Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Move Over CO2, Here Comes NF3 and SO2F2

While most of the attention has been focused on the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere when it comes to global warming, two little known greenhouse gases, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) and sulfuryl fluoride (SO2), are rapidly increasing in concentration, although their levels are still low. The latest measurements published were made by a team of scientists from the US and Australia. In a story posted on RedOrbit News, one of the scientists, Dr. Paul Fraser from the Center for Australian Weather and Climate research, is quoted as saying that “these gases have significant global warming potential.” Somewhat ironically nitrogen trifluoride is used in the manufacture of thin-film solar panels. It is also used in the manufacture of various type of electronic devices including liquid-crystal flat panel screens. Sulfuryl fluoride is used in fumigation. Dr. Fraser believes that in addition to likely setting targets for the better known greenhouse gases, it is likely targets will be set for these two other greenhouse gases in any revision of the Kyoto Protocol.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Controversial Iron-Seeding Experiment Produces a lot of Algae but Little CO2 Storage

After dumping six tons of iron filings into the Southern Ocean from the German research ship the Polarstern the scientists who conducted this geoengineering experiment have said that although they did manage to stimulate the growth of algae little of the carbon dioxide taken up by these microscopic organisms wound up on the floor of the ocean. Instead, most of the algae entered into the food chain as they were consumed by tiny organisms which in turn were consumed by somewhat larger organisms. One of the scientists, Professor Victor Smetacek, told BBC News that “What it means is the Southern Ocean cannot sequester the amount of carbon dioxide that one had hoped.” This experiment, which was considered as large scale, at least by protesters, covered 300 sq km of ocean. But it seems to be in fact rather small compared to what a company called Climos is planning. BBC News reports that this company plans to carry out an iron fertilization experiment that could cover up to 40,000 sq km of ocean. Considering all the protests surrounding this experiment using the Polarstern it seems almost certain that the protests will be even much larger if it appears that the Climos experiment will be carried out.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Royal Society Is Preparing a Geoengineering Feasibility Report

Another sign that desperation is setting in among scientists when it comes to combating global warming is that Britain’s Royal Society is putting together a report on the feasibility of using geoengineering. In an article posted on Times Online the gravity of the situation as viewed by the scientists is perhaps summed up by one of the contributors to the report, Professor Brian Launder, who says that unless carbon dioxide emissions are reduced or geoengineering can be used successfully “civilization as we know it will end within our grandchildren’s lifetime.” It would seem that simply by this academy of scientists issuing a report on geoengineering that this controversial approach to tackling global warming will gain more credibility. An argument against pursuing possible geoengineering solutions is that it will take attention away from reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, the argument that you need a Plan B if you are approaching the end of what we call civilization or anything even close to that and Plan A fails seems the more convincing.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

About Four of Every Ten Americans Believe Global Warming Is Being Exaggerated

Despite the fact that over the last few years there have many scientific reports showing that earlier reports underestimated the effects of global warming a recent Gallup poll shows that the percentage of Americans who believe global warming is exaggerated has increased from 30% in 2006 to 41%. Conversely, the percentage of who think that global warming is being underestimated has dropped from 38% in 2006 to 28%. Apparently, as the climate scientists describe the situation as becoming more dire the public perception has not moved accordingly in that direction. Rather, denial of the science is becoming stronger.

The explanation for these numbers can only be guessed at. The first thing that comes to mind is that the efforts of the right wingers to sow doubt about global warming has been increasingly successful. It seems clear that constant repetition of erroneous facts works. It worked in creating doubt that the ozone hole was not caused by human sources. Even many environmentalists began to believe that the ozone hole was caused by volcanic eruptions because that bit of erroneous information was repeated so often, even after it was proven beyond doubt that it was wrong. So now we hear over and over again that it is not warming but actually cooling, that the Arctic ice cap is not really rapidly shrinking during the summers, etc. Other possible explanations of why so many Americans think global warming is being exaggerated include a failure of the mainstream media to do a good job in reporting the issue, the power of psychological denial mechanisms, and good old American optimism.

Whatever the cause, with so many believing that global warming is being exaggerated, it doesn’t bode well for politicians trying to seriously address the issue. In many congressional districts and even in a number of states those who believe that global warming is being exaggerated are probably in the majority. Obama knows how to write and deliver speeches. Hopefully he can up with one that can move enough minds to believe in the dire predictions of climate scientists before it is too late.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Forget about Limiting Global Warming to 2°C Says Climate Expert

Some very sobering opinions on global warming are emanating from climate scientists gathered in Copenhagen for an international climate meeting. A particularly gloomy picture of the situation comes from Professor Katharine Richardson, chair of the scientific conference’s steering committee. As reported by the Times Online, Professor Richardson said in an interview that “We can forget about the 2°C. We are now facing the situation where we have to avoid a 5°-6°C rise in temperature.” The 2°C mark of course is the amount that many climate scientists have been saying is the most that global temperature can rise from preindustrial times without kicking off catastrophic climate change. Professor Richardson says “What we know now is that we are we facing the worst case scenario.” She came to this extremely gloomy conclusion after looking through hundreds of scientific papers that had been submitted to the conference. It seems hard to imagine that any politicians will embrace this forecast for certain disaster. How can a leader not express any hope except the hope that an even worse catastrophe than one certain to come can possibly be avoided? Certainly they would have to at least express the hope that some sort of geoengineering scheme would come to the rescue. Or, at least in democracies, the people could elect deniers and take comfort in global warming denial as so many Americans do today.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

China May Be Incapable of Lowering Carbon Dioxide Emissions

For those getting optimistic that with a new carbon-cutting U.S. administration in place there is good reason to believe that the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide my soon be dropping to levels that can combat global warming a reality check comes in the form research results from Dabo Guan from the University of Cambridge and colleagues from the U.S. and Norway who have concluded that China, which contributes about one fourth of all greenhouse gas emissions today, may not have the capability to cut emissions during the next two decades. An article posted on Spiegel Online says that these scientists have concluded that even with substantial use of energy efficiency measures and the latest energy technology carbon dioxide emissions for China will increase by 80% from 2002 levels by 2030. This is based on a projection that demand for electricity would triple in China as more roads and airports are built and the Western lifestyle with all of its electrical appliances and electronic gadgets continues to spread. It was assumed that the Chinese would use coal sequestration and storage for every new coal plant and that this technology would actually work, which is far from proven. It was also assumed unrealistically that by 2030 China would get 40% of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind and hydro; no country has achieved that yet. Is there any hope? Guan’s advice is that the Chinese should not follow the typical energy-intensive lifestyles of people in the West. Unfortunately, it is very hard to imagine that advice being followed.