Saturday, August 8, 2009
- Vacation — and a small change in blogging style
- Well-known climate analyst, author of 'The Honest Broker' urges people "Please Read Climate Progress"
- Energy and Global Warming News for August 7th: Amory Lovins "pushing the envelope of what's possible" with home efficiency innovations at his "Banana Farm"
Posted: 07 Aug 2009 06:31 PM PDT
I'm going to Maine for two weeks starting Saturday. That means I'll probably be blogging at most 2 hours a day on weekdays — yes, it wouldn't be a true vacation if I couldn't blog at all.
I will be giving a talking in Portland on Tuesday, August 18th at 7 pm. This is a state with two swing Senators after all! Details to come for all you New Englanders.
I aim to have a fair number of guest posts, though. I'm also trying a small change in my blogging style, to accommodate this trip and the time I need to spend working on my book through mid-September.
Normally, about 2/3 of my posts take me some 60 to 90 minutes to write and about 1/3 take 90 to 180 minutes. I've been trying to do more 30-minute posts in the last few days, in case you hadn't noticed, and I expect to continue that for another month. If it proves successful, I'll keep doing it.
Comments and suggestions welcome!
Posted: 07 Aug 2009 01:05 PM PDT
Now that they* have shut down his original popular blog Prometheus, I don't read his new obscure blog, cleverly named "Roger Pielke Jr.'s Blog." As an aside, I'm guessing Pielke's gonna follow up his book, The Honest Broker, with one titled Roger Pielke's book. But I digress.
So it wasn't until googlealerts pinged me this morning that I learned about Pielke's July 31 plea to his readers to "Please Read Climate Progress." Yes, I know what you're thinking, "he's got a dwindling number of readers, Joe, so what does it really matter if he asks them to Please Read Climate Progress?" But I say it does matter when any blogger uses his or her precious real estate to reach out and selflessly urge people — plea with them, really — to read someone else's blog.
Yes, I still know what you're thinking, "RPJ, has a tiny little problem with falsehoods — he simply can't stop uttering them over and over and over again."
Now you're just trying to hurt my feelings. I mean, he even ends his post:
That's as sincere RPJ gets!
Yes, I still know what you're thinking, "RPJ is just trying to pretend that he's more reasonable than you are, so the media will continue to be suckered into believing his contrarian bullsh!t, believing he is an honest broker."
To which I reply, I don't think anybody's going to be fooled into thinking Roger is reasonable when he still seems to be his old vicious self, writing:
Now anyone would say that accusing somebody of not blogging what they believe but merely what they are paid to say or suggesting that what they write is policed by their bosses under threat of firing is the most outrageous form of attack on one's professional integrity. And of course, an utter falsehood, as anyone who knows me or CAP. And if I were like RPJ, I'd demand he offer any proof of that libelous statement.
But I'm just going to take that apparent smear to be good ole' Roger's obscurely wry sense of humor. After all, if Pielke really believed half the crap he writes, if he really believed that sentence, for instance, he couldn't possibly "strongly encourage" people to read my blog. It would be intellectually dishonest to recommend the blog of someone you really thought was blogging a certain way because "his salary depends" on it. No honest broker could do that. And of course my regular readers know that I'm no bulldog cheerleader for the B- Waxman-Markey bill as I've noted many times.
No, this is just Pielke having fun with everyone. He's a real kidder.
Even funnier, Pielke claims that since I began writing about him, "Sales of The Honest Broker jump as well." Who else but Roger would brag that my critiques have sent his book soaring all the way to #279,894 on Amazon. He cracks me up!
Yeah, Pielke humorously asserts "he has falsely accused my university of violating my academic freedom by shutting down our blog, Prometheus." But anyone who reads the posts knows that I never did any such thing. I wrote
True, I carelessly didn't explain who I meant by "they" — although I clearly did say in the comments section that I was trying to be snarky, to needle someone who had so viciously humorously misrepresented what I wrote, which I thought would be obvious to anyone with a sense of humor like Roger. So let me explain what I meant, why I put an asterisk next to "they" in the second paragraph above.
By "they" I meant "all of Rogers different personalities." You know, the personality that allows him to say on the one hand that he believes the IPCC science and that we must stabilize around 500 ppm and the other personality who only offers policies that would lead to 1000 ppm and who trashes anybody who suggests policies that would get close to 500 ppm or better. Or the personality that told Nature "Clearly since 1970 climate change (i.e., defined as by the IPCC to include all sources of change) has shaped the disaster loss record" and later praised a study that finds there is a better than 50% chance that human-emissions are contributing to increased losses from hurricanes since 1971. That personality is clearly a whole 'nother person than the one who harshly smears the professional reputation of any scientist who says anything remotely similar and even more harshly attacks the professional reputation of hundreds of scientists who merely sat quietly in an audience listening to someone say something similar.
So whenever I write, "now that they have shut down his original blog," you'll all get the joke that I mean "now that Roger's various personalities have agreed to shut down his original blog" — but of course it won't be funny anymore now that I've explained it. Darn.
The bottom line is that other than his plea to his readers to read Climate Progress, you should just make it your working assumption that every single thing Roger Pielke Jr. writes is a joke. That's why I have filed this under "Humor."
Posted: 07 Aug 2009 11:03 AM PDT
[JR: A nice story on a green building I had the pleasure of working in for two years in the early 1990s. Click on figure for interactive floorplan.]
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- Breaking: GOP Sen. Martinez to resign
- The top 5 ways the 'birthers' are like the deniers
- Unemployment rate drops for first time in 15 months
- Is this the fastest rebuttal of a denier study in history?
- China softens climate rhetoric, commits to emissions peak (again), shows flexibility on Western reductions
- Is a 4-day workweek inevitable? Utah cuts energy use 13%
- Tony Blair, Climate Group, and CAP call for strong technology deployment policy driven by a carbon price, innovative financing, and serious technology standards
- NSIDC: Arctic ice melts quickly through July
Posted: 07 Aug 2009 09:43 AM PDT
Probably not positive news for the climate and clean energy bill. Martinez was, according to fivethirtyeight.com's Nate Silver, only a 6.89% "Probability of a Yes Vote" (see "Epic Battle 3: Who are the swing Senators?") — but most political honchos I know put him at a straight "undecided." That said, we have no idea who his replacement will be …
… except that he or she will be a placeholder chosen by one of the more climate-friendly GOP governors (see "Florida, Part 1: A 50% GHG cut by 2025 will SAVE the state $28 billion").
So that person will be relatively free to vote their conscience on the single most important public decision that person will ever makes in their entire life, the one they'll be remembered by for generations and generations to come — whether to try to save Florida from utter destruction.
Posted: 07 Aug 2009 08:27 AM PDT
The people who refuse to accept the reality that President Obama was born in the United States share much in common with those who refuse to accept the reality that humans are dramatically changing the climate.
5. Both groups are impervious to the evidence. During the campaign, "Obama released a certification of live birth, which is the official document you get if you ask Hawaii for a copy of your birth certificate," as Salon explains. Further, "state officials have repeatedly affirmed its authenticity and said they've checked it against the original record and that Obama was indeed born in Hawaii." Politico labels this "seemingly incontrovertible evidence." Similarly, the reality of human-caused warming has been overwhelmingly demonstrated and affirmed by the peer-reviewed literature, the hundreds of scientists who review and report on that literature periodically as part of the IPCC process and the more than 100 world governments (including the Bush Administration) who approved the 2007 IPCC summary reports word for word (see "Absolute MUST Read IPCC Report: Debate over, further delay fatal, action not costly" and "Can you PROVE to me that global warming is being caused by mankind?"*).
4. Both come from the same group of people. The NYT explained that the birther movement "first took root among some staunchly conservative elements." As Politico notes, "A whopping 58 percent of Republicans either think Barack Obama wasn't born in the US (28 percent) or aren't sure (30 percent)." And it is conservatives and Republicans who make up the overwhelming majority of those who question climate science (see "The Deniers are winning, but only with the GOP").
3. Both group get their disinformation from the same right-wing sources. The NYT wrote on June 24 that "Despite ample evidence to the contrary, the country's most popular talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh, told his listeners on Tuesday that Mr. Obama "has yet to have to prove that he's a citizen." " Similarly, Limbaugh tells his listeners things like, "Despite the hysterics of a few pseudo-scientists, there is no reason to believe in global warming."
2. Both groups have an underlying motivation — their desire to obstruct progressive government action. The birthers, of course, are trying to delegitimize Obama, to block his entire reform agenda. NYT science reporter Andy Revkin noted about one huge conference of global warming deniers, "The one thing all the attendees seem to share is a deep dislike for mandatory restrictions on greenhouse gases." As I explain at length in my book, a central reason that conservatives and libertarians reject the scientific understanding of human-caused climate change is that they simply cannot stand the solution.
1. Both groups believe in a mammoth conspiracy theory. The birthers not only believe that Obama's birth documents are forged and that current Hawaii state officials are lying about them. They have to believe in a conspiracy dating back five decades, as Salon explains: two Hawaiian newspapers carried announcements of Obama's birth in August 1961. (Read the Honolulu Advertiser's item from Aug. 13, 1961, nine days after Obama's birth, here.)…. The truth, though, is that the notices are even stronger pieces of evidence than that. Obama's family didn't place them — Hawaii did, as it does for all births. The announcements were based on official records sent to the papers by the state's Department of Health."
Deniers like Senator James Inhofe (R-OIL) or Anthony Watts proudly assert or repeat statements like "global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public" or "the biggest whopper ever sold to the public in the history of humankind" [see "Diagnosing a victim of anti-science syndrome (ASS)"]. That hoax would require complicity among thousands of climate scientists, all of the leading scientific journals, the National Academies of Science around the world (including ours) and every major U.S. scientific organization (see "Yet more scientists call for deep GHG cuts"). Such statements accuses every major government, including ours, of participating in that conspiracy, since they all sign off on every word in the Assessment Report summaries.
The differences between the birthers and the deniers, however, are bigger than the similarities. The birthers are relatively harmless, the mainstream media has mostly debunked them and relegated them to a side show. The deniers, however, still get regular play in the MSM and are far, far more dangerous. If enough Americans, opinion makers, and policymakers continue to listen to the deniers message of delay, delay, delay, we will destroy a livable climate, ruining the health and well-being of the next 50 generations to walk the planet.
The birthers are stuck in the past. The deniers want to destroy the future.
Posted: 07 Aug 2009 06:39 AM PDT
It may not be fair, but the likelihood of climate legislation passing the Senate in November (or later) depends critically on such seemingly unrelated matters as whether the Senate can pass health care reform and what the state of the economy is. So the latest job report — along with other recent economic news like the better-than-expected GDP report from Monday — is a big deal:
We've till got a long way to go to dig ourselves out of the economic hole abyss Bush-Cheney put us in, but we appear to have bottomed — thanks in part to the stimulus — and I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to get 60 votes for ending the inevitable and immoral conservative filibuster the Senate will need to overcome to pass the climate and clean energy bill.
Posted: 06 Aug 2009 06:40 PM PDT
The deniers have been trumpeting an atrocious study that made it into the July 23 edition of Journal of Geophysical Research, "Influence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric temperature." The top anti-scientific blog, WattsUpWithThat crowed, "Surge in global temperatures since 1977 can be attributed to a 1976 climate shift in the Pacific Ocean":
But let's not waste time quoting that "atrocious paper," as RealClimate puts it, with a couple of debunking links here. The occasional atrocious denier paper sometimes makes it through the peer-reviewed process. What's truly remarkable here is that some of the top climate scientists in the country already have a response submitted for publication in JGR — see full article here.
Last year saw "A new Olympic record for retraction of a denier talking point," but this would seem to be some sort of a world record for scientific rebuttal.
The 9 (!) rebuttal authors span the globe from Japan to the UK to New Zealand to Colorado and New York, reading like a who's who of global climate science: G. Foster, J. D. Annan, P. D. Jones, M. E. Mann, B. Mullan, J. Renwick, J. Salinger, G. A. Schmidt, and K. E. Trenberth. Here's the abstract:
Ouch! One wonders how MFC09 made it through peer review in the first place. JGR really, really screwed up. Here is the conclusion of Foster et al.:
Doh. Or is that Duh?
Either way, this won't silence the deniers — since they are not persuadable by evidence (see "Can you PROVE to me that global warming is being caused by mankind?"*). But everyone else can rest assured that the scientific process works itself out, 99 peer-reviewed papers out of 100 make clear humans are already changing the climate, and, tragically, the threat to the health and well-being of the next 50 generations posed by human-generated emissions of GHGs remains unabated.
Very big hat tip to Andy Revkin (his twitter comments are here) for sending me the link to Foster et al.
Posted: 06 Aug 2009 05:19 PM PDT
This guest post is by Julian L. Wong and Austin Davis at the Center for American Progress.
Multiple news outlets have been reporting that yesterday's news conference with China's top climate change ambassador, Yu Qingtai, marked a significant departure from China's established attitudes toward climate change. He also expressed a degree flexibility regarding China's previous demands that developed nations pledge to reduce their carbon emissions 40% by 2020 from 1990 levels at Copenhagen this December.
It's true: Wednesday's conference provided a more explicit explanation of China's position on climate change than had been offered previously. Yu reaffirmed China's commitment to eventually reducing its carbon emissions while giving more specific details as to China's position on the Copenhagen talks.
Great quotes like "there is no one in the world who is more keen than us to see China reach its emissions peak as early as possible" may have caused a stir among the western media, but this is not really news.
Influential Chinese scholars have been pushing for a peaking pathway for some time now. Hu Angang, a public policy professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a prominent policy adviser for the Chinese government, has advocated for China to aim for a peaking of carbon emissions in 2030, while He Jiankun, deputy head of the State Council's Expert Panel on Climate Change Policy has projected that China's emissions are more likely to peak at 2035. Similarly, a report (executive summary in Chinese only) by one of the most influential Chinese government think tanks, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has called for peaking between 2030 and 2040.
And just last month, China officially committed itself to establish a pathway for peaking by signing off on the July 9th Declaration of the Leaders of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, which stated that "The peaking of global and national emissions should take place as soon as possible." While the relevant provision lacks a timetable and is laden with the caveat of the "overriding priorities in developing countries", the MEF declaration provides precedent for Yu's comments on emissions peaking.
So, what are the practical implications of China's new climate-engaged rhetoric? While they're opening two new coal plants per week, the Chinese are using the low energy demand caused by the recent recession as an opportunity to shut down their less efficient coal plants and replace them with some of the most efficient in the industry. Meanwhile, China has been making sincere investment and policy efforts to support clean energy technologies (see "China Begins Its Transition to a Clean-Energy Economy").
Yu stopped short of explicitly recanting China's previous demands for developed countries to cut 40% of their emissions by 2020:
So while Yu maintained the developing world's rhetorical virulence against the historical climate injustices committed by the developed world, it seems clear that China's push for a real climate deal by the end of the year is to be taken seriously.
What is interesting about these new statements by Yu, which portray an increased willingness to engage in the international climate process, is how they coincide with recent actions of two fellow non-Annex I (or "developing") countries. Earlier this week, South Korea surprised the world by pledging to set a 2020 carbon emissions target, while Mexico announced that it will offer a substantive plan to cut greenhouse gases for developing countries at Copenhagen. As the first non-Annex I countries endorsing a capping of emissions, South Korea and Mexico show that the developing world is paying attention to climate change even when many in America prefer not to (see "South Korea, a 'developing' country, embraces 2020 emissions cap, with important implications for a global deal in Copenhagen").
The media has missed a broader story — The shift in tenor of these major non-Annex I countries, as reflected in these announcements, should offer pause to the pessimists who think that the impasse between the developed and the developing world in reaching a global deal in Copenhagen is insurmountable.
Posted: 06 Aug 2009 04:07 PM PDT
Even before we get desperate about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, even before the global Ponzi scheme collapses, gasoline prices are going to blow past $4 a gallon (see World's top energy economist warns peak oil threatens recovery: "We have to leave oil before oil leaves us"). So it seems inevitable that much of the nation will adopt the 4-day work week sometime over the next two decades — especially if the results of Utah's program are replicated by others.
Aaron Newton in an Oil Drum post, estimates that a national 4-day work week would save 5% to 10% of the more than 8 million barrels a day he calculates that U.S. commuters use. And he notes there would be other environmental and health benefits
Scientific American quotes John Langmaid, who is organizing an upcoming symposium on the issue for the Connecticut Law Review:
And outgoing Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman explains "the cost savings will only grow if the four-day workweek is granted permanent status":
And the folks in Utah seem to like it:
Seems inevitable, no?
And the lighter side, from My25percent.com:
Posted: 06 Aug 2009 03:02 PM PDT
Tony Blair and the Climate Group have written an excellent report, "Breaking the Climate Deadlock: Technology for a Low Carbon Future (PDF)."
While they endorse strong investment in technology development — as the Center for American Progress (CAP) and virtually everyone else does — it is squarely focused on the crucial role that strong government regulations and standards play in achieving the rapid technology deployment needed to meet key 2020 greenhouse gas targets. And it endorses a strong carbon price — as CAP and virtually all serious independent groups do (with a few strange exceptions) — as a necessary means of achieving emissions reductions sufficient to preserve a livable climate.
Let's start with Blair's detailed strategy for achieving significant global emissions reductions in 2020 — which is the cornerstone of any real plan to avert catastrophic global warming. Here is the first conclusion from the executive summary:
The key point is that direct government funding can't possibly be the primary source of this enormous investment, as I've argued repeatedly (see "The only way to win the clean energy race is to pass the clean energy bill"). And that's why Blair's second conclusion is one I've made many times:
Of course, that is precisely why the climate and clean energy bill passed by the House contains virtually every one of these provisions — except the vehicle and fuel standards, which Obama and Congress have dealt with separately. Yes, the RES is too weak and should be strengthened — as CAP, for one, is trying to do — but the efficiency codes and standards and the REDD funding in the bill are tremendous. As, of course, are Obama's vehicle efficiency standards (see "Obama to raise new car fuel efficiency standard to 39 mpg by 2016 — The biggest step the U.S. government has ever taken to cut CO2").
Bottom Line: If you want the kind of fast climate action the climate crisis demands, you must combine aggressive government technology standards with a shrinking carbon cap that drives a rising carbon price.
In the long term, of course, you need steady technology advances plus a pretty high price for CO2. As the Blair reports states:
How high a CO2 price? The Blair report doesn't say explicitly, but if you read the report you'll see they rely heavily on the International Energy Agency's analysis:
The IEA is also the group that concluded "The total required annual average investment to scale technology up to the required level is approximately $1 trillion between now and 2050." Again that kind investment can only come from the private sector.
Also the marginal cost of CO2 — what the allowance price would have to rise to — is at least $200 a ton in the BLUE Map scenario, if the key technologies advance to the point where they are sufficiently cost-effective (otherwise the price could be much higher). The IEA's good news is that:
That's right, if the aggressive technology strategy turns out more successful than not, the average price of CO2 emissions reductions might be as low as $38/ton of CO2 in the 450 ppm case. But there is no escape from a high marginal cost, a high permit price, certainly above $100 a ton, if you want to have a shot at avoiding catastrophic global warming. You can read more about the IEA study here:
So I think the Blair report is another important contribution to climate policy — one that looks very consistent with everything the Center for American progress has argued. You need a carbon price mechanism like cap-and-trade, one that ultimately leads to a serious carbon price post-2020. But for near-term emissions reductions, you can combine a modest carbon price with strong government regulations and standards.
[And yes, I am aware that The Breakthrough Institute has utterly misrepresented the findings of this report and recent work by CAP. What else is new?]
Posted: 06 Aug 2009 10:38 AM PDT
You can read more of the National Snow and Ice Data Center's update here. Breaking the 2007 sea ice area record seems unlikely, as NSIDC explains in the update. But breaking the 2008 sea ice volume record is still a serious possibility (see "Will we see record low Arctic ice VOLUME this year?").
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Friday, August 7, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
- NOAA: "El Niño is expected to strengthen and last through" winter — record temperatures are coming
- Energy and Global Warming News for August 6th: Arctic Ocean "could be a stagnant, polluted soup" by 2070 without sharp GHG cuts
- Coal industry flack says mountaintop removal solves 'lack of flat space' in Appalachia
- How the Senate can fix cost containment in the climate bill with 'price collar plus'
- Obama announces $2.4B in stimulus funds for U.S. batteries and EVs: "I don't want to just reduce our dependence on foreign oil and then end up being dependent on their foreign innovations."
- Unscientific America 2: Buy the book — and read it.
- Energy and Global Warming News for August 5th: Mexico working on plan to cut CO2 growth; Clean energy rises at old manufacturing sites
Posted: 06 Aug 2009 10:03 AM PDT
NOAA's National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center released its monthly El Niño/Southern oscillation (ENSO) Diagnostic Discussion:
This announcement is not surprising news — it mainly means the ENSO models are on track (see NOAA says "El Niño arrives; Expected to Persist through Winter 2009-10″ — and that means record temperatures are coming and this will be the hottest decade on record).
But this evolving story remains a big deal from the perspective of heating up global temperatures and cooling off denier talking points. After all, the La Niña conditions over the past 18 months helped temporarily mute the strong human-caused warming signal, allowing the global warming deniers to push their nonsensical global cooling meme with the help of the status quo media (see "Media enable denier spin 1: A (sort of) cold January  doesn't mean climate stopped warming").
Remember, back in January, NASA had predicted: "Given our expectation of the next El Niño beginning in 2009 or 2010, it still seems likely that a new global temperature record will be set within the next 1-2 years, despite the moderate negative effect of the reduced solar irradiance."
So I will continue posting at least monthly updates. Regular readers can skip the rest of this post (though it does have some new figues).
It is the warming in the Nino 3.4 region of the Pacific that is typically used to define an El Niño. The region can be seen in this figure:
How are El Niño and La Niña defined?
As the planet warms decade by decade thanks to human emissions of greenhouse gases, global temperature records tend to be set in El Niño years, like 2005, 1998, and 2007, whereas sustained La Niñas tend to cause relatively cooler years.
Human-caused global warming is so strong, however, that as NASA explained, it took a serious La Niña, plus unusually sustained low levels of solar irradiance, to make 2008 as cool as it was. Yet, notwithstanding the global warming deniers and the status quo media, 2008 wasn't actually cool. Indeed, 2008 was almost 0.1°C warmer than the decade of the 1990s averaged as a whole. And not that there was any realistic chance global temperatures would collapse this year, but now it is quite safe to say that "this will be the hottest decade in recorded history by far." The 2000s are on track to be nearly 0.2°C warmer than the 1990s. And that temperature jump is especially worrisome since the 1990s were only 0.14°C warmer than the 1980s.
If we have a moderate to strong El Niño, then, as NASA says, record global temperatures are all but inevitable. The NCDC already reported June was the second hottest on record with ocean temperatures the warmest on record — a full 0.11°F warmer than the 2005 record. It typically takes several months for ENSO to impact global temps.
And this brings us back to NOAA's updated prediction. Here were the model forecasts from June:
Figure 5. Forecasts of sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies for the Niño 3.4 region (5°N-5°S, 120°W-170°W). Figure courtesy of the International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society. Figure updated 15 June 2009.
Now here is the update as of July 16 [don't ask me why these are always 3 weeks old, ask NOAA]:
Note that the June models that predicted a strengthening were correct. Also, Nino 3.4 in July averaged more than +0.8°C, so again, we see the July models that had predicted strengthening seem to be more accurate.
A hot summer and fall — how timely that would be for debating a climate bill?
Posted: 06 Aug 2009 09:03 AM PDT
Posted: 06 Aug 2009 05:32 AM PDT
You can't make this stuff up — and you can't keep up with the staggering amount of fraud and falsehood coming out of industry. Brad Johnson reports on one of the most outrageous coal-industry statements made in recent years. ACCCE's Joe Lucas has just jumped to the front of the race for "Greenwasher of the Year."
The coal industry front group embroiled in an Astroturf scandal is now arguing that mountaintop removal coal mining helps communities "hampered because of a lack of flat space." Joe Lucas, vice president of communications for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), told the Guardian that dynamiting the tops off of mountains — far from being the "rape of Appalachia" — is actually a boon to rural communities:
The concept of "responsible" mountain-top mining is laughable, as Mountain Justice explains:
ACCCE's Joe Lucas — who can't even admit that coal pollution contributes to global warming — is giving new meaning to the idea of the Flat Earth Society.
Posted: 05 Aug 2009 05:20 PM PDT
The climate and clean energy bill that narrowly passed the House has three problems related to cost containment (CC) that the Senate should — and I expect will — address:
I'm going to try to take the best of all the current CC proposals and propose an alternative that I think might actually be appealing to all sides, what I'm calling "price collar plus."
Two weeks ago, the Brookings Institution — which I'd view as center-right on the energy and climate issue now that David Sandalow has left — proposed a traditional price collar in Politico, "Time for a price collar on carbon." To their credit, they did suggest this was a way to "rein in offsets" but offered no specifics on how to achieve that important end.
The benefit of a price collar to Brookings:
The House climate bill already has a price floor for the auction, which starts at $10 a ton in 2012 and rises 5% plus inflation every year thereafter. I believe most everyone understands the need for a rising price floor — giving some certainty to businesses about investment decisions they make, say, in biomass cofiring or natural gas fuel switching. The floor in Waxman-Markey is, by almost every independent analysis, on the low side in the sense that the CBO and EPA and especially the EIA project the price for a CO2 allowance in 2020 will be above the floor — in EIA's estimation, double the floor price.
The fossil fuel industry, of course, funds economic analyses that project incredibly high allowance prices to scare people into opposing the bill entirely. If their analyses were anywhere near accurate, the floor in the House bill would be utterly irrelevant. I'd love a higher floor, but since it has already passed the House, we're probably stuck with it.
A price collar, of course, requires a ceiling to go with the floor. Brookings explains:
That kind of cap-busting safety valve is not good from an environmental perspective (see "Safety Valves Won't Make Us Safer"). That's why I have long opposed such safety valves (see "The history of the 'safety valve' debate"), especially when set at ridiculously low levels, such as $7 per metric ton of CO2-equivalent (and rising a tad above inflation annually), as the National Commission on Energy Policy proposed in 2004.
NCEP's new report, "Managing Economic Risk in a Greenhouse Gas Cap-and-Trade Program," also endorses a safety-valve-type ceiling, but then wisely offers up this proposal:
You don't want the government to sell an unlimited number of allowances that represent no emissions reduction whatsoever at the ceiling price. You want to borrow the best feature of the strategic reserve, which is that the allowances the government sells are, to start, skimmed off of the emissions caps from 2012 to 2050.
In Waxman-Markey, a pool of allowances is made available for strategic reserve auctions consisting of
That was I think a good compromise by environmentalists. It acts a lot like a safety valve, but maintains environmental integrity (at least to start). The enviros (and whoever else signed off on this deal), however, made two mistakes.
First, in the final House bill, they set an initial trigger price for the strategic reserve of $28 — which is the equivalent of the "ceiling" or "safety valve" price — but that price quickly shifts to 160% of the average auction price of allowances over the previous 36 months.
Zzzzzzzzzz. Crickets chirp. Glaciers melt.
That approach was dissatisfying to everybody — or rather it was confusing to everybody and dissatisfying to the few people who wasted time figuring out what it meant. For progressives who think there are an overabundance of domestic clean energy solutions available, and hence that the permit price will stay close to the floor for at least a decade (see here), it meant the reserve auction trigger price — aka the effective ceiling price for allowances — might be maybe only $22 a ton in CO2, a ridiculously low ceiling. And that meant if we turned out to be wrong about, say, the supply of moderate-cost natural gas, then even a tiny allowance price spike would trigger the reserve auction.
But for moderates and conservatives, who tend to believe that the allowance price in 2020 will be much higher, even higher than EIA's $36 a ton, then the ceiling in 2020 might be $60 a ton or higher, which for them is no protection at all from speculators or from the technology optimists being wrong or from offset prices being much higher than they thought.
The point is, the strategic reserve "ceiling" price in the House bill was designed in a manner to make everybody unhappy. For instance, NCEP — which I'd characterize as center right today (see here) — was worried the ceiling/safety-valve price in 2015 might be as high as $49 a ton [though I think they did their math a little wrong].
Now NCEP does say:
A majority of House members voted for the reserve trigger price to rise 5 percent plus the rate of inflation for 2013 and 2014 until the complicated formula kicked in for 2015 on.
Sp I'm going to propose what I think is the simplest and most obvious fix: The floor price for the regular allowance auction should start at $10 a ton in 2012, and the reserve trigger price (aka the effective allowance ceiling price) should start at $28 a ton in 2012 — and those collar prices should rise 5% plus inflation every year thereafter.
NCEP elaborates on the benefits of a price collar:
But NCEP also explains the value of the reserve:
Price collar plus should be attractive to both sides
Fence-sitting Senators and industries can legitimately see it as achieving stronger cost-containment protection than their analysis suggests the House bill now provides, including protection against speculators running the permit price up, while progressives can legitimately see it as achieving better environmental outcomes than their analysis suggests the House bill now provides. Win-win.
TWO FINAL TWEAKS
I would keep the W-M provision that "the annual limit on the number of emission allowances from the strategic reserve account that may be auctioned is an amount equal to 5 percent of the emission allowances established for that calendar year." It is hard to see how one would need more than 5% in any given year, especially when there are so many domestic and international offsets available for emitters to purchase — and of course so many strategies emitters can use to reduce their emissions and hence their need to purchase permits.
BUT I would change how Waxman-Markey refills the reserve once the initial reserve is auctioned out. W-M fills the reserve with "international offset credits from reduced deforestation."
Bad idea. Reduced deforestation should be utterly separate and additional. We have no hope whatsoever of averting catastrophic global warming if we don't sharply cut fossil fuel emissions here (and abroad) while simultaneously stopping deforestation [see "How the world can (and will) stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution"]. And one of the best things in the House bill is that it already devotes substantial funds generated from the allowances to stopping deforestation — achieving some 720 million tons of emissions reductions in 2020, equal to 10% of total current US greenhouse gases — all of which are additional to the domestic GHG reductions. The notion that deforestation tons should be separate and additional should be be an inviolate principle of U.S. action.
No, I would fill the reserve with domestic offsets. I'm not really expecting the initial reserve to sell out until well past 2020. And I know the businesses who signed onto this deal wanted a large pool to refill the reserve — but at the likely trigger or ceiling price post-2020 (more than $40 a ton of CO2e), there would in fact be a lot of domestic offsets. And I have more confidence in our ability to ensure the quality of domestic offsets than I do of our ability to ensure the quality of international offsets (though I do expect the quality of the latter to get better). Moreover, if CBO is right, then half of the domestic offsets are going to be genuine emissions reductions in uncapped sectors. And the other half will be soil/forestry/agricultural sequestration, which should make certain politically powerful domestic groups happy.
So this strikes me as both better environmentally and more attractive politically to US Senators.
Finally, I'd like to re-offer my suggestion of how to "rein in offsets," as Brookings suggests. I consider all of the following cost containment measures a major concession by those who want the strongest possible environmental integrity for the bill:
So my final recommended change is one I have been proposing for a while –sunset the offsets. My more politically palatable version is to apply the same reduction to the offsets that you are applying to emissions in the bill:
I am aware that the domestic offsets are probably too popular to sunset — so the sunsetting could be applied simply to international offsets. The other advantage of that, as one economist told me, is that it would provide extra motivation to developing countries to engage in the process early, since they'd know that the U.S. wasn't going to keep purchasing international offsets forever.
There it is — price collar plus.
Posted: 05 Aug 2009 01:14 PM PDT
President Obama announced 48 new advanced battery and electric drive projects that will receive $2.4 billion in stimulus funds. You can read details here. The awards cover:
Obama is always at the leading edge of progressive messaging, so I'll excerpt the energy portion of his remarks in Wakarusa, Indiana today below:
Posted: 05 Aug 2009 12:10 PM PDT
The fate of the next 50 generations may well be determined in the next several months and the next several years. Will Congress agree to a shrinking GHG cap and the clean energy transformation? If not, you can scratch a global climate deal. But even if the bill passes and a global deal is achieved — both will need to be continuously strengthened in coming years, as the increasingly worrisome science continues to inform the policy, just as in the case of the Montréal Protocol on the ozone-depleting substances.
In short, the fate of perhaps the next 100 billion people to walk the Earth rests in the hands of scientists (and those who understand the science) trying to communicate the dire nature of the climate problem (and the myriad solutions available now) as well as the ability of the media, the public, opinion makers, and political leaders to understand and deal with that science.
And so what could be more timely — and disquieting — than a book titled Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future? The book is by Chris Mooney, whose science blog was a major inspiration for me to pursue blogging, and scientist Sheril Kirshenbaum.
While it notably and presciently disses former TV meteorologist Watts for his unscientific obsession with pushing weather data in the climate debate (see "Unscientific America, Part 1: From the moon-landing deniers to WattsUpWithThat"), climate-saturated CP readers will be happy to know that very little of the book actually focuses on global warming.
Rather, this short, highly readable book is a survey of the sorry state of scientific understanding and communication in this country, ending with some proposals for improving the situation. Here are some of the interesting/depressing factoids from the book:
On the flip side, the book describes at length a problem I discuss here — Why scientists aren't more persuasive, Part 1.
Scientists who are also great public communicators, like Carl Sagan or Richard Feynman, have grown scarcer as science has become increasingly specialized. Moreover, the media likes the glib and the dramatic, which is the style most scientists deliberately avoid. As Jared Diamond (author of Collapse) wrote in a must-read 1997 article on scientific messaging (or the lack thereof), "Scientists who do communicate effectively with the public often find their colleagues responding with scorn, and even punishing them in ways that affect their careers." After Carl Sagan became famous, he was rejected for membership in the National Academy of Sciences in a special vote. This became widely known, and, Diamond writes, "Every scientist is capable of recognizing the obvious implications for his or her self-interest.
Scientists who have been outspoken about global warming have been repeatedly attacked as having a "political agenda." As one 2006 article explained, "For a scientist whose reputation is largely invested in peer-reviewed publications and the citations thereof, there is little professional payoff for getting involved in debates that mix science and politics."
Mooney also lays out the "tribulations of the science pipeline" by quoting "a painfully eloquent recent blog commenter" on Science Progress:
If a projection Mooney quotes is right — "the chance of a PhD recipient under age 35 winning a tenure-track job has tumbled to only 7%" — then he offers a crucial suggestion:
The book ends with a quote from C. P. Snow's famous "two cultures" lecture, in which he "express the nature of change we need fixing fleet, yet powerfully":
Of course, that lecture was 50 years ago — and the divide seems as big as ever, so that isn't a cause for much optimism.
I do think that every scientist-in-training today should be required to take a course in communication, a course in energy, and a course in climate science. The smart ones will specialize in some discipline related to sustainability because when the nation and the world get desperate about global warming in the next decade or two, the entire focus of society, of scientists and engineers, and of academia will be directed toward a WWII-scale effort to mitigate what we can and adapting to the myriad miseries that our mypopic dawdling has made inevitable.
My one small problem with the book's analysis is that it portrays US popular culture, especially Hollywood, as anti-scientist, but that was really true before the rise of IT, the internet, and rich nerds. TV in particular is much more favorably disposed toward scientist characters than movies were, say, two or three decades ago. If I have time, I'll blog on that.
Normally I half-jokingly tell people they only need to buy my books, not read them. I mean who reads non-fiction books cover to cover anymore? But this is one to buy and read in its entirety (which is only 132 pages of text).
Kudos to Mooney and Kirshenbaum.
You can read RealClimate's review here.
Posted: 05 Aug 2009 10:39 AM PDT
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