Prof lays out the hard facts to support his claim we’re headed toward catastrophe, and he invites anyone to prove him wrong.
No 2545 Posted by fw, November 12, 2019
“Consider this — pessimism and optimism are mere states of mind that may or may not be anchored in reality. I would prefer to be labeled a realist, someone who sees things as they are, who has a healthy respect for good data and solid analysis (or at least credible theory). … If Greta Thunberg and followers are to inspire more than emotional release about climate change, the world needs to face some hard facts that suggest we are headed toward catastrophe. At the same time, skepticism is the hallmark of good science; realists too must be open to the challenge posed by new facts. … I welcome being told what crucial facts I might be missing. Even a realist — perhaps especially a realist in present circumstances — occasionally wants to be proved incorrect. Question 1: The modern world is deeply addicted to fossil fuels and green energy is no substitute. Am I wrong?” — William Rees, The Tyee
William E. Rees is professor emeritus of human ecology and ecological economics at the University of British Columbia.
Rees issues a challenge — Prove his fact-based argument about climate change is wrong. If you accept his facts, you will understand the massive challenge we face in correcting peoples’ misinformed beliefs and consumptive lifestyles.
Below is my repost of Rees’ fact-based argument – I count 16 facts, Rees labels just 3 of his own. Alternatively, read his article on The Tyee’s website by clicking on the following linked title.
To see our fate clearly, we must face these hard facts about energy, growth and governance. Part one of two.
When it comes to climate change, Rees prefers to be labeled a “realist pessimist”
No one wants to be the downer at the party, and some would say that I am an unreformed pessimist. But consider this — pessimism and optimism are mere states of mind that may or may not be anchored in reality. I would prefer to be labeled a realist, someone who sees things as they are, who has a healthy respect for good data and solid analysis (or at least credible theory).
The world needs to face the hard facts that we’re headed toward catastrophe
Why is this important? Well, if Greta Thunberg and followers are to inspire more than emotional release about climate change, the world needs to face some hard facts that suggest we are headed toward catastrophe. At the same time, skepticism is the hallmark of good science; realists too must be open to the challenge posed by new facts.
Rees issues a challenge – Prove his fact-based argument about climate change is wrong
So, today, and in a piece to follow, I present an unpopular but fact-based argument in the form of two “Am I wrong?” queries. If you accept my facts, you will see the massive challenge we face in transforming human assumptions and ways of living on Earth.
Is Rees’ fact-based argument missing any facts?
I welcome being told what crucial facts I might be missing. Even a realist — perhaps especially a realist in present circumstances — occasionally wants to be proved incorrect.
Fact 1 — 84 per cent of the world’s primary energy today is derived from fossil fuels
We can probably agree that techno-industrial societies are utterly dependent on abundant cheap energy just to maintain themselves — and even more energy to grow. The simple fact is that 84 per cent of the world’s primary energy today is derived from fossil fuels.
Fact 2 – Climate change is a CO2 waste management problem?
It should be no surprise, then, that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is the greatest metabolic waste by weight produced by industrial economies. Climate change is a waste management problem!
Fact 3 – Cheap fossil energy sparked urban population rise, estimated to reach 6.7 billion by 2050
Cheap fossil energy enabled the world to urbanize, and this process is continuing. The UN expects the urban population to rise to 6.7 billion — 68 per cent of humanity — by 2050. There will be 43 mega-cities with more than 10 million inhabitants each as early as 2030, mostly in China and other Asian countries.
Fact 4 — current and future inhabitants of every modern city depend absolutely on the fossil-fuelled productivity and transportation of daily supplies
Building out these and hundreds more large cities will require much of the remaining allowable carbon budget. Moreover, the current and future inhabitants of every modern city depend absolutely on the fossil-fuelled productivity of distant hinterlands and on fossil-fuelled transportation for their daily supplies of all essential resources, including water and food.
Fact 5 — By 2018, the combustion of fossil fuel alone was pumping 37.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
All of which generates a genuine emergency. By 2018, the combustion of fossil fuel alone was pumping 37.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Fact 6 — Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations reached an all-time high of 415 parts per billion in early 2019.
Add to this the net carbon emissions from land clearing (soil oxidation) and more vigorous forest fires, and we can see why atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations reached an all-time high of 415 parts per billion in early 2019.
Fact 7 – Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are rising exponentially
This is 48 per cent above pre-industrial levels and concentrations are rising exponentially.
Fact 8 – CO2 is the main human-related driver of global warming and associated climate change.
And, of course, everyone with an active brain cell is aware that CO2 is the main human-related driver of global warming and associated climate change.
Cue the techno-optimists’ chorus: “Not to worry, all we have to do is transition to green renewable energy!”
In fact, there is plenty of superficial support for the notion that green tech is our saviour. We are told repeatedly that the costs of providing renewable energy have fallen so low that it will soon be practically free. Australian professors Andrew Blakers and Matthew Stocks say “Solar photovoltaic and wind power are rapidly getting cheaper and more abundant — so much so that they are on track to entirely supplant fossil fuels worldwide within two decades.” Luckily, the transition won’t even take up much space: UC Berkeley professor Mehran Moalem argues that “an area of the Earth 335 kilometres by 335 kilometres with solar panels… will provide more than 17.4 TW power…. That means 1.2 per cent of the Sahara desert is sufficient to cover all of the energy needs of the world in solar energy.” (Someone should remind Prof. Moalem that, even if such an engineering feat were possible, a single sandstorm would bury the world’s entire energy supply.)
Fact 9 — despite rapid growth in wind and solar generation, the green energy transition is not really happening
The first problem with such claims is that despite rapid growth in wind and solar generation, the green energy transition is not really happening. The chart below shows that
Fact 10 – Given that growth in electricity demand exceeds renewables supply, the latter cannot replace fossils in electricity generation
As long as the growth in demand exceeds additions to supply from renewables, the latter cannot displace fossil fuels even in electricity generation –
Fact 11 – Electricity is less than 20% of total energy consumption
and remember, electricity is still less than 20 per cent of total energy consumption, with the rest being supplied mostly by fossil fuels.
Fact 12 – Transition to renewables is unlikely to be cheap
Nor is any green transition likely to be cheap.
Fact 13 — wind/solar energy is not really renewable
Also problematic is the fact that wind/solar energy is not really renewable.
Fact 14 – Global demand for rare-earth elements would rise 300% to 1,000% by 2050
World demand for rare-earth elements — and Earth-destroying mining and refining — would rise 300 per cent to 1,000 per cent by 2050 just to meet the Paris goals.
Ironically, the mining, transportation, refining and manufacturing of material inputs to the green energy solution would be powered mainly by fossil fuels (and we’d still have to replace all the machinery and equipment currently running on oil and gas with their electricity-powered equivalents, also using fossil fuel).
Fact 15 — Transition to renewables would not necessarily be reflected in declining CO2 emissions
In short, even if the energy transition were occurring as advertised, it would not necessarily be reflected in declining CO2 emissions.
Fact 16 – In 2018, hydro and nuclear, combined with renewables, powered the globe for a total of just 56 days
If we divide 2018 into energy segments, oil, coal and natural gas powered the globe for 309 out of 365 days, hydro and nuclear energy gave us 41 days, and non-hydro renewables (solar panels, wind turbines, biomass) a mere 15 days. If the race is towards a decarbonized finish line by 2050, we’re still pretty much stalled at the gate.
As I say, please do tell me I’m wrong.
Tomorrow: But wait, Bill. Never underestimate plucky human spirit and our power to collectively accomplish great things!
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