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.