Al Gore Says Obama Could Have Had A Climate Bill, Warns Shale Gas ‘May Be A Bridge To Nowhere’

Al Gore’s new book, The Future, isn’t mostly about climate change. In fact, global warming is only one of the “Six drivers of global change.”

Others drivers include globalization, the internet (surprise, surprise) and “the reinvention of life and death” from the genomic, biotech, neuroscience, and life sciences revolutions.

Any Gore book is worth reading — Our Choice is one of the best books on climate solutions — and The Future is no exception. Let me cut to the chase on climate and energy.

In his discussion of why the climate bill failed after passing the U.S. House, Gore takes a different view of one recent academic essay and slams the White House:

… the obsolete and dysfunctional rules of the U.S. Senate empowered a minority to kill it in that chamber. Senators in both parties said privately  that passage of the climate plan might have been within reach but it seemed to them that President Obama was not prepared to make the all-out effort that would have been necessary to build a coalition in support of the plan. Earlier, he had chosen to make healthcare reform his number one priority, and the badly broken U.S. political system produced a legislative gridlock on his health plan that lasted until the midterm campaign season began, leaving no time for even Senate discussion of the climate change issue.

By then, Obama and his political team in the White House had apparently long since made a sober  assessment of the political risks involved in states where the power of the fossil fuel industries would punish him for committing himself to the passage of this plan.  So, instead, when his opponents in Congress took up the cry “drill, baby, drill,” the president proposed expansion of oil drilling–even in the Arctic Ocean–and opened up more public land to coal mining. For these and other reasons, the positive impacts of the energy and climate proposals with which he began his presidency were nearly overwhelmed by his sharp turn toward a policy that he described as an “all of the above” approach–one that has contributed to the increased reliance on carbon-rich fossil fuels.


Gore has a long discussion on one new source of fossil fuels in particular, natural gas from fracking. The whole discussion is thoughtful and well worth reading.

Here is what the Nobel-Prize winning former VP concludes:

Years ago I was among those who recommended the greater use of conventional natural gas as a bridge fuel to phase out coal use more quickly while solar and wind technologies were produced at sufficient scale to bring their price down even more. However, it is increasingly clear that the net effect of shale gas on the environment may ultimately be inconsistent with its use as a bridge fuel. Global society as a whole would find it difficult to make the enormous investments necessary to switch from coal to gas, and then turn right around and make equally significant investments to substitute were nubile technologies for gas. It strains credulity. In other words, it may be a bridge to nowhere.

Again, precisely.

So many recent futurist books ignore or downplay the polar bear in the room, which isn’t a mistake Gore makes. I highly recommend The Future as one of the most comprehensive and readable books on the subject written in recent years.

Related Post:

67 Responses to Al Gore Says Obama Could Have Had A Climate Bill, Warns Shale Gas ‘May Be A Bridge To Nowhere’

  1. fj says:

    the president has to make up for lost lots of lost time.

  2. Jon says:

    “were nubile technologies” must be one of the funniest voice recognition software flubs I’ve seen in ages.

  3. I, too, was persuaded that natgas could immediately get us to our early carbon reduction goals, simply by substituting it for coal in electric generation. It does make sense (or would have), if done in a centrally managed, systematic way. But our national fetish with “market solutions” trumped that and destroyed the opportunity.

    Absolutism is hardly ever a good strategy. It excludes context. It doesn’t fully consider consequences. The key failing of the absolutist view of leaving the market to sort out the transition from coal to natgas? It assumed that we don’t have a climate emergency.

    As a result, several things happened. The transition was haphazard and too slow. The rush for shale gas meant some environmentally sloppy practices in some instances. Near-term, the resource was overdeveloped and prices collapsed. Now we’re getting pressure to develop an LNG export industry. And the coal that was displaced was largely exported to China.

    The net result? An expansion of fossil fuel use, in complete contradiction to the purpose of encouraging natgas development, from a climate POV.

    The market can no more be the only mode of response to the climate crisis than it could be for a war. It needs active management during such an emergency. But that is ideologically unacceptable. Why is that? Why is it acceptable in one kind of emergency but not another? I think the answer is, not enough people see the climate issue as urgent.

    Getting a critical mass of people to see it as urgent would provide the legitimacy for the extraordinary things that must be done, as they were done–and accepted–in WW2.

  4. Ken Barrows says:

    If the future is about increasing globalization (is that what Mr. Gore wants?), then we are well and truly fooked.

  5. “Why is it acceptable in one kind of emergency but not another? I think the answer is, not enough people see the climate issue as urgent.”

    They will. Climate change is writing its own story. We can only hope that by the time they see the urgency, it’s not too late to do anything, or anything meaningful to address the problem.

  6. Thomas Rodd says:

    Joe, your headline is: “Al Gore Says Obama Could Have Had A Climate Bill” and the quote says “Senators in both parties said privately that passage of the climate plan might have been within reach.” That’s quite a difference. And Gore’s quote is full of wiggle room, too. On this issue, your knee-jerk axe-grinding is showing/and your otherwise masterful credibility is slipping, in my view. But what do I know?

  7. M Tucker says:

    Drivers of global change…The energy to drive all of this change will come from coal. China and India and the rest of the developing economies are responsible for about 75% of the world’s economic growth. You did notice that little graph in today’s news post? ClimateWire has a nice article about China’s coal consumption. What is the fuel of choice for energy for the rest of the developing world? Of course we will continue to use oil, and gas. Anything in the book about how long it will take for the world to transition from fossil fuels?

  8. You’re right that all of Gore’s books are well worth reading, and you’re right about Our Choice being one of the best books on climate change solutions.

    Also, you and Gore are right about natural gas as the bridge to nowhere. Not only is it a fossil fuel that contributes at least 50% as much carbon to the atmosphere as does coal, it’s also undercuts the market, temporarily at least, and inhibits or destroys investment in renewables. So, ultimately, it’s the opposite of a bridge that carries us safely over the abyss — it’s a bridge with a great big gap in the middle.

  9. David Goldstein says:

    HA!- right on, M Tucker- all of the developments- ‘nifty’ and otherwise – in the climate sphere just go splat on the windshield of China’s, India’s, etc. forecast coal use. Sometimes I feel we ‘climate folk’, to an extent, talk around the incredibly and unbelievable sobering numbers of their coal use and coal-fired plant expansion. Seriously- they ARE building these plants…are they really going to build them and not use them? I think the main reason I STILL haven’t completely taken it in is that the implications are still too (literally) stunning for me to look at and accept.

  10. onyerlefty says:

    Al Gore, the poster child for conspicuous consumption, recently accepted $70 million from the emir of Qatar in return for his own American oil propaganda network. He’s now chastising Obama now for being not prepared to make the “all-out effort”? How ironic. How hypocritical.

  11. Sasparilla says:

    I thought the conclusions Joe drew were quite correct and reasonable – and your insults (knee jerk axe grinding…please) are definitely not warranted.

    Going back to that time period, it was obvious the Administration could have gotten a vote in the Senate on the Cap-n-Trade if it had really wanted one – but it didn’t (this was also why the Democratic leadership of the House at the time were stunned that they had to push the administration to get the President to lobby House members on the cap and trade bill – they were expecting the President would want to run and join them on the bill, but that wasn’t the case at the time).

  12. Sasparilla says:

    Well said David, as to saying they’re doing this and its not possible, giving up is the biggest step to loosing we can take – I’ve always got that message talking to me too.

    To win, a lot of investments in fossil fuel energy production (power plants) will have to be written off early and because of how rapidly everything will have to happen the stock market will probably undergo a big crash at the time as the fossil fuel energy sector will collapse in value as it dawns on investors that all those CO2 fuel stores counted in the value of stocks will have to remain in the ground – and they flee the stocks.

  13. Sasparilla says:

    A very nice overview Joe and the former VP’s analysis of the political situation within the administration seems quite reasonable.

    Oh, to how the world would be different if that election had gone another way….back when the GOP could vote for climate bills….

  14. SecularAnimist says:

    onyerlefty wrote: “the emir of Qatar in return for his own American oil propaganda network”

    Al Jazeera is not “the emir of Qatar” and it is not an “oil propaganda network”.

    Al Jazeera is, in reality, one of the finest journalistic organizations in the world, and has done a dramatically better job than the US corporate media in reporting on numerous issues, including global warming.

    And your comment is about the stupidest instance of brain-dead bumper-sticker Gore-bashing I have ever seen.

    If your intent was to make yourself look foolish, well, congratulations, you have succeeded.

  15. The stranded investment problem is huge–both here and overseas. The newer the plants, the worse it is.

    China is not going to stop building coal until we show that we’re serious about getting off fossils ourselves. (Or until people literally die in the streets from other coal-generated pollution, which isn’t that far-fetched). Of course this isn’t the only prerequisite for them to halt coal-fired EG development. It’s one impediment to remove among many.

    But we have to take the steps. As Sasp says, not taking the steps is not a solution at all. In light of the Stupor Bowl, we;’re deep in our own territory. We can’t expect and shouldn’t try to score on one play. We have to do this a few yards at a time, and hope we get some big plays along the way (e.g., electric storage, carbon tax).

  16. He does seem intent on honing himself into a two-edged sword.

  17. Sasparilla says:

    onyerlefty, I don’t think he’s chastising the administration, he’s shedding light on the details of what happened in the Senate when the Obama administration chose to miss their once in a generation chance (Dems in both houses and veto proof majority in Senate) on a climate change bill back when it could’ve really happened.

    Go back to that wonderful time period after President Obama was elected and Climate Change was one of 3 primary things he campaigned on taking care of in office (ah I remember that was the point when the Seas will slow their rise…) – but then in June 2009 Obama approved the Keystone Tar Sands pipeline (now operational) and a month later approved the Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline (also operational) when oil was at extremely low prices, then the Democratic House leadership was stunned they had to push the white house to lobby house members to vote for the Cap-N-Trade bill. Of course then there was the large increase of coal mining on public lands, then the increased offshore oil drilling (right before the BP disaster) and on and on.

    Mr. Gore obviously had lots of contacts with folks involved in the Senate at the time (being a former Senator) and would be privy to what they knew of the situation – its nice to see this laid out in the daylight and fits well with what we saw with regards to the Administration policy choices at the time. Climate Change had been thrown under the bus shortly after taking office, if not before then. I’m glad Mr. Gore could shed some more light on just what could have been and what chosen not to be and by whom.

  18. Sasparilla says:

    That’s the 2000 election I’m referring to there. ;-)

  19. Peter Anderson says:


    Yes, Gore’s exhumation of the cap and trade fight, which recapitulates Chris Hayes’ masterful coverage on MSNBC last year (, is spot on. Axlerod didn’t want to lose key swing states with coal mines, Ohio and Virginia.

    It also appears to squarely answer the question you repeatedly put to the White House about how one could effectively fight climate change without saying the word, which followed the 2010 confab it held with environmental groups admonishing them stop using that word and saying “green jobs” instead. Everything was on hold until after the reelection campaign … other than the inexorable trend in rising temperatures, of course.

    We just didn’t know that we were being used, that shortly after his swearing in, Obama decided to flush that campaign rhetoric about his stopping the seas from rising down the toilet.

    What his 2d term brings is the question to ask now, whether he has finally come home and will nix Tar Sands and northwest coal ports, or whether it’s “all of the above” all over again.

  20. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Market solutions’ is just a euphemism for leaving it to the money power of the rich. The weight of money, not any environmental needs, nor, surely, basic human decencies or necessities, decides all market outcomes. And, as we full know, it is not even real money mobilised for productive investment anymore. It is make-believe money, leveraged and hypertrophied to gigantic proportions by ‘derivatives’ all controlled by the grifters of the financial kleptocracy, all of whom couldn’t give a stuff if the carbon off-set indulgences market implodes, just so long as they profit and get their million dollar bonuses. In fact, as we know from the sub-prime scandal and the ‘asset securitisation’ rackets, these creatures will actively sabotage the market to profit from positions taken up to gain from that very eventuality.

  21. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It depends on what type of ‘globalisation’ you are talking of. The current globalisation of the ‘have mores’ exploiting the rest, is suicidal, as well as morally evil, but a just, equitable and sustainable globalisation is the only future that guarantees human survival.

  22. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The pushing of gas was designed primarily, in my opinion, to undermine renewables. The profits are nice too, I imagine.

  23. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Qatar is a medievalist despotism, spreading jihadism to countries like Syria, with hideous effect. It is a firm ally of the USA, so Gore won’t be criticised by his fellow plutocrats for that deal.

  24. David Goldstein says:

    yep. I am a trained ‘Climate Leader’ by Mr. Gore’s organization. I have been on our website multiple times requesting some kind of statement to explain/justify his taking of oil money for personal profit. So far…nothing. And, yes, Mulga, I am somewhat aware of how naive I am being.

  25. Superman1 says:

    Kevin Andersom, Tim Garrett, and others have basically stated that we need a world-wide depression to get to the levels of CO2 emissions required. There’s no way this will happen voluntarily. The only potential way this can occur is for those who control the levers of physical power to either use that power, or threaten to use it. These are not great choices we have if we want to survive, and I’m guessing there are more and more people who have thrown in the towel on surviving.

    [JR: This is absurd. Energy experts know we don’t need even a recession to reduce CO2.]

  26. Hm, that’s a bit too much of conspiracy theory for me. Gas was pushed by people who saw a big opportunity to make money fast. It really wasn’t any more complicated than that. But it did have the effect of retarding the pace of renewable deployment and creating regulatory uncertainty.

  27. Christopher S. Johnson says:

    Al Jazeera English is a mature news org and is relatively balanced in the world of news. ALL large news orgs, that can buy a TV station, get money from fossil fuels, especially in advertising. This whole line of criticism feels weak. He had to sell the station to somebody (he was not good at running the station towards success and it would have collapsed) and bringing more mature and worldly news to the U.S. audience is a GOOD thing.

  28. SecularAnimist says:

    Superman1 wrote: “Kevin Andersom, Tim Garrett, and others have basically stated that we need a world-wide depression to get to the levels of CO2 emissions required.”

    They are laughably wrong, but since that feeds into your false message that dealing with global warming will necessarily reduce everyone to poverty, squalor and misery, I’m sure you’ll continue to repeat it.

  29. Brian R Smith says:

    Gore will be on with Charlie Rose tomorrow (Thursday) on Bloomberg TV, &pm EST.

  30. Brian R Smith says:

    Gore on w/ Charlie Rose, Thurs Bloomberg TV, 7pm EST.

  31. bSpittle says:

    Yeah, MAYBE (R)’s in the senate wouldn’t have filibustered cap and trade.

    I wouldn’t put any faith into that thought, though.

    You ask me which I think is more valuable:
    – health reform as is
    – a slightly better chance? at cap and trade passing the (R) stalled senate

    I’ll take health reform.
    (R)’s need to join reality, and thinking individuals with (R) representatives should be annoying the F out of their politicians.

  32. wili says:

    I’m familiar with the Anderson presentations. Do you have a link for the Garret source? I’d like to see it (much as I dread what the message will be).

  33. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I think it’s safe to assume China will finish with coal for her own good reasons, not because of anything the USA is or isn’t doing, ME

  34. David Gould says:


    Can you explain how they are laughably wrong?

    The maths seems to suggest that we need to transit off fossil fuels incredibly rapidly – peak by 2016, cut by five per cent per year. Note that this is global, so China and India would either have to be doing this or the West would have to be cutting by 10 per cent annually or so to make up for it.

    How is this physically possible without crashing consumption, which by definition would cause global recession?

  35. David Goldstein says:

    Secular Animist: just out of curiousity, why do you say Kevin Anderson is ‘laughably wrong’. As far as I know, he is a highly respected climate scientist. I watched his lecture (there is a 23 minute condensed version on youtube) and what strick me was the seemingly accurate point that almost all modeling has used carbon emissions that have WAY undershot the actual emissions we have produced in the past decade. But, more to the point…and, of course, as a non-scientist I can have a solid opinion,…what causes you to say Kevin Anderson is laughably wrong?

  36. David Goldstein says:

    oops… meant to say, ‘as I non-scientist I can NOT have a solid opinion’

  37. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    It would appear mankind is choosing extinction.

  38. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    But, Change, you end up more or less agreeing with me. I should, I suppose, not have attributed more or less weight to greed and the desire to derail renewables, but the latter is in pursuit of the former, so it gets a bit circular and self-reinforcing.

  39. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Better naive, up to a point, than irredeemably cynical.

  40. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Count me out!

  41. Raul M. says:

    Let’s see, Earth In The Balance was from 30 years ago? Speaking out was done on a level back then when the evidence was more hidden by nature. Speaking out now is given as a prelude to financial depresion except for the few. Still don’t know why some don’t make money on the stock market on the weather caused ruin of businesses. It would be putting a bet on the soon to be disaster to happen caused by the weather to certain businesses in the path of distructive weather. Given that huge gains could be made from the lowering of a stock because of weather, then there could be the monies to reinvest in a location. Given that someone could forsee the impending doom then one could also be thought to have enough smarts to help rebuild an area in a better way, a much better way. But that someone would partner with a community thusly, well.
    Regardless, we may all show thrill to the reaction shown by the earth to the increased forcing around.

  42. Superman1 says:

    Anderson and Garrett state the truth, and from SA’s mythology that a seamless transition is possible, they must be ‘laughably wrong’. SA’s profligate road to renewables would guarantee we go over the brink in the process.

  43. Superman1 says:

    You will never see SA address the fossil fuel emissions on his road to a solar-based paradise, and their relation to a CO2 concentration ceiling required to avoid the brink. Even Anderson admits the 2 C he targets is the entre to the Extremely Dangerous regime. The real emissions cuts we need for some breathing room are even more drastic than he states.

  44. Superman1 says:

    Has chosen!

  45. John McCormick says:

    Change: 2 comments:

    Big green, over the past third years, has courted natural gas as a coal substitute but never questioned its assumptions. Since they were not endowed with chemical engineers and people who know the gas industry, it was easy to take the bait. Lots of needless gas turbines were built quickly following the 1990 Clean Air Act-acid rain legislation and that was seen as an improvement for air quality reasons.

    And, “Getting a critical mass of people to see it as urgent would provide the legitimacy for the extraordinary things that must be done, as they were done–and accepted–in WW2.”

    When is it going to dawn on us that we do not have a generation to invest in getting that critical mass? AGW is coming at us like a high speed train and we are tied to the rails.

    It takes two people to see the urgency of AGW and agree this cannot happen.

    One is President Obama and the other is Xi Jinping, the newly selected President of China. They can bi-laterally do more in one meeting to get the masses to see the urgency in AGW than a world of organizers.

  46. BBHY says:

    I don’t understand the outrage against Gore for selling Current. It is capitalism. If Gore was homeless and destitute instead of successful would that be more acceptable? Would people really want to listen to what a poor person had to say? Probably not.

    The money may have been earned by oil, but that money was made regardless. They didn’t decide to sell oil simply to by Current.

    I don’t see oil as inherently evil anyway. It served it’s purpose in building the modern economy. Sure, it’s time now to move beyond fossil fuels. Cavemen discovered fire 100,000 years ago. Now, in the 21st century, it is finally time to get past burning stuff. But that is going to happen when replacements come online and demand goes away, not by demonizing the supply.

    I would rather see Gore have that money than having a bunch of oil shieks use the money buy another round of huge yachts.

  47. John McCormick says:

    Sasp, et. al., lets drop the damned discussion about who would have voted how on the Waxman-Markey bill. We sound like we actually know the ‘hidden’ vote count.

  48. John McCormick says:


  49. Superman1 says:


    There are a few links:

    From an Interview:

    Alex: This is Radio Ecoshock. I’m Alex Smith with Dr. Timothy Garrett, an atmospheric scientist, from the University of Utah.

    I’d like to get to the conclusions of your new paper. Based on our past records of energy use and wealth, what does your model show as possible futures?

    Garrett: Well, in fact, this was actually stimulated by our past conversation. In my first study, I showed that carbon dioxide emissions and wealth were intrinsically coupled. Without actually decarbonizing the economy by switching to renewables, or nuclear power, at an extraordinarily fast rate, you cannot have wealth without having carbon dioxide emissions. The two go together.

    And in fact, since 1970, the relationship between the two has been very, very tightly fixed. Now, that would seem to have implications for the future. Because carbon dioxide emissions accumulate in the atmosphere.

    As carbon dioxide emissions accumulate in the atmosphere, some fraction goes into what we call “sinks” in the oceans and the land, but about half of what we emit accumulates in the atmosphere. That is going to create an ever increasing pressure on civilization.

    By eating away at civilization’s wealth, global warming will actually reduce our capacity to emit carbon dioxide. So there’s actually what you would call in Physics a “negative feedback.”

    So our wealth is emitting CO2, CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere, and then feeds back on our capacity to produce new wealth.

    Eventually one could imagine that civilization would enter into a phase of collapse because the carbon dioxide levels are so high, that we are simply unable to produce new goods, without them being destroyed by global warming.

    And at that point, perhaps, emissions would go down. Eventually, if civilization collapsed fast enough, then perhaps carbon dioxide levels would be stabilized.

    Now you asked me last time, what would be required to keep carbon dioxide concentrations at 450 parts per million. And that’s normally what’s considered at a dangerous level, let’s say during the Copenhagen Accord.

    And I made a guess that it would require actually flat out civilization collapse. Based on some preliminary work that I did, and I decided to look into this more deeply. I actually wrote a second paper, where it turns out that it true.

    Not only would we have to have civilization collapse starting very soon, like within the next decade or so. But we would also have to have extremely rapid decarbonization, in order to keep carbon dioxide levels below let’s say 500 parts per million – twice pre-industrial levels.

    In order to keep them below 1,000… Well, without civilization collapse let’s say we have continuing health.. let’s say the civilization is very resilient to global warming…then carbon dioxide levels are going to go extremely high by the end of this century – probably above 1,000 parts per million.

    You think about 1,000 parts per million, that’s probably – it depends on what the climate sensitivity really is – but that’s something along the lines of 5 degrees Celsius warming at least.

    And when we think about 5 degrees Celsius warming, people who are familiar with this, usually start bringing up highly catastrophic scenarios.

    In some sense, it’s hard to imagine it’s hard to imagine how civilization cannot be in pretty dire straits during this century.”

  50. Superman1 says:

    Joe Romm,

    And, remember, Anderson’s dire requirements are based on models that don’t include positive feedback effects. So, his views should be considered conservative and optimistic.

  51. Joe Romm says:

    Except he isn’t an energy expert.

  52. Superman1 says:

    C’mon, Joe. He understands the level of emission reductions required to stay within even the absurdly high 2 C limit. To get to this level of reductions, most airline flights have to go (as far as I know, we don’t have battery-operated planes yet), most ocean cruises and non-nuclear non-sailboat shipping will have to go, and so on down the line. Each of these represents a huge industry, and their demise means a massive cut in GDP. Both the markets and employment would collapse.

  53. Ken Barrows says:

    Time will tell if they are wrong, but it would have to be a sea change to show they’re wrong. I don’t know if sea change and democracy are compatible.

  54. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    al Jazeera is a propaganda apparatus for the Qatari despotism. Its coverage of Syria, for example, has been an exercise in complete bias, and, virtually unreported by the Western MSM, a number of al Jazeera jounalists resigned in protest at its faking of news stories from Syria. All in the cause of destroying a country through fomenting sectarian hatred where the numerous communities had lived in peace.

  55. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Class hatred, love of the rich and a farewell note of racial contempt. Pretty stuff.

  56. onyerlefty says:

    Christopher, Al-Jazeera is hardly balanced when it comes coverage of oil. Case in point: this story from December 2011, Is oil the future of energy?:

    “With the Middle East undergoing a wave of political upheaval, the emir of Qatar was quick to reassure the world’s biggest consumers that energy supplies will continue to flow.”

    Note use of the euphemism “energy” for oil, which quite appropriately has become a dirty word.

    No, Al took the money and ran – and his conceit that he’s somehow above personal sacrifice is doing his cause more damage than good.

  57. Mark Belgium says:

    Kevin Anderson is professor of ENERGY and climate change in the School of Mechanical, Aeronautical and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester. He has recently finished a two-year position as director of the Tyndall Centre, the UK’s leading academic climate change research organisation, during which time he held a joint post with the University of East Anglia. Returning full time to Manchester, Kevin now leads Tyndall Manchester’s energy and climate change research programme and is deputy director of the Tyndall Centre. He is research active with recent publications in Royal Society journals, Nature and Energy Policy, and engages widely across all tiers of government. Kevin’s research interests include: understanding the implications of rising emissions and the latest climate science for mitigation and adaptation policy; analysing opportunities for rapid decarbonisation of the UKs energy system; and quantifying the role of international transport (aviation and shipping) in a low-carbon society. With his colleague Alice Bows, Kevin’s work on carbon budgets has been pivotal in revealing the widening gulf between political rhetoric on climate change and the reality of rapidly escalating emissions. His work makes clear that there is now little to no chance of maintaining the rise in global mean surface temperature at below 2C, despite repeated high-level statements to the contrary. Moreover, Kevin’s research demonstrates how avoiding even a 4C rise demands a radical reframing of both the climate change agenda and the economic characterisation of contemporary society. Kevin has a decade of industrial experience, principally in the petrochemical industry. He sits as commissioner on the Welsh Governments climate change commission and is a director of Greenstone Carbon Management – a London-based company providing emission-related advice to private and public sector organisations.

  58. Joe Romm says:

    And there would be no jobs in solar, wind, efficiency etc???

  59. Superman1 says:

    Joe Romm,

    “And there would be no jobs in solar, wind, efficiency etc???”

    Now you’re getting at the central issue. If we were having this debate back in 1980, then I would agree with your premise. We could continue our energy profligate lifestyle, while devoting a substantial share of our resources to converting to renewables, nuclear, et al. In fact, had it been done properly, this could have led to prosperity and high employment at the same time it avoided the climate crisis.

    Today, however, I don’t believe that option is open to us. We now have a temperature increase of 0.8 C, which appears to be enough to eliminate the ice cap and thaw much of the permafrost. The recent paper by Alexeev concludes “recent AW [ATLANTIC WATER] warming episode could have contributed up to 150–200 km3 of sea ice melt per year”, which means the ocean has sufficient energy in concert with the Sun to complete the melting in the next two-three years. It is open to question how controllable the positive feedback processes are at this time, and how vulnerable are the clathrates.

    While Anderson’s analysis of CO2 emissions trajectories (based on models without positive feedback, and based on a temperature ceiling of 2 C) allows a relatively modest amount of fossil fuel use, and leads to his conclusions that ‘planned austerity’ is required, I am starting to believe he is overly optimistic. It seems to me that we have already entered the climate danger zone, as the previous paragraph shows, and any additional CO2 emissions puts us further out on a limb. We have already committed to substantial temperature increases over the next three-four decades by what we have placed in the atmosphere, and it is imperative that be reduced starting now. The fossil fuel energy required for the conversion to renewables would further exacerbate an already untenable situation, especially in parallel with business as usual. The first order of business is to cease using fossil fuels, preferably overall but at least for any not-absolutely-necessary purpose, to insure we have a civilization by the end of this century. The second order of business is to worry about the energy sources in that civilization. Converting to renewables in parallel with business as usual could confirm the old adage: ‘the operation was a success, but the patient died’.

  60. Superman1 says:

    Mark Belgium,

    Good post. Anderson, in my estimation, is the most credible of the researchers who couple climate science with climate policy. In the post I just submitted, I make the point that even he may be overly optimistic.

  61. Joe Romm says:

    We disagree on this, both technologically and politically. We need to go to zero ASAP, but a depression isn’t a plausible or viable scenario for getting there.

  62. Superman1 says:

    Joe Romm,

    “We need to go to zero ASAP, but a depression isn’t a plausible or viable scenario for getting there.” You are correct: we need to go to zero ASAP, and a depression is not salable politically. So, here’s the dilemma. If we stay with the most politically salable option, BAU, by the end of the century we will be in the position of having to jump off the roof of a 100 story burning building. If we go with perhaps the minimally salable option that you, Secular Animist, and others propose, conversion to renewables while continuing to maintain our ‘standard of living’, we may be faced with the option of jumping off the 60th story. Same end result, perhaps negligibly less painful. If we somehow could go with the harsh and unsalable option I have proposed (extremely rapid drawdown on fossil fuels, rapid CO2 recovery, low-risk geo-engineering to ‘quench’ the positive feedback mechanisms already observed), we may be able to jump out of the first or second story window.

    Obviously, the viability of these three predictions and conclusions depends on how the climate-ocean will respond to the different emissions scenarios. What is the evidentiary basis for your claim that we can have a prosperous transition to a renewables economy, with minimal discomfort, and not trigger ‘runaway’ temperatures? We have no models that include all the positive feedbacks; how can we responsibly propose anything but the most risk-averse path, given the unfolding tragedy we are already seeing with some of the feedbacks today?

  63. Joe Romm says:

    I could get us to zero in a few decades without even a recession. The fact that it isn’t going to happen isn’t the same as saying it couldn’t, which is apparently what you are saying.

  64. Mark Belgium says:

    I couldn’t agree more Superman. I think Anderson is saying what nobody dares to say: “the emperor is naked” . But first of all I have to apologize, I had to use quotation marks in my previous post. I copy-pasted the text from the Tyndall website. And I am from Belgium, English is not my native tongue so bear with me. Read this with a foreign accent in mind. The emission reductions required to stay below 2C are of such a magnitude that our economies will collapse. There is no other way. This won’t be a Walt Disney movie with a happy ending. if we acted sooner, say immediately after the “Limits to growth” report in 1972 then we had a chance. So we have to re-invent everything : society and our economy. Solar panels won’t do the trick. We have to think bigger and take the consequences of our inaction from the past.(and present)

  65. wili says:

    Sup, thanks for the links and for the excerpt.

    Joe, thanks for hosting a forum for these discussions, even with positions you don’t (at this point) accept.

    I note that you have posted a lead article on the piece about scienists’ aversion to the dramatic. Given that finding, I think we have to over-weight the few, like Anderson and Garret, who _do_ describe our predicament in rather stark terms, just to get proper balance.

    Thanks again for the great forum! Perhaps we could nominate you monarch of the globe so you could implement your plan for rapid emissions reductions. ‘-)

    (Germany, as far as I know, is the best example of an economy that has continued to grow even as its GHG emissions have steadily fallen. I don’t know enough about its trade situation, however, to calculate how much of the is ‘off shored’ emissions.)

  66. Joe Romm says:

    I quote Anderson on the science all the time. Not on the solution, tho.