The usually cautious International Energy Agency (IEA) warned last week that without far-reaching action in the next five years, the world will lock itself into high-emissions energy sources that will push climate change beyond the 2 degrees Celsius considered relatively “safe” by many scientists and officials. “As each year passes without clear signals to drive investment in clean energy, the ‘lock-in’ of high-carbon infrastructure is making it harder and more expensive to meet our energy security and climate goals,” said IEA chief economist Fatih Birol. The IEA predicts that coal consumption could jump 65% by 2035, and that oil prices are likely to hit $150 a barrel. Subsidies of renewable energy are predicted to jump by four times, hitting $250 billion annually—but this is still well below current fossil fuel subsidies of $409 billion.
“Growth, prosperity and rising population will inevitably push up energy needs over the coming decades,” said IEA director Maria van der Hoeven. “But we cannot continue to rely on insecure and environmentally unsustainable uses of energy. Governments need to introduce stronger measures to drive investment in efficient and low-carbon technologies. The Fukushima nuclear accident, the turmoil in parts of the Middle East and North Africa and a sharp rebound in energy demand in 2010 which pushed CO2 emissions to a record high, highlight the urgency and the scale of the challenge.”
The IEA’s report is in line with recent research. A study in Nature last month found that emissions must peak in less than a decade and than fall quickly thereafter if the world is to have a likely (i.e. 66%) chance of avoiding a rise over 2 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, the US Energy Department finds that global greenhouse gas emissions last year exceeded worst-case scenario predictions from just four years before. A rise of 6% (564 million additional tons) over 2009 levels was largely driven by three nations: the US, India, and China. (Mongabay, Nov. 13)
NASA’s “Operation IceBridge,” formed in 2009 to study the growing destabilization of glaciers worldwide, just released dramatic images of Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier shedding a massive iceberg, covering 340 square miles—an area larger than New York City. While this is not unprecedented, the NASA program also detected a gigantic crack in West Antarctica’s ice sheet, which could eventually split the glacier and produce an iceberg of heretofore unknown scale. Monitoring shows that the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland are melting at an accelerating pace. If current rates of ice loss continue, sea level could rise by as much as a meter or more before the end of this century. (WP, Nov. 7; Epoch Times, Nov, 6)
Van der Hoeven’s invocation of “prosperity” as a threat points to a dilemma we have noted before: Whether it is possible to address the climate crisis under a system predicated on endless growth. The official position of the US, Europe and Japan—implicitly endorsed by van der Hoeven—is that economic growth can be “decoupled” from energy use. This strikes us as—at best—a reckless gamble with the planet’s future.
Perhaps with the current global Occupation movement, the potential exists to reclaim a forthright anti-capitalism from the dustbin to which the world’s rulers had consigned it since the end of the Cold War. The IEA provides an urgent imperative for a public seizure of the global mechanisms of production and their conscious reconstitution towards social and ecological ends—in a word, socialism—even if its own director seems afraid of the logical conclusions of her warnings.
See our last post on the global climate crisis.
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$150 a barrel by 2035?
That actually sounds wildly optimistic to us. As we have noted, in the 1973 oil shock, the price shot up to a then-unprecedented $11.65 per barrel (not adjusted for inflation)—an increase of 468% over the price in 1970. As this timetable from the Illinois Oil & Gas Association indicates, in 1986 (as far in the past as 2035 is in the future), the yearly average was $14.64. And that was down from the previous year’s $26.50 because the Saudis and their Persian Gulf allies were producing like crazy to drive down the price as a means of weakening Iran. (A record had been reached in 1980 with a high of $38 as a result of the Iranian revolution.)
Prices currently stand at around $100 a barrel. So (again not adjusting for inflation, the news accounts of the IEA study being ambiguous on this point), if prices rise over the next 25 years as much they have over the past 25 years, we will be looking at $185 a barrel, not $135. And that is not taking into account the possibilities (probabilities?) of “peak oil,” devastating war in the Middle East, etc.
So we’d like to know how the IAE did their math. Are you reading this, fellas?
Arctic sea ice at 1,450-year low
The recent loss of sea ice in the Arctic is greater than any natural variation in the past 1,450 years, a Canadian study shows. “The recent sea ice decline…appears to be unprecedented,” said Christian Zdanowicz, a glaciologist at Natural Resources Canada, who co-led the study and is a co-author of the paper published this week in Nature journal. In September, Germany’s University of Bremen reported that sea ice had hit a record low, based on data from a Japanese sensor on NASA’s Aqua satellite. The US National Snow and Ice Data Center, using a different satellite data set, reported that the sea ice coverage in 2011 was the second-lowest on record, after the record set in 2007. (CBC, Nov. 23)
Next: Greenland real estate rush?
From The State Column, Dec. 10:
Will global warming cancel next Ice Age?
From BBC News, Jan. 9:
Then of course there is the speculation that global warming could paradoxically bring about the next Ice Age…
Fuck the fish
From AFP, Jan. 16:
Sea ice loss at “tipping point”
From New Scientist, March 27:
Northwest Passage oil rush
A phenomenon we have sadly noted before. Receding sea ice frees up more arctic waters for oil exploitation—so we can spew more carbon into the atmosphere, leading to… more receding sea ice. Ah, the perverse genius of capitalism… The Economist reports on the Arctic Council meeting in Stockholm March 24:
The Economist hails the international cooperation in exploiting Arctic hydrocarbons, with only a slightly wry sense of cynicism:
The Arctic Council consists of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Russia, the United States, and Canada, plus six non-voting representatives of indigenous Arctic peoples such as Sami and Inuit.
See our last post on the struggle for the Arctic.