Is there actually good news on carbon emissions?

From a recent issue of Nature, from Robert B. Jackson,

Rapid growth in global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry ceased in the past two years, despite continued economic growth. Decreased coal use in China was largely responsible, coupled with slower global growth in petroleum and faster growth in renewables.

I would call that speculative, most of all because we don’t know how much of China’s current economic and thus coal-burning slowdown is cyclical rather than structural.  Still, it might be true.

How much news has this received, relative to the Paris meetings?  Less than a hundredth, I suspect.  Typical readers and viewers are far more interested in the deliberate actions of high-status political leaders than they are interested in underlying structural developments, even when the latter are probably of more import.  We need dramatic stories with prestigious protagonists, leading the way.  Even if some hate those individuals and their status, at least they then have someone to rail against, as indeed you will find in the comments section of this blog, among many other places.

This is just one way in which I feel the world I live in is a delusion and shadow play, relative to the truth.

The original pointer was from Marc Andreessen, with later re-emphasis from Noah Smith.


'Typical readers and viewers are far more interested in the deliberate actions of high-status political leaders than they are interested in underlying structural developments, even when the latter are probably of more import.'

And when was the last time this web site linked to the Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis at , from the National Snow and Ice Data Center? Because the structural developments in Arctic and Antarctic ice coverage have been fascinating when using satellite collected real time data.

Yeah, I feel like Professor Cowen is being very hypocritical, or at least very inconsistent with these claims. You could really say this about politics in any context. Why is he choosing to make this point here? Because he wants to belittle the accomplishments of the Paris talks?

I really should not post so hastily, because this nugget from the director and general director of the Mercatus Center is truly wonderful, especially in light of the story of how MRU was created by 2 professors, youtube, and a $4 app - 'This is just one way in which I feel the world I live in is a delusion and shadow play, relative to the truth.'

Has the prior_approval troll bot been replaced with a new model? Or does the "test" just indicate an upgrade of the previous model?

China is burning coal to produce aluminum which it is then selling at a loss. We can all hope that the Chinese run out of money for this nonsense soon.

Switching from coal generating plants to a modern combined cycle plant cuts CO2 per kilowatt hour by about two thirds so there are big opportunities for savings at moderate cost given the current glut of natural gas. The gain is partly chemistry - coal is pure carbon, while natural gas is part carbon and part (non-polluting) hydrogen - and partly physics - combined cycle allows more of the energy in the fuel to be converted to electricity. Russian natural gas fueling Chinese electrical production could be a boon for the world's environment.

I read recently that biologists have seen an unexpected explosion in the population of limestone producing plankton in the oceans so there is at least some hope that there is a negative feed back cycle at work that will result in a natural removal of some of the excess carbon from the atmosphere.

On Russian gas supplying Chinese power stations - indeed this is a trivially easy way to cut huge amounts of emissions. The same with Europe. Russia has enough gas in the ground to feed all these countries for a long time. The main reason stopping this is geopolitics - the Chinese and the Europeans don't want to depend too much on Russian gas, probably rightly so. This is a good example of why the Paris conference is doomed to disappoint as Tyler says. Talk is cheap but doesn't butter any bread. The best thing the US could do to reduce global warming at a moderate cost would be subsidise Gulf Coast LNG Export plants and ships - flood the world market with cheap LNG. This would encourage countries like China to not worry so much about being dependent on Russia as they would have a back up source of natural gas.

If you think the limitations are mostly geopolitical, which I agree with, then shouldn't a Paris conference giving everyone a geopolitical framework to work within be a useful thing? If China can get domestic political cover to cut emissions with their code red smog alerts, and geopolitical cover to invest in the middle east or import from Russian without it being seen as challenging the US then you have a path forward.

Andre - the issue is much more difficult than people just getting together to chat about a problem. That really only works in the minds of midwestern elementary school teachers (and their impressionable students).

The fact is that China and Europe fear Russia, for good reasons. The only way they could be easily persuaded to sign up to buy lots of Russian gas is if they knew that there was an easily available source elsewhere that they could turn to if/when Russia turned nasty. Hence the need for someone to put money on the table to create that source. If the US or someone else is not willing to do that, then situation won't change. Literally the Chinese would rather have severe global warming than be dependent on Russia.

"subsidise Gulf Coast LNG Export plants and ships"

Subsidies probably would not be necessary or desirable. Just expedited approvals for LNG projects in Canada and the United States. Australia is already rushing ahead with LNG.

Australia built LNG export facilities in Western Australia and locked in good prices with long term contracts. But it is less clear that more recently constructed Australian export facilities will turn out to be a good investment. The trouble is the low cost of wind and solar energy are helping to keep a lid on LNG prices and middle eastern producers are expanding their solar capacity so they'll have more natural gas and LPG to export. Sure, if more countries introduce or increase carbon prices it will help push up natural gas prices, but it will also encourage the building of renewable generating capacity and so might not result in a long term boost. The United States might be a bit late to this party.


I understand that world prices for LNG/LPG are still above North American domestic prices.

Increased export capacity, where ever it is built, will lower the world price which will encourage countries like China to switch from coal to LNG. Falling prices are a feature not a bug.

Jorgensen, I am just pointing out that if Australia's latest LNG export investment looks like it won't make much of a return, then companies in the US may decide it is not a good investment and not build US LNG export capacity. However, I could be wrong about this. For one thing the lower cost of capital in the US would make export facilities profitable at a lower international prices. If export facility construction does go ahead then we can expect US natural gas prices to rise and encourage the further build out of US renewable capacity. Unfortunately in Australia the increase in natural gas prices that resulted from being exposed to the international market, along with the removal of our carbon price, resulted in more coal burning, the shutdown of at least one gas power plant with more to come, and the conversion of load following gas power stations to peaking plants. But this effect is likely to be less in the United States with coal making up a considerably smaller portion of the generating mix.

It's not the "good news" the climate scientists make it out to be, especially on the economics side of their claims.

I think it is interesting how we feared peak resources and then sort of stumbled on peak consumption. One driver for change has certainly been costs, search for new efficiency, and search for lower cost replacement. But part to has to be the cultural value placed on green solutions. They worked hand in hand.

If you look at the value network pushing something simple like LED traffic lights, it included all kinds. Idealists, capitalists, and cities seeking to reduce costs.

The energy intensity of our economy falls because ultimately that serves many groups.

LED traffic lights. How about LED traffic lights that are operated on a demand basis so that carbon-spewing vehicles aren't pointlessly idling at empty intersections? Is it really necessary that every metro area have thousands of lights shining next to freeways when cars are required to have headlights? One big step in carbon reduction in the US would be the elimination of clothes dryers, people got along fine with clothes lines ever since rope was invented. Air conditioning, a major consumer of electricity, didn't even penetrate the residential market until the late sixties and early seventies, people could go back to fans. Of course, there will be no regression on any of these fronts because it wouldn't be accepted by the users. The psuedo-problem of AGW must be solved with no substantial inconvenience to anyone other than an increase in the diversion of wealth.

I went to a city council meeting once, for another issue, and heard the city traffic manager explain how it works for us. Basically everyone tries to time signals as much as they can, but some are city, some are county and some are CalTrans. They try to coordinate, but they have to bridge separate systems.

But yeah, this is the kind of thing that takes time and aligned interests.

"We need dramatic stories with prestigious protagonists, leading the way. Even if some hate those individuals and their status, at least they then have someone to rail against, as indeed you will find in the comments section of this blog, among many other places.

This is just one way in which I feel the world I live in is a delusion and shadow play, relative to the truth."

What did Shakespeare say. "all the world's a stage?"

Anyway, I think I agree with you. That is why I think Jonathan Gottschall's book "The Storytelling Animal" is so important, the idea that evolution may have shaped are desire and need for stories.

It's one of my favorite quotes: "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts"

Thanks for posting a more complete quote

I left out the part about the infant puking in the nurse's arms. Shakespeare should have stopped while he was ahead.

Equally famous and perhaps the specific ones that Tyler was thinking of are the lines from "MacBeth":

"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

I meant "our desire and need for stories."

Glory be! They've saved the World from the worst scourge since Poverty. No, wait . . .

Anyhow, this frees them up to feverishly, 24/7 work to save humanity from Republicans.

Unexpectedly, emerging markets and China likely are in recessions. Unexpectedly, commodities price deflation probably reflects economic weakness. Reduce the supplies of energy, and raise costs. What unexpectedly could go wrong?

They were expendable. Gaia may survive. Poor people around the globe will not have it so salutary. Climate change fanatics and tree-baggers won. Anyhow, it was all over for emerging world poor people, unexpectedly.

I just wish there was somewhere I could go to make a long term bet that 1. The earth will be warmers in 20, 30, 40 years (global warming will not be stopped) 2. Standards of living around the world will be higher 3. more food will be produced global than every before.

something like the Simon Elrich wager.

I agree with all of these predictions.

I would like a guess at a number for (a) however.

Remember that while Simon won several hundred bucks on the bet, but Erlich got a MacArther award.

The bet was 10k, but point taken a MacArthur award is worth far more.

It is yet another indictment of the MacArthur foundation that it gave money to someone who has been so wrong so often. But they are free to do whatever they want with John D's money. Hey, it's better than if it had gone to the government!

Hmm, don't know much about it, but according to Wikipedia "Ehrlich paid Simon the difference in price between the same quantity of metals in 1980 and 1990 (which was $576.07)"

Which is what I had heard from somewhere. Probably Tim Worstall.

I think you want to find farm land on the northern prairies in Canada next to a river and just a little too cold to grow crops well right now. That should benefit from all three of your predictions.

Most people would bet in that manner. I'm not sure what your point is. All of those things could be true while at the same time climate change causes serious problems for the environment and humans.

The fact that no one out there is willing to bet against global warning reveals the lie of the deniers. The effects of any measures we take now won't be felt until the end of the century anyway. Taking the turkey out of the oven doesn't cool it down right away. The possibility that "more food" will be produced or standards of living might be higher in a generation may well happen, in spite but not because of climate change - standards and ag production have always been going up - and says nothing about the bad climate-related impacts that will happen.

"Even if some hate those individuals and their status, at least they then have someone to rail against"

straight out of The Last Psychiatrist's media-narcissism theory

This is the closest I have seen Tyler Cowen to acknowledging that MR attracts some odious commenters.

Is that the straussian reading ?

There is good news out of China, and it has been known for some time that the Chinese have become committed to trying to clean up, even as they continue to build coal-fired power plants. The tougher call and almost certainly the hardest negotiation in Paris involved India, the other big carbon emitter besides the US and China, and the one expected to be increasing its emissions over the next decade and a half or so. Obama and Kerry managed to get Modi on board somehow, even though India takes a much harder line against the high inome nations and has still to engage in successful rural electrification, much of which will be supplied by coal-fired power plants, despite serious efforts to use alternative sources as well. China has largely completed its rural electrification, but India has just gotten started, and there was no way they were going to agree not to do it or to only do it by non-carbon emitting methods.

If the US and China increased the share of electric power from nuclear to French levels (about 75%), that would make a significant reduction in CO2. Currently, the US is about 20% and China about ~2%. The US regulatory agency has issued one new operating permit in the past 20 years. China has 24 new nuclear power plants under construction (27 currently in operation) and plans to have 100 new reactors by 2020 and 400 by 2050. At a guess, that'll bring the nuclear share somewhere in the neighborhood of 15% by 2020.

About half of China's rail capacity is used to move coal, so increasing nuclear capacity can have additional effects.

Personally I support pursuing thorium nuclear power, which the Indians are studying seriously. It is more abundant, the reactors are safer, and you cannot make nuclear weapons out of what comes out of them. Indeed the latter fact is why the US went for uranium in the 50s rather than thorium. We wanted to be able to make such weapons out of what came out of our reactors.

" the Chinese have become committed to trying to clean up, even as they continue to build coal-fired power plants."

non sequitur

Well... according to one article I read about 70% of electricity is generated by coal, but new coal power is less than 60% of all new electric generation. I suspect this is distorted by the huge recently completed Three Gorges Dam project which by itself generated nearly as much power as all the Chinese nuclear reactors put together.

Freeman Dyson says more CO2 will be good for the earth and for humans.

Here are two links on that

Oh wow! CO2 helps plants grow! Nobody knew that before Freeman Dyson told us! What a brilliant man! What is the matter with all these people worrying about sea level rise and melting glaciers anyway?!?!?

+1 on your "shadow play" feeling.

Does anyone in the environmental movement express gratitude to oil companies and/or OPEC for their past price gouging? What peril would face us if they had not made energy so expensive? (OTOH, usually demand is inelastic, in their view.)

No one is thanking the oil companies as, for one, they've been willing to create FUD to protect their bottom line even though they new about warming before it became a big deal in the 90s.
Also, the higher prices just make things like tar sands oil and fracking turn profitable. And tar sands is especially energy intensive.
OTOH, it's not like a sportsball game or something. If Exxon &co. would have spent less money on bribing scientists to create FUD and on lobbyists and more on
clean energy, we'd all be in better shape. But that's not how Capitalism works.

Maybe you can make precise you suggestion they are generating the "fear" in FUD. And "Bribing." Really! Frankly, the scientific process welcomes bribes.

"Higher prices just make tar sands profitable." LOLZ! It also is what makes dams, windmills, solar panels, and efficient cars and buildings profitable.

Funny how none of the deniers trust scientists about climate chance except for ones on the payroll of fossil fuel industry funded projects.

"climate chance" I like that.

Maybe the fossil fuel scientist have proven themselves to be more trustworthy? (low bar)

This is just one way in which I feel the world I live in is a delusion and shadow play, relative to the truth.

I suggest that you try to live in a world that is less zeitgeisty and less media-centric. Try to focus on things like your family, community, job, and non-ephemeral reading material ie. quality history, classic literature ....

Yes, there is good news on carbon emissions. I had my fingers crossed that CO2 emissions would have peaked in 2013, but it looks like 2014's were slightly higher. But we definitely appear to be on track for lower emissions this year. The main reason being that coal use is down in most of the world, particularly in China. Coal use is up in India and one or two insignificant places like Australia, but not enough to change the trend. Seabourne coal prices reflect the fall in demand with prices now down to $52.54 a tonne which is 60% below its peak in early 2011.

Would a turn around in the Chinese economy reverse the trend? That's seems unlikely. With new wind and solar capacity now clearly cheaper than new coal once any half way realistic accounting of health effects are made, a boost to the Chinese economy is only likely to result in a temporary upwards tick.

A great many people seem unaware of the current low cost of wind and solar power. The United States leads the developed world in low cost wind power and Power Purchase Agreements for new wind have come in at 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour or under 4 cents once the effects of subsidy are removed. Iowa has 1.83 kilowatts of wind capacity per capita which is more than twice that of Denmark or South Australia. And solar power in the US has been bid in at under 4 cents a kilowatt-hour or at about 5.71 cents without subsidies. Multiple regions in the world have demonstrated that high penetrations of wind and solar can be accommodated at low cost.

In Austalia we install rooftop solar for about $1.46 US a watt before tax or subsidy, and since there is no reason why other countries can't get down to that price the amount of rooftop solar in the world seems certain to rapidly expand.

But a lot of this information seems to be ignored. I guess a lot of people have a pessimistic bent.

You must have a lot of sunny days in Australia.

Not as many sunny days as in Los Angeles, Phoenix, or Honolulu. The large bulk of our solar capacity is on household rooftops and no Australian capital is as sunny as those US cities. And there are probably many other US cities that are also sunnier. While Australia does have a lot of sunshine, we did have the sense to built our cities in the most habitable parts of the continent.

And I'll mention the amount of sunshine one receives affects the output of solar panels, but not the installation cost. And the output will be high in most of the United States. For example, New York receives more sunshine than Melbourne does, Austin is sunnier than Sydney, and Albuquerque is sunnier than Brisbane.

"A great many people seem unaware of the current low cost of wind and solar power. ... for new wind have come in at 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour or under 4 cents once the effects of subsidy are removed. ... solar power in the US has been bid in at under 4 cents a kilowatt-hour or at about 5.71 cents without subsidies ."

Those are good points Ronald Brak. It's likely in my mind that the hullabaloo about CO2 will become irrelevant in the face of advancing technology. While intermittency is a strategic limitation for both wind and solar, there is still significant room for growth. Most of the expert studies on the subject indicate that the US can reach around 20% renewable wind production before curtailment constraints become significantly limiting. It's highly likely that the wind / solar limit is higher than just the wind limit, since the two sources are somewhat independent in their load characteristics.

Currently solar power production is small, nearly insignificant. However, Wind power produces 4% of US electricity and that number is rapidly growing.

To get an idea of the current build out (number in total US electrical production):
2008 - 1%

2009 - 2%

2012 - 3%

2013 - 4%

Obviously, with less burning of coal and shifting to oil and gas, there has to be less CO2 emissions just as there was less pollution when shifting from wood to coal. Only he US haters think things are getting worse. Most of the pollution is in China, India, Africa and the old Soviet Union, i.e., socialist countries. However, we still have volcanoes. Are we going to ticket Mother Nature?

Look at Cheniere energy. They are about to start shipping liquid natural gas from the US fracking fields. Projects like this reduce coal-based emissions.

Plenty has been written about the demise of the Western democratic model simply because electorates balk at voting for politicians who promise to reign in unsustainable deficit spending to pay for all the ‘hard won entitlements’ like Tony Abbott because he only does whats right for Australia and also defends the right of ALL Aussies to be a bigot whenever they like no matter what UN/Fabians tell us via treaties and also MSM. Treaties that bind us to emissions that will be largely ignored by all except us of course.

Australia has become a ‘Nanny State’ the culture of handouts, subsidies and free-services is not sustainable on borrowed money funded by an escalating interest bill funded by banks overseas and they are the first candidates to crack down on bigotry even tellers nowdays enforcing all sorts of crazy PC rules.

Australia is at a tipping point and the screams from what appears to be a majority of voters who have been led to believe their entitlements are being trashed coupled with an immature debate being led by the Premiers who are resisting taking responsibility for the financial management of their states could prove to be the undoing of our democratic system of government and anarchy spawned by leftists who restrict freedoms especially racial abuse when the country was built on freedom to say whatever you like and like it or lump it.

The Chinese who are adept at always taking a long term view certainly believe that the Western democratic model is on the slide.

Where this leads on climate change promises is anyone's guess but you'd think they are having a lend of us vis a vis Soros/Brussels and the rest pulling the strings and waving the Masonic hordes through to Europe with hardly a mind.....

If you have finished wetting your pants, I will mention that according to the IMF Australia's total government debt in 2014 was 34% of GDP. In 2012 Germany's figure was 82%, the UK's 90%, the United States at more than 3 times higher at 107%, and Japan was at 134%. The figure for China in 2014 was 41%. So if Australia's at a tipping point, I guess all these other countries must have tipped right over, but they all seem to be functioning much the same as usual. So why don't you have a Bex and a nice lie down and I'm sure it will all seem better in the morning now you know we are not at the edge of some kind of disaster.

We also have a shortage of commas, and punctuation in general here 'Down Under'.

Something that doesn't get a lot of attention is that in or around 2013 we passed both peak steel and peak aluminium. Because both these metals are highly recyclable we are unlikely to ever use as much iron ore, bauxite, or coke (metallurgical coal) again. And this is, of course, good for reducing carbon emissions.

That wasn't meant to be a reply to you, carlolspin. But I did used a few commas I had left over from the 70s before Australia embarked on punctuation autarky, since I knew you'd appreciate the effort.

Mate, my comment was for Monsieur Martin's impassioned bleat, above.


Sorry, yeah, I just made a little joke. A very little joke. i should have considered how it might come across a bit more before hit "submit".

"How much news has this received, relative to the Paris meetings? Less than a hundredth, I suspect."

Eh? I don't pretend to know how the average media outlet covered it, but not only did the NY Times report this prominently, the news was also released as part of the Paris Conference. I.e. it wasn't overshadowed by the Paris meetings, it was a part of them.

"Good news on climate emissions"

Remember climate troglodytes, CH4 has ~ 30X the power of CO2 as a greenhouse gas [though its life in the atmosphere is much shorter]

& a few words from your favourite gov't agency:

18 times stronger a greenhouse gas, not 30. But either way that's a lot.

Twenty years ago estimates for the global-warming potential of methane were as low as 18 times that of CO2 over 100 years. But after investigating its effects that figure has been improved on and is now estimated to be from 32-36 times that of CO2 over 100 years, with 34 times being the commonly accepted figure. This high global-warming potential makes leakage resulting from natural gas use an extremely serious issue.

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