Saturday, August 27, 2011
Before I let this, and my previous post on this topic, drift down the gutter into the sewer of unwelcome posts, I am compelled to present a bit more background and to make a few predictions.
There are many notable men of words1 in the transition and peak oil movements that have publically recognized the dissonant views posed by a peak oil/peak fossil fuel scenario and an anthropogenic (man-made) global warming scenario, as portrayed by the IPCC.
For instance, here is André Angelantoni, the founder of Post Peak Living commenting on this topic in 2007:
It would be going too far to say that the IPCC report is wrong: there is a lot of good science in there and we certainly are changing the chemistry of the atmosphere. However, the IPCC authors relied on published numbers for hydrocarbon availability and gradually those numbers are becoming untenable.
In addition to the list of objections people use to deny climate change ("it's the volcanoes," "mars and the other planets are warming up, too, so it must be the sun" etc.) we can now expect a new one to be added, which will sound like, "We don't have to worry: there isn't enough fossil fuel left to be a problem" or "You still want to limit carbon emissions? The market is already doing that as a result of high oil prices and we can't damage the economy even further."
In other words, peak oil will make legislated carbon reductions more difficult, not less. And the arguments actually are reasonable: carbon emissions will go down regardless of legislation because of peak oil
The cap and trade system will collapse because the baseline carbon will be declining due to reduced economic activity and a dramatic increase in efficiency projects.
It is almost certain, in my view, that concern for peak oil will soon replace concern for climate change as oil supplies tighten and prices rise above $100/barrel. This is because the effects of peak oil will be immediate and widespread, unlike the effects of climate change at this time.
Richard Heinberg captures it perfectly when he says: "Climate change makes getting off of oil necessary and peak oil makes it inevitable." In other words, peak oil a very good reason to create alternative, renewable energy sources right now.
And remember: it is not true that peak oil means that the worst of climate change won't occur. Recall that even if we keep atmospheric emissions below 450ppm, we still have only lowered the chance of catastrophic climate change to below 50% — not eliminated it (Source: IPCC Fourth Assessment). All the other problems (drought, rising water levels, lower food production, etc.) will continue to worsen as we climb toward 450ppm.
So what do we do? Now more than ever it's important to transform how energy is used by the economy and move off of fossil fuels. Efficiency (doing the same work using less energy), conservation (reducing demand) and renewable energy generation are what every business should be spending a great deal of time on.
And the climate change community must quickly alter its message to include peak oil or it risks being marginalized.
from André Angelantoni, Peak Oil and Climate Change FAQ (emphasis added)
By the way that estimate of 450 ppm was based on the assumption that the reserves for oil, gas and coal reported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) are accurate. As with the IEA, as discussed by Aleklett, the EIA probably grossly overestimates the recoverable reserves of fossil fuels.
Okay, here is Chris Martenson, the author of the free on-line Crash Course wading in on the subject in 2009:
I don't normally wade into these waters mainly because the entire topic of global warming, for many, comes down to a matter of belief and is therefore subject to a rapid escalation of emotions.
I will say that as a former computer modeler I am quite leery of big models because I know the limitations. Among them are sensitive dependence on initial conditions (the so-called butterfly effect especially prominent in chaotic systems), the length of time being modeled (longer = less accurate), and getting your variables both completely defined and their feedback loops properly adjusted.
Now let's fast forward to a system (climate) with hundreds if not thousands of variables, some of which may not yet even be characterized (or discovered), many of them not directly testable, with unknown feedback parameters requiring vast ranges to be applied (think back to the butterfly effect here) all being cast forward many years, if not decades. Suffice it to say that some caution is warranted.
So my point here is that I am leery of models that I can only understand by their outputs and not their construction. I daresay that very, very few (here and elsewhere) can really assess the strengths and limitations of such models, upon which everything rests.
But as a person with modeling experience I can tell you that we should all reserve some measure of caution before allowing the results of such models to become incorporated into our personal belief systems. There are simply too many ways for them to be wrong - in either direction(!).
Another way one might introduce some caution into believing the output from any particular climate model is to note that there is not even any specific agreement over what the actual temperatures were that inform the baseline positions of the models (here and here). Since I am a "take it down to the base data" kind of fellow, I cringe when I discover that there is so much controversy about the statistical revision of the base data itself as it feels as if there's a bottomless well of inquiry between myself and any opinion I might form about the output of models that rely on that data.
I am somewhat disappointed, however, in many of my scientific brethren out there who do not speak of the obvious limitations in these models and promote the results with more certainty than I know are warranted. They do a disservice to science in general and to their own branch specifically. When, not if but when, their models are proven by the real world to be off the mark (and they will be) then their prior claims can, and will, be used against them in the court of political and public opinion.
.... it is my past experience with models that leaves me especially leery of "letting them in" to my system of personal beliefs.
from Chris Martenson, Global Climate Change: is it worth brushing off? post 243 (emphasis added)
And, here is Martenson again in 2009:
The good news for people worried about ever-increasing carbon emissions from here to eternity is that we'll probably never get all the coal and oil out of the ground to burn. Our exponentially-designed economic system will gasp a final breath through a dwindling energy straw long before we manage to extract the remaining dregs. A slumping economy will prevent oil from being extracted from 35,000 feet under the ocean and coal from being pulled up from 4,000 feet under the ground.
Even without the economic dislocation effects, the dire IPCC carbon projections for carbon dioxide accumulation would require the world's extraction and use of coal to climb by more than 600% over the rest of the century, which is pure fantasy.
from Chris Martenson Copenhagen & Economic Growth - You Can't Have Both
Here is a 2010 interview of Robert Hirsch the author of the Hirsch Report and co-author of the book, "The Impending World Energy Mess" (which I discussed here):
The science is messy it's by no means clear. And, by the way, the international group that did the studies, part of which were hijacked by people with their own ulterior motives. Those studies utilized a continuing growth of world oil, coal and natural gas production world-wide till the end of the century. And we know that that is just plan dead wrong. We are going to go into oil production decline in the not too distant future. Natural gas is a finite resource, and it will go into decline sometime after oil production goes into decline. And coal is also a finite resource. So, fortunately or unfortunately, the people who did that study glossed over the limitations of these finite resources. So there is simply not enough hydrocarbon there to push things to the extent these folks have assumed. And so they have made a fundamental error that has to be in fact addressed.
from Robert Hirsch discusses man-made Climate Change starting at 1:30
Finally, here is Erik Curren, the publisher of Transition Voice commenting on this topic in the context of a Clive Hamilton book review in 2011:
If Hamilton took note of what the International Energy Agency said last year, that the world passed peak oil production in 2006 — and if he also recognized that peak coal can’t be far behind — then he would see that IPCC assumptions about the rate at which greenhouse emissions will increase are probably way too high. More likely, given energy depletion, is for the world to use less than half the energy it does today by mid-century. That is, if there’s any global industrial economy at all in 2050.
For the self-described former director of “Australia’s foremost progressive think tank” to write a book about climate and energy and not mention peak oil once seems either grossly negligent or intellectually dishonest. Certainly, Hamilton must have heard about energy depletion during his years of research and advocacy. My guess is that, like many climate activists, he just didn’t want to talk about it.
from Erik Curren, Why you can’t fight climate change without peak oil
I do not think that Aleklett, Angelantoni, Martenson, Hirsh or Curren are "climate change deniers."
But I do think that they, like me, see the disconnect between the IPCC's assumption of a "business as usual" ever growing fossil fuel production and use scenario, versus the likelihood that the world is at or near the production rate peaks in oil, gas and coal.
I think that they, like me, would like to see a more creditable climate modeling scenario which considers the possibility of peaking fossil fuels.
Personally, I find it impossible to accept a peak oil/peak fossil fuel scenario and to simultaneously accept the IPCC's man-made climate change scenarios. To borrow from Martenson's article title, you can't have both.
Of these two dissonant future scenarios, peak fossil fuel versus man-made climate change, it is the latter one that has been widely accepted by national governments and international groups.
And, because there is already substantial emotional, financial and political investment in the man-made climate change scenario, it will be very difficult for these bodies to do what Angelantoni suggested: alter the message to include peak oil or risk being marginalized.
An about-face acknowledgement of peaking fossil fuels, in my opinion, would indeed cast doubt and would marginalize the man-made climate change scenario presented by the IPCC. That, in turn, would cause a loss in the creditability of the governments and international bodies that bought into the man-made climate change scenario, and, for the need to spend money on mitigation such a scenario.
Is it too late for reconciliation?
For a politician or climate change evangelist,2 yes, maybe it is too late. Such an about-face would be political suicide or cause a great loss in creditability. As Martenson said, their prior claims can, and will, be used against them in the court of political and public opinion. Not impossible, but hard to recover from.
For a scientist, no, of course it is not too late. It is never too late to dump your hypothesis or at least be willing to explore an alternative hypothesis, especially if you have creditable data at hand, such as what Aleklett provides, to test that alterative hypothesis.
There have been a few unofficial (i.e., non-IPCC) climate modeling efforts which take peaking fossil fuels into account. Here's what Ugo Bardi said in reviewing some of these unofficial modeling efforts:
The studies published so far that take into account both peak oil and climate change are a truly minuscule number in comparison to the total number of papers that deal with climate change. This says a lot on how the problem was neglected so far. Nevertheless, a consensus seems to be emerging. Even with different models and different assumptions, it appears that geological constraints pose an important limit on CO2 emissions. All the studies discussed here arrive at the conclusion that, even without policy interventions, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere will stabilize in a range that goes, approximately, from 450 to 600 ppm. These values are far below those of the "business as usual" (bau) scenario of the IPCC that predicts a CO2 concentration of about 1000 ppm by the end of the century.
Based on these studies, peak oil (and, in general, peak fossils) is going to have a strong effect on the climate issue. For one thing, it may well make the Kyoto treaty obsolete. There would be no need for policy measures to enforce the Kyoto targets. The emission limits that today are often seen as an insufferable set of constraints on the economy, could become, in the near future, just a consequence of the reduced supply of fossil fuels coupled with a contracting economy. On the other hand, the targets of the Kyoto treaty might well turn out to be insufficient to counter global warming.
In my opinion, the studies I have discussed show that there are serious threats looming ahead. I believe that whether the threat be depletion or warming, we should move away from fossil fuels as fast as possible. Still, it is not at all certain that what we can do will be enough and we might well suffer for both effects: lack of fuels and global warming. It wouldn't be "fire or ice", but fire and ice.
Prediction #1: Renegade scientists involved with the modeling of climate change scenarios within the IPCC will run the numbers assuming a peak fossil fuel scenario—and report these unsanctioned results through wikileaks or its progeny.
The renegades will be simultaneously heralded as heroic, for risking their professional careers, and as heretics, for receiving kick-backs from "Big Oil" or some other nefarious entity that, as conjectured by Bendzela, is hell bent on "burning everything" in a desperate attempt to stave off the social and economic effects of peaking fossil fuel, and, to make a profit, of course.
There will be a media frenzy covering this new "climategate scandal"—at least until Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian do something really important.
Prediction #2: The unsanctioned modeling results will support one of two diametrically opposing outcomes.
One possible outcome predicted by the unsanctioned model could be dramatically lower levels of global warming than portrayed in van Ypersele's presentation at Aspo 9.
This is what I expect based on the unofficial modeling efforts described above—unless the human consumption of fossil fuels has pushed the world past the tipping point of global warming.
That in fact is the second possible opposing outcome that could be predicted by the unsanctioned model: there will be still unacceptably high global warming occurring despite the assumption of peaking and declining fossil fuel production.
I don't believe there is much room for a middle ground between these two opposing scenarios because the IPCC's prevailing business-as-usual assumption of a fossil fuel reserve is several times larger than the estimates of recoverable reserves predicted by the peak fossil fuel scenarios such reported by Aleklett.
I think the inevitable peaking and decline in fossil fuel production will be even more stringent than any kind of planned “mitigation measure” that the IPCC modelers would be allowed to consider, or at least report.
Just consider the implications of a global warming model which predicts that, even though several times lower amounts of the hydrocarbons are assumed to be released into the atmosphere, we still arrive at unacceptably high levels global warming.
Prediction #3: Either of these outcomes, predicting much lower levels of global warming, or, predicting global warming occurring regardless of whether mankind burns the remaining fossil fuels or not, will undermine and marginalize the climate change movement, and, the politicians that supported climate change mitigation in the past, will jump ship.
As the world starts to slide along the downside of peak fossil fuel production and exports, the resulting crashing economy will make it even less feasible to extract the more expensive remaining resources of oil, gas and coal. The crashing economy will also make it even less feasible to spend money on mitigating climate change.
Some savvy politicians may even use the unsanctioned results as a rationale for not passing laws, such as a carbon tax, or strong environmental standards, aimed at reducing the effects of man-made climate change.
They will argue, "if climate change will not be nearly as bad as expected or we are already past the point where intentionally decreasing fossil fuel use will do much good anyway, and, this hurts economic growth, then why are we doing this?"
Prediction #4: Previous true believers in AGW will become true believers in
PO without missing a beat.
When people are ready for a mass movement, they are usually ripe for any effective movement, and not solely for one with a particular doctrine or program....This receptivity to all movements does not always cease even after the potential true believer has become an ardent convert of a specific movement.
Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, 1951, Cp 3(14)
Where does this leave the men of words that are trying to fashion a mass movement that leads to a new society that can survive the enormous global problems that peaking fossil fuels, man-made climate change, or maybe both, will create?
When asked about why climate change didn't figure into his Crash Course presentation, here is what Martenson had to say:
I very specifically avoided that whole area for two reasons. The first is that I thought I could create a compelling enough sense of urgency without going into that topic, and the second reason is that I had worked with this enough in various life settings to discover that there are people on both sides of that story that hold very strong beliefs around that material.
And you know, I think I can still tell the story in a way that creates the same sorts of changes that I’m seeking, preaches the same sorts of urgency that I’m seeking, without touching that story. So it was really a strategic decision and part of it was a tactic and it was really centred on my belief at the time when I was putting the crash course together, that I was going to be opening an enormous can of worms and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to or qualified to manage.
I doubted my ability to go into that territory and come out of it with the ability to reach everybody. If I had a mission or a goal for the crash course it was to create it in such a way that it’s not partisan, there’s no religious beliefs in there; I’m not engaging in any class or socio-economic warfare zones if you will. I hope that the crash course is presenting a body of material that is so important that I want everyone to have the chance to hear it, without them shutting down and saying, ‘Oh he holds the wrong position on a political party, on climate change, on a belief-laden area’. So it was just my belief that I could reach more people telling it the way I did without going into climate change, than if I had.
Similarly, if you take Angelantoni's and Bradford’s free on-line course or the for-fee online uncrash course (which I have done and I do recommend) you will hear about the importance of preparing for the difficult times that climate change and peak oil will bring, but not much, if anything, about the dissonance between these two scenarios.
So the strategy seems to be, bite your tongue about the possibility of the IPCC's climate change scenarios being a fantasy, maybe even repress discussion of the topic, for the sake of reaching a consensus view and to recruit the maximum number of people as possible into the mass movement towards transition. Preach to the flock about the commonalities of how one might deal with peak fossil fuels and global warming. When the unsanctioned results of the renegade modelers and/or reality of peak fossil fuel depletion becomes readily apparent, the AGW believers and members of the climate change movement will find it easy to shift into the peak fossil fuel movement.
Some Final Heretic Thoughts
Adapting to reduced levels of fossil fuel energy consumption is consistent with both the climate change and the peak oil transition movements. The reduced use of oil may also argue for the advantages of localizing industry and food production. There are more commonalities to be sure.
But there are also differences in how one might deal with peak fossil fuels versus global warming as modeled by the IPCC.
In my opinion, the heart of the difference between the believers in the IPCC model of climate change and believers in the peak fossil fuel scenario is that most of the former believe that business as usual remains a possibility while the most of the later do not.
Specifically, the IPCC's climate change scenario assumes that there remains tremendously large reserves of energy in the form of fossil fuels. These energy reserves can be used as a bridge to build a more renewable energy infrastructure that relies on windmills, solar panels, batteries, biofuels as so on, and, to help sequester and offset the existing excess levels of carbon already in the atmosphere. And, the large reserves of fossil energy are still there to use, in a less polluting way if we want to, to maintain and expand the renewable energy infrastructure. After we get over some rough spots, economic growth can continue on as before.
In comparison, it is my impression is that those who are fully aware of the peak fossil fuel scenario believe that the renewable energy sources, even if possible to implement in the next few years, can't possibly make up the quantity, reliability and portability of the energy obtained from fossil fuels.
To establish a low-carbon economy will require us to work against the key trend that has driven wealth creation during the 19th and 20th century – the replacement of small amounts of expensive human labour by large quantities of low-cost fossil fuels. Renewable energy sources do provide energy, but very likely only with reduced benefits, given their higher extraction and conversion effort and thus higher cost. The same is true for cleaner fossil fuel uses. For example, carbon sequestration might reduce generation efficiency by approximately 24% and lead to cost increases of up to 82% over regular coal based electricity.
In Revisiting Rolling Blackouts in Texas, I offered as an example, the problems and costs of making wind power a significant contributor to the electricity grid in
. If the EPA regulations cause some of the old coal and gas fired plants in Texas to shut down or to just have reduced capacity, then it seems likely that late-afternoon rolling blackout will become common-place in the summer. Rolling black-outs, in turn, will directly affect industry’s productive capacity. There would have to be an enormous expenditure to replace this capacity with wind power, which is often not too efficient in the summer in Texas . Texas
In my opinion, with ever-diminishing supplies of total energy and reliable energy, the economy not only will not grow, but will decline, roughly in proportion with the declining total production of energy.
In my opinion, the most rational approach, if the peak fossil fuel scenario is correct, is to prepare for a future with much lower energy consumption—the endless growth, business-as-usual model is dead. The human labor component to the economy will have to increase once again. The complexity of society will have to decrease. Until the general public hears that message and accepts it, not much effective preparation for the future is going happen.
Finally, what about that carefully-crafted strategy of silence with respect to the dissonance between peak oil and man-made climate change?
Is this in-itself just another form of “intellectual dishonesty or gross negligence,” analogous to Curren's charge against
, or a “disservice to science,” as Martenson said when speaking of the IPCC climate modelers? Or, is this just another case of "the ends justify the means?" Hamilton
I don't know, but perhaps you can be a scientist, or you can be an evangelist, but you can't be both.
1 A movement is pioneered by men of words, materialized by fanatics and consolidated by men of action. It is usually an advantage to a movement, and perhaps a prerequisite for its endurance, that these roles should be played by different men succeeding each other as conditions require. from The True Believer, Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Eric Hoffer, 1951, Cp 16(113)
2 I use the term evangelist here in its broad sense meaning, "an enthusiastic advocate."
--September 1, 2011--
Is it appropriate to question the integrity of climatologists when “It is IEA's job to come up with reasonable numbers, not IPCC's, and if there is no political will to do IEA's job properly.”
That is a fair question, and I want to review enough background so you can see where I am coming from in making my response.
There is some pretty strong evidence that the EIA has been intentionally inflating their estimates of the global petroleum reserves. For instance, read the article The Implications and Fallout of the IEA "Leaks" by Chris Martenson that I referenced in the previous article, and go read the references cited therein (in particular, Key oil figures were distorted by US pressure, says whistleblower and Comments on Guardian article: “Key oil figures were distorted by US pressure, says whistleblower” by Kjell Aleklett).
Also, you will see in these same articles evidence that the
pressured the IEA to use the EIA’s numbers. USA
Finally, we have van Ypersele, the vice-chair of the IPCC, acknowledging that the IPCC was “influenced” to only consider what he calls “non-mitigation” scenarios—which I take as code for the business-as-usual EIA/IEA reserve numbers, and not peak oil or peak fossil fuel scenarios, such as published by Aleklett et al. (see again Peak Oil and Climate Change: time for some remodeling?).
So, here we have the EIA pressuring the IEA to report over-inflated reserve numbers, the IPCC being told to only consider the IEAs numbers, and the IPCC doing what they were told.
Based on this, yes, I do think that it is appropriate to question the integrity of the EIA, the IEA and the IPCC as independent an objective sources of information about fossil fuel reserves and the likely impact that burning those fossils will have on atmospheric CO2. The EIA, IEA and IPCC are entities—but people work for and speak for those entities. I think that it is appropriate to question the integrity of those people as well.
And what of the individual climatologists who are doing the modeling on behalf of the IPCC? Is it possible that they are all so focused on their own fields that, for the past 10 years or so, they are all completely unaware of peak oil/peak fossil fuels, and, unaware the pressures exerted to not consider the implications that peak oil/peak fossil fuels would obviously have on their climate models?
That would be quite incredible indeed.
My hunch is that there is strong internal pressure on the climatologists to only consider the over-inflated EIA inputs in their models, and, that these climatologists have either succumbed to that pressure, to preserve their own careers, or, because they truly believe that using the input-flawed models are still for the "greater good." In other words the end justisfy the means, in their view.
That is why I predicted that there will be a renegade scientist, probably a senior scientist at the end of his career, who will leak the "unsanctioned" analysis.
If you knew that there was a good chance that one of the most, if not the most, important inputs into your model (i.e., the total amount of fossil fuel available to burn) was bogus, but you kept running and reporting the results of the model anyway, does that not raise the issue of integrity?
Next time, I will return to a less controversial topic than climate change; the diminishing food supply and the prospects for mass starvation.