We’re screwed (maybe)

Just passing this on from an article in The Guardian: “Arctic expert predicts final collapse of sea ice within four years.” At least one respected expert predicts that the North Pole is done for:

In what he calls a “global disaster” now unfolding in northern latitudes as the sea area that freezes and melts each year shrinks to its lowest extent ever recorded, Prof Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University calls for “urgent” consideration of new ideas to reduce global temperatures.

In an email to the Guardian he says: “Climate change is no longer something we can aim to do something about in a few decades’ time, and that we must not only urgently reduce CO2 emissions but must urgently examine other ways of slowing global warming, such as the various geoengineering ideas that have been put forward.”

. . . Wadhams has spent many years collecting ice thickness data from submarines passing below the arctic ocean. He predicted the imminent break-up of sea ice in summer months in 2007, when the previous lowest extent of 4.17 million square kilometres was set. This year, it has unexpectedly plunged a further 500,000 sq km to less than 3.5m sq km. “I have been predicting [the collapse of sea ice in summer months] for many years. The main cause is simply global warming: as the climate has warmed there has been less ice growth during the winter and more ice melt during the summer.

“At first this didn’t [get] noticed; the summer ice limits slowly shrank back, at a rate which suggested that the ice would last another 50 years or so. But in the end the summer melt overtook the winter growth such that the entire ice sheet melts or breaks up during the summer months.

“This collapse, I predicted would occur in 2015-16 at which time the summer Arctic (August to September) would become ice-free. The final collapse towards that state is now happening and will probably be complete by those dates”.

And then things just get worse:

“As the sea ice retreats in summer the ocean warms up (to 7C in 2011) and this warms the seabed too. The continental shelves of the Arctic are composed of offshore permafrost, frozen sediment left over from the last ice age. As the water warms the permafrost melts and releases huge quantities of trapped methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas so this will give a big boost to global warming.”

Goodbye, polar bears.

It’s not funny!

181 Comments

  1. Posted September 22, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Good bye us, too. Did we really think we could get away with decimating species who depend on the same resources as us?

    The reason none of us should be shocked is we know that good scientists tend to understate their results. When 90-something percent of climatologists became doomsayers, we all should have reacted.

    Obama and other so-called liberal leaders are doing ZERO to enact meaningful change to the environment. They can take baby steps until the cow comes home but nobody’s asking the one question that matters:

    How does each “green” action affect the environment? And use measurements!

    At this point we’d need a global agreement to shut everything off like they did in Apollo 13. How’s that gonna happen?

    • suwise3
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      A god worthy of respect would save the polar bears. At least.

      • Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        Hm, gods? Which ones specifically!

        • suwise3
          Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

          My vote will go to whichever one steps up to the plate and actually DOES SOMETHING.

          • Posted September 22, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

            <raises appendage=&guot;hand&guot; />

            I’ve got a bunch of solar panels on my roof that produce half again as much electricity as I use — just about enough to offset the few miles I drive in my ’68 VW Camper. And I’m earning an effective (roughly) 10% rate of return on said panels.

            Anybody and everybody who’s got a bit of investment capital or who has access to a low interest rate loan can do the same. You’ll make a tidy profit while doing something significant to help save the planet; what’s not to love?

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Ichthyic
              Posted September 23, 2012 at 2:15 am | Permalink

              Ben makes his case for godhood.
              :)

    • BillyJoe
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Let’s hope it’s just decimation and not annihilation.
      And it’s 97% of climate scientists, but that is the percentage who agree with AGW, not the percentage who are catastrophists.

      • Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

        Well, I don’t mean that they all say it’s over but not one of them will tell you it’s a minor situation either.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure what you mean. The world has tried several times to get a sufficiently powerful agreement, latest in Kyoto, to see it shot down by US specifically (at least the first time).

      • Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

        I meant liberal leaders in the U.S. :)

        • Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

          There are no liberal leaders in the US. There are liberal politicians, such as Jill Stein, but none in any position that could remotely be considered to qualify as leadership.

          Barack Obama is a hard-right president, one of the most conservative in American history. Obamacare, for example, was originally proposed by the Heritage Foundation and had repeatedly been shot down, including by some Republicans, as too radically conservative. After all, it’s nothing but an unfunded government mandate that private citizens must contract with the same corporations screwing us over today. And the 20% cap on “administrative” expenses? Puh-leeze — elsewhere in the Western world, even 5% overhead for medical care is considered a sign of gross incompetence and rampant corruption.

          Obama bailed out Wall Street, the banks, and Detroit; it’s hard to get more conservative than by directly propping up finance and industry, especially when it’s done by awarding bonuses to those who instead belong in jail. And he’s expanded the TSA to an unprecedented, unimaginable extent, pressed on with the attempted conquest of Afghanistan (even now, at the end of his first administration, we’re still merely several months away from a complete withdrawal, a year or two at the most), kept the Guantanamo Gulag going, failed to pull the plug on warrantless wiretaps….

          No, I’m afraid that there’s nothing “liberal” about any part of American leadership these days. We’ve got ultraconservatives on the one side of the aisle and unabashed fascist plutocrats sitting across from them.

          And now you know why we’re so fucked.

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Dominic
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Well said.

  2. Posted September 22, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Yes, methane is about 25 times more potent than CO2 but once released into the atmosphere it only lasts about 10 years – a fraction of the time frame for atmospheric CO2 in comparison. Also, not all the methane will be released at the same time, so its overall effect will be fairly low.

    What is of greater concern is how fast we approach the 1000 Gt C threshold. The sooner we reduce, the longer it will take to reach this (projected) 2 degree Celsius rise in global temperature, the longer we have to adjust to the climate patterns produced, the better able we will be to afford these necessary changes.

    Of course, the opposite is true, too, and this is why we need to start the process… yesterday.

    • MV
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      Sure, its residence time is low. But it does tend to get converted to atmospheric CO2.

  3. Nineteenfifteen
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    :(

  4. Posted September 22, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    To the extent to which mankind’s activities are accelerating warming:

    The empty fantasy “we need to do something about it” meaning restrictions, laws, prohibitions, taxing etc. against GHG release for the fueling of civilization — is void.

    You will not stop it.

    Science can only do one thing to stop it: get your ass in gear and invent a new form of energy delivery that is CHEAPER than GHG release. It needs to be safe and massively deployable and still be CHEAP. Get going.

    • Achrachno
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      Yes, just do the something we don’t know how to do (and may never) and do it now, so we won’t have to be bothered doing something we actually have the ability to do now (except for political constraints).

      • Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        You don’t “actually have the ability” to stop the use of GHG release. That was my point. No “political constraint” can or will ever be enacted.

        • Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

          Are you joking? The scientists have discovered something that could have wiped us out. Now we know about it. So get your own behind in gear and ride your bike.

          • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

            Riding my bike will not save the situation. You have to get the Chinese to GO BACK TO riding their bikes!

            Almost the entire world population explosion and GHG release that is in play here is focused in Asia.

            • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

              That is exemplary John of why we’re in this situation. People pointing fingers the other way and refusing to start at home. If you look at the important science here, psychology, it clearly shows people will change when peer pressure forces them to.

              So if all your coworkers ride a bike to work, you’ll feel a lot more compelled to do so for fear of looking like an irresponsible fool.

              Take the high ground and set that example yourself.

              • dogugotw
                Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

                If it were only that simple. Most American towns are huge with people living on the fringes with jobs in the middle. Can you imagine communting by bike from New Jersey into NYC? What about in the winter? Or spring when it rains all of April? So you make the decision to set all that aside and do the ride. There are pretty much no functional bike paths that are useful as transportation lanes. That means you’re on the highway with a bunch of 4 wheelers fighting for space (and your life).

                OK so let’s all move into town and live where we work? People live in the burbs partly because the inner city is so expensive.

                You’re talking about a complete ‘do over’ for the way our country is assembled from housing to business location to transit.

                I wish I had some magic answer but I think this falls into the ‘hard problem’ bucket and it going to take some time (which we don’t have) to fix.

              • suwise3
                Posted September 22, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

                Remember when public transportation systems were considered a good idea? We didn’t do them, either.

            • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

              You’re right, of course, that cycling alone wouldn’t solve the problem. It would, however, help reduce the scope of the problem and do all sorts of other amazing things at the same time — such as dramatically help with the country’s health problems, thereby improving worker efficiency and reducing health care costs. Sounds like exactly the sort of thing business owners should be jumping all over, except they’re not.

              But it just so happens that there is a simple solution. It’s just that it’s not one that you’re gonna like.

              The solution would be to tax carbon extraction at the wellhead / mineshaft, and to set the tax be exactly equal to twice the cost of sequestering the extracted carbon.

              Why twice? Well, we’ve already extracted about half of the carbon from the ground. Sucks that the current energy companies have to pay up the mess they’ve already created in addition to the one they’re trying to create, but life’s a bitch.

              Half of the tax should go to sequestering and / or recycling the carbon about to be released, and the remaining half should go to building out our solar infrastructure so we’ll never again have to mine energy from the ground.

              And, yes. I fully realize that this is crazy talk, pie-in=the-sky that doesn’t have a hope of a prayer.

              But, so what? Medicare for all in the US is equally unrealistic, and that’s all that it would take to solve the health care crisis.

              One last point. A solar-based economy would have unimaginable amounts of energy available to it, far more than any petrochemical- or even nuclear-based economy. We could grow our economy at a phenomenal pace and enjoy unprecedented luxury. Just covering rooftops would be all it would take; imagine the energy we could use if we expanded that to parking lots and roadways. Flying cars might not be practical for all sorts of reasons, but fuel demands wouldn’t be one of the limitations in a solar-based economy.

              Cheers,

              b&

    • BillyJoe
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      You may be correct that we cannot stop it, but we can delay it, giving extra time to implement your other suggestion. ;)

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      http://www.brillouinenergy.com/

      This scientist, Robert Godes, has spent $200k of his own money, and has a controllable, usable LENR system. SRI is helping him now.

      He has “open-sourced” his idea, as the patent office has only granted a continuation of his application.

      • MadScientist
        Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        Hahaha – magic atomic energy. I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

    • Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      Petrochemical fuels are only cheap because they have free reign to pollute. If the cost of cleaning up after said pollution were factored into the price, solar photovoltaics would already be far and away the cheapest form of energy we have.

      There’s another, much more sinister factor at play. Those thousands of gigatons of carbon currently sequestered in the ground have already been factored into the share prices of the big energy companies. If we, as a society, decide to not dig up said carbon, or even slow the pace at which we dig it up, the trillions upon trillions of dollars those companies are valued at vanish in a puff of smoke. That, in turn, represents a financial bubble that, should it collapse, would make the recent crash of the US housing market look like a zit on a teenager’s face.

      The not-so-public face of those companies is the Koch Brothers.

      There’s a bit of reason to hold out some hope for the ecosystem, though, regardless of what humans do.

      We’ve burnt up about half of the entire planet’s petroleum reserves, and demand for the remaining half is only rising. As demand continues to rise and supplies continue to dwindle, petroleum is going to get much more expensive — and, it’s going to do so at an exponential rate. If you think gasoline is expensive when we’re drilling it from the middle of the ocean with wells several miles deep and wellheads a mile beneath the surface…you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Once the current crop of wells starts to dry up and all that’s left is those tar sands everybody keeps talking about, you won’t be able to afford what they’re going to have to charge to bring those to market.

      Once that happens, the breaks will slam on the global economy whether we want them to or not. Nobody will be able to afford the diesel to run the harvesters or the trucks that get the food from the farm to the market — let alone the cars that get people to the market and their jobs. Even worse, the fertilizer that makes those crops grow comes from petroleum.

      Yes, all you vegetarians out there? You’re largely eating petroleum, just like the rest of us. It’s just that said petroleum has been refined by agribusiness into food with the use of highly hybridized plants.

      …anyway, the point of this is that we’re going to stop burning fossil fuels sooner rather than later, whether we want to or not, for the simple reason that we won’t be able to afford to extract them. You see, we won’t be able to afford to run the diesel trains that get the coal from the mountains to the power plants….

      So, yes. We’re screwed. The polar bears, too. But there are limits to the damage even we can cause.

      b&

      • Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        I think you overestimate the draining of the resource and the resourcefulness of those inventing new ways of extraction.

        If you are correct about the economic “bubble” — and i don’t think you are, fully — then wish for it. The crash into the stone age would be better than a world-wide dictatorship to stop the burning of carbon.

        • pulseteresa
          Posted September 22, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

          “…a world-wide dictatorship to stop the burning of carbon.”

          What a bizarre assertion. Got any evidence to back that up?

          • Posted September 22, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

            Ben proposed the possibility of a modern civilization because of FF depletion, I labeled that a crash to the stone age.

            Meanwhile I assert there is no hope for “world community gets together and magically there is a non-coerced end to FF.” It will take a world dictatorship.

            Just ask yourself, how are you going to force India/China/OtherAsia, where three-quarters of the population live, and who are exploding with the advantage of cheap FF, to STOP?

            I repeat: I prefer a crash.

            • Posted September 22, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

              that should have read:

              Ben proposed the possibility of financial implosion of modern civilization because of FF depletion, I labeled that a crash to the stone age.

        • MV
          Posted September 22, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

          No, he’s actually underestimating the problem. The problem isn’t exactly the cost. It’s the return on energy invested.

          We aren’t going to run out of resources. We will likely run out of the ability to access some of them. Society is complex and requires a certain amount of energy to function. If the mix of fuels doesn’t have a sufficient ratio of energy available to that used to extract them, then society starts to fall apart. It takes a lot of resources to seek out oil that resides miles below the seabed, for instance.

          Solar and wind are the only really practical sources that can replace fossil fuels. But it takes time to build them out. And I sure don’t want to go back to the stone age. I like high living standards.

        • Occam
          Posted September 22, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

          ”The crash into the stone age would be better than a world-wide dictatorship to stop the burning of carbon.”

          No it wouldn’t.

          Not if by “stone age” you mean any return to prehistoric, or even just early modern historic, methods of agriculture, with a drastically diminished agro-energetic footprint, a collapse of agrochemistry, and a stop to global large-scale food and crops transfer.

          It is instructive to consider even recent epochs in order to gauge the importance of the agricultural revolution, and the consequences of a return to conditions pre-dating it.

          The thumb rule of agricultural productivity in Europe before the 18th century states that the productivity index was roughly 1.1; meaning that it took 10 people employed in agriculture to feed an 11th, otherwise employed.
          But the fact is that the actual figures varied wildly. Many regions were in fact not self-sustaining as early as the XIII century. Around the Mediterranean, a progressive loss of efficiency can be shown since the Neolithic, in some cases paired with a loss of outright sustainability.
          Generating surplus for trade and transport was as vital as it was precarious and aleatory.

          The impact of climate variations was dramatic. An example from Alsace, a fertile region I live close to, blessed with a very favourable micro-climate. By 1500, a worker in Strasbourg would work an average of 60 hours for the equivalent of 100 pounds of grain. After the onset of the Little Ice Age, the ratio worsened: in the decade 1570-1580, a worker in Strasbourg would need 200 work hours for the same amount of grain. If he could find gainful employment, that is. Of course, an economic crisis was the primate cause, but the climate-induced reduction in agricultural output was one of the key factors, effective on several levels at once, and in the short term irremediable.

          No, you don’t want the stone age back. You don’t want even the 17th century back. Not unless you’re ready for mass starvation and mass slaughter. No way of sustaining even a large fraction of the current world population by “stone age” methods.

      • fullyladenswallow
        Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        I’d be curious to know if there have been any serious government-funded feasibility studies done on a proposed hydrogen economy. Other than the fuel cell (whose mature practicality always seems to be 5 years off) it seems not much has been said about whether or not it would be a truly viable option.

        • Posted September 22, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

          You don’t need any study.

          Hydrogen is not an energy source, as there are no natural hydrogen deposits readily available to be mined. Rather, hydrogen is an energy storage mechanism, because it takes energy to make hydrogen and you get less energy out of burning hydrogen than you get from making it in the first place.

          And it’s a pretty poor energy storage mechanism, at that — not very dense, doesn’t play well with existing infrastructure, and would require all sorts of expensive upgrades to infrastructure to use it.

          But that’s okay.

          We have well-established ways of making the same hydrocarbon fuels we burn today from little more than atmospheric CO2. Indeed, the technology is as old as the industrial revolution. Fischer-Tropsch synthesis is particularly effective and has been with us since the 20s.

          There is, of course, a catch…doing so requires lots of energy and would be very expensive.

          It would probably, however, be cheaper than refining tar sands, especially if you used solar or wind power and CO2 captured from coal plants.

          That’s why I’m not too worried about the environmental hazards from mining the tar sands. They’re so expensive that environmentally-friendly alternatives are more profitable.

          Of course, that should scare you, knowing how desperate we’re about to get for energy. If the oil companies are talking about opening up the tar sands, and if tar sands are more expensive than the dreaded too-expensive green alternatives…well, you know just how fucked we really are.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • fullyladenswallow
            Posted September 23, 2012 at 12:20 am | Permalink

            Understood, that yes, hydrogen is merely an energy carrier and takes a lot of volume to hold and is expensive to generate, especially by electrolysis, changes to infrastructure etc, but considering the consequences of our present scenario- fouled air, climate change, to say nothing of the volatility of oil prices, it might be worth a closer look.

            I think I would be willing to pay a couple of bucks or more at the pump (at least in the beginning) in exchange for some stability and ecological peace of mind when it comes to fueling my car.

            Perhaps I’m being too simplistic. I just think no one has publicly talked about hydrogen enough to where a model has been developed (say, by The Dept of Energy) and then judged according to the data.

            • Posted September 23, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

              Hydrogen advocates have made public arguments for developing technologies – and they have been judged according to he data, or more to the point, according to the physics. Here’s the problems:

              There is one feasible source of hydrogen: natural gas wells. That’s it. Existing hydrogen (and helium, btw) in elemental form, comes out of the ground as a byproduct of natural gas extraction. What little hydrogen (and helium) is extracted is better used by industry as a reagent than merely burned up as fuel. It is precious stuff, and getting preciouser as natural gas wells dry up. But this source of hydrogen is the low-hanging fruit.

              The other (non-feasible) source is electrolysis of water. For that, you have to put in absolutely huge amounts of energy to make (more than you get out), which defeats the purpose of using it as an energy SOURCE. For “data”, crack open a high school chemistry book and look up the energy of the 2*H2 + O2 -> 2*H2O reaction – the one that got us to the moon. H2 absolutely LOVES to burn. That means the reverse reaction is stubborn as hell. Think of a Saturn V rocket in reverse. You have to put all that energy back into the water to get your H2 (and O2) out again.

              That’s why Ben refers to it as an “energy carrier”, rather than a source – for all intents and purposes. It’s just not s solution to anything. It’s another problem.

              • Posted September 23, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

                Hydrogen would be interesting / desirable if it were somehow intrinsically superior to today’s fuels. If it were more energy-dense than diesel, easier to deal with than gasoline, that sort of thing, it’d be an attractive option.

                But it’s not.

                And we can create hydrocarbon fuels for about the same amount of energy as we can create hydrogen by analyzing water, so there’s no advantage there, either.

                There’s really only one possible advantage I can think of for hydrogen, and that’s that you could generate it at home. Not easily, though…you still have to compress and store it, which will mean pumps and tanks, not something the average homeowner is going to want to deal with. And compressing hydrogen takes a lot of energy, making it even more expensive.

                Hydrogen will always have its uses, but I just can’t see it ever powering a significant part of the transportation fleet.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • fullyladenswallow
                Posted September 23, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

                Darn. You guys always ruin the fun and expectation by introducing factual data.

              • E.A. Blair
                Posted September 23, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

                Instead of a fact, how about an opinion?

                “If we use fuel to get our power we are living on our capital – this method is barbarous.”

                — Nikola Tesla, 1900

        • MadScientist
          Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

          The “Hydrogen Economy” if I remember correctly came from academia and the oil industry. Generating the hydrogen is a monster of a sticking point – we can electrolyze water but that requires incredible amounts of electricity. The likely source of hydrogen would be the hydrolysis of coal (you can do it with natural gas too, but that’s a foolish thing to do) but this doesn’t really provide a solution to the finite fossil fuel source problem and the hydrolysis products of course include carbon dioxide which will presumably be purified, compressed, and pumped into geological formations.

          • Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

            Rather than sequester CO2 from coal plants, we should be turning it into fuel (and using solar to power the process). Much better than digging up more petroleum to turn into fuel.

            And we can sequester CO2 rather rapidly with reforestation, especially using the fast-growing legumes. Many of those trees also happen to have very tasty seed pods (carob, mesquite, palo verde) and make some incredibly luxurious hardwoods (ironwood, carob, mesquite).

            These are also desert-adapted trees that need little water and no fertilization….

            b&

    • Tim
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      We alternatives TODAY that are cheaper if all the external costs of fossil fuels were properly made the responsibility of the those who are profiting from their sale. If coal and oil producers were made to pay for the damage their products are doing, there were be no more infrastructure built to deliver these kinds of energy,

  5. Stever
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    …and thanks for all the fish!

  6. Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    My bet is on LENR also.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      That and its related scams won’t even get you money for coffee.

      Latest Rossi got his LENR revealed as the old “make it a complicated electric power measurement” trick. Apparently those sell still.

      Speaking of old sale techniques, I have a bridge in San Fransisco I can sell you.

      • Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

        What is your solution? Get to work.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

          I don’t have one. What we as a society can do is up in the air.

          On the other hand, I know that LENR isn’t working as of yet, is known to be a scam area earlier called “cold fusion” and before that “perpetuum mobile” (energy being an old interest), and so has utterly low likelihood of success. I don’t think pointing out the problems with one approach merits the false choice of having to present a working alternative.

          • Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

            Rossi may be a fraud. However, the person or persons who succeed in some brilliant discovery and technology will have achieved it over a billion negative people like you.

            • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

              Yeah, and people laughed at Bozo the Clown, too.

              The laws underlying the physics of everyday life are completely understood, and there’s no room in those laws for magical solutions to the energy crisis.

              There are solutions — one, solar, in particular — but no cheap ones.

              At the heart of the problem is that it’s very, very cheap to dig oil out of the ground and dump the pollution that ensues into the atmosphere.

              That there isn’t anything else cheaper than that shouldn’t be surprising. It’s also very cheap and easy to make a bonfire with the furniture in your house. Once that furniture is gone, though, you’re out of cheap fire — and furniture, too.

              Solar, since I mentioned it…we could meet all domestic US electricity generation needs with solar photovoltaics by covering all suburban homes with solar panels, and we could do it for about half of one year’s worth of US GDP. Domestic (non-industrial) electricity could be provided just by covering the carports.

              That should give you a good idea of the scale of the problem. The resource is hardly scarce; there’s plenty of available developed space at hand before we even start to think about covering undeveloped areas.

              But it wouldn’t be cheap.

              But it is something on a scale that we can handle.

              Had we not spent a couple trillion on killing brown people over the past decade and instead spent that money on building a solar infrastructure, we’d already be a quarter of the way there, maybe more.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted September 22, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

                We could cut the cost of that solar by 80%, I’m guessing – if we don’t put it on rooftops, but all in one place instead.

              • Posted September 23, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

                We could cut the cost of that solar by 80%, I’m guessing – if we don’t put it on rooftops, but all in one place instead.

                Almost certainly not.

                First, distributed rooftop generation means that the power is consumed (mostly) at or near the source, and it uses the infrastructure we already have in place. Centralized generation would require the build-out of new infrastructure, and costly long-distance infrastructure at that. Plus, you’ve also got to buy the land — land which then can’t be used for anything else any more. Rooftop solar adds utility to land that’s already being used.

                Second…solar is already pretty cheap, all things considered. Payback time is generally several to a dozen years, which is phenomenal — much better than the payback time that banks get on mortgages, and solar doesn’t stop paying back at the end of the payback period. When your 30-year mortgage is paid off, the banks aren’t getting your money any more, but your solar panels are still making 80% or more of what they did when you put them in place. The banks doubled or tripled their money on you, but your solar panels tripled or quadrupled your investment.

                The panels are only about half the cost of a typical rooftop installation. The rest is supporting hardware and labor. Panels will get cheaper, but we’re close to the point of diminishing returns. You’ll always need a qualified electrician to safely route that much electricity around, just as you’ll need a qualified electrician to hook your house up to the grid.

                The real exciting developments are roof shingles and tiles that are solar panels. Once those get to the point that they’re not much more expensive than conventional shingles and tiles, that’s all that anybody will ever buy. If you need a new roof and one that’ll generate a few times as much electricity as you’ll ever use only costs 30% more than a conventional roof…well, you’d have to be in need of neurophysiological therapy to not jump at something like that. Indeed, it wouldn’t be long before non-solar roofing materials became hard to get and only used for specialty projects.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • MadScientist
                Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

                I wish it were that easy to estimate the installation of solar power. The raw material and manufacturing issues don’t magically scale and a race for the product would really jack up the cost. Think about how natural gas prices have shot up since the idea was sold that it’s a quick and easy fix to the CO2 emissions reduction requirements of various governments – instant 30% reduction!

              • Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

                The raw material and manufacturing issues don’t magically scale and a race for the product would really jack up the cost.

                Actually, most solar PV panels are little more than carefully-melted sand with some wires strategically attached. The problems of late have been related to the price falling so rapidly that many companies whose business models were based on expensive panels have since gone out of business.

                And this is one of those areas where economies of scale really kick in. Basically, the more panels we build, the cheaper they’ll get.

                This is the exact opposite of a scarce non-renewable resource such as the natural gas you mention.

                We’d only have to worry about scarcities with solar panel manufacturing when we run out of sand. Not gonna happen, if for no other reason than the surface area of the world’s beaches alone is far more than we’d ever need for solar panels.

                b&

            • Posted September 23, 2012 at 1:20 am | Permalink

              It seems to me that we have already had many brilliant discoveries and technology we can use now. Let’s not wait for some unpromising technology that will probably never eventuate, like LENR.

              “The uptake of renewable energy is happening faster than most experts had expected, and the costs are also dropping faster. Over the past four years the cost of photovoltaic solar cells dropped by 75%, and by 45% in just the last year.” (NB, that means that right now photovoltaic solar is cheaper in some parts of the world than fossil fuels).

              The source of the quote:

              http://theconversation.edu.au/climate-commission-global-climate-action-gathers-momentum-8943

              • MadScientist
                Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

                That may be true in Australia, but Australian distributors are notorious for price gouging. They could probably drop prices another 50% and still do well. It’s the global market that you have to look at.

              • Posted September 23, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

                MadScientist

                The quote I provided was referring to the global market, not the market in Australia. The full paragraph that I took the quote from reads:
                “Global investment in renewable power and fuels has increased six-fold since 2004 and totalled $US257 billion in 2011. The uptake of renewable energy is happening faster than most experts had expected, and the costs are also dropping faster. Over the past four years the cost of photovoltaic solar cells dropped by 75%, and by 45% in just the last year.”

            • Posted September 23, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

              Realism. Not pessimism, John. Realism.

              You seem to be the one that thinks that some undefinable thing-a-ma-bob is out there waiting to be brilliantly conceived… then great — YOU conceive it. Scientific knowledge is available to anyone; YOU get crackin’. And when you get done learning everything there is to know about physics and chemistry, perhaps you’ll realize what many already have: the universe doesn’t OWE you a thing-a-ma-bob. There’s no reason to PRE-SUPPOSE that there just HAS to be a thing-a-ma-bob. Sometimes (actually most of the time) you are plain screwed. Time to conserve energy and have less kids. End of story.

              You aren’t a “Trekkie” by any chance, are you? The reason I ask is because I’ve seen this attitude distressingly often among trekkies and other fans of sci-fi (that aren’t scientists themselves). They think amazing magical stuff is around the corner if we only think the right thoughts. There’s absolutely no reason to believe this stuff. It’s fiction.

              • Posted September 23, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

                Ignoring the amateur psychologism (you did not try very hard), I slam the “realism” back over the net: No matter how strong you wish or pray for “the world” to peacefully agree that carbon release is dooming the world and therefor we “will now stop doing it”, realism says: that will never happen. Never.

                There was no presupposing of the tremendous scientific and technological advances, including the brilliance of being able to make electricity from a river and transport it thousands of miles. Do you think brains and discovery and innovation have somehow thudded to a dead end? Did someone make it illegal?

                It is too bad you are so pessimistic about being plain screwed most of the time. I guess you are not part of the solution.

              • Posted September 23, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

                In very many respects, it has (thudded). See Sean Carrol’s piece on how we’ve pretty much figured out most of what there is to figure out (apart from exotic stuff far removed from our experience — stuff not likely to be applicable in a real-world context). The Standard Model doesn’t have a shred of experimental evidence against it, though it is not “complete”.

                Your calls to “get to work” are as irritating as some fat slob who is barking at his doctors, demanding a mystery pill that will cause him to lose weight and have his Krispy Kremes too. (while the doctors tell him to reduce his intake and exercise)

                There’s no reason to think that such a pill is even possible. In fact, it’s stupid to keep barking on about it, when the solution(s) are being offered again and again. They come down to everyone’s personal behavior. Bike more, drive less, have less or no children (adopt, if you must), recycle, install solar (perhaps wind)… invest in tech that uses less fossil fuels PERSONALLY. The problem is not only Asia. The third-most populous country is the USA, and we are far and away the most wasteful per capita.

                So get to work, yourself.

              • Posted September 23, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

                @ Stephen Q. Muth

                I am sure my “scientists, get to work” thing is very irritating, but not as much as the endless drone of “we have no better idea than FF and FF dooms the earth so form a dictatorship and forbid it.” Now THAT is irritating.

                It is mostly about Asia. That is where the population is, and where it is exploding, and where they will laugh in your face if you ask their governments to coerce ceasing of exploiting FF while the “developed world” lives in relative cheap luxury. As i stated elsewhere in this thread, convincing China to voluntarily use bikes — BIKES — when at the first feasible moment they could abandon their billions of bikes for cars they did it and are doing it…how the hell are you going to do that?

                I reject all implication that innovation, new fundamental discovery and tremendous changes for the better are at an end, that science is impotent. If you are a scientist, shame on you for that. As pointed out by other in this thread, an improvement on PV and battery life just in itself will begin to push the balance.

              • Posted September 23, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

                In fact, many Asians are already personally accustomed to energy frugality that most Westerners would balk at.

                Imagine that your hot water tank only holds enough water for a very quick shower — enough to get wet, turn the water off, soap up, turn the water on, and quickly rinse. Now, imagine having to turn the heater on and wait for it to get hot before taking your shower because you can’t afford to let the heater keep the water hot all the time.

                I understand that’s typical of urban China.

                You don’t have to be that frugal to have a lower environmental footprint than somebody living in urban China. Part of the array on my roof are a pair of thermal collectors for the water tank. It’s a huge tank — 75 gallons. But the pump regularly has to shut itself off in the middle of the day when the thermostat inside the tank tops out at 170°. (There’s a thermoregulator coming out of the tank that mixes hot water with cold to limit water at the tap to 120°.) I’ve got all the hot water I could ever want, more than enough for a typical small family, all without burning a single electron.

                (In the dead of winter, it’s not always able to get it up to 120°. But it takes a lot less energy to heat water from 100° to 120° than it does to heat it from 60° to 120°.)

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted September 23, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

                John, will you cut it with the global black helicopter dictatorship bullshit already?

                The most that anybody’s proposing is taxes and tariffs on fossil fuels just like we already have on everything else in the economy.

                Or does your definition of “dictatorship” extend to the historical import tariffs on steel? Is the tenth-of-a-penny sales tax I pay at the grocery store for public transit a sign I’m living in a dictatorship? What about the gas taxes at the pump?

                Of course, the other side of the coin is the government funding in R&D, or tax credits, or the like. I guess it was a dictator that helped offset almost a third of the installation price on my solar roof.

                b&

              • Posted September 23, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

                @Ben Goren

                “John, will you cut it with the global black helicopter dictatorship bullshit already?”

                No. You and most others here live in a fantasy world where a little taxation shift and a few Americans riding a bike will stop AGW! Let me show you how idiotic your logic is: You make a point about the Chinese already being accustomed to frugal ways. That destroys your point, since by that logic there is not much more “waste” to kumbaya out. You totally ignore the population multiplier and the fact that the new wealth-producing class will jump at the chance to put in a REAL hot water heater as soon as they can.

                Now, short of a “Green Dictatorship” on all of Asia, how are you going to stop the titanic surge of FF exploitation taking place there, and planned for the near future? They will suffer not the slightest incursion by the US or Europe. What is going to stop them?

              • Posted September 23, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

                Added: China and India are in a PRIDE RACE to see who can build more coal-fired electric plants. The current tally for “about to come on line” is over 700 new plants.

                Here in the US you can’t even think about a new coal plant, or even oil plant..it has to be one of those small natural gas plants and only after 45 years of pleas, bribes, permissions and prayers.

                http://eenews.net/public/climatewire/2012/09/17/1

              • Posted September 23, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

                Correction: sorry, I went ballistic. The U.S. has a handful of coal plants in development.

              • Posted September 23, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

                Ah, yes. Here it is, right on schedule: the not-so-thinly racism, the fear of all them funny brown people who have the gall to want to do something more with their lives than make iPhones for us.

                Look, John. Your lack of understanding of even the most basic principles of economics and government coupled with your utter lack of imagination isn’t our problem, and it certainly isn’t a valid excuse for bigotry.

                Here’s a trivial example of the sort of thing you’re overlooking. The Koch brothers give too much money to Republicans for it to be feasible in today’s political climate, but, other than that, it’s not at all unrealistic.

                And that would be a revenue-neutral $4 / gallon tax on gasoline at the pump coupled with a check for $1,500 mailed to each person every year.

                The total spent on gas would (initially) remain the same, as would the per-capita average. That $1,500 will more than pay for all the tax on gas the poor and disadvantaged use and then some.

                But it would give a huge incentive to dramatically reduce fuel consumption. Everybody who uses less than the average amount comes out ahead, with the over-average users subsidizing the under-aveage users.

                See? No totalitarianism needed, and people still cut their miles driven and cars purchased while increasing their usage of other modes of transit.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted September 23, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

                I’ll pile up the stupidity first: 1) My posts are about Asia, not some small maneuver in the U.S. which is near meaningless, not to mention will never be passed; 2) your proposal is totalitarian; 3) even Obama in a lame duck presidency itching to push his European-style socialism — which is exactly the scheme you are pushing — would not even bother to smile when you pitch him that idea. Not even remotely close. He’d hate you for wasting his time.

                Now the umbrage: your accusation of bigotry and racism is not only utterly stupid based on what I posted, but a gratuitous personal defamation. Retract and apologize.

                For any actual dignified human listening to this, and that does not include Goren, I admire the Indian project, and others in Asia. They are now in the period the US enjoyed 120 years ago: a version of the Enlightenment and the golden age of capitalism. They are prideful of their surge forward, the overcoming of millennia of suffering, poverty, superstition and caste. I have business associations and friends in India and am proud to be their equal. I can tell you one thing from first hand acquaintance: the new free capitalist Asian is NOT going to go back to the mud and rickety bicycles and wish crushing taxes on their enterprises, as you propose, Goren, in your impotent dreams.

                China? I’d love to admire their capitalist surge, except it is still a communist dictatorship and the elite dictators ORDERED them to “get rich.”

                Add: talk about irritating? “Cheers” at the bottom of a scurrilous personal attack and defamation.

    • Tim
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Cold fusion? LOL – how much are you betting?

  7. Brenda Nelson
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    *Sigh* I never thought I’d say this, but wow, am I ever glad that I’m old.

  8. MadScientist
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    It sounds suspiciously like scaremongering to me. Methane is fairly rapidly destroyed in the atmosphere and converted, among other things, to CO2. Global natural methane production is already a monstrous figure and even with human assistance (human induced output is currently estimated at over 2:1 in relation to natural sources – a very different figure from the CO2 budget) methane concentrations in the troposphere are barely edging up. Thawing permafrost will result in a huge additional methane production, but I doubt it’s anywhere as big a threat as some people like to make out.

    As for ‘geoengineering’, it’s an absolute joke – it’s nothing like engineering. I have never seen a proposed scheme which has even the most tenuous relationship to reality. No one seems to do even the most basic calculations on how to source and extract materials in requisite volumes and how to disperse materials. Absolutely all proposals I’ve seen so far make the problem much worse and create additional problems. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who mentions geoengineering has to put in a decent effort to demonstrate they’re not a crank.

    • Dominic
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      “I doubt it’s anywhere as big a threat as some people like to make out” – !!!!!
      I have been to a lot of talks by climate scientists in recent years & this is not scaremongering.

      The attitude that some people express is like the person who saves on insurance by not having a policy when they live under a volcano.

      • MadScientist
        Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

        The problem for me is that every time I read a paper on how much methane is stored in the permafrost on land and under the ocean I look at the methodology, the work cited, and I roll my eyes. No one has any idea of the reliability of the estimates of the total amount and even less is certain about release rates. The permafrost methane might be a problem, but I doubt it and I suspect anyone claiming that it is in fact a problem is engaging in deliberate scaremongering.

    • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      I have to admit that I had a similar knee-jerk reaction, when I read the part about geoengineering and a possible *solution” of adding minerals in the oceans to facilitate the removal of CO2 from the atmostphere. I have to wonder about further acidification of the ocean. I hope this issue is taken into consideration.

      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_acidification

      However, I don’t think Prof. Wadhams is guilty of scare-mongering. Far from it. The planet is in trouble.

      • MadScientist
        Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        The planet is in trouble, but saying there’s a methane bogeyman is not only distracting from the real problems but is scaremongering. “Big warming boost from permafrost methane” = mere speculation, “continuing increase in warming due to increasing atmospheric CO2″ = fact.

  9. corio37
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Trouble is, it was supposed to happen THIS year. In fact, it was supposed to happen about seven days from now.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/05/12/the-arctic-ocean-could-be-nearly-ice-free-at-the-end-of-summer-by-2012/

    So ‘four years from now’ represents a backdown by the AGW crowd. It’s not the first, and it certainly won’t be the last.

    Why four years? My theory is that it’s long enough for people to forget the prediction if it doesn’t happen, and short enough so that the alarmists can remind us about it if it does. But what do I know? I’m just a sceptic.

    ANTARCTIC ice, on the other hand, is going gangbusters, and setting new records all the time. But nobody mentions that, for some reason.

    Funny how ‘global warming’ only seems to occur in the places that AGW alarmists like to point to, isn’t it?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      This is a science blog. Your crackpot views on climate science is better placed on crackpot sites where people is interested of anti-science.

      The Arctic ice collapse is a local prediction, but it isn’t difficult as such. The timing is, this collapse-as-we-write is way faster than expected from global predictions. (See IPCC -07.)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      Ah yes, the Antarctic ice, I was meaning to comment on that.

      The idea that ice on a sea with land around behaves the same as a land with sea around is hilarious. Again, global AGW theory has yet to perfect local predictions, but the main one is Antarctic ice growing to the middle of the century (with current GW gas trends) before starting to collapse.

      This has been mentioned long since, see the IPCC -07 for example. Only a daft person would take two such dissimilar and local climate regimes and try to say something on the global trend.

    • Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Total ice in the Antarctic is declining. It’s just the sea ice that’s growing — and that’s because the total heat in the southern ocean is rising in a way that promotes ice formation at the top.

      There’s no polite way to put this, so I’ll just lay it out there.

      Denying anthropogenic climate change is as absurd as denying the heliocentric model of the Solar System or as insisting that Thor and / or Zeus are essential elements in the hydrological cycle. Or, for that matter, as rejecting the Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection in favor of a faery tale about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry giant.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        Since science knows what you just said with such certainty, it should also have the answer, with equal certainty, to this:

        If homo sapiens had not evolved, what is the date that the Holocene is due to end and the next full glaciation take place?

        • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

          We’re supposed to be in an ice age right now, John. That’s what’s so disturbing.

          • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

            Really. I have been studying this for many years and have NEVER seen any paper or opinion that the Holocene was already due to end and only AGW is keeping the glaciation at bay.

            Can you point to any paper, website or study that cites a computer model that substantiates that the glaciation should already have begun?

            • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

              I just did on my last non-reply comment a the end of the page.

        • Tim
          Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

          So, once again your selling the “delay of the ice age” silliness – only today you’ve accompanied it with a dollop of cold fusion!

          • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

            …no…..amelie and her citied pdf are saying AGW is delaying the glaciation, not me. I just asked the question when?

      • Tim
        Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

        Not even the Antactic sea ice is showing any significant increase. Using data from the University of Illinois Cryosphere today group, I supplied the three figures you can see here to Neven at the Arctic Sea Ice blog. Over thirty years, the average area of Antarctic Sea Ice has shown NO statistically significant change – AT ALL. The single graph that corio37 is showing is just the typical cherry-picking you see from deniers every day of the week.

        • Posted September 22, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for that, Tim. It’s hard keeping up with this….

          b&

    • Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      I do climate research, and this is a point that folks don’t understand (or don’t want to). There is a very complex interaction between air temperatures, snow accumulation, melt, etc. As the air warms, initially you get more snowfall – sometimes a lot more. Ask anybody who lives in the arctic when you get the most snow – it has to “warm” up some (still below freezing) so the air can contain enough moisture to precipitate. Many of the models predict increases in snow and ice accumulation along the fringes and in the Antarctic at first. In the Arctic, the ice cover over the water limits moisture along the continental margins.. Some paleoclimate studies indicate that you have to get a nearly ice free arctic before you get an ice age. That’s so you can get enough snow and ice built up along the margins to start the glaciers, then it “backfills” to close off the arctic, but are far enough south to draw in moisture to keep building.

      The bottom line is we are doing an experiment on the Earth with an uncertain outcome. It’s probably too late to avoid some of the consequences – the best we can do at this stage is mitigation and preparedness. There are both “liberal” and “conservative” solutions out there, some of which have other geopolitical and environmental advantages aside from the AGW issue. Either way, given the inertia in the system we had better pick some and get started.

      • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        “Some paleoclimate studies indicate that you have to get a nearly ice free arctic before you get an ice age. That’s so you can get enough snow and ice built up along the margins to start the glaciers, then it “backfills” to close off the arctic, but are far enough south to draw in moisture to keep building.”

        So…….isn’t that “problem solved?” Man warms planet. Arctic ice disappears. Snow starts falling. Glaciers start new ice age.

        The above is sarcasm. Here is my real counter argument: Why did the disappearance of most or all of the Arctic sea ice for perhaps 1000 years earlier in the Holocene not set off an “Ice Age?”

        • Posted September 23, 2012 at 5:26 am | Permalink

          Different point in the cycle. Also, I pointed out the ice free or nearly ice free arctic theories to point out the complexity of the climate system. There are lots of other factors like NH isolation at work.

          Some like to argue we don’t understand the system well enough to argue GHG emissions are problematic. But you don’t have to understand how a carburetor works to know driving off a cliff is kinda dumb.

      • Posted September 23, 2012 at 5:57 am | Permalink

        Quite so – there are places in the far north (Alert, for instance) where (IIRC) it is so cold in winter it is only warm enough to snow in the summer. This may change soon, of course.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      “Funny how ‘global warming’ only seems to occur in the places that AGW alarmists like to point to, isn’t it?”

      Never noticed that. I have noticed that rates of ice loss at both poles are widely and commonly used by proponents of AGW as indicators of the fact of global warming.

      Do you deny the accuracy of the measurements of the rate of Arctic ice loss? If the measurements, not the predictions, are accurate it sure seems completely reasonable to expect that Arctic ice will completely melt in the not to distant future. Do you have some reason to expect the rate of loss to suddenly and drastically slow or stop?

      Or, do you deny that the consequences of the complete loss of Arctic ice is something we should be concerned about?

      It is certainly possible that Wadhams’ predicted timetable is not accurate. But, do you have some reason to believe that he has ulterior motives for being alarmist?

      If you doubt the fact of global warming on what information, that is presumably convincing enough to trump the scientifically arrived at conclusions, and the data amassed in the process of studying the issue, of 97% of the scientists that have studied the issue, do you base your doubt?

    • raven
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Corio the serial killel:

      So ‘four years from now’ represents a backdown by the AGW crowd. It’s not the first, and it certainly won’t be the last.

      Quite a few strawpeople you slaughtered there. If there is a hell, you are going to be set on fire forever by angry strawpeople.

      (Actually you are just flat out lying.)

      1. There has never been a consensus by the so called AGW crowd, also known as scientists. There are a range of predictions but this is such a new phenomenon, that no one is really sure. They ranged from 2012 to never.

      2. The most common predictions were 2030 to 2050. The big range shows the uncertainty in the predictions.

      3. Lately, the estimates have been coming down. Most climatologists underestimated the sea ice collapse.

      5. I don’t take this guys 2016 estimate very seriously and I doubt if too many people do either. Sea ice varies a lot from year to year due to local and chance variations in conditions. The chances are high that next years sea ice will be greater than this years, just based on probability and past experience.

      No one who can read a graph doubts that it will be gone in a few decades. All the national governments in the arctic are making plans on that basis.

      • corio37
        Posted September 22, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

        I’m sorry — when did it become appropriate to call someone a ‘serial killer’ on a public blog (even if you can’t spell it) merely because you don’t agree with their views? Your reason, sir, has fallen hostage to your enthusiasm.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted September 23, 2012 at 2:27 am | Permalink

          …and your “reason” never made an appearance.

        • raven
          Posted September 23, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

          corio tone trolling and lying some more:

          I’m sorry — when did it become appropriate to call someone a ‘serial killer’ on a public blog

          Tone trolling and lying.

          1. You aren’t sorry. You are tone trolling.

          2. It’s always been proper to point out serial killers. We pay the police a lot to find them. It keeps the number of their victims down.

          You are a serial killer of strawpeople. That is just a fact.

          3. You are also a lying crackpot. What you did was highly dishonest. You cherry picked one outlier estimate of sea ice disappearance and then assigned it to the entire climatology field.

          You’ve got nothing worth anyone’s time and are guilty of wasting huge numbers of electrons and photons.

    • Posted September 22, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Time to open your eyes, corio37. You’re helping the problem get worse… no doubt thinking yourself properly skeptical when in fact you’re unaware of the scope of the actual data that shows what no reasonable person can deny: scientific consensus that AGW is real, it’s here, and it needs our serious attention because the problem is getting worse by our inaction.

      What we don’t need is more Heartland Institute nonsense of the kind that you’re promoting here about some kind of global scientific conspiracy that you and a few other ‘skeptics’ have the insight to detect while seemingly capable of ignoring the rapid and historical demise of the polar cap and the Greenland ice sheet before your very eyes… eyes that you seem able to keep firmly closed while you imagine a skeptical reality very much different than the one we actually live in. As I said, you need to open your eyes.

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      The Antarctic ice with a larger surface extent is the ephemeral ice. On the continent itself the ice is thinning and overall the amount of ice is declining. In the same manner, since more of the Arctic ice is melting and sheets solidify again later in the year, you can claim that the extent of Arctic ice is greater than before. The reality is that the ice reforming on the water is much thinner than what had melted away and the ice on the land is continuing to thin – overall the volume of ice is declining at an incredible rate.

  10. Dominic
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Sadly this is not new news. To make it worse – read this on perfluorocarbons

    http://www.atmos-chem-phys.net/12/4081/2012/acp-12-4081-2012.html

  11. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    The not-so-certain plight of the polar bears, see Coyne: “This suggests that the speciation event producing modern polar and brown bears was sporadically interrupted by hybridization and gene flow between them, probably because climate change forced them to encounter each other when their ranges moved.

    But he also says this: “Based on genetic reconstructions, the polar bear population has declined drastically during the last half million years; the authors impute this to (nonanthropogenic) warming of the climate.”

    “Finally, polar bears are sensitive to climate, and as we continue to heat up our environment through shortsightedness, those bears are liable to extinction. They will either be unable to support themselves ecologically as the polar ice disappears, or they’ll hybridize themselves out of extinction by mating with brown bears. Either way, the fate of this lovely animal is precarious.”

    So earlier warming, no problem but this time, hold on to your ice floes!

    • raven
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      It is looking grim for the polar bears this time.

      What is different is…us.

      There are a lot of technologically advanced humans in the arctic these days, doing what humans do. We are a new stressor on them, competing for living space and food supplies.

      Hopefully, they can find refugees in North Greenland and elsewhere to ride it out with a viable population. But their population is likely to crash hard.

      • microraptor
        Posted September 24, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

        Maybe they can adapt to survive on a diet of climate-change deniers.

        Rush Limbaugh has the same level of body fat as a ringed seal, right?

        • E.A. Blair
          Posted September 24, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

          Elephant seal, I’d say – he is a republican, after all.

          • microraptor
            Posted September 24, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

            Good point.

            And he certainly sounds like one.

  12. Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to Mad Scientist for speaking out against geoengineering and Chuck Watson for his expertise. People like this are heroes.

    And why would not EVERY one of us right this minute write to Obama and promise to vote for Stein if he doesn’t get serious about the environment, and why would any one of us support for another second any big corporation except for our most basic needs? All of them make me sick.

    I also hope Coyne bans non-evidence based deniers here like he does with Creationists.

    And please, for the love of everything, support shade farms and multi species crops. Read Ruddiman’s hypothesis; global warming may have begun when early humans deforested the land for crops.

    http://www.physci.westfield.ma.edu/young/geohazards/current/oralpres/walsh.pdf

    • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      well, that is interesting, but no citation for me to follow to study the “Colleagues’ climate” model that says we should already be in a glaciation….

      Additionally, the “logic” spouted at the bottom is dubious.

      Can anyone point to a scientist or group that possess a computer model that predicts the next glaciation had man not appeared?

      • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        I would actually have to dig through my notes, sorry to be lame. there are many studies on minor signs of small ice ages in Europe. I’ll try to jog my memory (or dig through my stack of notes from grad school to find the authors).

      • Posted September 23, 2012 at 5:44 am | Permalink

        Here’s a recent reference for the variability in when glaciations are triggered:

        Tzedakis, P.C., Raynaud, D.R, McManus, J.F, Berger, A., Brovkin, V. & Kiefer, T. Interglacial diversity. Nature Geoscience 2, 751-755, doi:10.1038/NGEO660.

        • Posted September 23, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

          Thank you.

          I did not purchase the article, but may. The abstract points to the interesting diversity in the extent and severity in the ice cycles, which is notable in every graph from ice cores and other proxy reconstructions we have seen. The point in the digest is well taken: the underlying causes of this behavior must be much more fully understood in order to serve as a grounding for predictions in the current and future patterns of the cycle. The digest recommends (“future work”) that modeling could then be built.

          I would kick this up to the level of “massive urgency.” In order to break out man’s effect, in either direction, on the cycle, the baseline must be extremely well understood and modeled. I will speak the obvious: skeptics of the AGW consensus believe the underlying drivers — whatever they are — are not easily trumped by man burring some of the carbon sequestered over the prior 500 million years. The Consensus believes otherwise, obviously. Some believe man has already not only trumped this 3-5 million year Ice House, but has already reached the tipping point to Jurassic conditions or even Runaway Venus Effect.

          Yes, apply the lesson of Pascal’s wager: don’t risk waiting until we know. Stop releasing carbon now. Anyone serious about that must face reality: without putting Asia under dictatorial control by “the Green Emperor”, the exploitation of FF will never cease. The answer is to make FF exploitation moot: new, safe, cheap energy source that does NOT require subsidy, edict or government enforcement to actuate: make “greed” actuate it.

          • Posted September 23, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

            “Some believe man has already not only trumped this 3-5 million year Ice House, but has already reached the tipping point to Jurassic conditions or even Runaway Venus Effect.”

            Nobody who holds the consensus view on climate change believes that we are headed for a Venus-like climate.

            • microraptor
              Posted September 24, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

              Would that even be physically possible?

  13. Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    How have the polar bears avoided extinction or hybridize during the interglacials? The arctic ice was substantially gone or mostly gone from the north earlier in this interglacial, and the Eemian was warmer, not to mention four or five other interglacials prior.

    • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      They weren’t facing habitat loss from development or hunting back then.

    • Tim
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Do you really not understand the differences in time scales for the comings and goings of the glacial and interglacial periods to which you keep referring and the time scale over which AGW is occuring now? Do you really not understand that the ability of ecosystems to respond to events occuring on these very different time scales makes the events to which you are referring all but irrelevant to the problems posed by global warming?

      • Posted September 22, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

        I did not make any statement about the current situation. I only asked, since the fear expressed was extinction/hybridization if the North ice disappears, how did the bears survive last five times that happened. Can you answer that?

        • Tim
          Posted September 22, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

          Look, it was you who told us recently what your “actual position” was – you know, when you spewed nonsense about changes occuring over time scales 3 or 4 orders of magnitude longer than the current changes in climate that human activity is responsible for. I think you know very well that my remarks were made in the context of those statements.

          As for whether polar bears existed during five periods when there was seasonal arctic ice melting, I have only your word for whether that happened at all – I’ve not seen you cite any evidence for it, and I get no support for your contention elsewhere:

          There is currently no scientific evidence that a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean existed anytime in the last 700,000 years, although there were periods when the Arctic was warmer than it is today.

          One thing seems virtually certain: if there were ice-free periods, the entire ecosystem in which polar bears lived had a thousand times longer to adapt to it than we’re giving it today.

          • Posted September 22, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

            “there were periods when the Arctic was warmer” by which you cannot fail to be aiming with faint praise at full-blown interglacials, right?

            “than it is today.” if by today you mean the last 30 years then you have cynically switched context. I refer to any and all high points of warmth in each of the interglacials, inclucing the Holocene There is scientific evidence that the ocean ice was either gone, or vastly reduced during these interludes.

            You seem to know a lot about the speed of change in the past interglacial transitions, by your extreme assertion that it is “virtually certain” that change in the North happened a thousand times slower than now. Show me the evidence.

            How did the bears survive the intense warming of the other interglacials, and the Holocene maximum which may have lasted 1000 years?

            And meanwhile, here is a Wikipedia trade, yours for mine:

            Holocene climatic optimum: (Eemian was warmer)
            Of 140 sites across the western Arctic, there is clear evidence for warmer-than-present conditions at 120 sites. At 16 sites where quantitative estimates have been obtained, local HTM temperatures were on average 1.6±0.8 °C higher than present. Northwestern North America had peak warmth first, from 11,000 to 9,000 years ago, while the Laurentide ice sheet still chilled the continent. Northeastern North America experienced peak warming 4,000 years later. Along the Arctic Coastal Plain in Alaska, there are indications of summer temperatures 2–3 °C warmer than present.[5] Research indicates that the Arctic had substantially less sea ice during this period compared to present.[6]

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocene_climatic_optimum

            Further down in that piece is reference to the startling speed of change during the early Holocene.

            • Tim
              Posted September 23, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

              You seem to know a lot about the speed of change in the past interglacial transitions, by your extreme assertion that it is “virtually certain” that change in the North happened a thousand times slower than now. Show me the evidence.

              SCIENCE VOL 310 25 NOVEMBER 2005

              I should have said at least a hundred times slower.

  14. CJ
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    focusing on economic and technological restrictions to prevent an outcome you cannot accurately predict, especially given human nature, may have the consequence of stifling the innovation necessary to a stage where we might be able to resolve a crisis if and when we find ourselves in one. Our primary focus should be trying to find ways to reduce the temperature with technology and/or other ways to adapt to a warming earth. We should be putting more money into things like cloud generation research and ways to manipulate organisms into absorbing more carbon dioxide. We have to be realistic; humans are myopic, and it’s not in our nature to restrict ourselves to less consuming, less polluting lifestyles. And we need creativity, not pessimism.

    • Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      No. We already tried experimenting with the planet. The blindingly obvious inherent problem is human arrogance that makes us think we can drive an ecosystem. We can’t. We’re wrong. It drives us. Just accept it and embrace the beauty of trains and solar panels. Every American has the right to have access to them.

      • CJ
        Posted September 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

        That is pessimism. Precisely what we do not need in order to create solutions. There are many examples in history of great human failure. And the solution to those failures have almost never come from pessimists. If one volcano can change the earths temperature, we sure as hell can figure out how to do it, and with more control. It’s just a matter of time. But hopefully we have enough of it.

        • pulseteresa
          Posted September 22, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

          Yes, the problem is pessimism on this comment thread.

          And do you have any evidence for this assertion?:

          “And the solution to those failures have almost never come from pessimists.

          Sure sounds like something you just made up.

        • Posted September 22, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

          @CJ are you freaking kidding me? A call to respect the natural world and make necessary sacrifices is a form of pessimism? I think you’ve been hanging around Libertarians too much.

          • Posted September 22, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

            Saying it’s only a matter of time is like creating a cyborg then saying we just need time to undo the horrors we’ve created.

          • CJ
            Posted September 22, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

            “@CJ are you freaking kidding me? A call to respect the natural world and make necessary sacrifices is a form of pessimism?”

            “@amelie are you freaking kidding me? You would rather sacrifice all human progress and go back to the stone age, hoping it will all just work itself out for us?

            The old straw man boxing match!

            your swing!

            • Posted September 22, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

              Feh, I’m too slow to win a boxing match. ;)

              We certainly don’t have to return to the stone age (multistory growing and solar panels are very modern). But remember one thing: the grid could go out and we could end up with extreme heat, droughts and storms that destroy property.

              We most likely WILL end up living somewhat like cave people, CJ. We can do it voluntarily or it will be done for us.

              • CJ
                Posted September 22, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

                the stone age thing was my straw man swing;)

                amelie says:
                “We most likely WILL end up living somewhat like cave people, CJ. We can do it voluntarily or it will be done for us.”

                That prediction is pessimistic, unreasonable and irresponsible. You have no good evidence to support such an unprecedented prediction of human collapse.

                How do you feel about the danger of a large scale Asteroid impact? In any given century, there is a 1 in 1000 chance that the earth will be struck by a comet or asteroid large enough to kill at least a substantial proportion of the human population. As it stands, that’s a more realistic worry than “we most likely WILL end up living somewhat like cave people…”

              • CJ
                Posted September 22, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

                and by the way. I’m a frickin’ liberal! And Canadian!

              • Posted September 22, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

                cJ, I will happily post studies (tomorrow evening) which lend evidence to my claim if you promise to read them and comment on why you think the methods are right / wrong etc.

  15. SteveF
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Climate change is very serious indeed and what is happening in the Arctic is extremely worrying. However, Wadhams is way out of step with the scientific community on this one. He’s not published these views in the literature and no one really takes his opinions in this regard seriously. Indeed he’s likely doing mainstream sensible science a disservice, making it easy for fake skeptics to crow when his extreme predictions prove to be false (as will almost certainly happen).

    For more sensible views that accurately reflect the science and the position of the community, see this new briefing by the Met Office:

    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/releases/archive/2012/sea-ice-minimum

    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/media/pdf/p/i/HCTN_91.pdf

    Also, in the comments on this thread, RealClimate’s Gavin Schmidt points out where Wadhams is making some pretty basic errors:

    http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2012/09/18/wadhams-on-seaice-again/

    • SteveF
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      Specifically, look at Figure 3.4.1 in the second met office link. It shows models compared with observed data. They match pretty well. The models don’t show the kind of scenario Wadhams predicts, not even close.

      ps, this comment may not make sense as the one I’m replying too still seems to be in moderation.

      • Tim
        Posted September 22, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        Since it doesn’t make any sense, it would have been helpful if you had supplied the link.

        In any case, the data that Wadhams is being guided by is the arctic ice volume trend. (See Figure 2 here.) The Univ. of Washington group’s data can be downloaded and plotted as an average monthly ice volume vs year. When you do that, you get the graph shown here. (It is the second graph, but the others are similar.) You don’t have to extrapolate very far ahead to arrive an ice-free arctic for two or three months of the year within four to six years.

        • Tim
          Posted September 22, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

          Sorry about the first part of that – mine was moderated too.

  16. Posted September 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    @Doguoutw that’s what trains and rail cars would be for.

  17. E.A. Blair
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    A long time ago, I read a comment somewhere that offered an environmental equivalent of Pascal’s Wager; however, unlike the original, I think this one actually has some validity.

    Climate change is real or it is not; we can do something about it or not. If we take steps to curb our damage and the deniers turn out to be right, we get a cleaner world and new technology to live in it better. If we do nothing and the deniers are wrong, we’re screwed.

    I have yet to find a better argument for acting.

    • Chance
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

      I made this argument awhile back as well, and though I’m well familiar with the fallaciousness of Pascal’s wager, I, like you, feel like it holds here.

      The reason is that unlike pascal’s wager which bets on an infinity of unknowns (choosing the right gods, assuming they exist in the first place etc.), we’re betting on a threat that is very much in evidence.

      Besides that, being parsimonious with our resources and keeping our environment clean should be a high priority for its own sake.

      • MadScientist
        Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        The big difference here is that there are real possibilities and real consequences – with Pascal’s Wager it was all imaginary.

        • microraptor
          Posted September 24, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

          And there’s a real value reward for cleaning up the planet and reducing our consumption of non-renewable resources even if there isn’t a climate effect.

  18. Prof.Pedant
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Ruddiman, W. F. (2005). Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate. Princeton University Press.

    The argument, with citations, is well-developed. Summary: early farming increased the amount of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere just enough to throw us off the ice age cycle. What the new climactic cycle would have been like if the industrial revolution had not happened is not completely clear, but Ruddiman seems to demonstrate that global temperatures track the pre-industrial expansions and retractions of agriculture.

    • Posted September 22, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      Thanks!

    • Occam
      Posted September 23, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      Ruddiman’s Early Anthropocene Hypothesis asks useful questions.
      Whether the anomalous Holocene increase in CH4 and CO2 is entirely anthropogenic from as early a date as proposed by Ruddiman remains to be seen. Intelligent critics like NASA’s Gavin Schmidt, by no means a climate change denier, have suggested alternative or complementary explanations.

      For a recent response by Ruddiman to his critics taking into account counterfactual hypotheses, see:

      http://www.whoi.edu/pclift/Ruddiman.pdf

      From my archaeologist’s perspective, it is clear that early anthropogenic impact upon the environment is less monothetic than posited by Ruddiman. Unfortunately, it is at least as damaging, if not a lot more. I cannot speak for the Neolithic rice growing cultures in southern and eastern Asia, which are Ruddiman’s mainstay. But in Europe and around the Mediterranean, deforestation and the burning of wood for large-scale activities that deserve the attribute “industrial” even in early Antiquity are evident, and huge. This was initially underestimated by Ruddiman.

      Part of the problem lies with the connection between geochemical/geophysical, paleobotanical and archaeological data. The archaeological data are, by structure and density, the weakest link. The reconstruction of GHG emissions looks sound. The reconstruction of early agricultural activity is fragmentary; its modelling, conjectural at best. While archaeology profits from the insights of climate science, its own contributions to the debate are not yet commensurate. Climate scientists relying on archaeological reconstructions for their modelling should be wary of circular reasoning.

  19. Talitha
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The PlanetWatcher.

  20. Posted September 22, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    So, on the subject of Arctic thaw and greenhouse gas, etc., it’s safe to say our goose is cooked: http://www.bendbulletin.com/article/20120922/NEWS0107/209220310/

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Is it deep fried? Well, personally I prefer roasted – it’s a much safer and less messy operation.

  21. Arnie
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Are there enough polar bears in zoos to survive as species?

    • Posted September 22, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      If they only exist in zoos then they are extinct. You don’t breed animals who have no habitat or climate left. That would be hideously irresponsible.

      Spend those millions of dollars in climate change solutions.

      • microraptor
        Posted September 24, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

        There are a few species left in captivity that have gone extinct in the wild. Some were successfully reintroduced to their native habitats, while others are kept alive only via captive populations and breeding programs.

        But usually a species has reached dead man walking situation before it drops to that point.

        • Posted September 24, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

          The point is it’s selfish, foolish and we usually define “success” by celebrating if a handful of reintroduced individuals survive and breed, ignoring the fact that they’re still endangered, their habitat is still disappearing and what’s more they probably outcompeted the few remaining original individuals.

          Having usually spent millions of dollars we’d all be better off if that money were spent keeping the water, air and soil healthy instead of putting all our eggs in
          one basket.

          If the only place a wild animal exists is in a zoo, they ARE extinct.

  22. Posted September 22, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    I posit that we could *solve* our climate change challenges in five years if we took a pragmatic approach. And, in doing so, we would not only be saving our planet, our grand children’s futures, and millions of species. We would also be saving trillions and trillions of dollars compared to our present trajectories. A five year plan.

    Climate change is the most serious national (and international) crisis mankind has ever faced. It requires a solution on a scale that only the national government can accomplish.

    I argue that we do not need, nor can we afford to wait for, market-based solutions. We don’t need carbon caps. We don’t need to ‘take on’ the carbon energy industry. We need to make them obsolete.

    And the way to do this is to nationalize our carbon-free energy production. There are many ways to this, but let me throw out the simplest most audacious scenario.

    If we were to cover the Mojave Desert with PV panels, it would supply enough electricity to power our entire energy needs for the next thousand years. And since we, as American taxpayers, paid for those panels and an upgraded smart grid we should rightfully expect that our electricity would be free. Rip the meters right off the walls. After all, once that infrastructure is in place, that is what PV electricity is – unlimited and absolutely cost and pollution free.

    We could put thousands of people to work erecting the facility, which, because of enormous economy of scale, would cost pennies on the dollar compared to erecting rooftop installations. We could employ thousands more to add inductive charging to our highways, so that even the cruddy battery technology of today would allow us to have a 100% electrical fleet. We could employ thousands more to retrofit our homes for electric heat and cooking. Employ thousands more to retrofit our industries with electrical instead of carbon-based productions.

    We need an updated version of the national Rural Electrification program. We need to move out of the paradigm in which the fossil fuel industry would like to confine the conversation, and start talking about a governmental solution. And free electricity would provide the political trump card to accomplish a solution.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted September 23, 2012 at 2:38 am | Permalink

      PV panels are not as efficient as using mirrors to heat water towers, hence, that’s exactly what has actually been constructed in the Mojave desert.

      of course, you think of the Mohave as a lifeless wasteland no doubt, but that too is in error.

      wiping out entire ecosystems to replace a couple of carbon based power stations with PV or even solar steam generators is kind of ironic.

      • Posted September 23, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

        Actually, the efficiency today is solidly in PV’s court. The problem is that PV systems only generate power when the sun is shining, while solar thermal has its own built-in storage mechanism / inertia.

        The comparison would be between peak efficiency, in which PV wins hands down, and baseload efficiency…in which case whatever method you’re using to store the PV electricity has to get factored into the equation. That can range from batteries, which are expensive but fantastically efficient, to pumped hydro or cavern-sized compressed air, which are cheap but not as efficient, to syngas, which is expensive and inefficient but fantastic for use as a feedstock for transportation fuels or other long-term portable storage.

        But, of course, you’re right — obliterating the Mojave to generate electricity would be horribly costly to the environment. And, even if we wanted to do it, we couldn’t afford to do it in a mere five years. We’d have to spend more on the project than we currently do on the military (including the wars against brown people). Not gonna happen.

        Fortunately, urgent as the problem is, it isn’t quite so urgent that we need to complete the transition to a solar economy in five years. We need to start yesterday, but an aggressive approach that still took several decades to complete would be just fine, and would cost something on the order of Federal pensions or Medicaid (not Medicare). Big, expensive, but well within our reach.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted September 23, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

          Ben – I don’t think we have decades We have a decade, as best as I can tell. And I wouldn’t worry too much about the ecosystem of the Mojave. It won’t be all that precious. For if we dawdle like we have been doing, we’ll soon enough have a hundred Mojaves – in Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma….

          As far as cost, you yourself have said that rooftop solar installs would be enough, and that would be a matter of some few trillions. A large installation would cost a small fraction of that estimate, because the largest cost of rooftop intalls is the install itself. The savings through economy of scale of a single large standardized install in a weather-forgiving site like the Mojave would be huge.

          I, too, was an ardent advocate of localized generation. But it seems pretty darned clear that that idea can’t work in a market-based scenario. It, too, really needs a centralized impetus. And it is really complicated. And it involves a long transition from, and working with, the petrochemical industry. Which means it will never happen. Better to have an actual solution and pitch it with free electricity.

          WWIAD – What Would Isaac Asimov Do?

          He would build large installations in the Mojave, Gobi, Sahara, etc, that’s what! :D

          • Posted September 23, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

            I’m not suggesting that we have decades to start transitioning to solar — quite the contrary. I’m suggesting that we have decades to complete the transition.

            If we took a half a century to make the transition, we’d cut fossil fuel use at more than twice the rate that we grew it. That’s already a very aggressive schedule, almost certainly more than is realistic.

            That would mean that, in just a couple decades, we’d reduce our use of fossil fuels to where we were in the 70s. That’s a rate of consumption we could actually sustain for quite some time.

            But, speaking of realistic…people are installing rooftop solar in record numbers. Today. As in, it’s actually happening. In Germany, it’s happening at the kind of pace that we should be implementing here in the States.

            But a single mega-sized project in an area that doesn’t even have an influential congresscritter to champion it, one that the Sierra Club would fight tooth and nail to protect?

            Ha!

            Nice fantasy, but it doesn’t have even a hope of a prayer of ever happening.

            Maybe rooftop solar won’t grow fast enough, in which case we really are fucked. But there’s no reason in principle it can’t happen, and it is happening, and it’s the best hypothetical option, to boot.

            Cheers,

            b&

        • Ichthyic
          Posted September 23, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

          But, of course, you’re right — obliterating the Mojave to generate electricity would be horribly costly to the environment.

          well, I think you missed what I wrote there.

          you might want to change “would” to “is”.

          they’ve already built one of these things in a sensitive habitat, and plan to build more.

          their environmental impact studies were pretty much a joke, given that any competent desert wildlife biologist could have (and many did) told them that the sites chosen were poor ones.

          nobody seems to give a shit any more. appearances over substance and all, most people, even californians who LIVE THERE tend to think of all the desert as a wasteland, when in fact it has a high degree of biodiversity in many areas.

          still, there’s not much to be done about it now. To be fair to the contractor who built the first solar steam generators out there, they ARE spending money to “relocate tortoises”.

          …not that that does much good for the ecosystem itself.

          laughably, I’ve heard a lot of people arguing about how, since the desert is hot and all, that the solar mirrors would be providing “much needed shade for the critters there!”

          *headdesk*

          • Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

            I didn’t know they were already digging up the desert for this. Sad. It’s a very fragile ecosystem, parts of which can be damaged just by human footprints (let alone vehicle tires!) in ways that may take decades to recover.

            b&

      • Posted September 23, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        “wiping out entire ecosystems to replace a couple of carbon based power stations with PV or even solar steam generators is kind of ironic.”

        What I am talking about is replacing all our carbon-based power stations, not a couple. I am talking about replacing all carbon-fuel burning with clean solar electricity. I am talking about a single installation that will provide every calorie of power we need as a nation for the next 1000 years. That is what an install the size of the Mojave would provide.

        Will that destroy the Mojave ecosystem? Possibly. I daresay it would adapt. But even if it did, it would be worth it imo.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted September 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

          I daresay it would adapt.

          you haven’t the slightest clue what you’re talking about.

    • Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:13 am | Permalink

      Roger, it’s nice to find a simple solution but Ichthyic is right, ruining an extensive habitat for our needs misses the point entirely. I do love the idea of free solar and so would everyone else; spreading them around on rooftops would also give people more local jobs.

      • Posted September 23, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

        The sniping begins!

        PV or mirrors – I don’t care.

        And yes – to save the planet and a million species, I would indeed affect the ecosystem of the Mojave. In a New York minute.

        Could we please avoid making the perfect the enemy of the good? The former head of the IPCC has just said we have already blown our chances for a +2C world. We are looking at disaster, not discomfort.

        The point is to demand a centralized solution. Call it Big Government, call it socialism if you want. But .Talk About It!

        If people want to keep squabbling about the best way to impose market-based solutions on a market that will not accept them, we will waste another decade or two and will have accomplished next to nothing. Our 2012 carbon output is higher than it has ever been in history!

        We NEED to get this done now. We need to present a simple case to the American people. Free electricity will sell this. And we can actually solve this problem in time.

        Unless we keep squabbling.

        • Posted September 23, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

          Sniping? No, we’re just debating. This isn’t personal unless you secretly own a solar company or something.

          You say “to save the planet and a million species”. First of all, the “planet” is just a big rock in space. It will still be here.

          A million species won’t be saved by panels. Every species needs food and habitat, much of which has been paved over. If you want to save species, support land preservation. Including the Mohave Desert.

          Ruining it in the name of some other random species does not make it okay. That type of thinking is exactly what got us into this mess to begin with.

          Engineering solutions have proven to be shaky at best and would lead us straight into that catastrophe you referred to at worst.

          I know certain people who’ve invested in engineering have their heart set on it, but if they think they can pull the wool over our eyes that easily, they’re in for a surprise.

          • Posted September 23, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

            Mojave. Sorry.

            • Posted September 23, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

              A million species – estimates are at least half of the species on the planet – will be lost if we continue business as usual and do not keep AGW to less than +5C. We have already blown +2C. Land is not the issue – Co2 and methane is the issue.

              You could reclaim all land used by mankind tomorrow, and 50% of species will still die from AGW if we do not reduce atmospheric CO2 in the next decade, before positive feedbacks overwhelm the balance.

              The Mojave is a tiny sacrifice to make, if it actually would be destroyed at all.

              • Ichthyic
                Posted September 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

                so, you think grading the desert flat and removing everything, including the soil, has no impact?

                I can’t tell if you’re deluded, ignorant, or both.

              • Posted September 24, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

                Right now, Roger, you’re talking to someone with a Master’s degree in environmental studies. I’d be very interested to see the published studies that lead you to beleive what you just said in your comment.

                In case you hadn’t noticed, this blog focuses on science. So let’s see it. You don’t really expect people to just hear what you say and take it as expert analysis, do you?

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      The biggest obstacles to getting anything done has been the profit-centered economy. Changing will hurt my profits so I will oppose change. In some instances such as in the oil industry, huge investments are made in developing alternatives – but not enough is being invested because of the high risk and very long times involved (it may take decades to develop and commercialize something). So oil companies would rather pay more dividends than put in more of an effort to develop things. To be fair to oil companies, they are still among the biggest investors in new energy technology. I’m afraid any serious work has got to be supported by governments, but at the moment most governments are trying to cut expenditure. I’m betting on monkey politics until the end.

  23. Posted September 23, 2012 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    I wonder what we will do for other hydrocarbon uses (chemical feedstocks for pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, plastics, etc.) …

    • Posted September 23, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      The real problem will be fuel and fertilizers.

      We can synthesize hydrocarbons readily enough through methods such as the Fischer-Tropsch process. It’s energy-intensive, but there’s more than enough energy available via solar to replace our current use of petrochemicals for things other than fuel and fertilizers.

      There’s also more than enough solar energy available to replace fuel and fertilizers…but there’s no way that we’re going to transition away from petroleum fast enough to avoid a lot of hurt and pain. Supplies are already dwindling as demand is rising; it won’t be long before demand outstrips supply enough to create the same price shocks we went through in the 70s, but on steroids.

      Fasten your seatbelts. The ride is about to get rough, and not in a fun way. Many people are going to die.

      We can still make it as a society, though. And, if we do, there’s more power available from the Sun than our appetites could ever hope to match. If we make it through the (very rough) rapids we’re entering, the future will be unimaginably fantastic.

      The only challenge is getting there from here….

      b&

      • Occam
        Posted September 23, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Ben, you know what J.K. Galbraith famously wrote to JFK:
        “Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”

        The choice awaiting us now may be the one between the disastrous and the suicidal.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted September 23, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        . Supplies are already dwindling as demand is rising; it won’t be long before demand outstrips supply enough to create the same price shocks we went through in the 70s, but on steroids.

        I keep telling my mates back in the States they should try living here in NZ for a while.

        Gas is around 10.00 a gallon here.

        I wonder what people in the states would do if they had to pay 10/gal at the pump?

        • Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

          Ha!

          The thought of $5 / gallon scares the shit out of people, and $8 / gallon is unthinkable.

          What will people do when prices get that high?

          Starve, mostly.

          No, seriously. Our whole economy is utterly dependent on cheap fossil fuels, and it’s in the shitter as it is. People are debt-ridden, have no savings, and are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

          When gas gets to $10 / gallon, farmers won’t be able to afford to fuel their combines, truckers won’t be able to afford to fuel their trucks to get the food to markets, and people won’t be able to afford to fuel their cars to drive the markets to get food.

          They won’t be able to afford to drive to work, either.

          Basically, the whole economy will shut down.

          Unless social unrest gets to the Mad Max level, I’ll personally be fine. My mortgage is paid off, the solar array on my roof is paid off and generates half again as much power as I need, I’ve got a good rainy day fund, I’m in good health, and I’ll be breaking ground this fall on a Victory Garden that’ll probably have me regularly giving away produce to my neighbors.

          The scary thing is, though I’m solidly in the middle class in terms of income, my financial health is probably better than 90% of the rest of Americans. And it’s not like I won the lottery or anything…I was just a few months from flat broke a decade or so ago, myself.

          Cheers,

          b&

        • MadScientist
          Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

          Wow – I thought you must have been in Norway or something. :)

    • MadScientist
      Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      The Germans had worked that out in the second world war; I suspect we will use the same basic technology and improve the processes. It still relies on coal of course. As for some plastics, perhaps more cellulose-based fibers like Rayon(tm) will be invented in the future. New chemical processes will also be required to produce some fuels and raw materials. Flying will once again be the privilege of a very few. Ships will have to be nuclear fueled.

      • Posted September 24, 2012 at 5:05 am | Permalink

        The problem is one still needs the carbon chains from somewhere. It is substantially easier to use ones plants and animals made for us long ago. One *can* do otherwise, but I understand the efficiency of such process would make such very very expensive. Not to mention all those metal catalysts …

  24. corio37
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Just for the record, the drop in Arctic ice coverage has now been largely attributed to a cyclone which went through the area in August — by NASA, no less:

    http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/index.html?media_id=152489941

    A bit late for this thread — gosh, I wonder why they delayed so long? — but keep it in mind for next time.


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