Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The root of all evil

In the light of recent news I feel both hope and desapair.

The EU has put forward an offer to cut its emissions by up to 95% by 2050 and by 30% by 2030 if a deal is reached at Copenhagen (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/oct/21/europe-carbon-emissions). This is excellent news!

India and China have also agreed to work together in sharing and developing technology and reducing their emissions(http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/8318725.stm) This is also excellent news!

The British Prime Minister has adressed representatives from 17 nation, including several of the worlds biggest polluters, that we had "50 days to save the world from warming" (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8313672.stm) (less now) and that a deal must be made at Copenhagen.

All this is very good, but being the cynical so-and-so that I am, I wonder...

In the same article that the Guardian reports the EU offer, it reports that there is disagreement over the funding package for developing countries. Poland and other poorer european nations are not happy at being asked to subsidise action in developing nations such as China, which have a strong growing economy.

China and India are both reported as stating that the measures needed to address climate change will harm their economies and that they require financial incentives from the developed nations which have historic responsibility for a large percentage of greenhouse gas emissions (despite China's vulnerability to climate change, see here http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8311223.stm).

China and India, along with other developing nations, are reported to require that the Kyoto Protocol, with it's legally binding emissions targets on developed nations, be used as the basis for further negotiations.

Th US rejects this and is pressing for a deal not based on Kyoto and opposition in the US Senate, and fear that the Boxer-Kerry bill will damage US economic competitiveness seem not to promise much hope of a real, radical and binding deal being made at Copenhagen.

I am deeply concerned that our need to be economically competitive and to support our national economies will mean that we do not act radically enough or fast enough, that we will be doomed by our "national economic interest". We do not have the time, we MUST act now.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Arctic blue

The BBC reports today (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8307272.stm) the findings of the Catlin Arctic Survey. The expedition trekked across 435km of ice earlier this year and was assessing the thickness of the ice.

The team found that the ice floes were on average 1.8m thick, typical of "first year" ice which forms during the previous winter and which is more vulnerable to melting than the thicker "multi- year" ice which they had been expecting to traverse. When the ridges of ice between the floes were included, the average ice thickness was 4.8m

Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, who has been studying the Arctic Ice since the 1960s, is quoted as saying that the Catlin Arctic Survey data supports the view that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within about 20 years and that much of that decrease would happen within 10 years:
"You'll be able to treat the Arctic as if it were essentially an open sea in the summer," he said.

This echoes a modelling study undertaken by a group headed by Professor Maslowski of NASA in 2007 (reported here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7139797.stm). Using data from 1979-2004, this study predicted that the Arctic would be ice-free in the summer by 2013. A recent Met Office study predicted a temperature increase in the Arctic of as much as 16 degrees C by 2060.

As the Arctic opens up, access to the fossil fuel reserves in the region becomes easier and international tensions are likely to rise, as I've mentioned before on this blog. See here for Canada's territorial claims to the Northwest Passage (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7033498.stm ).

However, the most serious environmental risk is the methane locked up under the Arctic which could be released into the atmosphere as the temperature of the region rises. Methane release has been linked to the Permian-Triassic mass extinction which killed 96% of all life (Ryskin et al. Geology, September 2003 pages 741-744).

So we must consider not the immediate bonanza of easier access to fossil fuels (just in time to temporarily avert peak oil) but a further future, in which we face the very real possibility of extinction. Perhaps that will bring the resolve we need.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Peaking too soon

Today, the UK Energy Research Centre published its Global Oil Depletion Report online at http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/support/tiki-index.php?page=Global+Oil+Depletion. This report reinforces the conclusions of the IEA Energy Outlook in December last year, which I blogged about in my very first post, Peak Oil in 2020? The executive summary of the report provides interesting, if disturbing, reading. The most telling sentence of the summary is:-

On the basis of current evidence we suggest that a peak of conventional oil production before 2030 appears likely and there is a significant risk of a peak before 2020.

Basically we are looking at peak oil of conventional sources in ten or twenty years (or less).
Given that the report by Hirsch et al (2005) for the US Department of Energy argued that a twenty year lead-in time was needed to avoid massive social upheaval, we don't have a lot of time.

The peak itself is important. But given the sheer physical limitations on oil extraction, it seems that the rate of decline (how much less oil can be extracted year on year) will be critical. Increasing demand for energy from rapidly industrialising nations such as China and India, coupled with the already high demands of industrialised nations like the US, suggest that competition for energy supplies will be fierce.

With our complete dependence on cheap oil for our transport, agriculture, heating and food distribution infrastructure, we need to stop ignoring this and hoping it will go away.

The Transition movement (see the wiki here http://transitiontowns.org/ ), with its emphasis on engagement and building local resilience, offers one way forward. I am encouraged by the increasing number of Transition initiatives around the globe.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Under the carpet

In an interview with the BBC, Professor David Mackay is reported to have said that reductions in CO2 emissions since 1990 are "an illusion" (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8283909.stm).
He was speaking about the fact that we have exported our industry and that much of what we buy is manufactured or grown in other countries such as China or India. A study by Dieter Helm from Oxford University in 2007 estimated that our true emissions footprint is roughly twice as big as it looks on paper, due to overseas manufacture of goods we consume.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, emissions were considered to be the problem of the country in which they were produced. We get to look good while China looks like the bad guy for producing goods which we are buying, no wonder they are unhappy with this situation!

This issue is going to be a hot one! How well will the necessary impact on our lifestyles go down in domestic politics in the US, the UK or other developed nations? And how will this affect the negotiating positons of these countries at Copenhagen or other international summits?
Already Barack Obama is reported to be downplaying the need for a deal at Copenhagen (see Guardian article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/25/obama-climate-change-deal-copenhagen-summit), while India's environment minister has challenged the US over it's "measly" efforts to combat climate change (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/oct/01/india-us-climate-change)and Li Gao of China said earlier this year that developed countries should take responsibility for the emissions produced in the manufacture of goods for them (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/17/climate-change-china).
Our very status as nations the in G8 or G20 countries is based on our GDP which is a measure of consumption.

The issue we have to face is this, we cannot have our western consumerist lifestyle and avoid the consequences. Climate change is directly linked to our manufactured NEED for stuff, our cars and fridges and PCs and mobile phones and iPODs and just more and more stuff which we consume every year. We can no longer sweep it away under the carpet and blame another.