Sunday, November 29, 2009

Real Climate (dot) ORG & Copenhagen

Nov. 24th, 2009

The ‘Copenhagen Diagnosis‘, a report by 26 scientists from around the world was released today. The report is intended as an update to the IPCC 2007 Working Group 1 report. Like the IPCC report, everything in the Copenhagen Diagnosis is from the peer-reviewed literature, so there is nothing really new. But the report summarizes and highlights those studies, published since the (2006) close-off date for the IPCC report, that the authors deemed most relevant to the negotiations in Copenhagen (COP15) next month. This report was written for policy-makers, stakeholders, the media and the broader public, and has been sent to each and every one of the COP15 negotiating teams throughout the world.

Among the points summarized in the report are that:

  • The ice sheets are both losing mass (and hence contributing to sea level rise). This was not certain at the time of the IPCC report.
  • Arctic sea ice has declined faster than projected by IPCC.
  • Greenhouse gas concentrations have continued to track the upper bounds of IPCC projections.
  • Observed global temperature changes remain entirely in accord with IPCC projections, i.e. an anthropogenic warming trend of about 0.2 ºC per decade with superimposed short-term natural variability.
  • Sea level has risen more than 5 centimeters over the past 15 years, about 80% higher than IPCC projections from 2001.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the report articulates a much clearer picture of what has to happen if the world wants to keep future warming within the reasonable threshold (2°C) that the European Union and the G8 nations have already agreed to in principle.

The full report is available at Three of us at RealClimate are co-authors so we can’t offer an independent review of the report here. We welcome discussion in the comments section though. But read the report first before commenting, please.

Look for more information on climate change news and activism here:

CPR Initiating Groups
Alliance of Community Trainers
Center for the Working Poor
Global Justice Ecology Project
Indigenous Environmental Network
Mobilization for Climate Justice West
Rainforest Action Network
Rising Tide North America
Ruckus Society
Yes Men

Another Battle of the Generations? Climate Change, COP15, and the Future is for the Young at Heart, Chronologically Speaking!!

The Fire this Time: Copenhagen and the War for the Future
Alex Steffen, 17 Nov 09

"That which is unsustainable cannot go on. Unsustainable things that are propped up too long snap and collapse suddenly. Our way of life is unsustainable. The sooner we transform our economy into one that can generate sustainable prosperity, the better off we’ll be, and with every passing day, the risks of catastrophe grow larger and more certain. We need change now."

Read more at:

Copenhagen 15 is Serious Business

From our good friends at Good IS Magazine

Even if you flew to Copenhagen, they probably wouldn’t let you in to the conference. But don’t despair: You don’t have to be a delegate to help stave off catastrophe.

Keep track of the treaty: Negotiators are working on a draft treaty—raising objections, making changes, and shaping the fate of the world. Keep track of it at

Get to know the negotiators: Find out who will represent your country in Copenhagen and what they think. has “trackers” from 11 countries following the meetings leading up to Copenhagen “so you can stay up to date and either support or put pressure on your country’s climate negotiator to aim for a safe and fair deal.”

Petition important people: Send a letter to your local representative, or schedule some face time with a staff member (yes, you can actually do that). Urge them to support a climate treaty that will manage and reduce carbon emissions over the next 30 years. Learn how at

Get involved with Hopenhagen: The United Nations has teamed up with an all-star roster of ad agencies on a campaign to spread awareness about the opportunities COP15 presents. Join the campaign at

Participate in the International Day of Climate Action: An International Day of Climate Action on October 24 was organized by to make sure decision-makers knew where the public stands. Find activities in your area, or set up your own at

Make sure the treaty gets ratified: After the conference, the treaty won’t be binding unless the U.S. Senate ratifies it. That’ll take 66 votes, and they could be hard to come by. Find out how to contact your senator at

Do something on your own: The outcome of the conference will make a big difference, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Ride a bike, eat less red meat, or support sustainable local policies wherever you live.

Read the raw documents: The Kyoto Protocol is the current international agreement on climate change. It’s hardly a page-turner but it’s actually not that long. Read that, and the draft version of the Copenhagen treaty, at

A Bath Tub By any Other Name is a Carbon Sink Demo

Pretty simple analysis of what kind of conversation needs to take place at Copenhagen in five days. REALLY. CO2, lag time, feedback loops, systems thinking, holistic action.

Thanks to National Geographic for this "graphic" illustration. It's about narrative framing and systems thinking. Again. Cognitive limitations created by our plugged in society to grasp a simple illustration on how much carbon and GHG's we create versus how much the earth systems can absorb. It's sobering? This cognitive dissonance caused by superficial and unobjective media? By the dwindling K-12 education? By a consumer-driven society? By the Five E's of sustainability -- equity, environment, education, energy and economy driven by greedy economics?

The Carbon Bathtub

It’s simple, really: As long as we pour CO2 into the atmosphere faster than nature drains it out, the planet warms. And that extra carbon takes a long time to drain out of the tub.

A fundamental human flaw, says John Sterman, impedes action on global warming. Sterman is not talking about greed, selfishness, or some other vice. He’s talking about a cognitive limitation, “an important and pervasive problem in human reasoning” that he has documented by testing graduate students at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Sterman teaches system dynamics, and he says his students, though very bright and schooled in calculus, lack an intuitive grasp of a simple, crucial system: a bathtub.

Interactive Climate Change Simulator »

In particular, a tub with the tap running and the drain open. The water level can stand for many quantities in the modern world. The level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is one. A person’s waistline or credit card debt—both of which have also become spreading problems of late—are two more. In all three cases, the level in the tub falls only when the drain runs faster than the tap—when you burn more calories than you eat, for instance, or pay off old charges faster than you incur new ones.

Plants, oceans, and rocks all drain carbon from the atmosphere, but as climatologist David Archer explains in his book The Long Thaw, those drains are slow. It’s going to take them hundreds of years to remove most of the CO2 that humans are pouring into the tub and hundreds of thousands of years to remove it all. Stopping the rise of CO2 will thus require huge cuts in emissions from cars, power plants, and factories, until inflow no longer exceeds outflow.

Most of Sterman’s students—and his results have been replicated at other universities—didn’t understand that, at least not when the problem was described in the usual climate jargon. Most thought that simply stopping emissions from rising would stop the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere— as if a tap running steadily but rapidly would not eventually overflow the tub. If MIT graduate students don’t get it, most politicians and voters probably don’t either. “And that means they think it’s easier to stabilize greenhouse gases and stop warming than it is,” Sterman says.

By 2008, the level of CO2 in the tub was 385 parts per million (ppm) and rising by 2 or 3 ppm each year. To stop it at 450 ppm, Sterman says, a level many scientists consider dangerously high, the world would have to cut emissions by around 80 percent by 2050. When diplomats convene in Copenhagen this month to negotiate a global climate treaty, Sterman will be there to help, with software that shows immediately, based on the latest climate-model forecasts, how a proposed emissions cut will affect the level in the tub—and thus the temperature of the planet. His students are generally much better at bathtub dynamics by the end of his course, which gives him hope. “People can learn this,” he says.

—Robert Kunzig
National Geographic

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is this the Theme of the 21st Century Planning? A Sense of Place?

By Paul Haeder

The E-Squared Series at EWU's Riverpoint and Cheney campuses broached the land use and urban planner and architectural Mecca in this region, of sorts, Portland. Portland bit the bullet and took the plunge sooner than many American cities. Investing in transportation, street carries, trolleys, aerial trams, and putting pedestrians as the first class transportation model has turned Portland into a city that is readying for a post-fossil fuel dependent future.

Look at the facts -- Portland in the 1960s was a dreary, dumpy city, full of decay in the downtown, and it was a parking lot hell. It tried to compete with the suburbs, but what was happening was a hollowing out of the city. Planners thought the decay and urban flight to the suburbs would be remedied with some planning method that would be able to facilitate getting Portland-ites in and out of the city as rapidly as possible -- in their cars, of course.

Portland's metropolitan area, 565 square miles, and the 500,000 inhabitants are tied to a strong multi-modal transportation system. That system started 30 plus years ago was facilitated by the 1973 land use law that Gov. Tom McCall pushed with 100 Friends of Oregon that made it a requirement that every city in Oregon establish and delineate and plan for the urban growth boundary. With Portland's leadership in development, planning, architecture and transportation engineering, as well as community development, accessibility won over mobility.

Now, Portland has major facts showing the investment in trolleys and rails and land use planning and pedestrian and street scale design worked:

  • 17 percent fewer private vehicle trips since 1990

  • 90 percent increase in ridership for mass transit

  • 257 percent increase in bike trips

  • 14 percent decrease in global green house gas emissions

Everything is organized around the pedestrian in Portland, and the Pearl and River Districts look for multi-use planning, having retail on the ground floor that does not have to have parking spaces built into future retail activity. Millions of miles of automobile trips have been taken out of the equation when it comes to people living in Portland and using feet, bikes and mass transit to get to places of work, recreation, commerce and public activity. The street car construction moved at a pace of a block a week, and the value of the property along the lines more than double in value.

The Pearl District in the 1960s had one big retailer, Powells Books; today, more than 250 businesses are in that district. Affordability is a big issue as these "lifestyle migrants" are moving into Portland. A commitment to affordable housing is part of the Pearl and River Districts plan, so 3,000 permanent affordable units are part of the housing mix. The City is committed to 30 percent of all new housing units built or developed to be affordable.

This E-Squared episode shows the power of vision, the power of community planning, and the power of seeing how fossil fuels are what has shaped the misuse of land and community and that it's a country, our is that is, that is shaped by aspiration, and reprogramming the American dream to include having more people able to act upon the dream. It's not about acquisition, that American Dream. Or if it is, we are doomed.

Portland shows that a new paradigm is not about deprivation. It's about choice.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Press, Newspapers, Truth, Science and Tech News -- Going Extinct? Only PR blurbs will do?

By Paul K. Haeder

There is much in the media today about the media's role in shaping culture, thought, action, political landscapes and how we frame the big issues of our day, from health care policy, to green jobs, to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the Copenhagen Climate Change summit coming up, to climate change in general. I have a huge swatch of history tied to writing for daily newspapers. Dailies are dying, and two daily cities are as rare as honesty in the health care debate. These are not boding well for science, technology and those middle folk who work in cities and counties and for government agencies -- the old days included interviewing biologists about dams and culvert, or engineers about traffic loads, or any number of government workers on the work they do to keep this ship afloat. City, county, state, and the federal government work because of them, not the electeds. Those hard working, trained, experienced members of the health, safety, education, engineering, management, science and technology teams in governments are the reason why we have pretty much a well-oiled system. They also are on the front lines and can say so much about why we need bridges, why auto pollution kills, why mass transit works, why we need more policies on recycling, all of it and more, have been the stomping grounds of daily beat newspaper reporters.

Newspapers are dying, and so are the eyes and voices in the community. It won't happen on Twitter or Facebook or e-zines or digital newspapers.

Read my latest piece in the weekly here in Spokane. Read the other links to other stories about how the media have failed in the realm of science reporting, and climate change in particular.

"Down for the Count
Newspapers are hurting, but journalism is still crucial"

Paul K. Haeder

The Tucson Citizen — a newspaper that’s been around long enough to have reported on the 1881 shootout at the nearby OK Corral — was gunned down in April, after 140 years in the business as the evening newspaper. The editorial staffs of the Citizen and its rival, the morning Arizona Daily Star, competed for news — reporting on the elegance of humanity struggling under the stressors of sprawl, and writing about the drug war, bad politics, and the good, bad and ugly in the business community


Must-read study: How the press bungles its coverage of climate economics — “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress.”

January 25, 2009

One of the country’s leading journalists has written a searing critique of the media’s coverage of global warming, especially climate economics.

How Much Would You Pay to Save the Planet? The American Press and the Economics of Climate Change is by Eric Pooley for Harvard’s prestigious Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. Pooley has been managing editor of Fortune, national editor of Time, Time’s chief political correspondent, and Time’s White House correspondent, where he won the Gerald Ford Prize for Excellence in Reporting. Before that, he was senior editor of New York magazine.

"Don't dumb me down -- We laughed, we cried, we learned about statistics"

Ben Goldacre on why writing Bad Science has increased his suspicion of the media by, ooh, a lot of per cents

"Panel investigates media reporting on science and politics of stem cells"

"Journalistic Balance as Global Warming Bias Creating controversy where science finds consensus"

By Jules Boykoff and Maxwell Boykoff

A new study has found that when it comes to U.S. media coverage of global warming , superficial balance—telling "both" sides of the story—can actually be a form of informational bias. Despite the consistent assertions of the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that human activities have had a "discernible" influence on the global climate and that global warming is a serious problem that must be addressed immediately, "he said/she said" reporting has allowed a small group of global warming skeptics to have their views greatly amplified.


"Social media threats hyped by science reporting, not science"

Does using Twitter make you indifferent to the suffering of others? Will Facebook kill your grades? You might be forgiven for thinking that based on some recent press reports, but the science behind these stories doesn't necessarily support some of the reporting. Ars takes a look into how these stories developed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

E2 Series looks at Affordable Housing

By Paul Haeder
E2 Series at EWU Riverpoint and Cheney
Partially underwritten by PacifiCAD and Autodesk

So, with the housing bubble now popped, foreclosures on the rise, and people looking to planners, architects and government and business leaders to come up with a new way to live smaller, cheaper and less dependent upon fossil fuel and private transportation, just where is affordable housing in the "sustainability movement"?

Episode 4 of the E2 Design series, season two, covers the social, cultural and economic ties to affordable housing. More than 14 million Americans spend at least ½ their incomes on rent. For more than 50 years, planners and housing and architectural folk have disregarded the notion of community when planning and designing and building low income and mixed income housing.

Biophillia and the notion that humans are innately drawn to connecting with communities and diverse people and diverse social, biosocial, biological and cultural systems are key elements to today's holistic planning. In this E2 episode, “Affordable Green Housing,” one real estate developer, Jonathan Rose, looks at affordable housing as an entire package of things – the systems and networks and complexities and integration of people living and working and recreating in communities, cities that is. The concept of livable communities is tied to the built environment, and the social and cultural fabrics of the housing, the neighborhood -- all of this is stressed in this pretty insightful and successful E2 episode.

Jane Jacobs’ concepts are alluded to, including “eyes on the street” building and planning -- the more porches out front and less carports in the way, the more sidewalks and more outdoor venues, the more the community gets to know each other and engage in diversity on every possible level. A daycare and foster care center in New York is designed with a teaching garden and community garden to make those connections, making the built environment dynamic, a place of active and passive learning. So, these sometimes throw-away kids are now part of the community and integrated in daily city life.

South Bronx hit a real low point in the 1970s with residents fleeing and buildingsabandoned and decaying, looking like West Gaza looks like now. President Jimmy Carter used S. Bronx as an emblem of what’s wrong in America with old urban policy of huge ugly and non-integrated housing complexes stuck or fenced away from community design and inclusion. So, that 1977 Carter visit pulled people in new directions of thinking and how maybe a new urban housing policy had to be embarked upon.

Now, 30 years later, we have green and community building as key elements to design. A competition -- and 32 teams applied -- created a rarified group of designers and architects to come up with both quality, affordability and sustainability as part of the housing complex design. Five firms ended up with solicitations for complete proposals. One ended up getting the South Bronx narrow piece of property for $1.
Villa Verde then took off.

Meeting neighborhood people and advocates and just plain common Joe and Jane forced the architects to look at community needs, not just designers', developer s'and architects' needs. Health was the number one concern, since more than 17 percent of kids in South Bronx have asthma, and that means missing school and parents missing work. So, housing and health were tied together. A community Health Center is at the bottom of this mixed development, plus an organic community- based food coop is also designed in. Air quality of the units was important, so two exposures were built into each of the 139 single family units and 63 coop housing units.

Gardens, orchards, south facing light, and the general idea that landscapes have the power to educate, inspire and motivate were all points that ended up built into the housing development.

The idea is to provide affordable housing that makes people healthier -- physically, mentally and spiritually. An example of sustainable and culturally sound design and thinking is a village in Tibet that has been around for a thousand years and has maintained three simple inputs – sunlight, rainwater and human intelligence.

Bringing back the Bronx or Flint or Cleveland or other urban spaces is the goal now in a world where oil is expense, and it’s people like T. Boone Pickens who sees gas in the USA going for $10 a gallon in less than a decade who wants to see a decarbonization of societies. Sun, rain, intelligence -- what a concept.
Holistic design includes building a safe and secure place to live in which encourages youth to leave for school and then come back to the neighborhood to concentrate on community building, jobs and potentiality. These are the underpinnings of what this E2 series episode emphasized.

Taking residents seriously, getting them into the design phase, the project initiation phase, now that’s the key to this new design principle; and looking at them as beings who want to aspire to do great things, is what Rose sees as his job – creating potential for the community is self-arising AFTER housing and community space are sustainable from economic, social and cultural points of view – with the natural environment – as much as a city can afford – key to it all.

The tendril acts as a metphor for the architects and designers since it is proof of nature reaching out, seeking a foothold, adjusting to the light, geography, the conditions to gain a foothold. So, Villa Verde and Rose and the others see that thread -- the tendril -- as emblamatic of green affordable housing -- making footholds in brownfields and old spaces and generating life, a green vision.
So, this episode is talking about revolutionizing the way affordable housing is built in NYC, and the world. Mixed income neighborhoods are what we’ve lost, and some say suburbanization has caused that, while others say cities are highly bifurcating since the poorer folk live in the tougher parts and richer ones move out or into gentrified communities and neighborhoods on the edge. Mixed income neighborhoods highlighted in this show, like the Villa Verde (Green Estate-Town), is poart of the green community movement, and that is an integrated approach covering the legalities, profitability and the beauty of it all. This is the new paradigm of architecture and private-public urban space design.

The Lies of Oil

Here is a hodge-podge of information about energy, global warming, demand, peak oil. We will be looking at how Copenhagen plays out, how we will absorb the peak oil predictions and realities already playing out, and the huge challenge of a world seemingly ready for an Apollo program for decarbonizing our energy habits.


The world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit, according to a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency who claims it has been deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic buying.

The senior official claims the US has played an influential role in encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves.

The allegations raise serious questions about the accuracy of the organisation's latest World Energy Outlook on oil demand and supply to be published tomorrow – which is used by the British and many other governments to help guide their wider energy and climate change policies.

"This all gives an importance to the Copenhagen [climate change] talks and an urgent need for the UK to move faster towards a more sustainable [lower carbon] economy if it is to avoid severe economic dislocation," he added.

The IEA was established in 1974 after the oil crisis in an attempt to try to safeguard energy supplies to the west. The World Energy Outlook is produced annually under the control of the IEA's chief economist, Fatih Birol, who has defended the projections from earlier outside attack. Peak oil critics have often questioned the IEA figures.

But now IEA sources who have contacted the Guardian say that Birol has increasingly been facing questions about the figures inside the organisation.

Matt Simmons, a respected oil industry expert, has long questioned the decline rates and oil statistics provided by Saudi Arabia on its own fields. He has raised questions about whether peak oil is much closer than many have accepted.

World marketed energy consumption is projected to increase by 44 percent from 2006 to 2030. Total energy demand in the non-OECD countries increases by 73 percent, compared with an increase of 15 percent in the OECD countries.

In the IEO2009 reference case—which reflects a scenario in which current laws and policies remain unchanged throughout the projection period—world marketed energy consumption is projected to grow by 44 percent over the 2006 to 2030 period. Total world energy use rises from 472 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2006 to 552 quadrillion Btu in 2015 and then to 678 quadrillion Btu in 2030 (Figure 1). The current worldwide economic downturn dampens world demand for energy in the near term, as manufacturing and consumer demand for goods and services slows. In the longer term, with economic recovery anticipated after 2010, most nations return to trend growth in income and energy demand.

The most rapid growth in energy demand from 2006 to 2030 is projected for nations outside the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (non-OECD nations). Total non-OECD energy consumption increases by 73 percent in the IEO2009 reference case projection, as compared with a 15-percent increase in energy use among the OECD countries. Strong long-term GDP growth in the emerging economies of the non-OECD countries drives the fast-paced growth in energy demand. In all the non-OECD regions combined, economic activity—measured by GDP in purchasing power parity terms—increases by 4.9 percent per year on average, as compared with an average of 2.2 percent per year for the OECD countries.

World carbon dioxide emissions are projected to rise from 29.0 billion metric tons in 2006 to 33.1 billion metric tons in 2015 and 40.4 billion metric tons in 2030—an increase of 39 percent over the projection period. With strong economic growth and continued heavy reliance on fossil fuels expected for most of the non-OECD economies, much of the increase in carbon dioxide emissions is projected to occur among the developing, non-OECD nations. In 2006, non-OECD emissions exceeded OECD emissions by 14 percent. In 2030, however, non-OECD emissions are projected to exceed OECD emissions by 77 percent.


In 1999, with less than 5 % of the world's population, the US generated 30 % of the world's GDP (Gross Domestic Product), consumed 25 % of the world's energy, and emitted 25 % of the world's carbon dioxide."

"The United Nations compiles annual statistics about human development and the environment in 174 countries. The statistics relate to energy use, life expectancy, nutrition and health, income and poverty, carbon dioxide emissions, and so on. Three of the indicators are combined to calculate a Human Development Index (HDI). The UN's HDI is considered by many to be a fair measure of basic human well-being."

"Alan Pasternak...found a correlation between electricity consumption and the HDI (see the figure). His analysis showed that HDI reached a high plateau when a nation's people consumed about 4000 kWh (kilowatthours) of electricity annually per capita..."

US military energy consumption- facts and figures

by Sohbet Karbuz

As the saying goes, facts are many but the truth is one. The truth is that the U.S. military is the single largest consumer of energy in the world. But as a wise man once said, don't confuse facts with reality. The reality is that even U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) does not know precisely where and how much energy it consumes. This is my Fact Zero.

Below I give some facts and figures on U.S. military oil consumption based mostly on official statistics.[1] If you want to reproduce them make sure you read every footnote even if you need to put on your glasses. Also read the footnotes in this article.

FACT 1: The DoD's total primary energy consumption in Fiscal Year 2006 was 1100 trillion Btu. It corresponds to only 1% of total energy consumption in USA. For those of you who think that this is not much then read the next sentence.

Nigeria, with a population of more than 140 million, consumes as much energy as the U.S. military.

The DoD per capita[2] energy consumption (524 trillion Btu) is 10 times more than per capita energy consumption in China, or 30 times more than that of Africa.

Total final energy consumption (called site delivered energy by DoD) of the DoD was 844 trillion Btu in FY2006.

Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible?
Part 1
March 31, 2008

The short answer is, “Not today — not even close.”

The long answer is the subject of this post (and my book and this entire blog).

Certainly regular readers know that the nation and the world currently lack the political will to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 450 ppm or even 550 ppm.

The political impossibility is also obvious from anyone familiar with Princeton’s “stabilization wedges” — and if you aren’t, you should be (technical paper here, less technical one here). The wedges are a valuable conceptual tool for showing the immense scale needed for the solution (although they have analytical flaws).

Of course, if solving the climate problem were politically possible today, I would have found something more useful to do with my time (as, I expect, would you). But 450 ppm or lower is certainly achievable from an economic and technological perspective. Indeed, that is the point of the wedges discussion (since they rely on existing technology) and the Conclusion to Hell and High Water.
As Princeton’s Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala (S&P) explain:

A wedge represents an activity that reduces emissions to the atmosphere that starts at zero today and increases linearly until it accounts for 1 GtC/year of reduced carbon emissions in 50 years. It thus represents a cumulative total of 25 GtC of reduced emissions over 50 years.

They wrote their Science paper when we were at 7 GtC and rising slowly — an ancient time you may remember as 2003, before Bush was reelected, before anybody ever heard of Reverend Wright or Paris Hilton or the need to stabilize below 450 ppm. An innocent time, really, but I digress.

So they said that 7 wedges would keep emissions flat for 50 years and then, assuming we invested in a lot of R&D, we could start cutting global emissions rapidly after 2050, and stabilize at 500 ppm. And everybody would live happily ever after driving fuel cell cars, watching
YouTube, and popping the occasional Xanax.

Problem 1: The world is at 8 GtC annual emissions.

Just to stabilize emissions at current levels thus requires adopting at least 8 wedges.

Energy and Gas in the News

Watchdog: New York State Regulation of Natural Gas Wells Has Been "Woefully Insufficient for Decades."

The New York-based Toxics Targeting went through the Department of Environmental Conservation’s own database of hazardous substances spills over the past thirty years. They found 270 cases documenting fires, explosions, wastewater spills, well contamination and ecological damage related to gas drilling. Many of the cases remain unresolved. The findings are contrary to repeated government assurances that existing natural gas well regulations are sufficient to safeguard the environment and public health. The state is considering allowing for gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale watershed, the source of drinking water for 15 million people, including nine million New Yorkers

Sunday, November 1, 2009

What the Energy Horizon Will Look Like


Paul K. Haeder

Coal and Nuclear: Problem or Solution? E-2 Series, Energy

[Photo above -- Boy with silver caps because of rotting teath caused by chemicals in water from coal mining in USA's south.]

This E-Squared episode is long on two or three wonks discussing the benefits of a world wrapped around coal-fired electricity generating plants and nuclear reactors splitting atoms for our daily electricity needs. Here are a few topics broached in the film.

  • Pebble bed modular reactors
  • carbon capture and storage
  • gassification
  • permeability highways
  • mini-nuclear plants, modular style
  • FutureGen experimental coal carbon capture, carbon burial plant
  • 60 percent government, 40 percent private investments for Big Coal

In a time when carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are these huge looming issues of our time -- tied to global warming and what scientists see now as the only guard rail -- no more than 2 degrees Celsius warming for the planet, as the upper limit for global temperature increases in the next 50 years -- all sorts of designs and programs and solutions are coming forth as ways to look at using up the 600 years of coal the earth has without all the so-called emissions damage as the burned by-product. Many don't see the horizon as so full of blue sky as many of those in this E-Squared episode do.

E-2 tries to tackle this huge subject, but it's 24 minutes of superficiality and interesting asides and technological dreaming, at best. WE know that if the USA doesn't use it (coal, oil, tar sands, uranium, etc.) then China and India will, and as an argument, that's a global loser; many of us are betting on a better plan for global action to pull down carbon emissions.
There are so many other things tied to feedback loops when discussing the climate change predicament -- tundra and permafrost melt, ocean currents shutting down, black soot, albedo effect waning, nitrogen cycle out of whack, acidification of the oceans, air and chemical pollution and public health, water peaking, food crisis.

It seems apropos that one person interviewed continued with the mantra -- save federal handouts for carbon free energy industries, and give that money to seed wind and solar companies, and pump up the disadvantaged companies working on next generation, experimental planning and agricultural designs, projects that have an afterlife beyond just renewable and alternative energy and fuels.

Fifty percent of electricity in in this country comes from coal plants, and that likely won't end with a bunch of people hoping big coal jumps ship.

And one-fifth of electricity comes from nuclear plants. Again, that industry is taking off again, and is gaining the ear of many politicians.

Will it take 10,000 wind turbines to equal one nuclear generating plant? Is nuclear power safe? Up to $1 trillion is invested in coal plants in the USA and China. USA is 1/4 of the world's economy and we use 50 percent of the gasoline. Will we be the solution makers for solving the problems we've largely created?

Let's begin the conversation. Until then, read other spins and points of view on coal and nuclear. Here are some pretty insightful articles and points of view questioning the so-called power of coal and nuclear energy to fuel world economies and cut down on CO2.


Federal Energy Supply R&D Expenditures, 1948-19985
Energy R&D Program
Total Federal Expenditure (2003 dollars); percent of total

Nuclear Energy
$74 billion

Fossil Fuels
$30.9 billion

$14.6 billion

Energy Efficiency
$11.7 billion

Nuclear proliferation is related to the civil application of nuclear power in the following ways:

· Nuclear power makes widely and innocently available all the key ingredients of do-it-yourself bomb kits (fissile materials and the technologies, knowledge and skills to produce and process them; new reactor types are much worse)

· Without civil nuclear power, these ingredients would be harder to get, more conspicuous to try to get, and politically far costlier to be caught trying to get, because the reason for wanting them would be unambiguously military.

Biofuels hoax

As the global energy/climate crisis deepens, coal has become the starkest symbol and most telling measure of our predicament. Coal produces more carbon emissions than other energy sources - more than twice that of natural gas per unit of energy output. Consequently, coal-fired power plants are responsible for about one-third of US emissions of carbon dioxide. Despite this, we are mining and burning more coal than ever.

In summary, the extent of economically recoverable uranium, although somewhat uncertain, is clearly linked to exploration effort, technology, and economics but is inextricably linked to environmental costs such as energy, water, and chemicals consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and broader social issues. These crucial environmental aspects of resource extraction are only just beginning to be understood in the context of more complete life cycle analyses of the nuclear chain and other energy options. There still remains incomplete reporting however, especially in terms of data consistency among mines and site-specific data for numerous individual mines and mills, as well as the underlying factors controlling differences and variability. It is clear that there is a strong sensitivity of energy and water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions to ore grade, and that ore grades are likely to continue to decline gradually in the medium- to long-term. These issues are critical to understand in the current debate over nuclear power, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change, especially with respect to ascribing sustainability to such activities as uranium mining and milling.

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Paul Haeder

Fuse Washington

Fuse Washington