By Ugo Bardi: Are We Decoupling?

energygdp2017

http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.ca/2017/12/are-we-decoupling-not-really-but-happy.html

When driving at speed towards a brick wall should you accelerate or brake? The laws of physics prevent you from going through the brick wall, but you can influence the condition of your health at the brick wall.

This essay by Ugo Bardi shows that our standard of living is totally dependent on non-renewable resources that emit carbon. If we continue with monetary strategies to maintain business as usual we will experience a brick wall at speed when debt accumulates to a level that makes it ineffective at supporting the extraction of high cost fossil energy, and prior to the crash, we will continue to push the climate from an already unsafe state to something worse.

A wise society would acknowledge its denial of a dire predicament, set a goal to maximize well-being at the brick wall, and step on the brake to manage a fair and civil contraction of the economy via population reduction, austerity, and conservation.

Decoupling looks like an obvious idea, isn’t it? After all, isn’t that true that we are becoming more efficient? Think of a modern LED light compared with an old lamp powered by a whale oil. We are now hundreds of times more efficient than we were and we also saved the whales (but, wait, did we…..?). So, if we can do the same things with much less energy, then we could grow the economy without using more energy, solving the climate problem and also the depletion problem. It is part of the concept of “dematerialization” of the economy. Then we paint everything in green and all will be well in the best of worlds.
But there has to be something wrong with this idea, because it is just not happening, at least at the global scale. Just take a look at the above image.
In the end, society needs energy to function and the idea that we can do more with less with the help of better technologies seems to be just an illusion. If we reduce energy consumption, we’ll most likely enter a phase of economic decline. Which might not be a bad thing if we were able to manage it well. Maybe. Calling this “a challenge” seems to be a true euphemism, if ever there was one. But, who knows? Happy 2018, everybody!

Dam Denial

Site C Dam Contruction aerial.

The Site C dam in my province of British Columbia has been approved and our leaders who approved it are not even aware of the issues they should have weighed in the decision.

The effect of this decision will be to keep our planet destroying population and lifestyles going for a little longer, as other non-renewable energy resources deplete.

I do not know if the dam will be good or bad for climate change, but I suspect bad given the CO2 that will be released building it, and its short (20-30 year) operating life due to the need for diesel to maintain it and the grid.

No consideration was given to the correct policies of population reduction, austerity, and conservation.

Denial is amazing!

By Jacob Freydont-Attie: The Cross of the Moment

TheCrossoftheMoment2016260051JF1U_f

This excellent 2015 documentary is a series of bright minds discussing the human predicament from different insightful perspectives.

Most of the big issues like over-population, fossil energy dependence, climate change, and species extinction are discussed with honesty and an absence of denial.

I particularly like how the director Jacob Freydont-Attie set the ominous tone by opening with a discussion of the Fermi Paradox.

A couple of participants made the common uniformed claim that we can easily continue business as usual without emitting carbon, and no one commented on how odd it is for such an intelligent species to deny it’s predicament, but on balance I think this is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen on human overshoot.

Thanks to GailZ for bringing this to my attention.

Here is some information from the home site:

A deep-green, deep-time, highly cerebral discussion of the environmental crisis, The Cross of the Moment attempts to connect the dots between Fermi’s Paradox, climate change, capitalism, and collapse. Interviews with top scientists and public intellectuals are woven together into a narrative that is challenging, exhausting, and often depressing as it refuses to accept the easy answers posited by other overly-simplistic climate change documentaries. No fancy graphics or distracting introductions detract from what is essentially an 80 minute constructed conversation among a group of highly informed experts on the most important topic in human history; will our species survive catastrophic climate change?

The film is divided into seven chapters that start from the widest perspective, why do we appear to be alone in the galaxy, and slowly narrows its focuses through a series of topics including Rare Earth Theory, human impact on the biosphere, potential solutions, structural barriers to implementation, the possibility of the collapse of civilization, and a final call for immediate engagement at all levels of society.

Interviewees are Don Brownlee, Roger Carasso, Robin Hanson, Mark Jacobson, Derrick Jensen, David Klein, Bill McKibben, Guy McPherson, Bill Patzert, Gary Snyder, Jill Stein, Peter Ward, and Josh Willis. Some of these are household names, other are more obscure scientists working in academia or for government institutions such as NASA. What they all share is a pressing concern for the future of our planet. Certainly more demanding on its audience than similar films, there is also present here a layer of humor and, more importantly, a deep sense of humanity. By the end the audience has not just explored our current crisis from a variety of thoughtful perspectives, but also become acquainted with these highly original intellectuals as people seeking truth as we all are.

The film takes its title from a stanza of W. H. Auden’s poem The Age of Anxiety, published in 1947.

 

By Bjørn Lomborg: On Renewables

Lomborg gets it right until the punchline in which he neglects to mention that we need to either repeal the laws of physics and chemistry, or reduce our population and consumption.

Denial is amazing.

We need to get real on renewables. Only if green energy becomes much cheaper – and that requires lots of green R&D – will a renewables transition be possible.

 

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No, renewables are not taking over the world anytime soon.

We have spent the last two centuries getting off renewables because they were mostly weak, costly and unreliable. Half a century ago, in 1966, the world got 15.6% of its energy from renewables. Today (2016) we still get less of our energy at 13.8%.

With our concern for global warming, we are ramping up the use of renewables. The mainstream reporting lets you believe that renewables are just about to power the entire world. But this is flatly wrong.

The new World Energy Outlook report from the International Energy Agency shows how much renewables will increase over the next quarter century, to 2040. In its New Policies Scenario, which rather optimistically expects all nations to live up to their Paris climate promise, it sees the percentage increase less than 6 percentage points from 13.8% to 19.4%. More realistically, the increase will be 2 percentage points to 15.8%.

Most of the renewables are not solar PV and wind. Today, almost 10 percentage points come from the world’s oldest fuel: wood. Hydropower provides another 2.5 percentage points and all other renewables provide just 1.6 percentage points, of which solar PV and wind provide 0.8 percentage points.

Neither will most renewables in 2040 come from solar PV and wind, as breathless reporting tends to make you believe. 10 percentage points will come from wood. Hydropower provides another 3 percentage points and all other renewables provide 6 percentage points, of which solar PV and wind will (very optimistically) provide 3.7 percentage points.

Oh, and to achieve this 3.7 % of energy from solar PV and wind, you and I and the rest of the world will pay – according to the IEA – a total of $3.6 trillion in subsidies from 2017-2040 to support these uncompetitive energy sources. (Of course, if they were competitive, they wouldn’t need subsidies, and then they will be most welcome.)

Most people tend to think about electricity for renewables, but the world uses plenty of energy that is not electricity (heat, transport, manufacture and industrial processes).

Actually, if the world miraculously could make the *entire* global electricity sector 100% green without emitting a single ton of greenhouse gasses, we would have solved just a third of the total global greenhouse gas problem.

As Al Gore’s climate adviser, Jim Hansen, put it bluntly: “Suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and [the] Tooth Fairy.”

We need to get real on renewables. Only if green energy becomes much cheaper – and that requires lots of green R&D – will a renewables transition be possible.

Data for graph: “A brief history of energy” by Roger Fouquet, International Handbook of the Economics of Energy 2009; IEA data DOI: 10.1787/enestats-data-en, and World Energy Outlook 2017, unfortunately not free, https://www.iea.org/weo2017/

Hansen quote: http://www.columbia.edu/…/mail…/2011/20110729_BabyLauren.pdf

The world emitted 49Gt CO₂e in 2014, and all electricity/heat came to 15Gt or less than a third, http://cait.wri.org/profile/World.

 

By Tim Morgan: Death of a High-Fashion Model (aka Sustainable Development)

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https://surplusenergyeconomics.wordpress.com/2017/11/20/113-death-of-a-high-fashion-model/

Tim Morgan proves here that sustainable development is a myth, and that economic growth is incompatible with addressing climate change. This means that all of our international climate change agreements are pure nonsense and nothing more than vehicles to help us deny reality.

Nate Hagens, another person I respect, states this reality as: There is no green, without lean.

Morgan also suspects our extreme use of debt to create growth will crash the system and thus prevent CO2 from climbing to catastrophic levels. My understanding of the science is that CO2 is already at a level incompatible with civilization, but I agree a crash will make the future less bad, assuming we don’t go to war fighting over the remaining energy scraps.

 

Between 2001 and 2016, recorded GDP grew by 65%, adding $47tn to output. Over the same period, however, and measured in constant 2016 PPP dollars, debt increased by $135tn (108%), meaning that each $1 of recorded growth came at a cost of $2.85 in net new borrowing.

This relationship between borrowing and growth makes it eminently reasonable to conclude that much of the apparent “growth” has, in reality, been nothing more substantial than the spending of borrowed money. Put another way, we have been boosting “today” by plundering “tomorrow”, hardly an encouraging practice for anyone convinced by “sustainable development” (or, for that matter, sustainable anything).

 

As we have seen, then, the very strong likelihood is that real growth in global economic output over fifteen years has been less than 1.6% annually, slower than growth either in energy consumption (2.2%) or in CO² emissions (2.1%). In compound terms, growth in underlying GDP seems to have been about 26% between 2001 and 2016, appreciably less than increases in either energy consumption (+40%) or emissions (+37%).

At this point, some readers might think this conclusion counter-intuitive – after all, if technological change has boosted efficiency, shouldn’t we be using less energy per dollar of activity, not more?

There is, in fact, a perfectly logical explanation for this process. Essentially, the economy is fuelled, not by energy in the aggregate, but by surplus energy. Whenever energy is accessed, some energy is always consumed in the access process. This is expressed here as ECoE (the energy cost of energy), a percentage of the gross quantity of energy accessed. The critical point is that ECoE is on a rising trajectory. Indeed, the rate of increase in the energy cost of energy has been rising exponentially.

 

As we have seen, a claimed rate of economic growth (between 2001 and 2016) that is higher (65%) than the rate at which CO² emissions have expanded (37%) has been used to “prove” increasing efficiency. It is entirely upon these claims that the viability of “sustainable development” is based.

But, as we have also seen, reported growth has been spurious, the product of unsustainable credit manipulation, and the unwinding of provision for the future. Real growth, adjusted to exclude this manipulation, is estimated by SEEDS at 26% over that period. Crucially, that is less than the 37% rate at which CO² emissions have grown.

On this basis, a claimed 17% “improvement” in the amount of CO² per dollar of output reverses into a deterioration. Far from improving, the relationship between CO² and economic output worsened by 9% between 2001 and 2016. In parallel with this, the amount of energy required for each dollar of output increased by 11% over the same period.

 

In short, if growth continues, rising ECoEs dictate that both energy needs, and associated emissions of CO², will grow at rates exceeding that of economic output.

We are back where many have argued that we have been all along. The pursuit of growth seems to be incompatible with averting potentially irreversible climate change.

There is a nasty sting-in-the-tail here, too. The ECoE of oil supplies is rising particularly markedly, and there seems a very real danger that this will force an increased reliance on coal, a significantly dirtier fuel. A recent study by the China University of Petroleum predicted exactly such a trend in China, already the world’s biggest producer of CO². As domestic oil supply peaks and then declines because of higher ECoEs, the study postulates a rapid increase in coal consumption to feed the country’s voracious need for energy. This process is most unlikely to be confined to China.

 

The central contention here is that the case for “sustainable development” is fatally flawed, because the divergence between gross and net energy needs is more than offsetting progress in greening our energy mix and combatting emissions of harmful gases. “Sustainable development” is a laudable aim, but may simply not be achievable within the laws of physics as they govern energy supply.

If this interpretation is correct, it means that growth in the global economy can be pursued only at grave climate risk. A (slightly) more comforting interpretation might that the super-heated rate of borrowing, and the seemingly disastrous rate at which pension capability is being destroyed, might well crash the system before our obsession with ‘growth at all costs’ can inflict irreparable damage to the environment.”

By James Hansen: Scientific Reticence

Here is the latest (draft) paper from James Hansen, the world’s best climate scientist.

In summary, the situation is much worse than you’re being led to believe.

We argue that global warming of 2°C, or even 1.5°C, is dangerous, because these levels are far above Holocene temperatures and even warmer than best estimates for the Eemian, when sea level reached 6-9 meters (20-30 feet) higher than today. Earth’s history shows that sea level adjusts to changes in global temperature. We conclude that eventual sea level rise of several meters could be locked in, if rapid emission reductions do not begin soon, and could occur within 50-150 years with the extraordinary climate forcing of continued “business-as-usual” fossil fuel emissions.

The 2 C goal set by our governments is not an appropriate goal because it is clearly dangerous, and despite this, we are almost certainly not going to achieve the goal.

It’s not like we tried and failed. We’ve done nothing except talk and deny the science.

Hansen laments here that even scientists are denying the science.

Where are the adults?

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http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2017/20171026_ScientificReticence.pdf

 

video review: Crude: The Incredible Journey of Oil by Richard Smith

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I’ve watched a lot of good documentaries but this one produced in 2007 by Richard Smith for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is among the very best.

http://www.abc.net.au/science/crude/resources/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1551617/

Usually, the more important a non-fiction work is, the more scientific disciplines the author integrates into a coherent story. In this case, Richard Smith does a remarkable job of weaving geology, chemistry, biology, thermodynamics, climate, history, and economics into a fascinating story that follows a carbon atom as it moves about the planet over the last 200 million years.

I often marvel at, and wonder how we were blessed with such a large quantity of crude oil which we have used to build an amazing civilization. This documentary does a very nice job of explaining how crude oil was formed 160 million years ago on a hot greenhouse planet with near dead and toxic oceans. The photosynthetic bacteria that converted CO2 and sunlight into the carbohydrates that later became crude oil acted to remove CO2 from the atmosphere thus cooling the planet and returning it to a healthy environment for complex oxygen breathing life like ourselves.

Humans are now reversing this process by burning fossil carbon and returning the CO2 to the atmosphere which may return the planet to an environment incompatible with civilization. Unless, ironically, we run out of oil first, which will also cause our civilization to collapse.

What’s different this time is that humans are doing in a hundred years what took geology thousands or millions of years in the past. This speed makes the outcome more difficult to predict but common sense suggests it’s unlikely to be good.

Given that 10 years have elapsed since the documentary was produced it’s a credit to Richard Smith that it’s still relevant and accurate, although it’s a concern to see how far we have unraveled in 10 years with melting poles, record temperatures, stalled economic growth, zero interest rates, money printing, failing oil companies, and global social unrest.

It’s also a concern, but expected in light of Varki’s theory on denial, that we collectively have not yet acknowledged our predicament, let alone taken any steps to make the future less bad.

Highly recommended!

If you’d like a higher quality version than what’s available on YouTube it has been recently ripped in HD and available as a torrent here.