The cost of climate change

People are so incredibly focused on what fighting climate change would cost then, now, that they tend to overlook the cost of inaction.  Sure, most of this cost will be borne by future generations, but what gives us the right to burden them with this?  They deserve the same, or better, quality of life as us.  So, what is the cost of climate impacts due to human-caused CO2 pollution?  A recent study (link) finds the worst case cost, which is based on our current course of action, at about $1240 trillion, a number so large that I have a hard time comprehending it (the timeframe of this is a bit unclear, but they do say the annual impact is about $1.5 trillion so this cost looks like a long-term one, not to downplay its significance any!).  What’s more important is that they also estimate that, if we can stabilize CO2 levels at 450ppm, the impact is only about $110 trillion, a substantial savings.  Given the obvious cost savings here, and our current inaction, I fear our generation will do nothing more than teach future generations to not be so greedy.  Which is not all bad, assuming future generations can manage to still have a cohesive, productive society in the changing ecosystem we’re creating for them.  Read more here.

Jumping now to this infographic, obtained from grist.  It lays out the expected impact of climate change, taking into account different CO2 emission scenarios (we’re on track for the worst case scenario as laid out here…scary).  Click the thumbnail below for the full image.

IiB CO2 graphic v3

Where is Peak Oil?

The idea of Peak Oil, where demand exceeds supply, threatened us for a long time yet continual advances in oil extraction techniques keeps pushing that date farther and farther out, as explained in a recent article over at FastCompany (worth reading if you’re into this stuff!).  Instead, we’re facing a new dilemma…we’ve gotten so good at extracting fossil fuels from the ground, that we now face the grim reality of the environmental impact of consuming the known and accessible fossil fuel reserves.  If we want to stay below the internationally-agreed upon 2°C of global warming, we can dump about 565 gigatons more CO2 into the atmosphere.  The problem is that current fossil fuel reserves, ignoring any future discoveries, contain about 2,795 gigatons of CO2 (source).  Yeah.  Not good.  Either fossil fuels need to get so expensive that people stop using them, or we’re going to really mess up this planet.

Can the Internet of Things help reduce global warming?

The Internet of Things is best thought of as abundant networked, communicating smart devices all around you.  Sensors, mostly, that are all communicating and making available unprecedented amounts of information about objects and the environment.  Houses that know what rooms people are in, what rooms they are likely to be in next, and adjust HVAC systems accordingly to reduce energy consumption, for example.  I’ve loved the idea of this from a technology geek perspective, but I hadn’t considered the environmental aspect until coming across this article talking about how it could offset billions of tons of CO2 through increased efficiency.  Interesting idea…and it makes a lot of sense.  We’d have to also consider the CO2 impact of actually producing so many sensors and networked objects, though.

Big increases in global CO2 in 2012

2012 saw large increases in the amount of atmospheric CO2, with a jump of 2.67ppm (parts per million).  As a comparison, between 2000 and 2010, the annual rate of increase was just under 2ppm; in the 1960s it was less than 1ppm.  In spite of this data and political paralysis on the issue, scientists still talk as if we have some hope of averting catastrophic climate change on this planet.  Let’s face it, the only way that will happen is if/when renewable energy becomes so much cheaper and more accessible to the average consumer that they’ll rush to embrace that.  Until then, our greed and short-sightedness will keep us on this path.  By the time the effects are so overwhelming that even the GOP has to pull their heads out of the sand and admit the problem, it’ll be too late to fix it.

Sorry, kids.  Yes, we know exactly what our current course of action is doing to the environment you will rely upon when you’re our age.  Or at least, we have a really, really good idea of what will happen, just some disagreement about the exact timing of things.  Don’t let future history suggest otherwise.  The people of this era are choosing this path for our own short term gain.  I’m doing what I can to help influence others via this blog and my own actions, but it’s a really tough battle.

(via NBC news)

Continual drop in solar energy prices – grid parity

Solar electricity is moving ever closer to grid parity, meaning the cost is comparable to existing grid supplies (coal, gas, etc).  This is a pretty significant milestone, as politics have failed (and will continue to do so) in substantially reducing CO2 emissions…but if solar becomes less expensive than fossil fuel electricity, market forces will take over where governments have failed.  A project in Spain recently achieved grid parity with a group of fourteen rooftop solar panel arrays, and in the US, a project by First Solar is producing at less cost than coal.  I think we’re moving into a new electricity marketplace, where people are going to start asking why we’re not looking at solar to cut costs, rather than asking why we should pay *more* for solar, as has been the case in past years.  I wouldn’t expect your utility bill to decrease though, as the gradual decommissioning of fossil fuel plants is not going to be cheap.  But, a big win for the environment – if we can move quickly enough on this.

Also in solar energy news, the world’s largest solar thermal plant, being built in California, recently passed a big test proving that it’s ready to enter commercial service.  Solar thermal technology is significant as the thermal energy it collects can be stored to provide energy when there’s a shortage of sunlight (cloudy days, or at night).

Clean coal power – for real this time!

new.coal_.techx299The idea of ‘clean’ coal power has really been more of a marketing ploy and not something that environmentalists would agree with…until now, that is.  Researchers at Ohio State University have proven a new clean coal technology in a 25kW facility ran for one week…far from the megawatt scale needed for industrial uses but no small feat and a great step towards that goal.  The next step is a one megawatt demonstration plant already in the planning stages.

So how does it work?  Burning coal is a messy process, producing lots of gaseous byproducts that are difficult to separate and manage.  This new process (“chemical looping”) reacts with materials rich in oxygen, like iron oxide (ie, rust).  The energy in the coal breaks the bond between the oxygen and iron, which produces nearly pure CO2 as a byproduct (the other being iron metal and a mineral known as wustite).  So, it still produces the greenhouse gas CO2, but that CO2 is nearly pure, meaning it’s much easier to contain it (at which point it can be used for industrial purposes or stored underground to not contribute to global warming).  The pure iron is then burned in a separate process, which produces heat to generate steam and drive turbines to generate electricity.

This is expected to result in only small increases in the cost of electricity…whether it can be scaled up to power plant levels quickly enough is the real question.

(via TechnologyReview)

Slow climate change by working less!

Now here’s an idea I think we could all accept.  The Center for Economic and Policy Research has released a paper (PDF link) that looks at the impact that working fewer hours would have on climate change.  It assumes that working less would also result in decreased consumption, which then decreased factory output, etc…and finds that reducing work hours by an annual average of only 0.5% over the rest of this century would eliminate 25-50% of the global warming that has not yet already been ‘locked in’ (or in other words, reduce the warming yet to be caused by future greenhouse gas emissions).  The estimated impact to personal impact is a reduction of 10-25%, in exchange for increased leisure time.

Now, we just need a catchy slogan for this.  Post any ideas in the comments below, let’s make this happen! 🙂

(via Inhabitat)