Disruptive Markets – What Sustainability Really Means for Business

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Many look around at today’s crises – climate change spinning out of control, inequality driving political instability and our oceans filling with plastic – and despair at the prospects for serious change. Most then try to apportion blame or at least seek to understand why. Business blames consumers. NGOs blame business. Everyone blames politicians.

Almost everyone who is engaged and thoughtful on this, even inside companies, at some level blame capitalism, markets and big business. This is well justified given, after all, it has been the delivery vehicle for all these crises.

But where does that leave us? As a campaigner who has spent 40+ years on these issues, I’m not satisfied with just a problem diagnosis, I need a way forward, a credible path to success. When talking about risks to the future of civilisation, accepting failure is not really a strategic option.

I don’t disagree that capitalism has been the problem. I emphasise capitalism rather than Western free markets – just take a look at China where capitalism took hold and delivered an epidemic of pollution that nearly overwhelmed the country – and still may.

But problem accepted, we have to find a way forward and I would argue that some form of the market system, if guided or constrained by policy, is our best and probably only hope of moving fast enough.

I do not argue this from a love of markets or an inherent belief in the philosophies espoused by many of that system’s advocates. I approach this as a person who lives and breathes the fear of global collapse and I can’t see another viable way forward.

What I do see, is that by engaging the current system’s strengths and capacities, a rapid and revolutionary transformation couldbe delivered quickly and globally. I see a way to replace most of today’s failing business models and companies with new ones that will deliver what we urgently need – a circular economy, reducing inequality and preventing climate change tipping us over the edge. It won’t solve all our problems or their causes, but it will buy us time to address them.

Markets have many failings, but they also have attributes that make them ideally suited to this task. Most profound of these is what the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction” which he described as the process of incessantly destroying the old while incessantly creating the new.

This is what markets are good at and that should strike fear into the heart of many of today’s corporate leaders. Ironically, it means the market is coming for them and while they can delay, there’s not much they can do to stop their own destruction. And in the case of the Koch brothers, Exxon and many others, it couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch.

The reason I wanted to write this article, is to present the possibility of this – but also to argue that those of us who have dedicated our lives to addressing sustainability and to preventing collapse can accelerate this process, if we choose to do so.

I am certainly notarguing that “markets will fix this” in some techno-optimist delusion that self-correcting market forces and technology will, by themselves, recognise the problem and turn the system around. What I amadvocating is the potential for transformational change -if we engage and help accelerate the process. Doing so would require us to understand how creative destruction works and therefore how to leverage it.

The essential and first point of this understanding comes from Schumpeter and also the evidence of economic history. While Schumpeter developed his theories in the 1920s, and the evidence was there before that, it’s really in the 100 years since and especially the past 30, that we’ve observed this market tendency on steroids.

I will expand on this evidence in my next column but let me make the core argument here simply. With a few notable exceptions, incumbent businesses consistently fail to respond to system threats to their companies and their business models. They can see the threats, analyse them, resist them, talk about them and when resistance has failed, develop strategies to respond. But they generally fail to deliver these strategies and so they die and are replaced.

Seeing the threat and knowing how they should respond is not enough. Remember that Kodak invented the digital camera, then watched as it destroyed their company.

I have spent 25 years inside the corporate sector – mostly incumbents – advising their top leadership on how to respond to sustainability, trying to convince them of the transformation coming and how to react. So I make the above comments not as a theoretical construct or wishful thinking, but as a practitioner deep inside the system who has seen this happen, again and again, inside the Board room and executive suite. There are important exceptions – and we can learn from these – but they are rare.

What does that mean we – those driving change inside companies, NGOs and government – therefore have to do? For a start, we do not sit back and “let the market work its magic”. If we do that, we will almost certainly face economic collapse, due to the time bound nature of the threats we face.

What we have to do is accelerate the process, by recognising the profound opportunity to differentiate inside the market and the corporate world. To favour winners over losers. To encourage disruptors – both those inside incumbents and as new players. To not waste time and energy (or capital) trying to shift companies that most likely won’t make it. To design policy that supports disruption and then to help the disruptors to advocate for it.

The key is to recognise that “the corporate sector” or “capitalism” doesn’t exist as an aligned force anymore. It is a disparate collection of people and forces that can be influenced and steered.

In summary, to paraphrase Churchill’s writing on democracy, the market and capitalism is the worst form of economic system, except for all the others we have tried. If we plan to avert systemic collapse, we have to find a way to leverage it for change. We have no time for anything else. Fortunately, it has at its core a systemic tendency, creative destruction, that suits our purpose perfectly. We now have to learn to use it.

 

31 thoughts on “Disruptive Markets – What Sustainability Really Means for Business

  1. Good to see you back Paul. With that said, moving right along. Where do we go from here given we can all agree “that accepting failure is not really a strategic option.”

    In my view, there are a number of fronts that must be aggressively pursued and no particular order is required. The ones that currently top my list:

    Ending tax-funded and subsidized pollution of the commons should be a given.

    Governments must look at the population as an asset and not a liability, even as we work to lower the population thru economics, education, and love.
    Jobs are needed for all, however, the only jobs that can provide 100% employment and not kill the planet are GREEN JOBS. It should be clear by now that the one resource that is abundant and underutilized is manpower. A Universal, (worldwide adjusted to initial local economies, to be ultimately level), Basic Income would address the difficulty of implementing an affordable Green Awakening Economy. Green jobs are rewarding in and of themselves, are not rocket science, have room for advancement and are good for the Nation and the world. As folks worked their way up the pay scale the tax burden could increase and those folks would willingly pay those taxes. The problem is that when the largest share of our tax $$$ are spent on war and subsidies for the pollution profiteers we tend to get pissy about them.
    The difference between desert and bounty is not water but [enlightened] MAN. Not exploited masses.

    This barely scratches the surface and each suggestion will open numerous questions, where will the money come from being only one, but even little thought points to numerous solutions, savings, and ultimately survival with minimal carnage, though it is too late for all. The minimization thereof must be a top priority.

    Belief is Optional, Participation is Mandatory
    By Leif Knutsen

    On the Planet, we all reside
    Heaven, Hell, side by side

    Privileged, yet a chance to choose
    Or forced by sword, or coin, or booze

    Hell remains for all the rest
    Few allowed to pass the test.

    The day of reckoning arrives
    With one chance left to just survive

    Perhaps we’ll choose the Pearly Gate
    End injustice, pillage, hate

    By doing nothing we decide
    For Planetary ecocide.

    • Joan Halgren

      Leif Erik Knutsen–good ideas and fine poetry! Our hope is that accelerating green enterprises will help tip the scale and certainly subsidizing fossil emitters must end as soon as humanly possible–a simultaneous endeavor while we are focusing on renewable energy.

  2. Ronald Reilly

    Great to hear from you again Paul. Wonder if you have seen the Ted Talk by Ted Halstead, and his remedy for correcting the fossil fuel “market failure”..? A group of us here on Hawaii Island are excited to be working with Citizens’ Climate Lobby and are spreading the word of the Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal for US national legislation.

    • Joan Halgren

      FYI, carbon fee and dividend approach needs to be an international endeavor; moreover, it is problematic since it requires a ‘tariff-like’ tax for importers from countries not sharing the same values; moreover, it would create even more inequality among populations since increasing the cost for fuel expands to other consumer products as well and that isn’t compensated for within the present dividend scheme–so its inflationary. Finally, since this would be a federal program, well, the dividend is considered as income to be reported on your federal tax return so it’s not the rosy picture proclaimed by CCL. They are beating a dead horse. Getting rid of subsidizing oil worldwide is a better solution, more direct and honest solution but may require blood in the streets. Sorry to be a bearer of bad news but I have studied CCL’s idea–and they haven’t updated their research in years! Better ideas will happen.

  3. Shawn Newell

    Yes, great to have you back. I second the Hawaii Island group’s work on supporting a carbon price that reflects the true cost of burning fossil fuels. Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s proposal is non-partisan and has a chance to make that foundational correction to a skewed market.

    • Joan Halgren

      Note my post above and do a through due diligence investigation on CCL before being fooled by this so-called nonpartisan idea. With our current anti-tariff mood–makes it even more ridiculous to even ponder.

      • MIke Bopf

        Well there’s no anti-tariff mood here in the US, for better or worse. Joan, you said in a previous thread that CCL’s research hasn’t been updated in years, but my understanding is that they do update their models on a regular basis. Granted, it’s not a perfect solution, but given our current political divide here, a market-based solution is probably the best we have a chance of passing. While it may be somewhat inflationary, we need to send a price signal that will limit our use of carbon.

        If there is a better solution readily available (that avoids “blood in the streets”), that would be great, but I don’t see it.

      • Joan Halgren

        Mike, I think local communities can eventually drown out the fossil-fuel crowd! I live in Red Wing, MN, and serve on the Sustainability Commission–we have community gardens, solar roofs on all our government buildings, are expanding the gardens, and researching wind turbines for our bluff city–along the Mark Twain’s famous grand ol’ Mississippi River. Plus, we are working on EV plug-in stations including along the highway corridor from Duluth, MN down to Winona, MN–the great river ride.

        While taxing emitters seems okay, it would, indeed, cause a worldwide recession that may happen sooner than not with the current, crazy tariff war–it’s utter nonsense! But a few are probably benefitting financially from it–we know who they are. Still take heart, get your own community to get with renewable programs, including zero waste reduction, banning toxic chemicals, like pesticides–we are working on all these here. Also, did you see how Bernie’s Burlington, VT is relying 100 percent on renewable energy for the town’s commercial and residential buildings? Great step with a goal to cut to zero carbon by moving to electric mass transit, etc. While you think local action is too slow to stem the tide of worldwide disaster–it’s not. Towns and corporations are getting wiser, faster–changing the story for the better! No corporation wants to be under water–both figuratively and literally!

        Mike, I am glad you made your pitch for CCL. But please check-out their charitable record at Charity Navigator; then, get back to me about their behavior as a nonprofit! Meanwhile, go local and have fun:).

        Best,
        Joan

  4. Inga Fisher Wiliams, Portland, Oregon

    Good to see you back, Paul.
    Here in Oregon (USA) there is active 350.org effort to move carbon pricing legislation in next state legislative session. Also, effective Beyond Coal coalition is intervening in (a) utility planning toward green portfolio standards and (b) expansion of carbon industry infrastructure expansion (export terminals, pipelines, refineries, etc)
    Reprinting here recent study results re interaction of feedback loops
    “Failing to rein in warming quickly enough will be be like being on the edge of a roller coaster where you just have to hold on.”

    https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/how-to-avoid-a-catastrophic-hothouse-earth
    How to avoid a catastrophic ‘Hothouse Earth’

    Science Aug 15, 2018 5:24 PM EDT
    Humanity only has a handful of decades to determine the future of our planet.

    A new study tells a tale of two Earths.

    In one, humans are able to rein in global warming and stabilize the relatively comfortable conditions of the last 12,000 years.

    In the other, global warming and climate change raise seas by 30 to 200 feet, weather patterns are pushed to their extremes and parts of the planet — like tropical dry lands — become uninhabitable.

    The second scenario is known as “Hothouse Earth.” In it, temperatures would be irreversibly warmer than pre-industrial levels, by 4 to 5 degrees Celsius or 7 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit.

    But what would get us to that point? Is it too late to stop this demise?

    To answer that question, an international group of 16 researchers surveyed the latest data about the Earth’s current and past climates. They identified 10 so-called “feedback loops” that keep the planet cool by capturing carbon or muting its warming effect.

    These feedback loops have so far helped control carbon’s influence on global environments. Examples include forests acting as carbon sinks or Arctic ice reflecting the sun’s energy. But given enough warming, some of these feedback loops will start to break down and could actually accelerate climate change.

    “We identify a series of thresholds or tipping points where as the Earth warms because of human activity, the cycles of the natural system start to take over and add even more greenhouse gases and warming to the atmosphere,” said Diana Liverman, a University of Arizona geographer and co-author of the study published Aug. 6 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    For example, if all the world’s permafrost were to melt, it would spew methane, the most potent greenhouse gas, into Earth’s atmosphere and exacerbate global warming.

    Climate scientists have long known about these feedback loops, but this study is the first-ever to show how they influence one another. Like dominoes, as one feedback system tips, it could trigger enough warming to cause others to fail.

    Some systems might tip gradually. Others — like the conversion of the Amazon rainforest to a savanna landscape — would be rather quick. Changes like the melting of the East Antarctic ice sheet would be impossible to reverse.

    But humanity still has time to avert this apocalypse, said James Dyke, a sustainability scientist at the University of Southampton, who was not involved in the study.

    “I think it is a very optimistic paper, because it sketches out what we need to do to avoid the Hothouse scenario,” Dyke said. “But there is a narrow window — we’re talking about decades — where what we do could have effects for the next thousands of years because we’ll be entrained in a new system.”

    The study doesn’t give an exact date or temperature by which the world will cascade into the Hothouse, but the researchers said keeping warming to below a 2 degrees Celsius rise above pre-industrial levels — the goal of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord — will likely avoid the scenario.

    An Adelie penguin stands atop a block of melting ice near the French station at Dumont díUrville in East Antarctica January 23, 2010. Photo by REUTERS/Pauline Askin
    The average global temperature rise of 1 degree Celsius in the last 200 years has already spurred hotter wildfires, rising oceans and melting ice sheets. But at the moment, none of the feedback systems have tipped beyond repair.

    Parking the planet in its current climate system, the researchers said, will require action on multiple fronts.

    That might involve population control or geoengineering, said co-author and University of Copenhagen ocean biologist Katherine Richardson. “But it’s not up to the scientists to make a recommendation on the cocktails to use” for saving the planet.

    Society should not only reduce emissions, the study says, but also focus on things like natural and engineered carbon storage, reduced consumption and improved agricultural practices.

    Failing to rein in warming quickly enough, said Dyke, “will be be like being on the edge of a roller coaster where you just have to hold on.”

    By Julia Griffin
    Julia Griffin is a Producer for the PBS NewsHour, dividing her time between the broadcast and digital teams. She is both the lead producer and reporter for the NewsHour Shares series and a producer in the NewHour’s Science Unit, where she creates written and visual content for the NewsHour’s website and social media platforms.

    By Nsikan Akpan
    Nsikan Akpan is the digital science producer for PBS NewsHour and co-creator of the award-winning, NewsHour digital series ScienceScope. For secure communication, he can be reached via Signal (240) 516-8357 or PGP Fingerprint: 06D0 E6A5 AC19 3074 13B0 9F87 A332 744F E4D1 95DF.

    • mbremertrainor

      Hi Inga,
      I’m sorry but I felt that even though the article (‘news clip’) touched on some of our most worrying issues, it did it in a way that, I believe, most people will have forgotten about within 5 minutes. Human beings have incredible inertia when faced with an ‘invisible’ threat, and unfortunately, in spite of the overwhelming observational evidence, most people still get up in the morning, look out the window and see a day just like any other, then go about their business ‘as usual’. Of course there are many informed and pro-active individuals who are taking steps to change their own behaviour, but something else is needed to get the message across to the vast majority of people for whom food, jobs, education & healthcare, are still the primary concern, and this clip sadly, didn’t do the job.

    • Joan Halgren

      Inga, nice story but I agree with Mbremortrainor’s note (see below). We need a heroic superstar to put his or her words and actions behind this issue–pronto! It requires ‘in your face’ promotion. And while Chevron and others reign supreme, I wouldn’t bet the farm on fossil fuel tax legislation–not until there’s maybe a new set of characters in the U.S. Congress! Meanwhile, act local and support electric cars, solar gardens, as well as wind and hydro power. It’s great that Burlington, VT has gone to 100 percent renewable energy to support its commercial and residential structures–and their working on electric buses for the transit system with the goal of being totally carbon free there. We can overcome the national picture by local actions! Also, it’s a bit less stressful than trying to tackle the world.

  5. Leanne Hanvey

    Hi Paul, great to have your clear thoughts in this time of impending crisis. I am interested to hear more on how you see ordinary citizens driving the market changes needed.

    I believe relying on governments to drive policy change that will positively disrupt the market is extremely risky. We have only to look at Brexit, Trump, a weakening EU, and Australia’s toxic influence of the far right to see this is not a viable option, for the short term at least.

    The divestment movement has been a powerful driver of change that empowers ordinary people to act. What other mechanisms can individuals use to influence the market? Do you see a place for groups of like-minded people to become shareholders of targeted companies to drive the organisational change required?

    • Joan Halgren

      Hi Paul, I agree with Leanne, I would like you to describe some classic examples that apply to your notion of ‘creative destruction’ and how that can be organized for the common good. Also, Paul, glad to realize you haven’t given up hope! Hooray!

  6. mbremertrainor

    Hi Paul, A great proposal. I always interpreted Schumpeter’s idea as something akin to built-in obsolescence. Rather the destruction of goods to create demand for new ones? Anyway, I hope you’re right, although I fear we are running out of time….fast!

  7. Hi Paul, An expat wondering WTF !!! as a man who brought a lump of coal into the Australian Parliament is elected Prime Minister !!!
    Sorry Paul, when you say the “age of fossil fuels is over” I disagree, has anyone worked out a way of Russia being persuaded to divest? We have another 30 years of fossil fuel emissions to deal with, so I will be long gone as I have been waiting for about the same length of time as you. Forget BECCS but keep CCS.

    I also disagree with your assertion that what is experienced in America with Trump will not be repeated elsewhere, It is, Hungary Poland Germany Italy and of course Marine le Pen. As much of north and central Africa and the middle east become un inhabitable, climate refugees becomes a populist anthem, as it has in Australia, the current prime minister developed the migration policy 10 years ago.

    For a long time I disagreed entirely with your view that “the corporate world” would save the day, firmly believing for too long that “the mass movement” would evolve. But of course that cannot happen, but the “climate emergency” declared at David Spratt and Phil Sutton’s book launch has been ignored.

    The Energiewende is collapsing as subsidies are removed, governments are incapable of transforming the energy “mix”, Renewable solar wind etc investment has decreased since 2011, all these things require POLICY DIRECTION for investment certainty. Why would anyone invest in that when 65% of Europe’s renewable energy comes from burning wood pellets. This is acceptable ?

    This seems to be the best we can come up with as a collective species as an answer, so I have swung around completely to having all hope rest on the “markets”, and an individual who has the vision to see that it is liquid carbon that we need to get rid of. There is nothing to guarantee there will be anything like the emissions reductions needed. It’s just not happening.

    So in my book it’s down to an individual who knows he can make a squillion out of creating a carbon process that supplies everything, car bodies, aeroplanes, houses the lot.
    Yes, then there’s always Bitcoin which blows everything away, but that’s what individuals do too. CCS has to be continued, as Kevin Anderson says and his severe efficiency measures must be regulated, again for commercial certainty, yes picking a winner is essential now.

    I heard this talk from Julio Friedman of Nori about carbon.
    https://nori.com/podcast/16-dr-julio-friedmann-ceo-of-carbon-wrangler

    • Mike Ives

      I’m not too sure how any of us can feel comfortable about CCS. Aren’t we just sweeping the problem under the carpet, providing un-affordable breathing space to fossil fuel users while passing the threat of major breakouts on to future generations? While some suggested wells may hold the gas for the necessary millennia or so, can liquefied CO2 be relied on not to continually seek out weak spots in the cap rock such as old bore holes?
      Then there’s the energy loss factor. If a power station fitted with capture equipment has to have its output rating downgraded 40% or so to cater for same as reported at Boundary Dam Station unit 3 aren’t we likely to face an ever increasing problem with the replacement energy from other plants?

      Or am I missing something?

      • I’m not too sure I feel “comfortable” about 4 – 6 degrees of warming Mike. The “problem” is invisible, it’s not being swept under the carpet, its just the way we live and the way every citizen of the third world wants to live.
        Of course CCS has to progress AND along with it, as I said, an industry that makes everything that we use.
        Carbon is already part of every plane that flies, every expensive bicycle you see in every bike race. The fact that carbon processing costs $20,000 a ton to process is “the problem”. The cost of solar panels was once a “problem”.
        If there is a “carbon industry” initiated by a “reasonable” global “carbon price”, as Paul says, “the market” will decide what’s doable. Governments can’t do it, they can only regulate, poorly – particularly governments of “New” countries, Australia, Canada, U.S. their whole prosperity is based on fossil fuels. Most of western civilisation decided as a “mass movement” to accept this way of life, I’m afraid we’re stuck with it mate, I think that’s what you’re missing.

      • Mike Ives

        I am not too wrapped in the idea of 4 – 6 degrees more either, nor do I like the idea of abrogating the issue by creating a new threat to generations to come by trying to bury the stuff and hoping it stays put for eons of time. CCS may work for a select sites even up to 100 bar but we are dealing with 40 Gt pa overall. How much CCS did you have in mind? At least it has to be said that CCS has to be a moral issue regardless of costs.

  8. Well Mike it seems you have a closed mind on the subject or you wouldn’t call “doing something about the pollution we produce” as “abrogating the issue” (not too sure what you meant by that) AND you wouldn’t throw silly figures around of 40Gt needing to be sequestered.

    Only 60% of the 10 GIGATONS produced on earth each year is able to be sequestered, producing 12 billion cubic metres of CO2 each year to be sequestered, Vaclav Smil’s figures not mine, notice I didn’t say “only 12 billion”

    The global oil industry at present extracts 5 billion c m of oil each year and receives $70 p.b. in return. There is an empty oil field owned by the U.K. in the North Sea, just waiting to be filled up as the Norwegians have been doing for ages. It doesn’t have to be land based and there is some infrastructure there. As Kevin Anderson says the research has to keep going into this.

    It may be unsuitable for ANY land sequestration, and limited only to oil fields, I don’t know

    You must accept that “IF” an industry can be built around carbon it would remove the necessity to sequester a great deal of liquid carbon, as I said, it is “beginning” to be used, but costs $20K to manufacture a tonne. solar panels “used” to be expensive. I don’t like putting it in the ground either Mike, I used to think of it as poisoning the earth. Then I heard about the carbon gas release in Cameroon in ’86 where 1200 people died from a natural release.

    There are now rumblings in the carbon price in Europe, tax incentives were granted for CCS earlier this year by Trump @ $50/35 per tonne.

    Of course the other types of sequestration (re afforestation, biochar, stop as much clearing land as possible), must go hand in hand with this, AND developing a manufacturing process for carbon. We are talking about carbon being emitted for 30 years @ 50+Gt p.a. assuming population increase will cancel out all emissions reductions.

    Right now I think it’s crazy to close ANY nuclear fuel power generation, look what happens in Germany, huge proposed extensions to lignite coal mines including forest destruction, emissions targets nowhere in site.

    As far as the “moral” issue of CCS I see it as a very responsible solution to an intractable emergency. The main point to this comment in the first place was wanting to agree with Paul that “the market” will find a solution, an individual smarter than Winston Churchill, and I think this is it. And I hope someone makes a squillion out of solving the “carbon” issue because the environment movement cannot.
    Do you really think that western society can reduce its emissions generation of its own accord at 10% p.a. until 2050, well I guess Venezuela’s just done it all at once . . . . what solutions do you see ?

    • Mike Ives

      Ixpieth

      Firstly I must say it is encouraging to have some positive debate on this topic Ixpieth. And ‘No’ I do not have closed mind on CCS as like other mitigation options, if ever it could be proven viable then lets fast track the process. Biochar (solid) could be an entirely better option if land use for the feedstock could be less invasive of agricultural land.
      Abrogate may have not been the best word to use but I meant ‘passing the buck’ on to future generations as with one of Paul’s comments of business as usual emissions being a giant Ponzi scheme.

      I’m not too sure what your 10 Gt pa refers to (unless it is just carbon and not CO2) but statistics from the likes of World Bank EU’s EDGAR Commission, Enerdata, BP Statistics all show we are globally emitting around 36Gt CO2 pa and another 4Gt pa in land degradation.
      I’m not familiar with V Smil’s work nor the 60% figure but at Standard Temp and Pressure 10Gt CO2 occupies 3,300 billion cubic metres and 36Gt around 12,000 billion m3. Of course this is put under immense pressure for CCS to almost liquid which minimises the space required but greatly increases the risk of a breakout. Continuous monitoring is required to trace if and where it is travelling underground and for generations to come.

      Chevron and partners where supposed to CCS excess CO2 found in extracted NG at their huge Barrow Island project but if this is actually happening it appears their obligation to monitor for leaks lasts only for 15 years after they wind up the project and then the tax payer needs to foot the bill — — indefinitely.
      Just how they are meant to plug any leaks is not made quite clear.

      The old chestnut the NG has been sitting in wells for billions of years does not strike a chord with me unless someone can prove that the total mass before we stared mining it was the same a million years or so earlier.
      In short we may need CCS but let’s minimise the practice not as some panacea.
      Now I completely concur with your comment on nuclear power and this option should not be avoided with the Renewable Energy protagonists. It has a huge image problem after Fukushima but what seems to be overlooked is that the UN’s UNSCEAR latest report shows there are no deaths so far related to the nuclear accident. Same issue with Three Mile Island and although the design flawed Chernobyl No4 may eventually be responsible for several thousand deaths this is largely due to government inaction in issuing iodine tables to the populous.
      Unfortunately the present government nation building the most competitive nukes (South Korea) has decided to close the industry.

      I’m having to stop rabbiting on right now as we are on hols and my wife wants her laptop back.

  9. Mike Ives

    Ixpieth

    Firstly I must say it is encouraging to have some positive debate on this topic Ixpieth. And ‘No’ I do not have closed mind on CCS as like other mitigation options, if ever it could be proven viable then lets fast track the process. Biochar (solid) could be an entirely better option if land use for the feedstock could be less invasive of agricultural land.
    Abrogate may have not been the best word to use but I meant ‘passing the buck’ on to future generations as with one of Paul’s comments of business as usual emissions being a giant Ponzi scheme.

    I’m not too sure what your 10 Gt pa refers to (unless it is just carbon and not CO2) but statistics from the likes of World Bank EU’s EDGAR Commission, Enerdata, BP Statistics all show we are globally emitting around 36Gt CO2 pa and another 4Gt pa in land degradation.
    I’m not familiar with V Smil’s work nor the 60% figure but at Standard Temp and Pressure 10Gt CO2 occupies 3,300 billion cubic metres and 36Gt around 12,000 billion m3. Of course this is put under immense pressure for CCS to almost liquid which minimises the space required but greatly increases the risk of a breakout. Continuous monitoring is required to trace if and where it is travelling underground and for generations to come.

    Chevron and partners where supposed to CCS excess CO2 found in extracted NG at their huge Barrow Island project but if this is actually happening it appears their obligation to monitor for leaks lasts only for 15 years after they wind up the project and then the tax payer needs to foot the bill — — indefinitely.
    Just how they are meant to plug any leaks is not made quite clear.

    The old chestnut the NG has been sitting in wells for billions of years does not strike a chord with me unless someone can prove that the total mass before we stared mining it was the same a million years or so earlier.
    In short we may need CCS but let’s minimise the practice not as some panacea.
    Now I completely concur with your comment on nuclear power and this option should not be avoided with the Renewable Energy protagonists. It has a huge image problem after Fukushima but what seems to be overlooked is that the UN’s UNSCEAR latest report shows there are no deaths so far related to the nuclear accident. Same issue with Three Mile Island and although the design flawed Chernobyl No4 may eventually be responsible for several thousand deaths this is largely due to government inaction in issuing iodine tables to the populous.
    Unfortunately the present government nation building the most competitive nukes (South Korea) has decided to close the industry.

    I’m having to stop rabbiting on right now as we are on hols and my wife wants her laptop back.

    By the way Paul the window re website entry will not accept http://www.energychallenge.info

    • Hi Mike,
      I’m glad your enjoying the discussion, so am I, it helps an awful lot to clarify the thinking on this subject.
      There are a couple of responses to your reply.
      First Vaclav Smil is Bill Gates’ “numbers man”, not at all liked by environmentalists for his opposition to “Peak Oil” and his arguments explaining “the renewable energy transition” which can be drawn from this long, but very interesting lecture.

      Second I must admit to lay knowledge of atmospheric science, I am a retired architect/builder, lived in Australia for 40 years before moving to Barcelona in 2011 where I now live. That being the case, I need to understand your maths on emissions.
      As I understand it, carbon is the “active” component in fossil fuels e,g, there is 5.3lbs (2.4kg) of carbon in every gallon of petrol. When combusted it is converted to CO2, and this is where “atomic weights” come into consideration. 1 carbon atom is 12, 1 CO2 atom is 44 giving the “conversion factor of 3.67 when converting carbon to carbon dioxide.

      So the 10 Gt of carbon I mentioned is from a paper from James Hansen, “Renewable Energy, Nuclear Power and Galileo: Do Scientists Have a Duty to Expose Popular Misconceptions?”

      And this seems to be a point of confusion for me, and I’m sure many others. It appears the terms “carbon”, “ CO2”, and CO2e are interchanged and often not explained. It seems to me that JH is here expressing Carbon “pre-combustion”.
      There is a graph included from 2011 with emissions shown as 10 Gt carbon, so when applying the atomic weight conversion from carbon metric tonnes to atmospheric metric tonnes the 30 Gt + figure is there.

      As far as CO2 which can be captured, that only applies to large “stationary” generation sources, power plants, chemical works, steel/cement industries, perhaps industrial “zones”, the rest,- transport (shipping, aviation, land use etc) which is the bulk of emissions, can only be sequestered by re aforestation, bio char, etc and, hopefully regulated energy efficiency, and personal carbon reductions will help too.

      From what I have read, it appears that “other” greenhouse gases, methane, NO2 etc are currently dismissed because of the “negative” impacts of aerosols, (they cancel themselves out), which leads to a figure based on CO2 being widely used. However, as coal use is reduced, the “aerosol effect” will be reduced and the “full” impact of ALL GG’s must be taken into consideration, BUT coal use is very dogged and it will be some time before this happens.
      So the total of GG emissions (6 gases) in 2016 was 49.3GtCO2e – (LULUCF emissions are NOT included in global emissions total, because of inaccuracies, but in 2016 were estimated to be 4.1 GtCO2e).
      “Trends in global CO2 and total greenhouse gas emissions: 2017 Report © PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency”

      Here’s an interesting piece I came across regarding “thermal lag”. There is between 40-50% CO2 emissions “absorbed” by ocean and land, so only 25 GtCO2e goes directly into the atmosphere.
      This YouTube clip explains a paper by Katherine Ricke and Ken Caldiera which states “the full impact of an emission is averaged at 10,1 years from emission to warming”. That in itself is pretty unnerving to think that the “full warming impact” we have experienced this summer is decreased because of aerosols AND thermal lag !

      Now we go to Vaclav Smil who states that “only 40% of CO2 emissions “can be captured”. So 40% of 25Gt is 10Gt which is a nice round number for CCS to begin with !!!

      I guess all this began when you asked “how much carbon do you want to sequester?”
      And I guess that’s my answer, 10 Gt CO2. p.a. to start with.

      After hearing Julio Friedman from Nori (link above) talking about “a carbon industry” evolving after a price on carbon pollution has been globally adopted, I am optimistic, for perhaps the first time since the Copenhagen conference, that “the markets”, (not governments), prompted by an individual who wants to make a squillion $, will see the potential in this.
      Like you, I cringe at the thought of leaks, but am not sure whether the “risk” of leakage is as much a question with a liquid as it is with a gas.

      Strange to read of the “shortage” of carbon in the food and beverage industry at present !!

      • Mike Ives

        Ixpieth
        C to CO2 mass change:
        Organisations like IPCC actually use the conversion figure of 3.664 which takes into consideration the various weighting of carbon and oxygen isotopes found in nature.

        Scientist’s duty:
        It would be much clearer to all if such writers emphasized the fact whether they are talking C, CO2 or CO2e and also dispel the fears of nuclear power that has to date has operated collectively for over 16,000 operational years to supplement renewables. That is at least until we can get out from under with what we are currently doing and when maybe commercial nuclear fusion energy comes available.

        CO2e:
        Strictly speaking it would be 36.64 Gt CO2 if simply relating to simply Carbon but as you are aware there are several greenhouse gases including methane, N2O, SF6 and the like and their impact on the greenhouse impact is dependent on their potency (Greenhouse Worming Potential) and quantity in the atmosphere. Hence this impact can be converted to CO2 equivalent and then added to the CO2 figure to give the overall impact (CO2e or CO2eq).

        CO2 capture:
        More or less ‘True’ but there are also proponents of DAC (Direct Air Capture) of CO2 from the atmosphere + CCS. In view of the energy requirements of this practice I find it difficult to imagine it could ever be even carbon neutral if fossil fuels need to be used, but I eagerly wait to be ‘enlightened’.

        Netherlands report:
        Thanks for the various references. CSIRO also issue data re their air sampling at Cape Grim, Tasmania http://www.cmar.csiro.au/research/capegrim_graphs.html
        The NOAA body also monitor GHGs at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. While the elephant in the room is CO2 due to the sheer volume of it in the atmosphere (408ppm), with all the others included puts us now closer to 500 ppm CO2e
        https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/aggi/aggi.html

        What we need to do:
        It seems to me there should be a consolidated game plan especially among the top 20 or so per capita emissions nations re Carbon Tax (including carbon burden on all imports and plastics where revenue is strictly ploughed back into the problem and aid to help poorer countries comply ) , Carbon budget expenditure, workable Financial budget, a workable Clean energy mix, a set timeline, like 15 years to perform, etc etc. Unfortunately these are all the sort of things that are unlikely to get a vote for such people required to implement same.

        Over and out pal (hols)

      • Joan Halgren

        Excellent idea to apply the revenue from a carbon tax to help poor countries adapt instead of spending it on self interest! It seems we cannot even achieve a carbon tax since fossil fuel corporations still rule the world. They must yield or doom the entire planet with their inability to fastforward to renewables that they can do and still retain their global financial and lobby supremacy!

  10. Warren Bolton

    Have you ever watched a friend die from cancer? – I have!

    In the beginning, buoyed by enormous optimism and courage and “accepting failure was not really a strategic option” she started her journey, despite this, in three years she was dead.

    It’s not only normal but is a psychological defence mechanism that in the face of immutable universal principles, we quarantine and deny reality.

    The ozone hole opened again this year over the Antarctic, as it has done every year since the 1980’s – but we fixed the ozone problem – didn’t we?

    How many humans will be on this planet in 2118? Somewhere I suspect between none and very few.

    Here is my thesis http://stupidhumans.info/

  11. Joan Halgren

    Okay, Warren Bolton, I read your thesis, and it seems very probable that we are doomed by being stupid! But there just maybe hope! Have you read Yuval Noah Harari’s book on Homo Sapiens? Well, he’s a thought leader with an IQ higher than 110, and he says our major concerns, as humans, are two-fold: survival and pleasure. So that’s the clue! I think we will finally unite to reverse the awful path we are on: When this happens, it will be the greatest achievement of Sapiens ever!

    The notion that we can unite, finally accept one another as equals, and actually come to a consensus that we’ve done wrong and must make things right–well, this will be the ultimate home run! If not, well, no one will be around to know if the bet came true or not!

    It’s my final hope that we persist and not fail but it’s a crapshoot for certain. I rest my case, and my IQ is over 140 and getting slammed by being ONLY human! A ‘friendly’ alien rescue from the Universe would also be welcome at this juncture–there just must be greater consciousness out there somewhere to help u! Help us!

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