Monday, June 8, 2009

The quiet sun and inertia

In what can only be described as a prescient post Last September, Barry Brook discussed the implications of delayed new sunspot cycle. Barry was not alone in foreseeing a possibly long term trend toward diminished sunspot activioty.

Other NASA scientists in 2006 foresaw in increeased sunspot activity during the next cycle, which was predicted to have begun by now. Prolongued quiet sun periods have been associated with so called "Little Ice Ages." These are periods of small global temperature declines (0.5 to 0.7 degrees F or 0.3 to 0.4 C). The impact on local climate however is more severe with longer and harsher winters in Europe and North America. However as Barry pointed out in his September post, the global climate impact of increased levels of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere would not be mitigated in any long-term fashion by no matter how long the quiet sun period lasts.

In September Barry observed
Thus if the sun remains “out”, i.e., stuck for a long period in the current solar minimum, it can offset only about 7 years of CO2 increase. The human-made greenhouse gas climate forcing is now relentlessly, monotonically, increasing at a rate that overwhelms variability of natural climate forcings. Unforced variability of global temperature is great, . . .
Barry has another very sensible post on the quiet sun today, so hop on over and take a gander. In his September 2008 post, Barry estimated that a quiet sun would delay global temperature rises by no more that seven years, but never for one moment doubt the importance of those 7 years for the fossil fuel business and for the struggle to sucessfully mitigate AGW. Of course the sunspot cycle could become much more active very quickly and all of the discussion of the quiet sun becomes yesterday's stale bread. But we still need to think about the implications of a prolonged solar minimum.

The big play in fossil fuels at present is the natural gas play. Joe Romm and Greenpeace have sold whatever souls they have to the natural gas interest. The German Greens have sold out to Gazprom and the coal interests, while Joe Romm and the Greenpeace have suddenly decided that natural gas is both "clean" despite CO2 emissions, and an honorary renewable. An honorary renewable is neither renewable nor sustainable but has the "virtue" of not being nuclear-powered.

The natural-gas folks would like nothing better than to get the contracts to replace coal-fired power plants with combined-cycle power units. No doubt a very unnatural and unholy alliance between the natural-gas interests and the greens has already been signed, sealed, and delivered. The question thus becomes how does money flow from the natural-gas business, to the so-called green lobby? The greens deliver a steady stream of attacks on nuclear power while green-washing natural gas.

A seven year remission of global warming would give the natural gas interests and their green minions time to build up their CO2-emitting generating facilities. If on the other hand the next two or three years are exceptionally warm, pressure is on to take more decisive steps on global warming.

Given sufficient pressure to come up with a plan, the politicians are likely to discover the limitations of solar and wind, and begin thinking about plan B. Plan B would involve nuclear power, but a form of nuclear power that will be inexpensive to build, and which could be rapidly deployed worldwide on a truly massive scale.

I have argued that that technology exists and that its development would be relatively inexpensive. What prevents its development now is simply inertia. The American nuclear research establishment has for over 30 years been starved for research funding. The ever-dishonest greens have repeatedly recited the dishonest myth of a huge nuclear subsidy to fight for an ever decreasing budget for all nuclear research. The once-magnificent American nuclear research establishment has been reduced to less than a shaddow of its former glory. If nuclear power is to realized its full potential potential to mitigate AGW, the nuclear research establishment must be rebuilt. And that is unlikely untill a few hot years administer a shock to the system. If that does not happen until the second half of the next decade that may prove to be far too late. Thus the quiet sun might might well make the fight against AGW that much more difficult to win.

My assumption has been that the next few years would be very hot, and that a sequence of several hot years would sober thinking about AGW by cutting the legs out from under the AGW skeptics. The first few years of a prolonged quiet sun period could well be years of moderate climate, thus delaying the perception of warming until the middle of the next decade. Delayed peeceptions could meand delayed in accepting the necessity of AGW mittigation. This could in turn continue the prevelent inirtia of nuclear technology.


Jason Ribeiro said...

Charles, the sun spot phenomena is just one more reason among many for why the term 'renewable' ought to be thrown out as an energy term.

While the sun and wind may be 'renewable' in the loose definition of the term, they are also intermittent in their class. Only hydro and geothermal then qualify as the only baseload & renewable sources of energy.

How this all wraps up in the new RPS standards remains to be seen, but politicians should stay away from terms like "renewables" in legislation, it's too much of a buzz word.

Charles Barton said...

Jason, I intend to shake up the argument even more by demonstrating that not all renewable resources are sustainable, that it may e possible to exhaust, at least temporarily, some renewable resources.

Anonymous said...

Jason, I intend to shake up the argument even more by demonstrating that not all renewable resources are sustainable, that it may e possible to exhaust, at least temporarily, some renewable resources.

Firewood and whale oil are canonical examples here...

Jason Ribeiro said...

I was reading something yesterday that mentioned sunspots and their potential against solar. The claim was there is no effect on solar arrays from sun spots. I suspect this is correct and that weather plays a far more important part as to how well your solar panels function. The mini ice-age phenomena is quite real and could trigger at anytime with a good sized volcano eruption.


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