Apr 292013
 April 29, 2013  Posted by at 1:32 pm Finance

Artwork: Ilargi for The Automatic Earth

A report came out in Britain 10 days ago that deserves more attention than it got. If only because it uses the great term "unburnable carbon", great even before it's defined. It makes me ponder the popular and somewhat crazy claims about shale and fracking leading to US energy independence, the holy grail du jour.

It promises much vaunted freedom from outsiders, but what exactly does it consist of? Does it mean the ability to burn ever more carbon-based energy sources without having to buy them abroad? And does "abroad" include Canada, or do we think of this as an "energy Nafta"? Guys, if you would just waste a bit less of the stuff, you'd have been energy independent ages ago without having to inject tons of toxic concoctions into your land. What on earth are you thinking?

"Unburnable carbon" also makes me think of Professor Kenneth Deffeyes, who stated that "Crude oil is much too valuable to be burned as a fuel" , in reference to the long list of products, some of which are very beneficial to us (think medicine), that are made with oil carbons.

Deffeyes also said: "Thirty years from now, oil will be little used as a source of energy. Our grandchildren will say, 'you burned it? All those beautiful molecules? You burned it?'" Will we ever understand this? Not very likely. We don't even think about it. We just want to find more of the stuff and then burn it. Give any organism access to an energy surplus, and it will use it up as fast as possible. Man is no exception.

But first, that report. Which claims that national and international climate targets risk leaving huge amounts of oil and gas stranded. The risk alone should be enough to inject so much uncertainty into the markets that they could plunge into a huge crisis. Damian Carrington for The Guardian:

Carbon bubble will plunge the world into another financial crisis

The world could be heading for a major economic crisis as stock markets inflate an investment bubble in fossil fuels to the tune of trillions of dollars, according to leading economists.

"The financial crisis has shown what happens when risks accumulate unnoticed," said Lord (Nicholas) Stern, a professor at the London School of Economics. He said the risk was "very big indeed" and that almost all investors and regulators were failing to address it.

The so-called "carbon bubble" is the result of an over-valuation of oil, coal and gas reserves held by fossil fuel companies. According to a report published on Friday, at least two-thirds of these reserves will have to remain underground if the world is to meet existing internationally agreed targets to avoid the threshold for "dangerous" climate change. If the agreements hold, these reserves will be in effect unburnable and so worthless – leading to massive market losses . But the stock markets are betting on countries' inaction on climate change.

The stark report is by Stern and the thinktank Carbon Tracker. Their warning is supported by organisations including HSBC, Citi, Standard and Poor's and the International Energy Agency. The Bank of England has also recognised that a collapse in the value of oil, gas and coal assets as nations tackle global warming is a potential systemic risk to the economy, with London being particularly at risk owing to its huge listings of coal.

Stern said that far from reducing efforts to develop fossil fuels, the top 200 companies spent $674bn (£441bn) in 2012 to find and exploit even more new resources, a sum equivalent to 1% of global GDP, which could end up as "stranded" or valueless assets. Stern's landmark 2006 report on the economic impact of climate change – commissioned by the then chancellor, Gordon Brown – concluded that spending 1% of GDP would pay for a transition to a clean and sustainable economy.

The world's governments have agreed to restrict the global temperature rise to 2C, beyond which the impacts become severe and unpredictable. But Stern said the investors clearly did not believe action to curb climate change was going to be taken. "They can't believe that and also believe that the markets are sensibly valued now."[..]

Paul Spedding, an oil and gas analyst at HSBC, said: "The scale of 'listed' unburnable carbon revealed in this report is astonishing. This report makes it clear that 'business as usual' is not a viable option for the fossil fuel industry in the long term. [The market] is assuming it will get early warning, but my worry is that things often happen suddenly in the oil and gas sector."

HSBC warned that 40-60% of the market capitalisation of oil and gas companies [is] at risk from the carbon bubble, with the top 200 fossil fuel companies alone having a current value of $4 trillion, along with $1.5 trillion debt. [..]

The report calculates that the world's currently indicated fossil fuel reserves equate to 2,860 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, but that just 31% could be burned for an 80% chance of keeping below a 2C temperature rise. For a 50% chance of 2C or less, just 38% could be burned.

Carbon capture and storage technology, which buries emissions underground, can play a role in the future, but even an optimistic scenario which sees 3,800 commercial projects worldwide would allow only an extra 4% of fossil fuel reserves to be burned. There are currently no commercial projects up and running. The normally conservative International Energy Agency has also concluded that a major part of fossil fuel reserves is unburnable. [..]

Jeremy Grantham, a billionaire fund manager who oversees $106bn of assets, said his company was on the verge of pulling out of all coal and unconventional fossil fuels, such as oil from tar sands. "The probability of them running into trouble is too high for me to take that risk as an investor." He said: "If we mean to burn all the coal and any appreciable percentage of the tar sands, or other unconventional oil and gas then we're cooked. [There are] terrible consequences that we will lay at the door of our grandchildren."

And it's of course not just the US that is involved. All major energy producers (and consumers) are. Nor is it just oil and gas: coal could get hit hard. Damian Carrington had this on Australia over the weekend:

Carbon bubble makes Australia's coal industry ripe 'for financial implosion'

Australia's huge coal industry is a speculative bubble ripe for financial implosion if the world's governments fulfil their agreement to act on climate change, according to a new report. The warning that much of the nation's coal reserves will become worthless as the world hits carbon emission limits comes after banking giant Citi also warned Australian investors that fossil fuel companies could do little to avoid the future loss of value.

Australia is already the globe's biggest coal exporter and "mega-mine" plans in Queensland for more extraction are identified as the world's second biggest "carbon bomb" threatening runaway global warming.

"Investments in Australian coal rest on a speculative bubble of climate denial, indifference or dreaming," said John Connor, one of the new report's authors and CEO of The Climate Institute, an independent research organisation based in Sydney. "Investors, governments and even some coal companies say they take climate change seriously, but this report shows they do not or are taking risky gambles."

James Leaton, at thinktank Carbon Tracker and also another of the report's authors, said: "Investors need to challenge the assumption that coal demand will continue to rise in China and elsewhere, otherwise billions of dollars of taxpayer, superannuation and shareholder funds will be wasted in assets linked to unburnable carbon."

Carbon Tracker's recent global report found that at least two-thirds of existing fossil fuel reserves will have to remain underground if the world is to meet existing internationally agreed targets to avoid the threshold for "dangerous" climate change. The new report shows Australian coal reserves owned by listed companies alone are equivalent to 25% of the global carbon budget for the fuel to 2050.

However, far from cutting back on exploration for new coal reserves, Australian listed companies spent AU$6 billion on developing new deposits. If only half of potential future reserves were exploited, Australian coal would use up 75% of the global carbon budget for the fuel.

Earlier in April, Citi banking group issued a warning to investors in fossil fuel companies. "We see limited potential for engagement to alter the outcome in this case," concluded its report. "If the unburnable carbon [scenario] does occur – even with carbon capture and storage technology – it is difficult to see how the value of fossil fuel reserves can be maintained."

Leaton said China has indicated its coal use will peak in the next five years, but that this had not been priced by markets. "I don't know why the market does not believe China. When it says it is going to do something, it usually does." Yet Australia is banking on selling coal to China: "That doesn't add up."

Still, you could argue that governments will try to find a way to ignore climate treaties. Once they start painting a picture of plunging economies and lifestyles for their people, the hope will be that the treaties can be watered down to facilitate business as usual. Given the strength and broad appeal of climate activism, that won't be as easy as some might think.

For the Canadian government and economy, climate issues may not be the biggest headache going forward. Ottawa faces a growing and steadily better organized resistance from Indigenous peoples. Who, if they resist being divided and bought off, can be a major pain in the government butt, not least of all because they still have many elders who remember being raised on notions of keeping the land fit to pass on to multiple generations. Large scale exploitation of carbon resources doesn't seem to fit that bill. Martin Lukacs for the Guardian in December last year:

Canada's First Nations protest heralds a new alliance

Canada's placid winter surface has been broken by unprecedented protests by its aboriginal peoples. In just a few weeks, a small campaign launched against the Conservative government's budget bill by four aboriginal women has expanded and transformed into a season of discontent: a cultural and political resurgence.

It has seen rallies in dozens of cities, a disruption of legislature, blockades of major highways, drumming flash mobs in malls, a flurry of Twitter activity under the hashtag #IdleNoMore and a hunger strike by Chief Theresa Spence, in a tepee minutes from Ottawa's parliament. Into her tenth day, Spence says she is "willing to die for her people" to get the prime minister, chiefs and Queen to discuss respect for historical treaties.

[..] What remains unspeakable in mainstream politics in Canada was recently uttered, in a moment of rare candour, by former Prime Minister Paul Martin:

"We have never admitted to ourselves that we were, and still are, a colonial power."

[..] While Canada has the world's largest supply of fresh water, more than 100 aboriginal communities have tapwater so foul they are under continual boil alert. Aboriginal peoples constitute 3% of Canada's population; they make up 20% of its prisons' inmates. In the far north, the rate of tuberculosis is a stunning 137 times that of the rest of the country. And the suicide rate capital of the world? A small reserve in Ontario, where a group of school-age girls once signed a pact to collectively take their lives.

Such realities have not stopped politicians and pundits from prattling on about the sums supposedly lavished on aboriginal peoples. [..] Billions have indeed been spent – not on fixing housing, building schools or ending the country's two-tiered child aid services, but on a legal war against aboriginal communities.

Every year, the government pours more than $100 million into court battles to curtail aboriginal rights – and that figure alone went to defeating a single lawsuit launched by two Alberta First Nations trying to recover oil royalties essentially stolen by bureaucrats.

Despite such odds, the highest courts of the land have ruled time and again in favour of aboriginal peoples. Over the last three decades, they have recognized that aboriginal nations have hunting, fishing and land rights, in some cases even outright ownership, over vast areas of unceded territory in British Columbia and elsewhere.

Parliament will soon debate a bill that would break up reserves – still, mostly, collectively held – into individual private property that can be purchased by non-native speculators. The undeclared agenda of government policy is the same as it was a century ago: a grab for resource-rich lands, and the assimilation of aboriginal nations.

The Canadian federal and provincial governments act on a "shoot first, talk later" basis. As in many other places in the world, government policy is based on bullying citizens into compliance with what are labeled "democratic policies", which actually hugely benefit both the government and its corporate backers financially, but leave those citizens with mere scraps off the table.

In Canada, the situation is far less simple than the government would like, because aboriginal – land – claims that have been ratified in various treaties, and on many occasions confirmed by its own Supreme Court, numerous times, can't just be ignored without trampling both democracy itself and the rule of law.

In a very cynical move, Ottawa spends $100 million per year in legal fees to fight these aboriginal claims in courts across the country. Cynical because one might argue that this stunning amount of money rightfully belongs to the aboriginal population in the first place: hence, their own money is being used to keep them poor. Lukacs again:

Indigenous rights are the best defence against Canada's resource rush

In a boardroom in a soaring high-rise on Wall Street, Indigenous activist Arthur Manuel is sitting across from one of the most powerful financial agents in North America.

It's 2004, and Manuel is on a typical mission. Part of a line of distinguished Indigenous leaders from western Canada, Manuel is what you might call an economic hit-man for the right cause. A brilliant thinker trained in law, he has devoted himself to fighting Canada's policies toward Indigenous peoples by assailing the government where it hurts most – in its pocketbook.

Which is why he secured a meeting in New York with a top-ranking official at Standard & Poor's, the influential credit agency that issues Canada's top-notch AAA rating. That's what assures investors that the country has its debts covered, that it is a safe and profitable place to do business.

This coveted credit rating is Manuel's target. His line of attack is to try to lift the veil on Canada's dirty business secret: that contrary to the myth that Indigenous peoples leech off the state, resources taken from their lands have in fact been subsidizing the Canadian economy.

In their haste to get at that wealth, the government has been flouting their own laws, ignoring Supreme Court decisions calling for the respect of Indigenous and treaty rights over large territories. Canada has become very rich, and Indigenous peoples very poor.

In other words, Canada owes big. Some have even begun calculating how much. According to economist Fred Lazar, First Nations in northern Ontario alone are owed $32 billion for the last century of unfulfilled treaty promises to share revenue from resources. Manuel's argument is that this unpaid debt – a massive liability of trillions of dollars carried by the Canadian state, which it has deliberately failed to report – should be recognized as a risk to the country's credit rating.

How did the official who could pull the rug under Canada's economy respond? Unlike Canadian politicians and media who regularly dismiss the significance of Indigenous rights, he took Manuel seriously. It was evident he knew all the jurisprudence. He followed the political developments. He didn't contradict any of Manuel's facts.

He no doubt understood what Manuel was remarkably driving at: under threat of a dented credit rating, Canada might finally feel pressure to deal fairly with Indigenous peoples. But here was the hitch: Standard & Poor's wouldn't acknowledge the debt, because the official didn't think Manuel and First Nations could ever collect it. Why? As author Naomi Klein, who accompanied Manuel at the meeting, remembers, his answer amounted to a realpolitik shoulder shrug.

"Who will able to enforce the debt? You and what army?"

[..] The movement confronts a Conservative Canadian government aggressively pursuing $600 billion of resource development on or near Indigenous lands. That means the unbridled exploitation of huge hydrocarbon reserves, including the three-fold expansion of one of the world's most carbon-intensive projects, the Alberta tar sands. Living closest to these lands, Indigenous peoples are the best and last defence against this fossil fuel scramble.

No surprise, then, about the government's basic approach toward First Nations: "removing obstacles to major economic development." Hence the movement's next stage – a call for defiance branded Sovereignty Summer – is to put more obstacles up. The assertion of constitutionally-protected Indigenous and treaty rights – backed up by direct action, legal challenges and massive support from Canadians – is exactly what can create chronic uncertainty for this corporate and government agenda. [..]

The "Lord Stern report" focuses on the carbon bubble caused by the discrepancy between climate targets and the exploitation of carbon resources.

But there's another potential bubble in carbon that the report does not address: a large part of the resources will simply never become economically viable.

Even before you run into climate related limits, a lot of carbon will prove unburnable not primarily because of climate change legislation, but because of either one of two issues: 1) physics meets monetary limits, i.e. developing the asset makes no sense economically, or 2) physics meets physics, i.e. developing the asset makes no sense in energy terms because it costs more energy than it delivers.

In connection with these two issues, at present a substantial part of America's unconventional oil and gas only looks financially interesting because of the fortunes being made in speculation, for instance in land and land rights (in true Enron spirit, Aubrey McClendon and Chesapeake Energy have blown a huge market distorting bubble there).

Far more money is spent on the promise of oil and gas plays than on the actual product. The result is a carbon related land (rights) bubble, and a typical case of something that looks good; until it doesn't.

But there's more. A large part of the money that is being lavished on the carbon bubble is zombie money. If that money were not available, there would be no bubble. Every single debt that is not properly recognized, and restructured or defaulted upon, leaves zombie money present in a financial system. And every single asset this zombie money is invested in is by definition in a bubble.

If people had a more profound understanding of what occurs when debts are not cleansed the way they should be, there would be no zombie money. As it stands, accounting standards in nations hit by the 2007-08 crisis have become running jokes, all in order to hide the real state of both governments and financial institutions.

Hiding debt means hiding reality. Neither can remain hidden forever. Which, come to think of it, sets them apart from a lot of carbon resources. Which will never see the light of day.

The point to take away from all this is that a storm cloud of uncertainties is taking shape above the carbon industry. And that alone will be enough to leave a lot of carbon unburnable. Which may not be such a bad thing.


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  • #8385

    Artwork: Ilargi for The Automatic Earth A report came out in Britain 10 days ago that deserves more attention than it got. If only because it uses the
    [See the full post at: Unburnable Carbon Bubbles]

    Ken Barrows

    Notwithstanding Gravity’s admonition a few days ago that climate science is, well, not science, it seems that feedbacks may already do most of us in.

    Although the surface temperatures in the 2000s were warmer than in the 1990s, they have slowed a bit the last few years. In addition, according to NCDC, the Earth is at 337 consecutive months above the 20th century average. And, of course the Arctic is melting, the oceans are acidifying, and without question CO2 is the atmosphere is rising about 3 ppm per year.

    If we want to retain some remnant of industrialized, urbanized society, our future carbon budget is so limited that we should start (or accelerate) the depaving of roads.

    Could this scenario be completely wrong? Sure. Life is all about probability.


    Climate science may be controversial. Hell, even peak oil seems to be controversial for many.
    However, finance shouldn’t be, since it is simple math (even exponents can be reduced to additions and subtractions using logarithms). What to do when many (even people who should know better) chose to ignore even finance (simple math and balance sheets).
    Such is the religion of our times.

    EDIT: Worse is (IMHO, of course) peak oil and climate change awareness without as much as giving a second thought to finance.


    Here is an article by Jeremy Grantham posted on ZeroHedge two days ago:

    Jeremy Grantham On The Fall Of Civilizations (And Our Last Best Hope)

    Grantham writes:

    try being in Sydney on January 18, at 114.4°F, the hottest day in that seaside city’s history, without air conditioning!

    Of course, anyone who cares to check would find out that the hottest recorded temperature at Sydney (records exist for only around 150 years) was on January 22 1923 at 116.9F (47.2C) – 90 years ago. There is another date in the 1930’s when it was hotter than in 2013.

    What is the hottest temperature recorded in sydney?

    Frankly, I find it a bit of a chore pointing out the truth when so many people are so terribly keen on fiction. It is a bit like pointing out slowing monetary velocity when everyone is so keen to have “inflation”

    Mark T

    Quietly, without much public fuss or discussion, a new ruling class has risen in the richer nations.

    These men and women are unelected and tend to shun the publicity hogged by the politicians with whom they co-exist.

    Power Shift: First in a series on the rise of the central bankers and the global imposition of cheap credit



    Guess what?
    There are already 493 comment on that article.

    A lot of people know what we have learned on this blog.

    John Day

    Canada has another big problem. Vast swarms of pine beetles have crossed over from their ancient containment West of the Rockies, and are consuming the boreal forest, which has never known them, and is defenseless.
    This is because the winters have gotten a little warmer.


    Zombie money. I like it.

    Perhaps that’s why interest rates are so low. All that zombie money floating around looking for yield, looking for a place to hide. Money vastly in excess of actual savings or surplus, extracted from the bubble, kept alive through extend and pretend, only partially attached to actual income able to service the attached debt.

    Its an interesting concept.


    Hi John,

    Yes interesting how nature plays the ‘one-upmanship’ game.
    Humans: “Look at how we deforest such vast areas, surely this must be wrong, the forests will never recover!”
    Nature: “Deforestation? Ha, watch this! Pine beetles – attack!”

    As for warmer/cooler winters, check out the latest ‘observed’ facts:


    Sure is cold out there…



    Hi Folks,

    Interesting synchronicity – James H. Kunstler has written about an Atlantic Magazine article with a ‘cover’ title of “ “We Will Never Run Out of Oil”, and an article title of “What If We Never Run Out of Oil?”, which has led to numerous comments on the conspiratorial agenda. Both titles are dubious as the guts refer to the Japanese attempts to extract methane from frozen methane hydrate deep in the ocean. Its an obvious choice for Japan as if successful there is plentiful energy for a an energy poor country (now that their nuclear program is off-line) possibly for a hundred or so years. But of course the detractors are also having afield day, with leaks and landslides and all manner of scary beasties. But the latest is that they have had some success: check out the video.

    Remains to be seen if there is any money left to build the infrastructure of course, or whether this too will be left where it is. But then as Matt Taibbi points out they make the rules up as they go along…



    A lot of carbon that is on the books of energy producers will be ‘unburnable’, but not for the reasons stated. They will be unburnable due to simple economics.

    The blog dieoff.org, in its first iteration, discussed one aspect of this, in depth. One cannot, economically, use more energy up in production (and exploration) then is produced. In that case, your operation is an energy sink, not an energy producing project. However, if you are pumping oil from a great depth, using an electric motor, that consumes subsidized (mispriced) electricity, the operator of the project might make a profit, but it still an energy sink.

    Looking at the situation with a much wider lens, as the article on First Nations does, consider the value of clean, fresh water used in tar sands production. For a small pilot project, the cost to the nation of destroying a small fresh water resource might be considered nil. But what happens when you try to scale the operation?

    Or consider the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and nearby countries are still producing cheap oil from the great discoveries of the early to mid 20th Century. Since the overall production costs are so low, it is fairly easy (economically) to justify vast military expenditures to protect the resource. But as more and more production comes from newer, marginal fields, these huge military expenditures make the overall cost uneconomic.

    If these ‘extra’ cost are well hidden, by off budget measures, or Orwellian propaganda, the resource can still be exploited, but it is uneconomic. For the time being, the USA and other large nations are engaged in all sorts of off budget and Orwellian measures that are clearly unsustainable. When they grind to a halt, so will the uneconomic activity. This could be ‘bridges to nowhere’ in important Congressional Districts, marginal oil production, or other uneconomic activities.



    Thank you for that link. Here is the same link for 1998 and now:


    I take it the dark brown/black stuff is open water.

    John Day

    Hi Sid,
    Sorry, I don’t have much time of my own to get online, just a little in the late evening.
    The extent of arctic ice in the spring isn’t much of an indicator, since it expected to be near maximum extent. September tells the story of thinning and weakening and breaking up.
    It’s a lot thinner, even now, than it was when we went to discotheques in tight bell bottoms.
    It might be all broken up in a few Septembers.
    Hard to tell, huh?


    A lot of carbon that is on the books of energy producers will be ‘unburnable’, but not for the reasons stated. They will be unburnable due to simple economics.

    Didn’t get to read the entire article, pipefit?


    Hi John,

    Yes, I was thinking that maybe this years late spring and overall cold winter would retard the advancement of the pine beetle, which is according to the film you posted part of a natural oscillation. That and natural fires, which humans have a habit of playing with; many native peoples used to use fireto manage their ecosystem to improve it for game wild crops as well as pest control. Due to the focus on ‘timber’ extraction, fire is now seen as the enemy, though it was ironic to see them try and use it in the film in a botched attempt at halting the beetle. However its a good example of an ‘unburnable carbon’ due to its greater ‘value’ as timber for such things as toilet paper. Still the timber is still viable for up to 12 years and is also a possible source of biofuel. Problem is if you remove the material off site, all the nutrients go with it.



    The “D”-word has reappeared in the news. And it’s not related only to Japan this time.


    “The point to take away from all this is that a storm cloud of uncertainties is taking shape above the carbon industry.”

    Governments will not shut down oil fields to protect the environment. More likely, they will require cleaner burning gasoline, which will add greatly to the retail price, and they will require higher mileage, more expensive cars. The high cost per barrel fields will be shut down by the market place, not the government.


    Hi p01,

    The “D”-word has reappeared in the news. And it’s not related only to Japan this time.

    It’s not only ‘D’ but ‘D-D’ :blink: as seen here for instance:

    “The danger is when deflation combines with high debt and deleveraging and becomes toxic. That raises the risk of a debt-deflation spiral. There are already signs of this in southern Europe.”




    Hi Pipefit,

    Governments will not shut down oil fields to protect the environment. More likely, they will require cleaner burning gasoline, which will add greatly to the retail price, and they will require higher mileage, more expensive cars. The high cost per barrel fields will be shut down by the market place, not the government.

    This fits in perfectly with Joseph Tainter’s reducing marginal return on complexity:

    As well as the laws of thermodynamics as pointed out here. Also the cycle actually returns to zero:

    While that is the result of a model, as far as ‘human’ society is going, that prediction IMHO is entirely feasible. :dry:


    Mark T

    Ken Barrows post=7201 wrote: Notwithstanding Gravity’s admonition a few days ago that climate science is, well, not science, it seems that feedbacks may already do most of us in.

    Some domains of climate science remain valid because these aren’t politicised, not influenced by ideological bias. Paleoatmospheric extrapolations without prescriptive functions are absolutely necessary to understand how co2 is coupled to temperature over geological history.



    Assuming the temperature/co2 extrapolation is not totally off in those graphs, there is a rough correlation between atmospheric co2 and temperature over geological time, but co2 alone doesn’t seem to be the principal component of temperature deviations. Moreover, there is no evident correlation between relatively sudden rises in co2 and known mass extinction events. Maybe the cretaceous extinction event involved vulcanics and rising co2, not evident for the graphs, but that also involved a multi-gigaton asteroid impact. There does seem to be an enormous rise in temperature coinciding with the permian extinction, but no correlation between that temp rise and co2 is evident in the graphs. Of course the ancient atmosphere had different equilibria and sensitivities, and the margin of error in those graphs may be too large.



    There has been a very clear trendshift in atmospheric co2 relative to the usual interglacial flux in the 20th century, which happens to coincide with the industrial era of burning lots of stuff and deforestation, and these are intuitively causally related. But this fact alone provides no falsifiability on the antropogenic theory, the co2 rise could merely be remarkably coincidental with, but unrelated to, human industrial growth, and could have happened anyway even without human activity. There is no scientific way to isolate direct causation unless we could turn back time and deliberately didn’t industrialise in order to isolate co2 trends apart from our activity, or use a test biosphere on another planet.

    Ken Barrows post=7201 wrote: …according to NCDC, the Earth is at 337 consecutive months above the 20th century average.

    Maybe so, by a fraction of a degree. Some calculate as much as 0,8 degree rise over the 20th century, others calculate only a 0,2 degree increase.
    There has been a slight warming trend measured in past decades, but only indicating a fraction of a degree increase, almost within the margin of measurement error and statistical noise. Global temperature has been periodically fluctuating by at least 0,1 degrees since the last ice age ended, due to incidental vulcanics and solar cycles. Some regions are definitely warming much quicker than establised trends would allow, and more quickly than would be optimal for local ecosystemic integrity, but these changes, whether transient or permanent, are more properly called shifting weather patterns instead of global climate change, due to their localised nature.


    Ken Barrows post=7201 wrote:
    If we want to retain some remnant of industrialized, urbanized society, our future carbon budget is so limited that we should start (or accelerate) the depaving of roads.
    Could this scenario be completely wrong? Sure. Life is all about probability.

    Precisely so, this scenario could still be completely wrong. But direct economic damage caused by overzealous mitigation policy to curtail carbon exhaust is a fast-acting certainty, whether correctly applied to existant threats or not, whereas any economic/biospheric damage due to climate change still remains mostly a probability, slowly manifesting and poorly quantified.

    One cannot absolve the probability of [greater] damage caused by runaway climate change by the certainty of [lesser] damage caused by deliberate policy to counter such change. This is scientifically unsound and morally objectionable, given the many unknowns in quantifying the possible damage of doing nothing, the certainty of damage if doing too much, and the possibility of grave error in weighing the risks.
    Not even utilitarian functions [where ends justify means] allow for policy to be implemented if said probability of runaway climate change is too slight, its potential damage too poorly quantified, and the magnitude of certain damage due to mitigation policy too high.
    The ends are too uncertain and the means too costly.
    Depaving roads or committing to other industrial sabotage by deliberate policy will most certainly impoverish/kill people more quickly than any possible probably provable climate threat, in this century at least.

    The deliberateness of any such climate mitigation policy as would possibly solve the problem, but certainly impoverish people, by carbon taxation for instance, would make such policy morally objectionable to counter a mere probability with. Even if runaway climate change were a certainty, there is no certainty that mitigation policy would solve the problem, yet it would begin damaging people to greater magnitude more immediately than the climate change itself.
    Thus there seems greater certainty that climate mitigation policy, as economically crippling, would increase the magnitude of human misery more quickly than climate catastrophe [albeit to lesser eventual magnitude if such climate catastrophe is both real and the mitigation policy proves effective], and moreover the negative policy effects are more immediately quantifiable and more politically accountable, whereas any positive policy effects would take centuries to manifest, far beyond the duration of applicable political mandates.

    Ken Barrows

    As theories go, aren’t they, in the strictest sense, either disproven or uncertain?

    I’ll admit that if CO2 ppm in the atmosphere continues to rise for 50 years and surface temperatures don’t, that would seem to disprove the anthropogenic theory of warming.

    If CO2 ppm rises and the temperature catches up, sure you can say that it’s not anthropogenic. The debate won’t matter much at that point, though.

    I think it’s whether humans have to adapt to observations in changes in many factors besides surface temperature: acidifying oceans, warming of deep oceans, loss of Arctic ice volume, thawing of permafrost.

    If it’s not science, it’s not science. We can ignore observations of the natural world and deal with possible consequences later. Society, on the whole, is deciding to take that risk right now.


    @ Ken Barrows

    Look, I don’t want to be that climate sceptic, but using what remains of the sound science of climatology and the logic of scientific hypothesis, we simply don’t know for certain and cannot yet disprove whether humans are causing the unusual rise in co2, whether this rise is causing global temperature to rise, comparable to the antropogenic theory of global warming, whether global temperature is really rising or still rising concurrent to the co2 rise, if this possible temperature rise is going to be a big problem we need to counter, and whether any mitigation policy will actually work to lessen the possible temperature rise at an acceptable cost before the 23rd century.

    The alternative theory to antropogenic global gravity remains tenable, albeit even less easily falsified, proposing that the co2 rise is a delayed effect of temperature rise, not the cause, and that the temperature rise is due to solar activity or the earth’s mantle warming up.

    All we know for certain is that co2 is rising in a very anomalous way according to paleo-atmospheric extrapolations, and has far overshot its normal flux for this interglacial period, which might indicate this interglacial period is about to end, one way or another.
    That >2° temp rise would be a problem for ecosystemic integrity and climate equilibrium does seem a reasonable assumption. We do know ecosystems have only small tolerance for lasting temperature changes, and so a rapid >2° temp rise would likely cause some mass extinction, but its less certain what the threshold for runaway global warming is. Instead of >2°, it might be >1,5° or even >4°. The models for this are deeply flawed.
    Given the envisioned catastrophe of >2° temp rise and the misguided zeal for preventing such rise at all costs in ecofanatic circles, desperate climate mitigation policy, such as proposed geoengineering projects, if implemented, could easily backfire catastropically, causing a new ice age or biospheric collapse, triggering a mass extinction with more certainty than moderate temperature rise.

    Oceanic acidification may be less damaging than expected, but if it becomes as severe as some marine biologists expect, it is indeed possible that the oceanic foodchain will collapse and mass extinctions of some magnitude will be triggered because of the extinction of hard-shelled calcifying creatures, possibly causing global climate change in some centuries when massive algae blooms begin sulfurous respiration. The great permian extinction may have involved this very mechanism.
    But atmospheric co2 has been much higher than now in past epochs without such acidification happening, or without causing oceanic foodchain collapse, for unclear reasons. Calcifying hard-shelled sea creatures which would be vulnerable didn’t go extinct in the cretaceaous with atmospheric co2 at somewhere between 500ppm and 2500ppm for many millions of years.

    Curbing human co2 exhaust in an economically damaging way, by cutting off energy resources or destructive carbon taxation, solely to limit atmospheric co2 rise because of the assumed relation with temperature rise, would be folly without being absolutely certain about the causal relation between co2 and temperature, or the sensitivity of such relation. In this regard, we believe there is scientific consensus that climatology can be upgraded to an exact science instead of dabbling in mysticism and geomancy.

    That was an important point in this article, that the expectation of having to cut off fossil fuel supplies by some asinine consensus treaty may already cause a carbon panic with greater economic damage than what could be reasonably expected from possible climate catastrophe in this century, and with more certainty.

    Now in the article, Im reading that one might supposedly calculate with confidence a 80% prob that temperature rise will remain below 2° if one leaves a certain amount of fossil fuels unburnt, or only 50% prob of <2° rise if some lesser quantity is left unburnt.

    Yet such calculations are only pretense, the margin of error here must be above 50% given the wrong sequence of known unknowns, disregarding the unknown unknowns. Its preposterous to formulate deliberately damaging policy based on the arbitrary coupling of variables in a partially invalidated model informed by partially disproven theories, I fear that these pseudo-scientific prognostications are the product of a politicised and delusional science dealing with unmodelable variables, but clearly being used to forward an ethically unsound utilitarian policy.

    I do advocate permaculture, relocalised food production, sensible freshwater usage, ecosystem preservation, lessening overfishing and deforestation and sustainable energy development that can provide prosperity. Most eco-friendly economic agendas are useful and profitable, up until the point of eco-fascism.

    And certainly I wish to avoid the danger of mass extinctions or biospheric collapse caused by any of our activities, only instead of focusing on climate, I quantify rogue genes, chemical and radioactive pollution, global thermonuclear war and such industrial byproducts as a greater threat to industrial civilization and life on earth right now.

    I’ve always found the oil companies reserve statements to be absurd, with the possible, probable and provable categories, but to cause deliberate scarcity of energy by imposing a new unburnable category seems hasty. Limiting carbon consumption in the proposed way, if no viable substitute for fossil fuels with comparable energy density is forthcoming, will only cause politically accountable energy scarcity and poverty with no accountable improvement in climate to be expected for many lifetimes.

    I do agree that much of the possible and probable categories of fossil reserves will be revealed as economically unviable even with no imposed limits to carbon appetite. But some say innovation in extraction technologies will triumph. Some years ago, the saudi oil minister optimistically mentioned that they’d dreg up the last oil molecules from their depleting fields with nanobots in the future.

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