COP21

Let Nature be Nature

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Published on Peak Surfer on May 29, 2016

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"Can the extravagance of growth fanatics continue? Clearly not. Will President @realdonaldtrump keep the lemmings racing towards the cliff? Definitely so."

 

 

!Kung peoples managed their energy well – C.A.S. Hall

  After posting a pretty dour outlook last week we were amazed to watch it attract more page views more quickly than any of our previous 22 posts this year. No accounting for taste, we suppose.

At the risk of alienating our new audience right off the bat, we are posting something more upbeat this week.

We had two scientific papers shoved under our door, and both of are serious sources of hope for a world undergoing climate shock. They represent the two sides of the solution ledger, adaptation and mitigation.

The first is an open research white paper, The Sower’s Way: Quantifying the Narrowing Net-Energy Pathways to a Global Energy Transition, by Sgouris Sgouridis and Denes Csala of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, United Arab Emirates, and Ugo Bardi from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Florence, Italy.

 

 

 

Hubbard Linearization – Courtesy C.A.S. Hall

The second is a journal article, published under a creative commons license in Science Advances 2016, entitled Carbon sequestration potential of second-growth forest regeneration in the Latin American tropics by 60 co-authors at 45 institutions in almost as many countries. The lead author is Robin L. Chazdon, a professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut and a visiting professor at the International Institute for Sustainability in Rio de Janeiro.

In The Sower’s Way, Sqouridis’ group looks at the INDPs (national pledges) submitted at the Paris climate conference in December, sees that they are clearly inadequate to arrest runaway climate chaos and near term human extinction (NTHE)) and asks the pregnant question, suppose they weren’t?

Suppose the overarching goal set in Paris — to phase out fossil energy by 2050 or sooner — were actually committed to by all those who exchanged pens at the signing of the legally binding treaty last month at One UN Plaza?

 

 

 

The Energy Cliff – Courtesy C.A. Hall

“Is it possible to satisfy the dual constraint of reducing emissions fast enough while achieving the desired energy availability?” the authors ask.

 

 

 

“… [I]mplicit in the COP21 agreement is that these reductions should be obtained while offering sufficient available energy for humankind, especially for developing countries that are ascending the energy availability ladder.”

After completing the study, one of the authors, Ugo Bardi, conducted a poll on the Doomstead Diner   of how realistic most doomers thought the renewables revolution to be.

 

 

What is the possibility of a society not too different from ours (but 100% based on renewable energy sources, and on the possibility of obtaining it before it is too late to avoid the climate disaster. This said, what statement best describes your position?

  1. Courtesy C.A.S. Hall

    It is impossible for technical reasons. (Renewables have too low EROEIs, need too large amounts of natural resources, we'll run out of fossil fuels first, climate change will destroy us first, etc.)

  2. It is technically possible but so expensive to be unthinkable. 
  3. It is technically possible and not so expensive to be beyond our means. However, it is still expensive enough that most likely people will not want to pay the costs of the transition before it will be too late to achieve it, unless we move to a global emergency status.
  4. It is technically possible and inexpensive enough that it can be done smoothly, by means of targeted government intervention, such as a carbon tax.
  5. It is technically possible and technological progress will soon make it so inexpensive that normal market mechanisms will bring us there nearly effortlessly.

Our own response, after returning from Paris, was: "option 6 – it will be faster than anyone expects.” Our reasoning was that once the curves cross  — and solar is cheaper than oil — there will be a mad rush to dump oil stocks and buy solar, without any consideration of net energy. Simian neurobiology will then be buckled into the driver’s seat, chasing lost investments with fresh money until every last shekel is exhausted. In the end, there will be a lot of solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal energy to show for the effort but just not anything resembling the consumerist civilization most people now take for granted.

There will not be Space Cadet academies on Mars.

The Sqouridis paper concludes that “renewable energy installation rates should accelerate and increase at least by a factor of 50 and perhaps more than 90 over current” in order to meet the UN sustainable development goals. They conclude that growth rate is entirely possible and may already be in process. The key, they say, is “the sower's strategy”:

 

“… the long-established farming practice to save a fraction of the current year's harvest as seeds for the next. Fossil fuels produce no “seed” of their own but we can “sow” what these fuels provide: energy and minerals to create the capital needed for the transition. Yet, withdrawing the “seed” energy reduces net available energy for society. The challenge therefore is to balance energy availability and emissions in order to complete a renewable transition before fossil fuel depletion makes it impossible without inflicting crippling damages on the climate.”

 

Courtesy J.G. Lambert

Moreover, to be rated a success, the solar power transition has to meet three criteria:

 

  1. The impacts from energy use during the transition should not exceed the long-run ecosystem carrying and assimilation capacity;
  2. Per capita net available energy should remain above a level that satisfies societal needs at any point during transition and without disruptive discontinuities in its rate of change; and
  3. The rate of investment in building renewable energy harvesting and utilization capital stock should be sufficient to create a sustainable energy supply basis without exhausting the non-renewable safely recoverable resources.


The group concluded:

 

 

In every case, a successful SET (sustainable energy transition) consists of a sustained acceleration in the rate of investment in renewable energy of more than one order of magnitude within the next three decades following a trajectory dictated by the chosen fossil-fuel phase-out. A peak in installation rates, but not cumulative capacity, forms at the point where the rate of energy demand growth starts to slow down.

In other words, the group concluded that Option 6 was the most likely: it will be faster than anyone expects. At least 50 times faster than it is right now.

 

 

 

Courtesy C.A.S. Hall

Meanwhile the seminal bioeconomist Charles A. Hall reminded us:

 

 

 

There are three good studies — Mohr et al.'s 2012 (Ward, J., S.H. Mohr, B. Meyers and W. Nel. 2012. High estimates of supply constrained emissions scenarios for long-term climate risk assessment. Energy Policy 51: 598-604); Maggio and Cacciola (Maggio, G., and G. Cacciola. 2012 "When will oil, natural gas, and coal peak?" Fuel 98: 111-123); Laherrere's ASPO-France web page —  that agree that there is likely to be a peak in ALL fossil fuels in +/- 2025 and then a sharp decline. It seems extremely unlikely that renewables will fill that gap. On the other hand the near cessation of economic growth in OECD countries and the slowdown for China might smooth out and slow down our approach to the peak. 

 

 

Murphy and Hall, 2011

With that opening salvo, we can see Hall’s studies and raise a few more:

Leggetta, L.M.W. and D.A. Ball. 2012. The implication for climate change and peak fossil fuel of the continuation of the current trend in wind and solar energy production, Energy Policy 41: 610-617. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2011.11.022:

 

 

Courtesy J.G. Lambert

Climate change, and more recently, the risk of fossil fuel production being unable to keep pace with demand (peak fossil fuel) are both considered as risks to civilisation, or global risks. In an initial empirical analysis, this paper attempts to answer the following questions, which have often been posed but have not, to our knowledge, been answered empirically at global level. At which date, if unaddressed, will the risks become critical? Given that the substitution of fossil fuels by wind and solar energy is often proposed as a solution to these problems, what is its current aggregate growth rate and is there a plausible future growth rate which would substitute it for fossil fuels before the risks become critical? The study finds that the peak fossil fuel risk will start to be critical by 2020. If however the future growth rate of wind and solar energy production follows that already achieved for the world mobile phone system or the Chinese National Expressway Network the peak fossil fuel risk can be prevented completely. For global warming, the same growth rate provides significant mitigation by reducing carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels to zero by the early 2030s.

Mohr, S.H., J. Wang, G. Ellem, J. Ward, and D. Giurco. 2015. Projection of world fossil fuels by country. Fuel 141: 120-135. doi:10.1016/j.fuel.2014.10.030:

 

 

 

We model world fossil fuel production by country including unconventional sources. The Low and Best Guess (BG) scenarios suggest that world fossil fuel production may peak before 2025 and decline rapidly thereafter. The High scenario indicates that fossil fuels may have a strong growth till 2025 followed by a plateau lasting approximately 50 years before declining. All three scenarios suggest that world coal production may peak before 2025 due to peaking Chinese production.

 

 

Courtesy C.A.S. Hall

Thus, whether lured by the carrot of a sun-powered future or frightened by the sound of the dip stick scraping the bottom of the oil pan, a Great Change is coming. But what is the shape of the curve? In comments to our last week’s post, reader Don Stewart wrote:

Harquebus, as quoted [on Ugo Bardi’s blog]:

 

 

“Whenever somebody with a decent grasp of maths and physics looks into the idea of a fully renewables-powered civilised future for the human race with a reasonably open mind, they normally come to the conclusion that it simply isn’t feasible.”

Stewart continues:

 

 

 

Courtesy C.A.S. Hall

We are completely convinced that the above statement is true, but that does not mean that renewables cannot be of significant use to modern society. It is not that they can replace fossil fuels, but they could considerably extend their useful life span. That could be as much as a century. At the world’s present consumption rate the oil age will be ending in 13 years, and society will have to pay a very high price to get it there. We are now witnessing the bankruptcy of the Petro-States,  and much of the Western world’s petroleum industry. Over the next five years it will become very apparent as to what is happening. Geothermal, wind, tidal power, small hydroelectric, and in some cases solar can replace much of the electricity production of the world — electricity that is now being supplied from our rapidly depleting fossil fuels.

 

 

Courtesy C.A.S. Hall

Of course clean electricity is not a substitute for fossil energy; nor are biofuels; nor are both in combination. Professor Hall recommends Alice Freidemann's new book When Trucks Stop Running for a fuller discussion of that issue. Friedemann blurbs:

 

 

Our era of abundance, and the freight transport system in particular, is predicated on the affordability and high energy density of a single fuel, oil. This book explores alternatives to this finite resource including other liquid fuels, truck and locomotive batteries and utility-scale energy storage technology, and various forms of renewable electricity to support electrified transport. Transportation also must adapt to other challenges: Threats from climate change, financial busts, supply-chain failure, and transportation infrastructure decay.

Hall, Friedemann and Stewart all raise a common point: assuming renewable energy was rolled out with adequate speed and with all the boost the last hours of ancient sunlight and fossil energy era technology can supply, is it enough? The answer to that question lies in our civic willingness to face limits, both to the size of the human population and to how much it consumes. Can the extravagance of growth fanatics continue? Clearly not. Will President @realdonaldtrump keep the lemmings racing towards the cliff? Definitely so.

Chazon’s 60 scientists looked at something entirely different. They asked the question, what if we let nature be nature? Would she recover? Would she do so in time? The answer, which is really quite shocking given what we presented here last week, is yes. We have only to step aside.

Chazon, et al, noticed that although deforestation in the world’s tropical regions, owing to expansion of cattle farming, urban sprawl and fire, continues to reduce overall forest cover, second-growth forests (SFs) are expanding in many deforested areas of Latin America. SFs emerge spontaneously in post-cultivation fallows, on abandoned farms and pastures, in the understory of ecological restoration plantings, and following assisted natural regeneration on private or communal lands. Given that there has been good satellite telemetry for more than 4 decades, Chazon’s group asked,

 

 

 

“What is the total predicted carbon storage potential of naturally regenerating forests over four decades across biomes and countries?”

The answer was “a lot.”

Only about 28% of the millions of hectares studied was second growth forest, but looking carefully at that part, the researchers concluded that if second-growth forests were permitted to recover, unaided by tree planting or other interventions, 8.48 gigaton of carbon would be net sequestered over 40 years just in the aboveground biomass. Calculating below ground carbon they say would add another 25% (although we think that is too low). Their number corresponds to a total sequestration of 31.09 Gt CO2, equivalent to emissions from fossil fuel use and industrial processes in all of Latin America and the Caribbean from 1993 to 2014.

Just imagine what could be achieved with the addition of step-harvesting of forest products and biochar from woody wastes — or if we just left alone the other 90 percent of the planet that would naturally revert to second-growth forest if were allowed to. In either of those scenarios, so much carbon would be sucked out of the atmosphere that Earth’s atmosphere could quickly recover to pre-industrial greenhouse gas levels in a time far short of 40 years.

Suicide is not the only option, as the volunteer on the other end of the hot line will tell you.

There are still choices.

 

COP21 was a FRAUD!

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 21, 2015

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We are on track for 8 to 10 degrees Celsius GATR and Paris COP 21 was a fraud

This is the most comprehensive and scientifically honest discourse about our climate future that I have encountered so far: http://www.apollo-gaia.org/harsh-realities-of-now.html

Dr David Wasdell is an impeccable source. The evidence and reasoning he employed, by summarising data and peer-reviewed research from many other scientists, demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that the massively underestimated conclusions of the IPCC were politically watered down deceit. It enabled false (but more politically palatable) assumptions to be adopted by the COP participants and meaningless goals to be pursued (which are not binding anyway). All in all, those international toings-and-froings have been a complete joke. James Hansen called the COP21 shenanigans “half assed and half baked” http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/climate/2015-paris-climate-talks/hansen

There was one benefit of COP21 however. The delusion that we still have a carbon “budget” to burn and that we still have some wiggle room to avoid disaster, does justify ongoing COP junkets for the COP junkies for next few years, before the airline industry collapses from financial Armageddon / Hi-NES depletion. May as well keep partying on the deck of the Titanic, while encouraging the crew to use chewing gum and spit to patch the gaping hole in the hull.

Dr Wasdell mentioned that an 8 degree Celsius global average temperature rise is a conservative estimate and 10 degrees GATR may be more likely.

We could face a global wipeout on the scale of the Permian-Triassic extinction, in which about 70% of land species and 95% of marine species perished. It is important to understand why the die-off was (and will be) worse in the oceans. Readers will be aware that many phytoplankton species require calcareous shells and ocean acidification can wipe them out. They form a large part of the base of the oceanic food pyramid. Less commonly appreciated is the physical fact that cold water contains more dissolved gases than warm water. This is why the cold waters near the poles, being oxygen rich, can support abundant marine life (in areas where there are also abundant nutrients). Warming oceans will liberate previously dissolved CO2 into the atmosphere, another adverse feedback loop which will aggravate global warming. Warm oceans will also contain very little dissolved oxygen, leading to the anoxic deaths of the majority of oceanic species. Anoxic oceans full of dead organic matter can promote the proliferation of bacteria which generate the poisonous gas hydrogen sulphide, the liberation of which can kill not only marine organisms, but many land organisms when released into the atmosphere.

If it was the intent of homo stupidus to wreak ecological devastation which will persist for millions of years, we could not have done a better job.

Ten degrees GATR will certainly lead to an ice free world, with a very high eventual likelihood of human extinction (but not as soon as 2030 though). Unlike Guy McPherson and his flunkies, I do not regard NTHE as an absolute certainty and have outlined a possible survival strategy for a small number of humans:

https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/6469302-a-critique-of-some-of-guy-mcpherson-s-views-and-certain-nbl-hangers-on

In that essay, I tried to promote Guy as the possible initiator of such a survival project, to offer him a way out of the hole he had dug for himself. However rather than rise to the challenge, he continued to reject any possibility of human survival, to remain a prophet of doom and the titular head of a nihilistic death cult.

If anything, knowing that we face unstoppable horrific climate chaos should concentrate our efforts to plan for a difficult future now, while we still have some time and resources. A number of geographic pockets around the world will still be able to support comfortable human life for some decades to come. Those who can should seize the opportunity.

My message to everyone? Try to live for as long as you can, aim for the best quality of life you can, and do so without trampling over others. Understanding our imminent demise should, if anything, enhance our appreciation for life and motivate us to derive whatever joy we can, while we can, perhaps by engaging in random acts of kindness now and then. Stay away from those who choose to wallow in the mire of abject hopelessness and misery. Avoid those who prefer to curse the darkness rather than light a candle.

Wishing everyone a happy pagan summer* solstice.

Geoffrey Chia, 21 December 2015

*winter in the Northern hemisphere

…an idiot is an idiot is an idiot

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Published on the Cassandra's Legacy on December 16, 2015

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It was yesterday that I gave a talk on climate at a meeting in Florence. It was a rather formal meeting, in the "Aula Magna" of the University of Florence, and my talk was part of a multidisciplinary series of lectures. I gave my talk  to a public mainly composed of faculty members, although only some of them were physical scientists.

It was not a specialized talk, but I tried to explain the basic elements of what we know about the earth's climate. How more than a hundred years of research has led to developing a new understanding of what makes climate change. I said that it is a true scientific revolution, on a par with several others as – say – cosmology; linking to a talk given just before by a colleague.

I showed data about how, over the geological eras, greenhouse gases have been the main element (although not the only one) determining the earth's surface temperature. And I showed how temperatures are rapidly rising now as a result of human-generated carbon emissions. I described the risks we are facing, and the importance of acting as soon as possible. And I showed my own work on modeling the energy transition to renewables.

And that was it. I received some applause, then the conference went on. Later on, there was the coffee break; the speakers and the public collected in the open air, in the courtyard of the University's central building. And, there, someone, a colleague, patted me on the shoulder. He smiled at me and he said, "See, Ugo, how cold is it today? Don't you think we need some global warming?"

Sometimes, I have lost my temper in these occasions. And they tell me that when I truly lose my temper I am not nice – which I think it is the way things should be. This time, however, I just smiled and I moved onward. But words were ringing in my head, "an idiot is an idiot is an idiot", something that Gertrude Stein could have said hadn't she been thinking of roses, instead.

You could say, "it was just a joke." Yes, but imagine that you were a surgeon, and you gave a talk at a conference on  – say – childhood cancer. Then, at the coffee break, a colleague of yours pats on your shoulder and says, "See how many children are there? Isn't it good that some are killed by tumors?"

An idiot is an idiot is an idiot. The problem is that there isn't just one of them.

 

 

Some long term climate scenarios

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 13, 2015

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Scenarios are not predictions, just ways of describing possible futures; useful in order to be prepared for unexpected events. The only rule in scenario building is that the assumptions should not be too improbable; such as involving time machines. And, yet, it seems that in some cases involving climate projections, time machines are a built-in assumption

The COP21 conference in Paris has brought again climate to the attention of the public and, from now on, there starts the real challenge: what can we really expect for the future of the earth's climate? As always, predictions are difficult, especially when there are many variables involved. Nevertheless, climate change is the result of physical factors that we can understand and we know that the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – if it continues – is going to lead us to a very unpleasant future.

If we look at the long-term future, the whole question rotates on whether we manage to stay below an increase in temperature that is believed to be "safe" (it might be 2 degrees C, but we don't know for sure), or we pass the limit and we find ourselves above the "climate tipping point" after which the system starts moving by itself toward more and more warming with all the associated disasters.

So, I thought I might engage in a little exercise of qualitative "scenario building" with a special focus on climate. Here are some scenarios; listed in no particular order. Some you could see as horrible, some as unlikely, others as overoptimistic. But they are just that: scenarios. The COP21 was a step in the right direction. Avoiding the worst outcomes will not be easy, but it is up to us.

1. Business as usual. In this scenario, things remain mostly as they are today; just gradually worsening. There are no major wars, no abrupt economic collapses, no sudden climate disasters. But temperatures keep increasing while the world's economic system is battered by one crisis after the other. So, the economy gradually loses the resources necessary to keep alive the structures that study and understand global problems: universities and research centers. As a consequence, global problems slip away from the collective consciousness. People get killed by heat waves, starved by droughts, and swept away by monster hurricanes, and still no one is able to connect all that to climate change, while the burning of fossil fuels, although reduced because of depletion, continues. In the long run, that would lead to the end of civilization by a whisper, rather than by a bang.

2. The climate panic.  This is the symmetric and opposite scenario to the above. As the climate crisis gets worse, we may arrive at a "perception tipping point;" maybe generated by some spectacular event (e.g. a monster ice calving from Antarctica or Greenland) or, simply, by the accumulation of evidence. A wave of climate panic would lead to a scramble to "do something" and things might worsen rather than improve them if, for instance, some extreme forms of geoengineering were attempted. However, it might also lead to positive results. For instance, a push for reforestation and for renewable energy would effectively mitigate climate change. It is not obvious that our civilization needs a burst of panic to be saved, but that might give us an extra chance.

3. The Seneca collapse. Before being hit by some climate disaster, the world's economy could experience a "Seneca collapse" as the result of resource depletion.  such a situation, people would have no time to worry about anything but their immediate survival and that would lead to climate change being completely forgotten. On the other hand, the economic collapse would cause a reduction in emissions probably well beyond even the wildest dreams of environmentalists. It is not obvious, however, that this would be sufficient to avoid to go above the 2 C limit.

4. The warring states. The present situation has been likened to the beginning of the first world war and there are serious risks that the ongoing conflicts will escalate into a major worldwide confrontation. In such case, all the worries about climate change would be immediately forgotten. A major war would likely boost the efforts to extract as much fossil fuels as possible, including, probably, the oil shales that pure market forces seem to be unable to extract (it may be that the current drive for war arises in part from this kind of considerations). That would lead to emissions spiking up, at least for the duration of the war. On the other hand, it is likely that any major war would rapidly peter out because of the lack of energy and resources to carry it on. So, the carbon spike won't last long. Still, it could do a lot of damage, making things even more difficult.

5. The nuclear holocaust. A variant of the war scenario, it assumes that one or more contenders would decide to play the nuclear card. That could take the shape of tactical or strategic nuclear bombing or also that of attacking the adversary's nuclear plants utilizing conventional weapons. In all cases, we would see a rapid drop of the carbon emissions as large industrialized areas would be destroyed or just rendered uninhabitable. A massive nuclear exchange would also generate so much dust in the upper atmosphere that the result could be described as a "nuclear winter" causing an extreme cooling that might do even more damage than warming. However, that would do nothing to change the long-run effect of the greenhouse gases already emitted in the atmosphere. The dust would eventually settle down and the warming restart with a vengeance.

6. Depopulation. Most current projections assume that the human population will keep smoothly increasing throughout the 21st century, plateauing at around 9-10 billion individuals, or perhaps more than that. However, the historical record shows that human populations rarely follow this kind of trajectory, more often tending to collapse after having peaked. A good case in point is that of Ireland, between 1845 and 1850, when population crashed to about half of the size it had at the peak. The world's population might collapse in the same way as the result of wars, epidemics, pollution, of someone playing games with biological weapons and it might not be impossible to lose several billion people in a few decades, or even faster. The result would be a strong reduction of the greenhouse gas emissions, albeit obtained at a price that nobody would want to pay. However, people would continue burning fossil fuels and the cumulative amount of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would continue increasing. So, it is not obvious that even this extreme scenario could lead to avoiding the climate tipping point.

7. The renewable revolution. Renewable energy is the wild card of the situation. It is already efficient enough that it can outcompete fossil fuels and it could grow fast enough to replace them before it is too late. Assume that people understand both the advantages of renewable energy and the desperate need we have to stop burning fossil fuels, then we could arrive at a "bottom-up" revolution in which we don't need government-enforced emission trading or a carbon tax. A situation in which even climate science deniers wouldn't be so silly to pay more for dirty fossil energy when they can have cheaper and clean energy. In the end, the battle for climate would be won when a consortium of renewable companies buys Exxon and closes it down. Problem solved and it is the beginning of a new era.

We could combine some of these scenarios together, or think of different ones. The only rule is that they shouldn't be too improbable. For instance, we shouldn't include scenarios dealing with an alien invasion of the planet or with the COP97 being held in Siorapaluk, in Northern Greenland, in 2074 finally arriving at a binding treaty on the phasing out of fossil fuels. Apart from this, the future always surprises us. Just don't forget that the future cannot be predicted, but that you can be prepared for it.
 

Collapse Cafe 12/13/2015: COP21 and other Fantasies

gc2Off the cameras and microphones of Ugo Bardi Steve Ludlum, Tom Lewis,, Monsta & RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on December 15, 2015

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Our final Vidcast for 2015, this time with Ugo Bardi of Cassandra's Legacy, Steve Ludlum of Economic Undertow and Tom Lewis of The Daily Impact.

Main topics for this discussion were the outcomes of the COP21 Climate Conference in Paris, the escalating warfare between NATO, Russia, Syria and Turkey in MENA and the collapse of a few Hedge Funds in the last week.

Another very enlightening discussion overall, although WARNING here, Ugo had technical issues which garbled his contributions in the first half of the vidcast.  It got fixed later, but his early contributions are hard to make out.  Everyone else rendered fine however.

We'll be BACK in 2016 with more Collapse Jawboning, assuming the Internet does not Go Dark on New Year's Eve.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year to all you Doomers out there!

Audio Only, Download on Diner Soundcloud to listen on your phone or mp3 player

Also, don't miss this Blast from the Past Rant!!!

Kurrency Kollapse:  To Print or not to Print

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Climate Tactics Redux

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Published on the Economic Undertow on December 10, 2015

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The most effective policy is to pay people to conserve: to offer a basic income conditioned to meeting conservation standards; to pay citizens who do not have children or own cars.

co2_data_mlo

Figure 1: CO2 content of the atmosphere increases, now over 400 ppm. NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography (click on for big).

Right now thousands of the world’s bosses and their underlings are meeting in Paris in an attempt to wrangle some sort of global reduction of warming gases without actually doing anything, from CNN:

COP21 climate change summit: ‘Never have the stakes been so high’

Leaders of 150 nations, along with 40,000 delegates from 195 countries, are attending the conference, called COP21. COP stands for Conference of Parties, an annual forum to try to tackle climate change on a global political level.

The leaders have one mission: Agree on legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions meant to hold global average temperatures short of a 2 degrees Celsius increase over pre-industrial global temperatures.

 

 

The cognitive dissonance is head-spinning: the delegates are flown first-class into Paris or in their countries’ official jetliners; they meander in long convoys of armored limousines from Five-star hotels to Michelin-rated restaurants where they are stuffed like geese destined to become foie gras. Eventually, the meetings end and the delegates jet off to other conferences elsewhere. Filling the otherwise boring interval between flights and limo rides is mindless pontificating and empty promises, all of it paid for by the same sorts of industries that emit most of the carbon pollution in the first place!

One would think bringing relief from what is becoming a runaway global meltdown would be an all-hands-on-deck emergency. You would be wrong … because the only action that will make a difference is to reconfigure our Westernized, garbage-producing society from the ground up, to ditch the gangrenous American Way and its polluting industries and their ‘products’ at once, starting with the hundreds of millions of worthless, non-remunerative automobiles. But the bosses and their minions are like children with their hands caught in the cookie jar; they refuse to give up anything even if it means total destruction. Their strategy is to end pollution is to wait until after everyone as become rich, countries will then be able to afford expensive pollution-remediation technology, that so far nobody has been able to produce.

We live in ridiculous times: bosses are working against themselves. The newer, less-polluting industries are subsidized by legacy versions. Because these standbys — such as coil-fired power stations — are critically important, they are given a continuous lease on life. The output of new and old added together increases ‘economic growth’ that cannot be willingly surrendered. As it is, when the growth fails to materialize on its own, every effort is made to gain it, regardless of consequences. Regardless of consequences. Regardless of consequences. regardless of consequences!

François Hollande’s 34 projects aimed at sealing France’s ‘industrial renaissance’

 

 

 

Driverless cars, nanotechnology and electric aeroplanes – François Hollande launches 34 projects aimed at sealing France’s “industrial renaissance”.

François Hollande denied he was returning France to a bygone age of state interventionism as he launched 34 state-aided projects aimed at sealing the country’s “industrial renaissance” – from futuristic fast trains to electric-powered satellites.

Unveiling the state-subsidised “industrial battle plans”, the French president insisted cutting edge research into “energy transition”, health and food and new technologies would help return France to its glorious industrial past in a globalised world.

Projects include plans to develop a car that can run 60 miles on two litres of fuel, electric aeroplanes, driverless cars, nanotechnology and “intelligent” fabrics, such as incubators made of a material that “cures” jaundice without medical intervention.

 

 

… and more pontification and empty promises. What the bosses refuse to understand is there will be the reduction of climate gases; this is an absolute certainty. The process appears to be underway, but not for the reasons often cited. Rather, it is resource constraints/peak oil, deleveraging, breakdown in credit infrastructure, bankruptcies and increases in poverty, ‘Conservation by Other MeansTM‘ whereby citizens are reduced to penury and are unable to afford resources in any form … no matter how low the prices go.

The fundamental problem of any emission-reduction strategy is the benefits and risks are in the future while costs accrue in the immediate present. It makes business sense to do nothing and push the costs into the future even though doing so causes them to multiply. An alternative strategy would be to de-emphasize the frontal assault on carbon and target other forms of pollution, by doing so mitigate carbon emissions indirectly. The idea is to break the main problem into smaller components and deal with them in detail. For instance there are multiple heat-trapping items besides carbon dioxide; there is soot, also nitrous oxides, hydrofluorocarbons, methane- and related, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride: some of these emissions are controlled, others such as carbon gas emissions have been reduced to some degree within the US and Europe by shifting manufacturing to other countries.

  • The means to manage pollution are familiar and have been deployed successfully for decades, such as the regulatory requirement to produce and market diesel fuel without sulfur. This requirement is uncontroversial, there are no arguments against it. The means to produce sulfur-free fuel exist now and have been proven cost effective. Management is relatively simple because diesel fuel is the product of a relative handful of large, centralized industrial facilities which can be monitored. If the facilities don’t produce the correct diesel they are easily shut down. After the introduction of sulfur-free fuel there are visible benefits both in the form of lower fuel user costs and cleaner air, the diesel fuel producers’ margins aren’t effected.
  • Administrative and technical tools to limit emissions can be perfected against more commonplace forms of pollution. Over time these tools can be improved enough to be effective against carbon emitters.
  • As components of the climate problem are chipped away, the problem shrinks, it becomes underwhelming. The final reduction of the carbon problem becomes a relatively modest exercise.

There is low-hanging fruit to harvest by reducing smog in developing countries where it is considered to be a naturally occurring by-product of progress. As Americans and Europeans discovered in the 1950s, the costs of smog can be unbearable. Clean air and non-polluted water are not luxuries but a basic requirement for a functioning country.

Once there are visible pollution ‘victories’ — whatever they might be — it becomes easier to produce follow-on victories. Right now there is nothing to the climate dilemma but one administrative failure after another … managers are perceived to be inept and untrustworthy, each failure making it more difficult to take effective action in the future.

  • To do nothing is to allow resource depletion and energy deflation to sharply diminish fuel consumption which will in turn reduce the output all hydrocarbon fuels including coal. Mining coal on an industrial scale is no longer a pick-and-shovel operation but requires vast amounts of petroleum. The coal customer must bear these costs otherwise, the coal remains in the ground. Resource depletion is the default solution to climate problems and is underway. The only word one must be mindful of regarding depletion is cost.
  • The world-wide increase in suburbs, cars, developments, infrastructure, mines and oil wells ironically renders carbon fuels too costly and valuable to waste. Cost is a hard school, but accelerated development is the most likely cure for climate ills because it is the most certain. The conjecture that billions of tons of fossil fuel resources are immediately available for conversion into climate gases is false, these resources are not affordable in a world visibly going broke.

Kobane 1

Kobane, Syria, 2015. Image by AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic: default climate gas management in action. Pollution is not emitted from these buildings. Consider changing the economic paradigm and look to Syria rather than Europe or the United States as the model customer for alternative energy. The shattered country filled with desperately impoverished people is somehow supposed to afford expensive replacement prime movers when they can barely afford what they have now.

  • Climate scientists are overexposed in the media and elsewhere, they should step off the public stage. Questions about climate should be answered with a terse, “no comment”. Climate change should become a hip and trendy insider secret, accessible by only a privileged few. This is strictly a cynical marketing ploy as the businessmen would rush to fill the information vacuum with obvious, self-defeating lies. Events and word-of-mouth would do the heavy lifting. Ominous silence from the science community would be terrifying … perhaps enough to stir individual action.
  • All climate scientists should get rid of their cars and other polluting luxuries: drive them to the junkyards and crush them. The scientists are either serious or they are not. If not, why should anyone else be?
  • Focus on ‘other’ ordinary pollution culprits: ozone, nitrous oxides, volatile hydrocarbon photochemical smog, soot, methane and chlorofluorocarbon gases used in refrigeration, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride.
  • The primary components of smog are particulates, nburned fuel and nitrous oxides. Ordinary smog is reduced by the use of catalytic converters and fuel management systems. The catalyst combusts the unburned fuel in the stream of engine exhaust gas. Unburned fuel, nitrous oxides in the presence of sunlight produces ozone which is poisonous to vegetation. This in turn accelerates the release of greenhouse gases from agriculture lands and forests. Attacking ozone is a tactic to attack carbon emissions indirectly.
  • There is a long history or successful management of photochemical smog sourced from vehicles, this effort should be expanded laterally … to countries without effective smog controls … and vertically … to include all kinds of engines. This includes fixed sources of ozone producing pollution such as generators and industrial prime movers; ship power plants and aircraft engines.
  • Catalytic converters should be retrofitted to older engines. Those that cannot be retrofitted should be removed from service and scrapped. A country-by-country approach or by way of the WTO, the setting of requirements for manufacturers; all of these approaches would be effective and non-controversial. Half of the world operates engines equipped with with these converters and does so at low cost, the use of them in the other half represents a manageable expense. The public benefit is cleaner air, fewer pollution-related health problems and less damage to agriculture. The private benefit is the sales of catalysts and replacement engines.
  • Soot- and soot-like particles are important components of climate change and is sourced from coal- and oil fired boilers, auto tire wear, brake- and clutch linings, diesel exhaust and from poorly performing gasoline engines, also from wood-burning and forest fires. Soot can be managed by using cleaner fuels, reducing open fires and using particulate traps on prime movers.
  • Eliminate chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants that are produced and sold in developing countries. CFC’s are potent greenhouse gases: production and sale of bootleg refrigerants is a marginal activity whose loss would not effect national economies at all. Unlike narcotics and other contraband, CFCs are produced only in a few large factories which can be shut down or modified to produce non-destructive products. What is needed is the administrative impulse to do so.
  • Institute a universal ban on 2-cycle engines including those which burn lubricating oil along with gasoline. Unburned oil and diesel fuel in the exhaust stream contaminates catalysts in catalytic converters; the poorly combusted oil is also a source of soot. There are four-cycle alternatives that do not burn lubricating oil, that allow the use of catalytic converters. A short phase-in period would retire or replace all 2-cycle engines including outdoor equipment, chain saws, scooters and mopeds.
  • Ban carburetors on gasoline engines. Carburetors are obsolete and generally only found in the US on smaller engines used off-highway such as portable generators and lawn mowers. Carburetors do not allow fuel to mix completely with the air and are a source of photochemical smog. Carburetors are replaceable with electronic fuel management systems such as fuel injection.
  • End the export trade in older vehicles and prime movers from the West to developing countries. Older vehicles are a large source of pollution. Ending this trade would be a step away from the proposal that every human is entitled to personal automobile transport without regards to the consequences. There are hundreds of millions of 2-cycle engines, carburetors and antiquated junkers in the world, removing them would make a noticeable difference at very low cost or even provide a return as the use of these things is subsidized.
  • End the trade in partially-refined and unblended low quality fuels including but not limited to leaded gasoline and high-sulfur diesel. There should be an industry agreement regarding fuel quality; an international standard to meet. This standard would cost a modest amount of money to implement; like CFCs, fuels are the products of a few large factories that can be managed.
  • Mandate the switch to low-sulfur fuels, gas scrubbers and catalytic converters on all ocean-going ships.
  • Mandate only up-to-date electric generating plants which use low-sulfur fuels and pollution reducing technology … all of which is readily available. A schedule to update power stations should be agreed to reduce then eliminate non-carbon waste gases … doing so would indirectly reduce the carbon emissions. Non-performing prime movers would be scrapped even those that are relatively new. A fifteen year old thermal plant that produces excess waste gases can be scrapped the same as the fifteen year old merchant ship that falls into the same non-performing category. ‘Forced updating’ is cost-free as the new plant uses less fuel than what it replaces.
  • Any sort of conservation policy is low-cost and highly effective. Conservation is the cheapest form of power generation as the plant not built represents billions of dollars of credit effectively earned. At the same time, tackling smog, particularly in developing countries, would demonstrate that managing carbon emissions is possible.
  • The most effective policy is to pay people to conserve: offer a basic income conditioned to meeting conservation standards; pay citizens who do not have children or own cars.
  • Eliminate fuel subsidies in all countries! This would accomplish a number of goals; a) reduce sovereign expenses in countries currently being bankrupted by their fuel subsidies; b) fuel consumption would be reduced along with auto fleets. This is because subsidies are more useful to those with sub-standard vehicles, c) carbon emissions would be indirectly reduced as there would be less fuel consumed: fuel pricing is a form of rationing.
  • Ending subsidies risks aggravating motorists. Drivers and their entitlements will have to be dealt with sooner or later, easy way or hard: the ongoing world-wide bailout of motorists is unaffordable. Once government gains any sort of ascendancy over drivers it becomes a far simpler matter to bring the hammer down on them with regards to climate gas emissions as well as fuel waste. The default strategy to constrain drivers is to do nothing. This leaves fuel shortages caused by drivers’ bankruptcy to do the dirty work.
  • Implement a world-wide moratorium on forest clear cutting. This is another easy fix that is practically cost free except to gangsters/Chinese who traffic in bootleg lumber. Commandos would earn their keep by killing loggers who would be otherwise paid not to log. Implementation would suggest a hard limit: this and no more! Forest removal and followup agricultural exploitation add only the smallest marginal additions to national GDP at the same time the costs to the environment and ability of the biosphere to absorb carbon are extraordinarily high. Deforestation by itself is a greenhouse gas emitter.
  • Implement and fund a world-wide program of re-forestation, wherever possible. The cost would be modest, the returns would be felt in areas where deforestation has led to degraded soils and watersheds. Reforestation can also be a jobs-providing platform.
  • It is important to reforest in ways that increase diversity making forests less susceptible to pests.
  • Implement more effective forest-fire fighting efforts. The costs would be modest measured against the increased climate costs of forest fires.
  • Put out coal mine- and coal seam fires. This is more low-hanging fruit.
  • End gas flaring from oil wells, refineries and terminals. Not only do the flares produce carbon gases but they are also tremendously destructive of insect life.
  • Eliminate ‘incidental’ methane leakage from oil and gas wells. Most oil and gas wells do not leak, those that do should be denied connection and ordered plugged immediately at drillers’ expense. Given a few such expensive duds, there would soon be no methane leaks from hydrocarbon wells.
  • Eliminate tax advantages and subsidies for fuel use in the US, the world’s greatest waster of fossil fuels. Accelerated depreciation, depletion allowances for oil reservoirs, income tax deductions for ‘business vehicle’ purchases, favorable royalty rates and low cost access to public lands, access roads by the state(s), borrow-and-spend highway subsidies, mortgage interest deduction, favorable treatment of capital gains, etc. Reforms would not cost anything but would reduce costs, the obstacle is politics.
  • Reformulate plastics so they degrade when exposed to sunlight or sea water. At the same time, place a ‘producer deposit’ — no different from the old-fashioned bottle deposit — on plastic factories for the packaging products they produce.
  • Reform agriculture. CAFO’s — concentrated animal feeding operations or very large feedlots — provide utility the CAFO operator only. These operations with their confined animals contaminate water supplies with animal waste; they also produce massive amounts of climate gases. Shutting down CAFO’s would be a low-cost tactic that indirectly reduces climate gas emissions.
  • Reform agriculture, make wider use of biochar.

 
Temperature trend 1

Figure 2: Warming scenarios from UNEP by way of Robert Scribbler: Efforts to reduce carbon emissions and warming look to fall short, leaving the world to heat up to massively destructive +4°C which would wipe out our agriculture.

  • End biofuel subsidies. Feeding cars and feeding humans together at the same time means that ultimately neither get fed. Biofuels are barely net-energy neutral and subsidy dependent, the beneficiaries are a handful of biofuel tycoons who would ‘lose’ with the elimination of subsidies.
  • Implement a world-wide moratorium on road building. This is yet another easy fix that is cost free, both it and the moratorium on logging are easily enforced by way of satellite surveillance. Another, related step is to eliminate World Bank subsidies for logging, road building, dam building and other environmentally destructive policies that also produce climate gases or reduce the ability of the biosphere to sequester carbon.
  • Electrify railroads and increase both freight and passenger capacity.
  • Ban land-grabbing in undeveloped countries by 3d parties. Much of the so-called ‘new’ farm land becomes biofuel plantations, cash crop industrial monocultures that produce climate gases.

The most effective step is to provide incentives — to pay people — to conserve. Subsidizing conservation provides a direct capital return on investment that remains with the recipient. Subsidizing consumption as we do now leaves consumer without the resource, without the subsidy and his children with a mountain of unpayable debts. He’s older and poorer even if his consumption suggests otherwise.

The most effective tool is good management. Individuals can effect small scale changes on their own, in aggregate they can do much. American cities are being made over by younger people acting as individuals, who have turned their backs on suburbia. Managing at-scale industrial processes and mandating engineering approaches is more effectively done by governments with the wit to take action.

Ironically, government activism here would save the tycoons from themselves: left to their own unrestrained cruelty and greed, the tycoons’ self-serving activities will continue to price resources beyond the reach of their customers. Eventually, both resource- and the tycoon ‘problems’ are ‘solved’.

With a bit of effort it is not hard to think of other, indirect forms of action against carbon gas emitters. The benefit of these alternatives is that they would not cost very much or would provide economic gains. Meanwhile, the climate crisis is deflated by a thousand cuts leaving (hopefully) our descendants to wonder what all the fuss was about.

Paris: Le Overture

climate_change_action_protest-537x356gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Publishes on the Peak Surfer on November 29, 2015

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"The ‘guard rail’ concept, which implies a warming limit that guarantees full protection from dangerous anthropogenic interference, no longer works. What is called for is a consideration of societally acceptable risk."
 

Today we are in Paris, site of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of Parties (COP21). We have been reporting from these conferences for this blog since early 2008, with the run-up to COP19 in Copenhagen. Each time there has been much ado about the potential for transformative action and each time, by the end of the two weeks, it turns into just adieu and see you next year.

The past three conferences in particular (Doha 2012, Warsaw 2013, Lima 2014) were really just treading water, trying to iron out differences enough to proceed to a formal, legally binding document to be adopted here in Paris this year, in 14 days time.

In 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, the UN member countries negotiated an international treaty to cooperatively consider what they could do to limit average global temperature increases and to cope with whatever other impacts of reckless fossil fuel use were, by then, inevitable. These annual conferences at the beginning of every December were intended to reach those decisions.

It took only three years for the COPs to recognize that the minor emission reductions they had imagined at first glance in the giddy Summit at Rio would be totally inadequate. So, they launched negotiations to strengthen the international response and, two years later, in 1997, adopted the Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol legally bound overdeveloped countries to emission reduction targets while giving the underdeveloping countries a pass. This eventually caused a lot of friction, because many of the countries who got passes, China and India for instance, took that opportunity to build hundreds of coal-fired power plants and become the world's leading greenhouse gas polluters.

The US Head Negotiator, Todd Stern, told the Guardian:

“We have a situation where 60-65% of emissions come from developing countries. That’s a good thing. It means that developing countries are developing. But you cannot solve climate change on the back of the 35%.

A watershed moment for the negotiating process occurred in Copenhagen when the world was on the verge of enacting a binding treaty to replace Kyoto, with everyone included and sanctions for scoff-laws. At the last moment Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama swooped in and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, substituting a voluntary pledge system (Independent Nationally Determined Contributions, all non-binding) that only 5 countries were willing to sign, but it was enough to torpedo the treaty. In a recent Presidential campaign debate Ms. Clinton called it one of her great moments of leadership on the climate issue, which rescued the Copenhagen talks.

It is true there were differences of opinion about how close Copenhagen was to actually sealing the deal. “By the time [Obama arrived in Copenhagen] things had already unravelled and then had to be put back together,” according to Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications at the White House. Rhodes said that in Paris Obama's tactics would be different. “The goal here is to give a push with heads of state at the beginning of the process and then allow [Secretary of State John] Kerry and others to finalize the details.”

The old protocol’s first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. Despite the debacle in Copenhagen, most of the European countries hit their targets. Total emissions for all other overdeveloped countries rose by about 10 percent. China's rose about 10 percent per year and it is now the world's largest emitter. Canada was committed to cutting its greenhouse emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by 2012, but in 2009 emissions were 17% higher than in 1990 and the Harper government prioritized tar sand development in Alberta. Canada's emissions are now up 34% from baseline and Australia is in similar territory. In Doha at COP18, 36 UN member states agreed to extend Kyoto for another round, beginning in 2013 and running to 2020 but without the major polluters on board it is a feeble effort.

Kyoto is generally viewed as a limited success. Among the overdeveloped, France, the UK and Germany achieved reductions of 7, 15 and 19 percent. In any event, these reductions pale when compared to the impact of peat fires in Indonesia, deforestation in Brazil or methane releases in Siberia.

At COP16 in 2010, the rest of the world, recognizing that the United States had been allowed to hijack the Copenhagen meeting, put the UN multiparty process back on track with the Cancun Agreements. Fast start finance (a.k.a. dollar diplomacy) brought pledges from the US and Europe to mobilize through international institutions, approaching 30 billion dollars for the period 2010-2012. Funding for adaptation was allocated to the most vulnerable underdeveloping countries, such as small island States and equatorial Africa, but nobody really knows whether or when that money will show up.

At Paris the various governments are “invited” to provide information on their efforts to reduce emissions (calculated, for the underdeveloping, as reductions on theoretical maximum development burn – Business As Usual, or “BAU” – to more modest, “responsible,” but nonetheless increased burns) and to please let everyone know how soon and by what means the promised great wealth transfer will take place.

Nonetheless, by slow increments, the noose is gradually tightening around the neck of fossil fuel companies and their government backers. All governments re-committed in Durban to a comprehensive plan that would come closer over time to delivering the ultimate objective of the Convention: to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would “prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system” and at the same time preserve the rights of the 5 billion world poor to “sustainable development.” Let us set aside for a moment the incompatibility of those two goals as their terms are presently defined.

Durban made two very important adjustments to the Cancun Agreements. First, that COP said that science will trump politics and that if it should be proven, for instance, that 2 degrees is not a sufficient guard rail to prevent human civilization from veering over the cliff into dangerous climate change, the goal can adjusted. A scientific review process was established to monitor the goal and “to ensure that collective action is adequate to prevent the average global temperature rising beyond the agreed limit.”

Secondly, the Durban COP said very firmly that the 2015 COP in Paris would deliver “a new and universal greenhouse gas reduction protocol, legal instrument or other outcome with legal force that would set requirements for the period beyond 2020.” This specification of a “legal instrument” or “legal force” was agreed to by the United States, China and the other key players right there in Durban with the whole world watching.

The likelihood Paris will produce a binding treaty was cast into doubt when the Financial Times interviewed US Secretary of State John Kerry a few weeks ago. Kerry told FT there were "not going to be legally binding reduction targets like Kyoto.”

French President Hollande immediately replied in the press that "if the agreement is not legally binding, there will be no agreement. We must give the Paris agreement, if there is one, a binding character in the sense that the commitments that are made must be kept and respected."

“This is not hot air. This is a real agreement, with real terms,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Backpeddling under fire, a spokesperson for the US state department told The New York Times that while the FT article "may have been read to suggest that the US supports a completely nonbinding approach … that is not the case, and is not Secretary Kerry's position".
 

Holocene (blue) – Anthroocene (red)

COP18 in Doha was, as we said, the start of the Paris prelude. One significant bump was release of The World Bank's "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided", showing that the world is on track towards a 4 degrees Celsius temperature rise, should the currently inadequate level of ambition remain. Doha responded to that challenge by triggering the Durban process to review the long-term temperature goal. They set up a Structured Expert Dialog – 70 wise men – that was to start in 2013 and conclude by 2015.

COP19 in Warsaw moved us a little closer. The rulebook for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) was agreed, together with measures to bolster forest preservation and a results-based payment system to promote forest protection. Overdeveloped countries met the target capitalization of $100 million for the Adaptation Fund, which can now fund priority projects. Governments established the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage to address losses and damages associated with long-term climate change impacts in countries that are especially vulnerable to such impacts.

COP20 in Lima was more of the same, more agenda-setting for the run-up to Paris and the signing of a formal treaty. It came close to faltering over the issue of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” (the distinction between the expected pledges from overdeveloped and underdeveloping Parties). At COP 17 in Durban in 2011, countries agreed that the post-2020 actions to be negotiated in Paris would be “applicable to all.” Alton Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists observed:

The differentiation issue nearly blocked the final decision in Lima, where the stakes were actually quite small. In Paris next year, the stakes will be quite high: nothing less than the shape of the climate regime for the next several decades. It will not be possible to paper over sharp differences on this issue with artful language that different groupings can interpret in a way favorable to their position, as happened in the last hours of Lima.


The anticipated report of the meeting of the 70 wise men, the Structured Expert Dialog or “SED,” was issued in February 2015 and reviewed by government delegates at the pre-COP meeting in Bonn in June. This is a very important 180-page document and bears spending some time to read.

The document divides the dialog into three parts: Theme 1 – the adequacy of the long-term global goal
 in the light of the ultimate objective; Theme 2 – overall progress made towards achieving the long-term global goal; Theme 3 — consideration of strengthening the long-term global goal.

It starts off addressing whether temperature is an adequate warning gauge for climate change:

Message 1: A long term global goal defined by a temperature limit serves its purpose well… Adding other limits to the long-term global goal, such as sea level rise or ocean acidification, only reinforces the basic finding emerging from the analysis of the temperature limit, namely that we need to take urgent and strong action to reduce GHG emissions.


That is followed by this rather disturbing chart:

On the Y axis or axis of ordinates is temperature change in degrees C. To the left of the vertical axis line is a set of brightly colored bar graphs representing corresponding risks of each degree of warming.

Things to note:

  1.  Two degrees is far from safe. It represents “dangerous interference with climate systems” to quote the Framework Convention.
  2.  At 1.5 degrees there is a high degree of likelihood we will lose unique and threatened systems and experience extreme weather events. (Note, the risk of extreme weather at today's 1-degree elevation is considered moderate). At 2 degrees these move into the deep red and the distribution of impacts becomes high, meaning almost no-one escapes.

On the X axis or axis of abscissas, are the cumulative total emissions of CO2 since 1870. Right now we have taken about 2500 GtCO2 out of the ground, resulting in a net atmospheric concentration of 400 ppm. The chart reports that we could probably go to 4000 GtCO2 and 580 ppm before we exceed the 2 degree limit. This is dangerous nonsense and one is left scratching one's head at how this could have been decided. It guarantees resumption of that food fight between India, Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil and others about how many “parking spaces” in that big parking lot in the sky remain for “sustainable development” (read: still to be constructed coal plants).

Here is a short run-down of the other messages of the Structured Expert Dialog:

On Theme One:

  • Limiting global warming to below 2 °C necessitates a radical transition (deep decarbonization now and going forward), not merely a fine tuning of current trends.
  • Risks will be increasingly unevenly distributed; responses need to be made by each location.
  • The ‘guard rail’ concept, which implies a warming limit that guarantees full protection from dangerous anthropogenic interference, no longer works. What is called for is a consideration of societally acceptable risk.
  • At 4 degrees effects are non-linear; more than double 2 degrees. The catch potential of fisheries would be greatly reduced and crop production would be beyond adaptation in many areas. Sea level rise would far exceed 1 m.


On Theme Two:

  • We know how to measure progress on mitigation but not on adaptation.
  • The world is not on track to achieve the long-term global goal, but successful mitigation policies are known and must be scaled up urgently.
  • Under present economic regimes, spending on ‘brown’ technologies will continue to grow faster than spending on green technologies. 
  • Scaling up means putting a price on carbon and promoting low-carbon technologies, so that their share becomes dominant.


On Theme Three:

  • The ‘guard rail’ concept, in which up to 2 °C of warming is considered safe, is inadequate and would therefore be better seen as an upper limit, a defense line that needs to be stringently defended, while less warming would be preferable. 
  • Limiting global warming to below 2 °C is still feasible and will bring about many co-benefits, but poses substantial technological, economic and institutional challenges.
  • Parties may wish to take a precautionary route by aiming for limiting global warming as far below 2 °C as possible, discarding the notion of a guardrail but thinking more of a defense line or even a buffer zone.

We shall return to these themes in our next post. Tomorrow is the Summit's opening day. Those interested can follow us in real time on Twitter: @peaksurfer.

The Road to Paris

Off the keyboard of Albert Bates

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Published on Peak Surfer on June 7, 2015

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"These talks are not just about streamlining a text; they are about realizing, at a deeper level, the scope of the problem and the required scale for any response."


   Newspaper reporting legend Ross Gelbspan once said, lifestyle change is essential, but lifestyle change won't get us out of this climate mess. We need change of the kind that only comes from governments, acting together.

In a larger sense, we need a change of the kind that defies the arc of social history extending back to at least the last Ice Age. Let's face it. Our civilizations are built on organized murder, slavery and rape of the natural world and of each other. We are a nasty bit of work, we naked apes.

Some of us work towards change at this very cellular level, exploring spiritual and social limitations, working on our group dynamics, getting under our skin with art, music and spoken word, encouraging the heathen masses to break free from our serpent nature and rise up.

There has always been a tension between "bottom up" grass roots organizing and "top-down" working for policy changes from the infrastructural brain centers. Most political activists do both, although some will not compromise, on principle, and so fail to even get inside the buildings where decisions are taken. Others, like the Green Party activists in Germany, Ireland and elsewhere, succeed in winning seats in government only to see their aspirations dashed in the reakpolitik of consensus governance.

A study by Professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page published last fall in Perspectives on Politics challenged the commonly held belief — the story children in Western countries are routinely taught in school — that the way democracies work is by electoral, pluralistic expressions of public opinion.

 

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres
signs the "Stop Climate Change" banner
presented by a 10-year old student from
the Bonn International School

Gilens and Page studied the progress of 1,779 policy issues through US legislative bodies and compared opinion polls to reach the conclusion that it really doesn't matter what a majority, or even a plurality, of voters want. Thirty percent of bills passed were strongly opposed by the public. Thirty percent of bills passed were strongly favored. Whether the public supports or distains a particular policy has virtually no effect on its likelihood of becoming law.
 

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.

— Gilens and Page 


Welcome to Bonn

Climate change talks rekindled this week in Bonn where representatives from 195 countries are drafting the final negotiating text of the climate change agreement – now at 4232 lines and 89 pages. Whatever is arrived at will become the next-to-last version for the legally binding treaty that will be signed in Paris this December. Heads of State will be in Paris to pass around flutes of sparkling wine and hors-d'œuvre of sausage paté. Bonn is where the sausage is being stuffed before being hung to cure.

The 21st annual meeting of the parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change (COP21) carries high expectations. Delegates in Bonn are feeling the pressure of disappearing time to finalize the negotiating text and to ensure the new agreement will be legally binding, anchored by honest science, and acceptable to all parties. It is a tall order, but after all, it has been 20 years in the making, so they are not fresh to the process.

The expected draft will likely encourage a massive expansion of renewable energy, greatly improved energy efficiency, a shifting of subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables, a renewed focus on sustainable agricultural practices, and research initiatives to develop zero carbon and net-sequestering infrastructures for all aspects of industrial civilization.

To facilitate that historic switch, overdeveloped country financial support to underdeveloping countries will be essential. Conventional wisdom would have it that support should come in the forms of technology and capacity building, paid through finance mechanisms only vaguely defined, which is to say, voluntary, self-imposed targets that are neither economically painful nor especially quick.

At the prior prep meeting in Geneva, the draft treaty called for regular periodic meetings to set collective finance targets, with separate targets for mitigation and adaptation, based on ascertaining support requirements of the underdeveloping world.

It is key that the Paris treaty include phasing out fossil fuel emissions. To those working in the sausage factory that means phasing in 100% renewable energy, but the Bonn delegates seem a bit deluded in imagining that the old and new are roughly equivalent and we simply have to sweep out those smelly oily rags and uncrate that shiny new solary stuff.

Making pig iron—the main ingredient in steel—requires blast furnaces. Making cement requires 100-meter-long kilns that operate at 1500 degrees C. In principle it is possible to produce high heat for these purposes with electricity or giant solar collectors, but nobody does it that way now because it would be much more expensive than burning coal or natural gas. Crucially, current manufacturing processes for building solar panels and wind turbines also depend upon high-temperature industrial processes fueled by oil, coal, and natural gas. Again, alternative ways of producing this heat are feasible in principle—but the result would probably be significantly higher-cost solar and wind power. And there are no demonstration projects to show us just how easy or hard this would be.


Killing Nessie

Euen Mears observes in his May 22 post, The Loch Ness Monster of Energy Storage,  that the intermittency of many solar-based renewables places large requirements for storage on a system that has neither the present technology nor any reckoning of the cost. Mears dissected Scotland's plan to build a gigantic pumped storage hydro scheme, Strath Dearn, in the Monadhliath Mountains, just south of Inverness (population 72,000) on the upper reaches of the River Findhorn.

The scheme proposes to pump seawater from a location on the Moray Firth just east of Inverness to an elevation of about 300 m above sea level from where the water will flow south along a canal to the base of dam at an elevation of about 350 m where it is pumped into a reservoir with maximum surface elevation of 650 m. At one level, this is a standard pumped hydro storage scheme employing the sea as the lower reservoir. The scheme would have two pumping and generating stations, one by the sea and the other at the base of the dam.

The dam would dwarf the Hoover Dam and is of comparable size to Three Gorges in China. Strath Dearn generating capacity of 132 to 264 GW dwarfs both Hoover and Three Gorges. That is because the reservoir may be emptied and filled regularly, it has a huge head of 650 m and flow is not restricted to the flow of a natural river that has been dammed.


Untoward side effects: Loch Ness will become salty from seawater migration. Tectonic stresses caused by loading and unloading the site with 4.4 billion tons of water on a regular basis make living below the dam a risky proposition. Moreover, Mears calculates that storage on the order 472 GWh would be required to span low-wind lulls, given present Northern Scottish power demand and zero population growth.

Scaling to a 100% wind-pumped-storage system would increase the planned, already gigantic offshore wind farm from 3 GW to 50 GW. The storage requirement then grows to 50/3*472GWh = 7867 GWh. At that size the proposed reservoir site is not large enough to guarantee uninterrupted supply. So do they power the pumps with coal? Nuclear? Fracked gas?

Which brings up the first of two problems with a UN plan to replace fossil with renewables. Fossil energy is all about converting caloric content of dead dinosaurs to boil water or otherwise make mechanical or electrical power. Renewables like solar thermal and biomass may work that way, but wind and photovoltaics do not. Fossil energy is the stored sunlight of 500 million years – a great big savings account of light striking some part of our planet for half of each day. Renewables are more like a checking account, we get to use them as they arrive, but savings are pretty much out of the picture.

"Nothing says bathroom break better than a 40-foot plastic Brontosaurus."

– Larry the Cable Guy


The second difference is EROIE, or energy return on invested energy. Fossil fuels are very energy dense. A cup of gasoline can take a 2-ton truck over a mountain. How many horses would have to be fed how much grain to accomplish the same task? How many hours of wind generators charging batteries? Sunlight is very distributed and most of it falls on the ocean. Sure, solar input is nearly 4 million exajoules per year, versus only 550 exajoules from all fossil fuel burned to date, but as Charles A.S. Hall, who invented the EROIE concept, says, it is naïve in his opinion, "that we can replace fossil fuels with biofuels (most of which have little or no net yield), efficiency, and solar power."

Even more damning, whatever optimistic scenario you might choose, you are likely to soon run into the biggie: Jevons paradox, in which the efficient use of a resource leads to greater consumption of it—not less. For example, Sweden is a country in which conservation is taken very seriously. A government commission brought together nutritionists and environmental scientists and came up with a nutritious and CO2-sparing diet. Eva Alfredsson (Green consumption energy use and carbon dioxide emission, 2002) compared Swedes who promised to follow this diet with those who did not. She interviewed both groups frequently and calculated the CO2 released by each group. She found that the environmentally conscious group did indeed generate less CO2 and spent less money on food. Looks like win–win, right? But when she looked at total household budgets, she found that the environmentally conscious group spent their saved money in fuel-intensive ways, such as more distant vacations. This effect canceled, and in some cases more than cancelled, their dietary CO2 savings. About the only environmental benefit was that the first group presumably felt better about their environmental footprint. Genuine energy savings requires a holistic analysis, not Panglossian hope.

— Bioscience 65:6:624 (2015)


Bonn NGOs such as Climate Action Network have called for provisions in the treaty that guarantee sustainable energy for all. By all, do they mean 8 billion people? 12 billion? More? Where do they think that much energy will come from?

Of the countless new initiatives being announced, some are good, and some (let’s face it) are greenwashing.

 – Climate Action Network


Just take food supply, for instance. To bring the climate back in line will require restoring normal carbon and nitrogen flows, and to accomplish that we will need to do what Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson have been recommending – change from a mix of 80% annuals and 20% perennials to the reverse ratio. Tree crops have a lot in common with other forms of renewable energy, because their production is less dense – requiring more land per food calorie produced, although the ecological services produced by forests are incalculable.

Over 35% of the energy in agriculture is used making nitrogen fertilizers. If this must drop by 90%, as I believe it must, that means creating an agriculture dependent on the cycling of all nutrients, including human waste. It also means having a lot more farmers, at least 10 times as many as at present, perhaps more like 20 times, and all of us will need to live closer to the land that feeds us.


Compensating Loss

For the 2015 agreement to be successful, there needs to be stronger recognition that the effects of climate change will necessitate increased adaptation, away from the memes of "make it happen" industrial civilization and towards the memes of harmony with natural cycles and flows. In Bonn, as in Paris, that discussion is not being had. Instead delegates are trying anchor the Warsaw mechanism on loss and damage and ensure additional finance. "Loss and damage" places a burden on polluters to compensate those most injured by climate change, on the theory that such a policy will put a tangible price on pollution that can begin to value carbon and change the pass-through pollution paradigm for global business and finance.

We can foresee problems with the loss and damage approach. So, for instance, who will the US government more likely compensate for loss from climate change, almond farmers in California or drought refugees in Yemen? Apply that same logic for all nations.

These Bonn talks are critical, not just in shaping the Paris agreement, but also in achieving a common understanding on a range of important issues. These talks are not just about streamlining a text; they are about realizing, at a deeper level, the scope of the problem and the required scale for any response.

This is the first of two parts, to be continued next week. 

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