17 November 2009

Told Ya So

In 2005 I wrote that it was just a matter of time before air capture -- the direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere -- was going to move to the center of climate policy debates. Since that time I have been following the issue closely and even doing a bit of research on it (PDF). Today, Nature reports on the final results of a major European research project called Ensembles:

Carbon dioxide emissions will have to be all but eliminated by the end of this century if the world is to avoid a temperature rise of more than 2 ºC, scientists warned yesterday. And it might even be necessary to start sucking greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

The findings are the culmination of five years work by Ensembles, a major European research consortium led by the UK Met Office Hadley Centre and involving 65 other research institutes worldwide. In the first study of its kind, scientists in the project used a variety of the latest global climate models to determine the reductions needed to stabilize levels of greenhouse gases, termed CO2 equivalents, at 450 parts per million. That level, which offers a reasonable chance of keeping the temperature rise under 2ºC, is the goal of European climate policy.

The results suggest that to achieve that target, emissions would have to drop to near zero by 2100. One of Ensemble's models predicted that by 2050, it might also be necessary to introduce new techniques that can actually pull CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Here is what Ken Caldeira says:

The results suggest that simply switching to renewable sources of energy may not be enough to stabilize emissions. "It's clear that if we continue our current emissions trajectory and we want to stay at 450 parts per million, we'll need to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere," says atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira, who works at the Carnegie Institution for Science's Department of Global Ecology in Stanford, California. That could mean deploying new techniques for capturing carbon, such as biochar, reforestation or air filtering, on a massive scale.

Caldeira adds that action now could be a better option. If people stop building new CO2-emitting devices within the next decade, they could achieve the same result at a lower cost.

Any bets on whether or not people will "stop building new CO2-emitting devices within the next decade"? As I have often said, no one really knows the possibilities of air capture (chemical, biological, geological) and sequestration at scale, and we won't until a greater effort is devoted to it. But whether you like it or not, the slow pace of mitigation policies to meaningfully deflect trajectories from business-as-usual means that air capture is gaining traction as a policy option, and will continue to do so. It is not at the center of debates over climate -- yet -- but it is moving closer.


  1. I assume tax payers are required -- through force of law -- to pay for the development of these useless devices.

    Will tax payers also be required -- through force of law -- to pay for their purchase, deployment, operation and maintenance?

    Or, will consumers, via some harebrained Cap and Trade scheme, be required -- through force of law -- to do all that?

    Anybody see any opportunities for theft, graft and corruption? Anybody see anything BUT opportunities for theft, graft and corruption?

    I searched the Ensembles site looking for the word “funding”. The first Google hit took me to a page which decried the lack of “funding” for either their “gender action activities” or their “gender action committee”. I could almost hear the taxpayers breath a sigh of relief.

    After wading through lots more gender related Cultural Marxism claptrap, a little further down the Google list, I found this page confirming that the ONLY apparent funding for this boondoggle is “15 million Euros” from the EC.

    Well, given the base of operations appears to be at the Met Office of the Hadley Centre, I guess the British taxpayers are relieved to know they’re not the only ones stuck with the bill. It turns out a much larger bureaucracy imposed this travesty upon a much wider set of victims.

    I wonder why Copenhagen just came to mind.

  2. I read in Plimer's book that the Mauna Loa co2 measurements were never validated against the chemical method, but they use 280 ppm found in ice core air as the historical normal level.

    Has there ever been a time when co2 was below 280?

  3. "If people stop building new CO2-emitting devices within the next decade, they could achieve the same result at a lower cost."

    Those "devices" are called cars. And planes, trains, boats, power plants, and by extension everything which uses that electricity-in other words, our entire economy.

    Caldiera wants to pretend like he just wants us to give up our gadgets. If people are fooled by this then may the deity help us all.

    I really have to question the objectivity of "climate scientists" when every other word out of their mouths is something about "action" that inevitably says "people need to change their lifestyles".

    I have an idea, how about they all live in squalor to show "leadership". That's the logic in the international negotiations anyway. Not so nice having other people tell you how to live is it?

  4. Mauna Loa is validated against a synthetic air standard with known concentration. It's possible to prepare these standards with high precision and accuracy from the pure gases. This sort of thing is basic QC/QA. I don't know for sure, but it's very likely that the standard is traceable to NIST. There is very little chance that Mauna Loa, Barrow, South Pole and all the other locations that measure CO2 in air by infra-red absorption spectrometry are significantly in error.

  5. -2-PaperTiger,

    Click here for a relatively recent history of atmospheric CO2.

    Click here for the bigger picture.

    I’ve not read Plimer’s book. But, I presume he was referring to the “the historical normal level” for relatively recent interglacial warming periods (such as the present).

    I would suggest that “normal” would be a very bad choice of words “typical” would be better. Over the course of the last 600 million years, the “normal” (or typical) level would be at LEAST 1,000 ppm.

    We know that -- during the previous six glacial/interglacial cycles -- Milakovitch Cycles have primarily driven temperatures and temperatures have primarily driven atmospheric CO2 levels (as CO2 is released from and reabsorbed into the oceans).

    Yes, it is reasonable to assume that CO2 released from the oceans then created a secondary forcing factor contributing to some measure of additional warming.

    But, we also know -- even from the IPCC -- that each time temperatures plunged into the next glacial period, CO2 levels remained elevated for thousands of years before they began to drop.

  6. P.S.) Even this DOE government site admits that:

    “at the beginning of the deglaciations, the CO2 increase either was in phase or lagged by less than ~1000 years with respect to the Antarctic temperature, whereas it clearly lagged behind the temperature at the onset of the glaciations.”

    The IPCC was a little more honest -- but only on the glaciations side -- in admitting that:

    “lags of up to 2,000 to 4,000 years in the drawdown of CO2 at the start of glacial periods suggests that the low CO2 concentrations during glacial periods amplify the climate change but do not initiate glaciations (Lorius and Oeschger, 1994; Fischer et al., 1999).”

    Click here for the more complete and plain spoken story -- from directly cited peer reviewed science -- of how, in the relatively recent past, temperatures have primarily driven CO2.

  7. I am not sure exactly what Caldeira means by "lower cost." What kinds of costs? To whom? to what end?

    I could stop buying cars, but then if I tried to get to doctor's appointments on the bus, I might miss a day of work, which ultimately have some kind of cost.. not sure that he has thought this all the way through in a rigorous way.

    That's why I look to economists for judgments of costs and not atmospheric scientists.

  8. Doesn't anyone else find the claim that humans can control global temperatures predictably or otherwise absurd?

    The Met Office/ EU Ensembles report isn't even worthy of being reported, making ridiculous claims of up to a 10C rise in global temperatures in the next 50 years, and seems to ignore its own recent European Commission paper showing no GHG signal in European flood losses 1970 to 2006. It also contains an Italian pasta joke. All this against a background of a 29% rise in CO2 emissions 2000 to 2008, without any rise in global temperatures. And zero CO2 emissions by 2100 anyone?

    Air capture is simply another money making scheme for the global warming industry, that will have no effect on climate, but a big effect on the cost of energy.

  9. The argument again totally depends on the longevity of CO2 in the atmosphere which is largely guesswork. It's all very well trying to force "action" by using scary numbers but what if the more obvious actions waste a lot of money and do nothing for bettering green energy technologies? Will they decide to revisit the guesswork only after we have already headed down the wrong path or will they do it now?

  10. Roger

    I predicted the opposite. Carbon removal is the virtual definition of redundancy. There is some value in the development of alternative sources like wind, solar but none whatsoever in this.

    I read an article recently that suggested Co2 may be useful with geothermal energy. Let's hope so.


  11. I can understand air capture at the sources of emissions (with sequestration or as additional energy source) and reforestation. I am not sure what air capture "on a massive scale" means. If "massive scale" means more than my understanding (e.g., facilities purely dedicated to air capture (with sequestration)), then I would not want to live in a community with such facilities - as I believe they pose a detriment to the biosphere.

  12. -11-Brian

    One of the justifications given by advocates of air capture for why it makes sense (see, e.g., David Keith) is that facilities could be located anywhere, thus completely sidestepping the NIMBYism issue.

  13. Maybe it's time to bring back gas cooled reactors. Safer than water cooled reactors with a carbon moderator and CO2 cooling; why it's draw-down, mitigation and water management all in one shot:)