Chapter 9. “World Leaders Still Don’t Really Get It”

Page 167

Ever since a man called Charles David Keeling started taking measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii in 1958, the concentration of CO2 in our skies has risen by about one quarter, from just over 315 parts per million in March 1958 to a notch over 392 in recent readings

“Mauna Loa CO2 Monthly Mean Data, Earth System Research Laboratory—Global Monitoring Division,” U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration website.

Page 168

Another thing pretty much everyone agrees on is that global temperature has, on average, gone up by about 0.8 degrees centigrade since 1880.

Goddard Institute for Space Studies Surface Temperature Analysis, Jan. 2010, at

…historical records over much longer periods show carbon dioxide levels and temperature are generally in step with each other (though not always).

J.-M. Barnola et al., “Historical Carbon Dioxide Record from the Vostok Ice Core,” Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center.

…a national survey conducted in 2009 by the Pew Research Center (a deliberately non-partisan organisation funded by a charitable trust) found that thirty-three per cent of Americans don’t think there is solid evidence for global warming and a further ten per cent can’t decide

“Fewer Americans See Solid Evidence of Global Warming,” Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 22 Oct. 2009.

climate change scepticism is in political ascendancy in Australia

Simon Jackman, “Australians, Americans and Climate Change” (Sydney, Australia: U.S. Studies Centre, Nov. 2009).

In the UK a number of recent polls suggest that anxiety about climate change has dropped (although the majority of citizens are still concerned) while the number of ‘climate change agnostics’ has risen to about a third of the population.

Owen Bowcott, “ Climate change concern declines in poll,” The Guardian, 23 May 2010.

Page 169

In a 2006 paper published in Science, Francois-Marie BreÅLon at the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement suggested human aerosol emissions ‘may increase cloud cover by up to five per cent, resulting in a substantial net cooling of Earth’s atmosphere.’

François-Marie Bréon, “How Do Aerosols Affect Cloudiness and Climate?” Science 313(5787):623–24.

One technique proposed to offset global warming is a fleet of ‘cloud seeding ships’ that will scoop up seawater and force it through a system a bit like an inkjet printer to place tiny droplets of just the right size into the air, around which clouds can form.

Professor John Latham, “Futuristic fleet of ‘cloudseeders’—Viewpoint,” BBC News, 15 Feb.2007.

In 1991, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines sent roughly twenty million tons of volcanic ash twelve miles high into the atmosphere and average global temperatures went down by about half a degree centigrade the following year.

Mary Hardin and Ralph Kahn, “Aerosols and Climate Change,” NASA Earth Observatory website.

The ice across Hudson Bay melted almost a month later than normal, and polar bears, who feed and give birth on the ice, had a greater number of healthy cubs that summer (offspring dubbed ‘Pinatubo cubs’).

Alan Robock, “Mount Pinatubo as a Test of Climate Feedback Mechanisms,” Volcanism and the Earth’s Atmosphere, Geophysical Monograph 139, © 2003 American Geophysical Union.

Then again, other aerosols like soot absorb sunlight and have a warming effect.

“NASA Finds Soot Has Impact on Global Climate,” Goddard Institute for Space Studies/NASA website, 13 May 2003.

Some believe that this kind of ‘black carbon’ may be the world’s leading cause of global warming after CO2.

“Ch. 6: Reducing Black Carbon,” in State of the World 2009: Into a Warming World, 26th ed.(Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute).

…as Mike Berners-Lee says in his book, How bad are bananas: the carbon footprint of nearly everything: ‘black carbon lasts only a few days in the atmosphere [so] if we reduce the amount we create, the benefit will be instant

Mike Berners-Lee, H How Bad Are Bananas?: The carbon footprint of everything (London: Profile Books, 2010).

In January 2010, a Nature article entitled ‘The Real Holes in Climate Science’ summed up the situation by saying estimates of the net aerosol effect vary by an order of magnitude.

Quirin Schiermeier, “The Real Holes in Climate Science,” Nature, 463(20 Jan. 2010):284–87.

We know how much we emit, and we know how much stays in the atmosphere (about half) but we’re not sure exactly where the other half is going. It’s certainly being absorbed by the land and seas but in what quantities and where is still not fully resolved.

“Orbiting Carbon Observatory,” NASA website at And also Jonathan Amos, “Failure Hits Nasa’s ‘CO2 Hunter,’ ” BBC News, 24 Feb. 2009.

It was hoped that NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory would answer this question, except it crashed into the waters around Antarctica in February 2009

Lauren Morello, “Scientists Mull Future After Carbon Satellite Crash,” New York Times, 25 Feb. 2009.

Page 171

As Australian MP Bob Katter said to his Parliament, ‘Are you telling me seriously that the world is going to warm because there are 400 parts per million of CO2 up there? If you know anything about science, you realise how utterly preposterous that proposition is, how absolutely ludicrous and ridiculous it is.’

Commonwealth of Australia, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives Offi cial Hansard, no. 11, 11 Aug. 2009.;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22chamber/hansardr/2009-08-11/0000%22

Page 174

Broecker has been described as ‘the grandfather of climate science’ and ‘one of the world’s greatest living geoscientists.’

“Earth Institute Profile: Wallace S. Broecker,” Earth Institute, Columbia University website.

Page 177

…as David Archer, a University of Chicago oceanographer, puts it: ‘The lifetime of fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere is a few centuries, plus twenty-five per cent that lasts essentially forever. The next time you fill your tank, reflect upon this’.

David Archer, The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate (Science Essentials)(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2008).

…it’s another ongoing debate in climate science as to how much water vapour is taken up by the air as the temperature changes.

“Humidity Relative to Earth’s Temperature,” NASA website, 20 April 2007.

Page 180

Indeed, a 2005 special report from the IPCC dismissed Klaus’s work with a single line: ‘The possibility of CO2 capture from ambient air (Lackner, 2003) is not discussed in this chapter because CO2 concentration in ambient air is around 380 parts per million, a factor of hundred or more lower than in flue gas.’

Bert Metz, “IPCC Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage,” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Working Group III), p. 108.

Page 182

Another option is pumping CO2 into basalt rocks to make limestone – an alternative being investigated by another Columbia scientist, David Goldberg.

“Scientists Target East Coast Rocks for CO2 Storage,” Earth Institute, Columbia University,website, 4 Jan. 2010.

Page 183

…a recent decision by the federal government not to fund a research hub dedicated to carbon capture and storage.

Richard M. Jones, “Uncertain Outlook for DOE’s Energy Innovation Hubs,” FYI: The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News, 20 July 2009.

Page 184

Another promising idea is called ‘Solar Thermal Electrochemical Photo Carbon Capture’ that has been demonstrated by Dr Stuart Licht and colleagues at George Washington University. The team claim, if their technology was scaled up to cover seven hundred square kilometres, it could ‘remove and convert all excess atmospheric CO2 to carbon’ in just ten years.

Stuart Licht et al., “A New Solar Carbon Capture Process: Solar Thermal Electrochemical Photo (STEP) Carbon Capture,” supporting information for publications prepared by Department of Chemistry, George Washington University and Department of Chemical Engineering, Howard University. Full paper available at

Or as David Keith says: ‘who will actually take it forward is now a horse race.’

“Alberta Researchers Claim Their Machine Removes CO2 from Air,” Calgary Herald, 29 Sept. 2008.

Page 187

Sugar beet and corn produce about five hundred and eighty gallons of ethanol per acre according to the Renewable Fuels Association, a lobbying group for the US ethanol industry.

“Slide 8: Improvements in Ethanol Efficiency,” American Ethanol in the World Market, Renewable Fuels Association presentation at World Biofuels conference, Seville, Spain, 19 May 2010. Biofuels 2010.pdf

Estimates for algae biofuels vary wildly but even those on the conservative side suggest it can do about ten times better, with per acre yields of five thousand gallons of oil (which then needs to be refined).

Brian L. Goodall, “Algae: The Source of Reliable, Scalable and Sustainable Liquid Transportation Fuels,” presented at joint Web conference of U.S. Department of Energy’s Biomass and Clean Cities programs, 12 Feb. 2009.

Florida-based Algenol Biofuels has developed a ‘hybrid algae’ that, via photosynthesis, converts CO2 directly to ethanol. They claim a yield of six thousand gallons per acre…

Martin LaMonica, “Algae Farm in Mexico to Produce Ethanol in ’09,” cnet News, 12 June 2008.

and received one of fifteen $25 million grants issued by the US Department of Energy to help develop a pilot ‘biorefinery’ in Texas.

“Grant Amounts,” U.S. Department of Energy website.

Joule claims their system is already delivering six thousand gallons of ethanol per acre, and this figure will rise to twenty-five thousand per acre once they start full-scale commercial production

“Frequently Asked Questions,” Joule Unlimited website.

The US consumed 137,800,000,000 gallons of gasoline in 2008. If all of that had been sold via gas stations (there are 162,000 in the US) it would mean, on average, each outlet would have distributed just over 850,000 gallons that year.

“Frequently Asked Questions: Gasoline,” figures from U.S. Energy Information Administration website.

Page 188

Today nearly ninety per cent of oil reserves are held by just thirteen countries…

“Who Are the Major Players Supplying the World Oil Market?” U.S. Energy Information Administration website.

The US, for instance, imported fifty-seven per cent of its oil in 2008.

“How dependent are we on foreign oil?” U.S. Energy Information Administration website.

Already there are eight million ‘flexible fuel vehicles’ on American roads that can run on a gasoline/ethanol blend (many are ‘E85’ vehicles that can run on blends of up to eighty-five per cent ethanol and fifteen per cent gasoline).

“What Is a Flexible Fuel Vehicle?” U.S. Department of Energy, Alternative and Advanced Vehicles website.

General Motors has cautiously committed ‘to making 50 per cent of production flex-fuel capable’ by 2012.

“GM, National Governors Association Team Up on E85: Goal Is Building Infrastructure for Next-Generation Biofuels,” General Motors press Release, 17 July 2008.

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