A Free-Market Energy Blog

Judith Curry: COP26 “Code Red” Misleading (New Jersey data point)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- October 25, 2021

“… we need to change the focus of conversation, and here is where business leaders can take charge. Focus on a 21st century vision for electric power infrastructure, with abundant, cheap and clean electricity. Sell prosperity and thrivability as the motivations for this. Support innovation. Not greenwashing.” (Judith Curry, below)

She is perhaps the most truthful, open-minded, credentialed arbiter in the politicized climate debate. As I have previously stated:

“One plus the truth equals a majority,” the saying goes. This certainly applies to Judith Curry, a distinguished academic and professional climate scientist now retired from Georgia Tech. (For previous posts at MasterResource on Dr. Curry, see here.)

The latest from Dr. Curry comes from her presentation at a conference last week, “Energy and Decarbonization – A New Jersey Business Perspective.”

Curry summarized her role in the professional meeting as follows:

The State administration of NJ assumes that climate change is a code red emergency. Industry leaders and people in the electricity sector are more concerned about energy reliability and cost, arguing for a slower transition. This Conference promoted dialogue among a range of leaders and stakeholders. I was asked to update the audience on the latest IPCC assessment, topics of specific relevance to New Jersey, and the implications for the clean energy transition.

The latest from the First Lady of Climate Science, “Challenges of the Clean Energy Transition,” is summarized with the following quotations (subtitles added; emphasis hers).

Malthus In, Malthus Out

… it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the 8.5 [worst case] scenarios [used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] are implausibly high, if not impossible…. Nevertheless, the most recent IPCC report emphasizes the 8.5 scenario. Not surprisingly, this extreme emissions scenario is the source of alarming impacts.

Sensitivity Estimates

In spite of the larger range from the climate models, the most recent IPCC AR6 substantially narrowed the likely range of climate sensitivity to between 2.5 and 4 degrees…. However this narrowing of the range is disputed, particularly on the low end. The whole issue of climate sensitivity to increasing carbon dioxide remains unsettled

The bottom line here is some good news. The extreme tail risks from global warming, associated with very high emissions and high climate sensitivity, have shrunk and are now regarded as implausible.

There are numerous reasons to expect that the amount of warming will be lower than the IPCC’s best estimate. The current emissions trajectory is running below the 4.5 scenario. Lower values of climate sensitivity would also delay crossing these thresholds [1.5 degrees 2030; 2 degrees 2055]. 

The other factor to consider is natural climate variability. Major volcanic eruptions would have a cooling effect. A solar minimum is expected in the 21st century, following the grand solar maximum that occurred in the late 20th century. Natural variability associated with the large-scale ocean circulations is also expected to contribute to cooling in the coming decades.

We need to recognize that how the climate of the 21st century will play out is a topic of deep uncertainty. Once natural climate variability is accounted for, it may turn out to be relatively benignOr we may be faced with unanticipated surprises

Dangerous Warming

Any evaluation of dangerous climate change must confront the Goldilocks principle. Exactly which climate state is too hot versus too cold? 

Some answer this question by stating that the climate we’re adapted to is ‘just right’. However, the IPCC refers to a preindustrial baseline, in the late 1700’s. Why anyone thinks that this is an ideal climate is beyond me.  This was during the Little Ice Age, the coldest period of the millennia.  Think George Washington and the horrible winters at Valley Forge. 

Extreme Weather

The recent IPCC report identified an increase in the intensity and frequency of heat waves, but a decrease in cold waves.  The decrease in cold events is actually very good news. Numerous studies have found that there are more deaths from cold events than from heat events, by as much as an order of magnitude. 

The recent IPCC report also identified an increase in the frequency and intensity of heavy rain events.  The IPCC looked at the period since 1950 in assessing trends in extreme events.  However, looking only at the record since 1950 can lead to weather amnesia

Looking at the historical data of extreme weather events helps us avoid weather amnesia.  Further, it reminds us that even worse extreme weather events have occurred in the historical record, and that elimination of fossil fuel emissions isn’t going to prevent extreme weather events.

The recent IPCC report concluded that it’s likely that the global proportion of major hurricanes (which are category 3 and higher) has increased over the last four decades.   However, the actual number of major hurricanes does not show a meaningful trend that can be distinguished from natural variability.

The large amount of natural variability makes it difficult to identify meaningful trends in hurricane activity, and even more difficult to attribute any trend to manmade global warming.


So far, the world has done a decent job at adapting to weather extremes and climate change…. yields for many crops doubling or even quadrupling since 1960.

Overall for the past 30 years, there has actually been a slight decline in losses … from global weather disasters as a percent of GDP.

… the number of deaths per million people from weather and climate catastrophes…. have dropped by 97%.

Public Policy

Nations and states are coming to grips with their over dependence on wind and solar, notably California, the UK and Europe.  In 2021 so far, offshore wind in the North Sea has provided 7% of the UK electricity, compared to 25% in 2020.  Concerns about not meeting electricity needs next winter are resulting in a near term reliance on coal in Europe and Asia. 

There’s a large gap between our current and committed policies versus the netzero target.  There are numerous impediments to reaching netzero: waiting for better technologiescosts of the transition, and politics surrounding natural gas and nuclear energy. But most importantly, there are concerns about maintaining energy security during the transition, in terms of electricity reliability and cost.

Final Note

A weakness in Curry’s testimony, in my view, is the belief that there is a technology fix waiting to be discovered that can provide affordable electricity with low-or-no CO2 emissions. Nuclear is her leading candidate, but perhaps carbon capture and storage or hydrogen are on her mind.

The reality is that nuclear is several times more expensive than natural gas/LNG- and coal-fired alternatives, as well as very time-consuming to build. This puts nuclear well outside outside of the Paris Agreement window. And the other technologies are pie-in-the-sky.

I would argue that fossil fuels under advanced technology to control real pollutants are sustainable and the way forward for this century and beyond. Fossil fuel technology improvements, furthermore, are the real unheralded story of our time. CO2 worries are quite secondary to energy affordability and reliability, in other words.


  1. Mark Krebs  

    If you’re going to put all your energy alternatives into one basket, it better be a hard basket. It isn’t.


  2. Richard Greene  

    This summary is better than the original presentation ! The final note is on the mark too. But the original presentation, and this summary, miss one key point:

    Actual global warming in the past 45 years was mild, and beneficial because of where and when most of the warming happened, along with the greening of our planet.

    Future global warming has been predicted to be rapid and dangerous for the past 64 years. Repeated, always wrong, scary predictions of doom

    Real science deals with understanding the past and present climate.

    Always wrong wild guesses about the future climate are not real science.

    That is the main point: Climate reality (good news) versus climate fantasies (scary fairy tales).

    In addition, no matter what you believe about the future climate, New jersey already has a good mix of sources for a reliable electric grid, so a “transition” IS NOT NEEDED.

    Most of the speakers at the conference seem to be there hoping to make money from “the transition” and that might even be true of Ms. Curry — I believe she has a weather or climate forecasting business.

    The Curry blog features many good science articles. The worst articles are those ‘climate pitches’ written by Ms. Curry herself. This blog, in comparison, presents consistently good articles.

    Here is the current New Jersey electricity source mix. Why change it ?

    57.2% natural gas,
    37.4% nuclear,
    1.6% solar,
    1.5% coal,
    1.1% biomass,
    0.9% non-biogenic waste, and
    0.1% hydroelectric & wind.


  3. Richard Hickey  

    As someone who lives in the Bay Area of California, and pays the penalty for energy policies gone amuck. It’s good to see reasoned discussions on energy policy.

    Not the “ban all CO2 spewing evil fossil fuel” mantra that is prevalent here. Or the “I drive a Prius/Tesla so all my energy is clean”. Uhm. No. It’s just produced somewhere you can’t see. That in no way means that it’s a “clean” energy.

    The summer time energy bill for my 3 bedroom house the last two months running was over $360 each month. For just power. Water was another $140+. So, 3 people in a 3 bedroom moderate home, in the Bay area of California, I pay over $500 a month for power and water. I’m one of the hated “tech bro’s”. Which means I can afford these outrageous prices. What about folk who don’t make stupid money? How are they supposed to survive?

    Don’t plan infrastructure for people who make enough money to survive these troubling times. Plan for the ones on fixed income, etc. Affordable energy is what drives this country. Makes it possible to do amazing things. Hurting the lower income for profit, “faux” clean energy policy is terrible in my opinion.

    Just my two cents.



  4. Art Kilner  

    A very nice summary.

    There’s only one point in your presentation I must disagree with: the notion that there is no “technology fix waiting to be discovered that can provide affordable electricity with low-or-no CO2 emissions.”

    Affordable technology depends on development driven by a market for its deployment. This has been called “Wright’s Law” (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0052669). IMO the necessary technologies have already been piloted (https://artkilner.medium.com/carbon-and-capitalism-44b4c58e7032), what’s needed is policies that will provide a market for their development.

    I’ll grant that the POLITICAL solution I favor doesn’t exactly match the expectations of most Libertarians… the “free” market would have to be tweaked to support the needed development of technology and skill base(s). Tweaked in unfamiliar ways. But in my view those ways wouldn’t be further out of line from libertarian, market-driven solutions than the current very high subsidies on “fossil” fuels (much less more traditional methods such as tariffs).

    And, in any event, however the market for deployment of the needed technology is established, the technology is there.


    • rbradley  

      Thanks Art … I’m all for the march of technology. But past nuclear, which remains very uneconomic, I am doubtful.

      Key thing is for the private sector, including private philanthropy, to fund and discover the technology. Not government.

      (And I sort of like moderate warming and CO2 fertilization, by the way.)


  5. kevink  

    Very good read. However I think the ‘Final Note’ statement “The reality is that nuclear is several times more expensive than……” needs to more nuanced. The real reason nuclear cost so much is due to government (regulation, etc). There are so many new nuclear technologies coming available that I really don’t understand why any utility would want intermittent sources (wind, solar) vs a clean, modular nuclear plant.


    • rbradley  

      That may be true, but the gap remains so wide that a streamlined project could be double the cost and effort of a NGCC unit.

      And can a new nuclear get its own private insurance without Price Anderson and such?


  6. randomengineer  

    Nuclear is uneconomic because it has been campaigned against and legislated against and made into a bogeyman solely via assertion — and this is dating back to the 1960’s. I’m old and I remember anti-nuke sentiment from that era. It is “uneconomic” for purely arbitrary and specious reasons untethered to physical reality. Nuclear is the victim of a deliberate campaign. In reality all nuclear waste could fit into a football field and there are reactors which can process the waste anyway.

    I know, there will be a ton of you wanting to cite safety. OK, so cite. Let’s start with the US Navy which has been running a nuclear based carrier and sub fleet since I was a child. Surely there ought to be a trail of nuke related deaths? No? OK, so how about a list of Navy bodies and cancers and anomalous medical issues for those working near these dangerous reactors for years? No such list. It doesn’t exist.

    No. The reality is nuclear is reliable, safe and cheap. The reality is that it is made expensive artificially by allowing anti-scientific and other (malevolent, anti-capitalist) forces to impede it. It is time we roll back the anti-nuke legislation and remove the years of red tape designed by activists solely to boost nuke plant costs.


  7. D Griffiths  

    Judith Curry is a breath of fresh air amidst all the toxic fog being pumped out virtually everywhere these days. The IPCC, like so many so-called solid scientific entities, has lost credibility in the climate change discussion over many decades of questionable data and tweaks of same to supplement their conclusions. We can only hope that people like Judith continue to be heard, a hard task given a media more inclined to capture headlines than truth.


  8. Sam Randazzo  

    Here is a link to the New York reliability planning presentation referenced in an recent article by Dr. Jonathan Lesser ( https://www.manhattan-institute.org/climate-change-ate-my-homework ). https://nysrc.org/PDF/WorkShops_and_Presentations/NYSRC%20CAC%20Presentation%208-2-21%20-%20Reliability%20Challenges%20in%20Meeting%20CLCPA%20Requirements.pdf . Dr Lesser references this NY presentation to help illustrate the physical and financial challenges of maintaining grid reliability (keeping the lights on) as the generating mix is made up of increasing amounts of weather dependent generation resources. The presentation is focused on the grid reliability-related implications of New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) with the following targets:

    85% Reduction in GHG Emissions by 2050
    100% Zero-emission Electricity by 2040
    70% Renewable Energy by 2030
    9,000 MW of Offshore Wind by 2035
    3,000 MW of Energy Storage by 2030
    6,000 MW of Solar by 2025
    22 Million Tons of Carbon Reduction through Energy Efficiency and Electrification


    The presentation estimates a massive increase in the amount of installed reserve capacity that will be required to maintain grid reliability. This reserve capacity is a fixed cost that will need to be paid for regardless of the extent of usage or actual production of kWh. The illustration on page 7 and the numbers on page 8 make the points more visibly [you need over 88,000 Megawatts (MW) of installed capacity — including 16,759 MW of long-duration storage — to satisfy a 2040 projected peak demand of 38,000 MW]. The presentation notes that some of the required resources rely on technologies that do not currently exist for utility scale application.

    These reliability-related and cost considerations are what are being missed by most people as stakeholders press harder for more “renewable” generation. They are also not being considered for their land use implications.

    Regardless of what happens at COP26 or what climate change legislation is passed by Congress and signed by POTUS, individual states and units of local government are betting taxpayer and energy consumer wealth on their particular uncoordinated approach to “mitigating” the effects of the damage they attribute to climate change.


  9. Stephen T. Harris CPL  

    I might add another perspective form Patrick Moore: As any good geologist or earth scientists will attest as to CO2 issues and why most scientists do not accept the UN’s income redistribution latest scheme is: The actual reason none of this should be passed is that it is hopelessly dishonest and has nothing to do with facts or the over-used word “science.” All frauds eventually become exposed, but sometimes a lot of damage before it is revealed can occur. Let’s try one point: CO2 emissions have increased from 265 ppm 150 years ago to 400 ppm today. This is their whole argument. What is not said is that 265 ppm atmospheric concentration is after a 150-million-year decline from over 6,000 ppm. During the last glacial maximum, 20,000 years ago, CO2 levels sank to 180 ppm, only 30 ppm above the level when plants begin to die. Geologically, when the CO2 is stripped out of the atmosphere, usually in the trillions of gigatons by rocks and reefs, an Ice Age occurs, which is usually an extinction event to life forms. Over the past 30 years, a slight uptick in CO2 has resulted in an 18% greening of the planet – according to NASA. Oil is a paleo energy battery as the plants 10 million to 200 million years ago captured the sunlight as energy, and is stored in the decayed matter until combusted and the carbon and energy is released…again. Nuclear subs pump in 10,000 ppm CO2 as well as the same in greenhouses. The current level of CO2 actually is still putting plant life on a starvation level. When you “talk” to plants, our exhaled CO2 breath emits over 20,000 ppm CO2 which does indeed fertilize your plants. The combustion of oil actually is protecting the human species by raising the CO2 levels to an even more adaptable level to offset the quadrillions of CO2 tonnage locked up in our rocks, reefs and oceans. Humanity is actually in the most comfortable time on our planet’s history today and a bit more CO2 up to 2,000 to 5,000 ppm will do our plant life great benefits which the planet needs to feed its entire plant and animal (human) populations. Every 20 years or so the vaunted UN comes up with some scam to try to have America transfer its wealth to some other countries. The scams are predictable, as they just change the narratives. The two most important words for life on our one and only planet are – Carbon Dioxide.


Leave a Reply