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We Are What We Eat: What Can I Do? (5)

By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 3:38 AM GMT on April 30, 2013

We Are What We Eat: What Can I Do? (5)

Revised: May 9, 2013

This is the continuation of a series in response to the question, “What can I do about climate change?” Links to the previous entries are listed at the end.

Last week I made a list of categories to classify the types of actions that we can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The second item on that list is food. But first, I want to start with some more sets of categories.

When we think of fossil fuels, coal, oil and natural gas come to forefront. We often think of coal as dirty and natural gas as clean, in terms of air quality, climate change and general environmental damage. All of these forms of fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide when they burn, and that carbon dioxide is for practical human time in either the atmosphere or ocean permanently. Therefore we can’t simply replace coal and oil with natural gas and declare that we will avoid global warming.

If we examine how we use energy, then those uses can be divided into three categories: power generation, transportation and direct use for heat. For the past few decades, coal has dominated power generation and petroleum has dominated transportation. All three contribute to direct use for heat. Recently in the U.S., natural gas has been replacing coal for power generation, but worldwide, coal is still the dominant fuel (natural gas and coal, TON, NPR). Oil dominates transportation.

Taking another cut through our energy use, we can categorize use as residential, commercial, industrial and for transportation. Industrial uses create products from raw materials: manufacturing, cement making, mining and agriculture. Commercial uses include shops, government buildings and where governments spend money. Residential and commercial uses include a large part of electricity, heating and cooling of buildings, and heating of water. An interesting point: next to the burning of fossil fuels, cement making is the largest nonagricultural source of carbon dioxide emissions. It’s on the order of 5 percent.

If we return to the question of “What Can I Do?,” then the items discussed in the previous entries on efficiency focus primarily on the better management of buildings (residential and commercial) as well as on +choices in transportation. In fact, an alternative way to categorize use is for buildings, transportation and industry. If one were to think about government regulation, then emissions from coal-fired power plants are relatively easy to target because there are not that many power plants and they don’t move around. Transportation is harder to regulate because there are, globally, billions of cars and trucks and they do move around. The different categories I have described demonstrate both the easy opportunity for regulation, power generation, and the challenges of climate policy – that there is no single thing to fix the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.

Now to food – If we were to make a special food and agriculture category, then agriculture is responsible for about the same amount of emissions as, say, transportation or heating. Now, however, we have to become more holistic about what we mean by emissions. For agriculture, we have carbon dioxide emissions, which come mostly from deforestation. Cutting and burning forests to make new rangeland for cattle make up about 10 percent of the total annual carbon dioxide emissions. There is some emission from the use of fossil fuels for tractors and irrigation, and about half of the agricultural carbon dioxide fossil fuel emissions come from the manufacture of fertilizer. There are also other land use and soil management decisions made in agriculture that affect carbon dioxide emissions.

Beyond carbon dioxide, agriculture is responsible for about a third of methane emissions and close to two-thirds of the nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. These are greenhouse gases that are more potent than carbon dioxide; they are in much lower concentrations in the atmosphere.

So, what we eat can make a difference. When I was in college in the 1970s, I was introduced to Frances Moore Lappe’s book, Diet for a Small Planet. What I remember from that book was that if you took all of the calories needed to grow a pound of beef and instead feed those grains to people, you could feed many more people than you could with a pound of beef. It was my first introduction to sustainability. It takes much land and energy to make the well-marbled porterhouses that my father fed me in one-pound servings. No matter how you count, livestock production, in particular, beef production, releases a lot of greenhouse gases.

There are many marketing appeals in food and food supply. These appeals are to make personal decisions that affect the world, and individual choices the public makes about food and food supply do affect the world. We have appeals to buy grass-fed beef, organic meat and produce, locally produced and sustainable agriculture. We are faced with issues of packaging, preprocessing, natural, raw and prepared. There are no easy algorithms. In February, an apple from Chile might take less energy in transportation than an apple from Virginia takes in cold storage. We demand fresh fruit, vegetables and meat all winter. We demand exotic spices, fine coffee, tea and chocolate. The global demand for meat and nonlocal food increases as the world’s wealth increases.

So what rules of food selection matter? My personal evaluation is that reducing meat consumption is at the top of the list, and at the top of the meat list is beef. Pasture-raised might be better than feedlot, but life cycle studies show that beef is a relatively inefficient use of energy. Chicken is far more energy-efficient. Should we choose sustainable, local or organic meat and produce? From an emissions point of view, I hear sustainable advocated as best if there are actual standards and certification of sustainability--then local, then organic. I have made the controversial claim that since our current practice of organic, local and sustainable agriculture demands high payment for produce and meat, and since most of our generation of money requires high fossil fuel energy use, there is a hidden cost to the climate that comes from high-value crops.

It’s not easy, but what we eat does make a difference to the environment. We usually think of this difference in terms of pesticides, herbicides and erosion, but there is also a climate impact. And as is often the case, the connection is indirect, far in the future and difficult to know how to value.


Note: The source of much of the material in this entry is based on Livestock’s Long Shadow a 2006 publication of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. There has been much criticism of this report, especially in its calculation of the emissions of the transportation sector. The original authors did modify their specific statements about transportation. As noted in the next blog in this series, there is substantial controversy about the impact of agriculture. My evaluation is that the agriculture numbers in this report are as robust as any I know. My opinion would be that the agriculture emissions in this report are more likely an underestimate than an overestimate. As for comparisons to other sources of emissions, when fossil fuel emissions are broken down as described in this blog, the different sectors, residential, commercial, transportation and industrial, are all large and no single one is dominant. Therefore, the conclusion that agriculture is comparable to these sectors seems reasonable.

Previous Entries in the Series

Setting Up the Discussion Deciding to do something, definition of mitigation and adaptation, and a cost-benefit anchored framework for thinking about mitigation

Smoking, Marriage and Climate Behavioral changes and peer pressure

Organizing and Growing Individual Efforts A little detail on efficiency and thinking about how individuals can have more impact than just that of a single person

The Complete List Eight categories of things we can do to reduce greenhouse gases

Moderation of comments: I have been getting more and more complaints about what is going on in the comments. WU and I will be addressing this. To start, here is a modified version of Dr. Master’s Blog Contents Rules.

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Quoting allahgore:

What party created the EPA?

Funny thing about that...

Nixon administration debated global warming

Nbcnews.com | updated 7/3/2010

Global warming warnings were debated in President Richard Nixon's administration as early as 1969, according to newly released documents examined by The Orange County Register.

The 100,000 pages of presidential records made available by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum on Friday also portray former Nixon's inner circle as being out of touch with the American people and their sentiments against the Vietnam War.

Most of the archived documents released Friday came from the files of Nixon's Democratic adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Moynihan wrote in a September 1969 memo that it was "pretty clearly agreed" that carbon dioxide content would rise 25 percent by 2000...

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Quoting allahgore:

What party created the EPA?

The same party that now wants it abolished and proclaims it big government. You've brought this up before and it's a silly argument. Nixon wouldn't even come close to winning a primary in today's republican party, especially with ideas like the EPA.
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Peru says no to GMO
Peru is the first country in the Americas to ban genetically modified foods, putting its food policy closer to that of Europe, than the United States or many of its South American neighbors.

There isn’t much local Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino won’t eat. His highly accliamed Amaz restaurant is devoted to finding and using Amazonian food native to the country, like a 600-pound freshwater fish or a little-known fruit nicknamed “cannonball” that tastes like a cross between a guava, coconut, and melon.

But a year ago Mr. Schiaffino stopped eating supermarket tomatoes.

Even though Peru is the birthplace of the crop, it’s difficult to find anything other than hard, pale Roma tomatoes in supermarkets, and Schiaffino says that worried him.

“They’re a big monoculture, which is why people usually end up using [genetically modified organisms] GMOs. Because when you have monocultures, the crops end up getting diseases, and you have to look for these extreme ways to fix them,” he says.

Peru was the cradle of the Inca Empire, and today it’s home to many crops indigenous to the Americas. It has 400 varieties of potato alone, and a geography that allows farmers to grow almost anything.

It's also the only country in the Americas to put a 10-year ban on genetically modified food, with a law that was first introduced in 2011, and went into effect at the end of last year. Its basic intention, say Schiaffino and others, is to protect Peru’s biodiversity, as well as the practices that have kept it intact for so long.

“In the end, it’s not a law that’s ‘against’ anything,” says Antonietta Gutierrez, a biologist at Peru’s National Agrarian University. “This is a law in favor of biosecurity. The idea is that there should be a responsible way of using technology, so that it helps us develop resources – and at the same time, doesn’t destroy what we already have."


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Found this interesting snippet on Wiki about Arctic feedback effects:

"As the Arctic ocean becomes more and more ice free, the ocean absorbs more of the incident energy from the sun. The Arctic ocean becomes warmer than the former ice cover and much more water vapour enters the air. At times when the adjacent land is colder than the sea, this causes rising air above the sea and an off-shore wind as air over the land comes in to replace the rising air over the sea. As the air rises, the dew point is reached and clouds form, releasing latent heat and further reinforcing the buoyancy of the air over the ocean.

All this results in air being drawn from the south across the tundra rather than the present situation of cold air flowing toward the south from the cold sinking air over the Arctic ocean. The extra heat being drawn from the south further accelerates the warming of the permafrost and the Arctic ocean with increased release of methane"
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More Monckton Porkies

How Far and Fast Can a Denier Fall?
Roy Spencer gave an interview recently, which Dana critiqued very well on SkepticalScience. Roy should know better than to try to hoodwink people.

It seems the poor old chap has no-one left to defend him except Lord Monckton, in an article on Anthony Watts' anti-science blog, WUWT.

One of Monkton's first defenses of Spencer is that:

The satellites reveal the inconvenient truth that there has been no global warming for approaching two decades.
"Approaching two decades"? Approaching from how far away I wonder. Monckton needs new glasses. Here is what the satellite reveals, using the record from UAH as measured by the self same Spencer that Monckton is 'defending':

Do we need to go any further? I mean if Monckton gets it so wrong from the start...

Alright, just to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he had a brief seniors moment. Let's see what he says next. Nah, we'll skip the next three paragraphs, which are nothing but insults leveled at John Cook and Dana Nuccitelli and see what he says after that:

Nuccitelli begins by condemning Roy Spencer for saying, “No one knows whether it is currently warming, because we only see warming in the rear-view mirror, after it has occurred.” This truism is characteristic of Roy, who gently nudges the language of climate science in the direction of greater rigor. One cannot measure that it is warming, only that it has warmed.

Yet Nuccitelli, in a fine illustration of that blind faith that TH Huxley denounced in 1860 as “the one unpardonable sin”, asserts that “We absolutely do know that the planet is currently warming”.
I guess if Spencer and Monckton were dropping out of the sky they'd comfort each other by gently nudging the language of physical science in the direction of greater rigour, saying: "Don't panic! No-one knows whether we're currently falling, because we only see us falling in the rear view mirror, after it has occurred."

To paraphrase Monckton some more:

One cannot measure that we are falling, only that we have fallen!
Oh! And how the 'mighty' have fallen!
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Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 2:15 am | Updated: 1:11 pm, Wed May 1, 2013.
Tim Mowry/tmowry@newsminer.com | 0 comments
FAIRBANKS — Consider it Mother Nature’s encore in The Winter That Won’t End.
Winter continued with a flourish Tuesday in Alaska’s second-largest city as anywhere from 2 to 4 inches of snow fell overnight in and around Fairbanks, continuing what has been one of the coldest, snowiest springs on record.
The snowstorm came on the heels of record-cold temperatures last weekend and reinforced what many Fairbanksans feared heading into May — that spring is nowhere in sight and may never get here.
“Skip golf and go directly to hockey,” said meteorologist Bob Fischer at the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.
With an average monthly temperature about 15 degrees below normal, April 2013 already was slated to go down as one of the three coldest Aprils on record in Fairbanks, and the new snow will make it one of the 10 snowiest since the weather service began keeping records in 1904.


30TH APRIL 2013 - 19:57
This will be the coldest March-May Spring since 1996 (possibly since 1986 or even 1979). Yet we could still get some fine spring-like weather during May, even if that is the case. Winter only relaxed its grip around 12 April:
http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/datasets/T mean/date/UK.txt

9:51 a.m. MDT Wednesday: David Mayhew took this picture of 9 inches of snow piling up in Fort Collins:

Posted April 12, 2013
After the longest day — six months of continuous daylight — the sun has finally set and has cast the South Pole Station in dusk.

The official equinox was two minutes after midnight on Thursday, March 21, though we saw beautiful sunset colors through Monday, March 25, before the clouds rolled in.

This is a special time of year, and the last time we will see the sun until the southern vernal equinox in September. We celebrated the occasion with a special dinner on Saturday, March 23. A telescope in the station dining hall, or galley, provided some great views and allowed some shots of the green flash.

The South Pole Telescope is back lit by the setting sun.
We are now in a period of civil twilight — a couple of stars have popped into view — and it’s getting darker every day. Temperatures dropped in early March, reaching a serious low of minus 91.1 degrees Fahrenheit on March 25.


Rare May snowstorm pounds Iowa, Wisc. and Minn.

"Then, this cold front really stalled out over central Iowa and it just kept snowing and snowing. It just didn't really stop in some places."

The National Weather Service has issued winter storm warnings from southeast Minnesota to northwest Wisconsin and weather advisories for eastern Colorado and the upper Midwest that will continue throughout Thursday.

Total snow accumulation was expected to be 10 to 20 inches in the Rockies with up to 6 inches in the Denver area, the National Weather Service said. Between 2 and 6 inches of snow was predicted for parts of the central plains and the upper Midwest.

Trace amounts of snow in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma were reported on Thursday morning, but there was little accumulation because the ground was too warm, said Tabatha Seymore, observing program leader at the National Weather Service in Amarillo.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/sns-rt-us- usa-weather-midwestbre9410vj-20130502,0,1924618.st ory

Funny how they stuff this story in the business section, main stream media out of control?
Or in the the tank for ::::

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North Carolina: GOP Committee Chair ‘Approves’ Bill To Gut Clean Energy Without Counting Votes


The ALEC-sponsored bill to gut North Carolina’s clean energy standard failed last week in one House committee. But as the Charlotte Observer reports, last night it passed a Senate committee over shouted objections to do something most people take for granted in a democracy — counting votes to see which side has more.

Over the objections of Democratic lawmakers, a Senate committee approved legislation Wednesday to end the state’s 6-year-old renewable energy program.

Opponents of the bill shouted “No!” when voting to show their frustration at Republican Chairman Bill Rabon’s refusal to count votes with a show of hands. In what was clearly a razor-thin margin, both sides said they would have won if the votes had been counted.

At least a half-dozen Republicans voted with Democrats against the controversial bill Wednesday.

Who opposed it? Mostly radical conservative groups like the Heartland Institute, the Koch Brothers, ALEC, Art Pope, the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, and their friends in the North Carolina State Legislature.

Gutting laws that have wide support and economically benefit the whole state becomes easier when you can do it just because you say so, and don’t have to worry about counting votes.

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Quoting Naga5000:

So wait, what you're now saying is that global warming is real, but it would cost us less to just adapt? You need to make up your mind, your arguments are all over the place. This quote just makes me laugh, "If we can successfully help the general public to understand the futility of 'stopping' climate change and the relative value of adapting, then we can stop wasting money on useless schemes and start putting our money where it will ACTUALLY make a difference." yes, of course, let's put our money in their hands, where it will make quite the difference in their wallets. This is just embarrassing.
ooooooh, look at the experts they've put together! Naga, how can you be so cynical? ;-)

"Expert Interviews. So far we have 7 confirmed interviewees, Former President Vaclav Klaus, Prof Henry Ergas, Prof Fred Singer, Anthony Watts, Prof David Evans, Christopher Essex, and Joanne Nova . Whilst excerpts of the interviews will be used in the 7 minute video, the real value is that we will be spending 30 minutes to 1 hour with each of them (so 3.5+ hours combined run time!) and the full interview with each of these internationally respected experts will be available on the 50-to-1 website as they share their thoughts and perspectives on climate change and in particular policy responses such as carbon taxes and trading schemes."
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Quoting Naga5000:

So wait, what you're now saying is that global warming is real, but it would cost us less to just adapt? You need to make up your mind, your arguments are all over the place. This quote just makes me laugh, "If we can successfully help the general public to understand the futility of 'stopping' climate change and the relative value of adapting, then we can stop wasting money on useless schemes and start putting our money where it will ACTUALLY make a difference." yes, of course, let's put our money in their hands, where it will make quite the difference in their wallets. This is just embarrassing.

CEeastwood's link leads to this statement:
"The original calculations were done by Lord Christopher Monckton"

From Desmogblog:
Christopher Moncton


Christopher Walter Monckton, the third Viscount Monckton of Brenchely, is a British politician affiliated with the UK Independence Party. He was a former advisor to UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and was a "special advisor to Thatcher's Downing Street policy unit" in the 1980s.

Monckton's first claim to fame was his creation of the "eternity puzzle," a board game that Monckton believed was so challenging that he offered 1 million euros to the first person to solve it. To his surprise, the eternity puzzle was solved in 16 months.

While Monckton's educational background is in journalism, he has recently been credited by many think tanks as an expert in the field of global warming. [2]

For example, his profile on the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI) states: [3]

"His [Monckton's] contribution to the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 - the correction of a table inserted by IPCC bureaucrats that had overstated tenfold the observed contribution of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets to sea-level rise - earned him the status of Nobel Peace Laureate. His Nobel prize pin, made of gold recovered from a physics experiment, was presented to him by the Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Rochester, New York, USA."

Monckton later conceded that claiming to be a Nobel Peace Laureate was "a joke, a joke" and "never meant to be taken seriously." But the above claim remains on the SPPI website to this day (as of Oct, 2011).

•The Heartland Institute — "Global Warming expert" and regular speaker at the Institute's International Conference on Climate Change.
•Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI) — "Chief Policy Advisor"
•Senator James Inhofe — Monckton is on Senator Inhofe's list of "prominent climate scientists." He is one of 70 with no background in climate science.
•United Kingdom Independence Party — Past deputy head (according to SourceWatch) and currently UKIP Scotland Leader and Head of Policy Unit."
•Margaret Thatcher — "Chief Policy Advisor"

Christopher Monckton worked for the British government between 1982-1986, and has previously claimed to be a "chief policy advisor" to former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Christopher Monckton has been quoted as saying "I gave her advice on science as well as other policy from 1982-1986, two years before the IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was founded", that he was "the only one who knew any science" and that "it was I who – on the prime minister's behalf – kept a weather eye on the official science advisers to the government, from the chief scientific adviser downward." He has also said that he "advised Margaret Thatcher, FRS, on scientific scams and scares." [5]

Bob Ward at The Guardian investigated these claims and found them to be false. Interestingly, in Margaret Thatcher's autobiography, she makes no mention of Monckton's role as policy advisor. When she describes the issue of climate change, she refers only to "George Guise, who advised me on science in the policy unit." [18]

Monckton had also claimed to have brought in "the first computer they had ever seen in Downing Street," but Ward noted "that this novel and important innovation by Viscount Monckton was not recognized by the current minister for science and universities, David Willetts, who was also a member of the prime minister's policy unit between 1984 and 1986."

These are just some of the lowlights of Moncton's denialism, he is an inumerate charlatan who continuouslly misrepresents himself and his accomplishments. He should be given no credence whatsoever.
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Quoting CEastwood:
Contribute to the cause for truth!:

So wait, what you're now saying is that global warming is real, but it would cost us less to just adapt? You need to make up your mind, your arguments are all over the place. This quote just makes me laugh, "If we can successfully help the general public to understand the futility of 'stopping' climate change and the relative value of adapting, then we can stop wasting money on useless schemes and start putting our money where it will ACTUALLY make a difference." yes, of course, let's put our money in their hands, where it will make quite the difference in their wallets. This is just embarrassing.

Edited to remove the link to that. :)
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Doesn't mention Climate Change directly - but it doesn't really have to

Capitalism is killing our morals, our future


For the rest of the world, capitalism is not working: A billion live on less than two dollars a day. With global population exploding to 10 billion by 2050, that inequality gap will grow, fueling revolutions, wars, adding more billionaires and more folks surviving on two bucks a day.

Over the years we've explored the reasons capitalism blindly continues on its self-destructive path. Recently we found someone who brilliantly explains why free-market capitalism is destined to destroy the world, absent a historic paradigm shift: That is Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, author of the new best-seller, "What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, and his earlier classic, "Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?"

Without being fully aware of the shift, Americans have drifted from having a market economy to becoming a market society ... where almost everything is up for sale ... a way of life where market values seep into almost every sphere of life and sometimes crowd out or corrode important values, non-market values."
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As Obama visits Mexico, the slippery topic of oil comes up Link

President Barack Obama is in Mexico today, meeting with that country’s leader Enrique Peña Nieto. They’ll be talking immigration, border security and trade. But analysts say their conversation will likely turn to one touchy topic: Oil and gas reserves in Mexico. Twenty years after the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico’s oil reserves have remained closed to U.S. investment, but that may soon be changing.

Arturo Sarukhán, who was Mexican ambassador to the U.S. until January, said he expects Mexico to introduce oil and gas reforms in July or August this year. ”This is a big strategic game changer,” said Sarukhán, who is now the chairman of Global Solutions, a consultancy within the Podesta Company.

He said those joint ventures could change the oil and gas game globally. ”By bringing Mexico’s energy assets to the table, overnight Canada, Mexico and the United States become the largest producer of oil on the face of the earth, far outstripping Saudi Arabia,” he said.

That should ensure that oil and gas keep flowing for years to come.

Just what we need. /sarcasm off
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Quoting cyclonebuster:
The death spiral continues unabated..We need to get rid of the extra trapped energy in our atmosphere and quick... How we going to do it? I want solutions......
Take it easy, CB, or some mod will accuse you of monomania. From the discussion above, you should realize that the first step in any meaningful solution is political. If I knew how to do something useful about that, I would tell you.
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Quoting RevElvis:
The limits of climate adaptation are social, not physical or economic

I like this comment to the article:

"Let me net this out....

We the united states are the 1%. We intend to fight against decarbonizing our society as long as we can be cause we can afford to.

When the world overheats, we will be at an advantage as the least worst place to live. Our politicians will see to it.

At some point, we the people have to impress upon our leaders that we have higher goals than they are achieving. We don't really want to be the least worst place to live."
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Nice new article from today on Spiegel English (two pages) right on topic:

Less Is More: Rogue Economists Champion Prosperity without Growth
By Nils Klawitter

For years, economists have posited that prosperity requires growth, with environmental damage as the regrettable but unavoidable consequence. A growing number of critics are now challenging this equation, though, calling for a radical revamping of the economic system.

And true is this ;-)
...And when consumers lose their taste for new things, Jackson argues, our system has plenty of shrewd advertisers, marketers and investors to persuade us "to spend money we don't have on things that we don't need to create impressions that won't last on people we don't care about." ...

Read the whole thing on Spiegel English
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The limits of climate adaptation are social, not physical or economic


Presidential science advisor John Holdren is fond of saying that there are only three possible responses to climate change: mitigation, adaptation, and suffering. We'll prevent what we can, adjust to what we can't prevent, and suffer through what we can't adjust to. All that remains is to determine the proportions.

Lots of people are averse to large-scale suffering. But lots of people are also averse to substantial mitigation measures. This leaves them placing a great deal of faith in adaptation. Just based on conversations I've had over the years, I think there are lots of people who are vaguely aware of climate change, convinced that something is really happening, but who have a kind of free-floating confidence in human beings' ability to adjust to circumstances. Adjusting is what we do - humans live in just about every kind of microclimate the planet offers, after all. If climate zones shift or move around, we'll get used to it. Why break the bank trying to prevent something that we can just learn to live with?

Now, on the merits, this is crazy. Our best understanding is that preventing (mitigating) a degree of global temperature rise is much, much cheaper than adapting to it.
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Zero emissions power is possible, and we know what it will cost

To avoid 2 degrees of climate change, global carbon emissions will need to be reduced by at least 50% by 2050. For developed countries such as Australia with higher carbon emissions this will mean cuts closer to 80%: it essentially implies decarbonising the stationary energy sector in Australia. Several studies have now tackled the question of how to achieve this, and despite different approaches and different assumptions they’ve come up with rather similar results.

The cost of changing

Current wholesale electrical energy costs are around $60 per megawatt hour (MWh).

Previous studies from Beyond Zero Emissions and the Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets at UNSW report a range of between $100 and $173/MWh, depending on a range of technology-cost assumptions.

This week the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) released their draft 100% Renewables Report, costing the system at between $111 and $133/MWh across four scenarios with different timelines and cost projections.

Each of the above studies has its own drawbacks and none can claim to be all-inclusive, but they all cost their 100% renewable systems at between $100 and $170/MWh. Current wholesale prices are around $60/MWh so this represents an increase of between $40 and $110/MWh.

For retail customers this is the same as an increase of between 4 and 11c/kWh. As most customers currently pay around 25c/kWh this would be an increase of roughly 16 to 45%, a modest number when we consider that retail energy prices have gone up by around 30% since 2008, due mainly to increased transmission and distribution costs.

There are two ways of presenting this result. First that the cost of producing energy will increase by up to a factor of 3. Or second that the increase is in line with the recent increases, which while unpleasant did not result in the end of the world for most of us.

How did they come up with that price?

The AEMO 100% Renewables Report identified the cheapest combination of technologies and locations needed to meet demand while taking into account transmission costs for linking it all together.

AEMO considered a broader range of technologies than the other studies and only outright rejects off-shore wind as too expensive compared to the alternatives. On-shore wind, solar photovoltaics and concentrating solar power with storage are all significant contributors, but wave power, hydro, biomass and biogas also play important roles.

Most interestingly the study comes out in favour of significant amounts of geothermal power), at least in the scenario with large and rapid global uptake of renewable technologies (and therefore larger decreases in costs). The previous studies only considered technologies that are already commercially available somewhere in the world; hot sedimentary aquifer technology is still very much in the developmental stage.This means there is large uncertainty on the future costs and whether or not this is truly a viable option.

But regardless of the uncertainty, the benefits of geothermal energy are significant – a zero emissions electricity source that can provide base load power. For this reason, despite the relatively high cost, the AEMO model finds cost worth the benefit of being able to manage additional variable renewables on the grid.

Figure 1: The mix of generation sources considered in the report.
The role of peak demand

Another key factor in the AEMO study is that it includes demand-side participation, where users of electricity have some incentive to shift their use to different times of the day to better suit when power is available. The model estimates that 10% of electrical energy use is flexible and can be shifted to other times of the day.

Figure 2 shows a shift of the peak demand from the late afternoon to the middle of the day, coinciding with the peak in rooftop solar output. This would mean that what we currently think of as off-peak would occur in the middle of the day rather than overnight. Using power overnight would in fact be discouraged by time of use pricing.

Figure 2: The shift in peak demand. AEMO

Work still needed

There are of course a range of caveats that come with the study. Increases in the cost of distribution resulting from lots of rooftop solar are not included. Nor are the costs of acquiring the land required. Also, importantly it assumes all the generation is built in the future when costs have come down rather than gradually from now which would incur larger costs.

There is still much work to be done to refine the modeling work. As I discussed in another Conversation piece, the study doesn’t do everything. It doesn’t do the transition from the current infrastructure and it doesn’t consider the likely scenario that some fossil fuel will persist, especially if carbon capture and storage becomes viable.

But one message is clear – going to a very high penetration of renewables is certainly not technically impossible, and will not be as expensive as we may have thought.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Why Climate Change Is Not an Environmental Issue

(WARNING: some strong language)

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New Study: Hydraulic Fracturing Faces Growing Competition for Water Supplies in Water-Stressed Regions

Nearly half of 25,450 oil and gas wells evaluated in U.S. are in water basins with high and extremely high water stress; industry’s future growth depends on accelerating solutions such as more water recycling, better water management planning.

"A new Ceres research paper on water use in hydraulic fracturing operations shows that a significant portion of this activity is happening in water stressed regions of the United States, most prominently Texas and Colorado, which are both in the midst of prolonged drought conditions. It concludes that industry efforts underway, such as expanded use of recycled water and non-freshwater resources, need to be scaled up along with better water management planning if shale energy production is to grow as projected.

The report, announced today, is based on well drilling and water use data from FracFocus.org and water stress indicator maps developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI). The research shows that nearly 47 percent of the wells were developed in water basins with high or extremely high water stress. The research was based on FracFocus data collected on 25,450 wells in operation from January 2011 through September 2012.

“These findings highlight emerging tensions in many U.S. regions between growing hydraulic fracturing activity and localized water supply needs,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber, in announcing the report, Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress: Growing Competitive Pressures for Water, at Ceres’ annual conference in San Francisco".

Note the report,"Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress: Growing Competitive Pressures for Water" requires a sbscription to download.

Read on
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Climate-denying GOP rep wants to take science-funding decisions away from scientists


Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a climate skeptic who somehow became chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, wants Congress to meddle in decisions about which science research efforts should get government funding.

Perhaps that’s because scientists have a scary track record of finding out bothersome stuff. Like about climate change and whatnot.

Here in Texas - we don't hide "crazy" - we dress 'em up, vote for 'em & send them to Washington! - unknown
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Quoting cyclonebuster:

First it was supposed to be ice free by 2100, then it was 2050,then it was 2030,then it was 2020 and now it is 2015 and some say this year... Looks like we missed the boat on a solution folks. But let me know when you want it back within five years......

I doubt it'll be ice free 2 years hence. I even doubt 2013 will beat last year's minimum area record, since 2012 beat the previous record by some margin. I could be wrong, though. We'll see.

Even when the Arctic Ocean is ice free in summer, there will still be vestiges of sea ice attached to northern Greenland. These vestiges could be quite persistent. The deniers will use this to assert that the Arctic Ocean isn't ice free.

That's one prediction that can be made with some certainty.
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Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.

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