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Warming and the Pipelines

In the 2005 paper Earth’s Energy Imbalance: Confirmation and Implications, a team led by James Hansen introduced the concept of global warming “in the pipeline”.

“Earth’s Energy Imbalance”, “radiative forcing”, is the difference between the energy absorbed by the planet and the energy it emits due to increasing gases and aerosols.

It was assumed at the time of the Hansen paper; the Earth was absorbing 0.85 ±0.15 watts per square meter (K/(W/m2) and that measurements of the increasing ocean heat content over the previous 10 years implied that a further 0.6°C of warming was “in the pipeline” without any further change of atmospheric composition.

Climate sensitivity is the metric used to characterize the response of the global climate to a doubling of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and as the following NOAA graphic derived from Antarctica ice cores studies shows, there is a strong correlation between CO2 concentrations and the temperature change at the surface.

For 25 years the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change settled on a range of 1.5°C to 4.5°C for climate sensitivity but in a 2018 paper Emergent constraint on equilibrium climate sensitivity from global temperature variability this range was narrowed to 2.2–3.4°C with the best estimate 2.8°C.

The atmospheric concentration of CO2 at the end of April 2018, was 410.31 parts per million (ppm) compared to the 1750 reference atmospheric composition of 278 ppm. If a concentration of 278*2 ppm /278ppm leads to a temperature of 2.8°C then the current atmospheric concentration of 410.31/278 implies a temperature increase of (2.8 * 410.31/576) or 1.99°C whereas the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement is to limit global warming to well below 2°C.

In Hansen’s words with respect to the Paris Climate Agreement, “Its a fraud really, a fake”.

We are already committed to a 2°C world and every additional gigaton of carbon added to the atmosphere going forward pushes us beyond the Paris limit.

The NASA GISS record shown below shows 2016 is the warmest year ever recorded to date with a temperature of 1.2°C over the 1880 reference, therefore, about .79°C is currently in the climate pipeline.

The following figure compiled by John Cook of SkepticalScience shows how much global warming is going into the various components of the Earth’s climate system:

Since 93.4% of the heat is going into the oceans, they commit us to an additional .74°C of warming in the future.

Hansen suggests that 25 to 50 years are needed for Earth’s surface temperature to reach 60% of its equilibrium response to the heat in the pipeline.

In Canada, the correlation between pipelines and the ocean is a tale unto itself.

The federal and Alberta governments support a pipeline to tidewater on the coast of British Columbia the intent of which is to significantly increase shipments of diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to overseas market where it is claimed the oil will fetch a better price.

The plan is to trade a pipeline to tidewater in exchange for Alberta’s acquiescence to a national price on carbon. With the spin that the “nation’s prosperity and competitiveness are tied to achieving sustainable economic growth and a successful transition to a lower carbon future.”

Contrary to the notion of a tidewater premium, however, research, conducted on behalf of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Parkland Institute, found that such a premium’ doesn’t exist. Furthermore, the cost of extracting oil from oilsands has historically been unprofitable. The cost of selling the extracted crude has seldom covered the direct costs of recovery; labor to mine the sands and the fuel to extract the crude.

The following chart from the Scotia Bank Commodity Price Index for April 9, 2018, shows oil and gas prices from 1980 to date.

The red line is extrapolated from Scotia Bank Commodity Price Index for February 20, 2014,  showing an average WTI oil price of US$63-65 per barrel is required to yield a 9% after-tax return on ‘full-cycle’ costs for steam assisted gravity drainage and existing bitumen mining operations, whereas for new mining operations the cost is US$100 per barrel.

Prior to 2006 and after 2015 the oilsands have essentially been a losing economic proposition. Nevertheless, the federal and Alberta governments have the effrontery to suggest that a pipeline is a necessary part of Canada’s transition from fossil fuels to a low-carbon economy when 410.31 ppm CO2 commits the planet already to 2°C of warming.

And to emphasize the cognitive dissonance, Alberta governments, since 1975, have managed to convert the province’s ersatz resource bounty into a growing public debt of $45 billion. To say nothing of the $27 billion to $48 billion unsecured liability for cleanup costs of the province’s bitumen tailing ponds.

British Columbia’s Premier Horgan is seeking a seeking a reference case in the B.C. Court of Appeal to affirm its rights over oil shipments of bitumen to ensure British Columbia is never confronted by just such a liability. But the case ignores the elephant in the room, which is sea level rise.

Data suggest that atmospheric CO2 levels during the Pliocene epoch (about 3 Myr ago) that were like today’s, led to sea levels of from 10 to 40, meters higher than today. With +25 meters often given as the number used in most modeling simulations. In which case Vancouver’s iconic waterfront and downtown core would look something like this.

As little as one meter of sea level rise, an engineering report commissioned for the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority simulated, in conjunction with a major storm, would put the lower mainland’s port facilities under water.

In this regard, record-breaking ocean heat is leading to supercharged storms that will do that kind of damage.

British Columbia is undercutting its social license to object to imports of bitumen by implementing an LNG tax rebate as an inducement for liquefied natural gas projects in the province. And May 16th, LNG Canada, a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell Plc, PetroChina Co. Ltd, Mitsubishi Corp and Korea Gas Corp committed to start building a $40-billion LNG project in Kitimat that will supply Asian markets with natural gas produced in the northeast of the province that will be shipped to Kitimat by a pipeline built by TransCanada Corp.

The government will be setting a cap on carbon tax at $30, exempting LNG facilities from paying increases that are expected to go up to $50 a tonne by 2021, with the proviso that the rebate would only come if LNG Canada meets its target of being the cleanest LNG facility, in terms of carbon emissions, in the world.

Gas-fired power plants are said to generate roughly half the carbon dioxide of coal plants but half as much CO2 added to an atmosphere that is already bumping up against a 2°C warming limit is still twice as much greenhouse gas as the planet can afford.

The difference between the record 1.2°C temperature mark and 2°C is the thermal inertia of the climate system, which delays the Earths response to climate forcing. It takes time for the oceans to warm and then give up heat back to the atmosphere and to a lesser extent for the ice sheets to respond to global warming and for CO2 accumulated in the atmosphere and the ocean to dissipate.

As Hansen et al. in the paper Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature shows, “climate system inertia means that, if large-scale climate change is allowed to occur, it will be exceedingly long-lived, lasting for many centuries.”

The World Factbook shows that 3,500,000 kilometers of pipeline, in 120 countries convey oil, natural gas and other commodities around the world.

To keep .74°C of warming heat from migrating from the ocean back into the atmosphere what is needed is 250,000, 1 kilometer long, pipes that can produce 30 Terawatts of energy annually, for 3250 Years to reduce the surface temperature to 13.7°C.

The support for nuclear power expressed by James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley notwithstanding, this is the only viable path forward on climate change.

Nuclear power does nothing to dissipate the ocean heat in the pipeline.

The Canadian government has today decided to provide indemnity” to any investors willing to ensure the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline is able to proceed.

They provide no such indemnity, however, let alone support of any kind to “inventors” of technology that provides a sure-fire solution to global warming; a method and apparatus for load balancing trapped solar energy, Cdn patent application 2,958,456, 2017/02/21, US patent application 15/876,123, 01/20/2018.

While Hansen suggests 60% of the equilibrium response to the heat in the ocean heat pipeline is realized within 25 to 50 years, this technology spreads this realization out over 3 millennia.

Just one more example of government favoring large, multinational companies over highly-qualified local companies.

As is ever the case, the one percent do great while the rest of us end up with nothing but the tab.

The climate be dammed.

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