The target

I like Tim’s Lenton’s style, and his substance. He has his detractors — and his latest essay in Nature is a little light on supporting data — but he’s almost always worth reading. This one is probably a doomed to be ignored because it advocates focusing climate policy efforts on the complex issue of radiative forcing instead of politician-friendly temperature rise, but he’s probably right. A teaser:

Ongoing negotiations for a new climate treaty aim to establish a target to limit the global temperature rise to 2 °C above the average temperature before the industrial revolution. But that is not enough.

The target is linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which aims to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. But that noble objective is nearly 20 years old and is framed too narrowly, in terms of the “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere”. Long-term goals to limit temperature or concentrations have so far failed to produce effective short-term action, because they do not have the urgency to compel governments to put aside their own short-term interests.

Extrapolating from the same reasoning, others have reached similar conclusions. James Hansen would have us try to bring atmospheric CO2 levels down to no more than 350 ppm, and many small island states would like to reduce to the temperature target to 1.5 °C, both of which logically follow from worrying more about radiative forcing. But again, does anyone really expect to be able to convince even educated politicians about just what radiative forcing is?

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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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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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 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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The fate of the Amazon is in doubt

Last year much was made by climate-change deniers of a poorly referenced section of one of the IPCC reports of 2007 that said “up to 40% of the Amazon rainforest could be sensitive to future changes in rainfall.” It turned out that the claim was based on solid science, despite the best efforts of those who just can’t bring themselves to trust professional climatologists. You can read the whole sordid tale here. I revisit the issue because of a new paper about to be published by the American Geophysical Union that bears on this question.

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Maximum meltdown

Just case you were wondering what was going on up North:

Arctic sea ice extent appeared to reach its maximum extent for the year on March 7, marking the beginning of the melt season. This year’s maximum tied for the lowest in the satellite record — NSIDC, March 23

Nuclear boy has a stomache ache. I wonder why that could be?

There’s an amusing little video making the rounds, and receiving a largely positive response. Which is unfortunate, because it’s little more than government-industry propaganda that glosses over the colossal abrogation of responsibility that led to the Fukushima crisis.

At first glance, the cartoon does an exemplary job explaining the situation to Japanese schoolchildren too young to understand half-lives and the role of water as a coolant and moderator in boiling-water reactors. But there’s a gaping omission right at the beginning. Nuclear Boy has a stomach ache. No kidding. Why? This is never answered. Could it be because the government of Japan let the Toyko Electric Power Company build a series of nuclear reactors next to a seismically active fault line?

Sticking with the bowel-malfunction metaphor, perhaps the video’s creators could have produced a few frames testifying to the reality that Nuclear Boy’s parents fed him some poison because they forgot to read the label carefully. Something along those lines.

Is that too much for Japanese kids to swallow (so to speak?) I don’t think so. Responsibility is something we all try to teach our children as early as possible. It’s important that Japanese leaders acknowledge the real reasons why they (and their children) are going to have to spend tens of billions of dollars to replace the Fukushima reactors years earlier than expected. Reactors that require an independent source of electricity to maintain coolant levels are, of course, a bad idea, and one that today’s generation of reactor designers have abandoned. But building them in an earthquake zone is tantamount to lunacy.

That reduces the list of adequately safe sites for Japanese reactors, making the replacement task that much more challenging. But too bad.

Same applies to the reactors built in the U.S., of course.