Saturday, July 13, 2019

Norway report


My wife and I spent 10 days in Norway, so now I'm clearly an expert and have things to say.

Mainly, travel in rural Norway so far does not yet support my theory that internal combustion engine cars will start being inconvenient, at least at the current level of EV market penetration for rural Norway. We rented an ICE car and didn't have trouble finding places to fill up. I did see places for EV charging in rural areas, but I think doing the same trip in an EV rental would've been difficult. OTOH, rural travel and overnight stays in unfamiliar areas without a defined routine and planned itinerary is the worst scenario for EV use. An Oslo resident, hopefully, has a different experience.

The other interesting aspect is how much the public can use private land, matched with how little public land actually exists. My day job in California consists in significant part of getting political support for public land purchases, partly so the public will access and use of the land. In Norway, that's not neccesary - the public has the right to use private land already, short of physically altering it. So there's a lot less public land. Not necessarily a better or worse system, but definitely very different.

We also went to Sweden - I asked my wife's Swedish relatives if a private landowner outside a city could subdivide their land and create a sprawl suburbia (fighting that is an even bigger part of my day job). They said no. I assume that environmental interest groups there would focus more on regulating private land and less on acquiring public land.

Last thing on Norway - they're still eating whale meat and selling it to tourists. Not good on the part of Norwegians (they're not expressing an oppressed indigenous culture, although even that isn't sufficient reason) and inexcusable on the part of tourists to buy it. Aside from that, Norway was wonderful.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Systems Thinking, Lumpers and Splitters, Systems Education

One of Eli's favorite figures comes from the Australian Academy of Sciences and neatly captures the way in which greenhouse gases can be both an initiator and a feedback to global climate

Part of the problem many scientists have explaining such to the average family member and students is that physical science and engineering STEM folks tend to be splitters, aka reductionists, tear something down to the bare bones to understand how it works. 

With a subject that links many areas and ideas together, it simply takes too long to bring folks up to speed on enough parts of the problem that they (to use a 60s word, ask grandpa) can grok the thing.

Peter Mahaffy and colleagues at the King's Center for Visualization in Science are lumpers, establish the connections to teach about the entirety, then learn about the individual parts.  They have a chemistry centered article in Nature Sustainability on Systems thinking for education about the molecular basis of sustainability
The primary activities of chemistry involve analysing, synthesizing and transforming matter, yet insufficient attention has been paid to the implications of those activities for human and environmental well-being. Since a core element of addressing sustain-ability challenges requires attention to the material basis of society, a new paradigm for the practice of chemistry is needed. Chemistry education, especially gateway post-secondary general chemistry courses, should be guided by an understanding of the molecular basis of sustainability. A Systems Thinking in Chemistry Education framework illustrates one way to integrate knowledge about the molecular world with the sustainability of Earth and societal systems
Eli, a splitter to the bone, nonetheless sees great advantages of this approach, not only for climate change but for other issues which impact on the world in general.  There are lots of great points and images in this paper.  They have a great map that brings together the systems involved in the carbon cycle


 The emphasis is on how the systems are linked, us splitters can fill you in on what is in the lumps, oh if you have a few days, but you really almost don't need to know to understand how each part works to have a great understanding of how they work together.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Message to the Several Misbegotten

The Presidents of the National Academies (Science, Engineering and Medicine) have issued a statement on climate science.  In general this may be regarded as a message to Donald Trump and Wil Happer to screw off,

Scientists have known for some time, from multiple lines of evidence, that humans are changing Earth’s climate, primarily through greenhouse gas emissions. The evidence on the impacts of climate change is also clear and growing. The atmosphere and the Earth’s oceans are warming, the magnitude and frequency of certain extreme events are increasing, and sea level is rising along our coasts. 
The National Academies are focused on further understanding climate change and how to limit its magnitude and adapt to its impacts, including on health. We also recognize the need to more clearly communicate what we know. To that end, in 2018, the National Academies launched an initiative to make it easier for decision makers and the public to use our extensive body of work to inform their decisions. In addition, we will be expanding our Based on Science communications effort to include clear, concise, and evidence-based answers to frequently asked questions about climate change. 
A solid foundation of scientific evidence on climate change exists. It should be recognized, built upon, and most importantly, acted upon for the benefit of society.
The statement links to a more complete discussion and references but if you want the elevator speech, Richard Betts' tweet ain't bad

The usual bleat for Planet B went up, but as Eli always points out Planet B ain't necessary.  We have  a ton of lab experiments showing how greenhouse gases in the atmosphere behave under varying conditions of temperature and pressure.  We have spectroscopic models that perfectly match the lab measurements.  We have measurements as well of emission and absorption spectra throughout the atm, that we can perfectly match using our spectroscopic calculations.  We have measurements of solar output.  We have lab measurements of the density of sea water when heated, and models that perfectly match the lab measurements.  We have measurements of the density of sea water on site that again are matched by the lab models.  And on, and on, and on.

For the deniers to be right, ALL of those lab measurements and models would have to be wrong.

Not something to bet Planet A on.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Every year after 2014 will be warmer than every year before 2014

GISS calendar year average above 1951-1980 'baseline':

2014:  .73C
2015:  .87
2016:  .99
2017:  .90
2018:  .82

2019 is coming on strong, possibly a new record. No chance it will be cooler than 2014, and 2014 was above the next warmest year, 2010's .70C.

It's hard to call five-plus years a fluke, and even if it's a cycle, the signal of .2C rise per decade is rising above the noise. Absent a massive volcanic eruption, we're not looking back even to the significant warming that was experienced just nine years ago - we're off in uncharted territory.

Might be something worth betting over for the next time denialists say something foolish.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Mike Hulme Goes Hippie Punching

There is a fair amount of discussion about a blog post by Prof. Mike Hulme in which he starts by poisoning the well, asking

A denier is a person who denies something, “… who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence.” If I do not believe that climate change will drive the human species to extinction, does that make me an extinction denier? For I do not believe that there is good scientific or historical evidence that climate change will lead to human extinction.
Walking along Twitter Street Eli stops to look at the cardboard box that Prof. Hulme has set before him, is shown the Queen of Hearts:
A denier is a person who denies something, “… who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence.” 
A reasonable proposition, think anti-Vaxxers, climate change deniers, moon landing was faked types, but now the shuffle, hey, Eli can win that game, so quick shuffle and what happens?
If I do not believe that climate change will drive the human species to extinction, does that make me an extinction denier? For I do not believe that there is good scientific or historical evidence that climate change will lead to human extinction.
which confuses concerns increasingly raised, with scientific, need Eli say this, consensus.  So Eli would say, here is not good grounds for thinking the good Prof. Hulme an extinction denier, but rather a three argument monte operator of long practice with an array of confederates salting the audience.

A fair amount of paragraphs now ensues, an odd combination of nutpicking, confusion of concerns about extinctions, climate change and the future (if any) of the human race,
Across the Atlantic the American commentator Tom Englehardt has placed humanity on a suicide watch for itself. “Even for an old man like me”, he says, “it’s a terrifying thing to watch humanity make a decision, however inchoate, to essentially commit suicide.” And in David Wallace-Wells’ best-selling book, An Uninhabitable Earth, he claims that climate change is “much, much worse than you think”
Whatever you think of these two statements, they are not the same.  Either one or the other can be true or false.  There are multiple threats to our civilization and to people collectively and individually.  Hulme mashes everything together to avoid dealing with each separately and then looking for connections.  The issues are climate change, rapid extinction of multiple species upon which the Earth system and humanity depend for ecological services and more and the effect that these challenges will and are having on human civilizations and humans.

It's like Hulme only reads the Daily Mirror to get information about what the problems are, the old Newsweek said back in 1975 that the world was going to freeze in spades.  Now, were Eli as young as he used to be, he would romp through the rest of Prof. Hulme's ruminations with glee pointing out the ear spinning speed at which he jumps from one set of issues to another, confusing them to buttress his arguments.  Yes, there is much to make light of, but there are, Eli thinks two important points that illustrate best the what is afoot.

The first is the claim
And finally the rhetoric of climate and extinction does not help us morally. Even if we take these claims literally, the mere fact of human extinction by no means impels us to conclude that the correct moral response must be to prevent that extinction. There may well be other moral demands upon us which take precedence, and yet which we ignore. Why the human species above other species? Why are the future unborn more morally demanding of us than the dispossessed victims of today? Why is suicide the worst sin of all?
identified as moral corruption by Stephen Gardiner, as reported on this blog many years ago in relation to delaying action on climate change
the presence of the problem of moral corruption reveals another sense in which climate change may be a perfect moral storm. This is that its complexity may turn out to be perfectly convenient for us, the current generation, and indeed for each successor generation as it comes to occupy our position. . . By avoiding overtly selfish behavior, earlier generations can take advantage of the future without the unpleasantness of admitting it – either to others, or, perhaps more importantly, to itself.
Many false dichotomies ensue.  It boils down to we can't.  But yet, there is another point which illustrates how Hulme really does not understand the nature of the challenges we face
What climate change means is not ‘revealed truth’ emerging from some scientific script. The political meanings and individual and collective responses to climate change have to be worked out iteratively. They have to be negotiated within the political structures and processes we inhabit, negotiations that can’t be circumvented by an appeal to the authority of science being ‘on our side’. (Of course this must also include the possibility of renegotiating some of those same political structures).
That ship sailed in the 1990s.  It dangerously misses the point that climate change and extinctions are cumulative.  The extinction of a species that is important to the web of life is final.  Others species might arise to fill the niche, but not quickly, and if enough species go extinct perhaps the niche itself will vanish.  That is extremely dangerous. 

Climate change driven by increasing greenhouse gases is cumulative.  We need to get net emissions to zero as quickly as possible to avoid dangerous changes.  The best information is that staying even under 2 C or even going above it for a short time will require unproven carbon storage technologies.

In short iterative is an old man's moral corruption.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Down with pumped hydro storage, Up with dispatchable hydropower!

So here's the post in a single paragraph: dispatchable hydropower is a massive and mostly unused power storage solution available today to solve the problem of power variability from wind and solar. The claim that power storage is technically infeasible is wrong. There would be an economic cost but it's manageable and getting smaller. Environmental issues could also be addressed, especially because power can be dispatched without turning rivers off. Maybe I'm missing something, but pumped hydro storage seems like just a small part of a bigger solution.

My blogpost headline is a tiny bit exaggerated for effect. I have nothing against pumped hydro storage, it's currently the biggest and most cost-efficient form of energy storage, and it'll be some years before electric batteries will overtake them.


Pumped storage might be biggest current storage of power, but it's barely a footnote compared to total hydropower generation. Part of the problem for pumped hydro is that it's difficult to scale because you need a place to put decent sized reservoirs (or maybe two reservoirs, one uphill and one downhill) and you need to construct those reservoirs.

The other reason the description of biggest for current pumped storage might belong in scare quotes is that it's a footnote compared to the need for storage in a sustainable system that doesn't use coal or natural gas.

So what isn't a footnote? Hydropower, generating 16% of the world's electricity. If we stored and released hydropower to make up for the variability of wind and solar that will be the predominant energy sources in 20 years or so, then we'd have a large part of the variability problem solved.

The problem is that hydropower is currently used almost exclusively for baseload and high-demand power instead of dispatch, something that is done almost exclusively for economic reasons. The reasons are understandable - hydropower is some of the cheapest available power and the vast majority of the cost is initial construction while the fuel source is free. So the more power you produce as quickly as possible, the more quickly you can pay back the loans you took out to construct the dam and start earning a profit. To the extent you hold back on power generation, you only do that so you can maximize production during parts of the day when demand and price is the highest.

So okay, but if we have other concerns like not frying the planet, then maybe that should direct when we use the most hydropower and have it happen when wind and solar are not enough. When wind and solar are 50% - 70% of your annual power mix, you still call on those energy sources first on a daily basis and let the water get stored in your reservoir. At night and other low-wind time periods, you let the water out. The storage is so immense I believe it could even cover seasonal issues like the low availability of solar power in high latitude winters.

The economic cost AFAICT is substituting solar and wind power for your very cheap hydropower for baseline and some high-demand power. You still would be able to sell most (not all) of that hydropower but maybe not at as good a price. Yes, there's a cost differential, but it's getting smaller all the time as renewables constantly get cheaper, and again it shows that the storage issue isn't technologically impossible.

Obviously you can't turn a river off and on below a dam, but the flow level already varies quite a bit on a daily basis just for power generation reasons, on the order of 50% or more. Dispatchable hydropower would change why daily flow levels change, but not the fact that daily flow levels already change. Afterbays and dams discharging into still water sections also keep the river from running dry.

Add long distance transmission, less-variable offshore wind, other sources like geothermal and biomass, electric battery, and maybe a little natural gas plus CCS, and it's a sustainable system. Biomass plus CCS gets us to negative carbon emissions.

Maybe I'm missing something. One reason we're not doing this now is we don't need to - there's not enough solar and wind power to make variability a real issue. It will be someday though. Maybe the experts assume hydropower will be dispatchable instead of baseload, but that's not clear to me, nor is it clear why pumped hydropower would get the attention it does.

I do see hybrid systems between pumped storage and traditional hydropower currently happening, like pump-back hydroelectric dams where water released below a dam is pumped back up during periods of extra or low-cost electricity. In Southern California, two existing dams uphill and downhill from each other allow for pumped storage. I imagine this could happen in a lot of places, although it might be even easier to just not release water from the upper reservoir rather than pump it back up, assuming the upper reservoir is not an off-stream reservoir. Maybe these hybrid systems are a transition that will get us to using hydropower more consistently as a backup for wind and solar.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Eli Is Getting Impatient

Those who deny climate change are very sensitive little snowflakes who dislike being reminded that they are deniers.  MT has a nice thread about denial being a denial of service attack, but, reacting with hurt when denial has been pointed out has always been part of the denial toolbox.  Recently Marc (C) Morano got into it with Mark (K) Boslough

Now Eli is not one to avoid calling a climate change denier a denier but this time, the Bunny came up with a good defanger
 And, that being Twitter, Marc (C) came back for another round.  He should not have tho
So here are Eli's suggestions the next time some anti-Vaxxer, climate change denier or whatever starts bleating about being accused of denying the Holocaust and how mean you are for pointing it out
Why are you stealing the sacrifice of those who died in the Holocaust? 
You use the sacrifice of others to deflect criticism of your duplicity 
Another bunch who wants to steal the suffering of the Holocaust victims for themselves.