This is our response to Michael Klare’s essay (Re: World Energy Report 2012, The Good, the Bad, and the Really, Truly Ugly, 11/27/12) link.
It was sent online as Comment to TOMDISPATCH (11/28/12 8:30 am)
Michael Klare claims in his TomDispatch article that there is ” No Hope for Averting Catastrophic Climate Change”. I disagree with this claim which is not even consistent with what the 2012 World Energy Outlook report says.
Klare goes on to say “Of all the findings in the 2012 edition of the World Energy Outlook, the one that merits the greatest international attention is the one that received the least. Even if governments take vigorous steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the report concluded, the continuing increase in fossil fuel consumption will result in “a long-term average global temperature increase of 3.6 degrees C. [bold added]”
The key section in the above quotation is in bold. I don’t have the full report (the cheapest full text, a pdf, costs 130 euros), but this is what the online available Executive Summary of the report says:
“Energy efficiency can keep the door to 2 °C open for just a bit longer Successive editions of this report have shown that the climate goal of limiting warming to 2 °C is becoming more difficult and more costly with each year that passes. Our 450 Scenario examines the actions necessary to achieve this goal and finds that almost four-fifths of the CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 are already locked-in by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc. If action to reduce CO2 emissions is not taken before 2017, all the allowable CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing at that time. Rapid deployment of energy-efficient technologies – as in our Efficient World Scenario – would postpone this complete lock-in to 2022, buying time to secure a much needed global agreement to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.
No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is widely deployed. This finding is based on our assessment of global “carbon reserves”, measured as the potential CO2 emissions from proven fossil-fuel reserves. Almost two-thirds of these carbon reserves are related to coal, 22% to oil and 15% to gas. Geographically, two-thirds are held by North America, the Middle East, China and Russia.
These findings underline the importance of CCS as a key option to mitigate CO2 emissions, but its pace of deployment remains highly uncertain, with only a handful of commercial scale projects currently in operation.”
In other words, if there is any chance left to avoid catastrophic climate change (C3) reduction in global carbon emissions must start very soon, with robust substitution of fossil fuels, starting with coal (and non-conventional petroleum such as tar sands and fracked gas*) by wind and solar energy as well as carbon sequestration from the atmosphere to the soil and crust. Thus, while C3 looms ever closer, it is not inevitable as Klare claims it is, based on this report.
What is most problematic about Klare’s pronouncement of inevitability is that it is disempowering to say the least. It is a huge disservice to our children and grandchildren to give up now, accepting the inevitability of C3. Our global challenge is to mount the necessary transnational political power while there is still time to act, even if our chances of success are rapidly diminishing. Readers can find more detail, including quantification of the carbon sequestration technologies mentioned (not so-called ‘clean coal’) at www.solarUtopia.org (homepage). A rapid phaseout of coal and non-conventional petroleum, with a maximum of 40% of conventional petroleum being consumed in a full wind/solar transition (taking 20-30 years) will be compatible with what the IEA says above, namely “No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is widely deployed. ” Actually the goal should be 1.5 °C or less. Hansen recently (2011) said that the current official goal of a 2 deg C global temperature increase over pre-industrial (about 1 deg C warmer than now) roughly equivalent to 450 ppm CO2 is a “prescription for disaster”.
*Note that fracked gas may well have a similar carbon footprint to coal, because of leakage of methane to the atmosphere, so the substitution of fracked gas for coal will not likely result in a reduction in greenhouse gas warming impacts. This critical point is not mentioned in Klare’s otherwise informative piece, aside from his claim for the inevitability of C3. Rather Klare states inaccurately “One aspect of this energy “revolution” deserves special attention. The growing availability of cheap natural gas, thanks to hydro-fracking, has already reduced the use of coal as a fuel for electrical power plants in the United States. This would seem to be an obvious environmental plus, since gas produces less climate-altering carbon dioxide than does coal.”
Actually the goal should be 1.5 °C or less, not 2 °C. Hansen recently (2011)* argued that the current official goal of a 2 deg C global temperature increase over pre-industrial (about 1 deg C warmer than now) roughly equivalent to 450 ppm CO2 is a “prescription for disaster”. Is this technically achievable? Only with near future (within 5 years) peak in carbon emissions, followed by very aggressive reductions coupled with robust wind/solar deployment and carbon sequestration from the atmosphere. Is this politically achievable? This is the immense challenge to our national and transnational climate justice movements. But lets not accept the inevitability of catastrophic climate change yet!
* Hansen et al., 2011, The Case for Young People and Nature: A Path to a Healthy, Natural, Prosperous Future. http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/.
Hansen, J.E. and M.Sato, 2012, Paleoclimate implications for human-made climate change. arXiv:1105.0968v3 [physics.ao-ph]