Bombshell: You Can’t Slow Projected Warming With Gas, You Need ‘Rapid and Massive Deployment’ of Zero-Carbon Power

Another major study finds confirms natural gas is a bridge fuel to nowhere

A must-read new study by climatologist Ken Caldeira and tech guru Nathan Myhrvold (!) makes clear the world’s only plausible hope to avert catastrophic temperature rise this century is aggressive deployment of zero-carbon technologies and conservation.

The Institute of Physics news release explains:

technologies that offer only modest reductions in greenhouse gases, such as the use of natural gas and perhaps carbon capture and storage, cannot substantially reduce climate risk in the next 100 years.

Delaying the rollout of the technologies is not an option however; the risks of environmental harm will be much greater in the second half of the century and beyond if we continue to rely on coal-based technologies.

Those are the bombshell conclusions from “Greenhouse gases, climate change and the transition from coal to low-carbon electricity,” in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research Letters.

Many decades may pass before a transition from coal-based electricity to alternative generation technologies yields substantial temperature benefits. Panels above show the temperature increases predicted to occur during a 40-yr transition of 1 TWe of generating capacity. Warming resulting from continued coal use with no alternative technology sets an upper bound (solid black lines), and the temperature increase predicted to occur even if coal were replaced by idealized conservation with zero CO2 emissions (dashed lines) represents a lower bound. The colored bands represent the range of warming outcomes spanned by high and low life-cycle estimates for the energy technologies illustrated: (A) natural gas, (B) coal with carbon capture and storage, (C) hydroelectric, (D) solar thermal, (E) nuclear, (F) solar photovoltaic and (G) wind.

These results are not entirely news to people who follow the recent climate and energy literature, which I’ve written about at length — see “NCAR Study: Switching From Coal to Gas Increases Warming for Decades, Has Minimal Benefit Even in 2100.” The fact that natural gas is a bridge fuel to nowhere was first shown by the International Energy Agency in its big June report on gas — see IEA’s “Golden Age of Gas Scenario” Leads to More Than 6°F Warming and Out-of-Control Climate Change.

But what’s new is the first peer-reviewed analysis that “has predicted the climate effects of energy system transitions” with “a quantitative model … that includes life-cycle emissions and the central physics of greenhouse warming.”

What’s also remarkable about this study is the lead author, Nathan Myhrvold. You may recall Myhrvold, the former CTO of Microsoft, from his anti-clean-energy and pro-geoengineering quotes in”Error-riddled book Superfreakonomics,” which I and many, many others debunked at length in 2009.

Myhrvold was quoted back then about the “carbon debt” of the clean energy build-out: “Eventually, we have a great carbon-free energy infrastructure but only after making emissions and global warming worse every year until we’re done building out the solar plants, which could take 30 to 50 years.“

Caldeira loves to do actual analyses of such hand-waving claims. What he and Caldeira show here is that in fact replacing coal with clean energy starts getting you off the warming path within two decades and sharply off within four decades. But not natural gas.

Myhrvold explained to Climate Central:

The bottom line that emerges from this “life-cycle analysis,” or LCA, said Myhrvold, is that by the time we could switch from coal to gas, there would already be so much more CO2 and methane in the atmosphere that we’d be much deeper in the hole. “It’s like living on a credit card,” he said. “It’s easy to get into a situation where it will take years and years to pay back.”

In fact, he argues, because CO2 stays in the atmosphere for so long once it’s up there, a switch to natural gas would have zero effect on global temperatures by the year 2100. “If you take 40 years to switch over entirely to natural gas,” he said, “you won’t see any substantial decrease in global temperatures for up to 250 years. There’s almost no climate value in doing it.”

It should be obvious that if you are just building new gas plants and not replacing coal power 1 for 1 — which is what we are doing today — then things are even worse for gas. And this doesn’t even count the opportunity cost of all that money spent on gas infrastructure.

UDPATE: Myhrvold explained to me in an email that “We only model ‘conventional’ gas, because we did not have good LCA [life-cycle analysis] studies for shale gas from fracking. However since our paper was accepted several have come out. This area is still controversial but people are coming in with higher emissions from shale gas than conventional gas.  That would tend to make any shale gas scenarios worse than the natural gas scenarios we cover.

Much of the media coverage of this study has been of the form, “Low-carbon technologies ‘no quick-fix,’ say researchers,” which is understandable since that was the headline of the IOP news release. But anyone who thought that even aggressive action today could substantially change our warming path before, say, 2040, wasn’t paying close attention to the literature (or reading Climate Progress).

Yes, replacing the energy infrastructure can’t be done instantaneously, CO2 lasts a long time in the atmosphere, we have a fair amount of warming in the pipeline, and the “ocean thermal inertia delays the climate benefits of emissions reductions,” as the study notes.

The climate fight is about the post-2040 world.  If we act aggressively now, we can keep global warming close to 3.6°F (2C). But if we delay we face the real prospect of 7-9°F (4-5C) global warming in the second half of the century, with substantially higher warming over most of the United States. That is “incompatible with organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems & has a high probability of not being stable (i.e.  4°C [7F] would be an interim temperature on the way to a much higher equilibrium level),” according to Professor Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change in Britain (see here).

That’s why the authors conclude that if you want to get “substantial reductions in temperatures relative to the coal-based system” you need to act now to shut down coal plants and replace them with very-low-carbon systems or conservation:

Despite the lengthy time lags involved, delaying rollouts of low-carbon-emission energy technologies risks even greater environmental harm in the second half of this century and beyond….

Technologies that offer only modest reductions in emissions, such as natural gas and—if the highest estimates from the life-cycle analyses are correct—carbon capture storage, cannot yield substantial temperature reductions this century. Achieving substantial reductions in temperatures relative to the coal-based system will take the better part of a century, and will depend on rapid and massive deployment of some mix of conservation, wind, solar, and nuclear, and possibly carbon capture and storage.

And this was a surprise to the lead author:

“The most surprising thing we found,” lead author Nathan Myhrvold told me recently, “is that unless you switch to a form of energy that cuts emissions really drastically” — and he isn’t talking about any piddling 50%, either — “you basically don’t get any real effect.”

Interestingly, methane leakage doesn’t seem to play a major role in these findings — even though recent research suggests it may be substantial (see Study: High Methane Emissions Measured Over Gas Field “May Offset Climate Benefits of Natural Gas”).

What is fascinating, if I am reading supplemental chart S2 correctly, is that there is substantially more radiative forcing from the waste heat in a natural gas plant then from methane leakage in the whole life-cycle of natural gas power.

If, like me, you thought waste heat was not a big factor, you were half right.  It isn’t a big factor for coal per se, but when you are trying to replace coal, it turns out to have a moderate impact in the lifecycle analysis of some alternatives (like gas), which matters when you are doing this kind of mass energy transition.

As an aside, I have to comment on a new post by NY Times blogger Andy Revkin, “A Fresh Scientific Defense of the Merits of Moving from Coal to Shale Gas.” Revkin, who doesn’t mention this new peer-reviewed whole-energy-system study, cites a press release (!) to conclude, “But, again, the notion that gas holds no advantage over coal, in weighing the climate implications of energy choices, is fading fast (to my reading of the science and that of many others).”

The notion that “gas holds no advantage over coal in weighing the climate implications of energy choices” is a semantic red herring. We now have 2 major unrebutted peer-reviewed scientific studies that make clear that if your goal is to substantially alter the projected temperature rise on our current emissions path, natural gas isn’t your answer. Indeed, it is a massive diversion of resources that  need to go to “rapid and massive deployment of some mix of conservation, wind, solar, and nuclear, and possibly carbon capture and storage.”

And I repeat, if, as is the case today, natural gas isn’t replacing coal 1 for 1, it is even worse.

BOTTOM LINE:  If you want to have a serious chance at averting catastrophic global warming, then we need to start phasing out all fossil fuels as soon as possible.  Natural gas isn’t a bridge fuel from a climate perspective.  Carbon-free power is the bridge fuel until we can figure out how to go carbon negative on a large scale by the end of the century.

Related Post:

55 Responses to Bombshell: You Can’t Slow Projected Warming With Gas, You Need ‘Rapid and Massive Deployment’ of Zero-Carbon Power

  1. fj says:

    Yes, and the true value of greatly improved efficiencies will rapidly reach heroic proportions.

  2. David F. says:

    Unfortunately, it will probably fall on deaf ears again. Just like every study that has drawn the same conclusion.

  3. Leif says:

    Solution: Scream louder or perhaps even sign language like a fist held high. With a club if need be. I prefer we learn how to play nice with our brothers but not to the point of sacrificing Earth’s life support systems.

  4. Barry Saxifrage says:

    A problem with stopping the natural gas monster is how incredibly cheap it is now.

    In BC for example the carbon tax on natural gas rises $5/tCO2 every year and yet natural gas is much cheaper now WITH the carbon tax than it was before the carbon tax started. The price is plummeting.

  5. Lou Grinzo says:

    Nothing in this study should come as a surprise, but it’s still quite valuable to have it as a ready reference.

    I’ve been saying for some time that the biggest mistake we can make is to fall into the trap of arguing over how much NG leaks from well sites and pipes or how bad fracking really is (and yes, it is very bad). If we could extract NG and burn it with zero leakage and zero other impacts from fracking, then embracing NG for electricity generation or transportation would still be a hideously bad idea. Too little emissions reduction, too much infrastructure lock-in.

    This is, of course, a function of timing and how long we’ve delayed already. Make this same assessment in, say, 1970, and it’s likely a very different story. But we squandered the last several decades, which means some options are no longer viable. It’s increasingly clear that NG is one of those.

  6. S. D. Jeffries says:

    Unless our political “leaders” undergo some sort of epiphany and/or get a lot smarter in the next few election cycles, we’re doomed.

  7. Thorn says:

    I’m getting extremely pessimistic about there being any effective action to avoid catastrophic warming. Realistically, when is the earliest we could even think to be zero-carbon? 10 years? 20 years? 30 years? We will only get action when the public demands it, and that won’t happen until the pain outweighs the perceived cost of radical energy transformation.

  8. Sasparilla says:

    The question is a very valid one Thorn. How long a tail once we decide to get off CO2 before we could actually get to the head and end CO2 emissions.

    I remember a study done by a former CIA director (forget who) but he was basically mapping out how long it would take for us to switch off oil if we seriously (as in use any and all alternatives) decided to – his conclusion was 20 years.

    I’m guessing that is probably a reasonable fast switchover timeline (slightly less than war footing) and of course we have to get to that point politically in the first place to decide to do that – which seems like another universe today.

    I’m with you on this – it would seem we’ve already gone too far for the ice in the Arctic (even if we went 0 emissions today it would be too late) which means the tundra is going to defrost and clathrates thaw out and its game over right there.

    That said we cannot give up, we have to keep talking, pushing, trying – because the switch politically will probably happen unexpectedly (always seems to happen that way) and by going carbon negative and who knows what else at the time we may have a chance – then it’ll take the people here to educate folks when the time comes and they want to know what to do. JMHO

  9. Sasparilla says:

    Barry I think you said it all right there. Until we politically add serious carbon costs to power generation fuels – its just going to be the lowest price fuel.

    Right now, in the US & Canada that is going to be natural gas because of the shale gas rush that has been on.

    Politically its hard to see this situation changing – so the way out is one of two things, clean energy costs have to drop below Coal and Natural Gas or Natural Gas and Coal costs have to be brought up to higher levels.

    Given time (seems like the end of the decade) then clean energy will get the costs below the fossil fuels.

    Another way out of this for gas would be to get the US and Canadian natural gas market plugged into the world market (as in export and world pricing). While US prices are ~$2.50 (whatever the measurement is) the price for Liquified natural gas on the international market is ~$10 and often higher for that same amount. Get the US market exposed to that and natural gas prices will get back up to where they were before the shale gas run when Wind was already cheaper. I have a feeling the natural gas guys are already wanting to go there because of all the $$$ to be made, but we’ll see.

  10. Sasparilla says:

    Great article Joe, the fact that Myhrvold was a main author had me struggling to not roll my eyes before reading. ;-)

    An open, heretical, question: Does this mean we shouldn’t want the existing 50 year old coal plants closed (that are closing) and replaced with new natural gas plants?

    Would be better to keep these nasty dirty coal plants running for another 10 years till we get to political or cost based clean energy replacement of them (instead of natural gas replacement and xx years of that running now)?

    This is a ivory tower choice since we don’t have that control over things, but I was wondering what people thought – considering what is at stake.

  11. Jim Prescott says:

    So, even on the conservation line (completely halting the production of new coal plants and phasing out all existing ones over the next 40 years, without replacement) we’re only .263C cooler after 100 years and .529C after 200 years (figure2, tableS4).

    I know every little bit helps but this seems a tiny payoff for something that seems impossibly aggressive. At this point we are still building new coal plants.

  12. Wonhyo says:

    Before the Honda and Toyota hybrids came out I considered getting a natural gas vehicle. What I found is that natural gas combustion produces more CO2 per unit of energy than gasoline combustion.

    Natural gas is considered a “clean” fuel in part because it produces a lower total mass of particulate emissions than gasoline. The problem is, the particle size distribution of natural gas emissions is much smaller. Compared to gasoline particulate emissions, natural gas produces a much larger number of smaller particles. The smaller particles travel deeper into the lungs on inspiration, and are harder to expel. Natural gas is a threat to respiratory health, even more so than gasoline.

    The benefits of natural gas as a “clean fuel” are false.

  13. Paul Magnus says:

    “Carbon-free power is the bridge fuel until we can figure out how to go carbon negative on a large scale by the end of the century.”

    Why have our leaders failed to see this. Can we get a consensus from the scientific community which specifically states this globally, forcefully and publicly.

    98% of the public do not realize that we have to stop emissions immediately. No one who can effectively convey this message is doing so. This has got to come from somewhere else apart from the ‘environmentalist’.

  14. Paul Magnus says:

    ” only plausible hope to avert catastrophic temperature rise this century ”

    Arn’t we are going to get catastrophic temp rise this century now what ever we do? Surely considering what we are already seeing with under 1C rise with another 1C things will be catastrophic!

    We are going to get several meters of SLR whatever we do now in around the next century. Apparently maybe 1ft by 2050. That sounds pretty catastrophic in any case.

  15. Paul Magnus says:

    The term emergency is missing from the messaging on GW….

    This, says Hansen, is a planetary emergency, just as important as an asteroid on its way. “But we dither, taking no action to divert the asteroid, even though the longer we wait, the more difficult and expensive it becomes.”

    “Now you know some of what I know that is sounding me to sound this alarm. Clearly I haven’t gotten this message across. I need your help. We owe it to our children and grandchildren.”

  16. oggy bleacher says:

    Hypothetically, we close the coal plants period. Lights out and start from scratch recognizing the consequences. I’m sure a confidential file exists on acceptable collateral damage from continued reliance on gasoline and coal and so far we’re being sold out by those we elect.

  17. oggy bleacher says:

    It’s like the myth that eating an apple is much healthier than a candy bar. The body recognizes sugar as sugar and calories as calories. It doesn’t care how the sugar is packaged.

    1 large apple (3.25″/223g – 10% waste)
    Sugars, total: 23g
    Calories, total: 116
    Calories from sugar: 92

    1 Regular Size chocolate candy bar (59g)
    Sugars, total: 30g
    Calories, total: 280
    Calories from sugar: 120

    It’s a question of marketing.

  18. Paul Magnus says:

    Oh BTW we do have an astroid to worry about now too…. and maybe we will have to sink resources in to diverting it….

    Massive asteroid headed for Earth could be diverted
    THURSDAY, 01 MARCH 2012 15:07

    The Space Administration is saying that 460-foot wide asteroid 2011 AG5 may be hitting the Earth by 2040. The odds of the asteroid hitting the United States are one in 625, though that may change with the conditions.

  19. David Goldstein says:

    Thanks for this article. There are so many great, cogent, persuasive articles on this site and others like it. Please excuse me for saying this- I’ve recently stepped away for a bit from my intense involvement with climate change education and activism. In this time I have seen with fresh eyes how very, very little urgency the ‘world at large’ feels about transitioning away from fossil fuels. I will get back to the ‘fight’ soon, but…I see no feasible way that we- as a nation or as a planet – will take anything close to necessary action until things get much worse and many more tipping points have been potentially triggered. Sad, unsettling…but feels pretty damn inevitable.

  20. Mike Roddy says:

    This is an important study, and the graphs make everything clear. Thanks to Caldeira and Myhrvold, the SAMO High grad who came to his senses.

    The key is going to be communicating this information forcefully, by demanding that our media and political leaders pay attention to it. If they don’t, we and the rest of the world will clearly be on a suicide mission. How this has become acceptable is a mystery, but those of us paying attention need to demand a fact based approach. Those who obstruct this action need to be called to account for criminal negligence. Weapons can include humor, humiliation, and civil disobedience if politicians and judges don’t cooperate.

  21. oggy bleacher says:

    Mandates have already been passed to curtail emissions in cars and that’s evidence the free market system is not totally in charge. (Thank You Ralph Nader)
    Those charts assume a constant civilian energy use that I don’t agree with. Rolling blackouts are guaranteed to be in our future unless we elect Rupert Murdoch as president.

    There is a limit to the number of tornadoes and dust storms the government can respond to and when we reach that limit you will see industries shut down like car manufacturers were in 1942. Speaking of WWII, I’m sure Axis intelligence estimated America could not compete in Europe or The Pacific until 1950 at the earliest and the fact that the U.S. went from WWI military resources in 1938 to surpassing anything previously conceived in 4 years, while simultaneously engaging in a global war is proof that a) it won’t be easy. b) it can be done. c) it will be done d) there will be great loss.

    I do wonder if we’re headed for Mad Max or Blade Runner or Avatar or The Road or Star Trek.

  22. Todd says:

    The two main sources of GHG emissions from the NG power plant value chain are the CO2 from combustion and the CH4 leaks in the NG production and transport system. These can both be “fixed” with technology, i.e. CO2 capture and geologic storage for the CO2 from combustion emissions, and enhanced operator practice and improved system standards and regulatory oversight for the NG production and transport CH4 leaks. It is not sexy, and it costs money and human effort, but it is technically possible.

  23. I feel exactly the same, burt hav decided to keep on for a while. My feeling is that there are even worse to get through with a message about climate change here i Norway than in the USA. The main reason is that we are living hogh on oil and gas

  24. Rick says:

    I’ve always heard that there could be some value to natural gas as a dispatchability backstop to enable the deployment of renewables (this is assuming the problem of large-scale storage capacity won’t be solved anytime soon) but haven’t seen any rigorous scientific or economic modeling on it. Does anyone know of any such studies?

  25. Joe Romm says:

    I think you are reading the chart wrong (tho I’m not sure which one you mean).

  26. Mike Roddy says:

    Even if it works, CCS for an existing gas plant is enormously expensive. If this cost is factored into gas plant construction in the first place, it is not competitive with wind or solar.

  27. Mike Roddy says:

    How about this idea: Myhrvold convenes a private meeting with the heads of Google, Microsoft, and Apple. Caldeira would bring along Mann, Santer, and Hansen.

    The purpose of the meeting would be to reach out to these deep pocket tech companies in order to seek their support in both waking up Americans through a media campaign and putting pressure on Washington to implement the changes we so desperately need. My brother Steve can use his influence to include a delegate from China for part of the meeting.

    All solutions and ideas should be on the table. If those tech guys are as smart as everybody thinks, maybe they can come up with actual solutions. Joe and a few others know what we need to do, but it’s better that they take credit for both the analysis and ideas. I learned from growing up in Silicon Valley (Los Altos) that those guys have egos, too.

  28. Lore says:

    These companies are not interested. They are publicly traded and exist only to support their shareholders.

  29. John McCormick says:

    Thom and Sasparilla, you left out two very important, essential elements in your comments:

    1: China
    2: India

  30. Turboblocke says:

    What I found is that natural gas combustion produces more CO2 per unit of energy than gasoline combustion.
    Natural gas is considered a “clean” fuel in part because it produces a lower total mass of particulate emissions than gasoline.

    I don’t think that’s right. Natural gas is considered a cleaner fuel because it has a higher ratio of hydrogen atoms to carbon.

  31. Mike Roddy says:

    The individuals who own and manage them don’t have to report to anyone, though, Lore. And there is at least a decent chance that they can get support from shareholders for socially important actions.

    Everybody thinks that Americans, including stockholders, just want to either survive or make more money. That may not be true. The notion of corporate fudiciary responsibility to focus only on money can be bypassed.

  32. Sasparilla says:

    Very true John – just getting past the problem of US politics is only the first hurdle as you’ve pointed out – but we have to get through that hurdle.

    Based on how the Chinese are playing the PR game it seems important to them that they are not blamed for the catastrophe we’re headed towards (the US doesn’t seem to care) – I’d guess if the US moved forward we could probably get the Chinese to as well.

    I don’t have a good feel for India and know they are very coal intensive.

  33. Raindog says:

    Oh – I just figured out that the y-axis is the amount of warming for one TWe of electricity produced. That is why the temperature is low. The globe currently produces >8TWh/yr of electricity from coal.

    One TW of electricity would mean 200,000 new 5MW wind turbines. 8TW = 1.6 million new 5MW wind turbines or equivalent solar. If you want to displace gas and oil for electricity you need another 4TW which would be another 1,000,000 5MW wind turbines or equivalent solar. That is just to match existing energy needs and does not account for growth.

    Ain’t gonna happen

    On top of that you need some kind of power to back up the wind and solar like nuclear.

    Interesting that new hydro is worse than any option over the first 60 years.

    This paper would suggest that we are screwed no matter what we do. It was stated at the beginning that one of the authors is a geo-engineering fan. I’ll bet he is still a geo-engineering fan. If this paper is right, geo-engineering is our only hope.

  34. John McCormick says:

    In President Obama’s second term, he will have the opportunity (potential) to aggressively negotiate with China a bilateral approach to take on the transition towards very low carbon economies and preparing each for the consequences of the increasing heat already in the pipeline.

  35. Todd says:

    You are correct on the cost for a newbuild with CCS, but the cost of a retrofit is much lower. There are very many operating NG power plants that are good candidates. It is still expensive but could potentially give very fast emissions reductions in places that have poor sun and wind resources.

  36. SecularAnimist says:

    oggy bleacher wrote: “the myth that eating an apple is much healthier than a candy bar”

    You have got to be kidding. Did you even look at the nutritional data that YOU posted on “sugar as sugar” — showing that the candy bar has 30 percent MORE sugar than the apple? Did you stop for a moment to consider the fiber, vitamins and other nutrients in the apple, which the candy bar lacks? Did you stop for a moment to consider the saturated fat in the chocolate candy bar?

    Let’s hope that whatever “insights” you contribute to discussions of renewable energy are not so silly.

  37. SecularAnimist says:

    Google already invests heavily in renewable energy and related technologies.

  38. Solar Jim says:

    It is discouraging to hear climate scientists (including Hansen) who speak of clean energy, ie. sustainable energy policy planning, include uranium (atomic) fission and carbonic acid gas “storage” below ground as some kind of “solution.”

    Besides neither having anything to do with the subject of “renewable energy,” both are non-starters. This is due to the unquantifiable risks from increasing occurrence of earthquakes, and potential for subsequent mass contamination by what is “stored,” due to the melting cryosphere and resultant tectonic activation.

    Thanks to the authors nonetheless for excellent work on carbonic contamination.

  39. Joe Romm says:

    No, geo-engineering is pointless without strong mitigation, as Caldeira has said many times.

  40. Turboblocke says:

    Think negawatts: reducing demand by improving efficiency. I’m in Europe and I’ve got a 12 year old 2 seater car that gives 20km/l and an 8 year old mid sized one that gives 16/17 km/l. What’s your car get?

    Improving the insulation in your existing housing stock and mandating superinsulation in new build will also reduce demand.

    And although 1.6 million new turbines seems a lot, they are no really more complex to build than say a top of the range car or a light aeroplane. FYI the world produced about 250,000 planes in 1944 and currently produces about 50 million cars per year.

  41. fj says:

    Most likely the critical path will incorporate extremely low-carbon build-out (net-zero and near net-zero transportation, buildings, and infrastructure) potentially with some help from very safe highly controlled geo-engineering mitigating weather extremes — likely based on advanced knowledge and minimal modification of currents and convection systems among other techniques — effectively tempering climates and moderating storms; greatly reducing energy requirements — and risks — of large cities and other populations.

    Since the oceans naturally sequester half the world’s CO2 and potentially extremely rich in clean energy sources they’ll likely be the best places for large scale carbon-negative restoration.

  42. Raindog says:

    Gas is the easiest way to reduce emissions because it requires no tax dollars and republicans like it. If that doesn’t help us much we are screwed.

    I am not saying it can’t be done. I am saying it won’t be done given the reality of how people behave in this world.

    It really isn’t making the turbines or solar panels that would be the biggest problem (although that is a problem) – it is getting people to want to pay for them followed immediately by getting them sited, permitted and built and getting all the new transmission lines needed sited, permitted and built. Many people, especially rich people with lots of money to fight these things, don’t want wind turbines or transmission lines in their view. Many of the same people who are fighting shale gas also fight against wind projects in their backyards. On top of that we live in a country where one political party trips over themselves in a stampede to block anything that has to do with averting catastrophic climate change.

    Even if by some miracle this were achieved Then you have still only dealt with electricity as currently used. There is still transportation and livestock and deforestation to be dealt with after that.

    And then you have to get China and India and other emerging economies to buy in and get them to close all the coal plants they are just building now. It isn’t going to happen.

    If gas offers no hope, then it may be best to look for the geoengineering solutions along with mitigation. Or if you really think there is a future in carbon negative fuels that might be the solution.

    One thing I noticed is that they don’t have a gas with CCS option which would probably be much better. Capturing CO2 from gas plants is easier and cheaper than from coal plants and there is less of it to sequester.

    If this analysis is correct, this blog should also be calling this a bombshell for hydro power. Hydro comes out worse than anything – even coal – over 60 years.

  43. Andy Hultgren says:

    Should the scale on those charts be from 0C to 3C, and not from 0C to 0.3C as printed? Or am I missing something?

    A temp increase of 0.3C by 2100 based on continued coal use (the black “Coal” line) doesn’t seem very realistic…

  44. Andy Hultgren says:

    Question answered. First sentance of the paper reads:
    “Hoffert et al [1] estimated that if economic growth continues as it has in the past, 10–30 TW of carbon-neutral primary power must be deployed by 2050 to meet global energy demand while stabilizing CO2 concentrations at 450 ppmv…”

    and the charts are only for 1 TWe.

  45. Geoff Beacon says:

    Why no graph for biomass with carbon capture?

  46. “…and the charts are only for 1 TWe.”

    But the paper says “1 TWe is the order of magnitude of the global electrical output currently generated from coal”

  47. Joe Romm says:

    They didn’t calculate that.

  48. J4zonian says:

    Ha, ha! Yeah, good one, John (11:16). Have you thought about making a cartoon out of that so Joe could post a link to it? I’m sure it would be the hit of the day. Making fun of all the fools who STILL persist, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary, that Obama is a closet radical leftist whose true colors will come out once… (fill in your own private delusion). Good one! You could call it “Liberal Denialism: a pale horse of a different color”.

  49. J4zonian says:

    This is the tiniest of steps on a long migration. We will all soon be climate refugees and have to take the first step. Close the coal plants, old ones first, as we convince people to make up for them with efficiency, wind and solar.IF there’s a higher price to pay at the outlet, WWII-style conservation and changed lives (bicycles, trains, and skype instead of driving and flying…) will be stimulated to keep people’s energy costs controlled.

    A very steep price on carbon, with assistance for poor people to get off it, wouldn’t hurt either.

  50. J4zonian says:

    Really oggy,

    You should keep looking into this; the sugar in apples is of a different kind and the body/mind certainly does care about what it is and how it’s packaged. The effects of the fruit sugars in an apple are mediated by fiber and phytonutrients of many (hundreds? thousands? We don’t know for sure)of varieties. Very different effect on metabolism and general health.

  51. J4zonian says:

    We don’t need to “figure out” how to go carbon negative; we already know. But aside from a very occasional assist from Joe (thank you) I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. I think I’ll start a new acronym here: VCITW.

    Maybe it’s the fact that many? / most? people are under the impression trees get their bulk through their roots, turning minerals and soil into tree. Not so. Much. Trees (and other plants) breathe in CO2, breathe out O2. What’s left in the tree, that makes up most of it’s bulk? I’ll give you a hint: it starts with C.

    The way we go Carbon negative is to reforest the world and switch to from global chemical agriculture to local organic permaculture, increasing the organic (aka carbon) content of the soil. That is, we help the cybernetic system of all life on Earth we call Gaia to regulate her/it’s temperature the same way she/it did in the Carboniferous Period. By burying the excess.

    And then we have the brains to not dig it up again, living on her/its bountiful interest and not the principal.

  52. J4zonian says:

    oops. obviously there’s an extra “to” in there. It should read “switch from global chemical agriculture to local organic permaculture”.

  53. J4zonian says:

    There is a lot of despair being expressed here. While I certainly understand it and have felt it myself in the past, we all have to understand that it is our personal despair, implanted in us by our personal history. It does not reflect the reality of the world’s future, which none of us knows.

    We veer between false certainty of a good outcome (hope/faith) and false certainty of a bad outcome (despair) because we can’t tolerate the anxiety in the middle, that not only admitting but actually embodying ‘not knowing’ would leave us with. We have to cultivate the practice of what Buddhism calls “beginner’s mind”. We have to act strongly in the right and let go of expectations, especially the expectation of knowing.

    To do that we have to cultivate a practice of gradually increasing toleration of uncertainty, a long-term practice that most of us need help with from someone who’s there already.

    Unless we do that, all the good news/bad news alternations we go through will only leave us reeling and dazed, and not much use.

  54. Raindog says:

    I actually was right the first time – it isn’t 8 times that number. The paper is suggesting that completely switching from coal to wind or solar or stop burning it completely that it will only save us 0.2C of warming by 2110. I think this has to be wrong but 1 TWe is all of the electricity produced by coal today. So gas would save 0.05C and completely shutting down all coal would save 0.2C in 100 years. There is either something very wrong with their calculations or it doesn’t really matter if we keep burning coal or switch to gas or switch to wind and solar. 0.2C is a rounding error.

  55. Andrew Marks says:

    A few months back I read about a technology/process to catalytically combine CO2 with electrolyzed H2O to recreate hydrocarbon fuel. The concept I believe is to make CO2 part of a renewable fuel cycle. What was novel about this fairly old process {Fischer-Tropsch?] was its fairly high efficiency. Of course there was an energy input requirement so less attractive compared to “free” inputs such as wind/hydro/sun/geo, but the attraction seemed to be the ability to reuse all the existing energy infrastructure which will be an increasing issue for extensive renewables buildout.
    I have no expertise in this area and no book to talk. Three questions:

    1) Is anyone of the many knowledgeable on this site familiar with this type of technology and whether there is any hope for the technology itself in terms of obtaining both process and capital efficiency to be practical useful solution [instead of yet another techno-hair-brained-scheme]?

    2) Does this concept of a CO2 renewable fuel cycle hold any value in terms of stabilising [or lowering] atmospheric CO2?

    3) The idea sadly doesn’t reduce the use of ultra convenient, transportable, liquid, energy-dense hydrocarbon fuel. However it seemed like it could help to stabilize one part of the overall problem while we try to solve some of the other tough problems, like how all the new generation to power electric cars is going to be powered. Any thoughts on whether this could be the true Bridge to Somewhere that fossil based natgas isn’t?

    If you have any good links to sources where I can gain a better understanding of your perspective these would of course be appreciated.