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Our energy challenge in 6 eye-popping charts

Our energy challenge in 6 eye-popping charts

Renewable energy is winning and coal is on the skids. Disruption of the fossil fuel industry is well under way, and the global energy system is being decarbonised. We’re right on track, right?

To avoid dramatic climate system tipping points, the world needs to decarbonise very quickly and start drawing down the level of carbon in the atmosphere, because it’s already unsafe. As one dramatic example, in past periods when greenhouse levels were similar to the current level, temperatures were 3–6°C higher and sea levels around 25–40 metres higher than in 1900.

So climate warming is now an existential risk to human civilisation, that is, an adverse outcome that would either annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential. It is now too late for incremental, measured steps to protect what we care about. Winning slowly is now the same as losing.

So how are we going with our energy system? It is the predominant source of the dramatic human-caused rise in the level of greenhouse gases, which over the last century has increased 70 percent, from 280 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent (ppm CO2e) to 480 ppm CO2e.

The question is pertinent, with the Guardian reporting last week, “Rise in global carbon emissions a ‘big step backwards’, says BP” on news that global electricity emissions rose 1.6% in 2017 after flatlining for the previous three years, despite renewable power generation growing by 17% last year, because “strong economic growth led to above-average energy demand, coal use bounced back in China and efficiency gains slowed down, causing emissions to jump”.

And there was this from China:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Only ‘collective intelligence’ can help us stave off an uninhabitable planet

Only ‘collective intelligence’ can help us stave off an uninhabitable planet

Humanity needs new tools to overcome the global crisis of collective insanity

Published by INSURGE intelligence, a crowdfundedinvestigative journalism platform for people and planet. Support us to report where others fear to tread.

The world faces an unprecedented convergence of crises. The ecological crisis, which points to a near uninhabitable planet by end of century if business-as-usual continues, is perhaps its most apocalyptic dimension. But the ecological crisis is intimately bound up with the business-as-usual political, economic, and cultural structures of industrial civilization-as-we-know it.

The crisis

Last year, I reported on an analysis by British investment firm Scroders, which concluded that at our current rate of burning fossil fuels, global average temperatures would rise by as much as 7.8C by 2100. The catastrophic collapse of GDP at this point, by more than 50%, would be the least of our problems. Also unleashed would be uncontrollable amplifying feedback processes that would lead to the loss of most of the world’s coral reefs; the disappearance of major mountain glaciers; the total loss of the Arctic summer sea-ice, most of the Greenland ice-sheet and the break-up of West Antarctica; acidification and overheating of the oceans; catastrophic sea-level rise swamping major cities from London to New York; the collapse of the Amazon rainforest; and the loss of Arctic permafrost; to name just a few.

The ecological crisis is, then, bound up with both our civilization’s addiction to oil, gas and coal; and its addiction to endless economic growth. The imperative to continuously grow our economies has pushed forward an escalating hunger for hydrocarbons as the fuel for that growth. And yet, with every year, we encounter increasing evidence that we are depleting the planet’s natural resources at unsustainable levels — beyond the planet’s capacity to renew itself.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Humans didn’t exist the last time there was this much CO2 in the air

Humans didn’t exist the last time there was this much CO2 in the air

The last time atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were this high, millions of years ago, the planet was very different. For one, humans didn’t exist.

On Wednesday, scientists at the University of California in San Diego confirmedthat April’s monthly average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration breached 410 parts per million for the first time in our history.

We know a lot about how to track these changes. The Earth’s carbon dioxide levels peak around this time every year for a pretty straightforward reason. There’s more landmass in the northern hemisphere, and plants grow in a seasonal cycle. During the summer, they suck down CO2, during the winter, they let it back out. The measurements were made at Mauna Loa, Hawaii — a site chosen for its pristine location far away from the polluting influence of a major city.

Increasingly though, pollution from the world’s cities is making its way to Mauna Loa — and everywhere else on Earth.

In little more than a century of frenzied fossil-fuel burning, we humans have altered our planet’s atmosphere at a rate dozens of times faster than natural climate change. Carbon dioxide is now more than 100 ppm higher than any direct measurements from Antarctic ice cores over the past 800,000 years, and probably significantly higher than anything the planet has experienced for at least 15 million years. That includes eras when Earth was largely ice-free.

Not only are carbon dioxide levels rising each year, they are accelerating. Carbon dioxide is climbing at twice the pace it was 50 years ago. Even the increases are increasing.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The National Forests Should be Off Limits to Logging

The National Forests Should be Off Limits to Logging

Photograph Jeff Gunn | CC BY 2.0

Logging, conducted ostensibly to “thin the forest,” “reduce fuels” or for so-called “restoration,” causes a net loss of carbon from forest ecosystems.

One of the best strategies for reducing CO2 levels is by protecting our forests. Yet few environmental groups, even those who focus on climate change, advocate for the reduction of logging on federal lands.

Indeed, there are economic studies that demonstrate that protecting all our federal forests from logging/thinning and subsequent carbon sequestration that occurs is far more valuable than any wood produced.

Another study concludes that thinning forests costs more than the wildfire suppression costs that “may” be avoided. Not to mention, that most thinned forests will not encounter a fire during the period they might be effective.

Wildfires are not a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Even in the largest blazes, only a very small percentage of carbon stored in forest stands is released into the atmosphere by fire.

Even the remaining burnt trees hold more carbon than thinned/logged forests. In a forest fire, what burns are the fine fuels like needles, cones and small branches. The actual tree trunks seldom burn. So even in a high-severity blaze, the bulk of the carbon is left on site, stored in the snags and roots. These carbon storage units last for decades. During that same period, regrowth of vegetation packs even more carbon on to the site.

By contrast, logging forests remove the carbon that would otherwise remain stored on site. In addition, research shows that 45-60 percent of the carbon stored in trees that are logged is released as CO2 emissions during processing into wood products.

Policies that are advocated in the latest Farm Bill and elsewhere to speed taxpayer-subsidized logging/thinning on public lands ignores the significant value of these lands for carbon storage.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Keeling Curve at 60: A portrait of climate crisis

The Keeling Curve at 60: A portrait of climate crisis

If you’ve ever wondered what a scientific representation of metabolic rift might look like, check out this graph.

We are approaching the sixtieth birthday of the Keeling Curve.

It is such a stunning example of important and clearly presented science that it has been designated as a National Historic Chemical Landmark. Its creator received the highest US award for lifetime achievement in science, the National Medal of Science, “for his pioneering and fundamental research on atmospheric and oceanic carbon dioxide, the basis for understanding global carbon cycle and global warming.”

In July 1958, Dr. Charles Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography began measuring the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere. Using measuring equipment and techniques he developed, he collected air samples daily from an observatory 3,000 meters above sea level, on the remote north side of the Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island.

He continued doing this until his death in 2005, and his son Ralph, also a climate scientist at Scripps, has continued it since. The result is the world’s longest continuous record of atmospheric carbon dioxide. A recent release is shown above.

In his very first annual report, Keeling noted that the level at the end of the first year was higher than it had been 12 months earlier. That proved to be a permanent trend. The amount of CO2 in the air we breathe has risen from 313 parts per million to 421 — a 33% increase. Keeling’s work disproved the once common view that oceans and other sinks would prevent CO2 from fossil fuels from accumulating in the atmosphere.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate Truth: a Plan for Sustainability 

Climate Truth: a Plan for Sustainability 

Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture | CC BY 2.0

There is a practical path for tackling climate change, for organizing from your house to your neighborhood, city, state and beyond. It’s clear. It’s simple. It’s 3 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per person per year as a goal and a measure for global sustainability.

3 tons is the basis for personal and collective action and planning on all levels. It is, and must become, the acceptable local and global standard first measuring where we are, sustainable or endangered, and as a guide to reaching sustainability.

3 tons per person per year of carbon dioxide emissions is a simple number. In the global aggregate, 21 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, more or less, is the sustainable global limit for natural cycles to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide levels level. A gigaton is a billion tons. This means that 21 gigatons is about 3 metric tons per person per year , or 6,612 pounds per year for all of us. 3 tons per person per year of carbon dioxide from primary energy consumption equal to 70 gigajoules or 19,443 kilowatt hours a year was set as a sustainable global target for all by the U.N. In 2011. Remember that 3 tons per person per year number. That’s the target we need to keep in mind if we are to stop and then reverse the steady march toward climate catastrophe.

3 tons by itself is not enough given the carbon dioxide we’ve already added to the atmosphere and are continuing to do so. 3 tons, or even less, as planetary target must be combined with global cooling also aggressively remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester in soil or biomass or otherwise remove and store it.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Global C02 Emissions Rise For The First Time In 3 Years

Global C02 Emissions Rise For The First Time In 3 Years

Oil Rig

In a worrying development, global CO2 emissions from energy jumped by 1.4 percent in 2017, the first increase in three years.

The trend indicates that global efforts to reduce emissions are “insufficient,” according to a new report from the International Energy Agency. Total energy-related emissions jumped by 1.4 percent to 32.5 gigatonnes (Gt), the equivalent of 170 million additional cars. The prior three years, energy-related emissions were flat, raising hopes that the curve might bend down.

Still, emissions did not rise everywhere. Notably, the U.S., Mexico, Japan and the UK saw emissions decline. In fact, the U.S. posted the largest single-country decline in emissions in 2017, dropping 25 megatonnes (Mt). It was the third consecutive year of declining emissions, which may surprise some given the Trump administration’s efforts – he withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, he has actively promoted coal, oil and gas production, and his EPA has done all it can to roll back Obama-era climate policies.

Despite the trend in federal policy, the transition to cleaner energy is, at this point, driven more so by market forces than by the whims of Washington. Renewable energy outcompetes coal and even natural gas in many places.

Indeed, the IEA noted that in years past, the cut in U.S. CO2 emissions was largely the result of utilities shutting down dirty coal plants and switching over to natural gas. However, in 2017, the 0.5 percent drop in U.S. energy-related emissions was the result of more renewable energy, rather than natural gas. A decline in electricity demand also chipped in. The proportion of electricity coming from renewables jumped to 17 percent in 2017, while nuclear power accounts for 20 percent.

Similar trends played out in the UK and Mexico, where coal also took a hit. In Japan, some nuclear power came back, helping it to displace imported oil, coal and gas.

But strong economic growth (GDP jumped by 3.7 percent) and low prices for oil and gas led to a lot more consumption. Meanwhile, the IEA said that weaker energy efficiency efforts also contributed to the uptick in emissions.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Up in Smoke

Trees are dying at unprecedented rates. Can we rethink conservation before it’s too late?

Each year, the Earth’s trees suck more than a hundred billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That’s an impossibly huge number to consider, about 60 times the weight of all the humans currently on the planet.

Our forests perform a cornucopia of services: Serving as a stabilizing force for nearly all of terrestrial life, they foster biodiversity and even make us happier. But as climate change accelerates, drawing that carbon out of the air has become trees’ most critical role.

Absorbing CO2 is key to avoiding the worst effects of climate change when each year matters so much. Carbon “sinks,” like the wood of trees and organic matter buried in dirt, prevent the gas from returning to the atmosphere for dozens or even hundreds of years. Right now, about a third of all human carbon emissions are absorbed by trees and other land plants — the rest remains in the atmosphere or gets buried at sea. That share will need to rise toward and beyond 100 percent in order to counter all of humanity’s emissions past and present.

For trees to pull this off, though, they have to be alive, thriving, and spreading. And at the moment, the world’s forests are trending in the opposite direction.

New evidence shows that the climate is shifting so quickly, it’s putting many of the world’s trees in jeopardy. Rising temperatures and increasingly unusual rainfall patterns inflict more frequent drought, pest outbreaks, and fires. Trees are dying at the fastest rate ever seen, on the backs of extreme events like the 2015 El Niño, which sparked massive forest fires across the tropics. In 2016, the world lost a New Zealand-sized amount of trees, the most in recorded history.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Fixing Global Warming is Bigger Than Paris ‘15

Fixing Global Warming is Bigger Than Paris ‘15

Photo by NOAA Photo Library | CC BY 2.0

The worldwide effort to harness, slow down, lessen, reduce, remove the threat of global warming is epitomized by the Paris ’15 climate accord. This agreement calls for nations of the world to implement plans to slow down greenhouse gas emissions, specifically CO2 from fossil fuels, and to take other remedial actions necessary to hold global temps below 2°C but preferably 1.5°C relative to the start of the industrial revolution over 200 years ago.

That task may be an overwhelming one, more so than realized, due to the simple fact that, according to YaleEnvironment360: “Frighteningly, this modern rise of CO2 is also accelerating at an unusual rate. In the late 1950s, the annual rate of increase was about 0.7 ppm per year; from 2005-2014 it was about 2.1 ppm per year.” (Source: Nicola Jones, How the World Passed a Carbon Threshold and Why It Matters, YaleEnvironment360, January 26, 2017).

“If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted… CO2 will need to be reduced… to at most 350 ppm,” according to Columbia University climate guru James Hansen. We sailed past that target in about 1990, and it will take a gargantuan effort to turn back the clock,” Ibid.

Meanwhile, year-over-year CO2 numbers continue a relentless march upwards, unimpeded.

Monthly average CO2 Readings in Parts Per Million (“PPM”)
1850 (Ice Core Data) 285.20
1959 (Mauna Loa readings start) 316.18
February 2017 406.42
February 2018 408.35
March 2018 409.97
A return to 350 ppm is looking very distant.

For perspective on the challenge ahead, Wally Broecker (Columbia) aka: the Grandfather of Climate Science, discussed the outlook in a July 2017 interview:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Global CO2 emissions forecast to 2100

Global CO2 emissions forecast to 2100

In his recent post Euan Mearns projected global energy requirements out to 2100. In this brief post I apply Euan’s methodology to carbon dioxide emissions, which are closely correlated with energy consumption. The projections show CO2 emissions peaking around 2075 under the UN low population growth scenario but continuing to increase through 2100 under the UN’s medium and high population growth scenarios. The alleged “dangerous interference” threshold of 1 trillion tons of cumulative carbon emissions (3.67 trillion tons of CO2) targeted by the Paris Climate Agreement is exceeded between 2050 and 2055 under all three scenarios.

Figure 1 plots global CO2 emissions and total primary energy consumption between 1965 and 2016. The data are from the BP 2016 Statistical Review. Note that the CO2 data cover only emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Other greenhouse gases such as methane and Nox are not included:

Figure 1: Global CO2 emissions and primary energy consumption, 1965-2016

The near-exact match between CO2 emissions and energy consumption (R2 = 0.998) is obvious. What is not obvious is any detectable impact from the world’s efforts to cut CO2 emissions, which began at Kyoto over 20 years ago in 1997. (The combination of flattening emissions and moderate economic growth after 2013 has been claimed as evidence that energy and emissions are finally becoming decoupled, but global CO2 emissions in 2017 have risen again – by about 2% over 2016 according to Carbon Brief.)

Figure 2 plots global per-capita CO2 emissions since 1965, calculated from the BP emissions data and the UN’s global population estimates:

Figure 2: Global per-capita CO2 emissions

This plot is similar to the plot of per-capita energy consumption shown in Figure 1 of Euan Mearn’s post, which we would expect given the close correlation between emissions and energy, but the trend is less steep. The likely reason is that the proportion of world primary energy supplied by low-carbon sources (nuclear, hydro, renewables) has increased from about 6% in 1965 to approaching 15% now. Nevertheless the overall trend is still upward.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Where is the proof that CO2 warms the Earth?

Where is the proof that CO2 warms the Earth?

A persistent element of the climate debate is the claim that “there is no proof” that CO2 and other greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere. This has generated a number of amateurish demonstrations of how the greenhouse effect works  A good example of how NOT to carry out such a demonstration is shown above. Nobody told this poor kid how to perform a scientific measurement. If he had switched his jars he would have discovered that the effects he observes are only the result of one of the two jars being closer than the other to the light source. And they didn’t even explain to him how the greenhouse effect actually works: you cannot see any warming in this set-up unless you place a light adsorber (e.g. a piece of black cloth) in the jar discuss this and other disasters in a post of mine (in Italian), see also here.

Imagine that someone asks you to prove that the Moon orbits around the Earth because it is pulled by the force of gravity. Your first reaction would be to say something like “huh?” But – assuming you are in a good mood – you might try to explain how Newton’s law of universal gravitation works and how it can be used to describe the moon’s trajectory.

“Then,” your opponent could say, “is it correct to say that nobody ever measured the gravity pull of the Earth at the Earth-Moon distance?”

“Aw… No. What for? It would be terribly expensive. And useless, too.”

“So, you have no proof that the Moon goes around the Earth because of gravity. Can you prove that the Moon is not being pushed by invisible angels, instead?”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Acidification could leave oceans ‘uninhabitable’ for cold-water corals

The world’s oceans could become “uninhabitable” for cold-water corals by the end of the century as a result of ocean acidification, research suggests.

Ocean acidification, which occurs as seawater takes up CO2 from the atmosphere, could threaten around 70% of cold-water coral living below 1,500 metres in the North Atlantic Ocean by 2050, the research finds.

Acidified waters that accumulate in the North Atlantic could then be circulated to the global seas via a system of ocean currents, the lead author tells Carbon Brief, which could have consequences for reefs across the world.

The findings reiterate how many coral reefs could “dissolve” and “crumble” as the world continues to warm, another scientist tells Carbon Brief.

Cool corals

Cold-water corals are found in deep, dark parts of the world’s oceans in both the northern and southern hemisphere. They can thrive at depths of up to 2,000 metres and in water temperatures as low as 4C.

Unlike tropical corals, cold-water corals do not rely on colourful algae for their food. Instead, cold-water coral feed on floating plankton.

This means they are unaffected by coral bleaching, a process which is heightened by climate change and poses a great threat to the survival of tropical reefs, such as the Great Barrier Reef.

However, both tropical and cold-water coral species are threatened by a process known as “ocean acidification”, which occurs as seawater absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere.

The oceans have absorbed around 30% (pdf) of the CO2 released by human activity since the industrial revolution. This has caused oceans, which are alkaline, to become more acidic over time. The overall pH of seawater has fallen from around 8.2 to 8.1from pre-industrial times to the present day.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Ecosystem is Breaking Down 

The Ecosystem is Breaking Down 

Photo by Richard Allaway | Public Domain

The ecosystem is the quintessential essence of life on our planet, and this crucial life system is showing signs of breaking down. It is likely a more pressing problem than climate change. Time will tell but time is short.

The ecosystem consists of all living organisms that interact with nonliving components like air, water, and soil contained within the biosphere, which extends from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the mountains. Although unannounced by authorities or professional orgs, it is already becoming evident that the ecosystem is breaking down. Alas, it’s our only ecosystem.

The evidence is too prevalent to ignore. For example, when (1) abundance of insects plummets by 75%, and (2) tropical rainforests mysteriously emit CO2, and (3) Mt Everest’s snow is too toxic to pass EPA drinking water standards, and (4) squid at 1,000 fathoms carry toxic furniture protection chemicals, and (5) ocean oxygen production plummets, then something is wrong, horribly, horribly, horribly wrong. But, nobody has announced it. Global warming gets all of the attention.

All of which begs the question: What does it take to determine when the ecosystem is losing it? After all, it surely looks like it is doing exactly that. For example, the loss of 75% of insect abundance in a landmark study in Germany (referenced in prior articles) released only last month is enough, all by itself, to indicate an extinction event is in the works. That is a monstrous wake up call.

Equally horrifying, recent studies show tropical rainforests emitting more CO2 than automobiles, which is kinda like getting hit repeatedly in the head with a wooden two-by-four, a deadly serious wake up call that says the planet is breaking down.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Record surge in atmospheric CO2 seen in 2016

Record surge in atmospheric CO2 seen in 2016

Last week the BBC carried another scare story on climate change, this time citing a report on CO2 from the World Meteorological Organisation:

“Concentrations of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere surged to a record high in 2016, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Last year’s increase was 50% higher than the average of the past 10 years.

Researchers say a combination of human activities and the El Niño weather phenomenon drove CO2 to a level not seen in 800,000 years.

Scientists say this risks making global temperature targets largely unattainable.”

Since this reporting is from the BBC, my default reaction is to treat it with a good deal of scepticism. So I decided to check out the numbers.

To my surprise the “50% higher than the average of the past 10 years” appears to be correct (Figure 1). The mean dCO2 2006-2015 was 2.1 ppm. The 2016 figure of 3.4 ppm is indeed 62% higher than the prior 10 year mean. We need to ask the serious question if this is a cause for concern?

Figure 1 Annual dCO2 from Mauna Loa based on monthly data downloaded from WoodForTrees. Annual means were calculated and annual dCO2 equals arithmetic difference from year to year.

The arrows on Figure 1 point to strong to very strong El Niño events. The very strong El Niño of 1982 / 83 does not register a CO2 spike, but the CO2 spike of 1988 does coincide with a strong El Niño. We are on fairly safe ground saying that the three marked and one unmarked CO2 spikes are linked to El Niño. We know that ocean surface warming will lead to reduced capacity to absorb CO2.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

d surge.

CO2 is Changing the Jet Stream in Ways that will Create more Harveys

“The record for total rainfall from a tropical system has been BROKEN!” the National Weather Service tweeted Tuesday morning. The previous record for wettest tropical system in the continental United States was 48 inches. Harvey had already hit 49.20, and the rain was still coming.

“Many textbooks have the 60-inch mark as a once-in-a-million-year recurrence interval,” as the Washington Post Weather Gang reported Sunday.

We’re seeing these staggering rainfall totals because this tropical storm hovered in place for days over southeast Texas, sweeping in vast quantities of moisture from the warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico. And the latest science points a finger at climate change for this.

“The kind of stalled weather pattern that is drenching Houston is precisely the sort of pattern we expect because of climate change,” climatologist Michael Mann explained in an email to ThinkProgress. Earlier this year, Mann co-authored a study explaining how human-caused warming is changing our atmosphere’s circulation, including the jet stream, in a way that leads to “increase in persistent weather extremes” during the summer.

“I agree with Mike [Mann] that the weak steering currents over the south-central US coincident with Harvey are consistent with our expectations for a warmer world, which of course includes effects of a very warm Arctic,” Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University, told ThinkProgress.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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