Bill Totten's Weblog

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Coal's Future in Doubt

by Richard Heinberg

MuseLetter Special Update (May 09 2007)

The earlier MuseLetter #179, "Burning the Furniture" {1}, consisted of a summary of the conclusions of a recent study by the Energy Watch Group (EWG) on future global coal supplies. That study, "Coal: Resources and Future Production" {2}, published on April 5, found that global coal production could peak in as few as fifteen years. This astonishing conclusion was based on a careful analysis of recent reserves revisions for several nations.

The EWG report has enormous implications for climate change, global energy, and particularly for future electricity supply and steel production in the US and China.

Previously, virtually everyone in the fields of energy policy and energy analysis - as well as nearly everyone involved in discussions about climate change - had assumed that the world's coal endowment was so enormous that no limits would be encountered anytime this century. The EWG's conclusions turn this assumption on its head.

So far, there is little indication that the study has received even a small fraction of the attention it deserves. Perhaps this is partly because it is only one study, and it comes not from the International Energy Agency (IEA) or the US Department of Energy (DoE), but from a relatively small European analytical organization that reports to the German Parliament.

A report by a group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty that had been released just previously, "The Future of Coal in a Carbon Constrained World" {3}, and which garnered more notice, had mentioned no supply constraints - but the report's authors had not undertaken a serious new analysis of supply issues. Similarly, recent annual reports from the IEA, the DoE, and the World Coal Institute have simply repeated the familiar nostrum that the world has roughly two hundred years' worth of coal, without undertaking any new assessment of how quickly that coal can be brought to market, or when, during that two-hundred-year period, supply problems might begin to arise.

Therefore any new analysis of global coal supplies, following on the heels of the EWG report, warrants considerable interest.

A Cloudy, Sooty Future

We have not had to wait long. "The Future of Coal", a study by B Kavalov and S D Peteves of the Institute for Energy (IFE), prepared for European Commission Joint Research Centre, is ready in final draft and will be published within days.

Unlike the EWG panel, Kavalov and Peteves did not attempt to forecast a peak in global production. Future supply is discussed in terms of the familiar but often misleading reserves-to-production ratio. Nevertheless, the IFG's conclusions are broadly supportive of the EWG report.

The three primary take-away conclusions from the new coal study are as follows:

- "World proven reserves (that is, the reserves that are economically recoverable at current economic and operating conditions) of coal are decreasing fast ...

- "The bulk of coal production and exports is getting concentrated within a few countries and market players, which creates the risk of market imperfections.

- "Coal production costs are steadily rising all over the world, due to the need to develop new fields, increasingly difficult geological conditions and additional infrastructure costs associated with the exploitation of new fields".

Early in their paper the authors ask, "Will coal be a fuel of the future?" Their disturbing conclusion, many pages later, is that "The analysis in the preceding chapters indicates that coal might not be so abundant, widely available and reliable as an energy source in the future". Along the way, they state "the world could run out of economically recoverable (at current economic and operating conditions) reserves of coal much earlier than widely anticipated".

Kavalov and Peteves frame their study's purpose and boundaries this way:

"The goal of the study is not to project future coal demand, supply and prices, but rather to highlight some facts and trends that may affect coal supply in the future. The study thus endeavours to answer the following three questions:

(1) If Clean Coal Technologies achieve large-scale penetration, will the required coal supply be secured in the long term?

(2) If the coal supply is secured, where will it come from?

(3) What will be the corresponding trends in coal costs and prices?"

In other words, the authors are not attempting the same task as the EWG team: there is no quantitative analysis of reserves for individual nations here. Instead, the focus is on foreseeable challenges to coal supply, and how these will likely affect cost - and hence the attractiveness of coal vis-a-vis other energy sources.

In the course of their discussion, the authors highlight some of the same problems noted in the EWG study having to do with differing grades of coal and the likelihood of supply problems arising first with the highest-grade ores:

"... Although the world reserves of low-rank and hard coal are similar, their consumption trends are quite different. The world consumes much more hard coal than brown coal and the gap is growing continuously. In addition, the preference is naturally for coal that is easier (and cheaper) to recover. Without a corresponding increase in hard coal reserves, which will most likely be more difficult and more expensive to exploit than hard coal deposits in the past, the world is going to run out of higher-quality coal much earlier than it will of lower-quality coal ...

"Depending on the geology of deposits, in particular the depth of seams, coal is at present recovered in two ways: surface (open-cut) or underground (deep) mining. Surface mining is economic only when the coal seam is relatively close to the surface. It allows high coal recovery rates from deposits - ninety percent and more. Surface mining is more frequently used for lower-quality coal types. The majority of world coal reserves (sixty percent) are recoverable only by deep mining. This is true especially for hard coal, where deep mining accounts for 2/3rds of all recovery worldwide. The recovery rates in underground mining are much lower than those for open-cut mining - from fifty to sixty percent for the cheaper room-and-pillar technology to 75% for the far more expensive long-wall technology. Standard calculations of coal reserves, and hence reserves-to-production ratios, do not take into account feasible recovery rates. The amount of actual recoverable coal is therefore less than the widely published estimates of reserves, and the real reserves-to-production ratios are also lower."

Price Impacts

All of this translates to higher coal prices in coming years. This conclusion is highlighted repeatedly throughout the report:

"It is true that historically coal has been cheaper than oil and gas on an energy content basis. This may change, however ...

"The regional and country overview in the preceding chapter has revealed that coal recovery in most countries will incur higher production costs in future. Since international coal prices are still linked to production costs .., an increase in the global price levels of coal can be expected. On the other hand, any enhancement of world coal reserves may be hampered by the poor return on investment in coal mining over the past few decades. The low profitability has been due to the strong price competition in the world market and correspondingly low coal prices ... "

As prices for coal rise, "the relative gap between coal prices and oil and gas prices will most likely narrow", with the result that "the future world oil, gas and coal markets will most likely become increasingly inter-related and the energy market will tend to develop into a global market of hydrocarbons".

The report's authors indicate that these price increases may discourage the deployment of technologies to capture and bury the carbon from coal so as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

"Pursuing greenhouse gas reduction policies is in fact an investment strategy for future generations, where expenditure today pays off at some point in the future. Such an investment strategy involves spending substantial funds today - which many less developed countries simply cannot afford. In those countries, producing cheap and affordable electricity is more important than producing environmentally friendly electricity.

"In a hypothetical situation with global joint efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, it is believed that carbon capture and storage can secure the survival of coal. However, such an assumption is somewhat doubtful for the following reasons:

- "Carbon capture and storage technologies are still at the research and development stage ...

- "The largest techno-economic potential for carbon capture and storage is estimated to be in Europe, the USA and Australia. However, the USA and Australia in particular are the two industrialised countries with the softest greenhouse gas reduction policies at present. Bringing them into a Kyoto-like target-based mechanism for greenhouse gas reduction, especially in view of their recently launched Asia-Pacific Partnership on Coal Development and Climate initiative, seems rather doubtful in the foreseeable future."

A Wake-up Call on Coal

Taken together, the EWG and IFE reports deliver a shocking message. For a world already concerned about future oil supplies, uncertainties about coal undercut one of the primary strategies - turning supposedly abundant coal into a liquid fuel - that is being touted for maintaining global transport networks. The sustainability of China's economic growth, which has largely been based on a rapid upsurge in coal consumption, is thrown into question. And the ability of the US to maintain its coal-powered electricity grids in coming decades is also cast into doubt.

As noted in MuseLetter #179, if future coal supplies are dramatically reduced, this could be very good news for the global climate; however, that benefit would be tempered significantly if higher coal prices discourage the adoption of carbon sequestration technologies.

In summary, we now have two authoritative studies reaching largely consistent conclusions with devastating implications for the global economy. Surely these studies deserve follow-up reviews of the data by the IEA and the DoE. If the EWG and IFE conclusions hold, the world will need to respond quickly and with an enormous shift of investment capital in the directions of energy conservation and of developing renewable sources of electricity. Climate concerns are already drawing some nations in these directions; however, even the nations leading such efforts may not be proceeding nearly fast enough. For China and the United States, the world's two most coal-dependent countries, the message could not be clearer: whether or not global climate concerns are taken seriously, it is time to fundamentally revise the current energy paradigm.


{1} "Burning the Furniture" by Richard Heinberg, Museletter #179 (March 2007)

{2} "Coal: Resources and Future Production",

{3} "The Future of Coal in a Carbon Constrained World",

Bill Totten

Burning the Furniture

by Richard Heinberg

Museletter #179 (March 2007)

Global Public Media (March 22 2007)

A soon-to-be-released study by the Energy Watch Group in Germany on the future of global coal supplies has implications so surprising and far-reaching that energy policymakers may take years to digest it. This essay is intended to help speed that process. The report's central conclusion is that minable global coal reserves are much smaller than is commonly thought, and that a peak in world coal production is likely within only ten to fifteen years.

I will first offer some context for appreciating these conclusions, by way of some general information about global coal usage. Then I will describe the basis for the report's conclusions, and finally will attempt to draw out some of the implications (not discussed by the report's authors) for world energy supply and climate policy.

The Dirt on Coal

For millennia, biomass was humanity's main energy source. Coal was the first fuel of the industrial revolution and was the world's primary source of energy from the end of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th, when it was overtaken by oil. More recently, natural gas has substituted for coal to some extent in electricity generation, partly because of growing concern about greenhouse gas emissions (coal is the most carbon-intensive common fuel, natural gas the least); meanwhile oil remains the globe's most important fuel largely because of its role in transport.

The historic pattern was thus for industrial societies to move from low-quality fuels (coal contains an average of fourteen to 32.5 megajoules per kilogram) to higher-quality fuels (41.9 megajoules per kilogram for oil and 53.6 for natural gas); and from a solid fuel present in significant quantities in only a few countries to a liquid fuel easily transported and therefore well suited to a system of global trade in energy resources.

During the past three years those trends have altered somewhat. The world's rate of oil consumption has begun to level off largely because of high petroleum prices - which themselves may be due to the peaking of production in conventional oil (which, on the basis of current data, seems to have occurred in 2005), as well as to shortages of new exploration prospects, drilling rigs, and trained personnel. At the same time, regional natural gas supply constraints are appearing, primarily in North America (the most intensive consumer of the resource), as well as Russia and Europe. Further, the use of coal is increasing dramatically in China as that nation rapidly industrializes (in 2005, China was responsible for 36.1 percent of world coal consumption, the US for 9.6 percent, and India 7.3 percent). As a result of these factors, the global consumption of coal is today growing faster than that of oil or natural gas - a reverse of the situation in earlier decades. From 2000 to 2005, world coal extraction grew at an average of 4.8 percent per year compared to 1.6 percent per year for oil; although world natural gas consumption has been growing at a healthy pace in recent years, in 2005 it actually fell slightly.

The following figure {1} summarizes some of the most important current global data with regard to coal. The left-hand scale and the vertical bars refer to reserves, the line and righthand scale to current yearly production rates by country.

Looking to the future, many analysts who are concerned about emerging supply constraints for oil and gas foresee a compensating shift to lower-quality fuels. The conversion of coal to a gaseous or liquid fuel is feasible, and coal-gasification and coal-to-liquids plants are being constructed at record rates.

This expanded use of coal is worrisome to advocates of policies to protect the global climate, some of whom place great hopes in new (mostly untested) technologies to capture and sequester carbon from coal gasification. With or without such technologies, there will almost certainly be more coal in our near future.

Today coal provides for over a quarter of the world's primary energy needs and generates forty percent of the world's electricity. Approximately thirteen percent (around 664 million tons) of total hard coal production is currently used by the steel industry, and over 66 percent of total global steel production depends on coal. But because of the costs of mining and transporting coal, its lower energy density, and the inefficient way it is typically burned to generate electricity, the primary energy embodied in coal yields only about one-third of the economic productivity of the primary energy in oil.

Unlike oil, which is traded globally, coal is a regional resource: ninety percent of coal production is consumed in the country of origin. Australia is the foremost coal exporter, and last year was responsible for thirty percent of the international trade in coal, double the proportion of the next-largest exporter (Indonesia).

According to the widely accepted view, at current production levels proven coal reserves will last 155 years (this according to the World Coal Institute). The US Department of Energy (DOE) projects annual global coal consumption to grow 2.5 percent per year through 2030, by which time world consumption will be nearly double that of today. Meanwhile, coal remains the most environmentally damaging of the conventional fossil fuels. While it produces a quarter of the world's energy, it is responsible for nearly forty percent of greenhouse gas emissions, principally carbon dioxide. Efforts to sequester carbon could theoretically reduce that environmental burden, but coal is still problematic for other reasons. Sulfur, mercury, and radioactive elements are released into the air when coal is burned and are difficult to capture at source. Coal mining often destroys landscapes, and recently very fine coal dust originating in China and containing arsenic and other toxic elements has been detected drifting around the globe in increasing amounts.

The EWG Coal Report

The Energy Watch Group report, "Coal: Resources and Future Production", notes that

About ninety percent of coal reserves are concentrated in six countries: USA, Russia, India, China, Australia and South Africa. The USA alone holds thirty percent and is the second largest producer. China is by far the largest producer but contains only half of the reserves of the USA. Therefore the development of these two countries is a key for future coal production.

However, the report's authors (Werner Zittel and Jo"rg Schindler) are of the opinion that "the data quality is very unreliable", especially for China, South Asia, and the Former Soviet Union countries. Some nations (such as Vietnam) have not updated their "proved reserves" for decades, in some instances not since the 1960s. China's last update was in 1992; since then, twenty percent of its reserves have been consumed, though this is not revealed in its official figures.

Even more striking is the fact that since 1986 all nations with significant coal resources (excepting India and Australia) that have made the effort to update their reserves estimates have reported substantial downward resource revisions. Some countries - including Botswana, Germany, and the UK - have downgraded their reserves by more than ninety percent. Poland's reserves are now fifty percent smaller than was the case twenty years ago. Each new assessment (again, except in the cases of India and Australia) has followed the general trend. These downgrades cannot be explained by volumes produced in this period. The best explanation, according to the Energy Watch Group report's authors, is that nations now have better data from more thorough surveys. If that is the case, then future downward revisions are likely from countries that continue to rely on decades-old resource estimates. The report concludes: "the present and past experience does not support the common argument that reserves are increasing over time as new areas are explored and prices rise". This argument is supported by the fact that even the world's in-situ resources of coal have dwindled from ten trillion tons of hard coal equivalent to 4.2 trillion tons in 2005 - a sixty percent downward revision in 25 years.

Here are figures used in the report for world coal totals, provided by the World Energy Council (WEC) in 2004 and reproduced by BP for 2004 and 2005, taking into account the three broad classifications of the resource:

Total world reserves (at end 2002):

bituminous coal + anthracite ..... 479 billion tons
sub-bituminous coal .............. 272 billion tons
lignite .......................... 158 billion tons

Each coal class has a different energy content:

anthracite ............ 30 megajoules per kilogram
bituminous coal ....... 18.8 to 29.3 megajoules per kilogram
sub-bitiminous coal ... 8.3 to 25 megajoules per kilogram
lignite ............... 5.5 to 14.3 megajoules per kilogram

Only coal with a high heating value is suited for long-distance transport and for use in metallurgical processes. Thus, from the standpoints of size of reserves, energy content, and suitability for a range of significant uses, bituminous coal and anthracite are the most important of the categories.

As noted earlier, China and the US are key nations for the future of coal. Let us look at these two countries' situations in a little more detail.

China reports 55 years of coal reserves at current rates of consumption. Subtracting quantities consumed since 1992 (the last year in which reserves figures were updated), this declines to forty to 45 years. However, the calculation assumes constant rates of usage, which is unrealistic since currently consumption is increasing rapidly. China plans to expand coal production to make substantial quantities of liquid fuels; this will push production rates to their limits. Already China has shifted from being a minor coal exporter to being a net coal importer.

Moreover, we must factor in the peaking phenomenon common to the extraction of all non-renewable resources (the peak of production typically occurs long before the resource is exhausted).

The Energy Watch Group report's authors, taking these factors into account, state: "it is likely that China will experience peak production within the next five to fifteen years, followed by a steep decline". Only if China's reported coal reserves are in reality much larger than reported will Chinese coal production rates not peak "very soon" and drop rapidly. The authors conclude:

The analysis shows that the strongly rising production of China will have a substantial influence on the peak of world coal production. Once China cannot increase its production anymore world coal production will peak. But also the future production of the USA will have a substantial influence on the absolute size of peak production volumes.

The United States is the world's second-largest producer, surpassing the two next important producer states (India and Australia) by nearly a factor of three. Its reserves are so large that America has sometimes been called "the Saudi Arabia of coal". The US has already passed its peak of production for high-quality coal (from the Appalachian mountains and the Illinois basin) and has seen production of bituminous coal decline since 1990. However, growing extraction of sub-bituminous coal in Wyoming has more than compensated for this. Taking reserves into account, the authors of the report conclude that growth in total volumes can continue for ten ten to fifteen years. However, in terms of energy content US coal production peaked in 1998 at 598 million tons of oil equivalents; by 2005 this had fallen to 576 million tons of oil equivalents.

This forecast for a near-term peak in US coal extraction flies in the face of frequently repeated statements that the nation has 200 years' worth of coal reserves at current levels of consumption. The report notes: "all of these reserves will probably not be converted into production volumes, as most of them are of low quality with high sulfur content or other restrictions". It also points out that "the productivity of mines in terms of produced tons per miner steadily increased until 2000, but declines since then".

The report's key findings regarding future US coal production are summed up in the following paragraph:

Three federal states (Montana, Illinois, Wyoming) own more than seventy percent of US coal reserves. Over the last twenty years two of these three states (Montana and Illinois) have been producing at remarkably low levels in relation to their reported reserves. Moreover, the production in Montana has remained constant for the last ten years and the production in Illinois has steadily declined by fifty percent since 1986. This casts severe doubts on the reliability of their reported reserves. Even if these reported recoverable reserves do exist, some other reasons prevented their extraction and it is therefore very uncertain whether these reserves will ever be converted into produced volumes. Considering the insights of the regional analysis it is very likely that bituminous coal production in the US already has peaked, and that total coal production will peak between 2020 and 2030.

The report is somewhat more pessimistic than a previous independent analysis of future US coal production by Gregson Vaux ("The Peak in US Coal Production"), which gave America thirty to fifty years till peak.

The following figure {1} provides an overview of world coal production, based on detailed country-by-country analysis.

The International Energy Agency's "World Energy Outlook 2006" (WEO 2006) discusses two future scenarios for global coal production: a "reference scenario" that assumes unconstrained coal consumption, and an "alternative policy scenario" in which consumption is capped through government efforts to reduce climate impacts. Both scenarios are compatible with the supply forecast in the Energy Watch Group report until about 2020. Thereafter, only a rate of demand corresponding with the "alternative policy scenario" can be met. This clearly has implications for climate policy, which I will explore in a later section of this article.

The report focuses on mined coal and does not discuss underground coal gasification. The US Department of Energy has estimated that up to 1.8 trillion tons of otherwise unminable coal might be turned into useful energy by underground gasification, roughly tripling the amount of energy that could be recovered from the mining of US coal resources. However, as report author Werner Zittel noted in an email exchange on this point, underground coal gasification is still in the research stage and its future as a source of global energy is uncertain. Major problems include:

* the variable gas composition and its low heating value

* environmental issues due to sudden soil sinks, groundwater contamination and numerous bore holes

* changing coal composition and its seem thickness

* inclination of the coal layer

* water levels

* density of covering layers

* economic aspects

At the same time, it is possible that the report understates some of the problems associated with mined coal. A coal-mining engineer in South Africa once described to me in conversation how cost-driven mining techniques often take out only the best coal and leave behind poorer-quality resources, and how this is done in such a way that once an underground mine is shut down, it is likely never to be re-opened. This situation is probably not unique to South Africa: E N Cameron's At the Crossroads: The Mineral Problems of the United States (1986) discusses how "workings deteriorate, and cave-ins may occur" in abandoned mines, frequently leading to a situation where "Costs of rehabilitation may become prohibitive. Mining of the poorer seams may never be resumed. The coal involved in such mines becomes a lost resource."

Implications for Global Energy Supply

According to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) 2006 Base Case Scenario (published in the February 2007 ASPO Newsletter), the global production of conventional oil (crude plus condensate) peaked in 2006, while all liquids (including non-conventional oil) and natural gas combined will peak approximately in 2010.

Since oil and gas together provide the bulk of world energy, their combined peak will probably determine the peak in total world energy production and consumption. If the Energy Watch Group report is right that the global coal peak will occur around a decade after the petroleum/gas peak, this probably implies a ten-year interval, starting around 2010, of relatively slow fall-off in total energy from fossil fuels, followed by a gradually accelerating decline.

Regional oil and gas supply gaps will likely first be closed using domestic alternatives, and those nations that have an available coal resource base will likely seek to produce liquid fuels from coal. This will reduce the already meager amount of coal available to the export market. Peak oil is sometimes spoken of (for example, by the team that produced the 2005 Hirsch report, "Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management") as a liquid fuels crisis that will primarily impact the transport sector. Taking into account regional gas constraints and a likely near-term peak in global coal extraction, it is perhaps more appropriate to speak instead a broad-spectrum energy crisis with implications for electricity generation, space heating, and agriculture as well.

Oil, natural gas, and coal together supply over 87 percent of total world energy, which stands at about 400 quadrillion Btus, or 400 "quads", per year. Therefore, compensating for a realistically possible 2.5 percent annual decline in all fossil fuels averaged over the next twenty years would require developing almost ten quads of energy production capacity from new sources each year (this assumes no growth in energy demand). Ten quads represent roughly ten percent of total current US energy production. By way of comparison, today's total installed world wind and solar generating capacity - the result of many years of investment and work - stands at less than one quad.

Where could ten quads of new energy production capacity come from? The expansion of nuclear power is problematic given future constraints in the availability of uranium (another study by Energy Watch Group, "Uranium Resources and Nuclear Energy", published in 2006, estimates that global production will peak before 2050 even with robust resource estimates), and also given the high expense and time lags associated with constructing nuclear power plants. Tar sands and oil shale face practical hurdles such as shortages of fresh water for processing. Biofuels suffer from low energy profit ratios, and their development likewise requires substantial quantities of fresh water. Other renewables - solar, wind, tidal, wave, and geothermal - have significant potential for increase; however, there is arguably no credible scenario in which these could grow fast enough to offset projected declines in any one of the three principal fossil fuels, much less all three together.

Of course, whatever response society eventually arrives at to fossil fuel shortages will consist of a cobbled-together mix of the available alternative energy sources plus a heaping helping of energy conservation (efficiency and curtailment). I use the word response rather than solution because the latter term implies an outcome in which present societal patterns of industrial production and consumption are maintained. But this may not be possible. Planned, strategic curtailment of energy use will of necessity be the primary adaptation strategy. This has enormous implications for every aspect of modern economies.

Implications for Climate Policy

For the most part, climate policy experts have relied upon robust estimates of future global coal supplies. For example, the following charts {1} from NASA's James Hanson, one of the world's foremost climate scientists, show carbon dioxide levels that will result from the burning of remaining fossil fuels given widely accepted reserves levels for oil, gas, and coal, under two scenarios: "business-as-usual", and "coal phaseout".

In both charts oil production is not projected to peak until after 2050, with a very slow decline thereafter; in the first chart, coal production does not peak until 2100. In addition, in the "business-as-usual" scenario absolute levels of production at the time of peaking are much higher than those forecast by ASPO and Energy Watch Group; the ASPO/EWG peaking levels correspond to about 420-440 parts per million of carbon dioxide versus 575 parts per million in Hanson's first chart. For the sake of comparison, the current atmospheric carbon dioxide level is 390 parts per million. According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a 420-440 parts per million peak in carbon dioxide levels may be consistent with a global average surface temperature increase of two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the critical threshold target for maximum allowable increase cited by many climate scientists.

If ASPO/EWG is correct, this means that oil, coal, and gas resource-and-production limitations may result in declines in carbon dioxide emissions that are more or less in line with what is considered politically feasible for voluntary emissions reductions (the International Energy Agency's "alternative policy" scenario).

However, while this is good news, there is no room for complacency. First, it should be noted that the International Energy Agency's scenario has been criticized as being insufficiently stringent, since higher reductions in carbon emissions may be needed in order to confine global warming to two degrees Celsius (a report by the Institute for Policy Research, "High Stakes: Designing Emissions Pathways to Reduce the Risk of Dangerous Climate Change", concludes that in order to have a high degree of confidence of keeping average surface warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, carbon emissions must be reduced seventy to eighty percent below present levels by 2050). Even the two degree target is somewhat arbitrary: we do not know if drastic cuts in emissions with that as a target are enough to stop runaway reinforcing feedback loops, already initiated, from forcing a temperature increase of many degrees based only on carbon already let loose.

Moreover, the 420 to 440 parts per million figure derived from ASPO/EWG fossil fuel supply constraints ignores contributions from other greenhouse gases, as well as potential carbon dioxide contributions from alternative fossil fuels - heavy oil, tar sands, oil shale, and methane hydrates. Most of these (excepting methane hydrates) are carbon-intensive, and while they are costly to develop and current production is minor to nonexistent, significant efforts may be devoted to expanding their exploitation in response to shortages of existing fuels. On the face of it, the evidence that resource limits will constrain carbon dioxode emissions to the International Energy Agency's "alternative policy" scenario would seem to be, as I have already noted, good news for climate protection advocates. However, the latter may be wary that industry-led opponents of emissions-reduction policies will seize on this data to argue that governments needn't do anything about emissions, since rates of fossil fuel extraction will decline in any case. In other words, for advocates of climate policy, this new information about coal may constitute yet another inconvenient truth.

Nevertheless I would argue that it makes more sense for climate protection advocates to embrace the news and use it to advantage, rather than to deny or marginalize it. Climate advocates can make the argument that, even if society finds steep voluntary cuts in the use of coal and other fossil fuels to be economically onerous, there is really no alternative: declines in production will happen anyway, so it is better to cut use proactively and systematically than wait and be faced with shortages and price volatility later. The findings of the 2005 Hirsch report ("Peak of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management"), funded by the Department of Energy, regarding society's vulnerability to peak oil apply also to peak coal: time will be needed in order for society to adapt proactively to a resource-constrained environment. A failure to begin now to reduce reliance on coal will mean much greater economic hardship when the peak arrives.

The climate-change mitigation discussion focuses on emissions - a term and concept with little intuitive resonance for the average person. But, as Michael Klare has argued in his recent essay, "Global Warming: It's About Energy", the discussion is somewhat misleading: emissions reductions that are being discussed will almost certainly entail not just a new generation of coal-powered generating plants and more efficient cars, but a substantial reduction in consumption of fossil fuels, and this will in turn have serious implications for our entire modern way of life. If there is no credible way of replacing fossil fuels with other energy sources in order to meet the emissions reduction trajectories being proposed, this probably implies real economic pain. Unlike emissions, high energy prices are something everyone can understand. Climate activists have attempted to downplay this economic impact of the policies they advocate, while opposing forces have underscored it. The new information about coal helps: it tells us that even if the economic price for carbon reduction is high, we have no choice but to proceed. There really is no "business-as-usual" option, even ignoring environmental impacts, given the resource constraints.

Climate activism is hardly rendered irrelevant by the news about coal. Society's response to both resource constraints and climate impacts will be crafted by policy makers whose decisions will inevitably be shaped as much by effective public relations and public perceptions as by pure science. A lack of strong advocacy for sensible energy policies could result in a victory for industry-led efforts to shift societal investments toward the development of low-grade fossil fuels - efforts that could raise emissions levels and imperil the climate, and yet still fail to solve the world's energy problems.

Given the nature of its findings, the Energy Watch Group coal report should be regarded with utmost seriousness. Those findings must be examined carefully and checked against other studies (I am aware of a similar study under way in the Netherlands; as soon as it is available I plan to write a follow-up article to compare its results with those of the Energy Watch Group). If the data and analysis described here hold up, the implications must be faced. World energy will begin to decline very soon, and there probably is no supply-side fix. The most important policies will be ones that have to do with proactive energy curtailment and systemic societal adjustment to lower consumption levels. Those policies will necessarily impact agriculture, transport, trade, urban design, and national electrical grid systems - and everything dependent on them, including global telecommunications.

In other publications I have advocated a Depletion Protocol for oil as a policy tool to enable societies to better adapt to the impending peak in global petroleum production. Depletion protocols for gas and coal, while not as critical (since these fuels are not traded globally to the same extent as oil), could also help with the difficult process of adaptation. Nations that are currently dependent on coal - China and the US especially - would be wise to begin reducing consumption now, not only in the interests of climate protection, but also to reduce societal vulnerability arising from dependence on a resource that will soon begin to become more scarce and expensive.

Note: You can find the figures and charts mentioned above at



Energy Watch Group, "Coal: Resources and Future Production" (April 2007). This article is based on a draft of the study report. For information about the study, please contact Werner Zittel:

Energy Watch Group, "Uranium Resources and Nuclear Energy" (December, 2006) EWGpaper_ 1-06_Uranium-Resources-Nuclear-Energy_03DEC2006.pdf
World Coal Institute website

Gregson Vaux, "The Peak in US Coal Production" (May 27 2004)
ASPO Newsletter #74, February 2007

Robert Hirsch, et al, "The Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation and Risk Management",
Chris Vernon, "Dr James Hansen: Can We Still Avoid Dangerous Human-Made Climate Change?"
(The Oil Drum, November 22 2006)

Paul Baer and Michael Mastrandrea, "High Stakes: Designing Emissions Pathways to Reduce the Risk of Dangerous Climate Change", Institute for Policy Research (November 2006)

E N Cameron, At the Crossroads: The Mineral Problems of the United States (John Wiley & Sons, 1986). Quotations from page 198.

Michael Klare, "Global Warming: It's About Energy", Foreign Policy in Focus (February 17 2007)

Richard Heinberg, The Oil Depletion Protocol: A Plan to Avert Oil Wars, Terrorism and Economic Collapse (New Society, 2006)

(c) 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 Post Carbon Institute

Post Carbon Institute is a US 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Bill Totten

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bottled Water Pricey in More Ways than One

Each year, about two million tons of PET bottles end up in landfills in the United States.

by Worldwatch Institute (May 09 2007)

The world's fastest-growing beverage is a boon to the industry but a bust for the environment and for the more than one billion people worldwide who lack access to clean drinking water, according to a new Vital Signs Update from the Worldwatch Institute.

Excessive withdrawal of natural mineral or spring water to produce bottled water has threatened local streams and groundwater, and the product consumes significant amounts of energy in production and shipping. Millions of tons of oil-derived plastics, mostly polyethylene terephthalate (PET), are used to make the water bottles, most of which are not recycled. Each year, about two million tons of PET bottles end up in landfills in the United States; in 2005, the national recycling rate for PET was only 23.1 percent, far below the 39.7 percent rate achieved a decade earlier.

Table 1. Consumption of bottled water, total and top ten countries, 2000 and 2005

"Bottled water may be an industry winner, but it's an environmental loser", says Ling Li, a fellow with the Institute's China Program who authored the update. "The beverage industry benefits the most from our bottled water obsession. But this does nothing for the staggering number of the world's poor who see safe drinking water as at best a luxury, and at worst, an unattainable goal." An estimated 35-50 percent of urban dwellers in Africa and Asia lack adequate access to safe potable water, according to Worldwatch's State of the World 2007 report:

Consumers in industrial countries choose to drink bottled water for taste and convenience, while in developing countries, unreliable and unsafe municipal water supplies have driven the growth in consumption. Yet many poorer people who seek improved drinking water supplies cannot afford the bottled version. Bottled water can be between 240 and 10,000 times more expensive than tap water; in 2005, sales in the United States alone generated more than $10 billion in revenue.

Global consumption of bottled water more than doubled between 1997 and 2005, securing the product's place as the world's fastest-growing commercial beverage. The United States remains the largest consumer of bottled water, but among the top ten countries, India has nearly tripled its consumption, while China more than doubled its consumption between 2000 and 2005.

In industrial countries with highly regulated water supplies, tap water has been proven to be just as safe, or safer, than its commercial counterpart. In the United States, regulations concerning bottled water are generally the same as for tap water, but are weaker for some microbial contaminants. The US Food and Drug Administration, which regulates bottled water at the federal level, permits the product to contain certain levels of fecal matter, whereas the Environmental Protection Agency does not allow any human waste in city tap water. Bottled water violations are not always reported to the public, and in most cases the products may be recalled up to fifteen months after the problematic water was produced, distributed, and sold.


Container Recycling Institute

State of the World 2007 - Providing Clean Water and Sanitation

Good Stuff? - Beverages

Liquid Assets: The Critical Need to Safeguard Freshwater Ecosystems

Bill Totten

Deforestation: The hidden cause of global warming

In the next 24 hours, deforestation will release as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as eight million people flying from London to New York. Stopping the loggers is the fastest and cheapest solution to climate change.

So why are global leaders turning a blind eye to this crisis?

by Daniel Howden

from The Independent & The Independent on Sunday (May 14 2007)

The accelerating destruction of the rainforests that form a precious cooling band around the Earth's equator, is now being recognised as one of the main causes of climate change. Carbon emissions from deforestation far outstrip damage caused by planes and automobiles and factories.

The rampant slashing and burning of tropical forests is second only to the energy sector as a source of greenhouses gases according to report published today by the Oxford-based Global Canopy Programme, an alliance of leading rainforest scientists.

Figures from the GCP, summarising the latest findings from the United Nations, and building on estimates contained in the Stern Report, show deforestation accounts for up to 25 per cent of global emissions of heat-trapping gases, while transport and industry account for fourteen per cent each; and aviation makes up only three per cent of the total.

"Tropical forests are the elephant in the living room of climate change", said Andrew Mitchell, the head of the GCP.

Scientists say one days' deforestation is equivalent to the carbon footprint of eight million people flying to New York. Reducing those catastrophic emissions can be achieved most quickly and most cheaply by halting the destruction in Brazil, Indonesia, the Congo and elsewhere.

No new technology is needed, says the GCP, just the political will and a system of enforcement and incentives that makes the trees worth more to governments and individuals standing than felled. "The focus on technological fixes for the emissions of rich nations while giving no incentive to poorer nations to stop burning the standing forest means we are putting the cart before the horse", said Mr Mitchell.

Most people think of forests only in terms of the carbon dioxide they absorb. The rainforests of the Amazon, the Congo basin and Indonesia are thought of as the lungs of the planet. But the destruction of those forests will in the next four years alone, in the words of Sir Nicholas Stern, pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than every flight in the history of aviation to at least 2025.

Indonesia became the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world last week. Following close behind is Brazil. Neither nation has heavy industry on a comparable scale with the EU, India or Russia and yet they comfortably outstrip all other countries, except the United States and China.

What both countries do have in common is tropical forest that is being cut and burned with staggering swiftness. Smoke stacks visible from space climb into the sky above both countries, while satellite images capture similar destruction from the Congo basin, across the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo.

According to the latest audited figures from 2003, two billion tons of carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere every year from deforestation. That destruction amounts to fifty million acres - or an area the size of England, Wales and Scotland felled annually.

The remaining standing forest is calculated to contain 1,000 billion tons of carbon, or double what is already in the atmosphere.

As the GCP's report concludes: "If we lose forests, we lose the fight against climate change".

Standing forest was not included in the original Kyoto protocols and stands outside the carbon markets that the report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pointed to this month as the best hope for halting catastrophic warming.

The landmark Stern Report last year, and the influential McKinsey Report in January agreed that forests offer the "single largest opportunity for cost-effective and immediate reductions of carbon emissions".

International demand has driven intensive agriculture, logging and ranching that has proved an inexorable force for deforestation; conservation has been no match for commerce. The leading rainforest scientists are now calling for the immediate inclusion of standing forests in internationally regulated carbon markets that could provide cash incentives to halt this disastrous process.

Forestry experts and policy makers have been meeting in Bonn, Germany, this week to try to put deforestation on top of the agenda for the UN climate summit in Bali, Indonesia, this year. Papua New Guinea, among the world's poorest nations, last year declared it would have no choice but to continue deforestation unless it was given financial incentives to do otherwise.

Richer nations already recognise the value of uncultivated land. The EU offers EUR 200 (GBP 135) per hectare subsidies for "environmental services" to its farmers to leave their land unused.

And yet there is no agreement on placing a value on the vastly more valuable land in developing countries. More than fifty per cent of the life on Earth is in tropical forests, which cover less than seven per cent of the planet's surface.

They generate the bulk of rainfall worldwide and act as a thermostat for the Earth. Forests are also home to 1.6 billion of the world's poorest people who rely on them for subsistence. However, forest experts say governments continue to pursue science fiction solutions to the coming climate catastrophe, preferring bio-fuel subsidies, carbon capture schemes and next-generation power stations.

Putting a price on the carbon these vital forests contain is the only way to slow their destruction. Hylton Philipson, a trustee of Rainforest Concern, explained: "In a world where we are witnessing a mounting clash between food security, energy security and environmental security - while there's money to be made from food and energy and no income to be derived from the standing forest, it's obvious that the forest will take the hit."

(c) 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

Commerce must be seen as an ally, not an enemy

by Andrew Mitchell

from The Independent & The Independent on Sunday (May 14 2007)

Emissions from tropical rainforests are the elephant in the living room of climate change.

Twice as much carbon is stored in the trees as in the whole of the earth's atmosphere. If that goes up in smoke, you can forget the whole caboodle, yet poor countries are burning forests like there is no tomorrow. Why do we argue over air travel when carbon from the next five years of burning rainforests will be greater than that for the entire history of aviation - and for at least the next two decades!

Yet halting those emissions remains a minor part of the agenda, despite a report in January by the consultancy gurus, McKinsey, showing forestry offered the largest and most cost-effective opportunity for global action. Clearly, forests should be first, not last in the debate - yet the same report buried forests under a mountain of technology-based solutions that developing countries can ill afford. What is going on?

When Kyoto was conceived, it seemed right that precautionary measures should focus on the industrialised nations first. Heavy hitters in the NGO world lobbied to exclude forests from Kyoto to prevent industrialised nations from buying carbon credits in, say, the Amazon or Borneo. The result has offered these no way of getting Kyoto credits from their forests other than by cutting them down and planting new ones.

Fortunately, a year ago the Coalition of Rainforest Nations demanded that it should be paid to stop cutting down forests. Brazil has now put forward its own proposals for a rainforest credit scheme.

After thirty years at the conservation frontline, I fear that history may condemn our past efforts as little more than the "charge of the Light Brigade". Now we must increase the value of rainforests to stand up to the power of rising global demand and we must harness commerce as an ally.

In January, I hosted a visit by Governor Braga of Amazonas State to London. He was asking for help to save the biggest store of natural carbon on the planet. But the Amazon offers much more than carbon. It acts like a global-scale utility, generating rain vital for Brazil's agriculture, hydropower stations and industry, while the forest canopies of the Amazon, Congo and Asia air-condition our atmosphere, buffer climatic conditions and give livelihoods to 1.6 billion.

Marketing these ecosystem services could provide the added value forests need and help dampen the effects of industrial emissions. Our global alliance of scientific organisations has set up the VivoCarbon Initiative to deepen our understanding of the vital roles played by living carbon, and today I am launching our first Report, which calls for increased incentives for sustaining rainforests, and mechanisms to pay for it.

There is nothing to be gained from allowing the folly of deforestation to continue. Those countries wise enough to have kept their forests could find themselves the owners of a new billion-dollar industry.


Andrew Mitchell is the Founder and Director, Global Canopy Programme

(c) 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

Bill Totten

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic

by Coby Beck

A Few Things Ill Considered (February 19 2006)

A layman's take on the science of Global Warming

I have spent about eighteen months now rather obsessed with the controversy over Global Warming. Firstly, as a matter of disclosure, IANACS (I Am Not A Climate Scientist) but rather an intelligent layman who is concerned about an issue with ramifications for all of us. That said, I have read and discussed and enquired about a great deal of the scientific material that is out there and quite easily accessible. The scientific case is actually not that difficult to follow even if you lack the specific and highly technical knowledge required to create it.

One thing I have noticed over these months is that there are a very limited number of objections or attacks on what is really very sound and well resolved science but they come up over and over again on sci.environment, and the blogs I visit either regularily or occasionally. I think this is an important debate and I want to help fight the good fight.

Now there are already a few very good FAQ's out there about the science, so I don't feel the need to create yet another. Rather what I would like to do is provide a layman's guide to defending against the assorted specious attacks that are out there, both by pointing out the basic logical fallacies they are based on and providing some appropriate reference material to avoid the typical "is too, is not" exchanges these things frequently devolve into. Nothing like a nice link to an authoritative resource to refute the factually incorrect pontifications. Nothing like a calmly presented and solidly logical rebuttal to put the scaliwags in their place!

I invite suggestions for other Guide topics and any and all scientific corrections or clarifications. Any advice I do take up, I reserve the right to delete from the comments just to keep a coherent page.

So without further ado here are links to the best responses I can think of for the following climate sceptic arguments, please feel free to refer to, paraphrase or quote as desired:
groups the Guide topics by category and contains a link to each topic.
contains a link to each Guide topic, as listed here:

There is no real evidence of warming, just model predictions.

Global Warming is nothing but an environmentalist hoax.

One warmest year on record is not global warming.

The surface temperature record is so full of assumptions and corrections that it only says what the scientists want.

In the 1970's they said a new ice age was coming.

Global temperatures over just one hundred years doesn't mean anything.

Glaciers have always grown and receded. A few glaciers receeding today is not proof of Global Warming.

Climate scientist are trying to hide the dominant role of water vapor in Global Warming.

H2O is the only significant greenhouse gas.

There is no proof that CO2 is what is causing the temperature to go up.

The current warming is just a part of natural variations, humans have nothing to do with it.

It was even warmer during the Holocene Climatic Optimum

The Medieval Warm Period was just as warm as it is today.

All in all, a warmer climate sounds like a good thing.

Reducing fossil fuel usage is mass suicide.

Even if we fully implemented the Kyoto protocol it would have virtually no effect on the temperature even by mid 21st century.

Why do India and China get a free pass? That's not fair, no wonder the US did not join.

But there is Global Warming on Mars, without any SUV's or human influence at all.

It was very cold in Wagga Wagga today, this proves there is no Global Warming.

The ice core records show clearly that CO2 rising is an effect of rising temperatures, not a cause.
There is no consensus yet on the cause or even the reality of Global Warming.

Ice sheets in the Antarctic are growing which proves Global Warming isn't real.

Volcanoes emit way more CO2 than people, so emissions controls would be useless.

Global Warming is an illusion caused by the Urban Heat Island Effect.

We can't even predict the weather next week, forget about 100 years from now!

Greenland used to be nice and warm and the vikings lived there happily until the Little Ice Age.

Climate is a chaotic system and just like the stock market, forget about predicting where it will go.

The models are unproven and therefore unreliable.

Satellites are more reliable and they show cooling.

But the temperature dropped all through the 40's and 50's while CO2 rose, there must be something else going on.

The Null Hypotheis says the warming is natural.

Geological history is full of periods where CO2 was high and temperatures were low and vice versa.

The climate is always changing, no reason to think it is our fault.

Natural emissions of carbon are 30 times bigger than human emissions, so any reductions are useless.

CO2 is measured on Mauna Loa, which is an active volcano. That is why the levels are so high

Global Warming began about 20,000 years ago, humans have nothing to do with it.

Even if the ice caps melt, the water will go into the ground underneath.

CO2 has risen on its own before, no reason to assume it is our fault.

The Hockey Stick is broken, global warming theory falls apart.

No one knows how confident the models really are.

There is no historical precedent for CO2 causing warming, it is the opposite.

James Hansen is being an alarmist, just like before.

Position statements hide legitimate scientific debate.

Climate Models don't even take cloud effects into consideration.

Global Warming stopped eight years ago!

Global warming is caused by the sun, of course.

The United States actually absorbs more CO2 than it emits.

Most of the glaciers are growing, just a few are shrinking.

If we don't understand the past, how can we understand the present?

Global Dimming is stronger in the north, so how come it is not warming more in the south?

"Probaby", "likely", "evidence suggests". Even the scientist aren't sure AGW is real!

Sea ice in the Antarctic is growing.

This alledged consensus is just because scientists are afraid to speak out.

Some locations are actually cooling, which shouldn't happen if there is global warming.

The small observed warming shows that the climate models are overestimating CO2's importance.

Sea level measurments in the Arctic Ocean show that it is falling, not rising!

Today's warming is just a natural rebound from the Little Ice Age.

AGW theory is not even scientific because you can not do experiments and make predictions.

Bill Totten

Global Warming Suspicions and Confusions

by Justin Podur

ZNet | Science (May 11 2007)

In recent years, a number of important contributions have influenced the growing debate on global warming. Paul Baer and Tom Athanasiou's book, Dead Heat {1}, from a few years ago, was excellent. Noam Chomsky's latest book, Failed States {2}, mentions global warming as one of the three more urgent problems humanity faces (the others being war and the lack of democratic institutions to deal with problems). George Monbiot's new book, Heat {3}, provides a workable set of proposals for stabilizing the climate without draconian sacrifice (except commercial flight).

Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth {4} cuts back and forth between cogent explanations of climate science and self-aggrandizement (Gore on the farm, Gore walking to the stage, Gore changing planes at the airport, Gore doing product placement typing on his Mac computer). Properly filtered, however, it provides an excellent introductory lecture on climate change. I wish that it had come from someone else, someone who hadn't vice-presided over the Iraq sanctions regime and the bombing of Yugoslavia. But the fact that Gore made it popular doesn't make it a sham. The terms of discussion for any major problem are usually set by elites, with the rest of us trying to sort out truth from falsehood and sensible policy from corporate propaganda after the fact.

Scientific issues, like any issues, take work and time to understand. Those who can't take the time to delve into the issues, and no one can delve into everything, look for credible sources. To leftists, Gore is simply not a credible source. He is seen as an apologist for the powerful interests he served while in office and callous about the people who suffered under his rule. Furthermore, leftists are suspicious of any elite consensus, including a scientific one. They know that dubious science is often trotted out to state why some regressive policy or other is justified. Leftists therefore need people credible to them to go back and do what Gore and Flannery did - to explain the basics of climate science. Much of what they would explain would be the same as Gore does, and the same ways - but it would not come from a tainted source, nor would it be tainted by political campaigning. Both Baer/Athanasiou's Dead Heat and Monbiot's Heat accept the scientific consensus on global warming and do not spend much time on the basic science, leaving that field to people like Gore and popular science writers like Tim Flannery, who wrote The Weather Makers {5}.

The first problem for leftists trying to understand climate science is that they cannot trust Gore and they cannot automatically trust the scientific consensus. The next problem is that the best-known proposed solutions for dealing with the problem are flawed. The Kyoto Protocol, for example, is completely inadequate for stabilizing emissions. Carbon emissions trading and markets are designed to provide incentives to corporate emitters. Biofuels, in the form of palm oil and sugarcane plantations, are helping to displace peasants through paramilitary massacre in Colombia, contributing to dangerous food shortages, and in any case cause carbon dioxide emissions just like fossil fuels do. If credible science is mixed with dubious pro-corporate policy, which is what Gore has to offer, leftists might feel the sensible thing to do is reject the whole package.

They need not do so, however. Monbiot's book, Heat, is principally about climate policy, and what policies would be necessary in order to stabilize the climate. He is not an advocate for carbon markets, which he recognizes as providing incentives to corporate polluters. What he does advocate, as Baer & Athanasiou advocated in Dead Heat, is a per-capita emissions quota, the same for everyone in the world. If only a certain amount of total carbon dioxide emission is compatible with a stable climate, then the right to emit ought to be the same for everyone. Baer & Athanasiou's book, and their website,, discuss a stabilization policy based on a per capita emissions quota. They argue that, because people in poor countries emit much less than their right and people in rich countries emit much more, a credible stabilization policy would include both reduction of emissions in the rich countries and the reduction of global inequality. Monbiot's book focuses on feasible technological and policy changes for bringing the carbon dioxide emissions of first-world countries down to the per-capita quota. By showing that the worst emitters could achieve the necessary reduction without significant suffering, Monbiot debunks the notion that stabilizing the climate requires brutal austerity or the continuation of third-world poverty.

Monbiot is also clear on another point: that the impacts of global warming, like environmental problems in general, are not the same for everyone. Many environmentalists, including climate activists, believe that because we all have to live on the planet, we can all agree that environmental problems must be solved. But the wealthy and powerful have always been able to insulate themselves from the effects of environmental problems. They appropriate the territories and resources they want and leave others to starve or die. The hardest hit peoples, in countries like Bangladesh and Ethiopia, are those who are already suffering tremendously. Hurricane Katrina in the United States is another case of how "natural" disaster does not unite elites with people but, instead, can be used to entrench ever more regressive relations.

If elites also control the parameters of discussion on a problem such as global warming, they can be expected to advocate not solving it, as they know their interests will be served regardless. If elites are advocating solutions, they will advocate solutions that will protect their interests, whether these actually solve the problem or not. Advocacy of ignoring or denying the problem is the model for parts of the petroleum industry, right-wing politicians and movements, and their PR machinery, which Monbiot calls "the Denial Industry". Advocacy of "solutions" that serve elite interests is the model for advocates of carbon markets and watered-down versions of Kyoto.

This leaves leftists, who oppose elite agendas, with two options. First, their suspicion of the sources on the science can lead them to the position that the scientific consensus is wrong. Alternatively, they can accept the science and then reject elite proposals for dealing with the problem and propose alternative policy suggestions in light of their own values and priorities, which is what I believe Monbiot has done, and Baer/Athanasiou before him.

Recent essays by leftists Alexander Cockburn, Denis Rancourt, and David Noble, in contrast, take the first position. They are reacting to a recent change in elite strategy on the problem of global warming. The initial elite strategy was that of complete denial, and it was successful in delaying any action on climate change for crucial years. The recent change of strategy by part of the elite (prompted perhaps by increasing evidence in every field that global warming is happening) seems to be to try to co-opt and control the discussion, if not of the problem itself, then of the possible solutions for it. These three activists (Cockburn, Rancourt, & Noble, or CRN) have reasonable suspicions of this rapid change of elite strategy and its expression in media hype about climate change. Their reactions, however, are in error. If their views are adopted by many leftists, elites will be able to claim that leftists are anti-science and anti-green, when what people most need are sensible green proposals that are also in accord with values of justice, equality, and solidarity.

In an essay on Counterpunch {6}, Alexander Cockburn makes a number of claims about climate science that indicate a dismissal of the scientific consensus. He claims there is "zero empirical evidence that anthropogenic production of carbon dioxide is making any measurable contribution to the world's present warming trend", for example. But the mechanism by which atmospheric carbon dioxide causes warming ("the greenhouse effect") is well understood. So is the fact that anthropogenic production of carbon dioxide is increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And so, too, is the current warming trend, which Cockburn acknowledges. Cockburn seeks to break the chain of reasoning (from carbon dioxide causing warming, to anthropogenic increases of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere contributing to warming) by suggesting that anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide do not change atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. He does so by referring to some data on carbon dioxide emissions and carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere from the 1920s and 1930s that say when anthropogenic emissions were low due to the Great Depression carbon dioxide in the atmosphere did not change. He interprets this to mean that "it is impossible to assert that the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide stems from human burning of fossil fuels". But it is the very fact that carbon dioxide is long-lived in the atmosphere (compared to water vapour, for example) that makes emissions of it such a serious problem. Even if the data he presents are accurate (the most reliable records of atmospheric carbon dioxide begin in the 1960s) they cannot be taken to mean what he says they do. They could, instead, simply mean that there is a lag between changes in carbon dioxide emission and changes in atmospheric concentration. One analogy a reader of the article at suggested was this: if you are filling a bathtub and turn off the tap, the bathtub does not instantly empty, nor does the fact that it doesn't empty make it impossible to assert a connection between the tap and the amount of water in the tub.

Cockburn was also answered in more general terms by Monbiot {7}, who cautioned against dismissing an entire body of science with a series of fairly random assertions. Some of Cockburn's specific scientific claims were answered by climate scientists at {8}. Cockburn was using his scientific claims as part of a larger argument that the market in carbon dioxide emissions was like the market in papal indulgences during medieval times - a release for people's consciences that made profits for elites (the church in medieval times, corporations today) while exploiting people's guilt (for sin then or emissions now) without fundamentally changing anything. This valid point about carbon markets is thus combined with a dismissal of climate science and global warming as a serious problem using a number of false and discredited claims as evidence. This is too bad, because it will make readers doubt his other insights, and it abets the climate deniers.

Denis Rancourt, a physics professor and activist at the University of Ottawa, published a similar essay on his blog some weeks ago {9}. In it, he sets out some of the standard scientific claims presented by denial industry spokespeople. These include notions that water vapor and solar radiation are the real culprit, not carbon dioxide emissions, that warming is not such a big deal, and other arguments. explain how water vapor is a greenhouse gas {9}, and an important one, but it is much more short-lived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, and this makes it a "feedback", not a "forcing" like carbon dioxide is. also explains solar forcing {10}: There are fluctuations in solar radiation, but they are not sufficient to explain the warming trend, nor would even the presence of significant solar radiation fluctuations make carbon dioxide irrelevant. They also explain the lag between carbon dioxide and temperature in the glacial record {11}. Another useful resource to accompany Rancourt's essay is this collection of Q/A on "How to talk to a climate skeptic", by Coby Beck {12}.

Rancourt's essay ends with a long list of "selected supporting references", but there are no citations for his individual claims, and therefore no way of knowing what references he has selected or whether it actually supports what he is saying. In between making his own scientific claims, which we are supposed to accept on his authority as a physicist, he argues that scientists are not to be believed and the scientific consensus is not to be trusted because "scientists are simple beings" who follow the herd. There is a contradiction here, between Rancourt making scientific claims in his blog, which we are supposed to accept because he is a scientist, and his attacking all scientists and all of science as conformist and conservative, which we are to accept on his authority, perhaps because of his inside knowledge of scientists.

I disagree with Rancourt on this entire issue of science. While science can be manipulated and a few scientists can always be found to provide the right statement for the right price (whether on climate, tobacco, or pharmaceuticals) I believe there are some things that can be known about the natural world, and scientists have uncovered some of these things, including about the climate system. How this knowledge is spun or used or ignored is another matter. But the appeal of science is that, given time and effort, we can understand things about the world. While this is no reason to completely defer to scientists, it is reason to give weight to arguments that are supported by the cumulative efforts of thousands of people who have spent time and care looking into an issue - more weight, in any case, than arguments recycled from the petroleum-funded denial industry.

In contrast, Rancourt's anti-science arguments suggest that there is no way to get at an objective understanding of the climate or, by extension, any other situation. Rancourt leaves readers to accept only his authority. The political or policy core of Rancourt's essay is, again, an attack on carbon dioxide markets. He advocates various leftist policies, and argues that leftists should advocate these without reference to carbon dioxide emissions or global warming, which is, to him, a dangerous diversion. By combining discredited scientific claims about global warming, an attack on science itself, and leftist positions on numerous issues, Rancourt has associated decent left positions with discredited and false claims and arguments.

David Noble, a friend of Rancourt's, a professor at York University and an activist, was, according to Rancourt's blog, inspired by Rancourt to write about the "global climate coup" for Canadian Dimension {13}. Noble's argument is that global warming politics have derailed the global justice movement and diverted it into the dead end of carbon dioxide markets. He shows how elite think-tanks and corporations have endorsed "solutions" to global warming that will increase their profits and power. His research on the corporate connections of various groups, first of the denialist persuasion, and then of the market-solutions persuasion, is useful. But he loses most of his credibility in his introduction, which implies that global warming is a funny joke:

"Don't breathe. There's a total war on against carbon dioxide emissions, and you are releasing carbon dioxide with every breath. The multi-media campaign against global warming now saturating our senses, which insists that an increasing carbon dioxide component of greenhouse gases is the enemy, takes no prisoners: you are either with us or you are with the"deniers". No one can question the new orthodoxy or dare risk the sin of emission."

His credibility is further harmed by his conclusion, in which he calls Monbiot a dupe of the elite group that is creating hype about global warming, whose message Monbiot "unwittingly peddles with such passion". Noble calls Monbiot's book "embarrassing in its funneled focus and its naive deference to the authority of science ... as if there was such a thing as science that was not also politics". Unlike Cockburn and Rancourt, Noble does not get into dubious scientific claims, but he does present global warming as if it is a diversionary elite campaign, or simply a joke, and not a serious problem. He could have made his case that elites are trying to divert attention from actual solutions to the problem (the substantive part of Monbiot's book, only the introduction of which Noble quotes) and towards creating new markets and new privileges and powers for themselves without so flippantly dismissing concern about the climate, presenting that concern as nothing more than an elite agenda, or suggesting that all science was politicized. By doing so, he associates a useful critique of elite cooptation of climate politics with a misrepresentation of the problem, its urgency, and the potential for solutions.

The strength of Monbiot's book is its presentation of a set of policies that could stabilize the climate in accord with values of justice and equity. Monbiot is as hard on phony capitalist climate schemes as Cockburn, Rancourt, or Noble (CRN) are, but he does not rest his political analysis on an attack on a body of science (as Cockburn and Rancourt do), or on an attack on science itself (as Rancourt and Noble do). The problem with these authors' mixing sensible policy proposals and cautions with false scientific claims and an anti-science tone is analogous to the problem of Gore's mixing of sensible science with elite agendas. If suspicion of Gore and elite carbon dioxide market advocacy can drive leftists like CRN towards a position denying that global warming is a problem, then a reliance on discredited science or anti-science positions by leftists like CRN can drive people away from leftists (and leftists certainly don't need more ways of driving people away). The need is for leftists to understand and explain the science of global warming and to think of and advocate proposals for solving the problem in accord with values of equality and solidarity. Both Monbiot and Baer/Athanasiou have done some of that work. Instead CRN reject the science and dismiss the solutions like Kyoto or carbon dioxide markets not because they are inadequate (which they are) or because they serve elite agendas (which they do), but because they conclude that there is no problem to solve in the first place. CRN are trying to open the wrong debate. Rather than a debate over the validity of discredited scientific positions, what is needed is a debate on how to resist the elite agendas that have led to the warming, then to its denial, and that now seek to co-opt movements for change. On this, I hope CRN might eventually agree.
















Justin Podur is a writer and editor for ZNet. He can be reached at

Bill Totten

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Memorial Day Message

The Cheers at Jerry Falwell's Funeral

by Reverend Billy

All our lives - Jerry Falwell has threatened us all with Hell and Damnation, and more 9/11's if we persist in touching each other THERE ... and then he up and dies. There's something unusually smug about using death all your life as a cudgel, and then dying yourself just as your threats begin to lose their sting.

Reverend Falwell's heart attack at his desk has gladdened the hearts of leftish spectators, who have filled the bleachers of an arena around his cross-covered desk and applaud wildly. Falwell falling to the floor of his office has its timing: it happens at the same time as the leak that Wolfowitz will clean out his desk at the World Bank. Our standing ovation is a self- congratulation, that this thirty-year long Hard Right nightmare is lifting.

The real danger from Jerry's death is that observers won't notice that Ronald Reagan never died. Reverend Ronny was the first President who was an out-of-the-closet Ad Man, a shill for the biggest weapons-maker in the world, General Electric. Reverend Ron introduced the 82nd Airborne Division to Adobe Illustrator. Madison Avenue dismissed Pentecostals as rednecks before Ron saved their liberal souls. When Ron came down from the mountain - he didn't have to tell us that anal sex was Saddam's co-pilot in those two jets. After 9/11, Reverend Ronny spoke through Bush and Giuliani: "Either you are a terrorist or you will go shopping ... "

Jerry Falwell whipped up a smorgasbord of eternities, a varietal of apocalypses and his Golgotha was the voting booth. But Reagan gave you heaven right now, at 25% interest per annum. The Shopping God is a more fundamentalist deity than the Jealous Desert God that the Jerrys and Jimmys and Pats brought into the western and southern suburbs. It is a totalizing system. The current war is one product that we purchased, for a trillion bucks, but the commodification comes down into the smallest parts of lives - the nano-marketers are trying to tattoo logos on our chromosomes. Reverend Ronny's superior being is now so ubiquitous that the old right-left political map is sundered, as are dimensions such as up and down, and here and there.

This God is called "Convenience", and "Prosperity", and "America". Let's call Him the God of the Monoculture. The God of "America As The Ultimate One Stop Shopping" Experience. On His shopping list: The daily shipfuls of cars and trucks shoved into the concrete-scape. The two-mile wide tornados that hit us like laser-guided predator drones. And of course, the Polar Bears drowning on the front page. And we're supposed to shop our way out of this? Shop our way out of shopping? Shopping itself is the problem, or, shall we say, The Devil.

What's happening in your neighborhood? We've watched another of our neighbors get back up on the on-ramp, looking for the fifth job in five years. The private tragedies multiply as the storefronts simplify - the same couple dozen logos are everywhere, tortured sleek shapes, swooshes and arches and thunderous puns. It is dawning on the part of our conscience that wants to be a good citizen - this retail economy is brutally primitive, and very religious, in the worst sense. In the Church of Eternal Consumption, our own neighborhood disappears as surely as a village in Iraq.

Consumerism is a way of life that we Americans have chosen. With President Reverend Ronny it was the biggest scariest weapon system in the cold war. We bought it. We buy it. Red Square is now a super mall. But children, it is also our right to refuse to make that purchase in the future. And I believe that there are signs that consumption is slowing down. Local economies are springing up that Wall Street can't find. That's a birth worth cheering about! Change-a-lujah!

Why don't you reward yourself for braving such startling visions of the Shopocalypse with a video starring Sister Laura and The Stop Shopping Gospel Choir singing the First Amendment Song? You can learn this song and others on June 6th at St Mark's Church in the Bowery! More info at

Also see

Bill Totten

The Sad, Quotable Jerry Falwell

It's bad form to speak ill of the dead.

Good thing this man's own vile words speak for themselves

by Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist (May 18 2007)

You can eulogize. You can mourn and ponder and do a lengthy retrospective, a political analysis, a sociocultural examination of a career and a legacy and a rather remarkable life. When remembering the dead, the journalistic options are legion.

But in the case of the late Reverend Jerry Falwell, the grandfather of the fundamentalist religious right and the foremost champion of the creation of a brutally homophobic, mysogynistic Christian theocracy in America {1}, perhaps it's better to let the man's most insidiously famous quotes speak for themselves {2}, and let time and karma be the judge of whether Falwell left the world a better place than when he found it. All citations here are available at {3} and elsewhere.

"AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals".

"The abortionists have got to bear some burden for [the attacks of Sept. 11] because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy forty million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen'." {4}

"If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being".

"Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions".

"I listen to feminists and all these radical gals - most of them are failures. They've blown it. Some of them have been married, but they married some Casper Milquetoast who asked permission to go to the bathroom. These women just need a man in the house {5}. That's all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home. And they blew it and they're mad at all men. Feminists hate men. They're sexist. They hate men - that's their problem."

"When you have a godly husband, a godly wife, children who respect their parents and who are loved by their parents, who provide for those children their physical and spiritual and material needs, lovingly, you have the ideal unit". {6}

"The ACLU is to Christians what the American Nazi party is to Jews".

"I am saying pornography hurts anyone who reads it - garbage in, garbage out".

"I am such a strong admirer and supporter of George W Bush that if he suggested eliminating the income tax or doubling it, I would vote yes on first blush".

"I believe that global warming is a myth. And so, therefore, I have no conscience problems at all and I'm going to buy a Suburban next time."

"It is God's planet - and he's taking care of it. And I don't believe that anything we do will raise or lower the temperature one point."

"I truly cannot imagine men with men, women with women, doing what they were not physically created to do, without abnormal stress and misbehavior".

"It appears that America's anti-Biblical feminist movement is at last dying, thank God, and is possibly being replaced by a Christ-centered men's movement {7} which may become the foundation for a desperately needed national spiritual awakening."

"There's been a concerted effort to steal Christmas".

"I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!"

"The First Amendment is not without limits".

"Someone must not be afraid to say, 'moral perversion is wrong'. If we do not act now, homosexuals will 'own' America! {8} If you and I do not speak up now, this homosexual steamroller will literally crush all decent men, women, and children who get in its way ... and our nation will pay a terrible price!"

"If he's going to be the counterfeit of Christ, [the Antichrist] has to be Jewish. The only thing we know is he must be male and Jewish."

"The argument that making contraceptives available to young people would prevent teen pregnancies is ridiculous. That's like offering a cookbook as a cure to people who are trying to lose weight."

"The whole global warming thing is created to destroy America's free enterprise system and our economic stability".

"You'll be riding along in an automobile. You'll be the driver perhaps. You're a Christian. There'll be several people in the automobile with you, maybe someone who is not a Christian. When the trumpet sounds you and the other born-again believers in that automobile will be instantly caught away - you will disappear, leaving behind only your clothes and physical things that cannot inherit eternal life. That unsaved person or persons in the automobile will suddenly be startled to find the car suddenly somewhere crashes ... Other cars on the highway driven by believers will suddenly be out of control and stark pandemonium will occur on ... every highway in the world where Christians are caught away from the drivers wheel." -- from Falwell's pamphlet "Nuclear War and the Second Coming of Christ" {9}

"God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve".

"You know when I see somebody burning the flag, I'm a Baptist preacher I'm not a Mennonite, I feel it's my obligation to whip him. In the name of the Lord, of course. I feel it's my obligation to whip him, and if I can't do it then I look up some of my athletes to help me. But, as long as at 72 I can handle most of the jobs I do it myself, and I don't think it's un-spiritual. When I, when I, when I hear somebody talking about our military and ridiculing and saying terrible things about our President, I'm thinking you know just a little bit of that and I believe the Lord would forgive me if I popped him."

"The Bible is the inerrant ... word of the living God. It is absolutely infallible, without error in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as well as in areas such as geography, science, history, et cetera".

"The National Organization for Women (NOW) is the National Order of Witches". {10}

"God doesn't listen to Jews".

"Tinky Winky is gay".













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Bill Totten