Saturday, May 30, 2009

Peak Oil comes to Climate Change - but I'm coughing again

Saturdays are when I usually wander around the different sites that devote their time to aspects of the Climate Change Debate, looking to see if there is anything interesting or persuasive that might be of interest. You may note that I have added some of these sites to the blogroll – trying to balance out the numbers so that there are the same on each side of the debate. Over at CEJournal Tom Yulsman has just put up a post querying the open-mindedness of those that engage in this topic. He got a boost in readership at his site this week (which is pro-AGW) because he was cited on Climate Depot, (which is anti) but wonders why folk bother looking at the other side of the debate, since most have their minds made up. To answer him, the reason to look is to try and get both sides of the story – unfortunately when articles appear these days, depending on which side is writing them some of the facts may be missed or given an incorrect emphasis. By looking at reports on both sides it is a little easier to tell who is telling the truth, or skirting the facts.

That being said it led me to Joe Romm’s Climate Progress, which appears to have just discovered Peak Oil.. His post is mainly a diatribe against the auto makers of Detroit. But he begins thus:
Readers of Climate Progress understand two inescapable realities that the overwhelming majority of policymakers, the status quo media, and the car companies (with one exception) do not:

Peak oil is inevitably going to drive up gasoline prices to record levels within a few years, driving an inevitable switch to much more fuel-efficient vehicles and non-oil-based alternative fuels, of which by far the cheapest per mile is electricity.
Avoiding catastrophic global warming requires sharp increases in fuel economy and a switch to low carbon fuels — of which there is only one available in quantity: electricity (as explained here).

Deeper within the story he comments on the changes that global warming will impose on auto makers, as follows:
And by the 2020s, every major country will be engaged in a dire effort to avert catastrophic global warming, which by then will be painfully obvious to even the most blinkered conservative. And that in turn will drive enormous but difficult-to-forecast levels of behavior change in the purchase and use of major energy-consuming products — cars being perhaps the most obvious.
Now since this is a Saturday I am going to challenge that latter remark. We have seen, over the past 150 years, roughly consecutive cycles of warming and then cooling for about 30-years each, which I have written about before and which can be seen on the Hadley Temperature plot. Basically it warmed from 1850 to 1880, cooled from 1880 to 1910, warmed from 1910 to 1940, cooled from 1940 to 1970, warmed from 1970 to 2000, and has been cooling since 2000. So if this cycle persists - with cooling to 2030, then by 2020 the world will not be engaged in a “dire effort to avert climate warming”, but will have moved on to more productive ways of spending its time, since by then the demand of folk like Joe to consider the data only over 30-year increments and thus neglect the short-term cooling, will have worn too thin.

But I am also not sure whether I agree with the other half of his argument relative to the future of automobiles. He concludes that the cost of liquid fuels is going to be such that
Within a decade, the only growth segments in car business will be highly fuel-efficient cars, PHEVs, and EVs. Indeed, that isn’t true just of the United States, but also of the biggest new car market — China.
I am cautious about that prediction for a couple of reasons. The first is that I am waiting to see what the real impact of cars such as the Tata Nano is going to be, particularly in the poorer parts of the world. If the market is as large as I suspect, the volumes of cars that are sold will tend to swamp the switch to electrics for at least another decade. We just don’t have the product in place at a viable price for the electric car to make the sorts of levels of change that he is anticipating.

But there is another point that he, one of the stronger advocates against the coal industry, is unwilling to face in this vision of the future. Where is the electricity to come from to fuel not only the increase in industrial demand, but also this supply of energy for the automotive industry? For if he and those of similar disposition reduce the number of coal-fired power stations, and we don’t have time (the 2020’s being merely a decade away) to install a large number of nuclear power plants, what will be the power source for the electricity?

While I expect wind to provide significantly more power than it now does, and solar will continue to be “almost there”” in terms of costs, these renewable sources are not going to be able to meet the burgeoning demand that can be anticipated. The general opinion that seems to prevail is that natural gas is going to come to the rescue. It is assumed capable and ready to replace coal and oil in the generation of power, can provide fuel for vehicles (along the lines of Pickens Plan) and will be the savior of the decade. The only problem would be if that industry were unable to meet the prodigious production demands that are being put upon it. And sadly, that is at least at present a suspicion that is beginning to harden among a number of us who look at the gas numbers. But then that is the subject of other posts, and will remain a matter for discussion on these pages in the months ahead.

(Nate: this was for you!)

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