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Fuzzy Numbers
China Burned a Lot More Coal Than We Thought

File this under bad brown news: China burned a lot more coal this century than it reported, according to new analysis from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The FT reports:

Based on revised data released by Beijing this summer, the EIA has concluded that the world’s largest polluter and consumer of coal burnt up to 14 per cent more of the fossil fuel between 2000 and 2013 than previously reported. It said this meant China’s energy consumption and production were also much higher.

The EIA’s analysis squares with the supercharged economic growth of the decade before 2013 and much slower growth now but throws into confusion the calculations on which climate change negotiators rely to determine the level of emissions produced by each nation. Talks this December in Paris will attempt to rein in those emissions, in the hopes of preventing dangerous global warming.

China was already reported to be burning roughly half of the world’s coal, so a 14 percent spike in consumption between 2000 and 2013 has huge implications not only for the air quality of the country’s megacities, but also for our global carbon budget (coal is just about the dirtiest fossil fuel around). If the EIA has it right, China has been emitting a lot more greenhouse gases than previously thought, which has a host of implications for climate change models and the push for an international treaty predicated on reducing global emissions.

This is disheartening news, to say the least. It’s also emblematic of a bigger problem for climate scientists. Our best models keep failing to accurately predict surface warming patterns, mistakes so far attributed to ignorance of those many “unknown unknowns” of our planet’s climate. That the world’s largest coal producer was emitting much, much more from burning the dirty stuff represents an entirely new kind of error. Even some of our knowns, it turns out, were unknowns.

Uncertainty pervades climate science, once you start digging down into it. Generally, we understand that burning fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases, which in turn trap more solar radiation in our atmosphere and lead to rising surface temperatures, but beyond that we’re startlingly ignorant of our mesmerizingly complex climate. Greens will tell you climate science is “settled,” but that’s an outright lie. There remains so much we don’t know, and blustering past those blind spots does the enviromental movement no favors. Just the opposite, in fact—it sets them up for embarrassment when their bold, Malthusian predictions are eventually proved false. We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: overconfident greens are the number one cause of climate denial.

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  • Kevin

    I wonder what this says about the nature of Chinese economic growth. Is (or was) China even more dependent on an extensive growth model based on increasing inputs of labor, capital and raw materials (including energy) than previously supposed and thus less efficient at turning inputs into wealth than thought?

    This is a critical question as China’s longer term economic growth and the political power that comes from it depend crucially on switching to an intensive growth model where inputs are used more efficiently rather than just ever more inputs being consumed. If China can’t make this transition it cannot avoid the so called “Middle Income Trap,” if it can manage this transition its prospects of being the dominant economic and political power and very high.

    • 196ski

      China stability is deeply rooted in economic growth. The extremes of wealth and poverty in china are hard to fathom when viewed from a western perspective with poverty, by our standards, being the overwhelming majority. There are no safety nets in China, when the economy slows people starve. There are no food stamps, no unemployment insurance, no Workers Compensation, no Social Security, no Medicaid, and no handicapped parking.

      Economic slowdowns are much more than declines in economic activity. If the government is to survive, people must work. Work requires power and China is already severely underpowered. I would submit that China is much more concerned about economic activity and much less interested in climate change. Although they did say they would get more aggressive if we would give them money to fund their efforts.

  • Fat_Man

    “How reliable are the climate models?” Guest essay by Mike Jonas on September 17, 2015

    “And that is how the models have come to predict a high level of future warming, and how they claim that it is all caused by CO2. The reality of course is that two-thirds of the predicted future warming is from guesswork and they don’t even know if the sign of the guesswork is correct. I.E., they don’t even know whether the guessed factors actually warm the planet at all. They might even cool it.”

    “If you still doubt that the climate models are unreliable, then perhaps the IPCC themselves can convince you. Their Working Group 1 (WG1) assesses the physical scientific aspects of the climate system and climate change. In 2007, WG1 said ‘we should recognise that we are dealing with a coupled nonlinear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.'”

  • CaliforniaStark

    “. . . overconfident greens are the number one cause of climate denial.”

    I would suggest the number one cause of “climate denial” is the fact the computer models that predicted a significant rise in temperatures over the last 20 years have proven false. If your predictions fail; your hypothesis fails. When climate scientists attempt to ignore the inconvenient data by claiming global warming exists because a consensus of climate scientists say so (most of whom likely would be redundant without global warming research funding), you know how unreliable the predictions are. Don’t confuse them with the facts, their minds are made up.

    There are now serious attempts being made to alter past temperature readings and adjust data to show there was in fact warming over the period of the roughly 18 year “hiatus.” This of course has the effect of contradicting the original data upon which the global warming models are based. This is hardly compatible with the claim “the science is settled.” In any event, the amount of actual warming claimed by the altered data is no where near what the original climate models predicted.

    • Andrew Allison

      Just a couple of additional comments: first, thanks largely to China (US emissions have been declining) atmospheric CO2 has increased an astonishing 10% since global temperature stopped rising 18 years ago; and the chief culprit in the data fudging is our very own NOAA, which has not only been adjusting historic data downward to make it appear that temperature is rising, but last year threw out satellite temperature measurements because they failed to produce the desired result. The outright falsification of climate data by NOAA is a national disgrace.

      • f1b0nacc1

        I believe that the most appropriate comment to make here is “They were only following orders”

        • Andrew Allison

          Yes, it does rather appear that the executive branch has lost sight of the fact that it’s job is to execute the will of Congress rather than the perceived desires of the President and his party. It also appears that the country which elected the incumbent not once, but twice, is getting the government it deserves.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Right on both counts….how incredibly unfortunate…

          • 196ski

            It stopped being about our climate when the models collapsed and invalidated the hypothesis.

            Climate Change is now captive to politically driven social and economic agendas that have nothing to do with the planets climate.

      • CaliforniaStark

        Dr. James Lovelock, who was one of the leading advocates of the global warming theory; acknowledged in an NBC interview in 2012 that it was inaccurate, stating: “The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened.”

        “The climate is doing its usual tricks. There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now,”

  • exdent11

    Those who would prefer certainty about global warming and certainty that China and other countries will reduce carbon emissions before we act need to consider what the black swan event could be by not acting now. Sort of the Titanic scenario ; the builders said it was too expensive to fully enclose the ballast compartments,” why bother the ship is unsinkable”The Captain ,ignoring safety for profit,running at top speed at night in a known iceberg area ; “anyway, the ship is unsinkable “. Or the company not putting enough life boats on board for all the passengers ” not necessary because the ship is unsinkable ” . What if your wrong?

    • 196ski

      Fair question.

      Nuclear is the only, near zero carbon emitter we have for electrical generation that will actually meet our electrical demand.

      If we were serious about CO2 emissions we would be building nuclear plants everywhere. We’re not, so we aren’t.

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