Saturday, September 19, 2009


It is too early to determine the level of meteorological risk posed by global warming, says the director-general of the Beijing Climate Centre

A 2C rise in global temperatures will not necessarily result in the calamity predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), China's most senior climatologist has told the Guardian. Despite growing evidence that storms in China are getting fiercer, droughts longer and typhoons more deadly, Xiao Ziniu, the director general of the Beijing Climate Centre, said it was too early to determine the level of risk posed by global warming.

"There is no agreed conclusion about how much change is dangerous," Xiao said. "Whether the climate turns warmer or cooler, there are both positive and negative effects. We are not focusing on what will happen with a one degree or two degree increase, we are looking at what level will be a danger to the environment. In Chinese history, there have been many periods warmer than today."

The IPCC warns a 2C rise substantially increases the risks of floods, drought and storms. Whether a 2C rise turns global warming into global burning has emerged as one of the most contentious issues in advance of the Copenhagen summit. The G8 and EU want the world to set 2C as a ceiling by 2050, but China is sceptical. A senior government adviser said yesterday that the target of two degrees was unrealistic and would not give developing nations room to grow.

Xiao said China had started its own climate modelling programme for the next 100 years aimed at predicting the point when global warming will result in environmental collapse. His centre will also release yearly climate predictions for China. Even with weather satellites and sophisticated simulation software, Xiao is not overly optimistic about accuracy the initial results.

"Climate prediction has only come into operation in recent years. The accuracy of the prediction is very low because the climate is affected by many mechanisms we do not fully understand."



The general public are resentful, cynical and resigned when it comes to the issue of climate change, according to an IPPR report. Unless they can be persuaded to adopt lower-carbon lifestyles, it will be impossible to meet new emissions targets, says the report.

An approach based on saving the public money, and giving them greater control over energy bills and independence from suppliers would be more effective, say report researchers.

'Success will lie in convincing consumers that in adopting lower-carbon lifestyles they can save money and have control in a chaotic world, and they can do the right thing and look good without being an environmentalist,' said IPPR associate director Simon Retallack. 'If we can achieve that, while putting the policies in place to ensure that lower-carbon options are affordable, attractive and visible, we will have gone a long way towards mobilising the power of consumers in the battle against climate change,' he said.

The report, 'Consumer Power: how the public thinks lower-carbon behavour could be made mainstream', was based on workshops and in-depth interviews in late 2008 and early 2009. Researchers also visited interviewees' homes to gauge their reactions to energy advice.


They're still learning about climate change

In Milankovich theory, the canonical theory of glaciation and deglaciation, ice sheets wax and wane in response to the amount of summer insolation at a latitude of 65°N, which is consistent with the observed timing of the last deglaciation. The penultimate glaciation behaved quite differently, however. Now, Drysdale et al. (p. 1527, published online 13 August) offer firmer constraints on the timing of the penultimate deglaciation, by correlating a difficult-to-date marine record of ocean volume to a precisely datable nearby speleothem (terrestrial stalagmite). Ocean volume began to increase about 141,000 years ago, thousands of years before the rise in 65°N summer insolation. Thus, instead of the forcing mechanism proposed by Milankovich, variations in Earth's obliquity may be mostly responsible for the disappearance of ice sheets.

SOURCE. (Journal abstract follows)

Evidence for Obliquity Forcing of Glacial Termination II

R. N. Drysdale et al.

Variations in the intensity of high-latitude Northern Hemisphere summer insolation, driven largely by precession of the equinoxes, are widely thought to control the timing of Late Pleistocene glacial terminations. However, recently it has been suggested that changes in Earth’s obliquity may be a more important mechanism. We present a new speleothem-based North Atlantic marine chronology that shows that the penultimate glacial termination (Termination II) commenced 141,000 ± 2500 years before the present, too early to be explained by Northern Hemisphere summer insolation but consistent with changes in Earth’s obliquity. Our record reveals that Terminations I and II are separated by three obliquity cycles and that they started at near-identical obliquity phases.

Science 18 September 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5947, pp. 1527 - 1531

Energy 'Sprawl' and the Green Economy

We're about to destroy the environment in the name of saving it

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently announced plans to cover 1,000 square miles of land in Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah with solar collectors to generate electricity. He's also talking about generating 20% of our electricity from wind. This would require building about 186,000 50-story wind turbines that would cover an area the size of West Virginia not to mention 19,000 new miles of high-voltage transmission lines.

Is the federal government showing any concern about this massive intrusion into the natural landscape? Not at all. I fear we are going to destroy the environment in the name of saving the environment.

The House of Representatives has passed climate legislation that started out as an attempt to reduce carbon emissions. It has morphed into an engine for raising revenues by selling carbon dioxide emission allowances and promoting "renewable" energy.

The bill requires electric utilities to get 20% of their power mostly from wind and solar by 2020. These renewable energy sources are receiving huge subsidies all to supposedly create jobs and hurry us down the road to an America running on wind and sunshine described in President Barack Obama's Inaugural Address.

Yet all this assumes renewable energy is a free lunch a benign, "sustainable" way of running the country with minimal impact on the environment. That assumption experienced a rude awakening on Aug. 26, when The Nature Conservancy published a paper titled "Energy Sprawl or Energy Efficiency: Climate Policy Impacts on Natural Habitat for the United States of America." The report by this venerable environmental organization posed a simple question: How much land is required for the different energy sources that power the country? The answers deserve far greater public attention.

By far nuclear energy is the least land-intensive; it requires only one square mile to produce one million megawatt-hours per year, enough electricity for about 90,000 homes. Geothermal energy, which taps the natural heat of the earth, requires three square miles. The most landscape-consuming are biofuels ethanol and biodiesel which require up to 500 square miles to produce the same amount of energy.

Coal, on the other hand, requires four square miles, mainly for mining and extraction. Solar thermal heating a fluid with large arrays of mirrors and using it to power a turbine takes six. Natural gas needs eight and petroleum needs 18. Wind farms require over 30 square miles.

This "sprawl" has been missing from our energy discussions. In my home state of Tennessee, we just celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Yet there are serious proposals by energy developers to cover mountains all along the Appalachian chain, from Maine to Georgia, with 50-story wind turbines because the wind blows strongest across mountaintops.

Let's put this into perspective: We could line 300 miles of mountaintops from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Bristol, Va., with wind turbines and still produce only one-quarter the electricity we get from one reactor on one square mile at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant.

The 1,000 square-mile solar project proposed by Mr. Salazar would generate, on a continuous basis, 35,000 megawatts of electricity. You could get the same output from 30 new nuclear reactors that would fit comfortably onto existing nuclear sites. And this doesn't count the thousands of miles of transmission lines that will be needed to carry the newly generated solar power to population centers.

There's one more consideration. Solar collectors must be washed down once a month or they collect too much dirt to be effective. They also need to be cooled by water. Where amid the desert and scrub land will we find all that water? No wonder the Wildlife Conservancy and other environmentalists are already opposing solar projects on Western lands.

Renewable energy is not a free lunch. It is an unprecedented assault on the American landscape. Before we find ourselves engulfed in energy sprawl, it's imperative we take a closer look at nuclear power.



A consortium led by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. said it had discovered oil off the coast of Sierra Leone, potentially opening up a vast new petroleum province in the deep waters off West Africa. It is the latest in a string of deep-water finds spurred by advances in drilling technologies and exploration strategies that are changing the face of the oil industry. It comes in the same month BP PLC announced it had made a "giant" new oil discovery below the Gulf of Mexico after drilling what is thought to be the world's deepest well. That field is estimated to contain three billion barrels of oil, although only a fraction of that may ever be extracted, BP said.

The steep run-up in the price of oil over the past few years has swelled Western oil companies' exploration budgets and encouraged them to push into high-risk areas once considered too costly to exploit, such as the Arctic, and the ultra-deep waters offshore Brazil.

Twenty-five years ago, oil companies struggled to operate in seas deeper than 600 feet. Now technological innovations mean they can pump crude in waters 6,000 feet deep. Anadarko's well in Sierra Leone, known as Venus B, was drilled in water more than a mile deep.

Some observers say the string of recent discoveries, especially BP's, has undermined the theory of "peak oil" -- the idea that the world's oil production is about to peak -- since improving technology is constantly opening up new frontiers for Big Oil. BP's Gulf of Mexico find was "good evidence the concept behind peak oil is flawed," says Adam Sieminski, chief energy economist at Deutsche Bank.

Though much of the crude stored below ultra deep water is hard to extract, "if demand is there for the product, technology and prices will make it possible to develop that oil," he said.

The shift to ever remoter areas comes as Western oil companies are increasingly shut out of the world's richest oil provinces like the Middle East and Russia. But the new oil plays often present challenges that push the majors' technological abilities to the limit. Brazil's subsalt reserves, for example, are the largest discovery in the Western Hemisphere in three decades, but they are buried under a thick layer of salt miles below the ocean floor that shifts under geological pressure, making them extremely expensive to develop.


Climate Decisions taken without the support of research

Rough translation from a Swedish original below

Scientific uncertainty does not prevent politicians from acting on climate change, shows a dissertation from Lund University.

- Politicians and officials generally find ways to get around the scientific uncertainty, at least according to the material I studied, "says political scientist Asa Knaggård who has examined the Swedish climate policy from 1975 until 2007.

Asa Knaggård has, inter alia, reviewed investigative materials from agencies, reports from scientific committees, bills, newspaper articles, speeches and debates nationwide. Around 40 people as officials, scientists and former environment ministers have been interviewed. She has found that scientific uncertainties that exist in climate change do not matter which political decisions are taken. The Swedish emission target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by four percent is an example.

- It was based on what it believed was possible to implement politically. According to the interviews I have conducted, it has emerged that the case was based on calculations based on what they thought they could cut and that it then maybe put a little extra and said that this is possible, that we go on, says Asa Knaggård.

In 2004 the UN climate panel that carbon dioxide accounted for 76 percent of the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. Newly released UNEP report which showed that emissions other than carbon dioxide plant accounted for half of emissions, this is not an example of scientific uncertainty that politicians face.

A study of Swedish expert opinions and materials from government offices, it turns out that the scientific uncertainty on climate change highlighted and illustrated in a clear manner, but then something happens with the investigation material, the longer the political process progresses.

- The closer the parliament gets to an issue these uncertainties will be less visible -- they disappear, one can say.

Scientists may have an influence from the start when an issue arises but, according to Asa Knaggård no influence on the political decisions which should then be taken. Politicians consciously or unconsciously moving the focus from the scientific material.

- What has been important for the climate issue has evolved as a political problem, in most cases not been the scientific uncertainty but there have been other factors such as how it has fitted in, how the climate issue fitted into partisan politics. It may also be to the individuals who have served in important posts have seen on the climate issue, that is what they have had personal views on the climate issue, "says Asa Knaggård.



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