Exxon knew of climate change in 1981 – but funded deniers for 27 more years

“ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, knew as early as 1981 of climate change – seven years before it became a public issue, according to a newly discovered email from one of the firm’s own scientists. Despite this the firm spent millions over the next 27 years to promote climate denial.

“The email from Exxon’s in-house climate expert provides evidence the company was aware of the connection between fossil fuels and climate change, and the potential for carbon-cutting regulations that could hurt its bottom line, over a generation ago – factoring that knowledge into its decision about an enormous gas field in south-east Asia. The field, off the coast of Indonesia, would have been the single largest source of global warming pollution at the time.

See: Guardian U.K

CO2: One More Bad Milestone; One Small Improvement

From the BBC:

Global carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations have reached a new monthly record of 400 parts per million, according to scientists.

The milestone was announced by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

They said it was the first month that the entire globe broke 400ppm, reaching levels that haven’t been seen for about two million years.

400 ppm environment(1)

In Holland, meanwhile, good folks are still trying to come up with another grain of sand in the effort to reverse the above record setting.

Engineers in the Netherlands say a novel solar road surface that generates electricity and can be driven over has proved more successful than expected.

Last year they built a 70-metre test track along a bike path near the Dutch town of Krommenie on the outskirts of Amsterdam.

In the first six months since it was installed, the panels beneath the road have generated over 3,000kwh. This is enough to provide a single-person household with electricity for a year.

“If we translate this to an annual yield, we expect more than the 70kwh per square metre per year,” says Sten de Wit, spokesman for SolaRoad, which has been developed by a public-private partnership.


Environment Solar Road Pre-fabricated-concrete-slabs2-700x400

CO2 Instrumentation into Space

Nasa has launched a mission dedicated to measuring carbon dioxide (CO2) from space.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) will help pinpoint the key locations on the Earth’s surface where the gas is being emitted and absorbed.

Its key objective is to trace the global geographic distribution of CO2 in the atmosphere – measuring its presence down through the column of air to the planet’s surface.

This should give scientists a better understanding of how the greenhouse gas cycles through the Earth system, influencing the climate.

Uncertain ‘sinks’

Humans are currently adding nearly 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year, principally from the burning of fossil fuels.

Only about half of this sum stays in the atmosphere, where it drives warming.

About half of the other half is absorbed into the ocean, with the remainder pulled down into land “sinks”.

Exactly where, though, is highly uncertain.


I’d bet a few dollars that the vast kudzu jungles across the American south will be one of the great sinks…

CO2 Levels Reach New Terrifying Levels

“As scientists expected, April became the first month in human history to have an average concentration of carbon dioxide — the main long-lived global warming gas — above 400 parts per million (ppm), according to data from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) observatory, which sits atop a 11,000-foot-tall Hawaiian volcano.

This is a symbolic but grim milestone for those who are fighting to lower global greenhouse emissions to reduce manmade global warming; as carbon dioxide levels climb, so do the risks of triggering dangerous climate change, such as the melting of land-based ice sheets and flooding of coastal cities.


Energy Companies Plan for Carbon Costing

As with the big insurers, some of the big energy companies know climate change is going to change the way they’ve been doing business– and they’re planning for it.

More than two dozen of the nation’s biggest corporations, including the five major oil companies, are planning their future growth on the expectation that the government will force them to pay a price for carbon pollution as a way to control global warming.

The development is a striking departure from conservative orthodoxy and a reflection of growing divisions between the Republican Party and its business supporters.

A new report by the environmental data company CDP has found that at least 29 companies, some with close ties to Republicans, including ExxonMobil, Walmart and American Electric Power, are incorporating a price on carbon into their long-term financial plans.

Both supporters and opponents of action to fight global warming say the development is significant because businesses that chart a financial course to make money in a carbon-constrained future could be more inclined to support policies that address climate change..

One of the corporations not preparing for necessity is that owned by the birthright John Birchers, David and Charles Koch

Koch Industries, a conglomerate that has played a major role in pushing Republicans away from action on climate change, is ramping up an already-aggressive campaign against climate policy — specifically against any tax or price on carbon. Owned by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, the company includes oil refiners and the paper-goods company Georgia-Pacific.

Climate, Climate, Climate

The only answer to the question, ‘What are the three most serious issues confronting the world today?’ is ‘Climate, Climate, Climate.’

Methane release:

Permafrost is beginning to melt under the influence of climate change across parts of Siberia, Canada and Alaska in a trend that threatens homes, railways and oil pipelines, according to a new U.N. report.

The accelerating melt is also poised to free vast amounts of carbon dioxide and methane that have been trapped in the ground for thousands of years, the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) report cautions.

Acid Oceans

The shell of a tiny snail that is an important food source for fish and birds in the water surrounding Antarctica is being dissolved in an ocean that is becoming more acidic due to climate change, new research shows.

Increasing carbonic acid levels in the world’s oceans are due to the water absorbing carbon dioxide from the air.

The source of that greenhouse gas is the burning of fossil fuels.

The water’s pH is now dropping faster than at any other time in the past 300 million years.

The shell of Limacina helicina being eaten away by ocean acidity

More CO2 

Global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning jumped by the largest amount on record last year, upending the notion that the brief decline during the recession might persist through the recovery.

Emissions rose 5.9 percent in 2010, according to an analysis released Sunday by the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists tracking the numbers. Scientists with the group said the increase, a half-billion extra tons of carbon pumped into the air, was almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003.

The increase solidified a trend of ever-rising emissions that scientists fear will make it difficult, if not impossible, to forestall severe climate change in coming decades.

Climate Change and CO2 Discussed Since the 1950s

Good quick review of CO2 science and Climate Change since the 1950s by Peter Sinclair. Read more at Climate Progress.

Plows, Plagues & Petroleum: A Review

William Ruddiman , one of the early paleoclimatologists —a climate scientist who studies climate in ages past– is the father of the hypothesis that bears his name:  that mankind began changing the climate long before the Industrial Revolution started burbling enormous amounts of CO2 into the air.  Ruddiman began to suspect it was far earlier when he noticed a strange, and strong,  anomaly in the regular cycle of methane increase and decrease he had been reading from the geological records during his academic career.

From extensive sampling and analysis of trace elements in the geologic record it was clear that methane in the atmosphere rose and fell in regular cycles, similar to the cyclical increase and decrease in ice coverage of the earth as first deduced by Milutin Milankovich, a Serbian mathematician, while held in prisoner of war camps in WW I.

The amount of heat the earth receives from the sun, as everybody knows, changes with the seasons.  As the earth makes its way around its elliptical orbit, the axis of tilt stays the same, in our era a tilt of 23.5 degrees.  When, moving around the sun, the axis is tilted towards the sun — more heat in that hemisphere; when it is tilted away — less heat.  Herein begins the interesting observations.

1) The axis stays “the same” during any particular orbit.  But in fact it doesn’t.  It varies over a cycle of 41,000 years.  The most extreme is 24.5 degrees, the least is 22.2.  We are, in our current years at 23.5.  At the greatest tilt more heat would be absorbed in the summer, than now, and less heat in the winters.

2) The axis also “wobbles” or precesses.  Like a top the axis slowly moves in a small circle even as it spins.  Thus Polaris is our North Star now.  When the pyramids were being built it was Alpha Draconis, or Thuban to the Egyptians. The complete cycle -from Polaris to Polaris- is 22,000 years.  The wobble of course changes the angle of the axis and thus the amount of earth surface area receiving heat in the summer.

3) The elliptical orbit of the earth also changes.  The eccentricity, as it is called, becomes almost zero — that is, a perfect circle — in a cycle of 100,000 years.  Needless to say, when the eccentricity is low more heat will be received on earth than at the ends of more elliptical orbits.

These three effects on the earth’s heat absorption have been dubbed the Milankovich Cycles. The driving question for him was the growth and retreat of ice-sheets, mostly in the north but also the south. He postulated that these cycles of orbital and axial change matched very well with many different periods of glaciation in the earth’s history.

In 1981 a meterologist named John Kutzbach had the break-through idea that the same orbital changes were connected to monsoonal cycles as well. Though we think of monsoons as almost a strictly south Asian phenomena, there have been repeated times in earth’s history when the southern Sahara and the Sahel, much further to the west have been grassy plains with large lakes and rivers, unlike the deserts they are today. Kutzbach postulated that the monsoon belt increased, and dropped further south, as solar heating increased. As heating decreased, due to the Milankovich cycles, the monsoons left Africa, and left it high and dry. When large areas grow seasonal vegetation, methane is released into the atmosphere as the vegetable matter decays. As it turns out, the methane rise and fall track the wetting and drying of Africa pretty precisely. More heat –> More Monsoons –> More Methane. The cycle from dry to wet and back to dry is about 22,000 years.

Ruddiman, conversant with all this, and having been a student of Kurtzbach, began to wonder late in his career, why the methane measurements from about 5,000 years ago started going up instead of continuing to fall as would be expected —  the earth continuing into the cooler part of its cycle?  The conclusion he came to, and called the Ruddiman Theory,  is that as Homo Sapiens spread across the earth following the last great ice age they not only began felling trees and doing slash and burn agriculture, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere while decreasing the size of the CO2 sinks, but especially in SE Asia they began flood irrigating and planting large stands of rice.  The seasonal post harvest remains, as they rotted, released great new amounts of methane into the air, reversing what would have been a downward trend of methane in the atmosphere, and as a result, helping to create the odd 8,000 year span of moderate human-scale climate we’ve enjoyed since about the beginning of the agricultural era.  Had it not been for this CO2 and methane forcing, the earth would likely be in another deep glacial age by now.

The book Plows, Plagues and Petroleum is Ruddimen’s 2005 attempt to bring together the various papers he had published, and strands of thought pursued in working out his theory.

It is not an uncontested theory, as he readily admits.  Others think there are simpler explanations than his for the evidence he cites.  He acknowledges their doubts and tells us why he thinks his ideas hold up.  For a very clear set of examples of how scientific argument works, always hewing to and interpreting real, mutually confirmed data, you couldn’t do better than to read Chapter 11, “Challenges and Responses.”   The competition between scientists is so sharp one wonders how a current popular (anti-science) meme ever took hold in certain circles — that scientists are captives of a herd-like mindset, unable to resist popular ideas or peer pressure.

A second hypothesis follows the first.  What, in the human record, might account for several dips in the CO2 record during its general upward trend?  Plagues?  Have there been severe enough decreases in human populations in the past 2500 years to result in less forest clearing, less slash and burn, less rice farming?   His research led him to say: the major CO2 dips in the ice-core records correlate more persuasively with population drops caused by major pandemics than do with times of war or famine.”

Petroleum, the third of his title nouns, needs no review here.  We are mostly familiar with what petroleum and coal have wrought.  Nevertheless, it is interesting to read it again through a careful scientist’s eyes.

In closing, Ruddiman tells us he has not had a dog in the current climate change fight until recently.  His expertise has been in climate change in past millennium.  He has had no funding from industry or environmental sources,  nor real interest in the highly politicized climate change assertions and counter assertions.  He does however –he says in an Epilogue– have an opinion.  The discussion, he thinks, has been wrenched  at both ends by alarmist predictions — to the detriment of science.  Further, while he has no doubt that climate change is happening, he does not think it is the greatest threat to the survival of mankind.  The shorter term issues of water and soil and fossil fuel depletion are likely to be much bigger problems, sooner.

Plows, Plagues and Plowshares isn’t a book everyone will appreciate or find their time well repaid.  For those who the current political and rhetorical attitudes have shaken up, and have an interest in the real science underlying the serious claims, this is a good, short, if academic book [Princeton University Press] to absorb, and let add to other sectors of your knowledge.

Available at Princeton Press or your local library!

Iron Algal Seeding For CO2 Removal Not So Good

“Results cast doubt on potential ‘climate fix’

“A controversial experiment which poured iron into the Southern Ocean has also poured cold water on the idea that such ‘ocean fertilization’ can mitigate against climate change.

“The Lohafex project was investigating suggestions that carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere by promoting algal blooms with iron. Despite protests from some groups, researchers aboard the Polarstern research vessel carried out their experiment this month.

However, the Alfred-Wegener institute, which was backing Lohafex, says “only a modest amount of carbon sank out of the surface layer by the end of the experiment. Hence, the transfer of CO2 from the atmosphere to the ocean to compensate the deficit caused by the LOHAFEX bloom was minor compared to earlier ocean iron fertilization experiments.”

Iron Fail

They’re not finished looking into this idea though we can hope the promise continues to be small. Geo-engineering on the scale envisioned would almost certainly have catastrophic “unseen” consequences.

Eat Less Meat! Save the World

“Cutting back on beefburgers and bacon could wipe $20 trillion off the cost of fighting climate change. That’s the dramatic conclusion of a study that totted up the economic costs of modern meat-heavy diets.

“The researchers involved say that reducing our intake of beef and pork would lead to the creation of a huge new carbon sink, as vegetation would thrive on unused farmland.”

“Beef is particularly damaging. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is released from flatulent cows and by manure as it decays. Furthermore, to produce a kilogram of beef (2.2 pounds), farmers also have to feed a cow 15 kg of grain and 30 kg of forage. Grain requires fertiliser, which is energy intensive to produce.

The New Scientist