Gaius Publius: Fracking Has Brought the World to the Brink of Disaster

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

From this video. The original graph contained global warming data through 2010 and predictions after that. The video author added the red dots, which show actual global warming data for 2011–2017. Note that the red dots are not just above all of the scenarios, including the “reference” or “no countermeasures” scenario. They’re also above the 5%–95% band of uncertainty around the reference scenario. In other words, in 2010 the authors of the study considered each recorded data point from 2011 to 2017 to be “highly unlikely” at the time the study was published, each one in the 5% least likely of outcomes.

It’s worth looking at two recent pieces from the climate front, not for what they say as their main points, but for two smaller points buried within them.

Two Degrees Warming Is a Ceiling, Not a Target

The first piece is by Jeffrey Sachs, writing in Canada’s Globe and Mail. His main argument is that Canada should abandon its plans to build pipelines to carry doomed Alberta tar sands to market and build out a smart energy grid connected to the U.S. energy grid to leverage and store  both nation’s renewable power capabilities.

About that, Sachs writes:

Oil seems to make politicians lose their bearings. The get-rich-quick mentality or too-much-to-lose thinking is very hard to overcome. Thus, two of Canada’s most progressive leaders, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, have both doubled down recently on Alberta oil sands and the pipelines to carry them to world markets. Whether Kinder Morgan’s controversial Trans Mountain expansion through British Columbia is built, or the company steps away from the project, remains uncertain. Either way, the truth is that Alberta oil sands have absolutely no place in a climate-safe world. Investing in them is almost surely to be investing in a future bankruptcy. […]

One impulse wants to say to Kinder Morgan and TransCanada, “Okay, build the pipelines. Then we will bankrupt you.” But admirers and friends of Canada should speak honestly to friends. “Don’t waste your hard-earned money on the Trans Mountain and Keystone XL pipelines. Spend your money on sustainable projects tapping Canada’s abundant zero-carbon energy.”

Why is bankruptcy of these pipeline projects inevitable? In the long term, global warming will destroy all investment in fossil fuels (or it will destroy us, I hasten to add). But in the short term, it’s simple economics (my emphasis throughout):

The world already has vastly more proven reserves of oil and gas than it can safely burn, and a glut of reserves at far lower production costs than Alberta’s oil sands. The marginal costs of the oil sands are typically estimated to be around US$60 per barrel, yet the world will find itself awash in US$30-per-barrel oil as world demand is cut back in the future. There is no way that Alberta’s oil will maintain a profitable niche in a world that is ending its dependence on oil.

“Marginal cost” is the cost of producing additional oil after all needed infrastructure is in place. It’s the cost of producing “the next barrel” in an ongoing operation. Clearly, $30 oil trumps $60 oil as energy producers chase each other in a desperate attempt to monetize as much of this doomed asset as they can.

Sachs points out that Canada is already a world leader in energy production from renewable sources: “The share of renewables in Canada’s power generation is already among the highest in the world, exceeded only by Norway, New Zealand, Brazil, and Austria, and roughly the same as Denmark. Yet far more is possible.”

All good to know. Yet in that piece is this disturbing data point:

Even with the amount of global warming to date (1.1 degrees C above the preindustrial average temperature), the world is experiencing record hot temperatures, devastating heat waves, droughts, extreme floods, and increasingly frequent high-intensity storms and hurricanes. Climate attribution science links these extreme events to human-induced warming. With two degrees or more of warming, the world could well experience a devastating rise in the ocean level, as well as devastating losses and dislocations from crop failures, temperature-linked diseases, invasive species, forest fires, and mega-storms.

Ignore that Sachs’ description of where global warming, as measured by atmospheric surface temperature, is today. “1.1 degrees C above the preindustrial average temperature” is way too low an estimation, as I and others have pointed out many times before. See “Global Warming Has Reached Nearly +1.5°C Already,” or look at slides 2 and 3 here.

Slide 3 from this presentation showing global warming since 1850 relative to an 1850–1900 baseline. Slide 2 shows the same data as an animated GIF.

Concentrate instead on Sachs’ description of a world with two degrees or more of warming: devastating sea level rise; devastating losses from famine, disease, fire and storms. He missed or under-emphasized other catastrophic effects, like economic collapses, the mass migrations we’re already starting to see, and the endless wars they will inevitably cause (which we’re also already starting to see).

In other words, two degrees of warming isn’t a floor for our aspirations (“we hope to stay below two degrees warming”), but a ceiling for our safety (“above two degrees is a world of hurt”).

Two Degrees Warming Is Less than a Decade Away

Which leads to the second piece I want to look at, one by Sharon Kelly at DeSmogBlog. It argues, quite effectively, that the “fracked gas” boom — oil and gas extraction from shale formations — took us down a deeply destructive path, not just because it revitalized a dying industry, but because it simultaneously tragically hobbled development of desperately needed renewable energy sources.

To see that point graphically, click to enlarge the two charts below and note what happened in each around 2008, or watch this brief video from the article for the fuller explanation.

What important for this discussion, though, is this (h/t Naked Capitalism for the find):

The most recent climate data suggests that the world is on track to cross the two degrees of warming threshold set in the Paris accord in just 10 to 15 years, says [Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Professor of Engineering Emeritus at Cornell University] in a 13-minute lecture titled “Shale Gas: The Technological Gamble That Should Not Have Been Taken,” which was posted online on April 4.

That’s if American energy policy follows the track predicted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which expects 1 million natural gas wells will be producing gas in the U.S. in 2050, up from roughly 100,000 today.

As drastic as that sounds, crossing the “two degree warming threshold” in “just 10 to 15 years” underestimates the problem by nearly a factor of two. Two degrees warming is more likely to come in less than a decade, perhaps a lot less.

First, note again that his pre-Industrial baseline is likely too high. The world is closer today to +1.3 or +1.4°C warming than it is to +1.1°C if the actual lows of the pre-Industrial period are considered or accounted for. Dr. Michael Mann’s recalculated baseline puts the warming number at +1.2°C as of 2015, and we’ve seen a burst of warming since. My baseline is a bit lower than his, which means I put “current warming” even higher.

Second, consider the acceleration that no model has successfully predicted. Everything is happening faster than anyone predicted. Click the link in the previous sentence to see a selection of the numerous articles making that point. Among them you’ll find this:

Dangerous climate tipping point is ‘about a century ahead of schedule’ warns scientist

A slowing Gulf Stream system means catastrophic East Coast flooding will get much worse.

New research provides strong evidence that one of the long-predicted worst-case impacts of climate change — a severe slow-down of the Gulf Stream system — has already started.

The system, also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), brings warmer water northward while pumping cooler water southward.

“I think we’re close to a tipping point,” climatologist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress in an email. The AMOC slow down “is without precedent” in more than a millennium he said, adding, “It’s happening about a century ahead of schedule relative to what the models predict.”

“A century ahead of schedule” is your takeaway. Everything in the global warming news is “ahead of schedule” — much of it by a lot. Dr. Ingraffea makes the same point starting at 8:30 in the video. Every scenario in the 2010 paper he discusses, including the “reference” (no intervention) scenario, entirely underestimated what would happen in just the next eight years.

And not by a little — by a lot. The key graph is reproduced at the top. The original graph from the paper contained global warming data through 2010 and predictions after that. Dr. Ingraffea added the red dots in the modified graph above to show global warming data for 2011–2017. The red dots are not just above all of the predictions, including the “reference” scenario. They’re above the band of uncertainty around the reference predictions — each one outside the range of outcomes that the models predict are the 95% most certain.

Put another way, the model predicted that each one of the actual 2011–2017 results were less than 5% likely to happen. Each one.

Yet here we are, with “very unlikely” warming staring us in the face, as we poke at a ceiling we should never go above. That’s the real message for today.

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  1. Tyronius

    It sounds alarmist. I agree that being alarmed is not an appropriate response.



    One more point he didn’t mention; the Arctic Ocean will be ice free in summer within the next few years. That will accelerate the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet, leading directly to a radical acceleration of sea level rise worldwide. My own suspicion is that this sea level rise will accelerate the melting of Antarctica’s ice sheets… more feedback loops.

    I’m engaged in developing technology to help feed an increasingly crowded and inhospitable planet. It seems there will be plenty of demand for my services.

    1. Knot Galt

      Yep. My advice would be to get ready for first, being overwhelmed;
      and then secondly, taken over by someone or something more powerful than you.
      Just be prepared; if you can. It looks like that tipping point is approaching much, much faster.

      As for the rest of us, I’m thinking the best role model might be the cockroach.

      1. Synoia

        I’m thinking the best role model might be the cockroach.

        I don’t believe we can survive on what the cockroach eats.

  2. Collapsar

    I have noticed how the models’ predictions, for some time, undershot the speed and severity of the changes occurring. It’s the main reason I’ve put off buying a house for so long. I live in the US southwest, and I can easily envision a near future in which this region becomes unlivable, and owned real estate becomes a stranded asset.

    1. Linden S.

      Wish people understood this…I just don’t see how the Southwest as is can exist in 50 or even 30 years. It is going to get so hot and so dry.

      1. Massinissa

        It also doesnt help that they are depleting fossil aquifers super fast, mostly to sustain agriculture and lawns…

        There just wont be enough potable water there to sustain those Californian metropolises in half a century if they keep wasting their water like this.

        1. Knot Galt

          I’d be interested in knowing the statistics on water use.

          I am aware that the State is allowing large food conglomerates to extract water at low to no cost to provide bottled water for sale in State and outside of State.

    2. Marco

      You raise a good point related to a more general issue when concerns over GCC start to affect personal decisions wrt investments, personal plans for the future and how to protect self and family. Are we there yet? What’s the line between prudence and ”hair-on-fire-sky-is-falling” typical of far-left/right preppers?

      Tangentially related is this interesting post by Welsh about being a well-liked individual that other more powerful groups see value in you alive

      1. HotFlash

        Even if you’re not likeable, you can become indispensible with a few well-chosen skills, eg. herbal medicine, first (and second and third) aid, midwifery, soap and candle making, water harvesting, musician/storyteller/entertainer/historian, making of ink and paper, bicycle repair, wood working, food storage, spinning, weaving, tanning, making clothing, food foraging and preparation, animal husbandry, blacksmithing, potting, massage, calendar-keeping and of course, the making of alcoholic beverages.

        Let’s see, what did I leave out. Investment banking?

        1. Knot Galt

          Assuming you “own” your own land and domicile. That will be the first thing taken away from you.

          As far as the well-liked person goes; they will be the first to be taken advantage of and marginalized. The equivalent is when your girlfriend says to you, “Gee honey, you are such a nice guy.”

          Ya gotta keep your edge.

        2. ambrit

          You forgot the linchpin ‘skill’: “Practitioner of Coercive Violence.” (h/t to S M Stirling)

        3. Lil’D

          The graveyard is full of indispensable men

          Von Clausewitz

          Prepping can be a nice little hobby. I have 3 acres and a well and a tiny bit of solar power. Fruit. Herbs.

          But if we kill off 98% of the population, it’s delusional to expect to be a survivor no matter how indispensable I might be

          1. Marco

            So it’s the scene with Charlize Theron in “The Road” (I couldn’t stomach the book)

            “They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us and you won’t face it. You’d rather wait for it to happen.”

            Perhaps you are right. All planning is futile and chance will select which brutish clans end up on top.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      Have you thought about what parts of the country might survive longer in this new-building reality? Places like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula or Northern Minnesota?

      Have you thought about cashing out and buying a house there while you still can? Before elenteen thousand million hundred other people decide to do the same thing and all try buying houses there at the same time?

      1. ambrit

        Really, I’d expect to see roving bands, like olde tyme gypsy caravans, moving into such areas en mass. I’d also worry about ‘rich s—s’ deciding that they like an area and forcing those already in said areas out, at gunpoint most likely. Private armies will make a definite comeback.

  3. ChristopherJ

    thank you GP. I’ve been telling people for about 5 years we only have a short time left. Birds, fish and insects are dying and the ability to feed ourselves will soon be gone. We are many and the rich are few, but we are incapable of stopping the trajectory we are on. And with the usual suspects still prosecuting Russia and war imminent, I have never felt more fearful of my and my childrens’ future. Truly family blogged we all are.

  4. MLaRowe

    It’s been written here before that already we can expect the unexpected weather wise with global warming. Also most people know sea levels have and will rise as a result but what many people don’t realize is that with less ice worldwide there is less pressure to stabilize tectonic plates (since ice is heavy)so shifting (earthquakes) is a very real possibility also.

    It’s been time for a change and some people individually seem to be trying (at least in the forward thinking bubble where I live). Yet the “movement” aspect of being concerned still hasn’t reached our government and honestly, I’m not sure that it will anytime soon.

    1. Norb

      Another tragedy to consider is when politicians are finally forced to act, the same obstructionists will attempt to jump to the front of the line in order to maintain their public influence- and privilege.

      Being wrong for so many years will matter little to them. Holding onto power is what truly motivates their actions and guides their judgement.

      Dealing with this power dynamic is just as important as the warming aspect, probably even more so.

      Individual effort to arrest climate change must also be connected to fundamental change in political organization. That lack of coordination explains most of the delay in dealing with the climate crisis.

      Conditioning the mind to envision the world as a network of ever expanding externalities is the fundamental problem. With such a mindset, nothing can be “solved”.

  5. Steve Ruis

    The basis for the inaction on the part of politicians is not scientific or data based or even argument based, it is in campaign finance contributions and the appearance of energy sufficiency rather than dependency.

    Politicians basically do not give a flying fart about the details, they seem to be only concerned that someones argument comes with a check attached. Since the money being made by the very wealthy in this sector is very nice indeed, do not expect a change any time soon.

  6. Steve

    The 1% know that catastrophic climate change is going to happen and they have a plan. I would bet they have had plan for decades. With the internal documents from both Exxon and Shell being made public there is no chance our defense department and the last 4 sitting Presidents have not been acutely aware of the seriousness of the situation. They have a plan and we are not part of it.

    1. False Solace

      To a sociopath the solution would seem obvious: nuclear winter.

      As climate changes, the stress on political institutions will increase automatically. In addition we have a generation of governing elites with an uncommonly nasty and selfish ideology. They aren’t going to share anything with the 99%. They certainly won’t lift a finger to avert what’s coming except to build bunkers for themselves. This means the population will be surly and easy to steer against an external enemy, and the rich won’t halt their looting to arrange the necessary (and very expensive) changes to industry and transportation. Given this combo — rising geopolitical tensions and selfish a**holes in charge who think they won’t personally suffer — war is already “baked in”. Plus, from a sociopathic standpoint, a major war wouldn’t be all that bad. It will reduce the surplus population and, as a side effect of nuclear exchange, lower global temperatures.

      It’s a win-win, if you’re a socipath who accepts the reality of climate change.

      The most beneficial place for population reduction to occur is in industrialized countries, where the population uses the most fossil fuels. You don’t get as much CO2 impact if you wipe out people in nonindustrialized countries. They don’t produce nearly as much CO2. However, I’m not certain the sociopaths in charge would be interested in nuking their favorite real estate in Europe and NY. Perhaps some of the “flyover” cities could be targeted. Or perhaps, in addition to nukes in some far-off place, a virus that targets people on disability or minimum wage in First World nations. (When the USPS was delivering envelopes filled with anthrax in 2001, it wasn’t hard to find panicking wealthy people who stocked up on Cipro and antibiotics. Others quickly began vaccinating themselves.)

      It’s a certainty that these scenarios have been wargamed. A couple years ago, a Russian (OMG!) analyst proposed dropping nukes into the Yellowstone caldera. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa reduced summer temperatures by 1.2C and darkened the sky for years afterwards. The Mount Tambora eruption reduced worldwide temperatures by 0.5C in 1815 and produced the coldest decade on record. The science is there, it’s just the will that’s lacking. For now….

      1. HotFlash

        To a sociopath the solution would seem obvious: nuclear winter.

        The rich are not all sociopaths plumping for nuclear winter. Nouveau riche, perhaps, they are risk-takers, after all, but old money is very, very conservative. They may be sociopaths, but they will prefer the traditional methods — war, famine, pestilence. And Marines. And land with thick walls around them, And more Marines or similar.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Can enough of “us” figure out how to survive in a heavily armed condition so that when “them” come up out of their bunkers and shelters, “us” can exterminate “them”?

      1. Synoia

        “us” can exterminate “them”

        Too many Chiefs (them) and not enough Indians (us). They will do it by themselves.

  7. Linden S.

    Another thing to add to Gaius’ post: in addition to the warming of CO2 + other GHGs we release, we also emit aerosols (e.g. sulfate aerosols or black carbon/soot), which mostly cool the climate system. If we stopped burning fossil fuels immediately, the planet would very quickly warm 0.5-1.0C as the newly uncovered sunlight made it to Earth’s surface, which obviously easily puts us above 2C! I wish this was discussed more, we essentially have already crossed the all-important Paris 2C threshold (which Gaius is hinting at), and we don’t even acknowledge it.

    Here is a link to a recent aerosol cooling paper. It is open access.

  8. Steven Ramirez

    These midterm elections are the most important ever. We must elect rational leaders in Washington DC now. Under any rule of law scenario Trump must go.

    If he continues in office for two more years catastrophic global warming may became a scientific certainty.

    1. ambrit

      I believe that Gaius’ point is that “catastrophic global warming” is already inevitable. How bad it will get and how to survive this are the new goals.

  9. Louis Fyne

    Us CArbon dioxide emissions fell last year. Rose 1% in EU. Rose 3% in China. Even if trump resigned yesterday, that solves nothing. Google IEA 2017 emissions energy

    Start by telling Leo DiCaprio to fly commercial

    1. blennylips

      It’s delicate confronting these priests of the golden bull
      They preach from the pulpit of the bottom line
      Their minds rustle with million dollar bills
      You say Silver burns a hole in your pocket
      And Gold burns a hole in your soul
      Well, uranium burns a hole in forever
      It just gets out of control.
      – Buffy Sainte-Marie, “The Priests of the Golden Bull”

      The Cree have a word for this madness: Wetiko:

      a Cree term which refers to a diabolically wicked person or spirit who terrorizes others. Professor Forbes, who was one of the founders of the Native American movement during the early sixties, says, “Tragically, the history of the world for the past 2,000 years is, in great part, the story of the epidemiology of the wetiko disease.”[iii] Wetiko/malignant egophrenia is a “psychosis” in the true sense of the word as being a “sickness of the soul or spirit.”

      Seeing Wetiko: On Capitalism, Mind Viruses, and Antidotes for a World in Transition

      The Greatest Epidemic Sickness Known to Humanity

      Wetiko last seen on NC: Links 12/31/2016

      Comment not meant to be a response…

  10. JEHR

    I sent a message to read this article to Prime Minister Trudeau, Finance Minister Morneau, Conservative Opposition Leader Scheer and Premier of Alberta, Notley.

    1. Anon

      You underestimate the degree to which our politicians have their short hairs firmly in the grasp of the oilmen. We’ve got the resource curse, though it may not look like it (yet) because we’re so close to the centre of power and get trickle down from the imperial wealth pump.

      As for nations voluntarily cutting off oil production before they’ve burned the last drop of positive ERoEI hydrocarbons… I think not. Demand destruction & popping bubbles will squeeze Ft Mac many times, they will just scale things back & send the maritimers home until the price comes up. Which it always does – I take prognostication about moving beyond oil with a big grain of salt. (Though i’d love to be proven wrong!)

  11. Allegorio

    This certainly illustrates Hannah Arendt’s assertion of the banality of evil. The impulse to cash in, for oneself and one’s family is certainly a natural impulse. Whereas it is great for the individuals who will cash in on fossil fuel production and will provide enviable life styles for these families for generations, the result for the commons, the planet will be disastrous.

    Unless the philosophy of “enlightened” self interest is abandoned tout suite, we are doomed. While certainly admirable to do the best for your family to secure their prosperity, at this stage in history it is bringing about the destruction of civilization. There can be no self interest that does not complement the collective interest. This is the essence of morality and the kernel of truth in all religions. Without morality there is nothing!

    President Trump in both his personal life and political philosophy embodies this nihilistic ethic. Enlightened self interest is also behind the neo-liberal notion of the invisible hand of the market setting everything right. All the individual self interests in the world do not, cannot sort themselves out to the collective interest. Enlightened self interest is a corrupt philosophy designed to justify privilege and in the end will result in the annihilation of all selves. Sorry all you anarcho syndicalists, but TINA, There Is NO Alternative to Socialism, the planning and implementation of the common good.

    1. Allegorio

      PS: All the world’s oil reserves need to be put under collective control. All production must be strictly regulated and the profits used to implement the new carbonless energy economy. There is no alternative. TINA again. It is time to distinguish notions of personal property from private property. The fossil fuel resources of this planet never were and cannot be private property and certainly not personal property. I, like the next man, believe in maximizing personal sovereignty, but there are clear limits, murder, planeticide is one of them. The next world conference on global warming must implement the collectivization of all fossil fuel resources and rationalize their distribution. TINA!

  12. Kris Alman

    Oregon was the first state in the nation to eliminate “coal-fired resources” from its “allocation of electricity”– on or before 2030.

    We also need to eliminate fracked fossil fuels. In the zeal to eliminate coal, we became addicted to natural gas.

    Around 9% of all natural gas produced escapes into the atmosphere. Methane is a primary component of natural gas. “Fugitive methane emissions” escape from various points along the natural gas supply, with half of the methane leakage coming from drilling sites and gas processing plants and the remainder coming from pipelines and storage systems. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that is 34 times more potent than CO2 at trapping heat over 100 years and 86 times more potent over 20 years.

    In 2016, hydraulically fractured horizontal wells accounted for 69% of all oil and natural gas wells drilled in the United States. The International Energy Agency says fracking will make the United States the largest supplier of oil and gas in the world by 2023.

  13. Tobin Paz

    I’m surprised to see no mention regarding the fracking industry not making any money:

    U.S. SHALE GAS INDUSTRY: Countdown To Disaster

    The U.S. shale oil and gas industry hasn’t made any real money since 2009. This is especially true for one of the largest natural gas producers in the United States. Chesapeake Energy, which is the second largest natural gas producer in the country, hasn’t made a lousy nickel for at least the past ten years:

    Fracking has been a Hail Mary in the face of peak oil.

    1. Ptolemy Philopater

      In today’s economy making a profit doesn’t matter. It is the amount of money that you can borrow against assets, real or virtual. This is the Ponzi financial system based on debt we inhabit. When it comes time to pay off the debt you just borrow more to pay it off ad infinitum, until it becomes time to unload the debt on some pension fund or municipality. Remember, one man’s debt is another man’s asset, ad nauseum. Infinite rehypothecation uber alles.

      1. Michael Hudson

        This paper leaves out an all-important trick in the tar sands development: The cost of water is counted as zero.
        Already, the Columbia River is drying up. This will adversely affect agriculture — which was deliberately intended in the late 1970s when the plans were first drawn up. (I worked on them at the Hudson Institute for ERDA in the Carter Administration. When I pointed to the water-diversion, this point was taken out of my study and I removed my name from it).

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Do you believe that their goal and intention was to de-water and desertify the Pacific Northwest . . . in particular the Columbia River basin . . . as an acceptable collateral-damage-endpoint all in itself?

          Or do you think they were hoping that a desertified West would exert enough pressure to build out NAWAPA that the organs of central government would be “forced” to “give in” to building out NAWAPA? Was NAWAPA a secretly-hoped-for result of planned desertification of the West?

        2. Synoia

          You might also want to point our that straight line prediction of natural events are bunkum. Most nature evens follow a growth curve.

          I can draw a find growth curve in that graph at the head of this article.

      2. Tobin Paz

        If you look at debt as a promise of future goods and services made with energy then no amount of money printing will prevent us from falling off the Seneca cliff.

      3. skippy

        Humans utilizing time and space whilst conducting exchanges is a historical foot note, how some feel about it does not change it.

        It would seem as Mr. Hudson notes, agendas supersede the thing, not to mention the empty warehouse view has been sorted.

    2. Tony Wright

      Fracking is also a paranoid, control freak response to the prospect of not being able to guarantee access to Middle East oil, and the same driver which caused the US and allies to invade Iraq.
      And why does nobody call out the fundamental problem which drives anthropogenic climate change? TOO MANY PEOPLE.
      Unless human population growth is stopped we are all f….. Within the 21st century, even without anthropogenic climate change, due to the ecological consequences of overpopulation which apply to all species; war, famine and disease.
      Instead, we just kick the can down the road in the expectation that technology will fix the problem. Which is no less than collective suicidal bull….

    1. Gaius Publius

      Serious answer — as a retainer, or a provider of necessary products and services, to the very very wealthy. They’ll take care of themselves and only as many of the rest of us as they need to still live comfortable, well-cushioned lives.

      They want to make sure that, if all lifeboats go under, theirs goes under last. If you want to know where to sit, try to be in that boat.


  14. Temporarily Sane

    Imagine if the media put as much effort into running articles and opinion pieces centered on climate change rather than making Trump the most publicized person in history and aiding and abetting Anglo-American madmen and madwomen in London and DC in their quest to destroy Russia and to spark a war with Iran or North Korea.

    The “plan” so far seems to consist of holding well-publicized climate meetings every few years in aesthetically pleasing locales, telling everyone how dedicated they are, passing the buck to poorer countries and agreeing to some feeble non-binding goals and targets that never get met.

    Part two of the plan, as large swathes of the southern hemisphere flood or dry up, will likely involve using the military to “contain” millions of stateless refugees forced to leave their uninhabitable home countries in search of more hospitable climes. PR outfits will be used to “manage” our perceptions if the containment efforts get nasty.

    Part three, as climate change acutely impacts the northern hemisphere, will involve massive prayer and brainstorming sessions in sports arenas, led by the always charming Jeff Bezos channeling Billy Graham, to help Elon Musk, Tim Cook, the Alphabet goons and Mark Zuckerberg implement their innovative app-based, forward thinking enhancements to the climate change experience.

    Jony Ives will design the iClimate Mate’s extra extra thin container and the product will be assembled (i.e. glued together) by Bangladeshi climate migrants warehoused on Foxconn Santa Catalina Island off the southern California coast.

    Part 4 of the plan involves panicking, dog paddling in circles and possibly blaming surviving members of the Trump family for making disparaging remarks about Jony and Zuck and Russian hackers for interfering in, well, something and thus being responsible for humanities most epic, and final, failure to transcend its propensity for denial and magical thinking.

  15. IamSpartacus

    No disagreement on the overheating of the global climate. It’s a disaster.

    And yet, almost all the solutions put forward by environmentalists are always the same and always laughably impractical. Many commenters here, while well-intentioned in their desire to avoid environmental catastrophe, demonstrate what I am coming to call “energy illiteracy.”

    In the cited article, Sachs outlines the three trends that need to occur for complete “decarbonization,” which I want to address in detail:

    1. Higher Energy Efficiency – this is where government intervention can probably work the best. Poor window quality, replacing old boilers, and insulation – this is the low hanging fruit of his proposal. But solar PV cells, accumulators, and batteries have run into technological and material limitations on their efficiency. Batteries in particular are often touted as being the solution to the energy crisis – but I encourage everyone here to dig into the Lazard “Levelized Cost of Energy Storage Analysis” and do a little reading on something called “parasitic load.” The HVAC energy costs of keeping a battery efficient enough to do its job of storing energy makes grid-level batteries, on an “total energy-saved” basis, MUCH LESS ATTRACTIVE. Here’s hoping I’m wrong and that scientists like John Goodenough or Donald Sadoway discover a solution that worms its way around the third law of thermodynamics.

    2. Renewable Electricity Generation – “Wind and Solar will save us.” The issue is intermittency and reliability to the grid. Neither wind, nor solar are reliable enough to merit being baseload generation. There’s a reason investors in wind and solar don’t call it “renewables investing” – they call it “tax equity” because of the regulated tax incentive structure. Grid-level storage batteries are often touted as a solution, as is increased T&D from more reliable renewable energy such as hydroelectric to “fund the difference” where wind and solar can’t meet demand (which is what Sachs recommends). While this sounds reasonable in theory, it borders on ridiculous in practice. RTO’s in North America (organizations responsible for ensuring the reliability and security of the electric grid) will often make “capacity payments” to coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants simply for them to be available when the grid needs them. They do NOT make these payments to generation sources that may or may not be available when needed. If they didn’t maintain a certain level of coal-fire, natural gas, or nuclear generation, we would have rolling blackouts almost every night and more during summer and winter peaking months. Increasing T&D between renewable sources is nonsensical in this context, simply because of the timing of the load on the grid (more people turn the lights on when the Sun goes down, duh doi). Also, most renewable installations now are in the form of “distributed generation” – i.e. generation at the point of consumption, no T&D necessary. It is likely that early successful renewables integration will follow the distributed generation model, further invalidating the need for increasing penetration of T&D. In the absence of a robust energy storage solution to make renewables more reliable, fossil fuels and/or nuclear CANNOT be displaced for base load generation. Additionally, hydroelectric power is limited both by location and by rainfall levels. There is only so much load that can be served by hydroelectric power in North America – even if we dammed every river and stream in North America, it would still only displace maybe an additional 1% of load currently served by fossil fuels.

    3. Electrification of Transportation – if transportation is electrified, this just shunts the consumption of fossil fuels from transports to generators. You’re just creating more load that has to be served by a reliable and always available fuel source, which exacerbates already-severe issues outlined above with reliability of renewable energy generation. So in many ways, electrification of vehicles CREATES far more fossil fuel production than it destroys.

    So the key piece of technology here seems to be some kind of large-scale battery that can reliably and efficiently store electric power. This doesn’t exist yet.

    In the meantime, oil and gas are used for transportation, residential and commercial heating, petrochemicals, etc. etc. This is a problem you can’t legislate your way out of.

    To give an example from this past winter 2017-2018, New England was forced import LNG from Novatek’s Yamal project to meet residential gas demand. And New York has repeatedly denied permits for the Millennium pipeline to be built, which would have allowed connectivity of New England to the Marcellus/Utica. At its maximum, the basis differential between the Dracut, MA hub and Henry Hub, LA was around $105, which is unheard of. I seriously doubt anyone is patting their state commissions on the back for the series of decisions that led to those kinds of prices.

    In short, and to connect it back to TransCanada and Kinder Morgan, you have to pick your battles. The construction of these pipelines are not worth the energy to resist.

    Instead, focus on making renewables competitive. Better PV cell efficiency, better materials, a grid-level storage battery, interconnectivity between RTO’s, distributed generation, community solar/wind projects.

    1. Lambert Strether

      It seems to me that resisting pipelines would, all other things being equal, increase the price of oil to be transported. Isn’t that the yin to the yang of improving renewables technically?

      1. IamSpartacus

        Not necessarily, I believe. Price is not the only consideration when considering an alternative. The concept of “grid parity” illustrates this quite well.

        Let me illustrate with an example between coal and natural gas.

        Coal is still advantageously priced on a heating value ($/MMBtu) basis in comparison to gas – obviously there are some intervening effects there including cost to ship (i.e. less needs to be shipped if it’s denser, higher grade bituminous coal versus less dense Powder River Basin coal, etc.). For the most part however, you can get the same heating value for quite a bit less in price for coal.

        However, natural gas ONLY started replacing coal in peaking and baseload generation when the fracking boom occurred and combined cycle plants started being built (post 2009-2010). Coal plant retirements among regulated utilities were all the rage back in 2012-2015, probably due to the presence of a cleaner, competitively priced alternative. A similar phenomenon is occurring globally now with higher LNG exports – China starts limiting how many days its coal plants can operate within city limits to control air quality (the “274 day rule”) and starts importing LNG. It did NOT switch off of coal UNTIL there was a competitively priced alternative that did not represent a trade-off in reliability of its grid.

        [Aside: someone pointed out above or in the article you guys had on nuclear that the ONLY reason natural gas is cheap is due to cheap debt given to frackers and a huge amount of drilling inventory in the Permian, Haynesville, and Marcellus/Utica. If drilling doesn’t materialize in the amounts being projected, gas stops being so competitive with coal, LNG gets way more expensive, and coal probably makes a comeback. If you take that assumption on its face and throw in skepticism of renewables, it’s a good case for how undervalued the coal sector is.]

        So renewables don’t need to necessarily beat every other fuel source in terms of price. It needs its price to be somewhat comparable, and it needs to reliable enough that a switch can actually occur.

        So to finally answer your question, to artificially raise or lower the price of oil or gas by rejecting pipeline permits before renewables have solved their reliability problems is basically pointless, because there’s currently no way to switch from those fuel sources for baseload generation. What’s probably better for the Canadian government to do is to fund R&D with taxes raised on those pipelines to increase, say, pumped storage from its hydroelectric plants, integration of batteries into its grid, EV integration… the list goes on.

        If reliability issues can be solved with renewables, you could probably transform the grid in a decade. Then it would make sense to deny permits. If you do it now, you’re taxing utility customers, not the companies.

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