Jonathan’s Funk

[The following is the second part of my chat with Jonathan. First part is here.]

hmm, i need to find back eric‘s question
what is a reasonable number for how much of the american electrical grid could become renewable in the next 15-20 years. with existing technology, and with technology we might hope to develop in that time.

Giving specific numbers is a mug’s game. But what I do see in looking at trends is that both the US and the world have been lagging behind estimates of progress on energy efficiency (specifically the energy intensity of the economy) but have been beating most estimates of how quickly they would reduce the carbon intensity of the energy supply. The rapid reduction of US carbon intensity has allowed GHG emissions to drop a good deal from 2010-2017 or so, but increased driving raised the 2018 emissions, so we really need to address transportation as well as the electricity supply.

Innovation studies makes me very pessimistic about being able to forecast technological development or deployment, so I don’t think policy should be driven too much by forecasting where it will go, and should instead look at what we do know about what can influence it over a wide range of possible technology futures.

We do see many electrical utilities, such as TVA, struggling with unforeseen drops in electricity demand (despite my previous statement that nationwide energy intensity of the economy has not been dropping so fast) and this creates both opportunities and obstacles.

TVA has a lot of debt and invested heavily in ensuring capacity for demand that did not materialize, and that affects their attitude toward either encouraging additional conservation and efficiency and also toward building out lots of renewable power.


Tennessee Valley Authority. A strange hybrid public-private energy company that controls electrical generation for Tennessee and a lot of Georgia, Alabama, and other states in the Southeastern US.

Relevant to my comments about trends in energy-related GHG emissions

That last plot was for the World. The first was for USA

Sarah mentioned a similar corp
they really look like scoundrels

Yeah. She mentioned Duke Energy which is more of a traditional electrical utility company.

ok, we need to get near GCAM 2.6

Honestly, I think GCAM 2.6/RCP 2.6 is not very likely. I think we will be fighting to get from RCP 6.0 to RCP 4.5.

Back to my private governance work: Big companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple have been putting pressure on utilities like Duke Energy to adopt renewable energy. It goes over very differently in the South when a company says, “We’ll build a billion-dollar data center in your state, but only if you change the utility regulations to make it easier for us to build massive renewable generation capacity and connect it to the grid” than if a bunch of political activists who look like liberal treehuggers demand renewable power. The big data companies have done a lot to open regulations up to renewable power in the Southeast.

i thought the line meant we were closing in and going down

The line is an equal-emissions line: All points along the line are combinations of reduced energy intensity and reduced carbon intensity that follow the same trend. Anything below the line is reducing emissions faster than points on the line and anything above the line is reducing emissions more slowly.. Anything below the line is reducing emission intensity faster than points on the line and anything above the line is reducing emission intensity more slowly.

oh, we’re not onto 4.5

Thus, the US is reducing emissions faster than RCP 4.5 but slower than RCP 2.6, while the world is reducing emissions slightly more slowly than RCP 4.5.Thus, the US is reducing the emission intensity of the economy faster than RCP 4.5 but slower than RCP 2.6, while the world is reducing its emission intensity slightly more slowly than RCP 4.5,

harder for the third world to do better than that, i guess
they have loads of infrastructure to build

Developing nations need energy and it can be very difficult to jump right into renewables and clean energy. There’s an idea in environmental economics of the Kuznets curve, which says that as economies develop they begin by becoming dirtier (more pollution of all sorts) but after they cross some threshold of prosperity, they invest surplus wealth in cleaning up their industries so emissions go down. This holds in some economies, but my colleague Patrick Greiner has critically examined this in developing (and especially formerly colonized) nations and finds that it’s far from universally applicable

China currently consumes roughly half the world’s coal, but also is building more nuclear power plants and installing more renewable energy than any other nation. I recently read that they’ve got well over half of the world’s lithium battery production, and are selling half of the world’s electric cars.

One hope, that came to naught, was that the Kyoto Clean Development Mechanism and the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund would funnel money from highly developed nations to help less developed nations develop using cleaner energy. In principle it should be cheaper for US companies to subsidize installing efficient grids and clean energy in nations that don’t have existing infrastructure instead of shutting down our existing infrastructure and replacing it, but there hasn’t been political will to do that.

impressive – do you worry about us running out of rare metals

That’s a potential concern, but I tend to be a bit more on Julian Simon’s side of things until proven otherwise. Mark Jacobson did some detailed calculations of the requirements for lithium, niobium, etc., and concluded that it would be tight to match supplies to demand in a fully carbon-free energy economy, but that it could be done with close attention to recycling. However, there have been enough demonstrated problems with many of Jacobson’s other calculations that I am not sure how reliable those calculations are, and it’s too far outside my expertise for me to have an independent opinion.

Also, I’ll note that “rare earths” is a misnomer: Most of those elements are plentiful, but they are mostly present at low concentrations so the real tradeoff is how expensive they become and what environmental damage is caused by extracting and purifying them.

i was asking as an investor, btw
canada is mostly mining and banking

Anyone who takes investment advice from me is a fool. However, I know my own foolishness and therefore only invest in low-load index funds.

pfft, i was about to ask you about your interest rates eight ball
we have access to a product here that has no fees, but with a long period
but i noticed your point – they were selling a new environmentally-minded product

A growing number of large funds are starting to become activist investors on climate.

here’s an example

Very nice.

i don’t think the public has enough money to do all the things that needs to be done
anywho, onto the last thing
to the question “
Who are the best three American bands” you once said
Willie Colon and Ruben Blades
Parliament Funkadelic

The Thelonious Monk Quintet with Sonny Rollins.

All right.

you still stand by that?

I do, but I’m waffling to put the Wondaland collective (Janelle Monae, Jidenna, Deep Cotton, etc.) on the list. There are also strong cases to be made for the Clifford Brown/Max Roach band and a number of Miles’s lineups.

hit me with your best video
i had miles in my list
Elvis Presley with Scotty Moore and Bill Black.
Miles Davis & John Coltrane.
Metallica or the Stooges, whom I’d replace by Tycho, but let’s be real.

that’s more than enough
i may need to cut it in two
two parts

It’s been fun.

it was fun, i really like doing this

No worries. Feel free to ask any follow-up questions.

enjoy your evening, and thank you for your time

It was my pleasure.


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22 Responses to Jonathan’s Funk

  1. Steven Mosher says:

    “Parliament Funkadelic ”

    Good choice.
    Ok, I’ll consider what he has to say now.

    back in the day

  2. Willard says:

    Before I add some notes, some big news:

  3. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    “…some big news:”

    Speaking of sudden collapses, here’s some more big news:

    This is fine.

    Love Bootsy.

    Miles’ touring band of 1969–1970 – with Shorter, Corea, Holland, and DeJohnette – they never completed a studio recording together, and became known as Davis’s “lost quintet”.

  4. “Thus, the US is reducing emissions faster than RCP 4.5 but slower than RCP 2.6, while the world is reducing emissions slightly more slowly than RCP 4.5”

    Hmm. Rather than showing RCP4.5 as a single dot, I’d be interested in seeing a line based on the trend over time: e.g., these charts show that the US historical emissions trend (what time period is “historical” here?) has been slightly better than the RCP4.5 trend (I’m assuming averaged from 2015 to 2100?)… but I’m wondering if the RCP4.5 trend from 2015-2025 actually looks more like the historical trend, and then drifts over time? So show points for RCP4.5 for each twenty year period, instead of one century-long-average.

    E.g., these graphs look pessimistic about continuing carbon intensity of energy trends – are they just misreading how fast we’re improving today, or is it that the models assume that later in the century we’ll have to start tapping shale oil and tar sands and other high carbon intensity fuels, making it harder to improve?

  5. Would actually be good to get Jonathan to clarify something about the graphs. As I understand it, it’s relative to GDP. Hence, the actual emission pathway we follow would only be better than RCP4.5 if we have the same economic growth as RCP4.5. If the economy grows faster, then the delta energy intensity and delta carbon intensity could be the same as that for RCP4.5, but we could end up on a higher actual emission pathway (that’s my understanding, at least, but I might be wrong).

  6. Chubbs says:

    A couple of comments on the graphs: 1) CO2 isn’t the whole picture, CH4 and N2O are both increasing well above RCP6 though not quite to RCP85, 2) US has abundant cheap natural gas and 3)Easier for large coal-burners like US to reduce carbon intensity.

  7. Willard says:

    Jonathan asked me to correct two sentences, indicated with strike through.

    He also clarified that he meant Clifford Brown/Max Roach. I liked this recording:

  8. So, if I understand the corrections, then anything below the line is reducing emissions per unit of GDP at a rate faster than RCP4.5 (USA) or RCP6 (world). However, the actual emission pathway we follow will still then depend on GDP growth. So, reducing emission intensity at faster than RCP6 doesn’t guarantee an emission pathway below RCP6 (I think).

  9. Snape says:

    I’m saving up for a flying car:

    “According to the new study, fully loaded with a pilot and three passengers, flying electric cars would have about 52% lower greenhouse gas emissions than traditional cars and would generate 6% lower greenhouse gas emissions than electric cars over trips of 100 kilometers, about 62 miles.”


  10. KiwiGriff. says:

    This from a child.

    “Since 1990 the UK has achieved a 37% reduction of its territorial CO2 emissions, according to the Global Carbon Project. And that does sound very impressive. But these numbers do not include emissions from aviation, shipping and those associated with imports and exports. If these numbers are included the reduction is around 10% since 1990 – or an an average of 0.4% a year, according to Tyndall Manchester.

    And the main reason for this reduction is not a consequence of climate policies, but rather a 2001 EU directive on air quality that essentially forced the UK to close down its very old and extremely dirty coal power plants and replace them with less dirty gas power stations. And switching from one disastrous energy source to a slightly less disastrous one will of course result in a lowering of emissions.”
    Greta Thunberg
    How much of the USA’s drop in emission intensity is the same?
    How much is really exporting the manufacturing hence source of emissions to China or switching from coal to gas locking in emissions from electricity generation for another fifty years?

  11. Joshua says:

    Seems to me that a discussion of funk should include the Meters.

    And that a discussion of jazz and funk should include the Funky AECO

    and The World Saxaphone Quartet

    Which then leads me to:

  12. Steven Mosher says:

    just stop, unless you can do better than oscar

  13. Willard says:

    In fairness, Oscar is a Montrealer.

    Another non-American suggestion by Jonathan I liked:

  14. izen says:

    The letter from the Bank of England, and others, detailing the dangers of fossil fuel investments suffering a “sudden collapse in asset prices” is an interesting straw in the wind. It mentions the existing moves, –
    “That is why 34 central banks and supervisors – representing five continents, half of global greenhouse gas emissions and the supervision of two-thirds of the global systemically important banks and insurers – joined forces in 2017 to create a coalition of the willing: the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS).”

    Meanwhile the worlds largest sovereign wealth fund (Norway) has announced it is divesting from fossil fuel exploration and production, with plans to reduce its investments in all fossil fuel business over the next few years. They are not alone, the estimate is that over 1000 fund management bodies, private and institutional have sold at least $8 trillion worth of fossil fuel investments. The BoE letter puts a rose-tinted gloss on all this, saying it will all be for the best in the best of all possible worlds if it is just ‘managed’ properly.

    The reality is that if the trend continues there will be a sudden collapse. The opponents of disinvestment claim that otters will buy any assets that are sold as financial bodies avoid fossil fuel business and re-direct their focus on renewable industries. But as the price of fossil fuel investments drop, the return will reduce, making them increasingly unattractive to even those investors with no interest in supporting ‘Green’ investment strategy. A ‘Seneca cliff’ scenario ensures.

    This may be a much more effective brake on fossil fuel business than earnest exhortations to consider the cumulative Carbon budget, government regulation, or unruly public demonstrations.

    If some of the other big players (China, India?) in the financial markets start to lean away from fossil fuel investments then the decline could be very fast. Markets are volatile, (or chaotic?) and small initial movements get amplified into feedback that can shift the financial support fossil fuel business in exploration, production and then refining delivery and use rapidly. Beyond the point which might be financially logical.

    However in the US at least there are attempts to prevent this nightmare scenario. The Supreme court is presently considering a case that would remove acceptability of data about what government bodies pay to private industry, even in response to FOIA requests. This would avoid investors being able to find out what businesses had received funding from governments that might obscure their level of hidden subsidy. Think coal plants getting federal funds for expansion.
    There is a dedicated industry body targeting the other big player in financial systems, the pension funds.
    “Founder Christopher Bancroft Burnham claims that IPFI is working to depoliticize pension funds and make performance information more accessible.
    But in practice the organisation primarily attacks divestment initiatives and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) programs. ”

    On the principle that in social change and governance the important thing is ‘follow the money’ this is an area of the climate debate that warrants close attention.

    On the influential American music front, I am rather surprised to see an absence of probably the biggest influence since the 60s.
    Where is any mention of La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Phillip Glass ? Pure minimalism may be a niche field, but the impact of its compositional form on popular music is profound.

  15. jacksmith4tx says:

    Speaking of sudden collapse in asset prices…
    “Spot prices at the Waha hub – where prices for gas in the Permian basin are set – fell to a record low of negative $4.28 per million British thermal units in early April.”
    Fun fact: I make more from my net metering (6.7kw solar array) than I do from my natural gas royalties. Since 2009 I have earned about $1,200 from my gas lease while my solar array has earned over $1,780* and I haven’t paid a electric bill since I installed it in 2012.
    *Solar array was paid for with 100% cash($23,200) – no tax credits or grants.

  16. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    Come on…

    The audience was sitting down, trying to do a sophisticated thing, ‘listening’ to funk. One of the tightest bands they’d ever heard in their lives, and they were sitting. I had worked hard and dehydrated myself and was feeling depressed. I looked out at all those people sitting there, and because I was depressed they looked depressed. I yelled, “Get up offa that thing and dance til you feel better!” I probably meant until I felt better.

  17. Joshua says:

    Rev –

    Fair enough. Any discussion of funk needs to pay respects to JB’s. Although speaking of JB’s, I do have a soft spot for…

  18. Joshua says:

    Last one, just in case you wanted some more

  19. izen says:

    So nearly everyone WANT climate change taught, but the social pressure from a small minority, and a social taboo prevents it ??!
    “More than 80% of parents in the U.S. support the teaching of climate change. And that support crosses political divides, according to the results of an exclusive new NPR/Ipsos poll: Whether they have children or not, two-thirds of Republicans and 9 in 10 Democrats agree that the subject needs to be taught in school. …
    If they don’t hear about it at home, will kids learn about climate change in school? To answer this question, NPR/Ipsos also completed a nationally representative survey of around 500 teachers. These educators were even more likely than the general public to believe in climate change and to support teaching climate change.
    In fact, 86% of teachers believe climate change should be taught in schools. In theory.
    But in practice, it’s more complicated. More than half — 55% — of teachers we surveyed said they do not cover climate change in their own classrooms or even talk to their students about it.
    The most common reason given? Nearly two-thirds (65%) said it’s outside their subject area.
    But there are other factors at work, too, in the decision of whether to cover climate change.
    For example, almost a third of all teachers say that when it comes to teaching climate change, they worry about parent complaints.”

    And just to conform to the way this thread is going, if must have funk, here are some more average white guys…

  20. Izen- for what it’s worth I have three kids in school in Virginia – one in elementary, middle and high school. All but the elementary schooler has had lessons centered around climate change. We also talk about it at home and the girls (the older two) have had units on it in Girl Scouts and church and we are a family that camps in state and national parks. At least once a year the topic comes up in park presentations.

    Yes, all of them (including the discussions at home) take the position that climate change is real, predominantly man-made, and needs to be addressed.

    The percentage of teachers who don’t teach it isn’t terribly surprising- some folks teach English, history, art, music, etc.

  21. izen says:

    “Izen- for what it’s worth I have three kids in school in Virginia – one in elementary, middle and high school. All but the elementary schooler has had lessons centered around climate change. ”

    Good to hear.

    I do acknowledge that it is not a subject that fits easily into school subjects like English, Art, and History without the risk of it looking like it has been shoe-horned in which invites accusations that there is a political/ideological basis for its inclusion.

    It is a problem that it is so central to our present and future societal stability, but we have no easy way to incorporate it into the general conversations we have. Especially when special interests characterise any attempt to do so as a partisan agenda.

  22. Pingback: 2019: A year in review | …and Then There's Physics

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