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Quick Hits: Geophysicist Freakout Edition

Been a few days since we've done one of these:

* This is assuredly not your moment of Zen: The head climate adviser at the Hadley Centre in Britain is predicting a 5.5C rise in global average temperatures by the end of the century if emissions keep rising at their current pace. Joe Romm explains that this little gift for our grandchildren will include a lovely five-foot rise in sea levels and an average warming of 15.5C across the inland United States. Oh, plus the desertification of roughly one-third of the planet.

* Meanwhile, the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union sounds like a real orgy of holiday cheer. When they're not telling us that the ice atop Greenland, Antarctica, and Alaska is melting far faster than anyone expected, they're pointing out that there's this massive carbon pool lurking beneath the Arctic sea that's, uh, now leaking methane into the atmosphere, thanks to underwater-permafrost melt. If even a decent fraction of that sub-sea methane gets into the air, it'll prove near impossible to stabilize atmospheric carbon concentrations global temperatures. Good times.

* While we're panicking, Obama recently named as his chief science adviser John Holdren, a Harvard physicist who isn't shy about insisting that we're up against the "holy shit" variety of climate crisis (as opposed to your more standard "eh, slap a modest gas tax on that sucker and we'll probably be OK" sort).

* Less gloom, more pluck: A group of scientists and economists in Germany and the Netherlands just released a report estimating that we'd have a 90 percent shot at limiting warming to a relatively safe 2C above pre-industrial level—if we invest 2 percent of GDP per year on the problem. Smaller efforts won't really generate much return; we either go big or go... uh, find a new planet, maybe. (Two percent a year is roughly what the EU spends various environmental initiatives, for reference.)

* A Chinese company is rolling out the world's first mass-produced plug-in hybrid.

* Kevin Drum highlights a radical stimulus plan from Architecture 2030, under which the government would refinance mortgages at low interest rates provided that the mortgage-holders renovate their homes to increase energy efficiency. Homeowners end up saving money, emissions go down, the U.S. economy gets a shot in the arm… Kevin thinks it sounds suspiciously "free-lunchish," but, like him, I'm having a hard time finding a flaw here. (True, the U.S. government has to spend money—but that's true of any stimulus plan.) Read the proposal for yourself.

* Time explores biochar, which may yet prove a viable way of pulling carbon out of the atmosphere.

* So say we could capture the carbon emitted from coal-fired plants and store it underground. What then? Julia Whitty looks at two studies that model just that. One study found that abandoned oil wells have created a "Swiss-cheese pattern of holes across North America," and trying to inject the carbon into those sites would risk leakage. It's safer—though more expensive—to put the carbon deep undersea.

* James Jarrett of the Grove Foundation tells Kate Galbraith that we can't wait around for electric cars to slowly penetrate the market—that will take far too long. Instead, Congress should offer tax incentives to retrofit existing vehicles. (It costs, for instance, about $5,000 to convert a Prius into a plug-in).

* At last, here's our actual moment of Zen...

--Bradford Plumer