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Richard Alley - We Can Afford Clean Energy

Posted on 29 April 2012 by dana1981

Re-posted from Climate Crocks, an excellent video showing Richard Alley debunking the myths Renewable energy is too expensive and CO2 is not a pollutant in one fell swoop.  This video is well worth watching:

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 74:

  1. Dr. Alley is certainly one of my climate heroes. Of course, some skeptics, aligned as they are with funding from the Koch Brothers and others, will try to hold on to their fossil fuel based world as long as they can. Human...all too human.
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  2. Richard Alley compares apples to oranges as water resources are moved (largely by gravity and the freely provided hydrology cycle) from one place to another: water and sewer systems are diversions.

    CO2 and other waste gases in the atmosphere have no place to be removed to and the means to remove them does not exist.

    Instead, the source of the gases must be replaced: the sewer equivalent is that no human waste shall be produced! Neat trick and not cheap. What would replace for water in a waste removal regime? Neat trick number-two and not cheap, either.

    What to do with the clean (replacement) energy? This is never mentioned but assumed: the running of billions of cars, the freeways and subdivisions that girdle the world, the office and retail parks; the jet vacations, vacation 'homes'; the import of millions of shipping containers filled with poisoned Chinese dog/child food, the eating hamburgers and 'shakes' bought in drive throughs, the watching of teevee and holding down of luxury marketing jobs ... where young, stylish hipsters lounge in lofts or massive concrete towers sending emails to others just like them ...

    How do solar panels make new solar panels ... or can they? (No, polycrystaline and other photovoltaic materials are dependent upon high order fossil fuels and installation/grid is entirely petroleum dependent).

    It's not so much that the (insert misleading argument here) gadgets are unaffordable, it is that they do not return any value and as a consequence cannot be funded with credit. It is self-evident that the absence of value within the industrial enterprise as a whole is responsible for its ongoing and accelerating bankruptcy, at this point including the destruction of economies of entire countries including the largest ones: not to escape the holocaust are the precious greenwashing evasion which cannot afford themselves or anything else.

    Nothing works but stringent conservation at all levels: the outcome of all the current regime of tactics and evasions is conservation by other means, the stripping out of all credit and the reduction of all wealth to the worth of associated debts = zero.

    Time is running short: Greece is gone into the abyss, Spain is on the sled, France and now China are on the ramp behind Spain. You can run but you cannot hide. There are mercifully no nuclear reactors in Greece, there are 112 in both France and (bankrupt) Japan.

    The argument presented here ignores economic realities: all industrial enterprises are credit-dependent including creation of water and sewer systems, solar panels, windmills, reactors of every type, 'green' cars, etc. What is bankrupt is the entire waste-based economy from top to bottom: anyone suggesting that such a thing can be preserved with low-cost adjustments at the margins is a liar or a fool.

    [-inflammatory snipped-] Thank you!
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  3. Steve @ 2

    These two problems have the same end result – excess human waste. He is not suggesting changing the sewer system. They have different causes; therefore they need their own solutions. The answer to human waste was to have an efficient system to remove it from populated areas. The answer to excessive carbon production is to reduce the amount being produced. If you do that effectively, it will not need to be removed from the atmosphere.

    The last paragraphs sound like you may be discussing the failure of capitalism… not sure though. A renewable based planet will be far more efficient and sustainable than carbon fuels regardless of the state of the economy or economic structure.
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  4. Steve @2
    Alley's argument is that the cost, as a fraction of GDP, of installing a sewage system is in the same ballpark as William Nordhaus's estimate of the cost of the "economically optimal path". Even though I don't think Nordhaus is either a "liar or a fool" I do think his optimal path is far too slow, so I would assume that the pace of change away from fossil fuels that I think is necessary would cost more than 1% of GDP.

    Job #1 in the climate crisis is not waste removal but drastically slowing down the rate of waste CO2 emissions.

    In all honesty, I can't make much sense of most of your post and I hope that your economic analysis turns out to be alarmist. I don't understand, for example, what you mean by the "waste-based economy" or by questions like "How do solar panels make new solar panels ... or can they?".

    Alley isn't greenwashing, he's trying to argue that there's hope that we can prevent the worst happening. Anger and despair are natural reactions to the mess we are in but yielding to those emotions won't result in better outcomes.

    What do you propose we do?
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  5. Although Skeptical Science is my preferred source for climate science information, I have found Climate Crocks to be required reading, not so much for its climate science reportage, but for its reportage on alternative energy. I read it with interest not just because its so timely, but because, frankly, the news is so good on the alt energy front. Although its easy to get glum when considering inaction on AGW, when you read about all the advances in alt energy its a real shot of optimism. We really live in kind of a golden age for this kind of innovation. And, it seems, nowhere is the news as good as in solar PV. In any case, to respond to something 'steve from virginia' said (#2): "photovoltaic materials are dependent upon high order fossil fuels". Not really. PV is reduced sand. It requires a lot of energy, but that energy could easily come from... solar PV.
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  6. The video above comes from a TV series called, Earth: The operators Manual. While,regrettably, I have not seen the series, I have read the companion book of the same title. I highly recommend it.

    In it, Dr Alley writes:
    "Overall, hard-nosed real economic science, as applied by real economists in a classically economic approach, finds that a measured response to global warming is economically justified now (or, more accurately, is already overdue). This is not a big attack on global warming; in the Norhhaus optimization, CO2 rises to 685 ppm in 2100, almost 2.5 times the preindustrial level, with estimated warming in the model of 5.6 F (3.1 C for 2100 and 9.5 F for 2200 (5.3 C) relative to temperature in 1900. The optimal path invests $2 trillion to stop $5 trillion in damages, but damages totaling $17 trillion are allowed to happen. Note that all of these trillion-dollar figures are in "present value" - discounted from the future - so they represent much more money in the future."

    (pp 193-194)

    In the next chapter he continues:
    "The optimal economic path outlined in chapter 15 would cost well under 1 percent of the world economy per year, with benefits outweighing the costs. But that parth allowed a lot of warming to occur. Enhanced national security, insurance against disasters, and fairness to others were among the additional arguments that favored more action sooner.

    Several groups ... have attempted to estimate the costs of stabilizing the climate while still supplying abundant energy. These estimates generally ignore the benefits of avoiding climate change and present only the costs. Those costs depend a lot on how rapidly the stabilization is made. For plans that stop the warming at no more than a few degrees within a few decades, costs generally are in the neighborhood of 1 percent of the world's economy (gross domestic product, or GDP)."

    (pp 209-210)

    Later in the chapter he writes:
    "This [sewage] system is far form free. The Organisaton for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated the cost of clean water for its members (much of the "developed world") in 2002 as roughly 0.5 to 2.4 percent of household income, with the costs in the United States being the lowest. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office produced an even lower estimate for the United States, with sewer and water bills accounting for 0.5 percent of household income, but noted that investment in the system was inadequate and that growth of expenditure to 0.6 to 0.9 percent of household income would be required to maintain the infrastructure.

    Connecting a new house to sewer and water systems, or installing a well and septic system, often accounts for notably more than 1 percent of the construction costs - rates vary hugely, but where I live, simply connecting the plumbing already in a new house to the sewer and water accounts for 3 percent of the typical home price. The pipes and toilets in the house cost a good bit of money, and so do the toilets at the office or the stadium, and the porta-potties at the local soccer fields. Plumbers to install and repair the system also cost money. A reasonable estimate is that the cost of our sewer-water system is similar to, or a bit higher than, the estimated cost of solving energy and global warming , representing something like 1 percent of the world economy."

    (p 217, Emphasis added.)

    So, contrary to Steve from Austin, the analogy between CO2 emissions and the "terrible shower" is the economic cost of doing something about it.

    Given the nature of Steve's political rant, he is unlikely to be convinced by a 'self-identified registered Republican and "right of center" political ideology' (Morris Ward, review at Amazon). But the fact remains that most of the economic and technical developments over the 20th century were inconceivable to those in the 19th century. That a problem appears insurmountable is no reason to believe that it is, and much less reason to stop trying to find a solution.

    What is more, and contrary to Steve, the problem of global warming only seems insurmountable politically. Technically it is already within our grasp. Unfortunately we are afflicted by a policy paralysis by those who for ideological reasons cannot accept either that there is a problem, or a way forward.
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  7. Andy S @ Nordhaus approach would cost 3.2% of world GDP for a single year, but much less than that of the GDP over many years. More ambitious schemes, which I believe are necessary, will cost around 1% annually. It is the later that are directly comparable to the annual cost of modern sewage systems.

    Of course, we had better not point this out to the Republican right. If they learn of that, they may well demand the end of "... the stifling regulation on sewage disposal that has caused the current economic in these United States" (fake quote for parody only).
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  8. Tom, yes, it's more than likely I got my numbers muddled.

    It's interesting to compare 1% of GDP for combating climate change with the shares of GDP allocated to defence or healthcare.
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  9. I want to respond to Steve's pessimism about conversion to sustainable energy.

    First, I don't know that we need to go to a zero carbon footprint....some level of use of fossil fuels/liquid hydrocarbons seems possible. After all, the carbon balance at present shows we're soaking up 1/2 current emissions. I haven't checked on how much goes into the ocean vs the biosphere via photosynthesis and how much is taken up by rock weathering...but some fraction of our current consumption is possible long term.

    Second, mass transportation, both individual and collective is possible with renewable electric sources. What is more difficult are mining/excavating machinery and aviation. Here biodiesel and conservation are important.

    But, it's not a trivial exercise. I learned an interesting pair of facts last week: The waste heat contained in the slag from steel production is on the order of 2 Terawatts. The largest single windturbine made by one supplier I paid a call on is 6 Megawatts. The heat contained in the slag does not count the heat contained in the steel...another matter. To account for the slag alone requires over 300,000 windturbines. You can choose to believe this is an impossible number...or you can rub your hands gleefully together and see a great business opportunity in manufacturing, sales, installation and maintenance...(althought they are designing these things for 20+ years of maintenance free operation).

    Using one estimate I've seen at $13/W for the 6Megawatt windfarm, it would cost $153 Billion, to cover the waste heat from the slag. It seems to me that we easily have military expenditures on that magnitude each year.... so over the span of say 50 years, we could (if siting permits) install something like 100 Terewatts of windpower.

    As for solar.... I've visited the Evergreen solar plant while it was operating in Massachusetts... the silicon ribbons were draw from electrically heated furnaces. There was no direct liquid fuel use anywhere in the plant. Heat for every upstream stage of the process that I can think of short of mining can be done w/o liquid fuels.

    The analogy to sewers and sanitation is I think apt. What was considered an impossible expense back then is routine now. We absorbed it into our economies.

    Personally, I like our global civilization. I suspect that a major factor in the sustained relative peace we have is the increased standard of living. I want to keep as much of this as possible. As a technologist I don't believe in magic solutions...but between conservation, appropriate use, some lifestyle adjustments...I think it can be done.
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  10. I fully concur with Richard Alley that renewables can be made competitive in many contexts with fossil fuels. However, I also have some reservations, and although steve from virginia raises some seemingly controversial (and abstruse) ideas, he is pointing to at least one elephant in the room that is directly relevant to the matter of energy substitution.

    To put it in context:

    1) humans have in a blink of an evolutionary eye tapped what is perhaps the most energy-dense source of fuel in the solar system that is easily avilable

    2) with this staggering glut of exquisitely finite energy we humans have essentially remodelled our global habitat, and pushed our numbers to full exploitation of this glut without thought for its finiteness

    3) the aforementioned finiteness is easily (and increasingly) demonstrated by a simple consideration of high-school level geometric mathematics

    4) the energy density of fossil carbon cannot be matched by any renewable source in terms of scale.

    Taking the last point first, for renewble fuels to be in any way able to functionally replace fossil fuels, they would require extensive deployment both in terms of resources to manufacture the equipment to capture and to store the energy, and in the context of modifying the environment further in order to garner the necessary area with which to harness the energy in the first place (remember, we are talking about what is directly or indirectly diffuse solar energy).

    This is fine so far, in terms of Alley's correct commentary on the basic technical feasibility, but there are several further considerations that need to be accounted for. First, the second law of thermodynamics dictates that there is an energy cost in converting the harvested energy into a storable form, and that there is an additional cost in subsequently using it. Humans currently do not pay that cost with fossil fuels because it was paid over hundreds of millions of years of fossil carbon formation. Second, the very infrastructure for capturing our current level of energy use requires an energy investment, and the energy return on energy invested (ERoEI) for renewables is not nearly as high as it has been for most of the time that technological society developed using fossil carbon.

    So, even more energy will be needed to be sourced than is currently used by humans.

    Now, do we aim to supply current levels of Western energy use to future non-'developed' nations? Think carefully about this, because global warming and energy red-lines are both just links in a greater chain of unsustainability that humans are facing. Even if we magically replace all of our energy needs, and halt warming at today's current commitment, the world still faces many ecological crises built on past usage patterns. And if we try to energise the rest of the world to current Western standards, the resulting pressure on the environment will only increase, and exponentially.

    Imagine eight or nine billion people using the planet as the richest two billion currently do. Imagine that they're doing so using the intensive renewable energy technologies and resource requirements that would be necessary to sustain so much energy input.

    How will it all fit on the planet?

    The simple fact is that it won't, and getting back to my first paragraph, although renewables are potentially cheaper in the near future and on the small scale, compared to fossil carbon, that would change if we tried to globalise them. Renewables are a first step in a much greater change that needs to occur, and that needs to occur principly in the First World.

    Dave123 likes our civilisation. Personally, I myself am also quite fond of many of its achievements. However, the fundamental issue has nothing to do with what we like, it has to do with numbers. Dave also says that as a "technologist" he doesn't believe in "magic solutions", but the current approach to renewables (and to nuclear, when the microscope is appropriately trained on it) still involves magical thinking - even amongst those who should know that there are thermodynamic implications underpinning the whole story.

    The fact is, modern industrial society was built on a one-off energy bang that cannot be replicated. Even if technology were to be able to do so, it's almost certain that we've already left it far to late to ensure the transition - not to mention that we've squandered on frivolities too much of the energy that would have been necessary for establishing a future global sustainable-energy infrastructure. And in the process we've overbred and over-FUBARed our planetary life-support system.

    This is not to say that the future isn't in sustainable energy. If we are to have a future, of course we must go down that path. But as my favourite curmudgeon Albert Bartlett irrepressably points out, it cannot be done at the level of energy/resource use per person that we have currently enjoyed in the West.

    It just can't. When all of the numbers are accounted for, it is simply not possible to sustain the present level of human energy/resource use, let alone to increase it. Yes, it might be possible to have some high-technology in the future, but the penalty will be an enormous downgrading for the average planetary citizen.

    Of course, we've shown no inclination to choose this voluntarily, so it's likely that thermodynamics will impose the necessity on us. Peak Oil, with its resultant knockings-on of increasing unemployment, diminishing of funding for expensive domains in science, art, and social weal - teetering economies in general - are the present manifestation of the inexorable tapping on our collective human shoulder that thermodynamics wants us to pay our entropy debt.

    Our baulking about addressing climate change is, sadly, a part of our procrastination in responding to an even more profound challenge to society. The former is no less important than the latter, but if both are to be affectively addressed it will require some brutal honesty on everyone's part, and this includes those with the best technological solutions - we need to go right back to the basic laws of physics, given that we've painted a planet into a corner and physics now dictates the only way out.
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  11. Bernard J#10: "the energy density of fossil carbon cannot be matched..."

    Your point is valid if we think only of 'energy density' in classical terms of kiloWatt-hours per cubic meter of source material. Renewables don't necessarily lend themselves to that metric. Think instead in terms of 'energy yield,' a measure of kWh per square meter of surface dedicated to producing that energy.

    And that leads to another point you raise:

    "How will it all fit on the planet?"

    In the full ETOM video, Alley shows that solar/photovoltaic potential alone is a staggering multiple of demand, but he does not fully address the land area requirements of 'harvesting' that low yield crop.

    A study of photovoltaic systems by Denholm and Margolis 2008 showed that energy yield varies considerably with site location and with array deployment. They derive a range of 100-450 m^2 per person per year as "the PV land area needed to meet 100% of an average U.S. citizen’s electricity demand." Their recommendation was to use 'zero-impact' surface area such as rooftops,

    a national average of about 65 m^2 of rooftop area available per person in the U.S. Assuming flat deployment, this number would imply that rooftop PV deployment alone could provide around two-thirds of the nation’s electricity supply.

    Not a bad start, particularly in this context:

    Golf courses and airports each currently occupy about 35 m^2 per person in the United States
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  12. Bernard,

    I feel like I'm listening to Climate Denialist. For me it isn't sufficient to wave thermodynamics around. I've pointed out that for a fraction of our military expenditures (153 out off around 700 million) we could build SOA windturbines for about 2 terawatts of energy per year...or 100 terawatts over 50 years.

    I generally prefer primary sources to Wikipedia but

    In 2008, total worldwide energy consumption was 474 exajoules (474×1018 J=132,000 TWh). This is equivalent to an average energy consumption rate of 15 terawatts (1.504×1013 W).[1] The potential for renewable energy is: solar energy 1600 EJ (444,000 TWh), wind power 600 EJ (167,000 TWh), geothermal energy 500 EJ (139,000 TWh), biomass 250 EJ (70,000 TWh), hydropower 50 EJ (14,000 TWh) and ocean energy 1 EJ (280 TWh).[6]

    Nothing here looks out of reach to me, thermodynamic losses factored in.

    Please submit references and papers... that's what I hope for from SkS.
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  13. @#10, 11 and 12: The fundamental error here is decontextualizing the issue. It's not just about energy. It's also equally about finite resources, and the list is long. Discussing joules outside of that context isn't all that useful.

    2. When discussing energy you have to deal with fungibility. Oil is the single most fungible energy source on the planet. It's truly magical. There are massive losses in terms of what other energies cannot do, and this must be factored in. It will take many more resources to do what oil does.

    When are we - humanity - going to get around to never decontextualizing the problems we face except when actually designing details?

    Within the broader context.
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  14. While it is easy to talk about m2 of solar panels per person, this becomes a frightening prospect with the worlds population set to at least triple in the next hundred years.

    At what point is the fact that more humans equals more human caused global warming going to be considered?

    From what i see all solutions tend to assume the current population level will remain, and do not incorporate population growth into the solutions.
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  15. "at least triple"?? UN estimate is 10.1 billion by 2100. Where does your estimate come from?

    But, yes, I do agree with IPAT formula (Impact = Population * Affluence * Technology).
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  16. Muoncounter.

    When I said "How will it all fit on the planet?" I was speaking in terms covering more than just the business of renewable energy production. It's what we do with all of our energy usage that is more to the point - energising those post-energy production processes is just a part of the problem.


    You've listed several large numbers, but that doesn't mean that they would mesh to give a product that would sustain a continuance of current Western society, especially if it were to be extended in the future to the 'Other 80%'.

    Here's an exercise for you.

    1) For each country of the world list the amount of energy used per capita for (a)transport; for (b) heating/lighting/other household power; and (c) for food, for other consumables, and for infrastructure manufacturing* and maintenance/replacement.

    2) For each of these countries, calculate how much can be supplied by renewables within their own borders, in a fashion that does not threaten the ecological intregrity of the respective nations. In conducting this calculation, partition the renewable energy into the three broad fields listed in the previous point, and include all of the process losses in converting renewable energy into a form that is employable for each of those broad fields.

    3) Where renewable energy cannot be supplied within a nation's own borders, or where the resources for converting raw garnered energy into a storable and usable form are not available within a nation's own borders, determine how and where the shortfall will be addressed.

    4) Once you are satisfied that you can fuel current Western enterprise indefinitely into the future (I would love to see such numbers...), turn you gaze to the downstream consequences of current energy supply. At current (and extrapolated, based on further industrialisation) trajectories of global resource use, how will water resources respond to humans persisting with our current energy use? Topsoil? Fisheries? Forestry? And what about that more abstract notion - biodiversity? How will biosphere feedings-back affect our global extraction of natural resources? As an example there's a disturbing indication that oceanic plankton stocks are decreasing in response to human chemical and thermal impact on the marine environment. Do you understand how, in this example alone, the trophic cascades will operate? Do you understand how the numbers above will be affected by such ecosystem changes?

    I've collated a lot of the numbers for all of the above myself, but I think that this is an exercise best left to the individual, at least in the context of this discussion, so that those who are not familiar with the system-level significance might actually learn to comprehend the issue. Down the track I hope to summarise some of the figures as quantities in tables and graphs - if I don't first come across others' work showing the same sort of things.

    Please, and I am earnest in this, take the time to actually learn about and compare the numbers yourself. Don't just look at a list of big numbers, because they are static and disconnected values that do nothing to inform about the overall situation. Remember, this is about thermodynamics, and the 'dynamic' part of the equation seems to be too often swept over in the discussion, to the detriment of the overall conclusion derived from such cursory considerations.

    [*Note: in this category I include mineral extraction. As humans exhaust the most easily sources for each and every mineral that we use, more energy will be expended to extract material from ever-decreasing quality of substitute sources. Your calculations for (c) should account for the future increasing energetic cost of mining ever-poorer sources of minerals, and for process replacement where it simply becomes impossible to sustain a particuar mining enterprise under the cost of ever-diminishing returns).]
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  17. Dave123 - I would be curious about your source for:
    "The waste heat contained in the slag from steel production is on the order of 2 Terawatts. The largest single windturbine made by one supplier I paid a call on is 6 Megawatts. The heat contained in the slag does not count the heat contained in the steel...another matter."

    "contained" is perhaps not the best choice of words. Nor is a Terawatt a measure of energy. MECS data for energy use in steel production (cost of mining and transporting materials; energy conversion in raw product; and energy for processing) looks good to me and 2003 figures would work out at around 13GJ/tonne. A 1.5MW turbine might weigh 60 tonne. It should generate the energy cost of create it in 145 hours of generation.
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  18. Realist#14: "more humans equals more human caused global warming..."

    On the surface, that statement seems to make sense. However, it is rooted in correlation-implies-causation. Blaming it on people is a dead end - and off-topic for this thread.

    An industrial society that grew up enjoying profligate fossil fuel use without regard for its waste products is a more sensible cause for warming. It is the fear of a threat to this lifestyle - and fear is exactly what the deniers exploit - that results in the 'we can't afford' anything different response.

    Bernard J#16: "It's what we do with all of our energy usage that is more to the point"

    Consider this: we don't have lots of time to debate the changeover from fossils to renewables before the wheels start to come off. I live in a state where summers bring rolling brownouts when generator operators find that their cooling water ponds are too hot - and the same plants are shut down in winter when their water intake pipes freeze. If we continue to do nothing while we debate the end game, these problems will only grow more severe and more frequent.

    This makes shifting the discussion to a reorganization of energy consumption by society at large seem like a luxury.
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  19. Realist and others who discuss population factors,

    Washington/Cook "Climate change denial" book on the right margin actually discusses the overpopulation problem as one of the topic of the denial. Reread the appropriate chapter and the references therein.

    Essentially, the sustainability experts quoted state, that with current population of 6-7bilion can sustain current level of comfort with some behavioural adjustment, with all natural sources 100% renewable. The mandatory condition is population stabilisation at current levels. Denial of that condition is, according to authors, equal the denial of AGW reality: stabilisation of climate in particular and sustainability in general is impossible without population stabilisation.
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  20. Chriskoz,
    So believing we have too many people for a healthy earth means that person is a climate change denier?

    As you state sustainability is possible with the current population.

    However that is not a meaningful assessment because population is growing at a greater rate than ever with 14 plus billion to be added in the next hundred years. So either the solutions need to consider 21 to 30 billion with a higher average standard of living than today as the energy requirement to be achieved, or controls on the population level to keep it to current levels, or reduce it from here.
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  21. Muoncounter.

    I absolutely concur that time is of the essence in restructuring the energy/resource use of Western society. And it frustrates me that we're still at the stage of 'debating' the future inevitable trajectories of energy/resource use, as much as denialists have already successfully wrought delay by fomenting a faux debate about the facts of climate physics.

    There is nothing to say though that we should take our eye off the ball at the other end of the field, whilst we dodge and weave around obstacles in order to reach it. Yes, move to renewables as quickly and as widely as possible. Yes, use nuclear where necessary (but don't imagine that it's a panacæ, any more than renewables are).

    And at the same time acknowledge that we have to do business differently tomorrow than how we do it today, or we won't be doing much business at all the day after, even though a lot of us might have shiny new PVs on our roofs...

    Put simply, the 'where' of tomorrow's energy is not mutually exclusive of the 'how much'. What I'm trying to point out is that the problem is greater than just from where we're sourcing our energy.

    I'm against the use of cherry picking and magical thinking in the denial of 'greenhouse' gas warming. As scientists we have an understanding of the import of climate physics, so we know what looms if the problem is not addressed.

    And even though trophic cascades - and biosystems dynamics in general - are that much more complex, that same scepticism with which we analyse climatological matters should be applied to the subject of planetary energy use: of ecological thermodynamics as it were.

    Concentrating only on shifting to renewables, without simultaneously balancing the global energy budget, will simply be akin to building just one bypass on a coast-to-coast highway - the traffic congestion will simply be moved to the next town, and in the case of energy and resource use, that next town is just over the hill. Not accounting for it now is skirting toward the same magical thinking and cherry-picking that we despise in warming deniers, and it won't be many more years into the future before our children, with the benefit of 20/290 hindsight, compare such optimistic sidelining of overall energy use with the current business/government optimism about 'clean coal' - a strategy that allows us too easily to take our eyes away from that ball...
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  22. Chriskoz.

    I'm not quite sure what your point is, and I don't have Hadyn's and John's book, so I'd be interested to see you rephrase your posting.

    However, if your point is that we can keep 7 or 8 billion people on the planet indefinitely, just by promoting behaviours such as separating the recycling and installing low-wattage fluorescents, then sorry, but no hope.

    The only way that upwards of 7 billion people could live sustainably on Earth (that is, for centuries or longer) would be if the very great majority lived at a subsistence level about that of, say, agricultural "peasants"*. Many workers have demonstrated as much, and it's quite likely that even at this level of resource use we'd need to actually depopulate a little over time, as 20th century fossil carbon use has caused us to overshoot the pre-Industrial Revolution global population four or five times, or so.

    The "current level of comfort", if you are referring to Western comfort, is not sustainable, even for just the privileged Western population, and even if we somehow had all of our energy requirements replaced with renewables overnight.

    Of course, you needn't take my word for it. Hang around for thirty or fourty years and see for yourself.

    [*The disparagement with which "subsistence" agriculture is regarded by the West is a cringeing cultural affectation that will rapidly evaporate in the near future. If there were an index of Western disregard for "peasantry", that index would likely mirror the drop in the future rate of fossil fuel use.]
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  23. Moving back more toward the original post, another sewer analogy that is relevant here is that of distributed networking.

    In population-dense areas it makes sense to connect household waste disposal into a single system. In a more rural region it is far better (that is, both cheaper and more productive) to process human waste with what is really quite basic technology. I've seen more than one sparsely populated local council jurisdiction try to 'modernise', at great expense to everyone and with no practical benefit.

    Similarly, distributed energy generation has many advantages, especially away from heavily populated areas. Fortunately, this notion is much more widely accepted - and I can't help but wonder how much the modern Western "yuck" response to poo is behind the difference...
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  24. Suggested reading:

    Taking Action On Climate And Clean Energy In 2012: A Menu Of Effective And Feasible Solutions” by Jason Walsh and Kate Gordon, Climate Progress, Apr 26, 2012
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  25. ScaddenP-

    My sources cut right into my professional life...which for a variety of reasons I need to keep separated from my interest in climate science. I've corresponded with one party here in a professional capacity, and I have no problem with sharing off list. On list would leave clues.

    I'm not sure who has my direct contact information, but I'd be happy to share if you care to contact me that way.
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  26. Bernard,

    I've got a conference paper in preparation with a deadline this week. I can only afford so much diversion, and responding to you requires serious respectful work.

    I'm more optimistic about some things than others. The part I'm less optimistic about is our ability to move towards self-restraint. Without that neither technical solutions nor population control will suffice.
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  27. Realist - "population is growing at a greater rate than ever with 14 plus billion to be added in the next hundred years."

    This is at odds with both UN and US Census projections. To take this seriously, please supply your source.
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  28. Dave123 - Talking about the embodied energy of slag is a very strange idea given the normal ways of doing such calculations as was the use of Terawatts (TWh perhaps?). Since it is at odds with reasonable published calculations, I want to see the working.

    I am easy to find on net - I am Phil Scadden working for GNS Science.
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  29. Scandenp
    To just quote UN as your source without any specifics is no improvement on my statement and merely pontificating. But the specific number is not the issue, and in any event it is a projection that will deviate from actual. And projections will differ depending on source. So the actual number is rather academic. The issue is that everyone knows or should know that the population will be enormously higher than the present day, but the solutions are invariably based on today's population level. Which is wrong.
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  30. Dave123
    Probably an easier starting point is the coal to iron ore ratio ie a basic heat and mass balance. It used to be about 2 coal to 1 iron ore, but its about 1 to 1 with modern blast furnaces, depending on many variables. However a credit against the heat in the slag could taken if the slag was used in concrete to reduce cement content.
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  31. What is the issue with the slag? Why not use it to heat water either to preheat water entering a boiler, or to boil the water initially, and in either way recover the heat for power generation?
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  32. @31
    Slag is a lumpy viscous crusty molten mess, a bit like lava, and solidifies on cooling. It's not easy to handle and to attempt to pump it and pass it through heat exchangers would result in an almost instantaneous blockage. Ie cooling means solidifying.
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  33. Realist - I dont disagree with your general drift but I think you are overly pessimistic.

    My sources are: UN and US Census.

    While projection is difficult there is an enormous difference between population increasing by 3B and your estimate of 14B which you still havent provided a source for.
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  34. @33
    I don't have the source at hand, but it was based on the population increasing slightly more than 3 fold over the 20th century, and today's growth rate is not far removed from that trend. While I agree it is a higher end estimate, lower estimates are premised on assumptions that circumstances and human behaviour will change. In many ways it's hope for the best and plan for the worst. In that regard carefully monitor the current trend and project at that rate.
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  35. Realist @31, I grew up in mining towns. I know what slag is. I've even played on slag heaps, and worked in smelters and power plants.

    It is perfectly possible run slag along a channel in its molten state, and run water in pipes above the slag to pick up heat. It would be important to ensure the length of the channel is such that the slag does not solidify before reaching the end of the channel, however, at the end you can run it down a steep channel (so that it continues to fall if solidified) which ends in a drop into water to recover the remaining heat. It may be necessary to use a water spray to ensure the slag is solidifies during the drop. A conveyor "belt" can run through the water to take the solidified waste up out of the water and away for disposal. Hot water in the tank could be circulated to preheat entering the boiler.

    None of this is technically difficult, and the technical problems are ones which are solved already in disposing of slag, or in using the lumpy solid called "coal" in boilers (and disposing of the even lumpier clinkers that result from burning coal in a boiler).

    There is a significant question as to whether it is economically feasible, but if it is not, it is only because the cost of the energy going into the slag, and hence to waste, is low.
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  36. @35
    Much of the heat content in slag is due to the solid to liquid formation which is not recovered in the channel system. The percentage heat recovery is low, and thus restricts viability. Not impossible, but a fair way down on the list of potential solutions.
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  37. Dave123

    The part I'm less optimistic about is our ability to move towards self-restraint.

    I wholeheartedly concur.

    The fact is, if we'd taken Kyoto seriously, and acted on the advice of science then, we'd probably have a far more prosperous global economy than we have now, and one that was actually moving to a real sustainability. The window's not entirely shut, but squeezing through it now would require an Indiana Jones level of acrobatics.


    On the matter of eventual maximum population I have to agree with the general estimate of a peak around 9 to 10 billion. Growth curves were my bread and butter for 4 years, and even aside from the geometry of the growth trajectory there are resource limitations and disease issues that strongly suggest that humans don't have much relative overshoot left above today's population.

    Having said that, an extra few billion people on the planet at a time in the not-too-distant future, when we probably won't adequately have sorted out our climate and energy issues is still no laughing matter.
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  38. @37
    Speaking more locally, Australia has 21 million and the capacity to feed about 40 million. It is also forecast by the government to have a population of 40 million by 2050, despite the current trajectory being in excess of 40 million by then. Which means australia goes from a major exporter of food to a nett importer of food. There goes sustralias second biggest export industry. Where the import of food will come from is not considered by the government, nor is the food supply for those overseas currently eating Australian food. And this is before farm land is converted to bio diesel crops or tree farms for carbon capture. Additionally all major states in Australia have desalination plants for water supply. And desal is energy hungry. So will be difficult to address climate change in the future when there are other pressing problems caused by an expanding population, and we have seen how the GFC distracts from climate change. there is also the embodied co2 in providing infrastructure for an expanded population.
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  39. Realist, remember that projection for lower population growth are based on the observed trends in declining fertility. This is discussed in the reports behind those projections.
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  40. Bernard j
    While we use the metric of CO2 per person, there is no disadvantage for a country to increase its population. Which masks the fact as you point out, how will we all fit.
    I would like to think we has the intelligence to control our population instead of waiting for nature to step in and control it for us, but the only creature with such sense is a lemming, and unfortunately that lemming behavior is a myth.
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  41. Via a comment on Stoat I ran into this post by Tom Murphy:

    He doesn't really touch on the ideas that I was poking at further up on this thread, until near the end of the third post in the series, but all are very much worth reading.

    I'm sure that ol' Albert would approve...

    For those who venture to Tom's posts, there's one point worth dwelling on. Consider the last figure in third post, that is, the figure titled "Western lifestyle for all may require a vastly larger renewable footprint still". Note how Murphy depicts global energy consumption to date as the area under the grey peak to the left of the asterix. Compare that to the green area of the figure, which basically represents an energy business-as-usual into the future, but based on renewables.

    Then consider that that iddy-biddy grey area of energy consumption to the left of that asterix is responsible for bringing the planet to its current state of resource/ environment/biodiversity depletion. And then consider what the green area means for future resource 'sustainability', taking into account Tom's explanation about efficiency limits.

    And if we are going to bring the 'Other 80%' onboard to share equitably in the party (the blue area of the figure) - well...

    This is why simply converting to renewables is only a part of an answer that has to come very quickly, if there is to be any dignified future for our children and grandchildren, and for their decendants.
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  42. Hmmm ...

    This is easy:

    Professor Alley supposes that renewable energy generators can replace conventional, fossil fuel waste at a negligible cost.

    Either renewables replace fossil fuel waste or they don't.

    - If they don't there is no point to renewables as the fuel waste enterprises will carry on as before, wasting fuel and loading carbon into the atmosphere. Fossil fuel waste will take place alongside the renewables (and their own embedded fossil fuel waste). See 'Jevon's Paradox': the demand for more energy to waste is insatiable.

    - If renewables DO replace fossil fuel waste the losses to the wasting enterprises will far exceed the cost of the renewables themselves. The auto industry and its dependencies: the fuel supply- real estate- finance- construction- defense- retail and the rest represent 60% + of GDP. As has been seen across the US economy, reducing funds to- or cutting one dependency has effects that ripple across the whole.

    - Meanwhile, the current level of economic 'cash flow' (which is what GDP represents) is what both enables and services the economy's debts. Renewables therefor cannot replace fossil fuel waste, instead they require fuel waste as a (credit) subsidy.

    The same way the sales of electric- and hybrid cars is internally subsidized within the auto industry by the sales of mega-SUVs and massive pickup trucks. No truck sales, no electric cars b/c they are too expensive.

    Speak of: the only pollution solutions must include getting rid of the cars, all of them along with car-related dependencies. Believe it or not, the market is already solving the 'car problem'. Europe is right now in the process of becoming car-free ... the hard way.

    GDP cost? Massive. Look to Greece ... then Somalia ... for the future of Europe, then Japan, China and the US. Cutthroat fuel competition using credit as a weapon is happening now under everyone's noses and few are paying attention.

    There is nothing anyone can do to halt or unwind the process, either.
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  43. steve from virginia - What Alley is pointing out is that conversion to a fossil fuel free economy would cost about the same proportion of GDP as converting open sewer ditches into our current waste handling systems.

    With respect to the auto industry, my personal view is that one of the better approaches is solar->methanol style fuel production, such as described here. Methanol or ethanol can easily be burned in current vehicles with minor conversions, and if the fuel is generated from electrolyzed hydrogen and CO2 using renewable power it's carbon neutral. The same goes for renewable-created methane or other gaseous fuels, although those require more expensive conversions. Conversions that would not, I'll note, trash the auto industry.

    As to your "costs too much" argument, I would refer you to the discussions on the economic impacts of carbon pricing and Renewable energy is too expensive threads. Acting now is far less expensive than waiting.
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  44. @43
    The problem with the argument that it's cheaper to act now is that all nations know its even cheaper to let everyone else act first. The longer an individual nation delays acting the cheaper it is for that nation. Of course the absolute cheapest is to get others to pay or subsidies your renewable energy (Copenhagen?).
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  45. Alley's supposition is incorrect because it does not include the economic effect of a successful conversion on competitors. There is no factor in the calculation that represents the dumping of waste into Edinburgh streets, it was never an enterprise and could never compete against sewers: the fuel wasting enterprise on the other hand is the world's largest and represents the greatest part of world GDP. How can removing the fuel waste be cost free? Removing the waste is the object of the exercise, right?


    After all, if the renewables cannot eliminate fuel waste and its associated enterprises there is no point to the renewables. This is a competition between regimes. The implication is that all of the waste dependencies can remain as they are now but with different 'green' prime movers. This is false because all the dependencies are wasteful and polluting in their own right.

    What Prof Alley might suggest is that the replacement cost of new renewables versus new conventional prime movers is similar in $$$/kjoule.

    What happens is prime movers are aggregated according to operational characteristics within the wasting regime: intermittancy, base-load, etc. Wind farms do not replace reactors, they are added to them. For the purpose of removing atmospheric gases the entire waste enterprise must be eliminated. All the related costs including that of sunk capital must be calculated in addition to the cost of prime movers.

    Far from being easy or inexpensive, reconfiguration energy regime will be the hardest thing the human race has ever attempted in its entire existence. It is vital that we look at our endeavor this way so as to prepare ourselves for the crushing struggle to come.

    The future does not have any cars in it. There will be no conveniences, only shared struggle, hunger, perhaps much violence and deprivation. We lack the basic social infrastructures needed to cope with difficulties: our leadership and institutions are formed from mechanical and financial leverage. We are used to pushing buttons on the remote, for hiring others to solve our problems while we relax. The future has no relax in it.

    We cannot get a grip on our climate, fuel, food, water and other resource problems without acknowledging there will be large trade-offs and sacrifices. We cannot 'have it all'.

    We give up something or industrialization kills us (and itself in the process). Since industrialization is already unraveling (it doesn't pay for itself) we may as well go with the flow. What this means is the centralized, industrial forms of renewables are not likely to be deployed at a meaningful level. We cannot afford large-scale renewables already: the entire world has bankrupted itself the 'old- fashioned way' leaving nothing in the account books but debts.

    True enough, some is better than none, but when the credit is gone and the ginormous windmill breaks who will pay to repair it? The model here: Detroit.
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  46. Realist @44 - what you're describing is a form of the Tragedy of the Commons, and is why we have international climate conferences, to get all nations on board with emissions reductions.
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  47. Dana1981
    Surely you are not suggesting Copenhagen was a success?
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  48. Thanks to Phil, I've found I misquoted the review's 200 TWh/year energy in steel slag. Based on some other numbers, those 6 Megawatt wind turbines would generate about 18 gigawatthrs/year. (Scaled from a 1.5 Meg machine at 35% operating capacity) Thus we only need about 11,111 of them. I'm seeing costs of about $1.30 per watt installed [link]

    for an expenditure of about $87 billion we can use wind power to cover the energy in slag....assuming I haven't messed up again. So for a little more than 10% of the current US military budget, we could do quite a bit with state of the art machines.

    For everyone playing around with slag....getting the energy out of it is harder...nice review article here:

    Barati et. al. Energy 36 (2011) 5440e5449 Unfortunately behind a paywall. You can probably see the abstract. Bear in mind anything you do has to be fool proof, steel companies don't like taking their mills up and down.

    And as for what you do with the cool slag...the problem has mainly to do with location and transportation costs vs other materials that you can put into concrete and other applications.
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    Moderator Response: [RH] Embedded link that was breaking page format.
  49. oops those are page numbers 5540-5499. don't know where the e came from.
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  50. Dana1981
    If so, by what measure?
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