By Alex Chadwick, BURN Host
I’ve run across two interesting pieces in the last few days on energy resources, climate and doing the math.
At the Vancouver Sun, reporter Pete McMartin reviews the numbers on carbon build-up in the atmosphere. Getting worse, and likely to get worse still, with world changing consequences.
He digs up a now four year-old paper on greenhouse emissions from a European research team lead by German climatologist Malte Meinshausen. The study was short but dense, McMartin notes, so few people took note of one of its scariest points. The researchers set out “to determine just how much time mankind had left before our burning of fossil fuels would cause catastrophic global warming.”
The problem was, no one was exactly sure how much fossil-fuel consumption had already contributed to global warming, or how much fossil fuel mankind could consume without going over the 2 C marker. Those phenomena needed to be quantified. Meinshausen’s team did just that. It constructed a rigorous model by incorporating hundreds of factors that had never been grouped together before, and then ran them through a thousand different scenarios. The team’s conclusion?
Time was perilously short.
It found that if we continued at present levels of fossil fuel consumption (and, in fact, consumption has been rising annually), we have somewhere between an 11-to 15-year window to prevent global temperatures from surpassing the 2 C threshold in this century.
And the longer we waited, the worse the odds got.
I’ve seen these numbers before. McMartin makes a compelling case for remembering to stay with information and data that’s really important.
And at an annual meeting in New York for financial analysts last week, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson said the company will increase spending on exploration by one-billion dollars a year for the next several years. They were already going to spend a lot. Now they’ll spend more – “$190 billion over the next five years.”
That’s an average investment of $38 billion each year on some of the most technologically challenging projects on the planet. (By comparison, our earnings over the previous five years have averaged $36 billion per year.)
Those projects range from energy exploration in the Russian arctic and producing liquefied natural gas in the remote Papua New Guinea Highlands to oil sands production in Canada and expansion of our world-class refinery and petrochemical complexes in Singapore and Texas. We advance those projects likely to provide long-term shareholder value, and focus on the efficient use of capital to achieve superior investment returns.
Exxon’s production is going up, too – by 4% a year between now and 2017.
The one thing for sure about energy is that demand is not going away. The big, highly consumptive economies are doing better with conservation – but that’s not where the new demand is coming from. It’s the rest of the world that wants to catch up.
So, what do we do?