Our Energy Needs and Global Warming

I’ve been avoiding the discussion of global warming/climate change, because it always degenerates into folly. However, here it is as simply as I can put it.

I have made as strong a case as I can that energy consumption on this planet will grow faster than expected, reaching 1,000 quads around 2030, 2000 quads around 2050 and 3000 quads around 2075. As things stand now, over half of that energy is expected to be produced from burning coal or liquid fuels.

The world used 3,730 quads between 1990 and 2000, a period of time when temperatures rose rapidly. We will be using an amount approaching that total every year during the lifetimes of your children.

What I have written above alarms me.

8 responses to “Our Energy Needs and Global Warming

  1. Tom, the problem is the post hoc implied: just because warming happened while energy consumption was going up doesn’t mean it’s energy consumption per se at fault.

    CO2 concentration, of course, is one thing to consider, but the counter-evidence is getting pretty strong, and the sensitivity to CO2 concentration appears to be less than predicted.

    Land use is also more plausible than it’s given credit for in general (eg, Roger Pielke Sr’s work) and correlates with energy but isn’t particularly causally connected — or only weakly so, though a chain of connections.

    Changing insolation and the effect of the solar cycle on the atmosphere can’t be ruled out.

    And now we’ve got the whole issue of the extraordinarily low solar cycle suggesting that maybe we’re actually, in balance, cooling.

    The point is that to worry — or at least to consider — makes sense, and there’s no question that moving to a 3000 quad society needs some thought. But we should be more careful to understand what we know and don’t know.

    • Hi Charles–good to hear from you! Obviously it’s harder to link the temperature rise from 1976-1998 to CO2 emissions, and I think that many tried way too hard to do so. But 3,000 quads a year? Man…

  2. Go whole hog into natural gas, and meanwhile look for what’s next. Coal at this point should be banned.

    • Hi jtfaria,

      Well, it’s a start. But we can’t ban coal now. Too many people would die. We have to transition–and at the end of the transition we’ll still be using coal. We’re like newcomers to Overeaters Anonymous–we have to change, but we still have to eat three times a day. It is not going to be easy.

  3. Tom,

    I hope this will be the last post on climate or any of the other reasons for rapid as possible energy transformation. Stick to getting away from carbon burning fuels.

    • Hi Paul

      I certainly don’t intend to get bogged down in the climate wars here. But it would be like ignoring the elephant in the living room to not pretend it is one of the drivers of public attention to energy issues. Help me find a balance, okay?

  4. Discussions on the various reasons is a component of the not just ineffective, but also inapplicable, information deficit communication model. The focus on the goal communications model starts with do you think it is a good idea to replace carbon burning fuels in this century. Your reasons for saying yes are relevant, but not material to the desired communication.

  5. Tom, just to let you know I’m reading your blog.
    A few thoughts:
    1. Increased dependence on biofuels can result in land use changes that could result in climate problems at least of the same magnitude as co2, probably more.
    2. New methods of developing natural gas fields such as frackking can actually result in more greenhouse gases that burning the equivalent of coal. Fracking releases methane into the atmosphere which is a much more potent greenhouse gas that co2.
    3. By 2075 we might be more worried about water than energy. My brother in law lives right in the middle of the Marcellus Shale region. All those stories of ruined wells are true. What’s scarey is the speed with which it’s happening.

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