Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

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Deep Decarbonization Pathways Interim Report Released

An international group of folks put together an interim report analyzing “Deep Decarbonization Pathways”.  Decarbonization refers to the process of using less carbon within an economy.  The intent of the report was to show ways forward to keep global mean temperatures below 2C.  Readers of this blog know that I no longer think such a goal is achievable given the scope and scale of decarbonization.  We have not moved from a “business-as-usual” approach and have run out of time to reduce GHG emissions prior to relevant limits to meet this goal.  I argue the exact opposite of what the authors describe in their summary:

We do not subscribe to the view held by some that the 2°C limit is impossible to achieve and that it should be weakened or dropped altogether.

Thus the main problem with this report.  They’re using a threshold that was determined without robustly analyzing necessary actions to achieve it.  In other words, they a priori constrain themselves by adopting the 2C threshold.  Specifically, a more useful result would be to ascertain what real-world requirements exist to support different warming values in terms real people can intuitively understand.  The report is not newsworthy in that it reaches the same results that other reports reached by making similar assumptions.  Those assumptions are necessary and sufficient in order to meet the 2C threshold.  But examination unveils something few people want to recognize: they are unrealistic.  I will say that this report goes into more detail than any report I’ve read to date about the assumptions.  The detail is only slightly deeper than the assumptions themselves, but are illuminating nonetheless.

An important point here: the authors make widespread use of “catastrophe” in the report.  Good job there – it continues the bad habit of forcing the public to tune out anything the report has to say.  Why do people insist on using physical science, but not social science to advance policy?

On a related note, the report’s graphics are terrible.  They’re cool-color only, which makes copy/paste results look junky and interpretation harder than it should be.  So they put up multiple barriers to the report’s results.  I’m not sure why if the intent is to persuade policy makers toward action, but …

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Slow 2011 Hybrid Car Sales & $4 Gas

I’ve read numerous articles in the first week of the new year describing the “disappointing” sales numbers of hybrid and electric vehicles in the U.S. in 2011.  It somehow makes sense to declare a subsector industry dead after sales came in under expectations.  Interestingly, the same hybrid/electric naysayers didn’t have the same opinion when internal combustion car sales tanked a few years back.

Here is the latest article, written from the Detroit Auto Show.  It brings together a couple of salient facts which aren’t explored in any depth.

Hybrid sales waned as gasoline prices ebbed in 2011, declining to 2.2 percent of the market from 2.4 percent a year earlier, according to the research firm LMC Automotive. Meanwhile, sales of the Nissan Leaf electric car and the Chevrolet Volt plug-in each fell short of expectations.

Analysts do not expect the segment to grow significantly this year: the combination of gas prices below $4 a gallon and higher upfront costs for the cars is not attracting consumers.

I understand the higher upfront costs, especially in the continued economic malaise that most Americans are experiencing.  The $4 per gallon of gas is an interesting factoid to throw in there though, don’t you think?  After all, we’ve only visually seen $4 gas once so far.  Gas prices in 2011 came close to $4, but the magic `4` never appeared on signs.

Which brings me to the following: demand in 2011, especially the 2nd half of 2011, was multiple percentage points below demand in 2010.  Yet gas prices rose to close to $4 anyway.  It’s all supply and demand, you might say, especially demand in other countries which would lead to higher fundamental prices.  Well, oil prices shot up in Feb-Apr from $84 to almost $114 per gallon, then fell back below $80 by Sep (when gas prices were highest, despite slack demand in the U.S.).  Oil is trading at more than $100 per gallon again now, yet gas prices continue to decline.

No, there are more variables than simply supply and demand at play.  $4 gas represents an important psychological barrier for traders just as it does for gasoline consumers.  There is incredible pressure to keep prices from rising above that threshold because too few people can think critically: when prices pass the threshold, one trader panics, then most everybody else panics.  Consumers are just as irrational, however.  More than anything, they sense that $4 gas represents some kind of significant threshold, even though too few consumers can analyze at which threshold gas represents a significant point at which their household budget is adversely affected.  Moreover, consumers have an irrational desire to recoup additional costs of a hybrid/electric vehicle inside of 1 year.  Where are their similar demands for products they’ve been buying their entire lives?  It really doesn’t exist.

In 2000, Toyota sold 5,600 Prii in the U.S. (the 1st year available).  In 2011, Nissan sold 9,700 Leafs in the U.S. (the 1st year available), or 73% more units than the Prius.  75% more sales of just 1 new hybrid/electric is a very significant number.  Imagine if there were 73% more sales of a new kind of cell phone than a different cell phone 10 years after the first was introduced.  That would be touted as a wild success story.  The poor treatment of the hybrid/electric vehicle segment is pitiful.  Is there a long path toward 1.5 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015?  Yes, there is.  But you might want to share with the rest of the car industry that having aggressive 2015 goals is a really bad idea.  I doubt you’ll receive much of an audience.

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Choices: Fuels, Efficiency, Transit vs. Drilling

I keep writing that we as a society and a species have choices that we’re continually making today that will affect the climate of tomorrow.  Most choices involve spending some small outlay of money today in order to not have to spend much larger sums just to adapt tomorrow.  The choice I’ll write about today deals with one of the Republican Teabaggers’ favorites: gradually use less fossil fuels in our transportation sector or “Drill, bagger, drill!”  As usual, the Teabaggers are on the wrong side of the issue, as this chart from the NRDC, using data from the Energy Information Administration shows:

The black line on top would be the pathetically measly result of opening up new drilling areas to the dirty energy corporations: less than 1 million more barrels of oil per day by 2025.  Real energy independent, eh?  Aside from the fact that oil corporations will sell that oil to whomever will buy it most expensively (i.e., not in the U.S.), three of the other measures would prevent the use of the same amount of oil by themselves.   Combined with other measures, the total number of barrels of oil that wouldn’t have to be bought and used is 5x the amount made available by opening up new drilling areas.

The results of using 5 million fewer barrels of oil per day by 2025 can’t be understated: less environmental damage in all aspects of the drilling process; real steps toward energy independence; freedom to keep more money in Americans’ pockets (isn’t that what Teabaggers are supposed to be all about, anyway?); more efficient transportation system.  And on and on it goes.

Going the drilling route couldn’t be more stupid.  This choice, as is the case for others, is pretty simple.

[h/t MB @ dKos)

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China To Invest 10X More On High-Speed Rail, If U.S. Decides To Invest Anything

V.P. Joe Biden is trying to drum up support to invest $53 Billion over 6 years to build new high-speed rail networks and  make current rail systems able to handle high-speed trains.

Meanwhile, China is planning on investing $451 Billion to $602 Billion on their high-speed rail networks between 2011 and 2015.

China is all but assured of spending that money.  I find it doubtful that Biden will be successful in convincing enough Republican Teabaggers in the U.S. House of Representatives to spend even 1/10th as much as the Chinese, even on a longer time frame.  Guess who’s more likely to lead the world through the 21st century?

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General Electric To Buy 25,000 Electric Vehicles

Expect more of this kind of news: General Electric has seen the writing on the wall and has decided to buy 25,000 electric vehicles for its fleet by 2015.  They will make an initial purchase of 12,000 GM cars, beginning with the Chevy Volt.

This is good news on a number of fronts.  Most importantly, tens of thousands of electric vehicles on the road means that much less oil needs to be drilled, transported, sold and burned in the United States.  The next phase in a 21st century grid will require less coal and natural gas burning, but less demand for oil is good for the environment and our national security.  It demonstrates that electric vehicles are viable transportation choices for fleet cars, which means cars like the Volt will be on the road and visible to the public in greater numbers sooner.  It will allow for smarter grid technologies to be implemented in more places.  It will help push the cost of electric vehicles lower moving forward.  Hundreds of thousands of electric vehicle sales will have to be made to start doing this.  The more, the merrier.  This will have a direct and nearly immediate benefit to GE – they are developing charging stations to sell.  There’s nothing like real-world use to make charging stations’ performance more efficient and robust.

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Frustrated Voters Might Get Buyer’s Remorse Soon

With newly-elected Republican Teabagger Governors in Wisconsin and Ohio, the Midwest might have voted itself decades’ worth of future economic heartache.  The new governors want to make good on their campaign promises to stop high-speed rail projects.

A Milwaukee-Madison link was to be completely paid for, but Gov.-elect Scott Walker, in typical Republican fashion, wants the money wasted on roads instead.  The grant money can’t be spent on roads, however.  The intent of high-speed rail stimulus was to build … high-speed rail.  I know, it’s a big shock.

Connecting Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati?  It’s one of the “dumbest ideas” Gov.-elect John Kasich has ever heard of.  Apparently, keeping Ohioans firmly in the 1950s as the rest of the world runs in the 2010’s isn’t one of those “dumbest ideas”.

I understand that upper-Midwesterners have had a rough go of it for decades now.  Corporations have chosen $1/week jobs in undeveloped nations instead of paying Americans living wages for a couple of generations.  The solution, however, wasn’t electing more of the ideological zealots that got them into today’s terrible economic mess in the first place.  Identifying and strongly supporting liberal Democrats should have been part of the answer.  Punishing pro-corporate Dems instead of pro-people Dems was, is and will remain the wrong thing to do.

I share the dissatisfaction with under-performing and anti-American CorporateDems.  In 2012, Democrats across the country need to make a very strong push for liberals and progressives who want to put the American people first.  Republican Teabaggers have a lot of cute sound-bites.  But make no mistake about it, they want power only to further expand the difference between the richest 1% of Americans and the rest of us.  Ohio and Wisconsin have set themselves back even further from actual economic recovery.  Instead of helping themselves out a few years from now, any relief won’t be felt for more than half a decade from now, at the earliest.  It’s not up to your politicians, Dems.  It’s up to you.  You need to take the lead in setting and keeping this country on the right track.

[Update]: I forgot about the $3 Billion (!) for the Hudson River Project that Gov. Chris Christie threw into the gutter.  Oh, and Gov.-elect Rick Scott of Florida doesn’t want $2.5 Billion the feds have authorized for high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando.  Tell you what, the rest of us will gladly take these funds and put them to good use in our states.  Numerous rail projects are possible in Colorado.  Any funds from the federal government would help get those projects underway.  Our economies would benefit as a result while your economies wouldn’t.  If that’s what you want to do in order to maintain some ridiculous notion of proper economic policy, by all means, keep rejecting funds.

Meteor Blades, among others, picked up on the very same notion I did.