There are lots of peaks that are coming up in the next few years.|
This is when the production of crude oil peaks. There will still be lots left, but production is less as it gets progressively harder to get at. Historically this happens when about 50% of recoverable oil has been obtained. See Hubbert peak theory on Wikipedia for a primer and The Oil Drum and the The Association for the Study of Peak Oil for more details.
Authorities that I respect give the peak year between 2005-2010, though some oil companies and government organisations give a later date. The exact date is not too important, it is clear that we are already in a regime were the potential demand outstrips supply so that the price has to rise to bring them into balance, there seems little likelihood of increasing the supply significantly in the short term, so minor disruptions to supply (e.g. Prudhoe Bay) can cause a large rise in the markets (although for Prudhoe Bay it does not seem to have caused the price to rise much yet).
Peak natural gas production is likely to occur a few years later.
For five of the last six years grain production has not met demand and the stockpiles have reached a low of 57 days. To put the 57 days in historical perspective, the world price for wheat went up six-fold in 1973, the last time reserves were this low.
Of particular concern is China, where in 2003 grain production had been falling for 5 years China: Falling grain output raises concern
As glaciers melt and aquifers are expended we have more water available now that in the future. Better use of water (most water is used in very inefficient irrigation) and exploitation of remote rivers might stop this being too much of a problem.
The world's population is expected to peak at somewhere under nine billion in the middle of this century. This means that there are only two billion more people to add to the population.
I had thought to start offering my solutions today, but The Independent has a couple of stories on the Amazon, that I feel I have to comment on. They are Amazon rainforest 'could become a desert' and Dying Forest: One year to save the Amazon. |
Last year the Amazon suffered its worst recorded drought, see for example Amazon drought emergency widens,
Amazon drought continues, worst on record and Was the record Amazon drought caused by warm seas?. This year the drought seems even worse:
This year, says Otavio Luz Castello, the water is draining away even faster than the last one - and there are still more than three months of the dry season to go. He adds: "I am very concerned."
Acre, extraordinarily, received no rain for 40 days recently, and sandbanks are already beginning to surface in its rivers.
This could be it, the event that turns global warming from a distant slow burning risk, to an immediate emergency. I suspect that two years of drought would be enough, not three, last year the drying forest caught fire; at one point in September, satellite images spotted 73,000 separate blazes in the basin. This year it could be much worse, the gaps in the forest caused by the fires, together with the area of Wales cut down each year (and a similar area degraded by logging of the most valuable trees), would then push the Amazon over the edge.
Its been a few months since my last Blog entry. In once sense nothing much has happened, oil prices have gone up, climate change effects are talked about even more, climate skeptics seem like they are either out of touch with reality or paid shrills of large corporations. The war in Iraq is still going badly, its not so much an insurgency against the US and British occupying forces as a multiway civil war, but that could have been predicted 3 months ago (and was by many commentators).|
What is even more obvious is how hard finding solutions to the problems is going to be. Kyoto which was really a very modest first step to abate climate change looks like it is going to be missed by most, and possibly all countries. Peak oil is here (give or take a couple of years) and the accompanying price swings are being felt, but there are no solutions, just talk of energy security and nuclear, as though talk will bring about security and wishing a nuclear renaissance will get the plants built and find more high grade Uranium ore than the world contains.
Meanwhile, as world leaders start to take notice of peak oil and climate change, there are many other issues building up, there is not enough food for everyone in China and the rest of the developing world to have a high meat diet like the west. The use of fresh water is unsustainable in many parts of the world, and will only get worse as the world's population grows. Unlike oil and Uranium, there are effectively unlimited amounts of metals and other elements available, all it takes is more energy and plant and then lower grades of ore may be mined and processed, but while they are available, they need not be economically available. That energy and plant cost money (and the resources the money represents) and sooner or later too much effort is required to make the ore economic to mine. Then there is pollution, the destruction of wild habitats (especially tropical forests) the extremely high extinction rate and the acidification of the oceans to contend with.
There is a large and growing democratic deficit in many parts of the world, even many western governments seem to do things against the interests and wishes of the majority of their citizens and get away with it.
So all, in all I'm not very hopeful. However I am not prepared to sit back and do nothing, I am taking steps in my personal life to live more sustainably, I'm seeking to persuade others to do likewise and I have a few ideas about what might be done and the way forward to avoid most of the problems touched on above. Avoiding the problems will be tough, and the steps needed to get through the approaching series of crisis will require sacrificing most of the wests current lifestyle (that seems hard, but it is doomed anyway).
I'll set out some of my ideas here in the next few weeks.
Ive just read "Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate", William F. Ruddiman. A good read, fairly easy and with a good science base by a retired climate scientist. Ruddiman has developed a hypothesis that human agriculture is responsible for a fair proportion of the preindustrial levels of CO2 and methane. Rice cultivation leads to excess methane and cutting down forests for agriculture lead to more CO2. He also noticed that the times of major plagues in Europe and China coincided with dips in CO2 levels of up to 10ppm and the 90%+ die-off in the Americas after Europeans arrived carrying many diseases led to an even bigger drop. Finally there is the current large increase in CO2 and other greenhouse gasses caused by burning coal, gas and oil since the industrial revolution.|
He convinced me about the methane, but I'm not totally convinced by the CO2 increase, humans cutting down forests does not seem to be enough to account for all the CO2 that would need to be generated. I'm also not convinced that relatively small changes in total world population after a plague in one region could have such a large effect on CO2 levels, yes there would be some abandonment of land, but not as much as he suggests.
Although the book has been written in the last 18 months (published last year, contains data from 2004) it is amazing how out of date it already is. He tends to use a climate sensitivity of 2.5 K (although acknowledging that this is quite uncertain). Few scientists would use such a low figure now, most models are showing 3-4 K as the most likely climate sensitivity, but with a probablitity of greater than 4.5 of 30% or more, and a probability of 2.5 K or less of 0-20%. Similarly he takes the view that ice sheets are stable and melt only slowly, while modern research suggests that they can destabalise rapidly due to the lubrication effect of meltwater. Being out of date is a problem with any book in a fast moving field, so inspite of that I recommend reading it.
A year ago the Hirsch report PEAKING OF WORLD OIL PRODUCTION:|
IMPACTS, MITIGATION, & RISK MANAGEMENT looked at peak oil and its potential effects on the American economy. One year on and the weakest part of the report, it not making predictions as to when peak oil will occur is mute. We are at peak oil now give or take a year or so, only time will tell exactly when the peak occured.
Some of the developments the Hirsch report sees as making life in a post peak oil world much worse are listed below:
- World oil production peaking is occurring now or soon.
- Middle East reserves are much less than stated.
- Terrorism increases and concentrates on damaging oil facilities.
- Political instability in major oil producers results in unexpected sustained oil shortages.
- Large sustained Middle East political instability hinders oil production.
They read like a summary of the events of the past year. Perhaps the post-peak world will be even worse than feared.
One thing the report makes clear is that most oil is used in transport, the percentage and absolute amounts are still increasing. The long time required to replace transportation (cars, light trucks, etc.), only about half are replaced in 10 years or more. This replacement costs trillions of dollars. One risk is that an economic slowdown caused by peak oil will not leave enough capital to replace the transportation stock with something more fuel efficient.
When it comes to mitigation options, most of them are on the supply side, which is of cause not good news for global warming.
|» Record Year for Wind Energy|
2005 saw the installation of 11,769 megawatts (MW), which represents a 43.4% increase in annual additions to the global market, up from 8,207 MW in the previous year. The total value of new generating equipment installed was over €12 billion, or US$14 billion. So the average cost of wind installation is $1.2/watt.|
The total installed wind power capacity now stands at 59,322 MW worldwide, an increase of 25% compared to 2004.
In 2005, the European wind capacity grew by 18%, providing nearly 3% of the EU’s electricity consumption in an average wind year. Continuing at this rate of increase 7% of the EU's electricity will be generated by wind in 2010.
See Record year for wind energy: Global wind power market increased by 43% in 2005.
|» Blueprint for disaster.|
I will try and present here my reasons for thinking that global warming is likely to be worse than the optimists hope for and possibly as bad as the worst of the pessimists, and perhaps even worse.|
Let's start with the current situation.
The Current situation
- The current rise in temperature above the preindustrial level is about 0.8C, with another 0.7C in the pipeline due to the thermal expansion of the oceans [note 1].
- About half the world's conventional oil has been depleted 30-40% of the natural gas and less than 20% of the coal [Note 2].
- Current estimates of the climate sensitivity to CO2 have a scientific consensus of 3-4C, it is unlikely to be below 2C or above 6.5C but sensitivities of up to 9.5 cannot be ruled out by the exisiting evidence [note 3].
- Tropical forests are being cut down at a fast rate [note 4]
- Almost all potential high quality agricultural land is in use [note 5].
- Marine fish resources are being used unsustainably, large drops in many commercial fish stocks [note 6].
- Wild caught food - bush meat,etc. being used unstainably and the habitats in which they are found are being destroyed [note 7].
- Fossil water supplies are being exhausted in several regions [Note 8].
- Many regions are using available water resources at full capacity [Note 9].
- The current level of CO2 is about 380ppm, that is 100ppm above the pre-industrial level. If the effect of methane and other greenhouse gasses are include and those of aerosols and other causes of insolation reduction then an equivalent level of about 415ppm [Note 10].
- Recent CO2 rises are about 2.2ppm/year [Note 11].
- The most visible global warming effect are increased melting of artic sea ice in summer and reduction in length of almost all glaciers [Note 12].
- Sea levels are rising by about 3mm/year, most of which is due to termal expansion, but melting glaciers and greenland icecap also play a part.
There is much more that could be said about the current state of the worldenough to fill several books, but this data is enough for our analysis of its problems relating to anthropogenic global warming.
A few general points can be made first; in general we have good data about the state of the world as of about a year ago, it takes about a year for scientific data to be published and analysed. The poorest data tends to be for activities that are illegal or covert, particularly forest destruction and rates of CO2 emissions from such activities as slash-and-burn agriculture and the balance between metane and CO2 removal and production in soils, forests and tundra. We can see the results of production minus removal in CO2 and methane concentrations in the atmosphere, natural climate vaiability means that several years data must be taken together to see trends.
At present most of the Carbon Dioxide increase in the atmosphere is coming from buring of fossil fuels, this can be verified by changes in the isotope ratios of the carbon and oxygen in the CO2. However about 75% of the CO2 released does not stay in the atmosphere but is taken up by the oceans. Much of the CO2 taken up by the oceans is confined to the upper layers that are well mixed, lower layers are replenished slowly over a period of thousands of years by the THC. This is bad news as if CO2 levels were to fall int the atmosphere the oceans would act as a buffer releasing them back to the atmosphere. The lifetime of the CO2 in the atmosphere is often quoted as a couple of hundred years, but a better way of putting it is that the lifetime is approximately 300 years with 25% having effectively an indefinite lifetime (thousands of years). The oceans become less able to take up CO2 as they become warmer and more acidic, some researchers think that they may cease to take up significant amounts of CO2 in the next 50 years [ref ?]. The increasing acidity is bad news for ocean life particularly corals.
At present the biosphere is thought to be a net sink for CO2. This may not always be the case, the ocean biosphere becomes less able to take up CO2 as warm waters tend to have less life, forests are being cut down and the land biosphere thought to become a net source of CO2 with a global rise in temperature of about 4C or 550ppm (Cox 2005) [ref ?].
The GISS global temperature anomally for 2005 is .77C above the average for 1951-1980, which is itself 0.25 degrees above the average for the years 1881-1901. So a temperature rise of something like 1.02C has occured over the twentieth century. Not all of this global warming is due to anthropogenic causes, about 0.9C may be attributed to greenhouse gasses and -0.1C to increased aerosols and other reasons for global dimming. Many times you see a figure of 0.6 degrees mentioned in the literature, this is normally the attributed temperature rise during the twentieth century, a small amount of temperature rise can be attributed before the twentieth century although it is difficult to see in the record, and since 2000 we have had a succession of hot years that have added the rest.
The oceans take much longer to heat up than the land because of their large thermal capacity and make up the bulk of the earth's surface. This causes a lag in the global resonse to greenhouse gas rises, lag means that there is still a fair amount of temperature increase in the pipeline even if greenhouse gas concentrations do not change. Exactly how much extra warming is a matter for research but most studies suggest that a bit under half the warming is still to come (about 0.7C).
Adding the two figures together gives the 1.5C expected rise, with something like 0.2C standard deviation. Past climate variability is the main source of error in the temperature rise to 2005, feedback effects particularly how much long term vegitation and ice cover change will occur are the main sources of error in committed temperature rises.
It has been noted that the amount of oil production follows approximately a bell curve, the maximum occurs when approximately half the recoverable oil is used. The The Association for the Study of Peak Oil estimate that the peak of oil production is this year (2006), the main uncertainty is caused by not knowing how big the remaining oil reserves are. OPEC countries are suspected to have exagerated the size of their reserves.
There are large gas reserves especially in Iran and Russia, as reserves are depleted in a different way from oil, production does not tend to drop until the shortly before the gas field is done. Thus it is likely that production will rise until well past the point at which half the recoverable reserves are gone.
There is lots of coal
Reserves billion tonne % of total
North America 256.5 26.1
Europe 122.0 12.4
Former Soviet Union 230.2 23.4
Asia Pacific 292.3 29.7
Rest of World 83.2 8.4
Coal production increased by 557 million short tons between 1993 and 2003, or at an average annual rate of 1.1%, world total production was 5,406.27
There are great reserves of unconventional oil and gas.
tar sands are mainly found in Canada and Venezuela, the reserve that is deemed to be technologically retrievable today is estimated at 280-300Gb (billion barrels).
Oil Shales [expand]
Methane clathrates in the oceans [expand]
For the scientific consensus see for instance the IPCC Third Assessment Report and RealClimate for Natural Variability and Climate Sensitivity.
The upper limit of the climate sensitivity is not well defined and so high estimates cannot be ruled out ClimatePrediction.net have an upper limit of 11.0 K Uncertainty in predictions of the climate response to rising levels of greenhouse gases (Nature), their latest paper Constraints on climate change from a multi-thousand member ensemble of simulations has a best estimate of climate sensitivity of 3.3K and the 5th and 95th percentiles are 2.2 K and 6.8 K respectively. Chris E. Forest, Peter H. Stone and Andrei P. Sokolov from MIT in Estimated PDFs of Climate System Properties
Including Natural and Anthropogenic Forcings are estimating a most likely value of climate sensitivity of 4.5-5K and a 50% probability in the range 3.5-7K and estimated 90% range of climate sensitivity is 2.4 to 9.2 K.
At the current rate of destruction all tropical forests will be gone in less than 100 years.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 53,000 square miles of tropical forests (rain forest and other) were destroyed each year during the 1980s.
"Tropical rainforests once covered more than 14 percent of the Earth’s land area… they now amount to less than 6 percent." (Tropical Rainforest Coalition, 1996)
The exact rate at which rainforests are presently being destroyed is not known, as there have been no global assessments since 1990. At that time, an area of about 150,000 sq. km of tropical rainforest, equivalent to the size of England and Wales, was being destroyed every year.
In 1996, the Amazon was reported to have shown a 34 per cent increase in deforestation since 1992. A new report by a congressional committee says the Amazon is vanishing at a rate of 52,000 square kilometers (20,000 miles²) a year, over three times the rate for which the last official figures were reported, in 1994.
See for instance "The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat", Charles Clover
Bushmeat is wild caught animals, particularly in tropical countries, it forms a large proportion of animal protein in some countries. More efficient hunting, introduction of roads into forests for logging and other purposes, and increased demand are all leading to an increase of hunting. Habitat destruction by logging and clearing land for agriculture are reducing the potential substainable take.
As well as animals many forests contain fruit and nuts in abundance and wild honey is taken in many areas.
This is important be cause wild caught foods have traditionally been a fallback in times of drought or economic hardship, especially in non-industrialised countries but even in developed countries, where gleaning from hedgerows and forests have formed an inportant food source for the rural poor in the recent past.
Fossil water is water that collected thousands of years ago when the climate was wetter in a region, US mid west, north africa and middle east are examples. When fossil water from aquifers is extracted it is "mined" in the sense that it will not be replaced (except possibly in the long term). Fossil water supplies are running low in several areas.
There are many aquifers that are refilled by seasonal or irregular rainfall. Most (but not all) of these are used sustainably, but often at near their full potential.
Some rivers fed from glaciers have a greater than normal flow, due to the extra meltwater from shrinking glaciers. This extra flow will not last for long. Many of these rivers, including those in South America, India and China are being used at their limit now, decreased flow in the future will lead to water shortages and loss of hydro-electric power.
Available water usage is at capacity over much of the USA, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, India and China.
There is great scope for more efficient use of water, much is wasted in leaks, even more is used for unproductive activities such as golf courses and gardens.
The river Nile has great demands on its flow, countries upstream resent a treaty that gives most of its flow to Egypt, Uganda and Ethiopia have both been accused recently of "stealing" water from the Nile catchment for their own use.
The various greenhouse gasses and particulates and those that tend to counter then are given in the TAR. Global measurements of CO2 are about 380ppm at the end of 2005, up from a preindustrial value of about 280ppm. There is a theory that even in preindustrial times CO2 and methane levels were anthropogenically raised by forest clearance and rice agriculture (Ruddiman).
The increase in 2002 was 2.43 ppm; the increase in 2003 was 2.30 ppm, that in 2004 was 1.5ppm. See the World Data Center for Greenhouse gasses (data plot).
See for instance the discussion at RealClimate.org Worldwide Glacier Retreat and Tropical Glacier Retreat.
since 1992 satellite altimetry from TOPEX/Poseidon suggests a rate of about 2.6 mm/yr with an uncertainty of ± 0.2 mm/yr, IPCC TAR (2001). Sea-level rise estimates from satellite altimetry are 3.1 +/- 0.4 mm/yr for 1993-2003 (Leuliette et al. (2004)). There is an apparent increase to 3.7±0.2 mm/yr during the period 1999 through 2004, see <a href="http://membrane.com/sidd/sealevel.html>TOPEX, JASON satellite measurements of Sea Level Rise</a>.
[TO BE CONTINUED...]
|» For the Want of a Patent the World was lost|
I don't normally comment on other blogs, but if this one "The NiMH Battery Industry Pelican Brief... Of A Sort", is even half true it could mean the difference between blobal catastophy or not.|
So for want of the rights to a patent we won't have Plug-In Hybrids for another 9 years.
|» BBC Climate Prediction Experiment hits 45,000 users|
The BBC Climate Predition Experiment has now passed 45,000 users and still rising rapidly.
|» Patio Heaters|
I've just learned via the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that patio heaters produce 1 million tonnes of CO2 per year in the UK. What a waste, an MP (I did not catch his name) is trying to ban them. Comments from people sitting under them at a cafe where enlightening, basically they said I know about climate change, I think patio heaters contribute to it but I enjoy sitting outside in winter so I don't want change.||