19 May 2010

From the Comments

One of the pleasures of blogging is that you get to hear from lots of really smart people. In the comments Harrywr2 had this comment which I thought was worth highlighting.
Country A is going think long and hard before becoming dependent on an energy source provided by country B if they have a long history of animosity.

At the end of WWII France had 3 potential suppliers of coal. The US, UK or Germany.
The shipping costs from the US were prohibitive.

The French added an 'intangible cost' to the market cost of coal. They would rather pay more for their energy then be dependent on the English or Germans.

If I go back to my shopping trips with my wife. My wife and I place a high value on 'marital harmony'. Sears offers us both an enjoyable shopping experience. JC Penney doesn't offer us both an enjoyable shopping experience. Hence, we'll shop at Sears even if the prices are a little lower at JC Penney's

The 'climate debate' for the most part is a debate over what intangible 'environmental costs' should be added to fossil fuel use.

I don't care about drowning polar bears. The cost I'm willing to assign is zero.

I commute to work on a moped. It is my primary means of transportation. I care about not sending money to nasty dictators.

Others may have different intangible costs they assign to the price of fossil fuels.

If I look at Chinese Coal reserves, a substantial portion of it is lignite.
Lignite has a tendency towards spontaneous combustion.
The deeper one goes in a mine the more methane seepage becomes a problem.

Mining lignite in a methane rich environment is pretty close to suicidal. What is a reasonable intangible cost to assign to thousands of coal miners in China being killed in mine accidents every year?

If I look at the various 'Global Decarbonisation' justifications they all use a global average market fossil fuel cost and then add a large(many would say inflated) environmental cost in order to make fossil fuel energy the least desirable energy option.

If I localize fossil fuel costs by assigning shipping costs, add a modest intangible for energy security and a modest intangible for the lives of coal miners I don't need a huge environmental cost to justify decarbonizing the vast majority of the world.

IMHO 'Climate Science' has harmed itself because it falsely believed it needed to justify a huge environmental cost in order to compel decarbonization.


  1. "One of the pleasures of blogging is that you get to hear from lots of really smart people".


    My only remaining skill is Googling.

    Harrywr2's profile reveals that he has an interest in the US military, particularly in the middle east. It's probably why he told me that energy security is a sufficient reason for American decarbonisation and that he that he drives a moped.

    In my view of the world, the middle east is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Anglo American oil empire. That's why there are repressive regimes everywhere.

    Israel/UK/USA are not so friendly with Russia and Venezuela. That is where the real security issues lie, and I suspect where some of the motivation for a swift move to alternative energy comes from.

  2. Climate science harmed itself by declaring that a climate calamity was at hand and is caused by CO2.
    Climate science, by trying to sell that bogus claim, has actually slowed down the move from dirty and strategically risky fuels.
    As the climate calamity continues to decline to cooperate with its predicted appearance, the impact on fuel choices will not improve.

  3. "What is a reasonable intangible cost to assign to thousands of coal miners in China being killed in mine accidents every year?"

    One of the really nice things about not being God is you can leave choices best made by others (in this case the Chinese) to others. I will thank you very much to stick to your own knitting and not try to make me pay higher energy prices so you can feel so much better about yourself.

  4. Referring to "decarbonization" without specifying the degree or speed of decarbonization sweeps a lot of fraught policy under the carpet.

    Without a huge environmental cost we can justify easing slowly and gradually away from burning fossil fuels, but if the environmental costs were to include, for instance, sufficient certainty within our lifetimes of inundation of the Low-Elevation Coastal Zone or a return of the catastrophic droughts of the Medieval Warm Period, we could justify a much faster and more painful transition. (Commenters: please note the subjunctive: I'm not saying anything about the actual probability of drowning the LECZ or recreating those droughts, but making a conditional statement about what would happen if there were a certain prediction.)

    So if decarbonization means decarbonization on a scale that would limit atmospheric CO2 to a concentration of 450ppm, 550ppm, or 650ppm, only an enormous environmental cost (which I would measure not in drowned polar bears, but in human lives lost to drought, famine, and so forth) could justify the expense---in lost wealth, reduced standard of living, and lives lost to poverty---of reducing energy consumption and shifting to expensive low-carbon sources sufficiently to meet one of those targets.

    Reasonable people disagree today about whether the uncertain risk of catastrophic climate change is sufficient to justify that cost.

    Others, such as Roger, suggest that asking the normative question what we should do is irrelevant because in practical terms, even if we, as a planet, should limit CO2 to 550 ppm or some other numerical target, in fact we won't. Thus, normative exercises are futile and we would do better to restrict the policy debate to what's actually possible, which he argues does not depend very much at all on environmental costs.

    Those of us who don't like Roger's conclusion and wish to connect policy more closely to environmental costs in order to justify swifter decarbonization must recognize that he makes powerful arguments and that public sentiment is a lot closer to what he describes than to what I or some of my colleagues would like it to be; so the burden is now on us to find a way around the obstacle Roger has identified and find a way to convince the public to share our concern about the low-probability/high-consequence tail of the climate-related risk distribution. Lest anyone misunderstand, I mean an honest way to convince the public. No one I work with would propose or condone deceiving the public about the degree or the certainty of the risk.

    Fortunately, whether or not Roger is ultimately correct about the feasibility of mobilizing pubic sentiment on the basis of environmental costs, he is at least right that there is common ground on which to support a carbon tax, accelerated research on low-carbon energy sources, and adaptation to natural hazards in both the developing and the developed world. Again, reasonable people will disagree about the size of the carbon tax, the amount to invest in decarbonization and adaptation, and other specifics; but the basic structure of the Hartwell proposal's three overarching goals is compatible with the goals of a broad swath of the climate policy community and the public, so Roger is correct that it should be possible to move forward together on those as a minimal start at the problem, even while disagreeing on details and differing on motives.

  5. Abdul Abulbul Amir said... 3

    "One of the really nice things about not being God is you can leave choices best made by others (in this case the Chinese) to others."

    Which is why the Chinese have opted to close there unsafest mines and import coal rather then expand dangerous domestic production at a rate suitable for their domestic energy needs.

    The Chinese are minding there own business. They have placed a value on the lives of their coal miners.

  6. eric144 said... 1

    "Harrywr2's profile reveals that he has an interest in the US military, particularly in the middle east."

    Actually Eric, I've been to the Middle East in a US Military Uniform when Jimmy Carter was President. Over 1 million American Soldiers have since had an opportunity to visit the Middle East. That's a pretty big constituency that would support getting off of 'foreign oil' on National Security Grounds.

    C.A.F.E standards have been in place since 1975
    The average US Automobile got 13 MPG then, the average is currently 25 MPG.

    We also used a substantial amount of oil for the Generation of Electricity in 1975. It's taken 30 years to phase out our oil fired electricity plants, but with the exception of waste oil, they are pretty much gone now.

    Kenworth now manufactures a line of Tractor Trailer Trucks that run on Liquefied Natural Gas and is beginning to enjoy some marketing success.

    Here is a report on 2008 Delivered Coal prices by State.


    The 2008 'delivered cost of coal' in South Carolina was the 4th highest in the Country at $71/ton and rising. Does Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina want a nuclear loan guarantee so he can 'save the polar bears' or 'save his constituents wallets'?

    US coal mine productivity rose an average of 4% per year from 1950 to 1995. Between 1995 and 2005 if rose by 1.9% a year. In 2008 US coal mine productivity dropped 4.9%.

  7. Professor Gilligan.

    In Britain, almost no one believes you.

    Despite the support of every science body on the planet , despite the almost universal agreement of climate scientists, the passionate endorsement of the very distinguished members of the Royal Society, every government on earth, every corporation on earth, every major newspaper and TV station on earth, the saturation coverage on British television and newspapers, only a quarter of British people believe human beings have a significant effect on the climate. That includes environmentalists and the global warming industry.

    That is roughly the number who believed Iraq could attack Manchester in 15 minutes. There is no official or mainstream opposition to global warming in Britain by sitting politicians, unlike the USA. None.

    British people are generally considerably less credulous than Americans. Anyone with an education level that stretches beyond twelve can recognise an overwhelming propaganda campaign when they see one. Climategate demolished the very flimsy benefit of doubt that remained.

    The damage done to science credibility by environmental campaigners has been absolutely enormous. The damage done to British journalism by the BBC and Guardian has also been enormous.

    The Guardian's pro global warming propaganda was sponsored by the Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company in the year or so before Copenhagen. Mick Kelly at the CRU was sponsored by the same company to promote carbon trading.

    P.S. Were the medieval droughts global or confined to the western Americas ?

  8. It would be nice to move together on this but regardless of the goals of the strategy Jonathan mentions, it just doesn't seem to have worked. It may even have backfired. Copenhagen was the last stand for carbon limits. The Bric countires are showing us the way it's going to be and that's all there is to it.

    Ironically, many people who are very skeptical of the catastrophism still remain in favour of alternative energies of some sort. There is even a good deal of progress being made regardless of any CO2 limits and regardless of a lot of disinformation being spread around.

    We need to put all the acrimony of the catastrophism to one side, look at the common end point, tell the scientists just to shut up now and let the engineers handle the next bit. And I don't mean by erecting CO2 capture devices or any other geo-engineering. I mean getting a viable, diverse, clean energy plan together and darn well making it work. If a reasonable carbon tax is needed for that then I'm all for it.

  9. One of the horrors of reading blogs is the woeful errors that get blythely passed on.

    Post WWII the French definitely did not strategically spurn German coal - they did the opposite (google the Monnet Plan). Access to German coal was a major goal in their negotiations with the other occupying powers. It lead to the creation of the International Authority for Ruhr replaced by the ESCS , a forerunner of the EEC. The French did import substantial amounts of coal from the US too, but their desire for German coal helped lay the foundations of today's Europe.

  10. andrewt said... 9

    "- they did the opposit"

    They also joined NATO.

    Yet they pursued their own nuclear weapons program despite having treaty assurances that they would be protected by the American Nuclear Arsenal.

    History is filled with 'marriages of necessity'.

    Occasionally they work out.

  11. An article on nuclear power in Europe

    Excerpt -
    A recent political trigger in Europe, the NEA's Echavarri explained, was the disruption of gas supplies to several European countries during the bitterly cold 2008-09 winter, following a pricing dispute between Ukraine and Russia.
    The European Union depends on Russia for roughly a quarter of its gas supplies, and the disruption was a wakeup call to EU governments.

    "That really drove home the need to have stable and secure supplies," Echavarri said.

  12. @eric144, #7: MWP droughts were largely confined to the Americas. I know mostly about North and America, where they were terrible: comparable or worse in severity to the great dust bowl over most of the continent West of the Mississippi and lasting several decades with a few lasting 150 years or more. But I'll caution that I'm not an expert on the details of paleoclimate.

  13. Harry
    Ergo not too surprisingly, it is the lack of supply that worries the populace into embracing nuclear power again, rather than any threat of thermageddon. So much for trying to convince the public to accept energy limits! They know a bridge needs to be fully built before any props are removed.