A pause or not a pause, that is the question.


With 2014 looking set to be the warmest year ever (possibly by some way) I’ve been wondering what position the people claiming “global warming has stopped” might retreat to. This neat tale hints at one possibility, and explains why it wouldn’t be a convincing argument.

Originally posted on Open Mind:

UPDATE: A new post at RealClimate is very relevant, and well worth the read.

One day, a new data set is released. The rumor runs rampant that it’s annual average global temperature since 1980.


Climate scientist “A” states that there is clearly a warming trend (shown by the red line), at an average rate of about 0.0139 deg.C/yr. She even computes the uncertainty in that trend estimate (using fancy statistics), and uses that to compute what’s called a “95% confidence interval” for the trend — the range in which we expect the true warming rate is 95% likely to be; it can be thought of as the “plausible range” for the warming rate. Since 95% confidence is the de facto standard in statistics (not universal, but by far the most common), nobody can fault her for that choice. The confidence interval is from 0.0098 to 0.0159 deg.C/yr. She also…

View original 1,029 more words

United States and China reach landmark carbon emissions deal


The recent US-China climate deal seems to bode well for next December’s key talks: In case you missed it this is a good summary.

Originally posted on co2balance:


Barack Obama and Xi Jinping have agreed a deal on cutting emissions into the 2020s

The big news this morning is that the US and China have unveiled a “secretly negotiated deal” to reduce their greenhouse gas output, with China agreeing to cap emissions for the first time and the US committing to deep reductions by 2025. China, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, has agreed to cap its emissions by 2030 or earlier if possible, and has also promised to increase its use of energy from zero-carbon sources to 20 per cent by 2030. The US has pledged to cut its emissions 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Barack Obama said the deal was an “historic agreement”. China’s premier, Xi Jinping, said the US and China had agreed to make sure a global climate deal is reached in Paris next year.

  • Under the deal…

View original 474 more words

Will anyone follow this route to low emission, low cost farming?

Ammonia fertiliser plays a crucial role in producing the food we need. Image credit: Allen (roadsidepictures) used via Flickr Creative Commons licence.

Ammonia fertiliser plays a crucial role in producing the food we need. Image credit: Allen (roadsidepictures) used via Flickr Creative Commons licence.

Can we make sure we make the most of the promising ideas people come up with to restrain and adapt to the changes we’re making to the climate? I’ve been considering this question thanks to a recent invention seeking to help cut increasing greenhouse gas emissions that arise from feeding the world’s growing population. Stuart Licht’s team at George Washington University in Washington, DC, has worked out how to make a key component of fertiliser – ammonia – that could eliminate emissions and minimise cost. In fact it’s an extension of a method that Stuart told me can also produce zero carbon cement, iron, bleach, magnesium, and capture CO2 directly from the atmosphere. So when will we see this amazing approach in use? I can’t tell you that – because Stuart has no plans to commercialise it.

I became aware of the new ammonia production system when Chemistry World asked me to cover it for them. Ammonia is a simple molecule, comprising only two elements, hydrogen and nitrogen. Humans have been using it in fertiliser since at least the early 19th century, when it was mined, both in mineral form and as bird guano, for delivery to farmers. That was necessary because although nitrogen is hugely abundant – it makes up four-fifths of Earth’s atmosphere – it’s equally as unreactive. Chemists often replace the air above the reactions in their flasks with pure nitrogen when they’re worried that oxygen will affect their results. That stability meant synthetic ammonia was at first elusive.

But in the early 20th century Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch found a way to overcome nitrogen’s reluctance to react. They could take nitrogen from the air, and bring it together with hydrogen gas in the presence of an osmium catalyst at very high pressures and temperatures. During the First World War ammonia’s other main application – as a basis for explosives – saw that ramped up to industrial scale. The Haber-Bosch process has provided fertilisers that have been crucial in feeding Earth’s growing population since then. But it comes with a downside: it requires huge amounts of energy – 2% of the entire world’s consumption – whose generation usually releases the greenhouse gas CO2. Read the rest of this entry »

There’s nothing quite like renewables: Natural gas production will not reduce future greenhouse gas emissions as hoped


Because burning natural gas produces less CO2 emissions in generating a certain amount of power than coal, it’s seen as a ‘bridging fuel’, a step to getting emissions down. However, a new study accounting for how tricky it is to close existing power plants suggests increasing use of natural gas is not reducing net emissions. Taken together with recent results showing that poor practice in fracking is contaminating groundwater, the case is growing in favour of pushing harder for renewables and – dare I say it – nuclear power to fight climate change. Read more about the latest findings on gas power in Jonathan Trinastic’s interesting post:

Originally posted on Goodnight Earth:

Appropriate and useful climate policy-making requires accurate and reliable data about the future.  Nowhere is this more important than when setting carbon emission standards and projecting percentages of each energy source to match energy needs (coal, natural gas, nuclear, renewables, etc.).  But projecting how emissions will change in the decades to come, say to meet the 2030 standards, is a tricky business.  In particular, natural gas has been touted as a ‘bridge’ to a low-carbon future with predictions that it would take over a share of energy production from coal and thereby reduce net emissions (natural gas has about a fourth of the greenhouse potential of coal, if you take away methane leaks in transportation pipes).

But is this really true?  Does the data back this up?  These are the key questions policymakers must know the answer to when deciding whether to promote natural gas expansion with subsidies, etc.  And it falls…

View original 798 more words

The hope behind climate change: adaptation strategies for coastal regions


If you focus too narrowly on the negatives of climate change too much you might give up hope, or be tempted into denial. But humanity is actually remarkably good at solving its problems, and that’s cause for optimism. Put into a good mood by the Labor Day holiday Jonathan Trinastic argues just that, inspired by a Nature Climate Change paper on the development of strategies responding to coastal impacts. It’s a nice summary, definitely worth a read.

Originally posted on Goodnight Earth:

Figure courtesy of aeccglobal.com

Figure courtesy of aeccglobal.com

Happy Labor Day!  In honor of a day traditionally taken off (except for retail employees, unfortunately) to enjoy grilling and relaxing outside, I thought I’d discuss something a bit more upbeat.  Climate change research can often be gloomy.  It is a necessary gloom in the form of research indicating severe dangers ahead – sea level rise, temperature increases, more severe storms, etc. – if we do not take action, and it does us no good to turn our heads even if this type of emotional denialism is tempting and easy.  But a little commentary came out in Nature Climate Change last week that provides some hope.  The article summarizes IPCC reports and describes a model approach to figure out how to respond to climate change and, in particular, sea level rise along the coasts.  This type of information is important both to determine how we can respond…

View original 800 more words

Information Aversion


People will actually pay to avoid learning unpleasant facts: is this linked to why some people reject global warming? John Baez thinks so.

Originally posted on Azimuth:

Why do ostriches stick their heads under the sand when they’re scared?

They don’t. So why do people say they do? A Roman named Pliny the Elder might be partially to blame. He wrote that ostriches “imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of their body is concealed.”

That would be silly—birds aren’t that dumb. But people will actually pay to avoid learning unpleasant facts. It seems irrational to avoid information that could be useful. But people do it. It’s called information aversion.

Here’s a new experiment on information aversion:

In order to gauge how information aversion affects health care, one group of researchers decided to look at how college students react to being tested for a sexually transmitted disease.

That’s a subject a lot of students worry about, according to Josh Tasoff, an economist at Claremont Graduate University who…

View original 934 more words

With climate change, uncertainty is no-one’s friend

Uncertainty cuts both ways highlights University of Bristol's Stephan Lewandowsky - if your preferred estimate is at the low end of a range, you're neglecting similarly likely high end estimates. Image credit: University of Bristol

Uncertainty cuts both ways highlights University of Bristol’s Stephan Lewandowsky – if your preferred estimate is at the low end of a range, you’re neglecting similarly likely high end estimates. Image credit: University of Bristol

Waiting longer to act on climate change will cost us more than taking immediate action. It’s a message that’s getting louder and louder, repeated from many sides. In March it was stressed by US Secretary of State John Kerry. In April it was highlighted by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s latest report. Last month it was underlined by Hank Paulson, treasury secretary under George Bush, hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. This week the Council of Economic Advisors, the agency advising President Obama on economic policy, joined in.

These messages could hardly be any clearer, but still some of us remain uncertain on the need to act. The best argument for waiting until we’re more certain to act is that if climate change turns out to be harmless, our efforts to fight it will be wasted. Even simple things like current weather are enough to sway our opinions, and when uncertain it’s always tempting to feel like we don’t need to do anything. But that’s the wrong reaction to uncertainty on climate change, according to psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky from the University of Bristol, UK.

The researchers have found that greater uncertainty over how much Earth warms in response to our CO2 emissions would actually raise forecasts of average damage costs from climate change. Greater uncertainty also means projections see it as more likely that steps to cut emissions won’t keep the world below warming levels governments have agreed we must avoid. So, if we are unsure whether we can slow the climate juggernaut down before we smash into the wall, we’re better off hitting the brakes earlier. As Stephan explained, ‘uncertainty is no one’s friend’.

Evidence is piling up against the economic argument for waiting to see if climate sensitivity is less than 1C per doubling of CO2. Image copyright Springer, see reference below.

Evidence is piling up against the economic argument for waiting to see if climate sensitivity is less than 1°C per doubling of CO2. Image copyright Springer, see reference below.

Read the rest of this entry »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 195 other followers