Tuesday, 2 September 2008

German RWE Innogy takes a tilt at Welsh windmills

From The Times
September 2, 2008

A wind turbine designed by Quiet Revolution supplies electricity to flats high above South London

A factory in South Wales will be producing thousands of urban windmills within a few years after an investment by RWE, the German utility, in a British venture.
RWE Innogy, the renewable energy unit of the German company, is taking a £6 million stake in Quiet Revolution, a two-year-old enterprise that has developed a novel wind turbine design capable of generating power in turbulent urban landscapes.
Quiet Revolution's flagship product is a 6,000 kilowatt hour turbine, designed for small businesses, apartment buildings and housing developments. The company has already installed 30 turbines for clients including Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer, Mercedes-Benz and Bovis, the builder, and it wants to increase production at its factory in Pembroke Dock.
Robert Webb, its chief executive, is hiring production engineers to transform the venture into a manufacturing company capable of delivering large volumes of QR5 turbines. The QR5's output is sufficient to supply three or four homes, depending on wind speed. The company plans to develop another two products - the QR12, capable of delivering 45,000 to 55,000 kwh and the QR2.5, a mini-turbine that might power a single home.

“Demand is very, very strong,” Mr Webb said. “We plan to make a few hundred next year and then grow to a few thousand.” The cash injection from RWE is about getting the right rate of investment to put a successful design into large-scale production, he added.
Quiet Revolution's order book is full until January, with a further 45 units sold and in the manufacturing stage. Mr Webb is in discussions with builders and property developers keen to develop “green” housing with independent energy supplies.
Fritz Vahrenholt, chief executive of RWE Innogy, said that local power supply to buildings would become more important. “Small wind power units on roofs can make a major contribution to this goal, especially in places with insufficient sunshine [where] photovoltaics would not be efficient enough.”
Unlike conventional propellor-shaped turbines, the QR5 is a vertical mill in the shape of a triple helix. Its design means that it can catch wind from any point without the need to direct the turbine and the design is popular among planning authorities for aesthetic reasons, according to the company.
Mr Webb and Richard Cochrane set up Quiet Revolution in 2006 after running a wind energy consultancy advising businesses on the best renewable energy technology. However, large-scale conventional turbines were inappropriate for urban areas with turbulent wind, while rural and offshore turbines required costly connections to the national grid.
“We realised there was no appropriate product for local energy. You get higher value from locally produced energy because there are no distribution losses,” Mr Webb said.
Quiet Revolution has a sales pipeline of £40 million, with most of the existing client base in property and retailing, but the company sees other infrastructure applications, such as turbines mounted on street lighting.
A QR5 costs £40,000 including installation, which Mr Webb admits is not likely to attract single home owners, but he expects to halve the current payback period of 20 years.
Key to a change in the economics of local wind power will be an improvement in the tariff at which local wind generators can sell power into the grid. The existing rates do not justify the cost of installing feed-in meters and Quiet Revolution's commercial customers do not sell their power. However, if Britain adopts regulated tariffs, such as those in force in Germany, the economics of selling local wind generation will be worthwhile.
RWE's investment also brings the prospect of wider markets, using the utility's financial power. Mr Webb said that in future businesses and home-owners could purchase wind energy on a finance-lease basis, with power companies offering an agreement to purchase energy at a fixed price in return for financing the cost of erecting turbines. “It becomes a hedge against fossil fuel price increases,” he said.
Power to the people
— Small wind turbines can be standalone or be connected to the grid. They range in size from 100 watt generators to power batteries to 50 kilowatt systems that can sell power into the grid
— Small standalone systems are typically found on farms, in remote areas and on boats and caravans. They can be used to power livestock fencing, to power pumps and lighting or security systems
— Grid-connected systems can defray the cost of energy taken from the grid and, if the volumes are high, power can be sold back to a utility. Grid-connected systems can also be eligible for Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs)
— Power generators have been obliged since 2002 to derive a certain proportion of the electricity they supply from renewable sources, a percentage that rises from 3 per cent to 15 per cent by 2015. Because ROCs can be traded, they have a monetary value, which is expected to rise over time
— Britain has 176 operational wind farms generating 2,547 megawatts of power, of which 404MW is offshore. A further 40 windfarms capable of generating a further 1,673MW are under construction and an additional 6,350MW has received planning consent
— Demand for power in the UK at peak consumption is about 60,000MW

GDF Suez raises profits and possibility of British invasion

David Gow
The Guardian,
Tuesday September 2 2008

GDF Suez, the new French energy group, yesterday posted a 20% leap in first-half earnings as it reaffirmed it had no interest in buying British Energy, the UK's main nuclear power operator.
Gérard Mestrallet, the chief executive, did, however, confirm that GDF Suez was keen to be a player in Britain's nuclear energy market, where the government is courting French rival EDF to buy British Energy.
Announcing first-half results in Paris, Mestrallet said pre-tax profits rose to €8.1bn (£6.5bn) on sales up 17% to €43bn on the back of soaring demand and high prices.
The group was forged in late July from the €93bn merger of state-owned gas company GDF with Franco-Belgian utility Suez and reasserted its target of 10% annual earnings growth to €17bn by 2010.
Mestrallet said the group aimed to invest €30bn by the end of 2010 and to achieve annual savings of €1bn by 2013, and help lift GDF Suez shares.
The new cash-rich group said it would pay its first interim dividend of 80 cents or €1.7bn in late November and aims to increase the annual pay-out by up to 15% a year by 2010 when it would reach more than half of net income.
It announced a €1bn share buy-back before the end of 2008.
GDF Suez, which is building a 1.9 gigawatt power station on Teesside, has made plain it wants to operate at least two of the new-generation nuclear power plants planned by the UK government. It already operates seven nuclear stations in Belgium, where it is the biggest energy supplier, trading as Electrabel, and recently sold off a 25.1% stake in Belgian supplier SPE to Centrica, the owner of British Gas. Centrica is still a potential partner of EDF and/or GDF Suez in the UK's new nuclear power programme and now has majority control of SPE.
The French group, which has 11% of its power capacity in nuclear, has also signalled it could take part in building the second new-generation EPR reactor planned by President Nicolas Sarkozy. It is also investing heavily in renewable energy, including wind and hydro.
But Jean-François Cirelli, deputy chief executive and former head of GDF, said a government cap on gas prices had cost it almost €180m in the first half and more than €1bn since 2004.
He insisted that the group was not experiencing gas supply problems with Russia despite the country's exacerbated political tensions with the EU. Shares in the group bucked the falling trend on France's main market, rising about 2%.

1,000 new hydro schemes to power Scottish homes

Scottish and Southern Energy's new £150 million hydro electric scheme at Glendoe

Published Date: 02 September 2008
By Jenny Howarth

SCOTLAND is set to enter a new era of hydro power after an influential report revealed untapped potential for more than 1,000 new schemes across the country, The Scotsman can reveal.
The study, commissioned by the Scottish Government, reveals enough extra hydro potential to power a quarter of the nation's homes.It shows there are still 657 megawatts of financially viable hydro electricity schemes to exploit, which would power about 600,000 homes.This is about half as much as the 1,379 megawatts of installed hydro capacity that already exists in Scotland. The Scottish Government, which aims to provide 50 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2050 and has rejected the use of nuclear power, said hydro would play a crucial part in meeting the target.Hydro already provides about 6 per cent of Scotland's electricity – more than any other renewable source – and will be crucial in the Scottish Government's aims to make us the leading green energy country in Europe.However, there is concern among salmon anglers about the impact on rivers, and environmental groups have urged caution when developing new schemes, especially in beauty spots.A Scottish Government spokesman said hydro power had a growing role to play in how Scotland would meet its energy needs. "We have ambitions to make Scotland the green energy capital of Europe and hydro is a huge part of our diverse renewables potential," he said."New hydro power can reduce emissions, tackle climate change and contribute to sustainable economic growth."Scotland was one of the first countries in the world where electricity was harnessed from water, and huge hydro schemes were built in the middle of the 20th century.However, it had been assumed the limit had been reached, with industry leaders saying there were few sites left for major projects.Now, the new report by the Forum for Renewable Energy Development in Scotland suggests there is considerable untapped potential, using schemes smaller than 10 megawatts in size. These could be developed on a community basis by farmers or small landowners.The report shows the potential for new hydro schemes in each area of Scotland.Whereas Edinburgh would not be able to support any financially viable schemes, the north-west Highlands has potential for up to 64, it says.Rob Forrest, of the green trade body Scottish Renewables, said hurdles had to be overcome before the potential could be delivered."This study reveals a new chapter waiting to unfold for hydro power in Scotland. However, there are considerable challenges being faced that rival those felt by hydro developers from the last century," he said.He said these included strict EU regulations and costly access to the transmission grid."Crucial to delivery of this hydro vision will be the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, who hold the key to redesigning regulations to help deliver sustainable hydro power developments rather than blocking them," he said.Nick Forrest, director of Nick Forrest Associates, the consultancy behind the report, agreed there were several barriers to the potential 657 megawatts of hydro power being achieved.One was the planning system, which he thought should be altered so local planning authorities could deal with more applications. If a project is larger than one megawatt, it has to be considered by the Scottish Government rather than the local authority."That has a huge time implication and would usually involve a lot more work," he said. "If they raised the threshold so it was only above 10 megawatts, it could be a lot more attractive to developers."And he said there needed to be greater capacity in the national grid. Currently, 33 per cent of the new schemes would not be able to be built because of lack of capacity."If we ever want to see this potential realised, there's going to have to be a change in the way the grid is upgraded," he said."At the moment, there's no extra capacity being built into the grid. There are areas in the Highlands where there's all the mountains and the rainfall you need but the grid is full."But Dan Barlow, head of policy at WWF Scotland, said there must not be any move to try to weaken EU regulations, such as the Water Framework Directive, which protects rivers."We support the role that hydro plays in meeting renewable energy targets and tackling climate change."However, it's important that any proposals that come forward are compatible with European obligations to meet ecological aims in terms of our water environment."Helen McDade, policy officer from the John Muir Trust, said planning laws must not be relaxed. "Environmental protection has been put in place for a reason. It would be very unwise to suggest that could be relaxed."Ten sites now seeking permissionAllt Fionn, Glen Falloch, Loch Lomond, 2.1 MW. Applicant: Glen Falloch Estate. At consultation.Allt Hallater, between Loch Awe and Loch Etive, 1.9MW. Applicant: Npower. Suspended.Black Rock Gorge, on edge of Evanton Wood, Ross-shire, 3MW. Applicant: Npower. Recently submitted.Chaoroch, by Loch Lomond, 2.5MW. Applicant: SSE. At consultation.Chonais, Wester Ross, 3.5MW. Applicant: SSE. At consultation.Invervar, Glen Lyon, Perthshire, 1.2MW. Applicant: Shawater. At consultation.Keltneyburn, Coshieville, near Aberfeldy, Perthshire, 2.2MW. Applicant: Keltneyburn Hydro Ltd. At consultation.Loch Eilde, above Kinlochleven, Lochaber, 7MW. Applicant: Hydroplan. Suspended.Rannoch, 1.5MW. Applicant: Hydroplan. At consultation.River Braan, near Dunkeld, Perthshire, 2.9MW. Applicant: NPower. Suspended.Q & AWhat is a hydro scheme?A system for extracting energy from water as it moves. This usually involves the water dropping from one elevation to another.An underground sloping pipe is often used, so that water is restricted and builds up in pressure. This can be used to drive a turbine wheel.In flatter areas, where there is less pressure build-up or no pipe at all, much larger flows are required, and so larger turbines are used. What are the benefits of hydro power?It is a form of green energy that can complement other renewables, such as onshore wind, by providing backup when needed.It can be stored and then drawn upon when there is a need for more electricity, such as in winter.It does not provide a constant supply, as the system's efficiency will fluctuate throughout the year with the flow of the water.Would all the new schemes involve dams?No, only 128 of the 1,019 potential new schemes would be expected to involve the use of a dam. Most would use a weir – which slightly raises the level of the river and creates a small, waterfall-type effect. It would channel some of the water into an underground pipe, which would build up to power a small turbine.How does the electricity get to my house?The hydro scheme has to be connected to the national grid. Distance from the grid may be the deciding factor of whether a scheme is viable. And there must be enough capacity in the grid for a new scheme to connect. What happens next?The Scottish Government is expected to examine the findings of the report as it forms its energy strategy.Anglers' concern over impact on salmonTHE strongest opposition to the new development of hydro projects is likely to come from the salmon-fishing sector.Ron Woods, from the Scottish Federation of Coarse Anglers, said there would be a "great deal of concern" among salmon anglers to the idea that more than 1,000 new hydro schemes could be built.He said this was due to the behaviour of salmon. "The life cycle of salmon involves them ascending the river from the mouth to quite high up in the river to spawn," he said. "Anything that blocks the flow of water and the migration has a big impact for salmon."There's a legal requirement that if anyone builds a barricade across a river by which salmon migrate to spawn, they need to provide a passage for them to ascend the river."He said there were other aspects of hydro schemes that concerned salmon anglers."If you put a dam on a river, then the area immediately above it becomes effectively still water," he said. "That's not a habitat where salmon are comfortable. They like a high oxygen content in the river, which means it needs to be flowing."Nick Forrest, the report's author, agreed there was likely to be opposition from members of the fishing industry, but he said he thought they could be brought onside."They might want salmon to reach a new part of the river," he said. "A salmon ladder can be built into a weir, so they can get to a part that wasn't previously possible. "There's no reason why hydro shouldn't be safe for fish."Anglers' concern over impact on salmonTHE strongest opposition to the new development of hydro projects is likely to come from the salmon-fishing sector.Ron Woods, from the Scottish Federation of Coarse Anglers, said there would be a "great deal of concern" among salmon anglers to the idea that more than 1,000 new hydro schemes could be built.He said this was due to the behaviour of salmon. "The life cycle of salmon involves them ascending the river from the mouth to quite high up in the river to spawn," he said. "Anything that blocks the flow of water and the migration has a big impact for salmon."There's a legal requirement that if anyone builds a barricade across a river by which salmon migrate to spawn, they need to provide a passage for them to ascend the river."He said there were other aspects of hydro schemes that concerned salmon anglers."If you put a dam on a river, then the area immediately above it becomes effectively still water," he said. "That's not a habitat where salmon are comfortable. They like a high oxygen content in the river, which means it needs to be flowing."Nick Forrest, the report's author, agreed there was likely to be opposition from members of the fishing industry, but he said he thought they could be brought onside."They might want salmon to reach a new part of the river," he said. "A salmon ladder can be built into a weir, so they can get to a part that wasn't previously possible. "There's no reason why hydro shouldn't be safe for fish."

Americans picked to test hydrogen car prototypes

The Associated Press
Published: September 2, 2008

WASHINGTON: Tom Albert drove his loaner Chevrolet Equinox like any other car.
He took it to work during the week, picked up groceries, and loaded up the back with bags of soil at the garden store. When his infant son was fussy, Albert drove the newborn around the block to calm him down.
The normal driving experience ended, however, when it came time to fuel the car. Aboard the silent vehicle, Albert had two filling stations to choose from in the Washington, D.C., area, and the fuel — hydrogen — was anything but typical.
Albert's no-cost behind-the-wheel experience last spring was part of an ongoing program by General Motors Corp. to see if next-generation vehicles powered by hydrogen can become a reality. Automakers such as GM, Honda Motor Co. and BMW AG are putting several hundred vehicles into suburban garages, in cities and on the highway to see how they fare in day-to-day driving.
"I heard about it on one of the local news stations on my commute in, that they were offering the chance to drive these," said Albert, an engineer who has always enjoyed tinkering with cars and applied online to participate. "For some reason they picked me."

Hydrogen fuel cells have been part of the auto industry's roster of advanced vehicles for years, and several companies are testing small fleets. They gained attention when President George W. Bush announced in 2003 that the government would invest $1.2 billion to encourage their development.
Albert was among a small number of testers participating in "Project Driveway," a program that allowed customers to provide feedback on the Chevrolet Equinox electric hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.
GM chose participants who live near a fueling station based on their level of interest in fuel cell technology and enthusiasm for new technology. The company covered the cost of the hydrogen fuel, insurance and maintenance.
The Equinox, which holds about 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of pressured hydrogen in tanks, generates electricity from a reaction between hydrogen and oxygen and delivers the gasoline equivalent of about 43 miles per gallon (5.4 liters per 100 kilometers). While hydrogen is highly flammable, the hydrogen would diffuse into the air in a nonflammable concentration if one of the tanks was punctured or leaked.
The zero-emissions vehicles, which emit droplets of water, still face high hurdles because of a lack of fueling stations and the high cost of developing the cars. Auto companies do not disclose costs, but the vehicles can cost $1 million and beyond because most are hand-built prototypes.
Hydrogen is typically extracted from natural gas, oil and coal, releasing carbon dioxide from those fuels into the atmosphere. Industry officials say using fossil fuels to make hydrogen is a transitional step, with the ultimate goal to produce it widely through renewable energy sources.
Patrick Serfass, director of technology development for the National Hydrogen Association, said using natural gas to produce hydrogen emits half the amount of overall emissions compared with a conventional gasoline-fueled vehicle.
The test drives are being held while consumers are paying close to $4 for a gallon ($1.05 a liter) of gasoline, offering a window into what petroleum-free driving might look like.
The industry estimates hydrogen can be produced for $3 a gallon (78 cents a liter) of gasoline equivalent with current technology, while the government's target is for the fuel to be available at $1.50 per gallon (39 cents a liter) of gasoline equivalent by 2010.
In addition to the GM program, Honda is planning to lease about 200 FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cells to customers in California. One of the first customers is actress Jamie Lee Curtis.
The three-year leases cost $600 a month, which includes maintenance and collision coverage. The car has a range of about 270 miles (435 kilometers) per tank. Honda said it received 50,000 applications through its Web site but could only consider those living near stations in three southern California cities.
"You're not sacrificing anything, and actually for me it's an enhanced driving experience," said Jon Spallino, a Redondo Beach, California, businessman who previously drove an older version of the FCX and will lease the Clarity.
"I think that's a misconception people have, that you're puttering around in an underpowered cramped little soapbox," he said.
BMW has placed some of its Hydrogen 7 Series sedans in the hands of Hollywood celebrities and others for tests.
The Hydrogen 7 has an internal combustion engine that can run on gasoline or liquid hydrogen, an advantage because of the lack of hydrogen fueling stations. It can travel about 130 miles (209 kilometers) on hydrogen and shift to a gasoline-powered engine, with a range of 300 miles (480 kilometers).
"It's allowed people to live with these vehicles in a way that they don't have to feel restricted in the distances they can travel or where they can go," said BMW spokesman Dave Buchko.
Automakers say the tests show the cars can perform like a conventional vehicle, bolstering their argument that a network of fueling stations are needed. There are 61 operational hydrogen fueling stations in the United States, according to the National Hydrogen Association, and nearly half are located in California.
A panel with the National Academies of Science recently concluded the U.S. would need to invest $200 billion, including $55 billion in government funding, between 2008 and 2023 to make the vehicles viable.
The report estimated that the maximum number of hydrogen vehicles on the roads by 2020 would be 2 million, a tiny fraction of the United States' fleet.
Albert said after more than 2,300 miles and two months in the Equinox, he sees the potential. He used the vehicle like any other and said the only limitations were the lack of fueling stations and the vehicle's 200-mile range.
He offered plenty of suggestions to GM's team, even feedback from his cranky baby. Albert's first child, Tyler, was born Feb. 4, and the family jokingly called him the "first hydrogen baby."
"As I was putting him in the car, I was wondering, 'Is it the engine noise that quiets the baby or the road noise?' We had no idea," Albert said. After a short drive, Tyler's cries subsided, offering some insight for future dads.
"We found out it's probably the road noise and the motion," Albert said with a smile. "It didn't have much to do with the engine noise since there's no internal combustion engine."

BioEnergy Africa gets £8m: Howzat?

Smaller companies
Peter Stiff

Biofuels groups have had their critics, but there was good news for the City’s newest green energy group yesterday as it was ushered on to London’s junior market. BioEnergy Africa, formed to develop ethanol from sugar cane projects in southern Africa, rose 2p to 14½p after listing on AIM. The company, chaired by that serial African investor Phil Edmonds, raised £8.6 million through a placing of about 20.7 per cent of its shares.
BioEnergy will use the money to develop its first project, a 30,000-hectare ethanol project in Mozambique, and to pursue similar ventures. The Massingir Fuel Ethanol project is targeting an initial production of 600,000 litres of ethanol a day, rising to 1,200,000 litres a day at full production.
Mr Edmonds, the former England cricketer, is already chairman of Central African Mining & Exploration Company (Camec) and White Nile.

Radical ideas to save the planet

Alok Jha
The Guardian,
Monday September 1 2008

Artificial clouds to reflect away sunlight, creating colossal blooms of oceanic algae, and the global use of synthetic carbon-neutral transport fuels - just three of the climate-transforming technologies in need of urgent investigation, according to leading scientists. The group argues that, with governments failing to grasp the urgent need for measures to combat dangerous climate change, radical - and possibly dangerous - solutions must now be seriously considered.
Some of the most extreme ideas for climate engineering involve reducing the sunlight falling on the Earth's surface. Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution in Stanford calculates that reflecting just 2% of the sun's light from the right places on Earth (mainly the Arctic) would be enough to counteract the warming effect from a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere.
One approach is to insert "scatterers" into the stratosphere by deploying jumbo jets to deposit clouds of particles, such as sulphur dioxide. About 1m tonnes of sulphur dioxide a year across 10m sq km (3.8m sq miles) of the atmosphere would be enough to reflect away sufficient amounts of sunlight.
Another study proposes building ships that could spray micrometre-sized drops of seawater into the air under stratocumulus clouds to make them whiter.
The growth of marine algae and other phytoplankton captures vast quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but growth is often limited by a lack of essential nutrients. Adding such nutrients, such as iron or nitrates, to stimulate growth was studied by a team led by Richard Lampitt of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. The organisms incorporate atmospheric CO2 as they grow and, when they die, sink to the bottom of the ocean, taking the carbon with them. However, there is a moratorium around the world on iron-seeding experiments.
Wild cards
Other ideas considered by scientists, though not in the papers published today, include scrubbing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. Klaus Lackner of Columbia University has designed a machine that could, if built to full scale, take up the CO2 emissions of 15,000 cars. With about 250,000 such machines, as much CO2 could be removed from the atmosphere as the world is currently pumping into it. The gas could then be stored underground or used in manufacturing. An idea further into the realms of the fantastic involves using shiny spacecraft to block sunlight. Scientists have suggested a constellation of free-flying craft that would sit between the sun and Earth. The only problem: it would cost around $100bn (£54.9bn) a year.

Medicine for a feverish planet: kill or cure?

Planetary scale engineering might be able to combat global warming, but, as with nineteenth century medicine, the best option may simply be kind words and letting Nature take its course, says James Lovelock
Monday September 01 2008 01:19 BST

What are the planetary health risks of geoengineering intervention? Nothing we do is likely to sterilise the Earth, but the consequences of planetary scale intervention could hugely affect humans.
Putative geoengineers are in a position similar to that of physicians before the 1940s. The author-physician Lewis Thomas remarkably described in his 1983 book, The Youngest Science, the practice of medicine before the Second World War. There were only five effective medicines available: morphine for pain, quinine for malaria, insulin for diabetes, digitalis for heart disease and aspirin for inflammation and very little was known of their mode of action. For almost all other ailments, there was nothing available but nostrums and comforting words.
At that time, despite a well-founded science of physiology, we were still ignorant about the human body or the host–parasite relationship it had with other organisms. Wise physicians knew that letting nature take its course without intervention would often allow natural self-regulation to make the cure. They were not averse to claiming credit for their skill when this happened.
I think the same may be true about planetary medicine; our ignorance of the Earth system is overwhelming and intensified by the tendency to favour model simulations over experiments, observation and measurement.
Global heating would not have happened but for the rapid expansion in numbers and wealth of humanity. Had we heeded Malthus's warning and kept the human population to less than one billion, we would not now be facing a torrid future. Whether or not we go for the recommendations for cutting back fossil fuel use discussed in Bali in 2007 or use geoengineering, the planet is likely, massively and cruelly, to cull us, in the same merciless way that we have eliminated so many species by changing their environment into one where survival is difficult.
Before we start geoengineering we have to raise the following question: are we sufficiently talented to take on what might become the onerous permanent task of keeping the Earth in homeostasis? Consider what might happen if we start by using a stratospheric aerosol to ameliorate global heating; even if it succeeds, it would not be long before we face the additional problem of ocean acidification. This would need another medicine, and so on.
We could find ourselves enslaved in a Kafka-like world from which there is no escape. Sir Martin Rees in his 2003 book The Final Century, envisaged a similar but more technologically based fate brought on by our unbridled creativity.
The alternative is the acceptance of a massive natural cull of humanity and a return to an Earth that freely regulates itself but in the hot state. Garrett Hardin foresaw consequences of this kind in his seminal 1968 essay The Tragedy of the Commons.Whatever we do is likely to lead to death on a scale that makes all previous wars, famines and disasters small. To continue business as usual will probably kill most of us during the century. Is there any reason to believe that fully implementing Bali, with sustainable development and the full use of renewable energy, would kill less? We have to consider seriously that as with nineteenth century medicine, the best option is often kind words and pain killers but otherwise do nothing and let Nature take its course.
The usual response to such bitter realism is: then there is no hope for us, and we can do nothing to avoid our plight. This is far from true. We can adapt to climate change and this will allow us to make the best use of the refuge areas of the world that escape the worst heat and drought. We have to marshal our resources soon and if a safe form of geoengineering buys us a little time then we must use it.
Parts of the world such as oceanic islands, the Arctic basin and oases on the continents will still be habitable in a hot world. We need to regard them as lifeboats and see that there are sufficient sources of food and energy to sustain us as a species. Physicians have the Hippocratic Oath; perhaps we need something similar for our practice of planetary medicine.
During the global heating of the early Eocene, there appears to have been no great extinction of species and this may have been because life had time to migrate to the cooler regions near the Arctic and Antarctic and remain there until the planet cooled again. This may happen again and humans, animals and plants are already migrating. Scandinavia and the oceanic parts of northern Europe such as the British Isles may be spared the worst of heat and drought that global heating brings. This puts a special responsibility upon us to stay civilized and give refuge to the unimaginably large influx of climate refugees.
Perhaps the saddest thing is that if we fail and humans become extinct, the Earth System, Gaia, will lose as much as or more than we do. In human civilisation, the planet has a precious resource. We are not merely a disease; we are, through our intelligence and communication, the planetary equivalent of a nervous system.
We should be the heart and mind of the Earth not its malady. Perhaps the greatest value of the Gaia concept lies in its metaphor of a living Earth, which reminds us that we are part of it and that our contract with Gaia is not about human rights alone, but includes human obligations.
· James Lovelock is an independent scientist, author, researcher, environmentalist. He is known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis.
· This article is an extract from "A geophysiologist's thoughts on geoengineering", published in the Royal Society's journal Philosophical Transactions A

99 months, and counting

In August, we marked the beginning of a 100 month countdown to stop irreversible climate change. The response has been astonishing

Andrew Simms
Monday September 01 2008 10:00 BST

Howl farewell to the dog days of August. They were mostly damp and drab, not to mention marking the beginning of a 100-month countdown to the world entering a new, more perilous phase of global warming. Not everything, though, can be blamed directly on climate change. For the record, weather varies enormously due to short-term atmospheric changes. The climate system, however, changes in response to the complex push and pull of many spheres, from solar radiation to ice cover and greenhouse gas levels. Weather is a subset of climate, whose long-term patterns will nevertheless change as the climate system alters.
One month ago, writing in the Guardian, we said that the world had 100 months to go before it stood to cross a threshold, after which we will all be playing a game of climate roulette. Runaway global warming is the bullet in the chamber. With all the work and words expended on the issue, still, we thought, a reality check was needed. Unlike other issues demanding a political solution, climate change is on a ticking clock. We either do, or we don't, avert runaway warming.
The response to pointing this out was astonishing.
In just the first three weeks, via the website, more than 135,000 people from more than 130 countries signed either themselves up to take regular monthly actions on climate change, or were directly asked to do so by friends. One man in New Zealand printed out the Guardian article and posted it to all 121 members of his national parliament. Rap star P Diddy reportedly grounded his airplane, although, just possibly, this might have had something more to do with the cost of fuel.
Many worried that in drawing attention to such a stark reality, the consequence would be a disabling sense of powerlessness. If you see someone crossing the road in front of a runaway truck, the balance has to be struck between shouting so loud that they freeze in their tracks, and closing your eyes to pretend it's not happening. Al Gore's team in the US has struggled with it. One of his campaign psychological advisors (this is the US, remember, they have such things) got in touch to say that the One Hundred Months initiative was just right, in terms of facing the inconvenient truth and leaving people with a sense that they can act to make every month count.
The countdown also came to the attention of the world's most important figure on climate change, the Nobel Prize-winning chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, R K Pachauri. He wrote to us commenting that: "It speaks highly of the effectiveness of this effort that so many people have signed themselves up for regular monthly campaigns over the next 100 months. This is most heartening, and it is efforts such as these that can make a difference to stabilize the earth's climate and in moving human society on the path of sustainable development."
From the Women's Institute in the UK, to the Green Belt movement in Kenya (led by Wangari Maathai, another Nobel Prize winner), groups have been signing up to push for accelerated action over the next 100 months.
New research from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at Manchester University added extra urgency in the last month. Targets for tackling global warming often leave out vital greenhouse gas emissions, such as those stemming from international transport and the environmental domino effects referred to by scientists as "carbon cycle feedbacks". Tyndall's research director, Kevin Anderson, concludes that when these things are taken into account, the UK's emissions must peak by the year 2012 and then decline by at least 6 to 9 per cent annually. It is misleading to talk, as the government does, about long-term targets for the year 2050, because what matters is how greenhouse gases accumulate on a yearly basis. Our only option, he says, it to "radically and urgently curtail ... demand for energy".
The howling question then, with which to leave the British summer behind, is how to provide security to people in fuel poverty, and pay for the rapid transition to a low carbon economy?
Step forward the suddenly popular windfall tax. In October 2006, we proposed a recurrent additional tax on UK fossil fuel companies to pay into what we called an Oil Legacy Fund. It was to follow the fantastically successful Norwegian example which, over years, built up a financial safety net for future generations that was worth, at the last count, around 260bn euros (£198bn), or 75,000 euros (£57,000) for every man, woman and child in the country.
Revived by a combination of MPs, the regulator Ofgem and Labour activists in the Compass group, a powerful case is now being made in the face of high oil prices and Labour's current political difficulties.
Just three companies – BP, Centrica and Shell – together made £1,000 profit per second over the first six months of 2008. At the same time, every second, mankind overall is emitting 1,000 tonnes of CO2. As the climate clock keeps ticking, possibly the most important challenge is to end a system that allows vast profits to be made at the cost of undermining the climatic foundations of civilisation. A recurrent windfall tax would do that.
As Winston Churchill said in parliament in November 1936, "The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences ... I never would have believed that we should have been allowed to go on getting into this plight, month by month ..."
On the climate clock, it is now 99 months, and counting.
To be part of the solution go to www.onehundredmonths.org – and tell your friends.

The final countdown

Time is fast running out to stop irreversible climate change, a group of global warming experts warns today. We have only 100 months to avoid disaster. Andrew Simms explains why we must act now - and where to begin
Andrew Simms
The Guardian,
Friday August 1 2008

If you shout "fire" in a crowded theatre, when there is none, you understand that you might be arrested for irresponsible behaviour and breach of the peace. But from today, I smell smoke, I see flames and I think it is time to shout. I don't want you to panic, but I do think it would be a good idea to form an orderly queue to leave the building.
Because in just 100 months' time, if we are lucky, and based on a quite conservative estimate, we could reach a tipping point for the beginnings of runaway climate change. That said, among people working on global warming, there are countless models, scenarios, and different iterations of all those models and scenarios. So, let us be clear from the outset about exactly what we mean.
The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere today, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, is the highest it has been for the past 650,000 years. In the space of just 250 years, as a result of the coal-fired Industrial Revolution, and changes to land use such as the growth of cities and the felling of forests, we have released, cumulatively, more than 1,800bn tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. Currently, approximately 1,000 tonnes of CO2 are released into the Earth's atmosphere every second, due to human activity. Greenhouse gases trap incoming solar radiation, warming the atmosphere. When these gases accumulate beyond a certain level - often termed a "tipping point" - global warming will accelerate, potentially beyond control.
Faced with circumstances that clearly threaten human civilisation, scientists at least have the sense of humour to term what drives this process as "positive feedback". But if translated into an office workplace environment, it's the sort of "positive feedback" from a manager that would run along the lines of: "You're fired, you were rubbish anyway, you have no future, your home has been demolished and I've killed your dog."
In climate change, a number of feedback loops amplify warming through physical processes that are either triggered by the initial warming itself, or the increase in greenhouse gases. One example is the melting of ice sheets. The loss of ice cover reduces the ability of the Earth's surface to reflect heat and, by revealing darker surfaces, increases the amount of heat absorbed. Other dynamics include the decreasing ability of oceans to absorb CO2 due to higher wind strengths linked to climate change. This has already been observed in the Southern Ocean and North Atlantic, increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and adding to climate change.
Because of such self-reinforcing positive feedbacks (which, because of the accidental humour of science, we must remind ourselves are, in fact, negative), once a critical greenhouse concentration threshold is passed, global warming will continue even if we stop releasing additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If that happens, the Earth's climate will shift into another, more volatile state, with different ocean circulation, wind and rainfall patterns. The implications of which, according to a growing litany of research, are potentially catastrophic for life on Earth. Such a change in the state of the climate system is often referred to as irreversible climate change.
So, how exactly do we arrive at the ticking clock of 100 months? It's possible to estimate the length of time it will take to reach a tipping point. To do so you combine current greenhouse gas concentrations with the best estimates for the rates at which emissions are growing, the maximum concentration of greenhouse gases allowable to forestall potentially irreversible changes to the climate system, and the effect of those environmental feedbacks. We followed the latest data and trends for carbon dioxide, then made allowances for all human interferences that influence temperatures, both those with warming and cooling effects. We followed the judgments of the mainstream climate science community, represented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on what it will take to retain a good chance of not crossing the critical threshold of the Earth's average surface temperature rising by 2C above pre-industrial levels. We were cautious in several ways, optimistic even, and perhaps too much so. A rise of 2C may mask big problems that begin at a lower level of warming. For example, collapse of the Greenland ice sheet is more than likely to be triggered by a local warming of 2.7C, which could correspond to a global mean temperature increase of 2C or less. The disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet could correspond to a sea-level rise of up to 7 metres.
In arriving at our timescale, we also used the lower end of threats in assessing the impact of vanishing ice cover and other carbon-cycle feedbacks (those wanting more can download a note on method from onehundredmonths.org). But the result is worrying enough.
We found that, given all of the above, 100 months from today we will reach a concentration of greenhouse gases at which it is no longer "likely" that we will stay below the 2C temperature rise threshold. "Likely" in this context refers to the definition of risk used by the IPCC. But, even just before that point, there is still a one third chance of crossing the line.
Today is just another Friday in August. Drowsy and close. Office workers' minds are fixed on the weekend, clock-watching, waiting perhaps for a holiday if your finances have escaped the credit crunch and rising food and fuel prices. In the evening, trains will be littered with abandoned newspaper sports pages, all pretending interest in the football transfers. For once it seems justified to repeat TS Eliot's famous lines: "This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper."
But does it have to be this way? Must we curdle in our complacency and allow our cynicism about politicians to give them an easy ride as they fail to act in our, the national and the planet's best interest? There is now a different clock to watch than the one on the office wall. Contrary to being a counsel of despair, it tells us that everything we do from now matters. And, possibly more so than at any other time in recent history.
It tells us, for example, that only a government that was sleepwalking or in a chemically induced coma would countenance building a third runway at Heathrow, or a new generation of coal-fired power stations such as the proposed new plant at Kingsnorth in Kent. Infrastructure that is fossil-fuel-dependent locks in patterns of future greenhouse gas emissions, radically reducing our ability to make the short- to medium-term cuts that are necessary.
Deflecting blame and responsibility is a great skill of officialdom. The most common strategies used by government recently have been wringing their hands and blaming China's rising emissions, and telling individuals to, well, be a bit more careful. On the first get-out, it is delusory to think that countries such as China, India and Brazil will fundamentally change until wealthy countries such as Britain take a lead. And it is wildly unrealistic to think that individuals alone can effect a comprehensive re-engineering of the nation's fossil-fuel-dependent energy, food and transport systems. The government must lead.
In their inability to take action commensurate with the scale and timeframe of the climate problem, the government is mocked both by Britain's own history, and by countries much smaller, poorer and more economically isolated than we are.
The challenge is rapid transition of the economy in order to live within our environmental means, while preserving and enhancing our general wellbeing. In some important ways, we've been here before, and can learn lessons from history. Under different circumstances, Britain achieved astonishing things while preparing for, fighting and recovering from the second world war. In the six years between 1938 and 1944, the economy was re-engineered and there were dramatic cuts in resource use and household consumption. These coincided with rising life expectancy and falling infant mortality. We consumed less of almost everything, but ate more healthily and used our disposable income on what, today, we might call "low-carbon good times".
A National Savings Movement held marches, processions and displays in every city, town and village in the country. There were campaigns to Holiday at Home and endless festivities such as dances, concerts, boxing displays, swimming galas, and open-air theatre - all organised by local authorities with the express purpose of saving fuel by discouraging unnecessary travel. To lead by example, very public energy restrictions were introduced in government and local authority buildings, shops and railway stations. This was so successful that the results beat cuts previously planned in an over-complex rationing scheme. The public largely assented to measures to curb consumption because they understood that they were to ensure "the fairest possible distribution of the necessities and comforts of daily life".
Now, 2008, we face the fallout from the credit crisis, high oil and rising food prices, and the massive added challenge of having to avert climate change.
Does a war comparison sound dramatic? In April 2007, Margaret Beckett, then foreign secretary, gave a largely overlooked lecture called Climate Change: The Gathering Storm. "It was a time when Churchill, perceiving the dangers that lay ahead, struggled to mobilise the political will and industrial energy of the British Empire to meet those dangers. He did so often in the face of strong opposition," she said. "Climate change is the gathering storm of our generation. And the implications - should we fail to act - could be no less dire: and perhaps even more so."
In terms of what is possible in times of economic stress and isolation, Cuba provides an even more embarrassing example to show up our national tardiness. In a single year in 2006 Cuba rolled-out a nationwide scheme replacing inefficient incandescent lightbulbs with low-energy alternatives. Prior to that, at the end of the cold war, after losing access to cheap Soviet oil, it switched over to growing most of its food for domestic consumption on small scale, often urban plots, using mostly low-fossil-fuel organic techniques. Half the food consumed in the capital, Havana, was grown in the city's own gardens. Cuba echoed and surpassed what America achieved in its push for "Victory Gardening" during the second world war. Back then, led by Eleanor Roosevelt, between 30-40% of vegetables for domestic consumption were produced by the Victory Gardening movement.
So what can our own government do to turn things around today? Over the next 100 months, they could launch a Green New Deal, taking inspiration from President Roosevelt's famous 100-day programme implementing his New Deal in the face of the dust bowls and depression. Last week, a group of finance, energy and environmental specialists produced just such a plan.
Addressed at the triple crunch of the credit crisis, high oil prices and global warming, the plan is to rein in reckless financial institutions and use a range of fiscal tools, new measures and reforms to the tax system, such as a windfall tax on oil companies. The resources raised can then be invested in a massive environmental transformation programme that could insulate the economy from recession, create countless new jobs and allow Britain to play its part in meeting the climate challenge.
Goodbye new airport runways, goodbye new coal-fired power stations. Next, as a precursor to enabling and building more sustainable systems for transport, energy, food and overhauling the nation's building stock, the government needs to brace itself to tackle the City. Currently, financial institutions are giving us the worst of all worlds. We have woken to find the foundations of our economy made up of unstable, exotic financial instruments. At the same time, and perversely, as awareness of climate change goes up, ever more money pours through the City into the oil companies. These companies list their fossil-fuel reserves as "proven" or "probable". A new category of "unburnable" should be introduced, to fundamentally change the balance of power in the City. Instead of using vast sums of public money to bail out banks because they are considered "too big to fail", they should be reduced in size until they are small enough to fail without hurting anyone. It is only a climate system capable of supporting human civilisation that is too big to fail.
Oil companies made profits when oil was $10 a barrel. With the price now wobbling around $130, there is a huge amount of unearned profit waiting for a windfall tax. Money raised - in this way and through other changes in taxation, new priorities for pension funds and innovatory types of bonds - would go towards a long-overdue massive decarbonisation of our energy system. Decentralisation, renewables, efficiency, conservation and demand management will all play a part.
Next comes a rolling programme to overhaul the nation's heat-leaking building stock. This will have the benefit of massively cutting emissions and at the same time tackling the sore of fuel poverty by creating better insulated and designed homes. A transition from "one person, one car" on the roads, to a variety of clean reliable forms of public transport should be visible by the middle of our 100 months. Similarly, weaning agriculture off fossil-fuel dependency will be a phased process.
The end result will be real international leadership, removing the excuses of other nations not to act. But it will also leave the people of Britain more secure in terms of the food and energy supplies, and with a more resilient economy capable of weathering whatever economic and environmental shocks the world has to throw at us. Each of these challenges will draw on things that we already know how to do, but have missed the political will for.
So, there, I have said "Fire", and pointed to the nearest emergency exit. Now it is time for the government to lead, and do its best to make sure that neither a bang, nor a whimper ends the show.
· Andrew Simms is policy director and head of the climate change programme at NEF (the new economics foundation). The material on climate models for this article was prepared by Dr Victoria Johnson, researcher at NEF on climate change. For regular suggestions for what individuals and groups can do to take action, and links to a wide range of organisations supporting the focus on the 100 months countdown, go to: onehundredmonths.org. The Green New Deal can be downloaded at neweconomics.org

Global warming: Sea level rises may accelerate due to melting ice sheet

By the end of the century sea levels may be rising three times as fast as they are at present, as a result of rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet
Ian Sample
Monday September 01 2008 12:26 BST

The vast Greenland ice sheet could begin to melt more rapidly than expected towards the end of the century, accelerating the rise in sea levels as a result of global warming, scientists warned yesterday.
Water running off the ice sheet could triple the current rate of sea level rise to around 9mm a year, leading to a global rise of almost 1 metre per century, the researchers found.
Sea levels are already on the rise as a result of increasing temperatures, because the oceans expand as they warm up, but until now scientists have had a poor understanding of how quickly ice sheets such as those in Greenland and Antarctica will begin to disappear.
There are signs that the Greenland ice sheet, which covers 1.7 million square kilometres of land, has already begun to melt faster than expected. The reason is thought to be surface water on the ice sheet trickling down through fissures to the underlying bedrock, making the ice sheet less stable, and the loss of buttressing ice shelves along the coastline.
Climate scientists are uncertain how susceptible ice sheets are to global warming, largely because they have never witnessed one disappear, so researchers led by Anders Carlson at the University of Wisconsin-Madison decided to look back to the end of the last ice age for clues.
Around 20,000 years ago, when the last ice age was at its peak, a giant mass of frozen water called the Laurentide ice sheet covered much of what is now North America. The ice sheet, which was three miles thick in some places, had almost completely melted 6,500 years ago as the world warmed as part of its natural cycle. At the time, surface air temperatures were similar to those that climate scientists predict for 2100.
The researchers used evidence in the geological record and computer simulations to reconstruct the demise of the Laurentide ice sheet, which was the last ice sheet to completely disappear in the northern hemisphere.
They dated boulders and fossilised organisms left on fresh ground as the ice sheet retreated, and found that it went through two periods of rapid melting. Computer simulations revealed that around 9,000 years ago, water melting off the ice sheet caused sea levels to rise by about 7 metres at a rate of around 1.3cm a year. The second stage of rapid melting began 7,500 years ago, when sea levels rose by 5 metres at a rate of around 0.7cm a year.
The reconstruction suggests that the Greenland ice sheet may melt in a similar fashion. "We have never seen an ice sheet retreat significantly or even disappear before, yet this may happen for the Greenland ice sheet in the coming centuries to millenia," said Carlson, whose study appears in the journal Nature Geoscience.
"We're not talking about something catastrophic, but we could see a much bigger response in terms of sea level from the Greenland ice sheet over the next 100 years than what is currently predicted," Carlson added.
The most recent report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that sea levels will have risen by around 10cm at most by 2100, but according to Carlson's analysis, rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet could cause much greater rises.
"For planning purposes, we should see the IPCC projections as conservative," he said. "We think this is a very low estimate of what the Greenland ice sheet will contribute to sea level."
In an accompanying article, Mark Sidall at Bristol University describes how a 1 metre rise in sea level would submerge an estimated 2.2m square kilometres of land, largely in Asia, and displace around 145 million people at a global cost of $944 billion.
He points out, though, that while the Laurentide ice sheet completely vanished at the end of the last ice age, the Greenland ice sheet remains, suggesting it is more resistant to warming. "To what extent this dynamic response of the Laurentide ice sheet to past temperature change can be considered analagous to present and future reduction of the Greenland ice sheet remains unresolved," he writes. "But [the researchers'] work suggests that future reductions of the Greenland ice sheet on the order of 1 metre per century are not out of the question."

Geoengineering is no solution to climate change

Tinkering with our entire planetary system is not a silver bullet. It's an expression of political despair, writes Greenpeace's Doug Parr

Doug Parr
Monday September 01 2008 01:21 BST

It is a testament to the world's catastrophic levels of inertia that when it comes to dealing with climate change, a relatively simple physical phenomenon, "geoengineering solutions" are now being seriously looked at by scientists.
The ideas on show today range from the distant but interesting to the outright dangerous. However, the wider point is not the pros and cons of particular technologies, but that the scientific community is becoming so scared of our collective inability to tackle climate emissions that such outlandish schemes are being considered for serious study. We already have the technology and know-how to make dramatic cuts in global emissions - but it's not happening, and those closest to the climate science are coming near to pressing the panic button.
Politically, the West needs to lead the climate fight. Most of our emissions come from fossil fuels used in the production of energy - but there should be no shortage of power. The amount of energy that the Sun beats down onto the Earth's surface each year is more than 10,000 times greater than our annual energy use. And we're not short on clean technology - solar photovoltaics, concentrated solar thermal power stations, wind, biomass and increasingly tidal technologies are all demonstrated and available.
These could be deployed rapidly if we were able to muster the kind of political will and serious levels of finance that were necessary to perpetrate the Iraq war. So why do we find ourselves seeking geoengineering solutions as some kind of magic bullet to counter the climate problem? While signs of panic emerge from the science community, decisions are made in the UK that will entrench new greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come. Those who oppose these decisions face the wrath of a lethargic state. Over the summer a grassroots, climate camp protest about new coal-fired power stations saw as many police deployed as protestors.
While the real climate solutions are blocked by vested interests seeking big bucks from coal, runways and forest destruction, our government tells us that it is taking "tough decisions" by cosying up to them. The scientist's focus on tinkering with our entire planetary system is not a dynamic new technological and scientific frontier, but an expression of political despair.
· Doug Parr is chief scientist for Greenpeace UK

Extreme and risky action the only way to tackle global warming, say scientists

· Geo-engineering 'better than doing nothing'· Fake clouds among ideas in Royal Society papers
David Adam, environment correspondent
The Guardian,
Monday September 1 2008

Scientists have suggested creating areas of oceanic algae to absorb carbon dioxide. Photograph: Associated Press
Political inaction on global warming has become so dire that nations must now consider extreme technical solutions - such as blocking out the sun - to address catastrophic temperature rises, scientists from around the world warn today.
The experts say a reluctance "at virtually all levels" to address soaring greenhouse gas emissions means carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are on track to pass 650 parts-per-million (ppm), which could bring an average global temperature rise of 4C. They call for more research on geo-engineering options to cool the Earth, such as dumping massive quantities of iron into oceans to boost plankton growth, and seeding artificial clouds over oceans to reflect sunlight back into space.
Writing the introduction to a special collection of scientific papers on the subject, published today by the Royal Society, Brian Launder of the University of Manchester and Michael Thompson of the University of Cambridge say: "While such geoscale interventions may be risky, the time may well come when they are accepted as less risky than doing nothing."
They add: "There is increasingly the sense that governments are failing to come to grips with the urgency of setting in place measures that will assuredly lead to our planet reaching a safe equilibrium."
Professor Launder, a mechanical engineer, told the Guardian: "The carbon numbers just don't add up and we need to be looking at other options, namely geo-engineering, to give us time to let the world come to its senses." He said it was important to research and develop the technologies so that they could be deployed if necessary. "At the moment it's almost like talking about how we could stop world war two with an atomic bomb, but we haven't done the research to develop nuclear fission."
Such geo-engineering options have been talked about for years as a possible last-ditch attempt to control global temperatures, if efforts to constrain emissions fail. Critics argue they are a dangerous distraction from attempts to limit carbon pollution, and that they could have disastrous side-effects. They would also do nothing to prevent ecological damage caused by the growing acidification of the oceans, caused when carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change dismissed geo-engineering as "largely speculative and unproven and with the risk of unknown side-effects".
Dr Alice Bows of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester said: "I'm not a huge fan of messing with the atmosphere in an geo-engineering sense because there could be unpredictable consequences. But there are also a lot of unpredictable consequences of temperature increase. It does appear that we're failing to act [on emissions]. And if we are failing to act, then we have to consider some of the other options."
In a strongly worded paper with colleague Kevin Anderson in today's special edition of the society's Philosophical Transactions journal, Bows says politicians have significantly underestimated the scale of the climate challenge. They say this year's G8 pledge to cut global emissions 50% by 2050, in an effort to limit global warming to 2C, has no scientific basis and could lead to "dangerously misguided" policies.
The scientists say global carbon emissions are rising so fast that they would need to peak by 2015 and then decrease by up to 6.5% each year for atmospheric CO2 levels to stabilise at 450ppm, which might limit temperature rise to 2C. Even a goal of 650ppm - way above most government projections - would need world emissions to peak in 2020 and then reduce 3% each year.
Globally, a 4C temperature rise would have a catastrophic impact. According to the government's Stern review on the economics of climate change in 2006, between 7 million and 300 million more people would be affected by coastal flooding each year, there would be a 30-50% reduction in water availability in southern Africa and the Mediterranean, agricultural yields would decline 15-35% in Africa and 20-50% of animal and plant species would face extinction.
Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, said: "It's not clear which of these geo-engineering technologies might work, still less what environmental and social impacts they might have, or whether it could ever be prudent or politically acceptable to adopt any of them. But it is worth devoting effort to clarifying both the feasibility and any potential downsides of the various options. None of these technologies will provide a 'get out of jail free card' and they must not divert attention away from efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases."
Mike Childs of Friends of the Earth said: "We can't afford to wait for magical geo-engineering solutions to get us out of the hole we have dug ourselves into. The solutions that exist now, such as a large-scale energy efficiency programme and investment in wind, wave and solar power, can do the job if we deploy them at the scale and urgency that is needed."

EU committee proposes easing cap on carbon emissions on some cars

Bloomberg News
Published: September 1, 2008

BRUSSELS: A European Parliament committee on Monday proposed easing a cap on carbon dioxide from cars by excluding some vehicles for three years to allay German worries about the cost for automakers such as Daimler and Porsche.
The European Union assembly's industry committee recommended imposing the emission curbs on 60 percent of the car fleet initially in 2012 and raising the share of vehicles covered gradually to 100 percent in 2015. EU regulators proposed introducing the cap on all new cars sold in the EU in 2012.
"This is an attempt to find a reasonable compromise between climate policy and the automobile industry's competitiveness," Werner Langen, a German member of the industry committee, said in an interview. The position is an opinion for the Parliament's environment committee, which is due to give its verdict on Sept. 9. The law ultimately needs the support of the full 785-seat assembly and of EU national governments.
At stake is draft EU legislation that pits predominantly German premium brands against smaller, cleaner cars from PSA Peugeot Citroën of France and Fiat of Italy. The planned measures also affect non-European manufacturers including General Motors, Toyota Motor and Hyundai Motor.
About 15 million autos are sold each year in the EU, with cars accounting for more than 10 percent of releases of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas blamed for rising global temperatures. Average car prices may rise by €1,300, or $1,898, because of spending on the new technology required, according to the European Commission, the EU's regulatory arm, which proposed the legislation last December.

The commission's proposal would cut average car carbon dioxide emissions by a fifth to 130 grams a kilometer in 2012 through varying targets for individual manufacturers. The heaviest autos would be required to make the biggest reductions under the plan, which would be backed by fines.
The Parliament's industry committee also recommended reducing the planned fines, which under the commission proposal would reach €95 for every gram/kilometer above the limits, multiplied by the number of vehicles sold. The industry committee said the maximum penalty should be €40.
In a further dilution, the committee recommended a bonus system under which automakers would be allowed to count each new passenger car with emissions of less than 50 grams a kilometer and each new alternative-fuel vehicle as one-and-a-half cars and every zero-emissions vehicle as three cars through 2015.
Environmental groups criticized the proposed changes and urged the environment committee to reject them next week.
"It is questionable whether the agreed climate targets will ever be met given the combination of weak penalties and gigantic loopholes," Greenpeace said. The European Federation for Transport and Environment said the recommendations risked making the legislation "almost completely meaningless."

Ghost ship fleet could be a silver lining in clouds of climate change

Frank Pope, Ocean Correspondent

It looks like something out of a Dan Dare comic book, and it might just help to save the world. A scientist at the University of Edinburgh has devised a new weapon in the fight against global warming: a fleet of 1,500 unmanned sailing ships creating wakes that whiten clouds to reflect the heat of the Sun better.
The concept involves vessels powered by a radical rotary-sail technology that could patrol selected areas of ocean, spraying tiny droplets of seawater into existing clouds. The droplets increase the surface area and so whiten the cloud, bouncing more radiation back into space and offsetting the warming caused by burning fossil fuels.
“The beauty of the system is that it runs on wind and seawater,” said Stephen Salter, author of a paper published today in the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions. “You can apply the effect locally, to cool down the Arctic or the seas around coral reefs. It would give us complete control. We could even take ourselves back to a little ice age. The effects can be turned up or down, or shut off completely if something unexpected happens.”
The cloud ships will be propelled by the wind, using a rotational aerodynamic force not used in ships for 80 years. The “Magnus Effect” was first observed by Sir Isaac Newton while watching tennis players use spin to change the trajectory of their shots. In 1926 a rotor-ship designed by Anton Flettner crossed the Atlantic, but the technology petered out in the Great Depression. Modern materials and the high cost of oil have sparked a revival: earlier this month Enercon, a German energy company, launched the first rotor-powered cargo vessel.

“The main reason for us to use these rotors is that they are computer-friendly,” said Dr Salter. “Traditional sailing ships have evolved to be sailed by humans. It's much easier to sail a Flettner system. All you need to do is steer and adjust the rotor speed. Reverse the spin and you go backwards.”
The spinning sails deliver surprising power. The cloud ships will cruise at gentle speeds of eight knots while spraying, but when moving location or running from bad weather, the vessels are theoretically capable of up to 24 knots - fast even for a racing yacht. A back-up diesel engine can also help to bring the ships, costing £1million to £2million each, safely back to port.
Propeller-like turbines in the water beneath the ship power both the spinning rotors and the droplet-generator. Seawater is filtered before being forced through a 6in diameter disc perforated with more than a billion holes to produce a mist of droplets less than one micron wide. These seeds - or cloud condensation nuclei - are then blown into the skies via a fan mounted inside the rotor cylinders.
The 300-tonne cloud ships will be guided from a central traffic control-room. “Suitable sites for spraying have lots of sunlight to give something to reflect, have reliable but not extreme winds and a low density of shipping and icebergs,” Dr Salter said. Dirt, dust or pollution in the air act as nuclei, and for the ships to make a difference they need to operate away from such conditions. The seas off California, Namibia and Peru show year-round promise, while the Southern Ocean will be a key area in the Antarctic summer.
A companion paper published in the same Royal Society issue shows that the change in the brightness of marine clouds could cool the planet enough to compensate for the doubling in man-made carbon dioxide since the industrial revolution. A reduction of only 3.7 watts per square metre - less than 1.1 per cent of the 340 watts of heat per square metre that the Sun on average provides - would keep global temperatures stable until at least 2050.
Dr Salter estimates that £20 million is needed to move the technology and the science to a point where production of the vessels can begin. Once the ships are in the water, they will do double duty as science labs, collecting meteorological data on the actions of aerosols and information on ocean salinity, plankton counts and acidity.
“The boats will also be equipped with blankets and drinking water,” says Dr Salter. By linking into the maritime emergency services, the cloud ships could then come to the rescue of stricken sailors, not just the planet.