Inside the House Where the Sun Does Not Set

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Published on Peak Surfer on October 30, 2016


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"The important goal that needs to be set in Marrakech is drawdown. We need to get back below 350 ppm carbon in the atmosphere, and we need to do it quickly."

  Perhaps it is just an active imagination fueled by the ghouls and zombies roaming London’s streets this time of year, but the olde city seems unseasonably warm, almost as if we had been transported to Quintana Roo and were celebrating Dia de los Muertos.

What has risen from the dead here is not the spirits of the long departed, but hope.

Coming from first the USA and then China, two parts of the world that are nearly tone-deaf on matters relating to climate change, there is a maritime breeze blowing through the British Isles that is entirely refreshing. We are out after dark in light shirts and jeans with John Dennis Liu, Tom Goreau and Daniel Halsey, descending into a pub incongruously called The Coal Hole, to toast to the success of extraordinary events.

This time next week some of us will be gathered in Marrakech for COP-22, the twenty second conference of the 196 parties to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) inked in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This time last year we were readying ourselves for the uncertain outcome of COP-21 in Paris. The difference this time, both in our task and in the momentum being carried, is stunning.

Going into Paris there was only great uncertainty. No-one knew whether it would be another gargantuan bust like COP-15 in Copenhagen or an incremental improvement like COP-16 in Cancun.

Paris turned out to be an historic game-changer, setting the stage for a revolution in the affairs of men, already begun, promising an eventual return to a sacred circular economy seldom seen since the retreat of the Ice Sheets 12000 years ago.

We are gathering here in London to assist preparations of the British Commonwealth countries who seek to speak as a unified voice in this context for a second time. The first occasion came at a critical juncture during the second week in Paris, when it was looking like the best that might be salvaged was another unambitious resolution. Having prepared for that moment, the then 53 countries of the Commonwealth, representing the interests of 2.4 billion people on roughly half the land surface of the Earth, spoke with one voice in demanding a firm legal mandate of two degrees and an aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees. Those goals were, and are, both unobtainable — given what known science and carbon cycle momentum dictate — and political dynamite, but to hear the Secretary General of the Commonwealth tell it, sticking to that and refusing to compromise was what pulled the Paris Agreement out of oblivion last year. Of course, we happen to the think the French had a bit a to do with the success too, as we described in our book, The Paris Agreement, but let the S.G. gloat if she wants, no harm.

Eric Toensmeier with HRH

She intends to repeat the performance in Marrakesh in November.

In another part of this balmy London town, HRH Prince of Wales has been hosting a Climate Friendly Landscapes meeting in Lancaster House off Green Park. Our friends Eric Toensmeier  and Rattan Lal are there to share research into carbon removal strategies including tropical tree staple crops, intensive silvopasture and ecosystemic multistrata agroforestry rotations.

Charles could not attend our meeting but sent his representative, Justin Mundy of the Royal International Sustainability Unit. Her majesty’s government also sent a UK Economic advisor and others to participate in our two-day design workshop. Our task was to roll up our sleeves, shed the ties and heels, and give the Commonwealth an agenda best suited to taking the Paris Agreement where it needs to go next.

That destination is beyond zero. It will not do to merely reduce emissions at some set rate per annum, as has been the UNFCCC litany since Kyoto. That must happen too, but the important goal that needs to be set in Marrakech is drawdown. We need to get back below 350 ppm carbon in the atmosphere, and we need to do it quickly. 260 or 280 would be preferable.

When we received the brief for the meeting, a few days in advance, we expected to see academic gearheads hawking harebrained CCS (carbon capture and storage, or “clean coal”) schemes. There was none of that. The Economic Minister confided in us that it was the opinion of government, and the UK science community, that none of those were viable. How refreshing.

In fact, the consensus going in was precisely a breath of fresh air. It was our shared understanding that “clean coal” scrubbing technofixes were rubbish and that photosynthesis, and that alone, will get us out of this predicament, assuming escape is even possible at this point — even if “possibly implausible.”

So it was we found ourselves amongst extraordinarily like minds, such as Christopher Cooke from Savory Institute, David McConville from Buckminster Fuller Institute, Katherine Wilkinson from Project Drawdown, Marcello Palazzi of B-Lab Europe, Bill Reed and Ben Haggard of Regenesis, Louise Baker of UNCCD, Janine Benyus of Biomimicry for Social Innovation, Herbert Girardet of World Futures Council, Isabelle Dellanoy of Symbiotic Economy, Sam Muirhead of Open Source Circular Economy, Daniel Wahl, May East, Maddy Harland, and many others who know of active experience that only soil will save us, but that gaining the social capital to make such a switch is the real challenge we face.

We all seemed to agree in advance that our green buildings and ecovillages must become ecodistricts, eco-countries and eco-hemispheres. The S.G. wants her home country, Dominica, to be a net sequestering model. To save coral reefs we will need to reverse land degradation and put carbon where it belongs. John Dennis Liu kept chanting three simple metrics: biomass, biodiversity, soil organic matter.

For our part we can report from our own recent work in the Caribbean that natural climate ecoforestry outperforms Monsanto agrochem 10 to 1 in food provision (and certainly nutrient density) and the return on biochar/biofertilizer investments is 20 to 40 percent per year (in real money).

We tell them we can stop immigration in its tracks with green jobs and food security and we can do it faster and with less CAPEX than constructing refugee camps at every border.

Hollywood endings aside, how this meeting came about is almost in the realm of fairy tales. Quoth the oracle, Wikipedia:

Patricia Janet Scotland, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, PC, QC (born 19 August 1955) is a British barrister who served in junior ministerial positions within the UK Government, most notably as the Attorney General for England and Wales and Advocate General for Northern Ireland. At the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting she was elected the 6th Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations and took office on 1 April 2016. She is the first woman to hold the post.

The Baroness, who prefers to be called just S.G. (Secretary General) is a force of nature. The 10th child of 12 born to a Dominican mother and Antiguan father, she came with her parents to England in 1957. She excelled in school work and took a law degree from Mid Essex Technical College, joining both the British and Dominican bars. In 1991, Scotland became the first black woman to be appointed a Queen's Counsel. Her work on the Commission for Racial Equality earned her recognition by the Queen and a life peerage in 1997. She then became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where she was responsible for the UK Government's diplomatic relations with North America, the Caribbean, and Overseas Territories. In 2001 she was made a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. She was the minister formally responsible for civil justice and the reform of civil law including the comprehensive reform of land registration. In 2007 she was made Minister of State for the Criminal Justice System and Law Reform at the Home Office, where she created the Office of Criminal Justice Reform. She also created an advisory group on victims and the Criminal Justice Centre, Victims and Witness units.

She was then appointed UK Attorney General by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the first woman to hold the office since its foundation in 1315. She served the Labour government in that role until 2014.

At the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Scotland was elected as the 6th Commonwealth Secretary-General and the first woman to hold the post. She began her first of a maximum of two possible four-year terms on 1 April 2016. She told us that at her first meeting with the 53 High Commissioners she polled them to see what were the priority issues. Climate change came out on top. The threat to the small island states in the Commonwealth was existential.

“We are 2.4 billion people on half the land area in the world,” she told us. “It is 21 percent of the world’s forested area. We are joined by common language and common culture. And now we are joined in common purpose.”

She said Paris was a pivotal change. Prince Charles had called it a 100-trillion-pound moment. Money will not be an obstacle. Political will will not be an obstacle. We are here assembled to then answer the next question: “And, so?”

What we were in that palace for was to provide the solutions, as thin as their chances of succeeding at this late hour might be. We were not placed here to go into separate silos. We were brought here to bring it all together: permaculture, biomimicry, holistic management, agroforestry, climate finance, the circular economy, ecovillages and atmospheric regenesis. This was not the Shark Tank or the Dragon’s Den. We are none of us here to self-promote or compete for a prize. This is Extreme Makeover: Ecosystem Version. Disruption is the new norm. The tables in the temple have been upended. The moneychangers have been driven out.

What is your vision of what can happen next? Ours, cobbled together in two long days, is now what the Commonwealth countries will carry with them to COP-22.  


What is Driving Climate Change?

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on January 31, 2016


coal-pollution1   OR IS IT   heat-earth 


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A few weeks ago I got taken to task by a long time Diner (JD) for my position on the underlying cause for Climate Change, which resurfaced again with the launch of our new series on Diner YouTube, Weather Gone Wild .  The dispute is over what the primary driver for Climate Change is, whether it comes from Anthropogenic Causation driven primarily by the burning of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions, or whether there are Geotectonic Forces at work that are driving the climate change?

denialThat Climate Change is not in fact underway is only denied by the most recalcitrant of Denialists, although there are still a significant number of them.  However, currently most Amerikans do accept that climate change is underway.

According to a Study by Yale University:

  • There has been an increase in the proportion of Americans who believe global warming is not happening (23%, up 7 percentage points since April 2013).
  • But about two in three Americans (63%) believe global warming is happening, a number that has been consistent since spring 2013.
  • The proportion of Americans who say they “don’t know” whether or not global warming is happening has dropped 6 points – from 20% to 14% – since spring of 2013.
  • About half of Americans (51%) say they are “somewhat” (38%) or “very worried” (15%) about global warming.
  • Fewer than half of Americans (38%) believe they personally will be harmed a “moderate amount” or a “great deal” by global warming.
  • By contrast, majorities believe that global warming will harm future generations of people (65%) and plant and animal species (65%).
  • About four in 10 say they feel “helpless” (43%), “disgusted” (42%), or “sad” (40%) when thinking about global warming.
  • By contrast, four in ten (42%), say they feel “hopeful” about the subject.

Miami-floodJust about everyone everywhere thse days is experiencing some kind of "Wacky Weather", Floods, Droughts, Snowstorms etc that don't fit the profile of what "normal" was 20 years ago.  They don't necessarily accept that their lifestyles are the cause of this though, and even if they do they are generally unwilling or unable to stop burning fossil fuels.  If you spent the last 20 years paying on your mortgage on a McMansion 20 miles from where you work (assuming you still have a job), HTF do you stop burning fossil fuels?  No other practical way to heat the McMansion, there are not enough trees on your 1/4 acre plot of land to do that, for more than a year anyhow.  No other practical way to get to work, since there is generally no Public Transportation from the typical subdivision into the typical work centers.  At best, you still need the car to do the Last Mile to the local Light Rail station, but this assumes that your job at the other end is ALSO within a mile of another Light Rail station.  Often not the case since many jobs are in Biz Parks that are themselves set up far from the central metro area a light rail system might serve.

pack_of_harvestersAlso close to impossible is to stop buying the products of industrialization, from the clothes you wear to the food you eat.  To provide these items to a population of 7.2B people with the current infrastructure requires burning tons of fossil fuels, not to mention their use as fertilizers and in fibers like Nylon, Polyester and Rayon.  Just about no piece of woven clothing nowadays does not have these fibers in the mix.  "All Wool" or "All Cotton' is pretty hard to come by, and quite pricy if you can find it.  So it's quite difficult to step off the fossil fuel economy no matter what you think is the primary driver for Climate Change.

Once you grasp this fact of life, precisely what is the Primary Driver here is not really that important, because in either case we can expect that Climate Change will continue unabated, and in fact probably accelerate moving forward here.  The issue JD brought up is that by presenting another possible driver for climate change, this will make it less possible to encourage people to "change their ways", burn less fossil fuels and stop pitching so much CO2 up into the atmosphere.  That may or may not be true, but it's not a reason to stop investigating the problem and trying to ferret out what is really occurring here.

By pitching out the Geotectonic Ocean Heat Transfer theory, I am calling into question "received wisdom" from the Climate Science community, which is firmly entrenched in the idea that Climate Change is entirely anthropogenic in nature.  WTF am I to offer up alternate hypothesis here?  I'm no James Hansen of course.  I'm just a curious guy with a decent science education looking at the problem from my own perspective.  Anyone is free to debate my conclusions here on the Diner, but as of yet nobody has taken up the challenge.  Not Jim Hansen, not Guy McPherson, nobody. other problem of course with flying in the face of conventional wisdom is that you get labelled as a "Tin Foiler".  Particularly if you start to speculate on causation, which is pretty much entirely unprovable.  I figure though that Copernicus was probably considered "Tin Foil" in his time, and Giordano Bruno was DEFINITELY considered Tin Foil, in fact he got Burned at the Stake for hs beliefs., I soldier on here, hopefully not to get Burned at the Stake (even just metaphorically) because I present an alternative hypothesis for the primary driver for Climate Change.

At this point though, I do want to REINFORCE that although I believe there are Geotectonic forces at work here, the burning of fossil fuels and ejecting gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere also has a significant effect, and if we expect to keep this from completely spinning out of control, it is imperative to put a LID on carbon emissions.  This is not so easy to do of course, considering our entire industrial culture is based on burning as much as we can, as fast as we can.

In both the cases of Geotectonic Causation and Anthropogenic Causation, we are faced with Wicked Problems.  In the case of Geotectonics, there is no technology available whatsoever to keep Earthquakes from going off or Volcanoes from blowing, despite what some HAARP conspiracy theorists might argue.  In the case of Anthropogenic Causation, there is simply no way to get 1 Billion cars off the road and 1000s of coal fired electric plants offline globally on a voluntary basis.  Too much of the infrastructure we have already built to support 7.2 Billion people depend on the transportation and the electric power to run the lights, sewage treatment plants, water pumping stations etc.  there is no single Planetary Goobermint that can dictate this by fiat, and even if there was it would probably be deposed if they tried.

On the Upside here as far as Anthropogenic causation is concerned, we WILL stop burning copious quantities of fossil fuels, but not because of a voluntary choice to do so.  We'll stop because it is no longer economically feasible to continue to run the system on ever increasing levels of debt.  We already see the slowdown occurring here as places like Europe drop precipitously in oil consumption

and considering the implosion of the Chinese markets over the last week, they won't be far behind here either.  Already their Steel and Concrete plants are shutting down and their credit fueled Bubble is going the way of the dinosaur.  So we can look forward to a day when fossil fuel burning is a fraction of what it is today, and probably in the not too distant future also.

There is however a lag time, and even with a rapid shutdown of the fossil fuel industry and reduced burning of FFs, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and AGT will continue to rise for the next 40 years, just on this effect alone.  If it is true that there is a Geotectonic component to the rise in AGT, then that is baked in the cake for so long as there continue to be elevated frequency and amplitude of global earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

So under jst about any plausible scenario for the next 50 years, we will see elevating AGT, unless there is some Negative Feedback Loop that we are as yet unaware of that slows, stops or reverses it.  In terms of doing something about this, beyond cutting back as much as possible on burning fossil fuels there really is not much else that can be done.  I certainly am not in favor of Geoengineering solutions, given the track record of Homo Sap in terms of applying technological solutions, you're bound to get Blowback that's even worse than the original problem.  Creating ever more complex solutions tends to require still more complex solutions later in a never ending upward spiral, all requiring more and more energy to implement.  Energy is precisely what we don't have to continue such a process any longer.

What we should be doing is two-fold:

1- Attemp to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels in a controlled descent from a high per capita energy consumption society.  An immediate cessation of burning fossil fuels would kill off more people faster and be worse for the environment than a controlled descent.  The wars which would result and the disease that would spread will be more catastrophic sooner than the oceans can rise to inundate all the coastal cities.

2- Begin preparing for life in a world with a higher AGT regime.  Other mammals have survived during global thermal maxima periods much warmer than 2C above current baseline.  I see no reason in principle Homo Sap cannot survive this also, although clearly not in the numbers currently walking the Earth.

For those of you who wish to take me to task for this article, please first review the accompanying vid which should answer many questions and I won't have to repeat myself.  There is a comprehensive slide show presentation and explanation of the Geotectonic problems we are faced with acompanying the explanation, which I render in Academuc Style worthy of a lecture at Cambridge or Harvard. OK, maybe not.  lol. In any event, it should answer many of the questions that have been put to me over the years since publishing the original Geotectonic Ocean Heat Transfer article.





























…an idiot is an idiot is an idiot

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Published on the Cassandra's Legacy on December 16, 2015

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It was yesterday that I gave a talk on climate at a meeting in Florence. It was a rather formal meeting, in the "Aula Magna" of the University of Florence, and my talk was part of a multidisciplinary series of lectures. I gave my talk  to a public mainly composed of faculty members, although only some of them were physical scientists.

It was not a specialized talk, but I tried to explain the basic elements of what we know about the earth's climate. How more than a hundred years of research has led to developing a new understanding of what makes climate change. I said that it is a true scientific revolution, on a par with several others as – say – cosmology; linking to a talk given just before by a colleague.

I showed data about how, over the geological eras, greenhouse gases have been the main element (although not the only one) determining the earth's surface temperature. And I showed how temperatures are rapidly rising now as a result of human-generated carbon emissions. I described the risks we are facing, and the importance of acting as soon as possible. And I showed my own work on modeling the energy transition to renewables.

And that was it. I received some applause, then the conference went on. Later on, there was the coffee break; the speakers and the public collected in the open air, in the courtyard of the University's central building. And, there, someone, a colleague, patted me on the shoulder. He smiled at me and he said, "See, Ugo, how cold is it today? Don't you think we need some global warming?"

Sometimes, I have lost my temper in these occasions. And they tell me that when I truly lose my temper I am not nice – which I think it is the way things should be. This time, however, I just smiled and I moved onward. But words were ringing in my head, "an idiot is an idiot is an idiot", something that Gertrude Stein could have said hadn't she been thinking of roses, instead.

You could say, "it was just a joke." Yes, but imagine that you were a surgeon, and you gave a talk at a conference on  – say – childhood cancer. Then, at the coffee break, a colleague of yours pats on your shoulder and says, "See how many children are there? Isn't it good that some are killed by tumors?"

An idiot is an idiot is an idiot. The problem is that there isn't just one of them.



Paris: Le Overture

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Publishes on the Peak Surfer on November 29, 2015


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"The ‘guard rail’ concept, which implies a warming limit that guarantees full protection from dangerous anthropogenic interference, no longer works. What is called for is a consideration of societally acceptable risk."

Today we are in Paris, site of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of Parties (COP21). We have been reporting from these conferences for this blog since early 2008, with the run-up to COP19 in Copenhagen. Each time there has been much ado about the potential for transformative action and each time, by the end of the two weeks, it turns into just adieu and see you next year.

The past three conferences in particular (Doha 2012, Warsaw 2013, Lima 2014) were really just treading water, trying to iron out differences enough to proceed to a formal, legally binding document to be adopted here in Paris this year, in 14 days time.

In 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, the UN member countries negotiated an international treaty to cooperatively consider what they could do to limit average global temperature increases and to cope with whatever other impacts of reckless fossil fuel use were, by then, inevitable. These annual conferences at the beginning of every December were intended to reach those decisions.

It took only three years for the COPs to recognize that the minor emission reductions they had imagined at first glance in the giddy Summit at Rio would be totally inadequate. So, they launched negotiations to strengthen the international response and, two years later, in 1997, adopted the Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol legally bound overdeveloped countries to emission reduction targets while giving the underdeveloping countries a pass. This eventually caused a lot of friction, because many of the countries who got passes, China and India for instance, took that opportunity to build hundreds of coal-fired power plants and become the world's leading greenhouse gas polluters.

The US Head Negotiator, Todd Stern, told the Guardian:

“We have a situation where 60-65% of emissions come from developing countries. That’s a good thing. It means that developing countries are developing. But you cannot solve climate change on the back of the 35%.

A watershed moment for the negotiating process occurred in Copenhagen when the world was on the verge of enacting a binding treaty to replace Kyoto, with everyone included and sanctions for scoff-laws. At the last moment Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama swooped in and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, substituting a voluntary pledge system (Independent Nationally Determined Contributions, all non-binding) that only 5 countries were willing to sign, but it was enough to torpedo the treaty. In a recent Presidential campaign debate Ms. Clinton called it one of her great moments of leadership on the climate issue, which rescued the Copenhagen talks.

It is true there were differences of opinion about how close Copenhagen was to actually sealing the deal. “By the time [Obama arrived in Copenhagen] things had already unravelled and then had to be put back together,” according to Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications at the White House. Rhodes said that in Paris Obama's tactics would be different. “The goal here is to give a push with heads of state at the beginning of the process and then allow [Secretary of State John] Kerry and others to finalize the details.”

The old protocol’s first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. Despite the debacle in Copenhagen, most of the European countries hit their targets. Total emissions for all other overdeveloped countries rose by about 10 percent. China's rose about 10 percent per year and it is now the world's largest emitter. Canada was committed to cutting its greenhouse emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by 2012, but in 2009 emissions were 17% higher than in 1990 and the Harper government prioritized tar sand development in Alberta. Canada's emissions are now up 34% from baseline and Australia is in similar territory. In Doha at COP18, 36 UN member states agreed to extend Kyoto for another round, beginning in 2013 and running to 2020 but without the major polluters on board it is a feeble effort.

Kyoto is generally viewed as a limited success. Among the overdeveloped, France, the UK and Germany achieved reductions of 7, 15 and 19 percent. In any event, these reductions pale when compared to the impact of peat fires in Indonesia, deforestation in Brazil or methane releases in Siberia.

At COP16 in 2010, the rest of the world, recognizing that the United States had been allowed to hijack the Copenhagen meeting, put the UN multiparty process back on track with the Cancun Agreements. Fast start finance (a.k.a. dollar diplomacy) brought pledges from the US and Europe to mobilize through international institutions, approaching 30 billion dollars for the period 2010-2012. Funding for adaptation was allocated to the most vulnerable underdeveloping countries, such as small island States and equatorial Africa, but nobody really knows whether or when that money will show up.

At Paris the various governments are “invited” to provide information on their efforts to reduce emissions (calculated, for the underdeveloping, as reductions on theoretical maximum development burn – Business As Usual, or “BAU” – to more modest, “responsible,” but nonetheless increased burns) and to please let everyone know how soon and by what means the promised great wealth transfer will take place.

Nonetheless, by slow increments, the noose is gradually tightening around the neck of fossil fuel companies and their government backers. All governments re-committed in Durban to a comprehensive plan that would come closer over time to delivering the ultimate objective of the Convention: to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would “prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system” and at the same time preserve the rights of the 5 billion world poor to “sustainable development.” Let us set aside for a moment the incompatibility of those two goals as their terms are presently defined.

Durban made two very important adjustments to the Cancun Agreements. First, that COP said that science will trump politics and that if it should be proven, for instance, that 2 degrees is not a sufficient guard rail to prevent human civilization from veering over the cliff into dangerous climate change, the goal can adjusted. A scientific review process was established to monitor the goal and “to ensure that collective action is adequate to prevent the average global temperature rising beyond the agreed limit.”

Secondly, the Durban COP said very firmly that the 2015 COP in Paris would deliver “a new and universal greenhouse gas reduction protocol, legal instrument or other outcome with legal force that would set requirements for the period beyond 2020.” This specification of a “legal instrument” or “legal force” was agreed to by the United States, China and the other key players right there in Durban with the whole world watching.

The likelihood Paris will produce a binding treaty was cast into doubt when the Financial Times interviewed US Secretary of State John Kerry a few weeks ago. Kerry told FT there were "not going to be legally binding reduction targets like Kyoto.”

French President Hollande immediately replied in the press that "if the agreement is not legally binding, there will be no agreement. We must give the Paris agreement, if there is one, a binding character in the sense that the commitments that are made must be kept and respected."

“This is not hot air. This is a real agreement, with real terms,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Backpeddling under fire, a spokesperson for the US state department told The New York Times that while the FT article "may have been read to suggest that the US supports a completely nonbinding approach … that is not the case, and is not Secretary Kerry's position".

Holocene (blue) – Anthroocene (red)

COP18 in Doha was, as we said, the start of the Paris prelude. One significant bump was release of The World Bank's "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided", showing that the world is on track towards a 4 degrees Celsius temperature rise, should the currently inadequate level of ambition remain. Doha responded to that challenge by triggering the Durban process to review the long-term temperature goal. They set up a Structured Expert Dialog – 70 wise men – that was to start in 2013 and conclude by 2015.

COP19 in Warsaw moved us a little closer. The rulebook for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) was agreed, together with measures to bolster forest preservation and a results-based payment system to promote forest protection. Overdeveloped countries met the target capitalization of $100 million for the Adaptation Fund, which can now fund priority projects. Governments established the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage to address losses and damages associated with long-term climate change impacts in countries that are especially vulnerable to such impacts.

COP20 in Lima was more of the same, more agenda-setting for the run-up to Paris and the signing of a formal treaty. It came close to faltering over the issue of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” (the distinction between the expected pledges from overdeveloped and underdeveloping Parties). At COP 17 in Durban in 2011, countries agreed that the post-2020 actions to be negotiated in Paris would be “applicable to all.” Alton Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists observed:

The differentiation issue nearly blocked the final decision in Lima, where the stakes were actually quite small. In Paris next year, the stakes will be quite high: nothing less than the shape of the climate regime for the next several decades. It will not be possible to paper over sharp differences on this issue with artful language that different groupings can interpret in a way favorable to their position, as happened in the last hours of Lima.

The anticipated report of the meeting of the 70 wise men, the Structured Expert Dialog or “SED,” was issued in February 2015 and reviewed by government delegates at the pre-COP meeting in Bonn in June. This is a very important 180-page document and bears spending some time to read.

The document divides the dialog into three parts: Theme 1 – the adequacy of the long-term global goal
 in the light of the ultimate objective; Theme 2 – overall progress made towards achieving the long-term global goal; Theme 3 — consideration of strengthening the long-term global goal.

It starts off addressing whether temperature is an adequate warning gauge for climate change:

Message 1: A long term global goal defined by a temperature limit serves its purpose well… Adding other limits to the long-term global goal, such as sea level rise or ocean acidification, only reinforces the basic finding emerging from the analysis of the temperature limit, namely that we need to take urgent and strong action to reduce GHG emissions.

That is followed by this rather disturbing chart:

On the Y axis or axis of ordinates is temperature change in degrees C. To the left of the vertical axis line is a set of brightly colored bar graphs representing corresponding risks of each degree of warming.

Things to note:

  1.  Two degrees is far from safe. It represents “dangerous interference with climate systems” to quote the Framework Convention.
  2.  At 1.5 degrees there is a high degree of likelihood we will lose unique and threatened systems and experience extreme weather events. (Note, the risk of extreme weather at today's 1-degree elevation is considered moderate). At 2 degrees these move into the deep red and the distribution of impacts becomes high, meaning almost no-one escapes.

On the X axis or axis of abscissas, are the cumulative total emissions of CO2 since 1870. Right now we have taken about 2500 GtCO2 out of the ground, resulting in a net atmospheric concentration of 400 ppm. The chart reports that we could probably go to 4000 GtCO2 and 580 ppm before we exceed the 2 degree limit. This is dangerous nonsense and one is left scratching one's head at how this could have been decided. It guarantees resumption of that food fight between India, Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil and others about how many “parking spaces” in that big parking lot in the sky remain for “sustainable development” (read: still to be constructed coal plants).

Here is a short run-down of the other messages of the Structured Expert Dialog:

On Theme One:

  • Limiting global warming to below 2 °C necessitates a radical transition (deep decarbonization now and going forward), not merely a fine tuning of current trends.
  • Risks will be increasingly unevenly distributed; responses need to be made by each location.
  • The ‘guard rail’ concept, which implies a warming limit that guarantees full protection from dangerous anthropogenic interference, no longer works. What is called for is a consideration of societally acceptable risk.
  • At 4 degrees effects are non-linear; more than double 2 degrees. The catch potential of fisheries would be greatly reduced and crop production would be beyond adaptation in many areas. Sea level rise would far exceed 1 m.

On Theme Two:

  • We know how to measure progress on mitigation but not on adaptation.
  • The world is not on track to achieve the long-term global goal, but successful mitigation policies are known and must be scaled up urgently.
  • Under present economic regimes, spending on ‘brown’ technologies will continue to grow faster than spending on green technologies. 
  • Scaling up means putting a price on carbon and promoting low-carbon technologies, so that their share becomes dominant.

On Theme Three:

  • The ‘guard rail’ concept, in which up to 2 °C of warming is considered safe, is inadequate and would therefore be better seen as an upper limit, a defense line that needs to be stringently defended, while less warming would be preferable. 
  • Limiting global warming to below 2 °C is still feasible and will bring about many co-benefits, but poses substantial technological, economic and institutional challenges.
  • Parties may wish to take a precautionary route by aiming for limiting global warming as far below 2 °C as possible, discarding the notion of a guardrail but thinking more of a defense line or even a buffer zone.

We shall return to these themes in our next post. Tomorrow is the Summit's opening day. Those interested can follow us in real time on Twitter: @peaksurfer.

Can Peak Oil Save Us From Climate Change?

limitsgc2Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on October 8, 2015

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"Peak Oil will save us from Climate Change:" a meme that never went viral

The idea that peak oil will save us from climate change has been occasionally popping up in the debate, but it never really gained traction for a number of good reasons. One is that, in many cases, the proponents were also climate science deniers and that made them scarcely credible. Indeed, if climate change does not exist (or if it is not caused by human activities), then how is it that you are telling us that peak oil will save us from it? Add to this that many hard line climate science deniers are also peak oil deniers (since, as well known, both concepts are part of the great conspiracy), then, it is no surprise that the meme of "peak oil will save us" never went viral.

That doesn't mean that we shouldn't ask the question of whether we have sufficient amounts of fossil fuel to generate a truly disastrous climate change. The debate on this point goes back to the early 2000s. At the beginning, the data were uncertain and it was correctly noted that some of the IPCC scenarios overestimated what we are likely to burn in the future. But, by now, I think the fog has cleared.  It is becoming increasingly clear that fossil fuel depletion is not enough, by far, to save us from climate change.

Nevertheless, some people still cling to the old "peak oil will save us" meme. In a recent post on "Energy Matters", Roger Andrews argues that:

All of the oil and gas reserves plus about 20% of the coal reserves could be consumed without exceeding the IPCC’s trillion-tonne carbon emissions limit.

Now, that sounds reassuring and surely many people would understand it in the sense that we shouldn't worry at all about burning oil and gas. Unfortunately, that's just not true and Andrews' statement is both overoptimistic and misleading. One problem is that the "2 degrees limit" is a last ditch attempt to limit the damage created by climate change, but there is no certainty that staying beyond it will be enough to prevent disaster. Then, there is a problem with Andrew's use of the term "reserves," to be understood as "proven reserves". Proven reserves include only those resources that are known to exist and to be extractable at present; and that's surely much less than all what could be extracted in the future. The parameter that takes into account also probably existing resources is called "Ultimate Recoverable Resources" or URRs

So, let's consider a world fossil URR estimate that many people would consider as "pessimistic," the one by Jean Laherrere that I already discussed in a previous post. It turns out that we have enough oil and gas that, together, they can produce enough CO2 to reach the 2 degrees limit; even though, maybe, not more. There follows that, if we really wanted to burn all the oil and gas known to be extractable, to stay withing the limit we would need to stop all carbon burning; starting from tomorrow! Not an easy thing to do, considering that coal produces more than 40% of the energy that powers the world's electrical grid and, in some countries, much more than that. It is true that coal is the dirtiest of the three fossil fuels and must be phased out faster than oil and gas, but the consumption of all three must go down together, otherwise it will be impossible to remain under the limit.

In the end, we have here one more of the many illusions that surround the climate issue; one that could be dangerous it were to spread. However, in addition to the other problems described here, Andrew's post falls in the same trap of many previous attempts: it uses the data produced by climate science to try to demonstrate its main thesis, but only after having defined climate science as "Vodoo Science." No way: this is not a meme that will go viral.

What killed the Dinosaurs?

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on July 8, 2015

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(hint: probably not what you used to think)

In Walt Disney's movie "Fantasia" (1940), dinosaurs were shown as dying in a hot and dry world, full of active volcanoes. Recent discoveries show that something like that might really have happened and that the idea that the dinosaurs were killed by an asteroidal impact appears to be incompatible with the available data. Rather, it seems that the dinosaurs died out because of the global warming resulting from the emission of large amounts of greenhouse gases from volcanoes. In several respects, it is not unlike what's happening today to us.

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I know what you are thinking: these silly scientists; first they tell us that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs, now they tell us that it is not true. So, how can we believe them when they tell us that humans are causing global warming? 

On this, I have to tell you something: science is a mighty truth-seeking juggernaut. Yes, individual scientists are not immune from mistakes, political biases, and human failures, but, on the whole, science manages to filter away bad ideas and keep the good ones. The case of the extinction of the dinosaurs is a beautiful example of how well the mechanism works.

As you will read in the article below, the non avian dinosaurs, it seems, went away not with an asteroidal bang, but with a volcanic whisper. They were killed over several tens of thousands of years by the global warming created by the emission of gases from the giant basaltic eruption known as the "Deccan Traps", today located on the Indian subcontinent. To be sure, the discussion is far from being settled and many scientists still favor the impact theory (e.g. Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink in their recent book "A new history of life"). Personally, I am no specialist in these matters but, if I did my homework well (and I think I did), my impression is that the data overwhelmingly favor the volcanic hypothesis over the asteroidal one.

So, no asteroid killer? If that's the case, how could science make such a mistake? The answer is that there was no "mistake". There was just the gradual build-up of data and models that led to a better and better understanding of the mechanisms of mass extinctions in the earth's past and of the specific events that led to the so-called "K/T" mass extinction that involved the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs. So, it is true that there was a large asteroidal impact occurring approximately at the K/T boundary. But whether this was the actual cause of the mass extinction always remained a hypothesis. It was only the spectacular character of this hypothesis that led it to become so popular with the general public. But popularity in the media is not the same as scientific certainty and, after decades of work, science is gradually arriving at a consensus on this matter, just as it has arrived to a consensus on climate change. Science, unlike politics and fashion, doesn't go in cycles, it moves forward.


The real causes of the extinction of the dinosaurs

by Aldo Piombino

Aldo Piombino is an independent researcher collaborating with the Department of Earth Sciences of the University of Florence. 

It is widely accepted by the public opinion and by many scientists that the Dinosaurs went extinct because of a meteorite impact that occurred along the Southern Mexico coasts, along the coast of the Yucatan peninsula.

Well, this is not true. The “Impactists,” those who propose the impact theory, have been successful for a while in having a stronger voice than their opponents. But, in March 2013 a meeting at the Natural History Museum in London, (acts are published in the Geological Society of America Special publication n. 505) left no doubts: the killer of the dinosaurs was not the Yucatan impact, but the gases and other volatiles that came from the Deccan Traps activity, in which some hundreds of thousands of cubic kilometers of magma were produced in a few tens of thousands of years.

There is multiple proof that the Earth system has seen similar conditions causing mass extinctions well before the dramatic K/T event that killed the non-avian dinosaurs. A similar volcanic activity occurred (and it is blamed for) the mass extinction events of the late Devonian, the end Permian, end Triassic, end Cenomanian, end Paleocene, and others. From the end of the Devonian period, all the main boundaries of the Earth chronology correspond to similar volcanic activities, termed "large igneous provinces" (LIPs).

The first scientific ideas about the dinosaur extinction in the '30s were that they were wiped out because of a sudden warming of the Earth. This is well exposed in “Fantasia”, one of the masterpieces in the Walt Disney's production, in which we see great reptiles dying in a dry word, surrounded by a warm haze. In the 50's someone blamed a meteorite for the extinction: the cosmic fall would have triggered a sudden and violent atmospheric warming.

Global warming remained the best explanation since 1980, when the Berkeley team of Louis Alvarez found that all the K/T section known at that time (Gubbio in Italy, Stevns Klimt in Denmark and Woodside Creek in New Zealand, showed an anomalous spike in the Iridium content (5). So they proposed that a chondritic meteorite crashed on the Earth, triggering a long winter, a sort of “nuclear winter”. The Iridium, contained in the celestial body, had been released in the air and deposited on the ground and on the sea surface. This idea became immediately popular and scientists that didn't agree with the idea of the extraterrestrial origin of K/T event had troubles in having their voices being heard.

The 80's saw many scientists searching of the impact crater which was finally found in 1991, along the Yucatan coasts. The dimensions of the crater coincided with the hypothesis declared by the Berkeley team of a body with a 10 km diameter and the age of the collision was Late Cretaceous. But a few years later, Upper Maastrichtian sediments were found on top of the impact ejecta, thus refuting a precise K/T age of the event.

At the same time, scientists found that all the main extinction events, such as the End Permian and End Triassic extinctions, were simultaneous with the emplacement of huge basaltic series: the flood basalts, Large Igneous Provinces, and that the same activity occurred also at the K/T boudary (the large igneous province known as the Deccan Traps). Today, there are no doubts that the K/T extinction has been triggered by the gas emissions from the Deccan Traps. Recent studies of the palaeomagnetic declination registered in the lavas demonstrate that the emplacement of the second, and larger, phase of the activity lasted few tens of thousand years and not hundreds of thousands as it was supposed earlier on (1). The main elements that favor volcanic emissions as the cause of the mass extinction are the following

1. The Maastrichtian climatic evolution is clearly in tune with the pulses of the volcanic activity: the biotic crisis begun well before K/T and the impact occurred well after the beginning of the crisis.

2. According to the impact hypothesis, the K/T event has been a cold, dark moment because of the powders derived from the impact and of the fires ignited worldwide by hot ejecta. This cannot be true, because, instead, there exists compelling evidence that the last 50.000 years of the Cretaceous saw a sudden warming, triggered by the enormous CO2 emissions from Deccan traps; thus, it was not a cooling phase. It is true that, after the impact (between 150.000 and 100.000 years before the Mesozoic Era end) there was been a cooler stage, but this is an ordinary event in mass extinction dynamics, when they are triggered by huge volcanism, since they are always accompanied by strong sea level variation. In particular, the final stage is normally a marine transgression following a cooler period characterized by a huge sea level drop. These sea level drops are mainly triggered by the arrival of volcanic volatiles of the Large Igneous Province  in the stratosphere, thus enveloping the entire Earth and preventing much of the solar rays to arrive in the lower atmosphere. So, the K/T was mainly characterized by a warm climate because of the high levels of atmospheric greenhouse gas.

3. The sudden extinction in microfossils such as Planktonic Foraminifera is reported where an upper Maastrichtian hiatus is not seen: the low sea level in the upper Maastrichtian before the latest 50.000 years of the stage in many areas (and above all in the Caribbean) resulted in a temporary stop of the sedimentation. Stratigraphic sections where marine sedimentation continued without a hiatus show a very gradual extinction pattern. This scenario fits very well with the volcanic trigger, like the other mass extinctions do, and does not fit with a punctual event like a meteorite impact.

4. The sea water acidity clearly originated by the high CO2 amount coming from the Deccan traps and the acidification began well before the impact. After the K/T acidity crisis, the system saw a partial recovery, but it was interrupted in early Danian, synchronous with a new, later, spike of volcanic activity in India. It is impossible that the asteroidal impact, alone, could have generated such a high amount of this gas; simply because it broke up rocks of the carbonate platform of Yucatan and, above all, the CO2 increase begun well before the impact

5. No one can say whether the dinosaurs were wiped off in a long or in a short time (3), but we must note that the youngest dinosaur fossils or footprints are almost 450.000 years older than K/T and now it is not known if this is due to a lack of fossils or if they became extinct well before the K/T.

6. The Iridium anomaly is probably best explained as the result of the Deccan volcanoes, generated by aerosol diffusion: similar anomalies occur in the volatiles of Kilauea and in Antarctica (2). These forms of volcanism are typical of intraplate volcanism. And, also, volatiles coming from the intraplate Piton de la Fournaise volcano, located over the mantle plume that originated Deccan Traps long ago, show the anomaly (4). Moreover the anomaly found by the Berkeley team in Gubbio begun well before the K/T boundary and vanishes for a long time interval before the final increase (5). How can Iridium came from the impact if his anomaly begins well before the event?

7. The microspherules that were found in the K/T sediments, for example in Denmark and in New Zealand, are of sedimentary origin and they are not the alteration of tektites coming from the impact. Moreover, also the occurrence of fullerenes doesn't necessarily imply fires triggered by the impact worldwide: charcoals are widespread in all upper Cretaceous sediments because of the occurrence of wildfires triggered by high levels of atmospheric Oxygen. The diffusion of the wildfires is one of the causes of the decline of Conifers and of the Angiosperm diffusion. During the latest Cretaceous period, wildfires increased at the highest level because of the worldwide warm and dry climate; these changes were triggered by volcanic emissions

8. Those who propose the impact theory say that a 3 meters thick level along the coast of the gulf of Mexico was deposited by the Tsunami triggered by the meteorite crash. This cannot be true: the level shows many hiatuses (demonstrated also by the occurrence of paleosoils showing bioturbation structures) and it has sedimented for a long time, some tens of hundreds years: it is the result of sedimentation during the low standing sea level before the earliest Maastrichtian transgression

9. Smectites are very common at the K/T boundary. They do not represent the alteration of the impact tektites, they show a huge volcanic signature and they have originated from Deccan traps. It's interesting that the smectite amount increases, replacing illite deposits, in 3 time intervals that are coeval with the 3 main phases of Deccan activity

10. It is evident that the epicenter of the geochemical and biotic crisis is placed in the indian region, as we can see in the Krishna – Godavari basin and in the Meghalaya area.


11. For the International Commission on Stratigraphy the K/T limit is defined if there is one of these characteristics: the Iridium spike, the extinction of all tipically Cretaceous planktonic foraminifera except the  Guembelitria Cretacea (a high acidity and low Oxygen resistant form), the occurrence of the first Danian foraminifera and a particular excursion of δ13C. The ejeta from the Yucatan crated are not considered as a diagnostic character for the K/T boundary, because the impact occurred some time before.

12. The δ13C excursion demonstrates a huge perturbation in the carbon cycle; it is diagnostic for a large igneous province and occurred in a similar way at the end of Permian and at the end of Triassic.

13. The 1783 eruption of the Laki volcano can be seen as a small scale simulation of what can happen during the emplacement of a many thousands cubic kilometers lava flow like the ones of a Large Igneous Province. With the Laki eruption, only 17 cubic kilometers of lavas were produced, but the eruption saw the highest registered mortality level in a century and a dry fog enveloped all Europe with widespread damage to agriculture.

In conclusion, the Deccan Traps fit better than meteorites as the trigger of the K/T event for all the geochemical, sedimentary and micropaleontological characteristics.


(1) Chenet et al., (2009) Determination of rapid Deccan eruptions across the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary using paleomagnetic secular variation: 2. Constraints from analysis of eight new sections and synthesis for a 3500-m-thick composite section. Journal of Geophysical Research, vol 114, no. B6, B06103, pp. 1-38., 0.1029/2008JB005644
(2) Archibald J.D., (2014), What the dinosaur record says about extinction scenarios. Geological Society of America Special Papers 505, 213–224
(3) Olmez et al., (1986), Iridium emissions from Kilauea Volcano. Journal of Geophysical Research – Solid Earth 91/B1, 653–663
(4) Toutain & Meyer (1989) Iridium‐bearing sublimates at a hot‐spot volcano (Piton De La Fournaise, Indian Ocean), Geophys. Res. Lett.16(12), 1391-1394
(5) Alvarez et al., 1980, Extraterrestrial causes for the Cretaceous – Tertiary extinction K/T Experimental results and theoretical interpretation. Science 268, 1095–1108

Can a Seneca Collapse Save us from Climate Change?

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on April 20, 2015

The “Seneca Cliff” (or “Seneca Collapse“). The ancient Roman philosopher said “The path of increase is slow, but the road to ruin is rapid.” A “Seneca Collapse” of the world’s economy would surely reduce the chances of a climate disaster, but it would be a major disaster in itself and it might not even be enough.  
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Nothing we do (or try to do) seems to be able to stop carbon dioxide from accumulating in the atmosphere. And, as a consequence, nothing seems to be able to stop climate change. With the situation getting worse and worse (see here for an example), we are hoping that some kind of international agreement can be reached to limit emissions. But, after many attempts and many failures, can we really expect that next time – miraculously – we could succeed?

Another line of thought, instead, has that depletion will save us. After all, if we run out of oil (and of fossil fuels in general) then we’ll have to stop emitting greenhouse gases. Won’t that solve the problem? In principle, yes, but is it going to happen?

The gist of the debate on fossil fuel depletion is that, despite the theoretically abundant resources, the production rate is strongly affected by economic factors. These factors force the production curve to follow a “bell shaped”, or “Hubbert,” curve that peaks and starts declining much before the resource runs out physically. In practice, most studies that take into account the “peaking” phenomenon arrive to the conclusion that the IPCC scenarios are often overestimating the amount of fossil carbon that can be burned (see a recent review by Hook et al.). From this, some have arrived to the optimistic conclusion that peak oil will save us from climate change (see this post of mine). But that’s way too simplistic.

The problem with climate change is not that temperatures will keep smoothly growing from now until the end of the century. The problem is that we will run into big troubles much earlier if we let temperatures rise over a certain limit. Sea level rise, oceanic acidification, and land desertification are just some of the problems, but a worse one could be the “climate tipping point.” That is, over a certain point, the rise in temperatures would start to be driven by a series of feedback effects within the ecosystem and climate change would become unstoppable.

We don’t know where the climate tipping point could be situated, but there exists a general agreement that we should keep temperatures from rising above 2 deg. C to avoid a catastrophe. From the 2009 paper by Meinshausen et al. we can estimate that, from now on, we should not release more than about 1×10+12 t of CO2 in the atmosphere. Considering that we have released so far some 1.3×10+12 t of CO2 (source: global carbon project), the total should not be more than about 2.3×10+12 t of CO2.

So, what can we expect in terms of total emissions considering a “peaking” scenario? Let me show you some data from Jean Laherrere, who has been among the first to propose the concept of “peak oil.”

In this figure, made in 2012, Laherrere lists the quantities of fuels burned, with a “U” (“ultimate”) measured in Tboe (Terabarrels of oil equivalent, see below for the conversion factors used). As a first approximation, if all the emissions were from crude oil, we would emit some 4.5×10+12 t of CO2. Things change little if we separate the contributions of the three fossil fuels. Crude oil, alone, would produce 1.3×10+12 t of CO2.  Coal would produce 2.810+12 t, and natural gas 0.95×10+12 t. The final result is nearly exactly 5×10+12 t of CO2.

In short, even if we follow a “peaking” trajectory in the production of fossil fuels, we are going to emit around twice as much carbon dioxide as what is considered at present to be the”safe” limit.

Of course, there are plenty of uncertainties in these calculations and the tipping point may be farther away than estimated. But it could also be closer. And we should take into account the problem of the increasing CO2 emissions per unit of energy as we progressively move toward dirtier and less efficient fuels. So, we are really toying with disaster, with a good chance to run straight into a climate catastrophe.

Nevertheless, it may also be that Laherrere was optimistic in his estimate. Indeed, the nearly symmetric “bell shaped” or (“Hubbert”) curve is the result of the assumption that extraction is performed in a fully  functioning economy. But, once the economic system starts unraveling, a series of destructive feedbacks accelerates the decline. This is the “Seneca collapse” that generates an asymmetric production curve (the “Seneca cliff”).

Could the Seneca cliff save us? At least, it would considerably reduce the amount of fossil carbon burned. Tentatively, if the collapse were to start within the next 10 years and it were to cut off more than half of the potential coal production, then, we could remain within the safe limit. Whereas Hubbert can’t save the ecosystem, Seneca could (maybe).

But, even if that came to pass, a Seneca collapse is a major disaster in itself for humankind, so there is little to rejoice at the thought that it could save us from runaway climate change. In practice, the only hope to avoid disaster lies in taking a more active role in substituting fossils with renewables. In this way, we can force the production of fossil fuels to go down faster, but without losing the energy supply we need. It is possible – it is a big effort, but we can do it if we are willing to try (see this paper by Sgouridis, Bardi and Csala for a quantitative estimate of the effort needed)

Unit conversion

One Boe of crude oil = 0.43 t CO2 (

One Boe of coal = 0.53 t CO2 (calculation from and from

One Boe of natural gas: 0.31 t CO2 (calculation from and from

The ultimate limits to carbon burning: an order of magnitude calculation

Off the keybard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on April 14, 2015


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Total amount of fossil carbon on the Earth, from Vanderbroucke and Largeau (1)

During the past few years, the development of “shale gas” and “shale oil” in the US, generated a wave of optimism that spread widely in the mediasphere. It was common to hear of “a century of abundance” or even of “centuries” provided by these new sources. However, with the recent collapse of the oil market, these claims seem to have gone the same way as those of the sightings of the Loch Ness monster. But there remains a point to be made: what is exactly the limit to what we can burn? Could we really keep burning for centuries? Or, maybe, even for millennia or more?

Let’s see if we can make a calculation, at least in terms of order of magnitudes. The first question is how much fossil carbon do we have on this planet. The total is reported to be about 1.5×10+16 t (metric tons), mainly in the form of kerogen, a product of the decomposition of organic matter which is a precursor to the formation of fossil fuels (gas, oil, and coal) (2) .

It looks like a lot of carbon, especially if we compare this number with the amount we are burning nowadays. The data reported by CDIAC (Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center) report 9.2×10+9 t of carbon transformed into CO2 as the result of fossil fuel burning (gas+oil+coal) in 2013. As an order of magnitude estimate, at this rate, we could go on burning for more than a million years before truly running out of fossil carbon.

But, obviously, that’s not possible. Simply, there is not enough oxygen in the atmosphere to burn all the existing fossil carbon. The total amount of free oxygen is estimated to be about 1.2×10+15 t or 3.7×10+19 mol O2⁠ (a “mole” is a unit used in chemistry to compare the amount of reactants in chemical reactions). One mole of molecular oxygen will react with exactly one mole of carbon to form carbon dioxide and, since 1.5×10+16 t of carbon correspond 1.25×10 +21 mol, there follows that we cannot possibly burn more than about 1% of the existing fossil carbon. Instead of a million years, we are down to about 10,000 years.

Of course, then, burning that 1% of carbon would mean to use up all the oxygen of the atmosphere and that would be bad for us, no matter how much we need fossil fuels. In practice, we can’t use up more than a few percent of the atmospheric oxygen; otherwise the effect on human health and on the whole ecosphere would be likely disastrous. Let’s say that we are willing to bet that a 5% loss is still safe, even though nobody could be sure about that. It means that we only have 500 years or so to keep on burning before we start feeling symptoms of suffocation. But the story doesn’t end here.

So far, we have been reasoning in terms of the total amount of fossil carbon as if it were all burnable, but is it? Kerogen, the main component of this carbon, can be combined with oxygen producing a certain amount of heat (3) but it can hardly be considered as a fuel, because it would be very expensive to extract and the net energy yield would be modest or even negative. In 1997, Rogner (4) carried out an extensive survey of the carbon resources potentially usable as fuel. At page 149 of this link, we can find an aggregate estimate of 9.8×10+11 t of carbon as “reserves” and up to 5.5×10+12 t of “resources”, the latter defined as not economically exploitable at the current prices. “Additional occurrences” are reported to a possible amount of 1.5×10+13 t of carbon, but that is a rather wild estimation. If we limit ourselves to proven reserves, we see that at the present rate of about 1×10+10 t/year we would have about a century of carbon to go.

We are not finished, yet. We now need to consider how much carbon we can combine with oxygen before the increased greenhouse effect caused by the resulting carbon dioxide generates irreversible changes in the Earth’s climate. The “tipping point” of the climate catastrophe is often estimated as that corresponding to a temperature increase of 2 deg C and, in order not to exceed it, we should not release more than about 10+12 t of CO2 in the atmosphere. That corresponds to 3.7×10+11 t of carbon (5). This is about one third of Rogner’s global reserve estimate. So, at this point, we don’t have a century any more, but only about three-four decades (and note that the estimation of what we can burn and still avoid catastrophe may have been optimistic. See also here for a more detailed estimate that takes into account different kinds of fuels).

You see how misleading it can be to list carbon resources as if they were soldiers lined up for battle. Not everything that exists inside the Earth’s crust can be extracted and burned and we can’t afford to extract and burn everything that could be extracted without wrecking the atmosphere. Taking into account the various factors involved, we went down from more than a million years of supply to just a few decades.

But, of course, calculating the number of remaining years at constant production rates is also misleading. In practice, fuel production rates have never been constant over history; rather, the production tends to follow a “bell shaped” curve that peaks and then declines. Today, we may be close to the peak (See e.g. here). Will the impending decline save us from catastrophic climate change? At present, we cannot say; too many are the uncertainties involved in these estimates. What we can say is that we are not facing centuries of abundance, but a decline which might even very rapid, considering the possibility of a “Seneca collapse.”

In short, the age of fossil fuels is ending. It is time to take note of that and move to something else.


(1) M. Vandenbroucke, C.     Largeau, Kerogen origin, evolution and structure, Organic Geochemistry, Volume 38, Issue 5, May 2007, Pages 719-833, ISSN ,

2. Falkowski, P., R.J. Scholes, E. Boyle, J. Canadell, D. Canfield, J. Elser, N. Gruber, et al. 2000. “The Global Carbon Cycle: A Test of Our Knowledge of Earth as a System.” Science 290 (5490) (October 13): 291–296. doi:10.1126/science.290.5490.291.

(3) Muehlbauer, Michael J., and Alan K. Burnham. 1984. “Heat of Combustion of Green River Oil Shale.” Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Process Design and Development 23 (2) (April): 234–236. doi:10.1021/i200025a007.

Annual Review of Energy and the Environment 22 (1) (November 28): 217–262. doi:10.1146/

(5) IPCC. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. (Cambridge University Press, 2014).

The Great Suffocation…

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Cassandra’s Legacy on December 13, 2013


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…will we have enough oxygen to breathe?


The oxygen concentration in the atmosphere as recorded at the Mauna Loa observatory (link). It is going down and the obvious explanation is that it is the result of our burning of fossil fuels. But do we risk to suffocate ourselves in this way? Fortunately, that’s very unlikely, at least in the short run. However, looking at the “other side” of the carbon dioxide emission story gives us a good perspective of what’s going on with the ecosystem as the result of human activities.

Everyone is worried about global warming, and correctly so. However, there is another side to the warming question: for every additional molecule of carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by burning fossil fuels, one molecule of oxygen (O2) must be consumed. That means less and less oxygen in the atmosphere. So, won’t suffocation be an additional problem to global warming? (some people seem to be actually worried that it could be)

Fortunately, the answer is “no.” We don’t risk to run out of oxygen; at least in the short run. But the story is not simple and we can learn a lot about what’s happening to our atmosphere, our climate, and our ecosystem if we look at the question in some detail.

First of all, what do we mean as “suffocation”? The present concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere is 21% in volume. We have evolved to live with this level of oxygen and the minimum level for humans to function normally is around 19% (See here). We are already in trouble below 17% and simply can’t survive below 10%. So, we have to be careful with what we do with our atmosphere; we can’t afford to lose more than 1%-2% of the oxygen we have.

Now, how much oxygen have we consumed with burning fossil fuels, so far? Not much, really. Keeling found a 0.0317% reduction in the atmospheric oxygen concentration from 1990 to 2008. Clearly, we are not going to suffocate, at least not right away.

But we need to go more in depth in the matter. Consider that we have been burning fossil fuels for a long time before 1990. We can roughly calculate the total loss considering that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased of about 250 parts per million in volume over the past century. A similar amount has been absorbed in the oceans, so we can say that we have produced the equivalent of 500 ppm of CO2 and hence some 500 parts per million of oxygen (0.05%) must have gone. But we are still well within the safety limits.

How about the future? The Keeling results tell us that, at the present rates, we consume about 0.02% of oxygen every ten years. To arrive near the 1% safety threshold we would need centuries but, of course, we will not be able to keep burning fossil fuels at the present rates for such a long time. As we roll on the other side of the Hubbert curve, we won’t probably be able to do more than double the amount already emitted (and perhaps much less, according to the Seneca scenario that sees decline much faster than growth).  Even in the most extreme assumptions, at most, we could emit no more than some four times the amount produced so far. That would correspond to a loss of about 0.2% of the total oxygen available. Not negligible but, as far as we know, not harmful.

So, burning fossil fuels would definitely not suffocate us; not directly, at least. But there are indirect effects. One is the loss of biomass caused by human activities. When plants and animals die, the carbon they contain is normally oxidized to carbon dioxide, consuming oxygen in the process. The total amount of carbon stocked in living creatures and soil is estimated as about 2100 billion tons (Gtons). If all this carbon were to react with oxygen, it would consume some 5600 Gtons of oxygen (taking into account that an atom of oxygen weighs more than an atom of carbon and that one atom of carbon consumes two atoms of oxygen). The total mass of oxygen in the atmosphere is calculated as of the order of 1.2×10^9 Gtons (see also this reference). So, even the total burning of the planetary ecosphere would make only a small dent in the total oxygen concentration; about 0.4%. And that, of course, is an extreme hypothesis that would see the whole biosphere destroyed – in this case, suffocation would be the least problem.

We could consider also the release of the methane hydrates stored in permafrost; something that could happen as a result of global warming. Methane is a strong greenhouse gas, and so the process reinforces itself, that’s the origin of the so called “methane catastrophe” that would result in a disastrous greenhouse runaway effect. The total mass of methane stored in permafrost is estimated as of the order of 500-2500 gtons of carbon. In the worst case, methane could consume another ca. 0.4% of the atmospheric oxygen.

Summing up everything we have considered so far, methane, organic matter, fossil fuels, we see that we don’t go over the 1% threshold, even making rather extreme hypotheses. So, we would seem to be on the safe side. However, we should also take into account that by far the largest stock of organic (and hence burnable) carbon in the Earth’s crust is in the form of  “kerogen”, the result of the partial decomposition of organic matter. (Figure below from

10^10 gtons of kerogen is such a large value that if all of it were to combine with oxygen (about 10^9 tons), then there won’t be any oxygen left in the atmosphere. That would be, indeed, the “great suffocation”. 

Fortunately, that is unlikely to happen. Kerogen can react with oxygen and it is, actually, the original source of the petroleum we extract and burn today. But the natural process is very slow and the human-made one very expensive. Human beings won’t be able, ever, to burn more than a microscopic fraction of the kerogen of the earth’s crust.

So, we see that oxygen loss, the great suffocation, is not something we should be worried about because we have much more oxygen in the atmosphere than what we could consume even in the worst possible hypothesis. We have this safety margin because free oxygen is the result of billions of years of photosynthetic activity which pumped lots of oxygen in the atmosphere. Of this oxygen, most was absorbed in inorganic oxides; principally iron oxides. Only a small fraction has gradually accumulated in the atmosphere, as we see in the following figure. (from Wikipedia – take into account that there is a big uncertainty in these estimates)

Note that a peak in the oxygen concentration was reached in the remote past, perhaps in correspondence with the peak in planetary biological productivity. At the peak, oxygen concentration may have reached a value of over 30% in volume – humans could not have survived in those conditions! Then, it may have gone down to about 15% and, again, we wouldn’t have been able to survive with that concentration.

So, oxygen is not simply accumulating in the atmosphere to remain there forever. It is a reactive gas and its concentration is linked to the evolution of the ecosystem. There are factors that can strongly change its concentration, probably involving reaction with the kerogen stock. We can’t know for sure what factors cause this reaction but a new dip in oxygen concentration as the result of the ongoing planetary changes cannot be excluded – even though that would probably be extremely slow by human standards. What we can be sure about is that we should be careful in the way we treat the Earth’s ecosystem – we are part of it!


Geotectonic Ocean Heat Transfer Theory

Last summer’s flooding events here and in China made me reflect on what appears to be a rapidly changing climate.  This is most often considered to be an atmospheric effect of increasing Greenhouse Gases, mainly CO2 and Methane.  After doing a bit of research however, it seems to me now the cause may not in fact be coming from the atmosphere, but from the core of the Earth.  Below you will find a few posts I made last year, along with some discussion with friends from the Reverse Engineering Yahoo Group.

Discuss this article at the Geological & Cosmological Events Table in the Diner

The current Biblical Scale Flooding Events occurring in China and down the
Missouri-Mississippi drainage basin have led me to speculate on what is causing
this. I have a new theory to pitch out which ties together these events with
the rising amount of volcanic and tectonic activity.

All the focus on Global Climate has been on what is occurring in the Atmosphere
far as rising levels of CO2 ad Methane are concerned. However, what if the
driving force here isn’t the atmosphere, but rather the Ocean?

The increasing volcanic and tectonic activity must be resultant from increasing
energy in the system. Since the amount of radioactive material in the core of
the earth isn’t changing that rapidly, the extra energy must be coming from
either increased gravitational stresses or possibly increased neutrino flow
through the earth, or both. Whatever the cause, its clear that tectonic and
volcanic activity has increased.

Down at the base of the ocean, the Crust of the earth is much thinner, along
with the fact there are active volcanos under the ocean floor. So any increase
in heat being radiated out from the mantle would have to heat up the ocean.
This would then increase the evaporation rate at the surface of the ocean, and
put a lot more water vapor up into the air.

So over the course of the Winter then, we end up with a much larger Snowpack in
the mountain regions, where all this water vapor condenses and falls as
snowflakes. Happens both in the Himalayas and in the Rockies, explaining why
both areas are experiencing the same effect in the same year.

Come the summer, the snows start to melt and the water starts rushing down from
the Mountains, but this causes a secondary local effect of that water
evaporating and constantly putting a cloud layer over these regions. This
causes an Albedo Effect which locally cools the surface of these locations, thus
increasing the Rainfall they get all through the summer. So the drainage system
gets the double whammy of increased flow from the headwaters in the mountains,
plus constant pressure from rainfall all along the system.

The whole theory is completely consistent with all the observed effects so far
of Earthquakes and Floods. The main way to verify it would be to see if there
was a marked rise in Ocean Temperatures over the last few years. So I went over
to the NOAA website, and lo and behold, beginning in 1990 up through 2010, there
has been a marked and rapid rise in the total heat content of the world’s
oceans. A spike occurred in 2002-2004 or so, and it plateaus out at the highest
level now through 2010, the last data on the chart.

Global Ocean Heat Content 1955-present 0-2000 m

Now, I personally cannot see how slight changes in atmospheric temperatures
since 1990 would cause such a volume of water to have so big a rise in total
heat content. The specific heat of water is far greater than gases in the
atmosphere, so you couldn’t get that much heat into them this way. Nor to my
knowledge has the Sun been radiating substantially more energy during the
period, leaving the obvious conclusion that the additional heat is being
radiated outward from the Earth’s core.

Now, over time this issue I think feeds on itself, in concert with the albedo
effects. More rain is falling in areas that get cloud cover, less rain is
falling in areas with no cloud cover. The real question though is, will the
rising ocean temperatures continue, or have we reached a Peak which will begin
to descend again after 2012? Is it possible there will be a further spike
upward through 2011? So far no data published for 2011 on the NOAA website.
Wondering if Jake might have access to this data?

OK Storm, whaddya think?

OK, further confirmation of the theory that the increasing Ocean heat content is
tied to increasing geological activity.

Here is a graph of Earthquake Frequency since 1973. As you can see in this
chart, there has been a steady increase in in the number of 6+ Quakes worldwide
since around 1990, PRECISELY the time the world oceans began to heat up.\

If you knock the magnitude down to 5+ Quakes, you see rapid increase beginning
in 1999\

The real killer graphs are for Average Magnitude of all Quakes\

and for Total Strength of all quakes\

As you can see, all the charts point toward rapidly increasing energy
dissipation through these quakes. They all release mega joules, and that has to
go somewhere, because of course energy isn’t created or destroyed, just
transformed from one form to another. Where is the energy going? It is going
into heating up the Oceans!

The correlation between Ocean Heat Content and Earthquake frequency is almost
perfect! This is just astounding. I just HAVE to submit this theory to a
Scientific Journal! It blows to hell every other Climate Change theory!

Global Climate change is being driven not by the atmosphere, but by energy
dissipation of the earth’s geological processes into the Oceans, which is
rapidly increasing. The most powerful quakes are steadily increasing in
frequency as well, which can only result in still more rapid water evaporation
from the oceans. Result? More Hurricanes, more Tornadoes, more Floods!

This won’t stop until the quakes stop coming so fast and furious, doesn’t matter
what you do with carbon emissions. Its the WATER in the air, not the CARBON
that is doing this!

Further thoughts on the Geo-Tectonic Ocean Heat Transfer Theory, as I am now
calling it.Assuming the theory of increasing tectonic activity as we pass through the
Galactic Ecliptic in 2012 is correct, would this mean that after 2012 the Oceans
will begin to cool again?

My intitial hypothesis on this is no they will not, because although the
geo-tectonic activity will slow down, it won’t likely reach its 1990 level for
around 10-15 years. The oceans will continue to heat up through this time
period, which then of course will put still more water vapor up into the
atmosphere. This then should gradually increase total Cloud Cover, increasing
the Albedo effect and reducing over land temperatures some, producing more

The overall effect here is to transfer a lot of the ocean water onto the land
through increased precipitation. The kind of flooding we are seeing in China
and the Missouri-Mississippi drainage basin is likely only the beginning here of
Biblical style flooding, “40 days and 40 Nights” of torrential rainfalls could
become common. So your flooding won’t just come to coastal areas as a result of
ocean level rising from melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, really
anyplace with poor drainage would get flooded. Mountain Valleys would become
lakes. The Mississippi River is likely to spread into an inland sea.

For this period to end, the release of energy by the earth through tectonics and
vulcanism will have to calm down to at least its pre 1990 levels for an extended
period of time, to allow the accumulated heat in the oceans dissipate into
space. However, this will be slowed by the cloud cover, hich will both insulate
the earth surface and reduce surface temperatures, causing more of the precip to
come down as Snow rather than rain. Obvious result: an Ice Age.

Bottom line, what I think is occurring here is the typical cycle of the Earth as
it gets stressed by varying amounts of energy depending on its position relative
to the center of the Galaxy. The Sun also is likely affected by this and
probably contributes to the effect. The Eath has never heated up like Venus
with runaway Greenhouse effects, but has MANY times gone through Ice Ages. I
believe we are witnessing here the beginnings of a new Ice Age.

Interesting…I believe we had a somewhat linked conversation about 5 yrs ago on peak oil…About how the earths crust is like the radiator of a car engine  :)….We tied peak oil to global warming in this theory..Remember…And i agree there is deff something going on..As to what there are several possibles in my view..
1) As you said internal global temps could very well be on the rise..This could be linked to the magnetic pole shift in some manor…As a object in motion tends to stay in motion..any force temping to alter said motion will create heat…If in fact the magnetic poles do effect the actual rotation of the earth or the core then a massive build up of heat would be expected…this will be exaggerated by the global warming we have been experiencing over the last decade or so…so therefor the radiator can not displace the heat as effectively as it should…
2) slowed ocean current will heat the oceans….If the current is not moving the heat north as quickly as before the heat will build up…More time in the hot areas will allow the temps to rise beyond normal before being slowly moved north..This would cause a great deal of evaporation as you said..and the increase of overall percep…I think that this is prob the most likely theory on the  cause of this temp increase…As we all know the influx of fresh water into the ocean conveyor will slow if not stop the process..Hence again global warming is the cause and effect…with increased surface temps…core temps rise therefor increased really is a matter of the chicken and the egg here which came first???
3) Increased magnetic influence from a outside source…Is the suns new “mini ice age” cycle that some believe come with increased magnetics???? Or is some other body of mass entering our solar system…”planet x” ???? who knows the data is out there but questionable at the least…If there is some other force as yet unknown with the gravitational force large enough to cause this it would be of such mass (which doesn’t necessarily mean size) as to effect all the planets..which there is evidence of just such things happening throughout the solar system..temps are increasing though out the entire system…So therefor something is effecting the entire system..Now if Planet x is a dwarf star as some suggest then expect things to get very ugly before its over with….So who knows???
4) it is possible that we are too close to the trees to see the forest and all of these things are happening at once..lets hope not..  🙂
The difference between our conversation on Peak Oil and this one was at the time
it was just speculation with no data to back it up. Now, with the two sets of
data, the first from the NOAA showing the steady rise in thermal energy in the
world’s oceans since 1990, then Dave Lindquist’s (he works for USGS, maybe Jake
knows him) data showing the same steady rise in total earthquake strength the
source of the energy for the warming water is clear. The two graphs do an
almost perfect overlay, I might photoshop it.It pretty much eliminates the likelihood of this merely being a convection issue
of the oceans not circulating the water around enough to the poles to cool it
down. You can actually tabulate year on year how much additional energy in
joules is being added to the oceans by earthquakes.

Magnitude Es (from Me) Es (from Ms or Mw) Tons of TNT Nuclear Bomb Equivalence
(# of bombs)
4 0.22E+11 0.63E+11 15. 0.00
5 0.71E+12 0.20E+13 475. 0.02
6 0.22E+14 0.63E+14 15023. 0.79
7 0.71E+15 0.20E+16 475063. 25.0
8 0.22E+17 0.63E+17 15022833. 790.6
9 0.71E+18 0.20E+19 475063712. 25,003.3

Now, as I recall from the Total Heat in the Oceans graph, it was something like
15E+22. An individual say 6 quake adds only a small fraction of energy 8 orders
of magnitude lower, but its not insignificant when you sum over all quakes over
a 10 year period.

Also, we can’t measure how much energy is being directly thermally radiated
outward through volcanic activity at hot spots and just a general warming of the
crust, which probably contributes much more. The oceans are nothing more than a
big pot of water sitting on a hot plate, ad if that hot plate is increasing in
temperature then the water above it will heat up as well. Again, increased
tectonic activity is itself an indicator that there is more energy now that the
earth has to dissipate, and that energy would generally store up as heat in the

We can’t be sure of the cause of the heating up of the rock, but we can be sure
its a good deal hotter now than it was in 1990. If its a linear relationship,
then its roughly 15X hotter now. Thats like changing a match under a pot of
water to a bunsen burner. It will boil a lot quicker.

The energy now stored in the Oceans also has to dissipate more, thus you get the
increasingly violent storms carrying a lot more water vapor in them. It really
only makes sense that the Oeans would drive the weather in the Atmosphere, not
the Atmosphere drive the temperature of the Oceans. The Ocean is a much bigger
heat sink than the atmosphere is, even a massive atmospheric rise in temp would
only cause a small temperture rise in the oceans, but we don’t have a massive
atmospheric temperature rise. Conversely, just a small rise in Ocean temps
would have massive atmospheric effects. That is just what we are seeing.


OK lets assume your correct and the ocean is the driver…What is causing its increase in temp becomes the question??? How would a quake increase ocean temps..Yes tons of energy is released but that energy is not necessarily heat producing..At least not on a scale that would show the temp rise we are seeing on the graph??? If that were the case shallow on land quakes would see temp spikes with them..which unless undiscovered do not… I agree the correlation is stricking..But i don’t believe quakes are the cause..They may be a symptom same as the ocean temps…I really feel there must be another underling cause…
Who knows for sure the real levels of radioactive waste they are dumping into the oceans?
What are the oceans temperatures around Japan.
Well, the First Law of Thermodynamics tells us that energy cannot be destroyed,
just changed from one form to another. So if an Earthquake goes off at a 7,
energy equivalent to a few nukes has just been released. It has to go
somewhere, and since its a mechanical event that somewhere is not likely to be
electro-magnetic, but rather heat through friction. Water being shaken and
jostled around causes the molecules to move around, that heats it up.Anyhow, as the difference in energy content reveals, although I think the quakes
are a aprt of the reason the water is heating up, I think the greater reason is
direct heat transfer up through the crust all along the ocean floor. Both the
quakes and the rising heat content of the Oceans are just a symptom of the earth
heating from the core outward.

As to what is precisely the cause of the core heating up, this remains
speculation. My best guess is gravitational stresses and/or increased neutrino
flux. There are tanks that measure neutrino flux,, and I found this graph from
2002-2008 showing steadily increasing neutrino flux in the atmosphere

However, from my point of view knowing precisely what is causing it is not as
important as identifying that this is what is occurring here. Its the effects
of the earth heating up we have to deal with, specifically more and stronger
earthquakes and more extreme weather events.

If you take any of what is written in the Bible seriously, as probably stories
that were passed down through oral tradition, then the stories of “the Flood”
and earthquakes and all make sense.

Start from when Toba blew and we got the Bottleneck of human population down to
10,000 human souls or 1000 breeding pairs 70,000 years ago. They probably were
going through a very similar period to what we have now and leading into an Ice
Age. Probably got lots of rain and flooding. Of course the survivors were in
an equatorial location and so did not get iced over, but the legends could have
been passed on through oral tradition. Or perhaps it was a later similar event
but which did not cause a supervolcanic eruption. The earth has gone through
“mini” ice ages since then which could be smaller versions of the same

Here is a timeline from 100,000 years ago to present:

Years Before Present (B.P.)

Note: The Last Ice Age cycle lasted from roughly 60,000 to 20,000 years before
present, with Ice Age cycles occurring since 2.6 Million years ago to the
present. Ice Age Timeline

Human population has been estimated to have been around five million people
10,000 years ago. Recent studies from the Center for Genome Research and others
such as Ambrose suggest a small group of perhaps 10,000 people could have left
Africa between 50-100,000 years ago and populated the entire planet.
10,000 BP Beginning of Holocene. Large mammals including saber-toothed cats,
mammoths, and mastodons become extinct. Neolithic period with beginning of
agriculture and end of Ice Ages.

An estimated 5 million Homo sapiens inhabit planet Earth.
Image of Woolly Mammoth from Tulane University Museum of Natural History
20,000 BP Abrupt cooling about 15,000 years ago gives way to abrupt warming at
the end of the Younger Dryas period some 11,600 years ago, with a climatic
ripple effect impacting habitats around the world.

Gray wolves in East Asia become domesticated about 15,000 years ago, with all
modern dogs evolving from them. (Savolainen, Leonard, 2002).

20,000 years ago, global mean temperature 4 degrees C cooler than today,
although the North Atlantic was 14 degrees C cooler. Lower sea level allows
large-scale migrations of people into the Americas.
30,000 BP Homo sapiens thrive in cold European climate. Homo neanderthalensis
become extinct, with last fossil evidence dated 28,000 years ago in Portugal.
40,000 BP Plethora of stone and bone tools along with cave paintings and other
artwork in Europe. Homo sapiens use bone, ivory, antlers, and shells to make
tools while Neandertals only use stone to make tools. (Niewohner, 2003)

Image of early European Art Rock.
50,000 BP Cave dwellers leave evidence of seeds of wild dates and nuts including
chestnuts, walnuts, pine nuts, and acorns in Shanidar Cave of Northern Iraq.
Many large megafauna in Australia including large kangaroos, wombats and
emu-like ducks, become extinct, possibly due to human hunting and use of fire.
(Miller, 1999)
60,000 BP Homo sapiens enter Australia and begin to use fire, altering the
existing flora and fauna. (Pyne, 1991 )
During warming period (55-45K BP) mammoths roam central Sweden.
70,000 BP
Recent discoveries in caves along South African coast dating to 70,000 years
before present suggest people using bone tools and living on fish and mammals in
the region. (Henshilwood, 2002 )
Major eruption of Mount Toba 73,000 years ago in modern day Sumatra impacts
global climate system. (Rampino, 2000).
Image of artifacts by Chris Henshilwood

80,000 BP
90,000 BP
100,000 BP Diet of Homo sapiens includes fish and seafoods as last Ice Age
impacts Northern Hemisphere. Some scientists theorize that fish oil was key to
the growth of the brain of Homo sapiens Evidence suggests that no other hominids
such as Neanderthals ate fish. (See Broadhurst, 2001) Neandertals well
established in Europe since at least 300,000 years before present.

Also see: What is Variability? and Overview of Climate Processes.

Anyhow, remains to be seen of course whether this particular event is big enough
to bring a Supervolcano roaring into the picture, but even lesser chages of this
type can bring on an Ice Age, and the big weather events and earthquakes that
likely preceed such an Ice Age.


I’m sure the real amount of radiactive waste flowing into the ocean from
Fuk-U-shima is FAR greater than the “Authorities” are admitting to. However,
while this is certainly poisoning the fisherie and Japanese Agriculture (not to
mention our own CA agriculture, although to a much lower level of course), I
don’t think it would play a significant role in heating up the ocean. Its a
drop in a very big bucket on a Heat level.The Ocean is such a huge mass with high specific heat tht only something much
bigger and hotter could effectively heat it up. What is bigger and hotter than
the Ocean? The molten rock that makes up the mantle of the earth. If it gets
significantly hotter, the Oceans will get significantly hotter, they sit right
on top of it. The Ocean isn’t ever going to heat up enough to make the molten
rock under it hotter, but the rock can eaily make the Oceans hotter. Same thing
with atmospheric warming. The Atmosphere doesn’t have high enough specific heat
to heat the Oceans, but the Oceans do have plenty to heat the atmosphere.
However, the water cycle of evaporation and condensation keeps it relatively
steady state until you get a lot of cloud cover, forcing the albedo effect at
the surface which lowers the input of solar energy onto the earth surface. That
then creates a lot more snowfall than raifall, building up glaciers and
spreading them southward from the poles. When the earth core cools enough to
stop putting so much water vapor up into the atmosphere, the sun gradually melts
the glaciers and they recede. Makes sense to me anyhow.


As you guys know, I have been researching various effects of what I believe is Core Heating of the Earth, which manifests itself both geologically in terms of more tectonic and volcanic activity, and in the climate as more powerful and destructive weather systems like Irene and the recent Tornados, one of which levelled most of Joplin, MO. and another whole bunch which cruised through Arkansas and Oklahoma a couple of months back.

I put up previously a few charts which show the increase in Heat Content of the Oceans over the last decade, roughly an order of magnitude increase from 10E22 Joules to 10E23 Joules.  This is matched by a similar increase in Frequency and Number of Earthquakes measuring above 5 on the Richter Scale, each of which dumps core earth  energy into the oceans when released in a quake or through vulcanism.

Anyhow, Irene got me back to doing some more research, and while on the NOAA Images lab page, I encountered a video about ocean acidification, which also is steadily increasing, which means decreasing in pH as the acidity scale is measured.  Here is a chart for the last 20 years showing the steady decline in pH of the world’s Oceans:

Starting from 1989, the average pH has dropped from 8.115 to about 8.08, a decrease of  .035 over 20 years.  If the trend continues, to bring the oceans down to a pH around 7.9 or so where coral reefs could no longer form, it probably takes about 60-80 years.  Not an immediate worry here, assuming the trend continues in this manner.  However, it could accelerate if the warming trend in the oceans continues here, which allows more CO2 to dissolve in the oceans from the atmosphere.  Besides the CO2, there is also the possibility of increasing sulfur emissions from subsea volcanoes.

Is there anything we can do about this? Not a damn thing really, the main question is whether the warming trend in the Oceans continues for this length of time.  If it has to do with passing through the Galactic Ecliptic, then hopefully we will begin to see a slowing of the Ocean Warming trend around 20-50 years down the line here.  On the other hand, we may get an effect where a lot of methane is released by clathrates over this time period, which will insulate the planet (greenhouse style) and continue the warming process much longer.

All in all, I would say we are moving in the direction of an ELE here, but it probably will take a while to play itself out unless we hurry it along with some man made tomfoolery.  Some Homo Sapiens may be able to avoid the ELE, because even if all the shell based ocean life is destroyed, unless the phytoplankton goes with it there should be some animal species that survive both in the oceans and on land.

One thing is for certain here, life is going to be much different for our grandchildren 100 years from now.


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So how many more times are we going to hear that this is our last chance to take action in order to [...]

This is definitely not a bona fide post [...]

Daily Doom Photo



  • Peak Surfer
  • SUN
  • Transition Voice

The Great Pause Week 16: Cash Bounties for Scalps"The word “redskin” has been coined to refer to these trophies."Paris, June 15, 1756. Anti [...]

The Great Pause Week 15: Pirata"The white gull can bank steeply, climb, dive, and even invert, but it lacks by a large margin [...]

"The blow felt by a globalized, just-in-time, cheap-energy driven, modern consumer economy will [...]

"There are ten million times more viruses on Earth than there are stars in our universe."H [...]

The Great Pause Week 11: Son of a Lab Rat"Humans, by and large, seem unshakable in their beliefs that skin color, religious affiliation, [...]

The folks at Windward have been doing great work at living sustainably for many years now.  Part of [...]

 The Daily SUN☼ Building a Better Tomorrow by Sustaining Universal Needs April 3, 2017 Powering Down [...]

Off the keyboard of Bob Montgomery Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666 Friend us on Facebook Publishe [...]

Visit SUN on Facebook Here [...]

What extinction crisis? Believe it or not, there are still climate science deniers out there. And th [...]

My new book, Abolish Oil Now, will talk about why the climate movement has failed and what we can do [...]

A new climate protest movement out of the UK has taken Europe by storm and made governments sit down [...]

The success of Apollo 11 flipped the American public from skeptics to fans. The climate movement nee [...]

Today's movement to abolish fossil fuels can learn from two different paths that the British an [...]

Top Commentariats

  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

In reply to Dan. GDPnow says Q2 is down 35.5%. regai [...]

In reply to Kim. what ? where do you find the time for that? [...]

In reply to Gail Tverberg. During the great recession the economy was running at 95 percent capacity [...]

In reply to Tim Groves. Yes, there are not only physical disabilities, but also various psychiatric [...]

In reply to Tim Groves. sure, and maybe tomorrow I'll read something else and turn into a Doome [...]

I don't get it. For years this blogger and others like Martenson have been on about the fragili [...]

In reply to steve from virginia. This Brookings webinar goes over some of the ground discussed here [...]

In reply to Ken Barrows. Everything is bullish! [...]

Also, it's very possible we could send the virus packing if everybody would just wear a face-ma [...]

The crux of the problem is that what Chris Martenson has christened the "Honey Badger Virus [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

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Simplifying the Final Countdown

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Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

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Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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Collapse Fiction

Useful Links

Technical Journals

Globally, subtropical circulation in the lower troposphere is characterized by anticyclones over the [...]

Numerical models are being used for the simulation of recent climate conditions as well as future pr [...]

This study aims to provide improved knowledge and evidence on current (1986–2015) climate vari [...]

In many countries, urban heat island (UHI) effects come along with urbanization in metropolitan area [...]