Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Venus Syndrome:

Dr. James Hansen (N.A.S.A.) gave a major speech at the annual convention of the American Geophysical Union. He changed the title of his talk after the program was complete, and so had to explain that fact. It is now entitled:
Climate Threat to the Planet: Implications for Energy Policy and Intergenerational Justice.

Those who are so inclined may download both the PowerPoint presentation
or as a PDF file. I have much more to say, and will call attention to those sections that really brought me up short. Click Read more! to understand just how dangerous these times are.

I want to talk about a single term from Dr. Hansen's title. Intergenerational Justice is not a phrase that I have heard before, but the implications are self evident to anyone who has read / heard Winona talk about our obligations to the 7th Generation.

For those who have talked about Ecological Wisdom on this list recently: Les, Howard, Linda, this is not new what is new is the following from Dr. Hansen's notes:
I will argue that we have a much sharper knowledge of global climate sensitivity than is usually stated.
Also the Faustian bargain that we have cut for ourselves is nastier than has been recognized.
And I will emphasize some important missing observations.
The scientific method and perspective have relevance that reaches beyond pure science. The urgency of implications for energy policy is not yet adequately recognized by governments, but it must be. The implications for intergenerational equity deserve greater attention.
There is a sense of urgency in what he says now, a tone that was not there before. In fact, the email that he sent out tonight with the links to his material was given the subject: The Venus Syndrome. Venus, the planet where a run-away greenhouse gas effect keep the surface temperature far higher than would allow human life to continue.

As I plowed through Hansen's presentation, I came to this point (Chart 43) where Hansen tells us what he really thinks about our "Faustian bargain."

In my opinion, if we burn all the coal, there is a good chance that we will initiate the runaway greenhouse effect. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale (a.k.a. oil shale), I think it is a dead certainty.
From that event, there would be no return, no human life.

I stop at this point, not because I want to scare you, but rather because I want to call attention to an interview that Georges Monbiot conducted with Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency. I suggest that you watch the video that the Guardian put together. In this interview, Birol admits that for many years, his agency has been forecasting peak oil based on a rate at which existing oil fields are being depleted. In 2008, for the first time, they actually measured it and the difference was almost double. In other words, we will hit peak oil between 2020 and 2030 no matter what we do. According to Monbiot:
So burn this into your mind: between 2007 and 2008 the IEA radically changed its assessment. Until this year's report, the agency mocked people who said that oil supplies might peak. In the foreword to a book it published in 2005, its executive director, Claude Mandil, dismissed those who warned of this event as "doomsayers". "The IEA has long maintained that none of this is a cause for concern," he wrote. "Hydrocarbon resources around the world are abundant and will easily fuel the world through its transition to a sustainable energy future." In its 2007 World Energy Outlook, the IEA predicted a rate of decline in output from the world's existing oilfields of 3.7% a year. This, it said, presented a short-term challenge, with the possibility of a temporary supply crunch in 2015, but with sufficient investment any shortfall could be covered. But the new report, published last month,
carried a very different message: a projected rate of decline of 6.7%,which means a much greater gap to fill.

The alternatives that Birol was willing to discuss were to tap the Canadian tar sands.
Birol says we need a "global energy revolution" to avoid an oil crunch, including (disastrously for the environment) a massive global drive to exploit unconventional oils, such as the Canadian tar sands.

In other words, he is willing to strike the Faustian bargain that Hansen fears so much. If there were ever a time when we need to change our consciousness, when we need to call out again for a 7th Generation Amendment to our Constitution, that time is now. If not now, there may never be a 7th Generation.


Clifford J. Wirth, Ph.D. said...

The IEA forecast of 2020 for Peak Oil is wishful thinking. Peak Oil is now.

Independent studies conclude that Peak Oil production will occur (or has occurred) between 2005 to 2010 (projected year for peak in parentheses), as follows:

* Association for the Study of Peak Oil (2007)

* Rembrandt Koppelaar, Editor of “Oil Watch Monthly” (2008 to 2010)

* Tony Eriksen, Oil stock analyst (2008)

* Matthew Simmons, Energy investment banker, (2007)

* T. Boone Pickens, Oil and gas investor (2007)

* U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2005)

* Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Princeton professor and retired shell Geologist (2005)

* Sam Sam Bakhtiari, Retired Iranian National Oil Company geologist (2005)

* Chris Skrebowski, Editor of “Petroleum Review” (2010)

* Sadad Al Husseini, former head of production and exploration, Saudi Aramco (2008)

* Energy Watch Group in Germany (2006)

Independent studies indicate that global crude oil production will now decline from 74 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. During the same time, demand will increase. Oil supplies will be even tighter for the U.S. As oil producing nations consume more and more oil domestically they will export less and less. Because demand is high in China, India, the Middle East, and other oil producing nations, once global oil production begins to decline, demand will always be higher than supply. And since the U.S. represents one fourth of global oil demand, whatever oil we conserve will be consumed elsewhere. Thus, conservation in the U.S. will not slow oil depletion rates significantly.

Alternatives will not even begin to fill the gap. And most alternatives yield electric power, but we need liquid fuels for tractors/combines, 18 wheel trucks, trains, ships, and mining equipment. The independent scientists of the Energy Watch Group conclude in a 2007 report titled: “Peak Oil Could Trigger Meltdown of Society:”

"By 2020, and even more by 2030, global oil supply will be dramatically lower. This will create a supply gap which can hardly be closed by growing contributions from other fossil, nuclear or alternative energy sources in this time frame."

With increasing costs for gasoline and diesel, along with declining taxes and declining gasoline tax revenues, states and local governments will eventually have to cut staff and curtail highway maintenance. Eventually, gasoline stations will close, and state and local highway workers won’t be able to get to work. We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel and gasoline powered trucks for bridge maintenance, culvert cleaning to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, and roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, large transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables from great distances. With the highways out, there will be no food coming from far away, and without the power grid virtually nothing modern works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, and automated building systems.

This is documented in a free 48 page report that can be downloaded, website posted, distributed, and emailed:

I used to live in NH-USA, but moved to a sustainable place. Anyone interested in relocating to a nice, pretty, sustainable area with a good climate and good soil? Email: clifford dot wirth at yahoo dot com or give me a phone call which operates here as my old USA-NH number 603-668-4207.

anarkus said...

totally don't get this concept that peak oil lies in the "distant" future

peak oil is, soon or past even

and i think what is being said here about the venus effect is quite possible

in any case we are going to need that stuff for more important things than fuel for some time

to paraphrase Mendel, to burn petrol for the heat to distill itself is like burning paper money to heat your home

he may not have said it, but the fact that for well over a century people have discussed seriously that he may have, or quoted him anyway, is very telling. Oil is a better than gold mine of materials for creating all kinds of stuff that we will find more need for than simple heat from fuel to transport

what idiot would think that such idiocy would stammer at all when faced with simple extinction?

new data shows that we may not even have a chance of hitting our long range CO2 targets very soon, 350? 450/mil? we are going to be lucky to keep it to 550, and no one even wants to talk about methane hydrates et cetera....

vote green or die mutha f**ker!

(love, & peace - respect out)

Wes said...

Discussing the timing of peak oil misses two major points. One is the urgency of acting on climate change. The other is the fact the the IEA is talking about doing the very things that could doom us all.

Tony said...

When I first read his comment that global warming could mean not just the end of human civilization but also all life, I thought, he can't be right.

I always assumed that life itself would survive. Even James Lovelock seems to think that, being convinced that human civilization as it exists today is doomed.

But then I read his thoughts on a runaway greenhouse effect. I don't think this idea is in the mainstream yet, even among people that are atuned to climate change. It is what drives his whole notion that we have to eliminate coal burning and that cap-and-trade is not enough.

Cap-and-trade is accepted as necessary by many advocates. Hansen calls it a lie.