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Earth 101, Reykjavik

September 30, 2013

I’ll be flying today, so posting sporadically.

I’m going to the Earth 101 event in Reykjavik, a collaboration between the University of Iceland and the Reykjavik International Film Festival, focused on communicating climate change thru film and video. Mike Mann and Stefan Rahmstorf, as well as a host of amazingly accomplished other folk. I’m very lucky to have made the cut.

I’ll be presenting in a couple of formal venues, hope there will be some time to get together in smaller groups to get to know some of these folks. In addition, I’ll be sharing living quarters with Phil Coates, an internationally renowned Arctic photographer/filmmaker, from whom I’ve already learned a lot long distance. We hope to take a few days after the conference to get out in the boondocks and look around, as well.

In Copenhagen, where I was briefly in June, you notice a few things.

a. How much quieter the city center is

b. How many people are riding bicycles, not for pleasure (only), but to actually get somewhere

c. How many more very slender and healthy looking middle age and older people you see

The video above does a very nice job of picking out glaring (to European eyes) deficiencies in how bicycle lanes, racks, and other amenities are so far applied in the US.  Those nice new bike lanes you may have in your neighborhood? Maybe not as nice as they could be if we were more serious that bicycling is a real alternative way to move, rather than just a sport for kids or athletes.

Progress is being made on this, for sure – but this is one area of our transportation system that could have so many positive effects on our cities and our people, it seems more than a no-brainer to move forward.

Jay asks some good questions of Tesla’s lead designer.


Here’s a little known news item from an obscure organization that someone obviously is trying to hide by releasing it in a Friday news dump…oh, wait.


A panel of experts appointed by the United Nations, unveiling its latest assessment of climate research, reinforced its earlier conclusions that global warming is real, that it is caused primarily if not exclusively by human emissions, and that it is likely to get substantially worse unless efforts to limit those emissions are rapidly accelerated.

“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes,” the report said. “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

Going well beyond its four previous analyses of the emissions problem, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change endorsed a “carbon budget” for humanity — an upper limit on the amount of the primary greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, that can be emitted from industrial activities and forest destruction.

To stand the best chance of keeping the planetary warming below an internationally agreed target of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels and thus avoiding the most dangerous effects of climate change, the panel found, only about 1 trillion tons of carbon can be burned and the resulting gas spewed into the atmosphere.

Just over half that amount has already been emitted since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and at current rates of energy consumption, the trillionth ton will be released around 2040, according to calculations by Myles R. Allen, a scientist at the University of Oxford and one of the authors of the new report. More than 3 trillion tons of carbon are still left in the ground as fossil fuels.

Australia Broadcasting (ABC):

However, in the weeks leading up to the publication of the 2013 IPCC report, climate contrarians have been working overtime publishing opinion articles full of myths and misinformation, to mislead and confuse the public about its sobering message. Most of these opinion pieces have focused on the mythical global warming ‘pause’ (more accurately described as a speed bump), which in reality merely refers to a temporary slowing in the warming of air temperatures at the surface of the Earth.

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Mike Mann: First Look at AR5

September 27, 2013


Mike Mann in LiveScience:

What about the converse claim, promoted by critics, that the IPCC has exaggerated the evidence?

Well, if anything, the opposite appears closer to the truth. In many respects, the IPCC has been overly conservative in its assessment of the science. The new report, for example, slightly reduces the lower end of the estimated uncertainty range for a quantity know as the equilibrium climate sensitivity — the amount of warming scientists expect in response to a doubling of carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations relative to preindustrial levels (concentrations that will be seen mid-century, given business-as-usual emissions).

The IPCC reports a likely range of 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius (roughly 3 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit) for this quantity, the lower end having been dropped from 2.0 degrees C in the fourth IPCC assessment. The lowering is based on one narrow line of evidence: the slowing of surface warming during the past decade.

Yet there are numerous explanations of the slowing of warming (unaccounted for effects of volcanic eruptions and natural variability in the amount of heat buried in the ocean) that do not imply a lower sensitivity of the climate to greenhouse gases. Moreover, other lines of evidence contradict an equilibrium climate sensitivity lower than 2 degrees C. It is incompatible, for example, with paleoclimate evidence from the past ice age, or the conditions that prevailed during the time of the dinosaurs. (See this piece I co-authored earlier this year for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. for a more detailed discussion of the matter.)

The IPCC’s treatment of global sea-level rise is similarly conservative — arguably, overly so. The report gives an upper limit of roughly 1 meter (3 feet) of sea-level rise by the end of the century under business-as-usual carbon emissions. However, there is credible peer-reviewed scientific work, based on so-called “semi-empirical” approaches that predict nearly twice that amount — i.e., nearly 6 feet (2 m) of global sea-level rise this century. These latter approaches are given short thrift in the new IPCC report; instead, the authors of the relevant chapter favor dynamical modeling approaches that have their own potential shortcomings (underestimating, for example, the potential contribution of ice-sheet melting to sea-level rise this century).

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In anticipation of the new Fifth Assessment of the IPCC (AR5) which will be released tomorrow, there are a number of good backgrounders online. Here are  some of the best.

Joe Romm in Climate Progress:

Let me extract the key points and figures. Back in July, scientist Dana Nuccitelli summarized a new study, “Distinctive climate signals in reanalysis of global ocean heat content“:

  • Completely contrary to the popular contrarian myth, global warming has accelerated, with more overall global warming in the past 15 years than the prior 15 years. This is because about 90% of overall global warming goes into heating the oceans, and the oceans have been warming dramatically.
  • As suspected, much of the ‘missing heat’ Kevin Trenberth previously talked about has been found in the deep oceans. Consistent with the results of Nuccitelli et al. (2012), this study finds that 30% of the ocean warming over the past decade has occurred in the deeper oceans below 700 meters, which they note is unprecedented over at least the past half century.
  • Some recent studies have concluded based on the slowed global surface warming over the past decade that the sensitivity of the climate to the increased greenhouse effect is somewhat lower than the IPCC best estimate. Those studies are fundamentally flawed because they do not account for the warming of the deep oceans.
  • The slowed surface air warming over the past decade has lulled many people into a false and unwarranted sense of security.

And let’s not forget another key indicator of accelerating warming — the accelerating melting of the great ice sheets as documented in the most comprehensive analysis of satellite altimetry, interferometry, and gravimetry data sets to date:

Chris Mooney in MotherJones:

Okay, so it’s clearly misleading to say the planet has stopped warming. What’s actually going on? It’s pretty nuanced: According to the leaked IPCC draft report, the rate of warming at the planet’s surface (technically, the “global mean surface temperature”) is lower over the last 15 years, kind of like a car easing off the accelerator. The draft states that the rate of surface warming from 1998-2012 was 0.05 degrees Celsius per decade. But over the entire period from 1951 to 2012, it was 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade. (Keep in mind that not every aspect of the climate system necessarily reflects this “slowdown”: Arctic sea ice, for instance, hit a record low in 2007 and then another record low in 2012.)

How significant is the surface temperature slowdown in the context of global warming as a whole? The slowdown is certainly big enough to measure—or else we wouldn’t be discussing it—but not a huge deal in the context of the climate system. That’s because surface temperature itself, while a useful measurement, only captures a small part of what’s actually happening to the planet.

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Simple idea. Storing energy as compressed air. It’s been done before, but with a fossil fuel assist that made it more carbon intensive and expensive.

This is a big deal. There will probably not be a one size fits all answer to energy storage – and storage is not needed nearly as much as some people think, but improvements like this will give planners more options and flexibility in designing distributed systems in coming years.

Daily Fusion:

SustainX, an energy storage technology developer, has completed construction and begun startup of the world’s first megawatt-scale isothermal compressed air energy storage (ICAES) system (detailed description available here). The system stores and returns megawatts of electricity to provide long-term grid stability and support integration of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

The 1.5-megawatt isothermal compressed air energy storage system is located at SustainX headquarters in Seabrook, New Hampshire. It takes electricity from the grid and uses it to drive a motor that compresses air and stores it isothermally, or at near-constant temperature. To do so it captures the heat produced during compression, traps it in water, and stores the warmed air-water mixture in pipes. When electricity is needed back on the grid, the process reverses and the air expands, driving a generator. No fossil fuel is needed to reheat the air and no emissions are produced, making ICAES a safe and sustainable energy storage solution.

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Photo: Stefan Rahmstorf

Another in a series of background posts to bone up for the release of IPCC 5th Assessment Report (AR5) on Friday.

It’s a piece by Stefan Rahmstorf, who I’ll be joining in Reykjavik next week for a conference on climate change communication.

Stefan Rahmstorf in RealClimate:

The heat content of the oceans is growing and growing.  That means that the greenhouse effect has not taken a pause and the cold sun is not noticeably slowing global warming.

NOAA posts regularly updated measurements of the amount of heat stored in the bulk of the oceans.  For the upper 2000 m (deeper than that not much happens) it looks like this:

Change in the heat content in the upper 2000 m of the world’s oceans. Source: NOAA

The amount of heat stored in the oceans is one of the most important diagnostics for global warming, because about 90% of the additional heat is stored there (you can read more about this in the last IPCC report from 2007).  The atmosphere stores only about 2% because of its small heat capacity.  The surface (including the continental ice masses) can only absorb heat slowly because it is a poor heat conductor.  Thus, heat absorbed by the oceans accounts for almost all of the planet’s radiative imbalance.

If the oceans are warming up, this implies that the Earth must absorb more solar energy than it emits longwave radiation into space. This is the only possible heat source. That’s simply the first law of thermodynamics, conservation of energy. This conservation law is why physicists are so interested in looking at the energy balance of anything. Because we understand the energy balance of our Earth, we also know that global warming is caused by greenhouse gases – which have caused the largest imbalance in the radiative energy budget over the last century.

If the greenhouse effect (that checks the exit of longwave radiation from Earth into space) or the amount of absorbed sunlight diminished, one would see a slowing in the heat uptake of the oceans. The measurements show that this is not the case.

The increase in the amount of heat in the oceans amounts to 17 x 1022 Joules over the last 30 years.  That is so much energy it is equivalent to exploding a Hiroshima bomb every second in the ocean for thirty years.

The data in the graphs comes from the World Ocean Database.  Wikipedia has a fine overview of this database.  The data set includes nine million measured temperature profiles from all of the world’s oceans.  One of my personal heroes, the oceanographer Syd Levitus, has dedicated much of his life to making these oceanographic data freely available to everyone.  During the Cold war that even landed him in a Russian jail for espionage for a while, as he was visiting Russia on his quest for oceanographic data (he once told me of that adventure over breakfast in a Beijing hotel).

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The League of Conservation Voters has recently come out with a series of advertisements targeting politicians based on their climate positions, and in the Virginia Governor’s race, climate-denialist and anti-breast freak Ken Cuccinelli has been called out specifically for his rabid attacks on climate scientists.  Cuccinelli is now well down in the polls, as his naked appeal to the farthest of the far right is proving to be a liability in that bellweather state.  Politico has reported that the reality-challenged caucus may be starting to drag on the frayed Republican brand.

Just yesterday,  National Journal quoted Jordan Davis, policy director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, protesting that “..We have a lot of members in our caucus who are not crazy climate deniers.”
Really? Name them.

Now we have results from new elections in Germany. It’s become a more important tactic in recent years for the climate denial movement to bash the German Energiewende – the world-leading push by one of the most highly developed manufacturing nations to power itself using renewable energy.  We’re told that the program is expensive and unpopular – but that’s not what German voters are telling us, as they gave Angela Merkel’s ruling party an historic victory, while shutting out the party most identified with climate denial and opposition to renewables.

Solar Server:

The center-right Free Democratic Party (FDP) has been eliminated in Germany’s government by failing to meet a 5% minimum threshold in the federal election on September 22nd, 2013. This removes the only political party calling for a repeal of the nation’s feed-in tariff law (EEG).

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party (CDU) won the most votes but not a majority, and now must form a coalition with one of the other three main parties, the Greens, the Social Democrats (SPD) and The Left (Die Linke).

“The extreme positions of the FDP regarding the energy transition and the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) have damaged the important renewable energy economy,” stated Association of Renewable Energy (BEE) CEO Dr. Hermann Falk. “This has contributed to climate change and energy policy can be designed without the FDP for four years now.”

Renewables International:

Germany has voted, and the new Chancellor is the old one. But although there is no change at the helm, the situation has greatly improved for renewables.

Supporters of renewables have reason to rejoice this week, for the FDP has failed to get 5% of the vote, the limit required to enter parliament. It is the first time in the history of the German Republic that the FDP, a libertarian party, has not been represented in the Bundestag.

The FDP does not, however, properly represent citizen liberties, but rather big business. Thus, it was possible for the Pirate Party to get several percentage points of the vote based largely on a platform of internet user rights. Had the FDP correctly understood what liberal politics is, there would have been no need for the Pirates at all.

In the case of renewables, the FDP wanted to put an immediate end to the citizens movement that is the Energiewende – not just a transition to renewables, but a challenge to the oligopoly in the energy sector. The FDP never represented the personal right to make your own energy. Now, community ownership can continue.