Do the World’s Energy Policies Make Sense?

The world today has a myriad of energy policies. One of them seems to be to encourage renewables, especially wind and solar. Another seems to be to encourage electric cars. A third seems to be to try to move away from fossil fuels. Countries in Europe and elsewhere have been trying carbon taxes. There are also programs to buy carbon offsets for energy uses such as air travel.

Maybe it is time to step back and take a look. Where are we now? Where are we really headed? Have the policies implemented since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 had any positive impact?

Let’s look at some of the issues involved.

[1] We have had very little success in reducing CO2 emissions.

CO2 emissions for all countries, in total, have been spiraling upward, year after year.

World CO2 Emissions

Figure 1. Carbon dioxide emissions for the world, based on BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy.

If we look at the situation by part of the world, we see an even more concerning pattern.

Figure 2. Carbon dioxide emissions by part of the world through 2018, based on BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy. Soviet Empire is an approximation including Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, based on the BP report. It would not include Cuba and North Korea.

The group US+EU+Japan has been able to reduce its CO2 emissions by 5% since 2005. Emissions were slowly rising between 1981 and 2005. There was a dip at the time of the Great Recession of 2008-2009, followed by a downward trend. A person might get the impression that CO2 emissions for the EU tend to rise during periods when the economy is doing well and tend to fall when it is doing poorly.

The “star” in emissions reductions is the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites. I refer to this group as the Soviet Empire. Emissions fell around the time of the collapse of the central government of the Soviet Union in 1991. This big decrease in emissions seems to be related to huge changes that took place at that time. Instead of one country with a single currency, the individual republics were suddenly on their own.

The high point in CO2 emissions for the Soviet Empire came in 1990, the year before the collapse of the Soviet Union central government. By 1999, emissions had fallen to a level 37% below their 1990 level. In fact, even in recent years, emissions for this group of countries has stayed low. Much industry collapsed and has never been replaced.

The group that has more than doubled its emissions is what I call the Remainder Group. The group includes many countries, including China and India, that ramped up their manufacturing and other heavy industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the World Trade Organization added members. The Remainder Group also includes many countries that suddenly found new export markets for their raw materials, such as oil, iron ore, and copper. The Remainder countries became richer; they became more able to pave roads and build more substantial homes for their citizens. With all of this GDP-related activity, CO2 emissions increased rapidly.

[2] Population growth has followed a pattern that is in some ways similar to CO2 growth. 

Figure 3. Population from 1965 to 2018, based on UN 2019 population estimates.

In Figure 3, we see that population has been virtually flat in the former Soviet Empire (2% growth between 1997 and 2018). With the economy not doing well, young people emigrate to countries that seem to provide better prospects.

Population in the US+EU+Japan Group grew by 11% between 1997 and 2018.

The group that is simply outstanding for population growth is the Remainder Group, with 35% growth between 1997 and 2018. A big part of this population growth comes from improved sanitation and basic medical care, such as antibiotics. With these changes, a larger percentage of the babies that are born have been able to live to maturity.

It is hard to see any bend in the trend lines, which would indicate that recent actions have actually changed the course of activity from the way it was headed previously. Of course, the trend is only “linear,” implying that the percentage growth is gradually slowing over time.

This rapidly growing population feeds into the CO2 problem as well. The many young people would all like food, homes and transportation. While it is possible to obtain some version of these desired products without fossil fuels, the version with fossil fuels tends to be vastly improved. Most people prefer homes with indoor plumbing and electricity, if given an opportunity, for example.

[3] Deforestation keeps growing as a world problem.

Figure 4. Chart showing World Bank estimates of share of world forested by economic grouping.

High Income Countries keep pushing the deforestation problem to the poorer parts of the world. Heavily Indebted Poor Countries are especially affected. Worldwide, deforestation continues to grow.

[4] With respect to fossil fuels, there is a great deal of confusion with respect to, “What do we need to be saved from?” 

Do we have a problem with too much or too little fossil fuel? We hear two different stories.

Figure 5. Author’s image of two trains speeding toward the world economy.

Climate modelers keep telling us about what could happen, if indeed we use too much fossil fuel. In fact, the climate currently is changing, bolstering this point of view.

It seems to me that there is an equally great danger of collapse, accompanied by low energy prices. For example, we know that energy production in the European Union has been declining for many years, without the countries being able to do anything about it.

We also know historically that many civilizations have collapsed. The Soviet Empire collapsed in 1991, illustrating one type of collapse. The Soviet Union was an oil exporter. Its collapse came after oil prices were too low to allow adequate investment in new oil fields for an extended period of time. The Great Recession of 2008-2009 offers a much smaller, temporary version of what collapse might look like.

Another example of low prices accompanying collapse comes from Revelation 18: 11-13, warning of possible collapse like that of ancient Babylon. The problem was inadequate demand and low prices; even the energy product of the day (human beings sold as slaves) had little value.

11 The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

What we have been seeing recently is falling prices and prices that are too low for producers. Such a result can lead to collapse if too many energy producers go bankrupt and quit.

Figure 6. Inflation adjusted weekly average Brent Oil price, based on EIA oil spot prices and US CPI-urban inflation.

If we are in danger of collapse from low prices, renewables would not seem to be of much assistance unless they (a) are significantly less expensive than fossil fuels and (b) can be scaled up sufficiently rapidly to more than replace fossil fuels. Neither of these seems to be a possibility.

[5] Early studies overestimated how much help renewables might provide, especially if our problem comes from too little energy supply rather than too much.

Renewables look like they would be great from many points of view, but when it comes down to the real world situation, they don’t live up to the hype.

One issue is that while wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and other devices for capturing energy are called “renewables,” they are really only available through the use of the fossil fuel system. They are made using fossil fuels. If a part breaks, or if insects eat away the insulation on wires, replacements need to be made using the fossil fuel system and transported using the fossil fuel system. At best, renewables should be considered fossil fuel extenders, using less fossil fuels than conventional electricity generation. They are also dependent on other resources, which may eventually deplete, but which are not a problem at this time.

A second issue is that it is extremely difficult to do a proper cost-benefit analysis on renewables because they can only be used as part of a larger system. They tend to look inexpensive, when viewed in isolation. But when total system costs are viewed, they often are quite expensive.

One difficulty in a proper cost-benefit analysis is the fact that renewables are often sited at quite a distance from where electricity is to be used, leading to the need for a significant number of long distance transmission lines. Furthermore, if renewables provide intermittent power, they need to be sized for the maximum output, not their average output. All of these long distance lines need to be properly maintained, or they tend to cause fires. In some instances, burying the lines underground at significant cost is the only solution. Somehow, these higher costs need to be recognized as part of the cost of the system, but this is rarely done.

Another difficulty in a proper cost-benefit analysis is the fact that renewables’  intermittency must be overcome, if the electricity is to be of benefit to a modern economy that requires electricity 24/7/365. In theory, we could greatly overbuild the renewables system and the transmission. This might work, but we would end up with a large percentage of the system that is not used most of the time, greatly adding to costs.

Batteries can be added, but the cost tends to be high. One commenter on my site recently observed:

EIA reports the average cost for utility scale battery systems to be about $1500 per kWh. At that rate the batteries needed for backing up a solar or wind facility for three days cost around 30 times as much as the RE facility. But wind is often unpowered for more like seven days, during huge stagnant high pressure episodes. Thus the backup battery cost is more like 100 times the wind farm cost. Batteries are not feasible.

The major intermittency problem is season-to-season, especially saving up enough for winter. We do not have a way, today, of storing energy from one season to another, short of making it into a liquid (such as ammonia), and storing the liquid from season to season. This would be another way of driving up costs of the overall system. It has not been included in anyone’s cost calculations.

For the time being, we are forcing nuclear and fossil fuel to provide backup electrical services to intermittent renewables without adequately compensating them for their services. This tends to drive them out of business. This is not an adequate solution either.

A third issue is that renewables really need to be “economic” to work. In other words, they need to generate a profit for their owners, when comparing the unsubsidized costs with the benefits of the system. In fact, their owners need to be able to pay fairly substantial taxes to governments, to cover their share of governmental costs as well. If renewables truly were providing substantial benefit to the system, their use would tend to “take off” on their own, because they would be providing “net energy” to the system. Instead, renewables tend to act like “energy sinks.” They need endless subsidies. They can never substitute for fossil fuels. In fact, they can’t even pay their own way.

A related issue is that, because of the high total costs (as well as their lack of true net energy benefits), it is almost impossible to ramp up the quantity of renewables such as wind and solar very high. The EU has been a big supporter of renewables other than hydroelectric. Figure 7 shows a chart of the EU’s own energy production, together with its energy imports.

EU Energy by Type and Whether Imported

Figure 7. EU energy by type and whether imported, based on data of BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy. Renewables are non-hydroelectric renewables such as wind, solar, and geothermal.

After at least 20 years of subsidies, the EU has been able to increase renewables (other than hydroelectric) to about 10% of its total energy supply. The EU’s oil imports are roughly level, and its natural gas imports have been increasing. Even with rapid growth in non-hydro renewables, the EU has been experiencing a decrease in total energy consumption.

[6] Looking at the actual outcomes, a person might ask, “What in the world were policymakers really thinking about?”

We are told that the reason policymakers made the decisions they did was because they thought that they could reduce CO2 emissions in this way. Really? If a person really wants to reduce CO2 emissions, it is easy to see how to do it. A person simply has to take steps in the direction of reducing global co-operation. One step would be to reduce international trade. Another would be to get rid of umbrella organizations such as the World Trade Organization, the United Nations and the European Union. In fact, within individual countries, the top level of government could be removed, leaving (for example) the provinces of Canada and the states of the United States. In other words, policymakers could push economies in the direction of collapse.

Another way collapse could be encouraged would be by rapidly raising interest rates or cutting off credit. With less purchasing power, the world would be pushed into recession.

At the time of the Kyoto Protocol, policymakers moved in precisely the opposite direction of pushing the economy toward collapse. They moved in the direction of adding international trade and more debt to enable the growth. The countries with greater trade had huge coal resources that had not been used. With the help of this coal, the world economy was able to continue to grow. This approach only made sense if the real problem at the time of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 was too little energy resources, not too much. The economy needed the stimulation that more low-cost energy and more debt could provide.

It is now more than twenty years later. The coal resources of China are starting to deplete. Coal is also causing serious ground-level pollution problems, both in China and India. Without growing coal production, world GDP growth starts slowing. We are again facing low oil prices and other commodity prices–a problem similar to the one present when the government of the Soviet Union collapsed. The world economy seems again to be headed toward having some of its governmental organizations collapse from inadequate energy. Political parties are becoming more extreme; countries are enacting new tariffs. If we go back to Figure 5, the concern should again be collapse, on the left side of the figure.

[7] The scenarios considered by the IPCC climate model need to be revisited.

A climate model looks to the past and tries to forecast what would happen in alternative “scenarios.” The concern I have is that the scenarios evaluated are not realistic. To get to the level of CO2 that would produce the most extreme scenarios, coal production would need to continue at a high level for many, many years. This seems unrealistic because world coal production has been fairly flat for several years, and prices tend to be lower than producers require if they are to stay in business. The likely direction for coal production seems to be down, rather than up.

Figure 8. World Energy Consumption by Fuel, based on data of 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

In order for coal production to grow as much as the higher emission scenarios assume, there needs to be a major turnaround in the situation. World coal prices would need to rise substantially. In fact, coal in very difficult locations for extraction, such as under the North Sea, need to become profitable to extract. This situation seems very unlikely.

It seems to me that climate modelers should be considering more realistic scenarios regarding CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. One scenario which should be considered is the possible near term collapse of several governmental organizations, such as the European Union, World Trade Organization, and the governments of several oil exporting countries.

[8] The push toward renewables makes little sense without a firmer foundation than currently exists.

Early studies looked only at the cost of renewables themselves, without the cost of extra long-distance grid transportation and battery storage. Such an estimate makes renewables look far more valuable than they really are.

We now have enough experience that we can see what goes wrong. A hydroelectric plant that operates during the wet season in a tropical country may be of little practical use, for example, if there is no fossil fuel energy available to provide backup electricity production during the dry season. The total cost of the overlapping systems needs to be taken into consideration, including the need to hire staff year around for both the fossil fuel and hydroelectric facilities. Electricity transmission will likely be needed for both types of generation.

There are many other real-world examples that can be examined, before blanket “use renewables” recommendations should be issued. If renewables are not truly very inexpensive (around 2 cents per kWh or less), without subsidies, they are likely not to be long-lasting. Subsidies become more and more difficult to maintain, as a system scales up.

This entry was posted in Energy policy, Financial Implications and tagged , by Gail Tverberg. Bookmark the permalink.

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 financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.

1,380 thoughts on “Do the World’s Energy Policies Make Sense?

  1. Hi Gail, and thanks for the outline on policies.
    Just recently I’ve had to rethink where we are going. I still think we will run out of diesel fuel before the world can get enough nuclear fusion in place to make a meaningful difference, ie before 2070. That does make the Extinction Rebellion protests somewhat redundant, if not something of a distraction.
    That also pushes the LTG peaks later and higher than in the BAU model, hence steeper declines with no alternative source of energy. And BTW, uranium is not infinite either.
    Perhaps of more interest in the short run is finance. You may want to look at what happens when fiat economies stop increasing government deficits and begin to balance their budgets. Greece would be a good place to start.

    • I expect that collapse will look like financial collapse. In some ways it will like the 2008-2009 Great Recession, before the collapse takes a turn for the worse.

      The problem with diesel fuel is that governments keep pushing down demand by putting into place higher mileage requirements. At times they encourage cars powered by electricity, except that electric cars tend to be too expensive for most citizens, when total costs are included. Recharging costs and taxes needed for road upkeep are two important parts that tend to get left out of analyses.

      If we look at diesel demand of China, compared to its gasoline demand, we see that China’s diesel demand has very much leveled off, presumably because of the slowdown in coal extraction and the resulting cutback in heavy industry. China’s flat demand for diesel should help with diesel availability for Europe.

      Europe has had low demand growth for diesel for a very long time.

      I believe that Ugo Bardi posted an incorrect analysis by some European person whose name I didn’t recognize, claiming that world diesel production was down significantly. I think that the author was using a database incorrectly. This is BP data that I would tend to believe.

      • Thanks for setting out these graphs. I’ve found this data really hard to pin down. IIRC, half of each barrel of crude oil is refined into diesel and gasoline fuels. The rest goes for various purposed including repairing roads. (The Fossil Fuel burn is only half the story).
        IIRC in the UK, our refineries were set up to produce the balance of diesel to gasoline that the market demanded. Then something changed and the government pushed diesel cars, the refineries had to change.
        Then as the North Sea ran out, it was cheaper to buy in refined fuels and at least one refinery was decommissioned and shipped off to Pakistan.
        I seem to recall that in the 1920’s diesel fuel was the target of the refineries. Gasoline (petrol) was a waste product hence the degelopment of the auto industry to use the cheap fuel.

        • Different types of oil produce different mixes of gasoline, diesel, asphalt, and other products, without special “cracking,” to make long molecules into shorter molecules. If prices are high enough, it makes economic sense to (for example) make asphalt into diesel.

          Generally, refineries do not try to make short molecules (like natural gas or even gasoline) into longer molecules, even though the longer molecules sell for a higher price. The cost of conversion is too high.

          On a world basis, the distribution has stayed close to 25% gasoline, 25% diesel , and 50% all other products. Actually, diesel has grown, as it made increasing sense to refine some of what would be asphalt into diesel. When prices fell, refining asphalt to make diesel made less sense, so the percentage dropped somewhat.

          The EU seemed to be willing to buy diesel on the world market. It is hard to see that any local refinery could produce the strange mix it wanted. Needless to say, when the world’s percentage of diesel started drop a little (probably because the lower price of oil made “cracking” long molecules less cost-effective) it squeezed the EU’s plan to use diesel much as possible.

          I have always wondered what in the world the EU was thinking about. Maybe they thought that the world market would always be well enough supplied that they could purchase whatever mix they preferred.

          • “I have always wondered what in the world the EU was thinking about.”
            That one falls into the “my brain hurts” category.
            A few days ago I listened to Yanis Varofakis relating his negotiations with EU Finance Ministers. It went something like this: YV “Economic science says this cannot work.” EUFM “Just give us a number.”
            That may explain this:
            Activist global warming strategies have now caused the European Investment Bank to ban its fossil fuel project funding. After more than a year of internal and external lobbying by several EU member states and an ever-growing list of activist NGO and pressure groups, the EIB has decided to cut its financial support for all new fossil fuel projects by 2021. It will also support €1 trillion of investments in climate action and environmental sustainability. This is meant to force European countries to put an end to new gas-fueled power projects and keep in line with the Paris Agreements and EU CO2 emission targets. EIB VP Andrew McDowell stated to the press that the EIB’s new energy lending policy, seen as a landmark decision, has been approved with “overwhelming” support. He reiterated that it will bar investments or financing for most fossil fuel projects, including those that employ the traditional use of natural gas.
            When things make no sense, somenting else is happenig.

            • The EU is assuring that it will be one of the parts of the world economy that collapses. We (outside the EU) should be happy that the EU has chosen this role for itself.

    • Greece is now a non monetary sovereign State, like all those using the Euro. It’s an entirely different kettle of fish compared to MS states like the USA, Japan, Canada,Australia etc.
      Greece’s mistake illustrates the fundamental flaw in the eurozone and that will kill it.

      • The mistake that Greece made was to believe the “European” mirage. When things got real they got punished as a cnation instead of supported as europeans.
        The point I make is that if a country decides to reduce its fuel consumption, any of the present governments need only reduce their spending (subsidies) and increase taxation generally to cause activity to fall quite quickly. It’s complex and too long to discuss here.

  2. Biology and Climate Change

    One of the common claims by the Climate Denier group of scientists is that biological flourishing is promoted by higher levels of CO2. I have looked at the very warm Earth and the flourishing plant life and wondered about it. Those plants laid down the fossil fuels we are burning today. And the answer is: humans weren’t around during those times. Those conditions may have been good for dinosaurs, but impossible for humans. After all, an extremely high percentage of all the species that have ever lived are now extinct. There is no reason to believe humans are exceptions.

    More generally, biology frequently involves balancing acts. Plants, for example, benefit from warm days with plenty of CO2, but also require cool evenings…and CO2 raises nighttime temperatures more than daytime temperatures. Scientific American posed the question:
    Climate change’s negative effects on plants will likely outweigh any gains from elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels
    “Even with the benefit of CO2 fertilization, when you start getting up to 1 to 2 degrees of warming, you see negative effects,” she says. “There are a lot of different pathways by which temperature can negatively affect crop yield: soil moisture deficit [or] heat directly damaging the plants and interfering with their reproductive process.”

    So, for example, a greenhouse with artificially increased CO2 but also with air conditioning to control temperature might grow fabulous plants…but at what cost?

    As another example of the slippery nature of biological functioning:

    David Sinclair, at Harvard, has pointed to the commonly used diabetes drug Metformin as a key supplement which would help ordinary people live to be 150. But within the last couple of weeks a new study was published:

    Metformin supplementation prevented gains in lean muscle mass in healthy people 65 years and older who engaged in resistance training.

    “Although metformin is a safe and effective treatment for type 2 diabetes, these findings underscore concerns about the possible negative effects of metformin use in healthy older adults.”

    So, although Metformin does help with blood sugar regulation, it also produces weaker old people. And weakness plays out in falls and hip fractures and other reasons why old people die. Time will tell whether Sinclair was overly optimistic looking at Metformin as a magic elixir to avoid aging.

    The moral of this story is not to try to sort through all the details of CO2 and plants or of Metformin and aging, but to simply point to the fact that scientists invented peer-review and publication in order to bring some order out of the chaos of looking at isolated factoids. Unless one is an expert, one is probably well-advised to take the consensus view seriously. Which doesn’t mean that the consensus will never change. Life has risks. But the last I heard, Dr. Happer has never published a peer reviewed article on climate…which is a biological event as it affects us.

    I do agree that ignoring water vapor has been a mistake. The explanation I have heard is that while everyone agrees that water vapor is a warming gas, nobody knew how to influence it. Same considerations relative to the carbon cycle and the soil…a small change in deposition could offset fossil fuel emissions. Carbon Farming is now getting some belated attention, perhaps out of desperation. And there are some Europeans pushing action on water vapor.

    I agree that the political ‘rush to judgment’ in terms of making emission control the ONLY solution was likely a mistake. But it is also a mistake to blame the politics on the climate models. It’s also a truism that we have not been able to invent a world which operated without politics.

    Don Stewart

    • Don mentions dinosaurs and purports to know when man did/didn’t exist, thus I feel compelled to share these:

      If these theories are even partially true, it forces us to re-examine what we think we know about the age of the Earth when/where various species of flora/fauna actually existed (as well as any theories / opinions we’ve built off our false understanding of Earth’s history).


      • I think we understand Earth’s history quite well. Why are you promoting these theories? Do you have an agenda? Please don’t waste our time on nonsense. Thanks.

        • Agreed. We have unearthed lots of dinosaur remains, enough to estimate both their strength and their weight. First point: they were lighter than you might think; even the largest, at 30m long, weighed only about 35 to 40 tons. That sounds like a lot, but it’s just three elephants. The main reason is that their skeletal structure was more like that of birds than that of mammals, with air sacs and lighter tissue both in and around the skeletal and muscular structure. This should come as no surprise, because after all they were the ancestors of today’s birds.

          Second point: we have the major bones that supported these creatures, and we can measure directly their strength. Four legs on a brontosaurus have to support about 8 tons each. Well, when an elephant rears up on its hind legs, each leg is supporting 6 tons. So we are nowhere near an impossible situation.

          Bt I do love a dose of crank science in the morning, as long as it is not about “climate change”.

          • Apologies for replying to myself, but this is a kind of postscript.

            The crazy “big dinos = low gravity” idea seemed vaguely familiar. It was. It is taken from a science fiction novel “End of an Era”, by Robert J Sawyer. Gravity in the Mesozoic was one half today’s; the work of “slimy blue creatures from Mars”, which at least makes some kind of sense. If memory serves, the dinos were killed off when the Martial antigravity satellites were shut down.

        • Do we understand the Earth’s history quite well?

          If you think we do, then that’s you happy.

          I’m old enough to remember when continental drift was considered “nonsense” or even “sheer nonsense” according to some eminent geologists.

          This changed virtually overnight only 51 years ago in 1968 when Bryan Isacks, Jack Oliver and Lynn Sykes of Columbia University published a paper entitled Seismology and the New Global Tectonics

          As geophysics papers go, it’s a truly epoch-making mold-breaking tour de force! And you can read it here:

          Click to access Isacks1968.pdf

          So it seems the Earth does move in more ways that previously thought. And nowadays, of course, the theory that the continents don’t move relative to each other over millions of years is characterized as nonsense. Some folks just love characterizing ideas they don’t agree with as “nonsense”.

          • Wegener’s theory of continental drift was published in 1915. It was almost universally denounced, not because the evidence was flawed (it was, of course, correct) but because “Wegener didn’t have a good model to explain how the continents moved apart.”

            Yes, friends, 1915. If you thought that facts came first, and models were devised to explain the facts, think again. As it has been for over a century, this is the pernicious flaw of “peer review”; it demands explanations first, and without an explanation the facts become Charles Fort’s “damned things”.

            When did science lose its Sense of Wonder? A long time ago, I fear. Perhaps when Newton propounded his theory of a mechanistic universe, and we forgot the psalmist’s words, Caeli enarrant gloriam Dei (Ps xix:1).

          • Right,

            There is no such thing as “established” science, nor is there any concept of “consensus” as a means for qualifying a theory as accepted. Only experiment have that power.

            If a rouge scientist claims that the earth is indeed flat, then it is for him to prove his claims by testing his hypothesis with experiment. We should concern us with nothing else then looking at the hypothesis, the experiment and the outcome from the experiment.

            It is one of the largest achilles heels of modern cosmology and climate science. Try to devise an experiment from a hypothesis that spans the temporal and spatial scale of the planetary system and the immensity of the universe.

            Those “scientific” fields is nothing more than speculation and some wild guesses intermingled with models that have an enormous parameter space which can be tweaked, fiddled and tuned to fit any data whatsoever proving everything and nothing at all. However, trying to disprove the processes of evolution and the laws of thermodynamics. Well, good luck with that endeavor.

            “The motive power of heat is independent of the agents employed to realize it; its quantity is fixed solely by the temperatures of the bodies between which is effected, finally, the transfer of caloric.”
            –Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot

    • The moral of this story is not to try to sort through all the details of CO2 and plants or of Metformin and aging, but to simply point to the fact that scientists invented peer-review and publication in order to bring some order out of the chaos of looking at isolated factoids.

      Don, most government funded science, like most government funded everything, is institutionally corrupt, even though a great many workers by hand and brain who are paid by government may be honest and ethically pure.That’s not an isolated factoid; its an essential fact that helps explains why peer review is not functioning as it should.


      Most clinical research findings are false. As for the few studies with results that are true, well, here’s more bad news. Most of those findings are useless. These are but two of the bold statements made by Dr. John Ioannidis in a recent paper in PLoS Medicine.

      “I have long been frustrated in seeing that much clinical research seems to be losing its purpose, and it does not really help humans,” Ioannidis, director of the Stanford Prevention Research Center at the Stanford University School of Medicine, said in an email. “I am very optimistic that we can do things better.”


      In the past few years more professionals have come forward to share a truth that, for many people, proves difficult to swallow. One such authority is Dr. Richard Horton, the current editor-in-chief of the Lancet – considered to be one of the most well respected peer-reviewed medical journals in the world.

      Dr. Horton recently published a statement declaring that a lot of published research is in fact unreliable at best, if not completely false.

      “The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”

      Actually, I think you are mistaken about peer review. Institutions invented it to keep individual scientists in line, not to bring order out of chaos but to maintain order in the ranks and thereby control the enterprise as well as the narrative that accompanies it.

    • Perhaps Don can explain what he means by “Climate Denier”? I think meaning does matter and this term is all to frequently tossed out with no clarity on its meaning. As to atmospheric CO2, clearly there are benefits for plant life, and if temperatures continue to rise some plant species will benefit and others may not.
      As to respect for consensus based on theoretical climate models, it would be great to see more transparency and have greater intellectual debate on where these models work and where they don’t – and include scientists from across the political and scientific spectrum.
      It would also benefit everyone to drop the “denier” defamation as this only causes separation not cooperation.

    • I have run into way too many young people who say, “I am pursuing a career related to climate science because that is where the money is.” The government wants models showing that some small parts of the “Renewables will save us” story is true. So, researchers take some of the grant money and put together absurd models that seem to prove some parts of the story. Taken together, the gullible believe that the models prove whatever those providing grant money want proven. The situation is sad.

      Perhaps the opposite of “Climate Denier” is “Climate Gullible.”

      • Samuel Johnson got it right, some 250 years ago:

        What makes all doctrines plain and clear?
        About two hundred pounds a year.
        And that which was proved true before, prove false again?
        Two hundred more.

        But that was “religion for hire”, when your benefice depended on what you said from the pulpit. By the way, two hundred pounds was fifty troy ounces of gold, or about USD 75,000. Comparable to a modern research grant. The more things change, …

  3. Peer Review

    I’m certain Gail isn’t concerned with peer review considering most of her peers can’t understand what she’s posting.

    Click to access 0178.pdf

    Perhaps the madness of crowds is a better description.

    Galileo certainly didn’t need a peer review to determine his science was right. But it was because of peer review his science was rejected.

    Let’s postulate for a moment. If fossil fuels are no problem than how many grants would science receive to study a nonproblem? So it must be a problem. When a persons livelihood is directly connected to not understanding a problem they will not understand the problem.

    I submit mainstream economists as evidence of this self evident fact.

    • 100 % correct JT and why have these economists gotten economics so wrong it is because they have been saturated by too much information about economics Gails message is simple the diminishing returns of fossil fuels will lead to the dark ages in the not to distant future which could wipe out all life on earth .

    • Galileo may not have needed a peer review, but he certainly got one: in 1616, when the Qualifiers of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei) was asked to comment on the heliocentric theory. They were against it. Film at 11.

      But they could not deny the facts (being more honest than many modern peer reviewers), so the accepted alternative became the Tychonic model, in which all the other planets revolved around the Sun, but the Sun revolved around the Earth. (It had been proposed in about 140 BC by Hipparkhos of Nicaea, but alas mostly forgotten.) This model was strongly backed by Christopher Clavius, and with good reason, because it explained the revolutions of the celestial spheres, and until the publication of Kepler’s Harmonia mundi of 1619, there was no way to disprove it.

      We may mock the learned men of the Holy Inquisition (as we now call it), but they were honest to a fault. Misinformed, perhaps; misguided, perhaps; but by the standards of their time, standards more strict than those of today, they did the best they could. Clavius earned his lunar crater, and it will long outlast the Pyramids, as it should.

    • Peer review, in a way, comes through the comments. Parts of this post were put together under difficult circumstances: while I was traveling, in a hotel room with poor internet service. I have made a few changes to it based on comments people have made. The advantage of a blog is that whatever a person writes in not “written in stone.” A person can go back and edit it later.

      My experience with reading peer reviewed academic journal articles is that the peer review process doesn’t really encourage new thinking. Rather, it tends to perpetuate wrong old thinking. But even this it doesn’t do very well. A lot of unintentional mistakes creep in.

      • Gail, I have read many articles on the subject and yours did a fine job of summarizing and synthesizing the debate on decarbonizing. Actually few articles have discussed societal and economic collapse as the other side of the coin but clearly this would be one impact of drastic decarbonization – anarchy and government collapse. The Greens and promoters of a FF free world have a utopian vision which is free from historical perspective and engineering realities, and do not carefully consider how critical FF are to our world. I highly recommend any of Vaclav Smil’s lectures which are available on YouTube and provide a reality check on energy transitions.

        • Yes, I like Vaclav Smil’s articles as well. He points out that previous transitions took a very long time, as much as 50 years, if I remember correctly. There is a need for mines and factories to be built to accommodate the new approach. In every case, the new approach is added to the old approaches.

          In order for a new energy approach to be added, there has to be a clear benefit, at least for some applications. Temporarily being subsidized by the government is not a very good reason for adding a new approach. It will last only as long as the subsidies last.

  4. If one is to accept that truth is a product of consensus we have truly returned to the dark ages. In fact had that thinking continued there could not have been a period of enlightenment.

    Case in point when Columbus sailed to the new world the majority thought the earth was flat.

    When Hubble discovered the red shift most thought the universe was static.

    Truth stands outside of consensus. It can’t be voted into office or voted out.

    For this reason science itself is in crisis because true true science requires reproducibility. However 50% of what has been accepted as fact can’t be reproduced.

    Science as well as economic science has become a religion, a system of belief. Not truth not discovery. The vast majority of people in University today are primarily interested in getting a passing grade. To do this they must determine the answer the professor will accept. This is not education this is indoctrination. It is quite similar to the theological seminary’s of the dark ages.

    So the question remains if everyone is jumping off the bridge will we? Will we be guided by critical thinking based on a foundation of proven scientific evidence? Or will we join the majority?

    Perhaps we’ve confused politics and science.

    As has been stated Democracy is the pathetic belief the collective intelligence of individual ignorance.

    That sounds like religion to me.

    • That truth is the product of consensus was firmly established by the Council of Nicaea in 325AD. Of course, they meant the consensus of all “true believers”; much like the consensus around climate science today. Your remark about people jumping off the bridge reminds me of a rather old joke:

      Human: “I have often wondered why you lemmings keep jumping off cliffs”
      Lemming: “And I have often wondered why you humans do not”

      The motto of the city of Oxford, my home for many years, is “Fortis est Veritas”. But I prefer the following paraphrase:

      Here, in this little Bay,
      Full of tumultuous life and great repose,
      Where, twice a day,
      The purposeless, glad ocean comes and goes,
      Under high cliffs, and far from the huge town,
      I sit me down.
      For want of me the world’s course will not fail:
      When all its work is done, the lie shall rot;
      The truth is great, and shall prevail,
      When none cares whether it prevail or not.

      (Coventry Patmore, 1823 to 1896)

      • “The truth is great, and shall prevail,”

        quite often, but not always…

        • Oh yes, David, always. Remember that Time is the mother of Truth:

          Now his wars on God begin;
          At stroke of midnight God shall win.

          (William Butler Yeats, 1865 to 1939)

    • A small addendum. Even in the Middle Ages, there were “gadflies” who challenged the consensus. One was Robert Grosseteste (1175 to 1265), who made a perfect nuisance of himself at the Council of Lyons. And his pupil, Roger Bacon, “Doctor Mirabilis” (1219 to 1292), who emphasised that the best way to God was through Nature, a doctrine with which I as a Pantheist have much sympathy.

      And my favourite: Ramon Lull (1232 to 1315) (if the single ‘L’ was good enough for him it is good enough for me), who first used the term “Conceptio immaculata”, still commemorated annually on 8 December.

  5. Some statements in this article are inaccurate. Battery storage is almost 1/10th cost stated. Solar in some areas us already $0.02kw and solar plus battery in some regions us already cheaper than Nat gas plant.

    The transition to Renewables will accelerate over the next few decades, but even then we’ll still be using Fossil fuels – hopefully only half the amount we do today by 2040.

    • The issue is the huge quantity of storage needed, if a person is going to try to overcome a reasonable share of the intermittency problem.

      There are indeed wind and solar with “some” batteries, but these are wind and solar with at most a few hours of batteries. These would indeed be cheaper. The battery walls installed Tesla provide only short backups––enough so that the “duck curve” when everyone drives home from work and wants dinner at the same time is not a problem.

      The big intermittency is seasonal. In particular, it is storing summer solar and wind, particularly to provide heat and industrial electricity in winter. This is incredibly difficult to do. A person almost has to take extra electricity collected in summer and use it to make a liquid fuel (such as ammonia). The liquid fuel can then be burned in winter.

      • Yes indeed. $66 million for 129 MWh is $500 per kWh, near enough. Can you say “diseconomy of scale”? More interesting is that the current is 100 MW, which means it can power South Australia for just 78 minutes. That’s the science; the article’s take on the money is frankly unbelievable.

        • I can imagine it is possible to use a battery to daily buy cheap and sell high a small fraction of the production, to earn SOME money.

          Add another battery and it has to buy higher and sell lower

          Add a few more and it cant turnover daily.

          How could you compensate a battery owner for holding electricity for 8 months?

        • Assuming they charged the battery 100% every day and discharged it 100% every night.

          They would have needed to make $.72 / kwh after expenses to generate $17M in 6 months.

          • DJ you get one 100% discharge then your battery is dead as in take it to the landfill dead.
            I’ve got a 7200 watt nickel iron battery that I only allow a 25% discharge so I can hopefully get a 10 to 15 years of life. So generally take the batteries total capacity and you can only use 25% of that. I get 2000 watts usable enough to run a 24 volt pump for 10 days – now that is expensive power!

          • For comparison, the prices of electricity in South Australia (the highest price in the country) is A$0.50 per kWh. That is about US$0.34. So the Tesla battery boondoggle would have charged more than double the base price to achieve the result claimed. As I said, impossible to believe.

            • Easy to believe Robert if you understand the wholesale market pricing mechanism here in Australia. There are a few hours here and there where the wholesale price of electricity goes above $14,000/Mwh. That is not a misprint, I’ve seen it on the AEMO webpage when it happened, usually on very hot summer evenings just on sunset when solar production falls off a cliff, and everyone arrives home to turn on the air conditioning.
              Most of the time wholesale rates are around $30-60/Mwh and sometimes negative.

            • The net effect is to drive backup electricity producers out of business. This is a disaster over the long-term, but it looks like a cost savings in the short term.

  6. Peaked Conventional vs Unconventional (Fracked) Oil –

    There is a lot false hype in the media about US energy independence. The US is not energy independent with respect to crude oil. Regarding crude oil, the US produces 11M barrels per day (see page 18) and consumes 20M barrels per day (see page 20). The US is still significantly dependent on crude oil from other sources around the world.

    Crude oil is “king” of all energy sources since it powers the world’s economies and the world’s militaries. As the world runs short of crude oil going forward, climate change will take a back seat as the world’s populations fight over remaining crude oil resources.

    It seems obvious that we have reached “PEAK CONVENTIONAL OIL”, and the fracking shale oil situation is the proof. Otherwise, why go after expensive, nasty, poorer quality and very short lived (up to 70% depletion per year) unconventional fracked oil, if there is more conventional oil to be found.

    See: BP’s – “Statistical Review of World Energy” for 2019. Since 1951, BP has annually published its “Statistical Review of World Energy”, which is considered an energy industry benchmark.

    • I am not sure that I would 100% agree with you. Some things I do agree with you on. We certainly have reached “peak conventional oil.”

      The world has quite a few kinds of unconventional oil. Besides the shale oil that is fracked, there is also very heavy oil (often from Canada or Venezuela) and oil from below the salt layer, under the ocean, such as that from Brazil.

      With respect to dependence upon other countries for energy supplies, in some sense the United States is doing very well, especially compared to Europe and Japan. The US is a net exporter of coal and of natural gas. Its net imports of oil and oil products keep falling, and are close to zero. This is a monthly chart from the US Energy Information Administration, showing this situation. I am not quite sure what you are looking at. It used to be true that the US was a big net importer of both oil and natural gas.

      The US is actually doing quite well, in the whole scheme of things. This is a major reason that the US economy is farther from recession than Europe or Japan.

      There is the issue that all countries are quite interdependent. Also, even “renewables” are often dependent on imported parts, too.

      • Some people talk about Europe breaking up (likely) and the states going to war again as they did for centuries.

        The question must be : ‘Where would they actually get the resources to do so?’

        Europe is energetically dependent on other regions now, totally exhausted as far as the needs of a complex economy -and war machine -are concerned.

        Not to mention depleted agricultural soils …….

        Perhaps Macron’s apparent change in policy towards Russia is a recognition of this.

        • the battle of Waterloo lasted a day

          I imagine future European conflicts will be much the same, and for the same reason—too few resources to do anything else.

          • 18 June 1815. The battle was opened up by the French artillery at 1134; very late because the ground had to dry out ofter a lot of overnight rain. The Prussians encountered the French at Plancenoit at 1530, some 8km east of the main battle. The frontal attack by the Old Guard was broken at 1930, ensuring Wellington’s victory, and it was all over by 2030.

            Made into a gripping movie in 1970, with Rod Steiger as Napoleon and Christopher Plummer as Wellington. Also made into a railway station in 1848.

      • Hi Gail and thanks for the reply.

        My main point is that we have reached “peak conventional oil”. The ramifications of this are enormous in my opinion, especially in the face of all of the peak oil deniers.

        The stats I refer to are detailed in BP’s – “Statistical Review of World Energy” for 2019, as noted in my post.

        Thanks for all of your great work.

    • hi Pat…

      “Regarding crude oil, the US produces 11M barrels per day (see page 18) and consumes 20M barrels per day (see page 20).”

      these facts are probably close to correct, though the production is now over 12M per day, I think…

      what you are missing is that it is US refineries that “consume” about 20M per day and then export 5M+ of “petroleum products”… (I don’t know the current number for exports…)

      the US only internally uses a net amount that is about the same as the production amount…

      so you are sort of right in a partial understanding, AND the graph that Gail posted is correct…

      hope that helps…

      • We are not at peak oil.
        That happened in November of 2018, worldwide.
        We are at about 1 million barrels a day below that.
        Possibly could catch it again in 2020, we will see.
        The USA uses 5-7 million barrels a day of imported oil.
        We are not even close to producing enough oil for ourselves,

        • the USA refines 5-7 M barrels a day of imported oil, and refines about 12M+ barrels a day produced domestically, which is the 20M per day that Pat refers to…

          then the USA exports about 5-7 M barrels per day of “petroleum products”…

          that is why the graph that Gail posted shows that the USA is close to zero net imports per day…

          the graph is correct… net imports are close to zero…

          that is NOT net imports of crude oil…

          yes, the USA imports a lot of crude oil, and net imports of “crude oil” are 5-7 M…

          but after refining this, it exports 5-7M of “petroleum products” which is refined crude oil…

          if anyone wants to ignore 5-7M barrels per day of exported “petroleum products” then go ahead…

          you will not understand the full picture if you ignore these exports…

            • This is a chart of US exports of Crude Oil and Petroleum Products. In total, exports of Crude Oil and Petroleum Products are running about 8.5 million barrels per day.

              This is a chart of US exports of crude oil, by itself. It has been averaging close to 3 million barrels per day. The difference of about 5.5 million barrels per day is recent exports of oil products.

              Regarding which products are sent overseas, the biggest category seems to be “Distillate fuel oil,” which I would call diesel, which runs close to 1.5 million barrels a day. The second biggest category is “Liquid propane,” which is about 1.0 million barrels per day. The third biggest category is “Finished Motor Gasoline” which amounts to about 0.7 million barrels per day. There are many other categories as well. “Petroleum coke” and “residual fuel oil” together amount to about another 0.7 million barrels per day. They are “bottom of the barrel” products. Petroleum coke is used as a fuel to make cement, lime, brick, glass, steel, and fertilizer as well as many other industrial applications.

              By country, the crude oil goes to Canada, South Korea, China, India, Netherlands, UK, and a variety of smaller destinations.

              The biggest recipients of diesel seem to be Mexico and Brazil. The US can produce low-sulfur diesel; Mexico does not have this kind of refinery. Brazil may have a similar problem.

              Propane goes to Japan, Mexico and South Korea.

              Mexico is by far the biggest importer of US finished gasoline. Basically, Mexico sends the US crude and the US does the refining on Mexico’s behalf. The US charges for this service.

  7. China has signalled that coal power will be a top priority within national energy policy as the government prepares its next Five Year Plan (2021-25).

    On 11 October, Premier Li Keqiang chaired a meeting of the National Energy Commission in Beijing that emphasised China’s energy security and coal utilisation and downplayed the importance of a rapid transition away from fossil fuels.

    • I am not surprised at the change in emphasis. China has figured out how poorly renewables work, first hand.

      I saw a video a while back showing that China is in the process of developing some new coal mines. I am not sure if they are ones in Inner Mongolia or elsewhere. If I recall correctly, the plan is to burn the coal at the location where it is mined, and send the electricity by long distance transmission to points where it is needed. That saves the expense of hauling the coal long distances. It also keeps the pollution out of cities.

      It seems like China was also working on a plan to hold down the amount of water required in electricity generation from coal. Often, lack of water is the limiting factor with respect to coal fired power plants in a desert area.

      • Yes we discussed it in detail few weeks ago, they are moving the coal based electricity production to western deserts, where “cleaner” low(er) sulfur deposits are available. Moreover they employ special technologies like passive heatsink cooling towers (for lack of water). Plus the multi thousand km long HV links to connect it with eastern provinces..

        It’s not cheap, but in today’s crazy world of hyper debt and negative rates, perhaps at least something tangible.. an extension if you will, buying time, to hope for other yet another “step up miracles” to possibly come about like in next gen nuclear area etc.. before ~2030-40..

        • Be careful what you wish for. Inexpensive, limitless. clean – for a while – energy would promote irresponsible decisons.

        • We hope that all of the long transmission lines do not cause fires either. The film showed incredibly large transmission wires. Hopefully, they will keep the temperature of aluminum low enough.

          I am presuming that China is not using copper transmission lines. I have read that besides being very expensive, copper is too heavy. It would need a lot more supporting structures to hold the transmission lines up.

  8. “The high price raised eyebrows in bond markets. Investors had refused to lend to Greece at any price during the eurozone’s 2009-2015 debt crisis, leading to three sovereign bailouts. Now, they are paying Athens to look after their cash.

    “”…the Greek bond sale is only the tip of an enormous global debt iceberg.

    “After an almighty bond rally this year, about $11.5tn of debt — more than a fifth of total debt issued by govern­ments and companies around the world — trades at negative yield. This means investors who hold it to maturity are guaranteed to lose money.

    “The rise of sub-zero yields turns standard economic logic on its head…

    ““Greece selling at negative yields is absurd,” says Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz and former boss of bond investing giant Pimco. “It shows you the extent to which markets are distorted. One by one, things that seemed impossible a few years ago have happened.”

    “Bond prices have soared as central banks have responded to a slowing global economy with increasingly aggressive easing measures. These have included negative interest rates and huge asset purchases in Japan and the eurozone…

    “With global yields at record lows, many investors question whether markets can rally much further. If they cannot, investors buying today are guaranteed to make a loss…

    “If there is a pushback, says El-Erian, it will come from the primary market, where investors buy new debt from countries and companies. “That’s where the really big investors get their allocations…

    “”If you get a buyers’ strike it will be a sign that people have lost faith in the effectiveness of central banks. Things will get messy very quickly.””

      • The Fed soaked in “speculative capital” in previous time from all around the world.
        A bit different situation with the “regional only” ECB..

        Nowadays, there is a faction forming out of dissenting IC hubs, specifically arranging for their own SWIFT system, non USD settlement etc.. The stated plan being sanctions ready and more importantly hoping for next GFC_ver_XY protection as well.

        How realistic is that plan? The global system can indeed fork into block or multiverse arrangement again. The demand destruction from the West could be to some degree replaced by other (third world) aspiring consumers, but it’s obviously much shallower market for high end/pricey goods at least. And most importantly another vendor credit system would have to be arranged for it anyway.

          • The Eurozone is of course weaker.

            The ECB did at least manage to weaken the euro. The QE probably helped to avoid deflation. Rates and yields might have been even deeper into negative territory.

            This time the Fed and the ECB are doing QE together. The problem is probably worse now.

      • Western Europe, including the UK , is moribund, and about to develop gangrene in some limbs, requiring amputation…..

        In a decade since GFC I, nothing has been done to address the appalling high/insecure unemployment, low- pay crisis of the young outside the favoured Germany-Belgium- Holland -Austria zone.

        • “Western Europe, including the UK, is moribund, and about to develop gangrene in some limbs, requiring amputation….”

          Good. The nation states of Europe have become parasites, consuming the substance of the people for no good purpose. Let Catalonia recover her historic independence, stolen from her by the Aragonese in 1258. And Burgundy, stolen in 1477. And Bavaria, stolen by Prussia in 1871, an Anschluss made permanent after the suspicious demise of Ludwig III in 1918.

          Oh yes, and the “united kingdom”. May England become independent from Scotland, which for over three hundred years has done little except spend our money and spit in our face.

            • A pox on all nationalisms, incubators of hatred and delusion, fed by myths and generally led by self-interested career politicians of naked ambition who stoke up the self-pity o he electorate. Some rare exceptions, of course.
              On the other hand, as we decline and regress, myths will be necessary, and nationalism might do as well as any other to help societies cohere. But in a multi-racial Europe?

              The Era of Irrationality dawns once more, as it did a hundred years ago; and just look what that gave us in Europe.

              But waving your own flag, however emotionally satisfying, won’t change the physics of the situation, as they will find out….

            • the USA represents the transposition of all the European races, together with their particular insanities and traits..

              Some good, some bad, obviously.

              But they are still the partisan bunch that left Europe, and now they want their regions to themselves–hence north-south, east vs west, which will be accentuated by resource shortage and climate change. (the 2 essential hoaxes)

              So the USA must devolve, because nations can only hold together if there is sufficient energy in the system, which there obviously is not.

              And then we must add in the other essential hoax which is that the world is more than 10000 years old.

              Europeans transposed the worst of their religions to the New World. Denial of the laws of physics being the ultimate insanity. Nevertheless it is there and growing out of control. Today, Pompeo (while awaiting the rapture) has announced that Israeli annexation of Palestinian land is now legal. This brings forward the time of christ’s return of course.
              More conflict there is now certain, because the current crop of USA leaders seem to be collectively certifiable

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