Ignore the Fake Climate Debate
The deniers and alarmists may make headlines, but behind the scenes, an expert consensus is taking shape on how to respond to global warming.
By Ted Nordhaus Jan. 23, 2020 11:10 am ET wsj.com
Beyond the headlines and social media, where Greta Thunberg, Donald Trump and the online armies of climate “alarmists” and “deniers” do battle, there is a real climate debate bubbling along in scientific journals, conferences and, occasionally, even in the halls of Congress. It gets a lot less attention than the boisterous and fake debate that dominates our public discourse, but it is much more relevant to how the world might actually address the problem.
In the real climate debate, no one denies the relationship between human emissions of greenhouse gases and a warming climate. Instead, the disagreement comes down to different views of climate risk in the face of multiple, cascading uncertainties.
On one side of the debate are optimists, who believe that, with improving technology and greater affluence, our societies will prove quite adaptable to a changing climate. On the other side are pessimists, who are more concerned about the risks associated with rapid, large-scale and poorly understood transformations of the climate system.
But most pessimists do not believe that runaway climate change or a hothouse earth are plausible scenarios, much less that human extinction is imminent. And most optimists recognize a need for policies to address climate change, even if they don’t support the radical measures that Ms. Thunberg and others have demanded.
In the fake climate debate, both sides agree that economic growth and reduced emissions vary inversely; it’s a zero-sum game. In the real debate, the relationship is much more complicated. Long-term economic growth is associated with both rising per capita energy consumption and slower population growth. For this reason, as the world continues to get richer, higher per capita energy consumption is likely to be offset by a lower population.
A richer world will also likely be more technologically advanced, which means that energy consumption should be less carbon-intensive than it would be in a poorer, less technologically advanced future. In fact, a number of the high-emissions scenarios produced by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change involve futures in which the world is relatively poor and populous and less technologically advanced.
Affluent, developed societies are also much better equipped to respond to climate extremes and natural disasters. That’s why natural disasters kill and displace many more people in poor societies than in rich ones. It’s not just seawalls and flood channels that make us resilient; it’s air conditioning and refrigeration, modern transportation and communications networks, early warning systems, first responders and public health bureaucracies.
New research published in the journal Global Environmental Change finds that global economic growth over the last decade has reduced climate mortality by a factor of five, with the greatest benefits documented in the poorest nations. In low-lying Bangladesh, 300,000 people died in Cyclone Bhola in 1970, when 80% of the population lived in extreme poverty. In 2019, with less than 20% of the population living in extreme poverty, Cyclone Fani killed just five people.
Poor nations are most vulnerable to a changing climate. The fastest way to reduce that vulnerability is through economic development.
So while it is true that poor nations are most vulnerable to a changing climate, it is also true that the fastest way to reduce that vulnerability is through economic development, which requires infrastructure and industrialization. Those activities, in turn, require cement, steel, process heat and chemical inputs, all of which are impossible to produce today without fossil fuels.
For this and other reasons, the world is unlikely to cut emissions fast enough to stabilize global temperatures at less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the long-standing international target, much less 1.5 degrees, as many activists now demand. But recent forecasts also suggest that many of the worst-case climate scenarios produced in the last decade, which assumed unbounded economic growth and fossil-fuel development, are also very unlikely.
There is still substantial uncertainty about how sensitive global temperatures will be to higher emissions over the long-term. But the best estimates now suggest that the world is on track for 3 degrees of warming by the end of this century, not 4 or 5 degrees as was once feared. That is due in part to slower economic growth in the wake of the global financial crisis, but also to decades of technology policy and energy-modernization efforts.
We have better and cleaner technologies available today because policy-makers in the U.S. and elsewhere set out to develop those technologies.
The energy intensity of the global economy continues to fall. Lower-carbon natural gas has displaced coal as the primary source of new fossil energy. The falling cost of wind and solar energy has begun to have an effect on the growth of fossil fuels. Even nuclear energy has made a modest comeback in Asia.
All of this suggests that continuing political, economic and technological modernization, not a radical remaking of society, is the key to both slowing climate change and adapting to it. And while the progress we’ve made has mostly not been due to climate policies that would cap, regulate or tax emissions, it has required government action.
We have better and cleaner technologies available today because policy-makers in the U.S. and elsewhere set out to develop those technologies, from hydraulic fracturing to solar panels to electric vehicles. Adaptive capacities around the world have also improved dramatically because policy-makers have invested in infrastructure, technology and economic development. And a decades-long commitment to expanded global trade and international development institutions has brought greater economic opportunities to many regions of the world that historically have been left behind.
Acknowledging that we have made progress should not deter continued investment in clean technology and climate adaptation. Rather, it should encourage us to redouble those efforts, especially because uncertainty still looms large in any assessment of climate risk. At the high end of current estimates of climate sensitivity, the world could still experience 4 or 5 degrees of warming in this century, even with significantly lower emissions.
Moreover, even if climate change does not threaten social or economic collapse, anyone who has lived through the California wildfires of recent years, or the bushfires that are currently encircling Sydney, Australia, can tell you that this is not a future most people would desire. And even if human societies end up adapting well to climate change, the planet’s biodiversity almost certainly will not.
Such conclusions are unlikely to satisfy the noisy participants in the fake climate debate. But the utopian dreams of those who wish to radically reorganize the world to stop climate change are not a plausible global future. Nor will denying the relationship between carbon emissions and global warming make the real risks of climate change go away. The world will tackle this problem the way that it tackles most other problems, partially and incrementally, by taking up the challenges that are right in front of us—adaptation, economic development, energy modernization, public health—and finding practical ways to address them.
—Mr. Nordhaus is the founder and executive director of the Breakthrough Institute and a co-author of “An Ecomodernist Manifesto.”
This is a very interesting article. Well reasoned, well written.
My view is that it is right on point for this blog - not overtly political or partisan. very factual.
Now, can we all absorb the article, perhaps agree or disagree with certain points he makes, and stop sniping?
Steve, I thought so too. That's why I posted it. I'm glad you agree. I hope other members will not feel intimidated to weigh in and join the discussion.
Let's not pretend that Skip doesn't have a political agenda with these post.
Yes, I have an agenda but it is not political unless you consider promoting a middle of the road approach falls into a particular political camp. My fear is that there is no political camp for what some would call "half measures" and others would call climate hysteria but is actually a means to address a warming planet while not cancelling the O&G business over night, causing a spike in energy costs for consumers and business or continuing to pump GHG unabated. There are choices to be made and putting them off just means that we will have fewer down the road. The discussion and public debate, here and writ large, is long over due.
And, just for the record, I’m 70 years old, and I’ve voted for every Republican presidential candidate since my first vote for Richard Nixon. Not wealthy, but contributed thousands of $$ to Republican candidates for President, US Senator, Congress, Governors and state representatives and senators over the years. I’m “invested” in our government, and I don’t ask for much in return.
Ten years ago, I would have been considered a climate skeptic. My problem was that I didn’t trust the politicians and scientists who were, what I called, climate alarmists. Their positions fit too neatly into their political beliefs. Actually, I still consider many of them climate alarmists. However, putting personalities and agendas aside (and how hard is that these days), the hard facts started to convince me that the earth has a problem. My biggest concern now is that China and India are going in the wrong direction on climate. The current administration is also, but the US is not.
I firmly believe that NG needs to play a big role in the future. As the article by Mr. Nordhaus points out, improving economies, while they may use more energy, in the long run are important to dealing with climate change. NG will play a role in that, around the world.
On this site, we will never convince a single person on anything by bickering, sniping, and throwing insults. If I want that, I’ll go to Facebook.
Thanks, Steve. I'm 68 and was a registered Republican until the early 1990's when I found the party too invested in "social issues" instead of what had made a Republican for the previous 30 odd years. I am a registered Independent and have a vested interest in my clients getting wells, monetizing their minerals, not getting cheated on their royalty revenue and not having their lands polluted. So it is no surprise that I find myself among those that are neither "drill, baby, drill" or "keep it in the ground". I am in the middle. I have regular debates similar to this with my clients, my and their O&G attorneys, CPAs, industry members and others more familiar with the industry than the general public. Although there are a number of opportunities to address fugitive emissions, the industry has been insistent that they are not needed and has far too often stoked the idea of climate change as a conspiracy or a political agenda not steeped in facts. That is changing. We saw it first with the European Super Majors and now see it moving to their US counterparts. The public and private equity lenders are applying pressure to be even more proactive. As with any issue that is this important and potentially transformative, there will be opposing points of view and yes some sniping. That is unavoidable. I do my best to stay away from that but don't shy away from standing up for what I believe is the critical issue of our time. The public debate needs to intensify but also needs be leavened with some reasonable solutions that can be accomplished quickly at modest expense and avoid hitting the average family, and those less affluent, in the pocketbook. The longer it takes to implement those common sense actions, the more we lose the ability for them to sufficiently impact the pace of warming. Long time GHS members have seen me stand up to and refute the claims of the anti-industry, anti-fracking hard green trolls that have shown up here over the years. I have done the same on other Internet sites and continue to do so today. I also do not hesitate to criticize the industry where I think it appropriate and refute the climate deniers when they try to stifle debate. I think GHS is a uniquely appropriate venue for the debate and think the vast majority of members want to have their minerals developed but wish also to have that done in a responsible manner that takes climate change into account.
I see it as that there are fewer people in the middle here in the USA. Seems that most folks have gone to the left or right of center in their beliefs. Steve P is 70 and Skip is 68. I "Two Dogs" am in the middle, cause I am 69. Part of me is still an ole hippie and part of me hates to pay money to the IRS.
What would the members think of a list of proposed changes to how O&G is regulated, taxed, incentivized, subsidized, etc. that has, as a general theme, maintaining upstream, mid-stream and downstream profitability and jobs while reducing emissions and getting the industry to cooperate with some measures to address GHG emissions more broadly and mitigate long term vulnerabilities such as orphan wells? Members could, without posting in the discussion thread, signal their opinion with a thumbs up (like) button or a thumbs down (don't like) button. Keith would have to facilitate that and I don't even know if it possible. I think we had that option in previous versions of the website.
I would like that. Another thing I would like to see is a weekly or monthly post to educate me in the gas industry for curiosity. Things like where does the gas go when it leaves my well? Multiple wells feed the pipelines. Does a new well cause back pressure on my well so it can not produce as much? When is mercaptan added to natural gas to give it an odor? When drilling a well how do they know where the bottom hole is and that it didn't go off course?
I don't follow all of the climate change fights. The US gave up all controls when the EPA made it more cost effective to move manufacturing off of our shores.
Greg, gas from "your" well goes into a gathering system pipeline We may be able to tell you where it goes from there by knowing the section-township-range location of your well.
When a new well is fracked in relatively close proximity to an existing, producing well that well is shut in. As the fractures expand out from the well bore of the new well it may be drawn to the low pressure area around the older well lateral. By shutting that older well in the operator hopes to reduce the chances of "communication" between the two frack zones. Communication is bad and reduces production in the older well. This is a serious and common problems in some basins but not so much here in the Haynesville. Although the state mandates at lease 660' between adjacent laterals, the common current spacing is 880' or six laterals per unit per landing zone. Some portion of the Haynesville Shale Basin have two landing zones, one Haynesville and one Mid-Bossier.
I am not familiar with the specific point in the gas stream where the odorizer is introduced. Perhaps someone else can answer that one.
The state requires a "directional survey" for all wells. You can find them in the state database, SONRIS. Also MWD (Measurement While Drilling) downhole tools are used in the lateral. When the well is completed, the state requires an "as drilled" plat be submitted to establish the location of the bottom hole.
I wasn't aware that EPA regulations moved manufacturing overseas. I thought that cheap labor was the primary driver of manufacturing moving out of the country. Could you expand on that? Maybe provide some statistics or link an article from a reputable source?
Skip, jobs do not leave the US just because of cheap labor. The regulations in the US push industries out also. Please feel free to google the subject and make your own decisions as to the reasons. Here are a couple of articles that I found interesting.
Skip, you're confusing shut-in due to offset-frac-interference (OFI) with repressurization. OFI is for safety (blowout & release) mitigation and monitoring. It reduces little the chance for communication since the lowering of drained area pressure has already happened. Repressurization of the parent well with water or nitrogen on the other hand is sometimes used to do as you described to increase the probability of the new frac in the child well targeting new rock.
And communication doesn't always reduce production in the older well unless it is totally inundated (killed) due to frac water and/or sand infiltration into the well bore. On the contrary, frac hits often increase parent well production but this is always to the detriment of the child well.