“Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. A contradiction cannot exist. No concept man forms is valid unless he integrates it without contradiction into the total sum of his knowledge. To arrive at a contradiction is to confess an error in one’s thinking; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one’s mind and to evict oneself from the realm of reality” – Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Most university philosophy departments loathe Ayn Rand, but that’s ok. True, her fiction and characters seem perplexingly inhumane, but are used to illuminate ideas. She refused to bend to the concept-creep of modern peer review in social science, which edges out like a stack of coins pushed farther and farther sideways coin by coin, each reach completely supported yet creating something completely unstable. Rand was at her best, in my opinion, when she debated in person. Her ability to articulate ideas and defend them was pretty amazing. She had the ability to cut through a lot of crap.
Here in the energy world, we have come to a place where Rand’s skill is in desperate shortage, and her quote above is probably the most useful thing you’re going to hear this decade.
To illustrate, I would point you towards the news. Almost any news stream will do. Most have signed on to the climate emergency messaging theme because, essentially, that is all that is permitted without fear of reprisal (I prefer NASA’s take, if I have to pay any attention at all, which hardly seems consistent with any rational definition of the word emergency: “…the extent of climate change effects on individual regions will vary over time and with the ability of different societal and environmental systems to mitigate or adapt to change.” However, to pursue that rational line of thought in public is like a Pyongyang citizen wondering out loud on the street if Kim Jong-Un is kind of fat – much wrath will fall forcefully on your head.
Linearly, out of the climate emergency narrative flows the conclusion that any extreme weather events are the result of climate change. A supporting pillar of the argument is that fossil fuel combustion is causing climate change. I am comfortable leaving that claim unreferenced; if you haven’t heard it, you are a fence post.
There is no value whatsoever in contemplating the alarmist climate change narrative, it is a done deal. We’ve seen the masters of the playbook (Kim Jong-Un is the greatest living human! Putin wrestles bears and is a legendary hockey sniper!), and the choice is ours – go join the chants in the streets, or sit quietly until the storm peters out. I’ll take the latter please, and move on. What is of interest here is the contradictions that are appearing in the world, contradictions that, as Rand rightly says, cannot coexist, are happening before our eyes.
Per the climate emergency narrative, we will dramatically cut emissions because we must. If we don’t cut emissions, the story goes, global temperatures will rise and threaten civilization as we know it. Fundamental to limiting emissions is eradicating fossil fuel combustion. True, some believe that fossil fuel combustion can continue with adequate carbon sequestration, but a great many do not – they want fossil fuel combustion gone, and now. If you require proof that many think that way, find it yourself – I have no appetite to expose myself to that weak thinking, and a simple Google search will provide a billion examples if you need one.
So that’s what one side says will happen. Let’s flip over to another ‘inevitability.’ China, India, Africa, Bangladesh, Pakistan and many other countries (duly noted that Africa is not a country; I am not paid by the word so figure it out) – these alone, with a combined population of 4.4 billion people – have populations that largely live in conditions that would be unacceptable in the US, Canada, or Western Europe (combined, these have a population of about 0.7 billion).
The desire of developing countries to live like the west is resulting in massive increases in energy consumption, of all types – wind, solar, nuclear, oil, natural gas, coal, and hydroelectric. Think about the relative scale of energy demand for 4.4 billion people looking towards living like the 0.7 billion. Here is the trajectory: according to BP’s excellent statistical review of world energy, China’s primary energy demand has grown from 104 exajoules in 2010 to 145 exajoules in 2020. India’s has grown from 22 exajoules to 32. (shouldn’t leave you hanging wondering what an exajoule is; technically speaking, an exajoule is a whole sh*tload of energy. For reference, the US’ primary energy demand in 2020 was 88 exajoules). Note also not just the trajectories but the absolute size of consumption; Africa’s primary energy demand was a lowly 16 exajoules in 2010 and rose to ‘only’ 19 in 2020.
Given that each of these three has roughly similar populations (China ~1.4 billion people, India ~1.4, Africa ~1.3), we can see that China’s ferocious pace of development has taken the farthest, development-wise. China’s nominal Gross Domestic Product per capita is about $12,000 USD/year, India’s about $2,000, as is Africa’s, plus or minus a thousand (Western Europe and Canada/US are in excess of $50,000).
In terms of energy consumption per capita, the average US citizen consumes 265 gigajoules, Western Europe ~150, China’s 100, India’s 23, and Africa’s 14.
See where this is all going?
In dreaded hydrocarbon terms, China’s oil consumption has risen 2010-2020 from 9.4 million barrels per day to 14.3; India’s 3.3 to 4.7, and Africa’s 3.5 to, well, 3.6. Natural gas shows huge growth as well, particularly in China (over the decade, growth from 109 billion cubic metres to 331; Africa’s from 98 to 153; Nigeria just declared this to be the “Decade of Gas.’ Oddly enough India’s has not grown at all over the 10-year period). Coal usage has increased substantially in the decade as well but we won’t talk about that for fear of, well, you know.
Therein lies the contradiction of our times. We (as in, the world) will apparently reduce CO2 emissions and by corollary hydrocarbon usage in a major way in order to limit GHG emissions, because we have to. So say all the ‘experts’ – the media, ‘science’, the whole new climate industrial complex. And they are trying – China’s renewable energy consumption rose from 0.8 exajoules in 2010 to 7.8 in 2020; India increased from 0.4 to 1.4 exajoules, Africa from 0.06 to 0.38.
But forget what the west thinks – what do India, China, and Africa have to do? It’s hard to place ourselves exactly in their shoes, but think of it this way: Regarding one’s environmental footprint, what does a single-child professional NYC couple focus on, vs. what an African would, if they had 15 children, no running water, and a labourer’s income? Those are the bookends of the debate – if one doesn’t try to dissect the viewpoints of these two very real extremes (15 kids might be a stretch in this day and age, but the point is – many dependents) then there is no sane conversation to be had about a global energy transition.
Someone is wrong in a major way. Will 0.7 billion overfed, pampered and detached-from-reality wealthy westerners have the final say over 4 billion people that are no longer content with having substandard living conditions, people that want air conditioning, to travel, want a house, 24/7 wifi, want all the stuff we want? Will westerners, guilty of their hugely consumptive past (but not guilty enough to give it up), convince the rest of the world that a modest lifestyle is now what they should shoot for?
To paraphrase for modernity, “No concept a human forms is valid unless they integrate it without contradiction into the total sum of their knowledge.”
A war is brewing between the “wants” and the “needs.” Neither side shows any inclination to capitulate. Western political pressure ratchets higher with every weather phenomenon; developing countries’ pressure ratchets up with every sickly comparison to the west’s standard of living. An irresistible force is heading for an immovable object.
Enjoy the fireworks.