Peak oil will not help us in the climate change fight
On Oikos, David Jeffrey wisely and succinctly diagnoses the problem:
It seems to me that the current international negotiations about climate change are the ultimate prisoner’s dilemma. It is in each nation’s best (economic) interests to have each other country do something about limiting greenhouse gas emissions, but not do something themselves.
This is equally wise and equally succinct:
To speculate about the way forward, the glimmers of hope seem to me to be:
- National action will become less important as local, state and regional governments and communities take bolder measures;
- International aid will be increasingly targeted at clean energy, helping to restrain emissions growth in developing countries;
- There will be modest technological advances which help decouple economic growth from emissions growth.
This, however, I do not agree with:
But ultimately I think our biggest saviour may just be peak oil. … At current [oil price] levels, a whole range of alternative energy sources become commercially viable.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Peak oil is not going to vouchsafe clean-energy outcomes. Peak oil’s primary short-term effect will be to sharply increase demand for coal. Coal to make electricity. Coal to make ethanol. Coal to make heating oil and diesel. Coal, coal, coal.
It might solve the energy-supply problem, but as far as global warming is concerned, coal is death.
Two things could save us from a coal-driven global warming nightmare (and notice that moral suasion isn’t on the list):
- CO2 sequestration could prove wildly successful — easier to develop than we thought, faster to deploy than we thought, and less error-prone than we feared.
- Other, non-fossil-fuel energy sources — wind, solar, hydrokinetic, geothermal, and God help us, nuclear — could fall in price rapidly enough to head off construction of dozens of new coal-fired power plants.
I feel a bit queasy pinning the future on either of these options. But in the end, they’ll happen or they won’t. Peak oil’s pressures are impersonal and ruthless. The cheapest new source of energy will be used, climate change or no. I doubt advocacy will do much to change the outcome.