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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The Fukushima legacy

At one end of the hyperbole scale we have Helen “If you love this planet” Caldicott, who raises the specter of “cancer and genetic diseases” if things get any worse at the growing list of nuclear power reactors crippled or destroyed by last week’s earthquake in Japan. At the other we have Republican congressman Mitch McConnell, who argues that we shouldn’t abandon nuclear power, especially “right after a major environmental catastrophe.”

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Just how much power do we need anyway?

We all know we need to get off fossil fuels and replace them with carbon-neutral alternatives. The question is not IF we should choose this path, but how best to get where we need to go. There are those who, fairly enough, worry that those clean renewables aren’t up to the job. This is a critical question, because if renewables can’t fill the void, then we are left with no option but to build more nuclear reactors, with all the myriad problems that accompany them, most notably price, which is forever rising. So much money is at stake that we need to sort out this question, soon.

It all boils down to power demand. How much power do we need? If the number is such that the most realistically rapid installation rate of new wind, water and solar power supplies won’t be enough to satisfy our needs in say, 2030 (by which time we need to have at least made a sizable dent in replacing the existing oil, gas and coal plants), then we have a problem. So what is a reasonable projection of power demand in 2030?

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“If you want to tell people the truth …”

Just in case you need a refresher:

It continues here. Meanwhile, the Onion sums it up nicely:

“Climate change is real, and we are killing our planet more every day,” said climatologist Helen Marcus, who has made similar statements in interviews in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. “We need to make a serious effort to stop it, or, you know, we’ll all die. There really isn’t much else to say.”

For 2011, I am going to try to implement Oscar Wilde’s advice:

“If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”

Explaining global cooling

The invaluable pseudonymous Tamino has a brilliant explanation of the causes of the “global cooling” trend in the mid-20th century. There’s nothing new, except the clarity of the writing. So if you’ve ever been stumped by a skeptic who suggests that anthropogenic climate change theorists can’t explain why the planet cooled for the three decades following the Second World War, bookmark this post.

Just a tease:

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Will Deepwater Horizon be the petro industry’s Three Mile Island?

What happened at Three Mile Island in 1979 led to a new regulatory environment that increased the costs of building and running nuclear power reactors in the U.S. The environment was so hostile to the industry that no new reactors have been ordered since then. There are several in the planning stages, but none have been approved. The question now being debated among energy analysts is whether or not what’s going on in the Gulf of Mexico at the moment will lead to similar challenges for the oil industry.

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