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Tomgram: Michael Klare, In the Carbon Wars, Big Oil Is Winning | TomDispatch

Tomgram: Michael Klare, In the Carbon Wars, Big Oil Is Winning | TomDispatch.

Posted by Michael Klare at 8:00am, February 13, 2014.
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We now have an answer to why global temperatures have risen less quickly in recent years than predicted in climate change models. (It’s necessary to add immediately that the issue is only the rate of that rise, since the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998.)  Thanks to years of especially strong Pacific trade winds, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change, much of the extra heat generated by global warming is being buried deep in ocean waters.  Though no one knows for sure, the increase in the power of those winds may itself have been set off by the warming of the Indian Ocean.  In other words, the full effects of the heating of the planet have been postponed, but are still building (and may also be affecting ocean ecology in unpredictable ways).  As Matthew England, the lead scientist in the study, points out, “Even if the [Pacific trade] winds accelerate… sooner or later the impact of greenhouse gases will overwhelm the effect.  And if the winds relax, the heat will come out quickly. As we go through the twenty-first century, we are less and less likely to have a cooler decade. Greenhouse gases will certainly win out in the end.”

Despite the slower rate of temperature rise, the effects of the global heating process are quite noticeable.  Yes, if you’re living somewhere in much of the lower forty-eight, you now know the phrase “polar vortex” the same way you do “Mom” and “apple pie,” and like me, you’re shivering every morning the moment you step outside, or sometimes even in your own house.  That southern shift in the vortex may itself be an artifact of changing global weather patterns caused at least in part by climate change.

In the meantime, in the far north, temperatures have been abnormally high in both Alaska and Greenland; Oslo had a Christmas to remember, and forest fires raged in the Norwegian Arctic this winter.  Then, of course, there is the devastating, worsening drought in California (and elsewhere in the West) now in its third year, and by some accounts the worst in half a millennium, which is bound to drive up global food prices.  There are the above-the-normtemperatures in Sochi that are creating problems keeping carefully stored snow on the ground for Olympic skiers and snowboarders.  And for good measure, toss in storm-battered Great Britain’s wettest December and January in more than a century.  Meanwhile, in the southern hemisphere, there’s heat to spare.  There was the devastating January heat wave in Australia, while in parts of Brazil experiencing the worst drought in half-a-century there has never been a hotter month on record than that same month.  If the rains don’t come relatively soon, the city of São Paulo is in danger of running out of water.

It’s clear enough that, with the effects of climate change only beginning to take hold, the planet is already in a state of weather disarray.  Yet, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare points out today, the forces arrayed against dealing with climate change couldn’t be more powerful.  Given that we’ve built our global civilization on the continuing hit of energy that fossil fuels provide and given the interests arrayed around exploiting that hit, the gravitational pull of what Klare calls “Planet Carbon” is staggering.

Recently, I came across the following passage in Time of Illusion, Jonathan Schell’s 1976 classic about Nixon administration malfeasance.  Schell wrote it with the nuclear issue in mind, but today it has an eerie resonance when it comes to climate change: “In the United States, unprecedented wealth and ease came to coexist with unprecedented danger, and a sumptuous feast of consumable goods was spread out in the shadow of universal death.  Americans began to live as though on a luxuriously appointed death row, where one was free to enjoy every comfort but was uncertain from moment to moment when or if the death sentence might be carried out. The abundance was very much in the forefront of people’s attention, however, and the uncertainty very much in the background; and in the government as well as in the country at large the measureless questions posed by the new weapons were evaded.” Tom

The Gravitational Pull of Planet Carbon 
Three Signs of Retreat in the Global War on Climate Change 
By Michael T. Klare

Listening to President Obama’s State of the Union address, it would have been easy to conclude that we were slowly but surely gaining in the war on climate change.  “Our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet,” the president said.  “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.”  Indeed, it’s true that in recent years, largely thanks to the dampening effects of the Great Recession, U.S. carbon emissions were in decline (though they grewby 2% in 2013).  Still, whatever the president may claim, we’re not heading toward a “cleaner, safer planet.”  If anything, we’re heading toward a dirtier, more dangerous world.

A series of recent developments highlight the way we are losing ground in the epic struggle to slow global warming.  This has not been for lack of effort.  Around the world, dedicated organizations, communities, and citizens have been working day by day to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote the use of renewable sources of energy.  The struggle to prevent construction of the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline is a case in point.  As noted in a recentNew York Times article, the campaign against that pipeline has galvanized the environmental movement around the country and attracted thousands of activists to Washington, D.C., for protests and civil disobedience at the White House.  But efforts like these, heroic as they may be, are being overtaken by a more powerful force: the gravitational pull of cheap, accessible carbon-based fuels, notably oil, coal, and natural gas.

In the past few years, the ever more widespread use of new extractive technologies — notably hydraulic fracturing (to exploit shale deposits) andsteam-assisted gravity drainage (for tar sands) — has led to a significant increase in fossil fuel production, especially in North America.  This has left in the dust the likelihood of an imminent “peak” in global oil and gas output and introduced an alternative narrative — much promoted by the energy industry and its boosters — of unlimited energy supplies that will last into the distant future.  Barry Smitherman of the Texas Railroad Commission (which regulates that state’s oil industry) was typical in hailing a “relatively boundless supply” of oil and gas worldwide at a recent meeting of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists.

As oil and gas have proven unexpectedly abundant and affordable, major energy consumers are planning to rely on them more — and on renewable sources of energy less — to meet their future requirements.  As a result, the promises we once heard of a substantial decline in fossil fuel use (along with a corresponding boom in renewables) are fading.  According to the most recent projections from the U.S. Department of Energy, global fossil fuel consumption is expected to grow by an astonishing 40% by 2035, jumping from 440 to 615 quadrillion British thermal units.

While the combined share of total world energy that comes from fossil fuels will decline slightly — from 84% to 79% — they will still dominate the global energy marketplace for decades to come.  Renewables, according to these projections, will continue to represent only a small fraction of the total.  If this proves to be accurate, there can be only one plausible outcome: vastly increased carbon emissions leading to rising temperatures and the sort ofcatastrophic climate change scenarios that now seem almost impossible to imagine.

Think of it this way: in our world, the gravitational pull of carbon exerts itself every minute of every day, shaping the energy decisions of individuals, companies, institutions, and governments.  This pull is leading to defeat in the global struggle to slow the advance of severe climate change and is reflected in three recent developments in the energy news: a declaration of surrender by BP, a major setback in the European Union, and a strategic end-run by Canadian tar sands companies.

BP Announces the Defeat of Renewables

Every year, energy giant BP (once British Petroleum) releases its “Energy Outlook” for the years ahead, an analysis of future trends in global production and consumption.  The 2014 report — extending BP’s energy forecast to the year 2035 — was made public on January 15th.  Typically, its release is accompanied by a press conference in which top BP executives offer commentary on the state of world energy, usually aimed at the business media.  This year, the company’s CEO, Bob Dudley, spoke with unbridled optimism about the future market for his company’s energy products, assuring his audience that the global supply of fossil fuels would remain substantial for years to come.  (Dudley took over the helm at BP after his predecessor, Tony Hayward, was dumped in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.)

“The picture in terms of resources in the ground is a good one,” he noted.  “It’s very different to past concerns about supply peaking.  The theory of peak oil seems to have — well — peaked.”

This, no doubt, produced the requisite smiles from Dudley’s oil-friendly audience.  Then his comments took a darker turn.  Can we satisfy the world’s energy requirements with fuels that are sustainable, he asked.  “Not at the moment,” he admitted.  Because of a rising tide of fossil fuel consumption, he added, “carbon emissions are currently projected to rise — by 29% by 2035, we estimate in the Outlook.”  He acknowledged that, whatever good news might be found in that document, in this area “steps are needed to change the forecast.”

Next, Dudley tried to put a hopeful spin on the long-term climate prospect.  By replacing coal-fired power plants with less-carbon-polluting natural gas, he indicated, overall greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced.  Increasing the efficiency of energy-consuming devices, he added, will also help.  All of this, however, adds up to little when it comes to the big picture of carbon emissions.  In the end, he could point to few signs of progress in the struggle to slow the advance of climate change.  “In 2035, we project that gas and coal will account for 54% of global energy demand [and oil another 27%].  While renewables will grow rapidly, their share will reach just 7%.”

Most of the media coverage of Dudley’s appearance focused on his expectations of long-term energy abundance, not what it would do to us or our planet.  Several commentators were, however, quick to note how unusual it was for an oil company CEO to address the problem of carbon emissions at all, no less express something verging on despair over the prospect of making any progress in curbing them.

“[Dudley] concludes… [that] the world is still a long way from delivering the peak in greenhouse gas emissions many scientists advise has to be achieved within the next decade to minimize the risk of dangerous climate change,”observed energy analyst James Murray at businessGreen.com.

Europe’s Retrenchment

The member states of the European Union (EU) have long exercised global leadership in the struggle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the pace of climate change.  Under their justly celebrated 20-20-20 plan, adopted in December 2008, they are committed to reducing their emissions by 20% over 1990 levels by 2020, increasing their overall energy efficiency by 20%, and achieving 20% reliance on renewables in total energy consumption.  No other region has embraced goals as ambitious as these, and none has invested greater resources in their implementation.  Any wavering from this path would signal a significant retrenchment in the global climate struggle.

It now appears that Europe is preparing to rein in the pace of its drive to slow global warming.  At issue is not the implementation of the 20-20-20 plan, which is well on its way to being achieved, but on the goals that should follow it.  Climate activists and green energy entrepreneurs have been calling for an even more ambitious set of targets for 2030 and beyond; many manufacturers and other major energy consumers have been pushing for a slower pace of change, claiming that increased reliance on renewables is driving up energy prices and so diminishing their economic competitiveness.  Already, it appears that the industrialists are gaining ground at the expense of climate action.

At stake is the EU’s climate blueprint for 2030, the next major threshold in its drive to slow the pace of warming. On January 22nd, the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission (EC), released its guidelines for the new plan, which must still be approved by the EU Parliament and its member states.  While touted by some as a sign of continued European commitment to decisive climate action, the EC’s plan is viewed as a distinct setback by many environmental leaders.

At first glance, the plan looks promising.  It calls for a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 — a huge drop from the 2020 requirement.  This is, however, less dramatic than it may appear, analysts say, because energy initiatives already under way in Europe under the 20-20-20 plan, coupled with a region-wide economic slowdown, will make a 40% reduction quite feasible without staggering effort.  Meanwhile, other aspects of the plan are downright worrisome.  There is no mandate for a further increase in energy efficiency and, far more important, the mandate for increased reliance on renewables — at 27%, a significant gain — is not binding on individual states but on the EU as a whole.  This makes both implementation and enforcement questionable matters.  Jens Tartler, a spokesperson for the German Renewable Energy Federation (which represents that country’s wind and solar industries), calledthe lack of binding national goals for renewables “totally disappointing,” claiming it would “contribute to a marked reduction in the pace of expansion of renewables.”

To explain this evident slackening in Europe’s climate commitment, analysts point to the immense pressures being brought by manufacturers and others who decry the region’s rising energy prices caused, in part, by increased subsidies for renewables.  “Behind the heated debate in Brussels about climate and renewable energy targets, what is really happening is that concern over high energy prices has taken precedence over climate concerns in Europe,” saysSonja van Renssen, the Brussels correspondent for Energy Post, an online journal.  “Many [EU] member states and industry fear that a strong climate and energy policy will be bad for their economies.”

In arguing their case, proponents of diluted climate goals note that EU policies have raised the cost of producing a metric ton of aluminum in Europe by 11% and that European steel companies pay twice as much for electricity and four times as much for natural gas as their U.S. counterparts.  These, and similar phenomena, are “dragging the EU economy down,” wrote Mark C. Lewis, former head of energy research at Deutsche Bank.

Not surprisingly, many European manufacturers seek to reduce subsidies for renewables and urge greater reliance on less-costly fossil fuels.  In particular, some officials, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, are eager to follow the U.S. lead and bring advanced technologies like hydro-fracking to bear on the extraction of more oil and natural gas from Europe’s domestic reserves.  “Europe’s hydrocarbons production is in decline,” noted Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the International Energy Agency, but “there may be some opportunities… to slow down and perhaps reverse some of these trends” — notably by imitating the “revolution in hydrocarbon production” now under way in the United States.

Read this another way and a new and truly unsettling meaning emerges: the “shale gas revolution” being promoted with such fervor by President Obama as a “bridge” to a more climate-friendly energy system in the United States is having the opposite effect in Europe.  It is weakening the EU’s commitment to renewable energy and threatens to increase Europe’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Canada’s End-Run Around Keystone XL Pipeline Opposition

Much to the surprise of everyone, climate activists in the United States led by environmental author and activist Bill McKibben and the action group he helped to found, 350.org, have succeeded in delaying U.S. government approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for more than two years.  Once considered a sure thing, the pipeline, if completed, will carry 830,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen (“syncrude”) some 1,700 miles from the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.  It has, however, been held up by detailed environmental impact studies and other procedural steps ordered by the U.S. State Department.  (Because the pipeline will cross an international boundary, it requires approval from the Secretary of State and, ultimately, the president, but not Congress.)

Opponents of the pipeline claim that by facilitating the exploitation of particularly carbon-dense Canadian tar sands, it will substantially increasegreenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.  The use of this bitumen-based fuel releases more carbon per unit of energy than conventional petroleum and its energy-intensive extraction generates additional carbon emissions.  Should all of the bitumen in Canada — the equivalent of 1 trillion barrels of oil — be consumed, it’s “game over for the climate,” as former NASA climate scientistJames Hansen has famously written.

How the Obama administration will come down on Keystone XL is still unknown.  In a speech on climate policy last June, the president indicated that he would give highest priority to climate considerations when deciding on the pipeline.  “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest,” he said.  “And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”  At the time, his comments raised the hopes of climate activists that Obama would ultimately decide against the pipeline.  More recently, however, an environmental assessment conducted at the behest of the State Department and released on January 31st cast doubt on this outcome.  The report’s reasoning: even though the exploitation of Canada’s tar sands will increase the pace of carbon emissions, their extraction and delivery to refineries is assured by alternative means — mainly rail — if the pipeline isn’t built and so its construction will not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.

While this is certainly a uniquely sophistic (and shaky) argument, it is important to note that the Canadian producers and their U.S. partners are indeed attempting to stage an end-run around opposition to the pipeline by increasing their reliance on rail cars to deliver tar sands.

“The indecision on Keystone XL really spawned innovation and mobilized alternatives, and rail is a clear part of the options available to our industry,”observed Paul Reimer, senior vice president in charge of transport at Cenovus Energy, a Canadian oil company planning to increase rail shipments from 7,000 barrels a day to as many as 30,000 barrels a day by the end of 2014.  Other Canadian firms have similar expansion plans.  All told, the Canadiansclaim that, over the coming years, they will be able to increase rail-carrying capacity from the current 180,000 barrels per day to as much as 900,000 barrels, or more than would be carried by the pipeline.

If this were to happen, count on one thing: rail transport will turn out to have itsown problems — and its own opposition.  Not surprisingly, then, Canada’s oil industry still craves approval for Keystone XL, as it would allow even greater tar sands exports and legitimize the use of this carbon-heavy fuel.  But the growing reliance on rail transportation does once again demonstrate the powerful gravitational pull of Planet Carbon.  “At the end of the day, there’s a consensus among most energy experts that the oil will get shipped to market no matter what,” says Robert McNally, a former energy adviser to President George W. Bush.

Reducing Carbon’s Pull

These three recent encounters in the historic struggle to avert the most destructive effects of climate change tell us a great deal about the nature and terrain of the battlefield.  Climate change is not the product of unfortunate meteorological phenomena; it is the result of burning massive quantities of carbon-based fuels and spewing the resulting gaseous wastes into the atmosphere.  As long as governments, corporations, and consumers prefer carbon as an energy source, the war on climate change will be lost and the outcome of that will, in turn, be calamitous.

There is only one way to avert the worst effects of climate change: make the consumption of carbon unattractive.  This can be accomplished, in part, by shaming — portraying the producers of carbon-rich fuels as the enemies of human health and survival.  It’s an approach that has already achieved some modest successes, as in the prevention, until now, of Keystone’s construction. Withdrawing funds from fossil fuel firms, or disinvestment, is another useful approach.  Many student and religious groups are attempting to hinder oil drilling activities by pushing their colleges and congregations to move their investment funds elsewhere.

But shaming and disinvestment campaigns are insufficient; much tougher sanctions are required.  To stop the incineration of our planet, carbon must be made expensive — so costly, in fact, that renewables become the common fuel of choice.

There are at least two ways to move toward accomplishing this: impose a tax on carbon emissions, raising the cost of fossil fuels above those of renewables; or adopt a universal cap-and-trade system, forcing major carbon emitters to buy permits (at ever-increasing cost) in order to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  Both measures have been advocated by environmentalists and some attempts have been made to institute each of them.  (Both California and the European Union, for example, are implementing cap-and-trade systems.)  There may be other approaches to the problem that could prove even more effective, but the most essential thing is to recognize that genuine progress on climate change will not be possible until carbon fuels lose their financial allure.  For this to happen, as BP’s Dudley begrudgingly acknowledged on January 15th, “you need carbon pricing.  Universally accepted carbon pricing.”

The gravitational pull of carbon is immensely powerful.  It cannot be overcome by symbolic gestures or half measures.  The pressures to keep burning fossil fuels are too great to be overcome in piecemeal fashion.  Rather, these forces must be met head-on, with the institutionalization of equally powerful counter-forces that make fossil fuels economically unattractive.  We humans have a choice: we can succumb to carbon’s gravitational pull and so suffer from increasingly harsh planetary conditions, or resist and avoid the most deadly consequences of climate change.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left.  A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story.

Copyright 2014 Michael Klare

The Purposely Confusing World of Energy Politics

The Purposely Confusing World of Energy Politics.

by Richard Heinberg, originally published by Richard Heinberg’s Museletter  | FEB 11, 2014

Life often presents us with paradoxes, but seldom so blatant or consequential as the following. Read this sentence slowly: Today it is especially difficult for most people to understand our perilous global energy situation, preciselybecause it has never been more important to do so. Got that? No? Okay, let me explain. I must begin by briefly retracing developments in a seemingly unrelated field—climate science.

Once upon a time, the idea that Earth’s climate could be changing due to human-caused carbon dioxide emissions was just a lonely, unpopular scientific hypothesis. Through years that stretched to decades, researchers patiently gathered troves of evidence to test that hypothesis. The great majority of evidence collected tended to confirm the notion that rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gas) levels raise average global temperatures and provoke an increase in extreme weather events. Nearly all climate scientists were gradually persuaded of the correctness of the global warming hypothesis.
But a funny thing happened along the way. Clearly, if the climate is changing rapidly and dramatically as a result of human action, and if climate change (of the scale and speed that’s anticipated) is likely to undermine ecosystems and economies, then it stands to reason that humans should stop emitting so much CO2. In practical effect, this would mean dramatically reducing our burning of fossil fuels—the main drivers of economic growth since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Some business-friendly folks with political connections soon became alarmed at both the policy implications of—and the likely short-term economic fallout from—the way climate science was developing, and decided to do everything they could to question, denigrate, and deny the climate change hypothesis. Their effort succeeded: belief in climate change now aligns fairly closely with political affiliation. Most Democratic elected officials agree that the issue is real and important, and most of their Republican counterparts are skeptical. Lacking bipartisan support, legislative climate policy languished.
From a policy standpoint, climate change is effectively an energy issue, since reducing carbon emissions will require a nearly complete revamping of our energy systems. Energy is, by definition, humanity’s most basic source of power, and since politics is a contest over power (albeit social power), it should not be surprising that energy is politically contested. A politician’s most basic tools are power and persuasion, and the ability to frame issues. And the tactics of political argument inevitably range well beyond logic and critical thinking. Therefore politicians can and often do make it harder for people to understand energy issues than would be the case if accurate, unbiased information were freely available.
So here is the reason for the paradox stated in the first paragraph: As energy issues become more critically important to society’s economic and ecological survival, they become more politically contested; and as a result, they tend to become obscured by a fog of exaggeration, half-truth, omission, and outright prevarication.
How does one cut through this fog to gain a more accurate view of what’s happening in our society’s vital energy supply-and-support systems? It’s helpful to start by understanding the positions and motives of the political actors. For the sake of argument, I will caricature two political positions. Let’s personify them as Politician A and Politician B.
Politician A has for many years sided with big business, and specifically with the fossil fuel industry in all energy disputes. She sees coal, oil, and natural gas as gifts of nature to be used by humanity to produce as much wealth as possible, as quickly as possible. She asserts there are sufficient supplies of these fuels to meet the needs of future generations, even if we use them at rapidly increasing rates. When coal, oil, and gas do eventually start to run out, Politician A says we can always turn to nuclear energy. In her view, the harvesting and burning of fossil fuels can be accomplished with few incidental environmental problems, and fossil fuel companies can be trusted to use the safest methods available. And if Earth’s climate is indeed changing, she says, this is not due to the burning of fossil fuels; therefore, policies meant to cut fossil fuel consumption are unnecessary and economically damaging. Finally, she says renewable energy sources should not be subsidized by government, but should stand or fall according to their own economic merits.
Politician B regards oil, coal, and natural gas as polluting substances, and society’s addiction to them is shameful. He thinks oil prices are high because petroleum companies gouge their customers; nuclear energy is too dangerous to contemplate; and renewable energy sources are benign (with supplies of sunlight and wind vastly exceeding our energy needs). To hear him tell it, the only reason solar and wind still supply such a small percentage of our total energy is that fossil fuel companies are politically powerful, benefiting from generous, often hidden, government subsidies. Government should cut those subsidies and support renewable energy instead. He believes climate change is a serious problem, and to mitigate it we should put a price on carbon emissions. If we do, Politician B says, renewable energy industries will grow rapidly, creating jobs and boosting the economy.
Who is right? Well, this should be easy to determine. Just ignore the foaming rhetoric and focus on research findings. But in reality that’s not easy at all, because research is itself often politicized. Studies can be designed from the outset to give results that are friendly to the preconceptions and prejudices of one partisan group or another.
For example, there are studies that appear to show that the oil and natural gas production technique known as hydrofracturing (or “fracking”) is safe for the environment. With research in hand, industry representatives calmly inform us that there have been no confirmed instances of fracking fluids contaminating water tables. The implication: environmentalists who complain about the dangers of fracking simply don’t know what they’re talking about. However, there are indeed many documented instances of water pollution associated with fracking, though technically most of these have resulted from the improper disposal of wastewater produced once fracking per se is finished, rather than from the hydrofracturing process itself. Further, industry-funded studies of fracking typically focus on sites where best practices are in place and equipment is working as designed—the ideal scenario. In the messy real world, well casings sometimes fail, operators cut corners, and equipment occasionally malfunctions.
For their part, environmentalists point to peer-reviewed studies showing air, water, and human health problems associated with actual (far from ideal) fracking operations.
So, depending on your prior beliefs, you can often choose research findings to support them—even if the studies you are citing are actually highly misleading.
Renewable energy is just as contentious. Mark Jacobson, professor of environmental engineering at Stanford University, has co-authored a series of reports and scientific papers arguing that solar, wind, and hydropower could provide 100 percent of world energy by 2030. Clearly, Jacobson’s work supports Politician B’s political narrative by showing that the climate problem can be solved with little or no economic sacrifice. If Jacobson is right, then it is only the fossil fuel companies and their supporters that stand in the way of a solution to our environmental (and economic) problems. The Sierra Club and prominent Hollywood stars have latched onto Jacobson’s work and promote it enthusiastically.
However, Jacobson’s publications have provoked thoughtful criticism, some of it from supporters of renewable energy, who argue that his “100 percent renewables by 2030” scenario ignores hidden costs, land use and environmental problems, and grid limits (see herehere, and here. Jacobson has replied to his critics, well, energetically (here and here).
At the other end of the opinion spectrum on renewable energy is Gail Tverberg, an actuary by training and profession (and no shill for the fossil fuel industry), whose analysis suggests that the more solar and wind generating capacity we build, the worse off we are from an economic point of view. Her conclusion flatly contradicts that of this report, which aims to show that the more renewables we build, the more money we’ll save. Ecologist Charles Hall has determined that the ratio ofenergy returned to energy invested in capturing solar energy with photovoltaic (PV) panels is too low to support an industrial economy. Meanwhile the solar industry claims that PV can provide all of society’s power needsGlobal wind capacity may have been seriously over-estimatedBut then again, maybe not .
In sum, if you’re looking for quick and simple answers to questions about how much renewables can do for us, at what price, and over what time frame, forget it! These questions are far from being settled.
There’s a saying: For every Ph.D., there is an equal and opposite Ph.D. Does this mean science is useless, and objective reality is whatever you want it to be? Of course not. However, politics and cultural bias can and do muddy the process and results of scientific research.
All of this is inevitable; it’s human nature. We’ll sort through the confusion, given time and the hard knocks that inevitably come when preconceptions veer too far from the facts. However, if the more worrisome implications of climate science are right, we may not have a lot of time for sorting, and our knocks may be very hard indeed.
*          *          *
Here’s a corollary to my thesis: Political prejudices tend to blind us to facts that fail to fit any conventional political agendas. All political narratives need a villain and a (potential) happy ending. While Politicians B and A might point to different villains (oil companies on one hand, government bureaucrats and regulators on the other), they both envision the same happy ending: economic growth, though it is to be achieved by contrasting means. If a fact doesn’t fit one of these two narratives, the offended politician tends to ignore it (or attempt to deny it). If it doesn’t fit either narrative, nearly everyone ignores it.
Here’s a fact that apparently fails to comfortably fit into either political narrative:The energy and financial returns on fossil fuel extraction are declining—fast. The top five oil majors (ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Chevron, and Total) have seen their aggregate production fall by over 25 percent over the past 12 years—but it’s not for lack of effort. Drilling rates have doubled. Rates of capital investment in exploration and production have likewise doubled. Oil prices have quadrupled. Yet actual global rates of production for regular crude oil have flattened, and all new production has come from expensive unconventional sources such as tar sands, tight oil, and deepwater oil. The fossil fuel industry hates to admit to facts that investors find scary—especially now, as the industry needs investors to pony up ever-larger bets to pay for ever-more-extreme production projects.
In the past few years, high oil prices have provided the incentive for small, highly leveraged, and risk-friendly companies to go after some of the last, worst oil and gas production prospects in North America—formations known to geologists as “source rocks,” which require operators to use horizontal drilling and fracking technology to free up trapped hydrocarbons. The energy returned on energy invested in producing shale gas and tight oil from these formations is minimal.While US oil and gas production rates have temporarily spiked, all signs indicate that this will be a brief boom that will not change the overall situation significantly: society is reaching the point of diminishing returns with regard to the economic benefits of fossil fuel extraction.
And what about our imaginary politicians? Politician A wouldn’t want to talk about any of this for fairly obvious reasons. But, strangely, Politician B likely would avoid the subject too: while he might portray the petroleum industry as an ogre, his narrative requires it to be a powerful one. Also, he probably doesn’t like to think that gasoline prices might be high due to oil depletion rather than simply the greed of the petroleum barons. Motives can be complicated; perhaps both feel the patriotic urge to cheer domestic energy production, regardless of its source and in spite of evidence of declining returns on investment. Perhaps both understand that declining energy returns imply really bad news for the economy, regardless which party is in power. In any case, mum’s the word.
Some facts seem to fit one narrative or the other but, when combined, point to a reality that undermines both narratives. What if climate change is an even worse problem than most of us assume, and there is no realistic way to deal seriously with it and still have economic growth?
In the real world of US politics, many Democrats would agree with the first part of the sentence, many Republicans with the second. Yet both parties would flee from endorsing the statement as a whole. Nevertheless, this seems to be where the data are driving us. Actual climate impacts have consistently outpaced the worst-case forecasts that the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued during the past two decades. That means curbing carbon emissions is even more urgent than almost anyone previously thought. The math has changed. At this point, the rate of reduction in fossil fuel consumption required in order to avert catastrophic climate change may be higher, possibly much higher, than the realistically possible rate of replacement with energy from alternative sources. Climatologist Kevin Anderson of the UK-based Tyndall Centre figures that industrial nations need to cut carbon emissions by up to 10 percent per year to avert catastrophe, and that such a rapid reduction would be “incompatible with economic growth.” What if Anderson is right?
The problem of transitioning quickly away from fossil fuels while maintaining economic growth is exacerbated by the unique characteristics of different energy sources.
Here’s just one example of the difficulty of replacing oil while maintaining economic growth. Oil just happens to be the perfect transport fuel: it stores a lot of energy per unit of weight and volume. Electric batteries can’t match its performance. Plug-in cars exist, of course (less than one percent of new cars sold this year in the US will be plug-in electrics), but batteries cannot propel airliners or long-haul, 18-wheel truck rigs. Yet the trucking and airline industries just happen to be significant components of our economy; can we abandon or significantly downsize them and grow the economy as we do so?
What about non-transport replacements for fossil fuels? Well, both nuclear power stations and renewable energy systems have high up-front investment costs. If you factor in all the financial and energy costs (something the solar, wind, and nuclear industries are reluctant to do), their payback time is often measured in decades. Thus there seems to be no realistic way to bootstrap the energy transition (for example, by using the power from solar panels to build more solar panels) while continuing to provide enough energy to keep the rest of the economy expanding. In effect, to maintain growth, the energy transition would have to be subsidized by fossil fuels—which would largely defeat the purpose of the exercise.
Business-friendly politicians seem to intuitively get much of this, and this knowledge helps fuel their continued infatuation with oil, coal, and natural gas—despite the increasing economic problems (even if we disregard the environmental problems) with these fuels. But these folks’ way of dealing with this conundrum is simply to deny that climate change is a real issue. That strategy may work for their supporters in the fossil fuel industries, but it does nothing to avert the worsening real-world crises of extreme temperature events, droughts, floods, and storms—and their knock-on impacts on agriculture, economies, and governments.
So those on the left may be correct in saying that climate change is the equivalent of a civilization-killing asteroid, while those on the right may be correct in thinking that policies designed to shrink carbon emissions will shrink the economy as well. Everybody gets to be correct—but nobody gets a happy ending (at least as currently envisioned).
That’s because nearly every politician wants growth, or at least recognizes the need to clamor for growth in order to be electable. Because growth, after all, is how we currently define our collective, national happy ending. So whenever facts lead toward the conclusion that more growth may not be possible even if our party gets its way, those facts quickly get swept under the nearest carpet.
Masking reality with political rhetoric leads to delays in doing what is necessary– making the best of the choices actually available to us. We and our political “leaders” continue to deny and pretend, walking blindly toward environmental and economic peril.
*          *          *
We humans are political animals—always have been, always will be. Our interests inevitably diverge in countless ways. Further, much of the emotional drive fueling politics comes from ethical impulses: perhaps for genetic reasons, different people assign different ethical principles a higher priority. Thus one politician’s concern for fairness and another’s passion for national loyalty can glide right past each other without ever shaking hands. Religion can also play a role in partisanship, along with the legacies of economic and social exclusion, historic rivalries, disputes, and atrocities. None of this can be dispelled with the wave of a magic wand.
Moreover, political engagement often leads to welcome outcomes. When people organize themselves to effect change, the result can be expansions of civil rights, women’s suffrage, and environmental protection. On the other hand, when people fail to speak up, social power tends to become monopolized by a small minority–and that never ends well. So, let’s not withdraw from politics.
But how to work effectively in a politically polarized environment? Hyper-partisanship is a problem in approving judicial appointees and passing budgets, and failure to do these things can have serious consequences. But when it comes to energy and climate, the scale of what is at stake runs straight off the charts. The decisions that need to be made, and soon (ideally 20 years ago!), on energy and climate may well determine whether civilization survives. The absence of decisive action will imperil literally everything we care about.
Energy is complicated, and there can be legitimate disagreements about our options and how vigorously to pursue them. But the status quo is not working.
I’ve struggled to find a hopeful takeaway message with which to end this essay.
Should I appeal to colleagues who write about energy, pleading with them to frame discussions in ways that aren’t merely feeding red meat to their already far too polarized audiences, encouraging them to tell readers uncomfortable truths that don’t fit partisan narratives? I could, but how many energy writers will actually read this essay, and how many of those are willing to examine their preconceptions?
Perhaps the best I can do is point out the existence of a small but enthusiastic subculture that actually understands these issues. This subculture is exemplified by Transition Initiatives promoting “small-scale local responses to the global challenges of climate change, economic hardship, and shrinking supplies of cheap energy” and the premise that life can be better without fossil fuels. For better or worse, this subculture is practically invisible to political elites and the mainstream media (except perhaps in parts of the UK).
Perhaps it’s fitting that this essay leaves both author and readers unsettled and uncomfortable. Discomfort can sometimes be conducive to creativity and action. There may be no solutions to the political problems I’ve outlined. But even in the absence of solutions there can still be better adaptive behaviors, and judo-like strategies that achieve desired outcomes—ones that could conceivably turn the tide on intractable global problems such as climate change—without directly confronting existing societal power structures. These behaviors and strategies can be undertaken even at the household scale, but we’re likely to achieve much more if we collaborate, doing what we can locally while using global communications to compare notes and share our successes and challenges.
Cars and windmills image via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.

Richard Heinberg is the author of eleven books including ‘The Party’s Over’, ‘The End of Growth’, and ‘Snake Oil’. He is Senior Fellow-in-Residence of Post Carbon Institute and is widely regarded as one of the …

Global-Warming Slowdown Due to Pacific Winds, Study Shows – Bloomberg

Global-Warming Slowdown Due to Pacific Winds, Study Shows – Bloomberg.

By Alex Morales  Feb 9, 2014 1:00 PM ET

Photographer: Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in September that the… Read More

Stronger Pacific Ocean winds may help explain the slowdown in the rate of global warming since the turn of the century, scientists said.

More powerful winds in the past 20 years may be forcing warmer seas deeper and bringing cooler water to the surface, 10 researchers from the U.S. and Australiasaid today in the journal Nature. That has cooled the average global temperature by as much as 0.2 degree Celsius (0.36 Fahrenheit) since 2001.

Scientists have been trying to find out why the rate of global warming has eased in the past 20 years while greenhouse-gas emissions have surged to a record. Today’s paper elaborates on a theory that deep seas are absorbing more warmth by explaining how that heat could be getting there.

A Global Push to Save the Planet

“The net effect of these anomalous winds is a cooling in the 2012 global average surface air temperature of 0.1–0.2 degree Celsius, which can account for much of the hiatus in surface warming observed since 2001,” the researchers wrote. They’re led by Matthew England, a professor of oceanography at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in September that the average temperature since 1998 has increased at less than half the rate since 1951. The world has warmed by an average 0.05 degree per decade since 1998, compared with the 1951-2012 average of 0.12 degree a decade, the UNIPCC said.

Hiatus Persisting

“This hiatus could persist for much of the present decade if the tradewind trends continue; however rapid warming is expected to resume once the anomalous wind trends abate,” the authors of today’s study said. “Volcanoes and changes in solar radiation can also drive cooler decades against the backdrop of ongoing warming,” they said.

The scientists used computer models and weather data to determine the effect of the stronger winds on ocean circulation. Other institutions involved in the research include the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, the University of Hawaii, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization.

A paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters in May found that ocean waters below 700 meters (2,300 feet) have absorbed more heat since 1999. A separate study in Nature in August linked the hiatus to a cooling of surface waters in the eastern Pacific, and today’s research builds on that.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net

Energy East pipeline a potential CO2 traffic jam, report says – Politics – CBC News

Energy East pipeline a potential CO2 traffic jam, report says – Politics – CBC News.

TransCanada CEO Russ Girling announces the company is moving forward with the 1.1 million barrel-per-day Energy East Pipeline project, at a news conference in Calgary, Aug. 1, 2013. A new report from environmental think-tank Pembina Institute believes Energy East would add 30 to 32 million tonnes of CO2 a year into the atmosphere.TransCanada CEO Russ Girling announces the company is moving forward with the 1.1 million barrel-per-day Energy East Pipeline project, at a news conference in Calgary, Aug. 1, 2013. A new report from environmental think-tank Pembina Institute believes Energy East would add 30 to 32 million tonnes of CO2 a year into the atmosphere. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The greenhouse gas emissions from oil flowing through TransCanada Pipelines’ proposed Energy East project would be equivalent to putting seven million new cars a year on Canadian roads, according to a report from an environmental think-tank released today.

The Pembina Institute’s study looked at the potential upstream carbon pollution — that is, from the well to the refinery gate — from oil flowing through the pipeline and found that it could add anywhere from 30 to 32 million tonnes of CO2 a year to the atmosphere.

“For a single piece of infrastructure, that’s huge. It’s more than the emissions of five provinces,” explained Clare Demerse, Pembina’s federal policy director and co-author of the report.

“The single most effective climate policy today [in Canada] is Ontario’s decision to phase out coal [for generating electricity]. The emissions associated with building Energy East could effectively wipe out the gains of our single most effective climate policy by far,” she told CBC News.

Tune in to The National on CBC-TV tonight to hear how pipeline companies and environmentalists are changing their tactics in Canada’s energy infrastructure debate.

Energy East is planned to take both conventional and oilsands oil from Alberta to the deep-water port in Saint John. The project would convert an existing natural gas pipeline that runs to the Ontario-Quebec border to carry oil, then build a new pipeline the rest of the way. When running at full capacity, Energy East would eventually carry 1.1-million barrels of crude a day.

TransCanada has yet to file an application with the National Energy Board, but it is expected to do so in the middle of this year.

Demerse admits that this is a preliminary report and that it is hard to comment accurately on Energy East because so little detail is known about the project. Still, she said, Pembina wanted to start the conversation about it as soon as possible.

TransCanada said it wants to take a closer look at the numbers before it comments on the report. The pipeline company has already held information sessions about the project in communities along the route.

EU Calls for 40% Reduction in Greenhouse-Gas Output by 2030 – Bloomberg

EU Calls for 40% Reduction in Greenhouse-Gas Output by 2030 – Bloomberg.

Photographer: HJ Morrill/Getty Images
The European Commission will today outline a strategy to cut pollution and curb rising energy costs. The region’s executive arm will call for an overhaul of the bloc’s policies in the next decade.

The European Union proposed cutting the region’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 40 percent in 2030 to accelerate efforts to reduce global warming.

The European Commission outlined its strategy to reduce pollution and curb rising energy costs and called for an overhaul of the bloc’s policies in the next decade, the EU’s executive arm said in a statement today. The current goal is to cut emissions by 20 percent in 2020 from 1990 levels.

The proposed design of future policies pits nations including Germany and the U.K., who are seeking stronger efforts to protect the atmosphere, against Poland and its allies, which rely mainly on fossil fuels to keep their economy humming. It also highlights the divide between energy intensive companies, whose gas and power costs are more than double their U.S. and Asian competitors, and green lobbies such as Greenpeace seeking deeper emission cuts.

“Political agreement on a 2030 EU energy and climate framework is absolutely vital for businesses,” Katja Hall, chief policy director at Confederation of British Industry, the U.K.’s main business lobby group, said by e-mail before the commission’s announcement. “We need long-term certainty to drive investment in a secure, low-carbon and affordable energy future for Europe.”

In the package unveiled today the commission asked member states to consider a 2030 framework that focuses on the carbon-reduction target to avoid conflicts with policies subsidizing renewable energy. The strategy is the start of a debate among member states, which may lead to a draft law in early 2015.

New Proposal

Under the new proposal, the EU wouldn’t extend legally-binding renewables targets for individual member states beyond 2020, instead setting an EU-wide goal to boost the share of renewable energy to 27 percent by 2030.

Scrapping renewable energy targets is “good news” for the economy and environment, according to Robert Stavins, director of Harvard University’s Environmental Economics Program. The renewables goal conflicts with the EU emissions trading system and removing it would lower the cost to achieve the pollution cap, he said.

The package will also include an indicative goal to boost energy efficiency by 25 percent, which will be discussed later this year.

As a part of the proposal, the commission will also seek to strengthen its carbon market cap-and-trade program by making the supply of permits more flexible. A carbon market stability reserve to start in 2021 would withdraw permits once allowances in circulation reached at least 833 million, the commission said in a statement.

The cost of emitting a metric ton of carbon dioxide in the EU’s $53 billion carbon market slumped to a record low of 2.46 euros ($3.32) in April and traded at 5.20 euros today at the ICE Futures Europe exchange in London.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ewa Krukowska in Brussels atekrukowska@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lars Paulsson at lpaulsson@bloomberg.net

Climate Chaos is here……. | Damn the Matrix

Climate Chaos is here……. | Damn the Matrix.

The followers of this blog should be well ahead of the rest of the internet regarding the current extreme weather in America if they read Mark Cochrane’s guest post way back in July last year titled “Weather Whiplash”.

Of course, all the climate deniers are out in force these last few days, letting themselves believe that the snowball http://theaimn.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/the-day-after-tomorrow.jpg?w=199&h=300weather in the US is proof “climate change is crap”…….  when in fact, nothing of the sort is true.  As counterintuitive as it may seem, global warming is causing the polar ice to melt, and that melting is sending the weather haywire by making the jetstream do things it was never meant to do.

The dramatic melt-off of the Arctic sea ice due to climate change, is hitting closer to home for millions of Americans. That’s because melting Arctic sea ice has triggered a domino effect leading to increased odds of severe winter weather events in the Northern Hemisphere’s mid latitudes — think “The Day After Tomorrow”.  Well, metaphorically anyway….. though who knowswhat the future may hold on that front!

Australians may think of Arctic climate change as this remote phenomenon that has little effect on our everyday lives, but what goes on in the Arctic remotely forces weather patterns, even here in Australia…..  What drives the weather is energy.  Heat energy to be precise.  At any one time, there is a precise amount of energy in the Earth’s atmosphere.  It is growing, apparently at the rate of four Hiroshima bombs per second, but even at such a mindboggling rate, over short periods like a week or a month, it may as well be constant, so able is the planet’s capacity to absorb it.

The Earth’s spin sends eddies in both the air and oceans, causing turbulence in the way this energy is distributed or moved about the biosphere.  Heat normally wants to travel towards cold places and equalise the temperature of cold areas and hot areas.  But these eddies don’t allow the heat to travel in a straight line, as it would in, say, a piece of metal heated at one end.  Solar energy creates wind this way, and these eddies cause the wind to move along curved paths, as do ocean currents.

Add energy into the system by trapping heat under the blanket of greenhouse gases, and the eddies become more energetic.  A bit like when you heat a saucepan of water; the water molecules become more and more energised, start convection currents, and eventually the water boils as the molecules can no longer remain in contact with each other and turn into a higher state of energy called a gas, in this case, steam.  it’s Physics 101, really.

Because the amount of heat energy is ‘constant’, when it’s freezing cold in America, it’s stinking hot somewhere else, https://i0.wp.com/www.news.cornell.edu/sites/chronicle.cornell/files/arctic_0.jpgand at this time of the year, that means us in the Southern Hemisphere.  That extra energy is causing more and more extreme weather, both here, and over there.  As this sort of weather becomes more normal, the sum total of all the weather events become the new climate, and presto, we have Climate Change.  And no Tony Abbott, it is NOT CRAP.

Cornell’s Charles H. Greene, professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, and Bruce C. Monger, senior research associate in the same department, have detailed this phenomenon in a paper published in the June issue of the journal Oceanography.

Greene says, “What’s happening now is that we are changing the climate system, especially in the Arctic, and that’s increasing the odds for the negative Arctic Oscillation conditions that favour cold air invasions and severe winter weather outbreaks by diminishing latitudinal pressure gradient which is linked to a weakening of the winds associated with the polar vortex and jet stream. Since the polar vortex normally retains the cold Arctic air masses up above the Arctic Circle, its weakening allows the cold air to invade lower latitudes..”

Here is a good video explanation of what is going on:

Now what I want to know is….  what will happen to the jetstream in the Southern Hemisphere?

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