Home > Science > AAPG abandons delusionism

AAPG abandons delusionism

August 30th, 2007

Until recently, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists was the only significant scientific organization with an official position rejecting anthropogenic global warming. Issued in 1999, it claimed that “Recently published research results do not support the supposition of an anthropogenic cause of global climate change”. AAPG has abandoned that position and issued a new position statement.

The new position statement is equivocal, beginning with the observation that “the AAPG membership is divided on the degree of influence that anthropogenic CO2 has on recent and potential global temperature increases”, and going on to say “Certain climate simulation models predict that the warming trend will continue, as reported through NAS, AGU, AAAS, and AMS. AAPG respects these scientific opinions but wants to add that the current climate warming projections could fall within well-documented natural variations in past climate and observed temperature data.”

Still, its a big advance on the embrace of delusionism that led to the 1999 statement and to the embarrassing decision in 2006 to give a science journalism award to Michael Crichton. Of course, this will have no effect on those who get their science from fiction writers, opinion columnists and rightwing thinktanks, but it’s encouraging nonetheless.

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  1. Hermit
    August 30th, 2007 at 15:16 | #1

    The Association also claimed that world oil production would peak circa 2035 if I recall, yet crude + condensate (ie no ethanol, tar sands) peaked in 2005. I’m treading warily here but our own CSIRO seems to show a readiness to please the government of the day on climate mitigation issues. Several arguable statements by Federal ministers would appear to have their backing. If no one will back me up on this I’ll retract.

  2. Roger Jones
    August 30th, 2007 at 17:08 | #2

    Ok Hermit, I’ll bite – what statements and where is the CSIRO attribution that backs these up?

  3. BilB
    August 30th, 2007 at 17:48 | #3

    You could be forgiven for thinking that their slow uptake reflects on their general professional conclusions. One would have to take a closer look at their assessment of geosequestration assertions.

  4. Ken Miles
    August 30th, 2007 at 18:02 | #4

    From there statement:

    AAPG supports the pursuit of economically viable technology to sequester carbon dioxide emissions and emissions of other gases in a continuing effort to improve our environment and enhance energy recovery.

  5. Ken Miles
    August 30th, 2007 at 18:12 | #5

    This part of their statement is weak:

    To be predictive, any model of future climate should also accurately model known climate and greenhouse gas variations recorded in the geologic history of the past 200,000 years.

    What drives climate is strongly dependent on the timescales involved. For example, continental drift is an important variable on the climate when one looks over millions of years, but is large irrelevant for AGW.

    Over a 200,000 year timescale there are processes (such as large scale evolution of populations) which will play a much greater role than over a hundred year timescale. Even over the next hundred years, it is the response of the carbon cycle, ecosystems and ice melting to increased GHG and temperature is where the greatest uncertainties lie.

  6. Roger Jones
    August 30th, 2007 at 19:22 | #6

    This statement is very different to support:

    Yet, our planet has been far warmer and cooler than today many times in the geologic past, including the past 10,000 years.

    How much warmer and cooler in the Holocene is far warmer and cooler? Is +/- 1°C (the past 10,000 years global mean temp was very likely to be in this range) far warmer and cooler?

    Given that most human systems were not around to cope with large changes of the past, how will our current systems cope with these future changes of a “similar” order.

    Furthermore:

    AAPG respects these scientific opinions but wants to add that the current climate warming projections could fall within well-documented natural variations in past climate and observed temperature data. These data do not necessarily support the maximum case scenarios forecast in some models.

    What does this mean? Given that the Earth has survived mass extinctions in the past, is it ok to hasten another one?

    What data does not neccessarily support the maximum case scenarios? Not the emissions data, so they must mean sensitivity. The palaeodata seems to constrain sensitivity to CO2 doubling to about 4.5°C but does not rule out higher numbers (though very unlikely).

    Even a 3.0°C sensitivity, which is supported by palaeoclimatic evidence, and is the current “best-estimate”, delivers us a hefty enough whack of change if we revel in the AAPG’s product for the next few decades.

    This is a strange document that makes a number of unbounded and unmeasurable statements. Not a good look for a professional scientific body.

    Their recommendations are hard to argue with but very limited in scope and are uncontroversial because all are underway.

  7. Hermit
    August 30th, 2007 at 22:00 | #7

    Roger no real supportive comments yet so I’ll stir the pot. Generally I believe CSIRO has heavily sold the case for low guilt emissions via geo- and bio-sequestration, which is coincidentally what the Coal-ition wants to hear. Since these fields are CSIRO responsibility they must brief the science minister and presumably also input to the environment portfolio. With respect to geo-sequestration it should be noted this has not been shown anywhere to be commercially viable. That is for a coal burning power station in an arbitrary location under moderate carbon taxes. No such admission yet from our local boffins.

    As for bio-sequestration CSIRO’s enthusiasm for trees puts them at odds with research bodies such as the Carnegie Institution http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1972648,00.html. Note that the EU carbon trading scheme makes no allowance for tree planting or conservation. Undaunted by competing scientific views CSIRO recently concluded that burning tropical scrub actually removes carbon from the atmosphere compared to non-burning http://www.csiro.au/science/SavannaCarbonDynamics.html …I’d like to see what the other researchers say about that. I’ll stop there though there are stories concerning the exodus of disgruntled climate scientists. If indeed CSIRO’s advice is frank and fearless it must be coincidence that it dovetails with the views of their political masters.

  8. Ken Miles
    August 31st, 2007 at 09:22 | #8

    With respect to geo-sequestration it should be noted this has not been shown anywhere to be commercially viable. That is for a coal burning power station in an arbitrary location under moderate carbon taxes. No such admission yet from our local boffins.

    Hermit, this is true of practically any non-coal technology. In the absence of a price on carbon dioxide emissions, the cheapest method of generating electricity is a coal fired power station.

  9. Roger Jones
    August 31st, 2007 at 11:48 | #9

    Firstly, incorrect word in my last post – different in the first sentence should be difficult

    Hermit,

    I can’t weigh in too much about CSIRO or government policy because I’m an employee of the first and unable by guidelines as an identified CSIRO employee to criticise or praise goverment or opposition policy, past present or future, so the reader must judge how CSIRO is managing according to what they see in the media, on websites, in reports etc.

    CSIRO has not endorsed any single technology, or limited portfolio of technologies, as a viable mitigation strategy. A broad ranging apporach is recommended.

    Commercial viability is not the only determinant of whether an option gets up. This criteria cuts both ways and would never see anything developed, because many steps need to taken before a new technology becomes commercially viable.

    Carbon capture and storage is already being used in fields where it is stripped from natural gas and re-injected. It will very likely work for coal, but at a cost, which has to be balanced with reduced efficiency and savings in reduced CO2 emissions. It is not the cheapest option – there are many others, but its ability to manage large amounts of carbon emissions make it a necessary play.

    Biosequestration is largely being used as an environmental indulgence, I admit. However, well designed schemes that sequester biodiversity, i.e. have a serious ecological benefit in addition to carbon sequestration can aid both adaptation to climate and mitigation. My own opinion is that it
    should be used to offset the least tractable emissions.

    Re your comments on Savannah:

    Present indications are that tropical savannas of northern Australia are net carbon sinks, even if burnt frequently. To maximise their sink potential, CSIRO and partners are seeking more knowledge of the long-term potential sink strength, and how sensitive this is to land use, particularly tree-clearing, grazing and fire.

    Results from carbon flux and fuel dynamics experiments show that the savanna landscape is a net carbon sink, even when it is regularly burnt. Research is aiming to determine how the carbon sink capacity can be optimised, for example by reducing the area burnt, especially by hot late dry season fires.

    This suggests it can be a sink despite its being burnt but if burnt by larger, hotter fires is more likely to become a source. This is being doen through physical measurement, including digging up trees and weighing them.

    It is difficult to be frank and fearless and yes, working on climate change in Australia is very difficult but many of us try and break out a career limiting move at regular intervals.

    CSIRO analyses show that under all emission policies where action is delayed by several decades, the Great Barrier Reef is substantially toast.

    Keep stirring that pot!!

  10. BilB
    September 1st, 2007 at 05:46 | #10

    Roger J,

    A few thoughts on the carbon sequestration thing. You are correct to say that carbon sequestration is currently (apparently) working in some gas/oil fields. What I would point out here is that in these situations they are working with a “live” subterranean cavity which is still in balance with the pressures and volumes that have survived for millions of years. Material is being removed and then being backfilled with liquid CO2 which helps to retain the pressure, and the volume that works to prevent subsidence and incursion. Furthermore, the source of the CO2 is local to the site, the CO2 just came out of the hole that it is to be reinjected into (there is at least one example where where the CO2 is pumped a distance), and the plant to handle this is local to the sink site, powered by the energy coming from the well, and cost covered in the investment return of the energy coming from the well.

    So moving on and looking at sequestration of CO2 from power stations we see a totally different picture. The power stations are hardly likely to be near a “live” and proven subterranean chamber, so most attempts to sink CO2 will be a “best guess” attempt. The energy to compress, transport/pump, and inject the liquid CO2 all has to come from the power station’s energy output, which by most accounts of coal-to-airconditioner are around 30% overall efficiency. So looking at the probabilities of siting a power station near a sink site that will not start leaking its contents some time in the future, drilling the site, investing in all of the plant to separate and liquify the gas, transport and sink it, and do all of this without severely compromising the the energy efficiency of the power station is a long shot at the very best. Looking at the overall electricity generation system the percentage of power generation plants that will be able to perform the sequestration process completely and successfully are likely to be small.

    Attempts the gloss over the inadequacies of the carbon sequestration efficiency focus on the cost of sequestering CO2, proposing a tax on energy useage to cover that cost, and then proposing an emissions trading scheme to make the release of CO2 and the sequestering of the same commercially fluid. By seperating the the poor efficiency of power generation from the added inefficiency of disposing of the waste product, it is possible to think that this is a worth while alternative when it fact it is a disaster.

    CSR of all companies are at the hub of the solution, and the future. Cane ethanol is shaping up to be produced at 20,000 litres per hectare of suitable land in 3 to 5 years time (when the Dedini cellulose process has matured), which coupled with CSTP and geothermal power generation mkes a complete enrgy package. This combination will provide Australia with E85 for most petrol powered vehicles (including Hybride electrics and light aircraft) for the cost of 1.2 million hectares of tropical land covering much of the motive power required, and Solar power for 90 percent of Austlia’s electricity consumption for the cost of 700 square kilometres of land covered with CSP collectors. Properly developed, 1.3 million hectares of Australias 750 million hectares will provide most of the energy needs for todays Australian’s making this a lucky and green country.

  11. BilB
    September 1st, 2007 at 06:09 | #11

    I should add that wind, geothermal power, concentrating solar thermal power, cane ethanol, and biodiesel are the only safe, proven, minimally controversial, non toxic, cost competitive technologies available today that can be rolled out immediately and in sufficient quantity to meet global warming CO2 reduction requirements. I should add here that my research demonstrates that CSP has an implementation cost of $A2 billion per gigawatt of nominal output.

  12. BilB
    September 1st, 2007 at 07:15 | #12

    The only way that I can see that burning any form of vegetation removes CO2 from the atmosphere is in the material that is charred or partially burnt. Such charred material is no longer suitable for bacteria to work on and therefore can become carbon that is embedded in the soil permanently. As burning vegetation that will renew itself is carbon neutral then any charred material is a marginal form of carbon scrubbing unless subsequent fires complete the combustion process.

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