What do I think, What can I do?

Archive for February, 2012

Electric Bike: two experiences


Electric Bike in a standard shop.

A pair of years ago we haired a pair of electric bikes from elektracar in a day visit to Formentera island. It was a wonderful experience to pass the other bikers efforlessly in uphills even with my son’s added weight and a quite heavy bicycle. Apart from the selfsteem increment it was very convinient for a non-frequent-biker like me not to get exhausted in a quite hot day. It was the first electric bike I rode or I saw.
For this reason, I am happy to see that nowadays even standard shops sell them and anyone can see it in Bilbao. Because this transport is easy to use, easy to deploy and confortable for small distances even if hilly. It really improves the potential of bikes for normal people without much trouble.
And could save some tons of CO2 emissions if substituting cars or motorcycles.
I was really tempted to buy one but I usually go by train to work and buying something because it is a great idea can also be a waste of CO2.


Climate Wars: stolen emails

War , source: libcom.org

The discussion about climate change has many fronts. Last week one of the main issues was the stolen emails from Heartland Institute. It was in fact a kind of answer to the previous climategate1 and climategate2. The climategates were a series of emails stolen to East Anglia University climate scientists that skeptic blogs considered were probing the climate change failure. They just show discussion and reasonable doubt about climatologists and all the ingestisgations have found them no-gilty of fraud. The responsible of the theft is unkonwn.

In this last case, the Heartland Institute is a skeptic institution and the stolen emails show what was easy to suppose, that they are founded by big companies close to fossil fuels. There is a strong arguing about the veracity of one of the documents but everybody accepts that most are real. However, one of the main differences was that in this case the author of the theft has revealed himself and it is a known scientists and climate activist, Gleick.

The skeptic blogs have not stopped to mention this issue once and again, to say they knew it, to show that this probes climate science is a fake, to say that many others are like him,… Just a simple data, in the 6 days from February the 20th to February 26th it is the main topic for 20 posts in WUWT. More than 3 per day, I would not be able to make even 3!!! Really prolific. The rest of skeptic blogosphere follows the same behavior of course. In climate hawks blogosphere it is mentioned and even source of discussions between David Appell and Joe Romm.

One curious aspect is that Heartland Institute was very active using climategate emails to criticize many scientists, while now it is claiming that stolen emails should not be used against themand even send strong emails to many bloggers. The letter of many of the climatologists explaining this contradiction in first person is one of the few positive things of all this issue.

Because stealing those emails has not revealed too many new things but has situated this war in the battlefield wanted by skeptics, because the question here is not who has done it more ethically or who has stronger ethical reasons in this war, the question is that credibility is one of the biggest treasures in this war and the one who owns it (the science) is the one who can loose it in this kind of battlefield. We can not forget that we are saying to our fellow citizens: we have a big problem and we will have to change many things in our lives to cope with it. The skeptics are saying: forget about it, they are trying to lie. For this reason this action of Gleick is not only ethically acceptable because this is a war, it has even lead to a lost battle in the battlefield of credibility.

This way, we are discussing about what email was stolen or who wrote a document instead of thinking about what can we do to reduce our emissions and mitigate climate change.

Climate Change solved without sacrifice?

I read this news and I felt unconfortable. The original paper mentions some ways that should be quite effective to reduce black carbon production in the 3rd world. It says it would cause a double benefit: current generation people health improvement and reduction of climate change for future generations without the sacrifices derived from CO2 reduction policies. It refers to a science paper I have not read, so my views can be too superficial but I don’t like the idea behind, because I consider it dangerous.

It would be wonderful to solve the climate change problem with a technical advance or uniquely a win-win solution like this. It was done with the ozone layer problem by eliminating the CFCs, but I am afraid this time it is not so easy. Saying that any solution that involves economic sacrifice will not be implemented drives us to a dark future. I find it much more hopeful to say that short term economic sacrifice will lead us to a long term gain, as proposed by Tony Blair. In the other hand, selling the fantasy of an easy solution without sacrifice maybe dangerous and even counteracting, because we can loose a valuable time and we are running out of time.

By contrast, I like the approach of Joe Romm to combine this short term strategy with a long term CO2 reduction one. In some cases we do not have to choose, just take the best from each one.

Will carbon storage be an effective climate change strategy?

carbon capture and storage

One of the fields of active research related with climate change is CO2 storage. Some new findings are promising as read here. These technologies have the advantage that they can work on-site in the CO2 heavy production works and do not introduce the carbon in low mines.

Theoretically we could even close the carbon cycle, burn a fossil fuel, capture carbon, make another fuel, burnt It again,… The only problem is that it doesn’t seem possible to get so much efficiency, and even in that hypothetical case a good filtering of particles needed for public health combined with carbon capture could lead to a cost increment that could make solar energy really cheap in comparison. Because the great thing of fossil fuels is that they store a lot of energy in the chemical bindings among carbons, it doesn’t seem easy to bind them again without expending even a higher energy again.

Anyway, I have not reliable data about those hypotheses. It would be really great although really unlikely to enjoy the advantages of fossil fuels without altering our climate. We do not have to close any door because the problem is complex and there is no magic solution.

Nevertheless, sooner or later we will have think in some alternative to fossil fuels because as they are not renewable they will end someday. So maybe climate change is not only a great risk, it can be also the opportunity to begin this way.

Why is peer review under suspiction?

Skeptical blogosphere shows a dual behavior regarding scientific results. The famous skeptical WUWT blog is a good example. This post is based on a peer reviewed paper (that I still do not know how is related with climate change apart from some confusing but meaningless semantic similarities) whereas, frequently criticizes peer reviewed scientific literature either by showing failure cases or simply proposing a Web 2.0 alternative to peer review.

Although I had the opportunity to publish a peer reviewed paper some time ago, I am not an expert about science publishing. But I know some active scientists and, of course, they recognize the limitations of the system. It is not perfect, science is not perfect, but it is very reasonable and it has been very successful, just think in the incredible discoveries of the last 100 years and it is not questioned regarding astronomy, particle physics, paleontology,… This another post refers to an astronomer explaining that his work  is not different from any other one from climatologists, the only difference is the public treatment he obtains; maybe because someone is afraid about implications. It is a very interesting reading. This last post for today makes a thorough analysis from the point of view of an active scientist.

And apart from the undeniable success of science peer-review has at least other two favorable arguments:

  1. It is widely accepted by scientists.
  2. There is no reasonable alternative ( the web 2.0 peer review in the first paragraph is not too serious)

OK, I am not neutral, I am pro-science. But I consider quite contradictory to question all the scientific publishing method because the result is not what I wish and at the same time use peer reviewed articles when they may seem to endorse my point of view. It looks like amateurs complaining about professionals but at the same time wanting to be them.

Snow at home

This week has been unusually cold in the whole Europe, and also for me. I am not used to see all this snow around me, and even if some snow around Bilbao is not strange every winter I do not remember it lasting so long. My memories of childhood remember a friend always asking for snow to avoid going to school as it happened once, but regrettably for him no more in our school years.
Anyway I may be wrong because I do not trust too much my weather memories, nor the memories of people surrounding me, because it is easy to listen many people explaining how extreme has been any weather condition every year. Nevertheless, as I frequently discuss with my wife climate change is not about our vague memories or climate feelings, it is about data, long term and geographically widespread data. For this reason I do not read with much interest the frequent posts in skeptic blogs about cold winter in India, or in Nebraska, or this time in Europe.
The skeptic posts about those freezing temperatures are widespread, here, here, here , and here, as it is cold is not warming. The answer in climate hawks blogs is that more energy in the atmosphere means more extreme weather events and I remember a conference about climate change where the speaker say precisely that, more extreme events in Europe would occur due to changes in wind regimes could be a consequence of higher global temperatures.

I think that it is important to distinguish weather tfrom global climate, wonderfully explained in this video. This winter is not a probe against climate change and it is not a probe of it although matches with some of the predictions. Even having extreme events doesn’t probe anything, the increasing number of extreme events is the key index to check, along with many others.

Climateinsight author passed away

I try to read several blogs about climate change, climate hawks and skeptics. And the more I read the more interest I have and the more I learn, I hope. Of course, I am a total amateur with limited time, so I read only a small part of the post from the blogs I am subscribed.

However, today I read a post that moved me. The author of climateinsight passed away. I did not know him but I read in this small biography that he was physicist and mathematician and worked in many fields leading him to be interested in the climate change impact on public safety, after that, nowadays retired, he was very active in his blog until recently. I did not read thoroughly most of his posts either (they where prior to my discovery of his blog) but checking them now I think they are a very interesting information source that deserve a good reading.

I hope WordPress maintain them for a long time as a wonderful memorial open to the world. It is interesting to think how the Internet allows a person to continue saying a lot of things for years.

Thanks Allan, for writing.

Feed-in-Tarif Stopped in Spain

Image from Wikipedia

Spanish new conservative government has decided to stop feed-in-tarif for new renewable installations. The installed ones will continue to receive their feed-in-tarif. Although media coverage has not been too extensive the people around renewable energy are very disappointed.

The responsible minister, Soria, said that it is not definitive but this is impossible to say now. It is very important to contextualize this decision and to understand the possible causes:

  • Spanish economy is in a very bad time, and the government is desperately looking for any cost reduction. However the have not touch for the moment carbon subsidies
  • Spanish energy production will be higher than demand in a shrinking economy (it was last years with a better situation). So new installations would be redundant economically if others are not shut down, for example the ancient nuclear in Garoña, very similar to Fukushima.
  • There is a very-difficult-to-understand thing in the Spanish electric market called tarif-deficit. In two words, recognized costs to the companies are lower than allowed energy sale prices. And this creates a debt that want to stop (this issue deserves many post itself).
  • The powerful power companies were asking for something like this.
  • Feed-in-tarif has been very successful, with a lot of wind and solar power installed the last years.

But, at the same time the story of feed-in-tarif in Spain and its relationship with politics is neither simple nor free of contradictions. In a very simplistic and undeserved explanation: The former conservative government was the one to put it in practice and many local conservative governments applied it very effusively. During the last 8 years of progressive government the feed-in-tarif suffered some noticeable cuts and a lot of uncertainty, sometimes criticised heavily by conservative local governments. And the fathers have finally kill the baby.

Certainly, feed-in-tarif has helped to save a lot of tons of CO2, develop many new economy companies and jobs (now at severe risk) and for sure help to reduce production costs for windmills, solar panels,… So, it has been a story of success, but at the same time there are many lessons to learn as how to link it with the rest of traditional energy system cost, howto explain it, howto include the big energy players to get their compromise, howto invest in R&D enough of the income, howto plan the amounts of tarif, of installed power and tarif evolution and how to discuss the conditions with the renewable energy sector and howto offer enough stability not depending on the government in charge.

And the future? Uncertain, with some hopes in international markets for some companies, with hope in the not so far grid parity for some others whereas unemployment or great activity reduction will be inevitable for many others. And still with too much CO2 in the air and a changing climate menace in the way.