Carlos Rymer

Sustainability, Life, and More…

Are We Already Practically Cooked?

These days, it feels as if the climate debate has entirely fallen off the agenda (even Obama is not allowed to say “climate” anymore). So much has the debate shifted that it feels like we’re already practically cooked, waiting for the climate to warm up to levels that will simply reorganize Earth in a way that won’t be very comforting for anybody. We have gone from the days of Texas mega wind farm Ads on TV and the constant mention of climate and energy in the presidential campaign to a time where climate change is no longer in the agenda of U.S. politics. Obviously, this has thrown people off even as a global movement to address climate change has grown to record levels.

At the same time, we have experienced early warnings of the catastrophic effects severe climate change will bring to society. From floods of biblical proportions in Pakistan, Brazil, and Australia to massive snowstorms in the U.S. and Europe to record low winter sea ice extent in January, we are coming to grips with the reality of climate change. It is becoming all too clear that climate change is already affecting us directly in many ways, from rising food prices causing social instability to massive property losses due to increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

Given these realities, can we say that we are practically cooked? An optimist will rightly say we have to keep hoping, while a pessimist would say there’s nothing we can do. Yet the reality is very different from both of these views. While it may look hopeless, the fact is that a revolution is cooking. The world is realizing that clean energy technologies are not just good because they help fight climate change, but also because they provide real market stability, jobs, and hard currency. In spite of real economic problems, both advanced and emerging nations are joining a race that is set to intensify this decade. And if you’ve heard the trade debate lately, it has a lot to do with just that.

Nations are betting that whoever is the best at developing high-end clean energy products will win precious advantage this decade. That is why emerging nations like China are throwing a lot of money at clean energy and why the Obama administration opened an investigation into the matter, why Secretary Steven Chu wants the cost of solar energy to drop 75% by the end of the decade and Vice President Biden announced over $50 billion for new and improved high-speed rail lines, and why investments by major corporate players are now focusing a lot more on innovations that will change how we move around and use energy. From surging wind and solar manufacturing in China to the big bets automakers are making on EVs and plug-in hybrids, the race is clearly on.

My personal bet is that this race is set to intensify in dramatic ways, with investments surging over the next few years and game-changing innovations driving a shift away from fossil fuels and energy waste. While the question of whether this will be enough to slow and reverse climate change remains, it is clear that we aren’t practically cooked yet. In addition to this race, we will need to find ways to actually remove carbon from the atmosphere or adapt to a significantly warmer world, and my hope is that the fruits of this global race will create enough capacity for us to figure out how to do that in a way that is beneficial and does not change global ecological stability. In five years, we will know whether in fact we won’t be cooked by a fast warming planet in the future. Stay tuned for those news.

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10 thoughts on “Are We Already Practically Cooked?

  1. rogerthesurf on said:

    “From floods of biblical proportions in Pakistan, Brazil, and Australia to massive snowstorms in the U.S. and Europe”

    We have previously been told to expect heat and drought.
    What are you talking about?

    http://www.suite101.com/content/what-global-warming-could-mean-in-90-years-a112067
    http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090108/full/news.2009.9.html

    Cheers

    Roger

    • That was just some context to the idea that it may be too late already. The post as a whole argues that big changes are coming that may in fact lead to a deep fall in global ghg emissions. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions regarding that argument.

      • rogerthesurf on said:

        Carlos,

        Thanks for your reply.

        I am afraid that I do not belive that technology has enough answers up its sleeve to enable us to decrease CO2 emissions by 60% as the IPCC demands without a catastrophic slow down in economic activity. ie an economic depression of cataclysmic proportions.

        However it is true, if the IPCC has its way, that a ghg emissions reduction will be enhanced as the human population shrinks as a consequence of the above mentioned economic depression.

        Cheers

        Roger

      • Can you provide any evidence that clean energy will lead to a depression? First of all, you should know that fossil fuels are subsidized to the tune of over $100 billion annually. Also, some countries like Germany (which btw added 7GW of solar power last year alone) are making that transition aggressively while their economies boom (last i heard Germany was doing a lot better than the US in terms of growth and employment). So, please show me the evidence behind your argument. Don’t just say so. Thanks for the reply.

  2. rogerthesurf on said:

    The thing is that fossil fuels have world prices. For instance Brent Crude etc is quoted every day on the news, in my country anyway.
    In economic terms subsidies may effect the margins of the supplier but the cost as opposed to the price is still the same. Just tax payers share the cost.
    I am talking about price.
    If you have ever studied economics you will know that fossil fuels, in particular oil have what is known as an inelastic demand. This essentially means that if the supply decreases just a little, the world price (not cost) increases disproportionately. You may recall the oil shocks of the ’70’s and ’80’s where OPEC manipulated the price by decreasing the supply.

    Therefore, if the IPCC demands us to cut fossil fuel usage by 60% from current usage, one can expect fossil fuel prices to increase in a very big way.

    Are there ample alternatives to fossil fuels available at a similar price to compensate in the short term?

    Consider how many things that you use, eat or consume that have a fossil fuel energy component in them. If the price of fossil fuels skyrocket, I leave you to speculate of what that would do to your life style. Would your employer even stay in business?
    This is where the cataclysmic depression will come from.
    To maked things worse, the IPCC wants western countries to transfer significant wealth to places like Myamya and Zimbabwe. That will most certainly exacerbate the situation.

    Cheers

    Roger

    • Roger,

      Why are there countries where the cost of oil is high and yet they are doing just fine? Think of the Eurozone. I dont think it’s right to assume we cannot do without oil in the long term. Consider what would happen to oil demand if in 20-30 years half of the auto fleet were EVs. There are real alternatives and they are rapidly becoming more cost competitive. Oil in fact is way too costly when you add up the trillions we pay over the years to ensure supply in dangerous places. Do you think that is free? We will have to pay for all of it, and it will mean reduced social services across the board. I think it’s a bit naive to look at things theoretically and not realistically.

      • rogerthesurf on said:

        You are correct when you state that eventually we will need to survive without fossil fuels.

        There are various estimates of the time left until fossil fuels run out, and I take a fairly jaundiced view of the estimates having been through two “oil shocks” in the ”70′s and ’80′s where we were told that it was running out already.

        However the current estimates are about 40 years for oil, 62 years for natural gas and 224 years for coal. http://energysavingnow.com/energytoday/reserves.shtml

        If governments did nothing, and unfortunately governments have a way of exacerbating economic problems, (try reading Milton Freidman if you think that is too radical a statement), the price of fuel will rise steadily and I suspect converting coal to liquid fuel and gas will still be less expensive than any green technologies so far mooted, so the price will most likely rise and level out once this process becomes viable. (NB every rise in oil is currently reflected in just about every activity and product we consume)

        So we have at least 100 years to adjust to the rising price of energy.

        This is not to say that there will be no hardship or radical change in our civilisation.

        If the IPCC and governments have their way we have less than 20 years to curtail most fossil fuel usage. That gives us the scenario in my previous comments, its a matter of how much time we are given.

        Currently oil has a world price, if it appears expensive in a particular country, either you are arriving at the price by converting the price directly to your local currency. (which is meaningless) or the local price is effected by local taxation. Here we pay about 60% tax on petrol for instance.
        I think this is a realistic look at things, but as we are looking at the future, it has to be theoretical. However I am applying standard economic analysis which is taught at most universities in the world.

        I think it is naive to think that windmills, solar energy etc can possibly meet all our energy needs in the foreseable future.
        Biofuel is in a different category as it unfortunately competes in our food supply market
        Nuclear is of some help but is somewhat limited as a transport fuel.
        Electric vehicles simply move emissions from the exhaust pipe to the smoke stack.

        Cheers

        Roger

  3. rogerthesurf on said:

    Carlos,

    Just wondering if you read my last comment. Will be interested to read your well considered answer.

    Cheers

    Roger

    • Hi Roger,

      I did read your reply. All i can say is that some countries already get it. Countries like Italy which will install 5GW of solar power this year alone and China which last year alone added some 13GW of wind power. You may think it’s not possible to wean ourselves off fossil fuels in 20 yeara. All i’d say is wish we can both come back to this post in 20 years and summarize how we get our energy then and how the way we get has influenced our economy.

      🙂

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