Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, February 09, 2007

Virgin Earth Challenge

Richard Branson and Al Gore announced the Vigin Earth Challenge today: a $25 million dollar prize to anyone who can figure out how to actually pull carbon out of the atmosphere. Without such a reduction, greenhouse gases already present will continue to warm Earth slowly for centuries to come. I was pleased to see that the announcement warns:

However, it is important to remember that there is a real possibility that no one will win this prize. Governments, and their people, must continue to use every effort to radically reduce CO2 emissions.
The threshold required to receive the Virgin Earth Prize is an annual reduction of carbon dioxide (or equivalent in terms of other greenhouse gases) in the amount of: 1 billion tons, 1 Petagrams, 0.47 parts per million by volume. Now, let's put the goal in context of atmospheric composition. (The units are parts per million by volume of CO2. These are not terribly easy figures to come by, because of difficulty with units. I think I've converted correctly. These are the latest figures from the 2007 IPCC report.)

Virgin Challenge Goal................................................... -0.47
Annual World Emission............................................. +12.4
Atmospheric Excess over Pre-Industrial Average........ 105
Composition of Atmosphere....................................... 383

Kudos to Branson and Gore for a good idea. Let's hope it helps... and let's hope the federal government will fund more such research.


The Law Talking Guy said...

How 'bout trees? All you have to do is make sure that, when they die, you bury them deep underground so that their carbon is not returned to the atmosphere.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Projects like Trees for the Future claim that a single tree can sequester about 50 lbs. of CO2 per year, or 1/40 of a ton. To achieve a billion ton reduction, you'd need to plant 40 billion trees. (Other estimates are less generous, indicating 50-60 billion trees.)

An article on reforestation in Wikipedia suggests a hectare of rainforest can achieve 38 tons of carbon sequestration per year. To achieve a billion ton reduction, that comes out to 263,000 square kilometers... an area the size of Colorado.

The EPA gives figures for new forest that are rather more conservative. They range from 14% to 60% of the figure quoted in Wikipedia... so we could be talking about an area several times larger. And then, don't forget, we have to dispose of those billions and billions of dead trees in a way that does not burn fossil fuels or put carbon into the atmosphere. Oh, and they need to be in tropical areas: some studies show that trees also re-radiate heat rather efficiently, so temperate forests actually would increase global warming. We'd need to plant these forests entirely in tropical zones.

So it's a good idea, and a help, but not really a solution.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Let's put this in perspective. When you burn a gallon of gasoline, where does it go? The atmosphere of course. The government estimates that a gallon of gasoline contains 5.5 pounds of carbon, which yields 20 pounds of carbon dioxide when burned in your car.

That means just 2.5 gallons of gasoline--even by the enthusiastic estimate of "Trees of the Future"--negates the sequestration effects of a tree for an entire year. If you drive 10,000 miles per year at 20 miles per gallon, congratulations: you've added 5 tons of carbon to the atmosphere! That requiring 200 new trees.

The EPA estimates that U.S. motor gasoline and diesel emissions in 2006 amounted to 1.6 billion tons of CO2. Part of the issue here is that the average fuel efficiency of North American automobiles is only half that of our European and Japanese counterparts. If we could match them, we would achieve much of that one billion ton reduction right there.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Not to be contrarian, but I did suggest burying the trees in the earth - to keep the carbon out of the atmosphere.

I say, let's fund tree planting. An area the size of Colorado sounds doable. Nobody is using the Dakotas.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Well, where's my $25 million??

Dr. Strangelove said...

1. Plant tens of billions of trees.
2. Grow hundreds of thousands of square miles of new forest--more than just trees.
3. Bury billions of trees and other forest biomass per year--a job more difficult than the planting.
4. Do all this using non-carbon-emitting helicopters, bulldozers, etc...
5. Use tropical zones only.

I looked for planting rates. The only estimate I could find was 1,600 trees per person per day... which works out to about 100,000 person-years of effort to plant the minimum tree number. This excludes all logistics costs and personnel... and doesn't account for the need to plant entire forest ecosystems.

Very difficult, but not impossible, LTG. As I said, it's a good idea. As for the $25 million, however, unfortunately part of the fine print in the Virgin Earth Challenge says that the plan must be, "commercially viable." You got robbed ;-(

vikrant suri said...

(Quote ) – “It is not the amount of work one puts into one's research, but the quality of the time you devote. Many of the Nobel-winning experiments took very little time and energy to do. What made them landmarks in science was the fact that they took a look at something from a different perspective. Most of the experiments were elegantly simple. They were condensed right down to the fundamentals of logic: "if..., then...." What is more is that they applied that logic to very momentous questions. You might define such questions as pertaining to characteristics of a large sector of the universe. “ ( Un-Quote )