Thursday, June 12, 2014

Climate divestment applies the smack-down theory of political change

The offensively-named but useful "bitch slap" theory of politics helps explain demonstrations of political strength that may make it possible to change policies. I'm going to call it the smack-down theory instead, and it applies to climate divestment.

When Stanford announced it was divesting from coal, it was saying it's unafraid of what coal businesses are going to do in response. Contrast that to how American public television tried to placate the Koch brothers and kept the critical documentary "Citizen Koch" off of PBS. An institution that divests is unlikely to give in to similar intimidation, partly because they won't be receiving donations from the polluters. What Stanford is saying is that as far as coal goes, it's willing to take that hit. To the extent other institutions do the same, they're showing that the coal lobby can be beat.

Time to do the same for the other fossil fuels.

37 comments:

Fernando Leanme said...

Dear Rabbet

I was wondering if you realize the bulk of the world´s oil and gas reserves are controlled by OPEC and Former Soviet Union nations? The sole exception is Canada, which has a very large resource of extremely heavy and viscous heavy oil.

So let´s say somehow every oil company stockholder decides to sell and (somehow) this puts these companies out of business...the outcome will be a worldwide oil industry owned by a bunch of dictators, autocrats, and overall no goodniks. I´m sure once you have thought this through you get the math.

J Bowers said...

Wait for one of Fernando's analyses of climate data, chaps. They're a hoot.

Anonymous said...

I really can't see the big "hit" Stanford is supposed to be taking.

What can the coal businesses do in response? Threaten to put coal in Stanford administrators stockings?

Coal stocks have been doing poorly recently (especially relative to gas) and future performance looks poor as well so it would seem to just make good financial sense to divest.

See,forexample
http://www.timesunion.com/business/article/Coal-investments-a-bad-bet-for-state-pensions-5464524.php

Now, if Stanford said they were going to divest of oil and gas, that WOULD be something.

But I don't see it happening.

and yes, the name that you felt inclined to repeat above IS offensive, VERY.

So why do it?

Aren't you worried how it might look when you run for Congress to have such crap in your blog posts, even when you have "explained" that it is offensive?

Anonymous said...

Saving a screenshot of the page for posterity.

LOL

Fernando Leanme said...

Coal suffers from excess supply. This is caused by low gas prices. Low gas prices are a result of excess drilling by exuberant gas drillers. Gas exports to Mexico are increasing, and eventually we should see higher gas prices. Which is fine.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, it looks as if cold weather causes greater economic harm than hot weather.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Anonytroll, it takes a special kind of stupid to take a quarter's worth of data for a single statistic and generalize it to the entire Universe. Congratulations, you are one with stupidity.

Hank Roberts said...

So, as a retiring kind of guy who's got some responsibilities, tho' far less than, say, Stanford -- is there a corresponding _re_investment choice, list, discussion thread out there somewhere? Where's Stanford moving that money? Are they aiming to lean against climate change with it, or just stay neutral instead of supporting coal?

I've been trying to imagine someone capable of giving investment recommendations who's actually got a clue about the science and relating that to making choices?

Brian said...

Hank - as a private institution, Stanford is pretty quiet about how and how much it invests. Most of the speculation, including mine, is that it probably had little money invested in coal and saw little reason to keep coal as a future option. That's kind of the point of the smackdown, in effect "we aren't afraid of you, coal corporations, and we don't think we'll be taking much of a hit for this step." As for what Stanford will do, they're not saying other than it won't be in coal.

There are a lot of socially-responsible investment types who are knowledgeable about climate change. I doubt they know the cutting edge of the science, but unless they're looking at investments in technology then they don't need to be cutting-edge.

Brian said...

And Fernando misses the whole point that climate divestment is a political strategy that supports a transition away from fossil fuels. It's not a comprehensive solution on its own.

There is a financial reason for divestment based on the carbon bubble, but even then climate realists believe some fossil fuels could be burnt. The worry that "too much climate divestment will happen too quickly" is a bit overwrought, I think.

Steve Bloom said...

OT: Brian, I await with interest your thoughts on the implementation of the final phase of the Cheney Plan, and how Obama is going to escape ending up with the major part of the blame. For extra credit you can explain how the administration failed to see this coming.

Thanks to earlier phases of the Plan, we also have the social and political benefit of the large cohort of veterans from those wars. That's a gift that's just going to keep on giving!

And before you ask, no, it's not possible to be too cynical.

Russell Seitz said...

When will PBS air Citoyen Moyers' shocking expose' of himself?

Susan Anderson said...

Steve Bloom: thanks for that:

"Who sups with the devil must use a long spoon"

Meanwhile, Neven hosts an excellent storyteller who illustrates in a surprisingly well researched bit of fiction (not implausible imnhso) why all this prevarication and procrastination is no longer acceptable.

http://neven1.typepad.com/blog/2014/06/the-day-the-ice-cap-died.html

Fernando Leanme said...

Brian said

"And Fernando misses the whole point that climate divestment is a political strategy that supports a transition away from fossil fuels."

That´s a pretty limp political strategy. I got the feeling many of you tend to live in the USA and vote Democrat. So you are conceiving strategies intended to convice democrats...you find it comfortable, I suppose. But the key audience is the group you got stuck across your throat which votes for Republicans in Congressional elections. And if you are British, Australians, or whatever, you got a similar problem.

The big players who handle stock market holdings won´t be too impressed by this silly strategy, they know fossil companies performance is driven by fundamentals.

I can see global warming impacting coal company stock values.

I don´t see it impacting oil stocks because we are running out of oil. What impacts oil company stocks is whether they can get by trying to keep producing oil when they can´t find it anymore. And if you think the oil in the Williston Basin (that´s the Bakken for you) will allow the oil industry´s survival I got land to sell you in the Marshall Islands.

Companies which hold large gas reserve positions are darlings. Natural gas is the clear answer to avoid a total disaster in a transition to cleaner energy. So divesting companies with predominant gas reserves as a political move sounds kinda dumb. I hope this helps.

J Bowers said...

Isn't it time we stopped calling PV, wind turbines, etc, "renewables", and just refer to them as "clean energy"?

Anonymous said...

Natural gas is the clear answer to avoid a total disaster in a transition to cleaner energy.

Unfortunately, the natural gas boom (in the boom and bust sense of the word) is actually depressing energy prices artificially making it harder for solar and wind to compete.

Increased gas production is also an easy way for the US to look like they are actually doing something to reduce emissions, while allowing them to put off making lasting changes that will inevitably be needed.

The reality is that natural gas boom is not a bridge to clean energy but a bridge to nowhere.

The fracking craze in particular is little more than a bubble that will inevitably burst just like the housing bubble.

And when it does, we will all be worse off than we would have been if we had actually addressed the problem rather than simply postponing it.

Anonymous said...

Should have put quotes around
"Natural gas is the clear answer to avoid a total disaster in a transition to cleaner energy."

above

ligne said...

"And when it does, we will all be worse off than we would have been if we had actually addressed the problem rather than simply postponing it."

and there's the AGW problem summed up in one convenient sentence.

global warming: because sometimes it's too much effort not to slam headlong into that wall.

Brian said...

Again Fernando, climate divestment is part of a strategy and not the sole means of achieving a political victory along the lines of Eli's Simple Plan, or something else.

Climate divestment also has financial and ethical reasons behind it, but I'm discussing the political aspects here with the smackdown theory.

Fernando Leanme said...

Brian, I am reading comments herein which tell me there´s a slight disconnection from reality in some quarters.

Take an earlier comment about natural gas. The current low price enviroment is a relatively short term phenomenom, as the market demand increases and natural gas producers learn their lessons about drilling too fast the market will tend to balance. Replacing coal with natural gas is a very effective means to reduce emissions.

I sense a lot of impatience to bring emissions down, but there´s no reasonable alternatives on offer (and please don´t tell me the POLITICAL solution de-development or such weird ideas, that´s not going to sell). And if you think solar and wind are reasonable alternatives then you had better start demonstrating it, because so far I have seen nothing solid.

Regarding the "climate divestment", if you were to make it more focused it may make sense (but I doubt it). Also have you considered the inmorality in actions to cut off natural gas to a population which lacks any cost effective alternatives at this time? If that´s your aim, then I do find that elitist, blind, and quite ineffective.

When I scratch my head about this topic I think it makes a lot more sense to advocate things such as development of urban transport grids and changes in urban planning to allow higher density housing. But I guess that´s not an American solution, is it?

Anonymous said...

In the absence of concrete evidence that America is making major (WWII preparation level) efforts to develop an economy that does not depend on fossil fuels for energy , the claim that natural gas is a "bridge to clean energy" is just wishful thinking.

But I will be the first to admit that it's really just opinion either way whether or not one believes the bridge goes anywhere.

Call me a cynic, out of touch with reality or whatever, but I don't believe it does and I am basing that on what I see happening now, or more precisely, don't see happening.

When America wants to reach difficult goals it invests in and lays out a very clear road map to get there (Manhattan project, Apollo project, etc). It does not simply depend on "magical, wishful thinking" that natural gas will somehow save us.

J Bowers said...

"When America wants to reach difficult goals it invests in and lays out a very clear road map to get there (Manhattan project, Apollo project, etc)."

Fracking. Mitchell Energy couldn't have done it, or would still be deciding whether to pay for test wells, if the Fed hadn't stepped in to great mirth from Mitchell's engineers. Those same engineers are now saying America needs to do it for clean energy. Otherwise, start a war, even if it's a Cold one, and the military love affair with clean energy will drive the need.

Fernando Leanme said...

Natural gas is a bridge to clean energy it allows you to build a cheap battery. Or you can build a nuke, or see what else you can cook.

I'm coining a new term for the vocabulary, methanophobia.

J Bowers said...

What's not to be phobic about when it comes to methane?

Anonymous said...

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/08/07/2426441/methane-leakage-gas-fields/

To make matters worse,

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/10/02/2708911/fracking-ipcc-methane/

Brian said...

There's a common strawman argument that an immediate end to all fossil fuel use would be disruptive, therefore we shouldn't take steps to reduce fossil fuel use. The danger the world faces that is not that we're doing too much to reduce GHG emissions.

I would actually agree than an immediate end to GHG emissions would be a bad idea compared to a grandual reduction to net zero emissions before 2050, and net negative emissions following. Climate divestment gets us a little closer to that latter goal.

Anonymous said...


"an immediate end to GHG emissions would be a bad idea compared to a grandual reduction to net zero emissions before 2050,"

No need to worry there, on either count.

What is being done now is not even close to what is required.

(and not even a "grandual" reduction is in the works.)

Anonymous said...

It's time to stop kidding ourselves about what is required

http://www.climateanalytics.org/sites/default/files/attachments/publications/CAT_Bonn_policy_update_jun2014.pdf

Of course, the Obama administration claims they are right on target.

..just as they always claim for drones. :)

Anonymous said...

Some of those now selling natural gas as a "bridge" to a clean energy future are exaggerating the advantages with regard to global warming reduction over coal.

Every kwh of electricity generated in a natural gas powered steam power plant produces about 1.22 lbs of CO2.
This table indicates that coal burning produces between 2.08 and 2.18 lbs of CO2 per kwh electricity produced(depending on the coal) and that natural gas burning produces about 1.22 lbs per kwh.
Assuming the natural gas is pure methane would mean that 1.22 lb CO2 was the result of burning 0.44 lbs of methane.
If we further assume that the 0.44 lb methane that was burned to produce 1 kwh is only 95% of the total amount of gas "produced" in the gas field (ie, that 5% was lost to methane leaks, which looks to be more realistic than the 2.3% estimate provided by the EPA) then the total methane “produced” for each kwh generated would be 0.46lb, or, in other words 0.02 lbs of methane would be lost into the air for each kwh of electricity eventually generated with methane.

The 100 year global warming potential of that much methane is 34(0.02) = 0.68 lb CO2 equivalent, which must be added to the 1.22 lb of CO2 produced per kwH of electricity generated from burning methane.

0.68 + 1.22 = 1.9 lbs of CO2

which is about 87% of the CO2 produced per Kwh for coal (using the 2.18 lb CO2 per Kwh given in that table) and just a bit more than that for oil (1.68 lb)

In other words, at 5% “leakage natural gas would provide just a 13% “advantage” (lower impact) over coal with regard to 100 year GWP.
And over the short term (20 years) natural gas would actually be significantly worse than coal if the leakage is 5%.

86(0.02) + 1.22 = 2.94 lb CO2 (for natural gas) vs 2.18 lb for coal.
But it might actually be even worse: at 8% leakage, for example, 0.44 lb methane that is burned to produce 1 kwh is only 92% of the total amount of gas produced in the gas field and the total methane per kwh would be 0.48lb, or, in other words 0.04 lbs of methane lost into the air for each kwh of electricity generated with methane.
The 100 year global warming potential of that much methane is 34(0.04) = 1.36 lb CO2 equivalent, which must be added to the 1.22 lb of CO2 produced per kwh of electricity generated from burning methane.

1.36 + 1.22 = 2.58 lbs of CO2
which is 18% MORE CO2 than that produced per Kwh for coal (even using the 2.18 lb CO2 per Kwh given in that table)
In other words, at 8% leakage fracked natural gas would actually be WORSE than coal with regard to 100 year GWP.


And even if the leakage were just 2.3% (the dubious claim made by EPA), there would be virtually no difference between methane and coal over a 20 year time span with regard to GWP.

1.22 + 0.01(86) = 2.08 lb CO2 (for methane)
vs 2.18 lb CO2 (for coal)

2.08/2.18 = 95%

PS EPA's claimed 2.3% leakage rate is questionable and they are still using outdated GWP number(s) to estimate impact of methane leaks, see

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/08/07/2426441/methane-leakage-gas-fields/

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/10/02/2708911/fracking-ipcc-methane/

Finally, leakage in the gas field is not the only leakage to be considered

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/01/fracking-natural-gas-exports-climate-change-102452_Page2.html#.U572oXaCWSo

Fernando Leanme said...

The comment about methane leaks is wrong. However, lets say we find a region where methane leaks are bad (North Dakota, Nigeria, Venezuela, western Siberia)....that's fairly easy to reduce with regulations and 6 foot tall inspectors.

The estimates for emissions I see tend to be off because they don't account for the finer details. For example a natural gas fed turbine coupled to wind turbines is an ideal solution to the wind turbine lack or reliability. The only real problem I see with natural gas is the fact that eventually we will use it all up.

Fernando Leanme said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"The comment about methane leaks is wrong."

Wow.

What a convincing argument you make Fernando.

No facts, no calculations, no logic, just wishful thinking.

What a truly powerful argument.

Anonymous said...

One person who has been exaggerating the advantage of methane (underestimating the impact of leakage) is Richard Muller: "you can show that even at a huge and unprofitable 14 percent leakage rate, the methane still offers a factor of two reduction in greenhouse effect compared to coal.'

Muller needs to check his math.

Can we calculate?

To produce 1 kwH of electricity in a 60% efficient natural gas electric power plant (a new combined cycle plant, which is actually significantly better than most natural gas plants) requires about 0.24 lbs of natural gas (assuming all methane).
Heat of combustion of methane = 55.5 MJ/kg = 15.4kWh/kg
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_of_combustion

Combusted completely, that much methane would produce about 0.66 lb CO2
This table indicates that coal burning produces between 2.08 and 2.18 lbs of CO2 per kwH electricity produced(depending on the coal) and that natural gas burning produces about 1.2 lbs per kWH.

The difference between 0.66 lb given above and the 1.2 lb given in the table is primarily due to the difference in efficiency of the power plant, which for most natural gas plants in the US is, on average, significantly lower than 60%.

But, we will assume Muller’s 60% efficiency here because some of the newest “combined cycle” plants are close to 60%.

If we further assume that the 0.24 lb that is burned to produce 1 kwh is only 86% of the total amount of gas produced in the gas field (ie, that 14% was lost to leakage), then the total methane produced per kwH would be 0.28lb, or, in other words, 0.04 lbs of methane lost into the air for each kWh of electricity generated with methane.

The 100 year global warming potential for methane is 34 so that 0.04 lb methane would have a 34(0.04) = 1.36 lb CO2 equivalent, which (AND THIS IS KEY) MUST BE ADDED to the 0.66 lb of CO2 produced per kwH of electricity generated by burning methane.

0.66 + 1.36 = 2.02 lbs of CO2

which is NOT half (as Muller claims) but about 93% of the CO2 produced per KwH for coal (using the 2.18 lb CO2 per KwH given in that table) and greater that that for oil (1.68 lbCO2)

So, assuming Muller’s 60% efficiency scenario (which,again, actually does NOT apply for most natural gas power plants now in use in the US) at 14% leakage, natural gas vs coal is basically a wash with regard to greenhouse impact.

Just where Muller is getting his "factor of two reduction in greenhouse effect compared to coal" at 14% natural gas leakage rate is anyone's guess.

Perhaps he forgot to add the impact of burning the natural gas to the impact of the leaked methane (which one MUST do.)

The irony is that (unwittingly, due to his math errors) Muller is doing precisely that which he has criticized others for doing: exaggerating.

Anonymous said...


Ken Caldeira: Natural Gas Is ‘A Bridge To A World With High CO2 Levels’, (interview by Joe Romm)
"Dependence on natural gas is a delaying tactic. I just don’t understand the logic: “We will delay building the energy infrastructure that we need to solve the energy-carbon-climate problem, and build CO2 spewing natural gas plants instead, but you should be thankful that these engines of global warming aren’t as bad as what we could have built.”

"The goal is not to do something that is fractionally less bad than what we are doing now; the goal is to deploy energy systems that can actually solve the problem.

"Power plants, with retrofits, last 75 years or longer, so we are already building the energy infrastructure of the second half of this century. If that infrastructure is not based on near-zero-emission energy systems, we’ll find ourselves back in the Cretaceous, except this time we’ll be the dinosaurs."

Anonymous said...

Having established himself in the public eye as "The Honest Broker" on climate change (trouncing RP Jr) with his "climate skeptic cum BEST believer" routine, Muller is now the ideal salesman for natural gas fracking.

He's a Koch's wet dream cum true.

See this piece by Michael Mann

Hank Roberts said...

Brian wrote:
> a lot of socially-responsible
> investment types who are
> knowledgeable about climate ...
> unless they're looking at
> investments in tech ...they
> don't need to be cutting-edge.

I'm wishing there were something like a
"Vanguard Not Incredibly Stupid in the Longterm Fund"

But alas, I guess those are only found in hindsight.

"Citzin guests" says ReCaptcha's oracle. Is that a clue? I wonder what it takes to invest in the health and education of these kids who flooding in unaccompanied across the Texas border lately. Political action, I guess.

Hank Roberts said...

Hmph:

"Associated Press June 24

WASHINGTON — Two universities ... to buy more than half their power from three new solar power farms that will be built in North Carolina ....
George Washington University, American University and the George Washington University Hospital announced the 20-year agreement with Duke Energy Renewables to reduce their carbon footprints by directly tapping solar energy."