Calspace Courses

 Climate Change · Part One
 Climate Change · Part Two

      Climate Change 2 Syllabus

    1.0 - The Ice Ages: An Introduction
    2.0 - Discovery of the Ice Ages
    3.0 - Ice Age Climate Cycles
    4.0 - Climate Through the Last 1000 Years
    5.0 - Determining Past Climates
    6.0 - Causes of Millennial-Scale Change
    7.0 - Climate and CO2 in the Atmosphere
    8.0 - Recent Global Warming
    9.0 - Climate Change in the Political Realm
    10.0 - The Link to the Ozone Problem

  11.0 Future Energy Use
         · 11.1 - Attempts to Guess the Future
         · 11.2 - Future Use of Fossil Fuels
         · 11.3 - The Future of Methane
         · 11.4 - The Future of Nitrous Oxide

    12.0 - Outlook for the Future

 Introduction to Astronomy
 Life in the Universe

 Glossary: Climate Change
 Glossary: Astronomy
 Glossary: Life in Universe

Future Use of Fossil Fuels

There are several questions that need to be answered regarding future energy use:
  1. What is the inherent future demand for energy in the highly industrialized countries such as the USA, Japan, Germany and Great Britain?
  2. What is the inherent future demand for energy in the populous countries aiming for rapid industrialization (China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, and Brazil)?
  3. What is the inherent future demand for energy in the dozens of poor countries throughout the world with few resources?
  4. How are these demands affected by rising energy prices?
It has been suggested in certain popular writings about global warming that the need for energy in the highly industrialized countries is tending toward “saturation,” that is, a country such as the USA is already using so much energy that it does not need much more, even in an expanding economy. In a similar vein, it has been proposed that much of the economic development of advanced countries will be tied to technology that is information intensive, rather than energy intensive.

Although these suggestions may have merit, according to the U.S. Department of Energy statistics energy use in the U.S.A. is increasing steadily. From 1972 to 1996, U.S. energy use increased by 20 quadrillion Btus - a compound growth rate of about 1.0 percent per year. Thus, experience provides no support for the “saturation” hypothesis. It is equally likely that the demand for energy will keep increasing in the advanced countries as well as in the less developed ones. In addition, the population in the U.S. is still increasing quite rapidly, and every year there are around 4 million more people in the U.S. needing energy.

Clearly, much additional demand will be generated by those countries that have the will and the means to increase the standard of living of their people. China and India are foremost in this category, with roughly one third of the population of the world. Even where this drive toward better standards of living is lacking in will or in means, the increase in the numbers of people will see to it that the demand for energy will keep on increasing rapidly.

Energy Use and Emission Trading
There are two competitions going on between the nations of the world. One is for the use of the energy sources. The other one is for the use of the atmosphere as a receptacle for the waste generated by energy use. The first competition is regulated by the market: energy will be available to those who can pay for it. This makes it unlikely that the discrepancy in energy use between rich and poor will disappear soon. In fact, the reverse is just as likely. Higher energy use provides advantages in terms of wealth which will be used in the market to make sure that the necessary energy to drive the economy will be available. The second competition is not currently regulated. Whoever wishes to dump waste into the atmosphere can do so, with very few exceptions. A proposal to trade “emission rights,” made by US delegates to the Kyoto conference has been largely viewed with suspicion.

On the surface, “emission trading” would seem simply an attempt to bring market-type regulation to emissions. Promoted by economists who believe in the power of the market forces to regulate behavior, the “emission trading” scheme determines each country’s emissions quota. Presumably, such trading would have the consequence that energy users would pay non-users for dumping waste (carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. For example, a country that emits less than its quota (e.g., Russia) could sell its unused allotment to another country (e.g., the U.S.), which could then emit that much more than its assigned quota.

Future Emissions and Energy Resources
The most efficient means to control future emissions is to raise the price of carbon-based energy. This is happening through the efforts of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC ; which attempts to keep prices high for the profit of producers), through the market (which balances demand and supply, by pricing) and, in European countries, through high taxation. (One reason there is less energy-use per capita in Europe than in North America is the high tax on gasoline. In turn, such taxes are available for building infrastructure and other services, like roads and mass transit. Such taxes also, by decreasing demand, have the effect of keeping prices down. The consumer pays an inflated price, but with the extra profit going to his government rather than to the supplier.)

It has long been suggested that the reserves of petroleum are dwindling. Dwindling resources, according to economic principles, should result in higher prices and hence lower use. Thus, we might expect, as petroleum becomes scarce, emissions will be reduced.

World coal reserves by country. Coal is a much more heterogeneous source of energy than is oil or natural gas. Bituminous is considered the premium coal, whereas lignite or “brown coal” lies at the other end of the spectrum. The quality of the coal is determined by Btus produced (relative to weight of the coal). From: International Energy Agency.
There are a number of caveats with this simple scenario. First, proven reserves for petroleum have expanded as more petroleum reservoirs have been found in places once thought unlikely, such as the sea floor around the continents. Exploration is now moving deeper into offshore regions which should result in additional important findings. Second, there are great amounts of coal in the ground, which can readily substitute for a lack of petroleum, if such a lack should develop. The burning of coal, of course, increases the emission of carbon dioxide, per energy unit gained, because energy is gained from the oxidation of carbon, rather than from the oxidation of both carbon and hydrogen, as for petroleum. Third, there may be enormous and as yet unappreciated amounts of methane in the sea floor. For example, total recoverable reserves of coal around the world are estimated at 1,088 billion tons—enough to last approximately 200 years at current production levels. Although coal deposits are widely distributed, 60 percent of the world’s recoverable reserves are located in three regions: the United States (25 percent); Former Soviet Union (23 percent); and China (12 percent). Another four countries—Australia, India, Germany, and South Africa— account for an additional 29 percent. In 1997, these seven regions accounted for 81 percent of total world coal production.

In summary, the prospect is for increasing demand for energy in all countries. The most advanced countries might be able to make due with current use or less, through increased efficiency, or increased use of non-carbon energy. The industrializing countries (China, India, Brazil and many others) will press for increased use to allow expansion of their economies. Some of these countries, like China, have the resources to do so. Others will have to buy fuel in the world market. Their lack of means to pay will slow the expansion. The poor countries will continue to burn wood and deforestation also will continue. Thus, given the supplies of combustible fuel available, and the prospects for increasing demands for energy, there is no reason to expect that emissions will decrease. Stabilization of emissions (that is, no increase) might be hoped for but this would have to come about by decreasing emissions from the industrially advanced countries to make room for increased emissions from the countries trying to catch up. The incentives for cutting back on energy use in technologically advanced countries in favor of expanding the economies of potential competitors have yet to be defined.

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