People seem to like to infer motives. (Perhaps it’s an inherent evolutionary trait, allowing anticipation of your prey’s or predator’s next move?) I find that a lot of people get me wrong about my position on energy and sustainability — often deliberately so, I suspect. So here’s a post to clarify my position, and allow you to let others know about your philosophy (in the comments below).
Consider this a personal view, but one I would justify as being informed by extensive reading, talking and thinking. It doesn’t mean I’m right, just that I’ve made the effort to properly contemplate. I think that’s all you can ask of anyone — you, or the people you’re debating!
General philosophy: Anthropogenic climate change is a very urgent problem — probably the most serious one now facing humanity. We must solve it: there is no choice here and hiding our heads in the denial sandpit is pointless. We must also deal with other issues of global sustainability, especially clearance and degradation of tropical landscapes, overfishing, fragmentation of natural habitats within urban-agricultural areas, and chronic pollution from fossil fuel combustion. Most of these problems have common solutions, centred on the need for abundant clean and sustainable energy (not less), ‘techno-fixes’, stabilisation of population, provision of viable economic and agricultural systems, and a functioning, realistic and pragmatic society. We need to use all practical, cost-effective and timely options at our disposal.
Climate change: Human activity, via the burning of fossil fuels and also through agricultural and forestry changes, is almost exclusively (>95 %) responsible for the substantial global warming witness in the last 3-5 decades (+0.5C). It is also mostly (>70%) responsible for the warming since 1910 (+0.8C in the last 100 years). The most likely trajectory for the next 40 years (through to 2050) is an additional +1.2C (to +2C compared to pre-industrial), and a further +3C by 2100. There is some (low) probability that feedbacks in the climate system will double the 2100 estimate (or more) — much as I’d like to, I cannot dismiss this possibility. Sea level rise by 2100 will be > 1 m, and will continue for centuries thereafter (probably >10 m by 2300). Some of this may be avoidable, but I doubt it — especially the +1.2C warming between now and 2050 and the ongoing sea level rise. We’re just too far committed to a fossil-fuel-intensive pathway now and for the next few decades, and it will take substantial time to ‘turn the ship around’. There is plenty of hurt on the way — we can adapt to some of it, but many impacts will be difficult to ameliorate.
Peak fossil fuels: We are depleting accessible supplies of coal, oil and gas substantially, and peak global production of traditional sources will almost certainly arrive within the next few decades — probably sooner rather than later (although locally, they will continue to be abundant, e.g. coal in Australia). This will increase extraction and processing costs, which will in turn spur increasing exploitation of unconventional supplies, including underground gasified coal, coal seam methane, fracked shale gas, tar sands and Arctic hydrocarbons. It may be that demand will outstrip supply by about 2030, after which there will be an increasingly compelling reason to manufacture synthetic fuels such as ammonia, methanol and (I hope), serious investigation of boron as an energy carrier. Carbon prices will accelerate this decision. Peak fossil fuels will not, in and of itself, lead to significant greenhouse gas abatement this century. Too little, too late.