CO2 - Carbon Dioxide - Reduction and Sequestration to Mitigate Global Warming

Controlling Carbon? Using What for a Yardstick?

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and much remains to be done.
     This article focuses on the problem of measuring GHG emissions so that various entities (companies, governments, universities, etc.) can accurately, and provably, measure their GHG output. If that cannot be done, how can they (or we) know whether or not true progress is taking place?
     The stakes are very large, not only because carbon allowances will trade for substantial prices, but also the climate (and other) consequences of failure are dire.
     This issue has spawned a new segment of the computer software industry, one that delivers systems for measuring and tracking the total CO2 equivalent emissions for entire companies, often ones that span the world.
     The best known venture capital firm in the world, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers, invested $6 million in company called Hara Software, Inc. that came out of "stealth mode" this month with what it calls an "energy management system". We suggest that interested readers watch this short film clip that gives a sense of what this new class of software offers to larger organizations.
     Upon examination we found that there are as many as 50 companies in this space, surely more than are needed or will succeed, but it gives some idea of how many entrepreneurs are devoting time to this issue. By one estimate, that number could grow to 80 or 90 companies pursuing this market.
     This will give companies a leg up on determining what they are now doing, and what they need to do to make their bogey, once they have one.

Unintended Consequences
     One of the most interesting aspects of companies examining their energy footprint is what they discover unexpectedly in the process; for example:

1. Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), founded by a leader in environmental thinking, Amory Lovins, undertakes consulting assignments with large companies (e.g. Wal-Mart) trying to reduce their carbon footprint. RMI finds that most efforts to reduce carbon consumption (in an effort to reduce GHGs) results in pure cost savings which, when compared with the capital investment required, prove to be good stand-alone investments, even without the benefit of the reduction in emissions. So the company should have done it anyway, purely from economic self-interest, but they would not have learned that without the emphasis on being "green".
2. Coca Cola, the largest beverage company in the world, is making serious efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. Before it started measuring, management believed the area of greatest potential would be found in the massive fleet of trucks that deliver their products to the consumer. To their surprise, a much larger opportunity for improvement lay in the myriad coolers and vending machines which keep the product cool and ready to drink. So, they are reallocating dollars and remedial measures to take that surprising finding into account.
3. Sony, the Japanese consumer electronics company, learned that their manufacturing was producing very limited emissions, as were their transportation activities. For them, far-and-away the largest and opportunity lay in the indirect effect of their end customers using Sony products consuming too much electricity. Sony realized that the best move they could make was to re-engineer their products to be much more energy efficient. Again, the finding was completely unexpected.

     1. Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), founded by a leader in environmental thinking, Amory Lovins, undertakes consulting assignments with large companies (e.g. Wal-Mart) trying to reduce their carbon footprint. RMI finds that most efforts to reduce carbon consumption (in an effort to reduce GHGs) results in pure cost savings which, when compared with the capital investment required, prove to be good stand-alone investments, even without the benefit of the reduction in emissions. So the company should have done it anyway, purely from economic self-interest, but they would not have learned that without the emphasis on being "green".
     2. Coca Cola, the largest beverage company in the world, is making serious efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. Before it started measuring, management believed the area of greatest potential would be found in the massive fleet of trucks that deliver their products to the consumer. To their surprise, a much larger opportunity for improvement lay in the myriad coolers and vending machines which keep the product cool and ready to drink. So, they are reallocating dollars and remedial measures to take that surprising finding into account.
     3. Sony, the Japanese consumer electronics company, learned that their manufacturing was producing very limited emissions, as were their transportation activities. For them, far-and-away the largest and opportunity lay in the indirect effect of their end customers using Sony products consuming too much electricity. Sony realized that the best move they could make was to re-engineer their products to be much more energy efficient. Again, the finding was completely unexpected.

Disclosure: The Best Regulator?
     From these stories emerges a possible conclusion. If we focus on reducing emissions caused by what we do every day, might we not be surprised by what ensues? Could it be that simply disclosing what we are learning will modify systems and behaviors in relatively painless ways that will go a long way to remedying our excesses? After all, our current society developed in an era when motor fuel and electricity were, for all intents and purposes, so cheap as to be almost free, and we developed habits that made reasonable sense at the time, but no longer do.
           - Douglas Ayer

A Different Way of Looking at Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Almost no doubt remains today in anyone's mind that CO2 is building up in the atmosphere, that this build-up is causing atmospheric warming, and that human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels, is a major factor in the carbon build-up. Indeed, there now appears to be enough agreement amongst governments around the world for them to begin agreeing upon and implementing measures to mitigate these effects.
     Most of the measures proposed act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by human beings, employing such measures as:

a. Increasing auto efficiency.
b. Removing carbon from coal before using it to generate electricity.
c. Improving household and commercial energy efficiency.
d. Substituting fuel cells for internal combustion engines.
e. "Capping" carbon emissions by law and encouraging trading in carbon credits so the free market will select the best ways to achieve improvements.

These are only a few of the more ambitious proposals. There are many more. And they are mostly worth pursuing, as no single program can possibly achieve the desired outcome.
     Some efforts encourage planting trees to increase absorption of CO2, rather than reducing its emission. But few participants in the discussion offer a full perspective on this approach, partly (we suspect) to keep human beings focused on what they can and should do themselves.
     For a change, here is a "macroscopic" look at the biosphere's CO2 and its capacity to help out:

1. Global energy emissions are in the area of 8 billion tons of CO2 per year
2. The terrestrial biosphere emits about 100 billion tons and absorbs about 103 billion tons of CO2 each year, absorbing 3 billion tons, net.
3. The oceans also emit and absorb billions of tons of CO2 per year, with a net absorption of about 3 billion tons.
4. Thus the net annual increase in the atmosphere amounts to about 2 billions tons.

These data beg the following question: is it easier to change the balance of the terrestrial biosphere by 4 per cent OR to cut global energy-related emissions by 50 per cent? Changing the ocean's ability to absorb more carbon is another possibility. Of course, no need to pick one or the other, but increasing absorption clearly has to be considered as a possible major contributor to solving the problem.
     Biologists are working hard to develop plants whose capacity for capturing carbon from the atmosphere is genetically improved. And burning sections of the rain forest is being recognized as offering very little usable land when compared to the atmospheric damage it causes. If we humans can find and use genes that will conquer cancer, surely we can develop and grow plants that will help us redress the imbalance caused by fossil fuel consumption.
     And the ocean, which we know suffers from acidification and coral reef losses when it absorbs CO2, is also capable, with human intervention, of harboring greatly increased biomass to perform photosynthesis (absorb carbon). Such microorganisms, in addition to fighting acidification, will produce more edible food for larger sea creatures, potentially enhancing food sources for human beings.
     Craig Venter, of human genome project fame, is currently circling the globe on his own research vessel "Sorcerer" gathering samples of oceanic microorganisms along the way . He is discovering that the diversity of life in the sea is far greater than anyone previously believed, and that therefore we have many more existing organisms to work with to give the ocean a helping hand in growing more food and absorbing more carbon.
     Many will not find it appealing to harness the land and/or the ocean as partners in the fight against greenhouse gases, but it certainly offers tremendous potential, if carefully pursued and monitored.      - Douglas Ayer

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A (Stronger) Wind Blows No Good:

Oceans May Be Losing Ability to Absorb CO2

It appears that the southern oceans on the planet may not be able to absorb as much atmospheric carbon dioxide as expected, according to a study just published on the web site of the journal Science.
     Oceans, plants, and soil absorb about half of all carbon dioxide emitted by industry, cars, and other human sources. The southern oceans on the planet take up about 15% of total absorbed carbon dioxide.
     The study indicates that the southern oceans became 30% less efficient at absorbing carbon dioxide between 1981 and 2004, and that the capacity of these oceans to absorb will continue to decline over the next 25 years. The basic thrust of the study is that since the 1950s (1) the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming have (2) caused atmospheric temperature changes which (3) increased windiness over these oceans, which thereby (4) caused more vertical ocean water mixing, which in turn (5) brought more carbon-dioxide rich water up from the ocean depths to the surface, which (6) increased the carbon-dioxide level of surface water and thus (7) reduced the capacity of the surface water to absorb additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
     The study's lead author, Dr. Corinne Le Quere at the University of East Anglia, England, said the study suggests that over next 25 years the oceans' capacity to absorb carbon dioxide will continue to decline as a result of increasing windiness, thereby increasing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide over whatever levels they otherwise would have been.      - Kenneth MacWilliams

Nature Steps Up:

There’s a Rock Formation That Stands Ready to Sequester Our CO2

Under the crust that wraps Earth is an 1,800-mile-deep mantle of rock. The most common rock in the mantle is called peridotite. In some spots around the globe — Oman, New Guinea, the Aegean coast, some Pacific islands, and the coast of California — the peridotite layer has found its way to the surface.
     Peridotite has a curious property: when exposed to the atmosphere, it rapidly extracts and absorbs the air’s carbon dioxide. The chemical reaction locks in the CO2 and transforms the peridotite into carbonate rock. "If a leaf or a pebble falls on these rocks and you come back a few days later, it's all covered up with carbonate," Peter Kelemen, a geologist with Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, told the Natural Resources Defense Council.
     Working on volcanism in Oman, Kelemen had experienced something of a metamorphosis in his thinking when he began contemplating absorption instead of eruption. Could peridotite play a role in helping to reduce global warming? Together with colleague Juerg Matter, the Columbia team calculated that the Oman rocks lock in as much as 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually. That’s hardly noticeable compared to the 30 billion tons that human activity pumps into the atmosphere every year, but it led to the question: What might be done to boost the natural process?
Flood the Zone      The answer that the Columbia duo came up with is not to mine surface peridotite and cart it off to power plants in America to soak up our CO2 omissions. They propose an entirely different approach. The outcrops at the various spots around the world are at the oceans’ edges, where tectonic plates perform the bump and grind that have forced peridotite to the surface. Sea water is an enormous natural sink for carbon dioxide, but a number of reports state that mankind’s increasing burning of fossil fuels is overtaxing the oceans’ ability to store it for us (as reported here). Kellemen and Matter reason, why not use standard oil drilling technology to make a sponge of the peridotite below the surface, and then pump sea water into it?
     The sea water would first be heated. Heat speeds up the carbon take-up of the peridontite, a reaction which itself generates heat and which, once primed, will thereafter take on the role of speeding of the process. The heat will also fracture the rock, opening fissures that will expose ever more peridotite.
     Leached of its CO2, the sea water would be re-cycled to the surface to be replaced with new sea water in a continuous cycle. It is of no consequence that some of these exchanges would be made in places like Oman, far from where most of man’s CO2 is released. The winds and the oceans carry CO2 the world over, and its removal from the sea anywhere counts as a credit on the planet’s CO2 balance sheet. Sea water maintains a CO2 equilibrium with the air; what is removed from the water makes room for the sea to take in more from the air.
     The Columbia pair believe that their technique of forced injection into drill holes could boost peridotite’s absorption rate 100,000-fold. They say that if all the peridotite in Oman could be utlilized for CO2 sequestration, it "could take up all the [current level of] human output for a thousand years”.
     That sounds overstated, except that patch of bare, exposed peridotite in Oman alone is the size of Massachusetts and it extends five kilometers deep. Kelemen and Matter say that of man’s annual CO2 output of 30 billion tons Oman alone could swallow up 4 billion tons a year.
     Wally Broeker, also at Columbia, is a geophysicist whose specialty is employing natural processes to reduce greenhouse gases. He told On Earth magazine that the Kelemen/Matter proposition seems sound and added, "When we've done everything we can with the other stuff, with alternative energy and carbon taxes, we're going to find that we're still dumping CO2 into the air at an alarming rate. It's a desperate situation, and we've got to push everything we can."
      - Stephen Wilson

Neglect and Abuse Are Killing Our Oceans

Our oceans are in trouble. Serious trouble. According to a recent study that was led by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California, almost half of our oceans are “fairly degraded”, and just under 4% have exhibited close to some or no impact from human activity.
     The oceans absorb carbon dioxide, and thus help keep the environment in balance, but they are overworked in this activity. As a consequence, the seas have risen, and the waters have warmed and acidified all over the world. Combined with overfishing, these effects have caused the disappearance of 90% of the ocean’s big fish, says Leon Panetta, co-chair of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative. “Pollution has led to almost 26,000 US beaches being temporarily closed or put under advisories, and nearly 90% of our wetlands, the nurseries for fish, have vanished, due to development. The oceans are in crisis.”
An Ocean en Gelée      Moreover, in recent years, scientists have observed increases in jellyfish populations around the world. Jellyfish are considered to be the cockroaches of the sea, since they proliferate in areas of declining ocean health. Not only are they becoming more numerous and more widespread, they are now appearing in places they have rarely been seen before, say scientists.
     "The jellyfish near shore are a message the sea is sending us, saying, ‘Look how badly you are treating me’", said Dr. Josep-Maria Gili, a leading jellyfish expert at the Institute of Marine Sciences of the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona for over 20 years.
      Jellyfish are a constantly growing problem. Until recently, there were jellyfish alerts for only several days every few years. Now threats of jellyfish appear daily on the evening news, and are a constant nuisance to local officials.
     Many professionals who care for sea creatures see the effects of this deterioration every day. Frances Gulland, the director of the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, treats sea lions with cancers thought to be caused by PCBs, a persistent chlorine-benzine compound banned in 1970, as well as parasite-infected sea otters (caused by swimming near run-offs), and toxic algae-sickened fur seals. These animals are “an early warning system” she says. “All these things could happen to us.”
Government Concern? Close to Nil      And what is our government doing about all of this? Practically nothing. Only $400 per square mile is spent on the National Marine Sanctuary System. On the other hand, $18,700 per square mile is spent on the National Park System. And according to Debra Erickson, executive director of the Kerzner Marine Foundation, a non-profit organization, private donor organizations exhibit a similar pattern. “Close to 99% of conservation dollars donated go to land causes, and 1% to oceans,” she says, but over 70% of the earth is covered by oceans.”
     Part of the reason that people have not been paying attention to the problem up to now, may be that the sea looks healthy and clear from an above-the water perspective. “Yet below the surface is a whole different story,” observes Professor Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University in Corvallis. “When you see a reef that has the proper number of fish in it vs. one that doesn’t, it takes your breath away.”
Treating the Oceans as a Sewer       As far back as 1970, a member of a Washington, DC-based film crew working in Guam (which teems with some of the most abundant sea life on earth), while doing a shoot on one of Guam’s best beaches, observed a sewer runoff outlet emptying directly into the ocean. Later on, he asked the Governor (for whom the crew was working directly) why the public works system would implement anything so short-sighted as this. The Governor looked at the man as if he were the stupidest person he’d ever seen, and replied that the ocean was more than capable of absorbing whatever they dumped into it.
      Humans still seem to feel, as the Governor did way back in 1970, that we can continue to exploit the oceans to our hearts’ content.
     Well, we can’t.
     Our profligate consumerism creates more and more waste, which ultimately finds its way into the air, the earth, and the sea. We are running out of landfill space, as the relentless production of still more waste goes on, as the population of the world increases, and developing countries grow up.
     The sea is finite. When the plant and animal life in it is gone, it’s gone forever, at least for as long as man’s time on the planet lasts. The deterioration we are witnessing has taken but approximately fifty years to get to this appalling state. In that time, the human population of the earth has quadrupled. It is predicted to increase by a third in the next thirty years.
      Can the oceans keep up?
      - John Burr

Does Soot in the Arctic Outpace CO2 in Melting the Icecap?

Every day we learn something new about what is happening in the climate change field.
     Scientists at the University of California, Irvine, have calculated the warming effect of soot on Arctic snow. The result is surprising: in the Arctic, dirty snow may be responsible for more warming than greenhouse gases.
     "It turns out that nothing is more efficient at increasing the Earth's temperature than soot in snow," said Charles S. Zender, a professor of Earth system science at the university.
     Soot, from coal burning, inefficient cook stoves and forest and agricultural fires, falls in the Arctic, darkening snow. Dark colors absorb more sunlight than lighter colors and generate more heat as a result.
     Previous studies had looked at this effect and found that it contributed to regional warming. "But they had probably underestimated the impact," Dr. Zender said.
     The new work, published in The Journal of Geophysical Research, takes a more detailed look at the effects of soot. Among other things, Dr. Zender says, it accelerates the "aging" of snow, as fine crystals turn into larger grains and the snow turns darker. (City dwellers are familiar with this phenomenon, as a bright white blanket turns to gray within days.)
     With this and other effects built into their model, researchers found that over the past 200 years, dirty snow has been responsible for 0.5 to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming in the Arctic. Over all, the region has warmed 1.6 degrees in that time.
     Dr. Zender said that several steps could be taken to reduce the impact. One is a matter of timing. If farmers must burn fields, for example, it's better to do it in the late summer and fall, when the impact on the snow cover is less.
     More efficient cook stoves for villagers across Asia would also help. By burning cleaner, they would produce less soot. Conversely they would produce more carbon dioxide, "but in this case emitting CO2 would be the lesser of two evils," Dr. Zender said.       - Douglas Ayer