Peter Kareiva: Myth-busting scientist pushes greens past reliance on ‘horror stories’

Stewart Brand has “green creds” with most of the environmentalists that we know. Since Stewart posted a Google+ note on a longish E&E profile on Peter Kareiva I thought I should have a look. I’ve mostly read Kareiva’s essays and lectures, but haven’t looked much at his history. If you have been flustered by Kareiva’s criticisms of the old-school Sierra Club/FOE types, you are not likely to find this profile comforting. I think is that Kareiva is spot on – e.g., his Breakthrough joint paper Conservation in the Anthropocene- Beyond Solitude and Fragility. See what you think…

Oxford Physics: The Trillionth Tonne

This is the most concise presentation of the math of climate change – by the physics department at Oxford University. I’m surprised I don’t see more references to this site. Click on the “Find out more…” button for the background. At the bottom you’ll find the scientific references behind the numbers.

Sea-level rise

A sane and very up-to-date survey of the prospects for sea-levels by Eduardo at Die Klimazwiebel:

After the hockey-stick battle it seems that the issue of sea-level rise has all the odds to become the next matter for a constructive and polite debate. Nature Reports has two commentaries on projections for future sea-level rise, describing how different authors ( Rahmstorf on one side and Lowe and Gregory on the either side) cook their rice with different recipes.

It seems to me that both are not quite in agreement. These two commentaries illustrate that there is much still unknown about future sea-level rise and that it is not politically incorrect to think that projections leading to 2 meters of sea-level by 2100 are unlikely. In this matter there isn’t a consensus.

Climate Catastrophe/ A Superstorm for Global Warming Research

(…) If the two-degree limit were exceeded, German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen announced ahead of the failed Copenhagen summit, “life on our planet, as we know it today, would no longer be possible.”

But this is scientific nonsense. “Two degrees is not a magical limit — it’s clearly a political goal,” says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). “The world will not come to an end right away in the event of stronger warming, nor are we definitely saved if warming is not as significant. The reality, of course, is much more complicated.”

Roger Pielke Jr. linked to this surprisingly well-researched article at Der Spiegel. This is the first popular press coverage of climate change science and politics we’ve seen that is reasonably accurate. The background on the data wars spinning around the Phil Jones vortex are worth the price of admission.

Regardless of the “climategate” media storm, anthropogenic climate change remains the most probable explanation of the noisy historical data that we have. Keep in mind that the uncertainties include the possibility that the worst case of the IPCC scenarios may prove to be optimistic. Thus I believe that investing in low-carbon insurance remains the prudent policy. That means we need to focus upon eliminating coal-based power by around 2050. Hence our focus on electricity generation that is “cheaper than coal“, and our policy plank of a fee-and-dividend carbon tax [there is more in-depth discussion in Why revenue-neutral carbon taxes are superior to “cap and trade” schemes and in The Science and Politics of Climate Change ].

Tuvalu, a climate change fairy tale

What really puzzles me is that it is so difficult to find out the reality of Tuvalu, while obviously Tuvalu very much shapes the reality of climate change discourse. Obviously, Tuvalu is an island of great complexity. Is sea level rise there a fake or a real threat? Are the migrants climate refugees or not? Is Tuvalu the center of the world, or is it a negligible entity at the end of the world? Is it the center of the climate negotiations, or is it a nuisance for the big ones? (…)

Werner Krauss (Die Klimazwiebel) raises the right questions about Tuvalu, whose Australian negotiator made emotional headlines at Copenhagen. Here is an excerpt:


Various sources from New Zealand state that the University of Hawaii measured since 1977 a negligible increase of only 0.07 mm per year over two decades, and that if fell three millimeters between 1995 and 1997. Anyway, according to one source, Greenpeace employed Dr John Hunter from the University of Tasmania ‘who obligingly ‘adjusted’ the Tuvalu readings upwards to comply with changes in ESNO and those found for the island Hawaii and, miraculously, he found a sea-level rise of ‘around’ 1.2 mm per year which, also miraculously, agrees with the IPCC global figure’.

The journalist Michael Field and other blogs agree that sea level rise is not the reason for migration from the island. Instead, the threat from the sea is according to Field the result of a severe over-population on an island that is scarce in resources and jobs, from a profound pollution (and mismanagement) and an unusual World War II legacy – on the main islet, Japan built an airport which resulted in great land loss.

Another report confirms that seismic events or hurricanes lead to severe floodings on the islands, but that this vulnerability is not due to climate change. Instead, there is not enough money to really protect the island, people take building materials from the atolls and so on. Furthermore, the migration to New Zealand is, according to these sources, due to economic reasons; the economic infrastructure of Tuvalu cannot support 12000 inhabitants. Tuvalu is a poor country. Its main source of income was selling their internet address .tv for some hundred million bucks. The president of Tuvalu carefully invests into a future based on climate change, as a journalist reports: ‘The government of Tuvalu has obliged all the journalists, dutifully telling of the need for future relocation (…) and possible lawsuits against polluting countries’.

To come back to Copenhagen and to Ian Fry, the spokesman of Tuvalu, who made such a ‘strong and impassioned plea’ in his speech. In many newspapers such as the Washington Post, Ian Fry is characterized as a person from ‘very high up in the climate change’, who does not live in Tuvalu but in Australia. Indeed, Ian Fry has a long career in international environmental and climate organizations on several continents, before he was hired by Tuvalu’s government. But, according to his Ph.D. advisor, there is nothing wrong with that. Why not work for another country?

Anyway, the world press likes Tuvalu, which is often presented as the first island threatened by the effects of anthropogenic climate change, with the first real climate refugees, and Tuvalu serves as a symbol of a future of ‘climate wars’ or mass migrations of climate refugees as imagined by Welzer and many others. Tuvalu plays this role effectively, in Copenhagen and elsewhere.

What really puzzles me is that it is so difficult to find out the reality of Tuvalu, while obviously Tuvalu very much shapes the reality of climate change discourse. Obviously, Tuvalu is an island of great complexity. Is sea level rise there a fake or a real threat? Are the migrants climate refugees or not? Is Tuvalu the center of the world, or is it a negligible entity at the end of the world? Is it the center of the climate negotiations, or is it a nuisance for the big ones?

Please continue reading…

Geoengineering: an ABC Science update

Australia’s ABC recently asked climate scientists for their thoughts on some of the current geoengineering proposals.

Dr Will Howard, a climate researcher from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, offered these observations on the iron-fertilization concept:

If human societies can’t stop emitting greenhouse gasses, then perhaps we can raise the world’s capacity for taking those gases back out of the atmosphere, some geoengineering advocates suggest.

Among the best-studied options in this category is using iron to stimulate the growth of carbon-capturing plankton in the ocean.

Over the past 15 years or so, several international research teams have completed trials showing that under the right conditions this approach is scientifically feasible.

“The idea is that in some parts of the ocean, the algae that would pick up carbon and store carbon in the deep ocean are limited by iron supply,” explains Howard.

Experiments have shown when you add extra iron into these areas, you stimulate algal productivity.

But the same experiments have also shown that the carbon fixed by this process doesn’t sink very deep into the ocean.

Howard says the key question is whether you can change that: “Can you get that carbon out of the surface ocean and into the thousands-of-metres-deep parts of the ocean where it will stay out of contact with the atmosphere for a long time?”

There are other potential problems with this approach, he warns.

“A possible consequence of fertilization of the ocean is the fact that once this carbon does sink into sub-surface waters… you’ll increase that tendency toward low oxygen.”

“We know there are basins in the water that have dead zones today — where the water is anoxic and nothing that requires oxygen can live. The research would need to very carefully consider those sorts of risks before you went ahead with that kind of manipulation.”

If we discover unexpected adverse effects from a geoengineering technique, how do we recover from our mistake? Earlier in the interview Dr. Howard noted that some of the geoengineering concepts can be quickly reversed – such as sulfate aerosols. How rapidly could we unwind the effects of iron-fertilization?
For more background on geoengineering I recommend the 2.5 hour audio of the AEI seminar on “Governing Geoengineering“. We found this discussion to be one of the more informed and objective reviews of the whole range of policy options relating to climate change.

TCASE 4/ Energy system build rates and material inputs

TCASE 4 is the fourth in Barry Brook’s extended series ‘Thinking critically about sustainable energy‘. The series goal is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the zero-carbon global energy future. In particular, what are the real-world costs, risks and benefits of all the strategies for achieving a zero-carbon generation capability that can satisfy real-world demand.
In TCASE 3 Barry concluded that to satisfy 2050 demand we need to commission the equivalent of two AP1000 size nuclear reactor every three days through 2050. In TCASE 4 Barry examines the scalability of the competing technologies. Click the thumbnail for the full size summary graphic. Here’s Barry’s concluding paragraph – I can’t think of a more succinct summary:

The main point of this post, TCASE 4, is to take a one step in quashing the absurd ‘bait-and-switch’ meme that some disingenuous anti-nuclear folk repeat: That because the energy replacement challenge facing nuclear energy is huge (a 25-fold expansion on today’s levels), it couldn’t possibly do it, so renewables are our only sensible option. On the basis of this post alone, any objective reader can see that this is pure, quantitatively unsupportable, nonsense. It’s going to be really tough, no matter what — and believe me, I’ve not even warmed up on the problems with renewables taking the lion’s share of the work.

TCASE 4 is a 10,000 meter surveillance flight over the topic. The entire series is intended to be comprised of bite-sized pieces, so don’t expect every detail to be covered here. That said there are very useful illuminations in the comments,such as this reply by  Barry Brook to a question “won’t the wind capacity factors be higher?”

Barry Brook said

19 October 2009 at 16.54

Neil #10: The global and US numbers don’t bear this out. Go and look here:

Table: Annual Wind Power Generation (TWh) and total electricity consumption(TWh) for 10 largest countries.

The US has amongst the highest CF of all countries. Further, the change in CF for wind, across years in the US or other nations, is pretty stable. It seems that although a CF of 35-45% is often cited for wind for the best sites, when taken across whole nations, the actual figure turns out to be considerably lower.

In reality, this is quite a complex matter and will deserve a couple of posts on just this point in the TCASE series. For instance, CF can be ‘tuned’ to a site — it ultimately depends on what sized generator you install on your turbine. If you put a GE 2.5xl-sized turbine at a good site and whacked a 200 kW generator on instead of a 2.5 MW generator, you’d likely get the CF up to 70-80% — but this would obviously not be helpful, as it would be grossly uneconomic!

On balance, I strongly suspect that a worldwide CF of ~25% for 10 TWe would turn out to be a very reasonable figure, as the trade-off between use marginal improvements in turbine efficiency is offset by the increasing use of less-than-optimal sites.

Next I noted this exchange which touches on one of the unspoken cost burdens of nuclear generation — the vast overkill in regulations that supposedly improve safety:

Douglas Wise said

20 October 2009 at 1.31

Re # 11. Peter Lang

Peter, I wonder if you could take the time to categorise those safety requirements for nuclear power stations which you consider to be “over the top” relative to the safety requirements imposed on other industrial complexes (eg chemical plants) which you deem to be potentially as or more dangerous. I am not attempting to take issue with you, merely to try to get a handle on the extent to which redundant safety engineering impacts on build costs (both with respect to build time and physical resources). How, for example, would you rate containment in reactors that operate either at high or low atmospheric pressures? Should one need to protect against accidental or deliberate aircraft strikes? As I understasnd it, chemical plants are generally not so protected.

Tom Blees said

20 October 2009 at 4.25

Doug @ 16: The PRISM reactor vessel (the commercial IFR design) is designed to be underground, about 50 feet below grade. If they’re built with the attendant structures (steam generator and turbine) off to the side rather than directly above, then one can use the 50 feet of earth as protection against aircraft strikes. The engineering for this is straightforward. One need only transfer hot (~550C) sodium from the reactor vessel (at near atmospheric pressure) to the steam generator via the secondary (non-radioactive) sodium loop. Want more protection? Pile on more dirt. It’s dirt cheap.

A Cherry Picker's Guide to Global Temperature Trends

This is a wonderful resource:

Cherry-Pickers Guide to Global Temperature Trends. Each point on the chart represents the trend beginning in September of the year indicated along the x-axis and ending in August 2009. The trends which are statistically significant (p [greater than]0.05) are indicated by filled circles. The zero line (no trend) is indicated by the thin black horizontal line, and the climate model average projected trend is indicated by the thick red horizontal line.

You will need to read Roger’s complete post. I’ll just highlight some examples of how cherry pickers operate. But you can detect their tricks by consulting the above chart.

(…) Here are a few general statements that can be supported with using my Cherry-Pickers Guide:

• For the past 8 years (96 months), no global warming is indicated by any of the five datasets.

• For the past 5 years (60 months), there is a statistically significant global cooling in all datasets.

• For the past 15 years, global warming has been occurring at a rate that is below the average climate model expected warming

Lots more.

EU Must Stop its Climate Gimmickry

Another important op-ed by Atte Korhola and Eija-Riitta Korhola – again translated from the Finnish. Prof. Korhola is hammering the same themes as How to Get Climate Policy Back on Course:

The EU is not serious in its fight against climate change. If it were, it wouldn’t merely shift emissions from one place to another but would instead focus its efforts to stop the emissions from growing globally. It would concentrate its efforts on the most challenging problem of the climate change, coal, and reducing its use especially in the developing countries.


(…) this means that all use of coal should be ceased immediately – or one should develop means to produce energy from coal completely emissions free. The EU climate policy does not support these goals.

The EU is practising the kind of climate policy, which is expensive and flashy, yet bureaucratic and lacking results. The main focus is in the reduction of the Union’s own local emissions, not the overall emissions to the atmosphere.


The Australian example is very illuminating. This island state increased the share of the renewable energy by 10 per cent from 2007 to 2008. At the same time, the usage of coal increased by a couple of per cent, which resulted in the overall emissions of Australia to grow.


The EU should, instead, abandon its renewable energy target and replace it with a clean energy target. At the moment, for instance, Europe practically cannot increase the share of an emissions free nuclear energy, as nuclear energy is not counted in as a renewable energy source.

[From More from the Korholas: EU Has to Stop its Climate Gimmickry]