JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Forest fires may produce as much CO2 as half of all fossil fuels burned

Globally, fires have been overlooked as a key player in the global CO2 cycle. Tom Quirk has dug up some studies showing that CO2 emissions from fires can be as high as half of the total emissions from human fossil fuel use.

“In October and November 1997, the haze from fires in Indonesia spread as far the Philippines to the north, Sri Lanka to the west, and northern Australia to the south. In the Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo, there was a pollution index reading of 860.” | Annette Gartland

Peat deposits can be an extraordinary 20 metres thick. In 1997, a fire consumed 8,000 square kilometers of mostly peatland in Borneo. Researchers estimated 0.2 Gt of carbon were released in this one area that year, and that carbon emissions from fires across Indonesia in 1997 emitted between 0.8 and 2.5 Gt — or “13 to 40%” of the size of global human fossil fuel emissions.[1] Obviously uncertainties are large, but so are the numbers. It all makes the idea of a “carbon market” pretty meaningless: the largest players in this market can’t play and don’t pay. In carbon accounting, fires are “an act of God” (non-anthropogenic), and [...]

Melbourne heat — BoM makes mystery corrections, but misses new skyscrapers. Incompetence?

More errors in ACORN – The Bureau of Met wonder-database corrects for mysterious “statisticals” but not for 15 story buildings built next to the thermometers. They correct a step change that doesn’t occur in minima, but don’t correct for one that does in maxima. Big site changes are marked in some datasets but not in others. And where is the correction for obvious urban heat island effects? Bear in mind, the size of the artificial steps and corrections is on a par with the warming supposedly due to carbon dioxide. Hmmm.

The BoM database needs to be independently and publicly replicated, all the way from their raw data to the final output down to several decimal places. Then we will all know what is going on. Let’s shine a light in. If it ain’t replicated, it ain’t science.

Melbourne has one of the longest temperature records in the Southern Hemisphere. Looking at the original records it appears Melbourne maximums have not changed much from 1855 – 1995. Then they suddenly jumped or stepped up.

Tom Quirk did some sleuthing, and figured out why that happened. But what he can’t figure out is why the Bureau missed this adjustment, yet makes [...]

North Korea — the ultimate low-carbon ideal

No nation has been more successful at reducing their carbon emissions than North Korea. Over the space of a few years, the carbon footprint of the entire nation was reduced by a massive two-thirds, thanks mostly to centralized planning with some help from famine, disease and the odd gulag. Anyone for Pine-bark cake? — Jo

Decarbonizing an economy – North Korea

Guest Post by Tom Quirk

The North Korean famine and general economic crisis from 1994 to 1998 is an extraordinary example of the failure of central planning and management. The results of what is called the Arduous March[1] are best illustrated by this image the Korean peninsula at night taken in 2014 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Night image of the Korean Peninsula in 2014 shows that North Korea is almost completely dark compared to neighboring South Korea and China (source NASA).

The North Korean disaster led to the estimated death of between 220,000 and 2,000,000 people, 1% to 10% of the population. The famine, which continues to this day, has led to food rationing, black markets and a government keen to get foreign currency by any means — including drug smuggling and nuclear technology [...]

Where have those fossil fuel emissions gone?

Oh the paradox! Human emissions upset the delicate balance and drive up global CO2 levels by 2ppm a year, but lordy, at the same time, that delicate balance roils and rolls with the seasons by a far larger range. Get the feeling there is more to Life on Earth than humans?

There are places on Earth when CO2 swings every year by 16ppm or more – like Point Barrow. Then there are places like the South Pole, where it barely changes all year round — a bit like the level of greenery there which varies from white to white. And there’s a clue. The other part of the world where CO2 levels don’t swing is at the equator — where it’s 100% green all year long. The big changes in terrestrial CO2 occur in the zones where plant life ebbs and flows.

Tom Quirk tracks the seasonal shifts in CO2 and finds that the northern Boreal forests are probably drawing down something like 2 – 5 gigatons of CO2 every year, and because the seasonal amplitude is getting larger each year, it suggests there is no sign of saturation.  Those plants are not bored of extra CO2 yet. This fits [...]

The mysterious sudden jump in Melbourne temperatures in 1996 with an instrument change

Here’s a strange change. After 160 years of fairly constant maximum temperatures, the raw Melbourne records take a sudden step up by 0.7 0C in 1996. Coincidentally (or not) that is the same year that the automatic gauge was installed. The new electronic equipment is much more responsive to short peaks and dips compared to thermometers. Could the step up be due to the better resolution? It’s by no means definitive — these are yearly averages, not monthly, and it may be a real climate shift and not due to the equipment. The obvious question is whether this sort of jump occurs in other stations where AWS (automatic weather stations) were installed. That would have profound implications if it did, but surely it would have been noticed already? Melbourne is known for having “four seasons in one day”, so perhaps there is a small effect in most places, but the switchable peaks of of Melbourne summers make a larger difference. In any case, thanks to Tom Quirk (and Bill Johnston)  we have another puzzle in need of an answer. These AWS’s were installed all over Australia in the late nineties. If there was some effect, then there would [...]

The hotter nights in Melbourne and some mysterious adjustments

Tom Quirk takes a close look at the long historic station of Melbourne. As we would expect, things have changed around the sensor since 1855 when records started.  Amazingly he finds the maximum trend in Melbourne was largely flat from 1855 – 1995. The  minimums shows a classic warming from 1945.

To find out how much of the warming in Melbourne may be due to the Urban Heat Island effect (UHI) we can compare the minima at the CBD station to one on the outskirts — and Laverton is 20 kilometers away. The site near the CBD is warming at 0.2C per decade faster than the site on the outskirts. It amounts to a whole degree warmer over 50 years, though the rate may be tailing off now. It’s hard to fit in more concrete or more skyscrapers than there already are.

Tom has a close look at the adjustments and finds plenty of questions but few answers. These adjustments are done as step changes, and Tom (and I) wonder why the gradual increase in concrete would warm Melbourne “step-wise” rather than as a slope change. Tom also wonders why the BOM say that one change is due to a [...]

The crazy world of Renewable Energy Targets

Nothing makes sense about Renewable Energy Targets, except at a “Bumper-Sticker” level. Today the AFR front page suggests* the federal government is shifting to remove the scheme (by closing it to new entrants) rather than just scaling it back. It can’t come a day too soon. Right now, the Greens who care about CO2 emissions should be cheering too. The scheme was designed to promote an  industry, not to cut CO2.

UPDATE: Mathias Cormann later says “that the government’s position was to “keep the renewable energy target in place” SMH.  Mixed messages indeed.

We’ve been sold the idea that if we subsidize “renewable” energy (which produces less CO2) we’d get a world with lower CO2 emissions. But it ain’t so. The fake “free” market in renewables does not remotely achieve what it was advertised to do — the perverse incentives make the RET good for increasing “renewables” but bad for reducing CO2, and, worse, the more wind power you have, the less CO2 you save. Coal fired electricity is so cheap that doing anything other than making it more efficient is a wildly expensive and inefficient way to reduce CO2. But the Greens hate [...]

Australia is either Green genius or Kyoto-criminal depending on fires and forests: Tom Quirk

Tom Quirk has taken look at the numbers for the Australian Government’s direct action plan (someone had to do it). Not surprisingly in a vast nation with hardly any people, the numbers that matter are the ones about “land-use” — which means anthropogenic changes to farms and forests.  Electricity is our largest emitter of CO2, but without shutting down the nation there are no easy gains to be had. Demand is inelastic.  Cuts are expensive. Renewables are pathetic. Ditto for industry and agriculture. Whether we meet our targets and whether there is P-A-I-N all depends on whether we count the CO2 molecules that come and go from agricultural land and managed forests.

The big question then is do we pretend those CO2 molecules coming and going from plants, soils, lakes and animals are irrelevant? (Greenpeace and the EU seem to think that’s a good plan). It’s a make or break thing in the carbon accounting world. But if carbon is causing global warming, surely all CO2 molecules are equally to blame. However only net emissions caused by humans (and which wouldn’t have been emitted naturally) count towards the national tallies and targets.

If we [...]

Astounding discovery: World War II had low carbon footprint

USS Pennsylvania leads convoy to reduce Japanese carbon emissions

Tom Quirk sends me thought provoking news.

File this in the Semi-Satirical Times

Since 1920, ice cores from Law Dome show only one significant pause in an otherwise relentless rise in CO2. Ominously, that sole plateau occurs from 1940 to 1950. If human activity drives changes in global CO2, there is no mistaking that the pause was during the only decade that war went global.

The question has to be asked: Is war an alternative to wind-farms?

Who would have thought all the tanks, bullets and bombs, and all the men in green uniforms, could be so good for the planet? World War II must have been a low electricity use time.

Or was it the mass burials – a form of carbon sequestration? (Though, cremation, after all, undoes the benefits. Does anyone have stats on the ratio of burning versus burial? Can we get a grant?)

In World War 2, direct action against the evil large fossil fuel polluters took on a new meaning. Don’t just tax those factories, bomb them!

Ahem… (all [...]

Global methane emissions driven by Soviet leaks, volcanoes and El Ninos, not cows

CSIRO wants to stop methane emissions: but can they get a grant to stop El Nino’s and cap volcanoes?

This type of trans-Siberian cow used to emit a lot of methane.

Tom Quirk sent me a short note to point out that the big rise in global methane almost certainly was man-made — at least up to the mid 1980′s, but in the last 20 years, the culprit for rising methane appears to be volcanoes and El Ninos. (Note the timing of the spikes in the graph below, as methane pours into the atmosphere some years, but barely changes in most other recent years).

Apparently, the man-made emissions in the 70s and 80s were largely due to leaky pipes in the Soviet Union. Natural gas was dirt cheap up til the mid 1970′s. It was so cheap the Russians didn’t bother to plug those flawed pipes. But as prices rose (and after a big nasty explosion in 1982*) they got serious, fixed the pipes and stopped a lot of the out-gassing.

Meanwhile, the Australian government is spending millions and killing camels in the hope of reducing global methane and changing the weather.

There are many graphs of atmospheric methane [...]

Blockbuster: Planetary temperature controls CO2 levels — not humans

There goes another “fingerprint”…

It’s not just that man-made emissions don’t control the climate, they don’t even control global CO2 levels.

Judging by the speech Murry Salby gave at the Sydney Institute, there’s a blockbuster paper coming soon.

Listen to the speech: “Global Emission of Carbon Dioxide: The Contribution from Natural Sources”

Professor Murry Salby is Chair of Climate Science at Macquarie University. He’s been a visiting professorships at Paris, Stockholm, Jerusalem, and Kyoto, and he’s spent time at the Bureau of Meterology in Australia.

Over the last two years he has been looking at C12 and C13 ratios and CO2 levels around the world, and has come to the conclusion that man-made emissions have only a small effect on global CO2 levels. It’s not just that man-made emissions don’t control the climate, they don’t even control global CO2 levels.

CO2 variations do not correlate with man-made emissions. Peaks and falls correlate with hot years (e.g. 1998) and cold years (1991-92). No graphs are available from Salby's speech or paper yet. This graph comes from Tom Quirk's related work (see below).

The higher levels of CO2 in recent [...]