India and the Iron Law of Climate Policy

I have an idealistic streak that is increasingly tempered by real world events. So on Sunday I admired the enthusiasm of the hundreds of thousands of people who marched through the streets of Manhattan to sound their concern about climate change and other environmental issues.

I tried not to let this article ruin the good vibes. I tried to put this out of my mind:

The blunt truth is that what China decides to do in the next decade will likely determine whether or not mankind can halt – or at least ameliorate – global warming.

Now comes word from India’s environmental minister, as reported by Coral Davenport in the New York Times:

The minister, Prakash Javadekar, said in an interview that his government’s first priority was to alleviate poverty and improve the nation’s economy, which he said would necessarily involve an increase in emissions through new coal-powered electricity and transportation. He placed responsibility for what scientists call a coming climate crisis on the United States, the world’s largest historic greenhouse gas polluter, and dismissed the idea that India would make cuts to carbon emissions.

The cold, hard reality of climate change politics (from an international perspective) is exactly as University of Colorado political scientist Roger Pielke Jr. has been saying for years:

When policies on emissions reductions collide with policies focused on economic growth, economic growth will win out every time.

UPDATE: Some helpful perspective from Brad Plumer, who asks if the “planet is cooked” if India’s carbon emissions keep rising? “Not necessarily,” he says.

141 Responses to “India and the Iron Law of Climate Policy”

  1. DavidAppell says:

    “When policies on emissions reductions collide with policies focused on economic growth, economic growth will win out every time.”

    Doesn’t China’s planned carbon caps go against that rule?

    And as China has shown, and the US and UK before it, at some point in the development of an economy, pollution from coal — traditional pollution, not carbon pollution — becomes so bad that it’s clear some limits to economic growth must be imposed for the sake of human health. Not all such regulations are anti-growth — the EPA and other studies have estimated that the Clean Air Act has SAVED Americans $22 trillion, due to reduced health care costs.

    William Nordhaus had a paper a few years ago that found that producing electricity with coal or oil actually created more damages than they did value-added.

    Pielke Jr’s law fails because in cutting carbon pollution, there are ancillary benefits that actually grow an economy.

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    All good points. But it remains to be seen what China will really do. And yes, other developing countries like India will also not be able to sacrifice clean air for economic growth forever. But they are not there yet.

    So how to proceed meanwhile?

  3. DavidAppell says:

    IMO it would be immoral to expect any country to remain poor for the sake of emitting less GHGs. We got rich by burning fossil fuels (about 29% of the extra CO2 in today’s atmopshere is from the US; China only 10%, India just 3%), and our per capita emissions are still several times theirs (4x China’s, about 11x India’s).

    I think it’s morally incumbent on the US to lead the way in cutting emissions, for both the reasons above, both by cutting emissions and lots of R&D. Done right, we’d even make some money selling truly affordable distributed solar and wind power to India and the coming Indias. Then they could leapfrog fossil fuels (which require a lot of infrastructure anyway), much like Africa is leapfrogging traditional telephony by going straight to cell phones.

  4. Tom Scharf says:

    China now emits more than the US and EU combined. And if you really want a more alarming stat than that, examine the trends over the past few decades. Where do you think the next couple decades are going for India and China?

    Pointing this out causes all kinds of wriggling from the climate concerned, as they emotionally react to it as an “excuse to do nothing”, when it is a process called “doing the math” on global emissions and determining what will work and what won’t.

  5. Tom Scharf says:

    Pielke Jr’s law has shown to be accurate to date. You are distorting based on a future theoretical world which believes in your climate accounting.

    China / India can solve most of its health issues by scrubbing its coal plants as currently done in the US. Don’t pretend CO2 is causing a health crisis. If they can install clean energy sources cheaper than they can install coal plants with scrubbers than they might choose to do so.

    The climate community is going to have to really work their Jedi mind tricks hard to get people to buy into their new trendy climate accounting. The pay a bunch more up front and you will theoretically get hard to measure benefits later is a hard sell in wealthy countries, near impossible in poor countries.

    Until then China and India will continue to build coal plants based on their accounting which they believe in.

  6. Tom Scharf says:

    You proceed by using the west’s technology prowess to create clean energy that is cheaper than fossil fuels, and works reliably 24/7. Then there is no economic hand waving mysticism needed to sell it. India and China are on board because it is simply the best answer.

  7. Nom de Plume says:

    Unfortunately, unless there’s a means of efficiently storing electricity on a large scale and in an economic manner, solar and wind will never replace base generation. Ever. This is due to the simple observation that optimum solar output isn’t consistent (night and cloudy days), and wind can either blow not enough or two hard. Surprisingly, like any other resource, wind isn’t applicable everywhere. IIRC, the DOE has wind generation maps available that illustrate this.

    Right now the most cost-effective means of storing energy on a large scale is to build duel-reservoir set-ups, where electricity is used to pump water from the lower reservoir to the upper, which is then used to generate electricity like any other hydro plant when needed. Unfortunately, some segments of society do not like the fish kills associated with it (yes, even in man-made reservoirs), and this method isn’t applicable everywhere, plus there are the usual problems associated with hydro, such as available water and evaporation rates. Not to mention some do not care for reservoirs anywhere. Note that despite the low carbon footprint of hydroelectric power, all the moaning in certain circles about China’s Three Gorges project.

    There are really only four means of generating electricity that can be used as base generation: Hydro, geothermal, nuclear, or burning stuff. The latter covers both fossil fuels and “biomass,” which is just a fancy way of saying burning organic matter. Of these, three are low carbon, and yet two are opposed just as much a fossil fuel plants.

    This means that some folks are going to have to swallow a bitter pill. Until there is a widespread way of storing electricity, the best way to reduce the use of fossil fuels is through hydro and nuclear. Period. So the question to ask is which do you think causes more environmental damage: Hydro, nuclear, or CO2?

    If the US wants to take a lead in reducing CO2, here it what it should do:

    1. Make hydro, geothermal, and nuclear out primary means of generating electricity.

    2. Concentrate efforts not on more efficient solar and wind generation, but energy storage.

    3. If the second is resolved before the first, then shift efforts to solar and wind, but not before.

    4. Phase out fossil fuel generation after the first, second, or third, but not before.

    The latter is important, because the backward way of limiting coal generation before there’s anything to replace it is already driving up energy costs. That is significant, for energy costs are already straining poor and lower middle income families. And if you really, truly, cross-your-heart, accept AGW, the very last thing you want is angry people saying “Forget you: throw some more coal on the fire.”

  8. Buddy199 says:

    Except that you cannot power an industrial economy on wind mills and solar cells, and greens are against the only other feasable, large scale source of electricity, nuclear power.

  9. Tom Scharf says:

    The moral argument is weak. This is just climate guilt pandering. It really only works on the already converted.

    I don’t think this is very effective because it is essentially asking for sacrifice without any guaranteed return. The “build it and they will come” is popular among progressives who are already on board with the proposed polices and see it as a win-win scenario. The people you need votes from don’t see it this way.

    The EU led (emissions policy), Australia led (carbon tax), the US led (via fracking) and nobody followed. Moral shaming is a pretty hard sell.

    It is not unreasonable to ask whether a proposed policy will be effective in reducing global emissions. If it isn’t, I’m not very interested even if it fulfills progressive policy goals.

    R & D on cheap and abundant clean energy may be effective. A GLOBAL carbon tax may be effective (although looks politically unworkable). For the US going it alone, only R&D seems valid to me.

  10. Tom Scharf says:

    …and winter. When you need power the most in cold climates, the output is the lowest.

  11. Nom de Plume says:

    One thing to keep in mind is that there is an issue close to the hearts of India, Chinese, and other developing countries: Their colonial period. At best, to them it looks like the colonial days where the West attempted to dictate what they could and could not do; at worst, it looks like the West wants to prevent the rest of the world from obtaining what it already has. That’s not going to sit well.

    Something in the back of my mind is that in the short-term, fossil fuels could result in less pollution and CO2 production in developing countries than the current reliance on wood, oils, and other fuels through efficiency. For an example, consider that we are coming up on winter, when, even in some places in the US, smoke from fireplaces, wood stoves, and pellet heaters will fill the air. Now consider than some places in the world have to burn wood to cook their meals and heat their water.

  12. Buddy199 says:

    Even if energy storage tech by some miracle improved 100% tomorrow wind and solar would still never account for more than 15%, 20% of energy needs – and that won’t happen tomorrow. It’s still worth pursuing but until fusion is feasable we’re stuck with fossil fuels as our major source because greens won’t allow large scale use of carbon free nuclear fission. Perfect is the enemy of the good.

  13. DavidAppell says:

    “Pielke Jr’s law has shown to be accurate to date.”

    Where is that shown? Because the Clean Air Act’s savings seems a direct contradiction to that — it made energy more expensive — and hence was “anti-growth” by the standards of typical economics — but was done anyway, and saved a huge amount of money while diminishing environmental problems.

    Would that economy have grown more if the Clean Air Act wasn’t passed? I don’t know, but $22 T is a lot of growth.

  14. DavidAppell says:

    “Don’t pretend CO2 is causing a health crisis.”

    Stop putting words in my mouth. CO2 comes from burning fossil fuels, and burning those DO harm health. The report

    “Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use”
    National Research Council, 2010

    found the cost from damages due to fossil fuel use to be $120B for 2005 (in 2007 dollars), a number that does not include climate change and that the study’s authors considered a “substantial underestimate.”

  15. DavidAppell says:

    “You proceed by using the west’s technology prowess to create clean energy that is cheaper than fossil fuels”

    Except there is still no economic incentive for business or investors to do so, because fossil fuels are still “cheap,” because we refuse to take into account their negative externalities.

    So either you need a carbon cap, a carbon tax, or significent government subsidies for R&D.

  16. DavidAppell says:

    “It really only works on the already converted.”

    I think you meant, “It doesn’t really only works on people who don’t deny the science behind manmade climate change.”

  17. DavidAppell says:

    Sweden now gets 65% of their energy from renewable sources — their economy does better than ours. In Germany, 30% of their electricity comes from renewables — they aren’t in the poor house. British Columbia has a significant, revenue-neutral carbon tax — their economy is doing better than that of the average Canadian province.

  18. DavidAppell says:

    Smart grids are now in demonstration, like the Pacific NW’s, that use real-time information to distribute, switch, and deliver power more efficiently. A big reason behind these project is the desire to use more renewable energy when it’s available. See:

    “Smart Wind and Solar Power: Big data and artificial intelligence are producing ultra-accurate forecasts that will make it feasible to integrate much more renewable energy into the grid.”

    – Kevin Bullis, Technology Review, April 2014

  19. Tom Scharf says:

    It’s shown by China and India’s emissions trends, and their refusal to accept any material economic pain to avoid increased emissions. Its shown by China and India not even showing up for the UN climate summit this week. Its shown by the coal consumption trends in India and China. Its shown by the positions they took in Kyoto.

    You really fail to realize things such as how many people in India do not even have indoor toilets or reliable power. Paying an extra dollar a month would be a major sacrifice for many of these people. Only wealthy countries will make economic sacrifices for emissions, and then only when it becomes a small enough portion of the GDP to be “worth it”. Cost vs.benefits trade off. And US greens don’t get to make that call.

    China and India aren’t going to leap instantly to wealthy, so they will optimize their energy use just like the US did on its way there.

    You don’t have to believe any of this, just examine their behavior, or what was posted here from India’s environmental minister. We will see what happens as they go forward, but I think you are engaging in wishful thinking.

  20. DavidAppell says:

    “I don’t think this is very effective because it is essentially asking for sacrifice without any guaranteed return.”

    There is a guaranteed return BEFORE climate change is even considered — the negative effects of coal and oil cause damage, greater than their value. They harm health, especially coal. But many people want to either ignore these costs — since they’re happy to push them off to the public — or don’t understand that the price on their monthy utility bill isn’t the full amount they’re paying for that energy.

  21. Diet dee says:

    Nuclear, is dirty, dangerous and expensive

  22. DavidAppell says:

    “China now emits more than the US and EU combined. And if you really want a more alarming stat than that, examine the trends over the past few decades.”

    Not per capita. Or do you believe American’s have a greater individual right to emit carbon just because they’re Americans, but China and India don’t because…they’re not Americans?

  23. DavidAppell says:

    Actually India has a carbon tax on coal ($1.67/tonne). The US doesn’t. Why would they do that if their sole concern was economic growth?

  24. RameshHeg says:

    The polluter should pay.
    Life style emissions of the developed world cannot be pitted against survival emissions of the developing world.

    What should be counted is per capita carbon emission. After polluting the world for 250 years and creating the mess, the Europeans and Americans do not want to take responsibility and demand that India should stay poor.

  25. Tom Scharf says:

    Do you think China and India aren’t aware of these type of reports? Why do they continue to act so irrationally in light of these compelling arguments? Why do they fail to see the light?

    This argument isn’t very convincing because it only ever adds up one side of the ledger and ignores things such as access to health care, clean water, modern sewage disposal, vaccinations, education, childhood mortality, etc. which have a larger payback per dollar than eliminating emissions (especially CO2).

    Spending on environmental luxuries before these basics are handled is unwise. They are acting rationally.

  26. Tom Scharf says:

    There is a large spectrum between doing zero and outlawing coal. The fact that a country imposes a large number of disparate taxes on its citizens and industries is hardly surprising. The main reason for these is revenue generation.

    The question is whether they will materially sacrifice economic growth in order to force reductions in their emissions trends.

    Maybe you see this happening, I don’t. India’s own environmental minister just said it wasn’t going to happen. When they are wealthy enough to afford this environmental luxury tax, they will implement it just as the EU and US did. They need to get wealthy first.

  27. DavidAppell says:

    And India is doing it to fund clean energy and other environmental projects:

    This goes directly against the growth-at-all-costs meme.

    “The question is whether they will materially sacrifice economic growth in order to force reductions in their emissions trends.”

    It’s no longer a question — India has answered “yes.”

  28. DavidAppell says:

    “Why do they continue to act so irrationally in light of these compelling arguments?”

    Why does the US?

  29. DavidAppell says:

    “This argument isn’t very convincing because it only ever adds up one side of the ledger and ignores things such as access to health care, clean water, modern sewage disposal, vaccinations, education, childhood mortality, etc. which have a larger payback per dollar than eliminating emissions (especially CO2).”

    The purpose of the report was to determine the unintended consequences of using fossil fuels, not a complete economic analysis. But this paper did:

    “Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy,” Nicholas Z. Muller, Robert Mendelsohn, and William Nordhaus, American Economic Review, 101(5): 1649–75 (2011).

    To summarize their results: for every $1 in value that comes from coal-generated electricity, it creates $2.20 in damages.

    Total damages: $70 billion per year (in 2012 dollars).

    Petroleum-generated electricity is even worse: $5.13 in damages for $1 in value.

  30. DavidAppell says:

    I totally agree. Atmospheric CO2 does not respect national borders.

  31. Tom Scharf says:

    You are now making a good argument for why India and China won’t limit their growth.

    Global warming doesn’t care about per capita measurements, it cares about global emissions totals.

    Those who are truly interested in reducing future global warming care about reducing future global emissions. They do the math and act accordingly.

    Those who are co-opting AGW to further their unrelated social policy agenda suggest policies that are ineffective globally. These are popular with the anti-corporate, anti-capitalism, social justice crowd. See Naomi Klein for the most overt example.

    Global social justice is unrelated, and conflating it with climate only makes the problem less likely to be resolved. Bad strategy.


  32. David Skurnick says:

    I don’t believe this 65% figure. Perhaps Sweden gets 65% of its electricity from renewables, but not 65% of its total energy use. Gasoline, fuel oil, and natural gas are also used directly, without ever being converted into electricity.
    In the US the amount of energy used to power motor vehicles is roughly comparable in magnitude as the total electricity produced. I assume Sweden is roughly comparable. Electric vehicles are rare.

    So, gasoline-powered vehicles account for half of Sweden’s energy use. Also, there’s some of Sweden’s electricity is still produced from fossil fuels. Also, some Swedes may use fuel oil for home heating or use natural gas to power their appliances.

  33. Tom Scharf says:

    By all means send this report to and

    See if it changes their behavior. Economic modelling is even more susceptible to confirmation bias and agenda manipulation than climate models are.

    Governing is the efficient allocation of scarce resources. You don’t spend money on windmills and coal scrubbers when your citizens don’t have sewers and clean water. Perhaps you will convince them otherwise.

  34. Buddy199 says:

    Sweden has a high percentage of “renewable” energy:

    >50% of which is nuclear

    35% hydro / dams

    2.4% wind

    5% bio-fuel (carbon emitting)

    Sure, they’re cutting down on fossil
    fuel but 85% of their power still comes from carbon, nuclear or dams.

  35. Tom Scharf says:

    Because the definition of rational is not universally held. Voters have different priorities. Here is a list of the US’s current voter priorities:

    You will find the Environment/Pollution down at 1%, or approx. 20th on the list. Tax revenue is allocated based on this (in theory..ha ha).

  36. Tom Scharf says:

    Environmental luxuries can be increased as national wealth increases. “At all costs” is a strawman.

    From the article:

    “The minister, Prakash Javadekar, said in an interview that his government’s first priority was to alleviate poverty and improve the nation’s economy, which he said would necessarily involve an increase in emissions through new coal-powered electricity and transportation. He placed responsibility for what scientists call a coming climate crisis on the United States, the world’s largest historic greenhouse gas polluter, and dismissed the idea that India would make cuts to carbon emissions.”

    This seems pretty clear, no?

    India emissions trends are going up, not down, and they look to be accelerating.

  37. Tom Scharf says:

    I support government funded R&D here.

  38. Tom Scharf says:

    If you can get people to believe your economic models, that would be a useful first step. Good luck.

  39. DavidAppell says:

    “You are now making a good argument for why India and China won’t limit their growth.”

    And my very first comment here was that I thought they had a moral right to do so. It’s the US who is immoral.

    “They do the math and act accordingly.”

    Not in the US, because emitting carbon pollution is free here. Any individual or corporation can do it if they decide it’s in their own, best, greedy interest, everyone else be damned, now and far into the future. That has nothing to do with any other social goals — it has to do with changing the climate for the next 100,000 years, which a lot of people now think is a pretty lousy idea. At this point, I think Americans and Europeans opposed to cutting our society’s CO2 emissions have taken a position that is immoral.

  40. DavidAppell says:

    “See if it changes their behavior.”

    India has a carbon tax on coal — they have ALREADY changed their behavior. China is now designing a carbon market for 2016 — new behavior.

    There facts are right in your face, and still you refuse to acknowledge them.

  41. DavidAppell says:

    “Voters have different priorities.”

    in the case of carbon, voters have taken the position of greed, and many of our leaders are corrupt and failing to lead. And of being dumb, since coal and oil cost them more than they get in value. Should we call it American exceptionalism?

  42. DavidAppell says:

    No, it doesn’t seem clear, because India has a carbon tax on coal. That’s in direct opposition to Javadekar’s statement — money out of the pocket of every Indian for the sake of cutting carbon emissions instead of spending it on personal needs or desirables.

  43. DavidAppell says:

    That’s good to hear. Unfortunately corrupted Republican politicians are trying to see that it doesn’t happen.

  44. Tom Scharf says:

    A sanctimonious attitude is unbecoming, and a bit too common in environmental circles these days. When those who are lecturing others on morals start practicing what they preach, we can begin a conversation on morals. Otherwise it is very easy to dismiss this as unauthentic.

  45. DavidAppell says:

    “If you can get people to believe your economic models, that would be a useful first step.”

    You know, it’s not enough to just SAY economic models aren’t accurate — you have to actually do the hard world of proving that. Nordhaus et al have done their best to use real world data to calculate the effects of fossil fuels. You have done….precisely nothing…but dismissed it with a wave of the hand, while providing no anaylsis of why it’s wrong or of providing a better model. IMO that isn’t intellectually honest.

  46. Buddy199 says:

    The U.S. is in a prolonged recession with 2% annual GDP for as far as the eye can see. Europe is in even worse shape. A multi-trillion dollar taxation and payment transfer system to India is probably not going to fly here.

  47. Buddy199 says:

    It’s also the bulk of “renewable” energy, even in Sweden.

  48. Tom Scharf says:

    Possibly you should examine a concept of environmental exceptionalism instead? Many people think they have all the answers, few of them do.

  49. Tom Scharf says:

    OK, it’s not clear….you win….ha ha.

    Enjoyed the chat as always.

  50. Tom Scharf says:

    No. If you want to convince people to accept higher energy costs you must convince them, they don’t have to disprove it. You need to convince Asia.

    I’ve chased down a few of these reports, and they had some ludicrous assumptions. One even had the savings from avoiding a nuclear war due to nuclear plants being shut down. The most recent one I looked at had savings in healthcare, but it came mostly from Asia where pollution is a real problem. US tax dollars here are money not well spent since we have relatively clean air. Economic models are too pliable to agendas.

    The “fixing climate is free” argument is simply not credible on its face. There may very well be benefits, but most people, even Democrats, believe bombing ISIS has even greater benefits this week.

  51. Ivar Ivarson says:

    “Doesn’t China’s planned carbon caps go against that rule?”

    What the Central Committee decrees in Beijing is often unenforced at the local/regional level. Particularly if they get in the way of meeting production goals.

  52. Ivar Ivarson says:

    A tariff on imports based on the external damage caused by its production or cost of removal of C02 from the atmosphere?

  53. Steve Crook says:

    Easy to say.

    If a European or American buys something made in India or China by an Indian or Chinese company using technology developed by the Americans or Europe using raw materials extracted in Australia and Burma, just how do you apportion the CO2 in a way that all parties will agree to?

    Not everyone wants the developing world to stay poor. What India, China and Africa need is development and as rapidly as possible. Their people know this, as do their governments.

    Which is why Pielke is probably right and Appel is probably wrong.

  54. Tom Scharf says:

    Here is what the US is expected to do by 2050 in this plan:

    “The United States eventually gets 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear power and 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources like hydro, wind, and solar by 2050. Electric vehicles would handle about 75 percent of all trips. Large trucks would get switched over to natural gas. The coal plants that remained would all capture their carbon-dioxide emissions and bury them underground. Every single building would adopt LEDs for lighting.”

  55. Nom de Plume says:

    Unfortunately, you seem to have overlooked the obvious, which is contained in your very own post: “. . . deliver power more efficiently.” I think we’re in agreement that this means more efficient use of available resources. However, you seem to overlook two significant problems:

    1. Efficient use does not reduce load.
    2. Increased efficiency only helps in static systems.

    Perhaps it helps to know that the “smart grid” is just a trendy name for SCADA , which dates all the way back to the 1960s. Utilities have used Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition for decades. SCADA can help utilities switch feeders, which is handy for load and cases for trouble, monitor load, and other things utilities need to do, but does nothing to reduce the load or increase how much current can flow over the lines. Nor can it magically produce capacity should there be a shortfall in solar and wind. The dirty little secret, which Germany is learning the hard way, is that there must be back-up generation in place equal to all solar and wind on the grid. And if there’s not enough hydro, geothermal, or nuclear, that means you have to burn something. That, or have people freezing to death on cold nights when there’s not enough power to go around.

    Now, if the population is static, increases in appliance efficiency can help somewhat. But it’s not. Population in the US is growing, in some places faster than other as people migrate. This means that you have to have increased generation, generation that works when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.

    If you want those people to have jobs, too, then you have to use more energy, with generation to cover it. The only reason the US has an energy contraction right now is because of the Great Recession, with the unemployment to go with it. Ask someone without a job what they think about a static economy.

    You want more solar and wind? Fine. But unless you have energy storage sufficient to back-up several cloudy, windless days, you’ve accomplished nothing at all. And if there isn’t generation to make up the shortfall, you’ve just put people in the dark.

  56. Nom de Plume says:

    All generation is dirty and dangerous, with some more expensive than others. Hydro is the lowest; Solar currently is the highest. Nuclear is below Gas Turbine Peaking Generation, and coal is cheaper than nuclear. I’m drawing a blank on where wind fits in.

    Yet this is neither here nor there. If someone is absolutely convinced that the greatest threat to the human race is CO2 production, then the most reasonable thing is to use the most efficient means available to generate power without producing CO2, And, without energy storage, that means hydro, geothermal, and nuclear.

    Really, if you want to keep the lights on, and reduce CO2, at the present these are your only real choices. And that’s the bitter pill some will have to swallow if they really think reducing CO2 is important. Because, as with many things in life, reality requires hard choices.

    If you think nuclear power is a greater threat, then the only other alternative is to burn fossil fuels until there’s enough energy storage systems to make solar and wind viable replacements for base generation. If, however, you think that CO2 is the greater threat, then nuclear might not be your first choice, but it’s one of the few real ones we have at the moment.

  57. DavidAppell says:

    Your chart doesn’t address the issue at all, which is that India has put a tax on coal, despite it not being in their economic interests to do so.

  58. DavidAppell says:

    “You need to convince Asia.”

    No, we need to convince America. Today it is an fossil fuel hog, and historically has been a fossil hog.

    Your argument is akin to starving a 6-yr old child because his parents are gluttons.

  59. DavidAppell says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with nuclear. It has killed far, far, far fewer people and animals than fossil fuels have.

  60. DavidAppell says:

    Here is BP’s statistical review of world energy for 2014:

    Page 41 has national primary energy consumption by fuel type.

    For renewables + nuclear + hydro, Sweden’s percentage is 67%.

    For the US it’s 14%.

  61. DavidAppell says:

    wind + solar + hydro + nuclear now accounts for 67% of Sweden’s primary energy usage.

  62. DavidAppell says:

    “Efficient use does not reduce load.”

    It does at the end user. If they buy a more efficient clothes dryer, the average load is reduced.

    Electric cars mostly just sit around. There is a large supply of batteries to store power in. Electricity can be distributed (though with losses). Energy can be generated on-site. Nuclear energy can provide carbon-free power. There can be FF backups if needed, but it’s ridiculous to conceed we can’t get off fossil fuels when we haven’t even tried.

  63. DavidAppell says:

    “A multi-trillion dollar taxation and payment transfer system to India is probably not going to fly here.”

    The system will still have financial transfers — from the poor, who suffer most from the negative externalities, to the rich, who don’t care about their negative externalities.

    In a just world, people would pay for the damage done by their pollution, instead of dumping it for free in their neighbor’s yard.

  64. DavidAppell says:

    People who accept science and are advocating for noncarbon energy are already practicing what they preach.

  65. DavidAppell says:

    Coal plants still spew SO2, mercury, fine particles, heavy metals, and more. In the US they have also led to the repugnant, insane removal of mountaintops. They need to be completely eliminated as quickly as possible, and the US is now easily rich enough to do so.

  66. DavidAppell says:

    Sweden also uses a lot of biofuels, and has the largest flexible-fuel fleet in Europe, and the largest ethanol bus fleet in the world.

  67. David Skurnick says:

    Ethanol has the advantage of being renewable. And, it’s an alternative for a country that doesn’t have its own oil. However, it’s is a carbon-based fuel. It has no advantage over gasoline in terms of CO2 emissions. Other bio-fuels are also carbon-based.

  68. Diet dee says:

    Nuclear waste is will remain toxic to life for thousands of years. Nuclear plants requires enormous amounts of water for cooling. The water used for cooling is harmful to fish and further pollutes the environment. If a natural disaster damage a plant, then we could have another Fukushima

  69. DavidAppell says:

    Doesn’t it depend what it’s made from. No benefit if made from corn

    compared to cellulosic ethanol

  70. DavidAppell says:

    CO2 will be warming the globe for 100,000 years.

  71. Diet dee says:

    But nuclear waste is damaging to all life. At least CO2 could me used by plant life.

  72. Nom de Plume says:

    In other words, you consider nuclear a larger threat than CO2, and so, like Germany, you are willing to forgo nukes at the expense of of increased CO2 production.

    BTW, you are incorrect about nuclear plants and water discharge. The water than goes through the cooling tower is double-isolated from the water in the core and water producing steam for the turbines. The discharged cooling tower water is no different that water from any other power plant that uses boilers, such as coal-fired plants.

    As an exercise, you might wish to calculate the amount of nuclear waste compared to the amount of waste from fossil fuel generation, including such things as fly-ash, And you might want to consider that the half-life of mercury from coal generation (and those oh-so-green CF bulbs) is forever.

    Sorry: There is no free lunch. If you don’t want nuclear power and don’t want fossil fuels, then you need to get cracking on a means to store power from solar and wind.

    Oh, and you need to analyze the Fukushima accident and how it happened. Most instructive.

  73. CB says:

    It’s neither greed nor exceptionalism, what’s driving Climate Denial is suicidal mental illness.

    No benefit of continuing to develop fossil fuels could possibly outweigh the damage they will cause.

  74. CB says:

    There’s a huge amount of confusion surrounding ethanol and biofuel in general because of the carbon cycle issues we were talking about the other day.

    It’s not quite appropriate to say there is no benefit if ethanol is made from corn. The paper you linked to refers to forests as “carbon sinks” as if there were no limit to the amount of carbon they can store, but this isn’t actually true. A mature forest emits precisely as much carbon as it consumes.

    This reservoir is, of course, much larger than the carbon reservoir of a corn field, but it’s not limitless.

    Because of this, it’s patently false to claim that corn ethanol is worse than gasoline, and I’m a little bit offended that Scientific American did so!

    It would clearly be better to use cellulose and lignin as a fuel source than starch, but none of it is worse than fossil fuel…

  75. Slātlantican says:

    Leaving aside the environmental issues, On at least one level, corn-based ethanol is worse than most other fuel sources—it raises food prices and thereby contributes to the problem of hunger today.

    Whether this undeniable impact of producing fuel from food—to improve the environment in the future—is a good thing to do or not is not a thing that anyone can state as fact; it is a matter of policy, and subject to debate by honest people of good will on both sides.

  76. JH says:

    “the US is now easily rich enough to do so.”

    Wait, haven’t wages declining in real terms for the average person for like 30 years? 🙂 That IS rich!

  77. CB says:

    “corn-based ethanol is worse than most other fuel sources—it raises food prices and thereby contributes to the problem of hunger today.”

    That’s absolutely true!

    If corn for ethanol is grown on land that could otherwise produce food crops, it will increase the price of food, and if the Scientific American article were arguing that feeding people in the short term by continuing to emit paleocarbon was the best way to pull that paleocarbon back down, they might have had a point (because, BTW, food crops also don’t grow under melted ice cap).

    …but that’s not what the article says. It says corn ethanol has a greater warming potential than gasoline, which is patently, utterly false:

    In my opinion, there are much better ways to extract solar energy from plants, and it’s one of the few ways we have to actually create a carbon negative system, but there’s no way fossil fuel produces fewer greenhouse gasses than biofuel… of any kind.

  78. Buddy199 says:

    Expansion of nuclear. R&D into improved electrical storage tech.

  79. Buddy199 says:

    Greens are religiously opposed to it.

  80. Sarah Levin says:

    and? all the projections show India and China will be massively increasing coal use.
    The more central planning the MORE coal use

  81. Sarah Levin says:

    not to mention the decrees are window dressing

  82. Sarah Levin says:

    We did not get rich by burning fossil fuels.
    Try rule of law, efficient government, contracts, individuals rewarded for labor, democracy, attracting innovators and the ambitious, and efficient markets

  83. Sarah Levin says:

    the main problem is Asia, not America or Americans

  84. Sarah Levin says:

    “Sweden now gets 65% of their energy from renewable sources”

    That is simply FALSE. You mean they project 65% of electricity from renewable (mostly nuclear), not 65% of all their energy

  85. Buddy199 says:

    “Sweden leads the European Union on renewable energy, producing 44.4 percent of its energy from renewable sources.”

  86. Tom Scharf says:

    Advocating is the preaching part, not the practicing part.

  87. DavidAppell says:

    That’s because coal plants are being shut down because natural gas is cheaper. They still spew SO2 and they need to be completely gone.

  88. DavidAppell says:

    Advocating is the practicing part, because this problem obviously cannot be solved at the individual level– it needs to be solved at the societal level. A few individual actions might even backfire, since that reduced demand will lower prices, and carbon gluttons might buy even more of it.

  89. DavidAppell says:

    It’s not false. I posted a link to the data in a comment here yesterday.

  90. DavidAppell says:

    Every Asian has just as much right to emit carbon as any American. It’s Americans who are energy hogs; per capita they emit 4x China, 11x India. And America is responsible for about 28% of the extra CO2 in today’s atmosphere, China about 11%, and India 3%. America cannot blame this on anyone else.

  91. DavidAppell says:

    Civilization prospers via energy — all the contracts and democrary in the world mean nothing if you don’t have access to energy.

  92. DavidAppell says:

    Not China. It’s already designing a carbon market, and I’ve read they are looking to have peak CO2 around 2020. The Chinese know about global warming, and that they will suffer its problems like everyone else.

  93. DavidAppell says:

    Americans are still rich enough to use clean energy, especially the affluent, who emit more carbon than average. It might not even cost anything at all, once you factor in the health and environmental savings. (See Justin Gillis’s article in the NYT last week.)

  94. DavidAppell says:

    What I’ve read is that cellusoic ethanol lowers carbon emissions.

  95. DavidAppell says:

    “If you want to convince people to accept higher energy costs…”

    I want them to accept LOWER energy costs, by making those who pollute pay for it. The fact than they now pass these costs on to everone wlse raises the cost fror everyone.

    The cost of energy isn’t the cost you see on your monthly utility bill or what you pay at the gas pump.

  96. DavidAppell says:

    By the way, a big reason behind this drop in SO2 emissions is that there’s been a price on SO2 for about 20 years, via a cap-and-trade program.

  97. Nom de Plume says:

    Appliance efficiency has nothing do with operation efficiency through SCADA, and is a different topic entirely. So far, the cumulative efficiency in appliances, manifest in lower energy use per consumer, has not offset increased demand from the addition of new consumer. If you accept predictions of warmer temperatures, increased efficiency of cooling will be further offset by longer operating times and increased demand. We haven’t even addressed adding electric vehicles to the demand.

    Bringing up existing batteries doesn’t address the problems in storing electricity, anymore than citing the existence of deuterium address problems in developing fusion power plants. If you doubt it, read the experience of those who live off-grid, and use the venerable lead-acid batteries, both issues of cost and maintenance. Then note the capacity of their systems. It’s a cost so significant that home PV systems these days forgo storage and simply hook to the grid.

    This also answers your question of how do we know solar and wind alone requires backup. Think of each house that’s off-grid as a pilot project. Or cast your eyes toward Germany and note their uptick in the use of fossil fuels after decommissioning nuclear in favor of solar and wind. A politician might get by with “How do we know if we don’t try?” but anyone who actually works with this stuff knows that happy thoughts and pixie dust aren’t going to keep the lights on if we decommission coal plants without building replacment base generation first. And, without energy storage, solar and wind cannot act as base generation any more than you can build a perpetual motion machine.

    You don’t have to take my word for it. You can run your own pilot project. Take out a mortgage or second mortgage on your home, install PV, and, if the neighbors don’t complain, wind, disconnect from the grid, and see how well it works without storage or backup generation. Then install a means of storage and evaluate the cost, including maintenance.

  98. Nom de Plume says:

    Wrong. Natural gas is one of the more expensive options. That’s why gas turbine generation is used as peaking stations: the price of electricity has to rise above a certain point before natural gas is competitive to coal.

    You might be interested to know that diesel peaking plants also exist, and check out the price of diesel the next time you drive by the pumps if you think this is cheaper than coal, too.

    The only reason coal plants are being shut down is the EPA. And that’s why the wholesale price of electricity is increasing in the US.

  99. Nom de Plume says:

    Not the Americans around here. Not the poor, the unemployed, the lower middle class, all of whom already struggle to pay their utility bills. You might be rich enough to absorb the cost, but they are not.

  100. DavidAppell says:

    I get your point, thanks.

    “A mature forest emits precisely as much carbon as it consumes.”

    By “mature,” do you mean one old enough that its trees are dying, so they’re returning their carbon to the soil and air?

    And since the planet is “greening,” meaning the biosphere is taking in more CO2, is that coming from *more* plants and trees, or is, say, an individual tree taking in more CO2 (hence growing more), or both?

  101. DavidAppell says:

    The truly poor’s clean energy can be subsidized. In any case, they are not excuse for why affluent people shouldn’t pay for clean energy.

    And it’s not that expensive (and might even be free). I buy 100% green offsets from my power company. It costs me an average of $1.85/month.

  102. DavidAppell says:

    I don’t believe you at all. Coal can no longer compete with natural gas. And that has nothing to do with the EPA, except to the extent that they allow more fracking.

  103. DavidAppell says:

    Of course more people using the same appliances are going to use more electricity.

    IMO Germany made a mistake by eliminating nuclear power. However, they do now get about 30% of their electricity from wind and solar, far more than the US gets.

  104. dljvjbsl says:

    I would like to point out the effects of the Green Energy Act in the province of Ontario in Canada. It was economically disastrous and set the AGW mitigation cause back. As one example, wind energy is heavily subsidized but in Ontario the peak period for wind generation is at night when demand is lowest. As a result, electricity must be sold to neighbouring jurisdictions at prices far below what Ontario rate payers are forced to pay to the wind generators. At times, these prices are negative and Ontario is forced to pay others to take the unneeded energy.

    Perhaps green technology, as David Appell points out, is economically beneficial but economic reality still rules and bad business cases are bad business cases.

  105. CB says:

    “By “mature,” do you mean one old enough that its trees are dying, so they’re returning their carbon to the soil and air?”

    Exactly. I’m suspicious the soil has a limited capacity for carbon storage as well, but from what I understand, elemental carbon like biochar is much more stable than the carbon that would otherwise be stored in the soil, on the order of thousands of years.

    If it turned out biochar was leaking carbon from the soil, it could also be taken to deposition zones in the ocean which would pretty much ensure its sequestration for many millions of years.

    “And since the planet is “greening,” meaning the biosphere is taking in more CO2, is that coming from *more* plants and trees, or is, say, an individual tree taking in more CO2 (hence growing more), or both?”

    Now that I don’t know the answer to, but my hunch would be the latter. Climate Deniers are actually correct when they say extra CO₂ helps plants grow, they just neglect to notice that this is only when other factors like water are in abundant supply (which is usually not the case).

    The extra CO₂ is only helping plants grow where sun, water, micro and macronutrients are abundant, I wouldn’t think it’s helping plants colonise new areas.

  106. Michael Stone says:

    Most of the carbon sequestered is by the ocean’s green plant life phytoplankton.

    Phytoplankton also supply most of the planet’s oxygen. The plants only live for a few days at most, they sequester the carbon, die and float to the sea floor.

    That sequestered carbon stays there, unless millions of years later some oil company goes after it.

  107. Nom de Plume says:

    This is another reason why the emphasis should be on cost effective ways to store electricity. Wind generated electricity could have been stored, and used when needed, instead of turning into a money pit.

  108. dljvjbsl says:

    It should also be pointed out that the subsidies to renewable sources has created a large electricity surplus in Ontario. As a result, a hydroelectric generator at Niagara Falls has been shut down. So a green hydroelectric supplier is shut down to accommodate massively subsidized wind and solar installations.

    Ontario, because of the Green Energy Act, has at the same time a large surplus of electricity and very high electricity costs. Ontario has a large supply of hydroelectricity and as a result had, for generations, the economic advantage of low electricity prices. Now, however, subsidies for green energy have removed that advantage, The Green Energy Act was touted by eh government as a means of increasing the size of the industrial base of Ontario. Economic reality has proved otherwise.

    Green energy and other AGW mitigation techniques must still have sound business cases.

  109. Nom de Plume says:

    Obviously you don’t. But unlike you, I’ve worked with this stuff, which is how I know about diesel powered peaking generation.

    But, since argument by authority does not constitute evidence, here is the cost of generation of different forms of electricity, courtesy of the US Energy Information Administration:

    Be sure to look at the Total column. As you do so, note that even at it’s highest, the category where you find coal, Fossil Steam, is still lower than Gas Turbine.

  110. Nom de Plume says:

    Spoken like someone who’s never struggled to pay a power bill, or never had to disconnect someone who couldn’t.

    What’s going to happen, David, is a return to the situation prior to the 1930s, when the wealthy could afford their own off-grid generation, because the grid didn’t exist for most of the country. I have no doubt that you will still have lights; a significant number will not, and will likely have to revert to burning oil for light and wood for heat. What that will do for their carbon footprint and air quality is is left as an exercise to the reader.

  111. No, Sweden’s economy does not do better than ours. From where did you get this assertion?

  112. DavidAppell says:

    From the fact that they have the same GDP per capita. And fewer who live in poverty. And universal health care. All as their government has about half the debt the US does, relative to GDP.

  113. DavidAppell says:

    “Spoken like someone who’s never struggled to pay a power bill, or never had to disconnect someone who couldn’t.”

    You know nothing about me, or my financial struggles, so stuff that.

    I pay $1.85/month for 100% green offsets via my power company. How many can’t afford that?

    It’s ludicrous to claim we will never have electricity, baring some immediate catastrophe. We are one of the richest countries in the history of the world. If we can’t afford clean energy, then when can we ever?

  114. DavidAppell says:

    You data table lumps coal and oil together as “fossil fuels.” So you can’t use it to directly compare the per-kWh price of coal to that of gas.

  115. Our high debt-to-GDP ratio is due to our low taxes. It’s not a result of economic decay. Sweden has a slightly lower GDP per capita than we do, and the gap between us and Sweden has widened since the recession:!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=ny_gdp_pcap_pp_kd&scale_y=log&ind_y=false&rdim=region&idim=country:USA:SWE:DNK:EST:NOR:NLD:FIN:FRA&ifdim=region&hl=en_US&dl=en_US&ind=false
    Look at the poverty rate among Swedish Americans, not simply Americans. Compare apples to apples.

    Also, Sweden’s unemployment is consistently above full employment, and has been since the 1990s.

  116. Nom de Plume says:

    By which you imply that it’s cheaper to produce electricity from fuel oil than coal. Petroleum is used to generate 1% of US electricity. That means 99% of that category is coal.

  117. Nom de Plume says:

    I can tell you’ve never worked in the business. You’ve probably never had to draw up plans for rolling blackouts, or stand by to carry them out. I know that you’re not off-grid, or you would’t be proud of that itty bitty $1.85 you pay a month for “green” power. I know that if the EPA has it’s way, we’re likely looking at wholesale electric rates to double, because it removes capacity before the equivalent amount is on-line.

    Since you’ve never been in the business, you’ve probably haven’t had to cut off a customer, or collect, or set a meter back, or watch them try to make arraignments to pay their bill. And that’s with current rates.

    Nothing is too difficult to the person who doesn’t have to do it, and that’s the vibe I’m getting here. Or you would know that removing capacity when the grid is already strained is a recipe for disaster.

    If you are really convinced you are right, go off-grid, with 100% solar and/or wind, and see.

  118. Nom de Plume says:

    I know I keep beating the drum of energy storage, but the lack of it is the only real thing wrong with “green” power. If we had storage enough to last for days, then “green” power immediately becomes a replacement for base generation. A more expensive replacement, until efficiency and bearings can be improved, but since the bottle-neck is energy storage issue, that should have a higher development priority.

  119. Matthew Slyfield says:

    The only non-carbon energy that is capable of making a dent in the global use of carbon energy over the next century is nuclear. How many greens are out there advocating for nuclear.

  120. DavidAppell says:

    I don’t know. I don’t speak for “greens,” nor do I agree with all their positions.

  121. DavidAppell says:

    Actually I pay an extra $6.85/month — for the offset, and $5/month toward the development of clean energy.

    Just because some poor people have trouble paying their bills doens’t mean
    (1) the middle class and above can use the poor as their excuse for using dirty energy.
    (2) they get to change the climate for the next 100,000 years.

    What’s your excuse?

  122. DavidAppell says:

    Actually, only 37% of US electricity consumption comes from coal. And when you include the effects of coal’s pollution (excluding CO2), it actually does more damage than its value.

  123. DavidAppell says:

    “Look at the poverty rate among Swedish Americans, not simply Americans. Compare apples to apples.”

    Ha — I hope that’s supposed to be a joke. The whole point is comparing systems, not people.

  124. DavidAppell says:

    According to World Bank data, Sweden’s per capita GDP in 2013 was +9.6% ahead of the US’s. In 2008 it was +8.9% ahead.

    The difference has increased: In 2013 Sweden’s per capita GDP was $4,324 ahead of the US (current dollars). In 2013 it was $5,126.

  125. It’s not a joke. Move one million typical American Blacks into Sweden, while not changing the system there at all. See how that affects social statistics, even after a century.

  126. DavidAppell says:

    “It’s not a result of economic decay.”

    On 1/1/2008, US per capita public debt was $19,012 (current dollars). Now, after the economic crisis, it’s $39,931 per capita — twice as much in 6.5 years.

  127. You must use PPP in such comparisons, as I do. America didn’t enter a new Great Depression just because the dollar was devalued in 1934. Likewise, Belarus’s economy did not suddenly collapse in 2011.

  128. DavidAppell says:

    Sweden’s per capita GDP is 9.6% above the US:

    Universal health care alone makes Sweden’s economy better than ours.

  129. DavidAppell says:

    Racist much?

  130. And what are your thoughts about “austerity”?

  131. DavidAppell says:

    PPP vs nominal is a disagreement. Both mean something, especially for international buying.

  132. DavidAppell says:

    Not relevant to this debate.

  133. It kinda is. America’s Congress’s decision to keep taxes low in the face of recovery is a testament to its great fear of 1937-style austerity. It is not due to any sort of failure of economic recovery. If America had the tax system of 2000 today, its budget would be in surplus, so its national debt would be being paid off. So if you don’t like 1937-style austerity, I can’t say what you’d find wrong with America’s rising national debt.

  134. Yes, both mean something, but, as my examples show, using the exchange rate basis for such comparisons can lead to very, very misleading conclusions.

  135. Do you expect the hypothetical million American Blacks and their descendants to become functionally equivalent to native Swedes for purposes of social statistics (e.g., poverty, crime, median wealth), even after a century? If not, do you still have any objection to my request for apples-to-apples comparisons?

  136. Matthew Slyfield says:

    The fact remains, that nuclear is the only option for non-carbon energy becoming a majority of the total energy mix without whole scale de-industrialization, which would require massive population reductions. Anyone not advocating for nuclear is not genuinely interested in non-carbon energy.

  137. Tom Scharf says:

    You should really look at their neighbor Norway, twice the GDP per capita of Sweden. Guess what Norway is good at? Maybe Sweden should look into this?

  138. Girish says:

    Are we missing something. India in 2010 was 6% of the global emission …. just about catching up with the level of the absolute emission the US was in 1960. In 2010 the US was 14% of the global emission! Should we stop preaching to the Indians do something about our emissions first!

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