08 December 2008

Not Green = Evil? (Spoiler Alert!)

Team HaraBara has noticed that villains who threaten the environment have replaced S.M.E.R.S.H. and its ilk as the primary threat to world welfare that movie heroes have to overcome.

A recent research expedition to Transporter 3 provided a typical example. Frank Martin must stop bad guys who have kidnapped an environmentally friendly diplomat's daughter to force approval of "reprocessing" of some obviously very nasty waste. While this isn't exactly saving the world, it is important enough to justify the beating up of many unsustainable goons and the killing of several assorted villains and henchmen.

In Quantum of Solace, the new James Bond entry, the shadowy plotters of Quantum are hijacking Bolivia's water in a nefarious plot to control this crucial resource in the region. To do this they commit many evil acts, which Cmdr. Bond repays in kind.

Here are HaraBara's suggestions for further exploiting environmental concerns to justify car chases, explosions and kung-fu:
  • Evil mastermind plans to capture India's monsoon by cloud-seeding over the Arabian Sea, then catching the resulting rain with a fleet of tanker-submarines and demanding exorbitant ransom. Plus, she threatens the hero's boyfriend.
  • Super-secret global organized criminal trust attempts to hold the Middle East hostage by drilling through the center of the earth into all its principal oil and gas reservoirs from cunningly concealed mega-rigs in Bora Bora. Also, they kidnap the widowed hero's teen-aged daughter.
Coming soon to a cinema near you!

[crossposted from the HaraBara blog]

25 September 2008

It's 1968 again! Gore calls for sit-ins

Former Vice-President and Nobel Prize Winner Al Gore called yesterday for civil disobedience to block the construction of coal-fired power plants. He told the audience at the Clinton Global Initiative conference:
  • If you're a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration
He also suggest legal attack:
  • I believe for a carbon company to spend money convincing the stock-buying public that the risk from the global climate crisis is not that great represents a form of stock fraud because they are misrepresenting a material fact. I hope these state attorney generals around the country will take some action on that.
So maybe the youth of today can have a cause as exciting and involving as those in the '60s did. And when you really think about it, global climate disruption is a much bigger issue than the war in Vietnam was. Maybe it will stimulate a hundred times more outrage. Or are the times so different that young people will just shrug their shoulders. Interesting times.

See Reuters report here.

10 September 2008

OpenTrace from Rinen, Inc.

How much CO2 is associated with that beer? An extremely cool application is under development by Rinen, Inc., a Tokyo-based start-up, to answer that question, wherever you are and wherever the beer came from, whether it is in aluminum or glass, or whatever.


OpenTrace is a wiki-based database of information about products which can sum up the embodied environmental impact of products from bread to airplane rides to buses to anything. There is a demo of it here, as presented at TechCrunch50 recently. (The first half of the video is banter while setting up the demo—skip to the middle.)

This CNET article tells more. Still in early alpha, and they are looking for funding, but it could be very interesting if it comes to fruition. They say it will soon be up in demo form at OpenTrace.org.

09 September 2008

T-Shirt Energy Analysis

Have you ever wondered what the total energy consumption of a T-shirt was? I mean counting the production of the fiber (by farming or in a chemical plant), manufacture, distribution, retailing, ownership and disposal? Me neither.
But the Cotton Research and Development Corporation of the Australian government did, and they hired Queensland University of Technology Institute of Sustainable Resources researcher Francisco Javier Navarro to figure it out.

Wet T-Shirts Are Greener Than Dry

He discovered that 75% of all the carbon emissions associated with a T-shirt made, sold and worn in Australia came from washing and drying it over its lifetime. More than half the CO2 came from tumble drying alone. That means you could cut the carbon footprint of an Australian T-shirt in half by hanging it out to dry on the line rather than by using the clothes dryer.

So of all the energy embodied in a T-shirt, about one-quarter is from creating the fiber, making the fabric and manufacturing the shirt, one-quarter is from washing it and one-half is from drying it in a dryer.

I guess that's the opposite of "greenwashing".

(Original QUT press release.)

07 September 2008

How Green is the Large Hadron Collider?

It probably won't cause the destruction of Earth. That would be very ungreen. The latest word on safety was recently published in the online version of J. Phys. G: Nucl. Part. Phys. You can read about it here. But how green is it in other respects?

Well, it is costing between €3.2 to €6.4 billion to build it and run its experiments. It is the largest scientific instrument ever built. How could that money have been spent to benefit the environment?

CERN estimates that the annual power consumption for the collider will be about 800 gigawatt hours (GWh). (It could have been much higher, but the facility will not operate during the winter months.) That's about the amount of electricity used in a year by the country of Mali, or Afghanistan. At 0.5 kg CO2 per kWh, the generation of that electricity would produce 400,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. And that doesn't count the greenhouse gas emissions during construction, or from the manufacture of all the hardware, giant magnets, and so on.

I suppose it will be useful. It's just a question of priorities.

06 September 2008

Gas Costs Tough On Pickup Truck Drivers

Gas Prices Hit Rural Drivers Hardest

map from NYTAn interesting analysis by those clever folks at the New York Times makes clear the uneven burden of motor fuel costs. The NYT presents a graphic which shows county-by-county gas prices, median incomes, and percentage of income spent on gasoline around the U.S.

California has the highest gasoline prices in the nation, partly due to high taxes and special formulations. But since incomes are generally higher in California than in many states in the South, Plains, and North Central regions, the percent of income spent on gas is generally low in California (except rural Modoc and Trinity Counties). Cities, where people have higher incomes and also do less driving, are the spots where the smallest fraction of income is spent on motor fuel.

07 August 2008

Indian Consumers Try Electric Vehicles as Petrol Prices Soar

Tens of Thousands of Indians Buy Battery-Powered Transport

Electric Scooters Could Take Half of Market

"The near-term potential market for electric vehicles in India is five million per year," says battery-powered-scooter entrepreneur Anil Ananthakrishna, Chairman and CEO of Ekovehicles Private Limited of Bangalore. China already produces 10 million yearly and India will be rapidly catching up. Petrol-powered 2-wheel vehicles sell 10 to 12 million units per year in India, so use of electric vehicles could significantly cut fossil fuel consumption over time.

Ekovehicles e-bikes
Mr. Ananthakrishna has been developing and commercializing electric 2-wheeler technology for more than 30 years. Recent increases in the price of gasoline have boosted interest in battery-powered vehicles in India. Ekovehicles sold 15,000 vehicles over the past two years, and hopes to sell as many as 60,000 in 2008. It is rapidly expanding manufacturing capacity and introducing new models.

Ekovehicles is seeking venture capital investment to expand its marketing, distribution, research and manufacturing capacity and to enter additional markets outside India. Two battery companies have already invested.
There are about 65 million scooters on India's roads. Even if some consumers upgrade to cars like the Tata Nano , others will upgrade from bicycles or buses.

Consumers Care About Cost, Not Environment

traffic in India
Although Ekovehicles' products look just like gasoline-powered competitors, and cost about the same, they have much lower fuel costs. Commuting to work on a petrol-powered scooter costs about 50 rupees per day in fuel (US$1.20 or €0.75). Bus fares are 10 rupees each way, and public transit is woefully inadequate in most Indian cities. Electricity to recharge vehicle batteries for a similar trip costs around 4 rupees per day, and in many cases electricity is subsidised or unmetered.

Cost savings is the main selling point of electric vehicles in India. There are government programs both at the federal and state level to subsidize electric vehicles for their environmental benefit (tax exemptions and the like). But consumers do not yet attribute much value to positive environmental impacts. The primary direct benefits are to health, since electric vehicles have no street-level emissions, a particular advantage compared to competing 2-stroke vehicles. If electricity generation in India can increase use of renewable energy sources such as solar, waste-to-energy, and wind, electric vehicle emissions will decline correspondingly. Nuclear power could also contribute to reducing the carbon intensity of transportation if electric vehicles become a significant part of the transport mix.

Additional information of electric scooters in India here .

06 August 2008

Costs of Future Carbon Reductions Estimated by IEA

We Can Cut CO2 Emissions In Half, But It Won't Be Cheap

A new report from the International Energy Agency provides some estimates of the cost of reducing global CO2 emissions 50% by 2050. Their scenarios depend on implementing new technologies such as carbon capture and storage, and involve cost of tens of trillions of dollars. Information about the report is here. The executive summary is here(pdf).

Maintaining Our Current Course Might Cost Just As Much

The IEA's "business as usual" scenario sees oil demand increasing 70%, requiring increased production equal to five times Saudi Arabia's current output. Obviously this would require huge investment, plus imposing much higher oil prices on future consumers. And under this scenario CO2 emissions would rise 130%. Who knows how much would have to be spent on climate change mitigation projects?

So we are going to invest many trillions either way. It is a question of what sort of planet we will have in the end.

(Environmental Leader article)

25 July 2008

India Left Behind?

India recently set forth its National Action Plan on Climate Change (summary and link to whole plan here). It orders the various ministries to submit detailed implementation plans in each of eight mission areas by the end of this year. Although the plan contemplates no specific limits on Indian carbon emissions, and that development objectives have priority over limiting global warming, it pledges that India's per-capita greenhouse gas emissions "will at no point exceed that of developed countries even as we pursue our development objectives." Since India's per-capita GHG emissions are about 2 tonnes CO2equivalent, while the average of the developing world is about 16 tonnes, that seems like a safe bet.

But what if the United States miraculously follows Al Gore's "Generational Challenge to Repower America", and becomes largely carbon-neutral in energy within ten years? That would give Americans per-capita GHG emissions of about 3 tonnes CO2e (more than 85% of U.S. GHG emissions come from energy use). Even if other developed countries didn't do the same, the average of their per-capita emissions would be around 6-7 tonnes. Could India beat that at its current rate of increase in coal-based power?

And consider that such a crash program would make the United States the leader in a whole range of renewable-energy and energy-efficiency technologies, from solar and wind to electric vehicles and public transport. Plus redirecting spending from importing oil to domestic research and manufacturing would have a profound effect on the economy. Paychecks for Americans instead of for Canadians and Saudis.

When do you think India's per-capita emissions will exceed America's?

30 June 2008

RECs, TRCs and Green Tags -- Paying for Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy Has Premium Value--How to Capture It?

Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), also known as Green Tags, Renewable Energy Credits, or Tradable Renewable Certificates (TRCs), are environmental commodities in the United States which represent proof that 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity was generated from an approved renewable resource.

Renewable energy is produced by wind farms, solar farms, biomass energy and waste-to-energy facilities, low-impact hydropower, geothermal energy, and the like. These sources are not usually located close to energy consumers who want access to renewable electricity.

So when the electricity they produce is fed into the grid a REC is created for every MWh delivered. A certifying agency gives each REC, and therefore each MWh, a unique identification number. These certificates can be bought and sold. So an energy consumer can purchase them to cover some or all of its electricity consumption, effectively paying a premium (over its existing electric bill) for the generation of that renewable power.

Pay For the Renewableness Separately From the Electricity

In effect, purchases of RECs transfer money from electricity customers who want to prove they are using renewable power to the producers of such power, in a quantifiable and verifiable way. These payments create additional income for the renewable electricity generator, often making the difference between profit and loss, or increasing profit or reducing loss. The energy user is paying a premium for purchased power, but not through its utility. It pays the premium directly to the generator of the electricity.

The cost of RECs is set in the open market, and depends on the supply of and demand for electricity produced from renewable resources. The recent prices of various RECs are shown at this Department of Energy site.

This is a form of component pricing, common for agricultural products, applied to electricity, which wouldn't seem to have many components.

Level the Playing Field

The cost of RECs can be seen as a voluntary "tax" paid by some energy consumers to compensate for the tax breaks, subsidies, and externalities associated with nuclear and fossil-fuel electricity generation, thus making production of renewable energy economically feasible.

Can RECs Make You Carbon Neutral?

Whether companies which purchase certificates to cover all of their electricity use can claim to be "carbon neutral", at least with respect to electric power, is open to dispute. Most renewable energy projects which issue RECs would not qualify under the stricter Kyoto Agreement rules on "additionality". But there is no doubt that these transfer payments stimulate investment in renewable energy and its increased production.

For more information check this overview at 3 Degrees, and this Wikipedia article.

[crossposted to the HaraBara blog]

12 June 2008

Waste-to-Energy a Winner for India

Rice Husks to Provide Reliable Village Power

picture of winners from UT siteHusk Power Systems, which delivers clean technology to Indian villages, won the Social Innovation Competition at the University of Texas and its $50,000 prize. India Abroad reported that the entrepreneurial team of Manoj Sinha and Charles 'Chip' Ransler, from the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, were judged to have the most compelling new idea to change the world.

The prize is awarded by The University of Texas's RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

Husk Power Systems has created proprietary technology that cost-effectively converts rice husks into electricity. It has developed and installed 35-100kW "mini power plants" in villages of 200-500 households within the Indian "Rice Belt" and offers electricity as a pay-for-use service. HPS has successfully implemented its service in two villages in Bihar, India and will expand its footprint by 20 villages in 2008, 100 in 2009, and 2500 by 2013. The company plans to offset close to 200 tons of carbon emissions per village, per year in India. The sale of these carbon credits makes the project financially feasible.

08 June 2008

Costs of Future Carbon Reductions Estimated by IEA

We Can Cut CO2 Emissions In Half, But It Won't Be Cheap

graph from IEA reportA new report from the International Energy Agency provides some estimates of the cost of reducing global CO2 emissions 50% by 2050. Their scenarios depend on implementing new technologies such as carbon capture and storage, and involve cost of tens of trillions of dollars. Information about the report is here. The executive summary is here(pdf).

Maintaining Our Current Course Might Cost Just As Much

The IEA's "business as usual" scenario sees oil demand increasing 70%, requiring increased production equal to five times Saudi Arabia's current output. Obviously this would require huge investment, plus imposing much higher oil prices on future consumers. And under this scenario CO2 emissions would rise 130%. Who knows how much would have to be spent on climate change mitigation projects?

So we are going to invest many trillions either way. It is a question of what sort of planet we will have in the end.

(Environmental Leader article)

07 June 2008

People Like Green Cars Because They Make a Statement

The smart ForTwo and the Prius

Both the Daimler AG smart ForTwo and the Toyota Prius are selling like hotcakes. The ForTwo has been on sale in the U.S. for about five months, has sold about 9,000 units, and has a one-year waiting list. People really like a car that says "I'm green" loud and clear.

The ForTwo (picture from U.S. EPA) gets around 38 miles per gallon, and only carries two people. The Prius carries four, gets around 46 mpg, and costs about $10,000 more. The ForTwo gets the best fuel efficiency of any non-hybrid sold in the U.S. But the Toyota Corolla gets almost as good mileage (about 38 mpg actual experience), carries four, and only costs $4,000 or $5,000 more than the ForTwo. And you can actually get one. But it just looks like any other car.

A People's Car?

People who want to be different will love the ForTwo. Reviews are generally good, though some reviewers have reservations (Consumer Reports blog (not review); New York Times; Wired.) But all agree the car is cute. Maybe it will catch on like the Volkswagen Beetle did. Green, cute, a statement. (And the ForTwo, while about the same width as the VW Bug, is more than four feet shorter. It's more than three feet shorter than the BMW MINI.) This is a small car like the Beetle was a small car, only more so.

Daimler is working on a hybrid electric version of the ForTwo. And in London they have been testing all-electric ones.

Smart USA site

06 June 2008

What Is Your Ecological Footprint?

We Are Using More Earths Than There Are?

"Humanity's Ecological Footprint is over 23% larger than what the planet can regenerate. In other words, it now takes more than one year and two months for the Earth to regenerate what we use in a single year. We maintain this overshoot by liquidating the planet's ecological resources."

I recently got to hear Mathis Wackernagel, Executive Director of Global Footprint Network, speak at a swissnex event. Global Footprint Network is in the business of encouraging ecological sanity by getting people to think about their "Ecological Footprint". The Ecological Footprint is a resource management tool that measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes under prevailing technology.

Mathis' message, entertainingly delivered, was:
Keeping track of the compound effect of humanity's consumption of natural resources and generation of waste is one key to achieving sustainability.

As long as our governments and business leaders do not know how much of nature's capacity we use or how resource use compares to existing stocks, overshoot may go undetected - increasing the ecological deficit and reducing nature's capacity to meet society's needs.

Check Your Footprint

You can use the tools on this page to calculate your own Ecological Footprint. How much of the Earth's resources, land, air and water do you require to support your lifestyle? What if everybody lived that way?

02 June 2008

South Australian Vintners to Make Green Wine

Australian Food News reports that South Australia's wine makers and grape growers are the first industry group in the Australia to sign an agreement to accurately track and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. South Australia state legislation targets 60% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. The wine makers and grape growers associations have committed to support that goal.

What Consumers (and Tesco) Want

This action reflects concern that consumers and distributors across the globe are beginning to favor wine makers that are actively reducing their carbon footprint. "The UK is Australia's largest wine export destination. Of the nearly A$1 billion of Australian wines sold in the UK each year, South Australian wines make up a massive 72% of that market," said South Australia Premier Mike Rann. "South Australia exports nearly 400 million liters -- or A$1.6 billion of wine -- annually. Put simply, the wine industry is recognizing today that it cannot afford to ignore the planet or their markets." He went on to say, according to the article: "Sir Terry Leahy, the Chief Executive of Tesco, was recently reported saying that he wanted to devise a system of labeling that would enable shoppers to compare a product's carbon footprint just as easily as they can currently compare its price or nutritional value. I am told that Marks & Spencer has similar plans, as does the US shopping chain Wal-Mart."

Will They Give Up the Bottle?

A recent analysis (pdf here) calculated that transporting a bottle of wine from Australia or France to Chicago caused the emission of about 2 kg of CO2. A large fraction of this is due to the weight of the glass bottle.

Transportation is responsible for most of wine's emissions footprint. And I didn't see any analysis in this report about the energy needed to produce that bottle (glass is energy-intensive). Will vintners down under switch to more energy-efficient boxes?

(A post about wine in Tetra Pak containers, and CO2 savings.)

01 June 2008

F1 to Allow "Hybrids" But Not For Efficiency

Recent news articles (like this one) have touted the announcement that some Formula One teams are working on hybrid gasoline/electric cars for the 2009 season. Indeed this is true. The rulebook has been modified to allow electric motors to be added to F1 cars. Some have hailed this as "fuel-saving" technology for these extreme vehicles.

Everybody Wants to Be Green

The key is that hybrid technology will not be used to increase fuel efficiency but to boost power temporarily, for example for passing. The additional weight of motors and batteries can be absorbed because F1 cars typically weigh less than the rule minimum, and carry ballast meet the required weight. This change may make F1 more interesting. In effect it gives cars a "turbo" or "nitro" button for bursts of speed, but not higher horsepower for the whole race. This will introduce a new element of race tactics. But it is unlikely to create technological breakthroughs that will benefit the rest of us. The real challenge for hybrid vehicles is to reduce battery weight and cost, and increase battery lifetimes. This is not likely to be an issue in a sport where cars get three miles to the gallon and go through dozens of tires in every race.

Will NASCAR Be Next?

We can only hope. Maybe then hybrids would gain broader appeal and get Detroit's attention.

15 January 2008

Everyone Has Suggestions For Carbon First Steps

Ten things you can do now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

  1. Lights--Turn off lights when you aren't using them. Motion-sensitive switches can help. Replace incandescents with compact fluorescents.
  2. Transport--Take fewer trips; combine trips. Drive easy (no need to roar away from the light). Drive at the most efficient speed on the highway (probably 55-65 miles per hour). Check tire pressures weekly. Observe service intervals. Substitute shared transport (bus, train, streetcar, carpool) for some trips.
  3. Heating/Cooling--Set thermostat lower when heating, higher when cooling. Open windows when appropriate for fresh air rather than relying on air conditioning. Service heating and cooling equipment to maintain efficiency. Attend to weatherstripping, etc.
  4. Reduce Waste--Keep things like paper and cardboard out of landfills by recycling (or just not using as much). Reduce use of paper in the office (print less; use both sides). Especially don't send food scraps, garden waste etc. to landfills. If your town doesn't collect them separately for composting, lobby to have them do so.
  5. Government--Write your public officials--Let them know they should do something serious about greenhouse gas emissions. Inform yourself on the issue so they can't fool you.
  6. Air Travel--Take fewer plane rides. Try not to take a plane for a trip less than 600 miles. Use web tools for some distance meetings.
  7. Standby--Unplug power adapters and chargers when you aren't actually using them. Turn electronic devices all the way off by unplugging or turning off power strip. At least turn your monitor off when your computer is off (if you can see a little yellow light it is still sucking power).
  8. ENERGY STAR--Look for the ENERGY STAR symbol when you buy new appliances or electronics.
  9. Hot Water--Reduce your use of water heated with fossil fuels. This means washing clothes in cold water, fixing leaks, and taking shorter showers. Consider a low-flow shower head.
  10. Meat--This one is more controversial, but livestock production does account for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. Just reducing the amount of meat we eat could (beef especially) cut our carbon footprints by half a ton or more.
If you take action in these ten areas you probably can reduce your carbon footprint by 25%. That still leaves a lot more to go. Per-capita greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries have to decline by about 90%.

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12 January 2008

How Big Is China?

The scale of China is hard to comprehend from numbers

Chinese Workers from Film Board of Canada http://www.nfb.ca/collection/films/fiche/medias.php?id=53006I recommend a film that gives a sense of it: Manufactured Landscapes. This is a 2006 documentary (imdb link) by Canadian director Jennifer Baichwal. It is built around the work of Edward Burtynsky, who makes large photographs of very large human-influenced landscapes. The film's page is here, and another, with a trailer, here. (There is also a trailer at Burtynsky's site.)

The film isn't just about China. There are some spectacular images of peasant shipbreaking in Bangladesh, mines in Canada, and freeways in Los Angeles. But it brought home to me the incredible scale of the modernization of China. It's sort of the Total Perspective Vortex of movies.

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06 January 2008

Fight Greehnouse Gas Emissions

Global climate disruption requires a global response on the scale of World War II

The generation that was in its 20s and 30s in the 1940s made a supreme effort to resist and roll back German and Japanese aggression. We call that effort "World War II", "the Second World War", "the 1939-1945 war", or "the Great Patriotic War" (Великая Отечественная война). Millions were willing to risk death in combat. Many millions did die in combat, or as civilians in the perils of war. Their leaders were not perfect, but they were (eventually) able to arouse their people to undertake this great task. The generation that fought that fight is known today, at least in America, as "The Greatest Generation".
Query: If the U.S. hadn't sent its youth off to war, and turned its economy to war production, what language would the elite now be speaking in Paris--German or Russian? (There are some scenarios, I know, where they would still be speaking French.)

What does this have to do with global warming?

The dangers posed by global climate disruption are as great as those that generation faced, though admittedly different in character. The danger is less direct and obvious. And it is harder to point to the "bad guys". (But remember that the United States was able to tolerate most of Europe being conquered by Germany, and Manchuria by Japan. There was no political consensus to make big sacrifices until the Pearl Harbor attack. It is interesting to think what might have happened if the Japanese had not attacked Hawaii or the Philippines.)

There will probably be no events comparable to the invasion of Poland, the attack on Pearl Harbor, or the invasion of the Soviet Union to precipitate an all-out response to the threats of climate change. How can we get people to mobilize to take the steps necessary to roll back greenhouse gas emissions and (possibly) avoid some of those dire consequences?
Hurricane Katrina caused the loss of 1,835 lives. At Pearl Harbor 2,333 military personnel and 35 civilians died. The population of the U.S. in 1941 was about 134 million. Today it is about 301 million, more than twice as large. So are we waiting for a disaster that will kill 5,000 before we take action? Or would even that be accepted, discounted or debated to death?

This time it will take money and life-style adjustments, not lives (we hope)

How much money will it take? Several trillion dollars per year. Most of this will have to be supplied by the developed world, even for changes in the developing world.
  • People in the developed world have the most to lose, in terms of reduced consumption.
  • The developed world has the money.
  • The greenhouse gases currently causing the problem were put there by the developed world.
  • That’s only a few thousand dollars per capita if paid for by the 20% of the world’s population living in the developed countries.
  • (To sequester a ton of CO2 could cost hundreds of dollars. The world currently emits about 37 billion tons a year. Say it cost $100 per ton to sequester some and prevent some other emissions, say a total of half of that 37 billion tons. That would cost about $2 trillion. That’s about $1,600 for each person in the most developed countries.)
For comparison, just for the U.S.A.:
  • We have spent more than $400 billion on the war in Iraq. It will probably end up costing close to a trillion dollars before it is all over.
  • We spent about $3 trillion to defeat Germany and Japan in World War II (in inflation-adjusted 2005 dollars) and hundreds of thousands of American lives. (Source here.)
  • We were willing to spend 38% of GDP on fighting World War II.
However, that money will have to be spent effectively. For example:
  • Over the past 20 years the U.S. government has spent tens of billions of dollars to subsidize the production of ethanol from corn, as a substitute for petroleum fuels.
  • That money has gone into the pockets of corn farmers and ethanol producers.
  • Today, after all that spending, the amount of petroleum fuel being substituted by bioethanol is almost zero. Nor has the use of bioethanol reduced our emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • Face it, politicians don’t know how to address this problem. It is up to us.
So here are our choices:
  1. Either get depressed, squabble, prevaricate, and do nothing (or take only token action), or
  2. Get serious, take on this challenge, bear this burden, and be known as a great generation.
If we aren't willing to make changes and spend money, then people in the future may look back and say, "They could have been one of the great generations, but instead they were the ________ generation." (I would be interested in what epithet you might suggest.)

Yes I know the illustration is a WW I poster. I just thought it was apropos.

No offense meant to Germans or Japanese. It's just that the geopolitical situation brought about by their governments in the 1930s and 1940s called forth the effort mentioned above.

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04 January 2008

Should We Do Something About Climate Change?

Here's something worth watching about the uncertainty of global warming

If you can't see the video watch it on YouTube here.

What do you think? What will you do?

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02 January 2008

Do Cow Farts Cause Global Warming?

Cows can digest things we can't, especially including the cellulose in grass and grain. They do this by maintaining cultures of microorganisms in their complicated series of "stomachs" that can break down cellulose. The cows then digest the microbes and the sugars and fatty acids they produce. (Brief overview of ruminant digestion here. If you are interested in delving into the digestive physiology of ruminants in more detail, start here.) Some of these microbes produce methane (CH4). Some of the other microbes can use that methane as food, but a certain amount of it escapes as belches or farts (mostly belches). (Some people have microbes in their guts which produce methane, and thus their farts also contain methane--but nothing compared to the amount cows produce.)

The publication Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2006 (pdf) summarizes the total greenhouse gas output of the US:

Of the 605 million metric tonnes CO2 equivalent of methane shown in the graph, about 115 million tonnes CO2e is from "livestock enteric fermentation"--mostly cow burps and farts. That is less than 20% of the methane load, and less than 2% of the 7 billion tonne CO2e total. Of course raising cattle causes other greenhouse gas emissions.
  • There are about 56 million tonnes CO2e of methane and 55 million tonnes CO2e of nitrogen oxides released from cattle wastes as they decompose. (Some of that methane can be captured and used to generate electricity or heat, while releasing carbon dioxide, a much less potent greenhouse gas.)
  • About 227 million tonnes CO2e of nitrous oxide is released from nitrogen fertilization of soils (30% of it from nitrogen fixed by the crops themselves, not from industrially produced fertilizers).
  • Most of the nitrogen fertilizer used on crops (89%) is used on corn (maize). About half of the corn produced in the US is fed to livestock, a large fraction to cattle, especially dairy cows. So about 50 million tonnes CO2e emissions associated with fertilizer use should be indirectly blamed on cows.
  • (Another large fraction of corn is used to make ethanol as a motor fuel, indirectly causing the release of significant amounts of greenhouse gases in the corn production. But that's another story.)
So cattle are responsible for about 3.5% of US greenhouse gas emissions, on a CO2 equivalent basis. To keep this in perspective:
  • 2% of greenhouse gas production is in the form of methane from garbage decomposing in landfills.
  • Roughly 2% is chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from air conditioners, refrigerators and industrial processes.
  • Other industrial processes (especially cement manufacture) produce about 2%.
  • Burning jet fuel accounts for more than 3%.
  • 12% of greenhouse gas emissions are CO2 emitted generating electricity which is used in residential applications like lighting, TVs, computers, and refrigerators.
  • 17% came from burning gasoline in cars and trucks.
So cow farts and burps do contribute some to greenhouse gases, and thus to global climate change. But they are not a major cause. Nonetheless, improvements in fertilizer use and waste management in agriculture could reduce the cow-related burden on our atmosphere. Reduced consumption of beef and dairy products would probably have little effect. (If half of US consumers cut their consumption of beef and dairy products in half -- and the resulting drop in prices didn't stimulate the other half to increase their consumption, or drive more exports -- it would reduce national greenhouse gas emissions by about 1%.) Maybe this will become more of an issue in the future.

Update 8 May 2012: If you think cow burps are bad, recent research suggests dinosaur flatulence was a lot worse.

Shared from David Wheat's Science In Action blog.