Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bali: the lose of the losers

Today, the Bali meeting to combat global warming is still not over, but however the ultimate outcome, one thing is to be said for sure: Because they focus on emission reductions only, they will not offset global warming.
Naturally (sad to say) the statesmen will not be able to agree. Vested interests prevail.
Assume, quite hypothetically of course, that they concur of the utmost severeness of the problem and agree on, and stick to, a 90% decrease of the emissions of carbon dioxide during the nearest 15 years, starting today.
Even such an effort would give the atmosphere an additional amount of 20 Gt carbon dioxide, assuming the annual emissions of today is 7 Gt.
Even this amount might lead to abrupt climate changes. And we must do everything possible to avoid that. (Read Mark Lynas 'Six degrees')

So, even if the politicians stand together and make bold decisions, we all will probably lose.

So what to do? Pray the last prayer, take farewell of our closest, let the musicians play "Nearer, My God, to Thee" ?

No. There is a further possibility. If we combine a radical reduction of emissions with a strenuous effort in carbon sequestration with charcoal, say of 2 Gt annually (see below), then the actual amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide will start to diminish within 7-10 years, and we might get off with nothing more than the fright (and more fertile soils).

Otherwise, we might all loose.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

How much space do you need?

For some years ago, I was asked the above question by one of my students.
Like most scientists, I started to answer: -- "That depends ... "
Then, I realized that it actually was a rather appropriate answer.
If you are talking about sitting space, it is not the same as what you need for producing your food demand for a year, or for making a good climate for your and your fellow creatures.
It is actually a series of spaces, each depending on the function of the next.
The attached picture attempts to give a notion of that.
The figure is clickable, if you have problems with reading the texts.

The reasoning is quite obvious. You need more space to produce food than you need to sit at the dinner table. And you need more processes and space to maintain a healthy atmosphere than you need to breath (although that area is a quite large, considering the 90 sq. m. inner area of your lungs).

The picture is just a rough outline, just attempting to draw attention to the different spaces needed for our life support, and our dependence of them. But it can also be seen as an attempt to bring figures to the global carrying capacity, with or without fossil fuels. Since the surface area of the planet Earth is estimated to around 150,000,000 km2, the figure on the sketch would indicate that the carrying capacity for 'climate production' is exceeded at 7.5 billion people, given our current lifestyle.
It is certainly not sure that the use of fossil fuels will eternally increase the carrying capacity of the globe.
Perhaps the opposite.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A new way to tell the same thing

GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 34, L19703, doi:10.1029/2007GL031018, 2007

Received 15 June 2007; accepted 7 September 2007; published 6 October 2007.

Long term climate implications of 2050 emission reduction targets

Andrew J. Weaver
School of Earth and Ocean Science, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Kirsten Zickfeld
School of Earth and Ocean Science, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Alvaro Montenegro
School of Earth and Ocean Science, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Michael Eby
School of Earth and Ocean Science, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

A coupled atmosphere-ocean-carbon cycle model is used to examine the long term climate implications of various 2050 greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. All emission targets considered with less than 60% global reduction by 2050 break the 2.0°C threshold warming this century, a number that some have argued represents an upper bound on manageable climate warming. Even when emissions are stabilized at 90% below present levels at 2050, this 2.0°C threshold is eventually broken. Our results suggest that if a 2.0°C warming is to be avoided, direct CO2 capture from the air, together with subsequent sequestration, would eventually have to be introduced in addition to sustained 90% global carbon emissions reductions by 2050.

(My italics)

As I said in the blog of 28/10, (why it needs two..) , it is not enough with reductions. More efficient measures need to be done. Only an extreme reduction of the effluents of greenhouse gases plus a strenuous sequestration effort might do the job.

Sequestration is easy, good for the soil, and might be profitable, so why not do it?

A small company, Purity, making kettles for water heating and purification, has taken up the idea: They calculate how much carbon dioxide emissions the making of their product generate and will contract a group of farmers in Ethiopia to make and bury charcoal to improve their soils under the supervision of an independent company. After that, Purity can claim that their products are carbon negative! (Since more carbon is buried than actually is released.)

Something for the big oil companies to take after?

Or buy carbon emission permissions... from a person who actually buried the same amount of carbon as charcoal!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What are rainforests good for?

The above picture is a false-color picture of the OLR, Outgoing Longwave Radiation of the Earth in the early nineties, made by NOAA. You can see the contours of the continents. Blue on the map represents 'cool' radiation, while red represents 'hot' radiation. One could also say exergy-poor and exergy-rich radiation. (Never heard about exergy? Go to my homepage and look up thermodynamics).
What is interesting with the picture is that the temperature radiation is not evenly spread over the world. It is not so, that the radiation from the poles is cool and the radiation from the equator is warm. On the opposite, form the equatorial regons, we have a rather cool radiation, at least form the areas where we have rain forests. The intensive exergy consumption done by the equatorial ecosystems actually cools the area (and that is not only by the strong evaporation in the area).
This is something that also happens in the small scale. Do you want to tell if a flower in a pot is a real flower or an almost perfect model, made of plastic? Hold a leaf between your fingers. The living leaf is cooler than room temperature, while the plastic leaf has the same temperature as room temperature.
For the living ecosystems, it is the same. The more mature it is, the cooler it is.

So, when we destroy the rain forest, issues of biodiversity, medicine, beauty, native population are often brought to discussion. The very important issue of global cooling is often neglected. In principle, one can say that the more mature an ecosystem is, the cooler it is, and the more counter-impact it has on global warming.

If you can read Swedish, a longer discussion on this is available.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Why it need both to solve the problem

Earlier (the 18:th and 19:th), I pointed out the inclusion of charcoal (biochar) in soil as a way to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The 24:th, I pointed out possible abrupt climate changes as a real threat if our way of conduct is not changed radically.
The problem is that bifurcations and similar climate changes can not be predicted in time. As with the pack of lions, you can only back away from them.
Up to now, our main efforts (if any) has been to reduce the effluents of carbon dioxide. This is certainly not enough (like walking slower into the lion pack, or closing slower to the point of no return, when we get an abrupt climate change), but it is not in vain. Let me explain why.

In the left pile, the currently added --and dangerous -- 475 Gt of carbon (as carbon dioxide) is successively added on with a successively diminishing amount of new carbon (very ambitious, a 90% reduction), but it is leading straight into the zone of system stress where a bifurcation is imminent.
In the right piles, each period (year?) of diminishing emissions is matched by a carbon sequestration of 2 Gton. This is the same as slowing down, and after some time, backing off from the zone of imminent climate flips.
That is why you need both emission decrease and sequestration.
N.b. that the decrease in emissions certainly is very ambitious (90%), as is the rate of carbon sequestration (2Gt/year). It is in the same size as the war efforts in GB during WW II, but globally.
But the threat is larger.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On flipping and precaution

Since the world is full of ignorant people that don't understand Swedish, I will try to stick to English.

A very common feature of complex systems (e.g. organisms, ecosystems, the ecosphere, economic systems) is the habit of nonlinear changes. That makes their behavior extremely hard to predict. If you are inside such a system, e.g. a climate
system, they are easy to interpret as stable or predictable.
You make a complicated calculation and come to the conclusion that the temperature (or sea level, or any other characteristic of the system) will change, say, 1% within 100 years. The only thing that can be said
safely of such a calculation is that it is wrong. Complex systems don't change in that way. They flip, i.e. they suddenly change into another state that can not be calculated from the knowledge of their current parts.

Two typical ways of flipping in a complex system. The upper is a 'bifurcation', the system changes into one of two alternate stable states (e.g. a climate changing into a new heat period or a new ice age) the lower is a 'catastrophe' (e.g. a stripped ecosystem that changes into a desert). The main issue is that, after flipping, there is no way back, even if the original variables are restored.

If you live within the system, before the flip, you are unable to predict the flip. You may be able to predict that a flip will come, but not when, because there are very few signs from within that the system will make an abrupt change, and how.
If you live in, say, the upper system, some way from the place when the system is so strained that it will bifurcate, you can not tell when the bifurcation will come, because there are no signs of it.

The most beautiful (and recent) example of a climate bifurcation was the change into Younger Dryas about 12000 years ago, when the climate of the Northern hemisphere changed from a warm-moist climate into a cold-dry in a period of less than ten years. It lasted about 1300 years, delaying the start of the current interglacial period.

Possible flips
There is a multitude of possible climate flips. Most of them are interacting with each other, making the overall effect highly unpredictable. Examples are such as the calving of the Ross-ice, the loss of the Gulf stream, the thawing of the polar tundra, emitting methane, the loss of the Arctic polar cap. All of those are non-linear changes, unpredictable until they start, almost impossible to revert when they start.

Run up by the scientists
This blog was written in September 2007. Already in Februay 2008, it has become an official truth.
Read the article in Independent.

What can we do?
Treat climate flips as a pack of lions on the savanna; chose another path that leads away from them. Currently, the widest path that leads into a climate flip is the emission of of ghg, notably carbon dioxide. But, as in the case with the lion pack, it is senseless to go slower into the pack (equivalent of emitting less carbon dioxide), you have go backwards, i.e. you have to diminish the carbon dioxide cloud. I.e. reduce it by more than you emit.
Ceterum censeo: You have to bind carbon (in the form of charcoal) at a faster rate than you emit carbon dioxide.
Otherwise it is like standing there, looking at the lions, until they get hungry.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

English translation of yesterday's post

Is it good as it is?

Nothing indicates that the climate situation is good as it is. Unexpected weather phenomenons, such as floodings, hurricanes, rainstorms and the like are starting to become third page news. Abrupt changes outdate the regular predictions. The Antarctic ices are calving. Soon, the Ross-Ice is in turn, with a sudden sea level increase of 5-17 meters. The openings of the north-west and north-east passages in the Arctic, applauded by the oil transporters, might be a start of the melting of the entire Arctic ice-sheet, may be within a ten-year period. This, in turn, may release enough fresh water to stop the Gulf stream, which will make the climate of Northern Europe much colder, not warmer.
If you have a villa in Spain -- don’t sell it! (But it may be good idea to insulate it.)

All these phenomena relate to the excess of greenhouse gasses, especially carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere.. And what do we do about it? We take measures to release somewhat less carbon dioxide! (Increasing the gasoline prize, increasing the mileage of the cars, or making people believe that it is enough to change fuel.) It is as if we're only slowing down the sawing of the branch we are sitting on.

However, the decrease of the use of fossil fuels is a very good solution for another threat; the about 4% annual decrease of fossil fuels after the oil peak. Failing to accommodate for that, the economy will collapse, because it is dependent of a continuous growth, i.e. more energy every year.

Decrease the carbon, not the tax!
To counteract the threats of abrupt climate changes, a two-front war need to be fought. It is good to decrease the emissions, but it is not enough. Even if the emissions were decreased to 0% of the current use – a total stop of all use of fossil fuels – it would not be enough. It would not improve the climate from the current state. To ‘improve ‘ the climate, you need both a substantial emission decrease and a massive sequestration of the current carbon dioxide cloud.

The bright side – to look at

It is easy to remove carbon from the atmosphere. First, you let plants growand take up carbon dioxide. Second, you prevent their giving back the carbon to the atmosphere by converting the biomass into charcoal. While biomass has a turnover time on about 150 years, the charcoal is almost inert, and had a turnover time of several millennia. The knowledge of charcoal production is a as old as the knowledge of making fire.

Furthermore, charcoal is an excellent soil improver. Terra preta is a well known gift from the native Amazon Indians.
Apart from the Amazonian Indians, we have a further restriction. Incautious production of charcoal will emit at large amount of methane. To avoid that, either a so-called retort device need to be used, or an advanced pyrolysis unit with gas filters and the like, to use the surplus gasses as raw material for a new-old chemo-technical industry.

The maximum 40% of the biomass that is possible to convert into charcoal can – and should – be used as a soil improver. Since the inner surface of one gramme of charcoal is equal to the surface of three football grounds, it can give almost any soil a real kick start when it is colonized by micro-organisms, nutrient molecules and plant roots.

Fair tax

But you will not save the world by trusting the idealists that want to improve their soils by tilling in charcoal. You need stronger forces. Why not human greed?

Imagine for a moment – totally hypothetically, naturally – that you could introduce a fair carbon tax. Imagine that you could save the carbon dioxide emission tax out of the tax ocean and use it to pay the people sequestering carbon. Since a kilo of charcoal is equal to 3.67 kilos of carbon dioxide (because of the higher content of oxygen in carbon dioxide), somebody digging in one tonne of charcoal with the current tax of 0.90 SEK per kilo carbon dioxide, would be compensated with a sum of nearly 4000 (3667) SEK (almost €400).

A fair harvest of Industrial hemp will give about 20 tonne dw. Converted into charcoal, this harvest would give a revenue of about 30 000 SEK (€3,200 ). Wheat growing, take a running jump!

I am fully aware of the possibilities for a tremendous bureaucracy and corruption associated with such a Klondike of carbon management. But wouldn’t the reward be worth it?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sänk kolet, inte priset!

Är det bra som det är?
Det finns ingenting som tyder på att klimatsituationen är bra som den är. Oväntade väderfenomen börjar snart bli något man kan förvänta sig. Isarna i Antarktis kalvar. Snart står Ross-isen på tur. Den för oljetransportörerna välkomna öppningen av nordost- och nordväspassagerna i Arktis kan vara en föregångare till att hela Arktis smälter, kanske inom en tioårsperiod. Kanske leder det frigjorda sötvattnet till att vi blir av med Golfströmmen, och då blir det kallare här, inte varmare.
Alla som har en villa i Spanien -- sälj den inte!

Alla dessa fenomen kan härledas till att det finns för mycket växthusgaser i atmosfären, särskilt koldioxid. Och vad gör man mot det? Jo man släpper ut lite mindre koldioxid!
Det är som att såga långsammare när man får reda på att grenen man sitter på är den man håller på att såga av. Om man tror att det räcker med att såga långsammare, då kan man höja bensinpriset, skapa energisnålare bilar, eller inbilla folk att det räcker med att byta bränsle.

Att använda mindre fossila bränslen är en attdeles utmärkt lösning på ett annat hot: Att tillgången på fossila bränslen minskar med ungefär 4% per år efter oljetoppen, som inträffade förra året. Om man inte lyckas med det riskerar ekonomin att kollapsa, eftersom den är beroende av ständig tillväxt, dvs mer energi varje år.

Sänk kolet!
Men för att motverka klimathoten krävs ytterligare åtgärder. Det är visserligen bra att minska utsläppen, men det räcker inte. Även om man minskar dem till 0% av de nuvarande (dvs fullständigt upphör med all användning av fossila bränslen) -- så blir klimatet detsamma.
För att få ett 'bättre' klimat, och göra de obehagliga händelser som plötsliga klimatförändingar innebär, mindre sannolika, så måste man både minska utsläppen och inleda en massiv kolsänkning.

The bright side
Det är lätt att att ta bort kol från atmosfären. Man låter växer ta bort det genom sin tillväxt, och sedan omvandlar man växtbiomassan till träkol. Träkolet använder man som jordförbätringsmedel. Det är kemiskt neutral och kan mycket väl ligga kvar där i tiotusen år eller mer. Kolning är känt sedan urminnestider och kan genomföras med mycket enkla metoder.

I vårt fall gäller det emellertid att inte släppa ut fler växthusgaser (tex metan) vid kolningen än man tar bort i form av koldioxid. Det klarar man genom att använda metanet som bränsletillskott vid kolningen (sk retort-kolning), eller genom att kola mer mer industriellt avancerade metoder, då man kaan använda metan, vätgas och allehanda andra läckerheter som utgångspunk för en "ny" kemisk-teknisk industri.
De maximala 40% av biomassan som blir kol kan --och bör -- man använda till jordförbättringsmedel. Eftersom ett gram träkol har en inre yta som är ungefär lika stor som tre fotbollsplaner ger de nästan vilken jord som helst en rejäl nystart.

Rättvis skatt
Men man räddar inte jorden från klimathoten genom att hoppas på de idealister som vill ha en bättre odlingsjord. Bättre metoder behövs. Varför inte hoppas på den mänskliga girigheten? Tänk för ett ögonblick -- rent hypoteiskt -- att man skull införa en rättvis koldioxidskatt. Anta att man kunde fiska upp koldioxidskatten ur skattehavet och ge lika mycket till någon som tar bort koldioxid från atmosfären som den måste betala som släpper ut koldioxid. Eftersom ett kilo kol motsvarar 3,67 kilo koldioxid (eftersom koldioxiden inehåller mer syre, som är tungt), skulle någon som gräver ned ett ton kol med nuvarande skattesats på 90 öre kilot per kilo koldioxid, bli berättigad till en ersättning på närmare 4000 kronor (3667). En hyfsad odling av industrihampamed en skörd på 20 ton torrsubstans per hektar, skulle ge en intäkt på närmare 30 000 kr/ha! Veteodling, släng dig i väggen.

Jag är medveten om den ofantliga mängd byråkrati och korruptionsmöjligheter man öppnar för. Men skulle det inte vara värt det?

Monday, September 10, 2007

New start

The idea of having a blog for quick responses came to me from my wife Jane, who is the net-nestor of the family.
So, now I am starting one, for the service of my readers and to add thoughts about recent occurrences in the world.
And also, to discuss reflections and speculations that might interest more than myself.

One of the first forfeitures created by the possession of this blog seems to be the loss of the two dots above the U of my surname, but I think I'll have to live with that.