2011 July 03 Sunday
Pacific Gyre Plastic Build-Up In Fish Measured

A couple of UCSD Scripps Institute grad students find nearly a tenth of the fish in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre have plastic in their stomachs.

Two graduate students with the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition, or SEAPLEX, found evidence of plastic waste in more than nine percent of the stomachs of fish collected during their voyage to the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Based on their evidence, authors Peter Davison and Rebecca Asch estimate that fish in the intermediate ocean depths of the North Pacific ingest plastic at a rate of roughly 12,000- to 24,000 tons per year.

On the bright side, Peak Oil is going to make plastic more expensive and therefore less used. Otherwise I hold out little hope for a big reduction in the amount of plastic finding its way into rivers and the ocean. Asian industrialization is boosting demand for plastic in a region where the most populated countries haven't achieved living standards high enough to spawn big environmental movements.

You can see my previous post on the plastic build-up in the Gyre. Also, the Wikipedia Great Pacific Garbage Patch page is pretty good on the topic. Lots of detail and diagrams.

By Randall Parker    2011 July 03 09:20 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2010 January 20 Wednesday
East Asian Pollution Driving Western North America Ozone

The planet is so small and Asian economic development so big that the north American west coast ozone surges from Asian pollution. Too many people industrializing and too much dirty energy technology.

Springtime ozone levels above western North America are rising primarily due to air flowing eastward from the Pacific Ocean, a trend that is largest when the air originates in Asia. These increases in ozone could make it more difficult for the United States to meet Clean Air Act standards for ozone pollution at ground level, according to a new international study. Published online Wednesday, Jan. 20, in the journal Nature, the study analyzed large sets of ozone data captured since 1984.

"In springtime, pollution from across the hemisphere, not nearby sources, contributes to the ozone increases above western North America," said lead author Owen R. Cooper, Ph.D., of the NOAA-funded Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "When air is transported from a broad region of south and east Asia, the trend is largest."

We'd be better off with more nuclear power. But coal electric is cheaper than nuclear. So China's continuing a massive coal electric build up. Expect a lot more pollution where that came from.

In the absence of national policies and/or binding international agreements that would limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, world coal consumption is projected to increase from 127 quadrillion Btu in 2006 to 190 quadrillion Btu in 2030, an average annual rate of 1.7 percent. Much of the projected increase in coal use occurs in the non-OECD Asia region, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of the total world increase in coal use from 2006 to 2030. In fact, much of the region’s increase in energy demand is expected to be met by coal, particularly in the electric power and industrial sectors. For example, installed coal-fired generating capacity in China is projected to nearly triple from 2006 to 2030, and coal use in China’s industrial sector grows by nearly 60 percent.

I hope Richard Heinberg's correct that world coal reserves are greatly overestimated. I like Heinberg's summary of the interests at stake in the recent Copenhagen climate negotiations.

China produces half the world's cement and 40 percent of its iron and steel; over the next 15 years, it plans to urbanize a number of its people about equal to the total population of North America—a continent that took more than a century to accomplish a similar-sized task. That means more cement, steel, appliances, power plants, and all the other energy-guzzling accouterments of urban existence. Mark Lynas, an environmental writer who was present at the final Friday night negotiations at Copenhagen, summarized the situation this way: "China knows it is becoming an uncontested superpower; indeed its newfound muscular confidence was on striking display in Copenhagen. Its coal-based economy doubles every decade, and its power increases commensurately. Its leadership will not alter this magic formula unless they absolutely have to."

More ozone coming from ethanol in gasoline too.

"What we found is that at the warmer temperatures, with E85, there is a slight increase in ozone compared to what gasoline would produce," said Diana Ginnebaugh, a doctoral candidate in civil and environmental engineering, who worked on the study. She will present the results of the study on Tuesday, Dec. 15, at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. "But even a slight increase is a concern, especially in a place like Los Angeles, because you already have episodes of high ozone that you have to be concerned about, so you don't want any increase."

But it was at colder temperatures, below freezing, that it appeared the health impacts of E85 would be felt most strongly.

"We found a pretty substantial increase in ozone production from E85 at cold temperatures, relative to gasoline, when emissions and atmospheric chemistry alone were considered," Ginnebaugh said. Although ozone is generally lower under cold-temperature winter conditions, "If you switched to E85, suddenly you could have a place like Denver exceeding ozone health-effects limits and then they would have a health concern that they don't have now."

By Randall Parker    2010 January 20 10:13 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2009 December 16 Wednesday
Soot Pollution Melting Glaciers

These glaciers are a sign of what is going into your lungs. If we replaced all the world's coal electric power plants with nukes we'd breathe cleaner air and the glaciers wouldn't lose so much ice.

WASHINGTON – Black soot deposited on Tibetan glaciers has contributed significantly to the retreat of the world's largest non-polar ice masses, according to new research by scientists from NASA and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Soot absorbs incoming solar radiation and can speed glacial melting when deposited on snow in sufficient quantities.

Temperatures on the Tibetan Plateau -- sometimes called Earth's "third pole" -- have warmed by 0.3°C (0.5°F) per decade over the past 30 years, about twice the rate of observed global temperature increases. New field research and ongoing quantitative modeling suggests that soot's warming influence on Tibetan glaciers could rival that of greenhouse gases.

"Tibet's glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate," said James Hansen, coauthor of the study and director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City. "Black soot is probably responsible for as much as half of the glacial melt, and greenhouse gases are responsible for the rest."

"During the last 20 years, the black soot concentration has increased two- to three-fold relative to its concentration in 1975," said Junji Cao, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and a coauthor of the paper.

The study was published December 7th in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Fifty percent of the glaciers were retreating from 1950 to 1980 in the Tibetan region; that rose to 95 percent in the early 21st century," said Tandong Yao, director of the Chinese Academy's Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research. Some glaciers are retreating so quickly that they could disappear by mid-century if current trends continue, the researchers suggest.

See this post over at Naked Capitalism (which includes quotes by James Hansen about soot pollution) about why soot pollution reduction should be a priority. Why not cut soot pollution ahead of carbon dioxide emissions. The move will certainly improve human health, reduce glacier melting (and therefore improve water supplies in the summer), and will have a cooling effect. Landscape darkened by soot absorbs more light and therefore heats up.

Soot in India draws more moisture and heat northward to do even more to melt the glaciers. Obviously India also should replace its coal electric plants with nuclear power plants.

The thick soot and dust layer absorbs solar radiation, and heats up the air around the Himalayan foothills. The warm, rising air enhances the seasonal northward flow of humid monsoon winds, forcing moisture and hot air up the slopes of the Himalayas.

As the aerosol particles rise on the warm, convecting air, they produce more rain over northern India and the Himalayan foothill, which further warms the atmosphere and fuels a "heat pump" that draws yet more warm air to the region.

"The phenomenon changes the timing and intensity of the monsoon, effectively transferring heat from the low-lying lands over the subcontinent to the atmosphere over the Tibetan Plateau, which in turn warms the high-altitude land surface and hastens glacial retreat," Lau said. His modeling shows that aerosols -- particularly black carbon and dust -- likely cause as much of the glacial retreat in the region as greenhouse gases via this "heat pump" effect.

Many rivers will be harmed by the loss of meltwater during the drier periods. Rising populations will of course make this problem much worse.

A unique landscape plays supporting actor in the melting drama. The Himalayas, which dominate the plateau region, are the source of meltwater for many of Asia's most important rivers—the Ganges and Indus in India, the Brahmaputra in Bangladesh, the Salween through China, Thailand and Burma, the Mekong across Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and the Yellow and Yangtze rivers in China. When fossil fuels are burned without enough oxygen to complete combustion, one of the byproducts is black carbon, an aerosol that absorbs solar radiation (Most classes of aerosols typically reflect incoming sunlight, causing a cooling effect). Rising populations in Asia, industrial and agricultural burning, and vehicle exhaust have thickened concentrations of black carbon in the air.

Update: One quarter of the soot could be removed for just $15 billion.

But one simple measure could slow warming in some of Earth’s most sensitive regions, effective immediately — and it would cost just $15 billion.

That’s a rough price tag for providing clean stoves to the 500 million households that use open fires, fed by wood and animal dung and coal, to heat their homes and cook.

This would improve the health of billions of people.

By Randall Parker    2009 December 16 06:07 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2009 December 13 Sunday
CO2 Emissions Up 29% Since 2000

Speaking as an agnostic (on both religious and unresolved scientific questions) one can only hope that the most certain global warming skeptics are correct in their denial. CO2 emissions are way up. Since oil production has been on a bumpy plateau since 2005 this result says a lot about the growth in coal usage - especially for electric power generation. One thing I am certain about: conventional pollutants like particulates and mercury are bad for us and this big surge in CO2 emissions certainly brought along a lot of pollutants that are doing real harm to human health.

The strongest evidence yet that the rise in atmospheric CO2 emissions continues to outstrip the ability of the world's natural 'sinks' to absorb carbon is published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience.

An international team of researchers under the umbrella of the Global Carbon Project reports that over the last 50 years the average fraction of global CO2 emissions that remained in the atmosphere each year was around 43 per cent - the rest was absorbed by the Earth's carbon sinks on land and in the oceans. During this time this fraction has likely increased from 40 per cent to 45 per cent, suggesting a decrease in the efficiency of the natural sinks. The team brings evidence that the sinks are responding to climate change and variability.

The scientists report a 29 per cent increase in global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel between 2000 and 2008 (the latest year for which figures are available), and that in spite of the global economic downturn emissions increased by 2 per cent during 2008. The use of coal as a fuel has now surpassed oil and developing countries now emit more greenhouse gases than developed countries – with a quarter of their growth in emissions accounted for by increased trade with the West.

More CO2 in the atmosphere means more CO2 dissolved into the oceans. That has an acidifying effect. That comes on top of agricultural run-off causing expanding dead zones and overfishing on a massive scale. The future of fisheries is already grim.

In the United States coal accounts for almost 50% of electric power generation and 36% of CO2 emissions. 33% of CO2 emissions in the United States comes from coal burned for electric power generation. But China has surpassed the United States in CO2 emissions and continues to widen the gap due to faster economic growth and heavy usage of coal for electric power generation.

Again, I hope the global warming disbelievers are right. Though I can think of one circumstance where I hope they are wrong about the effects of CO2: If the Sun goes thru an extended period of lower solar output then I would like for temperatures to be responsive to increases in atmospheric CO2.

By Randall Parker    2009 December 13 08:24 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (49)
2009 December 10 Thursday
Mediterranean Sea Represents Polluted Future Of Oceans?

Does the Med show us the fate of larger bodies of water? Hope not.

Warmed, overfished and polluted, the small Mediterranean Sea is giving scientists a look at what the future may hold for the rest of Earth’s oceans — and it’s not pretty.

Beneath its surface, a transformation is taking place. Food webs are shrinking, with rich ecosystems that supported valuable commercial fisheries giving way to barrens dominated by jellyfish and tiny invertebrates. Mass die-offs and disease are now common.

“The predicted effects of climate change are being met in the Mediterranean. The results are more obvious and dramatic, but the drivers are the same all over the world,” said Pierre Chevaldonné, a University of the Mediterranean biologist.

I expect agricultural run-off to go up with more use of intensive agriculture due to rising food demand driven by population growth and industrialization. Therefore dead zones at the outlets of rivers will likely continue to increase in size.

By Randall Parker    2009 December 10 10:11 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2009 November 10 Tuesday
Great Pacific Garbage Patch Keeps Getting Bigger

We are letting far too much plastic end up in the oceans.

ABOARD THE ALGUITA, 1,000 miles northeast of Hawaii — In this remote patch of the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from any national boundary, the detritus of human life is collecting in a swirling current so large that it defies precise measurement.

In 1804, a little over 200 years ago, the planet had a human population of 1 billion people. Back then the oceans seemed immense and beyond the capacity of humans to change. Yet by 1850 whale hunting peaked due to over harvesting and we've since drastically drawn down the stocks of other ocean-going creatures such as cod and salmon.

Now Earth has 6.8 billion people and some demographers predict 9 billion by 2040. At the same time, China and India are industrializing along with the nations of southeast Asia. The capacity to make trash is soaring. Our oceans will suffer much worse from this. Just one of the ocean's big garbage patches is doubling in size every decade.

Light bulbs, bottle caps, toothbrushes, Popsicle sticks and tiny pieces of plastic, each the size of a grain of rice, inhabit the Pacific garbage patch, an area of widely dispersed trash that doubles in size every decade and is now believed to be roughly twice the size of Texas.

I fear Peak Oil will do more to cut back on ocean plastic pollution than anything the governments of the world decide to do to cut plastics pollution. Currently human population growth, industrialization, and rising consumption count for more than efforts to clean up the environment.

Most of the plastic is broken up below the surface.

Charles Moore, an American oceanographer who discovered the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" or "trash vortex", believes that about 100 million tons of flotsam are circulating in the region. Marcus Eriksen, a research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which Mr Moore founded, said yesterday: "The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup. It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States."

In some parts of the ocean there's more plastic than plankton.

Mr Moore found bottle caps, plastic bags and polystyrene floating with tiny plastic chips. Worn down by sunlight and waves, discarded plastic disintegrates into smaller pieces. Suspended under the surface, these tiny fragments are invisible to ships and satellites trying to map the plastic continent, but in subsequent trawls Mr Moore discovered that the chips outnumbered plankton by six to one.

Birds eat plastic scraps and it ends up killing them.

We need fewer people and people need to wake up to the scale of human interventions in the environment.

By Randall Parker    2009 November 10 10:44 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (70)
2009 August 20 Thursday
Ocean Plastics Break Down Faster Than Expected

Some types of plastics break down faster than previously thought.

Contrary to the commonly held belief that plastic takes 500 to 1,000 years to decompose, researchers now report that some types of plastic begin to break down in the ocean within one year, releasing potentially toxic bisphenol A (BPA) and other chemicals into the water.

“Plastics in daily use are generally assumed to be quite stable,” chemist Katsuhiko Saido of Nihon University in Japan said in a press release. “We found that plastic in the ocean actually decomposes as it is exposed to the rain and sun and other environmental conditions, giving rise to yet another source of global contamination that will continue into the future.” Saido presented the work Wednesday at the American Chemical Society meeting in Washington, D.C.

Alan Weisman's book The World Without Us has a section in it that'll give you a deeper appreciation for the scale of the ocean plastic pollution problem. If some of the plastics break down more rapidly releasing toxic chemicals then we have an even bigger problem with them.

By Randall Parker    2009 August 20 05:45 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2009 March 15 Sunday
Global Dimming Caused By Rising Aerosol Pollution

Rapid economic growth has driven up emissions of aerosols so much that the amount of light hitting the surface has declined globally. I really hate pollution.

COLLEGE PARK, Md -- A University of Maryland-led team has compiled the first decades-long database of aerosol measurements over land, making possible new research into how air pollution changes affect climate change.

Using this new database, the researchers show that clear sky visibility over land has decreased globally over the past 30 years, indicative of increases in aerosols, or airborne pollution. Their findings are published in the March 13 issue of Science.

"Creation of this database is a big step forward for researching long-term changes in air pollution and correlating these with climate change," said Kaicun Wang, assistant research scientist in the University of Maryland's department of geography and lead author of the paper. "And it is the first time we have gotten global long-term aerosol information over land to go with information already available on aerosol measurements over the world's oceans."

Different aerosols have different effects on temperatures. Black soot aerosols will absorb more sunlight and reduce the amount of light that reflects back into space. Therefore they should cause warming. Whereas sulfur aerosols will cause cooling. The effects of these aerosols are troubling because they have much shorter half-lives than CO2. Once Asian countries become advanced enough to want to clean up their air they'll cut back on aerosols emissions and very quickly the effect these aerosols have on climate will end. Maybe the aerosols are canceling out some of the effects of CO2. We'll find out eventually.

But the sun is shining brighter in Europe.

According to the authors, a preliminary analysis of the database measurements shows a steady increase in aerosols over the period from 1973 to 2007. Increased aerosols in the atmosphere block solar radiation from the earth's surface, and have thus caused a net "global dimming." The only region that does not show an increase in aerosols is Europe, which has actually experienced a "global brightening," the authors say.

The largest known source of increased aerosols is increased burning of fossil fuels. And a major product of fossil fuel combustion is sulfur dioxide. Thus, the team notes, that their finding of a steady increase in aerosols in recent decades, also suggests an increase in sulfate aerosols. This differs from studies recently cited by the Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change showing global emissions of sulfate aerosol decreased between 1980 and 2000.

I am surprised that in this database the US doesn't show a decline in aerosols given US emissions regulations. The shift toward use of Western US coal was driven in large part by emissions regulations to cut sulfur emissions. The Western coal is lower in sulfur than Eastern coal.

By Randall Parker    2009 March 15 10:03 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2008 November 24 Monday
Ocean Acidity Growing Faster Than Expected

Atmospheric carbon dioxide build-up probably is making the ocean more acidic.

University of Chicago scientists have documented that the ocean is growing more acidic faster than previously thought. In addition, they have found that the increasing acidity correlates with increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to a paper published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Nov. 24.

"Of the variables the study examined that are linked to changes in ocean acidity, only atmospheric carbon dioxide exhibited a corresponding steady change," said J. Timothy Wootton, the lead author of the study and Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago.

These scientists collected the most detailed dataset of ocean pH.

The increasingly acidic water harms certain sea animals and could reduce the ocean's ability to absorb carbon dioxide, the authors said. Scientists have long predicted that higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide would make the ocean more acidic. Nevertheless, empirical evidence of growing acidity has been limited.

The new study is based on 24,519 measurements of ocean pH spanning eight years, which represents the first detailed dataset on variations of coastal pH at a temperate latitude—where the world's most productive fisheries live.

"The acidity increased more than 10 times faster than had been predicted by climate change models and other studies," Wootton said. "This increase will have a severe impact on marine food webs and suggests that ocean acidification may be a more urgent issue than previously thought, at least in some areas of the ocean."

The temperature rise due to CO2 build-up seems avoidable with fairly cheap climate engineering. But I do not see how we can prevent the oceans from becoming too acidic as atmospheric CO2 increases. The ocean acidity problem seems to me the most compelling argument for cutting CO2 emissions from fossil fuels burning.

A more acidic ocean is especially problematic for organisms that build external shells out of calcium carbonate.

Within 50 to 100 years, there could be severe consequences for marine calcifying organisms, which build their external skeletal material out of calcium carbonate, the basic building block of limestone. Most threatened are cold-water calcifying organisms, including sea urchins, cold-water corals, coralline algae, and plankton known as pteropods—winged snails that swim through surface waters. These organisms provide essential food and habitat to others, so their demise could affect entire ocean ecosystems.

The loss of shelled creatures will remove food supplies for larger marine animals.

The loss of shelled creatures at the lower end of the food chain could have disastrous consequences for larger marine animals. North pacific salmon, mackerel, herring, cod and baleen whales all feed on pteropods or sea butterflies, one of the species under imminent threat.

By Randall Parker    2008 November 24 10:36 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2008 November 02 Sunday
China Carbon Emissions Might Double By 2030

China's increase in carbon dioxide emissions over the next 20 years will exceed current US emissions.

By 2020, China's burning of fossil fuels could annually emit carbon dioxide equal in mass to 2.5 billion metric tonnes of pure carbon and up to 2.9 billion tonnes, depending on varying scenarios for development and technology, the new report states. By 2030, those annual emissions may reach 3.1 billion tonnes a year and up to 4.0 billion tonnes.

That compares with global carbon emissions of about 8.5 billion tonnes in 2007.

...The U.S. Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimated that the United States emitted about 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon in 2007, compared to China's 1.8 billion tonnes.

I expect Peak Oil will cut into the rate of growth of Chinese CO2 emissions. But most Chinese emissions come from burning coal, not from oil. In fact, the International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that as of 2003 77.1% of China's CO2 emissions came from coal. Almost 9% of China's CO2 emissions come from cement. That puts coal and cement together at 86% of Chinese carbon emissions meaning that little of current emissions comes from oil. But how much of this projected surge in Chinese CO2 emissions is projected to come from oil? If most of it is from oil then I do not expect most of the CO2 emissions surge to happen. World oil production will be way down by 2030.

On the bright side, declining costs of solar photovoltaics and wind farms should cut into the demand for coal to generate electricity. But our problem is that coal power plants last a long time and so solar's price has to fall lower than the fuel cost of a coal plant to shut down existing coal electric plants.

"The problem is that power plants, once built, are meant to last for 40 to 75 years," Carson said. "Our forecast incorporates the fact that much of China is now stuck with power plants that are dirty and inefficient."

If it turns out that increased CO2 concentrations cause a large warming effect then we will likely need to do climate engineering. Though maybe technological advances will make photovoltaics very cheap by the 2020s. Or maybe China's dwindling coal reserves might put a limit on their rate of coal consumption.

By Randall Parker    2008 November 02 06:14 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2008 July 30 Wednesday
Carbon Dioxide Increases Ocean Acidity

The CO2 that dissolves into the ocean continues to worry me more than global warming.

By absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and from the human use of fossil fuels, the world's seas function as a giant buffer for the Earth's life support system. The chemical balance of the sea has long been regarded as immovable. Today, researchers know that the pH of the sea's surface water has gone down by 0.1, or 25 percent, just since the beginning of industrialisation just over a century ago. Jon Havenhand and Michael Thorndyke, researchers at the University of Gothenburg, along with colleagues in Australia, have studied how this acidification process affects marine animal life.

As part of the study, which is one of the world's first on this subject, they have allowed sea urchins of the species Heliocidaris erythrogramma to fertilise themselves in water where the pH has been lowered from its normal 8.1 to a pH value of 7.7. This means an environment three times as acidic, and corresponds to the change expected by the year 2100. The results are alarming.

Like most invertebrates, the sea urchin multiplies by releasing its eggs to be fertilised in the open water. However, in a more acidic marine environment, the sea urchin's ability to multiply goes down by 25 percent, as its sperm swim more slowly and move less effectively. If fertilisation is successful, their larval development is disturbed to the extent where only 75 percent of the eggs develop into healthy larvae.

In a nutshell: We have lots of ways available to cool the planet with cheap affordable climate engineering. So global warming seems reversible if it becomes a problem. But how to deacidify the ocean if high atmospheric CO2 causes lots of CO2 to dissolve into the ocean? I ask again: does anyone have an idea for a cheap way to reverse CO2-caused acidification of oceans?

We might get lucky with cheap photovoltaics that could cause the demand for coal to plummet in 10 years. Add in the coming decline off the world oil production plateau and CO2 emissions might be on the decline in 10-15 years. Then again, maybe high rates of coal burning will extend until nanobots make construction of wind farms and solar concentrator farms really really cheap. But it would be good to have a way to reverse ocean acidification.

By Randall Parker    2008 July 30 11:41 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (23)
2008 June 14 Saturday
China Top Carbon Dioxide Emitter

China might have become the top carbon dioxide emitter in 2006. But the CO2 emissions in China became so large in 2007 that there's no longer room for debate on which country emits the most CO2.

China has now clearly overtaken the United States as the world's leading emitter of climate-warming gases, a new study has found. The increasing emissions from China - up 8 percent in the past year - accounted for two-thirds of the growth in global greenhouse gas emissions in 2007, the study found.

The report, released Friday by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, is an annual study. Last year, for the first time, the researchers found that China had edged ahead of the United States as the world's leading emitter.

But the results were not so clear-cut as those released Friday, and many experts were skeptical of last year's finding.

Keep in mind that if China's emissions go up 8% again this year that will be a larger increase in absolute terms. Dito next year and the year after that and so on. As China gets bigger its percentage growth rates can stay the same or decline while still experiencing increasing absolute growth rates. I harp on this because China's growth is one of the biggest macro trends of the 21st century.

The Chinese aren't going to cut their carbon dioxide emissions until either they start running out of coal or newer energy sources fall so far in cost that they become cheaper than coal. The chances of running out of coal are higher than the conventional wisdom holds. But the Chinese still have a couple of decades of enormous coal burning in their future.

By Randall Parker    2008 June 14 12:07 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2008 March 10 Monday
China CO2 Emissions Rising Faster Than Expected

The Western debate over carbon dioxide emissions looks increasingly irrelevant given the trends in China's industrial growth and development.

The growth in China's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is far outpacing previous estimates, making the goal of stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gases much more difficult, according to a new analysis by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, and UC San Diego.

Previous estimates, including those used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, say the region that includes China will see a 2.5 to 5 percent annual increase in CO2 emissions, the largest contributor to atmospheric greenhouse gases, between 2004 and 2010. The new UC analysis puts that annual growth rate for China to at least 11 percent for the same time period.

A constant percentage increase per year turns into an absolute increase per year. If China maintains an 11% CO2 increase per year through the 2010s then by 2020 it will likely emit more CO2 than all the rest of the world put together. Will they do that?

The study is scheduled for print publication in the May issue of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, but is now online.

Keep in mind that many Kyoto Accord signing countries are falling far short of meeting their pledges anyway.

The researchers' most conservative forecast predicts that by 2010, there will be an increase of 600 million metric tons of carbon emissions in China over the country's levels in 2000. This growth from China alone would dramatically overshadow the 116 million metric tons of carbon emissions reductions pledged by all the developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol. (The protocol was never ratified in the United States, which was the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide until 2006, when China took over that distinction, according to numerous reports.)

Put another way, the projected annual increase in China alone over the next several years is greater than the current emissions produced by either Great Britain or Germany.

Picture China's economy 2 times bigger. Picture it 3 times bigger. Huge demands for raw materials. Huge consumption of fossil fuels. Lots of pollution generated even from the solar photovoltaics industry.

Suppose rising CO2 emissions will cause global warming and that global warming will cause big negative impacts that outweigh the benefits. Well, we are going to have to use climate engineering techniques to stop and reverse the warming. Barring big breakthroughs to lower the costs of solar and nuclear power I do not see a substantial decrease in CO2 emissions until Peak Coal hits.

Most of this increase is coming from burning coal to generate electricity. If only they were building nuclear rather than coal electric power plants the emissions (and not just of CO2, also particulates, mercury, etc) would be far less.

China's installed nuclear power-generating capacity is expected to reach 60 gigawatts by 2020, a senior Chinese energy official said -- much higher than an earlier government estimate of 40 gigawatts. A gigawatt is the equivalent of one billion watts. The new estimate is equal to about two-thirds of Britain's total electricity-generating capacity today, although still equivalent to less than a tenth of China's current total.

If China ramps up to 60 gigawatts of nukes rather than 40 gigawatts then that will still only amount to 6% of their 2020 electric power capacity.

Faced with an energy crunch resulting from its fast economic growth, China has decided to develop more nuclear power. By 2020, the nation will have an installed nuclear power capacity of 40 million kw, accounting for 4 percent of its total installed generating capacity.

They still see nuclear power as too costly as compared to coal. Without cheaper ways to generate cleaner power the world is going to become a dirtier place.

By Randall Parker    2008 March 10 11:23 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
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