Archive for the ‘climate change’ Category

If we stopped replacing fossil-fuel-using tech, we’d hit our climate goals

January 17th, 2019
This refinery would be replaced by a green alternative once it reaches the end of its lifetime.

Enlarge / This refinery would be replaced by a green alternative once it reaches the end of its lifetime. (credit: Eni An Energy Company)

Because climate change is such a complex, globe-spanning problem, it’s hard to really wrap your head around possible future scenarios. A future where no action is taken to slow greenhouse gas emissions is easy enough to grok, but what exactly does a “middle-of-the-road emissions world” entail?

These scenarios work well for outlining the range of futures available to us, but it can be hard to understand the steps necessary to get to that future. “What if?” scenarios are often easier to think about. What if we eliminated all greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow? Or, if those rainbow unicorns are too impractical for you, what if we didn't replace fossil fuel infrastructure when it reached the end of its life, replacing it with clean alternatives instead?

End of life

That’s the question that a new study led by the University of Leeds’ Chris Smith investigated. The basic idea is to find out how much warming the world’s existing fossil-fuel-burning machinery commits us to, given how long that machinery is likely to run before it naturally hits the scrap heap.

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Posted in climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, science | Comments (0)

Canadian plans to transport oil as solid briquettes move forward

January 8th, 2019

The Canada National Railway Company (CN) has spent years developing a product called CanaPux, in which thick bitumen crude oil from Canada's oil sands is mixed with a polymer to become a solid puck that can be transported with little fear of spills or fires. When the pucks reach their destination, the polymer is separated from the oil and can be sent back to the processing plant for reuse.

Now, CN Innovations, the branch of CN that developed CanaPux, has found two partnering groups that are interested in building production plants to develop the pucks. One is a Chinese group seeking to export bitumen (the name for the low-grade heavy oil found in Canadian oil sands) to China, the other is a Canadian group wanting to export the stuff to South Korea and India, among other countries. The Canadian group in particular has been focusing on exporting bitumen for non-combustion purposes: heavy oil like bitumen is often used to pave and waterproof roofs, according to James Auld, the project lead for CanaPux at CN.

Auld told Ars on Monday that a 10,000 barrel-a-day CanaPux production plant would cost about CAN$50 million (US$37.6 million) to build, not including a facility at the other end of the transportation chain that would de-polymerize the briquettes of oil. The two groups looking to build CanaPux plants are eyeing plants that could process between 10,000 and 50,000 barrels per day.

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Posted in Biz & IT, CanaPux, cars, climate change, Energy, oil, rail | Comments (0)

Oh sorry, is eating meat bad for the planet? I didn’t know.

December 20th, 2018
One of <a href=Texas' top BBQ destinations: Micklethwait. "/>

Enlarge / One of Texas' top BBQ destinations: Micklethwait. (credit: Nathan Mattise)

People want to be good. They want to save the Earth, or at least maybe just destroy it a little more slowly. The problem is, they don’t know how. They don’t really have any idea about how much energy their appliances are using, or how much energy it takes to make the food they eat, and thus don't know the greenhouse gas impact of using those appliances or eating that food.

If only they knew, the hope goes, they (we) would change their (our) destructive ways. “Those who believe that reducing meat consumption effectively reduces greenhouse gas emissions are much more likely to intend to reduce eating meat,” according to a paper just out in Nature Climate Change.

A study done in 2010 indicated that people knew that refrigerators and dishwashers use more energy and emit more greenhouse gases than light bulbs. But they had no real sense of the true emissions numbers, nor the magnitude of the difference between high- and low-emitting appliances.

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Posted in climate change, Meat, science | Comments (0)

The economic impacts of climate change could limit climate change

December 19th, 2018
The economic impacts of climate change could limit climate change

Enlarge (credit: Rafael Matsunaga)

Estimates of the economic impact of climate change have generally been perceived as conservative, failing to capture the full damage. The debate is understandable, given the incredible array of factors that have to be not just considered, but quantified. As research has made progress toward more realistic estimates, another interesting question can be asked: what if the worst-case scenario is bad enough that it prevents us from reaching the worst-case scenario?

That is an awkward way of saying that if climate change slows economic growth, our emission of greenhouse gases should also slow. With climate change, you hear a lot about “positive feedbacks”—processes that amplify change, like warming permafrost releasing greenhouse gases that cause more warming. This could be a negative feedback, limiting the potential for warming.

A new study by University of California, Irvine’s Dawn Woodard, Steven Davis, and James Randerson takes a shot at figuring out how important this could be. Working from previously published numbers, they connect the dots and estimate the amount of greenhouse gas emission that could be prevented by the end of the century due to the impact of climate change itself.

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Posted in climate change, climate impacts, Economics, greenhouse gas emissions, science | Comments (0)

Wrong way: 2018 global CO₂ emissions tick up again

December 6th, 2018
Wrong way: 2018 global CO₂ emissions tick up again

Enlarge (credit: Le Quéré et al./ESSD)

For a young student, report-card season can be an exciting, stressful, or even depressing time of year. The annual tally of the world’s climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions is a little like that—but with a lot more on the line than a B in language arts. And unfortunately, 2018’s tally once again brings us short of a passing mark.

This annual project is the work of a large group of carbon-cycle scientists that updates the books to be as accurate a record as possible. The scientists also project the final tally for the current year based on all the available data at the time of publication.

Last year, for example, the projection for 2017 was a global CO2-emissions increase of 2 percent, with error bars spanning 0.8–3.0 percent. This year’s update to the dataset puts the actual number at 1.6 percent. Interestingly, China’s emissions were projected to grow 3.5 percent (range 0.7–5.4 percent), but they appear to have ended up just 1.5 percent higher. Still, that brought an end to a brief stretch when China’s emissions had actually declined from a 2013 peak.

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Posted in climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, science | Comments (0)

Video: Why our rising oceans aren’t causing problems everywhere

December 5th, 2018

Video shot by Justin Wolfson, edited by John Cappello. Click here for transcript.

The Earth's oceans are rising. It's an inevitable outcome when ice sitting on land melts and when oceans warm, which causes their volume to expand. But if you live at the coast, it may not be rising near you. Places like Miami and Newport News are experiencing floods at many high tides. Some places in Alaska, in contrast, are seeing the oceans edging away, as land seems to lift out of the sea (albeit incredibly gradually).

How can that happen?

It happens because the Earth's not a bathtub—adding more water doesn't increase ocean levels evenly. As this video details, there are lots of factors that add a local twist to the overall rise of the oceans. These factors range from the strength of ocean currents to the gravitational pull of large ice fields. The net result is that the US has some areas where ocean levels are actually falling a bit and many others where they're rising even faster than the global average.

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Posted in climate change, Earth science, oceanography, science, sea level rise | Comments (0)

Trump administration organizes pushback against its own climate report

December 3rd, 2018
US President Donald Trump speaks during a post-election press conference on November 7, 2018.

Enlarge / US President Donald Trump speaks during a post-election press conference on November 7, 2018. (credit: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Late last week, as the country would be focusing on antacids and shopping, the Trump administration released a report on climate change prepared by its own scientific agencies. The hope was that the report, and its expectations of a huge financial and human toll, would be ignored, and the administration could go back to pretending that it was perfectly justified in pursuing policies like pulling out of the Paris climate agreement and attempting to resuscitate coal.

That didn't quite work out. Coverage of the report's dramatic conclusions about the pace and costs of climate change continued to drive headlines over the weekend, and they were a featured topic on Sunday news talk shows. As the following week arrived, Trump and other officials were peppered with questions about the report.

But as the week unfolded, the administration stuck to a number of different strategies in an attempt to disavow the work of its own experts. And to further muddy the situation, television news outlets handled the situation poorly, allowing themselves to be used as a source of misinformation during their attempts to cover the new report.

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Posted in climate change, Policy, science, Science policy | Comments (0)

Whales are stressed out by climate change, and it shows in their earwax

November 16th, 2018
A graph next to what looks like a tree sliced down the middle but is actually whale earwax.

Enlarge / A whale earplug, showing the layers accumulated across a lifetime, and the corresponding cortisol levels. (credit: Nature Communications)

In a whale’s earwax lie clues to its entire life. Some species of whale build up large “earplugs” of fatty, waxy material that can trap hints about the hormones that coursed through the beast and the pollutants it swam through.

In a paper published this month in Nature Communications, researchers used earplugs recovered from 20 whales to explore how their stress levels have responded to changes over the last 200 years. They found that the whales’ stress levels moved in concert with being hunted, rising as whaling levels reached fever pitch, and plummeting as whaling levels reduced. But since the 1970s, stress levels have been steadily climbing again, keeping step with warming ocean waters.

The ear is the window to a whale’s soul

Tracking even the most obvious behaviors in wild animals can be a tricky business—for instance, nobody knows for sure where great white sharks go to breed. Even knowing how many animals there are in a population can be difficult. Figuring out how stressed whales have been is a near-impossible task, but a crucial one: stress affects the health of individual whales, which in turn affects the health of the population. So tracking stress levels could be useful for developing a comprehensive whale conservation strategy.

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Posted in Biology, climate change, conservation, science | Comments (0)

What is going on with California’s horrific fires?

November 13th, 2018
Wildfire smoke blows westward on November 9.

Enlarge / Wildfire smoke blows westward on November 9. (credit: NASA)

Late last year, California experienced terrible—and in the case of the October Tubbs Fire, record-setting—wildfires. The fires were especially intense due to an unusually late start to the rainy season, which left vegetation dry as seasonal mountain winds kicked up like bellows in a forge.

This year, the situation has repeated. The Camp Fire in Northern California not only broke last year’s all-time record for structures burned, it also broke a much older record for the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history. And in Southern California, the Hill and Woolsey Fires have burned through homes on the north side of Los Angeles.

So what is going on with these extreme fires? Are they just chance or part of a trend? President Trump, via his Twitter account, has repeatedly blamed California for its fires and claimed that environmental policies for water use or forestry are somehow responsible. But these claims make no sense to anyone working in the state—or anyone who knows that forest fires aren’t put out by hose-carrying fire engines. In reality, many factors contribute to the current situation. And climate change is one of them.

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Posted in California, climate change, science, wildfires | Comments (0)

Geoengineering could stop warming but comes with side of sea-level rise

October 31st, 2018
Sunset seen from the International Space Station.

Enlarge / Sunset seen from the International Space Station. (credit: NASA/ISS Expedition 23 Crew)

Since we've only made moderate progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, climate science has turned to seriously investigating options that have typically been in the “far-fetched” category. That includes something called “solar radiation management”—increasing the reflectivity of the atmosphere to, in essence, shade the planet. That could provide a bit of human-caused cooling to temporarily offset some human-caused warming.

Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions is the only long-term solution, but solar radiation management could buy us time to get our act together.

Such a planet-wide intervention certainly makes many uneasy, and we’ve long known that it would come with some side-effects. For example, while greenhouse warming generally causes an increase in global precipitation, cooling the planet in this way would cause an even stronger precipitation decrease that more than cancels that out. And while most ideas revolve around injecting tiny aerosol particles into the upper atmosphere, the spatial pattern of cooling can depend on where those injections are done.

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Posted in Atlantic Ocean currents, climate change, Geoengineering, science, sea level rise | Comments (0)