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.
Last months I haven’t written anything in the blog due to a combination of lack of time in my personal life and spending my remaining “free” hours in coursera platform learning about climate change. It has been a very well spent time, I have learned many interesting things about climate change, but I hope to talk about it in a further post. Today I want to greet the new year with some short wishes about climate change:
1.- It would be wonderful to stabilize the carbon emissions worldwide as many important countries have done in their particular cases. Or even better, to start reducing them making 2013 the peak emissions year.
2.- If the previous is too optimistic, it would be good at least to stop Coal plant growth in most parts of the world.
3.- And combine it with a robust growth of renewable energies.
4.- An international carbon tax would really help, adopted broadly, or at least by the greater emitter countries. Next COP would be a good place to agree on it.
5.- If all of these does not happen, or it is too weak, and international social movement could help to raise public opinion awareness and move some reluctant governments.
6.- or … we could just stop talking and act with the seriousness to be expected from an intelligent being.
Image from Urban Bike web
Recently I met an acquaintance in his new business: Urban Bikes . It is a business around electric bicycles, he sells them rents and repairs. It is not the only shop in Bilbao but certainly it is well located and collaborating with some other small businesses for alternative tourism offers. He told me that he hoped a great future for electric bikes in cities and even if it is not boasting in Bilbao for now it could be in any moment.
I do not know anything about this business but it seems he is doing a great job and I really hope he is successful because this would mean we are advancing in transport transformation towards lower carbon footprint. Because I have the feeling (someday I should put data in that feeling) that transportation is among the main carbon emissions activities the one that is advancing less or has less current possibilities to advance. Maybe this “small” electric vehicles will play a significant role in that transformation and not everything will be a technology substitution in cars.
The tweet (more or less):
Climate change is real, induced by human emissions from fossil fuels and we have to act fast to avoid nightmare scenarios
Of course, this is a personal summary, far from the precise and scientific language of the report summary, but adapted to modern communication and fast to read. A very nice summary of the summary in 6 figures can be found in Carbon Brief. And with more or less extension or accuracy most newspapers mention it (some were even positively surprising for me). Skeptics employ several posts to counteract, in the last posts of WUWT, there are no less than 5 dedicated to that noble purpose, this shows its value.
However, with more or less coverage, my real worry is that I do not feel that the importance and urgency of the message has reach the world population, not in my close neighbourhood at least. And this is the 5th message in the same direction by an organization representing thousands of scientists. Or said in other words, even in many/most trust this scientific effort, it is not enough to act and make what can be done to reduce emissions drastically as needed.
Some time ago, I mentioned the known fact that China and USA are the most important players in the World CO2 emissions game as the greatest emitters. But they are not the only ones that matter. At least 25 countries are important in the world emission scenario, In this post I am going to mention two news about other two of those countries: Germany and India, the sixth and third emitter respectively.
News from India are positive: “India Plans To Build The Largest Solar Plant In The World”. In spite of being the third emitter in the world the percapita emissions are low, the lowest among great emitters and even close to the acceptable limit in the world, the ton per person as shown in the figures below. The problem is that the economic efficiency of the emissions has been erratic and the potential to grow in both, economy and emissions at the same time is huge. So, it would be great for the world that India would look for renewable energy to supply its growing demand, investing in their poor grid and forgetting coal or gas. Some studies even consider that wind is as cheap as coal for India, but the grid is a problem.
On the other side, Germany had historically great emissions as a very industrial country not based on Hydro or Nuclear energy and loving good and fast cars without speed limits. But,then they decided to start the Energiewende, their self-convicted ambitious energy transition to get ride of fossil fuels and nuclear at the same time and to be energetically independent. The emissions / GDP rate (economic efficiency of the emissions) has improved dramatically as shown in the diagrams but the per capita emissions have not followed the same speed, and they still are close to 10 in 2010, ten times higher than the acceptable ton per person. I do not know the last figures but this year they have even increased emissions. So it is a bit discouraging to see that the apparent multipartisan conviction and serious efforts are not getting enough results, and even some doubts arose in last elections about economical effects. Nevertheless, I still believe they are committed to succeed and they need more time to show clearer results, if they do it would be a great example of transformation for one of the strongest economies in the world, a great example for China and USA and the rest of Europe.
So let’s hope Germany continues the started revolution and India grows in a revolutionary way, they could be very significant examples.
Climate Progress mentioned Obama’s praise to Sweden regarding their energy policy. And the same post shows a figure explaining the very low contribution of fossil fuels in the Swedish electricity production mix and some reasons that led them there. It is interesting and clearly reasonable as it is true that Swedish emissions from power stations are low based on hydro power and nuclear and total emissions per capita are a third of Americans. Even more the Emissions / GDP ratio, or the emission per economic unit are among the lowest in the world and certainly between rich countries, and they have improved a lot since the seventies in this emissions intensity (from 0.4 to 0.12).
But, and this is the problem, it is not enough. The problem is that it is not enough to be efficient as the Swedish, because their emissions per capita are in the 5 CO2 tons figure, 1 ton more than world average, 12 tons less than USA, close to China but 4 tons per person more than acceptable to stabilize carbon flux (data from IEA, 2010). Or, in other words, 5 times more than the reasonable objective for humans.
It is not enough to improve as the Swedish, we have to be really committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and we have to start fast if we do not want to reach too far. Although of course Sweden is still a good example for the USA and many others, an example to start moving.
The following post mentions something that is repeated sometimes in the renewable energy debate.
How Maryland’s New Climate Plan Could Actually Lower Energy Costs
Depending on the regulations or feed-in-tariff, renewables can reduce the base cost as they can enter at 0 cost in the auction. This happens in Spain for example, but this does not mean that the final tariff is cheaper as renewable feed-in-tariff is added later. OK, the total amount maybe cheaper in the end or not (it was discussed here). Electricity cost definition is quite difficult to understand in many countries, in some too difficult. In my opinion, this is not the moment to discuss if solar energy or wind power are cheaper than gas or coal. Happily they have reduced their costs and are more and more competitive but they have been more expensive and will be in some places/cases for some time. I think that a much better and more clear message is to say that even if/when they are more expensive their costs will be much lower than a catastrophic climate change. Even when/if they are more expensive in the short-term, their long-term profitability will be evident. Otherwise, the pure current cost discussion can be quite disappointing, as in Kirguistan. So it is again a discussion between long-term and short-term, about our generation and the next ones.