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Topics - rboyd

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This is the working title of my PhD dissertation (after many reviews and changes!), looking at the USA, China, Russia and India (55% of global GHG emissions) which have very divergent national attributes and geopolitical realities:

The USA: An oil deep-state (fossil fuel interests embedded in policy making institutions), the leading global power (works actively to negate challengers to its dominance). Approx. 15% of global emissions, #1 oil and gas producer, #2 coal producer. "Capitalist Democracy with a high degree of elite dominance"

China: A close to high-income country with a state NOT predominantly captured by fossil fuel interests and an ascending second place global power. Highly dependent upon fossil fuel imports (esp. oil) that can be subject to interdiction. 28% of global emissions, #5 oil producer, #1 coal producer. "Autocratic Bureaucracy (the Communist Party of China) with State Directed Capitalism"

Russia: A developed state with a very high reliance upon fossil fuels revenues, and a significant regional power. 5% of global emissions, #2 oil and gas producer, #6 coal producer. "Mixture of oligarchy and state power, with democratic institutions".

India: A medium income country with a state NOT predominantly captured by fossil fuel interests, a significant regional power (balancing between China and the USA, while trying not to be dominated by either), and with a very low per capita usage of fossil fuels. An exponentially increasing level of emissions which constitute 7% of global emissions, #3 coal producer. "Oligarchic power structure with democratic institutions"

The general thesis is that geopolitics and concerns about energy security may align with, alter, or be opposite to climate friendly policies. For example, the escalating conflict between the USA and China may put an increased focus on continued economic growth as relative economic size tends to be highly correlated with relative geopolitical power. How this focus is answered may then be affected by factor endowments and energy security considerations - the US has greatly expanded oil and gas production recently removing its concern about import reliance, while China is rapidly expanding oil imports which incentivizes it to look for alternatives (e.g. EVs powered by renewables, nuclear and coal plus more oil and gas imports across land from "friendly" countries such as Russia).

I plan to regularly post interesting readings, news items etc. as I find them plus some of my own work. I am currently working on a paper looking at the policy alternatives for China, so will probably focus on that to begin with.

Consequences / The Climatic Effects of a Blue Ocean Event
« on: July 13, 2019, 09:06:18 PM »
I have been finding it difficult to find information on the wider global impacts of a Blue Ocean Event, outside the likes of Paul Beckwith. Peter Wadhams and an odd few extremely reticent/conservative academic papers. Hopefully this topic will help bring together what knowledge there is. Impacts from the materials that I have been able to find have included:

- A collapse of the polar cell and ferrel cells with a resulting equible Northern Hemisphere climate
- A "polar cell" centred on Greenland (until that melts out) with very static jet streams and little seasonal variability
- A maritime environment in the Arctic that produces large precipitation on permafrost areas, which will then accelerate CO2/CH4 emissions
- Massive storms in the North Atlantic as the more rapid melting of Greenland creates a bigger, more intense, "cold blob" that contrasts with the warmer waters around it
- A general acceleration of climate change due to much lower Northern Hemisphere reflectivity
- More rapid melting of the Antarctic due to the climate "see-saw"
- Northward movement of the ITCZ rain belts greatly changing rainfall patterns (plus and minus) for some areas
- etc.

This is a paper I wrote on the subject a couple of years ago and its amazing how little research has been published in the interim.

Seems to generally be "the Northern Hemisphere is f***ed" with a BOE. I have started looking at real estate in Ecuador (Cuenca seems to be very nice) and the Paraguay highlands! Others insights would be much appreciated.

Policy and solutions / Schumpeterian Creative Destruction
« on: January 15, 2018, 02:25:36 AM »
Schumpeter was an economist who pushed the notion of "creative destruction" where new technologies render old ones obsolete, and therefore destroy the value of assets based upon those old technologies.

Classic examples are the refrigerator and the ice industry, cars and horse-drawn carriages, CD's and vinyl records etc.

When I look at the technological shift required to move to a low carbon economy, the scope of creative destruction is quite enormous and may happen in a relatively short time (perhaps a decade). The financial impact may easily devastate the economy. Some examples:

- Electric cars (and trucks) destroying the oil industry, large swathes of the automobile industry (including auto and truck leasing and finance) and many people's second biggest asset (their ICE car). Self-driving abilities just add to the devastation.
- The writing off of the non-depreciated value of coal, gas and nuclear power assets.
- Enforced limitation of CO2 emissions could cripple the aviation industry, and with it large segments of the tourist industries (including the economies of many tourist locations).

Then climate change itself could cause severe financial dislocation
- Real estate developments anywhere near sea level may rapidly lose value, causing loan defaults that affect bank solvency.
- If some of the forecasts for intensifying droughts in places like the south-west are true, the same could happen to real estate there.

There may be pockets of relative prosperity, but the impacts of structural unemployment, financial failures etc. may greatly limit the gains made by "winners", at least in the short-term. It does look like we have waited so long that we may be impacted badly by both the speed of the required transition, and increasing climate change impacts at the same time.

As in the 1930's, the need for government action may be critical in stabilizing the economy during the transition period. I feel that a separate thread for this is required as this issue will become more evident as the renewable technologies are at/very close to the cost cross-over point of the S-curve. In addition, any abrupt climate change (e.g. blue ocean Arctic) may trigger a significant change in social and economic attitudes to climate change.

Consequences / Damage Functions In Integrated Assessment Models
« on: June 22, 2017, 09:46:41 PM »
I was reading a paper by William Nordhaus which laid out some of the assumptions used in his DICE IAM. What struck me was the incredible simplicity of the Damage Function (which calculates the economic losses due to climate change) and the vast understatement of impacts inherent in it.

The Damage Function used is the square of the temperature, in degrees, multiplied by 0.236% of GDP. With this, 3 degrees produces a 2.1% reduction in global GDP and 6 degrees produces an 8.5% loss. Given that the general scientific consensus is that 6 degrees would be the end of civilization as we know it, doesn't seem to me that 8.5% of GDP quite captures the impact correctly.

Given that these IAMs are being used for policy decisions, for example the calculation of the cost of carbon, such spectacular shortcomings are severely worrying. I have linked to the Nordhaus paper below, as well as a research paper that looks at some of the shortcomings of IAMs. Would be useful if there are any individuals on the forum who are involved in the construction of IAMs.

Some of the discussions remind me of the financial modelling prior to the 2008 crash, simply extrapolating from past experiences, non-stochastic distributions, and assuming that "everything else remains the same" such as fully functioning and deeply liquid markets. The calculation of losses in IAMs very much share these issues. Of course, there is also the underestimation of geophysical impacts in the GCMs but that is a different topic.

Science / Exiting The Anthropocene
« on: June 21, 2017, 06:11:25 PM »
The concept of the Anthropocene creates a picture of a relatively tame Earth that responds to the actions of humanity. Within a small band of geophysical variables this may very well be true, but outside that "safe space" the Earth is more than capable of taking back control and sprinting off to some new state. The thought that we could then simply geo-engineer the Earth, as if were throwing a lasso around a horses neck, is incredible hubris.

My image of the Anthropocene is more like someone pushing on a rock that is resting on a point. Within a certain small range the rock can be moved back and forth, that is the Anthropocene. When the rock is pushed just a little too much it accelerates away with a momentum that cannot be stopped by the person that started pushing it.

This concept gets across the fundamentally tenuous position that we are putting ourselves in, and removes the hubris embedded in the current general conceptualization of the Anthropocene. Perhaps we should start thinking about the post-Anthropocene period (the Khaosocene? - the abyss). This is the reality of positive feedbacks and the evidence provided by paleoclimatology.

When those feedbacks kick in we will exit the Anthropocene and once again simply be spectators to the overwhelming power of the Earth's systems.

Policy and solutions / Trains, Trams, Subways and Buses
« on: June 13, 2017, 09:47:28 PM »
What is the role for the "traditional" mass transit options in the low carbon future? A question that seems to have fundamentally different questions between countries, seemingly based as much upon political ideology as much as local variables (e.g. population density, previous transport policies etc.).

I found some very interesting documents on the considerations of when to build train systems, and the most appropriate ownership models. Also the issues between when the train tracks are predominantly owned by the passenger transit providers (Europe, Japan etc.) and the haulage providers (the United States).

Vertical railway integration (operators own the tracks they run on) seems to be the most effective model for long-distance operators. The problems with separation were seen in the UK privatization, where the separate track operator ended up being renationalized and there have been calls to renationalize the train operators as well.

Economic effects of Vertical Separation in the railway sector

Railway in Sweden and Japan – a comparative study

The Four Big Myths Of UK Rail Privatization

The Great Train Robbery

Trump’s budget proposal slashes funding for Amtrak’s long-distance train routes — but it's not all bad

The Economic Case for Rail Subsidies

So are trams really better than buses?

A very well-balanced piece on trams versus buses. Seems to me that very regular electric buses on a properly segregated bus lane will always be better than trams. What am I missing (the city of Toronto where I live is busy putting in trams and 'light-railways')

Then of course, there is the possibility of self-driving buses with the same capacity as a tram. Assign a dedicated lane, put the sensors on the road and off you go. Well, that's how its supposed to work!

Arctic sea ice / The Fast Transition
« on: April 27, 2017, 09:04:47 PM »
Will a "Blue Ocean" event in September trigger positive feedbacks that will rapidly (e.g. a decade or so) lead to a seasonally ice free Arctic with blue ocean being the predominant state throughout the summer months?
These feedbacks would include:
- Albedo Effects (possibly mitigated by cloud effects)
- Reduced separation between the Arctic and Northern Hemisphere climate regions, allowing for greater amounts of heat transfer into the Arctic
- Greater level of storms and waves driven by open ocean (and heat contrast between ocean and land)
- Mixing of the water column in the absence of a thick ice cover, bringing up deeper, warmer water to the surface

With the extra heat taken into the open waters during Spring/Summer being vented into the atmosphere in the Fall/Winter months, will the freezing season be significantly reduced (i.e. less and less FDD's) - reducing the ability of the ice to reform and thicken?

Could the Arctic then transition to near ice free year round as the increased energy taken in through the spring/summer, together with greater heat transport from the south, reduces the FDD's further and further?
- Thinner ice at the start of the melt season leads to greater warming from reduced albedo, leads to less FDD's, leads to yet thinner ice the next melt season.

Policy and solutions / Biomass
« on: April 19, 2017, 05:26:07 PM »
There is an increasing reliance by some countries on highly controversial sources of biomass; wood chips from US forests in the UK, and corn ethanol and palm oil for liquid fuels. Some propose that such biomass is at least as bad as using fossil fuels, others say it is a low carbon fuel, so good to have a thread where we can have a discussion on this. Some background reading:


Good background article on wood pellets:

Most wood energy schemes a disaster for climate change

related Chatham House Paper

note - the above paper also pretty much destroys the assumptions used to support the case for BECCS


Corn Ethanol a net conributor to climate change?

Sugarcane Ethanol, in the Brazilian environment, reduces emissions vs gasoline

Increasing EU use of palm oil driving deforestation and peatland destruction

Policy and solutions / But, but, but, the United States
« on: April 07, 2017, 08:01:54 PM »
Given the move of the United States into a position of climate hooliganism and outright pandering to the fossil fuel industry, I feel that its appropriate to have a topic specifically for that country. There are a number of areas that the U.S. is relatively unique in:

1. The large-scale of the privately owned fossil fuel organizations, with their related oligarch owners (e.g. Koch Industries) that are very directly involved in all aspects of societal and political opinion forming and decision making. Together with the huge corporations, such as Exxon Mobil. No other advanced industrialized country has such as scale of fossil fuel interests. The value of their assets is directly threatened by substantive action to reduce fossil-fuel usage.

2. The complete lack of any control over the ability of the rich and corporations to use money as a political tool.

3. Major increases in indigenous fossil fuel production due to the fracking revolution. Falls in U.S. electricity-related CO2 emissions have mainly come from a switch from coal to fracked gas, when not accounting for fugitive CH4 emissions.

4. A world leader in industrial innovation, and a growing economic sector dependent upon the success of the energy transition.

5. The diplomatic, economic and military ability to make or break any global climate initiative.

Policy and solutions / But, but, but Germany ....
« on: April 07, 2017, 07:31:13 PM »
Germany is a great example of a country with a mature energy and industrial sector (heavily weighted toward capital goods), together with slow economic growth. It does have an indigenous coal industry, but not any major players in oil or natural gas (unlike the US, for example). Up to now the Energiewende has been focused on the replacement of the nuclear electricity generating stations, which will complete in 2022. The result has been a flatlining in CO2 emissions since 2009, with emission in 2016 actually increasing.

After 2022 the renewables will start replacing fossil fuels directly, from a position of already having a large percentage share of the electricity generating sector. The country may then be a trailblazer in overcoming a number of challenges to the energy transition, that many of the mature industrial economies will face. These issues are starting to play out within the German political policy making landscape:

1. Overcoming the entrenched economic interests of the fossil fuel providers (i.e. the coal producers and coal-fired generating plant owners). This will involve the scrapping of many coal plants and the related coal producing areas, and attempts to stretch out the timeframes for such closures are already evident.

2. Integrating an increasing share of renewables into the generating network, which gets harder as the percentage penetration increases. The addition of quick-cycle natural gas plants does provide benefits in this area, but also increases fossil-fuel dependence.

3. Driving reduction in GHG's across the energy system, not just within the current electricity generating system. According to the President of the German Environment Agency "If things do not get started in the transport sector soon, we will miss our climate goals".

Germans still have a strong commitment to the energy transition, and its political processes are not infested with oligarch and corporate money in the same way as the U.S. It also has a very substantial indigenous engineering and capital good sector. If any country should be able to overcome such challenges, it should be Germany. So tracking their progress in detail will be instructive.

I see the opposite cases to Germany as the U.S. (massive entrenched fossil fuel interests and a big-money takeover of politics) and China (very rapid growth makes the addition of renewables and efficiency gains much easier, together with an authoritarian-bureaucratic state).

We have topics for China and India (which is at a much earlier and usually energy intensive stage of growth than China), so adding ones for Germany and the U.S. should provide a good sample of countries. As well as a majority of global GHG emissions.

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