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An optimistic view on climate change

June 23rd, 2015

Regular readers will be aware that I have a generally optimistic disposition. You may wish to bear this in mind when you read this Inside Story piece arguing that the prospects are good for stabilising global greenhouse gas concentrations at 450 ppm.

On the whole, though, I think excessive pessimism is a bigger problem than over-optimism. As I’ve argued before, I think lots of people have locked themselves into positions (eg advocacy of geoengineering, or belief in the end of industrial civilisation) that are based on the assumption that stabilisation is impossible. Many of these people are not open to evidence that stabilization is feasible, and even likely.

There’s a strong case that we should do better than 450 ppm, with a common ‘safe’ figure being 350 ppm. Since we passed that level some time ago, that requires a long period of negative net emissions, which cannot easily be achieved with current technology. Still, if net emissions are reduced to zero in the second half of this century, and some technological advances are made over the next fifty years (a plausible assumption if we put in some effort), even 350 ppm might be feasible.

Australia is dragging the chain under the Abbott government, but even Abbott seems to be feeling the international pressure judging by recent reports. With luck the last couple of years will turn out to have been a temporary detour in progress towards decarbonization.

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  1. Hermit
    June 23rd, 2015 at 14:00 | #1

    The tone of the article is that technology and distaste for coal will bring about reduced emissions. Maybe so but depletion and an economic slowdown could be even more important. I think world emissions will peak before 2050 in the complete absence of carbon pricing, renewables quotas and the like. For Australia the big issues are coal baseload replacement, rising gas prices and oil supply vulnerability. Solar scarcely figures. All new forms of energy will be more expensive than what we are used to.

    I expect coal to be our main source of electricity until at least 2030. I think world liquid fuel production will be less than it is now (92 mbpd) despite IEA predictions of growth to 105 mbpd. That will spook everybody into conservation whether or not the oil price is high. As the big coal stations fall into disrepair they won’t be rebuilt with gas backed but overbuilt wind the likely winner. High electricity prices will discourage consumption. We’ll have a frugal low or no growth economy with declining car ownership. Plasma TVs, Holden V8s and jacuzzis will be a fading memory.

  2. paul walter
    June 23rd, 2015 at 14:05 | #2

    Don’t take away pessimism, fellow.

    How can we avoid doing stuff and walow, without pessimism, fatalism and defeatism?

  3. Moz of Yarramulla
    June 23rd, 2015 at 14:17 | #3

    I am watching the US response to the pope with interest. It’ll be quite hard for the mad monk to argue that the Catholics in the USA are obeying their pope but he shouldn’t. I’d like to think he’d also be shamed by the company he’s keeping in that regard, but I don’t think that’s in his emotional repertoire.

    I don’t think negative emissions is a big jump from zero, once we have the path established. That’s one of the few reasons I see for supporting offsets from dodgy stuff like revegetation. Those efforts are funding research into sequestration and that will be very useful once we decide that we need to do it on a large scale.

  4. Ernestine Gross
    June 23rd, 2015 at 14:20 | #4

    A balanced article, JQ.

    It seems to me, if the PM needs a business adviser then it should be a person who has created a successful business, preferably a science based one, not merely chaired well established enterprises or institutions.

  5. Ratee
    June 23rd, 2015 at 14:24 | #5

    It’s often good to be optimistic however the climate is only one of the major risks to the ecosystem.
    The primary risk is the “space” humans occupy in the system and the resources we appropriate for our species at the expense of the health of the whole.
    We are depleting the capital of the ecosystem and showing no signs of allowing natural processes to balance at a level that will ensure continued health.
    Co2 concentrations are an important measure but reducing the ppm to long term average levels is a pipedream at the current levels of population, habitat destruction (both land and ocean) and with the current and forseeable structure of the world economy.

  6. Megan
    June 23rd, 2015 at 15:09 | #6

    I didn’t read it as being overly optimistic.

    As far as I’m aware most pessimists (sticking with the labelling) don’t say “it can’t be done”, or “it can only be done if we all live in caves”. Their view is roughly “we probably won’t do it because our political systems are too corrupted to do what is necessary”.

    I read the piece as broadly saying “we can probably do it, and if we hope enough we might end up actually doing it”.

    This part:

    A win for the Republicans in the 2016 US elections could produce a “coalition of the unwilling” capable of setting back action on climate change for years, perhaps long enough to put the goal of preventing dangerous warming out of reach.

    implies that a win for the Democrats in the 2016 US elections is essential to prevent dangerous warming. I simply can’t see how that could be so. Mr ‘Hopey Changey’ hasn’t done anything to date that supports that idea and we don’t even know who the Democrat president would be.

    I’d be overjoyed to be convinced that I should be more optimistic about our prospects, but just don’t see a concrete basis for it – apart from “hope”.

  7. John Quiggin
    June 23rd, 2015 at 15:42 | #7

    Mr ‘Hopey Changey’ hasn’t done anything to date that supports that idea and we don’t even know who the Democrat president would be.

    Much tighter fuel efficiency standards for cars, regs closing down many old coal-fired power stations and making new ones almost impossible, new standards for trucks and planes, joint target announcement with Xi Jinping and more.

    Seems like a lot to me, and a Repub president wouldn’t have done any of it.

    Clinton the likely Dem candidate in 2016 is good on the issue, and Bernie Sanders (unlikely challenger) even better. All Repubs are deniers. So, yes it makes a big difference.

  8. Megan
    June 23rd, 2015 at 16:16 | #8

    I’m not talking about doing “nothing”, I’m talking about doing “enough”.

    I don’t believe (and I think the science agrees) that climate change is a case of “anything, no matter how small, is better than nothing” once we’re into the danger zone.

  9. ZM
    June 23rd, 2015 at 16:42 | #9

    Caritas has a petition relating to Pope Francis’ Encyclical seeking support for climate change to be limited to 1.5 degrees, which is a lower limit than the agreed upon 2 degrees.

    To world leaders
    Climate change affects everyone, but especially the poor and most vulnerable people. Impelled by our Catholic faith, we call on you to drastically cut carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise below the dangerous threshold of 1.5°C, and to aid the world’s poorest in coping with climate change impacts.

    http://www.caritas.org.au/act/our-common-home#petition

  10. ZM
    June 23rd, 2015 at 17:37 | #10

    According to the Guardian the Obama administration has been releasing new climate policies at the rate of every week or so- that was in an article about the Whitehouse providing NASA information to developing countries to help them with disasters.
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/09/white-house-climate-plan-developing-countries

    Last night I went to the launch of a report The Longest Conflict: Australia’s Climate Security challenge, and the defense expert from the UK Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti said that pressure may be brought to bear from fellow Five Eyes countries if Australia does not improve its climate response.

    Former ADF chief Chris Barrie said maybe national service could help with climate change responses when I asked about how the defense force could work with the community to rapidly respond to climate change in a wartime mobilization scenario. This was quite a good suggestion I hadn’t thought of before, and having national service for young people would mobilize enough people so you wouldn’t need to conscript much of the general population. Young people might think it is unfair they have to do national service when other generations haven’t except for in WW2 and the Vietnam War, so maybe the government could provide their tertiary education or other post secondary training free of fees and maybe help with housing like the soldiers settlements program, and they can be memorialized on plaques and RSL monuments as peacekeepers like soldiers too.

  11. Crispin Bennett
    June 23rd, 2015 at 17:38 | #11

    But pessimism about what? I’m inclined to be wildly optimistic about what’s technically possible, but pessimistic (from a narrow human perspective) about what’s actually going to happen. The post-Enlightenment knowledge explosion makes possibilities limitless, but the base nature of the violent ape and recent historical/cultural trends foreclose them. I haven’t yet seen even one remotely plausible narrative which ends in anything other than the more-or-less gradual destruction of all Earth’s ecosystems. And given worldwide permissive cultural attitudes towards technologies of violence, something more suddenly cataclysmic will be hard to avoid. Solving the climate change issue will be dodging only one of a hailstorm of bullets.

    I suspect this was inevitable from the point of humankind’s emergence. Once evolution chucks up a creature cognitively and culturally flexible enough to occupy any niche, it will inevitably overrun everything, unless there’s an available transcending power. With apologies to Hegel, Tim Flannery, and the Pope, surely few really believe in those any more?

  12. ZM
    June 23rd, 2015 at 17:38 | #12

    The report is available here:

    http://cpd.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Climate-Change-and-Security-Paper-FINAL.pdf

    And last night’s Lateline featured the report and interviews

  13. Newtownian
  14. Newtownian
  15. Tim Macknay
    June 23rd, 2015 at 19:30 | #15

    The thread so far…

    Hermit: ‘All new forms of energy will be more expensive than what we are used to’… doom.
    Ratee: ‘Climate is only one of the major risks to the ecosystem’… doom.
    Megan: ‘Mr Hopey Changey’… doom.
    Crispin Bennett: ‘Base nature of the violent ape’… doom.
    Newtownian: ‘Until economic theory is radically reformulated’… doom

    If nothing else, the thread is certainly a confirmation of your second paragraph, JQ. 🙂

    (Apologies to Paul, Moz, Ernestine and ZM)

  16. Troy Prideaux
    June 23rd, 2015 at 19:58 | #16

    @Tim Macknay
    AH… BUT… no Iko doom Tim 🙂

  17. Megan
    June 23rd, 2015 at 20:05 | #17

    @Tim Macknay

    That’s very glib.

    I’m quite open to, and accepting of “evidence that stabilization is feasible”.

    Presuming you are an optimist (again, sticking to the chosen labelling) maybe you can help me get to the next part: “…and even likely”?

  18. Megan
    June 23rd, 2015 at 23:24 | #18

    *crickets*

  19. Megan
    June 24th, 2015 at 00:26 | #19

    At the risk of being branded a “pessimist” for not being supportive of the non-LNP….

    Legislation to cut the renewable energy target (RET) has passed Federal Parliament, along with the contentious inclusion of native wood waste as a possible fuel source.

    After protracted negotiations, Labor and the Government agreed to reduce the original 41,000 gigawatt hour target to 33,000…

    Well look at that!

    The ALP/LNP fascist duopoly are at it again!

    Yep, I can see that voting for one half of that duopoly will definitely stop the duopoly as a whole from dooming us. (I can’t really).

  20. Donald Oats
    June 24th, 2015 at 00:29 | #20

    I’m optimistic that Australia will contribute a net negative at the coming conference in Paris. PM Tony Abbott is not feeling any heat from the international community—I doubt he would care one whit about what they have to say. Hoping to make peace with PM Tony Abbott on climate policy is to sup with the Devil: a meal of thin gruel and gristle for you, the sucking of the marrow of your very soul for He. There is a pernicious asymmetry to it.

    Meanwhile, rural LNP members want to talk about…dodgy thermometers! Stupid this thick needs carving with a chainsaw.

  21. June 24th, 2015 at 01:35 | #21

    Two other reasons for optimism.

    1. JQ remains very prudent on the costs of renewables, particularly solar. We are already at “about the same price as fossil”. But onshore wind in the US Midwest is already cheaper than fossil (LCOE 4c/kwh pre-tax). The best new solar plants are at 6c/kwh (Dubai, Texas). But there is no reason to think these costs are the limit. It’s likely in my non-expert opinion that further progress in wind will be quite slow, as increases in size and height are running into diminishing returns. But in solar, we are still far from the end of innovation. Trina have released a poly PERC module at 19% efficiency – remember the current policy standard is 16%. Expert Martin Green (just about the top researcher on pv) thinks we can get to 30% efficiency with perovskite-on-silicon tandem cells; and perovskite is a thin-film technology, using vapour deposition not sawing wafers. Fraunhofer for one think that progress will continue. This means that far from costing about the same, a solar-and-wind based energy transition will come out markedly cheaper. I predict this to be the message of the next IPCC mitigation report.

    The difference will affect the behaviour of investors. There may very well be a self-reinforcing market stampede into renewables and away from fossil. Not a sure thing, but tipping points are real.

    2. The international politics have got much, much better. The Obama-Xi deal was very important, partly because there was nothing quixotic about it. The commitments came from sober calculations of national self-interest, taking account of the “about the same” cost framework. In addition, the UN negotiations have ditched the impossible paradigm of a zero-sum allocation of a global carbon budget, for an open-ended “coalition of the willing”. I don’t know how much Christina Figueres is responsible for this, but it’s happened on her watch. Expectations of a concrete deal in Paris haves shifted from “next to impossible” to “very probable”.

    The price is that the deal will be inadequate: it will put us on track for say 3 degrees of warming this century. But so what? The agreement will include a review in 5 years or so, to tighten up the commitments and bring in the laggards like Australia. In 2020 the costs of transition will have gone negative and the damage will be more visible, so it chust might vork.

  22. Hermit
    June 24th, 2015 at 04:44 | #22

    If parts of the world are paying 6c per kwh for commercial solar how come muggins ACT is paying 18c for Royalla? I think at under $2 per installed watt for polycrystalline silicon the capex is low enough. A breakthrough must now come in commercial electricity storage with a target figure of 5c per kwh suggested in California. Another factoid for we doomers… all the world’s energy storage projects add to about 12 Gwh or 15 seconds global electricity consumption.

  23. June 24th, 2015 at 06:19 | #23

    @Hermit
    Your list is rubbish. it does not include a single one of Japan’s 25GW of pumped storage dams, or Ben Cruachan in Scotland. That’s without really looking.

  24. rog
    June 24th, 2015 at 07:05 | #24

    The widening gap between rich and poor i.e. inequality could stymie efforts to replace or reduce emissions. And the US leads the way on inequality

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/linda-tirado-and-us-poverty/6563610

  25. Ikonoclast
    June 24th, 2015 at 07:52 | #25

    These are hopeful signs which JQ mentions. I agree. However, I have been hearing about “hopeful signs” for 25 years. Meanwhile CO2 concentrations have been going up inexorably and still do so. The site skepticalscience argues that 450 ppm is not a safe target and that 350 ppm would be the upper limit for a safe target. We are currently at about 403 ppm.

    When I see atmospheric CO2 plateau and at least very slightly fall for a decade (i.e. the record year being 10 years in the past) then I will begin to become hopeful. What concerns me is that as we add non-fossil fuel energy to the mix we might not remove fossil fuel energy fast enough.

    Before I get roasted for making “assertions” let me add that JQ’s article while correct about the hopeful signs then goes on to assert that the “prospects are good” to hold at 450 ppm and maybe even get back to 350 ppm by century end. These are mere assertions. Where is the hard evidence?

    What is our budget of oil and coal (how much more can we burn) for concentrations to stabilise at 450 ppm? Do we have a global plan to get there? Are we on track? What are the “scrubbing” mechanisms natural or human-induced that would reduce 450 ppm to 350 ppm by the end of the century?

    Claims we are on track are mere assertions without the detailed evidence. But it’s okay for optimists to make assertions while pessimists are called out on them. 😉

  26. rog
    June 24th, 2015 at 08:36 | #26

    Adani’s problems grow – the combined effort of various actors is to make the QLD project untenable. Not that this will stop all coal everywhere but it will make financial markets more wary of further investment.

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/24/adani-halts-engineering-work-on-controversial-carmichael-mine-sources

  27. Moz of Yarramulla
    June 24th, 2015 at 08:41 | #27

    Hermit :
    If parts of the world are paying 6c per kwh for commercial solar how come muggins ACT is paying 18c for Royalla?

    D’ye no ken hoo mukkets wurrk, laddie?

    If customers are happy to pay 18c/kWh why would any generator/retailer try to lower prices unless they have unused capacity? Much bgetter to pocket the extra profit and see if they can’t gain a further advantage by gaming the regulator. The more ethical ones will use the profit to expand, on the basis that if they are bigger the economies of scale will enable them to generate at even lower cost and drive fossil generators out of the market sooner.

  28. Tim Macknay
    June 24th, 2015 at 10:34 | #28

    @Megan

    That’s very glib.

    And ‘Mr Hopey-Changey’ isn’t? Honestly, Megan…

    And regarding *crickets*, my apologies, but I had other things to do with my evening. 🙂

    But seriously though, and please don’t take offence to this, as none is intended, but based on previous discussions I’ve had with you on this subject, and various other comments you’ve made about it (including the ones on this thread), I’ve yet to see any evidence that you have a strong grasp of the issue or that your engagement with it goes beyond the superficial. Your principal engagement with it appears to be as an opportunity to ventilate your views about partisan politics. The fact that you’ve chosen to veer back into that area on this very thread, doesn’t exactly work in your defence! 😉 (Not that your anger at the spinelessness of the ALP on many issues is without justification – quite the contrary).

    But the long and short of it is that I find myself unable to take you seriously on the subject of climate change, so that’s something we’ll have to agree to disagree on, I’m afraid.

  29. Megan
    June 24th, 2015 at 10:54 | #29

    @Tim Macknay

    Fair enough.

    Maybe someone else will accept that I am sincere when I say I am “open to evidence that stabilization is … likely” and will point me to that evidence.

  30. Ikonoclast
    June 24th, 2015 at 12:07 | #30

    @Megan

    Yes, JQ has pointed to hopeful signs that stabilization might be likely but not to thorough-going evidence that it is both likely and likely to happen in time. That compound question is still considerably more open at this point in time.

  31. Troy Prideaux
    June 24th, 2015 at 13:12 | #31

    So the ALP finished up (once again) agreeing with the LNP that burning native wood waste would be included into the RET?

  32. Megan
    June 24th, 2015 at 13:22 | #32

    PS- To be clear, I reject Tim’s characterisations of me (weak grasp of the issue of climate change, superficial engagement on it and lack of seriousness about it). When I say “Fair enough”, I mean on the decision not to answer my question.

    Troy, yes that’s right. And they have just (or are about to) again join with the LNP to slam through amendments to close off a possible High Court challenge to the funding of the Nauru concentration camp.

  33. Troy Prideaux
    June 24th, 2015 at 14:03 | #33

    @Megan
    I know the ALP are pretty damn right of centre these days, but all this “rubber stamping” this week of issues/points they’ve recently contested makes me wonder about some shady dealing going on behind the scenes. It’s all a bit suss and sickening actually.

  34. Ikonoclast
    June 24th, 2015 at 14:12 | #34

    @Troy Prideaux

    Yep, Labor Party might as well give up pretending they are different and just go join the Liberals. Then the Greens can become our 2nd party.

  35. Bernard J.
    June 24th, 2015 at 20:53 | #35

    Ikonoclast :

    What is our budget of oil and coal (how much more can we burn) for concentrations to stabilise at 450 ppm? Do we have a global plan to get there? Are we on track?

    If we’re to have a 66% chance of avoiding the (too hot) 2 C limit, humanity can burn another 275 Gt carbon. Assuming equal distribution amongst 9 billion people to account for near-term population growth, that’s 30 tons each.

    How many people under 50-60 could confidently say that they could complete their lives on 30 tons of carbon? Few in the Western world, and many in the developing world want at least that much just to catch up with us. Even on a global average, after maintaining an eye-watering disparity of share, I doubt that we’d come within a bull’s roar of staying within this limit.

    For this reason and many others unrelated to climate change I’m a pessimist pragmatist.

    Oh, I still think that we need to try as hard as we can to change as much as we are able to, but it’s important to understand that there’s no soft landing in the range of trajectories to which we are already committed. The energy/environmental/resource/population/lifestyle numbers just don’t permit it.

  36. John Quiggin
    June 25th, 2015 at 14:40 | #36

    How many people under 50-60 could confidently say that they could complete their lives on 30 tons of carbon?

    Anyone who gets all their electricity from renewable sources, and drives an electric car would achieve this fairly easily. So, your knockdown demonstration turns into a claim about the speed at which the energy system can be decarbonized.

    To restate, the IPCC (using the 66 per cent criterion) estimates that what is needed is a 40 to 70 per cent reduction on 2010 levels by 2050

    http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/ar5/pr_wg3/20140413_pr_pc_wg3_en.pdf

    Will that happen. I don’t know, but
    (a) it’s certainly feasible at modest cost
    (b) It’s what the G7 leaders just agreed to

  37. Megan
    June 25th, 2015 at 15:30 | #37

    The G7 covers about 19% of world emissions.

    They recently agreed that they had a strong determination to adopt something like a robust ambitious inclusive protocol, later this year in Paris, and they support everyone sharing in 40-70% reductions by 2050 (from the G7 ‘Leaders’ Declaration’):

    Urgent and concrete action is needed to address climate change, as set out in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report. We affirm our strong determination to adopt at the Climate
    Change Conference in December in Paris this year (COP21) a protocol, another legal
    instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the United Nations Framework
    Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) applicable to all parties that is ambitious,
    robust, inclusive and reflects evolving national circumstances.

    The agreement should enhance transparency and accountability including through
    binding rules at its core to track progress towards achieving targets, which should
    promote increased ambition over time. This should enable all countries to follow a
    low-carbon and resilient development pathway in line with the global goal to hold
    the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C.

    Mindful of this goal and considering the latest IPCC results, we emphasize that deep
    cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required with a decarbonisation of the
    global economy over the course of this century. Accordingly, as a common vision for a
    global goal of greenhouse gas emissions reductions we support sharing with all parties
    to the UNFCCC the upper end of the latest IPCC recommendation of 40 to 70%
    reductions by 2050 compared to 2010 recognizing that this challenge can only be met
    by a global response. We commit to doing our part to achieve a low-carbon global
    economy in the long-term including developing and deploying innovative technologies
    striving for a transformation of the energy sectors by 2050 and invite all countries to
    join us in this endeavor. To this end we also commit to develop long-term national
    low-carbon strategies.

    So they didn’t really agree to cut their emissions by 40-70%, they agreed that everyone should agree to do that.

    Optimistically speaking, they’re fine words but they need some work before they become something more solid than a mission statement.

  38. Ikonoclast
    June 25th, 2015 at 16:02 | #38

    @Megan

    China is the biggest economy in the world and biggest by far in CO2 emissions. It has to be real and a G20 deal to mean anything. It’s still all talk, yadda, yadda, yadda. We’ve been waiting 25 years for action on climate change. So far there has been a big fat nothing. Actually, there has been exponential growth in the wrong direction. But maybe it will all suddenly change. That last sentence is half sarcastic and half not. If something really bad happens soon then they (the capitalist oligarchs who run the world economy) might actually do something. I mean you never know.

  39. BilB
    June 25th, 2015 at 16:05 | #39

    I could not see that Hermit’s storage technology list included

    https://gigaom.com/2013/05/17/underwater-batteries-are-making-a-splash-for-energy-storage/

    …which has the greatest potential for offshore wind energy storage, but even onshore wind where there are suitable interconnections. It is very early days yet for energy storage.

  40. Hermit
    June 25th, 2015 at 16:19 | #40

    I have gone for periods of up to a year paying nothing for electricity or car fuel. However the system that enables this is not sustainable. The zero power bill comes from generous feed-in tariffs for PV, using wood for heat and general energy frugality eg drip dry shirts no steam irons. The car fuel comes from discarded cooking oil originally used to make fried food for tourists. Other chemical inputs are gas and coal intensive but sight unseen. Despite a half acre garden and 1200 mm rainfall I’d starve if I couldn’t get groceries every week. To put it politely I’m a bit sceptical of claims of self sufficiency in the suburbs. If it’s the doddle some claim it to be I’m afraid I’ve stuffed up badly.

    If we are to drive electric cars, replace gas appliances with electric and cope better (actively or passively) with extreme weather we’ll need far more electricity not less. On the balance of probabilities that means burning more coal for decades yet, say to 2040. After that?

  41. Megan
    June 25th, 2015 at 16:21 | #41

    @Ikonoclast

    Yes but…. what about strong determination to adopt an agreed outcome that is robust, ambitious and inclusive? There are a lot of positive words in there: progress, achieving, should promote increased ambition, common vision, innovative technologies and striving.

    It’s far more soaring language than “Thirty Minutes or it’s Free”, but also far less binding. In fact it doesn’t even contain any binding language at all.

    But I’m forced to agree: you never know.

  42. Troy Prideaux
    June 25th, 2015 at 16:33 | #42

    @Megan
    The text string “commit” is listed 76 times in that declaration, but it’s quite lean on any new commitments with nominated targets.

  43. Megan
    June 25th, 2015 at 17:04 | #43

    @Troy Prideaux

    “Lean” on commitments with nominated targets? I didn’t see any at all.

    In the text I lifted from the ‘Climate Change’ section I get “we commit to doing our part” and “we commit to long term strategies”.

  44. BilB
    June 25th, 2015 at 17:38 | #44

    Hermit, you score points for being an early adopter of solar energy. However from my long experience with you you have done nothing but whinge about solar energy and run it down, and that leaves me wondering. You also have not demonstrated a willingness to quantitatively examine the prospects for future renewables.

    Your comment about replacing gas appliances with electric does not make sense. Gas for cooking and energy backup is both advisable and sustainable. Figures from Victoria (google Victoria’s municiple waste for figures) say that the average person there emits 2 tonne of garbage per year, at least one tonne of which is paper and cardboard (celluosic material). This is material that is being harvested in the near term and when gassified becomes a renewable cycle via the atmosphere. The gasification of 1 tonne of cellulosic material yields about 3,400 kilowatt hours per tonne in methane gas after gasification conversion (13.6 kwhrs per household of 4).

    http://www.ecn.nl/docs/library/report/2009/m09086.pdf

    That more than balances the sustainable home for cooking energy and backup power for covering those low solar days in a “solid state” manner ie no personal physical input required to operate the system, while allowing fossil energy origin waste to be sequestered in landfill.

    The only thing missing in this picture is the total commitment of the community to put the changes into place. In order to get to that point ti will require the exorcism of the Libertarian brigade from our decision making government team.

  45. Gerard
    June 25th, 2015 at 17:47 | #45

    What information on the extent of likely climate action can be inferred from current valuations of fossil fuel equities?

  46. BilB
    June 25th, 2015 at 18:24 | #46

    Correction above: 13,600 Kwhrs per household of 4 energy recovered from waste as methane line gas)

    The Sustainable home.

    Rooftop solar PVT (photovoltaic/thermal) 4.5 Kw rated system will yield
    9,100 kwhrs of electricity plus 5,400 kwhrs equivalent energy for water heating.
    Line gas provides (5400 Mj per quarter IPART) 6000 Kwhrs for cooking
    Line gas for backup generator gives (divided by 3 for thermal combustion engine inefficiency) 800 running hours of a 2.5 kilowatt gas fuelled generator to provide 2000 Kwhrs low solar energy.

    Total household (of 4) sustainably available energy 22,000 Kwhrs
    This is well above the average consumption of 14,000 Kwhrs and more than sufficient to operate 2 hybride electric vehicles for 100 klm per day electric only 365 days per year (6200 kwhrs)

    Total energy output from 12 million such households = 264 billion Kwhrs or more than Australia’s present (?) total electricity consumption.

    Is this achievable? that would be a big fat yes.

    The total cost of 12 million such systems would be 180 billion dollars at $15,000 per household.

    If installed over 20 years that would be 9 billion dollars per year with that cost completely covered twice over by the offset cost of the grid energy it would be replacing.

    I remember some years ago nuclear proponent blogsite BraveNewClimate’s Peter Lang telling us that this would cost 4 trillion dollars to achieve.

    It is perhaps optimistic for a 4.5 Kw PVT + 10 Kw Tesla Battery + 2.5 Kw generator system costing $15,000 , but i believe that with a committed install program the economies of scale would achieve this pricing level. That is a challenge that would be a pleasure to address.

  47. peter
    June 25th, 2015 at 23:30 | #47

    Bilb,

    Household energy consumption is only 25% (or less ?) of total.

  48. Bernard J.
    June 25th, 2015 at 23:45 | #48

    John Quiggin :

    How many people under 50-60 could confidently say that they could complete their lives on 30 tons of carbon?

    Anyone who gets all their electricity from renewable sources, and drives an electric car would achieve this fairly easily. So, your knockdown demonstration turns into a claim about the speed at which the energy system can be decarbonized.

    John I certainly don’t disagree with you on the issue of renewables (except for transport I’m 100% renewable at home), but it is a matter of how well and how quickly we facilitate the transition. Emphasising the 30 t figure is meant to indicate what it is exactly that we need to keep in the field-of-view. At the moment we’re not decelerating quickly enough, and our average personal pile of ‘allocated’ coal is shrinking faster than many probably realise.

    For example, on transport it’s worth remembering that a litre of petrol contains about 0.62 kg carbon. A vehicle that gets 6L/100km emits 6.2kg per hundred km. An Australian could very easily emit half a ton per annum, and many would top several tons, and this is before the energy embodied in construction, food, clothing and other consumables is accounted for.

    Are we currently minded to shift all that energy use to renewables before it becomes impossible to do so?

    Here’s a little exercise for everyone. Once per year recalculate the per person carbon allocation based on avoiding 2 C with 66% probability, and see how quickly that number changes over time. And compare that with our economy’s capacity to meet that dwindling target…

    It’s a scary game of Chicken.

  49. Bernard J.
    June 25th, 2015 at 23:47 | #49

    Bah. Apologies for the tag hash…

  50. Megan
    June 26th, 2015 at 00:05 | #50

    @Bernard J.

    The point about insufficiently decelerating is salient.

    The argument tends to go that we should lightly touch the brakes and hope the airbags work so that we might hit the wall at 50kph instead of 60kph and at least that improves our chances.

    But we are going to hit the wall at 600kph – which the “pessimists” find to be unacceptable – and the “optimists” are offering the possibility of hope we’ll only hit it at 500kph. It’s only an analogy, but it makes a point about the relative utility of the two labels compared to the situation we appear to all agree we are faced with.

  51. BilB
    June 26th, 2015 at 00:20 | #51

    Read it carefully, Peter.

    The punchline is that, in principle, there is sufficient scope for all of the electricity to be generated by domestic and business rooftop solar. That is not how it would play out of course as heavy industry will have to solve their own energy problem. The surplus domestic electricity would provide electricity for transport offsetting CO2 emissions from petrol, extending the performance of rooftop solar beyond the domestic 31%. Rooftop Solar works for small business and commercial (30%) energy very well.

    http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/how-do-we-use-electricity

    The details will sort themselves out once there is full commitment to make the transition.

  52. BilB
    June 26th, 2015 at 00:40 | #52

    One of the problems we have from a carbon foot print point of view is that our dwellings are abysmally constructed, and many people would blow their 30 tonne of CO2 just on their house, which is unlikely to last longer than themselves. We need to be building dwellings to last 150 to 300 years. I was in a city a few weeks ago where many of the buildings are 900 years old, and built with extremely low carbon emissions. It can be done, we need to be changing our thinking from Knock it Down/Build another to upgrade and improve.

  53. Fran Barlow
    June 26th, 2015 at 05:59 | #53

    I certainly agree with PrQ that optimism is, polititically, preferable to pessimism, especially if it’s well-founded.

    However, it’s hard to see that stabilisation at 450ppm is close to adequate or safe. Really, we need the planet’s atmosphere to get back to the last point where temperatures were stable as quickly as possible i.e about 280ppm … and perhaps simewhat lower so as to force rapidly declining temperature for a time to take existing heat out of the oceans.

  54. Ikonoclast
    June 26th, 2015 at 08:03 | #54

    I think people are misunderstanding pessimistic and optimistic assessments. A rational pessimistic assessment occurs when the probabilities of a good outcome are low. It is realistic and indeed a survival trait to make a pessimistic assessment about a risky course of action and an optimistic assessment about a safe course of action.

    Someone who sees and warns of a danger which you don’t see or which you are complacent about is not necessarily a congenital pessimist. He or she might simply be making a rational pessimistic assessment when the probabilities of a good outcome are low.

    The probabilities of a good outcome on the climate change front are now very low. We are heading for something in the range of mediocre to bad to vary bad. We pretty much know to a high degree of certainty that we will hit the level that leads to 2 degrees C warming. That is the best outcome we can hope for now and many worse outcomes are still possible. Scientific opinion is genuinely split on whether even that (+ 2 C) is relatively safe or not.

    The belief that business as usual (allowing corporate-oligarchical capitalism and markets to determine the outcomes) will deal with climate change IN TIME is a belief with a depressingly bad track record. Corporate-oligarchical capitalism has completely failed to deal with this problem to date.

    Most people’s continued unrealistic and dangerous optimism on this issue really stems (IMO) from their inability to question the fundamentals of capitalism. They are so wedded to belief in this system that they cannot conceive that it might fail on a question of this magnitude.

    Of course, we are past the time now when we could change the political economic system IN TIME, just as we are past the time when we could prevent some initial dangerous global warming. The question now is really how much of the very worst outcomes can we prevent? Under capitalism, going on its performance to date in dealing with negative externalities, I would say our chances are slim.

  55. BilB
    June 26th, 2015 at 10:22 | #55

    Industry is very powerful when it is suitably mobilised, Ikonoclast. Industry leaders are quick to point out that all they need is guidance. There needs to be an agreed upon solution that eliminates the anti science misinformation uncertainty fostered via destructive forces such as Murdoch, Monkton, Abbott, at the social media end the likes of Jo Nova and Cattalaxy, and at the industry specific end (nuclear) Brave New Climate.

    Once a product profile that fills a substantial need has been established the market goes to work filling that need. The best recent example is the smart phone. 2.2 billion smart phones manufactured and sold in 2 years.

    From a world energy perspective looks like becomes: a once off 922 million rooftop systems that I have described at 46 applied to rooves in the sunbelt would provide all of the worlds annual electricity needs (more or less) of 20,280 billion Kwhours (write that figure down).

    What I am saying is that once you get your head around what the task looks like it becomes a deliverable solution. ie 922 million rooftop systems over 20 years is 46 million rooftop systems per year. The Japanese, the Chinese, the Koreans, the Indians and the Brazillians would love to supply that need for the world. supplied from 10 different countries that becomes 4.6 million systems per year per country for 20 years, and the coal industry is retired. The market can easily achieve this, it already does this to supply cars to every one.

    It is easy to be pessimistic when there are no clearly defined solutions visible.

  56. BilB
    June 26th, 2015 at 10:31 | #56

    I know this goes over everyone’s head (pun intended, rooftop, whatever) as most people cannot visualise from concepts, on the one hand and they seem to be just too lazy to use their calculators on the other, so they resort to off hand dismissive comments to avoid having to engage and think.

    But we have a burning need to resolve the energy supply issue very soon.

  57. Ikonoclast
    June 26th, 2015 at 10:47 | #57

    @BilB

    Yes, we could achieve this with dirigist direction of industry. The capitalist “free market” (should read “rigged and skewed market suited only for enriching a few and ignoring the needs of many and the environment”) has already shown its complete inability to achieve this on its own in time to save the climate.

  58. BilB
    June 26th, 2015 at 11:29 | #58

    The problem we face as you know, Ikonoclast, is that we have to wait until the Global Warming damage is done before a dirigist approach can be launched. Fof instance while we still have

    http://catallaxyfiles.com/2015/06/25/oregon-institute-vs-the-coalition-of-the-warming/

    …there can be no full consensus to act without geurilla like political anti actio tactics dogging every step.

  59. Hermit
    June 26th, 2015 at 14:07 | #59

    @BilB
    Your link proposes biomethane not the thermochemical methane being trialled in Germany e.g. Audi e-gas. I made an 80 litre digester filled with celllulosic material like grass and inoculated it with cow poo. It produced methane with low heating value due no doubt to high CO2 content which should have been scrubbed. The digester smelled bad and was onerous to refill. In short not worth the bother.

    Both the UK and California have come to similar conclusions about biomethane. By all means capture it at sewage farms and dairies but don’t build isolated facilities. Both governments opine (links available) that biomethane will struggle to replace more than 10% of natural gas consumption. Schemes that involve biomethane backup for intermittent power sources are fanciful in my opinion.

  60. Donald Oats
    June 26th, 2015 at 19:02 | #60

    While we are being optimists, the vexed issue of thresholds being crossed is growing more urgent. Recent research articles indicate that at least two major regions of West Antarctica, and possibly one major glacier in East Antarctica, have crossed thresholds into irreversible decline/collapse, guaranteeing at least 5m of eventual sea level rise. Now the game is on determining how rapidly or slowly that 5m takes to eventuate. The full effect could take a couple of hundred years to a thousand years, in which case it isn’t that important to us in the here and now; on the other hand, if some of that rise is rapid enough to affect us this century, it could have very significant economic impacts. [“Five metres and counting”, Michael Le Page, pp 8–10, New Scientist No. 3025, (13 June 2015)]

  61. BilB
    June 26th, 2015 at 20:02 | #61

    Hermit your comprehension is suffering badly. The ECN item is about GASSIFIERS, not digesters. There is absolutely no similarity whatsoever. These systems take cellulose material, heat it to a high temperature to produce a gas mixture which recombines in a catalytic chamber to form methane suitable for mains gas supply. I can see why you have the ideas you do, you just don’t understand what you are reading.

    The figures are there to show that from refuse alone there is sufficient energy to fully back up rooftop solar for all of those extended low solar periods that trouble the nuclear fanatics so much. BNC have banned me because I put this information forward in their discussion, they don’t want anyone to know that this is possible.

    That is the energy from household waste. Industrial cellulosic material waste is a considerable amount of renewable energy more.

    Taking coal out of the economy will not be difficult, and it will lift living standards significantly. That leaves oil to contend with.

    I you actually read the solar rooftop item you would have seen that the proposal will supply energy for 2 hybride cars each day of the year (2 × 8.5 kwhrs) giving 100 klms travel per day 365 days. This means a possible 36,500 klms per year per household or 438 billion kilometers nationally from 12 million rooftop systems. Considering that is nearly twice the total vehicle klms travelled in Australia each year, rooftop solar will make a useful dent in oil CO2 emissions.

  62. Ikonoclast
    June 26th, 2015 at 21:28 | #62

    @BilB

    Getting gas from refuse will have to be a declining business in the future (after its initial ramp-up in this wasteful era of course). The reason is that we will have to move to a low refuse, non-throwaway economy. Making throwaway refuse using lots of energy to make it and then recovering some energy from it, is not as efficient as not making the throwaway refuse in the first place. You heard it here first. 🙂

  63. BilB
    June 26th, 2015 at 22:55 | #63

    And I am certain, Ikonoclast that by that time there will be other solutions to the low solar energy periods. Or specially grown timber will be used to make up the short fall in refuse, if that infact becomes the case, for the methane production.

    I don’t know whether you followed the figures, Ikonoclast, but in rough terms it seems that 6000 kwhrs from 12 million rooves is sufficient to offset all fossil fuelled vehicle CO2 emissions.

    This is how that shaped up. The Audi eTron A3 vehicle uses 8.5 kilowatt hours for 50 klms of moderate speed driving. So 8.5 times 2 times 365 delivers 6205 kwhrs for 50 times 2 times 365 or 36,500 klms travelled. Which for 12 million rooftops and 24 million hybrid cars this is 74.46 billion kilowatt hours to power 438 billion kilometers of moderate driving. The Australian car fleet travels 236 billion kilometers per year at a CO2 emission
    cost of

    Cars 46869 gig grams CO2
    All other road vehicles 32320
    Air 7517
    Rail 2739
    Marine 2377
    Other 97

    So where cars emit half of all transport CO2 according to a 2010 working paper 73 from Department infrastructure and Transport for 236 billion kilometers travelled, half of the capacity from our rooftop solar, and if all transport could be powered electrically at moderate speed then our rooftops would provide all of transport energy avoiding all emissions from transport.

  64. rog
    June 29th, 2015 at 13:08 | #64

    Among others the AIG and BCA have joined with the the ACF to form the Australian C,I ate Roundtable and together have released a joint statement.

    This can underlines just how far removed the Abbott led govt is from contemporary mainstream politics.

    http://www.acfonline.org.au/news-media/media-release/broad-alliance-points-common-ground-climate-policy

  65. BilB
    July 2nd, 2015 at 16:30 | #65

    A good find, Rog.

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