Here is the latest fast-shuffle con game on climate. Nothing in Obama’s energy plan will change our race to the climate cliff. Yes the future will be one of attrition and the last wealthiest man standing. Vested interests and corporate capitalism are deciding the fate of mankind and the habitability of the planet. Look for last-ditch efforts of geoengineering as things spiral out of control.
There are a couple new developments for this site. Brutus of The Spiral Staircase will be contributing his brilliant writing skills on occasion. Also, I have added a link on this site to climate tracker and emerging threats expert, Robert Scribbler. He’s got his finger on the pulse of climate change and blogs on the latest details of climate chaos. I highly recommend reading his blog to get the latest information and overview on the subject.
Kevin Moore said:
There seem to be few items that president War-is-peace overlooked, such as ‘the hydrogen economy’, fighters and bombers (maybe even aircraft carriers) that run on biofuels, harnessing the power of earthquakes, genetically engineered triffids that suck up CO2 and exude petroleum (one in every back yard), and exporting CO2 to Mars in canisters.
Of course, the most important thing for O’Bomber to do right now is to get the economy growing again at 5% per annum, in order to generate financial surpluses necessary to pay for environmental initiatives.. .
Professor Albert Bartlett hit the nail on the head many years ago when he highlighted the insanity of the ‘plan’ for energy independence via consumption.
How can there possibly be hope when we are governed by scientifically illiterate maniacs and the bulk of the populace think that is just fine?
Paul F Getty said:
Obama would be toast if he made real moves to decrease fossil fuel use significantly. This is as good as it gets, and it means we will fry by mid century, with agriculture destroyed, species decimated, acidification of our oceans, rising sea level, incredible floods and hurricanes and tornadoes.
Could any of us really expect any better from an American puppet of the global elites?
I haven’t yet sifted through the entire transcript, but I think this take is a bit too hard on Obama.
From climate scientist Michael Mann:
“It is the most aggressive and promising climate plan to come out of the executive branch in years and President Obama should be applauded for the bold leadership he has shown in confronting the climate change threat head on.”
That said, we could certainly want for more.
Just one bit about ‘clean coal’ I’d like to add as food for thought… Forcing the coal companies to capture carbon makes them non-competitive with renewables. That’s one reason why the coal companies have always talked ‘clean coal’ but whenever it comes up in legislature they fight it tooth and nail. Forcing capture means the end of coal and they know it.
So, for now, I’m reserving judgement on Obama RE climate change. It was a stronger policy position than we’ve seen from an executive in years, perhaps ever. I want to sift through this speech before making a more complete assessment.
But can so-called “renewables” really replace global coal consumption? According to Tom Murphy, the answer is no.
On this point, I disagree. You can do everything you need with electricity. It will require some changing of equipment in some heavy industries. But we already run most major manufacturing processes on electricity now. Many of the newest heavy industry equipment, even steel manufacturing, runs on electricity.
The problem with arguments like this is that they are based in old data. The fossil fuels are becoming more energy poor as they deplete. On the other hand, innovation, improvement, and economies of scale make renewables more energy dense over time.
On a btu basis, new wind produces the same amount of energy at the same cost as new gas. Solar isn’t far behind. The numbers get better with time to the point that both solar and wind outcompete coal before the end of this decade.
Subsidy support of nearly 600 billion every year for fossil fuels worldwide reveals that they’re no-where near as economic as their cheer-leaders portray (or as some seem to lament). A similar subsidy support for renewables would easily put them at an economic advantage to fossil fuels on increasingly short time horizons.
As an example, Portugal runs its entire economy on 80% renewable power. They’re shooting for 90% within 5 years. And this is one instance where they’ve been able to achieve a positive account balance (they export electricity).
So it absolutely can be done. It’s just a question of whether we will do it fast enough.
Thanks for the reply. I remember reading about Portugal and was impressed. When you factor in the environmental costs of coal as well, then there is no question.
OK. I just wrote a 3,000 word response to the Obama Carbon Action Plan. In general, I think it’s altogether Good, Bad, and Ugly.
Electricity runs on fossil fuels. Even solar electricity falls 1-2 orders of magnitude short to match today’s power output needs. Such is the trap of cheap energy: it can’t be replaced by other sources without deep cuts.
Both solar and wind generated electricity have a high enough energy return on energy invested (EROEI) to sustain industrial civilization. EROEI for both solar and wind are higher than for deep water oil, tar sands, and some forms of hydro fracked oil.
Electricity runs on X percent fossil fuels, X percent nuclear, and X percent renewables. The fraction coming from renewables is now higher, in total, than that coming from nuclear. The more coal plants we shut down and the more wind and solar we construct, the higher this fraction becomes.
Sorry, but I’ll quote a non-authority who has spent years doing the research and the math. This is from chapter 9 of “Confronting Collapse” by Michael C. Ruppert (pp. 98, 102-103; EMPHASIS in original):
“The truth is there is no alternative energy, or combination of alternative energies, that will permit current consumption and lifestyles to continue—let alone provide for the compound growth we are wedded to in the current economic paradigm.”
Ruppert proposes 8 questions by which to examine alternatives to oil, coal, and natural gas (I list them below, as he does following this discussion). “After answering all these questions, you will see—from a scientific perspective, rather than an emotional one—that there are no effective replacements (or combination of replacements) for what hydrocarbon energy provides today. This leaves the president with the decision of supporting those choices that have the best chance of allowing the nation to function until a new, greatly slimmed-down energy and economic regime can evolve and, most importantly, be put in place; one that will inevitably require greatly reduced production, consumption and waste across the board.
“In fact, this ‘Power Down’ option is already well underway. While selling alternative energies as a means to increase energy supply, politicians, investment banks, and Wall Street are pursuing an entirely different strategy as witnessed by the current depression and ‘demand destuction’ taking place. These decision makers, though promoting rosy optimism, have already answered these questions in private. This reality was excellently described by Professor Richard Heinberg in his 2004 book of the same name, Power Down.
“The bottom line is that if supply [of energy] cannot be increased, then demand must be decreased. And the only way to decrease demand is through the curtailment of economic activity. What is being pursued through alternative energies is not an increase in energy supply; it is an INADEQUATE form of energy substitution that cannot permit our lives to continue as they have. While in free fall, the powers that be are attempting to construct a parachute out of disparate and mismatching parts that serve the monetary system first and people last.
“These questions will help us pick and choose between the options.” Here they are, without the discussion of each one:
1. How much energy is returned for the energy invested (EROEI)? (also called net energy)
2. Is the energy regime a substitute or just scavenging?
3. Have the claims been verified by an independent third party?
4. Is the energy available 24/7 as needed?
5. Is the energy transportable over distance?
6. Is the energy source applicable for the region?
7. Does the inventor claim zero pollution?
8. How destructive of the environment is this energy source?
His entire book (with those of many others) is devoted to formulating practical measures to preserve civilization or at least a civil society capable of supporting the survival of a significant number with viable living standards. Here he and I disagree; his optimism, it seems to me, is misplaced. However, when it comes to exposing how the present transition is being managed—and analyzing the energy realities—I have not seen convincing evidence that he is wrong.
Yes, I’ve read Ruppert and I understand his arguments, which were current to 2004 to 2006. The problem is that EROEI for fossil fuels is going down while EROEI for renewables is going up.
The reasons for this are simple:
1. Fossil fuels are depleting and require more energy and technology to extract over time. EROEI for Tar Sands, as an example, is, at best, 6 to 1. The worst EROEI for oil production comes from oil shale (not fracking), which is in the range of 1.5 to 1.
2. Renewable energy EROEI is not only based on the original energy density of the resource, but the efficiency with which it is collected (the amount of energy going in to extraction). What gives renewables the advantage here is that the source density of the energy is fixed and not declining (as in the case of fossil fuels). So each new efficiency gain in its collection results in a permanent gain in EROEI.
Both wind and solar beat all unconventional sources of oil on EROEI. Wind currently beats unconventional forms of gas on EROEI. And though coal still beats both wind and solar on EROEI, the external damage caused by coal use makes it practically unburnable, making both wind and solar viable replacements.
Now, as for these other questions RE renewables…
2. Yes on substitute, no on scavenging (tar sands scavenges nat-gas to produce synthetic crude, hence the very low EROEI).
3. See Portugal at 80% use of renewables. See Germany. See Australia. See China. Pretty much any country with economic growth and a viable future has a rising portion of renewables as its energy base.
4. Mixed use of different energy sources (renewable), nimble grid management (smart grid), storage in different allocated battery structures (EVs etc), and the falling cost of storage solve this problem with ever-greater effectiveness over time (we are better at this now than in 2004).
5. See electricity.
6. Grid-tied energy trading and source optimization solves this problem.
7. All manufacture involves some pollution. Renewable manufacture based on electricity from a renewable energy source has near zero to zero pollution from the source in question: carbon.
8. Least destructive sources are renewable.
According to Rupert’s own paradigms, renewables are the best resource, long-term, available.
Now, even Ruppert, in 2004, noted that a massive use of resources to build renewable systems was the best way to preserve as much of what we already have as possible. Ruppert’s argument was in the context of Peak Oil and not of climate change. And what I am saying is there is absolutely no way to preserve any semblance of our prosperity if we don’t switch to renewables and sustainability soon. Peak Oil is out there somewhere. But climate change will hit us first, and much, much harder.
Thank you, robertscribbler, for your considered reply as to viability of alternative energy sources. I’ll keep an open mind, as I always try to do. However, I think peak oil has already begun to hit us, as has climate ‘weirding’ & much worse, with methane feedback loops already under way & untold BTUs buried in deep ocean for later inevitable release.
I concede, certainly, that “there is absolutely no way to preserve any semblance of our prosperity if we don’t switch to renewables and sustainability soon.” Along with many here, I don’t see that possibly happening soon or even in the medium term.
(1) Energy to manufacture the base of a renewables energy system will soon be too expensive unless investment in the effort is mandated. That ain’t a-happening in the star-spangled land if this so-called congress has anything to say about it, and a return of congress to productive function does not appear likely on any time scale. (The corporatocracy seems bent on squeezing the last dime out of business as usual & “all of the above.”)
(2) Sustainability involves the essential element of either limited or negative economic growth, also dirty words or a political nonstarter as a concept. (If collapse &/or an upsurge of voluntary communities decentralizes the economy or economies, the social dislocation & unrest may be survivable for more people than if governments remain in charge until they physically no longer can.) Regardless, it seems, the scale of our prosperity & the culture in general has to shrink—to say nothing of industry, by dint of a reduced base of every kind of resource. One way or another, that seems inescapably true regardless of the energy system the US&A or other OECD nations resort to; BRIC nations & their ilk are a wild card.
The land-grabs in Africa & elsewhere for last-resort agriculture will spawn violent responses, probably sooner than later. In his own brilliant way, Christian Parenti in “Tropic of Chaos” sums up the pressures of climate change, food/water shortage & social disturbance, one region at a time, starting with the recent past. Michael Klare in “Resource Wars” & others have also taken up the subject. The violence & upheaval will probably overtake and derail any transition in energy infrastructure. Not a pretty picture, short of turning all sociopaths out of power or transforming them into people committed to the common good.
I’m not in a position to promote systems for limitless growth. That’s irrational. I’m promoting systems that enhance our likelihood for survival and that re-open the opportunity for prosperity post-crisis.
The effort to achieve limitless growth via dirty, depleting, and dangerous fossil fuels, and subsidized to the tune of over 500 billion dollars each year, is both insane, irrational, unachievable and doomed to failure via collapse of both the resource base and the loss of a benevolent climate. So moving away from that paradigm means enhancing chances for survival.
In my view, what we must do is simple. Remove fossil fuel dependence at every opportunity.
Now there are other pressures that must be dealt with too (population, etc). Which is why advocating population restraint is also important.
As for achieving buy-in and inspiring action… Now that’s the big fight that, in the end, must be winnable.
I agree: Wake up. Band together. Do what can/must be done. To do less is to simply surrender to mass death. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10200382655869128&set=a.2236100542159.2110364.1237320759&type=1&ref=nf
Paul F Getty said:
And there is no possibility of a massive shift to renewables anytime soon.
If you search the business journals, like the WSJ, there is denial of global warming and incredible excitement about new sources of oil and gas, and even of the new opportunities for coal as the rest of the world wants more and more of the stuff.
The business and corporate leader class is huge and gung Ho on fossil fuels.
They lead the world. The world’s politicians are their puppets.
They will do, and get, what they want.
And the average American? Unconcerned about global warming. They may see it as a possible problem, but don’t spend any time worrying about it. Almost none feel like we do, that there is an urgency to avoid terrible consequences. I guess they feel that if it is so bad our leaders will come up with something.
Robert Scribbler sez: “You can do everything you need with electricity.” This has bugged me since I first read it. This Wikipedia article list more than ten forms of energy
which can be transformed at various rates of efficiency, always obeying the Second Law (losing some punch in the process). I’m not an engineer or physicist, so my appreciation of these dynamics is wildly incomplete, but as I understand it, we use energy for a variety of purposes, including light, heat, movement (work and transport), and powering electrical devices. Whereas electricity (generated from some source other than fossil fuels) can be used in many instances (never mind that it simply doesn’t scale), we use oil/coal/natural gas not just as an energy source but as a basic material, such as in the manufacture of plastics, automobile tires, and fertilizers. In the case of fertilizers, that’s what is meant when it’s asserted that we are literally eating oil: the energy potential is transformed into calories we consume. Indeed, I’ve heard that soils are so poor in many places (e.g., Australia) that without that energy/caloric input, there would be no meaningful agriculture. The soil is like a sponge, soaking up the fertilizer and producing in turn, for example, grapes and wheat. Say goodbye to cheap Australian wine.
If there is a way to materialize electricity, I haven’t heard of it. And as others have suggested, the entirety of our electrical infrastructure is currently based on materials (wire, insulation, transducers, etc.) borne of manufacturing processes reliant on cheap fossil fuels. The idea that we can retool to purely electrical manufacturing processes sufficient even to maintain what’s in place is not clearly evident to me.
But as I admit, this is not my area of expertise and I have no links and/or arguments to provide. Maybe someone else can elucidate.
The reference was for use of energy in industrial processes or in the energetic processes involved in modern civilization. The reference was not for the use of petroleum as a raw material, which, in this allegory, is an apple, not the orange we were originally discussing.
So, sorry to say, your reply has confused definitions.
Regardless, I will reply to the notion that petroleum and related are a valuable raw material for fertilizers, plastics, chemicals, and a broad range of other substances by saying this:
We are insane to be burning a finite resource for use in electricity, heat, and mechanical energy when we should be husbanding it for these other, extraordinarily valuable, uses. Rate of use for these substances is much lower than that achieved by fossil fuel burning and, in the case of a large portion of the resource, are recyclable, extending the life-time of use. Further, a number of unconventional petroleum products are useful in manufacture that are not useful in energy. So the time horizon for their depletion is much, much further out.
Now I know that oil company cheer leaders will argue that we can’t have these substances unless we also burn fossil fuels for energy. And this is simply malarkey. As with any other process, we can alter the way we manufacture petroleum and the way we crack the molecules to optimize for raw material production as opposed to energy production.
The need for husbanding petroleum as precious raw material is also reinforced by the terrible damage burning petroleum and related does to another finite resource: a livable climate.
Unfortunately, what Brutus posts appears to be a popular contrarian argument. One I have confronted many times. And what has bugged me about it is that it relies on a circular and self-defeating fallacy as its premise. It simply conflates and confuses energy use, with raw materials use — which are entirely different animals.
“We are insane to be burning a finite resource for use in electricity, heat, and mechanical energy when we should be husbanding it for these other, extraordinarily valuable, uses [as a raw material].”
On the mark, sirrah. A widely disregarded additional reason to keep it in the ground.
Your statement (the one I quoted) was rather global, yet you say I failed to understand its context. If there are confused definitions, I think you can understand why, even if I rely on a “popular contrarian argument.” But contrarian to what? The idea that we can do everything with electricity (including feed ourselves) is what I question. I take your point that burning fossil fuels for energy may be a less-than-optimal path (presuming, of course, that it’s all ours to use at our discretion, consequences be damned), but I still content that alternatives don’t scale.
When I searched for some support, the results returned a whole slew of ads and apologists and shills: energy companies and greenwashing sites alike saying, in effect, we can have our cake and eat it, too. The future looks bright, and there’s still lots of money to be made in emerging markets. I’m contrarian to that view, too.
I will provide one piece of data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2011 outlook:
“Renewable energy is the world’s fastest growing form of energy, and the renewable share of total energy use increases from 10 percent in 2008 to 14 percent in 2035 in the Reference case.”
At only 10-14 percent of the estimated 16 terawatts of global energy used annually, I’d say that renewable energy will be a small player up until something else collapses the whole façade, which has been cracking and straining under a variety of pressures for years, nay, decades.
It is undoubtedly true that I only understand some small portion of what you’re saying. If you argue a solution can be engineered, primarily by shifting toward renewable energy sources, then I would only say that cost and capture curves don’t yet support that hypothetical restructuring of the way the world presently runs. Plus, we can’t outrun the megadeath pulse we’ve already triggered with respect to the ecosystem.
In the event my tone sounds a bit shrill and/or argumentative, please understand that I’m interested in these discussions but am not calling names or using intimidation. I’m doing my best to seek clarification and add value while being respectful of differences and not claiming to know or understand more than I do.
Contrarian to the view that we need a rapid transition to energy sources alternative to fossil fuels… Which, in my view, is the only rational solution.
You, on the other hand, seem to believe that there is no solution. So, in this case, perhaps you should do whatever those who are depressed and without hope do in such situations. I’ll refer you to the Florida state legislature’s current position on climate change which involves the government equivalent to sticking fingers in the ears and chanting: nanananana.
As for your arguments, I’m done with them. You’ll keep chanting that it’s hopeless and that no action is useful until you are blue in the face. And, I’m sorry, I don’t buy the cynicism. So I’m not going to validate it with any more response.
There is a range of response available to our dilemma, and it might surprise you to learn that even though I’m quite the fatalist and pessimist regarding our way out or through, I do in fact believe there are better options than plugging the ears or seeking an early grave. Immediate and wholesale transition to renewable energy (getting off the fossil fuel teat) is one of the better options, but I would insist on one caveat: we undertake the effort with the knowledge that what we’re doing probably won’t alter outcomes that are already fixed. Put another way, it’s the journey, not the destination. Put yet another way, how we express our humanity in the face of dire threat still matters. I would not exchange one deceit for another but would prefer to face up to things as honestly as possible.
Unfortunately, the policies and actions of the deciders — corporate leaders and government lackeys, the dreaded PTB — appear to be along the lines of quick, delusional self-annihilation. If they refuse to acknowledge that we can’t perpetuate an industrial growth economy and civilization, you appear to be intolerant of the idea that your preferred solution probably won’t work, even if we were to adopt it, which we won’t. I think it’s worth attempting anyway, but my appreciation of human nature and the institutions that we’ve spawned is that we don’t have the foresight to make wholesale change until we’re forced to, by which time it will be too late, and then preferred change morphs into something a lot worse. A few can probably peer into the future and see what’s needed, but they don’t have the power to effect change.
As to your refusal to validate my contrarian views with further response, well, now who’s plugging their ears?
Kevin Moore said:
. There is no such thing as clean coal. Electrostatic scrubbers can remove much of the particulate matter but are fairly hopeless when it comes to removing organo-mercury compounds, so even with the best scrubbing systems more than half the mercury continues to be discharged into the atmosphere. And there is no way to capture CO2. You can collect it and put it into temporary storage, but that just uses energy to defer the problem, and is therefore digging a deeper hole long term. Coal is sequestered carbon!.
2. The construction of nuclear power stations, the mining, refining of ores and general operation all result in the emission of vast quantities of CO2. Okay, the overall amount may be less than a coal-powered generator but nuclear is not carbon-neutral, and in fact adds to the CO2 problem.
3. The construction of wind turbines requires vast amounts of energy and results in substantial emissions of CO2 -all that steel and concrete- and wind farms have been found to have a lot shorter lifespan before needing replacement than previously thought. And when there is no wind?
When Obama’s plan is subject to rigorous scrutiny it is found to be complete hogwash from start to finish. Which is exactly what we would expect from a bought-and-paid-for liar like Obama.
Just to make matters completely clear, the entire world needs to totally stop extracting fossil fuels by 2015 to make any difference to the timeframe for Near Term Extinction. And even that ‘drastic’ action may well be too little too late. we know those in power are fully committed to doing whatever is necessary to prop up the present loot-and-pollute system, even if that means termination of most life on this planet in a matter of decades.
As I have said many times before, the time for addressing ALL the big issues was 30 years ago.
403ppm CO2 April/May 2014.
Paul F Getty said:
I agree. We are screwed.
Someone could easily say that I’m just a pessimist, but I don’t think he’d be right.
Years ago I really studied alternative energy and its possibilities. I was so excited about how this new world would save us from doom that I couldn’t hardly sleep at night. I got solar panels for my office, and looked into wind at home. But more than that, I envisioned a clean, sustainable world mitigating the worst of climate change.
But over the years I see where this is folly.
Global warming isn’t going to wait for us to screw around for a century wondering when and how we are going to make the transition. The deniers of global warming have already won the battle politically……the general population is confused about climate change, and in that kind of state of mind they will not put up with huge sacrifices, which would be required to significantly alter our present course.
If the economy sours more and we have recently made moves cutting down our use of fossil fuels, the people will rebel. They just are not convinced we are facing a real catastrophe of climate.
And, just how are we going to power the big ocean shipping vessels. Our economy is dependent on them. Same with jets. We cannot in a decade or two do away with them without a collapse of our industrial civilization.
And the world’s autos? Yes, electric cars or hydrogen or whatever. But a transition like that would take decades. Lots of infrastructure, and how many people could go buy a new, high tech car in the next couple of years when their old cars would at that point be worthless? That alone, a transition like this, would take decades. We really haven’t even taken the first baby steps.
Regardless of obama’s speech, our economy and political system is determined by the industrial and financial corporate elite, and they aren’t having any of this. Lots of rhetoric out there about alternative energy, but the big money is still with fossil fuels, and not likely to change for a very long time while big profits cans still be made.
Hell, the WSJ and Forbes are still convincing much of the business and corporate big shot class that global warming has slowed or stopped. They aren’t going to budge for a long time.
No, I don’t think it is pessimism that is directing my thoughts on our future situation. I just refuse to paint a pretty picture knowing it is fiction.
I think anyone who is honourable, sincere, responsible, will respond by using their intelligence to try and find solutions. Look for the magic door. I certainly did. I only gave up a little more than a year ago. I know many others who took the same path and many are still on it. It’s incredibly difficult to accept NTE and that none of the ‘solutions’ are in fact solutions, they are just various ways of avoiding the ultimate horror that we CANNOT fix this.
It’s got nothing to do with being negative, or defeatism or pessimism or anything like that.
The answers that people propose are ideas to reduce footprint, to reduce ecological impact. which is, of course, superficially, a good thing. Only it does nothing to solve the problem. Somebody else just takes up the slack. In effect, you move a little closer to your neighbour, to make a bit of space so you can fit another person onto the life boat. But that doesn’t stop the life boat from SINKING.
Most activists are working toward a social reform agenda. They want social justice and better conditions for people. Obviously, that too is, superficially, a good thing. But that too does not solve the problem, because the root of the problem is in physics and biology. Global warming doesn’t care whether we live in democracies or tyrannies or whether we like cars or public transport. We need to understand the root of the problem, which has nothing to do with social reform.
The root of the problem is biology, ecology, the carrying capacity of the planet. We are biological creatures. The same rules would apply if some other species, wild boar, for example, multiplied out of control and destroyed their habitat. The tipping point would come and the population would crash.
In our case, we found this incredible resource, coal and oil, stored sunshine, that enabled us to bloom, like algae in the ocean. But it’s a temporary thing. Our numbers and the toxic byproducts have poisoned everything else. These idea of alternative energy, permaculture, transition, etc, are dreams that somehow we can avoid the crash, the slide down the nasty side of the bell curve. I don’t see how that’s possible.
For humans to exist there has to be a viable biosphere. A viable biosphere is/was made up of all the ecosystems, intact and functioning. They’ve either gone or are going. I don’t think there is anything we can do about this.
Remember what Aldo Leopold said about the first rule of tinkering is to keep all the bits. We’re losing all the bits at an exponential rate, so fast we can’t count them, we don’t even know what we are losing. The whole ecosystem of the Arctic Ocean and the N. Hemisphere is going to be completely wrecked, just over a few years. We are powerless to do anything.
1. I agree. There’s no such thing as clean coal. But forcing the coal plants to capture carbon make it uneconomical.
2. Nukes … I tend to be uncomfortable with them RE their dangerous nature and lack of resilience to out of context natural disasters. So I’ll let this issue rest where it is. Besides, they’re too damn expensive now anyway.
3. Renewables… And here is where I disagree. The more renewable your energy base, the less carbon goes into renewable construction. At some point, you reach a tipping point where the carbon is net negative (preventing more CO2 emission than goes into construction). So you can put it on a declining scale.
I’ve added my two cents on Obama’s plan over at my blog. My assessment is that it moves in the right direction, but it is too slow. It also over-emphasizes traps like hydro fracking even as it dances around the issue of the Keystone XL.
As for the 30 years ago part. I’m in complete agreement with you there. The pace of climate change is frighteningly fast. And, yes, we’ll probably see global average CO2 for the entire year exceed 400 ppm by 2015 (405-406 ppm in May).
All very bad stuff.
Obama’s policy is too slow, but better than the republicans who would burn all the carbon and keep going until their muscles grew rigid from the heat….
My opinion, Obama’s speech is nothing at all, changes nothing at all, completely irrelevant and insignificant. But he can’t do anything effective or he’s dead.
Re Portugal and renewables. I don’t myself accept that there is any such thing as sustainable renewable energy, just that some are less harmful than others. Portugal has no heavy industry, no manufacturing, no navy army airforce stationed all round the world. Pentagon/DOD is world’s biggest user consumer of fossil fuels. Tell them to stop ?
You want to run the USA like Portugal ? Portugal is a very small compact country, coherent politically, ( they legalised all drugs years ago without a murmur ) until recently everything was transported by donkeys. It has the perfect climate for solar and wind. In UK one steel mill uses more electricity that the whole of Greater Manchester. Simply not possible to supply that demand from solar and wind. What happens the steel gets imported from China instead. Export the emissions. Agree with kevin.
All interesting and informative comments. I’m traveling at the moment, so my blogging is on temp hold, but it looks like Robert wrote a lengthy 3,000 word analysis of Obama’s Energy Plan:
Obama’s Climate Action Plan: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Kevin Moore said:
It used to be said that America accounted for 5% of he world’s population and used 25% of the world’s energy and resources. I suspect the revised figures would be something like 4% of the world’s population using 20% of the world’s energy and resources.
For the US to fall into line even with other developed nations would require a drop in carbon footprint of around 50%. And to achieve anything worthwhile would require a drop in carbon footprint of at least 80%. I do not see any possibility of Americans accepting such a reduction voluntarily; it will, however, be achieved via economic and environmental collapse, almost certainly over the next 5 years, i.e. continuing or expanding drought in the central stares, ever greater devastation due to hurricanes along the eastern seaboard, more communities wiped out by super-tornadoes, further reductions in the availability of water in the Colorado region, the death of the greater portion of the bee population as a consequence of the generally contaminated environment etc., plus the unravelling of Fractional Reserve Banking and the humungous house-of-cards derivatives market.
All the empty rhetoric about ‘clean energy’ creating jobs and providing opportunities for business is just hokum; All major activity is focused on China, and China is building cheap cars a fast as it knows how, following America’s example.
Obama’s speech did what it was required to do: giver false hope to Americans. That is Obama’s key role at this point of history while he dismembers the Constitution and works with his corporate friends to establish an overtly fascist state.
The often overlooked ironical aspect is that cleaner air will almost certainly give a boost to warming, due to the Global Dimming factor.
For the moment the show goes on..
I agree with you, kevin.
Someone just posted this on RealClimate asking for comment.
I take a doomier view. 95degF in Alaska and fires, and frost in midsummer in Holland, killing the vegetables. Climate chaos. Worse each year from now on.
Rich countries can still use strong currency to import food from wherever, but if/when the financial system implodes, that stops, transport stops, cities begin to starve. Three weeks to die from hunger. How far away are we from something like that ? I think it is inevitable, just not sure when.
Paul F Getty said:
As I’ve said before, I lead three lives.
Here is how my three different lives see the speech:
1. Hardly noticed the speech. I am too busy being a dad, working each day, being a husband, etc. this stuff doesn’t affect me, really, day to day.
2. Great that the president is going to be on my activist side……we can work toward sustainability, alternative energy sources, and we can move to a new age, which will mean some sacrifice and real change, but will bring a brighter future for our kids.
3. At the end of the day, when I’m alone with my thoughts and I don’t have to bend my logic to make me fit into my family and social world, I can be honest with myself and see the truth. We are heading quickly toward disaster. We are on the bus speeding toward the cliff. And we are worrying about which seats we get.
The science tells us facts, and they tell us that we are facing ecological disasters in a world that has far, far too many people. We will have less ocean fish, less soil, less water, less oil, less coal, less food. This is all on our doorstep. A few years away.
But more than all that, the climate is going to crush our agricultural production, will swamp cities, the coral reefs will die, half of all species will go extinct, and the most populated areas on earth will be inundated.
Why are we ignoring these facts.
It is too late to turn this bus around!
I can’t resist following up on “the context of Peak Oil”; I believe we need to shift it, in Heinberg’s term, to “Peak Everything.” (The phrase case to me after what I just wrote about a diminished resource base.) Some time back I found a helpful book that introduced me to the concept of “planetary limits”; I cobbled together an intro for a Facebook note and would like to share it here.
My purpose here is to offer a survey, a kind of Cliffs Notes without headings, of the opening parts of the recent book by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York: The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010; ISBN 9781583672198).
This will be less a review than a survey—my own notes amplified with ample quotations. Where I resort to direct quotation of more than a two- or three-word phrase, I will employ quote marks. The sources are abundantly documented in the book, and except for extended treatments, where I may specify where material is drawn from, I won’t go beyond what lies in the actual text. (All the italics I employ are in the original.)
My first hope was that this will stimulate many to read the Preface and Introduction—through page 49. I next felt the urge to propose that, in addition, the first six pages of the opening chapter would be a galvanizing orientation to the rest of the conceptual groundwork. With that I will stop, because I’ll no doubt recommend more and more pages to anyone willing to undertake a close read of this challenging material. I’ll simply recommend the whole book to anyone whose curiosity is deeply aroused by what I will present in these Notes.
The world, an indivisible whole, is being torn apart by artificial divisions, alienating humans from the material-natural conditions of our existence and from succeeding generations. “Our argument, in brief, is that a deep chasm has opened up in the metabolic relation between human beings and nature—a metabolism that is the basis of life itself. The source of this unparalleled crisis is the capitalist society in which we live.”
Most considerations of the current environmental challenge are less about saving the planet or life or humanity than about saving “capitalism—the system at the root of our environmental problems.” [The authors then eloquently cite an extended point from What We Leave Behind by Aric McBay and Derrick Jensen.] This culture has inverted what is real and what is not, so that dying ecosystems and human biomass pervaded by industrial poisons are thought of as less real than “industrial capitalism.” We are conditioned to the view that “the end of the world is less to be feared than the end of industrial capitalism … When [people] ask, ‘How can we stop global warming?’ … they are [really] asking, ‘How can we stop global warming without significantly changing this lifestyle [or deathstyle …] that is causing global warming in the first place?’ … It’s a stupid, absurd, and insane question.”
“Industrial capitalism can never be sustainable. It has always destroyed the land upon which it depends for raw materials, and it always will. Until there is no land (or water, or air) for it to exploit. Or until, and this is obviously the far better option, there is no industrial capitalism.”
Foster et al. then comment, “We cannot say this any better. But we can offer an analysis in this book that helps us better understand the nature of this destruction—how it came about and why it is so difficult to change—and that envisions a path (if barely perceived as yet) away from the system that is killing the planet.”
Environmental sociology has emerged in answer to a crisis and is now polarized between two main stances. “One is the attempt to bend nature even more to our will, to make it conform to the necessities of our production … The other … examines the social drivers of ecological degradation, illuminating the contradictions of the social order. This approach is a call to change human society fundamentally in the direction of ecological sustainability and social equality. The former approach is known as ecological modernization. The latter consists of various radical ecologies that challenge the treadmill of capitalist accumulation, with the object of generating a new relation to the earth. Our work attempts to push forward the second, more critical view.”
The new term Anthropocene has come to refer to the drawing to a close of the Holocene epoch, at near the onset in the late 1700s of the Industrial Revolution. This was the stable epoch between glacial periods dating to ten or twelve thousand years ago, that saw the appearance of civilization. By contrast, during the Anthropocene, “humanity has become the main driver of rapid changes in the earth system. At the same time it highlights that a potentially fatal ecological rift has arisen between human beings and the earth, emanating from the conflicts and contradictions of the modern capitalist society. The planet is now dominated by a technologically potent but alienated humanity—alienated from both nature and itself, and hence ultimately destructive of everything around it. At issue is not just the sustainability of human society, but the diversity of life on Earth.”
Rather than facilely equate this rift with climate change, the authors cite a recent analysis of nine “planetary boundaries” (by Johan Rockstrom and 28 others, “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” Nature 461/24 [Sept. 2009], 472-75, and “Planetary Boundaries,” Ecology and Society 14/2 , http://ecologyandsociety.org; PDF of “Planetary Boundaries” at http://is.gd/IugGqF). Beyond these boundary conditions, humanity may not be able to exist safely:
stratospheric ozone depletion
nitrogen and phosphorus cycles
global freshwater use
change in land use
atmospheric aerosol loading
Although the last two still lack “adequate physical measures,” clear boundaries have been formulated for the other seven. “Three of the boundaries—those for climate change, ocean acidification, and stratospheric ozone depletion—can be regarded as tipping points, which at a certain level lead to vast qualitative changes in the earth system that would threaten to destabilize the planet, causing it to depart from the ‘boundaries for a healthy planet.’ The boundaries for the other four processes—the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, freshwater use, change in land use, and biodiversity loss—are better viewed as signifying the onset of irreversible environmental degradation.
“Three processes have already crossed their planetary boundaries: climate change, the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity loss. Each of these can therefore be seen, in our terminology, as constituting an extreme ‘rift’ in the planetary system. Stratospheric ozone depletion was an emerging rift in the 1990s, but is now stabilizing, even subsiding. [There is evidence that although the ozone hole over the south polar region is abating, another is increasing over the northern pole.] Ocean acidification, the phosphorus cycle, global freshwater use, and land system change are all rapidly emerging global rifts, though not yet extreme. Our knowledge of these rifts can be refined, and more planetary rifts may perhaps be discovered in the future. Nevertheless, the analysis of planetary boundaries and rifts, as they present themselves today, helps us understand the full scale of the ecological crises now confronting humanity. The simple point is that the planet is being assaulted on many fronts as the result of human-generated changes in the global environment.”
Details on the status of these boundaries are a major focus of early sections of the book. Essential reading, IMO.
This from robert scribbler, above, but put here for legibility because of the offsetting.
…and that re-open the opportunity for prosperity post-crisis.
I find this statement completely astonishing. Do you really believe that we are in some sort of critical period from which we will later emerge into a new era of prosperity, Robert ?
If so, you and I appear to be living on entirely different planets.
I notice you use the word ‘rational’ several times. I wonder how you define that word and what it means to you.
Kevin Moore said:
Well spotted U.
Techno-fundamentalism: the irrational belief that every problem has a technical solution.
I sort of see it as Robert telling a story, which he wants to be a positive story, not a bleak, miserable, suicidal story of the kind that I’m telling. Fair enough. No problem with that.
But then we must look at the wider context within which the stories are meant to unfold. The landscape in which the narrative sits, at it were.
I see Robert’s story as pure fantasy, on a par with colonising Mars or underwater cities. It’s not completely inconceivable. Lots of others think it’s a wonderful challenging story. There’s scores, probably thousands, of Pied Pipers out there, with their retinues, telling those ‘positive’ stories. Venus Project, Savory, McKibben, etc, etc.
As I see it, none of them can work. The climate is de-stabilised. That’s a done deal. All we get now are ever more frequent freak severe weather events, leaving behind areas devastated by one sort of catastrophe or another. Worse every year. There will be no ‘post-crisis’. This is NOT going to stop for thousands of years.
Switching to alternative greener technology does not effect or address that problem.
It would have, or might have, if it had been done thirty or more years ago.
People have to face this. You know, sometimes you arrive at the station, it’s too late, the train left. It is too late. Nothing you can do. Except curse.
Okay, try to change all the technology. Will the American corporations and the Pentagon go along with the plan ? How long will it take ?
Will China and Russia and India and Brazil ? Europe is already way ahead.
Bring emissions by the 20 rich most polluting countries down as fast as you can by changing to cleaner technology. How long does that take ? Most stuff is built for 25 or 50 year life span. Nobody wants to put up money for new until old needs replacing. Persuade all those investments in oil and coal to be lost, forgotten, and left in the ground.
We STILL get to 4 deg C by 2030 or so. You know, like 15 years. You’ve got to change all the shipping, all the railroads, all the transport and agriculture and every damn thing. And you’ve got the equivalent of two new China’s worth of people arriving in that period. and the rest of the undeveloped world wanting their cars and their fridges and their hospitals and roads.
Not to mention major wars
And while all this is going on, the biosphere implodes. That’s irreversible.
But my enquiry about the word ‘rational’ was strictly literal. I’ve given up using it myself. I tried to discover what people meant by it, ( other than often using ‘irrational’ as an insult ), and found that nobody really knows, sounds good, but it’s very vague, specifies nothing much at all.
Re: technofundamentalism, rosy stories, being ‘rational’ (sapiens) . . . the myth of ‘progress’
Here is a book review I took in the other day. Subject is John Gray’s new one, “The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths.” Thought-provoking & timely, I thought (but what do I know?). Certainly it helps explain (with Clive Hamilton, “Requiem for a Species”) some of the self-destructive madness rampant on the planet.
Well spoken everyone and thanks to pH for yet another book to look into.
A few musings of my own, if you please.
Ulvfugl: I too am more realistic and doomier than most (as you know), so to your comment above about how soon the food shortages begin, i’d like to point out that they have begun, will continue to get worse and i’m sticking with my back of the napkin evaluation of 2017 to 2019 when it’s painfully obvious to all on the planet that we’re totally fucked, chaos ensues and the predictable human reaction of violence and war goes full out in all of civilization. For just one example, grain (esp. wheat) production in the former breadbasket states of the middle U.S. but also in Russia and China has fallen in 2011 and 2012 due to climate change (too hot in the US and Russia, too wet in China). As you pointed out, it’s only going to get worse as heat, intermittent and untimely frost, storms, bugs and diseases affect crops (as well as tropospheric ozone and other noxious by-products of civilization). In fact, adding the Monsanto, DuPont, etc. poisons to the food system is going to have devastating effects anyway – we’re killing ourselves in every way possible!
xraymike, U, Paul and Kevin – I agree. The president’s speech is more pap for the masses and means nothing in light of his opening our entire coastline and beyond to oil and gas drilling, failure to lead or even prosecute the massive fraud taking place and putting in place the final piece of the “control” mechanisms – complete spying on and drone surveillance of his own citizens, with FEMA camps waiting in the wings.
I don’t even pay attention to politics any longer, having given up on the entire charade in 2008 with Obama’s “let’s look forward and not back” bullshit. It took a lot to convince me, and I helped elect this clown (swallowing his campaign promises completely, looking for the next JFK) – but now the truth has been revealed. Now i’m of the same thoughts regarding politics and voting as G. Carlin – that we’re given the “illusion of choice” and that our so-called “rights” are mere privileges to be taken away at any time TPTB see fit – and just keep an eye on what they’re doing (still hiring for FEMA camp personnel i’m told).