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Climate Solutions by dana1981

Posted on 8 July 2011 by dana1981

After publishing Throwing Down The Gauntlet, which encouraged everyone to take individual action to address climate change, actually thoughtful requested that other Skeptical Science contributors publish posts detailing what we've each done to reduce our personal greenhouse gas emissions.  This post is my response to that request, combined with what I think we should do on a larger scale to solve the climate problem.

Individual Steps

I'm a big believer that if you're going to talk the talk, you'd better walk the walk.  So I do what I can to reduce my personal carbon emissions.  I usually commute to work on either an electric moped (which I highly recommend) or on bicycle.  Once we could afford it, my wife and I bought the most fuel efficient car on the market - a 2007 Toyota Prius.  If I can't take the moped or bicycle to work, my wife and I carpool in the Prius.  I've also got a feather foot to maximize fuel efficiency around 50 miles per gallon.  When feasible I try to use mass transit (i.e. trains and light rail).

At home we take steps to minimize our energy consumption.  I was fortunate that my local electric utility had a home energy efficiency improvement program for low income households when I was between graduate school and career, and thus qualified for it.  Last August we started leasing solar panels from Sungevity (very cool company), and over the past 10 months, the panels have produced 275 kilowatt-hours more electricity than we've used (the excess goes into the power grid).  The solar panels also make my moped zero emissions.

Then of course I try to educate others about climate science.  I started out answering questions in the Yahoo Answers global warming section five years ago (that's me at the top of the 'top answerer' list in the right margin), and in September 2010 started contributing to Skeptical Science.

Finally, because I'm convinced we can't solve the climate problem without serious large-scale policy implementation, I make climate policy my #1 consideration when I go to the voting booth.  Whichever candidate has the best plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (and a serious chance to win) likely gets my vote.

Large-Scale Policies

I think the single most important step in solving the climate problem is the implementation of a carbon emissions price.  The "CO2 is plant food" crowd isn't going to like this next bit, but CO2 is a pollutant.  It endangers public health and welfare - not directly, but through its impacts on the climate.  Thus from a purely economic standpoint, allowing free unlimited carbon emissions is just plain stupid.  It's what economists call an "externality".

It's the equivalent of allowing polluters to dump hazardous waste into our waterways free of charge.  Eventually somebody - whoever comes in contact with that waste and experiences the associated health impacts - will pay the price for that pollution, but when it comes to carbon in our current system, it's not the polluter.  Thus the polluter has no incentive to stop polluting.

With other pollutants, we address this problem by either putting a price on their emissions, or by regulating them.  This results in both protecting public health and welfare, and also encourages polluters to find ways to reduce their pollutant production, which results in a net positive impact on the economy.  This is why there's an economic consensus that we should commit to reducing our carbon emissions.

And that's just the economic perspective.  There's also the scientific perspective that in order to give ourselves a chance to avoid dangerous warming, we need major emissions cuts (which we are currently miserably failing to achieve), and the biggest step to achieve these cuts is with some sort of carbon price.

I don't have any particular preference what form that carbon price takes, whether it be a tax or a cap and trade system.  A carbon tax is simpler with fewer loopholes to exploit, and can be offset by reductions in other taxes, as British Columbia is doing.  Personally I'd prefer to see at least some of the funds go towards programs and research to increase energy efficiency and develop and implement renewable energy technologies, as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative cap and trade system has accomplished.  As the recent Google.org study showed, I think the USA is missing a golden economic opportunity by failing to sufficiently invest in green technology development, which will likely come back to bite us.

There are many other reasons to reduce fossil fuel consumption, from domestic security and energy independence, to clean air and water, to addressing ocean acidification and peak oil, etc.  I've yet to see a single valid reason why we shouldn't take these steps, other than alarmist claims that doing so will cripple the economy, which are based on exaggerating the costs and ignoring the benefits of emissions reductions.  And yet the fossil fuel industries are so entrenched in our country that we continue to fail to take these steps which would benefit us in so many different ways.

It's difficult not to be discouraged by this self-destructive behavior.  For those of us who understand these issues, all we can do is take steps to reduce our own emissions, communicate the problem to others, and hope they follow suit.  Hopefully enough people will come to understand the magnitude of the problem and the urgent need to address it before it's too late.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 126:

  1. I commend you for using a Prius - I guess??

    Is Prius Green?

    You use of a solar panel has it's issues too - the high subsidy on Solar PV makes it one of THE most expensive ways to abate CO2.

    Our refusal to countenance nuclear also has it's costs

    German Nuclear windback will increase emissions

    Nuclear actually has extremely low risk (chance of going wrong) but apparently unmanageable hazard (impact when something does go wrong) - and while new tech nuclear is probably a lot safer there's no escaping the issue of fallible management (avoiding accountability and transparency) compounding the risk/hazard equation (like we saw in Japan).

    There are NO reliable renewable technolgoies currently available that will fill the gap - though CST has promise it's got a long way to go.

    This is why we need a carbon price - becuase it's just so hard to know just exactly what is the "right" choice when trying to reduce CO2 emissions - especially when there really isn't a right choice! - other than NOT using energy.

    So in the west - it's gotta be use less!
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    Response:

    [DB] Please move any discussion about German energy to the German Energy Priorities thread.

  2. Mark H - 80-90% of a vehicle's lifetime energy use comes during operation, so the fact that the Prius is slightly worse during the ~5% which vehicle production accounts for makes little difference in lifecycle emissions.

    Your claims about solar PV are out of date.

    This is not the place to talk about nuclear power. Your claims that renewables 'can't fill the gap' are also incorrect.

    We are in agreement about a carbon price, however.
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  3. Hey dana. Nice writeup. Maintaining 50 mpg with the Prius is pretty impressive, I usually come out around 48... though given my lead foot that actually isn't too bad. I keep wishing that they had a way to set an 'acceleration control' (kinda like 'cruise control') such that you don't exceed 50 mpg unless you push the gas pedal past a cutoff point. I think that and increasing the electric only top speed to 30 mph (currently 25) would make a huge difference... currently when trying to stay on electric power in 25 mph residential zones I'm always winding up annoying the people behind me because I'm at 22 or hitting 26 for a second and having the gas engine kick on.

    Of course, plug-ins will probably make the Prius seem like a gas hog before too much longer. The Leaf and Volt already do that for people whose daily drive is short, but the next generation of these kinds of cars should see longer ranges and lower prices.
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  4. CBD - thanks, though 50 mpg is just a ballpark. Usually it's a tad bit lower, but close enough. I'm hoping my next vehicle will be fully electric, or at least a plug-in hybrid.
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  5. Treehugger is an excellent source of continuous information about the sustainability issues raised by Dana in his informative essay.
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  6. Hi Dana and CBDunkerson,

    We love our 2005 Prius (so we do not have the electric only option)...we too are hoping that our next car will be an EV. Maybe I'll have a mid-life crisis and buy a Leaf or Volt ;) Seriously though, looking forward to buying either a plug-in or full EV next time round.

    We typically get 5.3 L/100 km in the city and highway combined, have had 4.8 L/100 km before. Winter is brutal though 6.5-7.5 L/100 km, but not bad considering the extreme cold. Ironically it is a car that loves to be driven, the more you drive it, especially in cold weather, the better the fuel consumption. Probably why so many cab drivers are now using them, and hybrids in general.
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  7. I have a Prius which is only crowded on longer trips with four people. I refuse to use anything but a rake and a shovel for the plentiful leaves and snow here in New England. Car pooling once a week to work as well.
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  8. Oh and professionally working on glaciers we backpack everything in, no helicopter support, generators etc. 2009 field season video-slideshow
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  9. Unless there's rather more oil than the industry is telling us, ongoing electrification of personal transport is probably a necessity rather than a choice.

    I'm grateful to the early adopters. They're helping get the technology sorted out.

    Arguments over carbon accounting miss the point.
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  10. I bought a Toyota Yaris rather than an a Prius because it was about half the price and we only drive about 4000 km a year. It would take a long time to make up the price differential and I'm not sure that it would even be worthwhile from a resource standpoint over the life of the car with such low annual mileage (assuming that it takes less to build a Yaris. Local taxi drivers use the Prius more and more and they all seems delighted with the gas money they save, since they drive a great deal of miles in the stop-go traffic that so suits the Prius.

    My big environmental quandary is what to do about air travel. My wife and I live in Canada and we both have ageing parents in Europe. Any other savings we might make are dwarfed by the emissions due to our unavoidable air travel.
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  11. We've had a Honda Civic Hybrid since 94...it performed better at the beginning, but has fallen well off of 48 mgp down to mid-to-high 30s. My sister-in-law has seen the same problem. Prius would have been nice but you have to be able to fit in car.

    Most light bulbs at this point are CFLs...living in a cold climate the benefit in winter is reduced vs incandescent...heat is heat.

    When we are in Europe we have no car, only foot, bicycle and public transport...except for rare occasions when we rent for business reasons.

    We've replaced all the windows in the house with much higher R-value double paned/e-filled, and we've done a fair amount of additional insulating. We also house share, so the per capita is reduced.

    If we have to replace the boiler, we'll go geothermal for the incremental money, but that's not part of the picture now.

    Buying local vs elsewhere? My wife signed us up for a farm share.... not sure how that works out cost or energy wise

    And going back and forth between Europe and the US? Well I only hope what I do causes enough energy savings to make up for the travel.
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  12. Andy - tough one. Tell the parents to move :-) Hopefully air travel will start moving towards biofuels. There's slight movement in that direction so far.

    Dave123 - I presume you mean '04, as there were no commercial hybrids in '94. I believe the interior of the Prius has more room than the Civic, or at least comparable. I frequently put the seats down and toss my bicycle inside the Prius.
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  13. Let's see - I'm telecommuting several days a week, rather than the 1.5 hour round trip through DC traffic, recycling all we can, and driving relatively small cars (Mini @28 MPG, Matrix at @24 MPG, mixed driving). Not perfect by any means, though...
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  14. We're moving in a few days. We've had solar hot water since forever at this big old high ceilinged house, we're not used to the kind of power bills others get - we don't use airconditioning. So we're buying full solar PV there.

    Also looking at doubling up the glazing on the west and north facing windows - we can see the sea from the kitchen sink so we know we'll get maximum afternoon heat and a lot of cold wet winter wind from that direction. Whirlybirds to ventilate the roof to reduce heat buildup in summer. Also need a verandah or some other shading on the west - I can't imagine how people have lived there during hot weather until now. There's a park across the back fence, perhaps they picnicked under the trees. And we're used to having a rainwater tank, so that's top of the list also.

    We'll be walking distance from the train, not replacing the car just yet. Hoping for EV when we do.
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  15. Andy... Biofuels are coming along soon. One business jet manufacturer just made the first trans-oceanic flight on biofuel, flying one of its new (unmodified) jets to the Paris Airshow.

    We're in a similar circumstance with regards to family, only worse, being that my in-laws are in Chongqing China (where I'm post from right now).

    The aviation industry is being very proactive, as far as I can see, in attempting to address the challenges of climate change. There is a lot in development for making aircraft much more efficient. There are hybrid gas/electrics in the works for smaller aircraft. There are also pure electrics coming on line as well. My prediction is that the aviation industry is going to surprise everyone with what they accomplish in the coming decades.

    For auto transportation, we're hanging onto our 10 year old Camry until ready to switch over to a fully electric Tesla Model S.

    For those interested in looking at electric vehicles there's a series on Youtube called "Full Charged" where this guy test drives all the available EV and Hybrids out there. Very well done series.
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  16. #2 dana1981

    You state that assertions about the high cost of PV are out of date. The best assessment of costs is always going to be actual project costs. Australia is to have a large (by solar standards) PV farm built at Moree as part of the government's "solar flagships" program. In is not unreasonable to assume that this project is "state of the art".

    Some reported details of the Moree project:

    Technology: One Axis Tracking PV
    Nameplate Capacity: 150 MW
    Capacity Factor: 30%
    Storage: none
    Completion: 2015
    Project Cost: AUD $923 million


    If we notionally scale this up to the equivalent of 1GWe nuclear power we end up with a cost of ~$18 billion to generate about the same amount of electricity. Current nuclear build around the world range from about $1.7 billion per GWe (China, Sth Korea) to about $5 billion in Finland. The latter is for a first of a kind project (AREVA EPR) with
    substantial cost overruns.

    Likely levelized cost of electricity from the Moree project will be somewhere between $0.20 and $0.30 per kWh - maybe $0.25. Implement a similar project in eg northern Europe and the LCOE could well be $0.35 or more per kWh. The current average price of electricity on Australia's NEM (National Electricity Market) is about $0.07 per kWh.

    Further, the Moree PV plant will not supply reliable baseload electricity. Solar in Australia may be a reasonable match for daytime peaking demand, but that doesn't get rid of the coal burners.

    It is quite superficial to focus only on the cost of PV panels in an attempt to make some essentially political point about the cost of electricity produced by PV. Balance of plant costs are substantial. In the end, the only things that really count are actual projects costs and plant performance. It is these that both governments and investors will look at.
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  17. Call me a Skeptic or a Denier: it matters not to me. But, I can tell you what my family has done because it is the right thing to do for many reasons other than combating AGW.

    1. I switched to a smaller 4WD SUV. I have to have 4WD because of my environmental consulting job I do. But, instead of a big pickup truck I'm driving a 2003 Nissan XTerra. That is as small as I can go and still do my job.
    2. My wife is going to replace her 2004 Nissan Quest van with a smaller 4 door car in the next year. The kids are growing and we no longer need the space.
    3. We compost, reduce, reuse and recycle in every case where possible.
    4. We are switching over to fluorescent lighting from incandescent as light bulbs expire.
    5. I succesfully lead my high school in a pilot environmental program (9 out of 256 public high schools).
    6. I ride a bike, walk or run where possible.
    7. My wife carpools to work (70 miles round trip) whenever possible.
    8. We have replace our water heater and heat pump with more efficient units.

    I could go on, but I need to walk my dogs. The point is, I do all this stuff because it is the right thing to do regardless if AGW is a real looming catastrophe on one hand, or a ( -Snip- ) on the other.
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    Moderator Response: (DB) Please refrain from putting ideology ahead of science.
  18. Oh, yeah. My electrical power sources are hydroelectric and nuclear.
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  19. As an interesting aside to this discussion, climate crocks has a nifty entry. And the link wthin that to the India item is well worth following.

    As for the Moree PV installation, that's really a poke in the eye for all those people who sent the solar thermal proposal off to California. They could have had a better technology available now if they'd invested then.
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  20. Further on PV costs. Some UK Climate Change Committee estimates of cost of electricity from PV, nuclear and onshore wind for the next few decades. These are UK costs, so PV costs should be scaled downward for more suitable climates, perhaps by 30% or more and wind costs perhaps scaled upward for less suitable wind locations than the UK:

    2011

    Nuclear: 6-10 p/kWh
    On-Shore Wind: 8-9.5 p/Kwh
    PV: 31.5-46 p/kWh

    2020

    Nuclear: 5.5-10 p/kWh
    On-Shore Wind: 7.5-9 p/kWh
    PV: 17.5-33 p/kWh

    2030

    Nuclear: 5-10 p/kWh
    On-Shore Wind: 7-8.5 p/kWh
    PV: 11-25 p/kWh

    2040

    Nuclear: 4.5-9.5 p/kWh
    On-Shore Wind: 6.5-8 p/kWh
    PV: 8-19.5 p/kWh


    The Renewable Energy Review

    There is plenty of uncertainty in future costs, no matter who is making the estimates but all authoritative sources must be taken into account, not just the ones that support pre-conceived notions.
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  21. There is plenty of uncertainty in future costs, no matter who is making the estimates but all authoritative sources must be taken into account, not just the ones that support pre-conceived notions.


    Are you referring to any sources supporting pre-conceived notions in particular? I must have missed whatever figures you are rebutting.
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  22. This item at Joe Romm's gives some cost/value comparisons for the USA.

    I'm a bit disappointed they didn't include tax/other concessions for the non-renewables, but I gather they were focusing on out of pocket costs to consumers rather than economic costs generally.
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  23. Hi Dana @#2

    Thanks for your reply - but I don't think your rebuttal of my points is comprehensive.

    I agree the whole prius vs hummer contrast is a bit ridiculous - but my point is that sometimes the comparison is not obvious. There are plenty of low emission car alternatives that do better than the prius (mostly diesel) and there is also lots of evidence that plug in hybrids and electric cars can actually be worse for emissions depending on the source of power.

    In other words it IS hard to make good decisions (other than using less) unless the price of carbon pollution is factored in (yes - we are in furious agreement on this - go the carbon tax!).

    I'm happy to move the discussion about the German nuclear stance to another thread but it IS evidence that a shift to more renewables is by no means easy.

    My claims of Solar PV are based on the recent productivy commission report. I understand there have been a number of challenges to this but the high level of subsidy HAS been an expensive way to offset carbon. So in terms of past decisions to install solar the cost HAS been way too high. Hopefully going forwards that will change.

    I'd much rather see Solar PV stand on it's own merits in the market - hopefully we will see that start to happen and if it can keep lowering it's cost curve, well and good.

    Finally - your link to the Diesendorf plan as proof that renewables can cut the mustard is not convincing.

    Don't get me wrong - I actually really like the plan and would love to see it trialled somewhere. But it is completely unproven and has been subject to much legitmate criticism. I have actuall posted extensively on`it in the last week or so over at that thread and have tried to be supportive but also realistic.

    The real issue seems to me just how much CO2 producing offset is needed and how practical that might be.

    So far the evidence based on the UK experience and what Germany plans to do are not promising. Happy to switch the dialogue about that to that thread but for now I maintain my view that wishful thinking plans, whilst encouraging, do not provide evidence that renewables can provide the entire answer.

    To pretend otherwise means we are guilty of a type of denialism that we often criticise those who do not accept the reality of AGW of committing.
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  24. Mark Harrigan: "it IS hard to make good decisions (other than using less) unless the price of carbon pollution is factored in (yes - we are in furious agreement on this - go the carbon tax!)"

    Exactly. Sometimes it seems taking any personal action is pointless without some carbon-costing mechanism to start changing behaviour through the market.

    To come back to flying: Dana, you didn't actually say, but do you fly? At the moment, I don't, simply because it cancels out anything else I'd attempt to do. For instance, four years ago I flew from the UK to Sydney and back, worked there for six months. That single flight was the equivalent of about a year's worth of driving, by my quick check.

    I suspect a lot of people still fly simply because they think it's necessary - especially academics. Can I ask who else in academia here has a position on flying?

    The problem is: if you exclude flying from your personal decisions on reducing carbon, doesn't that just make every other decision pointless? I'm not sure myself: I worry that not flying reduces demand, and we need the aviation industry to have a reason to innovate!

    Confused. Very confused.
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  25. "other than NOT using energy." MH post 1.

    Tend to agree, and need to add in biodiversity and nitrogen concerns on top of carbon ones.

    Where do batteries comes from?

    What are they mining for in the Congo?

    Do rubber tree plantations cause any problems?

    How much wildlife do cars and roads kill each year?

    Is the 6th mass extinction a concern?
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  26. I sometimes get the feeling that some people seem to think that because some things are hard to do, we shouldn't or can't do them, or should fall-back on options which are not necessarily ones we would choose if we had a proper choice.

    Perhaps we need someone to take a lead, in the way John F Kennedy once did :


    We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon...we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
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  27. #20 quokka:

    solar resources in a lot of the world are more than 100% bigger than in the UK. In parts of the Mojave you get 2,200 kWh/m^2 over a year compared with 750-900 across most of the UK. Some parts of Cornwall get 1,000, but that's rare.

    I find it remarkable that the UK is subsidising solar power. I mean, it's wonderful, I did my masters in a solar cell physics lab and it will be really important in the future. But the UK is a ridiculous place to put panels.
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  28. There are many other reasons to reduce fossil fuel consumption ...”

    I would add that these are “adequate grounds” to do absolutely everything possible to minimize energy use of fossil fuels.

    1. Mortality from coal mining in China and other poor countries (which currently dominate the mining of coal in the world) is the thousands of victims (!), hundreds of thousands of people are cripples, suffer from inhaling coal dust, etc..

    2. Surface mines leave behind "lunar landscape" - millions of acres of without of soil.

    3. Most of the exhaust still is not filtered. BC - aerosol - from over India, Africa (in China is getting better) is now - in the atmosphere around the world - bigger than before, when dominated by European, American and Japanese BC.

    4. One "leak" from the tanker or oil platform is doing - usually - more destruction to the environment than the global waste water volume penetrating the seas and oceans.

    5. Contributors of fossil fuels monopolize production and sales, use fossil fuels to political conditionality - countries without fossil fuels.

    6. I live in a country dependent on coal and gas - and see how it is limited - inhibits the development of science, the development of new technologies. Carbon Lobby torpedoes any change in favor of biofuels. In many ways, Poland is - in this way - yet in the XIX century ...
    Whether we will be ready to prepare for the inevitable "peak oil"?

    Associate energy savings only with the theory of AGW is very dangerous ...

    But I think the biggest threat to reduce fossil fuel consumption for the development of alternative energy sources - is a way to "fight" with CO2 emissions in Europe adopted a new climate package. Faith of "Eurocracy" that large corporations - on the auctions - do not buy up (perhaps all) of CO2 emission rights, is "an admirable."
    In addition, large corporations will earn on geo-sequestration - are really as the only appropriate technologies and, of course, the place for CO2 storage - and even more addictive us from fossil fuels ...

    P.S. I commutes to work by car on gas, warmed up my house, the water heats the photovoltaic cells, use light bulbs - and other electrical appliances - a class the most energy-efficient ...

    Why? For liquid fuels, coal, electricity in Poland are relatively very expensive ...
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  29. Dana,

    Of course 2004.... get old enough and 1 decade blurs into another. As for fitting in, in order to fit into a 2004 Prius i had to tilt the seat back so far that I had no back support at all. More recent models may be different.
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  30. Dave123, you must be a big guy. I'm 6' 3" and never had any trouble with my 2004 Prius or the 2010 I recently traded it in for. I have to slide the seats WAY back, but then I can actually tilt the seat-back up for back support.

    On various comments above about distributed grid technology... here in New Jersey the local power company has been putting some very neat solar panels on every telephone/electrical pole with good exposure. They already own the poles so there are no zoning or permitting issues. The panels have a clamp and screws mechanism designed so that someone in a bucket truck can pull up to a utility pole and install one in about twenty minutes (including diagnostics to verify it is working and set at the optimal alignment). What's really cool is that they have converters built in so that they can feed the power directly into the local grid AND they all have 'smart grid' metering and communications... so by installing them all over the state PSE&G is effectively turning their existing 'dumb grid' into a smart grid where they have data on power flow and demand for every wire with a connected panel. Most of the power generated by the panels is also used right there on the same street where it is generated, reducing transmission losses to effectively nil. Thus far they've put up about half of the 200,000 they are planning to install in the state.

    There are also transparent glass windows which generate solar power. If every window, utility pole, street light, parking lot, and building roof in the world were generating smart grid connected solar power we'd have far more electricity than we currently use... without having to 'set aside' any land at all to generate it. We just need to add solar generating capabilities to infrastructure we already have in place... a process which has already begun in many places and seems to be accelerating.
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  31. http://judithcurry.com/2011/07/05/the-ipccs-alteration-of-forster-gregorys-model-independent-climate-sensitivity-results/

    Ouch..qucik delete this.. Hahahaha
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] Link only messages are a contavention of the comments policy. Feel free to post links, but post them on an appropriate thread, and add a substantive comment explaining the relevance of the link to the topic of the thread. The last line is rather childish, this is not the correct blog for such behaviour. Please restrict yourself to rational, grown-up discussion of the science. Link activated; this issue is clearly off-topic, so please take any discussion to a more appropriate thread, or better still to Currys blog.
  32. Watching Jeremy Rifkin (via Adelady's Climate Crock link in #19) he makes the point that the second biggest contribution to global warming is meat, particularly beef, production. Going vegetarian (although not so effective if you choose processed products) or at least choosing pork and chicken over beef and lamb can make a real difference.

    Flying can't be shrugged off though. If you fly regularly it's almost certain the biggest realistic change you can make in your own life is to stop flying. Even if biofuels become viable this is still energy being used that could be replacing fossil fuels elsewhere. For many this is unacceptable and it may be a long term goal, as people realise that moving abroad is going to lead to a dilemma they don't want to face. The strange thing is we are more connected than ever before and should have less need to fly. My parents lived abroad in the '60s and 70's when even 'phone calls home were prohibitively expensive. Yet they survived happily returning home only once in 4 years. Now we have instant communications in so many forms, yet people living abroad seem to feel the need to return home two or three times a year.
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  33. Heraclitus wrote: "Going vegetarian (although not so effective if you choose processed products) or at least choosing pork and chicken over beef and lamb can make a real difference."

    This has always seemed like a logical inconsistency to me. Since we are talking about ways to reduce our carbon footprint it'd be good to get it sorted out.

    The reason this seems inconsistent to me is that in previous discussions a very persuasive argument has been put forward that greenhouse gas emissions from humans (that is, our actual bodies rather than our technologies) are not a concern because all the carbon we emit INTO the atmosphere was recently taken OUT of the atmosphere... in short, we recycle. To me this seems very logical... a human being cannot possibly emit a single atom of carbon which didn't come from some source of food they ate... which in turn ultimately got that carbon from the atmosphere. Yet, if this is true, would it not also apply to cows and other animals? So how exactly do cows put more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere than came out of it to feed them?
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  34. Farming cows and lifestock generally changes th elandscape a little!
    http://www.arthurrankcentre.org.uk/projects/rusource_briefings/rus07/464.pdf

    And cows turn CO2 into methane.
    http://jas.fass.org/content/73/8/2483.abstract
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  35. By IPCC estimates aviation contributes about 3.5% of anthropogenic warming. This is significant but it's by far not where the big impacts come in. As I mentioned before, at least aviation is an industry that is aggressively addressing the issue.

    What we do individually is definitely very important, so reducing your air travel is a step in the right direction. But the big benefits come from what we do collectively to address the BIG contributing sectors, like auto-truck transportation and buildings, is where we make the BIG changes in reducing global warming.

    Re: Mark @ 23... I can't link to it right now but there is a good series on youtube called "Fully Charged" about electric vehicles. I think it's in the very first video where he addresses the idea that EV's are just as bad as ICE vehicles depending on the source of the electricity. That whole meme is completely wrong. If you compare well to wheel efficiencies for both electrics beat ICE vehicles by a mile even charged on coal generated electricity. Add to this the fact that batteries are set to become 3-5X more efficient this decade you can't hardly go wrong with an EV.
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  36. CDB @ 33... I should be better informed on this topic having been a veggie for the past 25 years but I believe the argument is that the land use and energy intensity for farming meat is much greater. You have to farm the food to feed the animals that are then harvested for food. By cutting out the meat you're essentially cutting out the "middle man."

    Honestly, it's probably an overly simplified concept because you can't just turn all grazing land into crop land. My personal opinion is that it's likely the human race will end up getting forced into a position of being more or less vegetarian as available crop lands dry out and world population continues to increase toward 9 billion. That's gonna be a lot of mouthes to feed.
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  37. I haven't owned a car for about 12 or more years. I think if I had, my health would be a lot worse than it is now.

    I haven't looked at the details recently Rob@35 , but I don't think you are correct about electric vehicles compared to ICE vehicles. Electric vehicles only come into their own when they are charged by low carbon electricity sources. Otherwise they are about equal to ICE vehicles (based on working out the grammes of CO2 per passenger km or mile). If you know differently then I would like to see your sources.

    Especially for the case of coal, emissions are so high per kwh that the greater efficiencies in an EV are not really enough to compensate. So you get similar emissions per km or mile. This would be different with low carbon electricity.
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  38. Ranyl, sure livestock cause land use changes... but so do crops. And on methane... sure, cows and other ruminants release some of their carbon as methane, but that methane oxidizes right back to CO2 in the atmosphere within a few years.

    Thus, unless we're concerned that methane is having a major impact before it breaks down to CO2 (which seems unlikely given that we stabilized atmospheric methane levels back in the 1990s) it doesn't seem to make much sense. And if methane IS the concern then first order of business ought to be pushing for people to stop eating rice.
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  39. BTW, if you do calculate the emissions for an EV. You have to remember to include grid losses (about 6 or 7 percent) and battery losses.
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  40. Rob #36, the 'acres per human fed' and/or 'watts per human fed' arguments are logically consistent... but then I question how much impact we are really talking about.

    That is, if we calculate the difference in total land and/or energy required to feed the world on a vegetarian diet vs current mixed diet how much would we be changing CO2 emissions? Both the percentage of total greenhouse gases accumulations due to agricultural land use and the percentage of total energy use due to agriculture are already relatively small numbers by most accounts.
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  41. Paul D... Unfortunately I can't link it for you because I'm in China and can't access Youtube from here. I'll be back home later next week and will find the link for you then.
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  42. Paul.. Here is one report from 2008 suggesting that switching to EV's would reduce CO2 emissions by 40%.

    I also think what gets missed here are all the other inefficiencies built into producing auto fuel. It's an energy intensive process to convert oil into auto fuel.
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  43. Link to Fully Charged.

    Robert Llewellyn is the former host of Scrapheap Challenge/Junkyard Wars as well as playing Kryten on the Red Dwarf.
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] [homer] MMMMMM, Tesla [/homer] ;o)
  44. Rob Honeycutt, globally aviation only contributes a relativel small amount, although I'm not convinced that 3.5% should count as small, but only a tiny percentage of the population benefit from it. In terms of 'low hanging fruit' for the individuals, or organistaions, who do fly I think it should be at the top of their lists. This is not saying that no-one should ever fly, or perhaps more accurately travel long distances as other means of transport aren't much better on a per mile basis. Rather, flying should come to be seen as a valuable luxury, to be used sparingly, maybe a few times in the average person's life.
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  45. Water is also an issue in food production. 1kg of beef requires ~13,000 litres of water to produce.

    Back on topic; I got rid of my car last year and mainly travel by bike on foot or by train. I have also switched to 100% renewable energy tarrif through Ecotricity a small UK energy company. They also reinvest all their profits back into developing more renewable energy.
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  46. CBDunkerson, I'd be interested to see a lifecycle study of emissions from meat and I also wonder how much of these emissions are outside of the natural carbon cycle. I've had a brief look and I can't find much that's easily digested(!) This is the sort of thing that comes up http://www.environment.gov.au/soe/2006/publications/drs/indicator/386/index.html
    Looks bad for beef, but is it as bad as it seems?

    This sort of thing is important when it comes to making personal decisions and reliable information doesn't seem easy to come by (maybe a Skeptical Science post for the future?) Until recently I went out of my way to buy local on the basis of emissions reduction, but really there's a very small gain here, and in some cases a loss. Now I have other reasons for buying local.
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  47. Dan #24 - I rarely fly anywhere. Two flights in the last 6 years, one for my honeymoon, and one for a trip to Australia. So I've been averaging about one flight per three years.

    Regarding EVs, if 100% of their energy comes from coal, they have roughly the same emissions as a gas car. In most cases they create emissions reductions vs. hybrids. See here.

    Regarding meat vs. vegetarian, it's a matter of efficiency. It requires energy (in the form of fossil fuels) to grow a crop. You can the either eat the crop, or feed it to livestock, and down the line eat the meat from the livestock. The latter is a substantially less efficient process, requiring much more energy, and thus more CO2 emissions. And this varies by type of livestock, cattle being among the worst, chickens being not too bad, etc.

    That's another thing I've done - reduced the amount of meat I eat, and I almost never eat beef.
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  48. Rob@42 thanks for that link.
    It's based on the UK grid mix. Page 14 gives the details. The problem with that is the UK is better then the US regarding the generator mix. The gCO2 per kwh is about 500 to 550 or so.

    Also they give figures for a vehicle manufactured in 2010. But not many vehicles on the road are 1 or 2 years old!

    109 gCO2e/km for electric
    172 for petrol
    156 for diesel
    The long term figure for the EV is 69. Which makes my point really. The current figures are a bit better, although if you had a look around you would probably get an ICE with a similar figure to 109.

    Don't get me wrong BERR produce some great data on carbon emissions. But I would like to see better figures than 109gCO2/km and that can only be achieved with some serious investment.
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  49. JFK via JMurphy 26 above,

    "because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept"

    What is the challenge?


    Peak 400ppm!
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  50. I buy most things used (e.g., clothes) and do my best to deconsume overall (e.g., using baking soda and apple cider vinegar in place of shampoo...it actually works much better at a fraction of the cost).

    My household's entirely vegan. We haven't (and probably couldn't) cut out driving entirely, but have reduced it by 60-70 percent over the last few years -- partly by moving to an area with better mass transit -- with little inconvenience and considerable savings. We almost never fly.

    Most of our appliances are pretty efficient, we use a clothesline and passive heating/cooling whenever possible, grow some of our food (we need to work harder on that), try to buy local or in bulk to avoid packaging waste, etc. We also went from producing a can of garbage a week to one every two or three weeks (by composting, mostly, plus buying in bulk).

    For whatever it's worth, an online carbon footprint calculator reckoned that ours was about 17 tons, compared to the US average of 53 for a household of our size. I don't really think that my lifestyle has suffered; in fact, I'd say it's improved in some ways (less time in traffic jams, more time gardening and baking fresh bread).

    But then again, these steps weren't as big a change for me as they would be for some people. And of course, people in many parts of the country have fewer options and less support for these decisions than I do, so I certainly don't mean to hold myself up as a model for everyone else. Sensible community norms and infrastructure are crucial, IMO; without them, things that are easy for me might seem unthinkable.
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