Energy Change for Climate Control
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  • The Lies That You Choose

    Posted on January 31st, 2016 Jo No comments

    I have had the great fortune to meet another student of the Non-Science of Economics who believes most strongly that Energy is only a sub-sector of the Holy Economy, instead of one of its foundations, and doesn’t understand why issues with the flow of commodities (which include energy resources) into the system is critical to the survival of the global economy, and that the growth in the Services Industries and Knowledge Economy cannot compensate for the depletion of freshwater, fossil fuels and other raw resources.

    This person believes in Technology, as if it can fly by itself, without seeming to understand how Technological Innovation is really advanced by state investment – a democracy of focus. This otherwise intelligent learner has also failed to grasp, apparently, that the only way that the Economy can grow in future is through investment in things with real value, such as Energy, especially where this investment is essential owing to decades of under-investment precipitated by privatisation – such as in Energy – investment in both networks of grids or pipes, and raw resources. And this from somebody who understands that developing countries are being held back by land grab and natural resource privatisation – for example ground water; and that there is no more money to be made from property investment, as the market has boomed and blown.

    How to burst these over-expanded false value bubbles in the mind ? When I try to talk about the depletion of natural resources, and planetary boundaries, people often break eye contact and stare vacantly out of the nearest window, or accept the facts, but don’t see the significance of them. Now this may be because I’m not the best of communicators, or it may be due to the heavy weight of propaganda leading to belief in the Magical Unrealism always taught in Economics and at Business Schools.

    Whatever. This is where I’m stuck in trying to design a way to talk about the necessity of energy transition – the move from digging up minerals to catching the wind, sunlight and recycling gases. If I say, “Look, ladies and laddies, fossil fuels are depleting”, the audience will respond with “where there’s a drill, there’s a way”. As if somehow the free market (not that a free market actually exists), will somehow step up and provide new production and new resources, conjuring them from somewhere.

    What are arguments that connect the dots for people ? How to demonstrate the potential for a real peak in oil, gas, coal and uranium production ? I think I need to start with a basic flow analysis. On the one side of the commodity delivery pipeline, major discoveries have decreased, and the costs of discovery have increased. The hidden underbelly of this is that tapping into reservoirs and seams has a timeline to depletion – the point at which the richness of the seam is degraded significantly, and the initial pressure in the well or reservoir is reduced to unexploitable levels – regardless of the technology deployed. On the other end of the commodities pipeline is the measure of consumption – and most authorities agree that the demand for energy will remain strong. All these factors add up to a time-limited game.

    Oh, you can choose to believe that everything will continue as it always seems to have. But the Golden Age of Plenty is drawing to a close, my friend.

  • Climbing the Concern Ladder

    Posted on October 25th, 2014 Jo No comments

    How do we get things changed in a democracy ? The model of political campaigning that has been established over the last century is failing us. In the past, if there was a problem, a small group of people could create a fuss about it, march some placards to somewhere relevant, write some letters, talk to some dignitaries, chain themselves to some railings, occupy a lobby, get some press, and after some years, maybe, get something done.

    These days there are just too many complaints for them all to be heard. Philanthropic, charitable and political messages crowd the stage. In this age of social media, the campaign metaphor has been replaced by a ladder of concern. Concern is expressed. Hopefully others will find that they too are sufficiently concerned, and reflect that concern through some medium. And slowly, it is hoped, this concern climbs the ladder of attention, until it is visible, audible. The entitled and endowed middle classes catch the concern, and repeat it. Lots of emails fly. George Monbiot writes about it in The Guardian. Some speeches are made at serious meetings. Angelina Jolie is invited to grace a conference. And then, hopefully, this concern hits the people who have some kind of leverage over the problem, and they act.

    Action is almost guaranteed if the concern is the result of a specific outrage, committed by a specific person or group, and has a specific solution. But otherwise, who knows ? How universal and impactful does a concern need to be before it gets acted upon ? And surely some things don’t need campaigns, because the governments already know enough about problems such as people trafficking, slavery, animal welfare, crime and torture ? After all, things such as prostitution and illegal drug trade are included in national economic statistics.

    I took public transport today in London and I was doused in outrage pouring from advertisements asking for charitable giving to prevent the inhuman practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). As I read these appeals, I felt two overwhelming sensations – one of intense anger that children are being permanently injured because of insane and unjustifiable, hateful beliefs about female sexuality. And a second feeling of dragging despair that giving a small donation every month to this organisation would have very little impact on abusive culture, which leads to many forms of violation, not just the unimaginably painful and destructive incision and even resection of a child’s clitoris and the sewing together of her labia, leading to permanent nerve damage, lasting wounds, loss of sexual function, complications from incontinence, ruined relationships, injuries from sexual intercourse, and serious medical risks during childbirth, and possibly the need for reconstructive surgery.

    This is a problem which cannot be fixed by expressing normal murmurs of concern, building a wave of concern that climbs a ladder of concern, or making monthly token charitable payments. This concern is not susceptible to a campaign. What this problem needs is regulation, legislation, policing. This concern shouldn’t have to compete with all the other concerns out there, like distressed retired donkeys, threatened butterflies, meltdown polar bears, de-forested orangutans and by-catch dolphins. Some things just shouldn’t happen. They just shouldn’t be tolerated. And they shouldn’t be lost amongst an avalanche of other concerns. This problem is so serious that it should be an automatic priority for all the authorities, co-ordinating to detect and prevent it. This concern shouldn’t have to campaign for funds. Or attention.

    Switch to BBC News. Roger Harrabin reports that “The UK’s chief scientist says the oceans face a serious and growing risk from man-made carbon emissions. […] Sir Mark Walport warns that the acidity of the oceans has increased by about 25% since the industrial revolution, mainly thanks to manmade emissions. […] He told BBC News: “If we carry on emitting CO2 [carbon dioxide] at the same rate, ocean acidification will create substantial risks to complex marine food webs and ecosystems.” […] The consequences of acidification are likely to be made worse by the warming of the ocean expected with climate change, a process which is also driven by CO2.”

    Media Lens Editors reported this piece. My reaction was – who would be paying attention to this ? This is not the “dangerous climate change comes from global warming” story, this is the “other” carbon problem, the decimation of marine productivity and the whole pyramid of life, resulting from increasing levels of dissolved carbon dioxide in seawater because of higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air. The overwhelmingly major causes of this problem are irrefutably and definitely fossil fuel combustion, and its seriousness is hard to deny, even though Roger Harrabin attempts to make light of it by devoting column inches to a laboratory crab who isn’t getting with the programme.

    Ocean acidification is a concern that shouldn’t get lost in amongst other concerns. It should be paid serious levels of attention. And not just by middle class philanthropists who work for non-governmental organisations and charities. And yet, cursory analysis of the segmentation of the population who treat BBC News as a main and trusted information source may suggest that the only readers who would act on this piece are exactly these middle class charity staff, or at a push, retired middle class charity staff.

    My Media Lens comment was, “Right expert. Right message. Wrong audience. Wrong medium. The UK Government’s chief scientist. OK. Good. Ocean acidification. OK. Good. No quibbles about whether or not extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a real problem or not (as known as “climate change” or “global warming”, which is real by the way). The BBC News. Wrong medium. Wrong audience. The only people going to listen to this are those who already know about the problem but are still as powerless to act as they were yesterday. The UK Government should present this information to the oil, gas and coal companies with a polite request for them to unveil their plan of action in the face of this undeniable problem.”

    There is no reason why this story should be covered in BBC News by Roger Harrabin. What can anybody reading it do about the problem ? There is no purpose for this article. It is a pointless statement of concern, or rather, a belittling rehearsal of the concern. Unless this article, and the thousands like it, lead to the Government demanding answers on Energy Change from the fossil fuel companies, there is no point in reporting it, or in this case, disparaging it with faint humour.

    The only time that ocean acidification should appear in a media piece is to report that the problem has been presented to the architects of increased ocean carbon dioxide, and answers have been requested.

    And who are the architects of increased atmospheric and ocean carbon dioxide ? Those who mine fossil fuels. Those companies like BP and Shell, ExxonMobil, and all the coal extraction companies should act. They should offer us alternative non-fossil fuel energy. And the news should be about how these companies are taking action to offer us Renewable Hydrogen, Renewable Methane, solar power, wind power and Zero Carbon transport fuels.

    Answers from the past will simply not do. Trying to assert that somebody needs to pay for pollution won’t prevent pollution occurring. Carbon taxes or carbon pricing won’t work – since they won’t prevent the mining of fossil fuels – and if fossil fuels are mined, of course they will be burned. Carbon combustion quotas won’t work – since economic wealth is based on burning carbon, so many forces will conspire to maintain levels of fossil fuel combustion. Carbon mining quotas won’t work, since the forces for increasing mining quotas are strong. Carbon trading won’t work, since it won’t reduce the amount of fossil fuels mined – because, obviously, if fossil fuels are mined, they will be burned.

    I am tired of reading about climate change, global warming, freshwater stress and ocean acidification in the news. It seems there is nothing I can do that I have not already done that can provide a solution to these problems. Enough with communicating the disaster. I want to read about engineering and energy companies who have switched business models to producing Zero Carbon energy. I want to hear how energy security concern is taking oil, gas and coal companies towards Renewable Everything.

  • But Uh-Oh – Those Summer Nights

    Posted on January 20th, 2014 Jo No comments

    A normal, everyday Monday morning at Energy Geek Central. Yes, this is a normal conversation for me to take part in on a Monday morning. Energy geekery at breakfast. Perfect.

    Nuclear Flower Power

    This whole UK Government nuclear power programme plan is ridiculous ! 75 gigawatts (GW) of Generation III nuclear fission reactors ? What are they thinking ? Britain would need to rapidly ramp up its construction capabilities, and that’s not going to happen, even with the help of the Chinese. (And the Americans are not going to take too kindly to the idea of China getting strongly involved with British energy). And then, we’d need to secure almost a quarter of the world’s remaining reserves of uranium, which hasn’t actually been dug up yet. And to cap it all, we’d need to have 10 more geological disposal repositories for the resulting radioactive spent fuel, and we haven’t even managed to negotiate one yet. That is, unless we can burn a good part of that spent fuel in Generation IV nuclear fission reactors – which haven’t even been properly demonstrated yet ! Talk about unconscionable risk !

    Baseload Should Be History By Now, But…

    Whatever the technological capability for nuclear power plants to “load follow” and reduce their output in response to a chance in electricity demand, Generation III reactors would not be run as anything except “baseload” – constantly on, and constantly producing a constant amount of power – although they might turn them off in summer for maintenance. You see, the cost of a Generation III reactor and generation kit is in the initial build – so their investors are not going to permit them to run them at low load factors – even if they could.

    There are risks to running a nuclear power plant at partial load – mostly to do with potential damage to the actual electricity generation equipment. But what are the technology risks that Hinkley Point C gets built, and all that capital is committed, and then it only runs for a couple of years until all that high burn up fuel crumbles and the reactors start leaking plutonium and they have to shut it down permanently ? Who can guarantee it’s a sound bet ?

    If they actually work, running Generation III reactors at constant output as “baseload” will also completely mess with the power market. In all of the scenarios, high nuclear, high non-nuclear, or high fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), there will always need to be some renewables in the mix. In all probability this will be rapidly deployed, highly technologically advanced solar power photovoltaics (PV). The amount of solar power that will be generated will be high in summer, but since you have a significant change in energy demand between summer and winter, you’re going to have a massive excess of electricity generation in summer if you add nuclear baseload to solar. Relative to the demand for energy, you’re going to get more Renewable Energy excess in summer and under-supply in winter (even though you get more offshore wind in winter), so it’s critical how you mix those two into your scenario.

    The UK Government’s maximum 75 GW nuclear scenario comprises 55 GW Generation III and 20 GW Generation IV. They could have said 40 GW Gen III to feed Gen IV – the spent fuel from Gen III is needed to kick off Gen IV. Although, if LFTR took off, if they had enough fluoride materials there could be a Thorium way into Gen IV… but this is all so technical, no MP [ Member of Parliament ] is going to get their head round this before 2050.

    The UK Government are saying that 16 GW of nuclear by 2030 should be seen as a first tranche, and that it could double or triple by 2040 – that’s one heck of a deployment rate ! If they think they can get 16 GW by 2030 – then triple that by 10 years later ? It’s not going to happen. And even 30 GW would be horrific. But it’s probably more plausible – if they can get 16 GW by 2030, they can arguably get double that by 2040.

    As a rule of thumb, you would need around 10 tonnes of fissionable fuel to kickstart a Gen IV reactor. They’ve got 106 tonnes of Plutonium, plus 3 or 4 tonnes they recently acquired – from France or Germany (I forget which). So they could start 11 GW of Gen IV – possibly the PRISM – the Hitachi thing – sodium-cooled. They’ve been trying them since the Year Dot – these Fast Reactors – the Breeders – Dounreay. People are expressing more confidence in them now – “Pandora’s Promise” hangs around the narrative that the Clinton administration stopped research into Fast Reactors – Oak Ridge couldn’t be commercial. Throwing sodium around a core 80 times hotter than current core heats – you can’t throw water at it easily. You need something that can carry more heat out. It’s a high technological risk. But then get some French notable nuclear person saying Gen IV technologies – “they’re on the way and they can be done”.

    Radioactive Waste Disposal Woes

    The point being is – if you’re commissioning 30 GW of Gen III in the belief that Gen IV will be developed – then you are setting yourself up to be a hostage to technological fortune. That is a real ethical consideration. Because if you can’t burn the waste fuel from Gen III, you’re left with up to 10 radioactive waste repositories required when you can’t even get one at the moment. The default position is that radioactive spent nuclear fuel will be left at the power stations where they’re created. Typically, nuclear power plants are built on the coast as they need a lot of cooling water. If you are going for 30 GW you will need a load of new sites – possibly somewhere round the South East of England. This is where climate change comes in – rising sea levels, increased storm surge, dissolving, sinking, washed-away beaches, more extreme storms […] The default spent fuel scenario with numerous coastal decommissioned sites with radioactive interim stores which contain nearly half the current legacy radioactive waste […]

    Based on the figures from the new Greenpeace report, I calculate that the added radioactive waste and radioactive spent fuel arisings from a programme of 16 GW of nuclear new build would be 244 million Terabequerel (TBq), compared to the legacy level of 87 million TBq.

    The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) are due to publish their Radioactive Waste Inventory and their Report on Radioactive Materials not in the Waste Inventory at the end of January 2014. We need to keep a watch out for that, because they may have adapted their anticipated Minimum and Maxmium Derived Inventory.

    Politics Is Living In The Past

    What you hear from politicians is they’re still talking about “baseload”, as if they’ve just found the Holy Grail of Energy Policy. And failed nuclear power. Then tidal. And barrages. This is all in the past. Stuff they’ve either read – in an article in a magazine at the dentist’s surgery waiting room, and they think, alright I’ll use that in a TV programme I’ve been invited to speak on, like Question Time. I think that perhaps, to change the direction of the argument, we might need to rubbish their contribution. A technological society needs to be talking about gasification, catalysis. If you regard yourselves as educated, and have a technological society – your way of living in the future is not only in manufacturing but also ideas – you need to be talking about this not that : low carbon gas fuels, not nuclear power. Ministers and senior civil servants probably suffer from poor briefing – or no briefing. They are relying on what is literally hearsay – informal discussions, or journalists effectively representing industrial interests. Newspapers are full of rubbish and it circulates, like gyres in the oceans. Just circulates around and around – full of rubbish.

    I think part of the problem is that the politicians and chief civil servants and ministers are briefed by the “Old Guard” – very often the ex-nuclear power industry guard. They still believe in big construction projects, with long lead times and massive capital investment, whereas Renewable Electricity is racing ahead, piecemeal, and private investors are desperate to get their money into wind power and solar power because the returns are almost immediate and risk-free.

    Together in Electric Dreams

    Question : Why are the UK Government ploughing on with plans for so much nuclear power ?

    1. They believe that a lot of transport and heat can be made to go electric.
    2. They think they can use spent nuclear fuel in new reactors.
    3. They think it will be cheaper than everything else.
    4. They say it’s vital for UK Energy Security – for emissions reductions, for cost, and for baseload. The big three – always the stated aim of energy policy, and they think nuclear ticks all those three boxes. But it doesn’t.

    What they’ll say is, yes, you have to import uranium, but you’ve got a 4 year stock. Any war you’re going to get yourselves involved in you can probably resolve in 4 days, or 4 weeks. If you go for a very high nuclear scenario, you would be taking quite a big share of the global resource of uranium. There’s 2,600 TWh of nuclear being produced globally. And global final energy demand is around 100,000 TWh – so nuclear power currently produces around 2.6% of global energy supply. At current rates of nuclear generation, according to the World Nuclear Association, you’ve got around 80 years of proven reserves and probably a bit more. Let’s say you double nuclear output by 2050 or 2040 – but in the same time you might just have enough uranium – and then find a bit more. But global energy demand rises significantly as well – so nuclear will still only provide around 3% of global energy demand. That’s not a climate solution – it’s just an energy distraction. All this guff about fusion. Well.

    Cornering The Market In Undug Uranium

    A 75 GW programme would produce at baseload 590 TWh a year – divide by 2,600 – is about 23% of proven global uranium reserves. You’re having to import, regardless of what other countries are doing, you’re trying to corner the market – roughly a quarter. Not even a quarter of the market – a quarter of all known reserves – it’s not all been produced yet. It’s still in the ground. So could you be sure that you could actually run these power stations if you build them ? Without global domination of the New British Empire […]. The security issues alone – defending coastal targets from a tweeb with a desire to blow them up. 50 years down the line they’re full of radioactive spent fuel that won’t have a repository to go to – we don’t want one here – and how much is it going to cost ?

    My view is that offshore wind will be a major contributor in a high or 100% Renewable Electricity scenario by 2050 or 2060. Maybe 180 GW, that will also be around 600 TWh a year – comparable to that maximum nuclear programme. DECC’s final energy demand 2050 – several scenarios – final energy demand from 6 scenarios came out as between roughly 1,500 TWh a year and the maximum 2,500 TWh. Broadly speaking, if you’re trying to do that just with Renewable Electricity, you begin to struggle quite honestly, unless you’re doing over 600 TWh of offshore wind, and even then you need a fair amount of heat pump stuff which I’m not sure will come through. The good news is that solar might – because of the cost and technology breakthroughs. That brings with it a problem – because you’re delivering a lot of that energy in summer. The other point – David MacKay would say – in his book his estimate was 150 TWh from solar by 2050, on the grounds that that’s where you south-facing roofs are – you need to use higher efficiency triple junction cells with more than 40% efficiency and this would be too expensive for a rollout which would double or triple that 150 TWh – that would be too costly – because those cells are too costly. But with this new stuff, you might get that. Not only the cost goes down, but the coverage goes down. Not doing solar across swathes of countryside. There have always been two issues with solar power – cost and where it’s being deployed.

    Uh-Oh, Summer Days. Uh-Oh, Summer Nights

    With the solar-wind headline, summer days and summer nights are an issue.

    With the nuclear headline, 2040 – they would have up to 50 GW, and that would need to run at somewhere between 75% and 95% capacity – to protect the investment and electric generation turbines.

    It will be interesting to provide some figures – this is how much over-capacity you’re likely to get with this amount of offshore wind. But if you have this amount of nuclear power, you’ll get this amount […]

    Energy demand is strongly variable with season. We have to consider not just power, but heat – you need to get that energy out in winter – up to 4 times as much during peak in winter evenings. How are you going to do that ? You need gas – or you need extensive Combined Heat and Power (CHP) (which needs gas). Or you need an unimaginable deployment of domestic heat pumps. Air source heat pumps won’t work at the time you need them most. Ground source heat pumps would require the digging up of Britain – and you can’t do that in most urban settings.

    District Heat Fields

    The other way to get heat out to everyone in a low carbon world – apart from low carbon gas – is having a field-based ground source heat pump scheme – just dig up a field next to a city – and just put in pipes and boreholes in a field. You’re not disturbing anybody. You could even grow crops on it next season. Low cost and large scale – but would need a District Heating (DH) network. There are one or two heat pump schemes around the world. Not sure if they are used for cooling in summer or heat extraction in the winter. The other thing is hot water underground. Put in an extra pipe in the normal channels to domestic dwellings. Any excess heat from power generation or electrolysis or whatever is put down this loop and heats the sub-ground. Because heat travels about 1 metre a month in soil, that heat should be retained for winter. A ground source heat sink. Geothermal energy could come through – they’re doing a scheme in Manchester. If there’s a nearby heat district network – it makes it easier. Just want to tee it into the nearest DH system. The urban heat demand is 150 TWh a year. You might be able to put DH out to suburban areas as well. There are 9 million gas-connected suburban homes – another about 150 TWh there as well – or a bit more maybe. Might get to dispose of 300 TWh in heat through DH. The Green Deal insulation gains might not be what is claimed – and condensing gas boiler efficiencies are not that great – which feeds into the argument that in terms of energy efficiency, you not only want to do insulation, but also DH – or low carbon gas. Which is the most cost-effective ? Could argue reasonable energy efficiency measures are cheapest – but DH might be a better bet. That involves a lot of digging.

    Gas Is The Logical Answer

    But everything’s already laid for gas. (…but from the greatest efficiency first perspective, if you’re not doing DH, you’re not using a lot of Renewable Heat you could otherwise use […] )

    The best package would be the use of low carbon gases and sufficient DH to use Renewable Heat where it is available – such as desalination, electrolysis or other energy plant. It depends where the electrolysis is being done.

    The Age of Your Carbon

    It also depends on which carbon atoms you’re using. If you are recycling carbon from the combustion of fossil fuels into Renewable Gas, that’s OK. But you can’t easily recapture carbon emissions from the built environment (although you could effectively do that with heat storage). You can’t do carbon capture from transport either. So your low carbon gas has to come from biogenic molecules. Your Renewable Gas has to be synthesised using biogenic carbon molecules rather than fossil ones.

    […] I’m using the phrase “Young Carbon”. Young Carbon doesn’t have to be from plants – biological things that grow.

    Well, there’s Direct Air Capture (DAC). It’s simple. David Sevier, London-based, is working on this. He’s using heat to capture carbon dioxide. You could do it from exhaust in a chimney or a gasification process – or force a load of air through a space. He would use heat and cooling to create an updraft. It would enable the “beyond capture” problem to be circumvented. Cost is non-competitive. Can be done technically. Using reject heat from power stations for the energy to do it. People don’t realise you can use a lot of heat to capture carbon, not electricity.

    Young Carbon from Seawater

    If you’re playing around with large amounts of seawater anyway – that is, for desalination for irrigation, why not also do Renewable Hydrogen, and pluck the Carbon Dioxide out of there too to react with the Renewable Hydrogen to make Renewable Methane ? I’m talking about very large amounts of seawater. Not “Seawater Greenhouses” – condensation designs mainly for growing exotic food. If you want large amounts of desalinated water – and you’re using Concentrated Solar Power – for irrigating deserts – you would want to grow things like cacti for biological carbon.

    Say you had 40 GW of wind power on Dogger Bank, spinning at 40% load factor a year. You’ve also got electrolysers there. Any time you’re not powering the grid, you’re making gas – so capturing carbon dioxide from seawater, splitting water for hydrogen, making methane gas. Wouldn’t you want to use flash desalination first to get cleaner water for electrolysis ? Straight seawater electrolysis is also being done.

    It depends on the relative quantities of gas concentrated in the seawater. If you’ve got oxygen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide, that would be nice. You might get loads of oxygen and hydrogen, and only poor quantities of carbon dioxide ?

    But if you could get hydrogen production going from spare wind power. And even if you had to pipe the carbon dioxide from conventional thermal power plants, you’re starting to look at a sea-based solution for gas production. Using seawater, though, chlorine is the problem […]

    Look at the relative density of molecules – that sort of calculation that will show if this is going to fly. Carbon dioxide is a very fixed, stable molecule – it’s at about the bottom of the energy potential well – you have to get that reaction energy from somewhere.

    How Much Spare Power Will There Be ?

    If you’ve got an offshore wind and solar system. At night, obviously, the solar’s not working (unless new cells are built that can run on infrared night-time Earthshine). But you could still have 100 GWh of wind power at night not used for the power grid. The anticipated new nuclear 40 GW nuclear by 2030 will produce about 140 GWh – this would just complicate problems – adding baseload nuclear to a renewables-inclusive scenario. 40 GW is arguably a reasonable deployment of wind power by 2030 – low if anything.

    You get less wind in a nuclear-inclusive scenario, but the upshot is you’ve definitely got a lot of power to deal with on a summer night with nuclear power. You do have with Renewable Electricity as well, but it varies more. Whichever route we take we’re likely to end up with excess electricity generation on summer nights.

    In a 70 GW wind power deployment (50 GW offshore, 20 GW onshore – 160 TWh a year), you might have something like 50 to 100 GWh per night of excess (might get up to 150 GWh to store on a windy night). But if you have a 16 GW nuclear deployment by 2030 (125 TWh a year), you are definitely going to have 140 GWh of excess per night (that’s 16 GW for 10 hours less a bit). Night time by the way is roughly between 9pm and 7am between peak demands.

    We could be making a lot of Renewable Gas !

    Can you build enough Renewable Gas or whatever to soak up this excess nuclear or wind power ?

    The energy mix is likely to be in reality somewhere in between these two extremes of high nuclear or high wind.

    But if you develop a lot of solar – so that it knocks out nuclear power – it will be the summer day excess that’s most significant. And that’s what Germany is experiencing now.

    Choices, choices, choices

    There is a big choice in fossil fuels which isn’t really talked about very often – whether the oil and gas industry should go for unconventional fossil fuels, or attempt to make use of the remaining conventional resources that have a lower quality. The unconventionals narrative – shale gas, coalbed methane, methane hydrates, deepwater gas, Arctic oil and gas, heavy oil, is running out of steam as it becomes clear that some of these choices are expensive, and environmentally damaging (besides their climate change impact). So the option will be making use of gas with high acid gas composition. And the technological solutions for this will be the same as needed to start major production of Renewable Gas.

    Capacity Payments

    But you still need to answer the balancing question. If you have a high nuclear power scenario, you need maybe 50 TWh a year of gas-fired power generation. If high Renewable Electricity, you will need something like 100 TWh of gas, so you need Carbon Capture and Storage – or low carbon gas.

    Even then, the gas power plants could be running only 30% of the year, and so you will need capacity payments to make sure new flexible plants get built and stay available for use.

    If you have a high nuclear scenario, coupled with gas, you can meet the carbon budget – but it will squeeze out Renewable Electricity. If high in renewables, you need Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) or Carbon Capture and Recycling into Renewable Gas, but this would rule out nuclear power. It depends which sector joins up with which.

    Carbon Capture, Carbon Budget

    Can the Drax power plant – with maybe one pipeline 24 inches in diameter, carrying away 20 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year – can it meet the UK’s Carbon Budget target ?

  • London Skies

    Posted on September 9th, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    Image Credit : epeigne37

    Yesterday evening, I was caught by the intensity of the London Sky – there was little air movement in most of the lower summer-heat space above the city, and virtually no cloud except very high strands and sprurls and bones and smears.

    Most of the cloud was clearly the result of aeroplane contrails – numerable to small children and their educational grandparents on various buses.

    As the sun began to set, or rather, as the Earth rolled to curve away from facing the sun, the sky took on the colour of bright duck egg blue with a hint of pale green, and the sprays of high contrail-cloud took on a glorious orange-fuchsia colour with flashes of gold, bronze and vanadium reds, fading slowly to chromium reds as twilight approached.

    At a certain moment, I understood something – as I watched an aeroplane high up, make its way west to Heathrow, the angle of the sunset showed its contrail as a murky ink, messing up the rest of the clouds as it brushstroked its way along, with its slate and muddy hues. As I watched, other parts of the clouds began to appear brown and grey, and since I knew that most of the cloud was jet engine exhaust that hadn’t moved because of the lack of high winds, I finally realised I was watching dirt, high up in the troposphere – careless, unthinking toxic waste. Read the rest of this entry »

  • What is my agenda ?

    Posted on August 13th, 2012 Jo 1 comment


    Tamino’s Arctic Sea Ice Poll


    For some time I have not felt a keen sense of “mission” – a direction for my climate change and energy activities. However, I am beginning to formulate a plan – or rather – I have one important item on my agenda. I am aware that perception can be fatal – and that people in many “camps” are going to dismiss me because of this.

    Suddenly I don’t fit into anybody’s pigeonhole – so the needle on the dial will probably swing over to “dismiss”. However, I think it’s necessary to pursue this. I think I have to try.

    I am prepared to hold several conflicting ideas in the balance at one time, and let the data add mass to one version of the truth or another.

    I’m prepared to accept the possibility of low climate change sensitivity (the reaction of the Earth biosystem to global warming) – apart from the fact that the evidence is accumulating – pointing heavily towards rapid instabilities emerging on short timescales. I don’t think I ever really left behind the hope – and I’m crossing my fingers here – that some massive negative carbon feedback will arise, heroically, and stem the full vigour of climate chaos. But as time slips by, and the Arctic cryosphere continues to de-materialise before our very eyes, that hope is worn down to the barest of threads.

    And on energy security, I am prepared to accept the reasoning behind the IEA, BP, Shell and other projections of increasing overall energy demand between now and 2035, and the percentage of fossil fuel use that will inevitably require – apart from the fact that some evidence points towards increasing uncertainties in energy provision – if we are relying on more complex and inaccessible resources, within the framework of an increasingly patchy global economy.

    If access to energy becomes threatened for more people globally, and also if climate change becomes highly aggressive in terms of freshwater stress, then I doubt that human population growth can carry on the way it has been – and in addition the global economy may never recover – which means that overall energy demand will not grow in the way that oil and gas companies would like their shareholders to accept.

    My impression is that energy producing companies and countries are not openly admitting the risks. If energy supply chaos sets in, then the political and governance ramifications will be enormous, especially since the energy industry is so embedded in administrations. It is time, in my view, that projections of world energy use to 2035 included error bars based on economic failure due to energy chaos.

    What do I need to do – given these pragmatic positions ? I need to include realists in the crisis talks – pragmatic, flexible thinkers from the energy industry. Just as we are not going to solve climate change without addressing energy provision, we are not going to solve energy insecurity without addressing climate change impacts on energy infrastructure. And so I need to find the energy industry people, meet them and invite them to the discussions on the risks of chaos. I need people to take in the data. I need people to understand the problems with slipping back into “thinking as usual”.

    As to the setting – whether I should be an employee or an independent advisor/adviser, consultant or a researcher, I don’t have any idea what would be best. Collaborators would be useful – as I am but one person with a track record of being rather awkward – despite trying to engage my best behaviour. But then, nobody’s perfect. In a sense it doesn’t matter who does the job, but we have to break the public relations-guided psychology of denial. People are not generally stupid, and many are snapping out of their drip-fed propaganda delusions. I wonder exactly how many other imperfect people are out there who are coming to the same conclusions ? And what will be the game changer ?

  • Bosworth: “We are not going soft on coal”

    Posted on July 21st, 2012 Jo No comments

    At the annual Stop Climate Chaos coalition chin-wag on Friday 20th July 2012, I joined a table discussion led by Tony Bosworth of the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

    He was laying out plans for a campaign focus on the risks and limitations of developing shale gas production in the United Kingdom.

    During open questions, I put it to him that a focus on shale gas was liable to lay Friends of the Earth open to accusations of taking the pressure off high carbon fuels such as coal. He said that he had already encountered that accusation, but emphasised that the shale gas licencing rounds are frontier – policy is actively being decided and is still open to resolution on issues of contention. Placing emphasis on critiquing this fossil fuel resource and its exploitation is therefore timely and highly appropriate. But he wanted to be clear that “we are not going soft on coal”.

    I suggested that some experts are downplaying the risks of shale gas development because of the limitations of the resource – because shale gas could only contribute a few percent of national fuel provision, some think is is unwise to concentrate so much campaign effort on resisting its development. Bosworth countered this by saying that in the near future, the British Geological Survey are expected to revise their estimates of shale gas resource upwards by a very significant amount.

    He quoted one source as claiming that the UK could have around 55 years of shale gas resource within its borders. I showed some scepticism about this, posing the question “But can it be mined at any significant rate ?” It is a very common public relations trick to mention the total estimated size of a fossil fuel resource without also giving an estimate of how fast it can be extracted – leading to entirely mistaken conclusions about how useful a field, well or strata can be.

    Tony Bosworth said that shale gas reserve estimates keep changing all the time. The estimate for shale gas reserves in Poland have just been revised downwards, and the Marcellus Shale in the United States of America has also been re-assessed negatively.

    Bosworth said that although campaigners who are fighting shale gas development had found it useful to communicate the local environmental damage caused by shale gas extraction – such as ozone pollution, traffic noise, water pollution and extraction, landscape clearance – the best argument against shale gas production was the climate change emissions one. He said academics are still being recruited to fight on both sides of the question of whether the lifecycle emissions of shale gas are higher than for coal, but that it was becoming clear that so-called “fugitive emissions” – where gas unintentionally escapes from well works and pipeline networks – is the key global warming risk from shale gas.

    Opinion around the table was that the local environmental factors associated with shale gas extraction may be the way to draw the most attention from people – as these would be experienced personally. The problem with centring on this argument is that the main route of communication about these problems, the film Gasland, has been counter-spun by an industry-backed film “Truthland”.

    The Royal Society recently pronounced shale gas extraction acceptable as long as appropriate consideration was paid to following regulatory control, but even cautious development of unconventional fossil fuels does not answer the climate change implications.

    There is also the extreme irony that those who oppose wind farm development on the basis of “industrialisation of the landscape” can also be the same group of people who are in favour of the development of shale gas extraction – arguably doing more, and more permanently, to destroy the scenery by deforestation, water resource sequestration and toxification of soils, air and water.

    Tony Bosworth told the group about the Friends of the Earth campaign to encourage Local Authorities to declare themselves “Frack-Free Zones” (in a similar way to the “Fair Trade Towns” campaign that was previously so successful). He said that FoE would be asking supporters to demand that their local governments had a “No Fracking” policy in their Local Plans. It was suggested in the discussion group that with the current economic slowdown and austerity measures, that Local Authorities may not have the capacity to do this. Tony Bosworth suggested that in this case, it might be worth addressing the issue to church parish councils, who can be very powerful in local matters. It was pointed out that frequently, parish councils have been busy declaring themselves “Wind Free Zones”.

    It was considered that it would be ineffective to attempt to fight shale gas production on a site-by-site direct action basis as the amount of land in the UK that has already and will soon be licenced for shale gas exploration made this impossible. Besides which, people often had very low awareness of the potential problems of shale gas extraction and the disruption and pollution it could bring to their areas – so local support for direct action could be poor.

    One interesting suggestion was to create a map of the United Kingdom showing the watersheds where people get their tap supplies from superimposed on where the proposed shale gas exploration areas are likely to be – to allow people to understand that even if they live far away from shale gas production, their drinking water supplies could be impacted.

    In summary, there are several key public relations fronts on which the nascent shale gas “industry” are fighting. They have been trying to seed doubt on low estimates of actual shale gas production potential – they have been hyping the potentially massive “gamechanging” resource assessments, without clear evidence of how accessible these resources are. They have also been pouring scorn on the evidence of how much damage shale gas could do to local environments. And they have also been promoting academic research that could be seen to make their case that shale gas is less climate-damaging than other energy resources.

    Shale gas, and the issue of the risks of hydraulic fracturing for unconventional fossil fuels, is likely to remain a hot ecological topic. Putting effort into resisting its expansion is highly appropriate in the British context, where the industry is fledgeling, and those who are accusing Friends of the Earth and others of acting as “useful idiots” for the ambitions of the coal industry just haven’t taken a look at the wider implications. If shale gas is permitted dirty development rights, then that would open the gateway for even more polluting unconventional fossil fuel extraction, such as oil shale and underground coal gasification, and that really would be a major win for the coal industry.

    Friends of the Earth Briefing : Shale gas : energy solution or fracking hell ?

  • Just like they said it would be – how extreme weather is proving climate change theory

    Posted on July 11th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Nature has been sending a strong, chaotic message to many people in the last few months – drought, floods, storms, and very unusual temperatures and weather events.

    Public communicators of science have been explaining the underlying phenomena – the ENSO cycle in the Pacific Ocean has been flipping winds and sea surface temperatures from a condition known as La Nina, towards the El Nino configuration; plus, in the northern hemisphere, wind flow high above our heads has been erratic.

    Scientists have been careful not to claim every extreme weather event as proof of climate change theory. After all, any one violent storm or unprecedented high could be just that – freak – never to be repeated. Climatologists instead talk of “loading the climate dice”, a way to explain that extreme weather is more likely in a warming world.

    Reticence and restraint are in evidence, however, now is a prime moment to assert, without triumphalism, that all this crazy weather does indeed offer confirmation of climate change theory – everything is happening just the way the atmospheric scientists said it would.

    Arctic amplification

    There is no doubt that surface of the Earth is warming up, and the Arctic region of the globe is warming faster than anywhere else. This is to be expected in a world with added Greenhouse Effect from rising carbon dioxide levels in the air. The climatologists projected that this would happen, due to localised additional heating resulting from the side effects of melting ice, snow and permafrost in the northern pole. Antarctica, on the other hand, would not show the same kind of strong “albedo” feedback response as it was still too cold and ice-and-snow bound and surrounded by isolating ocean and wind currents.

    Up there, where the air is clear

    Scientists predicted that because of Arctic amplification, the profile of the planet’s atmosphere would change under global warming conditions. And so it has. The tropopause – the place where the lower, thicker atmosphere – the troposhere – meets the upper, thinner stratosphere, has shifted, and the temperature change profile or “inversion” at this height has also been modified. While the air close to the Earth’s surface has become warmer, the air in the stratosphere has become colder. All just as the scientists predicted would happen.

    Jet stream weaker and loopier

    Close to the surface of the planet, wind tracks and the passage of storms, pressure systems and clouds are turbulent and pretty chaotic. But above this zone, winds flow freely. The winds stream because the atmosphere drags whilst the Earth turns. Because of the general patterns of billowing air below them, jet streams are usually centred at particular places – the polar jets at around 30 degrees angle from the poles, the subtropical jets at around 30 degrees from the Equator.

    Atmospheric scientists have been monitoring these winds for change, as the models indicated that the northern polar jet, in particular, would shift its position northwards, because of the other climate changes, and weaken. As it weakened, they worked out that the normal wavy kinks in the jet stream would become big loops, and maybe even lock into certain shapes for longer than usual, a situation known as a blocking event.

    Wobbly weather

    Because jet streams have an impact on the movement of weather systems further down, the scientists projected that the more meandering jet stream would carry weather systems out of their usual tracks, and also create bubbles of unusual temperature. Normally cold places would see heatwaves, normally hot places would have cold snaps, and everywhere would experience unseasonal and more extreme weather. And this is exactly what we have been seeing.

    The number of freak weather events is mounting, along with insurance company manager blood pressure readings. The flooding and drought that would be expected with the periodic Pacific ENSO system flip from La Nina to El Nino have been highly damaging, and when the final accounting is done, probably more damaging than previously.

    The food on the table

    Climate change scientists have long predicted altered patterns and increased variability of rainfall with global warming. There are real concerns that farmers can no longer predict when, or for how long, it will rain, and this is affecting major food growing regions. The major global rice, wheat and maize corn harvests are at risk, and recent years of failings have dented confidence and ballooned prices.

    Strange weather is impacting on fruit and vegetable growing, as seasons are becoming unclear and even swapping their normal order. The weather has gone wrong, and this is exactly what the scientists have been warning us about for several decades in official reports. How much easier would we have accepted changing realities if we had understood the language of the early research papers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change !

  • BP Biofuels : Murders & Acquisitions ?

    Posted on July 2nd, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    [ The empty billboard at Highams Park train station, that had previously boasted an advertisement for BP’s Olympic public relations mission, after I complained about it. ]

    I can see it now – a shimmering summer London afternoon – the heat radiating from the newly constructed sports track, and all television eyes on the shiny BP Biofuels filling station.

    Oh, you’ll have choice. Which “green” fuel shall we choose for the Olympic village van ? Bioethanol, biodiesel or biobutanol ? The bright white and metal filling station will be glowing like an saving angel in a storm, with the friendly, homely green and yellow BP star flower tattooed across it.

    But while you’re drinking in the public relations, “Oh look ! BP goes green !”, you will be living a distraction, like a child hypnotised by glinting gemstones. You will not be looking further than the pump station podium, to the full context, where lies a narrative rich in troubling complexity, harrowing tales that somehow never quite make it to the bread-and-circus mainstream media.

    1. BP Biofuels is growing by acquisition, not in-house development

    It is clear from the outset that BP Biofuels is a greenwash mirage – the “world class” fossil fuel oil and gas company are not tending to dirty their engineers’ hands with actually making biofuels themselves. What BP Biofuels has been doing is leveraging their ecological reputation by making purchases of already-existing companies – for example, Tropical Bioenergia in Brazil.

    Where they have entered into a more joint venture, things are a bit rocky, for example, at Vivergo Fuels in Hull, England, which was due to open in early 2012, no, I mean “late spring”, no actually “later in the year”.

    And where they have been unable to acquire or merger, they’ve been taking to the law courts to suppress the competition, as with Gevo in Minnesota in the United States of America.

    2. Land grabbing in the Brazilian Cerrado and the socioeconomic fallout

    Although BP Biofuels are claiming that they are developing advanced biofuels with due care for sustainability, there are continuing problems with land use change in the Brazilian Cerrado, which is documented as displacing indigenous people, and perhaps even partly behind the murder of social activists in the region.

    BP Biofuels is making use of the highly unequal Brazilian economy by using low-skilled or unskilled landless people in the area. As usual, the BP company reports focus on the safety of their employees – they claim that mechanisation of sugarcane harvesting is improving the wellbeing of their workers – but they are not addressing the economic disadvantage that forces people to work for extremely low wages in this business.

    3. Ecosystem destruction by agrifuel/agrofuel farming

    Sugarcane plantations have been highlighted as causing detrimental effects to soils, even causing stress on local water supplies.

    4. The GM crop menace

    At least one company specialising in the sale of agrochemicals, I mean genetically modified crops adapted for use with patented agrochemicals, is active alongside the BP Biofuels concerns. It is possible that there will be extensive crossover between the energy and GM crops companies – not only in the ownership of the genome of energy crops such as GM sugarcane, but also GM trees – to be used to build carbon credits for the large international companies growing plantations in Brazil.

    5. Buggy biofuels will remain a niche in the vehicle fuel market

    Biofuels made by any process that involves microorganisms suffer from one unique problem – speed – or rather, lack of it. There does not appear to be much evidence that any bio-activated production of biofuels – whether it be fermentation for ethanol, or algae grown for oil – can be sped up. This indicates that biofuels grown from bugs are likely to remain relatively small-scale in the global fuels markets – adding weight to the arguments from companies such as BP for drilling for fossil fuels in the Arctic Ocean and offshore in Africa, South America and Asia.

    [ NOTE WELL : Before you mentino it, yes, this post does not have much in the way of links, in fact, none at all. That’s because I’m still compiling sources on this subject and hope to write it up properly later on. If you’re keen to find out more, Google knows everything, just about. ]

  • Ocean Warming : False Security

    Posted on May 3rd, 2012 Jo No comments

    The human race has been treating the World Ocean as a dumping ground for global warming and excess carbon dioxide emissions.

    It’s where most of the heat ends up, and almost half the anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions as well.

    Research shows that as humanity pours more carbon into the sky, the oceans are able to react by taking up more of it.

    The Southern Ocean in particular is showing a healthy response, pulling more and more of our emissions down from the atmosphere.

    On the face of it, the oceans are increasing their capacity to suck carbon out of the air, either by biological means or through simply mixing with the air, so some argue that we should relax and rely on these carbon sinks to avert dangerous warming of the ground level atmosphere – maintaining a healthy atmosphere for all land-based life.

    However, this net reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide due to this increased ocean carbon pump is masking the effects of global warming – for the time being. The oceans are warming, and this combined with increased overturning is resulting in the oceans giving up more carbon dioxide from their depths as a result.

    For now, the ocean carbon sink is holding up and compensating for some global warming, but there are concerns should the carbon pump fail, or the effects of global warming overtake it.

    The very latest research into changes in the World Ocean show clear trends in salinity – how fresh or how salty seawater is. These changes are associated with the higher energy in the Earth system : more heat captured by the ocean is making wind patterns more powerful, which makes ocean overturning stronger.

    Of special concern is the effect this could have on the Southern Ocean. A stronger overturning would increase the upwelling of deep ocean water, which would draw long-sequestered carbon-rich gases from the deeps to the surface of the sea, where it would outgas to the atmosphere.

    This is the scenario recently suggested to explain part of the process of how the Earth came out of the last glacial period over 15,000 years ago (“What causes the CO2 rise?”)

    The biological productivity of the oceans, the levels of greenhouse gases in ocean water, and the strength of the carbon sinks will continue to be of intense concern as time passes.

  • Climate Change : No Guarantee

    Posted on April 21st, 2012 Jo No comments

    Image Credit : Eliasson Family

    Walking out to buy a few household essentials from the corner shop, I ran into somebody I’ve known since my childhood, practically, returning from the drycleaners with two trailing kids in tow.

    “Happy Spring !” I said, and smiled, and pointed out the lovely blossom on the urban street tree. Eldest child grumbled about hayfever. Parent mentioned April Showers.

    “It’s been the wettest drought, ever !”, proclaimed eldest child, who I noticed was wearing a Team GB tracksuit and therefore probably up to speed with current events. “It has been rather damp”, I admitted, “and yet the drought’s not over yet. If you look at the Met Office records, you can see we’re still not up to normal levels of rainfall. And it was like this last year.” “And the year before that”, added parent, “although I expect for this month it might show we’ve had quite a lot more than normal.” (Select “Rainfall”)

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • The Island Prescient

    Posted on April 1st, 2012 Jo No comments

    Video Credit : Dogwoof

    The message today is taken from the Book of Psalms, chapter 104, an anthology of holy songs recognised by both Jews and Christians as being divinely inspired.

    I have heard and read some Christian leaders, including North Americans and Australians, claim that global warming isn’t happening, because they believe that the Bible teaches that dangerous sea level rise is impossible, based on the contents of verses 5 to 9.

    “You set earth on a firm foundation
    so that nothing can shake it, ever.
    You blanketed earth with ocean,
    covered the mountains with deep waters;
    Then you roared and the water ran away –
    your thunder crash put it to flight.
    Mountains pushed up, valleys spread out
    in the places you assigned them.
    You set boundaries between earth and sea;
    never again will earth be flooded.” (The Message)

    These verses contain a reference to the Noah’s Ark story – the Biblical account that encapsulates a very widespread oral tradition of worldwide inundation. Some scientists believe these narratives are an echo of very real events, and that the Epic of Gilgamesh also records severe drought (corresponding to the Bible story of Joseph in Egypt):-

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Debunking the GWPF Briefing Paper No2 – The Sahel Is Greening

    Posted on March 16th, 2012 Jo No comments


    Image Credit : Global Warming Policy Foundation

    This article was written by M. A. Rodger and was originally posted at DeSmogBlog and is syndicated by an informal agreement and with the express permission of both the author and DeSmogBlog, without payment or charge.
    This is the second in a series of posts on the educational charity and climate sceptic “think-tank” Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). The first post examined GWPF”s organisation and its principles (or lack of them). Here we examine GWPF”s Briefing Paper No2 – The Sahel Is Greening by Philipp Mueller who is the Assistant Director of the GWPF. Coverage of the greening Sahel has been in the media for a decade now, so this cannot be too controversial a subject, can it?

    GWPF BRIEFING PAPER No2 – SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SUBJECT
    Mueller explains what this Briefing Paper No2 is about in the first three sentences.

    “Global warming has both positive and negative impacts. However, very often only the negative consequences are reported and the positive ones omitted. This article will show an example of a positive effect of warming.” 

    Mueller then sets out to show how the Sahel is enjoying a “positive impact” of global warming.

    Yet already here is a glaring omission. Despite this being an ideal opportunity to list out all the other “positive impacts”, Mueller fails even to hint at what any of the others might be. Never mind. We still have the Sahel. Or do we?

    THE GREENING OF THE SAHEL – MUELLER”S VERSION
    Mueller”s account can be summarised thus:

    Between the 1950s and 1980s reducing rainfalls across the Sahel (the region of Africa immediately South of the Sahara Desert) caused severe drought and famine. But, according to Mueller, since the early 1980s this process has gone into reverse with the Sahel greening, harvests more plentiful and the Sahara shrinking.

    The reason for this improvement is more than simply increasing rainfall. The climate of the Sahel region is delicate. Additional rainfall results in higher levels of vegetation. This induces yet more rain while reducing soil erosion. However, there is more at work than just this one “feedback” mechanism. Mueller says the extra factor that might be responsible is “the rise of atmospheric CO2 levels.” It seems the elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 let plants grow better, especially in arid regions. Clever stuff, that!

    Mueller does not leave it there. He discusses the cause of the underlying increase in rainfall citing papers that suggest the rainfall was due to a warmer climate in the Sahara or a warmer North Atlantic, a process “partially caused by greenhouse gas emissions.”

    Mueller”s shrinking Sahara is not unprecedented. In the past the Sahara, far from being a desert, was once a grass-covered savannah. This was over 6,000 years ago during the Holocene Climate Optimum (when temperatures were 2-5 deg C hotter than now according to Mueller but not according to others) and also during two other times in last 120,000 years.

    Mueller says the future isn”t certain. The Sahel may become wetter or it may become drier. But, he concludes, today the Sahel is undoubtedly wetter and suddenly Mueller becomes far more certain about those speculative causes of the greening of the Sahel.  “The increase in rainfall, which was probably caused by rising temperatures, and rising CO2 concentrations, might even – if sustained for a few more decades – green the Sahara. This would be a truly tremendous prospect.”

    This account makes bold statements but can it all be true?

    DO PIGS FLY?
    Mueller”s account contains many omissions and misrepresentations. The list is so long that the full account of Mueller”s errors are appended to the bottom of this post and just a summary is presented here.

    After droughts end, things grow greener. That is natural. The Sahel has a delicate climate and research shows that increased human emissions were more likely the cause of the initial drought rather than the cause of the re-greening. The recovery is also very patchy. Drought and famine, declining crops as well as encroaching deserts continue to plague parts of the Sahel, to the point that the description “greening” remains a subject for debate. Mueller”s rosy account fails to tell us any of this.

    It is wild speculation to assert that any recovery in the Sahel is a result of global warming and to dangle the prospect of a future green Sahara is the exact opposite of the message provided by Mueller”s reference on the matter. However welcome the re-greening of parts of the Sahel, it cannot be relied on.

    Mueller does mention this in passing but he fails to mention the confident scientific finding that any re-greening will eventually be reversed in the future. So if this greening of the Sahel is the prime example of the “positive impacts” of global warming, it is no surprise that Mueller fails to list any of the others.

    CONCLUSION
    GWPF Briefing paper No2 is an entirely flawed document. The views it expresses are those of the author (as the disclaimer on the cover says), not those views of the GWPF. Yet the author works with a “distinguished team of GWPF Academic Advisors.” Further, it remains a wonder that a registered charity whose task is to educate the public on global warming could ever put its name on such a report. If this is representative of GWPF Briefing Papers as a whole, it would be a cause of grave concern.

    A second GWPF Briefing Paper will be the subject of the next post in this series. Hopefully it will prove to be more factual in nature than Briefing Paper No2.

    APPENDIX – Details of Omissions & Misrepresentations within Mueller”s paper.

    A1 – OMISSION
    Mueller”s account began with mention of a drought between the 1950s & 1980s. This drought requires greater consideration than just a mention. Would we not expect a region to become greener in the period following a drought? Strangely, while Mueller discusses theories for the greening, he fails to mention the causes of the initial drought and its continuing legacy. This is not some minor event. The drought has been described as “…among the most undisputed and largest recent climate changes recognized by the climate research community.”

    The causes of the drought have slowly become better understood. Rising population and over-grazing by livestock was the first theory but studies now show the drought resulted from changes in ocean surface temperatures Folland et al (1986) Giannini et al (2003)which are likely due in part to the sulphate aerosol pollution of Europe and North America Rotstayn & Lohmann (2002) Biasutti & Gainnini (2006) and thus it is the cleaning of emissions from power stations that has likely allowed the rains to return.

    Mueller remains entirely silent about the potential role of sulphate aerosols in causing the drought and the subsequent greening. It is difficult to understand his silence as these findings are well known. Perhaps the potential role of human pollution in causing a “devastating drought” sits too uncomfortably with the intended message of “positive impacts” from global warming.

    A2 – OMISSION
    To emphasis his “positive impact”, Mueller tells us the greening is “a very welcome and very beneficial development for the people living in the Sahel.” What Mueller omits to tell us is that conditions have yet to return to the levels seen in the 1950s and that drought and famine still stalk the Sahel. His rosy reporting is even used by one sceptical commentator as proof that the continuing drought in the Sahel is but a “pseudo-catastrophe.”

    Climatology may not provide the best reports of the events but the Sahel drought is reported in newspapers and the humanitarian aid networks. “In 2005, drought and famine hit the Sahel, claiming many lives. The pattern was repeated in 2010 with the crisis most acute in Niger. And now the early warning signs are there for problems again in 2012.” For Mueller to entirely miss such prominent reporting in the age of the internet is truly remarkable!

    A3 – OMISSION
    It is also remarkable how Mueller writes of improving agricultural outputs across the Sahel. Mueller cites the findings of Chris Reij in a small region of Burkina Faso and also Olsson (2008), from where he quotes half a sentence about improved agricultural output in Burkina Faso and Mali.

    What Mueller totally misses in Olsson”s paper is the preceding sentence and the following half sentence which says – “After many years of dwindling food production in the Sahel, only two countries show signs of improved agricultural performance. …while the other Sahelian countries show decreases in their production.” So Mueller omits to mention the situation in the other nine countries of the Sahel, instead concentrating on the two countries where the evidence doesn”t directly contradict his theorizing.

    A4 – MISREPRESENTATION
    To reinforce his greening Sahel message Mueller strays geographically. He embellishes part of a Heartland Institute report that quotes a second-hand report from geologist Stephan Kropelin.

    This concerns greening within the deserts of Western Sahara, a much-troubled country that is in Africa but definitely not part of the Sahel! It is from the same Heartland report that Mueller times the start of the greening as “since the early 1980s” when if he had read the other more reliable references he cited he would have known the greening began in 1994.

    The entirety of the Sahel is not greening as Mueller would have us believe. It is patchy and there remains enough areas still suffering encroaching desert to make the term "greening" debatable. Somehow Mueller fails to notice.

    A5 – MISREPRESENTATION
    Mueller does manage to notice that there are signs of greening even in some areas where rainfall is still decreasing. Mueller asserts this might well be due to increased levels of atmospheric CO2. To support his CO2 claim Muller cites Sherwood Idso who has long espoused such theories and claims certain forest studies show evidence of it

    But when it comes to the greening of the Sahel, Idso makes clear the CO2 link is only speculation and makes do with pointing out where researchers fail to mention his brave theorising.
    There is one logical problem with Mueller”s claim which may be why Idso does not pursue a similar argument. It is difficult to reconcile patchy Sahel greening with a widespread (indeed worldwide) phenomenon like rising CO2 levels. The most likely reason for patchy greening (other than patchy rainfall) is very, very, widely discussed and observed on the ground. It is farmers changing their methods of cultivation, something Mueller fails to even mention, preferring instead to advance his ridiculous CO2 claim

    A6 – MISREPRESENTATION
    The prehistoric green Sahara of the mid-Holocene with its lakes and rivers is used by Mueller to reinforce his argument that global warming may trigger a return to such conditions and so provide a truly tremendous “positive impact” from global warming. Again he manages to misrepresent the words of others. On this matter Mueller concludes “(Professor Martin) Claussen has considered the likelihood of a greening of the Sahara due to global warming and concluded that an expansion of vegetation into today”s Sahara is possible as a consequence of CO2 emissions.”

    This is an exceedingly bizarre interpretation of the source document! Claussen”s quote actually says “some expansion of vegetation into today”s Sahara is theoretically possible”,(end quote, emphasis added) words too pessimistic for Mueller so he changed them.

    Not only does Mueller misquote Claussen, he wholly ignores the explicit warning that Claussen makes against any belief in a future green Sahara. “But he(Claussen) warns against believing the mid-Holocene climate optimum will be recreated.” This source document continues by pointing to the continuing tree-loss in the Sahel and the shrinkage of Lake Chad; this despite the improved levels of rainfall.

    Indeed, Claussen is not alone in dismissing a green Sahara.  Yet Mueller”s report concludes that a green Sahara is a distinct possibility, the exact opposite of the very authority that he claims is supporting his conclusions.

    A7 – OMISSION
    Finally, Mueller is silent about one “negative impact” of a greening Sahel. He intimates that any greening due to global warming will be permanent but this is incorrect. Climatology shows that the Sahel has a very sensitive climate such that it can be stated “with confidence” that “any greening of the Sahel and Sahara in the near future will eventually be reversed.”  The greening is unreliable. It is thus hardly an encouraging example of a “positive impact” from global warming.


     

  • Living Life and LOAFing It

    Posted on February 5th, 2012 Jo No comments
    CHRISTIAN ECOLOGY LINK
    PRESS RELEASE

    Living Life and LOAFing It – Green Christians ask churches to “Use your LOAF !” on sourcing sustainable food

    In the run up to Easter, Christian Ecology Link is asking supporters to think and act on how they source food for their church communities, with the aim of reducing the impact of unsustainable agriculture on their local area, and the wider world.

    CEL have launched a new colour leaflet on the LOAF programme principles in time for Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), or Pancake Day, on 21st February 2012.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 : Greenier and Peace-ier

    Posted on January 1st, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    My dear family.

    They think I’m an environmentalist, a bit radical, a bit confrontational.

    So for a fun wintertime gift they bought me this lovely cloth tote(m) bag for grocery shopping.

    I think I might have failed to communicate myself clearly enough.

    Although I try to be frugal and efficient in my way of life, recycling is not my central agenda.

    I studied physics, but I don’t have a laboratory. The things that I believe need to be developed are technologies in the field of clean, green energy. I am an engineer without a workshop – although my home is now a power station.

    Recycling is important, but reducing the use of resource materials is far more important.

    Recycling is important, but energy waste is far more important. Digging things out of the ground and burning them in order to keep civilisation moving is the ultimate misuse of natural resources.

    Recycling is important, but so are international relations, especially around the sourcing of commodities such as fossil fuels, rare metals, timber and freshwater.

    The world needs to work together – to make friends, not invent enemies – even more so when those so-called opponents sit on vital energy resources.

    May you have a year that is greener and has more peace.

  • The Storm

    Posted on December 30th, 2011 Jo No comments

    On my Christmas journey, on the train from Brussels, Belgium, to the Dutch border, besides the wind turbines, I counted the number of solar electric rooftop installations I could see. My estimate was that roughly 300 kilowatts of solar could be seen from the track.

    There has been an explosion of deployment. The renewable energy policies that are behind this tide of photovoltaics in Flanders seem to be working, or have been until recently.

    On my journey back from Holland to England, I pondered about the polders and the low-lying landscape around me. I don’t know what river it was we crossed, but the river was only held in place by narrow banks or dikes, as it was higher than the farmland around it – waterlogged fields in some places – where parcels of land were divided by stillwater ditches instead of hedges or fences.

    “Oh no, we don’t have “Mary Poppins” on Dutch TV any more at Christmas every year like we used to. We’re going to see the film “The Storm”…” said my host. Curiouser and curiouser. “De Storm” is a film that harks back to an actual historical event, the major North Sea flooding in 1953. “I remember what it was like afterwards,” says an older English relative, “I visited Belgium and Holland with my aunt and uncle just after the flooding – he wanted to visit the family war graves. We stayed in Middelburg. You could see how high the water reached. There were tide marks this high on the side of the houses, and whelks left stuck on the walls.”

    The film attempts to nail down the coffin casket lid of bad weather history. By telling the narrative of major, fearful floods of the past, people are distracted from the possibility that it may happen again. History is history, and the story tells the ending, and that’s a finish to it.

    However, for some people, those people who know something of the progress of the science of global warming, this film is like a beacon – a flare on a rocky landing strip – lighting the way to the future crash of the climate and the rising of sea levels, which will bring havoc to The Netherlands, Dutch engineers or no Dutch engineers.

    We have to be prepared for change, major change. If you or anyone you know has Dutch relatives and friends, think about whether you can invite them to live with you in future if things get really bad. One or two really bad storms combined with excessive tides and a few centimetres of sea level rise could be all it takes to wreck the country’s ability to organise water and destroy a significant amount of agricultural land.

    “I’ve been studying Climate Change science”, I told another host. “You believe in Climate Change ?”, he asked, somewhat incredulously. “It’s 200 years of science”, I replied, smiling, “but we probably shouldn’t discuss it. I don’t think it would be very productive.”

  • Another Meeting I Will Not Be Attending

    Posted on November 21st, 2011 Jo No comments

    What appears to be a serious event is due to take place at the Energy Institute in London on 6th December 2011, “Peak Oil – assessing the economic impact on global oil supply“.

    Dr Roger Bentley, author of a seminal 2002 paper on the subject, research that spawned hundreds of related learned articles, will be speaking.

    But the event organisers have also invited one Dr Matt Ridley, the self-styled “rational optimist”, and member of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and this, I’m afraid, prevents me from attending.


    Ridley projects a view that many probably find comforting – as his headline in The Times of 1st October 2011 summarises – “Cheer up. The world’s not going to the dogs”.

    He has been captured speaking at a TEDx event pouring scorn on “environmental” scare stories of the past, but not bothering to delve or dig into how mankind has actually gone out of its way to act on past crises and prevent catastrophes.

    And now he’s thrown in his lot with the shale gas miracle men, writing a report with a foreword by Freeman Dyson, one of the world’s most balanced individuals.

    How much uncorroborated optimism can one man contain ?

  • Camp Frack : Who’s afraid of hydraulic fracturing ?

    Posted on September 17th, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    When do micro-seismic events add up to earthquakes ? Landslips ? Tsunamis ? Who really knows ? These are just a few questions amongst many about underground mining techniques that will probably never be properly answered. Several mini-quakes were suggested to be responsible for the shutdown of Cuadrilla’s activities in Blackpool, north west England early in 2011, and there have been unconfirmed links between tremors and fracking in the United States of America, where unconventional gas is heavily mined.

    It is perhaps too easy to sow doubt about the disbenefits of exploding rock formations by pressure injection to release valuable energy gases – many legislative and public consultation hurdles have been knocked down by the merest flick of the public relations wrist of the unconventional fossil gas industry (and its academic and consultancy friends).

    The potential to damage the structure of the Earth’s crust may be the least attributable and least accountable of hydraulic fracturing’s suspected disadvantages, but it could be the most significant in the long run. Science being conducted into the impact on crust stability from fracking and other well injection techniques could rule out a wide range of geoengineering on safety grounds, such as Carbon Capture and Storage proposals. If we can’t safely pump carbon dioxide underground, we should really revise our projections on emissions reductions from carbon capture.

    [ Camp Frack is under canvas in Lancashire protesting about the imposition of hydraulic fracturing on the United Kingdom. ]

  • Mark Lynas : Oxford Ragwort

    Posted on June 26th, 2011 Jo No comments

    Image Credit : Mark Holderness

    Mark Lynas betrayed more of his intellectual influences this week, when he tweeted as @mark_lynas “Colony collapse disorder – honeybees – not quite the environmental story it seemed:
    http://breakthroughjournal.org/content/authors/hannah-nordhaus/an-environmental-journalists-l.shtml

    Hmmm. That’s a piece from a new generation of Nordhaus-es, Hannah, writing for the Breakthrough Institute, founded by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, authors of “The Death of Environmentalism“, a document I truly regret wasting the paper to print. As I read it, I started scratching hot red comments in the margins, so many, that in the end the pages were more red than black-and-white.

    Hannah’s piece, like her book, “The Beekeeper’s Lament“, is more delicate and considered, I think, but still shreds decades of environmental thought and much science, without any justification in my view.

    She writes, “…very quickly, many journalists settled on neonicotinoids — pesticides that are applied to more than 140 different crops — as the likely culprit. It seemed a familiar story of human greed and
    shortsightedness. With their callous disregard for nature, big chemical companies and big agriculture were killing the bees — and threatening our own survival. The honey bee’s recent problems have occasioned a similar rush to judgment. Before any studies had been conducted on the causes of CCD, three books and countless articles came out touting pesticides as the malady’s cause. Had I been able to turn a book around quickly, I might have leapt to the same conclusions. But I was late to the party, and as more studies came out and I came to better understand the science, I became less and less convinced that pesticides provided a convincing explanation for beekeepers’ losses…”

    Her argument appears to be that pesticides are bad for other pollinators, not bees; but that this makes life harder for the bees, who then have to do all that pollination instead :-

    http://naturebeebookclub.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/the-beekeepers-lament-nordhaus-hannah/

    “In steps John Miller, a boundingly energetic and charismatic beekeeper, who tasks himself with the care and the sustainable keeping of honeybees. He is descended from America’s first migratory beekeeper, N.E. Miller, who, at the beginning of the 20th century, transported thousands of hives from one crop to another, working the Idahoan clover in summer and the Californian almonds in winter. Back then beekeepers used to pay farmers to keep a few dozen hives on their land. But now farmers pay beekeepers millions of dollars to have their crops pollinated by upwards of ten thousand hives. With the rise of the monocrop and increasingly efficient pesticides, there are simply not enough natural pollinators to complete the massive task of sexing-up millions of acres of almond groves.”

    This kind of writing seems to me like a lot of anti-green writing, where a straw man is set up, only to bow down and worship it. The central framework of fallacy appears to be :-

    a. Environmentalists are zealous, and therefore crazy.
    b. They believe pesticides are dangerous to bees.
    c. They must be wrong, and pesticides can’t be all that bad for bees.

    Let’s just read a little around that idea, shall we ? Let’s start with Wikipedia, just to make it easy :-

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pesticide_toxicity_to_bees

    “For the majority of pesticides that are registered in the United States, EPA only requires a short-term contact toxicity test on adult honeybees. In some cases, the agency also receives short-term oral toxicity tests, which are required in Europe. EPA’s testing requirements do not account for sub-lethal effects to bees or effects on brood or larvae. Their testing requirements are also not designed to determine effects in bees from exposure to systemic pesticides. With Colony Collapse Disorder, whole hive tests in the field are needed in order to determine the effects of a pesticide on bee colonies. To date, there are very few scientifically valid whole hive studies that can be used to determine the effects of pesticides on bee colonies.”

    Actually, it’s not just “mad environmentalists” who are concerned about the effect of pesticides on honeybees. Here’s just one scholarly paper :-

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0009754
    “High Levels of Miticides and Agrochemicals in North American Apiaries: Implications for Honey Bee Health”, Mullin et el., 2010.

    What has this got to do with Climate Change. I can hear you asking ?

    Well, it’s like this – in order to do intensive farming, agricultural chemicals are used on crops. Specialised herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are used on genetically modified crops, along with chemical fertilisers.

    In order to convince people to accept Genetically Modified food, they’ve got to be encouraged to believe that pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are really alright.

    Hence, pesticides cannot be fingered as a problem for bees, otherwise people might not accept GM crops…

    Yes, it’s coming back round to tampering with our food genes. And it’s being sold to us as a cure for Climate Change.

    At the bottom of this page there’s a transcript of a snippet from a television programme I was unlucky and incensed enough to have viewed yesterday. Called “The Wonder of Weeds”, it took us through the basic logic of modern-day plant breeding, including the role for genetic modification of plants – without once mentioning the words “life sciences”, “bioengineering”, “biotechnology” or even “genetic modification”.

    The GM crops are presented as being the saviour of humanity, without once mentioning why conditions in the world may be damaging crops in new ways in the future, a lot of which will be due to climate change.

    There was the usual category error – of confusing science with technology. Let’s repeat that one again. Technology is when you play with the genes of a crucial staple crop like wheat. Science is when you discover, maybe 25 years later, that it has had knock-on effects in the food chain. Oh dear. Too late for remorse – the genetically modified genome is now globally distributed.

    The presenter of the programme, Chris Collins, didn’t even spot the cognitive dissonance of his own script. In the first part of the programme he talks about common weeds that are foreign invaders in the UK and cause untold trouble. In the second part of the programme he doesn’t even blink when he talks about modifying crops at the genetic level – not questioning that introducing foreign genes into vital crops might have detrimental, unforeseen impacts – rather like a microscopic version of the imported “plant pariahs”, Buddleia davidii, Rhododendron ponticum and Japanese knotweed. Oh yes, Oxford Ragwort, another introduction to the UK, is not such a hazard, but you can’t guarantee what happens when you get plant invaders.

    I find it astonishing that such obvious propaganda on behalf of corporate plans to modify crops for their own private market profit is allowed into BBC television programming.

    Climate Change is being used as the Trojan Horse rationale in which to bring GM crops to the UK, and elsewhere, as part of international agricultural development programmes. This is the ideological equivalent of a rogue gene inserted into the DNA of science. I find this an outrage.

    I recommend you check the work of GM Freeze to counter this braintwisting manipulation.

    And if you want a little bit more of an insider on what Dr Alison Smith, featured in the BBC show, is actually doing with her amazing knowledge of plants – it seems her work encompasses improving the production of alcoholic beverages, not feeding the world. I kid you not :-

    http://www.foodsecurity.ac.uk/news-events/news/2011/110615-pr-improved-crops-food-security.html
    “Glucosidase inhibitors: new approaches to malting efficiency : Alison Smith, John Innes Centre : Improving the efficiency with which barley grain is converted into beer and whisky would reduce waste and energy consumption in the brewing industry, as well as ensuring profitability. This project aims to improve the efficiency of malting, the first stage in beer and whisky production, by building on new discoveries about how barley grains convert starch to sugars when they germinate.”

    What is the BBSRC ? This is a research programme that’s “infested” with corporate people – whose agenda is money-making, not philanthropy.

    And what’s genetic modification of crops got to do with Mark Lynas ? Well, just read his new book, “The God Species“, and you’ll find out.

    The plain fact in my view is that we do not need genetically modified crops in Europe. In Africa, they’re too poor to afford the chemicals to use with the GM seeds. And in the not-too-distant future, the price of the chemicals will shoot up because of Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas, making GM crops inaccessible to those North Americans who currently use it. So this particular technology takes us nowhere forward at all. We need to manage water and the root causes of poverty rather than tamper with genes.



    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01224kv/hd/The_Wonder_of_Weeds/

    BBC 4 TV
    Saturday 25 June 2011

    “The Wonder of Weeds”

    “Travelling around the UK and meeting experts in botanical history, genetics, pharmaceuticals and wild food, Chris Collins tells the story behind the plants most people call weeds.”

    45 minutes 20 seconds

    …And the massive irony of all this is that the very crop that has become a monoculture at the expense of weeds, wheat, was once a weed itself…

    Plant scientist Professor Nick Harberd of Oxford University has researched the moment a weed became wheat.

    Nick : “About half a million years ago, there was spontaneously, in the wild, nothing to do with human beings, a cross-hybridisation, a cross-pollination if you like, between two wild grass species…”

    “…So one can imagine that humans were cultivating this wheat [10,000 to 12,000 years ago] in a field and then by chance a weed was growing within that field. And there was again a spontaneous hydridisation event beteen the cultivated wheat and this wild grass that was growing in that imaginary field.”

    “The whole process made a plant that was bigger and more vigorous. And as a result of this we ended up with the wheat crop we all grow and feed off today.”

    Nick can exactly recreate exactly how wheat and weeds crossbred in a lab today…

    47 minutes 40 seconds

    Weeds helped us out millenia ago and now scientists in the 21st Century have turned to weeds once again for one of the most important discoveries in plant biology ever.

    It could save lives by creating a super wheat.

    It all took place here, at the John Innes Institute in Norwich.

    Alison : “So come on in Chris. You need to sterilise your feet here…”

    Chris : “So this means we’re not bringing in anything nasty from outside…”

    Alison : “That’s right. No thrips or viruses or anything else that might come in.”

    Dr Alison Smith is head of Metabolic Biology here.

    Chris : “This is the first time I’ve ever dressed up to go and see a weed.”

    Alison : “We look after our weeds very carefully here.”

    Alison’s team have been studying a small common weed called Arabidopsis [thaliana] or Thale Cress, which is now used as the model to map the DNA of all plants on the planet.

    Alison : “Well this weed is incredibly easy for us to work on. And all plant scientists almost in the world take information from this weed. And many plant scientists only work on this little weed.”

    “The reason why it’s really useful is that like a lot of weeds it goes from seed to seed really quickly, so we can get through lots and lots of generations, and that makes it easy for us to do genetic studies to understand how the weed behaves and what all of its genes are doing.”

    “But also, about 20 years ago, plant scientists got together. And at that time they were working on lots and lots of different plants. And they decided, let’s work on one plant together that can become the model from which we can develop our understanding of plants.”

    “So about the same time as we were sequencing the human genome, we started to sequence the genome of this little weed. So in 2000 we got the entire gene sequence of this weed, all of the genes are known, the same time as we understood the human genome.”

    Chris : “So really then, this small weed is a blueprint for all plants ?”

    Alison : “This is the model for all plant life, that’s right.”

    But the sequencing of the Arabidopsis genome is not just for the sake of it. Alison and her 600 colleagues are unlocking the secrets of the plant’s success, like its speedy growth rate and its hardiness, and are transfering those abilities to the crops that matter to us, like wheat.

    This is one of the most important discoveries in plant biology ever, where one of the humblest weeds could save millions of lives around the world.

    Chris : “Now we’ve seen our magic weed and you’ve got this genetic blueprint. How do you take that blueprint and apply it to arable crops like this wheat ?”

    Alison : “Well we can start to tackle, using this blueprint, some of the real problems that we have with our crops like disease, for example. Our crops are quite susceptible to some diseases. We’ve been able to breed for that, but we haven’t known what genes we’re breeding for.”

    “In Arabidopsis, Arabidopsis gets diseases as well, we can understand exactly how it’s resistant to those diseases. We know what genes it needs. And we can say right, where are those genes in wheat ? Can we make sure that our new wheats have the genes that make them resistant to disease ?”

    “Another example would be how the wheat exactly makes its seeds. Obviously, this is the really important bit of wheat. This is what we eat. This is human food. We understand a bit about the process of about how these little seeds are formed, but in Arabidopsis we understand in absolute molecular detail how those seeds are made, and that helps us to understand how we make to make better seeds, bigger seeds, more nutritious seeds in wheat. We can apply that knowlege in wheat.”

    Well, I know scientists don’t like to be too dramatic, but I’m going to be, because of simply what I’ve found out. Weeds can play a big role in arable crops like wheat, or even maybe the future of humanity.

    Alison : “I think it was the starting point for what has to be a revolution in our crops, a revolution in understanding how they work and making them work better and doing that fast.”

    “It’s taken our ancestors, you know, millenia, to get to this point. We can’t afford to take the next step in millenia. We have to take it in tens of years or less. And in order to do that, you’re absolutely right, the information from Arabidopsis has been the key to pushing us forward.”

    It’s the resilience of weeds and the insights they give us into helping crops survive that makes them amongst the most useful plants on the planet…

  • Adam Curtis : Chaotically Unstable

    Posted on June 5th, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    I’m looking quizzical, rubbing my chin. Adam Curtis appears to have lost control of his mind, or at the very least, is showing signs of unhealthy self contradiction. Where are the checks and balances ?

    At the start of Part 2 of “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”, he unpicks, and, I would suggest, stamps on, the idea that ecosystems are networks of feedback loops, tending to re-balance. And then at the end of the same presentation, he asserts that human revolutions fail, and society folds in on itself and returns to the state of power and control it was in before. Now which is it to be, Adam Curtis ? Self-correcting stability or non-correcting ebbs, flows and shifting sands ?

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Texas travel advisory

    Posted on April 22nd, 2011 Jo No comments

    [ UPDATE : Texas Governor proclaims three days of prayer for rain ]

    Texas ? My advice is – don’t go there. Not only does it have numerous social problems, it’s also in the midst of a hellfire makeover, caused by extensive drought :-

    http://www.statesman.com/news/local/fires-rage-through-much-of-texas-more-than-1418294.html

    “Fires rage through much of Texas; more than 1 million acres burned : April 20, 2011 : Several massive wildfires in North and West Texas continued to rage Tuesday, racing through parched fields and woods and adding to a sweeping acreage toll that has reached almost 1.2 million in less than two weeks. A wildfire spanning four counties west of Fort Worth near Possum Kingdom Lake has consumed nearly 150,000 acres, destroyed 150 homes and a church, and forced hundreds to flee since it began Friday, Texas Forest Service spokesman Marq Webb said. The fire, which nearly doubled in size in a day, is one of more than 20 active fires that the Forest Service is fighting statewide in an April that has been plagued by a fierce drought, high temperatures and gusting winds – conditions that have allowed wildfires to ignite and spread quickly in several parts of the state, including Austin…”

    The situation is so bad, that the God Squad has been moved to participate, some in practical ways and some in the spiritual department. People are dying, but meanwhile, some in the Heavenward crowd are in denial about Climate Change. Seems that some tombstone-headed American Christians would rather crucify their country than admit that Global Warming Science is right.

    State policy on fighting fire seems rather contrary to the trends – and that’s probably because “big government” social budgets needs to be cleansed of too much “red tape”.

    Will Texas become uninhabitable, with terrain where nothing can grow; the domain of wind farms, solar fields and duststorms ?

    It may be Easter, but it’s not a Good Friday. Happy Scorched Earth Day 2011 !

  • Watering Hole

    Posted on October 21st, 2010 Jo No comments

      

    Image Credit : UCAR

    People, animals and crops are likely to lose their favourite watering holes over the next few decades, not just in “poor” countries, but just about everywhere :-

    http://www2.ucar.edu/news/climate-change-drought-may-threaten-much-globe-within-decades

    The growing hole in water supplies is going to interfere with food security, and it’s going to interfere with human community survival, but it’s also going to interfere with energy production. In fact, it’s doing that already, as competition for water in Peru between food, grazing, people and energy shows most clearly :-

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2010/sep/21/climate-wars-machu-picchu-irrigation
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/video/2010/sep/23/peru-asparagus-wells-run-dry

    What’s the story on the United Kingdom ? :-

    http://www.physorg.com/news/2010-10-farmings.html

    “Adapt now to keep farming’s water flowing : October 20, 2010 : Agricultural and horticultural businesses could face damaging water shortages in the coming decades as a result of climate change. Adaptation across the whole industry is needed to meet the impending challenge…”

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE69H4PS20101018

    “UK crops to face water supply crunch, may relocate : LONDON | Mon Oct 18, 2010 : …Agricultural crops in Britain may need to be moved to new areas as the threat of both drought and flooding rises in the coming decades, a report commissioned by the Royal Agricultural Society of England said on Monday. The report said climate change was expected to produce higher temperatures, drier summers and wetter winters across much of England. “This is likely to mean reduced river flow and less water available for agriculture,” said one of the report’s authors, Alison Bailey, of the University of Reading’s School of Agriculture, Policy and Development…”

    And the United States of America ? :-

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-change-impacts-on-CA-water-resources.html

    “…The study found that water withdrawals in California are estimated to be greater than 100% of the available precipitation in 2050…”

    http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/Secretary-Salazar-Launches-New-Regional-Climate-Science-Center-and-Water-Census-at-Meeting-of-Colorado-River-Basin-Water-Leaders.cfm

    “…10/20/2010 : Contact: Joan Moody : PHOENIX, AZ—At a meeting of water leaders from the seven Colorado River Basin states in Phoenix today, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the Department of the Interior has chosen the University of Arizona as home base for a regional Climate Science Center and selected the Colorado River Basin for the launch of the first U.S. water census since 1978. “The Colorado River Basin is ground zero for assessing the effects of climate change on our rivers and taking creative management actions to head off the related dangers posed to our water supplies, hydroelectric power generation and ecosystems,” the Secretary said. “We are with you for the long haul to protect our region and its water.”…”

    http://www.uusc.org/content/examining_water_crisis_and_climate_change

    “Examining the Water Crisis and Climate Change : UUSC understands that there is a global water crisis, which is the product of shifting and competing political and economic interests, depletion from environmental contamination, climate change, over-extraction, and increasing human population. As a human-rights organization, UUSC recognizes the urgent need to respond. Climate justice is a central theme of UUSC’s Environmental Justice work. More people are losing their access to clean, affordable water in the United States and in other nations, and too often, the victims are people in low-income communities, women, and racial and ethnic minorities…”

  • Hungry for Change

    Posted on September 15th, 2010 Jo No comments

    People often talk about the weather in relation to Climate Change, but neglect to talk about the possible obvious and inevitable side-effects – hunger and starvation.

    Frontline Club will screen the film “The Hunger Season” on 1st October 2010, and follow it with a panel discussion hosted by BOND and Oxfam UK :-

    http://frontlineclub.com/events/2010/10/liberation-season-screening—the-hunger-season.html?utm_source=Frontline&utm_campaign=074ce4510f-Announcing+October+events&utm_medium=email

    “Across the world a massive food crisis is unfolding. 
Climate change, increasing consumption in China and India, the dash for Biofuels are causing hitherto unimagined food shortages and rocketing prices. This has already provoked unrest and violence from the Middle East to South America and there is no end in sight in the coming months. The people who are going to be most sorely affected are those already living on the razors edge of poverty, those dependent on food aid for their very survival. As commodity prices have risen by 50%, the UN Agencies have barely half the budget they need to meet the needs of 73 million hungry people they are currently feeding…”

    Biofuel targets may not be the only factor behind food price rises :-

    http://www.wdm.org.uk/food-speculation/great-hunger-lottery

    “In The Great Hunger Lottery, the World Development Movement has compiled extensive evidence establishing the role of food commodity derivatives in destabilising and driving up food prices around the world. This in turn, has led to food prices becoming unaffordable for low-income families around the world, particularly in developing countries highly reliant on food imports. Nowhere was this more clearly seen than during the astonishing surge in staple food prices over the course of 2007-2008, when millions went hungry and food riots swept major cities around the world. The great hunger lottery shows how this alarming episode was fueled by the behaviour of financial speculators, and describes the terrible immediate impacts on vulnerable families around the world, as well as the long term damage to the fight against global poverty…”

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Are You Ready for Pakistan ?

    Posted on September 1st, 2010 Jo No comments

    Compassion fatigue appears to have set in early in the Western Media – yet the existential problems of simple human survival, health, shelter, food and clean drinking water have only just started in large parts of Pakistan.

    I was speaking with a contact recently who is just about to go out East to help coordinate an emergency mission in the region, and my first question was, “Are you ready for Pakistan ?”, because I don’t think anybody “parachuting” into the country will be.

    Plus, this may be the worst crisis that the world’s humanitarian network has faced in the last half Century, but it’s not the only one ongoing and just about to start :-

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Pacific_typhoon_season

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Atlantic_hurricane_season

    Human interest stories have been the bread and butter of holiday media for decades – now is the time to roll cameras for the never-ending rollercoaster of disaster Climate Change is turning out to be.

    It’s been raining really, really heavily, catastrophically somewhere on the planet practically non-stop since the beginning of the year.

    Surely that’s not just a story, that’s a whole narrative ?

    And it’s about weather, too, every journalist’s favourite subject.

    Read the rest of this entry »