Citizen Action Monitor

When it comes to fully explaining the global predicament we’re facing, the story is totally inaccurate

Our focus on climate change as the main problem has diverted our attention from significant other resource and environmental problems.

No 2472 Posted by fw, May 10, 2019

Gail Tverberg

“The climate change story is true in some respects: The climate is indeed changing. And CO2 emissions do seem to affect climate. Burning fossil fuels does indeed make a difference in CO2 levels. The problem I have with the climate change story is that it paints a totally inaccurate story of the predicament the world is facing. The world’s predicament arises primarily from too little affordable resources, especially energy resources; climate change models tend to give the illusion that our problem is one of a superabundance of fossil fuels. Furthermore, the world economy has no real option of using significantly less energy, because the economy tends to collapse when there is not enough energy. Economists have not studied the physics of how a networked economy really works; they rely on an overly simple supply and demand model that seems to suggest that prices can rise endlessly.”Gail Tverberg, Our Finite World

In the closing sentence of her article, Gail writes:

“In particular, there is a need to consider the physics of how an economy really operates: Energy consumption cannot be reduced significantly at the world level without increasing the probability of collapse or a major war.”

As soon as I read her closing, I immediately thought of the much ignored, breakthrough research findings of atmospheric physicist Tim Garrett of the University of Utah. If anything, his dire forecast of “global economic collapse” is much more fully developed.

Gail Tverberg is a researcher focused on figuring out how energy limits and the economy are really interconnected, and what this means for our future. Her background is as a casualty actuary, working in insurance forecasting.

Below is my highly abridged repost of Gail’s article, which zeroes in on her introduction, conclusion, and between those two, a list of her 12 main ideas. My purpose is to help readers grasp Gail’s BIG, REALLY IMPORTANT IDEAS. Therefore, excluded from my repost are her 14 graphs and detailed explanations, which are available by clicking on the following linked title to her complete paper.

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The climate change story is half true by Gail Tverberg, Our Finite World, April 30, 2019

Three proven climate change facts: climate is changing; CO2 emissions so affect climate; burning  fossil fuels does increase CO2 levels 

The climate change story is true in some respects: The climate is indeed changing. And CO2 emissions do seem to affect climate. Burning fossil fuels does indeed make a difference in CO2 levels.

But when it comes to explaining the global predicament we’re facing, the story is totally inaccurate

The problem I have with the climate change story is that it paints a totally inaccurate story of the predicament the world is facing.

Our predicament stems from too little ‘affordable’ energy resources

The world’s predicament arises primarily from too little affordable resources, especially energy resources; climate change models tend to give the illusion that our problem is one of a superabundance of fossil fuels.

Moreover, using less energy is not an option without collapsing the global economy

Furthermore, the world economy has no real option of using significantly less energy, because the economy tends to collapse when there is not enough energy.

Economists rely on a flawed, simplistic supply and demand model that predicts prices can rise perpetually

Economists have not studied the physics of how a networked economy really works; they rely on an overly simple supply and demand model that seems to suggest that prices can rise endlessly.

Inadequate energy supply leads inevitably to economic collapse or resources wars

The quantity of energy supply affects both the supply and demand of finished goods and services. History shows that the result of inadequate energy supplies is often collapse or a resource war, in an attempt to obtain more of the necessary resources.

Climate scientists have allowed flawed economic thinking to corrupt their climate models

Climate scientists aren’t expected to be economists, but have inadvertently picked up the wrong views of economists and allowed them to affect the climate models they produce.

This results in an over-focus on climate issues and an under-focus on the real issues at hand.

 

[12 MAIN IDEAS]

[1] Growth in energy consumption and in world GDP are very closely linked. In fact, energy consumption seems to be the cause of GDP growth.

[2] There are two very different views of our energy future, depending upon whether an analyst believes that oil and other energy prices can rise endlessly, or not.

[3] To date economists and their policies have had pretty close to zero success in reducing world CO2 fossil fuel emissions.

[4] Probably the single most stupid thing world leaders could have done, if they were at all concerned about CO2 emissions, was to add China to the World Trade Organization in December 2001.

[5] One way of seeing the truth of the close tie between the growth in energy consumption and economic growth is to observe the dip in world CO2 emissions at the time of the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

[6] The European Union is an example of a major area that is fighting declines in nearly all of its major types of energy supplies. In practice, energy prices do not rise high enough, and technology does not help sufficiently to provide the energy supplies needed.

[7] There are huge differences in CO2 growth patterns between (a) countries whose governments have recently collapsed and (b) countries that are growing rapidly.

[8] Unfortunately, the real story about economies is that they are governed by the laws of physics. Like plants and animals, and like hurricanes, they are dissipative structures that grow for a time and eventually come to an end. 

[9] Climate change modelers have not understood that one of the things that they should be concerned about is near-term collapse. The rising wealth disparity in recent years is a major indicator that the world economy may be headed toward collapse. 

[10] If the world economy is headed toward near-term collapse, climate change shrinks back in the list of things we should be worried about.

[11] The great draw of wind and solar is that they seem to solve problems of any type: either too much fossil fuels or too little.

[12] Wind and solar, when analyzed without the need for energy storage, seem to help reduce CO2 emissions. But if substantial electricity storage needs to be included, this CO2 benefit tends to disappear.

 

CONCLUSION

Ultimately, the climate story, as it tends to be quoted in the news media, is misleading.

Our focus on climate change as the main problem has diverted our attention from significant other resource and environmental problems

The climate story we hear tends to give the impression that climate change is a huge problem compared to all the other resource and environmental problems we are encountering.

Focus on over-simplified solutions is over-emphasized and misleading

Furthermore, a person gets the impression that simple solutions, such as wind, solar, carbon taxes and voluntary cutbacks in fossil fuel use, are available.

A false picture of our situation has emerged

This is a false picture of the situation at hand.

  • Climate change is one of many problems the world economy is facing,
  • and the solutions we have for climate change at this time are totally inadequate.
  • Because an increase in energy consumption is required for GDP growth worldwide, even voluntary cutbacks in fossil fuel usage tend to harm the economies making the reductions.
  • If climate change is to be addressed, totally different approaches are needed.
  • We may even need to talk about adapting to climate change that is largely out of our ability to control.

Benefits of wind and solar have been greatly exaggerated

The benefits of wind and solar have been greatly exaggerated.

  • Partly, this may be because politicians have needed a solution to the energy and climate problems.
  • It may also be partly because “renewable” sounds like it is a synonym for “sustainable,” even though it is not.
  • Adding electricity storage looks like it would be a solution to the intermittency of wind and solar, but it tends to add costs and to defeat the CO2 benefit of these devices.

IPCC must build models that are contextually appropriate for the global limits we are facing

Finally, IPCC modelers need to develop their models more in the context of the wider range of limits that the world is facing.

For example, rather than just modelling climate change, we need integrated models of impacts of all limits 

Perhaps it would be worthwhile to model the expected impact of all limits combined, rather than limiting the analysis to climate change.

Finally, economists and climate scientists must study the physics of how an economy really operates

In particular, there is a need to consider the physics of how an economy really operates: Energy consumption cannot be reduced significantly at the world level without increasing the probability of collapse or a major war.

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