Clarifying the Coal Question
This was an update of an earlier presentation: Global Warming is limited by Carbon Availability
For historical context, I started with an overview of the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, followed by some comments about the link to global warming. The scientific community is now accepting the probability that global warming is due to carbon dioxide production from the burning of fossil fuels.
The American Geophysical Union has released a statement on “Human Impacts on
Climate” and to read the entire statement, see:
The fossil fuel situation was addressed quite early in The Coal Question, by William Stanley Jevons.
Online copies of the second edition (1866) are available:
for full-text PDF, see:
For the third edition (1906), see:
The key analytical work presented in the talk was that of Prof. David Rutledge, Chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science at the California Institute of Technology. See http://rutledge.caltech.edu / for a video and slide presentation. It is best if you look at his presentation for the full context; I only gave a summary.
James Hansen and others are also working on updating their assumptions about carbon availability.
Conclusion: many of the scenarios in the IPCC study (www.ipcc.ch) assume that carbon emission is much higher than possible from known reserves.
One of my major points in this talk was that we need to estimate the actual amount of carbon emissions that could be emitted by burning known amounts of hydrocarbons, and not just make simple assumptions about growth rates.
The ultimate cumulative production of ALL hydrocarbons (oil, oil sands, natural gas, etc.) is probably about 4.6Tboe (Tboe = trillion barrels of oil equivalent).
IPCC scenarios assume that 11 to 15 Tboe is available.
Some of the IPCC scenarios assumed up to 18 TBoe of coal would be mined and burned on a global basis, and we see that estimates of actually-recoverable coal reserves may be around 1.6 TBoe, much lower than assumed by the IPCC authors. (Even generous estimates of coal production yield a figure of 3.5 TBoe.)
The Producer-Limited profile has lower emissions than any of the 40 IPCC scenarios, which puts limits on the eventual temperature rise!
Jean Laherrere was the first to point out this anomalous situation.
Conclusion: The Producer-Limited profile has lower emissions than any of the 40 IPCC scenarios. This means that these 40 IPCC scenarios are probably unrealistic. Carbon availability limits the eventual temperature rise; it may be significantly lower than the IPCC estimates, but that requires more calculation (and of course, there are other effects involving methane, feedback, etc.).
Several references and websites to look at:
Rutledge web site with video and accompanying PowerPoint slides: http://rutledge.caltech.edu/
Dr. Rutledge has also summarized this in a web discussion forum: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/2697
Caltech has several related video presentations (by Hansen, etc): http://today.caltech.edu/theater/list?subset=science
Energy Watch Group "Coal Report"
Energy Watch Group "Oil Report" http://www.energywatchgroup.org/fileadmin/global/pdf/2008-02_EWG_Oil_Report_updated.pdf
Ken Deffeyes, Hubbert’s Peak, in the Malpass library (promotional material is at http://www.princeton.edu/hubbert/ )
William Catton, Overshoot, in the Malpass library (or at
for the text of Ch. 3, see: http://www.energybulletin.net/node/6069
for another excerpt, see: http://dieoff.org/page15.htm
Google books version: http://books.google.com/books?id=jCKXpv-E5HsC&dq=catton+overshoot