Targets of Opportunity

The editors of the Washington Post jump into the scrum on fossil fuel use:

The new IPCC report advises global leaders that the oft-cited goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius is riskier than many imagine. A 1.5-degree goal would be far less dangerous, but the world has only about a decade to make the “rapid and far-reaching” changes required to meet that goal.

The difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees would be substantial. Coral reefs would go from mostly gone to almost entirely gone. More sea-level rise would put up to 10 million more people in danger. High heat would kill more people. It would be much hotter on land and in cities. Deadly mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever would spread farther. Droughts would be more likely. So would deluges. Tropical fisheries would empty further. Staple crop yields, particularly in some of the world’s poorest nations, would decline more. Disastrous loss of the Antarctic ice sheet would be more likely. Feedback loops could push warming further than anticipated, as, for example, thawing permafrost releases gases the frozen ground has trapped for centuries. Up to nearly 1 million additional square miles of permafrost would thaw at 2 degrees of warming.

To their credit they allow nuclear power generation a supporting role:

Radically changing the trajectory would require a combination of strategies. Humans would need to waste far less energy. Forests would have to be preserved and expanded. Emissions-free renewables would have to ramp up — to around three-quarters of global electricity demand by 2050 — with an assist from nuclear and still-nascent carbon-capture technology that sequesters emissions from traditional fossil fuel burning. Extra-dirty coal, which still produces more electricity than any other single source, would have to be finally phased out. The transition would require investment of about 2.5 percent of world GDP through 2035.

To my eye this is proof positive that newspapers need to hire fewer J-school grads and more engineers. At present solar and wind power require fossil fuel backups, backups that must be in continuous operation. More solar and wind inherently mean more waste. And that doesn’t delve into the total lifetime. Reservoir hydroelectricity is by far the most popular form and results in substantial production of methane, a worse problem pound for pound than carbon dioxide. Nuclear will need more than a supporting role.

The graph above illustrates U. S. greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. As you can see the U. S. has actually decreased its production of greenhouse gases and that was without draconian measures. In China and India every additional dollar of GDP requires additional production of greenhouse gases. That’s not the case here.

The U. S. is the largest producer of greenhouse gases and we can do more but we’re moving in the right direction. The editors of the Washington Post need to direct their fire on countries that are going in the wrong direction which includes Germany. Doing otherwise is simply looking for political targets of opportunity.

9 comments… add one
  • Gray Shambler

    Studying and analyzing economic growth is fine and enlightening, as long as it doesn’t lead to the hubris of economic command and control. Everywhere the human eye looks, we see patterns, because our minds are wired that way, we see patterns and trends where there are none. Too late by 2040. Too late by 2041, 42, 44, and so on. We never learn that you cannot extrapolate a trend where the human element intervenes. Sadly, half the country would see that comment as political.

  • Ben Wolf

    The authors of the IPCC report also state massive investment in pulling existing co2 out of the atmosphere is a requirement for survival.

    Also notice the IPCCs conclusion about the degree of warming is less dire than the Trump Administration’s estimate of 3.5 degrees C by 2100.

  • Gray Shambler

    If, in 1950, it were truthfully predicted there were projected to be 253 million cars and trucks on the road by 2018, policies would have been offered to restrict the ownership of private vehicles, as obviously the roadways would be hopelessly clogged, and the economy would grind to a halt. So much for that, and any other managed economy dreams.

  • Gray Shambler

    And, if we are confident about the degree of warming by the year 2100. we should extrapolate on out for 300 more years. 180 degrees F.? Why not? What limits are there to experts’ knowledge of the future?

  • IMO part of the reason the editors of the NYT and WaPo complain about Trump’s environmental policy is opportunism. They hate him; they liked Obama; they want to think that Obama’s environmental policy was good and Trump’s bad. That fracking has reduced our carbon emissions pretty dramatically over the last decade is irony.

    However another reason is like the old joke about the drunk searching for his keys under the lamppost because the light there was better. They should be complaining about China and India but they don’t because they don’t reach the Chinese and Indians.

  • Ben Wolf


    Don’t kid yourself. The American economy has been centrally managed since the late 19th Century. That’s how capitalism works.

  • TarsTarkas

    Mr. Schuler: The NYT and WaPo also don’t want to commit the crime of racism by criticizing the policies of India and China. Can’t have that! Only us woke politically correct people here! Their lack of criticism also forestalls committing the cardinal sin of enviro-colonialism.
    Mr. Wolf: If you think the American economy has been centrally managed for the past 130+ years, then I don’t think you understand what the term ‘centrally managed’ means.

  • Gray Shambler

    And I disagree too, Ben, efforts are always made by business to gain licensing, monopoly, or tax advantage, but if that’s all those business’s had, IBM and GE would be untouchable, instead, we see new companies surging to the fore with new tech and new ideas. Centrally managed? Banks, maybe, but here comes cryptocurrency and blockchain. Where will they lead? Tell me and we’ll both be rich.

  • Andy

    The simple fact is that the US and Europe won’t change much when it comes to greenhouse gases:

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