Friday, February 17, 2023

New debate over the future of fossil fuels

The global policy consensus on the future of energy is clear: Fossil fuels are done, finished, peaking, on the way out and never to return once their 100-year role as the engine of human progress has been reduced to net-zero by 2050. That, at least, is the general thrust of the 2023 edition of the BP Energy Outlook released last week based on BP’s carbon control policy models.

The BP outlook is short but densely speculative, and not particularly convincing one way or another. The outcomes are based on simulated future energy environments “dominated by four trends: declining role for hydrocarbons, rapid expansion in renewables, increasing electrification, and growing use of low-carbon hydrogen” along with a “central role for carbon capture and removal” — all directed and subsidized by governments.

But: Could it be that the massive effort to transform the global energy system is working against the best interests of humankind? That’s the question now being debated on the sidelines of the great transition between two climate policy wonks who have been branded by greens and some mainstream media as members of the climate “denier” community.

The debate broke out last week when Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado — and an effective long-time critic of much official and media-driven climate science and policy — wrote a critical review of a 2022 book by Alex Epstein that challenges the prevailing view that carbon-emitting energy sources must be purged from the global energy system. The book’s title says it all: Fossil Future: Why Global Human Flourishing Requires More Oil, Coal, and Natural Gas — Not Less.

Even though Pielke and Epstein have clearly stated that they believe climate change is taking place, both are ranked as climate disinformationists and/or deniers. On DeSmog’s “Disinformation Database” their respective breaches of climate orthodoxy are documented at length. (Full disclosure: DeSmog once described the editor of this page thusly — “Terry Corcoran: King of Canadian Climate Change Deniers,” a title of which I have apparently been stripped.)

In his book, Epstein sets his theme in the opening sentences when he writes “I am going to make the case that more fossil fuel use will actually make the world a far better place, a place where billions more people will have the opportunity to flourish, including: to pull themselves out of poverty, to have a chance to pursue their dreams, and — this will likely seem craziest of all — to experience higher environmental quality and less danger from climate.”

Through a few graphs and 400+ pages of argument and exposition, Epstein portrays the soaring use of cost-effective fossil fuels over the past century as the driving force that made possible what he sees as the “flourishing” of humans on an otherwise inhospitable planet. “Save the world,” he says, “with fossil fuels.”

On its release early in 2022, Fossil Future received contradictory pro and con reviews. Pielke joins the debate late. He argues that Epstein’s claims about the transformative benefits of fossil fuels over the past century are based on faulty logic. Above all, he says, Epstein “conflates correlation with causation and also means with ends.” It is undeniable, writes Pielke, that global development since the Industrial Revolution has been powered almost completely by fossil fuels. But that correlation does not lead to the conclusion that the global energy future must also be based on fossil fuels.

As an example of how a country can flourish with reduced fossil fuel consumption Pielke cites France, which slashed its oil and coal consumption since the 1960s by shifting to nuclear power. Good point, although Epstein also happens to be a big proponent of nuclear energy, which he says “has demonstrated by far the most potential as an alternative to fossil fuels.” He argues that nuclear power, while filled with promise, has been “criminalized” by activists.

Pielke also accuses Epstein of ignoring the downsides of fossil fuel dependence, including “pollution, insecurity, and economic risks.” While Epstein in his book acknowledges such “downsides,” he does not see them as a justification for fossil fuel elimination. Just because economic activity does not properly price and account for all fossil fuel externalities such as climate change does not mean that “the government should take action to make fossil fuels more expensive.”

Which takes us to what seems like the real heart of the Epstein/Pielke clash. In Fossil Future, Epstein outlines his view that solar, wind, biofuels, carbon sequestration, electric vehicles and other state-mandated projects cannot offer the kind of energy system the world needs. Moreover, the externalities caused by moving to zero fossil fuels will exceed the externalities of their continued use. Pielke, on the contrary, is inclined to support the official global policy objectives as outlined by the International Energy Agency and the BP Energy Outlook mentioned earlier.

Pielke, in other words, has confidence in the need for and likely effectiveness of government-mandated decarbonization through cost-effective alternatives to fossil fuels. Epstein sees no such benefits and warns that fossil fuels are the key to human flourishing in the future.

In response to texted messages, Epstein said Pielke and other critics present a “significant distortion of my view and then argue against it.” He said he will be formally responding to Pielke and others in a few weeks. Let the debate continue!


India asks utilities to not retire coal-fired power plants till 2030

India has asked utilities to not retire coal-fired power plants till 2030 due to a surge in electricity demand, according to a federal power ministry notice reviewed by Reuters, just over two years after committing to eventually phase down use of the fuel.

The energy-hungry nation said last May it plans to reduce power generation from least 81 coal-fired plants over the next four years, but the proposal did not involve shutting down any of its 179 coal power plants. India has not set a formal timeline for phasing down coal use.

"It is advised to all power utilities not to retire any thermal (power generation) units till 2030 and ensure availability of units after carrying out renovation and modernisation activities if required," the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) said in a notice dated Jan. 20 sent to officials in the federal power ministry.

The CEA, which acts as an advisor to the ministry, cited a December meeting where the federal power minister had asked that ageing thermal power plants not be retired, and to instead increase the lifetime of such units "considering (the) expected demand scenario".

India, the world's second largest-consumer, producer and importer of coal, fell short of its 2022 renewable energy addition target by nearly a third. Coal accounts for nearly three-quarters of annual electricity generation.

Power demand in India has surged in the recent months due to extreme weather, rising household use or electricity as more companies allowing employees to work from home, and a pickup in industrial activity after easing of coronavirus-related restrictions.


Pakistan to quadruple domestic coal-fired power, move away from gas

Pakistan plans to quadruple its domestic coal-fired capacity to reduce power generation costs and will not build new gas-fired plants in the coming years, its energy minister told Reuters on Monday, as it seeks to ease a crippling foreign-exchange crisis.

A shortage of natural gas, which accounts for over a third of the country's power output, plunged large areas into hours of darkness last year. A surge in global prices of liquefied natural gas (LNG) after Russia's invasion of Ukraine and an onerous economic crisis had made LNG unaffordable for Pakistan.

"LNG is no longer part of the long-term plan," Pakistan Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan told Reuters, adding that the country plans to increase domestic coal-fired power capacity to 10 gigawatts (GW) in the medium-term, from 2.31 GW currently.

Pakistan's plan to switch to coal to provide its citizens reliable electricity underscores challenges in drafting effective decarbonisation strategies, at a time when some developing countries are struggling to keep lights on.

Despite power demand increasing in 2022, Pakistan's annual LNG imports fell to the lowest levels in five years as European buyers elbowed out price-sensitive consumers.

"We have some of the world's most efficient regasified LNG-based power plants. But we don't have the gas to run them," Dastgir said in an interview.

The South Asian nation, which is battling a wrenching economic crisis and is in dire need of funds, is seeking to reduce the value of its fuel imports and protect itself from geopolitical shocks, he said.

Pakistan's foreign exchange reserves held by the central bank have fallen to $2.9 billion, barely enough to cover three weeks of imports.

"It's this question of not just being able to generate energy cheaply, but also with domestic sources, that is very important," Dastgir said.


Skepticism from an Australian Leftist politician

‘We won’t get to net-zero emissions in this country, or indeed the world, without the resources sector, without gas, and even without coal. You cannot build a wind turbine without coal.’ Angus Taylor, perhaps? Ted O’Brien? Tony Abbott? Nope.

The words were uttered this week by Labor’s Minister for Resources Madeleine King, clearly one of the sharper tools in Labor’s climate shed. Speaking on Sky News, she went on to elaborate that gas will be needed ‘in the short-term, medium-term and long-term’ to ensure ‘energy security’.Former Labor MP Jennie George concurred, warning that ‘winter will be a testing time’ as she lambasted the poor planning of successive energy ministers, the virtue-signalling of governments and asked, where are the ‘safeguards’ for our energy future?

Er… there aren’t any. Not that such revelations or insights are news to readers of this magazine. For the best part of the last fifteen years, The Spectator Australia has been virtually alone among the mainstream media in refusing to be captivated by the climate change cult. More importantly, thanks to the great work of so many of our writers, including Ian Plimer, Mark Lawson, Alan Moran and many, many others, we have consistently pointed out the folly of the climate mantra and the extraordinary danger of jeopardising our God-given supplies of cheap and reliable energy sources.

Indeed, in this week’s issue Mark Lawson warns of the ‘dark ages’ that lie ahead as we rush towards Labor’s (and the Coalition’s) ludicrous net-zero goals. As Mark writes, ‘The events of the past few weeks have brought Australia’s energy future into sharp focus – we won’t have one.’

Sadly, the one resource Australia does seem to have an over-abundance of is stupidity, fuelled by Marxist propaganda and abetted by a political class that is either deeply cynical or unbelievably gullible. Take your pick. This stupidity has manifested itself in perfectly good coal-fired power stations literally being blown to smithereens to the applause of fools and shysters. The last decade has seen our energy infrastructure dismantled at breath-taking speed accompanied by a blizzard of false promises about new technologies and to the tune of ever-soaring household bills.

For a time, the Coalition held out against the madness, with the two most pertinent, honest and accurate words ever uttered about climate change doomsday alarmism having been uttered by former prime minister Tony Abbott: ‘It’s crap.’

Indeed, although she won’t thank us for pointing this out, Ms King’s position is now arguably closer to Mr Abbott’s than to Mr Albanese’s. Go to the bottom line – something our political class seem rarely capable of doing – and you have to answer the following question: will Australia abandoning its fossil-fuel energy sources prevent the planet from a climate apocalypse by the end of this century? Yes or no? Clearly, the fanatical climate zealots believe this to be the case, and many on the Left, including the Greens, either also believe this nonsense or more likely cynically pander to it. Hence the urgency of the alarmist position – close all coal and gas now! Swap to electric vehicles now! Stop eating meat! Eat bugs! Shut down all industry and farming!

These ideas are the logical end point of the Bowen/Wong/Albanese/Bandt/Thunberg/Ardern/Biden/UK/EU position, hence the hysterical reductions targets being touted on everything from carbon to nitrogen to methane to meat to household gas heaters; the pointless and ludicrously expensive advocacy of electric vehicles; the hyperventilating around hydrogen; and so on. But a more rational mindset recognises that there are two parts to that bottom-line question: firstly, is there actually a doomsday armageddon on the horizon? (Answer, no). And secondly, could anything Australia does in reducing carbon emissions in isolation ever have any measurable impact on the world’s climate? (Answer again, no.) Remove the urgency demanded of the doomsday scenario and/or recognise the limited role Australia can ever play and you must arrive at what we shall (cheekily) call the Abbott/King position, which can be summarised as, ‘Transition if you must, but there is no need to panic – and whatever you do, don’t dispense of the energy resources we are blessed with’.

This was of course, broadly, the Coalition’s position (approved overwhelming by the electorate in 2019) until it was disgracefully jettisoned by former prime minister Scott Morrison and his accomplice Barnaby Joyce, backed, laughably, by what was once the mainstream conservative press in Australia. The great pity is that the majority of the Australian electorate is, whether recognising it or not, of this same opinion.

Alas, because Australians are by nature fairly trusting (although this was sorely tested during Covid), it is likely that we will undergo a period of energy poverty and a dramatic downturn in our prosperity and all that that entails – both here and abroad – before the public wakes up to the disaster that the political class are deliberately inflicting upon us.

Could Resource Minister Madeleine King, ironically, be Labor’s canary in the climate change coal mine?

Or will she swiftly be brought into line and forced to start whistling to Labor’s alarmist, socialist and fanatical climate change tune?




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