What’s Up?

When it comes to humankind’s influence on global climate, we should pay more attention to what’s really up.

Among other things, what’s up is carbon dioxide. Present levels are 40% higher than they were before the industrial revolution. More worrisome still, levels continue to rise. Rapidly.

Here are atmospheric CO2 levels for the last thousand years, as measured at the Mauna Loa atmospheric observatory, and estimated from ice cores taken at Law Dome:

One thing that’s clear is that CO2 has been rising due to human activity for the last 150 years, contrary to false claims that it’s only been on the rise for about half that time.

Our planet has already felt about half the global warming due to the CO2 we’ve already added to the atmosphere; the rest is “in the pipeline,” and the impact of that extra warming on the availability of food and water is likely to be unpleasant. We’ll be very lucky indeed if we don’t pay a heavy price for the changes we’ve already wrought.

But the most unpleasant aspect of all this is that CO2 levels aren’t just elevated, they’re continuing to rise, at about 2 ppmv per year. And it’s a sure thing that they’ll continue to rise for some time to come. We’ll hit 400 ppmv — already dangerous levels — in about 4 years, and 450 ppmv — an extremely dangerous level according to some of the world’s best-informed experts — in about 3 decades. Maybe sooner. The impact on the availability of food and water is likely to be very unpleasant.

Food and water. Life and death.

It’s time to get real. What are we gonna do about it? What are you gonna do about it? Let’s hear — what are you doing, what do you plan to do, what suggestions can you offer?


92 responses to “What’s Up?

  1. “…what are you doing, what do you plan to do…”

    I plan to build an off-grid house which is somewhat smaller and very much better insulated and more airtight than my current one. I don’t have a plot to build on yet but this is a very real project – the sale of my current house should complete on Thursday at which point I’ll be in a position to look seriously for a site and get other parts of the puzzle in place.

    This is partly a financial matter – having a lower commercial energy dependence is essentially equivalent to having a small (or maybe not-so-small if prices rise as seems reasonable to expect) index linked pension.

    It’s also a political/energy-independence statement – you (i.e., the British government and military) are not invading various countries in my name.

    But mostly it’s a “be the change” action regarding reduction in carbon emissions.

    Obviously the new house won’t directly replace the existing one (and I see no sign that the buyer is likely to do much immediately to reduce the emissions of this house) but I would expect it to offset one of the many thousands of better but still not very good houses likely to be built in Britain in the next few years.

    My longer term goal is to try to gain the experience to do work on control systems to make renewable energy systems in houses run much more efficiently. Current systems seem to be very piecemeal: thermostats don’t look at the weather forecast and so on.

    “what suggestions can you offer?”

    The main thing I think people can do is to plan their lives so they do less travel. Live closer to work. Work at home at least sometimes. Do hobbies and sports, etc, near home rather than travelling away on holiday. Get used to staying in touch with friends and family electronically more.

    • Thermostats don’t indeed look at the weather forecast, but humans do. You’ve probably thought through this already, but I was wondering how you connect the human action to the heating, for example, I am one of those people who finds it easy to check if windows are open or closed, will fiddle with the thermostat if required. By contrast my dad will leave windows open all year round and complain about the big heating bill.
      I get the impression a lot of people just don’t think about these things day to day, so anything that helps them see what is going on in terms of energy use and planning for changes in weather would be good. LIke those things which monitor your electricity usage.

      • Very late reply – been pretty much off-net for a while.

        “Thermostats don’t indeed look at the weather forecast, but humans do.”

        The thermostat in a hot water tank could usefully do so. If it’s going to be dull and calm the next day it might choose to heat the tank over night with cheap-rate grid electricity whereas if the solar panels or wind turbine are going to help with the heating the next day then less or no heating is needed.

        Or it might look at the forecast to see what the spot price of electricity the next day will be which in turn would depend on the weather over a wider area in a country which uses a lot of renewable energy. That’s the sort of thing “smart grids” should be doing.

    • I financially and physically support the Democratic party, which I think is the very best thing I can do given it is the only political force which might influence the behavior of the world’s largest polluter. I post whenever I can to contradict the very active and well-financed disinformation campaign. I’m waiting to buy a Volt. I thought about buying land in or moving to Canada, but upon thought it seems obvious there will be no winners. What more in God’s name will help?

  2. CO2 and methane may have been increased due to anthropogenic factors for 5000-8000 years:

    Click to access Ruddiman2003.pdf

    Without human influence we may have been down at 240 ppm CO2 and continental ice sheets would have started forming now in Canada.

  3. The real possibility is the scenario in which we will burn every gram of fossil CO2 that we can economically get our hands on (except for a few uncommon areas where urbanization or effective land-use policy prohibit it).

    The only real answer to that is to try to deploy alt-e, including nukes, and energy efficiency tech (nega-watts) as rapidly as financing allows. Given the debt load of the Western world, that is in another issue.

    So I vote for those I think will implement, blog the science, share my opinions, and remind myself now and again that the future is untold.

    I have made other, local, adaptations. Nothing original.

  4. I’ve been calling my Senators. That’s the best thing anyone in the United States can do. Call your Senators and tell them you care about global warming and clean energy. Tell them you won’t donate to or volunteer for candidates unless cap-and-trade passes.

    Widely read climate blogs need to be pushing this meme constantly over the next week.

  5. Horatio bought a wood stove a couple years ago and has gotten about 2/3 of heat from wood for the past two winters* (for a 2000 sq foot house in the Northeast).

    *To the uninitiated, that’s a lot of work — cutting trees, splitting logs and keeping the fire stoked. So much that Horatio has actually considered hiring Al Gore to “offset” some of it (at the very least to clean the chimney a few times every winter).

    Horatio is currently pricing wind turbines.

  6. Jay Pettitt

    I’m going to link to this piece by Jonathan Kay, editor of right-leaning Canadian news-paper The National Post, just as often as I can – because I reckon it’s a superb editorial:

    Bad science: Global-warming deniers are a liability to the conservative cause

    “Most climate-change deniers (or “skeptics,” or whatever term one prefers) tend to inhabit militantly right-wing blogs and other Internet echo chambers populated entirely by other deniers. In these electronic enclaves — where a smattering of citations to legitimate scientific authorities typically is larded up with heaps of add-on commentary from pundits, economists and YouTube jesters who haven’t any formal training in climate sciences — it becomes easy to swallow the fallacy that the whole world, including the respected scientific community, is jumping on the denier bandwagon.

    Conservatives often pride themselves on their hard-headed approach to public-policy — in contradistinction to liberals, who generally are typecast as fuzzy-headed utopians. Yet when it comes to climate change, many conservatives I know will assign credibility to any stray piece of junk science that lands in their inbox … so long as it happens to support their own desired conclusion. The result is farcical: Impressionable conservatives who lack the numeracy skills to perform long division or balance their checkbooks[sic] feel entitled to spew elaborate proofs purporting to demonstrate how global warming is in fact caused by sunspots or flatulent farm animals.”

    He follows all that up with some genuinely intelligent writing.

    • It was an excellent editorial. Made me wonder what he’s been doing as the Managing Editor of the Comment section (which has been heavily biased towards denialist arguments for quite a while).

      Made me feel a bit hopeful … but then I looked at the comments below the editorial …

      In the dozens read before I couldn’t take it anymore I couldn’t find a single one that supported Kay.

  7. Phil Scadden

    People concentrate a lot on home energy use but the damage in most countries is from transport. Moving to the countryside and building offgrid house and then commuting to work is going to produce MORE co2 than if you stayed close to work. For NZ, average house energy use of 11kWh/p/d, an extra commute of 8kms is the breakeven point.

  8. Have not flown on an aircraft since 2001.

    By a complex change of employer, home and vehicle, have cut my annual (road) fuel consumption to 25% of my pre-2005 value – and reduced my level of stress as a bonus.

    Hope to be able to telecommute for at least three days per week within the next 18-24 months.

  9. In the NatPost! How about that. . .

  10. I plan to continue my urban low carbon footprint life as normal.

    I don’t have a car. I live in a small studio apartment, with cogenerated district heating. Everything I need is within a couple of kilometers and there’s also a good public transport system available. Easy low-income livin’. Not the lifestyle for everyone, I know.

    I don’t think there’s much more I can personally do; it’s up to the politicians now. Fortunately most of them here in Finland – and in the EU generally – get it, more or less. The progress is just too slow.

  11. Abandoned using a car for most things, switched to vegetarian. But when I do the energy calculations, my household savings of CO2 (four person household) are unfortunately only around 25 per cent.

    The big changes needed are in industry and in agriculture. Household energy consumption is actually not all that big a deal, especially in relatively modern and insulated houses.

    This means that at the coming election in Australia we need to get the Greens the balance of power in the Senate and, with large amounts of luck, the balance of power in the House (very unlikely, but just possible if everything lines up perfectly).

  12. Focusing on a national MSM press comments section. It might not be a bad idea for some more of you guys to take it to the general public more often (John Mashey and Graham Wayne do it) and can be quite an eclectic experience, especially when the likes of The Motl turn up and you get to say “Steven Chu” and “Nobel prize winning physicist” when he tries to big it up with arguments from self authority to impress the laity. Richard North also likes to make appearances beneath Monbiot’s articles and threaten litigation at both him and anyone saying things he doesn’t like about him. It can be a real giggle ;)

  13. Hadn’t flown since 1998, until last summer’s VIA Rail strike forced us to so that we didn’t forfeit a lot of reservation deposits.

    Replaced a 10 year old Subaru wagon with a Prius and more than doubled our gas milage, plus we drive less now.

    Live in a 700 sqft narrow lot duplex in an older urban area with excellent mass transit and shopping within walking/biking distance.

    Insulated and draft-sealed the house, including the basement, replaced all windows with thrermopanes, replaced furnace with high efficiency unit, installed low flush toilets, about to install an on-demand hot water heater and waste heat recovery unit, planted shade trees on eastern and western exposure, left driveway unpaved to capture run-off.

    Purchase our electricity from a provider that generates using only small scale hydroelectric and wind sources. (Our roof is not suitable to solar pv or thermal.)

    Participate in a local volunteer organization that educates the public about climate change and energy efficiency and assists homeowners in refitting their homes to make them more energy efficient.

    Organized two public candidates meetings during federal and provincial elections focussed on the issue of energy use and carbon pricing.

    Stopped buying most imported fresh fruits and vegetables during off season, shop at local farmers markets (100 mile rule).

    Just stopped buying stuff unless we really need it. Repair items when possible, buy second hand if available, d without if we don’t really need it.

    My wife has spearheaded her school’s participation in her board’s Ecoschool program, including waste reduction and pushing for the installation of roof-top solar and ground-source geothermal heating systems beneath playing fields and parking lots. Pilot projects have started.

    I have been lobbying our city councilor to introduce a policy to allow homeowners to use the city-owned street right of way portion of their front yard to drill geothermal wells, and to consider installing geothermal piping in the street right of way itself as a municipal utility whenever a street is being completely repaved.

  14. Well, while we’re sharing. . . got a job within a mile of home (OK, there was some luck involved, but (not) commuting was definitely part of the equation), upgraded our household fuel economy, don’t use our AC, installed rain barrels to collect water. Have used wood as main winter heat source, use CFLs wherever practical (they don’t hold up well in ceiling fans, I find.) Installed low-flow toilets.

    (My article on how to do that is here, if you’re contemplating such a project yourself.)

    Joined a CSA organization to support local growers–though that’s lapsed and we now need a new source of local food. Aim to reduce meat use by planning several vegetarian meals weekly.

  15. Lamont // July 18, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Reply
    Without human influence we may have been down at 240 ppm CO2 and continental ice sheets would have started forming now in Canada.

    If we take the above statement at its face value, then that means that the Earth’s climate is *extremely* sensitive to perturbations in CO2 forcing. It follows that the implications of allowing CO2 levels to go to 400 PPM and beyond are likely to be profound.

  16. I combined two households into one, replaced the major appliances with higher energy efficiency ones, and installed ceiling fans to reduce the need for air conditioning (none of the contractors doing the work accused me of hurting the economy:)). My wife telecommutes. We bought a hybrid high-mileage car (Honda Civic).
    I want to install solar panels, but can’t afford to right now. Not long ago a sales person for solar offered to run the numbers based on my electric bill that will show when I’d recover the cost of the solar panels. After computing from our bill,he admitted we wouldn’t recover our costs (and that we were not typical).
    I do my best to tell people that there is a credible scientific community that they should be aware of and listen to. I’ve added a climate section to my astronomy program I share in schools. This has prompted many good discussions.

  17. I confess that this summer I’ve traveled by car about 5000 kms, the longest distance ever for one year (during adulthood), but as my car usage during the previous 5 years is about the same (total), I thought I had some offsets.

  18. Replaced the electric hot water with a solar unit.
    Replaced 200w of halogen downlights with 36w of LED units (expensive, not as bright, but 164w less draw for the most-used lights in the house). Bought 5-star rated whitegoods & TV when the old ones were needing replacing (again, cost a bit more). Hoping to get PV on the roof, but with a baby on the way, that might have to wait a while.

    Try to impress on everyone I know the importance of reducing greenhouse emissions, and the scale of emissions at the moment (2,000 gulf oil spills every day!).

    Encourage people to vote Green in the upcoming Australian election (as Labor say “no action until 2013 at the earliest” while Liberal say “no carbon price ever”).

  19. Tapani L: I don’t think there’s much more I can personally do; it’s up to the politicians now. Fortunately most of them here in Finland – and in the EU generally – get it, more or less. The progress is just too slow.

    BPL: If the politicians in Finland “get it,” tell them to repeal all the exemptions they’ve issued to industries to get around the Finnish carbon tax!

    • As long as there are politicians, they are going to be fiddling while the world burns. We’re no better.

      Exemptions is one case where the timidness of politics is evident: politicians afraid of hurting the industry, because it might backfire – maybe somehow, somewhere, a paper mill or two might close. That might hurt. They don’t know, and they hate not knowing. So they fiddle a bit. Maybe they rearrange the deck chairs to get industries on the front row.

      One can still hope the ship we booked our climate change trip on ain’t the Titanic.

  20. We’ve had insulation blown into our front and back walls (it’s the middle unit of a row house, so the side walls are irrelevant). We always turn off the lights exiting the room, usually dry clothes on the line and not in the dryer, use all CFBs instead of incandescent bulbs, turn off surge suppressors when we’re not using the appliances they’re connected to (except the one for the cable modem, which has to stay on 24/7 for the phone), and we drive a Kia (sedan, NOT SUV). Within the speed limit.

  21. Chris O'Neill

    We’ll hit 400 ppmv — already dangerous levels — in about 4 years

    Another unfortunate milestone that is even more imminent is the CO2 level reaching half a doubling, i.e. 1.414 or the square root of 2 times the pre-industrial level. This is about 396 ppmv and will arrive in 2 or 3 years. If the climate sensitivity is 3 deg/2xCO2 then 1.5 deg C of warming is virtually inevitable.

  22. Phil Scadden: “Moving to the countryside and building offgrid house and then commuting to work is going to produce MORE co2 than if you stayed close to work.”

    Indeed. It only makes sense if you mostly work at home (as I, for example, have for the last 20 years).

    David Gould: “Household energy consumption is actually not all that big a deal, especially in relatively modern and insulated houses.”

    Though household use is not a large proportion of total usage it’s still large compared with the average westerner’s “fair share” of the total CO₂ absorbing capacity of the planet.

  23. Andrew Dodds

    I hate to sound negative.. but..

    When I hear people going on about what they have done, however significant on an individual level, I tend to think –

    (a) Would this approach have even a remote chance of scaling to the degree needed, and
    (b) Does it actually achieve the reductions required?

    These are serious considerations. For example, it just isn’t possible for everyone to live close to work, or for everyone to have solar heating/PV systems. And reducing household energy consumption by, for example, 40%, is great but does not alter the overall picture much. Indeed, some proposed mechanisms, such as removing standby electric loads, could actually end up increasing emissions under some scenarios.

    Another problem with ‘20%-40% reduction ‘ plans is that they can sometimes actually block ‘99% reduction’ plans. CHP is a classic – you may save emissions overall, but you now have a serious investment made that would actually block moving to a zero-emission solution. As another example, replacing an old coal fired power station with a new CCGT natural gas station looks good for emissions in the short term.. but you now have to run that power station for decades to make back the investment. And as the gas will have to come from more distant and energy intensive sources, lifecycle emissions will rise.

    The fact is that individualist approaches, however apparently laudable, have made no appreciable dent in emissions on the scale required. Even when – as in Germany – there has been massive government support.

    The only way that emissions will ever be reduced on the scale required is not on the consumption side, but on the supply side. The question is not ‘How can we reduce electricity use a bit?’ but ‘How can we *completely* decarbonise the electricity supply’? And not ‘How do we go from 20 to 30mpg car fleet efficiency’, but ‘How do we provide transport fuel with no net emissions?’.

    If we are serious about tacking global warming then it has to be about stopping the burning entirely, not ‘burning a bit less’.

    • Horatio Algeranon

      “If we are serious about tacking global warming then it has to be about stopping the burning entirely, not ‘burning a bit less’.

      That’s true, but energy efficiency improvements and other conservation measures are a “bridge’ that can make that conversion possible.

      In fact, the conversion (or at least certain ‘versions” of it) might not even be possible without conservation. At the very least, conservation can expand the options considerably.

      And the attitude change that usually precedes the individual changes in energy use is probably the most important change of all.

      We are really talking about a “revolution in thinking” and many (if not most) of the really far-reaching revolutions have started with individuals.

      Attitude changes really have to come before everything else.

      Unfortunately, those who have been sowing doubt about climate change understand this all too well. They ask people “Why should you change your individual lifestyle — “make yourself poorer” — when climate change has not even been proven?”

    • Points taken–but it’s not clear that various actions so far haven’t made an “appreciable dent,” AFAIK, at least. What would the trajectory have been without them? And do we know even the magnitude of the actions we’re talking about? It may well be that we are in fact less deep in the soup that we otherwise would have been.

      But the larger point–that systematic, large-scale action is desperately needed–no-one here will contest, I think.

  24. And it has to be about stuff we cannot do individually. Like mass transit provision and urban (suburban) planning matters.

    What we do have to do is say -out loud- that it is OK for the government to run (or subsidise) trains, buses and trams running empty half the time until people accept that the next will be here in 15 mins or less. And then they’ll use them happily, maybe even profitably.

    We’ve had solar hot water for over 20 years and we have a rainwater tank. We have no a/c or swimming pool. One of the problems for installing full solar panels is that our current power bills (like our income) are so low.

  25. Andrew Dodds is correct.

    However, that doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do. A few people have mentioned better home insulation. That’s the low hanging fruit of emissions reduction. We need to encourage large scale insulation programmes.

  26. John McManus

    We have changed our fuel source from oil to wood. Here in Nova Scotia heat is a big factor, but wood cut to allow our neighbouring farmer to grow blueberries seems a decent alternative. We still use oil for hot water but have gone on demand by wiring a switch upstairs. We only use the water heater for 10 minutes when we need it.

    I haven’t had a real job for at least a dozen years. I don’t have to drive to work: it saves $4000 a year plus the clothes, lunches, birthday cakes etc. And it’s great having time. All I had to do was stop wanting stuff and that was easy. Fewer trips helps. Its a good week when I only drive out of the yard once.

    My 2k wind turbine powers the household minus the stove and furnace fan when the wind blows. I’m working on a lower amperage fan motor.

    We have a small swimming pool that heats up well with a solar panel. The power from the turbine should offset the power used by the filter pump.

    Our lawn may be too big, it takes 3 1/2 hours to mow but I converted a riding mower to battery power last season and made photovoltaic panels to charge the batteries this summer. I can mow the lawn in 3 segments about 2 days apart solely on solar in a good sunny week. Even charging from the mains, it only takes 80 cents of electricity to do the lawn. Gas used to cost $4 to do the same work.

    We have done the usual with light bulbs, appliances( we bought a dryer 4 years ago but have only used it once) cold water wash, tuerning stuff off and average about 11.5 kwh per day year round.

    We are eating less and less meat all the time.

    I have a donor vehicle coming and the parts on hand to build an electric local use truck. The solar panels for the truck are half done and I hope to get a free trip to the beer store once a week ( 20 km round trip). I’ll probably want more solar panels and integrate the truck batteries, solar and wind batteries into a multi use system.

    None of these things is difficult and some of it is fun. I drive my battery powered riding mower past the solar panel for the pool, look up at the spinning blades of the turbine and figure I got the world by the ass.

    Remenber, every dollar you save is $1.20 you don’t have to earn.

  27. I could also add that I’m proud of a few things my employer did: deployed energy monitoring systems (of our own design) and used them to identify low hanging fruit such as interior lighting, insulating windows, which chillers and compressors were the least efficient, etc. This isn’t a commercial, so I’ll keep the name to my self, but we’re now marketing these energy monitoring systems. Also, our products were used in the control system for a wind power-to-hydrogen fuel prototype.

  28. Vote.

    Tell my students to register and to vote. (I see about 200 per year.)

    Continue to offer a public lecture each semester for NY residents.

    Finish my Climate Change Impacts section (in progress with pieces being added to my blog before going live on my GWMM site.) This research scares the bejesus out of me!

    Keep trying to be greener (already done: CFLs everywhere, solar lights outside, oil burner set to 150/130 down from 180/160, new insulation. Next: new windows.)

    Continue working with UN-backed filmmaker Ike Karnick on his “doom and gloom” film. Stay tuned.

    Pursue grants to educate high school teachers about climate change (fingers crossed on the last NASA submission.)

    Write to media often. (BTW, I have a list posted for various media resources)

    Keep remembering that my children come before my climate change activity. :)

  29. @ Andrew Dodds, I quite agree that individual personal actions are only a tiny step, which is why I do the latter things that I listed: actively work to encourage and help others to reduce their energy usage, actively work to convince & pressure municipal, provincial and federal politicians to take large scale action, both of which leverage and multiply my own individual actions.

    If one doesn’t do the latter then the former is next to useless.

  30. About transportation – depending on how far you’re traveling, traveling by plane may be better than other options. Roads and rail have much higher infrastructure costs that should be considered, and the source of the electricity for electric rail needs to be included. There was a great paper on the complexities of transportation that I reported on here: http://www.scholarsandrogues.com/2009/07/20/planes_trains_or_automobiles/

    Also, replacing a vehicle may not make environmental sense depending on the age of the vehicle being replaced – you have to get over the energy costs of creating the new vehicle before it starts to “pay for itself” with respect to CO2, NOx, SO2, etc. emissions.

  31. Things I do.
    Live within 3 miles of work.
    Hang cloths on the line instead of using the dryer.
    Bicycle or walk instead of using the car.
    Replace all standard light bulbs.
    Drive much less.
    Set the thermostat hot in the summer (79 F) and
    cold (66 F) in the winter.
    Get electric lawn mower.

    Things I should do.
    Replace the double pane windows with triple pane,
    Solar Hot Water.
    Push harder for collective action.

    • Hang cloths on the line instead of using the dryer.

      We do this also but I suggest asking your neighbors first. They will never say no 9if they like you) and then once you do so they cannot complain. :)

      The only drawback is that the towels can be a bit “crispy” but the clothes smell great.

  32. VeryTallGuy

    1. Cycle to work and have ditched the 2nd car as a result
    2. Don’t do flying holidays any more
    3. Reduced air travel at work as far as possible commensurate with keeping my job (need to do more though)
    4. Insulated the house, installed proper thermostat and turned it down.
    5. Do talks with schoolkids to explain the science (influence of the media on them is deeply depressing)
    6. Use freecycle instead of buying or binning stuff
    7. Realise this is nowhere near enough, but also that setting up outside of society is unlikely to achieve much either; we need to be personally in advance of society in general but part of the mainstream rather than apart from it to influence change. This sounds rational but may, of course, be cowardice on my part.
    8. Agree with commenters above that governmental and wider societal action is critical to long term success; equally I’d argue that a little personal action goes a long way as well.

    Off now to read the quote on solar water heating for the house; living in England I’m skeptical but may be converted.

  33. Phil Scadden

    I thought I would also mention a workplace initiative too. We share office with group from another research institute, (Landcare Research, stand up and be proud), who started a sustainability group for the office. This is a very good model. It works much like a health and safety or an employee productivity group. Group meets say monthly to begin with and looks for opportunities to improve sustainability. We dont just look at energy, but also rubbish, water, etc. Most suggestions actually save money so it has strong management support.

    The model was picked up by our institute too and runs in all our offices. Landcare promotes the model to other organisations who often visit us to see how it is done.

    The biggest outcome has probably been from installation of vid conference software and hardware all over the place. Since everyone here is a branch office of a main organisation we really appreciate the vastly reduced need to travel with all its time-wasting as well as energy cost. Lighting improvements, solar hot water, and changes to vehicle fleet would also contribute.

    Since BIG saving can be made at workplaces, I would heartily recommend this approach. I am happy to provide more info if others want it.

  34. I do many of the basics above:
    – haven’t flown since 1992
    – done what we can on heating and insulation, though we live in an old (250 years) house
    – commute to work by 125cc m/c, 120 mpg, and don’t own a car – I’m thinking of going for an electric m/c when my current bike dies (anyone got advice on this?)

    Maybe more important is the impact I can have through work – I’m a teacher and can do something, not much, to raise awareness. But also I can influence the way the organisation is run. No-one really has time to look properly at our energy use, but we are beginning to do so. This can have a much greater impact than my actions at home. For example I’ve lobbied for a change in trips policy – now if anyone wants to take a trip by plane they need to be able to justify it fully. If one ski trip goes by coach to France rather than plane to the US this will probably do more than every action I can take personally for the rest of my life.

    I don’t really understand this argument that personal actions won’t have any impact. No, our actions won’t change the world, but if we’re not prepared to take those actions then the world won’t change. Or rather, it will!

    In the past I’ve argued quite vigorously on blogs, less so now. I tend to spend much time reading and nodding, occassionally dipping into the cesspits then rushing back to places like this to cleanse myself. Coward. I should be making more effort to start conversations in my real life too, but people don’t want to hear, so I feel that I’m just waiting….

    In short, not enough, so thanks for the question.

  35. What I do…

    I live within walking distance of downtown Seattle — I love being able to step outside and see the skyscrapers. I was within walking distance of the school that I was going to.

    If I manage to get a job in downtown Seattle, wherever it is at, chances are I will be walking to it — because I enjoy walking. And if I get a job in Bellevue, Kirkland or Redmond? It’s the bus. Went to an interview today in Bellevue and it took half an hour to get there. I could have cracked open my laptop but instead just listened to my music and enjoyed the view.

    I walk to and from the grocery store — and we are trying to get in the habit of using the cloth bags. We’ve got the bags but sometimes forget.

    And being that we live in a major city we are only a few hops from the supplier of whatever it is that we buy. What comes into the city comes in large quantities that lowers the shipping costs both in terms of money and carbon. Like riding the bus.

    I pretty much always buy used clothes — although that is mostly because I’m cheap. However, I have gotten some pretty good deals. Over twenty different suits, each for twenty dollars or less.

    One which cost twenty dollars was a tailor-made silk suit that shined like steel armor and fit like a glove — before I gained a few pounds. Wearing a full length leather coat over it (which I likewise got used), a few days before the WTO riots somebody actually asked me whether I belonged to a band.

    Somehow I don’t think he meant grunge. Low carbon, high class. But if I go to work in Bellevue or Redmond there won’t be much of a call for a suit.

    Being that we live in Seattle, we live in a temperate climate. The summers usually aren’t that warm, and even in January you can usually expect to see flowers in bloom. Snowstorms aren’t that common.

    So we may have need of heating but not as often as in other climates. And we usually don’t have any need for air conditioning. I admit it might be nice — but only on occasion.
    “Collective” action?

    What I advocate for the most part is a revenue neutral carbon tax. Tax and rebate — essentially what Hansen advocates. Tax the companies that sell fossil fuel then take the full amount and give it back to the consumers as money that they can spend however they see fit.

    If they spend the money on the very same fossil fuel that they were buying prior to the tax then they aren’t doing any better or worse than they were prior to the tax. However, if they choose to spend their money on alternate energy that energy will be comparatively cheaper and they will tend to come out ahead. Moreover, they can expect to do somewhat better under such an approach since businesses only pass on part of the cost of a tax.

    And I try and help out one way or another online. Sometimes though I worry that I may be spending a little too much time preaching to the choir or arguing with the ideologues while playing wackaloon. Not that much different from when I was on the evolution front of the war on science arguing with the young earth creationists.

    • Andrew Dodds

      To continue the curmudgeonly behavior..

      Carbon taxes are fine in principal.. but..

      First, they have to take account manufacturing displacement. If a carbon tax simply means that your cement factory relocates to a country with no carbon tax, it’s done nothing but cause political damage. Even more freakishly, you could have a situation where a power company builds it’s coal fired plant in the closest non-carbon-taxed country and builds the HVDC lines to compensate.

      Hence: Either a simple carbon tax suddenly has a whole lot more bureaucracy, or it has to be global (good luck getting BRIC signed up on that), or it will simply displace emissions.

      • Yes, that’s my concern about carbon taxes, too: that nations are the relevant jurisdictions, and therefore without effective international agreements, carbon taxes may indeed be ineffective, or even counterproductive.

        And effective international agreements have, sadly, been damn hard to come by so far.

      • Phil Scadden

        While not necessarily arguing for carbon tax, I think that there is a way around your difficulty. The aim here is get carbon down which means getting consumer behavior change which then drives industry decision. So I would imagine that carbon tax would work something like our Goods and Service tax (GST)- only paid by end user not businesses. So the tax is on the bag of cement at the hardware store regardless of country of origin, not the cement company. If the cement is used to make a house, the cost moves to the house owner. Ditto for electricity – if generated by fossil fuel it is charged consumer of electricity – though this time it could be business or industry – regardless of electricity origin. And yes its a pain – GST is a pain as everyone pays it when buy and claims back if onselling, but it does work.

      • OK. But then how do we assess the carbon intensity of the item in question?

        Presumably we want to tax less carbon-intensive cement to a lesser degree than we would more carbon-intensive cement. Otherwise, we would seem not to have an incentive structure going at all.

        Wouldn’t this become rather a nightmare to track–especially if attempted by one nation unilaterally?

  36. I think I did all the big items I could: moved to cut my commune from 1.5 hours to 15 minutes. Switched out a 1996 Oldsmobile for a 2010 Honda Fit. Trying to do all the little things now like use the AC less and walk more. I’ve switched over to all green power, but still trying to reduce as much as possible.

    But I’ve been itching to do more tree planting. It’s the only available way I know of right now that draws down carbon without potentially screwing the ecosystem even more unintentionally. It’s a little thing, but every time I see an open field not being used for anything I would love to just plant something.

    Reading everyone’s suggestions has been very inspirational. I can see where I need to do more in more public arenas like writing to my Senators at this point. Both small and large scale measures are going to be needed here.

  37. David B. Benson

    Lamont // July 18, 2010 at 4:59 pm — Most uncertain that the conditions triggering a glacial would have been met in the alternative universe without (significant) anthropogenic influences. The reason is that orbital forcing has, after a minimum about 2000 years ago, begun increasing again putting off the next attempt at a stage (massive ice sheets) for about 50,000 years.

  38. Andrew Dodds, there is a very simple solution to emissions displacement: an import duty on goods from no-carbon tax jurisdictions equal to the evaded carbon tax.

  39. Gavin's Pussycat

    Hmm. Got a air heat pump in our countryside home. Heat with wood from our own land in winter anyway. And a smaller car (looked at a hybrid, but too expensive back then).

    But these private initiatives won’t cut it on their own. So I am also involved with science outreach, popular science and blog activity. Much, much more of this is needed, by those in a position to know and explain the science.

  40. John McManus

    There are things out of my control, but how am I going to talk a political candidate to the green side if I haven’t made any effort myself.

    Business uses as much power as residences do and government is probably at the same level. Eliminating the military would save enough to let me put baseboard heaters on the outside of my house.

    I will only vote for a party advocating a carbon tax. This is the only way I can see to drag industry kicking and screaming towards savings. As for our politicians playing soldier, peak oil may take care of General Problem.

  41. I bought ten acres of temperate old rain forest in the mid-1970s (Thoreau: ‘the measure of a man’s wealth is what he can afford to leave alone.’) — and have left it alone, watched by reliable people (caught one timber thief); hired a biology grad student to do a baseline flora and fauna; had the stream inventoried; talking to local conservation groups /land trust to find a way to hand it on.

    I got offered $30,000 for a carbon sequestration contract on the rainforest acres last year, to commit to leaving it in trees for a century, by a group that would then sell the right to burn that much fossil fuel to somebody. Didn’t take it — I figure I’ve burned something like that much carbon already. Trying to figure out how to put it on some books somewhere as an _already_used_ carbon capture commitment, not one available to be sold off. Ideas welcome.

    Though if some well off conservation-minded person wants to buy 10 acres near Sequim of almost-old-growth (some of the trees are 5′ diameter at breast height), and commit not to stripmine it, I’ll talk. Rich people can benefit from donating land; my little income is too small to get much benefit from a “tax-break donation” of land.

    20 years ago, after a huge forest fire on one of my favorite mountains, I bought 40 acres of burnt-over mountainside, a little old former hunting camp. I talked to forestry and hydrology people (found it was typical of the surrounding Nat’l Forest area, with about 2/3 of an inch of topsoil left, down from more than a foot a century before — logged, grazed by sheep, logged again, badly eroded). And I realized, it was going to either go to gravel on my watch as many similar burned-over areas did, or get turned around. Everybody needs a hobby.

    First help I found was via Usenet — Spanish foresters who knew even then that global warming was happening and they were anticipating wildfires and erosion, and starting to do terracing and lots of little things to capture runoff and silt. I did them. They worked, dramatically. We trained crews who worked for agencies later on fire restoration and applied the same ideas, and got them adopted. Little stuff that you can do by hand that you can’t do with a bulldozer, to break up sheet flow of wind/water/snow and turbulate the flow so the silt is dropped instead of carried off, and seeds can germinate. Stuff the USDA/Forest Service is now starting to do a few decades later. Thank you Usenet.

    People in several agencies had suggestions what to do — great ideas, many of them things they wished their own agencies would do! I followed good advice, got it started on a 200-year path back to a shaded canopy of big trees that can burn gracefully without a conflagration. We’ve had a couple of little lightning fires since I got started that confirmed we are doing the right things, clearing ‘fire ladders’ and discouraging the invasive fire-loving grasses. The Forest Service is setting up a longterm prescribed burn for the surrounding forest, which will help the larger area recover as our heavily hand-managed acreage has been doing. Brought in a local biologists who hired local high schoolers to do a flora (upwards of 300 species identified).

    Working to find a handoff for that property as well, for the longer term.

    Yeah, we have a ’69 Dodge V-8 and a couple of 4wds to get _to_ the property; some of the gullies on the road in are waist deep this year. You want wildland to work on, you gotta go there. We drove 8,000 miles last year total, all vehicles combined. Big engines for real work. Buy’em used and maintain them. Public transport and walking around home.

    Best reference:
    The Earth Manual: How to Work on Wild Land Without Taming It
    Malcolm Margolin
    ISBN 10: 0930588185 / 0-930588-18-5
    ISBN 13: 9780930588182
    Publisher: Heyday Books
    Publication Date: 1995

    Buy it used (get the 2nd edition, not the 1975). Give it to kids. They get it. We’ve been taking kids camping up there and working on the restoration with them for a long time.

    Looked into solar electric — but we use so little electricity, all in the lowest rate tier, that adding solar would literally double our monthly cost for 20 years til it was paid back. I’ll wait til we next re-roof and put in solar hot water, which makes a lot more sense.

    Going mostly vegan — did it for 2 weeks to save weight while camping, cooking with a solar oven mostly, and felt great and lost a _lot_ of weight. When we got home, we looked at the scales and decided to stay off the fat and oil. Best source: http://efaeducation.nih.gov/

    Big change, wish I’d done it 20 years ago.

    • Hank, that is freakin’ awesome (I work with younger folks a lot.)

    • I have found that the best way to ensure that your vision for your land is realized long term is to split the property right into a fee interest and an easement. The fee you keep, or pass to your heirs, or give to a local open space trust that will maintain trails etc. The easement you give to a to a carbon credit organization as already-used carbon credits.

      Note: this costs you money. No one wants open space land any more without the funds to manage the land.

      Note further: there are umpteen alternatives regarding use of the land, means of financing the maintenance of the land, etc. It all depends on your goals, your finances and what land is around you.

      You’ll need a land use / conservation lawyer licensed to practice in the State where the property is located.

      p.s.: yes, I am a (now-unemployed, thanks to the Great Recession) land use lawyer. But I’m only licensed to practice in California. I’d be glad to share my thoughts further if you’re actually interested.

      • Francis, what is the best way to find a land/conservation lawyer in our state (KY)? We moved to 10 acres here in western Kentucky 23 years ago and built a passive solar house to live in.

        At the time we moved here the land was all in corn and hay. My wife and I (mostly her) have spent the last 20+ years grubbing out non-native invasive plants and encouraging native trees and shrubs. It is now all forest. We would like to get a conservation easement set up to protect the trees after we’re gone.

  42. What am I doing? Well, since I am a chemical process engineer with years of prior experience with a major oil company working on scoping designs for major energy projects (many years ago), I decided in 2007 to review and analyze green energy technologies and work on promising technologies on my own dime.

    I currently am trying to finish a preliminary design for a concentrated solar power plant integrated with solid media thermal energy storage systems (similar to TES systems developed by the German aerospace agency DLR). My design uses several types of solar thermal collector systems, but is particularly suited to linear Fresnel solar collectors currently in early commercial development at several companies.

    I also have developed power system designs that could have widespread applicability if the new Engineered Geothemal Systems (EGS) becomes commercially proven for recovering thermal energy from HDR resources. I have three patent applications in various stages covering the basic process configurations that I have developed.

    Currently I am seeking some funding support from private industry in order to quickly commercialize these designs, and possibly to qualify for DOE funding proposals.

    Many in my family, many of my friends, and my most important industry contacts, have tried to dissuade me from working on these projects, primarily because of the substantial cost and commitment required. I read your blog (and similar blogs) quite often, as they keep me “juiced up” to continue the work. This is essentially a seven day a week job, and it is hard to stay on task, month after month, and year after year…

    In a way, I blame Dot Earth, Real Climate, Climate Progress, and various other groups for leading me down this path. So hopefully my work will be successful, and will have substantial impact.

    Not sure this is what you are looking for, but this is the truth.

  43. My car is a small engine (1.3L), and I’ve been able to reduce car emissions by some 25~30% by reducing travel distances.

    I also plant trees to sequester carbon (more than double the equivalent to my emissions). I know it doesn’t really offset it, at least not immediately, but I do it anyway.

    Oh, and I recycle as much as possible.

  44. I need to badger my MP and #scottish parliament people about electricity, since right now the current UK gvt is likely to either foul it up completely or leave itto the dead hand of the market, which means nothing will change.
    GEtting made redundant last year took away my high mileage commute and my newer car does 45mpg instead of 35mpg.
    I have cavity wall insulation, insulated loft, and a modern gas boiler. I try to reduce out of season produce use, and my consumption of stuff eg new furniture, clothing etc is very low.

    HEre in Scotland, if wereplace the 2nuclear power stations with more modern designs, get better energy efficiency and put up a few more wind and wave power stations we can shut the 1.5 gigawatts of coal fired electricity and go electricity production carbon free. However we still use gas and petrol, the problem is how to remove or replace or reduce the use of natural gas for heating when the housing stock is preominantly over 10 or 20 years old, if not 200, and the gvt is incapable of forcing house builders to build new houses as very highly insulated. The problem with 100 year old housing stock is that turning them into highly insulated passive houses is very hard and expensive, so they need some heating, and gas seems to be one of the most efficient ways of doing it.

    • Andrew Dodds

      This is how I’d see it going forward..

      The electric grid has to be totally decarbonised – meaning Hydro, Nuclear, plus appropriate renewables. Furthermore – and this is where the nasty C P phrase comes in – the aim should be to provide a surplus of electricity whilst keeping it carbon free.

      If the electricity price is hence collapsed, then home electric use – especially all cooking, and heating (including ground source) would look more attractive.

      Of course, electric cars for the majority of personal transport are something of a no-brainer in this scenario. And if the price of electricity has been collapsed, then you can expect a big move away from fossil fuel burning by industry.

      The final big issue is one of long distance transport. That realistically needs a liquid fuel; here is where the sci-fi starts. If we have created a surplus of electricity, then we need a sink – with all the suggested sources, demand following can be tricky.

      There are two simple targets – methanol and DME – which can be made from a variety of carbon based starting materials given a hydrogen input. Hence using ‘spare’ electricity to create these fuels from carbon based waste (biomass/paper/cardboard/wood etc) looks attractive.

      Of course, this does involve central planning on the timescale of a couple of decades, would cost a fair bit of money and would greatly annoy the oil and coal industries. On the other hand the average person on the street would see very little change, which would at least draw the sting from the ‘non-negotiable way of life’ stuff.

  45. Well, we moved from CA to western KY 23 years ago. We built a passive solar house on 10 acres. At the time we moved to the land, it was used for growing hay and corn. My wife and I (mainly her) have spent the last 23 years grubbing out non-native invasive plants and encouraging the native trees and shrubs. We now have 10 acres of (young) mixed deciduous forest.

    We heat during the winter with a combination of passive solar gain and wood heat. For the last 10 years, the wood has come from down wood on our own land.

    Water heating, cooking, etc. is electric. We are down to about 20 KWH per day but want to get that lower. I plan to add a solar water heating panel to supplement the electric water heater. Anticipate I should be able to easily cut electric water heater usage by 50%.

    Drive less than 7,000 miles a year, mostly errands into town. Starting to look at some type of small, neighborhood EV for the shopping errands.

    Back in the 70s we embraced the concept of “think globally, act locally” and still try to live that way.

  46. Arvella Oliver

    We’ve replaced standard electric AC and natural gas heating with a heat pump system.

    We traded the minivan and SUV for a Prius and a Honda Fit and cut driving by @ 30%; we fly no more than once a year and make only one long car trip each year (visiting family).

    We bought a high efficiency washer and dryer, and I now use a clothesline (while gleefully thumbing my nose at the neighborhood Harrassment Association) for about 25% of wash. I’d love to put in solar panels, but the HA would make my life hell – again.

    We set thermostats to 80 in summer and 68 in winter, both at home and at my husband’s office, and I take every opportunity to open the windows. Granted that’s only about 20/365 here in central Texas, between the heat and the allergens, but you do what you can.

    I’ve greatly expanded recycling to include all the stuff at the office. I’ve also doubled my composting and doubled the size of the garden. I’ve always used earth-friendly insect control, and I have a rain barrel.

    We’ve switched to a reel lawnmower, which I love. You can mow at 8 in the morning without disturbing your neighbors, you never have to worry about gas for it, or sharpening the blades, or waiting a month to get in at the only repair shop in town. We also bought an electric edger, which is more efficient than gas despite the coal-fired power plants in the area. We re-sodded the front lawn with bermuda, which uses less water than St. Augustine.

    I buy organic meat (and we eat less of it) whenever possible, and organic milk and vegetables as well. I plan a menu and make a list before going to the store, which *really *cuts down food waste. My kids are healthy and seem to have fewer mood swings than their peers, and their allergies have lessened.

    I estimate we’ve cut our carbon footprint by @ 30%, mostly because of the heatpump system and the cars, and our water usage by a similar amount, without any sacrifice in comfort.

    But the most important thing we’ve done, I think, is educate our children and vote for candidates who “get it”. My kids recycle as a habit, and my 17 yr old son brags about the gas mileage in the Prius.

    A vaguely related question: Does an Alien Ware game computer suck waaaay more power than your average laptop? Is the WoW-addicted hubby (avg. 35 hr/wk) wiping out the savings from the heat pump? No, I’m not trying to spoil his fun, just honestly wondering…

    Tamino, thank you very much for all your hard work. You *are* making a difference. I’m convinced you have lots of “lurkers” like me who can follow your reasoning even if we can’t do the math, and who often quote that reasoning to counter the ignorati (who seem especially thick here in Texas).

    • Arvella Oliver

      We’ve also installed low-flow faucets and toilets, attic vents, upgraded insulation, insulating window shades, florescent bulbs and native plants.

  47. > Does an ____ suck waaaay more power ….?
    > … Is ____ wiping out the savings from the
    > heat pump? …. just honestly wondering…

    “Kill-A-Watt” — useful measuring tool, in several versions.
    One device at a time:
    Everything on a power strip, more info:
    (or buy the inexpensive single-item one and plug your power strip into that, and do some math ….)

  48. Nobody At All

    Sorry for the off-topic question (especially if it has already been addressed): Tamino, do you have plans to import any of your old posts to the new blog? I wanted to send your “How Not to Analyze Data” series to a friend, but, sadly, cannot.

    [Response: Yes]

  49. Sadly, my income barely covers travel costs (by bus service) to and from my part-time work. But then, I travel 160km round trip for each shift. I live in the country and work in the city.

    I don’t own a car, and I do not drive. The sum total of my driving experience is about 2 years, out of necessity. Otherwise it would have been nil. Walking and/or cycling are my preferred travel methods, public transport the distant third. For interstate journeys I use train if time permits – Australia is fairly big so it isn’t always feasible. The internet also reduces the need for travel, if used wisely.

    And, I hassle journalists, politicians, editors. I boycott certain newspapers if they refuse to present facts instead of an ideological crusade. If enough people do this it will diminish the paper’s influence and consequently the advertising revenue. Please consider this, even if it seems inconsequential for one person to stop buying a bad newspaper.

    Vote. Exactly the way you want to, not according to some party’s “How to vote” preferences brochure.

    Finally, I donate money – can’t afford to but what the heck – to groups like “GetUp” to influence politicians on specific issues concerning AGW etc.

  50. Hmm, I see some of us are helping by doing guest posts at RC!


    Nice work, mine host!

  51. Francis — start a blog? You might find a lot of interest develops.

    I’ve known old folks hanging on to bits of wildland all my life, learned from them, and never seen a coherent discussion of ways to preserve and pass them on.

    NOTE: People need to be a bit careful posting details in public unless their land is well watched over, to avoid attracting vandals/timber thieves.

    I think a lot of people would bring questions, and you might help find lawyers licensed in other states too.

    It’d be worth looking for grant money to support this sort of effort. The big conservation groups take little parcels as donations, but usually sell them to do big work, often to single home-owner types who fence them in. Keeping almost-wild sites where kids can walk and bicycle to them is I think a basic part of conservation education that nobody knows how to do well.

    There’s a strong backlash against the whole idea, incorporating a lot of logging-company spin, e.g.

    My contact (disposable email, I change it when it starts getting spammed) is at a link behind my name. If you create a WordPress or other blog you can do the same to be easier to find.

  52. It occurs to me that the brief post linked below, and the song linked within it, have some relevance to the current thread, and may hold some interest for readers here.


  53. Many things:


    Solar PV on the roof, purchase wind energy for the rest; insulated walls & attic of 1927 house, live without AC as much as possibly (no central AC anyway), bike to work or telecommute when I can, replaced all possible bulbs with CFL, got my home email/webserver down to 40W, became the “lightswitch police” for my children, vegetarian since 1990’s, replaced windows (sadly only double pane), put solar-reflective shingles up when I replaced the roof, talk incessantly to friends and relatives about these issues, possibly alienating them more than convincing them… :)

    I dropped electricity & gas use significantly through many of the above actions, see graphs in link above!

  54. Sleepers Wake!

    My apologies if this post is a bit long, but this is important.

    What are we gonna do about it?

    What is IT? What is the problem?

    Simply, it is 1 second to Midnight and we need to act.

    CO2 is at around 390 ppm rising at 2ppm/yr. And emissions are rising by around 3%/yr so without action CO2 will be rising at 4ppm/yr in 25 years. And thats just CO2. Add in the effect of other GH Gases for CO2 Equivalent and we are already at 430-440 ppm CO2e and rising.

    This study by Anderson & Bows: ‘Reframing the climate change challenge in light of post-2000 emission trends’ (http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/366/1882/3863.full) for the RS is bleak reading. Looking at what the likely stabilisation levels are for various peaking years and emission decline rates, taking Deforestation and Agriculture in to account, CO2e stabilisation at 450 doesn’t happen; more likely 550 to 650. And that assumes we can peak at or before 2025, AND reverse deforestation AND cut Nitrous Oxide/Methane emissions from agriculture in half while feeding more people in decades to come. AND assuming the Methane bomb in the arctic permafrost doesn’t really explode.

    Temperatures have already risen by 0.8 DegC, with perhaps 0.6 in the pipeline; lag due to the delay in the oceans warming. And if aerosols are masking some warming, where does that put us? Effectively at 2.0 DegC locked in already? And only 1/2 way to the full impacts of a CO2 doubling.

    Now some other things:
    – The Hydrological Crisis. Rapidly declining water tables in major food growing regions such as India, the Plains of Northern China, the Plains states of the US. The threat of declining water flows from Glacial and Snow Pack melt in the Himalayas, Tibetan Plateau, Rockies & Sierra’s, Andes. Perhaps crisis level declines in 10-30 years. And one of the major impacts of AGW is lower or more erratic rainfall in many regions and higher evaporation rates.
    – The majority of our nitrogenous fertiliser production uses Natural Gas as a feedstock; a feedstock we are now using more & more for other uses. How far off is Peak Gas? With less fertilisers, how much do crop yields drop?
    – Estimates that 1/3 of cropland is loosing soil faster than it is created.
    – More ‘dead zones’ in the oceans, depleted fishing grounds, Algae and Jellyfish swarms becoming more common.
    – Ocean Acidification likely to reach critical levels for marine organisms with Aragonite based carbonate shells at around 430 ppm CO2.
    – World food production is now just barely matching demand – several dozen countries experienced food riots last year. The drought in Russia this year has knocked their wheat harvest by 20%. China has reported declines in yields for its wheat & rice crops and now is a net food importing nation.
    – Population is expected to peak at between 9 & 10 billion people by mid century; 40% more than at present. And unless the entire world adopted a 1 child per couple policy for several generations, it will not drop much below that for the rest of the century. Yet several generations of 1 child per couple has appalling demographic implications in terms of the load of caring for the elderly; no easy retirement for anyone, work till you drop.

    So our capacity to continue to feed our CURRENT population is under threat from multiple sources even as our population is growing. Imagine a world where we can only grow food for 4-5 Billion when the population is 9-10 billion. How far off is the worlds first billion person famine – 30 years?, 20? 10?

    And what of the social consequences? How do communities, nations hold together, remain functional, civilised, civil, sane under the impacts of such horror. We in the West may think we are immune but famine and social collapse is a truely great leveller. No one is safe. What happens to the psyche of America when the abandonment of its dreamland, California, begins due to lack of water?

    And social collapse will produce more financial turmoil, terrorism, civil unrest, crime, drugs, psychological trauma, ethnic conflict. War. Later this century will we see a Nuclear exchange? India vs Pakistan over water? Russia vs China for control of the newly emerging farmland of Siberia. Imagine; Global warming, famine and disaster. Then Nuclear war, Nuclear
    winter, more famine and catastrophe. Then the skies clear again and straight back to worse AGW. Shattered civilisation, no capacity left to reverse the changes.

    But what of our knowledge? Our technology and skills? Our sheer CAPACITY. Won’t we use them to save ourselves?

    Maybe. But knowledge is such a fragile thing, so easily lost. If you have lost the capacity to make new high tech, clean-room technologies, then that DVD full of data is just a Beer Mat. How many books & journals are written on paper that will last no more than a few decades. And what of that soft data repository; the one between your ears? They have a use by date as well and wear out – its called Death. So they must be replaced by new models – Babies. But the problems is these new models are blank and have to be filled – Education. What will future average education levels be when the world is in
    utter turmoil- Primary school level? To try and restore the world to a more livable state would require all the resources of our current world, including our technologies and education levels. Without them it would not be possible.

    So will our world look like such an apocalyptic nightmare by centuries end? Like something out of ‘Mad Max’. Its not certain, of course its not. If we act fully enough soon enough we may avert some or much of it. But only some. If we were only facing one of these problems; AGW OR Population Levels OR Hydrological Crisis OR Ocean Depletion OR Social upheaval; we could well deal with it. But the conjunction of all these problems at the same time, all intersecting and impacting on each other is a deadly toxic mess.

    Bill McKibben in his recent book Eaarth (not a spelling mistake) basically argues that the world that has supported human civilisation for the last 10,000 years, the domestication of plants and animals, the growth of communities, nations, philosopies, religions, technologies; the bountiful world of our folklore; the Earth. The Earth is Gone. Replaced by a much harsher world he calls Eaarth. We are witnessing its birth now. And on Eaarth it is about hunkering down and just surviving. Preserving what we can by giving up some of it. Rather than trying to hold onto it all and loosing it all.

    Or Clive Hamilton’s book may be prophetic. The title says it all; ‘Requiem For A Species’. Us.

    This is the problem. Human Civilisation stands on the edge of a precipice. The End of Civilisation is now a card that has been put on the table. Not certain to be played. But now far too possible.

    I am sorry if this is so bleak. But only by speaking the unspeakable can we confront it.

    So what are we to do?

    Many of the posts here have a common theme; Changes made by individuals to the physical aspects of their personal lives.

    And all are to be applauded and commended. Paul K2 is designing a Solar Power system – Go Paul. A number of people advocate support for various policies and leading by example.

    Prof’ Scott Mandia said something powerful in 1 word – Vote. Here in Australia we are having an election and voting is compulsory. If your country doesn’t have compulsory voting, perhaps you should act as if it does.

    When I think of the magnitude of the problem we face it is easy to be overwhelmed by what is needed. But we simply can’t let that happen.

    We simply can’t let this future just unfold without giving our all to prevent it. This is the only game in town.

    And when I try to imagine what force we could harness to solve this, the scale and pace of transformation needed in the world to avert disaster; only one force comes to mind that can radically transform a planet.

    The combined mental, physical, emotional and spiritual power of 6.8 Billion Homo Sapiens.

    How do we know that such a force is equal to the task of transforming a planet?


    So in every action you may take, perhaps the most important consideration is; ‘how does my act help convince, motivate and mobilise and UNITE more people?’ For it is the engagement of as many people as possible that is a far more powerful force than technology or individual lifestyle or consumption choices. Although all those things are needed to solve our problem, they are not the limitation. The limited number of people worldwide truely engaged with the problem IS the problem.

    Quite simply it is peoples disengagement, disinterest, disbelief or ignorance that is the only limitation. I speak as an Engineer when I say that the technical problems will be solved and fall like dominoes when the will of the populace, worldwide, is driving it. But until then things proceed at a snails pace. And don’t expect our ‘Leaders’ to lead at anything but snails pace. They don’t lead, they follow.

    Because we haven’t given them our permission to truly lead!

    So how do we reach out to the people in a way that bypasses the influence of the Media, Denialists, and simple disinterest?

    A poll I read of recently in the USA asked people who they would ask for guidance on Climate Change. The largest single response, way ahead of ‘Climate Scientists’ was ‘their Pastor’!!?!

    This reflects a basic psychological truth. Most of us, most of the time, rely on those around us for advice and opinions. Friends, Family, Work Colleagues. Pastors!. We rely to a great extent on what our peers think. And ideas that run counter to the opinions of those around us have a hard time gaining traction. Perhaps those of us who do accept AGW regard people of like mind, even on the Internet as peers. But I suspect for the majority of people knowing someone personally counts for far more.

    We place trust in their honesty and integrity TOWARDS US. Because we know them. Our assesment of their competency on a subject can often take second place to our assessment of their integrity towards us.

    Who the messenger is matters far more than what the message is.

    And then if a message is repeated often enough we start to give it more weight. It shifts the centre of gravity of our opinions simply by its repetition. And the message must be simple. Often the repetitiveness of the message overwhelms its correctness.

    The Denialists know all this. Thus the same simple though often wrong claims, repeated ad-infinitum. And they have a major advantage. Arguing that we DON’T have to change our views or actions is much easier than arguing that we DO have to change.

    I have one suggestion along these lines that might help.

    Let’s use Psychology & Kevin Bacon

    My proposal is simple. Start Emailing all the people you know WHO KNOW YOU, discussing AGW, the crisis we face and the need for humanity to act on it. Keep it simple, focus on the strength of the science, the magnitude of the threat and why the action is urgent. How we must act now because of a threat years away and why we can’t wait till the threat materialises. Describe the threat in terms of things like the danger to their children. Make it personal and visceral. And the purpose of this is to create a dialog about the NEED to act, rather than WHAT the actions will be. This is about uniting people, and discussing the specifics of solutions before there is consensus on the simple need to act may be counter-productive.


    This is the heart of it. Start using The 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon to try and generate a broad conversation about this subject.

    Why Email rather than Social-Networking etc? Use them as well but Email (or even paper snail-mail) is private and personal. Between you and people you know. You don’t have to fight off other opinions, avoid trolls or being flamed in your conversation. And by asking them to pass this on, you are invoking a sense of community. I am connected to you and I know you are connected to others. Please lets come together to talk about this. And Email means you can communicate with others that may not be involved or interested in AGW blogs etc. Just that they are connected to you.

    If your contacts speak other languages or have friends in other countries, ask them to translate this and pass it on. This needs to be a global conversation. Its not just about your community or country – that’s petty.

    Then keep the conversation going, send new messages weekly or daily. It is as simple as pressing the Send button. And if you receive one of these, pass it on as well.

    And maybe enough people starting this could generate a worldwide underground conversation, between people who are close, that can swell and grow. What matters isn’t convincing everyone. It is getting everyone to engage with the subject.

    And in order to build a unifying aspect to this underground communal conversation, perhaps a tag will help. Just as the Anti-Abortion movement found a powerful identity through a tag – ‘Right to Life’, so a Tag could give this conversation a powerful identity as well.

    Simply identify everything you send with the slogan ‘PASS IT ON’. Thats the Tag.

    Just ‘PASS IT ON’

    The rules for this are simple:
    1. Only send to people you know personally and who know you.
    2. Only send through paths that make this a private conversation.
    3. Ask them to send this on to others that they know to the degree they are comfortable with. ‘You may not agree with this but would you give others the chance to read it as well?’
    4. Focus on the basics and the need to act. For detailed discussion direct them to other info sources.
    5. Label every thing with the tag ‘PASS IT ON’
    6. And if you receive something, Pass It On.
    7. Ask them to abide by these rules as well.
    8. And send something to your President or Prime Minister, local Member of Parliament, Municipal Councillor etc every day. Label it ‘PASS IT ON’ so they come to know what it means. What you say is less important. It is the weight of numbers sending SOMETHING everyday that counts. So hit that Send button every day.

    At worst this might be the converted talking to each other. At best it might start a planet-wide conversation. Then let the conversation go where it must. The purpose of this is engagement more than anything else.

    And all this can be started by the participants right here at this Blog.

    Pass It On

  55. “What suggestions can you offer?”

    A few of my websites have some suggestions:

    nobeef.org.uk, nohighbuildings.org.uk, nobottles.org.uk, renewalcities.org,

    greenrationbook.org.uk – being revised

    noplanes.org.uk – currently suspended waiting for Nadine Ungers next paper.

    morejobs.org.uk – coming soon(ish) the employment effect of Hansen’s carbon fee.

    The latest – a friend’s site: brusselsblog.org.uk – must do something on Ramanathan’s PlanB too.

    and lots of old sites e.g. faxfn.org

    I think my most productive efforts are meeting
    and corresponding with UK scientists, politicians and government advisers. I’m not always sure it has any effect but if enough people did it it would work. Some actually listen.

    I’ll soon be too old and knackered for all this stuff. Perhaps I could ask “What suggestions can you give me?”

  56. Rather than talk about my own solar power etc, which matches many others above, I thought I would pick up on another point from Tamino’s succinct piece – “One thing that’s clear is that CO2 has been rising due to human activity for the last 150 years, contrary to false claims that it’s only been on the rise for about half that time.”

    Indeed it is clear, beautifully (or horrifically) clear that the CO2 emissions match the course of industrialisation. Couldn’t be a better match. If you don’t know any history you think of the 20th century for the rise of industry, if you know a bit you would say from 1850 onwards.

    But in fact the industrial revolution was underway in England from the late eighteenth century, and not much later I think in some other European countries and even America, and the graph shows this pretty clearly.

    In fact you could almost turn the graph upside down as it were and use CO2 levels to precisely describe the amount of industry in the world.

  57. Dave Horton,

    A literary factoid to illustrate your point:

    William Blake’s “Jerusalem”–a staple still in certain corners of British life (in the musical setting by H.H. Parry) and featuring the famous line about the “dark satanic mills” of industry–was penned back in 1804.

  58. As I wrote about my personal actions, and read other posts here, I realized (well, I knew this already) that this is not enough.

    Unfortunately I’m not able to invent new power sources, etc; nor can I pass good climate policy on my own, so I’m left with what I -can- do personally.

    On the other hand, the “big guys” aren’t stepping up; if this Congress can’t pass decent climate legislation in the US, how can we ever get the scope of change that we need?

    I’m ambivalent about the email chain letter idea; perhaps. This is mostly the kind of thing that just annoys me.

    We do have to try to broaden the conversation, however, and increase the number of people who care passionately about this.

    I’m considering a house party, akin to political fundraisers, where I will invite people on the condition that they sign up for renewable energy purchase while they’re there. (This is something that is easy to do with my utility company).

    It’s a small step, but if I could get 20 more households onto wind power through this action, that amplifies my convictions. Further, in educating them about this change and its (small) costs, I’ll guide them to web services which graph their historical usage, and compare it to others in their neighborhood, hopefully raising their awareness of their footprint.

    Maybe I can propose the the wind-party idea to others who care enough, and they’ll find another 20 households.

    Again, not nearly enough. But it’s something, and it keeps pushing towards more awareness. Not fast enough, perhaps, but I have to believe that something is better than nothing.

  59. I found an archive of “How Not to Analyze Data”:


  60. For reference:

    Click to access Yule1926.pdf

    Why do we Sometimes get Nonsense-Correlations between Time-Series?–A Study in Sampling and the Nature of Time-Series
    G. Udny Yule
    Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Vol. 89, No. 1. (Jan., 1926), pp. 1-63. Stable URL:

  61. DreamQuestor

    I cannot help but wonder why I do not see many reports about ideas on how to drain massive amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into a solid form. Long-term storage might be a problem, but surely it is better than the alternative of allowing it to continue to trap more heat.

  62. > how to drain
    Rate of change. We know how it’s removed: slowly, over tens of thousands of years, by plankton mostly.

    How could it happen fast, without further disrupting things? That’s the missing piece.

  63. DreamQuestor

    I could understand that concern if it were a case of extracting carbon dioxide from a stable system, but this is a a case in which our species is adding carbon dioxide to a closed system. Tamino has already stated that levels are increasing by 2 ppm per year. So why are we not using scrubbers to remove (at a minimum) 2 ppm from the atmosphere every year?

    I am all in favor of reducing emissions, reforestation, eliminating fossil fuels, et cetera, but I am firmly convinced that geoengineering will be necessary just to prevent this planet from becoming another Venus. The increase in carbon dioxide levels since the Industrial revolution is, for all practical purposes, a catastrophic release that will require extraordinary measures to redress. Natural processes alone will not be sufficient.

  64. David B. Benson

    DreamQuestor // August 7, 2010 at 6:00 am — People have already published several potential solutions. Here are a few.
    In situ peridotite weathering:

    In situ basalt weathering:

    Irrigated afforestation of the Sahara and Australian Outback to end global warming

  65. http://www.metafilter.com/94566/Online-statistics-textbook
    Hat tip to Metafilter:

    “… developed at UC Berkeley, and also used at CUNY, UCSC, SJSU, and Bard. Here is the syllabus for the course at Berkeley. And here are some insightful reflections from the professor on developing Berkeley’s first fully approved online course.”

  66. Baths instead of showers, got rid of the car 3 years ago and walk a lot, and occassionally rent an economy car, buy organic, recycle, use energy efficient light bulbs, donate a few bucks to solid green initiatives, educate others on AGW and environmental issues in general, and stay informed.

    Other than that there is not much else my wife and I can do at the moment.

  67. DreamQuestor

    David B. Benson wrote:
    People have already published several potential solutions. Here are a few.

    Thank you. I appreciate the links. I feel that not enough attention has been paid to these sort of solutions. Capturing and converting carbon dioxide and methane from a gas into a solid state will be absolutely essential just to avoid a runaway greenhouse effect–and we must start immediately. Some people have opposed such solutions on the basis that they encourage consumption rather than conservation, but I believe that the time when we actually had a choice in the matter passed decades ago.

    I would also like to congratulate Tamino on this thread. Far too many climate-related websites are morphing into mirror versions of denialist websites–a place where folks congregate to bolster each other’s perspective. In the process, too little attention is paid to both potential and actual solutions.

  68. meanwhile, down in the ghettos it is 10 miles to a true food store, local grown is oft too polluted to eat, wood fires are out of the question. In the third world wood fires are a big part of the problem. In town we can’t each have a wind turbine in the back 40 acres. But as much as this sounds like a dismissal of even trying. Cities offer a place to get to zero emmission transport, and we throw off enough waste heat to sole the winter heating, if we cared to change our comfort zone and building practices and went to hives, appropriately scaled for humans. I think the best solutions are collective enterprises, not something that reminds me of the great march forward with a steel mill in every back yard.

    someone mentioned Germany and France versus U.K. and national policy giving good results. He failed to mention that France is hugely nuclear. And they don’t even have anything like Yucca Flats! to store
    waste.” I would envite a pro-nuclear advocacy to press our government. Anyone read about helium three fussion?

  69. The problem with removing CO2 from the atmosphere, is that to reduce the concentration X ppm, you have to extract ~3X ppm. The simple reason is that there are three roughly equal reservoirs, the upper ocean, the biosphere and the atmosphere which are in fast equilibrium with each other. If you pull X out of the atmosphere, for example, you will soon see 1/3 X restored from each of the other two reservoirs. Better not to have emitted it at all, or captured the CO2 at the source. (all numbers are very approximate)