As we move into 2015, the latest climate science continues to diverge from policy. New science tells us that, because of short-lived climate pollutants, current policies dealing with carbon dioxide pollution alone will likely produce more warming than doing nothing at all.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has now also said that we must begin to effect a large removal of the accumulated climate pollution already in our atmosphere – that emissions reductions alone are no longer sufficient. But all is not discouraging, when it comes to new climate discoveries. Atmospheric removal of carbon dioxide now appears to be no more expensive than many things our civilization does every day.
This is a paradigm change from current policy. All policy to date basically relies only on reducing carbon dioxide emissions that we put in the sky every year. Nowhere does policy or proposed policy suggest taking more out than we put in. Two decades ago, proposed climate policy was suggesting carbon dioxide emissions reductions of 80 percent or more by 2100. A decade ago, the suggestions were for reductions of 80 percent or more by 2050. Today in some cities, current policy is reaching for what is being called net zero, or 100 percent reductions of carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century.
Looked at a different way, the Kyoto Protocol called for the United States to reduce emissions to 1987 levels by 2012. Currently proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations reduce US emissions to 1970 levels by 2030. This may seem substantial, but in reality it’s less than a 13 percent reduction in almost 20 years.
Since 1987, we have emitted as much carbon dioxide as was emitted in the prior 236 years. The relatively inconsequential increase in emissions reduction in currently proposed EPA rules – that will hopefully be adopted in July 2015 – are literally 20 years behind, and short-lived climate pollutants and the short-term time frame are not addressed at all.
What needs to happen now, as the IPCC says, is negative emissions of significantly more than 100 percent. What, exactly, does this mean?
IPCC Says: “Strong Negative Emissions”
“A large fraction of climate change is largely irreversible on human time scales,” the IPCC tells us, “unless net anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions were strongly negative over a sustained period.” This quote comes from the Summary for Policy Makers from the first report in the 2013 IPCC series released October 2013 (Physical Science Basis). (1) It means that somehow, today’s 400 parts per million (ppm) concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere must begin to lower, not continue to rise.
This statement contains two parts: the irreversible part, which is not that new, and the large net removal part, which is very new. It means taking more carbon dioxide out than we put in – by a lot.
“For the lowest global warming scenario we (the IPCC) consider, so-called negative emissions, in which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere, may be required.”
We can do this any way we please, whether it is through eliminating all carbon dioxide emissions and using emissions reductions measures – agricultural, forestation and chemical and mechanical techniques – to lower annual emissions and remove carbon from the sky, or doing some or all of the above on a larger scale and continuing to burn fossil fuels; it doesn’t matter, as long as atmospheric carbon begins to “strongly” decline.
(Of course, we’ll want to stay away from fossil fuels for reasons beyond climate change. A Stanford and Cornell study for the conversion of New York State’s energy infrastructure to alternative sources says that a $500 billion investment over 20 years realizes $114 billion in additional profits and health and environmental savings the first year, increasing yearly afterwards.) (2)
Later in the IPCC report, the “negative emissions” bombshell is delivered a little differently:
A large fraction of climate change is largely irreversible on human time scales, unless net anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions were strongly negative over a sustained period. (3)
But the IPCC is uncharacteristically short on details here, providing no direct references. Drew Shindell, lead coordinating author of the 2007 IPCC report and lead author for Chapter 12 of the 2013 IPCC Physical Science Basis tells Truthout that the statement is a simple finding based on the current atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, future projections and all things climate: atmosphere, oceans, biosphere and ice.
Mat Collins, coordinating lead author for Chapter 12 in the Physical Science Basis, added his perspective on what “strongly” or “large” means, with a statement that really drives home its meaning: “For the lowest global warming scenario we (the IPCC) consider, so-called negative emissions, in which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere, may be required.”
The lowest global warming scenario or best-case scenario the IPCC considers, the “RCP2.6” (Representative Concentration Pathway), has a peak atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration at 450 ppm (we are at 400 ppm today). But today, we are nowhere near the “best-case scenario” in terms of actual emissions; in fact, we are currently on a path toward the worst-case scenario (RCP8.5, with an atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of about 950 ppm at 2100). (4)
Another revelation poorly understood by the public and policy makers is that the “best-case scenario,” at 450 ppm of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, would see warming in some cases even greater than the 2-degree Celsius threshold to dangerous climate change (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). (5)
“Strong negative emissions” seems like a policy statement, radically different from any national or local policy, that is a part of this new climate policy paradigm.
Short-Lived Global Cooling Pollutants
In 2013, the IPCC reported that short-lived global cooling aerosols (primarily sulfates or sulfur dioxide), mostly emitted from burning fossil fuels and that mostly come from coal, have masked 57 percent of warming that should have already occurred. It also reported that more than half of anthropogenic emissions of sulfates are from coal-fired power plants. (6, 7) (Sulfates from fossil fuels are one of the main reasons we have smog and all of the ill effects that result from this type of air pollution.)
The IPCC says global cooling aerosols have masked 57 percent of warming that should have occurred to date.
Up until the last five or six years, we have not known enough about sulfates to have them robustly included in the IPCC’s consensus opinion. Too many experts require too many compromises with a consensus. Though robust, sulfate emissions science is still young. A consensus takes time. Because policy is generally based on consensus opinion, policy is behind.
Another very significant discovery about short-lived climate pollutants: Sulfates hang around in our atmosphere for only a very short time, anywhere from a few days to a few years at the most. Half of carbon dioxide stays in our atmosphere 300 years, and the rest can be said to basically stay there forever in time frames that matter. (8)
The maximum amount of global cooling from sulfates, then, occurs within three or four years (tops) from the date of emission, and does not increase later unless sulfate emissions themselves increase. Traditional climate science looks at the 100-year time frame when valuing warming (or cooling) effects of the various factors that cause warming and cooling. In that long-term time frame, the short-lived impacts are discounted.
In other words, when we use traditional climate science, as current policy does, the cooling impacts of sulfates are hardly noticeable in the long-term. But in the short-term, they make a huge difference. The IPCC says global cooling aerosols have masked 57 percent of warming that should have occurred to date. Short-lived warming and cooling pollutants represent another new fundamental piece of the climate change puzzle.
Short-term time frames are, in fact, a vitally fundamental piece of the science. Because of the 100-year time frame “tradition” of climate science, and slowness of the consensus in adopting new science, policy entirely neglects the short-term. This is important because short-term warming means more short-term impacts from floods, drought, sea level rise, insects, disease, forest health and almost all other impacts than are reflected by climate pollution that only looks at the long-term.
Every coal plant we shut down does make a difference in the long-term, but in the short-term, short-lived global cooling pollutant impacts have much more of an impact on “effective warming,” or warming that we will actually experience.
According to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, 34 percent of coal-fired power plants in the United States have already been or will be shut down in the near future. (9) Beginning in 2012, the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) says that because of planned obsolescence, upside down economics due to cheap natural gas, and new sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions standards, an additional 16 percent of all coal-fired generation in the United States will retire by 2016 to 2018. (10)
However, most of these facilities are the older, dirtier facilities that emit more than their share of pollutants. Because more than half of US energy generation has no sulfate emissions reduction technology and it is these facilities that are generally targeted for retirement, a lot of additional warming will surface in the short-term, while these facilities are still open.
Short-Lived Warming Pollutants and Effective Warming
Traditional climate science, upon which current policy is based, values warming based on the long-term time frame of 100 years. It describes warming using what is basically test tube data and does not include other factors like the way short-lived climate pollutants react with other things in our atmosphere. When these things are taken into consideration, we reveal a new piece of science that amounts to the “effective warming” of any climate pollutant.
A replacement of 50 percent of coal with natural gas would result in more warming than if nothing was done at all.
This new science suffers from the same consensus malady as global cooling sulfates. While robust, the science is still new and it takes a consensus a long time to include “new” science. It is this compromising nature of having multiple experts all agree that is the challenge once again. Now that effective warming has been determined for other climate pollutants, a new picture emerges as to the real world impacts of climate pollution. Work by a team led by Nadine Unger from NASA, Columbia, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and the Berkeley National Laboratory reveals some very counterintuitive findings. They looked at effective warming from different economic sectors like energy generation (coal), transportation (oil), heavy industry, air travel, agriculture etc. (11)
These researchers tell us that when the short-term time frame and chemical reactions with ozone and hydroxyls, global cooling from aerosols, warming from black carbon, and the way clouds and water vapor interact, the transportation sector (oil) produces 2.5 times more warming in the short (20-year) time frame than coal. In the short-term, air travel actually cools the planet a slight amount; it is not at all one of the things that creates the most warming. And the dirtiest industrial processes cool the planet twice as much as burning coal warms it.
Coal does regain its status as the king of warming pollutants in the 100-year time frame. But very counterintuitively, air travel, because of where the effective emissions take place and the different effective warming criteria at 29,000 feet compared to at the earth’s surface, only warms earth 5 percent as much as coal.
Methane (natural gas) is one of the most significant short-lived warming pollutants with an average life of about 12 years. After 20 or 30 years, methane’s warming impacts cease to increase, whereas carbon dioxide’s impacts continue to accumulate for at least 100 years. Despite its lack of long-term potency, we must concentrate on methane’s much more powerful effect as a warmer – up to 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide – in the short term (20 years). (12)
Natural Gas: Not a “Bridge” to the Future
Tom Wigley (University of Adelaide) was the director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia from 1979 to 1993, and was a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) from 1993 to 2006. Wigley’s work on the effective warming of natural gas reveals something radically different from what has come to be known as the best “bridge” into a safe climate future.
More warming at any time increases the risk of abrupt climate changes that are 10 to 100 times more extreme than current policy of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius attempts to avoid.
His work looks at fugitive emissions from natural gas production, and the effective warming from a 50 percent swap of gas for coal. What he has found, relative to a generation of climate advocacy and suggested climate policy, is simply profound. He writes: “When gas replaces coal there is additional warming out to 2050 with an assumed leakage rate of 0 percent, and out to 2140 if the leakage rate is as high as 10 percent. The overall effects on global-mean temperature over the 21st century, however, are small.” (13)
Additional warming out to 2050 is with 0 percent leakage. (Leakage, or fugitive emissions from traditional natural gas, is 1.5 to 3 percent depending on the study, and from fracked gas it is up to 7 percent or even higher, depending on the study.) Profoundly, even with zero leakage and because of a cessation of emissions of global cooling sulfates, a replacement of 50 percent of coal with natural gas would result in more warming than if nothing was done at all.
Wigley continues: “The overall effects on global-mean temperature over the 21st century, however, are small.” Warming with zero leakage is about 0.3 degrees Celsius at 2040 and 0.7 degrees Celsius with 10 percent leakage at 2140. Considering we have seen 0.76 degrees Celsius of warming in the last several hundred years, and even more to come if we ceased all greenhouse gas emissions immediately, 0.3 degrees is only a small amount when considering the possible 2 to 6-degree Celsius warming in the future.
But put into perspective, Texas has seen about 1-degree Fahrenheit of warming (0.55 degrees Celsius) total. Because warming over land is approximately double the global average, 0.3 degrees Celsius of warming by 2040 because of a 50 percent swap of gas for coal, would effectively double the warming Austin has seen since the beginning of the 20th century. In other words, swapping gas for coal would increase, not decrease, Austin’s temperature if this policy were carried out across the world. The increase in temperature in the next 26 years would be similar, added to the increase in temperature in Austin over the last 114 years of the thermometer record.
The Short-Term and Abrupt Climate Change
We cannot afford any more warming, short-term or long-term, and it is obvious now that addressing carbon dioxide alone still creates more warming in all but the longest time frames. In the longest time frames, carbon dioxide is the most important climate pollutant. But, in addition to other deleterious effects of short-term warming, more warming at any time increases the risk of abrupt climate changes that are 10 to 100 times more extreme than current policy of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius attempts to avoid.
Our knowledge of abrupt climate changes comes from some of the most accurate climate science data ever discovered in preserved air from Greenland ice sheet cores. The Greenland ice sheet is over two miles high and 120,000 years old at its base where heat from the earth has not melted it away yet. The ice record shows rapid temperature changes from 9 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit across the globe have occurred some 23 times in the last 100,000 years. They lasted for centuries and millennia, and they happened in centuries or decades. The fastest and biggest of all happened in only two or three years. Across Greenland the temperature change was 25 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit. (14)
Any continued warming increases the risk of these abrupt threshold events.
Abrupt changes do not just occur with temperature. In widespread reporting on popular media last summer, the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet finally saw some press. Discussion in the academic literature about the collapse of the ice sheet has been ongoing since 2005. Discussion about ice loss in Antarctica, which as recently as the 2007 IPCC report was not supposed to begin until after 2100, has been ongoing since 1996 with data from 1994. (This attests to the great underestimation of the IPCC consensus. In 2013, they finally agreed that Antarctica was losing ice – almost as fast as Greenland.) (15) There was also a discovery on the Yucatán Peninsula that has revealed an abrupt sea level rise that could only be from polar ice sheets.
From the National Autonomous University in Mexico and the Leibniz Institute of Marine Science in Germany, a paper in 2009 described the back-stepping of the Excaret reef on the Yucatán Peninsula about 120,000 years ago. It occurred at the same time as the last warm period between 100,000 year-long glacial extremes, when earth’s temperature was only slightly warmer than it is today and much cooler than current projections of just a few decades from now. Sea level jumped 6 to 10 feet in a century, or possibly even in 20 or 30 years. The final paragraph of the conclusions of this paper states: “Given the dramatic disintegration of ice shelves and discovery of rapid ice loss from both the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, the potential for sustained rapid ice loss and catastrophic sea-level rise in the near future is confirmed by our discovery of sea-level instability at the close of the last interglacial.” (16)
We must begin to remove some of the vast long-lived load of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere that we have already emitted.
Abrupt changes are generally the rule on this planet and there are many other kinds. The relatively slow warming of projected human-caused warming compared to the outcomes of these abrupt changes belies the predominance of extreme threshold events. They happen just like the tipping of a canoe in calm water. Lean out over the side; lean more and more and only a slight change in tilt occurs until suddenly, an abrupt tipping happens and the world inside the canoe is turned upside-down. Any continued warming increases the risk of these abrupt threshold events.
Climate Pollutant Emissions Timing: Should We Keep Burning Coal?
New climate policy is no longer about carbon dioxide emissions reductions alone; it is about negative emissions. But it is also about emissions timing. Any additional warming is bad because of not only the increase in extremes, but more importantly, the increase in the risk of abrupt, unrecoverable changes. To halt warming, we must begin to reduce the load of carbon dioxide in our sky. Reducing effective warming though requires planning.
Global cooling pollutants from burning coal are responsible for holding down the warming to a large degree (much of the IPCC’s 57 percent). If we stop burning coal, up to half of the warming that should have occurred to date would be revealed because of the reduction in global cooling sulfate pollutants. We cannot even swap coal for gas because methane causes additional warming in almost all time frames even with zero percent fugitive emissions.
Overwhelmingly, the message from the IPCC about “strong negative emissions” tells us that we have no choice but to work toward not just reduction, but also removal. Decreasing emissions alone will not prevent dangerous climate change – likely even in the best-case scenario. We have no choice. We must begin to remove some of the vast long-lived load of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere that we have already emitted.
Air Capture and Mountaintop Building
The technologies to remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere are, collectively, called “air capture.” They use chemical techniques in a closed system and are now being field proven and readied for industrialization. Their costs range from $200 per ton today to the $20 dollar per ton range once fully industrialized. (17)
To remove 50 ppm carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and return us to 350 ppm carbon dioxide would cost $7.8 trillion fully industrialized at $20 per ton, or what the United States spent on health care during the years 2000 through 2004. This is not a really valid comparison because as we lowered atmospheric carbon dioxide, the oceans would likely emit some of the extra carbon dioxide they have been absorbing for 200 years.
We must do everything that we know how to do, all at the same time, to address climate change.
Whatever we do, we need to enact policy to increase funding for air capture. Academics say that the research done to date has been largely funded by private investors readying for the coming multitrillion-dollar carbon market and that only $300,000 in government funding has been applied to air capture research while $7 billion has been applied to fund capture research technology. (18)
How much air capture is needed? How soon? The science will arrive organically, but it will arrive faster if we prioritize it with policy. The development of policy is essential because this is the only way to produce “strong negative emissions.”
Prioritizing air capture policy means emphasizing research, policy development, and infrastructure development and deployment. However, many other policy priorities rank close to the top. We cannot forsake all of the previous advocacy and policy goals that have come before now. These include exploring and implementing innovative types of energy generation.
The Coming Solar PV Revolution
In a very few years, solar photovoltaic (PV) energy will be less costly than all other forms of energy generation. As an example of the rapid rate of the ongoing decline of solar PV costs: Austin, Texas, paid $0.16 per kilowatt-hour for a solar generating facility in 2009. In the spring of 2014, the city paid $0.05 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is second only to wind and fracked gas, which are in the low $0.02 per kilowatt-hour range. (19) Academics have been predicting that solar PV parity will arrive across the United States before 2020 and it looks very likely that this will occur.
If we are not immediately planning energy generation models that are cheaper than natural gas and wind, we are losing money and wasting time. Energy is the largest portion of air capture costs. Not only will cheap alternative energy significantly reduce emissions, it will reduce the costs of air capture, as well as the costs of almost all other climate pollutant sequestration and emissions reductions strategies. Optimal planning for reduced near future energy prices will also reduce total costs and increase savings and profits from an alternative energy infrastructure.
The 20-Year New York State $114 Billion Annual Alternative Energy Savings and Profits Plan
We have been told for decades that an alternative energy society would create savings and profits far exceeding a fossil fuel economy, and that a new era would arrive with an alternative energy economy that rivaled the fossil fuel era itself.
With the latest and what could be the most reliable evaluation to date, research out of Stanford and Cornell has given us the most detailed look yet at converting our society to fossil fuel-free energy sources. Converting New York State to a non-fossil fuel economy over 20 years with a $500 billion investment will realize annually, $114 billion per year in profits and savings above those of a fossil fuel economy. (20)
Once completed, savings and profits will only increase, because if we stuck with the status quo, the costs of a fossil fuel economy would continue to increase based on natural resource depletion alone.
What Do We Do?
In 2007, UK economic minister Lord Nicholas Stern, who is the author of likely the most extensive evaluation of the economics of climate change yet, said that we must do everything that we know how to do, all at the same time, to address climate change. The details of the story differ today, but the basic premise remains. Climate change is worse because of our delay in addressing it. Emissions reductions alone are no longer enough to prevent dangerous climate change and climate science has advanced to the point where we now understand there is a great difference between traditional long-term climate policy and new short-term and short-lived climate pollution science.
We have to reduce emissions as much as feasible and begin to reduce the atmospheric load of carbon dioxide at the same time. Emissions reductions include everything we already know how to do: efficiency increases, agricultural practices, fossil fuel emissions reductions and the vast array of other things that we know how to do to conserve.
Solar PV will play a fundamental role in all of this. Planning for radical increases in solar PV must begin immediately.
We also need to encourage climate consensus organizations to use professional judgment to a greater extent. There is a big difference between science and professional judgment. Science has given us uncertainties in climate modeling. But those uncertainties exist almost identically in the science of medicine or in any other discipline of science. Science is black and white with error bars and uncertainty definitions.
Professional judgment uses risk evaluation to assign priority to science. Medical doctors evaluate medical science and use their professional judgment to assign priorities and risk. Pilots and airplane designers apply aerospace science to the aviation economic sector. Engineers apply the physical sciences to life. But we don’t have a professional group of people to apply climate science to the earth.
The IPCC has even discussed this conundrum in numerous places in the last installment of its four-part 2013 report released this fall. Professional judgment that defines specific outcomes will assist policy makers to a huge degree in their task of actually dealing with climate change.
Most Importantly, Lead by Example
Certain individuals and organizations among us have a responsibility to lead. More of us must make this commitment. After I give a presentation, I tell folks that they now have information that makes it their responsibility to take action. Yes, it’s a dirty trick, but it is valid: We need to be reminded of our responsibilities every once in a while.
This responsibility is not the usually discussed climate change conservation responsibility, which often focuses on personal behaviors. It is a leadership responsibility. Without more leadership, we will continue on our business-as-usual path, which is trending along the worst-case scenario.
Environmentally aware organizations and communities around the country are the first line of climate control policy outside of academia. National policy grows from organic origins.
Everything is local. Communities and environmentally aware organizations must also be the first to embrace the ramifications of new climate science.
They must become environmental leaders. Climate pollution is the biggest issue of all time bar none. It is the responsibility of civic leaders to act.
Local governments must lead. This arena is just beginning to form and new opportunities exist today. Citizens everywhere can urge their local leaders to become more than just local leaders. Participation is key. If more of us participate, the solutions will be realized faster, easier and cheaper.
Local organizations cannot limit themselves to local solutions. Consider methane mitigation in Austin, Texas, as an example: There are no significant methane sources that are unique to Austin, such as fracked natural gas production or agriculture emissions. This does not mean that Austin cannot lead with policy on methane. It may not be very effective locally, but the example matters – and after all, everything is local.
You – the reader of this article – now have new knowledge. With that, comes a new responsibility. You must advocate in your own community for policy development, for policy change, for an aggressive shift toward addressing climate change in every way possible. Embrace the ramifications of the new science – and help humanity begin to move forward.
2. Cornell/Stanford Plan for a fossil fuel free New York State . . .
Jacobson et al., Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water and sunlight, Energy Policy 57 (2013) 585-601. Melton, “A Fossil Fuel-Free New York State by 2050,” Truthout.org, May 26, 2013.
3. Strong negative emissions . . .
IPCC 2013: . . . strongly negative; IPCC 2013, Chapter 12, “Long-term Climate Change Projections, Commitments and Irreversibility,” Executive Summary, Page 1033, sixth paragraph.
4. Worse than the worst-case scenario . . . the A1FI of IPCC reports from 2007 and prior and RCP8.5 of the IPCC 2013. Allison et al., show emission rates for carbon dioxide at above that of the A1FI scenario. This scenario’s counterpart in the 2013 IPCC has a 2100 carbon dioxide concentration of about 950 ppm and increasing in 2100. RCP2.6 has an atmospheric peak concentration of about 450 in 2050. Allison, et al., “The Copenhagen Diagnosis, 2009: Updating the world on the Latest Climate Science,” The University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre (CCRC), Sydney, Australia, March 2009, page 9, figure 1.1. Also see: Raupach et al., “Global and regional drivers of accelerating carbon dioxide emissions,” PNAS, April 2007, Figure 1.
5. RCP2.6 exceeds 2 degrees Celsius warming in some cases . . . From a personal communication to Mat Collins (12/08/2014), Coordinating Lead Author for IPCC 2013, Chapter 12. This statement comes from development of RCP scenario projections used for climate modeling. Knutti and Sedlacekm, “Robustness and uncertainties in the new CMIP5 climate model projections,” Nature Climate Change, October 28, 2012. See the error bars in Figure 1.
6. Half of warming to date (57 percent) has been masked by aerosols . . . IPCC 2013 Summary for Policy Makers (SPM), page 13, C. Drivers of Climate Change, bullet 7. Up to (-)1.9 Wm(-2) masked by aerosols out of 2.29 Wm(-2) (bullet 1) = 57 percent.
7. More than half of SO2 emissions by coal . . . This accounting looks at data to 2005. Since 2005, Russia and India have both surpassed the United States in SO2 emissions because of greatly increased electrical generation from coal. Smith et al., say half of aerosol sulfate emissions are from coal generation up to 2005.
Smith et al., “Anthropogenic sulfur dioxide emissions 1850 to 2005,” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 11, 1101-1116, 2011, page 1108, Results and Discussion, paragraph 3.
8. Greenhouse gases stay in our skies for 300 years . . . Carbon dioxide stays in our sky for 300 years . . . “In fairness, if the fate of anthropogenic carbon must be boiled down into a single number for popular discussion, then 300 years is a sensible number to choose, because it captures the behavior of the majority of the carbon. . . . However, the 300-year simplification misses the immense longevity [10,000 years] of the tail on the carbon dioxide lifetime, and hence its interaction with major ice sheets, ocean methane clathrate deposits and future glacial/interglacial cycles. One could sensibly argue that public discussion should focus on a time frame within which we live our lives, rather than concern ourselves with climate impacts tens of thousands of years in the future. On the other hand, the 10,000-year lifetime of nuclear waste seems quite relevant to public perception of nuclear energy decisions today. A better approximation of the lifetime of fossil fuel carbon dioxide for public discussion might be 300 years, plus 25 percent that lasts forever.”
Archer, “Fate of fossil fuel carbon dioxide in geologic time,” Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 110, 2005, page 5 of 6, Summary, final paragraph.
IPCC 2013 AR5, Chapter 6, Box 6.1, pages 472, 473 . . . Cannot ascribe a single lifetime limit to carbon dioxide – but references Archer’s work, simply not the subjective evaluation Archer used to describe the equilibrium process.
11. Oil (transportation sector) is responsible or 2.5 times more warming than coal (energy sector) in the 20-year time frame . . . Unger et al., “Attribution of climate forcing to economic sectors,” PNAS, December 2009, page 3384, Figure 1: On-road (transportation) radiative forcing (global warming) of 199 watts per meter squared vs. power (coal) 79 watts per meter squared = 2.52 times more warming. Industry has a (negative) forcing of -158 watts per meter squared. In the 100-year time frame, aviation creates only 27 watts per meter squared of warming while power (coal) creates 554 watts per meter squared.
12. Methane up to 105 times more powerful . . . The IPCC says 72 times more powerful. The IPCC, with its conservative bias, chooses to describe the effective warming for methane somewhat lower. As we have been traversing the worst-case scenario, and impacts have been significantly worse than the IPCC has projected, it is appropriate to present methane’s effective warming potential as being at the upper end of the range of all the global warming potential (GWP) science. Shindell represents this upper end.
Shindell, et al., “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions,” Nature, October 2009, Figure 2.
13. When gas replaces coal there is additional warming out to 2050 with an assumed leakage rate of 0 percent . . . With zero leakage, when natural gas replaces coal there is additional warming out to 2050 . . . Wigley, “Coal to gas: the influence of methane leakage,” Climatic Change Letters, August 26, 2011, abstract, final sentence.
14. Abrupt climate change as fast as a few years and 10 to 100 times greater . . . “Abrupt Climate Change – Anticipating Surprises,” National Research Council of the National Academies of Science, December 2013, Preface, page vii, second paragraph.
9 to 15 degrees across the globe . . . Alley, The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future, Princeton University Press, 2,000, page 119, Figure 12.2.
Data for figure 12.2 is from Cuffey and Clow, “Temperature, accumulation, and ice sheet elevation in central Greenland through the last deglacial Transition,” Journal of Geophysical Research, volume 102(C12), pp 26,383 to 26,396.
Greenland temperature change is twice that of the global average . . . Chylek and Lohmann, Ratio of Greenland to global temperature change – comparison of observations and climate models, Geophysical Research Letters, July 2005, Chylek and Lohmann say the Greenland temperature change is 2.2 times greater than the global average. From Alley’s Figure 12.2 (Cuffey and Clow), the 25 to 35 degree F abrupt changes in Greenland would equal 9 to 15 degrees average across the globe.
Also see: 25 to 35 degrees in Greenland . . . National Research Council, “Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises,” Committee on Abrupt Climate Change, 2002. Figure 2.5, page 37.
15. West Antarctic ice sheet collapse has begun . . . We have seen publishing about the West Antarctic ice sheet collapse since 2006.
Vaughan, West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse – the fall and rise of a paradigm, Climatic Change, 2006, see the abstract.
Latest: June 2014 . . . From the University of California Jet Propulsion lab and the California Institute of Technology (abstract): “Upstream of the 2011 grounding line positions, we find no major bed obstacle that would prevent the glaciers from further retreat and draw down the entire basin.”
Rignot et al., Widespread, Rapid Grounding Line Retreat of Pine Island, Thwaites, Smith and Kohler Glaciers, West Antarctica From 1992 to 2011, Geophysical Research Letters, May 27, 2014.
From the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington (abstract): “Except possibly for the lowest-melt scenario, the simulations indicate that early-stage collapse has begun.”
Joughin et al., Marine ice sheet collapse potentially underway for the Thwaites Glacier, Science Express, May 12, 2014.
NBC News Report: “West Antarctic Ice Sheet Collapse Triggers Sea Level Warning.”
“Negative Antarctic ice sheet mass balance since at least 1994 . . .”
Stanley et al., Antarctic ice sheet melting in the Southeast Pacific , Geophysical Research Letters, May 1, 1996, last sentence of abstract.
16. Ice Sheet Collapse 120,000 years ago at Excaret . . . During the short warm period before our last 100,000-year-long ice age very similar to what we are experiencing today, marine archeologists tell us a reef called Excaret was suddenly drowned. This reef was in a stable area of the Yucatán Peninsula not affected by subsidence or geologic uplift processes. Corals are very picky about the depth of water that they grow in and the elkhorn coral in particular was devastated by a sea level jump of 12 feet about 121,000 years ago. This time frame matches fairly well with the most recent collapse known of the West Antarctic ice sheet from research by the British Antarctic Survey in 2010. The jump happened in a time period similar to that of the life of an elkhorn coral, which is 10 to 20 years.
Blanchon, et al., “Rapid sea level rise and reef back stepping at the close of the last interglacial highstand,” Nature, April 2009. First Paragraph, page 884: “During those jumps, direct measurement of rise rates shows that they exceeded 36 mm per year.” (1.2 feet per decade)
17. Air Capture . . . “Carbon dioxide makes up anywhere from a tenth to a sixth of the flue gas at a power plant, but its concentration in ambient air is more like on in three thousand – that is, it is three hundred times more dilute. To a chemical engineer, that ends the discussion. It would be far too expensive and impractical, goes the conventional wisdom, to try and cleanse the atmosphere of such a dilute pollutant. Lackner looked at the carbon dioxide in the air differently: in terms of the energy content of the fuel that had been burned to generate it. If you extract a certain amount of carbon dioxide from the air, he reasoned, you could replace that same amount by burning a fossil fuel, without harming the planet. If the fuel is gasoline, then the gasoline needed to produce the amount of carbon dioxide in a cubic meter of air would deliver ten kilojoules of energy. But that same cubic meter of air, blowing at a brisk 10 meters per second, or 22.5 miles per hour, contained only fifty-eight joules of kinetic energy. In other words, there was 170 times more energy to be gained from extracting the carbon dioxide from air than from extracting the wind.”
Broeker and Kunzig, Fixing Climate: What Past Climates Reveal about the Current Threat and How to Counter It, Hill and Wang, page 202.
“Lower Limit for Air Capture Costs” . . . $25 per ton carbon dioxide or slightly lower than the suggested minimum price for flue capture . . . The additional cost to a gallon of gasoline at $30 per ton would be $0.25. page 13159, paragraph 2. Currently, the market price of carbon dioxide as a chemical commodity varies dramatically as transport by truck is a significant cost. In many locations, the price of truck-delivered carbon dioxide exceeds $100/t carbon dioxide, even reaching $300/t carbon dioxide (54).” page 13158, paragraph 13.
Lackner et al., “The urgency of the development of carbon dioxide capture from ambient air,” PNAS, August 14, 2012, page 13159, paragraph 6.
“Cost of Air Capture: $200 per ton initially, $30 per ton fully industrialized” . . . Lackner, Testimony to the Science, Space and Technology Committee chaired by Lamar Smith, 020410, page 5 first paragraph.
The following are from a literature review of air capture publications . . .
Goeppert et al., Air as the renewable carbon source of the future – carbon dioxide capture from the atmosphere, Energy and Environmental Science, May 1, 2012.
Abstract only: Goeppert et al., is a literature review of air capture papers. Details of individual papers are listed below.
$20 per ton (just over) capture and storage . . . Section 5.1 paragraph 2, “using the K2CO3/KHCO3 cycle is described as being able to capture carbon dioxide from air for less than $20 per ton. The total cost including sub-surface injection was estimated to be slightly above $20 per ton.”
$49 to $80 per ton . . . Section 5.1 paragraph 3: “An air capture system designed by Keith et al. using a Na/Ca cycle was estimated to cost approximately $500 per ton C ($140 per ton carbon dioxide).81,98. The authors added that about a third of this cost was related to capital and maintenance cost. Further development and optimization of the system by Carbon Engineering Ltd.113 for the effective extraction of carbon dioxide from air resulted in the decrease of the estimated cost to $49–80 per tonne carbon dioxide.”
$30 per ton long term . . . Section 5.1, paragraph 5: “Lackner and co-workers developed an anionic exchange resin able to release carbon dioxide in a moisture swing process. The cost of only the energy required per ton of carbon dioxide collected was around $15.101,194 The initial cost of air capture including manufacturing and maintenance can be estimated at about $200 per ton of carbon dioxide. However, this cost is expected to drop considerably as more collectors are built, possibly putting carbon dioxide capture in the $30 per ton range in the long term.”
Conclusion, first paragraph . . . “Despite its very low concentration of only 390 ppm, the capture of carbon dioxide directly from the air is technically feasible. Theoretically, carbon dioxide capture from the atmosphere would only require about 2 to 4 times as much energy as capture from flue gases, which is relatively modest considering that at the same time the carbon dioxide concentration is decreased by roughly a factor of 250-300.”
18. Air Capture Research $300,000 . . . “Almost $7 billion federal dollars have been spent on research and development on methods to capture carbon from flue gas. The total federal investment for carbon dioxide capture from air may be as little as $300,000.”
Jones, “Removing Carbon Dioxide from the Atmosphere: Possibilities and Challenges of Air Capture,” page 13, Frontiers of Engineering, National Academy of Engineering Symposium 2012, National Academy of Sciences. page 16, fourth paragraph.
New coal at 5.5 cents per kWh, new nuclear at 10.4 cents and new natural gas at 2.9 to 10.8 cents per kWh. The cheapest energy in Austin today is from a contract for wind signed by Council in February for 2.6 to 3.6 cents per kWh. Austin Generating Task Force.
20. 20-year New York State $114 Billion . . . Stanford and Cornell research: Not directly in the report but from a communication from Professor Jacobson: I asked him for a bottom line number in billions of dollars that reflected the total cost of alternative energy relative to the total cost of fossil fuel energy for the same period considering that the plan was not implemented. After a couple of emails we narrowed it down to this response about future electrical demand and the resulting cost of both an alternative energy economy and a fossil fuel economy. The following was his response: “Yes, the end use power demand for all purposes (in TW) is given in the first table as 0.06 TW for NYS in 2030 versus 0.096 TW for NYS in 2030 with conventional fuels. Multiply by 8760 hours/year to obtain TWh/year. These numbers could be multiplied by cents/kilowatt-hour (for WWS technologies and conventional fuels, respectively) from Table 3 to get the difference in total cost of energy for the future and current systems, respectively. For conventional fuels, you could use 18.5 cents/kilowatt-hour in 2030 (this includes externalities) and for WWS, 8 cents/kilowatt-hour. This would result in $42 billion/year for WWS and $156 billion/year for conventional fuels in 2030.”
Jacobson et al., “Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight,” Energy Policy 57 (2013) 585-601.