Is 2015 the Year the Tide Turns?

September 11, 2015

howwegotAn article in New York Magazine this week does a pretty good job of pushing back against climate gloom and pointing out how many indicators are starting to move in a positive direction, at least on the renewable energy side of things.

From a polling perspective, I think we hit bottom and started turning the public opinion ship in the US in 2012, about the time I made one of my darkest, (and most popular!) videos.

From then on, we’ve seen a steady growth in the numbers of Americans who get that we’re causing climate change, it’s bad, and we need to address it.  Now we’ve developed what I think is a bulletproof majority, that continues to grow as more people wake up to the planet’s ongoing tutorial on Planetary Mismanagement.

I know you read it here first, but worth a look, to see how the mainstream is trying to catch up, and gauge how it may be entering the political dialogue.

New York:

But in the past year, something amazing has taken place. In 2014, China’s coal production and its consumption both fell, and the drop appears to be continuing, or even accelerating, this year. Derek Scissors, a China analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, who had previously believed Chinese coal use would rebound, conceded his error and called the shocking reversal “an economic and social sea change.” China’s coal use has made the air in its largest cities intolerable, and Communist Party elites have to breathe the same air as everybody else. The regime’s long-standing desire to fix its air pollution has been well known, but that desire has only now translated into results.

China has made colossal investments in green energy. It plans to increase its solar-energy capacity this year alone by 18 gigawatts — as much solar-energy capacity as exists in the U.S. right now. Its wind-energy production has increased tenfold in a half-dozen years, and the country is in the midst of what one analyst called “the largest build-out of hydroelectricity the world has ever seen.” Last fall, in a bilateral agreement with the U.S., China promised its carbon-dioxide emissions would peak in 2030 — two decades earlier than recently believed. And at the current rate of transformation, this promise appears conservative. China is widely expected to move its peak-emissions date up to 2025 by the Paris conference.

When the Chinese government announced its participation in the bilateral agreement, American conservatives rolled their eyes. Their skepticism that China would curtail its emissions rested upon the premise that maintaining its prosperity required it to burn ever-increasing amounts of dirty energy, forever. “China almost certainly won’t take significant steps to reduce carbon emission,” explained National Review. “That’s because the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist party’s government rests squarely on economic development. Energy — often produced by dirty coal — allows that economic development to occur, lifting millions out of hand-to-mouth poverty.” This analysis relied upon a fatally flawed assumption: that producing more energy required producing more carbon emissions. China is finding ways to produce more energy with less carbon. The ratio of carbon emissions to energy produced is called “carbon intensity,” and China’s carbon-intensity ratio has dropped precipitously. In 2009, China promised to reduce its carbon intensity by 45 percent from its 2005 level by 2020. It is well on track to achieve this (it’s already down 34 percent), and is now promising to deepen the cut to 60 or 65 percent — evidence that China has begun thinking seriously and practically about what it will mean to steward the majority of the world’s future population.

The energy revolution in China has laid the groundwork for a future scarcely anybody could have imagined just a few years ago. For most of the 1.3 billion people globally without access to electricity, building new solar power is already cheaper than fossil-fuel generation. And so, the possibility has come into view that, just as the developing world is skipping landlines and moving straight into cellular communication, it will forgo the dirty-energy path and follow a clean one. The global poor can create a future of economic growth for themselves without burning the world.


10 Responses to “Is 2015 the Year the Tide Turns?”

  1. Mike Dever Says:

    Actually, coal got killed of by Republican/Government funding of Fracking.
    Frackers enjoyed huge government subsidies and tax loopholes.
    You paid for all that excessive drilling, that’s why there was so much of it, drilling was essentially free, on the taxpayer’s back.

    So, in reality Republicans Killed Coal, whoring themselves out to carbon.
    As much as I’d like to think “Obama” did it, the collapse of natural gas prices did it.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      exactly right, and make sure you repeat that whenever you hear about Obama’s “war on coal”.
      Coal is dying because better technology is killing it.

  2. You forgot to mention:

    Kyoto protocol – kicked into touch
    The dead parrot talks in Paris are looking well … dead
    The climate predictions have failed with 18 years without warming and not one of the human-adjusted datasets predicted to warm showing even the lowest predicted warming.
    UK government rolling back on its predecessor’s crazy climate policies – just as other countries worldwide are doing the same.
    On line forums no so choked with sceptics and so few climate extremists that it’s hardly worth commenting.

    Yes it’s certainly been the year the tide has turned!

  3. indy222 Says:

    I’m very skeptical of the “can do” meme- we’ve long outsourced our true energy requirements to the 3rd world; China, and now migrating to Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia. Atmospheric CO2 is not just rising, it’s accelerating, mostly due to China. Yes, they’re decarbonizing, but the pace is vastly overwhelmed by the sheer size of their energy consumption rise rate. Merely to keep CO2 emissions rate at a constant output (vs rising and accelerating) requires the addition of the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant every day.

    • jimbills Says:

      That’s way the growth imperative in both our culture and our economy is the greatest enemy to mitigating not just climate change, but most to all of our other environmental issues.

      The “can do” meme, at its heart, is suggesting both growth and mitigating these issues are possible at the same time, AND that the mitigation can be accomplished in an adequate time frame. Those who claim it is possible, like the New York Magazine article, have to resort to out-of-context data to make their arguments.

      From the graphic above:

      Point 1) most of that drop was due to the recession, and a lot of the rest was due to natural gas:

      Point 2) new capacity is indeed being filled more by renewables than fossil energy. This is great news, but then, fossil energy is not dropping in use – we’re just adding both renewables AND fossil energy to the already existing totals.

      Point 3) electric cars are at 750K. Great! However, the global vehicle fleet grows at about 16 million vehicles per year:

      We have over a billion vehicles on the road globally. We have a long way to go.

      Point 4) China will add 18 GW of solar this year. Superb! Plus, coal use (by Chinese statistics) dropped in China in 2014. Still they have a coal capacity of over 800 GW, and it’s still expected to grow past that for the next decade. And keep in mind, you have to overbuild renewables capacity to make up for intermittency.

      The stats in the New York magazine graphic look impressive out of context. In context, they are miniscule, and hardly a reason for optimism.

      There’s also a ton of BS about how emissions dropped on the global scale recently, and how that’s a reason to hope, when the cause was faltering growth – not renewables replacement. It just backs up my point.

      The fact that we as a whole can’t see this, we refuse to acknowledge it, and even those greatly concerned about climate change continue to deny it is a deep source of frustration for me. If the ‘can do’ meme plus growth is wrong, and I only see strong reasons to doubt it, we are doomed, and our mainstream messages are only implying that it’s right.

      I understand why people fight for the ‘can do’. We want to believe we aren’t doomed, and how can we fight something if we don’t believe it’s possible? Isn’t it counter-productive to say we’re screwed?

      Yes, and no. Yes, in that if there isn’t a strategy to combat an issue, and if there isn’t a will to fight, then it won’t get done. No, though, in that a fundamentally flawed strategy will not help no matter what resources we put into it or how much will we have to do it. Because the ‘can do’ meme implies growth is possible with combatting our environmental issues, we adopt strategies that either don’t have an effect, or have to little effect within the necessary time frames. Instead, we have little stories of hope to boost our belief in a false message.

      Anyway, I feel isolated on this, the lone crank, trying and trying to warn us about this issue, but few care or listen. We’ll do what we want. I hope I am wrong, because then everything will be hunky dory, but I don’t see how I am. I’ll also always root for adding renewables where we do and root for the erosion of climate change denial. These things help, but they aren’t enough.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        Define “growth”.

        Is it population growth; absolute amounts of resource use; the business model which demands increasing sales and/or market share; increasing amounts of resource use due to increasing standard of living?

        The business model makes sense in a world where population is increasing and underdeveloped nations become developed. And it is only fair play that underdeveloped nations become developed. Surely, we can’t begrudge that.

        The real problem is the sheer number of humans on the planet. But barring catastrophe, reducing human population levels is at least a one hundred year long project.

        But whether we are talking about a population of 0.5 or 1 or 5 or ten billion people, if all energy is produced by means which do not burn carbon, it is not AGW that is going to kill us or the ecosystem.

        I don’t think you are wrong to warn us about the growth issue. But I do think it distracts our energies from doing what is most productive and more important at this juncture – building and deploying new carbon-free energy infrastructure. Because this is not a hundred year project – it has to get done in the next few years or it IS game over. It really is “can do” – or die.

        But I’ve made this argument numerous times as well.

        • jimbills Says:

          GB – you refuse to see how growth (population, economic, land use, resource use, etc.) contributes to the emissions story itself. As both economies and populations grow, emissions rise, as well as all the other issues – groundwater depletion, nitrogen runoff in the oceans, overfishing, and on and on.

          I listed above, and have done so repeatedly here in other comments, how growth makes a transition to a less-intensive carbon system (there is no such thing as a carbon-free system in anything resembling our current way of life) exceedingly difficult to outright impossible. Growth outpaces our ability to catch up. We add 750K EVs in 3-5 years, but we add 16 million other gas-powered vehicles each of those years as well. We add 18GW of solar in China, but we still have all the remaining fossil capacity, and we add more fossil energy to that.

          Your response is, well, we can’t stop growth – the poorer nations need it, we need it, and even population growth will take a lot of time. So, you’re ruling that out as a consideration, and what I’m saying is, okay, then it’s game over for us. We can try as hard as we want, we can even live in your fantasy universe where the government prints money left and right, gives everyone an EV for free, and builds out the entire nation with a public-utility solar and wind electrical grid. It won’t matter. Growth will outpace the gains received, and the fossil carbon will get used in the growing system, anyway.

          See how much CO2 France emits. See how much Ontario emits. Both use very little carbon for their electricity. Now consider how a lot of their required energy (in the forms of manufactured goods) is outsourced to the developing nations – China, Vietnam, and so on. Now look at how the rest of the world wants to be just like us, and just as resource and environmentally rapacious. And what the hell, it’s only fair!

          I don’t like this. I’d like us to have growth! I actually really rely on it for my job. I also like gadgets and gizmos and I marvel at the current technology and what it allows us to do. I’d like to say to anyone, hey, have as many children as you’d like, there is no problem with that. I’d like to see a world where everyone everywhere is rich and happy, with three cars per family, 5,000 square foot homes, and living in air conditioned splendor at every moment while thinking about their wonderful sushi dinner to come.

          But, here’s the thing – reality doesn’t give two flips for what we want. Reality is just reality, and the reality is that we are asking too much of our environment with our current way of life, and growing the system past what it already is will make a less-intensive carbon economy (globally, not just nationally) and less-intensive resource extractive and environmentally destructive way of life increasingly difficult to impossible to achieve.

          What frustrates me is the outright refusal to acknowledge this basic reality. We find countless ways to deny it, as the New York Magazine article is doing. We rationalize it because we do like it. But – we don’t REALLY need it. We’ve lived almost our entire existence as a species without it, especially at our current rates of economic and population growth. We could do so again. That’s where I say this is “can do”, or die. Because that’s what’s going to happen, whether we like it or not.

          I know ending growth is another fantasy – this time on my part. It won’t happen (voluntarily, as we’ll get it involuntarily anyway at some point). It still irks me to no end that it’s a complete blind spot in our collective conscious, and articles like the recent one in the New York Magazine just lie to us. It’s another rationalization – it’s saying, “We’re doing fine, we’re solving it, we’re turning the corner, it’s going to be fine, we just need to keep going like we are.”

          No, we can’t do that, or think that. It’s a suicidal course to do so, but we don’t even see it.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            You’ve really said it all here and in your 5:47 comment on 9/11, so all I can say is DITTO (and that you are not the “lone crank” here although there are not many of us). I think it’s a sad commentary that so many people apparently do NOT have a broad enough grounding in science, math, psychology, economics, politics, and history to be able to put together the “web of reality” that looks likely to doom us. I don’t think you and I are wrong in what we see coming, but I DO hope we get lucky and enough people become educated enough to take the steps necessary to skate along the edge of disaster and avoid it.

            I have just finished reading a great book—The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack and Other Cautionary Tales From Human Evolution—by Ian Tattersall, who is perhaps the leading expert on human evolution. Most of the book is taken up with a recap of human evolution “shined up” with recent discoveries, but he makes some really startling revelations, particularly towards the end, where he gets into epigenetics, evolutionary psychology, the work of the Paabo group on the “HOXD cluster”, and how modern humans’ thinking and behavior patterns just appeared rather than evolved. To quote half a paragraph from p. 219:

            “This messy process explains our apparently contradictory cognitive condition. It explains why we have such brilliant rational abilities yet so often behave irrationally. It shows us why we we so frequently use the unprecedented communication potential of language to obfuscate and tell lies. It explains why we sometimes cannot justify our actions even to ourselves; why we are very poor judges of risk; why we can see environmental disaster approaching yet cannot bring ourselves to do anything about it; and why we reason so powerfully, yet make so many dreadful decisions”.

            It goes on, but the sum of it all is that we are in the end a sort of accident, and very much an unfinished work, that has gotten to this “advanced” state of “civilization” but appears unable to recognize or deal with the ramifications, never mind understand ourselves.

          • jimbills Says:

            “but I DO hope we get lucky and enough people become educated enough to take the steps necessary to skate along the edge of disaster and avoid it.”

            But, we’re not even talking about growth as a problem. The subject is verboten. The handful of mainstream writers that address it only talk about how growth and environmental protection are compatible, when the evidence suggests strongly otherwise.

            The handful of reports that growth has grown while emissions decline are based on data sets of less than a few years and ignore three things: 1) that a lot of the decline is due to slower growth, 2) in the case of places like California, a lot of the decline is due to offshored energy in manufacturing and consumed goods, and 3) that a lot of the decline is due to demand destruction in commodities, specifically, oil due to high prices at the time. These reports place the explanation entirely on renewables, efficiencies, and policies, when that often isn’t true, and completely discount how growth over time, especially in a global system, eats away any gains that do take place from renewables, efficiencies, and policies.

            If we actually addressed the topic seriously instead of constantly deceiving ourselves, I wouldn’t be so “gloomy”. I might actually have hope!

            Thanks for the book reference. It’s been added to my reading list.

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