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