Gaius Publius: New Study – “Natural Gas” Has No Climate Benefit, Will Make Things Worse

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive  here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny

Your methane bridge to nowhere (source)

I’ve seen this report referenced several times, but none of those mentions is getting traction. So time to repeat. The idea that methane, so-called “clean natural gas” or “clean energy,” is a bridge fuel that can make our climate problem better — is a lie.

Not only that, it’s an obvious lie. If you want to eliminate dust and grit, say, from blowing through an open window into your home, you don’t half-close the window that lets it in. You close it all the way. If you want to eliminate all carbon emissions from burning fossil fuel, you don’t start burning a different fossil fuel. You stop burning allfossil fuels, including methane.

That’s just common sense. It makes even more sense when you consider that the Big Oil barons who own the oil companies also own many of the methane companies. Of the ten top drillers of fracked gasin the U.S., the largest by far is:

1. Exxon Mobil

The biggest natural gas producer is also the country’s biggest oil company and one of the most profitable corporations in the world. Exxon has operations in every continent but Antarctica. Its oil and gas operations range across several states, from Pennsylvania to Colorado, and it also has wells in the Gulf of Mexico and off the California coast.

With the purchase of XTO, Exxon produces nearly 50 percent more gas than its closest competitor. Earlier this year, Exxon began running ads touting natural gas as a safe, clean source of domestic energy. About two-thirds of the company’s domestic reserves are now in natural gas, with the rest in oil.

Others on the top ten list include BP, ConocoPhillips and Chevron. So call the promotion of “clean natural gas” a profit protection plan for Big Oil as well.

Do we want Big Oil companies to be profitable? Only if they abandon carbon fuel extraction and go into an entirely different, entirely anodyne business, as makers of party balloons perhaps. Otherwise, they need to die and disappear as companies, the sooner the better.

(I suspect that most people don’t realize this — that if we don’t kill off the fossil fuel companies, they will kill us off. That’s literally true. Exxon and its like really do have to fail and disappear, or be taken down, before anything resembling our smart-phone civilization can survive.)

The Bridge to Nowhere

The common sense wisdom that says “switching to methane fuel won’t help” is backed by data. The latest report is nicely summarized by Joe Romm at ThinkProgress (h/t the smart climate site Faster Than Expected):

Natural gas has no climate benefit and may make things worse
Methane leaks in New Mexico’s oil and gas industry equal 12 coal-fired power plants.

The evidence is overwhelming that natural gas has no net climate benefit in any timescale that matters to humanity.

In fact, a shocking new study concludes that just the methane emissions escaping from New Mexico’s gas and oil industry are “equivalent to the climate impact of approximately 12 coal-fired power plants.” If the goal is to avoid catastrophic levels of warming, a recent report [pdf] by U.K. climate researchers finds “categorically no role” to play for new natural gas production.

Of course, the carbon lords get their say, even at the U.N. Note that the source is the IEA, which represents the prospects for the industry, not for the humans affected:

Sadly, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has just published a “Commentary” on “the environmental case for natural gas,” that ignores or downplays key reasons that greater use of natural gas is bad for the climate.

As the note in the Commentary says, “With concerns about air quality and climate change looming large, natural gas offers many potential benefits if it displaces more polluting fuels.” Directly contradicted by the data, but when there’s money on the table, seems even the U.N. helps its owners bend to pick it up.

The Problem With Methane

Part of the problem is that methane is subject to leaks all along its supply and production chain, and methane, while short-lived in the atmosphere, is incredibly potent as a greenhouse gas.

Atmospheric methane decays to carbon dioxide and water vapor in about 12 years, but note, carbon dioxide is itself a greenhouse gas, and also, prior to decay — that is, when first emitted — methane is more than a hundred times more potent that CO2. Over a 20-year span, the IPCC considers methane to be 84 times power potent than CO2. If we keep refreshing the atmospheric supply of methane, as we’re doing, we renew its global warming power each year, year after year.

In 15 years or less, global temperature will already have surpassed the dangerously generous “two degrees warming” the world is trying to avoid:

“The 2017 emissions data make it crystal clear that urgent and very serious emissions reductions are needed to stop global warming below 2° C, as was unanimously agreed in Paris,” Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said in an email. …

Rahmstorf said there are currently about 600 billion remaining tons of carbon dioxide that can be emitted if the world is to have a good chance of keeping warming considerably below 2 degrees Celsius, and with some 40 billion tons of emissions each year, that leaves just 15 years.

Those fifteen years will shorten every year we keep increasing emissions, as we already know we will in 2017. In 15 years, most of us will still be alive — and the world will be completely different in ways few can imagine.

The second problem with methane is that it doesn’t just replace some coal, it replaces renewable energy sources as well. Call it the magic of the market. Romm:

Indeed, researchers confirmed in 2014 that  —  even if methane leakage were zero percent  — “increased natural gas use for electricity will not substantially reduce US GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions, and by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies, may actually exacerbate the climate change problem in the long term.” Exactly. In fact, a 2016 study found that natural gas and renewables are competing directly with each other to replace coal plants in this country.

Joe Romm’s data comes from a study published in 2014 in the journal Science, which has just been reinforced by a new study (pdf) at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Among its conclusions are these (emphasis added):

By 2035 the substantial use of fossil fuels, including natural gas, within the EU’s energy system will be incompatible with the temperature commitments enshrined in the Paris Agreement.

1) The Paris commitment will be exceeded in under 18 yearsof current greenhouse gas emissions [actually, in 15 years or less according to the latest 2017 emissions data]

2) Non-OECD nations will “fairly” use up to 98% of the 2°C global carbon budget

3) It is highly unlikely that the Paris 1.5°C commitment is a viable mitigation objective

4) Current levels of emissions will use up the EU’s 2°C carbon budget in under nine years

5) To meet its Paris 2°C commitment the EU needs over 12% p.a. [per annum] mitigation, starting immediately

6) To deliver on the Paris commitments, policy makers need a balanced portfolio of CO2 mitigation scenarios with ‘negative emissions technologies’ only included in the exotic minority[i.e., no “Bill Gates and technology will save us” scenario]

7) Methane emissions and atmospheric concentrations are observed at the top end [i.e., worst case] of IPCC scenarios.

9) Carbon dioxide from combustion is the dominant contributor to the long-term climate change impact of natural gas. Methane has a much greater warming effect than carbon dioxide per unit of emissions released but its atmospheric lifetime is short, only about a decade. However, persistently high emissions [meaning leaks] of methane would replenish this loss and maintain this initial warming effect

9a) Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) transport increases the climate change impact of natural gas supply chains [consider that as both parties tout LNG sales — and transport — to Europe]

10) For stabilising at 2°C, reductions in methane emissions must be accompanied by CO2 reductions

And finally:

11) Fossil fuels (including natural gas) have no substantial rolein an EU 2°C energy system beyond 2035

The study concludes that “there is categorically no role for bringing additional fossil fuel reserves, including gas, into production.”

What to Note About This Report

Readers of these pages know by now what the rest of the country is just starting to discover — that climate change is already affecting American lives in large and tragic ways, and that the madness of burning fossil fuels to satisfy the greed and, yes, pathology of a small handful of billionaires (plus those they control), that madness must end before it ends us.

What seems new here is the absolute finality of statements in recent latest climate reports. These are black-and-white conclusions. Again — “there is categorically no role for bringing additional fossil fuel reserves, including gas, into production.” No wiggle room in a statement like that; no sugar at all to coat it with.

Once categorical statement like these make it into the insurance company estimates and reports (to name just one industry affected) — that is, once global warming start to look affect billionaire money — you’ll see a sudden increase in public awareness, to add to the gradual shifts in awareness we’re seeing right now.

Not only will it be a wake-up call; it will look and act like a wake-up call.

Will wake-up call change the course of U.S. carbon emissions? Not while money buys politics and policy in the U.S. But it will introduce Sanders-like political chaos into the system. At that point the political battle will be visible, out in the open, with participants from all quarters joining in. Even the corporate news will report on it.

What will be the effect of a wide and visible public battle over fossil fuel use, as the billionaires dig in?

Complete chaos.

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  1. kimyo

    the madness of burning fossil fuels to satisfy the greed and, yes, pathology of a small handful of billionaires

    people filling their tanks in the morning on the way to work are not ‘burning fossil fuels to satisfy the greed of billionaires’. there is simply no viable alternative.

    the entire edifice is built on fossil fuels. there is nothing to transition to. you can’t mine or refine lithium without fossil fuels. your tesla is primarily powered by methane. replacement parts (tires, brakes) can only arrive in your town via a chain of mines, factories, cargo vessels, trains and trucks, essentially none of which can be powered by renewables.

    as with yesterday’s article, the enemy is not ‘a small handful of billionaires’. the enemy is growth.

    the logical conclusion is that we must abandon a city-based lifestyle arrangement. can nyc operate in a zero-population-growth mode? every 75 years or so you need to replace the water delivery system. an impossible task, absent finance (ie: growth) and an insane amount of concrete, steel and fossil fuels.

    framing the discussion as ‘the billionaires against the planet’ implies that we have alternatives. we don’t. you cannot run a city even a tenth the size of nyc on renewables.

    if the goal is to prevent a food fight, it is necessary to present an accurate/brutal portrayal of our dilemma. if the goal is the reverse, then identifying billionaires as the enemy serves nicely.

    (disclaimer: i am not a billionaire.)

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Thats far too simplistic. Energy policies, independent of growth, matter. Thats why the carbon emissions of the average German are half that of the average American or Australian. The power of the fossil fuel industry in the US is one obvious reason why the rampant waste of energy is the norm in the US and every other country they have control while saving energy is the norm in other capitalist countries. People in the US commute to work in trucks while in Germany they commute (if they drive) in mid sized cars. Germans invest in house insulation while Americans invest in more bedrooms.

      This isn’t primarily about growth (at least in the short to medium term, which is what now matters with climate change), its about how corporations hijack growth for their own ends. So yes, oil billionaires, especially those who make their money by bribing politicians to give them more incentives to drill are the enemy. They are the low hanging fruit who have to be tackled right now.

      1. kimyo

        a miracle occurs, and tomorrow trump signs an executive order jailing every single ‘oil billionaire’.

        when will carbon emissions drop? how much will they drop by?

        1. PlutoniumKun

          If locking up the oil billionaires meant that the incentives to waste energy in the US dropped to the level of equivalently wealthy capitalist societies such as Germany, the UK, France or Sweden, then the answer is that it would half US emissions, from around 17 tonnes per annum to an EU average of 8-9 tonnes per annum. Cumulatively, this would come to a global reduction of around 3 billion metric tonnes per annum. This equates to around 8% of global emissions.

          1. DJG

            And the problem in the U.S., as the post points out, is that we are preparing to have a civil war so that the upper middle class can have its giant houses, the middle class can indulge in Cadillac Escalades and 4 X 4s, and the train system and public transit systems can collapse.

            The lack of adaptation in the U S of A is a sign of imperial decline. When will Americans get the news?

            1. tegnost

              “… and the train system and public transit systems can collapse…”
              and be replaced by thousands of uber/lyft drivers, or worse, passenger cars and trucks with no driver….whistling past the graveyard as it were…

          2. Aaron

            Emissions in developed nations need to be dropping at 12% p.a. right now, to reach zero by 2035. Dropping US emissions by 50% is just scratching the surface of what needs to be done.

      2. DJG

        Thanks, PlutoniumKun. And your remark about bloated U.S. houses isn’t just a side issue. Around the corner from me, there are five baby palazzi sitting vacant, waiting for buyers. Each has about five bedrooms and, likely, five bathrooms. This, in a country with below-replacement-level birth rates. Who can afford to heat such a housing dinosaur?

        The other part of kimyo’s assumption that I will question is that cities waste energy. Maybe U.S. cities do. But walkable, compact cities? Paris and Rome are both quite compact. I’m wondering if we can turn up some serious energy analyses. I haven’t seen one.

        1. Anon

          New York City is, per capita, more energy efficient than many large cities. Its’ dominant energy consumption is electricity. Seems like there is a reasonable sustainable resource for producing it: wind and solar that can augment a reduced fossil fuel source.

      3. rjs

        “people filling their tanks in the morning on the way to work are not ‘burning fossil fuels to satisfy the greed of billionaires’. there is simply no viable alternative.”

        PlutoniumKun, what do you suggest those people do starting tomorrow?
        likewise, for those who heat their houses with natural gas, what do you suggest they do this winter?

        1. pretzelattack

          people can’t do it with individual lifestyle choices, there has to be concerted action by government and maybe courts on top of that. the suggestion is to transition to renewables as soon as possible. breaking the duopoly is going to be necessary before it breaks us.

          1. Vatch

            People can’t solve the problem on their own, but they can make meaningful lifestyle changes that move us in the correct direction. I heat my house with natural gas (which is a lot better than using coal!), so I’m part of the problem. One thing that I do is to lower the setting on my thermostat when I leave the house for more than a short period of time. Some people might prefer to get a programmable thermostat to do this for them. Another thing that I do is to wear thick, warm shirts during the cooler weather. This allows me to keep the thermostat a little lower even when I’m home.

            People who are willing to invest some money can enhance their home’s insulation.

            Those who drive a car can’t do much until it’s time to buy a new one. When that time comes, pay attention to the fuel economy of the cars that you are considering. If you can afford an electric vehicle, consider buying one. If you can’t afford that, or if there’s insufficient infrastructure in your area, consider buying a hybrid. If that’s too much to spend, there is still a huge variation in fuel economy among the conventional gasoline vehicles. Buy the most fuel efficient car that satisfies your needs.

            1. kimyo

              If you can afford an electric vehicle, consider buying one.

              electric vehicles are still powered primarily by fossil fuels. i don’t see how switching will improve matters.

              Electric cars could boost CO2 emissions in some provinces

              Trying to go green by replacing your gas guzzler with an electric car? In some provinces, that may actually be worse for the environment, a University of Toronto researcher says.

              In Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, electric cars generate more carbon over their lifetimes than gas-powered cars, said Chris Kennedy, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto.

              1. Vatch

                In some areas a person can sign up to have his or her electricity generated renewably. Usually this would come from a wind farm. But people are only likely to do this if the renewable energy isn’t more expensive than the conventionally generated energy. Frequently the renewable energy costs the consumer more money.

                So I think you’re mostly correct, but not entirely so. If people want to spend the money, their EV will reduce greenhouse emissions. And if the price of natural gas rises, then maybe it will be financially feasible for more people to choose renewable sources for their electricity.

            2. Dwight

              In Japan, people only heat rooms they are using. Affluent households have nicer heaters and bigger houses, but they still leave most rooms and halls unheated. It’s not uncomfortable. They also heat water as they use it, with kitchen and bath gas heaters, which is more efficient. We could do these things here.

              1. Synoia

                The English used to do this, except they generally skipped the heating the room part.

                “If you are cold, put on a sweater”.

                The solution was personal insulation.

                1. Vatch

                  Winters in Britain tend to be rather mild, thanks to the Gulf Stream. People farther inland, in both Europe and North America, have colder winters, unless they live far to the south.

    2. Damian

      “it is necessary to present an accurate/brutal portrayal of our dilemma” — The “enemy” is you and Billions of people like you – the Billionaires are minor in comparison !

      all over the world – methane emissions are multiples of natural gas impact (i have read at least ten times affect on the environment).

      This will go on forever in “every” dump in the world and with much less control than Fresh Kills, NYC – (closed more than 15 years ago and still projected to be sustainable production – indefinitely!) :

      “Each day, Fresh Kills harvests nearly eight million cubic feet of this landfill gas using a network of wellheads. … The gas is further purified by cooling, and carbon dioxide and unwanted hydrocarbons are stripped by contact with solvents. The gas then leaves the plant as “pipeline-quality” methane”

      1. Vatch

        The “enemy” is you and Billions of people like you – the Billionaires are minor in comparison !

        Well, yes and no. I certainly agree that overpopulation is a huge problem, because the cumulate environmental effects of 7.4 billion people is catastrophic. But the billionaires waste far more resources per capita than ordinary people. So do millionaires. Another reason the billionaires are not minor is that they are the ones with the resources and the power to build new infrastructure that will lower greenhouse emissions significantly, but they are not doing that. The billionaires are more interested in maintaining their privileges and increasing their status relative to their peers than they are interested in solving the world’s problems. In general billionaires are an abomination.

        The world faces multiple problems, and two of the worst are overpopulation and the severe inequality that allows the existence of billionaires.

    3. Salty

      The billionaires are holding the people who fill their tanks hostage. They put the gun to their heads and say “How horrible of you to make us pull the trigger!”.

      If we had started on this stuff 40 years ago, we’d have sorted it out by now. Guess who didn’t want us to? The Billionaires. Engineers love the idea of a challenge. Figuring out clever ways to reduce emissions and finding new sources of energy that cost no emissions – sounds like fun! You get to be clever and make a positive impact. Sign me up.

      The billionaires are the first thing we need to deal with. Yes, we need technical solutions. Yes, we need technology improvements, efficiency improvements, new energy policy, changes up and down the chain. We need all of these things, and these things are also being proposed in a wide range of places – including here at NC!

      But the first thing we need to do is get the gun away from the billionaires so they aren’t pointing it at the hostages’ heads.

  2. voislav

    The lack of focus on energy conservation is a dead giveaway that the Paris accords will suffer the same faith as the Kyoto agreement. The discussion in the developed countries is based on replacing fossil fuel energy production with renewables while maintaining the overall energy footprint and hence the lifestyle.

    This is delusional, there is no way of building up the necessary infrastructure to do this over a 20 or 30-year span. The realistic solution is large reduction in energy usage (50-80% depending on the starting level) coupled with transition to renewables. That buys extra time to build up the infrastructure while reducing the investment costs.

    This would involve not only taxing carbon, but also stuff like meat production, homes and personal vehicles, as agriculture, construction and transportation are all major sources of carbon emission. So, pretty much political suicide, telling people they can’t have burgers in the back yard of their house which has a SUV or a truck parked in front.

    The good news is that increased temperatures have done wonders for the quality of Canadian wines, so at least we’ll have a good party while the ship goes down.

    1. rusti

      This would involve not only taxing carbon, but also stuff like meat production, homes and personal vehicles, as agriculture, construction and transportation are all major sources of carbon emission. So, pretty much political suicide, telling people they can’t have burgers in the back yard of their house which has a SUV or a truck parked in front.

      I wish I wasn’t inclined to agree with you. Perhaps some older readers can educate me, since it was almost a decade before my birth, but what was the reaction to Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech on this point?

      I ask Congress to give me authority for mandatory conservation and for standby gasoline rationing. To further conserve energy, I’m proposing tonight an extra $10 billion over the next decade to strengthen our public transportation systems. And I’m asking you for your good and for your Nation’s security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel. Every act of energy conservation like this is more than just common sense-I tell you it is an act of patriotism.

      Of course looking at it with the hindsight of decades of climate science research, his idea of transitioning from oil to coal is pretty comical.

      1. DJG

        rusti: Carter was considered a killjoy. President Doom and Gloom. After Carter, we have had 40 years of cheery neoliberal amorality from both parties, which is why there has been no preparation in the form of industrial policy, environment policy, or incomes / jobs creation.

  3. Thuto

    If we use electricity generation as an example, renewable energy lends itself to a decentralized model of generation (I.e. I can stick pvc panels on my roof, install the necessary storage and inverter equipment, and go completely off grid). As a result, its economics are currently not as attractive to “billionaires” as the economics of a centralized “utility to consumer” (utc) type model. With utc, profits can be harvested along the entire generation-transmission-distribution supply chain, with infrastructure development for each of the supply chain links also having its own profit harvesting opportunities along the entire plan-build-operate asset lifecycle (I.e. engineering consulting fees during the planning phase, construction fees during the build phase, and maintenance fees during the operations or commercial exploitation phase of the asset). Until the economics of renewables “make sense” to the billionaires, they will continue to fund massive lobbies against its mainstream adoption. This is par for the course, as for them any form of decentralization carries with it a concomitant loss of power, and loss of power is anathema to our ruling elites.

      1. Thuto

        One other thing to point out: in cases where centralized generation of renewable energy is called for (e.g. solar farms), the investors funding the development of the required infrastructure need to bring completely different mindsets to the game re: what constitutes healthy returns (their IRR hurdles to sanction project go-ahead should mirror their ostensible care for the environment by balancing both financial and ecological concerns as the example I give below illustrates).

        We currently have a standoff here in South African between Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and the national utility Eskom. A quick synopsis is that the IPPs are looking to sell electricity to Eskom at a per kwh rate that the utility will have to subsidize by some 75% in the consumer market to stimulate take up, effectively straitjacketing itself into taking on renewable energy as a loss leader, something it can not afford to do right now given the state of its finances. The IPPs, instead of pricing their capacity at a reasonable above breakeven point, want to make massive profits right out the gate and are instead smearing the utility in the media and accusing it of sabotaging progress towards mainstream adoption of renewables (when in this instance at least, it’s their own greed that is delaying progress). This is not something that’s well known of course, even in media circles, so the IPPs can hoodwink the public into seeing the utility as the bad guy (I got the full story behind the standoff because my fiance works for the utility). Long story short, investors in renewable energy projects need to tear up the old rule book and introduce a new, holistic standard for assessing project viability. The traditional rules of investing will simply delay this much needed movement towards renewables.

    1. rusti

      If we use electricity generation as an example, renewable energy lends itself to a decentralized model of generation (I.e. I can stick pvc panels on my roof, install the necessary storage and inverter equipment, and go completely off grid)

      This might be viable at some latitudes, but it would result in tremendously oversized systems for most of the industrialized world. To take an extreme case, I live in a metropolitan area of over one million people at 57 degrees North that averages 33 hours of sunshine in December. For anyone here to go off-grid with solar plus storage in the winter would require a utility-scale installation.

      I think a more equitable method of distribution would be distribution of ownership in the generation resources. Cutting out the rentiers, rather than individual defectors (those with capital) buying big systems to flip the bird to the utility company and putting the squeeze on those remaining.

      1. Thuto

        I agree with you of course about the viability of decentralized generation being subject to geographical location, the central point I was trying to make was that the massive lobby against renewables is driven in part by this potential by individual consumers to decentralize and cut themselves out of the rentiers profit loop. Regarding cases where decentralization is not viable, see my comment below.

  4. rusti

    So call the promotion of “clean natural gas” a profit protection plan for Big Oil as well.

    “Clean burning” Natural Gas is a real feat of marketing wizardry.

    Statoil has big ads in the Brussels airport explaining how natural gas is a perfect crime-fighting partner for renewables. They should get TEPCO to cook up a Plutonium Kun-esque cartoon character for them!

    1. Renee Kelman

      We bought into the natural gas story because we want simple solutions to complex problems. It was presented to the consumer as a way to have it all. A way to continue consuming and doing good. Companies even want to be paid for income they said they would have had, had we not reduced our buying due to warmer weather. Still costs us. And the CEO wins. But so long as the CEO can make money, we reward him for a good job, damn the consequences. And we are willing to go along so long as we too can be oblivious and make no changes. Real change is hard. No one really likes change. We give it lip service only. It is a human nature problem. No one has a solution to that problem.

  5. Wyoming

    All blog posts are simplistic due to the lack of space therein and the time available to write them. So comparing Europe with the US ignores a host of very relevant factors which make change harder in the States than there.

    But …

    the real elephant in the room of all these discussions on how civilization is going to adapt and survive this self inflicted wound is P O P U L A T I O N. Public enemy number 1 as they say.

    If we cannot find a humane way to fairly quickly (say by 2050) lower global population to about 50-60% of current levels (much less let it rise to the projected 9+ billion) then the high likelyhood is that discussions about renewables, self driving electric cars, and all that other blather is just whistling past the graveyard.

    We fix population or everything else we are doing is just an attempt to provide some sort of technological bridge to the survivor population post 2100.

    Deal with reality or it will deal with you.

    1. Louis Fyne

      flame me as fatalistic. i give up. there are too many taboo subjects that won’t be touched by media or the powers that be for whatever reason—-whether political correctness or popping the American exceptionalism bubble or talking about using more nuclear energy.

      Charity begins at home. So does changing the climate. Put on your Emerson/Thoreau pants, try to live beneath your means as much as you can, turn down the thermostat, try to starve the corporate beast of cash.

    2. Thor's Hammer

      (Fortunately) humans have invented and refined over their entire history as a species a very effective means of population control. It’s called WAR— an activity unique to homo unsapiens. In its most advanced form it can bring about the necessary halving of global population in a matter of mere hours.

      The reality is that we place control of this end game in the hands of a few senile sociopaths.

    3. Jeremy Grimm

      Population is a problem but a 50% to 60% reduction in population in the next 30 years –however unlikely — seems overly optimistic. It might slow the rate of Global Warming but I am skeptical that it would halt or reverse global warming. And you’d have to carefully select what 50% or 60% you eliminate. You could get rid of quite few poor but achieve little reduction in green house gases. The 50% or 60% you eliminate would have to consist of the very wealthy and somewhat wealthy in the world population — kimyo has some suggestions for first in line.

      Unfortunately our ruling elites and those of us who live in the somewhat wealthy nations might have some qualms about your Global Warming stopgap measures.

    4. witters

      No the basic problem here is not population, it is cabon pollution. But I’m coming to be convinced by those who insist that it is the problem and anything else – like carbon pollution – is causally irrelevant until the “humane” cull, that there really are too many other prople around.

      1. Vatch

        Nobody’s recommending a cull, and you know it. Contraception exists, so nobody needs to die prematurely. But premature deaths will increase if the population keeps rising.

        Sure, carbon dioxide pollution is a huge problem, and that pollution is caused by people. When there are more people, there are more polluters, so more carbon dioxide is emitted. And as I have pointed out numerous times, complex problems often need multiple solutions. Reducing the human population isn’t a panacea; it will need to occur along with other reforms.

        1. nilavar, MD

          Hate to say this, the Nature has resorted to find way to reduce the population on earth. Humans are complicit by willful ignorance!

          Increasing pollution of AIR, WATER and toxins in the our food chain, will increase in the rate of morbidity and also mortality in the coming years. Faster in developing Countries than the developed but the the dominoes are falling!
          Look at the increasing rate of OBESITY, Diabetes I & II +++

          We ALL, are FROGS in the slowly boiling water. Very few care to give their attention or do anything about it, except lip service!

          Humanity has condemned itself to elimination within a century if not earlier. Reminds me of the movie – Matrix I!

          1. Vatch

            Well, yes, but the people who urge peaceful population reduction in conjunction with lower per capita resource consumption by the middle and upper classes aren’t the ones who are guilty of willful ignorance. The guilty are people like Jim Bob Duggar, Scott Pruitt, Myron Ebell, Charles Koch, the CEOs of Monsanto, DowDupont, Bayer, Exxon Mobil, and BP, along with a horde of religious conservatives (monotheistic and polytheistic alike) who encourage excessive procreation.

  6. FelicityT

    Some truly major shifts will need to occur if we are to have any chance. Anything less is pointless tinkering.

    1. Survival will need to be decoupled from jobs. A good chunk of the population at any given time should not be working, at least not in the wage slave sense.

    2. Meat consumption must cease. It is far more sustainable and less resource intensive to consume plants.

    3. Consumerism and planned obsolescence must end. We must make do with less and what we do use must be repairable and recyclable.

    4. Ideas must be globalized, production must be localized. Ideas and technology must be freely shared which will mean destruction of the patent and copyright systems. We cannot be shipping goods around the world in massive dirty ships. The vast majority of essential needs must be produced locally.

    5. Industries producing essential goods or supplying essential services must be nationalized. We cannot have the toxic profit motive inflating costs, placing greed over sustainability and minimizing impacts.

    1. Vatch

      Meat consumption must cease. It is far more sustainable and less resource intensive to consume plants.

      I recommend that people eat less meat for health reasons. If they like doing that, they can try a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, and maybe move on from there to a vegan diet. Some people are not going to stop eating meat, because they like the taste, and, unfortunately, meat eating signifies higher status in many cultures. If we can get a significant number of people to avoid meat for two or three days per week, it will be a huge improvement. For example, I eat very little meat, but I am not a vegetarian. Compared to the average Australian, American, Argentinian, Israeli, or Brazilian, I almost seem like a vegetarian.

      1. FelicityT

        I did debate adding ‘Farmed’ on the front of that one since from an environmental perspective that is the really harmful type of meat consumption. Ultimately decided to leave it off since it seemed to lessen the equally important moral dimensions.

        Our children or grandchildren will almost certainly ask us where we were and what we were doing when the climate was being destabilized. But they are also likely to ask us where we were and what we were doing when the non-human Holocaust was occurring.

        What goes on daily in the US alone makes Hitler and Stalin look like eagle scouts.

        1. Vatch

          What goes on daily in the US alone makes Hitler and Stalin look like eagle scouts.

          That’s an exaggeration. Of course terrible things happen in the U.S., but exaggerations like that reduce a person’s credibility. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were monsters, and I challenge you to provide the name of a 20th or 21st century American as bad as they were.

          1. FelicityT

            I had thought the connection was clear based on what we were discussing and responding to but apparently not so I’ll clearly spell it out.

            More lives are ended in the US meat industry than under the regimes of Stalin, Pol Pot, Hitler, you name it.

            This is not an exaggeration. It is fact. The only way to dispute this fact is to engage in precisely the same sort of otherization which these “monsters” you list did in order to justify their actions.

            If you would like specific names simply search for the executives of the largest meat and dairy processors in the US.

            If you do not otherize these fellow beings the parallels are quite clear and unmistakeable. Analogy to the trans Atlantic slave trade also applies.

            Forced breeding, imprisonment, treated as property, forced labor, exploitation, poor living conditions, poor transportation conditions, suffering and torture, separation of mother and child — they’re all there.

            Many ask: why did the German public let the camps exist? Why did they do nothing? Why did many make the bureaucratic cogs necessary for the horrors turn? In the future they will ask the same regarding those of us living in the present.

            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              People who kill plants to eat their dead bodies are otherising the plants just as people who kill animals to eat their dead bodies are otherising the animals. So the executives and customers of corn/bean/cabbage/etc. companies are just as worse than Hitler and Stalin as the executives and customers of meat/milk companies because they are mass murdering and otherising just as many living plant-beings.

              Sauce – goose – gander.

              1. FelicityT

                Hopefully not double-posting this; edited out the one that didn’t show up in thread properly.

                Yes, this line of argument is certainly becoming more popular as others are becoming far more easily debunked.

                The difference, perhaps not clearly outlined in my response in an effort to avoid crafting a long essay as a comment, comes down to experience.

                Lacking anything resembling a nervous system as well as different evolutionary histories and pressures it — based on our current understandings — is unreasonable to equate the experience of cabbages with that of chickens.

                Is this still otherizing? Perhaps. However some key details would seem to set it apart from the toxic forms of otherizing which I condemn above.

                Some form of life must currently be consumed in order for a human to survive. Given our imperfect understandings consuming those least likely to share similar capacities for experience seems the most prudent course of action.

                This does not mean that cabbages, carrots, trees should be treated as if they are objects. They should be harmed only as necessary to sustain basic survival needs.

                Consumption of farmed meat results in far more plants being harmed than simply consuming those plants yourself.

                Is it still otherizing? Again: Perhaps. It may be that some level of otherizing is required in order to survive on this planet. The only non-otherizing mode of existence may be suicide. Or could you also craft an argument for this being a form of otherization as well? Does it perhaps all come down to degree and severity of otherization, the consequences willing to be accepted?

  7. UserFriendly

    I’d be fine if they all transformed into chemical suppliers. Many modern day chemicals that are required for just about everything have a starting product that is either petroleum or a petroleum byproduct. It is probably about only 1% or less of their current production but it is largely beneficial for society.

    1. Enquiring Mind

      The primary role of natural gas is to reduce dependence on Middle East oil due to the political volatility. That issue overrides domestic policy and ecological considerations in the eyes of DC politicians, not coincidentally without funding support from frackers and their fellow travelers. A secondary consideration is to keep US trading partners such as Japan and the EU energy importers healthy enough.

      The world got itself too dependent on OPEC influences and has spent the past decades trying to disentangle economic policies, growth and political considerations. If and when the world gets calmer, then politicians might do more than give lip service to domestic considerations such as renewables, climate and, in that Panglossian world, campaign finance reform. Some European countries try to set examples and perhaps the US will act more when facing increased pressures to do so.

  8. Kris Alman

    Enviornmentalists get conned all the time.

    Sierra Club’s Clean Coal campaign underwent scrutiny when it was discerned that anonymous donors from the gas industry (mostly from Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy—one of the biggest gas drilling companies in the U.S. and a firm heavily involved in fracking) wooed Sierra Club with $25 million in donations between 2007-2010. They called it a “bridge fuel.”

    Renew Oregon appears to be an unholy alliance of small businesses, environmentalists and other good government non-profits hell-bent to implement cap and “invest”, dooming efforts to get a carbon tax in place here. The idea is that auction revenue is invested in energy efficiency and clean energy, done equitably to assure poor communities are supported.

    I called the organization. They say “The devil is in the details” with cap and invest to avoid Wall Street-like speculation and greenwashing I am told. They give carbon emitters “the least cost way to reduce emissions to meet carbon production goals.”

    Indicating why this works (pointing to California’s cap and trade program), one of their talking points is that gas prices have fallen in CA–which doom and gloomers had said would rise. I pointed out that that market is all about speculation and geopolitical gaming. Furthermore, why would we want gas-addicted Americans to have cheaper priced fuels?

    I asked why they don’t support a gas tax. The answer? Because it would require a 3/5 majority vote to raise taxes. He then qualified his statement to say that the gas tax is failing where it has been introduced.

    In Feb. 2014 the Climate Trust (which is part of the Renew Oregon coaltion) put out this report, “Carbon Pricing Mechanisms Report.” The reports claims, “Disadvantages: Carbon taxation raises the overall price of energy. Because lower – income individuals spend a greater percentage of their income on energy than do wealthier individuals, carbon taxation is inherently regressive…” (p 4)

    But is that true?

    Does a carbon policy really burden low – income families?
    In brief , this new research finds three surprising results.
    • A carbon tax is not regressive at all, but progressive, as it really imposes a larger percentage burden on those with more income.
    • The largest redistributions caused by a carbon tax are not between rich and poor at all, but between families at the same level of income.
    • Carbon tax revenue could be used to help the poor by increasing government transfer payments to low – income families , making the overall burden even more progressive, but it introduces even more variation in tax burdens at the same level of income.

    Are we just stuck with market-based solutions, where the market engineers solutions that are favorable to their bottom line?

  9. Jeremy Grimm

    We are in for a very rough ride in the not too distant future. Did anyone really believe Obama and the Energy Industry’s happy stories about natural gas?

    There is quite a lot of speculative fiction about what the world will look like after … after Global Warming really kicks into gear … after petroleum, coal, natural gas and nuclear run out … and much of what I’ve seen reads like “Little House on the Post Industrial Prairie” and completely skips over the dynamics of the transition from our present world.

    Our current way of life is doomed to end soon and catastrophically. The Paris Agreement is political theater little different from previous agreements and accords … something warm and fuzzy to feel good about. The kinds of action required to mitigate the impacts of Global Warming — to say nothing about stopping or slowing Global Warming — are dire. No country is ready to tackle any of those actions. For example, consider the refugee problem as oceans rise and different parts of the world become too hot and too arid for human habitation. Heard any plans lately for how to deal with that little problem — other than the plans by our DoD?

    The U.S. elite seem particularly driven to do everything possible to construct the steepest and most rapid catastrophe possible.

  10. Gaius Publius

    Jeremy Grimm:

    The U.S. elite seem particularly driven to do everything possible to construct the steepest and most rapid catastrophe possible.


    And I’m certain they know exactly what they’re doing — and have excellent plans for themselves and their survival that don’t include us at all. I’m working on a piece of fiction right now that deals with that transition, as well as another that looks at the end-state.

    I’d be remiss in not adding my thanks to all commenters to this thread, those who’ve already written their thoughts and those who will add new ones in the next few days. It’s an education to read them and I’m grateful.


    1. Synoia

      And I’m certain they know exactly what they’re doing — and have excellent plans for themselves and their survival that don’t include us at all.

      Good luck with that plan of theirs. Some quote of plans meeting reality crosses my mind.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      Thinking of the transition you mention recalls to me the children’s book “Millions of Cats” by Wanda Gág, and also of the prophesy “the meek shall inherit the Earth.”

  11. Synoia

    Rahmstorf said there are currently about 600 billion remaining tons of carbon dioxide that can be emitted if the world is to have a good chance of keeping warming considerably below 2 degrees Celsius, and with some 40 billion tons of emissions each year, that leaves just 15 years.

    Based on no data at all, I call that number bs.

    Show us the data, and the growth curve.

    Here’s my $100. I bet that window is 5 years.

  12. cnchal

    . . . Exxon and its like really do have to fail and disappear, or be taken down, before anything resembling our smart-phone civilization can survive.

    Any idea on how many barrels of oil and cubic feet of natural gas are embedded in a smartphone? Me neither, but I bet it’s a few. No oil, no smartphone.

    Not mentioned at all in the post or in any comments, is our current ultra wasteful food production and distribution system. Enough calories are produced to feed a world population twice as big as it currently is. The system turns oil into food, and half is wasted.

    That’s what I call low hanging fruit.

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