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Forbes.com

 

The Carbon Curtain

July 17, 2008

By Peter W. Huber

PRINTER FRIENDLY

What we really need from the climate modelers is an accurate 50-year projection of global politics. Will people believe the computer's dire prophecy enough to change their lifestyles? While we wait for 50 million lines of code to reveal the supposed future, consider how things look to one very knowledgeable energy analyst, Vinod K. Dar, who runs Dar & Company, a consultant to the energy industry, in Bethesda, Md. What follows is my own gloss on Dar's analysis. Everything he says, however, squares with all that I've seen and learned in the 30 years I've watched energy markets here and abroad.

A number of influential people in Russia, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam say the planet is now entering a 30-year cooling period, the second half of a normal cycle driven by cyclical changes in the sun's output and currents in the Pacific Ocean. Their theory leaves true believers in carbon catastrophe livid.

To judge by actions, not words, the carbon-warming view hasn't come close to persuading a political majority even in nations considered far more environmentally enlightened than China and India. Europe's coal consumption is rising, not falling, and the Continent won't come close to meeting the Kyoto targets for carbon reduction. Australia is selling coal to all comers.

On the far side of the environmental curtain China already mines and burns more coal than any other country. Together, China and India control more than one-fifth of the planet's vast coal reserves. Dar predicts--very plausibly, in my view--that the two countries may fire up a new coal plant as often as once a week for the next 25 years, adding about twice as much coal-fired generating capacity as the U.S. has today. Persian Gulf states are planning significant coal imports, because coal generates much cheaper electricity than oil or gas.

In developing countries the political survival of the people at the top depends on providing affordable fuel for kitchens, farms, fertilizer plants, steel mills, highways and power plants. Oil and coal are the only practical fuels at hand.

Not by coincidence, the carbon curtain tracks a schism between stagnation and growth. The lethargy side includes the American Northeast and upper Midwest, the European Union, Japan and eastern Canada. The high-growth states, provinces and nations are the ones embracing the development of domestic fuels, the construction of power plants and transmission lines, the import of fuels and technologies needed for enterprise and economic growth and the export of fuels and technologies to like-minded partners. They have nothing against energy efficiency and renewables; they just don't focus on them much.

Uranium is the only carbon-free fuel liked by fast-growing nations. Some 439 nuclear power plants are currently operating in 31 countries. China plans to build another 100 for itself in the next 20 years. By 2020 or so a new reactor will be starting up somewhere in the world every five to six days, compared with one every 17 days in the 1980s. China is building coal and nuclear plants in Pakistan, and Russia in Iran, Bulgaria and India.

No serious student of global politics can accept the notion that the world will soon join ranks behind Brussels, Washington and the gloomy computer and its minders. Dar is surely right when he says, "The U.S. and Japan will not tell Asia and Africa to choose poverty, disease, hunger and illiteracy over electricity." Europe might, but nobody will listen. It won't have moral authority until its own citizens are emitting less carbon than Bangladeshis. That won't happen soon.

If the growth sphere doesn't get energy financing from our side, it will get it from Russia, China, South Korea, Brazil, the Middle East and Japan. It will get fuel-burning technology from Russia, South Korea, China and France. And it will get coal and uranium from Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia. Australia has huge reserves of both; China, India, Japan and South Korea are all vying to be its best friend. The U.S. has plentiful supplies of both, too--but not nearly enough to exert any control over global markets. Western Europe and Japan hardly show up on the charts.

So does the climate computer have a real audience, or is it really just another bag lady muttering away to herself in a lonely corner of the intellectual park? That the computer is heard in Hollywood, Stockholm, Brussels and even some parts of Washington is quite beside the point--they have far less global power and influence than they vainly imagine. Vinod Dar is right: "Contingency planning should entail strategic responses to a warming globe, a cooling globe and a globe whose climate reverberates with laughter at human hubris."

Original Source: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2008/0811/094.html

 

 
 
 

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