Richard Alley: what we know now…

In this talk, recorded at the American Geophysical Union’s Chapman Conference on Climate Communication in Colorado recently, Richard Alley gives his overview of what we know about the state of the climate. As you might expect, he covers the cryosphere in some detail (why Greenland may not be as big a worry as West Antarctica), but he also has interesting things to say about climate sensitivity (same as it ever was), food production, and the possibility that chunks of the planet may become too hot for humans. Well worth watching…

Check out the other talks from the conference, all up at the AGU’s Youtube channel. I’m planning to catch up with the talks by Mike Mann, Steve Lewandowsky, Jeff Masters and Gavin Schmidt — when I can find the time.

[Hat tip to Greenland’s very own videographer, Peter Sinclair — who also gave a talk at the conference.]

Sustainable Energy NZ #14 – how much energy hides in food and ‘stuff’

Welcome to the fourteenth post in the Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air – A New Zealand Perspective series. After our previous posts on hydro power, geothermal and wind (and a summary on the big three), solarbiofuelsmarine and waste energy, we’re now looking at answering the question:

How can we achieve a BIG reduction in our personal and national energy consumption?

Remember, as before, the units are in kWh/day/person – ie. if you ran a 40W lightbulb for 24 hours, it’d take ~1 kWh over the space of a day. We then divide it by person to give you a sense of the scale of the resource proportionate to the size of the population. Be sure to check out the methodology. For reference – we’ve been looking to replace around 55 kWh/d/p of energy currently generated by fossil fuels.


Farming and food processing cost about 8kWh/d/p of the NZ energy bill, much of which is of course exported. This is only energy consumed in food production – a great deal more energy is directly incorporated into our food from the sun. When looking at land for either biofuel or solar production, energy production competes directly with food. We could grow a lot more biofuel if we produced a lot less milk, for instance. For the purposes of national energy supply, we doubt much can be gained in terms of energy efficiency to support current production.

New Zealanders eat more beef than the UK population, but we eat next to no grain-fed beef and barning is rare. Overall, the 15kWh/d/p for a UK person is probably pretty similar here. Reduce that to 10 for vegans, but remember that crops cannot be grown on much of the land that we graze (especially not continuously).

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Revolution and realism required: UN report

I’ve been looking at the The World Economic and Social Survey 2011: The Great Green Technological Transformation which Gareth drew attention to in his recent post.  It’s a long document prepared by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), not intended for casual consumption, and I haven’t read all 250 pages.  But the theme chosen for the year’s survey is fundamental for the challenge of climate change and it’s somewhat cheering just to see the title.  I thought it worth highlighting some of the content.

The survey is quite clear on the necessity for a green technological transformation. Our progress over the past two centuries has been at a cost to the natural environment which cannot continue.

“About half of the forests that covered the earth are gone, groundwater resources are being depleted and contaminated, enormous reductions in biodiversity have already taken place and, through increased burning of fossil fuels, the stability of the planet’s climate is being threatened by global warming.”

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Oxfam on food justice: clearheaded and admirable

I thought of Oxfam’s recent report on food justice while I was reviewing Christian Parenti’s book Tropic of Chaos. He wrote of how climate change impacts are compounding the existing economic and political problems of many poorer populations. This is also very evident in Oxfam’s report on the alarming new surge in hunger as higher food prices hit poor countries. Time for a post on the report, I thought.

The message that climate change is already having bad effects on the welfare of poor populations needs to be hammered home. The fact that it intertwines with other causes doesn’t mean that it can be downplayed. It is clearly a significant part of the combination of factors threatening the food supply of many.

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Hotspots hit poor hardest

Another report this week drives home the message that the world’s poorer people are going to suffer the early and potentially devastating effects of climate change. The report is the work of the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) programme associated with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a group of food research organisations.

The report, Mapping Hotspots of Climate Change and Food Insecurity in the Global Tropics, was produced by a team of scientists responding to what CCAFS describes as an urgent need to focus climate change adaptation efforts on people and places where the potential for harsher growing conditions poses the gravest threat to food production and food security.

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