Recommended Reading

The Azimuth Project is taking off! Today I woke up and found two new articles full of cool stuff I hadn’t known. Check them out:

EROEI, about the idea of Energy Returned on Energy Invested.

Peak phosphorus, about the crucial role of phosphorus as a fertilizer, and how the moment of peak phosphorus production may have already passed.

Both were initiated by David Tweed, but they’ve both already been polished by other people — Eric Forgy and Graham Jones, so far. So, it’s working!

Here’s the easiest way for you to help save the planet today:

1) Think of the most important book or article you’ve read about environmental problems, how to solve them, or some closely related topic.

2) Go to the Recommended reading page on Azimuth.

3) Click the button that says “Edit” at the bottom left.

4) Add your recommended reading! You’ll see items that look sort of like this:

### _The Necessary Revolution_

* Authors: Peter M. Senge, Bryan Smith, Nina Kruschwitz, Joe Laur and Sara Schley
* Publisher: Random House, New York, 2008
* Recommended by: [[Moneesha Mehta]]
* [Link](

**Summary:** I confess, I haven’t read the book, but I’ve listened to the abridged version on CD many times as I drive between Toronto and Ottawa. It never fails to inspire me. Peter Senge et al discuss how organizations, private, public, and non-profit, can all work together and build on their organizational strengths to create more sustainable operations.

Copy this format and add:

## _the name of your favorite article or book_

* Author(s): the author(s) name(s)
* Publisher: publisher and date
* Recommended by: [[your name]]
* [Link](a URL to help people find more information)

**Summary:** A little summary.

5) Type your name in the little box at the bottom of the page, and hit the Submit button.


And if step 4 seems too complicated, don’t worry! Just enter the information in a paragraph of text — we’ll fix up the formatting.

Our ultimate goal is not a huge unsorted list of important articles and books about environmental issues. We’re trying to build a structure where it’s easy to find information — in fact, wisdom — on specific topics!

But right now we’re just getting started. We need, among other things, to rapidly accumulate relevant data. So — take 5 minutes today to help us out. And find out what other people think you’d enjoy reading!

94 Responses to Recommended Reading

  1. Eric says:

    By the way, if you see a “Recommended reading” already there that you would also recommend, feel free to add your name to the list of “Recommended by”. The more recommendations, the more likely a newbie is to pick it up.

    How about reviews? There is probably room to put reviews somewhere as well.

  2. John Baez says:

    So far you can read quick summaries of these books:

    # The End of Energy Obesity

    # The Necessary Revolution

    # Eaarth

    # The Variety of Life

    # Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast

    # A Global Warming Primer

    # The Long Summer

    # Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air

    # The Limits to Growth

    # Whole Earth Discipline

    Surely there are lots more good ones! And technical papers, too…

  3. John Baez says:

    There’s a fascinating new link on the Recommended reading page, put there by someone I don’t know yet: Peadar Coyle.

    It’s a link to the papers of Vaclav Smil. I’m starting to read one of these:

    • Vaclav Smil, Power density primer: understanding the spatial dimension of the unfolding transition to renewable electricity generation.

    Anyone who likes physics could enjoy this. A few quotes give the flavor:

    Energy density is easy – power density is confusing.

    One look at energy densities of common fuels is enough to understand while we prefer coal over wood and oil over coal: air-dried wood is, at best, 17 MJ/kg, good-quality bituminous coal is 22-25 MJ/kg, and refined oil products are around 42 MJ/kg. And a comparison of volumetric energy densities makes it clear why shipping non-compressed, non-liquefied natural gas would never work while shipping crude oil is cheap: natural gas rates around 35 MJ/m3, crude oil has around 35 GJ/m3 and hence its volumetric energy density is a thousand times (three orders of magnitude) higher. An obvious consequence: without liquefied (or at least compressed) natural gas there can be no intercontinental shipments of that clean fuel.

    Power density is a much more complicated variable. Engineers have used power densities as revealing measures of performance for decades – but several specialties have defined them in their own particular ways. The first relatively common use of the ratio is by radio engineers to express power densities of isotropic antennas as a quotient of the transmitted power and the surface area of a sphere at a given distance (W/m2). The second one refers to volumetric or gravimetric density of energy converters: when evaluating batteries (whose mass and volume we usually try to minimize) power density refers to the rate of energy release per unit of battery volume or weight (typically W/dm3 or W/kg); similarly, in nuclear engineering power density is the rate of energy release per unit volume of a reactor core. The world-wide web offers a perfect illustration of this engineering usage: top searches for “power density” turn up calculators for isotropic antennas (the first common engineering use I noted above), and a Wikipedia stub refers to power density of heat engines in kW/L (the second common use as volumetric power density of energy converters).

    To make it even more confusing, the international system of scientific units calls W/m2 heat flux density or irradiance, the latter referring clearly to incoming radiation (electromagnetic energy incident on the surface) – and Piotr Leonidovich Kapitsa, one of the most influential physicists of the 20th century (Nobel in 1978), favored using W/m2 for the most fundamental evaluation of energy converters by calculating the flux of energy through their working surfaces. The original late 19th century application of this measure (Umov-Poynting vector) referred to the propagation of electromagnetic waves but the same principle applies to energy flux across a turbine or to diffusion rates in fuel cells. Power density has been used recently in this sense in order to calculate a flux across the (vertical) area swept by a wind turbine (more on this in the wind power density section).

    For the past 25 years I have favored a different, and a much broader, measure of power density as perhaps the most universal measure of energy flux: W/m2 of horizontal area of land or water surface rather than per unit of the working surface of a converter.

    In other words: how many watts can you get out of a square meter of land or water?

    More later…

    • John Baez says:

      Here are some of Vaclav Smil’s results:

      • Most large modern coal-fired power plants generate electricity with power densities ranging from 100 to 1,000 W/m2, including the area of the mine, the power plant, etcetera.

      • The energy density of dry wood (18-21 GJ/ton) is close to that of sub-bituminous coal. But if we were to supply a significant share of a nation’s electricity from wood we would have to establish extensive tree plantations. We could not expect harvests surpassing 20 tons/hectare, with 10 tons/hectare being more typical. Harvesting all above-ground tree mass and feeding it into chippers would allow for 95% recovery of the total field production, but even if the fuel’s average energy density were 19 GJ/ton, the plantation would yield no more than 190 GJ/hectare, resulting in harvest power density of 0.6 W/m2.

      • No other mode of large-scale electricity generation occupies as little space as gas turbines: besides their compactness they do not need fly ash disposal or flue gas desulfurization. Mobile gas turbines generate
      electricity with power densities higher than 15,000 W/m2 and large (>100 MW) stationary set-ups can easily deliver 4,000-5,000 W/m2. (What about the mining?)

      • Photovoltaic panels are fixed in an optimal tilted south-facing position and hence receive more radiation than a unit of horizontal surface, but the average power densities of solar parks are low. Additional land is needed for spacing the panels for servicing, access roads, inverter and transformer facilities and service structures — and only 85% of a panel’s DC rating is transmitted from the park to the grid as AC power. All told, they deliver 4-9 W/m2.

      • Concentrating solar power (CSP) projects use tracking parabolic mirrors in order to reflect and concentrate solar radiation on a central receiver placed in a high tower, for the purposes of powering a steam engine. All facilities included, these deliver at most 10 W/m2.

      • Wind turbines have fairly high power densities when the rate measures the flux of wind’s kinetic energy moving through the working surface: the area swept by blades. This power density is commonly above 400 W/m2 – but power density expressed as electricity generated per land area is much less! At best we can expect a peak power of 6.6 W/m2 and even a relatively high average capacity factor of 30% would bring that down to only about 2 W/m2.

    • John Baez says:

      So, part of the point is that going to renewable energy requires adapting to vastly lower power densities.

      It could be that high power densities are so ‘addictive’ that we can only quit them after we run out fossil fuels.
      But if we wait until fossil fuels run out, we’ll get massive global warming.

      The End of Energy Obesity tries to point us toward a way out of our ‘addiction’.

  4. Richard says:

    A small comment on the Wiki system: there doesn’t seem to be a “discussion” page. On Wikipedia I make entries there about issues which are unclear to me but require an expert’s attention, or about editorial issues which have no place being part of the main article but which perhaps might be addressed as part of other more substantial editing. I don’t directly see that in the Azimuth Project wiki — am I missing something obvious?

    FYI the two really niggardly issues I wished to comment on, but not make a big deal about, were in the Vaclav Smil article: first, dates like “2/10/2010” only make sense to US imperialists and are a combination of confusing, irritating, and ambiguous to every other person on the planet; and second, “panels are fixed in an optimal tilted south-facing position” is hemispherically insensitive, notwithstanding the global balance of population, development, landmass and carbon emission.

    • Eric says:

      Hi Richard,

      You probably know this already, but I’ll say it for the sake of others as well…

      In addition to the Azimuth blog here and the Azimuth Project wiki, there is also an Azimuth Discussion Forum. The forum is where discussion about content on the wiki take place including recent changes, suggestions, etc.

    • John Baez says:

      Richard wrote:

      On Wikipedia I make entries there about issues which are unclear to me but require an expert’s attention, or about editorial issues which have no place being part of the main article but which perhaps might be addressed as part of other more substantial editing. I don’t directly see that in the Azimuth Project wiki — am I missing something obvious?

      For each article on the Azimuth Project there is (or at least should be) a corresponding discussion in the Latest Changes section of the Azimuth Forum, and that discussion is the best place to make comments. You need to join the Azimuth Forum to do so.

      But your remark triggers two thoughts I’ve already had:

      1) We should make a link from each Azimuth Project page to the corresponding discussion. I’ll go to the forum right this second and ask what’s the easiest way to do that.

      2) Right now only Azimuth Forum members are allowed to post comments on the forum. I urge you to join the forum! But I can imagine the advantages of a section of the Forum where everyone in the universe can easily post comments. We discussed this already, but I don’t think our decisions are set in stone.

      FYI the two really niggardly issues I wished to comment on, but not make a big deal about, were in the Vaclav Smil article: first, dates like “2/10/2010″ only make sense to US imperialists and are a combination of confusing, irritating, and ambiguous to every other person on the planet; and second, “panels are fixed in an optimal tilted south-facing position” is hemispherically insensitive, notwithstanding the global balance of population, development, landmass and carbon emission.

      Please fix these stupid mistakes! It takes a lot less time to fix stuff than to have a conversation about it.

      I am responsible for both, at least in part:

      In the Azimuth Project I usually enter dates in a format like “2 October 2010”, which is comprehensible to everyone, even Americans. In this particular case I typed “2/10/2010” because:

      1) I read that date in a Canadian newspaper and could not remember whether they used the US system or the rest-of-the-world system.

      2) This particular date makes sense either way, since both 2 and 10 are less than 12.

      3) I was feeling lazy and hoped someone else would figure it out and pick up after my mess.

      As for “panels are fixed in an optimal tilted south-facing position”, I cut-and-paste this remark from an Azimuth Forum discussion, and didn’t notice that it was a Northern Supremacist remark.

      Amusingly, right now I don’t know if I live in the Northern or Southern hemisphere — Singapore is very near the equator. I think now is the time for me to look it up. Okay — I’m 1° 22′ north of the equator.

      (See, it would have been a lot faster if you’d just fixed these. But maybe it’s good to talk about such stuff a bit.)

  5. My article just went online last night: “Fight Global Warming with Genetically Altered Trees!”.

    This links to some interesting publications.

  6. David Roberts says:

    I read about peak phosphorus (and some other industrial-agricultural chemicals) in Asimov’s book on chemistry. I’ll see if I can track it down in my library

  7. jingxiaoyi says:

    It is said that chinese introduced a kind of aquatic plant, called ‘shuihulu’ in chinese, from south America to clean the heavy metal in water, but people didn’t know that they have no natural enemies in china. As a result, many lakes and rivers are full of the plant, no other creatures can survive!

    In recent decade, people have to spend a large amount of money and time to eliminate them.

    I don’t much ideas about what the ‘Genetically Altered Trees’ may bring to us!

  8. Robert Smart says:

    Heading Out (Dave Summers) has a lot of deep technical stuff on energy production in his blog posts. The links with titles are in the side bar. One way to get there is via his latest post, which everyone should read: Saudi Oil Production – read Minister Al-Naimi’s small print.

    We are inclined, mostly correctly, to tend to trust people who combine an interest in the big picture with a command of a lot of detail, even if that is only in some part of the whole subject. Heading Out fits that bill. Darwin was a classic case, where his big picture views had to be respected by his peers because of the decades of detailed work on molluscs.

    • John Baez says:

      Sounds interesting! I’ve added it to my blog roll.

      I wish, wish, wish that you’d take some of the most important facts from Summers’ blog and copy them over to suitable Azimuth Project pages. We need a lot more detailed information on energy production, costs, etc.

      Of course I’d like to do it myself, but I’m already working about as hard as I can. My plan right now is to go through various plans of action, summarize them, summarize criticisms of them, then compare them… and then someday maybe come up with one of my own! Or our own, if anyone wants to help.

  9. Thomas says:

    (I found not where to post in on the Azimuth Project pages): A new report: “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity” by the TEEB: “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study is a major international initiative to draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity, to highlight the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, and to draw together expertise from the fields of science, economics and policy to enable practical actions moving forward. … “Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature” is the last of four reports produced by the U.N. Environmental Program over the past two years and aims to capture how habitats such as tropical forests and coral reefs contribute to countries’ economic bottom lines.”

  10. Thomas says:

    Not directly related (really?) to climate change, but similar disturbing: Montgomery, D. R., Dirt: Erosion of Civilizations.

  11. The first plenary talk at the California-Nevada regional conference of the Americal Physical Society, yesterday and today at Caltech, was Josh K. Willis, Ph.D., of JPL, on Global Warming and the Oceans (temperature, salinity, currents, sea level) who mentioned that he had
    been derided by name on a Rush Limbaugh broadcast. … Rush condemned
    endangering economic development due to the “musings of a few idiot
    leftist scientists.” I have here Dr. Willis’s business card. Lovely
    satellite photo of Earth and, right under his name: “Idiot Leftist

  12. Thomas says:

    “Extreme global warming in the ancient past” by the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (UK).

    • John Baez says:

      More evidence that the ‘climate sensitivity’ is roughly 2-3 ° C per doubling of CO2:

      Their analyses indicate that MECO carbon dioxide levels must have at least doubled over a period of around 400,000 years. In conjunction with these findings, analyses using two independent molecular proxies for sea surface temperature show that the climate warmed by between 4 and 6 degrees Celsius over the same period.

      Maybe someday they can sharpen it up a bit.

  13. Thomas says:

    Here is info on a project. It’s self-description sounds to me a bit nebulous: “The International Council for Science (ICSU) is spearheading a consultation process in cooperation with the International Social Science Council (ISSC) to engage the scientific community to explore options and propose implementation steps for a holistic strategy on Earth system research.”

  14. Thomas says:

    NYTimes on sea level rise. (link)

    • streamfortyseven says:

      Fiametta Straneo posters and papers mentioned in the NYTimes article, important data for modelling, suggest pulses of large amounts of freshwater instead of steady flow…

      How do changes in river input and sea ice affect the Hudson Strait outflow? D. Sutherland, F.Straneo, S. Dery and K. Drinkwater. AGU 2008 Poster.
      What controls the dispersion of riverine freshwater in Hudson Bay during the summer? P. St-Laurent, F.Straneo, J.F. Dumais, D.G. Barber, ArcticNet 2008 Poster. 

      Click to access arctic_change2008poster.pdf

      Does Warming of the North Atlantic over the Last Decade Explain the Acceleration of Outlet Glaciers in Southeast Greenland? Straneo, F., D. Sutherland, G.S. Hamilton, R. G. Curry, L. A. Stearns, AGU FALL 2008 Poster.

      Click to access StraneoAGU2008.pdf


      The outflow from Hudson Strait and its contribution to the Labrador Current. F. Straneo and F. Saucier, Deep Sea Res. I, 55, 926-946. Elsevier property, not publicly available.

      The Arctic-Sub Arctic Exchange through Hudson Strait. F.Straneo and F. Saucier, Arctic-Subarctic Ocean Fluxes: Defining the role of the Northern Seas in Climate: Eds. R. Dickson, J. Meincke, P. Rhines, Springer_Verlag, NY, pp740. 

      Click to access straneo_asof.pdf

      Observations of fresh, anticyclonic eddies in the Hudson Strait outflow. D. Sutherland, F. Straneo, S. Lentz, P. St. Laurent, 2010, J. Mar. Sys. submitted

      Click to access Sutherland_HS_2009.pdf

      ^^^^^^!!!!!!^^^^^^!!!!!!!!!^^^^^^^^ look at the paper above…^^^^^^^!!!!!!!!!!^^^^^^^^!!!!!!!!!!!!^^^^^^^^^^

      Variability and trends in streamflow output into Hudson Bay. Dery, S.J., Mlynowski, T.J., Hernandez-Henriquez, M.A., F. Straneo, 2010, J. Mar. Sys. submitted

      What is the fate of the river waters of Hudson Bay? St. Laurent,F. Straneo, J.F. Dumais, D.G. Barber, 2010, J. Mar. Sys. submitted

  15. Thomas says:

    World Ocean Review. The press info: “The non-profit company maribus gGmbH was established two years ago with the aim of raising the public’s awareness of the interconnectedness of the marine environment, thus contributing to more effective protection of the world’s oceans. The partners who have made such a vital contribution to the production of maribus’s first publication, the “World Ocean Review” (“WOR”), have many years of commitment and expertise in studying the seas at the highest scientific level.” (link)

  16. Thomas says:

    Royal Society on “Four degrees and beyond: the potential for a global temperature increase of four degrees and its implications” (link)

    • Frederik De Roo says:

      Thanks for the reference, but I stopped reading that paper after this:

      One should keep in mind that we are theoretical physicists with experimental experience and, additionally, a lot of experience in numerical computing. Joshua Halpern and Jörg Zimmermann, for example, are chemists. We are not willing to discuss whether they can be considered as laymen in physics, in particular laymen in thermodynamics (footnote: however, we must think so).

    • John Baez says:

      The new paper by Gehrlich and Tseuschner is too polemical to be interesting — as you might expect, given that they start their abstract by referring to their opponents’ “notorious claims”, and begin one passage with “Let us start with Halpern’s favorite object of lust”.

      If anyone here wants to test their ability to argue physics with so-called climate skeptics, it probably makes more sense to start with G&T’s first paper:

      • Gerhard Gehrlich and Ralf D. Tseuschner, Falsification of the atmospheric CO2 greenhouse effect within the frame of physics, International Journal of Modern Physics B 23 (2009), 275-364.

      where they claim, for example, that:

      Global climatologists claim that the Earth’s natural greenhouse eff ect keeps the Earth 33 °C warmer than it would be without the trace gases in the atmosphere. About 80 percent of this warming is attributed to water vapor and 20 percent to the 0.03 volume percent CO2. If such an extreme e ffect existed, it would show up even in a laboratory experiment involving concentrated CO2 as a thermal conductivity anomaly. It would manifest itself as a new kind of ‘superinsulation’ violating the conventional heat conduction equation. However, for CO2 such anomalous heat transport properties never have been observed.

      For some silly reason, the paper by Halpern et al arguing against Gehrlich and Tseuschner’s claims — the one that G&T are arguing against now — is not available on the arXiv. However, you can get it for free with a little work:

      • Joshua B. Halpern, Christopher M. Colose, Chris Ho-Stuart, Joel D. Shore, Arthur P. Smith and Jörg Zimmerman, Comment on “Falsification of the atmospheric CO2 greenhouse effect within the frame of physics”, International Journal of Modern Physics B 24 (2010), 1309-1322.

  17. Thomas says:

    This is a new estimate about the coming Greenland ice sheet meltage.

    • John Baez says:

      Thanks, Thomas! Happy New Year! I’ll add this information to:

      Sea level rise, Azimuth Project.

      For anyone too busy to read Thomas’ link: from the abstract, it seems the authors predict a 0.16 meter increase in sea level due to Greenland ice sheet melting during the period from 1950 to 2080.

      That would be very nice. If the entire 2.85 × 106 km3 of ice in Greenland were to melt, it would lead to a global sea level rise of 7.2 meters. This would inundate most of the world’s coastal cities and remove several small island countries from the face of the Earth, since island nations such as Tuvalu and Maldives have a maximum altitude below or just above this level:

      • D. A. Meese et al., The Greenland ice sheet Project 2 depth-age scale: methods and results, Journal of Geophysical Research 12 (1997), 411-426.

  18. Thomas says:

    Thanks! Here is a new report: “The magnitude of climate change during Earth’s deep past suggests that future temperatures may eventually rise far more than projected if society continues its pace of emitting greenhouse gases, a new analysis concludes. The study, by National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist Jeffrey Kiehl, will appear as a “Perspectives” piece in this week’s issue of the journal Science.”

  19. Thomas says:

    A recent BBC docu: “Nobel Prize winner Sir Paul Nurse examines why science appears to be under attack, and why public trust in key scientific theories has been eroded – from the theory that man-made climate change is warming our planet, to the safety of GM food, or that HIV causes AIDS. He interviews scientists and campaigners from both sides of the climate change debate, and travels to New York to meet Tony, who has HIV but doesn’t believe that that the virus is responsible for AIDS. This is a passionate defence of the importance of scientific evidence and the power of experiment, and a look at what scientists themselves need to do to earn trust in controversial areas of science in the 21st century.” (youtube video)

  20. Thomas says:

    This is about the idea of energy saving software: “Saving energy is an activity that should come from many layers,” said Liu, who plans to build energy-related parameters into a programming language. A change at that level would permit and encourage programmers to express their energy-saving intentions directly when software is developed. He hopes to employ advanced programming language technologies known as “type systems” to answer questions such as: “What is the energy-consumption pattern of a large program, given the consumption patterns of its fragments?” and “Do programmers have conflicted views of the energy-consumption patterns of their software?”

    • John Baez says:

      Interesting! Since ‘type systems’ are closely related to category theory, I would like to see any papers by Yu David Liu on type systems and energy consumption. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any yet. Though his homepage has a link to a paper “”Toward a Unified Object Model for Cyber-Physical Systems (Position Paper)”, the link is broken.

  21. Thomas says:

    New Scientist reports: “Warmer oceans release CO2 faster than thought”: “Climate records from the end of the last ice age show that as temperatures climb, the oceans emit CO2, which exacerbates warming. Previous studies have suggested that it takes between 400 and 1300 years for this to happen. But now the most precise analysis to date has whittled that figure down.”

  22. Thomas says:

    This talk (video, article) about “removed knowledge” makes one wonder about the existence of similar issues related to climate change and environmental issues. If relevant knowledge risks “removal”, shouldn’t wikileaks-like methods for these themes be established?

  23. Thomas says:

    Here announes an article in a danish newspaper that tommorrow the “Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme” publishes new prognoses about the sea level rise, expecting 0.9 to 1.6 Meter until 2100, instead of the previous estimates of 0.19 to 0.59 Meter.

    • John Baez says:

      Thanks for all these items, Thomas! I’ll have to enter some into the Azimuth Library.

      In case anyone wants something to read, or wants to give a friend a present, try this:

      Recommended reading, Azimuth Library.

      We are trying to make this into a nice well-rounded collection, and it keeps getting better.

      • Tim van Beek says:


        * Paul N. Edwards: “A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming”

        and finally wrote a short review of

        * Thomas Tomkins Warner: “Numerical Weather and Climate Prediction”

  24. Thomas says:

    “These findings underscore that the acidification of the oceans is a serious problem. The acidification has enormous consequences not only for coccoliths, but also for many other marine organisms as well as the global carbon cycle”:

  25. Phil Henshaw says:

    Ocean acidification is hardly the only one. There are simply dozens of rapidly accumulating irreversible environmental catastrophes… that people act blithely unaware of. To me that is evidence people are building their world view and self-images from some entirely different set of information. It’s so inconsistent with our self-image.

    I think there are several good entry points to the big question “what are we missing”? We’re clearly missing quite a lot. I had hoped people would see it as a good entry point to understand why models of the environmental energy needs of businesses need to overlook nominally 80% of the energy uses businesses pay for and rely on to operate. The great majority of energy uses businesses require to operate are naturally untraceable, and so naturally hidden from view and so naturally not part of our perceptions. Systems Energy Assessment It leaves our best science on the subject portraying the problem as technology fix and unaware that the lion’s share of energy use is in the whole system behavior.

    Having that highly restricted view then lets you adopt very appealing economic policy ideas like “sustainability”, and get a global consensus to work hard reducing your visible energy uses and other impacts, while still multiplying your hidden energy use and other impacts… for generating the growing profits they produce but are not associated with.

    Someday I hope that conundrum will be recognized as *altogether too human*, and so very plausible and worth checking out.

  26. Thomas says:

    A new study on ” mass mortality in greenhouse oceans” and a a naturally occurring response to greenhouse conditions.

  27. Thomas says:

    Here is a report fromthe technical university of Denmark: “We have the technology for creating sustainable energy systems of the future”.

  28. Thomas says:

    Doubts at species’ adaptability to a warming environment: “It’s been assumed that widespread species have a lot of genetic capacity to work with, but this study shows that may not be so,” said co-author Rick Grosberg, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. Many other species of animals, birds and plants face stress from climate change, and their habitats have also been fragmented by human activity — perhaps more than we realize, he said. “The critical point is that many organisms are already at their environmental limits, and natural selection won’t necessarily rescue them,” Grosberg said.”

  29. Thomas says:

    A report by the FAO on how to produce “more food for a growing world population in an environmentally sustainable way”.

  30. Thomas says:

    A new study on >a href=””>“Climate related sea-level variations over the past two millennia”: “We present newsea-level reconstructions for the past 2100 y based on salt-marsh sedimentary sequences from the US Atlantic coast. The data from North Carolina reveal four phases of persistent sea-level change after correction for glacial isostatic adjustment. Sea level was stable from at least BC 100 until AD 950. Sea level
    then increased for 400 y at a rate of 0.6mm/y, followed by a further period of stable, or slightly falling, sea level that persisted until the late 19th century. Since then, sea level has risen at an average rate of 2.1 mm/y, representing the steepest century-scale increase of the past two millennia. This rate was initiated between AD 1865 and 1892. Using an extended semiempirical modeling approach, we show that these sea-level changes are consistent with global temperature for at least the past millennium.”

  31. Thomas says:

    “Greenhouse-gas emissions from energy use in the water sector” is the theme here, in this interesting journal on climate change. Maybe interesting too are these (not free) articles on “Early warning of climate tipping points” : 1, 2.

  32. Thomas says:

    Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of physics of the oceans at the Potsdam University, published a book “The Climate Crisis”. It “summarises the current scientific knowledge on climate change for a wide readership, lavishly illustrated with hundreds of photos and graphs. It explains the basic science and measurements, the impacts of climate change as well as the solution strategies.”

  33. Thomas says:

    A nice article on vanishing knowledge related to vanishing species: e.g. “Ethnographic studies of the American Southwest in the 1930s and ’40s showed that the average Apache teenager could name and describe the edible and medicinal benefits of more than 200 different species of plants. In the 1990s, the late nature writer Paul Gruchow conducted an informal survey on a similar topic. With 60 of what he described as the brightest seniors from the high school in his Minnesota prairie town, Gruchow explored the shores of a nearby lake. He’d asked the students to identify as many of the plants as they could along the way. “A few of the students could name a handful; they were mostly farm kids who knew the weeds,” he reported. “But the majority of the students could name no more than two or three. The dandelion was the only plant they all knew. They didn’t recognize cattails. Most of them couldn’t tell the difference between a willow tree and a cottonwood tree. They have wandered and played along that lakeshore for a lifetime, utterly blind to it.” … Nobel Peace Prize laureate Norman Borlaug points out that some 30 plant species now supply 92 percent of the world’s food requirements. Of these 30-odd species, just four — wheat, corn, rice and potatoes — comprise the bulk of the foodstuffs upon which most of us depend for our daily caloric intake. Besides being the most utilized plant foods, they also are the most inbred, making them extremely vulnerable to diseases and insects. The natural world offers a cornucopia of options for diversifying — and thereby safeguarding — the contents of the nation’s larder. But in North America, Gruchow points out, “with the exception of the sunflower we have yet to make significant use of any of its thousands of native plants as a source of food.” [4] In an emergency, which ones would we choose? Would we even know where to find them? … Our ignorance is truly staggering. According to some estimates, 95 percent of organisms in the soil alone are unknown to science. Many of them labor unseen, in the dark, serving as the churning stomachs of our planet, digesting dead plants and animals and, in the process, enriching the earth we depend upon for food and fiber. Other organisms expel their gaseous waste — a precious resource known as oxygen —to create the atmosphere that supports and sweetens the earth with such glorious creatures as toucans and manta rays and blue morpho butterflies, not to mention writers and academics. Some bacteria are even thought to contribute to the formation of clouds. [5] And yet, in the earth’s sixth great extinction event, currently under way, many organisms — great and small — are silently sliding unnamed into oblivion. According to some estimates, by the end of the 21st century, one-quarter or more of all species of plants and animals now living will have gone extinct or been issued a non-refundable one-way ticket off the planet. And they are being snuffed out at a rate that is 1,000 times more rapid than that of any extinction event documented in the fossil record. This great disappearing act, as Gruchow points out, is “one of destroying, and thereby rendering forever nameless, more information about life than we are gaining.” (source)

    • Thomas says:

      “… Roman Kaiser, a Swiss fragrance chemist who developed a technology called “headspace” in the 1970s that made it possible to capture and analyze the scent given off by flowers and other objects. Using a glass container, a pump, and a sampling trap that gathers molecules using a solvent or coated surface, the system allows a chemist or perfumer to gather the volatile scent molecules exuded by an object without harming it. In 1995, Kaiser read a book called “Vanishing Flora” that contained beautiful, detailed illustrations of rare and endangered plants, and had an idea: He convinced his employer, Givaudan, the world’s largest flavor and fragrance company, to let him embark on an olfactory version of the project. Over the past 10 years, Kaiser has traveled the globe to capture the scents of hundreds of rare and endangered plants. His recently published book, “Scent of the Vanishing Flora,” contains lists of chemicals representing the formula for each plant’s scent, and he has also reconstituted many of these fragrances synthetically. His main purpose was to show people the olfactory beauty in nature, but it also has scientific value: A plant’s scent is an important component of its evolution and ecology. “These are documents,” Kaiser says, “so you would be able in 200 years to re-create these scents when all these plants do not exist any more.” (from a review of this book)

  34. Thomas says:

    A report on an idea for a “Mathematical Framework That Could Help Convert “Junk” Energy Into Useful Power … “We could have chips that take energy from road vibrations, runway noise from airports — energy that we are not able to make use of very well — and convert it into pulses, packets of electrical energy, that become useful power.” … “You give me noise,” Sen said, “I give you organized bundles.”(link)

  35. Thomas says:

    OK, climate sceptics: here’s the raw data you wanted : “HadCRUT3 is one of the global temperature records that have underpinned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment reports and numerous scientific studies. The data subset consists of a network of individual land stations that has been designated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) for use in climate monitoring and other data that the Met Office has gained permission from the owners to make available. The data contain monthly average temperature values for more than 3,000 land stations.” link)

  36. Thomas says:

    New Scientist on the “The carbon cost of Germany’s nuclear ‘Nein danke!’

    • nad says:

      Thomas says:
      August 3, 2011 at 2:16 pm

      New Scientist on the “The carbon cost of Germany’s nuclear ‘Nein danke!’“

      Ja aber bitte! I have the impression the author of the article is kidding!

      The line of argumentation in the article FIRST ARGUES that carbon permits are too cheap:

      Sikorski says the price will rise as German utilities are forced to buy more permits to cover their increased emissions, but not by enough to impel matching reductions elsewhere. That’s because there are still far more permits in circulation than carbon being emitted, for which the recession is only partly to blame.

      so that as one consequence Germany is for example building new coal plants (which seems of course problematic, since using coal instead of gas seems to make a huge difference in carbon output).

      And THEN the article ARGUES that carbon permits will be too expensive as Germany is going to be blasting more carbon into the air*** and thus the prices for carbon permits will go up in Europe:

      “Prices will be higher under any scenario than if Germany had kept its nuclear plants running,” says Sikorski. “We are all going to have to pay more for our power.”

      But of course if prices of carbon permits wouldn’t go up in Europe then by the same argument as in the first part of the article some european countries could eventually prefer to built coal plants instead of e.g. using less carbon intensive fossil or renewables and thus this may eventually lead to a surplus in european carbon output that could be worse than the additional german output which the author claims makes prices higher.

      Moreover the article doesn’t even mention the true costs of nclear waste, which will also be something to be paid later. It also doesn’t mention what it would mean to Europe if a nuclear catastrophy would happen in its highly populated center (see again remark***).

      As a side remark: Germany would output more carbon in reference to the plan of 2010 but it would roughly not output more or less carbon in reference to the original plan in 2002. I.e. in 2011 Germany decided to go roughly back to the old plan, which means amongst others that it doesn’t let its sometimes over 40 year old reactors (here a nice table about the safety risks with these reactors) run for almost fifty years (for example the construction of the reactor Krümmel started in 1974, it started to run in 1984 and was supposed to run in the extension until 2033, see running time overview on Wikipedia )

  37. Thomas says:

    “Breeding crops with roots a metre deeper in the ground could lower atmospheric CO2 levels dramatically” (link</a<)

  38. […] For commemorating the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki two links to recent comments, which I left on the blog Azimuth. One link is to a comment to the new scientist article article “The carbon cost of Germany’s nuclear ‘Nein danke!’ ” where I try to explain why the authors arguments that Germany’s renunciation of commercial nuclear power generation l… […]

  39. Thomas says:

    Documentary ‘Living with a warming ocean’ “During February 2011 documentary maker Jean-Yves Collet from Com on Planet traveled to several coastal areas in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom interviewing scientists, professors, farmers, fishermen, students and the man in the street about their knowledge of impacts of climate change on the European marine environments. The storyline is inspired by the results from the European survey on public perception and awareness. As such, the documentary touches upon the gap between what is known by research and what the general public knows about the impacts and the socio-economic consequence. Issues like sea level rise, changes in ocean biodiversity, modifications of ocean currents and ocean acidification are approached.”,

    Climate Change & Marine Ecosystem Research Results, Inventory Report of Relevant Research and their Outputs Marine climate science outreach programmes.

  40. Thomas says:

    If you can read German, you may enjoy this investigative report on the trade of raw materials and how developing countries get tricked off their (possible) wealth – a report by the Berne Declaration(“… a Swiss non-governmental organization with more than 20,000 members. We have been promoting more equitable, sustainable and democratic North-South relations since 1968. To this end, we carry out research, run campaigns to raise public awareness of different issues and do advocacy work.”).

  41. Thomas says:

    An interesting data collecting and analyzing project: “Our aim is to resolve current criticism of the former temperature analyses, and to prepare an open record that will allow rapid response to further criticism or suggestions. Our results will include not only our best estimate for the global temperature change, but estimates of the uncertainties in the record.”

  42. Thomas says:

    This looks like an interesting journal issue: “WOULD you jump off a skyscraper? What if someone told you that physicists still don’t fully understand gravity: would you risk it then?”:

  43. Thomas says:

    “The condition of the sea is frightening. Since the beginning of industrial fishing in the 60’s, the fishing resources decreased by 90%. Scientists are warning against a complete exctinction of all fish species in less than 50 years. But most of the people know nothing about that. To change this, I used my Bachelor semester to spread the facts and statistics of industrial fishing and generate attention for this topic, by creating this visual essay.” by Uli Streckenbach, a design student awarded (for an other project) by the “Art Directors Club Germany”:

  44. Thomas says:

    A chinese study on climate change induced reduction of glaciers:

  45. Thomas says:

    “Extreme Melting on Greenland Ice Sheet” reports CCNY Team:

  46. Thomas says:

    “Human-caused climate change a major factor in more frequent Mediterranean droughts”:

  47. Thomas says:

    “Forests not keeping pace with climate change”:

  48. Thomas says:

    Arctic microbes wake up: “The permafrost is poised to become a major source of greenhouse gases as the temperature in the Arctic is expected to increase dramatically compared to the expected temperature increase in many other regions of the world” (link1, link2), adding to this “record year for CO2 emissions”.

  49. Walter Blackstock says:

    From the October 27th New York Review of Books, a review of two books.

    The End of Energy: The Unmaking of America’s Environment, Security, and Independence
    by Michael J. Graetz
    MIT Press, 369 pp., $29.95

    Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use
    a report by the National Research Council’s Committee on Health, Environmental, and Other External Costs and Benefits of Energy Production and Consumption
    National Academies Press, 506 pp., $47.00 (paper), available for free at

  50. Thomas says:

    “The city of tomorrow – Morgenstadt: A city that obtains its power from renewable resources, where electric cars move quietly along the streets and which emits almost no carbon dioxide – German federal minister Mrs. Schavan and the president of Fraunhofer, Hans-Jörg Bullinger, shone a spotlight on the scenario of a sustainable city of the future in the vision of “Morgenstadt“. At the UrbanTec Trade Fair in Cologne from October 24 -26, 2011 in Hall 7, Booth A029. Fraunhofer researchers are demonstrating which of the technologies shown can already be implemented today”:

  51. Thomas says:

    An answer to an “answer to 56-million-year question” (on methan-hydrates and their climate impact), offering some very unpleasant possibilities.

    • John Baez says:

      That second link has some fascinating details on the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM:

      Given the degree of acidification of the ocean, Zachos and his colleagues have estimated that an initial burst of around three trillion metric tons of carbon flooded the atmosphere, then another trillion and a half leaked out more gradually. The total of 4.5 trillion tons is close to the total carbon now estimated to be locked up in fossil fuel deposits; the initial burst corresponds to about three centuries’ worth of human-caused emissions at the current rate. Though the data aren’t conclusive, most scientists assume the PETM release was slower, taking thousands of years.

      However fast the carbon was released, it would have taken far longer for geologic processes to remove it. As the carbonates on the seafloor dissolved, counteracting the acidification, the ocean was able to absorb more CO2, and within a few centuries or millennia of the sudden release, the atmospheric CO2 peak had passed. Meanwhile CO2 was also dissolving into rain droplets, which leached calcium from rocks on land and washed it to the sea, where it combined with carbonate ions to make more calcium carbonate. The process, called weathering, happens all the time, but it happened faster during the PETM, because the climate was hotter and the rain more acidic. Gradually the rain scrubbed the added CO2 from the atmosphere, and eventually it wound up in limestone at the bottom of the sea. The climate slowly returned to its previous state. “It’s just like with fossil fuels today,” Zachos says. “We’re taking what took millions of years to accumulate and releasing it in a geologic instant. Eventually the system will stick it back into rock, but that will take hundreds of thousands of years.”

      As they note, this holds lots of lessons for us:

      Koch and Zachos concluded from their data that the PETM had lifted the annual average temperature in the Bighorn Basin by around nine degrees Fahrenheit. That’s more than the warming there since the last ice age. It’s also a bit more than what climate models predict there for the 21st century—but not more than what they forecast for the centuries to come if humans keep burning fossil fuels. Models also predict severe disruptions in the world’s rainfall patterns, even in this century, especially in subtropical regions like the American Southwest. But how to test the models? “You can’t wait 100 or 200 years to see what happened,” says Swedish geologist Birger Schmitz, who has spent a decade studying PETM rocks in the Spanish Pyrenees. “That’s what makes the PETM story so interesting. You have the end result. You can see what did happen.”

      In fact an increase of 9 degrees Fahrenheit (or 5 °C) or more is quite possible by the end of this century, according to various models.

  52. Thomas says:

    Melting permafrost news (link 1, blog with video) – “This survey is part of the scientific process, what we think is going to happen in the future, and how we come up with testable hypotheses for future research … The authors estimate that the amount of carbon released by 2100 will be 1.7 to 5.2 times larger than reported in recent modeling studies, which used a similar warming scenario.”

  53. Thomas says:

    On animal species at risk of extinction in the United States have not made it onto the country’s official Endangered Species Act (ESA) list: Study, and a study on climate change killing trees.

  54. Thomas says:

    “A new German-based project is setting out to rescue biodiversity data at risk of being lost, because they are not integrated in institutional databases, are kept in outdated digital storage systems, or are not properly documented. The project, run by the Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin-Dahlem, provides a good example for a GBIF recommendation to establish hosting centres for biodiversity data.” link)

  55. John Baez says:

    On my “About” page, Anton wrote:

    This is quite a good lecture on palaeoclimatology.

    The biggest control knob; Carbon Dioxide in Earth’s Climate History by Richard B. Alley

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