Getting climate change wrong

A central mistake that all too many people are making:

The black line is carbon emissions to date. The red line is the status quo — a projection of where emissions will go if no new substantial policy is passed to restrain greenhouse gas emissions.

This is not true. The red line is RCP 8.5. and that is “a” business as usual projection, yes. But then so are the other three RCPs “business as usual projections”. All are possible (however unlikley) emissions paths based upon demographics, energy mix, wealth or GDP and the effects of emissions upon temperatures.

By design (yes, by design, so this point is not arguable) they all assume no policy responses. These are the possibilities without mitigation policies.

And we need to be honest about this. RCP 8.5 just ain’t gonna happen:

For a start, this is a world of “continuously increasing global population” so that there are 12 billion on the planet. This is more than a billion more than the United Nations expects, and flies in the face of the fact that the world population growth rate has been falling for 50 years and is on course to reach zero – i.e., stable population – in around 2070. More people mean more emissions.

Second, the world is assumed in the RCP8.5 scenario to be burning an astonishing 10 times as much coal as today, producing 50% of its primary energy from coal, compared with about 30% today. Indeed, because oil is assumed to have become scarce, a lot of liquid fuel would then be derived from coal. Nuclear and renewable technologies contribute little, because of a “slow pace of innovation” and hence “fossil fuel technologies continue to dominate the primary energy portfolio over the entire time horizon of the RCP8.5 scenario.” Energy efficiency has improved very little.

We’ve already invented solar panels. Cheaper than coal (even without coal paying for its emissions) in 5…4..3… years or so. It’s just Not. Going. To. Happen.

8 comments on “Getting climate change wrong

  1. When you say a solar panel is cheaper than coal, in what way? The monetary cost is irrelevant, what matters is that a solar power unit can deliver more energy than it takes to construct, maintain and transmit, and in what ratio, what is the “payback” cost, that is the real cost.

    Compared to coal, you may find it hard to compete because coal is energy dense and the methods of extracting, refining and burning are well practiced and efficient, even with emission mitigation (“clean coal”) it is still a viable energy source.

    As technology moves on solar panels then it may become likely, but then technology will also move on with coal, as it has with oil and gas (deep drilling and fracking), which have substantially reduced the energy cost, and the emissions, not to mention the energy consumption technology that uses these fuels has also moved on.

    The other angle is energy storage, solar needs a battery to be effective, and major advances in battery technology are needed as well. Tesla has entered this market but the initial products are poor, even after years of development (originally for their cars).

    The only option that is more energy dense is fission and fusion, and that is where we should be moving forward. This also has bonuses in the geopolitical situation of the world.

    There has to be some serious advances in solar and wind technology for it to compete, and not just on the cost. There are certainly applications for solar, when the fuel transport costs are high for example, but you’d still be better off making a smaller nuclear generator.

  2. The black line doesn’t take into account reality and the pause either. CO2 is still increasing which is good for the planet and its plants but the global temperature is flat-lining as CO2’s ability to keep heat is saturated.

  3. @ Runcie Balspune
    A decade ago, electricity produced in Southern California by a solar panel on the roof was cheaper than energy purchased from the grid [in addition to generation costs there were transmission losses and capital cost and profit margin for both generator and distributor.] If you write to report an *actual* error in my 40-page report you will be the first person to do so (some berk tried to say that Papua-New Guinea was in Asia, so I pointed out that it had wallabies).
    Since then costs of solar point hasve better than halved!

  4. John77 – link pls.

    The minor problem as far as I’m concerned is that I live in Northern England, which is just ever so slightly less sunny than California.

  5. theProle

    Not everybody lives in Northern England and most people live in sunnier climes. The solar panels on my roof more than cover their cost … and that is before taking any of the miserly buyback rates offered by the power companies.

    And this is unsubsidised as New Zealand’s taxpayers, rightly, don’t pay me so that I can have cheaper electricity!

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