The European Parliament is about to decide whether to stop counting forest biomass as a “green fuel”, that is, fuel having no global warming impact, and restricting that status to residues and wastes. This is important because their current rules do not assign a carbon cost to whole trees harvested for fuel and burned. The theory behind the current rule is that the tree got its carbon from the air, but it’s deeply absurd; coal got its carbon from the air too. Forests store a lot of carbon, and putting it into the atmosphere is very much like burning fossil fuel; trees may be replanted and then may be allowed to regrow and recapture carbon, but for the decades that takes, the carbon from the harvest is in the air warming the planet.
Daniel Kahneman has a simple explanation why we don’t think things through: laziness. It’s no work to rely on the sloppy, but fast and efficient, Hare mental system, using short cuts and stereotypes to get a response that is, under the current US President, good enough for government work. Rigorous thought is hard.
Karl Popper offered a short cut through the hard part that is still rigorous: falsification of hypotheses. One false prediction and you’re out. A nice idea, but it rarely works. You can save almost any hypothesis with tweaks, including Ptolemaic astronomy. So it’s back to comparing the best shots of the competing hypotheses, hard work again.
Just occasionally, life presents us with a simple Popperian test. Here is one I spotted, on the recondite but important subject of Indian coal burning. There are two entrants. Goliath is the IEA, a stuffy but reputed intergovernmental policy and data shop in Paris. David is IEEFA, a small energy policy think tank in Cleveland.
IEA: India’s coal consumption will more than double by 2040. (IEEFA pdf, page 1.) The source is presumably the IEA World Energy Outlook 2017, paywalled; it’s not in the free summary. See also this IEA FAQ:
The positive IEA outlook for coal demand through 2020 is based in part on growth in India and Southeast Asia that will more than offset structural declines in Europe and the United States.
The headline to the chart understates the predicted change: growth will be trivial after next year. This means that India’s overall carbon emissions may stabilise in less than a decade, assuming the electric transition goes as fast in transport as the government plans.
Who’s right? Continue Reading…
Beginning Sunday, the biggest tobacco companies in the U.S. will start running an advertising campaign highlighting the health risks and addictive nature of smoking tobacco. The campaign is the result of a judicial order entered in 2006 in the case of U.S. v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 449 F.Supp.2d 1 (D.D.C. 2006).
The opinion, with the table of contents, runs 1,682 pages. I will not pretend that I have read even one-tenth of the opinion. However, I did read the introduction. I have posted the table of contents and the introduction in which I have highlighted two long passages, the first in green beginning on pdf page 33 and the second, highlighted in blue, beginning on pdf page 37. Here, I will only address the passage highlighted in blue. The passage illustrates how, even in the course of litigation, the tobacco companies played fast and loose with the truth, attempting to deny the reality of negative health effects from tobacco use.
Of course, this strategy has been adopted wholesale by industries that would face negative economic consequences if we began to address the reality of global climate change. If you don’t believe me, then read the following direct quote from the opinion, modified by adapting it to the context of climate change (and with footnotes omitted):
[S]everal observations need be made about witness bias and credibility. For the most part, each individual Chapter in the Findings of Fact explains why certain facts were found, why certain witnesses were credited, and why the testimony of certain witnesses was either discredited as just plain not believable or, in most instances, outweighed by other more convincing and credible evidence.
Most of the witnesses whose testimony was most vehemently attacked by the Defendants . . .were only relied upon for undisputed or relatively insignificant background facts . . ., or testified about remedies which this Court could not consider on the merits . . . .
Much of the Defendants’ criticisms of Government witnesses focused on the fact that these witnesses had been long-time, devoted members of “the public health [and climate science] community.” To suggest that they were presenting inaccurate, untruthful, or unreliable testimony because they had spent their professional lives trying to improve the public health of this country [and doing scientific research] is patently absurd. It is equivalent to arguing that all the Defendants’ witnesses were biased, inaccurate, untruthful, and unreliable because the great majority of them had earned enormous amounts of money working and/or consulting for Defendants and other large corporations, and therefore were so devoted to the cause of corporate America that nothing they testified to, even though presented under oath in a court of law, should be believed. Such simplistic attacks on the credibility of the sophisticated and knowledgeable witnesses who testified in this case are foolish.
All of this is not to deny that there were significant differences in the overall qualification of the Government’s witnesses and the Defendants’ witnesses. There were. The Government’s witnesses, viewed as a whole, were far more experienced, credentialed, and active in the area of [science and climate research], whatever their particular area of specialty, than were the Defendants’. Many of the Government experts had participated extensively, over many years, in the long and drawn-out process of ascertaining the consensus of scientific opinions . . . . Virtually every one had taught at a well-regarded academic institution and written numerous peer-reviewed articles in their particular area of specialty. Many of the Government witnesses continued “hands on,” [scientific research] in their fields despite heavy commitments for research, writing, teaching, and lecturing to their peers.
The Defendants’ witnesses were obviously well educated in their areas of specialty. Indeed, as was mentioned on many occasions, Defendants even presented the testimony of an impressive Nobel Prize winner. However, rarely did these witnesses have the depth and breadth of experience of the Government witnesses. Many had worked only in large corporations, and many for only one or two such employers. Many—although not all—had written relatively few peer-reviewed articles. Many of the highest paid experts of Defendants, while well credentialed in their particular fields, such as economics, presented relatively narrow testimony tailored to the particular problem or issue they were retained to opine on for purposes of this litigation. A few of Defendants’ experts had done virtually no individual research and written virtually no peer-reviewed articles, and a few were unfamiliar with the relevant facts and/or the major scientific literature on the issue about which they testified.
While the testimony of each person— expert or fact witness—was evaluated on its own merits, there can be no denying that, as a group, the Government’s witnesses were far more knowledgeable, experienced, and active in their respective fields.
This line of defense by the tobacco industry was first outlined in a 1972 memorandum from Fred Panzer, Vice President of the Tobacco Institute:
Our 1970 public opinion survey showed that a majority (52%) believed that cigarettes are only one of the many causes of smokers having more illnesses. It also showed that half of the people who believed that smokers have more illness than non-smokers accepted the constitutional hypothesis as the explanation.
Thus, there are millions of people who would be receptive to a new message, stating: Cigarette smoking may not be the health hazard that the anti-smoking people say it is because other alternatives are at least as probable. The Roper Proposal would be a persuasive (if not strictly scientific) medium for this message.
Put the Panzer quote into the context of 2017 and the war against climate science: There are millions of people who would be receptive to the message that: Green house gases and global climate change may not be the hazards that the scientists people say they are because there are other alternatives that are at least as probable. This would be a persuasive (if not strictly scientific) message.
P.T. Barnum may or may not have said “There’s a sucker born every minute.” But it’s true enough.
Yes, according to the top-ranked people at the Tyndall Centre, as reported in a string of journal reports, the key letter here. They predict global carbon emissions will rise 2.0% in 2017, after three years on a plateau. They do not offer a prediction for 2018, but are not optimistic.
(Chart from here.)
Is there any reason to change the plateau story? Is the rise a blip or a sign that emissions growth has resumed? For my money, a blip. Let’s look at the detail. Continue Reading…
It’s pretty chart time again!
A natural follow-up to my very broad-brush survey of the global emissions trajectory is: when can we expect oil demand, one of the big components, to peak?
To a first approximation, oil is used for transport by land, sea and air. The biggest chunk is gasoline for cars and diesel for trucks. These are still growing, and will continue to do so for some time. So start with gasoline for cars. When will this peak? I have had a go.
Cars last about 20 years, and every year <4% of the growing fleet is scrapped. The annual net increase is linear, like total sales. When new electric cars pass the total annual net increase, the total stock of ICE cars will peak and start to fall.
The growth of electric car sales is very rapid and exponential, but it’s also uncertain. I took three scenarios: the 58% CAGR that fits the last five years of data, and more cautious lower rates of 25% and 40%. Sales of EVs will pass the net growth in the car fleet in 2026, 2030, and 2037 in the three scenarios: 10 to 20 years from now. If I had to guess a “peak ICE cars” year, I would go for 2032, 15 years ahead.
The total stock of ICE cars is a fair proxy for gasoline consumption. So the same years are possible peaks for that. The range is disappointingly wide, but it’s is not useless information for global emissions. If diesel tracks gasoline (I think it will), the overall peak in oil demand will come at the same time.
A net zero economy requires a complete ICE phaseout and not peak but zero gasoline and diesel. To get this by 2050, all new ICE sales would need to stop around 2035, a much tougher proposition. Still, we have seen with coal that once the rot really sets in, things speed up. Some markets – I fancy diesel buses – may collapse completely quite soon.
A lot could go wrong. But a lot could also go better. It’s a fat risk distribution.
High-fibre background and speculation below the jump. There is not yet enough sales data for commercial electric vehicles to allow even a guesstimate for the phaseout of the competing diesels; but I offer qualitative reasons for thinking that they will follow a similar trajectory.
Tomorrow morning, congress will be back at work, with a dozen working days to knock off a list of tasks that would be daunting even without an infantile, grievance-besotted, Russia-crazed president throwing sand in the works, and even if its own managers didn’t have a Freedom Caucus of know-nothing ideologues hanging on its ankles, and even if Trump hadn’t just tossed it the anvil of immigration reform. Wow.
But that’s not all; this month only (but continuing for weeks and months of political hassle), you also get Harvey recovery, and wait, if you order now, and also if you don’t, you get two or even three additional exciting climate/weather events ! “Disturbance 1” is chugging west from near Cabo Verde at 10 mph with (at this writing) an 80% chance of getting organized within five days; “Disturbance 2” is brewing up exactly where Harvey started as a little baby orange X in the southern Gulf.
Irma is shaping up to be a very interesting event, as it is now drawing a bead on the east coast of Florida, likely to sail over warm water south of the Bahamas, turn right, and run north along the coast as a 3 or a 4. Of course these projections have a wide error band, but for now, let us reflect on what Neil Frank, the former director of the National Hurricane Center spent his career warning us of about just this storm.
(1) Evacuation routes in this region mostly run north and south; roads going inland (and you have to go a ways inland to be ahead of the storm surge) are basically narrow streets that peter out quickly among the alligators. If the storm is following the shore north from about Miami, driving along the coast is not going to help you much.
(2) Almost no-one living on this coast has ever experienced a major hurricane and has no idea what to expect. Since the last one, there’s been significant sea level rise, increased paved area, land subsidence, and lot more people. There is no real high ground in south Florida. Whole streets in Miami flood now just from a high tide.
(3) From Boca Raton south is a miles-long row of high-rise condominium towers lined up along the beach like dominoes, many taller than the space between them. They are built on sand under (i) Florida building codes and (ii) Florida local government administration. The former are not as insouciant and optimistic as the rules that put Houston under water last week, but close; the latter is not as corrupt as Louisiana’s, but, um…my father had an expression “as crooked as a dog’s hind leg” …
Frank used to predict that the storm surge will wash the sand out from under some or many of these buildings and they will tip over, perhaps into the condo tower next door. If evacuation doesn’t work, there will still be people in them.
(The governor overseeing this mess will be the deeply odious, reactionary, willfully ignorant, climate denier Rick Scott, who’s idea of Christian charity is drug tests for welfare recipients, and of responsive government is allowing Floridians to be sure their children don’t learn anything they don’t know, like evolution.)
Irma is due (according to current model runs) about next weekend; the other two, too early to tell. Oh yeah, Russiagate continues to slowly fulminate, and North Korea…oy.
The writer Saki, back at the beginning of the last century, said “the Balkans create more history than can be consumed locally.” I think current times create more news than society, or anyone in it, has the bandwidth to cope with. Or that the remaining adults in government can react to usefully.
Tony de Brum, the Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands (pop. 53,000) has died.
He will be remembered for one thing only. But it was a big thing, and de Brum was the hedgehog. I’ve told the story before. In the closing days of the COP 21 conference in December 2015 that negotiated the Paris Agreement on climate change, there was still a big gap between the developing countries and the rich ones.
The G77 alliance of developing countries, led by China, India and South Africa, was demanding more and more language on differentiated responsibilities, to the extent of effectively going back to the disastrous Kyoto principle that only rich countries had to cut; more finance than the $100 bn a year promised in Copenhagen; and language on loss and damage that was unacceptably strong to the rich countries. However, the alliance was divided on the 1.5 degree aspiration, with the big four – China, India, South Africa and Brazil – against it.
This opened the door for a well executed diplomatic wedge. Tony de Brum of the Marshall Islands took the lead (at somebody’s suggestion, no telling whose) in forming a “coalition of high ambition”, including many of the G77 plus the EU, the USA, Canada and Australia. In effect, the rich countries offered 1.5 degrees to split the G77 and isolate the big four. The poor countries on their side had to drop the demands on differentiation and finance; on loss and damage, the difference seems to have been split – but crucially with no admission of legal liability (Decision, paragraph 52). Before the end, Brazil jumped ship too. Their troops having deserted to the enemy, China, India and South Africa folded, and the way was open for the deal.
It is most unlikely that de Brum thought this up. He was not otherwise known as a Talleyrand, far from it. When he attended a meeting of the IMO, the UN organisation responsible for shipping, he was surprised to find that his country’s delegation had been taken over by the Virginia corporation that manages, and takes most of the loot from, his county’s vast shipping registry. On grounds of complexity and cui bono, the prime suspect for the Paris coup is Todd Stern, the wily and experienced US envoy. De Brum’s role was as the front man, the harmless guy everybody likes, the salesman. Don’t despise that: and de Brum was not a mercenary but fighting for his tiny country’s vital interests. It took a lot of commitment, nerve and chutzpah to face down China and India, and de Brum’s held to the end.
As it recedes into history, the Paris COP21 is emerging as one of the key moments in postwar history, on a par with the launch of the Marshall Plan or the signing of the Treaty of Rome. The inclusion of the 1.5 degree C target took far more knowledgeable observers than yours truly by surprise. Its role in the whole deal is to shift the Overton window: 2 degrees is no longer the wild upper limit of ambition, but the reasonable compromise that sensible men build into their calculations. The next steps in climate diplomacy will all be about whether to go firm on the harder target. There certainly won’t be any change in the easier one. Tillerson has conceded there are no actual US proposals for Trump’s promised “renegotiation” on the table, and if they were, they would be ignored.
A good man. RIP.
The Leaders’ Declaration from the just-ended G20 summit in Hamburg runs to 14 pages of dense diplospeak prose, 5,311 words. Can anyone point to a single line that is a win for US diplomacy? If there had been one, Trump would have claimed it.
Or in any of the 14 other documents “agreed” at the same time? Here they are, confirmation that German industriousness extends to paperwork. Site link if you feel up to it.
- Hamburg Action Plan
- Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth
- Hamburg Update: Taking forward the G20 Action Plan on the 2030 Agenda
- Annual Progress Report 2017
- G20 Action Plan on Marine Litter
- G20 Africa Partnership
- G20 Initiative for Rural Youth Employment
- High Level Principles on the Liability of Legal Persons for Corruption
- High Level Principles on Organizing against Corruption
- High Level Principles on Countering Corruption in Customs
- High Level Principles on Combatting Corruption related to Illegal Trade in Wildlife and Wildlife Products
- G20 Initiative #eSkills4Girls
- Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative
- G20 Resource Efficiency Dialogue.
The media are concentrating on the one glaring defeat for Trump on climate. As I predicted last December, the other 19 have gone their own way:
We take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The United States of America announced it will immediately cease the implementation of its current nationally-determined contribution and affirms its strong commitment to an approach that lowers emissions while supporting economic growth and improving energy security needs. The United States of America states it will endeavour to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently and help deploy renewable and other clean energy sources, given the importance of energy access and security in their nationally-determined contributions.
The Leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible. We reiterate the importance of fulfilling the UNFCCC commitment by developed countries in providing means of implementation including financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation actions in line with Paris outcomes and note the OECD’s report “Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth”. We reaffirm our strong commitment to the Paris Agreement, moving swiftly towards its full implementation … blah blah.
The US threat to help other countries backslide on their Paris commitments is empty. Even Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey refused to show any solidarity with Trump and signed on to the strong G19 statement, a major win for Merkel. There is no mention of North Korea, a major and immediate US headache, in the Declaration. Nor of Syria and Iraq. (The price was forgetting about the 2009 pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, no date given then or subsequently. It’s still there on page 12(!) of the ”Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth” annex, but the action has shrunk to token peer review. This suits Merkel, who does not want to pick a fight with her SPD coalition partners on a coal phaseout, so the German policy of continued dithering is now officially the world consensus.) [Update: Turkey is joining Russia in delaying Paris ratification, probably to get leverage with the EU. Unlike the USA, Turkey is building coal as well as renewable generating plants.]
Why did Trump fail so completely? It not just or even mainly because he’s thick. Continue Reading…
A pair of videos from Statoil, the Norwegian state oil company, on building their first operational floating wind farm. You lose nothing by muting the awful muzak soundtracks.
Moving the underwater spars from Spain to Norway:
More interesting, mating the turbine to the foundation:
Statoil have had an experimental floating turbine operating for a while. This is the first proper wind farm, to be installed off Scotland, not far from the golf course Trump has been vainly trying to protect from visual pollution by similar nasty things. The farm is small by current offshore standards, only five turbines. But they are full size, 6 MW each. This is at the lower end of the current offshore size range, which goes up to 8 MW. Vestas’ latest model is 9.5 MW. Onshore turbines stop at around a third of that, because of the logistics.
Even with such small numbers, Statoil are still getting economies of scale: the transport ship for the foundation spars carries two. The floating crane, the really expensive piece of gear, assembles the five turbines one after the other in a sheltered fjord, presumably in much less time than it would need to emplace the same number on fixed foundations.
The next step is to tow the turbines across the North Sea, secure them with chains in 90m of water, and connect up the power cables. These operations should take much less time than building fixed foundations.
Will it work? Continue Reading…
Basement rocks, the ones far below the Cambrian sediments, don’t get much love. Where’s the poem? Kipling wrote one featuring the less interesting ocean abyssal plains. They are of little interest to palaeontologists, as there are no fossils (baked bacteria are pretty invisible), and none to oil and gas drillers. They are vital to us simply because the continents rest on them.
The Grand Canyon, unusually, has a tidy horizontal stratigraphy mapping geological history. You would think, wouldn’t you, that the basement igneous rock at the bottom of the gorge was simply a boring sheet of granite, all the way down. But no. Wikipedia on the Vishnu Schist, which is what it’s romantically named:
Specific names have been assigned to individual plutons and dike swarms because the plutons and swarms differ greatly in their age, origin, and tectonic significance. The oldest of these plutonic complexes, Elves Chasm Gneiss, likely represent a small fragment of basement upon which the metavolcanic rocks that comprise the Granite Gorge Metamorphic Suite accumulated. The remainder of the Early Paleoproterozoic granites, granitic pegmatites, aplites, and granodiorites – are parts of either younger plutons or dike swarms, that have intruded the Granite Gorge Metamorphic Suite, either contemporaneously with, or after they were metamorphosed. Etc etc.
If this sounds more like the result of an explosion in a connoisseur jam factory, it’s because the actual processes were similarly violent though much slower.
The oldest rocks at the bottom of the gorge are about 1.75 billion years old (Gya). The basement rock below England is considerably younger, about 700 million years old (Mya). The Earth has been around for 4.6 billion years, and the oldest dated rocks are from 4.0 Gya. Just when the tectonic plate system started is Controversial but those arguing for a late start in the Archaean say that rock life was just too violent:
small protocontinents were common, prevented from coalescing into larger units by the high rate of geologic activity.
Do the Priorplater and Posteriorplater factions speak to each other, or anathematise from their rival journals? Either way, the exploding jam factory was at work for several billion years, moving large lumps of crustal rock about, colliding and subducting them, and metamorphosing early sediments with ferocious volcanic heat. That’s why very old rocks (over 3 Gya) are rare, and the basement is typically complex.
The basement rock may lie on the surface, as in much of Scotland, or be covered by ten kilometres of sediments. What deep rock is, is hot. A heat map of Britain at 5 km and 7 km depths.
This study is the source of the maps and also gives estimates of the British geothermal resource. Tl;dr: it depends. The heat in place in the rocks is mind-blowing: to 9.5km, 357,000 exajoules.
If it were possible to develop just 2% of this resource (7144 EJ), this would be equivalent to 1242 times the final UK energy consumption in 2015.
So now deep igneous rocks have found a fan club: geothermal engineers. Continue Reading…