This guest post is from Clark. My thanks to him for the time he has taken to draw together the material which has guided his argumentation regarding the issues around energy resources. Clark debates strongly, fairly and politely, so let’s return the compliment. Try not to swamp him, and be patient for replies – I know what it’s like being one against many in the climate debate!
Rog Tallbloke asked me to do a guest article, as a follow-on from a discussion that started at Craig Murray’s blog, and continued here:
At first, the global warming issue seemed pretty straight forward to me. There seemed to be a strong message coming from the scientific community, led by the UN appointed IPCC, that co2 emissions were a problem, and part of the problem was the difficulty of predicting just how serious it could get. Against this background there seemed to be the expected responses; governments saying they’d like to help but that their economies must take priority, and big businesses that were also major emitters of co2 trying to counter the science and oppose any co2 regulation.
Then the Stern Review was published. Effects such as lost habitats, lost agricultural areas, numbers of people displaced, increases in disease etc., were all replaced with dollar figures; losses to industry and commerce, additional costs and risks for the insurance industry. Suddenly, global warming was no longer a matter for ridicule. Governments started taking it seriously and even some businesses got on board. Unmoved by human death and suffering, the powerful woke up when their money was threatened.
“Global warming is a scam collaboration between bought scientists and governments buying excuses to invent taxes” – I only encountered this sort of argument in the last couple of years, and you can imagine how confusing I find it given my perceptions above. A glance at the scientific arguments on these and other such pages informs me that I am out of my field, and I expect that I’d have to take up full-time study to change that.
No, I’ll leave that argument for others. I’m happy for co2 production to be regulated in any case. Precisely how the regulations are enforced is an important issue of social justice, but overall, co2 reduction is entirely compatible with a reduction of hydrocarbon extraction, and that should be done anyway. My thinking on this has been influenced by the following articles:
The first proves that we can’t keep expanding our energy production by 2-3% a year for very much longer:
The second strongly suggests that we can’t keep growing the economy without growing the energy supply:
The third asks if we can slingshot ourselves from the hydrocarbon extraction peak into a steady state of energy production from other sources:
Here is a hypothetical hydrocarbon extraction curve similar to the one we seem to be on. A red star is marked somewhere near the top of the climb to represent our position now:
Even to preserve the miserable status quo beyond the peak, with no economic growth for rich or poor, we’d have to fill the gap on the right like this:
If we think the poor world should have as good a life as the rich world, we need to build an energy future like this:
OK, it doesn’t look good, so let’s consider failure. Riding a glut of hydrocarbons, the global population has increased by around a factor of four since about 1900. If the population curve ends up following the energy peak, we might roughly expect the death rate on the way down to be symmetrical with the birth rate on the way up. In 2011, 135 million people were born, and 57 million people died. If we do nothing, we can expect those figures to reverse in due course. That’s 78 million extra deaths per year, more than doubling the death rate, but not from old age; these extra deaths will be from lack of resources, or fighting over them. This of course translates to a much lowered global average life expectancy.
I doubt that this fairly gentle(!) death rate could be maintained; I expect that the population curve will lag the energy curve, making matters worse (more people, less energy each, and falling). Systems would be breaking down from lack of resources and people. When things go wrong, they tend to do so fast, critical failures bringing further systems down. The only sensible approach is to pre-empt the crisis; try to smooth down the hydrocarbon peak and make the downslope as gentle as possible, and that means implementing rationing, oh, twenty years ago, I suppose, but right now will have to do.
We can (and should) prioritise the development of renewable and nuclear power, but (1) that doesn’t solve the liquid fuel problem and (2) the current system grew, no one attempted to build it to a schedule dictated by nature; we have no precedent as to how well we can keep up like that. We should acknowledge that our attempts are likely to fall short, and implement hydrocarbon conservation now.
Interesting times, eh?