What do I think, What can I do?

Archive for December, 2011

2011 evaluation

Once again the change of year number gives a wonderful oportunity to make a stop and evaluate the previous 12 months.

Let’s start by the important thing: climate change itself. In my opinion the news are not god because we have reached a new record in CO2 emissions and a dangerous 390 ppm level in atmosphere. We are seriously approaching the damgerous 450 ppm figure without enough reaction. After a promising year due to the crisis the CO2 emissions recovered the uphill trend in spite of the still poor economy; the reach 36,7 billion tons of CO2. So, if we fully recover the economy growth rate, where would we reach?

In spite of skeptic efforts to show that no warming is going on now last year was the tenth warmest in record as explained by world metheorogical organization and the warmest with la niña cooling effect. The artic sea ice surface was not below the 2007 record but close and 35% less than the 1975-2000 average. Extreme events were very frequent too.

But there are very good news too. Renewable energies deployed a record new amout of KWh, showing several good and impotant things at the same time:

1.- Renewables are thriving in many contexts, not only a small number of european countries.

2.- They are getting cheaper even forgeting the externalities in the cost calculation.

3.- They are growing more than any other energy source.

This has also been the year of obtaining the figure of 7 billion humans, and the year of Durban and the COP17, a conference with mixed interpretations, maybe a subtle step forward but clearly not a firm change of direction.

And for this blog? It is not thriving in visits or post even. But I am quite happy, I have publish almost twice post compared with 2010 (23 to 12) and it still gives me the oppportunity to read, think and order some ideas to write them down. Maybe the biggest challenge for next year will be to define better this blogs “voice”, what do I want to talk about? with which objective? I will think about it. I have some ideas but not ripe enough. The blog is not important, the important thing is if I am able to help in this big problem we are facing: Climate Change.


Is my home like Durban?

A building in maintenance work

Last week we held a long meeting in my building home community to decide about some important and expensive maintenance works we should do and I remembered Durban COP17. Why? Lets find the common points:

1.- The decision is common,  we all have the share of the responsibility because the common parts of the building belongs to everyone, and we will all suffer the consequences of our decision. But not all to the same point.

2.- We are not in the same economic situation, although this is sometimes less clear than it seems.

3.- The works to be done are expensive in short term. But not doing them will be more expensive.

4.- We have serious difficulties to get agreements and sometimes we need several useless meetings for that.

5.- Some blame each other for not taking care of their part of the building.

But there are some notable differences too:

1.- In Durban it is accepted that Climate Change is occurring and that it is important. This seems basic but it is the beginning because at home some have some doubts about the need to make the maintenance works.

2.- At home we more or less know each share in the cost, even the ones that do not like it. In Durban this is a discussion.

3.- At home most accept that the problem is the age of the building in spite of some mutual criticism. In the world we know (most of us) that the problem has been created by us.

Will we reach an agreement? At home we are reaching some kind of it, maybe in the world too but it will be at time?

My prius


A couple of years ago my old car died with the boots on and we decided at home to buy another car. I think we can live without a car. Actually, anyone can do it, but in some cases it would require severe changes intheir lives.

In our case, we decided to continue with the possibilities a car offers. It may seem a standard solution but it is important to remember that transport accounts for  a XXX % of CO2 emissions in XXX.

So recognizing my incapability to choose the lowest carbon option, at least I tried to minimize the impact by opting for a lower carbon technology available at that moment: an hybrid car. The two options were an Honda Accord Hibridd and our prefered one, the Toyota Prius. The other option was related with our consumer choices, we bougth a quite knew second hand car because we do not make too many Km each year.

And the result up to now, 3 years after the buying action? We, all the family, are very happy with this car. As I am not talking about cars quality I am going to focus in fuel expenses issues. It uses slightly less than 5 lt per 100 Km, eben if my colleagues do not remember it correctly. It certainly excells in quasy-urban trips, more than autoroutes. Many colleagues consider this figure unimpressive, whereas I consider it very good for a car in its size and age (6 years old).

industrialize energy

Industrial figure from http://wallpaper.diq.ru

I recognize I have a positive opinion of industry, in spite of all the human suffering frmo the XVIIIth centuries to now, in spite of all the water, soil and air contamination. I still consider industry something that gave most humans access to many things that were just a luxury in preindustrial era. Many of those things have changes our lives, the cars, bicicles, washing machines, TV, phones, clothes, paper, … Of course another factor for this opinion is that I live in an industrial area and work in an industrial company.

Industry is really the transformation of standard raw materials in very interesting objects. And I think that this is the step we should also follow with energy: transform energy production in an industrial based process instead of a resource based one. With raw material as easy to find as wind, sun, water, geothermal heat,… Because this way instead of depending on the scarce resources that have been acumulated in the earth for millions of years and concentrate in few places, we would get this essential resource, the energy from very commong things and effort. I love this idea, I love it from the moment I first listened it, for this reason I love renewables.  I know this is not very important, the concept can be wonderful but it has to work, it has to be attainable. I am convinced it is and we will see it, if it is soon much better.

I almost forgot it, industry generates many more jobs than resources.

Brussels airport, small example of EU

Last week I took another flight again to go to Hannover this time. The following photos from Brussels airport show how CO2 diminution is considered a positive message for big european companies, even for energy related ones; atleast in Brussels. Next two photographs are from Statoil and ABB and both are quite explicit regarding CO2 diminution.



The risks: Why I believe in Climate Change (IV)


When you do not see too much and you still have to take decisions, basic approaches can be helpful

As explained before, I believe in climate change for several reasons, witch include the temperature data and the mechanism of greenhouse effect and CO2. But now I want to follow another approach: What if we did not have enough data either to accet or to refuse climate change?

It happens many times in our life, we have to make important decisions without having too much security about consecuences. I think it happens in economy a lot of times, different strategies are recommended for European debt crisis but the uncertainties are great for any of them. In those cases, for many, the straigthforward solution is the standard one: business as usual, it is actually a way to avoid the decision or to avoid the unbearable uncertainty.

However this business as usual not always works, how many companies have failed for not being brave enough to innovate when it was neccesary! I think it is the case about climate change. It is a new challenge for humankind, maybe the first global critical challenge and it requires new prespectives. If we had not enough data we should balance the risks of the two failure possibilities one is difficult but the other one is dreadful in my opinion:

1.- The difficult one is to believe in the risk and act consecuently but if climate was not a real problem. So, more or less: reduce our energy demanding activities, rationalize our transport needs, control our population, be much more efficient in energy use and transport, make a great effort in development of renewable energies, spend more money in our energy bill,… I am convince all this means sacrifice, personal, colective and economical. But the ultimate situation would be that we would start in advance something we would need to do someday, change our energy sources, beacause fossil fuels are not forever.

2.- The dreadful one is to continue our growing path of greenhouse gas emissions, to burn coal, oil and gas as fast as we can and provoke serius changes in our planet climate without doing nothing serious to avoid it. The consecuences would range: problems in our water supply, food security, sealevel, public health, extreme weather event frequency,… So not only more sacrifice than in option one, it also means many more unexpected problems.

So, even without reliable data making proactive sacrifice know seems more reasonable because the risk is lower and predictable. And, besides, we are lucky because we do not need to do such a sacrifie only for an hipothetical problem (it uses to be very difficult to make sacrifices and more when the drawback is not completely sure) because we have the data and they are clear, our fossil fuel consumtion is changing the climate drastically and fast.

The science I understand: Why I believe in Climate Change (III)

I am a physicist by education and work in industrial research so I consider myself at the same time able to understand the physical concepts underlying climate change and not an expert in any way. Because it is very important to say that experts in any scientific/research field are not clever minds that understand the basic theories by magic means, experts are the ones collecting data, working with them, knowing the research trends in the field and debating each other results. And scientific experts publish their work in peer reviewed journals. I have been lucky to publish scarcely in another area but not in climate, regrettably I think this also happens with some pretended “experts”.

But this time I want o walk a little bit by myself, because it is true that finally ones mind needs explanations understandable for himself. There are many evidences, this post from climateprogress is in may opinion quite clear about it, that something important is happening to the world climate, and it is happening fast in geological standards. Because it is not only about measuring temperatures in the land(a frequent sceptik criticism is about temperature measurement failures), it is also about sea level, glaciers, ice extent, sea temperature, extreme climate events,…

So, something is provoking that more energy is in our lower atmosphere, were we live. It could be the inputs, but solar cycles are in the same magnitudes as later centuries. There is no mayor volcano, no asteroid crash. But we are throwing tons and tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and even if some continue having doubts, greenhouse effect was theorized and probed by Arrhenius 100 years ago. It is easy to explain in a simple way: we all emit radiation depending on our temperature, as the sun is much hotter than us its radiation is different from ours and some elements are able to stop suns radiation, whereas some others stop earths radiation like smoke hinders normal light propagation. This way if they stop our infrared radiation we will get hotter. It is the reason Venus is so hot, or the reason to the severe temperature difference between earth and the moon. And the more greenhouse gases the hotter we will get. Of course is more complex, feedbacks should not be forgotten and proven that our emissions are significant enough, but the main idea comes from the XIXth century, and the mechanism, the data and other measurements agree quite well:

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.