Archive for December, 2007

Offsets for flying

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

Traveling for the holidays and want to offset an airplane trip? I was asked about this recently: first, how much, and second with what organization. Unfortunately, it seems to me that many of the offset organizations I looked at have been under attack for not assuring additionality (my offset funds buys greenhouse gas reductions in addition to what would have happened without my help), etc, etc.

Atmosfair calculates your greenhouse gas emissions for flying. They supplement time at high altitudes to account for the greater effects of water vapor, etc at that altitude, and supplement short trips to account for the relatively high percentage of time spent in takeoff or landing.

I tried two examples, both from my area, multiplying kg by 2.2 to get pounds:

SF – London with a layover in NYC 5,780 kg = 12,700 pounds carbon dioxide equivalent
SF – LA 380 kg = 840 pounds CO2e

SF to NYC to London is 12,000 miles round trip, so this trip comes in at just over a pound CO2e/mile. SF to LAX is 675 miles RT, or about 1 1/4 pound CO2e/mile.

What can I do to offset this?
One possibility is replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent. Soon, we all will, but in the meantime, you can donate bulbs to the local food bank, the one getting bags of food every few months to locals for whom the food dollar doesn’t always make it to the end of the month.

Other possibilities?

So how many bulbs do I need to give away?
Go to EPA to find out how much greenhouse gas 1 kWh produces in your area. Just enter your zip code, and verify your utility. The first chart gives the mix of energy sources in your area, the second one the number of pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent for each 1,000 kWh you use. (1 MWh = 1,000 kWh)

Let’s assume that all of the offset will come from 75W equivalent bulbs. These last longer than incandescents, and will more than pay for themselves during their lifetime in cheaper energy use, as they use about 1/4 as much electricity. You’re going to give away bulbs to people who haven’t yet bought them.

Assume the 75W equivalent bulb last 8,000 hours, yes, the package says more, my local hardware store says 8,000 hours. Over that time, the bulb will reduce emissions by
3/4 * 0.075 kW * 8,000 hr = 450 kWh

Now multiply the number of kWh by the local GHG/kWh, for example, if you live in California, a 75W equivalent compact fluorescent displaces
450 kWh * 879 pounds CO2e/1,000 kWh = 400 pounds CO2e

If you live in the Twin Cities, a 75W equivalent compact fluorescent displaces
450 kWh * 1,814 pounds CO2e/1,000 kWh = 820 pounds CO2e

Now divide GHG emissions from flying by GHG emissions/bulb to get the appropriate number of bulbs to give away:
12,700 pounds CO2e/(400 pounds CO2e/bulb) = 30 bulbs in CA
12,700 pounds CO2e/(820 pounds CO2e/bulb) = 16 bulbs in MN

Yes, it’s cheaper for people in MN to offset flying, but it’s cheaper for people in CA to offset their electricity use. More on this is January.

Designing cars that don’t do everything

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

American cars will get a needed boost in fuel economy, but they may not have the size, speed, and acceleration that many Americans consider important, according to Energy Outlook’s Rethinking Fuel Economy.

What about designing cars for someone without those expectations? It turns out that the Vehicle Design Summit is on the job, planning for India.

Indian traffic
Indian traffic jams are more common high population to street ratios in Indian cities.

Designing transportation systems for India and much of the rest of Asia requires more than supplying better cars. Europe has a better bus system in part to protect the fragile inner city. This is even more of a problem in Asia, where the infrastructure does not allow American levels of car use. Hypermotorization, it’s called, and it’s one of Lee Schipper’s projects at EMBARQ. What’s true for Asians is also true for us: the imminent increase in fuel economy is only a part of the solution.

On a related topic, Virginia and David Lockett moved to Vietnam to help motorcycle accident victims, who often suffer brain injuries because they ride without helmets. Their site, Steady Footsteps, talks about their experience. Today, helmets are compulsory there.

IPCC Synthesis Report–some details and some feelings

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

I feel uncomfortable shifting to solutions discussed in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change synthesis summary report without spending some time with what comes up for me when considering the changes to the world we live in, changes that will occur in my lifetime possibly, certainly in the lifetime of people I know.

I choose two predictions to look at in a little more detail.

In Southern Europe, climate change is projected to worsen conditions (high temperatures and drought) in a region already vulnerable to climate variability, and to reduce water availability, hydropower potential, summer tourism and, in general, crop productivity.

NASA posted on this:

“There is some evidence that rainfall patterns already may be changing,” [Drew] Shindell added. “Much of the Mediterranean area, North Africa and the Middle East rapidly are becoming drier. If the trend continues as expected, the consequences may be severe in only a couple of decades. These changes could pose significant water resource challenges to large segments of the population.”

On RealClimate, a professor posted about going for a vacation on the Med:

The 10-hour flight from Chicago to Istanbul often inspires passengers to romanticize about Istanbul, both tourists and natives alike. Istanbul is the city of legends, forests, and the Bosphorus. It is an open museum of millennia of history with archeological and cultural remnants surrounded by green lush gardens. It is the place where east meets west; where blue meets green; where the great Mevlâna’s inviting words whisper in the wind “Come, come again, whoever you are, come!”

So you can imagine our collective horror as the plane started circling Istanbul and we saw a dry, desolate, dusty city without even a hint of green anywhere.

Temperatures reached 46 C (115 F) this year, and Turkish farmers lost billions of dollars in crops.

Tuz Golu
Tuz Golu lost half its water volume in recent decades.

The North Atlantic Oscillation appears to have moved into a positive phase:

a low pressure system prevails over Iceland and a high pressure system over the Azores. This causes cooler northern seas, stronger winter storms across the Atlantic Ocean, warm wet winters in northern Europe, and cold and dry winters in Canada and Greenland. However, this also causes less rain and reduced stream flow in southeastern Europe and the Middle East. In general, when NAO is in a positive phase, the Mediterranean region receives less precipitation.

Not mentioned are changes expected in my neck of the woods:
Precipitation changes
Precipitation changes (Science subscription needed)

If these models are correct, the levels of aridity of the recent multiyear drought or the Dust Bowl and the 1950s droughts will become the new climatology of the American Southwest within a time frame of years to decades.

The authors define American Southwest as land areas of the US and Mexico between 125°W and 95°W and 25°N and 40°N. San Francisco is near the northern end at 38°N, and San Diego at 33°N is in the middle. Dust bowl conditions refer to 0.09 mm/day, just over 1 inch/year.

Dust bowl
Dust bowl conditions in the US Midwest in the 1930s arose with a cool tropical Pacific. See here for more information and animations on that time.

Meanwhile in Latin America, according to the IPCC report:

By mid century, increases in temperature and associated decreases in soil water are projected to lead to gradual replacement of tropical forest by savanna in eastern Amazonia. Semi-arid vegetation will tend to be replaced by arid-land vegetation.

Manu Cloud Forest in Peru
Manu Cloud Forest in Peru

scarlet macaw
scarlet macaw

Tapirs are gone or threatened in some areas but in Amazonia, they are only under pressure.

A Science Express article, Climate Change, Deforestation, and the Fate of the Amazon, depicts a likely decrease in precipitation during the dry season, combined with increased temperatures and evaporation, producing a seasonal water deficit. This water deficit will be exacerbated by the loss of forest along with their contribution to rain.

The forest biome of Amazonia is one of Earth’s greatest biological treasures, and a major component of the Earth system. This century, it faces the dual threats of deforestation and stress from climate change.

So how do we feel about this?
I hope to hear from readers.

When I posted on IPCC’s list of changes, my eyes glazed over. At some point, I stopped reading. I didn’t want to read more.

I struggled to describe what it means to me. At times this has been easy for me, but today it is not. I intended originally to remember for this post what I have felt in the past, but decided against it.

I feel like just one of many Hans Brinkers.

Meanwhile the tsunami, barely visible, is about to break.

tsunami in deep water
tsunami in deep water — the signs where I live are subtle, but the waves will break soon.

Feelings, motivations, and benefits

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

While I intend to continue posting on science and policy issues, I will try an experiment, occasional posts on

• the feelings that come up for me when I read about the science, or
• consider changes in my own life,
• what motivates me to act for the environment in how I live and the work, and
• the long-term benefits I see in myself from changes originally made for the environment.

I saw myself reading the what is likely to go wrong portion of the IPCC Synthesis Report in the eyes-glazed-over, skim-for-the-occasional-detail mode. Unlike policy options, these kinds of posts get few comments, possibly because others are reading or avoiding reading in the same way I did this time. In a previous post, Friends, our Integrity Testimony, and climate change, I asked Friends and others to consider where we get our information, to reach agreement intellectually on the parameters for the discussion.

Now I want to post occasionally on the emotional aspects. We share common emotional reactions to what is happening, and to the prospect of changing ourselves. We do not share in the same proportion grief, joy, resentment, acquiescence. But we do share these feelings and others. I am interested in hearing from you.

My next post will be on my reaction to the IPCC Summary report. Or lack of reaction.


more joy
more joy

symphony of grief
Symphony of Grief

The goal of science

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

I’m currently reading Gwyneth Cravens’ Power to Save the World, will blog on it in early January. I decided to post this after a friend described scientists as people who…. His description did not fit the scientists I know.

The epigraph:

Most of us were taught that the goal of science is power over nature, as if science and power were one thing and nature quite another. Niels Bohr observed to the contrary that the more modest but relentless goal of science is, in his words, “the gradual removal of prejudices.” By “prejudice,” Bohr meant belief unsupported by evidence. Richard Rhodes

Early in the book, Cravens describes beliefs that she later decided were prejudices. The remainder of the book describes her process of change.

When I turned to the statements of antinuclear groups, I naturally found that they echoed many of my own assumptions; that uranium mining and processing, depleted uranium, nuclear accidents and nuclear waste had killed or would one day kill huge numbers of people, caused mutations and birth defects, and turned pristine places, usually home of Native Americans, into radioactive wastelands; that all man-made radioactive material was lethal and we lacked any natural defenses against it; that all radiation was bad; that cancer clusters occurred around nuclear facilities; that to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons all reactors had to be shut down; that terrorists could easily overwhelm a nuclear plant or waste dump; that such facilities could explode atomically; that there was no safe place to put our towering heaps of nuclear waste, which would remain harmful for millions of years; that reliance on uranium was futile because soon we’d be running out of it, just as were running out of oil, that nuclear power put almost as much carbon into the environment as coal, gas, and oil; and that instead of using fossil fuels and nuclear power we could instead practice conservation and obtain all our energy from wind, sunlight, tides, and geysers.

American Geophysical Union fall 2007 meeting

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

The fall meeting has begun. Some presentations will be webcast, notably Lonnie Thompson’s talk Wednesday at 6:15 PM, Abrupt Climate Change and Our Future.

Update: Also see the Nature blog on the conference.

RealClimate is blogging on this. Their first dispatch includes the following:

• Greenland experienced an earlier glacier retreat comparable to today’s about 1,000 – 1,200 years ago, so locally temperatures were as warm then as they are today. (This was only locally true.)

• Most glaciers are melting faster. The sea has warmed 4 C over the past 15 year. This change in outlet glaciers increases flow. Melt ponds are now ubiquitous.

melt ponds
melt ponds

Leigh Stearns and collaborators point out that the Greenland Ice Sheet’s contribution to sea level has doubled in the past five years, due largely to factors connected with ice dynamics (and not incorporated in the IPCC estimates). They showed satellite data which indicates that just two glaciers — Helheim and Kangerdlugssuaq — might account for 10% of this increase. Ominously, more glaciers are primed to pop as climate continues to warm. About the increased flow speeds in this region, they suggest the system has entered a new state: “We speculate that these faster flow speeds represent a new long-term state of behavior which, while not as dramatic as the short-lived periods of peak speeds, have important implications for the rate of sea level rise.”

measuring glacier flow
measuring glacier flow

• Bush’s science advisor John Marburger also provoked fear in the audience, because he advocated against greenhouse gas mitigation.

Tom’s letter to Bonnie

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

Friend Tom Yamaguchi has changed his opinion of nuclear power. His letter to Bonnie Raitt explains the details.

IPCC Synthesis Report

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

I just read the Summary for Policymakers to see what is new and different. All of statements below are direct quotes. I will post portions of the mitigation section later.

There is also high confidence that many semi-arid areas (e.g. Mediterranean basin, western United States, southern Africa and northeast Brazil) will suffer a decrease in water resources due to climate change.

Hundreds of millions of people exposed to increased water stress [on figure SPM.7, for any temperature increase over 1998]

Up to 30% of species at increasing risk of extinction [same figure, at a temperature increase of 1.5 – 3 C+], significant extinction (40-70% of species assessed) around the globe [at 3.5 C+]

Terrestrial biosphere tends toward a net carbon source, 15% of ecosystems affected [at around 2.4 C]

Examples of some projected regional impacts [unless stated otherwise, confidence is high or very high]

• By 2020, between 75 and 250 million of people are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change;
• By 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%. Agricultural production, including access to food, in many African countries is projected to be severely compromised. This would further adversely affect food security and exacerbate malnutrition;
• Towards the end of the 21st century, projected sea-level rise will affect low-lying coastal areas with large populations. The cost of adaptation could amount to at least 5-10% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP);
• By 2080, an increase of 5-8% of arid and semi-arid land in Africa is projected under a range of climate scenarios.

• By the 2050s, freshwater availability in Central, South, East and South-EastAsia, particularly in large river basins, is projected to decrease;
• Coastal areas, especially heavily-populated megadelta regions in South, East and South-East Asia, will be at greatest risk due to increased flooding from the sea and, in some megadeltas, flooding from the rivers;
• Climate change is projected to compound the pressures on natural resources and the environment, associated with rapid urbanization, industrialization and economic development;
• Endemic morbidity and mortality due to diarrhoeal disease primarily associated with floods and droughts are expected to rise in East, South and South-East Asia due to projected changes in the hydrological cycle.

Australia and New Zealand:
• By 2020, significant loss of biodiversity is projected to occur in some ecologically rich sites including the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland Wet Tropics;
• By 2030, water security problems are projected to intensify in southern and eastern Australia and, in New Zealand, in Northland and some eastern regions;
• By 2030, production from agriculture and forestry is projected to decline over much of southern and eastern Australia, and over parts of eastern New Zealand, due to increased drought and fire. However, in New Zealand, initial benefits are projected in some other regions.;
• By 2050, ongoing coastal development and population growth in some areas of Australia and New Zealand are projected to exacerbate risks from sea level rise and increases in the severity and frequency of storms and coastal flooding.

• Climate change is expected to magnify regional differences in Europe’s natural resources and assets. Negative impacts will include increased risk of inland flash floods, and more frequent coastal flooding and increased erosion (due to storminess and sea-level rise);
• Mountainous areas will face glacier retreat, reduced snow cover and winter tourism, and extensive species losses (in some areas up to 60% under high emissions scenarios by 2080);
• In Southern Europe, climate change is projected to worsen conditions (high temperatures and drought) in a region already vulnerable to climate variability, and to reduce water availability, hydropower potential, summer tourism and, in general, crop productivity;
• Climate change is also projected to increase the health risks due to heat-waves, and the frequency of wildfires.

Latin America:
• By mid century, increases in temperature and associated decreases in soil water are projected to lead to gradual replacement of tropical forest by savanna in eastern Amazonia. Semi-arid vegetation will tend to be replaced by arid-land vegetation.
• There is a risk of significant biodiversity loss through species extinction in many areas of tropical Latin America;
• Productivity of some important crops is projected to decrease and livestock productivity to decline, with adverse consequences for food security. In temperate zones soybean yields are projected to increase. Overall, the number of people at risk of hunger is projected to increase (TS; medium confidence).
• Changes in precipitation patterns and the disappearance of glaciers are projected to significantly affect water availability for human consumption, agriculture and energy generation.

North America:
• Warming in western mountains is projected to cause decreased snowpack, more winter flooding, and reduced summer flows, exacerbating competition for over-allocated water resources;
• In the early decades of the century, moderate climate change is projected to increase aggregate yields of rain-fed agriculture by 5-20%, but with important variability among regions. Major challenges are projected for crops that are near the warm end of their suitable range or which depend on highly utilized water resources;
• During the course of this century, cities that currently experience heatwaves are expected to be further challenged by an increased number, intensity and duration of heatwaves during the course of the century, with potential for adverse health impacts;
• Coastal communities and habitats will be increasingly stressed by climate change impacts interacting with development and pollution.

Polar Regions:
• The main projected biophysical effects are reductions in thickness and extent of glaciers and ice sheets and sea ice, and changes in natural ecosystems with detrimental effects on many organisms including migratory birds, mammals and higher predators;
• For human communities in the Arctic, impacts, particularly those resulting from changing snow and ice conditions are projected to be mixed;
• Detrimental impacts would include those on infrastructure and traditional indigenous ways of life;
• In both polar regions, specific ecosystems and habitats are projected to be vulnerable, as climatic barriers to species invasions are lowered.

Small Islands:
• Sea-level rise is expected to exacerbate inundation, storm surge, erosion and other coastal hazards, thus threatening vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities that support the livelihood of island communities;
• Deterioration in coastal conditions, for example through erosion of beaches and coral bleaching is expected to affect local resources;
• By mid-century, climate change is expected to reduce water resources in many small islands, e.g., in the Caribbean and Pacific, to the point where they become insufficient to meet demand during low-rainfall periods.
• With higher temperatures, increased invasion by non-native species is expected to occur, particularly on mid- and high-latitude islands.

[L]ikely to be especially affected by climate change

Systems and sectors:
• particular ecosystems:
• terrestrial: tundra, boreal forest and mountain regions because of sensitivity to warming; mediterranean-type ecosystems because of reduction in rainfall; and tropical rainforests where precipitation declines
• coastal: mangroves and salt marshes, due to multiple stresses
• marine: coral reefs due to multiple stresses; the sea ice biome because of sensitivity to warming
• water resources in some dry regions at mid-latitudes13 and in the dry tropics, due to changes in rainfall and evapotranspiration, and in areas dependent on snow and ice melt
• agriculture in low-latitudes , due to reduced water availability
• low-lying coastal systems, due to threat of sea level rise and increased risk from extreme weather events
• human health in populations with low adaptive capacity.

• the Arctic, because of the impacts of high rates of projected warming on natural systems and human communities
• Africa, because of low adaptive capacity and projected climate change impacts
• small islands, where there is high exposure of population and infrastructure to projected climate change impacts
• Asian and African megadeltas, due to large populations and high exposure to sea level rise, storm surges and river flooding.

Lighting the Way — nuclear power

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

One more comment from the InterAcademy Council report Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future, because there was so much discussion of the nuclear portion.

In the case of nuclear power it is fair to say that understanding of the technology and of the potential developments that could mitigate some of the concerns reviewed above—both among the public and among policymakers—is dated. A transparent and scientifically driven re-examination of the issues surrounding nuclear power and their potential solutions is needed.

Perhaps politicians would be willing to put their anti-nuclear power decisions on hold while we wait for this report?