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Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

Climate-Related News Items

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A few news items dealing with the climate caught my eye recently.  The first, which I subsequently did more investigation into, was a study conducted by a climate research group at NCAR.  They ran a climate model in ensemble for two scenarios: a business-as-usual GHG emissions scenario and a emissions reduction scenario.  The results confirm what most climatologists are saying: act now and reduce the worst effects of future climate change by a substantial margin.  Warming was largely held in check in the mitigation scenario: 0.6C compared to 2.2C for the non-mitigation case.  Sea level rise due only to thermal expansion is held to 14cm in the mitigation case (22cm in the non-mitigation case).  This study didn’t consider melting poles or mid-latitude glaciers.  Importantly, the warming wasn’t constant over the globe, something deniers have a hard time grasping.  The poles would continue to experience the majority of the globe’s warming.  A big lesson derived from this paper is the following: a 70% reduction in emissions results in virtually no cooling anywhere on the globe by the year 2100.  In fact, similar studies indicate that warming is likely to be locked in for the next 1000 years.  Forcing already in the system is likely to manifest as continued warming far into the future.  The thing we’re in control of at this point is just how much warming we allow to occur.  I’ll have a more in-depth look at this and other articles in a future post.

Researchers are warning that Western Africa could experience more severe droughts in the future.  Along with other portions of the globe, including the southwestern U.S., future droughts in western Africa could become more severe and long-lasting, exacerbating otherwise normal drought conditions.  Other research has indicated that multi-decadal to century-scale droughts could become more prevalent, affecting millions of people worldwide.

Technology-wise, this article reported on fake “trees” – towers filled with materials that could absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.  Which sounded like a really cool technology until I continued reading and found the following:

GRT plans to sell the purified CO2 to a range of buyers. Oil and natural gas companies are probably the biggest customers for the artificial trees. Petroleum companies pump CO2 underground to raise the pressure and force oil to the surface. Greenhouses could pump in extra C02 to help plants grow. Fizzy soda drinks and sanding auto parts also require concentrated CO2.

All of these customers currently get CO2 by truck or by pipeline, most of which originates in Texas. The advantage of the artificial trees is that they can be placed next to whatever factory needs CO2 without having to ship it in.

Another use for the artificial trees would be in the cap-and-trade carbon credit system. The idea is that companies that produce CO2 would pay another company, like GRT, to get rid of it. The most likely place to put the C02 is in the salt-lined caverns that once held oil, a process known as carbon sequestration.

This technology is more pie-in-the-sky than not.  Nobody has any idea whether pumping CO2 (in any form) underground is a good long-term solution or not.  Massive releases of CO2 by geologic activity (over the short- or long-term) would undo every bit of work done to collect the CO2 in the first place.  If plants use “extra” CO2 to grow, how is it kept out of the carbon system?  Decomposing plants re-release the absorbed CO2 back into the atmosphere.  Soda drinks re-release their CO2 to the atmosphere.  Sanding auto parts using CO2 re-releases CO2 back to the atmosphere.  None of these ideas would reduce CO2 concentrations from the atmosphere in the long-term (perhaps the sequestration, but it’s still unproven).

Using in the cap-and-trade credit system sounds good.  But again, what will GRT do to “get rid of it”?  GRT needs to demonstrate a viable technology and business plan to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it for millenia.  Has anyone seriously addressed responsibility for ensuring permanent storage?  What happens if it leaks?  Who is responsible?  What will the potential penalties be?

Last, indigenous groups held a climate summit this week in Anchorage, Alaska.  Groups around the world that are on the front lines of being affected by climate change met to create a plan and demand that countries around the world include indigenous people as they respond to climate change.  They have a very valid point: they are some of the least responsible parties for forcing they climate, yet to date they are disproportionally suffering from its effects.  Moreover, they have been largely left out of the climate change action debate.   They have little influence individually to encourage larger, richer groups to pay attention to their needs.  Erosion and rising sea levels are displacing entire communities and island populations today.  They’re planning on presenting recommendations to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009, designed to put forth post-Kyoto Protocol climate actions.

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