Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Peatfires - 15% of Climate Change!

You may hardly have heard of peatfires. You may vaguely remember a big one in Indonesia - in 1997 - which spread smoke halfway across Asia.

So you might be surprised to learn that that period of burning produced 13-40% of all the greenhouse gases emitted that year.

And that's not all. According to  Guillermo Rein, a Reader in Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College, "Smouldering megafires are the largest and longest-burning fires on Earth. They ... are responsible for 15% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. This is the same amount attributed to the whole of the European Union, and yet it is not accounted for in carbon budgets."

And they form part of a positive feedback loop. Their greenhouse gas emissions drive up temperatures and that makes more fires more likely.

Another thing to worry about.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Wasting the Water of Life

I want to recommend the work of Prof. Arjen Hoekstra, University of Twente.

Hoekstra invented the Water Footprint, similar to the carbon footprint, and has published vast amounts of data. He also has emphatic views:
In Europe, the average consumer’s domestic use is typically only 1 to 2 per cent of their total water footprint: the vast majority relates to the products you consume ... about 90 per cent of our global water footprint relates to food. About one-third relates to the production of feed for the animals we consume.
In California, for instance, the state’s biggest water use is for feed crops. Meanwhile, you have this drought going on, and all of the time the focus is on how terrible it is to have a drought. But the real focus should be on how stupid it is to have such a big water demand in a region where droughts are fully expected.
You can use less and less water per unit of production, but if your population is growing and your consumption booming, then that is simply not sufficient.

Because it imports so many goods, three-quarters of the UK’s water consumption is actually outside of its borders. And about half of that usage is not sustainable.  

We in northern Europe should realise that we are actually quite well off with water, and ask why we import water-intensive goods from water-scarce areas. It doesn’t make sense that we produce so little of our own food.
 All round the world we are mining water rather than recycling it. Ground water WILL run out and if we aren't ready we will all be in bad trouble.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

RIP Bramble Cay melomys

The Bramble Cay melomys has the distinction of being the first mammal to be driven to extinction by climate change.

The Bramble Cay melomys is, well was, a small rodent found on a single coral island in the Great Barrier Reef off Australia. When first recorded by Europeans there were many animals. Even in 1978 there were 'several hundred' but the melomys has not been seen since 2009 and is believed extinct.

According to a report by University of Queensland scientists the extinction was due to habitat loss caused by a combination of "severe meteorological events [and] anthropogenic climate change-driven sea-level rise". Sea levels rose particularly fast in this area and the area of vegetation shrank from 2.2 ha in 2004 to 0.065 ha in 2014.

The authors commented that “Significantly, this probably represents the first recorded mammalian extinction due to anthropogenic climate change”.


Did Kyoto work?

Not really.

That seems to be the conclusion of a new study Compliance of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in
the first commitment period. Climate Policy, doi.org/bjz4.

No time for more.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Climate schizophrenia

The USA is a mighty strange place. It produces some of the world's best scientists and most effective technology entrepreneurs. It also produces a political culture dominated by money and fiercely hostile to anything that challenges the power of the ruling elite.

Only in the USA do we see so many powerful politicians in simple denial of the facts that world temperatures are rising and will continue to rise unless we active decisively. It's not because the USA is magically exempt from the consequences of climate change. Quite the contrary:

Overheating:  A study by US scientists showed that US residents' exposure to temperatures over 35 degrees will increase 4 to 6 fold within 30 years. The increase is due to both climate change and population growth.

Sea-level rise:  A recent study by Princeton scientists has confirmed predictions that sea-level will rise 1 metre by 2100 and continue to rise thereafter. The land on which 30 million Americans live will ultimately be lost to the sea. Threatened cities include Boston, New York, Miami, New Orleans Long Beach and even Sacramento.

But all that's decades, even centuries, in the future. Is the problem a kind of short-sightedness?  Well not really. Here's what's under their noses.

Drought.  California is in the fourth year of a severe drought, the worst in its history. This has produced forest fires that have killed six people and destroyed 1,000 homes (New Scientist, 26/9/15, p5). The effect of climate change is easy to understand here. Apart from just drying out the vegetation it makes precipitation fall as rain, which runs off, not snow, which would replenish the underground aquifers.

Or is the USA still so obsessed with the Middle East that nothing else registers? Again no.

War.  Syria's civil war began with protests in cities like Homs and Hama in 2011. Conditions in these cities had been exacerbated by Syrians seeking refuge from the 2007-11 drought, the most severe on record. And the severity of that drought was due to - have you guessed? - climate change. Actually Syria's rainfall has been declining for about fifty years whilst its population has risen four or five fold in that same period.

Of course, it's never just climate change. Population growth, rising consumer demand, religious extremism, government policies - or the lack of them - and just bad luck are all part of the causal chain.

It's just that so many US leaders refuse to see the obvious for fear that they'd be obliged to support policies of restraint that would threaten their comfort and the profits of their corporate sponsors.

But you knew that, didn't you?

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

How Climate Change threatens the world's natural heritage

Not just Palmyra.

In July New Scientist reported that 35 World Heritage sites are threatened by climate change. That's nearly one in six of the sites listed because of their natural value. They include shrinking glaciers in Argentinia's Los Glaciares National Park and the washing away of birds nests by higher sea levels in Germany's Wadden Sea.

In  most cases climate change isn't the only factor. In Los Glaciares alien species, like cows and dogs, and increased visitor numbers create problems. In the Galapagos its much the same whilst in Mexico's Butterfly Biosphere Reserve commercial logging is a factor. Of course, these factors threaten that large majority of sites and habitats that aren't special enough to have World Heritage status but which are still important for the preservation of biodiversity and recreation.

Look behind the headlines and you see the same four causes:
  • More people - who need homes and food.
  • More prosperity - especially in China - which increases the demand for meat, minerals, travel, etc.
  • More development - both to meet local needs and to provide exports to the developed countries.
  • Unnecessary use of fossil fuels - driving climate change.
 Consumer capitalism has lifted billions out of poverty but it now threatens the natural world.

Can renewables meet the need?

A recent tweet celebrated the supposed fact that at peak, recently, Germany derived 25% of its power from solar. The source given was data published by the Fraunhofer ISE at https://www.energy-charts.de/power_de.htm.  But is the claim true?

Actually no. The highest proportion in recent weeks was reached during August 2nd when a combination of low demand, low winds and strong sun produced about 56% of Germany's electric power from solar pv. A very good result - though obviously excluding fuels used for space heating, travel, etc.

But it's a power number - a measurement over a short time - specifically the middle of the day. There is no solar power at night and not much in the early morning and evening. A bit of rough analysis for a more representative day, 27 July in fact, shows that solar produced 22% of the power at peak but 10% of the day's energy. Extra investment in solar PV could increase the peak as much as you like - even to 100% - but that would still need over 50% of the energy to come from somewhere else (possibly wind or a storage system).

And this is mid summer.

A similar analysis for January shows a solar PV power peak of c8% but providing only c2% of the day's electricity. And the average over that week is much worse.

Is wind the answer? Sort of. Germany gets more energy from wind than from solar PV and it's available at night and in winter. But it's even less predictable than solar. At midnight on January 5th it provided just 3% of the needed electrical power.

Moreover periods of low wind can last for days - there was almost no wind for the whole seven days starting January 17th.

There are partial low-carbon solutions - nuclear, tidal, hydro, import of power from very large new solar farms in north Africa and various kinds of storage - but they all have their own problems.
Any responsible plan for our energy future must show how it would cope with periods like 17 to 14 January - and at what cost.