Beyond smoke and mirrors: the middle ground

by Judith Curry

Stanford physicist’s prescriptions include more natural gas and nuclear power, doubts about renewable energy goals, and a new way to gain political support.

Stanford Physicist and Nobel Laureate Burton Richter published a book entitled “Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century” (Cambridge, 2010).   From the editorial review at

“The climate naysayers will surely challenge Burton Richter: What makes a mere physics professor an expert on climate change, even if he holds a Nobel Prize for finding some exotic particle inside the atom?The answer: The Stanford professor has been researching issues of energy and climate since 1978 as a member of Jason, an independent group of scientists who advise the government on major policy questions, and he is increasingly concerned that controversies over climate change and energy have become ominously political, and the debates are flaring beyond reason.Richter’s book is the clearest guide yet to the facts and issues of climate and energy – without smoke or mirrors.“A brilliant display of ideas and information about energy and climate change: readable, educational, constructive. A wonderful book that sets out with clarity the issues and challenges. I enjoyed this book and I’m sure it will have a wide readership.” – George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State (Reagan administration); Distinguished Fellow, Stanford University

“The facts about climate change and the responses to it are the subject of substantial confusion among the public. Burton Richter, a Nobel Laureate in physics, has written a cogent analysis of what is known – and not known – about climate change and about the components of the energy system that contribute to climate change or that are offered as a means to mitigate it. Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: A Citizen’s Guide to Climate Change and Energy brings sophisticated insights and common sense to the issues, but is fully accessible to the public. This book should be required reading for anyone who seeks to understand one of the most significant global challenges that confronts humankind.” – Richard A. Meserve, President of the Carnegie Institution for Science and Former Chairman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

“I enjoyed the book and the lively personal way Richter writes. Readers, once they start, will want to read the book right through to the end. I did. The chapters on energy were wonderful and made me hope that the book will be widely read.” – James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia Theory, Green Templeton College, University of Oxford

“‘Please point me to a short overview of energy and climate, with numbers but not equations, and with a no-nonsense view of the politics.’ This request has been put to me in one version or another dozens of times. At last, I am comfortable with my answer: Read Beyond Smoke and Mirrors. It is an unpretentious yet deeply insightful book by Burton Richter, a physicist at Stanford and Nobel Laureate. … Smoke and mirrors are the tools of deception, and by contrast Richter is promising to talk straight. With his title, Richter is acknowledging that a large proportion of the energy literature available to the layman is promotional–a sales pitch for this, a sales pitch for that. He is asking us to trust him, and we do. For example, he tells us that he is “a biofuels skeptic,” and he takes ten pages to explain why, stressing impacts on food supply, net-carbon issues, and the thus far unrealized claims from the research community. Such candor is rare and refreshing.” – Robert H. Socolow, American Journal of Physics

Richter’s book was recently awarded the 2011 Phi Beta Kappa Book Award in Science.   Stanford news has posted an interview with Richter.  Some excerpts:

Your book takes a middle ground between the deniers of climate change and what you call “ultra-greens,” who insist on drastic action immediately but reject nuclear power and some other low-carbon solutions. Can you talk about that middle ground?

What I tried to say is: Here is what we know, and here is how we know it. Here’s what the uncertainties are. Here’s what I think we ought to be doing. But the reader should think about what we ought to be doing, too.

The future is hard to predict, because it hasn’t happened yet. For some, this is an excuse for inaction. “We don’t know enough. Since we don’t know enough, we shouldn’t do anything.” Whereas there are a lot of things we can do now that don’t cost much at all and that can have a relatively large impact.

Secondly, no matter how good some solution is, some people will demand that we wait for a better solution. This is a problem that some environmentalists generate, because they’re not willing to settle for partial solutions. The example I use is switching from coal to natural gas to generate electricity, which would eliminate 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, and by the way, the electricity would be cheaper.

California has this “Million Solar Roofs” program, ($2.1 billion in state subsidies). For 15 to 20 percent of the cost, I could eliminate twice as much CO2 emissions by simply converting the Four Corners coal-fired power plant from coal to natural gas. That doesn’t say don’t use any solar. But it does say let’s do things that can have a big impact now, and let’s give credit for it. The mandate to utilities should be to reduce emissions. It shouldn’t be to use certain technologies.

Lately you have been saying that too much of the focus has been on climate change, and instead we should be talking about reducing dependence on fossil fuels for reasons of national security, the economy and the environment in a broad sense, not just global warming.

 My new shtick in the talks that I give I call “energy in three dimensions.” For example, we just put in new mileage standards for cars – 54 miles per gallon by 2035. You didn’t hear Sen. Inhofe say ‘that’s asinine,’ or any of that stuff. Why not? Because, if we could make it all happen today, oil imports would go down by 6 million barrels per day, our balance of payments would drop by $200 billion per year, we wouldn’t have to spend so much money defending the Persian Gulf, and by the way we would reduce greenhouse gas emissions a lot. There are certain areas where you can find common ground with all sorts of people.

People understand that oil is a national security issue, but how do you sell reducing the use of coal as national security?

I can sell it as a public health issue, as an acid rain issue, and as an economic issue, because gas is cheaper. There is a political problem here. It’s obvious to anyone that on national economic grounds we should shut down these coal plants as fast as we can replace them. However, you have a bunch of senators from coal-producing states and from states that are heavily dependent on coal, like those in the Southeast, that get most of their electricity from coal-fired power plants. So, you’ve got to get the politics of this right. I won’t say it’s easy, but you are just going to have to run right over West Virginia.

One way to get there would be a revenue-neutral tax on carbon, but you have to figure out what you do with the money. Do you just give it back to taxpayers, or do you use some of it to ease the transition for states in the Southeast? We have to be in a hurry to figure this out, and it must come with impeccable Republican credentials. After the presidential election next year, no matter who wins, you will be able to get things done, but you’ve got to be prepared to lay it out immediately after the election. 

A criticism of your book is that you too easily dismiss two things: nuclear’s safety issues and the potential for renewable energy. Since the book came out, we’ve had the Fukushima disaster and solar costs have declined sharply. Would you revise your positions now?

 For nuclear, I call this a problem of technology hazards – perception versus reality. My book gives some data on years of life lost per billion kilowatt-hour generated based on the primary energy source. Fossil fuels are all terrible, though coal is much worse than gas. Nuclear is really good, much less years of life lost than even solar photovoltaic. The analysis I give in the book includes Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. It doesn’t include Fukushima, but if it did the analysis wouldn’t change. Do we have to make nuclear plants safer? Yes. Are they becoming safer? Yes.

California just put out a report on how it will achieve an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050. The report makes clear that we just can’t do it without nuclear power.

As for renewables, is somebody going to invent the real holy grail of renewable energy? To me that is grid-scale energy storage, which means capacity in gigawatt-days not kilowatt-hours. The big problem with wind and solar is their enormous variability. I don’t have affordable systems to store the output. If I did have affordable storage, I can see getting beyond about 15 percent with wind and solar, but you can’t do that economically today. I would like to see a lot more money being used to develop this.

JC comment:  I haven’t read the book, in fact I hadn’t previously heard about the book until it received the Phi Beta Kappa book award.  I blog googled the book, and it hasn’t been discussed much in the climate blogosphere (I spotted it at Lubos Motl’s blog).  Looks like a book well worth reading, has anyone read it?  What I’ve seen so far of the book seems eminently sensible, and people from both sides of the climate/energy debate  have good things to say about the book (which is a rarity in this debate).

193 responses to “Beyond smoke and mirrors: the middle ground

  1. A recent issue of the National Geographic suggests
    “. . . the urge to worship sparked civilization.”

    The need to understand the Great Reality that surrounds and sustains us probably “sparked civilization,” but worship followed from realization that the Great Reality is benevolent and in total control.

    By benevolent, I mean that life itself is a dynamic process and a natural part of this dynamic universe:

    The Great Reality has been accessed by experimentation, observation, contemplation, meditation and prayer – [in reverse historical order].

    These methods would led to the same conclusion* if a key ingredient – Humility – had been retained as civilization “advanced” from prayer to experimentation.

    *Conclusion: “Fear not! The universe is in good hands!”

    Perhaps the “fall of civilization” has been sparked by another quality – Arrogance – that is now prominent in leaders of nations and modern science who claim complete knowledge of the Sun and their ability to control Earth’s climate.

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

    • Oliver,
      You do come up with some good Links!
      The history lesson was really great!

      • Thanks, Herman. Credit for those links properly belongs to:

        a.) Charles C. Mann and Curt Suplee, authors of the informative National Geographic articles on the “Dawning of Civilization and Religion 11,600 years ago” and “Our Stormy Sun”,

        b.) Scientists at the Space Telescope for providing new images like the event that gave birth to the Solar System five billion years (5 Gyr) ago, and

        c.) JoNova – An Australian science reporter who has followed the AGW- Climategate scandal closely and recently brought attention to the NG report on the “Dawning of Civilization.”

        I merely noted the sharp contrast between the attitudes of humans toward nature at the dawning of civilization and now:

        Awe, humility, worship versus
        Arrogance, pride, illusions of control

      • Science will not go beyond smoke and mirrors unless leaders of the scientific community are willing to address the observations shown in those links and the source of all energy stored as rest mass in three thousand (3,000) types of atoms that comprise the entire cosmos.

        That information was published on the front cover of the symposium proceedings that Nobel Laureate Glenn T. Seaborg and I organized in 1998-1999 and published in 2000:

    • Beyond smoke and mirrors: Earth is a tiny speck of dirt, heated by a massive furnace!

      Mass (Earth)/Mass (Sun) = 0.000003

      Read (free) the symposium Preface and Dedication (pp. xi-xiii) and the critical issue that faced the scientific community in 1999 (bottom p. xi):

      Is the interior of Earth’s furnace mostly Hydrogen (H) or Iron (Fe)?

      That issue had been avoided for twenty-four (24) years in 1999, after analysis revealed in 1975 that all primordial Helium (He) in the Allende meteorite was trapped with “strange” Xenon (Xe) at the birth of the solar system [Science 190, pages 151-162 and 1262-1271].

      That remains the central issue “beyond the smoke and mirrors” of those promoting the AGW dogma.

    • Oliver: *Conclusion: “Fear not! The universe is in good hands!”

      Well Oliver, the bottom line is: the good Lord has installed a thermometer in every atom of oxygen / nitrogen; to INSTANTLY EXPAND when warmed up; to INSTANTLY SHRINK when cooled to previous tempoerature. Where air expands when warmed, is very cold. Same as: when you get hot – instantly stick your arm in a bucket of ice. Therefore: anybody referring the localized warmings as GLOBAL; is insulting the one that made O+N to expand accordingly, exactly by the amount of extra heat they are exposed to.

      Everybody (from both camps) referring with all the loaded comments that localized warmings as GLOBAL warming, is wrong. Which means: my formula is correct: (EH>AE>ECI) Extra Heat >Atmosphere Expands > Extra Coldness Intercepts* People instead finding something wrong in my formulas – they resort in ridiculing me; without realizing that: they are ridiculing the laws of physics, and the one that created those laws!!!

  2. Still skeert of CO2, and for what?

    • Far be it for me to start sounding like Web, but in the long run, it isn’t about CO2, it’s about the low-hanging hydrocarbon fruit. At some point, the other stuff is going to start getting cheaper. Fracking is like the manlift that lets us get to some of the higher fruit. The only real disagreement is over how much time we have until it’s time to start growing pineapples. I don’t expect to be around when that happens.

      • The Holocene is the gradual descent into the next Ice Age. It will be time to move the farms before it is time to grow pineapples, and I don’t expect to be around when that happens.

        But I might be.

      • And btw, to take this the next step, because I don’t expect to be around when pineapple gets cheaper than apple, there’s no role for policy. This will all happen on its own. Unlike the screaming mimis here, I believe that Darwin got it right. About economics.


    • For smoke and mirrors kim.

    • If Dr. Burton Richter reads this blog, I would appreciate his response to kim’s question: “Still skeert of CO2, and for what?”

  3. The author needs to address Julian Simon’s work. Technology is changing the world so fast that it is virtually inevitable that there will be easy fixes to any long-term problems that could be caused by climate change. Generally speaking those who attempt to plan far into the future and advocate change that seriously impacts people’s lives are failures because the long-term future and possible solutions are unknowable.

    • Yes, that 2005 hydrogen car is coming soon to a dealership close by to all of us. Yep, just around one of those March-of-Dimes corners.

    • JD Ohio: Technology is changing the world so fast that it is virtually inevitable that there will be easy fixes to any long-term problems that could be caused by climate change.

      That is terribly misleading. Human work and investment are producing new technologies; if this work and investment continue, there will be ameliorations of long-term problems, maybe even solutions. Nowhere did Julian Simon write or say that resource replacement was easy; he wrote that it was possible when doomsayers wrote that it was not.

      • If you want to talk about general resource substitutions instead of just energy, then you have to consider how more energy makes certain material substitutions practical. An example is aluminum. Al is the third most abundant element in the earth’s crust. We’ll never run out of Al. It’s the electricity that it takes to smelt it that is limiting. Lots of inexpensive energy will open up new horizons in material substitution and head off problems with supply of strategic materials. “Renewable” energy will have the opposite effect; making such materials substitutions impractical.

        Trying to drive the cost of energy up in order to fulfill the dream of “renewable” energy will inevitably create other resource and environmental issues. Water is another example of something that we can have more of in exchange for energy, and will have less of if energy is made expensive.

      • MattStatt “Nowhere did Julian Simon write or say that resource replacement was easy; he wrote that it was possible when doomsayers wrote that it was not.”

        Simon bet that resource prices would go down. He felt that resource costs would inevitably go down. A lot of hard work is involved in research and economic activity but that doesn’t detract from the general point that human ingenuity has continually outpaced resource “depletion” over the years and centuries.


      • P.E. and J.D. in Ohio,

        Please reread this short interchange in order. The phrases “technology is changing” (people are industriously creating new technologies) and “easy fixes” are terribly misleading, and not in accord with what Julian Simon wrote.

      • “That is terribly misleading.”


        It’s Pollyannism and it has nothing to do with Julian Simon’s work. I looked at the factual and logical problems with Pollyannism when Matt Ridley’s “The Rational Optimist” came out, and the same criticisms apply to Pollyannism generally:

        It’s also part of the straw man error to treat people who warn of disaster as generic prophets of doom. There are such people, as we have discussed on this blog before, who are unhappy with Western civilization and enjoy prophesying its demise. Yet the recognition of severe problems and the tireless campaigning for their redress are, just as much as the exchange of technology and resources which Ridley praises, a part of the power and resilience of open societies. It was doomsayers that ended slavery, that struggled unsuccessfully to avert the Holocaust, that pushed governments to act on acid rain.

        If you are diving in a car, and your passenger screams at you to hit the brakes, it would be better not to turn to them and explain that you’ve never had a serious accident. And you probably would know better, anyway: part of staying out of accidents is slamming on the brakes when you need to. If you want to believe things will all come right in the end, more power to you. But for that to happen we as a society must listen to specific warnings of problems ahead and not lump them in with professional peddlers of gloom.

        And bad things may come, despite Ridley’s argument that in the past things have gotten better and better for our society. In fact, Ridley’s reassurance is no reassurance at all, really. Consider some of the things that fall under Ridley’s heading of constant progress. The Great Depression. World War II with its 50 million dead. The Black Plague, which killed a third of the population of Europe. Did society come back from those things? Yes, eventually. Does that mean we want to march straight into the jaws of comparable disasters, secure in the (supposed) knowledge that all will come right in the end? No, we do not. Many things that do not end our civilization are nevertheless better avoided, if one can.

      • Julian Simon was proven wrong as resource costs have sky-rocketed with scarcity, particularly in conventional crude oil.

        Burton Richter’s colleague at Stanford, Paul Ehrlich, was proven right. About all one can argue is the time frame, and a decade or two is inconsequential. Richter is essentially recalibrating the debate, and he does not even have to acknowledge Simon, as failed ideas go in the trash-can of history.

    • “Technology is changing the world so fast that it is virtually inevitable that there will be easy fixes to any long-term problems”

      I am not so sure

  4. Burton Richter raises a key pragmatic perspective:

    California has this “Million Solar Roofs” program, ($2.1 billion in state subsidies). For 15 to 20 percent of the cost, I could eliminate twice as much CO2 emissions by simply converting the Four Corners coal-fired power plant from coal to natural gas.

    1) How can we most cost effectively provide fuel, electricity and clean air?
    2) How can we most cost effectively adapt to fluctuations in climate – both cooling and warming?

  5. I agree with Richter, but I think the narrative is missing something: this isn’t about a final solution, this is about an evolutionary path. Natural gas and present-day fission are stepping stones to the future, not the future. People need to stop thinking about “the fix” and start thinking about a multigenerational, and even multicentennial process and path, not a quick fix. There’s too much “end of history” koolaid being drunk.

    Of course when someone like Gore says that we can be off of carbon in a decade, all that shows is what a quack he is.

  6. This book at least offers the AGW community a way to back away from the failed apocalypse. It is too bad it drifts into tax policy, which is most assuredly not amenable to the rigors and discipline of physics. Politicans are completely unreliable and will not ever pass a carbon neurtal tax; they will use it to favor friends, punish enemies and enrich their pals.
    But at last someone who may not be dismissed out of hand by those caught up in AGW belief is looking at the AGW policy mess and calling it for what it is: a huge failure. anbd his last answer does offer new frontiers for endless funding: the storage of huge amounts of energy. So following the advice in this book does at least get us cleaner air, and end to CO2 fanatacism, a fat new tax source to feed politicos, permits drillers to deliver real fuel, and funds endless research on energy storage. So he applies most of the skeptical critique, still allows beleivers to be smug, and might on balance protect us from the worst of the AGW mess. Dr. Richter offers something for everyone: what is not to like?

    • What not to like? The unnecessary and artificial raising of the price of energy with his ‘revenue neutral carbon taxes’. This is impoverishment, and for what?

    • Dr. Richter offers something for everyone: what is not to like?

      Sad to say, but if you read the book, you might find a lot you don’t like. I’ve read the first eight chapters and I agree with pretty much every word of it, for what that tells you. He hasn’t incorporated some of the recent analyses of natural gas, which found problems with substituting gas for coal (methane leaks can destroy any benefit, loss of short-term aerosol cooling means we might not see significant benefit in terms of slowing warming for fifty years or more.) Other than that, he’s basically written the book that I would like to have written. I’d be delighted if you were on the same page, but I’m not getting my hopes up!

  7. John Carpenter

    I recently had an exchange of ideas with David Wojick about whether there was a ‘middle’ ground in the climate change debate. So I guess this is the middle ground I have been talking about. I admit I have not yet read the book, but I plan to down load to my Kindle and read it based on the reviews and general tone of the book by what Judith posted. I agree with P.E. above, the future of our energy usage and the sources of energy we will use are on an evolutionary path, it’s not an end game situation. Technology advancements, some incremental and some quantum leaps, will arise over time to change how energy is made and used. The overall consciousness of many industrialized nations is already toward lower CO2 emission sources and gaining efficiencies. We don’t need government intervention or lofty world accords to accomplish this, IMO, b/c it is happening naturally. I look forward to reading this book.

    • John, I was referring to the middle ground in the scientific debate, noting that scientific hypotheses do not generally have a middle ground. It sounds like this is an energy policy book, where there is always a middle ground, namely do something but nothing too serious. That is just where we are as far as I can see.

  8. Let me also point out that this isn’t about middle ground in the climate debate, it’s about middle ground in the policy/technology debate. The policy tail wags the climate dog, as always.

  9. incandecentbulb

    The middle ground between living and not living is dead and dying–e.g., see Old Europe.

  10. People understand that oil is a national security issue, but how do you sell reducing the use of coal as national security?

    I can sell it as a public health issue,

    It isn’t, because we have scrubbers.

    as an acid rain issue,

    It isn’t, because we have scrubbers.

    and as an economic issue, because gas is cheaper.

    In which case, absent political interference or the threat of political interference, the utilities would make this choice of their own volition.

    There is a political problem here. It’s obvious to anyone that on national economic grounds we should shut down these coal plants as fast as we can replace them.

    • Oops. That last paragraph hitched a ride.

    • John Carpenter

      “I can sell it as a public health issue,

      It isn’t, because we have scrubbers.”

      Yes, but increased asthma and heart disease have been linked to coal fired power plant locations despite the scrubbers employed. EPA is finally getting the additional rules they were seeking decades ago in place now.

      Scubbers also don’t really solve the bottom ash problems either. Bottom ash does contain more concentrated heavy metals that have to be dealt with.

      • Let’s rephrase that. It’s a solvable problem. Whether it’s economically solvable problem is a different question. Which segues into his third point about economics. If you’re the owner of an old coal-fired plant that’s nearing EOL anyway, and you’re evaluating options, and gas is an option, and your forecasts for gas prices are such that the life cycle cost beats revamping the coal boiler, it’s all moot.

      • Those EPA numbers are ridiculous, and have been for a long time. In fact there is no correlation between coal fired power plants and asthma, or any other ailment. Cities on the other hand are bad for your health.

      • John,
        Until the EPA returns to using science and reasonable standards in their claims and policies I don’t think they are credible on things like claiming that power plants cause heart disease. Their new standards for mercury expect power plants to emit less mercury than the background levels. Their CO2 findings famously violated their procedures.

      • I used to cover coal fired power for Electricity Daily, so I studied the EPA studies carefully. The game has never changed since Carson predicted the extinction of songbirds:

        Speculative attribution + scary exaggeration = environmental control.

        Sound familiar?

      • John Carpenter

        hunter and David, yah… I’m familiar with how the EPA works. Both federal and state versions. I operate a business that is required to use air emission scrubbers, water discharge permits and comply with hazardous waste management rules. I have learned the best approach is to work with the people and engage in the rule making process. Most are ready to work with you, some not… but they are not the norm. It’s funny to say this, but our business has improved due to EPA regulations. We committed our company to comply and be survivors. Many of our competitors decided not to or decided they didn’t want to deal with it, so they either went out of business or decided to get out of the specific process we do. End result was fewer competitors and more business for us.

        Look, I am not promoting the rules the EPA would like to impose on emissions for fossil fueled power plants or CO2 emissions for that matter. But, what tends to happen is those that are directly affected by the rules see only the bad side of the policies… how it’s going to affect them or their business negatively and don’t consider how it may be beneficial. I know because I live it. I loathe when new rules come along and I financially support our industry lobbyists to fight them. But consider, are our rivers, lakes and streams cleaner? Is the air cleaner? Is it good to manage hazardous waste properly? Yes, yes and yes.

      • Doug Badgero

        Bottom ash contains the inorganics that were in the coal before it was burned. For many heavy metals this is similar to the concentrations of these heavy metals that are contained in the surrounding surface soils. This was demonstrated by the Tennessee Department of Environmental Quality when they sampled the slurry released by the Kingston coal ash spill.

        Essentially all of US EPAs health benefits from the recent clean air rule is based on the changes to the fine particulate matter standards. There are many issues with the EPAs application of the science in this case but one of the most egregious is the application of a linear no threshold model to the health effects of effluents.

        Claims of past benefits of 1960s environmentalism don’t really fly when looking at today’s rulings. They are separate issues and should be viewed as such. In the 60s and 70s the negative externalities of certain business activities were much easier to see by an objective observer.

      • Carpenter, why selling it, why? This sounds as B/S Merchant’s conference (if it sounds as one – it is one) Now human inhales less CO2 than 150 y ago. At that time every human had to cook, warm up on fire – chimney was never 100% efficient. Now electricity from coal is produced outside the city; where CO2 is desperately needed for the vegetation / crops / trees.

        Badmouthing CO2 doesn’t make it bad gas, it makes bad people that are molesting the carbon. Human body is 25% made of carbon. People use CO2 for their vocal cords (when exhaling) to badmouth CO2. Time to grow up. If I say that: you are a bad person, does that make you bad? Same goes with badmouthing the essential molecule of CO2. Forgive the Reds, Mr. carbon, for having their teeth around your testicles Mr. carbon, forgive them for not knowing what they are doing. CO2 is life giver, Warmist are life takers

    • P.E. In which case, absent political interference or the threat of political interference, the utilities would make this choice of their own volition.

      No. Political interference is required in the form of legally mandated scrubbers. Those are not a complete solution because the ash waste pollutes streams, and hence crops and livestock, so even more intrusive measures are required. Probably you were implicitly assuming that such pollution remediation would be required by law, but it isn’t what you wrote.

    • “It isn’t, because we have scrubbers.”

      Scrubbers aren’t magic. There are still thousands of deaths from lung cancer and COPD caused by modern coal plants. Their mercury emissions have been in the news lately. The slag pollutes groundwater. And so on.

      Coal technologies vary, but none of them are as clean as not burning the stuff in the first place. Doing some research on economists’ cost estimates of global warming recently, I was surprised to find a number of analysts find the health benefits of cutting fossil fuel burning to by similar in magnitude to the climate benefits.

      • Robert, people get cancer… but you avoid saying that lifespan now is much better, than 150y ago! Q: why is longer lifespan now? Q: why are you avoiding to say it? A: because soliciting cash on false pretence is illegal; unless is included the phony GLOBAL warming.

        Q: do you have any association with the ”World Wild Funds for marijuana and travel to exotic places”?!

  11. Where are all the usual suspects? Is this a holiday at Media Matters?

    • Robert will be along presently to throw tomatoes, tar the author and anyone who agrees with him with the crimes of a psycho in Norway, insult everyone’s intelligence, derail the thread. Joshua will then show up to question motives, ask Judith a question about mcKitrick. he will studious avoid any fact based or science related discussion and ride off on his hobby horse.

      • “Robert will be along presently to throw tomatoes, tar the author and anyone who agrees with him with the crimes of a psycho in Norway, insult everyone’s intelligence, derail the thread.”

        What’s your second guess?

        If you took the time to read the book, you might realize that it is basically exactly what I, Joshua, and a number of others have been arguing here for years. He accepts the scientific consensus, argues Stern is closer to a correct cost estimate than Nordhaus, and argues for immediate aggressive mitigation by the most practical means.

        In other words, as he himself puts it: “I consider the greens to be the good guys. I classify myself among them” (pg 2).

      • Steven,

        I’d say he’s been surprisingly reasonable today. It’s a new year. Everyone gets a clean slate.

  12. Dr. Curry, you say “people from both sides of the climate/energy debate have good things to say about the book.”

    I don’t see any endorsements from the skeptical side. Where are they?

  13. “The future is hard to predict, because it hasn’t happened yet.”

    Yogi Berra couldn’t have said it any better. Almost blew out my monitor with a spray of diet coke reading that. With a start like that, I am all for letting him centrally plan our energy economy, in his “middle ground” progressive kinda way.

    And how do I know he is a progressive? His fondness for King Canutish legislation like congress mandating that cars get 54 mph by 2035, and California’s mandating reductions in emissions by 80% by 2050. And, oh yeah, his support of a “revenue neutral” “carbon tax,” which is one half of the decarbonizationist’s policy wet dream.

    Barack Obama will not stop at a “carbon neutral carbon tax.” Progressives will not allow nuclear power to be developed, will not stop pouring billions down the “alternative energy” sink hole, and will not allow plants to switch from coal to gas, when their intent is to close them entirely.

    If conservatives consolidate their gains in 2012, then you might get nuclear power, and switching from coal to gas, but you won’t get the beloved carbon tax or cap and trade, or continued funding of alternative energy boondoggles.

    Until the real climate debate over CAGW/decarbonization is decided (probably in 2012), there is no middle ground.

  14. incandecentbulb

    Everyone who once believed in global warming to prove they were enlightened will be skeptics in 2012 to prove they’re not stupid.

    • incandecentbulb: Everyone who once believed in global warming to prove they were enlightened will be skeptics in 2012 to prove they’re not stupid

      Wishful thinking. As long as the Skeptics keep creating ”back-door exits” for the believers, they will not spit the dummy. Unless the Skeptics say loud and clear: the king is naked!!! There is no such a thing as GLOBAL warming. Past warmings / coolings were localized, not GLOBAL!!! Sunspots don’t increase / decrease temperature on the earth!!! HAPPY NEW YEAR !!!

  15. I can’t speak for Inhofe but mandating technology a quarter of a century from now is indeed asinine. And apparently he is not aware of the well known argument that increasing efficiency also increases consumption, which has been around for 150 years. Made famous by Jevons I think. But I guess the tax is supposed to offset the price advantages of efficiency.

    But then the mileage standards are met in part by rationing power (plus weight and strength), not by increasing efficiency. Efficiency means doing the same job with less energy, not doing a smaller job. I just bought a 5 year old suburban because it was the last year I could get enough power, thanks to an 8 liter engine. At this rate all cars will have 2 liter engines and no power. One would think a physicist would know what power is, if not what it is good for. Perhaps we should be rationing atom smashers as well, as they take a lot of power.

    This sounds like a great collection of really bad economics and engineering, none of it new. No wonder the warmers like it.

    • Mileage standards laws are riddled with loopholes. CAFE rev 0.0 brought us the SUV, because they were classified as trucks, and exempt from the car standards. Brilliant, huh?

      It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out what the game plan is with CAFE rev 1.0. Just look at the voodoo math that the EPA uses to calculate “MPG equivalent” for plug-in hybrids and electrics. They were claiming the Volt gets in excess of 200 MPG!

      It’s all a game, and a rather obvious one.

    • Latimer Alder

      Enough power to do what?

      Here in Europe, 2 litres is a big engine for a family car and we get between 40 and 50 mpg. What the heck do you do that needs an 8 litre engine?

      I’d add that I have driven extensively in the US and my impression is that because of the very soft suspensions by European standards, much of the engine power goes into futilely heating up the springs. Which is why you all pootle along at 50 mph getting 15 mpg……

      • Have you tried driving your two litre car over Bear Tooth pass? The elevation there is only 10,976 feet.
        Then there is Mount Evans Scenic byway in Colorado – only 14,000 feet and 15% grades.

        So in response to your ‘informed opinion’ about driving in the US, we are not Europeans driving in Europe.

      • Latimer, I have a farm so I do a lot of heavy hauling, including hauling cattle and horses over mountains, and hauling feed and fencing back. The same is true for most of my neighbors, and millions of other people. We don’t live like you and we don’t want to be forced to do so, especially not in the name of some scare.

      • Harry and david

        The majority of Americans,just like the majority of Europeans,don’t drive regularly over ten thousand foot passes nor have farms. Better mpg is a low hanging fruit which can be easily plucked. Those that genuinely need big engines can have them, I suspect cheap fuel in America is a prime reason for poor mpg. We pay the absurd equivalent of ten us dollars per gallon


      • Tony, we can’t have them if they are not made. Cranking up the mileage standards leads to the rationing of power, because it is a fleet average. The idea that these standards are being met solely, or even mostly, by technological advances is a green myth.

        A rational standard aimed at technological advance would be fuel consumption per unit of power, not per mile traveled. Smaller engines are not more efficient, they just use less fuel. Doing less is not efficiency, it is asceticism.

      • Latimer,
        There are very few 8 liter engines in the US for family auto use..
        Most large engines are between 4.0 and 5.6 liters.
        If you are aware of an engine heat management system that involves the suspension of a car, please do share it. The majority of cars sold in the US have engines 3.0 liters or less for the last several years.
        Our Corolla is a 1.8. Our venerable Volvo is a 2.3, and both are the same engines sold on European models of the same.

      • Mosher. That is so true. I live on an island that is thick with Dykes, and that’s about the order of preference. They also love their Hogs when the weather’s nice.

      • Harrywr2 : Have you tried driving your two litre car over Bear Tooth pass? The elevation there is only 10,976 feet.

        I have done that multiple times in a fully-loaded Prius — not Bear Tooth Pass, but multiple drives from San Diego to Denver, up about 11,000 feet. I maintained speed with the SUVs on the road, though not with the occasional speedsters (it is always a delight to see those fellows pulled over by HP up ahead.)

      • Mr Mosher, stop googling lesbians on the internet and get back to work! :-)

      • randomengineer

        Latimer — Here in Europe, 2 litres is a big engine for a family car and we get between 40 and 50 mpg. What the heck do you do that needs an 8 litre engine?

        Your mpg rating is due in part to not having to use ethanol and due in part for not having to have US pollution equipment. e.g. the Jetta TDI euro diesel gets 60 mpg but here in the US gets under 40. And you also have to factor regional stuff e.g. in the northern midwest of the US the winter gas used is far different than that used further south (it also gets about 2 mpg less on average as well.)

        Then of course there’s not so obvious problem of geography; when I visit family in the UK the smallish vauxhall (astra?) is uncomfortable as hell but tolerable for the jaunt. This in the US is not so tolerable; my wife has to set up a show in Texas every year which is about a 1400 mile trip one way, and we have to haul product. A tiny and uncomfortable vauxhall simply can’t hack it. Even if we weren’t hauling product, the vauxhall still sucks. Going 1400 miles and getting blown about by wind and sliding through icy slush and so on requires a bit more engine and a heavier vehicle.

        I think overall what you’re missing is that in the US it’s common to haul stuff long distances whereas in Engand there *are* no long distances. Not like here. Rural moms will routinely put 5 kids per SUV and haul then 120 miles round trip (or more) for ball games twice or three times a week for the sports season. You just can’t do that as comfortably and repeatably and reliably through god knows what road conditions in the typical 2 litre 4 banger. There are few things more dangerous than windy winter conditions on poorly cleared roads, and lighter cars have a tendency to blow about (as when a 18 wheel truck passes going the other direction.)

        I guess what I’m saying here is that there’s a *lot* of really good reasons why people choose to drive heavier vehicles, and heaven knows I haven’t even touched farming or contracting or 90,000 other perfectly decent reasons.

      • This is not about what you or I think is necessary or possible……… is about the legitimate role of government in a free society. Now let’s debate the issue based on that………….it is a normative decision so there are no “wrong” answers.

      • randomengineer

        Doug B — is about the legitimate role of government in a free society.

        Capitalism left completely unfettered results in the sale of human flesh in the marketplace. There always have been regulations because of this. The government therefore does have a historically well understood role. The current problem seems to be more about unelected bureaucracies like the EPA where greenpeace sympathisers get in through the back door and seek to impose their vision by fiat.

      • Latimer

        LOL-my 12 cylinder 600 hp Mercedes is from Europe.

    • More on the fuzzy math of CAFE.

      Suppose you’re a car dealer. EPA says that the Volt (or whatever) gets 200 MPG equivalent. You have 5 cars on the lot. 4 are 10 MPG SUVs. the fifth is a 200 MPGe volt. The way the CAFE calculation is done is:

      1 volt = 200 MPGe.
      4 SUVS = 40 mpg (real).
      Fleet average is 240/5 = 48 MPG.

      We’re almost there. Let’s fudge the MPGe a little more, which is easy if you read how they calculate it. If we want to get up to 54, all we need is for the numbers to add up to 54*5 = 280. So make the Volt get 240, and we’re there.

      All they have to do is sell one volt for every four pigs.

      Watch. This is what’s going to happen.

      • I don’t believe that’s the way Cafe Standards are calculated. They are based on the harmonic rather than the arithmetic mean of fuel efficiency in mpg. For your example, the calculation would be the reciprocal of (80/200 + 1/200)/5, or about 12.3 mpg. Raising the Volt to 20,000 mpg would make little difference.

      • That’s new. It used to be an arithmetic mean. I don’t know when that was changed.

      • For me that’s arithmetic mean, because I’m used in calculating the fuel consumption in liters/100 km rather than mpg.

      • Pekka – It sound strangely reminiscent of the debates over how to compute prior pdfs for climate sensitivity estimates.

      • I think the reason why they use the harmonic mean is that the original legislation dealt with “fleet average MPG”, and it was easier for them to come back later and change the definition of mean than to change all the legal wording. It’s actually kind of clever, because they were able to fix a serious flaw in the original law without wholesale changes or drawing any attention to the fact that they should have originally (arithmetically) averaged gallons per mile.

      • If true, a pearl of legislative action and mathematical lustre.

      • randomengineer

        Speaking of the volt, if you look around why GM is sure selling the crap out of them. Oh wait. Kidding. They have sold maybe 4500 of them of which very few are *not* some sort of fleet deal. Edsel!

    • David Wojick: And apparently he is not aware of the well known argument that increasing efficiency also increases consumption, which has been around for 150 years.

      The goals of the car purchase are the destinations travelled to and the stuff delivered, not the fuel consumed. If people drive more because their cars are more efficient, then they have gotten more of what they aimed to buy in the first place — that’s how the little VW bugs achieved their success when introduced into the U.S.. I don’t quarrel with your self-assessed need for an 8 liter engine, but most of us in the U.S. can meet our requirements for acceleration and fuel economy with a hybrid drive train; only for long-haul of heavy loads (e.g. trailering horses) is more power needed continuously. As hybrids get cheaper with increased development, cars like the Toyota Prius will increase in market share.

      When and for whom the hybrid pickup truck will be attractive to buyers I do not know, but when I see the kind of work being done by contractors all over my county, I would bet that now is a good time, especially when I see them idling their large engines in heavy traffic and stop-and-go. I think that hybrid Silverado sales prove me wrong so far, so I’ll have to wait and see.

      • Matt, I do not see your point, but good luck with your hybrid stock. I hope it is not your retirement savings. Technologies don’t have to get cheaper at any given rate, if at all.

      • Price point problems, even in 1968, when gas was only 32 cents a gallon. Has the dollar lost its value, or the price of a Beetle gone up because of all the value that has been added to each car made?
        You be the judge.

        Like bugs?

      • David Wojick: Matt, I do not see your point, but good luck with your hybrid stock.

        I drove my son’s Prius. It’s a terrific car. Toyota is expanding its line and increasing production. Only in the U.S. do people not see the value of fuel-efficient cars, but they’ll become increasingly valuable with increasing petroleum supply uncertainties and increasing demand. There is a world market in cars, and non-fuel-efficient American cars command a continuously shrinking share of that market. As to investment, Toyota was hurt by electricity loss after the tsunami, but other than that their prospects look good.

      • Which brings us back to my comment about the Ford Ranger. Somebody at Ford seems to think that for the foreseeable future, there’s no market in the US for mini trucks. That seems to fly in the face of the theory that high MPG is the way of the future.

        Ford maybe be making a blunder (while they keep making mini trucks in Asia), but I thought I read that GM is doing the same thing and discontinuing the S-10. Are they all convinced that happy days are here again?

      • MattStat,

        “Only in the U.S. do people not see the value of fuel-efficient cars….”

        Or maybe in the U.S. people see fuel efficiency as only one value of many to be determined in choosing which car to buy. Like for instance safety. See my comment below at 5:02.

      • “And apparently he is not aware of the well known argument that increasing efficiency also increases consumption, which has been around for 150 years.”

        An argument for a carbon tax. Conventional economic theory would predict that if you increase efficiency, the price of the resource will fall, and demand will (up to a point) increase.

        Whereas if you increase the price of the resource, increases in efficiency will follow, driven by price sensitivity, and accompanied by a fall in demand.

      • randomengineer

        Robert — An argument for a carbon tax. Conventional economic theory would predict that if you increase efficiency, the price of the resource will fall, and demand will (up to a point) increase.

        I would question the carbon tax because I would question conventional economic theory. I would question it because once a peak is reached in some area, consumption doesn’t increase. I’m thinking e-readers and various tablet devices here just for one example. At some point (soon) the price of powering these is going to be far less than the end to end energy cost of print including distribution and brick/mortar book stores.

        Isn’t the entire economics vs energy thinking process driven by the notion that all new processes are additive? When was this general theory developed? It would seem that people point to EIA numbers and say see, the numbers are going up hence the economic theory is correct where the numbers concern utilities. But if the majority of the utility is powering additional space heating etc, it’s reflective of the growth of population as a whole doing basic things, not going off the deep end with plasma tv sets and phantom power from wall bricks for electronics as per the commonly referenced imagery.

        A carbon tax seems backward in this case because such a tax ought to be punitive (e.g. plasma tv excess electrical use tax) whereas if the reality of EIA figures is basics (heating) then the use tax would of course affect the less well off disproportionately.

      • “I would question it because once a peak is reached in some area, consumption doesn’t increase.”

        That’s a tautology. By definition, a quality does not increase relative to its peak, or it wouldn’t be the peak.

        “the use tax would of course affect the less well off disproportionately”

        Absolutely right. The carbon tax effects energy prices, which makes it function like a consumption tax. Consumption taxes are regressive. That is one reason lots of people, including Richter, want to see the tax made revenue-neutral, with the implicit assumption that the revenue-lowering would also be regressive. Hansen advocates cutting each household a check, for example.

      • randomengineer


        There were 2 parts to my argument, the first being that the efficiency thing David W brought up doesn’t necessarily apply.

        The 2nd part — disproportion — ought to be able to apply equally to poor and rich alike but not for basic things. One ought not tax the poor for heat. A blanket cheque per household seems wrong. Better to tax by category in a VAT form. A snowmobile is a luxury. Tax for that. Home heat isn’t a luxury. Plasma TV? Luxury. If a poor family can save up for the plasma set or snowmobile toy, it too can save and pay the tax. Seems to me luxury taxes are already used (and quite ubiquitous if you reckon smokes to be a form of luxury.) I much prefer to think it’s preferable to tax people for what they use the energy to do, not because they’re rich or poor. I don’t much like the idea of being energy conscious and working to conserve it and paying the exact same tax as the neighbour who engages in recreational snowmobiling or boating. Taxing just the fuel is where the poor help pay for the neighbour’s toys.

      • I was thinking about this today and revisiting some old ground:

        If you tax snowmobile fuel more than home heating, what about the guy with the 7500 square foot house with lots of windows in a cold climate?

        There are lots of other examples…and the more specific we get the more potentially problematic, possibly private (?) data we need to optimize the tax.

      • randomengineer

        Bill I’d think you tax the crap out of the snowmobile itself unless it’s required for work or getting off the farm, etc. Not the fuel. No different than the boat. If you fish for a living, that’s one thing. If it’s something for your entertainment, then be prepared to pay a tax.

        Big house? A well done 7500 sq ft house probably isn’t any worse than a badly insulated house 1/3 the size. Real estate tax ought to be proportional to energy per sq ft needed. Insulate the house, pay less in tax. Hell of an inducement to insulating the house rather than the snowmobile.

        I just think that raising the fuel tax and leaving it at that is a subsidy from everyone’s pocket to the pocket of the snowmobile pleasure driver or the recreational boater.

        I don’t think I understand how revenue neutral is reached otherwise.

      • I much prefer to think it’s preferable to tax people for what they use the energy to do, not because they’re rich or poor.

        I would prefer that too, but I would like to keep things really simple and predictable and not complicate the tax code too much. That said, I am open to different ways to put a price on carbon, and different ways to return the revenue to the public.

        Richter argues, and I agree, that the bottom 1.6 billion people contribute so little to our emissions and have so little period that we shoudn’t ask anything of them in the near term.

      • Oil is limited resource, we are addicted to it. Some people dump perfectly good cars – to buy a new one – because is more economical / trendy / subsidy. But to make that new car, lots of energy is used. Pick of the oil will be soon – smaller cars… Is same as making smaller chairs / tables on the Titanic.

        Why nobody talks about smaller population? It was predicted long time ago that: population will level at about 2050. Why? Are the people going to become sterile then? No, the prediction was based on, that by 2050 oil will start degreasing dramatically. Consumption increases more than was predicted… Isn’t it better population to start decreasing now; with one child policy?

    • One of the best things about increasing CAFE standards (from a CAGW point of view) is the added benefit of removing the carbon footprint of all the victims of the extra traffic related deaths that result.

      “A 1989 Harvard-Brookings study estimated CAFE ‘to be responsible for 2,200-3,900 excess occupant fatalities over ten years of a given [car] model years’ use.'”

      • zOMG! That’s more than died in all nuke industry accidents combined! We have to ban it.

      • Gary M: Or maybe in the U.S. people see fuel efficiency as only one value of many to be determined in choosing which car to buy. Like for instance safety. See my comment below at 5:02.

        You are indeed closer to the mark. We also value independence, and diversity.

    • David Wojick: I can’t speak for Inhofe but mandating technology a quarter of a century from now is indeed asinine.

      What’s mandated is the fuel efficiency standard, not the technology to achieve it. Note below the fuel efficiency penalty that we pay in the U.S. by our pollution control standards; I would expect that, because of improvements in fuel refining and engines, those pollution control standards can be changed in order to get increased fuel efficiency.

  16. California has this “Million Solar Roofs” program, ($2.1 billion in state subsidies). For 15 to 20 percent of the cost, I could eliminate twice as much CO2 emissions by simply converting the Four Corners coal-fired power plant from coal to natural gas. That doesn’t say don’t use any solar. But it does say let’s do things that can have a big impact now, and let’s give credit for it. The mandate to utilities should be to reduce emissions. It shouldn’t be to use certain technologies.

    All investments are gambles, calculated gambles to be sure, but gambles. The California gamble is that solar power will eventually be cheap enough to provide the 40% or so of California energy consumption that occurs in the day time without damaging the overall economic productivity. It may not be there yet, or it may be, but it looks good for the near future. Four Corners is not in California, hence beyond the control of Californians, with one negligible exception: California passed a law specifying that none of the electricity imported from other states can be produced from coal-fired power plants; that is negligible because the electricity wholesalers simply deliver the Four Corners product to the states that don’t have the restriction, namely the 4 states that meet at the Four corners.

    As presented, the author recognizes only central solutions. However, Tennessee does not need to await the approval of West Virginia to convert its coal-fired plants to natural gas, nor does any other state or private utility. Already the conversion from coal to natural gas is underway, about as fast as the gas fields and distribution system can be developed. Virginia need not get run over; it has coal and water, so it can probably produce gasoline and diesel fuel from the updated Fischer-Tropsch process at prices competitive with the world market, should anyone there choose to do so. That’s not a low-CO2 path, but it is an “energy-security” path that should be at least explored. (note: the Great Plains synfuels plant sells natural gas in the Midwest, and CO2 in Canada for enhanced oil recovery.)

    It looks like a good book. I’ll check it out from my county library.

    • “The California gamble is that solar power will eventually be cheap enough to provide the 40% or so of California energy consumption that occurs in the day time without damaging the overall economic productivity.”

      California’s unemployment rate (fudged as usual by not counting those who have stopped looking for work), “improved” to 11.3% in November 2011. Only progressives who only read the filtered news of the MSM don’t know California is already experiencing significant economic damage from its idiotic tax and energy policies.

      But don’t worry, hotels won’t be able to use unfitted sheets any more, so the future looks rosy.

      • GaryM : Only progressives who only read the filtered news of the MSM don’t know California is already experiencing significant economic damage from its idiotic tax and energy policies.

        I agree.

        Not every single policy is necessarily idiotic. Businesses would be leaving the state even if it had the lowest electricity costs because of the rest of the regulatory burdens. California’s high electricity prices are a result of decades of underinvestment; the subsidy for solar has financed increased electricity production for local use without the time-consuming regulatory mess imposed on centralized facilities, and without the necessity of constructing more transmission lines. If in fact a certain price barrier is being broken (I do some new calculations each time I read of a new solar project, so I think the price barrier has been broken, but I am not certain), then the gamble will pay off in gradually reduced electricity costs in California.

        It’s not been an unmixed blessing: the “subsidy” was actually a tax credit that was of value only to people with high taxes (i.e. high incomes), and the savings in electricity costs could only be realized by people with high electricity bills (i.e. high incomes.) So it shifted the overall burden of paying for the government from the rich to everyone else. I’d have never promoted such a program, and I didn’t. But the cost invested to date might be paid back in the upcoming decade.

        And to repeat my main point, Richter’s view is too centralized. Californians, Iowans, Texans, Pennsylvanians and Tennesseeans do not need to wait for cooperation from the movers and shakers of other states.

      • “And to repeat my main point, Richter’s view is too centralized.”

        I suggest to wait until you read the book.

        Richter treats the problem with respect for its complexity. The solar program quoted is just used as an example of an inefficient way to cut emissions. Overall he sees a role for solar and wind, but thinks some uber-greens are to sanguine about their prospects.

    • California passed a law specifying that none of the electricity imported from other states can be produced from coal-fired power plants;

      How do they propose to tell which electrons came from coal plants and which came from nuke or hydro or gas? Perfect example of a statute that has no relationship to reality.

      • P. E. How do they propose to tell which electrons came from coal plants and which came from nuke or hydro or gas? Perfect example of a statute that has no relationship to reality.

        Follow the money: the money from the consumer can not end up paying a salary (or anything else) at a coal-fired power plant. But notice that my main point was the near futility of the law for net region-wide CO2 reduction: I called the law “negligible”. And my other point that Richter’s view is too centralized.

    • It’s also possible to use a modified Fischer-Tropsch process to make synfuels from natural gas. This is somewhat lower capital than a coal conversion plant. It may turn out that converting coal won’t be able to compete with this.

  17. I am not running out to by the book. From the post it would appear to be a little overly simplified. As P.E. said, energies will evolve with technology and demand. Forcing the evolution of energy sources before the technology is ready can result in two headed snakes. Solar, nuclear and some blend of hydrogen or synthetic fuels will mature with demand not regulation. Not strangling the economy in pursuit of darlings that may be pipe dreams frees up creativity that can produce the true darlings of the future.

  18. This quote –
    as an economic issue, because gas is cheaper
    The cost of natural gas and coal in the US has huge regional variation.
    Coal varies from 90 cents/MMBtu(Gillette,Wyoming) to $4.00/MMBtu(US Eastern Seaboard).

    I don’t know of anywhere in the US that natural gas can be purchased for 90 cents/MMBtu.

    I haven’t read the book but it appears to be written by yet another so called ‘expert’ with a ‘local perspective’ trying to tout a ‘national’ plan.

    Regional energy choices are driven by regional resource prices and availability. The ‘national average’ is a meaningless number and a ‘national plan’ will be unnecessarily wasteful.

    • As a practical matter, the regions with potential for shale gas are roughly coincidental with the regions that burn a lot of coal now. Yes, electricity is all regional. Most people don’t realize that there are three separate grids in the lower 48. This is why the interstate rules applied to Texas are so destructive, because most of Texas is on its own independent grid, and has limited import capabilities.

      • In fact we are shifting from coal to gas. Coal’s generation share has dropped from 52% to 46% in a decade, almost all due to gas. EPA’s avalanche of new rules (not even including CO2) will accelerate that trend. Coal generators like AEP and Southern are announcing switching or replacing up to 30% of their coal plants with gas in the wake of the new rules, at a huge cost. I will be surprised to see gas stay cheap at this rapid rate of growth. The price of juice is definitely going up.

      • There’s another issue at play with gas v.s. coal: coal is better at base load, gas is easier to scale for peaking. The trend to more gas as happening anyway, just for that reason.

        The lowest capital cost for a peaking plant is a gas turbine without heat recovery. For peaking, a lot of these have been built. If you want to use them for base load, you probably want to add heat recovery, which takes more capital but gives better efficiency. But that can be retrofitted later.

      • IIRC Southern operates in the Southeast US. . The rule of thumb for ‘competitive nuclear’ is coal at $4/MMBtu and natural gas at $6/MMBtu which is pretty close to the prices in the Southeastern US.

        California is a huge summer ‘peak’ state. The prevailing winds come off the Pacific ocean which makes for quite moderate winters. Their summer peak is about 70 GW while their spring peak is around 25 GW.

        Solar, which only works good in the summer makes ‘some’ sense in California. They have no need for much winter, spring or fall generation. They might be able to squeeze another 5 GW of nuclear plant into their ‘mix’ but after that they would be running the nuclear plants at reduced capacity factors for substantial portions of the year.

        The Northeast already has a significant percentage of nuclear. Adding more is problematic because the utilization rates wouldn’t be very good.
        The ;last I checked Maine was powered by waste from their paper and wood industries.

        In the Pacific Northwest we have a lot of hydro, ‘some’ wind in our mix makes sense to the extent that the hydro-dams can load balance it. We are a ‘winter’ peak region, so solar is a poor investment regardless of how ‘cheap’ it will be because we have to pay for ‘winter capacity’ no matter what.

        Transmission lines capable of carrying 3 GW cost about $2 million/mile.
        Connecting Texas to another major grid in a ‘meaningful’ way would be big bucks. Texas summer peak is about 60 GW and they won’t be getting much juice from California which is also a big summer peak state. Texas also enjoys both cheap coal and cheap natural gas.

        If one goes thru this map put out by the coal shills there really aren’t that many ‘big’ population centers burning mostly coal.

        There is also coal consumption by state put out by another ‘coal shill’ group
        They burn more coal in Wyoming then in Florida or New York or California.

        If we start with the assumption that one ‘twin AP1000’ which appears to be the most cost effective nuclear plant at the moment going full bore displaces 9 million tons of coal then 18 states fall off the list of ‘potential’ candidates as they don’t burn enough coal. The list includes California and New York.

      • harrywr2: If we start with the assumption that one ‘twin AP1000′ which appears to be the most cost effective nuclear plant at the moment going full bore displaces 9 million tons of coal then 18 states fall off the list of ‘potential’ candidates as they don’t burn enough coal. The list includes California and New York.

        Your whole post was interesting. I think the key to moving forward is to examine regions and niches separately, and manage the changes over decades. One often reads that, with current technology, we can’t eliminate all of the coal-fired plants this decade, and it all has to be supervised at the global level.

      • “I think the key to moving forward is to examine regions and niches separately”

        We could design and build a national, continental, or even world-wide system of HVDC current cables, allowing power producers to ship electricity over long distances with minimal transmission losses.

        This would have a number of benefits besides allowing us to generate the power far from where it is consumed:

        1) You could completely shatter the utility model, and create a radically competitive marketplace for power, less like buying water and more like buying cell phone service; dozens of power providers fighting for every customer.

        2) Intermittancy becomes far less of a problem when you have hundreds or thousands of variable inputs — the total power generated becomes far less erratic.

        3) HVDC would save several percent of the electricity generated in the US by drastically reducing the 4-5% average transmission loss.

      • “HVDC”

        We have the Pacific Intertie. The HVDC portion has a capacity of 3.1 GW.
        Right now today it is running at about 50% capacity. California should peak today at about 30 GW.

        Total energy consumed on the Pacific Coast of the US on a hot august afternoon is around 80-90 GW. Total energy consumed on a nice spring day is about 30 GW.

        At $2 million/mile for a 3 GW HVDC line exactly how many HVDC lines do you think we should have? What should we interconnect?

  19. ” For 15 to 20 percent of the cost, I could eliminate twice as much CO2 emissions by simply converting the Four Corners coal-fired power plant from coal to natural gas.”

    Sounds sane to “deniers”.

    Sounds insane to greens because the greens goal is to destroy capitalism, not cut back on Co2 emissions.

    Cutting back on Co2 by squandering trillions on wind and solar is just the method to their anti-capitalism madness.

    • Bruce,
      It is not that most greens are out to destroy capitalism. It is that most greens seem to prefer the impossible perfect rather than the achievable good. Changing coal for nat. gas is achievable but not perfect. So many greens/believers reject gas in favor of their misperception of solar and wind.
      Once one accepts the false premise that CO2 is the most important thing we do in the environment, the believer is left with very few realistic choices.

      • There’s also a question of time scales. A lukewarmer might think that eventually something has to be done, but not for another 50-100 years. It’s the fanatics like Prince Charles who say that we only have 4 years (was that 4 years ago?) until thermogeddon who end up painted into a corner.

      • P.E.
        Good point: the believers have recevied a free ride so far regarding their failed prophecies and predictions. I think we are seeing a sea change in this free ride from media and policy leaders, but maybe I am just too hopeful.

      • hunter, I disagree. They are out to destroy capitalism.

        And now the anti-Shale nuts have aligned themselves with the Oil Drum fanatics in an unholy alliance whose goal is to make oil extremely expensive.

      • Bruce,
        I may indeed be wrong. I just think ignorance and kookery, both so very popular in the AGW world, explains more than deliberate planning. As for the Oil Drum, people take them even less seriously than people take Web.

      • Hunter, where do you think Web gets all of his talking points?

      • Got it wrong there buddy. They get the math from me.

      • I don’t think that helped your case.

      • Oh, and Hunter – First rule of Nostradumbasses: don’t make a prediction about anything that will happen within your lifetime.

        Although Ehrlich seems to have gotten a free pass on that one for some reason.

  20. “People understand that oil is a national security issue”
    He is saying that if we qit importing oil from the Mideast, then we solve that national security problem. Not so. The rest of the world, like Japan and China will still need Mideast oil and we will want to stop any wars from starting, so we will still be in the Mideast.

    As noted above, this author is only middle-of-the-road on energy policy. He still thinks more CO2 in the atmosphere is bad and wants a carbon tax.

    • Sam Hall,
      The author is a man for all seasons, trying to offer something for everyone.

    • Not only that, as long as the ME exporters have revenue from any source Europe, China, wherever, they’ll be a pernicious influence on American politics. No such thing as Fortress America.

    • Sam Hall: He is saying that if we qit importing oil from the Mideast, then we solve that national security problem. Not so.

      That is only partly true. If we do not import oil via sea transport then we do not have to worry as much about supply disruptions in time of war.

      • matt,

        I think Sam has it right. As I recall, the US gets the bulk of it’s imported oil from Mexico, Canada and the Carribean basin. The Gulf accounts for just a small percentage of US oil. The reason the Gulf is so central to US security policy is due to the rest of the world being so reliant on it. With a global economy and financial system, any major impact or threat to European, Asian or SA economies impacts us.

  21. Burton Richter is saying things that many climate scientists, including probably James Hansen, would agree with and have themselves been arguing for. Switching from coal to nuclear power and natural gas is exactly what is needed. It’s not a new suggestion!

    Of course this should attract a lot of middle ground support. But, the left won’t like the idea of nuclear power and the right won’t like the idea that governments need to be involved to make sure it all happens.

    I’m not sure what Burton Richter means by “…. a revenue-neutral tax on carbon…..” But if it means that the right will go along with the idea, yes, lets make it “revenue neutral”.

    • “Revenue neutral” means you take the money away from people when they buy fuel, then give it back to them somehow, say with an income tax cut, so it does not decrease their revenue. My question is why don’t they just use it then to pay more for fuel, since they still have the money? It assumes people are stupid.

      Do you think climate scientists have an expert opinion on tax policy? Why mention them in this context? But then Richter is a physicist, right? They apparently think they know more than everyone else about everything.

      • It’s worse than that. They tax the fuel, refund it on the income tax, and then raise the income tax.

        That’s how it’s going to play out if they’re allowed to.

      • David – there are many serious studies of the “rebound effect” where financial savings stemming from energy savings are used to purchas additional energy. Since typically other services are also consumed with the savings, the rebound effect usually erases less than half of the original energy savings, but it varies wildly and can approach 100%.

      • David Wojick,

        ” My question is why don’t they just use it then to pay more for fuel, since they still have the money? It assumes people are stupid.”

        Stupid? If there is a choice of energy from one source at a price of $1.00 per unit , (including a carbon tax component $0.20) of and the price from another source at $1.10 per unit (including carbon tax of $0.40) then a rational person would choose the first one.

        Remove the carbon tax and they would choose the latter.

        And that isn’t going to change no matter what income tax reduction they may receive due to the introduction of the any carbon tax.

        If there is any stupidity involved, then it can only be from those who can’t understand basic arithmetic.

      • +1

        A simple way to think of it is that a revenue neutral carbon tax increases incentives to save energy. Yes, you can put that same money back into fuel and energy. But if you can cut the amount of those things you use, the amount you save is higher because the price is higher.

        For the same reason a carbon tax creates a powerful incentive to develop, design, build and sell low-carbon energy sources and energy efficient technologies.

    • tt,
      I don’t think pointing out the history of ‘special’ and temporary’ taxes becoming ‘general’ and ‘permanant’ taxes makes one a right winger.
      A carbon tax is not going to accomplish anything other than increasing the general tax burden on people.
      Richter is relies on much of the skeptic argument, but still takes the time to belittle denialist scum so as to keep his street cred with the believers.

      • Hunter,

        No. The tax take by the government isn’t dependent of the number of taxes.

        It doesn’t work quite as it should in the USA, I know, but generally speaking the idea is that taxes are either raised or lowered, in conjunction with adjustments to interest rates, to enable the spending power of consumers in an economy to match the available productive power. Too much taxation would reduce demand and cause unemployment to increase.

  22. Burton Richter wrfites “As for renewables, is somebody going to invent the real holy grail of renewable energy? To me that is grid-scale energy storage, which means capacity in gigawatt-days not kilowatt-hours.”

    How can we somehow get this displayed in neon lights, block capitals, and any other sort of glaring way so that everyone realizes that this really is the holy grail of renewables. I have been trying to say this for years, but no-one takes any notice of me. I am only aware of one place that large scale renewables, in this case solar power, is truly successful. That is at Ularu, Ayer’s Rock, Australia. They have been running a highly successful program for decades, based on storing solar energy in lead acid batteries.

    • To me, this is so blindingly obvious that it doesn’t need to be said. But I think wind has even other issues that a magical $1/kwh battery won’t solve.

  23. beyond smoke and mirrors?
    it’s all about stealing – chowing down at the cannibal feast.
    it’s all about party on your pursey.
    EvErYtHiNg else about it is smoke, mirrors, intoxicants and rophys.

  24. Judith Curry

    Thanks for tip – just ordered “Beyond Smoke and Mirrors” on my Kindle.

    Based on quickie interview notes, I’d give Dr. Richter 8 out of 10:

    Yes – There is much uncertainty regarding the future (energy/climate)
    Yes – We should do things that “don’t cost much at all and have a relatively high impact”
    Yes – New natural gas makes more sense than new solar
    Yes – New natural gas makes more sense than new coal
    Yes – Need to have 54 mpg engine standard
    No – We are “going to have to run over West Virginia”
    No – Need to implement a (revenue neutral?) carbon tax
    Yes – Nuclear is safe and getting even safer
    Yes – Solar/wind not competitive because too variable
    Yes – Need to develop grid-scale energy storage (Holy Grail?)

    But let’s see what he says in his book.


    • Yes – Need to have 54 mpg engine standard

      That’s not an engine standard. That’s a vehicle standard.

  25. It’s a resource depletion book disguised as climate change mitigation. Starting at page 75, he describes depletion scenarios of less than 3 trillion barrels of conventional oil. No sourcing on any of the data, however, so I don’t consider it a research study, and more like a popular account of peak oil and AGW, along with possible risk mitigation strategies for alternative energy sources.

    Money quote:

    “the movement away from fossil fuels that is required to deal with climate change will eventually have to happen anyway to deal with resource exhaustion”

    That’s been my perspective as well.

  26. Doug Badgero

    Nat gas is only cheaper than coal for new generation and then only if you assume nat gas will stay cheap. It would not be “cheaper” to trash many billions of dollars in invested capital in current coal fired generation and then spend billions more to build replacement NG plants. To add insult to economic injury these NG plants would still have a higher variable operating cost than coal plants even at today’s “cheap” NG prices.

  27. I’ve been a fan of Professor Richter since the 70s. Unfortunately he is essentially a technological optimist trying to engage with Malthusians.

    Julian Simon and Herman Khan both said that cleaning up pollution as we get richer was a good idea, but this wasn’t enough to make them popular figures with the Greens who groove on doom.

    Richter will get some plaudits from environmentalists who favour nuclear power, but otherwise the message will fall on deaf ears. Again.

  28. Simpat88 in Oz

    Yes, I read the book about a year ago. It is more pragmatic than many books on climate change and thechnical issues to do with mitigation. I come from a radiation health perspective so had no trouble with the presentation on nuclear issues. The environmental health aspects e.g. the switch from coal to natural gas, do make sense.

  29. Norm Kalmanovitch

    Mark Golden is a communications/energy writer at the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University and in his interview asks this ignorant question: “Your book takes a middle ground between the deniers of climate change and what you call “ultra-greens,” who insist on drastic action immediately but reject nuclear power and some other low-carbon solutions. Can you talk about that middle ground?”
    “Deniers” are a rather disgusting group of ignorant bigots who refuse to acknowledge the horrors of the holocaust as they pursue thier white supremist ideology in a way that is not all that dissimilar to the way the “ultra-greens” pursue thier self righteous anti energy ideology driven agenda that used fabricated models to produce AGW out of nothing.
    We are not deniers but simply people with enough common sense to state that when there has been no global warming detectable on any of the five global temperature datasets since 1998; the increase in CO2 emissions from fossil fuels since 1998 is not driving current climate change.
    We have three decades of satellite measurements of OLR that tell us there has been no enhanced greenhouse effect from the 57.1% increase in CO2 emissions in the past 31 years so any observed warming is not from CO2 emissions or changes to the greenhouse effect; so by default observed warming must have resulted from increased energy from sun reaching the Earth surface.
    We have satellite measurements dating back to 1970 showing that the 14.77micron wavelength band of the Earth’s thermal radiation that is affected by CO2 is already so close to saturation that it is a physical impossibility for a further doubling of CO2 to enhance the greenhouse effect by any more than 0.4°C and satellite measurements of OLR demonstyrate that even this trivial enhancement of the greenhouse effect from CO2 is not happening to any detectable extent.
    Those of us who have examined the Earth’s thermal history since the end of the last ice age know that the Earth has been cooling for the past 5000 years but doing so with a superimposed series of warming events including the Minoan, the Roman, and the Medieval Warm periods each of which was cooler that the preceeding one, and all of which were substantially warmer than any current observed warming and none of these had any detectable effect on Antarctic Ice or showed any change in sea level rise.
    Those of us who have examined the thermal history of the past 1000 years know that the Medieval warm period gave way to the Little Ice Age which is perfectly consistent with the Maunder Minimum and the extension of the Little Ice Age perfectly matched the Dalton Minimum which is currently being mimicked providing an explanation for the current global cooling that started in 2002 indicating that we are in for at least two more decades of global cooling until the end of solar cycle 25 around 2032.
    We are also aware that the warming since the Little Ice Age has occurred at a rate of about 0.5°C/century and the 0.6°C of warming from 1880 to 1980 that occurred as CO2 concentration increased by 100ppmv is mostly natural with only 0.1°C possibly being attributable to CO2 which is contrary to the fabricated CO2 forcing parameter of the climate models that falsely attributes the entire 0.6°C to CO2.
    We are also aware that GCM models are completely incapable of projecting temperature because the output is in ‘energy flux’ in W/m^2 which has no relationship to temperature so we are also aware that the climate sensitivity factor has no physical basis and was contrived strictly for the purpose of projecting global temperature from GCM’s when there is absolutely no physical basis on which to do this.
    But most of all, unlike those with this anti energy and therefore anti humanity environmentalist agenda; we are concerned about people of the world and the effect that this climate fraud has had on the poor. Biofuels have taken 6.5% of the world’s grain out of the global food supply as feedstock for ethanol production and when 6.5% of the world’s grain supply is removed the wealthy pay double for food and the poor who can no longer afford to eat simply starve.
    It is incomprehensible that anyone today especially a leading Scientist and Nobel Lauriate could still believe that there is even a possibility that we need to address climate change or that there are actually “sides” in this debate. Remove “climate change” from the title: “Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Climate Change and Energy in the 21st Century” and you probably have a good book

  30. Dr. Curry: I found one person who had read the book and had cogent comments about the book. I found there were a101 comments about the comments you made based upon some reviewers ad on other BLOGers comments. It seems to me that intellectual honesty would require someone to have read the book or alt least portions of the book to be able to justify a comment whether favorable or not. It seems that the discussions are based upon emotions rather that reason. I plan to read it because it sounds like it is a good read. The other 101 comments were not particularly helpful.

  31. Richter is a great physicist and his solutions make sense. Generating electricity using natural gas and nuclear power will stabilise or lower the cost of electricity in the medium term (~30 years).

    The weakness of his position is that he accepts the cuckoo IPCC idea that mankind needs to reduce its CO2 emissions. Carbon was sequestered during the Carboniferous era to the point that concentrations fall to dangerously low levels during glaciations.

    Increased CO2 concentrations have immediate benefits that far outweigh any negative effects in the next 100 years and may save us from extinction during the next glaciation.

    • Dr. Richter is also correct in promoting the use of nuclear reactors for energy. As money is stored banks, energy is stored as rest mass in the cores of atoms, stars and galaxies [1].

      However, nuclear industry was justly criticized in the past for simply storing radioactive waste products – a concentrated form of energy – and telling politicians that they could encapsulate the waste for safe disposal later in old salt mines or under Yucca Mountain!

      If political leaders have the courage to insist that the future nuclear waste products will be encapsulated and used NOW to power steam generators, etc., then the TFMSR (Thorium-Fueled Molten Salt Reactors) proposed by China [2] may be a good way to meet future nuclear energy needs.



  32. randomengineer

    gallopingcamel — The weakness of his position is that he accepts the cuckoo IPCC idea that mankind needs to reduce its CO2 emissions.

    Is it *really* cuckoo? We humans are running an open ended experiment and we don’t know what the results will be. Although I’m in the camp that reckons the results will ultimately prove non-catastrophic, I’m also not stupid enough to think that a) catastrophe isn’t possible, or b) we know the results one way or another.

    Richter is arguing what many of us have argued for years, which is that the only same course of action is to solve today’s energy problems as we can, CO2 emissions issues will sort themselves out, and we ought to keep our eyes on the CO2 stuff in case it’s a larger problem than people like me think it will be.

    WTF is so cuckoo about that?

    • “WTF is so cuckoo about that?”

      Read the book and find out: that’s not what Richter is arguing. He is arguing for immediate aggressive mitigation starting now, and he’ll be happy to explain to you why.

  33. The point about shale gas is certainly right. I continue to be mystified by the lack of action on this issue. If the government did a minimal investment to get gas stations equipped to dispense CH4, the savings would be huge.

    1. Most parts of the country already have natural gas infrastructure, so the investment is small.

    2. Natural gas is currently priced at about $0.40 per gasoline gallon equivalent. The supply is abundant and growing rapidly. The economic impact would be huge, freeing up vast resources to spend on more productive activities.

    3. Automobiles are easy to convert to natural gas. It’s available as an option from most car makers.

    4. Last, because its the least important, the carbon footprint is reduced.

    I find our energy policy in the US infuriating. Ethanol subsidies are the most counterproductive political device in the last century. They drive up food prices and actually increase total carbon consumption very considerably. I have heard from specialists that it takes almost a gallon of fossil fuels to produce a gallon of corn ethanol.

    Another example is the phobia of nuclear power. If we had been on this road for the last 50 years, things would be much better in so many ways. Environmentalists have this blood on their hands. They shamelessly exploited the fear for their own purposes, which was an idea of energy scarcity as the only virtuous way forward.

    In short, just the avoidance of stupid energy policies would go much further to helping mankind than all the talk of carbon taxes, mitigation, and the endless hand wringing over extreme weather events and the doctrine of energy scarcity. As a taxpayer, I am very upset with our government for not taking action and it seems to me that the current administration is one of the worst, being obsessed with taxing the wealthiest and ignoring the real sources of our economic malaise.

    One of Morrison’s most salient observations was that Teddy Roosevelt was the only president in 50 years to actually understand the forces shaping the country. When will we wake up to the forces shaping our collective destiny?

    • David Young: If the government did a minimal investment to get gas stations equipped to dispense CH4, the savings would be huge.

      I have one question. I don’t doubt that assertion, and a neighbor of mine earns money part-time by converting the engines of friends of his and other people referred to him.

      But nationwide, would it make more sense to convert natural gas to gasoline? As you noted about natural gas, the infrastructure for delivering gasoline is in place. Pennsylvania has oil, refineries and natural gas, so surely someone has looked into this?

      • Unless he’s talking price differential, I think his price is off.

        Why would an energy company agree to switch customers from oil to natural gas? ExxonMobil, for instance, obviously thinks the future is natural gas as they defied Wall Street and bought XTO, but I think they want to be in control of when that future happens.

      • In the US, several city/county transit systems run their buses on CNG. The economics pencils out. Private cars, not so much. If we’re going to make a “minimal investment” it makes a lot more sense to get together truck suppliers and do this for long-haul trucks first. A network of truck stops can be equipped a lot more cheaply than thousands of neighborhood gas stations.

        People seem to miss the simple concept that you get the most bang for your buck by displacing diesel first.

        As for why the oil companies would switch, the answer is that they don’t play a role. The filling stations are mostly independently owned. This is particularly true of the truck stops. If the oil distributors put language in their supply contracts forbidding CNG and LNG sales, some simple legislation could fix that.

  34. Environmentalists have this blood on their hands. They shamelessly exploited the fear for their own purposes, which was an idea of energy scarcity as the only virtuous way forward.

    Right. Environmentalists are to blame for large %’s of the public being concerned about nuclear waste, about the potential of nuclear energy to cause harm, about the nuclear industry taking necessary precautions to prevent harm from nuclear energy, about incompetence in the nuclear industry, and of course, environmentalists are also to be blamed for investors not lining up to invest in endeavors that pose serious risks and have a long wait for return on investment (when they can find other investments that bring a faster return).

    All those dupes so easily fooled by environmentalists. If only they had your wisdom, David, they could see right through the charade. If only environmentalists weren’t in control of our country’s energy policy formation.

    • randomengineer

      If only environmentalists weren’t in control of our country’s energy policy formation.

      They don’t need to be, not when the inertia of pop culture influencing public opinion does the job. Pop culture and Conventional Wisdom are powerful forces.

    • I see not everyone has turned over a new leaf.

      Who is responsible for :
      the public being concerned about nuclear waste – a combination of the general public being scientifically illiterate and the industry either ignoring the benefits of active engagement or adopting “scare tactics” with regard to what would happen it plants are shut down. Anyone concerned about nuclear waste probably believes that ghosts exist and can be found by trained specialists.

      about the potential of nuclear energy to cause harm – verses the potential of anything else, automobiles, prescription drugs, recreational sports, the list goes on. Almost any activity humans engage in has the “potential” to cause harm. Try naming an industry which has a better record at preventing harm.

      about the nuclear industry taking necessary precautions to prevent harm from nuclear energy – exactly. I refer you to the above question. There are other industries – the aircraft and airline industry for one – who can match the efforts of the nuclear industry for preventing harm. But find one who does more.

      about incompetence in the nuclear industry – don’t have a clue on this one. There was Diablo Canyon, where they read the plans wrong and put the piping in backward. But they caught that and corrected it. Some could call 3 Mile Island a case of incompetence. There was some operator error, but a major contributing factor was the layout of the control room panels. Gauges critical to proving the operators the information they needed to form an accurate picture of what was going on were widely separated.

      Maybe you never make mistakes Josh, but the rest of us do and when it comes to the impacts of those mistakes, the nuclear industry record is pretty enviable. How many died as a result of the 3 Mile Island incident? Try zero. How many have died due to Fukushima? Yep, it’s that same zero number.

      People have this inordinate and completely unfounded fear of radiation and nuclear power. Unless you believe that movies that feature 50 ft women, giant spiders, and strange mutations as a solid foundation. I wouldn’t have pegged you as belonging to this group.

      • timg56, If Joshua, or anyone of the green extremist was present when they invented the wheel – they would have demanded to be forbidden to use the wheel. Because in their research would have shown: there will be more than 10 million people killed, by or because of the wheel; there was only 9 million people on the planet then = human will be extinct because of the wheel!

        Trust me; nobody worries less about people and the environment than the green top-coated Reds. They are against dams, for saving extra storm-water, because extra water on the land improves the climate. No water – trees / animals / birds mummified = more on extinction list = more power and easier soliciting for more cash from the Urban Sheep

  35. Hi Judith,

    Whilst I don’t agree with the Carbon Tax idea or his other progressive ideas. I do agree with moving from coal to gas or even coal to new coal. New coal is 30% more efficient that coal power stations that are 25+ years old.

    This sort of policy is the same as the GWPF “No Regrets” policy. The vast majority of sceptics would have little problem with this. However, the IPCC consensus / watermelons won’t accept his in a million years.


  36. re-posted with corrected formatting

    Judith Curry

    It may be true that “people from both sides have good things to say” about Professor Burton Richter’s book, but here are my comments after having just started it.

    The Foreword starts off by praising Al Gore:

    Much credit goes to former Vice President Al Gore and to his movie and book, An Inconvenient Truth. His academy award and Nobel Peace Prize are testaments to the influence of his work.

    [This has turned me off right at the start.]

    Richter then states that he believes in reducing greenhouse gases as an “environmental insurance for his granddaughters (ages 2.5 and 5)”.

    [This bit of “heart-string pulling” leaves me a bit cold.]

    He then states confidently, ”the earlier we start the easier it will be to do some good”.

    [This sounds real good, so let’s see what he proposes to “start” with and how much “good” he thinks it will bring.]

    In the Introduction, Richter tells us that at more than 6 billion population

    we have now reached the point where human activities have overloaded the atmospheric dump and the climate has begun to change

    [So far, Richter has not given any sciebtific foundation for either of these two claims, but let’s see what comes next.]

    He classifies himself as a “green” (the “good guys”), as opposed to an “ultra-green” (alarmist) or an “anti-green” (skeptic).

    He states that “anti-greens” (i.e. skeptics) accept that

    greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are the main element that controls the average temperature of our planet

    [This is NOT TRUE. I am highly skeptical of that claim, as it is not supported by empirical data based on actual physical observations or reproducible experimentation. Had he reworded this to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are one of many factors that control the average temperature of our planet, I would have accepted it.]

    He then states:

    Why they do they not agree that changes in greenhouse gas concentration changes the temperature is beyond me

    [This is a silly statement (especially as it followed a false claim), since most skeptics would agree that added greenhouse gases should result in some increase in temperature – they just do not agree with the IPCC model-based estimates of the MAGNITUDE of this anthropogenic greenhouse temperature increase.]

    Richter then states that the

    U.S. has acknowledged that human activity is the main cause of global warming

    [This is FALSE. Most of the U.S. population has NOT accepted this premise, as many polls have shown.]

    Richter evokes the 1968 book by UCal professor of ecology at the time, Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons” adding the statement

    we can preserve the atmospheric commons

    [OK. Let’s see how he proposes to do this…]

    In Part I Richter starts off by stating

    There is no question about the reality of the greenhouse effect


    that our planet is getting warmer

    [Agreed (since 1850 in fits and spurts, with the latest spurt ending around 2000).]

    and we are primarily responsible for it.

    [No. Richter has not provided any empirical evidence to support this claim.]

    He then quotes the IPCC AR4 estimates on warming by the end of the century at 2°C to 6°C for “business as usual” scenarios and storylines and states:

    uncertainty should not be the cause for inaction

    [Let’s see if he gives his rationale for this statement later on, but to me UNCERTAINTY of the scientific justification for actions (of whose unintended consequences and actual effectiveness we are also UNCERTAIN) seems like an excellent cause for reflection before charging off into ACTION.]

    Judith, I do not have a Nobel Prize, but I am frankly disappointed in the start of this book.

    Richter appears to be 100% in the “we must act now before it’s too late” alarmist camp (even though he paints himself as a middle-of-the-roader).

    I will read the rest of Parts I through III and see if this gets any better.


    • “This is NOT TRUE.”

      It’s not that he thinks that no one denies global warming outright.

      He simply thinks you are a tiny minority of crazies with no real influence.

      • Robert

        You should work on your reading skills.

        NO ONE (that I know of) “denies global warming outright”, but (as I wrote)

        Richter “states that ‘anti-green’ (i.e. skeptics) accept that

        greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are the main element that controls the average temperature of our planet”

        To which I commented “this is NOT TRUE”

        [I, for one, accept that it is warming, but not that greenhouse gases are the main element that controls the average temperature of our planet]

        Got it this time? (It;s really not that complex if you read slowly.)


      • Manacker; the planet is not warming. People that you are trying to prove wrong, are saying that the planet is WARMING, and you believe them… I have all the real proofs that the whole planet is NOT warming, and why not. Parts of the planet always get warmer, simultaneously other parts MUST get colder. If you believe in the laws of physics; compare what’s on my website, is not much, you review it – compare with the contemporary propaganda – then be the judge. Recycling outdated theories by both camps is too childish, too destructive. The truth is simple; anybody interested in the truth can recognise it. CO2 is ZERO global warming gas

      • NO ONE (that I know of) “denies global warming outright”

        You should broaden the circle of your acquaintance, or at least look at the opinion polls. In a recent Pew poll, for example, only 43% of Republicans sampled thought there was solid evidence the world is warming:

        “Richter “states that ‘anti-green’ (i.e. skeptics) accept that

        greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are the main element that controls the average temperature of our planet”

        To which I commented “this is NOT TRUE”

        And as I said, I don’t think Richter is arguing that people like you literally don’t exist, but that you’re irrelevant. You are outside the mainstream of “skeptics” to the point that your views aren’t representative (he would argue).

      • Robert

        The question asked if there was solid evidence. That does not necessarily mean the is no evidence or pretty good evidence. The exact question is critical

    • manacker,
      Good assessment.
      AGW beleivers have gotten a free ride for decades now.

    • manacker,

      You have a stronger constitution than I. I doubt I’d have read past the foreword. Hell, I would have put the book down after the Al Gore comment.

  37. Max, It’s all part of the green re-branding that seems to have come to the fore recently. Claim the middle ground, sound all so terribly reasonable but still demand the usual warmist policy responses. There’s nothing new, just ‘improved’ communication!!

  38. Judith Curry

    After reading Part I of Richter’s book, I am even more disappointed than I was after reading the foreword and introduction.

    After frightening us with the statement that the “runaway greenhouse in Venus” could happen here (although it is unlikely), Richter goes into an explanation of how the greenhouse effect works.

    He then states that Arrhenius had calculated that a halving [or doubling] of CO2 would cause a temperature change of 5°C.

    [Why does he not mention that Arrhenius later corrected his estimate to around 2°C?]

    He talks about the work of Keeling and Revelle then estimates that in 1896 a doubling of atmospheric CO2 was estimated to take 1,000 years, whereas the models now estimate this would take 50 years.

    [This is BS. IPCC’s “worst case” model-based “scenario and storyline” A1F1 has CO2 increasing from a 2005 level of 379 ppmv to 865 ppmv (2.3x) in 95 years, while the more reasonable “scenario and storyline” B1 predicts an increase to 584 ppmv (1.5x) in 95 years. Is Richter exaggerating this simply to invoke fear or is he unaware of the numbers?]

    Richter then discusses “residence time” of CO2 in our atmosphere. IPCC tells us this is “between 5 and 200 years”, but Richter tells us it is “more than 100, and maybe even 1,000 years”.

    [Again, why exaggerate things, if not simply for fear mongering?]

    Under “forcing from greenhouse gases” Richter shows CO2 at 60% of the total, but fails to include the most important greenhouse gas of all, water vapor!

    [This is a silly error, again exaggerating the impact of human CO2 to frighten the reader.]

    Richter states that “geo-engineering schemes are a dumb thing”, because the unintended side consequences may be worse than any beneficial effects.

    [Here I can agree 100%.]

    He mentions that only half of the CO2 emitted by humans ends up in the atmosphere, with the rest absorbed by the biosphere and the oceans, but that ”ocean acidification may have serious consequences”.

    [Yeah. Or maybe not.]

    Then comes a scary curve of historic (and projected) CO2 increase, followed by a mention of aerosols and clouds.

    [But hey – he completely ignores the Svensmark cosmic ray / cloud hypothesis and the work being done at CERN. Why is this?]

    Richter shows the Vostok CO2 / temperature data (where CO2 lags temperature by several centuries), stating that this is “not understood”, but that “CO2 and temperature are coupled”.

    [Oh-oh! Sounds like a replay of Al Gore’s AIT film. Why does he not clearly state that CO2 lagged temperature by several centuries and that there were periods of low CO2 level when temperature started to rise and periods of much higher CO2 when temperature started to drop?]

    He then gets into “predicting the future”, emphasizing that IPCC got a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its work, with a quick reference that IPCC became the “technical arm” of UNFCCC in 1992.

    This is followed by IPCC projections for 2100 (IPCC Fig.5.1) with accelerated warming starting in the future.

    [The curve shows the projected 0.2°C warming for the first decade of this century, but – wait a minute! – in actual fact there was NO warming – instead a slight cooling. Why does Richter not mention that there has been no warming since the end of 2000?]

    Regarding uncertainty Richter states:

    if it is outside the range it is more likely to be on the high side than on the low side

    [Huh? This is unsubstantiated fear mongering at its worst.]

    He then highlights IPCC’s worst case scenario (A1F1) in bold type as the closest to “business as usual”, stating:

    consequences will be disruptive at the low end and destructive at the high end

    [It is pure fear mongering to take A1F1 as the most likely BaU case and the statement on consequences is conjectural.]

    And then (a topic close to your heart, I’m sure), he quotes the IPCC attribution claim (most…very likely) as if it were proven science (or gospel).

    To top it all off, Richter tells us:

    Every line in a Summary for Policymakers is gone over word by word with representatives of the UNFCCC

    [The fact that political UNFCCC representatives massage every word does not inspire ANY confidence in me at all.]

    He then repeats the “very young granddaughters” line adding:

    it would not be responsible to leave the problem to them


    [Hansen redux.]

    Richter closes Part I by quoting Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy and the statement

    How to act and how fast to act are the next questions

    [Sorry, Judith – this is pretty bad propaganda aimed at fearmongering and unworthy of a Nobel Prize holder, in my opinion. I only hope it gets better in Parts II and III.]


    • Max, thanks for your analysis, I look forward to your take on Parts II and III.

    • I also appreciate your analysis, Max. The loss of confidence in world leaders may explain sudden interest of mainstream scientists in showing that AGW conclusions were right although the science was flawed.

    • I*m about as far in reading the book.

      It’s clear that the book is written for a rather wide audience. Thus the first part of the book is not particularly interesting for people, who have followed actively the climate discussion.

      I agree with Max on the observation that Richter uses in a few places numbers that are questionable or even strictly wrong, but these points don’t appear essential for the message at the level it’s presented.

      A few comments on history have been interesting to me, otherwise I’m a bit disappointed so far, but the first part is really only introduction to the rest, so let’s see.

  39. Judith Curry

    Here is the next installment.

    Richter starts off Part II (Energy) with the statement:

    Though even the poorest are better off than they were a century ago, global warming will reverse the improvement in the lives of all, unless we do something about it.

    [The first part is undoubtedly true, but the prediction is unfounded. There is no empirical evidence that the improvement in quality of life that has resulted from providing universal access to a readily available, low-cost energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels will suddenly reverse itself if the trend continues for those nations, which have not yet made this transition. In fact, past history indicates that these people will benefit, just as we did in the past, from available low-cost energy.]

    This is followed by:

    All the major emitters of greenhouse gases have now agreed that the problem is real

    [If ”the problem” is catastrophic AGW (CAGW), this is untrue. COP17 or COP18 delegates may have agreed, but the majority of Americans do not agree and the majority of Chinese haven’t even been asked.]

    Richter agrees that ”the costs [of actions to reduce CO2 emissions] are now, whereas the benefits will come later”.

    [This is true for the costs, but Richter forgets to add the BIG word ”MAYBE” regarding the future benefits.]

    Then comes another appeal to urgency:

    The longer we wait to start, the harder it will be to solve the problem

    [Here Richter assumes that “the science is settled” (which we all know it is NOT). He also assumes that we have clear action plans, which will result in well estimated reductions in warming by a defined future data at a clearly defined cost and whose unintended consequences we can adequately foresee today. None of this is the case (unless he pulls some brand new rabbits out of the hat in Part III).]

    In “Energy Now and in the Future”, Richter points out the rather obvious fact that the nations with the highest standard of living (and quality of life) also use the most energy per capita, and that the poorest nations use the least amount of energy.

    [An important point is that the most affluent nations (EU, Japan, North America, etc.) also have the highest “carbon efficiency” (i.e. GDP generated per ton of CO2 emitted), usually three to four times higher than the “carbon efficiency” of the developing nations (China, India, Brazil, etc.) or the still underdeveloped ones. Richter assumes that this is due to the higher “energy intensity” of manufacturing as opposed to service economies, but this is obviously only a part of the reason. After all, it is the quality of life of the people, which we want to improve. And the more affluent nations do this with less carbon than the others.]

    Richter agrees that the poorest 1.6 billion should be allowed to develop their economies through the access to an energy infrastructure”without regard to global climate issues”.

    [Hooray! I agree with him here. (And, if asked, I’m sure the 1.6 billion would also agree.)]

    Richter gets into how future global energy demand is estimated and how most nations have reduced their “energy intensities” (or improved their “carbon efficiencies”) as they have developed economically.

    He discusses past population growth rates and bases for future growth estimates.

    [Here he comes up with 9 billion by 2050 and 10.5 billion for 2100, based on UN estimates. This represents a dramatic slowdown in growth rate, from the 1.7%/year CAGR of 1960-2000 to around 0.2 to 0.3% CAGR over the 21st century.

    Real GDP is expected to grow at a compounded rate of 1.6% per year.

    [Again, this is a much slower CAGR than the 4.4% we have seen since 1970. Yet Richter has accepted IPCC’s worst case “scenario and storyline A1F1 for CO2 increase, which is based on the exponential rate of CO2 levels INCREASING from 0.42% (1960 to 2000) to TWICE this exponential rate at 0.83% per year, despite the dramatic slowdown in both population and GDP growth rates. This does not make sense.]

    Richter states:

    In the business-as-usual scenario, emissions go up by the same amount as energy use increases, and CO2e emissions in 2100 would be about 190 gigatonnes, which scares me as it should you.

    [Scary? Maybe. Realistic? NO. IPCC estimates for the lowest and highest emission cases a cumulative CO2 increase over the 21st century of 3,600 to 8,000 GtCO2, or a range of around 50 to 130 GtCO2/year by 2100. Why does Richter find it necessary to exaggerate even the worst case scenario of IPCC and refer to this as “business-as-usual”? To “scare” people?]

    Richter then describes Kyoto and states that ”it will take 20 to 30 years to learn which end of the range of [temperature and CO2] predictions we are heading for”.

    [This makes sense, especially since we have seen no warming at all over the past 11 years, and this short-term trend may continue for a few more decades (which Richter does not mention, however).]

    But he then follows up with:

    But we should not wait but instead start with the average prediction of the temperature increase and adjust our program over the next 20 or 30 years as we learn more and reduce the uncertainties in the predictions

    [The logic in this statement is a bit convoluted. We have seen no warming over the first decade of the century and we are uncertain what we will see over the coming decades, but we should act now anyway.]

    Richter gets into speculations about trying ”for stabilization at no more than double the pre-industrial level which would be about 550 ppm of CO2e compared to 270 ppm in the eighteenth century” This (according to Richter) would result in ”a central value prediction of a temperature rise of 3°C”.

    [This is FALSE (again an exaggeration). IPCC “scenario and storyline B1” projects a mean temperature increase of 1.8°C, with CO2 increasing to 584 ppmv, so 550 ppmv cannot cause an increase of 3°C.]

    Richter then states that ”many, particularly in Europe, claim that anything above a temperature rise of 2°C, which would correspond to 450 ppmv of CO2e is dangerous”.

    (Whether “Europeans” think that 2°C increase is “dangerous” is conjectural (I, for one, do not). But it is absurd to state that an increase to 450 ppmv CO2 would bring 2°C warming, when IPCC states that 584 ppmv (“scenario and storyline B1”) would only bring 1.8°C; in fact, using the logarithmic relation, 450 ppmv would only bring 0.6°C warming.]

    Richter admits that 550 ppm CO2 is his ”personal guess at how high we can go without greatly increasing the risk of a sudden large change”, adding and I confess that there is no calculation that tells me it is the correct limit”

    [Since IPCC would tell us that 550 ppmv would result in around 1.5°C warming, I am not going to fret at all about ”Richter’s personal guess of risk of sudden large change” if it warms that much.]

    That’s the end of Part II, and I am still very disappointed in this book.

    I had expected a much more balanced “middle ground” perspective.

    Everything that has been said so far could have been said in two paragraphs, one explaining the greenhouse theory and the past CO2 and temperature record, and the second listing IPCC model-based projections for the future with appropriate caveats regarding the ability of the models to forecast anything more than just a few years into the future.

    Instead, this book appears so far to simply be a propaganda statement for “action now” based on bogus estimates plus the notion that “the science is settled” and employing fear mongering to make the sale.

    Let’s see what Part III brings.


  40. Judith Curry

    In Part III of his book, Richter comes to ”How fast to move: a physicist’s look at economists”

    Here he cites the studies by William Nordhaus of Yale and Sir Nicholas Stern, of the London School of Economics.

    The issue (as he states it) ”is how much the world should be spending now to reduce the emissions that will cause large climate changes in the future”

    [We have a basic problem here. The postulation of ”large climate changes of the future”, which have been caused by human CO2 emissions is based on science which is NOT “settled”, so that we really cannot say whether or not there will be ”large (human-induced) climate changes in the future”. As a result, it is impossible to estimate ”how much the world should spend” to avoid these postulated ”changes”, when we cannot even quantify them or even say with any certainty that they will even occur or (if they do occur) whether they have been caused by human emissions or, rather, by natural factors. A real dilemma. To me, the logical conclusion here is that we should try to minimize the uncertainty in the science before we start making predictions for the future of “large changes” which we need to act now to avoid and, instead, prepare to adapt to any climate changes nature throws at us, if and when they actually occur or appear imminent – but this is obviously not Richter’s idea.]

    Instead of addressing this basic dilemma, Richter follows with a discussion of ”discount rates”, a pretty straightforward economic concept relating to the time value of money. Rather than sticking with this factor, Richter introduces the more nebulous concept of the “social discount rate”, which he describes as ”a measure of intergenerational equity”, adding:

    The problem that we confront in climate change is that as the temperature goes up, we expect that there will be harm to the global ecosystem, and hence to the global economy.

    [This is a one-sided view of things. There is no question that moderate warming combined with higher atmospheric CO2 levels will have beneficial impacts for agriculture (and hence our ability to feed a growing population). Several studies have shown that yields of all major crops respond well to increased CO2 levels. Major crop yields increased by 2.4 times from 1970 to 2010, as both temperatures and atmospheric CO2 levels rose. These facts must also be factored into any economic equation – but they have not been. Instead Richter has simply accepted the IPCC view that ”there will be harm to the global ecosystem, and hence to the global economy.”]

    There is apparently a disagreement between Stern and Nordhaus on how the ”social discount rate” should be calculated and Richter states:

    I wonder if they are tryning to quantify the unquantifiable

    [Here I would agree with Richter, but I would go a step further. The entire notion of harmful climate change is not only ”unquantifiable”, it is also quite uncertain that there will even be ANY “harmful climate change” at all.]

    Richter then enters a general discussion of how different discount rates impact economic decisions.

    Then follows a discussion of how Stern and Nordhaus both assume that 550 ppmv is the ”maximum level of greenhouse gases we should allow” (as does Richter – see earlier chapter), yet the two have somewhat different approaches to the “actions” required to ensure that this level is not exceeded. ”Stern’s crisis analysis asks us to do the maximum possible mitigation now” while Nordhaus takes a more longer-term approach of fixing things if and when they become problematic.

    [Nordhaus’ approach makes more sense to me, as it is more pragmatic.]

    To this Richter adds his opinion that

    any economic analysis should look at consequences of inaction over the time it takes to fix the problem once it occurs

    [With all the uncertainties in the science (which is NOT “settled”) and in the potential negative or positive impacts resulting from changes that are impossible to quantify, this seems to me to be truly ”unquantifiable”.]

    Richter points out that ”Nordhaus and Stern both start with a price to be charged for emissions”, but the difference between the two is that ”Stern ramps his up far faster than Nordhaus”

    [This is all very hypothetical rationalization, as far as I can see, because the underlying uncertainties are so great that there is no way to meaningfully estimate the economic impacts (both positive and negative) of adding more CO2 to the atmosphere. There will, by definition, be “winners and losers” (and others that are not impacted at all) and the “social discount rate” for one may be different than for the other.]

    The next chapter discusses “Energy, emissions and action”.

    Switching from fossil fuels as the primary source of energy is the starting point in this discussion. Richter does ”not believe this can be done in as few as 10 years”.

    [Agree fully. But one should add the concept of ”at what cost?”. It could probably be accomplished in 30 years, but at a much higher cost to humanity than if it were done in 60 years, for example. And the ”cost” might not be the same for everyone. The inhabitant of an underdeveloped nation could well pay a higher cost than the one in a nation, which already has access to a low-cost energy infrastructure.]

    Richter discusses how fossil fuels and other resources are used as primary sources of energy and how each ranks as far as CO2 emissions per unit of energy generated (for example, natural gas emits around half the CO2 per unit of energy generated as coal).

    He then switches to discussing how to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by changing the mix of fossil fuels used, suggesting an equation relating emissions to population, GDP, “energy intensity = energy per unit of GDP and emissions per unit of energy” (the latter two are combined in what I call “carbon efficiency” or GDP generated per ton of CO2 emitted).

    Since there is no way to change population growth or the desire for improved quality of life (higher percapita GDP), Richter argues for increasing energy efficiency to start off with – as this does not require ”lifestyle changes”.

    [This makes sense, and is being done for purely economic reasons as fossil fuel resources become more costly to extract.]

    The second path suggested is to change the fuel to a lower-carbon source: from coal to natural gas or from fossil fuel to nuclear.

    [Both of these changes are limited: the first by the local availability of natural gas versus coal and the second by the political hurdle that nuclear power faces in many parts of the world as well as proliferation concerns for many other locations. But there is absolutely no problem considering both where they make economic and political sense.]

    Richter than discusses ”carbon capture and sequestration or CCS”.

    [This does not make sense. At the cost cited by Richter ($50 per ton of carbon), this is much too costly for those nations, which will be the main contributors to the increased CO2 emissions and there are many uncertainties regarding the unintended environmental consequences of this technology, which would, most likely, drive the cost even higher. Richter is also very skeptical of CCS for these same reasons.]

    Richter discusses the usual renewable sources (solar, wind), but concludes that these are too unreliable to be economically competitive on a large scale.

    His conclusion is that there are ”no silver bullets”to kill the (imagined) ”climate change monster” (again listing all the purported negative impacts of global warming, without including any of the positive impacts to be expected from a slightly warmer world). There can only be small, partial solutions or ”stabilization wedges”.

    In the following chapter Richter lists “winners and losers” (not from postulated climate change, but as “solutions”).

    He then asks the question: how much fossil fuel is there?”

    Peak oil (Hubbert) is discussed, and an OECD estimate of around 4.5 trillion barrels of remaining oil from all sources is cited. Coal reserves are stated to ”run out by 2080”. An IEA estimate of 1,000 to 10,000 trillion cubic meters is cited for non-conventional natural gas from methane clathrate in permafrost or under the ocean.

    [The WEC has made an estimate in 2010 of the total “inferred possible fossil fuel resources” of our planet (roughly 3-4 times as high as the current “proven reserves”). This total amount of carbon would constrain atmospheric CO2 increase to around 675 ppmv above today’s level, or to an absolute maximum-ever-possible level of 1065 ppmv.

    The reserve estimates cited by Richter are less than one-half of those projected as “inferred possible total fossil fuel resources” by the WEC report cited above. Even if Richter’s lower estimates are correct ”there is enough coal, oil and gas to last for a good part of this century even under the business-as-usual scenario”

    [The other side of the coin here is that if Richter’s estimates of remaining fossil fuel resources are correct, there is only enough contained carbon to reach a maximum CO2 level of around 320 ppmv above today’s level, or to an absolute maximum-ever-possible level of 710 ppmv (this is lower than Richter’s “business-as-usual” scenario for 2100 cited earlier in the book). In other words, it would be physically impossible to ever reach the CO2 level projected by Richter for 2100.]

    Richter concludes that long-term ”fossil fuels should be saved for uses other than energy”.

    [I agree that this will happen as they become scarcer and more difficult and costly to extract and as economically viable alternate energy sources become available (which they will).]

    Richter’s views on fossil fuel reserves are considerably more pessimistic that those of WEC, but the “good news” for those concerned about AGW is that, if they are correct, the maximum ever CO2 levels would be constrained to just above 700 ppmv and the “worst case warming scenarios” cited by IPCC for 2100 would be physically impossible to ever reach.

    This section of the book gets down to a discussion of practical alternates, with less fear-mongering about the ”climate change monster” as we had in earlier sections.It is more factual and less of a sales pitch for urgent action – and, hence, easier to read..

    One more installment to come, in which Richter discusses the pros and cons of specific, practical ways to reduce CO2 emissions.


    • thanks max, sounds like this part of the book is getting better

      • Another way to read Richter’s ponderings on discount rates and rationalizations to impose carbon taxes and his accepting unquestinoed the assumption of “serious climate change” is this:
        It was the very learned people of the day who debated how many angels could dance on pin heads, and who discussed how the Noah floods took place.

    • And of course, Manacker being the manipulator that he is, skips over Richter’s money quote that I mentioned two days ago.

      That is, AGW mitigation is the same as weaning off of increasingly scarce fossil fuels, what Richter refers to as “resource exhaustion”.

      • WHT

        Hey, are you “manipulating” here? Forget the silly “ad homs”, WHT. They make you sound juvenile, although I know you aren’t.

        Richter’s logic on resource depletion seems good as I have concluded), although he uses reserve estimates, which are only about half of those listed by WEC as “inferred possible total fossil fuel resources”.

        As a result, he projects the world running out of fossil fuels within 80-100 years or so, while the WEC numbers would .indicate that there is enough to last 150-200 years (both at expected growth in consumption rates).


      • Richter’s book is on resource exhaustion and he uses climate change mitigation as a substantiating argument.

        It’s a general interest book so one could refer to other more detailed texts to understand the quantitative modeling.

      • Wait’ll someone as bright as Richter puts a colder world into his calculations and comes up with a different discount rate for ‘intergenerational equity’. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could warm up the globe with CO2, the breath of life?

        Don’t hold your breath for those, either the calculation or the warming.

      • there is no logic for a pure time preference discount on social or environmental impacts.

        productivity of capital can be invoked to argue a positive discount on anything, considering we “invest”

        physical modeling can be invoked to back-calculate a discount rate on emissions (if things pile up). we (don’t) know how accurate that is

  41. “It’s obvious to anyone that on national economic grounds we should shut down these coal plants as fast as we can replace them.”

    Really? Why not just say “No true Scotsman believes that we should keep these plants open!” and be done with it.

  42. I burn Pennsylvania coal in place of foreign oil. That is in America’s economic interest.

    • I agree and I mean in general, not only America’s. Coal is not bad when it’s clean and I don’t mean CO2. As long as there’s still some, we should burn it if we need energy. No need to be hypocritical. Power station?

    • Foolish statement. Pennsylvania hit peak anthracite coal long ago, and the production is in the diminishing returns regime now. Google images for peak coal and you will find graphs of coal production.

  43. Judith Curry

    Here is the next installment (the book is getting more factual and interesting)..

    In this part of the book, Dr. Richter discusses energy alternates and (in my opinion) moves away from the “smoke and mirrors” of climate change alarmism.

    He compares the USA, where “coal and natural gas are used to generate 70% of electricity” with France, where over 70% comes from nuclear power.

    [The USA has large reserves of both coal and natural gas; France does not – so this energy split makes sense for the two nations.]

    He then lists the four known ways to reduce emissions from electrical power generation:

    – improve fuel efficiency
    – carbon capture and sequestration
    – more efficient use of electrical power
    – switch to low- or zero-emission source

    [There is no question that improving efficiency of use or in generation of electrical power inherently makes sense, as this reduces cost and, hence, adds value.]

    [Switching from coal to gas or nuclear could be cost neutral or (as Richter points out) could actually lower cost inmany instances, so again makes sense.]

    Richter agrees that CCS is ”something he is skeptical about” (primarily for technical and environmental reasons), but curiously adds ”but which has such potential that it is worth a try”.

    [In my opinion it inherently does NOT make sense since (in addition to the risks it poses) it only adds cost (not value). In addition (as others have pointed out) the principal new CO2 emitters of the 21st century (China, India, etc,) are very unlikely to pursue this costly route.]

    Richter points out that photovoltaic cells ”use many toxic gases in fabrication” and concludes that, in his opinion, ”coal (or oil) is the worst, wind the best, and nuclear somewhat better than photovoltaic or gas”.

    Richter believes in charging”an appropriate price for carbon emissions”. This is simply another way of saying imposing a (direct or indirect) carbon tax. He compares a direct tax with cap and trade.

    [A direct or indirect tax is a poor alternate in my opinion as it will not reduce carbon emissions (no tax ever did). Making existing renewable energy alternates appear to be more competitive by simply increasing the cost of fossil-fuel based power generation will again simply add cost – not value. And it will prevent the development of truly competitive renewable technologies.]

    Richter states that ”efficiency is the first priority” as it is ”the cheapest and easiest way”. In fact, it not only costs nothing but saves money.

    [Who can disagree that this makes sense?]

    In the next chapter, Richter discusses ”what might be done to improve energy efficiency in two of three sectors of the US economy: transportation and buildings”

    He goes into the history of fuel economy standards in the USA and their impact on gasoline efficiency, as well as the OPEC influence.

    He then discusses hybrid and all-electric automobiles, as well as design changes to automobile bodies to decrease weight as well as aerodynamic drag. Switching to diesel engines also increases fuel economy. Other advances will come from improved battery design.

    [This is all very good stuff, which has a large potential for reducing oil consumption (with the side benefit of reducing CO2 emissions).]

    Richter then discusses alternate fuels: corn ethanol is a poor alternate, as it adds cost, and can only be made to look competitive by massive subsidies. Other bio-fuels (ex. algae) are still in the development stage.

    He points out that natural gas as a motor fuel makes sense, with a caveat about long-term availability.

    [Current gas reserves would limit this alternate, but the new gigantic shale gas reserves and possible future extraction of methane clathrates could change this.]

    Richter also mentions hydrogen, but discards this alternate as it takes more energy than gasoline and ”there are some basic science questions that need to be answered before hydrogen can be considered as a large-scale fuel source”.

    [Agree 100% – and I would add that there are also serious safety questions that would need to be answered, plus – this alternate only adds cost, not value.]

    Richter then switches to building energy efficiency. Existing technologies, such as better insulation, improved windows, more efficient heating systems, etc. can improve this significantly at essentially no added cost.

    [These alternates add value and make sense.]

    Richter believes that improved efficiency standards and codes can help speed up these improvements.

    [This involves more regulation, which might be justified if it really accelerates the process.]

    In the next chapter, Richter discusses nuclear energy. He feels that this source will play a major role in moving away from fossil fuels for electrical power generation. He discusses the excellent safety record and states:

    France, with 80% of its electricity coming from nuclear reactors that emit no greenhouse gases, should be the poster child of the environmental movement. The country emits less than half the world average of greenhouse gas per unit of GDP.

    [It’s even better than that. France has a “carbon efficiency” (GDP per ton of CO2) of $5,500 – only Sweden ($6,100) and Switzerland ($8,000) are higher. The world average is below $1,500. For reference, the EU and Japan are at $3,200, the USA at $2,200, while China and Russia are only at $550, the OPEC nations at around $600 and India at $730.]

    Richter discusses the political problems the nuclear industry faces, despite its excellent safety record, and the spent fuel disposal problem. He discusses the Chernobyl accident and the differences in reactor and building design. He concludes:

    Radiation from a [nuclear] power plant is not significant compared with what we get all the time from natural sources, and we should stop worrying about it.

    [This is good advice, but unfortunately – in a post-Fukushima world – no one is listening to it.]

    Richter then discusses the spent fuel disposal problem:

    Just as I do not like leaving the global warming problem to my grandchildren, I do not like leaving the nuclear waste problem to them, either

    [He discusses various repository alternates but curiously does not include the use of fast breeder reactors using thorium, which have been tested at a prototype level in both France and India, and which would essentially eliminate the spent fuel problem as it is today.]

    On cost, Richter states that nuclear power generation can compete with coal-fired plants on a long-term all-in cost basis, although the initial capital investment is somewhat higher. Least competitive are onshore and offshore wind plants, even if the cost for standby generation with natural gas is excluded.

    He concludes that

    nuclear power is the only large-scale carbon-free system that now can produce this base-load power

    [This checks with other estimates I have seen, even without any carbon tax on the coal.]

    The proliferation problem is discussed next. This is a ”political issue, not a technical one”, according to Richter.

    [This limits the use of nuclear power in many of the underdeveloped countries, who have unstable or dictatorial regimes; in order to develop a low-cost energy infrastructure for these nations, new fossil fuel fired plants will be needed.]

    Richter concludes with:

    There is no silver bullet to slay the climate-change dragon, and neither nuclear energy nor the renewable on their own can solve our greenhouse gas emission problem. What technologies might be available 50 years from now is beyond my vision. We need to get started and, for now, nuclear power provides us with one of the safest, most cost-effective alternates to continuing on our present course. We should be moving vigorously to increase the nuclear energy supply.

    This section was factual, rather than loaded with alarming half-truths and sales pitches for immediate action. Most of what Richter proposes (except the carbon tax and CCS) makes sense to me.
    There is still a discussion of renewable sources of energy in the next section, but I will cover that plus the overall summary separately in the next post.


  44. Judith Curry

    The final piece of Richter’s book starts off with a discussion of renewable sources of energy: wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, ocean and biomass-energy systems.

    Of these only hydroelectric plays a significant role today at 18% of world total. Less than 2% of the total world energy comes from the others.

    Richter cites the variability (or reliability) problem of both wind and solar: wind averages 18% and solar 20%. Both are very expensive to install (per kWh generated) and both require stand-by generation plants to cover the periods when they do not supply power.

    While some European countries are investing heavily in wind generation plants, these are not cost effective. Backup generation capacity is required for the 82% of the time when wind is not blowing (essentially canceling out the CO2 reduction from using wind). In addition, wind turbines spoil the landscape for many and there are objections from environmentalists regarding bird killing.

    Richter concludes that wind will never be a major source of non fossil fuel generated power.

    Solar faces similar problems, although use at a small local level for domestic power supply (photovoltaic) or heating (thermal) can make sense; usually this requires substantial subsidies from the government, however.

    Geothermal generation can make sense where geothermal heat sources exist, but it will remain a very small part of the total and Richter points out:

    Strictly speaking, geothermal energy is not renewable

    Hydropower represents over 80% of all renewable power, and Richter refers to it as a ”winner”, but its expansion is limited.

    [Switzerland gets over half its energy from hydroelectric power (the other half is nuclear, but – in reaction to political pressure following Fukushima – the Swiss government has decided to shut down all nuclear power plants some as yet undefined time in the future). The problem is that very few countries have the topography and average annual precipitation as Switzerland.]

    Richter mentions wave-, tidal- and current-driven power as possible local options, but states that these are too expensive based on today’s technology.

    In the next chapter Richter discusses biofuels, starting with a reference to the work of Nobel Laureate chemist, Melvin Calvin [a gentleman I was fortunate enough to have met]. Calvin had a plan for “growing oil” – not from food crops, but from seaweed and bio-engineered tropical plants. Work is still going on in this area.

    [Exxon-Mobil has a research program for generating algae as a petroleum substitute, this apparently looks promising, but is still in the early stage.]

    Sugar cane works for Petrobras in Brazil (but the CO2 generated from the tropical forest clearing cancels out some of the benefit) and ethanol is a poorer motor fuel than gasoline.

    Ethanol from corn or other food crops does not make economic sense (the heavily subsidized US program has been a failure), but cellulosic ethanol could be a future winner.

    All told, Richter does not believe that these biofuels will have any major impact on CO2 emissions (or climate change).

    In summary he believes that renewables will not offer a solution to the greenhouse gas problem as they are too limited in size and are too expensive.

    Richter shows a cost comparison, including a staggering $100 per ton tax on carbon: nuclear, coal, gas and wind are all between $0.05 and $0.10 per kWh, with solar at $0.30 per kWh – but the costs of the standby gas-fired plant to cover the time when the wind plant is not generating power are not included.

    [I have seen other figures WITHOUT this carbon tax. Nuclear competes with coal and natural gas at today’s fuel costs, while both wind and solar do not. So my conclusion is the same as Richter’s: the only viable non fossil fuel technology for large-scale electrical power generation is nuclear.]

    In the final section (Part III), Richter discusses “policy”.

    He bemoans the fact that ”the United States does not yet [mid-2009] have a national policy on emissions reductions”.

    [The facts of life are that a majority of the US voting public does not see this as a pressing issue (as Richter does), whereas it does see the economy and job creation as being much more important.]

    China now emits almost 50% more CO2 than the USA (and almost 60% more than all the EU nations combined) – and its emissions are growing rapidly (while those of the EU and USA are stagnant or increasing very gradually).

    Richter then discusses the ”two large-scale options under discussion” – cap and trade and a carbon tax.

    He comes up with (what I would consider to be) the devious proposal of a ”name change” for the carbon tax ”because, no matter how sensible a carbon tax might be, some troglodyte will mutter ‘no new taxes’ and its political chances will go down”.

    [Ouch! The learned member of the academic elite – a Nobel Prize holder, even – is comparing the unwashed tax-weary US public with cavemen because they want “no more taxes”. Sorry, Dr. Richter – that was a stupid statement.]

    Richter says that ”cap and trade has the political lead now”.

    [I would suggest that Richter get out in the real world a bit more often. “Cap and trade” legislation has been shot down – and it has little chance of survival, What ”has the political lead now” is NEITHER a direct or indirect carbon tax, no matter how it is reframed.]

    Richter describes how “cap and trade” is supposed to work, comparing harmless emissions of the natural trace gas CO2 with the past emissions from coal and heavy oil combustion of SO2 a toxic pollutant causing acid rain and killing forests. This is a silly comparison in my opinion. The two are basically different.

    The rest of the discussion covers what could theoretically be done with the revenues gained from this direct or indirect tax.

    [Based on past history, tax revenues are shuffled around by the governing elite to satisfy the needs and wants of their constituents, to finance pet projects, to gain personal prestige and power and to plug deficits that have already been incurred by overspending. The revenue from this hypothetical direct or indirect carbon tax would be no different.]

    ”Low carbon fuel standards” (LCFS) are mentioned next, but Richter concludes that switching to diesel and hybrid cars will ”reduce emissions far more than LCFS” and ”we should focus first on the things that can have the largest effects with the fewest complications”.

    [Many European countries favor the use of diesel by having a much lower tax on this fuel than normal gasoline, so that (including its higher MPG ratio) it is much cheaper “at the pump”. This is the kind of government action that makes sense IMO.]

    Government support of R+D efforts is discussed next. The ”Valley of Death in the innovation chain” from discovery to commercial development requires government support, and Richter believes that funding should be provided for new innovations, which can reduce the dependence on fossil fuels.

    [I agree.]

    Demand side management is another option discussed briefly by Richter as a possibility by giving utility companies an economic incentive to reduce energy consumption by their customers. It apparently works in California.

    World policy actions are discussed next, starting with Kyoto. Richter discusses what was hoped (high hopes) and what was actually achieved (not much).

    The EU could shut down completely and this would have no perceptible impact on 2100 global temperatures.

    The USA (second largest emitter) is not in the deal. Neither are fast growing China (the largest emitter at almost 50% more than the USA) and India. Japan has opted out unless China joins. Reducing emissions in underdeveloped nations is a cruel joke that would simple ensure that their populations continue to live in abject poverty.

    In short, Kyoto is dead. COP17 and COP18 have been unable to revive it.

    Dr. Richter is aware of these facts. Where he is completely unaware is when he writes:

    Today the public is engaged and there is a broad consensus that the United States has to join the effort to mitigate global warming

    The ”public” in the USA is definitely NOT ”engaged”, as many polls have shown. The ”broad consensus” line may work among the scientific elite of climate science, but not among the voting public, who has the final voice in our democratic society.

    Richter fools himself (but not this reader) when he writes:

    The sentiment in the US Congress is such that it is highly likely that some sort of emission control law will be passé this year if the economy does not get much worse. The political sentioment is such that it will probably be a Cap and Trade program.

    This appears to be wishful thinking on Dr. Richter’s part, rather than reality.

    [In actual fact, I believe that the main problem here is Richter wrote this book in mid-2009, before Climategate and the revelations of IPCC duplicity, before the mid-term US elections, before Cap and Trade got shot down by the US Congress, before the disastrous climate meeting in Copenhagen, the failure at Cancun and the even more calamitous meeting just concluded at Durban and before the realization that it has not warmed for over one decade.

    The biggest “climate change” that has occurred since then is the “change of wind” in public trust. A scandal-weary populace no longer sees human-induced global warming as the existential threat it was painted to be by the consensus climatologists of IPCC.

    As a result, CO2 emissions are projected to continue growing, like it or not. As Richter estimates, ”by the year 2100 the business-as-usual trajectory for TPES will have the developing countries contributing nearly as much greenhouse gas to the atmosphere in this century as the industrialized ones will have contributed in the 300 years from 1800 to 2100”.

    This statement underscores the futility of trying to mitigate CO2 emissions – it’s just not going to happen, despite all the wailing, lamenting and gnashing of teeth.

    Richter closes the book with the following remarks [my comments added]:

    – The greenhouse effect is real [Yes]
    – We are changing the atmosphere [slightly] and the world is heating up [has been since 1850]
    – The science is still evolving and how bad things might become is still uncertain [It is even uncertain whether or not things will get “bad” at all – best estimates today indicate that this is unlikely.]
    – Inaction is certain to have serious consequences [No. There is no empirical data to support this premise.]
    – The longer we delay starting to deal with climate change, the harder dealing with the problem will be [This premise is purely conjectural. In fact, the more we resolve the many uncertainties before we change off into action, the more intelligent our decisions for adaptation strategies will be.]
    – The problem is emissions of greenhouse gases and the goal is to reduce them: the world does not have to run only on windmills and solar cells [The world CANNOT run on “windmills and solar cells” alone. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a nice goal, but NOT an existential one.}
    – The richer countries will have to develop the technologies that all can use [This is nothing new – it’s always worked that way since the Industrial Revolution, which helped humanity increase its quality of life largely through access to low-cost energy based on fossil fuels.]
    – It will be hard to develop sensible national policies and even harder to develop sensible international ones, but we must try to do so [Sensible national policies are usually easy to implement – insensible ones (like a carbon tax) are more difficult; international policies of any kind are difficult to develop and even harder to implement or enforce, so we should avoid even trying this and concentrate instead on those local or national things we (i.e. all nations) can do to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels while maintaining or even improving the quality of life of our populations.]

    Richter ends with a repeat of the “grandchildren” line.

    All-in-all, my take on this book is that Richter has swallowed the IPCC predictions hook, line and sinker – and has even exaggerated worst case scenarios as his base case to make things sound even scarier. He completely ignores any benefits the world will have from some gradual warming and concentrates only on an exaggerated view of the negative effects. He tells us we are running out of fossil fuels at the same time he takes the IPCC worst-case predictions on CO2 increase, without realizing the inconsistency that these CO2 levels would be physically impossible to reach if his estimates of remaining fossil fuel estimates are correct. He tries to invoke a sense of urgency by frightening us with bogus projections of disaster that are even higher than the IPCC worst-case scenarios. And he uses the Hansen ploy of appealing to our emotions by evoking his grandchildren.

    On the positive side, he has summarized many of the energy options accurately. He has emphasized doing small, low-cost steps that can produce results (improving energy efficiency) as well as larger programs to reduce fossil fuel consumption by replacing old coal plants with natural gas or nuclear power (unfortunately, Fukushima happened after he wrote this book, and he understates the enormous political hurdle that nuclear power faces today in many nations). He is skeptical of risky and highly costly schemes such as CCS. He concludes that wind and solar will not be the answer (as the WWF would have us believe), nor will other renewables until basically new, economically viable technologies can be developed. He presents a lot of detailed information on the various alternates.

    On the policy side, he is almost naïve in his belief that the USA (or the world) is ready to embrace a direct or indirect carbon tax (but again, his book was written before the mid-term US elections and Climategate, etc.).

    The book is worth reading, not only for the good information on energy alternates and efficiency improvement possibilities, but also to see how a well-educated alarmist thinks. I would give him the benefit of the doubt that he is truly frightened of AGW himself, and not simply trying to frighten the reader, so it is interesting to observe when his narrative moves from the rational to the more emotional.

    Only my opinion, of course.


  45. Max,

    Would you like to read and comment on all the other books that come out on this subject. Your summaries and analyses are most instructive!



    • Don Aitkin

      Thanks for your compliment.

      I enjoy reading these books, even when they are “smoke and mirrors” or simply fear mongering to support the “we must act now before it’s too late” mantra.

      Problem with these books is that they NEVER give an estimate of how much global warming can be averted by the general programs they propose, let alone document this with any data or provide any specific cost/benefit analyses.

      Incidentally, there are two more new books I have just downloaded to Kindle (but not yet read): “Climate of Corruption” (by Larry Bell) and “Warnings: The True Story of how Science Tamed the Weather” (by Mike Smith).

      Both sound interesting from the reviews I have read.