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Yesterday, the International Energy Agency released its annual report, World Energy Outlook.  The report's release has been covered in most major media outlets, but the headlines have generally focused on the report's conclusion that the United States is undergoing a sea change in production of hydrocarbons and will soon be among the world's largest oil exporting nations, likely achieving energy self-sufficiency by 2035.

What the major media are not reporting, however, or are burying at the end of the articles, is the report's conclusion that if we are going to remain below two degrees of global warming-- the level generally accepted by science and the Copenhagen Accord as "safe"-- we have to leave at least two-thirds of the known reserves of hydrocarbons in the ground.  In short, while there are differences in the details, the report effectively endorses the position taken by Bill McKibben and 350.org on the "Do The Math" tour, which either has been or will be coming to a town near you in the near future.

More below the orange cloud of coal dust.

As most Kossacks are aware, the general scientific consensus a few years ago was that the planet could only withstand warming of about two degrees centigrade if it was to remain habitable and still resemble the world we all grew up in.  That amount of warming corresponds to an atmospheric concentration of about 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide.

However, about five years ago leading climatologists, in particular Dr. James Hansen of NASA, began warning that based upon the climate impacts we have already seen after only 0.8 degrees of warming, the two-degree/450 ppm figures are too high, and the safe level is probably closer to 1.5 degrees and 350 parts per million.  Based on that new information, Bill McKibben, a writer and activist who has long battled global warming, founded 350.org in an effort to raise awareness of the fact that we have already exceeded the "safe" level.

In the July 19, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone, McKibben published a must-read article entitled Global Warming's Terrifying New Math.  If you have not yet  read it, drop everything and go do so.  However, the basic point of the article is that even to achieve the two-degree/450 ppm level that is now beginning to be recognized as too high, we can only pump another 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  The bigger problem is that the energy companies have reserves of hydrocarbons in the ground sufficient to pump 2,795 gigatons worth of carbon dioxide-- five times the safe level-- into the air, and they are intent on burning all those hydrocarbons.  Their stock prices depend on it.

McKibben and 350.org are now traveling the country on the "Do The Math" tour to spread the word about these grim hydrocarbon numbers and to kick off a campaign to encourage universities, pension funds, and other large stakeholders to divest hydrocarbon stocks.  I saw them in Berkeley last Friday, and they are likely coming to a town near you.

By coincidence, yesterday the International Energy Agency released its annual report, World Energy Outlook.  The report contains some pretty amazing new information about the transformation that has occurred in North American energy, in particular the prediction that the US will be the world's largest oil producing nation by 2020, and that North America will likely be energy self-sufficient by 2035.

The WEO finds that the extraordinary growth in oil and natural gas output in the United States will mean a sea-change in global energy flows. In the New Policies Scenario, the WEO’s central scenario, the United States becomes a net exporter of natural gas by 2020 and is almost self-sufficient in energy, in net terms, by 2035. North America emerges as a net oil exporter, accelerating the switch in direction of international oil trade, with almost 90% of Middle Eastern oil exports being drawn to Asia by 2035. Links between regional gas markets will strengthen as liquefied natural gas trade becomes more flexible and contract terms evolve. While regional dynamics change, global energy demand will push ever higher, growing by more than one-third to 2035. China, India and the Middle East account for 60% of the growth; demand barely rises in the OECD, but there is a pronounced shift towards gas and renewables.
The report itself costs 150 Euros, a bit steep for most Kossacks. However, the executive summary is available here.  Notably, the report warns that the window in which to implement the two-degree/450 ppm scenario is rapidly closing:
Successive editions of this report have shown that the climate goal of limiting warming to 2 °C is becoming more difficult and more costly with each year that passes. Our 450 Scenario examines the actions necessary to achieve this goal and finds that almost four-fifths of the CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 are already locked-in by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc. If action to reduce CO2 emissions is not taken before 2017, all the allowable CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing at that time. Rapid deployment of energy-efficient technologies – as in our Efficient World Scenario – would postpone this complete lock-in to 2022, buying time to secure a much needed global agreement to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is widely deployed. This finding is based on our assessment of global “carbon reserves”, measured as the potential CO2 emissions from proven fossil-fuel reserves. Almost two-thirds of these carbon reserves are related to coal, 22% to oil and 15% to gas. Geographically, two-thirds are held by North America, the Middle East, China and Russia. These findings underline the importance of CCS as a key option to mitigate CO2 emissions, but its pace of deployment remains highly uncertain, with only a handful of commercial scale projects currently in operation.

In short, the International Energy Agency has now essentially endorsed the basic proposition that McKibben and 350.org have been advancing, both in the Rolling Stone piece and on their current "Do The Math" tour, that the vast majority of the world's hydrocarbons have to be left in the ground if we are to remain below the two-degree-warming level.  Their formulation says one-third can be burned, whereas the 350.org position is that only one fifth can be burned, but they are on board with the basic proposition that energy companies can't burn all their hydrocarbons.

This is a pretty BFD.  The International Energy Agency is not exactly Greenpeace.  The IEA was founded in response to the 1973/4 oil crisis in order to help countries co-ordinate a collective response to major disruptions in oil supply through the release of emergency oil stocks to the markets.  In essence, they became the world's primary clearinghouse of information regarding energy stocks, potential oil supply disruptions, and the coordination of international industry and government energy policies.  Governments and energy companies, among others, turn to their annual report as a source of reliable information on the state of global energy supplies.  The fact that they are on board in principle with 350.org gives McKibben and crew a major credibility boost in communities that might otherwise be inclined to dismiss them.

So congratulations both to the IEA and to 350.org, bedfellows who, if not exactly strange, may at least find each other a bit unusual.

Originally posted to oythegoy on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 07:32 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  We Need Outreach to the Insurance Sector (19+ / 0-)

    since they're probably the one big-money industry that will first pay for climate degredation.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 07:38:51 PM PST

    •  I think the Pentagon is also a major source of (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      StrayCat, Jakkalbessie, frisco, bnasley

      Climate Reality validation. They aren't buying the denial. They're anticipating perpetual war due to climate chaos and related needs to control resources and refugees...

      Purging predominantly minority voters and requiring them to present IDs to vote in the face of VIRTUALLY NON-EXISTENT VOTER FRAUD is RACISM! I hereby declare all consenting Republicans RACISTS until they stand up and object to these practices!

      by Words In Action on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 09:39:59 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  They're puttng up a lot of solar panels on roofs (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Words In Action

        on military bases, and starting to use more ethanol, less gasoline.  Also, apparently the Air Force is working on developing biofuel for jet engines, of all things.

        Climate reality validation, yeah.  There job is to think about threats, and it seems a lot of people in the military see climate change as a threat to the US economy and security.

        --------------------- “These are troubling times. Corporation are treated like people. People are treated like things. …And if we ever needed to vote, we sure do need to vote now.” -- Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

        by Fiona West on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 08:05:28 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •   2/3 of carbon reserves related to coal - Wow (8+ / 0-)

    Not really an oil issue. Now I know why there's so many "clean coal" commercials.

    22% of carbon reserves related to oil.
    15% related to natural gas.

    Never thought I'd see the U.S. become an oil exporter.
    It should be noted IEA has been way-off on some forecasts.
    They totally missed the fracturing technology which appears to be the disruptive technology.

  •  Massive CCS is the only way to avoid 450ppm (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sebastianguy99

    Right now 41% of world energy comes from oil, 33% from coal and 24% from natural gas.
    52% of remaining fossil fuel energy is coal, 21% conventional oil and natural gas is 27%. Conventional oil reserves (which is almost entirely used for transport) will be exhausted in about 40 years at current rates(though energy use is actually increasing)-within our possible lifetime. That leaves only some natural gas for 25% of our energy and coal for the rest of our energy needs.

    CCS will allow coal mining to continue but sooner or later coal consumption will rise as gas and oil run out.

    •  What is CCS? (0+ / 0-)

      The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

      by ybruti on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 09:14:36 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Massive CCS is impossible (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      frisco

      Places in the ground to put it are about 50-100 times rarer/smaller than early optimistic predictions. Even if there were enough space, it would mean reproducing the equivalent of whole oil infrastructure — pipelines and tankers and whatnot — in reverse. That's multiple trillions of dollars of investment. And we haven't even worked out all the bugs for the easy "capture" part at scale.

      Senate rules which prevent any reform of the filibuster are unconstitutional. Therefore, we can rein in the filibuster tomorrow with 51 votes.

      by homunq on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 05:26:51 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Approved Tar Sands (4+ / 0-)

    projects in Alberta not yet developed alone will blow through targets. (Anyone seen pictures of tar sands mining there? It's devastating and not only for climate change.)

    Venezuela has larger tar sand oil deposits than Alberta that remain undeveloped.

    There is practically zero chance these sources don't get developed. From my perspective the future looks pretty bleak.  

     

    •  Tar sands projects account for about 1% (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PeterHug, 6412093

      of global emissions.

      Sure, it'd be nice to go from 100% to 99% - but that doesn't really solve much.

      For example, the shut down of Japan's nuclear power plants instantly increased global carbon output by more than the fully developed Tar Sands.

      •  Tar sands will account for a lot more than 1% if (0+ / 0-)

        development is allowed to procede as the carbon companies want it to.

        --------------------- “These are troubling times. Corporation are treated like people. People are treated like things. …And if we ever needed to vote, we sure do need to vote now.” -- Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

        by Fiona West on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 08:15:48 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  China scares me. (4+ / 0-)

    There are more poor farmers in China who want to eat more meat, and yearn for a little carbon spewing means of transportation than there are people in the US. To say nothing of wanting devices powered by electricity in order to make their lives suck less.

    Maybe one day the Fourth Estate will take their jobs seriously. Or not..

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 06:58:56 AM PST

    •  At least they are investing heavily in (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AllisonInSeattle

      wind and solar, which is why they are leading manufacturers of related technology...

      Purging predominantly minority voters and requiring them to present IDs to vote in the face of VIRTUALLY NON-EXISTENT VOTER FRAUD is RACISM! I hereby declare all consenting Republicans RACISTS until they stand up and object to these practices!

      by Words In Action on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 09:43:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Both India and China (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PeterHug, 6412093

        ..are burning coal and planning on burning more as if there's no tomorrow.

        Maybe one day the Fourth Estate will take their jobs seriously. Or not..

        by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 10:28:24 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  New report on energy just released by China (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          PeterHug

          There's no official English-language translation available yet of this report which covers the Chinese short-range view of worldwide energy (up to 2015) and how it will impact China and its own internal energy markets. One interesting point is that China has about a century of coal reserves even at their accelerating consumption rates. The Oil Drum has a discussion of the report here.

           As far as carbon capture/sequestration (CCS) the report estimates this will cost about 40% of the energy generated to achieve -- i.e. generating a gigawatt-hr of coal-powered electricity will require 400 MWhr of electricity to separate out the CO2, compress and liquify it and then pump it to wherever it can be safely sequestrated (in expended oil domes, probably). CCS will also have financial costs in terms of equipment, operations etc. making coal even more uneconomic compared to nuclear or renewables but only if governments make CCS obligatory, even for gas peaking plants which will impact the takeup of renewables somewhat.

          •  The 40% is wrong, too high but irrelevant. (0+ / 0-)

            Of remaining fossil fuel energy reserves, about 25% are conventional oil which will almost certainly all go to transportation, 25% of which is gas and 50% are coal.
            As oil runs out in 40 years, that leaves only some gas and high CO2 coal. The CO2 from that coal must be kept out of the atmosphere either by not using it or by burying the CO2. If we we don't bury it then we will simply run out of energy in 40 years, which is completely unacceptable.
            With CCS at 50% 'waste'(?!) we will have enough energy to the end of the century(assuming renewables and efficiency keep consumption of FF constant).

            •  Completely unacceptable? (0+ / 0-)

              "Unacceptable" is magical thinking. If there are only "unacceptable" options, you soon find yourself accepting one.

              Furthermore, "simply run out of energy" is silly. Renewables don't run out.

              40% cost is just the cost of capture. The real problem with CCS is the S (storage, sequestration, whatever). There's just not enough space. Handwaving projections of ample space have consistently shrunk, when it comes down to it, by 95% - 99%.

              Senate rules which prevent any reform of the filibuster are unconstitutional. Therefore, we can rein in the filibuster tomorrow with 51 votes.

              by homunq on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 05:33:14 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Blind faith in 100% renewables is wishful thinking (0+ / 0-)

                Renewables represent just 3.9% of world electricity

                http://www.bp.com/...

                There's plenty of CCS space according to the DOE.

                in the US and Canada(from 2011) and other maps have been produced.
                http://www.netl.doe.gov/...

                •  Blind faith? More like forlorn hope. (0+ / 0-)

                  Those maps you speak of are exactly what I called "handwaving predictions"; actual experiments show around 50 times less space.

                  We are facing a few possibilities:
                  1. We continue on our current emissions path. Warming is 4-7 degrees Celsius, with small but significant risk of feedback pushing it to twice that. Hundreds of millions to billions die.

                  2. We commit hugely as a society to moving to renewables (not 100%, but over 90% within 3-4 decades). This generates full employment for the forseeable future. It's not easy, but it is technologically possible, and far preferable to option 1.

                  3. We commit hugely as a society to building CCS capacity, AND the unproven CCS technology turns out to be as effective as the optimists predict. This is just as hard as option 2, but much less secure.

                  4. We turn out the lights and live in the dark. Not bloody likely, as you say, but actually preferable to option 1.

                  And even those 4 options are a gross oversimplification. We must push as hard as we can on all fronts to confront this problem. Statements which ignore renewables, such as your "run out of energy", are not helpful.

                  Senate rules which prevent any reform of the filibuster are unconstitutional. Therefore, we can rein in the filibuster tomorrow with 51 votes.

                  by homunq on Thu Nov 15, 2012 at 05:35:49 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I believe 20-30% renewables not 90% is technically (0+ / 0-)

                    possible. James Hansen says we need to immediately close all coal plants and just use conventional gas and oil to avoid 450 ppm. We have no way of forcing other people to do that. The only thing that works is to call CO2 pollution and removing it from the the comvustion exhaust as was done with sulfuric acid during the Acid rain contraversy.

        •  And are we all better off (0+ / 0-)

          if we sell our surplus natural gas to India, to burn instead of coal?  Those LNG export projects are alreeady under construction.

  •  Great diary, thanks. nt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Fiona West

    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

    by hestal on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 07:14:59 AM PST

  •  Do none of the "energy independence" folks (5+ / 0-)

    understand the idea of saving for the future? If oil is in short supply doesn't it make sense to use the oil on the world market first while we can buy it and keep our reserves in the ground? Then we'll be independent when we still have our "savings account" to draw from in the future. Why so anxious to burn up our savings account right now? ... Or does it have nothing to do with "energy independence" and everything to do with short term profits?

    Just answered my own question.

    Shouldn't burn any of it anyway.

    muddy water can best be cleared by leaving it alone

    by veritas curat on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 07:45:53 AM PST

    •  You're right. "Drain America First" is an (0+ / 0-)

      insanely shortsighted strategy.

      The complex molecules in oil are too valuable to burn, for one thing.  We need them and will continue to need them for things like making specialized plastics for medical uses, etc.  Two generations from now, people will be horrified that we took this unique substance and BURNED IT.  Not only because of the damage to the biosphere (though that's huge) -- but also because it should be saved for more sophisticated purposes.

      --------------------- “These are troubling times. Corporation are treated like people. People are treated like things. …And if we ever needed to vote, we sure do need to vote now.” -- Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

      by Fiona West on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 08:24:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Focus on reducing carbon fuel consumption (4+ / 0-)

    The issue of where the US gets its fossil fuels from is different than the level of fossil fuel we consume.

    As far as climate change is concerned, the issue is reducing US consumption, regardless of the source.  Democrats should cut a deal to have a Carbon Fuel tax, to decrease US demand for fossil fuel, in exchange for having the expansion of US production.  

    Reducing fossil fuel imports can have a major impact on jobs, federal and state taxes, economic growth and rising standard of living for the general population.

    In addition, dropping the need for foreign oil, is required ito reduce the need for defense spending and to reduce the likelihood of the US engaging in foreign wars.

    The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

    by nextstep on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 08:11:09 AM PST

  •  Most oil is in the middle east. Drilling more here (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Words In Action

    is tantamount to  "drain America first".

    The faster we drill, the sooner our reserves will be gone.

  •  A. Seigle's related diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DWG

    Purging predominantly minority voters and requiring them to present IDs to vote in the face of VIRTUALLY NON-EXISTENT VOTER FRAUD is RACISM! I hereby declare all consenting Republicans RACISTS until they stand up and object to these practices!

    by Words In Action on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 09:41:15 AM PST

  •  In 5-10 years, when the economic impact (0+ / 0-)

    of frequent Sandy-like events (and larger), devastating famine-inducing droughts, etc., becomes great enough, the environment will have people's attention. We'll be slapping "kick me, I was a denier" stickers on people's backs, if we still have time for such diversions. And those stickers would apply to many who acknowledge Climate Change but have no sense of urgency and in fact call urgency hyperbole, which is still denial.

    What people do at that point, when the deniers are removed from the equation,  remains to be seen. It all depends on whether Climate Reality awareness at that point coincides with a concomitant realization of the inevitable end of growth or not; probably not. Realization of and reaction to the end of growth will likely wait until there is actually no alternative and growth just ends because the Climate is too disruptive for the economy to grow.

    Purging predominantly minority voters and requiring them to present IDs to vote in the face of VIRTUALLY NON-EXISTENT VOTER FRAUD is RACISM! I hereby declare all consenting Republicans RACISTS until they stand up and object to these practices!

    by Words In Action on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 09:56:44 AM PST

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