I’m no longer advocating for clean energy; here’s why.

7 09 2017

Reblogged from The unpublished notebooks of J. M. Korhonen…….

My Finnish readers will already know that I announced some time ago that I’m done with energy/climate change discussions. I’ve been following the debate actively since about 2007 and have been writing about it since late 2010. I’ve written two books about the topic, one of which is translated into five languages, and blogged fairly regularly. But now it’s time to do something else.

The main reason why I’m refocusing is because I think the debate is going nowhere, and I don’t want to waste my time on a futile project. We are not going to get a decarbonized energy system by 2050. [I disagree here…….  there won’t be an economy that continues burning FFs by then…  DTM] We are going to fail the climate targets, probably by a large margin, and I suspect that a warming of about 3 degrees centigrade is going to be almost inevitable. It’s perfectly possible that self-amplifying feedback mechanisms under way will amplify this change even more. What this will mean for humans is difficult to assess, but I doubt it’s going to be anything good for the vast majority. The global poor will suffer the most, while we here in the rich North may be able – at least in the short term – to insulate ourselves from the worst effects and retreat to our own virtual bubbles to avoid hearing the cries of the others.

The reason why we’re going to fail is because we’re lulled into optimistic complacency. An occasional follower of the energy and climate news will inevitably conclude that climate change is as good as solved: page after page gushes about the relentless, inevitable progress of renewables and the just about imminent downfall of fossil fuel behemoths.

The reality, of course, is quite different from these uncritical pronouncements.

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Despite the very real advances of low-carbon energy sources in the recent decades, fossil fuels are still – relatively speaking – just as dominant as they were in 1980s. Since the global energy use has increased from those days, the problem of replacing practically all fossil fuel and most of the biomass use by 2050 (which would be required to stay at accepted climate targets) is hideously difficult.

However, nothing about this urgency is communicated to the broader audience. In general, people want to hear happy stories that fit their preconceptions; and the looming Ultimate Victory of renewable energy fits perfectly to the preconceptions of almost all environmentalists (who are also the only ones really concerned about climate change). The people want to hear that the new energy messiah will deliver us from evil; and scores of people around the world deliver. Very vocal groups argue that accomplishing 100% renewable energy system by 2050 is going to be easy and cheap; I can’t but keep on thinking how long it will take for the optimist groups to begin asserting that THEIR plan can do it by 2049 while giving everyone a pony as well.

Because we’ve been here before. In the 1960s nuclear energy was supposed to be THE energy source for the 2000s. Oil drilling was supposed to become unprofitable by the turn of the millennium, and the only real question was exactly how many nuclear power plants we’d ultimately end up building. The gushing, completely uncritical rhetoric that totally ignored any and all concerns about technical, economic and political issues inherent in such grand, technocratic schemes is almost word for word identical to the rhetoric employed today in 100% RE circles, as I’ve documented in several essays (e.g. herehere, here and here).

I and many others have tried to point out that there are still unsolved issues and potential pitfalls between the rhetoric and the ultimate, total victory of renewable energy. I at least have done this because I’d like to see renewable energy prosper: most if not all of us really are concerned about issues such as RE growth curve being logistic, integration costs, hidden environmental issues and local resistance to massive projects such as wind parks and power lines. We think that these issues have been downplayed or ignored entirely in the optimistic discussion, and that in order for renewable energy industry to avoid making the mistakes the nuclear industry made in the 1970s and 1980s, these issues would need to be addressed – soon. And, yes, we’ve been saying that a prudent climate mitigation strategy should include nuclear power as well, at least for as long as it is ACTUALLY DEMONSTRATED IN PRACTICE – not just in theoretical modeling – that major nations can get most of their energy from renewable sources alone.

All this has been to no avail. Realism never makes for a good copy, as long as there are people who make a living from selling a dream instead. No matter what we do, critical discussion of problems that are likely to crop up when renewable energy use increases has been confined to the blogs and discussions between a small group of like-minded people. Perhaps this shouldn’t have been surprising: after all, this is exactly what happened with nuclear energy as well. Critics of the nuclear dream were ignored, downplayed and vilified – until at some point, with enough experience, the actual technical, economic and political challenges became too large to ignore.

And that brings me to the last reason why I’m quitting. It’s bad enough that people who claim to be critical thinkers for the environment have swallowed the renewable advocacy hook, line and sinker (to the extent that it is environmentalists who most vocally deny that renewable energy could possibly have inadvertent environmental impacts) and are actively trying to undermine other low carbon energy, such as nuclear. However, the last straw for me is to keep on hearing that those who don’t uncritically buy the wildest renewable energy dreams and have some good questions about the research and thinking behind the dreams are shills for fossil fuels or nuclear power, and therefore the enemies of “proper” environmentalists. (See e.g. this piece.)

The fact that James Hansen, probably the most prominent climate researcher ever, is one of those critics (as are many other climate researchers around the world) makes no difference to these accusations.

I’ve been involved in environmental issues for a very long time now. I was a founding partner of the first eco-design consultancy in Finland in 2007, and I’m one of the founding members of the most recent environmental organization in Finland – the Finnish ecomodernist society. I’ve made major life choices to reduce my personal environmental impact, and have lectured for nearly a decade on how to design products that are less bad for the environment. (I always tell my students that if they want real change, they need to be more active politically – that designing “greener” products is good but a bit like rearranging deck chairs on board the Titanic.) I’m going to continue doing so, and I’m going to continue to advocate for climate change mitigation and clean energy in my own circles if the topic crops up. I may also comment every now and then if I feel like it, but I’m not going to follow the debate closely any longer.

temperature rise and its effects

But, since I’m so concerned about climate change that I favor keeping the options open until very high penetration of renewable energy is demonstrated in practice, I’m not welcome to the climate or environmental community, where opposition to nuclear power is a foundational precept of their beliefs and takes priority over practically all other considerations. I have no doubt that if, and probably when, the current wonder energy stalls in a manner very reminiscent of the stall of the nuclear power in the 1980s, I will be one of those people who are going to be blamed for the outcome. The explanation (that is already being practiced as renewable expansion is encountering the first signs of real trouble) will be that naysayers and the fossil fuel industry were in cahoots to stop the perfect energy source of the future. After all, this is the explanation the most ardent supporters of nuclear power have concocted: since they’ve convinced themselves that the technology was already very nearly perfect, the only possible reason for its demise has to be a conspiracy of critics and fossil fuel interests.

This attitude where the echo chambers of the faithful convince the participants to simply ignore the very real limitations of renewable energy, and the complacent optimism bred into the broader public by absolutely uncritical coverage of renewable energy claims and the renewable energy industry (which, by the way, is vastly larger, more profitable and more powerful than “big bad” nuclear industry), are the prime reasons we’re going to fail. We’d need much more effort to climate mitigation, but how on Earth can we persuade the people to vote for more effort and more hardships, when every environmental organization shouts out loud that the victory of renewable energy is just around the corner?

Perhaps we’d be losing even if this wasn’t the case. Fossil fuel interests and the logic of current capitalism are so powerful and they have such a grip on the world’s economy (and hence politics) that this may have been a losing battle regardless. Nevertheless, these divisions within the environmental movement critically diminish our influence just when we all ought to be advocating for more clean energy – not less, as many “green” organizations are de facto doing. We ought to fight and defeat the Great Enemy first, and then – only then – resume the old fight between nuclear and renewables. But that’s not going to happen. Some blame for this lies within nuclear advocates, also – too many are nothing more than mirror images of the individuals and organizations they claim are anti-science or unwilling to change their outdated thinking. That said, it is only from the ranks of the 100% RE advocates where I keep on hearing that we should exclude some potential solutions just on principle; there is nothing close to similar attitude within pro-nuclear environmentalist circles, few zealots excepted.

Yet nothing changes; we’ve had all these discussions at least a decade ago, and if my stash of old books is any indication, since the 1970s at least. Feel free to continue with this fruitless debate if you want; I’m going to direct my energy elsewhere.

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Fossil Carbon Safety Margin

11 02 2016

dr_susan_krumdieckA follower of DTM pointed out to me that one of my favourite sources of information, Susan Krumdieck, is now blogging……. here is her first effort on this new site, well worth the read.

by Dr. Susan P. Krumdieck, Professor in Mechanical Engineering, University of Canterbury

To me, as an engineer and a person with a family, the language of climate change action – for example setting “targets” for emissions – seems to be dangerously at odds with the science.

It seems obvious that the engineers of the world have a lot of work to do in changing everything that uses fossil fuel to use much less to no fossil fuel. However, this discussion is not really taking place.

The science is clear, so I wanted to look at how we might use the language of engineering to understand the way forward. The latest IPCC Fifth Assessment Report gives conclusive modelling and science observation that profoundly affects every person on the planet. However, the general population doesn’t seem to understand the message.
Everybody knows that it is not wise to exceed a safety limit, but we also know that we can probably get away with it. If the curve up ahead has a sign that says 65 km/hr, then I know it would be safe to take it at that speed. I also know I will “likely” make it through the curve if I do 70 or even 80 km/hr. Unsplash_Speed Sign

If I do speed through the curve, however, the risk of losing control, drifting into the wrong lane or not being able to manoeuvre to avoid any unexpected obstacles is higher. A failure limit in this situation would be the speed in the curve where a crash occurs. This could be 70 km/hr if there is any water or loose gravel on the road or if my tires don’t have good tread. There is also a speed, say 130 km/hr, at which it is likely that a person will crash going around the curve. In the best car on the best day with the best road conditions, there is a speed, say 250 km/hr, beyond which it is not physically possible for a car to stay in contact with the road and there will be a crash.

As a mechanical engineer, I can’t predict exactly at what speed a crash will occur. There are a lot of other factors. I also can’t predict exactly what will happen in the crash – whether it will involve rolling or hitting a tree or a fire – and I can’t predict whether you will live or what kind of injuries you will have. But – I can definitely recommend that you should not take that curve at more than 65 km/hr; this is the safety limit. I would call 130 km/hr the failure limit. I would call 250 km/hr suicide.

Now, let’s translate the climate science of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) loading into terms of a safety limit. Dr James Hansen, former director of the US NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, explained to the Bush administration that 350 parts per million (ppm) was the safe limit for atmospheric CO2 concentration. If the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere got to this level, there would definitely be climate change.  Going over this level would be likely to cause warming that could do more than just change the weather; it could melt polar and glacial ice, acidify the oceans, cause changes in ocean currents, and change the climate in unpredictable ways. There would, however, be certainty that more frequent and more extreme storm events would occur. This safety limit of 350 ppm atmospheric CO2 has been exceeded. Current atmospheric CO2 concentration is over 400 ppm, and evidence is mounting of unprecedented warming and ocean acidification.

Limiting the thermal imbalance, or warming, to less than 2oC above the 1860-1880 decadal average would require cumulative CO2 emissions to be kept below a certain level. CO2 emissions are caused primarily by burning solid and liquid fossil fuels; other major sources include industrial production and deforestation. The cumulative carbon loading limit likely to result in 2oC global warming is 1000 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC) (with a probability of greater than 66%) burned since the 1860’s. Accounting for forcings from additional greenhouse gases lowers the failure limit to 790 GtC.

As of 2011, over 500 GtC of fossil fuel had been extracted and burned. Just like with our driving speed analogy, the exact risks and the exact failure mechanisms can’t be predicted. But, we are now beyond the safe level for fossil fuel use, and we are pushing toward a failure limit.  I hope this is clear. If today we stopped extracting and burning fossil carbon, we would still be above the safety limit for having no risk of climate changes, and we would watch over the next 100 years to see how the climate settled into a new warmer equilibrium. If we were to extract and burn another 300 GtC in fossil fuel, then the energy balance on the planet would likely result in a temperature rise of over 5oC and the changes to the climate would be catastrophic.

According to the International Energy Agency, in 2012, global CO2 emissions from all sources totalled about 31.5 GtCO2 per year. I will do the analysis using this number, but be aware that the 2015 emissions are expected to top 40 GtCO2. Note that emissions are discussed in terms of CO2 emitted, but production is in terms of the carbon in the fuel. Burning of one GtC of fossil fuel produces 3.7 GtCO2.  If we did not increase our consumption of fossil fuels any further above the current 11 GtC/yr, we would have less than 30 years until we have burned the amount of fossil carbon that is likely to cause catastrophic climate change. If all nations of the world actually had achieved reductions called for in the Kyoto Protocol of reducing emissions to 1990 levels (14 GtCO2) or lower, then at 3.8 GtC/yr of fuel production it would take 80 years to go past the failure limit. Which is more acceptable: exceeding the climate failure limit in about 30 years by limiting growth, or exceeding the failure limit in 80 years by dramatic reduction of fossil fuel production?

The only intellectually acceptable answer is neither. It is not acceptable to exceed the failure limit.

This is the point where we usually start arguing over the numbers. Should the failure limit be 800 GtC, or 1000 GtC?  What should we count in current emissions rates? We also start questioning what the catastrophes would be. Would the sea level rise be 2 m or 17 m? This is like arguing about taking a 65 km/hr curve at 130 or 200 km/hr, and whether the car would skid into a tree or roll into a ditch. Once you have exceeded a safety limit, and you are pushing into the range of increasingly likely failure, it is really not the time to be arguing about the details.  It is TIME TO SLOW DOWN!

For reference, the amount of proven reserves (oil, gas and coal) that the energy companies plan to extract and bring to the market is more than 2800 GtC. This figure does not include the Arctic oil that Shell and other oil companies are scouting for at the moment. The best engineering terms I can find to describe the extraction and burning of these reserves are: unthinkable, irresponsible, negligent, reprehensible, criminal, and suicidal.

How can I explain to my future granddaughter that we had to preserve our economy so we accepted policy which would breach the climate failure limit in 20-30 years? Why does 30 years seem like a long time in the future? Why has this rather clear bit of science not caused radical change?

In the next part of my blog, I will turn to the personal interaction with the data to see if it sheds any light.





Solar death spiral?

4 05 2015

Every day, I’m bombarded with information about some place somewhere going 100% renewables by (insert your favourite date here), and lately Tesla’s new battery wall being a ‘game changer’.  Let me tell you, from where I sit, I predict a renewables death spiral to match the grid’s.

This feeling started in ernest recently when our newest grid tied inverter died for the fourth time in 4½ years.  If you are new here, you may not know I was already complaining about our Kinglong/Sun Teams inverter right from its initial installation.  I took it down, drove it to Solazone’s office from where it was inspected and found to have been ‘storm damaged’.  Except there was no storm.  It just stopped.  The other inverter was fine, nothing else was damaged in the house, this was just plain BS to get out of replacing it.  Kinglong no longer operate in Australia, tough luck…  I didn’t want to replace it anyway, I was over those Chinese pieces of crap, and I didn’t care if it was replaced by a used device, as long as it was a reputable brand I could trust.  And believe me, they are hard to find now…..

Pallet load of dead Kinglong inverters

Pallet load of dead Kinglong inverters

I started looking on eBay and Gumtree for second hand inverters (I simply cannot afford a new one) and found heaps of them.  It seems every second person in Australia is upgrading from their small initial investment to the full 5kW, or even bigger.  Trouble is, they are nearly all Chinese rubbish…..  Many of the inverters for sale were branded with names I was unfamiliar with, and googling for info on them soon revealed so many problems I was blown away.  I even found pallet loads of dead inverters available ‘for parts’ on eBay, including lots that were the same as my defunct one……  and these failures are driving solar installers to bankruptcy.

I eventually found a used Xantrex, the brand I am now kicking myself for not buying in the first place, and installed it yesterday.  It’s almost 5 years old, but according to its original owner was only in service for about 2½ years.  Mind you, he ‘works’ in the solar industry, and I would not trust him any further than I could throw him, and he was big and heavy!  So far so good, the Xantrex works, and we’re feeding power back into the grid from the second array after a break of at least two months.  It will have cost us $200 at least in lost revenue, but there you go.  It had to be fixed, could not sell the house without it.

Xantrex inverters, however, are no longer sold in Australia.  It seems the bigger 5kW ones had problems.  Xantrex is a Xantrex GT 2.8 - 2800 Watt 208/240 Volt Grid Tie Inverter - Xantrex ...Canadian company with a reputation for quality; they make all sorts of other things solar related including battery chargers and other assorted peripherals, but the inverter I bought is ‘assembled’ in China.  Is this a problem?  Is it the problem??

I like these devices because of their huge heat sink at the front, rather than the normal ‘sandwiched between the hot inverter and the wall’ manner.  Plus they have two MPPTs (Maximum Power Point Trackers) which means whoever buys our place and wants to add another kW can easily do so by plugging it into the unused input plugs.

The guy who sold me the inverter had the gall to tell me about ‘all the cowboys’ in the industry closing up shop when they could not keep up with warranty claims…  when clearly he is one of them, he’s just new to the solar Matrix, and his turn will come.  Then he’ll have to sell the Beemers parked in his garage.

I have now met so many people with failures it’s bewildering.  Our neighbour up the hill had a Sharp inverter, installed by his electricity supplier no less, which failed within months.  He too upgraded to 5kW with a Dutch made Nedap inverter from a company in Nambour which no longer exists….  I just checked!  Another neighbour, the one with 10kW I’ve mentioned before had a SMA installed which had problems right from the start and was quickly replaced, proving that even the best are not infallible.  The lady at the back of us had a Solazone system installed (I sold it to her) and her Sunteams inverter died too.

Because all my tools are now parked in a shed in Tasmania, I had to borrow a cordless drill from a friend to finish my installation.  When I told him I was replacing a dead inverter, he told me his neighbour was also having problems and maybe I could have a job helping her out as she’d had two ‘cowboys’ come to have a look who told her completely different stories…. and these are all within walking distance from here.  You can even find lists of defunct solar power companies like this one.  It only goes to 2013, I’m sure the list is an accelerating one…

Go to whirlpool forums, and you’ll find more info about inverter failures than you can poke a stick at….

As the industry matures, failures will smartly pick up.  It might be a good thing for the industry as they sell more and more junk with inbuilt obsolescence, but you have to feel sorry for the people who unlike me have no idea how to repair their systems themselves and have to fork out maybe $2000 or more just to keep their solar systems going.

John Michael Greer recently published an article about the demise of the internet not due to technical problems, but rather economic ones.  I find it difficult to not feel the same way about the solar industry.  Methinks all the optimism about ‘100% renewables’ is highly overcharged.  Except of course we will one day be running on 100% renewables…..  because there won’t be any fossil fuels left to burn!  Which will of course mean the closure of all renewables factories and the return to the one true solar god, photosynthesis….





Solidarity, not Austerity

27 01 2015

https://damnthematrix.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/91395-tae2b25402betr.png?w=199&h=149

Raul and Nicole

I suppose it’s fair to assume that most of my readers already follow Nicole Foss’ old website, the Automatic Earth, which is now largely operated by as I can’t recall when was the last time Nicole wrote anything there, busy as she is speaking all over the place and moving to NZ etc….  If you’ve already read this, my apologies….. but Ilargi has written some sublime posts on the unfolding European catastrophe of late, and now that SYRIZA has in fact been elected, this gem had to be reproduced, because I see the current revolution in Greece as the very beginning of the end for the oligarchs, who apparently are even running scared about their future now!  Enjoy……

In what universe is it a good thing to have over half of the young people in entire countries without work, without prospects, without a future? And then when they stand up and complain, threaten them with worse? How can that possibly be the best we can do? And how much worse would you like to make it? If a flood of suicides and miscarriages, plummeting birth rates and doctors turning tricks is not bad enough yet, what would be?

If you live in Germany or Finland, and it were indeed true that maintaining your present lifestyle depends on squeezing the population of Greece into utter misery, what would your response be? F##k ‘em? You know what, even if that were so, your nations have entered into a union with Greece (and Spain, and Portugal et al), and that means you can’t only reap the riches on your side and leave them with the bitter fruit. That would make that union pointless, even toxic. You understand that, right?

Greece is still an utterly corrupt country. Brussels knows this, but it has kept supporting a government that supports the corrupt elite, tried to steer the Greeks away from voting SYRIZA. Why? How much does Brussels like corrupt elites, exactly? The EU, and its richer member nations, want Greece to cut even more, given the suicides, miscarriages, plummeting birth rates and doctors turning tricks. How blind is that? Again, how much worse does it have to get?

Does the EU have any moral values at all? And if not, why are you, if you live in the EU, part of it? Because you don’t have any, either? And if you do, where’s your voice? There are people suffering and dying who are part of a union that you are part of. That makes you an accomplice. You can’t hide from that just because your media choose to ignore your reality from you.

And it doesn’t stop there. It’s not just a lack of morals. The powers that be within the EU deliberately unleashed shock therapy on Greece – helped along by Goldman Sachs and the IMF, granted -. All supra-national organizations tend towards zero moral values. It’s inherent in their structures. We have NATO, IMF, World Bank, EU, and there’s many more. It’s about the lack of accountability, and the attraction that very lack has for certain characters. Flies and honey.

So that’s where I would tend to differ from people like Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis, the man seen as SYRIZA’s new finance minister, and also the man who last night very graciously, in the midst of what must have been a wild festive night in Athens, responded to my congratulations email, saying he knows what Dr Evil Brussels is capable of. I don’t see trying to appease Brussels as a successful long term move, and I think Athens should simply say thanks, but no, thanks. But I’m a writer in a glass tower, and they have to face the music, I know.

But let’s get a proper perspective on this. And for that, first let’s get back to Steve Keen (you now he’s a personal friend of The Automatic Earth). Here’s what I think is important. His piece last week lays the foundation for SYRIZA’s negotiations with the EU better than anything could. Steve blames the EU outright for the situation Greece is in. Let’s see them break down the case he makes. And then talk.

It’s All The Greeks’ Fault

Politically paralyzed Washington talked austerity, but never actually imposed it. So who was more successful: the deliberate, policy-driven EU attempt to reduce government debt, or the “muddle through” USA? [..]muddle through was a hands-down winner: the USA’s government debt to GDP ratio has stabilized at 90% of GDP, while Spain’s has sailed past 100%. The USA’s macroeconomic performance has also been far better than Spain’s under the EU’s policy of austerity.

[..] simply on the data, the prima facie case is that all of Spain’s problems – and by inference, most of Greece’s – are due to austerity, rather than Spain’s (or Greece’s) own failings. On the data alone, the EU should “Cry Uncle”, concede Greece’s point, stop imposing austerity, and talk debt-writeoffs – especially since the Greeks can argue that at least part of its excessive public debt ratio is due to the failure of the EU’s austerity policies to reduce it.

[..] why did austerity in Europe fail to reduce the government debt ratio, while muddle-through has stabilized it in the USA? .. the key factor that I consider and mainstream economists ignore—the level and rate of change of private debt. The first clue this gives us is that the EU’s pre-crisis poster-boy, Spain, had the greatest growth in private debt of the three—far exceeding the USA’s. Its peak debt level was also much higher—225% of GDP in mid-2010 versus 170% of GDP for the USA in 2009

[..] the factor that Greece and Spain have in common is that the private sector is reducing its debt level drastically – in Spain’s case by over 20% per year. The USA, on the other hand, ended its private sector deleveraging way back in 2012. Today, Americans are increasing their private debt levels at a rate of about 5% of GDP per year—well below the peak levels prior to the crisis, but roughly in line with the rate of growth of nominal GDP.

[..] the conclusion is that Greece’s crisis is the EU’s fault, and the EU should “pay” via the debt write-offs that Syriza wants – and then some.

That’s not the attitude Berlin and Brussels go into the talks with Tsipras and Varoufakis with. They instead claim Greece owes them €240 billion, and nobody ever talks about what EU crap cost the PIIGS. But Steve is not a push-over. He made Paul Krugman look like a little girl a few years ago, when the latter chose to volunteer, and attack Steve on the issue, that – in a few words – banks have no role in credit creation.

Back to Yanis. The right wing Daily Telegraph, of all places, ran a piece today just about fully – and somewhat strangely – endorsing our left wing Greek economist. Ain’t life a party?

Yanis Varoufakis: Greece’s Future Finance Minister Is No Extremist

Syriza, a hard left party, that outrightly rejects EU-imposed austerity, has given Greek politics its greatest electoral shake-up in at least 40 years.

Hold, wait, don’t let’s ignore that 40 years ago is when Greece ended a military dictatorship. Which had been endorsed by, you know, NATO, US … So “greatest electoral shake-up” is a bit of a stretch. To say the least. There was nothing electoral about Greece pre-1975.

You might expect the frontrunner for the role of finance minister to be a radical zealot, who could throw Greece into the fire He is not. Yanis Varoufakis, the man tipped to be at the core of whatever coalition Syriza forges, is obviously a man of the left. Yet through his career, he has drawn on some of the most passionate advocates of free markets. While consulting at computer games company Valve, Mr Varoufakis cited nobel-prize winner Friedrich Hayek and classical liberal Adam Smith, in order to bring capitalism to places it had never touched.

[..] while Greece’s future minister is a fan of markets in many contexts, it is apparent that he remains a leftist, and one committed to the euro project. Speaking to the BBC on Monday, he said that it would “take an eight or nine year old” to understand the constraints which had bound Greece up since it “tragically” went bankrupt in 2010. “Europe in its infinite wisdom decided to deal with this bankruptcy by loading the largest loan in human history on the weakest of shoulders, the Greek taxpayer,” he said.

“What we’ve been having ever since is a kind of fiscal waterboarding that have turned this nation into a debt colony,” he added. Greece’s public debt to GDP now stands at an eye watering 175%, largely the result of output having fallen off a cliff in the past few years. Stringent austerity measures have not helped, but instead likely contributed.

That last line, from a right wing paper? That’s the same thing Steve Keen said. Even the Telegraph says Brussels is to blame.

It will likely be Mr Varoufakis’ job to make the best of an impossible situation. The first thing he will seek to tackle is Greece’s humanitarian crisis. “It is preposterous that in 2015 we have people that had jobs, and homes, and some of them had shops until a couple of years ago, that are now sleeping rough”, he told Channel 4. The party may now go after multinationals and wealthy individuals that it believes do not pay their way.

[..]The single currency project has fallen under heavy criticism. The economies that formed it were poorly harmonised, and no amount of cobbling together could make the end result appear coherent. Michael Cembalest, of JP Morgan, calculated in 2012 that a union made up of all countries beginning with the letter “M” would have been more workable. The same would be true of all former countries of the Ottoman Empire circa 1800, or of a reconstituted Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, he found.

That’s just brilliant, great comparisons. Got to love that. And again, it reinforces my idea that the EU should simply be demolished, and Greece should not try and stay within eurozone parameters. It may look useful now, but down the line the euro has no future. There’s too much debt to go around. But for SYRIZA, I know, that is not the most practical stance to take right now. The demise of the euro will come in and of itself, and their immediate attention needs to go to Greece, not to some toxic politics game. Good on ‘em. But the fact remains. The euro’s done. And SYRIZA, whether it likes it or not, is very much an early warning sign of that.

[..] A disorderly break up would almost certainly result in a merciless devaluation of whatever currency Greece launched, and in turn a default on debt obligations. The country would likely be locked out of the capital markets, unable to raise new funds. As an economy, Greece has only just begun to see output growth return. GDP still remains more than 26% below the country’s pre-crisis peak. A fresh default is not the lifeline that Greece needs.

Instead, it will be up to a Syriza-led government to negotiate some sort of debt relief, whether that be in the form of a restructuring, a deal to provide leeway on repayment timings, or all out forgiveness. It will be up to Mr Varoufakis – if he is selected as finance minister – and newly sworn in Prime Minister Alex Tspiras to ensure that this can be achieved without Greece getting pushed out of the currency bloc in the process.

And whaddaya know, Steve Keen finishes it off too. Complete with history lessons, a take-and-shake down of failed economic policies, and a condemnation of the neo-liberal politics that wrecked Greek society so much they voted SYRIZA. It’s not rocket politics…

Dawn Of A New Politics In Europe?

About 40 years ago, one of Maggie Thatcher’s chief advisors remarked that he wouldn’t be satisfied when the Conservative Party was in government: he would only be happy when there were two conservative parties vying for office. He got his wish of course. The UK Labour Party of the 1950s that espoused socialism gave way to Tony Blair’s New Labour, and the same shift occurred worldwide, as justified disillusionment about socialism as it was actually practised—as opposed to the fantasies about socialism dreamed up by 19th century revolutionaries—set in.

Parties to the left of the political centre—the Democrats in the USA, Labour in the UK, even the Socialist Party that currently governs France—followed essentially the same economic theories and policies as their conservative rivals.

Differences in economic policy, which were once sharp Left-anti-market/Right-pro-market divides, became shades of grey on the pro-market side. Both sides of politics accepted the empirical fact that market systems worked better than state-run systems. The differences came down to assertions over who was better at conducting a pro-market economic agenda, plus disputes over the extent of the government’s role in the cases where a market failure could be identified.

So how do we interpret the success of Syriza in the Greek elections on Sunday, when this avowedly anti-austerity, left-wing party toppled the left-Neoliberal Pasok and right-Neoliberal New Democracy parties that, between them, had ruled Greece for the previous 4 decades? Is it a return to the pro-market/anti-market divides of the 1950s? No—or rather, it doesn’t have to be.

It can instead be a realisation that, though an actual market economy is indeed superior to an actual centrally planned one, the model of the market that both sides of politics accepted was wrong. That model—known as Neoliberalism in political circles, and Neoclassical Economics in the economic ones in which I move—exalts capitalism for a range of characteristics it doesn’t actually have, while ignoring characteristics that it does have which are the real sources of both capitalism’s vitality and its problems.

Capitalism’s paramount virtues, as espoused by the Neoliberal model of capitalism, are stability and efficiency. But ironically, the real virtue of capitalism is its creative instability—and that necessarily involves waste rather than efficiency. This creative instability is the real reason it defeated socialism, while simultaneously one of the key reasons socialism failed was because of its emphasis upon stability and efficiency.

[..] real-world capitalism trounced real-world socialism because of its real-world strength—the creative instability of the market that means to survive, firms must innovate—and not because of the Neoliberal model that politicians of both the Left and the Right fell for after the collapse of socialism.

Neoliberalism prospered in politics for the next 40 years, not because of what it got right about the economy (which is very little), but because of what it ignored—the capacity of the finance sector to blow a bubble that expanded for almost 40 years, until it burst in 2007. The Neoliberal model’s emphasis on making the government sector as small as possible could work while an expanding finance sector generated the money needed to fuel economic prosperity. When that bubble burst, leaving a huge overhang of private debt in its wake, Neoliberalism led not to prosperity but to a second Great Depression.

The Greeks rejected that false model of capitalism on Sunday—not capitalism itself. The new Syriza-led Government will have to contend with countries where politicians are still beholden to that false model, which will make their task more difficult than it is already. But Syriza’s victory may show that the days of Neoliberalism are numbered. Until Sunday, any party espousing anything other than Neoliberalism as its core economic policy could be slaughtered in campaigning by pointing out that its policies were rejected by economic authorities like the IMF and the OECD.

Syriza’s opponents did precisely that in Greece—and Syriza’s lead over them increased. This is the real takeaway from the Greek elections: a new politics that supports capitalism but rejects Neoliberalism is possible.

All Europeans, and Americans too, must now support SYRIZA. It’s not only the only hope for Greece, it is that for the entire EU. SYRIZA breaks the mold. Greeks themselves would be terribly stupid to start taking their money out of their accounts and precipitating bank runs. That’s what the EU wants you to do, create mayhem and discredit the younger generation that took over this weekend.

It’s going to be a bitter fight. The entrenched powers, guaranteed, won’t give up without bloodshed. SYRIZA stands for defeating a model, not just a government. Most of Europe today is in the hands of technocrats and their ilk, it’s all technocrats and their little helpers. And it’s no just that, it’s that the neo-liberal Brussels crowd used Athens as a test case, in the exact same way Milton Friedman and his Chicago School used the likes of Videla and Pinochet to make their point, and tens of thousands got murdered in the process.

It’s important that we all, European or not, grasp how lacking in morality the entire system prevalent in the west, including the EU, has become. This shows in East Ukraine, where sheer propaganda has shaped opinions for at least a full year now. It’s not about what is real, it’s about what ‘leaders’ would like you to think and believe. And this same immorality has conquered Greece too; there may be no guns, but there are plenty victims.

The EU is a disgrace, a predatory beast unleashed upon all corners of Europe that resist central control and, well, debt slavery really, if you live on the wrong side of the tracks.

SYRIZA may be the last chance Europe has to right its wrongs, before fighting in the streets becomes an everyday reality. Before we get there, and I don’t know that we can prevent it, hear Steve Keen: it’s not the Greeks that screwed up, it’s the EU. But they would never ever admit to that.





Australia headed for energy crisis……

12 07 2014

The news coming in regarding Australia’s energy security are getting more and more worrisome.  Add to that the fact we will soon be totally out of oil, and you have to wonder “what next?”.  We are seemingly led by total morons who have no idea what they are doing, consider money to be far more valuable than energy, and in the process are leading this country to rack and ruin…..  How long we have left before all our chickens come home to roost is anyone’s guess, but the mining industry is already starting to sack people (and we haven’t even hit Peak Mining yet..), [official] unemployment is back up to 6%, and it’s high time the people of Australia got rid of the idiots in charge…..

Matt Mushalik

Matt Mushalik

Energy Super Power Australia’s East Coast running low on affordable domestic gas

In July 2006 then Prime Minister Howard declared Australia an energy super power. 2 years earlier his energy white paper set the framework for unlimited gas exports while neglecting to set aside gas for domestic use. It is a bitter irony that at the 10th anniversary of this energy white paper we read that gas shortages in the Eastern market will result in price increases and that there is not even enough cheap gas for gas fired power plants which are supposed to replace dirty coal fired plants or serve as a back-up for renewable power. Wrong decisions a decade ago (or even earlier) now come to the attention of the public as price rises hit the pockets of consumers.

And what has been completely forgotten is that natural gas is the only alternative transport fuel to replace oil. Conventional oil peaked in 2006 (Yes, Prime Minister, under your watch), US shale oil is likely to peak before 2020 and the Middle East is disintegrating in front of our TV eyes faster than energy and transport planners can change their perpetual-growth mindset. An energy equivalent of 5 LNG trains is needed to replace all oil based fuels in Australia. This gas is locked away in long term export contracts. Well done. Les jeux sont faits.

(1)          Recent events

Electricity providers return to coal-fired power as natural gas export revenue soars

3/7/2014
The rising international price of natural gas is causing electricity providers to return to coal-fired power, with Queensland among the first to make the move.

Fig 1: Tarong power station in Queensland

University of Queensland energy analyst Dr Liam Wagner says the rising price will push other power companies to make similar decisions.

“Gas-fired electricity is becoming more expensive; gas in Australia is going to become more expensive with exports,” he said.

“In the future we’re going to have less gas because it’ll be far more expensive to burn it here and the gas producers will be able to make more money overseas.”
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-07-03/electricity-providers-return-to-coal-fired-power-as-natural-gas/5567252

Nation will be paying the bill for poor energy policy

30/6/2014
The government, unlike other governments around the world, allowed unfettered access to global markets. The building of the export gas terminals will push the prices for gas inexorably up towards world prices. Indeed, wholesale gas prices are widely forecast to more than double to match international prices.

Many in the gas industry are calling for the rapid development of environmentally suspect coal seam gas fields in NSW to counter higher prices. This policy simply will not work as prices on the East Coast are now linked to world prices. No amount of domestic production will change this dynamic.
http://www.smh.com.au/comment/electricity-and-gas-prices-why-youre-paying-more-20140629-zspp1.html

As we can see in the following report, AGL is proud to have connected the domestic market to the Asian market to make quick profits, instead of developing a plan which would use gas domestically in the medium and long-term to maximise economic benefits for the local industry. The quarry mentality continues. The expected shortages are presented as an argument for even more coal seam gas.

AGL raises spectre of gas rationing if gas shortages are not tackled, it tells the NSW Government

17/3/2014
Gas shortages will lead to rationing along with job losses, especially in Sydney’s west, energy utility AGL has warned as it intensifies pressure on the NSW government to allow the development of gas projects in the state that tap gas trapped in coal seams.
http://www.smh.com.au/business/agl-raises-spectre-of-gas-rationing-if-gas-shortages-are-not-tackled-it-tells-the-nsw-government-20140316-34vgr.html

This is the report:

AGL Applied Economic and Policy Research

Solving for ‘x’ – the New South Wales Gas Supply Cliff

March  2014

“During this discovery and appraisal phase, it was evidently clear to resource owners that the east coast gas market was not sufficiently large enough to enable the monetisation of reserves in suitable timeframes and at the scale necessary to maximise profit, and so developing an export market for natural gas in the form of LNG was a logical strategic solution. Not only would it result in the rapid expansion of aggregate demand, but would also have the benefit of linking domestic gas prices, historically ca $3 per gigajoule (/GJ), to the north Asian export market price of ca $6-9/GJ equivalent ex-field ‘netback price’ over the medium term(p 2)

“On Australia’s east coast over the period 2013-2016, we forecast that aggregate demand for natural gas will increase three-fold, from 700 PJ to 2,100 PJ per annum, while our forecast of system coincident peak demand increases 2.4 times, from 2,790 TJ to 6,690 TJ per day. This extraordinary growth is being driven by the development of three Liquefied Natural Gas plants at Gladstone, Queensland”.  (p 1)

“Almost simultaneously, a non-trivial quantity of existing domestic gas contracts currently supplying NSW will mature. Much of that gas has been recontracted to LNG producers in Queensland – thus creating a gas supply cliff in NSW. Compounding matters, recent policy developments have placed binding constraints over the development of new gas supplies in NSW”(p 1)

Fig 3: NSW gas supply cliff lead to price increases

http://aglblog.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/No.40-Solving-for-X-FINAL.pdf

These developments are a bitter irony given that the public has been told many times that Australia’s gas resources are abundant. All LNG export contracts were presented as great achievements.

(2)  Wrong decisions 12 years ago

Although LNG exports to Japan had started in 1989 (20 years contracts with 8 power and utility companies signed in 1985), the 2002 LNG deal with China was Howard’s first main contribution towards a poor energy policy.

Australia Wins China LNG Contract

8/8/2002
John Howard: “I am delighted to announce that today I have been advised by the Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji that Australia’s Northwest Shelf Venture has been chosen by China to be the sole supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to its first LNG project in Guangdong province.”
http://australianpolitics.com/news/2002/08/02-08-08.shtml

5 months earlier, John Akehurst, Woodside’s Managing Director, warned in a report with mixed messages:

Mar 2002

Challenges for Australia

Australia has large gas reserves which have the potential to meet a much larger proportion of Australia’s energy requirements, including liquid petroleum requirements (via CNG, LNG, Gas to Liquids). Gas for oil substitution would deliver significant greenhouse benefits and help Australia meet its Kyoto target. Increased LNG exports would partly offset the cost of rising liquids imports and help address their impact on the balance of payments.  (p 8 )

However, greater use of gas will require substantially more investment in gas production and pipeline infrastructure. Without such investment, south eastern Australian gas markets will, within a few years, face possible gas shortages. Major consumers will find it more difficult to secure long term supply contracts on sufficiently competitive terms (p 9)

Fig 4: Superimposition Akehurst forecast with actual production

LNG export projects and gas-based value adding projects are needed to underpin the cost of bringing new gas supply sources to shore and to justify the initial investment. These types of projects compete on world markets (primarily with projects in Asia) and the provision of an internationally competitive investment environment including fiscal terms is a key driver. (p 10)
www.aspo-australia.org.au/References/Akehurst%20ABARE%202002.pdf

Of course one cannot have it both ways. To replace petrol and diesel in Australia one would need the energy equivalent of 5 LNG trains.

(3)          Howard’s flawed Energy White Paper June 2004

Fig 5: excerpt from Howard’s June 2004 energy white paper

This white paper just rationalises decisions already made earlier by formulating following policy principles  (p 53)

  • Commercial decisions should determine the nature and timing of energy resource developments, with government interventions being transparent and allowing commercial interests to seek least-cost solutions to government objectives (e.g. environment, safety or good resource management objectives).
  • Government objectives should generally be driven by sector-wide policy mechanisms rather than impose inconsistent requirements on individual projects/private investors.

And on page 128:

Australia’s gas reserves are sufficient for more than 100 years at current production levels, or more than 200 years of current domestic consumption. Furthermore, prospects for finding and proving up more gas are good, subject to finding markets. However, the location of Australia’s major gas reserves—to the north and north-west —compared with major demand locations—to the south-east—is sometimes raised as an issue (see Figure 6 and 3 in Chapter 2—Developing Australia’s Energy Resources).”

Note the term “At current production levels” which of course is irrelevant when LNG exports are doubled or tripled.

Fig 6: Map of oil and gas resources in the EWP 2004

Fig 7: Map of gas pipelines in EWP 2004

http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/10052/20050221-0000/www.dpmc.gov.au/publications/energy_future/docs/energy.pdf

The Geoscience Report “Oil and Gas Resources in Australia 2004 writes: Natural gas has a current “life” estimated at 65 years, but past estimates have been as low as 39 years (in 1993) and as high as 76 years (in 2001). These estimates include all resources and production in the JPDA with Timor-Leste.”

Fig 8: Geoscience Australia’s reserve to production ratios

http://www.ga.gov.au/image_cache/GA8550.pdf

The EWP 2004 continues to argue:

“Predictions are made that supplies of gas to major urban markets will run short in the next decade, as production in the Cooper Basin and Bass Strait declines. This has resulted in calls for financial support towards the building of major pipelines from either the Northern Territory (to access gas from Sunrise and other Timor Sea fields), Papua New Guinea or north-west Australia (to access gas from either Carnarvon or Browse Basins). While reserves of gas in existing fields close to southeast markets are declining, this does not represent an energy security concern.

Exploration is occurring in the south-east and is resulting in new discoveries and development, such as in the Otway Basin. The development of coal seam methane is also increasing supplies of gas in the region. In addition, holders of the large remotely located gas reserves are actively seeking markets to monetise these reserves. These efforts include actively investigating pipeline projects for bringing supplies of gas from north and north-west sources, as well as seeking LNG export sales in Asian markets. The number and activity of these competing proposals provide a degree of confidence that these supplies will become available once economic, noting that this will in all likelihood occur at higher price levels than those currently enjoyed in some south-eastern markets.

Given the size and placement of gas reserves relative to current and future gas demand, gas supply is not likely to become an issue for the short to medium term. Pre-empting market outcomes in these circumstances is unlikely to add significantly to energy security, but could inflict significant costs by precluding less costly options (such as further development of the Gippsland and Otway basins or coal seam methane).”

http://www.efa.com.au/Library/CthEnergyWhitePaper.pdf

The task of building North/West-East gas pipelines was not pro-actively followed up by State and Federal governments but dropped altogether in favour of exports. No wonder this laissez-faire approach went wrong.

CO2 emissions

The EWP 2004 argues:

“The shape of future international action on climate change is unclear, but the potential costs of future adjustments and long life of energy assets makes it prudent to prepare for the future.” ( p 131)

LNG development could increase Australia’s energy emissions by around 1 per cent of energy sector emissions. However, to the extent that exported Australian gas replaces more greenhouse intensive energy in the importing country, global emissions may decrease as a result of Australian gas production  (p 137)

This is just an argument in favour of LNG exports while none of the LNG contracts included a clause that coal fired power plants equivalent to the energy content of the gas should be decommissioned in the destination country. The above example of Queensland going back to coal shows that not even in Australia the job of using gas to reduce emissions is taken seriously.

(4) Energy super power declared in 2006

17/7/2006
The Prime Minister has outlined his vision for energy and water, saying the nation has the makings of an energy superpower.
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2006-07-17/howard-outlines-energy-superpower-vision/1803744

(5) Actual gas production

Let’s have a look at gas production statistics

Fig 9: Australia’s gas production 1977-2013

 Data are from APPEA: http://www.appea.com.au/?attachment_id=5192

We see peak gas in the Cooper basin between 1999 and 2002 at around 260 bcf. Right at that peak, Howard failed to pursue building a gas pipeline to connect Western offshore gas with Eastern gas markets.  While LNG exports on the West coast surged, the East coast remained on a bumpy production plateau.  Western Australia has a 15% Domgas policy but also did not introduce gas as a transport fuel. As WA’s LNG gas goes out the window, Queensland and NSW are forced to go for environmentally questionable coal seam gas.

Fig 10: Australia’s LNG exports

The first 3 trains (2.5 mt pa each) mainly supply Japanese utilities, while the Guangdong contract (3.3 mt pa over 25 years) required train 4 (4.4 mt pa)

(6) Conventional gas depletion in NSW, Victoria and South Australia

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) estimates in its Gas Statement of Opportunities 2013 that current conventional 2P reserves would be depleted by the mid of the next decade.

Fig 10: Depletion of conventional gas reserves (2P) in the South East

“Under the modelled production-cost conditions, consumption of Denison Trough 2P reserves occurs first in 2019. Consumption of Otway Basin 2P reserves begins in 2020, and it is completely consumed by 2023. Bass and Cooper basin conventional 2P reserves are consumed in 2025. Gippsland 2P reserves are consumed in 2026. The 2P CSG reserves in Queensland are sufficient to supply demand until the end of the 20-year outlook period.”

Fig 11: Gas shortfalls in the South East

 “Additional 3P reserves and 2C resources are available in the Otway, Bass, Gippsland, and Cooper basins. The 3P/2C reserves in the Bass, Gippsland, and Cooper basins are sufficient to ensure supply until the end of the 20-year outlook period, provided current transmission and production limitations remain unchanged. The 3P/2C reserves in the Otway Basin are only sufficient to ensure supply until 2028 or 2029, depending on the level of support the southern states receive from production in the north.

Given its role in supplying demand in Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney, the Otway Basin reserves consumption is a significant event, with substantial infrastructure investment required to manage changing system flows.”

http://www.aemo.com.au/Gas/Planning/Gas-Statement-of-Opportunities

(7) Domgas Alliance report

Australia Domestic Gas Policy Report (Nov 2012)

History has proven that countries with large resource endowment do not automatically gain an economic competitive advantage over countries that do not have such surplus endowment of resources. Exporting countries have to take the necessary precautions to avoid what are known to economists as the Natural Resource Curse and Dutch Disease. Australia’s large LNG export boom, that is well underway, has the capacity to trigger both of these symptoms and the subsequent regrets.

Gas resource rich countries rely on a comprehensive menu of interventions and gas regulations and policies in order to protect the national interest and the best interest of the general public regarding the use of indigenous gas production. Benchmarking illustrates that Australia does not manage its gas resources adequately to ensure that gas explorers and production companies operate in a manner that is consistent with a vibrant domestic gas market.

Gas resource rich countries, regions and continents generally export gas only after they first develop their own domestic gas market into a vibrant one that has very high gas consumption rates per capita and a high gas penetration in the total primary energy supply. To do otherwise destroys value and effectively de-industrialises the exporting region.

Australia needs to have sufficiently comprehensive policies and regulations in place in order to control and manage the export of raw commodities. Simply relying on market forces without comprehensive guidelines and controls to mitigate inequitable market power is one extreme while nationalising all resources is the other extreme. Neither of these scenarios has proven to serve the public interest very well.

http://www.domgas.com.au/pdf/Media_releases/2012/Australia%20Domestic%20Gas%20Policy%20Final%20Report.pdf

(8) Gas price outlook

The following graph from the Eastern Australian Domestic Gas Market Study by BREE, Department of Industry, shows Energy Quest’s doubling of gas prices by the end of this decade.

Fig 12: Gas prices will double

http://www.industry.gov.au/Energy/EnergyMarkets/Documents/EasternAustralianDomesticGasMarketStudy.pdf

Summary:

Decisions on excessive LNG exports have been made more than 10 years ago and are irreversible. They continued ever since – irrespective of which State or Federal governments were in power –and will lead to yet more LNG exports.  Consumers will have to pay higher gas prices for having elected these governments.  Another regret will come in the next years when it becomes clear that gas is needed as transport fuel.

Fig 13: Glimpse into the future: truckies protest drive around  Canberra’s Capital Hill

Previous articles on this website on gas

9/5/2012    Queensland plans to export more than 10 times the gas NSW needs (part 3)
http://crudeoilpeak.info/queensland-plans-to-export-more-than-10-times-the-gas-nsw-needs-part-3

6/5/2012   Howard’s wrong decisions on offshore gas exports start to hit transport sector now
http://crudeoilpeak.info/howards-wrong-decisions-on-offshore-gas-exports-start-to-hit-transport-sector-now

13/10/2011    NSW gas as transport fuel. Where are the plans?
http://crudeoilpeak.info/nsw-gas-as-transport-fuel-where-are-the-plans

11/10/2011   Australia’s natural gas squandered in LNG exports
http://crudeoilpeak.info/australias-natural-gas-squandered-in-lng-exports





Dear Humanity, Time Is Running Out

9 04 2014

Next and final chapter in IPCC climate change assessment will say window is fast closing for society to respond to worst impacts of fast-warming planet

– Jon Queally, staff writer

Avoiding dangerous climate change will require not just rapid reductions in fossil fuel use but also a revolution in the structures of our economies and societies, according to a momentous UN scientific report on climate change to be released next week in Berlin. (Photo: Shutterstock)

 

The next chapter of the UN climate panel’s scientific report on global warming is due out next week in Berlin, but a draft of the document seen by the Reuters news agency reveals that the main message for humanity and society is simply this: time is running out.

According to Reuters:

Government officials and top climate scientists will meet in Berlin from April 7-12 to review the 29-page draft that also estimates the needed shift to low-carbon energies would cost between two and six per cent of world output by 2050.

It says nations will have to impose drastic curbs on their still rising greenhouse gas emissions to keep a promise made by almost 200 countries in 2010 to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times.

This third chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fifth Assessment Report will move away from the causes and scientific consensus of climate change (covered in the first chapter) and the impacts of global warming and changing climate patterns (covered in the second), and focus on the possible steps that can be taken to avoid the very worst case scenarios that scientists have set forth.

To avoid these dangers, the report will say, society will not only need to rapidly reduce use of fossil fuels, but also revolutionize the structures of its economies, food systems, and energy grids.

“Climate change is global-scale violence, against places and species as well as against human beings.” —Rebecca Solnit

What this next chapter will highlight is that for all the alarming warnings generated by the scientific community and confirmed by the IPCC’s comprehensive analysis of that science, is that world government’s and the powerful private sector have done next to nothing to meet the challenge now before humanity.

“So far, world leaders have sorely lacked the political will to make the shift to low-carbon societies,” said Dipti Bhatnagar, Friends of the Earth International Climate Justice and Energy coordinator, as she responded to the latest IPCC draft.

According to Agence France-Presse, which also saw a draft of the chapter, the panel suggests there is a 15-year window for affordable action to safely reach the UN’s warming limit of two degrees Celsius.

“Scientists confirm that we must take urgent steps to avoid triggering catastrophic climate change and its irreversible impacts on humans and ecosystems. Real solutions to the climate crisis are already available. We need community-based energy solutions, energy efficiency and reduced consumption levels, not dangerous energy sources like fossil fuels or nuclear power,” said Inga Roemer of Friends of the Earth Germany / BUND.

Roemer was responding to potentially controversial aspects of the IPCC recommendations, which may include the use of nuclear energy to offset the imperative of scaling back reliance on fossil fuels. Environmentalists have largely rejected those in the scientific community who have suggested that nuclear power —even if “done right” and safer—is a realistic and responsible solution to the carbon-based energy system.

For all the warnings, however, what environmentalists and climate activists are calling for is the paradigm shift that the science—and the economic implications of the fossil fuel industry—have long been showing is necessary.

As green activist and author Rebecca Solnit writes at the Guardian on Monday, the consistent and current refusal by governments and industry to address the crisis of human-caused climate change should be called what it is: violence against humanity and planet Earth itself.

Solnit writes:

Climate change is anthropogenic – caused by human beings, some much more than others. We know the consequences of that change: the acidification of oceans and decline of many species in them, the slow disappearance of island nations such as the Maldives, increased flooding, drought, crop failure leading to food-price increases and famine, increasingly turbulent weather. (Think Hurricane Sandy and the recent typhoon in the Philippines, and heat waves that kill elderly people by the tens of thousands.)

Climate change is violence.

So if we want to talk about violence and climate change – and we are talking about it, after last week’s horrifying report from the world’s top climate scientists – then let’s talk about climate change as violence. Rather than worrying about whether ordinary human beings will react turbulently to the destruction of the very means of their survival, let’s worry about that destruction – and their survival. Of course water failure, crop failure, flooding and more will lead to mass migration and climate refugees – they already have – and this will lead to conflict. Those conflicts are being set in motion now.

What comes next, Solnit says, is entirely up to humanity’s capacity to admit the problem, call it by its true name, and then systematically and aggressively address it.

“That’s a tired phrase, the destruction of the Earth,” admits Solnit. “But translate it into the face of a starving child and a barren field – and then multiply that a few million times.”





Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse

18 07 2013

The beauty of the internet, is that you no longer need to read newspapers…….  If you’ve been surfing for a while read enough books, and know what information to look for to supplement what you think you already know, an amazing amount of information can come your way with very little effort.  For instance, years ago, before the internet became as entrenched as it is today, I was reading books (on energy, what else...) written by Amory Lovins and his then wife, and associates.  Whilst I don’t believe Lovins is right in everything he says, he does enough to be admired all the same – like refurbishing the whole Empire State Building to substantially reduce its electricity consumption….  And sometimes, merely through questioning some of the things someone like Lovins might be saying, you can even ‘meet’ other people who turn out to be fascinating in their own right…

Amory Lovins

Lovins, for instance, was years ago a great fan of Hydrogen and fuel cells.  He believed that one day all cars would be thus powered..  Because of his enthusiastic attitude towards such things, I too was infected with this techno hubris, until it was pointed out to me that Hydrogen was not an energy source… and one day on an internet forum, this obviously well informed person called Susan krumdieck piped up explaining why fuel cells were never going to make an impact.  Lovins’ hypercar is now no longer fuel cell driven, but electrically recharged by renewables.  Even he is able to see the light!

Lovins runs the Rocky Mountains Institute.  My only gripe with RMI and Lovins is that they are hell bent on keeping business as usual going.  Every now and again though, RMI comes out with surprises……  like this one.

Following a colourful introduction to Zombie-ism – “Scoff at your own peril, but consider this: Doomsday Preppers—a reality TV show about families who stock up on non-perishable food, ammunition, fuel, and more in preparation for a potential apocalypse, zombie-induced or otherwise—is the most popular series of all time on the National Geographic Channel, pulling in 1.3 million viewers for the season two premiere in November last year, RMI make a more or less astonishing observation;  the grid (particularly in the US I might point out) is very fragile……

No People, No Power: Human Operators Keep the U.S. Electricity System Running

Such apocalyptic scenarios make it illuminating to conduct a “war game” exercise with our national infrastructure, and especially our electricity grid. What would be the first thing to go wrong with our infrastructure if society were thrown into disarray by brains-hungry zombies? Without human beings around to perform certain routine tasks, the electricity system will quickly cease to function. In regions dependent on fossil fuels for electricity generation (i.e., the entire U.S.), power plants will shut down, or “trip,” within 24 hours (or less) without continuous fuel supply. As soon as one plant trips offline, voltage at various points along the transmission system will drop below preset thresholds, spurring a domino effect as automated protection devices kick in and disconnect additional sections of the network. This cascade of trips would bring the system to a standstill, and a blackout would ensue.

I’ve seen first hand how the grid is fossil fuel dependant.  In the valley below us there is a high tension power line – probably 110,000V.  Every few months or so, helicopters fly over the power lines, and I’m told, photograph all the insulators with heat sensitive cameras looking for high resistance breakdowns in the lines, and low resistance ones in the insulators.  Nothing lasts forever.  Then when problems are found, four wheel drive vehicles are sent along the easements where the pylons reside for men to fix things.  These repairs must be done before a problem starts, because searching for a fault after the event and while the power’s out is, hum, expensive and unpopular!

“In all seriousness, while walking dead may never roam our streets, catastrophic events can debilitate localized or even regional populations and leave our energy assets without sufficient operational personnel. However, the loss of operational personnel isn’t the only, and not even the most likely, threat to America’s electricity grids. Coordinated terrorist attacks on the grid (including cyber attacks) keep Department of Defense officials up at night; insurance markets worry about the impact of an intense geomagnetic storm on the electricity system, many communities have already experienced first-hand the havoc that Mother Nature can wreak on an unprepared power system (e.g., blackouts resulting from heat waves, superstorms such as Sandy), and just this week the North American Electric Reliability Corp. and some 110 utilities announced that later this year they’ll conduct a mock exercise to see how our power system could handle a coordinated physical and cyber attack on the high-voltage transmission grid. Zombies or not, it’s a cruel world out there, and our electricity grid is looking mighty frail.”

RMI’s solutions?   Microgrids…..

Many critical facilities (e.g., hospitals, military bases) have on-site diesel generators to provide emergency backup power. However, these generators have a 40 percent failure rate, are usually designed to run for 24 hours or less, and require an operator around to babysit them. With no one there to refill the fuel tanks, check the oil, and perform other basic maintenance, most of these generators will not last more than one or two days. Without backup generation, basic services like water and sewage treatment cannot function. During the Southern California Blackout, San Diego’s sewage pumps backed up after less than 12 hours without power, bringing the city dangerously close to a real health crisis.

Dr. Alexandra von Meier, Director of Electric Grid Research at the California Institute for Energy and Environment, points out that sewage may be the least of our problems in a prolonged blackout: “Your mention of sewage pumping is very important. I might say that besides your drains backing up, traffic signals being out (doesn’t matter because gas station pumps aren’t working), and food spoiling, the most immediately life-threatening thing about a widespread blackout is that you find you have no water pressure in your tap. No drinking water, and it’s hasta la vista, baby…”

Of course, no mention of the fact that cities are unsustainable, that sewerage is a 19th Century idea that has reached its use by date, nor that the real problem is centralisation and too many people…..  Nor is there mention that even micro grids need supervision by people who know what they are doing.  And of course, once the economy hits the fan, I want to know who’s going to pay for it….  and how.