It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Light After a Long Darkness

In the wake of the oil price spike, coal mining is being revived in marginal coal production areas.

Here's a cheerful article in the NYTimes about it.
But after decades of seemingly terminal decline, Japan’s coal country is stirring again. With energy prices reaching record highs — oil settled above $133 a barrel on Wednesday — Japan’s high-cost mines are suddenly competitive again, and demand for their coal is booming. Production has jumped to its highest in nearly four decades, creating a sensation rarely felt in these mining communities: hope.

“We are seeing a flicker of light after long darkness,” said Michio Sakurai, the mayor of Bibai, on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. “We never imagined coal would actually make a comeback.”
Appearing nowhere in the article are the words "climate", "warming" or "greenhouse".

Update: Fleck and Appell also noticed this story, pointing out that it is consistent with Appell's Theorem. (PS - Those who know me as "mt" please take note that I am not the "MT" who comments on Quark Soup.)

Appell's Theorem: Despite the worst threats to the planet, earthlings will burn whatever it is that keeps them warm.


8 comments:

tidal said...

The "isolation" of these data points is so frustrating/disconcerting...

We've got so many emergent and inter-connected problems... and the prevailing solution-sets seem so compartmentalized... Problem with acid rain? Here's the fix. Problem with ozone? Here's the patch. Problem with energy? GHG's? Use what worked last time!

On the one hand, given the timelines we have to deal with some of these issues, you have to go with the existing institutions and paradigms - particularly the toolkits w.r.t. economic incentives. On the other hand, I get this gnawing doubt that the existing institutions and paradigms aren't really up to the task. Systemically so.

And the general "appeal to historical solutions sets" approach is worrisome on its own. The scale of many of the current issues - energy, climate change, ocean health, water crunch - are potentially much larger than the earlier crises, and we seem to have moved them onto the policy agenda of "urgent threats" much later in the game... And there are disturbing signs on the horizon that there are going to be increasingly more balls to juggle... An article in Science just last week suggested that "active" nitrogen - drawn out of the atmosphere via Haber-Bosch and released into the environment - may eventually be as disruptive of displaced carbon...

I notice that Dano said something similar (and much more simply!) @ the QuarkSoup link, discussing our innate problems with apprehending/comprehending "scale". I think there are a lot of "assumption sets" out there underlying models that just aren't scaling to the problems...

Wish I had something more positive in response... although I did see a video with Thomas-Homer Dixon (another Canadian, mt!) recently - one of the ideas in his forthcoming book is the idea of "open architecture democracy" - 'taking what we have learned in the open source movement, and applying it to democratic problem solving'... he laments that the internet currently is a 'cacophony of narcissism'... but he looks at examples like wiki-architectures, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts... Anyhow, he seems to be thinking of ways out of the scale & inter-connectedness dilemmas... His talk is here. The whole talk is quite good. The discussion on using the internet for large-scale problem-solving starts @ 65:30... Would that really be practical?...

tidal said...

The "isolation" of these data points is so frustrating/disconcerting...

We've got so many emergent and inter-connected problems... and the prevailing solution-sets seem so compartmentalized... Problem with acid rain? Here's the fix. Problem with ozone? Here's the patch. Problem with energy? GHG's? Use what worked last time!

On the one hand, given the timelines we have to deal with some of these issues, you have to go with the existing institutions and paradigms - particularly the toolkits w.r.t. economic incentives. On the other hand, I get this gnawing doubt that the existing institutions and paradigms aren't really up to the task. Systemically so.

And the general "appeal to historical solutions sets" approach is worrisome on its own. The scale of many of the current issues - energy, climate change, ocean health, water crunch - are potentially much larger than the earlier crises, and we seem to have moved them onto the policy agenda of "urgent threats" much later in the game... And there are disturbing signs on the horizon that there are going to be increasingly more balls to juggle... An article in Science just last week suggested that "active" nitrogen - drawn out of the atmosphere via Haber-Bosch and released into the environment - may eventually be as disruptive of displaced carbon...

I notice that Dano said something similar (and much more simply!) @ the QuarkSoup link, discussing our innate problems with apprehending/comprehending "scale". I think there are a lot of "assumption sets" out there underlying models that just aren't scaling to the problems...

Wish I had something more positive in response... although I did see a video with Thomas-Homer Dixon (another Canadian, mt!) recently - one of the ideas in his forthcoming book is the idea of "open architecture democracy" - 'taking what we have learned in the open source movement, and applying it to democratic problem solving'... he laments that the internet currently is a 'cacophony of narcissism'... but he looks at examples like wiki-architectures, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts... Anyhow, he seems to be thinking of ways out of the scale & inter-connectedness dilemmas... His talk is here. The whole talk is quite good. The discussion on using the internet for large-scale problem-solving starts @ 65:30... Would that really be practical?...

Steven said...

The long trend of decarbonization is not inevitable. It does take a little effort in the right direction. If enough people for long enough time promote policies that make lower carbon options as viable, we will turn to higher carbon fuels.

There is another potential brightside, the increased pressure on oil *could* also lead to a shift to natural gas, which is an even lower carbon fuel.

My question for the eco team is, will you promote natural gas and nuclear? Because if you're just going to continue to object to whatever the frontrunner is (oil) then you may not like the substitutions people choose.

Michael Tobis said...

Coal is the main climate problem, not oil. Increasingly low EROEI fuels in general make matters worse and worse for the environment, but on the other hand the oil is not going to be around long enough to make climate change devastating. There seems to be plenty of coal, though.

Of course natural gas is the least bad of the fossil fuels, but if the supply turns out to be huge as a few people hope the carbon will keep piling up to dngerous levels, just a bit slower.

I personally doubt that we will reach a good outcome without nuclear and have always said so.

Steven, there is no "eco team".

Maybe that's part of the problem.

As I said recently, it's easier to build a political movement when you don't have to make uncomfortable concessions to reality.

Dano said...

There is another potential brightside, the increased pressure on oil *could* also lead to a shift to natural gas, which is an even lower carbon fuel.

Or the "eco team" could develop cost-effective solar and wind, and somehow the non-eco team could consume less, drive less, learn to conserve more, make conscious choices for the future, be thoughtful in their actions, demand efficiencies, etc.

Best,

D

Steven said...

Michael, of course you are right there is no "eco team". I was out of town, using someone else's laptop and just hopped on for a moment. I was just using shorthand.

I still rarely see people advocate nuclear and NG OVER oil and coal. I think this is essentially cowardice.

It is very easy to be against the Exxon Cigar Smoking Fat Cat Oil Tycoon team. It's easy to be against a cartoonish enemy. Without completely articulating a *Positive* position, everyone can be comfortable and happy in the big tent.

If someone on the AGW/"eco team" side comes out and says "2 new nuclear plants in every state", I think a lot of their former followers will flip their lids, and feel betrayed.

Standing united against something keeps people from having to articulate a positive position. Articulation is where things get tricky.

And Dano- be sure and let me know when that wind and solar is ready.

I just listened to Robert Redford and Bobby Kennedy in super surround sound IMAX 3D tell me that we're running out of water- that's just an off topic BTW.

bi -- IJI said...

Steven:

"It's easy to be against a cartoonish enemy."

Actually "cartoonish" is a better description for the conspiracy to create a New International Economic Order (NIEO) as orchestrated by Al Gore, Margaret Thatcher, Third World kleptocrats, James Hansen, the UN, and the British Royal Court.

* * *

Dano:

"somehow the non-eco team could consume less, drive less, learn to conserve more, make conscious choices for the future"

But Dano, that'll be a communist thing to do! The correct, non-communist thing to do is for the "eco team" to promote Just One Energy Source above everything else, and for the "non-eco team" to just continue doing whatever crappy thing they've been doing.

As Stephen Colbert tells us, fighting global warming is fighting a war, when we're in a war, the citizens of America are called upon to Not Sacrifice.

-- bi, International Journal of Inactivism

Dano said...

Frank:

My GF, very likely at the pinnacle of her (virnmintul) field, a real mover, nonetheless is amazingly adept and adroit at instantly making excuses for not changing behaviors.

In my mind, it's a psychological thing. A handful of different psychological things, but the fraction of the population subject to these things is a large majority. And they will be convinced in different ways, or not. IOW: a monumental challenge, not addressed by one thing, one strategy, one fun phrase.

Best,

D