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The Political Economy of Deep Decarbonization: Tradable Energy Quotas for Energy Descent Futures

Abstract

This paper reviews and analyses a decarbonization policy called the Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs) system developed by David Fleming. The TEQs system involves rationing fossil fuel energy use for a nation on the basis of either a contracting carbon emission budget or scarce fuel availability, or both simultaneously, distributing budgets equitably amongst energy-users. Entitlements can be traded to incentivize demand reduction and to maximize efficient use of the limited entitlements. We situate this analysis in the context of Joseph Tainter’s theory about the development and collapse of complex societies. Tainter argues that societies become more socio-politically and technologically ‘complex’ as they solve the problems they face and that such complexification drives increased energy use. For a society to sustain itself, therefore, it must secure the energy needed to solve the range of societal problems that emerge. However, what if, as a result of deep decarbonization, there is less energy available in the future not more? We argue that TEQs offers a practical means of managing energy descent futures. The policy can facilitate controlled reduction of socio-political complexity via processes of ‘voluntary simplification’ (the result being ‘degrowth’ or controlled contraction at the scale of the physical economy).

1. Introduction

In this paper we offer a new analysis of the policy of Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs), developed by David Fleming [1]. The TEQs system involves rationing fossil fuel energy use for a nation on the basis of either a contracting carbon emission budget or scarce fuel availability, or both simultaneously, distributing budgets equitably amongst energy-users. The goal is to equitably meet climate change mitigation targets [2] and/or fossil energy depletion realities [3,4] within a nationally-agreed and cooperative framework, in a manner ‘green growth’ strategies seem unable to achieve [5].

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

California’s Renewable Energy Conundrum

California’s Renewable Energy Conundrum

Amid a heatwave in the West, the largest U.S. solar state, California, is grappling with power issues and with keeping its electricity grid stable as demand exceeds supply. And in a looming renewable future, those power disruptions just might be a sign of things to come.

California energy consumers were warned of rolling outages as there is insufficient energy to meet the high demand during the heatwave, the California Independent System Operator (ISO) said over the weekend.

The warning to Californians about the outages and strained grid should serve as a warning for policymakers and system operators across the United States and elsewhere: a rush to boost renewable energy power generation should be coupled with – and even preceded by – more careful planning on how to ensure the reliability and stability of the power grid.

California’s Struggles With Power Reliability

In the case of California, where solar power supplies more than 20 percent of electricity as per the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the rolling outages this week were the worst such outages since the 2000-2001 energy crisis in the state.

Some blame the current power crisis on California’s aggressive renewable energy rollout and retirement of natural gas-powered plants. Others say that there is a way for the state to reconcile renewables with reliability, although this would not come in the near term and certainly not soon enough to help with the current power supply issues.

It would seem that California has put the renewable cart before the proverbial horse.

The blame game and the debate about how exactly to cope with reliability in a heavily renewable power grid highlight the fact that meeting clean energy goals and reducing emissions should be made only after careful planning on how to ensure reliable power supply to customers and how to prepare the grid for an increased share of solar and wind power.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Nobody takes the renewable energy transition seriously

Nobody takes the renewable energy transition seriously

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Despite all the demands from climate activists, scientists, and even policy makers, hardly a single country is taking the shift to renewable energy seriously. Even countries and regions that claim to be working toward an energy transition are failing to do what would be required in order for the transition to succeed. What’s behind this surprising and disturbing state of affairs?

The energy transition is a big job, it’s complicated, and it needs to be done quickly if we are to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change. Therefore, it can’t just be left to the whims of the market. Yes, if solar panels produce electricity cheaper than coal power plants do, then more households and businesses will buy solar panels. But the energy transition demands far more than this: it requires either finding ways to hook up millions of new intermittent power sources in such a way as to provide electricity that matches demand day and night, summer and winter, or giving up on the luxury of having 24-7 access to power at our fingertips. And it requires finding ways to curtail the energy demands of manufacturing and transport systems and to run those streamlined systems on renewable electricity rather than solid, liquid, or gaseous fuels.

In short, it requires a plan. Small teams of academic researchers have already attempted to provide transition plans, but so far these are little more than schematic suggestions based on assumptions that are typically over-optimistic and untested. A serious plan would, of course, be constantly revised on the basis of new findings and changing circumstances. Nevertheless, without a serious and detailed plan, and one endorsed by high-level policy makers, we cannot hope to achieve much.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

End Game for Green Utopia

End Game for Green Utopia

Wind Turbines, Tehachapi Pass. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

On these two opposing types of responses to the movie “Planet Of The Humans”:

PRO: “The key, however, is that all these [‘greenish’] energy policies have to be carried out after capitalism has been wiped out and under conditions where production is based strictly on use.“

CON: “This documentary is trashy fake news. It’s Trumpian in its disdain for the facts…, they point away from real climate action solutions (such as renewable energy infrastructure) and peddle fascist snake oil of population growth i.e. advocate ecofascist genocide…Meanwhile, those of us who aren’t raving ecofascist lunatics will continue to fight to change society.”

Dreams of Utopias and illusions of self-importance die hard, even in the face of reality. Nature doesn’t care about how we fantasize; it just keeps on with its grand cycles, which those of global heating, environmental destruction and species extinction are now overstimulated by us, homo sapiens. The fundamental question here is: how good of an equitable world society could we energetically have, and by ‘greening it’ can we limit global warming?

PART 1:

The best we could possibly do would be to equalize the standard of living (Human Development Index) worldwide to HDI=0.862 (the range is from 0.28 for the poorest, to 0.97 for the richest nations), with a per capita electrical energy use of u=4000 kWh/c (kilowatt-hours-per-year/capita). The world average by nation (in 2002, and similar now) was: HDI=0.741 at u=2465 kWh/c. The U.S.A. had HDI=0.944 at u=13,456 kWh/c (a rich highly developed country). Niger had HDI=0.281 at u=40kWh/c (a poor underdeveloped country).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Great EROEI Scam: Are renewables a good idea?

The Great EROEI Scam: Are renewables a good idea?

The cheetah in the figure knows very well that it cannot spend more energy in chasing the impala than the impala can provide once eaten (in other words, the cheetah needs an energy return on the investment (EROEI) >1). Carnivores make no calculations about that question, they only know that, if they want to survive , they have to run. And this is our destiny, too. If we want to survive, we need to build new energy sources to replace fossil fuels and to that before depletion or climate change (or both) destroy us. But, unlike lions and cheetahs, we tend to discuss a lot on the subject and, sometimes, to get it completely wrong. This is the problem with the recent movie “Planet of the Humans” and its totally wrong evaluation of renewable energy (image by Nick Farnhill, creative commons license)

Years ago, when I discovered the concept of “EROEI” (or EROI), energy return for energy invested, I was both delighted and elated. “Here is,” I thought, “an objective way to evaluate and compare the efficiency of energy technologies. No more shaky financial calculations, no more ideology, no more politics, only facts. And everyone has to agree on the facts.” And the beauty of the concept was that if the EROEI is smaller than one for a certain technology, then it is an energy sink, not an energy production system.

I was wrong more than I could have imagined. From when the idea of EROEI was first proposed, in the 1980s by Charles Hall, the concept was stretched, squashed, squeezed, twisted, and shaken until it became a useless mongrel. Ideology took over from physics and EROEI became a support for preconceived ideas rather than an evaluation tool.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Solar, Wind, & Subterfuge

Solar, Wind, & Subterfuge

Raw Realities of Renewable Energy

Something that long hasn’t set well with me in the green movement is that so much of it is based on marketable products. For example, not long ago, the world was set alight by the idea of plant-based soda bottles. It was as if making plastic from plants had solved all our issues, and suddenly, using these innovative new bottles made the plastic-bottle experience guilt-free. Of course, that wasn’t the case.

Bioplastics, in many ways, are likely more problematic than petroleum-based plastic. In the case of Coca-Cola’s “PlantBottle”, the end result was the same non-biodegradable chemistry. It just had to be derived from plant-based ethanol instead of fossil fuels. With that in mind, it’s probably worth pointing out just how much fossil fuel was required to grow, harvest, transport, and process the plants to make that plastic. In reality, we’d only found a new way to make the same old problem, which really boils down to the fact that disposable plastic bottles are detrimental to the environment.

In other words, the packaging both literally and figuratively changed, but the end product wasn’t green at all. That didn’t stop the marketing bonanza. Soon, “plant-based”, “biobased” and “biodegradable” plastics were everywhere, and the prefixes “bio” and “plant” persuaded consumers that now an end to the issue of plastics was in-hand. We were on route to a viable solution, and buying our water in biobased plastic bottles was aiding in this answer. What a sham!

The truth is that we needed to (and still need to) drastically reduce our use of plastics and eliminate disposable plastics, but this would be detrimental to a convenience-based economy that hugely relies on fossil fuels, plastic packaging, and nonessential “necessities” to survive. The answer isn’t a new type of plastic, i.e. a new way to continue along the wrong route. Rather, it is a re-imagining of how we are living, a version of vitality not reliant of caffeinated cola products distributed in plastic bottles.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Planet of the Humans: Reviewing the Film and its Reviews

Planet of the Humans: Reviewing the Film and its Reviews

If you haven’t seen the latest (and arguably the most contentious) documentary on renewable energy, be prepared for an aftertaste of mixed feelings.

Joining hands with the controversial Michael Moore, environmentalist and filmmaker Jeff Gibbs has sent an eerie message that is now somewhat dividing the climate movement—in many ways for the worse, but, in a few others, for the better.

So, at least, one could argue is the case of Planet of the Humans. After engaging briefly with some of the well-deserved criticisms the film has received thus far, there are nevertheless some important aspects brought to our attention by the movie.

Specifically, at one point in the documentary, Gibbs touches upon the religious and existential dimensions underlying our ecological hot waters—aspects that, for what it seems, many of his critics have left unaddressed. Hence the focus towards the end of this review will fall on the cosmic role of religion (or cosmology, if we will) in helping us engage with “the great scheme of things”, to use the phrase of one of the scholars interviewed in the documentary.

But first a sketch of the film and its criticism.

What is the Central Claim of Planet of the Humans?

Drawing implicitly on the legacy of renowned environmentalist Rachel Carson, in essence, Planet of the Humans calls into question the solutions proposed by so-called renewable technologies. Such solutions, Gibbs argues, are to a degree or another an extension-in-disguise of the same problems created by our technological society. For one, solar panels and wind towers still burn fuels to be produced; for another, they rely on copious amounts of minerals and rare earth metals. More worryingly, what Gibbs calls “the narrow solution of green technology” keeps feeding the pockets of a smaller few at the expense of the greater rest, leaving underlying societal problems unattended.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Bizarre Blindspot in “Planet of the Humans”

The Bizarre Blindspot in “Planet of the Humans”

So, was the film “Planet of the Humans” a hit job on the environmental movement disguised by the filmmakers’ phony claim to care about Mother Earth?  Or was it an honest, get real, exposé of its assertion that, “The takeover of the environmental movement by capitalism is now complete”?

There are two things to consider when considering this question.  What were the filmmakers’ motivations and intentions?  And what was the film’s actual impact on this movement and the planet the filmmakers claim to care about?

The fact that most large environmental organizations are attacking the new film “Planet of the Humans” as a hit job is understandable.  It has the potential to hit them where it hurts—funding, membership, and public support.  That’s why their conservative enemies are gleefully praising and touting the film.

Groups like the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, and the Natural Resources Defense Council depend on wealthy corporate and foundation donors for much of their operating funds.  The rest comes from concerned citizen supporters who really want to believe that they can partake in “green capitalism” and save the planet by sending in their membership dues and buying “sustainable” products, without fundamentally altering their middle class lifestyle.

This leaves these mainstream environmental groups in a double bind.  Neither their members nor their corporate funders want to admit that industrial capitalism is as deadly as a cancerous tumor and many green technologies are little more than deceptive placebos.

The film highlights the way major corporations have passed themselves off as “sustainable” by promoting fake-green technologies like biomass, or by falsely claiming that they run on 100% renewable energy.  Worse yet they have promoted the lie that “renewable” energy technologies, like solar panels and wind farms, are not heavily dependent on fossil fuels and rare minerals. 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Now is the time to end the climate emergency

Now is the time to end the climate emergency

Reading “The Green New Deal and beyond” in the middle of a global crisis

In The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can, Stan Cox has a message for all who were counting on the Green New Deal to help save us from ecological and economic collapse: this legislation will not go far enough. Cox’s book comes at a sobering time, when the only two U.S. presidential candidates he mentions as being in favor of the Green New Deal—Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—have fallen behind a ‘more electable’ candidate who has not expressed such enthusiastic support for GND policies. In light of such developments, and in light of the global health crisis now facing the world, a manuscript devoted to many of the GND’s shortcomings might seem untimely. Yet Cox provides important insights into how our intersecting crises—ecological, economic, and epidemiological—could lead to a positive restructuring of the economy, if we can push such legislation to meet them. To do so, Cox argues, requires expanding the GND’s restorative approach to environmental justice, a willingness to reinvent the economy at a scale not seen since World War II, and the prioritizing of people and the planet above economic growth.

There are a few assumptions of the Green New Deal with which Cox takes issue, given how far we have advanced on the climate clock. These include the legislation’s vision to build up ‘green’ energy capacity and its promise to maintain and even accelerate economic growth. First, Cox addresses the common assumption that clean energy will push out old, dirty energy, by showing that there is so far no evidence to support that this will happen.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Review: Planet of the Humans

Review: Planet of the Humans

A few days ago, Emily Atkin posted a reaction to Michael Moore’s latest film, Planet of the Humans (directed and narrated by Jeff Gibbs), in which she began by admitting that she hadn’t seen the film yet. When writers take that approach, you know there’s already blood in the water. (She has since watched the film and written an actual review. Full disclosure: I’m in the film, included as one of the “good guys.” But I don’t intend to let that fact distort my comments in this review.)

The film is controversial because it makes two big claims: first, that renewable energy is a sham; second, that big environmental organizations—by promoting solar and wind power—have sold their souls to billionaire investors.

I feel fairly confident commenting on the first of these claims, regarding renewable energy, having spent a year working with David Fridley of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to assess the prospects for a complete transition to solar and wind power.

We found that the transition to renewables is going far too slowly to make much of a difference during the crucial next couple of decades, and would be gobsmackingly expensive if we were to try replacing all fossil fuel use with solar and wind. We also found, as the film underscores again and again, that the intermittency of sunshine and wind is a real problem—one that can only be solved with energy storage (batteries, pumped hydro, or compressed air, all of which are costly in money and energy terms); or with source redundancy (building way more generation capacity than you’re likely to need at any one time, and connecting far-flung generators on a super-grid); or demand management (which entails adapting our behavior to using energy only when it’s available).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Germany’s overdose of renewable energy

Germany’s overdose of renewable energy
In this 2010 file photo, Germany’s Green Party leaders Cem Oezdemir (R) and Renate Kuenast give a statement against nuclear energy while standing between two inflated nuclear power stations in front of the Chancellery in Berlin. Photo: AFP / Tim Brakemeier/ dpa

Germany’s overdose of renewable energy

Anti-nuclear hysteria is destroying the environment

This is part 2 in a series. Click here to read part 1.

Germany now generates over 35% of its yearly electricity consumption from wind and solar sources. Over 30 000 wind turbines have been built, with a total installed capacity of nearly 60 GW. Germany now has approximately 1.7 million solar power (photovoltaic) installations, with an installed capacity of 46 GW. This looks very impressive.

Unfortunately, most of the time the actual amount of electricity produced is only a fraction of the installed capacity. Worse, on “bad days” it can fall to nearly zero. In 2016 for example there were 52 nights with essentially no wind blowing in the country. No Sun, no wind. Even taking “better days” into account, the average electricity output of wind and solar energy installations in Germany amounts to only about 17% of the installed capacity.

The obvious lesson is: if you want  a stable, secure electricity supply, then you will need reserve, or backup sources of electricity which can be activated on more or less short notice to fill the gaps between electricity demand and the fluctuating output from wind and solar sources.

The more wind and solar energy a nation decides to generate, the more backup capacity it will require. On “bad days” these backup sources must be able to supply up to 100% of the nation’s electricity demand. On “good days” (or during “good hours”) the backup sources will be used less, or even turned off, so that their capacity utilization will also be poor. Not very good economics.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Europe Leads The World In Environmental Protection

Europe Leads The World In Environmental Protection

Earlier this week, the European Union unveiled their European Investment Plan aimed at shifting 1 trillion euros into making the economy more environmentally friendly over the next 10 years.

Statista’s Willem Rpoer reports that the investment plan is in line with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s Green Deal, which looks to make the European continent carbon-neutral by 2050. Since taking office, Von der Leyen has made climate change her top priority.

European countries have typically been leaders in the fight against climate change, with many ranking lowest in carbon emissions globally and highest in environmental quality. The newest trillion-euro investment plan looks to solidify Europe as the global example for combating global warming as other continents like Asia and North America continue to produce high carbon emissions and lag behind in renewable energy sources.

n 2019, Yale University released their Environmental Performance Index (EPI) for all 180 countries in order to gauge which countries had the highest environmental quality and which had the lowest.

Infographic: Europe Leads the World in Environmental Protection | Statista

THE RENEWABLE GREEN ENERGY MYTH: 50,000 Tons Of Non-Recyclable Wind Turbine Blades Dumped In The Landfill

THE RENEWABLE GREEN ENERGY MYTH: 50,000 Tons Of Non-Recyclable Wind Turbine Blades Dumped In The Landfill

Funny, no one seemed to consider what to do with the massive amount of wind turbine blades once they reached the end of their lifespan.  Thus, the irony of the present-day Green Energy Movement is the dumping of thousands of tons of “non-recyclable” supposedly renewable wind turbine blades in the country’s landfills.

Who would have thought? What’s even worse, is that the amount of wind turbine blades slated for waste disposal is forecasted to quadruple over the next fifteen years as a great deal more blades reach their 15-20 year lifespan.  Furthermore, the size and length of the newly installed wind turbine blades are now twice as large as they were 20-30 years ago.

(graphic courtesy of Ahlstrom-Munksjo.com)

Honestly, I hadn’t considered the tremendous amount of waste generated by the so-called “Renewable” wind power industry until a long-term reader sent me the link to the following article, Landfill begins burying non-recyclable Wind Turbine Blades:

Hundreds of giant windmill blades are being shipped to a landfill in Wyoming to be buried because they simply can’t be recycled.  Local media reports several wind farms in the state are sending over 900 un-reusable blades to the Casper Regional Landfill to be buried. While nearly 90 percent of old or decommissioned wind turbines, like the motor housing, can be refurbished or at least crushed, fiberglass windmill blades present a problem due to their size and strength.

“Our crushing equipment is not big enough to crush them,” a landfill representative told NPR.

Prior to burying the cumbersome, sometimes nearly 300-foot long blades, the landfill has to cut them up into smaller pieces onsite and stack them in order to save space during transportation.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Empty Gestures on Climate Change

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Empty Gestures on Climate Change

When climate campaigners urge people to change their everyday behavior, they trivialize the challenge of global warming. The one individual action that citizens could take that would make a real difference would be to demand a vast increase in spending on green-energy research and development.

MALMÖ – Switch to energy-efficient light bulbs, wash your clothes in cold water, eat less meat, recycle more, and buy an electric car: we are being bombarded with instructions from climate campaigners, environmentalists, and the media about the everyday steps we all must take to tackle climate change. Unfortunately, these appeals trivialize the challenge of global warming, and divert our attention from the huge technological and policy changes that are needed to combat it.1

For example, the British nature-documentary presenter and environmental campaigner David Attenborough was once asked what he as an individual would do to fight climate change. He promised to unplug his phone charger when it was not in use.

Attenborough’s heart is no doubt in the right place. But even if he consistently unplugs his charger for a year, the resulting reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions will be equivalent to less than one-half of one-thousandth of the average person’s annual CO2 emissions in the United Kingdom. Moreover, charging accounts for less than 1% of a phone’s energy needs; the other 99% is required to manufacture the handset and operate data centers and cell towers. Almost everywhere, these processes are heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

Attenborough is far from alone in believing that small gestures can have a meaningful impact on the climate. In fact, even much larger-sounding commitments deliver only limited reductions in CO2 emissions. For example, environmental activists emphasize the need to give up eating meat and driving fossil-fuel-powered cars. But, although I am a vegetarian and do not own a car, I believe we need to be honest about what such choices can achieve.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

It Bears Repeating: Renewables Alone Won’t End the Climate Crisis

It Bears Repeating: Renewables Alone Won’t End the Climate Crisis

‘We have to look at downsizing, degrowth, using less.’

WindTurbine.jpg
We’ve got a ways to go if we choose to reduce emissions by simply replacing fossil fuels with wind turbines. What also matters: using less energy.Photo via Shutterstock.

Although the media still portrays climate change as some vague threat to “the environment,” it is really a self-made blitzkrieg that is already destabilizing a highly energy-intensive and complex human civilization.

Greta Thunberg has spoken prophetically: our civilized house is on fire. 

But our collective politicians, blinded by ideology and technological illusions, refuse to panic, let alone call the community fire department. 

They behave as though they can just build another house somewhere else on Mars, and then watch the conflagration on Netflix

In that previous analysis, I quoted a Colorado professor, Roger Pielke Jr., who recently noted in Forbes that if we really wanted to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050, and we solely choose wind power as the solution, we’d need to build and deploy 1,500 wind turbines on about 300 square miles every day for the next 30 years.

We can’t do that, of course, because of physics and economics. Pielke was simply illustrating the scale of the challenge if we thought that renewables could do all the work for us.

But a great many readers questioned Pielke’s math; others questioned his motivation. Others questioned my sanity in quoting such a fellow.

Having written about energy for 30 years (and my best scribbling on the matter remains The Energy of Slaves), I thought Pielke’s numbers, which can vary with wind power due to location and size of blades, were largely accurate and conveyed the enormity of the task at hand, especially if we think our energy crisis is just a substitution problem. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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