Since I can’t devote as much time to everything I read, here is a quick roundup of things I thought were interesting recently:
A Nature article (subs. req’d) describes some of the problems with a trending climate effort: decadal predictions. In the past, agencies just made climate projections for a couple of centuries into the future. In addition to that, interest in projections over the next 10 or 20 years grew. Unfortunately, climate models aren’t well designed for these short time frames. Thus, they miss high-frequency climate events made just after agencies issue them. Of particular concern are the high impact events, as we tend to focus on them. I would remind critics that point out these “misses” that very few financial models indicated the biggest economic disruption of our lifetime: the Great Recession, yet we continue to ascribe great status to the same financial titans that universally missed that high impact event. That means, of course, that critics remain within their tribal identities and look for any evidence to support their position, even as they ignore similar evidence for analogous cases.
A group made an interesting counter argument regarding the cause behind the US’s recent drop in CO2 emissions. Instead of the switch from carbon-intensive coal to slightly less intensive natural gas, as many analysts described, this group claims the drop occurred due to widespread, massive efficiency gains. I characterize this as interesting because the group is countering the International Energy Agency, among others. While not prescient, the IEA is the leading authority in these types of analyses. We shouldn’t take their analyses without a grain of salt, of course, as their methodologies are likely imperfect. Instead, this new argument should encourage further research and analysis. Was the coal-to-gas switch primarily responsible or was efficiency? Additional years’ data will help to clarify the respective roles. In the long-term, efficiency can play as big or a bigger role than the coal-to-gas switch that occurred to date. That’s where innovation funded from a carbon price comes into play.
Grist ran an informative series recently that included a short video of how much energy the US uses – the primary generators and consumers by type and sector. The upshot is this: the US uses 100 quads (an energy measurement), which makes further discussion quite simple. The US generates 81-83 quads (81-83%) via fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas). That leaves only 17-19% of US generation by non-fossil sources. Most non-fossil energy generation is nuclear, which means renewables account for the smallest share of energy generation. Most of that is hydropower from dams that we built in the first half of the 20th century. This data will form the basis of my next post, which will examine the implications of this energy breakdown for climate policy. What will it take to replace 83 quads of fossil fuel energy generation with renewable energy generation?