No Country for Old Men

Heaven knows what Aubrey Meyer must feel like some days.

For every ounce of frustration I feel about the sloth-like pace of the international Climate negotiations, he must feel a pound of nerve-wrecking agitational sweating stress.

The United States of America has been trumpeting its progressive politics again this week, asserting itself as the world’s Climate Change leader at the G8 talks in L’Aquila in Italy.

The world’s industrialised and developing economies are going to commit to “substantial” emissions cuts, although exact numbers by exact dates are a bit hard to pin down :-

But Aubrey’s done the math, and the commitments being made fall well short of Climate Safety :-$1309679.htm

“Comment: Govt climate change policy is suicide : Wednesday, 08, Jul 2009 12:01 : Twenty years of negotiations, and the temperature continues to rise. The government needs to change its strategy. By Aubrey Meyer : We’ve had twenty years of international negotiations to prevent runaway rates of climate change taking hold. These have created a process of increasingly chaotic guesswork where we knowingly continue to cause this problem much faster than we act to avoid it. The danger is that the problem accelerates out of control…That framework of ‘truth and reconciliation’ is the now very widely cited and supported Contraction and Convergence (C&C) framework. Targets in the UK government’s Climate Act and their document, ‘The Road to Copenhagen’, are loosely based on C&C, but at rates that are just too slow. The government is quite incorrect to claim that a global contraction in emissions of 50 per cent by 2050 is sufficient to prevent a globally averaged temperature rise of more than two degrees Celsius. It is too little, too late…Consequently, their claim that an 80 per cent cut in the emissions of the developed countries by 2050 is fair to developing countries who get the balance of entitlements under that cap is quite meaningless. The reality is that a well-intentioned but insufficiently numerate international response to global climate change completes the process of mutually assisted suicide (MAS) that we have been creating since 1992. Sustained emissions and repeated cycles of internationally incoherent guesswork has led to this MAS.…When our government argues this, governed by a bare minimum of 80 per cent global emissions cut by 2050, their claim to leadership may become meaningful.”

Aubrey’s not a young man any more, and I’m sure he remembers, like I do, some of ecology’s early big sellers :-

1. Small is Beautiful
(by E.F. Schumacher)

I read this in my formative years, and it had a formative influence on me.

2. Limits to Growth
(by Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers and William W. Behrens III)

I read this in and in my student years and it influenced my choice of studies.

There has been several updates to the “Limits to Growth”, the most recent being the 30 Year update :-

Were the authors right ? Did they get their predictions correct ?

Well, several studies suggest they did. Here’s one from 2008 :-

page 50

“As shown, the observed historical data for 1970 – 2000 most closely matches the simulated results of the LtG [ Limits to Growth ] “standard run” scenario for almost all the outputs reported; this scenario results in global collapse before the middle of this century [ 21st ]. The comparison is well within uncertainty bounds of nearly all the data in terms of both magnitude and the trends over time. Given the complexity of numerous feedbacks between sectors incorporated in the LtG World3 model, it is instructive that the historical data compares so favourably with the model output. By comparison, the “comprehensive technology” scenario is overly optimistic in growth rates of factors such as food, industrial output and services per capita, and global persistent pollution… In addition to the data-based corroboration presented here, contemporary issues such as peak oil, climate change, and food and water security resonate strongly with the feedback dynamics of “overshoot and collapse” displayed in the LtG “standard run” scenario (and similar scenarios). Unless the LtG is invalidated by other scientific research, the data comparison presented here lends support to the conclusion from the LtG that the global system is on an unsustainable trajectory unless there is substantial and rapid reduction in consumptive behaviour, in combination with technological progress.”

And Matt Simmons, the Oil Energy analyst, also appraised it in 2000 :-,club_of_rome_revisted.pdf

My key point in this flashback is to point out that it seems likely that the “standard run” parameters of the original 1972 Limits to Growth modelling are somewhere in the ballpark of what Aubrey Meyer is suggesting needs to be followed in his framework “Contraction and Convergence” (see charts below).

This will necessitate an acceptance of a global contraction of economies. That means the end of “Economic Growth” as it is currently constructed – as Economic Growth is currently made out of the building blocks of Hydrocarbon Energy, Coal and unreplaced Forest.

The danger is if we have a rogue element such as the doubling of natural (Energy) resources, say, for example, using the water-bound Methane clathrates as a source of Natural Gas – then the model will produce exponential levels of pollution which would be unsupportable :-

“Ice on fire: The next fossil fuel : 24 June 2009 by Fred Pearce : Magazine issue 2714 : DEEP in the Arctic Circle, in the Messoyakha gas field of western Siberia, lies a mystery. Back in 1970, Russian engineers began pumping natural gas from beneath the permafrost and piping it east across the tundra to the Norilsk metal smelter, the biggest industrial enterprise in the Arctic. By the late 70s, they were on the brink of winding down the operation. According to their surveys, they had sapped nearly all the methane from the deposit. But despite their estimates, the gas just kept on coming. The field continues to power Norilsk today. Where is this methane coming from? The Soviet geologists initially thought it was leaking from another deposit hidden beneath the first. But their experiments revealed the opposite – the mystery methane is seeping into the well from the icy permafrost above. If unintentionally, what they had achieved was the first, and so far only, successful exploitation of methane clathrate. Made of molecules of methane trapped within ice crystals, this stuff looks like dirty ice and has the consistency of sorbet. Touch it with a lit match, though, and it bursts into flames. Clathrates are rapidly gaining favour as an answer to the energy crisis. Burning methane emits only half as much carbon dioxide as burning coal, and many countries are seeing clathrates as a quick and easy way of reducing carbon emissions. Others question whether that is wise, and are worried that extracting clathrates at all could have unforeseen and perilous side effects…”

This is the simple truth that Aubrey Meyer has been struggling to convey for the last few decades, and no doubt he will have to carry on with his business, as usual, to counteract the very dirty “Business as Usual” going on to maximise Energy production and consumption.

Continuing to burn with the same kind of growth rates as projected by the International Energy Agency and the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook will lead us to Climate Hell.

If it takes us until we’re in our 90’s, ranting and railing, to get some sense from our political and social leaders on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, we’ll just have to keep lobbying and rallying and writing, even if we’re toothless in wheelchairs.

But actually, we don’t have that long to make big changes. If I live to be 50, that will be the year we need to peak in Greenhouse Gas Emissions – whether that’s through massive Economic shock, Resource limit brick walls or the fact that the Arctic Ice Cap has completely melted and stunned everyone into Contraction and Convergence emergency mode.

If we don’t get serious cuts in deforestation and the use of dirty Energy, this will be no country for any men, young or old.

Aubrey Meyer’s Contraction & Convergence Framework :-

Chart : Paul Chefurka’s projection of World Energy :-

Cartoon/Chart : Peak Oil :-

Chart : Peak Oil :-

Chart : Contraction & Convergence as charted by Stephen Schneider at Stanford :-

Chart : “Projection for Disaster” taken from the original LtG :-

Chart : Dave Rutledge LtG Scenario :-

“When Is “Global Peak Energy?” According to Publicly Available Data, Probably Sooner Than You Think : Posted by Prof. Goose on September 10, 2007 – 10:00am”

2 thoughts on “No Country for Old Men”

  1. An interesting array of data. However, they all predict the future without allowing for new discoveries or inventions. According to similar invention-free calculations the French responded to the (manipulated) oil crisis of 1973 by massively overbuilding electrical generating capacity. The problem was, that the invention of microchips intervened, significantly reducing energy demand.

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