A CRITICAL DISCUSSION OF THE IPCC ANALYSES OF CARBON EMISSION MITIGATION POSSIBILITIES AND COSTS.
Summary: Like the Stern Review the IPCC Working Group 3 Reports have been taken
as showing that the greenhouse gas emissions problem can be solved at
negligible cost, primarily by development of alternative energy
technologies. The lengthy Fourth
Assessment Report summarises the findings of many studies, rather than present analyses
that can be clearly assessed. The
argument in this paper is that most and probably all of the studies drawing
conclusions about the mitigation potential of alternatives are invalid because
they do not consider the possible limitations to renewable energy sources,
nuclear energy and geo-sequestration. They are economic modelling studies which take the cost of a unit of
carbon mitigation and multiply this by the amount of mitigation required,
without regard to the difficulties and limits affecting the extent to which
these sources can be scaled up. If the greenhouse problem is to be solved by resort to these
technologies then the magnitude of the scale-ability problem is huge [MB1]. This paper argues that there are major reasons why the alternatives cannot
be scaled up sufficiently, and that it is not possible to explain how the
anticipated 2050 energy budget could be met without exceeding safe greenhouse
limits [MB2] . If this analysis is sound Stern and the IPCC have been seriously
misleading and the greenhouse problem cannot be solved at any cost in a society
that is committed to affluent living standards and economic growth.
The Reports from
the Third Working Group of the IPCC Third Assessment Report, (IPCC, 2001,
hereafter TAR) and Fourth Assessments (IPCC, 2007, hereafter referred to as 4AR)
align with the Stern Review (2006) in asserting highly
optimistic conclusions regarding the possibility and cost of solving the
greenhouse problem. Stern states
“…climate change mitigation is technically and economically feasible with
mid-century costs likely to be around 1% of GDP…” (2006, p. 240.) The IPCC Third Assessment Report’s
conclusion is, “In 2030 macro-economic costs for multi-gas mitigation,
consistent with emissions trajectories towards stabli
between 445 and 710 ppm CO2-eq, are estimated at between a 3% decrease of
global GDP and a small increase, compared to the baseline.” (IPCC 2001, Table
3.) The Fourth Assessment Report says, “In 2050 global averaged macro-economic
costs for multi-gas mitigation towards stabilization between 710 and 445 ppm
CO-eq, are between a 1% gain to a 5.5% decrease of global GDP.” (Barker, Quereshi and Koehler, 2007,
These conclusions have received extensive global publicity and appear to have been taken as crucial and confident givens in official and popular thinking about the nature of the Greenhouse problem and the steps that are appropriate for dealing with it. (E.g. Sachs, 2007.)
This paper argues
that both these conclusions are mistaken. The argument is not one of degree, i.e., that the cost and difficulty
will be significantly greater than is foreseen by these two studies. The argument is that the greenhouse
problem cannot be solved without large scale reductions in the volumes of
economic production and consumption taking place, and therefore cannot be
solved at any cost within a society committed to affluent “living standards”,
maximum levels of economic output, and economic growth. If this argument is valid then
it would be
difficult to exaggerate the seriousness of the policy mistakes that will be
premised on the Stern and IPCC reports. [MB3]
It will be argued that the major fault in both analyses is to do with the appropriateness of using of what are referred to as “top down” and ”bottom up” economic modelling analyses. Loosely speaking the former take the present cost of a unit of carbon mitigation (e.g. replacing a coal-fired power station with a wind farm) and multiply this by the number of such units that would be needed to solve the whole problem. “Top down” approaches apply a similar logic to the effects of measures applied to the whole economy, such as the imposition of a carbon tax.
the use of these approaches lies in
the assumption that there are no limits to the extent to which the various
strategies can be applied or scaled up to the magnitude that would be required
to deal with the total carbon emission volume envisaged. For instance it is possible to build
one 1000 MW wind farm at a certain cost, but that does not mean it will be
possible at any cost to find enough sites to build several hundred times as
much wind capacity as has been established to date . A critique
of the Stern Review has been detailed separately (Trainer, 2007a) and will only
be referred to briefly in this paper which will focus on the Working Group 3 reports from the IPCC Third and Fourth
Assessments. However as
the IPCC does not suggest proportions of total energy use to be
accounted for by different sources at a future date some of Stern’s assumptions for these
will be loosely used here.
critique does not deal with or question the climate science embodied in the
IPCC Reports from Working Groups 1 and 2, or in the Stern Review. These are accepted as valid and
valuable scientific and political contributions documenting the urgency of the
. This paper is only focused on the
conclusions in Working Group 3 reports regarding
mitigation possibilities and costs deriving from the use of economic models
which do not deal with the crucial “scale-ability” considerations. [MB4]
The magnitude of the mitigation task.
It is important to begin with an understanding of the magnitude of the mitigation task, the way this depends on the energy and emission target assumed, and the question of what might constitute a safe target.
a. The energy target assumed.
commonly assumed that in view of current rates of increase in
energy consumption, especially driven by the rapid growth of some [MB5]Third World economies, by 2050 demand for
energy services will be approaching
2.5 times as great as at pr esent. The IEA (2004) expects a 71% increase
by 2030, which roughly indicates an increase from the early 2000s c. 450 EJ to
c. 1100 EJ by 2050. (The values
taken in this paper are for early 200s and will
be somewhat low now.) This aligns
with Stern’s assumption that by 2050 carbon dioxide emissions will rise from 23
GT p.a. to 61 GT/y under a business as usual projection (2006, Fig. 9.3.) ABARE (undated) projections are
similar. The IPCC Fourth Assessment Working Group 3 also assumes an
approximately 70% increase by 2030 for business as usual (80% is stated in the Technical
Summary, Fig. 4.25, p, 48.) Extrapolating
Of his expected 61 GT/y of CO2 produced in 2050 by a “business as usual” or “baseline ” projection, Stern assumes 10.75 GT/y will be avoided via greater efficiency in energy use. This corresponds to 18% or 198 EJ of the expected 2050 1100 EJ “business as usual” primary energy demand. For the purposes of the present discussion a much more optimistic assumption will be made, i.e., that 25% of the total baseline energy demand (not just carbon based inputs) can be eliminated by increased efficiency of use etc. This figure is common although debatable but will be used here without assessment for illustrative purposes. It means that energy sources would have to provide 825 EJ of energy services.
If the proportions of energy services assumed here for transport and electricity are much the same proportions as at present in rich countries then transport energy would require 290 EJ and electricity 205 EJ in 2050.
It will be
assumed that by 2050 world population will be 9 billion
(although it could take
somewhat longer to reach this figure.) The expected level of energy supply
in 2050 would therefore provide all the world’s people with about 122 GJ per
person of primary energy, which is half the present Australian per capita
consumption, but only about 20 % - 25% of the probable Australian 2050 use . (ABARE, undated.)
If we take the
above 2050 projection for Australian energy consumption per capita in 2050 and
if 9 billion were to rise to that per capita amount of energy consumption then
world energy production might have to be 4,
EJ, possibly 10 times as
great as at present. In other words, if we were to take as
our target an equitable world providing enough energy to give all people the
amount per capita that Australians are likely to have in 2050, the target
would have to be around 4+ times as high as that assumed by Stern. [MB6]
Thus the mitigation task involved and the plausibility of strategies depends greatly on the energy target taken and the underlying equity assumptions. Stern’s target is much less difficult than it might have been because it is well below an amount of energy that would enable all people to have present, let alone expected, rich world consumption.
b. The carbon emission target.
The 2050 carbon
emission target Stern adopts corresponds to18 GT/y of carbon dioxide p.a., or
4.8 GT/y of carbon.
are grounds for regarding this as much too high. The most common view is that if
serious ecological consequences are to be reduced to a low (but still worrying)
probability, then global temperature should not be allowed to increase by more
than 2 degrees over the 1990 level. According to Baer and Mastrandrea (2006) and Hoehne (2006),
to reduce the probability of such an increase to 9 – 16% would require
carbon dioxide emission to be reduced to the vicinity of 5.7 GT/y by 2050, an
80% reduction, and to almost zero by 2100. The IPCC’s range of emissions for the 450 ppm is 5.7 - 14 GT/y by 2050, but their
diagrams at Fig. SPM 7 and Table SPM 5, (p. 16) state that for a 2 – 2.4 degree rise emissions must be kept between 4 and minus 15 GT/y by 2100. In other words the longer term goal
probably has to be the complete elimination of emissions. [MB7]
very likely that before long these targets will be regarded as too
high. There is increasing evidence
that the IPCC’s and that effects are tending to occur well
before they were predicted, most obviously accelerating arctic
ice melting , atmospheric CO2 increase, and sea
level rise. (Garnaut,
2008, p. 21.) The IPCC has not yet attempt ed to take into account the effects of feedback mechanisms, such as the reduced
carbon absorption capacity of warmer seas, or less reflection of solar energy
when arctic or glacial ice retreats, primarily due to the difficulty of
arriving at a I t is therefore likely that in future a
responsible atmospheric concentration limit will be well under 450 ppm , and that the
2100 emission target w ill be below zero emissions (i.e., requiring an
amount of CO2 to be taken out of the atmosphere every year.).
The basic quantities arrived at above for use in the following analysis are summarised in Table 1.
World 2050 primary energy equivalent, i.e.,
assuming c. 2% p.a growth
and therefore c.
x 2.5 early 2000s c. 450 EJ. 1100 EJ
Energy services enabled due to increased
conservation, efficiency of use, etc.
(c. 25% of b.a.u. primary). 275 EJ
or final energy to
Low temperature heat, mostly water and space. 206 EJ
Transport energy, 35% of final. 290 EJ
Electrical energy, 25% of final. 205 EJ
Carbon Capture and Storage, assuming
5.7 GT CO2/y safe release, as
electrical energy (assuming 80% capture rate.)
…corresponding to electricity supplied 93 EJ
Capture and Storage, assuming 0 EJ no
release by 2100 Energy needed to provide 9 billion people with the per capita amount Australians are likely to average by 2050. 4000+
The IPCC “case” regarding costs of mitigation.
Because the TAR and 4AR state strongly optimistic conclusions regarding the possibility of mitigating the greenhouse problem, and regarding the negligible cost to GDP involved, it is to be expected that in these lengthy documents we would find detailed and convincing cases for these crucial conclusions. However these are not given. We are told that many studies support the conclusions stated, but in general a case is not put forward and supporting evidence or sources are not given. It is therefore difficult if not impossible to check the supporting literature to confirm relevance, derivations and interpretations. There is only occasional and fleeting reference to difficulties that might be set by limits to the adoption of alternative energy sources and strategies, always without discussion of probabilities or magnitudes. Following are some of the few statements of grounds or reasons for conclusions that can be found, included here mainly for illustrative purposes. It should be noted that these statements have not been selected as specially problematic instances. They are representative of the quality of the case presented. These are the kinds of reasons given and in most cases are the best grounds that can be found in the Reports for the conclusions stated. [MB8]
Chapter 3 of the TAR is supposed to give a
summary of “…technical options to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
(IPCC, 2001, Section 1.2.3.) At
it gives very brief descriptions of
options. For instance only two
paragraphs are given on fuel cells. Section 18.104.22.168 provides 200 words on biofuels, stating that “…these are
Often we are given generalisations of the following kind; “…there are many alternative technology ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including more efficient power generation from fossil fuels, greater use of renewables or nuclear, power…” (TAR, Section 3.8.7.)
The crucial conclusion, “…renewable electricity, which accounted for 18% of the electricity supply in 2005, can have a 30-35% share of the total electricity supply in 2030 at carbon prices up to US$50/tCO2-eq.” is not derived nor are the grounds for it explained.
Difficulties and limits involved in renewable energy sources are occasionally referred to, but only in fleeting comments such as the following regarding biofuels. “However, energy yields (litres oil per ha) are low and full fuel cycle emissions and production costs are high.” (Section 22.214.171.124.) Similarly, regarding intermittent sources…”large penetration into grids may eventually require storage and/or backup to guarantee reliable supply. Therefore it is difficult to generalize costs and potentials.” (Section 126.96.36.199.)
Various references indicate that the supporting case is to be found in Summary for Policy Makers Box 3. (E.g., p. 11.) However the approximately 100 words in the box simply says conclusions are based on “top down” modelling studies.
have made an effort to review many of the references that are quoted by the
IPCC and by Stern, in order to determine their significance. It seems that all are modelling studies
which do not discuss physical or biological limits. This major fault is discussed below.
The focus on potential improvements in energy use efficiency
involves two domains, the first being reducing the energy needed to perform
operations, and the second being reducing
CO2 produced in the process of generating energy. The IPCC explicitly focuses its mitigation case mostly on
the potential for reducing the carbon dioxide emissions from various sectors of
the economy, e.g., buildings, forestry, agriculture. The 4AR Tables SPM 1 and 2 (p. 9) present a summary of the results
of economic modelling studies.
The TAR Section 3.9 (Table 3.37) is summarised as follows, “…the total potential for worldwide greenhouse gas emissions reductions…are estimated to amount to 1900-2,600Mt/C/y by 2010 and 3600 – 5,050 Mt/y by 2020.” The 2020 total is stated as 23 – 42% of the amount likely under a business as usual projection. It is made clear (p. 304) that the higher figure assumes the most optimistic estimates, which are for carbon at $100/t. Table 4.19 sets out possible contributions and arrives at a total saving by 2030 of 7.46 GT of CO2.
energy-saving improvements mentioned range between about 5% to 50%. For shipping the range is 4% - 30% (p.
20% for aircraft, and vehicles perhaps 50%. For
the building sector the figure is 30%. These figures align with the generally
assumed potential from previous discussions (although Lovins and von Weisacher,
1997, have argued that resource use per unit of economic output can be cut to
one-quarter of present values.)
Fuel switching, for instance from coal to
gas, is one of the main sources of saving mentioned. However it can be argued that gas should not be a central
consideration in the discussion of a long term sustainable energy future,
partly because it is a carbon emitting fuel and partly because it
is likely to be largely
exhausted later this century [MB9] . Also fuel switching and several of the other possibilities
mentioned are “one-off” options ; they can
only be made once.
total stated, a 7.4 GT/y reduction, is not a very reassuring prospect in view
of the present 26 GT/y emission rate, the 61 GT/y rate Stern anticipates by
2050, and the probable need to
completely eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by
the end of the
century. Even if the most optimistic
of these estimates of savings is realized the IPCC
is saying that the level of emissions in 2030 would be higher than it is now,
above 30 GT/y compared with 26 GT/y. (Table 4.65, p. 290 gives the 2030 figure as 39 GT , a 63% increase.
See also SPM 10 and p. 290.) Again
this is not very reassuring in view of the above discussion of necessary goals,
e.g., possibly an 80% reduction by 2050. If by 2050 most of the low hanging fruit
have been picked it is not likely that savings and conservation will make a
major contribution thereafter. [MB11]
emission scenarios given in the TAR, 4AR and Stern Review show that a rise in
emissions of this general magnitude is “compatible with” (see further below) a
path to stabilisation at 550 ppm by 2100 (but not at the more responsible 400
or 450 ppm.) It would be possible
therefore not to be alarmed at the increase, if there were good reasons to
think that the emission rate after 2030 or 2050 can be cut dramatically. This
is a major fault within the Stern report, i.e., advising that not much has to
be done by 2050 to solve the problem without making it clear that a great deal
would have to be done after 2050. (See further below.) The argument in this paper is that there are not
good reasons for assuming that very big reductions can be made after 2050, and
that the IPCC has
not dealt with the issue.
Other summaries within the 4AR seem to indicate an even more unsatisfactory 2030 situation. It is stated that of the 116 EJ electricity supply anticipated for 2030, 26.7% is expected to come from renewables, 17% from nuclear sources, and 55% from fossil fuels (pp. 255, 303.) This represents the burning of 21 billion tonnes of coal p.a., which would generate 56 billion tonnes of CO2 p.a. This again would seem to be an alarming prospect as it means that the electricity sector’s emissions alone would be more than twice the present total emissions.
It is not that the IPCC assumes that heavy dependence on fossil fuels will be offset by Carbon Capture and Storage, because the report does not expect geosequestration to be making a significant contribution by 2030. (Table 4.19 has it accounting for only .81 GT by then.)
To the above
emission figure for electricity must be added the muchlarger
transport quota, 35% of total energy consumption, or c. 290 EJ. It is difficult to see why this would
not raise emissions far beyond the c. 30 GT/y the report’s most optimistic
studies project for 2030. In addition there would be the contribution from the
generation of the remaining 40% of energy demand, although
much of this would be for space and water heating and should not be problematic
(except in winter.)
Stern argues that
as time goes by technical advance and “learning effects” will make it possible
to improve performance and lower the costs of carbon abatement. There will be a tendency for this to
happen but there will also be a “diminishing returns” effect and there are
reasons for thinking this will be the m
ost powerful of the two.
The savings the
Report refers to are the easiest ones to make
, the “picking of the low
hanging fruit” after decades of abundant cheap energy in which
wasteful habits have developed. It
should not be assumed that the rate at which savings can be made in the years
to 2030 can be continued thereafter. There is weighty evidence in the IPCC 4AR Fig.
SPM 10 that there will be markedly diminishing returns for energy saving and
conservation effort. It shows that
increasing the cost of carbon 5-fold, from $20/t to $100/t does not increase
CO2 saving much, compared with the initial effect of the $20/t cost.
Although the report states that we are not on a path that would solve the problem (p.255), it is puzzling why the IPCC does not stress that the conservation and savings achievements it anticipates and which are the focus of its mitigation discussion would fall far short of a satisfactory goal.
The misleading goal statement.
Both the Stern
Review and the 4AR have been widely taken to be saying that it will be possible
and without significant
economic cost to solve the greenhouse problem. However it is crucial to recognise that this is not what the
documents are saying. Both are
actually saying that the steps we need to take by 2030 (2050 in Stern’s case), in order to
be on the path that will eventually lead to stabilisation of atmospheric
CO2 can be taken and will not be costly. As has been noted above, what is not made clear in these statements that little need s to be done by 2030/50 if the
(eventual) goal is stabilisation at 550 ppm but a great deal would then need to be done after 2030/50.
Consider again the statement quoted above, “…In 2030 macro-economic costs for multi-gas mitigation, consistent with emissions trajectories towards stabilisation between 445 and 710 ppm CO2-eq, are estimated at between a 3% decrease of global GDP and a small increase, compared to the baseline.” (See also the statement in SPM p. 19 quoted below.) The key and misleading term here is “consistent with”. The statement does not say that the steps envisaged are sufficient for stabilisation; it merely says they are ”consistent with” moving to eventual stabilisation.
The fourth diagram
in the 4AR SPM 7, (p. 16) makes the situation clear. It represents emission levels necessary to achieve
550 ppm target and it shows that CO2 emissions might be allowed to rise to 60
GT/y by 2050 which is 2.5 times present levels. Thus it could appear that their analysis of the 2030
situation in which emissions have risen considerably does not warrant
alarm. However the diagram shows
that even to achieve 550 ppm stabilisation emissions must be reduced greatly
after 2050, and by 2100 must be down to 25 GT (the centre of the range of
Again there is a
strong case that 550 ppm is too high a target for
safety. The second
diagram in SPM 7 represents what many would
now regard as a more appropriate emission scenario,
although it is one which still runs a considerable risk of causing more than a
2 degree rise in global temperature. It shows that emissions must not rise
above 35 GT/y, by 2050 must be down to 12 GT/y, and by 2100 must be cut to minus 7 GT/y (average of the range of estimates represented.) If generated
from coal, a 12 GT/y of CO2 200050 achievement would correspond to the
provision of 12 GJ per capita for 9 billion people, around 5% of present
Australian per capita energy consumption. Whereas the most optimistic studies
represented in the IPCC 2030 expectations would allow use of some 300 EJ of
fossil fuel without sequestration (the approximate amount Stern assumes), Fig.
4 indicates that for a relatively safe strategy the post 2050 goal must be
virtually no fossil fuel energy use, (or almost total sequestration of CO2 from
fossil fuel use. (On such a
possibility see below.)
It would seem to
be clear therefore that both Stern and the IPCC Working Group 3 have given
seriously misleading impressions regarding the magnitude of the steps that need
to be taken, by taking much too low an energy provision target, taking too high an emission target, and by not emphasising the fact that their
2030/50 targets are misleading because dramatic emission reduction must be
achieved later in the century. When these three factors are combined it is evident that the task these
reports should have focused on is
many times more difficult
than the 2030/2050 task they have set themselves.
Can the non-fossil sources be scaled up sufficiently?
Given the need
for almost complete elimination of emissions, and the limits to savings and
energy use, the only options are the very large scale geo-sequestration of carbon
from coal use, and/or use of nuclear energy, and/or reliance on renewable
energy sources. This leads to the crucial issue of “scale-ability”, i.e., can
these sources be scaled up sufficiently. This question is almost completely ignored by Stern, the IPCC,
and ABARE (2007). The issue firstly requires a critical
discussion of the use made by these studies of economic modelling.
The non-economic determinants; the invalidity of the economic modelling.
Both Stern and
the IPCC are led to overlook the problem of scale-ability by basing their
optimistic cost conclusions solely on ”top down” and “bottom up” economic
modelling. Studies of the
former kind ask what it costs to generate 1
by wind for instance, and multiply this by the number of kWh required from wind
in a particular scenario. “Top down” approaches estimate general
effects on the economy from the imposition of a tax or quota, such as carbon
taxes and caps. Thus the 4AR says, “Modelling studies show carbon prices rising
to 20 to 80 US$/tCO2-eq by 2030 and 30 to 155 US$/tCO2-eq by 2050 are
consistent with stabilization at around 550 ppm CO2-eq by 2100.”( IPCC, 2007,
SPM. p. 19.)
Stern’s Figure 9.4 shows that 2050 energy supply is assumed to be made up of specified proportions of nuclear, wind, solar, CCS, etc. The essential logic of his cost argument involves taking each of these sources, finding what the cost would be to replace 1 kW of coal-fired generating capacity, and multiplying this by the amount of coal-fired energy the source in question is assumed to replace in 2050. (Likely technical advances and changes in present costs are taken into account.)
Thus Stern arrives at the conclusion that by 2050 the total cost of replacing sources generating 43 GT of CO2 will be about 1% of GDP p.a. (Other economic modellers have criticised Stern, especially for incorrect assumptions about the discount rate, and concluded that the cost will be much lower than Stern states; e.g., Toll, 2006, and Nordhaus, 2007.)
At first sight this might appear to be a straight forward and sound approach, i.e., determining the unit cost and multiplying this by the number of units needed. However this approach involves the crucial assumption that measures that can be taken now on a small scale can be geared up by the required (huge) amount. It will be explained below that with respect to all of the replacement technologies involved in the IPCC’s and Stern’s analyses this assumption is highly dubious or false. Achievement of the quantities of energy supply stated in Table 1 above and in Stern’s Fig. 9.4 would involve very large scale application of alternative energy technologies. When this issue is attended to difficulties and limits that have little or nothing to do with economics or dollar costs become apparent. These problems are to do with the physical and biological limits and difficulties associated with energy technologies and the quantity and integration limits that the alternatives to fossil fuels run into when very large scale use is taken into account. It will be explained that when these issues are considered it becomes evident that to rely on economic modelling in this area is inappropriate and leads to conclusions that are incorrect and conducive to seriously mistaken policies. The modelling studies listed by the IPCC reviewed for this paper do not make reference to these issues: see for instance, ABARE, 2007, Zhou, (undated), Edenhoffer, Lessmann and Bauer, (2005), Toll, (2006), Fischer and Morgenstern, (2006), Van Vuuren, Eickhout, Lucas and den Elzen, (2006), Weyant, 2006, Nordhaus, 2007, Barker, et al., (2005), Clarke, et al., (2006), Barker, Qureshi and Kohler, (2006).
would seem to be due in large part to the fact that there has been almost no literature
focusing critically on the basic question underlying this issue, i.e., the
limits to the use of renewable energy. There seems to have been only one book previously
published on the topic, i.e., Howard’s The Solar Fraud (2003). Trainer 2003, 2005 represent early and
partial attempts to clarify aspects of the issue. Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain A Consumer Society,
(Trainer 2007), offers a more detailed summary and interpretation of evidence
accessible in the early years of this century. Trainer (2007c) advances the analysis in the light of more
recent evidence. (A number of reports have set out to show that renewables
can meet all energy demand, but these are typically not critical discussions
and in my view do not deal satisfactorily with the difficulties.) It is therefore not surprising that in
the absence of any substantial literature on the topic analyses of the
potential for carbon emission mitigation have proceeded without recognising any
need to consider possible limits to the contribution renewables could make.
notes on some of the severe problems of “scale-ability” encountered when the
limits to renewable energy are explored. It should be kept in mind that the magnitudes of the tasks focused on
here and those the IPCC and Stern have taken on are much less than is that involved
in enabling an energy affluent world for all without
Wind. Stern expects wind power to provide 62
EJ in 2050. This is about 150 times as much electricity wind contributed when
he wrote (
taking AWEA figures.) It is not plausible that enough sites
could be found, on-shore or off-shore, within tolerable distances of population
centres. Trieb (a strong believer
in renewables) estimates European wind potential as about 2 EJ/y from onshore
sites and another 2 EJ/y from offshore sites. (Trieb, undated, p. 48.) Some
European regions are probably close to their limits now. Note also that a very large increase in
wind capacity would mean use of decreasingly favourable and increasingly
distant sites, and therefore a reduction in the present average capacity and
significant loss in long distance transmission.
The IPCC’s Table
4.2 assumes global wind potential is 600 EJ, 10 times as great as Stern assumes without explanation.
(For some other questions re
the Table see Note 1 below.)
Stern’s figure 9.4 indicates access to
110 EJ of biomass energy. This is
optimistic as it corresponds to 850 million ha when all cropland
totals only 1,400 million ha.
Very large scale biomass energy production would have to come predominantly from cellulosic inputs. Chapter 5 of Trainer 2007 reports what seem to be the most plausible estimates, i.e., that the yield for very large scale cellulosic biomass production is not likely to exceed 7 tonnes per ha, and that ethanol production is likely to be around 7 GJ net per tonne of biomass. (Fulton, 2005.)
It should be noted
however that there
is doubt whether it will be economically or technically viable to produce
ethanol from woody inputs. (Augenstein and Benemann, 2007.) Land,
forest and water resources are already stretched and likely to deteriorate,
population is going to increase by 50% and food demand by a greater amount, and
the greenhouse problem is likely to reduce yields markedly. Stern’s figure would yield only c. 3 3 EJ of transport fuel, or 3.7GJ per
person for 9 billion, when Australian Transport consumption is about 65 GJ per
person, and rising.
Nuclear energy. If we take the proportion of energy
demand Stern assumes will be met by nuclear reactors, 115 EJ would be
provided. This is about 14 times
the world's present nuclear contribution.
If the estimates of Uranium resources commonly quoted, e.g., by Leeuwin and
Smith (2003, 2005) and Zittel (2007), are correct they would be
exhausted in less than a decade. (The 4AR
Table 4.2 lists Uranium resources 3 times as great
estimates are speculative but they indicate caution re the assumption that the IFBR promises abundant energy.
(and refers to a quantity 50 times as great, which
assumes fuel recycling and breeder technology).
Geo-sequestration. Although not a renewable
technology it is appropriate to discuss the geo-sequestration of carbon dioxide
or Coal Capture and Storage, CCS) here as it is often seen as the solution to the
greenhouse problem, and a large assumed role for it would reduce the load on
renewables. The IPCC does
not expect geo-sequestration to
have been implemented significantly by 2030 but Stern assumes that by 2050 CCS
will account for 18% of the 43 GT of carbon dioxide saved, i.e., 7.7 GT/y.
CCS is currently being practised on a small scale but there is
little evidence on which to conclude that it can be effective on a vastly
greater scale, or safe over long periods. Demonstration projects will take place at ideal sites, and might not
indicate effectiveness at the many less than ideal sites that would eventually
have to be used. CCS is only
applicable to stationary generating sources and would therefore not apply to
at least 40%
of carbon fuel use. It is
likely to have an energy cost between 10 and 40% of energy output. (IPCC, 2007,
Chapter 4, p. 24), and between .1 and 1% of the CO2 stored is likely to leak out each year. (Torvanger, Kallbekken and Rydal, 2004.)
major difficulty concerns the
availability of storage sites. It will be assumed here that very large volumes
of CO2 should not be placed in the deep ocean as the long term ecological
effects could not be foreseen confidently, especially in view of changes to
ocean currents etc. likely to be caused by the greenhouse problem. Global warming is reducing the capacity
of sea water to absorb carbon. Deep ocean waters circulate and eventually carbon dioxide placed in them
will be released to the atmosphere again.
According to Hendricks,
Graus and van Bergen (2004), the best estimate of available land
sites is 1700 GT. (The IPCC’s uncertain estimate of the maximum theoretical
potential is 6 times as great; see Metz, undated.) If 9
billion people were to have the p
Australian per capita energy consumption of 500 GJ/person and if CCS dealt with
20% of this, annual CO2 production would be 96 GT and the storage capacity
might only last 18 years.
However the main problem with geo-sequestration is that it is not likely to extract more than 80% - 90% of the carbon dioxide generated.
100 no release of
CO2 is likely to be permissible, which would eliminate use of geo-sequestration
because it cannot capture all CO2 generated. Also 280 EJ of primary energy from coal would be
more than twice the present rate of use which some think will see coal supply
plateau within two decades. (Energy Watch Group, 2007.)
Solar PV. It would be possible to build and site the 110 EJ of solar capacity Stern assumes, but this source too is subject to limits, due to its variability (discussed more fully below). For instance, it would not be possible to integrate a very large amount of such a highly variable source as PV into supply systems, e.g., phasing the other components down as all the PV came on stream within an hour or so on a summer morning, and then having to turn to coal or nuclear sources at night or on a cloudy day.
thermal: Could the capacity of
solar thermal systems to store energy
get round the above storage and integration problems? Some believe this capacity gives solar thermal technologies
the potential to enable renewables to meet total electrical demand. (Trieb,
undated, Czisch, 2004.) There is
no doubt that these systems will be major contributors but their capacity to
deliver in winter is quite problematic. (For the detailed
discussion see Trainer, 2008a.)
In winter the output of normal trough systems with
gnetation goes down to
about 20% of summer output , or lower. (Odeh, Behnia and Morrison, 2003 indicate a lower
ratio.) East-west trough layout
improves the winter/summer ratio but the winter output remains low. From the gross output figure a number
of deductions would be made before a net delivered figure is arrived at, such
as the plant operating energy cost, which Sargent and Lundy (2003) say might be
10% in future (but can be 17% at present; Section 4.3). Secondly, the embodied
energy cost of the plant has to be deducted, reported
and Lenzen (1999) at 4%
of lifetime energy output . The embodied energy costs of the long
distance transmission lines, for instance from Western Egypt to NW Europe,
would have to be subtracted, along with the perhaps 15% loss in transmission
over such long distances. DNI data for Central Australia, which could be the
best site in the world, it is possible that a continuous 24
hour flow of less than 10 W/m net of all energy costs would be
delivered from troughs to distant users. (See Trainer, 2008, for the derivation.) If so a plant capable of delivering 1000 MW in winter might
need a collection area of more than 100 million square metres. Taking one anticipated longer term
future cost of $320/m (Mancini et al., 2003) the plant would cost around $320 billion, excluding
transmission line costs. (They put the present cost at 10 times this future
cost estimate.) A coal fired power
station plus fuel (at early 200s price) for its lifetime might cost
$4 billion. It would seem very
unlikely therefore that troughs could be relied on to provide large quantities
of electricity in winter, let alone to bridge gaps in supply from other
Solar thermal dish systems are likely to be more effective than troughs,
primarily because they can face the sun directly all day.
However their winter performance is
also problematic. Data on the output of
a dish at Phoenix, Arizona indicates a January output corresponding to a
constant 28 W/m flow. (Davenport, 2008.) The US
Mod 1 and 2 systems have been reported to deliver at a lower rate, the
equivalent of 18 W/m averaged over a mid winter month. (Sandia, undated.) Peak output from these dishes would be in the range of 250 W/m. These figures are
for efficient dish-Stirling generators and these could not be used if heat was
to be stored, indicating that efficiency would then be considerably lower. Heat storage would involve energy costs
for pumping the heat, and most importantly, losses from the long pipe lengths
between the many dishes and the power block. In trough systems the absorber pipes perform this function
and thus are heated. therefore do not regard heat storage via dishes as viable.
inter around 18 W/m
one-third of the present
cost e solar thermal power station would
assumes a 205 EJ/y electricity supply. If one-third of this was to come from a solar thermal sector with sufficient capacity to meet the demand in winter, 910 million ishes would be needed. The above estimate indicates a future total cost of $100t, or $4t p.a. assuming a 25 year plant lifetime. This is 9 times the present total world annual energy investment. (Bairol, 200
early project by Kenaff (1991) piping heat to a steam generator but not
involving storage achieved an annual solar to electricity efficiency of
9.1%. The ANU “Big
Dish” (again steam not Stirling) efficiency is reported as 13.9% (although 19%
is eventually anticipated.) If its
winter efficiency declines as for dish-Stirling systems then in Central Australia
in winter gross output would probably correspond to a continuous flow of 20 W/m
or less, and when the additional reducing factors are taken into account a net
flow closer t 10 W/m might be delivered. These estimates are uncertain but they indicate that
satisfactory generation from heat storage via steam from dishes in winter would
seem to be unlikely. The most promising solar thermal possibility seems
to be to store energy via the dissociation of ammonia. (Lovegrove, et al.,
2004.) A plant of this kind is
being developed at Whyalla, South Australia, but it has not been possible to
get technical detail from the project developers. It seems that they are not
yet clear how effective the system will be but Lovegrove, et al. estimate that
under ideal conditions half the DNI energy would be available as heat after
storage. An (uncertain) derivation
from these figures suggests that in winter such a system might deliver a
constant flow of c. 20+ W/m over long distances, net of all energy costs. (See Trainer 2008.) However there would seem to be some major problems
in this strategy. The first concerns the greater structural strength required
in big dishes (500 square metres at Whyalla) and thus the disproportionately
greater embodied energy costs. These seem to be three times those of the much smaller and more common
European and US dish-Stirling systems. (See Trainer, 2008.) The second problem
concerns the embodied energy cost of the plant to process the ammonia,
especially that for storing large volumes under pressure. The third problem is to do with the frequency of
occurrence of sequences of cloudy days. Climate data for Daggett, a US dish-Stirling site, shows that
one third of the days in a winter month DNI is too low for significant
generation. Runs of 4 days in a
row at such levels are not uncommon, e.g., averaging 1.5 – 2.5 kWh/m /day
with hardly any hours over 700 W/m.
(Further climate evidence is given in Trainer 2008.)
the solar thermal component has sufficient storage to meet en this capacity would have to be some 40 times as great as th being built into solar thermal systems today.
their capacity to store heat solar thermal systems suffer an intermittency
problem, although it is not as serious as that confronting PV or wind systems.
For instance the occurrence of night time which is a serious limit for PV
systems will not be a problem. If
provision of four day storage is not acceptable then resort to back up sources
will be needed perhaps twice a month in winter . It would seem
therefore that solar thermal systems would have low net output performance in
winter, and suffer a serious intermittency problem despite their storage
capacity. Above all, it seems
clear that there would be no possibility of them being the means for overcoming
the gaps in supply from other elements in a wholly renewable electricity supply
The integration problems and their implications for limits.
The most important problems confronting renewable energy sources are to do with integrating very large amounts of variable or intermittent inputs into the supply system. When the contribution of renewables is relatively low no integration difficulties might be encountered. Indeed it is conceivable that wind or solar sources could each contribute 15% - 20% of system output without major difficulties. As relatively small inputs from these sources varies with the waxing and waning of sun and wind the existing surplus coal and nuclear capacity can be adjusted as necessary. Supply systems always have unused generating capacity in reserve to deal with breakdowns or unusually high peak demand and at present fluctuations in renewable contributions are small relatively to this excess capacity. However the vision of a largely renewable energy supply system alters this situation.
difficult problems for renewables are set by the low solar radiation in winter,
and the fact that synoptic weather patterns can leave continental areas with
low winds for days at a time. PV
systems provide no energy for
some 16 hours a
day. For several months of the
year the German wind system averages around 5% of its peak capacity (E.On Netz,
2004). The studies by Davey and
Coppin, (2003), Coelingh (1999), and Oswald Consulting (2006) show that even in
the best wind regions output would be low for considerable lengths of time and calms
can last several days at a time.
This means that if sun and wind are to be large contributors to electricity supply little or no reduction can be made in coal or nuclear capacity, as there will be times when almost all of it will be needed.
Let us assume
that we have a system with an average demand of X GW, and that we build a wind
system with a peak capacity of X GW and a PV system with a peak capacity of X
GW. On a sunny and windy day these renewable components of the total system
would be generating almost 2X GW, twice as much as is needed, so half of it
would have to be dumped, or stored inefficiently as hydrogen.
(Not much of it
could be stored as pumped water because hydro sources contribute only around
15% of world electricity, and 6% of Australian electricity.)
On a night when winds were about average the renewable sector would be contributing about .23X GW, (i.e., the world average wind capacity according to the IPCC) but on a calm night the 2X GW of renewable capacity would be contributing nothing and resort would have to be made to X GW of coal or nuclear capacity. Over time the wind and solar elements would contribute perhaps 40% of demand, the approximate sum of their average capacities, meaning that about 60% of demand would have to come from coal or nuclear sources.
This shows how renewable energy sources
are best regarded as alternatives to coal/nuclear sources and to each
other, and not as additions. To build X GW of wind capacity and X GW of
PV capacity is not necessarily to have added 2X GW of generating capacity to a
system, because there will be times when it will have added no capacity, e.g.,
on calm nights. Discussions of renewable energy often proceed as if these
sources can be treated as additive.
Stern’s Figure 9.4 reveals this assumption and it therefore
represents a fuel budget but not a capital or plant budget. His scenario’s merit is that it reduces
coal demand, but at an unrecognised very high capital cost in the need to retain
three separate kinds of generating capacity.
The above system
intended to meet X GW demand would include X GW (peak) of wind generating
capacity, X GW (peak) of PV capacity, and X GW (peak) of coal and/or nuclear
capacity. The capital costs of
these three kinds of plant might be $(A)1,400/kW for the coal plant (or c.
$4000 adding lifetime coal cost, at the early 2000s coal price), $(A)1,400/kW
for wind (although some recent constructions suggests that $(A)2,000 would be
more appropriate, see Trainer, 2007, Chapter 2), and $(A)7,000/kW (incl. BOS) for
PV plant. When multiplied by the inverses of their
capacity factors to arrive at capital cost per
“delivered ” kW H as distinct from peak kW the total system cost might add to 11 times that of the coal plant plus fuel
cost, and it would only reduce coal use by 40%, nowhere near enough for safe
CO2 emission rate s.
i s made
here for the cost of reinforcing grids to cope with large flows of wind or
solar power from regions that happened to be generating well at a particular
time. It is clear that the
problems of integration and alternation/addition have major implications for
total system capital costs. Yet Stern
and the economic modellers quoted in IPCC reports make no reference to any of
these issues to do with scalability, integration, alternation, idle plant or
conversion losses or the need for back up plant.
Would it make sense to “over-size renewable
components of the system in order to reduce use of coal or nuclear energy? It can be seen that if the wind and PV
capacities were doubled then annually they would generate about 80% of
demand, but much of this would have to be dumped because these sources would
sometimes be generating 4X GW, four times as much as would be needed. Thus over time they might be able to
meet 60% of demand , again meaning that if this arrangement was in
place globally Uranium resources would be quickly exhausted, and/or
geo-sequestration sites would not last long . Note that we would still need to retain almost X GW of coal
or nuclear capacity regardless of the magnitude of the over-sizing, because
there would still be some times when almost all of the renewable capacity was
idle. Total system capital cost would include X GW of coal/nuclear plus 2X GW
of wind plus 2X GW of PV, and coal or nuclear sources would have to meet c. 40%
of total demand. The logic evident here indicates that it would
probably not make sense for any renewable energy source to constitute a
proportion of total demand that was greater than its average system capacity
factor (except to the extent that sources reciprocate, e.g., winds tend to be
down in summer when solar is up.) It can be seen that the capital costs of
total systems significantly “oversized” in an effort to cut carbon emissions to
“safe” levels increase dramatically compared with the reductions achieved in
the need for coal or nuclear sources.
Thus there are
major difficulties regarding the variability of renewables and the magnitude of
their contributions. (A more
recent attempt to assess the limits of renewables is given in Trainer
2008b.) Neither Stern nor the IPCC
deal with these issues. The points
made above seem to seriously challenge or clearly invalidate a number of the
unexamined assumptions evident in Stern’s Fig. 9.4. and the IPCC Reports
dealing with mitigation.
It should also be
noted that if the renewable fraction of total supply was to be large the sudden
rise and falls in the renewable contribution would seem to set an impossible
problem of rapid “ramp” rate for coal, nuclear or solar thermal sources. The
output from these power stations cannot be raised or lowered quickly and could
not follow the large and rapid changes in demand, e.g., when the whole of a
very large amount of PV capacity came on stream in a period of one hour or so.
Gas plant can respond more rapidly but the required changes would still seem to
If used on the required scale in a
world attempting to maximise use of renewables
It should be stressed that these are not arguments against the adoption of renewable energy technologies. Chapter 11 of Trainer 2007 argues that we must move entirely to these sources and that we could live well on them, but not in a society committed to high rates of energy consumption, affluence and growth.
Attempting a 2050 world energy budget.
The unsatisfactory nature of the IPCC and
Stern analyses can be made evident by attempting to explain how the 2050 1100
EJ energy budget might be composed.
times current total world annual energy investment. 50 EJ total
the IPCC Working Group 3 possible limits to energy derivable from the various renewable sources, rates of supply in winter, the difference between gross output and net rate of delivery at distance
following analysis is based on the table on p. 4 above.
saving. It will be assumed
that energy conservation etc. effort will cut 25% off the amount demand would
otherwise reach. Low
temperature space and water heat. It will be assumed that one-quarter of the total 206 EJ is in this
category, and can be easily delivered from solar sources (although this is too
optimistic for many mid to high latitude countries.) Electricity.
From Table 1 above this sector would require 205 EJ. Let us assume that in 2050 this is met by 104 EJ of “safe”
coal use via CCS as derived above,15 EJ of hydroelectricity (a questionable
doubling of the present amount), and 43 EJ each of wind and solar. This could be 80 times early 2000s wind capacity, and
it is likely that by 2100 geosequestration could not be used at all. If the lignin in biomass residues can be used after ethanol production, 5 EJ of
electricity might be derived, taking Stern’s assumption of 110 EJ of primary
biomass energy. Thus we have
explained the quantity of electricity needed, but we have not dealt with the
huge problems of integration and back-up which actually reduce quantities that
could be used. Nuclear energy
cannot make a significant long term global difference in view of Uranium
resources, unless breeders and fusion are employed. Transport : This sector, accounting for 35% of the total, would require 290 EJ (in
the form of petrol.) Let us take
Stern’s assumed amount of biomass energy, 110 EJ, which would produce about 35
EJ of ethanol. This would leave 255 EJ of transport energy to be
found. This could not be provided
via the production of liquid fuel from coal as the CO2 in vehicle exhausts
could not be captured. In any case
the geosequestration quota has been allocated to electricity, above. Petrol driven cars are c. 40%
energy efficient meaning that some 102 EJ would be driving wheels, and thus if
electric vehicles were assumed this would be the quantity of energy that would
have to reach the wheels. However,
because the energy efficiency of the electricity-to-wheels path is c. 50%
(Bossell, 2004), some 204 EJ would have to be generated, almost 3.5 times the
present world electricity production. (Let us ignore the fact that air and sea transport cannot be powered
electrically, except via hydrogen; see below.) If this load is divided between wind and solar
sources so that each meets half electricity plus transport demand, then to
provide its fraction installed peak wind capacity would have to be 145 EJ/y,
requiring around 150 times the early 2000s installed wind capacity. (Again Trieb, undated, p. 48 estimates
European combined on- and off-shore potential at c. 4 EJ.) At Sydney average insolation 145 EJ
from PV corresponds to 19 square metres per person for a world population of 9
billion. Hydrogen powered transport would probably double
the amount of electricity to be generated, to 408 EJ, given Bossell’s estimates
of the efficiencies and losses on that path. (That this is plausible is evident
if we optimistically assume .7 efficiency of hydrogen production from
electricity, .8 for distribution, and .5 efficiency for future fuel cell drive,
yielding an overall efficiency of 28%.) Thus neither an electric nor a hydrogen powered transport
option would seem to be viable, considering only quantity implications, let
alone the difficulties in storing, integration and back up. At this point in the attempt to construct an energy
budget we have accounted for low temperature heat, and electricity (by making
some implausible assumptions) but we are far from explaining how transport
could be fuelled, and there would then be the remaining 146 EJ, 18% of the
total 825 EJ energy demand to provide for. If this was to come from wind or sun the energy losses in
conversion (e.g., from electricity to hydrogen and storage) would greatly
multiply the primary quantity necessary. We have already assumed use of all the permissible coal (and that amount
will not be permissible by 2100.) We
would have special difficulty explaining how we could provide the approximately
half of liquid fuel demand that is not for transport, (i .e., some 60 GJ per
person in Australia at present), given the above limits to ethanol from
biomass, and to hydrogen. It is evident from his discussion that conversion
issues and loses are very important in the estimation of the potential of
renewables. These are not taken
into account in the Stern or IPCC Reports. If we assume a 50% conversion loss then this last
18% of energy would require generation of about 300 EJ of electricity. If we assume CCDS will be able to
capture the upper limit of the IPCC’s estimate for the possible range, i.e.,
90%, and that the 2050 CO2 permissible release quantity is the IPCC mean
estimate, 9 GT/y, then electricity from “safe” coal use could be 310 EJ/y (and
all coal might be exhausted in 37 years.) However this is of little significance as safe release after 2050 will
probably be zero. This failed exercise indicates that it will not be
possible to achieve an expected 2050 world energy target of 1100 EJ within safe
carbon emission limits. This is
despite the fact firstly that it assumes much more coal use than will be
acceptable after 2050, and secondly that the target would enable a per capita use only half the
present Australian figure and one-quarter of the amount Australians are likely
to be using by 2050.)
Working Group Reports.
argument has been that the
IPCC’s conclusions about the possibility and cost of greenhouse gas mitigation are seriously mistaken. To
summarise the main problems, the Reports are statements of findings, not
presentations of the case leading to them, making it impossible to asses in any
convenient way how valid the conclusions are. Secondly although it is stated that “The world is not on a
course to achieve a sustainable energy future” (IPCC 2007, Ch. 4, p. 255), the
tone is at variance with the Report’s evidence, failing to appropriately stress
the magnitude of the shortfall left after conservation effort, or the
difficulties renewables etc. involve, and therefore failing to emphasise the
seriousness of the situation. The
4AR’s most optimistic emission reduction expectations would be associated with
a 25% increase in emissions by 2030, to c. 30 GT/y, when by their own account a
relatively responsible path requires reduction to possibly a minus value by
2100. If it was clear how such a
rising trend (despite picking the low-hanging fruit) could be easily reversed
after 2050 the situation might not be so disturbing, but this is not discussed
let alone shown. The
conclusions on energy savings are not very impressive, mostly ranging from 5 to
50% of present energy use per unit of output. When the effects of $20/t and $100/t CO2 prices are
considered it appears that there are severely diminishing returns, i.e., that
it will be easy to make significant savings initially and at low cost, but
increasing the cost greatly will not add very much to achievements. Thus, most
of the reduction task will be left to the energy generation sector, and the
treatment of this sector is even less technically satisfactory, or
reassuring. There is no discussion
of the potential and limits to renewables, apart from the most superficial
notes, and conclusions are based on an economic modeling methodology which
cannot arrive at sound conclusions because it does not refer to
the crucial physical and biological difficulties and limits associated with
renewables. When these limits and
the implications of the need to transform large quantities of energy into
different forms are considered,
there seems to be no way that the anticipated 2050 global energy budget can be provided. Again that budget represents only
one-quarter of the amount needed to provide expected Australian 2050 per capita
consumption to all people.
would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of these conclusions.
Stern Report the IPCC Working Group 3 Reports have given the
world three highly confident conclusions. The first is that the greenhouse
problem can be solved, the second is that it can be solved at negligible cost,
and the third, implicit, conclusion is that it can be solved without any need
to question the commitment to affluent living standards and economic
growth. The argument in this paper has been that all these conclusions are
clearly and profoundly mistaken. Whereas people
within the “limits to growth” school of thought have been arguing for half a
century that consumer societies are fundamentally unsustainable,
the Stern Review and the IPCC
Working Group 3 Reports have reinforced
the dominant faith and have therefore seriously reduced the chances of the
situation being recognised or of effective strategies being adopted.
A radically different view of the situation and the way out.
In Chapter 10 of Trainer 2007b it is argued that the
energy and greenhouse problems are only two of the increasingly serious
problems consumer society is running into it, and that it will not be possible
to solve these unless the commitment to affluence and growth is abandoned.
Consumer society involves rates of resource use and environmental impact that
are far beyond sustainable levels and could not be extended to all the world’s
people. For example the Australian
per capita ecological footprint of about
7 ha is around 10 times as large as the world’s productive land area would permit
for 9 billion people.
Chapter 10 also argues that even if there were not a problem of ecological sustainability the present rich world affluent “living standards” would not be possible if these countries were not taking most of the world’s resource output, thereby condemning the Third World majority to far less than their fair share.
The commitment to affluent “living standards” and
limitless growth is the predominant cause of the multi-faceted global
predicament we are in. These
quests inevitably generate problems of ecological destruction, resource
depletion, Third World deprivation and geopolitical conflict and war. In addition the drive for growth and
affluence is damaging the quality of life and social cohesion in even the
the present levels of production and consumption are grossly unsustainable and
are the basic cause of the many alarming problems, the top priority is economic
growth. Therefore there will
inevitably be an accelerating rise in the magnitude of the problems over coming
decades. Note that at the expected (and required) 3% p.a. rate of economic
growth, by the end of the century the economies of the rich countries will be
churning out 16 times as much production for sale every year as they do
now. Yet there
is virtually no recognition that this
could be a problem.
Chapter 10 concludes that the problems cannot be
solved in a society committed to affluence and growth, and therefore that huge
and radical system change is clearly needed.
necessary vast reductions in energy and resource use and environmental impact
cannot be made without dramatically reducing the present volume of production
and consumption and therefore without changing from a society committed to
affluent lifestyles an economic growth. It s
not just that consumer/capitalist society is unsustainable, the point is that it is that it cannot be made sustainable.
Unfortunately advocates of renewable energy typically reinforce the dominant
belief that it can.
Chapter 11 of Trainer 2007 argues that the solution must be thought of in terms of a transition to some kind of “Simpler Way”. (For the detailed account see Trainer, 2006.) This must involve non-affluent (but sufficient) material living standards, mostly small and highly self-sufficient local economies (and therefore localization as distinct from globalization), zero-growth economic systems under social control and driven by need and not by market forces or the profit motive (although there might be a considerable role for markets and private firms), and highly cooperative and participatory systems. The Simpler Way vision would enable all to live well on (extremely low quantities of) renewable energy. Obviously such radical system transition could not be made without profound change in values and world view, away from competitive, acquisitive individualism, i.e., without radical contradiction of some of the core elements in Western culture.
It is not likely that changes of this magnitude will
be made, especially given that it is late in the day, the required changes are
radical in the extreme and their necessity is not on the agenda of official or
public discussion. It is
highly regrettable that the IPCC and Stern Reports
have powerfully reinforced the dominant belief that there is no need to
consider such change because the greenhouse problem can be solved without
threatening the commitment to affluence and growth, and hat it can be
solved at negligible cost. Note
1. Table 4.2 of IPCC 4AR
states some energy resource and use quantities that are questionable. In the text world electricity
production is given as 17,000 TWh, which aligns with IEA figures and
corresponds to 62 EJ/y. However
Table 4.2 states that nuclear and hydro electricity each provide c. 26 EJ,
which would mean that coal, which is actually the major contributor, would be
responsible for less than 6 EJ. Other sources indicate that the figure should be c. 8 EJ, corresponding
to about 15% of electricity. This
figure is stated in the text on pages 260 and 273. Present
wind generation is given in the Table as .95 EJ but the mid 2000s figure from
The American Wind Association is around .5 EJ. The figures on p. of the
4AR and other sources represent .5 EJ. (The rapid growth rate for wind installation
confuses this figure.) Hydro
potential is given as 60 EJ, but other sources indicate that this is equivalent
to about 7 – 8 times the present amount. It is commonly recognised that for ecological reasons few if
any more big dams will be built in future. The 7400 EJ figure stated for nuclear
resources is usually given not as a likely estimate but as a possible high
estimate, some three to four times the more common c. 4 million tonne Uranium
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[MB1]I think he means that it is of great importance.
[MB2]It would fit E&E better if he described this as the limits assumed by the authors of the reports as safe
[MB3]I would suggest that this is an implication of his argument rather than the argument itself (which is directed at the feasibility of scaling the measures discussed).
[MB4]Perhaps an abbreviated version of this paragraph should find its way into the Abstract so that the E&E reader is alerted up front to a departure from the norm.
[MB6]I find this (and the following) paragraph confusing in its intent. We have already been told that the author will broadly adopt the IPCC/Stern projection so why muddy the water with a different one? If it has a place it could be in a discussion section presenting caveats to the analysis.
[MB7]Again this (and the next paragraph) appears to be a departure from the stated bases of the analysis in that it does after all relate to and questions the science of the carbon cycle and its atmospheric chemistry and climatic consequences.
[MB8]Quotations are best in a box or as a bulleted list or otherwise typographically distinguishable from “body” text.
[MB9]I think “exhausted” is a bit strong – perhaps not available at the cost competitive with other fossil fuels as at present
[MB10]This does make a big implicit presumption that in 40 years energy technology will look not dissimilar to how it looks today. I don’t think that it is reasonable to base a present-day strategy with a 40 year time scale on the presumption that those planning for the following 50 years will have a similar set of tools to our own now.
[MB11]This does make a big implicit presumption that in 40 years energy technology will look not dissimilar to how it looks today. I don’t think that it is reasonable to base a present-day strategy with a 40 year time scale on the presumption that those planning for the following 50 years will have a similar set of tools to our own now.