UN Issues Dire Climate Report

It's not too late but it's too late.

NPR (“Major Report Warns Climate Change Is Accelerating And Humans Must Cut Emissions Now”):

Global climate change is accelerating and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the overwhelming cause, according to a landmark report released Monday by the United Nations. There is still time to avoid catastrophic warming this century, but only if countries around the world stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as possible, the authors warn.

The message to world leaders is more dire, and more unequivocal, than ever before.

“It is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change,” says Ko Barrett, the vice-chair of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the senior adviser for climate at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Each of the last four decades has been the warmest on record since pre-industrial times.”

The authors — nearly 200 leading climate scientists — hope the report’s findings will be front and center when world leaders meet for a major climate conference in November.

The effects of that warming are obvious and deadly around the world. Heat waves, droughts and floods are killing people and disrupting lives around the world this summer. Wildfires are burning with unprecedented frequency and intensity, including in places that used to rarely burn. Smoke and smog are choking people in cities and towns from Asia to the Arctic. Ocean heat waves are threatening entire ecosystems and supercharging hurricanes and typhoons.

The science is clear: Human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are the primary driver of such changes.

The goals are seemingly modest but the steps required to achieve them are not.

One of the big questions posed by world leaders is whether it’s still possible to meet the targets set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement. That agreement seeks to limit global warming to well under 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F), and ideally keep it below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). The Earth is already about 1 degree Celsius hotter than it was in the late 1800s.

Most of the biggest economies in the world are not on track to meet those temperature targets, because they continue to rely too heavily on fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and industry — including most polluting fuels such as coal. That includes the U.S., which has cut emissions very slowly in recent years.


The authors found that, if countries around the world dramatically and permanently cut emissions immediately, the Earth will start getting cooler around the middle of this century. On the other hand, if countries move more slowly to curb emissions, or fail to transition to cleaner sources of energy, the Earth could warm by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees F) or more by the end of the century.

We’ve had decades of warning on this but the movement has been slow, indeed. Democratic nations can’t impose radical changes quickly because citizens simply won’t stand for it. And the two largest countries by population, by far, China and India, are economically underdeveloped and not unreasonably prioritize catching up to the West over correcting the damage that development has wrought.

“The target that the Biden-Harris administration articulated earlier this year is the most ambitious ever in U.S. history,” says Jane Lubchenco, the deputy director for climate and environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “This report is telling us we need to be ambitious. We probably need to be even more so.”

It’s unclear how the U.S. will achieve the goal it has already set, let alone an accelerated goal. The infrastructure package Congress is currently considering includes some investments in cleaner electricity, public transit and electric appliances and vehicles. Meanwhile, other major economies including China and India are not on track to reduce their emissions this decade.

In the United States, it has, for a variety of reasons, been conservatives and the Republican Party who have been most resistant to these changes. But even the Democrats are only going to do so much. Not only does Joe Manchin, a swing vote, represent a coal state but the party’s reliance on labor union support hamstrings many of the reforms. For example, the Biden administration wants to subsidize electric cars—but not so much Tesla, which is non-union. Short-term domestic politics will naturally overshadow long-term goals, no matter how existential.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Even that, which is theoretically avoidable, won’t be. The only answer is to retreat and adjust.

  2. Kathy says:

    Faced with a clear and present danger of SARS-CoV-2, with immediate negative consequences, the response was pitiable, with a few exceptions. Given this, I wouldn’t expect any hope at all of decisive action on climate, even after disasters become a near daily thing.

  3. Argon says:

    But Senator Inhofe showed that snowballs could exist on the Senate floor! How was that possible if global warming is real?

  4. gVOR08 says:

    If one can’t go to bars and restaurants without a vaccine passport, the solution is obvious, get the shots. If Tesla is excluded from government support because Tesla is non-union, the solution seems equally obvious.

    FOX and GOPs made COVID a political football purely for political gain, without there being any big money in it. They’ve made AGW a political football for political gain and because they’re well paid to. Unless that somehow changes, we’re screwed.

  5. Teve says:

    If Level 0 is doing nothing, and Level 10 is doing enough that Global Warming is effectively interrupted and temps plateau in a few decades (cuz that’s already baked in), and we avert major disruptions, I think humankind is capable of reaching Level 1, maybe 2.

    Evolved creatures are programmed to think short-term. An invisible problem, caused by doing things which drastically improve our lives, where the bad effects show up in statistics, and will mostly occur after we’re dead? No Way can humans deal with that shit.

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    People seem to think we’ll have some warm days as a result, but what we’ll have is mass starvation on a level never seen in modern times. Tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people in Africa, Central America and the Indian subcontinent will not wait passively to die. If we don’t get a grip on climate change we will be building Trump’s border wall and lining it with machine gun towers.

  7. becca says:

    Blasé, blasé as they say. Oh well, too bad, so sad. Nothing to be done now, so why bother. Let’s move on and ignore it some more. Worked for “conservatives” for decades.

    (buries head in oil sands)

  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: Personally, I’d say that humankind reaching level one is pretty ambitious. Is a subdivision of those rankings of effort available?

  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Reynolds brings up an interesting point–in his model of this the US is going to need to be building a wall to keep the unwashed starving hoards out. (And he’s the “hard-core liberal” among us–how quickly things change.) What’s interesting is that, for whatever reason, his assertion assumes that our nation will largely be left untouched by climate change and/or that our overall wealth will somehow balance the scales in our favor. I don’t read on this topic much, having come to the conclusion back in 2009 that tipping point was already past, so I don’t know what the current predictions about how issues of what will happen in the fertile zones as things deteriorate. But I see no particular reason to believe that livability will continue apace in the US.

    Multiply that by every other nation in the world inclined to the same viewpoint, and we begin to see how of the “Tragedy of the Commons” works as a thought experiment to lead to its result.

  10. Kurtz says:


    One of the resident Republican commenters at 538 said something a couple years ago, and it illustrates your point. It was something along the lines of:

    I would rather wait until impacts start to show up rather than risk the economy now.

    This dude has a Masters in Economics. His thinking on this strikes me as an example of how poorly trained in critical thought some economists seem to be–even within their own field.

    There are many possible reasons for it. I have my own ideas on that front, some of which I’ve expressed here.

  11. Teve says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: my scale is pseudo quantitative. 😀

  12. HarvardLaw92 says:

    The whole EV thing strikes me as misguided. For starters, the US electric grid is not at present, by any stretch of the imagination, possessed of sufficient capacity to have EVs plugged in & charging away at every household. Building out that additional supply capacity will inevitably involve adding additional generation capacity at some point in this performance drama, and those are quite likely to be fossil fueled. Beyond that, current EV manufacturing produces significantly more emissions than comparable ICE vehicles. You’re not really reducing greenhouse gases, you’re just moving the generation point source.

  13. Teve says:


    Kurtz quotes someone:

    I would rather wait until impacts start to show up rather than risk the economy now.

    Do you think this numbnut would apply the same logic to a drunk driver? Don’t pull him over now, let’s see where this goes!

  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    (And he’s the “hard-core liberal” among us–how quickly things change.)

    Dude, a prediction is neither an endorsement nor a hope.

    But I see no particular reason to believe that livability will continue apace in the US.

    Have you ever in your life see the rich suffer as much as the poor?

    I’ve actually given this some thought apropos of a writing project I may do. The rich countries are also the northern countries and the likelihood is that the loss of livability will be worst in equatorial countries. Florida and Louisiana will suffer from rising water, and the entire south will see declining crop yields, wild weather, etc…, but Bangladesh with its 167 million people, will simply be eliminated. Vast sections of costal China and South-east Asia ditto.

    Africa has less to fear from floods, but a rise in heat will destroy African agriculture leaving them dependent on the countries still able to produce agricultural surpluses – the US, Canada, Russia, Argentina. How long do you think that pity party will last? Will the north feed the south indefinitely?

    Central America but also South America and the Caribbean will be our particular concern because starving people, displaced people, people literally dying from heat in un-air conditioned cities, will start to migrate and there’s only one place for those tens of millions, hundreds of millions, to go.

    The rich countries are already cooking up plans to save themselves. There is serious talk of damming the North Sea, making the water from Cornwall to Norway, and all around the Baltic,
    effectively a lake. An easier project will be damming the straits of Gibraltar, protecting Mediterranean coastlines. The US itself will migrate slowly north, and we’ll continue to produce crops in the northern tier states and Alaska. Canada will do fine, but they’ll need US support to deal with the Russians just over the pole from Canada.

    The future for the US is not likely to be hunger, but rather feeding our faces while we watch millions die.

    Again, not an endorsement, a prediction, bearing in mind that no one knows for sure what the effects will be.

  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    Nah. Is there money to be made by stringing more wire? Yes? Then we’ll string more wire. This is a rich country with a whole lot of sunshine, tides and wind, and opinion on nukes is already shifting. The nice thing about capitalism is if you tell a capitalist you need more juice, he’ll get you more juice.

    As for the environmental cost of building EV’s, sure there is some, but not much more than any car, and over the lifetime of the vehicle that will be more than made up.

  16. Kurtz says:


    Beyond that, current EV manufacturing produces significantly more emissions than comparable ICE vehicles.

    I was just reading a little about that. I was just skimming, but EVs require more copper and nickel. Once one accounts for mining practices, EVs don’t look like such a great alternative.

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    As I understand it (and I’m not an expert), production of those batteries is quite a bit worse from a greenhouse gas standpoint than producing ICE vehicles. The only way the longer term equation remotely swings to the positive for EVs is the presumption that they’ll be powered by renewable energy (which currently is not the case). At present, with the current generation mix, EVs appear to be worse from an overall environmental impact standpoint.

    (Even Germany’s vaunted “green” miracle is somewhat of a fraud. They utilize an enormous amount of biomass to achieve their current figures. Here in the real world, that means we’re clear cutting forests in the Southern US to supply Europe. Biomass means “we’re burning trees” and calling it green).

  18. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Our best model for a hotter planet is probably the Pliocene era, whose warmer period seem to have been c. 3.6 °C above the pre-industrial average since the last Ice Age.

    If so, a linear “everywhere hotter and drier” straight-line is not likely.
    In fact some part of the “north” could be disrupted more by some likely changes.
    For instance, it indicates that NW North America and NW Europe are likely to be warmer and wetter, especially wetter in summer.
    Central North America though is likely to be hotter and drier, verging on desert.

    While some indications are that generally higher atmospheric water content, and more energetic weather, meant that sub-tropical deserts were generally smaller; evidence from the tropical forests is patchy. There is some evidence of desert areas in what is today the southern fringes of the forest zones in Brazil and Angola-Zambia.
    What we don’t know is over what equatorial areas ecological collapses will render agriculture untenable.
    And which areas may see summer “wet-bulb” heat too high for humans to tolerate.

    The massive problem will be the disruption of grain producing arable regions. Either dessication or much greater summer humidity could seriously affect the areas viable for growing wheat, in particular., but also other grains.
    And the capital infrastructure of the grainlands is a colossal investment: machinery, field systems, drying units, storage barns, grain elevators, road rail and water terminals, and the vehicles, etc etc.
    Replicating them in a new area entails stupendous diversion of resources.

    Where the rich world will have advantages is in the wealth and expertise required for melioration.
    But moving agricultural zones and likely evacuation of all current coastal regions, in the longer term, will destroy wealth on an unimaginable scale.
    (Protecting NW European coastal regions by damming the North Sea is impracticable IMO: you’d need a 500 kilometer barrage to close the Scotland/Norway gap and fill in the Norwegian Trench which is 700m deep!)
    Almost certainly it will require the imposition of command economies and authoritarian polities.

  19. Teve says:

    Lifetime emissions of EVs are lower than gasoline cars.

    And more solar is coming online all the time because it’s now the cheapest. Grid storage is falling too.

    Additionally, you can’t evaluate this strictly on the exact numbers as they exist in August of 2021. The cost of solar, and storage, have dropped remarkably, year over year, for decades, and those cost curves didn’t screech to a halt last night.

  20. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    I suspect Michael Reynolds may be correct.
    As I’ve said above, the “north” is likely to be hit, and hit hard
    There simply will not be the food available to save refugees as well as feed the domestic population.
    There may well not be enough for that.

    If millions of refugees are attempting to move to a country that is exercising draconian economic direction of resources, rationing it’s own population, and desperately trying to reconstruct it’s entire agricultural infrastructure, what do you think the response of the state will be?

    Though I think hundreds of millions are unlikely to arrive on the southern borders. Once the movement goes over a certain magnitude, and the ago-economy is collapsing anyway, the transport nets required for that scale of movement, and to feed the people on the move, will collapse.

    The hundreds of millions will die before they even make it to the borders.

  21. JohnSF says:

    I’ve said before, the country that is really the best exemplar of a decarbonising strategy in the “First World” is France.
    But German Greens just won’t listen, due to their anti-nuclear obsession.
    They actually preferrd to increase lignite burning in order to shut down German nuclear power.

    And have criticised France for failing to increase “renewable” energy use; which is because c.80% of French electricity is nuclear-based anyway!

    The German Greens need to wake up to reality almost as much as do the hydrocarbon interests of the US and China.

  22. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Have you ever in your life see the rich suffer as much as the poor?

    When the Shah was overthrown in Iran.

    Really, any popular uprising — things have to have gotten to the point where people are desperate, so even if the common people are also screwed over by the effects of the uprising, that upper class is even more screwed, what with their heads on pikes and the like.

    Not that I expect the teeming masses of the poor countries to get through our borders and overthrow the American government. We will nuke them before that happens.

  23. Tim D. says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Perhaps you’re getting confused because widespread adoption of EVs is a necessary but not sufficient condition for full, economy-wide decarbonization. It’s true that additional steps are also necessary — namely, decarbonizing electric power (to charge the EV) and industrial emissions (reducing emissions from raw materials of EV manufacture). But overall, EVs are seen as a net-benefit (as the link above showed).

    So, it is certainly possible we might fail to achieve our goals for a variety of reasons, but it’s not impossible. I’d recommend maybe spending some time reading the details of a net-zero/1.5C scenarios, e.g. https://netzeroamerica.princeton.edu/. They lay out a number of different pathways to 1.5C, naturally with different trade offs, risks, benefits, etc.

  24. HarvardLaw92 says:


    That piece references the same assumptions I spoke about earlier – which are not currently the case. It’s trying to compare an electric car vs an internal combustion car while leaving out the production of emissions during the manufacturing process. That’s disingenuous.

  25. JohnSF says:

    Some popular uprisings have inconvenienced the rich; but most often one section of the relatively prosperous co-opts the revolt, and used it for their own ends.
    In other cases, where the wealthier have maintained their solidarity, the talesof hopeful revolts have tended to have unhappy outcomes for the rebels.
    I can think of dozens of exclusively peasant, or worker, revolts in Medieval Europe, and not a single one that made much headway unless so-opted by elites e.g. Hussite Rising, Catalan Revolt, Sicilian Vespers.

    And in the Iranian case, the revolt against the shah was led by two groups who were traditionally among the wealthiest elements: the bazaar merchants, and the clerics.
    (The clerics were not nominally personally wealthy; but in practice their senior members controlled large religious trusts of land and wealth. As they still do.)

  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m not sure the North Sea/Baltic dam is impossible – this is the Dutch we’re talking about pushing hardest, and they are the world experts on such things, and not known to waste money. I’ve seen a couple pieces on. it and the guess is that it’d cost about 1% of GDP from the affected countries. There are potentially huge technical not to mention environmental issues, and making all that cement is an environmental disaster all its own, but it is theoretically do-able.

    The Gibraltar/Morocco dam would be child’s play by comparison and if it could be made navigable sea-to-ocean it would pay for itself overnight, rescuing shorelines all over the Med.

    The guesses I’ve seen – and that’s all they are, really is informed guesses – that Canada and Russia would be beneficiaries, both having arable land above the burn line. The northern tier states, ditto, as well as Alaska. The South would likely be all-but uninhabitable, so no change there. Florida’s toast. Anyone buying property in Miami should expect RE prices to start dropping in a few years.

    California’s mostly OK as to flooding though we may have to dam SF Bay, but while that’s an ugly thought it’s well within current capabilities. Our problem will of course be drinking water and wildfires.

    I don’t see engineering fixes for climate change, but there will be engineering patches, and those will largely reserved for the wealthy countries.

    A factor that was relevant to us in buying a Volvo Recharge is contrasting its carbon footprint not against the kind of car we could buy (a Prius hybrid, or some fuel-sipping min-car) but the car we’d be likely to buy. The ICE alternative was an Audi A6, which is a bit thirsty, 4200 pounds of steel and still has nothing like the torque. (Sounds cooler though for we immature types who like to hear the engine growl.)

  27. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Tim D.:

    I’m not confused, tbh. I’m pretty directly stating that I think it’s somewhat of a performative hoax being used to concurrently make people feel righteous while actually not accomplishing that much and milking as much additional profit as possible out of them in the process, at least at present. Every one of these things that I read inevitably diverges to “the technology of tomorrow”. That’s great, but until renewable energy can actually replace combustion based generation while maintaining our current usage profile (which as far as I have been able to determine, it can’t), it’s pie in the sky here in the present.

    John hit it on the head – the closest anybody has gotten to decarbonization is France (which I’m pretty familiar with given where I live), and that’s a consequence of massive nuclear, which has its own problems. Germany’s vaunted accomplishment, once you dig beneath the surface, isn’t what it seems, at all.

  28. Tim D. says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Here’s another very recent study showing full lifecycle emissions are lower for EVs than ICEV in every major market.

    “Results show that even for cars registered today, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have by far the lowest life-cycle GHG emissions”

  29. Tim D. says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I think you might consider the possibility that this opinion is based on bad or outdated information. Some new reading material might be helpful.

    Far from being a “performative hoax,” the trajectories of wind, solar and energy storage have all been extremely positive, and that’s without the benefit of hardly any strong climate policies here in the U.S.

  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    I think @JohnSF: has it right. It’s not the poor who start revolutions beyond the bread riot stage, it’s an educated middle class. The outcomes tend to involve either all classes worse off (Russia, Cuba) or just the poor worse off (everything south of the Rio Grande.) The one constant is that the poor never get what they thought they were going to get. One minute you’re cheering the guillotining of the King, and the next minute you’re in a ditch at Waterloo, gut-shot for an Emperor.

  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnSF: My point is that every major nation in the world appears to mostly be handling the problem with the approach of “crossing the bridge when we come to it” or “we’ll be okay, but it’ll sure suck to be those guys.” The kind of mind numbing “richer than God” wealth that some nations have access to will certainly assist their transitions SOME–to the degree that said wealth is in public hands, but maybe not as much as the optimists believe.

    On the other hand, if grain production suffers because of climate change, as you suggest could happen, low carb diets will become standard. How could that possibly be a bad thing? And the problem of nations that already have figured out that they “have no bridge to cross” as the changes happen can simply be told that they should have picked a better place to found their civilizations (Reynolds’ wall will help with this–assuming that the US is still a destination by that time–we may be a net population exporter).

  32. Michael Reynolds says:

    One other quick point. We won’t actually be on the grid for long. We’re getting solar panels which will certainly cover at least 90% of the car and cut our other electrical use as well. Which changes the calculation quite a bit.

  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Hey, don’t sell nuking the world short. The nuclear winter alone could be a real boon for global temperature adjustment without even factoring in the population reductions it could achieve.

  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “Every one of these things that I read inevitably diverges to “the technology of tomorrow”.”

    Fortunately, fusion power is only a decade away. 😉

  35. Kathy says:


    One of the resident Republican commenters at 538 said something a couple years ago, and it illustrates your point. It was something along the lines of:

    I would rather wait until impacts start to show up rather than risk the economy now.

    That’s the equivalent of: Oh, it’s too early to tell.

    Once the impacts start to show up, the tune changes to: Oh, it’s too late to do anything.

  36. JohnSF says:

    Grid storage may be falling, but the only one currently large scale cost effective, unless things have changed a lot since I last looked at the issue, is hydroelectic pumped storage.
    Even that is orders of magnitude below the levels required to deal with renewable intermittacy,
    The largest pumped storage scheme in the US around 3000 MW; and the overall total about 15,000MW.
    For non-hydro, the current biggest is Ouarzazate molten-salt system, about 500MW.

    The scale of the problem: the US has a current electrical capacity of roughly 1,000,000MW.
    Assume it goes all solar: you need storage capacity of not far off that level for night time supply.
    Not far of a hundred time current capacity; and where do you site it. You can expect your overall costs of the whole system to almost double.

    You may need to eat that cost; but I still think the economics indicate nuclear fission remains the best option for large scale baseload.
    As the French decided half a century ago, and have consistently pursued ever since.

  37. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Low carb diets may be healthy.
    The zero calorie diet, not so much.

  38. Teve says:



    That piece references the same assumptions I spoke about earlier – which are not currently the case.

    The piece:

    A study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative found that the battery and fuel production for an EV generates higher emissions than the manufacturing of an automobile. But those higher environmental costs are offset by EVs’ superior energy efficiency over time.

    In short, the total emissions per mile for battery-powered cars are lower than comparable cars with internal combustion engines.

  39. Teve says:

    @Tim D.: yeah, one thing people don’t understand is that 100% of the joules in an ICE engine come from fossil fuels, whereas in the United States only 60% of the electricity does. 20% is from nuclear and 20% is renewable. And obviously that’s changing all the time, last year 78% of the new power capacity that went online was renewable. 22% was natural gas. EVs are already better than ICEs, and every year the gap will widen.

  40. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    It continues to puzzle me why the US is so resistant to diesel engines.
    Petrol engines generally work as optimum for smaller cars, but for something like an A6 the most economical petrol version gets around 39mpg on the euro combined cycle test; equivalent diesel about 60mpg.

  41. Teve says:

    @JohnSF: I hear Volkswagen has some new Clean Diesel technology that’s gonna change everything! (Touches ear) wait…I’m being told….


  42. Teve says:

    @Kathy: “ Once the impacts start to show up, the tune changes to: Oh, it’s too late to do anything.”

    Several Foxbots are already there.

    “Fox News commentator says people should ‘adapt’ to climate change

    Fox News host Jesse Watters argued that people should “adapt” to the climate crisis rather than tackle it.
    “If you want to stop climate change, you don’t fight climate change. If it’s getting warmer, you adapt to it. Let’s just say, the sea levels rise a couple inches over the next century,” Watters said on the Fox opinion panel show The Five, which he co-hosts. “It’s a great civilisation we have here, I think we can adapt to that.””


    (For the record, avg sea levels rose 7.3 inches in the last 100 years, and that rate is increasing)

  43. Teve says:

    @JohnSF: I’m not in favor of prematurely shutting down nuke plants. But we also can’t nuke our way out of the problem—we simply can’t build 15,000 new nuke plants, can’t site them, don’t have $150 Trillion to pay for them, etc.

    Pumping water uphill, like you mention, has a very serious problem—the necessary geography isn’t common.

    There are other possibilities too, though, like solar thermal plants, where the storage is built into the process.

    Part of the answer of how to deal with the problem that the sun doesn’t shine at 2 am is suggested by the fact that we don’t use much ‘lectric at 2 am. It makes sense to shift usage, when we can, closer to local solar noon. Your EV doesn’t have to charge overnight, it should be able to charge at 1 pm while you’re busy in the office.

    I wish there was a silver bullet, there’s not, just a grab-bag of partial answers that we need to Lego together. Iron-air batteries are looking promising for fixed storage, btw. Also, EV batteries that have lost, say, 50% capacity, are no good for a car anymore, but could be very cheaply slotted into a rack at a utility installation.

  44. JohnSF says:

    Estimate from about five years back of total-over-lifecyle tons of CO2 for an “average” car, assuming 500g/KWH grid electricity:
    Standard petrol engine 24
    Hybrid IC/electric 21
    Plug-in hybrid vehicle 19
    Battery electric vehicle 19
    Vehicle construction accounts for about 6 to 9 tonnes CO2e of the total

    500 g/kWh is about the current level for Germany; UK is around 280; France under 60 (nukes for the win!)
    I think the US is around 400.
    So electrics are already better, and better still the less CO2 intense the grid is.

    Though I still think the weight and production issues of current batteries, and ongoing issues over battery lifespan, make hydrogen based plug-in IC/fuel-cell hybrids the likely long term winner.

    Personally, depending on costs, I’ll quite likely have a second hand plug-in hybrid on the shortlist when replacement time comes around.
    Toyota Yaris looks interesting.

  45. Teve says:

    My friend Gary spent his post-phd career as a forensic anatomist. When someone dug up a ribcage and thought it might be that Morris girl who went missing last September, Gary was the guy the state police called to go to the scene and glance at it and say “that’s the ribcage of a great dane, adult female, dead about 5 years” etc.

    Since errbody’s talking about the new climate report, Gary just popped up on FB to say,

    In 1981 I listened to 3 days of talks about “Climate Change” at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. Scientists didn’t then think that anybody would be so damn stupid as to ignore the problem.

    We were wrong.

  46. Kathy says:


    I wish there was a silver bullet, there’s not, just a grab-bag of partial answers that we need to Lego together.

    I’ll forego an easy joke and go straight to a promising first step: universal carbon tax.

    It need not be huge, just big enough, in cents per kilogram of carbon and methane, to impact the end price of energy, meat, milk, etc.

    No way India or China impose one, but so what? The world sinks or swims together. it would be ridiculous to get it to sink just to avoid free riders.

  47. JohnSF says:

    Dunno about VAG, but Mercedes do a diesel PIH that is a corker: the E 300 de.
    Had I the money, I’d definitely consider one of those.

    Problem is, a diesel engine is inherently worse in power-to-weight terms than a petrol, and most costly to make (higher compression pressures require stronger materials etc). Combine that with the weight of a battery pack, and you need very good engineering to produce something that’s not horridly overweight.
    Also, the best diesels are already so efficient that a PIH version doesn’t produce the same leap of gains it does in a petrol PIH, especially if it’s a larger petrol engine you’re “hybridizing”.

  48. de stijl says:


    In a word: infrastructure

    Diesel will remain a niche side option in the US.

    We are slowly but systematically moving towards electric.

  49. HarvardLaw92 says:


    I don’t buy it, sorry. Not trying to be difficult. I just see that in a country where “renewables” constitute only 20% of electrical power generation, and the vast majority of that “renewable” energy consists of biomass – i.e. chopping down and burning forests for fuel, it’s a hoax.

    The only way their figures work, the absolute only way, is if they treat biomass as being carbon neutral, which is obviously the worst sort of feel-good lie. It’s anything but.

  50. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    As long as it doesn’t rain 🙂

  51. JohnSF says:


    we also can’t nuke our way out of the problem

    As I say, the French state begs to differ.
    (Though it doesn’t beg very much)
    They have decided they can and will do so.

    (Albeit they are already using renewables as a second string to the bow; solar molten salt storage looks a useful option for surge demand)
    Aided by the fact that once the French state has reached a consensus on such things, it tends not to vary according to the political makeup of governments.
    Gaullists, Republicans, Liberals, Socialists, Centrists: none have wavered from this policy; and green objections have simply been ignored.

  52. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: Well yes, but that means he’s only off by a factor of 4 or 5. That’s not so bad. 🙁

  53. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Tim D.:

    the trajectories of wind, solar and energy storage have all been extremely positive, and that’s without the benefit of hardly any strong climate policies here in the U.S.

    They’re minuscule, so they have nowhere to go but up, as long as we’re willing to continue throwing hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in subsidies at them.

    The simple fact is that they are nowhere, and I do mean nowhere near being able to replace conventional generation in any meaningful way. Intermittency, battery cost, limited battery life, disastrous environmental effects from their production, etc. As I said, it’s a feel good way for people to continue deluding themselves that there can be a future, any version of one, where we get to continue unlimited consumption and unlimited population growth while magically powering it all with the sun and the wind. All the fun, none of the consequences and none of the guilt. That’s how you sell fantasy. I don’t do fantasy and I don’t do feel good.

    Currently “renewables” (excluding hydroelectric) comprise some 13% of nameplate capacity. Remove biomass (for obvious reasons) from that figure and tell us – hundreds of billions of dollars later what of that figure is actually left that’s renewable.

  54. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: You quote a guy saying,

    I would rather wait until impacts start to show up rather than risk the economy now.

    You’re right that this, “It’s too soon to be sure.’ will at some point slip straight to, ‘Oh, it’s too late to do anything.’ But more importantly it’s a false dichotomy. Dealing with warming might be bad for Exxon and Koch Industries, but it’s not a threat to the economy.

  55. Kathy says:


    I haven’t looked up the numbers, but using fossil fuels for making electricity is more efficient than using gasoline to produce kinetic energy. A lot of the energy in your car’s gas tank is wasted as heat, rather than converted into motion. Also an EV uses up less of its stored energy simply because the motors don’t run when the car stands still. And add regenerative braking, too, for such models that have it.

    As @Teve noted, there’s no silver bullet. No one thing we can do to reduce carbon emissions solves the problem. We need to do many different things.

  56. JohnSF says:


    we don’t use much ‘lectric at 2 am

    I don’t know what the figures are for the US but in UK night averages are roughly 60% that of daytime.
    I would expect this to be even higher in the US given the use of air-conditioning (the numbers of UK houses with air-con is as close to nil as to be statistically insignificant).

    And can be expected to become even more evened out with current proposals to move to electricity for home heating, and to charge EV’s at night.

    Intermittency is not easily evaded.
    Granted, in solar thermal systems it’s easier to build the capacity in; but it still pushes up you overall system cost.

    None of this is to say that the issue should be dodged: the world will have to shift from CO2 heavy power.
    But it will come at a cost, and a massive one.

    Energy, and therefore most material goods (including food, water etc) will get appreciably more expensive.

    And I doubt that market mechanisms, rather than state command, can do what is needed in the timescale needed.
    And that poses a massive issue for the US system of political economy.

  57. JohnSF says:

    The thermal efficiency of a hydrocarbon-electric power station goes about 35 to 40% for coal, 55 to 60% for combined cycle gas.
    Assuming no use of waste heat.

    IC engines are usually around 20 to 45%, petrol at lower end of range, diesel at higher.

    But then you get electrical power loss in transmission around 10 to 15%.

    So, overall it’s not enormous.

    Looks to me like we’re back at dependency on the carbon intensity of the grid.
    And given that, in most places right now, a modern diesel or hybrid might well have the edge.
    OTOH, in France a battery EV wins easily.

  58. Teve says:


    As I say, the French state begs to differ.
    (Though it doesn’t beg very much)
    They have decided they can and will do so.

    Sure. But per capita, the French use 40% of the electricity Americans use. That’s why heatwaves are much more deadly there: no AC. If Americans used 40% of the electricity we do now, we wouldn’t need to emit a gram of CO2 to do so. That could be all nukes and renewables.

  59. JohnSF says:

    But that only makes your intermittancy problem so much the worse.
    Higher use of air con. = higher night-time demand.

    Though French per capita demand is going to edge up.
    Definitely more needed for EV’s, maybe more needed for heating to replace natural gas, though I think the current preference is for a mix of electricity with non-fossil methane

  60. JohnSF says:


    …universal carbon tax…No way India or China impose one

    IMO the rational elements of the western governance system are preparing for the option of a “carbon tax” including the EU proposed “Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism” i.e. carbon intensity based tariffs. Which can probably be made compatible with President Biden’s suggested “carbon border adjustment levy”.

    Of course China and India will scream in outrage; but there you go.

    A very interesting article by trade policy analyst Sam Lowe on significant moves by the EU that are passing under the radar of most news media:
    This ain’t a scene, it’s an arms race
    Short version: the EU is equipping itself with really heavy duty legal instruments for trade sanctions/retaliations.

    He doesn’t speculate on “why”.
    My suspicion: it relates to co-ordination with Washington re. backup for possible failure of a negotiated real deal at the Glasgow Climate talks in November.
    That refusal by other key players to get realistic about the matter will this time result in serious responses from Washington and Brussels.
    Message to Beijing, Moscow, Dehli, Canberra: time for cynicism on this issue is past.
    Deal or be dealt unto.

    If carbon tariffs were brought in by EU and USA, that hits c.40% of Chinese exports.
    Also, estimated hit to Russia minimum of c.$60 billion.
    Not to mention impact on the Arabians etc

    That sort of action will trigger pushback. Europe is prepping its counter to that.
    Indicating they are serious and planning this out as a coherent strategy.

    Question is, how will the politics play in Washington: Republicans likely divided between those eager to bash China and erect a national industrial strategy, vs the free trader/free marketeers and coal/oil lobbies etc.
    Democrats likely some tension between climate concern and regard for cost of living and international trade system.

  61. Sleeping Dog says:


    Part of the issue with diesel in the US is that it is often $0.30-$0.50/gal more expensive than petrol. Add to that America’s one significant experience with diesel cars was GM’s offerings in the 1970’s, that were horrible motors.

    Those who drove European diesels, mostly VW, loved them and owners of 3/4 ton and larger trucks love them. But cars, not so much.

    Another issue in the US is that particulate emissions for diesels is a big issue, especially in California.

  62. Teve says:

    @JohnSF: you’re right to wonder if democracies will be able to cope with this problem. I doubt they can. I don’t know if authoritarians can either, though. The drastic lifestyle changes it would take to halt warming may just be impossible.

  63. Teve says:

    Just for fun I did some simple math—for France to generate the per-capita ‘lectric Americans use, they’d have to build 84 new nuke plants.

    All this is academic, though, w/r/t Global Warming, humanity isn’t going to do shiiiiiiiit. 😀

  64. liberal capitalist says:

    Folks… thought I would share this:

    Having purchased and enjoyed driving a fully electric 2017 Chevrolet Bolt for 4 years, I have the pleasure to say that I have nearly completed the buy-back process that GM offered.

    I have no complaints about my car at all and had no interest in selling it, but if they are offering full purchase price back to me after 4 years of ownership, I cannot say no. Considering that I received federal and state tax breaks, I actually got my money back and make +$13K on the transaction.

    Home charging has been great. My home power (not the greatest here in the Colorado foothills) has been more than sufficient to chare the car at 35 Amps. At night, when power use is low, at a reduced rate offered to me by Xcel Energy.

    BTW: Xcel has committed to reduce carbon emission by 85% by 2030. If they can, others can as well.

    For those who think that “the grid” can’t handle it… then think this: that my car pulled less power charging than an electric clothes dryer. And it didn’t spit out all that heat as waste,

    And for an overnight charge that costs about $5 … I got just under 250 miles of potential travel distance.

    So, for those that think that an electric car isn’t the solution to everything… it’s not. But no oil changes, no consumables to deal with, no gas stations… which means less trucks moving less crap around the country just in case your ICE engine needs a useless fuel additive,

    I will not buy an ICE vehicle again. But I will make sure to lease my next electric vehicle as technology is moving so fast in this area.

    So: Incremental changes work if people decide they will make incremental changes.

    Sadly, “conservative” thought will likely oppose that, strictly out of spite. Because of course they will.

  65. Teve says:

    @liberal capitalist:

    And for an overnight charge that costs about $5 … I got just under 250 miles of potential travel distance.

    Dang. Marginal cost of 2c per mile. I drive a very efficient Fiesta and i pay ~7.2c/mile.

  66. Hal_10000 says:

    I have no confidence that we will deal with this. Republicans are too busy denying it’s a problem. Democrats are too busy closing nuclear power plants and ignoring the gigantic growing problem of China’s emissions, which makes them worse in some ways. Our emissions are down (and carbon intensity way down) due to technological innovation and gas replacing coal. That can’t continue indefinitely.

  67. liberal capitalist says:


    Marginal cost of 2c per mile.

    Add to that: In 4 years, I never even thought about a brake job… Regenerative breaking meant more power back to battery and no need to hit the brake pedal.

    No mufflers, brackets, manifolds, plug wires, plugs, injectors… the planned maintenance was at 100K miles to check the batter coolant level.

    My biggest spend for consumables was for a yearly car wash (whether it needed it or not).

    I will miss that car.

  68. Modulo Myself says:

    I’m pro-nuclear, but the majority of pro-nuclear people in America are self-pitying idiots. I agree with a lot of what @HarvardLaw92 has to say about EV. The idea that we can switch in renewables and switch out fossil fuels without making any changes to how society changes is a fantasy. Of course, if any leftist would suggest something like banning cars in cities or exurban sprawl or trying to reduce the too-easy availability of shippable consumer goods the reaction would the same as the one to defund the police. People still hate Jimmy Carter for suggesting wearing a sweater and turning down the thermostat.

    That said, renewables have made progress. EVs were not around fifteen years ago. Now they are. People worked hard on developing this technology. Whereas there’s no actual progress being made on generating affordable nuclear power. It’s all just angry men blaming the left for not focusing on nuclear power and writing op-eds in the WSJ. It seems more like a scam than anything else. Plus, there’s the fact that nuclear power is safe, but say a combination of the GOP and Texas equals another Chernobyl.

  69. DrDaveT says:

    Extremely timely xkcd comic today, given the discussions about climate and fuels.

  70. DrDaveT says:

    Is it physically too late to do anything useful? No.

    Is it politically and psychologically too late. Oh hell yes.

    Humans suck.

  71. Teve says:

    @Modulo Myself: yeah the reason nuclear isn’t working is that it’s the most expensive way to generate electricity. Exelon just announced that they want to shut down two nukes in Illinois if they can’t get a(nother) multi-billion dollar bailout.

  72. JohnSF says:

    I run a Seat Ibiza which is prob. pretty close to your Fiesta in mpg.
    Cost per mile very roughly quick guesstimate is around 17c/mile.

    Motoring in the UK is not cheap; about 60% of that total is tax.

    Figures are roughly the same in Europe generally; only difference being diesel is taxed a bit less heavily, usually. Hence its popularity on the Continent.

  73. JohnSF says:

    Electricity rates, averaged and rounded, and with a rather rough currency conversion
    (YMMV: LOL)
    US – 13 c/kWh

    UK – 24 c/kWh

    France – 22 c/kWH (about the lowest in the UE IIRC)

    So, why can France make nuclear power economic at those rates?
    Answer, because since 1974 and the development of the Messmer Plan, they have continually designed the plants and support systems, planned a build-out, stuck to it, and over-ridden any and all opposition.

    Though they are now modifying, to use more wind and solar to replace older nukes going off-line (makes economic sense).
    But nuclear will remain supplying at least 50% of electrical power as the optimal baseload source.

    The French are not a different species: if they can make it work, so can others.
    Not to say the French programme is entirely trouble free; just google a bit re. the Finland project, or the EU audit; but the will remains to drive it on.

    Crucially, EDF is 85% state owned; in practice it is an arm of the state.
    There is no question of it depending on commercial loans, of returns to shareholders, separate liabilities, dependence on free markets in power etc.

    So it might be a tricky model for US political economy to accommodate.
    But needs must when the devil drives.

  74. wr says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “As long as it doesn’t rain ”

    MR lives in Los Angeles. It last rained there in 2006.