Young People’s Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions

In a paper authored by Jim Hansen and a number of other climate scientists[1], the concept of “climate debt” is raised. This is the amount of carbon dioxide that will have be removed from the atmosphere at a future date due to a lack of emission reductions in the present. This can be seen as an intergenerational debt, run up by the present adult generations but to be paid out by the future ones. Global temperatures averaged 1.10C above preindustrial levels in 2016 (excluding the short-term warming impact of the 2015/16 El Nino)[2]. An extra 0.50C of delayed warming is baked in through the thermal inertia of the oceans, and up to another 0.50C may also be as the dimming effect of aerosols (produced by burning fossil fuels, especially coal, and land use changes) is reduced. Therefore an above 20C temperature rise may already be baked in at current CO2 levels. Continue reading

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Will Self-Driving Electric Cars Revolutionize and Decarbonize The Transport Sector By 2030?

There have been a slew of reports recently about the promise of self-driving electric vehicles to revolutionize the transport sector while massively reducing transport-related carbon emissions. One of the most bullish of these reports[1] is from the Silicon Valley think tank RethinkX, founded by entrepreneur and futurist Tony Seba. The breathless prose is evident from the first paragraph of the executive summary:

We are on the cusp of one of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruptions of transportation in history. By 2030, within 10 years of regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles (AVs), 95% of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets, not individuals, in a new business model we call “transport-as-a-service” (TaaS). The TaaS disruption will have enormous implications across the transportation and oil industries, decimating entire portions of their value chains, causing oil demand and prices to plummet, and destroying trillions of dollars in investor value — but also creating trillions of dollars in new business opportunities, consumer surplus and GDP growth.” Continue reading

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Why Greenhouse Gas Emissions Did Not Really Stabilize In The Past Few Years

Only counting CO2, not the other greenhouse gases 

Carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas; the most important others are methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Methane has about 84 times the climate warming effect that CO2 does in the first twenty years (after 20 years the majority is converted to CO2)[i], a major issue as the climate moves toward possible positive-feedback tipping points. Over a hundred year period CH4 has a warming impact 34 times that of CO2[ii]. Nitrous Oxide has about 300 times the warming impact of CO2 and has an atmospheric lifespan of over 100 years[iii] [iv]. Continue reading

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Tar Sands: Building The Biggest Industrial Museum In History

At some point within the next decade or so the major nations of the world must start to make substantive progress in cutting the usage of fossil fuels. A major focus of such efforts would have to be within the transportation sector, which relies predominantly on oil as a fuel. The logical result would be that global demand for oil would start to fall year after year, creating a long-term downward pressure on oil prices.

With the decline in demand being a secular issue, rather than a short-term one, the viability of the highest cost operations would be fundamentally undermined. There would be no reason for producers to accept short-term losses in the hope of a later pick up in prices. A rational business option may be to walk away from currently unprofitable operations, and limit losses through declaring local operations bankrupt. Continue reading

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Climate Denial From An Oligarchic Perspective

I have been reading an excellent book by Jeffrey Winters, “Oligarchy”[1], which traces the history of oligarchs. By oligarchs, he means those with extreme levels of personal wealth that allow them to fundamentally affect a nation’s affairs. They both have an overriding need to defend that wealth and have the unique power resources for such a defence. As he puts it succinctly “this … helps explain why those most able to pay are also the ones most empowered to avoid doing so, and why ordinary democratic participation is an ineffective antidote.” Oligarchs are different to the political, business and military elites that may enjoy power through their positions, but may not have anywhere near an oligarchic level of wealth (although especially in the United States many senior executives have managed to amass oligarchic-style wealth). He identifies a U.S. oligarchy of the top 150,000 households (the 0.01%), which possessed an average income of $4 million per year in 2004. Even within this number there is a great concentration, the top 15,000 had an average income of $27 million, and the top 400, $345 million. Given the continuing outsized growth in the incomes and wealth of the rich since 2004, and the static incomes and wealth of the rest, their relative position can only have been enhanced further. Continue reading

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Exiting The Anthropocene

The beginning of the Anthropocene, the period when humanity became the predominant driver of changes in the Earth Systems, has been open to debate. Some argue for the period of the post-WW2 Great Acceleration, others for the beginning of industrialization, and some would perhaps go back as far as the European conquest and colonization of the rest of the world. What few seem to grasp is that the Anthropocene may last but a few decades, until the Earth responds like a boulder rolling down a hill. Humanity provided the push that overcame its inertia, but once in motion it accelerates away all by itself. Continue reading

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Societal Emergencies & Property Rights

Prior to the start of the Second World War, my grandfather ran a successful newsagent shop. Most of his profits came from selling sweets (‘candies’ for those in North America) to fill the voracious English appetite for tooth-rotting pleasures. Along came the war, and rationing. With a desperate need to feed the population in the face of the sinking of merchant ships in the Atlantic, sweets were just not a priority and the supply rapidly dwindled. My grandfather gave up his shop and became a printer for the newspaper industry. At no time did he think of claiming damages from the government for his “lost hypothetical future profits”. There was a war to fight and everyone had to make sacrifices, including him. Additionally, it was accepted that the sovereign government had the right to make such choices for the good of the country. Continue reading

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Why We Have Already Overshot The Carbon Budget

There has been a lot of talk in the past few years about the remaining carbon budget. This is the amount of additional carbon dioxide that we can emit into the atmosphere that will give us a 66% chance of not triggering a “dangerous” increase in global temperatures of over 20C (450 ppm of atmospheric CO2). Yes, this is for only a “2 out of 3” chance of saving human society. At higher percentages, say 90%, there is no remaining budget. Continue reading

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Renewable Electricity Generation In Asia – A Realistic Assessment

China accounts for more than half of global coal consumption, with the majority of that consumption within an electricity-generating sector that produces 73% of its power from coal. In 2015, China’s coal production was 1.83 billion tons, compared to 455 million tons in the United States. China’s recent focus on non-fossil energy sources has led to a short-term peaking of coal usage, but its current 5-year plan envisages a 19% increase in coal generation capacity[1]. Renewables alone simply cannot provide the amounts of additional electricity production required to support the country’s rapid economic growth. This additional coal usage will be exacerbated by the rapid growth in countries such as India (407 tons) and Indonesia (147 tons) – both of which are rapidly expanding coal usage as they drive industrialization (India’s coal-fired generation capacity will have more than doubled in the decade up to 2022)[2]. Japan’s reduction in fossil fuel usage will only offset a small part of these increases. The most recent draft plans from India may produce a peak in fossil fuel usage by the mid to late 2020’s, but no such plans exist for Indonesia. Continue reading

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Renewable Electricity Generation In North America – A Realistic Assessment

Taking into account fugitive methane emissions from the production and distribution of natural gas, the U.S. electricity-generating sector may not reduce overall climate-warming emissions at all during the foreseeable future. Nor has it in the previous decade, as claimed by the U.S. government. With Canada already generating 84% of its electricity from renewables and nuclear, it can only play a small part in reducing overall North American emissions. Especially when the U.S. produces eight times the amount of electricity. Mexico may significantly increase its share of renewable and nuclear sourced electricity, but overall growth in electricity demand will mean that this will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Unless fugitive methane emissions throughout the natural gas production and distribution network can be significantly reduced, the North American electricity-generating sector may not provide any reductions in climate-warming emissions. Given that this sector has been at the forefront of emission reduction efforts, this does not bode well for any real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – when measured on a CO2 equivalent basis (incorporating other greenhouse gases) rather than just a CO2 basis. Continue reading

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