Thursday, May 10, 2007

Obama Stumbles - and Stays in Limbo

Presidential candidate and current Illinois senator Barack Obama has to be in two minds about dirty coal. He wants to get rid of it but he also wants to keep it. So now he is in limbo. With a little Bushism, Obama wants to "cleanify" the tainted coal. Via

To do justice to the man, he is senator of the state that is already among the biggest dirty coal producers in the US. Not to mention that her yet unmined reserves would offer untold riches in energy production for Illinois. So how could Obama not support the good people of the State that gave Lincoln to the US. Would be unfair, wouldn't it.

The name of the game of course is clean coal, just so long as coal is still part of the plan. So Obama promptly proposes this course of actioan - he and others want call it coal-to-liquids - just as any sensible man in his place would do. He proposes a legislation in the senate to promote turning coal into liquid fuel for vehicles. He figures it is a win-win and who wouldn't.

"Obama wants to cleanify
tainted coal...?"

The problem it seems lay not with the assumption, but with the calculation. You see what it would do is keep dirty coal mining alive and well. And on the top of that a little other thing. That is the reminder of the process, the actual turning coal into liquids and then burning it to get from A to B would produce much more CO2 than the current processes for petroleum based fuel.

Why liquid coal is not the answer:

Though the proposed amendment has been defeated once in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Obama still has the chance to introduce it again in the Senate. The proposed Act is called the Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act of 2007. And to be true to its intention it would give federal loans for the planning and permitting of such processing plants, federal guarantees for construction loans, and tax credits.

The intention is novel. The problem is once again, a key lawmaker lacking the acumen and discipline of a scientist. Not his fault though.

We now live the time of Governing Certainties. See the consequences of it and the premises here and here. Politicians in government and aspiring for government are Lawmakers or at the very least folks trained in handling adversary, which is what the human nature.

Problem is, Nature is NOT adversarial, it is simply uncertain. It always has been. And very few scientists are actually trained in listening to the rapidly evolving uncertainties of today. I stress uncertainties, not facts or statistics. Even less from the current breed of lawmakers can handle the advice of such scientists in a truly constructive manner.

The Path to Changing Climate Back is Nature's Republic.

Obama still has the chance to do something remotely like that. And if he wants to give a bigger role in solving environmental problems and possible downpours of fortune to his home State - So be it, right ... ? Only it seems if the report by the Natural Resources Defense Council is anything to go by, transport and coal has to be separated, not linked.

So to sum up ...

Obama doesn't run away from responsibility. He just running in the wrong direction.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Sceptic Gets Mired in Controversy

Well known Global Warming sceptic Professor Bob Carter gets a fair hearing and gets into trouble. He got more than flashy soundbites to elaborate on his position. He got himself against a mighty listener: Dr Stephen Schneider. All we ask that Mr Carter should also listen. To himself.

So hear Mr Carter out. In introduction, his position is that putting Carbon Dioxide (CO2) into the air is like putting coats of white paint on a house. The first quantum (layer) will reflect most of the sunshine and consecutive layers - no matter how many - will not add much more to the reflectivity. Similarly, he says, doubling CO2 is causing most of the warming and consecutive outputs are not that big of a concern.

He supports his argument by saying that warming should be seen on a very long time horizon measured in hundreds of thousands perhaps millions of years. He argues these are processes of geological length. And than he turns around and says, a shining fact to support him is the fact that in the past 3-5 years warming that is more than the background noise warming (we don't know what he means by that and he does not elaborate) has not increased.

Well done Mr Carter. No one needs to argue with you if you defeat your own argument. Twice.

First: How historic long term is 3-5 years? Probably not much.
Second: If most of the warming is caused by the doubling of CO2 and not the consequtive outputs and changes are locked in for 30-40 years already (a consensus reached by scientists of both side of the barrier) than we should worry probably even more about the destructive nature of CO2 and its effects on the whole eco - AND biosphere.

It appears that it was a noble intention on his part to broaden the definition of change - not just weather change. But Mr Carter ran into a formidable opponent in Dr Stephen Schneider. While Mr Carter is certainly an able proponent of possible changes on the geological time-scale (himself being from the Marine Geophysical Laboratory, James Cook University.)

Professor Schneider is offering advice to help scholars communicate more clearly with the media and policymakers.
Mr Schneider however is a person monitoring really broad interdisciplinary consequences. Mr Schneider being Melvin and Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, he appeared to be an able advocate of very long term processes including biological ones.

To sum up ...

Allow me just two final figures to contemplate.

If animals or plants go extinct because of too high stress on their respective habitat, what goes with it is what took evolution about 25 million years of perfecting those species to that habitat. A new, drastically different habitat might take similarly long geological time spans to have a new biosphere similarly adopted.

Scientist have reached consensus and agree that ocean surface level rise is mostly due to heat expansion that is about to go on for a thousand to two thousand years.

Both are very long time spans indeed.

So what's the point of arguing consequtive CO2 emissions (that is happening today) if what is already there is so damaging for the very long term, indeed.

Congratulation to Phillip Adams of ABC Radio National LNL for convening such an informative debate and big cheers to story producer Jane Shields.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Cost of Global Warming Fix Uses Old Model

By the time government representatives managed to broker something they found acceptable the model it has been based on had become outdated.

Still there is something very newsworthy in this: The scientific panel was international and it included a delegation from the US. Also, price tags for Plan A, B and even C have been calculated.

Further the panel found that:

Summary report pdf to download

"... blunting the consequences of global warming will require different lifestyles, higher prices for basics including gasoline and electricity, and a much greater investment in research and development efforts."

These are very important and very striking statements. You may want to compare the statement on lifestyle change to this previous ChangeClimateBack blogpost: ../2007/04/problem-with-overconsumption.html

The other important point is that costs are affordable. However, the report is seriously lacking by it's own admission.

"... estimates of potential price increases for gas and other energy sources were not included in the report because they were based on assumptions that have not been well studied."

Now if you read between the lines, you find the the whole process of negotiation was much much longer then the 5 days delegates spent in Bangkok. As a result, the model they used was the same as it was before negotiation started. At the time relevant and inclusive, but by the time agreement was reached - outdated and old. For istance it did not include new findings that the Polar Ice cap actally melting faster than the model predicted back then.

[report] ... do not take into account the most recent discoveries -- such as findings that the Arctic ice cap appears to be melting at a much faster rate than described in the February IPCC report.
That's how much has changed just in the 4 months between February (the climate report) and May (the agreement brokered) to the model they uses as base. You can't blame them though. This was as exceptionally fast process. Today, may be enough. Tomorrow, not good enough.

Bottom Line?

It is important that now the talk is serious and is about exact costs and timelines of fixing. The complexity of the changes however is such that the model upon which calculations and predictions are based need to be updated more frequently than haggling process to reach agreement by politicians usually lasts. We may not like this but climate change is on a footing that requires emergency fast reaction time to important model changes.

... model upon which calculations and predictions are based need to be updated more frequently than usual haggling process ...

And it is even more so now, that some feedback processes start. Polar melt is a case in hand. Reduced albedo effect from white ice gone reduces reflection and increases warming as a second generation so called negative feed back process kicks in. Similarly, some trees are now reported to undergo such stress that they become net producers of CO2 - they breath carbon rather then oxigen. This is another negative feedback recently observed.

Such processes (both positive - there are a little, but could be important - and negative feedbacks) now alter model structures and acceptable predictions more rapidly. Some actual measurements now frequently and routinely carried out also defy predictions - some on the positive, some on the negative side.

Negotiations of any real merit should go real time and based on models updated in real time. In practical terms, at least adjusted in the interim before final agreements are reached.

The best medium for this would be expert internet forum, rather then a suit-and-tie air conditioned chain of events in venues across the globe. You do the sums: kerosine, gas, petrol, air-conditioning - all lost for wanting eggheads (save a respectful, but largely powerless minority) to agree on and old and outdated presumption.

Still, there is progress ...

Panel Calculates Cost of Global Warming Fix -