Sunday, March 13, 2016

No Direction Home

Blowin' and burnin' blinded by thirst
They didn't see the stop sign;

And I'm sorry when I say
that straight to this very day
It was the wrong way

Breaking News:
      New Study : "Trading Off Global Fuel Supply, CO2 Emissions and Sustainable Development", in Plos 1, predicts 1.5 by 2020, 2 degrees by 2030.    Authors assert that the accepted method of modelling energy use is overly optimistic, and  inaccurate .   See here , here 
   "In contrast our model shows that a dominant factor driving global energy demand is not energy use GDP-1, but energy use person-1 which is forecast to rise rises rapidly towards 2050, while the efficiency of production/conversion only gradually improves.
The model’s ability to account for these interactions provides international policy makers with new tools and insights to guide the development of improved global energy security models and to assist with the development of effective emissions reductions and poverty alleviation scenarios. Importantly these capabilities challenge the common assumption of the EIA and IEA that increasing efficiency (energy use GDP-1) will solve our future energy supply problems.

      As I see it, there are basically two routes away from overshoot.   One is to make necessary changes, and, to crawl back into sustainability.   The other is to let nature take its course.  (As  one sage has said, "If something can not go on forever, it will stop. ")
       Let's take a look at efforts to deal with the problem of CO2.    Oregon has just enacted a "ground breaking"  climate bill, the Healthy Climate Act..   Under the bill Oregon utilities will cut coal use by 2030  and be 50% fossil fuel free by 2040  (Oregon is already 43% hydro, thanks to the Columbia dams).
       We are told this bill is the most ambitious in decades     So, is this a formula that would avoid "dangerous" climate change?     Well, according to Kevin Anderson, in order to achieve 2 degrees, we would need all sectors ( not just  electricity)  to  "decarbonization " by 2040.   
"Of the available scenarios for peaking in 2020, says Anderson, 13 of 18 show hitting 2 degrees C to be technically impossible. (D’oh!) The others involve on the order of 10 percent reductions a year after 2020, leading to total decarbonization by 2035-45." 

       Decarbonize.  That's a 100%  reduction,  not 50%. .   So The Healthy Climate Bill,  doesn't quite do the trick, but maybe its a "step in the right direction".  Well,  unfortunately its  not really a step in the direction of 1.5 or 2 degrees.  That would be the "right direction".  Its  more of a step toward 3 or 4 degrees *.
     He starts with an interesting quote from Richard Feynman,"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled."     This is important because, it seems that most of the encouraging messages we get about climate change are really public relations messages, designed to assure us that we can continue to have economic growth and avoid dangerous climate change,   As Anderson points out, this can only be achieved if you believe in magic.   The assumptions in the studies that support this optimistic view use one of two magical devices.  Most assume a magical technology, that will spring into existence and suck out the carbon .   The rest postulate time travel,  that is the models only work if you assume that CO2 peaked some time in the past.
       According to Anderson, this magical thinking is designed to divert us from the "inconvenient truth"  that in order to have a reasonable chance ( greater than 50/50)  of avoiding 2 degrees, we, in the west,  need to reduce emissions by 10% per year, until we are completely decarbonized by 2040.  
           OK, so far humans don't seem to be backing away from overshoot with any speed.    So, how about letting nature take it course.   How would that play out?    The best analysis of the likely path is still the Limits to Growth,  Although initially created in 1972, it has been continually updated, and continues to provide a useful guide to the way things may unfold .  
With some luck I can paste the critical graph here.
Inline image 1

            The most recent effort to check the models accuracy was made in 2008, and it showed that the data, generally continues to follow the suggested curves.   But importantly,  this could not confirm when  the curves will peak, because at that point things were continuing to grow.    If the model is correct,  foot per capital, industrial output and services will all peak first. 
      One simple way to track services and industrial output, is by tracking GDP.  The IMF tracks what they call Gross Planetary Production.   Interestingly, this figure was reported to have dropped by 4.9%  in 2015,   a drop of the same magnitude as the Great   Recession in 2009.   It is too soon to tell whether this is merely a blip, or whether is represents a trend.  Interestingly, at least one economic forecaster predicts a similar drop for 2016.   See Morgan Stanley.   **  
             So, will "letting nature take its course" have the result of decarbonization by 2040.?   Not according to this analysis.  see here.     Unfortunately, even if were following the Limits to Growth model, the decline of industrial output is not steep enough.   The curve for industrial production in the limits to growth model is essentially a Hubbert curve -  it is symmetrical - the rise is about the same as the fall.   In order to achieve a 10%  reduction would need to be much steeper fall,  more like the  Seneca Curve
         So what will prevail, magical thinking or reality?   Stay tuned.

* (One may wonder why the bill, if it was so important was labeled as "absolute crap" by PUC Commissioner John Savage, The PUC was  invited by the Governor to _not_ testify on the bill.    Hopefully theiir concerns were addressed before passage.)  
To put a good face on it, lets say that although it would be a step towards an extremely dangerous climate, but, it might be  its a step that doesn't result in runaway climate change, or  perhaps not releasing the perma frost time bomb.     Perhaps its a step that does not result in huge swaths of the earth effectively uninhabitable?  See new Hanson Study.
**(It may be that GPP is falling not a result of feedback from planetary limits, such as peaking fossil fuels, increasing  pollution, but because of some other factor. As to limits on energy,it is unlikely that fossil fuel use will peak before 2025.  An alternate theory might be that the 1% , by taking the lion's share of income and wealth, has in effect stifled the demand that the economy needs to grow.   The median income in the US peaked in  1999, and is currently 6% below that level    Poor people spend their money as soon as they get,  rich people spend some, but often end of saving or investing it.     Maybe we should thank those 1%-ers , doing the or part for ecology! )

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