My vocal challenges to the viability of “The Leap Manifesto” have earned me some negative feedback and as such I figure it is necessary to back up my opinions with a few numbers. In doing this I will differentiate myself from the folks at the Manifesto who appear averse to presenting any numbers to support their ideas.
Now the problem with the field of renewable energy is that there are a lot of people who love to wave their hands and make claims about the future. One of the bright lights of the field, whose light unfortunately dimmed too soon, Dr. David Mackay had an expression, “It’s not so much that I’m pro-nuclear, I’m just pro math”. In renewable energy the math counts, and as this post will show the math is against the idea that we can reach the Leap Manifesto goal of 100% Renewable Energy by 2050.
Now a lot of the info in this post is cribbed from an earlier post More on 100% Wind, Water and Sunlight and the Council of Canadians “100% Clean economy” by 2050 goal. My intention on this post is to provide a lot less detail to make it easier to read and understand.
In the Leap Manifesto they only supply two references, one is to how they will achieve a “100% renewable economy by 2050”. It is:
Jacobson, M., et al. Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials. Energy Policy 39:3 (2011).
Ironically, that is not actually the right reference. The document they provide is the supporting document for Dr. Jacobson’s masterwork. The basis for the “100% clean economy by 2050” plan is a still-draft paper prepared by Dr. Jacobson 100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS) All-Sector Energy Roadmaps for 139 Countries of the World (called 100% WWS hereafter). As suggested, 100% WWS provides a detailed break-out of what it would take for each country in the world to achieve 100% renewable energy (excluding nuclear power and any new hydro). You note that big proviso. Dr. Jacobson is very anti-nuclear energy and does not like large reservoir or run-of-the-river hydro so he has excluded them from the mix. Since the authors’ of the Manifesto are citing Dr. Jacobson’s work I will assume for the sake of this blog post that they feel the same way. In Table 3 of 100% WWS the breakdown of energy sources by 2050 in Canada is presented:
- Onshore wind 37.5%
- Offshore wind 21%
- Solar PV plant 17.7%
- Hydroelectric 16.5%
- Wave energy 2%
- Residential rooftop solar 1.5%
- Commercial/govt rooftop solar 1.7%
- Geothermal 1.9%
- Tidal turbine 0.2%
At the outset the numbers look challenging, but not necessarily impossible. Being a practical guy, I thought I should dig a bit deeper to see how these numbers pan out. It ends up those numbers are presented in an associated spreadsheet. In Table 2 of the spreadsheet is the list of new units necessary by 2050 to achieve the 100% Renewable goal. These are:
- Onshore wind: 39,263 new 5 MW units ( + 1939 units currently installed)
- Offshore wind: 21,555 new 5 MW units (currently no units in Canada)
- Solar PV plant: 5122 new 50 MW facilities (currently 13 similar facilities)
- Hydroelectric: Uses currently built facilities with efficiency gains
- Wave energy: 27,323 0.75 MW installations (currently no unit in Canada)
- Residential rooftop solar: 4,206,934 units (currently 2% of units installed)
- Commercial/govt rooftop solar: 248,867 units (currently 2% of units installed)
- Geothermal: 50 new 100 MW facilities (currently no such facility in Canada)
- Tidal turbine: 1980 new 1 MW units (currently no units in Canada)
So let’s start with the easiest ones first. According to the plan in order to meet our goal we will need 27,323 wave devices (covering a physical footprint of about 14 km2) and 1980 tidal turbines. With zero wave devices installed to date in Canada at the end of 2015 we have to install 804 of these systems per year to meet our goal. There is one hitch to this plan. No one has yet to come up with a design for a fully-functional industrial scale wave installation. There are lots of pilot projects and one unit in Australia looks promising but before we can even start the planning process a design needs to be completed. Absent even a design for a unit it is unclear how we are going to meet our goal of 804 a year starting yesterday.
As for that footprint of 14 km2 we know that environmentalists go out of their way to encourage large industrial users to cover huge swathes of their marine foreshore with industrial power plants, so that won’t be a problem either.
As for the cost, absent a design it is hard to tell. Dr. Jacobson estimates that the wave devices will cost $130 billion (all figures US dollars) plus approximately $8 billion for the tidal units. So about $140 billion dollars to meet 2.2% of our energy needs….this stuff isn’t cheap you know.
In order to achieve our 2050 goal we also need to install over 60,000 – 5 megawatt wind turbines between today and 2050. That means 1764 a year or 5 units a day between now and Jan 1, 2050. To put the scale of this challenge into perspective: as of September 2015 British Columbia had 5 onshore wind installations with a total of 217 wind turbines and an installed capacity of 489 MW. Nationally we are 5% complete in our goal for 2050.
As one of the two coasts British Columbia would be responsible for close to half of the 21,555 offshore units needed to achieve our 100% WWS goal. As of September 2015 we had zero offshore wind facilities. Getting from zero to 10,000 in 34 years, in our regulatory environment, shouldn’t be much of a problem, heck according to BC Hydro they have up to 300 potential wind energy sites being investigated for project development. Of that group offshore represents 43 project with an installed capacity of 14,688 MW. This represents 4 percent of the 368,000 MW of nameplate capacity called for in 100% WWS by 2050.
From a cost perspective wind, while not ultra-expensive, is not cheap either. Using Dr. Jacobson’s numbers the onshore wind component will cost $273 billion dollars while the offshore wind component will cost $380 billion dollars….these numbers keep adding up don’t they?
Now the solar side is much more advanced and given the money and the will it should be possible to achieve Dr. Jacobson’s goals. You notice I said “given the money”. By Dr. Jacobson’s calculations it will only cost $527 billion US dollars before 2050.
Looking at the total math for this project Dr. Jacobson calculated that it would cost approximately $1.340 trillion (2013 US dollars) to build the new installations necessary to meet our 2050 goal. Correcting for inflation that comes out to $ 1.4 trillion U.S. dollars. Using today’s currency conversion that comes out to $1.8 trillion Canadian dollars which needs to be spent by 2050.
Now assuming we spread the costs evenly between 2016 and 2050 (34 years) that comes out to the low-low-price of $53 billion per year to build that infrastructure. Remember we haven’t considered the infrastructure necessary to build that infrastructure (roads etc…) or the costs to do the environmental assessments on all those projects, we are simply talking about the capital costs of the actual units themselves. Talking about environmental assessments, given Canada’s history of welcoming large industrial power facilities, I am quite certain there will be no delays in initiating the construction of all these facilities…just look at how smoothly Site C has been progressing in BC. There have been no added legal costs or anything like that have there?
Now that I have covered the power sources, I will address what I view as the biggest Achilles heel in the 100% WWS goal for Canada: power transmission. As I noted when talking about the high-speed national rail line, the Manifesto writers appear to be an urban lot and seem to have forgotten that Canada is what they call a big country. Consider that to achieve 100% clean energy in 2050 virtually every community in Canada will need to be connected to a national grid since cities like Yellowknife will need to import a lot of power in order to continue to exist. Under 100% WWS the citizens of Inuvik won’t be allowed to use diesel generators during the 6 month winter, when the ice has blocked up the coast and the wind can disappear for days at a time. They will thus have to import electricity from down south. Now I admit to having picked a couple extreme cases to make my point, but recognize that Canada’s vast and challenging geography has limited our ability to create a nationally integrated power grid. Even the most optimistic view has a new grid costing $25 billion and taking a couple decades to build. A more realistic appraisal puts the cost of a national backbone of 735 kV transmission lines at around $104 billion and taking 20 years to complete.
Once the national backbone has been built can we then start work on all the feeder lines that will have to go to every city, town and hamlet. Building transmission lines in Canada can be intensely expensive. Consider that the Northwest Transmission Line project in BC is looking to cost over $2 million a kilometer to build. Yet in order to work the 100% WWS proposal requires that these lines be built. As for the costs? If your single main line is $104 billion and we will need 10’s of thousands of kms of feeder lines then even taking into account the existing infrastructure we are talking in the low trillions to connect all our communities.
As I have said more times that I would care to admit in this blog: I am a pragmatist. As a pragmatist I tend to live by the credo “moderation in all things”. The 100% WWS model pushed in the Manifesto fails because it does not believe in moderation. It places tight, and poorly supported, restrictions on a number of important baseline clean energy technologies and in doing so results in a proposal that is ruinously expensive. Looking at the numbers above, the costs would be prohibitive for Canada consuming over $100 billion a year just for this one Demand and we haven’t yet included the high-speed railway. At the Manifesto web page they have an analysis by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) that suggests some ideas for how can pay for the Manifesto’s demands. That document uncovers almost $50 billion/year to help pay for the demands. The problem is, as I show above, just the basic installations for 100% renewable by 2050 already devours that entire total and then some. Add in the power grid and the high-speed rail and you have more than doubled the total. The CCPA suggests that we should simply borrow to pay for this infrastructure. Can you imagine the legacy of debt we would place on our children, our grand-children and our great-grandchildren if we suggested borrowing $100 billion+ a year for the foreseeable future to fund this infrastructure? Admittedly we live in an era of low interest rates but they will not last forever. Adding several trillion dollars to our national debt is simply a non-starter.
To conclude, the truth is that while the 100% WWS by 2050 plan is clearly not possible that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work hard to achieve its underlying goal of low or no carbon energy with a strong renewable component. I believe strongly in renewable energy, but as I have written before I believe in regionally-appropriate renewables. The problem with the proposal pushed in the Manifesto is that it is hobbled by some of the personal views of its creators. It omits some pretty obvious energy solutions like further large-reservoir hydro in Quebec, Labrador, Ontario and BC, run-of-the-river hydro across Canada and, of course, further nuclear power. A country like Canada that is blessed with an abundance of hydropower opportunities should not ignore those opportunities because the urban writers of the Manifesto rely on one engineer from California who doesn’t particularly like that technology. Put simply we cannot ignore the potential of nuclear and hydro energy in a post-fossil fuel energy mix. To summarize what I have written above: when an apparently innumerate representative from the Leap Manifesto assures you that 100% WWS is possible by 2050 the correct response is: “only in your dreams…only in your dreams”.
This was great. Just to clarify are the dollar values stated in 2016 dollars or nominal dollars? If 2016 dollars, and we need to spend X dollars between now and 2050 (34 years away), the annual cost is *more* than X/34, since the future value of money is less than the present value (due to inflation, interest, etc.). In other words, if the present-day costs are stated in 2016 dollars, the economic feasibility is even worse than you have estimated.
The numbers from Jacobson were in 2013 US dollars. Unfortunately my expertise is not economics so I am not sure how to correctly establish what that is in future dollars.
From a practical standpoint, it makes more sense to undertake such a national project in discrete phases with loosened timelines and less ambitious goals than Leap. It could begin by delineating several areas of relatively dense population, such as Maritimes, Quebec-to-Toronto corridor, Central Prairies, Lower Mainland/Vancouver Island regions, and focus on what is practically achievable for renewable power for each region. Even achieving a more limited 70-80% renewable energy for these regions would probably get us most of the way towards the overall national targets, without causing nearly as much pain as Leap proposes. Yellowknife may still burn diesel, but these emissions are relatively minor.
Major discrete industrial emitters like the Oilsands need to reduce emission commensurately, but Rachel Notley’s government has taken a good first step for that industry and we can hope that her government has set a tone for others (e.g., BC, Saskatchewan) to emulate in meeting 2050 commitments.
I want to point out that “forcing” oil sands emitters to reduce co2 emissions temporarily restrains output, which increases demand for their product, increases the price, and desire to sell more. We know how successful the “war on drugs” and “prohibition” were based on similar “supply side” restrictions. To reduce co2 emissions you have to convert to electric drive for nearly everything, which policies should encourage, but pretty quickly the math shows you that it can be done only with huge construction of nuclear power plants over the next century, with big technical hurdles to manufacture enough batteries for the electric cars. Or accept serious drops in standards of living, with Canadians being environmentally sustainable by living in unheated houses in parkas, eating Caribou meat and whale blubber. Of course 95% of the population must perish in this scenario.
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Just out of curiosity – how much would it cost if Canada went 100 % nuclear?
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MZJ projects Canada will need only 2059 TWh/year by 2050. Highly unlikely, but let’s go with that number.
Canada currently gets from non-fossil sources:
106 TWh nuclear
390 TWh hydro
22 TWh other renewables
… and would therefore need
1541 TWh of non-fossil construction by 2050, while maintaining the current non-fossil base.
An AP1000 reactor produces 1117 MWe at a capacity factor of 92%, therefore producing 9.01 TWh per year.
Going all-nuclear would therefore require 1541/9 = 57.5 AP1000 reactors.
The Vogtle plant in Georgia is currently building two such reactors at a total cost of $15 billion US, or $7.5 billion each.
The all-nuclear option would therefore cost Canada $431 billion US, which is $555 billion CDN at today’s rates. That’s assuming an unrealistic zero-learning-curve for nuclear.
Nuclear would not require large amounts of storage or grid construction, and if Canada’s TerraPower small MSR gets going (as I expect it will), even places like Yellowknife and Inuvik could go nuclear at prices much cheaper than diesel.
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And I should point out that MZJ estimates WWS would cost Canada $1.34 trillion US, so WWS is three times the cost of all-nuclear.
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I’m guessing SMRs built on assembly lines could push the the costs down even further.
1. One other big thing you’ve omitted here is the cost of storage, which is considerable in MZJ’s plan.
2. The capacity factor of wave is about equal to the capacity factor of wind over the long haul, according to Kavanaugh 2012. Wave is less variable over hourly timescales, but can vary by as much as 4x over inter-annual timescales. (!!)
3. I haven’t check the international numbers, but MZJ’s plan for the US includes massive (35%+) reductions in overall energy demand, with handwaving efficiency magic being the suggested source.
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There you go, again!
Using pesky facts, researched, reasoned arguments and logic.
And then to top it off you go and actually resort to using numbers and math!
So not fair, proves you are an eeeeeeevil Denier.
And don’t try to deny it!
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This seems like a very simplistic analysis of the renewable energy transition costs based only on upfront capital setup costs. Canadians currently spend about $310 billion per year on paying for our electricity. How much of this utility revenue goes into new infrastructure? Can utilities afford renewable energy infrastructure using existing budgets from current revenue?
What we really need to consider in assessing the true cost is not the one time capital costs but the cost per kilowatt hour over the lifetime of the generation equipment. Renewable energy generation will have higher capital costs but lower running costs (no fossil fuels to buy to generate the electricity).
So let’s say, to pick a number (if anyone knows this figure let me know), that utilities invest, say 20% of their revenues for new infrastructure. This would amount to $62 billion per year in Canada. In the above analysis it was suggested that the cost is $53 billion per year to build necessary renewable energy infrastructure. If my guess is close then utilities have all the $ we need plus $9 billion per year left over for grid upgrades. Even if my number is wrong it shows the logic that is needed to analyze the actual costs and not just the big (make your eyes spin) upfront capital costs which really don’t matter if it all gets paid though our monthly energy bills.
What matters here is the incremental cost from what we pay now to what we will pay with the transitioned system. We also need to realize that if part of the transition is investing in energy efficiency that our consumption will go down (40% or more). If we have a slightly higher rate but a lot less consumption then our monthly bill will be lower. Rates only matter with high consumption levels.
We currently subsidize the oil & gas sector by billions – I’ve seen numbers from $3-$34 billion per year. Even shifting $5-$10 billion to renewable energy would help move the transition forward by leaps and bounds. There is also the carbon tax that could be implemented. This would be a further revenue source for the transition and programs for low-income people.
If we assume that moving to 100% renewable energy will happen at some point waiting will only cost us more, It will be the lowest cost path to allow conventional fossil based generation facilities to be phased out – at the end of their life cycle – and only replace them with renewable energy sources. If we keep building new fossil based generation now that has, say, a 50 year life cycle then we may have to throw half of that investment away if we need to shut the facility down 25 years from now. By starting now we only need to spend the difference between fossil & renewable energy technologies. Prices for wind and solar are already cost competitive in many regions with fossils. As time goes by renewables will get cheaper as fossils get more expensive.
Beyond this we also need to consider the health cost saving of reducing pollution. How many billions in avoided cost is this per year? There are also the benefits to communities by creating local jobs (6-8 times more than with a fossil economy). How much prosperity is created by employing more people?
I am not saying I have thought of all the costs and benefits but I hope I have shown that the analysis needs to be deeper than the one proposed in this blog entry. I am interested in what others think and what I might have missed.
Thanks for this discussion that Canada needs to have!
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Can anyone describe these often heard-of subsidies to oil and gas ? I work in that sector and would love to get some of that 🙂
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You know those cheques you don’t have to write for the global warming and air pollution effects of oil and gas?
There you go 😉
The “subsidies” are mostly forgone revenue. So when a government lowers the tax rate to encourage more exploration that counts as a “subsidy” in the eyes of the greens.
In almost all the West oil and gas is much more heavily taxed than most commodities — and certainly higher than its competitors in the energy business.
There is no magic way to earn money by removing oil and gas “subsidies” in the West because the removal of the “subsidies” would mean less money as people pulled out of marginal areas of extraction. (Say the oil sands were to lose any tax breaks, then production would fall and Canada would be worse off. The politicians know that, it’s why they grant the tax breaks. They then tax the resulting petrol to the hilt, of course.)
There are a few smaller poorer countries that subsidize things like kerosene for cooking to aid the poor. Removing them would not help anyone much. And there a couple of really stupid countries that subsidize petrol for political reasons. They’re beyond help, but the value we’re talking about is minimal.
During a University Investigation on oil and gas mythical subsidies, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation stated clearly that no such subsidies exist. Oil and gas and small garages get equipment deductibles for DEPRECIATION same as small business. Those are NOT subsidies so please check your facts before you spout off.
Alberta as an example has paid under Constitutional obligations $200 billion over last 18 years to equalization funds in Ottawa …objective to keep Ontario and Quebec going, two have-not Provinces.
Garth, the argument you make that the cost of building 100% WWS generation could be financed out of current utilities’ revenues applies equally to other de-carbonisation solutions which, being unconstrained by ideological dogma, would (as kap55 has illustrated) be cheaper and more affordable.
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In your analysis of costs of wind and photo voltaic sources of electricity have you considered that each of these is intermittent?. They therefore require electrical storage or another electrical
source that is instantly available as a backup to keep the electrical grid in balance.
In addition, what is the working lifetime of a wind turbine or solar panel? I doubt it is 50 years.
Finally if electric cars become the norm, demand for electricity is unlikely to decrease without dramatic lifestyle changes.
I didn’t really give an analysis of costs. I was simply pointing that we need to look at the incremental and not just capital costs to figure out what it really will costs us.
From the research I have done the storage issue is greatly exaggerated. It is easy to say, “The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.” It is jumping to conclusions to believe that a multi source, smart & integrated renewable energy system then needs a huge amount of new storage based on this statement. In a multi source renewable energy system the different sources will often complement one another. With wind over a large area the wind will always be blowing somewhere. We can also integrate biogas systems with some storage. The Jacobson research maps out a diversified renewable energy system that uses existing hydro for storage. A smart grid with intelligent load can also create significant virtual storage.
If you throw electric cars into the mix then there is a huge battery source available that can be charged at night when loads are often low.
As to the lifespan of wind turbines it looks like the first generation of mass produced units have a lifespan of 20-30 years. The units can be refurbished to get another 20 years or so. It isn’t clear how often they can be refurbished. Like most technology the reliability usually improves with iterations. Cost also come down and efficiency increases.
As for solar panels they usually come with a 20-25 year warranty and there are examples of 60 year old panels still putting out power.
Another issue that also needs to be added to the mix is the cost of extreme weather events from climate change. National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy estimated costs as high as $43 billion per year by 2050.
So to come with a real cost of a renewable energy economy we have to look at many things all at once. We also have to make decisions with gaps in information as we won’t know the true costs and benefits until we actually do it. We also won’t know the true costs of not acting until time goes by. So far I think the Jacobson analysis is, so far, the most comprehensive and considers the the greatest number of diverse factors. It surely has some flaws as it is a plan with many unknowns.
If we make the wrong choice and we end up with runaway global warming we won’t be able to fix it. Spending on a renewable energy system is buying earth insurance. We willingly pay to insure our homes so why not our only planet? It is not the cheapest option right now but it gives us protection in the future. Canada is an internationally respected country. If we set an example of a rapid transition to a renewable energy economy then others will likely follow. if we lead we will also reap the benefits when others look to us to buy our technology and expertise.
We are at a point in time where we need to decide if we think a renewable energy economy is possible. If we don’t then do nothing. If we do then we need to “leap” forward – all in – and get on with figuring out how to it and do it rapidly. I for one believe we can do it. Humanity is very good at solving big problems when we have the political will to do what is necessary. In history times of prosperity come from engaging in collectively solving big problems. I see no reason why solving this big problem won’t lead to a period of prosperity. Doing nothing will likely give us more of the same with a dose of extreme weather.
In the end, and as a “pragmatist,” I care more about saving our planet than about paying a bit extra on my energy bill for earth insurance.
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It is easy to say, “The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.”
Well, yes. Because it’s true.
The sun never shines at night. In fact the wind dies down too in most places.
It is simply not true that the wind is “always blowing somewhere”. There’s blowing, and then there is blowing sufficient for power generation. You can’t just hand-wave away this problem because it is unfortunate.
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Garth, in one form or another.the “Planet” will always be here. It is misleading and hubristic to say that human beings can “save” it.
I am less certain that human beings always will be here, regardless of what we do. An asteroid striking the earth or a a mega volcano cannot be much altered by human endeavours.
I am concerned, however about the chaos, cost and starvation that sudden switching to photo voltaic and wind turbines is liable to do. And the poorest citizens probably would be the most affected.
And pretending that humans haven’t impacted the planet isn’t arrogant or misleading?
I haven”t heard anyone talk about a “sudden” switch to renewable energy. We are talking 2050 or later for the full transition to happen. This could have started 30 years ago if rich interests and corporations hadn’t hidden science and deceived the public. Is a transition over 40 years “sudden?” We changed from a peace to military economy in WWII in months not years. Following WWII was one of the greatest periods of prosperity common people have ever known. Great investment & sacrifice for a common goal led to prosperity. The space race was also a common goal with huge investment that created prosperity. And the spin-offs from the venture more than paid for the effort.
Are you not worried about the sea level rise from global warming? This is going to impact a great deal more people than an energy shift ever will. Do you not think there will be chaos and starvation when there is severe weather & flooding in some places and extreme drought in others?
Yes an act of god could happen tomorrow that wipes out the earth but that isn’t blood on humanity’s hands. With your logic one can rationalize any crime. Our justice system is based on what we know about and what we can control. We know fossils are causing global warming. They also create pollution that causes suffering. Since we know, we morally need to act if we can. I believe we can make a difference if we act. History has shown that acting collectively to solve a big problem creates prosperity for many people. Not acting tends to create more suffering. We really don’t have anything to lose by trying.
And what happens when we run out of fossils – at least the cheap ones? This will happen one day. How will waiting until we have no choice but to transition help the poor of the world? This is why the Leap Manifesto focuses on community development. We need to empower communities – in Canada and all over the world – to solve problems and create local prosperity. Our current path is handing all wealth over to the richest while starving people and our governments of all ability to pay for basic necessities for citizens. Why is it that there is more total wealth in the world than ever before yet we have greater public debt and less services? Shouldn’t the plight of the poor get better and not worse?
I agree that the planet will go on but it is a waste of human ingenuity to not try to solve problems. What is the point of intelligence if we don’t use it to make the planet better for both humans and all other species.
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“Garth, in one form or another.the “Planet” will always be here. It is misleading and hubristic to say that human beings can “save” it.”
A vapid, self-evident argument. “In one form or another,” huh? That’s reassuring. News flash: a planet can be here always, but without a breathable atmosphere, a food chain or a livable temperature spread, that planet will be just another barren rock, like every other. Is that okay, really?
The hubris of believing “humans beings can save it” pales in comparison to the hubris of the techno-religionists and the elite they serve, who talk blithely and condescendingly about the impending miracle of nuclear power, for example, while Fukushima continues to spew and while spent fuel rods pile up around the world…now that’s hubris.
And it also begs the question: Can we, humanity, learn from our own fateful history? Arrogance and/or ignorance has brought down every great human civilization. Will we bother to look at our history, ask some key reflective questions and chose to evolve? Evolving means doing things differently. Evolving means, among other things, finding a new energy system based on sustainability.
Or we continue to circle blindly and come crashing down yet again – this time we might very well bring down all of humanity and many, many other innocent species as well. Is this really the only option we have for living on our only home – planet earth?
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Garth, we do NOT know that “Fossils cause global warming”. There is a theory that the CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels is dangerously warming the atmosphere – a theory only. This theory depends on observations indicating a loose correlation between CO2 concentrations and temperature at some time periods but not at other times including a recent 18-year period. Correlation never proves causation, but lack of correlation precludes that a phenomenon is a necessary and sufficient causal agent. Therefore CO2 is not the “control knob” of Earth’s temperature.
By the way, the first use of intelligence is to observe data, make sure the data is accurate and then act on the data, not to follow group-thinking or dogma.
Well you can believe what you want to believe.
I’ll believe the science from thousands of highly qualified climate scientists around the world.
It is easy to find a blog somewhere that “debunks” stacks & stacks of diverse science in a simple sweeping grand statement that at first glance seems quite logical to a lay audience. This blog is a classic example. Is the author qualified as an economist or in renewable energy economics. Find one supposed fault that is easy to articulate and bingo everything is magically debunked. To be honest I am suspicious of anyone who uses the term “debunk.”
If you care to research you will also find a peer-reviewed paper by a qualified climate scientist explaining the anomaly you mention. Good scientists explore the glitches in their theories. Michael Mann recently participated in a study that seemed to conflict with his greater body of research. He still believes in human caused global warming because there is still 1000 times more data supporting anthropocentric global warming and many many paths to the same conclusions.
When you trip while walking do you immediately say you can no longer walk? Or maybe there was an unexpected crack in the sidewalk when you look back? This is a simple an explainable glitch. There is no need to believe you can no longer walk based on this glitch because it is explainable and normal. Science is a lot like this. The process is meant to trip over the cracks but to also find out why. In fact science even goes farther and asks why the sidewalk cracked. It is a process that is continually questioning itself and looking for answers.
So, I’ll buy my Earth Insurance because I don’t want to be the non-expert, non-scientist who stands in the way of necessary change. I’ll spend a bit more to take the safest path forward. We only have one earth so we had all better be sure the path we choose is the safest one (and not just the cheapest and easiest).
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Morley, I try not to get in the way of good discussions, but I think that the chemistry of climate change (at least with respect to carbon dioxide) is irrefutable. Increases in carbon dioxide concentrations will result in increased retention of heat until that band of the spectrum is saturated to the top of the atmosphere. There is room to debate about the numbers and signs of various feedbacks but the basic chemistry appears sound.
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Blair, I’m no chemist but I don’t quite get your irrefutable claim above and I would very much like to get your take on why you hold this position. I completely agree with the idea that increases in carbon dioxide concentrations will result in increased retention of heat. However that doesn’t necessarily mean the surface temperature increases. It will depend on how that extra heat is distributed.
My understanding of the ‘no feedback’ derivations, showing increased CO2 resulting in an increased surface temperature, are carried out assuming all other variables are held constant except surface temperature. The new surface temperature required to re-attain thermodynamic equilibrium is then calculated.
It seems to me you could do a similar derivation by holding surface temperature constant and instead allowing the lapse rate to vary. Then, using the same radiative transfer calculations, see what new lapse rate would be required to bring the climate system into thermodynamic equilibrium. I suspect it would show that a very minor lapse rate change is required and, overall, less retained heat energy would be needed to achieve equilibrium compared to the floating surface temperature derivation.
As I say, I’m not a chemist and I have limited knowledge of the supporting evidence for claims that increasing CO2 concentrations from its current levels results in increasing surface temperatures.
Blair, thank you for your comment. I enjoy and appreciate your blog.
The chemistry might well be sound, but in the context of the discussion with Garth the issues are what is the “sensitivity to CO2” and whether factors other than CO2 concentration can influence (overcome) the effects of rising CO2.. The recent absence of temperature increase for approximately 18 years suggests that factors other than CO2 concentrations can and do dominate from time to time. In my opinion as a scientist but not a climatologist, the temperature “hiatus” strongly suggests that atmospheric CO2 concentration is not the “control knob” and indeed, reducing CO2 might well NOT decrease temperature.
We simply do not know.
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Hiatus? Not so much. http://tinyurl.com/hmkt2tu
Blair if you are going to refer to David MacKay by title then maybe “Professor” is more appropriate? I gather that title doesn’t always have quite the gravitas on the left side of the pond but over here it is quite a big deal, especially when it’s at the Department of Physics at Cambridge University.
Also I think he is on record as saying that he’s not pro-nuclear but pro-arithmetic. We Brits don’t tend to talk about “Math”, singular, although it’s possible MacKay did use the Americanism when talking to a US audience at some point – he did tend to ecologically re-use his bon mots!
But congratulations and thank you, and many of your commentators, for carrying on his legacy of applying numeracy and evidence to discussions of sustainable energy.
“It omits some pretty obvious energy solutions like further large-reservoir hydro in Quebec, Labrador, Ontario and BC, run-of-the-river hydro across Canada and, of course, further nuclear power.” Unless we stop or reverse global warming hydro electric power will soon be a thing of the past. Close to 90% of BC’s energy is hydroelectric, and melting snow and ice play a significant role. Unless BC starts to aggressively promote and subsidize renewables there won’t be enough water in the reservoir to power our electric vehicles. http://www.grid.unep.ch/glaciers/pdfs/6_10.pdf
and melting snow and ice play a significant role.
Snow doesn’t fall when it is cold. In a warming world there is likely to be more snow in Canada.
Do you have evidence that the overall amount of precipitation is going to fall? I expect it to rise (as warm air sucks up more water) although the type may change.
This is one of the alarmists weakest talking points. There is nothing special about water from glaciers or snow. If the water falls as rain rather than snow the hydro dams work just as well.
The “alarming” melting of the Himalayan glaciers, even if we accept the weak evidence they are, makes no difference to power or irrigation if overall precipitation stays the same.
For those who expressed their skeptical view of climate change, especially willb01 who just posted and to whose post I am unable to reply, there’s now a new study that’s upped the number from 97% climate scientist concensus to 99.9%. http://tinyurl.com/h465scl
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Ikemeister, I don’t consider that I am expressing a skeptical view of climate change. I am just saying I have some concerns about Blair using the term ‘irrefutable’ and I tried to illustrate why it seemed inappropriate to me. However I am completely open to any clarifying explanation as to why it is appropriate. BTW, I’m not sure why you brought up the consensus issue but, as history has shown, consensus is not a pathway to ‘irrefutable’ either.
OK fair enough. I misinterpreted what you were saying then and agreed that consensus is never a guarantee of correctness. However if 99.9% of climate scientists say we have a global problem, it would be in our best interests to pay close attention and take actions to mitigate the reasons for the climate changes they detail.
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Any of these 99,999 % scientists that proclaim CO2 is the culprit for global warming can tell me why in the middle ages in greenland, according to the ice core studies, the temperature all of a sudden increased 15 ºC???
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