A Stitch in Time

RealClimate has given us one of their most important posts ever.

The theme is that even a brief period of inaction — a mere 7 years — costs a lot. In makes the task much harder, and even then we can expect a sizeable amount more CO2 in the atmosphere when all the dust clears. It really drives home the point that although the distastrous phase of global warming may be decades away, every year counts, every ounce of prevention is worth a gigatonne of cure, and even a single more decade of inaction makes things dramatically worse.

I fully expect that soon — by the end of this decade — things will be so clear that even the Inhofes of this world will no longer have any political traction, the need for action will be so obvious. But as this RC post makes clear, we simply can’t afford to waste another decade.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother to point out an RC post because most readers here also regularly read RC. Even if I did, I’d just link to the post. But this is so important, I’d like to reproduce the post in its entirety. I’m confident that the RC authors are OK with this (it’s reproduced with fidelity), but if they request that I don’t then of course I’ll retract this re-posting.

The high cost of inaction

— Jim @ 14 October 2011

In 2004 Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow published a paper in Science in which they argued that a pragmatic, but still difficult, way of stabilizing atmospheric CO2 levels over the long term was via the implementation of seven “stabilization wedges” over the next 50 years. The idea was very simple: each wedge represented one in-hand technology or societal practice that could be implemented, relatively slowly at first and increasing linearly with time, to make a small but growing dent in the rise in CO2 emissions, stabilizing them at 2004 levels (about 7 Gigatons/Year) over the next 50 years (see figure below).

These seven wedges would be chosen from among a larger set of fifteen possibilities that included standard mitigation approaches such as increased energy efficiencies in vehicles and buildings, carbon capture at coal plants, nuclear power increases, and reduced deforestation and agricultural tillage-based losses. These practices would collectively buy time while larger scale transformations to renewable energies on a global scale could be developed and implemented that would drive emissions to zero over the following 50 years. This drastic emissions drop in the second 50 year period requires an immediate start on the research needed to develop and implement these technologies five to ten decades out, and the wedges themselves require a deliberate and committed effort, starting now.

A couple of weeks ago, Socolow updated this work in a brief commentary piece to show where we are seven years later. The results are not encouraging. First, and most significant, rather than decreasing the emissions rate, the lack of implementation of these strategies has been accompanied by an accelerated rate of emissions, such that annual CO2 output is now just under 9 Gt/yr, a 2 Gt/yr increase. Accounting for natural sequestration, this represents an increase of about 13-14 ppm CO2 over that time. But this is not the full story by any means. As Socolow notes, if we re-set the clock to 2011 and start the wedge strategy implementation now, it would now take nine wedges implemented at the proposed rate of the original seven, to accomplish the same goal (keeping emission rates constant over the next 50 years).

Here is the real kicker however. Even if we were to do so, starting today, with stable emissions for 50 years and then falling gradually from there to zero emissions over the following 50 years, an additional ~50 ppm of CO2 would be added to the atmosphere by 2111, relative to what would have been added had the seven wedge strategy been initiated in 2004. This equates to a roughly 0.5 W/sq m forcing increase, and a ~0.4 degree C global temperature increase, assuming an equilibrium sensitivity of 3 deg C per CO2 doubling and that the additional 50 ppm is added on top of the increase that would have occurred even if the 2004 wedge strategy had in fact been initiated. In other words, seven years of inaction, even if we immediately begin implementing the strategy now and fully carry it out over the next century, have larger climatic consequences over the next century than one might expect.

So are we ready to begin that now, and the research needed for the drastic drops from 2061 to 2111 that the strategy requires, or will we be repeating this same story in 2018, with a couple more wedges required, and another 50 ppm or more likely in the pipeline and no commitment to the needed advanced technologies?

You can read more about it, and commentary on it from some influential folks, here, here, and here.

124 responses to “A Stitch in Time

  1. In other words, 9/15 stabilization wedges implemented starting now doesn’t do as much as 7/15 just 7 years ago. What would do the same? 11? 13? all 15? 17? This just to start the discussion.

  2. Philippe Chantreau

    How do we find 15 wedges? Are there that many?

  3. Philippe, my memory may be faulty – but the answer is not yet. But that’s no excuse for not going gangbusters on what we’ve got.

    If Germany can get where it is in so few years with straightforward solar and wind, surely countries like Oz and US can get much further much faster given our huge landscapes with abundant solar and wind. We also are blessed with mega geothermal – that’s a not-yet-deliverable, but certainly within a couple of decades.

    And every advanced country, even the Europeans, have more than enough scope for investment in ‘nega-watts’ to make a big, early dent in emissions.

    My simplistic view is that when people see how effective solar is (or wind or whatever) they’ll be asking lots of what if …. and why don’t we…. questions. Thereby giving further impetus to investment and rollout of whatever technology is available. Just watching my AGW-is-rubbish 86 year old mother rush to her solar inverter display every time she leaves her back door ‘just checking’ to admire the amount of power she’s generated in the last day, hour, 5 minutes gives me a lot of hope.

    • My panels are going up as I type (I hope..)

      Still.. between the panels, 40% more efficient car, insulation, recycling, etc, etc.. still too many emissions.

      • Now where’s that damn “like” button when you *really* need it?

      • First full day: 10.2kWh..

        At one point our house was producing 6*10^-8 of the UK electricity supply. Since our household represents 6*10^-8 of the UK, that’s not as insignificant as it may appear..

        ( all figures to 1 s.f. 2 litres homebrew may interfere with maths. Still, homebrew has lower lifecycle emissions than non-homebrew, so we’re still ahead here)

  4. Sorry to see you reproduced their mistake of “annual CO2 output is now just under 9 Gt/yr” without comment. Muddling Gt of carbon and Gt of CO₂ really is inexcusable on a serious blog.

    [Response: It’s a simple mistake. I agree it’s incorrect, and I noticed it even before I saw a comment on the RC thread pointing this out. However, I considered it my duty to reproduce the original post without any changes.]

    • Indeed, it would have been pretty poor to silently change their text when quoting but inserting a note in square brackets – something like “[actually 9 Gt/yr of carbon, 33 Gt/yr of CO₂]” – would have avoided perpetuating this common confusion.

  5. Thanks for highlighting this post, Tamino.

    It’s very uncomfortable to be reminded, again, of just how bad things are, politically speaking, and how urgent the need to change really is. Surely that discomfort is one of the things that fuels denialism.

    Of course, such reminders are also vital–all the more so, precisely *because* of the discomfort.

  6. Chris O'Neill

    I fully expect that soon — by the end of this decade — things will be so clear that even the Inhofes of this world will no longer have any political traction, the need for action will be so obvious.

    One would hope that all Arctic sea ice disappearing at some point in time would make the need for action obvious. However, I am reminded of a story of a disaster that provides a good simile for our circumstances.

    In that disaster, a boiler was overheated and overpressured (because the safety valve had been put in backwards) but the gauge was sitting on zero. The operators thought there was something wrong with the gauge and kept tapping on it hoping that that would make it show a reasonable reading. In actual fact, the gauge had gone right around to the bottom of the zero stop. After some time the boiler exploded, with fatal results.

    The climate science denialists are gauge-tappers. They think the only thing that’s wrong is our measurements and understanding of what is happening and that there is actually nothing wrong happening with the world. They’re just going to keep tapping the gauges until there’s a disaster.

  7. With reference to the growing COSTS of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations as a result of business as usual (BAU), below, is the Executive Summary of the:
    _________________________________________________
    SOCIAL COST OF CARBON FOR REGULATORY IMPACT
    ANALYSIS UNDER EXECUTIVE ORDER 12866

    http://www.epa.gov/otaq/climate/regulations/scc-tsd.pdf

    Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Carbon, United States Government

    With participation by

    Council of Economic Advisers
    Council on Environmental Quality
    Department of Agriculture
    Department of Commerce
    Department of Energy
    Department of Transportation
    Environmental Protection Agency
    National Economic Council
    Office of Energy and Climate Change
    Office of Management and Budget
    Office of Science and Technology Policy
    Department of the Treasury
    _______________________________________________________
    It converts the estimated annual social costs of increased atmospheric CO2 from burning fossil carbon and from deforestation into dollar values, with varying rates for “discounting” current costs for ‘future’ generations.

    For the approximately 8 GtC/yr (8 Pacala/Socolow wedges) currently added to the atmosphere, multiply the tabulated values by (26.96 x 10^9) to convert to dollars/yr GLOBAL social cost of the CO2 currently added to the atmosphere each year. This (0.14 to 4.1 trillion dollars) is a growing GLOBAL DEFICIT that accumulates for each year of BAU – and doubles annually by 2050!
    _________________________________________________________

    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
    Under Executive Order 12866, agencies are required, to the extent permitted by law, “to assess both the costs and the benefits of the intended regulation and, recognizing that some costs and benefits are difficult to quantify, propose or adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination that the benefits of the intended regulation justify its costs.” The purpose of the “social cost of carbon” (SCC) estimates presented here is to allow agencies to incorporate the social benefits of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions into cost-benefit analyses of regulatory actions that have small, or “marginal,” impacts on cumulative global emissions. The estimates are presented with an acknowledgement of the many uncertainties involved and with a clear understanding that they should be updated over time to reflect increasing knowledge of the science and economics of climate impacts.

    The SCC is an estimate of the monetized damages associated with an incremental increase in carbon emissions in a given year. It is intended to include (but is not limited to) changes in net agricultural productivity, human health, property damages from increased flood risk, and the value of ecosystem services due to climate change.

    This document presents a summary of the interagency process that developed these SCC estimates. Technical experts from numerous agencies met on a regular basis to consider public comments, explore the technical literature in relevant fields, and discuss key model inputs and assumptions. The main objective of this process was to develop a range of SCC values using a defensible set of input assumptions grounded in the existing scientific and economic literatures. In this way, key uncertainties and model differences transparently and consistently inform the range of SCC estimates used in the rulemaking process.

    The interagency group selected four SCC values for use in regulatory analyses. Three values are based on the average SCC from three integrated assessment models, at discount rates of 2.5, 3, and 5 percent.

    The fourth value, which represents the 95th percentile SCC estimate across all three models at a 3 percent discount rate, is included to represent higher-than-expected impacts from temperature change further out in the tails of the SCC distribution.

    Table 15A.1.1 Social Cost of CO2, 2010 – 2050 (in 2007 dollars)

    Discount Rate 5% 3% 2.5% 3%
    Year Avg Avg Avg 95th
    2010 4.7 21.4 35.1 64.9
    2015 5.7 23.8 38.4 72.8
    2020 6.8 26.3 41.7 80.7
    2025 8.2 29.6 45.9 90.4
    2030 9.7 32.8 50.0 100.0
    2035 11.2 36.0 54.2 109.7
    2040 12.7 39.2 58.4 119.3
    2045 14.2 42.1 61.7 127.8
    2050 15.7 44.9 65.0 136.2

    MONETIZING CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS
    The “social cost of carbon” (SCC) is an estimate of the monetized damages associated with an incremental increase in carbon emissions in a given year. It is intended to include (but is not limited to) changes in net agricultural productivity, human health, property damages from increased flood risk, and the value of ecosystem services. We report estimates of the social cost of carbon in dollars per metric ton of carbon dioxide throughout this document. [In this document, we present all values of the SCC as the cost per metric ton of CO2 emissions. Alternatively, one could report the SCC as the cost per metric ton of carbon emissions. The multiplier for translating between mass of CO2 and the mass of carbon is 3.67 (the molecular weight of CO2 divided by the molecular weight of carbon = 44/12 = 3.67)].

    When attempting to assess the incremental economic impacts of carbon dioxide emissions, the analyst faces a number of serious challenges. A recent report from the National Academies of Science (NRC 2009) points out that any assessment will suffer from uncertainty, speculation, and lack of information about (1) future emissions of greenhouse gases, (2) the effects of past and future emissions on the climate system, (3) the impact of changes in climate on the physical and biological environment, and (4) the translation of these environmental impacts into economic damages. As a result, any effort to quantify and monetize the harms associated with climate change will raise serious questions of science, economics, and ethics and should be viewed as provisional.

    Despite the serious limits of both quantification and monetization, SCC estimates can be useful in estimating the social benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Under Executive Order 12866, agencies are required, to the extent permitted by law, “to assess both the costs and the benefits of the intended regulation and, recognizing that some costs and benefits are difficult to quantify, propose or adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination that the benefits of the intended regulation justify its costs.” The purpose of the SCC estimates presented here is to make it possible for agencies to incorporate the social benefits from reducing carbon dioxide emissions into cost-benefit analyses of regulatory actions that have small, or “marginal,” impacts on cumulative global emissions. Most federal regulatory actions can be expected to have marginal impacts on global emissions.
    _______________________________________________________
    Note: These estimates DO NOT include the global costs of a number of other costs – like those of ocean acidification.

  8. Why the worry wort?
    1. double fuel efficiency of 2 billion cars from 30 to 60 mgp. We have already started on this and should beat the 2061 deadline.
    2. use best efficiency standards in building construction. Already well along the way of addressing this via building codes. Should be no problem by 2061.
    3. replace 1400 coal plants with natural gas. Already started, as gas is cheaper and more flexible.
    4. increase wind energy by factor of ten. Wind mills are going up everywhere, no problem.
    5. install 100 times solar electric capacity. we are on a good tragectory to meet this goal.
    6. use solar or windmills to produce hydrogen for auto fuel. Excellent. Solves energy storage problem and non-hydrocarbon liquid fuels dilema in one fell swoop. No reason this cant happen.
    7. Eliminate tropical deforestation. Previously deforested areas are already growing back to life. Done.
    8. Adapt conservation tillage. This is so easy lets consider it done already.
    9. Double capacity of nuclear plants. This is already started and will get done.

    There are you nine wedges.

    • Appreciate the optimism, sir.

      However, the parade of “dones” and “easys” seems just a tad, er, “facile.”

      After all, the whole point of the wedges was that they were “in hand” back in 2004. They were “easy”–or at least possible–then. Yet you will notice, despite your assurances about what a good trajectory we are on, that emissions have grown from 7 GTC to 9. With all due respect, that is decidedly NOT a good trajectory!

      And while we need some optimism–despair, as I am periodically forced to remark, is not adaptive–we also need to be realistic about the difficulties we face.

      One difficulty not to forget is that we are already more than 40 ppm CO2 beyond the 350 target viewed as optimum by some good folks. Assuming–and frankly, it seems wildly optimistic to me–that global emissions are actually held constant ’til 2061 and decline to zero 50 years thereafter, we’re presumably looking at 2061 levels of around 500 ppm–past not only the 350 optimum target, but also the 450 ppm “could-be-more-or-less-safe-if-we’re-lucky” target.

    • Chris O'Neill

      Here’s why:

      1. “double fuel efficiency of 2 billion cars from 30 to 60 mgp.”

      Of academic interest only as cheap oil will run out long before 2061.

      2. “use best efficiency standards in building construction. Already well along the way of addressing this via building codes.”

      I don’t know about where you live but in Australia, new houses use just as much energy as old ones because they’re so much bigger.

      3. “replace 1400 coal plants with natural gas. Already started, as gas is cheaper and more flexible.”

      I don’t know where you get “cheaper” from but “cheap” gas will probably be run out by 2061.

      4. “increase wind energy by factor of ten. Wind mills are going up everywhere, no problem.”

      Sure, as long as people have no problem paying for its higher cost and as long as they don’t mind living near them. But in Australia, there are a large number of people who are bitterly opposed to paying and living near them.

      5. “install 100 times solar electric capacity.”

      This is the one potential bright spot as long as the cost comes down. However, until then, there are many people bitterly opposed to paying the cost.

      6. “use solar or windmills to produce hydrogen for auto fuel. Excellent. Solves energy storage problem and non-hydrocarbon liquid fuels dilema in one fell swoop. No reason this cant happen.”

      Apart from a lot of people being bitterly opposed to paying the cost.

      7. “Eliminate tropical deforestation. Previously deforested areas are already growing back to life. Done.”

      Sure it has been done.

      8. “Adapt conservation tillage. This is so easy lets consider it done already.”

      In fact, why don’t we consider all the problems solved and just pretend there is no problem.

      9. “Double capacity of nuclear plants. This is already started and will get done.”

      Sure, if you say so. Ever heard of an organization called “Greenpeace”? Doesn’t sound like it.

  9. USA emissions are already trending down and we have not yet even agreed that it is something we should do.

    http://epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/downloads11/US-GHG-Inventory-2011-Chapter-2-Trends.pdf

    Table 2-1: Recent Trends in U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks (Tg CO2 Eq.)
    1990 2000 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
    CO2 5,099.7 5,975.0 6,113.8 6,021.1 6,120.0 5,921.4 5,505.2

    • Yes, and thank goodness. And given the economic struggles of the last couple of years, I expect we’ll find that they’ve fallen further still.

      But the USA is not the world–and how much of the emissions avoided were actually just “off-shored?” This is still far from reason for self-satisfaction.

  10. I really do not understand the wedge related to reforestation. While a good thing by absorbing a fixed amount of carbon, it doesn’t seem to address the long term rate problem.

    • I think the idea is that it doesn’t really have to in P & S’s plan because in 50 years the capacity for much greater GHG emissions reductions kicks in. However the other point here is the time course of an aggrading ecosystem (including plantations as well): you’re talking in the low hundreds of years to maximum C aggradation in many cases, and 100 as a minimum.

      p.s. Thanks Tamino for highlighting the importance of Pacala and Socolow’s work. It’s very important, as you state, and is why I wrote the post.

  11. B Buckner … something important happened in the US in 2008. Do you remember what it was?

  12. Lighten up. We are a resourceful lot. We will figure it out. A quote from today’s Business Week. Sorry could not find a link to the dead tree edition:

    “In Hawaii, Italy and other places with abundant sunshine and high electricity rates, it’s already cheaper for consumers to install rooftop solar panels than to buy power from their local utility. By 2015 panels will have reached that point of so called gtrid parity in much of the US, Europe and Japan, Bloomberg New Enery Finance predicts.”

    Yes, Solyndra went bankrupt. The reason is the Chinese are producing cheap solar panels.

  13. dhogaza – the evil and stupid George Bush became an ex-president? Yes, we are in a resession. But we had leveled off on energy use before that, and we are converting to abundant natural gas in industry and power generation, and are unlikely to return to high levels of carbon emission growth.

  14. B Buckner:

    Lighten up.

    No, I won’t. Your short-term drop in CO2 emissions during the worst recession since the Great Depression is meaningless, it’s simply natural variation on a rising trend, if you will.

    Are there some positive things happening? Yes, indeed. Didn’t say otherwise.

  15. My first remark would be that the increase of carbon use has been primarily due to the development of poor countries, and first China and India. OECD consumption has generally stagnated. So what should have been done? not develop these countries? build one nuclear plant per week (!) in China ? build their power network only with windmills without fossil fuel complements (nobody knows how to do that to my knowledge) ?

    My second remark is the introducing a causality between a local derivative (the current growth) and a global integral (the amount of carbon burnt during the XXIst century) is an extremely weird idea, both on physical and mathematical grounds. It is very unlikely that the fossil fuel consumption will ever increase throughout the XXIst century. So their consumption curve will likely have a bell shape. But the amount of fossil fuels economically extractible is the same whatever we do now. So increasing the consumption now does only hast the coming of the peak, and the decrease will be faster after that. And decreasing the consumption now will only delay the peak. But it is very unlikely that because we would have some more fossil fuel left in 50 years, we wouldn’t use them ! we WILL use them, but a little bit later. For the climate, the result is the same.

    So regulating the fossil fuel consumption can also be done by defining a global amount and forbidding the extraction of all extra resources. Two problems however :
    * nobody has ever defined what this global amount should be, and worse how it should be shared between all countries – so nobody has to obey un- existing rules.
    * we should first prove that the use of fossil fuels produces less advantages than drawbacks – an assertion that everybody denies in his all-day life by keeping using them.

    • “But it is very unlikely that because we would have some more fossil fuel left in 50 years, we wouldn’t use them ! we WILL use them, but a little bit later.”

      Really? Even though, by then, our energy paradigm will have shifted completely? I strongly disagree with this notion, because I think: 1) people will (finally) have learned better; and 2) technology will have rendered extensive fossil fuel use uneconomic.

      Ray is clearly right to point out the human capacity for stupid and self-defeating behavior, but it’s not actually infinite. Most of us do eventually stop walking into walls, choosing toxic partners, or indulging in the unrestrained use of even more toxic recreational substances, provided we survive long enough.* I venture to say that the same will be true for humanity en masse–with the same caveat. And I’m pretty sure that in 50 years, the consequences of unrestrained fossil fuel combustion will be quite unmistakable, even to, er, “the least of these (intellects.)”

    • jarch,
      That post is just flat ignorant. First, while China and India have been increasing fossil fuel consumtion dramatically, on a per capita basis, they lag far, far behind the west. What is more, it is the west that is in a position to develop a new, clean infrastructure–which it then could have sold to China and India. It failed to do so.

      On your “local derivative global integral” comment… Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot, interrogative? What does that even mean?
      Third, if we have a new energy infrastructure, there will be no need to burn fossil fuels. We may still exploit them–as feedstock for organic chemistry, materials science, etc., but that doesn’t cause the climate to change.

      Finally, it would appear that you advocate we all go Unabomber and fertilize our fields with our own crap rather than participating in society, right Punkin? Is your imagination really so dim that those are the only two outcomes you can imagine?

    • jarch says:

      we should first prove that the use of fossil fuels produces less advantages than drawbacks – an assertion that everybody denies in his all-day life by keeping using them.

      Nonsense…The costs of using fossil fuels are largely externalized. There is little incentive for my neighbor not to purchase a Hummer if I and the rest of my neighbors are going to bear the burden of the costs incurred by this choice.

      Also, for those of us who want to make more responsible choices, our choices are limited because these externalities have largely alleviated any pressures on the market to come up with viable alternatives.

      Your simply living in a Free Market Fundamentalist’s fantasyland, not in the reality of how markets actually work in an imperfect world.

      • Kevin Stanley

        re: “free market fundamentalist’s fantasyland”

        I don’t know how much overlap there is between “free market fundamentalist” and “libertarian,” but I suspect quite a bit. I think there are two things that mark this general type for me (and we can include people who never got over their Ayn Rand phase in this):

        1. a deep lack of understanding regarding the concept of an “externality” and its implications, and

        2. a firm devotion to principles (at least during arguments, not necessarily in actual behavior), where their principles are logically derived (I’ll give them that) from a set of moral axioms of child-like simplicity.

        Now, I don’t mean to say that there’s anything automatically wrong with simple moral axioms. What makes this problematic in libertarian/randian/free market fundy types is that when faced with a conflict between their ideas about how things *should* work and how things *actually work in reality*, they will reject reality. But of course you can’t *knowingly* do that, right? So you can’t *talk* to them about it, because it’s not a matter of their having processed the conflict and consciously chosen a side. The only way to protect the system of principles is to throw up some cognitive static and *fail to process* the evidence being provided by reality.

        This makes them profoundly frustrating conversational partners. Just when you think you’ve got them in a place where they MUST concede your point…no getting around it…they don’t. They just say something like “so you’re saying that stealing is OK when the government does it, huh? Well I think that’s B.S.” And then they’ll never let you get back to the point.

        At least that’s been my experience LOL

      • Kevin Stanley wrote:

        The only way to protect the system of principles is to throw up some cognitive static and *fail to process* the evidence being provided by reality.

        According to the Objectivists that followed Ayn Rand, the fundamental choice is whether to be in focus or not. “Focus” is seen as requiring mental effort and as being the most basic form of volitionally adhering to reality, and thus as the opposite of rejecting reality. Accordingly, the most fundamental form of normativity inherent in the philosophy isn’t ethical in nature but epistemic. As I put it on a number of occasions, by the primacy of existence, identification precedes evaluation. Harry Binswanger, elaborated a bit on the fundamental choice, pointing out that being in focus is largely a matter of degree.

        Similarly, while Objectivists speak of certainty, and the foot soldiers might not make any further distinction, at a more theoretical level the “intellectuals” of the movement distinguished between axiomatic certainty and contextual certainty. Axiomatic certainty is what they would grant to the principle of “the Primacy of Existence” which they elaborate as being the view that “Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification”. Contextual certainty is what they might grant to well-established scientific conclusions, such as the principle of the conservation of energy or the second law of thermodynamics or that life evolved. With the latter they would recognize that justification is a matter of degree, but if numerous lines of investigation and a large body of evidence had accumulated for given conclusion and nothing against it, one could claim contextual certainty so long as one remained open to re-evaluating one’s position if further evidence came in against the conclusion. And for them, most knowledge is corrigible, where conclusions are subject to reevaluation in light of new evidence.

        This recognition that justification is a matter of degree, I believe, ties in the act of focusing being a matter of degree. You see, part of what Binswanger was laying the foundation for was a theory of evasion — where one might actually choose not to know something that one knows, where one might “reject reality”, and knowingly at that. If knowledge is justified true belief and justification is a matter of degree, then it is possible to know something without *really* knowing it “for sure” and then to experience fear or anxiety regarding the possibility that it really is true. Then out of fear or anxiety one might refuse to examine the evidence any further, throwing oneself red herrings or what have you. The cognitive static you speak of. But at a fundamental level this is what Objectivists would describe as the rejection of the principle of the primacy of existence in favor of the principle of the primacy of consciousness, where the refusal to recognize that something is true has sufficient power to cause it not to be true.

        In placing politics before science, one could easily argue that they are violating the normative principle that identification precedes evaluation, rejecting the principle of the primacy of existence in favor of the principle of the primacy of consciousness. Such as when they refuse to recognize the externalities involved in pollution in favor of their theory of individual rights, as if one had the right to pollute someone else’s water, air or soil.

      • Overheard at University of Chicago: “That’s fine in practice, but how does it work in theory?”

      • Susan Anderson

        I’m with Ray Ladbury here, I t’ink. Most people are just trying to live the lives they’ve been taught by life and media (increasingly more of the latter). Try to get them to notice reality on a planetary scale, let alone think about bow they think? Fuhgettabahtit.

        Oddly, though life teaches us that there are other people around, we as a species seem oddly unable to draw conclusions therefrom.

      • Kevin Stanley

        Timothy Chase, I appreciate your thoughtful presentations, as you’ve given in this thread and others over the years, of what I’ll refer to as *real* Objectivist philosophy and its implications as seen by people who have made a sincere effort to think it all through.

        My admittedly snarky and dismissive commentary regarding “people who never got over their Ayn Rand phase” was directed towards people I have interacted with or otherwise experienced (e.g. seen on TV, blog posts, etc.) who do not seem to have made such a sincere effort. You distinguish between the intellectuals and foot soldiers of the movement…I’m not sure that those I have in mind should even be considered foot soldiers–more like a cargo cult making a fervent but hollow pantomime of those soldiers.

        At any rate, just as the label “Christian” may be applied to both Thomas Aquinas and that Phelps guy from Westboro Baptist, though they seem to have little in common beyond that, so too a *real* Objectivist and the type of quasi-delusional person I was describing may have little in common beyond a certain fondness for ‘Atlas Shrugged.’ (Which the latter may not have actually read.)

        It seems I typically regret it when I make generalizations about a broad and diverse group–perhaps someday I’ll learn something from that :)

  16. The other thing we really need to do is reduce the number of humans on the planet. Preferably by having fewer children, rather than killing existing people ;-)

    Global warming through CO2 emissions is surely just one of many problems that too many people cause.

    And the best way to have fewer kids seems to be educating and employing women.

    Of course then we have to solve the problem of how to run an economy that is not growing exponentially. Australia (where I am) imports lots of people to keep the economy growing.

  17. B. Buckner: “We are a resourceful lot. We will figure it out.”

    Is it just me, or does that sound like it would be a wonderful caption for a cartoon showing the Titanic heading for the iceberg… or the dinosaurs watching the asteroid impact Earth… We as humans seem to take our continued survival into the indefinite future for granted. The history of the planet–and the Fermi Paradox–would seem to suggest otherwise.

  18. The really astounding thing about B. Buckner’s post is that he is congratulating himself on achievements we haven’t even begun to make progress on.

    1. Doubling fuel efficiency–it could be done very nearly with the stroke of a pen, but we have done almost nothing toward this goal.

    2. New codes are an improvement, but the real progress comes with retrofitting existing structures–again, something we haven’t even begun to do.

    3)Coal to natural gas–there simply isn’t going to be enough natural gas to accomplish this. What natural gas we are generating is having some serious consequences for water quality

    4-6) Please! We haven’t even begun on any of these goals. Solar, wind and other renewables don’t even show up on a pie chart of energy sources.

    7)Uh, Dude, last I saw, the Amazon is still succumbing at an accelerating rate–same with rainforests in Indonesia, and even the Congo.

    8) Conservation tillage. How ’bout we consider it done once it actually gets done.

    9)Doubling nukes–uh, Dude, have you not paid attention to the demise of nuclear power in Germany? They aren’t being built in the US, either, nor the rest of Europe. Even France is having trouble building new plants.

    And then you have the temerity to actually suggest that a one-year blip downward in carbon emissions–during a deep recession– is a change in trend! Humanity is heading toward a very solid brick wall, accelerator floored and texting about sovereign debt.

  19. I’m glad you phrased your line about deniers’ political positions as failing to get “traction” rather than pretending that the current [deleted] will ever retract. They’re in it for the long haul. The Atlantic Ocean could swamp Inhofe’s Senate office and he’d still claim it’s natural variation.

  20. > even a brief period of inaction — a mere 7 years — costs a lot.

    Ignore the trolling and focus on the problem.
    Even a brief period of responding to trolling costs a lot of attention.

  21. Ishtar Babilu Dingir: it hubris in a bad girl!

    • Oops! Sorry to have polluted this thread. That should have gone in the Opportunity Knocks? thread (multiple tabs open!). Can it be moved?

  22. Hank Roberts is focussing on solving the problem so I will get out of the way now.

  23. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-solyndras-failure-helps-future-of-solar-power

    “”Today, PV is about 18 cents per kilowatt-hour at the utility scale, without subsidies,” says Ramesh of SunShot, which will bid to make solar electricity cost-competitive with coal and other fossil fuels on a budget that is less than 20 percent of Solyndra’s loan guarantee. The falling price of highly refined sand may have doomed Solyndra, but it may also help fulfill the promise of solar power….

  24. I note that the graph shows ‘now’ as 2011 – anyone care to make a series with business as usual at 2020 or 2025 or 2030. Because from my perspective it looks very reasonable to assume that the necessary policies will still be subjects of debate rather than policies being implemented at least till 2020.

    I think the kind of denialism that agrees there’s a problem but presumes it can’t be that bad or that urgent (that another election cycle or two or three could much matter) is the most common sort – and the most insidious.

    Don’t doubt that the conditions are there for continuing growth of emissions – over the next few years the world’s no.1 coal exporter (Australia) will triple it’s export capacity. The number of new mines in the process of being opened in Australia is staggering. As for gas – coal seam gas is the way to make money from coal without having to dig it up and most of Eastern Australia has suitable coal seams under it. I don’t think limits on natural gas capacity apply to CSG. Promoted here in Australia as the energy of the future, even with claims of 1000 years of production to go alongside the centuries of coal for the betterment of Australia, humanity – and (gag) the environment. My concern that Australia will eventually become one of the hated scapegoats when the real extent of the problem becomes undeniable obviously aren’t shared by an Australian government that, whilst bravely attempting to price emissions locally, are not going to introduce any legislation that could slow the growth of coal and gas extraction for export in the least way; on the contrary they remain the great facilitators for expansion of the market for Australian coal and gas.

    • Well, that at least puts Australia up on on Canada, which (to my personal shame as a Canadian citizen, albeit an ex-pat) has one of the worst emission records of any signatory to Kyoto, and lacks any coherent Greenhouse policy whatever at the federal level.

      (Admittedly, the provinces are doing better; to mention just two examples, BC has introduced a carbon tax, and Ontario has aggressively pursued renewables as well as committing to a shutdown of all coal-fired electrical geneartion–I believe the projected effective date for that is now 2014.)

      • To some extent the Australian position is sensible. We look after our emissions. If everyone else did the same, the problem would be solved.

        We can only export coal and gas if others buy them….

    • And meanwhile Australia has a leader of the opposition who has sworn in blood to repeal the price on carbon once he achieves the Prime Ministerial office.

      One of the best wedges that could be formulated for the whole planet would be to wedge this numpty out of politics.

  25. Rob Honeycutt

    Don’t you find it amusing when the extreme far left meet up with the extreme far right and find they have lots of things in common?

  26. Just thoughts:

    IIRC, there is plenty of coal left in reserves to drive us well beyond 2 C warming. Something like 100 years of production is left in reserves at current rates of consumption, not that I expect the rate will remain constant. Plus, there is all that tar sand.

    There is some common agreement that 2 C and more warming is dangerous, and the most accurate assessment we have so far is that BAU takes us to 2 C by about 2050. SkepticalScience has a most timely summary of various assessments in their most recent post, “Comparing Global Temperature Predictions”.

    It is unclear to me what dangerous means. Will there be widespread war because of food shortages? Will there be famine in the poorer countries? Will it be a gradual process of decline or a sudden one? In any event, I don’t know the value of projecting BAU much past 2050 because it seems to me that BAU will not continue to 2100 one way or the other.

    Ken,
    FWIW, I suspect the U.S. will be the most hated nation if this comes to pass, and take most of the heat off of Australia.

    In my mind, nothing will be done until China and the U.S. agree that they need to cooperate in addressing the problem. If Germany sets a good example, great, maybe it will help convince the U.S. The most effective way to force a paradigm shift in industry is economically, more so than regulation. The wedges are great in showing effective (but not 100%) mitigation can be achieved, but IMHO, nothing will be effective until carbon fuels are made to be more expensive than the alternatives. (Personally, I like tax+dividend.) After that happens, the wedges will take shape as the market sorts out the solutions that work most efficiently. A carbon tax would provide a driving force for 12 of the 15 wedges at http://cmi.princeton.edu/wedges/intro.php.

    For example, solar is coming down in price, but I suspect it needs some economies of scale, that are not yet existent, in order to be cost competitive with coal. That scale required may not be achieved unless governments are willing to commit to carbon costing more in the future. And, of course, fossil fuel companies really, really don’t want that to happen, and they have about 7% of U.S. gross domestic worth of influence to keep that from happening in the U.S.

  27. Ray

    “jarch,
    That post is just flat ignorant. First, while China and India have been increasing fossil fuel consumtion dramatically, on a per capita basis, they lag far, far behind the west”

    Thanks for the appreciation, but did I say anything else ? I never stated that China produced more CO2 per capita than western countries (although I think France has a lower emission per capita thanks to nuke). I said the growth was essentially due to developing countries, and I asked what we should have done instead. To my knowledge, the only solutions for a stable, large scale power grid are fossil fuels, hydroelectricity, or nuclear plants. I don’t know any country in the world based on something else. China uses a pretty large amount of hydropower, with the largest dam in the world, so they’re certainly not against using renewable when they can, but it’s not enough for their thirst. So which alternative solution do you propose for them and other developing countries ? thousands of nuclear plants ?

    “On your “local derivative global integral” comment… Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot, interrogative? What does that even mean?”

    It means the following : assume you own an oil field or a coal mine that should be exhausted within 40 years at the current extraction rate. Assume that thanks to an aggressive conservation policy, the demand is divided by two, and that after 40 years, you still have half of the oil or coal in your mine. The question is very simple : do you close the wells/mine because it WOULD have been exhausted if the demand HAD been larger, and although there is still demand for them ? yes , or no ? if yes : when exactly, on which basis, and why ? if no : what’s the difference on the CO2 amount , at the end ?

    • “It means the following : assume you own an oil field or a coal mine that should be exhausted within 40 years at the current extraction rate. Assume that thanks to an aggressive conservation policy, the demand is divided by two, and that after 40 years, you still have half of the oil or coal in your mine. The question is very simple : do you close the wells/mine because it WOULD have been exhausted if the demand HAD been larger, and although there is still demand for them. . .”

      How was the demand for buggy whips after 40 years of automotive development?

  28. Tamino,
    “Mere 7 years?” Enough for doubling of the whole chinese economy at 10 % GDP growth (i.e. 70/10=7). Now the chinese growth slowed down to 9,1 % but 8 % growth is needed in order to have social stability. Expect next 7 fully wasted years, unless peak.oil and financial bust does the job for us (through unemployment and regional war conflicts)…

  29. The Canadian tar sands and the US pipeline that will facilitate their exploitation seem like a ‘line in the sand” to me. It’s incredible that the environmental impact statement for the pipeline evidently does not even mention climate change. if we really exploit all such fossil fuels there is plenty of oil to cook the planet.

  30. The RC post is a call to action. Apart from outright deniers, there are, of course some highly intelligent people who use doubt to argue, explicitly or implicitly, for inaction.

    Sometimes very plausible technical arguments are used to imply this.
    Occasionally they impinge on the expertise of a time-series analyst.

    In this light, you might consider a response to Richard Saumarez at JCs:
    “We are presented with datasets in which every elementary theorem of signal processing has violated. These are the datasets on which we have to draw conclusions.”

    Naturally, there is only innuendo on the quality of the datasets rather than any actual conclusion.

    FUD

    http://judithcurry.com/2011/10/18/does-the-aliasing-beast-feed-the-uncertainty-monster/

    • “A call to action. . .”

      Indeed. And probably on the streets, as well as in the blogs.

      Hey, Dr. Hansen’s been there already–a couple of times. And no, I haven’t, yet. But increasingly it seems like a good idea.

    • Aliasing. Another manufactured doubt?

      [Response: Yes.]

  31. “How was the demand for buggy whips after 40 years of automotive development?”
    Well , Kevin, if you think that fossil fuels will be given up soon because a lack of demand, I don’t see why you should worry about the future. And as I said, if we can find cheapest alternatives in the next decades, the current production is mainly immaterial – there is no causal relation between the current growth and the overall integral of cumulative production.

  32. jarch,
    Uh, Dude, how much money has been invested in renewables compared to, say, fracking, deepsea drilling and harnessing fusion? Hell, Reagan even took the solar panels off the fricking Whitehouse. That is precisely what I mean when I say that by abdicating from technological leadership, the US and Europe are at least partly responsible for current growth in fossil fuel consumption in the developing world.

    And wrt “overall integral of cumulative production…” Jebus, dude, did you just take a calculus class or something. Cumulative production IS an integral.

    • And it really doesn’t matter about what you **could** extract. If fossil materials were treated as untouchable as asbestos is in every civilised country (and yes, Canada, I’ve got my eye on you in the back there) then the demand for any production at all evaporates.

      Fossils should have the same status as buggy whips do now. An occasional, bespoke product for a niche market.

      For developing countries, distributed generation is the best and fastest way to get power to large sections of the population anyway. Much easier to ‘join up’ village and community scale generation facilities as money becomes available from the increased productivity of such communities than wait for centralised
      power to be transmitted long distances to thousands and thousands of communities. Always knowing that the ‘wrong’ tribal or religious or political affiliations of individual communities would get them last on any list. If they can just get a turbine or a few solar panels installed from their own (or charity or other NGO) resources, they’ll get there anyway.

    • And I’d add that while “cumulative production” may not depend only upon “current growth,” there most certainly is a relationship (“causal” seems to me to be an obfuscatory adjective in this context)–particularly since the economics of the renewable alternatives are rapidly improving. As they improve, the incentive to develop and use FFs diminishes, and at some point could be negligible. At that point, FF is effectively a dead technology from an economic point of view–much as whale oil illumination is today.

      (Note the modifier “economic”–we still have the know-how to build a whale oil lamp today, and we’ll still know how to build an FF-fired ICE in 2050, assuming no ‘collapse’ by then. It just won’t sell.)

      Thus, the more FF consumption is discouraged NOW, the less the eventual “cumulative production” is apt to be.

  33. I see that over at WUWT, Anthony is now promoting ozone/CFC-denialism by Joe D’Aleo. They appear to be totally unaware of the history of pre-CFC ozone measurements by the British Antarctic Survey. That’s kind of a fundamental flaw in D’Aleo’s claims.

  34. China already has higher per capita CO2 emissions than France, almost more than Britain, and on current trends are on track to meet the per-capita emissions of the US by late this decade.

    So much of the ‘argument’ is based on circa 1997 thinking or even 2003 thinking; which doesn’t serve us well now, and certainly won’t serve us well in 2020 or 2030. We need to recognise that global emissions are now more evenly distributed, and the costs will be borne on a global scale. The US (and Australia, etc) does of course have a huge part in this, but the rest of the world can no longer be considered in the same ways.

    The point of this article is that conservative thinking and complacency have cost us dearly. It pains me to see otherwise sane people falling into these mindsets about emissions.

  35. Ray Ladbury says:


    That post is just flat ignorant. First, while China and India have been increasing fossil fuel consumtion dramatically, on a per capita basis, they lag far, far behind the west.

    Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth. China’s emissions (6.9t in 2010 and almost certainly higher in 2011), on a per capita basis, are around the same as those of Spain or Italy (7.4 and 7.5t in 2008, respectively), and well above Sweden and Switzerland (5.3 and 5.4t)

    Similarly, Malaysia (7.7t) South Africa (8.8t) and a raft of other countries are either approaching or exceeding emissions in many developed countries. I’m all for debates about fairness, but they’re better based on facts rather than assumptions.

  36. George D, and US emissions are nearly 3 times those of the Chinese–with similar factors for Australia, Canada. We’re 10x those of India and 8x Brazil.

    What is more, the US has had the capability for decades to develop a new energy infrastructure that leapfrogs the whole fossil fuel trap. We have utterly failed to do so. China does not have this luxury. Hell, if we’d developed alternative energy infrastructure, we could have sold it to the Chinese, benefiting both countries and the world. Instead, we remained in thrall to fossil fuel interests, and it appears that we will remain there until the US is merely Haiti with nukes.

  37. Ray, I should also note that most per-capita figures exclude CH4 and emissions from deforestation. While this makes sense for countries with developed country emissions profiles (US, China etc.) in the case of countries like Brazil and Indonesia, that’s a glaring omission. Include Indonesia’s incredible peatlands draining and deforestation, and they become the third highest emitters in the world (although with 240m people they’re obviously well back per capita).

    There is some seriously woolly thinking about emissions in current discourses on climate change. Particularly when we consider that current trends are likely to accelerate in the next decade. To restate: do think that historic emissions, particularly those in the last half-century, should be considered in any debate. But we need a clear picture of current emissions in order to make sense of things.

  38. Ray, US and Australia could probably significantly reduce their CO2 emissions without hampering too much their standard of living. Nevertheless, even the best western countries still emit around 5 to 6 t CO2 /cap/yr. Multiplied by 7 billions inhabitants, who will soon be 8 to 9 billions, this makes 35 to 40 Gt CO2/yr. Since there is no reason why poor people wouldn’t like to live like “minimal” western countries, it’s very difficult to see how we wouldn’t tend to burn at least this amount, unless you prevent people from living like developed counties. Which is actually happening through economic crisis, but this is not particularly a voluntary decision. Now you seem to consider that we could “obviously” live in a modern way without burning these 5 to 6 tCO2 ? well, even if you claim that, I see no evidence for this, nowhere in the world, and even in China that is not particularly well controlled by western capitalism. NOT A SINGLE country is able to base its development on something else than increasing its fossil fuel consumption. Not a single one, over more than 200 countries, this makes a serious burden for your “evidence” to be proved, doesn’t it ?

  39. George D and Jarch, The answer is that a “modern” lifestyle is not possible without burning a substantial amount of carbon GIVEN THE CURRENT ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE. It is the energy infrastructure that must change, and that should have been overhauled after the 1970 oil shock, had we not been beholden to fossil fuel interests.

    If it is seriously your contention that wecannot replace the fossil fuel infrastructure with a renewable infrastructure, then what you are saying is that modern civilizization is of necessity transitory–and given that modern civiliaztion has allowed globalpopulation to swell to 10 billion by mid century, we would be in very deep kimchee.
    Personally, I am not so pessimistic that I think such a transition is impossible technically. I merely think that humans will be too stupid to see that it is needed and will wind up pissing away the opportunity that has presented itself to homo “sapiens”. And frankly, I blame the fetishization of the free market we see in the west for this failing. Markets by their very nature are not good at anticipating game-changing innovations, and they suck even more at seeing when the game needs to be changed.

  40. This is an interesting exchange to me, because it’s a case in point illustrating just how fast conditions are changing on the ground in matters economic and–hmm, need an adjective meaning “relating to emissions.”

    It’s hard for folks (including me!) to stay current on:

    1) Chinese emissions, air quality, energy mix, use of renewable (including increasingly dominant presence as a (or even “the”) global exporter of solar and wind tech);
    2) Increasing utility of renewables WRT the vexed question of so-called “baseload” power;
    3) Increased usage of renewables globally, with serious deployments taking place in many emerging economies.

    One of the reasons that it’s hard is that it’s often tough to find published data that’s up to date; a lot of the tabulated data you can find is only complete up to, say, 2009 or even earlier. And with change coming as quickly as it is, that’s not particularly helpful.

    But it is the case that you read a lot of comments on blogs and news sites that were much more justifiable two, or five, or even ten years ago than they are today.

    An anecdote illustrating the rapidity of change: on a recent trip to Ontario, I observed the new wind farms from the McDonald-Cartier freeway en route from Windsor to Toronto. As far as I can determine, the turbines I saw (mostly?) belong to the Comber project, which should be coming online soon:

    http://www.gosfieldcomberwind.com/_Global/41/documents/relatedlinks/3242.pdf

    According to an Ontario Ministry of Energy site:

    Today, Ontario has over 1,600 megawatts of wind power online generated by over 900 wind turbines. This is enough to power over 400,000 homes. In October 2003, there were 15 megawatts (MW) of wind power from 10 utility-scale turbines in Ontario.

    The terrain around Comber–and in fact, the whole southwestern peninsula of Ontario–is certainly very friendly for wind: it’s pancake-flat, much resembling the great Prairies. Visually, it’s been transformed (and, I would say, enlivened) by the addition of the turbines. (If you like Calder mobiles, you probably won’t mind wind turbines in the landscape!)

    From the freeway you can see dozens of them at a time, some as close (I would estimate) as the standard setback (500 meters.) Though impressive, seeing them that close lets you understand how limited in time the much-hyped “problem” of shadow-flicker from the blades must be: the angular diameter of the swept area is quite small from that distance (much less that of the blades.)

    Online, there’s some virulent opposition, of which this site may serve as example:

    http://windconcernsontario.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/more-wind-farms-possible-in-chatham-kent/

    Personally, I suspect it’s pretty much Astroturf, but have no solid information one way or the other; it’s just that the style of exaggeration/minimizing and apparent cherry-picking seems awfully familiar. And that my brother–a local who’s pretty alert to the political landscape–says what he’s heard is mostly that the farmers on whose land the turbines have been built like the extra income.

    But then, rapid change does tend to provoke negative reactions just on that account, doesn’t it?

  41. Ray, everybody wishes we could do as well without fossil fuels. I’m just warning that there is no known fact that shows that it is indeed possible up to now . Many countries like Norway, Iceland, several Canadian provinces , have already 100 % renewable electricity. Yet they still emit a considerable amount of CO2 /capita. In the case of Iceland, it produces much MORE renewable energy that is really needed for the population. But most of it is used by giant aluminium and ferrosilicon industries, and they still import oil and coal for they all day uses. It is very implausible that they wouldn’t use their renewable electricity instead of oil if they could – they even tried a hydrogen plan that collapsed during the economic crisis. Because – it’s just reality : for some uses , especially transportation, alternatives are expensive, inconvenient, and cannot simply fill the needs. Denying that won’t help to solve the problems in the future.

    • “Several Canadian provinces.. .” Huh?

      Quebec–the undoubted leader in this regard among the Canadian provinces–generates *nearly* all its electricity from hydro–ca. 92% in 2007. And they do export electricity to other provinces and to New England.

      As you say, though, that’s not all of Quebec’s energy use–electricity accounts for about 40% of the total.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:HQ_supplies_2007.svg
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydro-Québec

      However, the situation for transportation seems to be changing quite rapidly, and could change much more rapidly still given appropriate policies to price carbon emissions. I for one very much doubt that alternative transportation technologies will continue to be describable as “expensive, inconvenient, and cannot simply fill the needs.”

    • Iceland:

      “About 81 percent of total primary energy supply in Iceland is derived from domestically produced renewable energy sources. In 2007, geothermal energy provided about 66 percent of primary energy, the share of hydropower was 15 percent, and fossil fuels (mainly oil) 19 percent.[1] The main use of geothermal energy is for space heating with the heat being distributed to buildings through extensive district-heating systems.[1] About 85% of all houses in Iceland are heated with geothermal energy.[2]

      “Renewable energy provides 100 percent of electricity production, with about 70 percent coming from hydropower and 30 percent from geothermal power.[1] Most of the hydropower plants are owned by Landsvirkjun (the National Power Company) which is the main supplier of electricity in Iceland.[2]”

      And:

      “Iceland is the first country in the world to create an economy generated through industries fueled by renewable energy, and there is still a large amount of untapped hydroelectric energy in Iceland. In 2002 it was estimated that Iceland only generated 17% of the total harnessable hydroelectric energy in the country. Iceland’s government believes another 30 TWh of hydropower every year could be produced, whilst taking into account the sources that must remain untapped for environmental reasons.[6]”

      As for transportation:

      “Currently, imported oil fulfils most of Iceland’s remaining energy needs. This cost has caused Iceland to focus on domestic, renewable energy. . . in 1999 Icelandic New Energy was established to govern the project of transitioning Iceland into the first hydrogen society by 2050.[7]

      “The first step towards becoming a hydrogen society was the ECTOS demonstration project, which ran from 2001 until August 2005 and was very successful.[10] ECTOS (Ecological City TranspOrt System) involved three hydrogen fuel cell buses and one fuel station.[11] Many international companies contributed to the project including Daimler Chrysler, who made the hydrogen fuel cell buses, and Shell which produced the hydrogen fuel station.[12] The European Commission 5th framework programme sponsored the project. . .

      “In January 2006 it was decided to continue testing the hydrogen buses as part of the HyFLEET:CUTE project, which spans 10 cities in Europe, China and Australia and which is sponsored by the European Commission’s 6th framework programme.[14] This project studies the long term effects and most efficient ways of using hydrogen powered buses. . .

      “The project ended in January 2007, and as a result of the research an improved bus prototype is expected in 2008. Details of further demonstrations involving private cars and a boat were expected in April 2007.[15]”

      As of 2010, both H2 and electric cars were being tested:

      “The addition [10 H2-powered Ford Focus cars] will make the total hydrogen vehicle fleet the largest one in Europe with 22 H2 vehicles in service in Reykjavik.”

      However, as of today this commentator sees the H2 effort languishing in favor of those aluminum smelters:

      http://www.worldwatch.org/node/4664

      (I’m guessing the effort to recover from the banking collapse has something to do with this.)

    • Jarch,
      OK, let me get this straight. Is it seriously your contention that there is NO substitute for fossil fuels–that no matter how long we try or how many resources we devote, that we will never develop an economy based on renewables…

      Because if that is seriously your contention, then it would seem we have a very serious problem–and our progeny an even bigger one. Can you imagine the implications of fossil fuels running out at the precise moment that human global population peaks–espcecially given the dependence of modern agriculture on petroleum? How can you argue that it is anything but immoral not to conserve petroleum for those uses where it cannot be replaced? Not only are fossil fuels being squandered, but they are being squandered cheaply–primarily because their prices do not reflect marginal costs.

      On the other hand, if alternatives to fossil fuels are possible–albeit difficult to develop–then it is hard for me to understand how you can argue that having had another 30-40 years to develop said resources. Indeed, how can you argue that it was anything but the most gross incompetence, negligence and immorality that we haven’t been devoting considerable resources to developing such alternatives?

      It is very hard for me to see how your argument supports the sort of complacency you exhibit.

  42. Susan Anderson

    Of course, if we’d started spending on R&D at anything like the scale of fossil fuel subsidies 30 years ago when the need became obvious, we’d not be in this fix, but that’s no excuse not to start now.

    We will have to pin our hopes on the more rational parts of the private sector.

    Unfortunately, free market worship is a cover for the private and dishonest gambling and greed of the ethically challenged. That is not a free market, except for exploiters.

  43. I don’t think this argument really holds for China, and the former Soviet Union had also based its energy system on the massive huge of fossil fuels. Remember two things :

    * The laws of physics ignore politics (and wishful thinkings as well).
    * A scientific discovery is not guaranteed by money investment.

  44. Kevin, you forgot to remind us the CO2 production per capita in Iceland.

    I don’t know whether we will find a real substitute for ALL fossil fuels consumptions in the future (because they certainly will be totally exhausted at some point) and I agree that we are in deep trouble if we can’t. But… this is life. You are also in deep trouble when you discover you have cancer. You may recover, or not. I can’t have the knowledge of the future. I was just reacting to the initial idea that we shouldn’t have increased the fossil fuels consumption. Given that this development has essentially taken place in developing countries that had no obvious alternative to build their energy grid, my question was only : what else could have we done really ?

    • Jarch: “what else could have we done really ?”

      Ah, the 64 trillion dollar question! They could have done little else given that the West has squandered the windfall that came with cheap fossil fuels. By failing to invest in Energy R&D, by refusing to accept the finitude of global resources and by failing to understand global development, the West has left the developing world with no real option but to repeat its mistakes. And we persist in those same mistakes–defining stupidity as “Business as Usual”.

    • “Forgot?” I have no idea what it is.

      Would you like me to look it up? I don’t imagine it’s that hard to find–but perhaps you already have that information handy?

      As to the substance of what I did share, I think it’s fairly clear that from a purely technical point of view, we have reasonably effective FF substitutes right now.

      The devil is in the economic details, which is why honest pricing of carbon emissions is a vital place to start.

  45. Oh, and of course I never said that conserving energy was bad, I wonder where you could have read that in what I said. It would be necessary even without GH effect anyway.

  46. Ray, it would be better to avoid empty mottos and really answer my questions : how could have China, Brazil, India “globally develop” (?) concretely without increasing their FF consumption, physically I mean ?

    or do you propose to tell them : just stop developing until we smart western people have invested in enough R&D to teach you how to develop without FF ?

    well, if at the end it happens that we have burnt all FF for our own use and eventually didn’t find the way we could replace them, they may be a little bit angry against us ….

    • Well, perhaps I shouldn’t respond to a comment directed toward Ray.

      But given that:

      A) We didn’t tell the developing world not to burn FF;
      B) They would likely have told us to buzz off, especially so since
      C) We didn’t do much ourselves about burning less FF; and
      D) As Ray has now said, they didn’t have much alternative because we failed to develop alternatives;

      isn’t it rather pointless to debate what we should have done?

      We did not make the “stitch in time” in the 1970s when the energy shock afforded an opportunity to do so. If we’re going to talk about “shoulds,” wouldn’t ones still in the present and near future be the ones we fuss over?

      And I say we “should” price carbon emissions–by binding international agreement, WITH meaningful consequences accruing to defaulters.

      • Kevin,
        My point is that all this talk of “well all the carbon is coming from China now, so let them make the cuts…” is crap. The atmosphere doesn’t care where the carbon comes from. Likewise, if we develop a viable alternative energy infrastructure, it will be used all over the world–precisely because such an infrastructure is desperately needed.

        That infrastructure would have been much easier to deploy before the developing world adopted a fossil-fuel energy economy, but unfortunately we didn’t bother to develop it.

        Nor are we doing so now. It would appear that the US is dedicated to remaining a laggard and ultimately becoming a technological backwater while watching China leapfrog over us.

        In 20 years, we’ll be Haiti with nukes.

      • Well, of course it’s crap to put it all off on China, and anyone seriously making that argument has the ethical smarts of sociopath. (How’s that for an intemperate statement?–but I really do think that attitude extremely contemptible.)

        The irony is–and you touch a bit on this–is that there is a very good probability that China in ten years is going to be doing much, much better on emissions than the US. Why? They are committed, they have serious policies, and there is a lot of low-hanging fruit in their energy economy vis-a-vis emissions.

        (Just one example: we’ve been told ad infinitum that they are adding a coal-fired electric plant every week or some such. Yet those trumpeting that factoid don’t tell you that state policy right now is to “add” a high efficiency plant only in conjunction with “subtracting” an old, dirty one. Don’t know if that’s being honored completely or not–you hear things about corrupt Party officials, and honest news is hard to come by–but it’s hard to imagine that it’s not being honored at all.)

        And the increase in renewables in China has been amazing. Five years ago, most people here had no idea that they were even interested in the technologies. Now, Chinese firms are gunning for top spot as wind and solar tech exporters, and China has #1 status for installed wind capacity, to go with their #1 CO2 emitter status. A developing economy, one must think, has more inherent flexibility than a relatively mature one.

        (BTW, I’m not a Sinophile, particularly; I think their politics and legal system appalling. But IMO it’s ridiculous, at this point, to assume that the Chinese need to be dragged into the future on GW–save that effort for the Tea Party.)

      • Kevin,
        I visited China in 1985–taking a Summer off from Grad school, much to the dismay of my adviser. I have to say that I understand it a lot better as a result. Everything in China is driven by necessity. If they undervalue their currency, it is because they need to grow their economy at 8% per year just to keep from being inundated by unemployed youth. If they are replacing dirty coal-fired power plants, it is because they realize they can’t breathe smog. If they come down hard on the Tibetans, it is because they are desperately afraid of coming apart at the seams from ethnic strife.

        I’ve no doubt that they will kick our pasty white asses in the new century…just before they succumb to environmental collapse, and probably a decade or two before we do as well.

      • Maybe. Some of the regional climatic projections Gwynn Dyer wrote about look pretty rough from a Chinese perspective, that’s for sure.

  47. Jarch, are you reading my comments at all? I pointed out that China and the developing world have not been in a position to develop alternatives to fossil fuel. The West has, but has failed to do so. Thus, China and the developed world had no choice but to repeat the mistakes of the West. Got that?

    We’ve known since the ’60s that Peak Oil was not far away. We’ve known since the ’70s that climate change was likely to be an issue if we didn’t decrease fossil fuel use. And yet we have failed utterly to plan for or mitigate these inevitabilities. The fault lies squarely with the West, not with China or other developing nations.
    As it stands now, it is quite likely that we will reach peak fossil fuels with no alternative energy infrastructure, a deteriorating climate and over 10 billion mouths to feed. I don’t like our prospects in a world like that.

  48. “Jarch, are you reading my comments at all? I pointed out that China and the developing world have not been in a position to develop alternatives to fossil fuel. The West has, but has failed to do so. ‘

    Ray, I perfectly understand you point, but I just disagree. As I said, iceland, among others, has already more than 100 % renewable electricity – more than 100 % in the sense that they produce much more than their personal needs. All the excess is devoted to power energy intensive industries, and future projects are to further develop these industries. Nevertheless, they still import fossil fuels (oil and coal), despite they’re rather expensive to buy and transport to this remote island. I don’t see any reasonable ground to develop intensively hydroelectricity and geothermal plants and not to use them instead of FF. The CO2 production per capita is easy to find, for instance here : http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/31/world-carbon-dioxide-emissions-country-data-co2
    in 2009 it was 11.12 t/capita , twice as large as China. Obviously they didn’t find an easy way to replace oil for cars, trucks, (have you ever travelled in Iceland?) , planes, fishery boats, and so on, and even aluminium factories burn a fair amount of coal. Now your contention is that is obviously possible to replace FF, weren’t our greed or laze. I just say it is not obvious at all (and actually I don’t see really why you postulate that mankind genius should find an easy way to replace 80 % of its energy sources, and would be unable to cope with a temperature increase of a few degrees. Whereas it seems to me that known facts tend to show exactly the opposite – after all our wealth has grown BECAUSE a strong increase in FF consumption and DESPITE an corresponding increase in temperature, which tends to show that the effect of the first cause is much larger than the second one )…

    • Well, again, I disagree. I think you’re over-generalizing quite a bit from the experience of one small nation.

      The development of hydrogen and battery vehicles continues, but at a slow pace, mostly due not to technical difficulty–the prototypes seem to have worked well for them, as far as I can tell, with many remaining in service today–but rather to the collapse of their banking industry and the consequent economic damage. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens there over the next few years as electric vehicles become much more available “off the shelf.”

      I think you over-generalize regarding the “growth of our wealth,” too. Do you really think that, had peak oil occurred in 1945, all economic growth would have ceased? I don’t–and I do think that we’d be further along with renewable energy, too.

      Might we be less wealthy than we are today? Probably, in a global sense–but I suspect that some would be, while others (for whom the fossil fuel economy has not been particularly kind) might actually be doing better. Pure speculation, of course.

      Now, as to the relative difficulty of “replacing 80% of our energy” vs. “coping with a few degrees”–the energy is there, and we have suitable technology NOW. The competitive disadvantages of renewables cease to exist when there is no more FF–but even without further improvement, we would learn to do what we need to do to cope using the available technologies–planning around battery ranges, for example. (Yes, if the shift is too sudden, people die–an excellent reason for starting the transition sooner, rather than later.)

      On the other hand, the “few degrees” put at risk systems that we do not maintain or even, as yet, understand. What happens to the oceans if we lose 90% of our phytoplankton? What happens to crop yields under 30% increase in drought? Under a radical ecological reorganization eliminating most of our available crop pollinators? Under unpredictable pest infestations? What happens to our populations under increased health threats due to increasing viability of infectious diseases? What happens, in short, to the machinery of life? We’re trying to write a user’s manual, but it’s a big freaking task. . .

      And how do we respond to all the stress and tragedy these shifts could impose? With sweet reason to each other, or with guns and bombs? We don’t really have a manual for H. Sap, either.

      Much easier to build better batteries, bigger solar farms, to learn to travel less, and to find better energy storage and exchange methods, if you ask me.

      • Kevin, I’m not “generalizing”, the fact that all modern countries emit more than 5 GtCO2 par capita and per year IS a general fact. It means that absolutely no, not a single one, modern country can do it without this minimal amount of FF. It is just a fact, an element of reality. I chose Iceland as the BEST case for replacing FF, simply because
        a) they are totally deprived of any FF resources
        b) they already produce much more renewable energy that what they need, and can even produce more
        c) they are generally speaking intelligent, educated, and smart people, with all scientific knowledge;
        I can’t imagine BETTER conditions to make a society without FF. And I see that they didn’t, although they have made great efforts to replace them everywhere when it was possible (heating and electricity generation). Other countries would have much less opportunities to do it.

        For me, it’s a strong indication that it is not easy at all to power a moderne society without FF. Another case is France where they make almost maximal use of nuclear power – still producing only 30 % of energy with it and emitting more than 6 t CO2/cap/yr.

        I notice that you address only power generation, and as I said, the issue of decarbonized power generation is ALREADY solved in all these countries.

        Concerning climate, since species currently live in very wide range of conditions spanning more than 30 °C in average temperatures, I have also some difficulties to understand why a shift of 2 or 3 °C would extinguish all the life – especially considering the fact that a fair part of this shift has ALREADY occurred since the beginning of the XIXth century – especially in some regions as Europe, without any strong observable consequence on life. The basic , zeroth order , observations, doesn’t seem to support your fears.

        [Response: Did Oklahoma enjoy the “dust bowl”? Are the Texans enjoying it today? Is it that trivial for Muscovites to adapt to repeated instances of their worst heat wave ever? How many times will the Russian wheat crop have to be cut by a third — or a half — or more — by heat before you can wrap you mind around the danger of climate change? If you can’t see the danger then you’re blind.]

        In other words, basic, zeroth order observations show a very clear correlation between wealth and consumption of FF (for a given temperature) and almost zero correlation with average T (for a given FF consumption – and probably inverse causality since cold countries probably use more FF for heating). Correlation is not causality, but I’m desperately trying to understand how you end up with an INVERSE causality.

        [Response: Basic zeroth order observations show a very clear correlation between wealth in colonial America and the production and consumption of tobacco. Have a cigarette.]

      • Jarch,
        Did you really just say that because life spans a 30 degree C range of temperatures that raising GLOBAL temperatures isn’t a problem?

        OK, first, do you at least realize that argument from personal incredulity is a logical fallacy,

        Second, are you proposing that oak trees will evolve legs and walk north…and then somehow find a way to grow without topsoil on the Canadian Shield?

        Third, nobody is saying that everything will die off or even be put under stress. Poison ivy, for instance does very well under a broad range of temperatures and LOVES high CO2 environments.

        Your entire thesis seems to be Panglossian–you observe things as they are and construct rationalizations for why they cannot be otherwise. The purpose of this seems to be to absolve yourself of all responsibility and to convince yourself that you couldn’t do anything if you accepted responsibility. Might I suggest that if you used your rational mind for something other than rationalization that you might be able to see that we could by concerted action make a future for our progeny that will be far better than if we choose not to act.

      • “Kevin, I’m not “generalizing”, the fact that all modern countries emit more than 5 GtCO2 par capita and per year IS a general fact.”

        You are generalizing from “it is this way” to “it must always be this way.” One could have made the same argument for horse-drawn transport in 1880.

        “It means that absolutely no, not a single one, modern country can do it without this minimal amount of FF. It is just a fact, an element of reality.”

        No, it means that “not a single one” DOES do it. Big difference.

        FF enjoy a competitive advantage–one that is unfair, inimical to human well-being and in principle economically inefficient–due to incomplete costing in the marketplace. Change that one factor and you’ll quickly see the “impossible” take place.

        Just hope it’s “quickly” enough.

  49. Jarch, “Nevertheless, they still import fossil fuels (oil and coal), despite they’re rather expensive to buy and transport to this remote island. ”

    Are you proposing hydro-powered cars? I believe that would be called a boat. Gee, I don’t suppose the decision to import petroleum could have anything to do with the fact that they are absurdly cheap because externalities such as damage to the environment and the climate are not factored in, could it?

    And the fact that we’ve devoted bupkes as far as resources to developing alternative fuels…that couldn’t have anything to do with our lack of success on that frontier, could it?

    And then there is the matter that if in fact it is not possible to develop alternative fuels as you seem to suggest…well, isn’t it utterly irresponsible to burn it all in one brief orgy of consumption, condemning our progeny to a marginal existence, not to mention a fall that can only be described as hellish? Shouldn’t we have rationed the bounty–and in so doing given the climate system more time to equilibrate as well?

    I’m sorry, I just don’t buy the “Oh well, there’s nothing we could have done” handwringing. It’s self-serving bullshit, as well as self defeating. Our species may well fail in its attempts to adapt to the new reality that faces it, but if it does, I would contend that its complacency plays a larger role than its want of ingenuity.

  50. And concerning the ideal rate of burning FF, I don’t know it. May be you can consider your own one, and multiply by 7 billions people ? what is the result ?

  51. “Basic zeroth order observations show a very clear correlation between wealth in colonial America and the production and consumption of tobacco. ”
    Tamino, I really doubt very much that you could find such a correlation with an unbiased sample :). Cotton provided wealth as well for instance.

    [Response: You very much doubt? But you haven’t actually done any analysis or looked at any data? Well, that settles it. “Argument by assertion” is irrefutable — which may explain why you like it so much.

    You should try to think clearly, because whether it’s so or not, you utterly miss the point. Correlation between a substance and economic profit doesn’t make the substance harmless. Is that really so difficult to get? Did it go right over your head?

    Have another cigarette.]

    Concerning russian heat waves, you’re projecting unproved assumptions. I said that KNOWN facts did not show that an increase of more than 1 °C in many parts of the world have hampered a general economic growth anywhere. Whereas the economic growth is clearly correlated everywhere with the increase of FF, at least below some threshold (I agree that above this threshold, industrial countries may have had economic growth without increasing FF , but partly by delocalizing their energy intensive industries, and in any case the FF consumption has never gone done below this threshold of about 5 tons CO2 /capita).

    “Second, are you proposing that oak trees will evolve legs and walk north…and then somehow find a way to grow without topsoil on the Canadian Shield?”

    Seriously Ray, how much do you expect oak trees to travel towards North in the next century? quantitatively ? it is just a matter of numerical values.

    • “I said that KNOWN facts did not show that an increase of more than 1 °C in many parts of the world have hampered a general economic growth anywhere.”

      Given that the last thirty years have shown warming at roughly .2 C/decade, that’s hardly a surprise. Perhaps you could choose a more useful ‘test?’

    • Well I think the burden of proof would be on your shoulders if you want to argue that only tobacco can provide wealth. Of course FF are not harmless. But lack of FF isn’t as well. Before deciding what is worse, you should carefully balance the benefits and the cost. One may argue that we could have the same benefits without any drawbacks , of course, but this needs to be substantiated by real facts. As a matter of fact, every country in the world seems to act as if it were the opposite. I doubt very much that it is without reason.

      • So, Jarch, where would you come down on being unable to feed the 10 billion people on the planet in 2050–because that does look like it will be a very real possibility (look up the studies of the Palmer Drought Index at NCAR).

        Tobacco was in fact used as currency on the American Frontier. It was portable and easily exchangeable. In a very real sense, if you were without tobacco, you were without wealth (also google the Bob Newhart routine about Sir Walter Raleigh).

        But I digress–the point, dude, is that you are missing the point. Fossil fuels provide energy. We have no need of them if we find other suitable energy resources. That we have not found them thus far says more about the level of effort put into the task than about its feasibility. And one reason so little effort has been put into it is because fossil fuels are absurdly cheap.

        They are so cheap that I can buy large perishable tropical fruits (e.g. jackfruit) more cheaply than I can buy apples. They are so cheap that it is actually more economical to send our raw materials to China and transport furniture back to the US than it is to pay citizens of N. Carolina to build it. Cheap fossil fuels are one reason why we may soon have no manufacturing sector left in the US. .

      • Actually, Ray, you’re saying that our way of life has been made possible only because of the massive availability of cheap energy sources, and I’m not saying anything else. We’re pretty well on the same line here. I don’t judge morally our civilization, it’s a matter of personal belief. But if you think that in the future, we couldn’t afford anymore large tropical fruits, what about affording a personal car , or an air flight ? whatever the energy system is, the relative ratio between the costs will probably be about the same, and if tropical fruits become prohibitively expensive, what about the rest of our civilization ?
        conversely, if we can sustain our way of life without FF, why wouldn’t we by tropical fruits as well ? it will be always much cheaper to transport a fruit from Africa to Europe than a traveller on vacation from Europe to Africa !

      • “. . . our way of life has been made possible only because of the massive availability of cheap energy sources. . . [if] in the future, we couldn’t afford anymore large tropical fruits, what about affording a personal car , or an air flight ?. . .”

        How do you define “our way of life?” No doubt your statement is true, if you mean “our way of life exactly as it is today.” But it seems to me that it’s more useful to ask what the bounds of “our way of life” may be–that is, what modifications are possible while still feeling that we are living “our” lives?

        One of the reasons that I so highly value Amy Seidl’s “Finding Higher Ground” is her account of her family’s lifestyle choices–what they have changed and what they retain as they try to live a more sustainable life. (The short version is that without skimping on conveniences they have eliminated most, but not all, direct FF consumption–so far.)

        Many readers here have asked themselves this question, and have found workable steps to mitigate their personal emissions to some degree while still living “their lives.”

        “. . . whatever the energy system is, the relative ratio between the costs will probably be about the same, and if tropical fruits become prohibitively expensive, what about the rest of our civilization?”

        I don’t think this assumption is unreasonable, but I also don’t think it’s safe. There are, I think, two questions to ask: 1) Can we find/create energy storage and exchange systems giving equivalent (or hey, why not?) better “energy portability” than FF? 2) If not, then what how does energy shift–which classes of applications become relatively more expensive (and hence, presumably, less common) and which do the reverse? (For example, fresh tropical fruits.)

        “It will be always much cheaper to transport a fruit from Africa to Europe than a traveller on vacation from Europe to Africa!”

        No. It will always be cheaper in the same time-frame, but travelers don’t need always to arrive in a day or two. Fruit (much of it, anyway) does. The Dole banana trade needed steamers to exist; before that, bananas in New York would have, in effect, been infinitely expensive since supply was effectively zero. Caribbean travelers, not so much.

        Anyway, the most directly relevant comparison isn’t with the traveler; it’s with the locally-produced fruit. FWIW, my intuition is that it is the obvious global economic inequality characterizing our world which causes the Caribbean fruit to be able to undercut the local (functional) equivalent. Yes, cheap FF are currently a necessary part of the process, but without the economic inequality (land prices and other overheads–I don’t think labor costs are much of a factor, actually) they would not be *sufficient.*

      • well for me it is beyond doubt that if we can’t travel anymore overseas in a few hours or so, our modern way of life will have profoundly changed.

        I think of course that everybody would agree that it is not difficult to achieve a much lower state of energy consumption without FF, for the excellent reason that it is the way most people in the world do actually live. But my question was precisely the opposite, if it was really possible to sustain our way of life without FF. If you want to give it up, there is no real problem.

  52. Tamino,
    Actually, Jarch seems to want to make a tour of all the logical fallacies in his sojourn here. So far we have Argument from Consequences (fossil fuels bring prosperity–proposition doubtful in itself–so they must not be bad) and Argument from Personal Incredulity. If we can get him to say “But…Al Gore is fat,” he’ll have Ad Hominem fallacy as well.

    Oh, and Jarch, just so you know, argument from authority is not in itself a fallacy, but then the authorities don’t support your argument, do they?

  53. Ray, as far as I know, all authorities of developing countries are increasing their FF consumption just because it’s the only way they know to increase the standard of living of their populations. Do you have other information ?

    • Well, the fact that use of renewables in the developing world is increasing very rapidly seems to indicate that this is also regarded as a way to “increase the standard of living of their populations.”

      Some references (without digging too hard):

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_in_developing_countries

      http://www.ren21.net/REN21Activities/Publications/GlobalStatusReport/GSR2010/tabid/5824/Default.aspx

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_electricity_production_from_renewable_sources

      Developing economies are in fact among the leading customers for distributed generation solar PV systems, for the obvious reason that those are the nations with the least developed electrical grids, hence the most need for off-grid power. (Kenya is an example of this.)

      Africa, in fact, has an organization very much devoted to this notion:

      http://www.sierraexpressmedia.com/archives/30782

      (Unfortunately, I have no information on whether they are yet notching any actual accomplishments, or whether they are more characterized by pious words. But at the very least, they clearly articulate the need and the opportunity.)

    • OK, well at least that answers my other question. No, you don’t bother to read what I write. Look, dim bulb, what I have been saying is that developing countries have no choice but to increase fossil fuel consumption precisely because we have not developed such an alternative. Is that really too difficult for you to comprehend. Do you want me to break it down into monosyllables for you?

    • but as I said, even poor countries use renewable hydropower when they can (this is actually the main contribution, by far, to their use of renewable energy). So the argument “they would if they could” should also answer the question : why could they use hydropower ?

      actually obviously a power grid can be based only on three main production techniques
      * FF
      * hydropower when available
      * nuclear with suitable technical/political conditions
      I don’t know any country in the world using none of them for its base production. And that’s only for electricity. For the other uses (transportation, carbochemistry,etc…) , the answer is still simpler : only FF are used. I don’t see any evidence that simple and cheap alternatives exist.

      • Jarch, your statement that there are only 3 possible technologies for a power grid is either
        1)false
        2)a prediction of the imminent demise of human civilization.

        Which do you believe?

        If 1), then why are you lying? If 2), then a)hasn’t it been utterly irresponsible to use up all the fossil fuels in a single century-long orgy of consumption, and b)what do you propose to tell your grandkids?

      • Ray, I’m just reporting facts, they’re not wrong.

        Now obviously, if we don’t find good alternatives, the exhaustion of FF is the main danger for our civilization, at least as we know it. But I wouldn’t call that “the” human civilization. There has been a number of great civilizations before us, without FF. And the exhaustion will be progressive, anyway.
        Now is it bad to burn FF now? I don’t know; they will be burnt anyway, who is in charge to say who is allowed to benefit from them or not ? You’re searching for ideal rules that have never existed in history.

      • “False,” if you ask me.

      • No, Jarch, you are NOT reporting facts. You are reporting your version of reality that you think explains the facts. What is more, you seem utterly incapable of answering even the simplest of questions.

        Do you have any idea what will happen if we go from a high-energy comsumption society to a low consumption society in a short time when we have 10 billion people on the planet? Do you realize that the only reason we haven’t seen population die back already is because we’ve learned we can eat petroleum (in the form of corn and soy)?

        Look, dude, this is not a time to do your best Alfred E. Newman-what-me-worry imitation. We have wasted too much time already. If we don’t find a solution soon, the lives of our progeny are really gonna suck.

  54. What they are saying is that the increase in 3rd world emissions has been so high, higher than expected, that the problem has gotten worse. During that time EU and US have had about flat emissions.