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G20 nations triple coal power subsidies despite climate crisis (theguardian.com)
241 points by doener on June 25, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 128 comments

Whenever I talk to (privileged) people here in the US about this, I try to bring one point across. As a whole, people are in too much pain and stress to have any appreciation for a climate crisis. Whatever you may think, as a whole, people have to deal (personally and emotionally) with (sometimes perceived) much bigger crisis than that of the climate.

As long as people live pay-check to pay-check on the brink of no health-insurance, the brink of missing mortgage- or rent-payments and ending on the streets, the brink of high medical bills, the brink of 15k a year preschool expenses, the brink of retirement ... There is always a crisis stressing people out because there is nothing but yourself to fall back on in the event of a disaster.

And since nobody is politically (dare I say globally) willing to provide relief for such kind of warranted fears and concerns for ones individual future, people have to room to spend more on the perma frost, Florida homes or an underwater New York.

The thing is, a lot of the necessary changes will have no impact on ordinary people’s lives. The UK is now up to more than 50% clean electricity for instance, and most people are not aware it has happened. And the UK is not even using the cheapest forms of electricity production much (hydro because it doesn’t have the right topology, solar because of the high latitude, onshore wind because of population density and political decisions).

Those renewable sources of electricity - solar, onshore wind and hydro - are now the cheapest way to produce electricity full stop, even ignoring the pollution externalities of the alternatives, and countries that have access to those resources do not need to sacrifice anything except a bit of technocratic hassle to get to a high level of renewable electricity.

Getting to net zero carbon in total (including heating and transportation) would be expensive with current technology, but probably won’t be very expensive given the technological progress which can happen over the next 30 years, if we do the basic things right, follow a reasonable pathway, and give companies plenty of time to make investments and incremental progress. It’s highly likely electric vehicles will be cheaper over that timeframe, for instance.

Your point is true, and it excuses a lack of pressure from the public, but it doesn’t excuse the media lying to their audience to gratify them. Nor representative politicians who are meant to use their own judgement remaining ignorant, and avoiding the boring technocratic steps necessary to help, or even just allow, the transition to take place.

Part of the problem is that many people who are passionate about battling climate change see the "no (significant) impact on ordinary people's lives" as a really bad thing.

I've come across this time and time again. "Electric cars/planes are not a solution because it keeps lifestyles the same! There MUST be lifestyle change to battle climate change."

It's baffling because it's so tone-deaf to the general public. It's as if there's a complete lack of understanding that wide acceptance of climate solutions is necessary for gaining the political capital to actually fight climate change.

Yes, I think that is true, and you can see this in a lot of green parties in Europe.

To be fair to them, environmental damage is very widespread and goes a long way beyond climate change, we do need to rethink quite a few things to protect ecosystems and avoid continued mass death of wildlife.

It’s a shame though that they are often not very scientific or practical about how to go about this. It’s why it’s so important for mainstream parties to embrace action on climate change and tackle it in a pragmatic way.

Maybe they are thinking about such things as https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox , or https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2012/04/economist-meets-physicist... . Or perhaps they feel the modern lifestyle is not delivering happiness. Or, to be more specific, they may be noting as J.S. Mill did that paradoxically technology was improving and at the same time people were working more.

That's why we need tech that doesn't emit net CO2 at all, not just Priuses and improved combustion efficiency.

The analogy would be the development of non-ozone-depleting refrigerants. Technology which emits greenhouse gases should simply be replaced with that which doesn't OR the greenhouse gases must be captured after-the-fact (and the emitters must fully pay for it).

Lifestyles do need to change, or at least change enough so they aren't so extravagent. Not in terms of overt wealth, but in materials used to support a lifestyle.

Buying a tesla really doesn't do you much good on your green karma if there's a beater honda sitting in a used car lot near you. Half the lifetime pollution from a car comes from it's production, so I hope you intend to have this tesla for the long haul (potentially long after tesla stops pushing you updates) because that's what it will take to recoup the environmental costs of you buying that brand new tesla instead of the 2k rust bucket honda that sounds like a weed wacker and still gets 40mpg.

Then there is the costs of the suburban lifestyle centered around vehicle ownership. You have to maintain that road going 20 miles to work. You need to maintain utility connections out to the suburbs. Your amazon packages now have to come all the way out to you instead of you living near the central distribution center. You need a spot to put your car at home, you need one at work, you need one wherever you go, and you probably want it for free.

Then you need room to actually move your car to these places; basically asking to freely move about the city and have everyone stand 6' away from you on the sides, 20' away front and back. Imagine everyone on the sidewalk walking like that--it would look absurd-- but that's what we get with cars and roads going into dense urban areas, and in midtown Manhattan cars can move slower than walking speed.

It's all not very space efficient, which makes it not very time efficient, and more time to get to and fro means burning more gas (or coal, if you have a tesla) to go less distance; it all ends up being very wasteful.

What we do need to do is build transit and remove residential zoning limits. There's no reason why we can't all live in dense knit communities of mid-to-high rise apartments and rely on extensive rail networks to move us around efficiently. That technology has existed for over 100 years, and if we weren't so beholden to supporting the suburban lifestyle centered on car ownership, maybe the LA metro rail map would look like a fisherman's net by now and we'd all be breathing a little cleaner.

It's a little ironic, because transit was how cities used to function. Cars were the lifestyle change. Before that, people living in Los Angeles and most other major American cities got around using extensive streetcar systems. As car ownership lead to traffic that jammed up these streetcar networks, for the most part politicians responded by switching to buses and tearing up tracks for more lanes rather than giving streetcars signal priority and separating grades. Reverting back to a transit oriented lifestyle is reverting back to a lifestyle that American cities were originally designed to grow around.

Electric cars can be bought and sold used just like any other car. That Honda was once new, too. I bought two used electric cars for a pretty decent price. Just because Tesla's are nice cars doesn't mean they're bad. Additionally, a lot of the statistics thrown out about manufacturing emissions for cars is actually false and based on old data. Besides, we need to change our manufacturing base to decarbonize entirely as well. Which will be a LOT easier if electric vehicles are widespread (as many vehicles are needed in the manufacturing process, from mine to distribution).

I am in favor of densifying cities and zoning reform, etc, but you have to realize it took half a century to get to suburbanization, and it will take another half century at least to reverse it. Climate change isn't going to wait for our lifestyle changes. It won't. We can't afford the time.

Technical solutions are faster than cultural ones with the possible exception of martial law.


Not sure what you mean by "no impact on ordinary people's lives." The evidence we see seems to suggest the exact opposite.

We're seeing a massive uptick in the amount and intensity of "once in a century natural disasters." These disasters destory homes, destroy crops and cause serious life loss and economic damage to everyone directly affected.

But these disasters also lead to the downstream effects: We're seeing significant inflation in food prices and insurance prices. In Canada last year, vegetable prices increased by ~16%. In comparison, inflation was ~2.5%. Throughout the world we see higher prices in food - this makes everyone poorer. Especially "normal" people.

Similarly, we're seeing insurance rates go up. This is for insuring farms, for insuring houses and anything else that is affected by climate. This is a real economic cost. Moreover, if your home is no longer insured from flooding - when that more frequent and devastating natural disaster happens, you're not covered!

We have all these hidden "taxes" from climate change that affect us all.

Sorry, obviously I wasn’t clear, I’m saying the changes necessary to avoid climate change will often not affect people, not the outcomes of climate change.

Thanks for clarifying.

On that point of what we need to do not affecting normal people - I don't think that's accurate either.

We WILL need to live different lives in the developed countries. Our lifestyles (beyond carbon emissions) are not sustainable.

If everyone on earth lived as those in the US did, we'd need 4-9 earths. So long as higher quality of life looks like how we live, people around will strive to adopt that. China is by volume, now the largest emitter, but it's only 1/6 of the US in per capita emissions!

I find it hard to see a scenario where we've addressed climate change and ecological collapse, while we live the way we live today.

But your "we" and "our" should be split up more.

Many people in the US live close to sustainable lives. they live without air conditioning, take transit everywhere, they eat chicken and not beef, they've never flown in an airplane. They're poor.

And then a small percentage of the US population lives insane lives. Gigantic houses with the windows open and the air conditioning on max for the garden party. Fly to Paris 14 times a year. Yacht idling in the harbor.

The carbon-production standards of most people, even in the US, don't need to change much.

How so? When you tax energy consumption more, poor people won't be able to afford driving a car. It doesn't affect the upper and upper middle classes, that's very true, but if i.e. transport of goods is taxed by travel distance, or flying is taxed more heavily, that will just mean that the lower classes can't fly and can't afford tropical fruits.

That depends exactly what we mean by "coal power subsidies". For example, the UK came under a lot of criticism recently for the scale of its subsidies for fossil fuel power, but if you look at the fine print the vast majority of those subsidies were the result of us having a lower rate of VAT on all domestic electricity and heating regardless of its source. Getting rid of that lower rate would put up the price of electricity for ordinary people across the board, no matter whether it was generated by clean or fossil sources.

That's a good point. And that could easily lead to a worse result. For instance, the cost of diesel in Germany is lower than in the UK but the price of electricity is significantly lower in the UK than in Germany, which basically punishes electric cars (which have significantly lower lifetime emissions per km than comparable diesel vehicles) in Germany while encouraging them in the UK.

This is one thing we need to pay attention to as more and more of global emissions are transportation related instead of electricity related: punishing electricity production without also properly tariffing liquid fuels could backfire by discouraging electrification of transport.

That's not in itself a bad thing: for any kind of power source, you can reduce it by either removing it or replacing it. Removing it is always cheaper.

The ideal would be no subsidies for any kind of power, and the externalities of carbon pollution would be priced in via a carbon tax or cap and trade. You can then provide a general rebate of the funds raised to the everyone, and they can either choose to use it to make up for the power they were priced out of, or on things they find more valuable.

Your post is spot on but (pardon my off topic comment) anyone who thinks they need 15k for preschool has not discovered parent coop nursery schools which are an order of magnitude cheaper, and awesome if not way more awesome due to parental involvement.

>people have to room to spend more on

Didn’t quite understand that part.

More on topic, personally I’ve taken on some financial costs and gotten some hedonistic rewards by buying a Tesla. Maybe if people are rewarded for making moves in the right direction, that will help.

I'm not going to go so far as to say this is by design, but it's certainly a convenient state of affairs for certain actors.

For instance, it's long been known that fomenting racism is a great way to keep people busy/distracted while you implement whatever policy you want, or use said racism as a basis to justify that policy.

Keeping people in a state of distracted stupidity is often good business.

A lot of the climate change movements have very progressive politics that addresses some of these issues too. Of course this often isn't palatable to (economically) privileged people, as it means them giving up some of that economic power. But ultimately, I can't see how the climate issues will be solved any other way.

> Whatever you may think, as a whole, people have to deal (personally and emotionally) with (sometimes perceived) much bigger crisis than that of the climate.

That is... until they have to evacuate their home, because there's a wildfire or hurricane nearby or the rising sealevel makes it unsafe.

It’s hard to link natural disasters to climate change definitely on an individual basis, unfortunately.

Individual disasters yes, but not trends. We are seeing once-a-decade or once-every-few-decades events much more frequently now.

In "socialist" Netherlands where getting Cancer won't cost you a cent and we basically have Universal income (in the form of bijstand and various subsidies) most people still don't care (edit:) enough to do something with their own money.

Then why are GroenLinks winning more seats with each election?

I agree our government could and should have done more, starting quite a few years ago. We are behind on our commitments. But I don't think it's fair to say "most people still don't care". Many Dutchies I know do care. Some just don't know what they can really do to help, or can't afford to do the things that would help. Even putting solar panels on your roof (an effective and economical thing to do) is beyond the financial / living situation of most people.

If we can just stop FvD's insane climate change denial that would probably help too...

I think the bigger problem is that everyone wants certain kind of lifestyle of which they are inspired from Instagram/youtubers

Even if there was no Instagram or YouTube, we'll still have companies bringing American product to local market and promising better life tho this is amplified exponentially through social media now.

But we must ask ourselves, how many people sporting millionaire lifestyle can this earth take?

No matter where I go, every student is reading the art of hustle, rich dad poor dad, fake it till you make it, dreaming of renting ferraris, living in vilas and jet setting everywhere around the globe, buying whatever they want whenever they want to do some cool thing similar to fidget spinner.

Now, as India and China are growing coming online, everyone there is also inspired by American habits, look at the 3d printing channels, so many channels from developing countries are copying their American counterparts and printing so much ABS/PETG. Now this is simply an example.

It's human tendency to copy those who you think are better than you in your limited worldview. It is justified in mind easily.

So we must ask, can this planet afford everyone to live like an American millionaire?

Edit: Downvotes are raining on me. I am not against America or India or even china, you can replace them with any developed - developing country pair.

I am simply saying at present, planet can't ensure same lifestyle for everyone without destroying itself. Yes, with technological advancement and political will, it will be possible in future, but are we forgetting the article we are commenting on.

Yes if we innovate our way there. We cannot ever stop the human desire for a better life not should we, the power of mankind lies in our ability to innovate around d challenges. We fixed the ban population crisis with the green revolution. New energy sources like nuclear can give everyone the quality of life they desire and deserve. Asteroid mining can be a revolutionary source of resources. And we don't know what humans could invent next. But we need to support science and education to make this future happen

ah the extreme techno-optimist position.

> We cannot ever stop the human desire for a better life not should we

i think the goal is to redefine what a better life looks like. like, maybe it's not one of increasing consumption, but one of community and connection and ecological harmony.

It doesn't take all that much innovation. We have pretty much all the necessary technology to reduce our carbon emissions almost to zero without greatly impacting quality of live. We just need to build a very expensive amount of renewables, improve the electric grid, and improve energy efficiency using proven technology like insulating homes, switching from furnaces to heat pumps and using electric cars and public transport.


It's not unrealistically "techo optimistic" to point out that technical solutions are often much more effective and realistic to implement than trying to change deep-seated culture.

Imagine if we responded to ozone depletion by insisting people give up air conditioning and refrigerators instead of just developing non-depleting refrigerants like we did. That would've been a fast-track to public apathy or downright hostility toward fighting ozone depletion.

Exactly. The "better life" in America generally means living in suburbs in a McMansion and driving 2-3 hours per day in traffic because your house is so far from your job. Why anyone thinks this is better than living in a walkable city is beyond me; Japan and western European nations have shown by example that you can certainly put lots of people into a fairly dense city where the main transport methods are walking and subways while still having extremely low crime rates, and a lifestyle like this requires far fewer resources than a typical suburban American one.

Ah, the omniscient position. If only everyone behaved like me, the world would be a better place.

I'll continue to define what a better life looks like for myself, and I'll continue to respect the right of others to do the same, thank you very much.

Ah, the tragedy of the commons.

There are aspects of life where this philosophy is great. There are also aspects of life - in particular, items touching on exhaustible resources - where a community-level decision making process really is needed. Water rights in the West are a great example.

> I'll continue to define what a better life looks like for myself, and I'll continue to respect the right of others to do the same, thank you very much.

do you think that if everyone behaved like this, the world would be a better place?

Of course. How could we presume to know what's best for people we don't even know?

If your "right" to a "better" life involves destroying the environment and the air that we all have to breathe, then why exactly should I respect your "right"?

Yeah, this is a tricky scenario. It would not be cool if we were neighbors and I dumped nasty shit in the water nearby.

On the other hand, developing nations have been dumping nasty shit in the air for years as a tradeoff for an improved standard of living. If I was someone living in poverty in a developing nation, I'd hope you would respect my right to burn some coal to improve my standard of living.

> Asteroid mining can be a revolutionary source of resources.


"...analysed how soon humans might use up the solar system’s most accessible resources should space mining take off. They found that an annual growth rate of 3.5% would use up an eighth of the solar system’s realistic resources in 400 years. At that point, humanity would have only 60 years to apply the brakes and avoid exhausting the supply completely."


As your link says "...Elvis points out that one eighth of the iron in the asteroid belt is more than a million times greater that the estimated iron ore reserves on Earth, which may suffice for centuries."

By the time we start running out of materials from the asteroids, I think we will have recycled some of the material that was previously mined.

You're assuming we can only mine resources from the solar system. With a profit motive that big, I figure some one will figure out how to get further out. Think about how much we know about quantum mechanics we didn't know we didn't know fifty-odd years ago, then think what else we could discover in the next fifty.

If we ever figure out how to transport ordinary matter across interstellar distances and make a profit, we'll most likely have magic that makes transporting matter obsolete.

As people imitate the rich it's critical for the rich to adopt a lifestyle that isn't resource-intensive (like buying status symbols mindlessly). Frugality can become "cool" if the right people do it, if you are affluent/influencer it's your job to stop that race.

Teslas instead of Ferraris. Electric aircraft or electric trains instead of jets.

Electric aircraft are impossible until someone develops much better battery technology than even our most-advanced LiIon tech.

Not only are they possible, but you can buy one right now. This one has ~200km range (it's a two seater for training purposes, not optimized for range or seating) and you can buy it right now: https://www.pipistrel.ad/training/alpha-electro

Of course, there's this 200 mile, 4 seater that won NASA's Green Flight Challenge several years ago: https://www.pipistrel-usa.com/extreme-10/

And several other companies are feverishly building electric airplanes. The retrofits have 150-200 mile range while the clean sheet designs being built right now are up to about 1000km range and cruise speed of ~240 knots. (Faster and longer range than the first passenger airplanes.) That's faster than California's high speed rail and with a comparable or longer per-leg travel distance. With existing battery tech.

Why does this falsehood persist on the Internet that electric aircraft are impossible? You're not the first to make such a claim.

I stand corrected, however these are clearly still at the experimental stage, and I don't see how the tech is anywhere near ready for commercial use.

>Why does this falsehood persist on the Internet that electric aircraft are impossible? You're not the first to make such a claim.

This is absolutely the first I've heard of these planes or this company, and I keep up fairly well with tech news.

>That's faster than California's high speed rail and with a comparable or longer per-leg travel distance.

A turtle is faster than California's high speed rail, since there's no such thing as high speed rail in California. They canceled it, largely because it was going to be horribly expensive (even for HSR) and really slow since it was going to take an inefficient route that was driven by politics instead of geography. You're right: electric aircraft aren't impossible, however high speed rail in California (or probably anywhere in the US) is.

No, but not everyone is, or will be an American Millionaire, and if they were the American Millionaire will do something different to signal their wealth.

In Victorian times richer house holds had lots of knick knacks, they wore voluminous clothes. Clothes and knick knacks were expensive so they signified wealth. Through the 20th century these things got cheaper, so the rich went for other things to signify wealth, cars, travel, minimalism. Now we're at the point where the masses can afford those, so its 'experiences', au pairs and other things that require human labour, which is now relatively expensive.

All of this is a long winded way of saying that a millionaire lifestyle doesnt necessarily have to be high carbon. Just whatever is expensive/unattainable to the masses.

Travel is very much high carbon, at least in the way Instagram influencers and their copycats do it (by airplane).

Flying in economy on a superjumbo isn't that bad. I haven't seen any really good articles about the carbon footprint of foreign travel, but remember, most Americans drive 3-5000lb cars around every day just for 1 person to go to McDonald's or work, sometimes with very long commutes. For vacations, most Americans probably drive, frequently very long distances. With airplanes, a lot of the fuel is actually burned in takeoff, so intercontinental flights with large planes are significantly more efficient (in passenger-miles-per-gallon) than shorter (regional) trips. And finally, most people don't get that much time for vacations, so they only take such trips once or maybe twice per year.

So yes, travel is high-carbon, but compare that to the everyday lifestyle most middle-class and up Americans live every day at home.

The celebrity lifestyle promoted by social media is certainly a problem in that it encourages an excessive lifestyle as the norm, but such lifestyles wouldn't be as possible for most people without debt.

Debt has significantly reshaped society. It's usually hard to tell if a person is actually wealthy because people can run up credit cards and take out loans in order to portray the image that they think they need to have. Most people don't have enough money in their checking accounts to pay for a $2000 emergency, but credit card debt among Americans continues to increase. Need fancy clothes and meals? Your credit card can give you those. Need a luxury car, suburban pickup truck, or a Tesla? Get an auto loan. How about a modern house? All you need is a 50 year mortgage and parents who are willing to cover the payments when you aren't working. Even then, you can choose to live in a Sprinter van and look like you're "living the dream" by driving to different hotels and monuments.

People are easily fooled by appearance, and don't really care that much about merit or giving others a chance to understand their true character. I used to wear blazers and sportcoats over my tshirt and jeans, and I would get a lot more attention from people for that one change alone. As soon as I gave up that look, I became a ghost. Imagine if I had also worn a buttoned up shirt, better pants, a necktie, and a Rolex knockoff. I probably would have gotten jobs faster and gotten more women to say "yes", even though all of those things would have cost a fraction of the credit available on my platinum card.

I think most people know this, though perhaps not so consciously. If looks are so important to people, then why not go into debt early in life to achieve "the look", reap the rewards of having said look and spend the rest of life being a debt-slave?

That's not the path that I chose, as these days I usually have a $0 on my credit card or at most a few thousand that I pay off relatively quickly. But I can't honestly say that the average person is wrong to put themselves into debt in order to get others to view them as a source of abundance. I'd probably have more friends, more connections, more relationships, and more job advancements if I had taken on lots of debt when I was younger.

The normality of debt is the playing field we have subjected ourselves to, and if people primarily depend on their eyes to detect success in others, it makes sense to be a debt/wage slave. It's the game that a lot of people feel they have to play. Instagram and YouTube just heighten the visibility of this playing field to an obscene degree. Even with debt, people can't keep up because seemingly normal and average people are having better lives and more fun than we are. It's especially alarming to those who took the old-world advice of their elders and thought that hard work would equate to success.

If you look at Google's Corporate Social Responsibility marketing then you will see they have done great things to cut down on food waste in their canteens. They do things like composting their coffee beans and not using plastic straws. The data centers are running off clean energy rather than king coal.

But they do all of this so that the videos that you are concerned by can be watched by millions, if not billions, of people.

The videos I find particularly irksome are the ones where things get smashed up just for likes. How many brand new iPads does it take to stop a bullet? Obviously everyone wants to know the answer to that so a 10 minute monetising video will get 10 million views and ten Apple gadgets smashed to pieces.

But there are also videos of people restoring old computer gadgets that also get ten million views. So it is not necessary for computers, cars or anything else consumer to be smashed to pieces for likes. Ordering 1000 hamburgers for a video will cost $5K in burgers but will bring in ad revenue 10x that so it is cost effective to destroy the burgers.

In some ways it is good to have one person do a video of something expensive and planet trashing so everyone can have that question answered without having to trash their own stuff, so it is 'planet saving'. But when every youtuber is just smashing up or wasting more and more stuff it gets a bit silly.

So there is Google using wind farm powered electricity so that they can have content creators trashing the planet. The advertisers get their eyeballs so it works. But it is against the Google CSR statement.

In the demonetization debate where people critical of the allowed range of political thinking get their oxygen supply cut off we get into issues of censorship and whether Google et al. have too much clout.

I would like to see some action taken against Google so that the planet trasher types get their videos demonetised. So food waste should result in an instant demonetization. Chuck one egg at someone for likes and that should be it, no money. Deliberately destroy new consumer goods, instantly no money. Testing something to destruction, e.g. how high you can drop your phone need not be a problem, that need not be demonetised, but 'how many iPads does it tale to stop a bullet' is a different kettle of fish and easy to identify as 'trash stuff for likes'.

I think that if a little bit of pressure was to be put on Google to pull the monetization levers we could get the lifestyle excesses of the influencers under control.

the answer is yes.

Everyone (even millionaire) has a right and should aspire to a better life.

How can we afford this and not ruin the planet? The answer sounds simple - technology and human ingenuity. History tells us that it is our only real hope to improve human conditions.

To give you an admittedly sci-fi (for now) example: what if all energy is clean (nuclear + solar + wind) and planes are electric?

> To give you an admittedly sci-fi (for now) example: what if all energy is clean (nuclear + solar + wind) and planes are electric?

if this is an argument for business-as-usual in the hopes that we'll manage to solve our ecological woes with technology before it's too late -- that's a pretty irresponsible argument. what if we don't manage this?

the progress is NOT given, we must very proactively seek it. isn’t that obvious?!

It's a shame this journalist doesn't seem to have investigated at all why these governments have increased coal subsidies. Surely there's a reason, and it's the reason that needs political support to tackle.

It's a combination of reasons present to different degrees depending on the nation in question. These include:

The political fallout of allowing these industries to fail (coal production and power generation make up a large portion of economic activity in many rural regions, with workers in these industries having little transferable skills.)

Strong protectionist incentives given that coal power is relatively cheap and can enable lower costs in energy intensive industries such as steel manufacturing.

Security of supply - having some domestic capacity is always preferable to being totally reliant on imports.

Opportunity cost - emissions tariffs have generally been on the increase so it makes sense to pollute whilst it's still relatively cheap.

I can think of at least one hypothetical, which is good news, related to security of supply:

With an ever-shrinking share of the market, coal is no longer financially sustainable - the stations are only used in times of absolute need. They are usually off, but the government pays to keep them available.

Good point, it's relatively easy to get to 70/80/90% renewables. Its that one week in January, where its cold, the wind isnt blowing, it's cloudy and your nuclear reactor is down for whatever reason.

But most countries seem to be shifting to gas away from coal in the short term, wouldn't gas generation be better for that kind of situation, ie if you have mothballed gas and coal generation, why keep the coal around?

Gas is better in the situation where you have overbuild renewables enough to afford power-to-gas systems as energy storage.

Gas is no better than coal from climate PoV, and it is much harder to source locally in many countries.

Nope. Gas is _much_ better than coal from a climate POV.

Natural gas is basically methane, CH4, when you burn it you're making CO2 and H2O (water) and you get energy out from both these changes.

But coal is much nastier, not only is there nitrogen and sulfur in there (which are both going to produce poisonous gases you'll need to do something about) but the ratio of carbon to hydrogen is much worse so we produce far more CO2 for the same amount of energy production.

Shutting coal plants and building gas plants instead makes a big difference. Not enough of a difference to prevent catastrophic climate change, but a big step in the right direction compared to subsidising coal.

yep, and not only sulfur and nitrogen but also radioactive!


No but its better from a start up quickly point of view? I don't really know anything about the startup procedure for a power station that's been off for 6 months, I would guess gas is easier?/quicker?

I'm unsure if its better from a storage point of view. Yes you can pile up coal in a field, but I'd prefer a tank of gas. And there should be infrastructure for storage left after households move away from gas heating.

I'm speaking from a UK POV, the model would seem to hold for Europe and North America at least.

Naively, replacing coal with gas will decrease CO2 emissions by 40%. Not sure how this changes once you factor in supply chains, etc.

In the case of Japan, it's because they don't want to restart any nuclear plants post-fukushima. Similar to Germany coal usage increasing as they phased out nuclear plants. This is the most important reason for these two countries.

The increase in Germany was only temporary, though.

We hit a low point in '09, and a high point in '13 (but still below levels of '07). Coal usage has gone down ever since, and we're currently at a new low.

Thanks! I wasn't sure on the details.

Germany also has (or at least had) huge incentives for renewable energy production, so it wasn't meant as a critique. Just wanted to note one source of increase that OP hadn't mentioned

A better question is to forget about "governments" and ask why politicians have voted for these subsidies. But the answer will probably be depressingly familiar.

An energy shortage would politically and economically catastrophic. They can either invest a known amount into fossil fuels and get a known outcome or invest a huge amount into renewables and get a variable outcome.

You're changing the terms of the debate, we're not talking fossil fuels vs renewables, we're talking why are they choosing specifically coal over all other options.

Underlying reports are linked, which is nice, and they're even CC licensed: https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-document... and https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-document...

The "why" and "how" are more complex. The figures include lending as well as direct subsidy. Both China and India have been building at a high rate.

> With regard to domestic public finance identified, India provided the highest amount of support identified by far, at US$10.6 billion per year (2016–2017 average). However, it must be noted that these findings are not directly comparable between countries; one reason behind such high numbers in India is that its banking system is dominated by government-owned banks which were nationalised in the 1960s and 1980s. These banks, despite being majority government-owned, operate predominantly as commercial entities rather than as banks driven by government policy

> In its National Electricity Plan, India still foresees new capacity additions for coal – 45.9 GW from 2017–2027 – but this is dwarfed by planned additions for renewable energy, with 275 GW targeted by 2027 (CEA, 2018)

I made a spreadsheet here comparing comparing countries climate policies including fossil fuel subsidies:


Climate apocalypse.

We have approximately 4-5 years left to mobilize massive de-carbonation in order to stave off the worst effects of climate change [0]. It's already too late to avoid 2C warming. Even if we stopped instantly today the feedback loops have been in gear for years.

Small, incremental changes are not what I was hoping for.

[0] https://www.earth.com/news/5-years-mitigate-climate-change/

I don't think it's proper to take a single person's interpretation and present it as fact. This hyperbole is what makes people on the fence about climate change roll their eyes and disregard it.

I don't think agentultra is being hyperbolic.

There is a great uncertainty about feedbacks. It may very well be the case that we don't even have 5 years and we have already passed the point of no return.

Even disregarding that, the 2ºC statement is also very probable. See my comments from the other day:


It may also very well be the case a meteor strikes earth before I finish writing this comment and kills us all. My point is that debate about climate change needs to come from generally accepted perspectives based on concrete data and interpretations. Instead we have millions of people shouting and parroting unsubstantiated opinions that originated from a single person who's obviously very biased in their perspective.

Playing "what if" all day and talking about doomsdays isn't going to help. I don't understand why there isn't a greater focus on the thousands of people who are dying every year right now from pollution caused by fossil fuels. This is undeniable and very actionable and easy to get behind.

We do have hard data and people are still playing with it to justify themselves.

This would be fine if these were isolated examples. But we have people in power and rich doing this. Seriously. Even lax (currently known to be inaccurate - an underestimate) old IPCC model gives problematic conclusions that are against status quo.

The problem is that "generally accepted perspectives based on concrete data and interpretations" in this context usually means the IPCC conclusions, right?

The IPCC has been greatly criticized by the scientific community because since it works by consensus over a very large body of work it is always years behind the latest data and science.

For example here are the comments from a Nobel prize winner on the IPCC understating the effects of feedbacks on its latest report from 2018:

> Mario Molina, who shared the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1995 for his work on depletion of the ozone layer, said: “The IPCC report demonstrates that it is still possible to keep the climate relatively safe, provided we muster an unprecedented level of cooperation, extraordinary speed and heroic scale of action. But even with its description of the increasing impacts that lie ahead, the IPCC understates a key risk: that self-reinforcing feedback loops could push the climate system into chaos before we have time to tame our energy system, and the other sources of climate pollution.”


The IPCC is slowly starting to realize this and their next report coming out in 2021 will show warming is actually accelerating much faster than previously stated.

> In earlier models, doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) over preindustrial levels led models to predict somewhere between 2°C and 4.5°C of warming once the planet came into balance. But in at least eight of the next-generation models, produced by leading centers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and France, that “equilibrium climate sensitivity” has come in at 5°C or warmer. Modelers are struggling to identify which of their refinements explain this heightened sensitivity before the next assessment from the United Nations’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But the trend “is definitely real. There’s no question,” says Reto Knutti, a climate scientist at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. “Is that realistic or not? At this point, we don’t know.”


I don't think we have 4-5 years left, I think we're already 10 years beyond the point of no return. I'm not a climate scientist so my opinion bears very little weight, but I think we lost the battle when the Siberian permafrost started thawing.

In my view, even an instantaneous 100% reduction in carbon emissions (including the sudden disappearance of all cattle) will not stop the northern ice cap from disappearing completely, and the methane deposits under it will easily follow. Because of the location, my expectation is that these emissions will significantly alter the path of the northern jet stream, affecting the climate all over the northern hemisphere.

But, hey, what do I know, right?

I don't think you're far off. The IPCC panel will probably adjust their models to take into account the Siberian, Canadian, Alaskan, and Greenland permafrost all melting. And then we may be more certain about how fast we're accelerating towards the worst case scenarios.

I agree that we're already beyond the point of no return. It's sad that popular coverage of climate change still makes the claim that we can avoid a 2C increase and that implies we will continue to live as we do now without having to change anything.

The 4-5 year mark is a hypothetical amount of time we may have to survive the worst scenarios if we can mobilize and co-ordinate a vast amount of resources and effort to do so.

But I don't think it will be modern life as usual in the decade to come. If we can accept that the worst outcomes are likely to happen then imagining what life will be like may help us do something about it. Maybe people will change their attitudes towards consumption and re-organize our social structures around our local communities. Maybe we'll change the way we eat and manage food. Maybe we'll stop pretending that our lives will be an endless parade of novel devices, entertainments, exotic foods, and limitless supplies of fresh water. Maybe we'll stop wrapping every damn thing in plastic.

The "thawed permafrost = permafucked" hysteria is not based on science. The IPCC, etc. include feedback loops into their calculations.

"Not based on science", how? I have stated my observations, and have formed a hypothesis from them. The first part of my prediction is untestable because of a precondition we cannot meet (an instantaneous 100% reduction in carbon emissions), but the latter part is testable.

Let's just wait 20-30 years for the permafrost to thaw, and then re-analyze the jet stream, shall we?

It's going to be at least one of the following: incremental changes while we transition (and learn to tolerate the warmer climate), political upheaval and/or civil wars, OR geoengineering. And probably some of each.

And then people complain when these things happen: https://www.dw.com/en/coal-protests-in-germany-climate-activ...

I wonder when this[1] stops being satire.

[1] https://www.theonion.com/last-ditch-climate-change-report-pr...

Nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

Gotta use Nukes, they're the green bomb. No CO2 release.

For what it's worth, China is actually more CO2 efficient compared to Western nations at similar levels of development in the past:


Not surprising at all, considering that Western nations have been leading the walk on the path of technical development, from discovering the benefits of things like coal, to the discovery of downsides of things like coal. Therefore I would call this comparison anachronistic in the literal sense.

One can of course always say that developing nations have a right to emit just because rich 1st world countries emitted in the past. But the outcome of this is huge emissions. And China is building a lot of coal.

In any case, I don't expect the efforts to limit CO2 emissions to make much difference globally. Coal that can be easily burned will be burned. What we need to concentrate on is how we are going to deal with it.

The wrench in that analysis is that Western nation's used to direct burn coal and oil for many purposes that are now unnecessary due to technological innovation. If China had to exclusively use things like steam locomotives, coal furnaces, and oil-fired boilers for its current level of industrialization, it would be putting out just as much per capital as the US and UK 120 years ago.

That's good news but didn't they just finish putting more CO2 into the atmosphere then all developed countries combined over 100 year in like the last 10 years?



yep, and a lot of that has to do with starting in the 2008-2009 global economic crisis and (still continuing) stimulating their way (and arguably by secondary effect our way) out of it by consuming huge amounts of steel and concrete






[edit] formatting

While 150+ years of GHG emissions have put us in a terrible situation, reducing emissions or even reaching zero emissions will not solve climate change much like removing your foot from the accelerator would not prevent a car crash.

The current 415ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere will break havoc for centuries to an unknown extent. Self sustaining climatic systems have already been triggered (Arctic ice, methane, etc) and due to climate lag the changes we are seeing in the climate today are from the emissions from about 40 years ago. Bad news is we have emitted more GHG in the last 40 years than the previous 150 years before that.

Finally we don't really know for sure how much warming there is today since the cooling effects of aerosols have been difficult to calculate, and there is some debate whether the preindustrial baseline picked by the IPCC is correct. We could already be at 2ºC of warming today.

If anyone wants links of all that just ask.

I agree with most of this but I find the analogy with a car crash quite misleading. There will be no specific point in time in the future when we will fall off a cliff. It will just get progressively worse. What we can do is slow the worsening down and give ourselves and future generations more time to adapt.

There are definitely climate "cliffs". See climate tipping points for example that could lead us into a runaway greenhouse effect.



I'm actually pro making carbon emissions tariffs, and then subsidising coal.

The subsidy can be made the same size as the tariff, but reduce over time.

It also gives the coal plants a massive incentive to look for ways to increase efficiency. If they can generate slightly more power from the same amount of emissions, they will make lots more money.

Why would you ever give aid to the dirtiest source of electricity? Coal use will accelerate future catastrophes and cost WAY more long-term than any meager benefits until 2030 or whenever they are banned.

It's simply immoral to suggest coal subsidies. Renewables are much cheaper and far better for the planet and local air pollution. Anyone who is willing to give anything to coal at this point is selling 1000's of years of emissions for 5-10 years of coal-worker and coal-owner subsidy. It's disgraceful coal still gets subsidies.

Why give the opportunity to the coal plants but not everyone else? What you are proposing is again a favouribly treatment of coal plants, and we desperately need to make life difficult for them.

We could, however, introduce a general carbon emission tariff without exception but ramp it up instead of introducing it fully at once.

Subsidize all energy (most effectively through subsidized loan guarantees on the supply side but with off-setting cash for consumers on the demand side) but provide massive tariffs on emissions. Way more effective.

The importance of fossil fuel subsidy reform is overstated. Burning fossils fuels causes climate change, which has costs estimated to be in the trillions.[133] Some people refer to these negative externalities are “subsidies for fossil fuel”[134]. Perhaps it’s fair to refer to the amount untaxed negative externalities as ‘subsidies’, but some people might think that these ‘trillions in subsidies’ refer to funds in government budgets to directly lower the price of fossil fuels that could simply be cut.[135] But direct government support and tax breaks for fossil fuels that could be cut amounts to ‘only’ about $330 billion per year globally, according to a new study in Nature.[136] This means that unfortunately, fossil fuel subsidy reform will not increase the price of fossil fuels by trillions, because negative externalities (e.g. climate change and disease) make up most of these trillion dollar figures.

Would cutting these—still considerable—subsidies reduce emissions substantially? The Nature study suggests that global subsidy removal would only lead to a small, 1%–5% decrease in global CO₂ emissions. Only a small share of this can be influenced by policy in advanced economies: There are $43 billion in subsidies, amounting to 13% of global subsidies, within Europe, North America, and the Pacific OECD, and this number is not projected to grow much in the future. In fact, EU member states and G7 nations have pledged to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 and 2025 respectively (although they are currently not on track to fulfill this pledge).[137] Advanced economies might be able to use their influence to push fossil fuel subsidy reform in emerging economies, but this would be hard because even though it would have many benefits,[138] they are nevertheless often seen as regressive[139].

The Nature study has been criticized[140] for leaving out some subsidies, such as capacity market payments to ensure the constant electricity supply, public finance, and investment by state-owned fossil fuel enterprises. Others estimate subsidies in European countries alone to be $138 billion a year.[141] But even if we were to use these higher estimates to naively extrapolate them to get a rough upper bound of the direct government support in all advanced economies, then this number would probably not be much higher than the $330 billion. Thus, advocacy for subsidy reform in advanced economies is unlikely to reduce emissions by much more than 5%. Because phasing out these minor subsidies is theoretically equivalent to a very small tax on carbon, it will not substantially stimulate the kind of energy innovation that could spill over to emerging economies. Thus, the net benefits of advocacy might be lower than other policy areas.

Reducing emissions by 5% is not insignificant and worth promoting, especially if broad support can be garnered from both environmentalist and libertarian camps to end support of fossil fuel subsidies. Also, any country can unilaterally cut their fossil fuel consumption without the need for international coordination. But because the world must lower emissions to zero or even negative emissions soon,[142] phasing out fossil fuel subsidies can only be a small part of the answer. It is not the silver bullet some advocates claim.

All citations and more effective climate policies can be found at: https://lets-fund.org/clean-energy/#h.jf0xbaac5xn6

Adjusting your lifestyle and behaviour in line with climate goals is not about making a difference. It's about being a decent person. You don't throw litter into the street even though it's a drop in the ocean. You don't bully somebody just because everybody else does, even though it makes little difference. You do the things you do because you are a good decent person.

If you know about climate change and you still fly, invest in fossil fuel, consume extravagantly [edit: or anything you know has a large impact and you could reasonably do without (no, I don't know how to define reasonable in this context)] you are just a bad person. Sorry.

edit2: I am just saying this because I am desperate. And scared.

That's just a narrative to shift responsibility from government and industry to the individual. Individual action is virtually meaningless[1]. The solution is really quite simple, but nobody wants to accept it:

1: Properly price pollution -> aka carbon tax. Use Nordhaus' climate club plan to combat the knee-jerk "but China" reaction.

2: industry will adjust appropriately to stay profitable

3: individuals will follow

I work in the environmental movement. I don’t care if you recycle: https://www.vox.com/platform/amp/the-highlight/2019/5/28/186...

Edit: individual action isn't completely meaningless of course; every little bit helps. The biggest benefit of individual action IMO is that it shows your government that you care about this. Vote and be loud about it.

> Properly price pollution

I don't know how to price pollution.

And I've been voting for the "right" policies my whole life. It didn't help.

If "Adjusting your lifestyle and behaviour in line with climate goals is not about making a difference," then why does it matter that your voting didn't help? You are a good person after all.

Really though, what is your point here? Can you imagine if a politician whose platform was fighting climate change walked into CoalTown USA and told everyone that they were bad people? Do you think that would help?

I don't mean to get into the weeds of argument and rhetoric, but if we ARE going to accomplish anything on the level that this problem requires, then we have to be convincing, not smug.

A carbon tax and dividend is considered a pretty good idea by many economists. There is information about an American initiative to enact this here https://citizensclimatelobby.org/.

The "right" policies were never there for you to vote for.

> If you know about climate change and you still fly, invest in fossil fuel, consume extravagantly you are just a bad person. Sorry.

I do these things, but I don't think I'm a bad person.

I believe that collective action is the only effective way to make progress, and I choose accordingly at the polling booth. I believe that taxation of activity that accurately takes into account environmental damage is our current best way of deciding what should and should not be acceptable, and again I support this at the polling booth. Unfortunately the majority seem to disagree with me currently, which I believe is true by definition as otherwise we'd have made more political progress.

I don't believe that individual action (by self-censoring) can make any significant difference. I will be pleased to abide by restrictions society places on me for the good of the environment, including limiting or paying taxes to compensate for my own consumption, etc. Until that happens, it seems to me that unilaterally doing this myself only harms me compared to the majority who don't seem to care. I still have to play by the economic rules set by others, and suffer the consequences. I don't see why I should harm myself while others, who do not care and form the majority, gain.

You might think this is hypocritical. I disagree: I play the game I am forced to play, while advocating the changing of the rules. If you choose to harm your own position in the game by following the rule changes you wish for, then that's fine, but it's a step that I don't believe makes a difference and one I'm not prepared to take.

> You don't throw litter into the street even though it's a drop in the ocean.

Society has figured out that this costs us environmentally, has rules against littering, and I follow them. (Also littering has quite an obvious effect on the appearance of the general area, so there is an obvious localised benefit to not littering).

> You don't bully somebody just because everybody else does, even though it makes little difference.

Actually, it does make a difference. Localised changes in behaviour aren't that difficult to achieve.

i'm not trying to attack you personally, and i don't think you're a bad person, but i think you're mistaken. we are living in sodom, and you have the choice to be Lot or to be a random citizen, and you chose to be a random citizen because "everyone else is doing it".

i understand the resistance to unilateral action, but that doesn't change what the right thing to do is.

> and you chose to be a random citizen because "everyone else is doing it".

You're projecting. That is not the reason I gave. The reason I gave is that it would cause me either economic harm or reduce my enjoyment of life to do so, for what I perceive to be no practical gain (it does not, IMHO, advance the environmental cause).

doing a little market research for a side project i'm working on -- https://spaceshipearth.org -- if you thought that taking individual action actually does advance the environmental cause, would you take the action?

in our project, we hope to get you to take individual action with a group of your friends, so your collective impact is amplified. we're also hoping to show you the quantitative impact of your contribution.

would this help to change your mind at all? or do you a-priori think individual action has no benefit?

> if you thought that taking individual action actually does advance the environmental cause, would you take the action?

That's a very general question. We were talking about merely modifying behaviour to reduce consumption. Now it seems that you're talking about something else. It depends on if you're asking me to modify existing behaviour or take some new action, the actual details, the cost to me (including social cost) for taking that action, and the quantified expected benefit to the environment.

"You deferred climate catastrophe by one year" would probably be worth doing. "You deferred climate catastrophe by 0.00004 seconds" would probably not - I'd rather have spent that effort convincing one other person to vote differently.

Why stop there? Are you currently using solar power? Do you use the bus instead of walking? What's your food habits - do you eat meat? What clothes are you currently wearing? Where do you live? How large is it? Does it need heating or air conditioning?

You're drawing the "this makes an awful person" line at a super arbitrary point.

And in typical human fashion, we're now going to argue over where the moral line is drawn instead of the actual problem.

It was a mistake to try and make it a moral argument to begin with. We need to frame the discussion as "if we all want to survive, we're going to have to do {blah}". Drawing an arbitrary line and calling everyone on one side of it "bad" is creating an artificial division that gives those on the "right" side something to be smug about and those on the "wrong" side something to ignore.

We'll I'm glad that you're here to set everyone straight.

my standard response to this is the one i learned from william macaskill at oxford, and is an extension to a line of reasoning from peter singer.

peter singer believes that if you could save a child's life for two dollars, and you instead spend that money on a coffee, you're in effect killing the child. if you extrapolate this reasoning to it's logical conclusion, it follows that you should be living at the same level as the poorest person in the world so you can donate as much money as possible and still survive.

however, if you start living in a refrigerator box and not doing laundry because you don't want to spend money on detergent, you're likely to lose your cushy tech job for being weird, and then you'll be able to save way fewer children.

so, while it's true that you can go be a hermit in the mountains who only eats berries extracted from bear poop, that might not actually be the most effective way to help the environment. it would preclude you, for instance, from trying to convince someone on hacker news to live a more modest lifestyle, thereby doubling your contribution.

Those are all perfectly valid questions when making such a value judgment, yes. We're past the point of no return, here. Everything matters.

I was expecting a reply along these lines. Just because you don't kill yourself to eliminate all emissions doesn't mean you shouldn't try to do what you can.

That isnt what you appear to be saying though, it reads as, you are a "bad person" if you don't do $semi_arbitrary_thing. Not, you should be doing all you can.

I'm just saying - you're a bad person. Sorry.

I don't know if it's your intention, but it comes across to me that you're advocating doing nothing, which strikes me as bad.

I'm not - we absolutely need to do something. What I am advocating against is drawing an arbitrary line in the sand and going "well, I don't still fly, invest in fossil fuel, or consume extravagantly, therefore I'm fine and a good person." Even if you do those things, you're still going to be part of the problem.

in your opinion, what makes someone part of the solution?

You're not wrong, but I think the idea that climate change is a problem to be solved on the individual level is the prevailing message. It's bad an individual litters plastic bottles. It's worse that we even choose to MAKE plastic bottles. The problem systematically never had to exist.

> If you know about climate change and you still fly ... you are just a bad person

This seems a bit extreme. I fly so my kids can see visit their grandparents once a year. If fighting climate change means sacrificing family, then I guess the planet is toast because I'm not willing to give that up.

this seems sensible.

be mindful of your impact, and try to minimize it, but understand that the world we live in was built with different assumptions and it can be difficult to transition overnight (for instance, in a world where burning fossil fuels is not allowed, you might not have moved so far away from your kid's grandparents that you have to fly to visit them).

"Consume extravagantly". What does that mean? Is that a typical western life style, or flying everywhere by private jet???

"invest in fossil fuel". What does that mean, my pensions invested in index trackers so I guess theres some oil companies in there, but what if I invest in a supermarket that uses plastic packaging and diesel lorries, is that also investing in fossil fuel?

Oil touches every part of our lives, I personally find it exhausting keeping track of all the things I 'should' be doing, without getting judgemental about others.

Ps I say this as someone who doesn't fly, gets 100% green electricity, carbon offset gas, trying to reduce meat consumption, lives in a modest sized house, with one car in the household. I don't throw litter on the street either.

way to go! i think you're on the right path.

I don't think it's productive to use the language of morality (good vs bad) for behavior very far outside the realm of interpersonal relationships.

I think it just makes people defensive (I'm not a bad person!) and even less likely to change.

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