Net Zero: Objective or Disaster?

Romanticism: Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818

There are two opposing views of humanity’s relationship with nature, the Romantic and the Utilitarian. The former emphasises intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, especially with regard to the beauty of nature and leading ultimately to Pantheism. The latter prioritises those attitudes which give preference to human interests while disregarding other aspects of the environment. It is unashamedly anthropocentric. Most people who live close to nature, in fact, most people throughout history, are, or were, Utilitarians. Romanticism, particularly in its modern form of Environmentalism, is a product of affluence.

We are presently living in one of the most affluent ages in history, thanks to advances in technology and agriculture.

This affluence, and the advances which brought it about, ultimately depended on  one thing: access to cheap energy in the form of coal, oil and gas.

We live in what historians may someday call the Fossil Fuel Age. . .With high energy consumption goes a high standard of living. . . A reduction of per capita energy consumption has always in the past led to a decline in civilisation and a reversion to a more primitive way of life. . . . it is an unpleasant fact that according to our best estimates, total fossil fuel reserves recoverable at not over twice today’s unit cost are likely to run out at sometime between the years 2000 and 2050, if present standards of living and population growth rates are taken into account.

I suggest that this is a good time to think soberly about our responsibilities to our descendants – those who will ring out the Fossil Fuel Age.

(From a speech given by Rear Admiral Hyman Rickover in 1957.)

Readers may be sceptical about this. “Yes, we have heard it all before”, I hear them say, “Club of Rome, Limits to Growth, Resources Crisis, blah, blah. We will always discover more oil, or Lithium or whatever it is.”

Certainly this theme  has been over-hyped in the past but two facts remain:

  1. We are consuming fossil fuels at an accelerating rate. The curve is roughly exponential. It has increased eight-fold since 1950, and roughly doubled since 1980. , and
  2. The fossil fuel resource is finite. Nature is not producing new fossil fuel.

There has to be a collapse in supply. The only issue is when. The evidence points to some time in the next couple of decades. My friend Wayne Hooper has put together a reading list of authoritative references which should convince anyone with lingering doubts.

Well why aren’t governments and science organisations addressing this issue?

Owing to an accident of history, it was the effects of fossil fuels on the environment which were noticed first.  This happened in the 1970s when pollution of the environment was the issue of the day and when digital computers had become big enough to model the whole planet  using the methods of computational fluid dynamics. The CFD modellers picked up the ball and ran with it. Not only did they have a great time developing ever more complicated models but they were saving the planet as well. They rapidly cornered the bulk of the research funding. Overnight, Climate Change became the new religion. Well over a hundred research groups are now running their own climate models. Surely two or three would have been enough.

Climate models are not science just as arithmetic is not accountancy. Certainly, scientists often use models but that is only part of the story. Truly scientific models are regularly tested against observation. Climate models are not. They are merely cross-checked against one another. Occasionally measurements which fit the models are quoted as “validation” but that is not the same as the rigorous testing which is the norm in science. As a result, while the models agree reasonably well with one another, they have parted company with the real world. One egregious error is the model prediction that carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for many centuries, some of it forever. In fact half of the excess is absorbed by the ocean within 50 years (see GRLpaper.pdf).

Perhaps the worst thing about climate modelling is the way that it has attracted kudos and funding to the detriment of other disciplines such as experimental physics and statistics.  But it is not just about funding. We live in an age of degenerate Romanticism, according to which caring always trumps understanding. Understanding the natural world in order to manipulate it for our own benefit is viewed by many with disgust.

We have abandoned Utilitarianism to our cost. There is not enough cheap fossil fuel left in the ground to increase global temperature much further. The real existential threat is the energy starvation we  face in the very near future. We have to deal with it.




22 Replies to “Net Zero: Objective or Disaster?”

  1. Thanks John,
    “ The latter prioritises those attitudes which give preference to human interests while disregarding other aspects of the environment. It is unashamedly anthropocentric. ”

    I prefer to think of “life”(eg. DNA capable of self-replicating ) as a force capable of inducing order from chaos ( of sorts). To that end the efforts of mankind are largely not at odds with the living natural world. Distribution of resources such as carbon, Fe, etc is not detrimental in the overall scheme of things(quite the opposite; it is required for more life). Harnessing energy is a fundamental of all life.
    The idea that there is some kind of stasis in the natural world is unfounded.

    1. I completely agree , Rob. See the concluding paragraph of my book:
      Furthermore it is not the pristine perfection of a Laplacian universe that matters, but rather its imperfections. Without occasional, random imperfections in nucleic acids, life could never have become more complex than the virus. Turbulence is everywhere, in cumulus clouds, in breaking waves, in the sound of a clarinet and yet it is inaccessible to the elegant equations of 19th century physics. By presupposing an underlying perfection, we blind ourselves to the amazing realities of the world around us. Only by experiment and observation can we truly see.

  2. I love the opening paragraph of this item. Well done if you wrote it John. My comment will be about this line:

    “Truly scientific models are regularly tested against observation.”

    True scientific models, or theses, or hypotheses, or theories, or ideas, are predictive. Use a model to predict something not yet tested or measured and see if your measurements are as your model predicts. That is still not validation, no scientific theory is ever really validated, (one plus one equals three for sufficiently high values of one), just correct so far to the best we can tell, but it is encouraging that the model might be on the right track. The predictability is part of the scientific method, as is the repeatability, which this article is about to a large extent, but both are needed.

    1. Agreed. “Validation” as a scientific principle is the invention of the IPCC.

  3. John, I have followed your reasoning for years and it has been impeccable. So this is the first time that I feel somewhat uneasy, not from what you have said, but from what you haven’t said. In the last sentence of your first “admin” response you say
    ” Only by experiment and observation can we truly see”. Your words.
    Your take on observation extends no further that models. Nowhere does it refer to evidence. Indeed, I see no evidence, any where, that CO2 has anything but a miniscule effect on climate. It is simply drowned in the background of a myriad of natural processes. I cannot help but think that that the whole basis of your opinion piece assumes that CO2 is a problem, when it is not. The longer this is not challenged, the more it will become accepted as true, when it is not. This whole scam for me is more a corruption of science than a grab for control and wealth transfer. Observation at every level from Vostok ice core data to a warming glass of beer shows that warming causes CO2 to increase in the atmosphere and not the other way around. In simple terms of chemistry (and I’m a geologist not a chemist) this tells you that CO2 is more soluble in cold water than warm water. Oceans contain some 50 to 70 times more dissolved CO2 than atmosphere, and oceans warm from all sorts of causes, not the least being submarine volcanism, releasing huge volumes of CO2 to atmosphere.

    1. Aert: Until a year ago I would have agreed with your comment. However I recently developed a statistical method for analysing observed time series of temperature, CO2 concentration and CO2 emissions which shows causal relationships between concentration and both global and and local temperatures. My (rejected) paper can be found here: . I posted a popular account here: . Using the same method I found the real problem is the exaggerated effect of emissions on concentration used by the modellers as discussed above.

      1. John, I find it amazing that you seem to have reversed your take on CO2 in just one year. I could not help but notice that you have offered no argument against any of the possible causes for warming that I presented. You simply skirted around them and presented your own model. I do not count models as evidence. I see zero evidence that links CO2 to climate change. No sustained correlation whatever over the entire history of Earth (about 4500 Ma before present, BP). So, what was the length of of your observed time series?
        I find the most consistent correlation to climate change (6 major ice ages including a ‘Snowball Earth’) the density of cosmic radiation, whether from our position in the galaxy (transition through Spiral Arms) to solar activity (which inhibits incoming cosmic radiation and results in warming). Cosmic radiation has a role in the formation of low-level cloud which reflect heat and causes cooling. Anyway, good luck with your modelling and I’ll stick to evidence.

        1. Aert. You have misunderstood. I have not “presented my own model”, I have developed a statistical method for calculating statistics such as climate sensitivity directly from observations. IT IS NOT A PHYSICAL MODEL! Like you I do not count physical models as evidence. As it happens the climate sensitivities predicted by climate models turned out, unexpectedly, to be largely in agreement with the climate sensitivity I calculated. I can’t help that. It is what it is. On the other hand the impulse response function of CO2 concentration due to CO2 emissions assumed by the modellers (and itself based on model output) is vastly different from the IRF I have calculated. The model IRF is ridiculous and underpins the alarmist belief in 300 year long time constants with a percentage of emitted CO2 remaining in the atmosphere “forever”. I note that the IPCC 6 WG 1 Report is very coy about revealing predicted future levels of CO2 suggesting that they know full well that their IRF is BS.

          Your discussion of the effect of cosmic radiation at ice age time scales is also a physical model and, as such, is not evidence. The only way to discredit physical models is by statistical testing of their predictions as I am doing, not by proposing alternative models.

          1. Thanks John, but I don’t know enough about statistical modelling to carry our discussion further. But every time I mentioned ‘model’ in my previous discussion, I meant ‘statistical model’ (method?). I don’t know how a physical model could apply to climate change. I don’t see a correlation between intensity of cosmic radiation and variation in low-level cloud formation (leading to climate change depending on duration) as a model, but simply as evidence. Best …

            1. Fair enough. For me it boils down to: “But what does the data say?”

            2. Dear Aert, you might as well give up here. This is not only a political issue, but financial-economic, and, of course, psychological and social. I’ve only come to this site today, but the argument here by admin/John is familiar. It’s a philosophical conundrum to answer arguments manufactured in a contrived and confected concatenation of pseudo-scientific modelling and statistical derivative conclusions based, if there is a clear answer against it, upon another layer of modelling, statistical mathematics and a derivative or two. Why the author here has changed his mind on this recently cannot be understood from his argument in defence of his new position.

            3. Jacob Jonker: see also a more technical account of these issues at my other blog, where Aert and I are working on a joint article, “Climate Change in Perspective”

  4. John, Interested to hear what you and your contributors think of the article in this Weekend’s Australian titled ” Laser fusion firm in energy “dream”. It refers to HB11 Energy and the work of Professor
    Heinrich Hora.
    One paragraph says “HB11 Energy’s fusion power has the theoretical potential to provide limitless cheap power free from harmful radiation.”

    1. Bruce. Yes, it is a great idea. Boron 11 has 5 protons and 6 neutrons. You bombard it with 600 KeV protons and the nucleus splits into 3 alpha particles (He atoms with 2 protons and 2 neutrons) You capture these with a metal sphere surrounding the Boron target and this generates an electric current. There is no radioactive waste and and no need to generate steam to drive a turbine. It is really nuclear fission not nuclear fusion. Hora’s team are generating the 600 KeV protons by heating a Boron Hydride target with chirped lasers. Their competitors in the US are accelerating a hydrogen plasma.

      1. Nice to see different voices on this topic, some of which I agree with.

        And this just in from the Guardian:

        ‘A leading Australian climate scientist says the national science agency, CSIRO, has been turned into a “very extravagant consulting company” under the Coalition, with its scientists barred from speaking publicly about government policy.

        ‘The warning from Prof David Karoly follows his retirement from the Commonwealth Science and Industry Research Organisation in February after more than 40 years as one of the most respected voices in climate science.

        ‘Karoly, who worked on four of the six major assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, returned to CSIRO in 2018. He agreed to head its Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub in the wake of the chief executive, Larry Marshall, making deep cuts to the organisation’s climate science capacity on the grounds the problem was “proven”.’

        1. Wikipedia: … Karoly, originally a sceptic (1980), has earned the reputation of being a climate scientist communicator with the ability to explain the complexities of his research to the general public. On The Australian Broadcasting Commission’s high ranking television program QndA wherein audience members can ask direct questions of experts, Karoly claimed his authority by stating in regard to his nemesis, “I am a climate scientist and Alan Jones is wrong.”

          In other words Karoly is/was a full-on climate activist seeking to use the CSIRO brand to push his own agenda. Marshall was correct in keeping him in check. Under the Westminster system, the function of public servants is to advise the Minister; they have no right to speak independently on behalf of their Department. This includes CSIRO employees.

          Marshall was right and the Guardian is wrong.

      2. I had to research this, never heard of the, apparently well known, hydrogen boron trick. Interesting that to me it looks like both fusion and fission, an interesting reaction. Fuse the extra proton into boron, and out fizzes the three helium atoms.

        I was in Pittsburgh at CMU when the cold fusion thing happened, I was as excited as everyone else, and I kept all the news articles in a folder, thinking that in the future they would be valuable mementoes. This HB11 thing is touted as low temperature. Perhaps overall, but of course the high reaction heat necessary is localised by the laser focussing. So not cold fusion/fission, but sounds pretty cool to me.

  5. This is an extract from this short post
    It shows the effect of wishful thinking about Weather-Dependent “Renewables”
    There are other posts on this site reinforcing the same point

    Overall Renewables in Europe achieved only 20% productivity 2015 – 2020. Expecting any better performance is pure Romanticism. “Renewable Energy” can never properly support a developed Nation

    As power sources, Wind and Solar energy are inherently dilute, intermittent and irregularly unreliable. The actual measured annual productivity or capacity percentage of Wind and Solar power Generation is poor, ~20%, when compared to dispatchable conventional generation, 90%. Providing a consistent National power supply becomes ever more difficult when it has to accommodate the sudden changes of output from “Renewables”. For National power production, reliability and consistency really matters.

    As Professor David Mackay FRS, (eminent Cambridge physicist and former chief scientific officer at the UK Department of Energy), said in an interview just before his untimely death in 2016, that the promotion of

    “Renewable Energy” was driven by an “appalling delusion”.

    The delusion has been perpetrated by people who have no understanding of the mathematics, engineering and practicalities of Energy technologies.

    Would anyone ever buy a car that only works one day in five, when you never know which day that might be ?

    And then try to use its technology to power the whole economy.

  6. I am pinning my hopes on the HB11 and other aneutronic fusion reactions, their being harnessed to produce electricity.

  7. Great ending :
    ‘We live in an age of degenerate Romanticism, according to which caring always trumps understanding . . .

    We have abandoned Utilitarianism to our cost . . . The real existential threat is the energy starvation we face in the very near future. We have to deal with it.’

  8. ” Nature is not producing more fossil fuel” ?

    Yes it is. Methane is produced abiogenically through the serpentinization of ultramafic rocks. This is actively occurring at abyssal ocean depths and along the midoceanic ridges.

    The US Geological Survey estimates there is a resource, an order of magnitude greater than all known hydrocarbons. The methane is in the form of clathrates, where the gas is trapped in ice.

    The Japanese are already trial-mining clathrates in deep water off their SE Coast

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