Climate Change: The Standard Fixes Don’t Work

World leaders seem to have their minds made up regarding what will fix world CO2 emissions problems. Their list includes taxes on gasoline consumption, more general carbon taxes, cap and trade programs, increased efficiency in automobiles, greater focus on renewables, and more natural gas usage.

Unfortunately, we live in a world economy with constrained oil supply. Because of this, the chosen approaches have a tendency to backfire if some countries adopt them, and others do not. But even if everyone adopts them, it is not at all clear that they will provide the promised benefits.

Figure 1. Actual world carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, as shown in BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy. Fitted line is expected trend in emissions, based on actual trend in emissions from 1987-1997, equal to about 1.0% per year.

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997. If emissions had risen at the average rate that they did during the 1987 to 1997 period (about 1% per year), emissions in 2011 would be 18% lower than they actually were. While there were many other things going on at the same time, the much higher rise in emissions in recent years is not an encouraging sign.

The standard fixes don’t work for several reasons:

1. In an oil-supply constrained world, if a few countries reduce their oil consumption, the big impact is to leave more oil for the countries that don’t. Oil price may drop a tiny amount, but on a world-wide basis, pretty much the same amount of oil will be extracted, and nearly all of it will be consumed.

2. Unless there is a high tax on imported products made with fossil fuels, the big impact of a carbon tax is to send manufacturing to countries without a carbon tax, such as China and India. These countries are likely to use a far higher proportion of coal in their manufacturing than OECD countries would, and this change will tend to increase world CO2 emissions. Such a change will also tend to raise the standard of living of citizens in the countries adding manufacturing, further raising emissions. This change will also tend to reduce the number of jobs available in OECD countries.

3. The only time when increasing natural gas usage will actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions is if it replaces coal consumption. Otherwise it adds to carbon emissions, but at a lower rate than other fossil fuels, relative to the energy provided.

4. Substitutes for oil, including renewable fuels, are ways of increasing consumption of coal and natural gas over what they would be in the absence of renewable fuels, because they act as  add-ons to world oil supply, rather than as true substitutes for oil. Even in cases where they are theoretically more efficient, they still tend to raise carbon emissions in absolute terms, by raising the production of coal and natural gas needed to produce them.

5. Even using more biomass as fuel does not appear to be a solution. Recent work by noted scientists suggests that ramping up the use of biomass runs the risk of pushing the world past a climate change tipping point.

It is really unfortunate that the standard fixes work the way they do, because many of the proposed fixes do have good points. For example, if oil supply is limited, available oil can be shared far more equitably if people drive small fuel-efficient vehicles. The balance sheet of an oil importing nation looks better if citizens of that nation conserve oil. But we are kidding ourselves if we think these fixes will actually do much to solve the world’s CO2 emissions problem.

If we really want to reduce world CO2 emissions, we need to look at reducing world population, reducing world trade, and making more “essential” goods and services locally.  It is doubtful that many countries will volunteer to use these approaches, however.  It seems likely that Nature will ultimately provide its own solution, perhaps working through high oil prices and weaknesses in the world financial system.

Elastic Versus Inelastic Supply

It seems to me that many bad decisions have been made because many economists have missed the point that crude oil supply tends to be very inelastic, while other fuels are fairly elastic. Let me explain.

Elastic supply is the usual situation for most goods. Plenty of the product is available, if the price is high enough. If there is a shortage, prices rise, and in not too long a time, the market is well-supplied again. If supply is elastic, if you or I use less of it, ultimately less of the product is produced.

Coal and natural gas usually are considered to be elastic in their supply. To some extent, they are still “extract it as you need it” products. Supply of natural gas liquids (often grouped with crude oil, but acting more like a gas, so it is less suitable as a transportation fuel) is also fairly elastic.

Crude oil is the one product that is in quite short supply, on a world-wide basis. Its supply doesn’t seem to increase by more than a tiny percentage, no matter how high the price rises. This is a situation of inelastic supply.

Figure 2. World crude oil production (including condensate) based primarily on US Energy Information Administration data, with trend lines fitted by the author.

Even though oil prices have been very high since 2005  (shown in Figure 3, below), the amount of crude oil has increased by only 0.1%  per year (Figure 2, above).

Figure 3. Historical average annual oil prices, (“Brent” or equivalent) in 2011$, from BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

In the case of oil, both supply and demand are quite inelastic. No matter how high the price, demand for oil doesn’t drop back by much. No matter how high the price of oil, world supply doesn’t rise very much, either.1

In a situation of inelastic supply, the usual actions a person might take appear to work when viewed on a local basis, but backfire on a world basis, if not everyone participates. When one country tries to conserve crude oil (whether through a carbon tax, gasoline tax, or higher automobile mileage requirement), it may reduce its own consumption, but there are still plenty of other buyers in the market for the oil that was saved. So the oil gets used by someone else, perhaps at a slightly lower price.  World oil production remains virtually unchanged. Thus, a reduction in oil usage by an OECD country can translate to more oil consumption by China or India, and ultimately more development of all types by those countries.

Adding Substitutes Adds to Carbon Emissions

If we don’t have enough crude oil, one approach is to create substitutes. Because crude oil supply is inelastic, though, these substitutes aren’t really substitutes, though. They are “add ons” to world oil supply, and this is one source of our problem with increasing world emissions.

What do we use to make the substitutes? Basically, natural gas and coal, and to a limited extent oil (because we can’t avoid using oil). The catch is, that to make the substitutes, we need to burn natural gas and coal more quickly than we would, if we didn’t make the oil substitutes. Since the supply of coal and natural gas is elastic, it is possible to pull them out of the ground more quickly. Thus, making the substitutes tends to increase carbon dioxide emissions over what they would have been, if we had never come up with the idea of substitutes.

The increased use of coal and natural gas is pretty clear, if a person thinks about coal-to-liquids or gas-to-liquids. Here, we need to first build the plants used in production, and then with each barrel of substitute made, we need to use more natural gas or coal. So it is very clear that we are extracting a lot of additional coal and natural gas, to make a relatively smaller amount of oil substitute. There is often a substantial need for water to make the process work as well, adding another stress on the system.

But the same issue comes up with biofuels, and with other renewables. These too, are add-ons to the world oil supply, not substitutes. While theoretically they might produce energy with less CO2 per unit than fossil fuel systems, in absolute terms they lead to natural gas and coal being pulled out of the ground more quickly to be used in making fertilizer, electricity, concrete, and other inputs to renewables.2

Carbon Taxes and Competitiveness

Each country competes with others in the world market place. Adding a carbon tax makes products made by the local company less competitive in the world marketplace.  It also signals to potential coal users that the countries adopting the carbon taxes are willing to a leave a greater proportion of world coal exports to those who are not adopting the tax, thus helping to keep the cost of imported coal down.

Asian countries already have a competitive edge over OECD countries in terms of lower wages and lower fuel costs (because of their heavy coal mix), when it comes to manufacturing. Adding a carbon tax tends to add to the Asian competitive edge. This tends to shift production offshore, and with it, jobs.

Figure 4. China’s energy consumption by source, based on BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy data.

China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. Figure 4 shows clearly that its fuel consumption ramped up rapidly thereafter. It seems likely that the number of Chinese manufacturing jobs and spending on Chinese infrastructure increased at the same time.

Economists seem to have missed the serious worldwide deterioration in CO2 emissions in recent years by looking primarily at individual country indications, including CO2 emissions per unit of GDP. Unfortunately, this narrow view misses the big picture–that total CO2 emissions are rising, and that CO2 emissions relative to world GDP have stopped falling. (See my posts Is it really possible to decouple GDP growth from energy growth and Thoughts on why energy use and CO2 emissions are rising as fast as GDP. See also Figure 1 at the top of the post.)

The Employment Connection

I have shown that in the US there is a close correlation between energy consumption and number of jobs. (For more information, including a look at older periods, see my post, The close tie between energy consumption, employment, and recession.)

Figure 5. Employment is the total number employed at non-farm labor as reported by the US Census Bureau. Energy consumption is the total amount of energy of all types consumed (oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind, etc.), in British Thermal Units (Btu), as reported by the US Energy Information Administration.

There are several reasons why a connection between energy consumption and the number of jobs is to be expected:

(1) The job itself in almost every situation requires energy, even if it is only electricity to operate computers, and fuel to heat and light buildings.

(2) Equally importantly, the salaries that employees earn allow them to buy goods that require the use of energy, such as a car or house. (“Energy demand” is what people can afford; jobs allow “demand” to rise.)

(3) The lowest salaried people can be expected to spend the highest proportion of their salaries on energy-related services (such as food and gasoline for commuting). The wealthy spend their money on high priced goods and services, such as financial planning services and designer clothing that require much less energy per dollar of expenditure.

The thing I find concerning is the close timing between the ramp-up of Asian coal use and thus jobs using coal, and the drop-off of US employment as a percentage of US population, as illustrated in Figure 6 below. Arguably, the ramp up in world trade is just as important, but some aspects of programs that are intended to save CO2 emissions also seem to encourage world trade.

Figure 6. US Number Employed / Population, where US Number Employed is Total Non_Farm Workers from Current Employment Statistics of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Population is US Resident Population from the US Census. 2012 is partial year estimate.

Of course, the US did not sign the Kyoto Protocol or enact a carbon tax, and it is its jobs that I show falling as a percentage of population. It is more that the CO2 solutions act as yet another way to encourage more international trade, and with it more “growth”, and  more CO2.

Using More Biomass is Not a Fix Either

Burning more wood for fuel and creating “second generation” biofuels from biomass seems like a fix, until a person realizes that we are reaching limits there, as well.

In June 2012, twenty noted scientist published a paper in the journal Nature called Approaching a State Shift in the Earth’s Biosphere. This report indicates that humans have already converted as much as 43% of Earth’s land to urban or agricultural uses. In total, 20% to 40% of Earth’s primary productivity has been taken over by humans. The authors are concerned that we may now be reaching a tipping point leading to a state shift, because of loss of ecosystem services as use of biological products increases. With this state change would come a change in climate. Simulations indicate that this tipping point may occur when as little as 50% of land use is disturbed. This tipping point may be even lower, if world-wide synergies take place.

On Our Current Path – Lacking Good Solutions

While this list of problems relating to current proposed solutions is not complete, it gives a hint of the problems with reducing CO2 emissions using approaches suggested to date. There are many issues I have not covered.

One issue of note is the fact the cost of integrating intermittent renewables (such as wind and solar PV) increases rapidly, as we add increasing amounts to the grid. This occurs because there is more need to transport the electricity long distances and to mitigate its variability through electricity storage or fossil fuel balancing. (See for example, Low Carbon Projects Demand a New Transmission and Distribution Model, Grid Instability Has Industry Scrambling for Solutions, and Hawaii’s Solar Power Flare-Up.)

While the problems noted in these articles are probably solvable, the cost of these solutions has not been built into energy balance analyses. Energy balances (or EROEI estimates) as currently reported do not vary with the proportion of intermittent renewables added to the grid. If energy balance analyses were adjusted to reflect the high cost of adding an increasing proportion of wind or solar PV to the grid, they would likely show a rapidly declining energy balance, above a certain threshold. This would indicate that while adding a little intermittent renewables (as we have done to date) can be a partial solution, adding a lot is likely to have serious cost and energy balance issues.

Another issue that is difficult to deal with is the fact that we are not dealing with a temporary problem with CO2 emissions. The idea is not to slow down the burning of fossil fuels, and burn more later; what we really need to do is to leave unburned fossil fuels in the ground for all time. This is a problem, because there is no way that we can impose our will on people living 10 or 50 years from now. The Maximum Power Principle of H. T. Odum would seem to indicate that any species will make use of whatever energy sources are available to it, to the extent that it can. Even if we temporarily defeat this tendency with respect to humans’ use of fossil fuels, I don’t see any way that we can defeat this tendency for the long term.

Considering all of these issues, it does not appear that most of the “standard” solutions will really work.3 What other options do we have?

Nature’s Solution  

The Earth has been handling the problem of shifting conditions for over 4 billion years. The earth is a finite system. Nature provides that finite systems, such as the Earth, will cycle to new states of equilibrium over time, as conditions change. While we would like to defeat Earth’s tendency in this regard, it is not at all clear that we can. Part of this cycling to a new state is likely to be a change in climate.

A state change is a cause for concern to humans, but not necessarily to the Earth itself.  The Earth has moved from state to state many times in its existence, and will continue to do so in the future. The changes will bring the Earth back into a new equilibrium. For example, if CO2 levels are high, species that can make use of higher CO2 levels (such as plants) are likely to become dominant, rather than humans.

Exactly how this state change might occur is subject to different views. One view is that changing CO2 levels will be a primary driver. The Nature article referenced previously suggested that increased disturbance of natural ecosystems (as with greater use of biomass) might force a state change. My personal view is that a financial collapse related to high oil price may be part of Nature’s approach to moving to a new state. It could bring about a reduction in world trade, a scale back in CO2 emissions, and a general contraction of human systems.4

However the change takes place, it could be abrupt. It will not be to many people’s liking, since most will not be prepared for it.

Steps That Might Work to Slow CO2 Emissions

It would be convenient if we could slow CO2 emissions by working to produce energy with less CO2. This option does not seem to be working well though, so I would argue that we need to work in a different direction: toward reducing humans’ need for external energy. In order to do this, I would suggest two major steps:

(1) Reduce the world’s population, through one-child policies and universal access to family planning services. This step is necessary because rising population adds to demand. If we are to reduce demand, lower population needs to play a role.

(2) Change our emphasis to producing essential goods locally, rather than outsourcing them to parts of the world that are likely use coal to produce them. I would suggest starting with food, water, and clothing, and the supply chains necessary to produce these items.

Changing our emphasis to producing essential goods locally will have a multiple benefits. It will (a) add local jobs, and (b) lead to less worldwide growth in coal usage, (c) save on transport fuel, and (d) add protection against the adverse impact of declining world oil supply, if this should happen in the not too distant future. It should also help reduce CO2 emissions. The costs of goods will likely be higher using this approach, leading to less “stuff” per person, but this, too, is part of reaching reduced CO2 emissions.

It is hard to see that the steps outlined above would be acceptable to world leaders or to the majority of world population. Thus, I am afraid we will end up falling back on Nature’s plan, discussed above.

Notes:

[1] Michael Kumhof and Dirk Muir recently prepared a model of oil supply and demand (IMF working paper: Oil and the World Economy: Some Possible Futures). In it, they assume a long run price-elasticity of oil supply of 0.03, and remark that a paper by Benes and others indicates a range of 0.005 to 0.02 for this variable. The long term price elasticity of oil demand is  assumed to be .08 in the Kumhof and Muir analysis.

[2] I would argue that standard EROEI measurements are defined too narrowly to give a true measure of the amount of energy used in making a particular substitute. For example, EROEI measures do not consider the energy costs associated with labor (even though workers spend their salaries on clothing, and commuting costs, and many other good and services that use fossil fuels), or with financing costs, or of indirect impacts like wear and tear on the roads by transporting corn for biofuel.

Other types of analysis have ways of dealing with this known shortfall. For example, when the number of jobs that a new employer can be expected to add to a community is evaluated, the usual approach seems to be to take the number of jobs that can be directly counted and multiply by three, to estimate the full impact. I would argue that with substitutes, some similar adjustment is needed. This adjustment which would act to increase the energy use associated with renewables, and reduce the EROEI. For example, the adjustment might divide directly calculated EROEI by three.

A calculation of the true net benefit of renewables also needs to recognize that nearly the full energy cost is paid up front, and only over time is recovered in energy production. When renewable production is growing rapidly, society tends to be in a long-term deficit position. Typically, it is only as growth slows that society reaches as net-positive energy position.

[3] I obviously have not covered all potential solutions. Nuclear power is sometimes mentioned, as is space solar power. There are new solutions being proposed regularly. Even if these solutions would work, ramping them up would take time and require use of fossil fuels, so it is wise to consider other options as well.

[4] The way that limited oil supply could interfere with world trade is as follows: High oil prices cause consumers to cut back on discretionary goods. This leads to layoffs in discretionary sectors of the economy, such as vacation travel. It also leads to secondary effects, such as debt defaults and lower housing prices. The financial effects “concentrate up” to governments of oil importing nations, because they receive less tax revenue from laid-off workers at the same time that they pay out more in unemployment benefits, stimulus, and bank bailouts. (We are already at this point.)

Eventually, countries will find that deficit spending is spiraling out of control. If countries raise taxes and cut benefits, this is likely to lead to more lay offs and debt defaults. One possible outcome is that citizens will become increasingly unhappy, and replace governments with new governments that repudiate old debt. The new governments may have difficulty establishing financial relationships with other governments, given that most are major debt defaulters. Such issues could reduce world trade substantially. With the drop of world trade would come much more limited ability to maintain our current systems, such as electricity and long distance transport.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to inadequate supply.
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122 Responses to Climate Change: The Standard Fixes Don’t Work

  1. Dana Mayson says:

    Que the angry, religious-like anti-carbon folks who claim to be operating from “facts” that remind the more open minded among us of what the folks who wanted to hang Galileo said (the earth is still flat, don’t you know?). They, who have financial interests in wind, solar and other unrealistic alternatives, will defend their investments till they are bankrupted by them. There is no such thing as absolute science. Scientific knowledge is always changing and evolving. Truly scientific minded folks know this. Sadly, we have very few in mainstream academia. The politicians manipulate the fools all the way to the bank (their bank).

  2. sapientsage says:

    Reblogged this on sapientsage and commented:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

  3. momist says:

    Your final sentence: “Such issues could reduce world trade substantially.” This might result directly in “(2) Change our emphasis to producing essential goods locally”. However, I can’t see any natural mechanism for the earth to encourage “(1) Reduce the world’s population”, except by using the three horsemen of the apocalypse.
    Gloom.

    • I’m afraid I don’t see any way to voluntarily reduce population, either. There can be small groups that choose to have fewer children, but beyond that, I don’t see many options. Everyone wants to have children, especially if pension programs don’t look like they will work.

      • Keith Thomas says:

        Having a child or two (at least) is at the essence of being a member of the species Homo sapiens. To decide to do otherwise is, so far as our genetics is concerned, pure ideology. It may be essential that billions of us do this for survival of our species, but it’s still counter to our fundamental nature as individuals in this Darwinian world.

        • I am mother of three children, ages 28 to 33 myself, and in many ways I agree with you.

          I have been surprised at how many of today’s young adults seem not to be too much interested in having children. It seems like if their jobs are not going well, many postpone marriage and families almost indefinitely. I don’t have grandchildren.

      • Leo Smith says:

        Many people I know, myself included, decided not to have children.

      • Noe Allen says:

        We’ve been slaughtering each other in wars for reasons far less consequential – I suspect when the pinch begins to hurt -we will begin serious population reduction.

        Okay by me. I have prayed for a die off for some years now. Seeing Java was enough for me. Too many people, destroying too many environments.

        I’m not even shy about saying WHO should go. If Africa became a game park tomorrow – there would be few tears. At least I’m honest about my misanthrope.

    • pendantry says:

      Proud member of VHEMT, here.

  4. I think what you are recommending is along these lines……

    From …

    There are no painless solutions to get CO2 levels below 350ppm. Will it be painless to keep things as they are, this is the real question we need to ask ourselves? Only time can answer that, and its a big gamble to take. I think as real tipping points occur a large scale effort to reduce emmissions will happen. Whether it succeeds or not is another days debate.
    However we conot continue to deny the warnings from social, environmental and even economic quarters…

    “World Bank – Climate Change Report Warns of Dramatically Warmer World This Century
    Highlights:
    •Report warns the world is on track to a “4°C world” marked by extreme heat-waves and life-threatening sea level rise.
    •Adverse effects of global warming are “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions” and likely to undermine development efforts and goals.
    •Bank eyes increased support for adaptation, mitigation, inclusive green growth and climate-smart development. ”

    http://climatechange.worldbank.org/content/climate-change-report-warns-dramatically-warmer-world-century

    The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) world energy outlook 2012 executive summary also makes for disturbing reading from a climate change perspective – if sufficient energy efficiency measures are not implemented by 2017 (4 years from now..) there is a very high possibility of a global temperature increase of 3.6 dec C – no chance of limiting to 2 degC.

    http://www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/weo2012sum.pdf

    The Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC) Low Carbon Economy Index 2012 centres on one core statistic: the rate of change of global carbon intensity.

    http://www.pwc.co.uk/sustainability-climate-change/publications/low-carbon-economy-index.jhtml?goback=%2Egmp_1140337%2Egde_1140337_member_186579689

    This year PwC estimated that the required improvement in global carbon intensity to meet a 2ºC warming target has risen to 5.1% a year, from now to 2050. We have passed a critical threshold – not once since 1950 has the world achieved that rate of decarbonisation in a single year, but the task now confronting us is to achieve it for 39 consecutive years.

    “Now one thing is clear: businesses, governments and communities across the world need to plan for a warming world – not just 2°C, but 4°C, or even 6°C.”

    At one degree Celsius, most coral reefs and many mountain glaciers will be lost. A three-degree rise would spell the collapse of the Amazon rainforest, disappearance of Greenland’s ice sheet, and the creation of deserts across the Midwestern United States and southern Africa. A six-degree increase would eliminate most life on Earth, including much of humanity.

    • This link was supposed to be after the word “From…” at the top….
      Worth a look:-)

      • Thanks! Some of this are very dependent on our current system. I don’t see that we are going to transition to 3D printers, for example. Part of our problem is that we don’t really know the path down. But it is an interesting video for those who are new to the issue.

    • If financial collapse takes place, it could fix most of those problems–but not in a nice way. We seem to have our choice of future problems.

    • Most people seem to agree that the planet is warming. The problem is convincing enough people that our CO2 emissions are the cause. Very few people still accept this fact and still say that its a natural variation. I sometimes like to show them the CO2 ppm measurements then and ask, is this a natural variation? I normally get silence then although in their mind they still think “its out of my hands”. As long as the majority of people still dont accept that our consumption of fossil fuels is a major cause for this warming, there is simply no way we can stop the runaway train on this. Especially with IEA posting good news for the growth of the economy by saying USA will be an oil exporter soon. The disconnect from the science and the economy is really bad for us.

      • The natural variation argument is well and truly null and void.

        This is a balanced article from both sides of the argument (it is well worth signing in to read, its free)……..

        http://www.europeanenergyreview.eu/site/pagina.php?id_mailing=287&toegang=918317b57931b6b7a7d29490fe5ec9f9&id=3740

        Of course NASA have been diligently documenting the evidence against the natural variation argument for years…

        http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

        http://www.9news.com/news/article/246143/188/NASA-Global-warming-caused-mostly-by-humans

        It has been well established that 97% of climate scientists (the people who study climate change for a living and are therefore the most knowledgable about the subject) agree that human activities are causing significant climate change.

        http://junksciencecom.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/pnas-2010-anderegg-1003187107-1.pdf

        We take the doctor’s advice on our physical health, the mechanic’s advice on our car maintenance, the dentists advice on a toothache and maybe even the climate scientist’s advice on the causation of life changing climate change. Makes sense!
        Although we look for a second opinion from time to time, that’s allowed too. A personnel choice can be made if you don’t want a life saving operation, but it should not impinge on others.
        Generally political consensus is concerned with the voting public and what they decide.
        Denial of certainty is not equivalent to the certainty of denial. We are all capable of studying the facts in order to make an informed decision. Those who chose not too, should listen to the experts. 97% – 3%, I would go with the 97%.

      • step back says:

        The other day I had a conversation with a Climate Denier.
        Turns out his CO2 footprint is way smaller than mine.
        Why?
        He owns his own business close to home and thus commutes shorter distances (often by bike).
        Me. I work for another person who has their business close to their home but for me it’s a much longer commute and no mass transit or other infrastructure to support reduction of footprint.

        Bottom line
        (as I see it for most people):
        Infrastructure
        Infrastructure
        Infrastructure

        (or as J Kunstler puts it: We are clusterF***ed)

        • Karl says:

          The short term temperature trend seems to be downwards. Let’s hope it develops into a long term trend (or maybe not).

          http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadcrut4/diagnostics.html

        • Indeed, infrastructure is the critical part of everyones life. As I wrote on my blog, our society has through fossil fuel created a dependence on cars and long commuting to make the ends meet in order to pay our debt. We have very little flexibility and real freedom in this kind of society, as you are at the mercy of being able to pay those bills. I guess we have all willingly walked into this as I am sure quite a lot of us could make smart choices about how we invest our time and money.

          I have a big mortgage on my home which I will hopefully have paid down before I am 60 years old. When we moved into the house and took up that loan, I was reluctant to take on so much debt, but I soon realized it was perhaps even lower than the average – and indeed way lower than what I see people take on now in Norway. I mean, who can sleep well at night with over 2 million NOK (about $350.000) in debt? Everyone is saying that the value will grow so its not so bad, the house is after all worth 5 million – I guess that rings some bells for you over in USA?:) – Well our country still haven’t reached any form of real crisis while EU is falling apart, we got lucky, people still want to buy our oil. I am trying to tell people how lucky we are and that we act cocky and self sure about this situation which will come back and bite us seriously in not too far distant future.

          Personally I am thinking every day about what my options really are. Fortunately my workplace is considering moving, and will probably move closer to where I live so a bit shorter commuting. I am thinking of getting an electrical car this year as its way better than any petrol guzzler environmentally as well as good for my wallet (few taxes on them here so far). But at the same time its yet more loans… Although that house loan is really the killer, its really whats limiting any choice for me and my family now, and I am unsure what flexibility we will have in case there is a serious crash in the economy.

          If at least people were able to live somewhere without locking them into debt for the rest of their lives, I think we would have more options to “think different”. But the way it is now, I feel locked into this “expected behavior” and “business as usual” kind of thinking, unless I go completely radical and move to a cheap farmhouse outside town and take a 350.org or transition network kind of life. I am not sure if my family and I are ready for that – and neither do I know how I would cope in that world, but a part of me say we would at least be more resilient towards change. I generally think that kids should get the benefit of staying in one place, having the same friends for a long time, stability – with the amount of people moving all the time I wonder how it affects their kids, never finding a root anywhere and getting used to being ripped out of school and friends all the time. It surely cant be good, and I guess I feel the same about my kids. Another reason to stay put. But at the same time, it doesn’t matter where your school and friends are when you cant live a resilient life in a time of crisis (although friends certainly helps out).

          So you are right, infrastructure is the main reason, its like a cage really.

      • I think there is another issue as well: Even if the planet is warming, is there something that we reasonably can do about it, in a short enough time to make a difference? And of course, the question I raised, “How do we influence future generations as well?”

        I am afraid I am not convinced that the situation is really fixable, because of the issues I mentioned. We can do a little, that is all.

        • Manolo El Lobo says:

          Gail, whatever we do, it’s gonna be to little to late: our problem is shifting rapidly from CO2 to CH4. Methane is rising at an unprecedented rate from the Arctic, due to the effects of global warming. As you certainly do know , CH4 has a much, much higher potential as a Greenhouse gas (depending on the timescale you are looking, 20 to 100 greater..) Now, the speed of Ice Volume lost in the Arctic has taken everyone, even the most pessimistic, by surprise. We will almost certainly witness the same acceleration with the frozen methane under the Arctic Ocean and on land in the area (It’s happening right now). Similar things happened before. If you look up Paleo-Climatology you will find this kind of event under the name of “Dansgaard Oeschger”. These are very fast, brutal climate change events. The way it looks right now, we are in a ramp up to one of these kind of events. See link about methane rising (there are many more): http://arctic-news.blogspot.ch/2012/08/charting-mankinds-expressway-to-extinction.html
          Very little we can do indeed. Nature’s way we go.

      • Leo Smith says:

        The evidence seems to be that the planet stopped warming in 2000 or thereabouts.

        • Mel Tisdale says:

          Such a comment is unworthy of you, Leo. It is the sort of nonsense that Lord Nigel Lawson comes up with, one assumes in order to meet the requirements of the secret funders of his Global Warming Policy Foundation. Considering the harm that climate change is guaranteed to do to the U.K., it is amazing that he is allowed to keep his title. Poor old Fred Goodwin only made a bad business decision and lost his knighthood.

          Only the atmospheric temperature has experienced a hiatus, as is normal in La Niña events, of which we have recently had a series, and only then if one takes annual averages. The rolling ten year average just keeps climbing. An El Niño is building and so air temperatures are expected to rise. We can only hope that it is not as bad as the 1998 one. In the meantime the ocean temperatures have been rising inexorably.

          I will recommend yet again that you visit skepticalscience.com where you find the myth that global warming has ceased roundly rebutted, along with a load of other falsehoods so often presented as an excuse for not doing anything. It is a highly respected website within the climate science community.

  5. Leo Smith says:

    World population will reduce anyway. The only question is by what means.

    But that is rather academic, since it won’t matter to the dead, and the living will be too busy staying that way.

    I’d guess by at least four of the standard horsemen,. Starvation disease violence and of course the final horse coloured a pallid Green.

    Probably renewable energy.:-)

    I’ll get the popcorn.

  6. PeteTheBee says:

    Isn’t the US currently Kyoto complaint, despite not ratifying Kyoto? Our emissions are way down, that’s for sure.

    • No, the US isn’t Kyoto compliant. Its emissions are quite a bit higher than in 1990. The only figures I have are for CO2. (There are other gasses involved as well.) CO2 emissions were 5.4 billion metric tons in 1990. They hit a high of 6.5 million metric tons in 2007. In 2011, they were 6.0 billion metric tons.

      THe Former Soviet Union does very well under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol. I’m not sure how Germany fares under the exact rules, but it seems to be pretty good as well. (Perhaps closing down some East German factories helped.)

      • PeteTheBee says:

        Looks pretty close to Kyoto compliant to me.

        http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/17/a-20-year-low-in-u-s-carbon-emissions/

        You are aware that there will almost surely be a big drop in CO2 emissions for 2012? Read the papers, etc?

        • I know that with the low price of natural gas, there has been a lot of switching from coal to gas for electricity recently, hence the drop in CO2. The drop in the percentage of the country employed has “helped” reduce carbon numbers, as did the warm winter last winter. The chart you link to is for Jan-Feb-Mar, so reflects the warm winter months.

          Based on BP data, for 2011, the USA’s carbon emissions were was still 10.5% above the base year of 1990. For the year 2012, it seems likely that the emissions of the USA will decrease in 2012. It is possible that CO2 emissions for the USA may drop below the 1990 level in 2012, so if 2012 dropping below the 1990 CO2 level was the goal, the emission target would be reached. The catch is that we don’t really know what the goal would have been. For many of the countries, the Kyoto target was a actually a reduction from the 1990. (See Annex 1 percentage table on Wikipedia.) Canada was aiming for a -6%, Belgium was striving for -7.5%, and Belgium was string for -21%. If a decrease such as these is required for compliance, then it would be harder for the USA to be Kyoto compliant.

          • Its still good to read that CO2 emissions are going down. If China also had more natural gas based power stations I am sure the planet could get a much needed “breather”. We really need to explore these options as well even though CO2 will still be steadily rising as its above whatever the carbon cycle of the planet is able to digest. It can buy us some time to develop alternatives.

            Norway has been busy these past years with what our prime minister called “Norway’s Moon Landing Project”, which is carbon capture from gas plants. Quite a bit of money has been put into this so far although the technology hasn’t been able to deliver yet. I am sure with some serious effort we could considerably reduce emissions from natural gas plants. Yes, its expensive, yes it limits growth, and possibly the only reason why Norway can afford this now is because of the high oil price income, but its really necessary for us to figure out how we can best burn whatever fossil fuel we have left on the planet. Most of fossil fuel burning need to be centralized in order to have effective carbon capture, hence Norway has lower taxes on electrical cars to make more people switch to that. Thanks to Misubishi iMiev and Nissan Leaf the electrical car sales have gone up considerably in Norway, with the largest fleet in Europe. Our hydro based power is also very cheap so its really a win win situation for all here. Our governments target is 50000 cars by 2018 which is a bit in a 5 million population country. I am sure these cars will also be good for future battery storage banks kinds of infrastructure if they take form at some time in the future. I can easily imagine certain people living off the grid if they have local windpower also and are able to reduce their energy consumption as well. For now, with the cheap hydro (which has no plan of going away with the rise in precipitation here), I think a good electrical based infrastructure has its merits here.

            • Norway is different than most of the rest of the world with all of its hydroelectric. Most others are dependent on fossil fuels for electricity.

              There is still an issue of supply chains, but it you have oil to sell, those supply chains may hold up better than for others.

  7. Pingback: Leave the oil and coal in the ground | thetopcatplan.com

  8. Thanks a lot for your courage to talk about the crude reality outside the collective illusion of infonite growth!

    My agenda is pretty similar:
    http://ourgreatestcommonfactor.wordpress.com/2012/11/07/two-scenarios-lemmings-vs-ex-junkies/

  9. Reblogged this on Our Greatest Common Factor and commented:
    Courageous thinking outside paradigms, a must read!

  10. quantiger says:

    I’ve been saying things like this for quite a while. We can implement everything in Kyoto and it won’t accomplish diddly-squat. So what’s the point? It makes us feel like we are doing something. It’s Potemkin policy, and that’s dangerous because it blinds us to reality.

    Where I diverge is that it’s obvious we have to have huge amounts of energy, which means nuclear power. The costs of nuclear power are mostly regulatory, not engineering costs.

    The other serious alternative is orbiting solar power satellites in geosynchronous orbit. Expensive to put up, but excellent once they are up there.

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