Issue No1: The World Needs to Quickly Stop Using Fossil Fuels….Not So Fast!
Authors Note: To view the charts, read this article on a large screen. And, if you’d prefer to listen instead, click on the green arrow above.
Where does one start? The case for climate change has been signed and sealed by most of the global media, environmental organizations, academia, politicians, et al. Contrarian thinking is clearly unwelcome and is given little serious time or reflection. So, you ask, why waste either of our time on such a useless exercise? I’ll give it a go if you’re game. So, let’s buckle in.
Let’s begin with a touch of self-examination. Accepted Fact: Human behavior is guilty of destroying our planet with fossil fuels and it requires urgent address. Given the immense gravity of this claim, I’d assume that you’ve conducted balanced research to convince yourself that this is in fact true. Only you know the honest answer. I have, and hence this series creation.
For the record, I’m convinced that the earth is going through a warming period for the past 20–30 years. By definition, weather is always changing. For 4.5 billion years, the planet has cycled between hot and cold periods. So, climate change is a farcical oxymoron. So, if you’re a warming believer, we’re not at odds. However, to that point, no credible scientist can predict with 100% certainty either the length of this cycle or its degree of increase. At best they provide only a degree of probability. I suspect we’ll disagree about the cause. More on that point later.
Reducing the use of fossil fuel seems to be a sensible goal, regardless of its degree of real or perceived impact on the planet. However, two compelling issues require conclusive evidence of near-term pending peril. First, the required urgency and realistic speed needed to meet the goal. And secondly, the role of humans. This article makes no attempt to resolve the second point. Rather, it offers you perspective regarding the speed of withdraw.
Accomplishing this quickly is impossible due to its complexity, lack and scale of new fuel substitutes and expense. Here’s why. For one, fossil fuel is used in every country on the planet for creating heat/electricity, manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, construction, and many other needs. Secondly, each sovereign country has their own interpretation of their environmental urgency, financial capability, national security issues, ready access to replacement energy source and infrastructure requirements.
The country-by-country understanding for best managing the COVID-19 pandemic exemplifies my point. After 2 plus years and with nearly 6 million deaths worldwide, confusion reigns everywhere versus universal consensus. A unified international forced march to a fossil-free conclusion is both naïve and financially unaffordable. We’ve never and I repeat NEVER globally united for anything. America didn’t need global unity to put a man on the moon and World Wars involved very few countries. Only ignorant zealots and/or charlatans would suggest otherwise.
This 2020 table illustrates the contributors and the sources causing the emissions.
The Top 10 countries cause roughly 66% of the emissions, so let’s get their agreement to significantly reduce their role. You’ll note that China (26.1%), USA (12.6%), EU (26 countries — 7.5%), India (7%) and Russia (5%) represent roughly 58% of the total emissions. China, India and Russia (38% of the total emissions) have agreed to nothing bindable and are non-committal to reductions anytime soon. And who is responsible for measuring the emissions — the emitter of course! According to Time Magazine, China plans to build 43 new coal-fired power plants and 18 new blast furnaces in 2021–2022 — equivalent to adding about 1.5% to its current annual emissions. They are constructing hundreds of them all over the world. India is also continuing to build coal furnaces. Like all countries, they’re going to do what is good for them.
The static comparative approach above neglects an important component in measuring emissions — population size and growth. This approach produces a very different finding.
For instance, on a per capita emissions approach, the US has reduced its global share of roughly a 60% to about 15% (2016), while its population has more than doubled during the same period growing from 150 million to 323 million (2016) or 215%. China’s population grew by 250% during the same period. If every emission unit was treated equally, a more rapid population increase would produce a declining trendline on this chart. So, their rapid emissions increase from 2% (1950) to 30% (2016) clearly demonstrates their dependency on primitive emission technologies and/or a lack of environmental priority. A higher denominator (re: population increase) should favor China. For the US, the dramatic emissions per capita decline preceding WWII is the result of years of continuous capital investment and energy substitutions that will continue to naturally favor lower emissions.
A swift conversion to alternative environmentally friendly energy options will require finding dependable cost-effective replacements that produce the required energy equivalents and the accessibility to massive volumes of it.
Don’t think for a minute that these replacements can be premium priced without consumer push back. In the US, the media makes a big deal when gas prices go up a couple of cents from our already ridiculously low prices. The Federal Excise Tax is 18.4 cents and hasn’t been changed since 1993. On an inflation adjusted basis, the US average price of gasoline is $3.48 (2022), which is about 57 cents more than it was 60 years ago. Pandering politicians turn into windsocks and quickly side with their constituents. The complicit media never takes these double-talking politicians to task about their hypocrisy. A revolving door of insincerity. The public is also THE major cause of this 3-ring circus.
Renewables certainly have their place in this environmental shift, but they aren’t THE answer to everything. Let’s first take a snapshot macro view of US energy consumption by sector. We’ll get more into renewables shortly. Unfortunately. I couldn’t locate a more up to date chart than 2017, but I liked this detailed presentation and it likely hasn’t changed significantly. Let me provide you with a quick example of how to use it. The left stacked bar shows that petroleum constituted 37% of all sourced energy types and 72% was used in the transportation sector. Conversely, petroleum contributed 92% for all the energy requirements in the transportation sector.
A couple of quick findings:
· Transportation is VERY (92%) dependent on oil.
· Coal has virtually no role except for electric power and its in rapid decline in the US. More to come on this point in my upcoming Issue2.
· Nuclear power is the only one-trick pony with all its contribution directed at creating electricity.
· Natural gas and renewables are both similar in their flexibility to service multiple energy sectors.
For brevity, I’m going to focus on just on the transportation segment in this first article in the series. Depending on your source, it’s either the #1 or #2 emitter and I’ll cover other issues later.
Let’s move on to the transportation sector next. Here’s a 2018 breakdown of the global emissions caused by various modes of transport activity. The data is sourced from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and indicates roughly 75% of emissions are resulting from road vehicles.
They forecast that “global transport (measured in passenger-kilometers) to double, car ownership rates to increase by 60%, and demand for passenger and freight aviation to triple by 2070”. Combined, these factors would result in a large increase in transport emissions. Obviously, substantial technology innovations will be required to manage the massive rise in emissions.
Electric vehicles (EV) are the current hot innovation. In the US, Tesla commands a 76% market share and VW, Ford and GM share the remaining market in 2021. Together they represent roughly 3% of the US vehicle market. All the major automotive names, as well as several interesting start-ups including Lucid and Rivian, are projected to spend roughly a half a trillion dollars on developing and producing both new vehicles and batteries through 2030. Clearly, the business community has bought in on EV technology and its marketability.
The chart below shows a typical long-term projection for the US. An example of a battery electric vehicle (BEV) is a BMW 13 and a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) would be a Toyota Prius Prime. They represent different approaches to an EV. It should be noted that the Biden administration is forecasting almost double this very aggressive pace without any supporting rationale
Products like liquified natural gas (LNG), compressed natural gas (LCNG) and propane are being used as a gasoline/diesel replacement in both trucks and cars. LNG is a much cleaner burning fuel than diesel and reduces emissions up to 75%. Their increased use in buses and trash collection vehicles has proven to improve the local air quality in both rural and urban environments. It also has been used in tractor-trailers, motorcycles, ships, and aircraft. According to Wikipedia, there were almost 28 million LNG vehicles globally in 2019 including 160,000 in the US.
Here’s another example of hypocrisy. Check out US vehicle ownership and its impact on fuel efficiency (re: MPG). This chart illustrates how little progress Americans have made since 1975, when this data was first required by the EPA. As a nation, we have increased our MPG from 20 (1980) to 25 (2020). These pathetic numbers speak for themselves. And, what’s driving this trend. In a few words — buyer ego and cheap gas.
The chart below shows on the left the declining share of higher MPG vehicles (re: cars) at the expense of larger gas hogs (e.g., SUV’s, pick-up trucks, etc.), which have roughly 70% units share of the US vehicle market. The chart on the right shows recent average prices for gasoline.
For perspective, comparable gas prices in Western Europe are $5.50-$6.50 per gallon (Feb 2022). As for MPG, the European Union (EU) has mandated average fuel economy across manufacturer’s fleets the equivalent of about 57 U.S. miles per gallon mpg in 2021, up from 41.9 miles per U.S. gallon in 2015, and 92 miles per U.S. gallon by 2030. Excuse the pun, but they’re kickin’ our ass by miles!
Most Americans believe climate change/global warming is real. This 2021 survey chart shows the consistency of support for this claim.
Based on their vehicle purchase behavior, the actions of many of these believers don’t appear to be in synch with their survey response. This MPG issue is a real conundrum, or is it another example of hypocrisy?
However, changing the focus from MPG to emissions provides a much more satisfying result. These reductions are great, but the overall story would be so much more encouraging if MPG was seriously targeted by politicians.
I’ve already addressed America’s hypocritical purchase behavior when given the choice of driving high MPG vehicles vs. gas hogs. Most buyers have consistently voted with their wallet in favor of low MPG vehicles if gas prices remain low. And our politicians don’t have the backbone to substantially raise the federal tax on gasoline or place a surcharge on low MPG vehicles. This issue lies in the lap of our government to lead vs. pander.
Here’s a forecast for emissions reductions in the transport sector by fuel application, which is like many other forecasts, and which illustrates a dramatic improvement of roughly 85%. During this same time, the global population is broadly estimated to increase roughly 20% from 7.9 billion to 9.4 billion. So, on per capita basis, if this forecast is close to being correct is a very impressive reduction.
You’ll note the lone non-participant in significant emissions progress in this forecast is the aviation fuel sector. It’s a bit misleading because the industry has made great strides in reducing emissions through the replacement of older less fuel-efficient equipment and replacing it with the opposite. But aviation fuel can’t be quickly replaced by any known energy source. Solar and wind certainly aren’t the answer. Any replacement would need to be compatible with the existing equipment and/or require minimal conversions. The airline industry can’t possibly safely re-invent its equipment on a dime. Their typical lead time for ordering new planes is 5–7 years in the future. The construction and certification process would be an enormous challenge. Then there’s the global passenger load forecast by the International Civil Aviation Organization which projects that 10 billion passengers will be flying in 2040 compared to pre-COVID 2018 number of 4.3 billion.
If you’re still reading, thank you. I’ve attempted to provide you with enough details regarding why this transition can’t happen as quickly as some naively believe. One absurd very politically driven issue is the hostile treatment of American oil/natural gas producers. We need a secure dependable domestic source of these fuels for all the reasons I’ve previously stated. The US went from a net exporter of oil a little over a year ago to having to ask OPEC to increase their oil production. And then the administraion doubled down on this insanity by accessing the US Strategic Oil Reserve in November 2021.It’s purpose is to provide a 60 day oil reserve for emergencies, which this wasn’t and all of the market upset was self-inflicted.
To arbitrarily reduce their ability to produce in America is as stupid as cutting your nose off to spite your face. You need not look any further than present day Germany where the government decided to close nuclear plants after Fukushima Daiichi and concurrently increase their dependence on natural gas from Russia with a new dedicated pipeline. The result, according to Reuters, 8 million households will see electricity bills jump 60% this year. England has a similar dynamic occurring. Utilities increased heating costs by 12% last Fall and are requesting another 54% increase this Spring leaving some customers choosing between heating or eating. And in the US, Massachusetts receives LNG from Russia while strongly opposing domestic pipeline development in its own backyard. Sounds like fake news, but read it for yourself. Here’s the 4500 mile trip.
Earlier in this article I mentioned my uncertainty about human’s role in creating global warming. Scientific consensus is not settled on this, regardless of what politicians and the media claim. Many believers reference the university “survey” that claimed 97% of scientists agree that humans are responsible. I strongly suggest that you read my article titled The 97% Myth in which I explain this sham in more detail. The 2021 book titled Unsettled is a provocative must-read for anyone seeking balance. The author has impeccable academic credentials and a great resume in academia, business, and politics (e.g., he was Under Secretary for Science in the Obama administration).
My final point is directed at the need to establish a clear strategy to coordinate a sequential US attack plan that methodically identifies near-term next steps and avoids “getting over their skis”. For instance, the American hostile positioning against the oil/gas industry is self-destructive. Like it or not, we remain very dependent on their products, and it best serves our interests to have domestic access to them.
If you enjoyed my article, please click on the clapping hands in lower left corner. In Issue No2, I’ll focus on electric generation.
Thanks for reading my article. If you enjoyed it, please click on the clapping hands below. And, if you want to follow me, click on the green button. If you’d like to sign up to become a regular member, it cost you $5 per month and provides unlimited access to all the content on Medium. Here’s a link for you to sign up: https://medium.com/@ric62551/membership