It seems quite clear that in the next 25 years or so most modern societies like the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, and others will be approaching net zero carbon emissions. If you like it or hate that, it doesn’t make any difference that is the direction we are are going.

How Both Sides Of The Climate Debate Are Misleading You

The problem is that many voices on both sides of the carbon climate issue, have intractable extreme positions which confuse consumers..  And the worst part is both of them all wrong. Put simply:

  • Sorry climate extremists, but everyone is not going to scrap their their 2 year old gas powered vehicle, replace all of their 3 year old natural gas appliances and install home solar panels in the next 18 months
  • Sorry climate change deniers, but vast majority of citizens and politicians in the industrialized world believe that climate change is an existential problem, mostly caused by man, and has already motivated them to demand a low carbon future

Those statements are perhaps not the most enlightening, for those of us who live in reality.  What you may not have thought through is something that the energy industry calls “Committed Emissions”.

What are Committed Emissions?

If you’re not thinking it through, you might reasonably believe that selling your gas car and buying an electric vehicle is actually reducing carbon emissions.  But if you think about if for even a few minutes, you will figure out that is not true.

crushing a new car

The expensive machines that consume carbon based fuels today will fade out as electrification takes over, but no company and very few individual citizens, are going to support the destruction of their good condition private property. If these machines are sold to someone else (as opposed to being physically destroyed, which would also be very bad for the environment) they will continue to produce carbon and other greenhouse gases for the rest of their useful life. And that gets us to the notion of “Committed Emissions”.

Committed Emissions are the carbon releases that will unavoidably come from the existing stock of energy consuming products over the remaining balance of their useful life. Things like cars and big rig trucks, along with small gasoline camper generators and massive data center diesel fired backup generators, are not going to be turned off and smashed tomorrow.

Committed Emissions By The Numbers

The precise number is debatable but most who study the environment or big industry agree that about 90% of our greenhouse gases come from energy consumption in one form or another.

It is also generally accepted that if were to aggressively change our carbon spewing greenhouse gas machines out at their shortest useful life span, that the global temperature increase would be about 1.9 degrees.

It’s also important to note that there are a few select categories of greenhouse gas emitting machines that will not live out the rest of their useful lives. For example, almost all jurisdictions in the world are trying to phase out coal fired electricity power plants well before they would naturally be replaced.

The heart of Canada’s energy country is Alberta and they had many coal fired power plants that were expected to have a useful life into the 2040’s, but government regulation required them to be turned off by 2030 and it appears that Alberta’s last coal fired power plant will be shut down near the end of 2022 due too both public and shareholder pressures.

Alberta Canada coal fired power consumption ends in 2022 - chart from 2000 - 2025

What is the Shortest Useful Lifespan?

When we say “shortest useful lifespan” think of a brand new internal combustion engine vehicle produced this very day and how long it would last into the future. You could probably stretch that vehicle to a 20 year life and there is no way it’s going to have less than a 10 year life so a fair number for calculation purposes might assume the shortest useful life span to be 14 or 15 years.

Obviously the shortest useful life span differs wildly by product category. For example, a gasoline backup generator that you have for your camper might be around for 30 or even 40 years if it’s not used too much.




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