"System change is now inevitable. Either because we do something about it, or because we will be hit by climate change. '...

"We need to develop economic models that are fit for purpose. The current economic frameworks, the ones that dominate our governments, these frameworks... the current economic frameworks, the neoclassical, the market frameworks, can deal with small changes. It can tell you the difference, if a sock company puts up the price of socks, what the demand for socks will be. It cannot tell you about the sorts of system level changes we are talking about here. We would not use an understanding of laminar flow in fluid dynamics to understand turbulent flow. So why is it we are using marginal economics, small incremental change economics, to understand system level changes?"

Monday, June 11, 2007

Coal is not the enemy of the human race

David Roberts, Grist's editor, has been banging this "coal is the enemy of the human race" drum, and as a Grist contributor I seem to be associated with it. It will be interesting to see if he lets me write a rebuttal. Apparently a fair number of people do read Grist and I'd hate to give up that soapbox, but on the other hand I think this meme is a disastrous error, both tactically and morally.

Update: David writes and graciously informs me that it is OK if we disagree, and hopes that nobody on Grist has to take responsibility for what everybody else writes. Fair enough. Now I have to write a Grist article on coal. Oh, well...

Certain coal interests have behaved very irresponsibly and I don't forgive them, but coal is a resource as well as a threat, and at this point we can't afford to take anything off the table.

In case you missed it, coal is a mineral. Minerals mean you no harm.

Pogo identified the real enemy long ago.


Hank Roberts said...

This may help:


WING, Scott L., Dept. Paleobiology, Smithsonian Institution, MRC121, Washington, DC 20560, wings@si.edu

The magnitude of the carbon isotope excursion (CIE) during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), and the extent of oceanic acidification at its onset, suggest >4500 Gt of carbon were released from a carbon reservoir that was isotopically moderately depleted (Zachos et al. 2005), possibly from burning or oxidation of Paleocene peat and/or coal (Kurtz et al. 2003). A continental scenario for the PETM includes: 1) extensive deposition of peat and coal during the middle Paleocene, 2) increased oxidation and/or burning of organic deposits such as those in the northern Rocky Mountain coal basins during the late Paleocene as uplift of mountains created a rain shadow, 3) global greenhouse warming and poleward shift of subtropical high pressure as a result of higher atmospheric pCO2, and, 4) rapid acceleration of peat/coal oxidation as global and regional climate change affected major mid- to high-latitude coal basins at the start of the PETM. The scenario is consistent with the timing of uplift and the onset of red-bed formation in the northern Rockies, with the inference of rapid drying at the base of the PETM from fossil leaves, and with the larger magnitude of the CIE in continental than marine carbon reservoirs. In contrast to clathrate or thermogenic methane scenarios for the PETM the continental scenario predicts a faster onset of the CIE in continental than in marine sections, and increased evidence for burning and/or oxidation of organic matter in major coal basins during the late Paleocene, with a peak at the beginning of the PETM.

J. C. Zachos et al., 2005, Science 308, 1611. A. C. Kurtz, et al., 2003, Paleoceanography 18, 1090.

Michael Tobis said...

Interesting, indeed, but not exactly on my point as far as I can tell.