Climate clippings 58

Methane worries

A team of Russian research scientists have been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Igor Semiletov, of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr Semiletov said. “I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them.”

I realise this has been linked to three times in the previous thread, but it’s important and not everyone reads the comments threads.

A separate study has found that the methane stored in permafrost is three times larger than earlier estimates. It could release 1.7-5.2 times more carbon than previously thought, depending how rapidly the world warms.

In a cautionary note here, James Hansen reckons we are forcing the system 20,000 times faster than commonly happened through natural caused in the past 50 million years.

Schmittner on climate sensitivity

Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth comments on the second methane study above, then on a paper by Schmittner et al, suggesting that climate sensitivity may be over-estimated, giving us more time to avoid dangerous climate change. This is in fact suggested by the author in this BBC piece.

Revkin asks various scientists for their reaction. I can only urge people to look at what Ray Pierrehumbert said, and in his post at RealClimate.

Pierrehumbert mentions a study by Lunt et al which puts climate sensitivity 30 to 50% higher than normally thought when all feedbacks are taken into account. See also a study by Pagani et al which looked at 4.5 million years ago, when CO2 levels were between about 365 and 415 ppm. Temperatures back then were about 3–4 °C warmer than pre-industrial values.

Pierrehumbert also mentions the difficulty of definition and what Schmittner leaves out of consideration, as does James Hansen.

There’s more at Skeptical Science.

Two degrees a recipe for disaster

Hansen above reckons that each degree of temperature rise will give us 20m of sea level rise on average eventually. It’s no surprise then, that he thinks 2C temperature rise is a very bad idea.

Hansen in a paper with Makiko Sato found that

global mean temperatures during the Eemian period, which began about 130,000 years ago and lasted about 15,000 years, were less than 1 degree Celsius warmer than today. If temperatures were to rise 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times, global mean temperature would far exceed that of the Eemian, when sea level was four to six meters higher than today, Hansen said.

Two degrees Celsius of warming would make Earth much warmer than during the Eemian, and would move Earth closer to Pliocene-like conditions, when sea level was in the range of 25 meters higher than today.

Economic growth v climate mitigation

David Roberts at Grist looks at work done by Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows on climate mitigation. They reckon we are planning for 2C but actually only mitigating for 4C, which is “incompatiblke with an organised global community”. A market mechanism such as carbon pricing won’t cut it, they say. Their conclusion:

“The logic of such studies suggests (extremely) dangerous climate change can only be avoided if economic growth is exchanged, at least temporarily, for a period of planned austerity within Annex 1 nations and a rapid transition away from fossil-fuelled development within non-Annex 1 nations.”

The most important news story of the day/millennium

What’s behind the grim Anderson and Bowes conclusions is what Bill McKibben called The most important news story of the day/millennium, namely the Global Carbon Project’s Carbon Budget 2010, where emissions were found to have increased in 2010 by 5.9% and the 2000-2010 average was 3.1% compared with the previous decade’s 1%. Further, the crossover between the developed and developing countries was stark:

Emmissions trends since 1990, developed and developing countries

The problem is that if the developing countries are allowed to peak in 2025 this has to be compensated by even greater cuts in the developed countries. That means peaking in 2015 and cuts of 10% per annum thereafter. That implies putting the developed economies on a war footing.

Won’t happen of course, but “4 degrees C must be avoided at literally any cost.”

Trigeneration comes to Sydney

After all that gloom, time for some good news:

What we’ve established within 250 kilometres of the city there’s enough resource out there, enough waste – and here we’re not just talking about commercial and domestic waste. I’m also talking about agriculture and farming waste, forestry waste.

All that stuff that’s currently being land-filled or just burnt – that can be converted into renewable gas to supply 150 per cent of the gas that we need for peak and shoulder electricity and something like 95 per cent of 24 hour a day, 365 days. So to get 100 per cent we just need to go out a few kilometres more.

The oldest decentralised system in the world is in Manhattan, first put in my Edison in the 1880s. London, Paris, Berlin, Seoul in South Korea – there are cities all around the world.

This is how they do it. This is how grown-ups supply their energy. They don’t get it from coal fired power stations hundreds of kilometres away. They generate it locally in the city.

Copenhagen – 98 per cent of their buildings are connected to their decentralised energy system.

I think my next post will have to be on some new solar technology being developed that could make electricity virtually free. Yes, and it can be stored and shared without the grid, or so we are told.

Peak water

Nepalese glacier

Peak water is thought to have been reached, with melting glaciers in Peru and Ecuador. Glaciers in the Rockies in North America are forecast to disappear during the century.

Glaciers have shrunk in Nepal and Bhutan by as much as a fifth in the last 30 years.

No-one can say why but right now drought has the Balkans in its grip. The Czech Republic is at its driest since records began in 1775. Some 100 ships are stuck near the Hungarian border.

Walnuts off the menu?

The latest food that we may have to do without is walnuts. Possibly not as serious as coffee and beer.

66 thoughts on “Climate clippings 58”

  1. The only way to mitigate those emissions is to burn the gas.
    Will the ones in the Arctic catch fire by themselves ? (Lightning)
    Would a ring of Arctic fire be enough to convince the deniers ?
    Tony would probably accept it if he could see the feet of jesus hovering above.
    Any- way wait until the Clathrates come apart, then you will see methane.

  2. Brian: I have two problems with this one

    The logic of such studies suggests (extremely) dangerous climate change can only be avoided if economic growth is exchanged, at least temporarily, for a period of planned austerity within Annex 1 nations and a rapid transition away from fossil-fuelled development within non-Annex 1 nations.

    Firstly, most of the annex 1 nations have serious balance of trade problems and are certainly in no position to provide aid or trade opportunities to the likes of China.
    Secondly, the world economy needs stimulation, not cutting back. What better way to provide this stimulation than to do the things required to dramatically cut emissions? As long as countries are allowed to cut emissions without increasing imports if they so choose it has got to be a win win.
    Think about Aus. The equivalent of one million full time unemployed with lots of employed people in jobs that add nothing to our general quality of life. Plus unused facilities. So why not a war on emissions?

  3. John D @2,

    Yes, it’s the “we all have to go and live in caves” brigade making a comeback. Really, what complete nonsense.

    What does “planned austerity” even mean? Presumably, cutting back government spending and whacking up interest rates. Yes, that is really going to help with carbon mitigation.

  4. I&U: The tricky bit is getting people off their desire to send us all to the caves for being naughty and convincing the rest of us that using the clean-up to fix the economy really does make sense.

  5. Brian: It is highly debatable whether what happened 4.5 million years ago when CO2 levels were high means all that much. Firstly, the comparison will be suss if we are not talking about a time when the Milankovic cycles were in the same position as they are now. Even then there will be effects depending on continent positions and minor, but significant things like the width and depth of the Bering strait.

  6. John D, I’d say that if Pierrehumbert thinks what happened 4.5 million years ago is relevant I’m not going to argue. Back then the continents were roughly where they are now, with the main difference that Panama was still open.

    My understanding is that the Melankovic cycles only became the dominant forcing only less than 3 million years ago. The closing of Panama may be relevant, but perhaps not the whole story.

    When this came up once before I got the impression that comparisons back to the Pliocene were pretty OK in terms of temperature and GHGs.

    Going back earlier may have some problems, but there does nevertheless seem to be a correlation between GHG levels and temperature going back 65 million years. From memory Hansen’s Iowa testimony tells the tale of what happened over that time period.

  7. A further thought on the methane issue. It’s recognised as one of the more dangerous tipping points. If it starts to be released in quantity the only mitigation strategy, as far as I can see, is to actually cool the planet. Talk of 2C guardrails would become ridiculous.

    Apart from the clathrates in the Arctic sea, some scientists see the permafrost issue as even more dangerous. Here the second study cited above may be important. To recap:

    A separate study has found that the methane stored in permafrost is three times larger than earlier estimates. It could release 1.7-5.2 times more carbon than previously thought, depending how rapidly the world warms.

    In a cautionary note here, James Hansen reckons we a forcing the system 20,000 times faster than commonly happened through natural caused in the past 50 million years.

    The additional methane is deeper and will only become a problem if we have rapid warming. That’s why I added the bit from Hansen. We appear to be forcing harder than in the history of the planet, so we are playing a dangerous game. Hansen says the bases are well and truly loaded with methane stored since the last major out-gassing event in the PETM 55 mya. I gave some of the metrics at the beginning of my previous post, bearing in mind the the permafrost store is now thought to be X3.

    One problem is that if it blows in a significant fashion, we are not going to have time to sit around doing peer reviewed academic papers over a 3-5 year time-scale. We’ll need to act on the opinions of scientists who have their heads into this area.

  8. I&U and John D, I didn’t have time to read the Anderson and Bows paper. I’ve only skimmed it.

    Anderson in particular is an experienced climate scientist, well-placed to integrate knowledge from the various specialist areas. My impression is that they have struggled honestly and in some detail with mitigation options using the budget approach. They are dealing with issues which should be addressed in concluding the agreement coming out of Durban. But my impression is that they are not economists, so you have a point about their concept(?) of “planned austerity”.

    Giles Parkinson said on the radio today that the EU has just brought out an energy paper looking at zero emissions by 2050. I know that technology fixes are condemned by greens as a reflex attitude, but I suspect that’s what we are going to have to rely on. He was saying (on Saturday Extra) that what seems in prospect with renewables will have a similar transformational effect on the energy system to what we are seeing with communications technology and their effect of mobiles and these new smart phones etc where we have the likes of Kim and Mark blogging via their mobiles, my younger son using his phone as a street directory in his pocket, and so on, not to mention twitter, facebook and the net and their impact on the MSM.

  9. There is a theory that the 1998 Tsunami on the Northern coast of PNG may have been caused by sediment slumping – not a plate subduction earthquake.
    The cause of this slumping has been postulated to be the melting of methane clathrates in the deep steep shelf. The northern part of PNG had had a major drought in 2007 that was caused by a huge pool of very hot water that sat on the coastline for over a year.
    Not sure what happened to this theory but if it is true we should expect some interesting global consequences if the deep ocean warms only a little.
    You can see the stability curve here:

  10. Brian: As I have said before I think the really great big lie is the one that says doing anything to fix the greenhouse gas problem has to happen at the expense of the economy. This may be true when we are talking about what has to be done to reach zero net fossil carbon emissions. However, we could go a long way before this is true, particularly when the world economy needs the sort of stimulation that could come from a major climate action program.

    We should be asking how a climate action program could be set up so that it benefits the world economy rather than being a burden.

  11. Brian says:
    “Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth comments on the second methane study above” He did a bit more than that. He cautioned wariness towards reports of ‘Arctic methane time bombs’, and referred to another paper published in Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans, doi:10.1029/2011JC007218, 2011. This concludes that “recent climate change cannot produce an immediate response in sub-sea permafrost” and “even under sustained heating, the brunt of the sub-sea methane won’t be affected in this millennium.” Revkin refers to Ed Dlugokencky another well credentialed scientist in this field who has stated “[B]ased on what we see in the atmosphere, there is no evidence of substantial increases in methane emissions from the Arctic in the past 20 years.” In a careful post from 2010 ‘The Heat over bubbling methane’

    Revkin found caution among geophysicists in respect of the arctic methane apocalypse is imminent scenario and concludes the post referred to here with “So the next time you see a “science stunner” about Arctic methane time bombs, reach out to a couple of scientists working on this gas before you run to the ramparts.” It would have been more responsible for Brian to highlight this aspect of the debate also.

  12. On the issue of whether or not 2 degrees of warming is an adequate threshold to aim for (however notionally). I found the following comment by Will Steffen climate scientist and Professor at the ANU illuminating. Interviewed on Radio National about the delay built into the outcome of the Durban climate talks he said something like:
    To halt global warming at or around two degrees centigrade would require global emissions to fall by around 5% per annum from 2015 a massive task. If delayed until 2020 the required rate of reduction of global GHG emissions necessary to meet the two degree threshold becomes 9 or 10% per annum an almost impossible task. This he claims could only be achieved by placing the nations of the world on what amounts to a war footing. The extra five years means that the task has become twice as difficult and far more expensive, and if the cautious conservative IEA is right the extra five years may mean that the two degree threshold has become impossible to achieve.

    Anyone confident that we will even achieve the 2 degree threshold?

  13. Doug: I agree than we don’t need to be chicken littles just yet, but I think that the methane degassing in the Arctic is much stronger than previously reported. I haven’t heard anything from anyone since these reports came out, but it will be interesting to see how this changes the weighting of major degassing in climate change scenarios.

    For what it’s worth, Andy Revkin has now added a note to the post you linked to (which was originally written in 2010):

    Dec. 13, 2011, 3:49 p.m.

    Updated: Fresh alarming headlines about larger “fountains of methane” have renewed a focus on the issue. (Note the “Methane Time Bomb” headline from the same British paper in 2008. I have queries out to a heap of methane and Arctic researchers and will post anew soon.

  14. Doug Evans @ 15 Will Steffen’s comments are here.

    There is a graphic representation of what he is talking about in the Climate Commission’s report The Critical Decade (see Figure 37 on p. 56).

    If you take a strictly logical approach according to the logic of the ‘budget approach’ which is being see Figure 6 in this post which has the USA and Australia reaching zero emissions by 2019, which is the problem Anderson and Bows are struggling with.

  15. Doug Evans @ 14, you are right, I could have and probably should have mentioned that not all scientists see methane loss in catastrophic terms.

    In these segments I can’t go into the detail the topic deserves. And working against a deadline, sometimes I’m bound to get things wrong.

    That said, to say that methane loss from clathrates won’t be a problem in this millennium is a big call. Hansen in his book Storms of My Grandchildren gives a mechanism other than direct heating as to how it might happen. He thinks that deep ocean warming and a change of currents could cause the problem, and suggests that this may be caused by freshwater melting. He’s not specific about time-frames, however.

    OTOH David Archer who is very knowledgeable on the matter thinks the process will be chronic rather than catastrophic.

    I’ve fixed up the images in my earlier post. Figures 1 and 2 have relevance. The first shows hydrates as 5% of 60%, hence 3% of total methane emissions.

    Figure 2 shows where they are located around the world. The Arctic clathrates must only be a small percentage of the total.

    I haven’t had my head into this for a while. The more I do the more I think it’s less likely to be a dramatic problem, but still hard to crack if we really do have to go to zero net emissions.

  16. We should remember that methane clathrates are not confined to the Arctic, they are present every-where the formation conditions were OK.
    Not present in the abyssal plains apparently, which is good because that is where the next generation of mining is to take place. OMG

  17. Brian, your last sentence above is very honest and gets to the crux of it. Your ability reflect and refocus is what gives your CC posts credibility and depth, don’t be too hard on yourself for not getting it right first off. I must admit, Semiletov’s description of the size of individual vents and the overall scale of outgassing left me in awe at first. Whether these methane plumes are linked in any way to our topic or not, these are an astonishing ‘natural’ event. As such though there is evidence that these have occurred previously. From my quick perusal it appears some only back 2kya and they seem to be regular events during interglacial periods throughout the Quaternary period. Indeed there is speculation that massive release of methane-containing gas hydrates where associated with the PETM event back 56 mya. So yeah, methane should be taken seriously.

    Perhaps it would help in this discussion if we would differentiate the different concern re methane and climate change. First, there is the concern re feedback, the actual effect of methane as a greenhouse gas. The second concern would be that these massive methane burbs are an indication of a run away AGW. In the first instance, we have to take into account the life cycle and other sources of CH4, the absorption rate and contributing factors as well as the potential amount of ‘locked up’ methane. In the second instance, it appears to be difficult to establish short term trends in atmospheric CH4 as there are background noises coupled with other natural events, such as volcanic activity and El Nino/La Nina episodes. Further, satellite measuring has it’s drawback inthat it relies on reflecting light, which is not available during winter in the Arctic and ground truthing apparently, understandably given the remoteness and conditions of the area, is not popular. Thus, it would be difficult to attribute any of these massive outgassing, as observed by Semiletov, directly to human activity. In summary, I would say we should be concerned and definitely put more effort into measuring and analysing of what these events mean in context of climate change.

    As Brian says, we should take these events in to account even if these are a natural occurrence. For example, we may have to come to grips to compensate these with reducing drastically the continuous rising trend of human activity based CH4 emission, and that would be quite a challenge.

  18. Thanks, Ootz. Permafrost may be a bigger worry than clathrates because of the differential warming of land at lower latitudes. And what I said about Hansen stressing the rate of forcing still applies. We are in new territory.

    Which is why I’m reluctant to rule it out as a significant factor.

    On the warming impact of methane the reference I have to hand is Dessus, Laponche and Treut.

    Gotta go.

  19. Just to bring a very local perspective to the methane issue. The Environmental Defenders Office in NSW supported the recent case of a complainant against an Upper Hunter coal mining company, Ashton Resources who sought permission to vent methane to the atmosphere, the equivalent of 328 000 tonnes CO2 per annum.
    The EDO and the complainant lost the case on what might be considered trivial issues such as the miner’s EIS not being specific on the ‘per annum figure’ of CO2 as against the lifetime of the mine.
    Doing something real about fugitive emissions of methane should be an absolute priority I suggest.

  20. Jess: Thanks for some figures backing my my contentions @13. Climate action looks to me to be more of a world economy saver than a world economy destroyer.
    My understanding is that some of the methane emissions in the artic are being caused by increased seashore erosion. This increased erosion is caused by parts of the Russian coast being exposed to the open sea for more of the year than it has been in the past. Anyone who has been following arctic sea ice extent over the year would understand what I am talking about.

  21. Brian @ 17
    Thanks for helpful comment. I went to the earlier post you linked to ‘Climate crunch the fierce urgency of now’ and utterly agree with the message but was puzzled by this comment from you @26.
    “You can’t ask the likes of Australia and the US to do the impossible. But you can ask them to pursue a similar path to Germany from a higher base. This involves 40-45% by 2020 and the rest by 2030. This is not too much. Largely convert to the grid to gas, electrify transport as much as possible etc by 2020 and then go for broke by 2030.”
    Convert the grid to gas? Given the recent rapid increase in the number of studies suggesting that overall emissions from gas fired power production are (at best) only slightly better than those from coal fired power do you still see a role for gas as a transitional fuel? Among these studies are:
    Deutsche Bank Group, Fulton, Mellquist & Kitasei, ‘Comparing Life Cycle Greenhouse gas emissions from Natural Gas and Coal, March 14 2011.
    Climatic Change letter published online April 12 2011, Howarth, Santoro & Ingraffea, ‘Methane and the Greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations’.
    Climatic Change letter published online August 26 2011, Tom M L Wigley, ‘Coal to gas: The influence of Methane leakage’.
    IEA, ‘Are we entering a Golden Age of Gas’ June 2011.
    See also
    I value this blog for its informative posts and the serious supportive tone of the comments but am genuinely puzzled by this comment of yours.

  22. Jeez, Doug you are a hard marker! Look at the date stamp on my comment. It’s January 4, 2011 at 3:02 pm.

    Now look at the dates of the references and links you made. I’m not psychic! 🙂

  23. Doug: The quotes re gas vs coal are for Chinese power stations. The cola figures are for ultra critical coal fired and CCGT both running on aus sourced fuels. The problem with gas is that processing, liquefaction, transport and evaporating generates about 22% of the total emissions. Coal looks good by comparison – about 2% getting the coal from mine to Chinese power station. Gas is still much better than coal if it is being used close to its source. So a gas run transition still makes sense in Aus if the gas is set up to provide back-up for wind and solar further down the track.

  24. Meanwhile, sales of 4WD are surging. The courier mail says:

    New Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show in the last 12 months, one in every three passenger vehicles sold in Australia was a 4WD or sports utility vehicle, with more than 240,000 sales nationwide.

    Not even an 8c a litre rise in petrol prices last year deterred people from buying the all-terrain vehicles, which sell from around $27,000 to more than $120,000.

    Isn’t it time we thought about doing something like using offset credit trading to drive down vehicle emissions? Even if you reject climate science there is a pending oil shock.

  25. John D @ 29, could be worth consideration. Paul Keating once said we should tax the “Toorak tractors” off the road.

    Doug Evans @ 27, I was impressed with your ability to throw up so many references. There has in fact been some discussion of CSG v coal, I think most recently the Climate Spectator article in the last segment of Climate clippings 52.

    I still think we should aim for 40-45% reductions by 2020, and the rest by 2030 for a safe climate.

  26. On of my mates has a toyota troopy and another has a pajero, both on diesel and they use less fuel together than my ford xf on gas uses alone. They also use them as they were intended, not a status symbol/space waster which never gets off the bitumen.

  27. Hooray for them, but the hordes who use them in the inner city and suburban streets are not using them as intended. As the USian bloggers say, “if it’s not about you, it’s not about you”.

    As a dweller in an inner Western suburb with narrow Victorian streets in the main centre, I’m heartily sick of these giant tanks clogging the place, usually with one mum or dad and a couple of kids in it.

  28. There is no point in demonising 4WD’s because they have a legitimate part in society.

    What one should demonise is the lack of encouragement to leave the things in the garage until the holidays or when needed to tow a trailer or cart a lot of people around etc.

    I think there should be the option to register such a vehicle on a weekly basis but at much higher overall rates and small cars should have onroad costs discounted further.

  29. Salient Green said:

    I think there should be the option to register such a vehicle on a weekly basis but at much higher overall rates and small cars should have onroad costs discounted further.

    Or better yet, reduce registration to a nominal fee — say $5 — and charge every vehicle for each unit of distance they travel, with suitable loadings for TARE, traffic contention at time of travel, emissions, driver compliance and skill accreditation and currency etc.

  30. I’m not optimistic that anyone will take the time to dig into this as i have, but here it is anyway.

    It’s a “compresed air storage , hydro- pneumatic, energy generating concept ”

    If these 3 could have a chat

    As i’ve said before, it’s NOT ” one size fits all ” it’s ” site specific” combined.

  31. I have nothing against 4WD as such. (Have owned one for over 40 yrs) In a country like Aus there are advantages in driving a vehicle that can get you through when 2WD is not sufficient. There are also safety advantages in driving with permanent 4WD. The real issue is emissions, and, more importantly average emissions. (The logic behind the link @29.)
    Fran, there is a case for replacing registration charges and 3rd party insurance fees with increased fuel taxes. Increases the incentive to use low fuel consumption cars.
    There is also a case for having a close look at “company car” incentives. In most cases the system tends to encourage employees to buy large cars and 4WD rather than something more suited to the daily commute. Perhaps the government should only provide incentives for company cars that have a low fuel consumption.

  32. John D @ 29 makes a good point. So severe is the crisis that we are confronted with that any measures that can be taken to drive down emissions must be urgently adopted. Reducing vehicle emissions should be fairly simple and uncontroversial. John D link seems to set out one way of doing this.
    Kevin Anderson in a scary presentation clearly setting out the urgency of our situation (which can be found here: ) made some brief but interesting comments on vehicle emissions reductions as part of the mix in the EU.

  33. John D @ 28
    I’m a bit outside my comfort zone here – listing sources from apparently credible experts in support of a position is not the same as having the specialized knowledge to sensibly contribute to a discussion on the topic. Nevertheless I’ll try a couple of observations that suggest themselves.
    1. As I understand it it’s true that the emissions problems with gas are primarily connected with extraction, processing and transport prior to combustion and therefore using it close to points of extraction seems to offer the possibility of cutting emissions. However, how many places can you think of in Australia where gas is extracted in a site suitable for processing and combustion and power generation? The big gas extraction sites that I can call to mind are off-shore requiring gas to be moved quite a distance to dry land. Hence there are unavoidable fugitive emissions.
    2. It seems to me also that we must differentiate between types of gas here. So called unconventional gas – CSG or the gassified brown coal the current disgracefully lazy and environmentally destructive Victorian State government is trying to quietly wave through – has many serious environmental disadvantages not associated with GHG emissions that should discount its use. Anyone interested in this assertion might like to look here: High water consumption and/or destruction and poisoning of aquifers and/or destruction of productive farm land on a dry continent getting drier should be enough to disqualify these as fuel sources.
    3. So far gas-fired power generation has only been used to expand capacity. As far as I know no coal fired plant has been replaced by gas yet. Governments happy to trumpet their supposed environmental credentials on the strength of new gas power plants constructed, currently show no interest in the fact that these plants add substantially to our greenhouse gas burden.
    If the IEA thinks the coming ‘Golden Age of Gas’ is leading to 6º of warming (see here: ) and Kevin Anderson thinks we are in the fix described in the link included in my previous comment, I can’t see that gas has any role to play in a successful transition to an increasingly unlikely sustainable future.

  34. JohnD said:

    In a country like Aus there are advantages in driving a vehicle that can get you through when 2WD is not sufficient.

    Doubtless that’s so, but the most serious problem is with large urban 4WDs. These are selected not because the aods in urban areas are bad, but as status symbols, or out of an unrealistic view of the safety they offer passengers. There’s a desire to dominate the road space, and it’s commonly the case that these vehicles obstruct the roadscape available to other drivers of non large urban 4WD vehicles. The use of these large 4WDs in urban areas is a good example of a classic collective action problem, because the notional safety of the occupants is at the expense of that avtual safety and convenience of most other road users — and that’s before we even get near emissions.

    Yet as you point out John, there are bona fide applications for such vehicles especially in rural areas where there is difficult terrain. Removing sales tax on fuel and parts (apart perhaps from full G&ST) would relieve those in rural areas of a substantial financial burden. If charging was on the basis of road usage, and as I said, in the basis of matters like TARE, road contention at the time of usage, vehicle safety profile, emissions, driver compliance and skill and so forth, then your rural users of large 4WDs would in practice, pay a great deal less than their urban counterparts, even if they drove a lot farther. Many of the minor roads would be uncharged as it wouldn’t be cost effective or reasonable to charge much for roads that were unsealed or poorly sealed.

  35. Fran: How would you charge by which road you travel on? Having a government-sanctioned GPS tracker in every car**? Good luck getting that one past the tin foil hat brigade. 🙂

    There are reasons that urban people have AWD vehicles too – we have a Ford Territory so that my wife can tow her horse to competitions and out for rides. We’d have two cars (one for a run-around and one for towing) if the fixed costs of registration/insurance etc weren’t so high. At present it’s not economic for us to keep two cars, even with the reduced petrol usage, so the choice is between towing the horse, or not. I imagine that plenty of other ‘townies’ with caravans/boats/floats etc are in the same boat. Perhaps you could reduce the registration on the second car if it will be significantly more efficient than the towing vehicle.

    ** Yes, I know that we could be tracked in theory by speed cameras/toll roads/cellphones/GPS units etc but there are fairly stringent restrictions on what data can be used and when. I’m not sure it would be too easy to force everyone with a car to have a tracker without a whole host of privacy lawsuits.

  36. jumpy: I’m no engineer but the ‘hydraulic oscillation plant’ idea looks like rubbish. The efficiency problem is in compressing the air in the first place – once it’s compressed then why not just use it to run a turbine or engine directly?

    It seems a bit silly to have have some complicated contraption which I imagine would be rather difficult to keep sealed and functioning efficiently (e.g. how do they get the air into the packets at the bottom of the drive shaft without it leaking?).

  37. Jess asked:

    Fran: How would you charge by which road you travel on? Having a government-sanctioned GPS tracker in every car**? Good luck getting that one past the tin foil hat brigade.

    I’m thinking of a transponder — I believe these are in long haul road vehicles). Simple enough. Many new vehicles have those e-nav systems already built in so I don’t see this as a huge technical challenge, or particularly costly. As for the tin-foil hat brigade, that’s an entirely different feasibility question, but I would point out that driving a car on public roads is not a human right. It’s a right accorded to those who operate their vehicles according to community standards set by law.

    I’m not sure it would be too easy to force everyone with a car to have a tracker without a whole host of privacy lawsuits.

    You just make it a requirement of registration of the vehicle that the system be fully functional. Anyone operating a vehicle on public roads without such equipment would face heavy fines and loss of licence/DQ of licence in the future. There is no basis, AIUI, in Australia to sue for breaches of privacy in relation to road licencing, though there would be other actions one can take if data supplied to the relevant authorities is misused.

    we have a Ford Territory so that my wife can tow her horse to competitions and out for rides. We’d have two cars (one for a run-around and one for towing) if the fixed costs of registration/insurance etc weren’t so high.

    Then you should favour my proposal. The package would put you in front. Your CTP component would be based on actual road usage and your personal risk. I also favour making the system capable of identifying those violating road rules in real time. Thus, those ignoring traffic control signals, exceeding the speed limit, crossing unbroken separation lines and so forth could assume that they would be infringed after (in some minor cases after a warning). That alone would drive down insurance costs. With biometric log in, vehicle thefts would decline, and again, that would force down insurance costs. I’d like people to have to pass a breath test before starting a vehicle. Imagine the savings in policing and Accident & Emergency, ambulances etc.

  38. Doug @41: I don’t claim to be a gas expert either. This link gives some useful diagrams comparing life cycle emissions for various generating plants. The article said:

    In practice, then, the best comparisons lie between CSG and the ultra-supercritical coal plants, which has a base-case emissions of 0.78t/Co2e for every MWh produced. Combined-cycle baseload plants with CSG have a base case of 0.55t/Co2e for every MWh, while open cycle peaking plants have a base case of 0.75t/Co2e for every MWh…..
    The issue for Australia is that, because of extraction and compressing processes, around 22 per cent of these emissions occur in Australia, with the rest at the point of consumption, whereas only 2 per cent of coal emissions occur in Australia when black coal is exported. Another issue is that Australia is building more open-cycle gas plants than combined cycle, principally because of increases in peak demand, and because of the ongoing uncertainty around carbon prices.

    I have read info from SANTOS that says that about 10% of the energy in CSG goes to liquefaction before export – hence my remarks about locating gas fired power close to the gas source.
    I don’t know how much energy goes into pumping compressed GSG from well head to the coast. In terms of offshore fields keep in mind that the gas leaves the ground at high pressure and may not need any compressing at all to get it ashore.
    The US is apparently starting to have problems with fugitive emissions from ageing pipelines. This doesn’t mean that the lines from offshore fields are leaking. (It is worth keeping in mind that long distance power lines lose energy and that this lost energy has to be replaced by extra, CHG emitting power generation. The best location for gas fired power has to take account of both the energy/pipeline costs required to get gas to a power station vs the costs/energy loss required to get electricity to consumers. The prospect of localized tri-generation aids the case for moving gas to the consumer rather than power.
    Above or below ground coal gasification is a completely seprate issue to the use of natural gases, including CSG. Gasification is a source of emissions in its own right.
    My personal view is that, in Aus, coal fired power should be phased out quickly and largely replaced, at least in the short term, with a mix of gas, wind and solar.

  39. re: frans distance charging. maybe something like writing your odometer reading on your tax return each year by which your ‘rego’ could be calculated?

    this would mean your driving bill, or ‘registration’ would be in a lump at tax time. but rego is a lump now anyway so no change there.

    if you switch vehicles through the year, odo readings go on the transfer slip. electronically connect that to the tax office,,, and all records up to date!

    i like the idea. ppl could cut out the unnecessary driving and save themselves some money, while reducing emissions and possibly get fitter too!

  40. Jess @44

    I think its mainly about storage. If you generate the electricity at the dam wall, it must be stored somewhere . Only a small amount of air is used to power his simple ” contraption” compared to running a turbine direct (the use if airs need to rise in a water column is the key, all the numbers were supplied )

    If your talking about efficiency , the water released now as ” natural flow” produces zero electricity, thats 100% inefficient.

    As for safety and maintenance, compared to gas or power lines, i prefer compressed air.
    Ever heard of anyone getting blown up or fried from damaging a compressed air line?
    Maintenance is far simpler too.

  41. I’d have it so that registering a car would involved paying up front a credit reflecting either your average usage over the last three corresponding registration periods, or, if that data wasn’t available, a figure based on typical usage of vehicles of that type in similar locations. An in-vehicle system could tell you how much credit you had left and allow you to top up when you got under 10% left. You could of course, choose to drive less, or perhaps car pool and have others share your costs. Left over credit could be rolled forward or transferred to new vehicles, or if you had no car, you could simply get a refund of remaining credit.

    This way, the temptation would be to exercise parsimony.

  42. Fran @42: I think the real urban problem is large, high emission urban vehicles. 4WD is not an issue as such.
    There are all sorts of reasons why someone living in a city might want a 4WD drive apart from the ones you mention. For example, someone whose parents live somewhere where it is useful to have a 4WD to get to the farm etc. Keep in mind that it is often features like good ground clearance rather than 4WD as such that make vehicles like Hiluxes useful.
    Jess @43: You are right about the two car issue. We have a 4WD and a small car. We do most of our driving in the small car and tend to use the 4WD when the small car isn’t available or can’t do the job. If we had to go back to one car we would probably keep the 4WD so our total fuel consumption would go up considerably. Paying some of the fixed costs via a higher fuel tax makes sense for numerous reasons.

  43. Jumpy: I haven’t looked into it in detail, but there seems to be a ‘free lunch’ claim in their numbers. I just don’t see how an engine + a whole bunch of viscous dissipation can be more efficient at recovering energy from compressed air than an engine by itself.

  44. Jumpy: Sorry, just re-read my comment and maybe I was misunderstood. I’m not talking about the problems of using compressed air as a storage mechanism (although it’s not very energy-dense).

    I just don’t understand how the contraption that you linked to first would be in any way an efficient mechanism for recovering the stored energy.

  45. Jess@52

    Because it introduces another form of natural energy to assist and improve its efficiency.

    I’m not saying it’s the answer to the global energy supply, but in places like Emerald with Fairbairn dam , it worth a pilot and feasibility study.

    I think the future energy “cake” won’t be eaten in 1 bite, but a lot of local nibbles.

    His letter to Obama is a good summery,

  46. Ocean Acidification: Fatal to Fish

    Fossil fuel-burning is acidifying the oceans and, up until recently, it has generally been thought that the greatest risk posed by ocean acidification was the change to seawater carbon chemistry. This is because rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide reduce the concentration of seawater carbonate ions, a vital building-block in the shells and skeletons of many marine life. Fish were not thought to be at direct risk from acidification, because they clearly don’t build shells, and were considered to have well-developed physical mechanisms to tolerate falling pH (acidification) {….}

  47. John D @50,

    it’s a problem, alright. Those like yourself and Jess who use 4WDs as the best vehicle for what they do are few compared to those for whom it is a discretionary choice. One look at how they are marketed should tell you what’s going on.

    I don’t come with crash bars, so am very conscious of what goes around on the streets. Single passenger sports utility vehicles and armoured cars commuting into the city. Driving round in over a tonne of metal to deliver ones kiddies to school is obscene waste.

    Volkswagen, for instance, go on about how green they are with their little cars, but then they market the Touareg, two tonnes of Golf on steroids, not bad fuel use for such a fat car, but lean, mean and a way with camels? Think not. Fat-arse sheik, more like it.

    So Jess, you don’t want a pony?

  48. Roger,It is an interesting point you make re 4WD’s. Climate Change seems to be a crisis where nobody is expected to take any responsibility. Not individually, nationally or internationally. I have only ever met one person who sold thier car because of concern about global warming. And don’t dare ask anyone why they own a 4WD.
    Perhaps we are hardwired for bigger ,faster, stronger….

  49. Roger: To be honest I am really someone who started driving Landrovers 51 yrs ago and and goes all gooey when I find someone to talk to who remembers driving clapped out old landrovers back in the days when 4WD vehicles were measured by their ability to get around the bush. For some odd reason, my wife remembers driving vehicles with no synchro on the bottom two gears and holes in the floor that let the water come in. (The holes were there to let the water run out.)
    Funny thing is we fill the hilux up when we go touring the outback just as we filled the short wheelbase landrover when we went camping with the three kids. (We fill the available space) In reality, there is plenty of scope for reducing the size/weight/fuel consumption of 4WD’s and the loads most people carry in them.

  50. Jumpy: Compressed air power storage loses some energy if the air is stored long enough for cooling to take place. The cost of pressure vessels is also quite high, and energy per m3 is quite low unless you are talking about very high pressures.
    Despite this, compressed air storage may still make sense for things like reducing fuel consumption for stop start vehicle operation. There has also been talk in the past about using caverns or old mines to store large amounts of energy.
    The device you are talking about only uses the bouyancy of the air to drive the generator. This means that energy will wasted if the air pressure is higher than the bare minimum required to get the air down to the bottom of the conveyor. Then there is what Jess says @51.

  51. I am extremely surprised by the apparently passionate concern on a climate change blog to defend the 4WD and justify the second household vehicle. There is doubtless a small role for 4WD working vehicles. Surely in what we are pleased to acknowledge as a climate crisis that is the end of it. If the GHG budget was divvied up equitably between all of the world’s people I read that the current carbon footprint of your average Indian is about what we are due for. Can we fit the Landcruiser in under this carbon cap do you think?

  52. How about we join the two together, transport and compressed air energy,

    “””The MiniCAT (btw, the ‘CAT’ stand for Compressed Air Transport, I think) gets “double the mileage of the most advanced electric models” and has a top speed of 60 mph (105 kpm).
    According to the same early review, the car has a range of 185 miles (300 km) before needing to “refuel” (note: refueling will mean a few minutes of compressed air pumping at stations with specially designed air compressors, and will cost about 100 rupees, or about 45 cents, for another 300 km of range).”””
    Source: Planetsave (

    Pity it’s soo ugly.

  53. dear Brian
    for you & your readers information (as we’re reminded this week there’s methane under the tundra):-

    essentially, the first snow is late, where people live; largest proportion of population not experiencing “white xmas” (defined as “at least 2 cm of snow on the ground at 7:00 am”) since records were started in 1955.

    from the article:-
    temperatures across the country during december have been an average of 6 or 7C higher than usual. [in winnipeg] only a chance of flurries on friday, and temperatures could be as warm as 1C on sunday. for winnipeg, a typical christmas high is around -11C.

    cities in the east like st. john’s will have some snow on the ground – but rain may wash it all away.

    even where snow accumulates, there will be less than average … whitehorse [yukon], for example, has 16 cm of snow this year compared to an average of 28 cm.

    from the comments:-
    It’s not just the lack of snow that worries me in northern ontario – it is the lack of precipitation winter and summer. our precipitation levels have dropped so much over the last decade. The great lakes levels, inland lakes, rivers are all way down.

    We have a good blanket of snow in the yukon [whitehorse?], but temperatures are bizarrely mild for this time of year – nice for us, but I do worry about the polar bears 600 mi further north.

    thirty-five years ago, when I first moved to ottawa, there was always a bit of snow on the ground by remembrance day.

    here on the west coast, there has been light snow in the 3 to 5 day forecast for almost the entire month of december. kinda like “free beer tomorrow”.

    …and other things that make you go hmmmm.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  54. Aah Roger, I just get to muck out after the blasted animal. Still, being able to ride a horse might be the only way to go if we do get an oil crunch! 🙂

    Nice to catch up with you in San Fran btw.

    @John: I will say this – the Territory doesn’t come with towing packs as standard & we had to get a heavy-duty tow pack fitted. So there’s something to be said for the way in which these cars are marketed & sold – the working machines are definitely in the minority…

    @jumpy: I think they’ve used air-driven locomotives around mine sites where sparks would be too dangerous for years. Not even a mother would love those cars though – how ugly! 🙂

  55. Doug: Just because you have a big car it doesn’t automatically follow that you guzzle gas as fast as possible, or that you can’t change other aspects of how you live your life. I don’t drive unless I have to, I work from home a lot and I generally catch public transport whenever I can.

    Ultimately you have to decide what is necessary and what you will do without. Much like designing policy in fact!

    I think you might be surprised how much ‘carbon footprint’ we can recover though – what proportion of Australia’s emissions come from people in cities sitting in traffic for hours each day? And what about burning all that brown coal just to generate aluminium in Victoria? Why not invest in a bit of infrastructure & improve the affordability and timetables of public transport for a start?

  56. Before we leave this thread, my tuppence worth on 4WDs. If I were elected benevolent dictator I’d only allow professions that really needed large gas guzzlers to buy them. Others could rent, with appropriate penalties.

    A final word on methane. I happened to come across this post about the Climate Commission Report The Critical Decade. I can’t pick up the spot in the report so I’ll quote what I said in the post:

    There is a short note telling us that we have 1,700 billion tonnes of carbon in the form of methane locked up in permafrost, twice as much as is present in the atmosphere now. One study tells us that about 100 billion tonnes are vulnerable to thawing this century.

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