Matt Ridley had an article in The Times called Africa needs to be rich – rather than green, in which he essentially argues that Africa needs fossil fuels, including coal. Admittedly, he did acknowledge his own coal interests. I realise that how we can best help the developing world is a complex issue, and I certainly don’t claim any special expertise. There are, however, two basic things that I think people who do argue for specific options – in particular fossil fuels – should recognise:
- As far as climate change is concerned, what matters is how much we emit, not how fast we do so. If there is a level of cumulative emissions that will produce severe and damaging impacts, then all that really matters is whether or not we choose to get there. If we decide that fossil fuels will dominate for the foreseeable future, then we will simply get there sooner, rather than later.
- Climate change is probably irreversible on human timescales. I guess there are potential geoengineering solutions, but they carry their own risks. So, a fossil fuel dominated future runs the risk of us reaching a point where the impact of climate change is severe, where there may not be any viable solution and – if there is – it will carry additional, and unknown, risks.
So, I’m not specifically arguing against Matt Ridley’s preferred pathway for Africa, but I do think he is ignoring a great deal of relevant information when he makes such arguments.
However, to be fair, he does attempt to justify his preferred pathway, by saying
So far, the African climate has not changed significantly, anyway: dangerous weather is no more frequent and a recent analysis by Euan Mearns found that temperatures in southern Africa, outside cities, are no higher than in the 1930s.
Well, call me confused. Below are the Berkeley Earth temperature anomaly figures for Africa and South Africa. I fail to see how these qualify as not changing significantly. Possibly, Euan Mearns has discovered something that all the experts have failed to notice. Well, he recently had a Guest post on Judith Curry’s blog. Neither Nick Stokes nor Steven Mosher seemed particularly impressed.
I actually think this is unfortunate as – from what I’ve heard – Euan Mearns seems quite knowledgeable about energy and energy policy. People like myself could learn quite a lot from people with such expertise. It is hard, however, if you can’t distinguish genuine competence from hubris.
Matt Ridley then went on to say (referring again to Euan Mearns)
(He also found evidence of “shocking, mass manipulation of temperature records”, a charge that is now to be investigated on a global level by a panel chaired by Professor Terence Kealey.)
Matt Ridley is an academic advisor to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, who are running this investigation. This would seem to suggest that their pre-conceived notion is that there has been shocking, mass manipulation of temperature records. Not a great way to start, and not a great way to convince people that the review is intended to be unbiased and objective. To be fair, noone was going to really believe this in the first place, but you’d think they might at least try to pretend.
Matt Ridley finishes his article with a quote from Andrew Montford
“Bjørn Lomborg argues that we should focus our spending on immediate problems, such as ensuring Africans have access to clean water. For this he is vilified, attacked and has his livelihood threatened. His critics wish to see money spent on climate change mitigation measures instead. A tragedy for the Africans.”
I’ve already expressed my views on this quote, but I’ll do so again. There are two issues – in my opinion – with this type of rhetoric. Firstly, it is simply intellectually juvenile. If one person claims to want to do something that they regard as a good thing to do, if someone else disagrees it’s doesn’t mean that the second person wants to do something bad, or that those who might benefit, now won’t. It’s possible that the first person’s suggestion isn’t very good, and that the second person has a point. The idea that the only person in the world who knows what’s best for Africa is Bjorn Lomborg, is clearly absurd.
Secondly, what we should do to best help the developing world is a serious and complex issue. This type of rhetoric is simply an attempt to use what is a serious issue to score some kind of point. If Montford and Ridley were actually serious about helping the developing world, they’d be encouraging dialogue, not trying to demonise those who happen to disagree with someone with whom they agree. It doesn’t instil any confidence that they’re sincere in their desire to help the developing world. If anything, it does the exact opposite.
Anyway, that’s more than I intended to say. Ridley once again developing an argument in favour of fossil fuels, that completely ignores relevant scientific evidence, requires making up new scientific evidence, and is based on the views of bloggers who’s credibility seems sorely lacking. The only good thing about this, is that if he continues in this vein, surely everyone will start to realise how ridiculous his actual position is? Okay, I know, I’m being naive again.
There is nothing the Murdoch press will not do.
Yes, I know. I’m constantly amazed by what they seem willing to say and promote.
I wonder if he mentioned that electrical grids are very costly, and likely solar is cheaper than coal in the developing world if you don’t already have a power grid.
I wonder if Matt also knows that the IPCC isn’t opposed to coal in the developing world, and in fact is stance is a bogus straw man. Here’s Hans Rosling stating exactly that while introducing the IPCC 5th assessment;
People with no previous interest in African development but a huge interest in undermining the science of climate change suddenly start weeping great tears of pain for Africans…. call me a cynic but they are simply using other peoples problems for purely their own ends. They come across as compassionate as a dead fish.
Matt Ridley ends his article with
So, I thought I would do more than simply check the temperature anomalies. A quick Google Scholar search gave this, which starts with
In my current tweet queue: How #climate change is causing #food shortages, conflict in #Mali: @AJEnglish http://aje.io/kwtc #globalwarming #divest
Top academics ask world’s universities to divest from fossil fuels–
It is unethical and untenable for universities, that seek to advance global development and health, to invest in the fossil fuels that cause climate change, say a group of 2,000 researchers at Academics Stand Against Poverty: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/07/top-academics-ask-worlds-universities-to-divest-from-fossil-fuels
I suggest to look carefully at the temperature observations of subsaharan Africa exluding South Africa. They are virtually nonexistant. Temperature is not the problem in subsaharan Africa it is rainfall, and more co2 means more humidity, at last that is what the NVDI index is telling me.
I’ve seen what a coal-based infrastructure looks like in the developing world–in India. Great if you like yellow air.
No, Hans. It means more water content in the atmosphere–that is different from humidity. I’ve lived in Africa, and the heat is a big problem–especially in March and April.
Back when Ridley was busy promoting his own preferred views on climate sensitivity you could at least assign a veneer of respectability to his position. After all, while he was clearly cherry picking to support his own pre-conceived views, he was at least cherry picking interesting and legitimate research (i.e. Nic Lewis’s work). Now, however, with his insinuations about the temperature record he seems to just simply be defaulting to the worst level of skeptic argument, relying on support from random bloggers. It’s not quite Sky Dragon, no greenhouse effect level, but it’s not far off. How embarrassing.
I’m not quite sure what your point is. None of what you say suggests that the climate hasn’t changed in Africa and – as snarkrates is pointing out – temperature is an issue and one does need to distinguish between relative and specific humidity.
“The Australian newspaper has run a free advertisement today for the coal industry in the form of an op-ed column by a leading industry figure that says that coal is one of the best things ever.
And no I’m not exaggerating.” http://www.readfearn.com/2014/10/coal-is-super-awesome-says-coal-industry-spokesman/
In this type of discussion it’s always worth noting that the poorest countries, particularly those in Africa, are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
This is both for climatological reasons (related to proximity to the equator) and because they lack the resources for adaptation. Even economic papers written by Tol for Lomborg’s CCC have admitted,
Let’s start focusing on how Africans want to develop their continent rather than on what snake oil salesmen like Ridley and Lomborg are prescribing for them.
Africa Climate Resilient Infrastructure Summit opened here today under the theme “Africa: Towards Resilient Infrastructure Development” at the Hall of African Union.
Speaking at the opening of the three-day summit, AU Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy Dr. Elham M.A. Ibrahim said there is a great need to take into account climate change in designing, building and managing infrastructure development.
This will provide opportunities for designing climate-resilient and low carbon development pathways for Africa, she noted.
Ethiopia: AU Calls for Inclusion of Climate Change Issue in Infrastructural Development Policies, Walta Info (Addis Ababa), All Africa, Apr 28, 2015
“Let’s start focusing on how Africans want to develop their continent rather than on what snake oil salesmen like Ridley and Lomborg are prescribing for them.”
How dare you suggest that Africans have a say in their own future development. 🙂
i had lengthy email exchange with Euan: he copied Ridley, Muller, and Oxburgh.
1. he was using GHCN V2 to try to criticize our results.. durr wrong data, deprecated data, data we dont use. He stopped defending it when I compared it to using bristlecone tree rings:
2. He calculates anomalies in his own homegrown fashion.
3. He does a simple average of temperatures.
In short everything you could do wrong he does.
at the end of the lengthy exchange he decided to go away and look at GHCN v3… which will still be the wrong data as it relates to us.
he did a post on Judith’s. it was no better.
Matt may have an argument about Fossil fuels, but putting dodgy temperature stuff in his piece is kinda lame. I think I will vote him off the lukewarmer island
The major cost per MWh of fossil fuel is the cost of the fuel. The amount of capital needed to build the generator is less than 5% or so. However, for solar PV, small hydro, and small wind capital costs are more than ~80% of the cost of power, operating costs are maybe the other 20%. Even now solar and wind are less expensive than fossil fuel in many places and certainly for rural Africa, and they will be much less so in the future. They are orders of magnitude more deployable and not as subject to mayhem. Moreover, efficient modern lighting, telecommunications, cooling, other conveniences and necessities don’t have large power draws.
That means that if anyone, are you there Matt, how about you Bjorn, really wanted to help Africa electrify they would be pushing investment by the developed countries to provide cheap to operate solar PV, small hydro and small wind to African communities, not coal and fossil fuel burning plants with expensive and constant fuel costs and the need of a hard to maintain electrical grid.
And yes, Eli has said this before, but no bunny listens.
> Bjørn Lomborg argues that we should focus our spending on immediate problems, such as ensuring Africans have access to clean water.
A water well in Africa costs 7,000 USD and serves 2,000 persons:
$4 million AUD is $3,2 million USD.
Should we dig more than 450 water wells in Africa and provide fresh water to 900 000 Africans, or should we invest in the Lomborg Collective Consensus Center?
the fact that renewable is capital intensive and fossil fuels are running cost intensive is actually a benefit for fossil fuels in a poor country. If hypothetically the only two choices where a 100mW solar plant or a 100MW coal plant then a poor country may not be able to pay the high upfront investment on the solar plant, but the cheaper upfront investment on coal may be achievable and if the benefit is increase in wealth pays for the operating cost, then benefit results.
However the big benefit for renewable energy in Africa is the ability to run at a small scale. If the choice is between a 100MW coal plant or a 10Kw set of solar panels, then even if the solar panels cost more per watt, the 100MW coal plant may simply be too expensive to even get started with.
Can a well-traveled ex-Economist writer like Matt have failed to notice the eerie calm of his Sub-Saharan destinations?
As the least windy continent, Africa is the one most easily disturbed
I think that’s why Eli said “That means that if anyone, are you there Matt, how about you Bjorn, really wanted to help Africa electrify they would be pushing investment by the developed countries to provide cheap to operate solar PV”.
Let the developed countries pony up for the higher capital investment needed for renewables, and let developing countries enjoy the lower operating costs once that initial hurdle is overcome.
MIchael Hauber: Coal cannot be deployed in the third world at anywhere near the costs being touted. There is no electrical grid, and electrical grids are very expensive. Adding to what BBD is saying, coal power plants are cheap, but the grid required to make them useful is ruinously expensive.
You will find that solar rolling out, quite likely on a household or small community basis, while coal simply can’t compete with that because you have to add the cost of getting access to the grid.
Coal is only be viable in cities, and preferably where they already have a grid.
Africa needs fossil fuels, including coal.
Evidently African nations are getting about as much fuel as they can use.
Nations by 2010-2014 GDP growth rank and annual percent growth:
4 Chad 9.60
7 Democratic Republic of the Congo 8.60
8 Ivory Coast 8.50
10 Mozambique 8.30
11 Ethiopia 8.20
12 Sierra Leone 8.00
15 The Gambia 7.40
17 Tanzania 7.20
19 Nigeria 7.00
25 Zambia 6.50
28 Niger 6.30
33 Republic of Congo 6.00
34 Rwanda 6.00
36 Uganda 5.90
37 Mali 5.90
41 Malawi 5.70
48 Kenya 5.30
52 Cameroon 5.10
53 Gabon 5.10
59 Senegal 4.50
61 Ghana 4.50
63 Botswana 4.40
66 Namibia 4.30
73 Angola 3.90
136 United States 2.40
171 European Union 1.40
Michael H, well what anoil man said, but you did miss the point that help from the developed countries to cover the initial capital cost or renewable energy is a lot more effective leaving the Africans with functioning power that has low operating costs. OTOH, you might consider it a benefit that the Africans stay in hock to Matt King Coal, Gina Rinehart and their ilk. As Willard would say YMMV
If you had to spend $4 million in solar panels for African villages or in a Lomborg Collective Consensus Center, what would you choose?
anoilman – Humble appears to only be taking responsibility for the energy from the combustion of their product, not the accumulation of heat via raised GHG’s. Not really a claim to be proud of, but perhaps made in genuine – rather than the fossil fuel industry’s more recent deliberate and willfull – ignorance.I seem to recall a rough estimate of how much greater that latter actually will end up being – perhaps someone can provide a link to such an estimate. Vague recollections of ten times that of combustion?
That’s very naughty to write another post about Matt Ridley. Given that he’s never taken a shred of responsibility for Northern Rock, I don’t think he’ll have any problem convincing himself of whatever he wants when it comes to climate change and so his opinion is just a waste of MB on the web.
But since Matt Ridley is so concerned about Africa and their need to develop with fossil fuels, I have a splendid idea. He could advocate for Britain to give some of its carbon budget to nations in Africa so that they can emit more greenhouse gases as a stepping stone out of poverty. But because we can only burn a limited amount, Britain would need to really step up its game and cut emissions more drastically in order to allow developing nations to burn more. In other words, Britain would have to hand over its allowance to those countries.
What Rachel writes should be obvious: if we rich people want poor people to be able to use more fossil fuels, we should use less of it. But somehow people like Ridley always fail to make that connection.
“Matt may have an argument about Fossil fuels, but putting dodgy temperature stuff in his piece is kinda lame. I think I will vote him off the lukewarmer island”
But expect the GWPF review team to lap Mearns’ stuff up and use as evidence that “not all is well, so we don’t really know”.
That’s my prediction, anyway.
Indeed, that was partly my motivation for making the two points at the beginning. Whether people like it or not, there probably is a carbon budget, above which we will probably see damaging/severe impacts from anthropogenically-driven climate change. If you want to argue for increased fossil fuels use in the developing world, you need to also consider how you reduce it elsewhere so as to balance this budget.
In a sense they already have. The only motivation for the temperature review is Booker, Homewood, and Mearns. It’s clearly not motivated by the views of anyone credible.
Ridley’s piece is available on his blog, for those without access to Times:
The other issue with coal is funding and developing the infrastructure to get it from mine to power station, particularly if it is imported. That is India’s problem. They have coal fired power stations that are idle or not working at full capacity because the lack the infrastructure to efficiently ship the coal from either their own mines or from imports.
And this is the standard false dilemma fallacy
We could do that as well as help them build renewable energy infrastructure, but in Australia the climate “skeptic” Abbott government has stripped $11 billion from the foreign aid budget and is planning to use $4m of that to buy Bjorn a job at the UWA.
Even as someone who has doubts about the ability of renewables to replace all energy consumption, it’s clear that for rural Africa solar PV will bear out grid tied coal with ease. Although it has to be added that once you move out of the tropics, seasonality becomes a serious issue.
The real unmentioned problems are things like bad governance and political instability. Not sure how you are meant to keep your coal fired grid going over huge distances in a civil war, or just when the copper involved in local distribution represents a year’s wages just hanging there. For many of the ‘Copenhagen consensus’ problems this is true; water, basic nutrition and basic healthcare should be functions of the state, not just dumped in by aid agencies.
Euan is a funny one.
He certainty knows a fair bit about oil and energy, from his oil drum days, but his posts on temperature series are incredibly weak. He simply has nowhere near the mathematical skills required to even make even a half decent go of what he’s trying to do, yet still be blunders on.
Bit of a grandiose conspiracy theorist in his own way too, arguably reading too much zerohedge, which probably feeds into his opinions on climate change. A particularly egregious example of this is his insistence that those pictures of dead seabirds with plastic in their stomachs were faked by “green cranks”.
Ridley is presumably making the mistakes that economists always make when talking about energy (is not understanding it at all) so I give them the usual credence.
OK, you posted the link so I read it. I knew I would regret it.
On the other thread, you say Pachauri comparing Lomborg to Hitler was ” a disgrace”
I’m rather mystified, given your high standards espoused there, why you haven’t commented on Ridley comparing the green movement to the Taliban.
Perhaps you missed that?
This is what fundamentally gets me about the “sceptic” movement. They’re not in the least bit sceptical – in fact quite the opposite. They’ll pick up any old rubbish, however obviously shoddy, as long as it supports their cause.
Ridley should be ashamed of himself – but of course there’s a very, very, very long history of Matt showing no shame whatsoever regardless of his actions.
Indeed, and he at least had the decency to acknowledge that. However, if you know you don’t have the skills, why are you making claims about a topic that require such skills?
“In this type of discussion it’s always worth noting that the poorest countries, particularly those in Africa, are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.”
Which exactly is the reason for Lomborg and Ridley to promote economic growth.
Are you sure you want to have Africans have a say?:
Action on Climate change is way on the bottom of concerns.
“if we rich people want poor people to be able to use more fossil fuels, we should use less of it. But somehow people like Ridley always fail to make that connection.”
Well, in principle yes, were it not that in a global economy, lowering economic growth in the developed world affect negatively the economic growth in Africa (besides the fact that it will likely erode support to help Africa).
I think it is iffy to argue that renewables actually really are cheaper than fossil fuels, that the market is wrong and you guys know better. Example from Ridley’s piece:
“The Center for Global Development calculates that $10 billion invested in renewable energy technology in sub-Saharan Africa could give 20-27 million people access to basic electricity, whereas the same sum spent on gas-fired generation would supply 90 million.”
Sure, but if the impacts of climate change are severe and irreversible, this may not be a viable solution.
According to this site sub-Saharan has a total population of just under 1 billion people and a GDP of $1.6 trillion. The UK, by comparison, has a population of about 70 million and a GDP of $2.7 trillion. So, you’re talking about a region with a population more than 10 times that of the UK with a GDP about half that of the UK. How much economic growth would be required in order for that region to have the economic ability to deal with the consequences of climate change?
“Well, in principle yes, were it not that in a global economy, lowering economic growth in the developed world affect negatively the economic growth in Africa”
This is the opposite of what’s been happening though. While the advanced economies have been stagnating in recent years, it’s basically been boom time in a lot of Africa of late. My suspicion is that most developing nations can withstand higher energy prices than the western world, and so are likely to bid away consumption and therefore economic growth as energy prices increase. We’ve already seen this in recent years with China effectively drilling for oil on European forecourts. Zero sum games are fun!
Well, given the fact that Sub Saharan Africa is the fastest growing region in the world, Africa the fastest growing continent:
And taking a reasonably conservative 5% economic growth, a 1686 dollar GDP for an african and 40000 per capita for UK, it would take (1686*1.05^n=40000) 64 years. to become as wealthy.
To get to China’s level, 8000, it would take about 32 years, which I guess would be reasonable to be able to cope more with climate change (this is of course a analogue scaling, the more wealthy you are, the better you can cope).
Okay, but if we burn fossil fuels like mad in order to get there, we potentially reach the stage where climate change is doing severe damage sooner. You, therefore, have to hope that the economic growth can outpace the damages due to climate change. You also have to consider that the impacts in Africa will be more severe than they might be in Europe.
I’ll stress what I was trying to stress in this post. Climate change is probably irreversible on human timescales. If you really believe that economic growth should be our over-riding priority, then you have to be pretty convinced that we can cope with – and continue to cope with – whatever climate change happens to do. If it turns out that we can’t, there will be little that we can do about it. We only have one planet. I’m pretty sure, however, that there is more than one possible viable economic model, and more than one way in which we can drive economic growth. Both you and Matt Ridley seem to think that the only viable way forward is also the way forward that maximises the risks due to climate change. To be clear, I hope that I’m wrong and you’re right, because I think we will, more likely, follow your preferred path than an alternative path.
I showed you just how fundamentally misleading this was last time you made this claim. What a surprise to find you repeating misleading rhetoric.
Well, I know someone who tries to optimize all possible problems into the most viable economic model to advance the poor the most. This does involve spending great amounts on combatting climate change and investigating low carbon energy alternatives.
His name is Bjorn Lomborg…
This does not optimize economic growth, and this is to me the most viable way forward.
Wow, I hadn’t realised there were two Bjorn Lomborgs, and working in the same general area. Interesting. Can you provide a link to the ideas of the other Bjorn Lomborg?
Bjørn Lomborg: $100bn a year needed to fight climate change
They even look the same…
I think that people in Africa would benefit a lot more from energy production in their own countries than from energy production in e.g. North America or Europe.
To be fair, I had read that and thought it wasn’t a bad idea. Not quite sure how it would work, or where the funding would come from. I’m all for investing in technology development.
I haven’t argued anything like that. Both economies would benefit from cheap energy. Point was, that constraining the developed economies by transferring their carbon budget to developing nations, will have an additional effect of lowering economic growth in developed economies that will consequently also have a negative effect on growth in Africa (aside from eroding financial support for developing countries).
From the Guardian article:
So Lomborg is *actually* arguing for~:
– no carbon tax
– but increased *public spending* on nebulous R&D
– no actual development of low-carbon energy provision
A claim I think we have heard before… but never seen substantiated.
Here are some choice quotes from the conclusions of a recent paper by Ayres and Warr available here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2328101
“The widespread idea of perpetual GDP growth suggests that “our great grand-children will be a lot richer than we are”. This proposition must be challenged for at least two reasons. In the first place, it depends on the assumption that growth will continue as in the past, even if energy becomes scarce and ever more expensive. The rather standard assumption, that economic growth is independent of energy availability must be discarded absolutely. It is not tenable. It implies, wrongly, that energy-related emissions (GHGs) can be reduced or eliminated without consequences for growth.
The second reason for challenging the proposition (that economic growth is independent of energy) is that it implies that investments to ameliorate future environmental problems can safely be delayed (or avoided altogether) on the grounds that “our grandchildren will be much richer than we are” and hence, presumably better able to pay the bills. Slower or uncertain growth changes the balance between current and future costs and benefits.
A third point worth considering is that the view that GDP is a measure of human welfare is quickly losing support (Daly and Cobb 1989; Stiglitz 2009; van den Bergh 2009). So if because of increasing energy scarcity and higher energy prices we will experience less growth, it need not immediately translate into less welfare. This ameliorates the negative consequences of peak oil and climate protection, although it is not certain to what extent precisely. Of course, this story applies especially to rich countries; growth will still be needed to allow considerable welfare improvement in poor countries.
Finally, it is clear already that climate change is likely to impose huge environmental damages, due to more intense storms, floods, rising sea levels, the onset of new diseases (because micro-organisms evolve faster than large animals can develop immunity in a context of changing climate) and mass migrations from threatened areas (Stern et al. 2006). Moreover, the economic activities undertaken to prevent repair or compensate for damages – fighting new diseases, building fences to keep out refugees or dikes to protect coastal cities, for example – will increase the GDP, without increasing anyone’s welfare.”
On that last part, one wonders how long it’ll be before Ridley figures this out and starts advocating for more CO2 emissions in order to benefit the economy further from increased GDP. Indeed the potential GDP gains might even make him abandon his lukewarmer position in the hope that ECS is really high so that the economy can really be boosted.
“Africa” is being talked about as a homogeneous mass and in the most paternalistic fashion. Its people denied any sense of agency and ways one would have expected to see in The Times in 1938. “We need to grow and they need our products, for their benefit you see”.
Climatically it varies from the aridity of Namib to the Rwenzori Mountains with tropical forests and glaciers. The peoples are more genetically diverse than the rest of the human race combined, its political systems run from the peaceful and prosperous Botswana to the anarchy of Somalia. What works for the financial industry in Johannesburg will not work for the oil industry around Nigeria, or the farming in the Ethopian highlands.
What we do know is there is a weak correlation between energy cost and economic growth. High energy cost economies in Europe and Japan contrast in GDP\capita with the cheap energy in Iran, Saudi and other energy producers. People like Daron Acemoglu have emphisised that the strength of civil institutions are among the most import causes\aids in economic development.
For many of these countries growth will tend to be from micro businesses. Nation scale grid capacity installation will be capital that is not being invested in its most potentially productive sector, classic top down interventionist mistakes. In other countries such as the RSA, it may be that reliability of electricity is now the major drag on attracting investment and expanding large scale enterprises that for that country may be the main driver of growth.
In short it requires a detailed knowledge of each country before knowing what is likely the most productive place to invest capital\developmental aid.
It will also required very very detailed knowledge to try to asses climate risks. They will vary. Likely in the tropic they will be low, while in the semi arid nations with large populations they could be very high.
Bit rambling but anyone telling “Africa” what is good for it is either very very knowledgeable or pushing an agenda.
Why would energy become scarce? Whilst the centuries long running trend actually points towards energy becoming becoming less scarce.
And GDP growth has been decarbonizing.
And why should GDP lose support, if it correlates so well with e.g. the social progress index and other measurements of human well being.
And how does this statement: “Moreover, the economic activities undertaken to prevent repair or compensate for damages – fighting new diseases, building fences to keep out refugees or dikes to protect coastal cities, for example – will increase the GDP, without increasing anyone’s welfare.”” relate to the economic concept of the parable of the broken window, which says these activities do not increase GDP:
And how does this statement:” that climate change is likely to impose huge environmental damage … the onset of new diseases (because micro-organisms evolve faster than large animals can develop immunity in a context of changing climate)” correspond to the fact that most diseases actually correlate with GDP much more strongly than with Global warming
Yes, I agree, which is why I find the whole “Africa will suffer if we disagree with Bjorn Lomborg” rhetoric annoying. It seems like a blatant way to simply score some kind of point, rather than a genuine concern about a serious, and complex, issue.
If there is a limited carbon budget, and if fossil fuels are useful in Africa, then giving Africans a larger share of the carbon budget will certainly be a net benefit for Africans.
Starting from the top:
Extrapolating trends from the past doesn’t tell us much. Per capita consumption has been relatively stable for a while now, not increasing, no guarantee it will continue to increase in the future as the stuff gets harder to access and popluation continues to grow at a fair lick. Also worth noting is that you’re plotting gross energy consumption there, not net. As the energy industry starts using more and more energy in its operations expect that chart to change.
The references provide arguments that GDP is not such a good metric, you could try reading them I guess.
“most diseases actually correlate with GDP much more strongly than with Global warming” I’m not sure that this actually means anything, so I guess the answer is I don’t know.
I found a more up to date graph, which shows a continuation of an increasing trend:
Considering how cheap oil and gas is, and how much cheaper and more common renewables (especially solar) are becoming, I am reasonably certain this trend will continue
Your comment on EROI is interesting, I would love to see some data that takes this out of the equation.
On GDP decarbonisation, GDP across time is often still useful, because inflation is taken into account. And what do you actually mean with useful work, e.g. in a higher developed country money is spend on services, such as e.g. marriage counseling, this does increase GDP, whilst hardly increase carbon output, but I would not call therapy something useless. (or did I miss your meaning here?)
I have read my own reference, but considering the fact that GDP shows high correlation with human well being, HDI, this progress index but also with satisfaction with life + is a reasonably robust parameter that policies can be easily directed too, I find GDP still to be very useful.
Finally, your piece discards GDP as a useful measure of human well being, whilst taking global warming as possibly causing diseases. I would bet that GDP is a much better predictor of disease risk, than rising temperatures are.
It’s more coal not renewables that is powering the growth in world energy consumption.
Look at the atmospheric concentration of CO2. It’s not coming out of unicorns’ backsides you know:
Indeed. According to estimates at CDIAC CO2 emissions from coal consumption in 2012 (the most recent preliminary estimate) were 65% greater than in 2002. Roughly, 2002 global coal consumption was equivalent to 0.55 ppm/yr atmospheric CO2 increase and 2012 consumption 0.9 ppm/yr.
I no longer understand your position. You appear to support Matt Ridley’s view that fossil fuels are the primary way to help Africa (and, presumably, the developing world) while somehow also suggesting that we won’t see continually rising CO2 concentrations/emissions. These do not appear to be consistent positions.
To clarify, more correctly the view that fossil fuels are the primary way to help Africa, can be better described as that the interference with market forces by well-meaning Western institutions that hinder the natural development of fossil fuels would be damaging to economic growth. I hope you can appreciate the distinction. So it is not about promoting FF’s per se, however, they often are the most economical still.
Meantime, I would argue there is a trend of decreasing fossil fuel use and cleaner use.
From the economist:
Thanks to better technology and improved efficiency, energy is becoming cleaner and more plentiful—whatever the price of oil, says Edward Lucas
An increase in supply, a surprising resilience in production in troubled places such as Iraq and Libya, and the determination of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies not to sacrifice market share in the face of falling demand have led to a spectacular plunge in the oil price, which has fallen by half from its 2014 high. This has dealt a final blow to the notion of “peak oil”. There is no shortage of hydrocarbons in the Earth’s crust, and no sign that mankind is about to reach “peak technology” for extracting them.
Demand for energy is likely to hold up for some time yet, mainly thanks to rapid economic growth in emerging economies. The IEA predicts that over the next 25 years it will rise by 37%. Yet increasing efficiency in energy use and changes in behaviour have meant that the hitherto well-established link between economic growth and energy use is weakening.
America’s economy, for example, has grown by around 9% since 2007, whereas demand for finished petroleum products has dropped by nearly 11%. In Germany household consumption of electricity is now lower than it was in 1990. Global demand used to rise by 2% a year, but the rate is slowing. Even emissions in China, the world’s largest and dirtiest energy consumer, may peak by 2030, thanks to huge investments in new clean-coal power generation, nuclear and renewable energy and long-distance transmission lines
Well, yes, but if you’re not paying for the externalities then this will clearly probably be true. So, renewables not only have a different cost structure, they also typically include all the costs (some exceptions maybe). So, with that kind of non-level playing field, fossil fuels may well be the obvious choice. Of course, if there is a great deal of investment in fossil fuel systems in the developing world, they may have to hope that there isn’t a major rise in the cost of fossil fuels in the next 30-40 years.
Yes, the existance of externalities would be the reason for well meaning Western institutions to try an influence Africa’s energy production. Ridley argues that this will do more harm than good.
A good point to start however, would be to try to tackle the massive FF subsidies that distort mainly developing markets. Venezuelans pay 0,015$ per liter of gasoline e.g., causing unnecessary waste, inefficiency and unfair competition.
I didn’t say that, did I? There are costs associated with burning fossil fuels that are not included, today, in the cost of using them. I realise that estimating these costs is not necessarily easy, but not including them clearly gives an advantage to fossil fuels relative to some alternatives.
It is unsurprising that someone who owns coal that has no prospect of local use would advocate coal use by others overseas.
The insistence that progress out of agrarian poverty to industrialised wealth HAS to go through a stage of using coal would seem to be a self-serving myopia. As if any human progress MUST follow the same path everywhere that it did the first time. No learning from past mistakes allowed…
If an Early Bronze age fertile crescent civilisation encountered in its expansion a simple agrarian culture there may have been people claiming that they had to get better stone tools first. The flint miners perhaps?
Matt Ridley needs to accept that his coal is now as valuable as the flint it is embedded with.
Depends what you mean by ‘cheap’ oil and gas. There are two prices paid for oil and gas. The market price, and the price that it costs oil companies. Currently the market price is well below the marginal price that oil comnapies required to sustain or increase production in the longer term. This is not to say that price might not stay low for perhaps a year longer, as things like contango unwind, and Saudi keep doing whatever they’re plan is. But bear in mind over the last 5 years the oil price has been attacked from both the demand side (financial crisis) and the supply side (shale overproduction) and has not dropped below $50 (inflation adjusted). The current ‘cheap’ price is three times what it was (inflation adjusted) after the Saudis opened the spigots in the mid 80’s. Cheap ain’t what it used to be.
GDP per unit energy is not useful at all, in my eyes. For starters, inflation adjusting depends entirely on the basket of goods you choose, which is an entirely subjective decision. There’s also the issue of things like hedonic adjustment, which are again completely subjective and, yes, services make things a lot murkier, because services don’t really have a physical dimension (indeed, hwo can you physically measure a music lesson), yet they’re still lumped in. Choice of base year and weightings also introduces inconsistencies in results when it comes to inflation adjustment. The problem comes from the fact that price changes are heterogenous across goods, therefore the fundamental unit (price) is not well defined. So taking all this fuzzy, subjective messiness, and then comparing it to a hard physical quantity (energy) is not really a measurement of anything particularly meaningful.
There’s also the issue that we use exergy, not energy, to power our economy. The difference is subtle but important, especially since exergy can be destroyed. Indeed, if you look at something like GDP in terms of units of exergy then any decoupling that was present largely vanishes (growth rates of GDP compared with growth rates of useful work over time also correlate very nicely). So while I still have issues with the measurement, this also suggests that GDP/energy decoupling cannot continue indefinitely, since improvements ultimately descend from improvements in conversion efficiency, which are fundamentally limited by thermodynamic constraints. A measure of the economys ability to puchase useful work would be more useful in investigating the notion of “decoupling”. Certainly from a resource throughput angle the idea that we’re decoupling is utter bunk.
I mean ultimately price exists more as a feedback mechanism than anything else, as a way of directing effort towards what we feel needs doing and controlling resource flows. This largely follows from the faulty conception of “economic output” as that which is measured by price. Realistically, the only thing that the economy outputs is waste. Everything else that is ‘output’ (cars, food, electronics, fuel) is used as inputs into other processes which help to sustain the economy. To make an analogy with your body, you input food and ouput shit, and everything that goes on inside (your economy) is part of a series of self sustaining flows.
I don’t disagree that GDP correlates fairly well with living standard. More important to me is the question of whether the correlation can be broken, and welfare can be kept high with declining GDP.
Also, peak oil isn’t dead, unless you’re one of the idiots who thinks that peak oil means we’re “running out”. In terms of peak production, we might be there, might not, won’t know until about 10 years after. In terms of “peak cheap oil”, that’s probably behind us if the current price floor is to be believed. The interesting questions what are the consequences for the economy of oil needing near $100 a barrel to maintain supply, since current economic thought doesn’t understand energy as a cost share at all.
Christophe McGlade at UCL did a good presentation on “is peak oil dead” last year, which you can watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tlkAMJ9La8
Notice that VP continues to jump around between oil and coal as if the two were interchangeable in the discussion of the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations and what is actually fuelling the global increase in energy consumption. They aren’t. But when this is brought to his attention, as *always*, he blanks the inconvenient facts and continues to peddle – and misrepresent – as if nothing had happened.
A reduction in the rate of growth is not the same as a net reduction. That is what I mean by misrepresentation.
Ridley’s arguments against physical climatology are garbage. So his position is untenable, as is yours, VP.
China’s coal consumption fell in 2014
America’s economy, for example, has grown by around 9% since 2007, whereas demand for finished petroleum products has dropped by nearly 11%. In Germany household consumption of electricity is now lower than it was in 1990.
Majority of new electricity in the US is renewable.
China saw the largest renewable energy investments in 2014, with a record $83.3 billion, which was up 39 percent from 2013. The United States was second at $38.3 billion, up 7 percent on the year but below its all-time high reached in 2011. In third was Japan, at $35.7 billion, 10 percent higher than in 2013 and its biggest total ever.
As in previous years, the market in 2014 was dominated by record investments in solar and wind, which accounted for 92 percent of overall investment in renewable power and fuels. Investment in solar jumped 25 percent to $149.6 billion, the second highest figure ever, while wind investment increased by 11 percent to a record $99.5 billion.
Also, a continuing sharp decline in technology costs — particularly in solar but also in wind — means that every dollar invested in renewable energy bought significantly more generating capacity in 2014.
“Once again in 2014, renewables made up nearly half of the net power capacity added worldwide” said Achim Steiner, U.N. under-secretary-
“To clarify, more correctly the view that fossil fuels are the primary way to help Africa, can be better described as that the interference with market forces by well-meaning Western institutions that hinder the natural development of fossil fuels would be damaging to economic growth. I hope you can appreciate the distinction. So it is not about promoting FF’s per se, however, they often are the most economical still.”
There are reasons why coal has been abandoned by western nations.
Well-meaning in this context was the discovery by the 1950s that without strict regulation of the waste emissions and coal ash coal as a household fuel or a large scale power generation source was killing too many people. Not to mention the environmental damage. Lead, Mercury SOx and carbon particulates might be tolerable at low levels, but once you start the large scale burning of coal without pollution control they start having significant effects.
Moths change colour.
The history of industrilisation and the growing wealth from energy use has been one of ‘natural’ development of cheap, easy forms of energy generation, that have subsequently proved problematic to the point where government regulation, such as the response to the London smogs of the 19502, is not well-meaning but necessary.
If the ‘Natural’ Market forces are incapable of responding to these consequences because of short-termism or tragedy of the Commons effects then it it obviously incapable of providing a safe means of optimising human progress.
The figures for population and energy use for Africa indicate the enormous gap, to make that up with coal generation would not just need a few coal power stations, but numbers that would dwarf the number operating at the peak of their use in the West. As the Beijing smogs have indicated, as soon as you use coal on a large scale big problems arise. Expensive problems that are not counted when costing a new coal plant existing in some pristine vacuum with no existing pollution it is contributing too and a distribution system that imposes no costs on the generator.
The economics of coal fired energy generation only look good for a single station added to an existing efficient grid with the capacity to carry the extra load. Once the problems of distribution are added and the impact of the scale of coal use you are apparently advocating to close the energy use gap, it is unlikely that coal is viable.
These are the reasons that many of the global financial institutions are no longer prepared to provide financial support, loans and investments in new coal.
It is not well-meaning interference in a natural market, it is intelligent adaptation based on past experience and new information.
Oh, come on, nameplate capacity for solar compared with coal is hardly an apples to apples comparison. Solar averages 15% capacity in the US, fossil fuels around 40%.
The US economy may have grown, but real median incomes have done terribly: http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/MEHOINUSA672N I reckon that plays a bigger part in the decline of gas sales. Lots to unpick.
“It is not well-meaning interference in a natural market, it is intelligent adaptation based on past experience and new information.”
Looks much more as neo-colonialism to me, where once again Western countries think they know better and impose an ideology on developing countries. No, no, we say, you shouldn’t want rapid growth at the cost of filthy air, you should want green, sustainable, organic and local, that’s way better.
China, a country that has systematically refused Western meddling in its affairs, has used coal to tackle their number one problem, poverty. Sure, the burgeoning population now complains about smog, and China is forced to tackle it, but that doesn’t mean that China’s effort to lift the most people out of poverty in the history of mankind was useless.
Anyways, the long history of the Wests mistaken meddling in the developing worlds business, leaves me very wary of the latest do-gooders.
As I understand it, there is a way to do this without really imposing anything on developing nations. We could impose a carbon tax on ourselves and use import taxes to apply this to products from countries that don’t impose such a tax. That way we’re paying what we estimate to be the full cost of using fossil fuels, which may reduce our own use (allowing for more use in the developing world) and may effectively incentivise the development of cleaner alternatives that might benefit both the developed and developing world. The developing world can then decide for themselves how best to proceed.
Of course, your argument does seem rather ironic, given that you seem to support Matt Ridley who thinks that they have to use fossil fuels, rather than simply having the right to do so if they wish.
So what? Interannual fluctuations driven by economic wobbles have no bearing on the bigger picture. See, eg. the Keeling Curve, upthread.
Stop repeating irrelevant, obfuscatory crap and look at the atmospheric CO2 data.
“Of course, your argument does seem rather ironic, given that you seem to support Matt Ridley who thinks that they have to use fossil fuels, rather than simply having the right to do so if they wish”
No, like I explained, I, and Ridley as well I assume, say they have the right to use fossil fuels if they wish. Ridley basically elaborates on why he thinks coal are the most economical.
Your solution seems reasonable.
Anyway, I might be a bit of a hypocrite, since I argue as well that the developing world should stop its mad and enormous fossil fuel subsidies.
Here’s global coal consumption. Look at it.
Now back to the Keeling Curve.
No amount of denialism will suffice to obscure the truth, VP.
Also, since I’ve nothing to do at work (oil industry weeeeee) here’s a few papers which I think help dump on the “ecomodernism” proposal that we all go and live in big cities and leave nature alone:
Olivera et al, “Larger cities are less green”: http://arxiv.org/abs/1401.7720
In which it is noted that CO2 emissions from a city scale with population with an exponent of roughly 1.5.
Ennedy et al, “Energy and material flows of megacities”: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/04/22/1504315112
In which we find that megacities produce much more waste per capita than the rest outside, use more electricity per capita, but less water (unsurprising since they don’t support agriculture). I basically suspect that cities are essentially just superstructures which serve to maximise throughput, and are fundamentally unsustainable they way they’re growing.
It fell for the first time this century. Given the popular opposition and the outrage on pollution, together with the very large and increasing investments in renewables, I would guess it is an actual trend break
Sounds like you all have an excellent opportunity to put your money where your mouths are.
Invest in African renewables.
What’s stopping you?
VictorPetri: First, I’m not sure why you’re here. You have stated that you believe its wrong to work in oil and speak out against it. You also work in oil. Listening to you is a little like listening to one hand clapping.
“I think it is iffy to argue that renewables actually really are cheaper than fossil fuels, that the market is wrong and you guys know better. ”
I do know better. If coal is so cheap why isn’t it rolling out in Africa now? Its not like anyone is stopping them. In Africa they use solar because its cheaper, much cheaper.
I know so much more than you Victor, that I have to wonder why no one is building micro coal plants to roll out across Africa. That is cheaper in the short term, right? No grid. Why isn’t Matt Ridley doing that?
I live in oil rich Alberta, and we can’t afford more power lines. Did you know that? It seems that to run lines from north to south it would cost us, oh 25 billion, so we abandoned the project. So what do we do instead? Cogeneration. We have natural gas all over the place. Large scale energy consumers produce electricity locally. No grid.
Anyways Victor, let me know when you begin to learn about fossil fuels. I think it will help with your discussions a lot.
You’re assuming that somehow we have money to invest in anything?
Was 2014 the year CO2 emissions peaked?
> No, like I explained, I, and Ridley as well I assume, say they have the right to use fossil fuels if they wish.
Exactly. Or not:
Matt seems to be saying a bit more than “they” have the right to use &c. “That costs more” is simply false, and the “it won’t power factories” is a red herring. King Coal also begs the coal question in a very big way.
Somebody said something about colonialism earlier, but what?
Here’s one ideaBerkely Energy.
Disclaimer: That’s not an endorsement from me or ATTP.
And past performance does not indicate future returns.
You know, all this talk about Africa smacks of Colonialism and Racism. It is, at best, presumptive to think that we know what they need.
Africa has many issues, and energy prices are hardly at the top. Do you really think cheap coal will make it better down there? Would it really help? They got corruption. The got war. They got famine.
How’s all that oil working out in Nigeria? Not so hot.
Energy prices are not the problem in Africa. None of this talk about energy prices will really help Africa become prosperous.
I’m not interested in your self-serving rhetoric.
Expert and disinterested speculation is likely to prove more durable:
Where’s the peak in the observational data? The last two times I asked you this, you disappeared without answering. Now here you are, peddling again. So tell us all, please – where is the inflection in the curve that matches the supposed peak in emissions?
Being an engineer and all I’m still wondering why Matt King Coal doesn’t develop micro coal generators to actually compete with solar in Africa.
As I said, its not like anyone is stopping coal from rolling out in Africa. There must be something else making it unaffordable. Grid price is my pet peeve. What about water for turbines? Others have mentioned lack of infrastructure. Its a pretty long and dangerous trek to some places to get a big heavy load of coal.
Long dangerous treks are the reason the US Army started using solar for remote bases, less flights for resources is time saved, lives saved, and money saved. (In Africa your birth tribe would define whether this was a war zone trip for you.)
Well, to be fair, if emissions have peaked the keeling curve wouldn’t suddenly start decreasing, it would just stop accelerating.
Don’t fall for VP’s pea-and-thimble routine. This is not *only* about China:
And Africa. Let’s not forget Africa.
Oh absolutely. I don’t expect the keeling curve to trend down for a loooong time. I kind of think of it as a macro-sized indicator of human intentions, and basically what it tells me is that humans like burning C-C and C-H chains to generate heat.
Also, let’s not forget that a big chunk of UK emissions from Drax are apparently “renewable”, being burned from wood pellets from virgin US forest, and are (I think) not counted in the total, despite the fact that we have to allow the forests to regrow before the emissions get neutralised. And so on.
The reality of what’s happening re energy development in Africa is better reflected in the just released World Bank report described below than in any of the ramblings published by Matt Ridley to date.
Africa: Benefits of Adapting Africa’s Infrastructure to Climate Change Outweigh the Costs
April 27, 2015
New report quantifies impacts of climate change on energy and water infrastructure, suggests adaptation options for investment plans, and provides suggestions to increase resilience now.
WASHINGTON, DC, April 27, 2015—The impact of climate change on Africa’s water and energy infrastructure will be costly, according to a new World Bank report, and immediate action is needed to reduce these risks. Enhancing the Climate Resilience of Africa’s Infrastructure quantifies the impacts of climate change on hydropower and irrigation infrastructure and identifies adaptation options as well as recommendations for increasing climate resilience.
Understanding the causes, addressing the effects of climate change and building climate-resilient infrastructure are central to our efforts to end poverty in Africa,” said Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President of the Africa Region.“The reason is simple. If left unchecked, climate change could potentially overwhelm existing development efforts.”
Investment in infrastructure is fundamental to sustaining growth in Africa. In 2012, the Region’s Heads of State and Government laid out a strategic program (PIDA) for closing Africa’s infrastructure gap. Much of these investments will support the construction of hydropower dams, power stations, and irrigation canals, which will be vulnerable to the potentially harsher climate of the future.
Click here to access the entire press release.
“I guess there are potential geoengineering solutions, but they carry their own risks.”
For your reading pleasure the US NAS has just released two reports on CO2 removal and increasing the albedo:
How to increase the production of energy may not be the biggest problem facing sub-Saharan Africa in the coming decades…
The UN estimates that nearly a third of the world’s soil is degraded — in sub-Saharan Africa, that figure is closer to two-thirds. Degraded soils are less effective for growing crops, threatening food security in places where most of the population lives off of subsistence farming. According to the Montpellier Panel — an international group working to support national and regional agricultural development and food security priorities in sub-Saharan Africa — soil degradation costs sub-Saharan Africa $68 billion per year. If soil degradation continues at its current rate, the UN estimates that all of the world’s topsoil could be gone in 60 years.
Is 2015 The Year Soil Becomes Climate Change’s Hottest Topic? by Natasha Geiling, Climate Progress, Apr 29, 2015
But one of the many, many things ignored by cornutopian fantasists.
Glad to see ATTP adopting Eli Rabett’s Simple Plan (TM)
And Turbulent Eddie realising the wisdom of the Bunny’s point that where Africa needs help is in covering the capital costs for building renewables out, rather than enslaving them to buying more coal from Matt King’s Coal into perpetuity
Not so much that Africa needs help – the beauty of capital is that it will flow there regardless.
But, I haven’t seen anyone bring this up yet.
Electricity needs to be available, reliable, and cheap.
Elon may be making wind and solar more available and reliable.
I saw that today and, yes, he may well be. You’d never guess that was possible if all you ever read were articles written by Matt Ridley, though. The Rational Otimist appears to only be optimistic about the never-ending power of fossil fuels.
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