A note about long term trends..

As mentioned on Deltoid, there is still the erroneous belief going around that there has been some sort of global cooling over the past few years and hence climate change isn’t happening. A brief mention of the fact that those whose hold this belief use dodgy or simply wrong data could be made and discussed but there is something I’d like to show regardless of this.

A currently accepted value for global warming is something like 3C per 100 years. This long term trend is meant to be on top of the annual variation of about 1C. To get some idea of what this looks like here is a graph made in Excel. The data on this graph is the the last 20 “years” of temperature with the annual variation superimposed on top of the long term trend.

As can be seen the temperature goes up and down each year and no long term trend is apparent. Now if this was real temperature it would be difficult to say anything. In fact it sort of looks flat and we could say the temperature has gone down after about the 20th year for a period of 5 years. And this is the problem of looking at this sort of data when the noise, the annual variability of 1C, totally swamps the long term trend of 0.03C. Now we’ll look at the 100 year graph this small graph was taken from.

Looking over the long term, in this case 100 years, the trend can clearly be seen. The right hand end of the graph shows the small section from the top graph.

Now if this was the real data one could see that an argument could be made that after about the 90th year the trend had ended because there is 5 years of lower temperature averages. However this would be wrong as another year later the temperature jumps up again.

This took about 5 minutes with Excel to show. It is not a complex argument. Yet we have people who are claiming that global warming has finished because of a run of lower temperatures. There is three things wrong with this argument, the data does not support it ,even if the data did show a few cooler it means SFA and thirdly what is happening to the climate is change, not just global warming.

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‘Earth Hour’ Stupidity

I have already posted about the previous earth hour in the US and how pointless it was. Now in 2008 this inane concept has spread around the world like some sort of IQ destroying virus.

Firstly I must say that I’m convinced the earths climate is changing much more rapidly than our current society can handle. The rate of change is extremely unusual over a very large geological time frame and our current agriculture has evolved in a very unusual period of climactic stability. I also can’t see why pumping a lot of CO2 back into the atmosphere that was sequestered a few hundred millions of years ago is going to be anything but very bad for our society. I’ve read untold numbers of papers, examined the raw data and followed the discussions both for and against man made causes of climate change. My brief summary is that climate change deniers are batshit crazy and suffering from either delusion or back-pocket greed.

However, when I see statements like “Created to take a stand against the greatest threat our planet has ever faced” I can a bit annoyed. In fact I get a lot annoyed and would like to smack up the total f%$#ing moron who penned this bullshit. This displays such ignorance about the earths history, even the recent history, that the mere existence of such a concept should nearly be enough to make the entire planet implode. Even though I think rapid climate change is going to screw our civilization over ,I would much rather face that rather than a major impact or super volcano eruption. For a nice summary of bad days see this link.

Back to ‘Earth Hour’ and we see we are being asked to light a candle rather than use electricity. This got me wondering, how much CO2 do burning candles make? They make hardly any light so lets do the comparison. A 60W incandescent light generates about 72 candela (cd) of useful light. A candle, not surprisingly, generates about 1 cd. Instantly we can see one major problem, candles are friggin dim. So dim in fact, that we have programs in the third world to give them more light (most use dangerous kerosene lamps) so they can study and gain an education at night. It’s most likely one of the best things we can do for the third world, give them an education via the wonders of night lighting. However for now we will assume that you wont be doing much with your 1cd of light. To find out what you can do, see this link where someone did some science to find out.
Now candles burn about 6gm of paraffin per hour which gives about 19gm of CO2. (Yes, I’m aware some sites are advocating using beeswax candles or others made from renable resources) For now we’ll ignore the health effects of burning candles or any oil based heating inside, we have the planet to save! If we assume we are replacing the 60W incandescent light (ok, I know most people have swapped over to mini fluoros) then we will save 0.06kW/hr of power.

For gas powered power plants, which the main plant near Adelaide is, the CO2 production is about 360gm of CO2 per kW/hr of power generated. This leads to the generation of 21.6gm of CO2 for one hours worth of light, barely more CO2 than one candle. So basically it’s stupid to turn off even a crappy inefficient bright light and use a candle. In summary:

We grade the idea of using candles rather than electricity..FAIL

If you used a CFL the power consumption would be about 15W, generating much less CO2 than a candle burning. Even putting up with the crappy dim lighting it’s still much brighter than a candle.

Of course there is much more to ‘Earth Hour’ than turning off the lights and using a candle. However this little calculation shows the basic premise of the concept has possibly not had a lot of thinking done on it. The real downside with this concept is that it trivializes the issue and loads peoples head with false impressions about what needs to be done. Save the planet? Easy, just turn off the lights for one hour! Can’t be much of a problem if all we need to do is turn off some lights. etc., etc.

It’s not that people will actively think that ‘Earth Hour’ will solve the problem of climate change, it’s that when you load people brains with bad memes it affects how they subconsciously think about things. The common media such as newspapers and TV are simply not supplying good information to explain in detail the total picture. They are treating people like morons, catering for the lowest common denominator, which in our current society is verging on the scientifically illiterate.

The stated aim is to of ‘Earth Hour’ “to deliver a powerful message about the need for action” . Sorry dumbass, we don’t need a powerful message, in just the same way the dot-com’s didn’t need more sizzle to sell the vapourware sausage. What we need is well thought information, presented on real evidence based science. We also need to simply pay the real price for our electricity, gas and power. One that reflects its real cost if were planning on having a sustainable society.

Do we really need to allow badly designed huge houses that require large AC plants for our hot climate? Do we really need advertising billboards and most of the office buildings lit up at night? Do we really need devices with standby mode built in and no way to disable it?Do we really need power stations to have subsidies for using non-renewable fuel and be allowed to dump CO2 into the atmosphere at no cost?

What we need is much better education, not just awareness, and leaders with the guts to make the hard decisions based on the best scientific evidence and damn the ignorant lobby groups and business who don’t want to “negatively impact our bottom line”.


The real cost of desalination

With the ongoing levels of drought and falling (failing) water supplies, Adelaide is finding itself in somewhat of a pickle. For you see, a city of over one million people need a lot of water and we are not sited on a major river or near major supplies of fresh water. This has been an issue with Adelaide from the earliest days of settlement.

In the first few decades we relied on the River Torrens although it dried up into a series of stagnant and nearly unusable  pools in summer. After the big push for sanitation in the colony, the need for even more water became overwhelming and Thorndon Park reservoir was constructed. Then Hope Valley and on it went until these days we have to top up the reservoirs with “water” from the Murray. However through the most amazing mismanagement up stream we now find this river becoming unreliable. Scientists have warned about this for as long I can remember and they were promptly ignored until the proverbial hits the fan.

And so we find ourselves, after a few years of increasingly severe water restrictions on the brink of a brave new world. Electric powered reverse osmosis desalination. Now initially I thought that maybe using power this way would be bad but if you do the calculation it doesn’t use too much power, something like 3 to 4 kW per kl of water so that’s about $1 even allowing for the cost of power to increase. That’s pretty cheap.

However, and here’s the nasty bit, these plants are not cheap. For a plant of 50GL pa, which is about 25% of Adelaide’s annual requirement the cost is about $1.4 Billion. There is also a few hundred million of extra piping to wherever. I’d estimate a conservative total cost of $2.5 Billion assuming the usual greed, incompetence and cost blow-outs by large companies. This is roughly $2500 for each person in Adelaide and the per person cost is usually a good way to work out how expensive something really is because a million people is a lot to spread the cost over. It also makes big numbers in the billions more understandable. In this case this is a real freakin’ lot of money. So how much will this cost each year?

If we ignored interest and wanted to pay the principle back over 25 years this would be $100 million pa, at least for the first year. And in the first year we get 50 Gl or 50 Million Kl. So the price of this water is $2 per kilolitre assuming a whole pile of unreasonable things. If we add say5% interest (hey this this government, they can do miracles like this) then the interest is another $125 Million for the first year. We’ll assume our dumb government lets private industry supply our critical infrastructure so we’ll be paying for the interest. This makes our water at $4.50 per kilolitre. This might be all well and good except that the supposed price increase is only a few tens of percent or up to about $1.65 at most. Water at the moment is about $1.16 per kL. If we mix the water we will have 3 parts normal plus 1 part desalinated for a total cost of $7.50 per 4Kl or about $1.75. This is assuming desalinated water is 25% of total supply.

And this I predict will be the initial cheapest they will ever supply it. Once they double the plant size, allow for maintenance and new membranes you can expect your water to soon head towards the $3 per Kl mark and then beyond.

To quote this announcement from the government “To offset this massive investment, we’re announcing a new water pricing structure which will see water prices rise in real terms by 12.7 percent on average from July 1 next year.” 

And here’s the initial pricing:

The new three tier structure for 2008-9 is:
o $0.71/kL for water use from 0-120 kL.
o $1.38/kL for water use from 120-520 kL.
o $1.65/kL for water use above 520 kL.

compared to the old:

The current two-tier structure for 2007-08 includes:
o $0.50/kL for water use from 0-125 kL
o $1.16/kL for water use above 125 kL.

However if you work out the actual cost of 250kL of water, the declared average use, using the new figures you get $264.60 compared to $207.50 under the old two tier pricing stream. This is an increase of 27.5% and not the 12.7 claimed above. In fact the lowest increase is roughly 21% for someone using a massive 525kL.

So here we have a government, the same as the proceeding ones, that has sat on it arse fiddling while Adelaide burned,  bumping up it’s own super funds whilst telling porkies about the real cost of desalinated water and lying about price increases.

I take my hat off to their spin merchants and Mr Wran. Mr Barnum would be proud to have you as his son.


BOTE #1 – Efficiency of running…?

I have always been interested in working things out roughly from first principles. These so called “back of the envelope” BOTE calculations are pretty good ways of a)making sure you understand how something is derived and b) good for checking what other people are claiming. I first came across this in high school science and the 80’s in an article working out how much it costs to get a bottle of wine to our nearest star, due to the wonders of the Internet here is the article. (It’s well worth reading as to why we will never have intergalactic space travel, the bottle of wine was $11Bn in 1980 dollars)

With this in mind I might do a few articles in a series using this principle and so here’s the first and a caution: If you think the world is 6000 years old or that acupuncture actually channels Chi or that there is some conspiracy behind 9/11 you will probably have trouble with the following as it uses the language of science and assumes you are willing to understand and know basic science. In my experience people in the above mentioned groups and related woo-woo areas have incredible trouble with this stuff due to the mind control satellites put in orbit by the Illuminati that emit anti-science beams in an effort to confuse the human race. They are succeeding IMHO.

When checking out a company dealing with carbon offsets in Australia I came across the following information in their blurb.

” At 0.27 kg of CO2 per kilometre, air travel produces by far the largest amount of GHG emissions per passenger kilometre of any form of transportation. By comparison, a single-occupant vehicle produces 0.20 kg of CO2 per kilometre, and a bus produces 0.07 kg of CO2 per kilometre per passenger.

There’s a reference to the source of this but whoever does their blurb is apparently not a scientist as they don’t know how to cite references properly.

However, the question that formed in my mind is how much energy does a running human produce, perhaps these figures are not too bad in comparison? I doubt it but you never know. And this is where some idea of science comes in useful. How much CO2 do I produce when running a kilometre? I don’t want a super accurate answer, I only have a few minutes to find the answer. A quick search of the web is no use, the best I can get is energy burn but I already know that from my polar watch which I use when running. So given this data, lets see how much CO2 I generate when running.

When I run I burn about 60 to 70 calories per kilometre. (Sorry about mixing the units but this is BOTE, not some scientific paper). This corresponds to about 15-18 gram of sugar as we have 4 calorie per gram of sugar. When burning this sugar, we’ll assume it’s pure glucose, we get 6 molecules of CO2 for every molecule of glucose.

Glucose -> 6 CO2 + 6 Water + energy (assuming a perfect world)

The real equation is really complex ..and irrelevant to BOTE.

To work out quantity of glucose we need the molar mass of glucose (180.16 g mol−1)  and CO2 (44g mol−1). Wiki is a quick way to get this data. From here we work out the amount of glucose as 18 / 180.16,  so say 0.1 mol. After burning this will give 0.6 mol of CO2 and multiplying by it’s atomic mass we get 0.6 x 44 = 27 gram.

We now have our answer and in the units of the original article, about 0.03 kg of CO2 is produced when I run. So a bit under half what a bus uses. When walking I use about half that again but take over twice as long so that sort of balances out. This strikes me as pretty impressive for a bus which uses slightly more than twice as much energy per kilometre and is darn sight heavier, even when you spread it’s mass over each passenger.

And now I look at figures for  the car and plane and they are not that bad and I notice the car states for a “single-occupant vehicle” which instantly strikes me as the worst case scenario. Maybe a car with 3 people produces roughly 0.06kg per person, which is better than the bus! Perhaps further investigation of this quoted data is needed as things are starting to look rather fishy here but that’s a story for another BOTE day.

Today’s homework boys and girls is to get on the bike at the gym, remember the calorie burn for a kilometre and work out how much better wheels are than legs.. 🙂