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Trump’s Hot Air vs Australia’s Solar Revolution

What’s the difference between bad (Trumpian) energy policy and good (clean energy based) energy policy? For Los Angeles and San Diego which both experienced an extreme, climate change driven, heatwave over the past week, about 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

In other words, fossil fuel burning under Trump policies would be of much greater magnitude and extend for far longer into the future. This would pump more heat trapping carbon into the atmosphere and ratchet global temperatures much higher.

According to a recent science-based article from Joe Romm at Think Progress, what it means is that the 110 to 120 degree (F) heatwaves of today, under Trumpian policy, will turn into the 131 degree heatwaves of tomorrow.

(Trump’s heatwaves vs Australia’s solar surge.)

In other words, it’s not a question of whether climate change will worsen. It will, at least for a while. It’s a question of how bad things will get. And from Obama to Trump we have a clear example and contrast between various helpful policies like increasing CAFE standards, the Sun Shot Initiative, the Clean Power Plan, and the Paris Climate Summit to various attempts to force people to buy coal, allowing the most toxic high emissions trucks on the road, putting up vast swaths of public lands for drilling, all while denying the scientifically proven existence of climate change and doing everything possible to roll back and withdraw from past positive policies.

One of these governments is clearly not like the other. And while we, as environmentalists and clean energy advocates could criticize individual climate policies for not going far enough, we must certainly concede that they were, on net, significantly helpful.

To this point, I’d like to call your attention to a recent spot-on statement by Dr Michael E. Mann:

And we are coming to realize how much more F’d we will be if we let those like Trump win out.

In the end, so much of the future of humankind is decided by international, national, state, and city government policy. If policies support a transition away from fossil fuel burning and toward a renewable energy based economy, then fossil fuel burning will halt more rapidly and warming will be reduced.

If, on the other hand, governments (like the one under Trump) fight to extend fossil fuel burning indefinitely into the future, to deny access to clean energy and to prevent the advance of efficiencies and energy savings, then warming will proceed very rapidly along what is known as a business as usual pathway. A pathway that is better described as the fast lane to increasingly hot and hellish conditions on Earth.

One future is probably survivable by human civilizations. The other future is very painful and difficult, calling prosperity and even habitability for large regions of the Earth’s surface into serious question.

(U.S. Heatwaves under some climate response [RCP 4.5] vs Trump policies leading to no climate response [RCP 8.5]. Image source: Think Progress and The National Climate Assessment.)

That other future is the one that pro fossil fuel governments like the Trump Administration are fighting for by trying to delay or deny access to renewable energy all while attempting to extend the burning of fossil fuels indefinitely.

So we are at a crossroads in more ways than one. But we should hold a measure of cautious optimism due to the fact that the economics of renewable energy are increasingly superior to those of ailing fossil fuels. And, in some cases, these economic conditions have been enough to overwhelm the negative, pro-fossil fuel policy stances of certain federal governments presently holding sway.

Take Australia, for example, which since 2013 has been headed by pro fossil fuel parties led by Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. These governments, holding thin majorities have done whatever they could to water down clean energy policies, reduce emissions cuts and support fossil fuels. During recent sessions, they have repeatedly attempted to send taxpayer money to coal facilities so that they will continue to operate (sound familiar, Rick Perry?).

But despite these efforts, solar energy is surging throughout Australia. Recent reports indicate that solar adoption rates will grow threefold in 2018 over the previous record year 2017. In total, Australia is on track to add about 4 gigawatts (GW) of solar to its present 7 GW total capacity.

(Major increase in clean solar adoption in Australia has primarily been driven by falling solar prices even as various Australian states continue to push hard for adoption despite the federal government’s fossil-fuel backing. Image source: Green Energy News and WA Today.)

What’s driving all this new solar? Well, for one many regions in Australia still incentivize solar. Meanwhile, some federal policies supporting solar still remain in place. But the one factor that has changed dramatically is that the cost of solar energy now out-competes practically every other major source in Australia. Panel prices are presently around 50 cents per watt down under and are falling to 40 cents per watt. This means that many customers can now recoup their investment in 3-5 years time. And with electricity prices running high, this is a really big incentive.

Solar possesses what is called a positive learning curve. What this means is that the more solar panels produced, the lower the future cost of solar panels. Both wind and batteries benefit from the same economies of scale. But if politicians like Trump increasingly use subsidies to prop up fossil fuels while fighting to kill off clean energy, then that horrible business as usual future that Joe Romm mentioned above is a very distinct possibility.

Or as Michael Mann put it — how F’d up do you want to see things get. From where I’m sitting, they’re already messed up enough.

Hat tip to Kassy

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27 Comments

  1. Always glad to see big advances in solar! How F’d we are in part depends on the lag time between CO2 going into the atmosphere and the amount of time at which it reaches its full heating potential. I assume that there would some type of curve showing that effect over time. The longer the lag time, the more F’d we are. For instance in the last 30 years we have probably burned about as much fossil fuel as had been burned in all previous history. If that is the case, and the lag period was 30 years, we are in really big trouble since there is so much “in the pipeline.” If the lag time were close to zero, that would be the best since actions taken today would work to reduce heating right away. The lag time I hear most frequently is 10 years. In the last ten years we have probably gone through about 30% of all the fossil fuels ever burned. Has anyone seen a graph showing heating over time from a given amount of CO2? Do we even have this information?

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    • David Archer has a bunch of graphs..too much for me..maybe some is out dated..http://climatemodels.uchicago.edu/geocarb/archer.2009.ann_rev_tail.pdf

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    • bostonblorp

       /  July 11, 2018

      Most of it (93%) appears to be realized in ten years.
      http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/10/3/031001

      Of course for effects like sea-level rise the time scale is much longer.

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      • There are so-called slow feedbacks that take place over longer time periods. These often aren’t accounted for in the ECS fast feedback models. Which is why long term warming for doubling of CO2 in the paleoclimate record trends toward between 5-6 C.

        I don’t think we’ve had a fully comprehensive study of the long term impacts of the CO2 presently emitted. We had a poster earlier stating that IPCC was generating ‘science fiction’ in its RCP scenarios. This assertion was brazenly unfair and short-sighted, so I removed it and asked him to better contextualize his comment (this accountability, sadly, resulted in him doubling down and ultimately being removed from the forum).

        The issue is that RCP scenarios are based on sound science and are likely to be very accurate through the end of this Century. It’s the longer term period that needs more work. In this gray area of uncertainty there are a lot of angry assumptions bubbling up and I’d like to try to keep the conversation rational and science based while still not ignoring the elephant in the room that is the paleoclimate data RE long term warming.

        If the issue is longer term feedbacks, we have some time. But how much? In the case of loss of certain carbon sinks (such as due to Henrich Events pumping more carbon from the Southern Ocean), it appears we have already crossed a bit of a threshold. So how do we bridge the gap between this emerging science, the fast feedback science, and the obvious need for global responses to climate change? Because this is the conversation that needs to be had.

        If you look at evidence, then you’re left with the conclusion that the low hanging fruit for responses is renewable energy replacing the source of the problem — fossil fuel burning. This is of course something that the fossil fuel interests will fight with every tool available. But I don’t think it’s a fight we can avoid. Because every time we give the fossil fuel industry latitude, they cheat and sabotage clean energy systems. That’s just the political and economic reality. So we have to fight. They’ve given us no choice.

        Liked by 2 people

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    • kassy

       /  July 11, 2018

      Ken Caldeira did a lot of work on this.

      Maximum warming occurs about one decade after a carbon dioxide emission

      Katharine L Ricke and Ken Caldeira
      http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/9/12/124002

      Abstract

      It is known that carbon dioxide emissions cause the Earth to warm, but no previous study has focused on examining how long it takes to reach maximum warming following a particular CO2 emission. Using conjoined results of carbon-cycle and physical-climate model intercomparison projects (Taylor et al 2012, Joos et al 2013), we find the median time between an emission and maximum warming is 10.1 years, with a 90% probability range of 6.6–30.7 years. We evaluate uncertainties in timing and amount of warming, partitioning them into three contributing factors: carbon cycle, climate sensitivity and ocean thermal inertia. If uncertainty in any one factor is reduced to zero without reducing uncertainty in the other factors, the majority of overall uncertainty remains. Thus, narrowing uncertainty in century-scale warming depends on narrowing uncertainty in all contributing factors.

      Our results indicate that benefit from avoided climate damage from avoided CO2 emissions will be manifested within the lifetimes of people who acted to avoid that emission. <=why we are here 😉

      While such avoidance could be expected to benefit future generations, there is potential for emissions avoidance to provide substantial benefit to current generations.

      and related:
      https://carnegiescience.edu/news/greenhouse-gas-caused-warming-felt-just-months

      So the lag time is 10 years but CO2 remains in the atmosphere for so long that how F'd we are is mainly a function how slowly we go to zero CO2 (F'd increases with CO2).

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      • It takes quite a bit longer for the ocean and land to feedback fully. Responses such as the loss of ice sheets, sea ice, albedo change, carbon sink feedbacks take far longer than 10 years.

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  2. Keith Antonysen

     /  July 10, 2018

    Thanks Robert, the uptake of solar panels here in Australia has certainly been good.

    We have a Coalition government comprising of the National Party and Liberal Party. The National Party broadly represents farmers; of interest is that many farmers have been hit hard by climate change and want to see real action. Yet, the National Party supports new coal fired power stations and extending and opening up of new coal mines. The former Liberal Prime Minister Abbott leads a group of neo-con politicians promoting coal very hard, making threats to cross the floor in Parliament should a vote be taken on NEG (National Energy Guarantee). The NEG seeks to reduce the cost of energy to consumers. Previously, State governments owned energy creating facilities, since a number of State Governments have privatised those facilities, and the cost of energy has gone up.

    The Federal government keeps putting out the message that it has been renewable energy that has been forcing up energy costs. Emissions from fossil fuels continue to grow in Australia, despite more renewable energy sources increasing. Happily, some of the State governments are not being fooled by the Federal government’s line on renewable energy.

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  3. Keith Antonysen

     /  July 10, 2018

    After writing last comments I found an email from Crickey referring an article by The Age newspaper about a new report from the ACCC. The ACCC is a watch dog Agency.
    It confirms my comments about privatisation in the energy market, I believe.

    https://www.theage.com.au/business/consumer-affairs/accc-calls-for-major-reset-of-energy-sector-to-drive-down-power-bills-20180710-p4zqom.html

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. Andy_in_SD

     /  July 11, 2018

    Solar makes serious economic sense as well (for those driven by merely dollars). Once the payback period is met, they are a profit center. China understands this, as do many other nations and locales.

    Coal / Oil / Nat Gas operates on the old classic payday loan scheme (or schoolyard drug dealer). Get them hooked so they can never afford to get off of your product. They can never save enough to get the alternative long term situation which is a gain.

    It is simple predatory behavior is all. Sadly, when executed on one’s own population & nation, I would call it a treasonous act, and something worse on a larger scale.

    Liked by 2 people

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  5. mlp in nc

     /  July 11, 2018

    Strengthening west winds close to Antarctica previously led to massive outgassing of carbon.
    Jul 10, 2018, U. New South Wales.
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180710101634.htm

    Stronger westerly winds in the Southern Ocean could be the cause of a sudden rise in atmospheric CO2 and temperatures in a period of less than 100 years about 16,000 years ago, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

    The westerly winds during that event strengthened as they contracted closer to Antarctica, leading to a domino effect that caused an outgassing of carbon dioxide from the Southern Ocean into the atmosphere. . . The stronger winds had a direct impact on the ocean circulation, increasing the formation of bottom water along the Antarctic coast and enhancing the transport of carbon rich waters from the deep Pacific Ocean to the surface of the Southern Ocean. As a result, about 100Gt of carbon dioxide was emitted into the atmosphere by the Southern Ocean.

    This contraction and strengthening of the winds is very similar to what we are already seeing today as a result of human caused climate change.

    “During this earlier period, known as Heinrich stadial 1, atmospheric CO2 increased by a total of ~40ppm, Antarctic surface atmospheric temperatures increased by around 5°C and Southern Ocean temperatures increased by 3°C,” said lead author Dr Laurie Menviel, a Scientia Fellow with the University of New South Wales (Sydney).

    “With this in mind, the contraction and strengthening of westerly winds today could have significant implications for atmospheric CO2 concentrations and our future climate.”

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. Baker

     /  July 11, 2018

    It’s interesting to read about new technologies and what could be done already. It would be easier if there was more will. The weather of some months and countries is yet unbearable. Not even talking about all the societal impacts. I wonder why most are so calm about that, not knowing that it can be much worse each and every year in the future and we desperately need action.

    Are there helpful sources or articles on here what the public could do by itself as long as and while our politicians leave us high and dry?

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    • I think there’s quite a lot of will. Look at all the agencies involved in trying to spur a transition. I think the issue is more one of dominance by FF interests and industry (political and economics) and the related political and media environment that is generated as a result. We have so much corruption at every level due to fossil fuel related interest. Scott Pruitt was just one of many glaring examples.

      Liked by 1 person

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  7. Miller

     /  July 11, 2018

    I saw an article on the formerly respectable website Gizmodo wherein the poster quickly proceeded from criticizing Elon Musk’s rescue submarine project to just trashing Elon Musk. It leads one to believe that fossil fuel money is being used in a campaign in every way possible to cast aspersions on anything – like Tesla- that will make ff obsolete.

    Liked by 2 people

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    • Yep. They’ve become very rabid.

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      • 12volt dan

         /  July 11, 2018

        They’re not slowing Tesla down any
        Tesla to open Shanghai electric car factory, doubling its production

        https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jul/10/tesla-to-open-shanghai-electric-car-factory-doubling-its-production

        Liked by 1 person

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        • Another gigafactory. One of two more that are planned. One in Europe. One in China.

          The thing that has all the regular fossil fuel and ICE guys freaked out is that Tesla is for real — spending big sums of capital to make the clean energy transition happen. Not fronting compliance cars, talking endlessly about concepts that are never produced, or distracting the public with shiny object talk-talk about new technology that never reaches industrial capacity. Tesla is the clean transport business model going forward because they are actually building it. Doing the work. Making it real.

          Related:

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    • Abel Adamski

       /  July 12, 2018

      See my comment on the next article, it is far far more than just the fossil fuel industry.
      It is the survival of the current Global economic system and the $US privilege as reserve currency within that based on the Petrodollar which supports the whole Capitalist debt based Ponzi scheme. Take that away and the US is pretty much bankrupt and having to pay back massive debt without the petrodollar based ability to just print more money.
      The Great Depression would be a cakewalk in comparison (Also caused by greed, debt and tariffs).
      That is why as Tesla ramps up and other automakers have to keep up the attacks on Tesla will become increasingly extreme

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      • Myopic, overly focused on ideology. Doesn’t take into account actual reality. We have both capitalism and socialism baked in. Neither is evil per sey. It’s what we do with them. Of course, a push for more equality is more just. But pinning all monetary policy on ‘evil capitalism’ is the equivalent of removing yourself from any rational conversation.

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    • We’ve seen this sort of thing from the fossil fuel industry before. In almost every case, it’s been a costly distraction that industry carted out as a part of greenwash campaign. They have a very bad track record for actually deploying zero carbon technology as it relates to fossil fuel burning. Though this tech looks a bit better than that which preceded it, it still does not address the issue of what to do with the billions of tons of carbon dioxide that will ultimately accumulate, how to deal with leaks (which will happen), and how much the system on net will cost. I’m betting that renewables are still less risky, less expensive, and more feasible. So I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, we have proven zero carbon renewables that actually can replace mass carbon emitting fossil fuels.

      Liked by 1 person

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  8. bostonblorp

     /  July 11, 2018

    Let’s hope the IEA is way off with their solar projections (as I think they have been in the past).

    >> It estimates that in the next 30 years, 19 cooling appliances will be installed every second …. Electricity for cooling alone could consume more than 80 percent of the International Energy Agency’s projected total renewables capacity for 2050.

    https://e360.yale.edu/digest/the-number-of-ac-units-installed-worldwide-could-quadruple-by-2050

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  9. kassy

     /  July 11, 2018

    Nice video & thanks for the hat tip!

    Salmon are showing up in the Arctic in record numbers

    The fish that usually define the West Coast are moving north, raising big questions about how a warming climate is affecting northern ecosystems

    Some Indigenous languages along the Mackenzie river have words for salmon, but not all. And among those that have a word for the fish, it’s only chum that is named; Dunmall doesn’t know of any local Indigenous words for chinook or coho salmon.

    https://thenarwhal.ca/salmon-are-showing-up-in-the-arctic-in-record-numbers/

    Liked by 1 person

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  10. kassy

     /  July 11, 2018

    Rising carbon dioxide levels pose a previously unrecognized threat to monarch butterflies

    Milkweed leaves contain bitter toxins that help monarchs ward off predators and parasites, and the plant is the sole food of monarch caterpillars. In a multi-year experiment at the U-M Biological Station, researchers grew four milkweed species with varying levels of those protective compounds, which are called cardenolides.

    Half the plants were grown under normal carbon dioxide levels, and half of them were bathed, from dawn to dusk, in nearly twice that amount. Then the plants were fed to hundreds of monarch caterpillars.

    The study showed that the most protective of the four milkweed species lost its medicinal properties when grown under elevated CO2, resulting in a steep decline in the monarch’s ability to tolerate a common parasite, as well as a lifespan reduction of one week.

    for details see:
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180710071920.htm

    Liked by 1 person

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  11. kassy

     /  July 11, 2018

    Link between river outflow and coastal sea level

    Notably, the study found the majority of that sea level change occurs only one side of a river’s mouth. Since freshwater is naturally less dense than saltwater, river outflow floats along the ocean’s surface, where Earth’s rotation forces it to turn sharply along the coast. In the northern hemisphere, that water follows the right hand side of the river; in the southern hemisphere, the left hand side. In both cases, the freshwater forms a current that pushes water up against the shoreline, raising localized sea levels in the process.

    for more:
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180709152714.htm

    Liked by 1 person

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