|What appears to be a serious event is due to take place at the Energy Institute in London on 6th December 2011, “Peak Oil – assessing the economic impact on global oil supply“.
Dr Roger Bentley, author of a seminal 2002 paper on the subject, research that spawned hundreds of related learned articles, will be speaking.
But the event organisers have also invited one Dr Matt Ridley, the self-styled “rational optimist”, and member of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and this, I’m afraid, prevents me from attending.
Ridley projects a view that many probably find comforting – as his headline in The Times of 1st October 2011 summarises – “Cheer up. The world’s not going to the dogs”.
He has been captured speaking at a TEDx event pouring scorn on “environmental” scare stories of the past, but not bothering to delve or dig into how mankind has actually gone out of its way to act on past crises and prevent catastrophes.
And now he’s thrown in his lot with the shale gas miracle men, writing a report with a foreword by Freeman Dyson, one of the world’s most balanced individuals.
How much uncorroborated optimism can one man contain ?
Back in the 1970s they were expecting global cooling – of the economy. There were oil shocks and shocking prices, and petrochemists beavered away, sweating over test tubes the size of football fields, whisking up synthetic fuels.
It was not the first time that the world had tried to synthesise liquid vehicle fuel. Hitler famously did it during the Second World War, and had it not been for Bergius and Fischer-Tropsch, Nazi Germany would have collapsed much sooner under the anvil of global economic sanctions. I mean, the history books insist the multi-pronged military assault was responsible for the Victory in Europe, but the final push would never have succeeded without the suspension of energy trade.
Various syngas and synfuel projects have continued in various places, mostly America, and although the first plants used coal and Natural Gas to make other things, these days the emphasis is on biomass.
We can expect to see a dramatic rise in the amount of Biogas and Bio-syngas produced over the next few decades, along with renewably-sourced hydrogen. It will all get fed into the global syngas refineries, and out will pop power, vehicle fuel and chemistry.
|Germany can do it, but not the British. The Collected Republic of the People can install solar power with great will and nerve, but not Johnny English.
Let’s be clear here – the people in Scotland have a vision for future Renewable Energy, and so do many people in Wales and Ireland, but it appears English governance listens to fuddy duddy landowners too readily, and remains wedded to the fossil fuel industry and major construction projects like nuclear power, and carbon capture and storage.
|What precisely is wrong with the heads of policy travel in Westminster ? Do they not understand the inevitable future of “conventional” energy – of decline, decimation and fall ?
It really is of no use putting off investment in truly sustainable and renewable power and gas. There are only two paths we can take in the next few decades, and their destination is the same.
Here’s how it goes. Path A will take the United Kingdom into continued dodgy skirmishes in the Middle East and North Africa. Oil production will dance like a man with a stubbed toe, but then show its true gradient of decline. Once everybody gets over the panic of the impending lack of vehicle fuel, and the failure of alternatives like algal biodiesel, and the impacts of a vastly contracted liquid fuel supply on globalised trade, then we shall move on to the second phase – the exploitation of gas. At first, it will be Natural Gas. But that too will decline. And then it will be truly natural gases. As gas is exploited for vehicles, electricity will have to come from coal. But coal, too, is suffering a precipitous decline. So renewable energy will be our salvation. By the year 2100, the world will run on renewable electricity and renewable gas, or not at all.
|On Wednesday, I received a telephone call from an Information Technology recruitment consultancy. They wanted to know if I would be prepared to provide computer systems programming services for NATO.
Detecting that I was speaking with a native French-speaker, I slipped into my rather unpracticed second language to explain that I could not countenance working with the militaries, because I disagree with their strategy of repeated aggression.
|I explained I was critical of the possibility that the air strikes in Libya were being conducted in order to establish an occupation of North Africa by Western forces, to protect oil and gas interests in the region. The recruitment agent agreed with me that the Americans were the driving force behind NATO, and that they were being too warlike.
Whoops, there goes another great opportunity to make a huge pile of cash, contracting for warmongers ! Sometimes you just have to kiss a career goodbye. IT consultancy has many ethical pitfalls. Time to reinvent myself.
I’ve been “back to school” for the second university degree, and now I’m supposed to submit myself to the “third degree” – go out and get me a job. The paucity of available positions due to the poor economic climate notwithstanding, the possibility of ending up in an unsuitable role fills me with dread. One of these days I might try to write about my experiences of having to endure several kinds of abuse whilst engaged in paid employment : suffice it to say, workplace inhumanity can be unbearable, some people don’t know what ethical behaviour means, and Human Resources departments always take sides, especially with vindictive, manipulative, micro-managers. I know what it’s like to be powerless.
When do micro-seismic events add up to earthquakes ? Landslips ? Tsunamis ? Who really knows ? These are just a few questions amongst many about underground mining techniques that will probably never be properly answered. Several mini-quakes were suggested to be responsible for the shutdown of Cuadrilla’s activities in Blackpool, north west England early in 2011, and there have been unconfirmed links between tremors and fracking in the United States of America, where unconventional gas is heavily mined.
It is perhaps too easy to sow doubt about the disbenefits of exploding rock formations by pressure injection to release valuable energy gases – many legislative and public consultation hurdles have been knocked down by the merest flick of the public relations wrist of the unconventional fossil gas industry (and its academic and consultancy friends).
The potential to damage the structure of the Earth’s crust may be the least attributable and least accountable of hydraulic fracturing’s suspected disadvantages, but it could be the most significant in the long run. Science being conducted into the impact on crust stability from fracking and other well injection techniques could rule out a wide range of geoengineering on safety grounds, such as Carbon Capture and Storage proposals. If we can’t safely pump carbon dioxide underground, we should really revise our projections on emissions reductions from carbon capture.
[ Camp Frack is under canvas in Lancashire protesting about the imposition of hydraulic fracturing on the United Kingdom. ]
We are stardust ? Well, not quite. As carbon-based lifeforms we’re actually the offspring of a young sun, composed of the lighter elements, with a low concentration of a few transition metals essential for our health and vitality. Irn Bru, anyone ?
The actual products of exploding old stars that got lodged in the crusty skin of the accreting Earth are often quite toxic to us. Over millions of years, heavy and radioactive elements, being of no use to the ecosystem, have been deposited at the bottom of lakes, seabeds, and ended up lodged in seams of coal, and caverns of petroleum oil and Natural Gas. Uranium ores and other nasties have been overlain by forests and deserts, and only rarely vent, like radon, from Vulcan’s infernal lairs.
And what do humans do ? We dig this stuff up to burn or fission for energy, and when we do it creates toxic waste, that hurts us, and the life around us. Why are we surprised that mercury from the coal power industry is killing fish and harming children ? Why is it a shock that the tailing ponds from mining tar and oil sands are devastating pristine wilderness and waterways ?
My print copy of New Scientist magazine slithers through the letterbox in its biodegradable plastic sheath and plops weightily on the doormat. Hours later I pick it up, and it crinkles with the promise of lots of juicy new information. What I’m not prepared for is the disappointment of the sell-out on the inside of the front cover :-
“Win a trip to the high Arctic and the deep sea : Ever wanted to see polar bears and whales in their natural habitats ? Or how about visiting the sea floor ? Here’s your chance : New Scientist has teamed up with Statoil, the global energy company, to offer one lucky winner and a guest the trip of a lifetime – to sail around the Svalbard archipelago inside the Arctic Circle, home to polar bears and whales, and to fly to the giant Troll platform, where you will visit the bottom of the North Sea. To win this amazing prize all you have to do is tell us, in no more than 100 words, which engineering project you think will have the greatest impact on human life in the next 30 years, and why. To find out more and to enter the competition go to www.newscientist.com/engineeringgreats. The closing date for entries is 2 March 2011.”
A large part of the page is taken up with a photograph of a polar bear, a poster child for Climate Change.
The implication-by-association is that Statoil want to protect the environment. But what’s their real business ? Shipping large quantities of Natural Gas – not exactly zero carbon fuel.
Not only that, but pages 10 and 11 of the magazine are an “advertising feature” on behalf of Statoil. The infommercial is in exactly the same style and typeface as the rest of the magazine, which I think is plain deceptive. Perhaps it is there to make sure that people entering the prize competition nominate Statoil’s technology as the “engineering great” for the future. That’s a bit rich. In one fell swoop the global energy industry have co-opted not only polar bears but the New Scientist magazine into the bargain !
The “advertising feature” features Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), which is what Statoil is famous for with their Sleipner facility, where they inject excess Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from Natural Gas back into the field to store it. The “advertising feature” attempts to sell the “good idea” of CCS, but cleverly injects a bit of “balance” to take the reader along with it.
“…The conclusion so far is that the CO2 is safely stored…It’s not possible to be 100 per cent certain about this…”
I would have thought that if it’s not 100% locked down that some people might be quite unsure about relying on it. But anyway. It appears that the European Union and several other key players really believe in CCS technology, and are willing to put public funds into it :-
The only way that any business would buy into CCS would be if there is a carbon price differential implemented – as CCS adds costs to everything :-
“…Statoil made the choice to lock up the field’s CO2 for good business reasons: the Norwegian government would have levied a tax of $50 for every tonne of CO2 it emitted…”
But fitting CCS to power plants is going to be a lot different than the Sleipner project :-
“…Then there is the question of whether the technique can be extended to CO2 produced by combustion, in particular from fossil-fuel power stations…handling flue gases from power plants is going to require significant extra cost…”
So what kind of carbon price would support Carbon Capture and Storage ? $80 per tonne ? $120 per tonne ? That’s the kind of money our leaders are willing to shell out from tax revenues to support the continued burning of coal to make electricity. Wouldn’t it be better, more cost effective, to put the money into Renewable Energy technologies and just stop burning coal ? After all, coal could get a lot more pricey in the next few years :-
If I were in charge, I would recommend that nobody builds any new coal-fired power stations, and that we start a phase of withdrawal from coal-burning for power generation, forget about Carbon Capture and Storage and put the public money into financing the development of Biogas, BioSyngas and Renewable Hydrogen – zero carbon gas products that could replace Natural Gas and coal entirely.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) as known as Carbon Geosequestration, or more simply Carbon Sequestration was put forward as a “leading edge” technology to the IPCC from the energy industry way back in 2002 :-
A Special Report was published by the IPCC in 2005 :-
The reasoning was as follows : coal is cheap and abundant, allegedly, and everybody (especially the Chinese) are going to continue burning it for energy for another 200 years, so we better find ways to mitigate the emissions using engineering.
The first big fail on the score card : it’s expensive. You have to spend heaps more money on not only the CCS pumping and storage infrastructure, but you have to spend heaps more money on fuel as a coal-fired power station with CCS fitted will burn something in the region of 20% to 45% more fuel (analyses vary) :-
“Around 10-40% more energy is required with CCS than without…”
The second big fail, and this could be the clincher : it uses even more water than un-mitigated coal power generation, and in some places (notably China and the USA), water competition between population, agriculture and industry is appearing :-
See pages 42 and 46 (Conclusion).
And all this just to justify continuing to burn coal, when supply is stressed and prices are at risk of rising…
Tell me please : is anybody seriously demonstrating large volume CCS anywhere in the world apart from people burying Carbon Dioxide as a means for Enhanced Oil Recovery in old petroleum wells ?
It seems that the only way to finance CCS will be through a ridiculous international subsidy known as the Clean Development Mechanism – although why dirty coal should get it, I really don’t know. It would be much, much cheaper to stop using fossil fuels and start using green power…
The Cancun IPCC get-together ruled CCS projects into the CDM :-
And this after it having been ruled out in the 2009 IPCC hook up in Copenhagen :-
How’s Australia doing ? :-
And what’s the deal about “cleaner” plants ? :-
For more news and views from the inside :-
(but don’t believe the map – most of the projects won’t be happening)
(Download the newsletters – link top right)
How ready is Carbon Capture ?
Fail number 3 : doesn’t look like it’s even close to getting off the starting blocks yet in the race to a lower carbon future.
Looks like we’ve all been captured by the concept of Carbon Capture, but that it’s a gossamer filament of ethereal phlogiston, wafting away in the breeze.
Bypass coal, and go straight to the concentrated solar powerhouse, I’d advise.
Eventually we will reach you.
Scientists are proverbially poor at communication, but we will eventually be able to explain to you what is happening to the Earth in a way that you will understand.
You need to give some time to the data, to the arguments. You need to read the significant research papers, learn how to read graphs, learn the acronyms, abbreviations, technical terms.
You will need to be able to weigh in your mind the significance of probabilities, the risks of extremes, the trends, the changing patterns.
After a while, you will start to reappraise the evidence, and start looking into the data and see the conclusions for yourself.
You will begin to appreciate the strong line of reasoning, and come to be in awe of the minds of many who work on Climate Change.
I’ve become impressed by the body of scientific evidence, that’s why I will always be aligned with the Climate Change science community.
We’re not going anywhere. We’re here, and we’re right. There has already been significant change in the Earth’s climate due to humankind’s mining-to-burn activities, and the projections are for further, possibly very dangerous change.
The scientists know what the problems are, and what the engineering solutions are. Some companies/corporations, economists and politicans and sadly even some compromised “environmentalists” promote non-solutions like carbon pricing, Carbon Taxation, Carbon Trading, Carbon Capture (and Storage), GM Crops, Nuclear Power, geoengineering – but the academies of scientists are telling you they won’t work, or won’t solve all the problems.
What is needed is wholesale removal of Fossil Fuels from the global economy in order to prevent further deterioration and disruption in the global climatic conditions. Either BP, Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil hang up their boots forever, or they need to embrace new clean energies (not Nuclear Power) to stay in business.
Oil, gas and coal depletion in the production facilities of those countries that are national players will mean that they will go bust, because a consistently high price for Fossil Fuels is not supportable, because the global economy is so Fossil Fuel-dependent currently. This is both a buyer’s market and a seller’s market, so the price will be governed by the operation of this two-sided cartel, not by the theories of “scarcity economics”.
Either Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, China, Venezuela and so on are on their way to extreme poverty, or they will embrace new clean energies (not Nuclear Power) to stay economically developed.
Meanwhile, the project of empirical scientific enquiry continues apace, and even though rich fossil fuel businesses are financing doubt, even though people with pension funds in mining pour scorn on Climate Change science, and even though the mainstream media can’t recognise uneducated propaganda when they meet it; you need to trust the intellectual community of Climate Change science researchers.
Stop listening to accusations of malpractice, dodgy data, weak methods, poor models. Do you really know what you are talking about when you pass judgement on the scientific community ? Who told you that scientists were wrong ? Can you really trust the people who tell you not to trust the scientific community ? Do you have the right or the authority to lay somebody else’s fabricated blame at the door of those whose whole lives are devoted to discovering the truth ?
Why don’t you do an integrity check on your sources, before replicating myths ?
Read the science journals and not the newspapers, is my advice.
And when it comes to the Internet, search wisely. You can’t believe every website you come across – there are some web loggers who are misled, and there are others seeking to mislead.
If you want to filter out the nonsense, try this :-
An incomplete recording of the BBC Horizon programme “The Death of the Oceans ?” narrated by David Attenborough is below.
It’s about Global Warming, of course (and overfishing, and sonar making whales deaf – which is the bit that’s missing at the end). But it’s also about Global Warming’s evil twin – Ocean Acidification.
Believe what you will about the Anthropogenic component of Global Warming, and I know some of you resist the Science as if it were a hairy, sweaty, alcoholic dentist threatening to pull your teeth without Novocaine, but there’s no way you can deny that the increasing concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere, most of it a direct result of humankind’s burning of Fossil Fuels, is turning the Oceans into a giant bucket of fizzy soda, and is threatening marine life, which is a huge risk to the whole of Life on Earth.
The only solution is to stop burning so much Coal, Oil and Gas. Really, that’s the only way.
Oh, you can fight this inevitability with every brain circuit you have, trying to force others to believe that everything’s still OK, that the Earth is not dangerously heating up, that Life on Land and in the Oceans is not on the cusp of mass extinction, and that Progress is just fine, and Economic Recovery, or Shiny New Technology, or Geoengineering will save us, but one day you will understand. You will accept. The global systems of production, transport and agriculture have to change. The Carbon-based Industrial Age will be gone in only a few decades, only a couple of hundred years after it started.
You can relax. Everything will be fine – eventually. When we have Wind Farms on every ridge top, Solar Power plants in every desert, Geothermal stations in our Town Halls, Combined Heat and Power running on Biomass in every street, Marine Power-gathering machines, Organic food, small electric cars, useful 24 hours-in-a-day networks of electricity-powered public transportation. The time is coming for the new human world to be born – and it will be green, clean and less energy-hungry than before.
It’s going to be a bit of a traumatic birth and the Climate Medics are working hard in the delivery suite, but soon, very soon, Green Investment will see the light of day – those who are wealthy will, as one, put their finances towards Renewable Energy and Energy-efficient machines and Energy Demand Management, real assets, with real returns on investment, and the future will be secured.
See at top for video.
I don’t know about you, but I’m missing David Miliband from the political fish-eat-fish top table already.
If he were to ask me, which he won’t, but anyway, if he did, I would recommend that he starts reading up about Energy production and supply, over the next 18 months or so before he gets invited, acceptingly, back into the Shadow Cabinet of the UK Government.
If he were to spend his time on the train between South Shields and Westminster looking into energy security matters, into crustal petrogeology, the Middle East oil fields, Wind Power, solar and marine options, he could make a strong comeback into the limelight – as opposed to the “lemon” light he’s been cast into, thrust into, so far.
If he becomes acquainted with the ways and wiles of engineering and fossil fuels over the next few years, the viability of Renewable Energy solutions, the transport explosion phenomenon and how to control it, then he will be able to offer solid assistance to his younger brother Teddy – who appears to be mistakenly sold on the idea of new nuclear power.
And if Ed Miliband were to ask, (again, which he won’t), I’d say – atomic energy cannot save us; carbon capture technology cannot save us; algae biodiesel can only trickle, even Frankenstein GM algae biodiesel; Peak Oil is almost definitely here; efficiency of use alone cannot save us. We have to go right out for a non-combustion, Renewable Energy future.
Here follows an extract of a conversation I have had with members of the Claverton Energy Research Forum, which I have cut-and-paste into a more easy-to-read fashion below the fold :-
As you can see, there are Climate Change sceptic-deniers everywhere, even in the most knowledgeable and respectable circles.
Countering Climate Change denial from so-called “sceptics” takes a lot of time and energy, and is a bump-in-the-road nuisance/irritation distraction from the main priority for human civilisation, which is how to stop being addicted to Fossil Fuels.
Proponents of the proposed Great Engineering Feat of Carbon Capture and Storage, portray their heroic efforts to suck Carbon Dioxide out of industrial processes, and even out of the sky itself, as the last chance to save us from ourselves and our untidy emissions.
Thing is, even if all the extra Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere from the last 150 years of human Fossil Fuel burning activities could be swallowed down into rocks, filters, artificial trees, real trees and caves, all at once, when we have invented and fully developed the Geoengineering Technology for it, we would still have a globally warmed world, and still plenty of excess Carbon Dioxide in the Oceans and Land, which can still make its way out into the Atmosphere…
The enduring challenge is that we must curtail and rein in Carbon Dioxide emissions, as soon as possible, starting now. We cannot carry on burning and wait for Carbon-sucking technological marvels, that may never materialise, as Ken Caldeira and his research colleague Long Cao demonstrate :-
“Atmospheric carbon dioxide removal: long-term consequences and commitment : Long Cao and Ken Caldeira : [Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution, Stanford, CA, USA] : Environ. Res. Lett. 5 (April-June 2010) 024011 : doi:10.1088/1748-9326/5/2/024011”
Image Credit : Gilbert & George, “Nettle Dance”, White Cube
I’m in the Climate Union. Are You ?
Soon we could all be, if the expansionist plans of a group of social campaigners come to fruition.
Taking in the unions, faith communities and the usual rag-tag bunch of issues activists, the Climate Union aims to establish itself as a political force for Low Carbon.
First of all, however, it has to tackle the uneasy and prickly problem of the exact name of the movement, and the principles under which it will operate.
The flag has been flown : a set of principles has been circulated for discussion amongst the “Climate Forum”. I cannot show you the finalised document yet, but I can offer you my comments (see below).
If you want to comment on the development of this emerging entity, please contact : Peter Robinson, Campaign against Climate Change, mobile/cell telephone in the UK : 07876595993.
Comments on the Climate Forum Principles
28 June 2010
I am aware that my comments are going to be a little challenging. I made similar comments during the review of the ClimateSafety briefing, which were highly criticised.
I expect you to be negative in response to what I say, but I think it is necessary to make sure the Climate Forum does not become watered-down, sectorally imprisoned and politically neutered, like so many other campaigns.
Follow the money : take a peek behind the Climate Change Denier-Sceptic propaganda theatre stage curtain and you will find large Fossil Fuel interests offering financial resources to unseat the Climate Change Science.
Ross Gelbspan calls this a “manufactured campaign”, and lays some of the obligations for rooting it out on those who work in the Media.
“We may already be witnessing…runaway Climate Change” is his conclusion on the consequences of 20 years of delay in setting effective policy.
Virtually no group in society escapes Gelbspan’s probing gaze. He invites comments :-
Possibly some good news from the world of Carbon Sink science : the Earth may be soaking up progressively more Carbon Dioxide as time goes by instead of refusing to do so :-
Now even friends break ranks with Levitt and Dubner over their new tome Superfreakonomics – a clear throw-back to the 1980s.
Is it time to ask for a reprint with all the errors corrected ?
Oct. 20 (Bloomberg) — Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner are so good at tweaking conventional wisdom that their first book, “Freakonomics,” sold 4 million copies. So when Dubner, an old friend, told me their new book would take on climate change, I was rooting for a breakthrough idea.
No such luck. In “SuperFreakonomics,” their brave new climate thinking turns out to be the same pile of misinformation the skeptic crowd has been peddling for years.
“Obviously, provocation is not last on the list of things we’re trying to do,” Dubner told me the other day. This time, the urge to provoke has driven him and Levitt off the rails and into a contrarian ditch.
…Having downplayed the problem, they try to solve it with a set of silver-bullet technologies known as geoengineering. One would shoot millions of tons of sulfur dioxide 18 miles into the air to artificially cool the planet. This could work; it also could have dire unintended consequences.
Caldeira, who is researching the idea, argues that it can succeed only if we first reduce emissions. Otherwise, he says, geoengineering can’t begin to cope with the collateral damage, such as acidic oceans killing off shellfish.
Levitt and Dubner ignore his view and champion his work as a permanent substitute for emissions cuts. When I told Dubner that Caldeira doesn’t believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions, he was baffled. “I don’t understand how that could be,” he said. In other words, the Freakonomics guys just flunked climate science.”
“It all started with climate activist Joe Romm accusing the authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner of global warming denial and misrepresenting the research of a key climate scientist. They pushed back, and fellow New York Times blogger and celebrated columnist Paul Krugman jumped in the fray…”
Students of Chaos Theory well know what is known as the Butterfly Effect – apparently small changes in system forcings result in major outcomes.
We’ve heard repeatedly about rising sea levels resulting from Global Warming, but there are more bugs crawling out of the woodwork now.
Whenever you hear government ministers or public figures telling the people that technology will save us, remember this : the word “technology” is synonymous with the word “business”.
“Technology” is Big Engineering, and this is what is done by large companies and corporations. Large organisations that make profit by selling manufactured products and Energy always have a surplus set aside for their communications budgets, and that includes persuading government people that their business is invaluable and needs promoting.
Geoengineering. Sounds great. Treat the Earth like one big motoring machine, get under the hood (bonnet) and tinker with it.
But what if actually this is the equivalent of putting the Planet on a life support system ventilator, and the plug could be pulled at any time ?
How sustainable are some of the Geoengineering proposals ? Are they guaranteed to work ? Won’t they have knock-on side-effects ? Are they reversible if they prove unhelpful ? And how much will they cost ?