Understanding Decarbonization of the US Economy in 2008

Roger Pielke Jr. concludes that the rate of decarbonization has not improved in recent years. I don’t see any other interpretation of the empirical data.

I have been asked by a reporter how to explain how much of the 2008 reduction in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions is due to changes in energy intensity and carbon intensity versus the slowdown in economic growth. The answer can be determined from the graph and figures above.

<snip all the reasoning>

[From Understanding Decarbonization of the US Economy in 2008]

Environmental organizations' climate policy a series of miscalculations

Dogmatism based on ideals has already cost too many lives, particularly in the poorest countries. Similar dogmatism is common in the views of environmental groups; they are against using waste as a source of energy as they believe it will deter preventing the generation of waste. They also oppose developing nuclear fission and fusion energy, as they are afraid it will increase energy consumption and slow down the development of renewable forms of energy. — Atte Korhola 2009

Thanks to Roger Pielke, Jr. for publishing the English translation of this short essay by University of Helsinki’s Professor of Environmental Change Atte Korhola. Prof. Korhola is one of the coauthors of the highly recommended white paper How to Get Climate Policy Back on Course. These excerpts will hopefully motivate you to read the entire essay:

Environmental organizations are generally considered experts in preventing climate change although many of their solutions have proved downright destructive, write Atte Korhola and Eija-Riitta Korhola.


According to a recent article published in Science magazine, it would take 400 years to pay off the global “carbon debt” caused by changes in land use induced by field energy production.

The concern environmentalist groups are showing now, about the sufficiency of bio fuels and the environmental hazards created by the ever-growing palm oil production in particular, is unfortunately late.

More unfortunate mistakes: accepting to increase renewable energy sources in a tight time frame without criticism may drive Finland and the whole of Europe into large-scale wood burning, the environmental impacts of which – in addition to the poor energy balance of log burning– can be ecologically unpredictable. In addition to these hazards, decentralized wood burning may increase the number of deaths caused by fine-particle emissions in Europe, which is already considerable.

Although the share of wood biomass in our energy production can be increased considerably, one would expect to hear the environmental groups’ views on the risks excessive felling can cause to the wellbeing of forests. According to a study carried out by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the University of Hamburg, wood consumption will be 453 million cubic metres in 2020 due to bio energy targets, and there will be a demand-supply gap that is eight times as big as the amount of annual tree felling in Finland.

Another irrevocable change in landscape will be threatening Finland’s unique archipelago if wind energy production is increased as much as the environmental organizations want. (…)

Please continue reading…

Energy policy: real world engineering meets renewables

Even if solar cells themselves were free, solar power would remain very expensive because of the huge structures and support systems required to extract large amounts of electricity from a source so weak that it takes hours to deliver a tan.

This is why the (few) greens ready to accept engineering and economic reality have suddenly emerged as avid proponents of nuclear power. In the aftermath of the Three Mile Island accident—which didn’t harm anyone, and wouldn’t even have damaged the reactor core if the operators had simply kept their hands off the switches and let the automatic safety systems do their job—ostensibly green antinuclear activists unwittingly boosted U.S. coal consumption by about 400 million tons per year. The United States would be in compliance with the Kyoto Protocol today if we could simply undo their handiwork and conjure back into existence the nuclear plants that were in the pipeline in nuclear power’s heyday. Nuclear power is fantastically compact, and—as America’s nuclear navy, several commercial U.S. operators, France, Japan, and a handful of other countries have convincingly established—it’s both safe and cheap wherever engineers are allowed to get on with it.

But getting on with it briskly is essential, because costs hinge on the huge, up-front capital investment in the power plant. Years of delay between the capital investment and when it starts earning a return are ruinous. Most of the developed world has made nuclear power unaffordable by surrounding it with a regulatory process so sluggish and unpredictable that no one will pour a couple of billion dollars into a new plant, for the good reason that no one knows when (or even if) the investment will be allowed to start making money. – Peter W. Huber, 2009

Peter Huber, coauthor of The Bottomless Well, takes a hard look at the options in “Bound to Burn” at City Journal:

(…) Another argument commonly advanced is that getting over carbon will, nevertheless, be comparatively cheap, because it will get us over oil, too—which will impoverish our enemies and save us a bundle at the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security. But uranium aside, the most economical substitute for oil is, in fact, electricity generated with coal. Cheap coal-fired electricity has been, is, and will continue to be a substitute for oil, or a substitute for natural gas, which can in turn substitute for oil. By sharply boosting the cost of coal electricity, the war on carbon will make us more dependent on oil, not less.

The first place where coal displaces oil is in the electric power plant itself. When oil prices spiked in the early 1980s, U.S. utilities quickly switched to other fuels, with coal leading the pack; the coal-fired plants now being built in China, India, and other developing countries are displacing diesel generators. More power plants burning coal to produce cheap electricity can also mean less natural gas used to generate electricity. And less used for industrial, commercial, and residential heating, welding, and chemical processing, as these users switch to electrically powered alternatives. The gas that’s freed up this way can then substitute for diesel fuel in heavy trucks, delivery vehicles, and buses. And coal-fired electricity will eventually begin displacing gasoline, too, as soon as plug-in hybrid cars start recharging their batteries directly from the grid.

(…) To top it all, using electricity generated in large part by coal to power our passenger cars would lower carbon emissions—even in Indiana, which generates 75 percent of its electricity with coal. Big power plants are so much more efficient than the gasoline engines in our cars that a plug-in hybrid car running on electricity supplied by Indiana’s current grid still ends up more carbon-frugal than comparable cars burning gasoline in a conventional engine under the hood. Old-guard energy types have been saying this for decades. In a major report released last March, the World Wildlife Fund finally concluded that they were right all along.

But true carbon zealots won’t settle for modest reductions in carbon emissions when fat targets beckon. They see coal-fired electricity as the dragon to slay first. Huge, stationary sources can’t run or hide, and the cost of doing without them doesn’t get rung up in plain view at the gas pump. California, Pennsylvania, and other greener-than-thou states have made flatlining electricity consumption the linchpin of their war on carbon. That is the one certain way to halt the displacement of foreign oil by cheap, domestic electricity.

The oil-coal economics come down to this. Per unit of energy delivered, coal costs about one-fifth as much as oil—but contains one-third more carbon. High carbon taxes (or tradable permits, or any other economic equivalent) sharply narrow the price gap between oil and the one fuel that can displace it worldwide, here and now. The oil nasties will celebrate the green war on carbon as enthusiastically as the coal industry celebrated the green war on uranium 30 years ago.

The other 5 billion are too poor to deny these economic realities. For them, the price to beat is 3-cent coal-fired electricity. China and India won’t trade 3-cent coal for 15-cent wind or 30-cent solar. As for us, if we embrace those economically frivolous alternatives on our own, we will certainly end up doing more harm than good.

Consider your next Google search. As noted in a recent article in Harper’s, “Google . . . and its rivals now head abroad for cheaper, often dirtier power.” Google itself (the “don’t be evil” company) is looking to set up one of its electrically voracious server farms at a site in Lithuania, “disingenuously described as being near a hydroelectric dam.” But Lithuania’s grid is 0.5 percent hydroelectric and 78 percent nuclear. Perhaps the company’s next huge farm will be “near” the Three Gorges Dam in China, built to generate over three times as much power as our own Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State. China will be happy to play along, while it quietly plugs another coal plant into its grid a few pylons down the line. All the while, of course, Google will maintain its low-energy headquarters in California, a state that often boasts of the wise regulatory policies—centered, one is told, on efficiency and conservation—that have made it such a frugal energy user. But in fact, sky-high prices have played the key role, curbing internal demand and propelling the flight from California of power plants, heavy industries, chip fabs, server farms, and much else (see “California’s Potemkin Environmentalism,” Spring 2008).

Please read Huber’s essay top to bottom. I’m confident that reading and reflection will motivate you go on to read The Bottomless Well.
One quibble, Huber writes

They use energy far less efficiently than we do, and they remain almost completely oblivious to environmental impacts, just as we were in our own first century of industrialization.

Three points. One, If the decarbonization data presented in How to Get Climate Policy Back on Course is accurate, then China is at about the same value as the USA of tonnes-CO2 per $1000 of GDP. Point two, if LRL’s Mark Levine is correct in his presentation of Chinese decarbonization policy, then we should see China’s rate of decarbonization improve even faster now that the “policy holiday” taken by Beijing is over. Three, if America continues to ignore the reality of nuclear power, then they may never be able to catch up with China – who already are committed to at least 100 additional AP1000 reactors. All of my sources point to an acceleration of China’s nuclear power deployment. Same is true of India, but so far to a lesser degree.

The British Climate Change Act: a critical  evaluation and proposed alternative  approach

Here is the abstract of the Roger A Pielke, Jr. paper that I linked earlier. Roger’s analysis crystalizes how little light is associated with the political heat of target-setting. I hope Roger decides to apply the same methodology to Australian PM Kevin Rudd’s posturing.

This paper evaluates the United Kingdom’s Climate Change Act of 2008 in terms of the implied rates of decarbonization of the UK economy for a short-term and a long-term target established in law. The paper uses the Kaya identity to structure the evaluation, employing both a bottom up approach (based on projections of future UK population, economic growth, and technology) and a top down approach (deriving implied rates of decarbonization consistent with the targets and various rates of projected economic growth). Both approaches indicate that the UK economy would have to achieve annual rates of decarbonization in excess of 4 or 5%. To place these numbers in context, the UK would have to achieve the 2006 carbon efficiency of France by about 2015, a level of effort comparable to the building of about 30 new nuclear power plants, displacing an equivalent amount of fossil energy. The paper argues that the magnitude of the task implied by the UK Climate Change Act strongly suggests that it is on course to fail, and discusses implications.

You can examine the abstracts of other recent CIRES publications here.

How to Get Climate Policy Back on Course

The lesson of the recent past is clear to us. In the first instance, policy should focus directly on decarbonization rather than on emissions; on causes instead of consequences. (…) The Japanese target does not depend on the froth of purchased offsets.

Another blockbuster joint paper was released 6 July 2009 by the London School of Economics / University of Oxford. This report builds on the ongoing analysis of Kyoto by a distinguished group of researchers: why Kyoto went wrong, after Kyoto, what policies are likely to really work.

My own introduction to this program was the 2007 paper The Wrong Trousers: Radically Rethinking Climate Policy by authors Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner. At the time I felt like I had been working in a dark room when Prins/Rayner stepped in to turn the lights on. They were willing to “speak truth to power” in the hope of changing the whole direction of climate policy onto a track that could be incrementally managed to achieve good outcomes: a policy covering the full range of options, from mitigation, to adaptation, to geoengineering.

The captioned new report, How to Get Climate Policy Back on Course , is authored by a formidable dream team. Inverting “ad hominem attack”, my defense would highlight the additional expert coauthors. Here by example are just a few names familiar to those of who have been seeking a practical policy framework: Christopher Green, Roger Pielke, Jr, Dan Sarewitz and Hans van Storch. The report exhorts policy leaders to drop the failed Kyoto-style framework and instead focus directly on decarbonizing global energy systems by applying the Kaya Direct Approach

The Kaya Identity shows that there are four – and four only – macro-scale policy levers in pursuit of emissions reductions. These are, respectively, population, wealth, energy intensity (meaning units of energy per unit of GDP) and carbon intensity (meaning the amount of carbon produced per unit of energy). Each of these factors is amenable to the action of a particular lever and each lever prescribes a particular approach to policy.

See discussion in R.A. Pielke Jr, ‘The British Climate Change Act: A Critical Evaluation and Proposed Alternative Approach’, Environmental Research Letters, 18 June 2009, doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/4/2/024010. 6 July 2009 In the case of population, the lever is population management. In the case of wealth, the lever is to reduce the size of the economy. In the case of energy intensity, the lever is to increase energy efficiency. And for carbon intensity, a switch to energy sources that generate fewer emissions is the primary lever.

The relationship between the four factors in the Kaya Identity can be expressed mathematically as follows:

carbon emissions = C = P x (GDP / P) x (TE / GDP) x (C / TE)   [where TE is total energy]

This paper is about the record of, the prospects for and the implications of decarbonisation as a focus of climate policy. In deference to Professor Kaya’s insight, we call it the Kaya Direct Approach. The Kaya Direct Approach means focussing on those factors that articulate with emissions and economic growth explicitly, rather than through an indirect and perhaps non-existent chain of causation. We do know something about how to improve efficiency: we’ve learned that from Japan. We do know something about decarbonising energy supply: we’ve been doing so for 200 years. So focusing upon incremental progress based on what we know, will begin to move us in the right direction.

Part I leads off with an clear statement of the challenge:

The abject failure of existing policy

The rate of global decarbonization can be broken down by region (see figure):

The historical record shows quite clearly that global and regional rates of decarbonization have seen no acceleration during the recent decade, and in some cases, show evidence of re-carbonization. Why is this so?

The axiomatic reason is to do with the nature of knowledge. It is a characteristic of open systems of high complexity and with many ill-understood feed-back effects, such as the global climate classically is, that there are no self-declaring indicators which tell the policy maker when enough knowledge has been accumulated to make it sensible to move into prescriptive action. Nor, it might be argued, can a policy-maker ever possess the type of knowledge – distributed, fragmented, private; and certainly not in sufficient coherence or quantity – to make accurate ‘top down’ directives. Hence, the frequency of failure and of unintended consequences.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, policy makers have been presented with frequent lessons about the unintended consequences of policy action. For instance, setting huge targets for renewable energy in a short time frame (from 8.5% to 20% by 2020) may unintentionally drive the whole of Europe into large-scale wood burning. This decision will almost double the wood demand for biomass energy in the EU-15 from 55% of harvested wood in 2001 to 100% in 2020 at current harvest levels, or it may increase harvest above 1950 levels – the peak moment when the harvested proportion of net primary production was 1.5 times today’s levels – and shorten forest rotation lengths. It has been calculated that wood consumption will be 453 million cubic metres in 2020 due to bio energy targets. There will be a huge demand-supply gap.4 There will be different sorts of hazard also. Decentralized wood burning may increase the already considerable number of deaths caused by fine-particle emissions in Europe. Furthermore, it will increase the atmospheric black carbon load, which is thought to have powerful climate forcing effect: the opposite result of what policy intends.


The fourth problem is that climate policy has come to serve many other political and social functions beyond its declared formal objective. Thus, undeclared political, religious, ethical and wider lifestyle and social purposes are being fulfilled which complicate the design and the application of a formal policy process.

Yes – the media contribute to this hidden agenda, attributable to some of the highest-profile anti-growth activists. Their agenda may be some variant of “back to nature, you can read by a candle” while their advertisements exhort “efficiency is the answer” and “Nuclear isn’t safe”.

The paper is rich in examples of the unintended consequences of the top-down target setting policies. E.g., on biofuel mandates

Recent analysis calculates that it would take 400 years to pay off the global ‘carbon debt’ caused by changes in land use induced by bio-fuel energy production. [Ed – the reference for that is J. Fargione, J. Hill, D. Tilman et al. ’Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt’, Science, Vol. 319, 2008, pp. 1235-1238].

E.g., the anti-nuclear campaign

A final example: EU policies will set clean energy sources in competition against each other, especially nuclear against the available renewable energy sources (bio and wind). As a result of running down nuclear power, the consumption of fossil fuels is growing everywhere.

Part II is captioned “So what should be done instead?

For reasons of political feasibility as well as of efficiency, pointed out in the Kaya Identity, the Kaya Direct Approach focuses on energy intensity and carbon intensity and not on population and wealth. Population control policies are always politically explosive and so too would be attempts to reduce general wealth or to curb wealth creation. In democracies, there are no votes in making people feel poorer, and we suspect that such policies would be unpopular elsewhere as well, for example in China.

In contrast, we think the evidence encouraging if policy focuses directly on efficiency/intensity improvement through technology development and deployment. First, direct efficiency gains do translate into real reductions in emissions. (…) Secondly and related, pursuit of direct efficiency gains prioritises the heavy energy using sectors first and only concerns itself with lower impact sectors much later on. So, on this logic, world-wide there should be a sectoral focus on electricity generation first of all and then on other heavy user industries, such as iron and steel or aluminium production.


The Kaya Direct Approach would focus on expanding the provision of carbon-free energy. To this end, we support a low ring-fenced carbon tax in one form or another to fund innovation policies. The core argument of the Breakthrough Institute is an elementary political truth, namely that clean energy will only advance radically when it is made cheaper than dirty energy at point-of-use by the consumer.

The Kaya Direct Approach has another advantage over current methods – an advantage which is potentially of decisive importance, in our view. It is that it is incremental which means that progress can be continuously assessed. There are no arbitrary deadlines. It is the rate of decarbonization which is the ultimate arbiter of success. This means that we can avoid what we have just experienced, namely the danger of long periods of unobserved failure of policy.

The approach is preferable for other reasons. First of all, it addresses design shortfalls in the conventional approach. That much is already evident from our account above. In particular, it detaches the setting of targets from emissions. (…) The energies and time of the negotiating community currently engaged on the pursuit of a “bigger and better” Kyoto model for the Copenhagen Conference (which has already been shown to be nugatory at the Poznan and Berlin preparatory conferences) can be productively harnessed: for there will be a need for international agreement and review of best practice bench-marks, for example. This would be a much more practical and effective activity than setting aspirational and unachievable emissions reduction targets of which the UK Climate Act is the leading example.

Please read How to Get Climate Policy Back on Course, and The Wrong Trousers: Radically Rethinking Climate Policy, and Roger Pielke, Jr.’s related papers The British Climate Change Act: A Critical Evaluation and Proposed Alternative Approach, and Mamizu Climate Policy: An Evaluation of Japanese Carbon Emissions Reduction Targets.

Pielke: The Folly of “Magical Solutions” for Targeting Carbon Emissions

Climate policy is in the midst of a dynamic very similar to that in budget policy in the 1980s and 1990s. Policies such as the Kyoto Protocol, the U.K. Climate Change Act, and the U.S. cap-and-trade (Waxman-Markey) bill are each “magical solutions” with considerable symbolic heft but precious little effect (actual or potential) on emissions…

Do not miss this short essay for Yale’s “Environment 360” by Roger Pielke, Jr. For those who are not willing to subject the planet to potentially dangerous climate experiments, the need for practical rather than magical solutions is very clear. By practical I do not mean economy-wrecking Stern Review policies. Nor do I mean the political theater recently passed by the American lower house. I have in mind the “after Kyoto” recommendations of Yale’s William Nordhaus.

Now here’s an excerpt from the highly recommended essay by Dr. Pielke:

Setting unattainable emissions targets is not a policy — it’s an act of wishful thinking, argues one political scientist. Instead, governments and society should focus money and attention on workable solutions for improving energy efficiency and de-carbonizing our economies.

Fifty years ago, political scientist Harold Lasswell explained that some policies are all about symbolism, with little or no impact on real-world outcomes. He called such actions “magical solutions,” explaining that “political symbolization has its catharsis functions.” Climate policy is going through exactly such a phase, in which a focus on magical solutions leaves little room for the practical.

Evidence for this claim can be found in the global reaction to the commitment made by the Japanese government last month to reduce emissions by 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The announcement was met with derision. For instance, Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, expressed shock at Japan’s lack of ambition, stating, “I think for the first time in two-and-a-half years in this job, I don’t know what to say.” Sir David King, Britain’s former chief scientist and now director of the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at Oxford University, singled out Japan as a country that was blocking progress toward an international deal on climate change.

Explaining what would constitute an acceptable target, de Boer explained that “the minus 25 to 40 range has become a sort of beacon” — referring to emissions reduction figures presented in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which were highlighted in subsequent international negotiations at Bali. Perhaps this is also the magnitude of target that King had in mind when disparaging the Japanese proposal. After all, the British government has enacted a law consistent with this range, requiring emissions reductions of 34 percent below 1990 levels by 2022, which would be upped to 42 percent if the world reaches a global climate agreement in Copenhagen in December.

What is missing from the debate over targets and timetables is any conception of the realism of such proposals. If a proposal is not realistic, it is not really a policy proposal but an exercise in symbolism, a “magical solution.” Symbolism is of course an essential part of politics, but when it becomes detached from reality — or even worse, used to exclude consideration of realistic proposals — the inevitable outcome is that policies will likely fail to achieve the promised ends. This outcome is highly problematic for those who actually care about the substance of climate policy proposals.

The U.K. targets are a perfect example of what happens when symbols become disconnected from reality. To achieve a 34 percent reduction from 1990 emissions by 2022 while maintaining modest economic growth would require that the U.K. decarbonize its economy to the level of France by about 2016. In more concrete terms, Britain would have to achieve the equivalent of deploying about 30 new nuclear power plants in the next six years, just to get part way to its target.

Please do read the whole thing. Then go meet with the publicons who work for you ( the exalted Senators, MPs, etc who are your employees) and politely explain to them what they must do to earn your re-election vote.

Renewable energy cannot sustain an energy intensive society

Dr Ted Trainer of the University of New South Wales has a new book out of that title. Barry Brook reviews the book briefly here and links to a primer on the content (PDF).

I must admit I struggled to find many direct criticisms of Trainer’s calculations, either in the peer-reviewed literature or on the internet (though there is this from Barney Foran from Monash University), but if you can track them down I’d like to be alerted to them.

Climate expert Mark Lynas backs nuclear power

…and has been scorned by his eco-colleagues for daring to speak up. Some excerpts:

Whenever the word “nuclear” comes up at my talks, a shudder runs through the room. Because everyone knows that real environmentalists loathe nuclear power. It is just evil. Full stop.

Except, well, I don’t believe that any more. Just a month ago I had a Damascene conversion: the Green case against nuclear power is based largely on myth and dogma. My tipping point came when I discovered just how much nuclear power has changed since I first set my mind against it. Prescription for the Planet, a new book by the American writer Tom Blees, opened my eyes to fourth-generation “fast-breeder” reactors, which use fuel much more efficiently than the old-style reactors, produce shorter-lived waste and can also be designed to be “walk-away safe”.

Best of all, these new reactors – prototypes of which have already been tested – can produce power by burning up existing stocks of nuclear waste. As Blees puts it: “Thus we have a prodigious supply of free fuel that is actually even better than free, for it is material that we are quite desperate to get rid of.” Who could object to that?

Just about everyone on the eco-scene, it turned out. I began to receive e-mails from friends and colleagues warning me off the topic. Did I really want to risk my entire reputation by alienating the green movement? The backlash to my first magazine article on the subject prompted my inbox to collapse, the blogs to drip with venom, the dirty looks to multiply.

A former Greenpeace campaigner posted on my website that I needed to show “a bit of humility” and “less arrogance”. On Greenpeace’s blog my views were mocked as “wishful thinking of the day”. On Radio 4’s Today programme, Green party leader Caroline Lucas accused me of having “lost the plot”. When I argued back, she accused me of “just being silly”. I was a traitor.

This was a moment I had been dreading for nearly three years, ever since I first suspected that much of what I had been brought up to believe about nuclear power – that it is, without exception, dirty, dangerous and unnecessary – was untrue. Science has moved on. The old figures just don’t stack up any more.

Please do continue reading…

Increasing atmospheric CO2 levels linked to ocean acidification

In the March 8 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience [subscription required] you will find just-released empirical evidence of a linkage between atmospheric CO2 levels and ocean acidification. Here is a short summary of the research at Live Science:

Scientists have started to see some of the expected effects of Earth’s increasing carbon dioxide burden: The shells of microscopic animals in the ocean are becoming thinner thanks to the ocean’s absorption of some of that excess carbon dioxide, a new study shows.

The shells of those creatures studied are about one-third lighter.

As carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels has accumulated in the atmosphere, some of it has been absorbed by the ocean. As the gas dissolves in the water, it forms a weak acid (the same kind that’s in bubbly soft drinks), causing the ocean itself to become gradually more acidic.

As ocean water becomes more acidic, it also lowers the amount of calcium carbonate available to aquatic animals that use the mineral to build shells or skeletons, such as corals. These organisms can be important links in the marine food chain.

Scientists have predicted that the increase in ocean acidification could significantly reduce the ability of these creatures to build their casings, potentially devastating them and causing rippling effects through the ecosystem. But “until now the potential impact on ocean chemistry and marine life has been based on projections and models” and laboratory experiments, said leader of the new study, Will Howard of the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre in Australia.

With funding from the Australian Government Department of Climate Change, Howard and his colleagues collected microscopic marine animals – called planktonic foraminifera, or forams – from the South Tasman Rise region of the Southern Ocean. They compared the weights of the shells of these modern forams to those trapped in ocean sediments before the industrial revolution and the build-up of carbon dioxide.

They found that the modern shell weights were 30 to 35 percent lower than those of the older forams.

The researchers also found a link between higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and lowr shell weights in a 50,000-year-long record from a marine sediment core (a long column drilled out from the ocean floor that shows layers of sediments as they were laid down over time).

“Today’s results publish the first evidence from nature, rather than a laboratory, that the two are linked,” Howard said.

The findings are detailed in the March 8 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience.

If the results are applicable to the rest of the ocean, they could lead to large ecosystem shifts.

“The potential knock-on effects pose significant implications for the oceanic food chain and the findings are a worrying signal of what we can expect to see elsewhere in the future,” Howard said. “The Southern Ocean is giving us a strong indication of an acidification process that will spread throughout the global ocean.”

For the abstract of “Reduced calcification in modern Southern Ocean planktonic foraminifera”, click here. ABC Catalyst has a brief program from Sept 2007 on ocean impacts of atmospheric CO2 levels. Citation until Nature Geoscience goes to print is: Moy, A. D., Howard, W. R., Bray, S. G., and Trull, T. W., 2009, Reduced calcification in modern Southern Ocean planktonic foraminifera: Nature Geosci, v. advanced online publication, doi:10.1038/ngeo460

"Inconsistent with" challenge, part 3

Part 3 at SeekerBlog, perhaps “part 27” depending on what you read. Anyhow, Roger Pielke, Jr. has more useful followup on his challenge

What observations of the global climate system (over what time scale, with what certainty, etc.) would be inconsistent with predictions of the IPCC AR4?

re: Falsifiability of Climate Predictionshere and here.

In his latest essay on my stupidity, climate modeler James Annan made the helpful suggestion that I consult a “a numerate undergraduate to explain it to [me].” So I looked outside my office, where things are quiet out on the quad this time of year, but as luck would have it, I did find a young lady named Megan, who just happened to be majoring in mathematics who agreed to help me overcome my considerable ignorance.

In today’s “The Politicization of Climate Science” Roger seeks more robust political strategies.

So what is the alternative for those of us who seek action on climate change? I see two options, both predicated on rejecting the linkage between IPCC predictions and current political actions.

1) Recognize that any successful climate policies must be politically robust. This means that they have to make sense to many constituencies for many reasons. Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have effects, and these effects are largely judged to be negative over the long term. Whether or not scientists can exactly predict these effects over decades is an open question. But the failure to offer accurate decadal predictions would say nothing about the judgment that continued increasing carbon dioxide is not a good idea. Further, for any climate policies to succeed they must make sense for a lot of reasons — the economy, trade, development, pork, image, etc. etc. — science is pretty much lost in the noise. So step one is to reject the premise of claims like that made by Pat Michaels. The tendency among activist climate scientists is instead to accept those claims.

2) The climate community should openly engage the issue of falsification of its predictions. By giving the perception that fallibility is not only acceptable, but expected as part of learning,it would go a long way toward backing off of the overselling of climate science that seems to have taken place. If the IPCC does not have things exactly correct, and the world has been led to believe that they do, then an inevitable loss of credibility might ensue. Those who believe that the IPCC is infallible will of course reject this idea.

Who knows? Maybe warming will resume in May, 2008 at a rapid rate, and continue for years or decades. Then this discussion will be moot. But what if it doesn’t?