Tuesday, October 05, 2010

And then there were 306...

NOAA: “August 2010 was the 306th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last month with below average temperatures was February 1985.” Any day the temperatures for September will be in. It's a safe bet to expect they will make it 307.

The most commonly cited target in international climate negotiations is that we ought to limit warming to an average of 2°C. However, that may already be too high.

How to shrink a city: this will become an increasing issue in many parts of the world due to likely demographic and economic changes of the next few decades.

Peak oil and healthcare, a UK perspective.

Terminological clarification: irreversible vs unstoppable.

Hot Topic: On giving up non-essential flying.

The health benefit of more ambitious emissions targets. If Europe raised its sights from 20% to 30% emissions cuts by 2020, then it could be saving an extra €30 billion per year in health costs. This saving alone would account for a significant portion of the estimated €46 billion p.a. the higher target would require.

Twenty-two percent of the world's plant species are threatened with extinction and another thirty-three percent have an unknown status. The main culprit? Land use changes associated with agriculture.

Rivers in peril worldwide: study in Nature claims that eighty percent of the world's population (nearly 5.5 billion people) lives in an area where rivers are seriously threatened. "[S]ome of the highest threat levels in the world are in the United States and Europe." See also here a graphic of the threat distribution.

Oceans acidifying much faster than ever before in Earth's history.

Soil degradation, erosion and desertification continues in many places around the world, reducing the amount of arable land.

On average, every single man, woman and child on the planet is US$28,000 in debt.

Speaking of money, a new study has estimated that the cost of vanishing rainforest each year is approximately US$5 trillion (with a "t". i.e. US$5,000,000,000,000).

However, the real issue is that each of these crises are not isolated, but are all converging on similar time scales.


jessica smith said...

I totally love the shrinking city article - what a fascinating concept and how exciting to see people really thinking about what to do with uninhabited city spaces. Thinking about Australia though, do you think our big capitals are likely to face this degree of shrinkage or is America's style of city such a different ball game?

phil_style said...

Some good news on the horizon Byron: http://www.solarserver.com/solar-magazine/solar-news/current/kw37/concentrating-solar-power-cec-approves-1gw-blythe-csp-plant.html

1GW is a very good start.

byron smith said...

Phil - that is indeed good news. Any word on a likely timeframe for operation? It isn't mentioned in the article. And the fact that these new stations will exceed the total current operational CSP capacity of the US shows just how far there is to go. In 2006, the total nameplate capacity for US electricity generation was about 1087 GW, so when completed, even though it will more than double CSP output, it will still be only about 0.1% of US electricity capacity. How many more can we build in the next ten years? And how fast will conventional liquid fuels decline? And how many billion barrels of non-conventional will be produce and combust? And how many tonnes of CO2 will that produce? And how many degrees of warming will that result in? I'm afraid these numbers are not so good, even with the most optimistic assumptions about the rollout of renewables. The more renewables the better (I buy only 100% renewably generated electricity myself), but they are not going to singlehandedly solve the problem. However, one of the great advantages of renewables is that in the event of severe economic and/or social disruption, they are generally easier to keep running than sources of energy that rely on long supply chains.

Jess - Yes, plenty of cities have experienced shrinking at different points in history. Ancient Rome exceeded a million, but was down to about 30,000 by the early middle ages.

I do think that the Australian context is very different to the US. I suspect that the future demographics of various cities will vary enormously, depending on a wide range of factors. (Is that vague enough for you?)

phil_style said...

Byron, you're right about renewables not making up a significant enough proportion of the gobal/national supply to really make a difference. The most important measures always are demand-side related.

Conventional fuel use/generation is still cheaper to build and (in some cases) operate than renewables.

But, it's a start. I know many players (mid east especially) are just waiting to see the technology prove itself on a large scale (GW sizes) once that happens, perhaps we'll reach an investment/contruction tipping point where it really starts to take off.

Fortunaltey for the environment, electricity must always remain expensive, if energy was free - we'd have developed much more of the earth by now than we have. It's perhaps only the cost of development (i.e. energy) that has stopped us.

byron smith said...

Phil - The idea of an innovation tipping point is an interesting one. I guess the question is still "how fast can we achieve an energy transition with high motivation and proven models?"

byron smith said...

Hottest Jan-Sep on record.

byron smith said...

Hottest Jan-Oct on record. I guess we're up to 308 now.

byron smith said...

More on irreversibility.

In other news, 2010 was probably the hottest year on record, and Dec 2009-Nov 2010 was the hottest meteorological year on record.

byron smith said...

NYT: 333 months.