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Earth Science Technology

What They Don't Tell You About Climate Change (economist.com) 624

Countries are scrambling to limit the rise in the earth's temperature to just two degrees by the end of this century. But Slashdot reader dryriver shares an article titled "What They Don't Tell You About Climate Change." No, it is not that Climate Change is a hoax or that the climate science gets it all wrong and Climate Change isn't happening. According to the Economist, it is rather that "Fully 101 of the 116 models the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses to chart what lies ahead assume that carbon will be taken out of the air in order for the world to have a good chance of meeting the 2C target."

In other words, reducing carbon emissions around the world, creating clean energy from wind farms, driving electrical cars and so forth is not going to suffice to meet agreed upon climate targets at all. Negative emissions are needed. The world is going to overshoot the "maximum 2 degrees of warming" target completely unless someone figures out how to suck as much as 810 Billion Tonnes of carbon out of Earth's atmosphere by 2100 using some kind of industrial scale process that currently does not exist.

That breaks down to 1,785,742,000,000,000 pounds of CO2, "as much as the world's economy produces in 20 years," according to the Economist.

"Putting in place carbon-removal schemes of this magnitude would be an epic endeavour even if tried-and-tested techniques existed. They do not."
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What They Don't Tell You About Climate Change

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  • GMO trees... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @06:37PM (#55583323)
    Designed to grow quickly and fix carbon quickly ... but need something not found in nature to grow -- thus preventing them from becoming an invasive species.
    • Please see: tropostats here [imm.org] and here [vimeo.com].
    • Even 'better'... http://www.bbc.com/future/stor... [bbc.com]

    • Some numbers (Score:4, Informative)

      by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @07:23PM (#55583613) Homepage Journal

      According to this link [broward.org] and taking some round numbers, an Albizzia lebbek can sequester 70 lbs of CO2 per year.

      Assuming a 40-year project lifetime, we would then need 637,765,000,000 trees to pull the mentioned amount out of the atmosphere.

      For comparison, the Amazon rainforest has an estimated 390 billion [google.com] trees.

      Dividing these two numbers indicates that the world would have to plant and grow [the equivalent of] 1.6 Amazon Rainforests for a 40 year period.

      I'm not saying that this is a bad solution, only that it is an incomplete solution. We should probably plant trees in areas where it makes sense and is easy to do, but we'll still need an epic-level solution to the problem.

      • by dryeo ( 100693 )

        And at 12 foot spacing, 200 per acre, we'd be looking at something like 5 million square miles of new forest.

        • by dwywit ( 1109409 )

          I think 12-foot (~4 metres) spacing is a bit loose. I put in a firewood plot and was advised to start at 1 metre (~3 foot) spacing, and cull the weaker specimens every few years. The idea was to end up with 3 metre spacing after 20 years.

    • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @07:34PM (#55583671) Homepage Journal

      Designed to grow quickly and fix carbon quickly ... but need something not found in nature to grow -- thus preventing them from becoming an invasive species.

      Another question about your solution, which is not at all a bad solution, is the availability of useable Nitrates.

      Trees can pull Carbon out of the atmosphere, but get Nitrogen from the soil. The Nitrogen has to be in bio-available form, and there are limited places to get it on Earth (ie - fertilizer). So much so that about 5% of all the world's energy production goes into making Ammonia, mostly for nitrate fertilizers.

      I'm not sure we even *could* plant that many trees and expect them to grow - the amount of Nitrogen needed is enormous, and we can't simply add fertlilzer because it costs us energy to make it. (See: Haber Process [wikipedia.org].)

      Again, I'm not saying this is a bad solution, only that it is incomplete. It should be used in conjunction with as many other scaled-up solutions as we can come up with.

      • Phosphorous is a bigger issue than Nitrogen. We are already to soon have an agricultural shortage of Phosphorous.

      • Nitrogene is in the atmosphere.
        Plenty of plants take it from there and put into the soil for other plants, e.g. beans, pea and lentils.
        That you need fertilizer to run an agriculture is a modern myth. Sure, it is "easier" and "more productive" in a sense, but not necessary.

      • Another question about your solution, which is not at all a bad solution, is the availability of useable Nitrates.

        Trees can pull Carbon out of the atmosphere, but get Nitrogen from the soil. The Nitrogen has to be in bio-available form, and there are limited places to get it on Earth (ie - fertilizer). So much so that about 5% of all the world's energy production goes into making Ammonia, mostly for nitrate fertilizers.

        I'm not sure we even *could* plant that many trees and expect them to grow - the amount of Nitrogen needed is enormous, and we can't simply add fertlilzer because it costs us energy to make it. (See: Haber Process [wikipedia.org].)

        Providing nitrogen is a readily solvable problem. I am a bit puzzled by the assertion that "there are limited places to get it on Earth" since most air is nitrogen, and it is fixed synthetically as you note. The Wikipedia link indicates that it is only 1-2% of world energy consumption, but 3-5% of natural gas consumption. This suggests that it is really a non-problem going forward. Haber process plants are huge industrial facilities, and the carbon in the methane is currently released as CO2, but a huge cen

    • Fast growing invasive Redwoods would cause lots of fun...

    • by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @07:21AM (#55585975)

      Actually this is already very doable without any need for GMOing or patenting life. It's called pasture with managed rotational grazing. Trees pull about 1.4 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere a year. Managed rotationally grazed pasture pulls double that and produces a side benefit of natural, organic fertilizer spread on the land by the animals and meat to eat.

      Save the planet - eat more (pastured) meat.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 19, 2017 @06:41PM (#55583339)

    Clean coal is magical

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You joke about that, but in PA, we get a 50% discount on our property taxes buy upgrading our heating to coal. In 2014, I replaced both of my natural gas furnaces with coal-fired stoves. I save on heating costs and receive the property tax discount.

      The coal that I get is pre-washed, so doesn't throw up dust in my house. It's a very high quality source of heat and we're very happy with the upgrade.

      • A tax break to convert from natural gas to coal?

        Pennslyvania, you're doing it wrong.

        • Tax break? Do private jets run on coal?
        • A tax break to convert from natural gas to coal?

          I don't think so. I can't find anything about any PA tax break for coal using Google, so I think the above AC is spewing bullcrap. If it was actually true, it would be all over the web, and millions of people would be taking advantage of it, since 50% is a huge discount.

      • in PA, we get a 50% discount on our property taxes buy upgrading our heating to coal.

        It doesn't sound like Pennsylvania understands the meaning of "upgrade".

  • ... we're screwed.

  • In other words, "How Long Can You Tread Water?"
    • But this isn't generally what's being portrayed to the public at large by politicians all over the world (event most Green political parties aren't being honest with the public because no-one likes Debbie Downers, even if they're really more like Cassandra).

      People (mainly politicians and the business elite) carry on like the Paris climate agreement is a really strong step towards preventing climate change and we just need to ramp things up a bit more. But we're actually really really far away from having so

      • 2020 needs to be 0.

        Best of luck

      • People (mainly politicians and the business elite) carry on like the Paris climate agreement is a really strong step towards preventing climate change and we just need to ramp things up a bit more. But we're actually really really far away from having solved it.

        They've known it was a practical impossibility from the start. They know that humans will do the same thing they've done every other time climate (or other major events/conditions) change. They will adapt.

        Meanwhile, said politicians and others with wealth & power will use it as scare-mongering to drive the public in the direction they want to further their own political/ideological agendas increase their own wealth and power.

        The discussion should be centering around adaptation to changing climate, not a

  • Carter (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jmccue ( 834797 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @07:03PM (#55583477) Homepage

    When Carter was president of the US (late 70's), he was trying to get Climate Change on the national radar, but then Regan got elected and he stopped any action that could have had a chance of making a significant impact.

    I remember as a kid him saying something like "We need to start now, otherwise we will not have enough time". Well I guess all young people can do now is try and live on high ground and I would say various coastal cities need to re-evaluate where to build new high-rises.

    Of course now it seems coastal real-estate is hotter then I have ever seen it. So, seems the future looks gloomy.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by tjstork ( 137384 )

      Well, unfortunately, it was his own party which jumped on Three Mile Island to torpedo nuclear power in the USA. That pretty much -caused- climate change, when you think about it.

    • He also pretty much stuck a knife into nuclear energy.
  • by Cyberpunk Reality ( 4231325 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @07:10PM (#55583515)
    One is now a paleoclimatologist specializing in tree rings, the other a historical hydrologist. Between one thing and another, I still get together with them a couple times a year. When climate change/global warming comes up in the course of conversation, they have a lot to say, but one thing comes through quite clearly even when they don't say it outright. (And they have both said it outright to me at different times.) They're scared. And despite both being married, neither has any children. Make of my anecdote what you will.
    • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @07:30PM (#55583649) Journal

      When climate change/global warming comes up in the course of conversation, they have a lot to say, but one thing comes through quite clearly even when they don't say it outright. (And they have both said it outright to me at different times.) They're scared.

      My wife is a mathematician who works in coastal areas modeling waves and often works with climate scientists. I've gotten to know several of them over the years and you're right: they're scared. You get them talking about climate change and their eyes take on an almost desperate, haunted quality. When they hear someone try to say "it's all a hoax", they just get ineffably sad or angry as hell.

      We were at a barbecue some years ago and a fight almost broke out between a climate scientist and an economics major who had bought into some dienialist theory about how we should embrace climate change. I was one of the people who had to step in and calm it all down. Personally it was kind of a shame because it would have been satisfying to see the economics student get laid out by a guy twice his age, but my wife insisted and I was afraid they would knock over the table with all the liquor.

    • by Lanthanide ( 4982283 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @07:32PM (#55583663)

      The single best thing you can do to help prevent climate change (that doesn't involve murder / suicide) is to not have children.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        The single best thing you can do to help prevent climate change (that doesn't involve murder / suicide) is to not have children.

        Except as sashimi. That's energy neutral.

      • by enigma32 ( 128601 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @09:04PM (#55584097)

        The problem with this idea should be evident if you look around and see who remains having children if the smart folks stop.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        That is nonsense.

        The countries with the biggest populations have the lowest carbon footprint per person.

        The biggest impact on climate change is if idiots like the US americans reduce their personal carbon emissions. Using 4 times as much energy per person as an European, and ten times as much as an African is not necessary, you can easily solve that, but you don't want to.

      • Actually, children aren't the problem, people are barely having kids these days. The real problem is allowing immigration from low-carbon countries to massively high carbon countries. A westernized immigrant has a 302% larger carbon footprint than if they stayed at home. The estimated 637 tons of CO2 U.S. immigrants produce annually is 482 million tons more than they would have produced had they remained in their home countries The impact of immigration to the United States on global emissions is equal to
    • by Altrag ( 195300 )

      I'd say not having children just because you're scared of the future is the wrong approach. Sure if you have a kid they may not have a pleasant future ahead of them. But if you don't have a kid then they definitely have no future ahead of them.

      And you never know, their kid might have been the one that figures out how to solve the problem. Or at least figures out how to engineer a biodome for us to hide in for a few millennia while the earth recovers.

      (Of course I don't know you or your friends or whether

    • They are both idiots. Rising temperature will bring more rain to the southwest and sahara,
  • With every day that passes and every pessimistic article like this that I read, doomsday peppers look and sound progressively less crazy.
  • Either way, doesn't matter to me. I rent, and am some 700 feet above sea level. Best case? I win the lottery, buy this apartment complex, and soon own beachfront property. Worst case? Buncha folks I never met drown while I have a barbie on the grill.
  • Crying Wolf (Score:2, Informative)

    by Jodka ( 520060 )

    The old alarmist predictions of climate catastrophe have proven false [wattsupwiththat.com] again and again and again, so why do people believe the new ones?

    You would expect that a group that consistently makes inaccurate predictions would lose credibility because of that and the public would stop believing what they say. Or, well, maybe not. [wikipedia.org]

  • In the meantime, islamic countries fear energy, food and water shortage [medium.com], but they censor reports released to the public about that.
  • If you extrapolate current emission scenarios to 2100 with no artificial carbon scrubbing, you end up with below 1000 ppm CO2. [ipcc-data.org] Basic science tells us that even such an unrealistic scenario gives us perhaps 3C warming over current conditions. In the past, when there have been such carbon concentrations, mammalian life was flourishing and primates became established. But that scenario is unrealistic anyway because economies are already motivated to reduce emissions all by themselves: fossil fuels are expensi

    • by Jzanu ( 668651 )
      In your world I'm sure math stops at linear relationships. And pi is 4. And cave men rode dinosaurs. Reality is a quite a bit more complex, and includes things like melting permafrost releasing methane and other dynamical systems.The real truth is that science shows the significantly worse outcomes are significantly more likely, and humans face a near extinction from collapse of food production, sanitation, and increased prevalence of disease along with susceptibility to everything all at once.
  • "Countries are scrambling to limit the rise in the earth's temperature to just two degrees by the end of this century."

    Really? Which countries are doing this? Germany? Shutting down clean nuclear plants and burning dirty coal in its place? Seriously - I don't see anybody doing too much of anything about it.

  • by fred6666 ( 4718031 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @09:16PM (#55584161)

    Just because it is hard, or some would even say impossible to avoid the 2 C temperature increase, doesn't mean we should not try to do our best.
    If it ends up the temperature raises by "only" 4 C instead of say, 7 C if we give up all efforts, it's still a big win.

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