Assessing the Transition from Coal to Low-Carbon Electricity

In a recent article (open access) in Environmental Research Letters, N.P. Myhrvold & Ken Caldeira lay out the case for why a transition to low-carbon electrical sources is likely to prove a long haul due to the inertia of the climatic system.

Among the take-aways from the article:

  1. The larger contribution (relative to during operation) of greenhouse gas emissions during construction of nuclear and renewable power plants (vs. fossil fuel power plants) results in a sawtooth trend in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations for a constant output of electricity;
  2. Because of the long residence time of atmospheric carbon dioxide and ocean thermal inertia, idealized energy conservation takes 20 years to achieve a 25% reduction in warming associated with high greenhouse gas-emitting sources, and 40 years to achieve a 50 year reduction;
  3. A transition to natural gas would by no means be a panacea to climatic issues in the short term, requiring more than a century or longer to reduce warming associated with high greenhouse gas emitting sources by 25%;
  4. Replacement of conventional coal-fired power plants with coal plants fitted with carbon capture and sequestration technology (CCS) would only reduce warming associated with high greenhouse gas emitting sources by7 25% after 26-110 years, or a 50%  reduction in 52 years under optimistic assumptions, or several centuries under more pessimistic assumptions:
  5.  While a transition to low carbon sources doesn’t substantially bend the warming curve in the short or medium term, a failure to do so could threaten even more serious environmental impacts in the second half of this century and beyond.

Among the class discussion questions that this article might invite are the following:

  • What are the implications of the study for prioritization of resources for adaptation initiatives?;
  • Do the results of this study provide any additional impetus for climate geoengineering interventions?;
  • Does the study suggest that we should not be aggressively pursuing a transition to natural gas and/or a commitment to CCS?



Video Presentation on the Smart Grid and Regulation in the United States

Professor Joel Eisen’s recent Energy Policy & Climate Forum presentation at Johns Hopkins University, entitled “Smart Regulation and Federalism for the Smart Grid,” is available at:

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Sustainability and Climate Change Workshops



Below you will find several workshop opportunities on Sustainability and Climate,  as well as workshops on Teaching the Methods of Geoscience, Teaching Environmental Geology, and workshops for early career faculty and those preparing for an academic career.  Note that many of these workshops have impending application deadlines.


In addition, you will find below the first call for module authors from the InTeGrate project… Continue reading

Climate Workshops for College Faculty

2012 Workshops for Sustainability and Climate

The topics of sustainability and climate change offer important opportunities to engage students in science that is multidisciplinary, complex and societally relevant. Thus, we are pleased to announce a suite of workshops for college faculty addressing various aspects of sustainability and climate science in higher education. Note that many of these workshops have application deadlines in early March.


The CLEAN… Continue reading

The Impact of Climate Geoengineering on Crop Yields

In the face of several studies in recent years that have concluded that solar radiation management (SRM) geoengineering approaches might pose risks to food security, primarily by altering precipitation patterns, a new study in Nature Climate Change (J. Pongratz, Crop Yields in a Geoengineered Climate, Natural Climate Change, online, Jan. 22, 2012) seeks to assess the impacts of SRM on maize, wheat and rice production and yields. The study… Continue reading

Economic Implications of Greenhouse Gases Under the Clean Air Act

While there have been a large number of analyses of the potential ramifications of regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the U.S. Clean Air Act (CAA), very few have assessed the potential economic impacts. A recent piece in the journal Review of Environmental Economics & Policy does just this, and also compares economic impacts vis-a-vis legislative alternatives.  The article also discusses options to increase compliance flexibility, thereby potentially maximizing… Continue reading

DISCCRS Program Symposium

DISCCRS VII Interdisciplinary Climate Change Research Symposium

Dates: October 13-20, 2012

Location: La Foret Conference and Retreat Center
Colorado Springs, CO

Application Deadline: February 29, 2012
Participation limited to 30 early-career Ph.D. scholars
Airfare and on-site expenses are supported through grants from NSF and NASA

Ph.D. requirements completed between August 1, 2009 – February 29, 2012 in any natural or… Continue reading

Mock U.S. Supreme Court argument on climate change liability: Videofeed

The University of Houston Law Center is hosting a mock U.S. Supreme Court argument on climate change tort liability at the University of Houston Law Center on Jan. 19, 2012. The bench includes John Cruden, Ken Starr and former Texas Supreme Court Judge Tom Phillips.  Rick Faulk and David Axelrad will present the arguments, and we’ll then have an extended analysis and discussion with student input afterward.

The event… Continue reading

Scholarships for MSc in Climate Change and Development at University of Sussex, UK

The University of Sussex would like to invite applications for the MSc in ‘Climate Change and Development’ for entry in September 2012. Scholarship information is provided below.


This is a unique course that aims to provide state-of-the-art training for the rapidly expanding market for development professionals with specialisation in climate change.  The programme is strongly multidisciplinary. Students will acquire specialist knowledge of the causes and consequences of… Continue reading

Climate 101 Now Available

Almost 3000 non-science major undergraduates at the University of Chicago have taken PHSC13400, Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, since Ray Pierrehumbert and I (David Archer) first developed it back in 1995.  The class is now available online,  Open Climate 101. The course is free, and one can obtain a certificate after completion of the course if one obtains a sufficiently high score on an online examination… Continue reading