Don’t burn all the fossil fuels (yet)

Tom James @ 19-02-2009

icebergAccording to Professor Gary Shaffer of the University of Copenhagen we should stop burning fossil fuels now so that we will have enough coal, oil, and gas left when we need to fend off the next ice age over the next several hundred thousand years:

…for a management scenario whereby fossil fuel use was reduced globally by 20% in 2020 and 60% in 2050 (compared to 1990 levels), maximum global warming was less than one degree Celsius above present. Similar reductions in fossil fuel use have been proposed by various countries like Germany and Great Britain.

In this scenario, combustion pulses of large remaining fossil fuel reserves were then tailored to raise atmospheric CO2 content high and long enough to parry forcing of ice age onsets by summer radiation minima as long as possible. In this way our present equable interglacial climate was extended for about 500,000 years, three times as long as in the “business as usual” case.

Nice to see some people are cranking up their Buxton indices into the 100, 000 years range.

[via FuturePundit][image from nick  russill on flickr]

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8 Responses to “Don’t burn all the fossil fuels (yet)”

  1. meika says:

    and by the same token we should not use any uranium, there is not much of it, and as it provides the biggest bang per kilo, it should be saved for space exploration, using it to boil water in really big kettles is a complete waste.

  2. Robert Koslover says:

    Thank you, Tom, for this interesting note. Isn’t it remarkable that the arctic ice is evidently expanding (yes, expanding)? See http://news.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/02/19/0420255 . So one of the few near-term testable predictions of the AGW alarmists, i.e., that the arctic ice would shrink (see http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2008/050508.html ) has just dramatically failed. But hey, let us pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! Just repeat after me, young citizen of the world: “Anthropogenic global warming is not controversial! There is a global consensus! The science is settled… The science is settled… The science is settled…” Good, that’s the spirit. Now let’s charge anyone who disagrees with us with war crimes (see http://newsbusters.org/node/8249 ). And let’s join with NASA’s Dr. James Hansen, the recognized top scientist of the entire AGW alarmist movement, and defend the right of mobs to vandalize coal-burning power plants (see http://volokh.com/posts/1221341599.shtml ). After all, we have a world to protect, right? Debates are for small minds. Greater minds, like those of James Hansen and Al Gore, know that absolutist ideologies and enforced conformity are much, much healthier. And who are we peons to question Al Gore? Indeed, we are not worthy (not worthy!) to criticize his endless CO2-spewing international jet traveling or the massive energy-consuming home that he so richly deserves!

  3. Robert Koslover says:

    Tom, to avoid any misinterpretation here, let me state that I do not mean to imply that you personally are any part of a mindless mob. Rather, I am leveraging your post as an opportunity to cite the recent slashdot report about the increasing arctic ice, and furthermore, to express my opinion about the AGW alarmist crowd in general.

  4. JasperPants says:

    Its been a quiet spell at Futurismic for pro-AGW posts.

    Is enthusiasm waning?

    RK and many, many others are noticing reality is living up to the hype.

    I wonder, when will our politicians notice?

  5. JasperPants says:

    sorry: is = isn’t

  6. Tom James says:

    @Robert Koslover and JasperPants:

    My feeling vis a vis AGW is neatly summed up by this xkcd cartoon.

    As regards actual policy I’m entirely comfortable with the idea that civilization needs to wean itself off fossil fuels because:

    1) Coal mining is environmentally damaging, even if you don’t believe in AGW, and also costs the lives of thousands of miners every year.

    2) Energy security is becoming an increasing problem. Oil and gas reserves give political weapons to unpleasant regimes, so it’s a good idea to move away from fossil fuels for this reason.

    3) Fossil fuels are a finite resource and may become less economically viable over the next few decades: it makes sense to diversify our energy portfolio and invest in alternative energy sources sooner rather than later.

    I’m not a huge fan of the precautionary principle, but when it comes to CO2 and methane emissions the potential downside is large and there is no upside (well, apart from relatively cheap energy for a few decades), for this reason and the points above (and the possibility the stuff might be useful later on, if Prof Shaffer is right), it makes sense to me to avoid taking unecessary risks.

    As to the Slashdot article: I really don’t know enough about climate science to comment :).

  7. Robert Koslover says:

    Tom, I fully agree with your points 1,2, and 3. [Meanwhile, in regard to pure CO2, I must confess that I don’t even consider it a pollutant, let alone a threat to the survival of life on Earth.]

  8. Jo Thomas says:

    The biggest problem with climat change is that the mechanisms and the results are still unknown, no matter how much research we think we’ve done. I hasten to add that i’m not working on any of this for a living, so I have no clue, whatsoever! But while at University 10 years ago, my Environmental Management (and related subjects) professors were telling me that there were many possible outcomes, ranging from global warming to ice age. What makes the guess difficult is that Earth has multiple mechanisms to balance itself out. My bet’s still on thermohaline circulation difficulties, despite contrary evidence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shutdown_of_thermohaline_circulation) – but then I just like the idea.