Climate clippings 38

Germany’s expensive switch to renewables

Following the decision to phase out nuclear Germans are being told that achieving 35% renewables by 2020 will only cost 1c per kilowatt hour, or the price of a latte per month. Others calculate the cost at five times that amount, or an additional cost of €175 ($250) a year, a figure confirmed by an internal estimate making the rounds at the Economics Ministry.

Electricity customers already pay more than €13 billion this year to subsidize renewable energy. PV solar receives almost half all renewable energy subsidies, even though it makes up less than one 10th of total green electricity production, or 1.9% of total production.

What do they say about governments picking winners?

Barry Brook looks at what Germany is attempting. He reckons they’ll have to increase wind and solar 17-fold in 9 years, or build 10-20 new fossil fuel power plants, or see whole industry sectors go overseas.

Make that 20GW of fossil-fuel power stations by 2020, including 9GW of coal by 2013 according to New Scientist as “the new bridging technology”. Oh dear!

China goes “fourth generation” nuclear

China has built a 20MW experimental fast-neutron reactor near Beijing.

According to the World Nuclear Association, it aims to increase nuclear power capacity to 80 gigawatts by 2020 from 10.8 gigawatts in 2010.

Hansen looks at renewables

Courtesy of quokka on the last thread, James Hansen puts PV solar on his barn and looks at renewables. This is how they stood in 2008:

I make non-hydro renewables just 2.8% of the whole. Pathetically small. This is how the sectors have been growing:

If you find that hard to read, in the first graph blue represents renewables. In the second, blue represents hydro and green non-hydro. In the third, green represents biomass and waste, purple wind and red geothermal. Solar is negligible.

Of course, that may change, but meanwhile fossil fuels continue on their winning ways. Hansen sees nuclear as the one to run with. Sorry. See his piece for the reasons. BTW he says the UN “has estimated global deaths due to fossil fuel air and water pollution to be of the
order of one million annually.”

For myself, I’ll take his advice and keep an open mind.

Rising seas, rising confusion, rising anger

It seems that the issue of sea level rise is creating tensions in NSW. There is inconsistency around the nation:

each state government has adopted these CSIRO/IPCC projections as their benchmark, with slight modifications for local conditions. As a result, there is no consistent national projection for sea level rise over the next 90 years, with Queensland and Victoria projecting an 80cm rise by 2100, while NSW projects a 90cm rise, South Australia a 1m rise and Western Australia a 38cm rise.

At a local government level, if you live in Lake Macquarie the issue is taken seriously and the Council is mindful of the legal implications. If you live in Wyong, the joint is run by a bloke who thinks we’ll all get over it eventually. He’s doing as little as possible and “being flexible” not to upset anyone.

In Nambucca Shire they are still trying to work out whether they’ll use the 2050 figure or the one for 2100.

Meanwhile according to the Tele Tanya Plibersek is the Prophet of Doom. They do quote Professor Lesley Hughes as saying, “I would call Ms Plibersek’s statements alarming because climate change is an alarming issue,” whereas back at the Oz they are inclined to quote some local who has been there 30 years and hasn’t noticed any change. At 3mm pa or 3cm per decade that is hardly surprising. And quite irrelevant to the 21C.

Combet finds the going tough…

…when he ventured into Albanese’s inner-Sydney seat of Grayndler.

The main problem here is people inclined to vote for The Greens telling him he’s not doing enough, but

the only other person in a suit apart from the two politicians, Tim, a lawyer from Marrickville, was worried about the cost of living, even after installing solar panels on his roof. Such is the state of confusion.

My wife just met someone fresh back from the snow fields. Resort occupancy was down to 40% and guess what, they are blaming the fricken carbon tax!

NZ trading scheme slashes carbon emissions

One year into carbon pricing and it’s going swimmingly:

NEW Zealand’s emissions trading scheme has helped boost investment in renewable energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to a review by the country’s conservative government.

It also appears to have won over a sceptical business community, with 63 per cent of companies saying in submissions to a government panel they backed the climate scheme. Two years ago 78 per cent were opposed.

“How to Get Expelled from School”

That’s the working title of Ian Plimer’s new children’s book, with a forward (sic) by Czech President Václav Klaus. Together with Alan Jones you have, methinks, three hominid specimens masquerading as Homo sapiens.


This space is meant to also serve as an open thread on climate change.

87 thoughts on “Climate clippings 38”

  1. Barry Brook seems like a smart guy but he lost a lot of credibility over the Fukushima disaster. He was completely wrong in his dismissal of any serious problems way past the time when blind freddy could see it was seriously f**ked up. See how that turned out. It’s still getting worse! Best to assume anything he says is tainted by his one-eyed nuclear bias. Pity.

  2. From Plimer’s speech about his new book:

    Incoming university students, Plimer argued, have little or no knowledge of the basic science (climatology) necessary to understand the issue

    Why do incoming students need to have knowledge of climate science? What they need to have knowledge of is how to spot a bullshitter like Plimer at 20 paces.

    What’s amusing is the author of book on climate denialism for children moaning about the ‘propaganda’ being fed to our kids.

  3. I don’t think what has happened in New Zealand can be expected to translate in any substantial way to Australia.
    Roughly NZ power comes from the following sources:-
    60% hydroelectric
    25% natural gas
    10% coal
    I only wish we had the hydro resources NZ have!!

  4. David A @ 1, I know what you mean about Barry Brook. His story is that Fukushima was 50-year old technology. That aside, I’m not sure it invalidates his analysis of where the Germans find themselves.

    BilB on the other thread referred to Quiggin’s commentary on the outrageous claims being made by Barry O’Farrell. There should be some kind of redress against spin and lies of this kind.

    The issue was looked at on PM last night where they went to John O’Connor of the Climate Institute for comment. Quiggin did a far better job.

  5. John Michelmore said:

    I only wish we had the hydro resources NZ have!!

    As the old saying goes, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

    We don’t so we just have to work with what we have, or can afford to contrive.

  6. David @ 6, there was a second opinion in the in the New Scientist article. In short, they thought it would put back mitigation in Germany by 10 years at a time when we can’t afford it, install fossil-fuel power which will be problematic down the track, especially since Greens in Germany don’t like CCS, entirely negate the European energy saving initiative and raise the price of electricity for all Europeans, because of the dependence on a carbon price to limit emissions.

  7. Regardless of which technology we end up having to use, our long term dependence on burning coal for electricity is going to bite us on the bum. In fact the lack of investment in infrastructure Australia wide (beyond building more roads and more suburbia) is fairly worrying.

  8. #1 David Allen,

    I did raise an eyebrow on reading Barry Brook’s initial assessment, but sometimes people also deserve credit for being forthright and prepared to commit to taking a position that may have consequences for them, because they believe it is the truth and it is the right thing to do. Barry Book has also said quite clearly that his initial assessment was too optimistic.

    If you want to hold people responsible for their assessments there have been no shortage of candidates making statements about criticality in spent fuel pools etc etc, which have also proved to be quite wrong. There has been some really wild claims about Japan being uninhabitable and increases in infant mortality on the west coast of the US.

    You are wrong about the situation getting worse at Fukishima. Release of radionucleides into the environment is largely under control. Recent air testing at the site boundary detected no radio iodine or cesium. Release of radioactive water into the ocean has been stopped and they have one water decon plant operational and working on another. The core temperatures in all the damaged reactors is stable and reasonable and they have nitrogen injection into reactors 1, 2 and working on 3 to prevent risk of further hydrogen explosion. Supports are in for the damaged structure at #4 spent fuel pool and the pumps are working. It really is much better than a couple of months ago. There is a summary here:

    The Guardian in typical fashion ran a headline a couple of days ago screaming about radiation reaching “lethal” levels at Fukushima because of the discovery of a couple of (very) hot spots at the plant. But in themselves, while they are an issue for TEPCO at the plant, they pose no risk to the general population. The thing is that at the plant they understand radiation risk, monitor exposure and take measures to limit risk to workers. Anybody that doubts this should consider the published dose figures of 124 plant workers exposed to more than 100 mSv. At Chernobyl 300,000 ‘liquidators” had an estimated average dose of nearly 150 mSv according to UNSCEAR.

    The Japanese government is currently reassessing risk in the evacuated areas possibly with a view to return some of the evacuees:

  9. As far as Fukushima goes, it’s an economic disaster, if a small one compared to the tsunami that caused it.

    I’ve still seen no evidence that it’s going to have serious health consequences for anyone, beyond the relatively few TEPCO workers.

    Sorry if this is OT. I’ve been waiting to wade back into Fukushima, but I’m looking for some published comprehensive assessments of the accident and consequences.

  10. don’t hear much about electric cars these days. there’s supposedly trials getting done but i haven’t seen anything.

    i’m thinking we shouldn’t go overboard closing down coal fired power stations, just a few of the ‘worst’, and then switch focus to getting off oil. i’d hate to see a brand newish plant get torn down unless it was really necessary. transport isn’t far behind electricity generation as the worst polluter (cattle being 3rd from memory).

    this might cheer up the coal sector, lower our emissions AND reduce our need for oil.

  11. I am quite excited about the 4th gen reactor China has built. This, if it works as planned, is a bit of slap in the face for the rest of the world and a credit to the Chinese. I can’t help but be extremely impressed, with reservations.

    I am also a little confused. This link has a lot more detail about China’s 4th gen plans but links to a 10MW Helium cooled experimental reactor rather than a 20MW as in Brian’s link.

  12. Release of radioactive water into the ocean has been stopped and they have one water decon plant operational and working on another.

    Quokka, apparently Tepco have committed to commencing to build a special bund or “shielding” wall to stop leakage into the sea by the end of 2011. I gather from that that there is still an issue with some waste water leaking from the site. I think people forget that Fukushima is an entirely new scenario, it is unlike Hiroshima, and unlike Chernobyl, and that in terms of health consequences, this is yet another unintended experiment on the populace, the results of which are not yet known. The most uncontroversial consequence of Chernobyl (the rise in TC) was not an expected consequence based on the data from Hiroshima.

    What I think is most likely, and what I most fear for it will skew the science and result in injustice for the populace, is that the official response to research will be to pre-emptively dismiss any observed effects for political reasons. The claims, already, that there will be no effects on public health are so loud and so vociferous that to me it constitutes an environment which is actively hostile to medical science. If people want to know about the health consequences, I highly recommend that they don’t read environmental scientists and nuclear proponents or for that matter, anti-nuclear activists, read the medical health literature.

    There is some cause for optimism I suppose as one difference to the discussions around Chernobyl is that the consideration of internal exposure appears to have been accepted without demur. This became a huge bunfight after Chernobyl and many careers were tarnished for suggesting such an outlandish thing.

  13. Salient Green
    Don’t get too excited about gen IV reactors. It will take at least 10 years to even get them safety certified (as indeed it should) and only after that can they begin manufacture – say about another 15 years before the reactor becomes widely available. Allow another 10 years before they start to seriously displace fossil fuelled generation.
    We don’t have 45 years; we don’t even have 20 years. So all you nuke enthusiasts get a grip. The little green Gen IV reactor is never going to come trundling down the drive to your gated community in time, if it ever does arrive it will be floated in by barge and hauled over your levee bank with a crane.

    Before that happens the present network paradigm is going to be stood on its head and I intend to be part of the upending.


  14. Barry Brook is objective and there’s no real problem at Fukushima? ohkaaay. Where’s the door (keeps eye on people in room and backs towards door, slowly…).

  15. @Salient Green,

    The high temperature gas cooled reactor is a separate initiative to the sodium cooled fast rector linked to in Brian’s piece. It seems the HTR is a full scale demo plant with two reactors with shared steam system and 210 MWe output. There is a presentation here:

    The Chinese have their fingers in a few advanced nuclear pies including molten salt reactors though it’s probably going to be a few years before we see one of the latter.

  16. So Huggy, on the face of what you say re limitation of nuke energy and advantage re smart-net, how well are the Germans positioned in that field?

    Further, it always puzzled me why the pervasive ‘mains’ copper lines were not used for more than switching off-peak tariffs. Would not a smart net offer tremendous opportunities for communication, hence amazing potentials to use ‘power’ more effectively and efficient.

  17. Ootz, the revamp of the network will involve a bit more than just smart stuff. Clue, the advent of the electric vehicle is already yielding a big reduction in the cost of energy storage. Combine that with smarts and probably the NBN and the entire network can be re-modelled to yield a huge reduction in energy requirements; as well as a buffer for intermittent renewables, I estimate that a widely implemented system would enable the wind turbine penetration to double from about 30% to over 60%.
    On the use of power lines for communications:
    The system that works in most countries is called Frequency Injection or Ripple Control. Most likely your hot water service is switched on and off by your power utility.
    Interestingly, the only developed country that does not use FI is the US, “no mother fucker communist is going to come into my home and fiddle with my hot water service” you know how they are.
    Apart from FI, which works but is only good for switching stuff at low rates, there have been attempts to do broadband over power lines. Sort of shit Malcolm Turnbull would endorse – compared to the NBN it is just total crap..


  18. @Huggy

    Clue, the advent of the electric vehicle is already yielding a big reduction in the cost of energy storage.

    No it isn’t. There are a trivial number of ev’s deployed. I’m all for them and they can’t come soon enough, but you are talking a couple decades before they are likely to be present in sufficient numbers to provide a grid storage facility of any size. Might not ever happen – some sort of synfuel may prove a better option. I surely don’t know and I doubt anybody does for certain.

    Putting this stuff on the critical path to achieving low carbon electricity supply is a risky business. Too many dependencies and too much complexity is a recipe for disaster. If EVs do prove to be a serious tool for grid storage, that’s fine. But you cannot depend on them at this time.

  19. Thanks Quokka @ 18, I’ll start reading.
    Huggy @ 16, I appreciate what you are saying. China can do this stuff far quicker than the developed world can. Perhaps that is the strategy, let China or India do the development on 4th gen including thorium.

    Things are moving so fast in both those countries and lives are apparently still cheaper than ours in the developed world that it could also explain Germany’s strange energy policy, as one of ‘let’s see what comes out of India and China in the next few years’.

    The developed world is probably comfortable in that they will either buy or steal the gen 4 technology cheaply once it is proven.

  20. The idea of the ETS is that targets are met, whatever the economy has to do to meet them. Only a limited number of permits to pollute are available, and the costs of exceeding available permits are high (and count against future permits). Canny investors will put their money into low emissions technologies, and they’ll prosper. Australia is cashed up, and the political choices lie between the strategy of the grasshopper and that of the ant, as in the children’s story.

  21. Australia has no urgent need for nuclear since it has coal, natural gas and good sites for solar and wind. By contrast, nuclear has to be strategically attractive to countries like Germany since their natural gas has to be imported from a potentially hostile country and the site most often talked about for European solar is in the Islamic Sahara desert.
    Fukushima has demonstrated that a nuclear plant that depends on back-up systems to prevent a disaster just isn’t good enough. If we are serious about “safe nuclear” you need a system that is fail-safe. This means that there won’t be a disaster:
    1. If power, cooling water and other critical resources fail.
    2. A hacker gets into the control system.
    3. A rogue operator/engineer/maintainer is in a position to make a critical change.
    4. Suicidal terrorists take over the plant.
    5. There is a natural disaster that damages the plant.
    5. And……?
    I am not sure how close gen 4 or thorium get to meeting the above criteria. You would certainly need a design with a low inventory of material radio-active enough to need cooling and you would certainly need a system that drops the fissioning material somewhere that stops the chain reaction and can dissipate heat if temperature gets too high.
    We need to keep an open mind re the future of nuclear. But we also need to define what safety criteria an acceptable nuclear plant needs to meet.

  22. akn @ 17, what I said in the post was:

    Barry Brook looks at what Germany is attempting. He reckons they’ll have to increase wind and solar 17-fold in 9 years, or build 10-20 new fossil fuel power plants, or see whole industry sectors go overseas.

    In Brook’s post, the first was from some complicated arithmetic that I didn’t follow, but he’s either right or wrong.

    The second was confirmed at the upper level in the New Scientist article.

    The third was a quote (with obvious approval) from Jürgen Grossmann, head of energy giant RWE. You couldn’t regard Grossmann as disinterested, but he may be right, he may be wrong.

    On Fukushima, I’ll await Robert’s post, and the inevitable bunfight that will follow.

    I’m also all ears about Huggy’s emerging new paradigm.

  23. The Japanese government is currently reassessing risk in the evacuated areas possibly with a view to return some of the evacuees.

    “We’re from the government. We’re here to help you.”

    What a pity Tepco is bankrupt. How long will it take the Pollyanna nuclear apologists to learn that nuclear power generators cannot price risk into their business models. As a result, forty years of profit are privatised and one instant of bank-breaking catastrophe is socialised.

    This is an absurd model.

  24. Katz,

    they do price catastrophic risks into their business models. Exactly the same way that banks do. They are aware of the downside (and pretend not to – cognitive dissonance), but everyone agrees that the risks won’t happen because we cannot forego the privatised benefits (reverse causality). And that achieving those benefits through a different means is too hard or ideologically unsound because of the dead hand of regulation.

    Only until elected public officials take responsibility for governance over inter-generational timescales will this current model of socialising catastrophe be changed.

  25. OK Roger.

    My amended comment reads, “Nuclear generators cannot ACKNOWLEDGE that they have priced risks into their business models. To do so would be a confession of criminal negligence.”

  26. Brian, I’m exhausted by nuke boosters who bury the political reality of the nexus of corruption that exists between government, regulatory bodies and nuke power generation corporations beneath of mountain of technical talk as if processes of decision making and governance are of secondary consideration to technical matters. They aren’t.

    Indeed, the more I read technical argument from nuke proponents that dismisses quite realistic public concerns about nuke safety the more convinced I am that the hubris of partisan pro-nuke scientists is contributing massively to public distrust of science generally. If scientists are wondering where their credibility has gone, especially if they are wondering how it is that climate sceince has been so easily discredited, then they need to consider the impact on public confidence of pro-nuke boosters.

    Anyway, FWIW, here is another source of information on soil contamination in Japan:

  27. This article by Giles Parkinson may be relevant. He reckons that costs are such that only governments will build nuclear plants.

    As Citigroup analysts pointed out in a 2009 analysis on the economics of the nuclear industry, there hasn’t been a plant in the world built without the relevant government assuming much of the construction, operating and financing risk. There is not a single insurer, banker or construction company in the world that is willing to assume that risk.

    Now in Japan he is suggesting that the nuclear industry has lost public confidence to the extent that there may be an entire shutdown next summer.

  28. akn, I hadn’t seen your comment @ 30 when I posted @ 31, but yes, you make a good point IMHO.

    Whatever Germany does to bat their way out of trouble, I can’t see a return to nuclear as being part of it. The die was cast when the Greens became the senior party to form government in the recent Baden-Württemberg elections.

  29. Brian: Germany is not the only country that has limited energy choices and/or choices that contain strategic risk (Like importing gas or solar electricity from potentially hostile regions.) Geothermal may be the easy answer for Germany but it is an option that is not available to everyone.

    For these countries, nuclear would be an attractive option if it weren’t for safety issues. The point I was trying to make @24 is that we need to define what features an acceptable nuclear plant would have to have rather than engage in endless arguments/lies with nuclear power tragics.

    I agree with Bilb. We have a power useage system that has adapted to the needs of a power supply system that does base power well but struggles with variable demand. Unless things like geothermal become the viable source of the bulk of our power we are going to have to move to power usage systems that have adapted to variable power supply sources. At the domestic level it is easy to see lots of scope for matching demand with supply.

  30. John D, points taken. I understand that when Germany stress tested their nuclear facilities post Fukushima one of their assumptions was that the surrounding infrastructure would be destroyed or disabled in some unspecified way.

  31. John Michelmore @ 3

    ….and NZ’s only wish that they had the Solar Resources that Australia has!

    The message is…you have to do the best with what you have got.

    This, however, poses a problem for us here in Australia as what we seem to have the most of are beligerant loud mouthed politicians (not polite at all) who are determined to do anything but that which is sensible or logical.

  32. Brian: I would be surprised if any operating nuclear power stations would meet a requirement to remain safe if power and/or cooling water supply were lost let alone the other requirements suggested @24.

  33. Bilb,
    Why would NZ want our sunshine, when the cost of Solar PV and Solar Thermal is between 2 and 3 times the cost of hydro power?
    That’s exactly why you cant use NZ as a case history for Australias decarbonisation.
    I’ve had to assume your talking about power generation, or I suppose they could take up sunbaking!!

  34. @akn

    I’m exhausted by nuke boosters who bury the political reality of the nexus of corruption that exists between government, regulatory bodies and nuke power generation corporations beneath of mountain of technical talk as if processes of decision making and governance are of secondary consideration to technical matters. They aren’t.

    By now everybody and his dog, including the IAEA, has criticized the nuclear regulatory structure in Japan. But I have yet to see any compelling evidence that the failure to deal adequately with the risk of tsunami was “corruption” in the strict sense of the term. Complacency is the big enemy of industrial safety. I would be very interested to see a proper authoritative account of what advice was offered and sought on tsunami risk, whether there was conflicting advice and how it was dealt with.

    Especially in the developed world, heavy industries do take safety seriously, not because they are especially nice guys, but because accidents are costly and potentially extremely costly and because the socially acceptable norms for safety have improved over the years. Why nuclear industry is not driven by the same imperatives is yet to be explained by those pushing the purely political narrative of “nexus of corruption”.

    The Fukushima accident was not caused by dodgy construction because somebody slipped some dollars to someone’s brother in law in the regulatory agency to turn a blind eye. It was not caused because of defective diesel generators that had not been maintained properly. It was not caused by unsafe operational procedures, by inadequate staffing or poor training.

    The Fukushima accident was caused by a very unfortunate combination of very old plants and a massive natural disaster whose risk of occurrence had been underestimated. This talk of “nexus of corruption” is little other than smokescreen to obscure this rather straight forward “technical” fact.

  35. Your being an apologist for inherently dangerous technology which has passed its “useby date”, Quokka. The hidden cost of Nuclear Technology is that its presence has prevented the development of properly clean and renewable technologies. That influence ended with Fukushima and the two strongest technology countries on the planet still able to perform, Japan and Germany, are now fully focussed on delivering those renewable technologies to their full potential.

  36. John Michelmore,

    Why would NZ want our sunshine? It is simple. Sunshine goes everywhere, and without cabling. Your appreciation of the economics of distributed energy generation is blinkered by your passion for baseload energy delivery. In time you will come to understand.

  37. Nuclear generating capacity is going to grow anyway, even if it’s only China and India building it. If they quickly develop the much safer 4th gen and build it we should breath a sigh of relief. The presence of a lot more Nuclear power stations wil be the least of our problems over the next 50 years.

    A Thorium fueled reactor stimulated by particle beam fulfills pretty much all of JohnD’s safety points.

  38. Quokka:

    The Fukushima accident was not caused by dodgy construction because somebody slipped some dollars to someone’s brother in law in the regulatory agency to turn a blind eye.

    No, they ignored at no financial cost the warnings of seismologists who gave historical evidence of huge tsunamis.

    Pig ignorance or complicity in a pro-nuclear conspiracy? You decide.

  39. #33 John D

    You state that “At the domestic level it is easy to see lots of scope for matching demand with supply.”

    It’s “easy” to see “scope” for a lot of things but that doesn’t tell us much. The ANALYSING TECHNICAL CONSTRAINTS ON
    report commissioned by the UK Climate Change Committee has an assessment of “movable demand” in their “high” 2030 renewables deployment scenario – page 81. The main components of movable demand are transport, heat pump and non-heat pump (resistive heating) demand. Movable “wet appliance demand” is essentially trivial.

    To put it more directly, none of the sources of movable demand exist today. For practical purposes it is zero.

    Each of these sources of movable demand will in themselves be a real challenge. The Renewable Heat Initiative which ultimately aims to electrify heating (heat pump and resistive where heat pump is not practical) displacing the use of gas central heating will be neither cheap nor easy.

    There are a couple of points to take away from this:

    1. Telling stories about how “easy” such measures are is being a little economical with the truth.

    2. Making the decarbonization of electricity supply dependent on such measures whose implementation is uncertain in both magnitude and time frame looks like a very risky business.

  40. @BilB

    Your being an apologist for inherently dangerous technology which has passed its “useby date”, Quokka.

    What’s worse – apologists or trolls?

    But if you want to pursue this “useby date” nonsense, then here’s an interesting piece of history:

    Egypt 1913

    Are these parabolic tracking mirrors from Andasol 1 CSP in Spain? Err …. no. This is 1913 in Egypt. It would not be unreasonable to ask why after a century, solar thermal makes a trivial contribution to the world’s energy supply.

    Of course silly sound bites don’t really have the same standing as the laws of physics which unlike the next iPhone model are not a fashion statement. When these laws were discovered tends to be of rather less importance than the laws themselves which for practical purposes are immutable and immune to the best efforts of “strongest technology countries on the planet” or any number of government subsidies to change them. Cultural objections to nuclear power from anti-nuke ideologues are not likely to have much effect either.

  41. Tamino finally gets around to destroying Murry Salby’s talk from IUGG. It was basically the old canard that temperature drives CO2, not the other way around, and its been doing the rounds on denialist blogs for a bit since then.

    I’ll quote Tamino here:

    What Salby does not explain is this: total human emissions of CO2 from fossil-fuel burning are far larger than total CO2 increase. In fact, the CO2 increase has only been about half of human emissions. So, the net emission from other sources has been negative, while atmospheric CO2 has been rising. It’s especially ironic that Salby offers up a “bank balance” analogy when it’s obvious he himself has failed to do the simplest possible accounting of the carbon budget.

    Clearly even being a professor doesn’t prevent one from being a moron, and its good to see someone take it to pieces – it made a lot of people very angry at IUGG for this very reason. It’s a bit annoying to go along to an international conference to hear cutting edge science and hear something that a first year could knock over without too much thought.

    Roger: is your link borked? I get 404’d when I click on it.

  42. Jess, I recall that one of the early concerns in study on CO2 emissions was tracking down the “4 billion tonnes of CO2 that goes missing from the atmosphere”. This research highlighted the many ways that nature absorbs CO2 and tucks it away. To me this is a major concern. For now we have, still, plenty of readily available concentrated carbon available to us with which to build our technological world. What do we do when we have squandered every last bit of it and nature has dispersed it thinly around the globe?

  43. BilB: I’m pretty sure we can just grow some trees and suck it back out of the atmosphere without too much trouble. The question is on what timescale we require it.

    I think the point of Tamino’s post is that we’ve been lucky to date with the amount of carbon that the oceans have sucked up. But the question is how much longer we can go on doing this.

  44. Jess,
    the link was borked – the way it copied out of wordpress – sorry all. Thanks for re-linking.

    The Salby issue is another interesting one. Seems he thought he had a gotcha, in that there were a couple of ways to interpret isotopes for the narrow range of data he looked at. He failed to locate it in the bigger picture of the carbon cycle. Kinda like Spenser’s recent effort with his simple climate model that produced rubbish when pushed beyond the limits it was tuned for.

    I missed all the fun at IUGG. Turned up to do my own talk but was too busy to stay and learn anything.

    We should take note of what’s happening in Canada. It could happen here.

  45. Roger: No probs.

    I think the best part of Salby’s talk was the entertainment value in terms of reactions from other scientists.

    IUGG left a bit to be desired I think. They seemed to only have huge lecture theatres or really small ones. The volcanology sessions were probably the best attended out of the entire conf but were scheduled in the smallest room. My talk had people standing outside the door. Still, better than giving a talk to an audience of 30 in a room designed to seat 2500 though, which was the experience of some other guys in my group.

  46. P.S. Re Canada: I hear some of the peeps in the Dept of Climate Change will be looking over their shoulders if Abbot gets in. I wonder if Hockey’s cuts will be evenly distributed?

  47. Jess, I don’t think that planting trees to provide our future (300 years from now) carbon needs is at all realistic. There is a lot of double counting being done on what the biosphere can achieve. One minute we are planting them to suck up CO2 the next we are tearing them down to exploit for their cellulose, then at another time we are relying on recycling their carbon as biomass for energy conversion. Meanwhile the animals have nowhere reliable to live. Not a winning argument in my mind.

  48. So Mr Lenders now considers water running down the Goulburn and Murray Rivers to the sea is wasted. One needs to ask why the federal Labor party, Greens and environmental groups are seeking additional water from irrigators to flow out the mouth of the Murray through the Murray Darling Basin Plan if it is merely wasted water. Mr Lenders has displayed his total ignorance of the Melbourne water supply system. Unlike electricity, a connection between two storages doesn’t mean water can easily be transferred between the two points. I look forward to hearing Kelly O’Shannasy’s comments on the new Labor Party position regarding environmental flows in major river systems. How much carbon dioxide pollution will be generated pumping water over the Great divide so it can run out the mouth of the Yarra because there is no spare capacity in the Sugarloaf reservoir compared with letting it flow out the mouth of the Murray by gravity?

  49. Quokka,
    I am being offered Lithium Ion batteries at seriously low prices. I am not so stupid as to leave them in the vehicle and I am not talking used batteries here.
    The volume of manufacture of Li cells from just one of the smaller manufacturers is measured in the hundred of millions pa.
    Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on developement as well, and hardly a week goes past when some new development is announced.
    It seems that not every-one shares your myopia.

  50. Quokka @ 34
    Q, what was the year of that solar engine in Egypt again? Oh 1913 , what happened next year ?
    Oh WW1 and the end of such frippery.
    What did the most to foster the use of low cost oil as fuel?
    OH WW1 of course.
    What BTW, was the main driver behind the early nuclear reactors ?
    Oh the “need” for Nuclear weapons during the afermath of WW2.
    So you have one benign generation technology delayed by the advent of war and another that became possible because of war.
    You choose.

  51. Roger and BilB- could I ask about the Salby lecture?
    Is his point that some sort of global switch went “on” in 1850 or thereabouts and this is part of a cycle of ice ages?
    The steady increase in CO2 reflects this rising temperature and as it affects soils and the oceans they respond by taking up and releasing greater mounts of CO2 .
    I read explanations about this at skeptical science but the argument seems focused on a different area and it all gets rather confusing to me.
    Is the discussion about C12 and C13 is trying to explain the decreasing amount of C13 isotope as ALSO reflecting a release of CO2 from natural sources not only fossil fuels?
    During the speech I think he claims that
    this had been thought of as a specific indicator of man made emissions but that may be a misinterpretation?
    I’m keen to hear what you have to say on this.

  52. Yeh murph, i saw some of that on A-pac( i think )
    He seamed very reluctant to be dawn into policy or ” what this means “(commendable ) , only to say he thinks his science is sound and the IPCC should use it in the models.
    Didn’t sound like a glory hound or shyster to me.

  53. I thought there was little doubt that, to some extent, rising temperature leads to higher CO2 which leads to higher temp….. This is what you would expect as a result of things like melting permafrost leading to the release of GHG or increased ocean temperatures leading to lower CO2 solubility. This is one of the reasons why climate scientists are concerned about global warming being greater than expected.

  54. @murph – part of the problem is that we don’t have a detailed analysis from Selby yet to work out exactly what his argument is. I didn’t catch much of his talk although I had a listen to the part I missed.

    As far as I can make out he’s trying to take a short-term correlation between isotope ratios and temperature (on the scale of years) to make inferences about longer term trends (on the scale of years to millennia). Basically that’s a big no-no.

    IIRC his conclusion about longer-term correlations between temperature and CO2 levels aren’t backed up by the longer proxies from ice cores anyway, so it sounds like a lot of thunder but not much lightening.

  55. Ok: Here’s a comment from someone who actually made it for more than half his talk (I was running late…) :

    It was quite good sport to play “spot the flaw” in real time. Fortunately, the talk was the last of the session, and both Alan Plumb and myself chatted with him right afterwards. Aside from whether a statistical argument makes physical sense, it also must hold water statistically by being applicable beyond the time frame of model development. In discussing what his model would mean for past variations of temperature and CO2, it eventually became clear that he believed all paleoclimate data that supported his statistical analysis and disregarded all paleoclimate data that countered his statistical analysis, even though the latter collection was much larger than the former.

    Eventually I realized that if 0.8 C of warming is sufficient to produce an increase of 120ppb CO2, as Salby asserted, then the converse would also have to be true. During the last glacial maximum, when global temperatures were indisputably several degrees cooler than today, the atmospheric CO2 concentration must have been negative.

    (emphasis mine)

  56. There’s lots more on the thread that Jess linked to at RealClimate, including this from gavin:

    But even without thinking about this that deeply at all, it is obvious that Salby is wrong – we have put more than twice as much CO2 into the air as has actually accumulated over the last 100 years. To posit that the rise is not anthropogenic implies finding sinks that have totally taken up the anthropogenic CO2 *and* new sources that have put half of it back again. Meanwhile, all the actual reservoirs have more carbon than they had previously. Furthermore, the 13C and 14C data (up until the bomb peak) support a predominantly fossil fuel source. And the O2/N2 levels are dropping at the rate expected (given that we are burning C, and taking O2 from the air). The idea that a poorly performed regression undermines all this is ludicrous.

  57. Murph,

    The comment Jess quoted is from John Neilsen-Gammon a climatologist from Texas (blogs at the Abyss). He is very good. As editor of Journal of Geophysical Research he worked hard to get a couple of papers from the denial crew up to scratch for publishing (by which time, they were pretty much in line with the rest of climate science). So he is fair-minded.

    Salby had what sounded like a credible point that didn’t survive when it was extended to the past and potential future. Also it didn’t conserve mass – the CO2 that has been emitted due to fossil fuel burning had to go somewhere.

    It was odd that he gave a talk on it to the Sydney Institute because how would the audience there know whether it was credible or not?

    Actually, I do think warming may be affecting the rate of change of CO2 in a subtle way (the change in rate of atmospheric CO2 increase coincides with shifts in ocean warming). A colleague put me onto this after my talk on step changes in climate and we intend to follow it up.

  58. Rog: Your last paragraph sounds interesting. What sort of shifts in ocean warming will you be looking for?

  59. Thanks for the replies.
    It was unusual to hear Mt Salby discuss the ice cores during one answer he gave .
    He indicated that the CO2 having been deposited within snow then compressed and held for extremely long periods of time he expected diffusion to have been present and that the ice record was not reliable as a record of specific times and corresponding CO2 levels.
    This sounded like a challenge to the validity of their use.
    I have been trying to understand the point made that only half the anthropogenic emissions are reflected in atmospheric increases.
    As the link Brian made discussed this implies that sinks have been more active than expected.
    Part of the Salby criticism looks to be about the state of knowledge of these sinks and the amount of natural variation that occurs particularly as the temperature rises.
    Is this a reasonable criticism?
    There has been plenty of debate about who are climate scientists so who are the experts on ther carbon cycle?
    Soil scientists? Rafe Champion!?

  60. Murph – I think Selby might be right on one level, in that our understanding of the finer detail of the carbon cycle is a bit fuzzy. But we can understand the broad brush features of the carbon cycle without necessary having to know all the specifics. We can carry out some fairly crude back-of-envelope reasoning to see that Salby’s thesis cannot be correct.

    As one example: a number of people have mentioned mass balances. This is basically saying that all carbon must go somewhere, so if it’s not in the atmosphere then it should be in the biosphere and oceans. And when we look at the behaviour of the ocean chemistry we see that the oceans are acidifying, which is exactly what we’d expect if they are absorbing CO2. So I don’t think that only half the anthropogenic CO2 being observed in the atmosphere was unexpected.

    If I can use a simple analogy, it’s like filling up two buckets which are connected by a hose through their bases. If you put water in the first bucket then some of the water will flow through to the second, so not all your added water will be in the first bucket. But the total amount of water in both buckets will add up to the amount you’ve added. That’s what’s meant by mass balance. Selby’s model didn’t satisfy this basic criterion.

    I got the feeling that his dislike of ice cores was because they didn’t support his correlation, so rather than assume his correlation was invalid, he was saying the evidence was invalid. Roger might be able to help out here, but I thought they corrected for expected diffusion effects in ice already?

  61. Murph,

    If Salby is challenging the notion that gas molecules in ice bubble cavities will diffuse through the ice to dilute or change the gas composition within those bubbles, he has to present some proof. Such an assertion must be backed by research and checked amoungst peers. That’s how science works. It is very mischievious to launch such a claim unsupported in a public presentation, as this impies that the claim is supported by research. Is it?

    Otherwise it is more of the same bullshoot stuff that we saw on the ABC this morning where Virginia Trioli, while interviewing a woman who is reporting that considerable research has demonstrated that the Carbon Pricing package will stimulate business, and that there are many parts of the very comprehensive Carbon Pricing package that people are not aware of……to which Trioli reacts with “then this is why the government will have great difficulty in bringing the budget back into balance..with all of these additional expenditures”…….guest is stunned briefly but retorts “this is all covered by the package”….end of interview,…no further questions.

    So now the ABC has made the false point that business stimulus from the Carbon Pricing package is to be covered from general revenue, not from revenues obtained by the Carbon Pricing initiative.

    Virginia Trioli either does not listen to her interviewees, is stupid, or she is actively quite malicious. In my opinion. I suspect that it is the latter based on my continued observance of her “work”.

  62. The ice-CO2 relationship is as you say Murph (and Jess). The snow compresses into firn and then into ice, trapping the bubbles properly – it takes a while – up to 60-70 years. But that’s at low precipitation sites. For high resolution data they go to high precip sites like Law Dome. That’s what gives us the recent methane, nitrous oxide and high res CO2 record. Experts at CSIRO Aspendale – Etheridge, Francey, Fraser, Steele, Trudinger, Rayner, the whole gas lab crew, more in Tassie at the Antarctic CRC and that’s just Australia.

    Resolution won’t fix Salby’s problem because mass balance is still an issue.

    The gas cycle is active. As the pressure of CO2 in the air goes up, so does its absorption into the ocean. That has helped the ocean sink keep pace to that roughly 55% of emissions. However, if the ocean warms it becomes subtly less effective because warm liquids hold less gas (think fizzy drinks). Folk have actually been looking for this link for a while but it’s made difficult by inaccuracies in historical estimates of emissions, El Nino/La Nina effects on both ocean and land sinks, global droughts on land sinks, and large scale circulation changes in the ocean.

    There’s some very clever inverse models being run using isotopes as tracers amongst other things (working backwards from concentrations to emissions). Into that comes Salby with a simple linear regression having cut out all the interesting wiggles – suggesting the statistics allow two alternative explanations based on carbon isotopes. You have to be very careful to sail into another area of science with a simple “gotcha”. That said, the budget is by no means closed (how much CO2 is coming our of Indonesian peats for instance), but it is constrained at a number of points allowing such claims to be readily tested.

  63. BilB: I’m not too familiar with the state of ice core science, but I think the question about CO2 diffusion is a valid one.

    However I suspect that it will be something that is taken into account in interpreting ice core records, simply because it is such an obvious source of noise in the record.

  64. Ok, so I did my own googling and came up with this report on the NCDC’s website. This quote is informative I think:

    Diffusion uncertainty: […] Diffusion uncertainty is important to the extent that the characteristic length of diffusion exceeds the characteristic depth-resolution at a proxy is being used. […] Diffusion will thus reduce the amplitude of the seasonal cycle, but not the amplitude of interannual- variations, in an ice core with annual snow accumulation >>7 cm/year.

    The influence of diffusion can be quantified using models of vapor diffusion, which depend primarily on temperature and snow accumulation rate (Cuffey and Steig, 1998). Vintner et al. (in review) suggest that the best way to address diffusion in reconstructions is to artificially diffuse the ice core data so that all of the data are equally diffused; in their high resolution Greenland cores, they were able to take this approach and yet retain enough of the seasonal signal to meaningfully separate winter and summer data.

    With the exception of δ18O, however, rates of diffusion are not well established for other species (e.g. MSA; Mulvaney et al., 1992) where it may be important. An obvious alternative is to simply average samples over greater lengths of time, but in many cases this may need to be more than a year. For some species (e.g. sulfate) diffusion is in any case negligible.

    So (of course) they are aware of the uncertainties in interpreting their data. The rest of that paper is worth a look because it outlines some of the methods they use to determine that uncertainty.

  65. Rog: Are the inverse models you’re referring to the ones involving Green’s propagation functions? I think we had someone come and talk to our group about that (as part of the new CCRC), only I can’t remember the guy’s name and googling is not helping here.

  66. Jess, have to plead ignorance. Much of it has been based on some of Ian Enting’s work but I don’t know enough about recent developments to know the detail.

  67. Completely off topic – NASA Earth Observatory has just posted some interesting images of icebergs calved off glaciers by the Tohoku Earthquake/Tsunami.

    Roger – just remembered who it was. Mark Holzer (UNSW I think) was doing some really interesting things with sub-surface samples of water and tracing them back to their last surface exposure using their isotopic signature. It involved a fair bit of analysis but it looked like a really interesting way of getting a good handle on ocean ventilation and therefore on the interaction between atmospheric and oceanic reservoirs.

    Here’s the relevant paper: Holzer, M., F.W. Primeau, W.M. Smethie, Jr., and S. Khatiwala, Where and how long ago was water in the western North Atlantic ventilated? Maximum-entropy inversions of bottle data from WOCE line A20, J. Geophys. Research, 115 , C07005, doi:10.1029/2009JC005750, 2010.

  68. Thanks, you guys. You properly demonstrate how science works. It is a shame that politics, and broad human understanding, does not operate to the same standard.

  69. By the way, on the topic of sea level rise in NSW – my wife did some of the analysis at GA (including checking the results for both Lake Macquarie and Wyong) and I can assure you that the results are robust, but do not take into account the effects of increased erosion with higher sea levels.

    The maps of inundation were pretty scary and if I were the mayor of Wyong I would be more worried than the mayor of Lake Macquarie. They’re going to be hit pretty hard, even from a small increase in sea level.

  70. I was really upset by this morning’s ABC reporting on the Carbon Pricing legislation (the part of it that I heard that is) so I sent this email to the ABC requiring a response…

    “Please explain how Virginia Trioli could come to the conclusion that industry support initiatives covered under the Carbon Pricing legislation could “make it difficult to bring the government budget deficit under control”. Do ABC television reporters launch into subjects without any research or understanding of their subjects, ie an empty brain approach? This subject has been on the coverage agenda for many weeks. I find the ABC coverage of the subject offensive to Journalism in general. The demonstrated presenter’s level of understanding of this, and other subjects, is beneath that of my 13 year old daughter’s comprehension level and an afront to the tradition of ABC reporting. I would like to believe that your reporters actually know and are able to calculate the actual cost of one tonne of CO2 at $20 per tonne to one kilowatt hour of electricity, a calculation that can be learnt in 10 minutes using the power of computers and google. If they are not able to make this simple calculation, then how can they possibly be able to evaluate the accuracy of the opinons of those whom they are interviewing? True Journalism requires some research and at least a basic understanding of the subject matter. That, or you are paying your journalists way too much if it is more than the basic wage. I’d like an explanation please and preferably a public one, else I accuse the ABC of having transformed from a journalistic role to a political activism role”

    if I get an answer I will post it here. This is not a minor issue.

  71. Jess: If diffusion is a real issue in the longer term you would expect fluctuation of CO2 levels in the Vostock ice cores do be lower the further we go back in time as a logical consequence of diffusion.

  72. John: Not necessarily – as Roger pointed out the rate of diffusion is not constant through time – it’s a lot easier to diffuse species through unconsolidated snow than through fully-developed ice. So the effect of diffusion on the signal may ‘bottom out’ in some sense, and could be approximately constant across older parts of an ice core.

  73. Jess: I use the Vostok 100,000 yr data as key support for climate change as well as the idea that rising CO2 and temperature act together as a positive feedback loop. In this context I am more concerned about the long term stuff. Appreciate short term is different.

  74. John, well that’s where Vostok and other high precipitation sites are good – if you can push the ice through the part where diffusion is important quickly (by sticking a large amount of snow on top) then you can preserve a lot of the resolution.

  75. Here is another interesting perspective from Robert Rapier, saying the exact opposite to what our local village energy idiot, Tony Abbott, is saying.

    Basically America needs to stimulate the Renewable Energy Industry because it means jobs and is the best way to push start their manufacturing industry that was loosing 270,000 jobs a year even before the GFC. Robert also makes the observation that ‘who would have thought that the US could be out invested in Renewable Energy technology by China’?

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