"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, May 11, 2009

Peak All

It matters somewhat whether fossil fuels are used up before or after really major climate change cuts in. Peak oil seems to be in our future regardless, but there is some question about peak coal.

Climate change specialists in my experience scoff at the concept, but there is some talk here and there that we will run out of coal somewhere not too far in excess of the 500 ppmv that climate folks are hoping to see as the peak. (Yes, we are still saying 450, but you can discount that a tad.)

Here's the picture from somebody called the Energy Watch Group. (Sorry for the excruciating colors. I can't help noticing that fuel people have a uniformly dreadful sense of graphic design.)



In the Oil Drum report, Shaun Chamberlain of the Lean Economy Connection points out that, as with oil, the energy required to extract the material increases over time, but, as is less true of oil, the quality of the material also varies dramatically. Accordingly, the mass peak of coal happens some time after the energy peak. The peak energy extraction appears to be only 25 years in the future.

I have zero expertise to bring to bear on the question. It seems plausible either way.

After all, I've seen several arguments that holders of oil resources are motivated to exaggerate their reserves. (Kunstler's Long Emergency, which seems excessive in many places, is pretty compelling on this score.)

Actually, I hope this scenario is true, because rather than science having to convince the world to avoid scenarios that they have a hard time imagining, those scenarios simply wouldn't be accessible.

The upshot would be the same: we have to move off of carbon as quickly as possible.

The only case where the delayers have anything useful to say is the one where greenhouse sensitivity is extremely small compared to the conventional wisdom and where coal supplies are large compared to the conventional wisdom. So this possibility of peak coal just further weakens the argument against getting in gear to make the shift.

3 comments:

Dano said...

The upshot would be the same: we have to move off of carbon as quickly as possible. If these numbers are true, we are already behind as societal changes on this scale will likely take a generation, what with the asymmetric information, inertia, education system, built environment not ready to move to do this.

This is, I suspect, part of your motivation lately and I'm much more Kunstlerian than Tobisian in this regard.

Best,

D

(Word verification agrees with me, as it says 'duckmac')

Dano said...

Hmmm. Not sure how that formatting went south, apologies.

D

tidal said...

What's the word - symmetry? synchronicity?... the 'co'-incidence of so many issues is unnerving. Much more finely-tuned than we realized?

[Heh. It was gonna be a longer comment, but I twitterized it... 137 characters!]