You are currently browsing the daily archive for January 31, 2009.
A longer post today, covering some familiar material, which the Old Man thought might be of more general use. If you disagree, feel free to comment. If you want to snark, don’t bother.
What follows was written in response to an email sent; the correspondent’s comments are in italic, followed by my responses.
I hope you don’t object to me making a few observations about your proposed document.
I have been a student of climate science for a couple of years now and a postgrad part-timer on environmental ethics, so have done a substantial amount of research on climate change, energy, peak oil and politics. These are my thoughts, please don’t mind my presumption; I hope you find them useful, or at least thought-provoking…
• I think contrary to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, by 2100 it is very feasible that surface oceanic temperatures will have increased by 6˚C – and equatorial parts of continents by 10˚C.
These feelings, whilst understandable, are not supported by the current science, as you will know. My take on this is that a 3c rise is very likely, a 4c rise likely, a 5c rise plausible. With unconstrained global development, there is a small chance of a 6c rise. But the amount of increase beyond 3c is less pertinent, since the consequences of a change at this level are a) not well understood, but a source of deep concern to many scientists, and b) likely to be sufficient in and of themselves to radically transform our world. This second point is not well appreciated outside science circles, because it doesn’t sound like a big change, but it really is a massive alteration in relation to the stability we have previously experienced in the post-industrial era. Simply put, our existing infrastructure is likely to collapse under the pressure of such a change.
A scenario without Gulf Stream reversal is…
(the most likely scenario is neither reversal nor shutdown of the THC, but fluctuation at previously unknown levels, the consequences of which will mainly be felt in Europe and North Africa). But the science is so uncertain that discussion of these possibilities is invariably speculative. However, there is a demonstrable and measurable risk of this, and this must be factored in to any consideration of the future shape of the world and the UK.
• World population displacements.
This does not require THC changes or a 6c rise; this, I am certain, is already inevitable; indeed, in some places it has already begun. My estimate is that within 40 years there will be 150-1000 million people displaced due to climate change, poor international policy and the ancillary effects of these.
• A world food crisis.
This has already begun and will worsen dramatically in the near future.
• Over the next 150 years mankind will see very large increases in sea levels.
This is not very likely. An increase of 1-1.5 metres globally is feasible, and is supported by recent science. Again, this is much worse than it sounds; Portsmouth, for example, will cease to exist. It is hard to find a scientifically rational scenario where sea level will rise more than this. They don’t need to, in order to change our world substantially. Say goodbye to Bangladesh…
• Markedly after 2080, emissions of methyl clathrates from shallow oceans, and methane from permafrost areas, will lead to final temperature rises of ~ 35˚C.
This is absolutely unknowable and highly speculative. Though the conditions under which massive clathrate releases are still not well understood, the thinking is that whilst this is not impossible, it is too uncertain to include in a realistic future analysis. Methane release is a more real and serious issue, but is already factored in to the numbers cited above. Over the next 100 years, uncertainty over methane might plausibly result in an increase of global temperature to 4.5c-5c. The amount of methane required to raise temperatures by 30c is unimaginably vast and almost certainly more than exists on the planet.
To quote a phrase from Lenin: ‘What is to be Done?’.
• We see an ‘energy gap’, globally and in the UK. Peak oil production may have happened in 2007 or 2008, peak capacity may occur up to 2010. Peak gas is expected five years after peak oil, i.e. around 2013. Nuclear will not fill this gap.
In the short term, the ONLY realistic energy option for the UK is wind power; at least until better technology has been developed and is shown to be economically viable.
• If the US develops Thorium reactors, we should collaborate on this and with the EU on Carlo Rubbia style ‘energy amplifiers’.
This implies a reliance on future technologies which is characteristic of an American way of thinking (don’t change anything now, wait tiill we have found the answers…). These may or may not happen. We cannot wait; by the time it is a reality, we will have condemned ourselves to disaster.
• Coal is a disaster (Climate Change), and terrible example to other nations. No coal without secure 100% carbon capture and disposal. There is more than one technology for this. They should be developed with vigour.
The government and big business must get over the obsession with cheaply available energy; the price of energy is not just its cost, but also its consequences. The real future price of cheap energy now is measurable in human lives lost, nations damaged beyond survival. Fossil fuels must be wound down at the fastest rate possible. A Carbon tax is a good start; it should be draconian.
• Coal efficient energy burn, if this is possible, needs to be retrofitted to Chinese coal fired stations. All nations need to work together on this, because the Chinese will not dismantle their coal fired stations, though it is imperative that they must.
But who will pay for this? That is the real question, to which there is no simple answer.
• The wind farm electricity generation ‘ramp up’ must be massive, and provides opportunities for British Industry.
This is already the government’s intention, but in spite of best efforts, it is still held up by ambiguity in the planning process which allows local authorities to delay projects by years, thus making them uneconomic. For a wind ramp up to happen, the global supply chain must be stiffened, the UK must commit publically and vocally to the proposal, so manufacturers and developers can plan properly, and the planning process must be made absolutely clear, and supportive of wind projects, except in very specific and significant circumstances.
• Energy storage for wind generation is important – see suggestions in our report. This simply does not exist yet; anyway, for the next 12 years it is not an issue; we will use or export all the wind energy that can be created easily.
• The government must enforce Grid efficiency and construction.
This may require caps on dividend and shareholding profits for utility companies which would make them uncompetitive. It is necessary, but will almost certainly require some kind of subsidy or support.
I would also recommend discussions with Amory Lovins, Roger Pielke Sr. (not Jr), the British Antarctic Survey, Robert M Grumbine and Paul Baer, amongst others. George Marshall and William Connolley also have useful contributions to make.
I hope you find these comments useful; I am keen that [x] gets the best possible message based on the best available information. Whilst our perception of the problems is different, our intention is the same…