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Michael Klare: The Third Carbon Age – Drop the Fantasy of a Coming Era of Renewable Energy

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Yves here. To put none too fine a point on it, the most important steps to reduce carbon emissions would be a Marshall plan level effort to reconfigure living and resourcing arrangements so as to reduce energy demands, and to go particularly aggressively after the worst polluters (for instance, the cars you see spewing fumes, are surprisingly large contributors to total emissions from automobiles). But it’s much easier to go the Easter Island route and keep carrying on more or less as before until you hit insurmountable constraints.

By Michael T. Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author of The Race for What’s Left. Originally published in TomDispatch.

When it comes to energy and economics in the climate-change era, nothing is what it seems. Most of us believe (or want to believe) that the second carbon era, the Age of Oil, will soon be superseded by the Age of Renewables, just as oil had long since superseded the Age of Coal. President Obama offered exactly this vision in a much-praised June address on climate change. True, fossil fuels will be needed a little bit longer, he indicated, but soon enough they will be overtaken by renewable forms of energy.

Many other experts share this view, assuring us that increased reliance on “clean” natural gas combined with expanded investments in wind and solar power will permit a smooth transition to a green energy future in which humanity will no longer be pouring carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. All this sounds promising indeed. There is only one fly in the ointment: it is not, in fact, the path we are presently headed down. The energy industry is not investing in any significant way in renewables. Instead, it is pouring its historic profits into new fossil-fuel projects, mainly involving the exploitation of what are called “unconventional” oil and gas reserves.

The result is indisputable: humanity is not entering a period that will be dominated by renewables. Instead, it is pioneering the third great carbon era, the Age of Unconventional Oil and Gas.

That we are embarking on a new carbon era is increasingly evident and should unnerve us all. Hydro-fracking — the use of high-pressure water columns to shatter underground shale formations and liberate the oil and natural gas supplies trapped within them — is being undertaken in ever more regions of the United States and in a growing number of foreign countries. In the meantime, the exploitation of carbon-dirty heavy oil and tar sands formations is accelerating in Canada, Venezuela, and elsewhere.

It’s true that ever more wind farms and solar arrays are being built, but here’s the kicker: investment in unconventional fossil-fuel extraction and distribution is now expected to outpace spending on renewables by a ratio of at least three-to-one in the decades ahead.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), an inter-governmental research organization based in Paris, cumulative worldwide investment in new fossil-fuel extraction and processing will total an estimated $22.87 trillion between 2012 and 2035, while investment in renewables, hydropower, and nuclear energy will amount to only $7.32 trillion. In these years, investment in oil alone, at an estimated $10.32 trillion, is expected to exceed spending on wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels, hydro, nuclear, and every other form of renewable energy combined.

In addition, as the IEA explains, an ever-increasing share of that staggering investment in fossil fuels will be devoted to unconventional forms of oil and gas: Canadian tar sands, Venezuelan extra-heavy crude, shale oil and gas, Arctic and deep-offshore energy deposits, and other hydrocarbons derived from previously inaccessible reserves of energy. The explanation for this is simple enough. The world’s supply of conventional oil and gas — fuels derived from easily accessible reservoirs and requiring a minimum of processing — is rapidly disappearing. With global demand for fossil fuels expected to rise by 26% between now and 2035, more and more of the world’s energy supply will have to be provided by unconventional fuels.

In such a world, one thing is guaranteed: global carbon emissions will soar far beyond our current worst-case assumptions, meaning intense heat waves will become commonplace and our few remaining wilderness areas will be eviscerated. Planet Earth will be a far — possibly unimaginably — harsher and more blistering place. In that light, it’s worth exploring in greater depth just how we ended up in such a predicament, one carbon age at a time.

The First Carbon Era

The first carbon era began in the late eighteenth century, with the introduction of coal-powered steam engines and their widespread application to all manner of industrial enterprises. Initially used to power textile mills and industrial plants, coal was also employed in transportation (steam-powered ships and railroads), mining, and the large-scale production of iron. Indeed, what we now call the Industrial Revolution was largely comprised of the widening application of coal and steam power to productive activities. Eventually, coal would also be used to generate electricity, a field in which it remains dominant today.

This was the era in which vast armies of hard-pressed workers built continent-spanning railroads and mammoth textile mills as factory towns proliferated and cities grew. It was the era, above all, of the expansion of the British Empire. For a time, Great Britain was the biggest producer and consumer of coal, the world’s leading manufacturer, its top industrial innovator, and its dominant power — and all of these attributes were inextricably connected. By mastering the technology of coal, a small island off the coast of Europe was able to accumulate vast wealth, develop the world’s most advanced weaponry, and control the global sea-lanes.

The same coal technology that gave Britain such global advantages also brought great misery in its wake. As noted by energy analyst Paul Roberts in The End of Oil, the coal then being consumed in England was of the brown lignite variety, “chock full of sulfur and other impurities.” When burned, “it produced an acrid, choking smoke that stung the eyes and lungs and blackened walls and clothes.” By the end of the nineteenth century, the air in London and other coal-powered cities was so polluted that “trees died, marble facades dissolved, and respiratory ailments became epidemic.”

For Great Britain and other early industrial powers, the substitution of oil and gas for coal was a godsend, allowing improved air quality, the restoration of cities, and a reduction in respiratory ailments. In many parts of the world, of course, the Age of Coal is not over. In China and India, among other places, coal remains the principal source of energy, condemning their cities and populations to a twenty-first-century version of nineteenth-century London and Manchester.

The Second Carbon Era

The Age of Oil got its start in 1859 when commercial production began in western Pennsylvania, but only truly took off after World War II, with the explosive growth of automobile ownership. Before 1940, oil played an important role in illumination and lubrication, among other applications, but remained subordinate to coal; after the war, oil became the world’s principal source of energy. From 10 million barrels per day in 1950, global consumption soared to 77 million in 2000, a half-century bacchanalia of fossil fuel burning.

Driving the global ascendancy of petroleum was its close association with the internal combustion engine (ICE). Due to oil’s superior portability and energy intensity (that is, the amount of energy it releases per unit of volume), it makes the ideal fuel for mobile, versatile ICEs. Just as coal rose to prominence by fueling steam engines, so oil came to prominence by fueling the world’s growing fleets of cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships. Today, petroleum supplies about 97% of all energy used in transportation worldwide.

Oil’s prominence was also assured by its growing utilization in agriculture and warfare. In a relatively short period of time, oil-powered tractors and other agricultural machines replaced animals as the primary source of power on farms around the world. A similar transition occurred on the modern battlefield, with oil-powered tanks and planes replacing the cavalry as the main source of offensive power.

These were the years of mass automobile ownership, continent-spanning highways, endless suburbs, giant malls, cheap flights, mechanized agriculture, artificial fibers, and — above all else — the global expansion of American power. Because the United States possessed mammoth reserves of oil, was the first to master the technology of oil extraction and refining, and the most successful at utilizing petroleum in transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, and war, it emerged as the richest and most powerful country of the twenty-first century, a saga told with great relish by energy historian Daniel Yergin in The Prize. Thanks to the technology of oil, the U.S. was able to accumulate staggering levels of wealth, deploy armies and military bases to every continent, and control the global air and sea-lanes — extending its power to every corner of the planet.

However, just as Britain experienced negative consequences from its excessive reliance on coal, so the United States — and the rest of the world — has suffered in various ways from its reliance on oil. To ensure the safety of its overseas sources of supply, Washington has established tortuous relationships with foreign oil suppliers and has fought several costly, debilitating wars in the Persian Gulf region, a sordid history I recount in Blood and Oil. Overreliance on motor vehicles for personal and commercial transportation has left the country ill-equipped to deal with periodic supply disruptions and price spikes. Most of all, the vast increase in oil consumption — here and elsewhere — has produced a corresponding increase in carbon dioxide emissions, accelerating planetary warming (a process begun during the first carbon era) and exposing the country to the ever more devastating effects of climate change.

The Age of Unconventional Oil and Gas

The explosive growth of automotive and aviation travel, the suburbanization of significant parts of the planet, the mechanization of agriculture and warfare, the global supremacy of the United States, and the onset of climate change: these were the hallmarks of the exploitation of conventional petroleum. At present, most of the world’s oil is still obtained from a few hundred giant onshore fields in Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and Venezuela, among other countries; some additional oil is acquired from offshore fields in the North Sea, the Gulf of Guinea, and the Gulf of Mexico. This oil comes out of the ground in liquid form and requires relatively little processing before being refined into commercial fuels.

But such conventional oil is disappearing. According to the IEA, the major fields that currently provide the lion’s share of global petroleum will lose two-thirds of their production over the next 25 years, with their net output plunging from 68 million barrels per day in 2009 to a mere 26 million barrels in 2035. The IEA assures us that new oil will be found to replace those lost supplies, but most of this will be of an unconventional nature. In the coming decades, unconventional oils will account for a growing share of the global petroleum inventory, eventually becoming our main source of supply.

The same is true for natural gas, the second most important source of world energy. The global supply of conventional gas, like conventional oil, is shrinking, and we are becoming increasingly dependent on unconventional sources of supply — especially from the Arctic, the deep oceans, and shale rock via hydraulic fracturing.

In certain ways, unconventional hydrocarbons are akin to conventional fuels. Both are largely composed of hydrogen and carbon, and can be burned to produce heat and energy. But in time the differences between them will make an ever-greater difference to us. Unconventional fuels — especially heavy oils and tar sands — tend to possess a higher proportion of carbon to hydrogen than conventional oil, and so release more carbon dioxide when burned. Arctic and deep-offshore oil require more energy to extract, and so produce higher carbon emissions in their very production.

“Many new breeds of petroleum fuels are nothing like conventional oil,” Deborah Gordon, a specialist on the topic at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote in 2012. “Unconventional oils tend to be heavy, complex, carbon laden, and locked up deep in the earth, tightly trapped between or bound to sand, tar, and rock.”

By far the most worrisome consequence of the distinctive nature of unconventional fuels is their extreme impact on the environment. Because they are often characterized by higher ratios of carbon to hydrogen, and generally require more energy to extract and be converted into usable materials, they produce more carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy released. In addition, the process that produces shale gas, hailed as a “clean” fossil fuel, is believed by many scientists to cause widespread releases of methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas.

All of this means that, as the consumption of fossil fuels grows, increasing, not decreasing, amounts of CO2 and methane will be released into the atmosphere and, instead of slowing, global warming will speed up.

And here’s another problem associated with the third carbon age: the production of unconventional oil and gas turns out to require vast amounts of water — for fracking operations, to extract tar sands and extra-heavy oil, and to facilitate the transport and refining of such fuels. This is producing a growing threat of water contamination, especially in areas of intense fracking and tar sands production, along with competition over access to water supplies among drillers, farmers, municipal water authorities, and others. As climate change intensifies, drought will become the norm in many areas and so this competition will only grow fiercer.

Along with these and other environmental impacts, the transition from conventional to unconventional fuels will have economic and geopolitical consequences hard to fully assess at this moment. As a start, the exploitation of unconventional oil and gas reserves from previously inaccessible regions involves the introduction of novel production technologies, including deep-sea and Arctic drilling, hydro-fracking, and tar-sands upgrading. One result has been a shakeup in the global energy industry, with the emergence of innovative companies possessing the skills and determination to exploit the new unconventional resources — much as occurred during the early years of the petroleum era when new firms arose to exploit the world’s oil reserves.

This has been especially evident in the development of shale oil and gas. In many cases, the breakthrough technologies in this field were devised and deployed by smaller, risk-taking firms like Cabot Oil and Gas, Devon Energy Corporation, Mitchell Energy and Development Corporation, and XTO Energy. These and similar companies pioneered the use of hydro-fracking to extract oil and gas from shale formations in Arkansas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas, and later sparked a stampede by larger energy firms to obtain stakes of their own in these areas. To augment those stakes, the giant firms are gobbling up many of the smaller and mid-sized ones. Among the most conspicuous takeovers was ExxonMobil’s 2009 purchase of XTO for $41 billion.

That deal highlights an especially worrisome feature of this new era: the deployment of massive funds by giant energy firms and their financial backers to acquire stakes in the production of unconventional forms of oil and gas — in amounts far exceeding comparable investments in either conventional hydrocarbons or renewable energy. It’s clear that, for these companies, unconventional energy is the next big thing and, as among the most profitable firms in history, they are prepared to spend astronomical sums to ensure that they continue to be so. If this means investment in renewable energy is shortchanged, so be it. “Without a concerted policymaking effort” to favor the development of renewables, Carnegie’s Gordon warns, future investments in the energy field “will likely continue to flow disproportionately toward unconventional oil.”

In other words, there will be an increasingly entrenched institutional bias among energy firms, banks, lending agencies, and governments toward next-generation fossil-fuel production, only increasing the difficulty of establishing national and international curbs on carbon emissions. This is evident, for example, in the Obama administration’s undiminished support for deep-offshore drilling and shale gas development, despite its purported commitment to reduce carbon emissions. It is likewise evident in the growing international interest in the development of shale and heavy-oil reserves, even as fresh investment in green energy is being cut back.

As in the environmental and economic fields, the transition from conventional to unconventional oil and gas will have a substantial, if still largely undefined, impact on political and military affairs.

U.S. and Canadian companies are playing a decisive role in the development of many of the vital new unconventional fossil-fuel technologies; in addition, some of the world’s largest unconventional oil and gas reserves are located in North America. The effect of this is to bolster U.S. global power at the expense of rival energy producers like Russia and Venezuela, which face rising competition from North American companies, and energy-importing states like China and India, which lack the resources and technology to produce unconventional fuels.

At the same time, Washington appears more inclined to counter the rise of China by seeking to dominate the global sea lanes and bolster its military ties with regional allies like Australia, India, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea. Many factors are contributing to this strategic shift, but from their statements it is clear enough that top American officials see it as stemming in significant part from America’s growing self-sufficiency in energy production and its early mastery of the latest production technologies.

“America’s new energy posture allows us to engage [the world] from a position of greater strength,” National Security Advisor Tom Donilon asserted in an April speech at Columbia University. “Increasing U.S. energy supplies act as a cushion that helps reduce our vulnerability to global supply disruptions [and] affords us a stronger hand in pursuing and implementing our international security goals.”

For the time being, the U.S. leaders can afford to boast of their “stronger hand” in world affairs, as no other country possesses the capabilities to exploit unconventional resources on such a large scale. By seeking to extract geopolitical benefits from a growing world reliance on such fuels, however, Washington inevitably invites countermoves of various sorts. Rival powers, fearful and resentful of its geopolitical assertiveness, will bolster their capacity to resist American power — a trend already evident in China’s accelerating naval and missile buildup.

At the same time, other states will seek to develop their own capacity to exploit unconventional resources in what might be considered a fossil-fuels version of an arms race. This will require considerable effort, but such resources are widely distributed across the planet and in time other major producers of unconventional fuels are bound to emerge, challenging America’s advantage in this realm (even as they increase the staying power and global destructiveness of the third age of carbon). Sooner or later, much of international relations will revolve around these issues.

Surviving the Third Carbon Era

Barring unforeseen shifts in global policies and behavior, the world will become increasingly dependent on the exploitation of unconventional energy. This, in turn, means an increase in the buildup of greenhouse gases with little possibility of averting the onset of catastrophic climate effects. Yes, we will also witness progress in the development and installation of renewable forms of energy, but these will play a subordinate role to the development of unconventional oil and gas.

Life in the third carbon era will not be without its benefits. Those who rely on fossil fuels for transportation, heating, and the like can perhaps take comfort from the fact that oil and natural gas will not run out soon, as was predicted by many energy analysts in the early years of this century. Banks, the energy corporations, and other economic interests will undoubtedly amass staggering profits from the explosive expansion of the unconventional oil business and global increases in the consumption of these fuels. But most of us won’t be rewarded. Quite the opposite. Instead, we’ll experience the discomfort and suffering accompanying the heating of the planet, the scarcity of contested water supplies in many regions, and the evisceration of the natural landscape.

What can be done to cut short the third carbon era and avert the worst of these outcomes? Calling for greater investment in green energy is essential but insufficient at a moment when the powers that be are emphasizing the development of unconventional fuels. Campaigning for curbs on carbon emissions is necessary, but will undoubtedly prove problematic, given an increasingly deeply embedded institutional bias toward unconventional energy.

Needed, in addition to such efforts, is a drive to expose the distinctiveness and the dangers of unconventional energy and to demonize those who choose to invest in these fuels rather than their green alternatives. Some efforts of this sort are already underway, including student-initiated campaigns to persuade or compel college and university trustees to divest from any investments in fossil-fuel companies. These, however, still fall short of a systemic drive to identify and resist those responsible for our growing reliance on unconventional fuels.

For all President Obama’s talk of a green technology revolution, we remain deeply entrenched in a world dominated by fossil fuels, with the only true revolution now underway involving the shift from one class of such fuels to another. Without a doubt, this is a formula for global catastrophe. To survive this era, humanity must become much smarter about this new kind of energy and then take the steps necessary to compress the third carbon era and hasten in the Age of Renewables before we burn ourselves off this planet.

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76 comments

  1. XO

    e·ra
    /ˈi(ə)rə/
    Noun
    A long and distinct period of history with a particular feature or characteristic.
    ______________

    I don’t know if we will be around long enough to have an “era” based on unconventional fossil fuels.

    1. Stelios Theoharidis

      Regarding fracking. I think the spur of big players into that market came partially as a result of medium sized firms getting over-leveraged and poor returns on natural gas prices due to overproduction and weather (warming duh). Fracking firms got hit pretty badly, they produced quite a bit of natural gas, but many overplayed their hands. That cold winter is unlikely to present itself to push natural gas prices back up any time soon. So the natural gas went to energy production pushing down those prices (hitting alternatives negatively) also meaning our coal is going to export. If long term gas production of wells falls off precipitously much of the industry may tank. It doesn’t seem like it is in the best position as is. There are quite a few that would suggest that it is just like subprime.
      http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-big-fracking-bubble-the-scam-behind-the-gas-boom-20120301

      As always I am probably late to this conversation. I think that the fundamental moral dilema for humanity in this century is that of consumerism/consumption and its impacts across the planet. We have become largely detached from its consequences but they are considerable. Unfortunately I believe that ordinary humans demonstrate fitness through conspicuous consumption as a proxy for genetic traits. It is the very means by which we seem to demonstrate fitness that is the largest threat to our collective survival as well as that of many species of plants and animals on earth.

      However, I think that there are a number of public mechanisms by which we could restore our planet and invest in efficiency and renewable energy. A variety of taxes (tobin, carbon, etc) could be utilized to provide guarantee or subsidized interest rates on loans for means-tested renewable energy or efficiency projects that would potentially put us on a pathway towards decoupling from our carbon economy. Just renewable energy project finance, wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and efficiency projects all have reasonable ROIs that could be spurred forward without to much effort. Make the funding revolving and you have an expanding pool of money earmarked for carbon decoupling. Start to charge energy production firms for their externalities and level the playing field.

      Its not a failure of imagination. Its not any real logical failure. The solutions are all set before us. We just have a deep rooted failure within our political system and entrenched interests.

  2. Alex Hanin

    “Needed, in addition to such efforts, is a drive to expose the distinctiveness and the dangers of unconventional energy and to demonize those who choose to invest in these fuels rather than their green alternatives.”

    Alarmist! If we don’t do it, the Chinese will!

    That’s the state of the debate in 2013.

  3. kimyo

    driving around ct this weekend, i saw leaves beginning to turn. nyc may have had ‘record’ power usage this summer, sure. but not a single day this summer saw temps higher than 100F in central park. in both 1993 and 1997 there were 3 days over 100F in central park, in 1966, there were 4. those were heat waves. it’s august 9th and accuweather is asking ‘will summer return in the northeast?’
    http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/will-summer-come-back/16233182

    if you value clean water, you’re probably anti-fracking. carbon doesn’t enter into it. so what if keystone is ‘carbon neutral’. the problem isn’t carbon, it’s pipeline ruptures which poison residential communities (and, of course the massive amounts of energy and water required to process the tar sands). monbiot tells us nukes are back on the table, because ‘carbon’, in spite of fukushima leaking 300 tons of poisoned water into the pacific each and every day for 2+ years now.

    the climate models deserve the same scrutiny/skepticism you’d give krugman’s economic models. why is the solution always a carbon tax and never conservation?

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/interview-hans-von-storch-on-problems-with-climate-change-models-a-906721.html

    Climate experts have long predicted that temperatures would rise in parallel with greenhouse gas emissions. But, for 15 years, they haven’t. In a SPIEGEL interview, meteorologist Hans von Storch discusses how this “puzzle” might force scientists to alter what could be “fundamentally wrong” models.

    SPIEGEL: Just since the turn of the millennium, humanity has emitted another 400 billion metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, yet temperatures haven’t risen in nearly 15 years. What can explain this?

    Storch: So far, no one has been able to provide a compelling answer to why climate change seems to be taking a break. We’re facing a puzzle. Recent CO2 emissions have actually risen even more steeply than we feared. As a result, according to most climate models, we should have seen temperatures rise by around 0.25 degrees Celsius (0.45 degrees Fahrenheit) over the past 10 years. That hasn’t happened. In fact, the increase over the last 15 years was just 0.06 degrees Celsius (0.11 degrees Fahrenheit) — a value very close to zero.

    SPIEGEL: What could be wrong with the models?

    Storch: There are two conceivable explanations — and neither is very pleasant for us. The first possibility is that less global warming is occurring than expected because greenhouse gases, especially CO2, have less of an effect than we have assumed. This wouldn’t mean that there is no man-made greenhouse effect, but simply that our effect on climate events is not as great as we have believed. The other possibility is that, in our simulations, we have underestimated how much the climate fluctuates owing to natural causes.

    1. myshkin

      Over the past fifty years global temperature rise has been a fairly consistent .15 per decade. The years from 2000 to 2012 comprise most of the 14 hottest years ever recorded.

      Accelerating sea ice melt and glacier melt in Greenland and the arctic suggest air temperature is indeed rising. It may be rising at a reduced rate over a specific short time frame from high end expectations but it is rising. Short term cycles, El Nino and La Nina may also present variables that alter the temperature gains or losses over a decade or so.

      Deep ocean warming, not only warming surface temperatures may be absorbing significant amounts of greenhouse effect heat from the atmosphere that will eventually provide an accelerator to climate warming as well as likely adverse effects to marine life.

      1. from Mexico

        Storch is not an AGW denier. Far from it.

        His criticism is that some climate scientists, which he calls “alarmists,” have not been as rigorous in their science as they should. Instead the alarmists tend to sensationalize and oversell climate change, making errors which will come back to haunt climate scientists, prove helpful to the AGW deniers, and damage the credibility of climate scientists.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_von_Storch

        Of course the AGW deniers are not on a quest for truth, but are waging a campaign which relies on errors and manipulaiton of rhetoric and logical thinking. They will jump on any sort of self-criticism such as that engaged in by Storch as a sign of weakness, and twist it to their purposes.

        1. myshkin

          “Storch is not an AGW denier. Far from it. ”

          Nowhere is Storch called an AGW. Merely presenting another set of data from a vast array that can be cherry picked to make the case for whatever weather pattern one prefers.

          Indeed they are, “Waging a campaign which relies on errors and manipulaiton.” Yet when one encounters the climate change skeptics in light of the now annual summer melts in the arctic, with lakes this year covering the ice pack, the albedo effect, the likely imminent ‘earth burps’ of methane gas as the permafrost thaws and using and endangering precious water resources to frack more carbon fuels at a point when water and aquifer depletion is likely to be one of the prime agents of planetary collapse, it should be understood that the propaganda pumped and spewed by the oil companies and politicians who serve them, enter the realm of crimes against humanity and are not just debating points. Not that it will likely matter much.

        2. allcoppedout

          One of Storch’s major complaints was about the peer review system not working. It doesn’t generally. Mexico and I would be more welcome at journals with a Marxist pedigree than,let’s say the Academy of Management. There are cliques at nearly all social science publications and science has not been beyond this or cheating either.

          Way beyond this are questions on whether peer review really takes place at all. The biologist in me deeply suspects that humanities and social science argument has it at all and my first venture in applied biology was at first rejected because eminent authorities had already proved me wrong. It was all about dog whelks ‘teeth’ and pollution. My data won out after some persistence. The two profs concerned were gracious enough to visit my beach. Such courtesy was never offered in my much longer time in management research.

          Biologically and culturally, we are equipped to win individual arguments – come and try on my estate with some decent facts and try it out in the pub or on the doorstep – you won’t ‘win’. Surely we super-educated are better? Not in my experience.

          I don’t know of any genuine public scrutiny for economics or climate science. There is no forum despite advanced electronic means – most electronic journals replicate the manual system. Mainstream media can barely deal with man bites dog stories.

          Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests that the function of reasoning should be rethought. Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade. Reasoning so conceived is adaptive given the exceptional dependence of humans on communication and their vulnerability to misinformation. A wide range of evidence in the psychology of reasoning and decision making can be reinterpreted and better explained in the light of this hypothesis. Poor performance in standard reasoning tasks is explained by the lack of argumentative context. When the same problems are placed in a proper argumentative setting, people turn out to be skilled arguers. Skilled arguers, however, are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views. This explains the notorious confirmation bias. This bias is apparent not only when people are actually arguing but also when they are reasoning proactively from the perspective of having to defend their opinions. Reasoning so motivated can distort evaluations and attitudes and allow erroneous beliefs to persist. Proactively used reasoning also favors decisions that are easy to justify but not necessarily better. In all these instances traditionally described as failures or flaws, reasoning does exactly what can be expected of an argumentative device: Look for arguments that support a given conclusion, and, ceteris paribus, favor conclusions for which arguments can be found.

          http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1698090

          Imagine putting climate science papers and economics to this critical sword (oops! surely technique). We could do experiments something like this, but who would dare to be gladiator under this pressure?

          Most people don’t like being told their ability to argue with facts and in awareness of alternative viewpoints is rubbish – but it is. Most of us think austerity is useless and contradictory in terms of making people (always the poor) poorer to grow economies – but none of us are ever in sustained situations aimed at exposing the wrong arguments, assumptions being used and so on with ‘the enemy’. We can publish in journals or books to make our case – but this hardly leaves us on an equal footing with the opposition.

          I don’t have exact specs for an argumentative theory informed forum, but even I can bury most of mainstream media avatars rolled out on climate change and economics as ideologues eliding most evidence in a few minutes.

          Storch is concerned too little peer review leads to chinese whispers that feed chronic sheeple prejudice. I think he is right but has it wrong if he believes the problem is at journal level.

          1. myshkin

            I’m not sure where you’e going with all that, except perhaps the depths of despair. I live in Washingotn DC and I can no longer stomach the so called issue and policy debates and the accepted boundaries that circumscribe them. I think of Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge as I read your description of the state of the discourse. I also recall the qoute, “You are entitled to your opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts.”-DP Moynihan.

            We have arrived at a moment where the human project entails tinkering with global systems, possibly on a profoundly disruptive scale. We have also arrived at a place, as you note, that information can be parsed by reasoned debate to a point devoid of meaning, instilling a paralysis on our judgement to act at a time when it may be catastrophic not to.

            What is the source for all this closely calculated reasoning? The academy has been corrupted at many levels, even the nature of education, (job training for corporations or critical thinking) by gifts of money that buy chairs, research etc.

            The oil companies have tens of trillions of dollars of reserves still in the ground and have decided to construct an edifice of disinformation to allow them to continue their destructive work, despite a range of externalities that have been undermining the health and welfare of the general population for decades on many fronts.

            They intend to extract these hydrocarbons despite the accumulating evidence of a resulting massive global unpheaval. They are deeply implicated in this criminal enterprise and the cover up and apparently are entitled to their own facts.

        1. Dan in KC

          If that was sarcasm – hahaha.

          If not, that comment (which I realize is Steven Goddard’s) is simply bull hockey.

          First off – while the eye is not good for accurate area measurements I can still look at the same pictures and clearly see that the ‘area’ of the colored portions of the picture is less in 2013 than it was in 1995 (if you want a quick way to note the same simply look to the sea immediately to the East of Greenland but the width of the black, i.e. ice free, and the land is larger in more regions around the arctic than it is diminished).

          Secondly – the color scheme is intended to show percentage of sea ice cover where colors trending toward purple indicate greater ice coverage percentage. The 2013 shows much (MUCH) less dark purple areas.

          Thirdly (though indirectly shown via the colorization) ice Volume (i.e area x thickness) is not shown in those pictures. There are numerous studies that clearly show that ice thickness today is much less than it was in 1995.

            1. skippy

              Mass is the variable in question… not area covered and globally (like land locked or sea/ocean).

              skippy… total world wide…. shezzz

            2. Dan in KC

              First you want to reference back to 1995 to say the ice coverage is the same and when I point out that the data you reference does NOT support that claim you then shift the discussion to a difference in ice coverage relative to last year.

              Last year this date had one of the lowest (if not THE lowest) ice coverage in the arctic on record (even lower than the prior record from 2007). The ‘fact’ you site is intended to imply that arctic ice will be increase at a record pace whereas all that data reflects is typical year-to-year variability. What matters is the trend line, not the ‘noise’.

              A better site for data is at nsidc.org (http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/). This year at this date is still nearly 2 standard deviations below the long term average for 1981 to 2010.

    2. jrs

      Meanwhile NASA says the Arctic is “unrecognizable”. How about that, but hey it’s cold in Conneticut. Yea, I know debating AGW deniers, feeding trolls …

  4. Pelham

    I wonder whether the real “commodity” in question here is scarcity. It’s much easier and more profitable to extract rent from controlling scarce resources than it is to make a profit by providing goods and services.

    As long as we remain on fossil fuels, they will be scarce and controllable by the powers that be. And, in a win-win for these powers, they’ll be creating a new scarcity in the form of potable water in a world made hotter and drier by the global warming produced by the burning of their hydrocarbons.

    Of course, they’ll be selling us the scarce water. See T. Boone Pickens plan to control the water table in the Texas panhandle.

    1. Art Eclectic

      Exactly. The infrastructure is all in place for continued reliance on fossil fuels, and the owners of that infrastrucure want to keep collecting rents on it for as long as possible. Couple that with the basic human resistance to change and you’ve got a long, long time before we switch over to renewables.

      Doesn’t mean that the switch needs to happen or that it won’t happen, it just means that the timeline is still pretty far out.

      Until gas is $8 a gallon and energy bills have doubled, not much is going to change.

      1. steve from virginia

        Show me some American who does not want a car or has one and does not want to use it. It isn’t the rentiers that are driving the process but the rentiers’ customers.

        Watch the gas stations dry up for more than a few days and you will see why Federal agencies have bought billions of rounds of ammunition, this country will go bananas.

  5. Hugh

    This post is in keeping with a comment I made yesterday in the “Obama’s Own Party Wages War on Energy Plans”.

    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/08/obamas-own-party-wages-war-on-energy-plans.html#comment-1322587

    What is left out here though is the realization that the dirtier, more dangerous energy in our future is being driven by kleptocracy. It is a form of looting. Produce the energy, sell it at a high price, and dump all the externalities on to the rest of us: climate change, polluted water, wars, empire, and devastated environments.

    1. charles sereno

      What’s in a word? “Kleptocracy” is not a thing, anymore than “disease” is, which it resembles. My caution is not to wrap your useful observations in a semantic target which invites easy attacks. EG, Hugh is an “ideologue.”

      1. Hugh

        Show me a better or more useful analysis and I will use it. Political and economic issues can not be coherently addressed without reference to the kleptocratic perspective. It is rather like discussing fuel shortages or increased injuries and deaths among military personnel in 1943 without bringing up the Second World War.

        If there is anything that the rich and elites are not looting, the question is how did they miss it? In the article, we have policies pursued by the rich and elites, the supposedly “best and most knowledgeable” among us, which just so happen to benefit their short term interests even though they could result in the death and immisceration of billions of us over the course of the century. Risking the label of “ideologue” somehow seems a small price to pay for pointing this out.

        1. charles sereno

          My point is that useful analysis can be undertaken more effectively without an encumbering, all-encompassing “perspective.” WW II was a conflict over a brief period of time. Its very occurrence begs for explanation much as our present dire situation. The notion of “kleptocracy,” government by thieves, is descriptive (alas) but not explanatory. The analyses that account for that particular result are critical, and god forbid that they show kleptocracy to be inevitable. I don’t believe that to be so. I think we’re made of better stuff and, with the help of thinkers like you, we can promote change. Real change will come when injustice is perceived as a common cause by the 99%. Just calling the rulers thieves is not enough. Anticipating F. Beard, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” (contested Biblical source) I don’t agree, in principle.

          1. allcoppedout

            I like the term kleptocracy. I believe it shifts us into thinking about why so few own so much and insist on taking economic rent from work already done in ways that haircut our future work on an exponential basis. Their position is historically stolen (land grants by kings, payments to slave owners etc.) and in much more massive sense by the opportunity cost of what might have been without them.

    2. susan the other

      Maintaining a high price for oil, imo, is why we went to war. Not scarcity. Our oil producers need to keep the price high so they can make a profit. I think the Saudis are going along with this by advancing their own propaganda that their oil is running out fast, that the US unconventional oil is cutting into their profits, etc. I don’t think that stuff is true. Why are all those tankers full of oil just sitting around everywhere? The recession blew a hole in demand the size of Texas. And it hasn’t turned around yet. If the demand and price for oil collapse (if they can’t pretend it hasn’t collapsed) then the entire economy, based on oil, collapses. But fake scarcity is just another ponzi scheme isn’t it? The age of capitalism gives way to the age of Ponzism. And environmental collapse.

        1. allcoppedout

          All sources report a 1 – 1.4 billion barrel increase next year. Saving in profligate use in advanced economies is simply picked up elsewhere.

  6. Brooklin Bridge

    It’s much the same thing as rich vs. poor. For those who benefit from the way our system is specifically made for a small segment of society, it’s easy to argue that there is no causal relation between giving 90% of the wealth to 10% of the population. Their lives and lifestyles depend on the notion that you are not making 90% of the people poor; you are simply generating wealth for the 10% that would otherwise not be there.

    So it’s quite understandable we would fall into the same pattern of abuse to manage our energy needs. Pretty much what ever energy and resources (material, political, capital) you spend on fossil fuel and nuclear, you will loose that same amount to the development of renewables.

    1. Larry Barber

      Fusion power is at least 20 years away, and always will be, just as it always has been.

      1. BD MacIsaac

        Actually, you’re being too kind in your estimate. More like 30-40 years before fusion like the ITER reactor design is up to commercial operation (10:1 output:input energy ratio).

        Watch Fast Track to Fusion video/pdf from the guy who ran CERN (Chris Llewellyn Smith; http://accelconf.web.cern.ch/accelconf/e04/TALKS/FRYBCH01.PDF) for years to get an “old” update (2004) of what’s going on with “hot” fusion (versus the illusion of “cold” fusion since that was mockingly brought up).

        “Hot” fusion is real, there’s enough experimental evidence just with the old Tokamak reactor designs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokamak) used in labs throughout the world to demonstrate the theory is sound (as if the Stars in the night sky weren’t enough), however there’s still the enormous engineering, materials science, and plasma physics problems that need to be worked out. Nothing a few billion a year in funding wouldn’t solve over time, but wasting money on spying, illegal drone attacks and unjustified (read as criminal) wars in Iraq, Afghanstan, and soon to be Iran at the trillion dollar price tag is so much more politically correct.

        God forbid we invest in something that could offer virtually clean (no carbon emissions; low radioactivity which decays rapidly), and uses an inexhaustible fuel supply that would with government subsidies, over time, provide close to free energy for the world. At that point the water scarcity brought up in the “blue gold” comments becomes moot; de-salination is a low cost operation with fusion power doing the work for us.

        BTW Thingumbob, you were, are, and will be correct.

        Cheers NCs.

        1. drexciya

          I totally agree with you. It’s depressing to see enormous amounts of money (and don’t forget about technical/scientific talent) being wasted on military gadgets, while something like fusion power can get much further along with a fraction of the costs.

  7. mf

    this is what happens when you drive into the ground the only real alternative to fossil fuels, which is nuclear power. If every accident is taken as a reason to explode into hysterics, attempt to frighten the population and litigate to death, rather than an opportunity to force modernization, you end up with no alternatives.

    1. Massinissa

      Oh for gods sake, if modernization means creating more Fukushima accidents, id rather not modernize. You folks never learn.

      And anyway, Nuclear Energy only produces small amounts of energy considering how damn high the energy inputs are in the first place.

    2. jrs

      But we can’t force modernization, not in a crony capitalist plutocracy. Is it really any more possible to have truly responsible nuclear power even if such a thing were *technically* possible, in a society that wont’ enforce responsibility, than to just have a Manhatten project for renewables? I don’t think so. Therefore: shoot for the sun (and the wind!).

  8. Orin Thurgood

    Dear Micheal, You obviously are not too clued up about technology. There is nothing from a technology standpoint preventing all sorts of “renewables” (be it solar, wind, water, electromagnetic, “cold fusion”, etc) from completing eliminating the world’s dependency on oil, gas, nuclear, etc except the desire of a small group of people who make alot of money from the present paradigm, their efforts along with governments to suppress these technologies (can you say national interest?) and the clueless like yourself who know so little about what is actually going on in the energy space, it’s actually a bit shocking that you dare to write about it.

    The number of times that a new invention from a company or inventor has been heralded that has then been shelved because either, the inventor suddenly dies, or the company just pulls the product, etc. Just recently, there was a report on Reuters about a company in Japan, Genepax that produced a car running on water. They even showed a running car in the report. Amazingly they have been shut down with no explanation. Wake up. How stupid can you be!!!

  9. from Mexico

    Michael Klare said:

    U.S. and Canadian companies are playing a decisive role in the development of many of the vital new unconventional fossil-fuel technologies; in addition, some of the world’s largest unconventional oil and gas reserves are located in North America. The effect of this is to bolster U.S. global power at the expense of rival energy producers like Russia and Venezuela, which face rising competition from North American companies, and energy-importing states like China and India, which lack the resources and technology to produce unconventional fuels.

    At the same time, Washington appears more inclined to counter the rise of China by seeking to dominate the global sea lanes and bolster its military ties with regional allies like Australia, India, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea. Many factors are contributing to this strategic shift, but from their statements it is clear enough that top American officials see it as stemming in significant part from America’s growing self-sufficiency in energy production and its early mastery of the latest production technologies.

    Wow! Klare sure buys into the American exceptionalism Kool-Aid.

    Granted, The Age of Unconventional Oil and Gas is being driven in part by technological advances. But mostly it is being driven by the rise of the price of oil from $15 a barrel to over $100 a barrel over a very short period of time. It is financial muscle being flexed, not technological muscle or “mastery of the latest production technologies.” Hydraulic fracking technology has been around for over 60 years. What is new is $75+ oil, which makes the large frack jobs of poor quality reservoirs economically feasible, a condition which does not exist with $15 oil. And the huge advances in directional drilling technology were not perfected in the US, but in Saudi Arabia by the state-owned oil company, Saudi ARAMCO. And the best way to describe ARAMCO’s engineering and technical team is certainly not “American,” but international. If anywhere there is a mongrel enterprise, it is Saudi ARAMCO.

    What the US is up to geopolitically is this: the use of state violence for the purpose of conquest and plunder. This should not be papered over, or confused, with some false claim of technological or moral superiority.

    1. charles sereno

      “What the US is up to geopolitically is this: the use of state violence for the purpose of conquest and plunder. This should not be papered over, or confused, with some false claim of technological or moral superiority.”
      “Wow! Klare sure buys into the American exceptionalism Kool-Aid.”
      These are your quotes (although in reverse order). Regarding the first quote, technological superiority is not a false claim no matter how misguidedly you hope that it might be. Moral superiority, however, is a false claim arising from American exceptionalism. In the second quote, you accuse Klare of this error (American exceptionalism) with no substantial evidence. You need to explain yourself.

      1. from Mexico

        charles sereno says:

        Regarding the first quote, technological superiority is not a false claim no matter how misguidedly you hope that it might be.

        You know, charles sereno, you really shouldn’t try to bullshit someone who is a petroleum engineer and who actually knows a little bit about that which they speak.

        Saudi ARAMCO has been on the leading edge of the development of directional drilling technology for years, and played an indispensable role in developing most of the technology which was later deployed in the US, as this article published by the Society of Petroleum Engineers makes clear:

        Directionally drilling the 8-1/2″ hole section in specific areas of Saudi Arabia is particularly challenging due to a complex stratigraphic section that consists of soft, dense limestone and anhydrite with tough bands of hard stringers. Historically, roller cone bits with tungsten carbide inserts (TCI) have dominated the 8-1/2″ application due to proficient steerability and ability to consistently achieve the required build rates in the soft limestone. However, multiple runs are required to finish the entire section. Conversely, Polycrystalline Diamond Compact (PDC) technology increased ROP but lacked consistency due to fluctuations in reactive torque that resulted in poor tool face control and inconsistent build-up rates relative to roller cone bits.

        Saudi Aramco determined to efficiently drill the section in one run and meet performance and directional requirements would require new PDC technology. To address this challenge, Saudi Aramco and a service company organized an integrated cross-functional team composed of engineers from both companies to aggressively seek new steerable PDC technology to drill the curved section with controllable torque response and consistent directional behavior while achieving the full penetration rate advantages of PDC bits.

        The team analyzed the drilling operation from virtually every perspective using numerical models, laboratory drilling tests, and field testing. The key to the PDC solution was the team process that identified the relevant drilling problems and performance requirements in order to develop the needed technology.

        The team identified that poor tool face control in the soft limestone and cutter damage due to vibration problems were the primary obstacles in achieving performance goals. The solution was a PDC design with a new steerable concept that provided exceptional tool face control without sacrificing ROP in addition to improved stability and new cutter technology for prolonged bit life.

        After 15 bit runs, the team reduced drilling cost by $17.55 per foot for a total savings of $857,476 over 48,871 ft and 1880.5 drilling hours. The average ROP for the section increased from 22.47 ft/hr with standard PDC bits to 26 ft/hr with the new PDC technology. The current ROP record stands at 42.02 ft/hr with the single run record footage standing at 6,229 ft.

        http://www.onepetro.org/mslib/servlet/onepetropreview?id=00085325

        And it doesn’t stop there. Whenever one talks new developments in petroleum technology, in whatever area, Saudi ARAMCO is on the cutting edge, including

        • Computing Capacity

        • Maximizing Ultimate Recovery

        • Smart Well and Intelligent Fields

        • POWERS

        • Intelligent Engineering Drawings

        • Very Small Aperture Terminals

        • Batch Drilling

        • Geosteering

        • Under-Balanced Drilling

        • 3-D Visualization

        1. charles sereno

          I appreciate your response with respect to a focused point of disagreement. You seem to claim that the “Saudi ARAMCO” view (bolstered by ample text), if not the received view, is the true one. Am I unfair?

    2. Crazy Horse

      “Shale is a pipe dream sold to greater fools”

      Peddlers of the American Energy Independence Fracking Religion remind me of Jim Jones, the charismatic leader who brought us Jonestown: Fracking fluid is merely another form of environmental KoolAid laced with cyanide, and the idea that the idea that the USA is going to satisfy its energy appetite from petrochemicals released by fracking is pure delusion. If you don’t want to drink from the fountain of illusion, I suggest this counter-article.

      http://theautomaticearth.com/Energy/shale-is-a-pipedream-sold-to-greater-fools.html

  10. docg

    “Calling for greater investment in green energy is essential but insufficient at a moment when the powers that be are emphasizing the development of unconventional fuels. Campaigning for curbs on carbon emissions is necessary, but will undoubtedly prove problematic, given an increasingly deeply embedded institutional bias toward unconventional energy.”

    It would be great if only it were simply a matter of corporate greed and institutional bias. But it’s not.

    “Any attempt to slow global warming by imposing economic restrictions is sure to have devastating effects, not only on the economies of emerging industrial nations such as China and India, but the poorest of the poor in every part of the world. And in the face of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the effects on many working and middle class families may also be dire. If global warming can be characterized as a man-made disaster, ill informed and panicky attempts to reverse it can be seen as part of the same depressing trend, founded in human arrogance, hubris and sheer pig-headed ignorance. If nothing else, the recent ethanol farce should give us pause before we embark on yet another, possibly far more costly, folly.” [from http://amoleintheground.blogspot.com/2009/05/climate-change-some-inconvenient-truths.html

    Sure enough, we’ve been hearing recently from well meaning environmentalists that nuclear energy is the only reasonable alternative to fossil fuels. I could see that one coming as I watched Al Gore in action on the big screen several years ago. “Oh no, that’s not what he’s calling for,” said my liberal friends. “Doesn’t matter,” said I.

    Even in the wake of Fukushima, environmentalists are now urging us to promote nuclear energy, conveniently forgetting that a single nuclear disaster could cause far more harm in an instant than global warming could in a hundred years.

    Global warming is certainly an important concern, but hysterical calls for “greedy corporations” to stop producing fossil fuels is NOT the answer. Because at the moment there is simply no cost effective, safe alternative.
    THIS is the “inconvenient truth” we need to live with — and learn to adapt to.

    And by the way, even if we could stop carbon emissions in their tracks tomorrow, the out of control population explosion the world is now facing will in itself have devastating effects in years to come. Now THAT is something we CAN control, as the Chinese have demonstrated. And that imo is where our attention should be focused.

    1. from Mexico

      docg says:

      Global warming is certainly an important concern, but hysterical calls for “greedy corporations” to stop producing fossil fuels is NOT the answer. Because at the moment there is simply no cost effective, safe alternative.
      THIS is the “inconvenient truth” we need to live with — and learn to adapt to.

      TINA, as Lambert so often says.

  11. Yancey Ward

    It is depressing reading these threads. There is only nuclear to displace fossil fuels in the next 100 years. Solar and wind will play a larger role, but they won’t displace fossil fuels in the next century, and likely never.

    Count on this, outside a complete collapse of civilization, energy production on the planet will be 3-5 times higher a century from now, and we will be burning fossil fuels for over half of it unless we start using nuclear (fission or fusion) on a larger scale.

    All these conspiracy theories about how the fossil fuel industry has the world in its grip and are suppressing the renewables are simply hilarious. Fossil fuels are used because they are economical on scale in ways the so-called renewables are not. It is all well and fine to assert that this is due to the fossil fuels’ externalities not being accounted for, but the fact is that these externalities aren’t easy to account for in the first place. Too many people have unjustified certainty about what those externalities are, and this is what is causing their political problems.

    1. Massinissa

      The thing is, Nuclear isnt profitable either (Name one nuclear plant that is profitable without extensive government support? Oh, there are none). So why you think Nuclear will succeed any better than other sources, when it too is not profitable within a capitalist system, is slightly beyond my comprehension.

      Modern Capitalism simply wont allow any other source, because no other source is as cheap as fossil fuels, and that includes nuclear.

      1. ScentOfViolets

        I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you’re one of those Nuclear is Bad types ;-) I’m also guessing you don’t know (or don’t care) how badly you damage your credibility with factoids like this one.

      2. Yancey Ward

        Massinissa,

        You may well be right, in which case we are stuck with fossil fuels until their market costs rise enough to make nuclear economically feasible, which may well be another century based on current trends.

      3. Crazy Horse

        Tunnel vision comes in many different forms. Anti-nuclear tunnel vision that classifies all possible forms of nuclear power production as being identical to the engineering nightmares that use high pressure water and uranium is but one of them.

        I suggest you study the history of how and why the GE/ Fukushima design was chosen for most of the world’s nuclear power plants.

        http://thoriumsingapore.com/content/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=49&Itemid=58

        1. docg

          After Chernobyl, we were assured that this was old technology and the new nuclear plants were safe. Now we have Fukushima, and again we are expected to swallow the exact same line.

          Nuclear power IS expensive. And it IS, potentially, extremely dangerous. Not to mention the ongoing problems of 1. disposal of nuclear waste and 2. possible terrorist sabotage or theft of nuclear materials.

          Sorry, but given the options, I’ll take fossil fuels any time. Of course, alternative, sustainable methods must also be developed and refined, and since there will be little incentive for “the market” to promote such R & D, the only option is government funding. If you want to lobby for something, lobby for that. And good luck!

        2. jrs

          Will these new designs be human error proof? And by human error I mean regulatory capture, cost cutting, short sightedness, cover-ups, focus on the bottom line and corporate profits first, basically everything that went on with Fukushima? Because if they depend to any degree on corporations having social responsibility and caring about the basic ethics of trashing the world and poisoning the people, all while they are granted very limiited liability indeed, then we’re screwed.

          1. Crazy Horse

            In order to have something be human error proof you have to eliminate the humans.

            On the other hand it is quite feasible to design a molten salt reactor that automatically goes into cold storage for perpetuity even if another human never visits it again. And produces 5% the waste volume of current reactor designs, most with half life under 300 years.

            Is burning all the wood from the remaining forests to cook the evening meals of an overpopulated world error free? Ask the Easter Islanders.

    2. A Real Black Person

      “Count on this, outside a complete collapse of civilization, energy production on the planet will be 3-5 times higher a century from now, and we will be burning fossil fuels for over half of it”

      What is hilarious and delusional if not criminally deceptive, is your assertion that there we can increase our energy use three to five times sustainability and that half of that energy increase will be made up with fossil fuels.
      There aren’t enough economic reserves of fossil fuels to meet your lofty scenario.
      There will be deposits of fossil fuels that will never be extracted at any price because they will require more energy to extract them and refine them, then they will produce in net energy. If it takes one barrel of oil to take on barrel of oil out of the ground, it stays in the ground because there is no net gain from extracting it.
      Sure, we could use coal to power machinery to remove really unconventional (unconventional translates readily to low quality ) oil but not for too long. A lot of the coal that is left is of lower quality and has lower energy content.

      1. Yancey Ward

        I didn’t claim it was sustainable on fossil fuels, but there are certainly enough fossil fuels to burn in the next century in this scenario. When they run out, then we will use nuclear, fission or fusion. What we won’t do is depend mostly on wind and solar.

        1. A Real Black Person

          There are not enough economically recoverable fossil fuels deposits to burn in the next century in any realistic scenario. Whoever told you that there is over a century’s worth of fossil fuels that can be recovered economically was lying to you.

  12. A Real Black Person

    Someone has noted that economic growth is the process of turning biomass into human mass. What happens when global warming and fossil fuel depletion make it impossible for this process to continue?

    If intact and self-sustaining ecosystems aren’t important, why aren’t poor countries meeting all their food needs with isolated molecules like this guy? http://www.triplepundit.com/2013/07/soylent-the-future-of-

    Why don’t we have colonies on Mars?

  13. susan the other

    Just thinking about ocean level rise. 4 meters will drown every big city on the coast worldwide. That’s gonna be a tad expensive. It’ll require a big industrial effort, using lots of oil, to mitigate. And if nothing can be done to rescue those cities, then giving them up and moving inland will be even more expensive. Won’t all the natural ports be gone too? So new ports will have to literally be excavated? According to previous reports, when the Atlantic ocean warms up and the gulf stream stops circulating, Europe will be exposed to some serious cold weather blowing down from the Arctic. So most of their big cities will be flooded (except Paris and a few) and they’ll get clocked with ice and snow as well. But hey, we’ll still have our cars and lots of gas to tool around.

    1. susan the other

      But wait! I just read @ cold fusion on the Links. OilPrice. Assuming the best – that cold fusion does not cause global warming or other weird side effects – then I’m gonna buy an electric car as soon as I move to a cold-fusion grid. Love it that the entire world is working on this breakthrough.

  14. Banger

    There is no such thing as economics, energy policy, culture outside the overall category of politics. Our pattern of energy use and exploration/exploitation is purely political. Because the USG controls the ME, the Sea Lanes and unconventional carbon fuel technology, it and its clients control the world politically. This is why Europe always bends to U.S. power with increasing alacrity.

    We could move away from carbon fuels, in my view, relatively easily mainly through using energy efficiency, IT, and engineering techniques but this will not and cannot happen without, essentially, overthrowing the current regime.

    We have to plan for a future that is likely to be miserable. And though we know this where is the opposition? It, as a dynamic political force, simply does not exist. We have to face this fact and what it means.

  15. John Cummings

    A lot of that “shale” will be gone by 2020. There is no “3rd age”.

    The price is going to rocket in the 2020′s in another orgy. There last dying hope is polar regions will be warm enough to drill and hope there is a liquid $$$$$$$$$ or the cost will rise enough that other forms of energy to survive a little longer.

  16. steve from virginia

    We are in a jam because, like children, we want what we want and don’t care about consequences.

    Our economic system is a way to rationalize what we want even though getting it does not make economic sense … even by the standards of the system we ourselves crafted.

    We invent our profits and lie about costs, we manipulate markets when they don’t do as we please; when consequences become unavoidable we cheat and cheat some more, rob the hapless and reinforce failures … now that resources are becoming scarce and expensive there are all sorts of smart-appearing people with fraudulent or ‘unscientific’ sales-pitches. So it is with renewable energy which is almost entirely dependent upon the availability of high-order fossil fuels.

    The only solutions are actually current dynamics underway right now, carried forward. Countries are going broke and cannot afford fuel or cars, this is conservation by other means. The solution is then to conserve voluntarily, making choices to protect the vulnerable instead of letting events take their destructive course. This is the strategy for the Southern Europeans: to choose their citizens over their automobiles instead of always the other way around.

    Countries are engulfed with wars and their petroleum consumption becomes exportable to other nations. The solution is to do without and turn away from war so the gain is in the lives and goods not destroyed for no reason.

    Countries are seeing their birthrates decline, the solution is to amplify this dynamic by way of policy as the alternative — let slip the apocalyptic horsemen — is too difficult and stupid to bear.

    Klare seems to give too little weight to the ability of fuel users to pay: they have been bankrupted by decades of waste .. of $20 petroleum. How many decades will +$100 petroleum allow for?

    Not too many.

    1. Crazy Horse

      Right you are Steve,
      This is the “solution” that will actually play out. Not some Manhattan project to remake society based on a rational energy policy and sources, however technically feasible that might be. That would require wisdom and compassion, not Economic Man.

  17. F. Beard

    Just how many root causes for our problems can there be? And now the bankers have you attacking the molecule of Life? Carbon? What’s next? Oxygen?

    And just which God is it that commands you to fret over the thermostat? Instead of say, a money system that drives people into debt for usury and which thus requires never ending exponential growth just so the interest can be paid?

    Progressives? Could they stay on track even if they were railroad cars?

    Airplanes, to protect themselves when under attack, eject flares and chaff to decoy missiles. Do you think bankers are any less crafty?

    Why not tell the bankers instead, “Ho hum, why the heck should we care if we die, YOU have a lot more to lose than we do. Now about that universal bailout you’ re not supporting …”

  18. WorldisMorphing

    [...the Age of Oil, will soon be superseded by the Age of Renewables, just as oil had long since superseded the Age of Coal. President Obama offered exactly this vision in a much-praised June address on climate change. True, fossil fuels will be needed a little bit longer, he indicated, but soon enough they will be overtaken by renewable forms of energy.

    Many other experts share this view, assuring us that increased reliance on “clean” natural gas combined with expanded investments in wind and solar power will permit a smooth transition to a green energy future in which humanity will no longer be pouring carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.]

    #1. I think the time has come to survey the whole international body of scientist and engineers on this question. Of course, one has to keep an open mind, since, as in any field, majority is not indicative of truth, but at best, an informed clue as where it probably lies. Although, things would be interesting if it were a 50-50, 60-40 or even a 30-70 split…

    #2. I am under the impression that EVEN IF we can avoid a chaotic collapse, the change involved can absolutely not be called a “Energy Transition” or “Green Technology Revolution”; as what is implied and called for is, squarely, a System wide transition\revolution.

    Personally, I would call it “The Great Contortion”. As for ‘smoothness’, I would retort with a question: Do you think things are “smooth” now ?

  19. allcoppedout

    We think something carried on an invading rat did for Easter Islanders, despite Jared Diamond’s compelling story. I think we should go for a Marshall Plan on energy – to go green in 10 years utilizing labour projects to get rid of unemployment and transparent accounting technology that would level the price of such energy between green and fossil/nuclear for the project duration.

    The problem is less that we can’t do this or cope with inevitable cheating and klepto-rents, and more what success would mean to current financial services. We have something like the tragedy of the Commons here as a model. There are solutions that could include what we would do for countries sitting on the resources).

    Most wars over oil have been fought to control the supply routes and keep prices way above production costs (Mitchell’s book ‘Carbon Democracy’). What seems beyond us is any productive (and green) system because of low rates of return and the ‘need’ for return on capital invested as a control. We have a massive example of a doomed ‘bullet train to a mate’s farm’ – the financial system itself which stripped of its forced use as a utility, produces nothing but economic rent constraint on future work.

  20. allcoppedout

    I had mates working on JET (UK/EU fusion) who promised over a drink in the lovely Machine Man that fusion was a few spanner turns away – 1985. Now the work is in France costing $22 billion and 2015 is the date from the prototype to demonstrate economic production, but it’s running late. Recent hype is we are imitating the sun’s processes, but I’d guess we are going for higher temperatures and less pressure. Various star-in-jar and palladium anode cold fusion experiments are underway (first I remember was in Nature around 1949). Various ’192 laser’ experiments are also in action.
    Tritium is usually a primer in hot fusion and that’s a product of fission reactors at the moment and also a likely product of cold fusion – and used in bombs.

    I don’t know enough of the science to doubt it. I do know enough economics to know it is no basis for a modern world.

    1. BD MacIsaac

      “I don’t know enough of the science to doubt it. I do know enough economics to know it is no basis for a modern world.”

      I do know a bit about the science (21 years of research at a national lab) and you shouldn’t doubt the tritium fusion research becoming commercially viable in the decades to come (cold fusion yes; there’s no limit to being skeptical about the physics EVER working). It’s really just a matter of time and funding (the latter has been why you are probably thinking that none of them will ever come to see the light of day). I know the the former two [time/funding] is pandora’s box to mention, but neither are completely at a zero scale so progress will continue to be made. Good ideas are being pursued.

      I agree with you regarding it [hot fusion replacing oil] as no longer being the basis for an economy like oil has been the basis of for the last century and a half. Energy production (as a pricey commodity) will basically be taken out of their [economists] psuedo-scientific exponential growth equations once inexpensive (read efficient) fusion power is achieved (reference Steve Keens on this and his scientific based economic model that incorporates thermodynamics/physics – a key understanding that the neoliberals miss entirely in their “theories” of an infinite planet which they can plunder; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Keen). A main fusion energy source would naturally be combined with other green energy technologies like solar once its efficiency (think materials being improved upon as well as design), along with industrial scale storage capacities (capacitor farms / cleaner batteries) to buffer the load/usage problems we currently are challenged by; and of course the others (like wind in a minority due to scale issues) to shift the balance of power (pun intended) toward renewable energies. The grid is being upgraded as we speak. It’s the transportation infrastructure I’m worried about.

      The economy at least short-term (those that need development more so than conversion) during the aformentioned comment’s “contortion” period will be the morphing of the infrastructure(s) especially in transportation (e.g. the piston-combustion engine has GOT TO GO for this “era” to be ushered in; electric vehicles/charging stations etc.). That will create some jobs not to mention huge lifestyle changes especially if like computing power efficiency (think Moore’s law rates) has an analog in the energy industry (even if it’s to a less logarithmic degree than Moore’s it would still really help the poor/middle class’ budgets out by freeing up take home dollars from the currently disgusting and highly prohibitive costs for electricity and fuels; especially in Europe/Asia).

      I think we’re at the one of several crossroads that will force the world to make the changes necessary that will allow for the usurping of oil/coal/fission (filthy energy sources from start to finish) so they can be gradually phased out as the primary sources of energy in all industries and also in domestic usage. I shifted my thinking this way about ten years ago since peak oil no longer is considered fringe vocabulary (just 20 years ago the peak oil “alarmists” were considered nuts). That, to me, kind of makes this half of the century a Copernican revolution moment or at least a pivot point to start going down another more sane environmentally friendly path for civilization; not to mention the reality that there’s no other choice to make at some point since the black gold WILL BE gone.

      1. BD MacIsaac

        Even if we can’t get the corrupt politicians to regulate the financial industry from monopolizing our classic commodities (food/energy/water), we can at least hope that the “not a basis for an economy” future energy industry and its associated technology can (and will) supply energy in such abundance and efficiency (think oversupply coupled with same or relative reduced demand for energy and its effect on price) will free us from the “greed is good” oligarchy. Energy has always been the crux of the power structure in modern times (e.g. food production limiter, ability to war, etc.). The current set of oligarchs who have so much invested in their current oil god and the economy it creates aren’t ready to transition yet to the permanent replacement of an energy Sun God.

        Not to digress, but those of you “non-tekkies” out there that have more of a political-economic-social science background should do some reading by Michio Kaku and don’t laugh, but Isaac Asimov and his prophecies from science fiction that are now reality. There are other writers too (e.g. HG Wells, Jules Verne, Arthur C Clarke) regarding energy type civilizations and technologies that these prophets discussed in their era that have come to fruition in our current computing age; ideas that are on very long time scales, but nonetheless come into being. The Kurzweil camp (futurists) are still a bit out there and as far as I can tell, don’t have the same prophetic touch as the aforementioned authors, but anyway it’s hope for progress in such stagnating times as we’re currently living in due to the financial industries corruption and fraud combined with our politicians corruption and polarized ineptness (the left-right false paradigm/arguments) that distorts our present views regarding the future (i.e. depresses them). The gradually progressing energy revolution is not science fiction I assure you (go tour a university or national lab to see the Star Trek worlds that I have worked in).

        1. A Real Black Person

          You have lost all credibility by using science fiction to make the case for the increasing pace of scientific innovation . I doubt that you have worked in any true Star Trek worlds, because warp drive violates the laws of thermodynamics.

          You’re in the The Kurzweil camp as far as I’m concerned.

  21. Declan

    I recommend to anyone interested in this topic that they peruse the BP Statistical Review of World Energy (free, just google it).

    Anyway, it tracks usage of various fuels over the past couple of decades and when you look at that time period, the dominant change in global energy use is that China uses a heck of a lot more coal now then they did 20 years ago.

    That’s pretty much it when it comes to major changes, there’s nothing else that’s happened anywhere in any fuel in the past two decades that’s anywhere close to that scale of impact.

    Minor trends are:

    1) The decline in energy consumption in the developed world since oil prices shot up in 2005-2008 and 5-10% of the workforce was fired and told to stay home and consume nothing rather than going to work.

    2) Declines in the production of nuclear power, especially since the latest catastrophe

    3) Rising use of renewable power.

    Recent increases in North American ‘unconventional ‘ sources have happened, but are still pretty small potatoes on a global scale.

    One thing not mentioned in this post is that what matters most is the *net* energy produced. If we are now stuck developing energy sources where it takes 1/2 a barrel of oil to produce each new barrel, whereas before we just had to stick a pipe in the ground and oil flowed out, then just keeping global production levels constant would mean that the energy available for our use was being cut in half.

    1. BD MacIsaac

      “what matters most is the *net* energy produced”

      “would mean that the energy available for our use was being cut in half”

      You’ve got it! This is why were at a pivot point, we [the West at least] needs to have taken the step to using almost entirely renewables by around 2050 (the date at which the theoretical downward slope* of production of fossil fuels will achieve a maximum; *using current data). 1999 was King Hubert’s peak oil initial calculation so we’re already past the mid-point. Once we reached the 75% point of the remaining fossil fuels the game is over; full blown crisis.

      I don’t know what your background is but I’d just mention the caveat to be careful trusting BP references for anything. I don’t doubt that their statistical review on current and past energy use is accurate, but given their corrupt culture and extremely unethical CEOs (Tony Hayward, John Browne) and their handling of safety at refineries not to mention the deep water horizon disaster, I’d be very concerned about any projections and/or related information extrapolated from from their data; i.e. their forecasts will/would be very skewed towards fossil fuel consumption since that’s their bread and butter and continued agenda; it’s their infrastructure.

      BTW, just like LA in the post-WWII era (I lived in Orange County for 10 years when I was younger and had my eyes sting everyday until the smog was “cleaned up”), the coal China is using will choke their urban areas (and else where) with that same (if not worse) LA smog along with other environmental pollutants/toxins related to fossil fuel burning. The rates of respiratory illnesses are already significantly on the rise and the visibilities are at all time minimums (this can all be googled in MSM and other online outlets for reference). The same will be true for India and if they go the same route (currently “cheap” non-renewables) to get the std of living up for the rural masses moving into the high energy density urban areas. Note: This all presupposes 7+% GDP growth in those 2 countries which is actually predicted to collapse by many economists in the medium term so there are lots of variables that will effect the non-renewables consumption rates (i.e. future recessions/depressions in these and/or world-wide economy along with integration of new renewables). The latter is why 2050 is just the best guesstimate using current data, but that’s really close when one thinks about it, especially if you’re still young (under 40 say).

  22. A Real Black Person

    You have lost all credibility by using science fiction to make the case for the increasing pace of scientific innovation . I doubt that you have worked in any true Star Trek worlds, because warp drive violates the laws of thermodynamics.

    You’re in the The Kurzweil camp as far as I’m concerned.

    1. BD MacIsaac

      Oh come on now. Be a bit more positive and imaginative about the energy innovation that’s being pursued. NB, do not infer that which I did not imply. And to state that I have lost “all credibility” means that zero, absolutely nothing I referred to had merit (in regards to the sci-fi references) and that unfortunately reveals your thinking as an absolutist (inflexible) to understand the multiple possibilities that are available within the world today and tomorrow. I think you missed my point. I wasn’t writing a treatise, just a quick thought on the more technical than financial subject (of which the former is my professional and academic background).

      FTR, I did not mention any specifics such as warp drive from Star Trek, just the authors (ahead of their times) that have in fact had their embryonic ideas contained in their initial fiction works come to life as non-fiction in our present technological era (examples: nuclear subs/energy (Vernes), space flight and satellite telecommunications (Clarke), internet communications (Asimov), prosthetics/bionics/artifical organs, nanotechnology (Nobel Laureate Feynman lectures from the 50s). The latter the father of QED/QCD and a BIG FAN OF SCI-FI.

      Also, FTR, many of these authors were recruited by NASA and the DOE or by private enterprise as consultants for engineering and technological/scientific innovation. You can do your own research rather than take my word for the latter references. I assure you that their biographies are readily available to reference.

      Also, FTR, nothing was mentioned specifically about warp drive, which to be correct isn’t violating the laws of thermodynamics as much as it violates special relativity (i.e. travelling faster than light), but just by you mentioning this presupposes that worm holes (using exotic negative energy to manipulate them (see Kaku et. al) do not in fact exist. Remember that proving a negative is very, very difficult (http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/socialsciences/ppecorino/phil_of_religion_text/CHAPTER_5_ARGUMENTS_EXPERIENCE/Burden-of-Proof.htm). Also remember that not only the theories of Newton were modified more precisely by Einstein’s theories, but Einstein’s theories regarding quantum theory were modified (i.e. he was proven wrong) by his dis-belief that the universe operates with probabilities at the atomic level. Anyhow, this is how scientific theory works, always in flux, one generation bettering the previous (ideally); hence we have nominal progress being made (at least in the field of science). It’s more complicated than ALL of this, but I wasn’t writing a book to explain the history of science and how it relates to new energy technology. I hope you understand this a little better now.

      Cheers friend.

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