Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Interview with an Activist

Yesterday December 16th I attended a rally to protest against the Australian Governments announcement that it would raise the white flag on climate change. Earlier I had sent the following open letter/email to the Prime Minister Mr. Kevin Rudd (I will not refer to him as the Hon. Kevin Rudd PM of Australia)

Prime Minister - You have missed your opportunity to be the Statesman we need on creating a safe future of our children and theirs. I am saddened that you continue with the decade of denial by the Liberals with what now seems to be continued protracted procrastination. We have 20/20 hindsight of which it is said we can be wise. We have 20/20 foresight on the future we face - on the path we are on. It appears you wish to fail to be wise.
Bob Williamson
Founder and Chair
Greenhouse Neutral Foundation
Author of ZERO Greenhouse Emissions - The Day the Lights Went Out - Our Future World Published by Strategic Book Publishing New York.

While standing with others gathered to register our joint protests, I took the opportunity to alert those there to the release of my book, reviewed as 'What they would rather YOU didn't know about Climate Change' It is a book to inspire in the common man the desire to become part of the solution on climate change as we are most certainly part of the problem.

At the end of the rally a young lady in her 20's came up to me. Introducing herself as Emma I was impressed with her passion to become involved. It was obvious to me that she was intelligent and motivated, but her question touched me; "I want to do something, but I don't know how and I'm not sure I could make a difference as a single person (voice)." 'How did you do it?"

I told her some of our journey, which is what I call, 'our overnight success that took us a decade'.

On reflection; there are many journeys such as ours, many activists like me and my family who are making a difference with the voice of one. They too could guide Emma and others like her to become instrumental in the changes we need to urgently achieve. They too could motivate others with their stories and they too could inspire the many Emma's out there with their words, actions and visions.

So here is my challenge;
Seek out these people; write their inspirational stories in 'An Interview With An Activist' series of blogs.

Help the many Emma's to become the power of one voice.

As I say in the book introduction:-

Feel no guilt for being part of the problem, but feel responsible and inspired to be part of a solution. A few great men and women may start out being the power of one, but no single great man, no single great woman, from the start of history or into the future, will make a change without collective will.

We need collective will, collective effort, and collective vision, for our collective future.

You and Yours. Me and Mine. Them and Theirs.

Are you such an inspirational activist with a story to tell and an Emma to guide?

If so get in touch for 'An Interview With An Activist'.

Bob Williamson

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pemafrost methane a ticking time bomb

Melting Arctic Ocean Raises Threat of ‘Methane Time Bomb’
Scientists have long believed that thawing permafrost in Arctic soils could release huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Now they are watching with increasing concern as methane begins to bubble up from the bottom of the fast-melting Arctic Ocean.
by Susan Q.Stranahan

For the past 15 years, scientists from Russia and other nations have ventured into the ice-bound and little-studied Arctic Ocean above Siberia to monitor the temperature and chemistry of the sea, including levels of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Their scientific cruises on the shallow continental shelf occurred as sea ice in the Arctic Ocean was rapidly melting and as northern Siberia was earning the distinction — along with the North American Arctic and the western Antarctic Peninsula —of warming faster than any place on Earth. Until 2003, concentrations of methane had remained relatively stable in the Arctic Ocean and the atmosphere north of Siberia. But then they began to rise. This summer, scientists taking part in the six-week International Siberian Shelf Study discovered numerous areas, spread over thousands of square miles, where large quantities of methane — a gas with 20-times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide — rose from the once-frozen seabed floor. These “methane chimneys” sometimes contained concentrations of the gas 100 times higher than background levels and were so large that clouds of gas bubbles were detected "rising up through the water column," Orjan Gustafsson of the Department of Applied Environmental Science at Stockholm University and the co-leader of the expedition, said in an interview. There was no doubt, he said, that the methane was coming from sub-sea permafrost, indicating that the sea bottom might be melting and freeing up this potent greenhouse gas. Gustafsson said he makes no claims that the methane release “is necessarily driven by global warming.”

But a growing body of data showing that more methane is emanating from the rapidly thawing Arctic Ocean has caught the attention of many climate scientists. Could this be the beginning, they wonder, of the release of vast quantities of sub-sea Arctic methane long trapped by a permafrost layer that is starting to thaw? In recent years, climate scientists have been concerned about a so-called “methane time bomb” on land, which would be detonated when warming Arctic temperatures melt permafrost and cause frozen vegetation in peat bogs and other areas to decay, releasing methane and carbon dioxide.

Now come fears of a methane time bomb, part two, this one bursting from the sea floor of the shallow Arctic continental shelf. The Arctic sea floor contains a rich, decayed layer of vegetation from earlier eras when the continental shelf was not underwater. So little data is available from the Arctic Ocean that no scientists dare say with certainty whether the world is watching the fuse being lit on a marine methane time bomb. But researchers such as Natalia Shakhova —a visiting scientist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and a participant in some of the Siberian Shelf scientific cruises — are concerned that the undersea permafrost layer has become unstable and is leaking methane long locked in ice crystals, known as methane hydrates. One thing is certain: the shallow Siberian Shelf alone covers more than 1.5 million square kilometers (580,000 square miles), an area larger than France, Germany, and Spain combined
Now come fears of a methane time bomb, part two, this one bursting from the sea floor of the shallow Arctic continental shelf. Should its permafrost layer thaw, an amount of methane equal to 12 times the current level in the atmosphere could be released, according to Shakhova.

Such a release would cause “catastrophic global warming,” she recently wrote in Geophysical Research Abstracts. Among the many unanswered questions is how quickly — over years? centuries? — methane releases might occur. Said Gustafsson, “The conventional view is that the permafrost is holding these large methane reservoirs in place. That is a view that we need to rethink and revise.” What concerns some scientists is evidence from past geological eras that sudden releases of methane have triggered runaway cycles of climate upheaval. Martin Kennedy, a geologist at the University of California at Riverside and lead author of a paper published in Nature in June, speaks in near-doomsday terms, warning that rising methane emissions — from land and sea — threaten to radically destabilize the climate.

Ice core studies in Greenland and Antarctica have shown that Earth’s climate can change abruptly, more like flipping a switch than slowly turning a dial. “I’m very concerned that we’re near the threshold and we’re going to see the tipping point in 20 years,” Kennedy warns. Temperature increases in the Arctic of a just few degrees could unleash the huge storehouse of methane, which some have estimated would be comparable to burning all recoverable stocks of coal, oil, and natural gas. Kennedy’s Nature article bases his warnings on a long-ago event. Sediment samples gathered in south Australia led Kennedy’s

What concerns some scientists is evidence from past geological eras that sudden releases of methane have triggered runaway cycles of climate upheaval.team to theorize that a catastrophic era of global warming was triggered some 635 million years ago by a gradual — and then abrupt — release of methane from frozen soils, bringing an end to “Snowball Earth,” when the entire planet was encrusted in ice. He sees similarities in the mounting threats of thawing terrestrial and marine permafrost today. The question, he asks, is what will set the process in motion and when. “Do we have a substantial risk of crossing one of these thresholds?” he asked in an interview. “I would say yes. I have absolutely no doubt that at the current rate of [greenhouse gas emissions] we can cross a tipping point, and when that occurs it’s too late to do anything about it.”

As with much climate research, the science is complex and opinions can vary dramatically. David Lawrence of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, is concerned, but not alarmed. Lawrence was lead author of a paper in Geophysical Research Letters, also published in June, that documented the consequences of the record loss of Arctic sea ice in 2007. Based on climate models, Lawrence and his team theorized that during periods of rapid sea-ice loss, temperatures could increase as far as 900 miles inland, accelerating the rate of terrestrial permafrost thaw. From August to October of 2007, they reported, temperatures over land in the western Arctic rose more than 4° F above the 1978-2006 average.

“If you give it [the land] a pulse of warming like that it could lead to increased degradation of permafrost,” Lawrence said in an interview. “It’s not quite a runaway situation, but it does accelerate once it starts to thaw and accumulates heat.” Arctic soils hold nearly one-third of the world’s supply of carbon, remnants of an era when even the northern latitudes were covered with lush foliage and mammoths ranged over grassy steppes.

Scientists estimate that the Siberian tundra contains as much buried organic matter as the world’s tropical rain forests. Disappearing Arctic sea ice — summer ice extent was at its lowest level in recorded history in 2007 and almost hit that level in 2008 — also will warm the Arctic Ocean, since a dark, ice-free sea absorbs more solar radiation than a white, ice-covered one. In addition, warmer waters are pouring in from rivers in rapidly warming land regions of Alaska, Canada, and Russia, also increasing sea temperatures. Rising ocean and air temperatures mean not only the continuing disappearance of Arctic sea ice — many scientists now think the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in summer within two decades —

Scientists are unsure how rapidly the subsurface permafrost is thawing, or the exact causes. One possible cause could be geothermal heat seeping through fault zones. In any case, scientists agree that Arctic sub-sea permafrost — with a temperature of 29° F to 30° F— is closer to thawing than terrestrial permafrost, whose temperature can drop as low as 9.5° F.

At this point, scientists are stepping up their monitoring of the land and the sea in the Arctic, watching to see if either time bomb — terrestrial or marine — is showing signs of going off. So far, data are scarce and monitoring networks don’t exist. “That makes it very difficult to understand and evaluate the future,” Lawrence said. Although scientists know that methane has been released in the region’s water for eons, they are unsure if the new findings represent a short-term spike or long-term trend. Pending more research, Orjan Gustafsson shares Lawrence’s caution. When he was asked how close Earth may be to a tipping point of irreversible climate change, he replied: “Everyone would like to know the answer to that. I don’t think anyone can say.”

In early 2007 it was reported that the Arctic may be ice free in summer by 2100. In November 2008 Scientists reported they may have been out on the prediction, and that it may be ice free by 2011 to 2015. The additional regional solar absorbsion will contribute to permafrost melt adding to the risks of runaway methane release.
The open warming ocean may also contibute the methane clathrates presently traped as ice like crystals in cold Arctic coastal waters.

Is best available science keeping up?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

You can say anything to anyone 'as long as you smile'!

Did You know you can say anything to anyone ''AS LONG AS YOU SMILE"

Excerpt from the book ZERO Greenhouse Emissions - The Day the Lights Went Out - Our Future World published by Strategic Book Publishing New York

Chapter 3 - A Certain Future

Through the fictional I can also question the illogical and ask you what you think. I can ask if you agree with the logic and ask what you would do about it. I can ask questions of our political leaders and of those behind the scenes in the halls of power. I can question the motives of lobbying groups and those with vested commercial interests to protect, question the inappropriate subsidies, tax breaks, and commercial deals put in place in the past world model, the “business as usual model” that in a rapidly changing world needs to be reassessed, scrapped, and redirected. In what follows both in fiction and in fact, I will challenge the motives of those who wield influence. I will question whether or not we should continue on the same path. Some may not like the challenges I make. Some may even take offense. To those people I offer the following.
I was once told “You can say anything to anyone—as long as you smile.” Try this out. Hop out of your chair, walk over to the nearest person to you, smile sweetly at them and call them the worst thing possible, in the worst language you can muster, smiling all the time you’re saying it. I bet they don’t take offense or get upset.
Some years ago during the hot Australian summer, a friend and I walked to a local pub frequented by bikers for a cool glass of beer. The sun was blazing. Parked on the veranda at the back of the pub in the shade was one of the most spectacular Harley Davidson motorcycles I had seen in a long time. There was not a speck of dust anywhere to be seen and the paint was a work of art. I drooled over it for several minutes before entering the bar.
There, slumped defiantly at the bar, was the obvious owner. In full club colors he was a menacing sight. Along with his rough appearance, his body language said “don’t mess with me; I’ll take your head off!” To test out the “You can say anything to anyone— as long as you smile” theory, much to the horror of the friend I had with me, I walked up to the biker and said: “Are you the bastard that owns the Harley parked on the veranda?” As he swung around to rip off my head, I smiled and said “It’s beautiful, one of the best I’ve ever seen, I have always wanted one!” During the next half hour or so over a glass of beer, he told me the full history of the bike and himself. He didn’t I’m sorry to say offer to let me take it for a spin. So within the fictional element, script and context, for all those who may for whatever reason take offense, just think of me asking the question while I’m smiling.

End excerpt

Try it out everyone; it's fun!!

Bob Williamson
Founder & Chair
Greenhouse Neutral Foundation

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Carbon Capture and Storage or has Elvis already left the building?

Excert from ZERO Greenhouse Emissions - The Day the Lights Went Out - Our Future World Chapter 4 - The Day Before


The coal industry and the political parties supporting them would have us believe they can continue with the fossilized carbon release and offer up for our comfort, the silver bullet, of “Clean Coal Technology” and “Carbon Capture and Storage—CCS.”
Digging deeper, as they also must to keep up with exports, we find the plot thickens.
First to the basics: Coal is formed in ecosystems where the remains of plants were preserved by water and mud from oxidation and biodegradation, thereby sequestering atmospheric carbon. As over time geological processes apply pressure to the dead matter, under suitable conditions, it transforms successively into peat, lignite (also referred to as brown coal), sub-bituminous coal, anthracite, and graphite.
Lignite, sub-bituminous coal and bituminous coal are used for coal-fired energy generation, with the higher grade, bituminous, also used for manufacturing, steel production, and to make coke (not the kind you drink). Coal is mostly used to produce electricity, and the world’s annual consumption is presently around 6.2 billion tonnes, with estimates that 75 percent of this figure or 4.65 billion tonnes is used to produce electricity in the world’s coal-fired power stations. By 2020, a 50 percent projected increase in global demand will put consumption up to 9.3 billion tonnes annually.
Does anyone apart from me see the correlation between coal use and escalating greenhouse emissions over the period from now until 2020? Logic suggests, if we want to stop global warming, stop coal!
China produced 2.38 billion tonnes in 2006, while also being a net importer of coal including supplies from Australia. As an aside, in January 2007 the Australian federal government committed A$100 million to a partnership resoundingly welcomed by the Australian Coal Industry, called the “Australia–China Joint Coordination Group on ‘Clean Coal Technology.’”
Just over 83 percent of China’s electricity comes from coal-fired power stations and this is on the rise. The United States consumes about 1.053 billion tonnes using 90 percent of this for energy generation.
So back to the helpful suggestion from the Australian Coal Industry Association: It’s not the use of coal that’s the problem, but how coal is used!
When coal is consumed in coal-fired power plants, it is usually pulverized and then burned in a furnace with a boiler. The furnace heat converts boiler water to steam, which is then used to spin turbines that turn generators, and creates electricity. The efficiency of this thermodynamic process of steam turbines is at best 35 percent. Many older plants presently in service are significantly less efficient. What this means at best though, is that 65 percent of the coal energy is waste heat released into the surrounding environment! That translates into over 3 billion tonnes of the 4.65 billion tonnes burned for energy generation annually being wasted! The energy density, or the heating value, of coal is roughly 24 megajoules per kilogram (3.6 megajoules = 1 kilowatt) coming out at 6.67 kilowatt hours per kilogram. When the average 30 percent thermodynamic efficiency is factored in, coal-fired power plants at best generate two kilowatt hours per kilogram of burned coal. As coal is at least 50 percent carbon by mass, then there is 0.5 kilogram of carbon in 1 kilogram of coal. This ½ kilo of fossilized carbon when combusted combines with oxygen in the atmosphere, producing carbon dioxide, resulting in a combined weight of carbon plus oxygen, of 1.83 kilograms of CO2 for each and every kilo of coal burned!
So from burning coal for energy generation alone, at present rates we add 8.51 billion tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere each year. On average to produce 1kilowatt of electricity, a coal-fired plant will spew out close to 1 kilogram of CO2.
I guess the industry and its supporters can happily justify the green wash term, “Clean Coal,” and the projected increase in coal-fired energy generation by 2020 to producing 12.77 billion tonnes of CO2 in global atmospheric pollution annually.
When approached to justify how they can continue to promote coal use for energy generation and at the same time reduce the resultant heat-trapping carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, in order to return the planet to a safe and habitable world, they will trot out “Carbon Capture and Storage—CCS.”
The premise being, we can continue to generate energy from polluting nonrenewable sources by the burning of fossil fuels, as long as when we intentionally release the trapped carbon, we run around and catch it before it leaves the building!
Over the coming years there will be a great deal of investment in CCS. Billions of dollars of public funds, your money and mine, will be directed to it. Some would argue that CCS is a convenient diversion by the pro-coal lobby. Some would say the investment would be better placed to fast track renewable energy supplies and increase energy efficiencies. The European Union and the United Nations Climate Panel along with many researchers, place high hopes on the development of CCS. Indeed many of their hopes and much of their forecasting for emissions reductions over the coming years rely heavily on the success of the technology and its wide deployment. By 2020 the EU has committed to overall CO2 emission reductions of 20 percent, but plans to construct 50 new coal-fired power plants by 2013.
CCS, while technically feasible, according to industry experts (can we trust these guys?), is expensive, while decreasing the average efficiency of power plants by up to 20 percent, and so far globally there are only a smattering of small “demonstration projects.” In Norway they are demonstrating they can capture and store a million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Do the numbers add up? 12.77 billion tonnes of CO2 from coal-fired energy generation by 2020? Retrofitting the over fifty thousand coal-fired power stations presently operating globally—and rising? Various scenarios put forward by its supporters suggest that CCS could account for between 15 and 55 percent of the reduction of greenhouse gases by 2100.
The International Energy Agency estimates that world energy demands will soar by 60 percent from current levels by 2030, with 85 percent of that being from the burning of fossil fuels. It reports that Germany is planning twenty new plants in the coming decades while China is expected to install a further 800 gigawatts of new electrical power capacity by 2015, of which, 90 percent will be from coal. The IEA highlights that 800 gigawatts is equivalent to all the power capacity installed throughout the European Union member countries since 1945.
So how do we catch Elvis before he leaves the building? Some researchers studying CCS point out themselves that their models and scenarios in many respects are based on insufficient factual foundations, unrealistic assumptions, and major oversimplifications. One report by Anders Hansson of Linkoping University Sweden states: “In full scale this technology only exists in the imagination of the people developing it and that it is overly optimistic to place such great faith in CCS considering all the uncertainties found in current scientific literature.” Is it a diversionary tactic by those with vested commercial and political interests wishing to continue down the fossil fuel burning path? By the coal industry lobby and suppliers, who will benefit while we blindly follow them down this well-trodden proven path of pollution? Is it politically easier to offer hope to us that a solution may be found, so that all of us can keep the energy consumption drug we are addicted to? Do the numbers add up? To live up to the hopes placed on CCS requires the storage of billions of tonnes annually, meaning carbon dioxide would become the world’s largest transported good.
But there is another complication. Some may suggest that it means that CCS, even if successfully developed and deployed to all the coal-fired power stations in the world, would save such a minuscule amount of the CO2 pollution resulting from the process of extraction and burning coal, that it is a thorough waste of time and of the billions that will be spent in coming decades.
It again comes back to externalities. It is the hidden environmental consequences resulting from the very process of getting the coal out of the ground.
If we revisit the basics: coal is formed in ecosystems where the remains of plants were preserved by water and mud from oxidation and biodegradation. Over time geological processes apply pressure to the dead matter and under suitable conditions, it transforms into coal.
The fact is that coal mining doesn’t just dig up the coal. Mining the volumes now consumed around the world means that most coal today comes from opencast–open pit coal mines. As we know, methane, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide (the stuff that kills the canary!) is released in the process. These emissions start as soon as the layers above, called the overburden, are stripped away.
The damage starts right then.
Conservative estimates from experiments going back as far as the 1960s and reported by Brame and King in Fuel, show that these gases alone account for about twice the emissions of the burning of the coal that has been mined. In other words, for every 1 kilogram of coal burned, producing 1.83 kilogram of CO2, a further 3.66 kilograms of CO2-e emissions result.
And again, back to the basics; not all that is disturbed, or dug up, is coal. In fact, around 98 percent of what is mined is not coal. A large portion, on average 25 percent or ten times the amount of coal that is extracted, will be shale and mudstone, with a carbon content of 50 percent of that of coal, in other words, the carbon content by mass of 250 grams per kg. So 1 kilogram of successfully mined coal (50 percent carbon by mass or 0.5 kilogram of carbon), has an externality in unwanted mudstone and shale of around 6.25 kilogram of carbon. This shale and mudstone cannot be burned due to its high ash content, but it still oxidizes if exposed to air, producing CO2. These along with other unwanted workings are tipped as part of the mining process waste. Again, conservative estimates give this carbon source the potential to emit three to four times as much CO2 as the mined coal.
So if we revisit the question as to the value of investing in carbon capture and storage at the power station, we see that if successful these would account for a result of between 5–10 percent maximum of the emissions attributable from the process of working/mining and burning coal. Personally, I think Elvis has left the building!