What do I think, What can I do?

Archive for January, 2012

Smoking and KWhs

Heating lamp in the outside of a bar in winter time

Some weeks ago I took this photo in a cold winter day close to Bilbao. This heaters have become popular since smoking is not allowed in bars and restaurants. It was an unexpected and unnoticed consequence of smoking ban in closed places. I had seen those heater before in central Europe but not close to my home, perhaps they are following the smoking rules throughout the world. Actually, the ban is helpful for those vendors, for gas resellers and maybe for short-term economy (the bars do not agree with this but this is another question), but nobody has complained about the new KWh needed for that, the loose of energy efficiency and the increment of some more CO2 tons. I know it is not a key issue, but had it be another the problem surely it would have been present in some newspapers and discussions, at least to criticize the government forbidding smoking. Surely, we are not too conscious of climate change, energy efficiency and shavings in every day actions nor politics, in the best case the commitment  is too theoretical

And the most funny contradiction is that I was quite happy personally for the smoking ban because being a non-smoker I prefer a smoke free places, but this is not a post about smoking, is more about KWs and CO2.


Hiriko, will I see this electric can in the streets?


Image from http://www.hiriko.com image gallery

Hiriko is a car prototype; it has been presented to EU commission yesterday. It is small, fully electric, very electronic, absolutely urban and designed and developed by basque companies with MIT collaboration, following their city-car concept. In the web it is claimed that apart from the car itself the production and business model is also innovative.

I do not know if I will be able to see those cars running around my home or in other cities in Europe or the world but I like the concept and I like the ambition to innovate in transportation. Transportation is one of our great challenges to reduce CO2 emissions, responsible of more or less 25% of the emissions and without clear alternatives for the moment because most people don’t think of driving anything powered without oil.

So, new ideas, projects and realities are not only welcomed but necessary. They have to be innovative, brave and attractive for the potential customers who have been using internal combustion engines for a century and they will need help from institutions and citizens.
Many projects will fail but this is part of research and if only one of them gets the accurate combination technology, a good product, business concept and intuition; it will make a very important contribution to change our carbon footprint.
Sometimes getting the right concept is only evident later as happened with the iphone. Many where looking for something like it but without getting it right.

Proxy, indirect measurements

Proxy. This word has been fascinating for me for a long time. I think I understood more or less the meaning from the first time, but it was quite inaccurate. In this moment I feel much more comfortable to read and use it. A proxy is an indirect measurement of some magnitude. For example in cooking, if you are not able to measure the cooking state or temperature of the turkey you can guide yourself by the time. We use proxies all the time and rely on them very confidently, because they are based on the knowledge of the issue we have.
Proxy measurements are also a source of criticism by skeptics as it is very easy cast a doubt about them. Even more, in some cases they will be right as a particular proxy may be a wrong measurement technique (if you cook pasta in Bolivia, the time measurement is not right, becuase the pressure is low and the boiling temperature changes, OK we have learnt something new about this proxy, its application scope). This is science, learning from errors, getting more reliable data and questioning them and the previous theories.

But even if they are not perfect, proxies are many times the only source of information for many sciences (nobody measured the weight of dinosaurs, or has been close to our sun) and they are one of the fascinating things about science: how indirect measurements, hints in some cases, combine with solid base of science and theories to be proben true or false to get a coherent picture.

Because climate change is not based in a weak proxy, it is based on knowledge of greenhouse effect, many current measurements and many different proxies from the past. And the models are only considered reasonable when they fit those data.

Climate, ridiculously complex but modelizable.

Frequently the problem seem overwhelming but this is the art of modelling: to find the main lines

In a recent post in skeptic blog WUWT, they compile a great number of factors affecting climate to show how complex is to understand the whole picture.

I recognize the merit of this work in a blog. Even if the ultimate goal is to explain why climate models cannot cope with the “ridiculously complex” system.

However, this way, they are implicitly recognising a that they are very far in knowledge and accumulated work from the scientits community that has been working in climate models since the fisrt success in 1956 by Norman Philips or the first General Circulation Model (GCM) in the late sixties. The computer running that model had to be really incredible.

This 50 years work along with the different data is very important for the scientific community understanding of present, past and future climate is critical for the IPCC forecasting.

Of course, those models are far from perfect but good modelers know that you cannot make a perfect model from the beginning. You try with a rough approximation that handles the most critical factors, if you are succesful you go for including more complex aspects always within the capability of your calculation system. You compare with data, with other models results, discuss, get more powerful computers,… And the model is never perfect but it get better and better, sometimes very slowly, sometimes going backwards in some step. A nice explanation for anyone of climate models is here and a more detailed explanation of how to use one here.

The other possibility is to consider is “ridiculously complex” and just enumerate the difficulties because you are not able to reach perfection, but this way we would not have modeled the solar system, the galaxy, the solid state physics that allowed the microelectronics,… Because in this aspect physics and mathematics are very different, mathematics look for the exact solution and physics looks for the main aspects that explain the phenomenon, this way you can reach a reasonable mathematical model that works within its application scope.

Methane Hydrates, energy solution, bombshell or just a beautiful fire?


Image from Wikipedia

Recently I read in a sceptic blog a post about methane hydrates. They are a huge potential source of methane or natural gas in the bottom of the sea. Their extraction and use as fuel it is not straightforward nor cheap, but some researchers claim they have found a way to do it economically. This wonderful “burning fire” promises a new oil era, a longer one to continue with fossil fuel energy.

It is interesting for me to see the fascination that some feel for fossil fuels or anything that burns. Because in order to find some new energy source they could explain the new possibilities of nanotechnologies in this field or advances in biofuels. All those researches could become real or not , the same as methane hydrates. Yet they have a big difference, they do not emit CO2 and would help us reduce climate change.

And all this if due to climate change some of those methane hydrates do not start to melt just by the higher temperature, something quite dangerous as methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and it would ignite a strong positive feedback. It seems unlikely, fortunately. but it they want to get it all for sure they will have to be fast.

The Skeptics: Why I believe in Climate Change (V)

Image taken from http://www.desmogblog.com

Credibility is very important in any discussion. Sometimes, the different arguments may be convincing but the opinion about the discusser turns the balance. And credibility is not something static as politicians, journalists and many other people know so well. It can be gained slowly, or lost very fast. In my case, I have a lot of doubts about climate skeptics because of important contradictions or even cherry-picking cases I find in their webs. Just one example (maybe later I will show more):

In this post in climaterealists they mention one paper to reinforce their position about the sun’s driving force in climate opposed to CO2. The paper studies the relationship between sun and climate but as read in the abstract of the paper:

In this work the surface temperature anomaly (dTG) and sunspot number (Rz) time series in the period 1880–2000 are studied with wavelet multi-resolution analysis. We found a very low correlation of 0.11 between dTG and Rz in the 11-yr-solar cycle band. A higher correlation of 0.66 is found in the ∼22-yr-band with zero lag correlation coefficient between dTG and Rz. Furthermore, the long-term trend is markedly different between dTG and Rz. This might occurs because of the long-term warming on the last century, which is attributed mainly to anthropogenic effects.

The authors do not consider this relationship meaningful in last century due to anthropogenic effects, i.e., CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

The explanation given in the post and  the paper are clearly contradictory, this is quite embarrassing for that webs credibility. And it is not the only case.

Nevertheless, I believe in climate change mainly for other reasons explained here, here, here and here this is just a confirmation.

Transantartika, going to the south pole in low carbon way

Image from the official web

Transantartika is a sportive even, a tough adventure of three excellent climbers to conquer the south pole in a low carbon way. They celebrate the 100 anniversary of the Amundsen and Scott race for the south pole going with skies and kites. They are going really fast in some days driven by the wind. It would have been wonderful for Scott to have such a resource. It is not the only renewable energy they are using, they also power their electronics with solar panels.

It is interesting to see how related is the power of wind or other renewables with sport evens (also for sailings for example, or bicycles) and how far is from more common and everyday transport options. I know it is not the same, but it has to be quite reliable if they are risking their lives in Antantica. It is curious but Scott, who died in his expedition was a pioneer in using motorized sleights and nowadays with all the possible technology the wind has been chosen. Of course the technology has evolved a lot for the motors, for the materials and for the kites too, fortunately.

One final thought, will it be so interesting to do this in some decades? The temperatures may have risen noticeably although it could be even more unpredictable due to climate extreme events.

The fight with the sea in saint Jean the Luz, will climate change alter the result?


Saint Jean de Luz beach in a winter sunny day

In the first week of this year I had the chance to visit the wonderful Basque town of Saint Jean de Luz, a beautiful site living just in front of the sea. Apart from the very nice day trip in a gorgeous winter sunny day,  I was surprised to see the heavy walls in front of the beach, before the first line of houses. It was a walk too, but the structure and stony aspect was of a wall.

Reading the touristic explanation my thoughts were confirmed, it was a wall to protect the houses and streets from the sea. The peaceful sight of the beach could become a terrible wave under heavy storms and the inhabitants had fought for centuries. It has been a war with many battles, and some of them sourly lost but nowadays it seems quite under control.

And I asked myself, what will happen with a higher sea level and more extreme weather events in the next decades? Because when thinking about consequences of climate change and sea level rise I always think about sunk houses but before any house sinks it will happen that seafront houses and restaurants will suffer severe damages under storms and will have it very difficult to renew the insurances.

I hope they will be able to adapt as they have been for centuries, but this time, even with much better means the battle will be tougher.