That is an hour of video so you may want just a few high points:
- Koonin makes no bones about it: we have global warming and fossil fuel consumption is the chief extra source of greenhouse effect.
- While absolute rates of extraction may have peaked or soon will, we still have up to 40 years worth of oil and oil equivalents in the ground to meet current demand...the problem is that demand is definitely going to increase.
- wind could never deliver more than 20% of US domestic power needs. Right now wind and solar combined are barely 1% of consumption. Hydro cannot grow much in absolute terms and so will probably shrink in relative terms as a contribution to total energy used.
- The carbon efficiency, i.e. how much carbon goes into the air before you even start getting BTUs out of the fuel is worst for coal and is becoming poorer as lower grades of oil and less accessible oil must be extracted.
- a realistic price to put on CO2 emissions is hard to establish but even the minimum would ruin the economics of burning coal and put a real damper on oil and natural gas as well...so don't expect realistic "carbon taxes" to be imposed until after dramatic climate degradation has caused widespread suffering.
- A $30/ton carbon tax would add about 35 cents per gallon to gas at the pump. [ That does not seem so bad to me but some people think if you can REDUCE the price that much at the pump you will be elected president of the united states. ]
- The various "trigger point" levels of atmospheric CO2 that have been suggested as concentrations at which irreversible and catastrophic climate change will be initiate vary from below the current 380PPM to perhaps 450PPM will be exceeded by any reasononable extrapolation of existing trends in extraction, demand and consumption, probably reaching the neighborhood of 600PPM.
- ...consequently, the best strategies for those who contemplate a relatively livable future lies in adaptation to climate change...if only we could predict what that will be.
- Political and economic expedience and inertia simply must be accepted and worked around: it is political suicide to propose the cutbacks in consumption that would alter the basics of the unfolding scenario.
- The devloping countries output of CO2 is soon to exceed that of developed US and European sources.
- solar PV is presently too costly to deploy for a significant reduction of fossil fuel for non transportation use: A carbon tax of as much as $40/ton emitted would be needed to make it competitive...but that cost is being driven down by research.
- Technical fixes to the problem are not entirely beyond us but we tend to focus on overly narrow parts of the problem. Fuel used for transportation has our attention but it is only 14% of the carbon we dump in our air. A four-fold increase in the efficiency by which we take usable energy from a ton of carbon we emit would be needed...across all uses.
- Coal is the only fuel substance that actually tends to lie within the national borders of the countries with the biggest appetites for energy...its political strength is thus enormous despite the fact that it is by far the dirtiest energy source.
- In an ideal world where rational scientific choices guided politics, advanced biofuels [and that definitely does not mean the brain dead money-grab for ethanol] are one of the few things that meet sustainability criteria and for non-transportation use, solar PV is best. But for transportation, no technology yet beats the energy density you get when you gas up your car. These are the "big picture" thoughts that drive BP's research efforts.
- Nuclear energy breakthroughs like fusion are decades away, and even conventional nukes, ignoring their hazards, require massive up-front capital, which in turn requires strong expectation of predictable markets and political stability. In general, remedies for growing energy shortfalls using old or new technology will need investments which neither industry nor government may have the nerve to make
- Political mechanisms are too weak to change the price or reduce the emissions significantly but they must not fail to mitigate the impact of escalating carbon prices and climate change upon the poor.
Dr. Koonin elaborated on the adaptations [he called it "Plan B" but I don't see how these developments are anything but necessary, merest survival choices] we are likely to need:
- hardened infrastructure
- drought and heat adapted crop species
- move people to where the new habitable climate zones emerge.
The inevitable mistake, the one conditioned by his industry and his position in that industry is to repeat without question the conventional wisdom: "We know of no way to both decrease energy use and maintain economic growth." Using less seems to me like the clearly implied mandate of the many facts and trends pointed out in the lecture but the assumption on Dr Koonin's part and probably every person in the present administration is that no one will voluntarily use less energy if they can afford to use it at all. And not once was there any suggestion that there are too many of us on the planet. In fact, several of the calculations presumed a steady march to at least nine billion people on earth before any leveling begins to occur. That is crazy. Economic growth has always been at the cost of the environment and the environment has come around to collect the rent at last.
It is a widely observed fact that when societies achieve affluence and high levels of education for all citizens, birthrates fall to near maintenance levels. The one-sentence explanation of that phenomenon is that people are living happier lives with less children. If birthrates fall only because most of us literally cannot get heat and food enough for ourselves, happiness is going to be a thing of the vanished past.