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posted by janrinok on Thursday May 12 2022, @11:15AM   Printer-friendly
from the don't-let-the-changes-get-you-down dept.

Why our continued use of fossil fuels is creating a financial time bomb:

We know roughly how much more carbon dioxide we can put into the atmosphere before we exceed our climate goals—limiting warming to 1.5° to 2° C above pre-industrial temperatures. From that, we can figure out how much more fossil fuel we can burn before we emit that much carbon dioxide. But when you compare those numbers with our known fossil fuel reserves, things get jaw-dropping.

To reach our climate goals, we'll need to leave a third of the oil, half of the natural gas, and nearly all the coal we're aware of sitting in the ground, unused.

Yet we have—and are still building—infrastructure that is predicated on burning far more than that: mines, oil and gas wells, refineries, and the distribution networks that get all those products to market; power plants, cars, trains, boats, and airplanes that use the fuels. If we're to reach our climate goals, some of those things will have to be intentionally shut down and left to sit idle before they can deliver a return on the money they cost to produce.

But it's not just physical capital that will cause problems if we decide to get serious about addressing climate change. We have workers who are trained to use all of the idled hardware, companies that treat the fuel reserves and hardware as an asset on their balance sheets, and various contracts that dictate that the reserves can be exploited.

Collectively, you can think of all of these things as assets—assets that, if we were to get serious about climate change, would see their value drop to zero. At that point, they'd be termed "stranded assets," and their stranding has the potential to unleash economic chaos on the world.

Do you agree with this arguably pessimistic assessment of the situation, and have we already run out of time to take the action necessary to avoid exceeding climate goals? Criticism is easy, but what solutions do you have to the problem?

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  • (Score: 2) by Spamalope on Thursday May 12 2022, @02:01PM (4 children)

    by Spamalope (5233) on Thursday May 12 2022, @02:01PM (#1244390) Homepage

    The men you mention are exceptions. And are being demonized by our leaders for it, too. (Esp Elon lately)
    I agree that your examples are good ones, but point out that they're a tiny minority. (that said, they're getting outsized results which I applaud and support!)

    100+ million dollar net worth political decision makers are buying waterfront property; sponsoring climate conferences they fly private jets to; building huge wasteful homes
    Their actual actions amount a combination of 'not in my backyard' exporting of pollution, power grabs and grifting.
    Either this is a crisis, and we need to visit those leaders with pitchforks or the alarmists are lying.
    It seems more likely the causes of warming are less well known, and the proposed solutions have more to do with political clout and personal profit (somehow it's legal for politicians to short a stock, then demonize the company/industry - just like they sold stock after private pandemic briefings - where it'd be illegal for normal folks).
    I'd rather invest pollution solutions not smoke and mirrors designed to enrich politicians and their donors. (save the climate - replace your lightbulbs with these new mercury (CFL) bulbs that'll wind up in your landfill and eventually your water - an idea so great they forced it with legislation! So we got poor quality bulbs with short lives for max mercury...)
    I'm all for moving investing in alternatives to fossil fuel. Burning hydrocarbons is the most wasteful thing you can do with them. We should have invested in quality, safe nuke power 50 years ago. Instead research funding was only supplied for weapons tech, and power plants are based on that research. (vs something like real a real thorium project) It would have been faster to get to fusion by first getting cheap, workable fission. With cheap power, the motive for burning carbon is gone and carbon capture is viable. It looks like in practice we'll be forced back to nuke power, but it'll be refined weapons tech based. (improved, safer, but power plant level - no risk of pocket power plants allowing little people to produce cheap power so more politically viable...)
    It'll be interesting to see if effort gets directed towards real improvements. (Look at the funds thrown towards Ukraine; now look at clean power where there is progress but by the numbers it's for show so far) Elon - once Starship gets past the ULA/Boeing lobbied obstruction (looks like that anyway), if the ideals of that project work out cost to orbit drops 10-50x. Space power sat viability will be an accounting ROI question instead of sci-fi. I'd like to see investment in disruptive, game changing solutions. (cheap thorium reactors; power sats - those are order of magnitude improvements that should be supported along with gen 5 fission nuke power - a diversity of solutions - but we're not seeing 'this is critical' investment)

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  • (Score: 2) by ChrisMaple on Friday May 13 2022, @02:04AM (3 children)

    by ChrisMaple (6964) on Friday May 13 2022, @02:04AM (#1244642)

    Perhaps you'd like to explain how the battery technology of 1955 could have allowed electric cars charged from nuclear power.

    Only now has battery technology improved almost enough to allow exclusive use of electric motors for transportation, and it's going to take at least another 20 years to build out the infrastructure.

    • (Score: 2) by deimtee on Friday May 13 2022, @03:41AM (1 child)

      by deimtee (3272) on Friday May 13 2022, @03:41AM (#1244663) Journal

      Commuter only electric vehicles could replace a huge amount of petrol usage. Small, cheap, range of about 100 km (60 miles), easily doable with 50's tech. Save the petrol for the long trips. The problems are not the tech.

      I don't have an electric car, and the main reason is that it is not economical for legislative reasons. If I bought a small cheap car* to commute to work, I have to pay registration and TAC charges twice, even though I wouldn't actually do any more travel. They have also just introduced a per km charge to replace the petrol tax they lose with electrics. Those fees easily cover the cost difference of petrol vs electric for me, and saving whatever the electric car would have actually cost is just a big bonus.

      If you really want to cut fossil fuel usage here's a two step plan:
      1/ Build a small cheap electric car with about 100km range. (under $10,000 new)
      2/ Allow it to be a free piggyback vehicle on a petrol car registration. Same plates, no extra charges.

      People would use the electric for short trips and the petrol when they needed it. Instead, people look at the costs and go "Well I occasionally need the capabilities of the petrol car and it's cheaper to drive it everywhere than to pay all the fees twice".

      If you cough while drinking cheap red wine it really cleans out your sinuses.
      • (Score: 2) by deimtee on Friday May 13 2022, @03:50AM

        by deimtee (3272) on Friday May 13 2022, @03:50AM (#1244665) Journal

        * mass of under 600 kg, 2 seats + small cargo (or 4 seats no cargo). Smaller battery means you can make everything lighter.

        It probably also becomes worthwhile to cover the roof in solar cells. Won't do much for single trip range, but if you are parked at work all day it would add a few km to your daily range.

        If you cough while drinking cheap red wine it really cleans out your sinuses.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 15 2022, @04:15PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 15 2022, @04:15PM (#1245134)

      There is a museum down in Los Angeles that had an electric car from the turn of the last century that could get 20-25 miles to a charge in an electric horseless carriage design. There were other battery powered vehicles back then that were perfect for use as commuters, and in fact many sold. What killed them was a simple lack of demand as gasoline vehicles developed more rapidly and the 'freedom of the open road' overshadowed the (at the time) unreliable nature of electrical charging at the home. By the time common folk would have been readily buying electrics en-masse, the petrol/automotive industry had converged and effectively relegated competitors such as electric cars to being also-rans.