Community-driven solutions to climate change

I thought I’d write a post while AT is away which he hopefully won’t mind me doing. I feel a bit frustrated by the lack of discussion about solutions for climate change. There’s much pointless bickering about things we shouldn’t really be arguing about, like whether there’s a pause, when instead we should be discussing what we’re going to do about climate change.

A movie called 2 Degrees was recently released which highlights the failure of the international climate negotiations. Here’s a preview of this film:


It starts with a quote from President Obama:

Climate change will post unacceptable risks to our security, our economies, and our planet.

If we can’t rely on our leaders to make the tough decisions for the future of our children and grandchildren then what hope is there? One thing the movie suggests is that instead of looking for top-down solutions, perhaps we should be searching for solutions from the bottom: community-driven results from people like us who are concerned about climate change and want to do something about it. In the film, they follow the community of a small Australian town called Port Augusta and their fight to replace an ageing coal-fired power station with solar thermal power. It looks as though they’re close to winning the fight.

One lesson from this town’s battle is the need to get the majority of the population on board to get politicians motivated to do something. Our politicians are not going to do anything while we have 63.9% of the population who are unmoved. We need to convince these people that climate change is a serious problem and that we must take action.

How do we do that?

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123 Responses to Community-driven solutions to climate change

  1. verytallguy says:

    Here’s a network I play a (very) small part in

  2. Jamie says:

    Yes I was going to point to Transition as well. It’s one of the most credible approaches out there in my view. They sum up the need for a community-led approach very nicely:

    “if we wait for the governments, it’ll be too little, too late, if we act as individuals, it’ll be too little, but if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.”

    No point waiting around for it to be done for us, we all just need to get cracking and build the change from within.

  3. Gingerbaker says:

    We need to convince these people that climate change is a serious problem and that we must take action.

    How do we do that?

    1) First, I would suggest that we simply look at other polls. Poll results are all over the place, depending on how they are worded, and many of them show very large majorities – even among American Republicans – who wants AGW solved asap.

    2) I would suggest that we position a solution to AGW as an opportunity to increase everyone’s standard of living while at the same time saving average folks a huge amount of money. All we have to do to solve AGW is to build enough 100% renewable energy infrastructure quickly enough. And if we do that communally – as publicly-financed projects at the Federal, State, and municipal levels we can be assured of two things:

    a) that the costs of this investment will be minimized and egalitarian, and

    b) that we will NOT be allowing free enterprise “solutions” that lock all of us into paying through the nose for all our energy needs forever. Sunlight, wind, and tides are FREE – after the infrastructure is payed off, we should all be enjoying vastly reduced energy costs. And this is how we take the fossil fuel industry out of the picture – we make them irrelevant by making renewable energy so inexpensive that fossil fuels are completely noncompetitive.

  4. Perse says:

    Get solar panels and other natural stuff! The less energy produced by factories, the better. I wish you luck in convincing the skeptics’ portion of the community that they should do the same!

  5. Steve Bloom says:


  6. verytallguy says:

    I live in the UK. UK transport emissions are 21% of total uk CO2 emissions. Of these, 55% are from passenger cars

    I commute 20 miles a day round trip on a route not amendable to public transport.

    I do this by bike about 4 days/week on average, saving 4,000 miles, 1/3 of my total mileage and about a tonne of CO2 every year.

    If everyone similarly reduced their mileage, that would reduce total uk CO2 emissions by almost 4%.

    It gets better. Because I cycle to work we now only have one car rather than two. The sunk cost of the CO2 in a car is about 10 tonnes, so let’s call that another 1te/yr CO2 emissions.

    Further, it’s pretty hard (though I do try) to be be obese whilst cycling 100 miles a week. Obesity and climate change can cause a feedback spiral as high carbon lifestyles drive obesity, and obese people use more high carbon goods and services.

    Finally, social norms drive what is acceptable. The more people who cycle, the more normal it becomes. So merely being seen on a bike helps to drive change.

    I’m not suggesting I’m a paragon of virtue, merely that we can all do something, and the more we do, the more it drives further change. We don’t need to all adopt zero carbon lifestyles immediately, just start to move in the right direction, and that some of the moves we can make are entirely positive, both personally and societally.


    Click to access climate-changebrf.pdf

  7. Rachel M says:

    Thanks for all the good suggestions. The Transition Network looks good. I tried to find something similar in New Zealand and although I don’t think this is quite the same, it still looked pretty good –

    Renewal energy is a huge part of the solution too and VTG, I’m with you as far as cycling goes. BAN ALL THE CARS!

    One major issue that gets discussed in this film is deforestation. They make the point that preventing people in developing countries from chopping down their trees without giving them compensation is a violation of their basic rights and yet “deforestation is responsible for 18% of CO2 emissions”. I verified this figure. It comes from the Stern Review.

    “Emissions from deforestation are very significant globally. Independent estimates of the annual emissions from deforestation more than 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions”

  8. Rachel M says:

    We know exactly what needs to be done. There’s no technological barrier, there’s no economic barrier. We can afford to do what needs to be done. All that stands in the way is a lack of political will.

    George Monbiot ~58 minutes

  9. Andrew Dodds says:

    Perse –

    Solar panels are produced in factories too!

    I’m in two minds about this.. yes it’s obviously good if people do stuff to reduce emissions and fossil fuel dependence, but if we are really serious about getting the >90% reductions in total emissions, I can’t see how we do it without serious central government involvement. It’s one of these situations where apparently virtuous individualism lets large organisations off the hook.

  10. Rachel M says:


    Government does need to be involved, I agree. Even the little community in South Australia could not have got this far without their local government. But the impetus came from the bottom, rather than from the top. The politicians aren’t going to do anything unless the majority of us are behind change and pressuring them. We need to get the majority of the population on board and the way to do this is through our community.

  11. BBD says:

    Meaningful cuts in emissions come from the decarbonisation of the electricity supply and the electrification of personal transport. Community initiatives have no traction on infrastructural change at this scale and are consequently unlikely to achieve significant emissions reductions.

  12. BBD says:

    Heating is the other biggie, but national-scale roll-outs of cavity wall insulation, loft insulation and double glazing are the business of central government.

  13. verytallguy says:


    I hope you can forgive me for saying that, IMHO, you are utterly and entirely mistaken.

    Yes, government action is necessary to reach the desired endpoint. But that does not mean that community action is ineffectual. Indeed, it may even be necessary. Let’s take a historical example – the provision of unadulterated food at reasonable prices – a big issue in Victorian times. You could say that this was an issue for government regulation and enforcement; community action was pointless.

    What actually happened, however, was the cooperative movement

    In climate change, community based programs can act as pilots and inspiration for larger action

    Also, community based action can put pressure on local and national governments to act. The 20s Plenty movement in the UK is a live example.

    The more community action is taken, the more hearts and minds will change and the more likely government action is.

    Rant over

  14. Vinny Burgoo says:

    I agree with BBD.

    In other news, today five millionaires and an archbishop launched a global grassroots movement to tackle inequality and climate change.

    ‘The good news is a global movement is coming together for 2015 and the future, inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela: “Like slavery, like apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome by the actions of human beings.” Climate change too can and must be remedied by the actions of human beings.’

    One of the signatories, a billionaire tax exile, commutes from Monaco to Mayfair.

    Ye couldnae make it up.

  15. Steve Bloom says:

    Trolling ordinaire from Vinny is almost a relief.

  16. Steve Bloom says:

    “Heating is the other biggie, but national-scale roll-outs of cavity wall insulation, loft insulation and double glazing are the business of central government.”

    National-scale anything is the business of central government more or less by definition. In the U.S. anyway, the items mentioned can all be done at more local scales, and I think it’s fair to say that adoption of them by the feds or states is unlikely until they’ve been extensively piloted at the local (city/county) level.

  17. BBD says:

    The more community action is taken, the more hearts and minds will change and the more likely government action is.

    That might be true, or it might not. But community action will not decarbonise the electricity supply, electrify personal transport or insulate entire nations. It’s feelgood factor doolittle. The necessary rapid, infrastructural change requires public policy.

  18. verytallguy says:

    The necessary rapid, infrastructural change requires public policy.

    Does community action make that policy more, or less likely?

    Should support for community based action be part of that policy?

    some food for thought:

    With seed-funding from the World Bank, UNEP and UNDP, a company called Nuru Energy has developed individually-recharged, modular LED lights and the world’s first commercially-available pedal generator, the Nuru POWERCycle. Together, these form the most effective and affordable lighting solution currently available to extremely poor rural households at the “base of the pyramid”.

  19. BBD says:

    Does community action make that policy more, or less likely?

    I think it has very little effect on the realpolitik.

  20. BBD says:


    Projects like Nuru’s are very cheap to implement. There is almost no comparison with the big three decarbonisation policies for the developed world.

  21. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Corrections: Action/2015 hasn’t been launched yet. The letter merely announced it. And it isn’t a grassroots campaign. I thought that word was in the letter, but it was in someone’s comments about it. It’s actually yet another ‘civil society’ campaign – so expect lots of guff about mainstreaming three legs of the equalities stool to build capacity for stakeholder roadmapping of the climate change engagement strategy toolkit.

    Still a bit run to urge individual action on climate change while flitting to and fro between Monaco and Mayfair, though.

  22. Vinny Burgoo says:


  23. verytallguy says:


    what do you believe would have an effect on the realpolitik?

  24. The Nuru project is also an example of the fact that small scale renewable energy solutions are most competitive, when the target is to supply small amounts of energy to solve a problem that’s solved by little energy. The competitiveness is usually much worse when the issue is replacing existing high power energy systems. Unfortunately from the point of view of the climate change, it’s exactly the latter situation, where a change is needed.

    Something can be achieved on many fronts, but how to reach anything approaching the goals of 50% or 80% reduction in CO2 releases is not known at all.

    We can list ideas with great potential, but all such ideas face some serious obstacles that must be solved before the aspired for changes start to appear.

  25. BBD says:


    what do you believe would have an effect on the realpolitik?

    A better understanding of the problem by the pols. The removal of organised denial from public discourse (including the closure of right-wing media outlets).

  26. verytallguy says:


    I think community action is one of the more effective ways to achieve the achievable parts of your desires.

  27. BBD says:

    Then we shall have to differ.

  28. Gingerbaker says:

    what do you believe would have an effect on the realpolitik?

    A President who realizes that because the Dept. of Energy is under his (Executive) jurisdiction, he can form a new Federal 100% renewable energy Utility System by Executive Directive. A President who would be more than happy to invoke National Security to ensure long-term funding for that new Utility System. That would pretty much cover it despite what the Republican party might think.

  29. verytallguy says:


    yes. I was not a advocating it as a cure all.

    Also, even if the very large cuts are not achieved, it is still beneficial to limitco2 concentrations. And there are many beneficial ways to start on that

  30. andrew adams says:

    I don’t think it’s an either/or thing – given the scale of the problem we face and the extent to which we rely on fossil fuels we need action at all levels; individual, local, national and international.

    So I think the kind of local initiatives mentioned are valuable, partly because they collectively do add up and make a difference to our total emissions, but also because it gets people to buy in to the idea that reducing emissions is a good thing, and is not necessarily too painful. They might not be persuaded by politicians or activists, but if they see their friends and neighbours getting involved they might be less resistant.

    The disagreement I have is with those who suggest that such “bottom up” initiatives are an alternative to co-ordinated international action. They aren’t – they are a valuable addition to it but they can’t by themselves reduce emissions on the scale which is necessary.

  31. Rachel M says:


    Community initiatives have no traction on infrastructural change at this scale ….

    The Port Augusta example is surely an example of a community initiative driving infrasctructural change on a big scale. This is happening in Australia, with Tony-anti-science Abbott in command. Where the carbon tax has just been abolished. Where coal-seam gas is the new gold.

    Ok, so it hasn’t quite happened yet but they’re so close and have come quite a long way already. If the solar thermal plant goes ahead then this will set a precedent for everywhere else. There are two coal-fired power plants near Port Augusta and these supply over 30% of the South Australia’s electricity. So we’re not talking about insignificant changes here.

  32. BBD says:

    The Port Augusta example is surely an example of a community initiative driving infrasctructural change on a big scale.

    A solar thermal plant is not large-scale infrastructural change.

    Ok, so it hasn’t quite happened yet but they’re so close and have come quite a long way already.

    There is that, too.

    There are two coal-fired power plants near Port Augusta and these supply over 30% of the South Australia’s electricity. So we’re not talking about insignificant changes here.

    I’m confused by this. Is the solar thermal plant going to produce 30% of South Australia’s electricity and shut down the coal-fired plant?

  33. Rachel M says:

    It seems my information about the solar thermal plant is dated. I’ve just found this:

    ALINTA Energy has chosen a stand-alone solar power plant that could cost as much as $796 million as its preferred option for Port Augusta.

    A tower containing molten salt would be warmed by a field of mirrors concentrating heat from the sun, with the stored energy available to provide power for up to 15 hours.

    The finding is the recommendation from the second stage of Alinta’s feasibility investigations into building a plant where it owns ageing coal-fired generators.

  34. Rachel M says:

    Is the solar thermal plant going to produce 30% of South Australia’s electricity and shut down the coal-fired plant?

    I believe so. The Alinta Energy website has more information –

  35. According to the new Milestone 2 Summary Report by the local power company Alinta Energy the cost of electricity from the alternative solutions that have been studied is from A$ 258 to A$ 474 for a MWh of electricity. I don’t know the present generation cost in Australia, but based on what I have found it’s well below A$ 100/MWh. Thus it’s not surprising that they conclude

    .. Therefore, in order for any CSP technology to be a viable commercial proposition for Alinta one of two things would be required:
    1. The cost of the CSP technology relative to traditional energy generation technologies, drops
    significantly. This may be through economies of scale as CSP technologies become more advanced, more common and progress along the standard cost vs. maturity curve. This factor may also be affected by an increase in the cost of traditional energy technologies through the rise in fuel prices, imposition of fines or taxes on emissions or other regulation

    2. The CSP technology opens up a new market to Alinta by offering an affordable energy solution where traditional energy technologies are not commercially feasible.

    The lowest cost alternative has a nominal power of 50 MWe and expected annual generation of 283 GWh corresponding to an average power of 32 MWe. The Port Agusta coal fired power plants have a combined power of 784 MW. The larger of the two plants has a power of 544 MW and is used as first order power station meaning that the annual generation is likely to be more than 3000 GWh.

    The project is entering the stage of a full feasibility study. It too early to predict, what’s the outcome of that. In any case replacing much of the present coal fired generation is still very far away and uncertain.

  36. BBD says:

    Thanks Rachel and Pekka for the additional information. Sorry to be a bit curmudgeonly about this topic, but I think my points stand. I *do* think community action is worthwhile and I would like to see much more of it but it seems unlikely to be a large lever in the process of decarbonisation.

    Andrew Adams expressed this with typical clarity above.

    Public policy is needed. The responsibility for action and culpability for inaction rests with our political leaders.

  37. AnOilMan says:

    Communities doing something makes a huge difference.

    If you look at the economic model for fossil fuels it requires same to increasing energy consumption. Solar does incredible damage to that business model. If you go on solar you are no longer a consumer, or worse you become a producer. This kills the old business model, and drives up your neighbors energy costs furthering the cycle. Go solar, go now.

    Solar is freedom. You Europeans are supporting Russia’s take over of the Ukraine. If you didn’t need natural gas, you’d close borders and embargo at once.

    Solar is not expensive. In Canada (sunny Canada) it costs $0.20 per kwh for on grid, and $0,30 per kwh off grid. I currently pay $0.09, about $0,20 with all the extra fees. (I haven’t switched yet since I have two big old trees in the front yard blocking access to the sun. I don’t think they will last much longer.)

    Lastly, talk to people. Seriously, most people I talk to don’t know much about this stuff. Frequently they end a conversation with me with, “Gee that’s not bad.”

  38. Rachel M says:


    Public policy is needed.

    I don’t disagree with this. I don’t think anyone could disagree.

    Politicians aren’t doing anything though or not doing enough and one way to get politicians to act is for them to respond to pressure from their electorate. At the moment, 64% or so of the population is unmoved about climate change. This pressure is just not there. We need to have a majority of our population all wanting change. I feel that the way to do this is through community efforts.

    The Port Augusta plans (ok, perhaps they’re not as great as I thought) have come quite a long way. Last year the media was reporting that the proposal had been abandoned – They couldn’t even get funding for a feasibility study –

  39. > I don’t disagree with this [public policy is needed]. I don’t think anyone could disagree.

    Those who disagree, raise your invisible hands.

    I see no hands up.

    You are right, Rachel.

  40. Louise says:

    BBD – although I agree that more could be done by government, especially the current UK one, there are some really good initiatives. Take a look at the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) or the Technology Strategy Board (part of BIS) or in the EU the Horizon 2020 initiative (€6Bn for Smart, Green and Integrated Transport research and innovation).

  41. When cap & trade is the principal policy instrument one rule is that the outcome is very likely to be the cap even in presence of some stronger incentives that apply to part of the releases. Other policy instruments that lead to larger reductions in emissions in some activities are cancelled by additional emissions from other activities as the cap does not force anything more.

    In EU it’s, indeed, the case that subsidizing renewable energy strongly somewhere has resulted in increased use of coal elsewhere. The idea that an EU wide cap is the best and most cost-effective incentive does not work well in combination with the present renewable energy policies of several countries.

    Similarly reductions in the emissions of one locality are likely to increase emissions at some other place.

    It’s not easy to agree on, implement, and maintain an nearly optimal incentive system. The difference in cost-effectiveness may be large between a good and a worse incentive system.

  42. graemeu says:

    I’ve just stumbled on ATTP and thanks Rachel for putting this up. I am surprised that only Verytallguy and Pekka seem to grasp the essential idea that we need to change how we live, not just how we source energy. So there is getting smart about energy generation and using energy efficiently (LED’s, hybrid cars, effective public transport) but there is also getting smart about our expectations in life. The majority it seems want more, want bigger, want faster, want convenience, want out of season, want to go anywhere and do whatever they want when the fancy takes them.
    Centralised solar and wind generation and LED lights are not the solution it actually requires a paradigm shift in production, distribution and consumption. Central to that has to be a people led revolt against the dollar as king. Australia, NZ and the US seem to have entered into a new golden age of only profit matters and we won’t see real progress until that changes.

  43. Rachel M says:


    I think we can still have a good quality of life in a zero-carbon-emissions world. But it will require big changes. One change which no one seems to want to talk about is the food we eat. We can’t continue growing plants for animals for human consumption. It just isn’t sustainable. We need to start thinking about moving over to a plant-based diet on a large scale. Organisations like the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) are already doing this.

  44. We are discussing really major changes in the societies. Those do not occur by itself. They do not occur either as a consequence of a voluntary change in the behavior of a small minority. Nothing essential changes, before the new alternatives become attractive enough for the majority.

    They may become more attractive by various mechanisms including strong economic incentives or strict enforcing regulation. We have seen many large changes to take place, most recently the introduction of mobile phones and the internet. All the recent changes have materialized based on the natural attractivity of new technologies, no artificial incentives or enforcing has been needed. Governments may have helped to some extent, but we have not needed politicians or officials that are capable of deciding on our behalf, what’s best for us. The new alternatives have also offered natural new business opportunities for private companies.

    It’s far from obvious that the same mechanisms work effectively in changing the way the majority lives towards very low energy of zero CO2 alternatives. In the free market economy those companies prosper that sell more, not those that sell less, and less material consumption is likely to mean selling less. We have also seen that the economy is not very robust. Relatively small disturbances in banking sector have caused great damage in its operation. Developing new ways to have a high level of well-being that’s more sustainable may require so large changes in the operation of the economies that the development is far from smooth. That applies both to detrimental consequences of changing climate and to attempts to mitigate promptly.

    If the new way of living requires enforcing, the politicians must be willing and able to make the required decisions. That may be a problem in a democracy. It may also be that politicians will be able to make some strong decisions, but that the decisions lead to an outcome very different from what the goal is. We have also seen reports, where the authors imply doubt in the decision making capability of democratic governments, and propose effectively giving up the democracy. I don’t think that many of us would like that. Where that would lead to, is impossible to predict.

  45. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Electric cars show how difficult it can be to get policy right. I have been reading about them because I need to replace my car (never buy a car that’s spent a long time in Scotland: all that road salt rusts the chassis) and I briefly considered getting an electric one because there are two free charging points nearby. No chance. Titchy load spaces and twenty times my budget. But it was interesting reading. Shrink That Footprint reckons that the average electric car in the UK ’emits’ 189 g CO2e/km, including manufacturing emissions. My 2002 Mazda emits 209 g CO2e/km, including STF’s figure for average petrol car manufacturing emissions, 40 g CO2e/km (versus 70 g CO2e/km for EVs). So only 10% more, yet I pay £205 in road tax and owners of EVs pay nothing. What’s more, the government gives them about £5k towards the cost of the car and subsidizes the charging infrastructure. And sometimes they get free juice. Lucky them, but they’re not really saving the planet, are they? EV subsidies are like using a sledgehammer to polish a nut or, at best, chip a little flake off the shell – and, as with rooftop solar and solar farms, they mostly benefit the wealthy. (I see that steam vehicles are also exempt from road tax. They mostly use coal. 1 kg CO2/km? 10? Perhaps I’ll buy one of those.)

    The two free charging points are also interesting. They were installed using government money (and supermarket money for the juice) by a local grassroots climate change action group. The town already had a charging point and there are very few EVs hereabouts. I know of only two people who own them: the local squire and a member of the grassroots group.

    Two things about that. Are grassroots groups the best people to decide where charging points should go? The town now has one for every thousand inhabitants. And are grassroots climate change actions really grassroots when they are just (ill-administered) conduits for government actions? A handful of hobbyists who know how to fill in forms isn’t my idea of a grassroots movement.*

    *About five years ago, the same group – which is of the ‘total human extinction’ variety of climate change concern – wasted £10k of government money on a daft scheme to hire electric bicycles to local shoppers. Three bike-days of hirings in the first three months and the scheme closed within a year because it wasn’t bringing in enough money to cover insurance costs. After using the bikes themselves for a while, they sold them to a local firm that hires mountain bikes to tourists. Lovely people, and very strong on the community side of community climate change action. The climate change side? Not so much.

  46. Rachel M says:


    Personally I don’t think there’s much environmental benefit to replacing a petrol-fuelled car with an electric car that runs off coal or gas which is the case in the UK since most of your electricity generation is not from renewable sources. Renewable electricity generation in the UK is embarrassingly low:


    However, I lived in York for 6 months last year with two small children and we managed without a car altogether for the whole 6 months without any trouble at all. In fact, our quality of life improved dramatically. I despised having to come back to Auckland where I now have to sit in a car everyday. We’re moving to Scotland permanently this year and we plan to sell our car before we leave and are not going to buy a new one at all. If we want to go somewhere that requires a car then we’ll hire one.

    I also remember seeing some kind of car share scheme when I was in York. I never really investigated it but it was an alternative to owning a vehicle. Here’s their site:

    Life is much nicer on foot, or bicycle, or train. Fewer cars on the road = cleaner air and less noise pollution. It will also make the roads safer for bicycles and pedestrians as well as being more pleasant. Walking alongside a busy road is not my idea of pleasant. A population that walks and cycles more will also be a healthier one.

    The first time I visited Venice I was struck by how lovely it was to walk around primarily because there are no cars there. My sister-in-law lives in Switzerland and she told me that there’s a village in the mountains there that recently voted to ban all cars. I’m not sure what the name of the village is.

    I agree that a community group that wastes grants and funding is not good. It’s just as bad as a government that wastes tax-payer money. But someone must have approved these schemes? I would prefer to see money spent on bicycle infrastructure, public transport, and pedestrian spaces. I’d also like to see more places closed off to cars – like city centres which should be for people not vehicles. It should be much more expensive to own and run a car so that people have no choice but to car-share or abandon them altogether.

    I personally thought the train system in the UK was fabulous but many locals complained about it. We used it all the time and loved it, especially on long trips. We were free to play with devices, read, play games, walk around and stretch our legs and it was always much faster than travel by car. However, I’m sure there is room for improvement.

  47. OPatrick says:

    Shrink That Footprint reckons that the average electric car in the UK ‘emits’ 189 g CO2e/km, including manufacturing emissions.

    Shrink that Footprint also debunks the ‘electric cars aren’t green’ myth, and that’s without really touching on the key point that as electricity generation becomes increasingly decarbonised electric vehicles become increasingly low carbon, but unless there is investment in developing these vehicles then the technology is not going to be there when it’s needed. You also exaggerate on the cost, electric vehicles are not far from being on a par with petrol vehicles over their lifetime – in fact my electric scooter has already worked out as cheap as the most efficient petrol equivalent would have done. Consider the enormous amounts many people are willing to pay for perceived benefits like prestige when they buy their cars and the extra costs of electric pales into insignificance.

    This also reminds me of a depressing story about a new rail service being shut down after only 6 months or so because it was only being used by a handful of people and, it was argued, this meant it was creating more carbon emissions than the car journeys it was meant to be replacing. But this is such teeth-grindingly short-termist thinking. The switch to public transport isn’t going to be instant even once the infrastructure is in place. People will take time to transition from car use to public transport. It might be several years when many people are at the point of deciding whether to replace their old cars or not before the benefits of a service like this will start to pay off.

  48. Rachel M says:

    I was just looking at the city car club site and they have locations all over the UK –

  49. City car club seems pretty good. I haven’t used it myself (I don’t actually live in a city) but I have friends who have used it and it seems to work well. A relatively small monthly fee and a reasonable cost per journey. Cars also seem to be conveniently located. So, if you don’t need to use a car particularly often, it seems like quite a good option.

  50. OPatrick says:


    We have seen many large changes to take place, most recently the introduction of mobile phones and the internet. All the recent changes have materialized based on the natural attractivity of new technologies, no artificial incentives or enforcing has been needed.

    I’m sceptical of this. I can see that it might be true for the Internet itself, though certainly not for the majority of functionality that populates the Internet, but I’m far from convinced about mobile phones. There is an enormous amount of marketing, both traditional and more modern approaches, which has driven these technologies and which continues to drive them. The original mobile phone market was created by, or for, the early adopters who were driven by the image. A small minority of people were responsible for the trend in this case.

    Unfortunately there isn’t the same level of money to back the low consumption models we need to move towards, but individual choice may still have bigger influences than the direct impacts. If people can see us living perfectly comfortable and fulfilling lives without high levels of consumption then the back-to-the-stone-age ‘doom-mongering’ may be that little bit less effective. If communities can successfully set up low-carbon local networks then their examples can spread. (And a nod towards Isentropic, which if their storage performance is anything like claimed could be a big part of these community-driven solutions.)

  51. Maybe this isn’t quite what Pekka is suggesting, but isn’t it also the case that the internet itself was largely a consequence of various publicly funded initiatives (military/science). It seems clear that the “free-market” is very good at exploiting and developing/expanding existing technologies. It’s not clear that there is a really good example of something that has been developed from scratch without some kind of incentivization. It certainly seems to me that in many situations it’s a case of some kind of initial incentive (public investment) that provides the framework of which things can then be developed and exploited (and I mean exploited in a positive, rather than negative sense).

  52. Governments have had some role in those technologies as well, but what has made exactly these fields to grow at an exceptional rate, has not been the government. It’s worthwhile to ponder, what leads to the huge success of some developments, but not of the others. One factor is certainly that technology development has revolutionized data and signal processing, while most other technologies have not shown potential for anything comparable.

  53. Eli Rabett says:

    Government had nothing to do with the coming of the railroads, road traffic or air travel. OK Pekka?

  54. A good way to do something is to say no:

    There was this general perception that fracking was coming, there was nothing you could do, there was this oncoming train wreck, you knew it was going to be a train wreck, and you couldn’t even get out of the way. From our background, having been corporate lawyers, our thinking was there has to be something you can do. You don’t keep the job as a corporate lawyer telling your clients, “No, you can’t do something.” Like, you find a way for them to do what they want to do.

    So we starting looking at the cycle, so what can you do? You can’t regulate the industry so what’s a regulation? As we looked and starting researching this idea of what’s a regulation it became clear in New York that a land use prohibition was not considered to be a regulation of an industry. So we were like, “Well, it looks like you could prohibit this” which was an “emperor has no clothes ” moment. It was like, “Well, we can’t regulate it, but we can say no?” Like, that’s pretty good, we’ll take that, but nobody had said that. All the other big national groups that said, “No, that wasn’t what it meant.” The land man said, “No, that wasn’t what it meant.” cooperative extensions said, “No, that wasn’t what it meant.” And we were two lawyers from Ithaca, we were like, “Well we disagree with everyone.”

  55. Another good way to do something is to move the ocean:

  56. JasonB says:


    In EU it’s, indeed, the case that subsidizing renewable energy strongly somewhere has resulted in increased use of coal elsewhere. The idea that an EU wide cap is the best and most cost-effective incentive does not work well in combination with the present renewable energy policies of several countries.

    That reminds me of something that’s been on my mind for a while relating to the EU’s carbon permit prices. Much has been made of the fact that the prices have dropped so low. I would have taken that to be a good thing, in that it means that meeting the target was easier than expected, and that it might even warrant revisiting the targets and seeing if they can be dropped more aggressively.

    Yet a lot of the critics of pricing carbon (especially in Australia, where the price was fixed at about $25/tonne) have pointed to this as being a failure.

    The only way I can see it being a sign of failure is if the carbon price in the EU simply resulted in manufacturing shifting to China, for example, with the high-carbon goods then imported back into the EU, resulting in a net increase in global emissions. Has this been a big issue? If so, was there any thought about the legality of applying a tariff at the border for goods manufactured elsewhere without carbon permits?

  57. JasonB,

    There are two main reasons for the low price of permission rights. First the economic growth has been much weaker than expected, and second the strong subsidies for renewable energy in several countries.

    The total cost for EU countries has not been that low, but it does not affect the carbon price, because it’s to a large extent in subsidies of renewable energy. The policies have been effective in increasing renewable energy generation, but the cost of saved ton of CO2 has been very high, in many cases far above 100€/ton(CO2) even when we consider the direct effect and forget that not a single ton has actually been saved due to the reason I explained. In this calculation the whole life time of the investments that have been made is taken into account, not only the generation so far.

    It’s economically highly ineffective to enforce high-cost solutions that remove the incentive for low-cost solutions.

    Subsidizing renewable has another potentially important outcome in speeding up technical development. It’s, however, highly questionable, whether even that has been nearly as efficient as it could have been. What has taken place is large scale deployment of early technologies. Much (certainly not all) of development effort required in that may be virtually worthless with next generation of technologies. Best scientists may also been employed by problems related to the early technologies rather than concentrated more in developing new solutions. It’s not at all obvious that EU has been as successful relative to other countries in research that’s most valuable in long term as it was in building rapidly mass production of early solutions.

  58. Andrew Dodds says:

    Pekka –

    I think I agree.. in that what seems to have happened, Europe-wide, is that technologies have been chosen up front (i.e. Wind and Solar) and deployed on a large scale without any real overarching idea of what the final result should look like. The most conspicuous problem is the lack of grid balancing and storage; I get the impression that many of the people pushing these technologies have either used wishful thinking our outright denial when faced with the question of what to do about intermittentcy, and we are now seeing the problems.

    Having said this, the funding does seem to have led to the development of things like 10MW offshore wind turbines that are looking like they can make a serious contribution. Of course, the question is , ‘Could these have been developed without first rolling out vast numbers of smaller turbines’?

    As far as carbon pricing and trading goes.. I’m dubious. It’s a classic Economist’s solution that ignores the physical reality of the system. A large power plant is a 60-year investment. A home central heating system is perhaps a 15-20 years investment. A car is, on average, a 15 year investment – the point being that to seriously change investment behavior you have to have a lot of confidence in a sustained high price of carbon, and that high price must dominate other considerations. Unfortunately, by imposing such a price you harshly penalise those who have recently made investment decisions, so it becomes politically impossible. You end up with a price too low to dominate investment decisions.

  59. As I have criticized the present structure of EU incentives, it might be better to tell, what I see as a better structure.

    I would introduce a carbon tax as the primary incentive that applies to all use of fossil fuels. Some parallel incentives would be needed for other sources of GHGs (deforestation, other gases than CO2).

    All other support of renewable energies should be restricted to steps that precede full scale deployment: basic research, more specific research, development of prototypes, demonstration plants, and even early deployment as long as the volume stays below some preset limit. Using even a fraction of the resources wasted in full scale deployment of immature and overly costly technologies in Germany and some other countries would have allowed for multiplying the funding of the earlier stages of development.

    It’s important to build such a structure for the incentives that the principal instrument and the more targeted instruments do not operate against each other. Having a carbon tax as the main instrument is most efficient according to economic theories, and according to many reaseach papers that have studied the question. It’s much better than cap and trade, because the price level from cap and trade is highly unpredictable. The level of carbon tax must be adjusted in the future based on the knew knowledge, but such rules must be set that the tax rate will be known for many years at every point in time. Fixing it always for five years might be a good choice for that, when some upper limit is set also for rate of change from a one year to the next.

  60. Andrew,

    The problems of the grid are also an important issue, but not the same that I have discussed above.

    Power companies do actually offer two quite separate products or services:
    – energy as measured by annual consumption
    – security of supply

    The cost structure of the power system is such that the share of the security of supply is typically larger than that of the energy, but tariffs are based mainly on the energy. Every client with grid connection receives the service of security of supply, but is not charged even nearly fully for that, but mostly for the energy. Thus own generation by a solar panel leads to a sizable reduction in the electricity bill, but to a much smaller reduction in the cost of rest of the power system.

    The actual numbers depend highly on the specifics. At one extreme is a house in a very sunny area like part of California or Arizona. There the consumption peak occurs simultaneously with the peak generation from solar. Under such conditions the value of the solar generation is very high, and the cost of the rest of the power system might be reduced even more than the power bill, if the rate does not vary by hour. In conditions of northern half of Europe including at least most of Germany the situation is very different, and the real value of the generated solar power is only a fraction of the annual average retail tariff.

    These properties of the tariff make solar panels more attractive for the consumer but a real problem for the power companies. The situation has got so bad that significant subsidies have been proposed to support the security of supply side of the power grid. High subsidies to one group lead to a need for subsidies for the other side of the fence as well. This is another example of solving one part of the problem by creating new problems elsewhere. It’s very unlikely that the result will be close to an overall optimum.

  61. Andrew Dodds says:

    Pekka –

    As above, although a carbon tax would be helpful, I am still dubious that it would be enough.

    There is an interesting example in the UK – fuel duty is set at an extreme rate, something over 100%.Back of the envelope puts it at circa £3000/tonne of CO2. Yet people not only still drive, but fuel tax only becomes the biggest single element of cost when a car is at least 6-7 years old.

    I have solar panels on my roof.. and yes they are profitable for me, but I can see that as far as grid contribution goes they are problematic. Especially on a seasonal basis which is pretty extreme in the UK – in the months of highest demand (Nov-Jan) generation is minimal.

    This is why I think we should be looking at (swearing ahead) some sort of centrally planned solution. Conceptually it is very simple – we need to build sufficient zero-carbon electricity sources to make sure that the grid is always over-supplied. The mix would depend on location; for northern countries like the UK it would pretty much have to have a high percentage of nuclear in the mix. As this situation develops, we build synthetic-fuel plants with targets being Ammonia, Methane and Methanol – the latter two at least being pretty much drop-ins for existing use, using the increasing amounts of excess electricity; this is a variable-demand grid instead of variable-supply. Eventually we displace all fossil fuel usage; end users don’t really notice.

    So the end point is a society much like today’s, just with a different underlying energy mix. No mass behavior change required.

    Of course, such an approach would upset pretty much everyone, but on the other hand it would work, which does recommend it over approaches that please people but don’t work.

  62. Andrew,

    The big question is,what will work in practice and what’s in enough.

    Energy system models have been developed to answer such questions, but part of the most crucial input is too uncertain. Rate of technology development is such a factor. It’s known that costs go in most cases down with increasing experience. Models of endogenous learning are used describe that. As some technologies expand rapidly (I mentioned internet and mobile phones as examples above) some methods for determining the coefficient that determines the strength of that give so high estimates that solving all problems appears easy and low-cost. There are, however, reasons to think that solving the kind of problems we have in energy generation do not show widely enough similar rates of endogenous learning. Thus we end up with a set of models that give highly contradictory results. Some of them tell that solving the problems will be easy, while others tell that it’s virtually impossible at the level commonly set climate goals require.

    With maximal technology optimism, we need not worry as the problems will be solved automatically fast enough. With maximal technology pessimism we must accept that the living conditions and the world economy are going to change thoroughly and that we can do little to ameliorate the damage. Between these extremes is the range where it really matters, what we do to speed up technological change both in energy production and consumption.

    I don’t think that the majority will change it’s way of life much more than what it’s forced to change, when we exclude changes that develop similarly to the changes that brought us the internet and mobile phones. The changes of the latter type may be really large, but they grow from opening up of new possibilities, and it’s impossible to predict, where such an development will lead. There’s an infinity of directions, where the natural development may lead. Governments and conscious policies have some effect on that development, but cannot control it. This means also that we don’t know what the world will be like in 50 or 100 years, and we don’t know, how what we do now affects that world. Just compare potential decisions done 50 or 100 years ago and think, what their effect would be now.

    I received a couple a days ago the latest special issue of The Energy Journal (Volume 35 – Special Issue). It covers a model intercomparison. That intercomparison is on how to reach U.S. emission reduction goals. I haven’t yet looked carefully enough on the issue to comment more on that. I just give the last sentences from the abstract of a summarizing paper:

    The study confirms that mitigation at the 50% or 80% level will require a dramatic transformation of the energy system over the next 40 years. The study also corroborates the result of previous studies that there is a large variation among models in terms of which energy strategy is considered most cost-effective. Technology assumptions are found to have a large influence on carbon prices and economic costs of mitigation.

  63. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Rachel, I live in the country and the nearest bus stop is two miles away*. Even so, I could probably get by without a car for most of the time. I have a moped that I use when the car’s in the garage. It’s tiny but can carry a surprising amount of stuff on the back (a canoe, for example). Stuff that won’t go on the back – bottled gas, building materials, my aged mother – could be delivered.

    But would I want to be permanently without a car? No. Having round-the-clock instant access to fast, comfortable, weatherproof, roomy, secure, biddable transport unlocks living in the countryside. Without it, living here would be a chore – a beautiful, sometimes magical chore, but a chore nonetheless. A car is an essential luxury, and well worth the £1500 a year it costs me. (Would I choose to live in a town? No. Horrible places. Full of sin and traffic.)

    Re bicyclists, they’re a bloody nuisance, wobbling along at a snail’s pace three-abreast in shiny lycra and total exhaustion. Couldn’t they stay at home and do pushups or something instead?

    *There used to be a bus that passed my house once a week. One week it would pass in one direction, heading for a town about ten miles away, and in alternate weeks it would pass in the other direction, heading back. Go to town, get groceries, get home a week later, throw groceries away, wait a week, go to town, get groceries… I don’t think so.

  64. Vinny Burgoo says:

    OPatrick, STF says that it debunks the myth but it doesn’t (unless you live in Paraguay). And I didn’t exaggerate the costs of EVs. I said they cost twenty times my budget. Which they do.

  65. Andrew Dodds says:

    Pekka –

    I have a problem with the above.

    When you say ‘there is an infinity of directions’, all I can say, from a scientific POV is ‘No.’. There is a relatively short list of possible energy sources for civilization, even assuming dramatic technology advances. And likewise, energy usage – assuming a first world standard of living – is relatively constrained. Because most energy use means moving stuff, heating it up or cooling it down, and those processes are physically constrained.

    50 years hence – assuming civilization still exists – we will still want hot water, refrigeration, cooking, and personal transport. This was also true 50 years ago.

    And this is important. For such a constrained problem it is in fact possible for a conscious policy to do better than any market based approach. The price mechanism is good but there is no reason to believe that it is optimal for all problems.

  66. > Re bicyclists, they’re a bloody nuisance, wobbling along at a snail’s pace three-abreast in shiny lycra and total exhaustion.

    Here’s an idea. Incentive cycling; promote Lycra fashions; tax Lycra. A gnomic operation here; …; profit. Problem solved. I’m sure a Gnome Lycra plan has better chances than a Gnome underpants plan for profit.

    Speaking of mopeds:

    The new regulations limit smog-forming pollutants to 1.4 g/km, But that is still more than 10 times the 0.1 g/km limit imposed on passenger cars.

    I drive an electric scooter since the beginning of summer, and I love it. No permit, no plate needed. Can drive in the cycling lane, can drive in the middle of the busiest avenues. Looks like a normal scooter, so car drivers see me.

    Cheaper than the bus. Complete silence. No Lycra.

    Peace on Earth.

  67. Joshua says:

    ==> “Re bicyclists, they’re a bloody nuisance…”

    No doubt, bicyclists feel similarly about you and your car, Vinny.

  68. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Willard, one drawback to scooters/mopeds is that you can’t lock stuff inside them. Suppose you go shopping. One shop sells lycra; another, underpants. You need enormous quantities of both. What do you do with the lycra while you’re shopping for underpants?

    The best thing would be for someone to drive behind you with a car. That way, you could lock your lycra in the trunk/boot while you fetch the underpants.

    But I like your idea of promoting lycra then taxing the hell out of it so that people stop buying it. Subsidies would be the best form of promotion. There’d be a marvellous purity to such a scheme.

  69. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Joshua, they might if they knew I was there. Most of them look too knackered to even know that they’re there. Zombies. In garish lycra. (Perhaps they wear it to wake themselves up.)

    Besides, where’s the nuisance in sticking close to the kerb? Apart from drain covers. And potholes. And bushes. And dead badgers.

    (The usual response to comments like yours is to point out that motorists pay road tax, so the roads belong to them. I found out the other day that the first tarmaced roads were laid after noisy campaigns by cyclists. So you could argue that the modern road belongs to cyclists, not motorists. I won’t, though.)

  70. Rachel M says:


    Here’s me on my bike, Busby:


    Please note the absence of lycra. I don’t own any lycra except for a pair of bathers and I tend not to cycle in my bathers, especially mid-winter. There are two kids in my bike which you can’t really see there but they’re sitting inside. I also carried my sister-in-law in the bike one time when I picked her up from the train station and on other occasions I carried a Christmas tree, groceries, and lots of plants and dirt. You can get electric versions of this bicycle and they can also be fitted with lockable storage if you want to lock your underpants away somewhere safe while you go shopping.

  71. Quite understandable, one could get arrested for shopping in one’s underpants. 😉

  72. On a more serious note, I would advocate a division of labour. There are two reasons.

    1. One can work more effectively by focusing on and becoming an expert in part of the problem than by trying to multitask between all parts.

    2. Working on two parts of a problem may create a conflict of interest.

    I see three tasks for society’s response to global warming.

    1. Understand it (the science).

    2. Forecast it (the expectation).

    3. Mitigate it (the policy).

    That’s it, except for one point that could be easily misunderstood. By “understand global warming” I’m referring not to any individual’s understanding but society’s collective understanding. The former should be a prerequisite for all three tasks, in that those participating in them need to understand the science. The latter, society’s understanding, is the product of the work of scientists investigating global warming.

  73. Andrew,

    When I wrote that there is an infinity of directions, I was not thinking energy, but everything that has a major effect on, how we live. Internet and mobile phones are again examples of what I had in mind.

    Part of my argument is also that there are far fewer alternatives for energy production.

    It’s certain that the way people live will change. Many of the changes affect also energy economy. It’s likely that many new developments are low energy solutions. Thus they may improve the well-being in a world, where energy is scarce, but it’s not at all certain that they solve all problems related to energy in a painless way.

  74. Joshua says:

    ==> “(The usual response to comments like yours is to point out that motorists pay road tax, so the roads belong to them.”

    Don’t know about across the pond, but in the U.S. motorists are moochers; their fees don’t pay their way. And worn by the right people, Spandex has its upside (although the downside of how it looks on the wrong people may well return a net negative).

  75. OPatrick says:


    And I didn’t exaggerate the costs of EVs. I said they cost twenty times my budget. Which they do.


    A car is an essential luxury, and well worth the £1500 a year it costs me.

    But more importantly you simply ignore any substantive point or the context given by Shrink That Footprint. Even with the current energy mix electric cars have at least as low emissions as the most efficient petrol equivalents. But obviously as our electricity production decarbonises their emissions will fall and if the infrastructure isn’t in place and the scales of production haven’t ramped up and the technology hasn’t been refined then we will have wasted years, possibly decades. This is why for someone who has values that don’t just revolve around impressing their neighbours spending a little bit more now to invest in the technology is a step worth taking.

  76. @me: I see three tasks for society’s response to global warming.

    On second thoughts make that four.

    1. Understand it. (The science.)

    2. Forecast it. (The expectation.)

    3. Assess it. (The impacts.)

    4. Mitigate it. (The policy.)

    It should go without saying that all four can be further qualified with “appropriately”.

    It should go without saying because if it is said people will argue about that instead.

    (Though that may be wishful thinking. The national constitutions of certain countries would have greatly benefited from a rider of the form, “Interpret this constitution for your time and circumstances and not those of its framers.” One can only attribute its omission in those cases to an optimistic faith in the common sense of future judicial branches of government unwarranted by any example from history.)

  77. @joshua: worn by the right people, Spandex has its upside

    Are you playing the man or the woman here, Joshua?

  78. @VB: I found out the other day that the first tarmaced roads were laid after noisy campaigns by cyclists.

    @Wikipedia: The first verifiable claim for a practically used bicycle belongs to German Baron Karl von Drais. … Drais invented his Laufmaschine (German for “running machine”) of 1817 that was called Draisine (English) or draisienne (French) by the press.

    Macadam is a type of road construction pioneered by Scottish engineer John Loudon McAdam around 1820.

    Inference: The first noisy campaign by cyclists was between 1817 and 1820.

    Didn’t take long to get them off their horse and onto their high horse.

  79. diessoli says:

    For larger, no, make that enormous, quantities of lycra and underwear try this:
    I am sure a lockable ‘plugin’ will follow, once the more of those are on the road.

    E-bikes are also great for those who just can’t push-pedal any more. E.g. it enabled my 80 yr uncle-in-law to go on bike tours where otherwise he would be using the car or vegetating inside.


  80. Rachel M says:

    Oh wow. The Kubo looks amazing. I like this too:

  81. Joshua says:

    ==> “Are you playing the man or the woman here, Joshua?”

    Why do you assume it’s either one or the other, Vaughn?

  82. @Pekka: (quoting Clarke et al 2014) The study confirms that mitigation at the 50% or 80% level will require a dramatic transformation of the energy system over the next 40 years.

    You can read that article for $30, or you can read my forecast for free:

    Mitigation at the 0% level will accompany a dramatic transformation of the energy system over the next 40 years.

    Energy technology today is under tremendous pressure to reduce GHG emissions. It is inconceivable that 40 years of response to such pressure won’t dramatically transform energy systems. Even without that pressure energy systems evolve significantly over 40 years.

    One of the main instruments of mitigation is pressure on energy technology. That pressure is there today, it increased sharply over the last decade, and it will continue to increase.

    Whoever commissioned that report would appear to be feeling the pain of that pressure.

  83. @Joshua: Why do you assume it’s either one or the other, Vaughn?

    You have a point. You might have been playing the exercise ball.

  84. @Rachel: The Kubo looks amazing.

    Indeed. In 2020 people should populate their garage in some semblance of the following order.

    1. Bicycles.

    2. Kubos.

    3. Golfs.

    These meet different needs: budget, weather, road type, range, speed, number of passengers, cargo, safety, driver assistance, etc.

    Why that stinking dinosaur-powered Golf and not this spiffy electric one?. EV’s are wonderfully quiet, but their other qualities require significant tradeoffs, making them a viable option only when those tradeoffs can be made to suit your usage, budget, and local conditions. Whether this situation will have improved sufficiently to change that by 2020 remains to be seen.

    (Full disclosure: A Volkswagen won the DARPA Grand Challenge autonomous driving race in 2005, I was on the team. Today we work in the Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Laboratory at Stanford which among other projects houses the Stanford Solar Car Project that designs, builds and operates vehicles competing in the World Solar Challenge in Australia.)

  85. Joshua says:

    Vaughn – that went over my head, and I have a feeling that’s a good thing.

  86. @Joshua: that went over my head, and I have a feeling that’s a good thing.

    If you have forgotten that play-the-man play-the-ball discussion, I envy you.

  87. graemeu says:

    I didn’t say anything about a poor quality of life. But most people don’t need an 80m living area or a 2 acre lawn. We don’t need to get where we want, whenever we want, as fast as we want. We don’t need to buy things with failure built in to keep the throw-away society functioning. And yes growing grain to make beef, chickens or cheese is very wasteful.
    Carpool has arrived gotta run.

  88. Vaughan,
    As I wrote, I have the full issue since a couple of days on paper.

    Energy Modeling Forum is a long standing activity of energy system modelers. I have not participated directly in it, but I have been in close contact with several of participants, mainly those who have worked at IIASA located in Austria. You may have some inside knowledge about EMF as it’s home base has been at Stanford since it was created in 1976. The name that I connect most strongly to the creation EMF is Alan Manne from Standford, but the role of people working at IIASA and elsewhere.

    Initially EMF was funded by the power industry organization EPRI, but for long both the energy modeling and EMF activities have been funded widely by governments (my share in that was funded by the government of Finland). My understanding is that U.S. DOE has for long been the most important single source of funding for energy modeling activities.

  89. Arthur Smith says:

    Fun discussion! I think there are fundamental issues of economics that will dominate the path we take, whatever that is, and both community and government efforts can be only a small perturbation on the main economic drivers. Unfortunately, underlying the economics is the culture, the attitudes of the people who are making those economic choices, which can be very fickle. I remember a McKinsey graph a few years back that seemed to show roughly half of the changes necessary to make significant (80%?) reductions in US CO2 emissions would *save money* for those implementing them – negative net cost (whatever the appropriate ROI calculation seemed to be). So if economics rules things, why weren’t those actions taken already?

    Of course some of those things have been done in the few years since – on a drive last week in eastern Washington that I’ve taken every few years for a long time, I saw a wind farm for the first time. Solar companies are competing with one another to put their panels on residential areas where I live. Household energy audits seem to be increasingly popular. But the economics should be even that much better now too with cheaper alternatives and cheap financing; things are moving, but far slower than they should be if it was just a matter of pure “economics”.

    The problem, I think, is a huge amount of cultural inertia. There’s lots of investment money out there, but investors need not just assurance of a return, but familiarity with what they’re investing in – there’s a “herd” mentality, generations of investors more comfortable with fossil fuels than anything else (as far as energy goes). Things will move when the “herd” changes, but it may take a generation…

  90. Arthur Smith says:

    Of course, the “community” solution to what I just complained about is what Bill McKibben’s been doing for several years now – pushing for fossil fuel divestment. I think there’s a lot of hope in that project to move the “herd” without having to waiting for generational change.

  91. Eli Rabett says:

    One of the best things DOE could do is clear out all the prototype windmills in the Altamont Pass. Anyone going through the pass emerges with a very strange view of wind power.

  92. Rachel M says:


    I didn’t say anything about a poor quality of life. But most people don’t need an 80m living area or a 2 acre lawn.

    Yep, absolutely. Most people don’t need a McMansion with two wanker wagons but I see plenty of those around here.

  93. Rachel M says:


    Bill McKibben is a great example of a community solution. I somewhat embarrassingly forgot about him and the fossil fuel divestment movement.

  94. graemeu says:

    Ah yes the Remuera tractor, I confess we have a modest SUV but the house is 75m and we do use the 4WD for snow, ice and flooding. The only person I know whose life bears close examination is Hugh Wilson out at Hinewai who at 80 bikes everywhere and looks younger than many who are 60.
    On another note I saw a line of Loons today and this is a future I do not want.

  95. Rachel M says:

    There can’t be many people outside of Auckland who understand the words Remuera Tractor 🙂 but what’s a line of Loons?

  96. graemeu says:

    Googles free wifi balloons test flights in Canterbury, seems like a good idea but visually it will be oppressive if it takes off.

  97. Andrew Dodds says:

    OK, call me old-fashioned, but when I were a lad, area (as in living area) was measured in square meters, and houses measured as a volume.

    Having 1-dimensional houses would incur some advantages – significantly improved urban density, lower heating costs, that sort of thing, but I can’t help feeling that getting your sofa inside would pose problems.

  98. victorpetri says:

    I do not think stopping fossil fuel extraction is and will be the solution to the climate change problem.
    The argument would be as follows: stopping fossil fuel extraction will harm our well being severely. And it is not merely lifestyle choices, here disrespectfully grouped in consumerism catch phrases such as “McMansion” that are to suffer, we would also fail to produce enough food, need to cut much more forest for agriculture and many other health and well being related parameters would suffer by restricting ourselves in our use of these fuels to improve our surroundings.
    Hence, we would do well to not throw away the baby with the bathwater, and need to battle the negative side effects of fossil fuels. That can be done 2 ways, catching CO2, in the production process, or from the air after use. Secondly, to take full responsibility for our atmosphere and look at geo engineering solutions to battle warming.

    I have little faith in ideologically driven solutions, such as trying to impose an ubiquitous moral code on mankind.
    And the most important thing to consider would be the sustained well being of mankind, which I think does not benefit by the ideology of restricting fossil fuel use.

  99. Andrew Dodds says:

    Victor –

    Can you elaborate?

    For example, if we replaced our Coal fired power stations, worldwide, with nuclear ones, how would it harm our well being? Likewise a shift from petrol powered cars to electric cars for most transport.. or natural gas to electricity for heating?

    More specific to the argument, the production of hydrogen for ammonia-based fertiliser is an excellent use for ‘surplus’ generation from renewables.

    As far as sustained well being for mankind goes.. even without global warming, there is insufficient oil, gas and even coal to support a population of 10 billion at 1st-world usage levels for more than a generation if that. It’s not a convincing argument that you make.

  100. victorpetri says:

    Roughly 50% of our food production is thanks to fertilizers derived from fossil fuels, I don’t think that is easily substituted.
    More in general, yes everything can be substituted, but with a cost ineffective solution (by definition, since the market did chose for the effective solution (more or less)).
    And specific to your comment, although I am enthusiastic on nuclear, they comply to such stringent safety code that they are becoming very costly and take much time to build.

    And I do not think we are running out of them any time soon, as new technologies have shown, theoretically there is still much and much more (e.g. gas hydrates).

    All in all, it would be absurd to suggest fossil fuels aren’t a very valuable resource for mankind to use to increase its well being, so to repeat, reap its rewards, whilst battling the negatives.

  101. anotheralionel says:


    ‘…seems like a good idea but visually it will be oppressive if it takes off.’

    Well if it didn’t take off would it not be a total flop.

    Now the Loons I know about are birds, I am sure that ‘a line of Loons’ means something else.

    I agree that the whole way in which we live and do business needs to change and its not simply about how we generate and use power but on those latter two I am surprised that nobody has mentioned the work of David JC MacKay who has produced a book where he quantifies the various options, the work is available online Sustainable Energy – without the hot air. Of course technology and policy move on but IMHO MacKay sets out the limits of the ball park, certainly enough to build upon.

    Hydrogen powered muscle cars and luxury bio-fuel boats are anachronisms and I always disliked jet skis – used by those with little thought for others in, or on the water judging from the fatal incidents over recent years.

    Manufactured goods needs a re-think, built-in obsolescence is a No, being able fix what you have, or get someone in to do if outside ones technical capability should be a Yes rather than junking it because a better super model is out and cheaper to buy. Where do the dead units collected go, are they broken down for recycling or landfilled? Maybe, like old container ships in Bangladesh, they are just out of sight so out of mind by being dumped somewhere on the developing world where children work with hazardous structures and toxic materials.

    I don’t have a mobile phone, I have enough trouble (gout) with many other things met in every day life to bother with such, but my wife’s recent experience was disappointing. A perfectly good phone was having to be ditched because the battery could not be replaced, well not for one certain to be safe, then I found out she had two others in similar condition.

    One wasteful use of power IMHO has to be floodlight sports fixtures. Who really gains from the high profile events such as the football World Cup? I am aghast at the sizes of the money pots sloshing around that sport alone, plenty of room for money-laundering operations (transfer fees are mysterious world) and other nefarious activities. Does the world really need such events? Do they promote harmony between nations or become cause for aggression?

    Now when it comes to solar I have not as yet, partly due to the fact that at our age we will never recoup the considerable cost because of the revamping of the electrical system required and that our roof aspect is less than optimal. I am watching technologies develop and if a combined water and electro-voltaic option becomes tempting, with a wind turbine too, then maybe. But we will never live to see the full benefit. This is where co-ordinated government policies could help.

    It should be noted that offshore of Brighton, not Tory controlled, a large wind farm is going ahead whereas at Bournemouth along the coast in the opposite direction, smack in the middle of Tory heartland (Sandbanks and football managers anyone) there is opposition to an off-shore wind-farm being stirred up. It will be too late when they find themselves fracked or more sand and shingle thrown up in the storms to come.

  102. Dear Andrew,

    Please beware that victorpetri already peddled his “but oil is great” in a recent thread:

    So yes, I work in oil, proud of it. Dare you to name one resource that has brought as much well being as oil has. Sure, it has negative sides as well, what hasn’t? And these are serious concerns, that have to be dealt with, but overall, 7 billion lives have it better than ever, and they are improving faster as ever, especially where it is needed the most. It is fossil fuels that got us this far to begin with.

    Search for “half of human population is dependent on fossil fuels for agriculture to have enough yield”.

    This thread is about community-driven solutions to climate change.

  103. anotheralionel says:


    “Roughly 50% of our food production is thanks to fertilizers derived from fossil fuels, I don’t think that is easily substituted.”

    Which demonstrates that there are better ways of using such a resource than burning it. Pharmaceuticals for example rely heavily on fossil fuel based products.

    However, we could do with making much less plastic, of the non-degradable type, than we currently pollute the oceans with.

  104. victorpetri says:


    What is there to be aware about?
    It is not as if I am the only one with an argument that has been used before.
    And my comment is on topic as well, as I argue that I don’t believe in community driven solutions to climate change.

  105. > What is there to be aware about?

    That you’re peddling, victor. I can explain that to you in the latest thread you derailed if you please. I already owe Vinny an explanation about peddling.

    Rachel expressed her wish to discuss “solutions for climate change”, not whether solutions were possible or not.


    > [M]y comment is on topic as well, as I argue that I don’t believe in community driven solutions to climate change.

    Here is John Oliver showing that governments have had some role in prisons but that what has made exactly these fields to grow at an exceptional rate has not been the government, to paraphrase Pekka:

    Oh, and I believe in community driven solutions to climate change, so John Oliver’s video can only be relevant.

  106. Pekka,

    Thanks for bringing EMF to my attention. These days it is part of the Precourt Institute and directed by John Weyant of the Department of Management Science and Engineering (MS&E). Alan Manne was also in MS&E but my contact with that department has been only with its theoreticians (George Dantzig, Pete Veinott, Walter Murray, Ashish Goel, etc.) so I never met him. He retired in 1992.

    I’ve ordered Manne’s book Buying Greenhouse Insurance, which sounds interesting.

  107. OK, call me old-fashioned, but when I were a lad, area (as in living area) was measured in square meters

    Correct me if I’m wrong but I took 1m = 1m2 to be 10.76 sf. So a 2000 sf Eichler (typical for Palo Alto half a century ago) would come to 46m for each member of a 4-person family. These days it’s more like 80m per person, but you can blame the banks for that — they don’t like financing new construction that they deem small. Our next door neighbors however have just this year started construction on a house with 153m/person, i.e. 6600 sf counting the basement—not a bank requirement—which our quiet little street is appalled at. My sister in Vancouver (near UBC) has a similar complaint about her quiet little neighborhood.

  108. The problem with renewables is cost and the lack of energy storage technology. This is the tough reality which makes most of the proposals I read to be quite impractical. I also think it may take serious violence to force Americans to move to very small housing, or to stop Chinese from burning lots of coal.

  109. Rachel M says:


    I’ve just discovered that you’re the Vaughan Pratt in the Knuth-Morris-Pratt algorithm. WOW! I learnt about it at uni. I’m star-struck. 🙂

    Indeed. In 2020 people should populate their garage in some semblance of the following order.

    I’ve been thinking about this and personally, I would be quite happy to dispense with the garage altogether. The problem with garages is that they come with driveways and the problem with driveways is that they cross the footpath and the problem with driveways crossing the footpath is that small children have a tendency to race along the footpath without checking for reversing cars.

    The best forms of transport to my mind are (in no particular order here) – feet, bicycles, and trains.

  110. graemeu says:

    LOL, you caught me I was being lazy but keep in mind that m2 is also meaningless. I was operating on the premise that readers here would get that houses are measured in square metres or square feet.
    quite right a ‘loon’ is a bird in north american marshes. ‘Loon’ is a Google initiative in partnership with a a military services company. Just search on ‘google loon’.
    your view is why “The tragedy of the Commons” is so apt when discussing climate change and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. It is also why the Doomers are probably correct.

  111. Rachel,

    Thanks. I ran our little algorithm and it turned up this for you: . Not sure how relevant it is to your situation, but one thing’s for sure, there’s a heck of lot of different situations creating different needs.

  112. > a heck of lot of different situations creating different needs

    Whatever the situations and the needs of communities, I believe that solutions come from communities themselves. This also applies to political solutions, which spring from grassroots. You win seats by shaking hands, by shaking hands, and more hands. So when I quipped about “insible hands that can’t vote” earlier, I was not only jesting. Visible hands only can do something, visible because they are local.

    The most direct way to see the inconsistency of the usual libertarian story is to observe that humans implement policies however they’re organized. That’s a contingent fact, observed everywhere there are many humans. An anti-policy organization is simply incoherent. It rests on a verbal trick, where we forget that “no policy” is still a policy.

    That “local movements have no power” is a meme to marginalize progressive grassroots movements. The main problem for invisible hands is to make sure visible hands vote for them. The various conservative movements require right-wing populism to win elections. The fact that the invisible hand stories are incoherent does not deter their selling points.

  113. Mal Adapted says:

    Vaughn Pratt:

    Energy technology today is under tremendous pressure to reduce GHG emissions. It is inconceivable that 40 years of response to such pressure won’t dramatically transform energy systems.

    [Mod: Snipped this first bit, sorry. Would prefer you didn’t mention any names] a countervailing pressure: the determination of fossil-fuel billionaires to protect their cash flows. They’ve invested 100s of millions of dollars in a growth industry of professional deniers, skilled at manipulating public opinion. With the help of their corporate mass-media allies, they’ve recruited a volunteer army of useful idiots who are convinced that AGW is a hoax perpetrated by “enemies of prosperity”. In the US the denier disinformation campaign, together with lavish campaign donations, has turned the Republican party into the science-denial party and cowed the Democratic party into inaction.

    The next 40 years may see some progress in energy systems, but without the influence of fossil-fuel fortunes in the mass media and in politics, decarbonization would already be much farther along.

  114. Mal Adapted says:

    [Mod: Ok, thanks. I’ve edited your comment]

  115. adelady says:

    EV subsidies are like using a sledgehammer to polish a nut or, at best, chip a little flake off the shell – and, as with rooftop solar and solar farms, they mostly benefit the wealthy.

    The wealthy? Not in Australia. Most rooftop solar is on top of the homes of middle and lower middle income households rather than middle income and upwards. I think that’s partly because at the lower income/wealth bands, return on investment is much more important for smaller amounts. A wealthy homeowner might not pay much attention to the return on each $10000 saved or invested whereas the return on each and every thousand is carefully measured for those with much less available. And at that level, in a sunny Australian suburb, solar panels on the roof give the best returns.

    The other advantage is that people who have no interest at all, or actively resist the idea of climate change, will instal solar anyway. My almost 90 year old mum bought panels for her roof. One, she’s of the waste not, want not generation and regards the fact that Germany produces more solar power than Australia as an absolute disgrace. Germany! Australians should be ashamed! Look outside at all that sunshine. Wicked Wanton Waste!

    Two. Most importantly, she wanted to maintain the capital value of her home compared to the almost 50% of houses in her area that were installing solar at the time. Pretty soon, people will be at a significant price disadvantage when selling homes without panels. Three. Years later she’s still bragging every time she gets a credit on her quarterly bill and of the paltry amount she has to pay when it’s not a net credit – though it is a net credit for the whole year. Those conversations over the card tables and pub bars about who pays least/ earns most from their panels is a big influence on public opinion about the value of renewables.

    As for lifestyle. When we’re talking conventional, otherwise known as extravagantly indulgent, large Australian houses swamped with power guzzling air conditioning and other consumer items, one of the next generation of our family does it the other way. They got one quarterly power bill for over $1000. Promptly covered the whole of the roof of their new house with panels. Spent a lot more, but their payback time will be even less. They’re still as wasteful (in my prissy view) as before, but they’re net negative each and every quarter. For people less extravagant, the urge to keep the bills negative, or at least to have annual net negative, solar is a big driver in getting people to reduce consumption. A few hundred on extra insulation one year, a bit less on timers or other control devices on appliances. Looking at the power rating of appliances whenever something needs replacing. It all serves to reduce the demand on the grid.

    As for EVs. I suspect that initial subsidies of infrastructure will speed up acceptance of the vehicles. For people who already have rooftop panels, the idea that they can buy a vehicle and fuel it from that system will become more and more attractive. Which in turn can drive more household reductions in power consumption. Spend several 10s of thousand on the car, contribute to the nil fuel cost by better managing appliances and heating/cooling of the house.

    For power generally. Community pressure for electrification of public transport, as well as improvements in public transport provision, is one way to go. Once it’s electrified, it reduces carbon emissions in lockstep with changes in the power generation mix in that grid. I might be a bit complacent sitting here, because we’re already at 30% renewable in this state. Mostly provided by wind, but also total demand has been reduced by the big uptake of rooftop solar. Taking out the mid- late afternoon peak consumption by using solar – and daylight saving to displace maximum draw on the grid to better match solar generation – destroys the most profitable generation for fossil companies. We no longer have blackouts on hot summer days – the fossil generators aren’t even running, let alone running out of power.

  116. Thomas Fox says:

    [Mod: This is a science blog. If you want to make provocative claims like these then you need to back them up with evidence, thanks]

  117. [Mod: Sorry, Kevin. I deleted the comment that yours refers to]

  118. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Adelady: ‘…in a sunny Australian suburb, solar panels on the roof give the best returns.’ I’m sure you’re right. Australia, the Lucky Country. Insolation-wise, it’s Algeria. Poor old Britain, though, is Patagonia, so solar doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you’re a wealthy landowner replacing subsidized livestock or crops with even subsidizedier solar (five or six such schemes built or planned hereabouts, the latest being a proposal by a proper belted earl, no less) or a homeowner with lots of spare cash and a south-facing roof – and even then I’m not sure you’d get the best return on your money, not since they halved the feed-in tariff, anyway. The only people I know with rooftop solar need no prompting to enthuse about all the ‘free’ juice they get but they go all shifty and change the subject when installation payback times are mentioned, so I suspect they are very long.

    As for EVs, if it’s a good idea to encourage their acceptance with big subsidies (a big if: they are status symbols so I’m sure fanboiz could popularize them sans state help) it’s too early to do that here. There’s too much carbon in our electricity.

    It’s also worth bearing in mind that we are perilously close to being short of generating capacity. Are most EVs slow-charged overnight? If so, they might be almost irrelevant. But if they are rapid-charged in the early evening when people get home from work…

  119. OPatrick says:

    Vinny, everyone I know with solar panels is equally enthusiastic about payback times, not that most of them care that much about the financial side of things. In general they are happy that they are getting a reasonable return on their investment and are doing something to address a problem they recognise as being significant.

    I also think it’s nonsense to suggest that electric vehicles are ‘status symbols’. They might be symbolic in the sense of symbolising a desire to take action to reduce carbon emissions, but I have never come across anyone who thinks of it as a status symbol in the sense that it’s normally thought of. And no, there isn’t ‘too much carbon in our electricity’ – even with the current mix electric vehicles in the UK have roughly equivalent carbon emissions to the most efficient internal combustion equivalent. But yet again you ignore the key point, for me, which is about building infrastructure and developing technology for the future.

  120. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Did I ignore it? I said the current infrastructure isn’t right at the moment, which implied…

    But OK. Let’s build lots of nuclear plus a few renewables where they make sense (is tidal any good yet?) and when we’ve done that we’ll be ready for the mass use of electric cars.

    I’d be interested in knowing a typical payback time for rooftop solar, if you can help. Post-FIT-reduction, ideally.

    We’ll have to disagree about status symbols.

  121. Steve Bloom says:

    Nukes get the biggest subsidies of all, a detail that Vinny elides. Go figure.

  122. OPatrick says:

    Yes, in my opinion you did ignore it, given that you said it was too early to encourage their acceptance with big subsidies because there is too much carbon in our electricity.

    Yes, tidal is looking good, as are many other renewables.

    According to this, which was the first hit that came up wen I googled it, payback time for Solar with current feed-in tariffs is about 12 years. That seems a perfectly reasonable investment – in my opinion an appropriate level of tariff would be one which meant that the decision to install solar panels should be roughly financially neutral.

  123. Rachel M says:

    I just stumbled across this – A metal-free organic-inorganic aqueous flow battery – and thought it was worth mentioning (sorry if someone has linked to this already somewhere else). Here’s the abstract:

    As the fraction of electricity generation from intermittent renewable sources—such as solar or wind—grows, the ability to store large amounts of electrical energy is of increasing importance. Solid-electrode batteries maintain discharge at peak power for far too short a time to fully regulate wind or solar power output1, 2. In contrast, flow batteries can independently scale the power (electrode area) and energy (arbitrarily large storage volume) components of the system by maintaining all of the electro-active species in fluid form3, 4, 5. Wide-scale utilization of flow batteries is, however, limited by the abundance and cost of these materials, particularly those using redox-active metals and precious-metal electrocatalysts6, 7. Here we describe a class of energy storage materials that exploits the favourable chemical and electrochemical properties of a family of molecules known as quinones. The example we demonstrate is a metal-free flow battery based on the redox chemistry of 9,10-anthraquinone-2,7-disulphonic acid (AQDS). AQDS undergoes extremely rapid and reversible two-electron two-proton reduction on a glassy carbon electrode in sulphuric acid. An aqueous flow battery with inexpensive carbon electrodes, combining the quinone/hydroquinone couple with the Br2/Br− redox couple, yields a peak galvanic power density exceeding 0.6 W cm−2 at 1.3 A cm−2. Cycling of this quinone–bromide flow battery showed >99 per cent storage capacity retention per cycle. The organic anthraquinone species can be synthesized from inexpensive commodity chemicals8. This organic approach permits tuning of important properties such as the reduction potential and solubility by adding functional groups: for example, we demonstrate that the addition of two hydroxy groups to AQDS increases the open circuit potential of the cell by 11% and we describe a pathway for further increases in cell voltage. The use of π-aromatic redox-active organic molecules instead of redox-active metals represents a new and promising direction for realizing massive electrical energy storage at greatly reduced cost.

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