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Gas and climate change

April 16th, 2016

As well as posting here, I have a couple of articles in the Conversation about the end of the coal era (I’ll give links in a subsequent post, if I get time). In all cases, I’m getting lots of people saying that the reduction in coal use in is entirely/overwhelmingly due to low gas prices caused by the rise of shale gas. So, I thought it was time for a post on the subject. I want to make three points

(1) This claim is presented in global terms, but it’s really specific to the US. There is no global market for gas, and the expansion of fracking is not global (it’s big in the US and in Queensland, but not many other places).

(2) The claim is out of date as applied to the US. New electricity generation capacity there is now dominated by renewables (still true even after capacity factors are taken into account, I think)

(3) The continuing low price of gas (like that for coal and oil) is being drive, in large measure, by competition from renewables

I also want to talk about different views on the role of gas in the decarbonization process, but I’ll leave that for another time.

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  1. Newtownian
    April 16th, 2016 at 16:38 | #1

    At the risk of playing Devils advocate isnt it time to stop talking about the end of coal but discuss rather moving immediately to the end of fossil fuels altogether including gas even as 350.org keep arguing.

    As I understand it the old paradigm was lets reduce climate change impacts to tolerable levels by moving to gas as a transition fuel for say 50 years reflecting the investment costs and viewing climate change “in a realistic balanced fashion”. The latter unfortunately sets the goal posts too low as it gives BHP, the Saudis, the Koch Bros etc. huge wiggle room. And this is before overcoming the hurdles posed by the lack of truely binding targets at Paris as against their waffly Memoranda of Understanding (any honest environmental manager will know these are worthless without genuine commitment to change which is absent from mainstream political parties still(, combined with the rise of international trade treaties which will give the fossil fuel companies free reign to thumb their noses at government in the style of the finance industry.

    As to the reason for this ‘unrealistic’ proposal. The recent articles below suggest strongly that transitioning using gas would be too little too late. Are they true? The scientific consensus remains to be determined but at the least progressive discussion sites like this one should stop discussing half baked ‘realistic’ strategies, like the gas option, alone and include also exploration of what it would take for proverbial WW2/crash transition programs.

    Even stating clearly why rapid change is impossible would be useful for getting the ducks lined up.

    (I confess to being at a loss on how to initiate and drive such crash programs but its still worth discussing I suggest).

    Perhaps such a discussion would conclude such transition is impossible given economic man even were it the only sane option. But perhaps it would also reveal part of the climate change problem is that realists are stuck in a mindset as destructive as that of full blow denialists.

    HANSEN, J., SATO, M., HEARTY, P., RUEDY, R., KELLEY, M., MASSON-DELMOTTE, V., RUSSELL, G., TSELIOUDIS, G., CAO, J., RIGNOT, E., VELICOGNA, I., TORMEY, B., DONOVAN, B., KANDIANO, E., VON SCHUCKMANN, K., KHARECHA, P., LEGRANDE, A. N., BAUER, M. & LO, K. W. 2016. Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 °C global warming could be dangerous. Atmos. Chem. Phys., 16, 3761-3812.

    DECONTO, R. M. & POLLARD, D. 2016. Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature17145

    For more on Hansen’s view see http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/12/climate-scientist-james-hansen-i-dont-think-im-an-alarmist

  2. John Quiggin
    April 16th, 2016 at 16:49 | #2

    This is really more about the post I haven’t written yet than the post above.

    But as a general point, I’m no longer willing to pay attention to Hansen on any topic outside atmospheric science (such as sea level rise). He’s a great climate scientist, and he’s been good as an activist in general, but he’s totally wrong on both emissions trading and nuclear power, and the article you link to is unconvincing (shifting numbers, no time scale etc).

  3. derrida derider
    April 16th, 2016 at 20:19 | #3

    Newtonian, I think that the circumstances of a desperate crash program are actually the only ones where nuclear makes sense. We simply couldn’t manage to switch totally to solar and wind in the time frames your talking about – but we could to nuclear. We’d simply tell ourselves that the occasional Chernobyl is less damaging then the alternative we faced.

    But given political realities I think any desperate crash program would take the form of some attempt at geoengineering – and that would probably be a damned sight riskier, if cheaper, than nuclear.

  4. Ikonoclast
    April 16th, 2016 at 21:32 | #4

    From our Climate Change Authority: “A global emissions budget that provides at least a likely (defined here as a 67 per cent probability) chance of limiting warming to no more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels should be used as a reference for the Review. This equates to a global budget of no more than 1,700 Gt CO2-e emissions of Kyoto gases from 2000 to 2050.”

    From the Global Carbon Project I found a graph which indicates we need to reduce CO2 emissions after 2015 by at least 4% per year (to beyond 2080) to be at least a 66% chance of limiting GW to no more than 2 degrees C. We need to see a 4% reduction in 2016 and each and every year thereafter to believe we are on track. Otherwise, I for one will continue to call “not credible” on all claims that we are tackling this problem in time and to specification.

  5. April 16th, 2016 at 22:01 | #5

    Derrida, nuclear power does not make sense for a crash program. It take less resources and less time to build renewable capacity than nuclear, so for a given amount of money we will always be able produce a greater equivalent amount of renewable generating capacity. In the event of a crash program, the question would not be, “Could we decarbonise faster by building nuclear reactors?” but, “Could we decarbonise faster by stopping work on reactors that are already under construction and use the resources more efficiently on renewable capacity and efficiency measures?”

    It is a lot easier to increase PV or wind turbine production than nuclear. And note that we can easily triple the output of PV currently produced pretty much immediately by using mirrors to make PV concentrators. There are no real bottlenecks on mirror production. But so far it has generally been cheaper and easier to just build more solar panels. Or we could just leave the PV as flat panels and use the mirrors for solar thermal power.

    Also note that in a crash program we could just burn biomass in existing coal power stations until enough wind, solar, and other capacity was in place to shut them down. Burning biomass will cause corrosion as coal power stations aren’t designed for it, but since they’d only be operated temporarily, that’s not a real problem.

  6. BilB
    April 16th, 2016 at 23:13 | #6

    Gas in an important transition fuel for domestic and small business. With Natural Gas installed the high short loads of cooking do not fall on the batteries and inverters. Later small efficient water cooled backup generators produce both electricity and hot water in low solar periods, making these generators over 60% efficient, and powered by gas. In the medium term the gas can be produced from cellulosic municipal waste (cardboard, paper, some food wastes and wood wastes, material that is carbon neutral), with this material being converted into SNG (synthetic natural gas) methane gas for feeding into the mains gas system. This process is still more talk than action but Europe is leading the way here.


    Once all the components of the full solar renewable systems are developed the up take will be steady and privately funded.

  7. Will Boisvert
    April 17th, 2016 at 04:36 | #7

    “The claim is out of date as applied to the US. New electricity generation capacity there is now dominated by renewables (still true even after capacity factors are taken into account, I think)”

    Maybe, maybe not. Your source puts new 2015 US wind capacity at 8.6 GW, solar at 7.3 GW and gas at 6 GW. Capacity factors for US wind are about 33 percent, for solar, generously, 25 percent. So the CF-adjusted total new wind and solar capacity would be 4.7 GW. Gas generators are capable of 80-90 percent CFs if run in baseload mode, so their CF-adjusted capacity might be 4.8-5.4 GW, but they won’t necessarily be run as baseload. So the new gas capacity is capable of more generation than the new wind and solar capacity combined, but may not achieve that in actual operation.

    When we look at actual generation stats in the US, we don’t see much trend towards renewables dominance. https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_1_1

    In the decade 2006-2015, US electricity generation stayed flat; the big change was a decline in coal generation from about 2,000 twh to 1,356 twh in 2015, a decline of about 650 twh. Renewable generation helped with that, rising from 386 twh to 562 twh, an increase of 176 twh, 46 percent (hydro included). But the lion’s share of replacing coal was done by nat gas, rising from 816 twh to 1,335 twh, an increase of 519 twh.

    That’s over the last decade, but progress in renewables generation in the US has slowed a lot in the last five years. RNW gen in 2011 was 513 twh, and that rose to 562 twh in 2015, an increase of 49 twh or 10 percent; that’s less than one third the rate of increase in 2006-2011. Over the same period, 2011-15, gas generation rose 322 twh, an increase of 32 percent.

    Looking at the 2014-2015 change, nat gas gen rose 209 twh, or 19 percent, displacing coal generation, which dropped 225 twh. Renewable generation rose 11 twh from 548 to 562 twh, an increase of 2 percent.

    So renewables accounted for little of the change in the US electricity supply in the last 5 years, and even less in 2015. Gas is dominating the evolution of the US generation mix, not renewables.

    Cheap US fracked gas may start to influence global markets now with the opening of new LNG export facilities.

    There could be some places where wind and solar are competitive now. But progress in decarbonizing electricity systems with renewables is still very slow, and they are still dependent on subsidies and mandates almost everywhere.

  8. Will Boisvert
    April 17th, 2016 at 05:07 | #8

    Sorry, should be “Renewable generation rose 14 twh from 548 to 562 twh, an increase of 2.6 percent.”

  9. James Wimberley
    April 17th, 2016 at 06:08 | #9

    Here’s an EIA chart for capacity factors by generation type.
    The big, efficient, expensive combined-cycle gas plants have a CF of 40%-60%. let’s say 50%. The cheap gas peakers have a CF of 3%-10%. let’s say 7%. We have to split these. So the 2015 US additions look like this:
    Wind 8.11 GW, CF 30%%, continuous-eq 2.43 GW
    Solar (distributed +utility pv) 5.11 GW, CF 22%, continuous-eq 1.12 GW
    Gas combined-cycle 4.73 GW, CF 50%, continuous-eq 2.36 GW
    Gas combustion turbine 1.19 GW, CF 7%, continuous-eq 0.08 GW
    Everything else (“other gas”, CSP, coal, nuclear, geothermal, hydro..) 0.85 GW.

    So on a continuous-equivalent basis, wind and pv solar very comfortably beat gas (3.5 GW to 2.4 GW), and allfossil fuels. The “others” grab-bag cannot change this conclusion. Nor would extracting more precise CFs from the tables instead of just eyeballing the chart.

  10. James Wimberley
    April 17th, 2016 at 06:32 | #10

    There is one sense in which gas does look like a bridge fuel to sustainability. Gas peakers are at present very probably the cheapest way of providing backup to high volumes of wind and solar. The high-penetration scenarios I’ve seen are purist and all consider 100% renewables. What about 90%, split about evenly between wind and solar? Suppose average demand is 100GW and peak 150 GW. You have 200 GW of solar nameplate meeting 44GW of this and 140 GW of wind nameplate meeting 42 GW. We assume a minimum of zero, so we need 150 GW of backup from despatchables. Suppose this is all gas. The gas plants have an average output of only 10 GW, so the CF is 6.6%, in line with current US numbers for gas peakers.

    This is a reasonable baseline solution. It is probably not the lowest-cost one, and hydro (pumped and flow), geothermal, imports, CSP with storage, batteries and load management can all reduce the size of the gas fleet. The takeaway for now is that we will need a very large despatchable backup fleet for wind and solar, and cheating with gas does not emit a huge amount of carbon. Eventually the problem has to be solved sustainably. But in the medium-term, the priority may well be something else like electrifying transport, with very large bonus health benefits.

  11. James Wimberley
    April 17th, 2016 at 06:37 | #11

    Oops. my arithmetic is out. The gas plants are producing 14 GW, 14% of all output, with a CF of 9.3%. I can get back to 10% gas with 153 GW of wind. It’s only a tattered envelope model.

  12. Ben
    April 17th, 2016 at 08:02 | #12

    The cost of wind power, in particular, must surely be influencing gas prices. With unsubsidised wind generation in the US midwest around $50 per MWh, a combined cycle gas turbine cannot compete with a gas price over about $7/GJ (assuming a heat rate of 7 GJ per MWh). That’s $50 just for the fuel — not even recovering the cost of the power plant!

  13. Zvyozdochka (@Zvyozdochka)
    April 17th, 2016 at 09:01 | #13

    I think one of the quiet ‘successes’ for the natural (fossil) gas industry has been to position themselves under the anti-coal radar. They’ve received far less attention than coal.

    The various North West Shelf projects off Western Australia represent a far larger carbon bomb than any of these large coal mines. Plus the head of Woodside recently implied (proudly) that none of these projects would be a return to the tax-payer over their lifetimes. Planet destruction plus nothing in return – we should be able to just turn it off if that is the argument – they’ve made it for us.

  14. April 17th, 2016 at 09:17 | #14

    James, certainly coal generation should be eliminated before natural gas on account of how coal is considerably deadlier, but when renewable penetration increases both coal and gas use fall. For example in South Australia, which may possibly produce electricity from wind and solar equal to 50% of its total consumption by the end of this year, natural gas use has been cut dramatically and next year we will shut down around 400 megawatts of gas capacity. And this year we are eliminating coal generation. We’re almost there. The last remaining coal power station in the state is operating on a single unit which will shut down for good once its remaining supply of coal is gone.

    So first South Australia’s new renewables mostly cut gas use, then it chewed into coal use, and once coal is finished it will go back to cutting gas use. The closure of the coal plant will cause a bump in gas consumption, but that will all be met with existing capacity. So I don’t see natural gas as a bridge to renewables. I see it as something that is being eliminated, just not as quickly as coal. Natural gas is something that rapidly gets whittled away to a support rather than a bridge.

    Now without an increase in Australia’s storage capacity, a considerable amount of existing gas generation will need to be kept to be sure of meeting the evening peak. Currently we can only eliminate a portion of it. But it doesn’t take a massive amount of new storage to start to eliminate peak generators. This is because once there is more than a trivial amount of home and business energy storage or electric vehicles plugged into the grid, they can start to fill the roll currently performed by peak generators and more efficient, already existing, combined cycle natural gas power stations will have the job of ensuring that storage is charged before periods of high demand and/or low renewable output occur. And since more efficient generation is used, even less natural gas is consumed.

    It might only take 3 years for home and business storage to pay for itself in Australia. And I suspect electric cars and buses will also be a thing here rather than oddities by then as well.

  15. April 17th, 2016 at 09:39 | #15

    Renewables are causing in lower oil prices, although I say most of their effect is indirect. Electric cars and buses (China has well over 100,000 electric buses) are reducing oil use lower than what it would be, but currently their numbers are such that it is still fairly insignificant. Solar power has cut oil used for grid electricity generation, but since oil had already been mostly eliminated from grid generation before solar’s rise, that effect is not very large either. Solar power has had a large effect on off-grid generation and the amount of diesel used there, but that’s still only a small effect on total oil use.

    Rather, it appears that a combination of declining cost of renewable energy, the declining cost of electric transport, and the firming consensus that greenhouse gas emissions have to be cut, has caused Saudi Arabia, and apparently other oil producers, to adopt a “use it or lose it” mind set. That is, sell oil now or forever leave it in the ground. And it is this that has mostly caused the fall in the price of oil over the past 16 months.

    Now I won’t pretend to actually know what passes through the minds of the people in charge of Saudi Aramco (that particular piece of make believe comes with a $250,000 US salary), so I could be wrong. But I am confident that the above is at least influencing their decisions.

  16. Ikonoclast
    April 17th, 2016 at 09:51 | #16

    Show me the reductions! To be even possibly safe we need to come in at 4% or better annual reductions in all CO2 emissions from and including 2016. We also need to reduce other GHG emissions at the same rate.

    I have found the following claim in a blog at climatecentral.

    “Table SPM.1, page 13, of the Summary for Policymakers IPCC WGIII AR5 provides the essential relationship between CO2eq concentrations reached by 2100 and the likelihood of staying below a given temperature during the 21st century. From that table:

    The crossover point to “unlikely” for 1.5 C is 480 ppm CO2eq. (We are there now.)
    The crossover point to “unlikely” for 2C is 530 ppm CO2eq. (50 ppm left to go.)”

    Note: “unlikely” means “unlikely to prevent this rise or a greater rise”.

    Another source confirming the above: Ron Prinn is Professor of Atmospheric Science in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. He studies the chemical evolution of atmospheres. He headlines an article with “400 ppm CO2? Add Other GHGs, and It’s Equivalent to 478 ppm”


  17. Ben
    April 17th, 2016 at 10:25 | #17

    @Ronald Brak
    Great post, thanks. A considerable amount of the evening peak could be cut if we were to focus on demand side response and energy efficiency in commercial, street and residential lighting and residential space/water heating. Not every electric hot water system is a controlled load and may run during the evening peak period!

  18. April 17th, 2016 at 11:04 | #18

    Fortunately, Ben, as more rooftop solar is installed and the price of electricity during the day falls, we will see more demand shifting from the evening to the day. As people realize they can cool their house for next to nothing if they do it before the sun sets, we’ll see them programming their air conditioners to cool the house down before they get home in the evening. And the same for heating in winter. Of course, efficiency measures such as insulation will help with this.

  19. James Wimberley
    April 17th, 2016 at 11:17 | #19

    @Ronald Brak
    You are right that for backup, every other despatchable except diesel is higher in the merit order than gas. So storage, biomass etc will cut into its use. The sooner this happens the better.

    However, it is important to keep an eye on the scale of the need. Also, they will all be competing for a slice of a thin cake – 10%, 15%, whatever. None of them will have very attractive economics. You can’t extrapolate from the current attractiveness of say diurnal residential storage with a high capacity factor to the seasonal backup need with a much lower one.

  20. Ikonoclast
    April 17th, 2016 at 11:34 | #20

    @Ronald Brak

    I agree with that and have made such comments before on this blog (but not on this thread).

    For Queensland at least and no doubt sunny S.A. too, it would be clearly possible to;

    (a) have extra solar panels;
    (b) have these “tasked” primarily to run daytime whole-of-dwelling ducted aircon.
    (c) have good insulation (probably including double-glazing).
    (d) have thermal ballast in the house (usually internal rock walls, block walls or indoor rainwater tanks).

    Ultimately, given that some dangerous global warming WILL occur and WILL definitely affect Australia severely, most detached housing at the edges of cities and beyond will have to go semi-underground at least. The earth or rock itself will then become insulation and thermal ballast. I would envisage this housing being cut into south-facing slopes such that large glass doors and windows can still face south for views and ventilation when needed. These would be double-glazed and closed for energy efficiency in hot months and cold months. Fireproof shutters would be dropped down for fire events. The fireproof roof would be covered with solar panels. It might or might not be economic to provide these panals with some fire protection. Or replacement of panels after fires might be more economic.

    Preventing all dangerous climate change and its impacts is now off any realistic agenda. This does not mean we should stop mitigation attempts. Indeed we must accelerate them. But now we must plan for both prevention (of the worst) and adaptation (to the now unavoidable).

  21. BilB
    April 17th, 2016 at 11:41 | #21

    Energy in waste. Surprise surprise Australia has performance in this area.


    Australians per capita produce 2.3 tonnes of waste some 55% of which is biogenic (renewable).
    So a family of 4 puts out 5 tonne of usable energy per year. taking a figure of 16,000,000 BTU per tonne (cardboard and paper) this translates into 24,000 Kwhrs of energy (0.0003 Kwhrs per BTU) being put to fill if it was able to be converted 100% efficiently to SNG (Synthetic Natural Gas). So with an efficiency of 25% there is 6000 Kwhrs of home energy fully sustainable available for domestic solar energy top up. But a head note to the linked item suggests an efficiency more like 60%, so the household return would be more like 14,000 kwhs per household.

    Now that is in the form of gas which can be used for cooking and backup power generation. Where used for power generation with an efficient engine such as the Liquid Piston 2.5 Kw generator this would yield 4200 Kwhrs of electricity and at least 9000 Kwhrs of hot water per year 100% sustainably which when coupled with rooftop solar panels gets very close to the fully decarbonised community.

    The point I am trying to make is that with the proper infrastructure our energy position is not as dire as denialists would have Government and the public believe.

  22. Ikonoclast
    April 17th, 2016 at 16:04 | #22

    Given what is coming, if I were to build a house again in a city outskirts, semi-rural or rural setting, I would go for an earth sheltered house. Of course, one would need the right kind of site.

    This site explains the design principles.


    Note: I am in no way connected to this site or making any endorsement other than of the general idea.

  23. BilB
    April 17th, 2016 at 17:00 | #23

    That is an excellent choice, Ikonoclast. I am a life long fan of earth sheltered constructions. I was conceptualising this style when I was at high school. One of he earliest modern exponents of the construction was Malcolm B Wells who was also an enthusiast of reinforced earth constructions for stabilising the terraces in California. On of the most impressive earth sheltered designs I encountered was an Italian suburban construction which presented greenery capped bare walls to the neighbourhood (a corner building) but had a central courtyard which was the aspect for all of the rooms oh the house. The rooves which sloped downwards from the exterior walls were earth covered with grass and gardens. It was a brilliant design.

    Paul Mitchel’s design style is very much along the lines of Wells’ designs


    My current building designs take a very different approach adopting an ancient Mediterranean concept but with significant improvements.

  24. tony lynch
    April 17th, 2016 at 20:37 | #24
  25. tony lynch
    April 18th, 2016 at 08:59 | #25

    See new post at Tamino. Reductions in CO2 emissions not showing up in the only figure that counts, indeed still rising at unchanged rate. Put up a link and got moderated, and then post disappeared…

  26. Ikonoclast
    April 18th, 2016 at 09:48 | #26

    I will see if I can put up the Tamino link.


    I will add that it is well worth going to the CSIRO Cape Grim graphs linked to in the first comment on the Tamino CO2 status report. That data ties in with what I was saying in my post 16 above.

  27. BilB
    April 18th, 2016 at 09:51 | #27

    I see in this mornings French and Greek News, waste and recycling is becoming a loud issue with the Mediterranean Sea floor becoming littered with plastic containers. I think the Greeks were talking about recycling for energy, but I have absolutely no Greek other than, ya-sas, so I am only guessing.

  28. Ikonoclast
    April 18th, 2016 at 10:59 | #28

    @tony lynch

    A reply link is one link (unfortunately). This post already has one link. If I added a link to another site I would exceed the one link allowance and get moderated.

    For example, I am now tempted to link to Marc Bolan’s very simple song “Life’s a Gas”. It’s worth listening to. The song, via the psychological affect of retrospective attribution of prophecy, now starts to sound like a wistful epitaph for planet earth (and our inability to love it and care for it properly).

  29. John Quiggin
    April 18th, 2016 at 12:21 | #29

    This is a crazy way to estimate what is happening to CO2 emissions. I’ve pointed this out in comments before, but I’ll try to spell it out in a post soon. In the meantime, I’ll just quote Tamino, from the linked post

    These days, blogs and news reports about global warming often include the optimistic report that emissions worldwide, and in the U.S., are on the decline. Yes, that’s a good thing. It’s important, it’s crucial.

    But one wonders, how well are we doing? I’m not speaking in terms of emissions, but of the buildup of atmospheric CO2.

    (emphasis added).

    Tamino makes the claim that concentrations data are more reliable than emissions data, which is true in the sense that the raw numbers are pretty accurate. On the other hand, there’s huge seasonal fluctuations, necessitating the use of a fourth-order Fourier series to extract a trend. By contrast, we have very accurate and direct measures of things like coal and oil production – the noise is mostly in things like emissions from land use changes.

    More relevantly, though, there is not a 1-1 correlation between emissions and changes in concentrations. It’s widely argued that the capacity of the oceans to absorb CO2 will decline over time, and that this may already be happening. If you want to tell a gloomy story, this is the one to tell, not some claim that the decline in emissions is an illusion.

    I’ll try to do a full-length post when I get some time.

  30. BilB
    April 18th, 2016 at 13:04 | #30

    Keep in mind that CO2 emission and accumulation is not a uniform process…..

  31. Ikonoclast
    April 18th, 2016 at 13:42 | #31

    @John Quiggin

    There are several factors involved. They are part of an integrated complex system and cannot be meaningfully analysed or debated in isolation. The first issue is direct CO2 emissions from all human activities (mainly energy use, industry, agriculture and land use which categories overlap). The second issue is CO2 releases from other natural sources, where feedbacks from our damage to climate to date are now arguably burgeoning. The final issue is the real, extant amount of CO2 and other GHGs in the atmosphere which will be a net sum result of flows from ALL sources and flows into ALL sinks.

    For myself, I argue that the real, extant amounts of GHGs in the atmosphere at any point in time are what count for GHG forcing at that time. I am sure you do not disagree with that uncontroversial point. The fact that I highlight this does not in any way mean I discount human-activity reductions. Of course, they are hopeful signs if correctly measured. I will even accept, provisionally at least from you arguments above, that they are being accurately enough measured. What is not so clear is how many extra GHGs are being released from natural sinks due to climate change already induced by human activity releases.

    You seem to want to discuss human activity emissions in isolation. I, and others who are supporting a somewhat different view, are saying this is a not a valid procedure. You are not looking at the whole system. We are NOT trying to estimate human releases from the extant atmospheric values. That is your strawman interpolation of what we are doing. We making multiple points as follows. We are saying total atmospheric numbers are still going up. We are saying THIS is what counts for climate forcing. We agree human activity reductions are good in themselves. We are asking, Is this the whole story?

    The obvious implications if human activity numbers level off very recently and go down very marginally (the only real story thus far) and atmosphere numbers keep going up is this. The releases are still too great for natural sinks to absorb OR there are natural lags not elucidated in the bare argument so far OR non-human releases (feedbacks) are rising OR our estimates for human activity emissions are incorrect). These are not exclusive “ORs” by the way. All propositions could be true.

    From a complex system or whole of system perspective, concentration on one factor does not tell the whole story. It might cover what is within our power to alter emissions-wise but it still does not cover all effects and all possible responses including adaptation. It is very clear now, I think, that we are going to have to ameliorate and adapt.

    I also consider that ignoring the history of damage done to date, with its attendant dangers of rising natural feedback, is an ideological position meant to insulate the current economic system from fundamental criticism. It is counter-intuitive (and not credible to me) that the system which gave us this crisis will solve this crisis. The evidence to date is certainly that it cannot solve the crisis in time. One point five to two degrees C rise are baked in now with near certainty. Equally well known is that this will be significantly damaging.

    Finally, after 25 years, from the Kyoto reference year of 2000, the “auto-steering” of this system is just starting to kick in… to late to prevent significant damage. It’s a farce on top of a tragedy.

  32. BilB
    April 18th, 2016 at 14:55 | #32


    ” Is this the whole story” Human driven emissions?

    I think you can deduce from the video that this is pretty much the whole story. “Baseload emissions” are the historical ones which were fairly stable within a range, the deviation begins with human intervention in every possible way.

    Where the atmospheric CO2 level continues to rise linearly, this demonstrates that reductions are taking effect as population, oil consumption, gas consumption, land clearing, total energy throughput, etc all continue to increase. There must be variables that are being effective in reducing emissions. The stand outs are efficiencies, renewable energy production and the subsequent drop in coal consumption.

  33. Ikonoclast
    April 18th, 2016 at 15:14 | #33


    I didn’t express myself well. I meant this. Are current human activity emissions of 2015 the whole story? I meant this in the sense that all previous human emissions might have already started or increased other feedbacks. Indeed, it is almost certain they have. Seafloor and tundra methane emissions are an example.

  34. John Quiggin
    April 18th, 2016 at 15:15 | #34


    All of these are parts of the problem, but you don’t get far in talking about a complicated system if you confuse one part of it with another. Emissions are an input to the system (absent geoengineering, the only one we can do anything about). It’s important to know whether and how fast emissions are decreasing.

    Using faulty inferences from outputs like concentrations to infer that inputs must be increasing is bad in logic. It’s even worse if it’s driven by a political objective (for example, to undermine efforts to reduce emissions) or by wishful thinking (for example, the desire to take the gloomiest possible view).

  35. Ikonoclast
    April 18th, 2016 at 16:14 | #35

    @John Quiggin

    I did not make the mistake you claim I made.

    Your claim: “Using faulty inferences from outputs like concentrations to infer that inputs must be increasing is bad in logic.”

    My clear statement. “We are NOT trying to estimate human releases from the extant atmospheric values.”

    In the context of all my statement(s), it is clear that I am fully aware of the fact that;

    Atmospheric CO2e at t2 = Atmospheric CO2e at t1 + All source emissions (in the timespan t1 to t2) – All sink absorptions (in the timespan t1 to t2).

    To me you appear to be driven by your own political (ideological) objective, namely to minimise the historical and continued failure of our extant political-economic system to deal with this problem, in time and to reasonably safe requirements. Twenty-five years of failure and mounting serious damage are implicitly swept under the rug by an insistence on a narrow “right-now” view This is embodied in the fine focus on the belated blip where we finally went down very marginally (probably due to secular stagnation and not anything more enlightened or fundamental). Certainly, the lamentable past cannot be changed. We start from this point now. But you refuse to countenance any fundamental criticism of the system which brought us to this pass.

    Finally, I am not determined to be gloomy, I am determined to be realistic. There is a difference.

  36. BilB
    April 18th, 2016 at 17:29 | #36


    You will find more up to date news on Methane releases at Sam Carana’s website


    …but you are not being realistic if you are not looking at all of the developing technologies and projecting their impact time lines. This will almost certainly involve a fudge, but a fudge is a safe bet as rapid deployment of successful technologies is now a well proven expectation.

  37. James Wimberley
    April 18th, 2016 at 17:55 | #37

    The plateauing of global emissions from fossil fuels and cement is now confirmed by the IEA for three years of steady GDP growth over 3%, so around 10% in total. It’s becoming absurd to claim that this is a statistical artefact.

    It’s amusing to note that this creates an ideological problem for both Marxists, who reject the idea that capitalism can reform itself – and for neoclassical economists. The clear-sighted among them see carbon emissions as a Pigovian externality problem. The proper solution is carbon pricing, either cap-and-trade or a straight tax. These have only been tried on a timid scale as in Europe and the Kyoto protocol, and sometimes reversed as in Australia. The prediction the economists should make from this is continued failure.

    So what is going on? Why, against all logic, are we making progress? Technology, limited policy support in a handful of countries through regulatory lash-ups and a stew of tax breaks and subsidies, and grassroots activism. (For the latter, look at the Sierra Club’s locally-based campaigns against coal plants across the USA.) Wind and solar power are below grid parity in very many places and no longer need the kludges to win. EVs still do, for only another five years or so.

    What is the proper Old Left take on Greenpeace? It’s borrowed antidemocratic Leninist principles of organisation, in the service of a non-Marxist Green politics, and scores a lot of wins for its size. The latest report on the pipeline of coal generating plants is an example if their talent for good timing, as it comes out just when banks are getting worried about bad loans in coal mining.

  38. Ikonoclast
    April 18th, 2016 at 19:23 | #38

    @James Wimberley

    I’d better take my replies to the sandpit now.

  39. Will Boisvert
    April 19th, 2016 at 02:10 | #39

    @ James Wimberley,

    “The plateauing of global emissions from fossil fuels and cement is now confirmed by the IEA for three years of steady GDP growth over 3%, so around 10% in total.”

    Do you have a link for the plateauing of global emissions for three years?

  40. BilB
    April 19th, 2016 at 03:25 | #40

    Its just a simple effort to Google it, Will B.


    Note the terminology is “global growth…plateaus” as distinct from “plateauing of global emissions”

  41. James Wimberley
    April 19th, 2016 at 05:38 | #41

    @Will Boisvert
    The data are downloadable and linked to in the IEA press release. I’ve added the IMF’s numbers for global GDP growth. Let’s hope the formatting comes out.

    Emissions Gt Yr/yr GDP growth
    2012 31.49 0.64% 4.2%
    2013 32.07 1.84% 3.4%
    2014 32.13 0.19% 3.4%
    2015 32.14 0.03% 3.1%

    4-yr sum 2.70% 14.1%
    2-yr sum 0.22% 6.5%
    35-yr average 2.04% (annual increase, to 2011)

    I should have spoken of a 2-year plateau rather than a 3-year one. I couldn’t do a proper 2-and 4-year increase for GDP so I left it as an arithmetic sum.

    The IEA spin is a bit odd. The raw numbers suggest a turn rather than a plateau, and extrapolation would give an absolute decline in 2016. But then I’m a Pollyanna, right?

  42. April 19th, 2016 at 14:34 | #42

    James, seasonal storage isn’t going to be built. At anything like current costs its a lot cheaper to build extra renewable capacity and then lower electricity prices or curtail its production when its output is not needed.

    There is a lot of room to just use price signals to ensure demand is met and appropriate extra generation is built and/or appropriate efficiency measures taken.

    And plenty of grids have existing seasonal storage capacity in the form of hydroelectric dams which are currently used to store water for months of higher demand.

    So without surprising reductions in the cost of storage, seasonal storage is not likely to be a thing, except where it involves new hydroelectric capacity being built.

  43. Ikonoclast
    April 19th, 2016 at 16:26 | #43

    I have been previewing an interesting looking book. I hope to get hold of it soon.

    “Capitalism: Should You Buy it?: An Invitation to Political Economy” – By Charles Derber, Yale R. Magrass.

    This book is written in a manner which the intelligent layperson can easily understand. It makes the case for interpreting and analysing our society through the ideas of political economy rather than merely through the ideas of economics. It then compares and contrasts three political economy paradigms; the Neoclassical, the Keynesian and the Neo-Marxist.

    It moves on to “Political Economy and Contemporary Issues”: Inequality, Democracy, Individualism vs. Community, Globalisation, Environment and Climate Change… and more.

    Then, naturally, there is a Conclusion.

    From my preview this book is accessible and understandable without the need to be a tertiary trained sociologist or economist. I believe it will help people to think beyond the blinkers which economics – or rather one bowdlerised and popularised form of modern economics namely Neoclassical economics – places on people in modern society.

  44. James Wimberley
    April 19th, 2016 at 20:30 | #44

    @Ronald Brak
    Agreed. The alternative to Hinkley C is three undersea cables to Norway.

  45. April 20th, 2016 at 10:29 | #45

    James, I don’t know anything about the details of connecting the UK to Norway, but it certainly seems like a reasonable option.

    But, speaking as an Australian, I don’t see why the UK could not get a significant amount of electricity from rooftop solar. I know this this may sound strange to people who think England receives about as much sunshine as a damp sponge in the cupboard under the kitchen sink, but I’m not completely crazy – in this particular area.

    Here in Australia it makes economic sense to install rooftop solar. It pays for itself for a large number of households and businesses. Here in South Australia about 7.5% of our electricity is produced by rooftop solar and this figure will only increase as the cost of rooftop solar continues to fall.

    Dreary old London, in the popular Australian imagination, only has sunshine during the freak heatwaves we read about that manage to kill people with 30 degree temperatures. However, as far as a solar panel is concerned, it will receive approximately 59% as much electricity producing sunshine as here in Adelaide. And because of London’s lower temperatures, the panels will operate more efficiently than they do here, bumping up electricity production to over 60% of Adelaide’s.

    So provided the cost of rooftop solar continues to rapidly fall as it has, then all the UK has to do is get installation costs down to those of Australia and then wait for an additional fall of 40% in price, which might only take 5 years, and then rooftop solar will produce as much electricity per pound spent on installation as in Adelaide.

    Retail electricity prices are high in England, but not as high as what I pay. But currently the UK has subsidies for solar and provided they don’t all disappear, or alternatively they disappear but a larger portion of the externalities of fossil fuel generation are priced in, rooftop solar should really take off. And if subsidies disappear and externalities aren’t priced in to a greater degree, provided rooftop solar continues to fall in price, just wait a few more years.

    Now there is a big difference between summer and winter output of PV in Britain. Much more than in Australia. If reducing that difference is deemed to be important then further cost decreases means it could make sense to install more solar and curtail excess production in summer. Of course if wind has higher output in winter, that might make more sense to build.

    Now it is possible that solar may not continue to fall in price as it has, but provided it does, then things are looking sunny for rooftop solar in the UK. Or rather, things will be looking cloudy, but rooftop solar will be so cheap it won’t matter.

  46. James Wimberley
    April 20th, 2016 at 17:47 | #46

    @Ronald Brak
    Reply in sandpit

  47. Ikonoclast
    April 21st, 2016 at 09:37 | #47

    This is an interesting article from 2014. It is not dated. The reverse is true. It is more applicable than ever before.


  48. BilB
    April 21st, 2016 at 12:35 | #48


    Thanks again for the shelterspace link.I have started a conversation with Paul Mitchell who is really interesting and dynamic. He has built some 50 earth sheltered houses in Australia and is gearing up to expand that performance. I just might blow some carbon credits and give him a visit to explore our common interests.


  49. BilB
    April 21st, 2016 at 12:48 | #49

    I am largely in agreement with you Ronald B. applying evacuated tube solar thermal rooftop collectors can collect very large amounts of useful energy complementary to PV in that climate.

    I would like to ask you a question about your state.

    Does SA’s container deposit scheme lead to cleaner open spaces. Do people go around and collect discarded containers to supplement their income?

  50. April 21st, 2016 at 16:46 | #50

    There are definitely people who go around collecting deposit bottles. However, I mostly see them collecting drink containers from bins rather than picking them up off the street. Obviously we need to reward people for picking them off the ground and not the bin so clearly we need omnipresent computer surveillance to reward people who pick up items that aren’t already in bins. And we all pray that day will come soon.

    I don’t know what is more efficient, putting deposits on drink containers or using the money to instead pay people to clean up the place. I guess it all depends if you want your town to be tidy during times of economic hardship or not. When council budgets are tight the first people likely to go are the ones paid to tidy up the street. But when bottles are worth money the streets get cleaner as times get harder as people grab all the empty deposit bottles they can. Of course, when people start cutting each other over an empty pepsi can things have gone too far. In that case you either want to lower the deposit, or preferably build a society that never forces anyone to shiv anyone over a deposit bottle in order to survive.

    But since there is no reason why street cleaning can’t be done by robots, I suspect paying to clean will end up cheaper than deposits if it isn’t already.

  51. BilB
    April 21st, 2016 at 18:52 | #51

    Thanks for that, Ronald, I value your opinion. Where we are, people are paid to clean up all too infrequently. I am personally going to begin campaigning for deposits on a broad range of containers including the supermarket bags. I would like to see council recyclers profiting from the waste recycling process. In the best arrangement those containers that hit the waste depots could pay for part of that operation and the street clean up people too. The real problem is not the visible rubbish, it is the rubbish that disappears out of sight into storm water drains, and then to the wider environment.

    In Blaxland on the way to my factory there is a “special” woman who I see sometimes in the morning picking up the rubbish in her area. I helped her off a railway fence one morning early where she had got stuck and developed an instant attachment to her for the thing that she does to feel that she is contributing. I bought a pick up stick for her to use. Later someone else bought her one, and another time when I stopped to thank her she showed me (she cannot talk properly) that the grippers cannot pick up cigarette butts properly. There is a design challenge which I have not resolved.

    Disbursed rubbish is an externality which should be paid for at the time of purchase, resolve it properly and you get the money back else pass the value to some one else who will. In NSW the state government is appeasing its failure with an add campaign that seeks to shame litterers. In the world of prolific paint taggers it doesn’t work.

  52. peach la mar.
    April 21st, 2016 at 19:30 | #52

    Under reported, but we are to get our first lng bunkering vessel, on offshore rig tender for the nw shelf. Dampier will be our first lng bunkering port. We are way behind. Lng bunkering and automation will drive shipping productivity, not cabotage or cheap foreign crews. Both unions and business are hanging on to the old, Australian business has refused to invest in the new, and govt hasn’t built supporting infrastructure.

  53. Ikonoclast
    April 22nd, 2016 at 08:19 | #53

    “Cabotage is the transport of goods or passengers between two places in the same country by a transport operator from another country. It originally applied to shipping along coastal routes, port to port, but now applies to aviation, railways, and road transport as well.” – Wikipedia.

    That’s a new word to me.

    Here’s a good paper “LNG Bunkering: Technical and Operational Advisory”.


    I saw another paper where the IEA said there’s enough LNG for 200 years use globally. Isn’t the whole point the fact that we can’t burn all the fossil fuels? Why mention reserves we simply cannot afford to burn? Burn them all and we burn the planet. So, when do we stop? As I said above or in another thread (I forget which), we need to reduce fossil fuel use by 4% to 5% each year from now and into the future to be even a half-assed chance of saving the benign holocene climate. Anyone reckon we will do it? Of course, a comparable final result is possible if we say start at say 1% a year drop and drop that use by a greater percentage each year. There are various paths.

    Okay so coal use is slowly becoming unattractive. That on its own is not enough to impress me. We have to drop oil and natural gas use too. For example, one would have to hope there are no internal combustion engine automobiles on the roads by 2030. Also, by 2030 at least 90% of dwellings in Australia should have solar panels on the roof. These are clear milestones we should set and reach . The next 15 years including this onewill be definitive . We will know by 2030 if we are doomed or if we have a chance.

  54. peach la mar.
    April 22nd, 2016 at 18:26 | #54


    Far too much interstate trade is done by road. Lng bunkering and automation should return the cost advantage to shipping. Retrofitting and conversion of the commercial fishing fleet will follow. Gov needs to build the infrastructure now.

  55. Ikonoclast
    April 22nd, 2016 at 19:40 | #55

    @peach la mar.

    “Far too much interstate trade is done by road.”

    I agree. The question is how rail and shipping would compare. There are probably roles for both as we retire what I call the “mammoth behemoths”; the semis, B-doubles and road-trains.

  56. Donald Oats
    April 23rd, 2016 at 19:42 | #56

    A big problem with the use of gas is in the mining and transport of it: fugitive emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas (approx 23 times more potent than CO2 over a 20 year period), bubble up from the ground at the mining site, and further away, anywhere that fissures have opened up—Coal Seam Gas fracking is a classic example.

    Witness the Condamine river set alight in this video by Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham (Qld). This is a kilometre away from the fracking site itself.

    The mining company claims it has no impact on human health, and isn’t an environmental problem. If CO2 is considered an environmental problem because it is a GHG, then as a far more potent GHG, the methane must be considered as an environmental problem. This company is taking a risky legal position when it claims no risk (posed by the fugitive emissions of methane).

  57. BilB
    April 26th, 2016 at 18:06 | #57

    For those in despair over the global carbon emissions and the impression that nothing is happening, this might give those capable of a positive outlook a boost of hope.


    This is the legacy of Paris, an international determination to get change under way.

  58. BilB
    April 26th, 2016 at 18:39 | #58

    I just discovered this by chance


    The premier gets a pat on the back from me.

  59. BilB
    April 26th, 2016 at 18:48 | #59

    And here is a little bit of history to go with it.


    for my liking the deposit should be 10 cents especially for supermarket bags. With containers in the environment it is not about their mass it is about the surface area or barrier area they present to nature.

  60. Tim Macknay
    April 27th, 2016 at 19:25 | #60

    The container deposit scheme is for beverage containers – it won’t include plastic supermarket bags. Container deposit schemes aren’t a bad idea, but their impact on pollution and waste reduction is pretty trivial. What is needed are legislated extended producer responsibility schemes which cover a much bigger proportion of the total number of manufactured goods. The NSW government does deserve some credit for putting a public interest concern ahead of industry lobbying though. That is a rare thing – particularly for the Liberal party.

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