Welcome to the anthropocene: the best (or is that worst?) is yet to come

A recent paper in Science is worth noting for its ominous implications: future warming is predicted on the “high side”:

BOULDER—Climate model projections showing a greater rise in global temperature are likely to prove more accurate than those showing a lesser rise, according to a new analysis by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The findings, published in this week’s issue of Science, could provide a breakthrough in the longstanding quest to narrow the range of global warming expected in coming decades and beyond.

The paper appeared in Science here:

An observable constraint on climate sensitivity, based on variations in mid-tropospheric relative humidity (RH) and their impact on clouds, is proposed. We show that the tropics and subtropics are linked by teleconnections that induce seasonal RH variations that relate strongly to albedo (via clouds), and that this covariability is mimicked in a warming climate. A present-day analog for future trends is thus identified whereby the intensity of subtropical dry zones in models associated with the boreal monsoon is strongly linked to projected cloud trends, reflected solar radiation, and model sensitivity. Many models, particularly those with low climate sensitivity, fail to adequately resolve these teleconnections and hence are identifiably biased. Improving model fidelity in matching observed variations provides a viable path forward for better predicting future climate.

The Sydney Morning Herald also reports:

Climate change is likely to be more severe than some models have implied,  according to a study which ratchets up the possible temperature rises and  subsequent climatic impacts. Climate model projections showing a greater rise in global temperature were  likely to be more accurate than those showing a smaller rise, an analysis by the  US National Centre for Atmospheric Research found. This means not only a higher level of warming, but also that the resulting  problems – including floods, droughts, sea level rise and fiercer storms and  other extreme weather – would be correspondingly more severe and would come  sooner than expected.

Scientists at the centre published their study last Thursday in the leading  peer-reviewed journal Science. It is based on an analysis of how well  computer models estimating the future climate reproduce the humidity in the  tropics and subtropics that has been observed in recent years. They found that  the most accurate models were most likely to best reproduce cloud cover, which  is a major influence on warming. These models were also those that showed the  highest global temperature rises in the future if emissions of greenhouse gases  continue to increase.

Rather than leave you the impression that “We’re doomed! Doomed!” I do believe it is vital we discuss the implications of this paper (and the voluminous other evidence) and begin examining how our civilisation can remain viable in the anthropocene.

Personally, I believe it is possible: but we need to look at the world in a new way. We live on what is essentially a different planet – very different to the one our species and civilisation witnessed as they came into being.

Even at this stage we have choices: to scale back greenhouse emissions; to implement renewable sources of energy; to better manage resource use; and to curb our growth fetish.

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34 thoughts on “Welcome to the anthropocene: the best (or is that worst?) is yet to come

  1. [...] 2012/11/14: WtD: Welcome to the anthropocene: the best (or is that worst?) is yet to come [...]

  2. john byatt says:

    here is the difference between the UK and QLD elec eric

    Generation, transmission is QLD government owned

    http://www.business.qld.gov.au/industry/energy/electricity-industry/electricity-queensland

    should it be privatised?

    .

  3. Eric Worrall says:

    FYI, The Heartland Institute, you know, that organisation you thought would dry up and blow away, after AGU Ethics Committee Chairman Peter Gleick impersonated a Heartland director to steal some documents, is hosting a new major conference in Germany.

    http://heartland.org

    Sadly I won’t be able to attend.

  4. jyyh says:

    There was some sort of list somewhere a couple of years ago that was pretty good imho, this is not that list, but just a list for initiating discussion: Maybe someone will find the proper list (climate wedges?)

    1)some sortof secure skeleton internet (chat/discussion forums txt, pngs only?) that is affordable for most to keep people connected and not becoming xenophobic.
    2)banning most air traffic (subsidizing national rail infra (US hasn’t a national one) over road transport (can’t control them motorists anyway)) while allowing gasoline/diesel use for agriculture/forestry
    3)2-child policy all over the world (this is provocative, I know)
    4)promoting permaculture and the cultural transformations associated with it (back to the village and small divisions of arable land?)
    5)stopping much of the intercontinental motorized shipping (back to the sails?) while keeping essential manufacturing somewhere in every continent…)
    6)promoting combining local greenhouses/cold storages over international food transport (which cannot wholly stop though for the weather extremes)
    7)allowing carbon-neutral/-negative buildings only.
    8)repair,recycle,reuse. whatever.

    Blah, all of those are pretty impossible.

    • Eric Worrall says:

      Brutal back to the stone age plan – or at the very least rolling back the clock 150 years or so, back to the age of child labour and early death from overwork. And utterly unnecessary, even if you are right about CO2 – you could decarbonise using nuclear power, without dismantling the modern world.

      But thanks for being honest about what you guys really want.

      • john byatt says:

        For those less in denial than eric you can read the abstract and the citation papers to further research

        http://www.sciencemag.org/content/305/5686/968.abstract

        , Yes as you say that is not the list at all jyyh.

        • Eric Worrall says:

          I’ve never suggested the economy couldn’t be decarbonised – using nuclear power. The British experience shows renewables are far more costly and ineffectual than nuclear, and require near 100% fossil fuel backup (which adds even more to the cost), so I don’t understand why those of you who claim to support the nuclear route to decarbonisation would bother to support anything else.

          But even nuclear power would be an unnecessary cost – at least 20% more expensive than coal or gas. A 20% economic disadvantage is still a disadvantage, and in the modern, cut throat world of global trade, any economic disadvantage is one disadvantage too many.

      • john byatt says:

        You claimed that it was a brutal back to the stoneage plan without even bothering to read the wedges paper, you just assumed that the forum discussion stuff that was posted by jyyh were the wedges, you spend four minutes coming to a conclusion on a catalyst program that runs for 30 minutes, and then jump to another conclusion based on a comment.

        you do not even understand that you are one of the best examples of why the sceptic movement has lost all credibility, people coming here as we have seen describe you as Delingpoodle,

        .

        • Eric Worrall says:

          If the plan is as jyyh described it, then I stand by my point.

          You can use nuclear power to synthesise hydrocarbons, so there is no need to abandon car transport, or any aspect of modern civilisation.

          And if you are in the business of fuel synthesis, there has been some work on using powdered metal nanoparticles as fuel, rather than hydrocarbons – apparently the energy density is higher, and its much easier to return the oxide to the fuel station for reprocessing.

      • jyyh says:

        It seems you do have the nuclear as the solution to the problem of excess carbon dioxide that is causing the earth to warm. So you’ve accepted the science, at least somewhat. May I interest you to the blog http://bravenewclimate.com/, though possibly you know about it already. There’s some high-standard discussion about the nuclear future, thorium reactors and such. And as john byatt said that list is not the list of wedges but just some things from the past that might be of use decarbonizing. I assume that you think the problem of climate change isn’t brutal if we’d just build enough nuclear reactors.

        • Eric Worrall says:

          I don’t agree CO2 is a problem, what I am saying is, if CO2 is a problem, then nuclear is the answer.

          For people who push climate alarmism to put their societal reforms ahead of the simplest, least disruptive solution to the problem they claim is happening is downright perverse. At the very least it leads to legitimate questions about what the real goal is – reducing CO2, or changing society.

      • jyyh says:

        For those who are abhorred by the registration to read the science paper, Joe Romm has some explanations of the wedges f.e. in here: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2011/01/10/207320/the-full-global-warming-solution-how-the-world-can-stabilize-at-350-to-450-ppm/
        though it’s not probably exactly the same as the paper. The addition of nuclear power seems to be included here too.

        then the guys at Princeton included nuclear in the wedges game too.

        http://cmi.princeton.edu/wedges/game.php

        Somewhere on the net there was a calculator for atmospheric carbon dioxide with some of the wedges (with actual numbers) as options to change the projection to the future, but I’ve lost the link. But anyway many of the wedges weren’t included in that, the author said it’s impossible to predict how they might become true, but it was cool to try to ‘cool the planet’ in that game… if one thinks it’s a game.

      • john byatt says:

        If eric made any sense here you could give him an answer
        seems to be that those against nuclear are in on some conspiracy

        yet I have read that it is the nuclear industry running the CO2 alarm to gain support ( re viv forbes)

        trying to find any cohension from the denialists is a fools errand

        • Eric Worrall says:

          I’m simply raising questions about your sense of priorities.

          If you truly believe the oceans are going to boil unless we reduce CO2 emissions, even a nuclear meltdown every year cannot compare to the catastrophe which awaits us if we don’t do anything.

          So why don’t you forget about useless, controversial renewables, and reforming society, at least for now, and focus on the nuclear route to decarbonisation?

          Otherwise, the oceans might boil, while you are busy trying to convince people like me to switch to an electric car.

      • jyyh says:

        Your opposition to electric cars is not very wise if you are thinking nuclear as a potential solution to the problem of excess CO2 that is warming the planet. But then again, you don’t see a warming planet as a problem, so you are insensitive to those people living in affected areas. That’s your right, ok.

        • Eric Worrall says:

          I’m not against electric cars in principle, I just think the current crop are a bit useless – short driving range, short battery life – especially if you have to use the battery for anything other than driving, such as keeping the car interior warm (or cool).

          If you notice in a previous post, I mentioned metal powder as an alternative to hydrocarbon fuels. A metal powder powered car would have all the advantages of a petrol car, but the fuel would be completely recyclable and zero carbon.

          http://www.nanowerk.com/news/newsid=1307.php

          Of course, the zero carbon doesn’t bother me – but the higher energy density (longer range) of metal powder powered cars, coupled with the relative cheapness of electricity vs petrol, would make such a car an attractive proposition in my view.

  5. sailrick says:

    Eric

    There are many reasons besides climate change why the kind of growth we’ve been accustomed to is not sustainable. That doesn’t mean we have to go live in caves.

    Regarding nuclear power: For me, Fukishima showed that the nuclear industry is over confident, especially with respect to underestimating the power of nature. There have been 5 earthquakes over magnitude 9 since 1950, and all of them produced huge tsunamis. So, at least in the last half century plus, they’re not that rare. Imagine if there were nuclear power plants along the shores of Sumatra, southern India and Thailand, when the earthquake and tsunami killed 225,000 people.

    There are two dozen nuclear plants in the U.S. that only have 4 hour battery backup, in case the diesel pumps don’t start. Fukishima had 8 hour backup.

    The nuclear waste is still an issue.

    Why do the nuclear industry and governments show no interest in LFTR, liquid fluoride thorium reactors? Are they not a good idea, for some reasons that I don’t know?

    From what little I’ve read about LFTRs, they are much safer, in a number of ways.

    • sailrick says:

      If that path was taken, it wouldn’t happen overnight. Prototypes would have to be built first to prove them. There were one or two built in the 1950s, but not for power plants. It would take a decade or two to get rolling. In the meantime, we don’t have time to wait, so build renewables and thorium plants can contribute later.

      • Eric Worrall says:

        The problem is the renewables are not contributing in a meaningful way. Just look at Germany – despite having one of the highest levels of renewable energy in the world, they are currently building 20 coal power plants to replace the nuclear power they plan to decommission. It is simply too expensive and difficult to replace the nuclear power they plan to decommission with more renewables.

    • Eric Worrall says:

      There are far safer nuclear technologies, such as pebble bed – which simply doesn’t melt down, no matter what happens to it.

      Thorium is viable, but it is simply more expensive than refining Uranium. Thorium reactors burn nuclear waste, and produce very little waste which can’t be reprocessed and burnt. The nuclear waste of today will be tomorrow’s nuclear fuel.

      The reason noone is doing it now is that its simply cheaper to dig Uranium out of the ground and burn it, and store the waste, than to reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

      But I have another theory as to why some reactors are dangerous.

      Small reactors are far safer than large reactors.

      With a small core, geometry is important. The number of neutrons which are produced by a nuclear core are related to the volume of the core, but the number of neutrons which escape is related to the surface area. So a small core which does not have exactly the right geometry will quench – it will not sustain a chain reaction, because too many neutrons will escape the pile without triggering the next step in the chain reaction.

      Large cores have a much larger volume to surface area ratio, so they can (in principle) keep burning, despite geometric defects which allow more neutrons to escape.

      When a reactor starts to melt, the first thing to happen is its geometry deforms – it starts to slump into a puddle. This would quench a small core. But a large core can keep burning, because even in an inefficient puddle shape, there is so much material in one place, there is a good chance the core will keep burning.

      So why build big cores? I suspect the reason is regulation. Since getting planning permission for a nuclear reactor is such an ordeal, and so hideously expensive, it simply doesn’t make sense to go through all that to build a small reactor. It is far more profitable to run the marathon for a big payoff – for the prize of owning a large reactor.

      So all the bureaucracy which is supposed to be keeping us safe is probably actually making things a little worse.

      If it was easy to build small reactors, it simply wouldn’t matter if a few melted – they wouldn’t generate enough heat to burn their way out of the concrete room which contained them.

  6. john byatt says:

    This paper is of course just one more bit of evidence and not in itself the ultimate answer to the question of CS,
    eg. other models may get other parts of the climatology correct.

    The CS is not necessarily fixed in any case, it is only relevant to the global conditions in which the doubling of CO2 takes place,

    A paper last year shows that the current CS due changes in Ocean conditions 20th and 21st century is much more sensitive to increased greenhouse gases.than for 100,000’s years

    I have not read what anyone might term “good news” this year, unless mostly ruling out over two metre sea level rise this century is seen as good news

  7. Eric Worrall says:

    Why not advocate decarbonisation by building nuclear power stations? Why does it always have to be feeble, low intensity alternative power with you guys?

    If alarmists had pushed nuclear power as the solution, I would probably have never questioned their claims.

    But the push for ineffectual renewables, while ignoring or even explicitly opposing the most obvious, most effective alternative to fossil fuels, showed me that alarmists want decarbonisation on their terms, they are only interested in solutions which radically change our lives.

    Alternatives, such as nuclear power, which would leave our high energy high consumption society intact do not interest them – they would rather let the planet cook, than reach out to people who might accept a decarbonisation solution which doesn’t cost the Earth.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      You’re response is revealing:

      “If alarmists had pushed nuclear power as the solution, I would probably have never questioned their claims.”

      Actually, I think we need to discuss nuclear as an option.

    • john byatt says:

      I have been pushing for the nuclear debate for years. cop a lot of flack

      follow bravenewclimate barry brooks

      • Eric Worrall says:

        Why do you think you cop a lot of flack for suggesting a means of decarbonisation which might actually work?

        Why do you still even waste time mentioning renewables, when nuclear would solve the problem?

      • john byatt says:

        We actually need everything we can get, I am quite happy if it can be totally done with renewable but when you have clothheads like Newman running the farce. then he may be willing to go Nuclear, You have to work with what you have,
        The absurdity of not going ahead with the proposed large scale solar power in QLD just shows what a fuckwit we have as a premier

    • Stuart Mathieson says:

      There’s an Andrew Worrall in the nuclear industry. Any relation.
      The problem with nuclear power is the company it keeps. It is also hugely expensive and complicated inviting dodgy practices as Fukashima and recent phoney documentation in South Korea attests.

      • Stuart Mathieson says:

        Frothier to that

        http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/29/world/asia/south-korea-turns-off-nuclear-reactors.html

        Another consideration is the potential for alternatives to allow households to opt out of reticulated energy the grid for which effectively subsidised big business. That may be a good thing asking as residences are not being ripped off.

      • Eric Worrall says:

        There’s an Andrew Worrall in the nuclear industry. Any relation.

        Not as far as I know. I have a cousin called Andrew, but his last name is not Worrall, and he’s a Vet.

        Another consideration is the potential for alternatives to allow households to opt out of reticulated energy the grid for which effectively subsidised big business. That may be a good thing asking as residences are not being ripped off.

        I have no problem with people installing their own solar cells, as long as they do it at their own expense.

        The problem I have with feed in tariffs is their effect is that the electricity bills of rich and middle class people are being subsidised by poor people, who can’t afford a house with a roof big enough to support a solar installation. Its not utility companies which are paying the costs – they simply pass the costs on to people who already can’t afford to pay.

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