Sunday, October 19, 2014

The insanity of denialists at WUWT: On the impact of natural gas on global warming

Sou | 6:57 PM Go to the first of 25 comments. Add a comment

I couldn't pass up some gems of denialist thinking I came across today. It was in response to a new WUWT article, about a paper in Nature. The paranoia runs deep at WUWT.

The paper itself is the result of a study looking to see if abundant natural gas substituting for coal would help mitigate CO2 emissions. The answer was "probably not". Another article in Nature News and Views, which was describing the research, gave three main reasons. From ScienceDaily.com:
  • Replacing low-carbon sources: Natural gas replacing coal would reduce carbon emissions. But due to its lower cost, natural gas would also replace some low-carbon energy, such as renewable or nuclear energy. Overall changes result in a smaller reduction than expected due to natural gas replacing these other, low-carbon sources. In a sense, natural gas would become a larger slice of the energy pie.
  • More total energy used: Abundant, less expensive natural gas would lower energy prices across the board, leading people to use more energy overall. In addition, inexpensive energy stimulates the economy, which also increases overall energy use. Consequently, the entire energy pie gets bigger.
  • Methane escape from production and distribution: The main component of natural gas, methane, is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. During production and distribution, some methane inevitably escapes into the atmosphere. The researchers considered both high and low estimates for this so-called fugitive methane. Even at the lower end, fugitive methane adds to climate change.

Speaking of "natural", naturally, the WUWT article only provided one of the three reasons - that of the lower energy prices leading to more energy being used overall (archived here). Once again, the article was by Eric Worrall - about the only person left (I mean, remaining) who is providing denialist fodder for Anthony Watts' blog these days.

An international collaboration

The paper was the result of a collaboration of scientists from around the world, including the USA, Germany, Austria, Italy and Australia. 

Scientists were from JGCRI, a collaboration between Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and the University of Maryland (USA), BAEconomics (Australia), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (Austria), the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (Germany), the Centro Euromediterraneo sui Cambiamenti Climatici (Italy), and Resources for the Future (USA).

AMA on Reddit

There was an AMA on reddit with Haewon McJeon, the lead author of the paper, just the other day, if you are interested.

Just who is insane?

The gem of denialist thinking is from angelartiste1, who wrote "they are insane" and that it's all a plot to destroy the USA:
October 18, 2014 at 10:36 pm
Wow…It now becomes obvious that the only goal of leftist Warmists is to destroy the economy of the US, decimate the middle class, and install socialism. The true objective of the left is to turn America into a third-world banana republic. They are insane.

angelartiste1 followed that gem up with this one:
October 18, 2014 at 10:42 pm
It is now becoming clear to me that the left is rooting for Ebola to rid the world of the virus of humanity. I had a leftist roommate in college who seriously said that he wished he were the only human left on Earth. 

I, like you, are thinking it's not the scientists who are insane. How does angelartiste1 make it through each day surrounded by so many monsters?

More from the WUWT comments

If you thought that comment was just one insane among less insane comments, think again. Here are some more responses to that fairly innocuous and non-controversial paper about natural gas and its impact on global warming:

Chris Riley
October 18, 2014 at 10:44 pm
This reveals what we already know about what really motivates the people behind the CAGW movement. CAGW is not a movement. It is a Trojan horse being used to to deliver statism into a society founded on the principle of the sovereign individual.

October 18, 2014 at 10:46 pm
An article which is just more CO2-Alarmism driven economic drivel. As far as they are concerned the poor of the World can just creep away and freeze to death in the darkness. It all, in their minds, done for the sake of the ‘Environment”, whatever that is. The road to Hell is lined with Green intentions. 

Mike Smith
October 18, 2014 at 11:10 pm
This war on capitalism will prove dramatically less successful than the war on drugs or poverty. Ironically, it will do more to create poverty than any other human initiative to date.
I find no solace in the fact it’s being executed with oh so many good intentions.

Haewon McJeon, Jae Edmonds, Nico Bauer, Leon Clarke, Brian Fisher, Brian P. Flannery, Jérôme Hilaire, Volker Krey, Giacomo Marangoni, Raymond Mi, Keywan Riahi, Holger Rogner & Massimo Tavoni. Limited impact on decadal-scale climate change from increased use of natural gas. Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13837 (2014).

Steven J. Davis, Christine Shearer. Climate change: A crack in the natural-gas bridge. Nature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13927


  1. Angelartiste said " I had a leftist roommate in college who seriously said that he wished he were the only human left on Earth."

    I think if I had to share a room with their Angel's level of idiocy, I might say that too.

    By the way, deniers have a short memory (and attention) span. Is it really so long ago that the pro capitalist bankers almost ruined the world economy. Don't see a bunch of climate scientists being quite so damaging as the bankers were.

    1. Ouch.

      And never forget that the collapse happened on the watch of a pro polluter President.

  2. If I were angelartiste1's roommate, being the last human on earth would have its attractions.

  3. A summary of the situation outlined is (noting particularly points 1 and 2; that an abundant source of cheaper, lower carbon energy would become a predominant energy source and stimulate 'the economy' to the point of increased growth), that we are therefore in need of a whole new economic system. Everything we know about modern capitalism and our modern equity markets is that the whole system depends on economic growth.

    If the ready availability of cheaper, lower carbon energy is going to create an environmental problem through stimulated economic growth, then it follows that you either need a system that thrives (somehow) on minimal growth, or you in the very near future need an abundant source of relatively cheap, completely carbon free energy. (sounds like nuclear to me!) Absolutely everything being done to date is simply pushing energy prices ever skyward.

    I don't hold with the views that it is all some plot to replace the system we have, but feel we should note that is the way we are heading.

    1. I don't see shifting energy sources requires a whole new economic system.

      Shifting from animal transport to mechanical transport didn't. Shifting from candle power to coal and hydro power didn't. Shifting from telegraph to telephone to facsimile to cellular phones to smart phones didn't. Shifting from land-based radio to satellite transmission didn't. Shifting from handwritten ledgers and documents to electronic recording and reporting didn't. Shifting from wired to wireless communication didn't.

      Those changes are arguably as big or bigger than what is happening to the energy generating sector.

    2. Sou, there is a difference between forcing a change by economic pressure (the aim of carbon taxes and ETS) and a change which happens naturally because the newer technology is both better and more economical.

      The issue is that the economic pressure will have side effects.
      Then the issue becomes: how severe, widespread and longlasting are those effects?

    3. Let me correct that for you:
      Environmental pressure has side effects. Then the issue becomes: how severe, widespread and long-lasting are those effects?

      I hope you aren't trying to argue that the public purse didn't pay for roads, or telecommunications infrastructure, or hydro schemes, or coal plants, or nuclear plants, or electricity distribution grids, or telephone exchanges, or gas lighting, or water supply and distribution, or postal services etc etc.

    4. marke

      Oh right. So technology change is natural and wholesome? Who would have guessed? Your measure of better and more economical is woefully lacking in detail. The idea of the economic pressure is to factor in the costs of where it is not better and not more economic; those side effects you mention such as trashing the environment. And strangely enough those side effects your invisible hand of the market never gets around to addressing.

    5. This is getting silly quickly. Arguing about the future economy doesn't make sense if you assume a static energy cost for developing tech (such as wind and solar) or if you assume static energy efficiency and effectiveness of energy consuming tech (cars, heaters, lighting, etc.).

      A quick Google search shows wind and (especially) solar cost per kwh dropping. The same is not true for other energy sources, which have been around for some time. And here's the other benefit - we (in the US at least) get to spend less on military dealing with the mostly horrible countries that control fossil fuels.

      As for efficiencies - remember what happened when the '73 oil embargo happened. Cars, heaters, even light bulbs (LEDs) are way more efficient now. Sometimes a nonlinear change happens leading to better tech - Tesla P 85D is now faster than most gas super-cars, and it has 4 doors with a roomy interior. Either way, overall US per capita energy usage peaked in ~1980 and, even with population growth, overall energy usage has been in decline since 2007.

      The big one, though, is energy cost...renewable energy sources are innovating rapidly and their cost is still dropping significantly.

    6. Sou, your point on the environmental effects is noted. But that does not remove the fact that there will be economic effects. And there is still a difference in the way this is being done.

      Jammy; No comment on wholesome, simply that those changed occurred naturally. Details requested are the ones listed in Sou's post at October 20, 2014 at 1:46 AM. All are better and more economical. Is there any argument for going back to the old ways in any of those cases?
      And I have no time for theories on "the invisible hand of the market" (in this case at least) as we know there are plenty of not so invisible hands on the control levers. Hence my disdain for ETS concepts. (Well, part of the reason for my disdain, anyway). If this 'added pricing' is absolutely necessary, a tax is preferable, and a government controlled tiered pricing structure for energy is better again.

      Joe: Yes, wind and solar are getting cheaper, as long as they do not cost in the expense of keeping baseload plants with ample dispatchable capacity online. These plants have large amounts of capital tied up, and when called upon, supply power at costs high enough to cover both capital and running costs. The economy bears the brunt of that pain. If that pain is necessary, then fair enough, but it will still have effects beyond those desired.
      Re US per capita energy use; Australian per capita energy use has similarly declined. Are these a measure of the beginning of a successful resolution of a suspected global crisis, or simply a measure of how much industry has been offshored to less demanding economies?

      ie, Are we simply seeing the decimation of one economy for the benefit of the other, and will the rise of those economies be beneficial to this good earth in the long run?

      My approach is; Hasten slowly, for perhaps ye know not what ye wreak.

    7. I doubt there is any risk of countries hastening quickly. No sign of that so far. IMO businesses will be continue to be ahead of governments leading the shift to clean energy as has happened with most technologies.

      As far as industry restructure goes, governments often interfere in the market to support emerging industries or to hasten people out of ageing industries. It happens in agriculture; manufacturing (eg steel; textile, clothing and footwear; automobile manufacture). Tactics include imposition or removal of tariffs, bi- and multi-lateral trade agreements, incentives for R&D, taxation incentives, cheap power for particular industries, compensation for leaving an industry or switching production (eg uprooting wine grapes, retraining programs etc), petrol excises or subsidies, fast-tracking regulatory approvals or withholding approval (eg pharmaceuticals, chemicals); government grants, loans and/or underwriting projects.

      Some people act as if there is never interference in the market. It goes on all the time.

    8. Yeah. Imagine if governments had invested in satellites. What a dumb decision that would have turned out to be.

    9. Again, silly comments. Somehow we've gone from the original argument that all energy prices (except nuclear) are shooting skyward to new arguments that new tech makes no sense because you can't pick winners and that solar/wind are small. The original argument got killed because wind/solar are still decreasing in price. The new arguments are just as dumb...for example, renewables are 30% in Germany and nearly 40% in Denmark - wind is still growing fast in both. As for picking winners...huh? Nobody is saying we just invest willy-nilly. You can stay out of Tesla stock, but I did fine. This argument is just a straw man unless you have some crystal ball that tells you where to invest to ensure 100% success. Another straw man is that everybody is against nuclear. The simple fact, though, is that nuclear is not going through a cost decline like wind and solar so why deal with ugly downsides? It makes as much sense as cold fusion. Sorry, this conversation has just gone from dumb to dumber.

    10. Finally a coherent argument based on energy per unit area...much different than all the arguments presented so far. And a good argument, but there are some flaws in the video. But before those flaws, let me repeat again what I wrote above, "Another straw man is that everybody is against nuclear."

      So the video makes a great point about the use of area for energy creation, but he misses out on two points. 1. When discussing renewables, he doesn't mention hydro or geo. Where I live, hydro is more than 50% of production and it's >90% renewables. In the US, hydro is bigger than wind+solar combined. In NZ, it's also 50% hydro. In Iceland, geothermal is 99%. Mackay inexplicably stops at wind and solar. 2. Also, when discussing wind and solar, he doesn't consider non-utility production. For example, in Israel, 90% of rooftops have solar water heaters. In the US in Q2 2014, nearly 50% of solar installations were non-utility.

    11. 1. You wrote that hydro and geo are "limited" - yet hydro is 6.4% of total US energy and 66.8% of renewable US energy. For a number of states, it's greater than 50% of all energy. Yes, that's just US, but it's not "limited."
      2. No, you missed it, too. I'm not specifically talking about heating, I'm talking about PV as well. The key point is non-utility. In the US in Q2 2014, nearly 50% of solar installations were non-utility. He kept mapping out large sections of property as a utility would, that's why he needed highly concentrated power.

      It seems to me his presentation was really just about the UK - for example, I don't think there's much hydro in the UK and that's why he omitted it. Though, if it's about the UK, then why not include tidal power? Apparently, there's a proposal for a large tidal power plant in Scotland (which I believe is still part of the UK). The point is I disagree that he made the case for nuclear because he wasn't complete even if he's just talking UK. He made a case, for sure, but not the case.

    12. For the UK, Mackay is quite correct - based on land area alone, it is unlikely that the UK will be able to install sufficient renewable generation to supply its needs. Not only that, but the UK is geographically small enough to be nearly covered by single weather patterns, which leads to intermittent supply for wind and solar.

      But note: That is for the UK alone. In isolation.

      There's also North Africa and other Mediterranean countries (plenty of solar there), Eastern Europe (great potential for wind power), and in fact all of Europe that if grid-connected would greatly reduce any intermittency due to weather and provide sufficient area for wind/solar. One possibility - the UK could go nuclear like France. Or, potentially, become net energy importers like many other countries - if the UK were to go that route that just might be their turn in the barrel. Sad, but really it's only a small part of the world. Or, perhaps, the UK could break even with North Sea and Scottish wind power exported to the EU when the weather is advantageous.

      MacKay has a very comprehensive analysis, but it really focuses on a very small portion of the globe, it's very local. And that cannot be extrapolated to the rest of the world.

    13. Thanks KR...what you said makes a whole lot of sense. Anon- please read KR's comment.

      Anon, you still aren't listening to me so I'm beginning to believe you're just a promoter of nuclear arguing in bad faith. I am talking about non-utility solar (PV or thermal)...the point is non-utility, why do you keep side-stepping that? And please stop with condescending "wishful thinking" comments. I've already said this twice, but let me go a third time...it's a strawman to think that everyone is against nuclear. When I get a chance, I will look at the longer Mackay video, but you're not answering my comments.

      One - hydro is not all done...for example, there is a multi-billion dollar hydro plant currently under review in Canada (maybe approved?). Two - dispersed solar (non-utility based) was about half the solar installations in the US in Q2 2014. Although still constrained, those don't face the same surface area issues because they go where people live already. Maybe it's a dead end (because I haven't done the math), but Mackay has not either in the video I saw. 3. The world's largest tidal plant may be built in Scotland ( http://www.ibtimes.com/worlds-largest-tidal-energy-project-start-construction-scottish-coast-year-1668098 ). None of this says that nuclear is a no-go, it just says I'm not convinced it's a go. It surely is not convincing as a go in the US. I don't live in the UK, so the locals will decide. Also, there are huge downsides to nuclear that you sweep under the rug. Voters don't do that as easily. Science is straightforward and policy is not.

    14. Anon, the UK is a net energy importer _now_, with data from the WorldBank indicating ~20% of net energy imported in 2009, rising to almost 40% in 2012 (last year that resource shows numbers for). And it's my understanding that the UK has stockpiles of something like 7-8 days of gasoline if shipments were to stop.

      Oddly enough, this hasn't destroyed the UK. They appear to be handling the risks so far...

      As to Australia, there are studies showing pathways to 100% renewable baseload supply. Once again, your rather black and white claims that renewable sources can't cross a 20% barrier, or that 100% is wholly impossible, or basically "it canna be done" don't hold up.

      Nuclear certainly has a place in our energy future - although if it were al that you claim the nuclear share should be much larger now. But that future isn't furthered by disproven or nonsense arguments against renewables.

    15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    16. I'll not remove the previous comments from Anon, who seems to be a sock puppet of someone who has already been banned for extremely bad behaviour.

      It's time to lift the needle from the broken record. Constant repetition of the same old points is tedious.

    17. Joe: for "multi-billion-dollar hydro plant" do you mean the Romaine, which is under construction?

      Churchill Falls wants to expand as well, and there's plenty more rivers up North. That's just in Quebec and Labrador; there's lots of room for more hydro elsewhere as well in Canada, at least if we continue riding roughshod over first nations rights.

      However, it's expensive: you have to evict the locals, and then you have to fly in a large labour force and construction equipment to build the thing; then forever more you have to fly in a few more workers. And you have to build thousand-km-long power lines (and repair them when there's an ice storm). And there's transmission losses.

      For now, it appears that building windmills and rooftop PV close to where people live is cheaper than expanding hydro.

      We can't really reduce Quebec's reliance on fossil fuels by building out hydro anyway: we're already about 95% hydro. What we do when we add watts is typically that we piss them away (a friend's efficient lighting company has decided to expand overseas, because electricity is too cheap for much anyone to want efficient lights here). A few of our watts we end up selling to Ontario or New England and NY, where they eventually displace fossil fuels (in VT, they displace imports from other states). But, of course, those more southern locales are even better suited to bring on some solar than we are.

    18. Fair enough Numerobis, my only point was that hydro is not dead. In fact, in developing countries where fuel needs are growing, hydro is still minimal and has a great chance of growth. It may not be the most environmentally friendly (as in Three Gorges Dam for China), but it is an option.

      Anon left, but my point on solar was that Mackay's video (the one I saw) assumed centralized solar so didn't take in the input from elsewhere. This may not be enough for UK, but could be enough elsewhere. Anyway, looks like this thread died while I was traveling.

  4. I should probably read the original article, but the argument that lower energy prices lead to more energy use does not seem to be a good one to argue against natural gas. You could simply use taxes to stop this price increase and use this money to reduce income tax and thus reduce unemployment.

    The best argument to me seems to be that natural gas only reduces the CO2 emissions by a factor two (in the best case). And we need to reduce emissions to almost zero. Natural gas cannot do that. We should build up (and are building up) a carbon emission free energy system. A small delay in that would quickly eat up the advantages of a minimal emission reduction by changing the fossil fuel mix.


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