Monthly Archives: December 2012

I Write of Sandy, Not of Sandy Hook

Two major subjects at the end of the year.

One is a primary concern for the country I live in, one we need to solve to form a more perfect union, provide for the common defense of its people and to promote their general welfare.

The other was a storm.

I will not write of the massacre–I have nothing original to say and little in the way of comfort to offer to those affected by it.

I will write briefly of the storm, and a perfect storm it was.

Tropical Storm Sandy was not unusual in terms of strength. What made it perfect was its combination with an extra-tropical storm and its arrival on land at the wrong time of the month and the worst time of day.

It is being hyped after the fact because of several reasons. Those who didn’t prepare adequately for such a storm would love to picture it as a storm of demonic proportions–it would absolve them of responsibility. Maybe we’ll all forget that fools chose to put back-up generators for public service buildings in the basement. Well, maybe not.

Those who have seized on the latest theme in the never-ending saga of global warming–that extreme weather today is caused by global warming–were happy to assign Sandy’s destruction to climate change. One would have to ignore plain logic as well as history to accept this, but these activists seem to think if they shriek loud enough the point will be hammered home.

But there have been dozens of stronger, more destructive hurricanes and tropical storms in the history of the American East Coast. There have been dozens that integrated with subtropical storms to strengthen their punch. There have been storms with higher sea surge, storms causing ten times as many fatalities, storms that lasted longer and storms that came later in the year.

And of course there are the insurance companies, waiting for a post-facto declaration of the status of Storm Sandy. If they get the right call, then many of their policies won’t need to pay out, due to force majeure (act of God or Nature).

It’s much easier to write about Storm Sandy than about Sandy Hook. Although more than 100 lives were lost due to the storm, they were lost in a familiar way, to circumstances that have taken tens of thousands of lives within living memory.

But hell, who am I kidding? Writing about the aftermath of both–it’s the same story. Politicians, lobbyists and power groups manipulating the facts and creating competing narratives to push existing proposals or long-held plans one step closer to completion. If they could climb on the bodies of the slain to better make their point they would do so cheerfully.

Build better and safer. Control the possession of firearms. May 2013 be a very good year for all.

Every Man Will Be a King

Climate activists like to portray their foes as plutocrats, corporations, conservatives and deniers, a term I heartily hate.

The truth is, their biggest and most implacable enemy is the poor.

Due to advances in science and technology since around 1750, there are close to 2 billion people today who live better than the kings of that time.

Due to improved sanitation and the fortuitous discovery of things like penicillin, (and of course also to the dedicated research efforts of thousands), a middle class person in China will probably live a longer and healthier life than King Louis IV., eating healthier food and drinking cleaner water, wearing cleaner clothes and having some security in the potential for similar lives for their families.

They will have at their command not only the greatest thoughts, songs, plays and hymns of 1750 but also the combined works of art created since then–and rather than trotting out the old carriage to trundle into the city, they can choose to  enjoy them in the comfort of their homes.

Although some will dispute that it’s an improvement, we new Proto-Royals can treat calligraphy as an option due to keyboards, arithmetic as a set of inputs to a calculator, memory as a service outsourced to Google and can consider getting lost as an optional game rather than one of the most terrifying experiences known to humans. What does the G in GPS stand for?

Of course there’s energy. The kings of old could measure the energy available to them in horses, slaves and servants. As Matt Ridley pointed out in his book The Rational Optimist, the modest consumption of a middle class family in the developed world puts royalty to shame. How many horsepower does your car have? How long do you have to work to pay your energy bill?

This incredible increase in the amount of energy available to the average human has actually decreased some of our environmental impact on the planet–about half of the land under the plow in the U.S. in 1900 was used to grow feed for horses. But clearly, the  exothermic reactions used to let us live like kings also polluted the atmosphere and warmed the planet.

Warming the planet–oh, yes, that’s what this is about, even if I took a circuitous route to the subject. Although the extent and duration of our contribution to a warming planet is still very much an open question, there’s little doubt that the planet is warming and we are contributing in various ways.

If we were to freeze development of civilization to today’s standards and extent, what we are doing to the planet would not be considered extreme–at least not by historical standards, which saw us destroy forest and plain, wantonly exterminate species (as well as each  other) and let our waste fall anywhere convenient. Our impact on and stewardship of this planet is vastly improved.

Despite all the conversation (which I consider incredibly silly) about extreme weather events, the political exploitation of the modest global warming that has occurred to date, the attempts to wrest corporate control of energy production from one set of corporations and turn it over to another, we do face a climate conundrum, precisely because we cannot freeze development at today’s rate. ‘Every man will be a king.’

That is the implicit promise and premise that has legitimized the current version of the world order. Not that we will all be rich as Croesus, but that we will have the technology and its fruits that enable us to live better than the richest of the past. This promise has kept us in line, willing workers expressing modest preferences at the polls and increasingly passive members of the polity.

And sadly we are less than a third of the way done. We must make this style of life available to another 7 billion people by 2075. Every forecast, from Stern to the IPCC to the World Bank to the IMF starts with that assumption–that economic growth will power the planet to an upper middle class income level and lifestyle during this century.

It is this promise that keeps both the Chinese employee at Foxconn and the U.S. FedEx delivery driver in line, in post and part of the river of progress. And it requires energy. Americans use about 308 million btus per person per year. The Chinese use 59 mbtus. They will not be satisfied until they reach American levels.

Because the Chinese (and Indian, and Indonesian and… and…) fuel of choice is coal, even a Lukewarm low sensitivity of the atmosphere to CO2 will not be adequate insurance against the rolling tide of emissions that will make today’s CO2 levels look like the quaint prelude they are.

If this is not in our thoughts today, by the time that ‘every man is a king’, he (it will actually be more likely to be a she) will be the mistress/master of a kingdom that cannot be seen through the smog, but will be felt as a kingdom transported to a warm and wet distant place.

Two degrees Celsius rise in this temperature–it will not destroy our civilization, but it will transform it in ways we would not choose today.

We may have to work to earn those crowns.

Defeating Themselves

When the annual reviews come in for 2012 and climate change, the activists will likely focus on some headline numbers–the low extent of ice this summer in the Arctic, the hot year in the U.S., indications that parts of the Antarctic are warming, confirmation by an independent Berkeley research team of temperature trends–all against a backdrop provided by tropical storm / hurricane Sandy, the dud at Doha and the leak of a draft of the IPCC’s next report.

It’s a pity that there were a lot of other stories this year–stories that will detract and distract from climate discussion. Worse, they will have been ‘unforced errors’–mistakes by activists that diminish credibility and cloud the issues.

Activist Peter Gleick stole documents from Heartland and either forged or published a forgery of their strategy. Illegal, unethical and terminally stupid, Gleick’s idiocy captured the headlines and relit the fires under a number of skeptics.

Stephan Lewandowsky used tactics worthy of a circus charlatan in gaming a survey to ‘prove’ that skeptics are ‘conspiracy nuts,’ again inspiring a flood of blog posts (and a few attempted lessons in survey construction and analysis on my part–lessons that were deleted summarily from Lewandowsky’s weblog).

Joelle Gergis and colleagues withdrew a paper following the publication of criticism by climate auditor Steve McIntyre–and the ham-handed way they went about it only served to feed the skeptic fires.

As has also been the case in recent years, the activist side of the climate debate has done themselves more harm than the efforts of their opponents. They could have canceled the COP 19 conference in Doha and talked about the CO2 they didn’t emit while traveling, instead of trying to put a brave face on its failure–which was pretty much pre-ordained. They could have called for additional review of papers that might be considered controversial. They could have published a set of ethical guidelines designed to show that climate science understands that it needs not only to be clean, but to be demonstrably so.

None of the self-inflicted wounds of 2012 undercut climate science. CO2 does what it does and temperatures do what they do as a result. But the repeated stalling of the climate train in front of landslides precipitated by members of the team only put further off into the future the chance of agreeing on some concrete action.

When smart people do unbelievably stupid things to counter a disorganized and underfunded opposition, at some point we have to ask why. Where is the pressure coming from to do idiotic things that will damage their cause?

Just… stupid.

The Daily Distraction

Every day something gets published about the Climate Change Wars that is truly irrelevant. There are far too many journalists, bloggers and even scientists feeling the need to put something–anything–online that may either bolster their case or undermine that of their opponents.

Today I will highlight the strange case of a professor of music at the University of Graz in Austria. A firm believer in the worst-case scenarios of future global warming and its effects, he made some intemperate remarks on his website about those with opposing views, whom he characterized as ‘deniers’ and accused of causing ‘hundreds of millions of deaths.’ He is wrong on the facts and was needlessly insulting. He’s not the first.

Who cares? Why did skeptic bloggers publicize this and demand retractions, resignations, etc.? He’s a professor of music.

Well, he apologized and the University did as well. So that was another round of storifying in the blogosphere. Nothing to do with science. Nothing to do with policy. Nothing to do with just about anything, just giving writers something to do.

We may not be proving either side of the climate change proposition. But we are providing evidence that Nature abhors a vacuum.

There are too many days like this.

State of the Climate Debate

There is only one important scientific question regarding climate change: Is atmospheric sensitivity high or low? If it is high the planet has big problems. If it is low we can deal with global warming with the technologies and societal mechanisms that currently exist.

So where do we stand on this issue? Enthusiasts for both extremes have very wrongly claimed the issue has been settled in their favor. This has not helped anyone. We don’t know what atmospheric sensitivity is. We don’t even know if there is one and one only value for atmospheric sensitivity. We are not likely to know for sure for 30 or more years, according to climate scientist Judith Curry, among others.

But remember that the very definition of Lukewarmer is one who believes that atmospheric sensitivity is lower than claimed by the activists–I for one think it is around 2C or a bit lower. Why on earth, if I say it cannot be determined with accuracy at this point, am I willing to ‘bet the planet’ on my belief/intuition/opinion/prayer/ limited understanding of incomplete science that it is low?

For starters, remember that the range of potential sensitivity values given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) includes low values as well as high. They estimate that the value of sensitivity could fall anywhere between 1.5C and 4.5C. So my ‘preference’ of 2C is well within the accepted range of possibility.

Furthermore, there is recent data that helps buttress my opinion. One finding is my own, explained in detail over at the other weblog I maintain, 3,000 Quads. I show that the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) estimates that one-third of all human emissions of carbon dioxide have occurred since 1998, a date I chose because it marks a plateau in temperature rises–after a disconcerting rise in temperatures between 1976 and 1998, temperatures have stalled. (This happens and is not really unexpected, although the plateau has lasted a bit longer than some would have thought.)

The point I made there and repeat here is that if temperatures aren’t moved by the emission of one-third of our global total of CO2 emissions, it is hardly an argument for high sensitivity. It doesn’t make it impossible–but it doesn’t reinforce the opinion of the activists.

The other, more widely publicized piece of news is reporting of new work done by Nic Lewis that finds some evidence of sensitivity ranges even lower than mine. As published by science writer Matt Ridley, “We can now estimate, based on observations, how sensitive the temperature is to carbon dioxide. We do not need to rely heavily on unproven models. Comparing the trend in global temperature over the past 100-150 years with the change in “radiative forcing” (heating or cooling power) from carbon dioxide, aerosols and other sources, minus ocean heat uptake, can now give a good estimate of climate sensitivity.

The conclusion-taking the best observational estimates of the change in decadal-average global temperature between 1871-80 and 2002-11, and of the corresponding changes in forcing and ocean heat uptake-is this: A doubling of CO2 will lead to a warming of 1.6°-1.7°C (2.9°-3.1°F).

This is much lower than the IPCC’s current best estimate, 3°C (5.4°F).”

Not surprisingly, Lewis’ finding and Ridley’s piece got quite a bit of press. Ridley’s piece was published in the Wall Street Journal, disputed by Climate Progress (Joe Romm has a habit of automatically criticizing any evidence that threatens the consensus and is not above ignoring facts when he does so) and discussed more rationally at places like Climate Etc. and The Way Things Break.

And again, neither my mashing up of data nor Nic Lewis’ more methodical examination of observations are going to settle the issue. But all of the argument is now looking at the possibility of low sensitivity. Just a year or two ago, the argument was about high sensitivity.

It may well be a pendulum-like discussion that swings back and forth. But for now, data seems to be on the Lukewarm side of the discussion.

Common Sense

The Little Ice Age is generally accepted to have ended in about 1880.  The first coal-fired power station was built in 1882 in London at the Holborn Viaduct. There are now 2,300 coal-fired power stations worldwide with 7,000 individual units burning coal.

The birth of the modern fuel-burning car is more or less accepted as having occurred in 1885 (there were many functional predecessors) by Gottlieb Daimler. It is estimated that there are 1 billion cars on the roads of the world today.

Although commercial washing machines were introduced in the 1850s, residential adoption didn’t really start until about 1900, give or take. There are now over two billion.

The rise in the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere also started approximately around 1880. A rise in global temperatures did as well.

It is not absurd to think there is a connection.

Almost everyone involved in the climate discussion agrees that there is indeed a connection. That increased concentrations of CO2 have contributed (along with deforestation, changes in land use and some other factors) to rising temperatures. Famous skeptics like Viscount Monckton, bloggers Anthony Watts and Steve McIntyre, skeptical scientists like Richard Lindzen and John Christy, all think this is true, obvious and not at all controversial.

That’s not what the debate is about.

Climate Change and Biodiversity–a Lukewarmer’s Perspective

Boy, I sure wrote a lot over at Bart Verheggen’s place. Here’s some more.

I think that recent efforts to mitigate the potential impacts of climate change are important, but more because potential global warming can serve as a ‘last straw’ for certain portions of a beleaguered environment if it happens too fast.

However, 99% of stress on environments has other causes, most man-made, and addressing global warming in a mad and expensive rush without ameliorating our other impacts is madness, like treating a woman with cancer using a facial cleanser.

The environment has thrived at times in warmer climates, and if warming happens slowly enough it could do so again.

Just as the activists forget (functionally, when talking of impacts and mitigation) that the climate always changes, some seem determined to ignore that our biosphere constantly changes too. For some species, warming will be a blessing, especially if warming happens to come in at a lower sensitivity of the atmosphere to a doubling of CO2 concentrations. For some it will not. But that kind of lottery has been occurring for a couple of billion years.

My main concern is exemplified by activists hijacking iconic examples of negative effects caused by human activity and attributing the stress felt by or threats to, for example, polar bear populations and saying the major problem is global warming or climate disruption.

Climate is disruptive. It always has been. But species either adapt to the changes or make way for others that can. Our contributions to the disruptive nature of climate will not be welcomed by some species. However global warming is the least of their worries now, and is likely to remain so for the next century.

So how we use this century is critical. And my policy preferences are, just as with the human element affected by global warming, to make communities more resilient and able to withstand climate changes that we cannot control, to get off their backs with thoughtless development, pollution and dramatic changes in land use without environmental consideration.

The point in dispute quite simply is the relative degree of harm caused by anthropogenic climate change vs. other activities of man.

I submit that the ratio right now is 1% to 99% respectively. I further submit that if we do not address the other human impacts on our biosphere first and extensively, that there will be relatively little biosphere to feel the impacts of climate change.

I’m not presenting a false choice. I’m arguing for prioritization of efforts and clarity of goals.

If the ‘pilots’ are trusting Hughes, Ehrlich et al regarding extinction, if they are trusting Steig et al for Antarctic temperatures, if they are trusting Mann regarding temperature history, if they are trusting Prall, Schneider et al regarding the expertise of those supporting versus opposing the consensus, my conclusion is that the pilots are not using the correct navigational instruments.

But scientists are not piloting spaceship Earth. Politicians are. The debate I am interested in influencing is not scientific–I am not a scientist. It is political. I am a member of the polity.

We have a serious problem with biodiversity. It is caused by four factors: habitat loss, invasive competition, hunting and pollution. Global warming is not yet a factor. Is it likely to be in the future? Yes, as a ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’ for vulnerable species.

If we phrase it in qualitative terms rather than phony quantitative garbage, we have a chance of persuading people. Making stuff up works just long enough to get people to check on how you arrived at the statistics. And they don’t hold up.

If some want to tease out changes to phenotypes and think you can attribute some of it to global warming, as opposed to pollution and habitat loss, go do it and good luck.

As for species’ tolerance of change, remember that it varies widely from species to species. As for climate inertia, it’s an interesting concept and plausible. Now that the tools are coming online to actually measure effectively, we’ll be able to see over the next 30 years.

As I have always said, I believe global warming is occurring and that we need to both address the causes and the effects. I’m aware that the process of species loss occurs in slow motion, as well. Which is why it’s clear that anthropogenic climate change to date can only be held partially responsible for loss of species, because it is so new.

Meanwhile, the abandonment of scientific perspective by some in order to join the crusade to climate Jerusalem gives tacit permission to continue to those who are causing the real damage via habitat loss, pollution, lax procedures that allow invasive species to be introduced inappropriately, and over-hunting.

Anthropogenic contributions to climate change are recent. Anthropogenic pressures on biodiversity have been going on for millenia. You do the cause of environmental protection no favors when you jump on the bandwagon of mistaken attribution. I have no doubt that we can chart many species already feeling additional pressure because of climate change. That’s a given, because that’s a constant. The climate always changes and it always puts pressure on vulnerable species. Anthropogenic climate change will do the same.

Global warming will have a negative effect on some species, perhaps many. Species loss is currently a real problem. The two facts don’t have much to do with each other.

My thoughts about preserving the biodiversity remaining on this planet are fairly simple:

1. Policy that encourages urbanization density. Right now, over half the people on this planet live in cities that cover 3% of the land surface. This should be considered a good beginning, especially as most projected population growth is expected to be absorbed by the cities. However, given that only 2% of the population is required for modern agriculture, there should be room for improvement. Policies that make 3rd world cities more liveable, safe and sanitary can decrease pressure on the land.

2. It is time to renegotiate the law of the sea. Fortunately we have a good excuse that will appeal to conservatives in rampant piracy. Let’s take advantage of this to finally appoint conservators for individual fish species that have czar-like abilities to establish fishing regulations that keep the health of the fish paramount. Establish a multinational compensation fund that helps countries wean themselves off of their over-supplied and over-mechanized fishing fleets and just put them out of business slowly.

3. Focus some element of scientific research on creating best practices and standards for sustainable fish farms. Create sustainable certification standards and labeling. Focus more on rewarding winners than punishing losers–many bad fish farm practices are the result of poverty more than anything else.

4. Introduce best of breed agricultural practices to insure that needed agricultural product comes from better practices, not more land coming under the plough. Start at the geographic margins and work inwards, as it is at the margins that expansion of farms into new territory happens. Refine the food distribution system to reduce wastage, introduce GMOs liberally, etc.

If you want to protect other species, you must start by removing the need to harm them by improving the lot of the species that is threatening them. That would be us.

What This Lukewarmer Thinks We Should Be Doing

Again, grabbed from a comment I made at Bart Verheggen’s:

I’ve said it often enough, but I’ll repeat what I think we should do while waiting for clarity regarding sensitivity and other unresolved issues with the science:

1. Tax CO2 at a starting rate of $12/ton and revisit the rate every 10 years, adjusting the rate to reflect changes in CO2 concentrations and a pre-agreed metric for climate change that has occurred in the interim.
2. Spend a global total of $100 billion for the transfer of technology to the developing world for the purpose of reducing the impact of development technologies, in hopes that they can leapfrog one or two generations of energy development.
3. Commit to spending over the course of this century on moving roads inland, removing permission for construction on threatened coasts and flood plains. The EPA found that this would cost about $400 billion for the United States about 20 years ago–adjust for inflation. But that’s a one-time cost.
4. Continue Steven Chu’s investment strategy for reducing costs in renewable energy, storage and transmission. Continue with ARPA-E at full funding. We may have another Solyndra–probably will, in fact. But we may also have another Tesla, which didn’t technically come from that program, but serves as an inspiration.
5. Encourage the U.S. EPA to regulate CO2 emissions from large emitters.
6. Accelerate permitting for new nuclear power plants to maintain nuclear power’s percentage of electricity at 20% in the U.S.
7. Uprate existing hydroelectric plants to take advantage of advances in turbine technology.
8. Mandate uptake of GPS within the air traffic control infrastructure and controlled and one-step descent on landing.
9. Homogenize permitting and regulation for installation of solar and wind power. Maintain current levels of subsidies and RPS.
10. Increase utilization of Combined Heat and Power facilities from its current 7% of primary energy production to the world average of 9% and then by steps in northern regions to benchmark levels found in Denmark, Holland and other northern European countries.
11. Support introduction of charging stations for electric vehicles.
12. Force existing coal power plants to meet best available technology standards or close.

Learning From Sandy

This Lukewarmer believes greenhouse gases may help cause temperatures to be about 2 degrees C warmer than otherwise, which will cause damage in many regions around the world. As it’s an average, some regions will be affected more than others.

Although this will not be a civilization buster (especially for the U.S., where I write this), we will be spending money–either to prepare for and so minimize some of the effects beforehand, or to fix some of the damage afterwards. The first of these two is easier and cheaper than the second.

Whatever you call Sandy, whether hurricane or tropical storm, you can look at it as something we will see more of in a warmer world. I don’t think Sandy was caused or strengthened much by current warming, but I think it’s currently an outlier that may look more normal in the future.

The climate discussion has been limited–I find that interesting, as the storm track was influenced by the increased amount of open water in the Arctic and that open water was increased because Arctic ice was at a low level due to increased melt this summer.

Discussion about impacts, mitigation and adaptation have been even harder to find.

How close to the shore should we build? What offshore structures should we erect to soften storms’ impacts? How much cheaper are seawalls than extensive infrastructure repair? How does our current insurance system interact with public wishes and natural disasters to guide rebuilding?

Back in the Nineties, the EPA produced a document showing how modest investment could help prepare for climate change. (They have more reports here.) Ironically, it languished unnoticed because activists were making headlines with outlandish claims for much higher sea level rise than dealt with in the EPA’s plan. We might choose to revisit that now…

We also might visit other societies impacted by storms at sea, from Japan to the Netherlands, to see if we can benchmark best practice.

The sad truth is that in our rush to rebuild, to get families back in their homes and workers back at their jobs, we have the tendency to just put things back up where they were.

Pity, that.

Population and Climate Change–one Lukewarmer’s View

Would you care if the population of this planet was 20 billion (as predicted by John Holdren and Paul Ehrlich back in the 70s) if they were powered by wind, solar and nuclear?

This post is cobbled together from some comments I wrote at Bart Verheggen’s excellent weblog My View On Climate Change. I’ve edited them slightly. The post is here. There are a variety of commenters there who disagree vigorously with most of what I wrote. Indeed, some disagree with my right to exist on this planet. (Please remember that this is only my point of view–other Lukewarmers may disagree just as vigorously as my critics.)

Treating population strictly in terms of the Kaya identity leads to over simplistic assertions. Population dynamics change dramatically, often in one generation, to environmental and economic pressures, and without incorporating a feedback loop to include the response of population to policy you end up making policy that’s always a generation behind the times.  I think you have to look at Kaya, Kuznets, Jevons and the energy ladder all at the same time to say useful things.

First, although it seems common-sensical to link population to climate change, it’s not really automatic. The population increased in 2009, but emissions of CO2 went down. The over-consuming United States increased its population in 2009, but emissions declined 7%.

A growing population can change climate in other ways–deforestation, depletion of other resources, pollution, etc. But those are more common in developing nations than developed nations.

People in the developed world use more energy per capita than those in developing countries. However, the variation between developed countries is dramatic. In the U.S., per capita consumption of energy was 323 mbtu’s per annum, while in Denmark it is 161. Variation in developing countries is equally dramatic, depending on where on the scale of development they lie.

The growth rate of the human population is slowing down to almost zero. It has already happened in many countries (mostly developed), and is happening as we write this in emerging countries at a dramatic rate.

So looking at the gross totals of populations does not answer our question, nor does a superficial segmentation into developed or developing countries.

For the purpose of discussing climate change, the first question is, if a larger population did not consume more energy, emit more CO2, or worsen impacts on other climate forcings, would we care about how big the population is?

If the answer is no, then we should look at the variation between populations. If the answer is yes, then we are discussing larger issues than climate change, and will probably get nowhere quickly.

It is not only emissions that fell last year, despite a growing population. Consumption of energy also declined per capita. The U.S. DOE had to make a dramatic adjustment of their forecasts for 2010, from 508 quads to 500.

Energy efficiency is one reason. Continued growth of combined heat and power plants, decommissioning of some old coal plants, continued adoption of ground source heat pumps and better technology in buildings help us get a better bang for the buck even though there are more of us.

Renewable energy is not growing as a percentage of total energy, which is a pity. It provided about 52 of the quads we used in 2009, around 11%, and nobody thinks it’s going to jump to, say, 15% or 20% by 2030. However, if the total energy provided by renewables can keep pace with population growth, we gain in some fashion.

The reason is that it may allow developing countries to skip a few of the dirtiest rungs on the energy ladder.

Countries that are developed today climbed an energy ladder that started with using wood for fuel, and went to charcoal, coal, oil, gas, nuclear and renewables in pretty much that order.

Each step is a dramatic improvement on the previous one, in terms of pollution, energy gained per unit of CO2 emitted, and efficiency in terms of what can be powered with the fuel source.

Developing countries today are trying to move up the energy ladder. 70% of rural inhabitants in India burn kerosene for heat and cooking. Billions use wood as a primary fuel source. 1.5 billion do not have electricity.

If we could provide electrical infrastructure and power generated from the top of the energy ladder, they could leapfrog a generation of energy technology and move towards energy efficiency early. Hey, they skipped landline telephones and went straight to mobile, so why not?

So back to an earlier question–would you care if the population of this planet was 20 billion (as predicted by John Holdren and Paul Ehrlich back in the 70s) if they were powered by wind, solar and nuclear?

The energy used by people in developing countries increases dramatically as they get a) wealthier and b) more urbanized. They accumulate power using devices at an astonishing rate–just look at how quickly cars, TVs, washers and dryers spread through the United States and extrapolate from that.

There are just short of 2 billion people who have already gone through that acquisition process. Eventually, energy use seems to plateau, and then decline slightly. But there is no avoiding the fact that the population is going to increase to about 9.1 billion by 2075 (the mothers have already been born), and so about 7 billion people are going to jump from very low levels of consumption to very high.

That is the dilemma. It is not the number of people, it is their developmental status and desire to live a modern life.

How we address that will be the central question of this 21st Century. If we address this question ethically and intelligently, we will be able to go to our graves proudly. If we try to deprive the newcomers, or limit their growth, we will be condemned.

Population will reach about 8.1 billion in 2030 and 9.2 billion in 2075, when it will peak.

Energy production is expected to reach 687 quads according to the DOE, and the UN expects it to be about 703. However, straight line extension of consumption trends gets you to about 2,100 quads in 2035, and about 3,000 in 2075.

The DOE and UN predict capacity of around 700 quads in 2035. Population will be about 8.1 billion. Millenium Goals for developement and normal economic advancement indicate that taking a straight line for consumption is not absurd. This leads to a ‘latent’ demand for energy of about 1,400 quads, or almost 3 times what the world is using today.

That latent demand will be filled, as these people will be part of developing economies and have cash and urgent needs for energy. How will this latent demand be met?

Renewable energy grew by 2% per year over a decade of strong support and investment–a decade that is probably over. Assume it will continue at 2% and you get about 67 quads by 2035. Not much help there.

Nuclear power may almost double by that time–from about 27 quads to about 47 quads. No help there.

Energy efficiency may ‘produce’ negawatts of about 140 quads. Which leaves well over 1,000 quads of energy to be produced by fossil fuels.

What mitigation or adaptation strategy is adequate to meet this version of reality? Alternatively, what version of reality can be proposed?

Well, at the current rate of flight to urban environments, our other impacts on the environment are actually lessening even as our population grows. More than half of humanity lives in urban environments that take up 3% of the land area. Certainly they need to be fed and that increases the load on agricultural and pastoral land, but we already have the technology in hand to address that, through modern farming methods and the adoption of GMOs. What is driving new land under the plough today is the attempt to meet demand for biofuels.

I should lay out my assumptions regarding my fantastickal claim that we might need 2088 quads of primary energy supply around 2035.

The population will be about 8.1 billion (UN, many others)

World economic development will continue at about 3% per year (UN, IPCC, many others–just a benchmark, but it’s been useful so far. Goldman Sachs projects that Vietnam will have per capita income of $40,000 in 2050. It will be behind countries like China, Brazil and Turkey. These and other countries will be walking up the energy ladder, using more energy per person, and they will have the money to get their energy needs met.

If 7 billion of the 8 billion (there will still be the Bottom Billion to worry about) are consuming energy at an American level (323 million btus per person per year), that’s more than 2100 quads in 2035.

If we can tame expectations and steer development towards the Danish level of 161 mbtu per capita (which surely is enough–the Danish live well), the total drops to 1100 quads. But so far, development is taking the same path Americans took–maybe even a bit more extravagant.

Somebody tell me where I’m wrong and should happily accept the U.S. DOE’s projection of 683 quads for 2035 and the UN’s slightly higher projection of 703. What do they know that I do not?

Not Neutral, Not In The Middle

Everybody’s tired of the climate wars.

But not tired enough to quit fighting. This weblog is an attempt to differentiate some of us involved in the discussion from people at the extremes, those who hold either unwarrantedly skeptical views of what really is basic science or those who have let their imaginations run wild with apocalyptic visions of a future that the science does not predict.

We are Lukewarmers. We’re not organized. There is no motto, no creed, no manifesto. We don’t meet, we converse infrequently and we don’t have a secret handshake.

What we seem (so far) to have in common is an understanding that the basic underpinnings of climate science are understandable, well-grounded and not controversial, plus the growing realization that one of the key components of an extended theory of climate change has been pushed too far.

That component is the sensitivity of our atmosphere to a doubling of the concentrations of CO2. The activists who have tried to dominate the discussion of climate change for more than twenty years have insisted that this sensitivity is high, and will amplify the warming caused by CO2 by 3, 4 or even 10 times the 1C of warming provided by a doubling of CO2 alone.

Lukwarmers, for  a variety of reasons, think it’s lower.

There’s a lot more to it. That’s what the blog is about.

Let the games begin.

Variations on a Lukewarm Theme

Again, this is from Bart Verheggen’s blog on a post called ‘The Problem is it’s Not Our Problem (But Rather That of Future Generations) found here.

According to several independent sources including the UN, the average income (not GDP) in the US in 2050 will be $88,000 in inflation adjusted dollars. Individual figures for other developed countries vary, but are at the same order of magnitude.

China’s income (not GDP) will skyrocket from about $1,600 to about $23,000 over the same period.

So Bart, your lovely daughter will be able to help your academic retirement, but she won’t be Bill Gates. And her Chinese counterpart will be excitedly using the electronic tool kit that her parents couldn’t quite afford, and driving a decent car.

At 2050 the picture looks pretty difficult from a green point of view. We will be using massive amounts of energy, and most in the developing world will not care overly much how it is generated.

But then it starts to get better–and quickly. China’s population will start to decline, as will that of 48 other countries (mostly in Europe). The elderly population that will be so prominent everywhere will use less energy than they did when economically hyperactive.

Those still working will get proportionally higher incomes, as GDP gets spread among fewer workers. And their children will be born and educated in much the same way as your daughter.

And they will care. And they will have enough money to mitigate and adapt.

We should do all we can now, whether at an individual level (I quit driving as my ‘grand green gesture’ 20 years ago), a group level (I am trying to persuade our landlord to get solar panels) or through political means.

The future needs our help. But we don’t have to sweat bullets and imagine catastrophe. We do the footwork and prepare the field, lower our emissions as and when we can, and if we do an honest, workmanlike job of it, things will be okay.