Extreme Temperature Diary- June 8, 2018/ Hot Topic: The Carbon Bubble?

Friday June 8th… Dear Diary. The main purpose of this ongoing post will be to track United States extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials)😊. Here is today’s main climate change related hot topic: 

The Carbon Bubble?

Not many people know the economics behind what really saved most whale species across the planet. Sure a few nations such as Japan and Norway continue to hunt and kill whales, but it wasn’t Greenpeace that orchestrated whale’s salvation. Instead during the 19th century the advent of the oil well brought an eventual close to the widespread use of whale oil to light homes. Cheap oil and natural gas from the ground made more expensive oil from whales obsolete. You can read more here:


Quoting from this article: “The first principal use of whale oil was as an illuminant in lamps and as candle wax.  Other uses came in time.  In the 1700’s it was noted that the burning oil from sperm whales glowed brightly and clearly and did not have a disagreeable odor like the oil from right whales did (Bonner, 1989).  The sperm whale was the main whale being sought for its oil when the petroleum industry opened in 1859.  The whale fishery, however, was in a declining state and had been so a decade or more before Drake struck petroleum in his drilled well and before general refining of crude oil commenced in Oil Creek Valley and elsewhere.”

It’s noted in the article that whale products were very slowly replaced by synthetics well after the advent of petroleum, which took decades after 1859. Now we have another transition of the major types of energy in use going from what I’ve termed “brown energy” to “green energy.” This week I noted the term “carbon bubble” was used in reference to a scenario taking place in about two decades in which those pumping and drilling for brown energy would become bankrupt as the cost of solar and wind energy plummets. Ha! Knowing human history in which the whale was hunted to near extinction long after other carbon energy sources became easier to procure, I bet that most discovered and fairly easily extracted coal and oil won’t be left in the ground despite a chorus of protests. Today I will make reference to this article: 


To start here is how the author of the paper, Dr. Jean-Francois Mercure, defines the “carbon bubble:”

Plunging prices for renewable energy and rapidly increasing investment in low-carbon technologies could leave fossil fuel companies with trillions in stranded assets and spark a global financial crisis, a new study has found.

A sudden drop in demand for fossil fuels before 2035 is likely, according to the study, given the current global investments and economic advantages in a low-carbon transition.

The existence of a “carbon bubble” – assets in fossil fuels that are currently overvalued because, in the medium and long-term, the world will have to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions – has long been proposed by academics, activists and investors. The new study, published on Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows that a sharp slump in the value of fossil fuels would cause this bubble to burst, and posits that such a slump is likely before 2035 based on current patterns of energy use.

Crucially, the findings suggest that a rapid decline in fossil fuel demand is no longer dependent on stronger policies and actions from governments around the world. Instead, the authors’ detailed simulations found the demand drop would take place even if major nations undertake no new climate policies, or reverse some previous commitments.

That is because advances in technologies for energy efficiency and renewable power, and the accompanying drop in their price, have made low-carbon energy much more economically and technically attractive.

Granted, since the Great Recession of 2008 and the advent of fracking the world has become awash in cheap oil adversely affecting Russia economically, for example, but this cheap energy is spurring new growth and an associated economic boom. Energy from green sources is being used on top of brown energy from new demand. We have already delved on this site into new demand for electricity due to cryptocurrency trading. Will those holding brown energy assets suffer the same fate as late 19th century whalers due to less demand? Yes and no.

As the planet heats in the 2020s and 2030s groups like Bill McKibben’s 350.org will have more political sway to keep black gold in the ground. Also, and this is a big if, widespread use of electric vehicles by the 2030s may cause a plummet in oil prices. During the next two decades, however,  just like whaler advocates, I suspect ingenious and perhaps unforeseen inventions from fossil carbon sources may prop prices up. We shall inevitably see if green logic and even fear overcome brown greed.


In other news our low grade heat episode or wave keeps on keeping on throughout the southern half of the country. On Saturday we will see some warmer 90s creeping their way northward through the western Plains:

At least we won’t see readings well above 100F tomorrow in west Texas.

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The Climate Guy

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