The cautious skeptics at the Economist Newspaper continue to move their general position away from default conservative approaches. Last week the publication reported that “scientists are now able to say that climate change increases the risk of a particular weather pattern by a measurable amount and, in some cases, that a particular episode is almost impossible to imagine without global warming.” It quotes credible scientists at Oxford University, University of Melbourne, the Natioanal Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the USA and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. It notes that it is still difficult to connect individual weather events to climate change, but the science is growing quickly linking man-made climate change to patterns of dramatically increasing severe weather occurrances. The Economist: “In an attempt to give the overall picture, a new study in Nature Climate Change by Erich Fischer and Reto Knutti, both of the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, moved away from individual events to consider heatwaves and rain storms in general. They took all the heat and precipitation extremes between 1901 and 2005, defining extremes as events likely to occur once every 1,000 days. By running the climate models with and without climate change, they found that 0.85°C of warming (the rise since the industrial era began) has made such heat extremes four or five times more likely, roughly the same as in the Australian study. The authors attribute 75% of the heat extremes, and 18% of the precipitation extremes, to observed global warming. Worryingly, the risk of an extreme event seems to rise exponentially as mean temperatures creep up. The probability of a heat extreme is twice as great at 2°C of warming than at 1.5°C…That is a useful addition to climate science. People are routinely told about—and routinely ignore—the bad things they are doing to the climate. The attribution studies show that the climate is doing bad things back.”
It’s important when cautious, skeptical and credible publications like the Economist acknowledge truths that they know are especially bad news for carbon-based players in the global economy. The worm is definitely turning. Here’s the link: The Economist
Professionally, I’m a commercial writer and videographer, so although I wish everyone on earth would click on the picture below and watch the whole video, I know most people won’t; because its 18 minutes long.
So I’ll try to tell you about it in a few sentences. It’s a presentation by Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, the electric car people. He’s unveiling two products: A home battery system that you hang on your wall and an industrial battery system, that big organizations can use for more demanding needs than a residential home.
The home battery can be ordered today for $3500. A big enough home solar panel system is still a bit expensive to install, but as many people know, these costs have dropped by more than 80% in the past 5 years and will continue dropping. It’s similar with electric cars, they still cost more than most of us can afford, but that is changing really quickly too. Tesla is right now building a massive battery factory in Nevada, which Musk says is the first of many that will be built by his company and others, all over the world. So batteries for solar-panel-homes and home charging of electric cars will soon be accessible to a lot more people in ordinary income brackets. Electric vehicle makers are right now quickly eliminating long distance concerns and the other worries we have about them.
This home battery announcement is further proof that the world is going to change big time, despite all the BS that status quo industries pay lobbyists to shovel at us. So in addition to making our planet healthier, it is now really starting to make economic sense for ordinary people to shift more to electricity and away from fossil fuels.
My last post suggested oil prices would rebound, but obviously I underestimated how determined certain countries are to use the oil price as a weapon. There is all kinds of speculation, including the suggestion that the once powerful OPEC group wants to hurt the USA natural gas industry and the Russians at the same time. They have loads of cash, so they don’t care how long it takes to inflict the damage they are seeking. It’s all a little complicated and in a few decades will be irrelevant.
The good news is that the growth in investment in our renewables future APPEARS to continue unabated by the availability of cheap oil and gas. According to Bloomberg total clean energy investment jumped 16% in 2014, to $310bn (£205bn). China led the trend with growth of 32%. Of course most of this was before the oil price collapse; however it also took place during a period when a lot of government subsidies for renewables disappeared, or were reduced. In addition, China and the US reached an agreement this past November that says China will increase its non-fossil fuel energy consumption to 20% within 15 years; and the USA will reduce emissions by 26-28% below its 2005 level by 2025. Republicans in the USA will try to prevent this in the short term, but unfortunately for them, China and the rest of the world will ignore them, creating a global competitive imperative within 10 years or so.
I’m trying to paint a rosy picture here but the realist in the dark corner of my brain is screaming out that we should expect some difficulty for clean tech investment during 2015 and perhaps 2016. Governments will continue to move into renewables for centralized power. I think distributed solar will continue to grow in places where it is already growing quickly. But inroads into new market regions will be delayed, while cheap natural gas remains abundant. Everything is exaggerated. Low oil prices will hurt but not cripple the fracking business. On the other hand the fracking business probably is making more of its productivity gains than it should.
In the long run coal and uranium-based nuclear are more or less certain to expire, but in both cases it will take a long long time to reach their end. Oil and gas will likely live on forever, but their global dominance will dissipate within a few decades. I still believe that the march toward a green future is unstoppable, but it will march more quickly when oil and gas are expensive again.