Nov 28, 2023Liked by Rachel Donald

Love your analogy Rachel that "geopolitics in a globalised world is like playing Russian Roulette with a fully-loaded gun: the only way to get out unscathed is to drop the weapon" Great analogy!

I think it pays to remember though that the oil-producing countries are not so much in the oil business as they are in the money-making business: the day renewables present a better profit-making case than that of oil, it's history. These stranded assets will be steam-rollered by high-demand energy products that show more than an iota of moral rectitude. The stampede out of oil will inevitably happen: and those who are slow starters will get trampled in the rush. I'd love to be a fly on the wall at this COP👍

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Insightful article. Thanks for breaking down this issue.

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I think this understates the systemic importance of gas (+ coal). Intermittent output from renewables requires buffer, like you say, but batteries don't easily substitute for fossil power that can be turned up or down. To fully buffer with batteries you need to overbuild capacity, and its unclear we have the materials to do this at scale. I'd rather see degrowth, plus efforts to find ways to live with intermittent power, but we all know that's a difficult political lift. If that doesn't happen I think its reasonable to expect fossil fuels to be part of our grids for a (dangerously) long time. What do you think about that?

(I know you've had Simon Michaux on your show, so surely you remember all the ways in which zero-carbon renewable grids are difficult-to-fantastical. Isn't the flipside of that something like: You don't need to be a cynic to project fossil burning well into the intermediate future.)

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the problems of substitution by electrification of all fossil fuel appliances is completely achievable with known reserves of minerals and other materials. will that stop capitalism in it's tracks, or make extractivism for RE or the many other uses that demand extraction from the stocks of natural resources on Earth (or the moon or asteroids or whatever they think of next to sell equity) which draw down on the affordably extracted resources? of course not.

But nobody is making that claim! Its a straw man fallacy (a frequently repeated one at that) to say such things.

the complete electrification of all human economy where FFs today dominate is no panacea for economic growth, population growth in areas where the ecological footprint is very high (rich people tend to have hundreds to thousands of time the ecological footprints of poor people comparing within a nation or *between* "rich" and "poor" nations… nor all the other vectors of ecosystem collapse.

But it is one of the best ways we can mitigate GHG emissions quickly, (and we could have transitioned AUsrtrlai already by now to a 95%+ RE grid if we'd been really deliberate about it but special interests own the 3 big energy retailers (known as gentailers since they own coal and gas generation including almost all of the large FF generation facilities in Australia). The regulators were captured to the nth degree. Neoliberalism is alive and well and more cancerous that at any time in history and meaning the perception that markets are always the most efficient (not most effective) way to orchestrate transition snit simple a (misleading) perception, it's taken as gospel but all vested interests, the Federal Dept of Finance and Treasury, the regulators the corporate media, (sadly) the public media (ABC and SBS) most political parties (via donor contributions) and even climate orgs have swallowed the cool aid deeply.

Here's a good podcast discussing this very point and taking (probably a bit too much) aim at people like Nate Hagen's and his post-peak-oiler crew. My views align much more with the guest, Marco Raugei of Oxford Brookes University than the host, Chris Nelder. Marco emphasis that it's a false dichotomy to talk of Doomers vs Transitionistas. I agree 100%. The host seemed to give tacit support for that before launching into "doomers" repeated times. The word "Doomer" has a very ugly history back to the commerce-minded detractors of William Vogt in the early part of the last century, through to the hate-fuelled attacks on the authors of the "Limits to Growth" who weren't so much wrong as didn't foresee the so-called Green Revolution coming, which doesn't negate much of what they did force, so much as disguise the issues under a varnish of "technological progress and advancement" which was, whatever your opinion on industrial farming technologies, an incredible set of plant breeding breakthroughs by a small handful of individual scientists who were determined as hell to get results.

I wondered what had angered the host so much about the "doomer" claims around RE until I heard his epilogue after the interview guest had left the call. Then I understood a bit better his motivation. I've also had to counter continual misinformation about renewables, storage, system costs of grid power under high RE penetrations etc for over a decade as a modeller and RE-transition advocate. Also, he once was in that camp, there's no zealot member of the new club like a convert from the opposing side I guess. So he knew their tactics and sloppy science inside out. (But I still agree with the guest, it's a false dichotomy)


(apologies Rachel for the external link, please know I subscribe to you not to your podcast not to this other podcast, though if I wasn't a self-funded activist I would subscribe to both and many more).

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HI there. I've been away, sorry for missing your comment and question.

Don't take anybody as an authority without checking their sources. I've learned that the hard way in the reporting of climate science and climate solutions, emissions reduction pathways and so on. Even the IPCC have areas in which their communications are junk and they sometimes improve on that and sometimes they don't, certainly not soon enough.

I'd have to review his report for the Finish Government, but I still recall that his storage capacity assumption was totally absurd. I'm not going to paraphrase what he wrote, b/c I might get into hyperbola but he clearly has never modelled an energy grid in his life. It was rookie error level of thinking. Motivated no doubt by his preoccupations with energy decent, just like Nate havens who uncritically promoted Michaux's conculsions. I'm just hypothesising here, but seems to me like the peak oilers of the 1990s (I knew a bunch of them who said RE was never going to scale) are now trying to reinvent themselves as climate and ecosystems collapse specialists.

I dislike Micheal Mann's use of the term "doomers" which has a very ugly history (which I'm sure he's aware of but uses it anyhow) because he uses it to polarise a debate that is a very important set of debates to have about ecosystem collapse, climatic tipping points etc etc to then present himself as a centrists along with others who adopt his uncontroversial position and them being the only rational folks in the room. He's now published a book where he talks about things he chastised and still chastises others for talking about, hysteresis, tipping points, non-linear effects in complex systems, the presence of unknown factors in climate system stability and so on. He bemoans the lack of nuanced discussion when much of what I've seen from him on Twitter is lack of nuance and a tendency to badge people as "doomer", mount some flimsy straw man argument against their concerns and then block them before they can exercise their right of reply. I also sympathise with him the he choose to take on the brain-dead conservatives and conspiracy theorists of the Climate denial industry, funded by FF and livestock producers, but also fuelled by nothing other than the deep ignorance of the uneducated and tribal nature of contemporary society in many parts of the world, USA especially.

So I wont call Michael a capital 'D', "doomer" but he is getting well outside his area of expertise, and I could cite my own modelling and that of dozens of other teams to show that RE and storage solutions scale and in any country they can scale affordably (often with cost savings until you get to the last few percent, and even then I think the costs are exaggerated in most modelling because it's inherent conservative and has to limit assumptions to ignore potential solutions) , is affordable not a resource drain that is significantly large given present resource drain and certainly not a deal breaker. Check out an old Amory Lovins article published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists "Clean energy and rare earths: Why not to worry", 2017.

there's endless beats about rare earths by ignorant journos and consultants drumming up private work like Michaux. and yet,

• Most wind turbines don't even use rare earths

• those few turbine designs that do use R.E.s are phasing them out due to costs and (inelastic) supply chain problems/territorial concerns

• R.E.s are not "rare" — the name stems from the fact that they usually are found in low concentrations mixed with many other elements, other R.E.s and geological compounds that the R.E. being mined must be separated from. This is costly and typically quite a toxic set of processes. There are large reserves of all the REs on every continent.

• Due to the costs, and toxic outflows from processing REs, much of this industry has set up shop in mainland China and its occupied territories. Pollution is something that can be bribed away as a political or legal problem in China, after all it only pollutes the land, water and and health occupied by a hundreds of millions of peasants, so why would a nation state emerging from a Communist Revolution have any concerns around that? China of course sees the geopolitical advantage in being the worlds biggest producer of REs and saw that opportunity decades ago. Now reserves are being booked on other continents, due to geopolitical tensions as much as anything else to do with supply chain scrutiny.

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I once read an English translation somebody had made of a ?40 year plan published by the CCP a couple of years ago. It broke down their plan into the characteristic 5 year periods.

Sadly fracking was targeted for major investment in the 20-40 year period. Not sure if it was domestic or in African client states but it was very central to their thinking unfortunately.

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"With 125 years left of the stuff which produces 40% less emissions than coal,"

Hi Rachel, I've noted you often make this observation about burning fossil gas vs coal burning (to produce power which is where the stat comes from and its a very broad generalisation at best).

This neglects the fact that emission of methane are ~100x more potent in the near term (GWP₁₀ i.e. over ten years) than coal. The index most commonly used by IPCC and climate scientists to compare one GHG to another is GWP₁₀₀ which considers the impact after 100 years of a pulse emission of whatever GHG and compares it to a pulse of the same mass of CO₂ over 100 years.

Since many GHGs are chemically transformed in the atmosphere in much less time than 100 years, using this index effectively "discounts" (in economics usage of discount) the impact of methane for 88 of those years because after 12 years the methane has been converted by UV and complex reactions to CO₂ and water. But in the near term it's much more radiatively forcing as they call it. When IPCC started doing their work 100 years seemed (to the lead authors at least) like the time period we had to start bending GHG emissions to zero. Of course we know today that is time frame terribly inaccurate.

Robert Howarth et al have produced many papers on this issue and really alerted the world to the issues around it vis a vis Fossil Fuels. "The Bridge to Nowhere" 2012 is one of the more well known papers.

Gerard Weddeburn Bishop has produced a lot of summary reporting around methane issues and livestock production. He has a playlist of videos on the farmed production of animals and the impacts on climate here (100% recommend, this is generally not at all well understood even in climate activist circles and is actively resisted in mainstream orgs of the climate movement because it upsets their high-roller donors and political benefactors):


I worked with him on the Beyond Zero Emissions Land Use Report, 2015 which alerted me and many of my fellow activist researchers to these issues, for which I'm eternally grateful.

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the US has plenty to trade besides fossil fuels, weapons systems and military hardware that burn fossil fuels for example.

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