Friday, March 15, 2013

Energy And Climate

The 2013 annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society took place this past January in Austin, Texas.  One of the topics was that of energy and climate.  Billionaire T. Boone Pickens spoke on Sunday evening before the annual meeting began.  It was an enjoyable evening and interesting to hear was he had to say.

T. Boone Pickens
First, he holds a degree in geology from Oklahoma State University.  Pickens said “I’m one of the few (petroleum) geologists that agree that global warming is happening.”  He agrees that we need to do something to mitigate the effects of the warming.  It is smarter to do something to avoid the problem rather than waiting until it happens to do anything.

However, he went on to say that hydrocarbons (fossil fuels) would be with us for the next 50 years.  Pickens said that wind and solar represent just 2% of the energy generation and he didn’t think that it would become substantial until it became economically more competitive with fossil fuels.  That means a price of about $6 for natural gas (it is just under $4 today).

Pickens is against the idea of a carbon tax or cap & trade.  However, he did not say whether he agreed with the idea of ending fossil fuel subsidies.  Tom Friedman of the New York Times has an interesting article on attacking carbon emissions and the fiscal debt.

Dr. Kerry Emanuel.
T. Boone Pickens may be right that fossil fuels will be with us for a long time.  However, as Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist, explains in his new book, What We Know About Climate Change, we need to be addressing the problem now.  Ironically this is the same recommendation of a report from the Department of Natural Resources in South Carolina that has not been publically released.  The government needs to create some incentive for society to look for alternatives.

First and foremost the government subsidies should end for fossil fuels.  Then the easiest and most immediate solution is to encourage conservation and improve efficiencies in energy use.  We should also explore the carbon tax or cap & trade to improve the incentives for moving away from fossil fuels.

Time is growing very short to begin to reduce global carbon emissions in order to keep the global temperature rise at 2 degrees C or less since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  Failure to do so means substantial effects on the climate and biosphere with many of them negative.  I recently came across the graphic below which illustrates the point between emissions and temperature rise.

Click on image for a larger version, then right click and select view image.  Then zoom in the image to see clearly.

I highly recommend Dr. Emanuel’s book.  It is very readable and addresses what we know and what we are uncertain about.  The book is written for a general audience and he has done an excellent job of describing the problem.