Climate clippings 133

1. Mt Everest’s poo problem

Every year climbers of Mt Everest leave behind 26,500 pounds of poo. I make that about 12 tonnes.

Sherpas pick it up, bring it down in blue barrels, dig a hole and dump it. Now the proposal is to build an anaerobic digester in a small village near Everest’s base to create biogas to produce power. Apparently human poo is not the best, but it works.

2. Arctic sea ice record

I think it’s time to call it. The Arctic sea ice winter maximum is the lowest on record. This graph shows 2015 ice against the previous record of 2011 and the 1981-2010 average:

sea ice_Feb 25_cropped_600

Also the maximum extent was reached on February 25, the second earliest on record.

According to a recent survey, thinning has been quite dramatic:

… annual mean ice thickness has decreased from 3.59 meters [11.8 feet] in 1975 to 1.25 m [4.1 feet] in 2012, a 65% reduction. This is nearly double the 36% decline reported by an earlier study….

In September the mean ice thickness has declined from 3.01 to 0.44 m [from 9.9 to 1.4 feet!], an 85 % decline.

Climate Central has a graphic showing the loss of ‘old’ ice. In 1987 it used to be 26% of the ice pack, now it’s down to 10%.

Polar bears will struggle to adapt.

3. Shell looks to drill in Arctic

Shell hopes to drill in the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic this summer. It looks as though Obama’s Department of the Interior will allow it, even though an Environmental Impact Report released by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) noted a 75% chance of one or more large spills occurring under the current plan. In 1989 the Exxon Valdez disaster spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Alaskan Gulf, polluting over 1300 miles of coastline. It is estimated that only 14% of the oil was cleaned up.

By comparison BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig spilled 168 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast.

Yet Obama himself stresses the need to move early on climate change. More than half of Republican politicians deny or question the science. Voter pressue will change that eventually.

A recent Stanford University poll found that two-thirds of voters were more likely to vote for a candidate that campaigned on a platform of fighting climate change, and were less likely to vote for a candidate that outright denies climate change.

4. Land, ocean carbon sinks are weakening

We are destroying nature’s ability to help us stave off catastrophic climate change. That’s the bombshell conclusion of an under-reported 2014 study, “The declining uptake rate of atmospheric CO2 by land and ocean sinks,”…

Based on actual observations and measurements, the world’s top carbon-cycle experts have determined that the land and ocean are becoming steadily less effective at removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This makes it more urgent for us to start cutting carbon pollution ASAP, since it will become progressively harder and harder for us to do so effectively in the coming decades.

Joe Romm calls the study “one of the most consequential recent findings by climatologists”

More than half of emissions are currently absorbed by land and ocean-based carbon sinks. Increasingly these emissions will stay in the air.

5. Reasons the Australian solar market is so interesting

Clean Technica has found 7 reasons the Australian solar market is so interesting republished at RenewEconomy.

One reason is that we have so much sunlight, as shown below:

solar-australia

However, most of us live in the more cloudy parts in big cities and along the south-east edge. A commenter pointed out that for insolation Ney York lies between Melbourne and Sydney.

A second reason is that we are enthusiastic about roof-top solar, with over 20% of houses now with panels installed.

A third is that, along with Germany, Italy and The Netherlands, we reached socket (aka grid) parity in 2013.

18 thoughts on “Climate clippings 133”

  1. About Everest, I had given no thought to poo disposal. And if I had I would have assumed that it would just disappear into the environment.

    I was just as surprised a fortnight ago to read of another environmental impact on Everest above the 4000 metre level. It seems that the native shrub juniper has been heavily cut for use as fuel. Over many years the vegetation loss has led to extensive soil erosion by rain and wind. Alpine regions are sensitive and easily damaged. Recovery is slow. In 2004 authorities banned the use of wood fuel and almost ironically, trekkers are required to use kerosine or some other alternative fuel.

    Man certainly has a talent for leaving traces where ever we go. Even on planets, space and the moon.

  2. This is slightly oblique to the topics today but at the same time highly relevant. John D please don’t think this is leveled at you or the Greens. But as Keynes famously said: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”

    I’m inviting readers to take another look at nuclear power. The link below will take you to a speech delivered just last night. It contains information that should at least prompt a review in our minds about the worth of nuclear as an energy source.
    Especially notable is that the fast integral reactor that uses existing spent nuclear fuel as its own fuel.

    http://decarbonisesa.com/2015/04/08/we-must-act-and-we-must-act-now-speech-from-senator-sean-edwards/

  3. The costs for Hinkley B in the UK don’t suggest that there are great benefits for Australia – they start from memory somewhere around the cost of wind power currently (cost curves heading down) and keep rising from here with an implicit extra cost in requiring Government insurance because commercial firms won’t touch the project without that.

  4. GH: In terms of nuclear there is a possibility that some nuclear developments people talk about may be worthwhile proceeding with on the grounds of reduced risks and or actually consuming nuclear waste. There are also some countries where nuclear would appear to be the only clean option that gives them control over their energy supply.
    Australia is not the logical country to develop new nuclear technology. Australia has:
    1. Plenty of clean options that don’t have any of the nuclear associated risks and which are already producing cheaper power than expected from nuclear.
    2. A lack of expertize in the area.
    3. A uranium mining industry that would collapse if the world moves to thorium cycle or or very fuel efficient systems that will get part of their fuel by using waste.
    4. A country full of people who don’t want nuclear in their back yard.

    The other problem with nuclear in Australia is that politicians who opposed to renewables want to use the prospect of advanced nuclear to justify doing nothing about renewables while we wait for the development of advanced nuclear. (10 years? 20 years?…?)

    Time for a review when someone like the Chinese have actually got several advanced reactors going.

  5. John Quiggin recently has concluded that … even ignoring the rapid technological progress in solar PV, it’s obvious that nuclear energy is never going to be a goer in Australia, where we have plenty of land, much more sunlight and no established nuclear infrastructure. The calculation will be different in different countries, but there won’t be many where nuclear comes out as the least-cost option, although it might be a good backstop in some cases.

  6. Thanks John
    I understand there is not sufficient uranium in the world to sustain a full change to nuclear. All fresh uranium would be consumed in less than two decades. Thorium will always be a player.
    Australia does not have a nuclear industry because it is illegal. That could be changed.
    There are huge number of people who don’t want coal in their backyard too.
    I agree there are plenty of renewable options but are they sufficient?

    Nuclear does have a long lead time and the costs are seriously high. Challenges to be met.

  7. GH: I have seen diagrams showing just how little of the Sahara would need to be used to meet the world’s power needs using solar. Solar thermal with molten salt heat storage and back-up molten salt heating using biowaste will provide base load power so this is not an issue either. Then there is wind, hydro power, batteries and pumped energy storage. We don’t need nuclear.

  8. Doug @5 and John D
    Certainly nuclear cost is higher than we want. But when we really notice that we are in real trouble the options shrink dramatically Faced with the prospect of 4+ degrees warming the choices become limited and cost becomes less of an impediment.

    John are there any circumstances where the Greens could embrace nuclear?

    Renewable options are fine but I don’t think it is going to happen across the world in time to limit the change to less than 2 degrees. I don’t see Australia doing that, not even with a Labor government and ironically not under a Green government.

    We don’t have a nuclear industry but we could form one. Just takes a little will.

  9. JH@8

    John are there any circumstances where the Greens could embrace nuclear?

    Possibly.
    We’ve opposed, with the most vehement intense hatred, every dam ever being built on environmental grounds yet now champion hydro as the environments friend.

    Anything is possible with us.

  10. GH @8: Unlike Jumpy I don’t claim to be the Green’s spokesperson.
    However, I can see no reason why nuclear would ever be the answer to an emission crisis in Aus. Nuclear costs more, takes much much longer to build, is the neighbour from hell and creates hazards that will last for centuries.
    The only people who like nuclear are nuclear tragics and climate action hating opportunists that see talking about nuclear as a away to procrastinate.

  11. John I’m am surprised to suspect you absolutely underestimate the crisis before the world, and not limited to Australia.
    You and I will both live I expect, to see a sudden dawning upon the leaders of the world that shit has really happened, and then there will be an almighty rush to rein in our emissions. I don’t believe price will be an issue then. Hopefully build time (which is extended mightily by the naysayers), will be far less than 20 years, but hopefully not too late.

    And…“The only people who like nuclear are nuclear tragics and climate action hating opportunists that see talking about nuclear as a away to procrastinate.” …is just wrong. I don’t fit that profile at all. I peek over our horizon I am frightened by what I see.

    In any event, it could all be null. You should not be too surprised if resource conflicts become widespread, especially over water. That is a threat barely spoken of and rather more imminent than the 4 degrees.

    The other huge task is to stop population growth and start reducing our numbers. There are countless projections about population numbers. Some say 11 billion, others predict a decline. The truth is uncertain, but you’d want to think about just when enough is enough. And if you are into “sustainability” we are already overloaded.

  12. You and I will both live I expect, to see a sudden dawning upon the leaders of the world that shit has really happened, and then there will be an almighty rush to rein in our emissions.

    I agree, Geoff. I’ve just done a post on a possible significant jump in temperatures with possibly more than a decade’s worth of warming in one year. I almost wish it would happen, as I think it would concentrate the mind.

    I’m more relaxed than most about nukes, depends who is doing it. The Indians and the Indonesians worry me, but that could just be prejudice.

    Here in Oz I think we are likely to spend our money on wind and solar, significant battery storage, and buying out coal power stations to shut them down.

  13. GH: If you look at what I said @4 I am not sure what you are objecting to.
    Brian: I hope we don’t waste money buying out coal fired power. Most other business’s are not compensated for the damage done by government decisions.

  14. JD @ 13
    Whilst I think we have similar ambitions for our world, we seem to consider different pathways to that point.
    I’m not sure how to go about finding common ground along the path between our views. Any ideas? Anyone?

  15. True JD15. But the judgement call is slow to come. How long has the Murray Darling Basin/water allocations been discussed? About 100 years so far.
    Climate change inertia is real but seldom gets mentioned compared to other facets. That to an extent masks urgency.So does endless discussion by our so-called leaders.
    I’ve noticed that the Greens have broadened their political opinion on issues. But they remain, IMO a party identified with environment, not particularly associated with all government matters. Meg never seems to miss a chance to rail at the government and it reduces the environmental currency of the Greens.

    Here’s a thought: Greens make a deal with LNP that renewables rule. That a first priority of the government is to institute a serious meaningful tilt at reducing emissions. In return negotiate some reasonable legislation that will address the stalled economic issues that engage parliament at our expense. It would take balls the size of church bells but it would be historic and if well executed, an absolute milestone in Australian history. John is that out of the question?

  16. GH: The Democrats downward slide started when they supported Reith’s industrial legislation and their support for Howard’s GST. Realpolitiks it a bit risky when it comes too soon.
    In the meantime both the Libs and Labor in NSW are moving closer to the Greens GST position and the conservative government in Tas has instituted a 5 year fracking ban.
    I think we are also moving towards some of the Greens solutions for installing economic issues.
    Tony’s problem is that he no longer has any credibility when it comes to promises made in return for anything. For the Greens compromising with Tony seems a risky thing to do.

  17. Risk aversion/risk deflection whatever you want to call it is sinking us. We seem bound by negative drives that focus on least consequence if things don’t work out so well. That guarantees at best modest or minimal success/returns. Goals are capped by fear of criticism or party politics.

    The opposite of that is an outward approach to issues that imagines a great outcome and determines what needs to be done to achieve that goal. And fearlessly takes the necessary steps to reach those goals. The upper limit is set by practical parameters and is free of the limitations we flounder under. God don’t we need a leader right now.

    Actually that is how I think Singapore became such a success.

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