Is this the latest tactic?

Willard has a contrarian matrix that is intended to illustrate the evolution of contrarian arguments. It certainly appears that it evolves with time, varying from it’s not happening, it’s happening but it’s slow, it’s stopped, it’ll be good, there are higher priorities, etc. More recently I’ve noticed a number of people criticising the IPCC’s Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs), in particular RCP8.5; a pathway in which we reach a change in anthropogenic forcing of 8.5Wm-2 by 2100.

The kind of criticisms I’ve seen have varied from claims that it’s scientific fraud, suggestions that it illustrates poor assumptions by the IPCC, and arguments that it’s not possible to following such a pathway so it should be ignored. The problem is, in my view, that these RCPs simply present possible future emissions pathways, going from one – RCP2.6 – in which we have rapid emissions reduction and finally negative emissions (which has also been criticised) through to one in which we continue to increase our emissions – RCP8.5. The different pathways simply provide information about what might happen were we to follow such a pathway. Even if a pathway is unlikely, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t consider it. In fact, going from one extreme (rapid emission reductions) to another (increasing emissions) is a perfectly standard way in which to consider future projections. Reality is most likely to fall somewhere between those two extremes.

RCPs
However, I think there is something that those who criticise these extreme pathways may not realise, or don’t want to acknowledge. Consider the figure on the right. It shows the various pathways, the range of warming for each pathway, and where we are today. We currently appear to be following the RCP8.5 emission pathway. Of course it is a long time until 2100, so we may not continue to follow it until then. Now I get the impression that some people think that to end up within some range of warming, we simply need to ultimately reach the same level of emissions as the pathway that would likely produce warming within that range. In other words, if we want to have a reasonable chance of staying below 3oC we need to ultimately have emissions similar to that of RCP6 (i.e., just over 40GtCO2/yr).

That, however, is not correct. What determines how much warming we will experience is our cumulative emissions, not our annual emissions. If we want to have a reasonable chance of keeping warming below 3o, then we need our cumulative emissions – not our annual emissions – to be the similar to that for RCP6. The longer we continue to follow an RCP8.5 emission pathway, the more rapidly we’ll ultimately need to reduce our emissions in order to achieve that.

mitigation-pathwaysIf we want to have a reasonable chance of staying below 2oC, it’s even more severe. The figure on the left (from here) illustrates this very nicely. The longer we wait before starting emission reductions, the more rapidly we’ll need to do so. If, for example, we continue along an RCP8.5 pathway for another 5 years, a 66% chance of staying below 2oC would require reducing our emissions by 50% within a decade.

So, it may well be true that we’re unlikely to follow something close to an RCP8.5 emission pathway until 2100, but I can’t see anything wrong with presenting information as to what might happen if we did. Also, even if we can’t follow such a pathway until 2100, that we might follow it for another decade, or longer, does have consequences that we shouldn’t – IMO – be ignoring. Maybe I’m missing something – in which case, feel free to point it out – but it seems to me that those who criticise these extreme emission pathways either don’t realise this, or this is simply the latest tactic in the ever changing contrarian argument against actively doing anything to reduce the risks associated with climate change.

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143 Responses to Is this the latest tactic?

  1. I meant to add, but couldn’t quite work it in, that the RCPs do have various assumptions about population growth, GDP growth, etc, which may indeed have flaws. From a climate change perspective, however, I would argue that the main thing is the emissions, and so even if some of the underlying assumptions are poor, the RCPs do still present a range of different future emission pathways, from rapid emission reductions through to continued emission growth.

  2. Phil says:

    With regard to RCP assumptions, would I be correct in thinking that CO2 uptake by the oceans is also an assumption within the RCPs? (With the concomitant ocean acidification) How confident are we that the oceans are going to continue to act as a net sink of CO2 ?

  3. Phil,
    There’s an interesting article talking about the possibility that the biosphere will not be able to continue taking up the same fraction if we continue to increase our emissions, but I can’t find it at the moment (maybe someone else can). So, there may well be issues related to the biosphere continuing to be a net sink of CO2. My understanding, however, is that the oceans are likely to continue acting as a net sink for the foreseeable future, as it’s really governed by Henry’s Law, which is quite well understood. I actually wrote a code to model this, so may try and explain this t some point in the future (when I have some time to do it justice).

  4. Richard says:

    Thanks for introducing me to The Contrarian Matrix. Quite possibly a work of genius. The long list of sceptical arguments on SkepticalScience is fine but no way to combat contrarianism, because it becomes a game of snakes & ladders … You think you are getting somewhere and guess what, a prior claim pops up again and you descend down and snake. Exhausting! The matrix distils it down to fundamental positions, described as a “Poe” (or is it an ensemble of Poes?), which parody themselves. The Hat as parody of geoengineering made me cry, and laugh!

  5. Andy Skuce says:

    The two extreme RCPs try to bracket reality with a how-bad-could-it-be and how-good-could-it be scenarios. By their design, we should expect them to be improbable.

    RCP8.5 is indeed very improbable, with gigantic fossil fuel consumption that will require huge human ingenuity to realize given resource constraints. At the same time, humans will have to exercise great stupidity in doing little to improve efficiencies and nothing at all to mitigate emissions. Given our recent track record, that future performance may not be as improbable to occur as it sounds.

    Direct human emissions are not the only story here. The important letter in RCP is the C for Concentration. If the atmospheric fraction increases, we can achieve the same concentration with fewer emissions. For example, if the terrestrial carbon sink starts to falter more of our emissions will stay in the air. Recent research suggests that this looks like it could happen, more than the CMIP5 models predict. Also, permafrost feedbacks could add the equivalent of about 15 years of human emissions at current levels, without humans having to lift a finger.

    What this boils down to is that the RCP8.5 scenario could be realized with 25% or so fewer emissions than in the current models. This makes the scenario much easier to accomplish. Unfortunately.

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/CCFBRCP85.html

  6. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: Isn’t the RPC8.5 pathway informally known as the “Contrarion Pathway”? 🙂

  7. Andy,

    The two extreme RCPs try to bracket reality with a how-bad-could-it-be and how-good-could-it be scenarios. By their design, we should expect them to be improbable.

    Exactly, and it’s hard to see why this isn’t obvious.

    What this boils down to is that the RCP8.5 scenario could be realized with 25% or so fewer emissions than in the current models. This makes the scenario much easier to accomplish. Unfortunately.

    Indeed. I’ve stressed emissions in this post, but you’re right that it’s actually the atmospheric concentration that matters. If the carbon sinks take up a smaller fraction of our emissions than expected (which is possible for the biosphere) the atmospheric concentration will rise faster than these pathways suggest.

  8. John Hartz says:

    Richard:

    The long list of sceptical arguments on SkepticalScience is fine but no way to combat contrarianism, because it becomes a game of snakes & ladders … You think you are getting somewhere and guess what, a prior claim pops up again and you descend down and snake. Exhausting!

    The all-volunteer SkS author team affectionately calls the process “Whack-A-Mole”. It is indeed an exhausting game.

  9. Eli Rabett says:

    Eli prefers whack a gremlin. They pop up in the most interesting places

  10. Willard says:

    > the evolution of contrarian arguments. It certainly appears that it evolves with time,

    “Time” here should be defined as moments in a ClimateBall exchange.

    A move, so to speak.

  11. Andy,
    Thanks. That is – I think – the article I was looking for, but couldn’t find.

    Willard,
    Indeed, I had forgotten that particular subtlety.

  12. The UK’s all new, all Conservative government seems to think we’ve done quite enough to meet our emissions obligations and can now drop all green initiatives in order to produce a short term reduction in energy bills. Then we hear the US reduction in emissions over the last few years has actually been down to the world recession rather than the switch to gas, [ http://www.climatenewsnetwork.net/recession-cut-us-emissions-not-falling-coal-use/ ] and Obama will soon be out of office to be replaced by a climate-denying Republican. Adding to these, antipodean governments actively promote more fossil fuel extraction, and India prioritises economic growth instead of emission reductions. So it seems all our hopes must rest with the Chinese, who make the right noises even if they’re still opening new coal fired power stations at getting on for 1GW a week (I presume with 40 year life-cycles). https://carboncounter.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/peak-coal-in-china-not-so-fast/

    So, as the trend is still growing emissions, at this moment RCP8.5 seems to me to be not ‘extreme’, but to be by far and the way the most likely outcome by the purely-arbitrary limit of our vision: 2100. When we see global emissions stop increasing year-on-year I’ll reconsider, but even then we’ll need to see a rapidly falling trend to bring us back below 8.5. To say anything less seems mindless complacency.

  13. bill shockley says:

    In a recent presentation at MIT, James Hansen said that the global carbon sink has actually grown in strength over the past few decades, contrary to what models had predicted–a rare bright side from Dr. Grim. There’s a slide in the presentation that appears to cite the source of the science but it’s not clear enough to make out.

    Youtube: James Hansen Talks To MIT Nuclear Engineering Department
    [37:15]
    “We pointed out in this paper that to do that, if we make an assumption that if we improve our agricultural and forestry practices enough to restore some of the carbon in the forests and in the soil by as much as a hundred gigatons of carbon—which we thought was an ambitious target—then you would need to reduce CO2 emissions 6% per year if you want to stabilize the planet’s energy balance this century. And that seems a little difficult, practically speaking. But one positive thing is that… the system is taking up approximately half of our CO2 emissions, so we’re burning enough fossil fuels to increase CO2 by about 5ppm—almost 5ppm per year— but it’s only going up 2 point some ppm per year. The other half is going into the ocean and into the soil or biosphere. And, in fact, that number is not understood very well. Because the models had said, 25 years ago, that it was 40 per cent disappearing, and they said, well these sinks are filling up and so it’s acutally going to decrease to 30% or 20%. Well, it hasn’t decreased—instead it’s increased to 50%, even though the emissions have gone up, so the size of the sink has really increased, a lot, for reasons that aren’t fully understood. So I think the potential for getting more stored in the soil and the biosphere is maybe more than a hundred gigatons, so we wouldn’t have to reduce as fast as 6% per year, but we need to understand that better.”

  14. bill,
    I’m a bit surprised by that since I had thought that the fraction being taken up by the sinks had – on average – remained reasonable constant for a long time. Here’s a review paper on the general topic. It seems that the land uptake rate if highly variable.

  15. Gingerbaker says:

    Do these RCP pathways include positive feedbacks from permafrost melting, methane liberation, etc? If so, they would be the only time I remember hearing that the IPCC included such forcings in their modelling.

    If not, all of the RCP pathways would be expected to very much underestimate GHG concentrations as time passes.

  16. Steven Mosher says:

    “So, it may well be true that we’re unlikely to follow something close to an RCP8.5 emission pathway until 2100, but I can’t see anything wrong with presenting information as to what might happen if we did. Also, even if we can’t follow such a pathway until 2100, that we might follow it for another decade, or longer, does have consequences that we shouldn’t – IMO – be ignoring. Maybe I’m missing something – in which case, feel free to point it out – but it seems to me that those who criticise these extreme emission pathways either don’t realise this, or this is simply the latest tactic in the ever changing contrarian argument against actively doing anything to reduce the risks associated with climate change.”

    Several points.

    From a purely analytical stand point I’d like to see RCP10, 20, 30 ,40 50, and RCP 0, -1, -10
    I’m sure everyone on this blog would look at that type of study and get the point. Ahh, we are doing a sensitivity study across the parameter space.. the more the merrier.

    So, when we did this in defense we would focus on the giant red monster. Of course people would argue that such a threat would likely never occur but we needed to be prudent so we built
    huge unnecessary defense systems..

    Over time this worse case threat came be know as “the threat” and it took on a life of its own.
    in other words.. it got used for political purposes.

    Personally I liked the old SRES approaches because I like the story line approach to scenario development.

  17. bill shockley says:

    ATTF,

    Apparently, this is a very recent result, since Hansen, as recently as his December, 2013 paper (contemporaneous with your review article), “Assessing Dangerous Climate Change”, went with the conventional view of a shrinking CO2 sink. I wish I could make out the reference from the image in the slide. My sense is it’s a purely quantitative/observational result and fairly certain, otherwise he wouldn’t incorporate it into his grand mitigation scheme, meanwhile emphasizing that the CO2 sink is poorly understood. Thanks for the link, btw.

  18. Joshua says:

    Physics with an “F?”

  19. Robert says:

    In essence, calling RCP 8.5 unrealistic implies either you don’t understand the carbon feedback, or, more likely, you think that people will inevitably turn away from the destructive and stupid unrestricted burning of fossil fuels.

    But there is a logical problem in baking in assumptions about future action to the science being used to guide our actions. That’s why the range of scenarios is the right way to go. We could burn the coal until it’s gone, and then tap the methyl hydrates. We shouldn’t, but we could.

    To understand why we might, you have to look deeper than just the utility of fossil fuels and the tragedy of the commons. There is also social inertia. There is also ideology. Social inertia, in that fossil fuels are a trillion-dollar industry, and EVEN IF there are cheaper and easier ways to supply our civilization with energy, those interests — which include the worlds largest corporations and numerous powerful governments — have strong incentives to keep us on this path.

    Ideology, because in the course of articulating the problem, we have (inevitably) sparked the rise of a right-wing opposition which will oppose phasing out fossil fuels, exactly because it is a cause near and dear to the left.

    And that is why RCP 8.5 is realistic. I very much wish it weren’t so.

  20. Joshua says:

    =-=> “in other words.. it got used for political purposes.”

    Anything can (and in the case of climate change will) be used for political purposes. Some people make arguments that are “motivated” (not to judge the underlying motivations of the individuals) to take whatever information they find and advance their ideological agenda and identity status. And sometimes, people who are more knowledgeable have a greater facility for creating “motivated” arguments.

    There is nothing specific to the nature of RCP scenarios that leads to them being used for political purposes. You don’t cure diseases by focusing on the symptoms.

  21. bill shockley says:

    “Physics with an “F?””

    At some level, apparently, yes! LOL

  22. It is interesting that the people who argue that RCP8.5 is not realistic come from the same demographic who argue that fossil fuels are beneficial and we should burn as much as possible of it and the same demographic that used to fight people who claimed resources are finite and we should transition to a more sustainable economy and renewable energy. Maybe these are not the same people, but they come from the same group and do not argue much with each other about these conflicting ideas.

    It reminds me of Russel Brand, I hope I paraphrase him correctly.

    When I was poor and talked about inequality, I was called envious.
    Now that I am rich and talk about inequality, I am a hypocrite.
    I have the feeling that people simply do not want me to talk about inequality.

    I have the feeling that some people are simply against a transition to a modern energy system for other reasons than they mention.

  23. BBD says:

    bill shockley

    The reference slide Hansen was using might have been this, where we find:

    Remarkably, and we will argue importantly, the airborne fraction has declined since 2000 (figure 3) during a period without any large volcanic eruptions. The 7-year running mean of the airborne fraction had remained close to 60% up to 2000, except for the period affected by Pinatubo. The airborne fraction is affected by factors other than the efficiency of carbon sinks, most notably by changes in the rate of fossil fuel emissions (Gloor et al 2010). However, it is the dependence of the airborne fraction on fossil fuel emission rate that makes the post-2000 downturn of the airborne fraction particularly striking. The change of emission rate in 2000 from 1.5% yr-1 to 3.1% yr-1 (figure 1), other things being equal, would have caused a sharp increase of the airborne fraction (the simple reason being that a rapid source increase provides less time for carbon to be moved downward out of the ocean’s upper layers).

    A decrease in land use emissions during the past decade (Harris et al 2012) could contribute to the decreasing airborne fraction in figure 3, although Malhi (2010) presents evidence that tropical forest deforestation and regrowth are approximately in balance, within uncertainties. Land use change can be only a partial explanation for the decrease of the airborne fraction; something more than land use change seems to be occurring.

    We suggest that the huge post-2000 increase of uptake by the carbon sinks implied by figure 3 is related to the simultaneous sharp increase in coal use (figure 1). Increased coal use occurred primarily in China and India (Boden et al 2012; BP 2012; see graphs at http://www.columbia.edu/~mhs119/Emissions/Emis_moreFigs/). Satellite radiance measurements for July–December, months when desert dust does not dominate aerosol amount, yield an increase of aerosol optical depth in East Asia of about 4% yr-1 during 2000–2006 (van Donkelaar et al 2008). Associated gaseous and particulate emissions increased rapidly after 2000 in China and India (Lu et al 2011, Tian et al 2010). Some decrease of the sulfur component of emissions occurred in China after 2006 as wide application of flue-gas desulfurization began to be initiated (Lu et al 2010), but this was largely offset by continuing emission increases from India (Lu et al 2011).

    We suggest that the surge of fossil fuel use, mainly coal, since 2000 is a basic cause of the large increase of carbon uptake by the combined terrestrial and ocean carbon sinks. One mechanism by which fossil fuel emissions increase carbon uptake is by fertilizing the biosphere via provision of nutrients essential for tissue building, especially nitrogen, which plays a critical role in controlling net primary productivity and is limited in many ecosystems (Gruber and Galloway 2008). Modeling (e.g., Thornton et al 2009) and field studies (Magnani et al 2007) confirm a major role of nitrogen deposition, working in concert with CO2 fertilization, in causing a large increase in net primary productivity of temperate and boreal forests. Sulfate aerosols from coal burning also might increase carbon uptake by increasing the proportion of diffuse insolation, as noted above for Pinatubo aerosols, even though the total solar radiation reaching the surface is reduced.

  24. Andy Skuce says:

    Gingerbaker: No the CMIP5 models as presented in AR5 do not incorporate permafrost emissions. The CO2 emissions from permafrost are likely to be more important than the CH4 emissions, certainly in terms of carbon going into the atmosphere and probably in terms of warming potential.
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/Schuur2015.html

  25. Well,

    one factor that may increase emissions is the global economy.

    The RCP2.6 scenario has the highest GDP growth rate, but currently, economic growth is languishing. Perhaps the effects of (2009) credit bubble will pass and we’ll see higher growth rates, but for now, it’s a consideration ( and we seem to be inflating the next bubbles already):

  26. TE,
    Well, yes, if we continue without economic growth that would certainly help. Some people (myself included) would like to think that we can maintain standards of living in the developed world, while helping improve those in the developing world, without also increasing emissions to the point where climate change presents severe risks. Call me optimistic.

  27. Well, yes, if we continue without economic growth that would certainly help.

    That’s what I thought, but it’s the reverse: 2.6 has the highest growth rate!

    Upon reflection, It makes sense, higher growth is associated with declining birth rates and improved efficiency ( development toward service economy ).

    Faster economic development would evidently help.

    Perhaps your visitor Richard Tol would embellish further.

  28. bill shockley says:

    BBD,

    Thanks. That definitely looks like what he has in mind, already in March, 2013. So, he just wasn’t ready to use it in the December, “Assessing…” paper. The slide in the video looks like this

    Maybe you recognize it from another paper.

    Very interesting stuff. And likely this largesse of nature won’t last, so let’s grasp it quickly!

  29. TE,

    Faster economic development would evidently help.

    Well, yes, if it’s associated with technology development and energy efficiency, I can see how it might.

    Perhaps your visitor Richard Tol would embellish further.

    I seriously doubt it.

  30. Phil says:

    ATTP: thanks for the clarification on biosphere sinks. My comment originated from a line in FW Taylor’s undergrad text where he questions whether the ocean will continue to act as a sink in the future. I’ll try and dig out his exact wording. After I posted I did think of Henry’s law …
    Nevertheless, the takeaway seems to be that the RCPs must (if only implicitly) contain a assumption about carbon sinks, and that assumption is that they remain constant for the duration of the scenario. Would that be a fair statement ?

    I think Richard Tol is quite capable of embellishment; enlightenment is another matter altogether.

  31. Phil,
    There are indeed assumptions about the carbon sinks, but I’m not sure if they’re assumed to takeup a fixed fraction of our emissions for the duration of scenarion. It is true, though, that there are uncertainties about whether or not the carbon sinks will indeed continue as they have as Andy Skuce’s discusses. If the biosphere were to become a source, then we’d increase atmospheric concentrations faster than they’ve scenarios suggest.

  32. Hans Erren says:

    There is no economic feedback in the RCP8.5 scenario, the world is frying at 6 degrees with zero effect to the economy, that’s good news.

  33. Hans,
    The RCP pathways are typically used in climate models, not economic models. Climate models do not attemept to include economic feedback, they simply model the climatological consequences of various emission pathways. Since they do not include economic feedback, we can say nothing with regards to the economic impact of such a pathway based on climate models alone. You do get that, don’t you?

  34. Andy Skuce says:

    TE, those GDP and population growth rates are assumptions of the particular socio-economic models that were selected to underpin the various concentration pathways. They are not outcomes of the modelling process.

  35. Hans Erren says:

    ATTP, then it is just plain Malthusian extrapolation? I do notice the rarely mentioned absurd continuation of high emissions for another century after 2100, despite the world boiling. Fundamentally RCP8.5 is the same-old-same-old as the let’s-assume-annual-1%-emission-increase of the early model inputs: Also science fiction.

  36. Hans,
    Did you bother to read the post? If you did, did you give it a moment’s thought? Are you trying to make my point? The different emission pathways illustrate various different possible futures, from rapid emission reductions, to continuing to increase our emissions. All they are doing is providing information as to what might happen given various different possible future pathways. I would ask you to explain how that is Malthusian, but I really can’t be bothered to find out your reasons.

  37. T-rev says:

    If we are actually currently on the RCP 8.5 trend, how is this “upper end” ? Seems it should be mid way ?

  38. Andy Skuce says:

    “Malthusian” implies an arithmetic growth in resource supply in conjunction with a geometric growth in population and demand, with the prediction that resources will run out soon, with dire consequences. There is no geometric growth in population in the RCP8.5 socio-economic model and the resource supply is not seen as a constraint in this century. If anything, the model is cornucopian.

    The central assumption is that we do nothing more than we have so far to mitigate emissions. Surely that’s not a policy outcome we should entirely rule out, even if it is unlikely? It is very odd that some people who dismiss this scenario as absurd (like Ridley) actually advocate doing nothing on mitigation, talk up fossil fuels and are resource cornucopians. They may believe that the forecast for only small improvements in energy intensity (GJ/$) is unlikely (I would agree), but nobody really knows for sure how long energy intensity trends of the last few decades will continue into the future.

    I do argue against calling RCP8.5 “business as usual”, since I think that we will see the trends in carbon and energy intensity continue to improve and I think it is quite likely that we will do more on mitigation policy, even if it’s not enough to avoid 2 degrees. Also, the model population forecast is on the high side. But it is nevertheless a plausible–if unlikely–pathway, a worst-case scenario that we surely need to model.

    And that’s before you start to consider the carbon-cycle response that may result in the human emissions pathway of one model turning into the concentration pathway of the next model up.

  39. Willard says:

    > then it is just plain Malthusian extrapolation?

    https://contrarianmatrix.wordpress.com/do-no-harm/

  40. Steven Mosher says:

    “Anything can (and in the case of climate change will) be used for political purposes.

    Not really.
    some things are easy to use
    some things are harder to use.
    some things are impossible to use because the public will never under stand them.
    some things can be put to good use,,, other things not so much

    Some people make arguments that are “motivated” (not to judge the underlying motivations of the individuals) to take whatever information they find and advance their ideological agenda and identity status. And sometimes, people who are more knowledgeable have a greater facility for creating “motivated” arguments.

    There is nothing specific to the nature of RCP scenarios that leads to them being used for political purposes. You don’t cure diseases by focusing on the symptoms.

    Sure there specific things in the nature of RCP scenarios that lead them to be useful for politics.

  41. izen says:

    @-Steven Mosher
    “Sure there specific things in the nature of RCP scenarios that lead them to be useful for politics.”

    The specific aspect of RCP scenarios that makes them ‘useful’ for politics is that they are projections of the future.
    There is a qualitative discontinuity between how politics deals with aspects of the recent past and projections of the near future.

    There is a long history of attempts to change the political direction by extrapolating (in one way or another) aspects of the past into the future with the WORST potential outcomes emphasised to motivated political change. There is a large body of fictional speculation on what the future may look like. But the dichotomy remains, we recognise the large effects political decisions made 20, 30 and 50 years ago have on the present, but because the exact future is inherently unknowable we seem to be much less aware, or devalue the impact our political choices in the present have on the future.

    Despite the fact that SOMETHING will happen, and there will be a future climate, and human global civilisation in 50 or 100 years (unless the rapture!), almost any projection of the future, however grounded in basic physics or thermodynamics can be dismissed much more easily than it can be advanced because of the essential uncertainty about a specific future state.

  42. WebHubTelescope says:

    Maybe I’m missing something

    Probably physics. Looking at the comments it appears no one understands how diffusion works. Even Hansen, which isa surprise, since I thought he got it.

    Getting weird in concensus science circles.

  43. T-rev,
    I think the point is that it seems unlikely that we could continue along that trajectory for another 100 years. However, even another decade or so would potentially then require rapid decarboniation if we are to give ourselves a good chance of avoiding warming of 2 – 3oC.

    WHT,
    Funny, I didn’t think I was referring to diffusion when I wrote that.

  44. dikranmarsupial says:

    “There is nothing specific to the nature of RCP scenarios that leads to them being used for political purposes.”

    As I understand it, the whole point of the RCP and SRES scenarios was as a requested input into political decision making process. The idea is to give the politicians an indication of the likely consequences of the whole spread of plausible courses of (in-) action. From a scientific perspective, we don’t need the SRES or RCP scenarios to be able to discuss the effect of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. The scenarios are essentially a means of addressing questions posed by the policymakers (who were the primary intended audience for the reports).

    I would very much hope they are used for political purposes, that is what they are for.

  45. Joshua says:

    ““There is nothing specific to the nature of RCP scenarios that leads to them being used for political purposes.””

    hmmm. I might need to walk that one back.

    They’re clearly meant to be useful for policy-making. To what degree is policy-making synonymous with “political?”

    I guess my point was that there is nothing inherent in the scenarios that leads to them being used to politicize policy-making processes. All information can be politicized within a context of policy-making, if that is the proximal focus of those discussing the information.

    ==> “some things are impossible to use because the public will never under stand them.”

    Political entities exploit complicated and hard to understand information to pursue complicated goals all the time. In fact, in some ways, the harder the information is to understand the easier it is to exploit. That is, in fact, a lot of what we see with climate change. Incredibly complex information regarding climate change politicized as a matter of course. Hence, we have many people who are absolutely convinced about climate change one way or another, even though they haven’t come close to understanding the related science.

    So let’s try this a different way…

    Steven says:

    ==> “some things are harder to use.”

    What “things” are harder to use to pursue political goals?

  46. Also scientifically those scenarios are very handy. Having a limited number of well.defined scenarios makes it much easier to compare results from different studies. Not only for the global modellers, but also for the regional climate modellers that use the global models as input and for the impact modellers the use the regional (or global) models as input.

    Standardization help scientific progress. The main role of the World Meteorological organization in meteorology is formulating standards. It is also an important part of the work of the World Climate Research Program. Closer to my work, when it comes to changes in extreme weather, we have the extreme weather indices of the Expert Team on Climate Change Detection and Indices (ETCCDI).

  47. Willard says:

    You might also like:

    rcp 8.5 is a joke.

    http://judithcurry.com/2015/07/20/risk-assessment-what-is-the-plausible-worst-scenario-for-climate-change/#comment-719545

    There’s also this other gem:

    the difficulties in estimating ECS are sufficient to justify looking at the highest plausible number of the various methods as your worst case number.

    http://judithcurry.com/2015/07/20/risk-assessment-what-is-the-plausible-worst-scenario-for-climate-change/#comment-719526

  48. Joshua says:

    ==> “rcp 8.5 is a joke.”

    Hilarious.

    I guess that since it’s so easy to politicize, Steven can say that Real Climate (Al Gore?) made him do it.

  49. Yes, willard, the point is rather simple. You can get to a similar increase in temperature using more plausible assumptions. The key in a worst case scenario is how it works to
    channel your efforts at uncertainty reduction.

    i dont expect you to understand this. but do try.

    However be my guest and explain how exactly we get to 10x coal? go ahead.. are the skeptics right and we have lost the war?

    be my guest and explain how we will fumble learning rates for renewables.

    you cant. you wont.

    basically what we see is a bunch of people who want to avoid having a discussion of this.

    Is it reassonable, realistic, plausible, possible, (pick your word ) to have a scenario where
    coal use increases by 10X?

    really? how does that happen? who? where? in the US? coal is dead.
    In China? India? where?

    do your own damn science willard and make a case.

  50. Steven,
    In a sense what you suggest (a more realistic emission pathway with a high sensitivity) is already there. The RCP6 scenario already shows that warming could be in the range from 2C to 3.7C by 2100 (and that’s likely – I think – so could be even higher). The more significant issue, in my view, is shown by the second figure in this post. Even if we can’t (or are very unlikely to) follow an RCP8.5-like pathway until 2100, the longer we do follow it, the more drastic the emission reductions would need to be to give us a chance of avoiding some specific level of warming. Alternatively, if there is a maximum plausible rate of emission reductions, the longer we follow an RCP8.5-like emission pathway, the higher the likely temperature rise.

  51. Willard says:

    > However be my guest and explain how exactly we get to 10x coal?

    More so that:

    Coal is dying.

    http://judithcurry.com/2015/07/20/risk-assessment-what-is-the-plausible-worst-scenario-for-climate-change/#comment-719425

    which may be a cause of concern for Matt King Coal and his plan to save Africa.

    Also, if coal is dying, then the claim:

    Humans will use 3,000 Quads by 2075. If they all come from coal we’re ruined.

    is implausible and could be interpreted as catastrophism.

    Cue to boy who cried wolf and ate cotton candy.

  52. Willard says:

    > coal is dead.

    More precisely:

    Note: dying is not death.

    coal is dying. just read any solar PV propaganda.

    not dead yet. dying.

    ‘ing” must have confused U

    http://judithcurry.com/2015/07/20/risk-assessment-what-is-the-plausible-worst-scenario-for-climate-change/#comment-719454

  53. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    Re: your 5:39…

    Maybe if you repeat the point of your OP, steven will respond on point eventually.

  54. Joseph says:

    Well if we listen to people who deny warming or AGW or think it could be a good thing, we just might get BAU increases and nothing gets done. I hope that doesn’t happen

  55. Many of these people do not understand physics and especially the math behind the physics that can find practical application in climate science. That includes simple applications of diffusion and hydrodynamics

  56. Shall we rename the RCP8.5 scenario from the Business As Usual (BAU) scenario to the Mitigation Sceptical (MS) scenario?

    It is the economic scenario preferred by many people in this demographic.

    CO2 is life and without fossil fuels we could not end poverty. Right?

  57. anoilman says:

    Steven Mosher: “However be my guest and explain how exactly we get to 10x coal? go ahead.. are the skeptics right and we have lost the war?”

    That kinda confusing. Fossil fuel reserves are not based on actual resources. Reserves are based on cost of extraction of resources that have been located. (You can look that up buddy.) Clearly higher prices make it possible to extract more, as do improvements in technology. To claim otherwise is to claim there has been no shale boom. If prices got high enough, I’m sure even China would reopen all the high sulfur coal mines that they closed because their power plants couldn’t handle the high sulfur.

    You currently support the use of natural gas which was not in any way viable 20-30 years ago. We knew then that you’d need 100X the number of wells since they only fracked vertical wells at that time. (Note: That shift in oil and gas production took place after the first and second IPCC reports.)

    So… engineers being engineers will do their utmost to improve existing extraction techniques, and we’ll do our level best to hit 10X coal production.

    On the other hand, I tend to think we won’t head to 10X of any fossil fuel consumption, since renewables are already proving to be viable and competitive. Their costs are headed down, while fossil fuels are headed up.

  58. anoilman, what you wrote is what the anti-greens would have written when a hippy used to worry about finite resources. They know that stuff very well.

  59. Andy Skuce says:

    Even RCP2.6 has roughly 2x coal consumption in 2100 compared to 2010, albeit coal with CCS, according to the chosen socio-economic model. See fig 3 in van Vuuren et at al 2011. The death of coal may have been exaggerated.

    To respond to Steve’s question, I don’t know how you get to 10x coal, but then I don’t know how we even get to 2x coal, especially not 2x coal with CCS. All future scenarios appear highly implausible to me. By directing our incredulity at just one of them, perhaps we reveal more about our prejudice than our judgement.

    RCP8.5 also has much more solar/wind/ geothermal energy in 2100 (as an absolute quantity) than the other pathways. Considering that there is no climate policy in that model, that’s telling us something, but I’m not exactly sure what.

  60. Well if we listen to people who deny warming or AGW or think it could be a good thing, we just might get BAU increases and nothing gets done. I hope that doesn’t happen

    Of course, for nearly all developed nations, BAU means falling CO2 emissions already.
    It’s mostly what will happen in the developing nations that will determine the level of future CO2.

  61. Willard says:

    > RCP8.5 also has much more solar/wind/ geothermal energy in 2100 (as an absolute quantity) than the other pathways.

    Indeed. RCP 8.5 includes air quality legislation:

    RCP8.5 assumes the successful implementation of present and planned environmental legislation over the next two decades to 2030. Beyond 2030 we further assume that increasing affluence may lead to tightening of pollutant legislation in the long term (see also Section 2.3.1).

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-011-0149-y

    Further details are given in Riahi et al. 2007. Note also (p. 46, note 10) that

    the mitigation scenarios assume full “when and where” flexibility to reduce emissions, subject to a global cumulative GHG emissions constraint for each radiative forcing level. Different measures are thus deployed based on endogenous model decisions to derive a least-cost solution.

    This assumption might arguably be implausible. This implausibility does not argue in favor of a less conservative scenario.

    ***

    The ClimateBall trick here is to pile on incredibilism instead of looking at the overall storyline. Considering the laissez-faire policies Denizens are trying to sell, this “relatively conservative business as usual” scenario may not be that implausible.

  62. Note also that the mitigation scenarios assume full “when and where” flexibility to reduce emissions, subject to a global cumulative GHG emissions constraint for each radiative forcing level.

    Figure 9 seems to show some examples of a transition from RCP8.5 to other forcings, but I can’t see where there are “full when and where” flexibility.

  63. Joseph says:

    Of course, for nearly all developed nations, BAU means falling CO2 emissions already.

    I don’t think we would be seeing that if it weren’t for government actions after Kyoto. And there is no guarantee they would continue to fall if we cut all subsidies and incentives for renewables which is what most of the “skeptic” crowd seem to be calling for.

  64. Joseph,

    And there is no guarantee they would continue to fall if we cut all subsidies and incentives for renewables which is what most of the “skeptic” crowd seem to be calling for.

    Yes, this is what confuses me. A high emission pathway like RCP8.5 is regarded as nonsense and yet we see pressure (successful in some cases) to remove renewable subsidies and little – if any – real discussion of introducing something like a carbon tax.

  65. Andy Skuce says:

    Falling developed country emissions is partly due to improvements in energy intensity, partly to stalled economic growth, partly to emissions policies, partly (in the U.S.) to a shift from coal to gas and partly to exporting manufacturing to less developed countries.

  66. Willard says:

    > I can’t see where there are “full when and where” flexibility.

    I was quoting the authors, but forgot to add the blockquotes from Judy’s. They are commenting on their Fig. 6. I think they are referring to their scenarios at the right.

  67. Forecasting fossil fuel consumption is tricky because it ties together economics (game theory – hard) and finite resource modeling (probability theory).

    All that work by King Hubbert on peak oil turned out to be really a set of heuristics that had a less-than-ideal formal basis. When I wrote my tome The Oil ConunDrum a few years ago, I tried to build up a better math than Hubbert initially formulated. We are using that math over on the http://PeakOilBarrel.com blog to make sense of how much oil we will likely blow through in the coming years.

    And of course one can do the same with natural gas and coal.

  68. victorpetri says:

    @WHT
    http://PeakOilBarrel.com
    Is that the same math used to predict as late as december 2013:
    The US will likely never reach 4.5 million barrels per day of shale oil, 
    (it’s 5.6 million barrel/day today)

    http://peakoilbarrel.com/will-us-light-tight-oil-save-world/
    Is it a site for doomsdaysayers, preppers and gold bugs?
    SRSrocco, contributing here, I’ve read many articles from on prep-sites, he has made many predictions that were not able to stand the test of time.
    He went beserk when I told him I tought silver would go to 13$ in the coming years in 2012 (it was at 33$, now at 14.60$) , it’s crazy that he is still singing the same tune and is not letting reality change his perceptions.

  69. BBD says:

    Yup, it’s all going to be fine.

  70. Sam taylor says:

    If we manage to bootstrap methane hydrates then RCP8.5 might well end up looking conservative. I have my doubts, but the Japanese are trying their damndest. And if fracking has told us one thing, it should be not to underestimate the ingenuity of apes that want to burn C-H bonds.

    Plus, for all the ballyhooing about renewables cost curves and efficiency, recent work suggests that the decrease in US carbon emission was largely due to recession ( http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/150721/ncomms8714/full/ncomms8714.html ). Which is basically what I keep on banging on about. If you want to get CO2 in developed nations down fast enough to avoid the real nastiness, then you need a voluntary generation-long recession, which you have to somehow attempt to manage while not getting voted out in favour of some populist demagogue who’ll let you burn all you want. Which we all know is what would happen.

  71. BBD says:

    Clear need for totalitarian socialist world government then 🙂

    Or maybe people ought to just stop constantly buying shit they do not need. I bet that would help.

  72. Sam taylor says:

    Socialism has a pretty poor record at emissions cutting too. Russia was hardly green. However the collapse of a certain socialist republic in the early 90’s helped keep emissions stable for a time.

    Ironically, one bright side to the current austerity measures being taken within europe is that they’re currently helping to suppress emissions via the mechanism of a lengthy and politically induced depression. If the austerity of the current conservative UK government proves to be as economically misguided as I think, then they might also manage to up their green credentials somewhat, though inadvertantly. Which raises the interesting question of whether the ‘green’ thing to do is vote in pro austerity parties.

  73. Falling developed country emissions is partly due to improvements in energy intensity, partly to stalled economic growth, partly to emissions policies, partly (in the U.S.) to a shift from coal to gas and partly to exporting manufacturing to less developed countries.

    And perhaps the largest factor, slowed population growth.

    As above, economic growth is necessary to improve efficiency, particularly in the undeveloped world.

    And thereby hang competing feedbacks.

    Economic growth leads to declining population.
    But declining population reduces economic growth.

  74. Yes, this is what confuses me. A high emission pathway like RCP8.5 is regarded as nonsense and yet we see pressure (successful in some cases) to remove renewable subsidies and little – if any – real discussion of introducing something like a carbon tax.

    Well, gas (petrol) prices in the US are much lower than most places, especially Europe, mostly because European ( and elsewhere ) taxes are very high. This must have some effect on consumption but it’s worth noting that it is nowhere near complete change – people still own largely combustion engine vehicles world wide.

    And this gets to a bit of the matter – governments like the idea of carbon taxes, because,
    ( Like the Monty Python skit about taxing ‘thingy’ ) they’ve found something new to tax!

    So it’s a political deal irrespective of how real or false the dangers are.

  75. TE, since when does introducing a tax in itself make politicians more popular? Why wouldn’t they just raise the rates of existing taxes, which is much easier and less visible?

  76. BBD says:

    In which TE reveals that he does not understand what revenue-neutral taxation means and is a politicised opponent of taxation, hence all the BS.

    And the obligatory squirt of FUD because, hey, never waste an opportunity, right?

    So it’s a political deal irrespective of how real or false the dangers are.


  77. @WHT
    http://PeakOilBarrel.com
    Is that the same math used to predict as late as december 2013: The US will likely never reach 4.5 million barrels per day of shale oil, (it’s 5.6 million barrel/day today)

    I formulated a mathematical model of dispersive diffusion for hydrofractured sites. This effectively simulates the behavior of fast initial extraction rates followed by a slower Ornstein-Uhlenbeck fat-tail.

    Since North Dakota has good accounting of all the wells, one can track the production amounts of this “bottom-of-the-barrel” oil resource.

    You have a problem with that? If you do, I would recommend boning up on the natural sciences.

  78. said:


    http://peakoilbarrel.com/will-us-light-tight-oil-save-world/
    Is it a site for doomsdaysayers, preppers and gold bugs?

    Follow Dennis Coyne, Rune Likvern, Jeffrey Brown, and you will get great insight into the decline of finite resources. They actually look at the data and use math (!) to do analysis.

    Quite a difference from you guys who tend to act like ostriches and stick your head in the sand.

  79. anoilman says:

    victorpetri: You might also want to bone up on how technology and prices affect reserves and production. The shale boom was not even remotely possible in 1990, the tech to do it just wasn’t there.

    Now if you do want to look at the shale boom its not good numbers either. We were seeing an ever increasing cost per well ($2 million for early wells, $8 million near the end), with an ever decreasing productive well life span (4 years initially, and 2 years near the bust). Tell me honestly, does that sound sustainable to you? Because it doesn’t sound sustainable to me.

  80. Sam taylor says:

    Yeah peakoilbarrel is an excellent resource for aggregating lots of real time production data in one place. While one may disagree with his stance on likely futures, the data are all accurate and Ron does an excellent job under some rather difficult circumstances.

    Furthermore a few oil industry hands post there, so there is quite a lot of useful information in the comments, though there are some doomsday preppers too.

  81. anoilman said


    That kinda confusing. Fossil fuel reserves are not based on actual resources. Reserves are based on cost of extraction of resources that have been located. (You can look that up buddy.)

    You got that right.

    Interesting that Richard Muller is likely ordering his Berkley Earth team to get on his natural gas hobbyhorse. From what I see on the blogs, all his guys are taking his cue.

    Muller Is Important (TM). Remember, he is the guy that wrote a book called “Physics for Future Presidents”

  82. anoilman says:

    WHUT: BEST work certainly appears to require motivated reasoning to write, and magical thinking to read.
    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/im-back-sort-of/#comment-58953

    Steven Mosher then (as per usual) disappeared and refused to answer questions, completely oblivious to the fact that I had state clearly that his entire report is likely true. (Natural Gas strictly and solely used power generation has a relatively low carbon foot print.) I also note that he considered weak and lax BEST work, acceptable. One reference on pipeline leakage rates? Come on!

    They still can’t detect oil leaking from oil pipelines! But one weak reference on natural gas measurements is good enough for Mosher. Say no more.
    http://business.financialpost.com/news/energy/oilsands-pipeline-projects-look-doomed-after-nexen-oil-spill-leaves-two-big-football-field-of-black-goo

    As an engineer, I just can’t imagine anyone investing in what should be a dying tech. 50% less carbon on a good day with old numbers is nothing to brag about.

  83. oilman

    my advice to you was to wait… FORTHCOMING

    Steven Mosher then (as per usual) disappeared and refused to answer questions, completely oblivious to the fact that I had state clearly that his entire report is likely true. (Natural Gas strictly and solely used power generation has a relatively low carbon foot print.) I also note that he considered weak and lax BEST work, acceptable. One reference on pipeline leakage rates? Come on!

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421515300239

    Your claim was that gas was as bad as coal.

    like I said.

    wrong

  84. roll tape on oilman

    “Andrew Dodds: Folks:

    Natural Gas is off the menu. Its carbon footprint is greater than coal if consumed in the home, and only slightly less than coal if used in power plants.

    The old measurement of natural gas being 50% of coal’s carbon footprint assumes only power plant consumption, and only 1% fugitive emissions.”

    like I said wrong. and wait for your answers.

    and now you dont have to wait oilman. go ahead and read it

  85. Zeke and Steven are running all over the internets trying to market Muller Inc’s NatGas ideas. Seriously, are they performing as good little foot soldiers? What is the angle?

    Obviously fossil fuel depletion is as big a concern as climate change as far as “Physics for Future Presidents” is concerned.

    BTW, What are the ramifications of declining helium reserves for future physics work? It used to be that helium was fdund in conjunction with conventional natural gas reservoirs. Now that all the NG reservoirs are tied up in shale fissures, there is no helium left to discover and exploit. The Chinese are talking about going t the moon to get helium.

    That’s #WHUT we are are faced with.

  86. victorpetri says:

    People that have done THE math
    1909: 25 or 30 years longer
    1919: Two to five years until maximum production
    1943: Peak oil has been reached
    1945: Just thirteen years left
    1956: Ten to fifteen years until peak oil
    1966: Gone in ten years
    1972: U.S. oil depleted in twenty years
    1977: Oil will peak by the early 90s
    1980: In the year 2000
    2002: Global peak by the year 2010
    http://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/weve-been-incorrectly-predicting-peak-oil-for-over-a-ce-1668986354

    Meanwhile, THE reality:

    So why does THE math not adequately predict the end of oil?
    Anoilman provides the answer, new unknown technologies, such as those used in shale oil and gas, cannot be correctly taken into account by THE math. The complex interplay of the resource pyramid, growing technological skillsets and the effect of price on mankinds ability to extract more resources ensures that Peak oil will be due to falling demand, not due to falling supply.
    btw, although many shale firms will bankrupt, the shale industry is here to stay:
    http://www.economist.com/news/business/21656671-americas-shale-energy-industry-has-future-many-shale-firms-do-not-fractured-finances

  87. Victor Petri, what kind of junk is that? I told you earlier that the Hubbert curve is a heuristic. If you want to do it right then do a complete probability evaluation of the distribution of reservoirs across the world.

    No use arguing with those who refuse to do the mathematical modeling.

  88. Victor Petri, so you see RCP8.5 as realistic?

  89. BBD says:

    It’s doable! Let’s go for it, team!

  90. victorpetri says:

    @VV
    I don’t see RCP8.5 happening since renewables are growing so much faster.

  91. Willard says:

    So, when is coal dying?

  92. Paul S says:

    From a demand perspective I can’t see any problem with a tenfold increase in coal consumption. Looking at historical data at CDIAC, CO2 emissions from coal (not sure if that tracks one-to-one with energy production) have increased tenfold since the 1890s, with half of that increase occurring over the past thirty years (actually mostly over the past fifteen years).

    I’m not sure what the basis is for pronouncing the death of coal? Certainly growth rates in global coal consumption have declined over the past few years, but immediately following a period with one of the fastest growth rates in human history. It would have been utterly horrifying if that high growth rate had continued, but that it has since dropped to a historically average rate is both A) hardly surprising and B) not indicative of a long term demise. The most recent near-term projections for global coal demand are consistent with a doubling time of about 30 years, again historically average.

    Of course, demand, or potential demand, is one thing. Being able to economically supply for that demand is another. At present I understand the majority of known coal resources are considered economically or technically unrecoverable, or more likely some combination of the two. RCP8.5 requires substantial tapping into these resources so technological development is required to make it happen. Whether that can be done while maintaining a competitive price for energy production is the (open) question.

  93. BBD says:

    I’m not sure what the basis is for pronouncing the death of coal?

    Misplaced faith in the ability of invisible hands to guide us safely on our way…

  94. Dennis Coyne has just posted an excellent article on estimating NatGas production at
    http://peakoilbarrel.com/world-natural-gas-shock-model/

    Somebody earlier said that Ron’s site is for “doomers”. Take a look at the analysis that Dennis has done and explain how this is not anything but practical knowledge on how fossil fuel extraction will play out.

  95. Sam taylor says:

    VP could do with reading the royal soceity’s special issue on the future of oil supply from January last year (introduction available for free here: http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/372/2006/20130179.full ) to get himself up with the latest thinking on the subject (this video by UCL researcher Christophe McGlade is also a good overview http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tlkAMJ9La8 ), instead of posting tired old rubbish deunking predictions which were made lifetimes ago let’s remember that the title of Laherrere and Campbell’s paper was “the end of cheap oil”, and with oil companies struggling with oil at $50 (which would have been considered extortianate in the 90’s) that prediction certainly seems to have held up. Peak oil is a non-negotiable reality, unless you believe that production is an unbounded function which will tend to infinity. As such the points up for debates are the timing, the steepness of the decline, the impact on the economy, and how well we can substitute.

  96. Joseph says:

    will be due to falling demand, not due to falling supply.

    VP, why would we see falling demand?

  97. Willard says:

    Since we’re into trendology:

    Coal provides around 30.1% of global primary energy needs, generates over 40% of the world’s electricity and is used in the production of 70% of the world’s steel.

    […]

    Total world coal production reached a record level of 7822.8Mt in 2013, increasing by 0.4% in comparison to the previous year.

    http://www.worldcoal.org/resources/coal-statistics/

    No wonder victorpetri’s switching from trendology to priceology.

  98. Joseph says:

    VP, and like the others have said oil production must peak because it is a finite resource, even if technology can cause temporary upward fluctuations in supply. What is not known is when exactly it will peak and I don’t think that is particularly reassuring.

  99. anoilman says:

    Steven Mosher: Do you even read what you post? At All? Anything? From your abstract;
    “Natural gas can serve a viable bridge away from coal-based generation if avoiding longer-term climate impacts is prioritized, fugitive methane emissions are minimized, and the large-scale transition to near-zero carbon alternatives is unlikely to happen in the near-term.”

    As as I told you before, gas companies are not doing anything to minimize fugitive emissions. That’s exactly what the UN is doing, and exactly what I told you they were doing. If they don’t do it its really really bad for natural gas. (Meaning… that paper you quoted is worthless.. Since we’re aiming for numbers higher than minimum.)

    Multiple studies of field emissions from natural gas are coming in at 11-17%. And that’s only one component of fugitive emissions. One. So your start point is bat ass wrong. Tell your buddy to go redo with some actual research.

    Now… Natural gas is NOT USED ONLY IN POWER PLANTS. So stop pretending it is. If we extract it, its leaking all over the place. We have no reliable way of detecting those emissions. Hence, private industry satellites are going up soon.

  100. anoilman says:

    victorpetri: No one stated math predicts the end of oil. Its physics, reserves (as in, cost effectively extractable), and of course technology.

    On one had, all initial global curves and projections are correct. But if you want to add unconventional oil to the mix, using methods that utterly predate all the initial projections, and could not have possibly been foreseen, then that would reasonably mean we would see different results. Right?

    Or are you really claiming that the current shale boom was predictable? In 1990 the tech to drill was pretty primitive. Although mmost components used to day were available then. Yet you also claim they should have predicted the future form the lame tech they were barely using back then? You really believe at? OK.

    There are plenty of other numbers to look that in the shale boom you love. Like, the ever increasing price of wells, (2 million start of boom, 8 million at peak), and the ever decreasing well life span (4 years at the start, now to 2 near the end).

    That’s not a sustainable growth model by any standards. Maybe YOU think it is, but I don’t.

    Lastly, you understand that you are implicitly backing the IPCCs RCP 8.5 estimates? You’re saying that we’ll always find a new way to get oil out, so no peak will ever happen.

    That’s not exactly reassuring information to spread around. Perhaps shushing about it would fit your little political agenda better. Supporting the doom and gloom RCP 8.5 pathway isn’t good news to my eyes.

  101. anoilman says:

    Steven Mosher: At some point you do intend to start posting something… anything that backs you position, right? Preferably with references would be nice. Not pal reviewed, and cleverly obfuscated.

  102. victorpetri says:

    @anoilman
    That is precisely my point, new technology is not predictable, So any math exercise in determining peak oil is bound to be incomplete.

    @Willard,
    Does quoting dated figures from 2013 serve your need?
    Coal production

    World coal production declined by 0.7% in 2014, while consumption grew by 0.4%
    http://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/about-bp/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy/review-by-energy-type/coal/coal-production.html

    http://qz.com/405059/chinas-on-track-for-the-biggest-reduction-in-coal-use-ever-recorded/

    http://oilprice.com/Energy/Coal/Coal-Facing-Worst-Year-Yet-in-2015.html

    @Joseph
    We will see falling demand because other resources will undercut its price (e.g. solar).

  103. BBD says:

    VP

    Next: India! Indonesia! Brazil! Africa!

    550ppm here we come…

  104. BBD says:

    Yes, China is really dumping coal. We are so saved!

    From one of your own links above:

  105. Sam taylor says:

    VP, a decrease between two datapoints does not necesarilly mean a change in the long term trend is upon us. Coal consumption dropped 1.5% after the financial crisis too, but rebounded strongly afterwards, you’re confusing noise with signal here. This is the same faulty thinking that leads to stuff like “the pause”. Worldwide, coal consumption is up 33% in the last decade, when everyone spent most of the 90’s writing it off as a fuel of the past. That’s the most important trend.

    Over the last decade, China has averaged an increase of 83mtoe in coal consumption every year. This year, China consumed 53mtoe primary energy equivalent from renewables. Their total renewables consumption isn’t remotely close to their average coal growth.

  106. Paul S says:

    BBD,

    The large drop forecast for crude oil is interesting given the growth in car ownership. Are they expecting a rapid increase in electric cars?

    Doing some skim research it does appear the Chinese government are investing heavily in electric car technology and infrastructure.

  107. Willard says:

    > World coal production declined by 0.7% in 2014,

    So when is coal dying, victorpetri?

  108. anoilman says:

    victorpetri: So victorpetri, we should forcibly abandon coal.

    This is because by your own reasoning we will do our utmost to hit RCP 8.5, and that is very very bad. But its good to know that you think its possible.

    Eli, Yep! Coal company stocks are tanking. Good riddance.

  109. Marlowe Johnson says:

    yep the EV revolution is coming sooner rather than later. With that said, I’d wouldn’t be too surprised if the chinese consumption actually comes in on the lower end of the forecast given recent troubles with their economy. The interested reader can take a look at an old (but still highly useful) analysis that McKinsey did that shows when EVs become cost effective relative to gasoline cars: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/energy_resources_materials/battery_technology_charges_ahead

  110. pete,best says:

    The 8.5 curve is not the one to be worried about but the 4.5 one is hard enough to get off and could involve negative emissions

  111. Pete,
    I don’t follow you, and it’s RCP2.6 that would involve negative emissions.

  112. Willard says:

    Since coal is dying, then the claim:

    Humans will use 3,000 Quads by 2075. If they all come from coal we’re ruined.

    is implausible and could be interpreted as catastrophism.

    ***

    If coal is dying, then someone might tell Matt King Coal, who’s pushing for coal in Africa:

    [T]hose who advocate no support for coal are effectively saying that the adoption of renewable energy is more important than alleviating African poverty.

    http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/electricity-for-africa.aspx

    There are more than 1 bilion people in Africa.

  113. russell,
    I’m slightly impressed that he removed that comment. I’d seen it and thought “how can he possibly be happy about having such bizarrely unscientific comments on his posts”. Of course, there are plenty of other unscientific comments, but that one was particularly bizarre.

  114. anoilman says:

    Neat…. Sharp is going to start producing DC power air conditioners and other home electronics starting this year;
    http://techon.nikkeibp.co.jp/english/NEWS_EN/20150728/429665/

    Right now we convert solar DC to AC, feed that to our electronics, which convert it back to DC for final use. Each conversion is a healthy 2% to 5% loss. A single DC to DC converter stage should be more efficient. If you were looking at that in reverse, its the same as adding 10% more solar insolation to the UK. That’s a big f*ing deal.

  115. BBD says:

    @ Paul S

    The large drop forecast for crude oil is interesting given the growth in car ownership. Are they expecting a rapid increase in electric cars?

    I’m afraid I don’t know, but if they are, they will need plenty of always-on plant to provide the charging infrastructure which is suggestive of a further application for coal. I should also be open about my very considerable scepticism about energy and CO2 rhetoric from Beijing. Many seem to place considerable credence in the various targets and intentions we hear but I am not by any means among the convinced.

  116. Howard says:

    The best we can hope for is a low sensitivity RPC6. Better get started on adaptation because pipedreams of hippie power aren’t going to save us. Since Asia and Africa will keep burning cheap coal to fill their bellies, I don’t think it’s possible keep it below 750ppmv. WHT and Fernando are likely right about the diffusion limits of fracking. That said, Hubbert called the advective oil peak pretty well.. no wonder they called him King.

    The situation cries for the US to invest heavily in clean and low CO2 coal and then gift the technology to the rest of the world. As long as Goldman Sachs keeps getting their vig, it might work. Nukes are fine for the G8, but the developing world can’t even keep copper wire strung, so coal will only be dead to the cool kids.

  117. Electric car batteries would double as a huge electricity storage system to buffer short term fluctuations.

  118. Andrew Dodds says:

    Howard –

    If you can’t keep copper wire strung then Coal isn’t much use either. In the tropics, PV/Battery systems work better for more rural areas that are not on the grid anyway – no long wires, no fuel supply chain.

    There are nuclear reactor designs which could be used to replace coal completely within a couple of decades – indeed, a determined effort starting in the 1980s would have consigned coal to the past by now, all over the world, if the political will to do it had existed.

    It does have to be emphasized that from a physics/chemistry POV, it’s perfectly possible to run a world of 10 billion people all having 1st-world standards of living, without using fossil fuels. Add in a good lump of biotech and we could probably get the agriculture impact down an order of magnitude as well. The problems are entirely political.

  119. Sam taylor says:

    Victor,

    In the UK there are about 29 million registered cars, and average electricity demand is about 38.5GW. If we were to replace all those cars with EVs with 20KWh batteries, then we’ve got ourselves about 15 hours of demand, assuming 100% availability and no losses. Of course, this would mean networking every garage, supermarket parking lot, on street parking and god knows what else, and probably ripping up half the nations roads in the process. Along with cycling ev batteries in a non-optimal manner (batteries can’t be optimised both for driving and grid balancing, there will be trade offs). And I guess people aren’t allowed to drive anywhere en masse when batteries are balancing the grid (which would be unimaginably complex to balance). Given the benefits it hardly seems worth it the effort. It’s one of those ideas which doesn’t seem plausibly scalable.

    One of the other problems EVs are going to face is something that we’re seeing now. As the oil supply tightens over the coming decades, it seems likely that we’re going to see more boom and bust cycles in the oil price ( http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/372/2006/20120491.abstract ), like the wild gyrations we’ve seen in the last year. The periods of low oil price might end up hurting EV sales (they’re currently down on last year). This in turn will impact the ability of companies like Tesla to scale up, since there won’t be the sales volume there to justify it. Another couple of years of oil prices in this region and the EV industry risks stagnation.

  120. Sam taylor says:

    Andrew,

    “It does have to be emphasized that from a physics/chemistry POV, it’s perfectly possible to run a world of 10 billion people all having 1st-world standards of living, without using fossil fuels…The problems are entirely political.”

    Very strongly disagree. We’re already hitting planetary boundaries ( http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/1259855.abstract ) with like 1/6 of the worlds population living a first world standard. Our metabolic footprint is massive, growing and clearly unsustainable ( http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095937801400065X ). To suppose that 10 billion people could live as we do without causing some serious havoc, when we’re already probably causing a mass extinction ( http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400253 ) is, to my mind, utter fantasy.

  121. Andrew Dodds says:

    Sam –

    (And this is broken record stuff)

    The main problem is generating sufficient free energy. The cheapest way to do this is via breeder/thorium MSR reactors – with these designs fuel availability isn’t an issue, and the built in reprocessing makes most of the waste problem go away. There is a huge expansion, yes, but there appears no scientific reason why it can’t be done.

    Remember I’m not talking politics here.

    Now, given sufficient energy, most issues of domestic energy use and personal transport can be dealt with using electricity. Some liquid fuels will be required (Candidates would be Methanol, Ammonia,. DME etc) and these can be synthesized directly. The result is no net emissions from your energy and transport systems.

    Agriculture is fundamentally damaging no matter how you do it. The argument, and why I’d raise biotech, is that we turn as much basic food production as possible into a factory process, instead of a growing-outdoors process. Synthetic sugar, flour, oils.. even vat-grown meat. Hard? Yes, but certainly not impossible (given sufficient energy) – and those Nitrogen/Phosphorous slices on the first link should how critical it is to do.

    Again – I see this as *scientifically* possible, and I’ve never seen a scientific argument why. Politically.. 2-3 decades during which we devote perhaps 3-4% of GDP to these problems, wind down Big Coal, transform Big Oil into fuel makers instead of fuel extractors, wind down Big Gas (and fracking, of course), annoy the Greens by building a vast number of nuclear reactors with a few inevitable accidents, wind down large chunks of Big Agriculture, get consumers to accept synthetic food.. not going to happen. We haven’t managed the coal to nuclear swap in 1st world in 30 years despite it being the easiest, least intrusive way go get rid of half our emissions.

  122. Sam taylor, yes, not single solution, technology will solve all the world’s problems. My comment was a response to the comment of BBD on electric cars:

    BBD says: I’m afraid I don’t know, but if they are, they will need plenty of always-on plant to provide the charging infrastructure which is suggestive of a further application for coal. I should also be open about my very considerable scepticism about energy and CO2 rhetoric from Beijing. Many seem to place considerable credence in the various targets and intentions we hear but I am not by any means among the convinced.

    I would see electrical cars as a net positive and fitting to renewable energy. Rather than needed “always-on plants” they can buffer and bring supply and demand together making the total system more efficient and cheaper.

    Next to water power and biofuels, we will probably need storage at many different time scales, batteries would be for short time scales. Although it is not clear yet how much storage will be needed and how much can be solved much cheaper by adjusting demand to fit to supply and coupling networks. It will be some time until we know which solutions are preferred, people will only work on this at a large scale when we really need it and you can make money providing such services.

    I find the technological pessimism of so many mitigation sceptics very strange. Germany and Denmark are paradoxically the lands of optimism and can-do engineers, while the supposedly optimistic and technology-loving Anglo-Americans (well the political radicals in those societies) only see problems and fear the future.

  123. Pete Best says:

    Hello,

    Kevin Anderson brought to my attention the need for negative emissions on one of the reduction scenarios and (yes I got the wrong one) but regardless of that coming off our curve onto any of the other curves is not easily done. People posting here are speaking of a lot of technology that can be used and can do the job I am sure with a WW2 effort but not on one single occasion are people suggesting that lifestyles have to change. Its all going to be ok because technology is king and we have that ability to replace fossil fuels with technologies that can allow us to carry on as we are and indeed allow more people to live like Americans and Europeans do.

    Personally I am not so sure about this. The Average American consumes 250 KWh per day and the average UK citizen half. Providing all of that in electricity (which is what is being suggested here) cant be easy via zero or low carbon sources due to having to scrap the existing status quo and then replace it with a renewable electricity centric one. I find this entire situation somewhat odd considering that wind turbines blight the landscape (according to some), people dont hold with ACC let alone doing something about it, lots of technologies are mature enough and the grids needed to give everyone access need some upgrading and given the timelines available we might avoid 4C+ but 2-3C is going to be missed unless were change our lifestyles I would suggest

  124. anoilman says:

    Andrew Dodds: Much of the opposition to renewables etc are also he same folks who’ve been dismantling our scientific institutions. They don’t want to spend on a better future when they can collect on their investment dividends today. They don’t want to spend on research.

    In Canada, the conservative government has ended government paid curiosity driven research. We could just rename the “National Research Council” to “Government Engineering Contractors for Big Business”.

    Bill Gates even touches on the fact that we need to be investing in research in the hope of hitting the one or two techs that will make a critical difference for our futures. The denialiti and libertarians are opposed to any sort of advancement for society.

    Bill Gates has invested in Ambri (energy storage), and Carbon Engineering (negative carbon tech);
    http://www.ambri.com/
    http://carbonengineering.com/

  125. Willard says:

    > People posting here are speaking of a lot of technology that can be used and can do the job I am sure with a WW2 effort but not on one single occasion are people suggesting that lifestyles have to change.

    Here’s the occasion to plug in Rachel’s video, then:

    Animal agriculture overshadows ClimateBall.

  126. Pete Best, if a revenue-neutral carbon tax would shift the tax burden from labour to energy that would also automatically lead to behavioural changes. Then labour intensive activities (life music, theatre) become more attract relative to energy intensive activities (jet skying). For urban young people cars are no longer that important, they rather spend their money on the smart phone.

    Solving the climate problem does not have to mean that much changes compared to the progress that we will see any way. Especially if we do more as soon as possible. The longer we wait, the more draconian the changes will be. Solving all environmental problems would lead to larger changes.

    My two cents.

  127. BBD says:

    Victor Venema

    I would see electrical cars as a net positive and fitting to renewable energy. Rather than needed “always-on plants” they can buffer and bring supply and demand together making the total system more efficient and cheaper.

    Trying to use an unpredictably variable, non-dispatchable generation technology to power (charge) a national fleet of EVs is going to be problematic. Trying to use EVs to smooth for intemittency and slew on the same unpredictably variable genertion technology is a recipe for disaster. All these bright ideas are like perpetual motion machines: in the end, there will come a time when there is not enough energy to go around. You cannot run a grid like this.

  128. Sam taylor says:

    Victor,

    “Germany and Denmark are paradoxically the lands of optimism and can-do engineers, ”

    I disagree I’m afraid. Germany’s response to climate change in recent years has been as follows:

    1). Prematurely close all your low carbon nuclear reactors.

    2). Burn more coal to compensate, and add 11GW of coal plant this year.

    3). Licence new lignite mines.

    4). Burn a lot of wood and pretend it’s renewable.

    Per Eurostat data, Germany gets around 3% of its final energy consumption from wind and solar, and capacity additions of both sources are not slowing dramatically. German emissions are flat this decade, and there’s no way they’ll meet their targets for 2020. The energiewende may generate many favourable headlines in the blog world, but unfortunately the reality is much less hopeful. If this is the best that “can do” can do I’m afraid I’m very worried.

  129. Sam Taylor: Germany’s response to climate change in recent years has been as follows: 1). Prematurely close all your low carbon nuclear reactors.

    Only a few were closed down. This created space for renewable energy. Climate change is a long-term problem. Thus short-term emissions are less important that long-term building up a new energy system.

    2). Burn more coal to compensate, and add 11GW of coal plant this year.

    Yes, the EU emissions trading system does not work and wrongly makes coal cheap.

    The coal plants that are “added” have been in the planning for a long time. The utilities that did not look into the future and build them are now in deep shit. No new ones are planned, as far as I know.

    3). Licence new lignite mines.

    Interesting, do you have a reference for that? I only know that the government of my state (North Rhine Westphalia) has decided to close down one of the largest lignite mines just this year. I thought they were all on the list of the first things to get rid of.

    4). Burn a lot of wood and pretend it’s renewable.

    Politics is give and take. To make renewable energy attractive to the conservatives bio-fuels had to be added so that they can reward their farmers. If done right bio-fuels from waste materials are a great way to level supply and demand. That would be the “storage” for longer-term fluctuations. The way it currently functions is partially due to politics, partially due to still primitive technology not yet optimal. Finding such problems and then solutions is one of the reasons to introduce renewable energy and see how it works rather than just study the technology in the lab and write thousands of papers on the band structure of semiconductors. Also social and political innovation takes time.

  130. BBD: “You cannot run a grid like this.”

    The market brings fluctuation supply and demand together all the time. That for much more products than just electricity. You cannot do that with a top-down planning system, but you can do it.

  131. BBD says:

    Victor

    If wind/solar expand to become a significant portion of the energy mix, then a very large amount of storage will be required to compensate for intermittency. For wind alone, MacKay estimates 1200GWh for the UK assuming 33GW installed capacity averaging 10GW. That’s a gigantic and staggeringly expensive civil engineering monster to unleash in the ecologically fragile uplands of Wales and Scotland.

    While V2G can doubtless play a modest role in grid balancing, it’s not the solution.

  132. BBD, may I assume that the MacKay study is for the UK alone and assumes that there is no exchange with the rest of Europe. May I assume that MacKay assumes that prices are fixed and that demand does not respond to supply? Given that the fuel is free, it is also no problem to have more production capacity than strictly needed. The excess could be used to pull CO2 out of the air at the times we do not need it.

    Let’s see what the future brings. It is not a current problem, except maybe for Denmark and Germany, thus it is hard to foresee now what the solutions will be. I think that many industries and people will exploit the fact that a large part of the time electricity is nearly free and will be happy to reduce demand when the price is positive. Free electricity on sunny hot summer days to run your air conditioning sounds like a great idea for a hot future. Drier countries would desalinate water on such days.

    It won’t be like now, but it will work. Markets always bring supply and demand together. Only planning economies have shortages.

  133. BBD says:

    Victor

    Why do you assume that there will be sufficient surplus supply in Europe to export to the UK at the time of need? That cannot be a given and as I said above, you *cannot* run a grid like this. Sooner or later, the lights will go out.

    Renewables are not dispatchable. That is the absolute core of this problem and contrary to popular belief, it is not resolved with interconnectors.

    People do not willingly reduce demand mid-winter when solar is down, wind is down and they have to charge their EVs to get to work the next day, heat their homes and feed their children. Demand is *not* flexible in the way so many people seem to imagine.

  134. If there is strong demand relative to supply on a winters day then the price would go up and it is probably not the most productive day for energy intensive industries. A cooling house could wait a few days until prices are better again. The higher price would signal the power plants running on biofuels and waste that it is their day. They say it is not very popular in the UK, but you could for example isolate your home. That is also more comfortable.

    Nothing is solved by just one idea, but interconnections make the fluctuations a lot smaller. It could also connect the UK with solar power of the subtropic which is quite stable and with the hydropower in Scandinavia.

    Lights go out when the infrastructure is not up to par. That happens a lot less in Germany and Denmark than in the UK and USA. Maybe that is also why Germans do not fear this, they hardly know it and when it happens it is normally due to accidents and due to storms. For now this relationship does not hold.

  135. BBD says:

    Victor

    I agree with what you say in your first paragraph and with the sentiment that nothing is solved by just one idea. However, the fundamental issues with large-scale renewables that I raised in my previous comments are not directly addressed.

    You continue:

    interconnections make the fluctuations a lot smaller. It could also connect the UK with solar power of the subtropic which is quite stable and with the hydropower in Scandinavia.

    I would *love* to see work started on something like the DESERTEC proposal immediately:

    How soon geopolitical problems might make this feasible is moot. One other legitmate energy security concern is the relative vulnerability of the HVDC interconnectors to sabotage.

    Lights go out when the infrastructure is not up to par.

    Failure to provide the necessary, substantial storage capacity will render grids incorporating significant amounts of wind and solar not up to par.

  136. Yes, we will need storage. I personally expect it to be rather small and certainly much smaller than one would think assuming that demand will stay like it is today and not respond to changes in supply. That is what I like about market economies, they are very creative when it comes to keeping costs down. But let’s see. Maybe I am wrong. Then renewable energy would be more expensive and nuclear become a better deal, at least for somewhat stable organised societies.

    If it were up to me, I would start DESERTEC in the South of Europe. Those countries need some financial anti-austerity at the moment anyway and that way you can build up a lot of infrastructure that would make rolling out the system to North Africa a lot easier. We could start there by helping them build the system for their own electricity needs. Morocco is quite active and stable.

    Aren’t overground electricity cables a much easier target? I would advocate putting much more cables in the ground or in the sea. Costs a bit more, but also less problems with storms.

  137. BBD says:

    Victor

    I wish I shared your optimism.

  138. Pingback: Representative Concentration Pathways | …and Then There's Physics

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