Hansen to Australian PM: stop coal plants now

James Hansen has written an (apparently) open letter to Kevin Rudd, urging that all new coal fired power plants be halted - via Energy Bulletin, original at Australian Science Media Centre (pdf).

27 March 2008
The Hon Kevin Rudd, MP
Prime Minister of Australia
Australian Parliament
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 2600

Dear Prime Minister,

Your leadership is needed on a matter concerning coal-fired power plants and carbon dioxide emission rates in your country, a matter with ramifications for life on our planet, including all species. Prospects for today's children, and especially the world's poor, hinge upon our success in stabilizing climate.

For the sake of identification, I am a United States citizen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute. I am a member of our National Academy of Sciences, have testified before our Senate and House of Representatives on many occasions, have advised our Vice President and Cabinet members on climate change and its relation to energy requirements, and have received numerous awards including the World Wildlife Fund's Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal from Prince Philip.

I write, however, as a private citizen, a resident of Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, USA. I was assisted in composing this letter by colleagues, including Australians, Americans, and Europeans, who commented upon a draft letter. Because of the urgency of the matter, I have not collected signatures, but your advisors will verify the authenticity of the science discussion.

I recognize that for years you have been a strong supporter of aggressive forward-looking actions to mitigate dangerous climate change. Also, since your election as Prime Minister of Australia, your government has been active in pressing the international community to take appropriate actions. We are now at a point that bold leadership is needed, leadership that could change the course of human history.

I have read and commend the Interim Report of Professor Ross Garnaut, submitted to your government. The conclusion that net carbon emissions must be cut to a fraction of current emissions must be stunning and sobering to policy-makers. Yet the science is unambiguous: if we burn most of the fossil fuels, releasing the CO2 to the air, we will assuredly destroy much of the fabric of life on the planet. Achievement of required near-zero net emissions by mid-century implies a track with substantial cuts of emissions by 2020. Aggressive near-term fostering of energy efficiency and climate friendly technologies is an imperative for mitigation of the looming climate crisis and optimization of the economic pathway to the eventual clean-energy world.

Global climate is near critical tipping points that could lead to loss of all summer sea ice in the Arctic with detrimental effects on wildlife, initiation of ice sheet disintegration in West Antarctica and Greenland with progressive, unstoppable global sea level rise, shifting of climatic zones with extermination of many animal and plant species, reduction of freshwater supplies for hundreds of millions of people, and a more intense hydrologic cycle with stronger droughts and forest fires, but also heavier rains and floods, and stronger storms driven by latent heat, including tropical storms, tornados and thunderstorms.

Feasible actions now could still point the world onto a course that minimizes climate change. Coal clearly emerges as central to the climate problem from the facts summarized in the attached Fossil Fuel Facts. [See note below] Coal caused fully half of the fossil fuel increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air today, and on the long run coal has the potential to be an even greater source of CO2. Due to the dominant role of coal, solution to global warming must include phase-out of coal except for uses where the CO2 is captured and sequestered. Failing that, we cannot avoid large climate change, because a substantial fraction of the emitted CO2 will stay in the air more than 1000 years.

Yet there are plans for continuing mining of coal, export of coal, and construction of new coal-fired power plants around the world, including in Australia, plants that would have a lifetime of half a century or more. Your leadership in halting these plans could seed a transition that is needed to solve the global warming problem.

Choices among alternative energy sources - renewable energies, energy efficiency, nuclear power, fossil fuels with carbon capture - these are local matters. But decision to phase out coal use unless the CO2 is captured is a global imperative, if we are to preserve the wonders of nature, our coastlines, and our social and economic well being.

Although coal is the dominant issue, there are many important subsidiary ramifications, including the need for rapid transition from oil-fired energy utilities, industrial facilities and transport systems, to clean (solar, hydrogen, gas, wind, geothermal, hot rocks, tide) energy sources, as well as removal of barriers to increased energy efficiency.

If the West makes a firm commitment to this course, discussion with developing countries can be prompt. Given the potential of technology assistance, realization of adverse impacts of climate change, and leverage and increasing interdependence from global trade, success in cooperation of developed and developing worlds is feasible.

The western world has contributed most to fossil fuel CO2 in the air today, on a per capita basis. This is not an attempt to cast blame. It only recognizes the reality of the early industrial development in these countries, and points to a responsibility to lead in finding a solution to global warming.

A firm choice to halt building of coal-fired power plants that do not capture CO2 would be a major step toward solution of the global warming problem. Australia has strong interest in solving the climate problem. Citizens in the United States are stepping up to block one coal plant after another, and major changes can be anticipated after the upcoming national election.

If Australia halted construction of coal-fired power plants that do not capture and sequester the CO2, it could be a tipping point for the world. There is still time to find that tipping point, but just barely. I hope that you will give these considerations your attention in setting your national policies. You have the potential to influence the future of the planet.
Prime Minister Rudd, we cannot avert our eyes from the basic fossil fuel facts, or the consequences for life on our planet of ignoring these fossil fuel facts. If we continue to build coal-fired power plants without carbon capture, we will lock in future climate disasters associated with passing climate tipping points. We must solve the coal problem now.

For your information, I plan to send a similar letter to the Australian States Premiers.

I commend to you the following Australian climate, paleoclimate and Earth scientists to provide further elaboration of the science reported in my attached paper (Hansen et al., 2008):

Professor Barry Brook, Professor of climate change, University of Adelaide
Dr Andrew Glikson, Australian National University
Professor Janette Lindesay, Australian National University
Dr Graeme Pearman, Monash University
Dr Barrie Pittock, CSIRO
Dr Michael Raupach CSIRO
Professor Will Steffen, Australian National University


James E. Hansen
Kintnersville, Pennsylvania
United States of America

Fully agree.

I agree too, except for a reservation about his list of clean energy sources - solar, hydrogen, gas, wind, geothermal, hot rocks, tide.

Hydrogen - clean credentials depend on how it's produced, and as has often been noted it is only an energy carrier (and less than 100% efficient at that) rather than a primary source of energy.

Gas - natural gas can only be considered as less damaging than other fossil fuel, certainly not "clean". Biogas is better in this respect, but again debatable how clean it is in overall terms.

And I'd add wave to the list.

FWIW, Hansen is currently calling for a reduction in the atmospheric CO2 concentration to 350ppm:

If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.

Given that the past trend (aside from seasonal variation) is nothing but up, that's going to be one heck of a tough challenge.

Given that the past trend (aside from seasonal variation) is nothing but up....

That's not quite true.  If you look at the Keeling curve, there was about a 2-year freeze right after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo; it appears that reduced temperatures helped sequester carbon through greater ocean uptake, reduced water stress on plants, or other factors.

Global dimming wouldn't help us for long; we need to get working on carbon-negative agricultural and energy systems.

There is a discssion of this preprint starting at realclimate.org


As it turned out, Plan B is the burning of more coal along with use of tar sands, Venezuela heavy oil and possibly even Colorado oil shale. Just when we should be weening ourselves onto some other form of energy production (non-existent plan B), we are delving into energy sources that will double, even triple the annual amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere. Due to the flatlining plateau of oil extraction, the widening gap between supply and demand simply dictates we use whatever's available. Man's jungle, the World Economy, only knows one credo and that's make money. So if that means burning coal or using food for fuel that causes famine, then that's what happens. Unfortunately we can't have it both ways. With an economy based on energy needs that pay big dividends, anything goes. Unfortunately it also means an increase in climate change to what end we can only speculate. It may mean the wholesale reduction in human population. But that's the price paid for lack of a viable different course. And please no comments like we have solar and wind. How are those going to power transporation? Huge ships, planes and trucks require liquid fuel. Get ready for a rocky ride - its gonna get wild out there!

And please no comments like we have solar and wind. How are those going to power transporation? Huge ships, planes and trucks require liquid fuel. Get ready for a rocky ride - its gonna get wild out there!

Perhaps you've not heard of this new invention called "electricity". It's existed for about two hundred years, and been used for about seventy years to make trains go. Only Australia and other island-nations really need shipping. Other countries can and in fact do trade using rail. A Berlin to Beijing train line, for example, would actually be faster than travel by ship.

We just won't have as many huge ships, planes and trucks. There'll be a lower volume of trade travelling by those routes. But honestly, does it matter? Will the West collapse because we can no longer buy as many cheap Chinese t-shirts?

Kiashu, The world burns 200 million barrels of fossil fuels a day! Where is all this electricity going to come from? Trains only carry goods part of the way and then trucks take it from there. Do have any idea how many trucks are crisscrossing the US? So just as crude extraction plateau's we are suddenly and with little if any planning going to switch to alternative sources of energy to replace 200 mbd? Wrong. You can dream all you want, but the reality is wind and solar only supply a small percentage of energy and 94% of all transportation runs on oil derived products. Sorry for the dose of reality.

Again there seems to be a lack of knowledge about these two century old inventions, the train and the river barge.

According to the CIA worldfactbook, the US has,

4,165,110 km of paved roads, which includes 75,009 km of expressways
226,612 km of railways
41,009 km of waterways, 19,312 km of which are used for commerce

The UP says

Railroads are three times more fuel-efficient than trucks. [...]

Railroad fuel efficiency has increased by 72 percent since 1980. Then, a gallon of diesel fuel moved one ton of freight an average of 235 miles. In 2001, the same amount of fuel moved one ton of freight an average of 406 miles.

Railroads and rail suppliers have reduced the weight and increased the capacity of rail cars to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. The average freight car capacity is now nearly 93 tons, up 17 percent in just the past 20 years.

The EPA estimates that for every ton-mile, a typical truck emits roughly three times more nitrogen oxides and particulates than a locomotive.

[in freight capacity] 1 Double-stack train equals up to 280 Trucks

A train also takes physically less space than a truck for the same freight carried, and because it travels on rail, unshared by private transport, it's not subject to traffic jams.

So by converting all freight to rail, you could reduce your freight fuel use by two-thirds, even without electrifying any of your rail, just using diesel trains. In case you wish to object that this doesn't let freight be moved within cities, you might note that there exist in Europe freight trams; they take freight at night along the same tracks as the mass transit use during the day.

It should be borne in mind that in the US in the 1930s, the oil and car companies bought up the streetcar companies and eliminated them. See the Great American Streetcar Scandal. Streetcars were cheap to run, durable, and used little energy; obviously oil and car companies didn't like the competition. If trucks and cars were obviously superior to streetcars, then GM, Standard Oil and the like would not have had to use these dodgy methods to get rid of them, their natural superiority would have won them market share.

So just as crude extraction plateau's we are suddenly and with little if any planning going to switch to alternative sources of energy to replace 200 mbd?

Oh, certainly with no planning you'll achieve nothing useful at all.

But to say that if you make no plans at all you'll have difficulty adjusting to changes in the world, that's not exactly a profound insight into the world. Of course if you blindfold yourself and walk around you'll stumble.

I think what Cslater8 is trying to say is that there is a vast chasm between where we are now and where we would need to be if we were to replace CO2-emitting forms of transport. And getting global agreement to make that transition in a timely enough fashion is extremely unlikely because of the realities of our money-delineated global free market economy. Sure, if governments actually took some decisive action on a vast scale, or people started to take this issue seriously, we might get to where we need to be in time. But on current progress that just ain't gonna happen. The required changes are just too vast.

Specifically - electricity - where's it going to come from? Renewables currently produce a small fraction of current consumption, disregarding the probable doubling in demand if we also use if for ground transportation, whether directly or through production of hydrogen. And train and barges could theoretically be part of the solution too, but most of the world's infrastructure has been built around other modes of transport. Adopting more energy-efficient modes will take a very significant amount of time and effort.

It's all theoretically solvable, but who can honestly believe that the solution will be achieved in time? We're running out of that commodity very fast and there are few signs that any of the required changes will take place in anything like the necessary timescale.

This is the reality of the situation, and hope alone won't solve our problems, I'm afraid. We shouldn't abandon hope, but as time goes on the solutions look farther and farther away.

ncollingridge, Just wanted to let you know I agree with your post completely. I work my own business so only have so much time to devote to responses, but do appreciate your elequent version of my somewhat cut and dry response. And just so you know the other reply posts are not for you. Thanks, Cslater8 in California

Well, essentially what you're saying here is that positive change is slow and difficult.

Sure. But we should still give it a go. If we try, maybe things won't improve. If we don't try, definitely they won't improve.

I'll take possible failure over certain failure any day of the week. "Resigned apathy" is not a state of mind I've ever found useful.

Yes, we may fail if we try. But if we don't try we'll definitely fail. May as well give it a go.

What do I do? Well, there's the individual and the general: I work towards a one-tonne CO2 lifestyle as an individual, and for the general each season I sit down and write a letter to each of my local, state and federal representatives.

Maybe they don't listen, but we can't complain they don't listen if we don't speak. And I think they do listen. For the last month in my local newspaper the front page news has been, of all things, the removal of a single Australia Post mailbox. It was only getting six letters a day so AP removed it and told the people to just walk to the next one. But that's 650m further and the little old ladies in the neighbourhood are upset. The state MP has protested to Australia Post, called up the federal Communications Minister, and is going to bring it up in State Parliament as part of a general critique of the (public owned) Australia Post.

The State MP got 25 letters on it. And now it's being brought up in State Parliament, this extraordinarily trivial thing, a single bloody postbox.

So I write to my councillors, and state and federal MPs. Maybe mine will be the letter that, on top of all the rest, makes them bring the issue up in Parliament. It certainly can't do any harm.

Or I could just sit around and cry into my beer and say it's all hopeless. Which would be what they call a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Change your life, and once a season write to your elected representatives about the issues of the day. You've got nothing to lose but your resigned apathy.

Your sleep walking - wake up.

Trucks - don't forget the trucks. Barges etc. will only do so much. Look around you and what do you see? A huge country cris-crossed by highways with trucks transporting goods. How are those huge trucks going to run on a windmill of electric power? You need to stop living in a fishbowl and take a hard good look at reality. 200 million barrels of fossil fuels a day. Don't kid yourself into these other scenarios.

Trucks - don't forget the trucks. Barges etc. will only do so much. Look around you and what do you see? A huge country cris-crossed by highways with trucks transporting goods

If long-distance transport of goods is moved from road to rail, we won't need so many trucks. How are you going to maintain the highways?

Looking around me, I see a couple trains each day which consist of semi-trailers hooked together on rail dollies (run by Triple Crown Services).  I've counted 125 trailers being towed by a single locomotive.

The steps look fairly simple to me:

  1. Move freight to rail, either dual-mode trailers or straight rail cars.  This saves about 2/3 for the long hauls.
  2. Electrify the rails.  This eliminates oil consumption for the long hauls.
  3. Use battery-powered semi-tractors for the short hauls from rail head to loading dock and back.  That eliminates oil consumption on the final legs, as well as almost all of the air pollution and most of the noise.  The Smith Newton 7.5 ton delivery truck shows that it can be done.

We've got examples out there, we just have to follow them.

How about we just buy less useles stuff to fill our McMansions with and then we won't need so many trucks, trains, barges. Come to think of it, why don't we stop building McMansions and other forms of wasteful dispersed housing, only live in places where food can be grown close to the mouths that eat it.

You can dream all you want, but the reality is wind and solar only supply a small percentage of energy and 94% of all transportation runs on oil derived products. Sorry for the dose of reality.

More than 10,000 times our current energy consumption is available from the sun. Even wind power could provide 7 times our total energy needs at present. Only a small amount of transport really *needs* liquid fuels (aircraft basically).

I know this dose of reality is inconvenient, but there is more renewable energy out there than we will ever need. Some will choose to harness it, some won't...

Only it's not a dose of reality (at least in terms of where energy for transportation comes from now or in the foreseeable future) but a dose of hope. Unless pretty much everyone chooses to harness it, and soon, it will be too late for all of us.

There's more food in the world (least right now) to feed everyone a healthy diet. But I see millions living with malnutrition.

Go ahead, state that the sun can single-handedly power all our needs. I know this, and I bet most halfway intelligent people do too. But stating a possibility and then saying that's "reality" is hilarious. I guess you missed where all this capital is going to come from and professional personnel and hardware along with the time and social will, worldwide, to bring about what is, right now, totally Utopic in nature.

In an ideal world, we wouldn't be witnessing the entire global economy implode either. Life's shit that way, so forgive me for not breathing a sigh of relief because someone figured a science fiction future is possible if we wish it. [i]Mad Max[/i] is also as valid a science fiction future.

The entire global economy isn't imploding - I can assure you all the resource exporting countries are doing fine right now - and will do so as long as other countries let their economies depend on resource extraction.

The US isn't the world.

Yeah, because I was just talking about the US. Oh wait, I didn't mention the US at all. Perhaps you've not been reading the news lately, but I figure Europe and Asia are the world though, you know, the economies that are also reeling from what started in the US.

It may be a subconscious sign of arrogance to assume I was talking only about the US. I assure you, if you think the matters are simply a few mortgage issues in Stateside, you've missed a whole picture.

Even if this were the case and only the US was being dragged down now, I'm thinking the world's largest economy might have a bit of an impact on the global economy. And none of this counters the point that we don't have the capital, will or time to implement yet another fantastical dream of a world powered by sunshine and compassion. Historical precedent is firmly on my side for the "kicking and screaming" shift to reality.

1. The world's largest economy is the EU, not the US. You are living in the past.

2. Australia isn't in recession. Neither is the EU. Neither is Japan. Neither is China. Neither is India. Neither is Russia. Neither are most other countries in Asia or Latin America. In spite of the unwinding of the housing bubble / credit bubble, the OECD latest estimate is that worldwide growth this year will be just under 2%.

3. I can see plenty of arrogance in your comments - why don't you cut out the personal insults and focus on the facts for a change.

The entire global economy isn't imploding - I can assure you all the resource exporting countries are doing fine right now - and will do so as long as other countries let their economies depend on resource extraction.

It will when peak oil takes a firm hold of things and then it won't matter how much other resources you've got, they cost to exploit them will make some of it uneconomic. It is also a very big concern that in a resources boom, Australia still has huge trade deficits. The bill for that is coming in the mail. The US has just got theirs and found their wallets were full of only credit card reciepts and not much else.

The idea of resources belong to countries is also a quaint memory but the reality is that resource extraction is now a globalised business which is not always that great for the donor country.

More than 10,000 times our current energy consumption is available from the sun.

This kind of fact is not particularly useful since it assumes that all of the energy is currently wasted as it isn't being used to support human lifestyles. It also assumes that capturing and harnessing that energy requires no other resource. The facts would need to be modified to show what proportion of that sun, wind, etc, could be diverted for our private use, without damaging our habitat, and what other resources are required to do so.

Actually it demonstrates that if you use less than 0.1% of the available solar energy then you could met all our needs at present.

If you mostly capture this energy in the deserts or on building rooftops, then you'll be unlikely to have a great deal of additional environmental impact - yes, you'll need to keep mining the building materials - but not forever - unlike the present model.

0.1% diversion to our private use couldn't possibly do any harm, could it? Well, we don't know because no-one, so far as I know, has done the research. Small numbers don't necessarily mean no. or small, effects.

At 2% growth, that 0.1% becomes 0.2% in 35 years, 0.4% in 70 years.

Correct, we don't have to mine the sunlight, it just comes to us, but we do have to mine the materials needed to build the generating capacity and infrastructure. That needs maintenance and replacement, from time to time. And the amount of resource increases two fold every 35 years, if we grow energy use at 2% per year.

Actually diverting rooftop heat to solar power might help reduce the urban heat island effect - so it would be a positive thing.

Ditto for desert CSP installations - maybe they could do desalination with some of the power and use it to green the deserts.

Sometimes if you try hard you can make positive changes - not all change is bad...

I don't deny that positive changes can be made but I'm very wary of "solutions" that imply life can go on as "normal". When people talk about the enormous energy provided by the sun and how we can just take a weeny bit of it to do exactly what we're doing now, with no consequences and disregarding any other problems with our lifestyles, then I get worried. At some point our societies will have to change drastically, since we live on a finite planet. In the meantime, let's think very carefully about what we do and stop making assumptions about the effects it will have. Your statements above are "mights" and "coulds". I think, in terms of our use of the earth's resources, including those that come from outside, we needs to be more certain about those uses.

If we can get to a sustainable state, that would be a positive change. I don't think the globe necessarily needs to replace all of the non-renewable energy it uses, in order for its inhabitants to live a satisfying life.

Those other issues weren't part of the discussion - I was just noting (for about the millionth time) that we can (and most likely will) replace our fossil fuel consumption with cleaner alternatives.

Obviously a whole lot of other changes are required, and I will be discussing them at length in various future posts (and have done for years at my personal blog).

We will move to cleaner alternatives, regardless of what is left of societies. However, replacement is probably not on the cards. Powerdown, I think, is inevitable. Hopefully in a managed way but probably not.

To be fair, SkySails improve fuel efficiency, they don't eliminate the need for some sort of fuel for the boats propulsion mechanism.

But there are hundreds of ways of helping us to adapt to less oil being available - this are just a couple...

We are not going to run out of oil or gas or coal overnight but we ould wakeup one morning soon to find shortages, first in industry and then at the pumps themselves. Already certain plastics feedstocks are difficult to come by and agricultural fertiliser is in short supply just now. There isn't a Plan B because it is not democratic governments responsibility to think for us and to plan very far into the future, as much as the politicians tell us that is what they are doing.

Governments implement exactly what the the people demand and they deliver it in a short term electoral cycle. I don't know about other parts of the world but Australia is culturally programmed that way. We don't want governments that will tell us what to do. We tell them what to do and the message is overwhelmingly "look after me, right now or else my vote goes elswhere". John Howard was a master politician for atleast 9 of his 11 years in the job. He dleivered what the public wanted, low interest rates, jobs, budget surpluses and a swag of middle class welfare built around the idea of "families with children". Howard didn't force anyone to borrow more than they should have to buy big houses, big cars, plasma screens all underpinned by rising consumption of oil. He simply delivered what the public wanted but it was the publics choice. If he had come right out and siad "well we are going to run out of growth in oil supply and that will casue us to downsize our aspiration sfor accumulating physical stuff" it is a matter of conjecture as to who would have got to him first: the public or his own party.

Kevin Rudd is now in a precariosu position. He spent the election campaign giving too diabolically opposed messages although they were always carefully isolatedd so as to appear completley unrelated. The first was climate change where he dodged any real commitmtents other than a showy siginging of Kyoto, and a promise to wait until Garnaut had made his report. This gave the impression of environmental responsibility without committing to any substantial change. The second issue was economic where no opportunity was spared to bash the government in realtion to bottlenecks in the economy which was choking output and therefore putting pressure on inflation and interest rates. No bigger example of bottlenecks was obvious than the coal delivery infrastructure on the east coast where Asia bound ships were moored for weeks, waiting their turn to be loaded with the black stuff. Kevin Rudd made implied promises that our econmic futre was tied up with removing these bottlenecks but it is difficult to see how we can export even more coal, while putting our hand on our hearts and saying we will do something about CO2 emissions. In teh end I think Rudd will do what he's told be the Australian public, which is "you bloddy well bettter look after me first or you will be out son".

Don't expect a plan to actually do anything from Kevin Rudd other than attend lots of meetings, listen earnestly, sign meaningless protocols and be photographed "committing" to climate cahnge partnerships. When peak oil manifests itself,ths current generationof feel-good climate cahnger politicians will find themselves replaced by strong-man type dictators anyway even in a so called parliamentry democracy.

Wow! May I suggest that Down Under needs to set the global standard for Peak Outreach for full discussion of mitigation? I sure wish my 'Murkans were leading the way!

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

OK, lets assume Australia does as James Hansen wishes and stops building coal fired power plants. What happens to the coal thats now being produced? It will just be exported and burned in India, China or some other developing nation where odds are there will be few emission controls and essentially zero chance of the CO2 being sequestered.

Furthermore many developing nations are switching away from diesel based electricity generation as the price of oil climbs, this represents an opportunity to push investment away from fossil fuel based infrastructure and toward renewable energy sources in these developing nation. But this won't happen if Australia only cuts its own use of coal, the net result will only be more coal available on the export market, lower prices and the renewable energy option becoming an even less competitive in developing nation.

If Australia want to produce real results they should either cut production of coal or take steps to make it more expensive on the export market such as adding an excise tax on coal exports. This could discourage the building of more coal burning infrastructure outside Australia. If other coal exporing nation followed their lead the growth in the use of coal could be slowed and other options could become more competitive.

Hansen's letter doesn't call for a moratorium on coal-fired power plants; it calls for CO2 sequestration at any new ones.

You can either do cheap coal and try to make sequestration work, or you can try to limit coal extraction. It looks like Hansen is calling for the former right now.

What Hansen said :

Due to the dominant role of coal, solution to global warming must include phase-out of coal except for uses where the CO2 is captured and sequestered. Failing that, we cannot avoid large climate change, because a substantial fraction of the emitted CO2 will stay in the air more than 1000 years.

Yet there are plans for continuing mining of coal, export of coal, and construction of new coal-fired power plants around the world, including in Australia, plants that would have a lifetime of half a century or more. Your leadership in halting these plans could seed a transition that is needed to solve the global warming problem.

It looks like he is saying shut existing coal fired plants and halting mining coal - with a small escape clause if anyone ever gets carbon sequestration to work...

What happens to the coal thats now being produced? It will just be exported and burned in India, China or some other developing nation where odds are there will be few emission controls and essentially zero chance of the CO2 being sequestered

Potentially. But at the moment, we can't ship as much Coal as they want as it is, due to rail and port bottlenecks. If Australia reduces its demand for Coal (not something that's going to happen overnight), then Coal get's cheaper if production stays the same, but we can't load it onto ships yet.
If we slap it with a Carbon Tax like that proposed (although I deeply suspect the Govt will exempt Coal Exports), then Coal becomes less economically attractive, and the lower grades of coal become completely uneconomic. China and India will likely simply absorb the increased cost however, so I think we'd need to cap production as well.

It's not like there's going to be a surplus of Bunker Oil we can use to ship the coal to China anyway, in a few years.

Slurried coal can replace most of the bunker fuel (University of Alaska - Anchorage is doing this in a cogenerator).  This appears likely to aggravate CO2 and other emissions.

I have to agree with Alan about the coal export inconsistency especially since China will be shopping for more. Rudd is in a bind; on the one hand there is Hansen's letter and his major election promises. On the other hand people are losing their homes and can't afford higher energy prices. Early speculation on the Emissions Trading Scheme envisions plenty of giveaways and exemptions.

Here's a middle course I'd suggest...

1) Agree with Hansen that non-CCS coal generation is henceforth capped.
2) Coal and LNG exports will have to shrink at the same rate as the domestic carbon cap.
3) Pilot plants for CCS and currently minor renewables (wave, CSP, geothermal, convection towers) will be fast tracked and have to show results within 5 years.
4) Every household helped to cut electricity and gas usage 20% within a year.

In selling this program I'd point out that whether you believe in AGW or not that FF energy is expensive and we need to learn to use less. Australians responded extremely well to water cuts so maybe they can do the same for carbon.

Cutting coal exports to Asia may not be possible for geo-political reasons. We currrently export most of our coal to Japan and South Korea. China is a realtively new customer as is India but they ahve huge appetites and won't take too kindly to being told the shop is shutting early.

Rudd will make a big show of doing something about cliamte cahnge but in the end will achieve very little. China ultimatley will get whatever it wants and Australia will have little choice but to deliver. We are in pretty deep debt, not as bad as US admittedly, but we still can't sahke off the trade deficit even in mining boom times.

PNM points out the coal electricity generation problem in detail in its reportdraft1.

Without coal electricity generation we may have serious load shedding problems in the future.

I believe that I read on Internet that 56% of electricity generation in the US is from coal.


The Australian east code grid doesn't suffer this problem. We have an amazing resource which can handle load spikes and troughs very quickly. It's called the Snowy hydro system. At the moment it pumps water up at night because electricity is cheap then, and generates during the day from pumped water (and from melt-water and the normal Snowy river flow). Obviously, in the switch to solar and other renewables, it's going to be the other way around, but that makes no difference here.

Snowy Mountains Engineering:

  • is in charge of grid stability (e.g. in the event of an electricity grid failure, it's their job to restart it and everyone matches them)
  • can generate (I think) 1 GW to Melbourne and Sydney (about 10% of the east coast total capacity) each
  • can drop or add generating capacity as fast as you can turn a sluice gate

Load management on the Oz east coast doesn't require coal plants.

West coast Oz I don't know as much about, but I suspect that much of the load is smelt works and mine works so there are lots of loads which can be shed or unshed if appropriate compensation is in place.

But I think billp is talking about the USA, which is a different story. The phrase 'totally screwed up' is one that springs to mind to describe their grid.

Australia not sell its coal to China - will never happen. We either sell it or they will come and get it forcibly. Afterall what are they going to feed into their power plants that they are so heavily invested into building.

You are correct. China's coal-fired plants burning increasingly large amounts of Australian coal is not going to stop.

The issue of Australia building coal power plants is minor compared with the huge issue of Australian coal being shipped as fast as it is mined to China.

Of course, the US is shipping coal to Europe. And who is going to stop it?

On the other hand, maybe China is only building so many coal-fired plants because they know they can import so much coal.

If they got a few years' warning the coal wasn't coming, they might build other kinds of power plants. I mean, they already took back one of their citizens who'd spent a few years inventing new kinds of PV cells here in Australia, and now Australia buys Chinese PV cells made by him. So it's not like they don't have the capacity to build other than coal-fired plants.

And they're already building almost all the new hydroelectric in the world. The Chinese just want electricity, and they don't really give a shit how they get it.

China is not going to invade us for our coal.

They don't need to invade militarily. They'll just come with chequebook and buy the mining companies. China has a huge stash of money that they have been hoarding for the last twenty years in preparation for this. This is easy to do when you are communist. Our prob;lem is that we owe o much money to so many foreigners that the only way we can ever hope to repay it is by selling our best assets adn coalmines might just be the thing on China's shopping list.

They'll just come with chequebook and buy the mining companies. China has a huge stash of money that they have been hoarding for the last twenty years in preparation for this.

How far will that stash of money go when:

  • It's denominated in $US or $AU, and
  • The US/AU restrictions on coal exports have caused the price to quadruple even in the devalued currency?

Being short on money is one thing, but China's energy situation is even worse than the USA's; you can't burn electronic IOU's to keep warm.

I'm sort of duplicating myself with a comment of mine against the main thread, but here goes...

The coal we are burning in many of our coal plants would not be economic to ship to China or India. Nor will it ever be, since:

  • The costs of all fossil fuels are likely to rise in roughly equal proportion. So shipping coal which is not cost-effective now wouldn't be in the future.
  • If a bidding war ensues which made it worthwhile to ship low-grade coal overseas then the coal plants which were using it would price themselves out of the market against renewables.

A separate question is: can we stop shipping high-grade coal overseas? Another poster has observed our commitments in exports for the Japanese steel market.

But anyway, whatever happens with high-grade coal, it still makes perfectly good sense to shut down our worst-polluting coal plants, and makes equally good sense not to build any more.

Would that Dr. Hanson might send a similar letter to the POTUS.

Already I can imagine the right wing voices raised in the USA in response to the above letter to PM Rudd. He will be accused of being a part of a left wing conspiracy of scientists who are attempting to engineer a global leftist government and tell everyone how to live.

Is the discussion in Australia (and in New Zealand) also dominated by cultivation of ignorance and denial regarding global climate change?

Is there more reason and respect for science in your government or culture? And why, or why not -- please elucidate.

I wonder of Hanson's plea will do some good...?

The right-wing voices you mention have been trying to silence Hansen for years:

The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture [in 2005] calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

I assume that this has something to do with why he is writing as a private citizen, rather than as a public official.

Is the discussion in Australia (and in New Zealand) also dominated by cultivation of ignorance and denial regarding global climate change?


And no...

Australians are acutely aware of AGCC and its potential impacts. Most Australians just have to look at their dead lawn and dying garden to see that the Climate isn't always friendly. "A Land of Droughts and Flooding Rains" isn't a metaphor.

Due to the current drought across much of the country, Australians have had to cut water useage drastically. In South-East Queensland, a sub-tropical area, we are down to 140L per person, per day. Undoutably we could do better, but that means 'bucket showers'.

But mention CO2, and suddenly, the Columists in the media rags (mostly owned by Murdoch) begin screeching about our 'way of life', using already-debunked 'facts', weasel-words, and sleight-of-hand to confuse the readers (who, lets be blunt, usually aren't difficult to confuse). It's as though 'metering' CO2 is somehow different to metering all the other pollutants we expell into the environment every day. Both major Parties approved a Pulp Mill in Tasmania which will expell more Dioxins every year into the Southern Ocean just by itself than the entire population of Mills in Scandanavia!

This isn't helped by the move over the last ten or so years to an attitude of "the gum'mint should do something". People would be quite willing to have electricity, for example, go up in price because of a Carbon Tax, but only if the Government compensates them with a tax cut.

While newspapers give carte blanc to editorials arguing against AGCC (in a "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge" kind of way), we won't get the groundswell needed to force a cap on coal mining, exports, or what-have-you. Witness the Opinion Pieces wailing about light bulbs when the former Govt announced plans to ban them.

Proposals like this pose a threat to the supply of affordable electricity.
So I think we need much, much clearer information on the quantitative benefits. If Australia were to follow through on the proposal, what would be the quantitative effects on:
1) Carbon dioxide levels
2) Sea levels
3) Species counts
4) Fresh water supplies
5) Severe storms
This way, we can gauge the effectiveness of the plan when it is implemented. If it fails to produce the projected benefits, then the policy can be reversed.

I don't see any problem.

It's just a matter of capturing and sequestering CO2 as a normal part of operations. It does require energy and technology. Australia can build all the CCS coal plants it wants to, but Hansen has said NO NEW conventional coal plants(IGCCW/CCS instead). Suppose the price of cheap electricity doubles, SO WHAT!

Australia has something like 80 billion tons of coal and uses 125 million tons a year, a 500 year supply.
Why wait to develop this technology?

PM Rudd should go one better; and pledge to phase out all conventional coal plants in thirty years.
Then just 470 years to go.

Suppose the price of cheap electricity doubles, SO WHAT!

This is just more flippant non-quantitative B.S.
The FutureGen "clean coal" project was recently canceled due to runaway costs, and it was funded 75% by the U.S. government. Mandating 100% clean coal at this point is likely to translate, in practice, into a complete halt in coal generation.
Electricity is serious business, and events like brownouts have a huge impact on standards of living. The potential negative effects of any plan like Hansen's need to be considered in great detail.

You also failed to describe any quantitative benefits of Hansen's plan.

A rather flippant BS reply!

FutureGen was 'restructured' to take it away from Blue State, Illinois. The pork will be spread to other areas. DOE says the concept is valid.

How could the government play politics with $1.8 billion dollars?

Sounds far fetched?


As a global warming denier, CCS threatens your war on Nature.

People can live in a low carbon world.

You lose.

People can live in a low carbon world.

Yes, they're doing that in Haiti right now. The issue is whether people can live in a low carbon world with a first world standard of living, and reliable, cheap electricity.

You lose.

Hardly. You've presented a sum total of zero information on the quantitative benefits of implementing Hansen's plan. Seems a little fishy to me. Why implement a plan if its advocates are incapable of stating any quantitative benefits of doing so? Will Hansen's plan lower the temperature? Bring back the glaciers? Increase the supply of fresh water? Stop droughts somewhere? Reduce the number of storms? What? What will it achieve that actually matters?

What will it achieve that actually matters?

Are you asking about the specific proposal to stop Australian coal plant construction, or about the general utility of reducing global carbon emissions?

If taken in isolation, the proposal to stop Australian coal plant construction will have little to no effect.

If taken as part of a global plan to reduce carbon emissions, the effect will be (eventually) dramatic.

If taken as part of a global plan to reduce carbon emissions, the effect will be (eventually) dramatic.

What hard data/analysis do you have to back up that statement?

At this point is makes way more sense economically, knowing that the cost of coal is only going up, to build wind and thermal solar power plants for your electricity. I am talking 10 year term not 2 years. Wind can be base load especially if it's near the coast and their is a lot of it over a wide area. Also electrical storage technology has increased significantly. Plus Australia's geothermal resources could pull the weight alone. Coal would be foolish to build at this point for any reason with these obvious and proven alternatives.

What hard data/analysis do you have to back up that statement?

We have a pretty good understanding of what happens when enormous quantities of carbon are released into the atmosphere on geologically short timescales: PETM, and in the extreme case, the Permian-Triassic extinction.

We're releasing comparable quantities of carbon on a much shorter time scale than either of these events, so there's no reason to expect a better outcome this time.

Thanks, but you're misunderstanding me. I mean: What hard data/analysis do you have to back up the statement that *reducing* carbon emissions will have dramatic effects? And what exactly will those dramatic effects be?
I'm interested in scientific information on the likely effects of reducing carbon emissions. So far, no one here at TOD has been able to provide any such information.

"What are the likely effects of reducing carbon emissions?"

It's interesting to ask the question this way. We usually discuss it the other way: "What are the likely effects of increasing carbon emissions?"

My first thought is that reducing carbon emissions in the near term could be the difference between a PETM event, which is potentially survivable as a species, and a PT event, which isn't.

The problem with discussing positive effects of a carbon reduction scheme is the long time-scale hysteresis in the climate system. CO2 resides in the atmosphere for something like 200 years, so we have quite a lot of warming "in the pipeline," even if we were to completely stop emitting carbon today. Benefits are unlikely to be visible for generations.

We have a fair amount of evidence that the wheels come off the biosphere at around 1000ppm. The oceans become acidic (PETM), anaerobes proliferate, and in the extreme state, oceans become anoxic (PT). Maybe the most immediately visible result of a reduction in carbon emissions would be recovery of coral ecosystems, due to reduced acidity and reduced ocean temperatures. This would be good news for the billion or more people who depend on fish for their daily protein.

Last year, I saw a presentation by Freeman Dyson, the famous physicist. He observed that the issue of ocean acidity may turn out to be more urgent than climate change. If we want to find measurable, near-term benefits from a carbon-reduction strategy, the health of the oceans may be a good place to start.

His head, like a smokejack, the funnel unswept, and the ideas whirling round and round about in it, all obfuscated and darkened over with fuliginous matter. --Sterne.

JD, please refer to the IPCC 4th assessment report

If there are no new non-CCS coal fired plants then the amount of carbon in the coal used by any planned such plants will not end up in the atmosphere for the next 1000 years. Seems like a good benefit to me.

However, it seems that you want exact numbers on number of severe storms thus avoid, etc, otherwise you're saying that we should continue on the present course. Why would you not call for the planners of new coal fired power plants to include the effects of that new build on the following:

1) Carbon dioxide levels
2) Sea levels
3) Species counts
4) Fresh water supplies
5) Severe storms

However, it seems that you want exact numbers on number of severe storms thus avoid, etc, otherwise you're saying that we should continue on the present course.

Not at all. I'm simply asking the advocates of Hansen's plan to clearly state the benefits of the plan in quantitative terms. I ask due to scientific, not political reasons. In fact, I think it would be a very instructive experiment to shut down Australian coal generation (or even world coal generation, for that matter). We can then quantitatively measure the resulting benefits in terms of reduced CO2 levels, stabilized sea levels, increased species counts, increased fresh water supplies, improved weather etc. My working hypothesis is that there will be no measurable benefits whatsoever, and that's why you are so evasive when asked to describe those benefits.

that's why you are so evasive when asked to describe those benefits.

I already mentioned that all of the carbon that would be released into the atmosphere by any planned non-CCS coal plants would not be emitted if such plants were not built.

Do you think planners for non-CCS coal plants should detail the negatives before being allowed to build? Negatives like:

1) Raised carbon dioxide levels
2) Raised sea levels
3) Increased species extinction rate
4) Decreased fresh water supplies for other uses
5) Increased incidence of severe storms

I already mentioned that all of the carbon that would be released into the atmosphere by any planned non-CCS coal plants would not be emitted if such plants were not built.

Yes, like I said, you evaded the question, i.e. you failed to quantify how capturing that carbon will produce benefits in terms of the parameters which actually matter, like global CO2 levels, sea levels, species counts, fresh water supplies, storms, drought etc.

Do you think planners for non-CCS coal plants should detail the negatives before being allowed to build?

No, but I think it would be very interesting and relevant to determine good estimates of those negatives. How much does a coal plant (or a nation's worth of coal plants) raise carbon dioxide levels? How much does it raise sea level, or extinct life forms, or decrease fresh water supplies, or cause drought, or storms?

Not really evaded. If the planners of such coal plants give the numbers, I could give those numbers right back.

I agree that the planners of such plants should do the work of determining the negatives and then the country can decide whether those negatives outweigh the benefits, assuming that there are benefits. Do you think it's possible to determine those things with a reasonable degree of accuracy, for each non-CCS coal plant?

Just so as to set these comments in perspective. Australia's main importer of coal is Japan with a total in 2006,2007 of 108 million tons which is 44% of Australia's coal exports. At least half of this is metallurgical coal that we cannot stop exporting as we buy steel from Japan. The next biggest is Korea (11.5%) and Taiwan (9.8%). China only imports 5.9 million tons which is 2.4%.

And here is the dilemma - wind farms and solar thermal plants need steel, and usually the high strength special steels that we import from Japan, so we will need to export coking coal at least.

As with all things we are so far in the fossil fuel hole that it is very difficult to climb out.


It's an interesting dilemma you raise: is it reasonable to allow Australia to continue to export coal in exchange for the materials to pioneer the original model for a renewable grid?

I'm of the mind that Mr. Hansen is right. Even though it doesn't make much sense on paper, what we need is a tipping point: a functioning example of a Western nation that made the leap. Once it happens, the other nations won't want to be left behind.

what we need is a tipping point: a functioning example of a Western nation that made the leap

Or, alternatively, a malfunctioning Western nation that has been crippled into a state of perpetual brownouts by runaway environmentalists.

New Zealand seems to be making reasonable headway towards no longer needing fossil fuels. As does Sweden.

Even though they haven't become all that expensive yet, and its purely "runaway environmentalists" driving the shift...

Last time I checked, both countries seemed to be doing OK.

Do you really think Australia couldn't power itself entirely from sources other than coal if it chose to ?

Looking at the recent EIA data, we see

New Zealand: Petroleum very slight decline, Natural gas significant decline, Coal significant increase

Sweden: Petroleum use flat, Natural gas use flat, Coal use flat

So I don't think either country is making a real move away from fossil fuel.

I'd love to see Australia seriously try to power itself from other sources. It would be a grand experiment. If you succeed (and I don't entirely discount that possibility), you'll be a shining light everyone can follow. If you fail, you'll be a brownout-plagued basketcase like Pakistan that everyone can look to as an example not to follow.

My personal feeling is that global warming is scary, but power grid blackouts are even scarier, so, its going to be coal and nuclear full steam ahead.

And the numbers for total energy use in both NZ and Sweden are ?

I'd agree that power grid blackouts are scarier than global warming - but that is a false dichotomy.

The fact that no one has achieved a particular goal in the past is sort of irrelevant, given that no one has actually tried...

We could always build all the stuff here instead of importing it.

Yes, radical idea, I know. Australia manufacturing things? That'd be almost like not being a colony any more.

Yes, radical idea, I know. Australia manufacturing things?

Kiashu, the manufacturing, export, and import-competing sectors of the Australian economy have been devastated by the rampaging Aussie dollar. These companies are never coming back. The skills are never coming back. Australia is a quarry, nothing more, and no-one gives a damn.

Well - we have quite a large banking sector too - and we'll always have tourism as long as airfares remain affordable (hmmm - maybe that last one isn't such a good example)...

we'll always have tourism...

No we won't. A hotel room that cost an American $300USD a night six years ago, now costs $600USD a night. Why fly all the way to Australia to go to the beach when you can go to Central America or the Caribbean? AFAIK Australian tourism is in the doldrums across the board. International tourists aren't coming here because its become so expensive, and Aussies are heading overseas because its become so cheap.

Well - we have quite a large banking sector too

Outside of providing banking services to the resources industry and (until recently) dodgy credit to consumers, how exactly does the banking sector benefit our economy? I see a banking sector in decline for several years to come as the credit boom unwinds.

The big question is: Can China keep growing if the U.S. consumer stops buying? Has China "decoupled" or not? Because if China stops growing the resources boom busts, and Australia has nothing. Lets hope there's a few struggling exporters still in business when that happens.

I was just joking about the tourism thing. Sheesh.

Banking sectors can be quite handy - just look at what happens when your banking sector implodes - its not a pretty sight and usually results in unpleasant and bloody political upheaval if not rectified very quickly.

I hope the world economy has decoupled from that of the US - we'll find out soon enough.

Yes, radical idea, I know. Australia manufacturing things?

That's crazy talk! :D

France makes a pretty good example. Advanced OECD nation, with a largish population. Of course the environmentalists hate France because Nuclear is a four letter word. They currently have about a third the per capita emissions of the US (similar to Australia), and plan on reducing them by another factor of three. And their power costs are among the lowest in the EU. It is possible to be both low emission, and have a thriving high tech economy.

plan on reducing them by another factor of three

There are a lot of countries (or rather their governments) that plan huge reductions of emissions. Whether such reductions will actually be achieved is another matter entirely.

It is possible to be both low emission, and have a thriving high tech economy.

Define "low emissions". Is that a level that has no detrimental effect on the environment? If not, then it is not possible to have a thriving high tech economy with low emissions. If the level is low enough, how long is it possible to have such an economy?

Of course the environmentalists hate France because Nuclear is a four letter word. They currently have about a third the per capita emissions of the US (similar to Australia),

I'm not sure which parallel universe you're posting from, but here on Standard Earth, the countries themselves have reported for the purposes of the Kyoto Treaty,

Croatia, 6.75t pc
Sweden, 7.95t pc - and this with 3 of its nuclear reactors shut down due to safety concerns, 2 due to maintenance, and 5 still operational, with all to be shut down by 2010

France, 9.26t pc - oodles of nukes
Italy, 9.92t pc - no nukes, but imports nuclear-generated electricity from France
US, 23.44t pc - significant nukes
Australia, 26.11t pc - no nukes

So what we see is that the presence or absence of nuclear-generated electricity is no predictor of a country's greenhouse gas emissions. It's quite possible to have no nukes and medium emissions (Croatia), lots of nukes and medium emissions (France), lots of nukes and high emissions (US), no nukes and high emissions (Australia), and so on and so forth.

Sweden is about 50-50 hydro and nuclear for electricity, and have effectively abandoned their nuclear phase-out. They are uprating existing reactors and will probably be building four new reactors in the next ten or so years.

Kiashu, I believe your perspective is somewhat narrow and your conclusions are suffering as a result.

If you’re looking to Europe, then consider that all countries on target to satisfy their Kyoto commitments have nuclear power. All those countries without nuclear power are struggling.

But we should not look to Europe, as I’ve said here. Many European countries (and others around the world) have options and flexibility that we do not.

If you’re interested in other numbers, consider Australia’s monumental challenge if we are to do our fair share, let alone becoming carbon neutral.

From a first principles, electricity supply perspective, one large nuclear plant displaces one large coal station – anywhere on the planet. Hansen is asking for dramatic reductions in our use of coal power stations. If hydro is limited (or worse depleting due to water constraints), that leaves gas, renewables, efficiency, conservation and nuclear to make up the rest of any reduction effort; unless one advocates regression into a primitive lifestyle – which I do not. I’m willing to simplify my life and do more than a bit to conserve, but that’s where it ends. I think it dangerously naive to expect developed/western societies to come to any other conclusion. As we’ve seen for example over the past 5+ years; people in powerful positions around the world have no problem causing or accepting the deaths of many, many lives to protect today’s comfortable lifestyle. Put in the context of improving lifestyle dreams (and the related thirst for energy) of many large, developing regions around the world and we look to be in for some challenging times. Fresh consideration of nuclear power as a portion of a broader solution seems justified.

Nuclear is challenged today by higher construction costs and long schedules. Perhaps these obstacles can be addressed through advanced construction methods, experience and modern designs. The expansion programmes ongoing around the world will provide evidence one way or another.

Australia could take some wise actions now to at least not preclude a future nuclear power industry. These include developing a relevant human resource capability and infrastructure capacity suitable for large baseload plants at coastal locations.

Further information on other perceived nuclear power showstoppers:

Nuclear Waste


Nuclear safety

Lifecycle emissions

Of course, European countries get their uranium from elsewhere - the Navajo (to pick just one example) might not be so enthusiastic about the externalities you so blithely ignore :


The Los Angeles Times today concluded a four-part series (with photos) on uranium mining on 27,000 square miles of Navajo lands in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

It's a depressing, but interesting, read.

Part one (nine pages) gives the background: The huge boom in uranium mining fizzled post-Cold War; when mines and processors shut down, they left piles and pits of radioactivity, seldom labeled with warning signs. Many houses were built with radioactive materials. The cancer death rate on the reservation doubled from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. Most of the Navajos were unaware of the problem; most of the government and industry figures that were aware willfully ignored it.

Part two (seven pages) digs deeper into the effect radioactivity had on the area's water -- and the children and animals who drank from it. The cases of animals born without eyes or with three legs, or children who developed corneal ulcers and liver disease, stymied medical professionals for years.

Part three (six pages) explains how a federal decontamination plan finally got underway -- then was derailed by bureaucratic delays, misunderstandings, and disputes that kept the site from Superfund designation.

Part four (four pages) has the unbelievable headline "Mining firms again eyeing Navajo land." The tribe vows a "knockdown, drag-out legal battle," according to a tribal attorney.

Beware any nuclear information coming from the media. First stop should be to investigate the peer reviewed science on the topic.

But in any case, I don’t ignore this. I do, however, fail to see how it is relevant today. Are you trying to highlight the sanctity of life or just bash the atom?

Need we begin a discussion of our own indigenous people?

More is known today about a variety of hazards from uranium mining to mining in general to chemical plants to smoking. Standards have been developed to maintain public and employee safety.

I reckon if such nuclear related devastation were occurring in any country today – many around the world would be making quite a fuss (numerous issues are raised even when there is no credible danger). But isn’t it ironic that many thousands of deaths each year, resulting from mining standards in China for example, don’t result in much stress at all.

I think it’s more important to track what is being ignored at the moment – and by whom.

Beware the media ? Well - I think I'd say, more accurately, beware biased sources of information.

The link between radiation and cancer seems pretty clear.

The link between native people and resource extraction industries (not just uranium - oil, coal, gas, gold, copper etc etc) is pretty clear too - if they are unlucky enough to sit on top of some valuable resources, they'll get shafted. Watching last years brouhaha here about aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory and the "solution" the government tried to impose (taking away their land rights and trying to civilise them by getting them to work for mining companies) seemed to me a lot like a mechanism for clearing the way for the expansion of the uranium mining industry there. Thankfully Rudd seems to have put a stop to this.

Why not quit this loop and shift to renewables, instead of perpetuating a problem which seems to have no solution, human nature being what it is ?

If a power source is to be condemned due to links between it and cancer, then wouldn’t Australia’s principal carcinogen – the sun – be ruled out (skin cancers are the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia)?

Of course not.

Of principal relevance is the ability to design precautions or protections to manage the relevant risks. For decades now such controls have been well implemented in the nuclear as well as other industries. The health risks associated with the utilisation of nuclear power – today – are miniscule. Health risk related claims as justification against its further expansion are without basis or merit.

The sun is already there, nuclear power plants aren't.

The risk of cancer from the sun can't be removed, just avoided as far as possible.

There is no risk of cancer from uranium mining / enrichment / nuclear power generation / nuclear waste if we leave the uranium in the ground.
Instead we use the sun / wind / waves / tides / earth (geothermal) / biogas / hydro to provide our power needs - cancer risk free...

I completely agree. Miniscule risk does not equal zero risk and, as I've said before, I also agree with the preferred use of all the options you mention as the different technologies are demonstrated [realising that many have been] and it makes economic sense to do so.

I suspect that I do not share your confidence that they will be capable of fulfilling Australia’s future energy related challenges on their own. My nuclear advocacy is as a back of the queue / ultimate backstop technology deployment with those options, certainly not in lieu of.

If forced to choose, would you honestly opt for high emissions, very high electricity costs and/or random blackouts over nuclear?

Of course not - but that isn't the choice we are facing.

you might want to run a Geiger counter over the steam coming out of an HFR geothermal plant, that's if they ever get built. Or the fly ash bin from a coal burner, plenty of those.

Uranium has chemical properties similar to lead and other dense metals. Recall the recent drama at the port of Esperance, WA over lead. Next excuse; they'd do things differently now.

Sure - I recommend phasing out all coal fired power.

If HFR geothermal emits as much radiation as uranium mining / enrichment / nuclear power generation / waste storage then I'd recommend we avoid it too.

At the moment I have zero data regarding this though.

And here is the dilemma - wind farms and solar thermal plants need steel,...

....and diesel for all those plants to be transported to their often remote sites. But peak oil means diesel shortages.

We'll need to set aside oil and gas fields for the sole purpose of serving as an energy input into those projects.

We are slowly sliding into what I call the deadly embrace between peak oil and global warming. Global warming doesn't allow us to go for alternative fuels (tars sands, coal-to-liquids etc.) on one hand and on the other we may run out of cheap and freely flowing diesel to fix us up on those clean energy projects.

....and diesel for all those plants to be transported to their often remote sites.

Or some alternative fuel, such as Ammonia.

This will probably be buried too deep in comments for anyone to notice, but stopping Australian coal power plants would make a difference.

The following sentence is not true: "there's no point in us stopping coal use, because coal production will continue and will power plants in China and India."

Let me explain why it's not true.

There are several grades of coal. The lower the grade of coal, the more impurities in it, and the more damage it does to the coal power plant. The power plant engineers call them "clinkers" -- big chunks of ore (sometimes sulphur, sometimes other exotic metals). Hang around a coal plant and you'll hear that "number three boiler just dropped a clinker" and things like that. Power output is affected, and the more clinkers, the longer the plant will be out of action at the next maintenance window.

Anyway, the lower the coal grade, the cheaper it is. Gladstone B, for example, runs on (I think) the second lowest grade of coal, which is why they have to go to such extreme lengths to check that they aren't acidifying the local water source. That coal is mined nearby. If you dig it up, put it on a ship, get the ship out of the harbour -- then you've lost money, because no-one will buy it at a price that will cover your costs.

The coal that was going to feed Gladstone A (it was about to be re-opened last time I was involved) is so bad that the engineers involved were admitting that it was going to rip the old power plant to shreds, and it was only being done because it was due to be decommissioned anyway, and that they'd made a deal with a local company to supply cheap power which was only profitable if they used bottom-grade coal.

The point: if Australia stops building coal power plants and -- better still -- starts decommissioning the worst-polluting ones, the coal that was firing them won't go to India or China. It just simply won't be mined. It won't be worth it. It will stay in the ground, and we'll save a sky-full of carbon emissions. And sulphur dioxide emissions. And sulphuric acid emissions.

So, yes, stopping coal power plants will help.

But, there's something slightly more I'd like to add. We should shut down our coal fired plants because they are insecure. That is, I found a great big gaping hole in the security of the control systems of the most-commonly deployed control software. (In the past I used to do a lot of IT security work / SCADA security work, and CNVA stuff). I reported it to the Attorney-General's department. I explained it to various people in charge of the our national security. I told the vendor about it. I can demonstrate it trivially.

Nearly five years later, the security problem I found is not -- and will not ever get -- fixed.


  • Stopping coal power plants now will make a difference. It will make an impact on global carbon emissions. It will not be offset by an increased consumption anywhere else.
  • It is too dangerous for our national electricity grid to rely on coal power plants until certain vendors start acting responsibly, which would be highly uneconomic for them to do. I see no evidence that this is going to happen.

Here's an ornery example. In the city of Port Augusta the two power plants (IIR one is 280MW) burn a grade of coal that has been likened to dirt ie contains sand, clay, moisture, pyrite and god knows what else. A few kilometres away apparently (this is supposed to be secret) drums of yellowcake from the Olympic Dam mine are loaded on the railhead for shipment via the northern transcontinental railway to Darwin. Thence to customers in South Korea, Russia, Japan etc.

According to some the dirt burning power station goes on the to-do list. However they think uranium export is an affront that must be stopped immediately.

It will stay in the ground, and we'll save a sky-full of carbon emissions.

What kind of crap unit is "sky-full"? Can we please stick to bona fide scientific units?

Stopping coal power plants now will make a difference. It will make an impact on global carbon emissions.

How much of an impact? Please quantify how large the impact will be on global carbon emissions. What effect will it have on the graph?

And what will be the specific quantitative benefits of that in terms of sea levels, fresh water, species, severe weather events, drought etc.?

Hansen's specific plan would be not very effective. He's foolish enough to believe in CCS, for example. However, the general idea of closing down coal-fired plants in favour of just about anything else, well... that's good.

Australia alone, zilch effect.

Australia's action taking the lead and inspiring others? Possibly a significant effect.

We can't give exact and detailed scenarios because it's not an exact and detailed plan. It's just a general guideline. Details give details, guidelines give general trends and possibilities.

Australia alone, zilch effect.

Wrong. Read here what James Hansen said in the testimony in the Iowa coal case:

Moreover, we can expect a major, possibly nasty climate change event in the next years which will force us to abandon our carbon based consumer society. The earlier a nation scales back its coal business, the less chaotic the transformation will be.

He's just being argumentative. "If you reduce carbon emissions, what happens to the graph?" Uh... if you don't eat, what happens to your waistline? But, sure, he's just asking for scientific reasons...


To know the effects, you need to know the extents: How many plants? How large? What kind of coal? How complete the carbon capture?

These are not, as you pointed out, questions answered by a conceptual framework. JD knows this. JD is playing games, it seems.

There is one shortcut, however: what is the total carbon extimated to be emitted by buring all coal? Reduce that from projected totals and see if it affects tipping points or not.


Yes, it's an ambitious target - but better to aim high, at least then if you fall short you still do okay; if you aim low

Oh, shit yes it makes a difference.

In sum,
- total emissions with zero emissions growth or decline, 4,603Gt CO2e
- absent coal, 2,972Gt CO2e.
- thus, removing coal takes us well over the 450ppm range, but keeps us under the 1,000ppm range

So whether we have coal, assuming everything else stays the same, makes the difference between 450ppm and lots of drama, or 1,000ppm and - by most estimates - catastrophe.

In detail,

CO2e emitted from 2001-8, 315Gt
CO2e to 2100 giving us eventual 450ppm, 1,370-2,200Gt
CO2e to 2100 giving us eventual 1,000ppm, 3,590-4,580Gt

Current world coal consumption: 6.2Gt
Each tonne of coal burned creates 2.35t CO2e
Thus, each year the burning of 6.2Gt coal would give 17.73Gt CO2e

How much coal would we use, assuming no climate change or scarcity problems? Well, if you look at historical consumption figures here, you find that there have been some drops (for example when the USSR collapsed) and some rises, but averaged over 25 years it's been a rise of 1.69% annually. And in fact this has been the same as the rise in population over the same period. So it seems reasonable to say that if we use 6.2Gt coal with 6.65 billion people, then in 2050 with an expected levelling of population at 9 billion, we'll use 8.4Gt coal annually.

But let's be optimistic in climate change terms, and assume that our coal consumption doesn't rise, and stays at 6.2Gt annually, causing 17.73Gt CO2e emissions. By comparison total world emissions today from all sources are about 49Gt CO2e.

By 2100 we have 1,632Gt CO2e emissions from coal alone. That is, just our coal consumption is enough to take us to the 450ppm range; add in the 315Gt CO2e already emitted this century and it takes us to 1,946Gt CO2e, towards the upper end of the 450ppm range.

Adding in the 32.3Gt CO2e from other sources, each year for 92 years, that adds 2,972Gt. Add in the 315Gt already emitted and that brings us to 3,287Gt CO2e. Both numbers are well in the range giving us an eventual 1,000ppm, 6 degrees of warming and so on.

The scenarios reviewed by the IPCC were 177, split into six groups based on their eventual emissions totals. The "worst-case" were for 2100 a range of 855-1,130ppm, with 4.9-6.1C of eventual warming, and 1-3.7m of sea level rise. They were only 5 of the 177 scenarios reviewed - scientists shied away from the worst case scenarios... The warming does not include contributions from declining sinks, nor the sea level rise contributions from melting ice sheets, it's just thermal expansion.

Coal makes the difference. Australia alone, not much difference. But that is not a reason for us not to do it. In the first place, it is at times proper to do the right thing even though it won't affect the world - I don't expect my refraining from screwing around on my wife or stealing from my work to make the whole world faithful and honest, after all - and countries taking a stand can inspire others. Had the UK not stood against Germany in 1940, we would not have found Europe liberated by the US and USSR in 1945.

But he was trying to argue shutting down just some as a test.


Great. JD wants people to quantify the impact of Hansens proposal in "proper scientific units" on:
1) Carbon dioxide levels
2) Sea levels
3) Species counts
4) Fresh water supplies
5) Severe storms

Now I suspect that Hansen has published more proper scientific papers than the anonymous JD, many quantifying the negative impact of increased CO2 levels on the criteria (2-5 above) he puts forward... AND NOW the mighty micro managerial JD calls on Hansen and co to do both sides of the equation!

So, what do you want JD, a breakdown that shows how many micrometers of sea level rise avoided per year per ton of coal not burnt/exported by Australia parleyed into some measure of economic performance in subjective dollar terms?

Or, the same for species, only you haven't told us which species you are going to consider important... as of course at a latter date, the argument could always be made that Blue Whales are "more important" than say Long Eared Bandicoots. Or even how you are going to measure species... you suggest "counts" but why not by mass... or by function?

AND of course for each individual country, these measures, in what ever "proper scientific units" you decide to quantify them, will be small. Will you then argue that as each is small, and the increase per unit time minuscule, they are trivial and can therefore safely be ignored?

AND as each abatement action now is not going to have an immediate effect, but some effect lagged into the future, this exercise will rely on modelling. I can anticipate your next critique I think...

I'm sorry... But I can see the forest...

Presumably JD would not stop eating burgers, drinking a fifth of Scotch and smoking a pack a day until his doctor could tell him exactly how many days of extra life he'd get out of it :)

If my doctor strongly recommended a course of action while conceding it had "zilch" benefit, I would probably switch doctors.

Australia alone changing from coal will have zilch benefit (except in the economic and technological boost we'd get from more renewables, but we Aussies don't like that stuff) for the world; that's like saying that if you only gave up burgers but kept smoking a pack a day and downing a fifth of Scotch, the lack of burgers wouldn't help you.

Obviously the world must follow, and obviously you would have to give up all three to see a definite improvement in your prospects.

However, once you've given up one of the three and got used to the idea of giving bad things up, the other two things are likely to be easier to give up. Likewise, if Australia, a major coal user and producer, and one of the highest greenhouse gas emitters in the world, were to give up coal - well, that'd make it more likely that other countries would do so.

In the Kyoto and Bali talks there was a lot of "you first!" If some country actually found a leader with some balls, then they could go first, then the others would be a bit stuck and have to change.

And really we must ask ourselves, "why not turn off our coal?" What do we lose? We lose some sooty air, that's all. Sure, we'd have to build renewable power plants, but we're going to have to build new power plants as the years go on in any case; the only question is what kind of power plants we build.

We can build power plants on century-old designs, adding soot to the air and using a depleting resource; or we can build power plants on decade-old designs, developing a manufactured goods export industry (perhaps other countries would be happy to import wind turbines and PV cells instead of coal from us), encouraging research science in the country, creating jobs, and producing far less pollution.

It doesn't seem a very difficult choice to me.

So, what do you want JD, a breakdown that shows how many micrometers of sea level rise avoided per year per ton of coal not burnt/exported by Australia parleyed into some measure of economic performance in subjective dollar terms?

Yeah, something like that. Why not? This is the Oil Drum, and in-depth quantitative analyses are de rigueur on every other topic. Why not this one?

Look at China, for example. They're burning coal like it's going out of style because they need cheap electricity. And they'll probably start burning shale when they're done with coal for the exact same reason.

Now, you could, in theory, shut down all Chinese coal burning, and that's clearly what a lot of people here would like to do, due to the absolutely blood-curdling Climate Red Alert. So let's analyze that. We get a constant stream of info on the festering hell that awaits if China continues to burn coal. So let's hear the other side of the coin, i.e. all the wonderful milk and honey benefits that will flow forth when coal burning stops. It shouldn't be too hard to stop the coal burn once people realize how huge the benefits will be -- you know, like a 1mm drop in sea levels, no more drought etc. etc.

I'm very keen to do the big experiment. Let's shut all the coal down, for a year or two, and see what happens to CO2 levels, species, fresh water, weather, ice caps etc. etc.

I'm very keen to do the big experiment. Let's shut all the coal down, for a year or two, and see what happens to CO2 levels, species, fresh water, weather, ice caps etc. etc.

You can be as keen as mustard but it's still a stupid statement.

The counter experiment has been running for ~150 years superimposed on the vagaries of the weather and uncertainties of the global climate system and YOU propose a 1 - 2 year counter experiment! Baka.

A quantitative analysis in and off itself does not necessarily mean anything. To continue from above... I may not know how many trees are in it, but I know qualitatively what a forest is.

The "milk and honey benefits", as should be obvious, will be a habitable planet... please try to make that qualitative conceptual leap.

A quantitative analysis in and off itself does not necessarily mean anything.

I couldn't disagree more. Quantitative analysis is the sine qua non of scientific analysis. If climate models can tell us how many degrees the temperature will go up by continuing to burn coal, they can also tell us how many degrees the temperature will go down when we stop burning coal. It's simple. You just turn off the "coal emissions" parameter in the model, and see what happens: atmospheric carbon drops by x, sea levels drop by y, temperatures drop by z, ice accumulation increases by w etc. etc.

It astounds me that the people in this thread can't produce any of these numbers. It shows what political animals you are, and how little you actually care about the science.

The "milk and honey benefits", as should be obvious, will be a habitable planet...

You're just posturing and dodging the question again. Please quantify the benefits in terms of atmospheric CO2 levels, temperature, sea levels, species counts, weather events, drought etc.

It astounds me that the people in this thread can't produce any of these numbers. It shows what political animals you are, and how little you actually care about the science.

So, "the science" can be ignored by those advocating the status quo or new non-CCS coal build? James Hansen wrote this letter specifically on the back of the scientific evidence for AGW.

Now your ploy seems to be: regardless of the evidence for AGW globally, show me the numbers for the beneficial effects of not building a specific non-CCS coal plant, or for not building any more in Australia, but I don't want to see the figures on the other side (the negative quantitative effects of building new non-CCS coal plants).

Again, vague guidelines give us vague responses; detailed plans will give us detailed scenarios and the sort of response you're after.

You don't get details from vagueness.

How many coal plants get shut down, over what time period, in what places, what if anything are they replaced with, what oil and gas consumption are there, what about deforestation and fertiliser and livestock use, what about CFCs, and so on and so forth. There are a thousand variables, and you're talking about one or two variables changing in an unspecified way while not mentioning that it'd change the other variables in other ways.

It's like getting in your car in the morning and saying, "if I reduce speed, will I crash today?" You need to specify all the variables for people to be able to describe scenarios.

You don't get details from vagueness. For details you need details.

Which as an intelligent guy of course you know - you're just trying to stir us up.

Kiashu, it's definitely possible to answer my question in some fashion. For example, there is an unsourced statement on Wikipedia which states: "Even if all greenhouse emissions suddenly came to a complete halt, the climate would continue to warm well into the next century due to the residual effect of greenhouse gases." I don't know if that's true or not at this point. I would appreciate it if any readers can refute/substantiate that. Or provide any other substantiated/scientific information on what happens when you reduce carbon emissions.

The point is this: If that statement is true, then it is a very important piece of info which needs to be widely disseminated. It would mean that any attempts to mitigate carbon emissions (like Hansen's plan) will have no benefits whatsoever in terms of lowering the temperature. Following through on the plan will give you the worst of both worlds -- no cheap electricity, and no relief from increasing temperatures. It's an important issue, and I'm not just pulling your chain.

Okay... this isn't as precise as I would like, but it's a statement from the usual leading scientist consensus and a Stanford U. climatology kahuna, so it'll do the job for now:

In fact, the world's leading scientists agree that it's already too late to halt global warming entirely. "We can't prevent some damage," says Stephen Schneider, co-director of the Center for Environmental Science and Policy at Stanford University. Even if we were to magically end CO2 emissions tomorrow, the gases that we've already unleashed will continue to raise temperatures for another 150 years. "That's unpreventable," Schneider says.Source

So there you have it... question answered. Even worldwide implementation of Hansen's "solution" to the global warming problem is not going to halt the temperature rise for 150 fucking years. That's a very important piece of information that the public needs to be aware of. A solution which doesn't kick in for 150 years is not a solution at all.

You're falling into the old internet habit of the false dichotomy; either there is catastrophic climate change, or there is no climate change at all. That's wrong. It's like saying (for example) that either nuclear power will give the 1,500 Chernobyls, or be completely harmless.

Saying that there'll be some warming whatever we do does not mean that whatever we do will have no effect.

If we stopped all emissions tomorrow, we would still get climate change; if we continue business as usual, we would have even more climate change.

It's a bit like the smoker who's breathing through a tracheotomy tube giving up smoking. Will it bring his throat back? Nope. But it'll stop things getting even worse.

That's why the talk is of "mitigating" climate change rather than "stopping" climate change.

So for example at this point it seems that whatever we do - setting aside any Hansenesque visions of a global treeplanting scheme - we'll get about 2C of warming by 2100. But business as usual would give us 6C of warming. 4 degrees doesn't sound like much, but even 0.1 degree in the right (wrong) place could be the difference between (say) the source of the Ganges drying up or not. Every little bit worse climate change gets, every tenth of a degree here or there, makes the difference between the livelihood and welfare of hundreds of millions of people.

Including expletives, JD, doesn't make your argument any more rational. We're all aware that 150 years is a long time. That really isn't the point, as several here have tried to explain.

Expletives are important and useful, and he should use them a lot :)

He should just have a logical argument behind them. If he says, "1 and 1 are 2, you fuck!" that's okay by me. Whereas if he says, "1 and 1 is 3, dear wonderful man," then the kindness of his words doesn't stop them being nonsense.

I care about substance, not style :)

A solution which doesn't kick in for 150 years is not a solution at all.

It does tend to induce despair.

However, we may derive a bit of hope from Princeton's Carbon Mitigation Initiative:

In order to avoid a doubling of CO2 and dramatic climate change, society needs to act quickly to deploy low-carbon energy technologies and enhance natural carbon sinks.

The "stabilization wedges" concept illustrates the scale of emissions cuts needed in the future, and provides a common unit for comparing the carbon mitigating capacities of various energy and storage technologies.

No it doesn't mean that attempts at mitigation will have no effect. You can't possibly extrapolate a statement that warming will continue for a long time to state that, therefore, mitigation attempts will have no impact. That is just plain irrational. If an increasing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has produced an increasing rate of warming then adding more such gases will produce even higher rates of warming. Stopping additional emissions would, therefore, result in less warming than would otherwise be the case.

You don't need unsourced Wikipedia entires, though; Hansen said in the article that CO2 can persist in the atmosphere for 1000 years.

Hansen said in the article that CO2 can persist in the atmosphere for 1000 years.

All the more reason to get started on carbon-negative energy systems right away.

Worldwide carbon dioxide emissions are around 6.5 billion tons/year.  If the USA can get to 175 megatons of carbon sequestered per year via our energy systems and the same amount fixed as soil carbon via conversion of tilled land to perennial energy or forage grasses, we'd pull out 350 megatons of carbon or almost 1.3 billion tons of CO2.  If the rest of the world can quadruple that, Hansen's thousand-year figure looks more like a handful of decades.

The implications are enormous.  If we can start pulling CO2 levels down, warming would never get to the asymptotic stabilization point; we'd pass the point of peak temperature with CO2 levels falling at about 2 ppm/year and we could aim for a target of climate at mid-20th century conditions.

Worldwide carbon dioxide emissions are around 6.5 billion tons/year.


The figures given in your link are in gigatonnes of carbon, not carbon dioxide, and covers emissions from the burning of fossil fuels only.

Each tonne of carbon from fossil fuel burning is equivalent to 3.67 tonnes of carbon dioxide. So the 6.5Gt C is actually 23.9Gt CO2e. The graph you linked to stops at the year 2000; emissions have risen since then.

Fossil fuel burning makes up around 55% of all greenhouse gas emissions; the others are from livestock, rice farming, rotting biomass, deforestation, cement-making and other industrial processes, and CFCs.

The deforestation is an important point. People who propose sequestering carbon in forests and grasslands and so on must explain how they will first stop the deforestation that's already happening. If we can't stop people chopping down the forests we already have, how will we make them plant more forests?

I hate it when I get fooled by unclear labelling.

Happens to all of us. It's a confusing area, lots of people use different measures - C, CO2, CO2e - or measure the total emissions in C but the per capita emissions in CO2, and so on. If you're dishonest you can do it deliberately, switching around the units you're using will really confuse people and they're more likely to just accept whatever you're presenting as your conclusion.

Then they'll repeat it around the net and when having coffee with your friends, and before you know it someone will be telling you that solar PV never make back the energy it took to make them, or some bollocks like that.

Blind them with science and lots of numbers. Of course if you're honest you don't have to :)

Regardless, it only extends the job from a handful of decades to a century or so.  Replanting forests could probably speed that up quite a bit.

Dude, go back to your denialist blog and fornicate with the minds of those uneducated enough to buy your utter lack of logic and common sense. For example:

they can also tell us how many degrees the temperature will go down when we stop burning coal.

Who ever said they would go down if we simply stopped burning coal? This is asinine on it's face. You're just another denialist who ignores logic, ignores facts, and jumps on miniscule points out of context in an attempt to twist the debate into seeming like there actually *IS* a legitimate debate. The proof of this is in the foolishness of your statement. If you knew *anything* about climate change and were an honest participant in this discussion, you wouldn't even make such a ridiculous statement.

To wit:

- Stopping coal use does not stop all other fossil fuels. In fact, it would necessitate burning more of them.

- There is enough CO2 in the air now to keep the temperatures rising for a long time, so how is your two year experiment going to prove anything? But you know this.

Go waste your acolytes' time, eh?


The purpose of science is to reduce uncertainty and increase our understanding of "reality", possibly with some application in mind. Quantitative methods are a tool in achieving that objective.

What you might be asking for are managerial guidelines, objectives that can be met, criteria that monitored OVER TIME (more than just 2 years), will be able to indicate whether the adopted proposals are meeting the stated objectives.

We (believe we) know what the increase in CO2 is doing, and we can guess (from models), what removing CO2 is going to do. Hansen has proposed one method by which this could be accomplished.

You appear to object to this on the grounds that you can not bear to live with the possibility that your electricity is going to be more expensive...

Quantitative analysis provided the evidence that phlogiston was a dodgy theoretical concept... but the final step was not quantitative.

Similarly for the Ether.

Simplistically, the big questions in science start with "Why...?", Qualitative; proceed to "How?", Quantitative; concluding with "Because", a Synthesis to be refined later.*

And now the parable of JD the Quantifier.

One day, a bright spark with too much time on his hands, decides to quantitatively asses the effects of gravity on free fall. Being bold and unafraid, he takes the express lift to the top of Tokyo Midtown, and leaps off. Assiduously counting the floors as he goes, everything is fine until half way down some "unscientific" killjoy calls out ...

Hansen: For Gods sake, use your parachute! Our research and models indicate that your rapidly increasing rate of decent will make it impossible for you to stop. Your quality of life will suffer.

Our intrepid spark responds...

JD: I don't believe your alarmist modelling, and it'll cost me to repack this chute. I'll see what the incremental effects of a staged deployment are. I'll start with this hanky... now don't interrupt my count... [qualitative splat]


*Historians of science - be lenient. ;-)
For illustrative purposes only.

How much of an impact? Please quantify how large the impact will be on global carbon emissions. What effect will it have on the graph?

You're mentally deficient.

You lack an imagination.

Imagine if all the mountain glaciers melted? These feed all the great rivers of the world. How much fresh water do you need to live? Agriculture will be affected, droughts will come more frequently. Lake levels will drop.
Energy prices will rise as hydroelectric plants stop running, nuclear plants will go offline, electric demand will soar, etc.




“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”-Einstein

I get concerned when individuals demand that one answers their questions in terms they choose to define. These aren't really 'questions' at all, but concealed statements and accusations. They don't come straight out a say, 'I think you're a frackin' liar, man!' No, they tart it up 'subtly' by posing fake questions demanding proof, numbers and sources.

It's rather primative rhetoric in my opinion, not designed to develop a discusssion, but the opposite. The obsession with detail is fine in it's place, but can be distracting, the old phrase about not being able to see the wood for the trees springs to mind.

Jay Hanson has some 'wonderful' and deeply disturbing stories about how the Whitehouse has tried to censor his public statements and bring him to heel, but the crass, incompetence of their efforts ultimatley proved to be useless. Though out of revenge and shear spite they managed to cancel funding for a satelite that would have given us a substantial ammount of new knowledge about global warming.
That alone should have gotten Bush impeached, what an insuferable arse that man truly is!

If you go to the original link to this letter, attached are fossil fuel fact sheets that may answer your question.

I am not sure Hansen believes carbon capture technology will work, he is simply saying don't let the co2 from coal get into the atmosphere. As a climatologist this is a solid position because it keeps the discussion within his realm of expertise.

Also, his goal is a social shift. It would set a precedent that could lead to solving a problem.

But from your comments it doesn't seem like you care to have a rational discussion about these obvious "subtleties."

I'm up for a 'rational' discussion.
But after encountering dozens of climate change deniers I notice that they are unreasonably skeptical when it comes to discussions. Its a lot like trying to convince somebody that the earth revolves around the sun. Unless that person is able to visualize how it could work, he'll never really accept the theory. I'm convinced that deniers never make it that far and eventually start questioning 'authority', causation and even perfectly normal scientific laws.
For example, one denier told me that there was no way to tell if higher global temperatures would cause more ice to melt.

I don't think I'm being unfair to suggest deniers suffer from a lack of imagination.

I suggest they try HARDER.

Jason, those fact sheets definitely don't answer my question, as you yourself would know if you had taken a minute or two to read them.

Well, there are two sides to this.

First, your question is absurd and can't be answered seriously.

Second, the fact sheet gives some perspectives on where emissions are coming from, which would partially address your issues like "what about China," "shutting down a few Australian plants wouldn't make a difference" sort of points.

Sorry to be unclear.

First, your question is absurd and can't be answered seriously.

Cost-benefit analysis is a common sense procedure which is routinely applied to public policy proposals like Hansen's.

Hansen suggests that 80% of Australia's electricity generation should be shut down, unless it can be retrofitted with carbon capture systems of unknown feasibility and cost. If truly implemented, that would impose horrendous penalties and costs on the Australian people, like permanent blackout over most of the country etc. That's the cost side of the analysis.

I then ask very simple questions about the proposed benefits like:
1) If implemented, what effect is Hansen's proposal going to have on atmospheric levels of CO2?
2) If implemented, what effect is Hansen's proposal going to have on global temperature?

Those are just basic common sense questions which you really should be able to answer. I don't see any reason why those questions are "absurd" or "can't be answered seriously". In fact, since Hansen's proposal is being presented as a solution to a crisis of rising temperatures, I can't think of any more relevant question than "How much will this proposal reduce the temperature?"

You just seem to be dodging the issue in bad faith. Perhaps you can elaborate.

If truly implemented, that would impose horrendous penalties and costs on the Australian people, like permanent blackout over most of the country etc. That's the cost side of the analysis.

Surely this is just alarmist cost benefit modelling?

As a member of the Australian public, I am not afraid of the "horrendous penalties" IF in phasing out coal a staged replacement is made. This would have to include a full and open discussion, perhaps including a referendum, of the currently politically unpopular nuclear option. Not that I favour nuclear... but... we are still a democratic commonwealth, and that's how things are supposed to be done.

As Donald Horne observed, Australia is called "The Lucky Country", not for good reasons, but because our mineral wealth has allowed us to "live easy" without making some hard choices.

Japan is not a technological country because it is blessed with natural resources. It has had few options.

If we are to avoid the worst consequences of GW, Australia for one may have to make the hard choice and stop living off the mineralogical teat!

Perhaps the real fear is that Australia, a large exporter of coal, will unilaterally restrict it's shipments of metallurgical and thermal coal.

There are several grades of coal. The lower the grade of coal, the more impurities in it, and the more damage it does to the coal power plant. The power plant engineers call them "clinkers" -- big chunks of ore (sometimes sulphur, sometimes other exotic metals).

Coal has impurities, sure.  However, these are crushed (and many screened out) as part of the fuel preparation; these plants are called powdered coal combustion for a reason.  These get blown into the furnace along with the coal, and engulfed (and often melted, and sometimes smelted) in the flame.

It is the fused ash that's called "clinkers".  If ash gets deposited above the steam generator and damages tubes when it falls off, that could easily cause a drop in power.  However, this has nothing to do with the size of anything in the fuel stream.

Letter sounds desperate, not because time is short, but because most do not accept global warming.

...most do not accept global warming.

I don't think that's the case:

MIT survey: Climate change tops Americans' environmental concerns
Nancy Stauffer, Laboratory for Energy and the Environment
October 31, 2006

According to a recent MIT survey, Americans now rank climate change as the country's most pressing environmental problem--a dramatic shift from three years ago, when they ranked climate change sixth out of 10 environmental concerns.

Almost three-quarters of the respondents felt the government should do more to deal with global warming, and individuals were willing to spend their own money to help.

"While terrorism and the war in Iraq are the main issues of national concern, there's been a remarkable increase in the American public's recognition of global warming and their willingness to do something about it," said Stephen Ansolabehere, MIT's Elting R. Morison Professor of Political Science.



Most ready for 'green sacrifices'

Most people are ready to make personal sacrifices to address climate change, according to a BBC poll of 22,000 people in 21 countries.

Seventy per cent of people said they were prepared to change their lifestyle - even in the US and China, the world's two biggest emitters of carbon dioxide.

Opinion was split over tax rises on oil and coal - 44% against, 50% in favour.

Support would rise if the cash was used to boost efficiency and find new energy sources, the poll suggested.

BBC environment reporter Matt McGrath says the poll suggests that in many countries people are more willing than their governments to contemplate serious changes to their lifestyles to combat global warming.

Overall, 83% of respondents throughout the world agreed that individuals would definitely or probably have to make lifestyle changes to reduce the amount of climate-changing gases they produce. Some 70% said they were ready to make personal sacrifices.



You are out of touch with what the vast majority of people are thinking. I had a meeting with my congressman the other day, and a few hours later he met with a physician group. Here's how the local paper covered it:

Mar. 27, 2008, by Rob Burgess
When California 1st District Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) stopped by the Mendocino-Lake County Medical Society in the 200 block of West Henry Street Wednesday for a midday meeting slated to focus on rural health care, the first thing they talked about, oddly enough, was global warming.

“I think the climate change we’re seeing now is cyclical,” said Jens Vinding, a radiologist and society president who has lived in the county since 1972. “I think we need to wait a few more years to see what happens.”

Before he could settle into his seat, but without missing a beat, Thompson said he respectfully disagreed.

“Well I won’t be coming to you for any medical procedures I might need,” he said, laughing. “I don’t think we have a few more years to wait on this issue. The good news is that very few people share your view.”

Thompson is right. People are much better informed and very nervous.

Anecdotally, those surveys don't seem to capture people's true concerns. At least not those in countries polluting most. I see no clamour for action, to match the seriousness of the situation. I see no real desire to change lifestyles in order to help reduce emissions. People I talk to, who should be quite capable of a basic understanding of the science, don't care and don't really accept AGW.

I hope the anecdotal evidence is wrong but I've little hope on that score. If the majority of people really understood the need, our political leaders would be making climate change the number one issue (I wish it was resource depletion, though), because that's the message they would be getting from the people, and they would be proposing changes that would actually impact economic growth rather than fantasizing about expanding the economy through world leadership on clean energy.

I concur that the cognitive dissonance is huge.

People really care on the one hand, and are afraid of inaction, but don't appear capable yet of making a shift.

A lot has to do with media messages. When the average American watches 3 hours of TV per day how mixed up are they going to be?

Message on broadcast channel: Life on the planet is in peril, we must change our ways.
Commercial break: Go shopping

I see no clamour for action, to match the seriousness of the situation. I see no real desire to change lifestyles in order to help reduce emissions.

I think a lot of that is due to government policy.

Bush & Co. knew that peak oil was coming back in the late 1990's.  The obvious thing to do, especially after Saudi Arabia showed itself to be a hazard rather than an ally, was to cut back on oil consumption.  What were the Republicans' first actions related to this back in 2001?

  1. Pass a huge tax break for gas-guzzlers used for business purposes... whether the application merited the size of the vehicle or not.
  2. Promoted more and more consumption after 9/11, including big trucks from Detroit.

You see the same policy effects in the results of the building boom.  It would have been relatively simple for building codes to direct some of that money to top-notch insulation, best-practice building orientation, and other things to guarantee that the money was being spent to keep future expenses down.  Instead, we got mountains worth of granite countertops which will outlast the cheap OSB sheathing and vinyl siding by centuries.

In the paper that Hansen attaches to his letter to Rudd, he estimates that atmospheric CO2 will have to be reduced from present value (~380ppm)to 350ppm. There are proposals for capturing CO2 from the ambient atmosphere (e.g. google Klaus Lakner). I look at Keeling's curve and see that 350ppm CO2 occurred in 1987-1988.

I wonder if anyone knows of cumulative use data for all fossil fuels by year. To get back to 350ppm we will have to extract from atmosphere an amount of CO2 equivalent to all the fossil fuels that have been produced and burnt since 1987. And it has to be converted to something that won't leak back into the atmosphere. With some good fossil fuel production data, one could estimate fairly easily how much Carbon in tonnes that is and get started on the engineering design of CO2 capture and processing systems needed.

Of course, if Hansen revises his estimate of the target CO2 concentration, the design will have to be scaled accordingly. It is surely a big project to get the stuff out of the atmosphere, but the alternative is pretty grim. Think of it as a really gigantic WPA for all the unemployed mortgage brokers and financial derivatives salesmen. This would be honest, productive work.

A better target is actually 320 ppm. I think Hansen gives 350 ppm as the absolute upper bound but a closer reading of his work suggests below 320 ppm should be the potential safe zone.

www.climatecodered.net reviews ways of achieving this. Basically, the natural sinks need to be enhanced through good management.

I have done a couple of recent radio shows about this and will be doing more over the next few weeks.


I read the report - at your (Thanks Jason) urging from a couple of weeks ago.

A couple of take aways for me is that the scientific method which (most of us) know and love may simply fail us here in terms of PROVING cause and effect. By the time can be certain - if ever - it PROBABLY (see below) will be too late.

“Often, scientists do not like to release their results until they are confident of the outcome. Important decisions need to be made now and cannot wait another five to seven years. Scientists will have to leave their comfort zone and communicate their findings on emerging
risks, even when scientific confidence in those findings may be low… Sometimes, it is worth taking some risks in the short term to avoid worse risks down the track. We have spent too long being risk-averse about short-term costs and ignored the benefits of avoiding long-term
damages.” — Roger Jones, CSIRO Principal Research Scientist, December 2007 (Jones, 2007b)

Thus the call for looking at this through a risk-management lens. Yep - it's a gamble but the downside risk of even a 1 in 1,000,000 chance that Global Warming is real and could (will) wipe us out should be enough to trigger the required actions and not wait for any definitive answer from the scientific method.

Risk preference: When designing aircraft, bridges, large buildings or approving new pharmaceuticals, strict risk standards are applied, with a widely used rule-of-thumb being to keep risk of mortality to less than one in a million. The Apollo moon programme aimed to keep the risk of the Saturn rockets plunging into population centres to less than one in a million, to have a less than one in a thousand risk of the astronauts losing their lives, and to have less than a one in one hundred chance of mission objectives not being achieved. When it comes to climate change and the viability of the whole planet, it doesn’t make sense to apply a lesser standard of risk aversion. So we should aim, for example, to have less than one in a million chance of losing the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets or failing to recover the Arctic summer.


There is a piece at Realclimate on air capture


Lackner and coworkers have some patent applications covering potential devices, e.g.



The BP statistical review gives the production of oil, gas and coal year by year so i guess it could be worked out from that. Sorry I don't have the time to look into this further right now.

Thanks, tonyw. I found a current pdf of BP review in Google. Unfortunately, it only reports back to 1995. I think I need data back to 1987. And, per Jason's comment, the real target might better be 320ppm. In which case data is needed back to 1965.

Also a comment on Jason's idea that enhanced natural retention of CO2 in biosphere should be a priority: We badly need the estimate of the size of the problem that we hope to solve. To think that problem can be solved by tinkering with biosystem at the margins, seems unlikely to me. I'd be much relieved if I could be proved wrong with real *data*. I fancy myself to be one of those science types who value data.

It is surely a big project to get the stuff out of the atmosphere.... Think of it as a really gigantic WPA for all the unemployed mortgage brokers and financial derivatives salesmen.

I don't think those people are going to be much help.  The real work is going to be done by process chains starting with plants, so the front lines are going to be manned by farmers and forestry workers.  Button-pushers (and code-wonks like me) are going to be helping mostly by writing checks.

This would be honest, productive work.

True, and one of the most important things we can do is add to the primary food-producing mission of farming the secondary missions:  the capture and recycling of carbon and chemical nutrients.

Its interesting that some Americans, and I am American, see it their duty to lecture other countries on how they should act while doing just the opposite themselves. Here in the U.S. we generate about 75% of our electricity with fossil fuels, mostly coal.
From my view there are only three alternatives for the future of energy in the U.S. or Australia for that matter. One we burn coal, and screw the GW question Two we reduce the use of energy by about 80% with the social and economic chaos that would follow, and last move to nuclear power for both electricity and liquid fuels.

Wind, solar, and wave power can only reduce the quantity of fuels needed by coal or nuclear plants as they do not provide dispachable or base load power. Using batteries, flywheels, pumped hydro, etc to backup wind and solar are magical thinking at the needed storage volumes.
Hansen’s suggestion that industry convert to gas and hydrogen is nonsensical as gas when used for heat is just coal light, and hydrogen in not an energy source.

Coal sequestering will be a nonstarter when the people find out it will double the price of electricity, at a minimum, and you are going to pump hundreds of millions of tons of a high pressure reactive liquified gas into the underground each year. Then some scientists working for the coal companies assure us it will not come back for a long long time. Yea not in my back yard.

As for the safety and economic viability of nuclear, irony on, you can see the disasters that have befallen Japan and France. Irony off. If you don’t like nuclear you will be getting coal as there will be hell to pay when the rolling blackouts start. I know, I saw what happened in California in 2001 when Joe Sixpack, and Molly Sockermom had there air conditioning and TVs go off because of the lack of electricity. The Governor was impeached, and the “environmentalist” legislator approved 14 new power plants in two weeks. They had not approved a single power plant in California in the previous 20 years.

Wind, solar, and wave power can only reduce the quantity of fuels needed by coal or nuclear plants as they do not provide dispachable or base load power. Using batteries, flywheels, pumped hydro, etc to backup wind and solar are magical thinking at the needed storage volumes.

Maybe in the USA I would agree with you.

Australian east coast, no, I respectfully disagree.

Pumped hydro can already do 10% of the entire generating capacity of the systems, and the limiting factor on that is actually the interlinks between Tumut and Sydney and Tumut and Melbourne. We could interlink across the Tasman to New Zealand for about the same price as a coal power plant giving us nice uncorrelated wind, hydro and geothermal. If we were really desperate, we could sacrifice the Franklin River in Tasmania. (Politically unlikely, but technically entirely possible and not terribly expensive.)

Besides which, our peak generating times are the hot, sunny days in the middle of summer. So solar happens to provide scalable power generation at just the time it's needed, which is why it's less of an issue here than (say) the middle of continental USA when peak generation occurs in the middle of winter when renewables are at their worst.

I don't see any "magical thinking" for us. What's the problem with it?

Meganerd, I don't think "10%" is going to do much beyond 10% of fossil. To date, no solar OR wind has replaced a single coal plant. If coal is the enemy (and I think it is, basically) then only nuclear can displace such a plant, at least at a price that is reasonable. No solar "plan" is capable of the low prices that would make it attactive to society. The cheapest one today, the one they are building in the Mojahve in southern California is coming in at 8,000/KW. At that's NOT for 24 hour a day power. The hot-salt storage means a on-demand hit of whatever % they want to keep from the grid to heat up the salt.

Even eastern Aust. peak is AFTER solar peak, not at solar peak (which is around noon). Thus, increases in costs for thermal storage.

I think if your country is serious, it will have to go to zero CO2 nuclear. Sequestration of CO2 from natural gas or coal has not been a proven viable commercial technology anywhere yet. It's all smoke and mirror (no poun intended) so far.

Nuclear offers a serious, non-polluting way of achiving any carbon goal. It's why Onterio is the only region in the world that is really serious about phasing out ALL coal plants. With nuclear. Germany is phasing out nuclear plants, with coal plants. I'd choose Ontario.


I can't think of any case where nuclear power has replaced a coal plant. There are cases though where proposed coal plants are not being built because wind has ramped up. This is because wind is much more nimble and can come into exisistance within the planning timescale of a coal plant. Nuclear power is built in response to a vauge idea that there might be a need for power sometime in the future. Coal is built because there is a demonstrated need, and wind is built because it is a big money maker. Shortly, we'll see solar replacing coal plants because it will be cheaper. Nuclear, on the other hand, is more expensive than coal and can only get built in a very skewed market.


Never mind all of france.

So far as I know, France didn't build nuclear and then close down coal-fired plants; they just went from very little power generation to building nuclear.

Which is what Chris was saying: countries building nuclear don't necessarily use it to replace coal, still less have lower emissions. As I noted earlier, the largest generator of nuclear power in the world - the US - is also the highest emitter of greenhouse gases, and one of the highest per capita.

So there's not some magic thing that happens when you build nuclear that a lot of your greenhouse gas emissions go away.

Basically it seems that the appetite for electricity is so great that generators, whatever they're powered with, don't get shut down until they're ready to fall down. So it's quite plausible that if (say) Australia were to build half a dozen nuclear power plants, we'd still keep open the coal-fired ones, too.

It seems to be pretty rare for a country to tear up old power stations when they're still working. A few die from neglect (eg Bulgaria) or because they can't be fuelled anymore, and there are a couple of cases of countries abandoning some or all of their nuclear after a referendum (Sweden, Italy), or because of foreign safety demands (eg Lithuania), or after abandoning a nuclear weapons programme (without the weapons, nuclear didn't seem worth the trouble, as for example in North Korea).

Come to think of it, the only power plants ever abandoned for any reasons other than them just plain wearing out are nuclear ones. Wow, no wonder you nuclear guys are so strident, it's really unpopular. Even coal stations are more popular, and coal is absolutely filthy and vilely polluting! Poor nukers :)

France you say?

Coal generation looks pretty steady to me. Nuclear power is more expensive than coal so it does not replace it. It seems to be less expensive than oil though, at least judging from this chart. But France hasn't had a big nuclear accident yet.


What do you suppose coal use would have looked like if they hadn't ramped up nuclear generation, hrmm?

Don't know what Germany might have charged for it.


Hi Chris,

In Texas USA the public voted down a massive expansion proposal of the coal based power industry last year. The subsequent proposal for meeting energy needs included a contemporary combination of nuclear and wind. Both technologies are currently being pursued. And good for them.

Also in the UK, the current nuclear expansion plans have resulted from a public rejection of coal and other fossil fuels.

Coal displacements (principally from nuclear and wind) are all around us, except - as Hansen is so humbly and politely pointing out - in Australia; where according to the CARMA database, we are on the verge of commissioning several new coal stations.

Actually, the South Texas license application process is on hold. As I understand it, they can't come up with credible cost figures. The cost figures looked at recently in Oklahoma were upward of $6/Watt so that may be the origin of the credibility gap. In my opinion, in addition to cost, one needs to look at the risk to the cooling pond from storm surge in the advent of sea level rise. An inland site might make more sense for a new build. There appears to be more wind and transmission going in in Texas though.


Even eastern Aust. peak is AFTER solar peak, not at solar peak (which is around noon). Thus, increases in costs for thermal storage.

Yes, you are right, but in the interests of nitpicking, the majority of solar generating capacity would be housed west of the Great Dividing Range so the peak solar generation time would come after the noon-time of the two most heat-affected cities (Brisbane and Sydney usually).

Which is still not quite late enough -- we would need to connect the west coast grid to the east coast grid and have solar plants in the north west powering the airconditioners of the east coast at 3-4pm in the afternoon Sydney time. And it would be many, many millions of dollars to build such a 5,000km 10GW interlink.

Which is why I suspect increasing the Tumut interlinks and using hydro pumping might end up cheaper.

But, if I it turns out that we can't push our transfer-electricity-across-time hydro capacity beyond our existing 10%, then the giant East-West interlink is still an option, and shows that we can quite sanely rely on solar for our peak loads.

Yes, electricity prices will go up. On the other hand, we have an overheating economy at the moment so increasing electricity prices is a good thing since it would dampen economic activity. If it is such a bugbear that the rising electricity prices drop us into recession, well we have a lot of room to drop interest rates.

(There's still the problem of handling peak electricity demand on the west coast, but as I've mentioned before, there are demand-side control options there and the population on the west coast is relatively small.)

Here in the U.S. we generate about 75% of our electricity with fossil fuels

Not quite that much; EIA says it's closer to 70%.

Wind, solar, and wave power can only reduce the quantity of fuels needed by coal or nuclear plants...

Excuse me, but isn't that all we need?  Reduce the amount of fossil fuels required, and thus the amount burned?

as they do not provide dispachable or base load power.

You don't need dispatchable supply for everything, and technologies like CAES appear to be able to provide considerable dispatch capabilities from a source like wind (though off-peak nuclear would do also).

CAES fired with gas from carbonization of biomass could be part of a carbon-negative energy system.  Given the following assumptions:

  • biomass costs $50/dry ton at the point of gasification
  • biomass contains 17.4 GJ/ton of energy, of which 50% is liberated as heat and gas in carbonization (half remains in the charcoal)
  • the CAES system consumes 1 kWh of off-peak wind power and 4000 BTU (4.22 MJ) of biomass energy to produce 1 dispatchable kWh out
  • off-peak wind power is available for US5¢/kWh

the variable cost per kWh would be
USD0.05 + USD50*(2*4.22e6/17.4e9) = USD0.0742/kWh.  Add capital costs and O&M to get the total.

I think we could manage with this.  If the USA produced 30% directly from wind and solar and another 30% of our electricity from carbonization-fired CAES (~1200 billion kWh/year), it would require
2*4.22e6 J biomass energy/kWh /17.4e9 J/ton of biomass * 1.2e12 kWh
= 582 million dry tons of biomass per year (within our capabilities with relative ease).  It would also produce about 30% of the input biomass as charcoal, so call it 175 million tons of sequestration-ready carbon.

You have a better idea of the possibilities for Australia; how much bagasse do you get each year?

Bagasse: quite a bit - I'm going to do a post on this one day (it makes a a nice supplement to the biogas and cogeneration options).

wow. Am I missing something, or does Mr. Hansen commute ~170 miles to work at Goddard? I love a hypocrite.

Now, I'm not that familiar with US geography... but before I called someone a hypocrite I'd check some things out.

Hansens wiki entry has this to say.

James E. Hansen (born March 29, 1941 in Denison, Iowa) heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies[1] in New York City, a part of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, Earth Sciences Division.

Which, even without knowing his job description, suggests that he might have reason to be visiting both New York AND Maryland... and given that the man seems to spend a large amount of time at hearings in Washington a location somewhat central would be the least hypocritical (IE logical) place to live.

(You may need to zoom out to see that this is in fact where Kintersville, the address at the bottom of Hansens letter, is located)

Hi Guys,

I think we all know that even if God wrote to Rudd, and told him to desist, it would not happen. The Lemmings always run over the cliff they never get diverted.

Think of the following:- I used to fly a Magnetometer hanging out the back of an aircraft, looking for Uraniuum.

Whenever we would fly over the downwind side of a Coal Powered Power Station, the computer readout of Radiation would jump off the work station.

As I remember, it was far worse than the readout for Uranium. Thorium, Caesium and a whole host of Radio Active Isotopes are burned and spewed out the coal burners.

The CO2 is small potatoes.

This is Democratic Forum and we are far smarter than any elected Politicians, yet we have (So far) 77 different ideas, none of which agree, on how to solve a simple Life/Death problem, which may well reduce us to "Primate status"

Do we really expect these lesser mortals, whom we elect, precisely because they are incapable of intelligent thought, to actually get things right.

I am not a Communist but Stalin certainly took Russia quite far by getting rid of his 40 million dissenters.

Mao (in my opinion)is truly the Father of modern China. He had to get rid of (They now say) 60 million 'Status Quo" trouble makers who wanted to keep doing things "the old way"

Rudd, Mc Cain, Obama, and Clinton will certainly keep doing things the old way.

I secretly suspect that our Democracy may not even have the potential to sink into Classical Anarchy. Ours may the last system before extinction

If Australia, the U.S. and Russia signed a multilateral treaty to ban all exports of coal for the next 50 years and put a moratorium on building of any new domestic coal-fired power plants that do not incorporate CCS technology, then the C02 problem would be solved via the "starve the beast" approach. China and India energy growth would be curtailed and scaled back on the back 9 of peak oil, and the developed world will squabble over the resources needed to build and operate nuclear power plants and other alternative energy options.

Who precisely is going to make this happen? Putin? Which of the three U.S. presidential candidates is anti globalization enough to push for a multinational regime of non trade?

It's interesting how much the world has changed since 1990. Then the Chinese riding their bicycles around Beijing was symbolic of communist poverty. Today, the Dutch riding their bicycles around Amsterdam is a sign of hip environmentally aware upper middle class wealth.

I can't see it as well-advised policy to even contemplate attempting to starve - and, if you're talking about putting big restrictions on energy availability in India and China, you're starving people in reality rather than in metaphor - two and a half billion people with nuclear weapons. Trying to do this would start a world war: look at what the oil embargo on Japan in the early 1940s ended up causing.

Why do you think the Zhongnanhai would be notably less keen on overseas involvement, whether with money or with military advisors or with tanks and aircraft and, in the last extremity, chemical weapons and hydrogen bombs, to maintain its access to energy than the White House is?

Was this an April Fool's joke? No I guess not. There's only one thing going to even dent the increase in Coal fired plants in Asia over next 10 years. That would be demand suppression by another Great Depression or World War. A whiney letter by James just isn't going to do it.
I'll selectively mention some previous threads:-

1. COGNITIVE DISSONANCE : Most people are happy to agree with motherhood surveys on climate change , even turn a few lights our for "Earth Hour", but don't ask them to turn off the Plasma screen during their favoutite sport or the air/con on a hot summer's day.
2. MONEY: The big banks just blew $300 billion we know about due to subprime fever. Could be plenty more losses to come. Where is the MONEY for all the dreams of wind/solar/wave/hot air going to come from.WE are not going to shut down anything remotely viable in the next few years and quadruple electricity bills. If you did some honest surveys now, I think most people would be more short term focussed on inflation; energy costs; housing costs;food costs; interest rates etc. Someone did an great article here on "discounting the future". That's what we humans do.
3. ASIA. ASIA : Who is going to stop China/India/Vietnam/ Indonesia et al using there own vast coal reserves as they all plan to do to get themselves on the fast track to raise living standards towards our own Consumer Hell. The financial power is rapidly shifting East.
4. COMPUTER MODELS : If all the financial engineering hot shots can get it wrong on risk abatement models in their CDO's and leveraged debt obligations why can't all the group thinking IPCC funded guys be way off on their own models. I'm a sceptic not a denier and I can read and even hold an advanced science degree.

Finally, my own cognitive dissonance reduction ability has me very alarmed at the possible futures but well invested in Oil; Gas; Coal and Uranium shares so that my family eats tomorrow.. love this site.

group thinking IPCC funded guys be way off on their own models

Try to avoid the canned rhetoric "group thinking" meme, sceptic.

I would reverse the argument myself and ask why is it that deniers (not you) argue against modelling when its climate, but not when its finance/economics?

Of course all models are only as good as the data fed into them, the assumptions on which they are built and the simplifications made.

If your assumption is eternal economic growth, then I guess your financial model might bump up against reality between recessions.

The "group thinking IPCC guys" of course publish their models where they are scrutinised... and picked apart.

You are also under a misunderstanding about the sources of funds. The IPCC collates data, "The IPCC does not carry out research, nor does it monitor climate or related phenomena."

Open scrutiny of models may not happen for your "hotshots" until the firm goes belly up and the creditors ask "Wheres my money... where's my fucking money??" (telephone cord around neck optional)

If all the financial engineering hot shots can get it wrong on risk abatement models in their CDO's and leveraged debt obligations why can't all the group thinking IPCC funded guys be way off on their own models.

This says more about the maturity of financial "engineering" than it says about climate science. See Mandelbrot for analysis.

Hansen is a fool. He has absolutely no idea what he is talking about.

Thank you pointing this out, oh mighty genius.

Everybody - we've been wasting our time discussing this - jjauregui says so - and we all know he knows everything - as demonstrated by the impeccable logic and data that he has presented.

Oh - sorry - I seem to have mistaken you for someone who is worth paying attention to - do you have any useful information for us or are you just a troll ?

Good comment, Big Gav, your journey to the dark side is almost complete. All you need now is a few choice "f-bombs" :)