Climate Letter #1155

Michael Mann Is a big-name scientist and a true veteran of the climate wars.  Here, for Scientific American, he tells his own story beginning with the “hockey stick” days and makes a number of observations about the way climate change has developed over the last twenty years.  He notes that far from being an exaggeration, climate model projections have proved overly conservative, and gives some examples.
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/earth-day-and-the-hockey-stick-a-singular-message/
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Ozone pollution (smog) in the US shows significant increases when temperatures rise.  A new report from the American Lung Association provides statistical evidence of the rise in health problems that result from the reduced air quality caused by warmer temperatures within many large population centers.  In a city like Los Angeles, “Warmer temperatures create conditions conducive to smog formation and lead air to stagnate, keeping dirty air from leaving a given area.”  I would suppose that no city in the world is exempt from that phenomenon.
http://time.com/5245779/climate-change-air-pollution-health/

–The main report from the ALA, which you can read here, places emphasis on the need for the Clean Air Act to be kept intact and vigorously enforced, noting that the Act helps to abate climate change along with reducing unhealthy gas and particle content.

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A new study raises questions about the way higher atmospheric CO2 levels benefit plant growth.  Quite a few complications get involved, depending on the kind of plant you have in mind.  Many food crops that do well for awhile end up being negatively affected when rising temperatures come into play.  Other kinds of plants tend to thrive more from the extra heat than they do from the CO2.  Experiments lasting twenty years came up with this information.

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How climate change affects the ocean’s food chain.  This post is based on a recent study that explains how changes in ocean circulation caused by changing water temperatures results in a change in the way phytoplankton are distributed across the globe.  Since phytoplankton create most of the nutrients required by marine animal life that means some of the world’s best fisheries will end up with an undersupply.
https://phys.org/news/2018-04-climate-ocean-food-chains-fish.html
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A new analysis of the effectiveness of a carbon tax with proceeds distributed back to the public.  Once again the conclusion is that it would make a real difference in greenhouse gas emissions and, if set up properly, would create other benefits for most of society.  Eleven research teams at different institutions carried out the research using a common set of starting assumptions and policies.  Even a $25-per-ton initial tax would be adequate to meet the U.S. pledge in Paris for 2030.
http://www.theenergycollective.com/energyatmit/2431387/carbon-taxes-could-make-significant-dent-in-climate-change-study-finds
Carl
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Climate Letter #1154

A new analysis of how the 2016 heatwave affected the Great Barrier Reef.  The coral death rate was 30% in this nine-month event, “far more harmful than historical bleaching events, where an estimated 5% to 10% of corals died.”  Some species of corals demonstrated superior resistance to heat stress and were able to bounce back.  2016 was a major El Nino year, which is relatively uncommon, but there will be more like it in the future, making clear the need to halt the underlying trend of oceanic warming.
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/19/great-barrier-reef-30-of-coral-died-in-catastrophic-2016-heatwave
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A new study reveals a mechanism that accelerates Antarctic melting, and more.  Fresh meltwater, which is cold but lacks salt, tends to stay on the surface instead of mixing with warmer waters below.  The warmer waters can then cause more melting below the ice shelves.  There is also a reduction of cold, dense water sinking to the ocean floor, which is an important part of the normal circulation pattern.  “Our results suggest that a further increase in the supply of glacial meltwater to the waters around the Antarctic shelf may trigger a transition from a cold regime to a warm regime, characterised by high rates of melting from the base of ice shelves and reduced formation of cold bottom waters that support ocean uptake of atmospheric heat and carbon dioxide.”
https://phys.org/news/2018-04-reveals-antarctic-contributing-sea-climate.html
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In the Arctic there is a greater influence of activities that cause an acceleration of melting on the surface at the edges of the ice sheet.  In this case there is a combination of factors that interact, not all of them originating as feedbacks.  This work highlights the importance of restricting the introduction of soot from outside sources.  (The story, like others we have seen lately, mentions predictions that sea level could rise as much as ten feet in this century under a worst-case scenario involving both of the major ice sheets.)
https://insideclimatenews.org/news/19042018/greenland-ice-sheet-melting-climate-change-arctic-pollution-sea-level-rise-algae-black-carbon
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Capital flows into a low-carbon economy will require trillions of dollars in new government spending for disaster relief and to assist the rebuilding that is needed.  A new UN-sponsored financial study shows that too few plans are in place to accommodate the new economy and and far too much is still being spent on fossil fuel subsidies and other means of support designed for maintaining the old economy.
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/low-carbon-investment-is-moving-too-slowly-to-rein-in-warming-u-n-warns/
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Do high-tech civilizations fail because they carry within themselves the seeds of their own destruction?  This was an idea that gained much attention when the nuclear arms race was developing.  More recently it has been broadened to include the overactive burning of fossil fuels along with things like polymer pollution and massive degradation of the environment.  A new contribution to this idea focuses on the probable geological imprint of a civilization that has vanished for such reasons.

https://climatenewsnetwork.net/long-lived-civilisation-may-be-a-dream/

Carl
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Climate Letter #1153

An update on the status of Earth’s mountain glaciers.  As scientists have predicted, their rate of melting down continues to accelerate.  This post contains a graph showing the progressive rate of mass balance loss since 1980.  Melt rates can actually be determined through analysis of ice cores from as far back as 400 years ago.  In one typical case from Alaska, “The researchers showed that the amount of water melt currently is 60 times greater than it was prior to 1850.”
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/apr/18/glacier-loss-is-accelerating-because-of-global-warming
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Why is Oklahoma burning?  An analysis from Weather Underground.  The latest three years have produced three of the top four wildfires in the state since 1997.  Among other things, periods that are unusually wet have provided extra fuel for burning during hot and dry periods that follow, which is similar to California’s recent experience.
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An interesting new report provides a realistic formula for staying within the 2C limit.  According to the analysis, “Staying within the agreed limit for global temperature rise will be simple, though not easy: it just needs a clean energy spurt providing a switch to clean energy six times faster than it’s happening today.”  It goes on to explain why this can be done without being overly disruptive, and with many new jobs and other benefits created along the way.  As for stranded assets, which generate fears in some quarters, their value is now estimated equal to $11 trillion worldwide but could eventually be double that figure if we don’t hurry up and make the recommended changes.  (Will that kind of advantage mollify the current owners?)
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Todd Davidson, writing for Fortune magazine, offers sound advice for the Trump administration.  “It’s time for conservatives to recognize our constitutional mandate to provide for the common defense by addressing the rising threat of climate change.”  He provides a list of arguments that are largely based on fine logic while avoiding any of the more usual fallback on alarmist forecasting.  This leaves little room for counters from those Republican deniers that prioritize protection of the coal and oil industries.
A cheap and easy way to convert cellulosic waste to clean biofuel will soon be on hand.  There should be enough material supply to completely replace that which now depends on food crops, and perhaps much more.  The end product, biobutanol, could be an even better replacement for gasoline than today’s ethanol.
http://www.anthropocenemagazine.org/2018/04/mushroom-farms-hold-a-secret-to-sustainable-biofuels/
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Commercial insect farms are gearing up to meet rising global demand for protein (Thomson Reuters).  Most of the product will go into animal feed, but humans are not being forgotten.
http://news.trust.org/item/20180413110044-2di8m/
Carl
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Climate Letter #1152

The Economist magazine has a new Special Report on the future of energy.  Their main points are that it will be all-electric, of the green sort, and the transition away from fossil fuels will occur at a much faster pace than other similar transitions have occurred in the past.  “Things that used to take 50 years or more now happen in 5-10 years.”  There is a neat graph showing the actual relative trend changes of a few key components since 1900, when coal had total domination.
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Bacterial enzymes that eat plastic are being engineered.  Some recent research has reported success while other efforts are being vigorously pursued.  Among the possibilities being envisioned, “some scientists have conjectured that plastic-eating bugs might one day be sprayed on the huge plastic garbage patches in the oceans to clean them up.”
–A full solution to the plastic waste problem can’t happen soon enough, as reported in this article from The New Republic.  “Cleaning up the ocean will require an international agreement on par with the Paris climate accord.”
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A strategy for reducing emissions from the global shipping industry has been agreed upon.  The overall goal, with higher volume included, calls for an emissions decline (from 2008) of at least 50% for the entire industry by 2050.  That means individual voyages would need to be 70% more efficient by that time.  There are various complications, such as how to assign responsibility to different countries or how to get full cooperation, as covered in this report from Carbon Brief.
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What impact does climate change have on mental health?  The lead author of a new study of this subject talks about the findings, largely with respect to how there is not enough research being done, or correct policies determined, or enough treatment facilities available relative to the size of the problem, which is rapidly growing.  The effects of disasters are generally disproportionate for vulnerable people, “particularly women, young people, migrants, people living with a disability, and ethnic minorities.”
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Obama’s fuel efficiency standards, which are not working anyway, will probably be rolled back.  No one is mentioning an action that would really get desired results—placement of a hefty tax increase on gasoline.
Carl
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Climate Letter #1151

The Great Plains of the western United States are gradually spreading eastward.  A research term has found a way to compare conditions of 140 years ago with those of today, all the way from north to south, such that the arid plains have added about 140 miles to their girth.  “The researchers predict that drylands will continue to move eastward with the century, as global temperatures continue to rise, and eventually trigger large-scale changes.”
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How the same climate shift is likely to affect the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota.  “If you know where to look, you can already see the Boundary Waters transforming from a lush forest into a desolate grassland.”  An ecologist from the University of Minnesota explains what may happen and why.  Rains could increase but evaporation would increase even faster as temperatures rise.
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Scientists are worried about more wildfires occurring on Greenland (Scientific American).  Last year’s experience was a first, but conditions are ripening for more of these to come.  More black soot would then be sure to land on the nearby ice and extend its surface melting.  Large stores of underground peat can be found in places exposed to future fires, and would be difficult to extinguish once they start burning.
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What DeConto and Pollard had to say about Antarctica’s potential contribution to sea-level rise over the next 500 years.  Their paper, published in the journal Nature in 2016, has been widely quoted as an authoritative study.  Here you can read the abstract and an editorial summary, both of which are brief and very clear, highlighting the profound importance of quickly achieving abatement based on this one reason alone.
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Should geoengineering be employed to block incoming solar radiation?  This is an excellent primer on the subject, covering all the various arguments in a fair and balanced manner.  In a time of true desperation, or when the heat has become unbearable, we know it would work well enough to buy a little time in order to finally do what should have been done long before.  We might as well study up on how to do it right, with appropriate controls.  (Note—about 30% of incoming radiation is regularly reflected either from the surface or by clouds or aerosols.  Some of the aerosols, that have appeared as a result of burning fossil fuels, already have an ongoing cooling effect of about one-half degree C, that will disappear in the presence of aggressive abatement.)
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A nanotech coating discovery that may add considerably to the energy output of solar cells.  The process is said to be inexpensive and compatible with mass production.  The work, performed at facilities at the University of Maryland, looks like it has credibility.
Carl
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Climate Letter #1150

Explaining the consequences of the Gulf Stream slowdown.  Yesterday’s report from two new studies, which you saw here, is very big news, being taken most seriously in the scientific community.  For starters, the information comes from sources that are regarded as having the highest level of credibility.  This post from the Guardian provides a good introduction to the consequences, which must be avoided “at all costs,” especially in the case of Western Europe.
–This piece from Joe Romm has more to say about how the East Coast of the US will be affected.  There is also a quote from Michael Mann about how this phenomenon has happened much more quickly than predicted by models, which will now need to be upgraded.
–For those who want a deeper look into the work behind the studies, Stefan Rahmstorf, who was one of the authors, has written this story for the Real Climate website:
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A new global survey creates awareness of the risk of losing Earth’s pollinators.  This involves much more than bees—“a vast range of insect species, along with birds, bats and even squirrels, are also key pollinators.”  They are all exposed to some kind of danger, with agricultural chemicals and climate change both having leading roles of responsibility.  There is a threat to the supply of industrial raw materials that is emphasized as well as to food security.
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Sweden has begun testing electrified roads for recharging car batteries.  This post will give you some idea of how the system works, somewhat puzzling but certainly interesting if everything adds up in practice.
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Young activists have a trial date set for their climate change lawsuit.  All of the preliminary challenges are now out of the way.  The trial will be conducted in Eugene, Oregon beginning October 29.  This was the idea that was originated by James Hansen several years ago, amidst much doubt, and has obviously been handled in a manner that is skillful, well financed and quite serious about getting positive results.
Carl
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Climate Letter #1149

Two new studies describe a weakening of the Gulf Stream current (or AMOC) in the North Atlantic.  One of them shows that it is currently at its weakest point in the past 1,600 years.  The other sees it “rapidly weakening since 1950 as a result of rising temperatures linked to global warming.”  They both detect an amount of weakening of at least 15 to 20 percent.  Continuation means that weather patterns in Europe and elsewhere are likely to be affected.
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How climate change could trigger more volcanic eruptions.  This is an old idea that is now the subject of new research.  One new twist is that massive landslides caused by excessive amounts of rainfall can destabilize a potential volcano in a manner not unlike that of the melting away of glacial overburden.  “As landslides tend to be caused by heavy rainfall – which is expected to increase due to climate change – these events are likely to become more common in the future.”
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This story describes Greenland’s “dark zone,” which speeds up surface melting.  It measures 250 miles long and up to 62miles wide, and is said to be growing even larger.  “The fact that a large portion of the western flank of the Greenland ice sheet has become dark means that the melt is up to five times as much as if it was a brilliant snow surface.”
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Arctic ecosystems are changing because of the greater melting of sea ice.  Scientists are now venturing out to examine the effects during those long periods when there is no daylight.  This six-minute video is well made and worth watching.
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The virtues of perennial grains are gaining attention.  This post makes an especially strong case for a type of deep-rooted wheatgrass known as Kernza which is ready for scaled up production.  Beside avoiding the need for plowing, replanting and herbicide application, “Perennial crops are robust; they protect soil from erosion and improve soil structure. They increase ecosystem nutrient retention, carbon sequestration, and water infiltration, and can contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation. Overall, they help ensure food and water security over the long term.”
Carl
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Climate Letter #1148

How the US is reducing CO2 emissions (VOX).  It’s all happening in electric power generation, in part because of the switch from dirty coal to natural gas.  The three other major consumers of fossil fuel, for transportation, heating of buildings and industrial processes, have all been essentially flat for the past decade.  Those three, combined, have twice the emissions of the power sector.  Power should continue to do well, with growing help from renewables usage, but the other three sectors (plus agriculture) will soon need to start carrying more of the load in order to reach zero emissions by 2050.
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A report on the growing frequency and duration of heatwaves in the oceans (Carbon Brief).  One chart shows that the trend has greatly intensified in just the past decade.  “This is a very important and timely study as a growing number of studies have reported that recent marine heatwaves strongly impact corals and other marine ecosystems, which further impacts economies and societies.”
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The threat to seagrass meadows is a perfect example of the harm done by marine heatwaves, in combination with various other human practices.  How important are seagrass meadows?  “This loss of seagrass is a terrible problem as the habitats in Indonesia have a major significance for daily food supply and general livelihoods. Without seagrass as a fishery habitat many people in Indonesia would not be able to feed their families on a daily basis.”  They are being damaged or degraded at an accelerated rate, but have largely been ignored.
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Meanwhile, river systems are being killed by the influx of pharmaceutical waste.  One way or another, it all gets leached into waterways and the amount is expected to increase two-thirds by mid-century.  “Between 70 and 80 percent of all antibiotics consumed by humans and farm animals—totalling thousands of tonnes—find their way into natural environments, the UN agency said in a report.”
https://phys.org/news/2018-04-rivers-worldwide-threatened-pharma.html
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Do you know what CO2 emissions are allowed by the remaining carbon budget?  That all depends on whose methods of calculation you choose to depend on as well as how to define the very terms of the budget to begin with.  This post examines nine different methods that can be applied to any one set of terms, and the answers cover a wide range of figures.  Many other models from less prominent sources could be added to those nine.  The idea that there is a real budget that must be met, per the agreement of all nations, is just fine, but if there is no agreement on what budget number has been agreed to, then every nation can pick one it likes and feel justified in having done its duty.  It’s a mess, and not an easy one to correct.
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Here is a story to feel good about—an all-electric airplane for commuter routes expects to be making its first commercial flights in 2021.
https://www.fastcompany.com/40549048/world-changing-ideas-transportation-eviation-alice-commuter
Carl
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Climate Letter #1147

Sub-Saharan Africa has been losing stored carbon from vegetation on a large scale for the past seven years (Carbon Brief).  It is happening in rainforests, savannahs and woodlands,driven by a series of droughts and deforestation.  The results were gathered using a novel satellite technique, which allowed researchers to measure “deeper below the vegetation canopy” than ever before.  Certain countries experienced an unexpected net gain in carbon density for unusual reasons.  “Migration to urban areas, land abandonment, conflicts and a decrease in wood gathering may play a role [in carbon density gains.”
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A short biography of one of the world’s foremost thinkers about energy and its relation to climate change.  Vaclav Smil, an academic at the University of Manitoba, has written a number of books that tend to be critical of many popular solutions that emphasize technology.  He serves up all sorts of opinions, usually backed up with reasons that have scientific credibility.  He generally thinks people can be quite happy while living at modest level of consumption and income.  Bill Gates is one of his admirers.
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Researchers hope to make plants more productive at collecting and storing CO2.  This article sorts through a number of ideas that have prospects for success by employing conventional engineering, genetic engineering or a combination of the two.  One goal “is to make plants that are 20 times more effective at locking carbon in the soil, and to use those plants to store half of the CO2 humans emit each year.”  Improvement in agricultural yields is of course another goal always watched out for.
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An overview of how hydrogen might gain a key role in the new green economy.  There are commercial interests pursuing some radical new ideas which the author is familiar with and makes a heroic effort to explain—primarily for those with a chemical engineering background.
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Prince Albert II of Monaco is an ardent environmentalist who actively promotes efforts to tackle climate change and ocean pollution.  Devotion to oceanography has a large place in his family tradition, and there is now a Monaco Blue Initiative think tank “that aims to bring together experts and decision makers to find practical solutions” sponsoring a conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Carl
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Climate Letter #1146

This year’s month of March was the third warmest on record.  With the El Nino warming now out of the way temperatures for the month fell right on line with the underlying warming trend, which has been rising 0.18C on average for each of the last four decades.  (Just two more similar decades would bring the existing linear trend right up to the 1.5 target level.)  This WMO report describes many extreme recent anomalies around the world, both hot and cold.
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Antarctica’s annual snowfall has risen 10% over the last 200 years.  This was determined by analyzing 79 ice cores taken from across the continent.  The rate of increase followed the rate of temperature increases in the region, which were low before 1900 then gradually speeded up through the present day.  The additions to surface ice are more than offset by melting in various places under the lower edges of the sheet.
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Can shipping industry emissions be reduced in sync with the Paris Agreement? (Carbon Brief)  This in-depth analysis shows why such action is so important and the difficulties involved in getting there.  The need to keep black soot out of the Arctic heightens the urgency of finding solutions.
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The cement industry is an even bigger source of CO2 emissions—6% of the global total from humans.  The volume is enormous and the process of making cement emits the gas in an invisible manner.  Cement is “taken for granted as a necessary building block of basic civilisation…..Cement companies need to invest and innovate in order to avoid impending risks to their operations and the wider world. There is a solution – cement companies just need to invest properly in finding it.”  (How convincing is that as a dependable route to reduction?)
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The carbon footprint of an individual or society is embedded in almost every purchased object.  The ten examples of everyday items described herein are a real eye-opener.  Bear in mind that one kWh is the amount of energy consumed by burning ten old-fashioned 100-watt light bulbs for one hour, something most people now try to avoid.  Reducing purchases of things not really needed provides an even greater way to lower one’s carbon footprint, but that reality is seldom promoted in a society driven by advertising.
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Book review, from the Washington Post:  “No Immediate Danger,” by William T. Vollmann.  Vollmann, a novelist, has researched and written a 601-page tome where “he throws himself exuberantly into numbers, producing dozens of calculations and comparative tables on the global-warming potentials of the three worst greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide), the energy required to manufacture the “big five” materials (cement, paper, steel, plastics, aluminum), the solar energy lost en route to reaching the Earth’s surface, and dozens of others.”
Carl
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