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The mpg confusion

Filed under: — gavin @ 23 September 2008 - (Español) (Français)

What reduces emissions more?
A. Someone swapping their old SUV (which gets 12 miles per gallon) for a hybrid version (18 mpg) or
B. someone upgrading their 25 mpg compact to a new 46 mpg Prius?
(ignore for a minute manufacturing issues or driving habits and assume the miles driven are the same).

The surprising answer (for those who don’t work it out) is A. It’s easy enough to see why this is the case. If the driving distance is 100 miles, then for case A the saving in fuel used (and hence emissions) is 100/12-100/18 = 2.8 gallons, while for B, you have 100/25-100/46 = 1.8 gallons. The confusion arises because people like to think linearly about numbers, not inversely, and so tend to assume that a similar change in mpg has a similar impact on fuel usage. This is not however the case – improvements in efficiency at the low end of the scale are much more useful at reducing emissions. This is actually a very general point – when trying to raise efficiency it is always sensible to start with the least efficient processes.

This confusion got some attention a couple of months ago after a piece that was published in Science by Larrick and Soll. They tested peoples instinctive reactions to changes in mpg numbers and found that people very often got it wrong, leading to less than optimal decisions. They also tested a different way of giving fuel usage information (the number of gallons used per mile), and since this is linear in emissions, people made the correct judgment much more often (it’s worth noting that the standard in most of Europe is already litres per 100 km). Rewritten in those terms, the choices above become:

A. Someone swapping their old SUV (which takes 8.3 gallons to go 100 miles) for a hybrid version (5.6 gallons/100 miles) or
B. someone upgrading their 4 gallons/100 miles compact to a new 2.2 gallons/100 mile Prius?

Much easier, right? The authors of the Science piece are trying hard to get US manufacturers and the EPA to switch over from mpg to this new standard (though they prefer gallons/10,000 miles). It all seems eminently sensible to us.


356 Responses to “The mpg confusion”

  1. 151
    matt says:

    #148 RichardC: 135 Matt, you miss the point. You are assuming that the first step is the last. But tripling mileage gives us three times as long to find the next step. Your post fails, as it boils down to, “progress is stupid, unless it is the final solution.” Well, the final solution is preventing the end of the universe, so your post says we should do nothing until we solve that one.

    Tripling mileage does NOT give us 3X more time to figure this out. Remember that in 20 years all of China and India will want to live the way you live today. So if we have 600M people “living the good life” today, then we will have 4B people living the good life in 2030. If we all get to produce CO2 equally and if we have to roll back to 1970’s levels of emissions, then you have to reduce your consumption by 94% because most everyone else will be increasing theirs by 1000%

    Highway usage (where MPG matters) is 25% of our CO2. Tripling MPG does not automatically drop that to 8%, because people will drive more. It’s been shown over and over and over. Split the difference, and tripling MPG saves us 10% of our CO2 emissions. Combined with China and India coming on line, whatever doom might have come our way in 2100 would be coming our way in 2110 (or so) instead.

    Anyone that thinks we can cut emissions by 95% by “jiggling the handle” on this machine is crazy. It has never worked. Massive rip-up and redo must be done to achieve these types of numbers. If you aren’t thinking big, you aren’t helping the problem.

    I am so tired of people sending me these articles from popular science about how college kids were able to make electricity from sea kelp. It’s just sad how people hang on to those ideas as being plausible on a large scale. If you want to know what will be delivering 20% of our power in 20 years, look to see what is delivering 0.5% of our power today. It’s that simple. We cannot take a brand new technology and ramp it up to 20% over 20 years. It just doesn’t happen, no matter how badly you want it.

    The only way we substantially reduce CO2 in 40 years is to have nuclear crank 60-80% of our base load, move over 95% to electric cars and rely on alt energies to do the rest, and then slowly dial down the nuclear as we learn more about alt energies. Those that refuse nuclear aren’t being realistic. Their selfish motives are responsible for all the CO2 the US and much of the EU has pumped out from the 80’s to today.

  2. 152
    Hank Roberts says:

    > 139, 122, 116, 103
    Quickie backatcha for Rod

    First, Mr. X (Ike) in this case does have his own site; you’re throwing doubt as to his post here; either way, you can ask

    But you can look it up.
    Paste it in as a search: q=guarantees+for+fossil+fuel+energy+projects

    First hit:

    FOSSIL ENERGY NEWS SPOTLIGHT

    DOE Announces Solicitation for $8.0 Billion ….

    From some strange Mr. X who’s got no track record, ask a cite. For someone with a good track record, as Ike Solem has, and a website — trust, and verify.

  3. 153
    matt says:

    #148 RichardC: 142 – sorry Matt, you’d have to give a single use for the US military other than grabbing oil to say it isn’t an oil subsidy. A REAL use. You can’t as there is none.

    Hopefully you’ll agree WWII was a valid use of the military. Vietnam, probably not. Korea, definitely. You can, liek Michale Moore tried, state that Afghanistan was about an oil pipeline. But I think that’s a stretch. Kosovo? A lot of oil has potentially been found there, but it’s not clear at all that was for oil. Iraq? Not sure. If we were there for oil, then I’m not sure why there have been nearly 100 bidders from around the world on the contracts. Iraq would have sold oil whether or not we invaded, right? If we had taken their oil and bought it for pennies on the dollar, then you could make a convincing case. But ironically, it’s the democrats that have been screaming for us to take their oil to pay for this war.

    And as noted before, if we had 100% of our windpower generated by offshore windmills, and an army showed up to destroy those windmills, the military would stop them. That doesn’t mean the military subsidizes wind power. It simply means the military protects our interests. As it should.

  4. 154
    Mark says:

    Matt, I know that it DOES go up, but

    a) would it be triple?
    b) why do people do that?

    I mean, especially if you’re hypermiling you’re taking longer to travel and going three times further means you’re travelling for three times longer OVER WHAT GOING SLOWER DOES.

    I mean, people are insane, but how hatstand do you think they are???

  5. 155
    Mark says:

    RichradC

    Where did you miss the memo: these corporations are INTERNATIONAL.

  6. 156
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B., Most of your “alternative fuel” subsidies are for ethanol–and that does not really count as an energy program. It is more like welfare for corn farmers. The expenditures by the US government on alternative energy sources that actually contribute positively to our energy banlance is woeful. And you have to ask yourself, what purpose would a fleet in the Persian Gulf serve if we weren’t trying to keep the sea lanes open for tankers?

  7. 157
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B., Most of your “alternative fuel” subsidies are for ethanol–and that does not really count as an energy program. It is more like welfare for corn farmers. The expenditures by the US government on alternative energy sources that actually contribute positively to our energy banlance is woeful. And you have to ask yourself, what purpose would a fleet in the Persian Gulf serve if we weren’t trying to keep the sea lanes open for tankers.

  8. 158
    RichardC says:

    Matt, you’re assuming that feebates don’t triple the price. Triple MPG and one must triple end-use cost per gallon. All that money is rebated to society on a per-capita basis, so there is no net cost, but the incentive remains. Punt gasoline to $15 a gallon, and all carbon-based fuels the same amount per CO2, and watch the Free Market do wonders. Efficiency goes up more? Punt gasoline to $20. Get rid of all welfare at the same time, as folks get citizenship stipends (adults only – I disagree with Hansen on this one). Solves illegal immigration, welfare, energy, and terrorism (dropping oil prices kills terrorism, especially if the USA stops propping up brutal dictatorships like Saudi.) What’s so hard about that? Please, continue with any issue which would arise from this system, and I’ll be happy to discuss solutions.

    WW2 is off topic, but the free world lost WW2. China went communist, and the USSR sucked up half of Europe. The loss of WW2 was probably due to Roosevelt’s ill health and death. Had he been healthy, he’d have kicked commie butt. Had the USA not been forced into the war, Hitler and Stalin would have killed each other off, and the free world would have mopped up the debris. Truly an unfortunate result. Why do you bring it up as a success?

    Mark, the corporations are based in specific countries. Since funds are “domestic” or “international,” folks tend to be “patriotic” and invest at “home.” What percentage of Russian oil stock is owned by Russians? And the BIG issue was Euros. Care to comment on those?

    Matt, uh, “an army shows up.” Where from? Remember, the next strongest armies in the world are all free and allied. (China and Russia have equivalent expenditures, but their hardware and tactics suck. The wars in the Mideast have proven that.) Even if some army materialized out of thin air, can you imagine the USA not trouncing them in short order? Can you imagine France and England and Germany and Canada and Japan not trouncing them? Fantasy scenario at best. Naw, there is no need for the US to have more than the strongest military on the planet. That can be done with less than 10% of the current funding (not counting the oil-wars). Besides, Afghanistan was about securing Saudi oilfields. The folks who they went after were all Saudis! Terrorism is because of Saudis screaming about the House of Saud. Hardliners always rise to the surface when people are oppressed. The solution? Stop allying oneself with oppressive dictatorships! Again, why is it necessary for the US to have more than the strongest military on the planet, if not to secure oil for low-MPG vehicles? What other benefit could there be?

    As to the fight over wind VS nuclear, it’s a no-brainer. Wind is cheaper, safer, and proven. Nuclear is good as a pre-heater for fossil fuel plants. Such a system can be retrofitted and would drop carbon emissions by perhaps 80%, but stand-alone nuclear power is a nightmare. (I’m surprised nobody has asked me to describe nuclear pre-heaters – they’re coooool beans.)

  9. 159
    Rod B says:

    Hank, none of your references says anything about “billions in credit guarantees”. It’s a simple question: did he mean “credit” as in a $ for $ tax reduction for expenditures (that’s the official IRS term), or something else, or just using the term loosely? If he doesn’t want to bother to answer, fine — his choice. I have no problem with that. But I shouldn’t have to go do a library search to try to figure how Ike or anyone else is using a specific term in an RC post.

  10. 160
    Larry Coleman says:

    There is a thread through this thread that increasing car mpg is a losing CO2 reduction battle, because if we build a fleet of cars getting 45 mpg, say, people will simply drive more…and anyway China and India, wanting our lifestyle will more than eat up any reductions the US is able to make, by a large factor.

    This analysis makes several assumptions that might turn out to be correct, but maybe not, so we should not be too certain.

    What we could and should do in the US is ramp up the gas tax high enough to move people to buy high mileage cars, and then ramp it further, if needed, to discourage them from driving more than before, maybe high enough to encourage us to drive even less. Aside from any GW benefit, this would enhance our national security and we ought to be doing it anyway.

    What about China? There is evidence that China is already ahead of the US in its energy policy. They seem to be questioning whether the US model is the right one for them, given the increasing price of oil. In fact, they have a clear advantage over us in that their centralized administrative control lets them implement new policies without requiring the approval of 535 congressmen. I suspect they are going to do what is best for them and copying the US ain’t it. Compared to us, they will be able to turn on a dime. It is unlikely that China or India will ever approach the current per capita energy consumption of fossil fuels in the US.

    In fact, whether the world uses up our oil in the next 50 years or the next 150 hardly matters to GW. There is not enough of it to do us in even, or when, we use it all. Coal is the GW gorilla but oil is important mainly as a national security issue for oil importing countries.

  11. 161
    Rod B says:

    RichardC (148), much of what you say is just naive pissin’ in the wind. (Other stuff you say, on a different discourse, is pretty good.) You evidently do not consider 9-11 a military invasion of U.S. What was it, pilot error??? (Similar to Obama’s sending Special Forces and attack helicopters across Pakistan’s border with guns blazing being something other than an invasion of Pakistan; God only knows what.) We had no problem getting (and paying for) Iraq oil prior to the latest skirmish. In fact many folks, most in the UN, but no oil company, got rich off it. Why then would we go to war to preserve our oil supplies again?? And how do the oil companies profit from Iraq selling their own oil? What exactly is the money flow? Something like when the Saudis glommed the oil companies’ assets there? Plus I suppose Iran is just joshin’ when they say they will blow Israel off the map?? Yeah, we can rely on that. Like Khruschchev was probably just kiddin’ when he announced at the UN that he will bury us. Holy moly!

    The “hundreds of billions in excess profits” for the oil companies (right out of the talking points manual): can you be more specific? What is excess profit versus non-excess profit? How much of each? Is there some accounting rule, or do we just ask you?

    Not as erudite as Matt, but you get my drift…

    Shift: I was aware of the electric mass transports using connected power like wire and third rail. But I heard (I think) of self-contained electric powered locomotives, I guess using batteries, fuel cells, or something. I was wondering if you or anybody else can validate this.

  12. 162
    matt says:

    #158 RichardC: Matt, you’re assuming that feebates don’t triple the price. Triple MPG and one must triple end-use cost per gallon.

    You wrongly assume we can achieve similar efficiencies in all other areas that use oil. We cannot. Do you think engineers have been doing nothing on the ICE in the last hundred years? If an ICE engine is optimistically at 40% today, what do you think it can be at in 10 years? Hybrid can help a lot, but as we know, nowhere near the 3X improvement you are hoping.

    A 3000 pound car at 60 MPH with a 2m2 cross section, 0.5 Cd, 0.03 Cr, etc, etc, needs 33.5 HP. A 1000 pound car, everything else the same, is 23.2 HP. So you won’t get there from weight reduction. A 1000 pound car with a max speed of 45 MPH is getting close. But that’s in the realm of a fast golf cart. So, if you think fast golf carts are the answer, then say that. But quit pretending an ICE or Hybrid can be built to solve this. It can’t. The physics aren’t there. Electrics can, but you have the battery problem.

    [edit – no more OT]

  13. 163
    matt says:

    #157 Ray: Rod B., Most of your “alternative fuel” subsidies are for ethanol–and that does not really count as an energy program. It is more like welfare for corn farmers. The expenditures by the US government on alternative energy sources that actually contribute positively to our energy banlance is woeful. And you have to ask yourself, what purpose would a fleet in the Persian Gulf serve if we weren’t trying to keep the sea lanes open for tankers.

    Do you ever wonder why fire trucks are so clean? It’s because firemen have a lot of free time on their hands. That doesn’t mean you get rid of the firemen, though, right?

    You build a military so that you can handle and win several conflicts around the world at the same time. If there’s not a conflict, then you wash the fire trucks. Or in this case, flex your muscle for no other reason than you can. Its all sunk cost.

  14. 164
    RichardC says:

    160 Larry, the only rational CO2 policy is per capita. China has more folks, they get more CO2 emissions. Period. Either one believes that “all humans are created equal” or one doesn’t. They won’t agree that we are somehow more human and so deserve to spew more than them. Heck, they’ll say we already spewed far more than they ever will, so we should spew less in the future. There is absolutely no ethical argument for the West to spew more per capita than the third world without paying the third world direct compensation. I’m astounded at the apologists who say with a straight face that the third world refused to play fair with Koyoto. Heck, the 3rd world would agree to a fair solution – one adult, x grams of CO2. The Western powers are the ones who refused a fair treaty. That the third world didn’t agree to codifying bigotry, well, that’s shame on us. Seems you are on the right page, thinking of them as equal humans too. I disagree with your conclusion, though. I think we’ve already done ourselves in. We’re arguing about who gets the best stall, when the horses have left and the barn is burning.

  15. 165

    matt writes:

    We cannot take a brand new technology and ramp it up to 20% over 20 years. It just doesn’t happen, no matter how badly you want it.

    Liberty Ships? Transister radios? Desktop computers?

  16. 166
    Mark says:

    Richard, corporations put all their profits in places where profit is not taxed (Ireland doesn’t tax patent profits, so the money goes there) and put all the losses in places where they can so as to negate any profits there too.

    Then they take the tax breaks and government handouts and spend it where they want.

    $300Bn of it.

    Your position doesn’t change the post you denied to begin with.

  17. 167
    Rod B says:

    ps the self-contained electric powered locomotive thing is deja vu…. Has this been discussed before in RC??

  18. 168
    Richard Simons says:

    I was aware of the electric mass transports using connected power like wire and third rail. But I heard (I think) of self-contained electric powered locomotives, I guess using batteries, fuel cells, or something. I was wondering if you or anybody else can validate this.

    They are sometimes used in mines and as service vehicles for subways, but they are generally heavy with low range and performance, though no doubt improved batteries could improve on this. There have been various attempts to make battery-powered trains to enable them to run on non-electrified lines (e.g. here and here) but I don’t know of any that were successful.

  19. 169
    Rod B says:

    Ray, still the best reading of DOE has $10B +/- supporting renewals which includes biomass but ethanol is not the biggest recipient. (I think the major ethanol subsidy goes to ethanol manufacturers and is not from DOE. Farmers get virtually no direct ethanol subsidies though benefit (alot) from the ethanol demand and from the Dept of Ag generic supports and subsidies.) It’s true that DOE heavily supports nuclear development and also coal, though the latter is predominately to clean it or the sequester CO2. How much support for renewals (other than biomass) would not be woefully short? Is more money linearly helpful? Do you not subscribe to the funding theory that at some point an increase in funding provides zero increase, and indeed often a decrease, in accomplishments?

    The USN has a carrier group (maybe two??, but not a fleet) in the Persian Gulf predominately to support 130,000 or so ground troops who happen to be fighting a war there. If the Navy’s main role is to protect oil shipping someone ought to tell them that 75% of their fleet is in the wrong place — Hawaii, SanDiego, Norfolk, Washington State, etc. Would they react if someone tried to hijack all oil tanker shipments to the U.S? You bet. Same if someone tried to blow up all of our rigs in the Gulf of Mexico or our Prudhoe Bay facilities. Same, probably, if they hijacked a couple of passenger liners. What’s your beef?

  20. 170
    Chuck Booth says:

    Alerting consumers to the amount of gas they are likely to be spending for a year’s worth of driving (the gal/10,000 miles figure) may be effective at opening their eyes to how much it really costs to own and operate a vehicle, esp. with price of gas so high. In the U.S., we already get similar information when we buy a major appliance, such as a refrigerator, via a large yellow tag in or on the appliance that states both the estimated kilowatt-hour energy consumption and the estimated annual cost of operating the fridge -I paid far more attention to the latter than the former when I bought a new fridge this summer.

  21. 171
    Walt Bennett says:

    Off Topic (What ever happened to the Friday roundup?)

    I’ve been chatting with some folks here and there in various discussion groups, and it’s amazing how well developed some contrarian positions are. I mean, some of you may not have noticed, but they’ve moved beyond “It’s the sun, stupid!”

    And they’ve gotten me to thinking. Is there some headlong rush to “prove” AGW? I’m not necessarily referring to a gravy train, more to the point that there are people we respect who are very far out there in terms of “knowing what’s coming.” Dr. Hansen comes to mind.

    It makes it almost sacreligous to ask certain questions. One question which comes to mind is: how hard are we working to break AGW theory? I mean, within NASA and NOAA and Hadley. How hard are we working to disprove climate sensitivity? To discover negative feedbacks? Look at it this way: if the estimates are off by 20 years, we’re saved. We’ll certainly have all sorts of alternatives to fossil fuels in 20 years. How much of a change in sensitivity would be required? How much negative feedback? Perhaps some new technology comes along in that time, and none of this solutions business, the politicization of AGW, would even be necessary.

    I’d become too insulated, hanging around warmist sites exclusively. It is certainly true that most skeptics are very poorly informed and of suspect intelligence, but now and then, as I said, somebody gets me to thinking. You know, we could be mostly right about this, and it’s the part we’re wrong about that will change everything.

    And so the question: How hard are we looking?

  22. 172
    matt says:

    165 BPL: Liberty Ships? Transister radios? Desktop computers?

    We’re talking about energy generation, transmission and distribution with 4 9’s reliability (one hour of down time per year). Outside of this extremely difficult realm, yes, you can get massive update rates. Just look at the cellphone, and yes, the PC.

    But currently, even the penetration rate of wind power it at risk for shrinking because demand is rising faster than wind can be installed.

  23. 173
    Larry Coleman says:

    164 RichardC
    I agree with everything you say, even the pessimistic last note…except that it is not inevitable that we all go down the tube. It is possible to do better and to avoid the worst but that will require that the US take a lead role and it seems that we have given up being a world leader…and we never face looming crises more than one election cycle off. In this case one cycle will be too late. So, while not disagreeing with your conclusion, I hold out a small hope, becoming smaller with time.

  24. 174
    Mark says:

    Walt, #171.

    Well, if someone is standing in the middle of the road and a bus is heading toward them at speed, I either stand there and wait until it’s PROVEN that it is going to hit (say 1 ft from them and still going 30mph) or I say “look out behind you!” BEFORE I get the proof.

  25. 175
    Hank Roberts says:

    Walt, there’s no one single “AGW Theory” to prove or fail to prove. But you know that.

  26. 176
    Mark says:

    Matt, #172

    Your point was we CANNOT ramp up in 20 years.

    Those examples show you are not right in several cases.

    So do you have any proof that we cannot ramp up in 20 years to ameliorate AGW? Or are you just hoping we can’t so you can ignore it and let someone else’s kid (foreign ones at that) pay for it?

  27. 177

    Why then would we go to war to preserve our oil supplies again??

    Yes… very good question, the one I would have brought up too, had anyone bothered to ask at the time ;-)

    Afterwards the good questions are obvious, right?

  28. 178
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: 174

    Hank,

    I gave you two: climate sensitivity and negative feedbacks.

    I think it is a fair question: how hard are we working to break the underpinnings of the theory on which we are being asked to radically alter life as we know it, and to do so as soon as possible?

    I know that dedicated warmists consider such silly questions long since settled; the only problem with that view is that all of AGW theory is based on things that are being observed in nature for the first time.

    Remember the Eocene? Co2 levels from 3500 to 660 ppm? Remember what brought the CO2 down? A naturally occurring event: the Azolla event.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azolla_event

    Are we ready to say that nature doesn’t have some potential feedback mechanism to draw down excess CO2? Perhaps the very presence of the excess CO2 can help instigate such an event. Do we know?

    It would impress me greatly if one or two dedicated warmists showed that they aren’t afraid to at least ask some tough questions.

  29. 179
    Mark says:

    Walt,

    What are you doing about the underpinnings of “It’s going to be OK”? Are you ready to say that nature has feedbacks that increase the effects of CO2 or will produce more CO2 or equivalent (Methan Hydrates)? Do you know?

    It would impress me greatly if one or two dedicated skeptics were skeptical about the anti-AGW debate. If one or two denialists were to investigate tough questions they are afraid to answer.

    Will you do that for me?

  30. 180
    Mark says:

    Martin, #177.

    Why don’t we cut down all our trees? Fish all our fish? Worse, with these, they renew themselves if you leave them alone.

    Oil won’t.

  31. 181
    matt says:

    #176 Mark: So do you have any proof that we cannot ramp up in 20 years to ameliorate AGW? Or are you just hoping we can’t so you can ignore it and let someone else’s kid (foreign ones at that) pay for it?

    Depends on what you are hoping to ramp up. Alt energy at 100% of our supply in 20 years? No way, and there’s not a government agency in the world that believes that. Most believe alt energy can get to 40% in 20 years, and that’s fairly optimistic. Yet that doesn’t solve our problem. Not even close.

    Now, what about the other 60%?

    The problem is that AGW has been fly paper for all these goofballs that just hate oil and nuclear. These goofballs believe there is fairy dust of some kind (such as tripling MPG of a car) that we’re just not doing because of an unseen and sinister force. You need some sort of existence proof that gets close to your claim and where the first and second derivatives of the uptake are showing promise. Without that, you are simply praying it will work.

    Our difference in opinion comes down to these four questions:

    1) What % of alt energy (marginal CO2 emissions) is possible in 2030
    2) What % of savings can we achieve through conservation
    3) What % do you believe we need to cut our CO2 to avert AGW assuming RoW comes on line and wants to produce at our current rates
    4) What do you propose to generate the remainder of the needed energy you noted in 1)

    My answers:

    1) 35%. If you disagree, find a government that backs your thinking on a large scale (serving 50M or more people).
    2) 10%-20. If you disagree, show a period in time where any large group have reduced their consumption substantially and sustained it over a decade or more.
    3) 95% for US, 92% for EU. Kyoto wasn’t even close to being this harsh. This is draconian, no question. But if CO2 is really a problem, then we must get back to 1970 levels and we must all get to emit equally.
    4) Nuclear.

    Ray, although we disagree on many things, your a pretty sound person when it comes to numbers. I’d love it you’d chime in too.

  32. 182
    Hank Roberts says:

    Matt, it’s going to be done whether we do it or just suffer it.
    Look at ocean pH, primary productivity, and the scenarios.
    There are no good futures out there with increasing CO2. None.
    Oh, except the fairy dust.

  33. 183
    Russell Seitz says:

    One might also ask;
    Which reduces CO2 emissions more :

    Erecting 300 3.5 megawatt wind turbines , or switching the fuel contract for a single 1 gigawatt thermal power station to a higher hydrogen to carbon ratio mine ?

    in the mileage semiotics debate , the same iceberg of innumeracy that Gavin deplores conceals the tendency of 8.3 mpg SUV’s to do even worse if run on EtOH diluted hydrocarbon fuel. Gallons per mile would be good, but full transparency in fuel composition and elemental combustion ratios would be better .

  34. 184
    Mark says:

    “Alternative energy in 20 years no way”

    How do you make that?

    In six years production solar panes have gone down tenfold in dollars-per-watt. In ten years, power efficiency has gone up 30% for cars, 500% for lighting, 50% for air transport and about that for shipping.

    Renewables have gone in ten years from prototype to dozens of variable methods of energy sequestration.

    In the 60 years since WW2, america has gone from 1calorie of oil energy to 3600 calories of food produced to 1:1. If we reverse the trend, we will be 1:600 in 20 years.

    Impossible?

    You say it but have nothing to back that up.

  35. 185
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #179

    Mark,

    You don’t know me. I hopped on board as a warmist after seeing AIT. I was a dedicated member of this discussion group for many months afterward. I have spent time at Rabbett Run and Tamino and other highly technical sites. I have not the slightest doubt that AGW theory is basically correct.

    I dismiss most skeptical arguments as either re-hashing old issues which have been resolved, or promoting a threadbare concept as some sort of “proof” or “refutation”. I am in no way a sympathizer with anybody who calls AGW a hoax or a conspiracy.

    Where I am is here: the science has become completely politicized. It is no longer possible to do science for its own sake within the realm of climate science. All science now is viewed through the prism of whether or not it supports AGW. Typically, when some observation does not conform to a highly positive correlation with AGW theory, we are presented with plausible explanations for why that is so.

    Meanwhile, all of our heroes are behaving as though there is nothing to look for. It’s all settled. We know exactly what is coming, and we keep coming up with better models to “prove” it.

    All this effort spent on proving something; you know, you hit what you aim for most of the time.

    If there is too much inbreeding in AGW-related climate science, as is absolutely the case today, where does the observation, hypothesis or experiment come from which punches a hole in the theory by introducing something that was not considered before?

    Once again: we are the lab. This has never happened before in the history of the planet. To say we know what the feedbacks and timelines will be is clearly foolish. And yet, who today within the family of AGW-related climate science, is looking under those rocks?

    Perhaps there are positive answers to my question. I did not ask it with any sort of bias toward the answer being: “We ain’t looking.” I asked with an open mind. Members of several prestigious science organizations are present at all times in these discussions.

    Are you looking for ways to break the theory?

    Have we examined climatically stable places, such as the Azores, for a signal? I mean, what would interfere with an AGW signal in the Azores? Have we gone looking for the signal where it should be most evident, and have we at any point failed to find the signal?

    I have no doubt the planet will warm under rising CO2. What I lack confidence in is the precision of the predictions. From what I have learned in the last two years and change, most of the predictions are based on models, and the models contain in part, parameter driven data that in some cases may even have the wrong sign. We are intent, it seems, on basing radical social policy on these answers.

    So then, would it not be prudent of us to be making as sure as possible that there are no holes in the theory? You know, my programming manager is fond of reminding me: in order to find mistakes, you have to be looking for them.

    Mark, I once said exactly the things you are saying now. My thought today is, we have all the time we need to not do the wrong thing.

    All of this “think time is over! We must act now!” only makes me more determined to say “wait a minute. If you want my vote, we ain’t done talkin’ yet.”

    That is where I’m at today.

  36. 186
    David B. Benson says:

    Walt Bennett (178) — Thank for the information and link regarding the Azolla event.

    While something similar is most unlikely to ‘just happen’, we could make it happen in the Black Sea. I have no idea whether as much as 10–12 GtC per year could be sequestered that way, but some of what is necessary could.

    Call it a mild (and I think harmless) form of geo-engineering.

  37. 187
    RichardC says:

    161 Matt, [edit – please rein in OT stuff]
    About ten years of using the excess over strongest in world military budget would result in a completely paid-for renewable electrical power grid. Talk about a bargain! As for vehicles with on-board electrical storage for more than acceleration or short range, it is foolish. Third rails or overhead wires work. Batteries are too inefficient and heavy to compete.

    162Matt, we’re not talking hypothetical, nor any increase from today’s tech. The 2010 Prius gets 94 MPG. I’m guessing 94 mpg is in imperial, so deduct 20%. 78MPG for a big car (it’s lots bigger and faster than the current version). The current fleet is 25MPG or so. Thus, a mere tripling is a yawner. And about China and India, well, they exist in either case! Whether cars get 25mpg or 78 mpg, ya gotta add in China. Thus, triple the time until global meltdown for triple the mpg @ triple the fuel cost still holds. Look at RMI and Amory Lovins’ work if you want to see what other areas can do. Heating and cooling can certainly be tripled in efficiency at little cost. A 66% reduction in CO2 emissions is laughably easy with no increase in lifecycle cost. Koyoto was too timid. We should have gone for 66% reduction over 15 years.

    163 Matt, no, you build a military so you can defend against invasion. Any other use can be built when it becomes necessary, especially since all of the biggest and most competent militaries are free. (Anyone who thinks Russia or China is competent militarily needs to do some research into Mideast wars.) Having a military stand around sucking up hundreds of billions is awfully wasteful. Why not have a multi-hundred billion dollar peace corps instead?

    181 Matt, over 22 years? About 90% reduction is tame via renewables, nuclear pre-heaters, and conservation, and probably not nearly enough to avert catastrophic methane release. With serious commitment, we could do 110% or so. Stuff above 90% gets tough. Log houses are a good idea.

  38. 188
    David B. Benson says:

    More on Azolla:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azolla

    “Azolla cannot survive winters with prolonged freezing, so is often grown as an ornamental plant at high latitudes where it cannot establish itself firmly enough to become a weed. It is not tolerant to salinity; normal plants can’t survive in greater than 1-1.6‰, and even conditioned organisms die in over 5.5‰ salinity.”

    So using the Black Sea would take barges to grow the stuff in. Growing in dedicated freshwater ponds would require harvesting, pyrolysizing to biochar and serquestration deep underground. Still, this looks considerably less expensive than doing the same with terrestrial biomass; smaller land use change, lower growing and harvesting costs.

  39. 189
    Hank Roberts says:

    Walt, how could you have understood the science without understanding that citing your sources is how science is discussed?

    Please, give evidence you have sources for your statements. Else it sounds like you got enthusiastic then disenchanted without an intervening period of actually reading and discussing the research.

    Please point to specifics from your own reading rather than from the chorus amen section of the blogosphere, for example for:

    > Typically, when some observation does not conform to a highly
    > positive correlation with AGW theory, we are presented with
    > plausible explanations for why that is so.

    Typically would mean say, nine out of ten? Show us ten examples?

    > all of our heroes are behaving as though there is nothing
    > to look for.

    That would be someone who has a research record and quit publishing.
    Who, please?

    Remember, one of the classic ploys in debating is “I used to believe, but now I know better.” Don’t do that.

  40. 190
    Chuck Booth says:

    RE # 185 Walt Bennett
    “It is no longer possible to do science for its own sake within the realm of climate science. All science now is viewed through the prism of whether or not it supports AGW.”

    Walt, How on earth did you come up with that conclusion? If you believe that, you clearly don’t understand science or scientists.

  41. 191
    matt says:

    #187 Richard…Your avoidance of the addressing the numbers in #181 is telling…and expected. Part of a plan involves setting budgets and devising ways to reach those budgets. Your “plan” is nothing more than “my way or the highway” and minus a complete ban on oil, you’ll never be satisfied. You and others like you are part of the problem. You refuse to work on anything realistic, and instead do your best to sabotage anything else.

    Today’s Prius EPA is 45 MPG HWY. The 2010 Prius will do about 10% better when you don’t count plug in charging. If you count plug in charging, yes you can do 100 MPG. But then it’s getting most of its energy from wall electricity. That’s not a real MPG improvement. If you want to count that, then of course, a zillion miles per gallon is possible is you have a thimble sized fuel tank augmented with 1000 pounds of LiIon batteries. But surely you recognize that’s not a real MPG measurement. Don’t you?

    Please take a stab at the #’s I requested in #181. If you’ve thought about this for even 10 minutes over the last year, then those numbers will take 30 seconds to type. And it will demonstrate to everyone here that you really have a master plan after all.

  42. 192
    matt says:

    #184 Mark: Impossible? You say it but have nothing to back that up.

    Of course I do–what I’m asking you for is an existence proof that bolsters your case. For example, a proper reply to my query, rather than your arm flapping, might have been, “But Matt, today we see Germany is leading the world. Since 1990, they have gone from 3.4% renewable, to 14.4% renewable today. That is 0.64% growth per year is possible when a nation is committed. If really motivated, a more emboldened nation should be able to go even faster and hit 0.8% annual renewable growth. That means in 20 years, that’d be another 16%, which means Germany would be at 32%”

    That’s what I would have expected you to say. See? It shows what is possible today from someone who cares the most, and it shows that with 25% more effort that the world leader could be at 32%.

    That is called an existence proof. I take it your job doesn’t involve a lot of forward-looking analysis. That’s OK. Mine does. We all have different skills.

    Now that you know what I’m talking about, why don’t you again try to walk me through how we take a large nation that is at 5% renewable today, to 40% renewable in 20 years. That’s about 1.75% growth per year. Hint: I can be convinced the super motivated can achieve it, especially as the newer technology comes on line. But once we get settled on this, the question comes up…what about the other 60%? See post #181.

  43. 193
    Guy says:

    #185 – AFAIK, pretty much the only linked “evidence” that the blogsphere is excited about is that global temperatures this year won’t hit an all-time record, that (accordingly) ice-loss in the arctic hasn’t either and that no individual year is warmer than 1998. (are there others I missed?) Surely you’re not suggesting that these entirely predictable and modelled natural weather variations are actually evidence that all that peer-reviewed stuff is wrong? It’s ok to always want more science, but I’ve seen nothing peer-reviewed to cast any doubt on the basics – and therefore I have no reason to pay the slightest attention to the blogsphere beyond a general depression at humanity. (incidentally, the UK’s Met Office last week called such talk of global warming stopping, based on their own figures, as “delusional” – see here – http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/hadleycentre/news/warming_goes_on.pdf and here – http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/sep/23/climatechange.scienceofclimatechange )

    My thought today is, we have all the time we need to not do the wrong thing.

    I can’t follow this logic. It appears to suppose that if we take forever to avoid making a certain decision, that everything will be just peachy. Unless I’ve misunderstood, that is pure head-in-the-sand. Even if you are unsure about AGW, there remains the distinct possibility that business as usual will screw everything up in a matter of years (or even that it is already too late). And – as countless people have pointed out – even in the very unlikely scenario of AGW being completely wrong, a wholesale transition to sustainable energy will have only positive long term consequences anyway.

    I think you need to be a bit more specific about your concerns…

  44. 194
    Mark says:

    Matt, you elicit skepticim over “the truth of AGW” without a returned idea. You are therefore sceptical. But you aren’t sceptical of ideas that deny AGW.

    If skeptic doesn’t mean sceptical, what does it mean? And if you’re not sceptical of all data that comes your way, what makes it not denial of just one position?

    True I don’t know you. But I do know what you’ve written here. If that isn’t you, then learn to write.

  45. 195
    Mark says:

    Matt #191, why? Will you believe the numbers or, if they don’t prove you right, will you demand more proof?

    I posit it will be “demand more”.

    Therefore what’s the point of arguing with someone who doesn’t change their mind?

  46. 196
    dagobert says:

    We think the Prius III will reach an official NEFZ rating of 3.6 l/100km which translates to 65 mpg US. Not bad at all but not really a record either. A Smart diesel does 3.3 l/100km. A VW Lupo3L 3.0 l/100km (78 mpg). In comparison to that, a Smart-EL (purely electrically powered vehicle) uses around 15 kW/h per 100km, which means, according to our current energy mix, 88 g CO2/100km while the diesel version produces the same 88 g CO2/100km. But thats just oil and it’ll all be burned anyway sooner or later. The real problems are coal, coal and coal and we can deal with that using nuclear (which we have) and/or renewables (which we dream of and play with but which aren’t about to make a significant difference on a global level for at least another 50 years – if ever).

  47. 197

    matt writes:

    We’re talking about energy generation, transmission and distribution with 4 9’s reliability (one hour of down time per year).

    Nuclear reactors and coal-fired power plants do not achieve 0.9999 reliability.

  48. 198

    walt bennett writes:

    Are we ready to say that nature doesn’t have some potential feedback mechanism to draw down excess CO2?

    It does — the carbonate-silicate cycle. But that takes millions of years to operate.

  49. 199

    walt bennett writes:

    most of the predictions are based on models, and the models contain in part, parameter driven data that in some cases may even have the wrong sign.

    And if the models are wrong, what makes you think they are wrong in the direction you want? What if they’re predicting milder effects from AGW than will actually happen?

  50. 200

    The Azolla event info was quite interesting. However, there is a little problem with the timescales–just to point out the obvious. The citation gave 2 million years as the event duration, whereas the whole problem with AGW is that it is occurring over decadal timescales. We need something at least a couple of orders of magnitude faster, it would seem, if we are interested in practical amelioration strategies.


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