Old Energy Left Behind — Equivalent of 7 Gigafactories Already Under Construction; Tesla Plans 10-20 More

In an interview with Leonardo DiCaprio during late 2016, Elon Musk famously claimed that it would take just 100 Gigafactories to produce enough clean energy to meet the needs of the entire world. As of mid 2017, in the face of an ever-worsening global climate, the equivalent of 7 such plants were already under construction while plans for many more were taking shape on the drawing boards of various clean energy corporations across the globe.

(Elon Musk shares climate change concerns, expresses urgency for rapid transition to clean energy in interview with Leonardo DiCaprio during late 2016.)

Tesla’s own landmark gigafactory began construction during late 2014. Upon completion, it will produce the Model 3 electric vehicle along with hoards of electric motors and around 35 gigawatt hours worth of lithium battery storage every single year (a planned output that Tesla said it could potentially triple or more to 100-150 gigawatt hours). During May, Tesla stated that it would set plans for four new gigafactories after Model 3 production began in earnest late this summer. And this week, Elon Musk announced an ultimate ambition to construct between 10 and 20 gigafactories in all. For reference, so many gigafactories could ultimately support vehicle production in the range of 12 to 24 million annually.

Racing to Catch up With Tesla

Tesla’s ramp-up to clean energy mass production, however, is not going unanswered. In China, CATL is building a gigafactory that by 2020 will produce about 50 gigawatts of battery packs every year. This massive plant is the centerpiece of China’s push to have 5 million electrical vehicles operating on its roads by 2020. It’s a huge facility that could outstrip even the Tesla Gigafactory 1’s massive production chain.

Meanwhile, another 11 facilities under construction around the world will add around 145 gigawatts of additional battery pack production capacity by the early 2020s as well. Add in both China’s CATL and Tesla’s Nevada battery plant and you end up with 230 gigawatts of new battery production — or the equivalent to just shy of 7 gigafactories that are already slated for completion by around 2020.

(Steep climb in EV adoption pushes global fleet to above 2 million during 2016. Swiftly dropping prices and expanding production chains will help to drive far more rapid adoption during 2017-2020. Massive factories producing EVs will also help to speed larger energy transition away from fossil fuels. Image source: International Energy Agency.)

Race to Win the Energy Transition 

According to news reports, the big-ramp up in battery production has already driven prices down to $140 dollars per kilowatt hour. That’s a major drop from around $550 dollars per kilowatt hour just five years ago. An amazing trend that is expected to push batteries for electrical vehicles down to below $100 dollars per kilowatt hour by or before 2020, and to around $80 dollars per kilowatt hour not long after. This means that battery packs for vehicles like Nissan’s new Leaf, the Chevy Bolt, and Tesla’s Model 3 are likely to range between $5,000 and $7,000 dollars in rather short order. A price level that will allow EV production at cost parity with similar fossil fuel driven vehicles within the next three years.

But ambitions appear to go well beyond just the transportation industry. Based on Musk’s earlier assessment, it appears that he’s aiming to control a 10-20 percent stake in the larger global energy market. An aspiration aided both by the innate fungibility of battery pack production (after-market EV batteries can be resold to the energy storage market) together with Tesla’s recent Solar City acquisition. It also appears that he is helping to spur a race between various companies and nations for new, clean energy, leadership. And with so much momentum already building behind the big clean energy push, it appears the choices for present energy and transport leaders are either to join the race or get left behind.

Links:

100 Gigafactories Could Power Entire World

Battery Gigafactories Hit Europe

Lithium-Ion Batteries are Now Selling for Under $140 Dollars per kwh

China Battery-Maker Signs Massive Supply Contract

Tesla Plans 12 to 24 Million Vehicles Per Year

Electric Batteries $100 Dollars Per kwh by 2020, $80 Soon After?

Tesla — 4 More Gigafactories

Global EV Outlook 2017

Tesla to Build 10-20 Gigafactories

Hat tip to Greg

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World Food Security in the Cross Hairs of Human-Caused Climate Change: Mangled Jet Stream, Ocean Heat and Melting Sea Ice To Deliver 500 Year Drought to California? Brazil, Turkey, Australia and More to Follow?

California snow pack January 18 2013California snow pack January 18 2014

(California Snow Pack for January 18 2013 vs the California Snow Pack for January 18 2014. Note the near-zero snow cover for this drought-impacted region. Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

“We are on track for having the worst drought in 500 years.” — B. Lynn Ingram, professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.

Remember the historic drought that swept the US in 2011-2013? It was the worse drought in 50 years for some areas. Thankfully, the blocking pattern, excess heat and evaporation that set off this drought and that almost ran the Mississippi River dry abated and lessened, shifting westward and, instead delivered wave after wave of wet and stormy weather to the Eastern US.

Not so with the American West. There the high amplitude Jet Stream pattern remained, keeping regions locked in warm, dry conditions throughout the winter of 2012-2013, on through the end of 2013 and into the early months of 2014.

Looking further back, it was not just these years that had delivered dry weather to the US West Coast. California, ground zero for the current climate change related emergency, has endured dry, hot weather ever since the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) went negative ten years ago suffering drought years with almost bi-annual frequency.

Now, as Dr. Ingram notes above, California is currently ramping up to its worst drought in 500 years.

A long emergency for California

We only have to scratch the surface for the symptoms of systemic climate crisis in California to crop up. California water authorities failed to honor contracts for the first time in 54 years. Sacramento, as of December was experiencing its worst drought in 130 years even as conditions continued to worsen through January and February.

According to the New York Times, as of February 1rst, 40,000 people were at risk of losing access to water within the next 60 to 120 days. And State officials warned that this number was likely to rapidly rise as The State Water Project announced on January 31rst that it did not have enough water to supplement the fading supplies of local providers to a total of 25 million customers. Meanwhile, State emergency planners were laying out contingencies that included shipping water over land by truck to parched communities.

The drought is also having a devastating impact on local farmers with about 1/3 of California’s farmland expected to lay fallow, at least 25,000 farm laborers expected to be laid off work, and agricultural businesses expecting losses to mount into the tens of millions of dollars. Already, livestock owners in both New Mexico and California, unable to support their animals, have been forced to sell, as fields that used to support four foot high grass are brown and cracked.

Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies noted:

“I have experienced a really long career in this area, and my worry meter has never been this high. We are talking historical drought conditions, no supplies of water in many parts of the state. My industry’s job is to try to make sure that these kind of things never happen. And they are happening.”

Climate change, climate change, and climate change

Far flung and dynamic changes to the Earth System appear to have resulted in a variety of factors that have amplified the California drought. First, increasing global temperatures have amped up the rate at which water evaporates into the atmosphere by about 6%, this increased rate of evaporation results in more extreme conditions when heat and dryness do occur. So a drought that may last a year is likely to be even more intense, due to enhanced evaporation, than a comparable drought that occurred 50 or 100 years ago.

In addition, loss of sea ice, snow, and permafrost plays a key roll in re-shaping the Jet Stream. According to Dr. Jennifer Francis and other polar researchers, receding sea ice cover is likely to result in more powerful and long-lasting Rossby Wave type blocking patterns. This happens as more heat becomes concentrated in the polar regions, causing the Jet Stream to meander in great swoops and whirls. These large waves can become fixed into blocking patterns for extended periods. In the up-slope of these waves, warmth and heat predominate. In the trough or down-slope, stormy, wet and cool conditions prevail.

And just such a blocking pattern has dominated the US West Coast for 11 months running. The result is extraordinarily intense dryness, even during the rainy season of November through March.

PNAS drought model US southwest

(Image source: PNAS)

Sadly, according to climate models, we can expect this kind of dryness to intensify over the US Southwest as human caused global warming grows more extreme. A report conducted by PNAS in 2010 and authored by Seager and Vecchi confirmed other model findings that the US Southwest would continue to dry as the climate warmed — the upshot being that the wet season for the West would eventually evaporate.

Above, the PNAS drought model shows evaporation beginning to increase during the first two decades of the 21rst Century. Then, by about decade 2, precipitation rates rapidly fall and evaporation rates gradually rise through to 2100. The red line shows the compounding effects of evaporation increase and precipitation decrease over 24 separate climate model essays.

Rossby wave over West Coast Weakens

(Rossby Wave over West Coast Weakens. Image source: University of Washington)

It is worth noting that on a positive, and slightly hopeful, note, the current blocking pattern over the US West Coast and related Pacific Ocean waters has weakened somewhat. This should allow some moisture to flow into the parched west over the coming days and weeks. And, in the forecast, we do see a proper storm or two emerging from this new pattern. Unfortunately, we’d typically expect about 20-30 storms of this kind during a typical winter season and with March bringing in the end to this year’s rainy season, along with the northward retreat of the moisture flow, it appears likely that California will have to endure at least another 6 months of dry conditions before seeing any hope of major storms returning next fall/winter. A remote potential to say the least given both long-term trends and current conditions.

‘Like a microwave on full blast drying the Earth:’ drought, drought, and more drought

Dr. Kevin Trenberth, one of the world’s premier climatologists, in an email to Joe Romm recently noted:

“The extra heat from the increase in heat trapping gases in the atmosphere over six months is equivalent to running a small microwave oven at full power for about half an hour over every square foot of the land under the drought. No wonder wild fires have increased! So climate change undoubtedly affects the intensity and duration of drought, and it has consequences.”

Under such conditions, we would expect both drought and wildfires to proliferate. And, in fact, this is exactly what we are seeing. As major wildfires impacted both California and Arctic Norway during winter time, Brazil, Turkey, China, Argentina and Australia were also all experiencing some of their worst or most intense droughts on record.

In Brazil, the least rain in two decades is spurring a cattle sell-off that would be very familiar to livestock farmers in California and New Mexico. The expected summer rains did not come and Brazil, a heavily meat-dependent nation was left with soaring food prices after the sell-off as stocks first surged, then plummeted. The epic drought for this region is also causing a number of other impact such as coffee shortages and a related reduction in hydro power as rivers run dry.

Nearby Argentina also saw severe drought-related shocks in recent months as a December drought inflicted serious harm upon Argentina’s corn crop. In a typical year, Argentina produces about 32 million tons of corn. But this year’s drought is estimated to have wiped out about between 7 and 14 million tons of the crop. Argentina is the third largest producer of corn and with the US revising estimates down for its 2013-2014 crop, supplies of the grain are being drawn ever-lower. Though very intense, the December drought had abated by mid-January, providing a respite for other crops such as soybeans.

In Turkey, Lake Sapanca, which provides water for hundreds of adjacent farms, was within a half meter of ‘dying’ as a combination of drought and water drilling had pushed the lake to its limits. Local farmers have, for decades, drilled the land to provide irrigation water for farms and livestock. Now, the drilling is sapping the lake bed. A period of drought had, as of late January, left the lake in such a state that local officials were claiming the lake would be dead after another half-meter fall. The lake which is nourished both by springs and ground water has been deprived of flows both by human climate change induced drought and by human drilling into the lake’s spring-bed.

In Australia, drought conditions are now worse for some locations than at any time since 2003, a tall order since the 2003 to 2009 drought was Australia’s worst in 1,000 years. For Sydney, that means the lowest rainfall totals in more than 70 years. This particular drought hit both hard and fast with Australia seeing normal conditions before Christmas, but after, very intense heat and dryness resulted in a rapid scorching of farmlands, crops, and grazing fields. The dire drought situation has resulted in government relief funds being released to affected farmers. NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson noted to the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Seasonal conditions are now deteriorating at a rapid rate across a large portion of NSW and both the severity and speed at which this drought is moving is astonishing. Primary producers in some parts of NSW have simply not had the opportunity to prepare for another severe downturn in seasonal conditions so quickly after the Millennium drought broke.”

Lake Poyang May 2014Lake Poyang Jan 2014

(A mostly full Lake Poyang as seen from Satellite on the left during May of 2012. A parched and almost completely dry lake Poyang as seen from Satellite during January of 2014. Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis.)

And, in China, the largest lake for that populous nation has now dried up. Poyang, a massive lake usually spanning 3,500 square miles has been turned into a sprawling field of earth parched and cracked by a combination of drought and water diversions resulting from the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. According to reports from The Guardian and Chinese News Sources, a drought stretching from 2012-2014 in the region of Poyang is now the worst in at least 60 years leaving lake refill almost non existent as upstream river flows to the lake were periodically cut off by water storage operations at the Three Gorges Dam. The result was an extreme lowering of lake levels and dry bed conditions that have driven farmers and fishermen in the region out of business.

Implications for world food security

Major droughts during 2011-2012 impacted many of the world’s primary agricultural basins, resulting in forward food supply dropping to as low as 72 days. Since that time, food supplies have slightly recovered but are well below previous levels last seen in the 1990s at 104 days. Food insecurity and failure to distribute food to the malnourished remains a priority at international agencies like the UN which has identified numerous countries including Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Somalia, Syria, Mali, Sudan and Nigeria, among others, as extreme risks for hunger and famine. Relief agencies have allocated billions of dollars to address this problem but the UN continues to identify climate change as a major threat to global food security with the potential to wipe out all previous progress moving forward.

The droughts in California, Turkey, Australia, China, Argentina and Brazil so far for 2014 put the world at risk for another bout of food insecurity later this year should major weather and climate related crop disruptions emerge in other primary food producers such as the bread baskets of the US, Russia, and Europe (The US, Brazil, China, Russia, and Europe are top food producers). It is worth noting that, in large part due to the ongoing southwestern drought, the US has revised a number of its crop projections downward for end 2014.

With polar amplification playing havoc with the Northern Hemisphere’s weather systems, with Australia sitting in a pool of expanding warm Pacific Ocean water that makes drought more likely there, and with the Eastern Pacific edging closer to La Nina, conditions warrant a continued monitoring of both weather and the state of world food supplies. The added global heat engine also impacts soils and crop growth in ways to which we are currently unaccustomed, resulting in more extreme instances of flash drought as well as flash flood. In this respect, the examples of Australia and Argentina are of particular concern.

Though global crisis has not yet returned, it lurks at the edges as drought, extreme weather and over-use of ground water supplies continues to threaten a wide swath of productive zones. So, at this point, the situation is one best described as tenuous with ongoing regional impacts over the Sahel region of Africa and in other sporadically vulnerable locales.

Links:

Historic Drought of 2011-2013

Polar Vortex Ripped in Half by Anomalous Jet Stream, High Arctic Experiencing 32 Degree F Above Average Temperatures Over Broad Region

A dangerous and weather-wrecking polar heat amplification in the Arctic set off by human-caused global warming keeps kicking into higher and higher gear…

What models predicted earlier this week and what we reported on Thursday has finally happened. A major influx of record-breaking winter warmth has flooded into the high Arctic, disrupting the polar vortex to the point that it is currently ripped in twain.

Average temperatures over a broad area of the north polar region are now in excess of 20 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) above daily norms for this time of year. Areas from Alaska to Norway to Greenland to the North Pole are experiencing record or near record highs. Meanwhile, the circumpolar Jet Stream has been malformed into an extraordinarily exaggerated north-south Rossby Wave pattern. An extreme amplification of a blocking pattern that has been in place for more than 10 months, pumping a continual flow of heat into the Arctic, and which, this winter, has resulted in numerous North American cold snaps comparable to those that used to happen in the 1980s and 1990s.

Polar temperature anomaly Jan 26

(Global temperature anomaly vs the 1985 to 1996 mean. Note the large regions of the High Arctic experiencing temperatures that are 20 degrees C above average or higher. Image source: NOAA)

The result is a kind of north-south flip-flop in temperatures following a polar vortex that has been ripped in half by a surge of anomalous warmth and a periodic pulsing of the Arctic’s remnant cold southward over the continents.

Yesterday, the high temperature in Svalbard, for example, less than 600 miles from the North Pole peaked at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, near all-time record warmth for this frigid region. In contrast, the high for Bethesda Maryland, thousands of miles to the south, was nine degrees lower at 23 Fahrenheit.

Hottest or near hottest ever temperatures in the Arctic are, in this case, comparable to moderately colder than average weather over Siberia and the Eastern US (As seen in the NOAA temperature anomaly map above. It is also worth noting that the 1985-1996 base-line temperature for the above map is already about .5 C above the 1880 average. So this map doesn’t take into account the full extent and impact of human-caused warming.).

The Jet Stream anomaly that linked a very large and powerful flood of warm air from the Pacific with another less powerful warm air invasion riding up over Western Europe setting off such major polar temperature extremes is now plainly visible in the University of Washington upper air flow graphic below:

Polar Vortex Ripped in Half Jan 26

(Polar vortex ripped in half. Image source: University of Washington.)

On the Pacific side, we see a powerful ridge in the Jet Stream invading deep into the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas before again turning south. Some of the warmer air carried up by this extreme northward thrust of the Jet, however, bleeds further north, spilling up and over the North Pole. There it links with the second warm air thrust coming up from Europe. To the south, the polar vortex is now misaligned and severed. The two resulting, lesser, cold vortexes are now centered hundreds of miles to the south of their typical zones — with one over Hudson Bay and the other over the Yedoma region of Siberia.

Over the next week, model forecasts predict this severing of the polar vortex to continue with the current, anomalous, pattern remaining in play at least until February 2nd.

What we are observing is the start of the tumultuous and stormy throws of an imperiled winter in the Northern Hemisphere. A crisis that is bound to continue and worsen for at least some time. One that, if we don’t stop our greenhouse gas emissions soon, will certainly progress to a period in our not too distant future when winter no longer exists, perhaps a century or two from now. But make no mistake, these episodes of extreme polar warmth during wintertime that flush the cold air out and southward are no less than the palpitating heart of winter thrumming with the terrible arrhythmia of its eventual demise.

Links:

NOAA

University of Washington

Svalbard Weather Forecast, Weather Underground

Arctic Ice Graphs

Arctic Heat Wave to Rip Polar Vortex in Half

US Energy Experiences Natural Gas to Coal Whiplash; Natural Gas ‘Bridge to Sustainability’ Collapses Yet Again

Ugly Coal

(A Coal Plant Dumping its Toxic Brew into the Atmosphere. Image source: Climate Crocks)

Natural gas was supposed to act as a bridge to sustainability. Fracking and increased drilling were supposed to reduce US reliance on high-carbon coal. But in 2013, coal consumption is again rising. So what the hell happened?

In short, history repeated itself and energy markets have experienced yet another natural gas to coal whiplash….

Natural gas is an inherently volatile energy source. As prices rise, new sources are sought out, new technologies applied to its extraction and, if depletion barriers are overcome, a surge of new supplies are brought to market. Then, as the wave of new supplies comes to dominate, prices crash. Rushing in to take advantage of the falling prices, the utility companies engage in a generational shift to natural gas electricity production. This increasing consumption of natural gas has two effects. It puts a bottom on natural gas prices and it reduces coal-fired power generation by becoming more competitive on the basis of price. A result of these changes is that US CO2 emissions fall. But, due to the market whip-lash effect of natural gas, these reductions are only temporary.

On the supply side, as natural gas prices fall, less and less producers are able to make a profit. The rate of drilling that drove both the boom and the glut slows to a trickle. This happens even as utilities and other natural gas users demand more of the low cost substance. As a result, prices begin to rise. But since drilling rigs are now allocated elsewhere and natural gas producers are cautious to return to aggressive drilling, supply doesn’t keep pace with demand. Eventually prices rise to the point where natural gas is again, less competitive with coal. Utilities, to preserve their balance sheets, shift back to black rock fuel and carbon emissions again rise.

The 2013 Whiplash

In 2013, US energy markets and related CO2 emissions are now experiencing just this kind of whiplash. After falling to a low price of around $2.60 per million btu, natural gas has been trading in a range between $3.60 and $4.25 since May of this year. And the effect on energy markets has been profound. The result, as Joe Romm implied in his allegorical article ‘Bridge Out’ is that the entirely ephemeral natural gas bridge to sustainability has again disappeared. According to Romm’s excellent article:

Coal’s share of total domestic power generation in the first four months of 2013 averaged 39.5%, compared with 35.4% during the same period last year, according to the Energy Information Administration [EIA]…. By contrast, natural gas generation averaged about 25.8% this year, compared with 29.5% a year earlier.

In the words of another brand of popular fiction: what the frack?

The long touted bridge to sustainability has, yet again, failed. And we find ourselves increasing consumption, yet again, of the worst emitting fuel source — coal. As a result, US carbon emissions are, after about four years of decline, expected to rise in 2013. The US Energy Information Agency projects that the US will emit 2.4% more CO2 than it did last year. But, should the coal surge continue through end of year, this carbon emissions backslide could be even worse than predicted.

Natural Gas: Unreliable Bridge, Bad Help

Sadly, even the reduced CO2 emissions that came, in part, as a result of a temporary shift to natural gas generation also brought with it a terrible cost. Fracked wells drove the most recent boom and bust whip-lash cycle. They were a rapidly depleting, temporary measure to increase production, and these costly wells emit far more methane than their contemporary counter parts. Some studies have even noted that methane leaks via the fracking process make natural gas a more harmful than coal when net carbon emissions are taken into account.

Perhaps worse, the fracked wells also threaten underground and surface water sources from both cracks in the casing pipes and toxic effluent at the numerous and proliferating drill sites. Further, water use in fracking is voracious and, in many cases, adds another burden to fresh water supplies.

Water stress is rising across the United States with fossil water in the Ogallala rapidly depleting even as the US West suffers year after year from a widening climate-change induced drought. With fracking threatening the purity and safety of dwindling supplies, numerous cities and one New Mexico county have banned the enhanced extraction process in an effort to protect municipal water.

In the end, high cost natural gas fracking efforts have managed a temporary reduction in US CO2 emissions at the cost of rising methane emission and harm to water supplies. The flood of new gas also likely delayed or replaced some efforts to transition to the more effective pollution reducing sources of wind and solar. Finally, the price whip lash inherent to natural gas production has returned markets, yet again, to rising coal use.

The term for this is bad help. Very bad help. In short, no fossil fuels represent a solution to climate change or enhance sustainability. They are all dirty, dangerous, and depleting.

To this point, I’ll leave you with the trailer to the must-seem Gasland II:

Mauna Loa Hourly Averages Above 400 PPM CO2 For First Time in 4.5 Million Years

mlo_one_monthmar-apr2013

Over the past two weeks, hourly CO2 averages measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory have exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time. Over the next month, daily averages will likely exceed the 400 ppm milestone. By 2014, one or two months will show an excess of 400 ppm CO2 and by 2016 yearly averages will likely reach or exceed that extraordinarily high level.

To find comparable CO2 levels in Earth’s geological past, one has to venture back in time 2.2 to 4.5 million years to the Pliocene climate epoc. So long ago, humankind, as we know it, was merely a glimmer in Earth’s eye. And the world was filled with strange animals and plants, many of whom do not survive today. The grasses and grains which would become the basis for world agriculture were just beginning to emerge. But they were not as plentiful nor as prosperous as they are today.

During that time, sea levels averaged 75 feet higher than today, temperatures averaged 3-4 degrees Celsius warmer globally and 8-10 degrees hotter at the poles. Ellesmere Island, covered by glaciers today, hosted a forest. If CO2 remains above 400 ppm for any significant period, we can expect an eventual return to these conditions through a chaotic transition of glacial ice melt, major weather changes, major ocean changes, increasing air and ocean temperatures, and other dangerous and disruptive climate feedbacks as the Earth system seeks a new equilibrium. And this begs the question, will those same grasses and grains that developed into such abundance over this time survive and prosper through such a transition? The fate of human civilizations may well hang on the answer to this question.

*    *    *    *    *    *

In the past 150 years, worldwide CO2 has increased by about 120 parts per million. At the current rate of increase, it will take a little more than two decades to reach 450 parts per million. In the context of geological history, this pace of increase is blindingly fast. Usually, an increase of 10 parts per million CO2 may occur over the course of 1000 years. Even the most rapid increases estimated in the last 60 million years were half as fast as those ongoing today.

co2_800k

To get an idea of the immensity and rapidity of this pace of change, one need only look at the above graph. The graph starts 800,000 years ago. And, as you can see, CO2 concentrations regularly range between 300 ppm during interglacials and 175 ppm during ice ages. This progression continues unabated until we reach the present day when, at the very end of the graph, levels shoot like a rocket toward 400 ppm. In short, humans have pushed the Earth rapidly and radically toward a different climate. And we have yet to fully witness how this extremely radical pace of change will alter our world.

Even worse, the pace of change is increasing. Humans added about 1 ppm CO2 to the atmosphere during the 1950s. We are now adding more than twice that level each and every year. 2011, the most recent year of recorded carbon emissions, showed the highest amounts ever dumped into the atmosphere. This is a pace that can no longer be sustained without serious and severe consequences.

If fossil fuel emissions continue unabated over the next few decades, the changes due for 400+ ppm CO2 will be locked in for millenia. Even worse, if emissions continue to increase as they have and if climate feedbacks such as biosphere carbon and methane release begin to emerge, the world falls very rapidly onto the path of 600-1000 ppm CO2 by or before the end of this century. Following such a path would result in extraordinarily harmful and powerful changes to the Earth’s environment. Such changes would be so powerful and unprecedented that it is doubtful humans could effectively adapt to them.

Some have said that 400 ppm CO2 is an arbitrary number. And that may well be the case. However, it marks a threshold of increasing danger and risk of harm. It is a sign-post showing that we are running out of time to reign in the worst impacts of climate change. It is a clear signal that we need to seriously address, reduce and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions over the course of the next few decades and that we must do so with a resolve not yet seen in the current crop of world leaders.

This is both our challenge and our peril. We simply must respond. We simply must reduce and eliminate carbon emissions. Otherwise we are headed for a very, very dangerous world climate. One which may well be impossible to adapt to.

Links:

The Keeling Curve

Understanding Climate Change is Simple. Want to Stop Temperature Increases? Halt Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Human Greenhouse Gas Emissions Following Path of Worst Case Climate Change

TimeBombFig16

(Image Source: James Hansen)

In 2011, the world emitted more than 10 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere and the amount for 2012 is likely to exceed 11 billion tons. This massive pace of carbon emissions puts the world directly on the worst-case path of human-caused climate change. This path, modeled by IPCC as the A1FI is the highest CO2 emissions scenario resulting in the most global temperature increase and/or the most drastic alterations to the global environment.

A1FI model range starts in 2000 and, as you can see, the pace of CO2 emission increase follows directly along this worst-case path through 2011. What this also shows is that the world, overall, has neither pursued a balance (A1B) between fossil fuels and renewables or a transition (A1T) from fossil fuel to renewable energy. Instead, the rate of global carbon emissions increase since 2000 shows that the world has chosen to emphasize fossil fuel use and chosen not to invest in alternative energy to the degree that it replaces carbon-based fuels.

This is not to say that certain countries haven’t made great strides. But it does show that, overall, the world has failed to put in place the investments and technologies that will allow it to transition away from fossil fuels that dump massive volumes of dangerous CO2 into the atmosphere. One can see the preference the world has placed on continued fossil fuel burning by looking at the discrepancy between worldwide subsidies of oil vs worldwide renewable energy subsidies. On the one hand, oil subsidies are in the range of 500 billion dollars each year while worldwide renewable energy subsidies are less than 1/5 that number.

And what does all this emphasis on fossil fuels buy us, in the end? According to A1FI climate models, world temperatures increase by an average of 6.4 degrees Celsius by 2100 to devastating and terrible effect. This ‘catastrophic high burn’ scenario would leave posterity with a hellish world, one that grows steadily more hellish until global temperature increases top 12 degrees Celsius by 2300.

My view, is that this future is not worth one cent, much less the 500 billion dollars plus we pay each year to subsidize it.

 

New US Wind and Solar Installations Beat Out Natural Gas, Coal

If you listened to the right wing media, you’d think that wind and solar energy had died a loud and ignominious death. Not true according to the latest reports from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. New installation reports show that rumor of the death of wind and solar energy is simply misinformation likely spread by journals and news sources aligned with oil, coal, and gas special interest groups which seek to retain energy market dominance.

Total US wind and solar installations through September of 2012 were 5 gigawatts. In contrast, total installed new natural gas capacity was 4.5 gigawatts and total new installed coal capacity was 2.2 gigawatts. This is very good news and shows enormous progress on both the climate and energy front for the US. However, for the US to begin to make an appreciable dent in carbon emissions, new wind and solar installations will have to continue to pick up. In total more than 8 times the current installed capacity for wind and solar are needed within the next 10-20 years. So the pace of new installation will also have to increase.

Below is a table from the FERC report:

Links:

http://www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/sep-2012-energy-infrastructure.pdf

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/10/24/1078751/wind-and-solar-make-up-100-percent-of-us-electricity-capacity-in-september/

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