Latest posts by H. Sterling Burnett (see all)
- Environmental Policy Wishes for the New Year - January 18, 2018
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- Trump Needs His Own People Running Federal Bureaucracies - January 11, 2018
Two recent articles that caught my eye this week highlight the positive aspects of our changing climate and the weaknesses in the claims made by those who argue we can replace fossil fuels for electric power with current off-the-shelf technologies.
First, surprise, surprise, surprise, The New York Times, of all media outlets, discussed a new study in Nature examines ice cores from the Antarctic to determine how plants have responded to increases and decreases in carbon dioxide levels throughout history. The researchers aim to explain why, with all the carbon dioxide humans have added to the atmosphere in the past century, measured carbon dioxide levels aren’t higher than they are. The researchers determined “plants are converting 31 percent more carbon dioxide into organic matter than they were before the Industrial Revolution.” As a result, across the globe “plants have been growing at a rate far faster than at any other time in the last 54,000 years.” This lush growth is replenishing forests, reclaiming deserts, and contributing to record crop yields.
“It’s the whole Earth – it’s every plant,” said lead author, J. Elliot Campbell of the University of California – Merced.
According to the research, the extra plant growth from the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is 28 billion tons each year, or 300 percent more than the entire amount of carbon stored in all the crops harvested on Earth annually.
Commenting on the importance of the new study, Max Berkelhammer, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told The New York Times, “the research would serve as a benchmark for climate projections. ‘It means we can build more accurate models.’”
Three cheers for carbon dioxide.
Concerning the practicability of replacing fossil fuels with renewables, a recent paper in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews destroys that much hyped myth finding, “[w]hile many modelled scenarios have been published claiming to show that a 100% renewable electricity system is achievable, there is no empirical or historical evidence that demonstrates that such systems are in fact feasible.” This paper is a survey and analysis of the research by green energy boosters who’ve produced a number of studies in recent years claiming fossil fuels can be entirely replaced in the electricity sector.
This paper finds 24 studies claiming fossil fuels could be entirely replaced with off-the-shelf technologies “have provided sufficient detail … to be considered potentially credible.” Analyzing those studies’ assertions in light of mainstream estimates of expected energy demand and the technical reliability needs and requirements of modern electric systems under a variety of climate conditions, the researchers found, “none of the 24 studies provides convincing evidence that these basic feasibility criteria can be met.” Half of the studies failed to use realistic estimates of energy demand and multiple studies posited gross expansion of the use of hydropower and biomass raising serious environmental and social justice concerns – including increased air pollution, species deaths, deforestation, and forcibly removing impoverished peoples from their traditional homelands.
Ultimately, the review concluded the research claiming alternative energy sources can seamlessly and effectively replace fossil fuels for electric power generation is unpersuasive, substantially underestimating the challenges posed by such a wholescale shift in global or regional energy use.
So not only are fossil fuels the least expensive, among the most reliable, sources of energy and the most likely to raise the poor in the world out of poverty in the shortest amount of time, for the time being, which means now and for the next 30 years or so, they are also the only practical way to keep the lights on.