See the Tabbed Pages for links to video tutorials, and a linked list of post titles grouped by topic.

This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rejecting the Science We Don’t Like

Summary.  The scientific method dictates that research be carried out in an open, unbiased way.  Desired results may not be determined ahead of time.  Peer review by anonymous reviewers ensures that published reports are objectively presented and that their conclusions are supported by the data. 

This post presents six examples of important scientific and technological advances that have improved human life over the past 150 years, and two examples in which useful technologies carried with them unintended, harmful side effects.  Scientific research helped identify the causes of the harms, and provided ways to overcome them.

Recognition of global warming did not occur by predetermining this result and seeking data to support the concept.  Rather it was characterized by open scientific inquiry conducted by myriad scientists around the globe for the last several decades.  Global warming and its harms to human life and to the ecology of the earth are unintended consequences of our use of fossil fuels.  Those who disparage the notion of man-made global warming must be consistent in their acceptance or rejection of the results of scientific inquiry.  They cannot pick and choose which science to accept and which to reject.  Consistency would require them not to accept the benefits that modern science and technology confers on them.

Introduction – the process of scientific inquiry.  All scientists carry out their research according to well-established principles of scientific investigation. Science is undertaken as an objective, unbiased inquiry.  Scientists engage in their investigations with an open mind, avoiding any prior direction of what the result of the investigation should reveal.  Valid science is not conducted by adopting a conclusion at the outset and seeking out those particular findings that bear out the preordained conclusion stated at the outset, or by casting the framework of a study in such a way as to provide those results.
In order to publish their results, scientists submit their manuscripts for scrutiny by their peers.  In this process, the editor of a journal, upon receiving a manuscript, sends it to two or three scientists who are expert in the field for critical evaluation.  Importantly, these reviewers remain anonymous to the authors of the manuscript.  A reviewer may accept the work as is, reject it outright, or require responses to certain criticisms he/she may develop prior to acceptance.

Peer review ensures that no biased or unsubstantiated points of view, or inaccurate scientific conclusions, are published.  In addition, in contemporary scientific practice, the publishers of most journals require authors expressly to identify any interests they have that may be construed as being in conflict.

This post discusses selected examples of beneficial scientific and technological breakthroughs, as well as some cases in which technology produced harmful unexpected consequences.  The role of science in these examples is emphasized.


Telegraph and telephone. The invention of the telegraph represents the very first time that humans had the ability to transmit information faster than they could personally move it.  The electrical telegraph signals were transmitted along wires essentially instantaneously. 

The invention of the telephone was equally as revolutionary, as it enabled the human voice for the first time to be transmitted instantaneously across vast distances.

Each of these developments was strongly based on existing scientific and technical knowledge.  Samuel Morse developed the telegraph in 1837.  It built on the understanding and development of electricity, especially the use of electrical wires wound around an iron core to generate a magnetic field.  Alexander Graham Bell received a U. S. Patent for the first telephone in 1876.  Here too, knowledge of electromagnetism was applied in building the ear speaker and a separate, more complex assembly used for the microphone, such that sound waves are converted into an electric current whose variations accurately represent the original voice.  Clearly humanity has benefited tremendously from these examples of applied science and technology, vastly expanding our ability to communicate.

Vacuum tubes, transistors and radio/television.  The early electronics industry (early 20th century) relied not simply on electricity, but on discovering that the passage of electrons emitted from, say, a hot filament placed in a high vacuum, can be controlled by additional electrical elements placed along the path of the electrons.  The flow of electrons ultimately reaches a receiving wire, all within the vacuum tube.  In this way electrical current can be instantaneously modulated by the control element(s).  Many electronic devices using vacuum tubes were developed, but perhaps the most significant was the radio.  Radio communication, and later television transmission, took the instantaneous transmission of information of the telegraph and telephone one step further, relieving it from its reliance on wires for transmission from the source to the destination.  Development of vacuum tubes required groundbreaking research into electron physics.  In addition radio and television capitalized on theoretical and experimental physics developed during the last half of the nineteenth century.

Transistors were developed after World War II.  These are solid state devices based on the properties of semiconductors that perform similar functions as a vacuum tube – the controlled passage of electric current.  Since transistors are easily produced in quantity, are easily incorporated into larger circuits known as integrated circuits, and require much less power to operate than vacuum tubes, they have completely replaced vacuum tubes in electronic appliances and instruments produced today.  Development of transistors relied strongly on basic research in solid state physics and the properties of materials.


The pharmacological benefits of aspirin were first recognized in the late 19th century.  Chemists in the German company Bayer AG were the first to synthesize and name the compound we know as aspirin.  But the question of understanding how aspirin works at the molecular, or physiological, level remained unanswered for about seven decades. 

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, as a result of expanding research in biochemistry and molecular pharmacology, the cellular enzymatic pathways leading to formation of the group of thromboxanes and prostaglandins were clarified.  Various members of this group of biochemical compounds were shown either to promote or to suppress inflammatory processes in cells and tissues.  It was found that aspirin interferes with an important enzymatic reaction leading to pro-inflammatory responses.  For this work, the British pharmacologist John Robert Vane was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1982.  Other drugs in this class, the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, also interfere with this biosynthetic pathway.  We, as welcoming consumers of NSAIDs, should recognize the important role that basic research plays in this and other important scientific advances.

Antibiotics are drugs that interfere with the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms.  We humans benefit from antibiotics because they kill disease-causing bacteria when we become infected with them.  This cures an infected patient, thus prolonging her life and wellbeing.  Before the advent of antibiotics, humans survived or succumbed to bacterially-caused infections according to the severity of the infection and the strength of the patient’s immune response.

Originally, antibiotics were compounds secreted from growing microorganisms as a defense mechanism against a different microorganism that might attack the secreting species. Penicillin was the first antibiotic to be discovered, by Alexander Fleming in 1928, but it remained for others, Ernst Chain and Howard Florey, to isolate the active compound and determine its chemical structure.  They were awarded the Nobel Prize for this achievement in 1945.  Humans have benefited vastly by the use of NSAIDs and antibiotics, among many classes of drugs, that have been developed in recent decades through scientific research.

Biotechnology.  In recent decades the biotechnology industry has developed and commercialized several new drugs to treat diseases in new ways.  This work has relied critically on the results of basic research in biochemistry and molecular biology.  Examples of fundamental discoveries laying the groundwork for further developments in biochemistry, molecular biology and biotechnology include restriction enzymes used in genetic engineering (Nobel Prize to Daniel Nathans, Werner Arber, and Hamilton O. Smith in 1978), the polymerase chain reaction (PCR; extremely useful in isolating genes and gene fragments; Nobel Prize to Kary Mullis and Michael Smith in 1993), and monoclonal antibodies, unique antibody molecules that target an antigen of interest (Nobel Prize to Georges Köhler, César Milstein, and Niels Kaj Jerne in 1984).

These advances, and others, have been critical in developing new biotechnology drugs approved for use against certain human diseases.  These include recombinant human growth hormone for treatment of pituitary dwarfism; Herceptin ® (trastuzumab), a monoclonal antibody used to treat breast cancer cases in which the protein HER2 (the antibody target) is abnormally high; and Procrit ® or Epogen ®, recombinant forms of the human growth factor erythropoietin that stimulates synthesis of red blood cells, used to counteract anemia, for example in cancer patients.  Clearly the long trajectory of scientific research has led to important new treatments benefiting large numbers of patients in the last one to two decades.

Unintended Consequences

Other technological improvements in our lives have led to unintended harmful consequences to the environment.  Two examples are provided here.  In each case technology produced a harmful result as a side effect.  Basic scientific research characterized the problem and identified its cause.  This new information led to implementation of suitable policies to overcome the harms.

Acid rain.  Pure rain water has an acidity level is that is neutral, having a value on the pH scale of acidity or alkalinity of 7.  Solutions of strong acids in water, such as sulfuric acid, can have pH values of say, 2, 1 or 0, with the lower numbers designating stronger acidity.  Biological organisms including fish and higher plants grow readily when exposed to water whose pH is near 7.  If the acidity gets stronger (lower pH) fish eggs fail to hatch and adult fish are killed.  Also, vegetation on land cannot survive and dies as well. 

In the northeastern U. S. dying wilderness lakes and forests were noticed beginning around the 1970’s.  Research sanctioned by an act of the U. S. Congress established that acidity in lakes due to excess sulfates was characterized.  This most likely arises from sulfur impurities in coal burned to generate electricity in the American Midwest, upwind from the damaged areas, which produces the chemical predecessors of sulfurous and sulfuric acids (sulfur oxides).  These then drift eastward in the air and fall to earth as both dry particulates and dissolved in raindrops which are made acidic by the sulfur oxides.  A forest killed by acid rain is shown below.

Source: Wikipedia; (accessed Sept. 28, 2011). Permission for copying granted under the GNU Free Documentation License.

In response the Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1990, setting up a cap and trade market for progressively reducing emissions of sulfur on site at coal-burning plants.  Technology for achieving this required power plants to install sulfur oxide scrubbers in the waste gas stream from the plants.  They could also switch to low-sulfur coal from the American West. Since these solutions involved new and unanticipated capital investment or other expenses, electric power companies opposed this law, unsuccessfully.  By 2007 acid rain levels had fallen by 65%, at a cost estimated at US$1-2 billion.  International treaties governing cross-border flow of acidic waste products have also been implemented.

Ozone depletion (see Wikipedia; accessed Sept. 28, 2011).  Ozone is a molecule made of 3 oxygen atoms.  It forms in the stratosphere (10-50 km; 6-31 mi above the earth) by the action of sunlight on molecular dioxygen (dioxygen (popularly called simply “oxygen”); 2 oxygen atoms).  Ozone is important for life on earth because, contrary to dioxygen, ozone absorbs the ultraviolet wavelengths of sunlight that can promote skin cancer and ocular cataracts.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are entirely manmade compounds that did not exist prior to modern industrial chemistry.  They have been used as the coolant in refrigerators and air conditioners, in aerosol spray cans, and in industrial cleaning and dusting processes.  When released into earth’s atmosphere, they can make their way as high as the stratosphere.

Depletion of ozone from the stratosphere has been observed using weather balloons and satellite observations starting in the 1980’s, especially in the spring of the southern hemisphere over Antarctica.  The largest Antarctic hole observed, from Sept. 21-30, 2006, is shown in the graphic below.

Antarctic ozone hole from September 21-30, 2006 covering10.6 million square miles (27.5 million square kilometers).  The blue and purple colors show areas with the least ozone, and the greens, yellows, and reds are where there is more ozone.
Source: National Aeronautics and Space Agency (accessed Sept. 28, 2011) .

Atmospheric scientists were able to model the destruction of ozone in the stratosphere using specialized instruments and reproduce the process in laboratory experiments on earth.  They showed that ozone depletion is catalyzed by CFCs that wind up in the stratosphere. (In catalysis, a molecule participates in promoting a chemical reaction such as the transformation of ozone to dioxygen, but is itself regenerated and can be recycled to participate in many such transformations, not just one.  For this reason a small amount of a CFC can contribute to significant extents of ozone depletion.)  In this way basic scientific research conducted by academic and government scientists contributed directly to understanding the basis for ozone depletion.  For successfully working out the details of the role of chlorofluorocarbons in ozone depletion, Paul Crutzen, Mario Molina, and Frank Rowland were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1995.  As the evidence of involvement of CFCs was accumulating, the manufacturers of these compounds and of aerosol spray cans were vilifying the theory (Wikipedia), without offering any scientific evidence to support their position.

In the face of this new understanding that CFCs were responsible for a major part of ozone depletion, nations producing these compounds agreed, in the Montreal Protocol of 1987 as strengthened in subsequent years, to phase these compounds out essentially completely by 1996.  Recovery of stratospheric ozone concentrations to original levels will take many decades.


The examples presented here are but a minimal selection of the ways in which science, encompassing both basic research and applied research, and technology, including developing ways to implement basic scientific knowledge in practical ways, benefit humans as we live in the 21st century.  Scientific research and development of technology cannot be pre-ordained by the preferences and desires of the researchers and entrepreneurs creating the products.  Rather, the facts resulting from these research projects are the only determinants of the paths of progress.  When unanticipated harms to the environment arose from using products, as in the cases of acid rain and ozone depletion, unbiased scientific research was critical in establishing the basis of the phenomena, and in suggesting ways to overcome the damages.

The same processes of scientific inquiry that led to the results summarized in the preceding sections have been applied for the past several decades to characterize the warming of the globe.  Climate science has ascribed the cause of warming to man-made emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that arise from burning fossil fuels.  This outcome was not obtained by predetermining the result and seeking data to support it, but rather as the result of thousands of independent, open inquiries conducted by scientists all around the globe. Clearly, global warming is an unanticipated harmful consequence of our use of fossil fuels as our energy source. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its Fourth Assessment Report in 2007.  The draft of its Synthesis Report (IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, Pachauri, R.K. and Reisinger, A. (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland; accessed Sept. 28, 2011), was sent for formal review to over 2,400 individual experts as well as to the 193 member governments of the IPCC, attesting to its validity and acceptance by the broad climate science community. 

The Synthesis Report states “Eleven of the last twelve years (1995-2006) rank among the twelve warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850)…. It is very likely that over the past 50 years cold days, cold nights and frosts have become less frequent over most land areas, and hot days and hot nights have become more frequent.” (emphasis in original). The Report finds that observed rises in sea level and decreases in snow and ice extent are consistent with this warming trend.

There are those who dismiss, disparage or deny the scientific validity of man-made global warming and its consequences.  Nevertheless, these same individuals continue to live their lives in the present 21st century, enjoying all the benefits from science and technology that make our lives convenient, pleasurable and healthy.  In order to be consistent, however, one cannot enjoy the advantages of our present lifestyle, on the one hand, yet on the other hand selectively choose to disregard the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the phenomenon of global warming.  If those who choose to denigrate global warming are to be consistent with their views on the results of scientific inquiry, they should likewise renege on their lifestyle and give up the comforts and benefits that contemporary life brings them.  Their integrity should lead them to accept nothing less.

© 2011 Henry Auer

Thursday, September 22, 2011

International Energy Outlook 2011: A Report by the U. S. Energy Information Agency

Summary.  The U. S. Energy Information Agency issued its International Energy Outlook 2011 on Sept. 19, 2011.  The report forecasts worldwide energy usage from 2008 through 2035 assuming no regulatory limits on burning of fossil fuels.  The report envisions an increase in overall energy usage that grows year by year, and is 53% higher in 2035 than in 2008.  Much of that increase arises in China, India and other developing countries.  In 2035 80% of energy needs are furnished by burning fossil fuels.  The development of renewable energy grows to about 14% of the total in 2035.  Because of the pronounced increase in use of fossil fuels, the annual rate of emission of carbon dioxide also grows dramatically during this period.

This post concludes that the high rate of emissions of carbon dioxide envisioned by the report in the absence of regulations has to be minimized in order to limit the worsening of global warming and its attendant harms to the planet.  The nations, corporations and citizens of the world should come together and agree to a new environmental accord to follow the expiring Kyoto Protocol.


The U. S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) issued its report, International Energy Outlook 2011 (designated IEO 2011 here), on Sept. 19, 2011.  The report presents historical worldwide energy usage data to 2008 and forecasts worldwide energy usage from 2008 through 2035.  (An earlier review for the U. S. only, EIA’s Early Release Overview of the Annual Energy Outlook 2011, was issued in December 2010.  It was reported in this post.  A similar worldwide review was issued by the International Energy Agency in 2010.)
IEO 2011 presents a Reference case forecast, which assumes that no new national or international regulations govern energy use beyond those in place in 2011.

This post summarizes selected aspects of IEO 2011, and presents graphics in the Details section following the Discussion and Conclusions section that illustrate the summarized data.  IEO 2011 frequently divides the world into countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD; United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, most European countries, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand), and non-OECD countries, including China, India, Russia, Brazil, the Middle East and Africa.

World Energy Use 2008-2035.

World Overview.  IEO 2011 envisions an overall increase of 53% in yearly world energy usage in 2035, based on the usage in 2008 (see Details, Figure 1), with half of that increase originating in China and India.  Their annual energy use more than doubles in this period.  The increase is from 505 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2008 to 770 quadrillion Btu in 2035 (quadrillion =1015, or 1,000 trillion; 1 Btu is the amount of energy needed to heat 1 pound of water by 1ºF, about 1,055 joules).  Predicted energy consumption by non-OECD countries increases by 85%, whereas OECD nations use only 18% more energy in this time period (see Details, Figure 2).

The annual rates of usage of all classes of fuel and energy supply grow significantly between 2008 and 2035 (see Details, Figure 3).  As the overall use of energy expands, the demand for energy is met primarily by fossil fuels, which are expected to provide almost 80% of the world’s energy in 2035, under the Reference case.  Fossil fuels include petroleum, natural gas and coal.  The share of energy for all uses provided by liquid fuels such as petroleum and renewable biofuels remains the largest, yet declines from 34% in 2008 to 29% by 2035.  Its relative consumption is predicted to be reduced due to high prices in future years.  This economic pressure will expand the modest use of renewable biofuels.

Coal.  Worldwide, coal is the second largest provider of energy during this period.  The use of coal surged in the years just prior to 2008; much of this was due to a major expansion in construction of new coal-burning electric plants in China during this period (see this earlier post).  China’s 12th Five Year Plan for 2011-2015 envisions continued active construction of new coal plants.  China intends to add 260 GW of coal-fired electric generation during the 12th Five Year Plan.  IEO 2011 foresees that three quarters of the world’s increase in coal-fired generation from 2008 to 2035 occurs in China, more than doubling its electricity generated. For the entire world, the growth in burning of coal is 1.5% per year, increasing from 139 quadrillion Btu in 2008 to 209 quadrillion Btu in 2035.

Use of natural gas for energy is predicted to grow steadily during the period considered.  Natural gas is obtained both from conventional gas fields and increasingly from nonconventional sources such as gas-laden mineral deposits and methane gas (natural gas) from coalbeds.  The proportion of energy provided by natural gas is foreseen remaining constant at 23% between 2008 and 2035.

Generation of electricity relies on fuels, including renewable fuels, and non-fuel energy sources (nuclear, hydropower, wind and solar power).  IEO 2011 estimates that worldwide annual electrical energy generated increases 84% from 2008 to 2035 (see Details, Figure 4).  This increase is fueled by large increases in use of coal (as already discussed above) and natural gas, among fossil fuels, and by significant percentage increases in the non-fossil fuel sources hydropower and renewable energy.  China intends to add significant new hydroelectric and wind energy capacity during its 12th Five Year Plan.

IEO 2011 foresees the rate of growth of renewable energy (excluding renewable biofuels) expanding considerably over the period.  The share provided by renewable energy grows from 10% in 2008 to 14% in 2035.  For example, in China’s 12th Five Year Plan, it is expected that renewables will increase from about 1% of total capacity in 2010 to about 3% of total capacity in 2015.  In the U. S., renewable electric power generating capacity originating from all sources of renewable energy is predicted to more than double from 2009 to 2035 (U. S. EIA, Annual Energy Outlook 2011).

IEO 2011 predicts that the factors leading to increased energy usage include high rates of increase in GDP per capita (GDP = gross domestic [economic] product, a measure of activities that require use of energy) for countries such as China, India, Brazil, Russia and South Korea; relatively high rates of increase of population in regions such as Africa, the Middle East, India and the U. S.; these factors are countered by improvements in energy intensity (the amount of energy needed to produce a unit of GDP value) in many regions and countries.

The worldwide annual rate of emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) increases 43% between 2008 and 2035 under the Reference case (see Details, Figure 5). In 2035 the rate of emission is 43.2 billion metric tons (1 metric ton = 1.1 U. S. ton) while in 2008 the rate was 30 billion metric tons. The sections above have detailed the profound increase in use of fossil fuels in supplying the world’s energy demand in the coming decades.  Since burning fossil fuels produces emissions of CO2, the large increase in the annual rate of emission comes as no surprise. According to IEO 2011, coal is the fossil fuel that is the principal source of carbon dioxide emissions during the projected interval 2008-2035.
Annual emissions from OECD countries grow modestly in this period, while the annual emissions rate for Asian non-OECD countries (this includes China and India) almost doubles from 10 billion metric tons in 2008 to almost 20 metric tons in 2035.

Discussion and Conclusions

IEO 2011 predicts major increases in use of fossil fuels with the attendant increases in emissions of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas.  If these fossil fuels were not burned, the corresponding emissions of CO2would not occur.  It is estimated that about 45% of emitted CO2 remains in the atmosphere contributing to the greenhouse effect.  (The remainder is absorbed by the oceans, land masses, and any net increase in fixing CO2 by photosynthetic plants, among other processes.)  This makes it incontrovertible that man-made emissions of CO2 increase its atmospheric concentration, worsening the greenhouse effect. 

The greenhouse effect increases the long-term global average temperature as the atmospheric concentration of CO2 increases, as shown in the graphic below.  The fact that the two trends can be superimposed is very strong evidence that the temperature

Superposition of global long-term average temperatures (jagged blue line), CO2 measured from air bubbles isolated from frozen ice cores (red line), and CO2 measured directly in the air at the high-altitude station on Mauna Loa, Hawaii (yellow line). 

increase arises because of the increased atmospheric concentration of CO2.  The continued release of CO2 in future decades, and the fact that the amounts added to the atmosphere each year will add to the CO2 already present from previous years, indicate that very high atmospheric concentrations of CO2 will accumulate by 2035 in the Reference case.  These concentrations will make global warming much worse, and lead to significant adverse effects on weather patterns, food supplies, and human wellbeing.  Recent posts on this blog have detailed the significant economic and societal damages arising from global warming in recent years.

The graphic above illustrates the accumulation of excess CO2 in the atmosphere with each passing year.  This is because the CO2 remaining in the atmosphere (after processes such as absorption into the ocean have had their effect) has nowhere else to go.  It is estimated that the lifetime of CO2 added to the atmosphere is at least 100 years.  Thus the only way to prevent the CO2 in the atmosphere from increasing is to cease burning fossil fuels as soon as technically possible. 

Imagine that the atmosphere is like a bathtub containing CO2.  The faucet adds more CO2 to the bathtub as we burn fossil fuels, but the drain is essentially closed (after absorption of CO2 by the ocean).  CO2 accumulates in the bathtub and fills it higher and higher as long as the CO2 faucet keeps running.  The CO2 level in the bathtub is stabilized (but not lowered) only if the faucet is turned off.  It is not sufficient merely to decrease the rate of adding CO2 to our atmospheric bathtub; that only slows the rise of the CO2 level. 

IEO 2011 describes significant expansions in use of fossil fuels; these necessarily rely on new and existing physical facilities that utilize them.  Typically these facilities have long service lifetimes; they include new homes and offices, new cars and trucks, and new fossil fuel-burning electric plants.  Once put in service, these facilities necessarily will continue burning the fossil fuels they were designed to use, and will continue emitting CO2, for decades, until removed from service.  Davis and coworkers showed that even if no new facilities for using fossil fuels were built starting “today”, those already in place would contribute to adding more CO2 to the atmosphere, worsening global warming as a result.

The Kyoto Protocol negotiated under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change set forth emission reduction goals for its signatory states.  Unfortunately, today’s major emitters of CO2, the United States, China and India, do not participate in Kyoto.  Furthermore, Kyoto extends only to 2012 and requires extension and agreement by the world’s nations.

China has acted in the past to expand its energy supply largely by means of fossil fuel-driven energy.  Its 12th Five Year Plan continues this trend, signaling the building of many new coal-fired electric generation plants.  Its policy is rather to increase its energy efficiency by lowering its energy intensity, i.e., the amount of energy needed to produce a unit of economic product or service.  This goal does not directly address absolute reductions of CO2 emissions which, in fact, continue to grow.

The U. S. does not have an energy policy in place at the national level.  Several states have joined one of three regional greenhouse gas accords.  These have set out goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions of varying degrees of stringency.  The state of California, while subscribing to one of these accords, is also proceeding with its own stringent emission reduction program.

The European Union has set in place an ambitious program to reduce emissions by at least 80% by 2050.

IEO 2011 made its projections using a Reference case in which it was assumed that no emission reduction programs would be put in place after 2011.  The increasing rates of use of fossil fuels, and the increasing emissions of CO2 resulting from these activities, clearly will worsen the effects of global warming in coming decades.  In order to minimize these effects, the nations of the world, corporations acting independently of government programs, and individual citizens should come together to implement meaningful emissions reduction programs as soon as possible.  


Annual usage of energy in all forms for certain years between 1990 and 2035.  The horizontal spacing of the bars is not linear; the interval at the left is 10 years, while the interval after 2015 is every 5 years. 
Source: U. S. EIA International Energy Outlook 2011

Figure 2.

Annual consumption of all forms of energy for OECD and non-OECD countries.
Source: U. S. EIA International Energy Outlook 2011 Presentation

Figure 3.

Annual consumption of energy provided by various sources of fuel or energy.
Source: U. S. EIA International Energy Outlook 2011 Presentation

Liquids include petroleum and unconventional fuel liquids originating from oil sands and bitumen, and biofuels.  Production of each of these two categories increases from about 1.5 million barrels per day in 2008 to an estimate of about 4.8 million barrels per day in 2035.  Production of oil sands and bitumen occurs primarily in Alberta, Canada.

Figure 4.

Sources of fuel or energy used to generate electricity.  Historical data up to 2008, projected generation after 2008 to 2035.  “Liquids” includes renewable biofuels; “Other renewables” includes wind and solar power.
Source: U. S. EIA International Energy Outlook 2011 Presentation

Figure 5.

Annual rates of emission worldwide of carbon dioxide, grouped by the fossil fuels that are burned as the energy source.
Source: U. S. EIA International Energy Outlook 2011 Presentation

© 2011 Henry Auer

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Energy Policy for the Coming Decades: Renewables and Energy Efficiency

Summary.  Global warming continues to proceed unabated, producing more, and more severe, extreme weather events.  These include heat waves, drought, floods, forest wildfires and beetle infestations of stressed forests.  These events cause major personal, physical and economic harms to society.  Seeking to minimize the further emission of greenhouse gases originating from the burning of fossil fuels, we should install renewable energy sources and develop energy efficiency practices.  In this post we summarize the contents of several previous posts that have presented various aspects of these subjects.  The benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing dependence on foreign sources of fossil fuels, helping stabilize the atmospheric CO2 concentration, lowering the rate of worsening of extreme weather events, rapid payback from energy efficiency projects, and significant job creation.  The U. S. should develop national policies and practices to implement renewable energy and energy efficiency as rapidly as possible.

Introduction. Long-term global average temperatures have been increasing at a growing rate since the beginning of the industrial revolution because of the increasing rate at which humans have been burning fossil fuels to drive machines and technologies.  All fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide (CO2) when they are burned.  CO2 is a powerful greenhouse gas that traps a part of the heat that would ordinarily be radiated from earth back out to space, retaining that heat in the earth’s atmosphere.  Although CO2 has been part of earth’s atmosphere for millions of years, the additional CO2 accumulating from mankind’s activities has led to a greater amount of heat being retained in our atmosphere, producing global warming. 

Energy use in the U.S. has been growing in recent decades (except during the recent Great Recession) and is predicted to continue expanding in coming decades.  To the extent that that growth is powered by fossil fuels, our CO2 emissions likewise will continue to grow. 

Global warming has been directly correlated with destructive extreme events in the U. S. and around the world, because increased atmospheric temperatures make climatic and weather events worse.  Extreme weather events in the U. S. include droughts, floods, and wildfires coupled with forest beetle infestations. 

Organization of This Post. In this post we integrate material from several earlier posts.  They are identified further below in the Details section by reference number in the first table, and then summarized by their reference numbers in the following tables. They present analyses of first, harms and damages inflicted by extreme weather events whose severity is at least partly due to global warming, second, the benefits to be gained by undertaking renewable energy projects with comparable investment costs, and third, the benefits to be gained by implementing increased energy efficiency.

Analysis and Conclusions. 

Harms and damages from extreme weather events. The damages brought about by extreme events induced by global warming represent one side of a coin characterizing global warming.  Anecdotes in References 1, 2 and 3 provide anecdotal examples of extreme weather events that have led to severe harms, major economic costs from damage and extensive societal displacements.  Most, but not all the examples are localized in the U. S.   One that is not relates to the extensive and prolonged heat wave covering western Siberia, Russia and eastern Europe.  Attendant harms included decreased wheat harvests whose effects were ramified around the world, leading to increased commodity prices for wheat during that season.  Another study concluded that worldwide, yields of wheat and maize (corn) have decreased from 1980 to 2008.

In the U. S., drought has worsened the frequency and severity of forest wildfires.  Drought has also worsened infestations of western forests by pine bark beetles, to an extent three times greater than destruction by wildfires.  River floods have also worsened in recent years.

Reference 6 documents various estimates nation-wide of direct and indirect economic damage arising from drought, wildfires and floods in the U. S.  The costs amount to several billion dollars from each type of event, in any given year.  Hundreds of human lives have been lost, major property damage has occurred, and economic activity in affected areas has been negatively impacted for considerable periods of time after the event because properties and other physical facilities have been destroyed.  A major factor in considering the harms from these extreme events is that they are not predicted in advance, and so plans for countering them cannot be programmed or budgeted by governmental authorities.  Rather, expenses of reacting to these events must be found on an emergency basis, frequently resulting in unscheduled increases in taxation.

Benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency.  The reverse side of the global warming coin relates to projects and practices implementing renewable energy and energy efficiency (REEE) that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Reference 4 describes several anecdotal examples of recent and planned projects that develop wind energy, and both photovoltaic and thermal solar energy.  These examples show that large scale electric generation projects cost up to US$5-6 billion, create 1,000-1,500 jobs during construction for each, and about one-fifth that number during operation.  The projects provide electricity at competitive rates, when calculated over the full life cycle of the projects.

A comprehensive nation-wide analysis of renewable energy generation for the U. S. as a whole is presented in Reference 5.  Many millions of jobs are predicted to be created under an assumption, for example, that 40% of electric generation will be from renewable sources nationwide by 2030.  In California from 1972-2006 an energy efficiency program has led to US$56 billion in savings, and created about 1.5 million jobs.  Future development of land-based and offshore wind energy in the U. S. should create more than 1 million jobs, while providing electricity at competitive rates.

In a letter to the editor of the New York Times published Sept. 14, 2011, David Foster, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, notes that US$93 billion devoted to environmental projects through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act saved or created just under 1 million jobs.  This represents roughly US$100,000 per job, which appears to be an excellent macroeconomic return for the invested funds.  The projects ranged from new environmental manufacturing to an efficient power plant for a factory, to mass transit and energy efficiency retrofits.  These data show that investment in renewable energy and efficiency projects provide major benefits to the energy economy, and to the national economy.

The reverse side of the coin also entails energy efficiency programs, such as those described in References 7 and 8.  Implementing efficiency practices can reduce (greenhouse gas-producing) energy use by up to 30% by 2030, according to the U. S. National Academies.   Energy efficiency projects typically are effective enough that the cost of the project is recovered through savings on energy expenses in very short times.

Benefits of REEE projects.  Developing REEE projects provides significant economic and societal benefits, which are exact opposites to the harms created by global warming and extreme weather.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.  This blog has pointed out that our atmosphere is like a CO2 bathtub whose faucet continues to deliver more CO2 (from burning fossil fuels), but whose drain is essentially closed.  This builds up more and more CO2 in the atmosphere, making global warming worse.  CO2 remains in the atmosphere for at least 100 years, so it is imperative to bring emissions as close to zero as soon as possible, in order to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at a level that keeps global warming as low as possible.  Developing REEE helps accomplish this.
  • When balanced, society’s emergency expenditures necessitated by responding to extreme weather disasters are comparable to society’s investments in REEE.  We the world over need to stabilize the CO2 bathtub in order keep extreme weather events from getting much worse.  The analyses in our previous posts, summarized here, make it very clear that preventing losses totaling many billions of dollars a year in the U. S. can effectively “pay” for the REEE projects that contribute to stabilizing atmospheric CO2 at as low a level as possible.  It is important to realize that merely lowering the rate of emitting new greenhouse gases still raises the level in the CO2 bathtub.  Rather, the world needs to strive toward near-zero emissions.
  • Developing REEE creates large numbers of jobs in both construction (short-term) and operation and maintenance of facilities (long-term).  This is highly beneficial to the economy of the U. S.
  • The physical, economic and societal harms arising from extreme weather events should be minimized as a result of developing REEE.  Loss of life, property losses, forest and agricultural losses, indirectly affected economic activity and psychological distress should remain smaller.
  • Developing REEE is done with planning and programmatic foresight.  This contrasts with the need for emergency responses to extreme weather events which cannot be predicted in advance.
  • Renewable energy delivers electricity at a lifetime cost for a project that is comparable to current prices for electricity generated from fossil fuels.
  • Energy efficiency projects and programs pay for themselves in relatively short time periods.
  • Developing REEE should reduce or eliminate the dependence of the U. S. on imports of fossil fuels from abroad.
For at least these reasons, the U. S. should develop national policies and practices to implement REEE as rapidly as possible.  The goal has to be to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to near zero as rapidly as possible.


Earlier Posts on Global Warming Blog. Reference will be made here to the following earlier posts, using the numbers shown:

Linked Post Title

Anecdotal Documentation of Extreme Weather Events From Around the World.  Floods, droughts and extremes of hot weather have plagued regions of the world in recent years.  The frequency and/or severity of these events are greater than in earlier years, say, at times more than fifty years ago.  Here we summarize events discussed in earlier posts, in tabular form.

Event and Characterization
Economic Damage
Worldwide production of staple crops over the period 1980-2008, using data from 1960-2000 as a reference.
Yields of maize and wheat declined by 3.8% and 5.5%, respectively.  Rice and soybean yields not affected.
Average commodity prices predicted to increase by between 6% and 19%.
The total amount of CO2 taken up worldwide by green plants, and converted into vegetable matter, was tracked from 2000 to 2009. 
The total CO2 taken up declined by about 1% as the global average temperature increased.
Potentially threatens global food security and future biofuel production.
Weakens the ability to absorb additional CO2 that arises from burning fossil fuels.
After the mid-1980’s the frequency of wildfires in the western U.S. was 4 times greater than the average frequency from 1970 to 1986. 
The total area consumed was more than 6 ½ times greater. 
Higher temperatures during spring and summer correlated highly with the frequency increase.
The season for reported fires also grew longer by more than 2 months.
Projections of future warming due to increased greenhouse gases reinforce the recent trends of more and larger forest wildfires.


Expenditures by the U. S. Forest Service for fighting wildfires grew to over $2 billion per year by 2008.

Extended direct, indirect and societal losses from wildfires continue to accumulate after they are extinguished.  They may grow to many times the immediate suppres-sion costs.  Two examples from 2000 and 2003 are US$1 billion and US$1.3 billion.

Up to 18% of U.S. southwestern forests were lost from 1997 to 2008, about one-fourth to fires and the remainder to bark beetle infestations.
These losses are due to the extreme conditions of aridity and high temperature that prevailed over this period, and correlate with predictions of a climate model.
The model predicted future forest between about 15% to 45% decrease in growth in the period 2050-2099 compared to the period 1950-1999.

Massive flooding in Pakistan in 2010 caused losses including 1,980 deaths and over 100,000 farm animals lost.  The flooded area totaled more than 100,000 square km (38,600 sq. mi). 
The flood impacted the lives of more than 20 million people.  1.6 million homes were lost, and flooding of agricultural lands lasted several months. 
At least one season’s worth of seed was destroyed.
Indian climate scientists have documented an increasing frequency of extreme rainfall events, and a decreasing frequency of moderate events, over India between 1951 and 2000, as the globe has been warming.
Estimated damage, relief, recovery, and reconstruction costs, if converted to the comparable purchasing power in the U.S., amount to US$200 billion.
A large area of Russia experienced extreme heat in the summer of 2010.  The central zone affected experienced 7 day temperatures higher than the average for the period 1970-1999 by about 10-12ºC (18-22ºF); a larger zone, extending from France well into Siberia was about 6-7ºC (11-13ºF) higher. 
This heat wave probably broke 500 year temperature behavior. 
A climate model incorporating increased atmospheric greenhouse gases predicts that “mega-heatwaves” are 5 to 10 times more probable than in the past over the coming 40 years.

The extreme temperature trend across Russia detailed in the previous entry caused a drought that severely decreased its wheat crop during 2010.  The crop failure amounted to one-third of the normal harvest.
Direct crop loss estimated at $8.1 billion.  Worldwide staple food prices increased.
Price of wheat rose by US$100 per metric ton.

The following table focuses only on the U. S. The full national costs from classes of extreme weather in recent years are summarized.  These costs are borne by both the federal government and the private sector, in areas such as the insurance industry, reconstruction and lost economic activity.

Source in the U. S. of Loss and Damages
Human Losses and Economic Damage, US$ millions
Wildfires, 2000-2010
Depending on year,
0 to 19 deaths;
US$20 million to US$2.8 billion damages;
up to 10 million acres burned.
Forest destruction by pine bark beetles
3x greater than losses from wildfires.
Colorado and Wyoming have lost 3.5 million acres.
In 2003 more than 10 million acres were lost.
Drought, 2000-2010
Depending on year,
Property damage as high as US$774 million;
Crop damage as high as US3.1 billion;
Other estimates as high as US$6.2 billion for 2006.
Drought, 2011
Commodity price increases from July 2010 to July 2011 as high as 84% for corn;
Commodity food price index 25% higher.
River floods, 2000-2010
Depending on year,
As high as 103 deaths for 2010;
Property damage as high as US$3.9 billion;
Crop damage as high as US$2.3 billion;
Other estimates as high as US$15 billion total damage for 2008.

Global warming contributes to the worsening of extreme weather events.  Depending on the region of land, there can be an increase in temperature accompanied by greater aridity, leading to drought and increase in wildfires and beetle destruction, or an increase in the moisture content of the air leading to increased precipitation that cause major flooding to occur.

By replacing fossil fuels as sources of energy with renewable energy sources, it is possible to minimize the continued release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  The following table presents some anecdotal examples of renewable energy projects, including information on overall investment costs and beneficial creation of new jobs.

Renewable Energy Technology
Cost of investment; effect on employment
Wind energy
Dramatic increase in installed capacity, reaching 35,000 MW in 2009.
Employed 85,000 people in the U.S. in 2009.
Levelized cost for wind-generated electri-city was US$0.05-0.06/kW-h as of 2005.
Solargen photovoltaic (PV) energy project
250 MW expandable to 1,500 MW.
Project cost is US$750 million.
U.S. Department of Energy guarantees 3 PV solar projects
Guarantees US$4.5 billion.
Expect 1,330 MW capacity;
Expect 1,400 construction jobs.
Blythe thermal solar power project.
Capacity is to be 1,000 MW;
Cost estimate US$5-6 billion;
Over 1,100 construction jobs for 3 years;
220 permanent operations jobs.
Nine other thermal solar projects in California
If approved, 4,300 MW capacity;
8,000 construction jobs;
1,000 operations jobs

The table below summarizes analyses of nationwide expenditures and economic benefits that have been estimated for implementing renewable energy capability in the U. S.  The achievements shown were accomplished without economic incentives such as a tax on carbon use or a cap-and-trade penalty system.

Renewable Energy Technology
Cost of investment; effect on employment
Meta-analysis of job creation by renewable energy, 2009-2030
Assuming a 40% renewable portfolio standard, estimate over 4 million new full time job years over this time;
0.76% per year improvement in energy efficiency adds 3 million new full time job years.
California’s energy efficiency program 1972-2006
Per capita electricity use remains constant while U. S. nationwide use increases 40%;
Households saved US$56 billion;
About 1.5 million full time equivalent jobs were created, having a payroll of about US$45 billion;
For every job lost in fossil fuel energy, 50 new jobs created in the California economy.
California’s AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, mandates renewable standards by 2050
California’s economy will increase by about US$76 billion;
Household incomes will increase by up to US$48 billion;
About 403,000 jobs in efficiency and other fields related to climate action will be generated. 
Land-based wind energy
Jobs in wind energy could expand from 85,000 workers to as high as 1,275,000 jobs by 2030.
Offshore wind energy
Adding 54 GW of offshore wind to U. S. generating capacity by 2030 would create US$200 billion of new economic activity, including the creation of 43,000 new permanent direct jobs;
Cost of electricity would be US$0.10/kWh by 2020, and US$0.07/kWh in 2030
Solar energy
93,500 workers as of Aug. 2010, adding 26% more in 2011

Energy efficiency.  In addition to renewable energy sources, implementing energy efficiency measures offers significant opportunities for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.  Examples are included in the following table.

Energy Efficiency Measure
Cost of investment; effect on employment
Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) retrofit of existing government, commercial and residential buildings
$40 billion in projects since 1990;
$50 billion savings in energy costs;
330,000 person-years of direct employment; and
420 million tons of CO2 not emitted.
According to McKinsey and Co., about $550 billion worth of energy renovation work on public buildings can be found in the U. S.

Significant energy savings are realized immediately, resulting in short payback periods.
Reduced energy and maintenance costs provide 30-35% savings
ESCOs participate directly in the funding and guarantee that the completed project will afford the anticipated savings.
Avoids need for bonding authority.
ESCOs participate in risk burden of financing.
Net savings may be applied for other purposes, including support for additional efficiency projects.
The U. S. National Academies report, “Real Prospects for energy Efficiency in the United States” shows how energy efficiency can make significant contributions to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases by 2030.
Reduced emissions can be achieved in residential and commercial buildings, in the transportation sector, and in industrial processes.
By 2030 the energy savings could be 26-30% below the usage forecast without efficiency measures in place.
Technologies to achieve significant gains in energy efficiency exist at this time, or will shortly become practical.
For electricity, the energy savings that can be achieved are large enough to reverse the need to install new generating facilities.

© 2011 Henry Auer