Archive for the tag “Richard Heinberg”

Saving the planet, American style: A critical review, and some thoughts and ideas

To fight climate change, a war-like mobilization a la McKibben is not necessary. Actually we are not at war at all. If we are, then it is we who are the aggressors, we are the enemy of nature. Then the first task for the transition is to end our aggression. We need only to withdraw.

Planet Earth, our habitat, is in dire straits. And our world is suffering from various crises, conflicts and problems. There is hardly any sign that something is seriously being done to solve these problems.

Some Americans – not government officials, not corporate big-wigs, but civil society activists – have now come forward to save the earth and, along with it, the world. It is only this nation, they seem to assume, that can really do something to take up the task – thanks to its enormous military and economic power. They have not only spoken generally on solutions, they have also worked out more less detailed and apparently well-founded plans of action.

These plans are now also being discussed, seriously and widely. They have come from the civil society. You may also call them grassroots groups, although they are so big and so well resourced that they may be compared with big lobby organizations that have access to the powers that be, i.e. they cannot be suspected of any hidden agenda. I have now read two such plans and two discussion papers 1, 2,3,4

One of the plans, entitled A World at War, comes from Bill McKibben,1 founder of the group 350.org, that mainly organized the huge demonstration in New York in September 2015. McKibben was one of the members of the committee that drafted (later adopted) the Democratic Party platform for this years presidential election in the USA. I shall discuss this plan first, as the whole discussion started with it. The Climate Mobilization (for short TCM)2, for whom Ezra Silk prepared a first draft of a detailed action  plan, by and large follows the main idea of McKibben.

Wrong Analysis/ Wrong Etiology

McKibben compares the whole effort that he calls for with a war effort, with the huge American military and industrial mobilization for World War II. Now, you cannot fight a war without knowing your enemy! Here McKibben makes the initial big error in analysis, although war is here only a metaphor. The enemy, he thinks, is climate change; he imagines this enemy is committing a huge aggression against us, the world, as if it has some Satanic will. Once he calls it an enemy as powerful and inexorable as the laws of physics.

Nothing can be more absurd than this analysis of the situation. Any person with some common sense, including McKibben, knows that climate change is only the result of something else. Of course, the extreme weather events that are so regularly happening are largely being caused by climate change, which in turn is being caused by global warming. But even global warming is not the ultimate enemy. We know today that it is man-made. For a moment McKibben also recognized his error. He himself mentions in a half-sentence our insatiable desires as consumers, but he failed to spell it out as the right diagnosis of the malady.

All this should not actually surprise us. Already in the 19th century Friederich Engels made a similar mistake. He wrote: …our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us,5  as if nature is a living being with the anthropomorphic character trait of getting angry and taking revenge when hurt by some enemy. James Lovelock, however, who likened nature to the ancient Greek Earth-Goddess Gaia wrote: It may be that the white hot rash of our technology will in the end prove destructive and painful for our own species, but the evidence for accepting that industrial activities either at their present level or in the immediate future may endanger the life of Gaia as a whole, is very week indeed.6

In other words, Lovelocks theory says Gaia is only bothered about the continued existence of life on earth. She will guarantee that. But whether in the future biosphere humans would still have a place is none of her concern. This indifference of hers to our fate may make us sad, but that is no good reason to think of our response to climate change in terms of a Third World War as McKibben does.

Wrong Strategy/Wrong Prescription

We may allow McKibben his war metaphor in the name of poetic license. But if a general makes a wrong analysis of the war situation or, said in the jargon of applied medical science, if the diagnosis is wrong, the strategy or the prescribed medicine may do more harm than good.

McKibbens prescription, the huge dose of the wrong medicine, a huge mobilization for the Third World War that climate change is allegedly waging against us, is actually uncalled-for. McKibben could have prescribed a much lighter and more effective medicine (a simpler strategy) to remedy the white hot rash, i.e. global warming, if he had based his prescription on his more correct analysis (or diagnosis), namely his own half-sentence our insatiable desires as consumers.

Any leftist of any kind would speak of the capitalists insatiable desire for profit and capital accumulation as the main cause of our troubles. She would call upon us to wage class struggle. The diagnosis of Engels, however, was much better, more comprehensive. He spoke of us and our human [technological] victories over nature as the cause that provoked natures revenge. But this wise man of the 19th century, a century agog with scientific and technological optimism, could not but think of any medicine other than more of the same poison that caused the malady in the first place. He wrote:

… all our mastery of [nature] consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.

And, in fact, … after the mighty advances made by the natural sciences in the present century, we are more than ever in a position to realize and hence to controleven the more remote natural consequences of our day-to-day production activities.5  

McKibben belongs to the camp of Berni Sanders, who boldly and openly called himself a democratic socialist. But he, like Sanders, is not willing to condemn, let alone openly fight against, capitalism, as Engels did. He however accepts Engelss other idea quoted here and fights only against climate change by technological means. Blinded by optimism, such people believe that a 100 percent transition to renewable energies is possible. They say we need more technology, not less; they assert we could overcome all crises and problems of mankind by means of technology. I already heard in 1984 that the intermittency-and-storage problem of renewable energies has been solved, namely by means of liquid hydrogen.

Feasibility and Viability

Basing himself on calculations of some US scientists and engineers, Mckibben shows what a huge effort would be necessary to accomplish the complete energy transition in the USA by 2050. It would be similar to the whole industrial mobilization in the USA that was necessary to win the World War II. He writes: … you would need to build a hell of a lot of factories to turn out thousands of acres of solar panels, and wind turbines the length of football fields, and millions and millions of electric cars and buses. David Roberts3  makes it vivid:

Well, have a look at Solar City’s gigafactory, … .It will be the biggest solar manufacturing facility … covering 27 acres, capable of cranking out 10,000 solar panels a day – a gigawatt’s worth in a year. At the height of its transition to WWS [wind, water, solar], the US would have to build around 30 gigafactories a year devoted to solar panels, and another 15 a year for wind turbines. That’s 45 of the biggest factories ever built, every year. That is [even for an American] a mind-boggling pace of building,…

Roberts comments: It would mean building a huge amount of shit. I agree, it indeed would also result in producing a hell of a lot of shit every day. Think of the ecological impact of all that. And since McKibben I guess, is an internationalist, similar kinds of transition to 100 percent clean energy should also take place in at least all the G20 countries. That is a must, for a transition only in the USA would not suffice to win the war against climate change.

Think now of the amount of nonrenewable material resources that would have to be extracted from the earth for carrying out this mobilization, in addition to the amount that has already been extracted, burnt and used up Think of the treeless scars on the earths surface, and the holes that the mining activities would leave behind, in addition to those that the planet has already gotten. Think also of the amount of collateral waste production, in addition to what has already been produced. And think of the additional number and area of waste disposal sites where it can be dumped! Moreover, when you have scrapped and demolished all the fossil and nuclear fuel power plants, where will the waste be dumped? Will it not really become like hell on Earth?

Remember that all machines and all products wear out and have a limited lifespan. The same holds true for solar panels, wind turbines and machines with which we make them. They have to be replaced, sooner or later, even factory buildings. Remember also that inorganic nonrenewable materials cannot be fully recycled, because the entropy law also applies to materials. As many in the ecology movement have been saying for quite a few years now, if it should go on like this, we humans would soon need at least two more planets – one as our resource base, and the other as our waste dumping site. Joking apart, such an industrial economy as McKibben envisages it, even if it could somehow be brought into existence, would not be viable. It would soon collapse.

I wonder why McKibben could not think of all this while issuing his call for a Second-World-War-like industrial mobilization. After all, he definitely knows enough about the true production process in the industrial age, that it is not a cyclical but a continuous linearprocess, that it begins with resource extraction and ends in dumping waste in landfills or the atmosphere or the waters, while midway (if we are lucky) giving us consumers some satisfaction and fulfilling some of our material and immaterial basic and non-basic needs.

After all, he is the author of a famous book that I read in the 1980s, End of Nature,7 wherein he took up a position against anthropocentrism, which he considered to be the root of all evils. But in this essay he displays an anthropocentric – worse, an US-centric –thinking. For what may be possible in the huge USA, the strongest economic and military power in todays world, is simply not possible in, say, India with its 1.25 billion people cramped in an area one third of that of the USA.

EROEI / Net Energy

There are three more reasons why I think an industrial economy like the present-day US-American one solely driven by so-called clean renewable energies– if the idea can at all be materialized –will be neither free from CO2 emission, nor generally pollutions-free, nor sustainable. I have in the past published several texts presenting my reasons for thinking so.8  There is therefore no need to fully repeat them. Here is only a very short gist of my argumentation:

(1) The clean energies (mostly electricity, but also biofuels) may be a little cleaner than energy from fossil fuel sources, but they are not 100 percent emissions-and-pollution-free. For all equipments – solar panels, wind turbines, cables etc. etc. – used at any stage in the process of generating and distributing clean energies, in fact any kind of energy, are manufactured by means of machines and factories that are driven mainly (though not solely) by either coal-based energy or nuclear energy, which emit CO2 and radioactive particles respectively.

(2) All protagonists of 100 percent clean energy simply assume that solar and wind energy plants yield an amount of net energy – i.e. a surplus over the whole amount of energy that was consumed for manufacturing and building them) – that justifies their commercial deployment. In other words, their EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) is sufficiently positive. But there is considerable doubt about that.8 I shall take up this point once more below.

(3) They simply ignore the difference, first pointed out in 1978 by Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen9, between feasibility and viability. He maintained till 1994, the year he passed away, that solar-electricity technology was of course feasible, but not viable. Also TCMsVictory Plan2, despite its other merits, contains these last two errors. I shall come back to this point below.

Merits and Weaknesses of TCMs Victory Plan

McKibbens action plan appears to pursue only one goal, to, somehow and as soon as possible, replace fossil fuels with renewables. He seems to think once that goal has been attained, all other major problems of the earth and the world (economic crisis, unemployment, pollution etc.) would quasi automatically, though gradually, disappear.

As against that, TCM has realized that that would not suffice. It therefore wants, additionally, to pursue a broad range of other, equally important, concrete goals: for instance, to phase out cars and trucks and replace them with a public transportation system, to curtail aviation, to scale back commercial fishing, to cut production and consumption of meat and dairy products etc.

McKibbens is in effect a huge Keynesian plan that would not only win the war against climate change, but also, additionally, function as a huge growth, job and income creating machine. Such ideas have earlier been submitted by others under captions like ecoKeynesianism, eco-capitalism, green growth, green New Deal and green economy.10 As against that, TCM seems to have realized what a huge amount of shit such a plan would also produce. Its Victory Plan is in effect one of drawing down production in general, of de-growth, so to speak, and stopping and reversing population growth culminating in demanding that half of the earth/USA should be reserved for conservation purposes.

Both McKibben and TCM calls upon the state to intervene in the economy in order to motivate or compel the economic actors (particularly companies) to do what is needed to save the planet. McKibbens eco-Keynesian action plan does not need to question capitalism. But I wonder how TCMs plan, which is in effect tantamount to enforcing a world-wide recession, can be compatible with capitalism with its growth compulsion. The plan even envisages rationing of all products and services that emit greenhouse gases in order to ensure more equity. That is not far from planning. Why doesnt the group call its plan one for eco-socialism in America? Of course, I know it is very difficult to say this in America.

Readers of my writings would surely guess that I heavily sympathize with the TCM plan. That is also the reason why my eco-socialist friend Kamran Nyeri sympathizes with it and calls it a breakthrough in the movement to save the planet.4  However, there are two weaknesses in TCMs Victory Plan. One I have just mentioned above, namely that it cannot be realized without abandoning capitalism, a call for which I have not seen in the 110 pages (or have I overseen it, or is it only hinted at?). The other is that the whole plan, like that of McKibben, is based on the assumption that running the whole US-American economy by using only renewable clean energies is not only feasible but also viable.

In TCMs Victory Plan, this assumption is based on the latest book by Richard Heinberg, written together with David Fridley,11 wherein the two authors claim they have drawn their conclusions after studying a large number of latest studies on the subject. I had learnt the term EROEI from one of Heinbergs earlier books The Party is Over (2003)12. In that book he quoted two tables that showed different estimates of EROEIs of various sources of energy in connection with the respective technologies. In their latest book, Heinberg and Fridley write:

Unfortunately, the net energy or EROEI literature is inconsistent because researchers have so far been unable to agree on a common set of system boundaries. Therefore two analysts may calculate very different EROEI ratios for the same energy source. This does not entirely undermine the usefulness of NEA [net energy analysis]; it merely requires us to use caution in comparing the findings of different studies.)11

That means even today, one cannot quote a certain figure and assert with any degree of certainty that this is now the EROEI of solar energy.

Also Ugo Bardi13, (not an American, but) a European scientist and member of the Club of Rome, shows in his article published in May 2016 how much uncertainty still exists in this matter. Bardi, a protagonist of Photovoltaic solar energy, used a question rather than a statement, for the title of his article: But whats the REAL energy return of photovoltaic energy? I request my readers to especially read all the comments and responses to his article, which mainly (but not only) came from researchers working on this question. The readers will then see how many of them hold the view that it is negative.

In his 2003 book, Heinberg (2003: 152f.) quoted two studies. One from the year 1984, in which Cleveland et al. estimated the EROEI of Photovoltaics to be 1.7 to 10.0. Twelve years later, in 1996, Howard Odum estimated it to be only 0.41, i.e. negative. Heinberg wrote in this connection:Time is relevant to EROEI studies because the net energy yield for a given energy source may change with the introduction of technological refinements or the depletion of a resource base (ibid). In the case of solar energy, its resource base, namely solar radiation, hadnt undergone any depletion in the said 12 years. And presumably, both studies were made in the mainland of the USA, in average locations ( not one in the Death Valley and the other on the North Slope of Alaska).

Now, if we may logically assume that in those twelve years the photovoltaic technology had undergone some technological refinements, then the EROEI of photovoltaic technology should actually have improved rather than deteriorated in that period (as Odums figure shows). Be that as it may, the point I want to make here is that it has been very unwise on the part of McKibben, TCM, and Heinberg himself to base their plans for saving the planet on uncertain data from inconsistent literature. In fine, I think it simply is not possible todirectly answer this question by raising data.

One must have recourse to indirect reasoning, as I have done in my writings on this topic.14     I myself think that the EROEIs of the renewable energy technologies, except hydroelectric power stations, are negative, and they are generally becoming ever more negative because all the resources needed to manufacture and/or build all the equipments and plants needed for or relevant to these technologies are nonrenewable and are continuously being depleted or have to be extracted from ever remoter and ever more difficult terrain (mines), which entails ever more energy investment.

Another question that protagonists of solar energy (generally, of renewable energies)avoid taking up is the question of viability of these energy technologies. This question, as stated above, was first raised by Georgescu-Roegen in his 1978 paper referred to above.9. In 2016, 38 years later, it still remains unanswered. But it is not forgotten. In the discussion that followed Ugo Bardis article referred to above13 , one discussant, using the pseudonym foodstuff  impatiently put the same question in much simpler language:

I still want to know if the following can be done and does the EROEI quoted include it all (plus extra energy demand I havent thought of):
1. Mine the raw materials using equipment powered by solar panels.
2. Transport and convert metal ores, e.g. bauxite-aluminium, using equipment run by solar panels and in a factory built using the energy from solar panels.
3. Make the finished panels in a factory run by solar panels, including building and maintaining the factory.
4. Transport, install and maintain the solar panels using equipment running on solar panels.
All this is presently being done [mainly] with the energy from fossil fuels. How will it be done when they are gone?

I request McKibben, TCM, Heinberg and Fridley to please answer these questions. My answer is No. If they cannot answer Yes, that would mean their vision of an industrial society based on 100 percent renewable clean energy is a 100 percent illusion, even TCMs reduced-scale industrial society.
I think TCMs victory plan has another weakness: It is sending mixed or contradictory messages. Otherwise, how could Paul Gilding,15 former executive director of Green Peace International, write in his forward to Ezra Silks Victory Plan:

[In a situation of] economic and social crisis [and]… despair, a climate mobilization of this sort could result in [inter alia]… huge economic benefits … innovation, technology and massive job creation … much better quality of life … business opportunities [etc.].… . [It would] leave our energy costs lower and supplies more secure … more people employed. [In a situation , in which] the global economy is in deep and serious trouble, [in which] growth … is grinding to a halt, [in which] inequality and the lack of progress of the Western middle class has laid the foundation for political extremism, xenophobia and isolationism,… brought us phenomena like Trump, Brexit … movements that further threaten the global economy, [it could be a] mobilization to save the economy. [This quote is partly reconstructed by me. My insertions are in square brackets.]

Conclusions:

The Other Plan and the Other Path

Is any other plan for saving the planet possible?, one may ask.
It is possible, but it surely will not be popular among present-day Americans. It is possible, if we accept McKibbens other diagnosis, namely, our insatiable desires as consumers is the cause of climate change, and if we accept the truism, as I formulated it in an earlier blog16, that the real and deeper causes of many of our maladies are the continuously growing needs, aspirations and ambitions of a continuously growing world population, while our resource base is continuously dwindling and the ability of nature to absorb man-made pollution is continuously diminishing – in short, the lunatic idea that in a finite world infinite growth is possible.

Then it follows that the spirit of the other plan that could perhaps save the planet must be the very opposite of McKibben and Cos gigantism and limitless technological optimism, i.e. the beliefs that everything is doable, that we can also build a colony on the Moon etc., which are themselves diseases, not remedies.

TCM (with Heinberg and Fridley) has discarded gigantic plans for stopping climate change. But it too has offered only half a solution. It still seeks a high-tech solution to the energy problem, namely renewable clean energies. We then first need an antidote to these typical American diseases, which has long ago been offered by Fritz Schumacherwith his slogan Small is beautiful. He wrote:Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. 17     However, the latest that I have read 0f Heinberg points to the right direction. He seems to have returned to his former healthy skepticism. In an article published in September 2016,18 he writes:

We concluded that, while in theory it may be possible to build enough solar and wind supply capacity to substitute for current fossil energy sources, much of current energy usage infrastructure (for transportation, agriculture, and industrial processes) will be difficult and expensive to adapt to using renewable electricity. In the face of these and other related challenges, we suggest that it likely won’t be possible to maintain a consumption-oriented growth economy in the post-fossil future, and that we would all be better off aiming to transition to a simpler and more localized conserver economy.

For such a transition, a Second-World-War-like mobilization a la McKibben is not necessary. Actually we are not at war at all. And if we cannot but use the war metaphor, then it is we who are the aggressors, we are the enemy of nature. Then the first task on the path of this transition is to end our aggression. We then need only to withdraw and not carry on the aggression with other weapons.19  We then dont need to build much, but we do need to dismantle a lot. Above all, particularly Americans and their fans and imitators in the rest of the world need to dismantle their American way of living.

Before society, the state, the economic powers that be take the first step backwards, weecological-political activists will have to do a lot of mainly educative work. At present at least, we cannot compel anybody to do anything. But there is also no hindrance to educative work. Everything else – electoralism, demonstrations, lobbyism, party work, setting personal examples, writing, lecturing etc. – can be used to convince and persuade the people and the powers that be.
One of the goals in TCMs Victory Plan is to stop and reverse world population growth. This ought to be the first point where the transition should begin.

For, as Paul Ehrlich wrote to point out its utmost importance, Whatever be your cause, it is a lost cause unless we control population [growth].20 All problems that nature has with us, as well as all problems of our own human society get aggravated as population grows. There are also two advantages of beginning at this point: It is easy to persuade the powers that be to do something in this regard. And it is easy to persuade people in the lower income groups that their living conditions would immediately improve if they limit the number of their offspring to two.21 Also, here there would be the least resistance from the ruling classes and the imperialist nations. So here we could achieve our first successes.

I think at present an elaborate and detailed other plan like that of TCM is neither possible nor necessary. We can however start with what is immediately possible.

RELATED
Bill McKibben: It’s time to declare war on climate change
Unlike Adolph Hitler, the last force to pose a planetwide threat to civilization, our enemy today is neither sentient nor evil. But before the outbreak of World War II, the world’s leaders committed precisely the same mistake we are making today—they tried first to ignore their foe, and then to appease him.

References:

1. McKibben, Bill (2016): A World at War
http://forhumanliberation.blogspot.de/2016/08/2418-bill-mckibben-world-at-war.html

2. Salomon, Margaret Klein (2016): The Climate Mobilization Action Program: Victory Plan(This is only a preface. The link to the 110 page document written by Ezra Silk is given at the end of this text)
http://forhumanliberation.blogspot.de/2016/08/2417-climate-mobilization-action.html

3. Roberts David (2016): Climate Justice Policy and the Metaphor of War
http://forhumanliberation.blogspot.de/2016/08/2419-climate-justice-policy-and.html

4. Nayeri Kamran (2016):Making Progress: A Critical Assessment of Climate Action Plans by Bill McKibben and The Climate Mobilization.
http://forhumanliberation.blogspot.de/2016/09/2431-making-progress-critical.html

5. Marx, Karl & Engels, Friedrich (1976) Selected Works (in 3 volumes) Vol. 3, Moscow. P. 36.

6. Lovelock, James  (1987) Gaia –A New Look at Life on Earth, Oxford and New York. P. 10.

7. McKibben, Bill (2006) End of Nature. USA (?): Random Haus.

8. Sarals articles :
(a)Chapter 4 of: Saral Sarkar (1999) Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism?. London: Zed.
(b) http://eco-socialist.blogspot.de/2014/04/krugmans-illusion-we-becoming-richer.html
(c) http://eco-socialist.blogspot.de/2016/06/once-more-on-viability-of-renewable_11.html

9. Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas (1978): Technology Assessment. The Case of the Direct Use of Solar Energy;
/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Georgescu-Roegen-The-Case-of-the-Direct-Use-of-Solar-Energy.pdf

10. For a critic of these ideas see Sarkar (1999) Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism?.London: Zed Books.

11.Heinberg, Richard and Fridley, David (2016)  Our Renewable Future
http://ourrenewablefuture.org/

12. Heinberg, Richard (2003) The Partys Over – Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies. Forest Row: Clairview.

13. Bardi, Ugo (2016)But whats the REAL energy return of photovoltaic energy? inCassandras Legacy (online).
http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.de/2016/05/but-whats-real-energy-return-of.html

14. Sarkars writings on EROEI (see note 8)

15. Paul Gilding (2016) Forward to
Silk, Ezra (2016) The Climate Mobilization Action Program: Victory Plan (see note 2)

16. Sarkar, Saral (2016): A Historic Event or a Fraud?
http://eco-socialist.blogspot.de/2016/01/a-historic-event-or-fraud-critical.html

17. Schmacher, E.F. (August 1973)Small is Beautiful, an essay, in The Radical Humanist, Vol. 37, No. 5, p. 22

18.  Heinberg, Richard (2016) Exploring The Gap Between Business-As-Usual And Utter Doom.
http://www.countercurrents.org/2016/09/21/exploring-the-gap-between-business-as-usual-and-utter-doom/

19. Sunzi,: An ancient Chinese author (2500 B.C.). He wrote on strategies of warfare inter alia: Verily, he wins, who does not fight, (quoted from Wikiquotes)

20. Ehrlich, Paul (quoted in Weissman).
Weissman, Steve (1971) Forward (in Meek 1971).
Meek, Ronald. L (1971) Marx and Engels on the Population Bomb, Berkeley.

21.Saral Sarkar (1993) Polemics is Useless – A Proposal for an Eco-Socialist Synthesis in the Overpopulation Dispute.
http://eco-socialist.blogspot.de/2012/08/polemics-is-useless-proposal-for-eco.html

Richard Heinberg: 100% renewable energy is possible, here’s how

Since the renewable energy revolution will require trading fossil fuels for alternative ones (mostly wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and biomass), there will be some hefty challenges along the way. Therefore, it makes sense to start with the low-hanging fruit and with a plan in place, then revise our plan frequently as we gain practical experience. 

Read more…

Can We Have Our Climate and Eat It Too?

Noted energy expert Richard Heinberg writes: Our primary task this century will be to shrink the economy and rein in population while promoting human well being. We can do so as we minimize climate change by reducing energy consumption and by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy resources. Otherwise, we get climate chaos and economic collapse.

Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute  

As much as world leaders would like to focus attention on their economies, terrorism, or winning the next election, the heat is rising. Each new release of data on melting glaciers and extreme weather seems more dire than the last, and each governmental COP meeting organized to come up with an agreement on what to do about the climate crisis is freighted with more hopes and fears.
Read more…

Richard Heinberg: An open letter to climate leaders

 Author and Post Carbon Institute founder Richard Heinberg writes: Here are nine critical issues to consider as we come away from COP21–because as media commentaries about whether the COP21 meetings were a success or a failure run their course, the burden falls on our shoulders to return to the hard work of fighting for, and implementing, the energy transition.

The climate conference is over.
Read more…

News update

G7 leaders bid Auf Wiedersehen to carbon fuels
Reuters
Leaders of the worlds major industrial democracies resolved on Monday to wean their energy-hungry economies off carbon fuels, marking a major step in the battle against global warming that raises the chances of a U.N. climate deal later this year. The Group of Sevens energy pledge capped a successful summit for host Angela Merkel, who revived her credentials as a climate chancellor and strengthened Germanys friendship with the United States at the meeting in a Bavarian resort. (Also read: Merkel convinces Canada and Japan on CO2)

India’s energy consumption increase at all-time high: BP
Livemint.com
India’s energy consumption increased by 7.1% in 2014, reaching an all-time high and accounting for 34.7% of the global consumption increment in 2014, said British oil and gas giant BP Plc. in its review of world energy consumption in 2014. The note by BP, called as the BP Statistical Review 2014, said India’s domestic energy consumption reached an all-time high in 2014 with the year seeing the fastest growth for the last five years.

BP boss widens transatlantic rift in energy industry over climate change
The Guardian UK
Bob Dudley,CEO of British Petroleum, said the UNs global warming summit in December needed to broker agreements that encourage energy efficiency, renewable power such as wind and the use of gas. His comments came amid signs of a transatlantic rift in the oil and gas industry over how to tackle global warming. Last week, BP and a group of European oil companies including Shell and Total of France wrote a letter to the Financial Times calling for “widespread and effective” carbon pricing to be part of a Paris deal. It was dismissed by John Watson, chief executive of US-based Chevron, who said he believed that putting a price on carbon emissions was unworkable.

No, BP, the U.S. did NOT surpass Saudi Arabia in oil production
Kurt Cobb
Even the paper of record for the oil industry, Oil & Gas Journal, got it wrong. With the release of the latest BP Statistical Review of World Energy, media outlets appeared to be taking dictation rather than asking questions about which countries produced the most oil in 2014. If they had asked questions, they would have ended up with a ho-hum headline announcing that last year Russia at 10.1 million barrels per day (mbpd) and Saudi Arabia at 9.7 mbpd were once again the number one and number two producers of crude oil including lease condensate (which is the definition of oil). The United States at 8.7 mbpd remained in third place.

Why EIA, IEA, and BP Oil Forecasts are Too High
Gail Tverberg
It is easy to get the idea that we have a great deal of oil resources in the ground. Given these large amounts of theoretically available oil, it is not surprising that forecasters use the approach they do. There appears to be no need to cut back forecasts to reflect inadequate future oil supply, as long as we can really extract oil that seems to be available.

We Could Power Entire World on Renewables by 2025, Says Global Apollo Program
Ecowatch.com
The authors of an initiative called the Global Apollo Program say that, given the required high level of investment, it should be possible within 10 years to meet electricity demand with reliable wind and/or solar power that is cheaper—in every country—than power based on coal. They say the scale of ambition needed to produce “baseload” power from renewable energy that is generated consistently to meet minimum demand matches that which sent the first humans to the Moon in 1969—at a cost, in today’s prices, of about $230 billion.

The Difficulties Of Powering The Modern World With Renewables
Roger Andrews, Energy Matters
Even if the world succeeds in developing wind and solar to the point where they supply 100% of its electricity the job is still less than half-done because electricity supplies the world with only about 40% of its energy. The remaining ~60% comes from the oil, gas and coal consumed in transportation, heating etc. How to decarbonize that? Again no solution is presently in sight.

Renewable Energy Will Not Support Economic Growth
Richard Heinberg
The world needs to end its dependence on fossil fuels as quickly as possible. That’s the only sane response to climate change, and to the economic dilemma of declining oil, coal, and gas resource quality and increasing extraction costs. The nuclear industry is on life support in most countries, so the future appears to lie mostly with solar and wind power. But can we transition to these renewable energy sources and continue using energy the way we do today? And can we maintain our growth-based consumer economy? The answer to both questions is, probably not.

The IMF’s “shocking” estimate of fossil fuel costs: There’s more to the story

Sajai Jose

Credit: CGP Grey/Flickr, CC-BY 2.0
Credit: CGP Grey/FlickrCC-BY 2.0

Recently, when an International Monetary Fund research paper revealed that the actual cost of fossil fuel usage for 2015 was a staggering US$ 5.3 trillion (approx. 340 lakh crore rupees), it made headlines worldwide, though it went largely unreported in India.

What accounts for the bulk of this figure are the hidden costs of fossil fuel use – referred to as ‘externalities’ in economics calculated in monetary value. Most of it consists of damages inflicted by fossil fuel use on public health (for eg. deaths from air pollution) and the environment (global warming). Read more…

News update

Fossil fuels subsidised by $10m a minute, says IMF
The Guardian UK
Fossil fuel companies are benefitting from global subsidies of $5.3tn (£3.4tn) a year, equivalent to $10m a minute every day, according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund. The IMF calls the revelation “shocking” and says the figure is an “extremely robust” estimate of the true cost of fossil fuels. The $5.3tn subsidy estimated for 2015 is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments. The vast sum is largely due to polluters not paying the costs imposed on governments by the burning of coal, oil and gas.

The IMF Tells a Half-Truth
Richard Heinberg
It’s certainly helpful to have an accounting of the externalities of our collective fossil fuel consumption. But the choice of the word “subsidies” over the more precise “externalities” makes a difference: governments can cancel subsidies in the forms of tax breaks and gifts, but they can’t so easily cancel fossil fuel externalities without curtailing fossil fuel consumption—and that’s a big job, if they’re to do it in a way that doesn’t entail the rapid, uncontrolled collapse of society.

Can the world economy survive without fossil fuels?
Larry Elliott, The Guardian UK
In terms of reducing global poverty capitalism has been a success, but this growth has put pressure on the planet. The question, therefore, is whether it is possible to marry two seemingly contradictory objectives. Can we imagine a future that is cleaner, greener and sustainable – one that avoids climate armageddon – without abandoning the idea of growth and, thus, forcing living standards into decline? The answer is that it will be hellishly difficult, but it is just about feasible if we make the right choices – and start making them now.

Seven Surprising Realities Behind The Great Transition to Renewable Energy
Earth Policy Institute
The global transition to clean, renewable energy and away from nuclear and fossils is well under way, with remarkable developments happening every day. The Great Transition by Lester Brown, Janet Larsen, Matt Roney, and Emily Adams lays out a tremendous range of these developments – here are seven that may surprise you.

How Sustainable is PV Solar Power?
Low Tech Magazine
Its generally assumed that it only takes a few years before solar panels have generated as much energy as it took to make them, resulting in very low greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional grid electricity. A more critical analysis shows that the cumulative energy and CO2 balance of the industry is negative, meaning that solar PV has actually increased energy use and greenhouse gas emissions instead of lowering them.

The Counterfeit Shale Revolution (pdf)
Arthur Berman
The shale revolution is counterfeit. Tight oil and shale gas are imitations of something valuable and shale promoters intentionally deceive the public about their true value. It is counterfeit because the cost of produc4on is more than the global economy can bear. Producers and analysts deceive the public with misleading and incorrect break-even prices that exclude important costs or are based on exaggerated reserves. There is no shale revolution: it is a final, desperate effort to squeeze the last remaining petroleum from the worst possible rock.

Are we approaching peak population growth?
Max Roser
Since the 18th century, the world population has seen a rapid increase; between 1900 and 2000 the increase in world population was three times as great as the increase during the entire previous history of humankind – in just 100 years the world population increased from 1.5 to 6.1 billion. But this development is now coming to an end, and we will not experience a similarly rapid increase in population growth over the course of this century.

Book Review of Overshoot by William R. Catton Jr.
Craig Straub, The Social Contract
Catton concludes that the human community is condemned to bet on an uncertain future. Misperception of the human situation will motivate efforts to pursue solutions which make matters worse. An ecological understanding of the human predicament will help avoid constructing the road to hell paved with good intentions.

News update

Its Official: Global Carbon Levels Surpassed 400 ppm for Entire Month
Common Dreams
Marking yet another grim milestone for an ever-warming planet, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealed that, for the first time in recorded history, global levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere averaged over 400 parts per million (ppm) for an entire month—in March 2015. This marks the fact that humans burning fossil fuels have caused global carbon dioxide concentrations to rise more than 120 parts per million since pre-industrial times, said Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, in a press statement. Half of that rise has occurred since 1980.

Climate Change – Too Late To Halt?
Sanjeev Ghotge, Countercurrents.org
Since the CO2 concentration reached 400 ppm last year (2014), this means that the earths atmosphere will eventually heat up by 2 deg C, since we have no proven and tested technologies for decarbonizing the atmosphere. The time is now well and truly past for holding the line at 2 deg C. Roughly speaking, we are on course to reach 2 deg C by 2050, 4 deg C by 2100 and 6 deg C by 2150. A few years this way or that will hardly matter or disprove the basic science.

Beyond petroleum frackings collapse heralds the arrival of peak oil
Paul Mobbs, The Ecologist
The death of peak oil has been much exaggerated. Take out high-cost unconventional oil and production peaked ten years ago, and even North Americas fracking and tar sands boom has failed to open up new resources both big enough to make good the shortfall, and cheap enough to reward investors. We really do need to be thinking beyond petroleum.

Peak Russia + Peak USA means Peak World
Ron Patterson
World oil production jumped in 2011, hardly moved at all in 2013 but it was up by more than 1.5 million barrels per day in 2014. And after such a huge gain everyone and their brother were singing “peak oil is dead’. But if you scroll down through the 37 major world oil producers it becomes obvious that a majority of nations have peaked and most of them are in steep decline.

Why the World’s Appetite for Oil Will Peak Soon
Amy Myers Jaffe, The Wall Street Journal
The world’s economy is experiencing transformational changes that, I believe, will dramatically alter patterns of energy use over the next 20 years. Exponential gains in industrial productivity, software-assisted logistics, rapid urbanization, increased political turmoil in key regions of the developing world, and large bets on renewable energy are among the many factors that will combine to slow the previous breakneck growth for oil. The result, in my opinion, is as startling as it is world-changing: Global oil demand will peak within the next two decades.

How Much Longer Can The Oil Age Last?
Gaurav Agnihotri, Oilprice.com
Are the dynamics of global energy changing with current improvements in renewable energy sources and affordable new storage technologies? Can the oil age end in the near future? Will we ever stop feverishly analyzing the rise and fall of oil prices? Or, will oil remain irreplaceable in our life time?

Solving Soil Loss is Simple, But Requires a Mindset Change
Patrick M. Lydon, FinalStraw.org
By accounts of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, we have less than 60 years of farming left if we continue our modern chemical-industrial based farming processes. Natural farming, permaculture, regenerative agriculture, agroecology – there are many versions of sustainable agriculture, but the common thread they all tackle is the need to take better care of our soil and the environments in which we grow food. Why is this the least bit important to most people?

Food Security: The Urban Food Hubs Solution
Sabine OHara, Solutions Journal
Food security demands a diversified food system that includes urban communities as locations for food production, food preparation, food distribution, and waste reduction/reuse. The Urban Food Hubs concept of the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) tests the feasibility of small-scale urban food systems that include these four key components.

A Community Resilience Take on The Great Transition
Richard Heinberg
We can learn from crisis; cultural anthropology shows that. But, in this instance, we need to learn fast, and perhaps some organized effort to aid that process would be well spent. Planetary boundaries discourse could help explain to frightened masses why the world seems to be falling apart around them, while community resilience-building could help them adapt to changed conditions.

Destroying vs altering nature, the fragile vs the resilient Earth
Kurt Cobb
When we put nature in one category and humans in another, we make humans an outside and preeminent force over nature. We (falsely) imbue ourselves with god-like power to control nature. In this case, control means we get what we want without self-annihilating effects. For who could say that they are in control of a plummeting airliner headed for a crash just because they still have the ability to move the throttle.

News update

Goldilocks Is Dead
Richard Heinberg
Five years ago I wrote an article for Reuters titled “Goldilocks and the Three Fuels.” In it, I discussed what I call the Goldilocks price zone for oil, natural gas, and coal, a zone in which prices are “just right”—high enough to reward producers but low enough to entice consumers. Ever since the start of the fossil fuel era, such a zone has existed, but not any more. This will have staggering consequences throughout the economy for the foreseeable future.

Cheap oil, complexity and counterintuitive conclusions
Kurt Cobb
It is a staple of oil industry apologists to say that the recent swift decline in the price of oil is indicative of long-term abundance. Cheerleaders for cheap oil only seem to consider the salutary effects of low-priced oil on the broader economy and skip mentioning the deleterious effects of high-priced oil. They seem to ignore the possibility that the previously high price of oil actually caused the economy to slow and thereby dampened demandwhich then led to a huge price decline.

The oil glut and low prices reflect an affordability problem
Gail Tverberg
For a long time, there has been a belief that the decline in oil supply will come by way of high oil prices. Demand will exceed supply. It seems to me that this view is backward–the decline in supply will come through low oil prices. The oil glut we are experiencing now reflects a worldwide affordability crisis. Because of a lack of affordability, demand is depressed.  This lack of demand keeps prices low–below the cost of production for many producers.

Costa Rica uses 100% renewable energy for past 75 days.
How are they doing it?

Christian Science Monitor
The entire country of Costa Rica is currently running on completely renewable energy and has been for 75 days now. Relying mainly on hydropower, Costa Rica has not used any fossil fuels to generate electricity since the beginning of 2015. The heavy rainfall over the past year has kept hydroplants busy enough to power nearly the whole country, with geothermal, wind, biomass, and solar energy making up the deficit, according to a press release from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute.

Pollinating species declining, reveals first global assessment
International Union for Conservation of Nature
According to a new study by IUCN and partners, the conservation status of pollinating bird and mammal species is deteriorating, with more species moving towards extinction than away from it. On average, 2.4 bird and mammal pollinator species per year have moved one IUCN Red List category towards extinction in recent decades, representing a substantial increase in extinction risk across this set of species.

As Himalayan Glaciers Melt, Two Towns Face the Fallout
Daniel Grossman, Yale Environment 360
For two towns in northern India, melting glaciers have had very different impacts — one town has benefited from flowing streams and bountiful harvests; but the other has seen its water supplies dry up and now is being forced to relocate.

The Politics of Extinction 
William deBuys, Tomdispatch.com
To grasp the breadth of the carnage now going on, it’s essential to realize that the war against nature is being waged on an almost infinite number of planetary fronts, affecting hundreds of species, and that the toll is already devastating. Among the battlefields, none may be bloodier than the forests of Southeast Asia, for they lie closest to China, the world’s most ravenous (and lucrative) market for wildlife and wildlife parts.

How do Empires hunt bears? The control of natural resources from ancient Rome to our times
Ugo Bardi, Resource Crisis
How did the Romans manage to keep their Empire together so well and for such a long time? It was, obviously a question of control. The entities we call states (and their more aggressive version known as empires) exist because the center can control the periphery. This control takes various forms, but, basically, it is the result of the financial system: money.

News update

Arctic sea ice extent hits record low for winter maximum
The Guardian, UK
Arctic sea ice has hit a record low for its maximum extent in winter, which scientists said was a result of climate change and abnormal weather patterns. The US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) said on Thursday that at its peak the ice covered just over 14.5m sq km of the northern seas. This was 130,000 sq km smaller than the previous lowest maximum in 2011.

India: Machines drive 90% of power in farming, humans’ share drops to 5%
The Times of India
Silently, agriculture in India has gone through a far-reaching change in the past few decades. The share of human power available for carrying out the myriad operations in farming has shrunk to a mere 5% as has that of draught animals, the iconic oxen pulling the plough. More than 90% of the power is now drawn from mechanical sources: tractors and power tillers provide the bulk, 47%; electric motors 27% and diesel engines 16%.

Cheap Oil, Climate Change Mitigation and India
Shoibal Chakravarty, EPW
In this article, our objectives are twofold. We analyse the causes of the 2014 oil crash and its short-term impact
on the global economy. And we will complement this by considering the role that the oil crash might play in the long-term transition of the energy system that will be required to limit climate change. Finally, we discuss the outlook for India.

The Global Coal Boom Is Going Bust: Report
Mike Gaworecki, DeSmog Blog
A new report by CoalSwarm and the Sierra Club provides compelling evidence that the death knell for the global coal boom might very well have rung some time between 2010 and 2012. Based on data CoalSwarm compiled of every coal plant proposed worldwide for the past five years as part of its Global Coal Plant Tracker initiative, the report finds that for every coal plant that came online, plans for two other plants were put on hold or scrapped altogether.

Only Less Will Do
Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute
Almost nobody likes to hear about the role of scale in our global environmental crisis. That’s because if growth is our problem, then the only real solution is to shrink the economy and reduce population. Population has grown from 4.4 billion in 1980 to 7.1 billion in 2013. Per capita consumption of energy has grown from less than 70 gigajoules to nearly 80 GJ per year. And we see the results: the world’s oceans are dying; species are going extinct at a thousand times the natural rate; and the global climate is careening toward chaos as multiple self-reinforcing feedback processes (including polar melting and methane release) kick into gear.

The Global Economy’s “Impeccable Logic”
Steven Gorelick, Local Futures ISEC Blog
To suggest that conventional economic thinking lacks a moral foundation is not to say that corporate CEOs and IMF economists have no moral or ethical values: most of them probably contribute to charity, feel tender thoughts towards their children and parents, and may even be angered at certain forms of injustice. The question here is whether there’s a moral dimension to the way conventional economics regards wealth inequality.

The Science of Peak Oil
Andrew McKay, Southern Limits
Peak oilers are accused of changing the definition of what peak oil actually means, therefore the entire concept of oil production peaking is rubbish. Far from a valid criticism however, this is actually a scientific virtue. If any scientist dogmatically stuck with a rigid theory as the data repeatedly proved that theory to be incorrect then that would be cause for great concern.

Photo-feature: Climate change in the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, before and after
Rémi Chauvin, Guardian UK
In the low-lying Pacific atolls of the Marshall Islands and Kiribati rising sea levels have made every high tide a dangerous event. Regular floods wash through villages causing damage to houses, killing crops and poisoning drinking water. In December 2014, photographer Rémi Chauvin recreated a set of historical images depicting the first impacts of climate change in these countries where no one lives more than a few metres above the sea.

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