Tag Archive | "climate change"

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Will the Paris Climate Meeting Make a Difference?

Posted on 24 November 2015 by Jerry

We know this September was the hottest it has been since the year 1880 and that 2015 promises to be the hottest year on record. We also know that the World Meteorological Organization has said that 2016 will be the first year when the carbon dioxide in the world’s atmosphere will average over 400ppm (parts per million). We have measured the 2015 ozone hole over Antarctica and know that it is the third largest ever observed. It is only eclipsed by holes in the years 2000 and 2006.

We know that planning for the climate change conference in Paris the nations of the world have committed to an amount of greenhouse gas emissions that go over the two degree Celsius limit. The two degree Celsius limit is believed necessary to keep the world’s average temperature at a safe level. They have committed to 2.7° C. The commitments now in hand converted to Fahrenheit are a 4.9° increase and are insufficient.

As a world, at the end of 2015, we will pass the average of one degree Celsius (or 1.8°F) warmer temperature measured since pre-industrial times. This places us as halfway to the 2°C level so frequently talked about.

Even while missing the two degree Celsius limit, cynics point out a number of reservations about the commitments. They first object that the commitments are not real. They were designed to solve other problems as a matter of expedience. These commitments are being repurposed to be for climate change.

The biggest case in point is the commitment from China. They claim the smog over Peking had become so bad the reduction they are committing to is really to eliminate smog in Peking. They point out that China has not cut back on its plans for additional coal fired power plants. They state that getting electricity for the entire country is their primary objective and they will not let this year’s commitment get in the way.

The cynics point out that commitments that span decades can easily be changed along the way. While optimists believe the freedom to change them means they will increase the commitments and achieve their goals earlier, the naysayers suggest they will only weaken commitments as the years pass. Critics say we cannot wait long enough to see because it will be too late to stop an additional rise in heat.

The final big criticism is that many of the commitments that have been made are conditional upon assistance the developed countries will provide to underdeveloped nations. Fully 25% of the world’s commitments are tied to receiving aide from developed nations. The underdeveloped nations are saying they will reduce their greenhouse pollution to a certain level if they receive a certain amount of help from a fund established by developed countries.

So far the potential donor nations must live up to providing the $100 billion per year by 2020 in climate financing to which they have committed. Unfortunately, in lots of areas nations are behind in living up to their commitments to fund various efforts. For example, the Congress of the U.S. for years was late in funding the United Nations.

A gross example is India that has committed to reduce its carbon intensity per unit of gross domestic product by 33% – 35% by 2030 compared to its levels of intensity shown in 2005. This is tied to its commitment to source 40% of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources consisting largely of renewables and other low-carbon sources by 2030. This commitment will be achieved after it receives $2.5 trillion from the developed countries over the next 15 years. This $2.5 trillion is their estimate of the amount of money they will have to spend to change their energy infrastructure and plans in order to hit their targets.

So the biggest question that remains is “Is there still time?” This is the most difficult question we have. If you look at our average temperature rise we are halfway to our two degree Celsius limit. Should we be looking to the Paris conference to settle all issues or should we be looking at more decades of questioning?

The answer will probably be that there will be more questioning. There are reasons however to be hopeful. We may be seeing tipping points that are good news and should give us optimism that people will do the right thing to save our planet over the long haul ahead.

The Pew Research Center released its November 2015 World Survey of 40 countries (45,435 respondents) that shows a clear majority response to the question ‘Do you support or oppose your country limiting its greenhouse gas emissions as part of an agreement at the 2015 Paris conference?’ All nations of the world (except Pakistan) responded with their majority support for limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The majorities were not small across the countries. Most were greater than 65%. Only Poland, Turkey, Palestinian territory, Indonesia, and South Africa had majorities less that 65%.

In addition, in order to reduce the ozone hole, countries that were parties to the Montreal Protocol of 1987 agreed to take under management the reduction of substitutes for CFCs or hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are ozone friendly replacements that are used as refrigerants. Unfortunately, many of the HFC replacements are also very powerful greenhouse gases.

The use of these powerful greenhouse gases has risen as the world replaces the ozone killing CFCs with HFCs. The agreement of the Montreal Protocol countries to extend their management to include HFCs is a boon to fighting climate change. This is in addition to continuing their efforts to reduce the ozone hole. So far these countries have proven effective and tireless at attempting to shrink the ozone hole.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it has adopted new rules for the use and management of HFCs. The Department of Defense also has announced plans to use alternate chemicals at some facilities and on its ships. Both of these efforts will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change.

There is also a report that President Obama has 81 U.S. large companies that have signed a pledge committing at least $180 billion to fight climate change. These companies include Intel, Johnson and Johnson, The Hershey Company, Levi Strauss, Nike, and Siemens.

These are all encouraging events that we hope are positive tipping points that indicate more progress in the future. Where human beings are involved, there will always be a good chance that we will do what is right. No matter what happens at the 2015 Paris Climate conference there are hopeful developments that indicate trends that should increase our optimism. We must continue our pressure to make progress on climate change. We cannot afford to give ground and must succeed if we want planet Earth to be a livable habitat.

Use the following links to obtain more information or see the original source documents used to prepare this article.

http://www.nature.com/news/the-week-in-science-30-october-5-november-2015-1.18711 (scroll to second item)












http://www.pewglobal.org/2015/11/05/global-concern-about-climate-change-broad-support-for-limiting-emissions/ (access pdf of entire report)






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What Can You Do With Air? Suck Carbon?

Posted on 14 November 2015 by Jerry

One way to control climate change is not to put more carbon dioxide into the air but rather to take it out. Numerous firms and researchers are trying to develop cost effective ways of sucking carbon dioxide from our polluted air and turning it into salable products. Stuart Licht, a Professor of Chemistry at George Washington University in Washington D. C, leads researchers attempting to exploit this opportunity.

Licht begins with a solar cell that is a concentrated photovoltaic. He uses it to focus sunlight to a semiconductor panel that converts about 40% of the energy into electricity at a high voltage. An article in the September 11, 2015 issue of Science magazine goes on to state, “The electricity is shunted to electrodes in two electrochemical cells: one that splits water molecules and another that splits CO2. Meanwhile, much of the remaining energy in the sunlight is captured as heat and used to preheat the two cells to hundreds of degrees, a step that lowers the amount of electricity needed to split water and CO2 molecules by roughly 25%.”

The problem that all researchers have run into is the absence of government funding which they originally believed was possible. The question they then have to confront is how to monetize what they do; have someone else pay them to remove CO2 for example from coal plant exhaust, from the air or turn it into a product that they can sell.

Licht’s team from George Washington University had earlier solved this problem by turning the extracted CO2 to carbon nanoscale fibers. Appearing in the August 19, 2015 MIT Technology Review, the article states that assuming there would be great growth in demand Professor Licht believes “the material’s properties, especially the fact that it is so lightweight and also very strong, will spur greater and greater use as the cost comes down.”

The team is taking CO2 and cooks it in molten carbonates. Surrounding air is added with a current of electricity from steel and nickel electrodes. Carbon nanofibers begin to grow on the steel electrode. The article continues as Dr. Licht is quoted as saying, “Imagine that carbon fiber composites eventually replace steel, aluminum, and even concrete as a building material…at that point, there could be sufficient use of this that it’s actually acting as a significant repository of carbon…We have found a way to use atmosphere CO2 to produce high-yield carbon nanofibers.”

Another company that has built a demonstration machine in British Columbia, Canada, is Carbon Engineering out of Calgary. David Keith is executive chairman of the firm and is also a climate physicist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His company is partially funded by Bill Gates. They recently opened a facility at Squamish, British Columbia, that processes about a ton of CO2 per day.

An article in the October 15, 2015 issue of Nature magazine states, “The plant uses fans to push air through towers containing potassium hydroxide solution, which reacts with CO2 to form potassium carbonate; the remaining air now containing less CO2, is released. Further treatment of the solution separates out the captured CO2, regenerating the capture solution for reuse.” Carbon Engineering additionally announced a deal with the province of British Columbia to assess the feasibility of turning the CO2 into fuel to power local buses.

There are other startups including one that has as its largest investor Edgar Bronfman Jr., former chairman and CEO of Warner Music. Another startup is working with Audi. These startups are looking to sell CO2 to be pumped into greenhouses to increase crop yields. In addition, they would like to remove carbon dioxide at the behest of a U.S. energy company.

This is not to say that any of the aforementioned companies will succeed or dominate a thriving business. They are trying however to develop a technology that will obviously benefit those of us that are concerned about climate change. This is the type of entrepreneurial effort that we need to be encouraging and saluting. Let us all hope for great success for these entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists that are funding them.

Use the following links to access additional information or look at the original source documents used for this article.









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We Can Put a Roof on Climate Change

Posted on 30 October 2015 by Jerry

We learn a valuable lesson from Mediterranean cities; roofs are white or at least light colored. They reflect light and keep heat from the interior of houses and buildings. Some jurisdictions in the U.S. (states and cities) have suggested contractors use solar panels or required them to put a ‘green’ roof with planted vegetation or paint a roof white, on the top of office buildings and multi-tenant dwellings. The laws and regulations in most locations exempt single-family homeowners. This frames our opportunity.

Scientists have studies that show that dark surfaces, especially tar roofs, create ‘heat islands’ and will significantly warm the surrounding cities.   Unfortunately, living in a large city with lots of row houses I see roof after roof that have black tar coverings that absorb as much light and heat as the sun will put out. These houses put out their retained heat all day.

For this reason cities are hotter than their surrounding rural areas. The temperature change continues into the night. The retained heat is emitted at night raising the city’s nighttime temperature as well. This is something each of us can change.

There are two measures of a surface. One is the absorption where light and warmth is allowed in and retained under the surface that raises the house’s temperature. For example, if it is a sunny day and you walk barefoot on asphalt, because it is black and absorbs heat, you will burn your feet.

Another measure is the amount of light that is reflected back into the sky from a white or lighter surface, its albedo. No light with its accompanying heat is absorbed. Instead the light is sent back into the atmosphere. This keeps everything, including the roof and the underlying structure, cooler to the touch. This article is about reflecting the light (and its heat) back into the atmosphere.

A California state government database includes two charts that show how high the temperature gets on a roof in direct sunlight in a variety of conditions. These charts show temperatures roofs can reach with a variety of covers. For instance, it shows a measured temperature of a roof that is single ply covered by EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer (M) class rubber) at 173°F. A BUR (built up roof) topped with aggregate rocks measured 159°F. A BUR topped with a capsheet was measured at 158°F in full sunlight. However, a roof with a “cool” rated paint on a single ply roof came in significantly cooler at 121°F and a “cool” coating over a BUR roof was measured at an even cooler 108°F.

All roofing paint manufacturers set up a rating scale for their roof coverings to comply with, among others, the California Title 24 rating for emissivity and reflectivity in roofing materials. This gives a rating to their roof paints and coverings that states how they will reflect light and reduce heat.

Both scales are expressed as a percentage between 0 and 1. The higher the percentage number in reflectivity the more light and heat it reflects and keeps from penetrating the material. So paint with a perfect rating of 1 (or 100%) reflects all of the light that hits it. The same is true for thermal emittance. A material with a high heat emittance rating will give up its absorbed heat more readily. A perfect rating of 1 gives up all its retained heat very quickly.

This is a simplistic description of actions and benefits that does not represent all of the contrasting opinions that painting one’s roof represents. There are contrary positions that cite a variety of limitations. For instance, in snow areas white roofs defeat keeping a home heated, many would argue that snow on the roof is just as damaging. Recognize there is controversy. I would suggest you talk to your roofing painting company or Google the appropriate sources for their advice. I would argue that a white roof is beneficial in almost all surroundings.

We should each paint our roofs with the highest reflectivity and emittance ratings we can find. This will reduce our collective contribution to climate change and global warming. At the very least it will keep our homes cooler in the hotter temperatures and not create controversy if we live in the hotter regions of the country.

This is finally something, a small thing, most of us can do. We need to move ahead and take a personal stand against climate change. We need to, for example, conserve water, drive a hybrid car, turn off lights, conserve energy, and paint our roofs white to reflect the sun’s rays back into space. Of course there are many other things we can champion to our elected representatives. You may not agree with one or two of the steps we need to take but we each need to act. Only our collective action will save our planet and keep a healthy world to pass on to our children.

Use the attached links to obtain more information or look at the source documents used for this article.








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Chernobyl Still Threatens; Has Animals & Tourists

Posted on 23 October 2015 by Jerry

Protected space around the once power plant at Chernobyl is a very risky place. Climate change is raising temperatures and reducing rainfall everywhere. Brush and trees have taken over 70% of everything in the exclusion zone that is an area about four times the size of New York City. The area is prone to fires. The smoke that would be produced is especially toxic and can release contaminants that include radioactive isotopes of cesium, strontium and plutonium into the air.

This poses a risk certainly to Chernobyl but also to all of Europe. Wildfires have broken out in 2002, 2008 and 2010. They cumulatively redistributed an estimated 8% of the cesium-137 deposited by the original explosion. No one knows how damaging new fires would be but redistribution of the original cesium, strontium and plutonium might lead to crop contamination throughout Europe.

This possibility, that there might be crop contamination in Europe, is in part a result of the severity of the original contamination at Chernobyl. While this accident was one of only two events earning the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) rating of 7 it released 10 times the radiation of the other event that earned a 7 rating that was the meltdown at Fukushima, Japan. This 7 rating indicates “countermeasures to protect the public.”

While still not completely funded, the new Chernobyl protective cover is scheduled to be finished by November 2017. As you may remember a previous article on this blog (see Chernobyl 2012: the Disaster That Keeps Reminding) gives a complete description of the radiation damage suffered by the tons of concrete and iron used in the original covering of the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl.   The convex structure being built over the original ‘sarcophagus’ hopefully will allow us to dismantle the original reactor and remove all radioactive material from the power plant itself.

There is a conspiracy theory documentary about Chernobyl developed by Chad Garcia shown at the Sundance Film Festival entitled The Russian Woodpecker.  It points to the recent Russian actions in Ukraine and labels them an outgrowth of continued Russian meddling in the region. More importantly it offers an alternate description of the original meltdown at Chernobyl. This film points to other nuclear accidents like the 3rd most damaging contamination at Kyshtym (identified as a level 6 disaster by the International Nuclear Event Scale) also in the Soviet Union and draws an unflattering comparison to Chernobyl.

A recent international study of animal life in the Chernobyl exclusion zone headed by Tatiana Deryabina of the Polessye State Radioecological Reserve (PSRER) showed that wildlife in the zone has rebounded since the accident. Based on this study, there was no evidence of long-term radiation damage to the large mammal populations. The numbers of elk, wild boar and wolves grew. The wolf population is more than seven times larger than those in nearby uncontaminated nature reserves. The conclusion of these efforts was that the reason wildlife blossomed was more a result the absence of humans than anything else.

Co-author Jim Smith, a Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Portsmouth in the USA said, “This doesn’t mean radiation is good for wildlife, just that the effects of human habitation, including hunting, farming, and forestry, are a lot worse.” A recent article in The Guardian from early October 2015, stated, “But sadly, this study clearly shows that putting a big fence around an area to keep people out is beneficial to wildlife, even if the negative effects of radiation contamination on wildlife – increased mutation rates, cancers and other abnormalities – may be masked by this advantage.”

This series of articles implies that no people are allowed in the exclusion zone because of the dangers and yet there are several tour firms that care for the tourists who want to tour a once forbidden place or stay in one of the few hotels inside the exclusion zone.

Visitors are brought into the zone by tour busses from Kiev. Once in the exclusion zone they have to sign a disclaimer that warns them not to touch anything or sit on the ground. Body scanners are used just before tourists leave on the tour busses. If an alarm sounds, guards sweep the person for radioactive dust before they are allowed to leave.

It is just under thirty years since the explosions and nuclear contamination of Chernobyl. And yet, the surrounding town looks just as it did when it was evacuated days after the meltdown. The city of Pripyat looks the way it did before the fall of the iron curtain. Its Ferris wheel is rusted and traces of life in the former USSR are strewn everywhere.

As the site ages the radioactivity may lessen a little but will stay radioactive for decades. It is important we not forget why the area is off limits and what happened here lest we repeat it in the future or have another event that spreads radioactivity over a wide area.

Use the following links to obtain additional information or access the original documents used to write this article.





http://www.theguardian.com/s cience/grrlscientist/2015/oct/05/what-happened-to-wildlife-when-chernobyl-drove-humans-out-it-thrived






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Is There Cap and Trade in Our Future?

Posted on 18 October 2015 by Jerry

Countries are doing it. States are doing it. And groups of both are doing it. It only stands to reason that we (the U.S.) will be doing it some day, especially if the Republicans win. So what is a cap and trade program as it pertains to climate change?

There is nothing mysterious here, Cap and Trade is straightforward. An institution, a state or country, decides how much pollution they should be putting into the atmosphere and by what time in the past they exceeded their limit or at what level they will put a “cap” on their emissions. The objective normally is to return to some past level and better it by cutting emissions even further.

The institution normally gives out permits to various businesses. Those that put out emissions that stay just under their annual permitted amount see no change. Those that achieve targeted reductions can sell their excess permits to other businesses that need more time. In this way, companies can make money on the permits they can sell and other companies can buy themselves more time to achieve their required level. This is the business of selling and buying the permits.

Typically the cap is divided amongst various industries with each having a “cap” for their kind of business with all caps totaling the amount of carbon emissions the institution will allow to be generated during the year. The caps in each industry shrink over time cutting the industry’s overall emissions over a number of years.   In this way there is a belief that a cap and trade system gives all players another layer of motivation to achieve desired outcomes.

This sounds easy right, but it isn’t. The problem is that all pieces of the puzzle can be moved or changed to advantage various parties. So far California, the European Union and a host of other players have implemented different plans with a variety of outcomes. Others have announced plans they will institute in the future, like China.

Most people that have looked at cap and trade systems and other alternatives prefer a more straightforward tax on emissions. Never-the-less cap and trade systems are still favored by many businesses, politicians and by the finance community. They see them as something that can be “gamed” to an advantage by sharp people who can manipulate the political entities and regulators who set up and administer these programs.

Politicians and power companies like cap and trade systems because they mask that customer costs for power will go up dramatically. Their greatest fear is that the public will understand that the politician’s and power company’s actions are raising the consumer’s costs. The cap and trade mechanism hides that power companies will just pass on additional costs to its ratepayers as higher prices. This is a much sneakier way of raising costs for energy than just implementing an energy tax. No one wants to be the cause of higher prices.

Cap and trade has a checkered past. The California and European systems represent the best and worst of cap and trade plans. The European system is known as the Emission Trading System (ETS) and is the world’s largest such system.

There are more than 25 countries in the European Union and each country gave out too many permits to their industries. The politicians wanted to make their industries more competitive. Unfortunately they all felt that way and given they were afraid of their constituencies knowing they were the cause of higher prices, they all gamed the cap and trade system.

Critics point out that for much of the ETS history the prices generated have been so low that utilities have been dis-incented and made no progress on reducing their emissions. This is because they found it less expensive to run coal-fired plants than to switch to less polluting natural gas.

The California system is more successful because it is administered by the California Air Resources Board (ARB). This takes it out of the hands of politicians and puts it in the hands of bureaucrats that will make it work. While it remains much more complex and still allows the politicians to hide from rising prices, it is much more successful and has elements that are being copied around the world.

We must be realistic. Whether it is the result of a direct tax or a cap and trade system, energy prices to consumers will go up as power companies pass increased costs on to the consumer. Smart politicians will act now and put the effects of their actions out in the future so they will not be associated with charges during their political tenure. We, and especially our children, will all pay for climate change and coping with it.

But if we know we are going to pay for it and that sooner is cheaper than later, we will support higher charges now rather than even higher prices later. This is where knowledge and willingness collide to produce progress. We must act. Very smart people once asked, “If not now, when and if not us, whom?”

Use the following links to access more information or see the original documents used as the basis of this article.
















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