Archive for 2007 December
An excellent discussion by Daniel Gros, an economist for the EU, brings home a very-discouraging-but- impossible-to-avoid fact about energy consumption. As the price of oil rises, one might suspect that driving and consumption will decline, but in fact the high price of oil vs. the falling price of coal means that we as a species will be using more coal relative to oil, with disastrous consequences for the climate. To wit:
It is often thought that high oil prices could contribute to
lowering CO2 emissions because they make energy more expensive, thus
encouraging lower energy consumption. But this view overlooks that a
high price of oil relative to coal encourages the substitution of a
hydrocarbon with pure carbon, thus increasing the carbon intensity of
energy use. The supply of coal is abundant, especially in the new
emerging energy giants China and India, and relatively elastic. This
implies that the price of coal is likely to stay low, thus encouraging
an increase in the carbon intensity of energy use everywhere. Reaching
the goal of reducing CO2 emissions will thus be even more difficult
than generally assumed if oil (and thus also gas) prices remain at
The latest World Energy Outlook from the International Energy Agency
already forecasts on a business-as-usual scenario an increase in the
share of coal in global energy use. But over the last five years
business has not been as usual as one half of the increase in global
energy consumption has come from coal, prompting acceleration of global
CO2 emissions. Sustained high hydrocarbon prices will intensify this
trend, making it highly unlikely that the goal to reduce CO2 emissions
can be reached.
We need a tax on carbon. Heck, the price of pure carbon for burning is falling! It’s a recipe for disaster:
WASHINGTON—In an unexpected reversal that environmentalists and
scientists worldwide are calling groundbreaking, President George W.
Bush, for the first time in his political career, openly admitted to
the existence of carbon dioxide following the release of the new U.N.
Global Environment Outlook this October.
"Carbon dioxide, a molecule which contains one atom of carbon bonded
with two atoms of oxygen, is a naturally occurring colorless gas
exhaled by humans and metabolized, in turn, by plants," Bush told a
stunned White House press corps. "As a leading industrialized nation,
we can no longer afford to ignore the growing consensus of so many
experts whose job it is to study our atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is
(h/t: the Onion)
From Klaus Wolter. It’s experimental, but well-informed.
Lee Raymond ran ExxonMobil back in the days not so long ago when it was raking $25 billion a year and, purely by coincidence, adamantly denying the reality of climate change. Now Raymond has taken his $400 million retirement and moved on. Interesting, even Raymond doesn’t believe in "clean coal."
Discussing a new study by the National Petroleum Council, he adds that the "Holy Grail" of "clean coal," the idea of sequestering the carbon emissions and injecting them deep into the earth, is impractical.
On this point he’s quite convincing, I think, and vividly descriptive:
But what is viewed of course as kind of the Holy Grail on coal-fired
power plants is carbon sequestration. And people are correct in the
sense that the oil industry, for a long time, has been carrying on a
form of a carbon sequestration project because we’ve been injecting CO2
as a secondary recovery technique in oil reservoirs for a long time.
But to go from that, quickly, to massive carbon sequestration for a
power plant is a whole different animal. The technology, I think most
of the people who worked on it would conclude that the technology is
probably there to do it, but it has never been demonstrated at scale.
Secondly, if you think about that very long it will require a
regulatory framework that does not exist today. And how that could be
put together in this country given that you’re going to get into state
jurisdictions and all the other issues that we get into in this
country, in a short period of time, is very, very unlikely. Now, even
if you do that, if you think about it very long, A, one gigawatt
coal-fired power plant, to get rid of all the CO2, I think is it 50,000
barrels a day, 150,000 barrels a day of supercritical CO2 will have to
be injected into the ground. To get to your point, if you tried to
inject all the supercritical CO2 that came from all the coal-fired
power plants you end up moving more and liquids than the oil and gas
industry moves today, just for CO2. So it is a huge, huge undertaking.
And, again, people — this gets into a lot of the infrastructure
issues, people just assume that that can happen. You can’t assume
that’s going to happen. And the cost is going to be very, very
Hmmm — "clean coal" even in the description of an ally appears to be another one of those Bush administration fantasy, like WMDs, "asperational" emission limits, and Harriet Myers, Supreme Court judge.
However, Raymond damages his credibility by continuing to scoff at the scientific consensus on climate change. False Wall Streeet prophet Jim Glassman, co-author of the classically wrong-headed "Dow 36,000" from seven years ago asked him:
Jim Glassman: Let me interject a question, I think
Exxon Mobil has probably spent more money on studying climate change
than any other company. Have you changed your mind about climate change
over the last five years?
Lee Raymond: Well, I don’t work for them any more,
so I don’t know what they’re saying. But my own personal view is I
guess the way I would describe it Jim, and Jim’s just baiting me here,
the only thing I would say is the only consensus I know of is that
there’s not a consensus.
Note the assumption: research from outside the corporation is meaningless…
After the once-proud protector of the environment, the EPA, today rejected California’s right to regulate tailpipe emissions to control greenhouse gases, probably as a payback to industry support for the just-signed Federal bill, reactions came swiftly from California:
"Extremely disappointing," said Governor Schwarzenneger.
"Disgraceful," said Dianne Feinstein, Senator.
"Absurd," said Edmund Brown, Attorney General, who promised to work with the Gov to sue immediately.
The Sierra Club’s chief counsel told the Los Angeles Times:
"These guys are 0-and-4 in court," he said.
"And they’re about to go 0-5."
Everyone in their right minds respects "nature," but days like today I not so much respect it as love it. We wouldn’t be here were it not for the essential generosity of the universe (call it God or what you will), and today came the perfect rain — steady (over an inch so far in Ventura County) but not hard, and likely to continue into the night and perhaps the morning. Another five or ten of these storms and the streams will run again — an event my family and many of us in Upper Ojai have been awaiting for over a year.
For the last few years, James Hansen, the man who first warned Congress of global warming in testimony last century, and the man considered NASA’s "top scientist" on climate questions, has been giving talks around the country asking: "Global Warming: Can We Avoid Dangerous Climate Change?"
But Hansen has changed his tune: No longer does he ask if we have passed the tipping points of climate change. In a press conference last Thursday at the American Geophysical Union, he stated that we have passed several tipping points. He said scientists now know that soon the Arctic will be ice-free in the summer, that
huge ice sheets will melt, and the climactic zones will shift towards
the poles of the earth, among other consequences.
"We now realize that we have passed or are on the verge of passing
several tipping points that pose grave risks for humanity and especially for a large fraction of our
fellow species on the planet," he wrote in a draft letter last week to Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, urging him not to approve the building of a new coal-burning plant.
Based on his previously-published calculations
of the energy balance of the earth, Hansen calculates we as a species passed these tipping points when we as a species exceeded 300-350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a point passed decades ago.
"We have taken it as a God-given fact that we will burn all the fossil fuels," he said at the press conference. "But we simply cannot do that."
The question Hansen now asks is: Have we passed the point of no return?
On this question, he is somewhat more hopeful. We have "probably not" passed the point of no return on the melting of the ice sheets, he said, and stressed that if we can avoid building carbon dioxide-emitting coal plants, burning tropical forests, and releasing greenhouse gases captured in soils, we have a reasonable chance of avoiding disaster.
When I asked him if this shift was based on recent research, he said no — it was a rhetorical change designed to clarify an issue that has confused the public, which is the difference between the climate change that is already in the pipeline, and the climate change that will give us "a different planet."
Hansen, according to climate writer Mark Bowen, is a man continually reassessing his work. His thoughtfulness shows in this slight but notable change in his message.
From her great Nobel Prize speech:
Ask any modern storyteller and they will say there is always a
moment when they are touched with fire, with what we like to call
inspiration, and this goes back and back to the beginning of our race,
to fire and ice and the great winds that shaped us and our world.
storyteller is deep inside everyone of us. The story-maker is always
with us. Let us suppose our world is attacked by war, by the horrors
that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through
our cities, the seas rise . . . but the storyteller will be there, for
it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us – for good
and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn,
hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the
myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at
our most creative.
This is the human hope: that somehow we will make sense of it all, even our disasters.