CO2 Is Greening The Planet

CCNet –  2 July 2012
The Climate Policy Network

Savannahs Soon To Be Covered By Forests

A new study published today in “Nature” by authors from the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and the Goethe University Frankfurt suggests that large parts of Africa’s savannas may well be forests by 2100.  The study suggests that fertilization by atmospheric carbon dioxide is forcing increases in tree cover throughout Africa.  A switch from savanna to forest occurs once a critical threshold of CO2 concentration is exceeded, yet each site has its own critical threshold.  The implication is that each savanna will switch at different points in time, thereby reducing the risk that a synchronous shock to the earth system will emanate from savannas. —Goethe University Frankfurt, 28 June 2012

Here’s my advice to the UN about how to get its mojo back on global warming:  Accept reality.  Stop making energy more expensive.  Start telling the truth. –Lorrie Goldstein, Toronto Sun, 29 June 2012

Coal has overtaken gas as the main method of keeping the UK’s lights on, figures show. Britain is burning more now than at any time since 2006, despite official promises to move to greener fuels. Imports are up 20 per cent to 18 million tons this year — with coal responsible for generating 42 per cent of all UK electricity, the Department of Energy says. –Ben Jackson, The Sun, 29 June 2012

It is a night and day difference in power markets on the different sides of the Atlantic ocean.  Coal generation is booming in the UK, where it just displaced natural gas as the top source of electricity.  What’s the difference? The price of natural gas is low here and expensive there, because America has embraced the Shale Gas revolution, while the UK and Europe have not. —John Hanger’s Facts of the Day, 29 June 2012

Families could lose thousands of pounds thanks to a government scheme aimed at cutting bills by making homes energy efficient. MPs will today vote on the Green Deal offering loans of up to £10,000 to households for improvements like loft insulation, but Labour says families face paying more than twice that. –Tom McTague, The Mirror, 2 July 2012

The Met Office’s track record of short-range (five-day) forecasting is, in my experience, very good and getting better, but its longer-range predictions have often been not just badly wrong, but consistently biased on the warm, dry side. Now look at the curriculum vitae of the chairman of the Met Office, Robert Napier. He is also chairman of the Green Fiscal Commission and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and has been a director of the Carbon Disclosure Project, the Alliance of Religions and Conservation and the Climate Group. He is so high up in the church of global warming, he is a carbon cardinal. –Matt Ridley, The Times, 2 June 2012

The tectonic plates of Middle East politics are shifting fast. Egypt’s Arab spring may have run into the sand of anti-democratic Islamism, but the days when oil-rich Arab sheikhs colluded to hold Western economies to ransom will soon end.  Massive shale oil and gas discoveries across the West, Israel’s rising status as a Middle East energy powerhouse and a deepening internal rift over strategic policy are all colluding to hasten OPEC’s demise. –Peter Glover, Energy Tribune, 29 June 2012

1)  CO2 Is Greening The Planet: Savannahs Soon To Be Covered By Forests – Goethe University Frankfurt, 28 June 2012

2)  North Africa : Ground Zero For Global Warming – Real Science, 1 July 2012

3)  Anti-Shale Greens Help Old King Coal Back To Power – John Hanger’s Facts of the Day, 29 June 2012

4)  Labour Party Attacks Green Deal – The Mirror, 2 July 2012

5)  Matt Ridley: The Met Office’s Green Bias – The Times, 2 June 2012

6)  Lorrie Goldstein: How The UN Could Get Its Mojo Back On Global Warming – Toronto Sun, 29 June 2012

7)  Peter Glover: The End Of OPEC Despotism – Energy Tribune, 29 June 2012

 

1)  CO2 Is Greening The Planet: Savannahs Soon To Be Covered By Forests – Biodiversität und Klima Forschungszentrum, Goethe University Frankfurt, 28 June 2012

A new study published today in “Nature” by authors from the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and the Goethe University Frankfurt suggests that large parts of Africa’s savannas may well be forests by 2100. The study suggests that fertilization by atmospheric carbon dioxide is forcing increases in tree cover throughout Africa. A switch from savanna to forest occurs once a critical threshold of CO2 concentration is exceeded, yet each site has its own critical threshold. The implication is that each savanna will switch at different points in time, thereby reducing the risk that a synchronous shock to the earth system will emanate from savannas.

The savannahs may change to forests within 100 years, according to new research which believes CO2 may lead to rapid tree growth

Tropical grasslands, savannas and forests, areas the authors call the savanna complex, are expected to respond sensitively to climate and atmospheric changes. This is because the main players, grasses and trees, differ fundamentally in their response to temperature, carbon dioxide supply and fire and are in an unrelenting struggle for the dominance of the savanna complex. The outcome of this struggle determines whether vast portions of the globe’s tropical and sub-tropical regions are covered with grasslands, savannas or forests.  In the past such shifts in dominance have played out in slow motion, but the current wave of atmospheric changes has accelerated the potential rate of change.

Experimental studies have generally shown that plants do not show a large response to CO2 fertilization.  “However, most of these studies were conducted in northern ecosystems or on commercially important species” explains Steven Higgins, lead author of the study from the Bio-diversity and Climate Reseach Centre and Goethe-University. “In fact, only one experimental study has investigated how savanna plants will respond to changing CO2 concentrations and this study showed that savanna trees were essentially CO2 starved under pre-industrial CO2 concentrations, and that their growth really starts taking off at the CO2 concentrations we are currently experiencing.“

The vegetation shifts that the Higgins and Scheiter study projects are an example of what some theorists call catastrophic regime shifts.  Such catastrophic regime shifts can be triggered by small changes in the factors that regulate the system.  These small changes set up a cascade of events that reinforce each other causing the system to change more and more rapidly.  The study demonstrated that the savanna complex showed symptoms of catastrophic regime shifts.  “The potential for regime shifts in a vegetation formation that covers such vast areas is what is making earth system scientists turn their attention to savannas” comments Higgins.

Knowing when such regime shifts will occur is critical for anticipating change.  This study discovered that locations where the temperature rise associated with climate change occurs rapidly, for example in the center of southern Africa, are projected to switch later to forest as the high rate of temperature increase allows the savanna grasses to remain competitive for longer in the face of rising atmospheric CO2 concentration.  This means that even though a single location may experience its catastrophic regime shift, the vegetation change when averaged over a region will be smoother.  Such gradual transitions in regional vegetation patterns will reduce the potential for shocks to the earth system.  “While this may seem reassuring, we have to bear in mind that these changes are still rapid when viewed on geological time scales”, says Higgins.

The practical implications of the study are far reaching.  For example, the study identified a belt that spans northern central Africa where fire suppression would encourage savannas to transition to forests.  “So if you wanted to sequester carbon as part of a carbon mitigation action, this is where you should do it” explained Higgins “with the caveat that where this will work is shifting as atmospheric conditions change.”  A worrying implication is that the grasslands and open savannas of Africa, areas with unique floras and faunas, are set to be replaced by closed savannas  or forests.  Hence it appears that atmospheric change represents a major threat to systems that are already threatened by over-grazing, plantation forestry and crop production.

2) North Africa : Ground Zero For Global Warming – Real Science, 1 July 2012

According to Phil Jones, Algiers has warmed at a shocking rate of 0.00 degrees per year since 1850.
 

3) Anti-Shale Greens Help Old King Coal Back to Power.   John Hanger’s Facts of the Day, 29 June 2012

John Hanger   It is a night and day difference in power markets on the different sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  Coal generation is booming in the UK, where it just displaced natural gas as the top source of electricity.  What’s the difference?  The price of natural gas is low here and expensive there, because America has embraced the Shale Gas revolution, while the UK and Europe have not. In the UK, coal is rising and provides 42% of its electricity.  In the US, coal is falling and generates 32% of our electricity, as of April, 2012, and so, according to the Sun, “experts say the high price of gas has forced power firms to return to coal” in the UK.

Like it or not, at this stage of the world’s development, the basic energy choice is between gas and coal.  That’s a fact.

4)  Labour Party Attacks Green Deal – The Mirror, 2 July 2012

Tom McTaque

Families could lose thousands of pounds thanks to a government scheme aimed at cutting bills by making homes energy efficient.  MP’s will today vote on the Green Deal offering loans of up to €10,000 to households for improvements like loft insulation, but Labour says families face paying more than twice that.

Loan repayments will be taken from the home’s energy bills over 25 years, so that if people move after borrowing money, they will no longer have to pay.

Ministers claim homes will only be eligible for the scheme if monthly repayments are less than energy bill savings, but Labour say high interest rates of between six to eight percent will make a mockery of this government pledge.

5)  Mat Ridley:  The Met Office’s Green Bias – The Times, 2 June 2012

The Met Office’s track record of short-range (five-day) forecasting is, in my experience, very good and getting better, but its longer-range predictions have often been not just badly wrong, but consistently biased on the warm, dry side.

As I cowered in my parked car on a street in Newcastle last Thursday, nearly deafened by hail on the roof of the car, thunder from the black sky and shrieking girls from the doorway of a school, a dim recollection swam into my mind.  After inching back home slowly through the flooded streets, I googled to refresh the memory.  On March 23 this year, the Met Office issued the following prediction:  “The forecast for average UK rainfall slightly favours drier-than-average conditions for April-May-June as a while, and also slightly favours April being the driest of the three months.   With this forecast, the water resources situation in southern, eastern and central England is likely to deteriorate further during the April-May-June period”.

That went well, didn’t it?  April-May-June was the wettest ever in England, though not in Britain.  According to the private forecaster MeteoGroup, June was probably the wettest in England and Wales since 1860, the dullest since 1909 and the coldest since 1991.  The water resources situation, far from deteriorating, is a cup that overfloweth.

In 2007, it wrongly forecast a warm summer.  In 2008 it wrongly forecast a mile winter.  In 2009, it said “the chances of getting the barbecue out are much higher than last year” but the summer was a washout.  Also that year it said that the trend towards milder winters was likely to continue, whereupon a savage winter followed.

Chagrined, it said it would give up seasonal forecasting, but continued to produce much the same information in three-month forecasts.  In October 2010, it saw “a very much smaller chance of average or below-average temperatures” in the coming winter shortly before the coldest December for 100 years.  These predictions were not without consequence.  The under-preparedness of airports and councils for the big freezes at the beginning and end of 2010 was directly related to the forecasts they had sought.

Now look at the curriculum vitae fo the chairman of the Met Office, Robert Napier.  He is also chairman of the Green Fiscal Commission and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and has been a director of the Carbon Disclosure Project, the Alliance of Religions and Conservation and the Climate Group.  He is so high up in the church of global warming, he is a carbon cardinal.  I am sure he is a man of great integrity, but given this list you have to wonder if one of the organisations he chairs does not occasionally – and perhaps unconsciously – aim to please him with warm long-range forecasts.

Of course, these days the narrative has changed and we are usually told to expect more extreme weather events as a result of climate change, rather than a warming trend per se.  IF June indeed was the wettest since 1860, that is extreme, but with only a few centuries of data, records are bound to be broken from time to time – and it is not much of an extreme that fails to beat a 152-year record.

Likewise, in November 2009, when torrential rain swept away the bridge at Workington, a Cumbrian rain gauge recorded the greatest rainfall in any 24-hour period since British records began – a total of 316mm (12.5 in).  Astonishing: till you read that it did not breat the “day” rainfall record, which is measured from 9am to 9am and which is still held by Martinstown in Dorset on July 18, 1955 – 279mm.  That’s before global warming was supposed to have shown up.

What, in other words, was so special about the climate in 1860 or 1955 that it too produced extreme events?  The truth is that for all the talk of climate change, a barely noticeable trend of half a degree of warming in half a century is still very much less relevant to airports, wedding planners or breeding birds than the random and occasionally extreme variation that is bound to show up in some years with or without man-made climate change.  As they say in physics, the noise is greater than the signal.  It certainly was last Thursday.

6)  Lorrie Goldstein:  How The UN Could Get Its Mojo Back On Global Warming – Toronto Sun, 29 June 2012

Accept reality.  Stop making energy more expensive.  Start telling the truth.  The United Nations seems perplexed that its fight against global warming isn’t going well these days.  Canada, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has been explicit in breaking with the UN in its decision to pull out of the Kyoto accord.  The US never even ratified Kyoto, which expires at the end of this year. Russia and Japan aren’t enthusiastic about possible successor agreements, and China and India don’t want to participate unless they don’t have to do anything.  As for the rest of the world, concerns over global recession have pushed worries about global warming to, you should pardon the expression, the back burner.

So the UN is clearly frustrated with its lack of progress on the climate change file.

This was evident from statements by various officials in the wake of the recent UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, also known as the Earth Summit and as Rio + 20, since it was 20 years since the first such conference was held in Rio.  In that context, here’s my advice to the UN about how to get its mojo back on global warming

(1) Stop holding sustainability conferences in the world’s most exotic locales, like Rio, and stop booking yourselves into five-star hotels on everybody else’s dime.  People’s BS detectors are pretty much set on “high” all the time these days, given the beleaguered state of the global economy.  When you preach that everyone else needs to adopt a more modest lifestyle while living high off the public teat and emitting enough greenhouse gases to choke a whale, you undercut your credibility.

(2) Stop organizing conferences attended by 50,000 people.  Seriously, 50,000?  That’s a fuster cluck, not a meeting.

(3) Stop pushing ways to make fossil fuels more expensive (through carbon taxes and the ineffective and corrupt cap-and-trade market in Europe) and start pushing ways to make renewable energy less expensive.  The economics are simple.  Tell people your entire plan for saving the planet means they have to go into fuel poverty and sell their first born to pay their electricity bills, and they’ll tell you to go have intercourse with yourself.  On the other hand, make it economically worthwhile for them to help save the planet, and just as if you’d invented a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.

(4) Accept reality.  For now, admit wind turbines and solar panels aren’t ready for prime time, meaning mass use in developed, industrial economies.  They can’t supply enough power, they can’t supply it reliably, they only last as long as the government subsidies do and they have to be backed up by fossil fuel energy, anyway.  The real fuels of the future, as Robert Bryce explains in his book Power Hungry, are low-emitting natural gas (from both conventional and shale sources) and non-emitting nuclear power, at least until renewable energy advances to the point where it is cost competitive with fossil fuels.

(5) Stop confusing weather with climate, or at least start disassociating yourselves from greens and “environmentalists” with degrees in political science and feminist studies, who do.  Start explaining to people that just because they experience a hot summer or a cold winter in their neck of the woods, that there’s a difference between global and regional warming and cooling, and that North American auto sales have nothing to do with hurricane frequency.

(6) Stop trying to quilt people into using less energy.  It’s one thing to campaign against the greed of oil companies, whom everyone knows fix the price of gasoline, no matter how many government competition bureaus claim they don’t.  It is quite another to tell someone who has no other way of getting to work than driving his car so he can pay his taxes, so his government can fund the UN, that he’s a planet killer for doing so.   After a while, people just stop listening.

(7) Finally, start telling the truth – that man-made global warming is a problem, but not an existential one, and only one of many global problems we face that can all best be addressed by rational, economically sensible policies, and not by running around like Chicken Littles with out heads cut off, screaming “the sky is falling” or rather, “the planet is burning” while bankrupting ourselves in the process.

Anyway, United Nations, you don’t have to thank me.  Just get busy.

7) Peter Glover:  The End Of OPEC Despotism – Energy Tribune, 29 June 2012

The tectonic plates of Middle East politics are shifting fast.  Egypt’s Arab spring may have run into the sand of anti-democratic Islamism, but the days then oil-rich Arab sheikhs colluded to hold Western economies to ransom will soon end.  Massive shale oil and gas discoveries across the West, Israel’s rising status as a Middle East energy powerhouse and a deepening internal rift over strategic  policy are all colluding to hasten OPEC’s demise.

In June, Kuwaiti oil minister Hani Hussein’s commented, “Oil from the Middle East will always find a home.  And we have to see more research to get a better idea about the impace of shale oil development.”  It’s a remark that sums up OPEC’S complacency in the face of the sheer scale of the global shale gas, and increasingly, shale oil revolution.  Take the impace of OPEC’S exports to the United States.  In 2011 20 percent of all OPEC exports went to the US.  But America’s shale oil developments, particularly the development of the vast resource in the Green River Formation, could well as Conoco Phillips CEO Ryan Lance told OPEC in June, make North America, “self-sufficient in oil (as well as gas) by 2025.”  It’s easy to see why.  According the the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Green River Formation in Colorado and Utah contains around 3 trillion (3,000 billion) barrels of oil, at least half of which will be recoverable.  Given that the US consumes around 7 billion barrels a year … well you can do the math.  Based on current industry production plans, energy consultants IHS CERA estimate that US unconventional oil production could rise from its current half a million barrels per day to 3 million barrels per day by 2020.  As daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS CERA points out, that amounts to adding “another Venezuela or Kuwait by 2020.

In the meanwhile, the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota, and Montana continues to hold the spotlight for its role in the revival in US oil production.  Between 2020 and 2011, production from the Bakken field doubled from 260 thousand barrels per day (bpd) to 445 thousand bpd.  But as world class as the Bakken Formation shale yield is proving, it is estimated that Russia’s Bazhenov Formation in Western Siberia is around 80 times larger still.  Indeed the huge shale wealth – oil and gas – of Russia and China generally, neither of which are OPEC members, needs to be factored into the changing geopolitics affecting the Middle East’s energy production and its significance.

Then there are the shale developments threatening to turn Israel, the regular shipping boy for OPEC’s Arab leaders, into a truly global energy superpos=wer.  Israel’s recent major offshore discoveries of gas – amounting to a huge 30 trillion cubic feet – could well be matched by the discovery of equally huge shale oil resources in the Valley of Elah’s Shefla Basin (where David slew Goliath).  The Basin could hold what one commentator described as the “the mother lode of fossil fuels”.  According to Israel Energy Initiatives (IEI), just one of the fields currently be drilled is estimated to hold around 500 million barrels of oil.  That’s enough for Israel’s domestic purposes for five years.  But IEI geologists maintain that Israel’s total shale deposits could produce as much as 250 billion barrels of crude.  And that would catapult Israel into third place behind the US and China – and on a par with Saudi Arabia.  And with an Islamist-dominated government threatening potential gas supplies from Egypt, Israel is not hanging around to see if its southern gas supplies are affected.  At the end of June, Israeli and Canadian oil ministers signed a new energy deal.  It will see Israel, with its reputation for technical innovation, aiding Canada’s oilsands development.  Canada will reciprocate by providing Israel with its expertise in shale extraction.

And OPEC’s problems don’t end there.  The traditional Saudi dominance of OPEC is under threat as an emerging alliance of oil price ‘hawks’ including Iran, (and the increasingly tehran-influenced) Iraq and Algeria oppose Saudi policies.  While the Saudis insist on maintaining production of around 10 million barrels per day, their highest level in decades, Tehran wants to slow production and boost prices as sanctions over its nuclear developments bite.  But while the differing priorities of the two factions augur a new internal power struggle, the new global energy realities are already having their impact twhether OPEC members like to admit it or not.

Writing in the Financial Times about the impace of shale oil and gas across the West, US Treasury Deputy Secretary, Roger Altman, recently noted, “These discoveries will reduce price and supply volatility.  They will also reset and possibly profoundly improve international relations.”  Just as satisfyingly, Altman continues, “The days of OPEC, the producers’ cartel, are numbered.  Unstable oil states, from Iraq to Venezuela, will be marginalized.”

The shale gale is blowing the winds of change through the global energy market.  But it is also fast-eroding the ability of cartel run by the world’s leading despots where power is regularly used to hold the West and Israel to ransom.

That’s OPEC by the way, and not (on this occasion) the United Nations.