How Much do Computers Contribute to Climate Warming?

The dirty parts of the computing world (Nathan Ensmenger, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Apr. 11, 2016)

Today we review as assessment of the degree to which computers and computer networks contribute to or pollute with energy use, water consumption, mining and e-waste. In all four categories computer technology plays a significant role with 2 of global electricity use, and 25 tons of e-waste from Western countries alone. A typical desktop computer uses 30% more energy than the standard refrigerator. The computational output from Bitcoin is 256 times the combined capacity of the world’s 500 top supercomputers. In many countries, energy is produced from fuels such as coal and natural gas which produce carbon emissions. Clearly computers should be part of the accounting of the world’s energy, waste and water tallies.

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Can Extreme Weather Events be Attributed to Climate Change?

Attribution of Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change (163 page pdf, Committee on Extreme Weather Events and Climate Change Attribution; Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate; Division on Earth and Life Studies; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Mar. 17, 2016)

Also discussed here: Global Warming Is Happening FAST, but Is It Causing Extreme Weather Events?(Astrid Caldas, Union of Concerned Scientists, Mar. 11, 2016)

Today we review a major effort to answer the question: how does climate change affect extreme weather events? This was investigated using two well known approaches: the long term statistics of meteorological parameters and through simulations using physical climate models. Although much more research is needed, several conclusions were made including a main one that some types of extreme weather events (such as extreme cold and heat events)  are more easily understood and attributable to climate change than others (such as wildfires and severe convective storms and tornadoes) . This, in turn, is linked to the ability of models to simulate and physically represent large scale temperature events covering continents more effectively than those on an urban or smaller scale that involve fine scale precipitation patterns. Another major finding was that it is impossible to absolutely link climate change alone to a single extreme event because of the role that natural variability almost always plays.


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What are Countries Doing to Protect Human Health and Ecosystems?

Global Metrics for the Environment, 2016 REPORT, Environmental Performance Index (12 page pdf,  Yale University, Jan. 24, 2016)

Also discussed here: U.S. Could Do Much More To Protect The Environment, Report Finds (Huffington Post, Jan. 27, 2016)

And here:Environmental Performance Index- Air Quality (Yale University, Jan. 24, 2016)

Today we review the 2016 Environmental Performance Index, prepared by Yale University which ranks the performance of countries in two areas: protection of human health and protection of Ecosystems. While improvements were seen in most categories, air quality is becoming worse mainly as a result of increased concentrations of fine particulate matter, especially in urban areas. While only 2% of global deaths (1.24 million) are caused by unsafe drinking water (and that is due to 80% of waste water not being treated), poor air quality caused 10% of global deaths (5.52 deaths). Overall, Finland tops the list in all categories with policy commitments made to achieve carbon neutral status by 2050. Other Scandinavian countries are near the top while North American countries such as Canada (ranked overall at #16) or the USA (ranked 26) are not achieving as much. This also applies to air quality where Canada at #26 and USA at #36.

env perf index 2016

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What has Europe Done to Reduce Air Pollution and Related Premature Deaths?

The impact of European legislative and technology measures to reduce air pollutants on air quality, human health and climate (11 page pdf, S T Turnock, E W Butt, T B Richardson, G W Mann, C L Reddington1, P M Forster, J Haywood, M Crippa, G Janssens-Maenhout, C E Johnson, Environ. Res. Lett., Feb 12, 2016)

Today we review a paper that estimates, using two simulation models,  how many premature deaths were prevented with and without the technology and regulatory changes over the period from 1970 to 2010. Results indicate that the adoption of  the PM2.5 concentration to 15 μgm−3 prevented 80,000 deaths and economic benefits of $232 each year. Mitigation measures reduced the premature deaths by 3 to 4 premature deaths annually per 10 000 people in central and eastern Europe ..and 5 to 6 premature deaths annually per 10 000 people in south eastern Europe (Romania and Bulgaria).

premature deaths in EU

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How do Carbon Emissions from Electric Vehicles Compare to Conventional Ones on a Life Cycle Basis?

Consequential life cycle air emissions externalities for plug-in electric vehicles in the PJM interconnection (13 page pdf, Allison Weis, Paulina Jaramillo and Jeremy Michalek, Environ. Res. Lett., Feb 9, 2016)

Today we review an assessment of the life cycle emissions their costs from hybrid, plug-in hybrid vehicles compared to conventional ones, driven in states where the majority of the electric power generated is from coal or natural gas. Not surprisingly, the conclusion is that plug-in hybrid emissions are more damaging than hybrid and conventional vehicles under current conditions. The same analysis was done in a future power regulated scenario where renewable energy sources partly replace the carbon burning sources (e.g. 3 to 20% more wind power). Here, the hybrid and plug-in vehicles have higher SO2 and other pollutant emissions and lower PM 2.5 emissions while NO2 and greenhouse gas emissions can be higher or lower than conventional, depending on the individual case. In summary, as applied to Canada, it appears that electric cars make sense in regions where the power sources are largely renewable (e.g. Ontario, Quebec and BC where almost all electric power is nuclear or hydro) but do make sense in regions were power is generated from carbon fuels (such as Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Maritimes).

e car emissions

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What is the Social Cost of Carbon Pollution?

How do we define climate pollution’s cost to society? (Elizabeth Shogren, DC Dispatch Jan. 27, 2016)

Also discussed here: Evidence on the Impact of Sustained Exposure to Air Pollution on Life Expectancy from China’s Huai River Policy (53 page pdg, , Yuyu Chen, Avraham Ebenstein, Michael Greenstone and Hongbin Li, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Economics, Working Paper Series, Jun.20, 2013)

And here: Americans Are Living Longer, Thanks to the Clean Air Act (Melissa C. Lott, Scientific American, Jan. 31, 2016
Today we review a paper by an Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon (United States Government) which estimated the economic benefit of carbon pollution reductions, taking into account future discount rates and, using a model, the atmospheric impact of a metric ton of carbon, and how it affects earth temperatures in terms of a range of impacts such stresses to agriculture and increased need for air conditioning etc. Estimated costs to 2050 range from $11 (at a predicted 5% average rate) to $221(at 3% rate) per metric ton of CO2. The opposite side of this issue is the cost of imposing a government policy which results in damages to the public.


One example of air pollution policy yielding benefits is the Clean Air Act in the USA which has produced 336 million life-years since 1970. Another example from Northern China (with a 500M population, greater than the entire USA) where an earlier policy (which was reversed in 2007) to burn coal to support industry resulted in health impacts and a loss of 2.5 million life years of life expectancy for the region- or 5.5 years per person. The need to consider this direct cost and benefit, as well as the incentive value of carbon pricing to encourage renewable energy use, is obvious.

social cost poll

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How Much Coal, Gas and Coal Must be Kept Unused to limit Global Warming to 2 deg C?

The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C (Abstract, Christophe McGlade & Paul Ekins, Nature. Jan.8, 2016)

Also discussed here: Keep It in the Ground (36 page pdf, Sierra Club, Greenpeace,, Jan. 2016)

And here: Meeting two degree climate target means 80 per cent of world’s coal is “unburnable”, study says (Carbon Brief, Jan. 7, 2015)

Today we review a report commissioned by several environmental activist groups that examines the extent to which the remaining coal, gas and oil reserves would threaten the UN’s target to keep warming from greenhouse gases to below 2 deg C. The major threats come from the USA from fracking and oil, Australia from coal and from Canada with tar sands as well as from Russia, the Mid-East and China. Globally 1/3 of the oil reserves, ½ of the gas reserves and 80% of the coal reserves must remain unused between now and 2050 in order to reach the goal.

keep in the gorund

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