Feb 13Liked by Noah Smith

I think the statement that energy density is the key metric for batteries is wrong. It of course used to be, but it's a metric that only matters for EVs, electric planes, laptops, wearables, etc. all of which are either good enough or will never be good enough (electric planes), even with the theoretically optimal lithium-air battery. In general transportation isn't that large a % of global emissions anyway; we should offset it with carbon capture.

On the other hand, the application that really matters nowadays is grid storage, which doesn't care about gravimetric energy density at all -- it cares a little bit about volumetric energy density, but not that much since the cost of batteries to fill a grid storage facility is so much larger than the cost of the facility or the land it sits on. The metric that really matters is dollars per unit energy stored over the lifetime of the battery. A close approximant is dollars per unit energy stored in a battery -- the difference is that the former doesn't allow a battery maker to cheat by making a battery that dies after a small number of recharge cycles. Currently promising technologies (as far as I know -- I'm not a battery expert) for this are sodium-ion, iron-sulfur, and liquid electrode batteries. I think in general we're a lot farther down the learning curve for energy density than cost, which is exciting for grid storage.

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You made some claims that are well-supported by data (such as high temperatures in 2023), but then followed that up with the unsupported claim that climate chance is causing a steep rise in diasters. You say, "A steep rise in disasters over just a couple of decades has to be almost entirely due to a more dangerous natural environment." That claim so thoroughly lacks support in your post that it's hard to believe you made it. You have so thoroughly swallowed the scientifically unsupported claim that climate change is a disaster you aren't even questioning the claims being made.

The problems with that chart are numerous. Let's assume the data is accurate, which is hardly a given. The US inflation-adjusted GPD has nearly tripled, which explains most of the growth in the graph. As cities get bigger and more expensive (even on an inflation-adjusted basis), you would expect more isolated incidents to pass an arbitrary high threshold that was just barely being reached in 1980. That, of course, is what happened. So I have done a better job than Noah explaining that chart, without any reference to climate change!

Has it occurred to you that "number of billion-dollar disasters" seems like kind of an odd metric? Wouldn't we care more about total disaster cost or, even better, total disaster cost per GDP? Why focus on "number of billion-dollar disasters"? A cynic might think its because it's an arbitrary threshold that shows huge growth that doesn't reflect reality. Climate alarmists surely wouldn't act in bad faith like that, right?

Well, let's look at what climate.gov has to say! They should be a reliable source, right? This page includes a similar claim as Noah: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/blogs/beyond-data/2023-historic-year-us-billion-dollar-weather-and-climate-disasters . A glance at the graph shows the growth in number of events is almost entirely due to an increase in billion dollar storms. The site even says, "Severe storms have caused the highest number of billion-dollar disaster events (186), but they have the lowest average event cost ($2.4 billion), not surprising given their localized nature." In other words, the growth of billion-dollar natural disasters is due to storms slightly eclipsing that threshold as urban density has increased. No link to climate change needed!

If you want to convince people that climate change is a problem for humanity, you're going to have to do better than that. I think the reason the arguments for climate change being a calamity are so weak is because there is no good science-based and data-based argument that climate change is particularly dangerous, or even a net negative. If you want a level-headed analysis of the overall effects of climate change on humanity, I suggest https://daviddfriedman.substack.com/p/a-climate-science-textbook.

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Feb 13Liked by Noah Smith

I also want to see a chart of the number of climate-motivated soup attacks on artistic masterpieces per year.

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Feb 13Liked by Noah Smith

Thanks for the rational summary. Just the fact that Texas leads in this country in "green energy" production should help emphasize the story behind the charts. It isn't politics, it is economics and profits.

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I have wondered for a while how much the climate debate in the US is harmed by the fact that it happens in Celsius.

Once this came up among my very red-state family, and on a whim I just converted units. They said something about who cares about three degrees. Since 3 degrees Celsius is about 6 degrees Fahrenheit, I just said “well if you convert to Fahrenheit that’s the summer high averaging 104 instead of 98. The reaction was shocked silence, then a subject change.

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Feb 13Liked by Noah Smith

"FUD — for the non-finance types, that’s “fear, uncertainty, and doubt”"

That's also an ancient IT term.

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Love it ! One more set of charts you may want to add to your formidable set of today is the impact of electronics technology on efficiency. There are two levels of interest:

1) Smart infrastructure: buildings, appliances, ...... the net impact is a jump in energy efficiency (advanced)

2) Electrification of Transportation: Yes... this is EVs, but stretches into autonomy+micro mobility (early stage)

Finally, the big issue are the utilities...they more slowly, but are getting there.

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Feb 13·edited Feb 13Liked by Noah Smith

Great column Noah! I think the effect from remote work is being underestimated. It’s really going to help in reducing the amount people drive. To prove that it should be one of the data points that get tracked and given equal billing with EV adoption.

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Your analysis is utterly misleading as it ignores the reality of the all but inevitable catastrophic future facing humanity and the natural world.

First global warming will not stop even if net 0 is somehow reached in the coming decades.

You ignore the most critical new research in recent years which demonstrates the high likelihood that catastrophic multiple reinforcing largely irreversible tipping points are being activated at temperatures around 1.5° C to 2° C in places like the Amazon, ocean ice, permafrost the AMOC and more.

As recently as a decade or so ago scientists believed that these planetary scale critical ecosystems would not tip over until temperatures reached 3 or 4° above pre-industrial levels

So while the likelihood of higher temperatures may be somewhat less the impacts generated at lower temperature increases will doom humanity and the natural world.

One has to be willfully blind to not acknowledge that for example wildfires in the Canadian forests this past summer were multiple times more destructive than any previous year demonstrating that impacts will not increase linearly but much faster than that.

The only hope is if the world community comes together and commits to massively remove the CO2 from the atmosphere that is the direct cause of the climate crisis and also directly cools the planet through sunshine reflection massive ecosystem restoration and similar means.

This approach that I have labeled as the climate triad - accelerated emission reductions, large scale removal and direct cooling of the climate - is the only way to avoid climate catastrophe.

The statistics and trends that you mention are irrelevant in the context of the new and tragic reality as shown by recent climate science


This paper by the world’s leading tipping point researchers at Exeter University presents these grim tipping point conclusions.

Climate science has also concluded that even if tipping points are not activated at temperatures near to what the world is experiencing now the sharply elevated temperatures in existence when the world reaches net zero will remain sharply elevated for literally CENTURIES along with Accelerated sea level rise and continuing ecosystem collapse.

I guarantee that no one on the planet would look forward to living such a dystopian existence.

I haven’t even talked about the ecological collapse that is devastating the world’s oceans and much of the world’s non-human life and will only get relentlessly worse.

You have a very influential voice Noah and I hope and trust that you will take off your rose colored Climate glasses and investigate the unthinkable reality that faces humanity and the natural world in the coming years.

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Great piece full of common sense, untainted by politics. Thank you.

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The charts showing 3,500,000 gigawatt/hours of intermittent solar/wind in 2023 make the one showing 100 gigawatt/hours of battery storage installed in 2023 look ridiculously minuscule in comparison.

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Can you provide a reference to how global surface air temperature is actually estimated? I imagine it’s somehow an area-weighted average of actual measurements at meteorological stations, but the distribution of stations is highly irregular and of course there are few in the oceans. Perhaps satellite measurements are used, but those were not available until recently so then there’s the problem of integrating older and newer data from different sources.

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Have you looked at the abnormal warming of 2023 being related with the reduction of so2 emissions as a result of change in policy of marine fuel mix?


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This is great. I'm about to publish a coffee table art book LEFT BEHIND by a photographer who works as a global energy consultant specializing in the decommissioning of coal power plants. Everything you say is what he has been teaching me over the last three years. You’re inspiring me to market the hell out of this stunning and beautiful book.

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Solar and wind energy are no longer intermittent because of a significant increases in battery energy density (silicon anodes) and safety (technology mitigating thermal runway). Solid state batteries (greater energy density a safety) may be commercially available in another five years. Super-conductivity technologies will enhance wind turbine electrical systems as well as mitigate loss of electricity in transmission lines.

Nuclear energy is DOA because of protracted timeline of both development and outrageous cost overruns. Creating another massive toxic waste threat via generation of nuclear waste is not a solution but a problem handed to millennia of future generations. Contrary to green-washing of nuclear power history, the industry has a shitty record in just 75 years. There are climate-deniers and nuclear waste hazard-deniers.

“Managing” the forests is likely also DOA. Fifty years of fire suppression can’t be fixed without a much greater scale of prescribed burning for 50 years. The problem is this would generate significant air pollution. I have fought wildfires in Oregon, as well as done fieldwork in wildfire smoke for almost entire six-month seasons. In fact, my residence burned down in 2015 when I was away in a Spike Fire Camp fighting this same 110,000-acre fire. All firefighters have particles in their lungs, as well as residents in communities near forests. I doubt the AMA would support burning on an even greater scale. The best policy would be to let nature “manage” forests. But the problem is the same: the public doesn’t like it when wildfires are allowed to burn.

Climate change also presents a problem. NOAA’s long-term forecast for the Northwest calls for wetter winters/early springs followed by record heatwaves and extended droughts. In short, this significantly increases the ground cover/fuel load on the forest floor, making for even more intense wild fires. In the 2023 USFS Fire Refresher, double vortexes and fire tornadoes were addressed. These rare events are increasingly more common as are firefighter deaths.

What’s really insane is building-out more new electrical transmission lines over hundreds of miles of desiccated forests. The wind and heat generated by today’s wildfires can easily snap transmission lines, whether they be new or old. Decentralizing power stations/energy generation would require smaller electricity transmission distances, reducing fire danger and saving electricity loss over great distances. From a national security standpoint, it also makes sense to differentiate into hundreds of smaller AltGreen energy power stations.

Building concentration into the grid makes about as much sense as rebuilding a beach house after the latest tropical storm or Hurricane has washed/blew it away. In the long term, the insurance companies will dictate policy (literally). Large swaths of the country are becoming uninsurable because of climate change-induced disasters. The number of days between billion-dollar natural disasters. Insurance companies answer not to property owners, but to huge pension funds and sovereign wealth funds. They are not in the business of paying out billions for insurance policies that should not be written. The insurance models go out 20 years, aren’t based on the situation on the ground in 2024. As with most problems, economics will dictate decision-making in re climate change.

Long term, big picture: for the first time in 2008 more people lived in metropolitan areas than the countryside. The majority of people poured in to coastal cities, where globalization infrastructure created the most jobs and economic opportunity. With rising oceans, a massive retreat from coastal cities is likely. Climate change and civil unrest has created the largest number of migrants/refugees in modern history. No one country and it’s border policies and walls is the solution. It’s an international problem that can only be solved via international cooperation.

Time will tell if the world is up to the challenge. My fellow Baby Boomers have blown it and are whining about the succeeding generations. So cliche. I have confidence in Millennials, Gens X, Y, Z, and Alpha. They are so much more advanced than Baby Boomers were at their stages of life. They are also more tolerant of other people. I work in fieldwork related to silviculture and wildlife and I’m blown away in re how talented, technologically adept, and diligent are the coming generations. Okay, Boomer!

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