Showing posts with label fossil fuel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fossil fuel. Show all posts

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Economy is the Pied Piper

Those who claim that our economy can't afford to replace fossil fuels with renewables are mesmerising us with lies and leading us to a wasteland, just as the Pied Piper led the children of Hamelin off into the wilderness.
For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,
Joining the town and just at hand,
Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew,
And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
And everything was strange and new;
The sparrows were brighter than peacocks here,
And their dogs outran our fallow deer,
And honey-bees had lost their stings,
And horses were born with eagles' wings.
Robert Browning

The glittering promises of a joyous future based on coal, oil and natural gas are as real as the Piper's promise of sparrows as bright as peacocks.

Every credible economic advisor says that tip-toeing around carbon emission reduction will cost more in the long run. Here's what the very excellent Australian Treasury (the guys whose advice has made Australia the stand-out OECD economy) says. 
Early global action is cheaper than delayed action. For economies like Australia, deferring action on climate change will only lead to higher long-term costs as emission-intensive technology, processes and outputs are locked in.

Nevertheless, we have governments that seem to be mesmerised by a magical Piper as they continue to subsidise fossil fuel industries and give permits to new coal mines, oil wells, and gas wells as though fossil fuels are not destroying our future with their carbon emissions.

In Australia, we have a government that brought in a carbon price of $23/tonne based on a world where CO2-e emissions can rise to 550ppm. Yes, 550ppm, not the 450ppm that gives a 75% chance to keep average global warming within the 2°C guardrail, and not the 350ppm that many credible scientists recommend as the maximum for a safe climate.

When will they wake from sleep and understand that countries can't be run to the misbegotten tunes of economists? As we come ever closer to the absolute resource limits of a finite planet, some economists are beginning to realise that growth economics is a fantasy.

Tim Jackson, economics commissioner on the UK government's Sustainable Development Commission says,
The idea of a non-growing economy may be an anathema to an economist. But the idea of a continually growing economy is an anathema to an ecologist.

So, don't be taken in by those who say that the 'joyous land' of the future will be based on coal, oil and natural gas. Recognise them for what they are - persuasive folk who spin yarns about horses born with eagles' wings.


In the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Browning describes how government officials responded when the Piper claimed his fee for ridding the town of rats.
A thousand guilders! The Mayor looked blue;
So did the Corporation too.
For council dinners made rare havoc
With Claret, Moselle, Vin-de-Grave, Hock;
And half the money would replenish
Their cellar's biggest butt with Rhenish.
To pay this sum to a wandering fellow
With a gipsy coat of red and yellow!
They refused to pay the thousand guilders and ended up paying a much higher price when the Piper led all their children away. Right now, we're acting like that Mayor and Corporation. We're not willing to pay the price of an immediate transition to a low-carbon economy. Our children and grandchildren will pay a very heavy price. As extreme weather events become daily fare, oceans acidify, and sea levels rise, many will pay with their lives.

We have to pay the piper, dance with the one who brought us.

We can't argue with Mother Nature, but we can, and must, side with ecologists against economists.


H/T David Oertel for noting that the economy is the Pied Piper.


Snippet from the Transformation tab.

China estimated it may spend $373 billion on projects for conserving energy and reducing emissions in the five years through 2015. The State Council announced a plan to reduce by 2015 the amount of energy it uses to produce every unit of gross domestic product by 16 percent from 2010 levels. In the five years through 2015, China is aiming for energy savings equal to 670 million tons of standard coal equivalent energy. Source: Bloomberg.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Twitterstorm will challenge fossil fuel subsidies

Growing public pressure is pushing governments to reduce fossil fuel subsidies. Activists are mobilising public opinion using social media.

From a mass of social media platforms, Twitter and Facebook have emerged as dominant players. Using them, climate communicators are finding fresh ways  to spread messages and organise action. Watch Twitter on 18 June for the Twitterstorm campaign that calls for the Rio Earth Summit to address the problem of fossil fuel subsidies.

The total global amount of fossil fuel subsidies provided in 2012 is likely to be at least $775 billion, according to OilChange International. These subsidies have the effect of encouraging fossil fuel consumption and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Their impact is so big that the IEA's Fatih Birol says ending fossil fuel subsidies could provide half the answer to solving climate change.

Wealthy OECD countries are not the worst offenders, instead Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia have the highest subsidies, as this Guardian graph illustrates.

Countries with fossil fuel reserves, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, use subsidies as a way to spread the wealth by making fuel and fertiliser cheaper. However analysis has shown that little of the subsidy reaches the poorest people, and that there are more efficient ways to spread the wealth.

Poor countries like India have programs that make kerosine, the common cooking fuel, affordable for their poorest citizens. To remove the kerosine subsidy, these countries will need assistance from wealthy countries so their poorest citizens can continue to buy enough kerosine to cook every day.

The worst effect of fossil fuel subsidies is to discourage the uptake of renewables because it is hard for clean energy to compete against artificially cheap fossil fuel.

Organisations like 350.0rg are using Rio's Earth Summit to advocate for wealthy countries to remove their own subsidies and to give assistance to poor countries so they can reduce theirs.

You can add your voice to campaign petitions at, or Earthday Network. And you can join the Twitterstorm planned for 18 June 2012 by following #endfossilfuelsubsidies.

It's a storm caused by fossil fuel emissions, but it's a good one.

UPDATE 20 June 2012: The Twitter campaign took the hash tag #endfossilfuelsubsidies to No. 2 in the ranking of globally trending topics and No. 1 in the US, and succeeded in mobilising action from tens of thousands of people worldwide.

The Twitterstorm was one element in a suite of related activities – petitions signed by more than 1 million people, banners, screen projections in major cities, and a panel discussion in Rio before the conference.

Among the cacophony of messages at the Rio+20 Earth Conference, the Twitterstorm may have helped to draw attention to fossil fuel subsidies. Early drafts of the Rio text didn't mention oil, coal or gas subsidies at all, and the final draft made only a passing reference. In the end, the impact of this Twitterstorm and the wider campaign will be measured by how quickly fossil fuel subsidies are unravelled over coming years.

Image: Campaign agains climate change

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Boom and bust the natural way

History is littered with examples of animal populations that expanded when new resources were found. Farmers know about the good seasons that result in mouse plagues.

It is typical for populations to boom during good years and then collapse suddenly in bad years, or when they overrun the resource base. It's the natural boom and bust cycle.

Human populations have boomed and busted throughout history, and resource depletion has been an important factor. Jared Diamond's book Collapse examines the boom and bust effect in eight historic and four contemporary societies.

It is clear that human population has been booming over the past 200 years, as illustrated in this graph based on UN 2010 projections.

The resource that has underpinned this population boom is the energy from coal, oil and gas which has allowed billions of people to be fed, and to live lives of unimaginable wealth.  This wealth has brought immense riches to the top 1% and also health, education, comfort and civil society for general populations.

Right now, we are at the point of overrunning the resource base. The biggest whammy is that fossil fuel supplies cannot keep up with demand as shown by rising prices. Can't argue with that. There's a limited supply of the stuff.

This graph shows that oil prices have risen when spare capacity has fallen.

The next chart shows that natural gas prices are rising in Europe and Japan, though US prices are held down by a current production boom and a warm winter.

Natural gas prices in the United States, Europe, and Japan, based on World Bank Commodity Price Data

Even coal, the most abundant fossil fuel, is rising in price.

Not only are coal, oil and gas supplies unable to keep up with increasing demand, but we know that we can't keep using even the reserves that we have, due to the damage they cause through the greenhouse gases they emit. As the damage from climate change becomes ever more apparent, countries will act to cut carbon emissions. Fossil fuel reserves are looking more and more like stranded assets.

The Dinosaur Economy, based on fossil fuels, will end. It will be followed by a new Clean Energy economy. If we manage to build a bridge between the old and the new, we have a chance to avoid the ghastly impacts of the Bust part of the cycle. 

If we don't build that bridge, we'll fall into a chasm where we have very limited energy resources for a period of time. In that chasm, all the horrors of the Bust cycle will be unleashed – starvation, displacement and war as people fight for limited food, water and shelter. Walls will go up between the haves and the have-nots. Populations will collapse and those that are left will adjust to the new, lower resource base.

That's the natural Boom and Bust cycle.

If we do manage to build a bridge, or ramp or something, across to the other side, we can minimise the inevitable disruption. We can adjust to the new resource base as we go along. It's already happening as countries move to replace fossil fuel with renewables.

If we avoid the Boom and Bust cycle, we won't be a plague upon the earth, instead we'll be more like responsible custodians. They're much more lovable than a plague.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Subsidies – specks or logs?

We have set out on this long journey towards a low carbon future.

We know that the cost of doing nothing will be enormous in money, goods, homes and lives. So we are prepared to pay to avoid catastrophe. Of course, we don't want to pay more than we have to, and we don't want to pay more than the other guy. So everyone is busy with their calculators and measuring rods making sure we pay as little as possible, making this transition look like a slow bicycle race.

The situation is ripe for vested interests to say, "Hey! Those guys are getting too much money. It's not fair."

This happened recently with respect to Chinese solar panels exported to the U.S. The U.S. Department of Commerce decided that the manufacturers had an unfair advantage due to big subsidies from the Chinese government. To level things up, they slapped a tariff on them.

Fossil fuel industry supporters often complain that governments are giving too many subsidies to renewable energy projects. Industry associations and lobbyists are counting on their fingers and toes to tally all the subsidies, big and little, for renewables.

The very reputable International Energy Agency (IEA) found that countries worldwide paid $66 billion in subsidies to encourage the development and deployment of renewable energy in 2010.

That sounds like a lot, but it is just a speck compared with the $409 billion that governments paid to subsidise fossil fuel in the same year, according to the IEA.

Fatih Birol, exceptional economist with the IEA says, 
Energy markets can be thought of as suffering from appendicitis due to fossil fuel subsidies. They need to be removed for a healthy energy economy. Energy is significantly underpriced in many parts of the world, leading to wasteful consumption, price volatility and fuel smuggling. It's also undermining the competitiveness of renewables.

Australia doesn't get a mention in this very excellent Guardian article about fossil fuel subsidies, but I note that after floating the idea of reducing the $2 billion diesel rebate, the Australian government caved in to industry lobbying and it didn't get a mention in the recent budget.

When fossil fuel interests criticise the subsidies given to renewable energy, they need to look at the log in their own eyes before complaining about the speck in other people's eyes.
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Matthew 7.3

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fossil fuel dependence: A dead end

Fossil fuel dependence is a dead end, though you'd never know it the way the mining industry carries on.

Mining lobbyists like to scare politicians and the public, but global statistics for trends in new power generation show a dramatic decline for fossil fuels. Maybe the miners are stridently fighting a rear guard action?

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the International Energy Agency, investment in renewables for power production rose from $50bn in 2004 to $260b in 2011. Over the same time investment in fossil fuel power production fell from $250b to $40b. It looks like this.

This gives a clear picture of the road to the future. Personally, I find it very heartening to see that the world is moving towards renewables at a rapid rate. It's exactly what economists say we ought to do.

Climate Spectator (14 May 2012)has more detail: King Carbon.

This Bloomberg article (10 May 2012) says,
On the way to a renewable energy future, a funny thing has happened: Big Oil has become the biggest investor in the race to create green fuels. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Apollo and Neptune are growing tomatoes

As societies turn away from fossil fuels towards renewables will the dark carbon gods of coal and oil give way to mankind's original gods of sun, wind and water? Will we see a shift in cultural practice?

Already, we see beauty in solar installations like Gemasolar, near Seville in Spain, where the layout of the mirror array is guided by the patterns of seeds in sunflower heads.

And wind generators are entering beauty contests.

New technology can be very techie, but as I have discussed, renewables are very lovable.

What's not to love in this new farming system that uses solar power to desalinate water and produce greenhouse crops in the desert. Sundrop Farms have developed the technology that uses trough mirrors to heat oil that boils sea water to run turbines to generate electricity. It also desalinates the water. The electricity, heat and water are used in greenhouses to grow vegetables. In 2010-2011 Sundrop trialed the high-tech system in the desert near Port Augusta. The trials went very well and in 2012 they will expand  to have 8 hectares under greenhouses.

You can take a site visit –

The cool language of technology needs to meet the life-affirming language of love.  Surely the capacity to grow nourishing food in the desert is nothing short of miraculous?

Where is our sense of wonder? Apollo and Neptune have joined forces to grow tomatoes in the desert of South Australia.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Sith Lords

The men from Koch — and the groups, politicians, and  disinformation they fund — are now the Sith Lords of climate and clean energy inaction in the country.

It is no coincidence that countries with large mining sectors have the lowest levels of public support for the transition to a low-carbon economy. Renewables have been implemented most strongly by European countries with limited fossil fuel reserves and small mining industries. As a result, they have no home-grown propaganda industry to restrain investment in renewables.

Public opinion in the U.S., Canada and Australia has been strongly influenced by propaganda campaigns and misinformation as well as fear mongering and lobbying by the mining sector.

These miners protect their own interests at the expense of the wider community and the whole ecosphere. As well as direct political ads and lobbying, miners regularly fund climate change deniers and support their attack campaigns.

Paul Gilding describes the Koch brothers as "the corporate bad guys from central casting".

Little wonder that Joe Romm calls corporate deniers the Sith Lords. In Star Wars mythology, the Sith Lords represent the dark side – the forces of destruction, division, selfishness, and chaos.

Mother Jones reports on 'Dark Money' – the secretive funding for U.S. political campaigns. 

In the climate wars, the forces for good are ranged against the forces for evil.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Who is winning the race?

Right now, nations are racing towards the new low-carbon future.

Fossil fuels can only get more expensive because the cheapest reserves have already been tapped and new reserves are more expensive. When industrialised economies were developing, oil was the equivalent of $13 a barrel, but now countries must pay $120 to $130, according to Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency.

Another factor making fossil fuels more expensive is the increasing recognition of the damage caused by greenhouse gases and the impact of global warming. More countries are imposing carbon taxes/prices which will add to the cost of fossil fuels.

The race is on – 2011 was the first year that global investments in renewable energy surpassed investments in fossil fuels. 

European countries are ahead in the race because they started running years ago, while others watched from the sidelines. Now more countries are also running hard.

Some runners have been slowed down by fossil fuel interests that have undermined public confidence in the science behind climate change.  These countries are hobbled by their misinformed electorates.

Who are the winners? Anyone who is ahead of the pack will be a winner because they will avoid the worst impact of rising fossil fuel costs. Eventually, everyone will get there, but the laggards will pay a high price. Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, says that for every $1 that countries do not spend on cleaner fuel, they will have to spend $4.3 within the next two decades to make up for their reliance on fossil fuels.

Rich countries have a moral obligation to help poor countries keep up with the main pack.

Scott Mandia, a professor of meteorology at Suffolk County Community College in New York uses this analogy.  He is the founder of The Climate Science Rapid Response Team and The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund.  He is a leading US voice in engaging the public, media and his students about the serious threat of climate change.

Source: Be Green

Bloomberg New Energy Finance produces a ranking of the Top 20 Green Banks which it bills as The Race for Clean Energy.