Future scenarios for ”Climate Change and Peak Fossil”

Posted on June 11, 2010


Before the symposium ”Climate Change and Peak Fossil” at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Karl Hallding presented his future scenarios as ”concept notes”,

“Scenarios are used to expand the understanding of possible future developments beyond what can be achieved by conventional future projections. As such, scenarios provide powerful capabilities for analyzing and debating the trade-offs between alternative complex societal developments.

There is a variety of approaches to scenarios development. One of the leading schools – known to many as the Shell approach – derives a scenarios logic by combining two dimensions of critical uncertainties into a two-by-two matrix. The resulting scenarios framework identifies four scenarios, each defined by combining the end points on the two uncertainty ranges, each marking the corner stones in a two-dimensional continuum of uncertainties. As such, this kind of scenarios framework could serve as a “wind tunnel” for testing our assumptions about the future, showing on weaknesses and vulnerabilities in our plans and policies for meeting future challenges.”

When I searched for Shell’s scenarios I found them in a presentation from January 2004. Someone from Rapport [a TV news program] was visiting and was interested in a detailed run-through on Peak Oil. If you are interested you can look at the presentation from 2004.

(A note related to another blog: In Debatt [a TV program] on SVT on April 1, Marian Radetzki accused me of continuously shifting forward the timepoint for peak oil. If you look at the presentation you will see that we have, rather, advanced the time for Peak Oil.)

The moment I read “The Shell approach” I got suspicious. In 2003 Shell presented two scenarios on future oil production that went under the names “Dynamic as Usual” and “Spirit of the Coming Age”. The first considered that we would find 2700 billion barrels of oil (Gb) by 2050, i.e. 58 Gb/y during 50 years. The second assumed 1500 Gb of oil or 30 Gb/r. They both showed a maximum in production of 40 Gb/y in 2050 or 2030 respectively which was a sensational idea at that time. Nevertheless, it was completely unrealistic compared with what Colin Campbell and I had published in the journal Minerals and Energy in the same year (download the paper). Our future production scenario was given the name, “Telling the Truth”.

During the Tällberg Forum in 2009 I discussed future energy supply with Gerald Davis and he related then that he was responsible for construction of the different scenarios that the IPCC presented in 2000. (You certainly know these as the scenario families A1, A2, B1 and B2.) He also said that he had earlier been responsible for the scenario studies at Shell (and a search of the internet confirms this).

We know now that the future according to Shell’s scenarios is wrong and now we have shown that the scenarios that the IPCC published in its Special Report on Emissions Scenarios from 2000 are also wrong. To hold up the Shell approach as an ideal does not seem very promising if one wishes to come close to the truth.

Karl Halldig related also that it was the military that began with scenario studies where the “Worst Case” was always included. One can imagine that it is good to have a “Worst Case” when one discusses scenarios with the politicians that decide on defense budgets. It was perfect to have scenario at hand that was sufficiently terrifying to ensure funding. The future that we want to describe does not need this extra spice. It is sufficient that it is the most believable scenario.

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