See the Tabbed Pages for links to video tutorials, and a linked list of post titles grouped by topic.

This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

IPCC Report on Global Warming Warns of Need for Immediate Action

Limiting Greenhouse Gas Emission Rates and Global Temperature Increases.  A new report on the state of the global climate (see Notes) finds that the world has not made enough progress in minimizing the increase in the long-term global average temperature (referenced to the temperature in pre-industrial times).  Restraining the temperature increase to the necessary extent demands rapid, widespread technological and socioeconomic changes to the world’s energy economy, leading to elimination of greenhouse gas emissions, that are unknown in human history. 

The temperature increase depends, in almost a straight-line fashion, on the accumulated burden of added carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere: the more GHGs, the higher the global average temperature becomes.  In other words, the world has made insufficient progress in recent years in reducing the use of coal, petroleum and natural gas (fossil fuels, which produce CO2 when burned), so that the atmospheric burden of GHGs continues to increase without meaningful restraint.

The Earth has already warmed by about 1.0°C (1.8°F) above preindustrial levels, causing many harms around the world.  Even without further GHG emissions, the man-made GHG already added will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years, causing continued long-term climate effects. 

Comparing A Stringent Emission Goal to an Earlier, More Relaxed Goal.  To avoid worse consequences, the countries of the world have to work toward limiting the total increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F) by 2050, which is lower and sooner than the 2.0°C (3.6°
F) originally set as the goal for 2100 in the Paris Agreement.  Some comparisons of differences in projected changes between the two global average temperature increases, given in the report, are summarized here: 
·        Global sea level increases by 2100 would be 10 cm (4 in) less at 1.5°C than at 2.0°C warming.  This is significant because shorelines are most vulnerable not just to increased sea levels in calm weather, but to flooding from higher and stronger storm surges in extreme weather. Regardless, sea levels will continue rising beyond 2100;

·        Global coral reefs would be destroyed because of warmer water temperatures and a more acidic ocean composition, to the extent of 70-90% at 1.5°C, but essentially completely lost at 2.0°C.  This is important because reefs are complete ecosystems that support marine life, ultimately providing much of the seafood that humans consume;

·        Climate-associated effects to human livelihoods and health, food availability, water supplies, and economic growth will be less at 1.5°C than at 2.0°C; and

·        Extremes of climate and weather on land that we are already experiencing around the world (such as more intense rainfall, worse flooding, more intense heat and drought, and worse forest wildfires) would be worse at 2.0°C than at 1.5°C.

Rapid reductions in annual rates of GHG emissions must be undertaken immediately to keep the increase in global average temperature below 1.5°C.  CO2 emission rates must fall by about 45% below 2010 rates by 2030, and reach zero by around 2050.  In contrast, less stringent reductions, about 20% by 2030, not reaching a zero rate until about 2070, would result in an average temperature increase of 2.0°C.

The 1.5°C trajectory requires “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems”.  It also necessitates development of new technologies not yet industrialized to ensure success.

The Greenhouse Effect Was Identified in the 1800s.  The scientific understandings of the greenhouse effect, that CO2 was a greenhouse gas, and that CO2 emissions threatened a worsening greenhouse effect, were identified initially in the nineteenth century.  Charles Keeling was the first to measure the increase in atmospheric CO2 directly, beginning in 1958.   

More recently climate scientists have understood the threats posed by increased GHG emissions and global warming.  For example, Rafe Pomerance began warning as early as 1979, of the impending harm from continued burning of fossil fuels, but his urgings and those of colleagues were ignored (Nathaniel Rich, New York Times Magazine, August 5, 2018). 

IPCC Assessment Reports. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), created under the United Nations (UN) Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization, has been issuing Assessment Reports presenting scientific data and discussing mitigation and adaptation methodologies beginning in 1990, at intervals of 5-7 years.  The most recent one, the fifth, appeared in three parts over 2013-4. 

The basic conclusions throughout this series have not wavered from those presented in the first Report; the difference over this 24-year period has been rather that a) the number of climate scientists at work, and our understanding of climate science based on their results, have grown dramatically; and b) technologies that permit more extensive and more accurate gathering of data, as well as the power to analyze large bodies of data, has likewise grown significantly.  This has permitted the conclusions and recommendations made in the Fifth Assessment Report to be offered with the highest levels of certainty and confidence, compared to those in the previous versions.  Even so, over this interval the world has not embraced these recommendations as energetically and as early as would have been needed to respond to the climate crisis.


The IPCC Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C summons the world to take extensive, radical and immediate actions to keep the rise in global average temperature below about 1.5°C.  Because of earlier inaction it now foresees the need to reduce global GHG emission rates to zero by 2050.  This will require committed technological development and deployment, and the exercise of political will that reflects scientific necessity and moral responsibility across the globe. 

This transformation must account for three factors in future global energy demand.  First, all power generation, transportation, and heating and cooling of the built environment must be furnished from renewable sources.  Second, raising the living standards of less developed nations imposes additional demands for renewable energy.  And third, the anticipated increase in the world’s population likewise is a major source of increased energy demand.   
Failure to act decisively is likely to result in worsening climatic consequences as time passes whose effects will continue indefinitely.


The IPCC issued this report at the direction of the UN conference that led to the Paris Agreement on the climate in 2015. 

Press Release and Headline Statements of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the Summary for Policymakers of the full Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C and

© 2018 Henry Auer

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

New Storage Technologies for Renewable Energy

Electric storage batteries based on zinc instead of lithium are now in widespread usage around the world, even though their existence is poorly recognized.  A report in the New York Times describes a zinc-air battery produced by the company NantEnergy.  The company received development grants of US$5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.  It has already deployed its batteries in Asian and African villages, and in cell towers in the U.S., Latin America and Southeast Asia.  Its founder, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, stated that 110 villages have established local microgrid systems, using electricity generated on site by solar arrays.  Dr. Soon-Shiong anticipates that use of the batteries will expand greatly in telecommunication towers, and expects use to spread to home energy storage and electric vehicles as well.  He foresees a potential market of US$50 billion.

The zinc battery has several advantages over lithium-based batteries.  Zinc has a high abundance in the earth, and is already heavily mined and used in many applications; its ore also includes other metals that are profitably extracted.  Its annual production rate is projected to reach a maximum between 2020 and 2030, with a high projected cumulative production tonnage being possible.  Zinc batteries cost about US$100 per kilowatt-hour of stored electrical energy, whereas lithium batteries cost in the range of US$300-400 per kilowatt-hour, according to the New York Times report.  Elon Musk, the head of Tesla, believes he can get the price down to the same level as the zinc battery.  Lithium likewise is abundantly found around the world, but active lithium mining is limited to a few countries, constraining its price to high values.  Its main demand is limited to batteries for fixed and vehicular electric storage.

An important advantage for zinc is that its batteries contain water-based electrolyte fluids, which are not flammable.  Lithium batteries, in contrast, operate using flammable solvent-based electrolyte solutions.  This is the reason that lithium batteries have been known to ignite and burn, sometimes spontaneously.

Recently an ambitious plan was announced for Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, reported in the New York Times.  The dam, 726 feet high and harboring 17 huge electricity generators that supply power to Los Angeles and much of southern California, holds back a large lake created from the river.  One way of storing electricity is to pump water from a low elevation back up to a higher one, so that the pumped water can be used to generate new electricity on demand.  In the Hoover Dam proposal, massive pipes further downriver from the outflow from the dam and generators would capture some of the water and pump it back up to the reservoir lake behind the dam.  The electricity to drive the pumps would come from renewable sources, solar and wind energy.  Currently the project is expected to provide electricity from the stored water at about 20% higher than current electricity rates, but for 40% less than provided by commercial scale solar electricity, according to the report.  The project’s cost is estimated at US$3 billion.


The United Nations-sponsored Paris climate agreement of December 2015 set the goal of keeping Earth’s projected increase in long-term average temperature to less than 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial times by the end of this century.  It also set a preferred more ambitious goal of keeping that temperature increase to less than 1.5°C (2.7°F). 

In order to contribute to achieving these global objectives, many cities in the U.S. have established voluntary or statutory objectives of reducing the annual emission rate of all greenhouse gases to near zero as soon as possible; many cities seek to accomplish this by midcentury.  The movement to adopting these policies has become more urgent since federal policy in the U.S. has actually regressed in the last two years.  The government is actually undoing previously implemented regulations limiting emission rates in electricity generation and passenger vehicles.  That backtracking increases the greenhouse gas emission rate in the U.S.

As noted, the municipal policies strive to reduce annual emission rates to near zero.  This means that electricity must be provided essentially completely from renewable sources, that cars and trucks be powered by electric batteries or by hydrogen fuel cells, and that space heating and cooling in the built environment be provided exclusively by electric-powered heat pumps.  This migration away from coal, natural gas, diesel, fuel oil and gasoline (fossil fuels) will increase the demand for renewable electricity by 2-3 times its present level.

This is the reason that new technologies such as zinc-air batteries and pumped water storage acquire such high significance going forward.  The coming changes in our energy economy will be challenging; indeed they are nothing short of revolutionary.  The unequivocal needs for these changes will provide broad new business opportunities and new jobs for American workers.
© 2018 Henry Auer

Monday, July 30, 2018

Republicans and Democrats Really Do Agree on Climate!

On July 29, 2018 an op-ed by the social psychologists Leaf Van Boven and David Sherman reported that majorities of both Republicans and Democrats agreed that “climate change is happening, threatens humans and is caused by human activity — and that reducing carbon emissions would mitigate the problem.”

They summarize the results of two national polls, in 2014 and 2016, that they administered (together with a third colleague; here we’re omitting some details of the way the experiments were carried out).  Important conclusions they present include:
·        “…most Republicans were in basic agreement with most Democrats and independents on this issue.”

·        Probably the “problem is not so much that Republicans are skeptical about climate change, but that Republicans are skeptical of Democrats — and that Democrats are skeptical of Republicans.”

·        In experiments with different input information, “Republicans supported climate policies that they [were told were] backed by Republicans and were neutral toward policies backed by Democrats. Democrats supported policies that they [were told were] backed by Democrats more than they supported policies backed by Republicans.”  This emphasizes that members of both parties succumbed to intensified tribalism on this issue.

·        “Among social psychology’s fundamental lessons is that people are profoundly affected by what other people think. In their desire to be upstanding members of their political tribe, people are pulled toward embracing the stances of their peers and loath to publicly disagree with them.”

·        The authors found “a consistent, if somewhat surprising, pattern: Political disagreement was substantially smaller when it came to Republican-backed policies.  In particular, there was very little distance between Republicans and Democrats when evaluating a Republican-proposed carbon tax.”
As a result, the authors surmise there may be bipartisan support for a plan proposed last year by six Republican economists and statesmen, former cabinet members and high-level officials in former Republican administrations.  This writer described this proposal in a previous post.  Its essence is a revenue-neutral carbon fee imposed on all fossil fuels (coal, petroleum and natural gas) in proportion to the amount of carbon dioxide each produces when burned.  It is revenue-neutral because all fee proceeds are distributed back to American taxpayers.   

A similar proposal has just been introduced in Congress by Republican Representative Carlos Curbelo.  The carbon fee is US$24/metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted, increasing with time.  The difference is that this proposal is not revenue-neutral, but uses the proceeds for highway construction, climate research and support to low income households.
The social psychology results described above are likely not outliers in public attitudes on climate change.  The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (working with George Mason University‘s  Center for Climate Change Communication, and other research organizations) has been surveying American public opinion on this subject for many years.  In a report on May 8, 2018 they found:

·        “Most registered voters (73%) think global warming is happening, including 95% of liberal Democrats, 88% of moderate/conservative Democrats and 68% of liberal/moderate Republicans, but only 40% of conservative Republicans.

·        A majority of registered voters (59%) think global warming is caused mostly by human activities, including 84% of liberal Democrats, 70% of moderate/conservative Democrats, and 55% of liberal/moderate Republicans…, but only 26% of conservative Republicans.

·        A majority of registered voters (63%) are worried about global warming, including 88% of liberal Democrats, 76% of moderate/conservative Democrats, and 58% of liberal/moderate Republicans, but only 30% of conservative Republicans.”

·        Most registered voters support policies that would reduce use of fossil fuels and promote investing in renewable energy to replace the lost conventional energy.

Tribalistic outlooks separating Republicans and Democrats concerning global warming and its effects may be resolving, in favor of collective action to address the issue.  It is indeed critical to embark on meaningful policies at the federal level as soon as possible, in order to minimize the continuing rise in the global average temperature.  Popular attitudes and Congressional approaches are coalescing to promote political action.
© 2018 Henry Auer

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Two Former Senators Back Carbon Fee With Full Rebate

Trent Lott, a former Republican senator, and John Breaux, a former Democratic senator, support a universal national price, or fee, on fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and petroleum), in an op-ed published June 21, 2018    Their proposal is based on the recent plan put forward by conservatives formerly holding high positions in earlier administrations (The Conservative Case For Carbon Dividends; by James A. Baker, III; Martin Feldstein; Ted Halstead; N. Gregory Mankiw; Henry M. Paulson, Jr.; George P. Shultz; Thomas Stephenson; and Rob Walton; the “Baker-Shultz plan”).
Emissions. When we talk about emissions in the context of global warming, it is important to remember that “emissions” actually refers to “the rate of greenhouse gas emissions per year”.  As long as the rate of emissions is greater than zero, greenhouse gases continue to increase in the earth’s atmosphere.  The long-term global average temperature is directly related to the total accumulated greenhouse gas burden of the atmosphere, not to an annual rate of emissions.  Therefore we have to lower the annual emission rate toward zero as fast as possible in order to minimize further temperature increases. 

In their op-ed Lott and Breaux write:
Climate change is one of the great challenges of our generation…. [A] new approach is needed to address this urgent problem.

Both Democrats and Republicans can find [a] solution….

Congress should approve legislation to place a meaningful fee on carbon-dioxide emissions that ripples through all sectors of our economy, and return the revenues it generates to the American people in the form of cash payments. We must set it high enough to encourage a turn to cleaner energy sources and accelerate our transition to a low-carbon future….

The plan… calls for an initial fee of $40 on every ton of carbon-dioxide emissions…, raising it each year until we reach the necessary emissions reductions as [we] move to cleaner sources of energy. All revenue would then be disbursed to Americans. A family of four would receive approximately $2,000 a year.”
The authors then outline the advantages of the Baker-Shultz plan:
“… it would achieve far greater emissions reductions than all Obama-era climate regulations combined, which will appeal to Democrats and environmentalists. At the same time, this market-based solution would render carbon regulations unnecessary, which will appeal to Republicans and business interests.… 70 percent of Americans, including the most vulnerable, would come out ahead economically.” 

The writers cite survey support for taking action:

“A poll released [June 19, 2018] shows that 81 percent of likely voters … agree the government should take action to limit carbon emissions. And by a 2-to-1 margin, likely voters support taxing carbon emissions and rebating the money directly to the American people.”

Lott and Breaux conclude:

We must put a meaningful price on carbon in America….  
To do so, we must set our politics aside for the greater good. America has done it before, time after time. We believe the country will do so again.”

British Columbia’s Carbon Fee Succeeds in Reducing Emission Rates.  While some skeptics may not agree with the Baker-Shultz plan, the actual experiment is already under way in British Columbia (BC), Canada.  It was set in place in 2008, beginning at a level of CA$10/ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) and rising to CA$30/ton by 2012. 

The result has been positive, as the New York Times reported in March 2016 The revenue from the carbon fee is being returned to BC residents and businesses in the form of tax credits in other fiscal categories.  As BC’s environment minister, Mary Polak, noted, “It performed better on all fronts than I think any of us expected”.   

A Duke University-University of Ottawa study cited in the article found that CO2 emissions fell by 5 to 15% with “negligible effects on aggregate economic performance”.  The carbon fee raised gasoline prices, for example, by US$0.19/gallon, providing incentives to BC residents and businesses to drive less and undertake energy efficiency initiatives.  Polling shows that those opposed to the fee fell from 47% initially to 32% in 2015.  Experts realize, however, that in order to achieve meaningful goals of reducing emissions the carbon fee has to be still higher.  Indeed, as of 2018, BC is beginning to raise its fee again after staying unchanged since 2012.

Fuel-dependent carbon pricing.  In carbon pricing regimes the size of the price is tied directly to how much CO2, the combustion product resulting when the fuel burns, is released.  Relative CO2 yields are shown in the table below. 

                                 Relative Efficiency of Fossil Fuels


CO2 released per unit of heat obtained, relative to natural gas

Natural gas


Petroleum (fuel oil, gasoline)





It is seen that coal releases almost twice as much CO2 as natural gas when burned to yield the same amount of heat.  So in an industrial setting it may be expected that the price on coal, on a thermal basis, would be almost twice as high as that on natural gas.  For example the BC pricing regime uses information such as this to set fees.

© 2018 Henry Auer





Friday, March 23, 2018

This Report Card for Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions Is Not Encouraging

Background.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) issued its assessment, “Global Energy and CO2 Status Report, 2017” (Report) on March 22, 2018.  The IEA reviews aspects of global energy use and greenhouse gas emission rates annually.  This schedule has become even more important since the Paris Climate Agreement among virtually all nations of the world was concluded, under the auspices of the United Nations-sponsored organization, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in December 2015.

The essence of the Paris Agreement is first, setting the goal of keeping the global average increase in temperature, measured from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, under 2°C (3.8°F), and second, having every nation individually commit voluntarily to embark on its own program to reduce annual emission rates for CO2 to achieve the temperature objective.  The emissions originate from humanity’s burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) to provide energy for buildings, industry, and transportation.  An analysis of those promised emission rates, however, showed that they were inadequate to limit the global temperature rise as intended.

The Report finds that, for 2017 world-wide demand for energy increased 2.1% over that for 2016.  CO2 emission rates derived from that demand increased by 1.4%.  The total amount of CO2 emitted during the year was the highest recorded to date, showing that the world, instead of making progress toward attaining the goals of the Paris Agreement, is actually regressing.    

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director, said of these findings “The robust global economy pushed up energy demand last year, which was mostly met by fossil fuels….The significant growth in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 tells us that current efforts to combat climate change are far from sufficient.”  Use of all three fossil fuels increased in 2017, providing 81% of total energy demand, even as renewable energy generation (from solar, wind and hydropower) increased dramatically, by 6.3%.  The United States was among just a handful of nations whose emission rates actually decreased.

Conclusion.  Worsening of global warming and its consequent climate change effects cause major harms, and inflict costly damages the world over.  For example, “the most severe drought [on ] record” in the Middle East, made worse by human activity,  created sociopolitical conditions that contributed to the start of the Syrian civil war. The has led to dire consequences for security and stability in the region.  Many instances of extreme weather and climate events, such as the 2017 hurricanes affecting the Caribbean and southern U. S., have been at least partly attributed to global warming.  Warmer temperatures adversely alter ecological balances such as with pine bark beetle infestations.

All nations of the world, including the U.S., must redouble their efforts to minimize further emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, with great urgency.   Without concerted, assertive action keeping the global temperature increase to less than 2°C will not be possible.
© 2018 Henry Auer