Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Counting Down Top 10 Energy Facts: Numbers 2 And 1

2. Carbon Concentration In Atmosphere Exceeds 400 PPM

This year the world crossed the 400 parts per million atmospheric carbon concentration for the first time in more than 800,000 years.  That obviously is remarkable and could easily be the most important energy fact of 2013.

And to make the matter more stark, carbon pollution pours in increasing amounts into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.  Our global carbon pollution problem is getting worse and worse. We are stepping on the accelerator and not hitting the brakes.

The question becomes, at what level will carbon concentrations plateau and stop rising? The fact that nobody knows the answer to that question should concern everyone. But it plainly does not.


1. Coal Is Fastest Growing Fossil Fuel In World

Coal is not king anymore in the USA, but coal is booming around the world. And so the atmospheric concentration of carbon skyrockets with no sign of slowdown ahead.

Indeed, coal is the fastest growing fossil fuel, growing faster than oil or gas, according to the IEA.
In fact, the IEA says coal will grow at the rate of 2.3% per year through 2018.

Outside the USA, low-priced coal is displacing gas to make electricity. The IEA says:

"Low international coal prices push gas out of the power generation sector, where competition is possible (except in the United States, where low gas prices are isolated from international levels)."

The sharply escalating amount of coal being mined and combusted makes depressingly small the prospect of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon at levels below 450 parts per million.  Moreover, the chances of keeping carbon atmospheric concentrations below a genuinely scary 500 parts per million are rapidly diminishing.

The fact that coal is the fastest growing fossil fuel in the world is the most important energy fact of 2013. And this fact drives home the reality that the world desperately needs an economic means to capture and store carbon.


  1. http://science.time.com/2013/10/25/satellite-photos-show-the-appalling-extent-of-chinas-air-pollution/

  2. http://www.upworthy.com/a-science-icon-died-17-years-ago-in-his-last-interview-he-made-a-warning-that-gives-me-goosebumps-5

  3. The science suggests to me that it is an extraordinary risk to keep burning fossil fuels. Capture and storage would have to be leak free for thousands of years. Natural gas has methane leakage problems throughout the production and distribution cycle, and the deliberate poisoning of billions of gallons of water in the face of a predicted permanent dust bowl in the US southwest by 2050 boggles the mind. Also, fossil fuel power plants require water for cooling, and with drought/flooding extremes more likely, and warmer waters, it looks very risky to put our eggs in that basket. Dr. Mark Jacobson has a study that says we can run the world on renewables by 2030. http://news.stanford.edu/news/2011/january/jacobson-world-energy-012611.html Another study says we can get to 99.9% renewables by then. Having adopted solar panels, LEDs, efficiency measures and electric car in my household, it seems very possible to make that switch. Your thoughts?

    1. I love renewables and energy efficiency. You do too. You have made choices in your life to support renewables. I have too. The problem is scale and global and costs. The Chinese and Indians are not going to 100% renewables by 2030 or 2050. They are accelerating renewables but they are also burning more coal and oil and gas every year too. The Chinese get about 70% of their total energy from coal. We get 19% from coal. To stabilize carbon concentrations at less than 500 ppm, multiple solutions are going to be needed that appeal to all 200 plus countries and 7 billion plus people. Renewables, clean energy, nuclear, carbon capture and some stuff we have not even got today will have to be in the global tool box. And let's remember that more than 1 billion people still have no electricity. I have a headache. But Happy, Healthy 2014.