Renewable Energy Technology is Now Powerful Enough to Significantly Soften the Climate Crisis

In order for the world to begin to solve the climate crisis, one critical thing has to happen. Global carbon emissions need to start falling. And they need to start falling soon before the serious impacts that we are already seeing considerably worsen and begin to overwhelm us.

Carbon Emissions Plateau For Last Three Years

Over the past three years, countries around the world have been engaged in a major switch away from the biggest carbon emitter — coal. China is shutting down hundreds of its worst polluting coal plants, India is following suit, the U.S. is shuttering many of its own facilities, and in Europe the trend is much the same. Around the world, investment in new coal fired plants continues to fall even as the old plants are pressured more and more to halt operations.

(It’s starting to look like cheap renewable energy and the drive to reduce pollution and to solve the climate crisis are a stronger factor in the present carbon emissions plateau than a cyclical switch to natural gas fired power generation. Image source: The International Energy Agency.)

In many places, coal generation is being replaced by natural gas. This fuel emits about 30-50 percent less carbon than coal, but it’s still a big source. In the past, a switch to natural gas due to lower prices has driven a cyclical but temporary reduction in global carbon emissions. And falling coal prices have often driven a price-forced switch back to coal and a return to rising emissions rates. But after years of rock-bottom coal prices due to continuously falling demand this, today, is not the case.

Low-Cost, More Desirable Renewable Energy Blocks a Cyclical Switch back to Coal

And the primary reason for this break in traditional energy cycling is that renewable energy in the form of wind and solar are now less expensive than coal and gas fired power generation in many places. Add that wind and solar are considerably more desirable due to the fact that they produce practically zero negative health impacts from pollution and that such zero-emitting sources are critical to solving an ever-worsening climate crisis and you end up with something seldom seen in markets anywhere. A rare synergy between a public interest based drive for a more moral energy industry and a, typically callous to such concerns, market-based profit motive.

(In Western Europe basic economics and a desire for cleaner power sources has resulted in both wind and solar overtaking coal fired power generation capacity. Image source: Bloomberg.)

Consider the fact that now, in Western Europe, both solar and wind energy have higher installed capacities than coal. Combined, the two sources have more than double the present energy producing capacity of this dirty fuel. Coal just can’t compete any longer. And an increasing glut of low-cost, non-polluting renewable energy is forcing even the largest, most economically viable, coal fired power plants such as the 2.2 gigawatt facility in  Voerde, Germany to shut down.

In Australia, despite the mad-hatter attempts by coal cheerleader politicians to supply more of this dirty carbon to a dwindling world market, renewable energy just keeps on advancing. This week, Queensland announced a new solar + storage project that would at first supply 350 megawatts of renewable energy and would ultimately expand to 800 megawatts. The drive for the project comes as solar prices in Australia are now beating out gas fired power generation. Meanwhile, market analysts are saying that solar+storage will soon be in the same position. And, even more ironically, many of the new solar and battery storage promoters in Queensland are past coal industry investors.

Simple Technologies Leverage Economies of Scale

The technologies driving this fundamental energy market transformation — wind, solar, batteries — are not new silver bullet advances. They are older technologies that are simple and easy to reproduce, improve, and that readily benefit from increasing economies of scale. This combination of simplicity, improvability and scaling is a very powerful transformational force. It enables companies like Tesla to spin core products like mass produced batteries into multiple offerings like electrical automobiles, trucks, and residential, commercial and industry scale energy storage systems. A new capability and advantage that is now beginning to significantly disrupt traditional fossil fuel based markets world-wide.

A fact that was underscored by the shockwaves sent through combustion engine manufacturers recently after Tesla’s simple announcement that it would begin producing electric long-haul trucks.

The announcement almost immediately prompted downgrades in conventional truck engine manufacturer stock values. In the past, competition by electric vehicle manufacturers like Tesla have forced traditional, fossil fuel based vehicle and engine manufacturers to produce their own electric products in order to protect market share. But since these companies are heavily invested in older, more polluting technology it is more difficult for them to produce electric vehicles at a profit than it is for pure electric manufacturers like Tesla.

Renewable Energy Technology Capable of Removing Lion’s Share of Global Carbon Emissions

In light of these positive trends, we should consider the larger goals of the energy transition with regards to climate change.

  1. To slow and plateau the rate of carbon emissions increases.
  2. To begin to reduce global carbon emissions on an annual basis.
  3. To bring carbon emissions to net zero globally.
  4. To bring carbon emission to net negative globally.

By itself, market based energy switches to renewable energy systems can cut global carbon emissions from their present rate of approximately 33 billion tons of CO2 each year to 1-5 billion tons of CO2 each year through full removal of fossil fuels from thermal, power, fuel, manufacturing, materials production and other uses. In other words, by itself, this now rapidly scaling set of technologies is capable of removing the lion’s share of the human carbon emission problem. And given the rapid cost reductions and increasing competitiveness of these systems, these kinds of needed reductions in emissions are now possible on much shorter timescales than previously envisioned.

(UPDATED)

Links:

Europe’s Coal Power is Going up in Smoke — Fast

The International Energy Agency

Plans Laid for 800 MW Solar + Storage Facility in Queensland

Tesla Semi Announcement Causes Analysts to Start Downgrading Traditional Truck Stocks

Coal Plants are in Decline

Hat tip to Phil

Hat tip to Spike

Hat tip to Brian

Leave a comment

146 Comments

  1. wili

     /  April 19, 2017

    Thanks for this. Things are moving so fast on the renewable energy front, it’s hard to keep up!

    Reply
    • They are indeed. It’s kind of ironic in that conservative politicians are confronted with a market force and are attempting to use government powers to stifle it. It’s pretty ironic, also, that traditionally liberal renewable energy advocates are resorting to attempting to compel markets to act in a moral, rational fashion through market-focused policies like divestment. So it’s not just moving fast, it’s all topsy-turvy.

      Reply
      • phil s

         /  April 19, 2017

        This trend that you point to, where conservatives are increasingly relying on government regulations while liberals are seeing market forces turn in their favour is important. Not only does it show that those with the (old) power will hold onto it any way they can (and always have relied heavily on subsidies and regulations), it illustrates an acceptance and normalising of what was once considered alternative energy. A similar process is occurring in the regenerative agriculture and food sovereignty movements. We talk about gaining a “thick” legitimacy, i.e. valuable on many levels, and ditching the alternative tag.

        Thanks for the hat tip Robert, nice to contribute

        Reply
    • wpNS Alito

       /  April 19, 2017

      I’d like to give a shout-out to the slow but steady conversion to more energy efficient lighting, appliances and structures. It’s a double win to change out an incandescent bulb for a cooler one in air-conditioned homes and buildings.

      Reply
  2. utoutback

     /  April 19, 2017

    Off topic – but an excellent radio show on coral bleaching, and climate change.
    Still, no link to CO2 or call to end carbon fuels use, mostly because the panel were all oceanographers and marine biologists.

    http://the1a.org/shows/2017-04-19/the-state-of-the-worlds-coral-reefs-and-efforts-to-save-them

    Reply
    • Thanks for this, UT.

      Reply
    • utoutback

       /  April 19, 2017

      My bad – there was a statement of the need to end carbon loading.

      Reply
      • utoutback

         /  April 19, 2017

        After listening to the entire program – there are actually several clear statements and a call for people to attend this weekend’s March for Science.

        Reply
  3. Bob

     /  April 19, 2017

    NOAA article on the increase of increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. http://www.noaa.gov/news/carbon-dioxide-levels-rose-at-record-pace-for-2nd-straight-year
    If carbon emissions really have plateaued then where is the carbon coming from? An enigma. Whatever it is, it means that carbon sequestration better start being economical and efficient very soon because even if we slow emissions another, or several, runaway feedback mechanism may already be in play that add to our emissions.

    Reply
    • So let’s be very clear, Bob. The global carbon emissions are at record high levels on the decadal scale. And that’s what matters when it comes to average rates of atmospheric CO2 increase. We should also be clear that we are not off the BAU path yet. It’s just that we now have the opportunity for an early out.

      The rate of atmospheric CO2 gain, though very high now, would have been still higher if the human fossil fuel emission had not plateaued when it did. And, as we’ve said before here many times, we will need to see years in which human emissions consistently decline in order to even begin to see a drop off in atmospheric rates of accumulation.

      Reply
    • In other words, we can expect atmospheric CO2 accumulation in the average range of 2.2 to 2.5 ppm per year to continue for at least another decade (without significant Earth System feedbacks added) even if human CO2 emissions start to fall by 2-3 percent per year, for example.

      The present spike is largely driven by record high rates of emissions on the decadal timescale (which a plateau does not presently mitigate) and by a considerable warming of ocean surfaces which has inhibited the ability of the ocean to take down atmospheric carbon over the past two years. The ocean surface warming is driven at least in part by the cyclical ENSO and PDO cycles. We should expect 2017 atmospheric carbon dioxide increases to slow somewhat as the slack draws down a bit in this cycling and as the Equator has cooled and the trades have reasserted (despite a potential for a weak El Nino this summer).

      Reply
    • “If carbon emissions really have plateaued then where is the carbon coming from? “

      Well, that is the multi-quadrillion dollar question, isn’t it? And I am afraid that the answer is our greatest nightmare: This discrepancy may be the first indication of warming causing increased GHG emissions from soils and seabeds. As the whole process begins positive feedback in earnest and threatens a runaway greenhouse.

      Reply
      • The record annual rates of CO2 gain gibe well with plateauing, but still record decadal rates of carbon emissions. In addition, we have had a very long positive PDO period which has hit the Pacific’s ability to draw down carbon. Steadily failing ocean carbon draw-down is absolutely a positive feedback. But this has been ongoing now for some time. As for net environmental carbon emissions gain — my personal opinion is that the science needs to take a good hard and honest look at this. But it’s clear now that with human emissions still at record decadal highs where the chief source of the atmospheric increase is coming from. We would have to see human emissions fall for a number of years before we would expect to see a marked impact to annual rates of CO2 gain. We are instead at a record high plateau.

        Reply
      • Bill H

         /  April 21, 2017

        Just to reinforce what Robert is saying the continuing increase in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is not a quadrillion dollar question or even a 1 dollar question. It’s simply that CO2 released into the atmosphere stays there for considerably more than 100 years, Thus if you put a million tons of the gas per year into the atmosphere after 10 years the atmosphere will have close to ten million tons of extra CO2.

        Reply
  4. Brian

     /  April 19, 2017

    “And they need to start falling soon before some seriously catastrophic impacts start to overwhelm us.”

    I think a stronger way to word this would be to say that: ‘And they need to start falling quickly before we’re overwhelmed by some of the seriously-catastrophic impacts we are starting to experience.’

    I think there’s a need to state the obvious that these catastrophic impacts have already started, and that we need to get on top of things before it’s too late to stop them, whereas your statement implies there’s still some time before we start seeing bad impacts.

    It’s good news on the energy front for sure, as money is one of the great motivators of our society (I’m not saying it should be, just that it is), and that hopefully this will bring about a change.

    Reply
    • We’re starting to see some impacts now. But these are the early, easier impacts. I’ll look at it and see if I can clarify the statement to include both nuances.

      Reply
  5. Some hope in a gloomy world. Pl write on carbon capture technologies. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Carbon capture, due to its expense, is likely able to help at the margins. That said, we will probably need atmospheric carbon capture to produce the net negative carbon rates needed to bring the world back into balance with Holocene norms. And it’s likely that these endeavors will need to last for very long time-scales.

      Reply
      • wpNS Alito

         /  April 19, 2017

        Small favors, of course, but a fair bit of the carbon release associated with the massive concrete production for China’s highways and cities will be adsorbed over time.

        Reply
      • Carbon capture is what my father would have called a boondoggle. Capturing that gas, and storing it, is not ever going to be a profitable activity. We’ll have to pay people to do it, and that opens a door to corruption and waste. Not to mention that any gas stored has a chance of leaking. Stuff it in the ground, and it’ll percolate out again.

        CO2 needs to be converted. Both naturally, which will happen anyhow. And artificially, which needs to be studied – errr, invented actually. 🙂 Nature does it with plants and rocks; surely we can figure out another way of converting the gas into a profitable thing. At this point, I know I’m asking for something that would seem to be magical. Sorry. 🙂

        Reply
      • bostonblorp

         /  April 20, 2017

        If my limited understand is correct I do not see how we can make it through the closing “escape window” without massive carbon capture and sulfate spraying. I know the latter isn’t popular around here but given that CO2e is around 460ppm and that eliminating FF burning would eliminate the cooling sulfates in the atmosphere to the tune of another 50ppm CO2e (as I learned here) then we are already above 500ppm CO2e with pretty much a lock on another 20-50ppm CO2e over the next decade or two. That’s wil-e-coyote well-past the cliff territory.

        Hoping you can point out some big errors in my reasoning.

        Reply
        • Problem with atmospheric seeding is that once you’ve done it you can’t really undo anything about that. It also causes acid rain to return, as I understand the current science.

          Breaking apart the molecules that cause warming in a controlled manner would be something that could be stopped, or expanded as required. As long as it was profitable. (goddess, I’m writing like I’m a character out of Star Trek.)

      • Jeremy in Wales

         /  April 20, 2017

        The only carbon capture technology we need are plants, trees and bogs. Plant trees and block up drainage channels, not necessarily in the same place though. Bogs lay down peat, and trees generally tie up carbon in their structures for long periods of time. Even in denuded Britain we have oaks over 500 yrs old and yews over 4,000 yrs old.

        Reply
    • Spike

       /  April 20, 2017

      Chris Goodall believes very much in the future of carbon capture and utilisation, using cheap abundant renewable electricity to make hydrogen and then methane. To me this makes sense since so many people use gas for home heating in North Europe.

      https://www.carboncommentary.com/blog/2017/3/2/cgb0bbx2uyubc858ubthhxegtd41n0

      Thanks for hat tip Robert – glad to grease the wheels 😉

      Reply
      • bostonblorp

         /  April 21, 2017

        That was an interesting read, thanks. While it would help a lot, especially in buffering the grid (though batteries may make that of lesser value), it’s still not a net-negative on CO2 in the atmosphere. I wager (blindly) you could use this tech to fill every natural gas storage system in the world to the brim and still not make a single ppm difference in CO2.

        We need a way to get gigatons out of the atmosphere on a permanent basis. Forestation will help but it’s a wager.. a wager that the climate cycle will stay stable enough for millions of acres of saplings to survive and grow.

        Reply
  6. Bob

     /  April 19, 2017

    Thanks for your article and feedback Robert. Your breadth of knowledge is impressive.
    From the Saxifrage article I conclude. that the decadal increase of CO2 in the atmosphere has been; 1966 to 1976- 1.0 ppm; 1976 to 1986-1.5 ppm; 1986 to 1996-1.5 ppm; 2006 to 2016- 2.3 ppm; 2012-2017-2.6 ppm and 2015-2017-3.0 ppm. This not a linear increase and has had several el nino years within the timeframe. The explanation for the change is complex and not clear at this time. At least to me anyway. The Saxifrage article i referenced previously suggests some of the unknowns. The bottom line though is that atmospheric CO2 is increasing while anthropogenic emissions may be levelling off. El Nino may explain part of the cause at least in the last two years.
    We will not know how much feedback mechanisms are contributing until well after they are underway and probably irreversible. Is that bleak? Yes.
    I have not counted how many possible feedback mechanisms have been identified but there are some very nasty and worrisome ones in the wings. My reading suggests that the data base on most of them is limited and open to interpretation as to impact and timeframe.

    Reply
    • The same arguments were used to undercut renewable energy development. We absolutely have the capability to draw carbon down from the atmosphere. And, in fact, there are many methods from changes to agriculture, to reforestation, to carbon absorbing concrete, to BCCS, to enhanced weathering, to direct atmospheric capture. We will need these techniques (low tech or high tech or otherwise) to draw down the excess atmospheric carbon. Past carbon feedbacks were relatively slow compared to the human emission. So there is more than significant and worthwhile hope that scaling could meet and exceed feedbacks as a result of the human forcing. To this end, avoidance of the 4 C mark — which it seems presents a higher risk to precipitate far more rapid feedbacks is essential. It looks like we will already see a 10 to 25 percent rate of feedback from the Earth System over this Century if we hit between 2 and 3 C warming. And we will need the atmospheric capture techniques in place to deal with this problem at scale before mid Century and probably in the next 20 years. Prior to that capability, rapid scaling of renewables and coordinate rapid reduction of carbon emissions from human activities (primarily fossil fuels) will be absolutely necessary to keep a reasonable response window open.

      Reply
  7. coloradobob

     /  April 19, 2017

    RS –
    A blue pencil idea , when you post a new thread , At the foot old one .

    Say this ,,,,,,,,,, Please join us on our new thread…….. Then the link and title.

    That way, old fools like me can keep up.

    Reply
    • coloradobob

       /  April 19, 2017

      That way, old fools like me can keep up.

      Reply
      • coloradobob

         /  April 19, 2017

        To be old and alone. You have no idea , What is coming,
        This is for all of you.

        You don’t die like some 17 th century painting. Your going to crap in your bed. Then over the next 6 hours , you slowly release your grip on life.

        Trust me, I did this twice. , I cleaned all the crap in the bed.

        Life is a lot is a lot harder than we ever dreamed.

        Reply
    • Good idea, Bob. Thanks for this one!

      Reply
  8. Jimbot

     /  April 19, 2017

    Thanks for all you do, including this report, RS. Your output and the cogency of your work are both remarkable.

    All the really good, accessible, high BTU coal is mostly used up. The remaining is dirtier and lower BTU so it seems that it will become less feasible. Similar to the crude oil situation.

    Relating to Bob’s mention of feedbacks:

    I thought this must have been a typo or decimal point error by someone in the reporting chain, but I have found the same number quoted on 3 news sites I checked. I think somebody posted it in the comments here. Does the ocean tilt in China’s direction or is their satellite just a little wonky?

    http://inhabitat.com/chinas-coasts-threatened-by-rapidly-rising-sea-levels/

    Reply
  9. coloradobob

     /  April 19, 2017

    I was sitting on pile of railroad ties 50 years ago in Clovis , I was broke ,and alone.
    There I learned what ” broke ,and alone ” means ,

    Reply
  10. coloradobob

     /  April 19, 2017

    Ain”t gonna hurt no one, Ever

    Reply
  11. coloradobob

     /  April 19, 2017

    Ihttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XV7mxfIIr0

    Reply
  12. coloradobob

     /  April 19, 2017

    The world flies off it’s axis,

    Reply
    • It has certainly been a warm couple of years for Antarctica. We’ll eventually get these longer warm periods when large glacial lakes start to form. At that point, you’ll start to see rising risks for glacial outburst floods.

      Reply
  13. coloradobob

     /  April 19, 2017

    We beat Mr. Trump , like a government mule.

    Reply
  14. oldmoses

     /  April 20, 2017

    Bob, you are not alone, & I always appreciate your contributions here.

    Reply
  15. Dan in Oz

     /  April 20, 2017

    It can be so demoralising and depressing working in this area and being active in trying to keep up to date with climate change and broader sustainability issues and news. It is a very welcome article to read, Robert. It is a rare, but fundemental and wide reaching, positive development that could mean that my kids grow up in a world that isn’t a threat to their existence.

    Let’s hope so.

    Reply
  16. Andy_in_SD

     /  April 20, 2017

    The Nightmare Scenario for Florida’s Coastal Homeowners

    Demand and financing could collapse before the sea consumes a single house.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-04-19/the-nightmare-scenario-for-florida-s-coastal-homeowners

    Reply
    • Unfortunately, I think we are going to see at least some of this for coastal regions even in the best case scenarios. We’ve just pushed things too far not to get some significant sea level rise. Once the notion this sets in, people and industries are going to start pulling up their stakes. Development boom and bust on a rather large scale. I don’t like it. But I don’t really see how we avoid it.

      Reply
  17. Ryan in New England

     /  April 20, 2017

    Unusually strong rains have led to devastating mudslides in Columbia.

    http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/dead-20-missing-colombia-landslides-46885586

    A deluge of rain set off landslides that smashed homes and filled streets with mud Wednesday in a mountain city in a coffee-growing part of Colombia, and authorities said at least 17 people were killed and two dozen injured.

    The disaster struck in the early morning when many people in Manizales were still asleep, just as a flooding disaster two weeks ago that caused more than 300 deaths in this Andean nation’s southern city of Mocoa.

    Dozens of hillsides gave way in Manizales after the city of nearly 400,000 people received the equivalent of a full month’s rain in the span of five hours. The inundation caused at least 40 to 50 avalanches of mud and rock that destroyed homes and left several roadways impassable.

    Reply
    • And another rain bomb just went off in that region. The switch from drought to flood has been hard all over the eastern end of the Pacific. One wonders how long this abnormal wet phase will last.

      Reply
  18. Shawn Redmond

     /  April 20, 2017

    We can’t get there fast enough!
    Daily Records (by Year)

    Highest-ever daily average CO2 | Maua Loa Observatory

    2017 (so far)

    410.28 ppm on Arpil 18, 2017 (Scripps)
    409.83 ppm on April 17, 2017 (Scripps)

    2016

    409.44 ppm on April 9, 2016 (Scripps)
    409.39 ppm on April 8, 2016 (Scripps)

    2015

    404.84 ppm on April 13, 2015 (Scripps)

    https://www.co2.earth/daily-co2

    Reply
  19. Tom

     /  April 20, 2017

    Not that this will be posted, but just so you know:

    Thursday, 20 April 2017
    Solar panels release high levels of greenhouse gas

    Solar Panels Increased Emissions Of A Gas 17,200 Times More Potent Than CO2
    http://robinwestenra.blogspot.com/2017/04/solar-panels-release-high-levels-of.html

    New federal data shows a potent greenhouse gas — that’s also a byproduct of solar panel construction — is on the rise.
    Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) is a key chemical agent used to manufacture photovoltaic cells for solar panels, suggesting government subsidies and tax credits for solar panels may be a driving factor behind the 1,057 percent in NF3 over the last 25 years. In comparison, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions only rose by about 5 percent during the same time period.

    NF3 emissions have rapidly increased in Asia as well due to its rapidly growing solar panel market, and researchers think that many nations are under-reporting their NF3 emissions by roughly a factor of 4.5.

    NF3 emissions are 17,200 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas over a 100 year time period. [more]

    Reply
    • lesliegraham1

       /  April 20, 2017

      Interesting.
      Also interesting that you didn’t include the key conclusion of the report which was that:

      “… Scientists estimated that by 2018 at the latest, the solar industry as a whole will have a net positive environmental impact…”

      Reply
      • wili

         /  April 20, 2017

        Also note: “Elemental fluorine has been introduced as an environmentally friendly replacement for nitrogen trifluoride in the manufacture of flat-panel displays and thin-film solar cells”

        J. Oshinowo; A. Riva; M Pittroff; T. Schwarze; R. Wieland (2009). “Etch performance of Ar/N2/F2 for CVD/ALD chamber clean”. Solid State Technology. 52 (2): 20–24.

        Reply
        • Brian

           /  April 20, 2017

          It should also be relatively easy to capture it at the source (PV panel factories).

    • When compared to the net annual forcing from fossil fuels the factor is like 1,000 to 100,000 to 1 from these individual trace gasses sourced from solar manufacturing. In addition, it’s any easy fix to capture and incinerate them — which most countries do. So this is kind of a Bullshit argument, Tom.

      Reply
  20. Tom

     /  April 20, 2017

    So it’s okay for all those years of emitting a gas that has an impact 17 THOUSAND times as bad as CO2 so that MAYBE (if you want to believe the lying government) solar panels will improve. Keep dreaming leslie.

    Reply
    • Shawn Redmond

       /  April 20, 2017

      How does 1000% = 17000x? My solar panels will last 30+ years and power all my electrical use in my home and workshop. How long will your truck load of coal last?

      Reply
    • lesliegraham1

       /  April 21, 2017

      I merely quoted verbatim the report that YOU referenced.

      Reply
      • Worth noting that these gasses that Tom mentions barely even show up as a blip in the net radiative forcing measure:

        Lump them all into the heading ‘halogenated gasses.’ But this includes scores of gasses of which CFCs are the primary contributor. The fraction from solar and other electronic manufacturing products such as florides and others is very, very tiny.

        In addition, as mentioned above, China and the U.S. put together a treaty to present a requirement to incinerate these gasses as part of the manufacturing process. Included in this 2014 deal which, hopefully, Trump will not revoke.

        http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-obama-xi-climate-change-20141111-story.html

        Present volume of CO2 hitting the atmosphere is approximately 33 billion tons per year. The warming effect of a single molecule lasts for 500 years and the net effect lasts far longer through a range of various Earth System feedbacks. There is no other single gas that comes close to locking in as much warming as presently massive CO2 emissions do over the long term. The gas that comes closest to the GWP effect of this massive CO2 emission is methane — but still produces only about 1/3 of the annual gain in radiative forcing. All the other trace gasses together (and there are hundreds of them) produce perhaps 1/6th to 1/8th of the net CO2 forcing.

        So we should be very clear that anyone saying that the problem isn’t primarily caused by CO2 emissions (through fossil fuel burning) is not living in actual reality and is in denial of basic reality.

        Reply
        • Allan Barr

           /  April 21, 2017

          That article Tom posted first appeared in a denier website, just cannot remember the name of it yet. Am kinda surprised Robin added that fake news to his blog. Its very welcome news that economics are now on the side of people like us who truly care about the biosphere. I believe by 2026-2028 majority of energy production will be via renewables, Faster than expected this time in a positive way.

  21. Thomas Huld

     /  April 20, 2017

    @Tom: Calm down please. A few points:

    1) According to the Wikipedia article NF3 is used in the production of amorphous silicon PV modules. This technology has almost disappeared except maybe in specialized applications such as flexible PV modules or PV cells for consumer electronics. The market share is tiny and has been dropping for several years. This is mainly due to cost, a-Si has never reached the efficiency figures of crystalline silicon or thin-film technologies such as CdTe or CIS/CIGS, and as PV prices have dropped even the cost of the front glass or the mounting racks become significant (the lower the efficiency the more area you need, so more glass and bigger racks).

    2) Again according to the article the emissions in 2011 were about 1200t. This is 25 million times less than CO2 emissions so the climate forcing is 1500 times less than CO2.

    Of course you are right, if people want to use NF3 they should bloody well make sure it doesn’t escape into the atmosphere. But I don’t think PV has much to do with it.

    Reply
    • Bill H

       /  April 21, 2017

      Thomas, I don’t think the calculation is as simple as you present in view of the logarithmic relation betwwen ghg forcing and concentration, among other things. That said you still demonstrate very effectively the innumeracy of Tom’s argument.

      Reply
  22. utoutback

     /  April 20, 2017

    And FINALLY some conservatives are starting to wake up to the benefits of a carbon tax.
    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-04-20/carbon-taxes-gain-conservative-followers

    Reply
    • This is good news. But it will require a lot of bargaining to get it right. We should be aware that carbon taxes need to be strong enough to actually drive change. And we should also be alert to attempts by conservatives to generate further inequalities in the tax code through attempts to shift the burden more onto the poor and middle class (as has been the case for decades now).

      Reply
  23. utoutback

     /  April 20, 2017

    And one more:
    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-04-19/this-is-what-heat-does-to-us-and-the-economy
    Let’s hear it for Bloomberg – getting Climate change awareness out to the business community in terms they can understand. The bottom line.

    Reply
  24. Robert Lehmert

     /  April 20, 2017

    I wish we had some (just a few) coal mines here in Vermont. I recently saw an article about grid-level energy storage in Germany, using an abandoned mine shaft flooded with water, which was pumped to the surface using sustainable sources during the day, and drained at night to generate baseline power. Talk about a repurposed resource! Brilliant.

    Reply
  25. Cate

     /  April 20, 2017

    Bill McKibben, Dr Hansen, Dr Hayhoe, and others with updates to April 2017.

    http://climatestate.com/2017/04/20/the-story-of-climate-change-april-2017/

    Reply
  26. Jeremy in Wales

     /  April 20, 2017

    The Larsen C crack continues to propagate

    http://www.esa.int/spaceinvideos/Videos/2017/04/Larsen-C_crack

    Reply
  27. Matt

     /  April 21, 2017

    More appropriate to the previous thread but Tropical Storm Arlene has formed! Well done Mr Scribbler, good prediction 🙂
    What if find very encouraging now, is some of the personality being added to reporting such as this from the NHC forecaster Avila “I have to add one more surprise to my long hurricane forecasting career. Unexpectedly, the subtropical cyclone became a tropical depression this morning, and then it intensified to a tropical storm.”
    It seems that the scientific community are finding a collective courage around the issue of AGW and are starting to tell it as it is, rather then sugar coated conservative comments.
    There could be a silver lining to this Trump nonsense?

    Reply
    • We’re going to get impacts. How bad they are will be, in large part, determined by how swiftly we shift away from fossil fuels.

      Reply
  28. Andy_in_SD

     /  April 21, 2017

    This is a quick glance on Jacobshavn.

    Left image is 5 days ago, Right image is today (or yesterday). Look at the increase of discharge from the termination. The channel is now flooded with icebergs pushing out.

    http://www.arctic.io/explorer/8-8/2017-04-20;2017-04-15/9-N69.24525-W50.33002

    Reply
    • lesliegraham1

       /  April 21, 2017

      But what does that mean? Does it do that every spring or is this a sudden major calving event?\
      Inquiring minds would like to know.

      Reply
      • Andy_in_SD

         /  April 21, 2017

        I don’t know. I just find it interesting that there is such a change in 5 days. As you bring up… perhaps this occurs every year, or not. Need to look at the last couple of years to see if there are similar events at the start of the melt season. I’d like to know as well!

        Reply
        • Shawn Redmond

           /  April 21, 2017

          Andy looking back through the years the channel fills around this time. At least the past few. ’14 and ’16 was about now with ’15 waiting till about the second week in May. Looking at Worldview the great melt of ’12 also started around now.
          https://worldview.earthdata.nasa.gov/?p=arctic&l=MODIS_Aqua_CorrectedReflectance_TrueColor,MODIS_Terra_CorrectedReflectance_TrueColor,Coastlines,Reference_Labels(hidden),Reference_Features(hidden)&t=2012-04-16&z=3&v=-401343.8708799588,-2401550.9758368935,9333.692692927318,-2136725.2129939357

        • Cate

           /  April 21, 2017

          Fellow Greenland watchers, keep an eye on Nares. The strait is open and has been for weeks–it usually opens in early July. There’s a boot-shaped arch in the Lincoln Sea holding back the Arctic ice, but the boot is now showing signs of faltering. When it breaks, we should see lots of ice shooting southward through the strait.

          It’s so amazing to be able to see all this on the satellites.

    • It’s been happening a lot more during recent years. But if you compare it to, say, the 90s, this is a rather advanced calving rate for this time of year. There appears to be quite a lot of heat hitting the basal zone for this glacier in more recent times.

      Reply
  29. Cate

     /  April 21, 2017

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/davis-strait-polar-bears-ice-decline-1.4077164

    Polar bear populations in Davis Strait and off the coast of Labrador are being affected by changes in sea ice that are limiting their access to seals.

    “Andrew Derocher, a professor at the University of Alberta who has been studying the animals for almost 35 years, said there are bad signs off the coast of Labrador, where the Davis Strait population spends some of its time.
    “The ice-free period off of Labrador is increasing about 18 days per decade, so that means that the ice is melting earlier and forming later in the fall,” he said. “One of the big findings was the reproductive rates were down. And that means that over the longer term the population is certainly not growing, and may be declining.”

    Reply
  30. Cate

     /  April 21, 2017

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-04-19/the-nightmare-scenario-for-florida-s-coastal-homeowners

    Bloomberg article. Good read.

    “The Nightmare Scenario for Florida’s Coastal Homeowners: Demand and financing could collapse before the sea consumes a single house….

    The effects of climate-driven price drops could ripple across the economy, and eventually force the federal government to decide what is owed to people whose home values are ruined by climate change……

    “Nobody thinks it’s coming as fast as it is,” said Dan Kipnis, the chairman of Miami Beach’s Marine and Waterfront Protection Authority, who has been trying to find a buyer for his home in Miami Beach for almost a year, and has already lowered his asking price twice.”

    Reply
    • Suzanne

       /  April 21, 2017

      This is the issue people are just now waking up to down here. And as the article suggests…prices are slowly coming down on waterfront properties.
      Getting 30 year mortgages for coastal properties are going to become as rare as the Dodo…..and then, even if you can get a shorter term mortgage…getting homeowner’s insurance..?? Good luck.

      Reply
    • I’m trying to get my family to sell in the VB area. It just takes a relatively small percentage of people to hit the real estate market hard.

      Reply
  31. Suzanne

     /  April 21, 2017

    Nansen Ice Shelf
    Uploaded on Apr 18, 2017
    Seen from an aircraft, a 400-foot-wide waterfall drains off the Nansen Ice Shelf into the ocean

    Reply
  32. meansnecessary

     /  April 21, 2017

    The contrast between the increase in atmospheric CO2 and the leveling off of emissions is the most significant and least noticed development of our time. It means we just saw the global ecosystem transition from a carbon sink to a carbon source – an ominous tipping point indicating that anything short of a rapid cessation of fossil fuel emissions has no hope of reducing atmospheric CO2, for centuries or millennia.

    Reply
    • I wouldn’t call it ‘least noticed.’ But this issue appears to be one that requires additional analysis. As I’ve said above, the present spike can be explained by a combined record decadal rate of human emission and a PDO related warming in the Pacific which would tend to reduce draw-down in one of the key carbon sinks. Saying that this is a tipping point is probably premature and somewhat ill-advised and ill-informed. We probably have some feedbacks coming into play right now. But implying that we are in some kind of carbon runaway is basically lighting your hair on fire without looking at the broader trends.

      We would need to see continued elevated annual increases as well as see some obvious Earth System source to support such an argument. What appears to be happening is that positive PDO combined with record decadal rates of human carbon emissions to, in large part, produce this spike.

      We have some indication that Earth System feedbacks are starting to ramp up a bit. But we don’t have a quantifiable number for that net feedback and it is probably now less than 5 percent of the total human forcing as a net gain occurring over the past 50 years or so.

      Reply
    • Bill Everett

       /  April 22, 2017

      The slight acceleration in the annual increase in atmospheric CO2 is a matter for concern.

      1. The IEA report of an approximate plateau in emissions from burning fossil carbon for energy is not bad news (good news would be a significant reduction in such emissions). This report is based on individual countries reporting their emissions, and the quality of those reports may vary.

      2. In the past, roughly 25% of human emissions were from agriculture and land use changes (deforestation, urbanization, etc.), and I have no recent information about those emissions. For example, I have nothing about the effect of the large natural gas leak in California that was finally shut down after several months, nor about the methane emission hot spot associated with the large coal mine in the Four Corners area. I tend to doubt that the Indonesia emissions during the major wildfire event that put Indonesia temporarily in the ranks of the top global CO2 emitters is included in the IEA report.

      3. In the recent past, the oceans and the land biosphere was absorbing about 55% of human emissions. This percentage is most likely declining as the oceans warm, as deforestation continues, and as weather changes reduce tree growth. Further, increased wildfires both provide immediate CO2 to the atmosphere and reduce CO2 sinks.

      There are many possible explanations the accelerating atmospheric CO2 increase without invoking crossing major tipping points. The bottom line is that as long as human CO2 emissions from all activities are above zero and atmospheric CO2 is increasing, then we are turning up the global thermostat when it is already too high.

      Reply
      • meansnecessary

         /  April 23, 2017

        I’m very grateful to you and to RS for your thoughtful and detailed responses to my worries about the divergence between emissions and atmospheric concentration. I really love the discussion thread here, frequented by serious people.

        Reply
  33. Jacque in Utah

     /  April 21, 2017

    Today’s New York Times Magazine’s feature article on Singapore’s “futuristic” (to a mere American) response to overpopulation and sea level rise is a Scribblerophile must-read:

    Reply
    • Jacque in Utah

       /  April 21, 2017

      . I just kept thinking “and how much diesel fuel did THAT take?”!

      Reply
  34. Jimbot

     /  April 21, 2017

    Would governments fudge the numbers about their CO2 emissions, since Paris was apparently such a good party, not wanting to appear as bad actors ( maybe some financial aspects as well )?

    Reply
    • As time moves forward, this is increasingly unlikely. It might be easy to fudge a year or two. But after a while it become obvious that emissions rates were undercounted. This has sometimes happened with China. But past years appear to be mostly valid in the period of 2014 to 2016. The shift away from coal is a clear trend in this regard. So the plateau in human emissions isn’t happening in a vacuum.

      Reply
  35. Jimbot

     /  April 21, 2017

    I know we need more good news but saw this at Neven’s Arctic Sea Ice:

    http://www.nationalobserver.com/2017/04/10/opinion/atmospheric-co2-levels-accelerate-upwards-smashing-records

    Reply
    • 2017 should back down to 2.2 to 2.5 per year increase. If it doesn’t, then we’ll tend to be more concerned. The present spike is most likely primarily related to record decadal human carbon emissions (even at plateau) combined with a PDO/El Nino related warming in the Pacific that has, on average, reduced the effectiveness of that basin as a carbon sink. A weak El Nino this year could tip the scales toward lower rates of ocean carbon uptake. But I think, in general, we’ll tend to see a bit of a back-off from the 2015 and 2016 records.

      Reply
    • Worth noting that the present annual delta from 2016 to 2017 for the first three months is 2.8 ppm CO2 increase — which is below the 3 ppm annual increase rates from 2015 to 2016. But it is still significantly higher than the past average range of around 2.2 ppm per year.

      Reply
  36. June

     /  April 21, 2017

    This project is an example of the innovative ideas that come with the increasing investment in renewable energy. Scotland has been doing some great stuff.

    Scottish wind powers housebuilding in groundbreaking joint venture

    Housing association invests in electricity-generating turbines that will fund affordable homes in rural Scotland

    https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/apr/19/scottish-wind-energy-project-builds-new-homes

    Reply
    • Cate

       /  April 21, 2017

      We lived in Scotland recently for a few years, and I can vouch for the fact that this impressive and ambitious drive toward renewable energy development is entirely led by the very forward-thinking Scottish government and widely supported by the people.. Nor did I ever hear any wrangling in Scotland about “belief” in climate change, or hand-wringing about the effect of renewables on the future of oil—-and this in a country where North Sea oil has been the big be-all for decades. Windfarms were going up everywhere and folk were taking advantage of govt programs to fit their houses out with solar—in cloudy grey old Scotland!

      Despite their reputation for crustiness, Scots just get on wi’ it—because, of course, they are exceedingly sensible, and canny, and understand very well where the money is to be made in future! 🙂 And they love their beautiful wild country and want to keep it so.

      We in North America have much to learn from them about how to do renewables.

      Reply
  37. coloradobob

     /  April 21, 2017

    RE :
    SLR and South Fla. articles …………..
    “Nobody thinks it’s coming as fast as it is,” said Dan Kipnis, the chairman of Miami Beach’s Marine and Waterfront Protection Authority,

    He’s worried about the masts of sail boats not being able to pass under bridges . Something that never occurred to me

    Reply
  38. coloradobob

     /  April 21, 2017

    Why We’re Taking Part in the March for Science

    Bob Henson
    On Saturday, April 22—Earth Day 2017—Jeff Masters and I will be joining many thousands of others who care deeply about the importance of scientific inquiry in our society. We will be taking part in the first-ever March for Science, which will unfold at more than 600 locations around the world. Jeff will be marching in San Francisco, and I’ll be in Denver. We plan to share photos from both locations through WU’s social media channels (watch for us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram), and we’ll have more to say about the events in a post next week. (See also my post from Monday on Earth Day’s origins.)

    Many scientists would prefer to do anything—anything!—other than tromp through the streets defending their life’s work. Science itself is not inherently a political activity. Some scientists have raised good questions about whether the March for Science lends a politicized flavor to the very act of scientific inquiry. Still, many of us feel the time has come to stand up for the importance of science in a world where emotions, snap decisions, and us-versus-them thinking threaten to overwhelm reason and inquiry.

    https://www.wunderground.com/cat6/why-were-taking-part-march-science

    Reply
    • coloradobob

       /  April 21, 2017

      Anti-Trump Scientists to Promote ‘Environmental and Climate Literacy’ on National Mall
      Breitbart News – ‎5 minutes ago‎

      Reply
    • +1. Will be there to show my support as well. Glad to see Bob pitching in. –R

      Reply
      • coloradobob

         /  April 21, 2017

        The last time I protested was at the main gate at Rocky Flats in 76′. It was an Earth Day as well . We were grinding out plutonium triggers for H-Bombs like sausage .

        Reply
    • Looks like we are going to get hammered by a train of thunderstorms tomorrow. Bring your rain gear!

      Reply
  39. coloradobob

     /  April 21, 2017

    South Africa –
    Farmer suicides soar as worst drought in decades drives them to ruin

    https://www.businesslive.co.za/rdm/news/2017-04-19-farmer-suicides-soar-as-worst-drought-in-decades-drives-them-to-ruin/

    Reply
  40. coloradobob

     /  April 21, 2017

    March for Science Earth Day 2017
    Earth Day Network
    The live stream feed –

    Reply
  41. coloradobob

     /  April 21, 2017

    This March for Science is Going to be YUGE
    With all the recent news about President Donald Trump’s plans to bolster the country’s arsenal of nuclear arms (bad for the environment!) and slash budgets of agencies that conduct significant medical research—such as the National Institutes of Health (bad for human health!)—there are plenty of reasons to put down the petri dishes and lab beakers and start marching.

    https://uk.news.yahoo.com/march-science-going-yuge-203251779.html

    Reply
  42. coloradobob

     /  April 21, 2017

    RS –
    Just a thought about tomorrow , Throw up a new thread. Your global readers will no doubt have much to report , and our friends in OZ and New Zealand are about to set out.

    Reply
  43. coloradobob

     /  April 21, 2017

    ?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fdisqus.com%2Fembed%2Fcomments%2F%3Fbase%3Ddefault%26f%3Dwund%26t_i%3Dwww%252Fcat6%252Fwhy-were-taking-part-march-science%26t_u%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.wunderground.com%252Fcat6%252Fwhy-were-taking-part-march-science%26t_e%3DWhy%2520We%25E2%2580%2599re%2520Taking%2520Part%2520in%2520the%2520March%2520for%2520Science%2520by%2520Bob%2520Henson%2520%257C%2520Category%25206%26t_d%3DWhy%2520We%25E2%2580%2599re%2520Taking%2520Part%2520in%2520the%2520March%2520for%2520Science%2520by%2520Bob%2520Henson%2520%257C%2520Category%25206%2520%257C%2520Weather%2520Underground%26t_t%3DWhy%2520We%25E2%2580%2599re%2520Taking%2520Part%2520in%2520the%2520March%2520for%2520Science%2520by%2520Bob%2520Henson%2520%257C%2520Category%25206%26s_o%3Ddefault%23version%3Dd952d33e35a1c499438fbdfafc2ef715

    Reply
    • coloradobob

       /  April 21, 2017

      Thinking about mine as well. I have the first line …………. May just leave it at that .

      “Physics doesn’t gave a rat’s fuzzy bottom what you believe”

      Reply
  44. coloradobob

     /  April 21, 2017

    And a song in our hearts –

    Bob Marley – Get Up, Stand Up (Official Music Video)

    Reply
    • coloradobob

       /  April 21, 2017

      One more –
      “Roll Away the Stone” — Leon Russell

      Reply
      • wili

         /  April 22, 2017

        Nice musical selections…what will they do in 2000 years…whoever the ‘they’ are at that point!

        Marley makes me want to link to ACLU ‘know your rights’ page, but for now Leon’s title is putting me in mind of this Dead tune:

        Reply
  45. wili

     /  April 21, 2017

    Not to temper this good news, but besides the fact that we need even more such developments and even faster, we also have larger work to do converting the economy from a machine that basically turns the beauties and mysteries of the planet into global and local toxins and trash, even if you leave out all the fossil-death-fuels effects.

    Reply
    • coloradobob

       /  April 21, 2017

      wili / April 21, 2017
      I used to plow on through this stuff , because I knew this was the most important time in the arc of human beings. That long climb out of the mud stuff.
      But now, it smacks me just like you , about once a month . It’s a bit like being in Genoa, and watching the first plague ship from the East drop anchor. It’s loaded with riches, but everyone on board is dead, or nearly so. Our greed overcame our instinct. And our ignorance fueled our greed.

      So Cheer Up. Little kids are in court to stop us from boarding the plague ships.

      Reply
      • wili

         /  April 22, 2017

        “…like being in Genoa, and watching the first plague ship …”

        Yes, indeed.

        Reply
  46. coloradobob

     /  April 21, 2017

    Reply
  47. coloradobob

     /  April 21, 2017

    Live updates from the global March for Science
    By Science News StaffApr. 21, 2017 , 6:00 PM
    They’re off and walking in New Zealand!

    http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/04/march-science-live-coverage

    Reply
    • coloradobob

       /  April 21, 2017

      Ready, set …
      Welcome to Science’s live, global coverage of the March for Science.

      The first of more than 600 marches will kick off in New Zealand on Friday night, U.S. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). The Washington, D.C., march opens its grounds at 8 a.m. EDT. The last marches will occur in Hawaii on Saturday night EDT.

      Science reporters are on the ground around the world, following the action and speaking with marchers. Come back to see our frequent updates, and follow along on Twitter at @ScienceInsider and @NewsfromScience.

      If you are marching this weekend, please take a moment to fill out our survey. And if you want to catch up on all of our previous march coverage, check out our March for Science story archive.

      Reply
  48. Allan Begg

     /  April 22, 2017

    Can we head off civilisation collapse?
    Can we stalk Biosphere Collapse?
    Can we delay the exponential temperature runnaway !
    Maybe alternate renewables take up can give us more time….

    Reply

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