Sunday, August 13, 2017

Life or death new developments and opportunities re energy/climate

Global energy and climate issues remain a matter of life and death importance.
We do need to keep discussing them and doing our best to address them.

One of the reasons I have not posted as much this year is that there are key facts of life which have not changed so much. For example, the methanol policy forums led by Anne Korin and Gal Luft brought out basic facts of life which are still important.

Maybe I should have posted something on the changes we need in regulation of interstate transmission lines, changes which ought to be possible under the new administration. Those could be much more helpful to the market deployment of renewable electricity generation than any changes in any of the relevant federal incentives and laws, certainly more helpful than the Waxman Act would be, while also relying more on market forces and reducing electricity costs to ratepayers. 
That's a long story. A small part of that story is posted at, responding to the solar power leaders of Chile.
I am truly disgusted that political correctness has blocked so many people from working with the Administration in areas of limited agreement, to address serious common problems.

HOWEVER: the new situation on climate REALLY demands new thinking, at least from the viewpoint of those of us who actually care whether all humans on earth might well die by 2060-2100. That's the concern; no hyperbole whatsoever.

The Atacama paper from last year summarizes why I really worry about that now; if the story in the later half of that paper is too long (4 pages?), note that there are color pictures which basically tell the whole thing. Before I discussed Peter Ward's questions with Marty Hoffert (use to see who he is), I was worried more about the Arctic and North Atlantic (where problems will develop sooner), but did not realize how utterly fatal the Antarctic progressions are. This year, the news about accelerated melting in Antarctic make it even more crucial. It was not just one record-breaking iceberg, but a crack in motion to a lot more -- as in the "worst case" scenarios of Jim Hansen, who was sadly retired from NASA.

Some of you may have read about a new comprehensive assessment 
of climate issues by NOAA which has been leaked:

Chapter 6 addresses Antarctic.

Three main big messages I see here:

(1) The "cutting back on science" started about when Hansen and I retired, about when Lamar Smith took over a lot of federal agencies de facto (gutting hopes for the US space program, among other things, including even our ability to intercept North Korean missiles as effectively as we should). 

(2) The detailed specifics I cite in the Atacama report remain fully valid and fully confirmed, even though the obvious effort to use euphemisms and cut back on data collection do reach the report.

(3) Most important -- if we care about staying alive, it is high time for those of us who are responsible stop relying 100% on things like climate bills and even changes in net GHG emissions to keep us alive. 

Once I wondered: "Can we act fast enough to prevent what Ward called 'ocean stratification'?" Well, it's too late. It's already happened, around the Antarctic. Fortunately, even on the crucial Pacific side of the Antarctic, there are reserves
of oxygen in the deep ocean likely to last 40 years. But we are like a person with head underwater, with limited oxygen in the lungs.

It really is urgent that humanity reconsider the Teller/Wood/Caldeira proposal for geoengineering, specifically just for the Antarctic, to try to prevent the really worst case climate impacts. Yes, that would not protect us from a host of other climate problems people have talked about, the kind which IPCC IV projected might cost us 5% of world GNP by 2100. But the sea level rise and H2S implications of the Antarctic melting are 'way more urgent and serious. 

A recent revisiting of the Teller/Wood/Caldeira scheme was posted at e360, the environment site run by Yale. Even for a GLOBAL use of the Teller/Wood/Caldeira scheme, costs were projected at under $1 billion/year. Compare that with the $500 billion per year allowance giveaways which came with the Waxman bill!!
As a skeptic on costs... I might guess we would need $1 to 2 billion per year, from some consortium of nations, to be really sure of really doing it just for the Antarctic, to stop the melting there and restore the "lungs of the planet". 


Back in 2009, I would not have advocated immediate deployment of the Teller/Wood/Caldeira scheme. There are many reasons why. I worked with the key EPW staffers who would also have had valid reasons. But things have changed. 
I did advocate R&D to try to develop a variety of geoengineering approaches, "just in case," to be available as a backup in case other approaches were not enough, in case of worst case developments. But now, we are in the worst case kind of situation, and things like the Paris agreement certainly would not have changed that. The numbers just aren't right. And delay would be in incredibly risky.

Many hate US leadership so much that they would say: (1) there is no hope there; (2) but US leadership is necessary; (3) therefore we can express our concern for humanity by fiercely going on strike and helping it die. I am still fascinated by the research in neuropsychiatry showing how an apparently intelligent organism could be capable of such weird suicidal "reasoning", but with mental discipline we can all do a bit better. Rationality demands that we at least try to stay alive, and therefore that we look for holes in the apparent stone walls of (1) and (2) or both.

Regarding (2).. the Antarctic is already an international zone. On a recent trip to Norway, I could see that Norway has the best right of any nation to claim ownership of the Antarctic, if it comes down to it. Any member of the existing consortium could take leadership. Any responsible group should of course invite (1) contribution and "shares" in the new effort; and (2) at least acquiescence from all other nations, including the US, so long as there is no waiting for full contribution (or even for x% as in the Kyoto model). This would also be a great constructive way for other nations to raise awareness and dispel misconceptions.
It would EITHER get clear US acquiescence, or esle add a big nail in the coffin of those so irresponsible they would interfere with the right of other nations to try to save us all.

As for the US.. I had strong bittersweet feelings when Ivanka tried to bring up to date climate information to her father, and used Al Gore to do it. Al Gore!
The same Al Gore who called it the "breakthough of the century" when a pawn of that natural gas industry showed him a system to burn natural gas to make hydrogen, losing 50% of the energy in the process, and he let himself be bamboozled into thinking this could be useful in cars. Whatever Trump's failings, I suspect he at least notices numbers more than Gore, and Gore: (1) is excessively wedded to old expensive approaches and political correctness; (2) simply did not have the relevant information. Trump actually would have a positive opportunity here, which he could really play quite well if he thought about it. For openers, I would strongly urge consideration of Lowell Wood himself for the crucial vacant position of Science Advisor (head of OSTP); after all, he was good enough to be science advisor to Ed Teller for many years, and Teller was a friend of Ronald Reagan and as tough as they come. Teller and Wood do have pro-nuclear
biases stronger than I would like (Teller being father of the H-bomb), but if we need him to save our lives... 

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