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Monday, April 22, 2024

Earth Day and Net Zero

Many posts have discussed energy and the environment.

 On Earth Day, note Ruy Teixeira at The Liberal Patriot:

Is it really possible to hit net zero by 2050? Is it really possible to eliminate fossil fuels that fast? The answer is that, for both technical and political reasons, it is not possible (outside of edge “solutions” like crashing industrial civilization or world authoritarian government to ration energy usage).

The insistence on trying to do so anyway is why “be realistic—demand the impossible!” is, astonishingly, not so far from the guiding philosophy of much of today’s mainstream left, including dominant sectors of the Democratic Party.

Consider the technical feasibility of this program. As the polymath, Vaclav Smil, universally acknowledged to be one the world’s premier energy experts, has observed:
[W]e are a fossil-fueled civilization whose technical and scientific advances, quality of life and prosperity rest on the combustion of huge quantities of fossil carbon, and we cannot simply walk away from this critical determinant of our fortunes in a few decades, never mind years. Complete decarbonization of the global economy by 2050 is now conceivable only at the cost of unthinkable global economic retreat…
And as he tartly observes re the 2050 deadline:
People toss out these deadlines without any reflection on the scale and the complexity of the problem…What’s the point of setting goals which cannot be achieved? People call it aspirational. I call it delusional.
Smil backs his argument with a mountain of empirical evidence in a new and hugely important paper, “Halfway Between Kyoto and 2050: Zero Carbon Is a Highly Unlikely Outcome.” The paper is a gold mine of relevant and highly compelling data. Smil outlines the realities of the net zero 2050 challenge:
The goal of reaching net zero global anthropogenic CO2 emissions is to be achieved by an energy transition whose speed, scale, and modalities (technical, economic, social, and political) would be historically unprecedented…[T]he accomplishment of such a transformation, no matter how desirable it might be, is highly unlikely during the prescribed period….In terms of final energy uses and specific energy converters, the unfolding transition would have to replace more than 4 terawatts (TW) of electricity-generating capacity now installed in large coal- and gas-fired stations by converting to non-carbon sources; to substitute nearly 1.5 billion combustion (gasoline and diesel) engines in road and off-road vehicles; to convert all agricultural and crop processing machinery (including about 50 million tractors and more than 100 million irrigation pumps) to electric drive or to non-fossil fuels; to find new sources of heat, hot air, and hot water used in a wide variety of industrial processes (from iron smelting and cement and glass making to chemical syntheses and food preservation) that now consume close to 30 percent of all final uses of fossil fuels; to replace more than half a billion natural gas furnaces now heating houses and industrial, institutional, and commercial places with heat pumps or other sources of heat; and to find new ways to power nearly 120,000 merchant fleet vessels (bulk carriers of ores, cement, fertilizers, wood and grain, and container ships, the largest one with capacities of some 24,000 units, now running mostly on heavy fuel oil and diesel fuel) and nearly 25,000 active jetliners that form the foundation of global long-distance transportation (fueled by kerosene).