“… 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.
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 benign. Or we may be faced with unanticipated surprises.
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.
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%.
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 technologies, costs 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.
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.