What do I think, What can I do?

Archive for the ‘Small Great things’ Category

Cousera, Global Warming

Three months ago I finished my first Cousera course. I was new to this learning platform and even to the concept itself (the MOOCs), nevertheless my experience was great, sometimes more demanding than I previously thought but at the same time very satisfactory. In fact there were many courses  in Coursera about or around climate change and this is a significant data itself and perfect subject for another post. Concretely, the one I did was Global Warming: The Science of Climate Change by David Archer.

The basic data about the course: It is 8 weeks long, with quizzes, activities, (small problems), optional number crunchers (longer and more numeric problems) and a term project (not long, not determinant in the final grade and interesting). A good part of the problems was related with several web models about aspects of climate change that allowed a lot of play from the students. And the temperature data for the term project are really interesting. But the most important thing for me were the lectures, they were short, clear and well focused. So, this course offered me a good overview of the climate change problem, starting for the science of the whole carbon cycle and arriving to the consequences depending on several emission scenarios.

As an extremely short summary three paragraphs (not literal):

  • In the long term the deep earth carbon cycle (a geological cycle) will stabilize the CO2 and the climate again. But it will need a million years so we cannot wait for it. In the short term there are many uncertainties but we are facing the alternative of reducing our emissions clearly to approach a 2ºC warming or continuing in the business as usual scenario towards the 4ºC or more.
  • The important parameter is how much carbon we burn, the total amount and we have burnt half of what is considered “safe”. (David Archer has some doubts about the complete safety of the 2ºC target). All fossil fuels are important and even land use but Coal is the most dangerous because is cheap and there is a lot to burn.
  • As the total carbon budget is the key the earlier we start reducing the smaller the effort. If we start too late we will be at risk of arriving to unknown scenarios.
  • The consequences are not crystal clear but it is clear that can be very dangerous in the long-term for more than 2ºC. Sea level rise, water scarcity, extreme weathers among others can make our life difficult and our societies unstable.

Next month a new edition will start, very advisable for anyone with interest in this important subject, more considering the flexibility of MOOCs, you can participate actively or just watch some lectures to learn about particular aspects.


Nicaragua plans 70 % of renewable energy production

Nicaragua map from Wikipedia

This link in spanish explains these news. They will install wind power,, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal energy. It will not change the climate change game as Nicaragua is a small country of 6 million inhabitants that only emit 0.8 Tons CO2 per capita (in 2009). So they are not only well below the world average, they are even close or below the secure emission path. If we all humans would emit like them climate change problem would be close to be solved. They have not created this problem, they could feel quite reassured in their position and ask others for action with solid ethical grounds but, in the contrary, they plan to get most of their electricity from renewable sources. And these are good news because it shows that a low-carbon growth is not only meaningful for poor countries, it is also profitable and more reliable. They are not part of the problem now but can be and should be part of the solution, more if we consider that they are the countries bringing more humans to this stressed world

400 ppm to greet a new life

From honeybeesandhelium blog

My second son was born two weeks ago, so I have and will have less time to blog. But precisely because of my sons I am more and more convinced that we have to raise the consciousness of every people in the world about the dangers of climate change and the ways to fight it, because it is possible, not easy, but possible to reduce our emissions and avoid a more extreme form of change.

The recent news about passing the 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere has been another expected step in this process. It was a question of time and 400 is not much more than 397 but we are used to be moved by symbolic numbers and this is one of them, in fact, the accepted “secure ” co2 concentration has moved from 350 to 450 untill 550 ppm now. So 400 is significant. 

It is not the magic number that changes everything as explained here, if there is a tipping point in climate change (difficult to know) most experts locate it higher, however it is important because it shows clearly that the show is going on in the wrong direction and it is useful to make everyone more conscious of that due to the media covering. So, the question is:

Will this child enjoy a reasonable climate and future because we acted while he was young or will he witness a mess caused by our inaction?

It is not late, but we have to start seriously

This study published in Nature is very interesting because makes numbers about emission targets, the peak emission year and the consequences up to 2100. The study recognizes the great grade of uncertainty in some aspects as the absolute amount of consequences and this in my opinion gives it more credibility.

On the other hand it states clearly than the date and the amount of the peak of emission is more important than the later reduction rate. It says that even if it very difficult to know what will happen exactly the proportion of it will be much lower if we peak our emissions fast.

I find this result interesting, important and encouraging at the same time. Because it would not be so difficult to peak world emissions:

  • Most European nations and maybe the USA have done so
  • The BRICS, concretely China and India had better add new power by renewables than coal, it makes sense in many aspects.
  • The poorest countries do not have much influence in the decisions nor in the emissions, but for them too renewables with help of richer countries make more sense.

Going further to the 80% reduction from current emissions as the final target seems much more difficult but this study finds we have some extra time for that. So let’s start with the first step: the world emissions peak.

LED, fluorescent, incasdescent and climate change

LED lamps from wikipedia

LED lamps from wikipedia

Today I have bought some led bulbs for my house, I have needed some time really to check the different connectors and chose the correct letters and numbers but finally I hope to have bought the correct ones by internet. At home we changed most of our incandescent bulbs many years ago by fluorescent ones, except some that due to the connector were impossible to find.  And some fluorescent bulbs were deceptive because they did not last long but many other are long-lasting and I do not intend to change them before they die out.

So, this substitution operation was only partial, some of the last no-fluorescent-no-leds and some missing gaps. But the most interesting part is a back-of-the-envelope figure I made to calculate the electrical consumption with any of the options. The calculation procedure was simple: for each room of the house count the number of bulbs and the required power with any of the options and then estimate the number of light hours daily. The difference was greater than I expected:

  1. 62 KWh per month with incandescent bulbs
  2. 26 KWh per month with fluorescent bulbs
  3. 7 KWh per month with led bulbs

I got even happier after the estimation. I was surprised by the difference because hour energy consumption per month is not more than 150 KWh and we are more or less in the second stage. But was it economical? I am convinced so, even more, if not something would be really wrong in our economy.

The nice thing is that this shows we have the technology to reduce our energy consumption and emissions in just a click of the mouse, efficiency is possible and will be the most important source of energy in the first world if everything goes right because it is needed and not so difficult in some cases. By the way, I still have a lot of bulbs to change in the future to reduce my emissions.


Earth hour balance, 2013

Last saturday was again the earth hour or planet hour. In the day itself and later it was funny to read many skeptics fight against it as here, or here more aggressive. There were favorable posts too.

My personal balance this year was worse than last year because we forgot about it until last 30 minutes, so I did not help much in spite of being convinced. And a more general balance? WWF shows a nice gallery of  images  that demonstrates at least some action arround the world.

Like last year I have collected the electrical demand data from REE (the official source), and even if the consumption was higher than las year, 31600 MW, it was 2000 MW lower than the previous saturday, more or less like the last year. Not so bad but not impressive as I would like, but this figure is only about a very small part of the world, we have to remember that this is a world-wide problem and a world-wide action in this case. Anyway, I agree with my ideas from last years post.

This is not going  to change hour emission path but coordinated global citizen action is very important and could be very helpful to push the different policy makers to endorse the solutions we have, because it is possible to reduce hour emissions without going to the caves again.

Spanish electricity consumption on 23/03/2013, from REE

Spanish electricity consumption on 23/03/2013, from REE

Tomorrow I will switch off the lights for one hour

I was glad to read about planet hour in this science post. I did take part last year and I still consider it a good tool. It will not change the course of our planet emissions but it is a way of taking part as a citizen in a global action to ask more important actions. It is a clear and direct symbol, it is not difficult but help us think a bit about our needs in our everyday life, and again it is global and we need global action and global solutions for this very global problem of climate change. Let’s start with this small but symbolically strong effort.

Biomass for heating

im003235Today, I have been in a meeting were representants from three small towns (Aramaio, Otxandio, Zerain) explained their intention to develop Distric Heating for the greatest part of their town using wood from their own lands. There were some differences in the concepts, the scope, the development stage and the size of the towns that ranges from 300 to 1500 inhabitants. At the same time, there were some interesting common points too:

  • The Biomass from forests was the main energy source for our grandparents for more than 1000 years.
  • The investment needed to start the system was a problem for most due to the low-budget of the towns but they all were considered that the change from oil or gas to local Biomass would make economic sense in the mid-term, and they had done detailed studies for that.
  • It would also benefit local wood producers as their income would be fixed in the long-term.
  • It would create local jobs.
  • It would help to prevent wildfires.
  • It would make environmental sense.
  • It would complement well other local economic activities as tourism or sheep growing.
  • It would be compatible with forest harvesting for more expensive use of wood.
  • Their projects were based on local wood, a wood moving 100 Km would be too expensive.
  • They would need more help than the one their are getting.
  • And the last one, they have discarded other renewables after some preliminary studies.

And my own conclusions:

  • Our forests can be used for different purposes at the same time and even if I usually do not mention land use it is an important issue in climate change.
  • Biomass heating use of second quality wood is a nice substitute of gas or oil for small towns with forests, but can even work for Distric Heating of buildings in nearby cities. It will not heat everyone everywhere but can be part of the solution, and this is what we are looking for: partial substitutes of fossil fuels.
  • Local approaches can be important, maybe more than in global emission numbers, as an example and motivation, like el Hierro island
  • The only discouraging news was the low acceptance of other renewables in their studies, and the worst case of three small hydro power stations that were not used after being abandoned in the cheap oil times. Certainly, in some cases the information they got was not updated. But this is something that happens many times.



Klimagune and the value of local difusion

3 months ago I attended a public conference about climate change and health in Bilbao, it is called klimagune, and it is part of the divulgation work done by bc3 research centre. It was interesting for me and the presentations are available in its web, the one from Paul Wilkinson and the other from Bilbao’s perspective. There were even some tweets (#klimagune). From the two hours, the video and the two lecturers I remember two or three points that came to my mind in this quite extreme winter:

  • The important difference of mitigation and adaptation, and that in any case both will be needed.
  • The idea that we will suffer climate change to some extend and it will have many effects and some directly in our health, but if we do not surpass the 2 ºC barrier we should be able to cope with them as they will be incremental.
  • The story of malaria coming to Europe is quite possible as it was before, just in my house not so far ago.
  • Even a wet city like Bilbao can suffer from water supply problems as the rains will be more extreme and irregular.
  • Sea rise level can have many effects in coastal areas  before we are under the water.

The pity was maybe that we were no more than 30-40 people there. Maybe not a failure but few in any case, climate change is not in the agendas of most people in the world and this is something to work about, for example by showing those presentations.

Climate Change in Kutxaespazioa

A week ago I visited with my family a science museum called Kutxaespaxioa close to the beautiful city fo Donotia-San Sebastian. Being a science museum the presence of climate change was unsurprisingly accurate and clear. Just another small probe that there are not substantial doubts in current science about the main facts of climate change. My document in some photographs:

There was a book about climate change

Anyone could produce a mini tornado and understand its basic concept and the increase of probability with a warmer and wetter atmosphere

There was a beautifully shown combustion motor, it is really a marble of the mechanics:

Nevertheless, solar and wind energy could be clearly in action and with a great presence
solar_and_wind_turbine_energy wind_turbine

And finally, everyone could sense the heat of a tiny greenhouse, as the one we have over our heads