% renewables solution is technically viable today. However, during the transition from a few% to 100% there is a big hole.

    Renewables become highly technical viable when you have diverse generation systems, including a good proportion of Solar Thermal with storage, widely geographically separated generation with a a smart load balancing grid that uses High Voltage DC for efficient long distance transmission. Add some hydro, geothermal etc which can be base load, some grid connected energy storage - battery farms basically such as Vanadium Flow Batteries etc.

    Then look at what constitutes true base-load as distinct from policy generated base-load. Electricity tariff schemes that seek to transfer as much load as possible to low demand periods - night-time - through lower rates are based on the need to keep as much demand as possible for the big coal plants that can't easily be ramped up and down. With a renewables system we need different tariff policies that focus demand in daytime when the sun is shining.

    Put those components together and a renewables system is totally viable. However we have a 'how do we get there from here?' problem. And the transition has a cost thatneeds to be born - it is simply what the cost is of making an absolutely necessary transition. We need to redesign our energy systems, not just our energy generation system.

    Ideally the key legacy role of FF is to provide the generation backup needed as we transition to the new system. However with current economic policy, I don't believe designing/building the new system is actually the central policy focus. Rather we are trying to use the manipulation of markets through Carbon Pricing to get the markets to bring about the changes we actually need as an indirect by-product of their pursuit of profits. Personally I don't think that relying on indirect methods of achieving the change needed is really treating the problem with the urgency it requires.

    As to Nuclear, I look on it as the lesser of two evils. To be avoided if we could, but use it if we must. My larger problem with Nuclear is that unless we use older reactor designs then nuclear is coming from much the same low base as Renewables. And I think many folks underestimate the huge engineering demands on an entire country needed to support a nuclear power program. Nuclear is so hard to progress at a meaningful scale and rate that it isn't actually a very good answer anyway.

    Far better to proceed with renewables at a massively higher pace than now, and also address the transitional technical challenges at the same time. And I don't think this whole of system redesign can be done effectively by market mechanisms. Markets can achieve some progress but they are to slow and haphazard. We certainly can't afford the equivalent of the VHS vs Beta wars over renewables. It will waste too much time.
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  43. Sasquatch - I've replied to your comment on Can renewables provide baseload power
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  44. "My issue is with dependability based on current technology. It is not there yet" and not so long ago we couldn't access email on our phones.

    Dependability requires two things. Better management of your own demand. Having just recently installed solar here I can assure you that it focuses the mind tremendously. (Especially in this between times season, neither heating nor cooling required, we ensure we generate more than we use. A bit of pocket money will come in very handy.)

    The other thing is storage and transmission. To get back to the phone example, there are industrial products, flow batteries are my favourite du jour, that just need scaling down to domestic consumer size. Just as phone function has improved to allow email and similar applications at the personal consumer product level.

    I'll be there when they're available - so our daily solar 'excess' would first be retained to run our home at night on our own stored power. I expect fancy transmission software would be required to draw domestically stored power at times of high demand rather than just having to accept it when we now generate it (or release storage in my future scenario).

    And then there are newer, not-quite-commercial things in the offing. I'm hanging on to our current car until I see something better matching my own notions of technical improvement in that area. The more demand, the sooner we'll get there.
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  45. Of the many tipping points to be found as the Climate inexorably Changes surely the most important one is that where the youth of today decide that enough is enough and rise up to demand action. It may be that some reading this article might actually believe that we as a species will manage to reduce our GHG emissions to such an extent that the warming will be limited to the stated goal of 2oC. I don’t think that there is a hope in hell of that happening without more than the resolution of the science, excellent as this site is at doing just that. Let’s face it, the most important aspects of the science have been resolved for some considerable time, yet are perversely denied.

    I have been following Climate Change since it first gained public prominence more years ago than I care to remember and all I seem to have seen is articles such as this one, each more pessimistic than its predecessors, at least articles by people with a brain between their ears that is. Such is the mindset of the powers that be and, of course, the money they can make from business as usual that the chances of them changing their ways are almost as remote as the chances of finding the droppings from a rocking horse. Bull droppings, however, are to be found a plenty.

    In my youth we fought to rid the world of nuclear weapons. We lost, and live on a knife edge still. Like Climate Change, great swathes of the population are fat, dumb and happy thinking that all is well. The campaign to fight Climate Change needs its own CND (with as memorable a logo) and its own Bob Dylan. We had very public campaigns in the form of marches and demonstrations. The equivalent for combating Climate Change is very subdued in comparison. Can it really be because nuclear war is acute and Climate Change chronic?

    Heaven forfend that my generation’s failure to rid the world of nuclear weapons should ever lead to the solving of overpopulation and Climate Change in one fell and violent swoop. Unfortunately, the problems that Climate Change might heap upon the world could have exactly that outcome.

    The following words of Bob Dylan from Masters of War are as relevant today as they were relevant in a different era and a different topic:

    Let me ask you one question
    Is your money that good
    Will it buy you forgiveness
    Do you think that it could
    I think you will find
    When your death takes its toll
    All the money you made
    Will never buy back your soul.

    Those words need ramming down the throats of the fossil fuel industry executives, some scientists and a couple of Lords I can think of. However, to achieve that, something stronger than the current limp-wristed direct action is essential.
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  46. @ funglestrumpet

    Nice one (see this version here).

    Dylan was a master ahead of his time. The theme song for this generation now raised up could be this song, as the times they indeed are a-changin'.

    The task we now set to those who come after us may well be difficult, but it is not for us to decide that it is impossible.
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  47. funglestrumpet @95:

    James Lovelock, the inventor of Gaia hypothesis, in his recent book "The revenge of Gaia", claims that overpopulation and tribal mentality of homo sapiens are the key causes of current "Gaia crisis". Further, James is a big proponent of nuclear energy, and asserts that if we don't re-embrace it, rather than burning fossils until exhaustion which is expected given "tribal nature", then Gaia will get rid of us. According to James, nucs and radiation is not a problem for nature (nuclear waste sites, AWA Chernobyl area, are beaming with plant and animal life) it is just human fear. So people got scared enough not to use nucs (yet) so they are still proliferating and killing Gaia's diversity. In that context, one could deduce an opinion that it's very bad your generation did prevent nuc war...

    BTW, that's not my opinion, but it can be the Lovelock's, although he didn't state it explicitly.

    However, tribal, selfish mentality of man seems to be correct assessment by Lovelock. And, as he argues, most of the past global problems (DDT poisoning, ozone hole, threat of nuc war) were resolved by people due to the fear the effects (loss of bald eagle - national emblem - Amer pride etc, skin cancer, radiation) that started to (or would) affect themselves rather than future generation or environment. The latest AGW problem is different: less tangible, and does not exist for selfish, tribal mentality.

    What we need IMO, is a big shakeup that changes that mentality. Otherwise, I can bet on BAU until fossils run out and PETM is in the tipping.
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  48. chriskoz #97, I do not get tribal mentality. as one tribal leader spoke (in connection with land rights/land use) " we do not own the land, the land owns us. How can we decide to sell it for a purpose not knowing what the effect will be on the land and its inhabitants". Will look up which chief spoke those words, was on the island of Mindanao, Philippines.
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  49. Ger,

    Lovelock was talking about "tribal mentality" in European sense, wherein selfish "people-first-and-only" attitude always prevailed. Nature/land was always considered an infinite resource. Such culture led to the concept of exponontial growth economy that is still deeply engraved in most minds, especially right wing politicians, in EU, NAmerica, Australia, China. That conservative thinking persists despite the clear evidence that we are hitting the limits of "exponential growth".

    The mentality of other cultures, i.e. Pacific Islanders, Aboriginals are different as you noted. Unfortunately those were swamped and almost anihilated by white man as was the case in OZ. Now it the best time to say pardon (I was said in OZ some 3y ago) and learn something about the way of living sustainable and respectful to the land. Incidently, the first step has just been made in OZ itself: they've just approved the emmission trading scheme in Canberra today. The first time white man recognised the land and air has value Down Under!
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  50. chriskoz "The mentality of other cultures, i.e. Pacific Islanders, Aboriginals are different as you noted."

    Even there we find huge variations. Saw an item on teev recently about at least one Pacific Island and their turtle population a century or so ago. They just kept eating eggs and turtles until there were no more. (I expect there were other groups on other islands who probably turned them into some kind of worship-worthy tribal symbol and maintained their populations.)

    Culture and religion can be important influences for both good and bad outcomes.
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