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Transition at the Limits of What People Can Cope With

Written By: - Date published: 7:00 am, September 7th, 2022 - 39 comments
Categories: climate change, Deep stuff, energy, Environment, Europe, International, peak oil, science, uncategorized - Tags:

Many European governments now face a perfect storm of threatened energy security, rising inflation, war-propelled refugee crisis, and climate objectives. New Zealand be warned.

As Europe and the UK prepares to go into another winter, with many low-income and elderly now reducing their heating costs to shivering in one room, we are getting to a point where there is actually a limit to what governments can do simultaneously.

The risk is that governments abandon serious climate policy and opt for further short-term compensation schemes that limit the worst of the effects of energy prices spikes. We’ve seen it in New Zealand, we’ve seen it in Germany, across many countries we’re seeing massive subsidies go into defending the poor from cold and the family from fuel-driven inflation.

But unless there is deep and long state support for heating, cooling, and food as a way for governments to protect households, governments will fall and so too will the shift to a greener economy that has a shot at staying under 1.5C degrees of warming.

OIL AND GAS

Oil prices for Europe have been steadily rising since April 2020 as a consequence of OPEC production cuts. Natural gas prices have followed suit. Last Friday Russia’s GazProm stopped the resumption of gas flows to Europe through its NordStrom 1 line. In July this year the EU called for voluntary cuts of 15% in gas use across the EU.

Europe will be banning imports of all Russian oil that arrives by sea, by the end of this year.

This will likely further hit oil prices and spread to all economic sectors. The petroleum crunch is hitting harder and harder.

The spike in consumer electricity bills has also be caused by French nuclear outages and a heatwave across Europe this summer boosting demand.

In part because the Russia-Ukraine war is likely according to NATO to continue for several years, many gas analysts expect gas prices to be elevated for the next two years or more.

Germany – the dominant economic engine of Europe – has moved to the second stage of a three-tier emergency gas plan, curtailing supply to industry. It will also introduce a gas levy to distribute the high costs of replacing Russian gas from October this year.

In fact Germany has now set in place a set of society-altering rules around energy consumption, starting this month and getting progressively tougher: gone are such things as illuminated advertising, indoor public building heating, enforced cuts to hot water, no heated pools, and further rules kicking in longer term.

STATE ASSISTANCE WITH ENERGY TRANSITION

Olaf Schulz is putting EU65 billion in price supports for consumers to help them through this.

Britain has put a price cap on energy tariffs in 2019, but this has blown out and the UK media are awash with stories of poor old people shivering and reduced to one room.

The idea that gas could be a transition fuel to get Europe through to the era beyond 2035 well, no longer possible.

Then there’s oil.

The European Union has set some of the boldest targets in the world for rapidly decreasing their reliance on petroleum particularly in new cars.

The market share of new vehicle purchases in Europe is nearly 20% and rising. For a few Nordic countries this is great, but the great majority of citizens still drive petroleum cars.

Now, the only thing standing between the 2022-23 winter and thousands of people shivering in poverty and into freezing to death is deeper and deeper massive government subsidy.

The alternative is that more European governments cannot withstand political pressure rising from cold citizens, the resistance to Russian aggression dissolves, and with it goes the best shot at the fast energy transition that the EU needed to keep its 1.5 degree climate target.

As in New Zealand, some European countries like Germany, Ireland and France have cut public transport prices to make less-petroleum-reliant travel more attractive.

VERY, VERY HARD POLICY CHOICES

The future is onrushing towards the EU faster even than its bold longer term policy plans and shorter term transitions.

It is an exceedingly tough balance between governments enabling high petroleum prices to accelerate energy transition across the EU for strong strategic reasons in the years to come, but yet generate policies to mitigate the suffering of people to not die of cold, not be able to travel to work or learn, and not decline as either families or as countries. It is New Zealand writ large, and they are several years ahead of what we will go through.

There is a brutal point in this: decarbonising economies requires high and stable fossil fuel prices.

According to the scenarios from the latest IPCC report, limiting warming to around 1.5C requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak no later than 2025 and to be reduced by 43% by 2030. That is a fast closing window.

It would be vile and cruel to consider any upside to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is forcing harder and harder policy choices on governments, just at the same time as it is uprooting millions and millions of people and killing thousands.

But do we see emerging a positive feedback loop of change between high energy prices, industry and consumers, and state and EU support that will eventually transform European society? Signs are good but the chaos is terrifying and there is much more chaos to come.

To illustrate how much more sensitive we are to similar fuel price rises, the ANZ ‘truckometer’ index showed that it was only in Level 4 lockdown that we stopped driving much,  we try and cut down where we can, but we are other than on the margins fuel inelastic.

It is a brutal policy point to state, but fossil fuel prices need to be kept high in the transition age. Even then, the petroleum addiction is very, very hard to shift. It will drive inflation and poverty upwards together. Even worse than it already is.

It would be foolish to claim that a political appetite exists for sustained freezing in a bedroom to support the Ukrainian war or that such a political equation will last for long. Nor may one claim that there is a capable government who has done this kind of transition before that has kept economies strong, democracy alive and human rights sustained.

But what Europe and the UK is going through is right at the limits of what long term policy goal and execution can manage.

If New Zealand ever wanted to see how hard real energy transition is, observe the EU now and into 2023-4. Winter is coming.

39 comments on “Transition at the Limits of What People Can Cope With ”

  1. AB 1

    The possibility of a just transition from high-carbon to low-carbon economies is fast disappearing. If citizens react to the chaos by electing conservative, small-state, tax-cutting governments the chance is gone for good – as the ability of the state to do anything much will be killed off.

  2. Poission 2

    Not including the bailout of energy companies margin calls (1.5 trillion) the cost of energy is expected to rise to 2 trillion in the eurozone,around 15% of GDP.

    Energy affordability in Europe is reaching a “tipping point” that could peak next year, with total spending on bills across the continent growing by 2 trillion euros ($2 trillion), a Goldman Sachs research team, led by Alberto Gandolfi and Mafalda Pombeiro, said in a note published Sunday.

    https://fortune.com/2022/09/06/europe-energy-bills-soar-two-trillion-2023-goldman/

    Reforming the band for the 70's is now real.

    • Australia is facing fallout and business failure in their electric energy businesses.

      Pakistan is under water through climate change.

      Choice will be a luxury.
      Will rationing become a tool? How will that work?

      • Poission 2.1.1

        Australia being a large FF exporter competes with global markets for electricity generation supply.The large export prices give it a large balance of payments surplus (48 billion)

        The high prices now make it financially viable ( 200 m US per shipment) to export to Europe by passing Pakistan,India etc.

        This leaves coal as the primary feedstock for electrons on the sub continent,and heavy use of charcoal etc for domestic cooking and the subsequent black carbon emissions onto the Glaciers of the Himalyas (the largest cause of glacial melt)

        • Sanctuary 2.1.1.1

          Putin was explicit in his speech yesterday that he now waging a full blown energy war against the west:

          "…Putin said: “Will there be any political decisions that contradict the contracts? Yes, we just won’t fulfil them. We will not supply anything at all if it contradicts our interests,” he said, according to a Reuters translation of his remarks. “We will not supply gas, oil, coal, heating oil – we will not supply anything.”…"

          He thinks he can simply pivot to Asia to avoid the impact of Western Sanctions. Does he really expect the Chinese – or anyone else – to take his word on any deal he signs ever again? Effectively, he seems willing to exchange a partnership with the west to becoming China's energy poodle. China has been careful to not sell Putin weapons or ammunition for his war – although they are happy to trade in exchange for dirt cheap Russian oil. He’s been reduced to doing deals with North Korea and Iran. Some superpower. Some allies.

          No country will allow itself to be blackmailed as crudely as Putin is trying to blackmail them if they have options. And the Europeans have options, because they are rich. They can hose up all the LNG from everywhere regardless of price. They can afford to re-start coal fired power stations, re-open coal mines, spin up retired nuclear power stations, not shut down the Groningen gas field, and have a crash wind and solar program all at once and do it fast.

          Meanwhile, Poland has increased defense spending to 5% and is preparing for war with Russia in 3-5 years.

  3. roy cartland 3

    gone are such things as illuminated advertising

    cut public transport prices to make less-petroleum-reliant travel more attractive

    Love these. But it's a simple question with a harder answer: do we have short term annoyance to mitigate longer term pain? Or expensive comfort now with longer term agony? The former is easy to argue, but hard to practise.

  4. Poission 4

    The good old days,low tech reversal.

    • weka 4.1

      that'll last until the carbon paper factory has blackouts.

    • I find it difficult to believe that many civil servants can actually touch type on a manual typewriter. It would only be those 60+ who would ever have done so as a regular part of their working day in the typing pool. The chance of any of them being there 40 years later is pretty minimal.

      • Poission 4.2.1

        I would suspect,that there would be substantive pockets there as investment was never a priority due to funding cuts.

        Look at the US IRS,not surprised they have a budget deficit.

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/interactive/2022/irs-pipeline-tax-return-delays/

      • roblogic 4.2.2

        Learned to touch type in 1986 at a night class, I'm barely a day over 50. Pretty useful for my work day on computers.

        • Belladonna 4.2.2.1

          Yes. The keyboard layout is the same.

          However, the physical action required to strike the keys with sufficient force to generate the strike through the typewriter ribbon onto the paper – is very different. And, therefore so is the timing – there will be an awful lot of keylock going on.

          And, a lot of RSI (or whatever the current acronym is) – as people struggle to build up the required muscle skills. This was a major issue when people transitioned the other way.

          I, too, use touch typing daily (indeed I'm using it to compose this message) – but my accuracy and speed, let alone my duration (how long I could type without fatigue) – would be significantly less, if I were using my manual portable typewriter (tucked away under the desk in my home office – because I can't bear to throw it out)

          The assumption that people can seamlessly switch to using manual typewriter – just because they can use a keyboard – is badly flawed. Let alone the fact that there are no new typewriters being manufactured (anywhere in the world, AFAIK)

          • roblogic 4.2.2.1.1

            Some of the more paranoid (or clear eyed?) members of our society recommend the old typewriters (and all sorts of other countermeasures) for dissidents to minimise surveillance, when writing their anti-establishment articles.

            • Belladonna 4.2.2.1.1.1

              However, I bet they photocopy or otherwise duplicate said articles, rather than typing each copy by hand….

              But, lovely vision of masked (eyes rather than Covid) conspirators hunt-and-peck typing by candlelight in a basement, and communicating by sign-language to avoid surveillance.

  5. Drowsy M. Kram 5

    But unless there is deep and long state support for heating, cooling, and food as a way for governments to protect households, governments will fall and so too will the shift to a greener economy that has a shot at staying under 1.5C degrees of warming.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    9 May [2022]: a World Meteorological Organization update stated that there is a 50:50 chance of the annual average global temperature temporarily reaching 1.5 °C above pre-industrial level for at least 1 of the ensuing 5 years; in 2015 that probability was estimated as "close to zero".
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2022_in_climate_change

    We need hope to cope, but if anthropogeneic GHG emissions dropped permanently to zero today, spaceship Earth would continue to warm past 1.5 deg C. This iteration of civilisation, a beautiful 'goose' that has laid so many 'eggs' (not all golden), is cooked.

    The climate crisis is escalating fast [4 Sept 2022]
    According to the IPCC’s mitigation document, which was launched in early April, the world is currently on track for a temperature rise of more than three degrees by the end of the century. The mitigation report states the 1.5 degree limit will almost certainly be breached, but expresses the hope that this may only happen temporarily. It assumes that carbon capture and storage will be necessary to reduce the concentration of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. Indeed, the IPPC now points out that this largely untested and potentially risky technology is necessary.

    Germany’s centre-left newspaper Tageszeitung, however, warns that, once the 1.5 limit is breached, it may be impossible to return below it. The risk is that we will reach tipping points which accelerate global heating. For example, thawing permafrost could release methane, a powerful greenhouse-gas, into the atmosphere.

    Some climate change impacts – melting ice sheets, disappearing rainforests – will happen no matter what we do [2 Sept 2022]
    Committed impacts don’t mean it’s time to give up, but they highlight the urgency to cut emissions.

    Even if the world suddenly stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, the seas would still rise tomorrow — and for centuries to come.

    The idea of committed impacts is widespread in climate change. From ice sheets to rainforests, even the most optimistic of warming timelines will still involve serious harm, baked-in effects that lag behind the greenhouse gases emitted and the actual degrees of warming so far observed.

    Baked-in, everywhere

    G7 corporates missing Paris Climate Agreement 1.5 deg C goal [6 Sept 2022]
    Across the G7, which consists of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, corporate emissions targets are overall on a 2.7 deg C warming trajectory, CDP and Oliver Wyman analysis showed.

    The belief that we are in control of our own destiny is appealing – I myself have drifted towards 'moderate fatalism'.

    What Is Fatalism?
    Moderate fatalism is the belief that humans have a significant amount of control over their own destiny, but that there are still some things that are predetermined. This means that people may believe that they can influence their own fate to a large extent, but that there are still some events that are out of their control.

  6. Tricledrown 6

    Wars and pandemics haven't changed human behavour what we need is less of everything but soon as the lockdowns have finished everyone has gone back to the same old consumer lead economy.Air travel ,cars selfish consumerism.No Hope until much bigger catastrophe's then it may be to late unless you are a billionaire prepper.

  7. DB Brown 7

    Good post.

    While the list of things we'll need to manage/attenuate continues to grow, the pool of resources to do so shrinks.

    Clearly we need to use extant energy sources to build sustainable energy sources at the same time as we slow down. Solar, wind, hydro etc. That's where the spend should be. Why Kainga Ora's and other departments are not rolling out solar is one of the government universe's many dim mysteries. Fuck shovel ready, get silicon ready. Some BS about having hydro, like that's got us covered.

    Subsidising a pensioners bills – or giving the pensioner some solar panels or portion of some equivalent? UK's in very deep shit because of privatisation of amenities, it's not all the wars fault, it's bloody Tories also making a huge mess. I can't see much in the near future of UK that says they won't be rioting.

    Sell assets, run out of cash. Go figure. Build assets, power assets, then we got power to do more.

    I don't think slowing down is nearly so hard as corporate pillocks make out it is. People are just herd instinct doing what most everyone else is while corporations and governments continue to push us to consume, continue to fret over growth (that pays interest to bankers) continue to sell us the lie that the winning formula is to make money and buy shit, continue to fumble the ball. People will take direction, but look at the direction they're getting.

    We've allowed corporations psychologists into every facet of our lives. We've largely forgot how to cook, build, mend, create, share, trade… but the thing is, as you start those activities, soon they are rewarding in and of themselves. The ability to create and care for ourselves has been bastardised into a nonsensical race to get fat stacks.

    The rat race is both tedious and tired in today's climate. Chill out and help chill the planet.

    • Ad 7.1

      It's hard not to get into prepper mode. Rather than build mode.

      I'd confess to being not without options, but I now think more of pulling up the drawbridge. It's such an inhumane, unChristian and unsocialist way for me to think but there's such growing anxiety in so many that it's very hard to resist.

      Sometimes the most useful thing to do is just write it out and share it.

      • DB Brown 7.1.1

        While pulling up the drawbridge is simply ceding defeat, it's certainly attractive. I absolutely resonate with what you're saying (tis a cold day in hell today) wink

        Some positive things we can do to make life more secure is garden, plant productive trees, learn to cook, add solar, batteries, what you can afford if you can afford it. Investing in self should no longer be some 'how to be a winner' self help workshop, but actual on the ground security of food, power, shelter… anything to make your life, and your neighbourhood, more self sufficient.

        I mentioned to my neighbours I'm going to a tree sale and would they like to grow something. They looked at me like I'm strange, like their jobs in entertainment are all the security they need. When food prices double again they'll come knocking.

        I see a lot of gardens abandoned after a season or two. By gardens I mean boxes of manufactured soil bought for exorbitant prices and producing a few salads. Our garden centres are incapable of helping us grow food as they don't know how to either. Not without salts, cides, emptying your pockets for further destruction…

        That's the key skill set that'll minimise marauding mobs. Sustainable food growing. Applied everywhere they'll take the edge off. Hard to be so angry when well fed (exceptions abound, but as a general rule).

        • PsyclingLeft.Always 7.1.1.1

          There you go…talking sense again. Oh also, there was no reply button to your Worms..(Vurms?/vermicast : ) reply to me yesterday.

          So…

          Your Project sounds amazing. How long have you been at it? I dont have much land..(just the normal 1/4 acre Paradise) but I have been doing what I can. Took out front lawn…planted all natives..Hebes, Flax, Kowhai, and Hoheria. Have now a Tui..and a Bellbird visit ! The Hoheria is an awesome tree. Hardy..quick growing and an amazing bee (and other insect) attractor. literally hundreds of small flowers,and hundreds of bees.(including native Bees) And looks fantastic too.

          I hear you re dry. I have been involved with Tree planting for years. In dry areas I make a lower area around it so any water…will pool there. I also use large cardboard ( Bike Boxes etc : ) as mulch. Rocks on top of course. I find that even when dry as, the worms still survive under there.

          Also coffee grounds seem to get them going !

          Anyway..very Interesting reading. Good on you.

          • DB Brown 7.1.1.1.1

            How long have I been at it? Short answer > 40 years.

            Wagged school as it had no challenge and spent the time in the Library studying fungi. Then locked in boys home for truancy and learned to grow vegetables. Let out and expelled for further truancy, and by that time studying plants too. Went from there to market gardening, via a brief stint landscaping and beekeeping.

            Been able to garden for forty years. Been into permaculture maybe 15 years. Taught by old school gardeners and experts in my first jobs – so I've never used salts and cides (except when in government led 'initiatives').

            Much as climate change can snowball in bad directions restorative efforts can snowball in a good direction, but it's getting harder, and we need attention to detail so we're not out there planting matchwood.

            Minor earthworks are hugely significant structures.

            https://awallofhope.com/2020/01/23/justdiggit-using-land-regeneration-to-re-green-our-planet-and-reverse-climate-change/

            On those coffee grounds – Trichoderma love them. Very beneficial fungi for trees.

            • PsyclingLeft.Always 7.1.1.1.1.1

              Well that is very Cool ! Good for you deciding take that Path…..

              And having the right Teachers (not the school ones : )

              I decided to try my best to make our Planet Greener years back when my Sons were little. About then I was doing scrub cutter/track clearer work…and a neighbouring guy said he was gonna drill and poison a beautiful big tree that was in HIS view. "Youre not a man of the trees are ya" he laughed. Well…I thought about it for a couple minutes..and said "yes I fukn am, and if that tree dies I'll say who did it" Well he shut right up….

              Anyway…that link is so amazing. I found this one…

              Admittedly, these are small features, but if you squint, you will see rows in the fields: these are rows of rectangular pits, about 1 meter deep, where water collects during rains, and slowly infiltrates into the water table. Photo: Alessandra Giannini

              https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2019/09/18/great-green-wall-sahara-desertification/

              Sahara

              It was as if, every time humans and their goats and cattle hopscotched across the grasslands, they had turned everything to scrub and desert in their wake.

              https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-really-turned-sahara-desert-green-oasis-wasteland-180962668/

              Well all makes sense I suppose . We have to fix our screwup.

  8. Well ADVANTAGE, you seem to be the one blogger here who might allow this through so I’ll give it a crack, especially since this guy, Professor Simon Michaux, doesn’t take issue with global warming, but in an online conference looks at the extra capacity for minerals needed to completely convert from FF to wind and solar power. (1 hour 12 minutes).

    Here’s just one screenshot

    https://i.imgflip.com/6sifpc.jpg

    Note, for example, that known lithium reserves amount to less than 3% of what would be needed to replace fossil fuels with wind, solar and batteries, for the first 20 years. Known cobalt reserves amount to less than 4% of what would be needed for the first generation, and so on. Keep in mind, too, that mining projects typically take something like 20 years to come on line.

    There's another that shows the principal metals needed for a wind and solar energy system, and compares those requirements with actual production of those commodities as of 2019, the last “normal” pre-covid year – 189 years worth of copper production, 400 years of nickel production, 9,921 years of lithium production, 1,733 years of cobalt production, 29,113 years of germanium production, and so on, – and that's only for the first 20 years of wind and solar installations. You better hope that the recycling is superb.

    The bottom line is that it's just not going to happen via that pathway. It has to be nuclear.

    • Ad 8.1

      Yeah I am going to do another one on electricity and control of the national grid.

      Countries with fairly stable geology should be thinking nuclear – it's just that the large plants take too damn long to build and build stable waste facilities. I'm not sure many countries have that kind of time left.

      Even our new proposed RMA framework would kill nuclear energy plans.

      Good on you for commenting with actual facts and a brain.

      • Poission 8.1.1

        The national grid is the key (in nz ) to becoming less dependent on FF whilst retaining low cost electricity.

        Here the government should be investing (as a debt free stakeholder) without the need for high rates of return ( renewal and accelerated depreciation only)When the transmission lines get replaced they should be replaced with better conductive systems ( core linings) which reduce transmission loss.( present around 1369 gwh)

        Australia's grid renewal 22 b+ is to allow better go round power and connect stranded renewables.Here with better go round capability,we need to understand what we want.Replacing of manufacturing with data centres etc that are energy intensive mean significant labour losses for the benefit of overseas business etc.

      • pat 8.1.2

        May pay to read (or listen ) to what Michaux has to say before promoting nuclear.

        • Tom Hunter 8.1.2.1

          Well about a decade ago I ran some calculations for a comment on Kiwiblog <a href="https://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2014/12/a_nuclear_power_debate_in_australia.html">A nuclear power debate in Australia</a>:

          <i>So to replace coal with nuclear on a global basis would require humanity to build about 3500 “average” US nuclear plants. Even if we double the size of each plant – which is entirely doable – that would still leave us needing to build 1750 nuclear plants. If a “crash” program was enabled that would mean 14.5 plants per month – for ten years. And that would only be to replace coal-fired electricity as of 2010, not gas-fired plants, and not including another ten years of economic growth.

          I’m a big fan of nuclear power, but not so optimistic that I see such a global nuclear program happening. Still, it’s all about incremental growth rates and the power of compound growth so maybe it can happen – by 2050?</i>

          No sign of a global "crash program" in the years since I wrote that.

        • Tom Hunter 8.1.2.2

          Ick. Just shows me to check my numbers. Can't find my original number for coal generation in 2010 but the one I used was wrong.

          However, the good/bad news is that it only changes the monthly reactor build rate to just under seven per month globally for a decade to replace coal, although that is now using only the average US reactor size – and it's not happening anyway.

          BTW, in that original KB post I saw I referenced an interesting study done by Google, based on internal project to get the company switching to renewable power only and published in, of all places, IEEE Spectrum, and it’s still linkable: What would it really take to reverse climate change

          The two guys who led it were true believers in renewable power and… they weren't very happy about what they discovered. It was so bad in fact that Google shut the project down.

      • DB Brown 8.1.3

        Love to hear more about the salt bed reactors, progress, etc.

  9. Mike the Lefty 9

    Europe is nicely set up for the rise of right or centre-right populists who can win elections on promises to protect the people from economic purgatory but will only abandon moves towards greener economies and enrich their own political circles.

  10. Our civilisation is dependent upon cheap abundant energy for pretty much everything.

    Governments will fall, but that won't solve the intractable problem, and we will be forced to transition to a lower energy future sooner or later.

    Even the Americans. with their habit of coincidentally invading or otherwise subverting oil producing countries, are not able to change the laws of physics.

  11. it will be a time of learning to do without things.

  12. Hanswurst 12

    Olaf Schulz is putting EU65 billion in price supports for consumers to help them through this.

    Olaf Scholz.

  13. Hunter Thompson II 13

    The future may be rushing towards the EU, but in the western USA (California especially) it has arrived.

    Just check the water level in Lake Mead and the current state of drought leading to out-of-control forest fires.

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