A roadmap to clean living

ResearchBlogging.orgWhat if we could avoid hundreds of thousand of deaths, billions of dollars in crop losses and trillions of dollars in healthcare expenditures simply by spreading off-the-shelf technology and industrialized-world regulations to developing nations? Oh, and along the way, we’d mitigate a fair bit of global warming. Sounds like a plan?

I’d say such a plan would be worth considering. Such a plan is outlined by a team led by NASA’s Drew Shindell in Nature Climate Change, which has generously made their paper, “Climate, health, agricultural and economic impacts of tighter vehicle-emission standards,” freely available. Here’s the abstract:

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Obama’s birth certificate’s carbon footprint

Floods, droughts, heatwaves, rising sea levels. Massive debts and deficits. Multiple wars. Peak oil. But what’s really important is providing yet more evidence that the president was born on U.S. soil. So the White House flies a staffer 9,600 miles (15,450 km) from Washington, D.C., to Hawaii and back to collect the certificate of live birth.

Un frakking believable.

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Of course, the emissions generated by the staffer’s share of the flight is hardly among the most objectionable consequences of the insanity that is the birther movement. But I just thought I’d point it out.

The natural gas question: A best-case scenario

ResearchBlogging.orgProponents of shale gas extraction are not particularly pleased with the attention drawn this week to a new study in Climatic Change that found widespread development of Marcellus natural gas may actually accelerate climate change rather than slow it down. Unfortunately for them, their primary argument rests on a lack of hard data on 1) the actual greenhouse-warming potential of methane; and 2) how much methane finds its way into the atmosphere during drilling and transmission of natural gas. You can find a good summary of the defense’s case at something called the Marcellus Shale Coalition. And it is unfortunate for them, because most opponents of the industry, and the author of new study, use exactly the same argument.
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The nuclear misdirection

We can’t seem to stop thinking about nuclear power. Given what’s at stake — the biosphere, the economy, our genetic integrity — this is understandable. But I think too many are getting distracted from the fundamental problem with splitting atoms and arguing scientific questions we are unlikely to resolve anytime soon.

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Mom and dad just cut our allowance … to zilch

ResearchBlogging.orgSee that black box over on the left-hand side of this blog? The one with the numbers counting down? That’s a little widget I assembled by rejigging one from trillionthtonne.org. The basic idea is that, if our climate can be expected to suffer severe disruption at a certain amount of global warming due to a certain amount of carbon emissions (since the beginning of the fossil-fuel era around 1850), then our best strategy should be to limit the cumulative carbon emissions to somewhere below that level, in this case 1 trillion tonnes of carbon.

But there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding the estimate that a trillion tonnes of fossil-fuel emissions will lead to 2 °C of warming. What if the threshold is actually a lot lower? That, unfortunately, is the conclusion of a new paper in Geophysical Review Letters. Carbon emission limits required to satisfy future representative concentration pathways of greenhouse gases, by a team of Canadian climatologists led by Y.K. Arora of Environment Canada and the University of Victoria does not make for optimistic reading.

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The heart of the problem

No one is more surprised than I to see something worthwhile reading in The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s iPad magazine. You might even be forgiven for suspecting an April Fool. But there it is. It’s an editorial by Shikha Dalmia, a senior policy analyst at frequently misnamed Reason Foundation, exploring the fundamental problem with nuclear power. Dalmia’s indictment goes far beyond the nuclear industry, though. Intended or not, it strikes at the heart of the economic philosophy that dominates pretty much the entire planet To wit:

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