Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project

Richard A. Muller shares the findings of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project in an NYTimes Op-Ed. Dr. Muller was a vocal critic of the IPCC and earlier climate change research, but the project finds that human carbon emissions are the entire cause of observed change in the climate over the past 250 years! (The IPCC only stated the link was for the past 50 years.)

…studied issues raised by skeptics: biases from urban heating (we duplicated our results using rural data alone), from data selection (prior groups selected fewer than 20 percent of the available temperature stations; we used virtually 100 percent), from poor station quality (we separately analyzed good stations and poor ones) and from human intervention and data adjustment (our work is completely automated and hands-off)…

How definite is the attribution to humans? The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect — extra warming from trapped heat radiation. These facts don’t prove causality and they shouldn’t end skepticism, but they raise the bar: to be considered seriously, an alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as carbon dioxide does. Adding methane, a second greenhouse gas, to our analysis doesn’t change the results. Moreover, our analysis does not depend on large, complex global climate models, the huge computer programs that are notorious for their hidden assumptions and adjustable parameters. Our result is based simply on the close agreement between the shape of the observed temperature rise and the known greenhouse gas increase.

The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic -

What about the future? As carbon dioxide emissions increase, the temperature should continue to rise. I expect the rate of warming to proceed at a steady pace, about one and a half degrees over land in the next 50 years, less if the oceans are included. But if China continues its rapid economic growth (it has averaged 10 percent per year over the last 20 years) and its vast use of coal (it typically adds one new gigawatt per month), then that same warming could take place in less than 20 years.

Science is that narrow realm of knowledge that, in principle, is universally accepted. I embarked on this analysis to answer questions that, to my mind, had not been answered. I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.

So what do we do next? My money and scholarly efforts are focused on developing site and municipal scale solutions to reduce emissions, increase energy/locational efficiency, and improve the resilience of our cities. But what about the bottom billion and the majority of humanity that isn’t historically responsible for climate change (yet will bear the brunt of the impacts) – there are plenty of efforts that working to improve their standard of living (health, education, food/energy security) while reducing our global footprint. Policy is a huge factor, but don’t count on either national or global consensus or action – the polical/economic forces of the status quo have too much to loose (see ‘Canada’s oil, the world’s carbon‘) – humanity has too much to loose by inaction.

More findings

  1. Berkeley Earth Temperature Averaging Process (commonly referred to as the “Methods” paper) and its appendix
  2. Influence of Urban Heating on the Global Temperature Land Average
  3. Earth Atmospheric Land Surface Temperature and Station Quality in the United States
  4. Decadal Variations in the Global Atmospheric Land Temperatures
  5. A New Estimate of the Average Earth Surface Land Temperature Spanning 1753 to 2011 & their dataset

via The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic –

Solar Southwest

The Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Solar PEIS) from by the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Energy’s EERE have just issued the final report for public comments that identifies 17 zones covering 445 square miles of public land in the Mojave Desert appropriate for fast-tracking large-scale industrial solar energy development along with the mitigation strategies, policies and regulations. If all the sites get developed, they could generate 24,000 megawatts of carbon-free electricity by 2030. (But what about their water consumption?)

Original PDF [18mb] here

 As significant as defining appropriate sites for development, the Solar PEIS defines exclusion areas like the Ivanpah Valley on the CA/NV border where BrightSource Energy is already building two projects.

Thirty-two categories of lands are proposed for exclusion from solar development through the Final Solar PEIS (see Final Solar PEIS, Chapter 2). The exclusions proposed include (1) explicit exclusions that will be delineated in the Solar PEIS ROD by a land base that would not change except by future land use plan amendment; and (2) implicit exclusions that will be defined in the Solar PEIS ROD by the presence or absence of a specific resource or condition where the land base may change over time (e.g., critical habitat). Implicit exclusions will be determined at the time of application for individual solar ROWs, and based on information in applicable land use plans as amended, Species’ Recovery Plans, or similar planning or guidance documents, and verified by site-specific information as necessary.

For the purposes of the Solar PEIS and its associated NEPA analysis, the BLM has mapped and estimated the acreage for proposed exclusions in the aggregate based on best available existing information. Data were available to map the following exclusion categories:

  1. BLM-administered lands where development is prohibited by law, regulation, Presidential proclamation or Executive Order (i.e., lands in the National Landscape Conservation System [NLCS]),
  2. Lands having slopes greater than 5%,
  3. Lands with solar insolation levels less than 6.5 kWh/m2/day,
  4. BLM Areas of Critical Environmental Concern,
  5. Critical habitat for USFWS designated threatened and endangered species,
  6. BLM Right-of-Way Exclusion and Avoidance Areas,
  7. BLM No Surface Occupancy Areas,
  8. Special Recreation Management Areas (note these were not excluded in the State of Nevada or in a portion of the Yuma East SRMA in Arizona), and
  9. Greater sage-grouse habitat in California, Nevada, and Utah; Gunnison’s sage-grouse habitat in Utah; and Desert Wildlife Management Areas, Flat Tailed Horned Lizard habitat, and Mojave Ground Squirrel habitat in California.

As desert tortoises are the charismatic megafauna most impacted by solar farms and a favorite topic of infrascape design, I couldn’t resist sharing this picture accompanying the LATimes article on the PEIS:

Mark Boster/LAtimes

Drought induced Blackouts

Water energy nexus

The water-energy nexus goes both ways. It takes energy to supply potable water to our homes, and it takes massive amounts of water to produce the energy we use. Prof. Micheal Webber of UT Austin wrote an op-ed for the NYTime about the dangers faced by the climate change induced drought the US is experiencing.

Our energy system depends on water. About half of the nation’s water withdrawals every day are just for cooling power plants. In addition, the oil and gas industries use tens of millions of gallons a day, injecting water into aging oil fields to improve production, and to free natural gas in shale formations through hydraulic fracturing…

All told, we withdraw more water for the energy sector than for agriculture…

energy use by sector

New carbon emissions standards can also help save water. A plan proposed by the Obama administration (requiring new power plants to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour generated) would encourage utilities to choose less carbon- and water-intensive fuels. Conventional coal plants, which are very thirsty, exceed the standards proposed by the president. But relatively clean, and water-lean, power plants that use wind, solar panels and natural gas combined cycle, would meet them. Thus, by enforcing CO2 limits, a lot of water use can be avoided.

Drought induced blackouts

via Will Drought Cause the Next Blackout? –

Related in the NYTimes – more reporting on how the weird weather is causing unanticipated failures at power plants, transportation networks, and water system.

US Wildfires 2012

Map of the day

Fires across the United States, and their relative intensity, from 2001 through July 9, 2012.
CREDIT: John Nelson, IDV Solutions.

Dazzling Map Reveals Rising Menace of US Fires ǀ Wildfires 2012 |

The data, provided by two NASA satellites, were “about two mouse clicks away,” said John Nelson, the map’s maker, and the user experience and mapping manager for IDV Solutions, a Lansing, Mich., data-visualization company.

Nelson also created a map of 100 years of earthquakes:

Earthquakes since 1898


Wildfires 2012 |

and Earthquake Map

Coal’s retreat

The latest newsletter from Architecture 2030 shares great news about progress decarbonizating the US energy and building sectors from the Energy Information Agency‘s Annual Energy Outlook 2012.

The report provides a glimmer of hope that the world will experience a ‘carbon spring’ (led by architects and the building sector) where the tyrants King Coal and Big Oil are deposed before it’s too late for the climate and the mountains of Appalachia. The flip side of the drama (and the new faustian bargain being made) is the increase in fracking that is providing all the natural gas that is our Hamlet in this story and replacing coal as the fuel of choice for electricity generation.

The rest of this post is from Architecture 2030:

In May 2012, the New York Times reported that “Coal and electric utilities, long allied, are starting to split. More than 100 of the 500 or so U.S. coal-burning power plants are expected to be shut down in the next few years. While coal still provides about a third of the nation’s power, just four years ago it was providing nearly half.” According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) there was a nationwide decrease of 22.8% in net electricity generation from coal between April 2011 and April 2012. The reasons given in the press for the decline of U.S. coal consumption include new pollution rules, fuel switching, and environmental pressure.

The unstated, yet requisite, driver of this trend is the dramatically declining demand for energy in the Building Sector due to slower growth in the U.S. building stock and increases in building energy efficiency.

The Annual Energy Outlook 2012 (AEO 2012), prepared by the EIA, presents long-term projections of energy demand based on results from EIA’s National Energy Modeling System. AEO 2012 concludes “The rate of growth in energy use slows over the projection period, reflecting moderate population growth, an extended economic recovery, and increasing energy efficiency in end-use applications.” Visualizing AEO Building Sector data in a graphic format clearly illustrates the key drivers of the recent trend in U.S. energy infrastructure planning.

According to AEO 2012, if the ‘best available demand technologies*’ are incorporated, the projected energy consumption for residential and commercial buildings in 2030 is expected to drop 12% below 2005 levels; CO2 emissions are expected to drop 21.8% below 2005 levels.

AEO projections do not include sustainable planning applications or incorporate passive heating and cooling, natural ventilation, daylighting, or spatial configuration and site design strategies. With the growing number of architects and planners incorporating these strategies to meet the 2030 Challenge targets, actual energy consumption and emissions in the Building Sector will drop substantially lower.
All of this is particularly good news because the alternative of continuing coal use is rather dire. To quote from a previous E-News Bulletin:

“The only practical way to preserve a planet resembling that of the Holocene [i.e. the world as we know it],…is to rapidly phase out coal emissions…”

Note: Seventy-six (76%) percent of all electricity produced in the U.S. is consumed by buildings.

*    Best available demand technologies – new equipment purchases are limited to the most efficient versions of technologies available in the residential and commercial buildings sectors.

Stock Check Infographic of the Day

From the BBC comes the global resources stock check infographic and the question:

If we fail to correct current consumption trends, then when will our most valuable natural resources run out?

Visualizing All The Non-Renewable Resources We Have Left | Co.Exist: World changing ideas and innovation

Methodology is here [pdf].
Date created: June 2012
Creative Direction: Duncan Swain and David McCandless
Design: Piero Zagami
Research: Miriam Quick

Not quite a Hubbert’s Peak diagram for everything, but Zagami managed to make a cleaner version of the infographic (below) that I’ve previously shared. Think I’ll start using this version in my lectures.

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