Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Global Warming Doomsday Scenarios

I've always taken a jaundiced view of the doomsday prophets claiming that we will all die in a runaway global warming. I've seen too many of these various hysterias sweep over people and be carried to extremes.

Sure there is a kernel of truth in global warming scenarios. CO2 is a greenhouse gas and fossil fuel use has climbed inexorably over the last century and a half. But doomsday scnearios are generally a straight line extrapolation of old trends. In reality the world is more complicated and surprising new developments occur, e.g. world cities did not drown in meters of horse pucky in the early 20th century. Why not? The horses disappeared and internal combustion engines took over.

Here's a bit from a report in Bloomberg News that says that fossil fuel is going the way of horse-drawn transportation:
Solar generators may produce the majority of the world’s power within 50 years, slashing the emissions of greenhouse gases that harm the environment, according to a projection by the International Energy Agency.

Photovoltaic and solar-thermal plants may meet most of the world’s demand for electricity by 2060 -- and half of all energy needs -- with wind, hydropower and biomass plants supplying much of the remaining generation, Cedric Philibert, senior analyst in the renewable energy division at the Paris-based agency, said in an Aug. 26 phone interview.

“Photovoltaic and concentrated solar power together can become the major source of electricity,” Philibert said. “You’ll have a lot more electricity than today but most of it will be produced by solar-electric technologies.”

The solar findings, set to be published in a report later this year, go beyond the IEA’s previous forecast, which envisaged the two technologies meeting about 21 percent of the world’s power needs in 2050. The scenario suggests investors able to pick the industry’s winners may reap significant returns as the global economy shifts away from fossil fuels.
I see a couple of trends that are going to result in the hysteria over "global warming" being misplaced:
  • The story of "greenhouse gases" is too simplistic. Weather and climate are much more complex than the story told by the doomsayers.

  • The straight line extrapolations will fail because they don't recognize technological revolutions and I expect solar power to be one of those revolutions.

  • The trend in power consumption among developed countries changed late in the 20th century. Earlier there was a tight coupling between GDP growth and power use, but this declined as economies moved from manufacturing to post-industrial development

  • All hysteria is an overshoot. In order to motivate and drive a generally apathetic audience to the political motivation desired by the fanatics, they have to oversell their ideas. This becomes systemic and feeds on itself until their doomsday scenarios become simply incredible for those with a sophisticated understanding of how the world works. But these over-simplified scare stories are very effective in getting the naive caught up in the hysteria
Call me a cynic, but the "global warming" craze is over. When the fanatics stopped calling it "global warming" and went to "climate change" that was a clue. The climate is always changing so their cause can be validated whether temperatures go up or down. The real issue was always and still is "anthropogenic global warming", i.e. how much is human activity adding on top of any natural cycle of climate warming. The answer is "some" but not nearly as much as the fanatics would convince you it does.

If and when technology changes how human activity affects global warming, say by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, then the hysteria can die down.

Instead of trying to de-industrialize, the global warming fanatics should always have gone for the two winning strategies: energy efficiency and technology change. Instead they went for political solutions that would cap development and tax consumers in a crude attempt to manipulate human activity. It was, and is, a bad strategy. They would have been better off focusing on re-directing human change not stopping it.

No comments: