“Fossil fuels’ future”

Science 15 August 2014:
Vol. 345 no. 6198 pp. 739-740
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6198.739-d
Fossil fuels' future

The 27 June special section on The Great Gas Boom (“The gas surge,” D. Malakoff, p. 1464) about natural gas from hydraulic fracturing provided a useful update on a range of important environmental, social, and economic issues, with the exception of the elephant in the room: Natural gas is a fossil fuel. While a natural gas–fired power station has fewer CO2 emissions per unit energy produced compared with a coal-fired power station (up to 50% if fugitive emissions are captured or ignored) (“Hunting a climate fugitive,” News, E. Kintisch, p. 1472), this is largely irrelevant to solving the climate change problem. What matters is the long-term accumulated stock of carbon in the atmosphere, not the short-term rate of emissions (1).

The relationship between cumulative emissions and peak warming is insensitive to timing of emissions or peak emission rate (2). The lifetime of the airborne fraction of a pulse of fossil fuel–derived CO2 is much longer than the centuries some authors still believe (as stated in the News story by Kintisch). Modeling reveals that 20 to 35% of the CO2 emitted now will still be in the atmosphere after 2 to 20 millennia (3). To have a greater than 66% chance of limiting global warming to less than 2°C above the pre-industrial average surface temperature (4), humanity can emit only a further 275 Gt C, or about 34 years of “business-as-usual” emissions (5). The harsh reality is that CO2 emissions must decrease to zero before the end of this century or we will likely exceed the 2°C guard rail. In these circumstances, it is difficult to envisage a future where both the climate change problem is resolved and today's fossil fuel industry persists.

Brendan Mackey1, David Lindenmayer2
1 Griffith Climate Change Response Program, Griffith University, Southport, QLD 4222, Australia.
2 Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.

(1) B. Mackey, et al, Nature Climate Change 3, 552 (2013).
(2) M. R. Allen, et al, Nature 458, 1163 (2009).
(3) D. Archer, et al, Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Science 37, 117 (2009).
(4) United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Copenhagen Accord (2009); http://unfccc.int/meetings/copenhagen_dec_2009/items/5262.php.
(5) T. F. Stocker, et al (eds.), IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2013).

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Hope. This is why, in part, I am an atheist.

Carl Sagan’s last interview on Charlie Rose:

The point is, how can any world view which is based upon either ignorance of, apathy towards, or misconception about the physical universe offer any realistic promise or hope or optimism, any more than poppy juice does?

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Woo hoo! OCO-2 on station!

See the story, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Added 12th August 2014.

More from NASA JPL.

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Dan Satterfield on Why and How Weather and Climate Models Work

See http://blogs.agu.org/wildwildscience/2014/08/10/weather-climate-models-work-meteorologists-learn-calculus/.

50 minute summary lecture there, by Professor Margot Gerritsen, embedded below, if you really want to know why and how. You, of course, don’t need to know. But, then, don’t criticize climate models, because you’ll be doing it without knowing what you’re talking about.

Also check out Dr Gavin Schmidt’s TED Talk on same theme.

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This bitter Earth

This bitter earth
What fruit it bears
What good is love
That no one shares
And if my life is like the dust
That hides the glow of a rose
What good am I
Heaven only knows

This bitter earth
Can it be so cold
Today you’re young
Too soon your old
But while a voice
Within me cries
I’m sure someone
May answer my call
And this bitter earth
May not be so bitter after all

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Beauty of Earth

For the beauty of the earth,
for the splendor of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies;
Source of all Life here we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of ear and eye,
for the heart and mind’s delight,
for the mystic harmony,
linking sense to sound and sight;
Source of all Breath we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the wonder of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
sun and moon, and stars of dust;
Source of all Light, here we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of forest, field, and meadow,
bug, bee, bird, and fish,
for the kinship we all share,
for all gentle thoughts and mild;
Nature around us, for you we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

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Sharks at Play

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