You can read the abstract here and I have uploaded a pdf of the poster here. There is a picture of the poster below, click on it to make it readable, although you will need to download the pdf to make out some of the fine print.
Some of the numbers changed a little bit between the time I submitted the abstract in August and now. I found one or two small errors and recalculated the uncertainty range using Monte Carlo analysis. “Min” and “Max” values bracket the 90% confidence interval. In the title I used “directly” to distinguish the physical effects of emissions on ocean volumes from the more “indirect” (and bigger and better-known) contributions of emissions to sea-level rise via the effect of emissions on global warming.
Posted on 1 September 2014 by Andy Skuce &
Estimates of the incremental emission effects of individual oil sands projects like the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline are sensitive to assumptions about the response of world markets and alternative transportation options.
A recent Nature Climate Change paper by Erickson and Lazarus concludes that KXL may produce incremental emissions of 0-110 million tonnes of CO2 per year, but the article has provoked some controversy.
Comments by industry leaders and the recent shelving of a new bitumen mining project suggest that the expansion of the oil sands may be more transportation constrained and more exposed to cost increases than is sometimes assumed.
Looking at the longer-term commitment effects of new infrastructure on cumulative emissions supports the higher-end incremental estimates.
President Obama (BBC) has made it clear that the impact of the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline on the climate will be critical in his administration’s decision on whether the pipeline will go ahead or not. However, different estimates of the extra carbon emissions that the pipeline will cause vary wildly. For example, the consultants commissioned by the US State Department estimated that the incremental emissions would be 1.3 to 27.4 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) annually. In contrast, John Abraham, writing in the Guardian (and again more recently), estimated that the emissions would be as much as 190 MtCO2 annually, about seven times the State Department’s high estimate (calculation details here).
The variation in the estimates arises from the assumptions made. The State Department consultants assumed that the extra oil transported by the pipeline would displace oil produced elsewhere, so that we should only count the difference between the life-cycle emissions from the shut-in light oil and those of the more carbon-intensive bitumen. In addition, they estimated that not building KXL would mean that bitumen would instead be transported by rail, at slightly higher transportation costs. Abraham simply totted up all of the production, refining and consumption emissions of the 830,000 barrels per day (bpd) pipeline capacity and did not consider any effect of the extra product on world oil markets.
Neither set of assumptions is likely to be correct. Increasing the supply of any product will have an effect on a market, lowering prices and stimulating demand (consumption) growth. Lower prices will reduce supply somewhere. The question is: by how much?
An interesting new paper in Nature Climate Change (paywalled, but there is an open copy of an earlier version available here) by Peter Erickson and Michael Lazaruares ,attempts to answer this question. The authors are based in the Seattle office of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).
Posted on 26 August 2014 by Andy Skuce &
The Athabasca Glacier in the Canadian Rocky Mountains is probably the easiest glacier in the world to access by car. It's just a few hundred metres' stroll from the nearest parking lot on the magnificent Icefields Parkway in Alberta. The problem is, the stroll keeps getting longer by about 10 metres every year. Since 1992, the snout of the glacier has retreated about 200 metres, requiring tourists anxious to set foot on the glacier to walk a little further. The glacier has lost about 2 km of its length since 1844 (Geovista PDF).
The Athabasca Glacier seen from the access trail. This point is about halfway from the parking lot and the current snout of the glacier, which is about 200 metres away. In the centre background is the ice-fall from the Columbia Icefield. The marker shows where the glacier snout was in 1992, coincidentally the year of the Rio Earth Summit. It is just possible to make out some people walking on the glacier on the left-hand side.Click for big.
Posted on 26 March 2014 by Andy Skuce &
The British Columbia Sustainable Energy Association (BCSEA) organizes a series of free seminars on climate change and sustainability issues. BCSEA was founded by Guy Dauncey. On February 11th, 2014 BCSEA held a webinar on the recent work done by the Carbon Tracker Initative. Guy has written a detailed summary of their recent work on the BCSEA webpage.
The seminar starts at 8:30 minutes and a very good Q&A session begins at 39 minutes. The slides that accompany the seminar can be downloaded here.
Posted on 3 March 2014 by Andy Skuce &
An editorial by the Editor-in-Chief of Science Magazine, Marcia McNutt, conditionally endorses the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline. Her argument is that:
- the absence of the pipeline has not stopped oil sands development and the building of the pipeline will not accelerate oil sands development;
- President Obama can extract concessions from the Canadians to reduce emissions and upgrade the bitumen in Canada.
Both of these arguments are wrong; let me explain why.
Pipelines promote production
The Mildred Lake oil-sands plant in Alberta. Note the tailings pond behind the huge yellow piles of sulphur, a by-product of bitumen upgrading. The sulphur may come in handy later for use in solar radiation management. Photo Wikipedia
It should be obvious from the intense lobbying and advertising efforts of Canada's Federal Government, the Alberta Provincial Government and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers that the KXL pipeline is a very big deal indeed for those with a stake in expanding oil sands production. Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver accuses his domestic political opponents of putting tens of thousands of Canadian jobs at risk by urging Washington not to approve KXL. At least on this matter, he is right; without new transportation infrastructure, the massive investments that result in growth in oil sands production will be postponed or cancelled. But that's the message provided to a Canadian audience.
Posted on 7 January 2014 by jg & Andy Skuce
While attending the recent AGU conference, some of us were struck by a statistic presented by Professor Richard Alley: On average, a person's contribution of carbon dioxide waste to the atmosphere is forty times greater than their production of solid trash to landfills when measured as mass.
It can be difficult to grasp the huge quantities of CO2 that we emit. It’s an invisible gas with no odour and we are not used to thinking about amounts of gas in terms of mass. But we do have a good sense of how much solid waste we throw out, since we all have to lug our garbage to the curb. If we had to do the same with our greenhouse gases, instead of one can a week, we would have to haul forty.
Every time we see a garbage truck, let’s imagine forty others following it, all taking our carbon dioxide to a dump site. When we hear of municipal politicians struggling to find new landfill sites, imagine the problems we would have finding forty subterranean landfill sites if we ever tried to dispose of our CO2 in the subsurface instead of dumping it freely into the air.
Posted on 31 October 2013 by Andy Skuce &
We think we have done more than we have done and we haven't understood how much we have to do. Hans Rosling
Hans Rosling is a Swedish medical doctor and statistician who is determined (in his own words) "to fight devastating ignorance with a fact-based worldview that everyone can understand".
Here is a video of him giving a talk on September 28th, 2013 at a public forum that introduced the latest IPCC report. The meeting was hosted by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme in Stockholm.
During the talk he asks a couple of questions, one on how many more children there will be in the year 2100 compared to today and another on what percentage of world energy is produced by solar and wind. I was in the minority that got the first one correct, but only because I had already seen one of Rosling's earlier talks. On the second question, I was among the majority that got the answer wrong. How will you do?
Posted on 25 July 2013 by Andy Skuce &
Posted on 27 June 2013 by Andy Skuce &
Carbon taxes get the market to tell the environmental truth. Stewart Elgie
British Columbia is the only jurisdiction in North America with a revenue-neutral carbon tax that taxes greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from individuals and businesses alike. The tax was announced in February 2008 and was implemented in July 2008 at a rate of $10 per tonne of CO2, rising in $5 annual increments to the current price of $30/tonne. It is designed as a revenue-neutral tax, meaning that all carbon-tax proceeds collected by the government are returned in the form of income tax cuts and rebates. The tax is now raising over C$1.2 Billion per year, about C$270 per person, and the proceeds are distributed roughly equally between personal and business tax reductions.
People on low incomes get a per-person payment of C$115 annually, and homeowners who live outside the SW of the province can get additional rebates of up to $200 annually. The personal income tax reductions are focussed on earnings below C$75,000. The allocation of carbon tax revenue has to be reported in the annual budget.
A Miss by Myles: Why Professor Allen is wrong to think carbon capture and storage will solve the climate crisis
Posted on 11 June 2013 by Andy Skuce &
(This post was co-written by rustneversleeps and Andy Skuce).
A recent opinion piece in the British newspaper Mail on Sunday by University of Oxford climate scientist Myles Allen argues that the best way to combat climate change is to pass laws requiring fossil fuel producers to capture and sequester a rising proportion of the carbon dioxide emissions that the fuels produce. We argue here that such a policy, with its emphasis on carbon sequestration, would not be successful in achieving the carbon emission reductions that Allen himself advocates—for a variety of political, economic, technological and logistical reasons. A more recent article by Allen in The Guardian covers the same ground.
Nevertheless, Allen’s prescription does succeed in focussing the mind on the scale of the problem that we face in mitigating climate change.
This is a very long post, so here is a clickable summary.
A good starting framework, then... Allen's diagnosis is clear and his framing of targets in terms of cumulative emissions is unabiguous. But his prescription is flawed.
Politics There is no reason to assume a fixed emissions cap schedule would be easier to sell to the public than a carbon tax. Caps would produce greater certainty of longer-term emission reductions at the cost of uncertain economic consequences.
Economics (i): Efficiency Imposing emissions caps without allowing trading through brokers would be very inefficient. It is not clear whether Allen supports or opposes trading.
Economics (ii) Innovation by fiat? Prescribing one form of technology as the principle solution is risky. Nobody can predict how technology will evolve and what problems may emerge in future.
Economics (iii): The information conveyed by prices The cost of one technology should not be used as a basis for carbon pricing. There is a wide range of mitigation options, with highly variable prices, all with variable and uncertain potential to contribute to solutions. Experience in British Columbia shows that even a modest carbon tax can reduce emissions significantly without harming the economy.
Scaling it up to climate relevance Even promoters of aggressive deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) do not envision it as more than a partial contribution to mitigating climate change by 2050.
Timing and feasibility The mass of the CO2 to be sequestered is about double the mass of the fossil fuels themselves. To develop a new industry, from scratch, to capture, transport and dispose of these quantities will involve vast amounts of capital and many decades, even if it were technically possible.
Hazards The magnitude of the CO2 to be sequestered in the subsurface is such that environmental risks from leakage, aquifer contamination and induced earthquakes are likely to be much larger than those from the already contentious shale gas industry. Getting public licence for CCS projects in inhabited areas is likely to be very difficult and time consuming.
Summing up The climate crisis is so vast that we need to throw everything we have at it. Claiming that any single technology will solve the problem can lead to complacency that the fix is simple. It isn't.