The Keystone Pipeline, Arctic Methane Eruptions, and Why Human Fossil Fuel Burning Must Swiftly Halt

Human fossil fuel emissions heating the Earth’s airs, waters, and ice.

From historic droughts around the world and in places like California, Syria, Brazil and Iran to inexorably increasing glacial melt; from an expanding blight of fish killing and water poisoning algae blooms in lakes, rivers and oceans to a growing rash of global record rainfall events; and from record Arctic sea ice volume losses approaching 80 percent at the end of the summer of 2012 to a rapidly thawing permafrost zone explosively emitting an ever-increasing amount of methane and CO2, it’s already a disastrous train-wreck.

Since the 1880s, humans have emitted nearly 600 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. This vast emission has spiked atmospheric CO2 and CO2e (when all other heat trapping gasses are included) levels to above 400 parts per million and 481 parts per million respectively. According to climate sensitivity and paleoclimate science, these volumes are already enough to increase global temperatures by between 1.5 to 2 C this century and 3-4 C long term.

At the current carbon emissions rate of more than 10 billion tons each year and growing at around 2 percent, humans will have emitted a trillion tons of carbon by 2041. Under business as usual fossil fuel burning, more than 2.5 trillion tons of greenhouse gas trapping carbon will hit the atmosphere before the end of this century. It’s a terrible blow we will sorely want to avoid. And one we can only circumvent if we start working to radically curtail carbon emissions now.

Already, we can see instances of emissions-driven climate change and related harm. But what we see now is minor compared to what the future holds in store. We’ve warmed the Earth by more than 0.8 degrees Celsius since the 1880s, and if human emissions do not swiftly come to a halt, we could easily see warming of 4, 5, 7 C or more by the end of this century alone.

Probability of stabilizing below 2 C

(Probability of exceeding 2 C warming this Century [equilibrium climate sensitivity] given a certain level of human greenhouse gas forcing. Note that this study did not include feedbacks from Arctic carbon stores. Also note that current CO2 equivalent forcing without aerosols is around 481 CO2e and with the aerosol negative feedback is around 425 CO2e. Also note that equilibrium climate sensitivity is about half that implied by Earth Systems Sensitivity over the long term [many centuries]. For a final note, consider that the aerosol negative feedback is temporary. Image source: IPCC.)

What Does Warming Look Like If We Continue To Burn Fossil Fuels?

We talk about warming in terms of degrees Celsius and gigatons of carbon burned. But what does it all really mean?

Droughts rampaging through the lower to mid latitudes as the US, Southern Europe, India, the Middle East, Brazil, Australia, the Sahel and sections of China rapidly turn to desert. Stratified oceans turning into extinction engines for fish and marine life, fresh water poisoning due to toxic algae blooms, oceans emitting increasing volumes of poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas into the air. Fires the likes of which we have never seen in the far north as the permafrost burns and methane leaks and explodes from the thawing earth. Floods raging from an atmosphere whose moisture cycling has increased by 30 percent or more. Sea level rise rapid enough to swallow cities and coastlines over the course of decades. Devastating storms emerging from the regions closest to large glacial melt events bordering Greenland and West Antarctica. And all around, more and more people migrating, trying to find a place that is not being gobbled up by desert, incessantly burning, ravaged by storms, flooded, or poisoned by toxic air and water.

Very Large Algae Bloom Barents

(Very large bloom of micro-organisms north of Scandinavia in Arctic waters on August 14, 2014. Arctic waters are rich in nutrients. As they warm and as the sea ice retreats, larger areas are freed for invasion by major blooms of algae and other microbes. Large enough blooms can rob the ocean of oxygen, produce harmful toxins, result in large fish kills, and in the end create dangerous bottom conditions favoring microbial hydrogen sulfide production. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

That’s the dark future we inch closer to with every 0.1 C degree of further warming, with each additional megaton of fossil fuel and industrial carbon hitting the atmosphere.

And it is in this context that we must judge our actions and those of our leaders in reducing or in failing to reduce a nightmare that now grows in intensity with each passing year. A nightmare we create and continue to contribute to each time we light a fossil fuel driven fire.

Quibbling over Keystone Carbon Emissions When Tar Sands is the Real Issue

50 billion tons. That’s the amount of extractable, burnable carbon that likely sits beneath what were once the green forests of Alberta and are now little more than a sprawling waste of smoking pits covering tens of square miles. It’s more than 8 percent of the carbon we’ve already dumped into the atmosphere and it’s a volume of carbon we simply cannot afford to burn.

1.7 million barrels of crude oil per day now comes out of a place that Tolkien would likely describe as a mechanized orc warren. Keystone would boost that total to 2.2 million barrels per day, enrich the pit owners, and lay the groundwork for an ever-more-rapid exploitation of this dangerous pile of atmospheric heat-venom.

This week, a recent study out of Stockholm’s Environment Institute found that the pipeline itself would result in at least 4 times the carbon emissions currently estimated by the US State Department. This, well-duh, assessment, came as pit mining cheerleaders such as the American Petroleum Institute and Canadian Industry groups marshaled yet another effort to ram the pipeline through and boost global carbon emissions all in one go.

IDL TIFF file

(Athabasca’s sprawling tar sands operation as seen from space in 2009. The brown ribbon cutting through center frame is the Athabasca river. Image source: NASA’s Earth Observatory.)

In the end, all fossil fuels are terrible, adding to the global nightmare described above. But tar sands are between 12 and 20 percent more carbon intensive than even regular oil, especially when burning of the, worse than coal, coke bi-product is taken into account.

Arctic Methane Explosions — A Result of Human Warming

On the other side of the Arctic from the smoking fossil fuel pits of Alberta, nature is in the process of excavating a new, and no less terrifying, kind of pit. For from the Siberian tundra this summer were discovered three gaping wounds in the earth. Black holes shaped by impressive charges of methane blasting up from beneath the thawing permafrost.

All around the holes were ejected material. A kind of reverse meteor strike or methane volcano in which frozen methane trapped in clathrate beneath the thawing permafrost warmed enough to destabilize. The thawed methane built up in pressure pockets 250 feet or more below ground. Eventually, the pressure became too great and the permafrost overburden erupted, ejecting both earth and methane into the air above.

Eyewitnesses described eruption scenes where the Earth at first began to smoke. The smoke continued to bleed from the ground. Then, there was a loud flash and bang. When the smoke cleared, the methane eruption craters were plainly visible — a rim of sloped and ejected earth surrounding a black, gun-barrel like structure tunneling deep into the ground.

Scientists investigating the sites of these explosions found methane readings of 9.8% at the bottoms of the holes. These are high enough levels to burn if exposed to an ignition source — an atmospheric reading 50,000 times the current and already highly elevated ‘normal’ level.

Russia Siberia Crater

(One of three freakish craters caused by eruptions of methane from Siberia’s thawing tundra. Image source: Moscow Times.)

The Arctic permafrost alone contains about 1.5 trillion tons of carbon. And when it thaws, a portion of that carbon is bound to be released. It will be broken down by microbes and turned into methane in wet soil. In drier soil, it will form a peat like underburden that will slowly release CO2 by decay or, in more violent instances, by burning in one of the ever more powerful wildfires raging through the Arctic during the increasingly hot summers.

Beneath the icy permafrost layer are pockets of frozen methane in the form of clathrates. These structures are not included in the 1.5 trillion ton carbon estimate for permafrost. They are an addition of likely billions more tons of carbon. And, this year, we can now see a physical mechanism for their continued release — warming and thaw of the permafrost overburden.

The Human-Arctic Feedback Link: Why We Absolutely Must Stop Burning Fossil Fuels, And Swiftly

It is estimated that 1.5-2 degrees Celsius worth of global warming (5-8 C Arctic warming) is enough to thaw all the permafrost and eventually release a substantial portion of the carbon stored in and beneath it. For the Arctic warms much faster than the globe as a whole. In tundra regions, rates of warming over the past three decades have been 0.5 degrees Celsius per decade or more. In the region where the methane craters were discovered, recent temperatures at 5 degrees Celsius above average, during summer heatwaves in 2013 and 2014, have been reported.

As a result of past and current human greenhouse gas emissions, we have already locked in a substantial and significant rate of Arctic carbon emission feedback. And the speed of the Arctic carbon store release will likely determine how rapidly and whether other global carbon stores also respond.

A 2011 survey of 41 Arctic researchers found that rapidly reducing human greenhouse emissions would limit the volume of carbon feedback from the Arctic to 10% of the annual current human emission (or about 1 billion tons of carbon per year) by the end of the 21rst Century, but continue that emission for centuries to come (current Arctic carbon emissions are likely in the range of 30 million tons of methane and 100 million tons of CO2 each year). This is bad news. For we have already burned enough fossil fuel to keep warming on the trajectory to hit 1.5 to 2.5 C this century and 3-5 C or somewhat more long term — a bad result, and one that would likely require extensive human deployment of atmospheric carbon capture technologies. But it is far better than the alternative.

For continued fossil fuel burning would be enough to force a release of Arctic carbon stores equal to 35% or more of the human annual emission, or about 3.5 to 4 gigatons of carbon each year. By itself, this emission would easily represent a mini-runaway pushing the business as usual burning level of 800 ppm CO2 and 1,000 ppm CO2e by end century to 1,400 ppm CO2 + over the course of centuries and likely resulting in 4-7 C + warming this century and 12-14 C + worth of warming long term. A hothouse extinction event to rival or potentially exceed the worst seen in the geological record.

We simply must stop fossil fuel burning as it risks triggering ever greater carbon releases from stores around the globe and especially in the Arctic. In this way, stopping fossil fuel burning or failing to stop that burning is directly related to the ferocity and intensity of the Earth systems response we set off. And halting the Keystone Pipeline is a good approach to curtailing future carbon emission increases. A good start to a long, hard road ahead.

Links:

World Food Security in the Cross-hairs of Human-Caused Climate Change

Nature: Human Warming Pushing Entire Greenland Ice Sheet Into the Ocean

A Song of Flood and Fire

Toledo Algae Bloom Still Ongoing

2012’s Realization of the End of Arctic Sea Ice

The Arctic Methane Monster Exhales: Third Tundra Crater Found

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell: Living in a World at 480 CO2e

How Much Will Tar Sands Oil Add to Global Warming?

IPCC 4th Assessment Report

LANCE-MODIS

Terrible Thunderstorms of Fire

How Global Warming Wrecks the Jet Stream, Amps up the Hydrological Cycle

Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline on Global Markets and Climate Change

NASA’s Earth Observatory

Moscow Times

The Really Scarey Thing About Those Jaw-Dropping Siberian Craters

Methane Flammability

Methane and Frozen Ground

High Risk of Permafrost Thaw

 

 

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144 Comments

  1. Loni

     /  August 15, 2014

    Simply put………so what’s not ‘to get’?

    You remember those old Disney movies Sunday night, several were about the logs going down the river, and on occasion there would be a log jam that needed blasting? There was always an old guy who knew how to spot the key logs, and once they were blasted lose, things would move. That’s where we are, and we need some ‘old guy’ to tell us where to put our energies and then things will start moving. What’s the key jam?

    Well written article, thank you Robert.

    Reply
    • Four key logs —

      1. Block new unconventional fossil fuels.
      2. Block coal across the board.
      3. Promote wind, solar and vehicle to grid until it becomes cheaper than all of the above.
      4. Tell the truth about how extreme weather and events are related to ongoing climate change.

      Then we might have a chance of getting to a point of rational crisis management.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the post Robert
        I like your use of the term ‘hothouse’ extinction (2nd to last paragraph). It is stronger, and better than ‘greenhouse’ gas which paints a fairly benign picture in the mind of most people (I assume). You know, a verdant enclosure full of life.
        We are in harsh times. A strident language is needed if we are to reach enough people to stem the tide of a very near term extinction. A lexicon that is a combination of science with everyday visceral punch that gets inside people’s heads, and puts survival ahead of all else.
        There are no nice extinctions. There is only pure nasty horror.
        There is no debate about human caused climate change. It is real. It is now.
        So yes, ‘hothouse… “It sure is getting hot in here…”

        Reply
    • I want to say infrastructure first, necessity second, and convenience third. Millions of cars, billions of people who need to pump gas to power and cool and heat their homes and get to work miles away from where they live.

      Small steps help. Let people work remote. Pay to relocate. Encourage local agriculture not fed by industry.

      But perhaps most importantly, switch to fuels that are derived from start to finish from carbon pulled from today’s atmosphere. This last, I think, will be the best and easiest we can do short term – Zero net emissions by using plants or algae, and in a form that will not require us to make drastic changes to everything beyond how we source our energy.

      Reply
  2. LostInTime

     /  August 15, 2014

    re: methane I don’t have the background to assess this piece , what do you think?

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2014/08/how-much-methane-came-out-of-that-hole-in-siberia/

    Reply
    • My opinion is that David is again somewhat downplaying something that should be looked at seriously. He’s right about the human carbon emission being the main driver, but the feedback is also an important concern. There are quite a lot of ifs involved in his calculation. If, for example, all eruptions are so small as these… If the methane crater explosion mechanism is the only methane release mechanism… If, if, if…

      In any case, I grow tired of David’s near zero Arctic carbon emission vs the worst case argument. Reality is likely somewhere between the two.

      We don’t need a single 50 gt eruption to have a problem, just a larger overall Arctic carbon emission as feedback. Lots of small sources and a few big ones can result in quite an issue. And it appears that’s what we’re going to have, something in the range of 1-5 gt C per year by end of century, depending on how rapidly we reduce human ghg emissions. The 1 gt C per year is probably bad but manageable if we have net negative human emissions. And that’s where we need to be aiming.

      Reply
      • Apneaman

         /  August 15, 2014

        I know it’s speculation, but I can’t imagine that Archer’s continual “downplaying” of serious near term threats is not influenced by the fact he works at and for the Vatican of neo-liberal economics. I’m not saying he collects Milton Friedman action figures, but he is surrounded by the high priests of Mammon (Chicago Boys). Those bastards don’t even sleep.

        Reply
      • Leland Palmer

         /  August 17, 2014

        Hi Robert-

        I posted the following comment to Real Climate, and it is still awaiting moderation. I thought I would post it over here, and see if I can get your opinion on it. Looking at Google Earth, and some images from Google Images showing the location of Siberian gas fields, it looks like many of the gas fields are located in areas that have a large number of circular landscape features. Are these circular lakes and depressions due to past methane eruptions followed by erosion and further melting to enlarge the diameter (and reduce the depth) of the deep eruption craters?

        Quote (from my post at Realclimate.org, awaiting moderation):

        “Wow, that’s an interesting scientific approach to a new phenomenon, assuming that it’s unique (there are now two other examples, by the way) assuming that the emissions were of gaseous methane under pressure rather than solid methane hydrate continuing to dissociate, assuming no methane flows in from surrounding areas, and so on. These appear to be very, very conservative assumptions, and any calculation done under such assumptions will of course lead to a conservative answer.

        But large areas of Siberia are covered with tens of thousands of circular lakes and circular landscape features, and some of them are ten miles or so across. It seems possible that those tens of thousands of circular depressions were generated by similar methane gas eruptions, followed by melting of ice and methane hydrate and subsidence to enlarge the initial gas eruption craters.

        Andrey Plekhanov, Senior Researcher at the State Scientific Centre of Arctic Research, thinks this might be the case:

        http://siberiantimes.com/science/casestudy/news/first-pictures-from-inside-the-crater-at-the-end-of-the-world/

        “‘I also want to recall a theory that our scientists worked on in the 1980s – it has been left and then forgotten for a number of years.
        ‘The theory was that the number of Yamal lakes formed because of exactly such natural process happening in the permafrost.
        ‘Such kind of processes were taking place about 8,000 years ago. Perhaps they are repeating nowadays. If this theory is confirmed, we can say that we have witnessed a unique natural process that formed the unusual landscape of Yamal peninsula.”

        So, instead of applying your calculation to the current ejection event, maybe it would be better to apply a different, more realistic calculation to the hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of circular Siberian landscape features which could plausibly have been generated by this process. Since erosion might soon erase such landscape features, it seems possible that most of the circular features visible in Google Earth were generated in a burst of methane gas eruption activity a few thousand years ago, perhaps in the early Holocene.

        Perhaps that will still result in a conservative answer. Perhaps, no realistic scenario exists that would release sufficient methane rapidly enough to make a big difference. But, our rate of change of temperatures in the Arctic is very, very rapid, and a similar burst of methane eruptions might occur more rapidly now than in the early Holocene.

        And, of course, these possible widespread methane gas eruptions are not the only change occurring in the Arctic, as permafrost melts and decomposes.

        What do you think are the possibilities of similar eruptions occurring in the shallow waters of the the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, as the shallow underwater permafrost there melts and potentially uncaps more reservoirs of methane?

        The Yamal area gas fields, by the way, have been supplying large quantities of natural gas to Russia and Europe for decades, so there is a lot of methane in the area. In fact, there may be an association between gas fields and these circular landscape features, which should probably be investigated. ”

        Close quote (from my post at Realclimate.org awaiting moderation).

        Reply
    • I’d just like to add that Archer is absolutely right about it being imperative to reduce human carbon emissions. We are better at emitting than nature will ever be and that is something to be extraordinarily concerned about.

      The issue here is that you have one very bad problem — human emissions — making the Arctic emissions problem worse. People seem to think they can focus on one issue and not the other when, in fact, they are inexorably linked.

      Reply
      • pras

         /  August 15, 2014

        Yes Robert, I have great respect for Mr Archer. But when it comes to Methane, he takes idiological stand, CO2 is the issue not CH4 (running car example which he gives…) There is a fundamendal flaw in his analysis of Sarakava event (50Gt of methane). He says 20,000,000 sibeiran holes needed fro Sarakova event. It is like saying there is 1mm cancer hole in lung , but thats ok, since lung is too big…

        Reply
  3. jyyh

     /  August 15, 2014

    umm, looking at paleoclimate records, is there a stable state of climate between +2C and +4C preindustrial? (rhetorical). I’d very much would like someone to show an example of this and the same time explaining how the reduction of human emissions influenced in Pliocene-Pleistocene transition. Also reminding of the relatively small quantity of anthro emissions compared to the natural cycle. Downplaying the ghg-response from natural world is though pretty natural since this cannot be much influenceded by humans. Or maybe it can, f.e. large-scale agricultural changes could bind plenty of the carbon roaming free in the atmosphere causing havoc in cold-adapted organisms.

    Reply
    • jyyh said, “I’d very much would like someone to show an example of this and the same time explaining how the reduction of human emissions influenced in Pliocene-Pleistocene transition.”

      Fucking stupid denialist BS warning!

      Reply
    • The human emission is massive, 6 times anything we see in paleoclimate as an initial forcing, and adding substantially to the overall carbon cycle. You don’t emit at a pace 150 times that of volcanoes and not have hell to pay.

      In any case, this kind of downplaying of the human emission shows a blithe ignorance to how we got here in the first place.

      As for stable climate at +2 to +4 C — yes, for millions of years.

      There appears to be this silly argument, now also driven by fossil fuel interests, that we can’t do anything about our predicament, and so we shouldn’t. It’s a variation if the same foolish crud that’s been coming out of the same interests for ages now. And all it does is keep kicking the can down the road. We’re far worse off now for listening to such foolery. And if we listen to it now our children will curse us, those that remain living.

      We need a strong response now, not more apathy.

      Reply
  4. wili

     /  August 15, 2014

    Thanks for another great post. Quick question: In the third-to-last paragraph, you write: “we have already burned enough fossil fuel to keep warming on the trajectory to hit 1.5 to 2.5 C this century and 3-5 C or somewhat more long term”

    Is the “3-5 C or somewhat more long term” because of exactly the Arctic feedback you just mentioned two paragraphs before: “1.5-2 degrees Celsius worth of global warming (5-8 C Arctic warming) is enough to thaw all the permafrost and eventually release a substantial portion of the carbon stored in and beneath it.” ?

    Or is the 3-5 C or more what we expect from other dynamics, and then the Arctic feedbacks would be on top of that?

    Thanks ahead of time for any help with this.

    Reply
    • That includes all the feedbacks and assumes we get to near zero emissions within a few decades. The long term feedback includes the Arctic and global carbon store feedback that most ECS measures miss. It’s the long tail.

      Reply
      • wili

         /  August 15, 2014

        ‘k, thanks. Those long tails can sure swing around and swat ya!

        Reply
        • 🙂

          ECS doesn’t currently take much of the long tail into account. Paleoclimate provides a better measure of that (per Hansen and others that have continued in that vein).

  5. Tom

     /  August 15, 2014

    Industrial civilization is the problem and at present there is no solution.

    Nature is doing what it does as a result of the chemical imbalance we continue to inject. Beside the fact that there’s a (approx.) 40 yr lag between emissions and effect on climate and that we’ve already triggered many tipping points that we have zero control over now, I continue to wonder where all this mental embrace of the continuation of business as usual (including INCREASING world population) is coming from, when it’s clear we’ve already gone too far. As Loni says, “what’s not to get?”

    Reply
    • You must understand that this, highly apathetic, view is almost directly in line with fossil fuel interest thinking. In other words, if people believe that nothing can be done at all, then nothing will be done.

      Is that what you want, Tom? Is that the message you’re so passionate about spreading?

      Human civilization is bad and we deserve what we get because we can’t change it?

      I can’t think of many things that are more irresponsible.

      We absolutely can change it. The question is, will we. And you’re not helping matters.

      Reply
      • Apneaman

         /  August 15, 2014

        Apathetic is the wrong word Robert. Dejected, hopelessness, frustrated, scared, etc. For many, this fight has been going on for decades. I have know since the 1980s. If someone was keeping score they would say we are getting hammered. People who are truly apathetic don’t visit blogs like yours Robert. I see a lot of denial, but I see just as much desperation. Everyone knows what needs to change, but it’s just not happening. After 20 years, thousands of hours of educating myself, many personal changes and many more debates, I don’t know what to do or feel anymore. I wish more people were like you; had a sense of duty.

        Reply
        • Fair and good points. Sometimes I wish I could curse like a drill sergeant here. There are so many good people here who need just a little pulling up by the bootstraps. We should take heart that we are fighting the good fight and that nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

      • Tom

         /  August 16, 2014

        Robert: when I graduated from college in 1970 I was convinced that humanity would see the error of its ways and change course. We haven’t. Now it’s too late – no matter what we do we can’t re-sequester all the CO2 and other gases we’ve forced into the atmosphere and oceans (it would take too much energy that we don’t have). i’m still working at stopping fracking – have been since it started here in PA – but to no avail. The government and industry is fully behind it and it will take far longer to convince the politicians that might effect non-violent change than i’ll be around. Meanwhile, the damage continues. i’m not advocating giving up, I’m just being realistic and not expecting miracles.

        Everything humanity does is wrong-headed and damages the Earth: eating, farming, indoor plumbing, driving, flying, working at any job, typing on this computer – all involve the same system that’s killing the planet. It’s all connected. Where and how is it going to stop?

        We simply can’t convince the powers that be, whose jobs depend on keeping business as usual going at all costs, to do otherwise. Or to do it in such a way as to effect a meaningful change in the trajectory we’re on in time to correct our ways and live in harmony with what’s left of our habitat. With all the positive feedback loops we’ve triggered it’s unrealistic to assume it will end any other way.

        In the meantime, keep fighting as I will. Just don’t expect a fairy-tale/Hollywood outcome.

        Reply
  6. Colorado Bob

     /  August 15, 2014

    Humans now strongest driver of glaciers melting, study finds

    During the last two decades two thirds of glacial mass loss was due to humans, up from a quarter previously
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/aug/15/humans-now-strongest-driver-of-glaciers-melting-study-finds

    Reply
  7. Colorado Bob

     /  August 15, 2014

    In China, Climate Change Is Already Here

    China is already feeling the effects of climate change, and the results could be devastating.
    http://thediplomat.com/2014/08/in-china-climate-change-is-already-here/

    Reply
  8. utoutback

     /  August 15, 2014

    I have a feeling that some global leaders are fully aware of the catastrophe that we are heading for, but are overwhelmed by current events (Ebola, Iraqi, the Ukraine, the global economy) along with the dysfunction of governing bodies. If you are powerless to stop the train going off the tracks, perhaps it is better not to panic the passengers by telling them what is happening.
    Our global civilization is so complex and interconnected at this point, it’s hard to know where to start. And, of course, there are always winners and losers with any decision; with those who will lose (carbon fuels companies, etc.) fighting the change tooth & nail.
    This is not to say changes should not be instituted immediately, but that we don’t have the type of leadership that is competent or capable of accomplishing this. In the US we have a congress that has been the least productive in terms of any action, in memory. What’s to give us hope that this will change.
    Oh! And joy! We have another Presidential election cycle coming next year. Can we make climate a major part of the discussion?

    Reply
    • synaxis

       /  August 15, 2014

      These are astute observations utoutback. Re: winners and losers: the recent paper “Direct carbon dioxide emissions from civil aircraft” profiles exactly this point. It’s all very well to talk about the need to stop burning fossil fuels … yes, of course, this is self-evident. But how are you going to reduce demand? How are you going to change behavior? It’s as though you have to change people’s desires … millions and billions globally.

      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1352231014004889

      Reply
      • You need policy to reduce demand. We did it with cigarettes. We can do it with carbon. In any case, we have viable alternatives now, which is why this is now a political/economic battle.

        Reply
      • Brian

         /  August 15, 2014

        A huge part of the problem is that as a species, our way of life is powered from top to bottom by cheap energy from fossil fuels. At every stage of the supply chain, the oil industry powers our industrial agricultural production, the manufacturing processes of all the goods we consume, the computers we are communicating to each other with, the transportation processes that move goods and services around the globe. And there is so much profit in the supply of cheap energy that there is really no incentive to curb demand in a willing and compliant population grown to take for granted a lifestyle of consumer excess fueled by petroleum and their subsidiary industries.

        We have become so dependent on the cheap energy of fossil fuels, that to change our lifestyle to one of sustainability and reduced consumption would be unthinkable for a species that has grown fat, lazy and utterly dependent on gorging on easy, abundant energy supplies that we have come to take completely for granted.

        I agree with Robert and others here completely that we are headed steeply for the other side of the global bell curve in so many different ways but trying to convinced people to move away from complete dependence on cheap energy will be very difficult as anyone who has tried to debate these issues in public forums will know. It is not just a problem of economics or education or politics – I think it is a psychological one as well.

        Imo, we are addicted as a society to cheap energy and like any addicts, the vast majority will angrily deny that addiction to the very end – until the wreckage is so devastating it becomes impossible to deny. By that time it will probably be far too late.

        I’m sorry for the pessimism but that is what I see. I wish you all well in trying to promote change. I enjoy reading this blog and will try not to bring you down with my own doubts.
        🙂

        Reply
        • We invested 200 billion from 2001 to 2014 in tar sands. From that we get a 5 to 1 EROEI energy source that requires oil to remain above 60-100 dollars a barrel to remain profitable depending on your marginal source. And this is somehow considered cheap?

          We don’t add in the environmental costs or the huge subsidy support coming from Canada and the US to this number.

          If we had spent the same money and effort in renewables, the Canada grid would be 80 percent fossil fuel free, we’d produce electricity equivalent to 2-3 million barrels per day, and the vehicle fleet would be 5-10 percent electric and far more efficient overall.

          The cost of environmental destruction related to a hothouse event, on the other hand, rapidly approaches infinity.

          So, again, the notion that fossil fuels are cheap is frankly ludicrous.

      • Doug

         /  August 15, 2014

        Yeah, I see people close to me who are very aware of what’s going on with climate change, but will not change their behaviors. People do not want to cut back on flying or other forms of fossil fuel transportation. People are also unaware of which of their activities contribute the most greenhouse gases, AND they intentionally won’t find out… Of course not everybody, but far too many people, and again I’m talking about people who know better. Let’s be honest here. A lot of people are self involved and self centered. It’s a huge problem. On top of that, they carry this dysfunction with them to the voting booth if they bother to vote at all. Not to turn this into a political discussion, but these people vote for politicians that they know will not work to fix the problem….So, we end up with politicians who pay lip service to climate change, but will not enact strong enough legislation. This is why I am going to be targeting the extremely wealthy, and do my best to educate them (bypassing politicians) about climate change.

        Reply
        • Getting them to own less homes, heat less swimming pools, buy less personal jet liners, not have garages full of scores of cars and otherwise not maintain a carbon footprint equal to 200,000 subsistence farmers per millionaire/billionaire would be a huge help. Oh, and pulling money out of fossil fuel investments would also help. Or owning and influencing media agencies that promote the kind of apathy you describe above would help.

  9. Colorado Bob

     /  August 15, 2014

    Rising CO2 levels will intensify algal blooms across the globe

    Rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere will stimulate harmful algal blooms at a global level. This warning is issued by scientists Jolanda Verspagen and Jef Huisman of the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on the basis of new mathematical models, laboratory experiments and field research. Their results will be published open access in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

    Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-08-co2-algal-blooms-globe.html#jCp

    Reply
  10. What I view as the shame in all of this is the opportunity lost. Oil companies were aware of CO2 and it’s effects in the 80’s, and knew of the effects capability to damage humanity and the earth we know in the 90’s.

    Had we begun transitioning at that time, these discussions would be completely different. We have missed a 25 to 20 year opportunity to shift energy without significant disruption to civilization.

    It was addressable, but we as a species consciously chose not to do so.

    Reply
    • bassman

       /  August 15, 2014

      Here is another. “Surface warming Hiatus” story from NASA. It is a very easy read, reaffirming the obvious to much of us on here. I strongly recommend it for those on here less familiar with changes in PDO.

      I think at this point even another 15-20 years of negative PDO can no longer hold back a higher rate of warming. I would love to hear a counter argument if anyone has one.

      http://climate.nasa.gov/news/1141/

      Reply
      • mikkel

         /  August 15, 2014

        I wish they had gotten out in front of this and the jet stream stuff. I was aware of both in 2006.

        It is embarrassing and caused unnecessary fractures/reactions to just be coming out with these explanations now.

        Reply
        • The problem is they tend to want perfect knowledge. We can be wrong now and then if we get the overall picture right. As you say, it’s more important to stay ahead of the problem.

      • Fantastic article. Well written and with a little well deserved chiding too.

        Reply
      • Bill H.

         /  August 15, 2014

        The “global warming stopped in 1998” meme seems to be the main weapon in the “skeptics'” arsenal now. Apart from the fact that surface temperatures have actually continued to rise the main refutation is the following diagram of Ocean Heat Content (OHC)), clearly demonstrating the inbalance between heat arriving and heat leaving the Earth. Warming is clearly continuing, indeed accelerating:

        http://skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=65

        In some ways it’s surprising the “skeptics” haven’t made much of an effort to discredit oceanic warming since it kicks away their remaining argument. There are a few (easily refuted) claims that the uncertainty in OHC measurements are too high to draw conclusions. Otherwise, the bizarre attempt by Willis Eschenbach to claim it’s insignificant at

        http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/06/19/forcing-the-ocean-to-confess/

        seems to represent the limit of any “discrediting”.

        The refuation of Eschenbach’s thesis is provided well down in the comments section by a very bright fellow called “Ximinyr”. It’s worth a read if only for the way it highlights the modus operandi of WUWT:

        1. First bluster/bullshit

        2. If this fails resort to abuse

        3. Rely on Anthony’s Acolytes to keep up a roar of “Willis has already told you” until their opponent finally gives up the attempt to actually get some knowledge into their arrogant but clueless heads.

        No wonder Anthony doesn’t have to ban people all that often, when shouting down is such an effective to reasoned argument.

        Reply
        • And never forget, falsely use various weather prediction failures as bullet proof evidence that all of climate science is wrong.

    • More like political and economic interests connected to oil companies did everything they could to delay action. They’re doing it now as well. Why do you think there are so many memes that vigorously oppose action? That blame the victim? That shift focus away from cutting fossil fuel and carbon emissions and away from the economic interests at the center of the whole crisis.

      We’re in a bad spot now and there are definitely wasted years. And there are still more years to waste or to use. But to use them, we have to overcome the roadblocks, many of them cast in the road by the oil interests themselves.

      Just look at the message war, ongoing here. Bring up the challenge to act and you get a hundred half-truths and excuses.

      1. It’s out of our hands, nature is the driver (false, we caused the problem and are making it worse).
      2. Human civilization is evil. Humans are a plague species. We deserve to go extinct. (Half true. Humans are powerful animals. We have caused extinction through dominance and callous ignorance. But we have a choice whether or not to continue this behavior. A portion of our civilization, controlled by highly influential interests, actively resists positive change and action by leaders to change. The struggle between these two opposing forces will determine the fate of our race — a species that became powerful, but was not wise enough to preserve the life-system base upon which it relies to survive and thrive, that was not wise enough to change behavior, to restrain population and to live within boundary limits or work to overcome boundary limits in a non destructive fashion.)
      3. It’s too hard to change. We should just let people enjoy their comfortable standard of living now, whatever the future may hold. (I think of this as basic whining together with an appeal to comfort and consumerism. It’s too hard for livestock animals to change and to escape their predicament too. In the end, because they are trapped, their fate is inevitable. Do we really want to start behaving like livestock animals and let the fossil fuel interests govern our fate?)

      And I could go on and on and on… There should be a book, an almanac, a dictionary of climate change logical fallacies and related excuses for climate inaction logical fallacies.

      I view any excuse not to act for positive change as simply a bag of air. It’s moot and useless. Not a discussion worth having. The discussions we should be having involve threat identification and positive action/problem solving. How do we identify and reduce harm? How do we help as many people and living things as possible? We should focus on what can be done, not whinge about what cannot.

      For the apathy, I heap the blame directly on the fossil fuel interests. They could have pushed harder to make carbon capture work, to push biofuels, to take a stronger interest in renewables (not to sabotage them) and to lobby for carbon negative/neutral civilizations. They could have had their own array of solutions and methods for transition.

      Instead they did everything they could to fight for inaction, to block action. It’s not that action couldn’t be taken, it’s just that action wasn’t easy and didn’t set up corporations for immediate profits. Now they are in this bind where viable alternatives are starting to eat their lunch as the fossil fuels they’ve bet the whole farm on become more difficult, dirty and costly to extract. The golden cow, as it were, is transforming into a demon. But they are now bound to keep worshipping it.

      So they fight a political and media battle to crush people’s access to alternatives and to make people believe there are no alternatives. They fight for laziness, dominance, and a bad end. And they deserve to go down for it. And to go down hard.

      Reply
      • Brian

         /  August 15, 2014

        Follows a pretty consistent chain of reasoning.

        It’s not happening……

        It’s happening but it’s not our fault……

        It’s happening, it’s our fault but there is nothing we can do about it……

        Eco-fascist, libtard, luddites want to force us all to worship mother Gaia and de-industrialize while little old ladies freeze in the dark because of carbon tax.

        Or something similar along those lines…….

        Unfortunately, there is so much easy money behind the disinfo campaign and people are so addicted to cheap energy lifestyle, the lies resonate with a compliant population – as I am sure you well know.

        Reply
        • Cheap fossil fuel energy is the biggest farce of all, especially when you add in the cost of environmental harm. In essence, it’s only cheap where there’s old infrastructure, a failure to pay for future damages (no carbon tax), and what amounts to wide-scale government subsidization (this is especially true RE tar sands).

      • climatehawk1

         /  August 15, 2014

        “May the farce be with you.” Anyway, Skeptical Science has put together a lot of the bogus pseudoscience arguments and rebuttals. You might want to approach them with suggestions for additions, since they are already doing a lot of compiling.

        Reply
  11. synaxis

     /  August 15, 2014

    Thanks for another of your always-informative posts, Robert … and your responses to comments. Re: your response to Loni itemizing four key logs that might give us “a chance of getting to a point of rational crisis management” and your agreement with David Archer re: it “being imperative to reduce human carbon emissions”. I think these are excellent points in the domain of the self-evident.

    But (as per my comment above to utoutback) what does “rational crisis management” look like in relation to addressing the underlying issue of mass human behavior, which drives demand for fossil fuels, e.g. people taking vacations, which involve jetting here and there?

    It almost seems like the engagement in activities that involve the use of fossil fuels has to become a socially unacceptable personal habit, like smoking. Because as long as you have people wanting to do things and as long as the means of doing those things is legal (and reasonably affordable), then people will do them and industries will be created to fill those needs and desires. So it seems that “rational crisis management” also has to include a consideration of the socio-psychological level.

    This really came into focus for me when I read the UNEP’s GEO-4 where it refers to finding “ways of transforming the drivers that create [environmental] pressures, including population and economic growth, resource consumption, and social values.” But, as they also point out, “changing these drivers often affects the vested interests of powerful groups able to influence policy decisions.” What can break through that log jam?

    Reply
    • Absolutely. These are fantastic points.

      Strategically, you want to undercut the powerful interests while putting policy measures in place that limit and reduce the harmful behavior. So you hit the economic interests of fossil fuels by creating a glut of clean energy even as you advance the policy/behavior goals on the political/media/organizational front. If you can get alternatives feeding in to all sectors of mechanized transport, then you’ve hit the center of gravity without having to break out separate issues. You hit a tipping point once fossil interest market share falls by between 10-20 percent. At that point, the companies start to go bankrupt and the political influence starts to dwindle. And that’s when you can start to really overhaul the consumption measures. So, in my view, the center of gravity is to push for the point where fossil fuel influence starts to dwindle, to cut them down economically by providing alternatives and erecting barriers to their activity.

      That said, there are multiple fronts for single issues and it doesn’t hurt to pursue these as part of the larger strategy. Overall, I view these actions as tactical in nature and should serve to drive the overall strategy.

      To this point, we’ve done a very good job RE coal plants, for example. And continuing as we are will make new coal plants more costly and more difficult to construct.

      RE air travel, it’s important to note that as a measure of total carbon emissions, it’s not near the top of the list. For that you have power plant emissions, vehicle transport emissions, and industrial meat farming emissions. Air comes after these, but for the individual air travel can greatly increase their annual carbon budget. And greatly expanding air travel is bound to have a very bad effect.

      Air travel action might require more nuance than traditional campaigns. But a media campaign exposing the environmental damage from air travel could do much to reduce demand or to color demand in a negative light.

      From the policy level, I’d push to add an air carbon tax, push to require an increasing amount of air travel to use biofuels, and overall, push costs for air travel higher. Would look at ways to improve air travel efficiency (modern airships, possibly even sail powered airships). Would eventually aim to have all air travel running on non fossil fuels.

      Would redirect efforts to make rail zero carbon and to make zero carbon rail transport as inexpensive as possible. For my own part, I travel by train quite a bit as a means to actively reduce my carbon footprint for long trips. But if you compare train to air on price, there’s not much difference. Not helpful for the push to reduce emissions.

      Would also look at hydrogen/biofuel/wind/solar/battery/sail and various hybrids for shipping. Would reintroduce shipping as chief means of travel for vacation, possibly even glamorize vacation by sail (not hard to do).

      For the captive consumer, I look at it from many fronts. The first is to not put the captive on death ground (completely take away their options). That results in a very rough political backlash that fossil fuel interests can capitalize on. This works against us in the long run.

      The goal is to make the bad option more difficult and to provide positive options that are made more appealing due to increasing ease of access. Right now, the consumer is mostly captive in the sense that they have few appealing low fossil fuel choices for long distance travel and vacation and almost no zero or negative carbon choices. So we should work to free the captive while erecting barriers to the bad behavior.

      We could well also pursue population restraint in this light, pushing to more rapidly achieve a peak population earlier rather than later, which would also help the strategic picture.

      Reply
  12. Apneaman

     /  August 15, 2014

    “Since the 1880s, humans have emitted nearly 600 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere.”
    I understand over half of that carbon has been emitted in the last 40 years or so.
    I understand that there is a 30 – 40 delay from emissions to warming.
    Is there any way that can change? Slow down? Speed up? Something else?

    Robert. It’s funny to me that you mentioned Tolkien in the same breath as the Tar Sands. I’m/was a journeyman Boilermaker (retired) and I have worked up there. The first time I was driving up to camp at Syncrude and I saw the landscape, the first thing that popped into my head was MORDOR! If you think the pictures look awful, well it’s nothing compared to seeing it in person (Shudder).

    For anyone interested in the Tar Sands here is a good place to start. They been around since the 1980s.

    Reply
    • Apneaman

       /  August 15, 2014

      For anyone interested in the Tar Sands here is a good place to start. They been around since the 1980s.
      http://www.pembina.org/

      Reply
      • Brian

         /  August 15, 2014

        I can’t remember a time in my life when the Oilpatch wasn’t the major driver of economic and political life in Alberta.

        I shudder to think of what it will be like when future generations have to pay the piper and take stock of the environmental catastrophe left behind in the Athabasca watershed region.

        Reply
    • Apneaman —

      I just look at this stuff from the satellite and I can’t keep ‘orc warren’ out of my head! I can’t image what it would be like to be on the ground there amongst all that mess.

      Reply
  13. Colorado Bob

     /  August 15, 2014

    Spanish Drought Prompts Fears of Widespread Olive Oil Shortage
    Crop From Some Farms Could be 40% Lower Than Last Year, Says Industry Body

    More frequent extreme weather shocks such as drought are making life harder for farmers, who are seeing their earnings swing sharply from year to year, according to Vito Martielli, senior grains and oilseeds analyst at Rabobank B.A. Even if higher prices mean farmers get more money per pound of olives, lower output of the fruit means they’re ultimately worse off.

    http://online.wsj.com/articles/spanish-drought-prompts-fears-of-widespread-olive-oil-shortage-1408102214

    Reply
  14. Colorado Bob

     /  August 15, 2014

    Still, the phosphorus problem might get worse before it gets better. Nutrient enrichment and climate change cause “an apparent increase in the toxicity of some algal blooms in freshwater lakes and estuaries around the world,” Oregon State University scientists said in 2013 in the journal Science. Rising temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations contribute to the problem.

    http://www.wunderground.com/news/after-heavy-rain-raw-sewage-flows-waterways-contributing-algae-blooms-20140815

    Reply
  15. Brian

     /  August 15, 2014

    Robert,

    I seem to be unable to reply to your posts and for some reason you seem to have taken exception to mine. I am sorry I have drawn your ire as it was not my intention. My only point about the cheapness of oil is that over the life of the period when oil as an energy source has come to dominate the global economy – say the last 100 years or so, for the consumer it has been a cheap source of abundant energy in terms of powering the kinds of changes in lifestyle we have come to take for granted.

    This is fairly uncontroversial in economic terms especially as it becomes more and more expensive to produce as scarcity and cost of extraction becomes more prevalent. I think there is an environmental and production cost to production of alternate energy sources. In historical and economic terms the amount of energy as to production input for a barrel of oil has been unprecedented.

    In terms of the political, environmental and social costs – I think we are in full agreement.

    This article may clear up some of my meaning on the subject:

    http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/end-cheap-oil/

    I am sorry if I have caused offense as for the most part I think we are on the same side.

    Brian

    Reply
    • All posts except climate change denial, abuse and outright promotion of fossil fuel interests go through. So the problem must be with wordpress.

      I don’t take exception with the notion that fossil fuel is energy dense, just that it is currently cheap. That situation is radically different now than in the 20th century. But a few people still appear to be struggling with that reality.

      Reply
      • Brian

         /  August 15, 2014

        Okay, there was a reply button on that post. Not sure why there wasn’t on the others.

        I don’t think anyone would accuse me of promoting the interests of fossil fuel industries.

        Of course there are costs both environmental and financial to development of any energy source and the infrastructure to exploit it – Corn as a biofuel is a perfect example. In terms of subsidies and environmental, political and social costs to society as a whole, I agree with you completely that our addiction to fossil fuels has not been cheap and that production costs are rising as supply, though still abundant, becomes scarcer and more difficult to access.

        But as consumers, I think we have become used to an abundance of energy and a lifestyle that that abundance has so far afforded though that is changing. Part of the reason the denier propaganda has been so effective is that many consumers refuse to believe that this lifestyle must one day change and like people in love with a substance, refuse to believe there is a problem until it may be too late.

        Especially in North America when you compare the cost of fuel with other parts of the world.

        I think you do a lot of great research so you may be seeing a bigger picture to this issue that I am missing. I find your blog informative, well researched and interesting. I don’t want to overstep my bounds or be in conflict with the overall theme expressed here.

        Brian

        Reply
    • The arguments against renewable energy are almost always overstated and almost always use the most pessimistic examples.

      For example, if you use corn ethanol as an example, you’re looking at the worst of the worst of the renewables. But that said, I’d still say that corn ethanol is a less damaging energy source that fossil fuels. You can easily mitigate its use if you alter consumption patterns to less livestock intensive farming practices, for example. In addition, corn ethanol saps money out of the fossil fuel industry, which is a net positive.

      My opinion is that if you look at biofuels, then you need more active development of other liquid fuels (second generation biofuels etc) to slowly replace corn ethanol and expand the overall market. In addition, you need vehicle to grid techonology and widespread adoption of wind and solar energy. I see biofuels as chiefly a replacement energy source for aircraft fuel and other fuels that are less readily replaceable by batteries. Given current tech, I don’t see where we can’t meet the challenge of changing the vehicle fleet to all electric or non fossil fuel within 20-30 years with active policy measures.

      Now I can hear the huge amount of whining and crying about this not being possible already starting to ramp up. So I’ll just make a few more statements… When they first started to process tar sands, there was this massive doubt that it could ever be done. All the usual suspects came along and said — ‘you can’t make energy out of bitumen.’ Well, they’re doing it. And look at all the harm it’s causing. What I wonder is why we don’t take that same human capacity for problem solving and actually point it toward efforts that make the situation better (climate change) and not worse?

      We absolutely can build economies based on renewable energy. Will they look like those we have now? Probably not. In my opinion, they’ll be far better than what we have now.

      Reply
  16. Ken Barrows

     /  August 15, 2014

    If we don’t start reducing the number of vehicles (yes even electric with its rare earth metals) and changing the food system radically, all other solutions are of very little utility.

    Reply
    • More electric, less fossil fuels. More renewables, less fossil fuels. More vegetables and fruits, less meat. Population restraint. Escape mechanisms for captive consumers. Policy support to reduce harmful behavior.

      Reply
  17. HERE’S THE CORRECTED LINK FOR: On the subject of human behavior, fossil fuels, etc. Here’s a 5 min. ‘The True Price of Gas”, socio-historical piece, with surprises,. I keep in mind Albert Camus and his ‘dictum’ of “Neither victim nor executioner”. Food for thought…

    Reply
  18. Mark from New England

     /  August 15, 2014

    Robert,

    Great article – a keeper to bookmark for future reference, but then most of them are!

    Any comments on the intense non-tropical storms that hit Detroit / the mid-Atlantic / Long Island / New England last week? When I saw that Islip, Long Island got 13 inches in 24 hours, I was amazed. But yet areas removed by only 10 – 20 miles got much less, though heavy, rain. What causes the heavy rain bands to set up more or less in place over an area like that? In April we saw a similar situation in Pensacola, Florida. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Train echoing.

      You end up with storms stacking up one right after the other in a line or with one storm staying in the same place and raining out for hours and hours.

      It’s generally possible when conditions are more stable and stagnant as moisture channels tend to develop and stabilize, or as storms just sit in one place until they disperse.

      What we saw was the equivalent to tropical storm moisture in a frontal storm event. New all time records set in many places. It was faciliated by the trough that is now 16 months running in almost exactly the same position.

      This winter is likely to be another interesting one…

      Reply
      • Mark from New England

         /  August 15, 2014

        Thanks Robert. I do recall meteorologist Matt Noyes at New England Cable News trying to explain the train echoing phenomenon once. Yes, this winter will probably be interesting. I’m up for big snow storms, but NOT ice! But I have a feeling we’ll not have much choice about it😉

        Reply
        • Dipole pattern hasn’t changed. If that keeps up, New England will get socked and, possibly, Great Britain again too.

        • Large pool of hot water still remains off US/Canada West Coast. Jet Stream driving north into Canada. I think it might want to shift over North America’s Central land mass at some point. Although this pattern is currently a real beast and just doesn’t want to move.

  19. Colorado Bob

     /  August 15, 2014

    Global warming is moistening the atmosphere

    Human-caused global warming is causing the upper troposphere to become wetter
    Our analysis demonstrates that the upper-tropospheric moistening observed over the period 1979–2005 cannot be explained by natural causes and results principally from an anthropogenic warming of the climate. By attributing the observed increase directly to human activities, this study verifies the presence of the largest known feedback mechanism for amplifying anthropogenic climate change.

    As stated earlier, climate models have predicted this moistening – before observations were available. In fact, the models predicted that the upper troposphere would moisten more than the lower atmospheric layers. As the authors state,

    Given the importance of upper-tropospheric water vapor, a direct verification of its feedback is critical to establishing the credibility of model projections of anthropogenic climate change.

    Link

    Reply
  20. Colorado Bob

     /  August 15, 2014

    California’s Record Heat Is Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen… Yet

    If hot thermometers actually exploded like they do in cartoons, there would be a lot of mercury to clean up in California right now.

    The California heat this year is like nothing ever seen, with records that go back to 1895. The chart below shows average year-to-date temperatures in the state from January through July for each year. The orange line shows the trend rising 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.

    The sharp spike on the far right of the chart is the unbearable heat of 2014. That’s not just a new record; it’s a chart-busting 1.4 degrees higher than the previous record. It’s an exclamation point at the end of a long declarative sentence.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-15/california-s-record-heat-is-like-nothing-you-ve-ever-seen-yet.html

    Reply
  21. Apneaman

     /  August 15, 2014

    Brian
    Many of your points are well taken, but lets not forget that at least half our “species” lives on a couple of bucks a day and will probably never do better and the ones to suffer first. Real suffering, not; I can’t afford the new I-phone poor Caucasian me.

    Reply
  22. Colorado Bob

     /  August 15, 2014

    Climate Change, Engineering, Stationarity and Applied Climate

    By: Dr. Ricky Rood ,
    Some years ago there was a Brevity comic strip with a man, John, standing at the supermarket checkout. The caption was, “Suddenly John realized he didn’t want paper or plastic. He wanted something new… something fantastic.” You can see it here.

    I try in my WU blog to find a niche that is different from other climate and climate-change blogs. I imagine that I synthesize information, and I introduce how climate change fits into the proverbial big picture. The blog started after I had been teaching for a while, and both the blog and my class on climate-change problem solving have evolved over the past 8 years. My research has evolved as well, focusing more and more on the usability of climate knowledge in planning and management – whatever that means. All together, what I do has evolved, and this semester at University of Michigan I am taking on a new role to grow a Masters of Engineering in Applied Climate. This notion has been in a slow yeasty ferment for a few years. It is something new. Hope it will turn into something fantastic.

    http://www.wunderground.com/blog/RickyRood/comment.html?entrynum=306

    Reply
  23. Colorado Bob

     /  August 15, 2014

    10 Places Where Climate Change Is Being Felt the Fastest

    #10: South Florida

    Link

    Reply
  24. Griffin

     /  August 15, 2014

    Thank you for taking the time to create this fantastic post Robert. You are a huge help in motivating me to drag myself to NYC for the People’s Climate March next month, I don’t like cities and I really don’t like crowds, but your posts make it clear. I must put forth every effort I can to help raise the awareness that the time for action is here. We need a tax on carbon and we need it now. Hopefully this march is huge and shows that more people care than the media gives coverage to. The people can defeat Big Oil, but we have to unite to do it. I love your spirit and I agree with you 100%, there is nothing to be gained by throwing in the towel now. No matter what we expect from our angry planet, we will never know what we could do without trying. It’s time to try.

    Reply
  25. Greg Smith

     /  August 15, 2014

    The Detroit metro flood on August 11 may end up being a billion-dollar disaster, according to initial damage assessments. “Around 40 percent of Dearborn homes, 50 percent of Ferndale homes and 75 percent of Huntington Woods homes were damaged, according to the Detroit Free Press.”

    http://www.wunderground.com/news/detroit-warren-michigan-flood-billion-dollar-disaster-20140815

    Reply
    • Griffin

       /  August 15, 2014

      They sure don’t have the money to repair the infrastructure.

      Reply
    • Spike

       /  August 16, 2014

      Interesting that today is ten years on from the Boscastle flood of 2004, the first sudden intense rainfall event that really hit the headlines in the UK – a dramatic video here, with a bit on intense rain events mentioned by a climate scientist later on:

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28817320

      Reply
  26. mikkel

     /  August 16, 2014

    Robert, while I agree that fossil fuels are no longer cheap ($30 trillion in next 20 years will be needed to more or less maintain supply of oil and increase coal), I think it’s important to realize the dynamics that make them much easier to invest in than renewables.

    While renewables are very close to competing in a huge percentage of the globe on a lifecycle cost basis, they have much greater capital cost /kwh than a natural gas or coal plant. Sorry, I can’t find the reference again, but I believe 95% of the cost of renewable electricity is up front capital cost, while 30% of fossil fuel plants is.

    This creates a major problem in several ways. First, you need to raise a lot more capital to get a project off the ground, greatly increasing investment bureaucracy costs. Then, the “validity” of the investment becomes extremely sensitive to interest rate risk. Using a standard risk model (and particularly assuming regression of interest rates to historical value) it is exceedingly hard to make renewables look good because either you borrow short term and create operational risk, or you borrow long term and create opportunity cost risk. And finally, there is difficulty in social buy in from a small group of major players. It’s been shown that a key component of whether ideas succeed in taking off is whether they can satisfy at 4-6 powerful interest groups at multiple levels, so everyone feels they are getting a cut. Renewables are more concentrated in deployment and then more diffuse in benefits. A lot of fossil fuel projects are supported by mutual cross investment from both companies (which stand to gain from long term operations) and localities (even if just through tax breaks/cheap land use) because of the appearance of “creating jobs.”

    All in all, this means that fossil fuel investments largely pay for themselves (plus profits) out of cash flows once they get going, whereas renewable profits are all backloaded.

    All these factors conspire to make renewables a far less suitable investment when you have the assumptions of industrial capitalism. Of course they are completely invalid or immaterial when valuing reality.

    Interest rate risk is ultimately politically derived, whereas the risk for fossil fuels is physically and geopolitically derived. The official government projections of fossil fuel costs are insanely low, helping create risk models that make extraction look far less risky than interest rates, when the opposite is obviously plainly true!

    And then the amount of people benefiting from renewables is vastly greater, and directly addresses many of our major social problems. Buy in — if there could be a wide coordinated effort — would be unparalleled and much less costly to obtain than fossil fuel investments.

    The issue that I have personally faced is that people do not appreciate the source of the dynamics and thus will complain about the lack of renewable energy investment while immediately turning around and using traditional investment logic to evaluate their portfolio. They want there to be “safe” and standard looking investments, even though the dynamics are much different and the only way to achieve anywhere close to such a thing are long term purchase agreements — which puts the topic completely in the policy realm and is difficult to get right.

    Relying on the policy realm to lead is a fool’s errand, since policy is almost always reactive in order to codify existing shifts. I think there will need to be a mass movement away from fossil fuels, fueled by reframing concerns, and only once it’s reached 20-30% of the populace will policy adjust rapidly.

    In my mind, these issues are at least as responsible for major roadblocks as calculated cynicism and propaganda. At the end of the day, the value of an investment is the difference between its projected and expected return, and even most green advocates have not adjusted their future rational expectations to match their concerns. I know many people who will complain about Wall Street being the center of destructive sociopathy, but then sock away max contributions into their IRA/401k every year because that is being “responsible.”

    Reply
    • utoutback

       /  August 16, 2014

      Nice analysis! As one who has built 3 passive solar homes and often tried to be an “early adopter” of new technologies (along with other of my associates) I am unable to pay the premium price required to make some of the alternative energy changes I would like to make, such and a glycol panel to rock bin heating system, or the solar array necessary to power my house… Now in my late 60s, I will never see the economic benefit from such investments. I’m still waiting for my government to provide meaningful credits or assistance.
      Meanwhile my local, very conservative (Utah) power cooperative has limited the return from hooking solar panels into our grid to the point where the is really no benefit.
      We are still working in a system where the disincentives to making meaningful changes outweigh those that favor them.

      Reply
      • mikkel

         /  August 16, 2014

        Good on you for being an early adopter though. Do you have any particular opinion on what could make passive solar/etc more widespread?

        Reply
      • utoutback

         /  August 17, 2014

        The only way I see is to change local zoning ordinances and building codes. But, unfortunately, I live in an area where the primary argument against any ordinance is “You are trying to take away our freedoms.” And, there is very little awareness of the issues we are discussing here.

        Reply
        • Jacque

           /  August 17, 2014

          I agree that building codes and many real estate requirements need to be amended asap: roof color, rooftop solar collectors, green lawn vs garden, certain outhouse restrictions, minimum house size, gray water plumbing, clotheslines outlawed, etc. And there’s so much more..but most often, downsizing our living standards doesn’t physically appear as pretty, as tidy, as uniform. People are abhorrent of descending into a bit of blight or squalor or inconvenience, but those of us with average house lot sizes might have a lot more options to go a lot greener than we think, IF we think and then act. Now.

    • I’m sorry, Mikkel, but I couldn’t disagree more. So called capex concerns are involved with any new investment project and the world sits on a precipice where it can either decide to invest in unconventional fossil fuels, which are more expensive and have lower EROEI than renewables, or to invest in renewables themselves. The investment in fossil fuels is just an absolute and abject policy failure when one considers the vast harm it implies.

      Policy is absolutely needed to lead rapid new energy system developments, encourage lifestyle changes that reduce harmful consumption, and encourage broader systemic changes. The notion that these things can happen in a laissez faire manner is simply a faerie tale.

      Not a surprise, but I am seeing a load of anti renewable energy propaganda (not related to your salient comment, just an observation) on this thread and I will be taking it down.

      Reply
      • mikkel

         /  August 19, 2014

        As the people on Oil Drum used to say, no one in the oil patch pays attention to EROEI.

        I don’t see how you can disagree about this premise: it is a fundamental fact that renewable energy takes far more up front capital cost than fossil fuels (particularly natural gas).

        http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/electricity_generation.cfm

        Natural gas is $15/MWh while wind is $64 and solar is projected to be $114 (I say projected because it states this is for 2019 and I’m confident solar will decrease further than projections, plus this is for national averages, not for where it’d best be built ).

        However, the levelized cost is $65 for gas vs. $80 for wind and $130 for solar. The levelized cost is inclusive of projected interest rate and fuel costs; and the cost projections by the EIA are insanely low.

        I can’t find the assumptions used, but the fact that natural gas has such lower capex means it is much less sensitive to interest rate risk, and the standard assumption is to assume more interest rate risk than fuel cost risk. That is insane for what we are going in to, but it is the assumption used. It also is used projecting some reversion to mean in interest rates, so it is very hard to make the numbers look good.

        I’m going to throw together a quick cashflow model to demonstrate the differences to bank accounts. Apparently, you’ll be surprised.

        This isn’t just a hypothetical, or EIA problem: I am in close contact with several tireless renewable and efficiency advocates who have overseen major utility and policy work, and they say it is the primary barrier to widespread adoption. As of now, the realistic benefits of renewables have to be two times greater just to make the projections look similar. So other than extremely low hanging fruit (super easy energy efficiency and PV in the SW or wind in certain areas), it can only get built from non-traditional sources of capital.

        Reply
        • The US EIA has always produced figures that are radically conservative RE any type of new energy and yet you spin these numbers as good?

          The information they’re using in the report is three years old on publication. In any case, aside from coal, most new fossil fuel projects in the US and Canada are either fracking or tar sands related and both have far higher up front investment and life cycle costs than you’ve included.

          In addition, your equation doesn’t include the modular nature of solar and wind that allows capital expenditure to be spread more evenly over time.

          In any case, you deny the need for policy, but it is the very nature and challenge of accessing new energy that requires such policy. So, on the one hand, you argue with inflated figures against the new energy source and, if even such figures were valid and apt comparisons, which they are not in the light of current new energy being pursued on the ground, then they would necessitate policy action more, not less.

          As for the oil drum… That place used EROEI when it was still a convenient means to show the strength of old energy and now dump it as renewables have taken the lead. Small surprise is the place is mainly a haven for oil industry types.

      • mikkel

         /  August 19, 2014

        I started to write the cashflow model and realized there is a critical error in a levelized cost analysis.

        Because they look at lifecycle costs, it actually masks the superiority of renewables since they don’t need fuel From a cashflow basis, if bonds could be given that have a longer length than normal and at a lower interest rate (say a zero-coupon bond instead of 8% in the assumptions), then they have much better profitability than fossil fuel plants. You still have the issue of needing to raise much more capital up front, but the balance sheets will become stronger, allowing for immensely greater returns over a 15-20 year period.

        This just further demonstrates my point that policy isn’t really needed, we just have to have creative thinking and attract people who care to put their money where their mouth is. The problem is almost everyone in the industry evaluates things from a standard perspective that hurts the renewable analysis at every juncture.

        Reply
        • We need policy to disincentivize carbon based sources. Otherwise boom and bust economics will keep them around for far longer than we can afford.

          For example, as renewables move into markets traditionally held by fossil fuels this will drive down the marginal cost of energy. Though the fuels with the highest marginal costs to access will be hit hard and likely fall into bankruptcy, you’ll still have markets for burning these fuels long after they’ve become secondary sources.

          In addition, you need policy to counter the traditional advantages of conventional fuels which, at this point, are primarily politically and institutionally based.

          Finally, there is the speed with which change needs to happen. And that just doesn’t come about organically. So you need something big pushing it. And since industry has vastly failed, you need government policy to take up the slack.

      • mikkel

         /  August 19, 2014

        Obviously I don’t think they’re good. I criticized the assumptions at least 4 or 5 times in three posts.

        I’m explaining how the INDUSTRY and INVESTORS analyze things. Whether we like it or not, this is EXACTLY the logic they have.

        The people I know within it who genuinely know it’s all BS still feel unable to call it out because they can’t get enough non-brainwashed types to actually INVEST or think critically. So they just kind of plod along and hope the numbers will get good enough to argue from the standard.

        Policy isn’t needed because clear thinking already shows it is better. We just need to get a small group together that actually puts together the business case, explains it and then opens up ways for people to put their money into it instead of Wall Street. That’s it.

        By saying we don’t need policy to get things done, it empowers us. The problem with the left is that it always focuses on policy, even though policy is always reactive. I spoke with a senior EPA official who said “the problem with the left is that when they come up with ideas that are amazing, they always start calling for it to be a law instead of just doing it. The right has terrible ideas but moves on the ground, so they set reality for laws to be made.”

        That is completely true.

        Action is what creates reality. People bitch about money in politics and corruption and all that, but it’s not the money that’s the issue, it’s the action that is created from the money. More action leads to more power, even with less money.

        Everyday policy merely codifies what is already changing.

        Policy was absolutely needed for the last few decades to support the field when it was nascent, but now it is better on any fundamental level and yet people still are focused on complaining about fossil fuels interests or societal addiction or all this other bullshit which has zero hindrance to anything. The greatest hindrance is having a pity party, and spending all the energy making it a political issue instead of changing reality on the ground.

        I thought that by working with a bunch of people in the system to figure out the issues and creating novel things that would allow it to get done, it’d help get past this road block, yet what we’re finding is people will say “oh that sounds amazing” and really get it on an intellectual level, but then fail to support it because they don’t have enough resources — while continuing to give money to the people they detest. Write your congressman, click some likes, maybe buy something for yourself, but until there is a law and policy, don’t do jack otherwise.

        Reply
        • In the current climate you can’t change the reality on the ground without policy cover. The old interests will take up the policy slack and use it to crush you, just like they are trying to do in Australia. Just like they are trying to do with Tesla and every other alternative venture out there. If you happen to launch your particular project, you’ll be fortunate to have liberals like me pushing for the policy cover you’ll need to survive.

          Now, EIA is very cautious/conservative with numbers/estimates. It doesn’t mean they’re ‘bad,’ just that they tend to be a bit behind the curve when it comes to numbers estimates. Further, it has an institutional fossil fuels bias, which tends to color it’s estimates.

          For generating capacity, the standard measure has been cost per watt installed. Now renewables may have a bit of a different formula due to higher intermittency, but even dispute this levelized return on investment now exceeds almost all new unconventional ff projects and many traditional.

          Now if it is your job to convince investors… The class is about as stuck in the mud as you can get, with a few noted exceptions. I’d focus on those investors with a longer range mindset and dangle the notion of edging in on ff market share as well as capitalizing on the long-range and intrinsic power of compounding gains in renewable tech and historically and rapidly falling costs. Investment should be considered on the basis of capital invested year on year, with lower gains for early year investment, but compounding gains moving forward. Investors tend to be primarily profit oriented, but a not insubstantial number can be motivated by the inherent progress implied by value generation.

          In any case, if the investors you’re talking to aren’t listening, then you’re talking to the wrong ones.

          Lastly, RE the oil drum. Seemed to me to be a strange alliance of oil industry types and people pretending to be environmentalists. A few of their primary contributors were currently working for the industry and these were the ones who most vigorously attacked renewables, to the point of using 20 year old information or just compiling base falsehoods. Though the general narrative RE the end of cheap fossil fuels was basically correct, the notion that you needed fossil fuels to run civilization was not. In addition, the over-emphasis of the topic of fossil fuel scarcity served to distract from the larger and far more difficult to deal with problem of climate change.

          At one of the Keystone Pipeline protest actions I attended, there was a peak oiler handing out fliers. His bent was that we needed the oil from Keystone, otherwise peak oil would wreck us. And my view is becoming something that is exactly the opposite. We want the fossil energy sources to peak as soon as possible, so we have to learn to transition faster. Otherwise, climate change becomes a more and more violent and difficult to manage problem. Something that surpasses any trouble peak fossil fuels could ever dredge up.

          And to managing the combined energy/climate crisis, effective policy is critical and required. In this case I find the notion that policy is ineffective as something that is rather ludicrous. Why did conservatives fight tooth and nail to remove Australia’s carbon related policies? Because they were working. And because when they did work they hurt their fossil fuel interest backers. And let’s not mince words here, the problem has been politicized because the fossil fuel interests, who have made the decision to not invest in solutions, have their lunch eaten if said solutions are successful.

          Now as for individual action, please by all means do everything you can. But also vote and support sound policy. Otherwise, your action is useless against the larger tide of captive consumers and your options are more limited. And very little will happen except that a few more enclaves of informed people will emerge.

          With climate change moving so rapidly, we need effective policy. So my message here is this — do something or get out of the fracking way. But you have no excuse, if you have a shred of interest in effective action, not to support solutions based climate and energy policy. So if you want to do something on your own, fine. But don’t get in the way of my climate policy.

      • mikkel

         /  August 19, 2014

        “We need policy to disincentivize carbon based sources. Otherwise boom and bust economics will keep them around for far longer than we can afford.”

        Everything you say here is correct, but it is only talking about what will become important when renewables make up a large portion of generated power. That’s what I mean by changing reality on the ground. Policy is friendly enough that with a major push by the 20% of the populace who genuinely cares about this, we can make the reality such that the system will have to adapt in order to keep things stable.

        Something I’ve realized from talking with top level officials is that they are well informed, it’s just that even the best of them are inherently extremely conservative because they are terrified of things going wrong. I’ve had very senior people tell me that they know these things have to happen, but everything that says it can work is just academic. Proving it in reality en masse would demonstrate it’s possible, even with hiccups.

        Reply
        • Policy is the center of gravity for organized action. Otherwise you need a revolution if some kind. If you only believe revolution can work, then you’ve ceded the base of power to the opposition. And I think that is a very ineffective approach.

    • John Dalton

       /  August 28, 2014

      Good analysis. The Trillion Fund though is being successful in the UK, with crowd-funding of renewable projects being oversubscribed. Power to the people!

      Reply
      • Nice!

        I’d like to add that my focus on the need for policy is not meant to discourage individual or grass roots efforts. In my view, these things can set off the kind of systemic change that I’m advocating, if they push for it too!

        Reply
  27. Brian

     /  August 16, 2014

    If you have seen this before, I apologise but this is a very sobering look at Canada’s “Dark Satanic Mills.”

    I recommend this for people to see visually the exact scale of the tar-sands and the environmental destruction it has brought to Canada’s north and the corruption oil money has brought to the political process in my country.

    To the Last Drop: Canada’s Dirty Oil:

    As a Canadian, I feel I have to apologise to the world for the actions of my country……

    Reply
    • Apneaman

       /  August 16, 2014

      I too am Canadian and I built and maintained power boilers and a bunch of other stuff at the tar sands, refineries, pulp mills, cement plants, petrol chemical plants and tank farms. Major guilt sometimes for my part. I knew what was going on; how much damage it was doing. I used to justify it by telling myself that at least we build pollution control too (electrostatic precipitators, scrubbers) and people need petroleum products , paper products and electricity. All of which is true, but……..just don’t feel right. 15 years ago I thought we would have been well on our way to transitioning our energy. I was still naive enough to believe that even hardcore noe-liberal capitalists and corrupt politicians would not risk their own grand kids lives. Now we know they will. Learned a ton of phycology in the last 10 years. Why do we do what we do? Doesn’t really matter Brian. Even if you knew it was going to be all over in your life time or a 90% die back or some major shit storm, there is still a lot of suffering to be prevented. The best thing to do if your feeling guilty is to do something and try to redeem yourself. I know many Albertains can be Redneck at times (I was born there), but there are plenty of groups there to get involved with. I doubt anyone familiar with our country would have predicted we would have become such a moral failure.

      Reply
      • Brian

         /  August 16, 2014

        I’m from BC but have lived and worked in Alberta. Like you, I am very disappointed in what Canada has become on the world stage thanks to the current leadership.

        Sad that we are now seen as polluters and wafflers on emission targets and an major impediment in the global effort to fight climate change. Our PM is an outright global warming denier beholden to fossil fuel interests.

        I try to lower my footprint on the agricultural supply and energy systems as much possible (I still drive but very fuel efficiently and less and less as time goes on)

        All I feel I can do use my voice to speak out and use my single measly vote to show my displeasure next election. But a lot of measly, single votes working together may just send a message…..if we have not become yet become too apathetic to enact change.

        I try to focus my efforts on the Northern Gateway pipeline. The though of 600 extra tankers a year, full of thick, heavy oilsands product, plying through the beautiful fiords off the northern coast is too horrifying to imagine.

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Apneaman.

        Reply
    • Brian/Apneaman

      We should all take responsibility and we should all be doing everything to support effective action on all levels — individual, social, and political. Feeling guilty about past action at this point is helpful, but only if it serves help us work to overcome what seem to be insurmountable problems. My view is that recognition of harm done is the first step to effective action. But now we need to work for active problem solving.

      And a word to the wise — don’t listen to the anti-renewables propaganda. There’s a vicious active suppression campaign that blatantly overstates all challenges and acts to demonize the new energy sources. It’s rank misinformation and a symptom of the larger overall problem of fossil fuel dominance.

      Reply
  28. I am an American. America set the tone for this calamity. Canada just followed along. I spent thirteen of my middle years in exile in southwestern BC. Then watched in sadness and bewilderment as Canada joined the fray.
    The frenzy of destruction at the tar sands is truly insane and criminal, with plenty of American players.
    Thanks for your candor, Brian and apneaman.

    Reply
    • Brian

       /  August 16, 2014

      There’s lots of blame to go around, dtlange. America did set the tone but I think as Canadians we have been willing partners and compliant consumers in the oil economy. Per capita, we are probably the worst polluters on the planet.

      Reply
  29. Apneaman

     /  August 16, 2014

    Mind Over Money

    Reply
  30. From the petroleum of Alberta’s tar sands to petrochemical plastics in the Pacific Ocean, there is a trail of grief. ‘The Midway Project’ by Chris Jordan gives us a visual autopsy report from Midway Island. 6 min.

    Reply
  31. ‘Southwest Spain is experiencing its worst drought since record keeping began 150 years ago, and agricultural crops, especially olives, are suffering badly. With climate models and Spanish researchers both predicting that Spain’s droughts will get more intense and more regular than before, this is the second year since 2012 that heat and drought have threatened the country’s trademark olive harvest,
    With California — know for its mediterranean climate… the statewide drought is even imperiling California’s existing olive crop this year, and it was recently reported that the state’s table olive yield could drop by up to half compared to 2013.’

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/08/16/3472137/spain-drought-olive-oil-california/

    Reply
  32. james cole

     /  August 16, 2014

    The fossil fuel industry has preformed a miracle of sorts over the last decade with it’s media and online campaigns to stifle debate and action on CO2 caused climate change. They have managed to take America from a nation of “can do” people and turned this nation into a backwards thinking “can’t do” nation. They have feed people the idea that we, as a people can not do anything about switching to alternative energy. Ask the average American now and he will tell you “it is too expensive to develop” “jobs will be lost” “we simply don’t have the technology to make the shift”. Nope we are a “Can’t Do” nation! This is what they have done with millions in media spending, turn us into “can’t doers”. America was not always like that, before we could see a problem and unite to solve it. All we get now is “We must keep using all fossil fuels, because we have no ability to change”. It is a sick mental attitude to take, but this is what media spending has bought.

    Reply
    • Griffin

       /  August 16, 2014

      That is a very good point. To combat that mindset, I hammer family and friends through social media. I am constantly reminding them that many wind turbines are made in America now. Reminding them that there are more people working in the solar industry than coal. I offer idea’s like “can you imagine what we could do just with the money that our government waste’s every year?”
      Yes, we are surrounded by a massive population that has no idea of how good the possibilities are ahead of us, nor how bad the situation will become if we don’t. But all we can do is try to educate them.

      Reply
    • Couldn’t agree more, James. Excellent observation. But, the hope I see from this is that the whole ‘we can’t do anything about it’ meme is simply a media fed illusion. It’s really pretty flimsy once you turn down the volume and look at the facts.

      Reply
  33. Dali

     /  August 16, 2014

    Point of view from central Europe – Slovakia (smaller part of former Czechoslovakia)
    First, I’ve been following your blog for about 2 yrs and I want to thank you for your great job you are doing Robert. I’ve found it very interesting, informative and icreasing my knowledge of the topic of climate change. I also want to thank to all commenters for their thoughts, ideas, links and infos.
    Second, sometimes it seems to me that people outside Europe have a wrong picture about Europeans and their better awareness of the human caused climate change and its consequences. Maybe in Western Europe, mainly in Germany and Scandinavia but not in Central and Eastern Europe where I live. Our society looks at people from ecological and environmental groups like they are from a different galaxy, strange and mad people.
    I used to teach at a secondary school where I informed students about the climate (although these lessons were out of my subject, they were the greatest). I still inform my colleagues, family, friends but it is not a good topic to talk about. Then I plant trees, collect garbage in the countrysideon my own or I join a group of a few volunteers, give my vote to people who wants to do sth for our nature but about 2 yrs ago I got really depressed and frustrated. Now I’m much better and doing all those things I’ve mentioned above for my own pleasure and good feeling but realising that’s all I can do. I do not think things will change soon, not only in our country, Europe, the US or globally. That is not pessimism, that is the reality. Facts are like they are and they are not good.
    And your ideas and ideas of many other great people what should be done come to me like a false hope, because since about 2005 I’ve been listening, reading, watching statements that we have about 10 yrs to do sth about it. 10 yrs have nearly passed and nothing or very little has been done. All those ideas need some time to be brought into reality. I know there are alternative and renewable technologies already working but leaving BAU and spreading those ideas and technologies globally will take a few decades at least (optimistic scenario). And you know very well that’s too long. There is no time. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to do what we feel is right to do. We must. But we will hit the wall and consequences will be bad. Not they can be better if we do this or that whether we slow their pace or not. They will be really bad. Look at history of humans. There were many great civilisations, empires with clear signs of their decline and all of them came to the point when they suddenly collapsed. People have been learning their lessons through their history and nothing have learned. Unfortunately this is very likely to be our last lesson. Signs and threats are maybe different but clear.
    I’m sure, few will survive and then your ideas, thoughts and knowledge might help them. So please do not take all these things I have written about as an offence. I’m really happy there are people like you are Robert who has the courage to change things.
    Thank you.
    Sorry for my simple English and being too long. I hope you understood it and I also hope to bring some news about climate change from my part of the world, in which it can be felt very well too.

    Reply
  34. Apneaman

     /  August 17, 2014

    There’s your trouble
    http://documentarystorm.com/consumed/

    Reply
  35. Colorado Bob

     /  August 17, 2014

    Incredible East Coast Rainfall Event of August 12-14

    What must have been one of the most anomalous non-tropical-storm-related precipitation events on record affected a wide area from North Carolina to Maine on August 12-14. The heaviest precipitation was confined to a relatively narrow band from the Baltimore, Maryland area, across southern New Jersey, and into coastal areas of New England as far north as Maine. Here are some details.

    Link

    Reply
    • Colorado Bob

       /  August 17, 2014

      Was the Detroit Flood a Billion-Dollar Disaster?

      The Detroit metro flood on August 11 may end up being a billion-dollar disaster, according to initial damage assessments.

      Monday afternoon anywhere from 4-7 inches of rainfall hammered parts of the metro. Between one-third and one-half of homes in the hardest hit areas were damaged in the flood, amounting to over 34,000 structures, according to the Detroit Free Press.

      City officials in the hard-hit suburb of Warren estimated 18,047 structures were damaged, including one-third of its homes, with a total value of $1.2 billion.

      An average claim for water damage, however, ranges from $20,000 to $25,000. Unfortunately, a typical homeowners insurance policy does not cover flood damage, so there will be a large number of uninsured homes with at least basement flood damage.

      Link

      Reply
    • Mark from New England

       /  August 18, 2014

      Thanks for posting this Bob. Hopefully we’ll have a break from such extreme rain events, for a while…😉

      Reply
  36. Colorado Bob

     /  August 17, 2014

    Brazil Drought: São Paulo Could Run Dry in Less Than 100 Days

    Brazil’s largest city could run dry in less than 100 days if the city’s government doesn’t act, Brazil’s Public Ministry said.

    São Paulo, a city of more than 9 million people, is facing one of its worst water shortages in years, brought on by the worst drought to hit São Paulo state in 84 years, the Associated Press reports.

    The Cantareira watershed, which supplies 45 percent of the São Paulo metro’s population with water, is less than 100 days from running dry, the Wall Street Journal reports.

    “All we have left to hope is for rain. Without rainfall, we have no options,” Jose Carlos Mierzwa, a University of São Paulo professor who focuses on sanitary engineering, told the Associated Press.

    (MORE: The Same Problem, Happening in the U.S.?)

    According to weather.com senior meteorologist Jonathan Erdman, rainfall substantial enough to help replenish the ailing reservoirs is unlikely to come until the southern hemisphere summer, which peaks December through February.

    “In those peak months, thunderstorms can be expected at least every third or fourth day,” said Erdman. “Even so, it will likely take a very wet spring, summer and fall to begin to restore São Paulo reservoir levels back to some sort of normalcy.”

    That means the water shortage will likely only be exacerbated in coming months. But so far, the city’s water utility Sabep, which is owned and operated by São Paulo state, hasn’t drafted or enacted any water rationing plan, despite the demands and deadlines of federal prosecutors.

    Link

    Reply
  37. Climate change reflected in altered Missouri River flow, USGS report says
    ‘The Missouri River’s stream flow has changed significantly over the last 50 years, leading to serious water shortages in Montana and Wyoming and flooding in the Dakotas, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report released last month.
    In the Dakotas, flooding is more common, leaving fields too muddy to plant or harvest crops.
    Climate shifts may be causing the disparate changes in the Missouri River Basin, the USGS report says. The scientists noted that higher stream flow in the Dakotas had occurred even as water use increased. In addition, they said, lower stream flow in some areas could be related in part to groundwater pumping.

    “Understanding stream flow throughout the watershed can help guide management of these critical water resources,” said USGS hydrologist Parker Norton, lead author of the report that focuses on stream flow. The study is part of his doctoral research, which will analyze precipitation patterns, temperatures and their effects.

    In the Great Plains, average air temperatures have warmed 3 to 4 degrees in the last century, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That contributes to the problem.’
    http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-missouri-river-20140817-story.html

    Reply
    • Colorado Bob

       /  August 17, 2014

      The Missouri River’s stream flow has changed significantly over the last 50 years, ………….

      Nice catch dtlange –

      I love the part at the end where a denier is part of a group suing the Corps of Engineers , because these are “man made problems”.
      And without the Corps of Engineers, his sorry ass would have never been in business.

      Reply
    • Apneaman

       /  August 18, 2014

      “We’ve all had to make some adjustments,” said Buzz Mattelin, another Montana farmer who irrigates with water from the Missouri. “We’ve had to spend more money and learn how to adapt.”

      These guys are very stubborn and hard workers no doubt. They will probably keep going until they run out of money or can no longer adjust and adapt. There is no known upper limit to denial.

      Reply
  38. Colorado Bob

     /  August 17, 2014

    Climate change study’s results show Northwest prairie plants struggle with warming —

    The Northwest’s native prairie plants — including grasses and forbs — may face a tough time in their current ranges as temperatures warm because of global warming.

    Preliminary results from a four-year, $1.8 million, U.S. Department of Energy-funded study show that plants grown in experimental plots under current-range conditions struggled to germinate with warming temperatures. Plants grown under conditions that they would experience beyond their present ranges (e.g. if populations shifted their ranges over time) experienced no negative effects from warming.

    Link

    Reply
  39. Colorado Bob

     /  August 17, 2014

    China Suffers Drought, Water Shortage.
    Drought could lead to complete loss of harvest in some areas.

    This summer has been one of the hottest in decades in Jilin Province, China, and several counties are facing the complete loss of their harvests.

    Currently, Changling, Nongan, Gongzhuling and 10 other agricultural counties in Jilin are facing a severe drought. The severity of the drought is comparable to that in 1951.

    A villager Ms. Lee from Wanglong village, Huajia Township, Nongan County, Changhun City, told Epoch Times: “The drought is very bad. All the corn leaves have turned yellow. Corns are not fully grown, only their tips are seen with barely any kernels.”.

    Since July 1 this year, the rainfall in Jilin Province totaled only 4.4 inches, which is about 48 percent less compared to the same period from previous years. This year had the second lowest rainfall in history; the least amount since 1951.

    Link

    The POR in much of China begins with the take over of the communists.

    Reply
  40. Colorado Bob

     /  August 17, 2014

    Trust me, the climate change victims are not going to lay down like dogs. And their number in southern Michigan , just grew by hundreds of thousands.

    And they were already poor. and out of work .

    This will not be pretty.

    Reply
    • It’s a sad irony but it was this region that gave birth to to the American car culture that is a driver of excessive fossil fuel consumption. I wonder if they realize that.

      Reply
  41. Some positive actions are taking place in the US. And a fairly obscure ‘public trust’ doctrine appears to have standing in the courts.
    ‘The climate made me do it!
    Environmental protesters are poised to try out the ‘necessity defense’
    On May 15, 2013, Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara anchored their lobster boat in the shipping channel off the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset. Flying an American flag and a banner reading “#coalisstupid,” the two men blocked the delivery of 40,000 tons of Appalachian mountaintop coal to New England’s largest coal-burning power plant for a day.

    At their trial, scheduled for Sept. 8 in Fall River District Court, Wood and O’Hara face charges of disturbing the peace, conspiracy, and motorboat violations. Although conviction could result in nine months of jail time, they’ll admit to everything. They’ll argue that it’s really climate change and the government’s ineffective policies that should be on trial.

    Then they’ll ask the jury to find them not guilty by reason of “necessity.”

    This trial will mark a pioneering invocation of the necessity defense, the longstanding legal doctrine that it is acceptable to commit a crime if you are preventing a greater harm. Traditionally, this defense is used for situations like a prisoner fleeing from a burning jail, but Wood and O’Hara’s lawyers will make the more sweeping argument that their illegal interference with a coal delivery was justified in light of the greater danger of catastrophic climate change. In past cases, judges have blocked the attempt to use “necessity” as a defense by climate protesters. In this case, the defense has not been challenged. That means that in Bristol County, for the first time, the climate necessity defense appears bound for an American court.’

    http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/08/16/the-climate-made/SyBQ7d95ZG0QoiJBHI17KK/story.html

    Reply
  42. The ‘public trust’ doctrine:
    LAW:
    Enviros push ‘public trust’ as trump card over oil and gas influence
    Last Dec. 19 was a gratifying day for John Dernbach. In 162 pages the state’s highest court had resurrected a provision in Pennsylvania’s Constitution that had long ago faded into obscurity.

    The forgotten measure is an environmental rights amendment nestled in Article 1, among core protections of civil rights and due process. The amendment gives people a right to clean air, pure water and conservation of natural resources. It hands environmentalists an opportunity to transform the natural gas debate in Pennsylvania and beyond.

    http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060004530

    Reply
  43. Here in Oregon, two teenagers are suing the Governor for climate change damage under the ‘public trust’ doctrine.
    (Somehow, somewhere, there should be a class action suit as well.)
    Two girls will have their day in court to argue Oregon’s responsibility for coping with the impacts of climate change.
    The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that a lawsuit against the state was dismissed prematurely, and that a judge must hear arguments in Lane County Circuit Court.
    The decision was a victory for Olivia Chernaik and Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana, who with their guardians filed the suit asserting that the state has violated the public trust in failing to protect the atmosphere from gases such as carbon dioxide.
    The suit and others like it are being filed in several states under a “public trust” doctrine that children should hold adults responsible for climate change.
    http://ourchildrenstrust.org/state/oregon

    Reply
    • Addendum:
      The public trust doctrine exists yet it is not honored.
      My hope, in bringing this up, is that it might add a way for the public to demand action by those in power. Make the decision makers say out loud that the law prevents them from acting to stop a certain calamity. Let them state openly that the Koch Brothers and the American Legislative Exchange (ALEC), etc. ‘made’ them do it.
      It’s a small hope, and a maybe a feeble tack, but maybe it’s a way to keep the debate alive and vocal.

      Reply
  44. Mark from New England

     /  August 18, 2014

    Heat wave to hit Greenland (now):

    http://www.arctic-news.blogspot.com/2014/08/heatwave-to-hit-greenland.html

    Slip sliding away …

    Reply
    • High amplitude jet stream wave over the area for the next few days.

      Reply
      • wili

         /  August 18, 2014

        Yep. The south in particular, already seeing melt right across the island, is going to be hit hard the next very few days: http://globalweatherlogistics.com/seaiceforecasting/gfs.500mb.height.anomaly.arctic.html
        http://nsidc.org/greenland-today/

        Reply
      • Mark from New England

         /  August 18, 2014

        “South wind with near 60 F temps on the southwest coast now”. – Sounds nice. Let me get my short pants. And welcome back Robert!

        In an unrelated but natural phenomenon – did anyone catch the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter early this pre-dawn? It was pretty cool, and to think that Jupiter is much farther from the sun than is Venus, or Earth for that matter, but they were right next to each other in the sky from our Earthly vantage point. Wish I could have seen it over the ocean!

        Reply
        • Sounds pretty amazing. Sorry to say that I missed it.

          Looks like I ruffled a few fossil-fuel feathers with the most recent post as the usual suspects are are just howling away. Sorry for the delay in moderation…

  45. Brian

     /  August 19, 2014

    Meanwhile, back on the Harper front……Canadian federal government is actively supressing scientists who try to inform Canadians as to extent of ice loss in the Arctic. From todays local newspaper…..

    .http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Federal+government+puts+polar+briefings/10128511/story.html

    Reply
  46. Leland Palmer

     /  August 27, 2014

    The recent Siberian crater cold gas eruption was only 16 miles from the center of the Bovanenkovo gas field.

    Bovanenkovo contains about 4.9 trillion cubic meters of methane, equal to half as much methane as is now in the atmosphere of the earth.

    http://www.gazprom.com/about/production/projects/deposits/bm/

    This recent cold gas eruption may have originated in a layer of methane hydrate 100 meters below ground level. The permafrost in this area is unusually shallow, extending down to about 200 meters, and the gas layers of Bovanenkovo extend unusually close to the surface, at about 600 meters depth. Multiple cold gas eruptions may breach this giant gas field, and accelerate global warming greatly. These cold gas eruptions may or may not extend deep enough to breach the field.

    From their public statements, I believe the Russian scientists know that this risk exists.

    Here is a link to a scientific paper about gas blowouts in the gas hydrate bearing layer that occur, during gas drilling at Bovanenkovo.

    http://research.iarc.uaf.edu/NICOP/DVD/ICOP%201998%20Permafrost%207th%20conf/CD-ROM/Proceedings/PDF001189/151104.pdf

    This paper forms the factual basis for this message.

    I think it is very likely that the Russian government, at least, knows the risks. The gas in Bovanenkovo is worth about two trillion dollars, and the gas in the entire Yamal complex is worth about 10 trillion dollars.

    Another one of the gas eruption craters is about 75 miles from .Zapolyarnoye, another giant gas field with about 3 trillion cubic meters of gas.

    I believe that slow leakage from these giant gas fields may create deposits of methane hydrate concentrated in the permafrost around them. At any rate, at least at Bovanenkovo, those methane hydrate containing permafrost soils do seem to exist, according to the scientific paper “Sources of Natural Gas within Permafrost, Northwest Siberia” linked to above. As global warming continues, this layer of methane hydrate will now start to dissociate and create many more cold gas eruptions.

    The giant Yamal area gas fields contain more than 25 trillion cubic meters of methane- several times as much methane as is now in the atmosphere of the earth. Releasing any large fraction of that gas could greatly accelerate global warming, and start to dissociate the continental shelf methane hydrates. This could lead ultimately to a “methane catastrophe” like the one associated with the End Permian mass extinction event by some scientists:

    Reply
  47. Leland Palmer

     /  August 27, 2014

    Robert, in my post awaiting moderation made last night, I reference this paper:

    http://research.iarc.uaf.edu/NICOP/DVD/ICOP%201998%20Permafrost%207th%20conf/CD-ROM/Proceedings/PDF001189/151104.pdf

    What the authors of this paper are concerned about is the layer of methane hydrates at around 100 meters in depth that is encountered in several gas fields. They say this layer is of biological origin, and may be a regional characteristic of the entire region.

    If that is the case, they conclude, it could be the source of “very large quantities of gas” and be vulnerable to global warming.

    If the hydrate is associated with individual gas fields, that might be very bad, if these cold gas eruptions extend deep enough to breach the top of the field. The apparent biological nature of the methane hydrate is a puzzle, because most of the gas in these giant gas fields is thermogenic in origin, many scientists say.

    If it this hydrate layer is not associated with individual gas fields, and is a characteristic of the entire region, that could also be very bad, because the total volume of this regional layer of methane hydrates could be very large.

    Reply
    • I just approved it, Leland. Thanks for the post.

      I think this is a worthwhile concern given the fact that the thermogenic gas in the region is so shallow. However, we have multiple methane blast holes over a rather large region. So the gas fields themselves may not be the only risk.

      The size of the total methane source, regardless of origin, is quite large.

      As for continuing to extract, I think the Russians do this at their own, and our own, peril. It’s a massive mal-investment.

      Reply
      • Leland Palmer

         /  August 28, 2014

        One other factor that the Russian scientists’ statements in the Siberian Times mentioned was salt. The Yamal Peninsula sediments are high in salt- several papers available on the web confirm this.

        Xiaoli Liu and Dr. Peter Flemmings have studied the role of salt in marine hydrates, like those at Hydrate Ridge off the Oregon coast. They claim that salt can result in large volumes of methane hydrate being at the triple point of the methane gas/salt brine/methane hydrate system. They claim that high salt “triple point” hydrates are more sensitive to global warming than other hydrate deposits, because large volumes of hydrate are already at the dissociation boundary, at equilibrium. They claim that these high salt hydrates may be the first to dissociate in response to global warming.

        http://www.beg.utexas.edu/geofluids/Theses/xiaoli_liu_hydrate_thesis.pdf

        These Siberian gas eruptions so early in the global warming process are unexpected, I think. How the triple point mechanism would work on land, with terrestrial hydrates, I don’t know. But this triple point mechanism might tend to increase gas phase transport within methane hydrate deposits, and might make the Yamal hydrates especially sensitive to global warming.

        Reply
        • These are great points, Leland. I can’t help but wonder what warmer, saltier bottom water formation might also do to hydrates on or near the ocean floor.

  1. The Keystone Pipeline, Arctic Methane Eruptions...

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