Willing the ends without describing the means

When we talk about what to do about climate change there is a curious disconnect between where we want to end up (with temperature rise hopefully below 2C) and how we mean to get there.

Perhaps the upcoming conference in Paris will fix all that–countries are supposed to show up with detailed plans in hand, although only a couple seem ready. The U.S. is one of them, with Barack Obama and the EPA relying heavily on higher CAFE standards and replacing coal fired electricity plants with natural gas.

However, I haven’t seen any concrete suggestions that are appropriate for the developing world.

Our default strategy appears to be denying them capital for construction of coal fired plants, as cynical and immoral a strategy as the colonialism of past centuries. If we make energy expensive enough the developing world will certainly use less.

Fortunately, China is making that strategy almost completely ineffective by establishing development banks that will supply the money that the West won’t.

That means that energy consumption in the developing world will most likely continue to increase at 4.19% per year, almost double what has been forecast by the DOE EIA and the IEA. This will lead to global energy consumption doubling from 2010 levels by about 2035.

So what’s Plan B?

Skeptics and lukewarmers are criticized for not contributing to the peer-reviewed literature, for not advancing plans for mitigation, for sitting on the sidelines and carping. And of course there’s an element of truth to that.

But truth be told, the mainstream community has not exactly deluged us with policy prescriptions. In fact, the standard line from both the consensus and the Konsensus is that we have to stop emissions. Okay, but how? On this they are uncharacteristically silent.

This is not because a lack of knowledge. They, like anyone who has taken time to inform themselves on the situation, can clearly see what is possible. But they lack the moral fiber to advance these prescriptions because some of them are unpalatable.

So let’s lay out the potential alternatives for them.

1. Nuclear power. For $23 trillion spent over the course of the next 40 years we could build enough nuclear power plants to generate all our electricity. In addition, we could transform the world’s transportation sector, powering trains while electrically replacing the internal combustion engines of cars and trucks with electric batteries and drive trains. This would drop our emissions to where the consensus says they need to be. It is a brute force solution, but it would work.

2. Natural gas. We could do essentially the same thing using natural gas. It would be considerably less expensive than nuclear, but the emissions savings would be far less and we could end up using all the easily available natural gas fairly quickly. But natural gas already runs a lot of cars and buses and it could run more. And it is a quick and easy way to replace coal in electricity plants. The painful part won’t be building the plants–it will be converting the infrastructure. LNG refining, transportation and storage, converting vehicles to run on LNG, all this could double the cost and insuring that all of this doesn’t leak won’t be cheap either. About $8 trillion over 25 years.

3. Renewables. Renewable energy is growing quickly, but from such a small base that it won’t make an impact on emissions for several decades. My projections are that by 2075 solar alone will be a primary source of power worldwide. However, take-up of renewable energy could be accelerated with increased government funding. Quite a lot of government funding, actually. But wind, ethanol and solar have well-publicized drawbacks that would also require governmental intervention to enable large-scale use. About $12 trillion if done organically through 2075, about double that (the same as nuclear!) if accelerated to a 25-year time frame.

So, my challenge for the consensus is to pick an alternative and push for it in the sphere of political advocacy. Heck, mix and match and say 30% of each if you want to. Come up with alternatives 4, 5 and 6 if you want.

Right now your entire platform is based on what you don’t want. CO2. Okay, we get it. How about a policy preference on how the world gets to Climate Jerusalem?


6 responses to “Willing the ends without describing the means

  1. http://desmogblog.com/sites/beta.desmogblog.com/files/Dimock%20report.pdf
    Tom, read both these links back to back before you get to any of the articles that pretend to debunk either one. This illustrates the biggest misunderstanding in the debate.
    1. The gas getting into the aquifer is older than the shale and gets there after the horizontal drilling and before the fracking.
    2. The fugitive methane doesn’t leak from the well head.

  2. I guess you will ignore me, Marty, but the papers are distinguished by huge margin of error bands and no actual damages to water supply.
    They raise the question as to why the anti-fracking obsession?

  3. Tom,
    The choice of metaphor only emphasizes the non-rational nature of the climate consensus. I love it.

  4. Plate tectonics is like 50 Shades of Grey. They both have some intriguing ideas but if you can think in 3 dimensions, you quickly realize they are impossible.

  5. “. Nuclear power. For $23 trillion spent over the course of the next 40 years we could build enough nuclear power plants to generate all our electricity. ” I believe this figure is unrealistically optimistic unless you’re talking radical restructuring of the nuclear industry. I can’t believe that this number includes all the hidden subsidies which would have to change if we were looking at an increase of this scale.
    If it happens, it won’t be decided by the US industry.

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