Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Climate Change Committee just failed to invent a time machine

These past two weeks have been such a momentous time for climate change in the UK it is hard to take in. My takes:

On 21st April, Polly Higgins, the lawyer who has spent a decade working towards establishing ecocide as a crime under international law, sadly died. At a meeting at Hawkwood Centre, Stroud, I heard the inspiring Gail Bradbrook speak of how Polly had given her strength in the formation of Extinction Rebellion. 

On 23rd April, Greta Thunberg spoke to British Parliamentarians with a clear message that “you did not act in time’, but with imagination and some ‘Cathedral thinking’ it is not too late to act (full text of speech here).

On 30th April, Extinction Rebellion met with the Environment Secretary Michael Gove, a small step but one that reflects the pressure that their actions (widely supported in the country) are having. Clare Farrell said the meeting “.. was less shit than I thought it would be, but only mildly”, but it’s a start.

On 1st May, the UK’s Parliament has declared a climate emergency

On 2nd May the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), setup under the 2008 Climate Change Act, has published its report “Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming” to the Government on how to reach net zero by 2050.

These are turbulent times. Emotions are stirring. Expectations are high. There is hope, but also fear.

The debate is now raging amongst advocates for climate action about whether the CCC’s report is adequate.

Let’s step back a moment.

The IPCC introduced the idea of a ‘carbon budget’ and this is typically expressed in the form such as (see Note):

“we have an X% chance of avoiding a global mean surface temperature rise of  Y degrees centigrade if our emissions pathway keeps carbon emissions below Z billion tonnes”

The IPCC Special 1.5C Report, looked at how soon we might get to 1.5C and the impacts of this compared to 2C. As Carbon Brief summarised it:

At current rates, human-caused warming is adding around 0.2C to global average temperatures every decade. This is the result of both “past and ongoing emissions”, the report notes.

If this rate continues, the report projects that global average warming “is likely to reach 1.5C between 2030 and 2052”

Perhaps the most shocking and surprising aspect of this report was the difference in impacts between 1.5C and the hitherto international goal of 2C. The New York Times provided the most compelling, graphic summary of the change in impacts. Here are a few examples:

The percentage of the world’s population exposed to extreme heat jumps from 14% to 37%

Loss of insect species jumps from 6% to 18%

Coral reefs suffer “very frequent mass mortalities” in a 1.5C world, but “mostly disappear” in a 2C world.

So, in short, 1.5C is definitely worth fighting for.

In view of the potential to avoid losses, it is not unreasonable for Extinction Rebellion and others to frame this as a “we’ve got 12 years”. The IPCC says it could be as early as 12 years, but it might be as late as 34 years. What would the Precautionary Principle say? 

Well, 12 years of course.

But the time needed to move from our current worldwide emissions to net zero is a steep cliff. You’ve all seen the graph.

D5bh1ZmW0AAvOCd.jpg-large

It seems impossibly steep. It was a difficult but relatively gentle incline if we’d started 30 years ago. Even starting in 2000 was not so bad. Every year since the descent has  become steeper. It is now a precipice.

It is not unreasonable to suggest it is impossibly steep.

It is not unreasonable to suggest we blew it; we messed up.

We have a near impossible task to prevent 1.5C.

I’m angry about this. You should be too.

I am not angry with some scientists or some committee for telling me so. That’s like being angry with a doctor who says you need to lose weight. Who is to blame: the messenger? Maybe I should have listened when they told me 10 years back.

So if the CCC has come to the view that the UK at least can get to net zero by 2050 that is an advance – the original goal in the Act was an 80% reduction by 2050 and they are saying we can do better, we can make it a 100% reduction.

Is it adequate?

Well, how can it ever be adequate in the fundamental sense of preventing human induced impacts from its carbon emissions? They are already with us. Some thresholds are already crossed. Some locked in additional warming is unavoidable.

Odds on, we will lose the Great Barrier Reef.  Let’s not put that burden on a committe to do the immpossible. We are all to blame for creating the precipice.

That makes me sad, furious, mournful, terrified, angry.

There is a saying that the best time to have started serious efforts to decarbonise the economy was 30 years ago, but the next best time is today.

Unfortunately, the CCC does not have access to a time machine.

Everyone is angry.

Some are angry at the CCC for not guaranteeing we stay below 1.5C, or even making it the central goal. 

Extinction Rebellion tweeted:

The advice of @theCCCuk to the UK government is a betrayal of current & future generations made all the more shocking coming just hours after UK MPs passed a motion to declare an environment & climate emergency. 

It is I think the target of 2050 that has angered activists. It should be remembered that 2050 was baked into the Climate Change Act (2008). It should be no surprise it features in the CCC’s latest report. The CCC is a statutory body. If we don’t like their terms of reference then it’s easy: we vote in a Government that will revise the 2008 Act. We haven’t yet achieved that.

Professor Julia Steinberger is no delayist (quite the opposite, she’s as radical as they come), and she has tweeted back as follows:

Ok, everyone, enough. I do need to get some work done around here.

(1) stop pretending you’ve read & digested the whole CCC net-zero report. It’s 277 pretty dense pages long. 

(2) there is a lot of good stuff & hard work  making the numbers work there.  

3) Figuring out what it means for various sectors, work, finance, education, training, our daily lives & cities & local authorities and so on is going to take some thinking through.

(4) If you want a faster target, fine! I do too! Can you do it without being horrid to the authors and researchers who’ve worked like maniacs to try to get this much figured out? THEY WANT TO BE ON YOUR SIDE! 

(5) So read it, share it, reflect on it, and try to figure out what & how we can do a lot faster, and what & how we can accelerate the slower stuff.

Treat the CCC report as in reality an ambitious plan – it really is – in the face of the precipice, but also believe we can do better.

These two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

Maybe we do not believe that people can make the consumption changes that will make it possible to be more ambitious; goals that politicians might struggle to deliver.

Yet communities might decide – to hell with it – we can do this. Yes we can, do better.

Some are scornful at Extension Rebellion for asking the impossible, but they are right to press for better. However, can we stop the in-fighting, which has undermined many important fights against dark forces in the past. Let’s not make that mistake again.

Can we all be a little more forgiving of each other, faced with our terrible situation.

We are between a rock and a hard place.

We should study the CCC report. Take it to our climate meetings in our towns, and halls, and discuss it. 

How can we help deliver this?

How can we do even better?

I for one will be taking the CCC report to the next meeting of the climate action group I help run.

I’m still mournful.

I’m still angry.

But I am also a problem solver who wants to make a difference.

Good work CCC.

Good work XR.

We are all in this together.

… and we don’t have a time machine, so we look forward.

Let not the best be the enemy of the good.

Let not the good be a reason for not striving for better, even while the best is a ship that has long sailed.

© Richard W. Erskine, 2019

 

Note:

You pick an X and Y, and the IPCC will tell how much we can emit (Z). The ‘X%’ is translated into precisely defined usages of terms such as ‘unlikely’, ‘likely’, ‘very likely’, etc. To say something is ‘likely‘ the IPCC means it has a greater than 66% chance of happening.

Leave a comment

Filed under Global Warming Solutions, Science in Society, Transition to Low Carbon, Uncategorized

No Magic Bullet for Climate Change

Matt McGrath, Environment Correspondent for BBC News, posted a short piece entitled A ‘magic bullet’ to capture carbon dioxide?

Which was introduced as follows:

“CO2 is a powerful warming gas but there’s not a lot of it in the atmosphere – for every million particles of air, there are 410 of CO2.

The gas is helping to drive temperatures up around the world, but the comparatively low concentration means it is difficult to design efficient machines to remove it.

But a Canadian company, Carbon Engineering, believes it has found a solution.

Air is exposed to a chemical solution that concentrates the CO2. Further refinements mean the gas can be purified into a form that can be stored or utilised as a liquid fuel.”

The ‘magic bullet’ in the title is of course clickbait, because anyone who has spent any time looking at all the ways we need to reduce emissions or to draw down CO2 from the atmosphere will know that we need a wide range of solutions. There is no single ‘magic bullet’.

Not specifically commenting on this story, but in a related piece about so-called ‘Negative Emissions Technologies’ (NETs), Glen Peters highlights the scale of the challenge facing any type of NET, which aims to remove CO₂ from the atmosphere. 

To remove the excess CO₂, sufficient at least to keep below 2oC …

“essentially we need to build an industry that’s 3 to 4 times the size of the current oil & gas industry just to clean up our waste” (2nd April 2019)

The issue is one of both scale and timing. We need big interventions and we need them fast (or fast enough).

It would take time and considerable resources to scale up NETs, which are currently mostly still in their development phase, and so the immediate focus needs to be on other strategies including energy in the home, reduced consumption, rolling out renewables, changing diets, etc., for which the solutions are ready and waiting and just needed a massive push from Governments, industry and civil society.

Glen Peters stresses that the first priority is emissions reductions, rather than capture, although capture will be needed in due course either using natural methods, or technological ones, or some combination. 

There are big questions hanging over NETs such as BECCS (Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage), which would require between 1 and 5 ‘Indias’ of land area to make the contribution needed. The continuing fertility of soils to grow plants for BECCS and competition for land-use for agriculture, are just two of the concerns raised.

The technology highlighted in the BBC piece is DAC (Direct Air Capture) which could – powered by renewables – have great potential and avoids land-use competition, but is energy intensive. As with BECCS, DAC used in sequestration mode would still need to overcome hurdles, such as the geological ones related to safely burying CO₂ in perpetuity (my emphasis)

My concerns with Carbon Engineering’s proposed application of DAC – for fuel to be used in transport – are as follows.

Firstly, road, rail, and even shipping, are being electrified, making fuel redundant.  There is the competing hydrogen economy that would use fuel, but a non-carbon based one.  Either way, this will rapidly decarbonise these parts of transport. Since transport is overall 25% of global emissions currently, this is a highly significant ‘quick win’ for the planet (within 2 or at most 3 decades).

Commercial Aviation is 13% of transport’s carbon emissions, but is less easy to electrify – at the scale of airliners travelling long-distance – because of the current energy density and weight of batteries (this could change in the future, as Professor Clare Grey explained during an episode of The Life Scientific).

Aviation is therefore just above 3% of global emissions (13% of 25%) from all sectors (albeit a probably increasing percentage).  A development-stage technology being focused on just 3% of global emissions can hardly be framed as a ‘magic bullet’ to the climate crisis.

Secondly, in terms of Government financing, would we focus it on decarbonising road, or decarbonising aviation? I suggest the former not the latter if it came down to a choice.

DAC may be great to invest some money in, as development phase technology, but the big bucks needed immediately, to make a huge dent in emissions, are in areas such as road sector. 

It is not a binary choice of course, but the issue with financing is timing and scale again. The many solutions we forge ahead with now must meet the test that they are proven (not futurism/ delayism solutions like nuclear fusion), can be scaled fast, and will contribute significantly to carbon reductions while also helping to transition society in positive ways (as for example, the solutions in Project Drawdown offer, with numerous ‘co-benefits’)

Finally, it is worth stressing that the focus for Carbon Engineering (and hence the BBC report) is on the capture of carbon dioxide, to be converted into hydrocarbons as fuel, for burning. This effectively recycles atmospheric carbon. It neither adds to, nor takes away, carbon dioxide through this cycle.

This therefore makes zero change to CO₂ in the atmosphere. It might be whimsically called Carbon Capture and re-Emission technology (CCE)! 

So I think it was wrong of the BBC piece to give the impression that the goal was ‘Carbon Capture and Storage’ (CCS), whose aim is to draw down CO₂.

It is confusing to conflate CCE and CCS!

Especially when neither are magic bullets.

(c) Richard W. Erskine, 2019

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Veganism is an answer to the climate crisis, despite what the critics say

How the world feeds itself while at the same time becoming carbon neutral within a few decades (see Note 1), while at the same time protecting biodiversity and respecting other planetary boundaries, is a hugely complex issue. 

It is not helped by simplistic arguments on any side of the debate.

Food is much more complex than say, electricity generation or transport, because it brings together so many different interlocking threads, not least our different cultures and trading practices around the world; it cannot be glibly addressed through some technical silver bullet or indeed any single prescription.

Although it seems perfectly possible to have rewilding without conflating this with meat production for human consumption, Knepp Castle Estate clearly see these twinned in their overall vision for the Estate.

Knepp Castle Estate have done some wonderful work in their experiment to rewild the Estate’s farm and this has yielded some great results in promoting biodiversity on the farm. 

It is therefore disappointing that Isabelle Tree – who runs the Estate with her husband Sir Charles Burrell – decided that the way to counter what she believes are simplistic “exhortations” in favour of veganism is to use strawman arguments, which I will come to in a moment.

In her article “If you want to save the world, veganism isn’t the answer: Intensively farmed meat and dairy are a blight, but so are fields of soya and maize. There is another way” (Guardian, 25th August 2018), she offers a vision of meat produced on a rewilded farm as an alternative.

The article ends with a statement I think can be defended (even if I disagree with it):

“There’s no question we should all be eating far less meat, and calls for an end to high-carbon, polluting, unethical, intensive forms of grain-fed meat production are commendable. But if your concerns as a vegan are the environment, animal welfare and your own health, then it’s no longer possible to pretend that these are all met simply by giving up meat and dairy.”

The key words here are “simply by”, because of course, any diet begs a lot of questions on how food is produced, processed and transported. We all agree it is complicated.  We can all agree that a goat farmer in the Himalayas cannot simply adopt the practices of a farmer in England’s green pastures. We need to respect cultural and geographic diversity.

Except her last sentence does not address crop production methods, but simply asserts:

“Counterintuitive as it may seem, adding the occasional organic, pasture-fed steak to your diet could be the right way to square the circle.”

The problem is that to feed the UK or feed the world, we need to know what this means in quantitative terms, and there is really no indication of what a balanced omnivorous diet would look like or how to scale up the Knepp Castle Estate experiment, even for the UK.

Today, the reality of the impact – both in ecological and climate terms – of the meat industry is pretty terrifying, as the Friends Of the Earth laid bare in their 2008 report  “What’s feeding our food? – The environmental and social impacts of the livestock sector”.

We need alternatives, for sure, but any changes will take a long time to make a dent on a global scale. The world could simply follow the example of India with it relatively low level of meat consumption, but any proposed system must be able to scale effectively. 

Protein from livestock requires much greater land use, and also puts huge pressure on water resources, and as noted in the study ‘Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare’:

“… shifting the crop calories used for feed and other uses to direct human consumption could potentially feed an additional ∼4 billion people.”

Emily Cassidy et al, Environ. Res. Lett. 8 (2013) 034015

And if our goal is to address climate disruption as well as sustainable agriculture, the land will be in demand for other purposes: crops for human consumption; re-forestation; bio-energy crops; renewable energy assets; etc. 

Meat production whether it is intensively produced, or in a rewilded context, cannot wish away the basic fact that it is a relatively inefficient way of using land to produce calories.

The UK currently imports over 40% of its food, and on top of that imports soy and other crops for feed for livestock. Of the land we have in the UK, about 50% is given over to grassland for livestock, as illustrated in this Figure from the Zero Carbon Britain Report: Rethinking The Future:

screenshot 2019-01-07 at 09.19.53

The Centre for Alternative Technology’s alternative, set out in the same report, is aimed at getting the UK to zero carbon; balancing all the sectors that are involved, including food production, but recognising we need to fit everything required into the available land. They arrive at a radically different distribution of land-use:

screenshot 2019-01-07 at 09.20.06

In their scenario, livestock are not eliminated but are radically reduced.

What is most disappointing about Isabella Tree’s piece in the Guardian is that she feels the need to use Strawman Arguments to support her case (which immediately suggests it has some holes in it):

Strawman argument #1

“Rather than being seduced by exhortations to eat more products made from industrially grown soya, maize and grains, we should be encouraging sustainable forms of meat and dairy production based on traditional rotational systems, permanent pasture and conservation grazing.”  

My Response: Well, since most of those crops are grown for animal consumption, that is another reason to release that land to grow sustainable crops (in soil-carbon caring ways); for forests; for bio-energy crops; for human habitation; etc.  The net result of low intensive meat production is that we would need to massively reduce meat production.

Strawman argument #2

“In the vegan equation, by contrast, the carbon cost of ploughing is rarely considered … up to 70% of the carbon in our cultivated soils has been lost to the atmosphere”

My Response: Untrue. Why do we have the permaculture movement, low-till systems, etc.? And to stress again, the majority of the cropland in UK and US, for example, today is to feed livestock. If we want to improve soil carbon there are many ways of doing it.

I could go on.

She implies that the proposed method of farming will make a big impact on soil carbon sequestration, and there is no doubt that soil plays a hugely important role in carbon sequestration, but this is an area which is very complex. It is reassuring that the article does not make outlandish claims (such as those made by Savory, see Note 2), but again, there is a lack of any estimates as to the extent to which the proposed farming practices would mitigate increases in greenhouse gas emissions. Plausibility arguments won’t cut it I’m afraid. 

For those interested in exploring all the questions touched on so far and more besides – with the benefit of some science to back up claims –  they could not do better than look at a few of the excellent food research organisations in Oxford. 

Isabella Tree acknowledges that we need to reduce meat consumption. No doubt she would agree that the sky-rocketing consumption of meat in China and globally is unsustainable. Here is the current picture:

screenshot 2019-01-07 at 14.28.04

 And as Godfray et al. state in the paper from which I took this Figure:

“It is difficult to envisage how the world could supply a population of 10 billion or more people with the quantity of meat currently consumed in most high-income countries without substantial negative effects on environmental sustainability. “

Godfray et al., Science 361, 243 (2018), 20th July 2018

Yes, it is much more complicated than simply choosing one’s diet, and we must all take care to consider the processes and pathways by which we get our food and how land is used – whether we eat meat or not. 

But for many, veganism remains an increasingly obvious option to make an immediate dent in one’s carbon footprint, and it remains a perfectly justifiable choice, whether from an environmental, ethical or scientific standpoint. 

It is by no means clear that even as a portion of our weekly diet, rewilded meat will be the solution to the world’s environmental and sustainability challenges, or at least on the timescales required. Veganism can make an immediate impact.

In fact, without a whole lot more vegans on this planet, it is difficult to see how those who want to remain meat eaters can carry on doing so with a clear conscience, given the current (as opposed to, wished for) farming practices.

In the future, meat eaters may have to pay a lot more to eat meat and even then give a big nod of thanks to vegans for making a space for them to do so.

If Isabella Tree’s article was entitled “If you want to save the world, veganism isn’t the whole answer: Intensively farmed meat and dairy are a blight along with the fields of soya and maize they depend on. But there is a case for low levels of meat consumption.” …          it would have been less catchy but at least defensible.

Knepp Castle Estate are doing great work showing how to promote biodiversity on their farm, but as a model for feeding the world and preventing dangerous climate disruption, by 2050 or earlier … they have failed to make a convincing case that they have a credible plan.

(c) Richard W. Erskine, 2019

NOTES

Note 1

On our current emissions trajectory, the world “is likely to reach 1.5C between 2030 and 2052”. If we are to avoid a global mean surface temperature rise of 1.5C, net global CO2 emissions need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach “net zero” by around 2050.  See Carbon Brief’s ‘In-depth Q&A: The IPCC’s special report on climate change at 1.5C’ for more details. The IPCC’s 1.5C report made it clear that the difference between a 1.5C world and a 2C world was very significant, and so every year counts. The sooner we can peak the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases (especially CO2, being long-lived) in the atmosphere, the better.

Note 2

Savory suggested that over a period of 3 or 4 decades you can draw down the whole of the anthropogenic amount that has accumulated (which is nearly 2000 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide), whereas a realistic assessment (e.g. www.drawdown.org ) is suggesting a figure of 14 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (more than 100 times less) is possible in the 2020-2050 timeframe.

FCRN explored Savory’s methods and claims, and find that despite decades of trying, he has not demonstrated that his methods work.  Savory’s case is very weak, and he ends up (in his exchanges with FCRN) almost discounting science; saying his methods are not susceptible to scientific investigations. 

In an attempt to find some science to back himself up, Savory referenced Gattinger, but that doesn’t hold up either. Track down Gattinger et al’s work  and it reveals that soil organic carbon could (on average, with a large spread) capture 0.4GtC/year (nowhere near annual anthropogenic emissions of 10GtC), and if it cannot keep up with annual emissions, forget soaking up the many decades of historical emissions (the 50% of these that persists for a very long time in the atmosphere), which some are claiming is possible.

I recommend Dr Tara Garnett‘s Blog-post: ‘Why eating grass-fed beef isn’t going to help fight climate change’, 3rd October 2017 – and if you need more, read the full paper referenced in the blog.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

On the Nth Day of Christmas …

We had a seasonal pub lunch with neighbours, and my christmas cracker included the question:

“How many gifts would you have if you received all the gifts in the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’?”

The song indicates the following gifts I will receive on each day:

on 1st day I’ll receive, a partridge in a pear tree;

on 2nd day, 2 turtle doves and a partidge in a pear tree;

on 3rd day, 3 French hens, 2 turtle doves and a partidge in a pear tree;

etc.

So, by the twelth day I will have received a total of:

12 x 1 partridges (each in a pear tree);

11 x 2 turtle doves;

10 x 3 French hens;

… etc; (until we get to)

1 x 12 drummers drumming.

So, the total number of gifts is:

(12×1) + (11×2) + (10×3) + … + (1×12)

which my abstemious wife very rapidly computed is 364 gifts.

By which time and after a few glasses of wine, I was of course wanting a more general result, so I declared:

“What about the number of gifts on the Nth day of Christmas?”

My wife mumbled “here we go!”, and by then my pen and paper napkin were at the ready …

Assuming the general gifts were denoted g1, g2, g3, …, gN, then we’d end up with…

N x 1 of gift g1

(N-1) x 2 of gift g2

(N-3) x 3 of gift g3

… etc. until

1 x N of gift gN

Let’s call the total number of gifts arrived at as G(N). So as an example, we already know that G(12) = 364

In mathematical notation I can write this in a different way (see Note 1), and solve the equation to show that …

G(N) = (1/6) * N * (N+1) * (N+2)

Testing this equation for case of N=12 I get

G(12) = (1/6) * 12 * 13 *14

           = 2 *13 * 14

           = 364

Job done!

When I got home I wondered if there was a geometrical way of deriving this result, rather like the trick that Gauss used as a young boy when the teacher asked the class to add the whole numbers from 1 to 100 (see Note 2).

I rather like the visual proof which I can show for N=4 as:

IMG_4743.JPG

which generally (for N rather than 4), and expressed algebrailly, can be expressed as

N∑[i] = (N2 – N)/2  + N

= (N2 /2) – N/2 + N

= (N2 /2) + N/2

= (1/2) * N * (N+1)

My question to myself was can we do a similar visual trick with the Nth Days of Christmas sum? (I say we, but without the genius Gauss to assist me!).

We have to go three dimensional now to build a picture of the number. The child’s blocks I could find were too few in number and we don’t have sugar cubes, but we do have veggie stock cubes! So, I created the following …

IMG_4738 3.JPG

The left hand portion represents 3×1 + 2×2 + 1×3 which is G(3)

The same number of blocks is in the right portion (in mirror image).

In the middle I have added 1+2+3+4 which is the familiar 4∑[i]

Put these all together and the picture is as follows:

IMG_4739 3.JPG

which is clearly 12+22+32+42  which is the familiar 4∑[i2]

That’s a nice pictorial solution of a kind.

So in algebraic terms that gives

2 G(3) + 4∑[i]  =  4∑[i2]

This gives me an algebraic solution that is not any simpler than the original solution I made on the napkin. The stock cubes give me:

G(N-1)  =  (1/2) * ( N∑[i2] – N∑[i] )

which can be solved (Note 3) to give

G(N) = (1/6) * N * (N+1) * (N+2)

as before.

However, I felt I had failed in my quest to avoid algebra or at least a much simpler algebraic resolution. Ultimately I couldn’t find one, but the visualization is at least a great way to play with the number relationships.

At least I will be very quick with the answer if ever I am asked

“How many gifts would you have if you received all the gifts in the general song ‘The N Days of Christmas’?”

“Oh, that’s easy, it one sixth of N, times N plus one, times N plus two.”

 

Richard W. Erskine, 30th December 2018


 

Note 1

G(N) can be written as the following sum:

G(N) = ∑ [(N – i + 1) * ( i )]

where N∑[] is shorthand for “sum of expression […] for i ranging from 1 to N”

Expanding the expression, I get

G(N) = ( (N+1) * N∑[i] )  –   N∑[i2]

Now, there are well known results that give us, firstly

N∑[i] = (1/2) * N * (N+1)

and secondly,

N∑[i2] = (1/6) * N * (N+1) * (2N + 1)

So, combining these I get,

G(N) = ((N+1) * (1/2) * N * (N+1) )   –  ((1/6) * N * (N+1) * (2N + 1))

Taking out a common factor (1/6) * N * (N+1), this becomes

G(N) = (1/6) * N * (N+1) * { 3*(N+1) – (2N + 1) }

Simplifying { 3*(N+1) – (2N + 1) } I get {N+2}, so

G(N) = (1/6) * N * (N+1) * (N+2)

Note 2

Gauss as a boy spotted a short-cut, which can be seen in the following picture:

IMG_4742.JPG

The sum 1+2+3+4 is represented by the shaded blocks, and the unshaded blocks are also the same sum in reverse order. So, we can see

1+2+3+4 = (1/2) * 4 * (4+1) = 2 * 5 = 10

and in general

N∑[i] = (1/2) * N * (N+1)

 

Note 3

G(N-1) = (1/2) * ( N∑[i2] – N∑[i] )

= (1/2) * { { (1/6) * N * (N+1) * (2N + 1) } – {(1/2) * N * (N+1) } }

= (1/2) * (1/6) * N * (N+1) * { (2N + 1)  –  3 }

= (1/2) * (1/6) * N * (N+1) * { 2N  –  2 }

= (1/6) * N * (N+1) * { N – 1 }

So,

G(N) = (1/6) * (N+1) * (N+2)  * N

or, rearranging

G(N) = (1/6) * N * (N+1) * (N+2)

as before.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Is Shell serious about carbon emissions reductions?

Royal Dutch Shell plc, or Shell for short, have issued a statement, under pressure from institutional investors, on how they will contribute to achieving the Paris climate change commitments. They state:

“Shell fully supports the Paris Agreement and believes that society has the scientific and technical knowledge to achieve a world where global warming is limited to well below 2°C.” (Ref. 1)

That sounds pretty unequivocal, and Shell are spending a lot of money aiming to persuade us that they are indeed serious. Let’s take a look at their claims.

Reuters reported in March 2018 that:

“Shell, the world’s top trader of liquefied natural gas, currently produces around 3.7 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, of which roughly half is natural gas.” (Ref. 2)

That’s 1.35 billion barrels per year, of which 50% is natural gas. This equates to about 0.5 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, or 0.5 GtCO2e/yr  for short, from the end-use emissions from their products (Note 1).

Shell is claiming to take a lead on emissions reductions, but take a look at Shell’s own statement of ‘direct emissions’ (those resulting from operation of their operations):

“The direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from facilities we operate were 73 million tonnes on a CO2-equivalent basis in 2017, … The indirect GHG emissions from the energy we purchased (electricity, heat and steam) were 12 million tonnes on a CO2-equivalent basis in 2017” (Ref. 7)

So Shell are focusing on these production-based emission totalling 85 million tonnes of CO2e in 2017, or 0.085 GtCO2e.  

From the above figures we see that their production related emissions of CO2e are nearly 15% of the net CO2e resulting from production and end-use (see Note 2). By no means a trivial part of their net emissions, but no surprise that their marketing focuses on their production methods not the 85% coming for end-use of their products, that they clearly cannot mitigate, except by not producing them in the first place.

This explains why Shell, in the disclaimer to their statement to institutional investors, state:

“Also, in this statement we may refer to “Net Carbon Footprint” or “NCF, which includes Shell’s carbon emissions from the production of our energy products, our suppliers’ carbon emissions in supplying energy for that production and our customers’ carbon emissions associated with their use of the energy products we sell. Shell only controls its own emissions but, to support society in achieving the Paris Agreement goals, we aim to help and influence such suppliers and consumers to likewise lower their emissions. The use of the terminology “Net Carbon Footprint” is for convenience only and not intended to suggest these emissions are those of Shell or its subsidiaries.” (Ref. 1)

The key words are “Shell only controls its own emissions”, but offers to “support society” in meeting Paris Agreement goals.

Off the agenda of this statement is any suggestion of keeping fossil fuels in the ground or an acknowledgement of the devastating implications of the IPCC’s 1.5C special report.

They plan to boost natural gas extraction, tripling this by 2050 according to the Reuters report. Citing measures such as use of CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) lead them to state an aspiration to halve the ‘Net Carbon Footprint’ (which includes end-use emissions) by 2050. This may seem to be an ambitious and welcome commitment for a fossil fuel major, but it fails to acknowledge the urgency with which we must decarbonise energy, and relies on the same magical thinking involved in the massive scaling required in CCS technologies by 2050 that many policy-makers are prone to.

This is a self-administered license to carry on extracting and selling fossil fuels.

Shell have been flooding the media with reports of how they are reducing carbon emissions, and they will fund events such as the annual New Scientist Live 2018, where they had a large stand in the middle of the exhibition hall; right next to BP’s stall offering, you guessed it, the same soothing words on emissions reductions. They will be back for more next year (Ref. 8).

If Shell are the trail-blazers amongst the fossil fuel majors, then what to expect from the laggards? 40% reduction by 2050, or 30%, or 20%, or less? What is the ambition of the industry as a whole, which last year was responsible for nearly 37 GtCOoverall (Ref. 5)?

But they, like the other carbon majors and all the minors, are collectively in denial about the challenge we face, and the urgency required to get to net zero emissions by 2050 or earlier, not 50%.

Shell can, as they admit, only seriously impact on the 15% (production emissions), not the 85% (end use emissions), of their fossil fuel cake, when the real issue is that we need a radical shrinking cake, not the growing one we have today.

I regard it as distraction tactics to focus on production emission, trying to deflect the discussion away from the calls to ‘keep it in the ground’.

Unfortunately for Shell and other gas majors, the science is showing we have run out of time.

‘Keep it in the ground, keep it in the ground’, the protestors cried at COP24.

They at least, will not be distracted by the latest greenwash from Shell and the others.

o o O o o

 

(c) Richard W. Erskine, 19th December 2018

Notes

  1. This assumes 0.43 metric tonnes of CO2 per barrel of oil (Ref. 3), and using 75% of this value for natural gas (Ref. 4). The figure of 0.5GtCO2e for Shell aligns with the figure shown in the CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017 (Ref. 6). Note also that 5,800 cubic feet of natural gas is equal (using an energy metric) to a Barrel of Oil Equivalent https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrel_of_oil_equivalent
  1. Add the 0.5 GtCO2e from the end-use burning of their products and we see that this 0.085 GtCO2e is nearly 15% of the total for which Shell is ultimately responsible for. Note also that CO2e or CO2 equivalent includes the CO2 resulting from combustion as well as any leakages of methane, with the methane contribution converted into the equivalent amount (by its warming potential) of CO2.

References

  1. Joint Statement Between Institutional Investors on behalf of Climate Action 100+ and Royal Dutch Shell plc (Shell), 3rd December 2018
  1. “Shell’s gas production could be triple oil by 2050: CEO”, Ron Bousso, 7th March 2018, Reuters
  1. “Greenhouse Gases Equivalencies Calculator – Calculations and References”, US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA
  1. “Frequently Asked Questions”, US Energy Information Administration, EIA
  1. “Analysis: Global CO2 emissions set to rise 2% in 2017 after three-year ‘plateau’”, Zeke Hausfather, 13th November 2017, CarbonBrief 
  1. The Carbon Majors Database: CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017
  1. Shell Sustainability Reporting and Performance Data / Greenhouse Gase Emissions
  1. New Scientist Live 2019, Exhibitors / Shell

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

12 years to Climate Armageddon?

The Guardian reported “We have 12 years to limit global warming, warns the UN”, and many others published similar stories, following the latest IPCC report.

Well not quite that simple, but let me explain.

I want to start with a quote from Risk, statistics and the media: David Spiegelhalter’s IPSO lecture :

“there are some fundamental difficulties with story-telling from data. Classic narratives have an emotional hit to the reader, they reveal a clear causal path, and have a neat conclusion. But science and statistics are not like that – they can seem impersonal, they don’t have a clear chain of causation, and their results are often ambiguous.”

In other words, when we convey facts through narrative we often seek certainty whereas paradoxically, scientists are the ones often having to grapple with uncertainty and ambiguity. In our popular imaginations, we might think that the reverse was true.

Yet on global warming, the irreducible uncertainty is increasingly concerning the when, not the if, of serious impacts. By debating the when (and trying to put a date on it), we are in danger of losing sight of the grindingly unavoidable fact that if a tsunami is heading your way, and you are on the beach, the exact ‘when’ is somewhat academic; the imperative is to run like heck to high ground!

We are already experiencing the impacts of global warming thanks to a rise of about 1C rise in global mean surface temperature (GMST). The impacts of man-made global warming are seen in thousands of places and contexts, and to cite just two – the rapid decline in the population of the European pied flycatcher; and the increasing severity of wildfires in California – illustrate how diverse these impacts can be.

So the questions being raised – how bad could it get and how soon – fit on a spectrum of possibilities. Our responses also fit on a spectrum, concerning how much work we are prepared to put in to limit the impacts. 

How much urgency are we prepared to put in to limiting the impacts or adapting to them, and will this be fair to everyone? Will it be fair to the energy poor of the UK, to rural Indians, to the flora and fauna already experiencing catastrophic losses (and set to escalate)?

If we miss the 1.5°C goal, can we limit it to 1.75°C,  and if not 1.75°C then maybe 2°C, and if not 2°C then can we limit it to 2.5°C,? The impacts are not ‘linearly related’ to temperature rise. There is an escalating level of impacts that ensue in areas such as heat stress, species loss, sea-level rise, crop yields, and more, and there are ‘tipping points’ that can create nasty surprises at multiple stages on this rising, jagged curve.

The context for this latest report was the Paris Agreement – arising from the  21st Conference Of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – held in Paris in December 2015. Hitherto, the UNFCCC had discussed policy aimed at ‘avoiding dangerous climate change’, which was deemed to be a 2C GMST rise. The UNFCCC in Paris was basing policy in part on the scientific input of the 5th Assessment Report by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) published in 2013/2014. However, low lying countries and those prone to the worst impacts of climate change requested that there be an investigation on the feasibility of limiting the GMST rise to a more ambitious 1.5°C, and also determining the benefits (in terms of reduced impacts) of 1.5°C as compared to 2°C.

The IPCC’s Summary for Policymakers of the 1.5C study includes the statement:

“Human activities are estimated to have caused approx. 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. (high confidence)”

So, strictly speaking, it is ‘likely’ (meaning at least a 66% chance; for those that read footnotes) that we have between 12 and 24 years before we cross the 1.5°C threshold, unless we do something to improve on this prognosis.

So is 1.5°C more special than all the other thresholds laid out before us? Well, it is an upcoming and fast approaching threshold, and so, theoretically avoidable.

This is what Prof. Jim Skea told to Matt McGrath (BBC Environment Correspondent, 8th October 2018), summarising the IPCC report with two key observations:

“The first is that limiting warming to 1.5°C brings a lot of benefits compared with limiting it to two degrees. It really reduces the impacts of climate change in very important ways,” said Prof Jim Skea, who co-chairs the IPCC.

“The second is the unprecedented nature of the changes that are required if we are to limit warming to 1.5°C – changes to energy systems, changes to the way we manage land, changes to the way we move around with transportation.”

The 1.5°C report found – to the surprise of many – that there were significant benefits to keeping GMST to this lower level. For example, by 2100:

  • 14% of the world’s population will be exposed to extreme heat (as experienced in southeastern Europe) at least once every 5 years in a 1.5°C world, but this rises to 37% in a 2°C world;
  • Some sea-ice will remain in the artic in most summers in a 1.5°C world, but ice-free summers are 10 times more likely in a 2°C world;
  • Urban populations exposed to water scarcity would increase from 250 million to 411 million;
  • Species loss for insects, plants and vertebrates would increase from 6, 8 and 4% to 18, 16 and 8%, respectively;
  • Coral reefs would suffer frequent mass mortalities in a 1.5°C world, but would mostly disappear in a 2°C world;
  • Crop yields would be lower in a 2°C world, especially in sub-sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America.

We see how there is a definite ‘non linearity’ occurring in some of the examples.

For some natural systems that have been able to recover to naturally occuring extremes in climate in the past, the future is a marked change. The effect of repeated, closely spaced extreme conditions means that they then fail to recover. Like a boxer that has been floored, they may get up once, or even twice, but at some point they stay down.

So coral reefs are hurting badly today (in a 1°C world), and will manage to cling on in a 1.5°C world, but will disappear in a 2°C world. This is a graph where the line falls off the cliff; no comforting linearity here.

A key concept introduced in the 5th Assessment Report was the ‘carbon budget’ – the maximum amount of cumulative carbon emissions allowable to stay within a target GMST rise. 

The news which, if not good, is at least something of a relief, is that the so-called ‘committed warming’ due to emissions to-date (all that heat locked up in the oceans that will continue to drive increases in atmospheric temperature / GMST rise until the system reaches equilibrium again), is less than 1.5°C; although changes (e.g. to sea-level raise) will continue for centuries to millennia.

The not so good news (or rather extremely challenging news) is that 2030 emissions must reduce by 45% versus 2010 emissions to achieve 1.5°C, and get to zero by 2050 (note also that for 2°C, 2030 emissions would need to reduce by 20% versus 2010, and get to zero by 2075).

The IPCC make it clear that achieving 1.5°C would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (transport and buildings), and industry. 

These system transition are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed (we have all seen how quickly cars replaced horse-drawn carriages in New York City), and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and upscaling of investments.

However, achieving 1.5°C cannot be achieved solely by decarbonising sectors, but must be supplemented by technologies that will take ‘carbon’ out of the atmosphere and effectively bury it. The 1.5°C pathways explored by IPCC assume between 100 and 1000 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) over the 21st Century. 

The most popular form of CDR currently being investigated is BECCS, which stands for Bio-energy with Carbon Capture and Storage. It works by growing plants/ trees that will capture carbon, and these are then burned to produce energy; but rather than re-release the carbon into the atmosphere, this is extracted from the exhaust gas stream, then buried in deep geological structures where CO₂ will remain in a condensed state. 

The required transition can be summarised in a graphic (produced by Glen Peters from the CICERO Institute), consistent with the median scenario from the IPCC 1.5°C report:

Screenshot 2018-11-17 at 00.16.37

(Credit: @Peters_Glen, 15th October 2018, On Twitter)

This graph illustrates that human activities would (by 2100) need to move from the current situation – a net source of 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (40GtCO₂) – to becoming a net sink of -15GtCO₂. Coal would be eliminated, and oil would almost be; gas would be uncertain, but any that was used would need to be combined with CDR; land-use would need to move from being a net producer of greenhouse gas emissions to a net sink; and CDR/BECCS would have to be massively scaled up.

Many question the feasibility of such a large roll-out of CDR, requiring perhaps 2 or 3 times the area of India for the energy crops required (while at the same time, there are many other pressures on the land, not least, feeding a population that could grow/ stabilize at about 10 billion).

The graph above shows a complete change in the net CO₂ but this is like turning around a very large tanker on a sixpence.

Personally, I would conclude that the very tough challenge of keeping warming below 2°C has just got even tougher. The scale and range of changes needed requires something like a Marshall Plan for the whole world to stay below 1.5°C.

This is why many commentators such as Professor Kevin Anderson at the Tyndall centre in Manchester says that the only way we can square the circle is through a massive reduction in consumption (particularly amongst the high emitters). He has noted that if the top 10% of emitters reduced their emissions to the average European level, that would equate to a 33% reduction in global emissions!

We have run out of time to decarbonise all sectors fast enough, so are creating ‘magical thinking’ to imagine a scale of CDR that would allow us to continue to consume at the current rate (in the high emitting countries).

So the picture is mixed. Yes, the 1.5°C target is extremely important and worthwhile because it brings so many benefits as compared to 2°C. However, the already very challenging goal of decarbonising the world’s economy (both the established countries and those seeking justice and development), is made even harder.

Irrespective of whether you are an optimistic or pessimistic by nature, the fact is that we have to some extent already left it too late to avoid serious impacts. Whatever level of tolerance to risk we choose for ourselves and our families, by failing to seriously engage in action now, we are in effect making choices for our neighbours, for those communities and ecosystems that may not have the resources to adapt as well as we can.

Whether we imagine it is 0 years left to take action, 12, 24, or any other number that lies within the reasonable range between bad and catastrophic, we are really out of time. 15 years is a flick of the fingers in terms of transforming all sectors in all countries.

We should not hold up “12 years” as some magical number that is a binary switch between “we’ll be OK” and “it’s Armageddon”, but yet another milestone on the slow, and somewhat slippery path towards a very dangerous future.

Where each of us – as individuals, communities, countries or at whatever scale we wish to frame it – have started to take meaningful action, we should celebrate that and strive for wider and deeper change. Where this is not happening, we have to say that the sooner this process starts the better.

As Twitter just reminded me…

“The best time to start was 20 years ago, the second best time is now”

Let’s not wait another 12 years to act on the scale required.

 

Richard W. Erskine, 17th November 2018

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Embracing the Denial Curve

Most people are naturally conservative with a small ‘c’ – they really find it very difficult to change.

For nearly 30 years after leaving academia, I spent a lot of time helping organizations be better at managing their enterprise information and retaining knowledge. Many skills are required to help such aspirations to be realised, and not merely technical ones; as I discussed in The Zeitgeist of the Coder.

As always, techies would run around thinking they had a silver bullet that would make people adopt new practices, simply by installing the software and with a few hours of training. Time and time again I would find that an organization that claimed to have made a big change hadn’t. They had changed very little because no real effort had been put into the changes in behaviour that are required to ensure that the claimed outcomes of an enterprise system rollout would actually transpire.

Old habits die hard.

In my large tool-box of diagrams I used when consulting is the following figure, which originates from the field of ‘business change management’ (I have been using it for many years; long before I became active in climate change).

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 13.57.23

The denial (or change) curve is just a name for the grey path from Denial to Commitment, with each stage described as follows:

  • Denial – people do not believe that the change is needed or will really happen, focusing on business as usual and not engaging their own feelings.
  • Resistance – people now know change is coming and engage their feelings of anxiety, anger and rejection. The focus is personal resistance, not the wider organization. It can be disruptive and even counter to one’s interests.
  • Exploration – a switch occurs whereby people recognize need for personal change and start to explore new ways of working.
  • Commitment – people gain mastery of new ways of working and the focus moves from the personal to the organization – and participating in helping to make the change a success.

The denial referred to here is the regular kind of denial we are all prone to, and is well known to psychologists. In the business context I worked in, it was an illusion to imagine you could get staff to jump en masse from Denial to Commitment.

Denial is more characterised by folded arms and non-communication than by argument or engagement; denial of this kind is a shutting out of the possibility of change, not arguing against it.

Resistance is different. The resentment and anger that comes with Resistance is almost a necessary part of the journey; finding reasons why the change won’t work, and using active measures to frustrate implementation. This can be loud and angry.

Only when the benefits of at least the promise of change start to become appreciated, does Exploration begin, and while there will still be arguments, they move from destructive ones (“It can’t work”) to constructive alternatives (“I don’t see how it can work, but show me”).

Commitment follows, and those that have made this journey are much better at helping others tread in their footsteps than an external consultant. Personal journeys get transformed into communcal ones. There is a tipping point, when enough people are reinforcing the positives so that everyone wants to join the party.

Of course, getting action on global warming and decarbonising our economy is much tougher than getting a large organization to adopt new practices, but maybe there is a lesson here.

For one thing, there is nothing wrong in using the word ‘denial’. Some claim that this is being conflated with ‘holocaust denial’ and is therefore an outrageous slur on  ‘contrarians’ (it is always contrarians that make this claim and merely, I would argue, because they wish to deflect criticism and adopt a posture of victimhood, whereas they are the aggressors).

In any case, I am not so much interested in the tiny percentage of politically motivated contrarians, or ‘ideological denialists’ as I would prefer to call them, even though some are in highly influential positions.

We have to find ways to work around them, rather than give them too much of our time (although it has to be said, I am frustrated at how much airtime these people get on Twitter; and maybe that is a problem with Twitter itself as a platform). Their attention seeking behaviour is self-reinforcing and will not be a path to change (ask a psychologist), and it is wasting time that should be focused on the conversations that really matter.

The great majority of people fit more easily into the standard psychological meaning of the word denial; they are blocking their eyes and ears hoping it will go away.

La la la … la la la.

We are all in denial in some sense and to some level; otherwise we’d be seeing a rebellion wouldn’t we?

It is surely unrealistic to expect it will be a smooth and easy (psychological) journey, from Denial to Commitment, and that we can convince people with a few graphs. We can show all the data in the world – on the efficiency of heat pumps; the health benefits of low meat and EV buses; the falling costs of renewables; the ecological impacts underway; or whatever – but until this becomes internalised as the way we think and act, every day and in every way, it will not lead to measurable outcomes.

We have to pass through The Denial Curve – the pain and anger of the ‘loss’, for what we assumed was forever. That high consumption, limitless travelling, throwaway culture, and our infinite planet, with a mode of consumption that we have somehow slipped into sometime in the 60s or 70s. We have to shake ourselves out of a kind of consumerist trance.

We need to make so many changes at so many levels that the change is bound to create huge anxiety and then, of course, Resistance.

If people are resentful at feeling trapped between a rock and a hard place – between the  terrifying consequences of inaction and the trapped-in-the-headlights ‘conservative’ preference for inaction  – then that is entirely natural. Yet this is exactly the ‘tension’ that needs to be explored, and ultimately, needs to be resolved in each of us, and in our communities.

I sense that there is already a growing number of people who have moved from cross-armed denial, to resentment and hence Resistance. This is to be expected, and we should expect it to get a lot louder. We’ll need strong leaders and ‘counsellors’ amongst us, to help guide people on the journey; despite the noises off.

I would argue therefore that we should embrace The Denial Curve, rather than get stuck in the loop of raging against denial per se (that’s what the ‘ideological denialists’ want!).

If we can reassure people and find ways to help them transition from Resistance to Exploration, then that is the hardest part. Commitment will follow.

 

(c) Richard W. Erskine, 2018

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized