Saturday, September 28, 2013

Ten Per Cent

Environment Canada, in the wake of the latest IPCC report, says the horse has already left the barn.

Reached by telephone in Sweden where he contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, senior Environment Canada scientist Greg Flato said that even in the best-case scenarios for limiting growth of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, his federal department’s computer models show average global warming of about two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2050.

“Our (Environment Canada) model, in isolation, produces results that are in roughly the two-degree warming range in the mid-century,” he said, describing Environment Canada’s computer modelling centre as a world-class facility. “But if you look at all the models together, which is the important thing to do, there is a range and that range is important.”

One key finding of the IPCC report is that, if we're to have a slightly better than even chance of staying within 2C we can burn no more than ten per cent of existing known fossil fuel reserves.   The IPCC has run the numbers and concludes that 90% of known fossil fuel reserves will have to be left in the ground.  From AlterNet:

For the first time, the world’s leading climate scientists officially called for an absolute upper limit on greenhouse gas emissions to limit warming. To have a 66 percent chance of limiting warming to 2°C, the world can’t emit more than 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide, total. Or 800 gigatons when accounting for methane emissions and land use changes. For context, by 2011, humans had already emitted 531 gigatons of CO2. Known fossil fuel reserves represent  2,795 gigatons, meaning burning more than 10 percent of them pushes the world over 2° of warming. 

It doesn't get much plainer than that.   Ten per cent.  It's a number that draws lines.  It's a point of demarcation.  If you believe we have an obligation to at least try to prevent warming from exceeding 2C you're in one camp.   If you don't, you're in the other camp. 

It's hard to find anyone on record stating they don't care if we blow straight through 2C.   Steve Harper won't say that and neither will Joe Oliver.   This is one of those situations where actions speak louder than words.   If you believe in peddling the world's filthiest, highest-carbon fossil fuels then you are very much in that other camp.   Stephen Harper, Joe Oliver, Justin Trudeau, Tom Mulcair - they're all in that "other camp."   You might not like to hear this but if you're supporting any of their parties you're putting yourself in their camp too.

The world is suddenly awash in fossil fuels.   We have enough, relatively clean or low-carbon fossil fuels that there is no justification for burning high-carbon fossil fuels such as coal or bitumen.   In fact, to a sane world, those assets are now worthless - utterly without value.

Can you imagine Steve or Justin or Tommy standing up for future generations and our civilization itself and saying, "Well, that's it then.  We have to shut it down."   Can you imagine that?  No, I can't either.   They'll blabber away about the decades-old promise of carbon sequestration and do their tribal geo-engineering dance until we lapse into some semi-vegetative state.

That's not to say the future is rosy for high-carbon fossil fuels, nothing of the sort.   No, they will be felled as surely as a stand of mighty Douglas Fir but not through political intervention but market forces.   When the investment community walks away from high-carbon fossil fuels, it will be the death knell of coal and bitumen.   Think Harper doesn't know that?  Why do you think he's in such a goddamned rush to get rivers of bitumen flowing to any conceivable market he can find?   Harper's desperation is palpable.  He knows that the clock is running out on bitumen.   He can feel the 10% squeeze.   Athabasca has gone bust before.   That's the Sword of Damocles that always hovers over the highest cost, highest carbon petroleum.


Anonymous said...

Some small American coal corporation was found to be making more money betting against the price of coal than what their mining operations took in as gross from their coal mining operations. A trifle embarrassing.

The Mound of Sound said...