Monday, March 10, 2014

Peak Oil/coal/gas vs Global Warming

According to a commenter on my previous post, the only scenario in the current IPCC projections that results in temperature increasing by more than 2°C from now to the end of the century assumes a total consumption of coal considerably greater than the total amount believed to be recoverable. I do not know if he is correct—he links to a presentation on estimating ultimate coal production.

Thinking about that claim, it occurred to me that there are (at least) two arguments for shifting from fossil fuels to recyclables, that they tend, in my experience, to be supported by the same people, and that they cut in opposite directions—the stronger one is, the weaker the other.

One argument is that fossil fuels are a depletable resource that we will eventually run out of and that we should therefor be switching to non-depletable resources such as solar, wind and water. The peak oil version of this argument has been popular for quite a long time, and the same argument applies, in principle, to gas and coal.

The other argument is CAGW—Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming. Burning fossil fuels puts CO2 into the atmosphere which raises global temperatures and, it is argued, the increase in temperature and associated climate effects will have very bad consequences.

As best I can tell, the two arguments tend to be supported by the same people. This makes sense from the point of view of someone who has a conclusion and wants arguments to support it, since both arguments support the same conclusion. It also makes sense if one sees views on such issues as largely determined by ideological allegiance, with liberals and environmentalists tending to believe in problems that require government action to solve, conservatives and libertarians tending to be skeptical.

On the other hand ...  . The more limited our supplies of fossil fuels are, the lower the climate effects of burning them all up. If we are going to run out of all of them by, say, 2050, then any global warming projection that depends on our continuing to burn them thereafter is impossible. To put the point differently, the closer to exhaustion we are, the higher the price of fossil fuels will be, ceteris paribus, since anyone who owns a coal mine and expects the price of coal to go up sharply as supplies are depleted has an obvious incentive to postpone production until they do. The logic of that situation was worked out in a classic article by Harold Hotelling more than seventy years ago. 

The higher the prices of fossil fuels, the greater the incentive to switch to renewables. If exhaustion is a serious problem, if likely rates of consumption will make fossil fuels much more expensive by, say, mid-century, the CAGW problem will take care of itself without any government action needed.

47 Comments:

At 10:51 AM, March 10, 2014, Anonymous Alan said...

I think that commenter was wrong. His numbers come from skepticalscience.com, which as far as I can tell does a good job in general, but looking at the actual IPCC summary (page 23), the numbers are somewhat different. Of course, each of the four scenarios actually has a range of predicted temperature changes, but for two of them, the mean prediction is more than 2 degrees C over the end of the 20th century, and in a third, the mean is 1.8 but the "likely range" is from 1.1 to 2.6.

 
At 10:51 AM, March 10, 2014, Blogger Daniel Lemire said...

We have lots and lots of cheap coal. If we dig it all out and burn it, we will definitively have environmental problems. China has these problems right now. London had these problems in the past.

It so happens that we won't do this... not because we will run out of coal, we won't, but because we have better and cheaper alternatives.

The US is phasing out coal right now. It is burning less and less... The US is still digging out coal, but it is for exports.

China will eventually phase out coal. Their use of coal, and the corresponding pollution, is a national disgrace. They know this.

Ironically, the one place where coal usage is increasing is Germany. Remember that they switched to solar? What do you think they do when the sun goes down? Coal. And where does the coal comes from? The US.

 
At 10:55 AM, March 10, 2014, Anonymous Alan said...

Also, your observation that "the two arguments tend to be supported by the same people" is not my observation. The mainstream science consensus seems to be that there is way more than enough fossil fuel left to completely destroy the planet.

 
At 11:02 AM, March 10, 2014, Blogger Daniel Lemire said...

Regarding coal, here is a reference:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal_by_country

So we could keep on burning coal at the current rate for more than a century without any shortage whatsoever, even accounting for natural increases due to increased population.

Of course, we will not do this. China won't keep up at the current rate.

 
At 11:29 AM, March 10, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12:33 PM, March 10, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

I like to argue precisely that when discussing this with a friend of mine who supports (financially) Greenpeace. Eventually the solar (or other "green") energy will be more efficient anyway. And subsidizing it today while the technology has not reached the efficiency (compared to the fossil fuels) yet is throwing money out of the window, because by the time it will, the current solar plants are going to be obsolete...while those subsidies also reduce both incentives and resources available for researching more efficient "green" power. So, the only argument that has a chance of being persuasive is the warming/pollution one while assuming that we will run into serious problems before "green" energy becomes more efficient (so slow technological progress and a lot of fossil fuel deposits).

But then you still have to deal with nuclear power...The interesting thing is that the second argument does not work against it. Nuclear power does not cause global environmental problems (at worst it does that only at a local scale even if something goes wrong which has happened only twice really and with old types of power plants and in one case as a result of an almost deliberate effort) and the depletion argument by itself is hollow.

Which leads me to an impression (I would hesitate to call it any more than that, since I am clearly biased) that the people who like to see the government solutions of pollution/global warming are often so vigorously against nuclear power precisely because if they don't dismiss it, neither of the arguments work. A lot of nuclear power plants are also subsidized, which is a problem, but which does not seem to be an issue the "Atomkraft? Nein, danke!" people (who are sadly quite influential in Germany and Austria) are concerned with.

From my discussions with actual Greenpeace members, their two objections are depletion and danger to human life. The depletion issue has been addressed and the second is basically the same as fearing sharks (except that deadly sharks are a better movie plot). Sharks kill fewer people a year than cows do. But they are scarier. Radiation is scary, but the death rate per KWh (or trillion KWh) of nuclear power is almost five times lower as that of (rooftop) solar power and more than 1.5 times lower than of wind power. In both cases people fall off while installing them, which is a bit less scary than radiation, but also deadly. I also heard (but I don't have it confirmed) that wind plants have a nasty habit of accumulating ice during winter in colder areas...and that ice is then hurled several meters in one or the other direction being lethal to anything foolish enough to stand where it lands. Since you have to build a lot of those power plants to match the output of one nuclear plant, these accidents sadly happen enough to cause a lot of deaths. I should add that I don't know what the number is for all solar plants - including those on the ground. And also, fossil (and hydro) power scores even worse, which of course has nothing to do with nuclear energy.

For the numbers, see :

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/


Question: Are there any other reasons why nuclear power plants are a bad idea? I can only think about the "terrorist attack" scenario, but the plants seem to be well protected against that. And planes cannot hit it because they would be shot down before they could hit then (and also the hull of the core of at least some plants is at least theoretically supposed to withstand such an impact). If I wanted to cause damage and deaths by hitting a power plant, I would aim for a dam.

 
At 12:35 PM, March 10, 2014, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel: If you look at the comment on the previous post, you will see that he is discussing a scenario in which the rate of consumption of coal rises much beyond population growth, making consumption in 2100 almost ten times consumption in 2000.

 
At 12:47 PM, March 10, 2014, Blogger David Friedman said...

Alan:

Checking page 23, the temperature changes are relative to 1986-2005, not to current temperature. Eyeballing some graphs, it looks as though current temperature is about .2 degrees above the average for 1986-2005, which brings the RCP 6.0 mean projection down to just about 2 degrees. The RCP 8.5 is the one the commenter said got the increase above 2 degrees but depended on burning an impossibly large amount of coal.

 
At 12:51 PM, March 10, 2014, Blogger David Friedman said...

Alan:

I wasn't identifying "the same people" with people who support "the mainstream science consensus" but with people who support particular views—CAGW and worries about exhaustion of depletable resources.

My impression is that people who support those views are more likely than others, not less, to believe that genetically modified foods are dangerous, a position which opposes the current mainstream science consensus on that issue, as best I can tell. Also more likely to not believe that increasing the minimum wage will reduce employment of unskilled workers. So it isn't support for the scientific consensus that defines the group.

But I certainly don't have enough data to be confident that CAGW worries and "Running out of stuff" worries tend to be held by the same people, which is why I qualified my statement as I did.

 
At 1:14 PM, March 10, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

David: I have only an anecdotal evidence in favour of that claim (that CAGW worries and depletion worries tend to be held by the same people) and that is that all (well...both of) the Greenpeace people I've met who persuade people to donate money in the street have also made the "running out of resources" argument - for nuclear power (assuming all power being nuclear from today on, no technological advantages in that area and no new deposits...which is kind of sloppy). And their organization as a whole is very alarmist in terms of global warming.

Still, I have only met (or rather talked to) 2 of them, so that is hardly any evidence. On the other hand, they may be all citing one official Greenpeace organization source, but it might be just as well that they just used their own arguments and opinions.

 
At 1:51 PM, March 10, 2014, Anonymous RKN said...

The mainstream science consensus seems to be that there is way more than enough fossil fuel left to completely destroy the planet.

Certainly the case for natural gas, even before fracking came along. The world is awash in CH4 reserves (thus the transition, at least in the US, to gas-fired electricity plants). Here, the concern of the global warming community seems to be the escape of natural gas during its production, storage, and transportation, since it is a much more harmful greenhouse gas compared to CO2. (The daily belches of livestock only makes it worse).

 
At 1:51 PM, March 10, 2014, Anonymous Alan said...

Sorry, I was unclear. I was saying that most of the people I know (admittedly a biased sample) believe global warming is a serious problem, and most of them do not believe that running out of fossil fuels is. In other words, among my friends, the scientific consensus that I described is pretty well accepted.

My friends are mostly scientists and engineers, and mostly liberal.

I think most of them are cautious but not too worried about GMOs. Many of them support nuclear power, or at least research in that direction. Not sure about minimum wage... I'm sure most of them would support an increase (like I said, liberal), but I think a lot of them would admit to the likelihood that it could increase unemployment.

 
At 3:09 PM, March 10, 2014, Blogger Jim Rose said...

how would you structure a Julian Simon's style wager that covered both peak oil in 20 years time and continued global warming due to fossil fuels?

 
At 3:10 PM, March 10, 2014, Anonymous Mark Bahner said...

"I think that commenter was wrong. His numbers come from skepticalscience.com, which as far as I can tell does a good job in general, but looking at the actual IPCC summary (page 23), the numbers are somewhat different."

Actually, I just offered the webpage on the Skeptical Science site as a good discussion of the Representative Concentration Pathways scenarios. The values I got for warming in 2081 to 2100 versus 1850-1900 were from this website:

Australian Government Representative Concentration Pathways Fact Sheet

The numbers in that document are as I quoted them. The catch is that I was assuming there would be 0.8 degrees Celsius warming from 1851-1900 to the present. In contrast, the numbers I quoted are only only 0.6 degrees Celsius higher than those on the IPCC summary webpage.

But the general point still holds. The only scenario with warming above 2 degrees Celsius (***rounding to the nearest whole number***) is RCP8.5.

P.S. ***Always read the fine print. Even if it's not there. ;-)

 
At 3:22 PM, March 10, 2014, Blogger RJM said...

@Tibor:

"Which leads me to an impression (I would hesitate to call it any more than that, since I am clearly biased) that the people who like to see the government solutions of pollution/global warming are often so vigorously against nuclear power precisely because if they don't dismiss it, neither of the arguments work."

From what I understand, nuclear energy might be the future (based on the two reasons you explain). It's a total mystery to me, why its reputation is so awful.

In Germany it seems to be a cultural/religious thing to a degree that ''not'' being against nuclear power plants is sometimes regarded as fanaticism.

There is even this weird TV commercial of an energy supplier (RWE). The fact that Germany is alone with its "energy revolution" is reinterpreted with the sentence "Germany moves ahead".

So odd.

 
At 4:06 PM, March 10, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

RJM: I don't watch TV here much (but I plan to to catch the German accent...but only after my grammar and vocabulary is good enough so that I can understand most of what they are saying there), but I noticed those atomkraft nein danke stickers on many cars around here (Göttingen). And there are also a couple of stickers from radical leftists (mostly probably antifa) that eucourage to fight agaist "imperialism,racism, capitalism, nuclear energy"...but those are to be expected in a student town and are not all that common.

I have not discussed it with anyone and also I think I would get a biased estimate of overall opinion since all the people I have met here so far are natural scientists or mathematicians (or PhD students of those), so I suspect they will be less hostile to nuclear power than the average guy. On the other hand, Merkel is a physicist...but of course, she is mainly a politician and actually changed her policy on nuclear power from moderately open to hostile after the public opinion swayed that way after Fukushima.

Still, Germany is not as bad in this respect as Austria is. Some Austrians block the Czech borders from time to time because they don't like the nuclear plant Temelín (the still running German nuclear power plants don't seem to bother them for some reason). Apart from that probably being in conflict with the Schengen, those protests are displays of sheer fanaticism and it is quite sad. In a sense, it is also funny, since Austrians actually buy electricity from the Czech republic (because of their de facto ban on nuclear power and limitations on fossil power, they don't produce enough power and have to buy it abroad), their power comes partly from Temelín.

I have only guesses to why so many people are so fiercely against nuclear power. One is that people associate it with nuclear weapons and this anti-nuclear movement is a strange relic from the Cold War. Another is what I already mentioned - nuclear power is scary. Radiation is something that can kill you but you can't see it. And most people don't understand it well either. After Fukushima, people in Europe panicked about irradiated food (grown in Europe). That was complete nonsense, but it makes dramatic headlines. It is like with those sharks, or with madman shootings or terrorist attacks (in Europe or North America). People don't fear what usually kills them, those things they are used to. They fear what they don't know. And hardly anyone bothers with looking up statistics. And even if they do, it may not have that much of an effect. I know aeroplanes are safer than cars. Still, I feel much more at ease in a car (especially if I am driving and I doubt I am an above average driver) than on an aeroplane. And a lot of this anti-nuclear lobby seems to be based on feelings and emotions.

Other than that, I can't come up with anything. There may be some arguments against nuclear power, but the kind of treatment it gets in Austria and partly in Germany is just fanaticism.

Still, this does not explain why Germany and Austria are so unique in this sense. They have never even had nuclear weapons, so that is not the case...although Germany was one of the "frontiers" of the cold war, so perhaps the anti-nuclear weapons movement was stronger here than elsewhere and that could have translated into the anti nuclear energy movement. Still, there have never been serious problems with any of the German nuclear power plants (to my knowledge at least) and Germany is further away from Ukraine than Bohemia is. Any ideas for why it is so?

 
At 4:43 PM, March 10, 2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A lot of nuclear power plants are also subsidized..."

100% of them are, at least to the extent of socializing the Chernobyl risk, since private insurance isn't available.

 
At 5:01 PM, March 10, 2014, Blogger Dan Pangburn said...

It has been demonstrated that change to the atmospheric CO2 level has no significant effect on climate.

Perhaps we can now attend to REAL pollution.

 
At 5:20 PM, March 10, 2014, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

I do not understand the argument that since we're running out of oil, we should use less of it now.

How does it follow that we should use less? It's not like we're saving the rest of the oil for emergencies. It's not like an endangered species, where it will repopulate if we stop killing it.

The only argument I can think of is, since we're running out of oil, we better find substitutes now, or we'll be in trouble and our cars won't run! But, the increasing price will take care of that in due course. And the people who make this argument don't seem to be rushing out to buy oil in hopes of a future windfall.

I suspect it's just a mistaken analogy to a household. "We're running out of money, so use less of it, and don't go wasting it on a $5 latte." But that doesn't translate easily to world oil.

 
At 6:13 PM, March 10, 2014, Blogger David Friedman said...

Phil: One argument on running out of oil is that it's useful for things other than power, so should be saved for them. So far as your other point, most people are not aware of the Hotelling analysis of depletable resources or its implications.

That includes, in my observation, one ex-Secretary of Transportation of the U.S.

 
At 7:30 PM, March 10, 2014, Anonymous Mark Bahner said...

Hi David,

A couple of comments. You write:

"One argument is that fossil fuels are a depletable resource that we will eventually run out of and that we should therefor be switching to non-depletable resources such as solar, wind and water. The peak oil version of this argument has been popular for quite a long time, and the same argument applies, in principle, to gas and coal."

I think you should be a little more careful about your wording (for people who don't have any familiarity with economics). We will never "run out" of oil. Or gas or coal. What might happen (to all three, potentially) is that they become much more expensive than they have historically been.

So Dave Rutledge (who made the presentation I referenced...see postscript) wasn't saying, "Oh, we'll 'run out' of coal before we consume as much as in RCP8.5." He was actually saying that, based on historical trends for countries like Britain where coal use has declined to virtually zero, production will decline to virtually zero long before we consume as much coal as in RCP8.5.

Another aspect is that coal and oil are fundamentally different, in that gasoline/diesel are extremely useful for powering cars, trucks, and airplanes. So even if we do "run out" of inexpensive oil from drilling in the ground, it potentially makes a lot of sense to try to produce oil from algae...or natural gas or coal.

Finally, as others have pointed out, there is nuclear power. With notable exceptions like James Hansen and Stewart Brand, there are a great many people who:

1) Say they are very concerned about global warming,

2) Say they are worried about peak oil, and

3) Are firmly against nuclear power.

One huge problem is that the climate science community (or climate "science" community) has never provided its best estimate of what CO2 emissions will be in the 21st century. (They even brag about that fact. Amazing.)

Best wishes,
Mark

P.S. This is a paper Dave Rutledge wrote that goes into more detail than his presentation:

Estimating long-term global coal production

 
At 7:46 PM, March 10, 2014, Blogger David Friedman said...

"One huge problem is that the climate science community (or climate "science" community) has never provided its best estimate of what CO2 emissions will be in the 21st century."

I don't see that as a problem. One of my reservations about what they do say is that I don't think predictions about what humans will be doing even eighty years from now are worth much.

In my view, the future is much more uncertain than most people suppose. For support, see my _Future Imperfect_, webbed on my site or buyable from Amazon in hardcopy.

And one conclusion is that it rarely makes sense to bear significant costs now to avoid a problem anticipated a century or so in the future.

 
At 7:47 PM, March 10, 2014, OpenID hudebnik said...

My understanding (not having researched the topic particularly closely) is that the U.S., and some other countries, have enough coal in known reserves for hundreds of years' consumption at current rates. Natural gas... less, but a good deal more than before the development of fracking technology. Liquid oil, a good deal less still.

Depletion of liquid oil in our lifetimes is a realistic possibility, which will cause a shift to gas and coal, thus accelerating the depletion of gas, which will cause a shift to coal.

In other words, a "depletion" scenario (of oil) is not only consistent with, but helps to bring about, a scenario in which we burn coal and raise atmospheric CO2 levels for many years to come.

It's certainly true that as these resources become scarce and expensive, demand for them will naturally drop off, with an asymptote of zero supply, infinite price, and zero demand. But on the way to that state, the act of extracting and burning them inflicts some pretty substantial externalities: scenery and habitat destruction from coal mining, groundwater contamination from coal and fracking, oil spills from oil, CO2- and CH4-based climate change* from all of the above.

So wouldn't we all be better off with some kind of thumb on the scale counteracting those externalities, and causing fossil-fuel demand to drop off a little faster than a pure free-market would predict?

(* Yes, I know "warmer" is not necessarily "worse", nor necessarily "better", but I would argue that rapid climate change is always bad.)

 
At 8:18 PM, March 10, 2014, Blogger Jim Rose said...

david, what people will be doing and the technologies they have in 80 years time is vital to understanding whether global warming matters much at all

Tom Schelling is a genius in this type of problem definition. He asked this at http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc1/GreenhouseEffect.html

“Suppose the kind of climate change expected between now and, say, 2080 had already taken place, since 1900.

Ask a seventy-five-year-old farm couple living on the same farm where they were born: would the change in the climate be among the most dramatic changes in either their farming or their lifestyle?

The answer most likely would be no. Changes from horses to tractors and from kerosene to electricity would be much more important.

Climate change would have made a vastly greater difference to the way people lived and earned their living in 1900 than today.

Today, little of our gross domestic product is produced outdoors, and therefore, little is susceptible to climate. Agriculture and forestry are less than 3 percent of total output, and little else is much affected.

Even if agricultural productivity declined by a third over the next half-century, the per capita GNP we might have achieved by 2050 we would still achieve in 2051.”

 
At 9:16 AM, March 11, 2014, Anonymous Mark Bahner said...

Hi David,

I wrote, "One huge problem is that the climate science community (or climate "science" community) has never provided its best estimate of what CO2 emissions will be in the 21st century."

You responded, "I don't see that as a problem. One of my reservations about what they do say is that I don't think predictions about what humans will be doing even eighty years from now are worth much."

I agree that prediction is hard, especially about the future. And the more distant the future, the harder the predictions. But I think it's a huge problem when an organization (e.g., the IPCC) and a community (the climate change scientific community) pretends to be doing science, but really isn't. Both the public and policymakers simply take it as a given that the IPCC's scenarios--like the RCP8.5 scenario--are possible. There's no way that the public and policymakers can know that the coal usage in RCP8.5 is completely out of line with any historical experience, and would never be accepted in any peer-reviewed journal dealing with coal resources or future production.

When groups claim to be doing science, but aren't really doing science (in this case, pretending to be doing science, but not making falsifiable predictions of future events) then science is cheapened. It's just like when people counterfeit money, it reduces the value of that money.

You previously wrote, "If the publicity campaign to convince the public that all scientists agree with the IPCC version of truth is successful and it then becomes clear that that version was false, it will become considerably harder to persuade the public to take seriously scientific opinion in other fields."

I agree with that statement, but I'd extend it to something like, "If the IPCC convinces the public that something can be science without ever making falsifiable predictions, it will become harder for the public to distinguish between what is science and what is not (e.g. what is religion, or what is deliberate misdirection)."

So you're worried about the impacts on science of the IPCC being wrong. But I'm additionally worried about the impacts on science of the IPCC cheapening science by making the claim, "We weren't wrong. We never made any predictions."

Best wishes,
Mark

P.S. I'm pretty sure I know *why* they aren't making any predictions. If they did make honest predictions, they'd never be able to convince the public that climate change was a significant problem. Suppose, for example, they said, "We think the world will warm according to the RCP4.5 scenario...with a mean estimate for 2081-2100 of 1.8 degrees Celsius above the 1986-2005 temperatures." I think a significant portion of the population--perhaps even a majority--would simply agree to move on to other issues.

 
At 9:37 AM, March 11, 2014, Anonymous Mark Bahner said...

hudebnik writes, "My understanding (not having researched the topic particularly closely) is that the U.S., and some other countries, have enough coal in known reserves for hundreds of years' consumption at current rates. Natural gas... less, but a good deal more than before the development of fracking technology. Liquid oil, a good deal less still.

Depletion of liquid oil in our lifetimes is a realistic possibility, which will cause a shift to gas and coal, thus accelerating the depletion of gas, which will cause a shift to coal."

This emphasizes my point exactly. The general public and policymakers simply can't be expected to figure out for themselves that the projections for coal use in the RCP8.5 scenario aren't realistic.

Here's material from the abstract of the second paper I linked to in my last comments:

"The ultimately recoverable resources (URR) estimates
used in the scenarios ranged from 700 Gt to 1243 Gt. The model indicates that worldwide coal production will peak between 2010 and 2048 on a mass basis and between 2011 and 2047 on an energy
basis. The Best Guess scenario, assumed a URR of 1144 Gt and peaks in 2034 on a mass basis, and in 2026 on an energy basis."

This can be contrasted to the RCP8.5 scenario, in which coal usage is *continuously* rising from 2000 to 2100, such that the coal usage in 2100 is nearly 10 times higher than it was in 2000.

 
At 2:14 PM, March 11, 2014, Blogger jimbino said...

We non-breeders don't give a damn about the future of energy. David and the rest of you breeders who do give a damn need to deal with the problem your brats will face.

The "we" that cares about "climate change" does not include Tonto or me.

 
At 6:57 PM, March 11, 2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To repost the comments of someone above about this:

1) Say they are very concerned about global warming,
2) Say they are worried about peak oil, and
3) Are firmly against nuclear power.
==============

They cannot say no to everything. At some point the environmentalists need to say yes to something otherwise the people who actually have to make decisions in life won't invite the left wing to the big boy table for dinner.

 
At 7:06 PM, March 12, 2014, Anonymous Mark Bahner said...

Hi,

I'm having a related discussion on the National Climate Change Forum.

It got me to looking at this Projection of World Fossil Fuel Production with Supply and Demand Interactions (by Steve Mohr).

I'll be posting about this at my blog one of these days, but the take-home is that I calculated the total ppm of CO2 the atmosphere would be raised by burning all the coal, oil, and gas in his "Case 2" (best guess) estimate.

The answer is about 250 ppm. So even if we burned 100% of the coal, oil, and gas in that Case 2 estimate, the atmospheric concentration would only rise to ~650 ppm. This can be contrasted to the RCP8.5 estimate of 936 ppm in the year 2100 (see table below).

RCP2.6, 421 ppm, 1.6 deg. C.
RCP4.5, 538 ppm, 2.4 deg. C.
RCP6.0, 670 ppm, 2.8 deg. C.
RCP8.5, 936 ppm, 4.3 deg. C.

Mark

 
At 4:18 AM, March 13, 2014, Blogger David Friedman said...

Mark:

I think either you or someone else commenting said that RCP8.5 assumed high coal consumption but also a lot of carbon sequestration. If so, doesn't that strengthen your point? I assume your calculation is with zero sequestration.

 
At 9:53 AM, March 13, 2014, Anonymous Mark Bahner said...

Hi David,

Yes, I was the one who wrote that RCP8.5 has a lot of carbon sequestration.

If carbon sequestration was used, CO2 concentration would indeed be lower than the 650 ppm that I've calculated. (I need to check my calcs, and invite others to check my calcs, but they're fairly straightforward, so I don't think they're signficantly wrong.)

It's really an amazing and depressing waste of resources how much time has been spent on climate change, when some pretty straightforward calculations show that its highly unlikely to be a signficant problem.

 
At 1:37 PM, March 13, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

Mark: I am also very skeptical about both the fact that the global warming is a problem as serious as often presented (or perhaps a problem on nett at all) or even that, if it indeed is, that the current popular remedies are going to help much. But I am also skeptical about claims that it can be shown by a simple calculation that global warming is not a problem (or not a serious problem). There are a lot of factors involved that have to be evaluated using knowledge of many disciplines (physics, climatology, economics, perhaps some others) if you want to be sure you have conclusively proven (as much as that is even possible in the imperfect real world) that one side is right. I think that the alarmists who imagine the film Day After Tomorrow to be our near future can be easily shown to be wrong. The same I think can be said of the people who say that no global warming has been happening at all (I suspect people like to do that if they want to avoid problems instead of facing them...same as some libertarians who persistently argue that there is no such thing as a market failure or even deny the existence of public goods). If you cut out these "radicals" you are left with much more defensible opinions on either "side". I find one to be more persuasive, but I would not say that someone who holds the opposite views has to be an idiot who does not understand a simple calculation (which I would have to conclude if things were as easy as that).

 
At 3:19 PM, March 13, 2014, Anonymous Mark Bahner said...

Hi Tibor,

You write, "But I am also skeptical about claims that it can be shown by a simple calculation that global warming is not a problem (or not a serious problem)."

Good for you. You should be skeptical of extraordinary claims, and the more extraordinary the claim, the more skeptical you should be. But consider this:

1) CO2 is thought to be the principle warming agent. (There is also methane and black carbon...but let's ignore them for the present.)

2) If there are simply not enough fossil fuel resources to create significant CO2, then the warming won't be significant.

2) I presented Steve Rohr's estimate of ultimately recoverable resources for coal, oil and natural gas. If *all* of those resources were burned (and without any carbon capture and sequestration at the places they're burned) I calculate ~250 ppm of additional CO2 increase.

3) The RCP6.0 scenario (not the crazy RCP 8.5 scenario) has the following values for the year 2100:

RCP6.0, 670 ppm, 2.8 deg. C. (Some of that temperature increase is probably due to too-high assumed methane atmospheric concentration...)

4) So that means if we burned every single bit of all of the coal, oil, and gas that Steve Rohr estimated were in ultimately recoverable reserves in the 21st century, we'd be a bit under 2.8 degrees Celsius.

5) Richard Tol did a survey of several economists on the effects on GDP of various levels of warming. Averaged together, they estimated that, on net, global warming would increasingly *benefit* GDP up to 1 degree Celsius more than at present. And they estimated that it wouldn't be until 2 degrees Celsius above present that the warming would have a net negative effect on GDP. (Note also: Both the benefits up to 2 degrees C above present, and the harm in the 2-3 degrees Celsius above present are just a couple percent of future GDP.)

4) I think the IPCC...following virtually all of the economics profession...vastly *underestimates* the likely world GDP growth in this century. I think it will exceed 7 percent per year, on average. I think that's pretty easy to show. But that's just me.

5) Completely ignoring important point #4, let's assume that the CO2 concentrations and the GDP values that the IPCC had in their old SRES scenarios actually came to pass. Let's also assume a cost of $1000 per ton of ambient CO2 removed and sequestered, which results in a cost per ppm of atmospheric CO2 removed of $7.8 trillion. (That $1000 per ton is likely to be too high, by the way.) I have calculated that, if the world of 2100 started spending 10 percent of its GDP on removing CO2 from the atmosphere, they would be able to get down to ~300 ppm (the preindustrial concentration) in almost every scenario the IPCC envisioned:

Global warming *is* reversible.

Now, you might say, "Wow, 10% of their GDP! That's quite a burden." But the U.S. spent about 10% of its GDP on the military for about 3 decades from the end of WWII. And the people of 2100 and beyond are likely to be much better off than the people at the end of WWII to the 1970s in the U.S. (e.g., much longer life expectancy, shorter working hours, higher incomes, much more opportunities to interact with friends and family, etc.).

Mark

 
At 6:09 AM, March 14, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

Mark: What you write sounds reasonable (although it is starting to be a bit extensive, especially if one is to check all those data and estimates, so it is getting further away from "a simple calculation").

I am going to try to play the devil's advocate (not a very good one...devil is usually the best at being his own advocate :) ) and try to come up with some objections:

1) One could argue that looking only at the GDP is a very bad metric, that there are a lot of effects it does not capture, for instance those that involve other species (even though they would consequently have to have at least a partial effect on the GDP as well...but I am not sure if that is involved in those estimates you mention). And as far as species extinction goes, that is much harder to reverse (possibly if genetic engineering advances further, but in any case not as simple as the other effects). Of course a question is how that should even be evaluated. My opinion is that other species are as valuable as humans find them, i.e. you still have to see their continued existence as any other "good". I think Greenpeace would be horrified to hear that, but I think that at the end of the day they do that subconsciously anyway. But then we have a public good problem related to that, since you can't "save polar bears" just for some people and not for others.

2) From the people "on the other side" I heard that you should also look at more than just the temperature. That the effect is not simply warming, but generally more energy...resulting in more extreme weather (hurricanes and so on) which does not necessarily always manifest itself in an increase of temperature. I have only a passing knowledge of physics (although I intend to change that, since a lot of maths is motivated by physics problems and I would sometimes like to understand the motivation of what I am doing) and no knowledge of climatology, so I am not sure if that argument makes sense or not. Still, if it does, looking at the temperature only might not give you a good estimate.

 
At 12:06 PM, March 15, 2014, Blogger Tom Bridgeland said...

One reason many people remain skeptical about GMOs, nuclear power, CAGW etc is that they simply do not trust the sources not to lie to them. In the recent TEPCO nuclear disaster, it was days and weeks before the company was willing to admit the extent of the radiation leakage.
GMO skeptics do not believe a word Monsanto puts out, nor do they believe the scientists who say GMOs are not a problem.
Global warming skeptics do not believe the scientists who say it is a problem, and on the other side, believers say skeptical scientists are paid off shills of big oil.
The problem is that there is no trustworthy body we can go to for arbitration. We know the governments don't hesitate to lie to us. We know big business often stretches the truth. Priests and schoolteachers sometimes molest little boys and girls.
I doubt this is a problem with an easy solution, but we need a non-political, non-business arbitrator, sort of like an Underwriters Laboratory for science.

 
At 1:08 PM, March 15, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

Tom: I would say the only solution is to start thinking by yourself :) Of course, no single person can understand all human knowledge. But you can use those areas that you understand to judge honesty and competence of others. And, if they give an easily verified prediction, you can see if their theories tend to work or not.

In no issue where something is at stake are there any "neutral arbitrators". The only unbiased people are those who don't care and they don't usually know much about the topic because of that. Even if there were such people, how would you go about identifying them? Anyone can be a self-proclaimed "impartial" judge and I don't see any way to actually prove that he is. Nobody will say that he is dishonest in what he says (much like no politician is going to say "vote for me, I am the bad guy") and a lot of people don't even admit that they are biased (which does need to be dishonesty, you can be biased and believe that you are impartial).

The only way to make a sense of the world seems to be to judge it by your expertise where you can while critically considering what (in your opinion and by your observation) honest and competent people have to say about those areas where you don't know much. And it seems to me like a good idea to try to find those people on both sides of any complicated issue.

 
At 10:24 AM, March 16, 2014, Blogger David Friedman said...

Tibor:

On the particular issue of "more energy," I think the argument is wrong. A hurricane is a heat engine, converting thermal energy to mechanical energy. A heat engine that does that and nothing else is called a perpetual motion machine of the second kind, because it violates the Second Law of thermodynamics.

Actual heat engines take in heat from a high temperature source, dump some of it to a lower temperature sink, and convert the difference to mechanical energy. What determines how much mechanical energy they get is the temperature difference (actually the difference in 1/T if I remember correctly--it's been a long time). So if you warm the whole system, that doesn't give you extra energy.

 
At 11:42 AM, March 16, 2014, Anonymous Robert Ayers said...

the current (March 2014) Physics Today has a chart of "global carbon pools". 4100 Gigatons in fossil fuels, mostly coal; 500 Gt in biomass; 1500 Gt in soils; 38,000 Gt in oceans; 800 Gt in air. So if oceans could hold 10% more ...
Transport rates between the pools are also listed.
They reference for the data: "R. Lal, Environ. Sci. 1, 86 (2008)"

 
At 12:49 PM, March 17, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

David:

Well, if the heat engine works that way, then if I heat the system up, more heat engines (hurricanes) can work at the same time and because they convert the heat to mechanical energy, overall the temperature can stay the same - therefore if you look only at how the average temperature changes, you miss the heat that turns into mechanical energy. I am not exactly sure what creates hurricanes (I think they happen when hot and cold clouds collide...or that is perhaps tornadoes), so perhaps it is unrealistic to expect more of them to happen when you increase the heat coming to the system. But if it is not, then it seems to me that that "more energy, not just higher temperature" argument still holds. Or have I misunderstood you somehow?

 
At 9:24 AM, March 18, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

David: Ok, so I read your comment again and now I get what you meant.

What matters is the difference between the low and high temperature zone and if I uniformly heat up the whole system, it stays the same, so we should not expect more hurricanes.

So the question is whether it is true that the warming is uniform. If it is not, that argument might still hold. If it is, then you've shown that it is wrong.

 
At 9:40 AM, March 18, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

Also, if the warming is not uniform but affecting the colder areas more, then you should even expect a decrease of the power or number of hurricanes.

These zones are not stationary and on the ground, but moving in the atmosphere...so it is even more difficult to say whether it makes sense to expect uniform warming or not. Are there any arguments for either possibility?

 
At 7:27 PM, March 24, 2014, Anonymous Mark Bahner said...

Hi Tibor,

You ask about species extinctions, and whether they were included in the estimates. About all I have on that front is this paper that looks at work that Bill Nordhaus has done on the costs of climate change. Go to this paper:

<a href="http://www.independent.org/pdf/tir/tir_14_02_03_murphy.pdf>Rolling the DICE</a>

There's a Table 1, with Tol (1995) estimating $5 billion for species loss in the U.S. and Fankhauser (1995) estimating $8 billion.

But I don't know how many estimates in the Tol paper I previously referenced had estimates of the costs for species extinction.

You also mention extremes in weather. Roger Pielke Jr. has done a lot of good work in this area. Here's an interesting graph:

http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2013/03/graph-of-day-global-disasters-and-gdp.html

The linear trendline for damage from disasters globally has declined from 0.27% of GDP in 1990 to 0.20% in 2012.

 
At 12:34 PM, March 25, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

Mark: Thanks. I wonder how Murphy did the comparison, I'll read that.

Since you were so responsive and since you are clearly interested in the topic - are there any reasons to expect the warming to be either uniform or non-uniform and if the latter, what should be its distribution? Any ideas?

 
At 6:18 PM, March 25, 2014, Anonymous Mark Bahner said...

Hi Tibor,

I'm not sure what you mean be "uniform or non-uniform". Do you mean temporarily over the course of the 21st century, or spatially over the globe?

Mark

 
At 10:50 AM, March 26, 2014, Blogger Tibor Mach said...

Mark: Sorry, I meant spatially. That is because a non-uniform warming could affect hurricane incidence/strength (either increase or decrease it).

 
At 9:49 PM, November 22, 2014, Blogger Jim Rose said...

The green party in New Zealand manages to worry about both peak oil and global warming.

I simply don't understand how you can worry about both as they cancel each other out.

 
At 9:52 PM, November 22, 2014, Blogger Jim Rose said...

see http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/peak-oil-may-keep-catastrophic-climate-change-in-check/ For an all too rare discussion

 

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