[CAMWEST-discuss] Climate Change, Peak Oil and other Limits to Growth
stevie69_m at hotmail.com
Tue Jun 19 14:08:20 UTC 2007
Hi Bike fanatics!
Here is some work I have been doing on "Climate Change, Peak Oil and other
Limits to Growth"
Below is the text only version if you don't want the document. The text only
version is slightly more up to date.
I hope it helps with promoting bikes!
Climate Change, Peak Oil and other Limits to Growth
Challenge our Models of
Perpetual Growth, Business as Usual, and Economics
Compiled information by Steven Muschalik
What Do Human Records and Proxy Data Tell us About Our Climate? 3
What Does Ice Core Data Tell Us About Earths Climate History? 5
What Climate Existed in the Carboniferous Period? 7
What Are Greenhouse Gases? 10
What Are Climate Forcings? 12
Is The Earth Out of Energy Balance With Space? 13
How do Milankovich cycles affect the sun-earth interaction? 16
What Are Positive or Negative Feedback Mechanisms? 19
How Much Energy Is Required to Warm an Entire Planet? 21
What is the Carbon Cycle? 22
Is The Carbon Cycle Out of Balance? 24
What Are Carbon Sinks? 25
How Much CO2 Equivalent Can Our Planet Absorb Naturally? 26
Why Should We Be Worried About a Warming of Just 1-5°C? 29
Is There Scientific Consensus on Climate Change? 34
Is The IPCC Report Unbiased Or Is It Political? 35
Is There Evidence In the Past of Abrupt Climate Change? 37
What Is The Probable Resulting Climate For Given Emissions? 38
What Are The Chances of Exceeding a Range of Temperatures at a Particular
Level of CO2 Equivalent? 39
How Does Sea Level Rise Relate to Temperature? 43
What Kind of Sea Level Rise Can We Expect in The Future? 44
How Long Will It Take For The Climate to Respond to Forcings 45
How Long Will It Take to Stabilise The Climate, and Sea Levels? 46
What Constitutes Dangerous Anthropogenic Interference With Nature? 47
What Are Tipping Points? 48
What Are The Uncertainties About Climate Change? 50
What Is Happening To Our Species In Relation to Climate Change? 53
What Can We Do To Save The Climate From Going Haywire? 56
What Are The Limitations of Coal and Geosquestration? 58
What Is Happening In The Arctic, and In the Oceans? 60
Do We Need To Reconsider GDP Or Even Capitalism? 62
Is The Current Fossil Fuel Based Economy On a Crash Course With Nature? 64
Will Environmental Policies Stifle The Economy? 66
What Is Sustainable Development? 72
What Are The Costs of Inaction? 73
What Opportunities Do Businesses See In Taking Action on Climate Change? 75
What Surprises Can We Expect? 78
What is Humanities Ecological Footprint? 80
How Do Entropy, Economy and Environment Relate? 82
What Are the Equity Issues of Energy? 84
Can Population Growth Be Mathematically Modeled? 85
Are There Limits To Growth? 89
How Do We Know We Have Reached Overshoot? 100
What Does Human History Tell Us About Civilisation and Equilibrium? 100
Can The (R/P) Ratio Predict The Lifetime of Fuels? 101
What is Peak Oil? 102
How Long Does It Take To Prepare For Peak Oil? 108
What Is The Creaming Curve? 109
Is It Possible to Replace Declining Oil Production With Alterative
How Vulnerable Is Australia To Petrol Prices? 113
Can Taxes Help Improve Signals to Businesses to Save Energy? 115
Does The Suburban Way of Life Have A Future? 116
Can New Technology Make Civilisation Sustainable? 118
Net Energy Analysis with EROI 122
Will We Have To Rethink Our Current Economic System In a Low-Energy
How Will Peak Oil Affect Food Supply? 125
How Will Climate Change Affect Electricity Production? 126
Is The Planetary Situation Urgent? 128
Can We Believe Climate Skeptics? 129
What TV Channels May Show Documentaries With Evidence of Global Warming? 130
What Do Human Records and Proxy Data Tell us About Our Climate?
Good weather records extend back less than 150 years in most places. In that
time, the Earth's global average temperature has increased by approximately
0.5 degrees centigrade or 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit.
This figure shows direct observations of global temperatures since the
Beginning in the 1970's, paleoclimatologists began constructing a blueprint
of how the Earth's temperature changed over the centuries before 1850 and
the widespread use of thermometers. Out of this emerged a view of the past
climate based on limited data from tree rings, historical documents,
sediments and other proxy data sources. Today, many more paleoclimate
records are available from around the world, providing a much improved view
of past changes in the Earth's temperature.
What Does Ice Core Data Tell Us About Earths Climate History?
>From paleo records, we know that the climate of the past million years has
been dominated by the glacial cycle, a pattern of ice ages and glacial
retreats lasting thousands of years. There have been four ice ages and
intervening warmer periods during the past 400,000 years.
Below is a schematic representation of recent climate trends and future
projections in historical perspective. The 20th and 21st centuries are shown
to the same (linear) scale. Earlier periods are shown in terms of increasing
powers of ten years ago but are linear within each period.
Eighteen-thousand years ago, at the peak of the last ice age, scientists
estimate that nearly 32% of the earth's land area was covered with ice,
including much of Canada, Scandinavia, and the British Isles. These glaciers
developed because the earth was in the midst of an ice age. Today ice
coverage is about 10% of the Earth's land surface.
What Climate Existed in the Carboniferous Period?
Some 30 million years before dinosaurs appeared, known as the Carboniferous
Period - 300 million years ago - a time when terrestrial Earth was ruled by
giant plants and insects, average global temperatures in the Early
Carboniferous Period were hot- approximately 20° C (68° F). Atmospheric
concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Early Carboniferous Period
were approximately 1500 ppm (parts per million).
Interestingly, the last half of the Carboniferous Period witnessed periods
of significant ice cap formation over polar landmasses-- particularly in the
southern hemisphere. Alternating cool and warm periods during the ensuing
Carboniferous Ice Age coincided with cycles of glacier expansion and
Lycopsid stomatal indices from the fossil records show low CO2 levels during
the Permo-Carboniferous glaciation are in agreement with glaciological
evidence for the presence of continental ice and coupled models of climate
and ice-sheet growth on Pangea. Moreover, the Permian data indicate
atmospheric CO2 levels were low 260 Myr ago, by which time continental
deglaciation was already underway. Positive biotic feedbacks on climate, and
geotectonic events, therefore are implicated as mechanisms underlying
Late Palaeozoic evidence for ice and atmospheric CO2 concentrations
reconstructed from paleosols and predicted by a geochemical model of the
long-term global carbon cycle (solid line). Red boxes indicate CO2 estimates
from the current study. The dashed horizontal line indicates the threshold
atmospheric CO2 level above which theoretical studies predict deglaciation
on Pangea and the maintenance of an ice-free state.
Illustrated below is how geologists believe Earth's landmasses were arranged
306 million years ago, during the Late Carboniferous Period.
Following the Carboniferous Period, the Permian Period and Triassic Period
witnessed predominantly desert-like conditions, accompanied by one or more
major periods of species extinctions. CO2 levels began to rise during this
time because there was less erosion of the land and therefore reduced
opportunity for chemical reaction of CO2 with freshly exposed minerals.
Also, there was significantly less plant life growing in the proper
swamplands to sequester CO2 through photosynthesis and rapid burial.
Our plucky planet has survived at least two runaway greenhouse events, one
of them just barely. About 55 million years ago, a tremendous methane burp
trapped enough sunlight to heat Earth by as much as 13° Fahrenheit (7°
Celsius), disrupting the climate for more than 100,000 years. [NASA/Goddard
EOS Project Dec 12/01]
An even bigger global warming hiccup occurred 250 million years ago, when a
carbon-clogged atmosphere melted all of Earths ice and methane. The ensuing
Great Dying nearly extinguished all life.
When plants shrivel, says paleontologist and extinctions expert Peter Ward,
everything dies. Aquatic creatures suffocated from lack of oxygen. As the
ocean turneds sterile, gasping land animals fled rapidly rising sea levels
from a global meltwater tsunami.
Over the ensuing 500,000 years, a few species struggled to find a foothold
in Earths alien environment. It took another 20 million to 30 million years
for the first coral reefs to re-establish themselves, and for forests to
regrow. More than 100 million years passed before ecologies reached their
former healthy diversity. [University Of Wyoming Jan 13/04]
Wards team found no residues from a comet or asteroid impact. It looks like
volcanism and methane releases caused this greenhouse cull. [Washington Post
Jan 21/05] http://www.willthomas.net/Convergence/Weekly/Global_Warming.htm
What Are Greenhouse Gases?
Greenhouse gases allow sunlight to enter the atmosphere freely, but trap the
heat in the atmosphere, like a greenhouse, hence the name. The earth's
atmosphere is generally transparent to short-wave radiation, which means the
sunlight enters the atmosphere freely. Hence most of this energy passes
through the atmosphere and strikes the earth's surface. The portion of
incoming solar radiation that reaches the Earth's surface, is either
absorbed by the land and the oceans or is reflected back toward space by
water, snow, ice, and other reflective surfaces (the measure of an object's
reflectivity is called its albedo).
Energy absorbed at the Earth's surface is then re-radiated into the
atmosphere as infrared radiation (heat). Some of this infrared radiation is
in turn absorbed and re-emitted by "greenhouse gases", which acts as a
blanket, resulting in a warming of the earth's surface and lower atmosphere.
Without greenhouse gases, over time, the amount of energy sent from the sun
to the Earths surface should be about the same as the amount of energy
radiated back into space, leaving the temperature of the Earths surface
roughly constant. Without atmospheric absorption and reradiation of infrared
energy the average surface air temperature of the Earth would be about 30° C
Many gases exhibit these greenhouse properties. Some of them occur in
nature (water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide), while
others are exclusively human-made (like gases used for aerosols).
This is a simplified diagram illustrating the global long-term radiative
balance of the atmosphere. Net input of solar radiation must be balanced by
net output of infrared radiation. About a third of incoming solar radiation
is reflected and the remainder is mostly absorbed by the surface and
atmosphere. Outgoing infrared radiation is absorbed by greenhouse gases and
by clouds keeping the surface about 33 °C warmer than it would otherwise be.
The sun plays a vital role in the earth's climate system, providing the
energy which drives both atmospheric and oceanic circulation, and ultimately
driving the climate system. This solar energy reaches the earth's atmosphere
in the form of electromagnetic radiation (infrared radiation, radio waves,
visible light, and ultraviolet rays)
72% of the totally emitted greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide (CO2), 18%
Methane (CH4) and 9% Nitrous oxide (NOx). Carbon dioxide emissions therefore
are the most important cause of global warming. CO2 is inevitably created by
burning fuels like e.g. oil, natural gas, diesel, organic-diesel, petrol,
organic-petrol, and ethanol.
What Are Climate Forcings?
The temperature of the Earth is determined by a balance of the energy
entering the Earth-atmosphere system and the energy leaving the system. An
energy imbalance imposed on the climate system either externally or by human
activities is termed a climate forcing. Persistent climate forcing cause the
temperature of the Earth to change until an energy balance is restored. The
amount of change is determined by the magnitudes of the climate forgings and
the feedbacks within the climate system that amplify or diminish the effect
of the forgings.
Climate during the last ice age, which peaked 20,000 years ago, was
dramatically different than it is today. Global climate forcing was about 6
1/2 W/m2 less than in the current interglacial period. This forcing
maintained a planet 5 °C colder than today, implying a climate sensitivity
of 3/4 ± 1/4 °C per W/m2.
Precise data are available for trends of the long-lived greenhouse gases
(GHGs) that are well-mixed in the atmosphere, i.e., CO2, CH4, N2O and CFCs.
The growth rate of the GHG climate forcing peaked in the early 1980s at a
rate of almost 0.5 W/m2 per decade, but declined by the 1990s to about 0.3
W/m2 per decade (Figure 8). The primary reason for the decline was reduced
emissions of CFCs, the production of which was phased out because of their
destructive effect on stratospheric ozone.
Is The Earth Out of Energy Balance With Space?
Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) measurements show the
reflected solar radiation (left) and emitted heat radiation (right) for
January 1, 2002. In both images, the lightest areas represent thick clouds,
which both reflect radiation from the Sun and block heat rising from the
Earth's surface. Notice the clouds above the western Pacific Ocean, where
there is strong uprising of air, and the relative lack of clouds north and
south of the equator. The animation, created from daily data, shows how
rapidly these measurements change. (Credit: NASA)
At present, planet Earth is out of energy balance with space by 0.85 watts
per meter squared (W/m2) and will reach a new equilibrium by warming up
another 0.6 degrees which is committed from past emissions. This is equal to
a 1-watt light bulb shining over an area of one square meter or 10.76 square
feet. Although seemingly small, this amount of heat affecting the entire
world would make a significant impact. To put this number in perspective, an
imbalance of 1 W/m2 maintained for the last 10,000 years is enough to melt
ice equivalent to 1 kilometer (6/10ths of a mile) of sea level.
The greatest danger of a positive planetary energy imbalance is its effects
on the fringes of Greenland and West Antarctica. As these areas are softened
by melt-water and rainfall, they begin to discharge icebergs into the ocean
more rapidly. As warming continues the ice sheet area with surface snow-melt
increases and the melt season becomes longer, bringing positive feedbacks
into play, including reduced ice sheet albedo (wet ice is darker, absorbing
more sunlight), warming coastal waters and rising sea level that remove
grounded coastal ice shelves that previously had impeded movement of glacial
iceberg streams to the ocean, and sinking of the ice sheet that increases
the temperature at its surface. The potential result, if this process is
allowed to proceed beyond a critical point, is much more rapid discharge of
ice into the ocean. http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/imbalance_release.pdf
How Sensitive Is our Planets Climate To Forcings?
NASA scientist James Hansen explains, Climate sensitivity is the response
to a specified forcing, after climate has had time to reach a new
equilibrium, including effects of fast feedbacks. A common measure of
climate sensitivity is the global warming caused by a doubling in
atmospheric CO2 concentration. Climate models suggest that doubled CO2 would
cause 3 °C global warming, with an uncertainty of at least 50%. Doubled CO2
is a forcing of about 4 W/m2, implying that global climate sensitivity is
about 3/4 °C per W/m2 of forcing.
"Paleoclimate data show that the Earths climate is remarkably sensitive to
global forcings. Positive feedbacks predominate. This allows the entire
planet to be whipsawed between climate states. One feedback, the albedo
flip property of water substance, provides a powerful trigger mechanism. A
climate forcing that flips the albedo of a sufficient portion of an ice
sheet can spark a cataclysm. Ice sheet and ocean inertia provides only
moderate delay to ice sheet disintegration and a burst of added global
warming. Recent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions place the Earth perilously
close to dramatic climate change that could run out of our control, with
great dangers for humans and other creatures. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the
largest human-made climate forcing, but other trace constituents are
important. Only intense simultaneous efforts to slow CO2 emissions and
reduce non-CO2 forcings can keep climate within or near the range of the
past million years. The most important of the non-CO2 forcings is methane
(CH4), as it causes the 2nd largest human-made GHG climate forcing and is
the principal cause of increased tropospheric ozone (O3), which is the 3rd
largest GHG forcing. Nitrous oxide (N2O) should also be a focus of climate
mitigation efforts. Black carbon (black soot) has a high global warming
potential (~2000, 500, and 200 for 20, 100 and 500 years, respectively) and
deserves greater attention. Some forcings are especially effective at high
latitudes, so concerted efforts to reduce their emissions could still save
the Arctic, while also having major benefits for human health, agricultural
productivity, and the global environment."
Hansen says "Climate forcing this century under business as usual (BAU)
would dwarf natural forcings of the past million years, indeed it would
probably exceed climate forcing of the Middle Pliocene, when the planet was
not more than 2-3°C warmer and sea level 25±10 m higher (Dowsett et al.
1994). The climate sensitivities we have inferred from paleoclimate data
assure that a BAU GHG emission scenario would produce global warming of
several degrees Celsius this century, with amplification at high latitudes."
In relation to the IPCC, Hansen says its "analyses and projections do not
well account for the nonlinear physics of wet ice sheet disintegration, ice
streams, and eroding ice shelves, nor are they consistent with the
paleoclimate evidence we have presented for the absence of discernable lag
between ice sheet forcing and sea level rise."
How do Milankovich cycles affect the sun-earth interaction?
Slow changes in the Earths orbit lead to small but climatically important
changes in the strength of the seasons over tens of thousands of years.
Climate feedbacks amplify these small changes, thereby producing ice ages.
Milankovich cycles are cycles in eccentricity (the shape of the Earth's
orbit around the Sun.), axial tilt (the inclination of the Earth's axis in
relation to its plane of orbit with the Sun), and precession (the change in
the direction of the Earth's axis of rotation relative to the Sun at the
time of perihelion and aphelion) which influence the amount of solar
radiation striking the Earth at different times. Taken in unison, variations
in these three cycles creates alterations in the seasonality of solar
radiation reaching the Earth's surface. These times of increased or
decreased solar radiation directly influence the Earth's climate system,
thus impacting the advance and retreat of Earth's glaciers.
The variation in the orbit, is the only one of the cycles that affects the
actual amount of radiation reaching the Earth known as "eccentricity,'' has
two cycles -- one every 100,000 years and one every 413,000 years.
The Earth's eccentricity varies primarily due to interactions with the
gravitational fields of Jupiter and Saturn. Currently the difference between
closest approach to the Sun (perihelion) and furthest distance (aphelion) is
only 3.4% (5.1 million km). This difference amounts to about a 6.8% increase
in incoming solar radiation.
Perihelion presently occurs around January 3, while aphelion is around July
4. When the orbit is at its most highly elliptical, the amount of solar
radiation at perihelion is about 23% greater than at aphelion. This
difference is roughly 4 times the value of the eccentricity. "The
eccentricity influences seasonal differences: when the Earth is closest to
the sun, it gets more solar radiation. If the occurs during the winter, the
winter is less severe. If a hemisphere has its summer while closest to the
sun, summers are relatively warm."
The variation in obliquity, due to the Earth's rotation axis wobbles, causes
a slow 2.4° change in the tilt of the axis with respect to the plane of the
Earth's orbit. Obliquity variation has the potential to have a fairly direct
effect on seasonal extremes. After all, it is the obliquity that causes our
seasons in the first place - if the Earth's axis were perpendicular to its
orbital plane, there would be no seasons at all.
The difference in tilt affects where on the Earth receives the most and
least solar radiation, but has global climatic consequences. Oscillations in
the degree of Earth's axial tilt occur on a periodicity of 41,000 years from
21.5 to 24.5 degrees. Presently the Earth is tilted at 23.44 degrees from
its orbital plane, roughly half way between its extreme values.
The more tilt means more severe seasons - warmer summers and colder winters;
less tilt means less severe seasons - cooler summers and milder winters.
For an increase of 1o in obliquity, the total energy received by the summer
hemisphere increases by approximately 1%. The cool summers are thought to
allow for the yearly build up of snow and ice in high latitudes, possibly
leading to the development of an ice sheet. Obliquity change also causes
equator ward motion of the tropical circles and the pole ward motion of the
The variation in precession is the change in orientation of the Earth's
The precession cycle takes about 19,000 - 23,000 years. Precession is
caused by two factors: a wobble of the Earth's axis and a turning around of
the elliptical orbit of the Earth itself. Precession affects the direction
of the Earth's axis. The change in the axis location changes the dates of
perihelion (closest distance from sun) and aphelion (farthest distance from
sun), and this increases the seasonal contrast in one hemisphere while
decreasing it in the other hemisphere.
When the axis is aligned so it points toward the Sun during perihelion, one
polar hemisphere will have a greater difference between the seasons while
the other hemisphere will have milder seasons. The hemisphere which is in
summer at perihelion will receive much of the corresponding increase in
solar radiation, but that same hemisphere will be in winter at aphelion and
have a colder winter. The other hemisphere will have a relatively warmer
winter and cooler summer. When the Earth's axis is aligned such that
aphelion and perihelion occur during spring and autumn, the Northern and
Southern Hemispheres will have similar contrasts in the seasons. At present
perihelion occurs during the Southern Hemisphere's summer, and aphelion is
reached during the southern winter. Thus the Southern Hemisphere seasons
should tend to be somewhat more extreme than the Northern Hemisphere
Currently, the Earth is closest to the sun in the Northern Hemisphere
winter, which makes the winters there less severe. Another consequence of
precession is a shift in the celestial poles. 5000 years ago the North Star
was Thuban in the constellation Draco. Currently the North Star is Polaris
in the constellation Ursa Minor. 12,000 years from now the Northern
Hemisphere will experience summer in December and winter in June because the
axis of the earth will be pointing at the star Vega instead of it's current
alignment with Polaris.
These variables are only important because the Earth has an asymmetric
distribution of landmasses, with virtually all (except Antarctica) located
in the Northern Hemisphere.
At times when Northern Hemisphere summers are coolest (farthest from the Sun
due to precession and greatest orbital eccentricity) and winters are warmest
(minimum tilt), snow can accumulate on and cover broad areas of northern
America and Europe. At present, only precession is in the glacial mode, with
tilt and eccentricity not favourable to glaciation.
Milankovitch's work was an attempt at explaining the ice ages, and it built
upon previous astronomical theories of climate variation postulated by
Joseph Adhemar and James Croll in the 19th century. Although the
Milankovitch theory is well-grounded astronomically, it remains
controversial. The theory predicts different effects at different latitudes,
and thus its use as a predictor of global (or at least hemispheric) climate
change is not unambiguous. The exact mechanisms by which the relatively
modest variations in the Earth's orbit and axis direction might result in
such large effects as the ice ages are not well established.
What Are Positive or Negative Feedback Mechanisms?
Feedback is a word to describe a situation in which a part of the output of
a process is added to the input and subsequently alters the output. In this
way feedback can influence how the process operates. Feedbacks can either
amplify (a positive feedback) or dampen (a negative feedback) the initial
perturbation. A climate feedback is an internal climate process that
amplifies or dampens the climate response to an initial forcing.
Feedback in climate systems can take two forms:
Positive feedback in which the feedback reinforces the original input
resulting in amplification of the output of the process. This means that
small changes in the input to the system will be cause the system to produce
larger and larger changes, resulting in instability.
Ocean warming provides a good example of a potential positive feedback
mechanism. The oceans are an important sink for CO2 through absorption of
the gas into the water surface. As CO2 increases it increases the warming
potential of the atmosphere. If air temperatures warm it should warm the
oceans. The ability of the ocean to remove CO2 from the atmosphere decreases
with increasing temperature. Hence increasing CO2 in the atmosphere could
have effects that exacerbate the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere.
Similar examples can be drawn for warmer air temperatures increasing the
rate of glacier and sea ice melting. As the ice melts it changes the surface
characteristics of the surface as the underlying ocean or land will have a
lower albedo than the ice and hence an enhanced ability to absorb solar
Likewise, the increase in temperature would permit more water vapor to be
stored in the atmosphere. The amount of water vapor the atmosphere can hold
increases exponentially with temperature so increases in temperature can
yield increases in atmospheric water vapor. The increased water vapor, as a
greenhouse gas, enhances the greenhouse effect and could lead to further
warming as long as this positive feedback isn't modified by an increase in
cloudcover that could lead to a negative feedback (bee below).
Negative feedback in which the feedback counteracts the original input
resulting in reduction of the output of the process. This means that small
changes in the input to the system will be cause the system to produce
smaller and smaller changes, resulting in the output to the system becoming
A good example of a negative feedback mechanism will be if the increase in
temperature increases the amount of cloud cover. The increased cloud
thickness or extent could reduce incoming solar radiation and limit warming.
On the other hand it is not obvious that if additional cloud cover happens
at what latitudes and at what times might it occur. Also it is not obvious
what types of clouds might be generated. Thick low clouds would have a
stronger ability to block sunlight than extensive high (cirrus) type clouds.
Low clouds tend to cool, high clouds tend to warm. High clouds tend to have
lower albedo and reflect less sunlight back to space than low clouds. Clouds
are generally good absorbers of infrared, but high clouds have colder tops
than low clouds, so they emit less infrared spaceward. To further complicate
matters, cloud properties may change with a changing climate, and human-made
aerosols may confound the effect of greenhouse gas forcing on clouds. With
fixed clouds and sea ice, models would all report climate sensitivities
between 2°C and 3°C for a CO2 doubling. Depending on whether and how
cloud cover changes, the cloud feedback could almost halve or almost double
Here are some links between parts of the climate system including feedbacks
that may accelerate climate change and its impacts. Observations suggest
some of these feedbacks may already be operating.
How Much Energy Is Required to Warm an Entire Planet?
Here are a few estimates of the energy used to melt ice and warm the air,
land and ocean in the past 50 years.
Ice melting: assume that the 10 cm rise in sea level between 1950 and 2000
was due to melting ice (thermal expansion of warming ocean water contributes
about half of the rise, but this error is partly balanced by melting sea ice
and ice shelves, which do not raise the sea level). If the initial
temperature of the melted ice was 10 °C and its final temperature was that
of the mean ocean surface (+15 °C), then the energy used is 105 cal/g (80
cal/g for melting). The heat storage is thus 10 g/cm2 × 105 cal/g × 4.19
J/cal × surface area of Earth (~5.1 × 1018 cm2) × ocean fraction of Earth
(~0.71) ≈ 1.6 × 1022 J ≈ 1 watt-year.
Air warming: for a 0.5 °C increase in air temperature, the heat storage in
the air is: 0.5 °C × the atmospheric mass of air (≈ mass of 10 m
column of water ≈ 1000 g/cm2) × heat capacity air (≈ 0.24
cal/(g·°C) × 4.19 J/cal × surface area of Earth ≈ 0.26 × 1022 J
≈ 0.16 watt-year.
Land warming: The mean depth of penetration of a thermal wave into the
Earth's crust in 50 years, weighted by ΔT, is about 20 m. If the
Earth's crust has a density of ~3 g/cm3 and a heat capacity of ~0.2
cal/(g·°C), and the fractional land coverage of Earth is about 0.29, then
the land heat storage is 2 × 103 cm × 3 g/cm3 × 0.2 cal/(g·°C) × 0.5 °C ×
4.19 J/cal × surface area of Earth × 0.29 ≈ 0.37 × 1022 J ≈ 0.23
Ocean warming: Levitus found a mean ocean warming of 0.035 °C in the upper 3
km of the ocean. The heat storage is thus: 0.035 °C × 3 × 105 g/cm2 × 1
cal/g × 4.19 J/cal × surface area of Earth × 0.71 ≈ 16 × 1022 J
≈ 10 watt-years.
Note that 1 J = 1 W·s, the number of seconds in a year ≈ π × 107,
and the surface area of the Earth ≈ 5.1 × 1018 cm2; therefore, 1
watt-year over the entire surface of the Earth ≈ 1.61 × 1022 J.
What is the Carbon Cycle?
Carbon is continuously cycled between reservoirs in the ocean, on the land,
and in the atmosphere, where it occurs primarily as carbon dioxide. On land,
carbon occurs primarily in living biota and decaying organic matter. In the
ocean, the main form of carbon is dissolved carbon dioxide and small
creatures, such as plankton.
Carbon dioxide is removed from the air by green plants during
photosynthesis, and some carbon dioxide dissolved in water to be used by
many invertebrate marine organisms to build their calcium carbonate shells.
The respiration of living organisms releases some carbon dioxide. As the
marine organisms die, their shells may sink to the sea bed, mixed with mud,
and eventually compressed to form sedimentary rocks. When plants and animals
die their wastes are decomposed, and the carbon they contain is oxidised and
returns to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Fossil fuels, comprising
organic remains whose decomposition was arrested millions of years ago,
release carbon dioxide when they are burned. (Green Facts The Greenhouse
Effect and Other Key Issues, Michael Allaby, 1990)
The largest reservoir is the deep ocean, which contains close to 40,000 Gt
C, compared to around 2,000 Gt C on land, 750 Gt C in the atmosphere and
1,000 Gt C in the upper ocean. The atmosphere, biota, soils, and the upper
ocean are strongly linked. The exchange of carbon between this
fast-responding system and the deep ocean takes much longer (several hundred
Source: Mac Post (Oak Ridge National Laboratory)
Is The Carbon Cycle Out of Balance?
Since the industrial revolution, people have been putting more carbon
dioxide into the atmosphere than plants, soils and oceans have been able to
absorb. People have strained the system. Carbon dioxide levels in the
atmosphere have risen, and are continuing to rise. As a result of increased
levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, global climate is
The carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere is gradually and steadily
increasing. The graph shows the CO2 concentration at the summit of Mauna Loa
in Hawaii from 1958 through 1999.
The Mauna Loa atmospheric CO2 measurements constitute the longest continuous
record of atmospheric CO2 concentrations available in the world. The Mauna
Loa site is considered one of the most favorable locations for measuring
undisturbed air because possible local influences of vegetation or human
activities on atmospheric CO2 concentrations are minimal and any influences
from volcanic vents may be excluded from the records.
The values are in parts per million (ppm). The seasonal fluctuation is
caused by the increased uptake of CO2 by plants in the summer.
What Are Carbon Sinks?
The UNFCCC defines sinks as any process, activity or mechanism which removes
a greenhouse gas, an aerosol or a precursor of a greenhouse gas from the
Forests play an important role in the carbon cycle, removing carbon dioxide
from the atmosphere and storing it as carbon in plant material and soil in a
process known as sequestration. Half a tree's mass is carbon, so large
amounts of carbon are stored in forests and they are the largest store of
terrestrial carbon. Planting new forests, managing existing forests and
reducing clearing can provide a relatively cost-effective way of combating
climate change. However, forests can also turn into a carbon source. This
might occur when a forest is burned in a bushfire or struck by disease. The
factors that determine whether a forest or other ecosystem is maintained as
a carbon sink include rainfall patterns, bushfires, vegetation changes,
nutrients, soil composition, evaporation rates and the interactions between
Trees are very efficient at sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. A cubic
meter of air contains about 0.117 grams of carbon, while a cubic meter of
wood contains about 250 kg of carbon, This means that a cubic meter of wood
contains the same amount of carbon as 1.4 million cubic meters of air. Trees
are not only capable of fixing carbon but also of concentrating it to an
incredible extent. A forest growing at the rate of 10 m3 wood per hectare
per year is absorbing the carbon from 14 million m3 of air (a column of air
1400 meters high on one hectare). The combination of photosynthesis and a
tree's ability to lay down wood (cellulose and lignin) acts as a powerful
concentrator of carbon from the atmosphere into a fixed form. There is no
parallel human technology that is capable of performing this kind of carbon
How Much CO2 Equivalent Can Our Planet Absorb Naturally?
In 1990, our CO2 emissions amounted to 6 to 7 billion tons carbon equivalent
(often noted 6 to 7 Gtce, (giga=billion in scientific notation).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculates that the sinks on
earth in biological and chemical activity in oceans, forests, and soils
permanently remove around 4 billion tonnes of carbon from the carbon cycle
each year. This, then, is our global emissions target; anything extra we put
in the air remains there and increases the greenhouse effect.
In practice emitting only 4 Gtce of CO2 per year means for 6 billion human
beings, equitably allocated, that they can emit 666 kg carbon equivalent of
CO2 per person and per year. The challenge is compounded by the fact that
emissions are rising with a long-term trend of 1.5% per year. Furthermore,
global population is likely to increase to 9 billion people or more, and
income per capita is likely to increase by 100% or more by the end of the
Climate change is very likely to reduce the capacity of natural processes to
remove carbon. The capacity of oceans and soil to hold carbon falls as they
become warmer. The Hadley Centre for Climate Change believes that within
forty years the vast carbon sink of the Amazon will go into reverse; dying
back and releasing its carbon stocks into the atmosphere.
The first comprehensive study of the ocean storage of carbon dioxide derived
from human activities - anthropogenic CO2 - determined that the oceans have
taken up some 118 billion metric tons of this carbon dioxide between 1800
Studies over the last decade have indicated that the land plants are taking
up CO2 at rates comparable to the oceans, but scientists have determined
that over a 200 year time frame, land plants have released more of the gas
to the atmosphere than they have taken up.
If the ocean had not removed 118 billion metric tons of anthropogenic carbon
between 1800 and 1994, the CO2 level in the atmosphere would be about 55
parts per million greater than currently observed," said Christopher Sabine,
an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's
Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and the lead author of one of the
Furthermore, we find that the current natural sinks for anthropogenic
emissions, around 4
gigatonnes of carbon per year (or 4 GtC a-1) will be reduced to around 2.7
GtC a-1 in 2030. 2.7 GtC a-1 therefore, is the amount of greenhouse gases we
will be able to emit in 2030, without increasing atmospheric concentrations.
When this global emission limit is shared out between the projected world
population of 8.2 billion people, we get a per capita emission limit of 0.33
tonnes of carbon per year.
In the UK we currently emit around 3 tonnes of carbon equivalent per person
per year, so
we will require to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 90%, compared with
levels, by 2030.
Further research by the Hadley Centre may have identified a major climate
related to dieback of vegetation in Amazonia, which if confirmed, would
require a further
tightening of these emission reduction targets. The time lag between a drop
in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, and a corresponding fall
in mean surface temperature, means that emissions stabilisation at 440 ppm
may have to be achieved sooner than 2030.
Professor James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia Theory, says that "if
we continue to inject CO2 into the atmosphere as we have been, we will have
released in thirty years from now more than a million million tons of CO2.
Moreover, the sun is now hotter than it was 55 Myears ago and we have
disabled about 40% of Gaias regulatory capacity by using land to feed
people. This is why climate scientists are so concerned that we have already
set in motion damaging climate change. The history of global heating 55
million years ago suggests that the injection of gaseous carbon compounds
took place over a period of about 10,000 years, much slower than we are now
In his paper, Professor Elderfields suggests that because of the slow rate
of introduction CO2 rose by no more than 70 and 160 ppm. Compared with our
present pollution with CO2 this is a small increase, we have already raised
CO2 by 100 ppm with an injection of only 500 Gigatons. In thirty years, if
we continue business as usual, we will have added 1000 Giga tons and raised
CO2 by 200ppm, more than is thought to have been present in the early
Eocene. The great rapidity of our pollution of the atmosphere with carbon
gases is as damaging as is the quantity. The rapidity of our pollution gives
the Earth system little time to adjust and this is particularly important
for the ocean ecosystems; the rapid accumulation of CO2 in the surface water
is making them too acid for shell forming organisms. This did not happen
during the Eocene event because there was time for the more alkaline deep
waters to mix in and neutralize the surface ocean."
To avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change, the EU Heads of
State at the EU Council agreed in March 2005 halt global warming below 2ºC
above pre-industrial temperatures. To reach this goal, the carbon dioxide
concentration in the atmosphere needs to be stabilised below 450 ppm
(possibly after some limited temporary overshooting of this value).
Does Climate Change Affect Soil Moisture?
The percentage of Earth's land area stricken by serious drought more than
doubled from the 1970s to the early 2000s, according to a new analysis by
scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).
Widespread drying occurred over much of Europe and Asia, Canada, western and
southern Africa, and eastern Australia. Rising global temperatures appear to
be a major factor, says NCAR's Aiguo Dai, lead author of the study.
Dai and colleagues found that the fraction of global land experiencing very
dry conditions (defined as -3 or less on the Palmer Drought Severity Index)
rose from about 10-15% in the early 1970s to about 30% by 2002. Almost half
of that change is due to rising temperatures rather than decreases in
rainfall or snowfall, according to Dai.
To see how soil moisture has evolved over the last few decades, Dai and
colleagues produced a unique global-scale analysis using the Palmer index,
which for decades has been the most widely used yardstick of U.S. drought.
The index is a measure of near-surface moisture conditions and is correlated
with soil moisture content.
Since the Palmer index is not routinely calculated in most of the world, Dai
and colleagues used long-term records of temperature and precipitation from
a variety of sources to derive the index for the period 1870-2002. The
results were consistent with those from a historical simulation of global
land surface conditions, produced by a comprehensive computer model
developed by scientists at NCAR, NASA, Georgia University of Technology, the
University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Arizona.
By factoring out rainfall and snowfall, Dai and colleagues estimated how
much of the global trend in soil moisture was due solely to rising
temperatures through the extra evaporation they produce.
"The warming-induced drying has occurred over most land areas since the
1970s," says Dai, "with the largest effects in northern mid and high
latitudes." In contrast, rainfall deficits alone were the main factor behind
expansion of dry soils in Africa's Sahel and East Asia. These are regions
where El Niño, a more frequent visitor since the 1970s, tends to inhibit
Why Should We Be Worried About a Warming of Just 1-5°C?
Most people do not realise that even small changes in the global average
temperature can result in very significant impacts. When people hear
scientists warn of 2°, 3° and 5°C increases in temperature they relate this
to the changes in temperature that they feel on any day, which is always a
range of temperatures larger than 2 to 5°C. The key to understanding is to
look back to the last ice-age where the world and Australia were very
different places, even though the global average temperature at that time
was only about 5°C lower than today.
Hansen says The temperature change between full glacial and interglacial
conditions is about 10ºC in Antarctica, about 3ºC at the Pacific Warm Pool
on the equator, and 5±1ºC on global average. We know the change of surface
conditions on the planet quite well, the ice sheet area being the dominant
Consider that 100 ppm is what separated the ice age from the warm, stable
climate of the past several thousand years, and that the temperature
transition from ice age to a warm climate took about a thousand years. By
comparison, over the past 30 years nearly half the energy used in the
history of the industrial revolution has been consumed, and global average
temperatures are rising about 100 times faster than during transitions out
of ice ages.
Oceanographer Wallace Broecker illustrates the danger of disrupting the
climate with a metaphor, saying that The climate is an angry beast, and
were going to give it a big nudge. He suggests if were going to stop the
CO2 rise, capturing it and putting it away is going to be a large part of
it. The technologies being developed would transform it into a liquefied
form, which could then be buried in saline aquifers, the deep ocean or
remote deserts. But any way you solve this problem, its going to be a big
deal, involving 20 percent of the energy budget. Still, its not going to
cripple any country to pay 20-30 percent more for energy Weve gone
through that already with the rise in oil prices.
How Long Does C02 Last in the Atmosphere?
Lets look at how CO2 concentration decays, in the CO2 impulse response
function of Bern SAR and Bern TAR models. The CO2 concentration is
approximated by a sum of exponentially decaying functions, one for each
fraction of the additional concentrations, which should reflect the time
scales of different sinks. The coefficients are based on the pulse response
of the additional concentration of CO2 taken from the Bern model
(Siegenthaler and Joos, 1992).
r = concentration
CCO2 = constant (approximately 0.47 ppmv/GtC, but use this parameter to
fine tune your results)
ECO 2 = emissions of CO2
tCO2,S = atmospheric exponential decay time of the sth fraction of the
additional concentration (171.0, 18.0 and 2.57 years)
fCO2,0 = first fraction (0.152)
fCO2,S = respective fractions (0.253, 0.279 and 0.316)
Tim Flannery, Australian author and scientist, who wrote "The Weather
Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth"
sates that "One of the most important things we need to ponder about global
warming is the long lasting effect of pumping carbon dioxide in to the
atmosphere. Around 56% of all of the carbon dioxide produced by humans since
we started using coal and oil as sources of energy is still present in the
atmosphere today. Even if we quickly shift to safer forms of energy, over
half of this carbon dioxide will still be in the atmosphere in a centurys
What Is The Relationship Between CO2 and Global Mean Temperature?
When you look at the ice cores data covering the last 650,000 years the
Earth can be seen to undergo natural changes from glacial conditions to
warmer times like the present.
"The link between temperature and carbon dioxide, as well as methane
concentrations in the past is surprisingly constant over time. Only through
the impact of humans during the last centuries, atmospheric green house
gases have been raised above their natural levels, explains Dr Hubertus
Fischer of the Alfred Wegener Institute.
The CSIRO Atmospheric Research Greenhouse Information Paper explains that
concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane increased almost in phase with
the glacial-interglacial warmings. Carbon dioxide concentrations lagged the
coolings during glacial onset. However, the exact phasing of temperature and
carbon dioxide changes is not the main issue. The important finding is that
greenhouse gas variations caused up to half of the amplitude of the
temperature changes over the glacial-interglacial periods.
"During the exit from glacial periods (for example the transition from the
last cold period, between about 18000 and 11000 years ago), both temperature
and CO2 increased slowly and in parallel. Close analysis of the relationship
between the two curves shows that, within the uncertainties of matching
their timescales, the temperature led by a few centuries. This is expected,
since it was changes in the Earths orbital parameters (including the shape
of its orbit around the Sun, and the tilt of Earths axis) that caused the
small initial temperature rise. This then raised atmospheric CO2 levels, in
part by outgassing from the oceans, causing the temperature to rise further.
By amplifying each others response, this positive feedback can turn a
small initial perturbation into a large climate change. There is therefore
no surprise that the temperature and CO2 rose in parallel, with the
temperature initially in advance. In the current case, the situation is
different, because human actions are raising the CO2 level, and we are
starting to observe the temperature response.
Is There Scientific Consensus on Climate Change?
The evidence for human induced global warming is given in the recently
published report Climate Change 2007: The Physical Basis Summary for
Policy Makers by Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
The report is authoritative as it is based on an extensive and rigorous
review of the published results of thousands of scientific investigations
carried out worldwide. It is trustworthy since the delegates of 113 nations,
including those of climate sceptic nations, have challenged and approved its
contents. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report
concluded that, "Most of the observed increase in globally averaged
temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed
increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations." The report defines
"very likely" as a greater than 90% probability and represents the consensus
of the scientific community.
IPCC is not alone in its conclusions. In recent years, all major scientific
bodies in the US whose members' expertise bears directly on the matter have
issued similar statements. For example, the National Academy of Sciences
report, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, begins:
"Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of
human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean
temperatures to rise". The report explicitly asks whether the IPCC
assessment is a fair summary of professional scientific thinking, and
answers yes: "The IPCC's conclusion that most of the observed warming of the
last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas
concentrations accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific
community on this issue". Others agree. The American Meteorological Society,
the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the
Advancement of Science (AAAS) all have issued statements in recent years
concluding that the evidence for human modification of climate is
To read other scientific reports and international agreements which
demonstrate this global consensus, please read:
In addition, the following institutions specializing in Climate, Atmosphere,
Ocean and/or Earth sciences have published the same conclusions:
· NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS)
· National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
· National Academy of Sciences (NAS)
· State of the Canadian Cryosphere (SOCC)
· Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
· Royal Society of the United Kingdom (RS)
· American Geophysical Union (AGU)
· National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
· American Meteorological Society (AMS)
· Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS)
The consensus is so strong that legally carbon dioxide is now considered a
pollutant in the US. I am sure many countries will soon follow suit. The US
Supreme Court recently decided due to overwhelming evidence that carbon
dioxide is a pollutant under federal law and can be regulated because it
traps heat around the earth.
Climate change is an issue which the UK Governments Chief Scientific
Adviser, Sir David King, described as the most severe problem that we are
facing today more serious even than the threat of terrorism
Is The IPCC Report Unbiased Or Is It Political?
In a SPIEGEL article in May 2007 Is the IPCC Doing Harm to Science? Uwe
Buse explains that in drafting the SPM, or Summary for Policymakers, the two
groups debating the issue had little in common except a mutual interest in
reaching a consensus. On the one side were the authors of the report, all
scientists, who have done little else in the last three years than work on
this report. On the other side were the politicians, members of delegations
from almost every country on earth. Sitting in alphabetical order in the
chamber, their main concern was to adjust the report to suit their
individual economic, environmental and foreign policies.
In January 2005 Christopher Landsea resigned from work on the IPCC AR4,
saying that he viewed the process "as both being motivated by pre-conceived
agendas and being scientifically unsound" because of Kevin Trenberth's
public contention that global warming was contributing to recent hurricane
activity Chris Landsea Leaves. Roger A. Pielke who published Landsea's
letter writes: "How anyone can deny that political factors were everpresent
in the negotiations isn't paying attention", but notes that the actual
report "maintain[s] consistency with the actual balance of opinion(s) in the
community of relevant experts.
One weakness of the IPCC is that it has decided to exclude the contribution
of "accelerated melting", where the disintegration of ice shelves and
lubrication of glaciers by meltwater speeds up the flow of ice into the
oceans, because it is difficult to model. However in the coming century it
could have a big impact.
On February 1st, 2007, the eve of the publication of IPCC's major report on
climate, a new study was published in the peer-review journal Science, in
which research by an international group of scientists suggests that
temperatures and sea levels have been rising at or above the maximum rates
proposed during the last IPCC report in 2001. The study compared IPCC
2001 projections on temperature and sea level change with what has actually
happened. Over the six year span of time, the actual temperature rise was
near the very top (in the top 10%) of the "range" given by IPCC's 2001
projection. In the case of sea level rises, the actual rise was above even
the top of the range IPCC had given.
There are many additional examples of scientific research which has
indicated that previous estimates by the IPCC, far from overstating dangers
and risks, have actually understated them (this may be due, in part, to the
expanding human understanding of climate, as well as to the conservative
bias, noted above, which is built into the IPCC system).
Dozens of federal agencies report science but much of it is edited at the
White House before it is sent to Congress and the public. It appears climate
science is edited with a heavy hand. Drafts of climate reports were
co-written by Rick Piltz for the federal Climate Change Science Program. But
Piltz says his work was edited by the White House to make global warming
seem less threatening. "The strategy of people with a political agenda to
avoid this issue is to say there is so much to study way upstream here that
we cant even being to discuss impacts and response strategies," says Piltz.
"Theres too much uncertainty. It's not the climate scientists that are
saying that, its lawyers and politicians."
Piltz worked under the Clinton and Bush administrations. Each year, he
helped write a report to Congress called "Our Changing Planet." Piltz says
he is responsible for editing the report and sending a review draft to the
White House. Asked what happens, Piltz says: "It comes back with a large
number of edits, handwritten on the hard copy by the chief-of-staff of the
Council on Environmental Quality." Asked who the chief of staff is, Piltz
says, "Phil Cooney." Piltz says Cooney is not a scientist. "He's a lawyer.
He was a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, before going into
the White House," he says. Cooney, the former oil industry lobbyist, became
chief-of-staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Piltz
says Cooney edited climate reports in his own hand. In one report, a line
that said earth is undergoing rapid change becomes may be undergoing
change. Uncertainty becomes significant remaining uncertainty. One line
that says energy production contributes to warming was just crossed out. "He
was obviously passing it through a political screen," says Piltz. "He would
put in the word potential or may or weaken or delete text that had to do
with the likely consequence of climate change, pump up uncertainty language
Is There Evidence In the Past of Abrupt Climate Change?
Professor Richard Alley, one of the world's leading climate researchers,
tells the fascinating history of global climate changes as revealed by
reading the annual rings of ice from cores drilled in Greenland. In the
1990s he and his colleagues made headlines with the discovery that the last
ice age came to an abrupt end over a period of only three years. Here Alley
offers the first popular account of the wildly fluctuating climate that
characterized most of prehistory--long deep freezes alternating briefly with
mild conditions--and explains that we humans have experienced an unusually
temperate climate. But, he warns, our comfortable environment could come to
an end in a matter of years. The record suggests that "switches" as well as
"dials" control the earth's climate, affecting, for example, hot ocean
currents that today enable roses to grow in Europe farther north than polar
bears grow in Canada. Throughout most of history, these currents switched on
and off repeatedly (due partly to collapsing ice sheets), throwing much of
the world from hot to icy and back again in as little as a few years.
Scientists who read the history of Earth's climate in ancient sediments, ice
cores and fossils find clear signs that it has shifted abruptly in the past
on a scale that could prove disastrous for modern society. Peter B.
deMenocal, an associate professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of
Columbia University, said that about 8,200 years ago, a very sudden cooling
shut down the Atlantic conveyor belt. As a result, the land temperature in
Greenland dropped more than 9 degrees Fahrenheit within a decade or two.
"It's not this abstract notion that happens over millions of years,"
deMenocal said. "The magnitude of what we're talking about greatly, greatly
exceeds anything we've withstood in human history."
Fossil and ice core evidence shows that Earths climate can shift drastically
within 10 yearsestablishing radically different temperatures and
precipitation patterns that can persist for centuries or longer. Even as
the earth as a whole continues to warm gradually, large regions may
experience a precipitous and disruptive shift into colder climates, the
Director of the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution told world
During the Younger Dryas about 12,700 years ago, average temperatures in the
North Atlantic region abruptly plummeted nearly 8° F and remained that way
for 1,300 years.
What Is The Probable Resulting Climate For Given Emissions?
This diagram is a very good graphic for understanding the relationship
· atmospheric levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases
· probabilities that certain levels of warming will occur, and
· the setting of emissions limits.
In 1997 Azar & Rodhe, using the best available information at the time, put
together the model described in this slide.
You can see how atmospheric CO2 levels rose, using historical date up till
about 1990, then 6 alternative stabilisation scenarios are generated using
computer modelling. The scenarios show atmospheric levels of CO2 that grow,
at least for a while, and then end up at 350 ppm, 450 ppm, 550 ppm, 650 ppm,
750 ppm and 1000 ppm of CO2 in the air. The 350 ppm stabilisation level is
the closest to the pre-industrial maximum, 280 ppm, but nevertheless exceeds
it by 25% and is even 18% over the highest CO2 level experienced in the last
million years or more.
Source: Azar, C., & Rodhe, H., 1997. Targets for Stabilization of
Atmospheric CO2. Science 276, 1818-1819. . Dashed line a) refers to an
estimate of the maximum natural variability of the global temperature over
the past millennium, and dashed line b) shows the 2oC temperature threshold.
What Are The Chances of Exceeding a Range of Temperatures at a Particular
Level of CO2 Equivalent?
We now have a compilation of more recently estimated probabilities in the
report of the Stern Review, 2006 (Box 8.1, p. 195). This data has been
re-laid out here to make it easier to see the relationship between
atmospheric concentrations of CO2 equivalent and the probabilities of
triggering a range of different temperatures. I have also added estimates
of (a) expected species losses; (b) the likelihood of runaway warming; (c) a
qualitative characterisation of the total impact associated with different
In the Technical Summary of the Fourth Assessment report we find a similar
table with C02 equivalent levels, and expected equilibrium temperatures
resulting from these.
Now, if we remember what James Hansen says
(1) In the last interglacial period, temperatures were around 1 degree
higher than now and sea levels 5-6 m higher
(2) Therefore, just 1 degree warming is dangerous climate change; 2-3
degrees warming is a different planet as at that temperature sea level were
25±10 m higher.
(3) 1 degree warming will be caused by 450 ppm CO2
(4) The last time icesheets collapsed was during melt water pulse 1A at the
beginning of our current warm period when sea levels rose 1 m every 20
(5) We still have to expect another 0.5 degree warming from past emissions
because planet Earth is presently out of energy balance with space. It will
come to a new equilibrium at that higher temperature, provided we do not
enter a positive feed back loop with a run-away climate
The target is therefore to stay under the 450 ppm CO2 limit. It can be
achieved by the Stern Review's stabilization path for 450 ppm CO2e
(including other GHG emissions). In this path, emissions must be made to
peak by 2010 and then be reduced by 60% by 2030 (not 2050). Every Gt of CO2
we are from now on blowing into the atmosphere is 1 Gt too much. It will
just increase the future equilibrium temperature.
Let us assume that the threshold temperature at which our icesheets in
Greenland and West Antarctica start an unstoppable disintegration (not just
surface melting as assumed in the latest IPCC report) is 0.8 degrees then we
can burn a maximum of oil, gas and coal equivalent to just 0.3 (=0.8 - 0.5)
degree warming. Not even Hansen knows the exact figure as no reliable ice
sheet model is available. But he says we are very close to a tipping point.
During the last Ice Age, when the earth was on average less than 10 degrees
colder than today, the concentration of carbon dioxide was 190 parts per
million (0.019 percent). At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, it was a
rather stable 270 to 280 ppm. In the last 200 years, the atmospheric
concentration of CO2 has risen to more than 350 ppm, the highest it has been
in some 160,000 years, according to studies of air pockets trapped long ago
in glacial ice. This increase is primarily due to the burning of fossil
fuels, though other factors, including large scale forest fires have become
a significant factor as well.
Last century's global warming of 0.6 degrees - 0.8 degrees in Australia -
may sound small, but an extra 1.5 to two degrees will mean the loss of coral
and other delicate ecosystems. It is the most rapid warming the planet has
seen in 10,000 years. In that time, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
remained constant at around 280 parts per million. It is now nearly 380ppm,
a level the earth has not experienced for at least 400,000 years.
A study by a former chief economist of the World Bank, Sir Nicholas Stern of
Britain, called climate change is "the greatest and widest-ranging market
failure ever seen," with the potential to shrink the global economy by 20
percent and to cause economic and social disruption on par with the two
world wars and the Great Depression.
We have to follow the 450 ppm CO2e stablization path from the Stern Review
in which emissions must be made to peak around 2010 and then decline by 60%
in just 20 years if we want to keep the climate within safe levels. It seems
we cannot even burn all oil and gas plus coal without wrecking our climate
Tony Blair said the Stern Review showed that scientific evidence of global
warming was "overwhelming" and its consequences "disastrous".
How Does Sea Level Rise Relate to Temperature?
Climatologist James Hansen, Direcor of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space
Studies, says "At the peak of the last interglacial period (100-120,000
years ago), temperatures were around 1 degree higher than now and sea levels
5-6 meter higher. This is from paleoclimate data, not from debatable
models." He therefore concludes in his paper on Greenland Ice sheet
disintegration "A Slippery Slope: How Much Global Warming Constitutes
"Dangerous Anthropogenic Interference" that 1 degree more warming is
dangerous climate change. http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/
Here is reconstructed global sea level for the last 500 kyr by Richard
Bintanja, Roderik S.W. van de Wal & Johannes Oerlemans
Hansen says, to find our planet at 2 or 3°C warmer than now, as it will be
this century in business-as-usual scenarios, we must go back to the middle
Pliocene, about 3 million years ago. At that time sea level was 25 ± 10 m
greater than today.
These sea level rises can happen fast. The last 7000 years were relatively
stable, however 14,000 years ago, sea level rose by about 25 m in some parts
of the northern hemisphere, over a period of less than 500 years, in an
event called meltwater pulse 1A. This was probably due to a collapsing ice
What Kind of Sea Level Rise Can We Expect in The Future?
Stefan Rahmstorf, Professor of Physics of the Oceans Potsdam Institute for
Climate Impact Research in Germany and member of the Panel on Abrupt Climate
Change and of the Advisory Council on Global Change of the German
government, states that sea level appears to be rising about 50% faster than
models suggest consistently for the 1961-2003 and the 1993-2003 periods,
and for the TAR models and the AR4 models in the IPCC report. This suggests
that it is at least a plausible possibility that the models may
underestimate future rise.
In his semi-empirical relation he states that sea-level rise is roughly
proportional to the magnitude of warming above the temperatures of the
preIndustrial Age. This holds to good approximation for temperature and
sea-level changes during the 20th century, with a proportionality constant
of 3.4 millimeters/year per °C. When applied to future warming scenarios of
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this relationship results in
a projected sea-level rise in 2100 of 0.5 to 1.4 meters above the 1990
level. In another article he says Even if warming were to be stopped at 3
ºC, sea level will probably keep rising by several meters in subsequent
centuries in a delayed response
Ice sheets have the largest potential effect, because their complete
melting would result in a global sea-level rise of about 70 m. Yet their
dynamics are poorly understood, and the key processes that control the
response of ice flow to a warming climate are not included in current ice
sheet models for example, meltwater lubrication of the ice sheet bed, or
increased ice stream flow after the removal of buttressing ice shelves.
"Rahmsdorf (2006) has noted that if one uses observed sea level rise of the
past century to calibrate a linear projection of future sea level, BAU
warming will lead to sea level rise of the order of one meter in the present
century. This is a useful observation, as it indicates that sea level change
would be substantial even without non-linear collapse of an ice sheet.
However, this approach cannot be taken as a realistic way of projecting
likely sea level rise under BAU forcing. The linear approximation fits the
past sea level change well for the past century only because the two terms
contributing significantly to sea level rise were (1) thermal of ocean water
and (2) melting of alpine glaciers.
Under BAU forcing in the 21st century, sea level rise undoubtedly will be
dominated by a third term (3) ice sheet disintegration. This third term was
small until the past few years, but it is has at least doubled in the past
decade and is now close to 1 mm/year, based on gravity satellite
measurements discussed above. As a quantitative example, let us say that the
ice sheet contribution is 1 cm for the decade 2005-2015 and that it doubles
each decade until the West Antarctic ice sheet is largely depleted. That
time constant yields sea level rise of the order of 5 m this century. "
For more information, read:
Should the Greenland ice sheet melt completely, as models suggest it could,
that would result in a sea level rise of about twenty-three feet (seven
meters). Reductions in sea ice extent and snow cover cause a reduction in
surface reflectivity, meaning that more energy is absorbed at the surface
and less is radiated, causing further warming, which in turn leads to
further melting: what scientists refer to as a 'positive feedback'. At the
same time, melting arctic ice, combined with increased precipitation and
river runoff, may lead to a freshening of the ocean in the North Atlantic,
disrupting the critical salinity balance and leading to a collapse in the
ocean circulation pattern that brings warm water to Europe from the tropics.
As a consequence, global warming could lead to regional cooling in the
Northeast Atlantic region.
How Long Will It Take For The Climate to Respond to Forcings
In an article published in Science in 2005, called In a Earth's Energy
Imbalance: Confirmation and Implications the authors state The lag in the
climate response to a forcing is a sensitive function of equilibrium climate
sensitivity, varying approximately as the square of the sensitivity (1), and
it depends on the rate of heat exchange between the ocean's surface mixed
layer and the deeper ocean (24). The lag could be as short as a decade, if
climate sensitivity is as small as 0.25°C per W/m2 of forcing, but it is a
century or longer if climate sensitivity is 1°C per W/m2 or larger (1, 3).
Evidence from Earth's history (36) and climate models (7) suggests that
climate sensitivity is 0.75° ± 0.25°C per W/m2, implying that 25 to 50 years
are needed for Earth's surface temperature to reach 60% of its equilibrium
Link to www.sciencemag.org
How Long Will It Take to Stabilise The Climate, and Sea Levels?
Even after we have stabilised C02 emissions temperature and sea level will
continue for centuries, or even several millennia.
A report, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, claims
Britain could look radically different with sea levels rising as much as
11.4m by the year 3000 if greenhouse gas emissions are not sharply reduced.
The worst-case scenario would see global and regional warming, raising the
world's average surface temperature by 15C and lifting sea levels by more
than 11m. Even in the "business as usual", middle scenario, increased
emissions would probably precipitate abrupt climate change events, such as
the weakening and shifting of currents in the Atlantic Ocean. Sea water
acidity would also increase dramatically, posing a major threat to marine
organisms. Dr Tim Lenton, the UEA lead author on the paper and a climate
change modeller, said: "If we follow business-as-usual then we will commit
future generations to dangerous climate change, and if we exploit
unconventional fossil fuels we could return the Earth to a hot state it
hasn't seen since 55 million years ago. "The best-case scenario, keeps the
temperature rise in the year 3000 at 1.5 degrees of warming and sea level
rise to under a metre, because it has avoided the Greenland ice sheet
melting." "The main result is that the choices we make in the coming decades
have implications that play out over the next thousand years and beyond. If
we start to make a serious reduction in emissions, then we could avoid
dangerous climate change thresholds and leave a stable climate in the year
"If human beings follow a business-as-usual course, continuing to exploit
fossil fuel resources without reducing carbon emissions or capturing and
sequestering them before they warm the atmosphere, the eventual effects on
climate and life may be comparable to those at the time of mass extinctions.
Life will survive, but it will do so on a transformed planet. For all
foreseeable human generations, it will be a far more desolate world than the
one in which civilization developed and flourished during the past several
What Constitutes Dangerous Anthropogenic Interference With Nature?
James Hansen says The Earths history provides our best indication of the
levels of change that are likely to have deleterious effects on humans and
wildlife, and constitute dangerous anthropogenic interference with nature.
The Earths temperature, with rapid global warming over the past 30 years,
is now passing through the peak level of the Holocene, a period of
relatively stable climate that has existed for more than 10,000 years.
Further warming of more than 1ºC will make the Earth warmer than it has been
in a million years. Business-as-usual scenarios, with fossil fuel CO2
emissions continuing to increase ~2%/year as in the past decade, yield
additional warming of 2 or 3°C this century and imply changes that
constitute practically a different planet.
I present multiple lines of evidence indicating that the Earths climate is
nearing, but has not passed, a tipping point, beyond which it will be
impossible to avoid climate change with far ranging undesirable
consequences. The changes include not only loss of the Arctic as we know it,
with all that implies for wildlife and indigenous peoples, but losses on a
much vaster scale due to worldwide rising seas. Sea level will increase
slowly at first, as losses at the fringes of Greenland and Antarctica due to
accelerating ice streams are nearly balanced by increased snowfall and ice
sheet thickening in the ice sheet interiors. But as Greenland and West
Antarctic ice is softened and lubricated by melt-water and as buttressing
ice shelves disappear due to a warming ocean, the balance will tip toward
ice loss, thus bringing multiple positive feedbacks into play and causing
rapid ice sheet disintegration. The Earths history suggests that with
warming of 2-3°C the new equilibrium sea level will include not only most of
the ice from Greenland and West Antarctica, but a portion of East
Antarctica, raising sea level of the order of 25 meters (80 feet).
Contrary to lethargic ice sheet models, real world data suggest substantial
ice sheet and sea level change in centuries, not millennia.
What Are Tipping Points?
Systems can be found in various states. The diagrams below illustrate some
states such as stable, untable, steady, and threshold states.
Stable Unstable Steady Threshold
If we push a stable system with any forcing it quickly returns to its
initial state, however hard we push it. This allows us to easily predict the
outcome. Unstable systems are very vulnerable to changes, and can sometimes
change irreversibly when forced in a certain direction. One may be able to
predict the outcome, but it is very sensitive to inputs. Steady systems, if
forced, do not change much, because they are fairly insensitive to forcings.
Linear systems change proportionally to forces, and are predictable.
Threshold systems in contrast are non-linear and can be difficult to predict
because they can cope with certain amounts of forcings, however after
reaching a certain tipping point, rapid change can occur.
When the writer Malcolm Gladwell unleashed the idea of tipping points on the
popular imagination in his book of the same name1, he was comparing the way
aspects of life suddenly shift from obscurity to ubiquity to effects
normally studied in epidemiology. Gladwell's tipping points were
manifestations of the catchiness of behaviours and ideas.
The Tipping Point is the name given by epidemiologists for the dramatic
moment in an epidemic when everything can change all at once. The flu, for
example, can be held in check for a long time without being an epidemic. But
suddenly, once some threshold is crossed in terms of number of people
infected, things get much worse very quickly. Gladwells premise is that in
addition to applying to viruses, this type of pattern is observed in many
John Rundle, Professor of Physics, Geology and Engineering says Complex
systems are observed to undergo sudden changes in behavior when the system
tips from one dominant dynamical pattern to another. The transition in
system dynamics is associated with the nucleation and growth of
fluctuations, together with a threshold in the state space of the system.
The threshold can be characterized as a tipping point. Tipping points, or
first-order transitions, can be associated with stock market crashes,
earthquakes, hurricanes, and epidemics.
In nonlinear models, rapid changes resulting from crossing a threshold in
some forcing function are common. Data on a number of aspects of the climate
system suggest that it also has thresholds, multiple equilibria, and other
features which can result in episodes of rapid change [ Broecker et al.,
1985; Mayewski et al., 1993; McElroy, 1994]. The behavior of the
thermohaline circulation of the oceans (THC) is one of the most frequently
cited examples of nonlinear dynamics in the earth climate system and a
potential source of rapid future change.
Peter Smith, a professor of sustainable energy at the University of
Nottingham, says The scientific opinion is that we have a ceiling of 440
parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric carbon before there is a tipping
point, a steep change in the rate of global warming," Professor Smith said.
"The rate at which we are emitting now, around 2ppm a year and rising, we
could expect that that tripping point will reach us in 20 years' time. That
gives us 10 years to develop technologies that could start to bite into the
Dr. Rajendra Pachauri the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC) told 114 government representatives in Mauritius in 2005 that
our planet has already reached the level of dangerous concentrations of
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that could cause the climate to abruptly
flip. Rather than causing gradual changes over many centuries, Fortune
belatedly reported, growing evidence suggests the ocean-atmosphere system
that controls the worlds climate can lurch from one state to another in
less than a decade. Like a trigger that is pulled without effect until the
climate change cannon suddenly fires at us point-blank, a severe climate
flip could occur within the next 25 years. If it does, Fortune feared,
the need to rapidly adapt may overwhelm many societies. [Fortune Jan/04]
Earth this century could cross a climate threshold or "tipping point that
could lead to intolerable impacts on human well-being," says the 166-page
report prepared for the United Nations. It was written by 18 experts in
climate, water, marine science, physics and other disciplines, seven of them
Americans. "It is still possible to avoid an unmanageable degree of climate
change, but the time for action is now," says panelist John Holdren, a
Harvard University professor of environmental policy.
Without action, the panel says, a litany of harmful consequences awaits: the
spread of disease, less fresh water, more and worse droughts, more extreme
storms and widespread economic damage to farming, fishing and forests. In
the USA, which emits about 25% of the world's carbon dioxide, it could mean
more intense hurricanes, heat waves, wildfires and droughts.
The two-year study, issued by the U.N. Foundation, says the risk of tipping
over that climate threshold rises sharply if Earth's temperature increases
3.6 to 4.5 degrees above what it was in 1750 (it is 1.2 degrees above that
What Are The Uncertainties About Climate Change?
Although models have indicated gradual change, evidence suggested that
abrupt change could occur due to internal feedbacks and thresholds within
the climate system which could shift it into a dramatically different mode
of operation. One such example often cited is the possibility that the North
Atlantic thermohaline circulation the Gulf Stream may collapse with the
effect of dramatically cooling Scotlands climate. Witnesses to the inquiry
suggested that the Gulf Stream was not at present thought likely to be
subject to sudden change24. Some evidence raised the issue of the possible
die-back of the Amazon forest after a certain level of warming, removing its
vast capacity to absorb carbon and turning it into a net carbon source25.
Similarly, warming soils could cease to be carbon sinks and emit more
carbon. The oceans capacity to remove CO 2 from the atmosphere may also
Dr. Hermann Ott is the director of the Berlin office of the Wuppertal
Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, one of Europe's leading
climate policy research organizations. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE,
he says that global warming is inevitable and mankind must take steps for
the softest landing possible. It will also mean fundamental changes in the
way we live. He says if we do not act decisively, I would assume an
increase of between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. But
it could easily be 6 degrees. That's a little bit greater than the
difference between now and the last ice age. Europe will look very
different, but of course, the effects are not going to be the same
everywhere. In some parts of the world you'll have a change of 10 degrees or
11 degrees. In others you will have only an increase of 1 or 2 degrees. If
we talk about skepticism among scientists, it's not about whether or not
man-made climate change exists, it's more about what the impacts are going
What Changes Can We Expect In Terms of Climate Change and Its Implications?
A 40-page consultancy report written for the Australian Business Roundtable
on Climate Change said:
"Australia is one of the many global regions experiencing significant
climate change as a result of global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs)
from human activities. The average surface air temperature of Australia
increased by 0.7 °C over the past century warming that has been
accompanied by marked declines in regional precipitation, particularly along
the east and west coasts of the continent. These seemingly small changes
have already had widespread consequences for Australia.
Such changes in climate will have diverse implications for Australias
environment, economy, and public health. The biodiversity, ecosystems, and
natural habitats of Australia are world renowned, yet potentially the most
fragile of the systems that will be exposed to climate change. For example,
the Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage area, has experienced
unprecedented rates of coral bleaching over the past two decades, and
additional warming of only 1 °C is anticipated to cause considerable losses
or contractions of species associated with coral communities.
Australian crop agriculture and forestry may experience transient benefits
from longer growing seasons and a warmer climate, yet such benefits are
unlikely to be sustained under the more extreme projections of global
warming. Furthermore, changes in precipitation and, subsequently water
management, are particularly critical factors affecting the future
productivity of the Australian landscape. The declines in precipitation
projected over much of Australia will exacerbate existing challenges to
water availability and quality for agriculture as well as for commercial and
For example, limiting future increases in atmospheric CO2 to 550 ppmv,
though not a panacea for global warming, would reduce 21st century global
warming to an estimated 1.52.9 °C, effectively avoiding the more extreme
climate changes. Lower stabilisation levels, such as 450 ppmv CO2 would
reduce future warming even further, to approximately 1.22.3 °C. For
Australia, such constraints on global warming would give natural ecosystems
and their associated species greater time to adapt to changing environmental
conditions, reduce the likelihood of major adverse consequences for
agriculture and forestry, help ensure Australias public health
infrastructure can keep pace with emerging health challenges, and reduce the
chance of large-scale singularities. Nevertheless, even with a 350 ppmv
stabilisation level, the Earth will not be able to avoid its current
commitment to additional future warming. Therefore, prudence dictates that
GHG mitigation activities be pursued in conjunction with adaptive responses
to address the residual risks posed by this commitment."
According to Dr. Geoff Love, Director of the Australian Bureau of
Meteorology "Since the middle of the 20th century, Australian temperatures
have, on average, risen by about 1°C with an increase in the frequency of
heatwaves and a decrease in the numbers of frosts and cold days. Rainfall
patterns have also changed - the northwest has seen an increase in rainfall
over the last 50 years while much of eastern Australia and the far southwest
have experienced a decline."
"Studies predict Australia will be ravaged earlier and more severely by
climate change than almost anywhere on Earth. Declining rainfall has cost
Perth two-thirds of its surface water supply, and in 1998 the rainfall
deficit began to spread east, parching the western plains. Now Sydney's dams
are at an all-time low.
So, what would Australia look like in a world that is two degrees warmer?
Two degrees of additional warming is sufficient to kill about half the
world's coral reefs. Above that we're looking at a world without substantial
coral reefs, making the Federal Government's protection of one-third of the
Great Barrier Reef futile.
In 1988 Australia proclaimed the Wet Tropics World Heritage area in
north-eastern Queensland. Extinctions of its unique fauna will start at one
degree of warming, and after two degrees will accelerate rapidly.
After surviving for millions of years, creatures such as golden bowerbirds,
green ringtail possums and mountain frogs will be no more, having gone
extinct on our watch. Kakadu is the jewel in the crown of Australia's top
end. Predictions are that with two degrees of warming its World Heritage
wetlands will be destroyed by rising oceans and storms.
At two to three degrees of warming, Australia's alpine zone will become
restricted to six peaks, and many of its species will become extinct. At two
degrees of warming two-thirds of the 98 species of dryandra (a banksia
relative from Western Australia) will be extinct, as will many other Western
Australian plant and animal species. And this is a small sample of the
changes in store.
Why should we care about our biodiversity? First it's of great economic
importance. Imagine tourism without the reef, rainforests and Kakadu.
Imagine the world without the $30 billion yielded each year by coral reefs.
Of course, biodiversity is much more important than that, for it feeds and
clothes us, gives us clean air and water, and protects us from illness. Who
knows, for example, where the next cancer cure is coming from?"
What Is Happening To Our Species In Relation to Climate Change?
Terry Root, who begun a study of the effects of climate on passerine birds
in North America says that For any given animal, the thermal neutral zone
is the temperature range in which the animal doesn't have to raise its
metabolism to cool or warm itself. The animal can also live in the wings of
this distribution, outside of its optimal range, where it needs to expend
energy to warm or cool itself. But when the temperature gets hotter or
colder than the zone of tolerance for that animal, it will die or move. This
shows that temperature is very important to animal ranges. Species
abundances are also highly determined by this curve, as a species will be
most abundant in the optimal temperature range, less abundant in the wings,
and not exist at all outside of its zone of tolerance.
Species ranges are largely determined by vegetation, which is itself
strongly related to climatic variables. For yet other species, their ranges
are associated with both temperature and vegetation. The possibility exists
that with global warming, as the temperature rises, species whose ranges are
related primarily to temperature are going to move north. But those related
to both temperature and vegetation cannot move until the vegetation moves.
So communities may be torn apart and some species may be driven to
But when the temperature gets hotter or colder than the zone of tolerance
for that animal, it will die or move. This shows that temperature is very
important to animal ranges. Species abundances are also highly determined by
this curve, as a species will be most abundant in the optimal temperature
range, less abundant in the wings, and not exist at all outside of its zone
For some species, the absolute minimum temperature is the key factor, while
for others, it's other measures. This is species-dependent for many reasons.
One reason is that microclimate effects impact species differently. Another
is that one species may simply not be able to physically survive below a
certain temperature, while another's survival is based upon whether it has
stored up enough fat to last through a cold spell. In some species of
reptiles, temperature determines sex ratios.
In an interview with news magazine Spiegel, Hansen comments studies have
found that 1,700 species have already moved poleward at a rate of six
kilometers per decade in recent decades. But climate zones are moving
poleward at a faster rate, about 50 km per decade, and it will become 100 km
per decade with business as usual. Combine that with the fact that so many
species have been confined to certain areas due to humans having taken over
so much of the planet, and you'll see it may be very difficult for them to
migrate. So it's likely that a large fraction of the species could go
So our estimates show that species extinction rates are 1,000 to 10,000
times higher than in the past. This makes current rates of species loss at
least equivalent to the mass extinctions of the past - and in as short a
We do seem to be on the brink of a large-scale extinction spasm. But a major
difference now is that almost all extinctions are due to the impact of human
activities. People now so dominate the earth that very few species are
completed unaffected by our existence.
The Holling 4-Box Model of ecosystem succession (Holling 1992) represents
four basic ecological states common to all complex systems with respect to
connectedness (x-axis) and stored capital (y-axis). This general concept
model illustrates the phase shifts following significant perturbation
(disturbance) to reorganization (microbial scale), exploitation
(pioneer/opportunistic species), and conservation (climax).
Exploitation. In this state, opportunistic species are able to colonize in
places that were previously inhospitable or unattainable. This state usually
follows some sort of perturbation, or threshold (ecological or physical),
that allows for the introduction of new species and communities.
Conservation. In this ecological state, the communities that have
established footholds following perturbation, have matured and exhibit
climax ecological conditions. Ecological networks (or webs) have been
well-established and tend to function efficiently. Small perturbations and
oscillations between states can occur; however, primary functions and
communities are relatively stable.
Release. Significant physical or ecological events result in an often
catastrophic system alteration. These events include fires, storms, disease,
or invasion by pests or competing species.
Reorganization. Finally, as a consequence of these significant
perturbations, the ecosystem reorganizes. Reorganization can result in
ecosystems that are similar to their previous states or they can end up
being quite different (Costanza and others, 1993).
The degree to which an ecosystem can retain stability in the face of extreme
perturbation is called resilience. Ecosystems possessing high resilience can
be pushed to extremes without reorganizing into a different form of stable
state. Systems lacking resilience can be pushed into an alternative stable
state, of which there may be more than one. Perturbations need not be sudden
events, such as hurricanes and fire. They are often gradual and cumulative,
such as the processes of eutrophication, grazing pressure, or climate
change. In these cases, the system is slowly pushed to the capacity to
retain its stability and goes through a release phase, as shown in Figure 1.
However, in reorganizing, the key components of the original ecosystem are
either removed or substituted with alternative components. Keystone species
are those on which a large number of other species in the ecosystem depend.
During release and reorganization, keystone species that formed the basis
for the original ecosystem structure are replaced by others (opportunists).
The new configuration provides a new organizational trajectory and thus a
new stable state. In some cases, this shift in stable state can be
irreversible. Alternatively, if the perturbation is removed or reversed
(e.g., by a reduction in nutrient load), the system may follow a nonlinear
response and ultimately may only approximate the original state. The new
state can have a significantly different response relationship to the
original perturbation. This process of nonlinearity in stressor-response
behavior is called hysteresis. Hysteresis describes the potential difference
between an ecosystems response to a perturbation and its removal, or
reversal, over time.
Climate change is now worsening the danger to Australian animals, writes Tim
Flannery. Australia has the worst record of animal extinction of any
continent. Since European colonisation began, about one tenth of our mammals
- 23 species in all - have vanished. The victims are a diverse lot, ranging
from obscure native rats and mice, to bandicoots, wallabies and the
The computer models used by scientists to predict how species will fare as
our planet warms indicates that between two in 10 and six in 10 of all
species alive on Earth today will become extinct if our planet warms by just
three degrees. And our Earth is likely to warm by that much this century if
we just continue as we are.
Once, nature conservation looked easy. We just had to proclaim national
parks, or fund scientists to conduct recovery programs, and all would be
well. The threat of global warming has changed all of that. Now, the key to
the survival of countless species lies in the way you use your electricity
and car, and in the way you vote.
I an article entitled "Butterfly Lessons" Elizabeth Kolbert follows a trail
of butterflies, mosquitoes and frogs to show how much our climate has
changed already and how dramatic the coming change may yet be. Her series
looked at how these delicate creatures are moving into new habitats as the
planet warms. Her real point was that all life, from microorganisms to human
beings, will have to adapt, and in ways that could be dangerous and
She concluded her series last year with this shattering thought: "It may
seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could
choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the
process of doing."
Thomas E. Lovejoy, who heads the H. John Heinz III Center for Science,
Economics and the Environment, fears that changes in the Amazon's ecosystem
may be irreversible. Scientists reported last month that there is an
Amazonian drought apparently caused by new patterns in Atlantic currents
that, in turn, are similar to projected climate change. With less rainfall,
the tropical forests are beginning to dry out. They burn more easily, and,
in the continuous feedback loops of their ecosystem, these drier forests
return less moisture to the atmosphere, which means even less rain. When the
forest trees are deprived of rain, their mortality can increase by a factor
of six, and similar devastation affects other species, too.
What Can We Do To Save The Climate From Going Haywire?
Robert Socolow, an engineering professor, and Stephen Pacala, an ecology
professor, who together lead the Carbon Mitigation Initiative at Princeton,
a consortium designing scalable solutions for the climate issue, argued in a
paper published by the journal Science in August 2004 that human beings can
emit only so much carbon into the atmosphere before the buildup of carbon
dioxide (CO2) reaches a level unknown in recent geologic history and the
earths climate system starts to go haywire. The scientific consensus,
they note, is that the risk of things going haywire weather patterns
getting violently unstable, glaciers melting, prolonged droughts grows
rapidly as CO2 levels approach a doubling of the concentration of CO2 that
was in the atmosphere before the Industrial Revolution.
David Zink explains "There is no single answer; no magic bullet to deliver
us into an energy-sustainable society. Visualize an interlocking,
coordinated grid of wind farms, solar panels and towers, biofuel processing
plants and outlets, more and better public transportation, and other
elements. Thats what well need: many pieces to put this puzzle together.
And, well need something that is anathema to the market solutions clique
such as the automotive and gas corporations and their cronies who got us
into the predicament of poorly planned suburbs, the car-dependent culture,
and long commutes in single-occupant vehicles."
According to Pacala: If we basically do nothing, and global CO2 emissions
continue to grow at the pace of the last 30 years for the next 50 years, we
will pass the doubling level an atmospheric concentration of carbon
dioxide of 560 parts per million around midcentury. To avoid that and
still leave room for developed countries to grow, using less carbon, and for
countries like India and China to grow, emitting double or triple their
current carbon levels, until they climb out of poverty and are able to
become more energy efficient will require a huge global industrial energy
To convey the scale involved, Socolow and Pacala have created a pie chart
with 15 different wedges.
Some wedges represent carbon-free or carbon-diminishing power-generating
technologies; other wedges represent efficiency programs that could conserve
large amounts of energy and prevent CO2 emissions. They argue that the world
needs to deploy any 7 of these 15 wedges, or sufficient amounts of all 15,
to have enough conservation, and enough carbon-free energy, to increase the
world economy and still avoid the doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. Each
wedge, when phased in over 50 years, would avoid the release of 25 billion
tons of carbon, for a total of 175 billion tons of carbon avoided between
now and 2056.
Here are seven wedges we could chose from: Replace 1,400 large coal-fired
plants with gas-fired plants; increase the fuel economy of two billion cars
from 30 to 60 miles per gallon; add twice todays nuclear output to displace
coal; drive two billion cars on ethanol, using one-sixth of the worlds
cropland; increase solar power 700-fold to displace coal; cut electricity
use in homes, offices and stores by 25 percent; install carbon capture and
sequestration capacity at 800 large coal-fired plants. And the other eight
arent any easier. They include halting all cutting and burning of forests,
since deforestation causes about 20 percent of the worlds annual CO2
There has never been a deliberate industrial project in history as big as
this, Pacala said. Through a combination of clean power technology and
conservation, we have to get rid of 175 billion tons of carbon over the
next 50 years and still keep growing. It is possible to accomplish this if
we start today. But every year that we delay, the job becomes more difficult
and if we delay a decade or two, avoiding the doubling or more may well
What Are The Limitations of Coal and Geosquestration?
In a speech in 2006 on peak oil, climate change, and the daunting arithmetic
of carbon fuels, Jeremy Leggett explains, We need a mass withdrawal from
carbon emissions. We must leave the coal in the ground. The bottom line is
that coal is the killer. We have plenty of it, and we do have the option of
seeing if every Government research lab IN THE WORLD is wrong. If we panic
and use coal it will be our epitaph.
To read more about Jeremy Leggetts epiphany which led him from the oil
industry to Greenpeace, read:
James Hansen suggests that within the next 10 years or so that we will
realise that we have no choice but to bulldoze our old style coal fired
power plants. He says "we can burn coal, provided we capture the CO2 and
sequester it but in the meantime we should be emphasizing energy efficiency
so that we don't need new old style coal fired power plants".
In an interview with Tony Jones on the Lateline program Tim Flannery said
coal exports are no longer in Australia's national interest. The social
licence of coal to operate is rapidly being withdrawn globally, and no
government can protect an industry from that sort of thing occurring. We've
seen it with asbestos. We'll see it with coal. The reason is that, when you
look at the proportion of the damage being done by coal now, it is
significant, but that grows greatly in future. We have to deal with that
issue if we want a stable climate.
Geosequestration means we keep using coal, but instead of pumping carbon
dioxide into the air, capture it in the power station, compress it into
liquid CO2, pipe it to a suitable location, then inject it deep underground
in rock formations where it would remain trapped for thousands of years. But
can such an extraordinary idea work and will it work in time? The Australian
government hopes it will. It's investing hundreds of millions of dollars
into geosequestration research, support the renewable energy industry can
only dream of. Geosequestration research is still in its early days and
maybe in the next five to 10-15 years we will be having demonstrations and
potential commercial applications of various capture technologies. Dr Iain
MacGill recommends we should really be seeing action on those other
abatement options such as energy efficiency, renewables and gas generation
that are proven. We know they work and we know that they are at reasonable
Germany's Green party demanded a halt to plans in to build new coal-fired
power stations. Baerbel Hoehn, the leader of the parliamentary committee for
agriculture in Germany recently queried the viability of plans to extract
CO2 from exhaust gases and to store it indefinitely. As a result, new
coal-fired plants were "economic and political nonsense," Hoehn said.
Experts funded by industry to work on geosequestration have argued that only
25 per cent of total annual emissions could realistically be captured and
sequestered (Allison & Nguyen 2004) at the very significant cost of between
US$65105 per tonne (Cook et. al. 2000). This would add around A$0.70.12
per kWh to coal electricity costs. To bring these figures alive, Energy
Australia charges domestic customers in Sydney approximately $0.10 per kWh
for electricity, so on these estimates, sequestration could more than double
the price of electricity.
Given that geosequestration is economically feasible only for new
electricity generation plants, this means that only 3 per cent of our
electricity needs can use this technology by 2010, and only 25 per cent by
2020. And since the electricity sector contributes only a third of our
overall greenhouse gas emissions, geosequestration could only reduce the
total by at best 1 per cent by 2010 and 8 per cent by the year 2020. So even
if we take that path, rising energy demands mean that by 2020 Australia's
emissions will still be at least about 118 per cent of 1990 levels.
What Is Happening In The Arctic, and In the Oceans?
In November of 2004, a report by 250 scientists warned that the Arctic is
warming twice as fast as the global average, which threatens to wipe out
several species including polar bears, and melt summer ice around the North
Pole by 2100. One of the reasons for the increased warming is that the dark
water and ground in the arctic soak up more heat from the atmosphere than
ice or snow. The levels of carbon dioxide today are about 379ppm and
increasing, a comparable level to 55 million years ago when there was no ice
on the planet due to the warmth of the atmosphere.
In November 2005, Rutgers-led team shows rising ocean levels are tied to
human-induced climate change. Global ocean levels are rising twice as fast
today as they were 150 years ago, and human-induced warming appears to be
the culprit, say scientists at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey,
and collaborating institutions. Using core samples of sediments along the
New Jersey coast, the scientists found that rates of sea level change have
climbed significantly over the past 200 years, coinciding with the beginning
of the industrial revolution when carbon dioxide emissions began to
Mark Lynas, author of 'Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet' says
"At one degree we would likely see the extinction of most of the world's
tropical coral reefs, which are already very close to their thermal tolerant
threshold, and of course we've been seeing bleaching events in the Caribbean
and also on the Great Barrief Reef. So that could happen by 2020, 2030 that
most of those are gone. We would also see the disappearance of the ice-cap
on Kilimanjaro, and we might even see new deserts spreading across the
western half of the United States, which would have a big impact on the
agricultural production there obviously.
At two degrees probably the most significant thing is the eventual loss of
the Greenland ice sheet, that's all it will take to melt the entire thing
and that will eventually raise global sea levels by seven metres or so. One
of the main conclusions of the book is that we should try and peak global
emissions of greenhouse gases within the next 10 to 15 years, because that's
what we need to do if we are to avoid going over the two-degree threshold.
And at three degrees we face the increasing likelihood of positive feedbacks
which could tip, tipping point if you like which could make global warming
run out of control. The most significant of those is the die-back of the
Amazonian rainforest which many scientists are now predicting which would
release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and that would then give
us another degree of warming.
So we'd then be straight onto four degrees, which would probably melt most
of the permafrosts in Siberia and give us even more positive feedback from
all of the methane that would come out of that. So the tipping points are
the real concern I think amongst the scientific community now and in order
to avoid crossing some of these very crucial thresholds we do have to
probably reduce greenhouse gases within the next 10 to 15 years."
FLAMER: In your book you mentioned that the same phenomenon, this six
degrees of warming happened 251-million years ago. Is this maybe mother
nature restoring the balance?
LYNAS: There has been previous greenhouse warming episodes in earth's
history, and that's in fact in my later chapters, that gives me an idea of
what would happen to the planet if we made it happen again. In previous
times these have been associated with very long term volcanic outgassing of
carbon. So these are natural events obviously which had nothing to do with
humankind. What's happening now is that we're sort of short-circuiting this
whole process by digging up coal, oil and gas, burning it and all very
rapidly, much more rapidly than has ever happened before in geological
history and just dumping it all into the atmosphere. So we've changed the
chemistry of the atmosphere already completely beyond what it seen for
probably 10 or so million years. So this is a very big change beyond what
the earth naturally experiences and the most likely outcome if we don't get
off this track is as you suggest of mass extinctions.
Do We Need To Reconsider GDP Or Even Capitalism?
In 1995, Redefining Progress created a more accurate measure of progress
called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). It starts with the same
accounting framework as the GDP, but then makes some crucial distinctions:
It adds in the economic contributions of household and volunteer work, but
subtracts factors such as crime, pollution, and family breakdown.
Despite sustained economic growth throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s many
Australians seem unaware of any increase in their welfare. Many are
disgruntled, fractious and suspicious of the claims by politicians that the
economy is doing well. There is a widespread perception, confirmed by social
researchers such as Hugh Mackay and Richard Eckersley, that life in
Australia is not improving, but is in fact deteriorating. If growth is so
good for us, people are asking, how come it seems that things are getting
Undoubtedly, one reason for this divergence between the performance of the
economy and the perceptions of ordinary people has been the fact that the
growth of income has been skewed towards the wealthy. But the problem runs
much deeper than the age-old one of maldistribution of income. The problem
lies in how we define and measure prosperity in Australia. Our official
statistics provide a profoundly misleading picture of changes in national
well-being. The national accounts that generate GDP fail to recognise that
the growth process produces 'ill-being' in addition to well-being, 'bads' as
well as goods.
The major problems with using GDP as a measure of changes in national
· the failure to account for the way in which increases in output are
distributed within the community;
· the failure to account for the contribution of household work;
· the incorrect counting of 'defensive' expenditures as positive
contributions to GDP; and
· the failure to account for changes in the value of stocks of both built
and natural capital.
The way in which the GPI attempts to overcome these shortfalls is outlined
in What is the GPI?
Sir John Whitmor, Executive Chairman of Performance Consultants
International Limited, writes in the Resurgence Magazine that capitalism is
an obscene failure. We have a world in which 40,000 people die every day for
lack of basic needs although surplus exists; our habitat and countless
species are being destroyed at an alarming rate by commercial exploitation;
wars are fought over the desire to control natural resources. Capitalism
makes lethal weaponry available to all, tears down our rainforests and
deprives the thirsty of their water rights - all for profit. Furthermore, a
recent survey showed us that six out of every ten people who work within the
capitalist system are miserable. Yes; let's face it, capitalism is a
failure, a miserable failure.
However, horrendous as those things are, they are but the short-term
manifestations of an even more serious long-term malaise. All-consuming
consumerism has brought the psycho-spiritual evolutionary journey of Western
man and woman to a standstill, or even into regression, in a few decades.
Through the glorification of material excess as the ultimate goal in life,
and by rewarding effort for gain rather than for good, people are led into
the 'never-enough' disappointment trap. The illusion of progress, the
numbing and dumbing of human development, and the diminishing of the human
spirit have been foisted on us, and especially on our children, by the
priests and profits of capitalism.
We are stuck at the level of quantitative material gain, and neglect
qualitative living and learning. We have acquired much technical knowledge
from and for our material advancement, but we have lost the wisdom to deploy
it well. Unscrupulous Western businesses promote the pointless acquisition
of excess, of the frivolous, of over-priced branded goods manufactured in
far-away places by children working punitive hours in shocking conditions
for a pittance. More alarming still is that it may be the best job they can
To secure a market, poorer countries are compelled to sell their natural
resources abroad too cheaply, and those that toil to harvest them go hungry,
while comparable growers in the rich countries receive government subsidies.
These are nothing less than crimes perpetrated by the arrogant upon the
ignorant and innocent. Political and corporate leaders, along with the
silent majority by whose apathy their actions are condoned, suffer from a
blend of myopia and denial of epidemic proportions.
In her book The Real Wealth of Nations Riane Eisler writes The greatest
problems of our time--poverty, inequality, war, terrorism, and environmental
degradation--can be traced to flawed economic systems that fail to value and
support the most essential human work: caring for people and the planet.
In Natural Economic Order Silvio Gesell, once Finance minister in the
short-lived Bavarian Republic uses a story of Robinson Crusoe to explain how
the interest-based economic system is flawed. RC meets a Stranger who wants
use his food and other supplies, however, RC requests that the Stranger pays
interest. However, the strangers religion forbids him from paying or
receiving interest, so the Stranger proposes to RC that he will help with
keeping the food and supplies intact, as he is very knowledgeable about how
to preserve food and cloths in the conditions on the island. RC soon
realizes that the Stranger could prove to be a very valuable companion who
can help him manage living on the island, and allows him to use his food and
tools without interest. In the discussion about money that he has with the
Stranger, RC eventually gives up his belief in Marxist theory about money,
and fully embraces the economic practice of the Stranger.
For further information on The GDP Myth - Why "growth" isn't always a good
Is The Current Fossil Fuel Based Economy On a Crash Course With Nature?
Oystein Dahle, former Vice President of Esso in Norway said "Socialism
collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth.
Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the
ecological truth." That's a lot of wisdom distilled into those two
Capitalism tends to downplay the full dimensions of the ecological crisis
and even of capitalisms impact on the environment in the process of trying
to force everything into the locked box of a specific economic crisis
theory. Capitalisms tendency to displace environmental problems (the fact
that it uses the whole biosphere as a giant trash can), means that the earth
remains in large part a free gift to capital. Nor is there any prospect
that this will change fundamentally, since capitalism is in many ways a
system of unpaid costs.
In his book, The Enemy of Nature, Joel Kovel, refers to ecological crisis
arising from capitals degradation of its own conditions of production on an
ever increasing scale. He remarks that, This degradation will have a
contradictory effect on profitability itself
either directly, by so fouling
the natural ground of production that it breaks down, or indirectly,
through the reinternalization of the costs that had been expelled into the
A company that opts to dispose of chemical wastes as effluent into a nearby
river over seeking to recycle such wastes or send them to a disposal
facility clearly does so because it is the least cost option; acting in that
manner is a rational action motivated by a desire to maximize profits. The
question that needs to be asked is why is pollution the least-cost action?
It is because the value of the river is unaccounted for by the capitalist
In an interview with American Scientist, award-winning scientist,
environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki says that one of the most
important messages the media does not cover properly is that there is not
enough of a critical analysis of the fact that the way the economists see
the world is destructive. Economists "externalize" most of the natural
worldbiodiversity, ozone layer, fossils, water, topsoil and so on. The
"services" performed by nature are not accounted for in our economic system,
so that a tree, for example, is seen as having no value until money is spent
to watch it (ecotourism) or cut it down. Economics is based on the enormous
creativity and productivity of human beings, and so it is assumed that
steady growth is possible (which it is not) and necessary! No one asks the
important questions, such as what is an economy for, how much is enough, is
it providing what people really need.
In an article Can Capitalism go Green? Andy Gianniotis argues that
Corporate competition is a fundamental cause of the global environmental
crisis. Corporations that use the cheapest - usually the dirtiest -
production processes are at a competitive advantage and can increase profits
and/or market share. He believes it is the capitalist system which is at
fault. Free use and pollution of the environment have been key to business
profits since capitalism emerged. If polluting companies were forced to pay
the full environmental and social costs, they would go out of business. In
conclusion he argues, there is no "win-win" scenario: it is capitalism OR
Some of the public health costs of air pollution include: high rates of
school absenteeism, lost work time and wages, rising health insurance costs,
lower work productivity, and millions of dollars spent in direct costs for
medical and hospital care, medication and treatment.
Will Environmental Policies Stifle The Economy?
As this figure illustrates, the economy exists entirely within society,
because all parts of the human economy require interaction among people.
However, society is much more than just the economy. Friends and families,
music and art, religion and ethics are important elements of society, but
are not primarily based on exchanging goods and services.
Society, in turn, exists entirely within the environment. Our basic
requirements -- air, food and water -- come from the environment, as do the
energy and raw materials for housing, transportation and the products we
Finally, the environment surrounds society. At an earlier point in human
history, the environment largely determined the shape of society. Today the
opposite is true: human activity is reshaping the environment at an
ever-increasing rate. The parts of the environment unaffected by human
activity are getting smaller all the time.
In a Nature Article The Value of the World's Ecosystem Services and Natural
Capital (May 1987), it was calculated that for the entire biosphere, the
value (most of which is outside the market) is estimated to be in the range
of $16 - 54 trillion/yr., with an average of $33 trillion/yr. Because of the
nature of the uncertainties, this must be considered a minimum estimate. As
a comparison, global GNP is around $18 trillion/yr.
The services of ecological systems and the natural capital stocks that
produce them are
critical to the functioning of the earth's life support system. They
contribute significantly to human welfare, both directly and indirectly, and
therefore represent a significant portion of the total economic value of the
planet. Because these services are not fully captured in markets or
adequately quantified in terms comparable with economic services and
manufactured capital, they are often given too little weight in policy
decisions. This neglect may ultimately compromise the sustainability of
humans in the biosphere.
The following is a conceptual model of how patterns of human and ecological
emerge from the interactions between human and biophysical processes and how
these patterns affect ecological resilience in urban ecosystems. For
example, population growth in an area (driver) leads to increased pavement
and buildings (patterns), leading to increased runoff and erosion
(processes), causing lower water quality and decreased fish habitat
(effects), which may lead to a new policy to regulate land use (driver).
The following framework addresses the question of how we can incorporate the
importance of ecosystem goods and services in economic decisions.
It therefore seems obvious that we need to protect the environment with
policies to sustain our societies, and ideally our economy as well. However,
some major changes may be necessary to change our societies to more
sustainable ones. We may also have to sacrifice our energy-intensive, highly
mobile, carbon-based lives so that we stay within the limits of our planets
We need to ask ourselves critical questions such as:
· What do we need economic growth for?
· Do we want fuel or food?
· Can we forgo short-term profit for longer-term benefit?
· When a country is stressed environmentally, can we afford more
· Is unlimited economic growth and population growth sustainable on a
Even if the necessary policies stifle the economy it will be better for the
long-term future of mankind to learn to live within the limits imposed by
Some people believe our economy need not suffer from new policies and that
with the right incentives business can profit from being greener. Others see
our narrowly focused capitalist societies on a crash course with nature.
In February 2007 Prof. John P. Holdren and president of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science, explained that well-being has
environmental, sociopolitical, and cultural dimensions as well as economic
ones, and the goal of sustainable well-being entails improving all of these
dimensions in ways and to end points that are consistent with maintaining
the improvements indefinitely. This challenge includes not only improving
sustainably the standard of living in developing countries, but also
converting to a sustainable basis the currently unsustainable practices
supporting the standard of living in industrialized ones. He also stresses
that for civilization to meet this immense challenge business, government,
and law, as well as on the societal wit and will to integrate all of these
elements in pursuit of the sustainable-well-being goal will be necessary.
Holdren suggested that addressing such challenges effectively to improve the
overall well-being of humanity will require a radical reconfiguration of
policy and economiesand daily lifeon a global scale. Holdren described a
world poised at an unprecedented moment of decision: Without swift and
urgent action, he said, the problems could spiral toward disastrous,
permanent changes for all of life on Earth.
Ehrlich and Holdren (1971) investigated the effects of population on
resource use and environmental impact and proposed a simple relationship to
describe the effect. The impact (I) of any population can be expressed as a
product of three characteristics: the population's size (P), its affluence
or per-capita consumption (A), and the environmental damage (T) inflicted by
the technologies used to supply each unit of consumption.
In equation form this is represented as:
I = PAT
A decrease in population or affluence can reduce environmental impact, or,
technology can moderate the effects of growth in either of population or
use of inappropriate technologies can exacerbate the problem.
Schulze proposed to modify the formula to include a behavioural aspect (B)
I = PBAT
Secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, in stated in Nov 2006
that climate change is now an economic threat, but that there is still time
for all our societies to change course. He suggests that low emissions need
not mean low growth or stifling a country's development aspirations. Indeed
the savings can buy time for solar, wind and other alternative energy
sources to be developed and made more cost-effective. This may be a path to
a safer and sounder model of development.
At the Climate Change Conference, 15 November, Kofi Annan said It is
increasingly clear that it will cost far less to cut emissions now than to
deal with the consequences later. And let there be no more talk of waiting
until we know more. We know already that an economy based on high emissions
is an uncontrolled experiment on the global climate.
Due to the realities of climate change and resource depletion, some jobs
will decline or disappear entirety, however, other jobs and industries will
also be created. It will soon be realised that we have to re-industrialise
our economy based on renewable energies. This can actually create new jobs,
new demand, and a system that is actually more sustainable and kind to our
planet and future generations.
Voters in Washington have opted for a Clean Energy Initiative (I-937)
which requires the largest electric utilities to get 15 percent of their
electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. The reduction in air
pollutants will be like taking two million cars off Washingtons roads.
Similar legislation has been enacted in 20 other states.
Backers of I-937 included a broad coalition of utilities, businesses, labor
(the United Steelworkers, SEIU, and Aerospace Machinists played a leading
role), farmers, the League of Women Voters, the Audubon Society of
Washington, even a group calling itself the Republicans for Environmental
Supporters hope that the initiatives will kick-start energy efficiency and
renewable energy projects across the state. That will help create thousands
of family-wage jobs in engineering and construction, especially in rural
areas, and provide crucial additional income to rural landowners. Farmers
hosting wind projects will earn more than $5,000 a year per wind turbine,
helping keep family farms alive.
Flannery, Australia's current Man of the Year, says "Implementing CO2
reduction measures means opposing entrenched interests and in the short term
some possible loss of jobs and export dollars, though these would quickly be
made up as investments in emerging technologies kick in. If approached
properly, these measures have the potential to grant the Australian economy
a "pioneer advantage" in a world market for sustainable technologies and
So, there are multiple reasons for taking action against climate change, by
reducing pollution, greenhouse gases, deforestation etc. There are also
strong reasons to preserve coastal fisheries, air sheds, aquifers, and the
like. We have to stop experimenting with the earth's climate and using the
atmosphere as our dumping ground for greenhouse gases.
What Is Sustainable Development?
For a policy to be sustainable, it must respect all five principles. We want
to live within environmental limits and achieve a just society, and we will
do so by means of sustainable economy, good governance, and sound science.
In discussions of sustainability, the relationship between the economy and
the natural environment is often framed as a balance. This connotes the
idea that somehow more of the economy means more of the environment too.
After all, if two things are in balance, they are of equal weight. But any
empirical study of what economic growth means today discovers that it
intrudes on the environment. Wealthy and purportedly
environmentally-responsible nations are sometimes touted as examples of how
economic growth and stewardship of the planet go hand in hand. However,
while local measures of air quality, forest cover, and water cleanliness may
be high, the damage is simply occurring elsewhere. All wealthy nations are
importers of much of their environmental carrying capacity, whether it is
raw materials or finished industrial products, and these imports are
possible because of fossil fuels used to mine, harvest, manufacture and
transport goods. Wealthy nations protect their own environment while
outsourcing the harm caused by over consumption to other places.
What Are The Costs of Inaction?
Everyone has heard of the saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of
cure", however, many fail to apply this advice to global warming. Look at
the pain and expense of treating groundwater contamination, rather than
avoiding it; or of trying to restore forest ecosystems decimated by acid
rain, rather than halting acidification; or of treating cancers, rather than
emphasizing prevention. Trying to fix climate change after the fact is even
"We are now at a crucial point. As the Royal Commission on Environmental
Pollution stated, If we go for business as usual
we are destined for
Climate changes can result in catastrophic costs to nations, argues Dr
Epstein, so says that insurers already estimate that health-related and
environmental restoration claims over the next 30 years may reach US$50 to
According to preliminary estimates, natural and man -made catastrophes
during 2005 resulted in 112,000 deaths and total financial losses were of
the order of US$225 billion of which some US$80 billion was insured, making
2005 the costliest year ever for insurers.
A new report from the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) predicts
that climate change will cost Germany a staggering 800 billion by 2050 --
with higher energy costs, declining tourism, increased insurance costs and
damage caused by extreme weather. The DIW study is based on the assumption
that the average global temperature will increase by 4.5 degrees Celsius.
That is the upper level of the forecast by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC). The report warns: "If there is not an appreciable
intensification in climate protection, then by 2100 the resulting costs of
climate change could reach 3 trillion.
Greens leader Bob Brown has warned that over 700 thousand Australian homes
and businesses are threatened by climate change. "This is a huge threat on
the Australian nation and its economy and its social well-being and Mr
Howard's got his head in the sand," Senator Brown said in Hobart.
As many as 711,000 Australian homes will be in peril from rising sea levels,
and vulnerable wildlife species could begin to disappear by 2030, according
to the report released last night in Brussels and containing the work of
2,500 scientists. Bob Brown said 20,000 to 30,000 houses and businesses in
Tasmania alone would be at risk from climate change. "That's probably a
modest calculation of where the risk is going to hit this century," he said,
adding the endangered area stretched from Sandy Bay, near Hobart, all the
way up the west coast. "The Howard government simply does not understand the
crisis, it does not see how great it is for this nation and the important
structural changes that need to be made to our economy if we are going to
meet the urgent need for changes in reductions in greenhouse gases within
the next decade." He predicted a "massive loss of security" for people who
have invested in and live by the coast, notably in tourism and fisheries,
and said it would be impossible for property owners to insure against sea
level rises in the future. In response to the crisis, the senator urged the
federal government and the Labor opposition to ditch policies supporting
coal exports and coal-fired power generation and get behind renewable
What Opportunities Do Businesses See In Taking Action on Climate Change?
The LOHAS Journal ("Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability") estimates
green enterprise as a $229 billion market sector. CleanEdge.org reports
clean/green technology as the third largest venture capital investment
category in 2006. In California alone, investments in clean tech could
create up to 114,000 new jobs by 2010.
Investment banks and fund managers are starting to invest money into
tackling climate change. For instance, The Universities Superannuation
Scheme (USS) has up to 80 million euros (US$106.5 million) invested in green
businesses, versus its total assets of 29 billion pounds (US$56.78 billion).
Nick Robins, head of Sustainable and Responsible Investment (SRI) funds at
Henderson Global Investors, says New policies need to do a better job
attracting short term investors into technologies like energy efficiency,
widely seen having a big impact on climate change
Read about how 50 businesses, and more specifically a certain strain of
imaginative, entrepreneurial business, that has found the upside in
addressing global malfunction and still are able to make a profit while
saving the world. For instance, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's
market-based approach to confronting global warming will create huge new
markets across California. Read more here:
Don Henry, executive director of the Australian Conservation
Foundation (ACF), said, "Business must ensure it is at the cutting
edge of the move to a clean, green economy to ensure Australia gets its
share of the future jobs and the economic benefits that will
flow from it".
A few corporations are even demanded regulation. In January the chairman of
Shell, Lord Oxburgh, insisted that "governments in developed countries need
to introduce taxes, regulations or plans ... to increase the cost of
emitting carbon dioxide". He listed the technologies required to replace
fossil fuels, and remarked that "none of this is going to happen if the
market is left to itself". In August the heads of United Utilities, British
Gas, Scottish Power and the National Grid joined Friends of the Earth and
Greenpeace in calling for "tougher regulations for the built environment"
What Can We Learn From Leading Countries, and What Can We Learn From Past
Lester R. Brown suggests we take Sweden as a role model, where they are not
increasing taxes but rather restructuring taxes. "They are systematically
reducing income taxes and raising taxes mostly on energy-related things. It
could be automotive fuel or carbon emissions more broadly. Electricity.
Taxes on automobiles, and so forth. They are now talking about being the
world's first oil-free economy within 15 years. Oil will be out of the
economy entirely. "
In Lester R. Browns book "Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a
Civilization in Trouble" he states that "Each year the worlds taxpayers
provide an estimated $700 billion of subsidies for environmentally
destructive activities, such as fossil fuel burning, overpumping aquifers,
clearcutting forests, and overfishing. An Earth Council study, Subsidizing
Unsustainable Development, observes that there is something unbelievable
about the world spending hundreds of billions of dollars annually to
subsidize its own destruction.
Iran provides a classic example of extreme subsidies when it prices oil for
internal use at one tenth the world price, strongly encouraging car
ownership and gas consumption. The World Bank reports that if this
$3.6-billion annual subsidy were phased out, it would reduce Irans carbon
emissions by a staggering 49 percent. It would also strengthen the economy
by freeing up public revenues for investment in the countrys economic
development. Iran is not alone. The Bank reports that removing energy
subsidies would reduce carbon emissions in Venezuela by 26 percent, in
Russia by 17 percent, in India by 14 percent, and in Indonesia by 11
Some countries are eliminating or reducing these climate-disrupting
subsidies. Belgium, France, and Japan have phased out all subsidies for
coal. Germany reduced its coal subsidy from $5.4 billion in 1989 to $2.8
billion in 2002, meanwhile lowering its coal use by 46 percent. It plans to
phase out this support entirely by 2010. China cut its coal subsidy from
$750 million in 1993 to $240 million in 1995. More recently, it has imposed
a tax on high-sulfur coals.
A study by the U.K. Green Party, Aviations Economic Downside, describes
the extent of subsidies currently given to the U.K. airline industry. The
giveaway begins with $17 billion in tax breaks, including a total exemption
from the federal tax. External or indirect costs that are not paid, such as
treating illness from breathing the air polluted by planes, the costs of
climate change, and so forth, add nearly $7 billion to the tab. The subsidy
in the United Kingdom totals $391 per resident. This is also an inherently
regressive tax policy simply because a substantial share of the U.K.
population cannot afford to fly very often if at all, yet they help
subsidize this high-cost mode of transportation for their more affluent
Eliminating environmentally destructive subsidies reduces both the burden on
taxpayers and the destructive activities themselves. A world facing the
prospect of economically disruptive climate change, for example, can no
longer justify subsidies to expand the burning of coal and oil. Shifting
these subsidies to the development of climate-benign energy sources such as
wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal power is the key to stabilizing the
earths climate. Shifting subsidies from road construction to rail
construction could increase mobility in many situations while reducing
Many subsidies are largely hidden from taxpayers. This is especially true of
the fossil fuel industry, whose subsidies include such things as a depletion
allowance for oil pumping in the United States. Even more dramatic are the
routine U.S. military expenditures to protect access to Middle Eastern oil,
which were calculated by analysts at the Rand Corporation before the most
recent Iraq war to fall between $30 billion and $60 billion a year, while
the oil imported from the region was worth only $20 billion.
A 2001 study by Redefining Progress shows U.S. taxpayers subsidizing
automobile use at $257 billion a year, or roughly $2,000 per taxpayer. In
addition to subsidizing carbon emissions, this also means that taxpayers who
do not own automobiles, including those too poor to afford them, are
subsidizing those who do.
One of the bright spots about this subsidization of fossil fuels is that it
provides a reservoir of tax deductions that can be diverted to
climate-benign, renewable sources of energy, such as wind, solar, and
geothermal energy. To subsidize the use of fossil fuels is to subsidize
crop-withering heat waves, melting ice, rising seas, and more destructive
storms. Perhaps it is time for the worlds taxpayers to ask if this is how
they want their hard-earned money to be spent."
Lester R. Brown says that "It may well be that the leadership will come from
individual countries just deciding to go ahead and do things, realizing that
the Kyoto Protocol is just not anywhere near enough. What Sweden is doing
could emerge as a role model for other countries to follow it."
In Germany renewable energies are becoming an increasingly important job
creation engine. Between 2004 and 2005 alone, the number of jobs in this
sector rose from
157,000 to 170,000. In addition to the steady expansion in Germany,
increasing exports of German technology are generating enormous growth
rates. Exports account for 80% of the industrys revenues.
In 2005, the German wind power industry was responsible for roughly half of
the total world market volume of more than twelve billion euros. Solar cells
from Germany have a world-market share of 16%. Germany is near the top of
the international league table. The German solar industry is also booming.
It achieves sales of three billion euros and the market is growing by 20% a
year. When it comes to wind energy, Germany is already a world champion:
18,000 megawatts of wind power are installed in the country. No other
renewable energy source supplies more electricity than wind power. Roughly
one third of the worlds wind turbines and half of the wind power plants in
the European Union are located in Germany. Wind power generates almost twice
the amount of electricity that the capital city Berlin consumes in a year.
Wind energys share of Germanys total electricity supply will significantly
grow from 2008 onwards: in two years time, the construction of more than 30
offshore wind farms will commence in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. It is
envisaged that they will supply 25,000 megawatts of electricity by the year
Practically no other industry in Germany offers growth prospects as high as
those of renewable energies. According to figures published by Bundesverband
Erneuerbare Energien, 300,000 new jobs will be created by 2020. This
development is largely due to Germanys Renewable Energy Law. This
legislation lays down government-guaranteed minimum remuneration for
electricity from renewable energy sources. The law aims to increase
renewable energies share of overall electricity production in Germany to at
least 12.5% by 2010 and at least 20% by 2020.
What Surprises Can We Expect?
New evidence from satellites now indicates that aerosolspollution made up
of fine, airborne particleshave a dampening effect on rainfall. Cloud
physicist Daniel Rosenfeld writes in the Science Magazine ("Aerosols, clouds
and climate"; June 2006): "Because pollution aerosols act as cloud
condensation nuclei, clouds forming in a more polluted atmosphere contain a
larger number of drops that are slower to merge and fall as precipitation".
Air pollution more easily stifles rain from short-lived tropical clouds than
from the longerlasting clouds common in northern latitudes, says Rosenfeld.
This may explain why rainfall in the tropics has decreased despite
predictions that global warming would make the area wetter, he says.
Whenever rising temperatures thaw the polar icecaps to any significant
degree, the fresh melt-water pools on the surface, inhibiting the driving
mechanism that runs the global circulation system.
There is now strong evidence to suggest that on some occasions in the recent
past those huge gyres shut down entirely. When this occurred, the hydrates
disintegrated, releasing their methane into the atmosphere in a series of
gigantic burps. Some of these methane burps appear to have been large
enough to raise the global temperature by 510°C in just a few decades.
This appears to have been the case about 55 million years ago at the
Paleocene-Eocene boundary when the release of some 1,2002,500 gigatons of
hydrate methane generated a sea-temperature rise of 4°5°C, triggering a
mass extinction of marine species. The global temperature spike of 8°10°C
that occurred at this time appears to have been vastly greater and more
abrupt than could possibly have been generated by the gradual rise in
atmospheric CO2 that preceded it.
What is Humanities Ecological Footprint?
The Ecological Footprint is a tool used to measure the impact of human
activities on the environment. It estimates the surface area required to
produce everything that an individual or population consumes (transport,
accommodation, food, etc.) and to absorb the resulting waste. It is
expressed in hectares (ha) per person per year or in planets.
The concept of an ecological footprint was put forward by Matthias
Wackernagel and William E Rees in their 1996 book 'Our Ecological Footprint:
Reducing Human Impact on the Earth'. It has come to embrace a range of
ideas. Their preferred definition of sustainability can be summarised as
delivering quality of life for all within the means of nature. The aim is
to quantify our use of nature, and compare this with the carrying capacity
of our ecosystems, so that we can assess environmental sustainability.
Your ecological footprint includes area for:
· Crops to grow your vegetables, cereals and fibres
· Pasture to grow your animal products
· Forest to grow your timber and paper products
· Sea and estuary to grow your seafood and absorb pollutants
· Bushland to absorb your carbon dioxide and other pollutants
· Land covered by the roads and buildings and dam water you use
Worldwide, there exist 1.8 biologically productive global hectares per
Australia's Ecological Footprint in the Living Planet Report 2004 was 7.7
global hectares (gha) per person. [A global hectare refers to one hectare
(approximately soccer field size) of biologically productive space with
world-average productivity.] This is over 3 times the average global
Footprint (2.2 gha), and well beyond the level of what the planet can
regenerate on an annual basis - an equivalent of about 1.8 global hectares
per person per year.
The most significant factor contributing to the Australian Ecological
Footprint is carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels (constituting
approximately half of the total Australian Footprint).
As Catton (1986) observes: "The world is being required to accommodate not
just more people, but effectively 'larger' people . . ." For example, in
1790 the estimated average daily energy consumption by Americans was 11,000
kcal. By 1980, this had increased almost twenty-fold to 210,000 kcal/day
(Catton 1986). As a result of such trends, load pressure relative to
carrying capacity is rising much faster than is implied by mere population
Humanitys Ecological Footprint appears to have breached ecological limits
and is thus unsustainable. We must address both our population size and the
size of our Footprints in order to keep our planetary use of natural
resources in balance.
Here are the basic components that are used in various ecological footprint
Santiago de Chile RP Calculator(12 questions) BFF Calculator (11 questions)
Food· vegetarian· animal products· water Food· type of diet· amount· food
waste· food 'miles' Food· type of diet· food 'miles' and freshness
Housing & furniture Housing· number of people· house size· electricity
source· energy efficiency Housing· number of people· house
size· heating/cooling bills· electricity source· energy efficiency
Transport· road· rail· air· coastal/water-ways Transport· car mileage· ride
sharing· fuel efficiency· air travel Transport· main travel mode · vacation
distance and travel mode
Goods· paper· nonsynthetic clothes· tobacco· others Waste· volume of
waste· recycling habits(Note: waste is used as a proxy for commodities)
How Do Entropy, Economy and Environment Relate?
William E. Rees, from the School of Community and Regional Planning at The
University of British Columbia says, Beyond a certain point, the continuous
growth of the economy can be purchased only at the expense of increasing
disorder or entropy in the ecosphere.
This is the point at which consumption by the economy exceeds natural income
and would be manifested through the continuous depletion of natural capital
--reduced biodiversity, air/water/land pollution, deforestation, atmospheric
change, etc. In other words, the empirical evidence suggests that the
aggregate human load already exceeds, and is steadily eroding, the very
carrying capacity upon which the continued humane existence depends.
Ultimately this poses the threat of unpredictable ecosystems restructuring
(e.g., erratic climate change) leading to resource shortages, increased
local strife, and the heightened threat of ecologically induced geopolitical
Once natural capital is exhausted or degraded to a critical level, either
resources become scarce, or our waste stream becomes detrimental. Economic
throughput, it is argued, requires a source of natural capital regardless of
the size and efficiency of human capital. Because throughput in economic
systems originates from a stock of natural capital and ultimately requires
ecosystem functions to recycle or renew exhausted throughput, the economy
becomes a subset of the worlds ecosystem (Daly 1996).
Herman Daly proposed two views of the world's natural capital supply and
economy: empty world and full world.
The empty world view assumes a near limitless reserve of natural capital,
because the rate of consumption (i.e., the size of the economy) is
relatively small compared with the rate of resource renewal or the total
supply of nonrenewables. In the full world view, resources are scarce or
consumed at rates nearing the natural capacity to renew. These views
illustrate how as growth occurs, the economic system eventually becomes
limited by the supply of natural capital. Under this model, the global
carrying capacity is limited by the ability of natural capital to support a
minimum level of sustainable resources. One factor that may affect this
difference in perspective is that, historically, extraction and materials
utilization costs are directly paid by the firms engaged in the activity;
thus, there has been unremitting economic pressure to reduce extraction
costs and minimize material use. In contrast, disposal and recycling of
wastes has been a free service of the environment, so it is not surprising
that it has often met or gone beyond its true biological limit.
What Are the Equity Issues of Energy?
In an artile Energy 21: Making The World Work by Walt Patterson, energy
expert and author of twelve books and hundreds of papers, articles and
reviews, on nuclear power, coal technology, renewable energy, energy
systems, energy policy and electricity writes Why talk about energy and
purpose? The short answer is that we re making a mess of it. The world
isnt working well enough. More than two billion people
One third of humanity have no access to the kinds of energy benefits the
rest of us take for granted; and the proportion of energy have-nots is
increasing, not decreasing. Worse still, the key fuels and energy
technologies of the energy haves, like us fossil fuels, large dams,
nuclear power all face problems that may become insuperable.
Can Population Growth Be Mathematically Modeled?
The logistic equation of population growth occupies a unique and fascinating
position in the development of ecological thinking. Proposed in the first
half of the nineteenth century by the Belgian mathematician Pierre-François
Verhulst (1838) as a potential solution to the dilemma of Malthusian
exponential growth, it was rediscovered and imposed to biologists as a
simple model of population self-regulation in the early twentieth century by
the American biologist Raymond Pearl and his colleagues (Kingsland, 1985).
The logistic equation has since inspired and stimulated much ecological
work, including modeling, experimental and field research. Nowadays, the
concept of carrying capacity can hardly be dissociated from the model.
The logistic model was originally introduced as a demographic model by
Pierre François Verhulst. At a conceptual level, the equation allows us to
predict variation in population based on only two factors:
1. the average number of offspring per adult (a constant), and
2. the initial population.
The population will be described between a value of zero and one zero
signifying extinction, and 1 signifying carrying capacity. The population
growth rate will remain a constant. We will develop an iterative equation,
meaning that having calculated one years population, that value is input
back into the equation to predict the next years, and so on. When the
population becomes too big for the local ecosystem to support it, the
feedback factor dampens the population. When it is smaller, the feedback
encourages higher future populations. Mathematically the Logistic
Equation can be written as:
xn is a number between zero (extinction) and one (carrying capacity), and
represents the population at year n, and hence x0 represents the initial
population (at year 0)
r is a positive number, and represents a combined rate for reproduction and
As we can see by varying the parameter r, the following behaviour is
With r between 0 and 1, the population will eventually die, independent of
the initial population.
Consider how the population of bass changes as described by the logistics
Assume a near-zero population initially (near-extinction) and an average 2.0
adult. The figure below shows the results. Notice that the population of
bass rises to a constant value, year after year remaining the same.
With r between 1 and 2, the population will quickly stabilize on the value
, independent of the initial population.
With r between 2 and 3, the population will also eventually stabilize on the
, but first oscillates around that value for some time.
The rate of convergence is linear, except for r=3, when it is dramatically
slow, less than linear.
With r between 3 and 1+√6 (approximately 3.45), the population may
oscillate between two values forever. These two values are dependent on r.
With r between 3.45 and 3.54 (approximately), the population may oscillate
between four values forever.
With r slightly bigger than 3.54, the population will probably oscillate
between 8 values, then 16, 32, etc. The lengths of the parameter intervals
which yield the same number of oscillations decrease rapidly; the ratio
between the lengths of two successive such bifurcation intervals approaches
the Feigenbaum constant δ = 4.669.... This behavior is an example of a
At r = 3.57 (approximately) is the onset of chaos, at the end of the
period-doubling cascade. Slight variations in the initial population yield
dramatically different results over time, a prime characteristic of chaos.
Most values beyond 3.57 exhibit chaotic behaviour, but there are still
certain isolated values of r that appear to show non-chaotic behavior; these
are sometimes called islands of stability. For instance, around 3.82 there
is a range of parameters r which show oscillation between three values, and
for slightly higher values of r oscillation between 6 values, then 12 etc.
There are other ranges which yield oscillation between 5 values etc.; all
oscillation periods do occur.
Beyond r = 4, the values eventually leave the interval [0,1] and diverge for
almost all initial values.
The bifurcation diagram below summarizes all the possible results of
different growth rates in the logistic equation and is itself a fractal. The
horizontal axis shows the values of the parameter r while the vertical axis
shows the possible long-term values of x.
Several features of this graph are worth mentioning.
First, it illustrates the phenomenon of "bifurcation," which is what happens
when a smooth stream of output data suddenly splits into two paths. This
happens when the value of r passes the critical values of approximately 3.0,
3.4, and 3.56.
Second, you will notice small bands of white space in the midst of the
cluttered chaotic region on the right side of this graph. In fact, these are
"windows" of order that emerge when the outer-edge "shadows" cast by each
cascading branch converge with the "shadows" of other branches. The broadest
such "window" is where a stable three-cycle pattern briefly prevails, and
then cascades into a 6-cycle, 12-cycle, etc.
Third, you will notice that the width of the interval of each cycle is
successively smaller. In fact, as physicist Mitchell Feigenbaum discovered,
the intervals diminish at a constant rate -- which he calculated to be
4.6692016090 -- for ANY such system, regardless of the specific input
values! This newly-discovered irrational constant number, like pi
(3.1416...) or the natural logarithm e (2.71828...) was clear evidence that
chaotic behavior in a wide variety of situations was an aspect of nature
that was universal in scope. Feigenbaum's proof that chaos was universal
brought the various strands of research into nonlinearity into a more or
less coherent whole, marking the true emergence of "chaos theory."
Are There Limits To Growth?
More than 30 years ago, a book called The Limits to Growth created an
international sensation. Commissioned by the Club of Rome, an international
group of businessmen, statesmen, and scientists, The Limits to Growth was
compiled by a team of experts from the U.S. and several foreign countries.
Using system dynamics theory and a computer model called "World3," the book
presented and analyzed 12 scenarios that showed different possible patterns
and environmental outcomes of world development over two centuries from
1900 to 2100. The original Limits to Growth report forecasted that the
current rate of growth and patterns of consumption could continue for
another 50-80 years before things begin to go seriously wrong. It suggested
that population must stop growing, and we must change our cultural habits of
consumption, because we cannot continue to make todays claims on the
Here is the business as usual scenario:
The authors do suggest a few general guidelines for what sustainability
would look like, and what steps we should take to get there:
Extend the planning horizon. Base the choice among current options much
more on their long-term costs and benefits.
Improve the signals. Learn more about the real welfare of human
population and the real impact on the world ecosystem of human activity.
Speed up response time. Look actively for signals that indicate when
the environment or society is stressed. Decide in advance what to do if
Minimize the use of nonrenewable resources.
Prevent the erosion of renewable resources.
Use all resources with maximum efficiency.
Slow and eventually stop exponential growth of population and physical
In an article The End of World Population Growth in science magazine
Nature, the authors calculate that there is around an 85 per cent chance
that the world's population will stop growing before the end of the century.
There is a 60 per cent probability that the world's population will not
exceed 10 billion people before 2100, and around a 15 per cent probability
that the world's population at the end of the century will be lower than it
is today. For different regions, the date and size of the peak population
will vary considerably.
In the Journal of Mammalogy, an article Population Cycles In Small Mammals:
The Α-Hypothesis gives possible explanations for population cycles.
In the peak population phase, density is high and competition among
individuals for resources, which may be of low quality or in short supply,
increases. Individuals respond to crowding, resource shortages, and
competition for resources by altering spacing, aggression, and social
dominance. The changes described for the peak phase continue during the
early decline phase, and the downtrend in population size should accelerate.
Toward the end of this phase, quality of the social and ecologic environment
begins to improve. Behavioral and physiologic responses to the stressful
environment should thus decline. Consequently, population parameters,
primarily age at maturity and juvenile survival, begin to improve.
When the population enters the low (or trough) phase, density is lowest in
the cycle, resources are recovered, and most of the animals raised, born, or
conceived during stressful environments have been replaced by those
conceived or born in an improved environment. Because of these improvements,
age at maturity declines, juvenile survival increases, and mean age of
reproductive individuals decreases. Generation time should decrease, and
reproductive life span and recruitment of adults should increase, leading to
increase in population size. Changes in population parameters lag behind
changes in quality of ecologic and social environments, and changes in
population size lag behind changes in population parameters.
Let us look at the arithmetic of growth so we can understand growth limits.
Al Bartlett draws on the work of M. King Hubbert, who developed a concept
for forecasting the nationwide or worldwide production of non-renewable
fossil fuel resources: in short, that they can be expected to follow a
As an example let us take a known quantity of a finite nonrenewable
resource. Let us assume we have 20,000 tonnes of this resource, and that
with a consumption of 100 tones per year, the resource will last for 200
years at a steady consumption rate. Growth in consumption is thus is 0% per
year. If we plot the consumption over time, we get a rectangle. The area
under the curve gives us the total quantity of the finite resource.
Now, what if we introduce production growth? We assume that the Gaussian
Error Curve is a reasonable approximate scenario for the curve of rate of
production P(t) is growing at some fractional rate k > 0, P(t) = P(0)
exp(kt), where P(0) will be assumed to be 100 tonnes/y, the time t is
expressed in years, and ó is the standard deviation of the Gaussian curve in
Now, if we consume this resource at a faster rate, say with a constant
growth in consumption of 1% per year, we will reach the end of the lifetime
of this resource quicker. Similararly scenarios with a higher steady growth
of 2%, 3%, 4% and 5% are depleted even faster. The graphs for consumption
look like this. Note the four curves all have the same area of 20,000
Even though it is consistent with accepted economic goals, it is unrealistic
to imagine that an economy could maintain a constant unchanging P(t) until
the last bit of a resource has been extracted.
To be more realistic we note that positive rates of growth of P(t) will
cause the graph of P(t) vs. t to pass through the maximum after which P(t)
will decline and approach zero. We can model this behavior mathematically
with the following formula:
Let us look at the Gaussian scenarios for values of standard deviation ó of
curves of 10y, 15y, 20y, 30y, 40y, 50y, 60y, 70y, and 80y. Curves all have
same area of 20,000 tonnes. The graph for the production rates look like
The smaller the value of sigma, the higher and narrower is the Gaussian peak
and the more rapid is the decline of the R/P Ratio.
Bartlett then draws a line that envelopes the whole family of curves:
whatever the actual production curve is in real life, it should basically
sit somewhere inside the envelope curve.
The envelope of the family of Gaussian curves divides the (P, t) plane into
allowed and forbidden areas. The declining exponential curve divides the
allowed area into an upper area that is terminal and a lower area that
What this demonstrates is that there is no way to grow infinitely into the
future, in other words growth itself is unsustainable. So if growth cant be
sustainable, then what can? Well, in short, decay.
If a resource will last R(0)/P(0) years at present rates of production, and
if the rate of production of the resource follows the curve that starts at
P(0) and has a constant fractional decrease per unit time whose magnitude is
greater than or equal to P(0)/R(0) per year, then the production can be
truly said to be sustainable.
For example, if R(0)/P(0) = 200 years, then the sustainability coefficient
k(s) = P(0)/R(0) = 1/200 = 0.005 per year (half a percent per year). If
R(0)/P(0) = 100 years,
then a curve of P(t) that declines 1% per year is sufficient to allow the
resource to last forever!
If a nation mines its fossil fuels at an ever-decreasing rate, it is
possible to ensure that there will always be some resources available to
future generations, except that every generation will have fewer resources
left to them than the previous one (such is the nature of mining, oil
production and resource depletion in general).
Heres how it works. Imagine you have $1000 of savings, and you use $100 of
this each week. At that rate of consumption, you have 10 weeks left - in
other words, if you continue to use $100 a week, you will be broke in 10
weeks. But if after the first week you can drop your weekly spendings to $90
a week, then you will still essentially have 10 weeks left. And if after the
second week (when youre down to $810), you drop to $81 a week, you will
still have 10 weeks left. If this trend continues, you can ensure that you
always have 10 weeks left, and you can claim to be spending your savings at
a sustainable rate.
The mathematics dictate that economic, business, and government policies
must be radically reformed to match the exponential decay scenario if humans
are to continue to base our existence on the consumption of non-renewable
fuels and claim that it is sustainable. Bartletts work highlights the
deception of terms like sustainable growth.
As far as our energy goes, a more desirable approach would be to consume our
regular income (i.e. from renewable sources) rather than eat into natures
savings (i.e. non-renewable fuel deposits). Basing the very notion of
progress on ever-increasing consumption of non-renewable fuels is a recipe
Matthew Simmons is the CEO of the worlds largest Energy Investment Bank,
Simmons & Company International. He recently wrote that he had reread Limits
to Growth and was amazed at its accuracy. Limits to Growth began in the
1970s with the Club of Rome, a group who sought to raise awareness of
environmental problems. The first conclusion was a view that if present
growth trends continued unchanged, a limit to the growth that our planet has
enjoyed would be reached sometime within the next 100 years. This would then
result in a sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and
industrial capacity. The second key conclusion was that these growth trends
could be altered. Moreover, if proper alterations were made, the world could
establish a condition of "ecological stability" that would be sustainable
far into the future. The third conclusion was a view that the world could
embark on this second path, but the sooner this effort started, the greater
the chance would be of achieving this "ecologically stable" success.
Simmons suggests some natural break will undoubtedly stop the economic
progress which devours a precious and dwindling energy supply. He also
reminds us that gap between rich and poor cannot continue to grow without
finally creating massive civic turmoil. History shows if the gap gets too
great, the poor will finally "come over the walls of prosperity" and attempt
to redistribute this wealth.
Journalist Ross Gelbspan in his book "The Heat is On: the Climate Crisis,
the Cover-up, the Prescription" he states that the impacts of
overpopulation, peak food, climate change and other limits to growth
threaten to combine into a severe test of the ability of civilization to
continue. Gelbspan's website http://www.heatisonline.org is one of the best
sources for understanding these issues.
World population is increasing exponentially. The gap between rich and poor
is widening, in China now 60% of the wealth is controlled by 1% of the
population. Our ecological footprint was overshot in the 1970s. Wackernagel
developed the ecological footprint model, not perfect but the best seen yet.
We are now at 120% of global capacity, and cant go much higher. Some
indicators of overshoot are the deterioration in renewable resources,
surface and ground water, forests, fisheries, agricultural land, rising
levels of pollution. Also growing demand for capital, resources and labour
by military and industry to secure, process and defend resources, and rising
levels of personal debt. Insurance company losses are also rising. Climate
has already peaked, global food production will peak in the next 15 years,
even with no energy crisis, water is nearing its peak, oil being just one
peak of many.
Jacques Cousteau, a French, explorer, ecologist, filmmaker, scientist,
photographer and researcher who studied the sea and all forms of life in
water says We must alert and organise the world's people to pressure world
leaders to take specific steps to solve the two root causes of our
environmental crises - exploding population growth and wasteful consumption
of irreplaceable resources. Overconsumption and overpopulation underlie
every environmental problem we face today."
Richard Heinberg makes the point that unless we scale back the operation of
human society so that it exists within the limits of the biosphere, we are
destined to crash into those limits sooner or later.
One way to look at natures declining economy, and increasing human economy
is to imagine the Earth starting off with Natures economy that is all
the natural habitats, marine and terrestrial. Then beginning perhaps 8
thousand years ago humans started removing parts of natures Economy (the
natural environment) to make room for their own economic sectors the first
being primary production. Then a bit over 250 years ago another sector of
the human economy started to expand dramatically and that was the secondary
sector manufacturing. This was the start of the industrial revolution and
from, then on, and increasingly so, the human sectors of the economy started
So now we have a clear picture of Natures economy being increasingly
rapidly removed and the human economy increasingly rapidly expanding.
The overwhelmingly negative impact of the growing human economy on the
quality or health of Natures economy is that the ratio of indirect costs of
producing products in the human economy (externalities) versus the direct
costs is a hyper-exponential function.
The ratio goes from being less than one (direct costs are perceived by
people to exceed the indirect costs) to all of a sudden switching massively
so that, seemingly, in the blink of an eye the indirect or external costs
are the overwhelmingly important cost.
It is now clear that we very recently reached this inflection point and in
fact have probably just gone past it which is why we are now deluged with
more and more information suggesting that we are in deep trouble over the
In 1992 The U. S. National Academy of Science and the Royal Society of
London have presented a joint statement which warns: "There is an urgent
need to address economic activity, population growth, and environmental
protection as interrelated issues, and as crucial components affecting the
sustainability of human society." The statement notes that the contribution
of science to dealing with these problems is only "mitigating. "If current
predictions of population growth prove accurate and patterns of human
activity remain unchanged, science and technology may not be able to prevent
either irreversible degradation of the environment or continued poverty for
much of the world."
It urges the adoption of "global policies" aimed at "more rapid economic
development throughout the world, more environmentally benign patterns of
human activity, and a more rapid stabilization of world population."
"More fundamentally, our present economic system is based on the illusion of
endless growth. Banks lend (and thus effectively create) money on the
understanding that it will be paid back with interest. This can only
continue as long as the economy continues to grow. Yet growth is
intimately linked to growth in the use of fossil fuels. It always has been,
and recent attempts to demonstrate decoupling of the two are far from
convincing. Nor are we persuaded by the view that a move to renewables will
create new economic opportunities it will, but not nearly enough to
compensate for the increasing redundancy and irrelevance of large parts of
the economy in a post-oil age."
James Howard Kunstler, American author and social critic writes in his book
The Long Emergency that as we face the end of the cheap-fossil-fuel era the
circumstances will require us to downscale and re-scale virtually everything
we do and how we do it, from the kind of communities we physically inhabit
to the way we grow our food to the way we work and trade the products of our
work. Our lives will become profoundly and intensely local. Daily life will
be far less about mobility and much more about staying where you are.
Anything organized on the large scale, whether it is government or a
corporate business enterprise such as Wal-Mart, will wither as the cheap
energy props that support bigness fall away. The turbulence of the Long
Emergency will produce a lot of economic losers, and many of these will be
members of an angry and aggrieved former middle class. Kunstler also writes
that wishful notions about rescuing our way of life with "renewables" are
also unrealistic due to the enormous problem of scale and the fact that the
components for renewable systems require substantial amounts of energy
Data from the EIA shows energy consumption in the United States from
1635-2000 by source.
Annual consumption of petroleum and natural gas exceeded that of coal in
1947 and then quadrupled in a single generation. Neither before nor since
has any source of energy become so dominant so quickly.
Stern tested for causality between GDP and energy use in a multivariate
setting using a model of GDP, energy use, capital and labour inputs. He
measured energy by both its thermal inputs and by the Divisia aggregation
method discussed above. The model took account of changes in energy use
being countered by substitution with labour and/or capital. Weighting for
changes in energy composition showed that a large part of the economic
growth effects of energy were due to the substitution of higher quality
energy sources such as electricity for lower quality energy sources such as
The following GDP/Energy Ratio shows the diminishing returns to high quality
energies. Historical increases in the real GDP/E ratio are associated with
shifts in the type of energies used and the types of goods and services
consumed and produced.
The law of diminishing returns implies that the first uses of high quality
energies are directed at tasks best able to make use of the physical,
technical, and economic aspects of an energy type. See the data at the end
of paragraph 2.2. As the use of a high quality energy source expands, it is
progressively used for tasks less able to make use of the attributes that
confer high quality. This implies that the amount of economic activity
generated per heat unit diminishes as the use of high quality energy
Brian Fleay concludes that there are no alternative transport fuels in sight
that can replace the performance of petroleum products as we have used them
for the past 60 years, nor are these likely to emerge. This era will be seen
by future generations as unique, a period created and so far sustained by
oil primarily from the giant oil fields. Up-to-date information on EPRs is
unlikely to alter the relative relationships of the fuels shown in Figure 8.
We have been picking the eyes out of a large hydrocarbon resource base.
William Stanton (2003), in his book "The Rapid Growth of Human Populations
1750-2000. Histories, Consequences, Issues Nation by nation." states that
'All human history is of populations expanding when resources are available
and shrinking when they are not'. Stanton speculates that 'political
correctness', 'civilized standards', current ideas about 'human rights', and
the concept of 'the sanctity of human life' will disintegrate in the face of
resource conflicts and massive movements of refugees from lands whose
carrying capacity has been reduced by combinations of soil
depletion/erosion, desertification, sea level rise and the lack of continued
access to non renewable energy stores.
Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography at the University of California, Los
Angeles, attempts to analyse why some past and present day societies have
In his prologue, Diamond indicates his considered view of the train of
events which often underlie collapse, when of past collapses he writes:
Population growth forced people to adopt intensified means of agricultural
production and to expand agriculture from the prime lands onto more
marginal land, Unsustainable practices led to environmental damage
resulting in agriculturally marginal lands having to be abandoned again.
He lists consequences for societies as including food shortages,
starvation, wars among too many people fighting for too few resources and
the overthrowing of government elites by disillusioned masse. Eventually,
population decreased through starvation, war, or disease, and society lost
some of the political, economic, and cultural complexity that it had
developed at its peak
How Do We Know We Have Reached Overshoot?
Falling resource stocks and rising pollution levels are the first clues.
Here are some other symptoms:
* Capital, resources, and labor diverted to activities compensating for the
loss of services that were formerly provided without cost by nature (for
example, sewage treatment, air purification, water purification, flood
control, pest control, restoration of soil nutrients, pollination, or the
preservation of species).
* Capital, resources, and labor diverted from final goods production to
exploitation of scarcer, more distant, deeper, or more dilute resources.
* Technologies invented to make use of lower-quality, smaller, more
dispersed, less valuable resources, because the higher-value ones are gone.
* Failing natural pollution cleanup mechanisms; rising levels of pollution.
* Capital depreciation exceeding investment, and maintenance deferred, so
there is deterioration in capital stocks, especially long-lived
* Growing demands for capital, resources, and labor used by the 176 World3:
The Dynamics of Growth in a Finite World military or industry to gain access
to, secure, and defend resources that are increasingly concentrated in
fewer, more remote, or increasingly hostile regions.
* Investment in human resources (education, health care, shelter) postponed
in order to meet immediate consumption, investment, or security needs, or to
* Debts a rising percentage of annual real output.
* Eroding goals for health and environment.
* Increasing conflicts, especially conflicts over sources or sinks.
* Shifting consumption patterns as the population can no longer pay the
price of what it really wants and, instead, purchases what it can afford.
* Declining respect for the instruments of collective government as they
are used increasingly by the elites to preserve or increase their share of a
declining resource base.
* Growing chaos in natural systems, with "natural" disasters more frequent
and more severe because of less resilience in the environmental system.
What Does Human History Tell Us About Civilisation and Equilibrium?
Duncan first presented the Olduvai theory more than 11 years ago at a
meeting of the American Society of Engineering Educators in Binghamton, New
York, as follows:
The broad sweep of human history can be divided into three phases.
The first, or pre-industrial phase was a very long period of equilibrium
tools and weak machines limited economic growth.
The second, or industrial phase was a very short period of
ignited with explosive force when powerful new machines temporarily lifted
limits to growth.
The third, or de-industrial phase lies immediately ahead during
which time the
industrial economies will decline toward a new period of equilibrium,
limited by the
exhaustion of nonrenewable resources and continuing deterioration of the
environment. (Duncan, 1989)
Can The (R/P) Ratio Predict The Lifetime of Fuels?
The reserve/production (R/P) ratio is often used as a shorthand way of
indicating how long current reserves will last at current production rates.
However this ratio fails to take growth into account.
For example, at present the U.S. has about 270,000 million short tons (MMst)
of coal, and a production rate of about 1,000MMst per year. Dividing, we
obtain an R/P ratio of about 270. This is where the sound bite "we have more
than 200 years of coal left" comes from.
If we want to take production growth into account, the following table can
help determine when the reserve will run out. This table gives answers to
questions such as, "If a non-renewable resource would last, say 50 years at
present rates of consumption, how long would it last if consumption were to
grow say 4 % per year?"
0 % 10 30 100 300 1000 3000 10,000
1 % 9.5 26 69 139 240 343 462
2 % 9.1 24 55 97 152 206 265
3 % 8.7 21 46 77 115 150 190
4 % 8.4 20 40 64 93 120 150
5 % 8.1 18 36 56 79 100 124
6 % 7.8 17 32 49 69 87 107
7 % 7.6 16 30 44 61 77 94
8 % 7.3 15 28 40 55 69 84
9 % 7.1 15 26 37 50 62 76
10 % 6.9 14 24 34 46 57 69
Example 1. If a resource would last 300 years at present rates of
consumption, then it would last 49 years if the rate of consumption grew 6 %
per year. Example 2. If a resource would last 18 years at 5 % annual growth
in the rate of consumption, then it would last 30 years at present rates of
consumption. (0 % growth). Example 3. If a resource would last 55 years at
8 % annual growth in the rate of consumption, then it would last 115 years
at 3 % annual growth rate.
This table involves using the formula for the EET where:
R = known size of the resourcer0 = current rate of consumptiont = time in
years e = base of natural logarithmsk = fractional growth per year
EET = Te = ( 1 / k ) ln ( k R / r0 + 1 )
This equation is valid for all positive values of k and for those negative
values of k for which the argument of the logarithm is positive.
What is Peak Oil?
Every oil field goes through a production cycle of increase-peak-decline.
The peaking of oil production is caused by a combination of geological
limitations in oil wells (fluid mechanics) and economic drivers
(maximization of profits). When oil is first pumped, its under pressure and
comes out easily production rises. But over time, oil pressure drops.
Water is pumped in to maintain pressure. At the half way point, it reaches
peak oil, then decline sets in. Usually the peak happens when 50 per cent of
the fields oil is produced (Hubberts Peak). Advanced technology can push
the peak up to 60 per cent but the decline after the peak is then steeper.
Soon, the oil field goes into decline as the deeper oil takes more energy to
extract, and is more expensive to process. All the light sweet crude is
gone, and you are now into the heavy crude. You have moved from a growing
output of cheap oil to a decreasing output of poor quality oil.
When oil fields in a region are aggregated you can tell if the area has
peaked or is in decline by looking at past statistics. Peak Oil happens in
every oil field, in every oil province, in every country and finally in the
When we mine our minerals and fossil fuels from the Earth's crust. The
deeper we dig, the greater the minimum energy requirements. Of course, the
most concentrated and most accessible fuels and minerals are mined first;
thereafter, more and more energy is required to mine and refine poorer and
poorer quality resources. New technologies can, on a short-term basis,
decrease energy costs, but neither technology nor prices can repeal the
laws of thermodynamics.
Although half of the oil remains at the peak in production, the other half
of the oil is
harder to extract, it becomes more and more filled with water and requires
more and more
energy to pump it out. Enormous effort has gone into trying to discover more
oil and to extract more from the reserves that remain. Eventually as wells
are abandoned the region becomes less and less important and other regions
are used. National oil supplies can be examined to see how they appear in
this cycle of oil depletion.
Each litre of petrol that we burn in our cars is the distilled residue of
some 23 tonnes of ancient organisms, and the oil products consumed by modern
civilisation in a single day cost the entire planet some 13 months of
continuous photosynthesis to produce and store. Thanks to the Earths
generous reserve of fossil hydrogen, we have had a free ride into the
twenty-first century. But our good fortune is about to run out.
Peak Oil, or Hubberts Peak (named after oil geologist Marion King Hubbert),
is now upon us. In 1956 Hubbert predicted that American oil production would
peak in the early 1970s.
He was criticised by the oil industry but his forecast proved accurate. US
production has declined ever since 1971. Hubbert also predicted that global
oil production would peak around the year 2000. He appears to have erred
slightly in this case, yet if it were not for the huge production losses
caused by the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, Hubberts global prediction would
also have been accurate.
Hubbert based his predictions primarily on the declining rate of oil
discovery. Despite massive exploration and improved technology the last
major oil discoveries were made in the 1970s. All the worlds major
oilfields are between 50 and 70 years old and oil is now being consumed
about four times faster than it can be found. Global oil discovery peaked in
Since the mid-1980s, oil companies have been finding less oil than we have
The Hubbert curve H is given below:
The global oil production curve is the superimposition of many country
production curves which are at various stages of growing, peaking and
Matt Muschalik, Member of ASPO, has used world crude production data from
the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showing that various countries
are at various production stages, with terminal decline, recent peak, flat
production, or growing production. Currently, world crude production is a
flat peak that is still benign with an undulating plateau.
We can also look at oil production in terms of whether it came from onshore
or offshore, rather than by country. We can see that world onshore crude
already peaked in the late 70ies. Currently, 120% of oil supply growth comes
from offshore crude.
Peak oil theories are about calculating the timing of the global peak and
the decline rates thereafter. ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil
and Gas) predicts a peak around 2010. www.peakoil.net
Most independent energy analysts agree that Peak Oil is now upon us, and
some believe that the peak has already passed.
Matt Simmons, explains that peak oil in the starkest possible terms, means
that we are no longer going to be able to grow. Its like with a human being
who passes a certain age in life. Getting older does not mean the same thing
as death. It means progressively diminishing capacity, a rapid decline,
followed by a long tail. He also alluded to the idea that peak oil may lead
to a diminishing ability to care for the environment because there is no
better friend of the environment that economic prosperity.
Retired oil geologist Colin Campbell, founder of Association for the Study
of Peak Oil and Gas, with 40 years of experience in the industry estimates
oil production decline is as follows:
2010: 90 mb/d
2015: 85 mb/d
2020: 75 mb/d
So from 2010 to 2020: (75-90)/90 = -17%
Retired senior consultant to the National Iranian Oil Company, Dr Ali Samsam
Bakhtiari forecasts even steeper decline rates. In his presentation to the
Senate hearing Australia's future oil supply and alternative transport
fuels in July 2006 he stated that we may face 32% decline rates by 2020
according to his WOCAP model.
Data from the BP Statistical Review shows decline rates in 17 oil producing
The graph shows decline rates for 17 countries in terminal decline (peak in
1999). Despite modern technology, decline could not be stopped. Neither will
oil prices change oil geology. Production peaked in the US (1970), in UK
(1999), Australia (2000) and Norway (2001).
If this is a model for the world we can expect decline rates between 1 - 2 %
for the first 3 years after peak oil, then increasing to 5 % in the 3 years
For business and political reasons, there have been very misleading reports
of sizes of stocks of oil. Seven major oil-extracting countries have for
years reported unchanged reserves, as well as had spurious reserve revisions
beginning in 1980sC.J.Campbell, explains: · Kuwait added 50% in 1985 to
increase its OPEC quota, which was based partly on reserves. No
corresponding new discoveries had been made. Nothing particular changed in
the reservoir. · Venezuela doubled its reserves in 1987 by the inclusion of
large deposits of heavy oil that had been known for years. · It forced the
other OPEC countries to retaliate with huge increases · Note too how the
numbers have changed little since despite production.. · Some of the
increase was justified but it has to be backdated to the discovery of the
fields concerned that had been found up to 50 years before.
No theory (e.g. Hubbert) can accurately predict the year in which global
production will peak because both reserve and production data are
unreliable, if not manipulated for strategic reasons. IEA and EIA statistics
can differ by 1 mb/d.
However, with time peak oil facts can be proven with statistics
retrospectively. To complicate matters, there can be multiple peaks (bumpy
production plateau in transition phase) due to complex feed back loops
between capacities, production, demand and prices. There are also logistical
limitations (drilling rigs, offshore platforms, refineries, pipelines,
tankers), climate change impacts and geo-political problems. Due to these
uncertainties it may take several years after the global peak to detect it
with certainty. Therefore preparation for peak oil before the peak is
necessary to allow for a smoother transition to other alternatives. If peak
oil occurs later than predicted, we can expect steeper declines as depletion
in mature, giant fields (app. 1/3 of the total) in the next years will
overwhelm the whole production system.
How Long Does It Take To Prepare For Peak Oil?
Released in Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), and
titled "Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk
Management," the report examines the likely consequences of the impending
global peak. It was authored principally by Robert L. Hirsch
Robert Hirsch concluded that it will take the USA 20 years to prepare
properly for peak oil with a crash program. The report's Executive Summary
begins with the following paragraph:
The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an
unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel
prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely
mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented.
Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to
have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in
advance of peaking.
Indeed, the U.S. and other industrialized countries rely on petroleum as a
key component in transportation, agricultural, chemical and plastics
industries. As pointed out in the Hirsch Report, a decline in production
will reshape the way we live and trigger economic crisis that may resemble
the economic crisis following the 1973-1974 embargo (p. 27). Hirsch
estimates that the economic loss to the U.S. could be measured on a trillion
dollar scale. And unlike other energy transitions -- such as the move from
wood to coal, or from coal to oil -- Hirsch points out that the peaking of
oil will be abrupt and revolutionary.
What Is The Creaming Curve?
If the cumulative wildcats are plotted against the cumulative discovery, a
curve is obtained. It can be fitted with a hyperbola, the creaming curve
The hyperbola models the amount of oil discovered per drilled wildcat. The
per drilled wildcat can be approximated by this hyperbola under the
the largest fields are found first. Extended to e.g. twice as many wildcats
present number, the hyperbola can give a good estimate of the amount of oil
ultimately be produced by a country or region.
This is the so-called creaming curve.
· It plots discovery against exploration wildcats. They are the wells that
either do - or do not - find a new field.
· The largest fields are usually found first for obvious reasons, being too
large to miss.
· The curve flattens until new discoveries are too small to be viable. It
gives a good idea of how much is left to find.
· We have produced almost half what is there, and we have found about 90%
Is It Possible to Replace Declining Oil Production With Alterative Fuels?
No alternative fuel can fill such gaps. Biofuels will make a couple of
percent at best. See the documentation prepared by the biofuels taskforce:
All Australian sugarcane distilled into ethanol will just yield 5 litres per
week per car.
A conversion to electric or hydrogen cars at a massive scale is completely
In a seminar Science on the way to the hydrogen economy, at a Shine Dome
Annual Symposium, Prof Trimm (The hydrogen economy is a long way away)
calculated for a global hydrogen economy: To achieve adequate supply of
hydrogen we will need an extra 6,000 chemical plants. Alternatively 9,000
nuclear plants would be needed and in the USA that means about one at
every 100 kilometres around the coast or about 220,000 square kilometres
covered in solar cells.
In NSW we are already running out of cooling water for our dirty coal fired
power plants and power shortages of -14% can be expected end of next year.
This comes from a report "Potential Drought Impact on Electricity Supplies
in the NEM" which the MCE commissioned NEMMCO to provide in 2007.
http://www.nemmco.com.au/nemgeneral/900-0001.htm (graph 10)
Our grid would collapse if any attempt were made to convert to electric cars
in sizeable numbers even if they were available.
In order to get a feeling what it will mean to replace oil please visit this
The world would need to build 52 nuclear power plants each year for 50 years
to replace the world's annual crude production of 26 Gb ( = 1 cubic mile of
Dr F E (Ted) Trainer, who researches limits to growth, sustainability,
globalisation, and the environment, calculates:
There are difficulties and major costs in solar electricity. Let us assume:
· Sydney is to be supplied in winter by electricity from photovolltaic cells
located in the inland of Australia.
· Solar energy collected in winter 4.25 Watts per square metre per day.
Solar energy converted to electricity at 13% efficiency (typical figure for
cells in the field today.)
· Electricity converted to hydrogen for storage of the energy, at 70%
Assume 15% of stored energy lost in transmission of the energy from inland
· Conversion of hydrogen delivered to Sydney back to electricity, via fuel
cells that are 40% efficient
Overall energy efficiency of the system is .13x.7x.85x.4 = .029 i.e., about
Therefore one square metre of collector would deliver .03x4.252.kWh per day
in winter, i.e.127 kilowatt-hours.
Therefore a plant capable of delivering the electricity that a large coal or
nuclear electricity generating plant delivers, i.e., 1000mW, (i.e.,1000x 1
million x 24 watt-hours per day) would have to have an area of 190 million
(Note that electricity delivered when the sun is shining might not have to
be transformed into hydrogen but might be delivered via high voltage lines.
There would be losses but less than via hydrogen.)
Present cost of photovoltaic panels is , approximately $5 per watt
(wholesale). The other costs, e.g., including supports, wiring, installation
("balance of system" costs) are about $5 per watt. A panel delivers about 70
watts and is about .5 square metres. Thus present plant cost is
approximately 140Wx$10 = $1400 per square metre.
Thus cost of 190 million square metres of PV collection area = $226 billion.
However the cost of a 1000MW coal or nuclear power station plus fuel for 20
years would be about $2.8 billion.
Thus the solar plant would cost about 100 times as much as a coal fired
What difference might technical advance make?
Assume cell efficiency rises to 20%, and fuel cell efficiency rises to 60%,
then overall system efficiency rises from 3% to 7%, i.e., multiplies by 2.1.
Thus total cost of plant would fall to $115 billion.
One tonne of biomass (cellulosic material) will probably yield methanol
equivalent to 150 l of petrol after processing and paying the energy cost of
If Australia's present oil plus gas consumption (2500 PJ) were to be
replaced by methanol from biomass,505 million tonnes of biomass would have
to be harvested each year and processed.
Yields per ha? Some crops grow at very high yields per ha (e.g., sugarcane
grows at 60-70 t/ha/y) but the production of energy from biomass will
require very large areas if this source is to be a major contributor. High
yields are not likely from large areas. Plantations might yield on average
more than 7 t/ha/y, but native US forest growth averages 3t/ha/y. World
native forest growth averages 1.5-2t/ha/y. Australian fodder, i.e., from
cropland, averages 3.5 t/ha.
If Australian yield over very large areas is assumed as (an implausibly
high) 7t/ha/y3 t/ha/y, Australia would need to plant and continually harvest
70 m ha.
All Australian forest is 41 million ha (harvested beyond sustainable rates,
even though we only produce 2/3 our timber consumption.) All Australian
cropland is 22 million ha. All our pasture is about 22 million ha.
Muschalik says we'll be lucky if we can manage to set aside oil to run our
essential services (including for agriculture) and provide enough power to
run electric trains and replace our dirty coal fired power plants. It should
be crystal clear that peak oil - in combination with the limitations of
using fossil fuels due to global warming - is the beginning of the end of
using cars, trucks and planes the way we know it.
"One key threat in relation to peak oil is an increase in the use of coal,
tar sands, methane hydrates etc. The world does have considerable reserves
of coal at current rates of use the world has around 200 years reserves,
the UK about 50 . But burning more coal will only add to greenhouse gases.
Coal is more carbon-intensive than oil (ie releases about 13% more per
unit of energy than oil), but the more important point is that coals
current contribution of about 17% of UK energy is about the level to which
we need to reduce greenhouse emissions. That is, if we stopped burning oil
and gas but kept coal use at the present level, that would be about the
level which the world could sustain. Worldwide coal accounts for about 25%
of energy needs, which again is about right or possibly too high. (Also, of
course, if we sought to use coal for all of our energy needs, the UK reserve
would be exhausted in 10 years and we shouldnt expect anyone else to sell
Oil recovered from tar sands is again more carbon-intensive, particularly
because of the huge amounts of energy (currently natural gas) needed to
extract it. Exploiting methane hydrates, proposed by some as a
magic-bullet cure to the worlds energy shortage, could be catastrophic in
terms of global warming...."
How Vulnerable Is Australia To Petrol Prices?
In an article Shocking the Suburbs: Urban location, housing debt and oil
vulnerability in the Australian City, Jago Dodson & Neil Sipe from the
Griffith University in Brisbane undertook a study of locational
vulnerability assessment for mortgage, petrol and inflation risks and
expenses (VAMPIRE) to assess how potential adverse impacts from rising fuel
costs would likely be distributed across Australian cities. The
vulnerability index identifies areas of greatest risk, and conversely, those
areas where the impacts of rising fuel costs are likely to be less
extensive. In looking at Sydney they write,
Sydney is structured around a central business district that is situated to
the mid-south of the Sydney harbour. The urban area surrounding the CBD is
extensive, and extends far to the north, west and south. Two urban corridors
extend northwest and southwest. Like Brisbane, Sydneys urban geography is
strongly patterned in terms of mortgage and oil vulnerability, as revealed
by our analysis (Figure 6). Two broad areas display low or moderate levels
of vulnerability. These include an area broadly described as inner northern
Sydney that extends from the harbour mouth in the inner northeast to a broad
area from north of the CBD to Hornsby in the north. A further area of low
vulnerability is apparent around and to the east of the Sydney CBD and this
area also extends through the suburbs approximately 15 km south and west of
the CBD. The highest concentration of low vulnerability is immediately
around the Sydney CBD and North Sydney. Higher levels of mortgage and oil
vulnerability are found in areas beyond 20 km from the Sydney CBD to the
north, south and in particular to the west. This effect is particularly
pronounced in the greater western Sydney region, from Baulkham Hills in the
north of this region to south of the urban area, and in the south west and
north west corridors. Sydneys most concentrated areas of mortgage and oil
vulnerability are located in the outer north and south of the western
region. A higher proportion of households in these locations are likely to
be at high social and financial risk from fuel and mortgage and price
increases than elsewhere in the Sydney region.
The key point to note for Sydney is the divergence in private motor vehicle
residents of the citys affluent inner and northern eastern suburbs and
those in the middle
and outer western areas. Private motor vehicles are used less and driven
by households in Sydneys east compared to those in the west and these
diverging. Those in the west increased their daily travel distances by
around 23 percent
between 1991 and 2001, while daily kilometres of travel declined by 10
percent for those
in the east. More than 50 percent of eastern Sydney residents walk, cycle or
transport to get to work, compared to less than 25 percent in the citys
The differences in motor vehicle use imply divergent capacity to absorb the
rising transport energy costs. Households in inner areas with limited car
already insulated against rising petrol prices and can easily switch to
alternative modes if
seeking further relief. In the outer suburbs where travel choices are much
more constrained residents face much tougher travel and financial decisions
when faced with
rising fuel costs.
Dr Jago Dodson suggests that greater public awareness of energy issues is
becoming increasingly critical because we as a society are likely to face
some important decisions about how we manage our economic and social affairs
in relation to energy. It is also important that we fully comprehend energy
issues in all their scope, not solely in terms of scientific or technical
knowledge but in the broader context of our social, economic and
Can Taxes Help Improve Signals to Businesses to Save Energy?
Kaufman and Cleveland argue that the market mechanisms will not receive
adequate signals (resource price increases) in time to bring on alternative
options to replace oil; they argue that depletion will not occur in an
orderly and smooth pattern but will manifest itself via sharp rises in oil
Peter Newman, Director of the Institute for Sustainability and Technology at
Murdoch University, Perth and Chair of the Western Australian Sustainability
writes, The car is the technology which involves the biggest number of
employees, the highest advertising budget, the largest annual accidental
death rate and the biggest contribution to global warming. How do you begin
to approach managing something so popular and yet so destructive? There are
three ways: technology (civilizing the car), economics (pricing it) and
planning (reducing the need to travel and providing other options).
Transport price signals - Monitoring changes in European transport prices
and charging policy in the framework of TERM
Does The Suburban Way of Life Have A Future?
The documentary film "The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of
the American Dream" produced by the Post-Carbon Institute (see
www.postcarbon.org), explores why we need to adapt cities, transport choices
and lifestyles to living with less and more expensive oil. 'End of Suburbia'
is a thought-provoking documentary looking at how oil underpins suburban
development and vulnerability to the approaching end of the era of cheap
Thomas Wheeler, in his review of the documentary writes "The End of
Suburbia" marshals an impressive array of evidence that the growing energy
demands of the "American dream" in suburbia will eclipse our planet's
ability to provide it. The suburban way of life will soon become
economically and ecologically impossible to maintain. We will see the
inevitable collapse of the suburban lifestyle and the end of the American
Dream. And it will happen within our lifetimes. How bad will it get? Put it
this way. We are looking at the mother of all downsizings. For those who are
familiar with the issues of peak oil and resource depletion, the usual
suspects are here. They include Richard Heinberg, Michael Klare, Matthew
Simmons, Michael C. Ruppert, Julian Darley, Dr. Colin Campbell, and Kenneth
Deffeyes, among others. All of these individuals provide valuable
information and insights concerning the coming energy crisis and the impact
it will have on the lives of people on the North American continent.
But the standout star of the film is author and critic of contemporary
culture, James Howard Kunstler. The sometimes humorous and always
entertaining presence of Kunstler is prominent throughout the
documentary--and for good reason. He grabs your attention. He explains in
refreshingly blunt, easy-to-comprehend language that suburbia is screwed.
His undiluted, tell-it-like-it-is style is a potent mix of George Carlin
humor and wit wrapped around an incisive Chomsky-like comprehension and
understanding. With Kunstler you get an intellectually penetrating person
armed with a functioning bullshit detector wrapped up in an intensely candid
New York attitude. Kunstler has a blog on the web he calls "The Clusterfuck
Nation Chronicles" (kunstler.com). Need I say more?
Kunstler calls the project of suburbia "the greatest misallocation of
resources in the history of the world" and says "America has squandered its
wealth in a living arrangement that has no future." You immediately get the
idea he's not exactly a fan of suburbia. How and why did this happen?
"The End of Suburbia" outlines the seemingly rational and logical impulse
behind the project of suburbia, tracing the beginnings to the late 19th
century when it was originally envisioned as an antidote to city life and an
escape from the hideous aspects of industrialism. Modern suburbia traces its
beginnings to just after World War II when the suburban project took off
with a massive housing boom and the increasing dominance of the automotive
industry. This car-centered suburban project ended up being the template for
the massive development of the second half of the 20th century. That project
was wrapped up, packaged, and sold to the American public as "The American
"The End of Suburbia" points out that the rise of the suburbs was made
possible by abundant and cheap oil. It allowed for the creation of a system
of habitation where millions of people can live many miles away from where
they work and where they shop for food and necessities. And there is no
other form of living that requires more energy in order to function than
suburbia. But the voracious and expanding energy needs of our industrial
society, our insane consumer culture, and the affluent suburban lifestyles
are brushing up against the disturbing reality of finite energy resources.
The biggest impact will be felt by those who currently live in the sprawling
suburbs of North America. The end of cheap oil will signal the end of their
way of life. Frankly, many of the things we take for granted will come to an
end. "The End of Suburbia" makes clear that the effects of energy depletion
go way beyond paying more at the pump. It will literally get down to the
question of how you will feed yourself and your family.
Although the documentary mostly avoids the gloom and doom of some peak oil
theorists, it does occasionally touch on some of the darker aspects of
fossil fuel depletion, notably how it will impact food production. The film
briefly looks at the energy-intensive process needed to bring food to
supermarkets. Our modern industrial agriculture relies heavily on petroleum
for pesticides and natural gas for fertilizer, not to mention the energy
used in planting, growing, harvesting, irrigating, packaging, processing and
transporting the food. It stands to reason that if suburbia is going to
collapse, it also means this centralized model of agriculture will collapse
"The End of Suburbia" shows how the suburban way of life has become
normalized and reveals the enormous effort currently put forth to maintain
it. On a foreign policy level, it means continued aggressive attempts to
secure access to the remaining reserves of oil on the planet in order to
prop up and maintain the increasingly dysfunctional and obscene suburban
lifestyle. But "The End of Suburbia" makes it crystal clear that suburban
living has very poor prospects for the future. Any attempt to maintain it
will be futile. There will eventually be a great scramble to get out of the
suburbs as the global oil crisis deepens and the property values of suburban
homes plummet. Kunstler asserts that the suburbs will become "the slums of
What about alternative sources of energy? "The End of Suburbia" points out
that no combination of alternative fuels can run and maintain our current
system as it is now.
What about hydrogen, you ask? The film does a great job of shooting down the
hysterical applause for hydrogen. The idea of a hydrogen economy is mostly
fantasy. Hydrogen is not a form of energy. It is a form of energy storage.
It takes more energy to make hydrogen than you actually get from hydrogen.
Same with ethanol. It is a net energy loser. It takes more gasoline to
create and fertilize the corn and convert it to alcohol than you get from
burning it. When you look at all the conceivable alternatives the conclusion
is there is no combination of any alternatives that will allow us to
continue consuming the way we do.
What is in our future? The consensus is the suburbs will surely not survive
the end of cheap oil and natural gas. In other words, the massive
downscaling of America--voluntary or involuntary--will be the trend of the
future. We are in for some profound changes in the 21st century. The
imminent collapse of industrial civilization means we'll have to organize
human communities in a much different fashion from the completely
unsustainable, highly-centralized, earth-destroying, globalized system we
have now. There will need to be a move to much smaller, human-scale,
localized and decentralized systems that can sustain themselves within their
own landbase. Industrial civilization and suburban living relies on cheap
sources of energy to continue to grow and expand. That era is coming to an
end. One of the most important tasks right now is to prepare for a very
different way of life.
While "The End of Suburbia" doesn't provide any easy answers, it does
provide a much-needed look at the reality of the situation many in North
America will be facing in the coming years. For that reason, "The End of
Suburbia" is one of the most important must-see documentaries of the year.
Can New Technology Make Civilisation Sustainable?
Politicians believe the solution to thermodynamic, or resource, limits is to
efficient. But the evidence from the recent past suggests that this does not
happen in practice because the rate of efficiency seldom equals the overall
rate of growth. Where significant advances do generate large efficiency
gains the evidence from studies over the
last two centuries suggest that these efficiency savings just increase the
rate of growth, and energy consumption. For example, Britain has become more
efficient in its use of energy and resources since the 1950s, but in that
time actual consumption has grown by a factor of two (or, if we take account
of the change in efficiency, it's nearly a factor of four). There have been
three major developments in the study of the conflict between growth and
efficiency. They show that efficiency, against a background of
Jeavon's Paradox (1830s) Jeavon discovered that more efficient stream
engines led to more coal being used in more/larger engines;
Rebound Effect (1960s) the discovery by various economists that the
benefits of efficiency savings are re-spent buying more stuff, so
savings of energy or resources made by the efficiency measures;
Khazzom-Brookes Postulate (1980s) the greater efficiency, e.g. information
and communications technology, results in cheaper services and the greater
use/consumption of those services.
For these reasons efficiency will never deliver a saving of energy or
resources. In any case, the Second Law of Thermodynamics limits what
efficiency measures can achieve, and how they operate over time:
Efficiency measures can only take place once when the market has become
with an efficiency measure, e.g. an efficient fridge, there will be no
further savings delivered (growth takes over again); and
Each successive efficiency gain generally produces less of a saving than
previous ones this is because it becomes harder to save the same amount of
energy with each improvement as the decline in the difference between the
work done and the energy consumed creates a thermodynamic barrier to further
reductions in consumption.
If the measures that economists use to reconcile economic growth and
Thermodynamics do not work, the only logical conclusion is that at some
point economic growth must hit a ceiling, at which point it must cease
then the system will be forced to change.
The Earth does not have an inexhaustible supply of many other critical
commodities fuels/energy are just one of these limited resources. At the
moment we are using energy to solve resource problems by pumping water
long distances, or ferrying wood and food around the globe. What Peak Energy
means is that we just won't have the
cheap, plentiful energy to do this any more. Eventually, one critical limit
or another will be breached and we will be unable to compensate for this
loss. The problem today is that energy depletion and climate change are
accelerating this process by drawing the
critical limits such as water, farmland or fish ever tighter. At this
point a collapse will be unavoidable. The only way to avoid an enforced
contraction following overshoot is to begin, voluntarily, a growth must hit
a ceiling, at which point it must cease then the system will be forced to
An Interview with Dennis Meadows - co-author of Limits to Growth, Dennis
says There are 4 ways you respond to an energy shortage - deprivation,
efficiency, alternative fuels, and cultural change. Overwhelmingly the most
attractive options open to us are non-technical. They are ethical, cultural,
social and psychological. Will we manage to do them? I dont know about
that, but my attitude is acknowledge the problem, start doing those things
you can do technically to cope with it, being careful not to take technical
solutions that will damage the environment, and cause a lot more damage
through conflict and income distribution, things like that, and then get
busy with the social, cultural and psychological change which is where the
real solutions lie. Can you support 6 billion people on this planet under
any circumstances? Im not sure, but certainly not with our current culture
Hailed as the philosopher poet of the ecological movement, best-selling
author Derrick Jensen returns with a passionate forecast of how industrial
civilization, and the persistent and widespread violence it requires, is
unsustainable. Jensen's intricate weaving together of history, philosophy,
environmentalism, economics, literature and psychology has produced a
powerful argument that demands attention in the tradition of such important
books as Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilization and Brigid Brophy's Black
Ship to Hell.
In Volume I: The Problem of Civilization, Jensen lays out a series of
provocative premises, including Civilization is not and can never be
sustainable and Love does not imply pacifism. He vividly imagines an end
to technologized, industrialized civilization and a return to agragrian
If Volume I lays insightful framework for envisioning a sustainable way of
life, Volume II: Resistance catapults this discussion into a passionate call
for action. Using his premises as guidelines for exploring real-world
problems, Jensen guides us toward concrete solutions by focusing on our most
primal human desire: to live on a healthy earth overflowing with uncut
forests, clean rivers, and thriving oceans that are not under the constant
threat of being destroyed.
Endgame Volume II begins with 20 premises. Here are a few:
Premise One: Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is
especially true for industrial civilization.
Premise Two: Traditional communities do not often voluntarily give up or
sell the resources on which their communities are based until their
communities have been destroyed. They also do not willingly allow their
landbases to be damaged so that other resources gold, oil, and so on can
be extracted. It follows that those who want the resources will do what they
can to destroy traditional communities.
Premise Three: Our way of living industrial civilization is based on,
required, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread
Premise Six: Civilization is not redeemable. This culture will not undergo
any sort of voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of
living. If we do not put a halt to it, civilisation will continue to
immiserate the vast majority of humans and to degrade the planet until it
(civilisation, and probably the planet) collapses. The effects of this
degradation will continue to harm humans and nonhumans for a very long time.
Premise Seven: The longer we wait for civilisation to crash or the longer
we wait before we ourselves bring it down the messier the crash will be,
and the worse things will be for those humans and nonhumans who live during
it, and for those who come after it.
Premise Eight: The needs of the natural world are more important than the
needs of the economic system. Another way to put Premise Eight: Any economic
or social system that does not benefit the natural communities on which it
is based is unsustainable, immoral, and stupid. Sustainability, morality,
and intelligence (as well as justice) require the dismantling of any such
economic or social system, or at the very least disallowing it from damaging
Premise Ten: The culture as a whole and most of its members are insane. The
culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life.
Other great reviews of his books and comments about the author can be found
One reviewer wrote, Jensen believes "this culture will not undergo any sort
of voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living."
Civilization, he says in volume II, is killing the planet, so "civilization
needs to be brought down now." Jensen dwells through several chapters on the
need to destroy tens of thousands of river dams, whether with
pickaxe-wielding citizen armies or through the use of well-placed explosive
charges; other chapters consider how simple it would be to paralyze the
American capitalist system if small activist cells were to disrupt railway,
highway, pipeline and other elements of commercial infrastructure.
In an article Techno-Fix And Sustainability: Grappling With illusions,
Milo Clark, a writer and researcher focused on strategic issues, argues on
Swans that there are two major illusions clouding our judgement. One says
we'll figure out technologies to fix things -- Techno-fix. The other says
we'll figure out how to work with it or to restore balances --
Sustainability. Both assume we can fix what we have already done, are doing
or will do.
All the techno-fix strategies are substitution strategies. All
sustainability strategies are also substitution strategies. Substituting
reprocessed used cooking oils for diesel fuel substitutes only one tiny
component of the overall system which produces and runs the vehicle.
Substituting hydrogen or hybrid technologies similarly deals only with small
components of a very complex, very global extractive and earth exploitive
Whether hybrid, hydrogen or hallucination drives our techno-fix
transportation, the vehicles involved continue to use and to expand use of
metals and other irreplaceable or non-biodegradable materials. Lighter
bodies and engine blocks use aluminium which is produced by horrendous
amounts of electricity. More sophisticated technologies require more exotic
metals, whether platinum or palladium used in catalytic converters, or
others needed for hybrid or hydrogen systems. Anything dug out of earth
anywhere reduces the amount of that resource available later.
A simple formula for minimally exploitive systems reads: Use local resources
processed by local people primarily for local uses in ways which generate
surpluses for local reinvestment. With this litmus test, any system can be
tested. Every one will flunk, even rigorous Permaculture.
Net Energy Analysis with EROI
One technique for evaluating the costs of energy systems is net energy
analysis, which compares the quantity of energy delivered to society by an
energy system to the energy used directly and indirectly in the delivery
process, a quantity called the energy return on investment (EROI).
Biophysical and ecological economists argue that net energy analysis has
several advantages over standard economic analysis. First, net energy
analysis assesses the change in the physical scarcity of energy resources,
and therefore is immune to the effects of market imperfections that distort
monetary data. Second, because goods and services are produced from the
conversion of energy into useful work, net energy is a measure of the
potential to do useful work in economic systems. Third, EROI can be used to
rank alternative energy supply technologies according to their potential
abilities to do useful work in the economy.
The overall decline in the EROI for petroleum extraction in the U.S.
depletion has raised the energy costs of extraction. This is generally
consistent with the overall pattern of oil extraction, i.e., both extraction
and the EROI for extraction show a decline since the early 1970s. There is
no single measure of the quality of the oil and gas resource, but a number
of such indicators describe its physical deterioration. These include a
decline in field size, depletion of natural drive mechanisms, and more
enhanced oil recovery that is extremely energy intensive. To the extent that
the EROI does reflect the scarcity of petroleum in some meaningful way, then
energy quality is an important consideration. The ultimate limit to an
energy resources usefulness to society is the energy break-even point,
i.e., where the energy delivered to society is equaled by the energy used in
the delivery process. But not all units of energy are equally useful to
society, particularly in regards to their ability to perform specific tasks
in the production of goods and services. A more appropriate indicator is a
quality-corrected EROI that reflects the net availability of energy to
actually produce goods and services that reflects choices people make about
how to use energy. These choices are based on perceived differences in what
Zirnkau et al. call the form-value of different energy types. The
quality-corrected EROI is consistently lower than the uncorrected version.
This suggests that in a more meaningful economic sense, petroleum I more
scare than we might otherwise think. It also suggests that the transition to
alternative energy sources, which is driven in part by the scarcity of
conventional fuels, may be triggered sooner than is suggested by
conventional net energy analyses.
Will We Have To Rethink Our Current Economic System In a Low-Energy World?
In an article called Can Peak Oil Save Us? on a website Eat the State - A
Forum For Anti-Authoritarian Political Opinion, Research And Humor, Colin
Wright says The biggest challenge may be convincing people that our current
economic system, after a century of state and corporate propaganda, is not
the only option. In fact, I would argue that the current system is one which
supported a growing population and a growing GDP during the up phase of the
energy curve. (And that is why the working classes went along with it,
bought off with the trickle-downs.) In a world of diminishing energy, we
will need to rethink our economy--and that implies our relations to one
another. Peak Oil will provide us with that opportunity, perhaps sooner than
Over 70 years ago, in a country using little oil, Bertrand Russell wrote in
In Praise of Idleness that we could meet all our needs with less than four
hours of work per day
In an article called The Global Economy: A Flawed Ecosystem, Louis Michon,
a professional communicator working for the Canadian Space Agency writes In
his work entitled Living Systems (1978), researcher James Grier Miller of
the University of California establishes a hierarchy of the planets living
systems. From living cells to human groups to supranational systems, Miller
shows the structural continuity between living organisms, ecosystems and
human society. Humanity, its infrastructures and its activities, in short
the global economy, form a vast system fuelled by a measurable quantity of
energy, matter, time and information, just as ecosystems.
Natural systems are wonders of balance and stability resulting from millions
of years of evolution. The global economy, which is barely 500 years old,
has not achieved this level of refinement. Our economic system is embryonic
and unrealistic, with a goal to achieve continual growth rather than
balance. Growth creates wealth, but it can also result in major social and
ecological imbalance. [
] In todays world, promoting uncontrolled
economic growth is also a matter of greed. Achieving wealth is much easier
in a booming economic system than in a stable one. But as capital flows in
the same way as fluids, increased wealth entails loss somewhere else in the
system. The impoverishment of the worlds poorest populations, national debt
and the devastation of ecosystems are the direct consequences of
unsustainable development and unrestrained growth.
Ecosystems are more sustainable than the economy because their growth
potential is finite. No ecological system has developed to the point of
swallowing up all others. The limited lifespan of living beings, adaptation
to a specific environment (water, desert or other), dependence on light, and
geographical distance are all factors that limit the expansion of ecological
systems. Constant growth is by definition unsustainable. Ecosystems maintain
their stability by recycling most of the energy and matter they use,
allowing only diversity and complexity to grow.
Uncontrolled economic growth benefits mostly the rich. By upholding major
differences between the energy use, material consumption, infrastructures
and population density of rich and poor regions of the world, growth breeds
] Growth also leads to the concentration of economic
activities in time and space, resulting in agriculture, industrialization
and urbanization that are intensive and polluting. Rich nations have
consumed a disproportionate quantity of matter and energy over the past few
centuries. They have also polluted a large portion of the earths land, air
and oceans. If excessive growth is one of the causes of unsustainable
development, its main indicator is pollution. Here again, greed is the
culprit. To save on production costs, the private sector often transfers
waste and toxic materials into the environmentwhere they become anonymous
and collectively owned. Obviously, it is more profitable for polluters to
let the community and future generations pay for the clean-up. [
In the economic system, pollution and unsustainable activities relate to
incomplete equations. Truncated equations allow producers to hide costs,
which they otherwise would have to transfer to consumers or pay themselves.
In a sustainable development context, all inputs and outputs, whether
matter, energy, time or knowledge, must be calculated. Sustainable
development also requires that the entire biosphere and several generations
to come be taken into account when calculating the societal cost-benefit
ratio of both private and public economic decisions. In 1920, in The
Economics of Welfare, British economist A.C. Pigou formulated an economic
model by which all social costs were included in the market prices. More
recently, in his acclaimed essay The Ecology of Commerce, American author
Paul Hawken demonstrates how toxic and non-sustainable our present economy
is. He proposes a form of industrial ecology, based on the market economy
and on the private sector, to foster sustainable development.
How Will Peak Oil Affect Food Supply?
Jeremy Leggett, author of Half Gone (titled The Empty Tank in the US), makes
the following points: A quarter of the USs daily need for oil (five million
barrels) comes from the highly volatile Middle East. The US government
could wipe out the need for all their five million barrels, and staunch the
flow of much blood in the process, by requiring its domestic automobile
industry to increase the fuel efficiency of autos and light trucks by a mere
2.7 miles per gallon. Instead, between 1987 and 2001, US average US vehicle
fuel efficiency fell by 1.8 miles per gallon, noting that during the period
1975 to 2003 SUV market share grew from 2% to 24%. And whats this to do
with our food supply? Jeremy cites National Geo as estimating you could
drive a car from LA to NYC on the oil required to farm and bring to market
just one cow.
This is not to say we dont need an economy based on oil. No, the Soil
Association also include a calculation from the Irish organisation the
Foundation foe the Economics of Sustainability or Feasta who suggest that a
40 litre (11 gallon) fill-up at a petrol (gasoline) station is the
equivalent of about four years of human manual work and therefore a
human-muscle-power-based economy would therefore be between seventy and a
hundred times less productive than the present fossil-fuel powered one.
The dominant models of intensive agriculture and the global food trade
depend on vast inputs of oil. In a post peak oil world, the combination of
higher transport costs, climate change and increased conflict will
necessitate us all relying far more on re-localised food supplies. Even
though it requires far lower amounts of oil, organic farming is not exempt
from the need to adapt.
How Will Climate Change Affect Electricity Production?
Mother natures self-regulating system is already directly reducing the
supply of electricity through coal by reducing the water supply available
for cooling the power stations in some parts of Australia. It seems our
planet is trying to scale back our energy and resource hungry economy and it
should be seen as a wake-up call to humanity. This may be the last warning
before we reach a tipping point, if it has not been reached already. The
Revenge of Gaia that James Lovelock speaks about is close ahead. It may
require a radical change in the whole way our society is politically and
Rio Tinto will cut 160 contractor and employee jobs at the mine over the
next two months. If irrigators were to be cut off from water supplies after
June 30 it would be economically devastating to the 50,000 farmers in the
basin, who accounts for about 41% of Australias agricultural output, 90% of
the countrys irrigated crops and $22 billion worth of agricultural exports.
The resulting cutback in crops for domestic supply would cause massive
direct and indirect job losses in the basins towns and in the countrys
food-processing industries, and a possible four-fold increase in retail food
prices across Australia.
Coal and hydro power generation require very large amounts of water, and the
Snowy scheme depends on it for 86 per cent of its generation capacity. The
head of the CSIRO's Australian climate change science program, Paul Holper,
said: "Lack of water could become a problem for power generation. "You've
got to find a supply of water to set aside for power generation, but there
is already a shortage of water for agriculture. So this is going to become
more of a problem."
The stock market has already sent an alarm signal. The price of electricity
futures has almost doubled so far this year.
In January the price of a megawatt hour for delivery to NSW in 2008 was $38.
This week the price rose to just over $72, a 90 per cent rise in less than
five months. The electricity price in Queensland has more than doubled. The
volume of trading in electricity futures has roughly quadrupled this year.
According to a market assessment from the Sydney Futures Exchange, it ranks
as one of the biggest commodity price increases ever seen, and is not driven
by market speculation but is caused by the convergence of several negative
trends, dominated by the water shortage.
Greenpeace energy campaigner Mark Wakeham said the five power stations in
the Latrobe Valley used the equivalent of almost a third of Melbourne's
total water use.
"This week it was reported that three Latrobe Valley coal-fired power
stations Loy Yang A, Loy Yang B and Yallourn are using 96.5 billion
litres of water a year at a subsidised cost," he said. "The decision to
invest Victorians' money in a new coal-fired power station, which will fuel
climate change, was a bad one but is one that can be reversed given that no
approvals have been granted and no contracts signed."
The calls come after Rio Tinto said this week that water shortages meant it
would have to halve production of coal-fired energy and cut 160 jobs at its
Tarong mine in Queensland.
NSW Greens MP John Kaye said the NSW Government should abandon any idea of
building another coal-fired power station, after it last week commissioned
an inquiry into the construction of a new plant. "NSW and the eastern
seaboard of Australia faces brownouts, largely because many of the state's
coal-fired power stations are running out of water," he said. "Building
another coal burner would only increase our vulnerability to droughts and
increase the risk of electricity brownouts because of water shortages."
Some energy experts believe NSW will face power brownouts next year, because
its main emergency generator, the water-powered turbines of the Snowy Hydro,
may have to sit idle as dams drop to record lows.
The NSW Government is apparently contemplating how it can guarantee baseload
capacity, without privatising the rest of the electricity industry.
Dr Kaye said renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency would
continue to operate through droughts and reduce the risks of brownouts.
Wind generation, solar photo-voltaic panels and energy efficiency took
almost no water to operate while hot rocks geothermal, biomass and solar
thermal used some but could be designed to be less thirsty than coal, he
Greens leader Bob Brown said 30 per cent of the eastern seaboard's energy
need could be met with better efficiencies and renewable energies that
didn't need water.
"What we are seeing here is that the very core of the climate change
problem, burning coal, is now being hit itself by climate change," Senator
Nuclear power engineer Professor John Price of Monash University in
Melbourne says "gigantic" amounts of water are required to cool a nuclear
"I'm talking about tonnes per second," says Price, who has designed nuclear
power stations in the UK. According to the taskforce, headed by nuclear
physicist Dr Ziggy Switkowski, nuclear power plants are less efficient than
coal-fired plants and thus require more cooling. One estimate, from a recent
report to the Queensland government, suggests a 1400 megawatt nuclear power
station would use around 25 gigalitres of water a year.
This is about 1.26 times the water used by an equivalent coal-fired power
station, says the report by Dr Ian Rose of Roam Consulting, a
Queensland-based company with expertise in energy modelling.
Senator Brown states that both the Howard Coalition nor Rudd Labor will
tackle our biggest cause of climate change burning coal. Both the parties
support burning more, not less. This is an extreme position considering the
massive economic and environmental crisis the world is facing. The nation
should rapidly transform to being the worlds largest exporter of solar
power technology, other renewable energy options and energy efficiency
technology creating thousands of jobs and a multi-billion dollar export
income in tandem with the replacement of coal, Senator Brown said.
Australia can no longer put its head in the sand. Even if we do nothing to
phase out coal exports, our customers will. The Europeans are already
talking about sanctions and restrictions on coal imports. The issue is not
just what we think the future of coal is, but what our customers think the
future is. Business in Europe is not going to accept the Australian
government freeloading with coal, Senator Brown said.
The MIT report into the future of coal clearly outlines the size of the
problem. It says fossil fuel sources today account for 80 per cent of world
energy demand, with coal representing 25 per cent, gas 21 per cent,
petroleum 34 per cent and nuclear power 6.5 per cent. Only 0.4 per cent is
met by renewable sources of energy such as geothermal, solar and wind.
In the end, we'll see that renewable energies will be cheaper, easier and
faster to implement and with less risk. We are now wasting precious time by
assuming that the concept of "clean coal" will allow us to continue business
Is The Planetary Situation Urgent?
Ross Gelbspan, a 30-year-journalist, is author of The Heat Is On (1998) and
Boiling Point (2004), believes so. He explains, Planetary changes which
were supposed to occur toward the end of the century, according to
scientific computer models, are actually happening today. Dr. Paul Epstein,
a leading climate researcher at Harvard Medical School, citing the rapid
intensification of storms around the world, said: "We are seeing [storm]
impacts today that were previously projected to occur in 2080." Other
* The Greenland ice sheet, one of the largest glaciers on the planet, is
melting from above and losing its stability as meltwater from the surface
trickles down and lubricates the bedrock on which the ice sheet sits. Should
that ice sheet slide into the ocean, it would raise sea levels on the order
of 20 feet. The rate of sea level rise has already doubled in the last
decade as a result of melting glaciers and the thermal expansion of warming
* The proportion of severely destructive hurricanes that have reached
category 4 and 5 intensity has doubled in the past thirty years, fueled by
rising surface water temperatures.
* Oceans are becoming acidified from the fallout of our fossil fuel
emissions. The ph level of the world's oceans has changed more in the last
100 years than it did in the previous 10,000 years.
Those troubling signals are made all the more disturbing by the fact that
climate change does not necessarily follow a linear, incremental trajectory.
As the climate system crosses invisible thresholds, it is capable of
large-scale, unpredictable leaps.
"[T]here are tipping points out there that could be passed before we're
halfway through the century," said Tim Lenton, an earth systems modeller at
Britain's University of East Anglia.
That reality is compounded by the fact that carbon dioxide, the main
heat-trapping gas, stays in the atmosphere for at least 100 years. Some of
the impacts that are surfacing today were likely triggered by carbon emitted
in the 1980s, before the recent burst of carbon-powered development in
China, India, Mexico, Nigeria and other developing countries.
And then there is the problem of "feedback loops," which means that small
changes caused by warming can trigger other much larger changes.
For example, the Siberian and Alaskan tundras, which for centuries absorbed
carbon dioxide and methane, are now thawing and releasing those gases back
into the atmosphere. A rapid release of greenhouse gases from these regions
could trigger a spike in warming.
Scientists recently detected a weakening of the flow of ocean currents in
the Atlantic basin because of an infusion of freshwater from melting sea ice
and glaciers. At a certain point, they say, the change in salinity and water
density could change the direction of ocean currents, leading to much more
bitter and severe winters in northern Europe and North America.
James Lovelock, 84-year-old scientific originator of the Gaia Hypothesis
says that because of human interference, Earth can no longer maintain the
homeostasis resulting from the counterbalancing of chemistries exuded by all
What makes global warming so serious and so urgent is that the great Earth
system, Gaia, is trapped in a vicious circle of positive feedback. Extra
heat from any source, whether from greenhouse gases, the disappearance of
Arctic ice or the Amazon forest, is amplified, and its effects are more than
additive. It is almost as if we had lit a fire to keep warm, and failed to
notice, as we piled on fuel, that the fire was out of control and the
furniture had ignited. When that happens, little time is left to put out the
fire before it consumes the house. Global warming, like a fire, is
accelerating and almost no time is left to act. We do not have 50 years;
the Earth is already so disabled by the insidious poison of greenhouse gases
that even if we stop all fossil fuel burning immediately, the consequences
of what we have already done will last for 1,000 years. Every year that we
continue burning carbon makes it worse for our descendants and for
Can We Believe Climate Skeptics?
George Monbiot, who has received the United Nations Global 500 Award for
outstanding environmental achievement, explains that "Climate change denial
has gone through four stages. First the fossil fuel lobbyists told us that
global warming was a myth. Then they agreed that it was happening, but
insisted it was a good thing: we could grow wine in the Pennines and take
Mediterranean holidays in Skegness. Then they admitted that the bad effects
outweighed the good ones, but claimed that it would cost more to tackle than
to tolerate. Now they have reached stage 4. They concede that it would be
cheaper to address than to neglect, but maintain that it's now too late.
This is their most persuasive argument."
Monbiot says we must be extremely wary of the groups and self-appointed
experts campaigning against risk-aversion or compensation culture or
junk science or eco-fascism. The chances are that someone is paying them
to do it.
In and interview with Time, James Hansen said of climate deniers
Incredibly, there are still staunch deniers who would prefer to listen to a
science fiction writer [Michael Crichton, author of "State of Fear," which
challenges global warming science] rather than a real scientist. It is
perhaps not a coincidence that the strongest deniers among the politicians
have connections to the fossil fuel industry.
It is true that you can find lines of evidence which appear to support
global warming critics and, in most cases, professors who will speak up in
their favour. But this does not mean that any of them are correct. You can
sustain a belief in these propositions only by ignoring the overwhelming
body of data and science.
"Climate sceptics in Australia function to promulgate these essentially
dodgy kinds of studies. And I don't think that is too strong language to say
they are dodgy," says Dr James Risbey, a climatologist at Monash
University's School of Mathematical Sciences.
What TV Channels May Show Documentaries With Evidence of Global Warming?
Watch PBS, Nova, Frontline, The Discovery Channel, National Geographics, and
Animal Planet. Hardly a week goes by that one of these channels does not
show evidence of global warming. Most of these programs are not even about
global warming, but the evidence is there for all to see.
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