By Larry Kummer. From the Fabius Maximus website.
Summary: Burning coal contributes to pollution (many kinds) and is a major driver of anthropogenic climate change. Last month we looked at the good news from the US about the shift away from coal, and last week about the good news from China. Here’s more good news from Britain. It is part of a global story, putting the world on a path away from the nightmarish scenarios of climate change based on slow tech growth, reliance on coal for power, and rapid population growth.
Good news, for many reasons
Britain is using more solar (yellow) power and burning less coal (black).
From CarbonBrief, 13 April 2016.
“UK coal power hits 0% output for 2nd time this week: 11:40 on 11/5 to 04:00 on 12/5. Likely only 2nd time since 1882.”
— Tweet from Simon Evans, Editor of Carbon Brief.
The good news from Britain…
- “UK coal use to fall to lowest level since industrial revolution“, 15 January 2016.
- “UK solar generation tops coal for the first time” by CarbonBrief, 13 April 2016.
- “UK Energy Secretary Amber Rudd has announced that the country plans to phase coal out of its energy mix by 2025.”
Burn less coal,
lower the odds of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change
Climate forecasts (called “projections” by the IPCC) rely on two key factors. First, the scenario — a forecast of future emissions, must occur. Second, the model must accurately predict temperatures for that scenario. Previous posts have focused on the latter factor, showing climate scientists’ reluctance to test their models using the decades of data after their publication.
Recent events highlight that the first factor is also important. The nightmarish predictions of climate change that dominate the news almost all rely on the most severe of the four scenarios used by the Fifth Assessment Report, the IPCC’s most recent: RCP8.5. It describes a future in which much has gone wrong (details here), most importantly…
- a slowdown in tech progress (coal is the fuel of the late 21st century, as it was in the late 19thC), and
- unusually rapid population growth (inexplicably, that fertility in sub-Saharan Africa does not decline or crash as it has everywhere else).
Looking at such scenarios, however unlikely, is vital for planning. Sometimes we do have bad luck. But presenting such outcomes without mentioning their unlikely assumptions — or worse, misrepresenting it as a “business as usual” scenario — misleads readers and puts the credibility of science itself at risk.
Not just in Britain
“Portugal ran entirely on renewable energy for 4 consecutive days last week” by John Fitzgerald Weaver at Electrek, May 15. Market forces are shift electricity generation in Texas away from coal to natural gas and renewables, according to a new report by the Brattle Group: see the summary and the full report.
The entire world is shifting away from coal, year by year and nation by nation. Coal use has peaked in every continent (see the details here).
All three core assumptions of the RCP8.5 scenario look less likely every day; we have no reason to suppose that trend will change. We are shifting away from coal to natural gas (cleaner and lower carbon) and renewables. The daily news disproves the assumption of slowing tech progress, as the new industrial revolution slowly begins. See this post for details about the assumption of population growth in the top quintile of the UN’s latest forecast (and why that’s unlikely); coming advances in contraception will make this even less likely.
I believe that future generations will look at our fears and laugh, as we laughed at early 20th century fears of cities buried in horse dung. We have many serious challenges, some appear imminent (e.g., our dying oceans). Let’s prioritize those more and obsess less on more speculative threats.