Kevin Anderson and Getting to 2°C

A good seminar by Kevin Anderson (former head of the Tyndall Center for Climate Research in the UK), exploring the conflicts between our stated goal of keeping global warming under 2°C, and the actual energy and emissions policies that the developed world adopts:

The same basic information, in a peer-reviewed format Beyond “Dangerous” Climate Change: Emissions Scenarios for a New World, in the Transactions of the Royal Society.  Also in a Nature Commentary (paywall).

The basic point he’s making is, the assumptions that are currently going into climate policy discussions are unrealistic, with respect to what’s required to meet a 2°C goal, even 50% of the time.  They require global emissions peaks in 2015 and eventually negative emissions, in order to be able to accommodate the 3-4% annual emissions declines that the economists (which he likes to call astrologers) say is compatible with continued economic growth.  But a global peak in 2015 is at this point outlandish from China or India or Brazil or South Africa’s point of view.  To give them even a tiny bit of breathing room, and treat our historical emissions even somewhat equitably, the developed world has to peak roughly now, and decline at more like 10% per year for decades, and the developing world has to follow our lead shortly thereafter (maybe 2025).

None of this is compatible with exploitation of any unconventional fuels (tar sands, shale gas, etc.).  And, he argues, it also isn’t likely to be compatible with reliance on market based instruments, given that we need to implement drastically non-marginal changes to the economy.

Refining Steel Without GHG Emissions

Refining metal ores is one of those things that’s really, really hard to do without emitting a huge amount of greenhouse gasses.  The energy sources behind our material economies are not as easily substitutable with renewables, because what they often require is extreme heat, and sometimes the carbon itself (in the case of steelmaking and concrete).  Researchers at MIT are looking at a way of directly refining molten iron oxide directly into pure iron electrolytically that results in very pure iron, and virtually no emissions, and it might work for other oxide refining processes as well.

Hacking the President’s DNA

A fun look at our transition to a Gattaca style future, through the lens of an evildoer, designing a customized pathogen meant to kill only the President, using the same tools that can be used to target a particular cancer with a viral drug delivery mechanism.  How quickly will these tools be democratized?  Is secrecy or transparency the better route to countermeasures?  The Wikileaks cables revealed top-level diplomatic directives to collect the DNA of world leaders.  For what purpose?  Is it possible for anyone to keep their genome private?


A Love Story And A Clearance Sale

A Love Story And A Clearance Sale, musings of an arctic sea ice researcher on the fact that he will probably outlive the object of his professional affections.  A minimum of zero sea ice appears likely between 2015 and 2020, and models suggest that once you get to a minimum of zero, the ice-free season is likely to expand quickly, with significant impacts to northern hemisphere weather patterns.

Rare and Superior Gene Variants

It turns out that there’s a rare variant of a gene involved in Alzheimer’s Disease that protects the carriers against age-related cognitive decline.  It even, apparently, protects against other known genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s.  This is totally the kind of thing I can imagine parents paying big bucks to have inserted into their kids — rare genes that already exist in the broader population, that confer disease resistance or other advantages, but which haven’t had time to become prevalent under natural selection, or which confer an advantage that won’t have obvious reproductive consequences.  We’re going to start accumulating a library of these potential genetic revisions and, I suspect, within a couple of decades, making sure that our descendants carry them disproportionately.