Friday, October 16, 2009

Is the Congressional Budget Office trying to kill humanity? Grist Magazine

Bringing Low-Cost Solar to the World's Poor New York Times

US Chamber feels heat from Obama, defectors Washington Business Journal

UN Panel Finds Environmental Assessments of Biofuels Lacking New York Times

Climate Progress

Climate Progress

Climate Progress

Gawker: The Washington Post Has the Worst Opinion Section in America

Posted: 16 Oct 2009 09:36 AM PDT

Okay, this isn't news to CP readers:

But for the wider world, it's nice that the uber-popular website Gawker has weighed in with, "The Washington Post Has the Worst Opinion Section in America," which I reprint below:

On the occasion of this wonderful op-ed on how Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize is a violation of our nation's founding document, let us examine the recent crimes of the Washington Post opinion section.  Under editor Fred Hiatt, the Post op-ed page has gone completely off the rails. They picked up Bill Kristol after the Times dumped him for being not just wrong but boring and lazy. They openly allow George Will to lie, to straight-up lie, without fact-checking or corrections, because we all know reality is open to different "interpretations" and if a prominent columnist writes something patently untrue the best response is to then publish a "true" column by someone else as a counterpoint, because that doesn't just represent everything misleading and terrible about the moden political press. They still publish Richard Cohen. The regular columnists are, for the most part, interchangeable ancient "moderate" liberals who haven't written or thought anything vaguely interesting since 1974. Anne Applebaum was allowed to publish a blog post in support of Roman Polanski without disclosing that her husband is Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who opposes extradition. Richard Cohen, again.

And on October 10, the Post published an insane editorial on how the Nobel Prize should've been awarded to a murdered Iranian protester. This suggests that either the entire editorial board doesn't know that Nobel Peace Prizes are never awarded posthumously or they simply don't give a shit. The piece is still not corrected, because presumably any "correction" would have to read "the entire premise of this editorial is bullshit, sorry."

So how do you follow that up? How about by running an op-ed by a law professor and a right-wing think tank goon about how Obama's Nobel Peace Prize was… unconstitutional, maybe? Who knows! Who cares! They acknowledge that two other sitting presidents have received the award, but they do not even do the meaningless-but-intellectually defensible thing of arguing that those awards were also unconstitutional, they just say this time it's different because Obama got it so therefore Congress should forbid him from accepting it, because of the House of Saud.

In conclusion, blogs are killing newspapers by being irresponsible and not caring about "the truth."

NOAA: Second hottest September on record and virtual tie for hottest in lower troposphere from satellite data

Posted: 16 Oct 2009 07:59 AM PDT

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center has issued its latest monthly, "State of the Climate: Global Analysis," which found:

The combined global land and ocean surface temperature for September 2009 was 0.62°C (1.12°F) above the 20th Century average of 15.0°C (59.0°F). This was the second warmest September on record, behind 2005, and the 33rd consecutive September with a global temperature above the 20th Century average. The last below-average September occurred in 1976.

Significantly, September was only 0.04°C (0.07°F) off the 2005 record.

This near-record September comes fast on the heels of the second warmest August on record and warmest June-July-August for the oceans.  I previously noted that NASA reported hottest June to September on record.

What is most interesting about this report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the temperature report from the lower troposphere ("the lowest 8 km (5 miles) of the atmosphere") — the satellite data that began in 1979 analyzed by the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and Remote Sensing Systems (RSS).

UAH and RSS say September was also the second warmest in their records — a mere 0.01°C off the 1998 record.  NOAA reports that the lower troposphere warming trend for September is

  • +0.13°C/decade (UAH)
  • +0.18°C/decade (UAH

So yes, the satellite data also shows that the lower atmosphere is warming, contrary to what you may have heard.

In fact, the mid-troposphere (about 2 to 6 miles above the Earth, which includes a portion of the lower stratosphere) is also warming, according to both UAH and RSS.  It's not warming quite as fast because as the lower troposphere in part "because the stratosphere has cooled due to increasing greenhouse gases in the troposphere and losses of ozone in the stratosphere."

The global temperature anomaly for the month looked like this:

Although the United States as a whole was "1.0°F above the 20th Century average," with record-tying temperatures in California, as usual the deniers had a few seemingly cool places in the country on which to feast.

We are still seeing staggering warming in some of the worst places from the perspective of the planet as a whole, the land of the the permafrost permamelt, which currently contains contains more carbon than the atmosphere (see here).

Again, what makes these record temps especially impressive is that we're only in a weak El Niño, and we're at "the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century," according to NASA.

Stay tuned.  The heat is on — or, rather, it's never been off.

EPA analysis for Feingold appears doubly flawed: Climate bill allocations are not unfair to the Midwest

Posted: 15 Oct 2009 03:00 PM PDT

Bradley small

Midwesterners are operating under the misimpression that the allocation formula in the House bill is unfair to them.  It doesn't, although a new, flawed EPA "analysis" ("here") suggests otherwise.

Certainly the formula is a tad ambiguous and that will no doubt be fixed in the Senate.  The figure above shows the results of analysis by MJ Bradley (click to enlarge, methodology here).

I would note that the Bradley analysis does not appear to include the energy efficiency provisions in the bill, which are projected by independent analysts and EPA to deliver major savings (see "Waxman-Markey could save $3,900 per household and create 650,000 jobs by 2030").  So even the small increase in bills that you see in 2012 would in reality be lower if the House bill became law.  But I digress.

The analysis is tricky for two reasons that the EPA appears to get wrong:

  • First, the House bill forbids a utility from getting more allowances than are required to offset their increased costs, but doesn't quite spell out how to account for that.  The obvious thing to do is what MJ Bradley does:  "Excess allowances are withheld from states that receive more allowances than their delivered electricity related emissions. These withheld allowances are redistributed to the remaining states on the basis of their emissions."

The EPA offers a long explanation for why the prohibition against excess distributions would be tricky to implement in practice — and then it seems like they just ignore the provision entirely.  So, as you can see, they claim California would get more allowances than it needs to cover its emissions.  But preventing that outcome is precisely why that provision was put in the House bill in the first place.

  • Second, states import power — sometimes power that is more carbon-intense than the importing state as a whole.  An analysis must take into account.  It does not seem that EPA's calculations of emissions of a state like California included its imported coal-fired electricity.

So I just think EPA got this is doubly wrong in a way that happens to fit the misperception of the Midwesterners.  I have also spoken to other independent utility modelers who say their results do not match EPA's.

Bottom Line:  The allocation formula appears to be pretty fair, if a tad ambiguous.  EPA needs to spell out exactly how they did their analysis, and explain if they made one or both of these two major analytical errors.  The Senate needs to be clearer on how the prohibition-against-excess-distributions provision works.

For more background, here are some excerpts from Tuesday Climate Wire (subs. req'd) story:

A new U.S. EPA analysis requested by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) is spawning a lobbying frenzy among Midwestern utilities that claim the document shows they will be treated unfairly under federal climate legislation.

They say the assessment reveals that states like California will receive a financial windfall under a global warming bill, while states like Wisconsin will not get enough help and will have to spike electricity rates as a result.

"The EPA document just confirms the formula will disadvantage Midwest states for decades to come while the coastal states will hit a 'federal jackpot' every year over the life of the new program," said Zachary Hill, senior manager of federal government affairs at Alliant Energy, a Wisconsin-based utility.

Some environmentalists are counterattacking that the three-page report is flawed because its author relied on questionable methodology and analyzed only one part of a bill that passed the House earlier this year. They also say a Senate version of climate legislation is still being drafted and could make EPA's statements moot.

"I have not been particularly impressed of certain aspects of EPA modeling," said Joe Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. "It looks to me like they've done what is easy for them to do, but isn't accurate."

At issue is the document's focus on a section of the House legislation prohibiting utilities from receiving more carbon allowances than what is "necessary to offset any increased electricity costs" to consumers. The text was added as part of a late compromise in the House to help bring more coal-state lawmakers from states like Missouri and Indiana on board.

Under a mandatory cap on greenhouse gases like the one called for by the House measure, businesses would have to hold a limited number of allowances matching their annual greenhouse gas output.

Green groups claim EPA analysis is incomplete

Yet the EPA analysis argues that enactment of the bill's ban against overallocation of allowances could be difficult because of the complexities in estimating electricity costs, among other things.

"The prohibition provision would be very difficult to implement because it would require a great deal of speculation," the EPA document states.

Many Midwestern utilities and their supporters jumped on the data and argued that companies in some states like California would get an unfair financial boost with climate legislation. Kirk Johnson, vice president of environmental policy at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), pointed to a chart created by EPA showing that coastal states fare far better than other ones in a mandatory climate regime.

A slew of utilities in the country's interior have been protesting the House bill since its passage. Recently, the Edison Electric Institute, which represents large investor-owned utilities and helped draft parts of the House bill, called for more free allowances to flow to these small generators in states like Ohio to bring them on board.

But Romm and supporters of congressional action on climate are questioning whether the EPA data are valid in the first place.

Romm said it was not clear, for example, whether the calculations of emissions of a state like California included imported electricity from coal-fired power plants in Arizona. The EPA assessment simply states that estimates were based on 2006-2007 "retail sales" of electricity.

Dan Lashof, director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, made the same argument and added that the analysis appeared to have been put together rapidly.

Others noted that a prior analysis from M.J. Bradley & Associates LLC, an environmental consulting firm, found costs to Midwestern consumers would be minuscule under the House bill sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

At the same time, Lashof said the document might be EPA's way of saying "it's nervous about the language" and needs clarity. He suggested the Senate could "go a long way" toward resolving confusion on the issue by adding specific wording that no utility can get more allowances than its emissions….

EPA did not respond to criticisms from environmentalists about the document's methodology yesterday. But in an earlier statement, spokeswoman Adora Andy questioned the idea that the new document shows the House bill would take money from interior states and give it to coastal states. She pointed to a larger investigation of the House bill performed by the agency earlier this year.

"In fact, EPA's comprehensive analysis of the House-passed bill — an analysis that has been public since June — indicates that the bill would not impose hardship on any state," Andy said.

The lobbying push started after Feingold's office released the document to utilities in Wisconsin, which then began a mass e-mail chain. Feingold's office provided the original EPA analysis to E&E after variations of the text with attached commentary starting circulating among lobbyists last Friday.

"I have heard concerns from my constituents about how the climate change bill could unfairly impact Wisconsin. The data from the EPA was requested as part of my effort to learn as much as possible about the bill and ways to improve it. I look forward to working with the administration and my colleagues in the Senate to ensure we address the serious problem of climate change without unfairly hurting Wisconsin," Feingold said in a statement.

Santer, Jones, and Schneider respond to CEI's phony attack on the temperature record

Posted: 15 Oct 2009 02:33 PM PDT

When we last left the Competitive Enterprise Institute, they were going ape for the Scopes climate trial that the Chamber of Commerce had proposed for the EPA.  The deniers just stick their fingers and their ears and scream whenever they hear any science-based finding that GHGs harm human health.  What else can you expect from a group that which actually runs ad campaigns aimed at destroying the climate for centuries?

Now CEI is trying to go after the UK temperature record because the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, used by the Hadley/Met Office, has abandoned some bad data.  Climate Science Watch (CSW) has the background, "CEI global warming denialists try another gambit seeking to derail EPA endangerment finding."  Ironically, as Prof. Phil Jones, CRU's Director explains below:

Almost all the data we have in the CRU archive is exactly the same as in the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) archive used by the NOAA National Climatic Data Center [see here and here].  The original raw data are not "lost."

A small amount of data, which could be easily reconstructed if one wanted to waste a lot of time, was abandoned for reasons such as the following:

Station series for sites that in the 1980s we deemed then to be affected by either urban biases or by numerous site moves, that were either not correctable or not worth doing as there were other series in the region.

Yes, for years the deniers have been claiming that the temperature record is corrupted by the urban heat island effect or bad locations.  In fact, we know that it isn't (see Must-read NOAA paper smacks down the deniers: Q: "Is there any question that surface temperatures in the United States have been rising rapidly during the last 50 years?" A: "None at all.")  But when CRU actually tries to abandon such data, the deniers cry foul.

CEI:  Can't live with them, future generations could live with out them.

To compound the irony, the only meaningful hole in the Hadley data is the "hole in the Arctic," as RealClimate puts it (see here).  The Hadley record simply excludes the part of the world "just where recent warming has been greatest."  Because of that gap, the Hadley data almost certainly underestimates recent warming.

CSW asked three prominent scientists to comment on CEI's bogus data-shredding charge and posted them here and here.  I'm reprinting them below, starting with Stanford's Stephen Schneider, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and author of Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate, coming out next month:

Pat Michaels and the Competitive Enterprise Institute continue to obfuscate well-established scientific conclusions by counting on most non-specialists to be unaware of the vast preponderance of multiple lines of evidence for anthropogenic climate warming. Their technique is to raise minor objections that don't remotely refute the preponderance, and use this scientific trivia to claim that until all points of debate are resolved the mainstream case isn't "proven."

This was the tried and true tactic of the tobacco industry for 35 years. Now that industry suffers losses of billions of dollars in lawsuits for hiding the truth and obscuring it with minutiae that most people are not technically trained enough to recognize for the deceptions embedded in what seems to be serious scientific debate.

Why should they not do it given their ideology? They support the ideology of few controls on entrepreneurial activity and thus want to weaken government regulation. In the case of climate change they do this by falsely claiming they have found a new "smoking gun" of refutation of well-established science. Science of complex systems is never finished.  That is why we have assessments like those of the IPCC—to assess where the preponderances are.

What Michaels and the CEI are selling comes from the north end of a south bound horse.

Here's Benjamin Santer, Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, winner of the Department of Energy Distinguished Scientist Fellowship, the E.O. Lawrence Award, and the "Genius Award" by the MacArthur Foundation:

As I see it, there are two key issues here.

First, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and Pat Michaels are arguing that Phil Jones and colleagues at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (CRU) willfully, intentionally, and suspiciously "destroyed" some of the raw surface temperature data used in the construction of the gridded surface temperature datasets.

Second, the CEI and Pat Michaels contend that the CRU surface temperature datasets provided the sole basis for IPCC "discernible human influence" conclusions.

Both of these arguments are incorrect. First, there was no intentional destruction of the primary source data. I am sure that, over 20 years ago, the CRU could not have foreseen that the raw station data might be the subject of legal proceedings by the CEI and Pat Michaels. Raw data were NOT secretly destroyed to avoid efforts by other scientists to replicate the CRU and Hadley Centre-based estimates of global-scale changes in near-surface temperature. In fact, a key point here is that other groups—primarily at the NOAA National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), but also in Russia—WERE able to replicate the major findings of the CRU and UK Hadley Centre groups. The NCDC and GISS groups performed this replication completely independently. They made different choices in the complex process of choosing input data, adjusting raw station data for known inhomogeneities (such as urbanization effects, changes in instrumentation, site location, and observation time), and gridding procedures. NCDC and GISS-based estimates of global surface temperature changes are in good accord with the HadCRUT data results.

The second argument—that "discernible human influence" findings are like a house of cards, resting solely on one observational dataset—is also invalid. The IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) considers MULTIPLE observational estimates of global-scale near-surface temperature changes. It does not rely on HadCRUT data alone—as is immediately obvious from Figure 2.1b of the TAR, which shows CRU, NCDC, and GISS global-mean temperature changes.

As pointed out in numerous scientific assessments (e.g., the IPCC TAR and Fourth Assessment Reports, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Report 1.1 (Temperature trends in the lower atmosphere: Steps for understanding and reconciling differences), and the state of knowledge report, Global Climate Change Impacts on the United States, rigorous statistical fingerprint studies have now been performed with a whole range of climate variables—and not with surface temperature only. Examples include variables like ocean heat content, atmospheric water vapor, surface specific humidity, continental river runoff, sea-level pressure patterns, stratospheric and tropospheric temperature, tropopause height, zonal-mean precipitation over land, and Arctic sea-ice extent. The bottom-line message from this body of work is that natural causes alone CANNOT plausibly explain the climate changes we have actually observed. The climate system is telling us an internally- and physically-consistent story. The integrity and reliability of this story does NOT rest on a single observational dataset, as Michaels and the CEI incorrectly claim.

I have known Phil for most of my scientific career. He is the antithesis of the secretive, "data destroying" character the CEI and Michaels are trying to portray to the outside world. Phil and Tom Wigley have devoted significant portions of their scientific careers to the construction of the land surface temperature component of the HadCRUT dataset. They have conducted this research in a very open and transparent manner—examining sensitivities to different gridding algorithms, different ways of adjusting for urbanization effects, use of various subsets of data, different ways of dealing with changes in spatial coverage over time, etc. They have thoroughly and comprehensively documented all of their dataset construction choices. They have done a tremendous service to the scientific community—and to the planet—by making gridded surface temperature datasets available for scientific research. They deserve medals—not the kind of deliberately misleading treatment they are receiving from Pat Michaels and the CEI.

Finaly, here's Jones:

No one, it seems, cares to read what we put up on the CRU web page. These people just make up motives for what we might or might not have done.

Almost all the data we have in the CRU archive is exactly the same as in the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) archive used by the NOAA National Climatic Data Center [see here and here].

The original raw data are not "lost."  I could reconstruct what we had from U.S. Department of Energy reports we published in the mid-1980s. I would start with the GHCN data. I know that the effort would be a complete waste of time, though. I may get around to it some time. The documentation of what we've done is all in the literature.

If we have "lost" any data it is the following:

1. Station series for sites that in the 1980s we deemed then to be affected by either urban biases or by numerous site moves, that were either not correctable or not worth doing as there were other series in the region.

2. The original data for sites for which we made appropriate adjustments in the temperature data in the 1980s. We still have our adjusted data, of course, and these along with all other sites that didn't need adjusting.

3. Since the 1980s as colleagues and National Meteorological Services (NMSs) have produced adjusted series for regions and or countries, then we replaced the data we had with the better series.

In the papers, I've always said that homogeneity adjustments are best produced by NMSs. A good example of this is the work by Lucie Vincent in Canada. Here we just replaced what data we had for the 200+ sites she sorted out.

The CRUTEM3 data for land look much like the GHCN and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies data for the same domains.

Apart from a figure in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) showing this, there is also this paper from Geophysical Research Letters in 2005 by Russ Vose et al. Figure 2 is similar to the AR4 plot.

I think if it hadn't been this issue, the Competitive Enterprise Institute would have dreamt up something else!

As CSW Rick Piltz said last week

You do not need to reopen the IPCC reports and the technical support document on the EPA endangerment finding because of something having to do with the raw data from the temperature record from East Anglia University in the 1980s.

No amount of data will ever satisfy the deniers.  They'll plug their ears and shout until the planet is reduced to Hell and High Water.  The only question is how long the media and politicians will keep listening to their shrieks.

Lester R. Brown: US should push for 80% cut in carbon emissions Capital Times

Environmental activist arrested ahead of coal-fired power station protest

Calling all radicals: unite for Kerry-Boxer Grist Magazine

Natural Resources Under Siege Washington Post

Congress Approves Funding for Hydrogen Cars Washington Post

U.S. Army to build 500 MW solar power plant Reuters

Bold Initiatives Spur Calls for New EPA Watchdog New York Times

Warming up for Copenhagen San Francisco Chronicle

Warming up for Copenhagen
San Francisco Chronicle

"Crude" is a must see movie Florida Times-Union

"Crude" is a must see movie
Florida Times-Union

Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Completes Record 23-Hour Flight Using Protonex ... Reuters

Sunnyvale's Picarro positioning itself to be leader in monitoring green house ... San Jose Mercury News

A Greenhouse Gas That Is Already a Commodity New York Times

Ed Miliband calls on Barack Obama to save Copenhagen climate summit Times Online

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Building the World's Most Powerful Laser MIT Technology Review (blog)

Building the World's Most Powerful Laser
MIT Technology Review (blog)

Climate Progress

Climate Progress

The Biggest Loser: Incredible, shrinking Chamber of Commerce goes from 3 million members to just 300,000 in one day!

Posted: 15 Oct 2009 10:14 AM PDT

The exodus of leading companies from the Chamber has been downsizing the denial-pushing industry group (which most certainly does not speak for the business community).  But Think Progress has the story (first posted here) of rapid weight loss that easily beats any of the winners of the reality show, "The Biggest Loser."

As Mother Jones reported yesterday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce consistently says that its membership is 3 million, even though it's actually closer to 200,000. The reason for the artificial inflation is that the organization is counting the memberships of 2,800 state and local chambers around the country, even though many of these businesses have no relationship with the national organization. Some of these members are now protesting the Chamber's numbers game:

"They don't represent me," says Mark Jaffe, CEO of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, which is a dues-paying member of the national group. … Jaffe also scoffed at the US Chamber's oft-repeated claim to "represent 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions." … "They are playing games" with their numbers, Jaffe said. "They don't have half the businesses in America as registered, dues-paying members."

– Jaffe's objections to the US Chamber's policies were echoed by Rob Black, vice-president of public policy for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. "We take a fundamentally different approach than the US Chamber," he said, adding that while the national Chamber opposes the Waxman-Markey climate bill, "we support a market-driven cap-and-trade system."

A day after this public scrutiny began, the Chamber is quietly backing down. At a press conference this morning, Chamber officials "repeatedly cited a membership of 300,000. That's a tenth as many members as the Chamber claimed a day earlier."

Shrinking Chamber 2009/ 10/ 14/ chamber-membership/

New report finds 31 states have the renewable resources to be "energy self-reliant"

Posted: 15 Oct 2009 09:59 AM PDT

A new report from the New Rules Project finds that over 60% of all U.S. states have the renewable energy resources to be "energy self-reliant." ("Energy self-reliance," as defined in the report, is a measure of how self-sufficient in energy generation a state could be if it relied entirely on its own renewable resources). The New Rules Project, a program of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, released its findings last week.

The report, "Energy Self-Reliant States: Second and Expanded Edition" describes how 31 states have the capacity to independently meet their states' electricity demands by using wholly renewable energy sources, already at their disposal. Several states, the report notes, could use their renewable energy resources to produce electricity that meets over ten times their statewide demands. An additional ten states could generate enough electricity to meet well over half of their annual demands—again, solely from renewable sources.

The report's analysis and projections only incorporates renewable energy resources that are currently commercially deployable:

These sources include geothermal, onshore and offshore wind, combined heat and power, traditional geothermal, rooftop solar PV, and micro hydro powers. Enhanced geothermal power, for example, is examined in the report yet not included in the final projections because the resource is considered an "immature renewable energy technology" in need of further improvement. With the development of such nascent technologies, an even greater amount of electricity demands could be met from renewable resources, especially in those states listed in the report as not energy self-reliant.

The New Rules Project's estimates are quite promising. The report is conservative—it excludes various budding energy technologies in reaching its estimates and it does not even anticipate any advances in energy storage or efficiency. Nonetheless, while the data are compelling, the authors of the report hastily conclude that their findings indicate the need for a decentralized renewable energy transmission network. They argue that such a system should be supplanted by state and local networks. This conclusion does not line up.

Rather than local networks, a comprehensive and robust national clean-energy smart grid has the potential to maximize the economics, efficiency, and reliability of a renewable energy system.

First, as seen in the report's estimates of state-by-state renewable energy production, most of the nation's renewable energy resources currently lie in more remote areas of the country. Many of the states identified as "energy self-reliant" earn that title because they have both vast renewable resources and lower electricity demands. With a national clean-energy smart grid, we can better harness the enormous renewable energy potential that exists in remote states and transmit that energy to major energy markets.

Second, a national smart grid with reliable and profuse sources of energy can reduce any problems that result from rising grid congestion in regional markets, such as blackouts and subsequent costs. The authors of the study argue for state and local transmission networks, ignoring technical difficulties that could arise. We cannot afford more New York City style blackouts, and we do not need to create that risk.

The report finds that there are many states that have the renewable energy potential to produce enough clean-electricity that exceeds their own demands. This finding only strengthens our need for a national clean-energy smart grid. We should put the full potential of the renewable resource-rich states to work. In doing so, we can create more jobs in those very states by letting them serve the national market through a national transmission network.

Though the authors of the report offer policy recommendations that might not be the most beneficial for a future clean-energy economy, the estimates from which they induce those recommendations indicate that the United States has ample renewable resource potential—one that must be harvested to its fullest capacity.

Related Post:

Energy and Global Warming News for October 15: Arctic to be ice-free in summer in 20 years — scientist

Posted: 15 Oct 2009 09:38 AM PDT

Arctic to be ice-free in summer in 20 years: scientist

Global warming will leave the Arctic Ocean ice-free during the summer within 20 years, raising sea levels and harming wildlife such as seals and polar bears, a leading British polar scientist said on Thursday.

Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at the University of Cambridge, said much of the melting will take place within a decade, although the winter ice will stay for hundreds of years.

The changes will mean the top of the Earth will appear blue rather than white when photographed from space and ships will have a new sea route north of Russia.

Scientists say evidence of melting Arctic ice is one of the clearest signs of global warming and it should send a warning to world leaders meeting in Copenhagen in December for U.N. talks on a new climate treaty.

"The data supports the new consensus view — based on seasonal variation of ice extent and thickness, changes in temperatures, winds and especially ice composition — that the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within about 20 years," Wadhams said in a statement. "Much of the decrease will be happening within 10 years."

Wadhams, one of the world's leading experts on sea ice cover in the North Pole region, compared ice thickness measurements taken by a Royal Navy submarine in 2007 with evidence gathered by the British explorer Pen Hadow earlier this year.

Hadow and his team on the Catlin Arctic Survey drilled 1,500 holes to gather evidence during a 280-mile walk across the Arctic. They found the average thickness of ice-floes was 1.8 meters, a depth considered too thin to survive the summer's ice melt.

Sometimes referred to as the Earth's air-conditioner, the Arctic Sea plays a vital role in the world's climate. As Arctic ice melts in summer, it exposes the darker-colored ocean water, which absorbs sunlight instead of reflecting it, accelerating the effect of global warming.

Dr Martin Sommerkorn, from the environmental charity WWF's Arctic program, which worked on the survey, said the predicted loss of ice could have wide-reaching affects around the world.

"The Arctic Sea ice holds a central position in our Earth's climate system. Take it out of the equation and we are left with a dramatically warmer world," he said.

"This could lead to flooding affecting one-quarter of the world's population, substantial increases in greenhouse gas emissions …. and extreme global weather changes."

Britain's Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said the research "sets out the stark realities of climate change."

"This further strengthens the case for an ambitious global deal in Copenhagen," he added.

For more on declining Arctic ice volume, go here.

US aims for bilateral climate change deals with China and India

The Obama administration is hoping to win new commitments to fight global warming from China and India in back-to-back summits next month, the Guardian has learned, including the first Indian emissions trading scheme.

The US hopes the new commitments will breathe life into the moribund negotiations to seal a global treaty on climate change in Copenhagen in December, by setting out what action each country will take. But many observers say such bilateral deals also risk seriously weakening any Copenhagen agreement by allowing the idea of a global limit on greenhouse gas emissions to be abandoned.

The US's twin diplomatic push will see Barack Obama meeting China's president Hu Jintao in Beijing on November 16-17 before playing host to India's prime minister Manmohan Singh at the White House on November 24. The visits appear timed to provide a much-needed boost to a proposed law to reduce US emissions now before the Senate, as well as to the Copenhagen talks.

At preparatory UN talks in Bangkok earlier this month, the US and other rich countries were accused by a group of 131 nations of trying to "fundamentally sabotage" the Kyoto protocol, which the group said must be the basis for its successor. Kyoto — which made no demands on developing countries and which the US refused to ratify — remains political kryptonite in Washington. The US wants to move away from a legally binding global agreement to one where individual countries pledge cuts in their national emissions.

The state department envoy, Todd Stern, believes strongly that separate bilateral agreements with countries such as China, India, Russia and Brazil are the building blocks to an agreement at Copenhagen. But adoption of national action plans is hazardous say others, as there would be little clear idea of whether together they would avoid dangerous global warming.

US officials are hopeful that breakthroughs with India and China could still provide the underpinnings for at least a limited deal at Copenhagen. "China and India are both critically important to achieving our international goals on carbon reduction. We need them as part the system," said Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who serves on the foreign and environment and public works committees. "There has already been a lot of work done between US and China, and there is going to be more work done next month with President Obama going to China."

US climate bill will have modest economic impact: report

Cutting greenhouse gases along the lines of a climate bill pending in Congress would modestly impact the US economy over the next few decades, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said Wednesday in a report.

"Reducing the risk of climate change would come at some cost to the economy," CBO director Douglas Elmendorf told a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, two weeks before the Senate takes up the climate change bill.

"Over the next few decades the economic losses from policies to avert climate change would exceed the economic gains in terms of climate change," he added.

The House of Representatives passed its own version of the climate bill in June. Elmendorf said the Cap and Trade initiative it includes would reduce US gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.25 percent to 0.75 percent in 2020 and by 3.5 percent in 2050.

However, he added, CBO projects that inflation-adjusted GDP growth will be two-and-a-half times larger than today's, "so those changes will be comparatively modest."

He also said the House climate bill would have little impact on the standard of living of Americans — CBO projections see purchasing power dropping 0.1 percent in 2010 and 0.8 percent in 2050, averaging out to 455 dollars per year.

Carbon Emissions See Big Two-Year Drop

Reducing emissions of carbon dioxide may be a little easier than most people think.

Between 2007 and 2009, domestic emissions could drop by 9 percent — a massive decline due in part to the economic downturn, and in part to a new push to improve efficiency and develop renewable fuels — according to the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington-based environmental group.

"We've been hearing for years that it was nearly impossible to make substantial cuts in carbon emissions," said Lester R. Brown, the group's president. "In fact, it is not that difficult."

Energy usage has dropped rapidly in the past two years in the United States, mostly as a result of the recession, which has crimped economic activity and pushed up unemployment figures. But Mr. Brown said that recent policies are firmly putting the nation on a path of lower carbon emissions, even in the absence of federal legislation.

These include boosting fuel efficiency for cars and trucks, investing in renewable power generation, and an "energy efficiency revolution" that will save power from buildings and appliances.

On a conference call this morning, Mr. Brown pointed out that 22 coal-fired plants in 12 states were being made more efficient, or replaced altogether by wind farms, natural gas plants or wood chip plants. Over 130 geothermal plants are also under development, he pointed out, and 102 wind farms came online in 2008.

Another 49 were completed in the first half of this year and 57 are now under construction, Mr. Brown said.

Amazingly, 300,000 megawatts of wind projects are awaiting access to the grid, which is the equivalent of roughly 300 coal plants.

He also said the American car fleet is expected to shrink by 2 percent this year, a trend that is likely to continue for years.

Adding all of this together means that the goal to reduce emissions by 17 percent or 20 percent by 2020, as Congress is currently debating, should not be too much of a stretch. The trouble, said Mr. Brown, is that 20 percent will not be enough to prevent some of the worst aspects of global warming.

Preventing ice sheets from melting in Greenland or in the Himalayas will require cuts much deeper than those envisaged either by Congress or by negotiators ahead of the global climate summit on Copenhagen later this year, Mr. Brown said.

That would require cutting carbon emissions by more than 80 percent by 2020, and need something like a "wartime mobilization" of the economy, Mr. Brown said.

"What we are hearing is not nearly enough," he said.

Related post:  "EIA stunner: By year's end, we'll be 8.5% below 2005 levels of CO2 — halfway to climate bill's 2020 target."

Navy secretary seeks greener fleet

Teddy Roosevelt had the Great White Fleet.

Ray Mabus envisions a "Great Green Fleet."

The secretary of the Navy on Wednesday outlined five energy goals for the Navy and Marines in the next decade. Four involve reducing the consumption of fossil fuels, increasing use of alternative energies and factoring energy costs into the price tag of every new ship, engine or building.

The fifth might be the most radical: Mabus committed to fielding by 2012 a "green" strike group compo sed of aircraft powered by biofuels, surface ships that operate on hybrid power supplies, and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines.

The "green" fleet won't just be for show, Mabus said. The strike group will deploy by 2016.

Coalition calls on 14 CEOs to drop chamber memberships

The CEOs of Air Products & Chemicals, Alcoa, American Electric Power and 11 other companies were urged to withdraw their memberships from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Associations of Manufacturers over disagreements on climate change, according to a statement from a group of 43 institutional investors and related organizations.

"Each of the companies has publicly stated that it supports action on climate change, which the chamber and NAM strongly oppose," the statement said.

Letters from the group, which were sent Tuesday to the CEOs, ask the companies "to address their disagreement with the chamber and NAM on climate change policy by withdrawing membership, publicly disclosing their disagreement, or asking the associations to refund the portion of their dues used to lobby on the issue," according to the statement.

Institutional investors in the investment coalition include Boston Common Asset Management, Catholic Health East, Catholic Healthcare West, Clean Yield Asset Management, Domini Social Investments, Green Century Capital Management, MMA Praxis Mutual Funds, Pax World Management Corp., The Russell Family Foundation, Trillium Asset Management and Walden Asset Management

Melissa McHenry, AEP spokesman, said, "We do disagree with the chamber's and NAM's position and we actually supported" the American Clean Energy and Security Act that was passed by the House earlier this year and favor climate legislation being considered in the Senate.

US climate bill will have modest economic impact: report

Cutting greenhouse gases along the lines of a climate bill pending in Congress would modestly impact the US economy over the next few decades, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said Wednesday in a report.

"Reducing the risk of climate change would come at some cost to the economy," CBO director Douglas Elmendorf told a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, two weeks before the Senate takes up the climate change bill.

"Over the next few decades the economic losses from policies to avert climate change would exceed the economic gains in terms of climate change," he added.

The House of Representatives passed its own version of the climate bill in June. Elmendorf said the Cap and Trade initiative it includes would reduce US gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.25 percent to 0.75 percent in 2020 and by 3.5 percent in 2050.

However, he added, CBO projects that inflation-adjusted GDP growth will be two-and-a-half times larger than today's, "so those changes will be comparatively modest."

He also said the House climate bill would have little impact on the standard of living of Americans — CBO projections see purchasing power dropping 0.1 percent in 2010 and 0.8 percent in 2050, averaging out to 455 dollars per year.

Entergy CEO: "We are virtually certain that climate change is occurring, and occurring because of man's activities. We're virtually certain the probability distribution curve is all bad."

Posted: 15 Oct 2009 06:42 AM PDT

Last week I reported on the White House Clean Energy Economy Forum — see "Carol Browner says clean energy bill without carbon cap would be a 'big mistake'; Nobelist Chu agrees, warning we otherwise face catastrophe, with St. Louis above 90°F for 1/3 the year."  In this repost, Wonk Room has a video and transcript of some key remarks.

Last week, over a hundred CEOs of American companies broke with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to lobby Congress to "pass comprehensive climate change and energy policy legislation this year." The U.S. Senate is now considering the Kerry-Boxer Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, which would set a market-based limit on global warming pollution. Participants in a Clean Energy Economy Forum at the White House included J. Wayne Leonard, the Chairman and CEO of Entergy Corporation, the utility giant based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Speaking at the White House event, Leonard called for action on climate change and clean energy not just for economic reasons but starkly moral ones:

We are virtually certain that climate change is occurring, and occurring because of man's activities. We're virtually certain the probability distribution curve is all bad. There's no good things that's going to come of this. But what's uncertain is exactly which one of those things are going to occur and in what time frame. In the probability distribution curve is about a 50% probability that about half of all species will become extinct or be subject to extinction over this period of time. What we will never know on an ex ante basis is whether or not man be one of those casualties or not.

We condemn Wall Street for taking risks with our economy — risks that all of you are trying very hard to reverse — but at the same time we're taking exactly the same kind of risks, with no upside whatsoever, with regard to our climate, failing to practice even the basic risk management techniques in terms of climate change reduction.

In a powerful speech, Leonard called a national system to cap carbon pollution "an investment that by all facts, figures and analysis pays back many times over," and warned that "history will judge us if we don't pass comprehensive climate and energy reform now" for "cheating [our children] out of their future."

Entergy serves "two-and-a-half million customers in the mid-South and the Gulf South portion of the country, some of the poorest people in the country," Leonard noted. These customers already suffered the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, which global warming likely fueled.

Although Entergy's website warns that the "ramifications of global climate change, while uncertain, paint a devastating portrait of an unsustainable world" and that what "the United States does now is critical to eliminating or at least reducing the possibility of catastrophic outcomes for future generations," the corporation is a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is spending millions of dollars to fight the regulation of climate pollution. Entergy plans to remain in the climate-denial organization in an attempt to "convince other members to agree to emissions limits."


LEONARD: Good morning. We are a broad base of businesses across America. We represent some 37 states. We touch all aspects of the economy. And we have come together this morning unified in one particular request. And that is that we pass comprehensive climate change and energy policy legislation this year. We are prepared as business to invest, to innovate, to transform the energy sector of this country and of the world — the way we source energy, the way we deliver energy, the way we use energy.

We want to get America back in the business of exporting technology instead of dollars. In order to do that, we need comprehensive legislation. We need to know what the rules are going to be with regard to energy and with regard to climate, and particularly with what the price on carbon is going to be in the United States, if we're to move around the world and export technology to other countries. And we need legislation in order to do that.

I'm the CEO of Entergy. We have nuclear plants around the country. We also serve two-and-a-half million customers in the mid-South and the Gulf South portion of the country, some of the poorest people in the country. People that have been through Katrina, Gustav, Ike, Rita. You name it, they've been through it. Nobody should ever have to suffer through a Katrina.

Last night, I was talking to Secretary Salazar. And he asked me, "What happens to New Orleans when sea level rise is not an inch from thermal expansion but meters, due to land ice melt in west Antarctica and Greenland?"

I said, "Well, we have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen, but we do have some protections, because we're working on New Orleans. What we haven't given enough thought to is what happens to everybody else."

What happens to all the coastal cities. What happens to the East Coast of the US with the slightly tilt of the planet on its axis as we melt those ice caps. There's no protection for them. And we're not talking about hurricanes any more, we're talking about potentially tsunami-type of events like we've seen in Asia, like we've seen most recently in American Samoa. A completely different set of events than what we're used to.

Some people say we can't do this because of the cost.

As business, we all look at in terms of it's an investment. In this case it's an investment that by all facts, figures and analysis pays back many times over. It pays back with reduced adaptation costs in the future, reduced repair and damage from these type of events, and growth in the economy through transferring technology around the world and creating jobs at home.

Some people say we can't do this because there are some things that are uncertain.

But that is in large part precisely the reason that we need to act, because of the uncertainty, not necessarily because of the things that we do know. We do know a lot, as you all know.

We are virtually certain that climate change is occurring, and occurring because of man's activities.

We're virtually certain the probability distribution curve is all bad. There's no good things that's going to come of this. But what's uncertain is exactly which one of those things are going to occur and in what time frame. In the probability distribution curve is about a 50% probability that about half of all species will become extinct or be subject to extinction over this period of time. What we will never know on an ex ante basis is whether or not man be one of those casualties or not.

We condemn Wall Street for taking risks with our economy — risks that all of you are trying very hard to reverse — but at the same time we're taking exactly the same kind of risks, with no upside whatsoever, with regard to our climate, failing to practice even the basic risk management techniques in terms of climate change reduction.

We talk a lot about in this issue about "us" and "we." Just so all you know this is not about us. It's about our children. It's about our children's children. When our children are born, we know at that moment in time, that there isn't anything in the world that we wouldn't do for them. And as they grow, we know for certain that we would give up our lives for our children. For some reason we won't do this. We're cheating them out of their future, and we're doing it with our eyes wide open. And that's exactly how history will judge us if we don't pass comprehensive climate and energy reform now.

Thank you.


Error-riddled 'Superfreakonomics', Part 2: Who else have Nathan Myhrvold and the Groupthinkers at Intellectual Ventures duped and confused? Would you believe Bill Gates and Warren Buffett?

Posted: 14 Oct 2009 04:54 PM PDT

This post will shock you.

The sheer illogic and "patent nonsense" of the new book Superfreakonomics discussed in Part 1 is just the tip of the iceberg.  What's most worrisome is 1) who exactly has been peddling much of the nonsense and illogic to the authors — Nathan Myhrvold, the former CTO of Microsoft — and 2) who else may have been persuaded by his bullshit.  The Myrhvold connection deserves special focus because it may help explain three puzzling things:

  • Why does Bill Gates' Foundation mostly ignore global warming?  (see here)
  • Why is Warren Buffett so wrong — and outspoken — about cap and trade? (see here)
  • Why did Gates and Buffett visit the Athabasca tar sands — the biggest global warming crime ever — to satisfy "their own curiosity" but also "with investment in mind"? (see here).

According to the Superfreaks, Gates and Buffett went to the visit the tar sands (and other energy producers) with Myrhvold, giving him plenty of time to spread his misinformation to them.  Moreover, the idea Myrhvold came away is simply stunning.

And yes, one always needs the caveat, "according to Levitt and Dubner," because their reporting skills are so dreadful — they shoehorn everything they hear into whatever contrarian view they had decided to adopt.  You shouldn't take anything they say at face value.  As we've seen, the primary climatologist the book relies on, Ken Caldeira, says "it is an inaccurate portrayal of me" and is "misleading" in "many" places.  But I have reason to believe Myrhvold was given a draft to comment on — and if so, he was a willing participant in the defamation of his own reputation and that of his company "Intellectual Ventures."  Apparently, he really does push this piece of staggering illogic:

"If you believe that the scary stories could be true, or even possible, then you should also admit that relying only on reducing carbon-dioxide emissions is not a very good answer," he says.  In other words:  it's illogical to believe in a carbon-induced warming apocalypse and believe that such an apocalypse can be averted simply by curtailing new carbon emissions.  "The scary scenarios could occur even if we make Herculean efforts to reduce our emissions, in which case the only real answer is geo-engineering."

As I said in Part 1, not only is it not illogical, but I suspect most of the world's leading climate scientists believe that if you could curtail all new carbon emissions (including from deforestation) starting now (or even starting soon), you would indeed avoid apocaplyse.  In fact, as Caldeira makes clear, the reverse of Myrhvold's final statement is true:  ONLY if we make Herculean efforts to reduce our emissions, could geo-engineering possibly contribute to the solution.

Note also that this certainty about something completely unproven (i.e. large-scale aerosol-based geo-engineering), comes from a guy who seriously questions the real science of human-caused climate change.  The Superfreaks describe their visit to IV this way:

Everyone in the room agrees that the Earth has been getting warmer and they generally suspect that human activity has something to do with it.

Good for them!  So they think maybe human emissions cause some of the warming, but that it's illogical to believe Herculean efforts to reduce emissions can avoid catastrophe, while we can be certain that geo-engineering will work (if it's needed of course).  How convenient.

As discussed in Part 1, however, absent the Herculean effort, geoengineering is all but hopeless and leads to "a dystopic world out of a science fiction story" as Caldeira described it to me.  Myhrvold and the geniuses groupthinkers at IV, however, dismiss all of the solutions:

In the darkened conference room, Myhrvold cues up an overhead slide that summarizes IV's views of the current slate of proposed global warming solutions.  The slide says:

  • Too little
  • Too late
  • Too optimistic.

Too little means that typical conservation efforts simply won't make much of a difference. "If you believe there is a problem worth solving," Myhrvold says, "then these solutions won't be enough to solve it.  Wind power and most other alternative energy things are cute, but they don't scale to a sufficient degree. At this point, wind farms are a government subsidy scheme, fundamentally."  What about the beloved Prius and other low-emissions vehicles?  "They're great," he says, "except that transportation is just not that big of a sector."

[Pause for laughter.  Then for weeping.]

No, I'm not making this up.  Go to the page for the book, and put "summarizes" in the search engine.  This guy was the CTO at Microsoft, and IV "controls more than twenty thousand patents" and they just make up crap like this and tell it to really important people who apparently swallow eat it up like pudding.  Has nobody in the room ever Googled?  I can't waste time debunking all of that crap, but how about this is from EPA:

Figure 2: 2006 CO2  Emissions from Fossil Fuel Combustion by Sector and Fuel Type.  This figure illustrates 2006 CO2 Emissions from the Fossil Fuel Combustion by Sector and Fuel Type using the data presented in Table 3-3. It is apparent that electricity generation, composed mostly of emissions from coal, and transportation, composed mostly of emissions from petroleum, are the largest contributors to CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.  In addition, there is a pie chart that indicates that petroleum accounted for 43%, coal accounted for 37%, and natural gas accounted for 20% of emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

Globally "Transport accounts for around a quarter of total CO2 emissions."  In fact, transport is the key sector, because reducing carbon emissions in electricity generation is so damn easy (see "An introduction to the core climate solutions").

That's why I call Myhrvold and his ilk, F.A.K.E.R.s — Famous "Authorities" whose Knowledge (of climate) is Extremely Rudimentary [Error-riddled?].  I can only conclude IV is filled with yes-men and -women who specialize in some bizarre form of contrarian groupthink, which in any other setting would be an oxymoron.

And, then we get this multi-whopper piece of nonsense:

Too optimistic:  "A lot of the things that people say would be good things probably aren't," Myrhvold says.  As an example he points to solar power.  "The problem with solar cells is that they're black, because they are designed to absorb light from the sun. But only about 12% gets turned into electricity, and the rest is reradiated as heat — which contributed to global warming."

As discussed in Part 1, this may set the FAKER record for howlers in one paragraph and for most orders of magnitude error in a single global warming calculation.  But the crap goes on and on like a really bad case of dysentery:

Although widespread conversion to solar power might seem appealing, the reality is tricky. The energy consumed by building the thousands of new solar plants necessary to replace coal-burning and other power plants would create a huge long-term "warming debt," as Myhrvold calls it.  "Eventually, we have a great carbon-free energy infrastructure but only after making emissions and global warming worse every year until we're done building out the solar plants, which could take 30 to 50 years."

[Pause to tighten vise around cranium so it does not explode.]

No.  No.  No.  A thousand times no.

First off, the energy payback for building solar is currently only a few years and dropping steadily.  Second, the carbon payback or "warming debt" of every solution drops steadily over time as you reduce the carbon intensity of the overall energy system.  The point is that you do multiple solutions all at once, including a massive amount of energy efficiency, a massive amount of renewables (especially CSP, which the FAKERs seem unaware of), and even fuel switching from coal to gas.  The U.S. could easily cut its CO2 emissions deepling in two decades while building out the most massive low carbon energy system.  Finally, of course, if we don't build the low-carbon infrastructure, then we will be building carbon-producing infrastructure, which will generate even more staggeringly large amounts of carbon for Myhrvold's dystopia.

But the Superfreaks think the FAKERs are geniuses:

Intellectual Ventures is an invention company.  The lab, in addition to all the gear, is stocked with an elite assemblage of brainpower, scientists and puzzle solvers of every variety….

Myhrvold played a variety of roles at Microsoft: futurist, strategist, founder of its research lab, and whisperer-in-chief to Bill Gates.  "I don't know anyone I would say is smarter than Nathan," Gates once observed….

He is so polymathic as to make an everyday polymath tremble with shame.

I'm going to it invent a new phrase for these FAKERs — idiotic savants.

If this guy has Gates' ear, no wonder the Gates Foundation mostly ignores global warming.  And remember, Buffett is the other major contributor to the Gates Foundation.  It's multi-billionaire Groupthink.

Now while the FAKERs are busy dissing all low-carbon technologies, which organizations as credible as the International Energy Agency, the National Academy of Sciences, the IPCC, and McKinsey say can be employed at scale and cost-effectively, their own solution is so risible even the media is starting to laugh at it.  The Independent writes:

The answer that the geeks offer is an 18-mile-long rubber hose pumping liquefied sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere. This, you might say, is where freakonomics starts getting a bit above itself….

And they never acknowledge any of the major problems that I discussed in Part 1.  Ironically, even though the Superfreaks rely heavily on Caldeira as a scientist who supposedly supports their geo-engineering strategy and even though they point out early on that Caldeira "coined the phrase 'ocean acidification," the process by which the seas absorb so much carbon dioxide the corals and other shallow-water organisms are threatened," Levitt and Dubner never mention it again, even though their geoengineering-only strategy would devastate the oceans for millennia (see "Imagine a World without Fish: Deadly ocean acidification — hard to deny, harder to geo-engineer, but not hard to stop — is subject of documentary").

As the UK's Guardian puts it:

They profile Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer of Microsoft, whose company, Intellectual Ventures, is exploring the possibility of pumping large quantities of sulphur dioxide into the Earth's stratosphere through an 18-mile-long hose, held up by helium balloons, at an initial cost of around $20m. The chemical would reflect some of the sun's rays back into space, cooling the planet, exactly as happened following the massive 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines. The primary objection to this plan, as with other "geoengineering" schemes, is that there's no predicting the unknown negative effects of meddling in such a complex natural system. And it's strange, given how much is made in both Freakonomics books of the law of unintended consequences, that they don't mention this in the context of Myhrvold's plan.

But the Superfreaks say its all settled science:

First of all, would it work?

The scientific evidence says yes. It is basically a controlled mimicry of Mount Pinatubo's eruption, whose cooling effects were exhaustively studied and remain unchallenged.

Do these guys even have the most rudimentary notion of what "scientific evidence" is?  Here's what Pinatubo did:

Yeah, it solved global warming.

The June 1991 eruption had a real, but very short-term impact.  We have no "scientific evidence" of what the medium-term or long-term impact would be of creating the equivalent of multiple simultaneous Pinatubos every year for decades and decades.

It's like saying 2 aspirins cured my headache, so now that the doctors say I have a malignant brain tumor, the scientific evidence proves I can take 2000 aspirins every day for the rest of my life and be cured.

As Caldeira says:

If we keep emitting greenhouse gases with the intent of offsetting the global warming with ever increasing loadings of particles in the stratosphere, we will be heading to a planet with extremely high greenhouse gases and a thick stratospheric haze that we would need to main more-or-less indefinitely. This seems to be a dystopic world out of a science fiction story. First, we can assume the oceans have been heavily acidified with shellfish and corals largely a thing of the past. We can assume that ecosystems will be greatly affected by the high CO2 / low sunlight conditions — similar to what Earth experienced hundreds of millions years ago. The sunlight would likely be very diffuse — maybe good for portrait photography, but with unknown consequences for ecosystems.

For more, see Science on the Risks of Climate Engineering: "Optimism about a geoengineered 'easy way out' should be tempered by examination of currently observed climate changes" and British coal industry flack pushes geo-engineering "ploy" to give politicians "viable reason to do nothing" about global warming. Is that why Lomborg supports such a smoke-and-mirrors approach? which has an analysis by Robock I'll repost at the end.

But first, let me end with one final Myhrvold shocker, which may explain the answer to the questions I posed at the start.  Where does he want to put the 18-mile-long hose to pump large quantities of sulphur dioxide into the Earth's stratosphere?

Myhrvold, in his recent travels, happened upon one potentially perfect site. Along with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, he was taking a whirlwind educational tour of various energy producers–a nuclear plant, wind farm, and so on.  One of their destination was the Athabasca oilsands in northern Alberta, Canada.

Memo to Superfreaks: They ain't "oil sands."

Billions of barrels of petroleum can be found there, but it's heavy, mucky crude. Rather than lying in a liquid pool beneath the earth's crust, it is mixed in, like molasses, with the surface dirt.  In Athabasca you don't drill for oil; you mine it, scooping up gigantic shovels of Earth and then separating the oil from its waste components.

One of the most plentiful waste components of sulfur, which commands such a low price that the oil companies simply stockpile it. "There were big yellow mountains of it, like a hundred meters high by a thousand meters wide!" says Myhrvold. "And they stair-step them, like a Mexican pyramid. So you can put one little pumping facility up there, and with one corner of one of those sulfur Mountains, you control the whole global warming problem for the Northern Hemisphere."

[Pause to clean up gray matter now scattered all over the vise.]

It is interesting to think what might've happened if Myhrvold was around 100 years ago, when New York and other cities were choking on horse manure. One wonders if, while everyone else looked at the mountains of dung saw calamity, he might've seen opportunity.

[Pause to think fondly about Myhrvold being around 100 years ago and not today -- then start worrying about the various unintended catastrophes we'd be dealing with now as a result.]

Lord knows how many people besides Gates and Buffett and Levitt and Dubner — and the hundreds of thousands of people who will read Superfreakonomics (currently #4 on Amazon's sales ranking) — will be duped by Myhrvold et al.

Since the Superfreaks don't report the work of any of the myriad climate scientists who have raised concerns about geo-engineering, since they have essentially adopted the exact same position as Bjorn Lomborg, let me end by reposting an outstanding response from RealClimate, "A biased economic analysis of geoengineering" by Prof. Alan Robock.  Robock gave the best talk I ever heard on geo-engineering (here), and this post is an excellent primer with numerous links:

Bjorn Lomborg's Climate Consensus Center just released an un-refereed report on geoengineering, An Analysis of Climate Engineering as a Response to Global Warming, by J Eric Bickel and Lee Lane. The "consensus" in the title of Lomborg's center is based on a meeting of 50 economists last year. The problem with allowing economists to decide the proper response of society to global warming is that they base their analysis only on their own quantifications of the costs and benefits of different strategies. In this report, discussed below, they simply omit the costs of many of the potential negative aspects of producing a stratospheric cloud to block out sunlight or cloud brightening, and come to the conclusion that these strategies have a 25-5000 to 1 benefit/cost ratio. That the second author works for the American Enterprise Institute, a lobbying group that has been a leading global warming denier, is not surprising, except that now they are in favor of a solution to a problem they have claimed for years does not exist.

Geoengineering has come a long way since first discussed here three years ago. [Here I use the term "geoengineering" to refer to "solar radiation management" (SRM) and not to carbon capture and sequestration (called "air capture" in the report), a related topic with quite different issues.] In a New Scientist interview, John Holdren, President Obama's science adviser, says geoengineering has to be examined as a possible response to global warming, but that we can make no such determination now. A two-day conference on geoengineering organized by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences was held in June, 2009, with an opening talk by the President, Ralph Cicerone. The American Meteorological Society (AMS) has just issued a policy statement on geoengineering, which urges cautious consideration, more research, and appropriate restrictions. But all this attention comes with the message that we know little about the efficacy, costs, and problems associated with geoengineering suggestions, and that much more study is needed.

Bickel and Lane, however, do not hesitate to write a report that is rather biased in favor of geoengineering using SRM, by emphasizing the low cost and dismissing the many possible negative aspects. They use calculations with the Dynamic Integrated model of Climate and the Economy (DICE) economic model to make the paper seem scientific, but there are many inherent assumptions, and they up-front refuse to present their results in terms of ranges or error bars. Specific numbers in their conclusions make the results seem much more certain than they are. While they give lip service to possible negative consequences of geoengineering, they refuse to quantify them. Indeed, the purpose of new research is to do just that, but the tone of this report is to claim that cooling the planet will have overall benefits, which CAN be quantified. The conclusions and summary of the report imply much more certainty as to the net benefits of SRM than is really the case.

My main areas of agreement with this report are that global warming is an important, serious problem, that SRM with stratospheric aerosols or cloud brightening would not be expensive, and that we indeed need more research into geoengineering. The authors provide a balanced introduction to the issues of global warming and the possible types of geoengineering.

But Bickel and Lane ignore the effects of ocean acidification from continued CO2 emissions, dismissing this as a lost cause. Even without global warming, reducing CO2 emissions is needed to do the best we can to save the ocean. The costs of this continuing damage to the planet, which geoengineering will do nothing to address, are ignored in the analysis in this report. And without mitigation, SRM would need to be continued for hundreds of years. If it were stopped, by the loss of interest or means by society, the resulting rapid warming would be much more dangerous than the gradual warming we are now experiencing.

Bickel and Lane do not even mention several potential negative effects of SRM, including getting rid of blue skies, huge reductions in solar power from systems using direct solar radiation, or ruining terrestrial optical astronomy. They imply that SRM technologies will work perfectly, and ignore unknown unknowns. Not one cloud has ever been artificially brightened by injection of sea salt aerosols, yet this report claims to be able to quantify the benefits and the costs to society of cloud brightening.

They also imply that stratospheric geoengineering can be tested at a small scale, but this is not true. Small injections of SO2 into the stratosphere would actually produce small radiative forcing, and we would not be able to separate the effects from weather noise. The small volcanic eruptions of the past year (1.5 Tg SO2 from Kasatochi in 2008 and 1 Tg SO2 from Sarychev in 2009, as compared to 7 Tg SO2 from El Chichón in 1982 and 20 Tg SO2 from Pinatubo in 1991) have produced stratospheric clouds that can be well-observed, but we cannot detect any climate impacts. Only a large-scale stratospheric injection could produce measurable impacts. This means that the path they propose would lead directly to geoengineering, even just to test it, and then it would be much harder to stop, what with commercial interests in continuing (e.g., Star Wars, which has not even ever worked).

Bickel and Lane also ignore several seminal papers on geoengineering that present much more advanced scientific results than the older papers they cite. In particular, they ignore Tilmes et al. (2008), Robock et al. (2008), Rasch et al. (2008), and Jones et al. (2009).

With respect to ozone, they dismiss concerns about ozone depletion and enhanced UV by citing Wigley (2006) and Crutzen (2006), but ignore the results of Tilmes et al. (2008), who showed that the effects would prolong the ozone hole for decades and that deployment of stratospheric aerosols in a couple decades would not be safe as claimed here. Bickel and Lane assert, completely incorrectly, "On its face, though, it does not appear that the ozone issue would be likely to invalidate the concept of stratospheric aerosols."

With respect to an Arctic-only scheme, they suggest in several places that it would be possible to control Arctic climate based on the results of Caldeira and Wood (2008) who artificially reduce sunlight in a polar cap in their model (the "yarmulke method"), whereas Robock et al. (2008) showed with a more realistic model that explicitly treats the distribution and transport of stratospheric aerosols, that the aerosols could not be confined to just the Arctic, and such a deployment strategy would affect the summer Asian monsoon, reducing precipitation over China and India. And Robock et al. (2008) give examples from past volcanic eruptions that illustrate this effect, such as the pattern of precipitation reduction after the 1991 Pinatubo eruption (Trenberth and Dai, 2007):

With respect to cloud brightening, Bickel and Lane ignore the Jones et al. (2009) results that cloud brightening would mainly cool the oceans and not affect land temperature much, so that it is an imperfect method at best to counter global warming. Furthermore Jones et al. (2009) found that cloud brightening over the South Atlantic would produce severe drought over the Amazon, destroying the tropical forest.

They also ignore a huge class of ethical and world governance issues. Whose hand would be on the global thermostat? Who would trust military aircraft or a multi-national geoengineering company to have the interests of the people of the planet foremost?

They do not seem to realize that volcanic eruptions affect climate change because of sulfate aerosols produced from sulfur dioxide gas injections into the stratosphere, the same that is proposed for SRM, and not by larger ash particles that fall out quickly after and eruption and do not cause climate change.

They dismiss air capture ("air capture technologies do not appear as promising as solar radiation management from a technical or a cost perspective") but ignore the important point that it would have few of the potential side effects of SRM. Air capture would just remove the cause of global warming in the first place, and the only side effects would be in the locations where the CO2 would be sequestered.

For some reason, they insist on using the wrong units for energy flux (W) instead of the correct units of W/m^2, and then mix them in the paper. I cannot understand why they choose to make it so confusing.

The potential negative consequences of stratospheric SRM were clearly laid out by Robock (2008) and updated by Robock et al. (2009), which still lists 17 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea. One of those important possible consequences, the threat to the water supply for agriculture and other human uses, has been emphasized in a recent Science article by Gabi Hegerl and Susan Solomon.

Robock et al. (2009) also lists some benefits from SRM, including increased plant productivity and an enhanced CO2 sink from vegetation that grows more when subject to diffuse radiation, as has been observed after every recent large volcanic eruption. But the quantification of these and other geoengineering benefits, as well as the negative aspects, awaits more research.

It may be that the benefits of geoengineering will outweigh the negative aspects, and that most of the problems can be dealt with, but the paper from Lomborg's center ignores the real consensus among all responsible geoengineering researchers. The real consensus, as expressed at the National Academy conference and in the AMS statement, is that mitigation needs to be our first and overwhelming response to global warming, and that whether geoengineering can even be considered as an emergency measure in the future should climate change become too dangerous is not now known. Policymakers will only be able to make such decisions after they see results from an intensive research program. Lomborg's report should have stopped at the need for a research program, and not issued its flawed and premature conclusions.


Jones, A., J. Haywood, and O. Boucher 2009: Climate impacts of geoengineering marine stratocumulus clouds, J. Geophys. Res., 114, D10106, doi:10.1029/2008JD011450.

Rasch, Philip J., Simone Tilmes, Richard P. Turco, Alan Robock, Luke Oman, Chih-Chieh (Jack) Chen, Georgiy L. Stenchikov, and Rolando R. Garcia, 2008: An overview of geoengineering of climate using stratospheric sulphate aerosols. Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. A., 366, 4007-4037, doi:10.1098/rsta.2008.0131.

Robock, Alan, 2008: 20 reasons why geoengineering may be a bad idea. Bull. Atomic Scientists, 64, No. 2, 14-18, 59, doi:10.2968/064002006. PDF file Roundtable discussion of paper

Robock, Alan, Luke Oman, and Georgiy Stenchikov, 2008: Regional climate responses to geoengineering with tropical and Arctic SO2 injections. J. Geophys. Res., 113, D16101, doi:10.1029/2008JD010050. PDF file

Robock, Alan, Allison B. Marquardt, Ben Kravitz, and Georgiy Stenchikov, 2009: The benefits, risks, and costs of stratospheric geoengineering. Submitted to Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1029/2009GL039209. PDF file

Tilmes, S., R. Müller, and R. Salawitch, 2008: The sensitivity of polar ozone depletion to proposed geoengineering schemes, Science, 320(5880), 1201-1204, doi:10.1126/science.1153966.

Trenberth, K. E., and A. Dai (2007), Effects of Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption on the hydrological cycle as an analog of geoengineering, Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L15702, doi:10.1029/2007GL030524.

Saudis redefine chutzpah: After decades of overpricing, and with trillions of dollars in future revenues, they want aid if world cuts oil use in climate deal

Posted: 14 Oct 2009 12:26 PM PDT

Let's call it The Audacity of hOPEC.  AP reported last week:

Saudi Arabia has led a quiet campaign during these and other negotiations — demanding behind closed doors that oil-producing nations get special financial assistance if a new climate pact calls for substantial reductions in the use of fossil fuels.

That campaign comes despite an International Energy Agency report released this week showing that OPEC revenues would still increase $23 trillion between 2008 and 2030 — a fourfold increase compared to the period from 1985 to 2007 — if countries agree to significantly slash emissions and thereby cut their use of oil.

The hypocritical chutzpah is staggering.  The head of the Saudi delegation Mohammad S. Al Sabban said:

We are among the economically vulnerable countries….

Many politicians in the Western world think these climate change negotiations and the new agreement will provide them with a golden opportunity to reduce their dependence on imported oil….  That means you will transfer the burden to developing countries, especially to those highly dependent on the exploitation of oil.

First off, for decades now, Saudi Arabia has led the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in using monopoly practices to keep oil prices higher than they would have been under strict market economics.  This caused pain for developed countries like ours, but hardly as much, relatively speaking, as that suffered by the non-oil-producing developing (i.e. poor) countries.  I don't remember Saudi Arabia commenting on the burden that cartel-driven oil prices created for other developing countries.

Second, the Saudi logic about the future impact of a climate deal is exactly backwards from the broad perspective of the burden of all developing countries.  If the rich countries reduce their oil consumption, that will necessarily reduce the price of oil compared to what it would have otherwise been.

The head of the Saudi delegation Mohammad S. Al Sabban dismissed the IEA figures as "biased" and said OPEC's own calculations showed that Saudi Arabia would lose $19 billion a year starting in 2012 under a new climate pact. The region would lose much more, he said.

That is an old study by Charles River, which has done lots of dubious climate analysis for the fossil fuel industry.

In fact, the Saudis will probably be making $200+ billion a year in 2012 from oil sales, and a little climate will not have any noticeable impact on oil consumption by then.  Moreover, peak oil is going to drive up prices and reduce demand faster than any climate deal (see World's top energy economist warns peak oil threatens recovery, urges immediate action: "We have to leave oil before oil leaves us").

Many inside and outside the Arab world were having none of the Saudis nonsensical, special pleading:

An Arab environmental group IndyACT and the environmental group Germanwatch released a report Thursday accusing Saudi Arabia of blocking key elements of the negotiations. Among their tactics, the groups said, was slowing negotiations by insisting that the economic woes of oil producers be included in the text.

"Despite the variability in the region, the current Arab position is mainly focused around protecting the oil trade rather than saving the planet form the adverse impacts of climate change," said Wael Hmaidan, the executive director of IndyACT.

The NYT reports:

Petroleum exporters have long used delaying tactics during climate talks. They view any attempt to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by developed countries as a menace to their economies….

"It is like the tobacco industry asking for compensation for lost revenues as a part of a settlement to address the health risks of smoking," said Jake Schmidt, the international climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The worst of this racket is that they have held up progress on supporting adaptation funding for the most vulnerable for years because of this demand."

Saudi Arabia is highly dependent on oil exports, which account for most of the government's budget. Last year, when prices peaked, the kingdom's oil revenue swelled by 37 percent, to $281 billion, according to Jadwa Investment, a Saudi bank. That was more than four times the 2002 level. At one point in 2008, the average gasoline price in the United States surpassed $4 a gallon.

Saudi exports are expected to drop to $115 billion this year, after oil prices fell. American gasoline prices are hovering around $2.50 a gallon.

The one-year swing in the kingdom's revenues shows that oil prices are likely to be a bigger factor in Saudi Arabia's future that any restrictions on greenhouse gases, said David G. Victor, an energy expert at the University of California, San Diego.

Mr. Victor dismissed the Saudi stance as a stunt, saying that the real threat for petroleum exporters came from improvements in fuel economy and rising mandates for alternative fuels in the transportation sector, both of which would reduce the need for petroleum products. "Oil exporters have always, in my view, far overblown the near-term effects of carbon limits on demand for their products," Mr. Victor said. "For the Saudis this may be a deal-breaker, but the Saudis are not essential players. In some sense, one sign that a climate agreement is effective is that big hydrocarbon exporters hate it."

Hear!  Hear!

Breaking: Murkowski praises Kerry-Graham climate plan. The Washington Times writes, "Her remarks signal the potential for a major turn in the climate change debate in Congress."

Posted: 14 Oct 2009 11:36 AM PDT

The climate train is leaving the station.  It is becoming increasingly likely Congress will pass a comprehensive energy bill that includes a shrinking cap and a rising carbon price (with a price collar).   Key swing Senators are moving away from obstructionism toward a bipartisan deal.  Those who stand on the sidelines not only risk ending up on the wrong side of history for this momentous bill, but they risk the more tangible benefits of sitting at the negotiating table.

The Washington Times reported today:

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, praised the climate change legislation outlined Sunday by GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic Sen. John Kerry…..

Her remarks signal the potential for a major turn in the climate change debate in Congress. She has been a leading opponent of the type of legislation that has been moving forward so far…..

"I'm hopeful their column will mark a shift in the climate debate," Murkowski said at a hearing by the energy committee. "Instead of cutting emissions at any cost, we should be working on a policy that incorporates the best ideas of both parties, a policy that accounts for our near-term energy needs, limits costs and is flexible enough to work under different economic circumstances," she said.

In the op-ed, the two Senators asserted they have developed "a framework for climate legislation to pass Congress and the blueprint for a clean-energy future that will revitalize our economy, protect current jobs and create new ones, safeguard our national security and reduce pollution." The framework includes, among other things, more offshore drilling and incentives for nuclear power, neither of which should be deal breakers for progressives as I have explained.

Murkowski's office has now put out a press release reiterating her statements:

Murkowski also noted that she hoped the framework for climate policy laid out by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., would mark a turning point in the climate debate….

Murkowski, the top Republican on the committee, supports addressing climate change in an economically safe and environmentally meaningful way.

Yesterday, I pointed out that Nate Silver's "Probability of Yes" vote for Murkowski is 2.37%, putting her in the "Republican Hail Mary's & No-Shots," writing:

But based on this op-ed, and her earlier statements, I'm going to put her at 50%.  Assuming Graham and Kerry come up with a compromise that, say, McCain can support, how exactly will Murkowski oppose it?  On grounds that it was not a "good faith" effort to address climate change?

Silver himself has a column today "Can Offshore Drilling Save the Climate Bill?" on the subject.  I actually think his analysis focuses too much on the wrong element of the deal — the proposed nuclear provisions are probably more important for securing the 60 votes than the drilling provisions.  Indeed, you have no chance whatsoever of getting either Liebermann or Graham, let alone McCain and many others, without a strong nuclear title.  Here is his bottom line:

…So what does this get the Democrats? It gets them Linsday Graham's vote, and possibly Lisa Murkowski's. It takes Mark Begich from a leaner to a likely yes. It might encourage Mary Landrieu, and possibly George LeMieux of Florida, to look more sympathetically at the bill. Then there are a whole host of more remote possibilities: Isakson of Georgia, and perhaps Cochran and Wicker of Mississippi or Burr of North Carolina; none of those votes are likely, but they become more plausible with offshore drilling in place. Overall, it seems to be worth something like 2-4 votes at the margin.

I don't think it gets you any of the "more remote possibilities."

That would give the Kerry-Graham bill a fighting chance, especially if an additional vote or two — possibly John McCain's — can also be picked up as a result of the nuclear energy compromise. Of course, that's assuming that no liberals would rebel against the new provisions, but the opposition to both offshore drilling and nuclear energy seems to be fairly soft in the liberal caucus. I would not place money on the climate bill passing this year, but the odds would seem to be a lot better with the drilling compromise in place.

Again, I think he misses the point.  The nuclear provisions are probably more important.  Here, for instance, is a statement last month from the office of Senator Voinovich (R-OH):

As both Chairman and Ranking Member on the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee over the last eight years, Senator Voinovich has had oversight responsibility of the NRC, and has worked hard to ensure the NRC has the resources to fulfill their role in ensuring public safety.

Sen. Voinovich continues to believe that nuclear power is the only real alternative we have today to produce enough low-cost, reliable, and clean energy to remove harmful pollutants from the air, prevent the harmful effects of global climate change and keep good jobs from going overseas. At a time when we are struggling to regain our economic footing, Ohio's manufacturing industry has an incredible opportunity when it comes to nuclear energy. Nuclear energy offers thousands of well-paying jobs in all stages of development and production.

The Kerry-Graham deal certainly puts his vote for the bill in the "gettable" column.  And as the bill becomes more genuinely bipartisan, then Senators like Lugar (R-IN) become gettable too.  I think the final bill will 5 or more Rs and 62 or more total votes.

Silver's finally sentence "I would not place money on the climate bill passing this year" is a tad too coy.  I myself would not place money on the climate bill passing the Senate this year.  But I would place money on it passing by next year, and I'd be interested to know whether Silver would, too.