- Energy and Global Warming News for January 6: China's Qingyuan seeks to boost US electric car sales
- Can U.S. skiing be saved?
- Stavins on Another Copenhagen Outcome: Serious Questions About the Best Institutional Path Forward
- Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) to retire also
- Toles on the tough job of being a Senator
- Breaking: Sen. Dorgan (D-ND) to retire
- Yes, the atmospheric CO2 fraction has risen at a dangerously fast rate in the past 160 years, reaching levels not seen in millions of years
- Lindsey Graham censured again by SC county party for trying to create clean energy jobs in the state, clean its air and reduce the nearly $1 billion a day we ship overseas to buy oil, "some of which finds its way to extremist or terrorist organizations."
- Energy and Global Warming News for January 5: Study finds Michigan's plan to fight climate change would also boost state economy; Wind farms could create thousands of new Nebraska jobs — NREL
Posted: 06 Jan 2010 09:16 AM PST
Posted: 06 Jan 2010 08:28 AM PST
Human-caused global warming doesn't turn January into July, and so it's no surprise we've got lots of snow now. The anti-science crowd keeps confusing precipitation with temperature, seeing almost any snowstorm as evidence we're not warming (see "Was the "Blizzard of 2009″ a "global warming type" of record snowfall — or an opportunity for the media to blow the extreme weather story (again)?"). In fact, since climate change will keep bringing more precipitation to certain regions, many northern ski areas will probably have lots of snow for the foreseeable future. But most major U.S. ski resorts would be devastated if we keep on our current path of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions (see Our hellish future: Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year — and that isn't the worst case, it's business as usual!). This CAP repost looks at some impacts on and actions by the ski industry. The AP photo is a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine built by Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Hancock, MA.
The ski industry could be in big trouble if climate change continues unabated, and leaders in the industry are taking steps to make their resorts more sustainable while educating their guests.
Take Aspen, for instance. The resort is already seeing a gradual increase in frost-free days and warmer nights, according to Mike Kaplan, CEO of Aspen Skiing Company, and aspen trees are dying off in large numbers. A study by the Aspen Global Change Institute forecasts that if global carbon emissions continue to rise, Aspen will warm by 14 degrees by the end of this century—giving it a feel similar to Amarillo, TX.
In Utah, a consultant's report released by the nonprofit Park City Foundation this fall predicts that the decrease in snowpack caused by global warming could lead to 1,100 jobs lost by 2030 and a $120 million economic loss in Park City alone. The town is home to three ski resorts and represents a share of the $1 billion that ski resorts bring to the state each year.
Ski executives understand the threat and are taking steps. Aspen is increasing its energy efficiency and reliance on renewable energy by installing solar energy systems. And Massachusetts resort Jiminy Peak installed a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine that generates 33 percent of its electricity demands.
Kaplan and others, including Steve Rendle, CEO of The North Face, are keen to get the word out about climate change's effect on skiing and outdoor sports. They maintain, however, that these efforts are not enough, and they argue for a global and national climate and energy policy, not just out of concern for the planet, but for their businesses, as well. California's ski industry was one of the first groups to support legislation requiring the state to reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 emission levels by 2020.
Skiers and snowboarders can help lower the carbon footprint of their sport through their choices in gear and travel. Colorado's Venture Snowboards runs entirely on wind power, and Burton offers snowboards made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood and recycled materials. There's also vegetable-based snowboard wax and organic skiwear. Used gear can be recycled or donated to the Salvation Army or organizations such as SWAG. If you're not a regular skier or snowboarder, renting gear from the resort pro shop or a friend is a good choice.
Most people are forced to use SUVs or other gas guzzlers to climb the mountains to resorts, but many ski and snowboard shops such as Emilio's in New York City run shuttle services straight to the slopes from the city. Some train lines on the East Coast will drop you off in free resort shuttle bus territory. If not, you can carpool, which is now easier to do with Facebook applications and resorts such as California's Kirkwood, which provides its own carpool service, the K-Pool.
The nonprofit Ski Area Citizen's Coalition runs an online community that assesses the environmental performance and policies of resorts in the United States and Canada. Concerned skiers, snowboarders, and conservationists can sign up and help keep track of how resorts are faring or search the site to see where to find the closest environmentally responsible resort.
National and global climate policies would take the biggest step toward cutting the emissions that endanger the ski industry. But those who enjoy the sport and want to see it preserved can do something now. They'd be joined by the major players in the business who are already working to keep the slopes covered in powder well into the future.
JR: Having lived near Aspen for 2 years while working with Amory Lovins, I can attest to the devastation from the bark beetle, even if the media has been slow to make the link to climate change (see "Signs of global warming are everywhere, but if the New York Times can't tell the story (twice!), how will the public hear it?")
Posted: 06 Jan 2010 05:14 AM PST
Whether you like it or not, for the time being the most important product of the December meeting in Copenhagen of the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-15) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the "Copenhagen Accord," which I assessed in my December 20th blog post ("What Hath Copenhagen Wrought?"). In the long term, however, it is quite possible that another outcome of the December meetings may prove to be equally or more consequential. I'm referring to the decreased credibility of the UNFCCC as the major institutional venue for international climate policy negotiation and implementation.
One has to be cautious about taking too seriously some of the assertions that have been made in the printed press and the blogosphere about the death of the UNFCCC, partly because many of those commentaries come from people in the press and NGOs who – like me – suffered in Copenhagen because of the terrible logistics provided by the UNFCCC, which kept thousands of people standing outside in the bitter cold for 8 hours waiting to receive their credentials (for which they had been pre-registered) only to be turned away from the Bella Center. I've written about that in my December 18th blog post (Chaos and Uncertainty in Copenhagen?). However, the problems with the UNFCCC that became so apparent in Copenhagen are more fundamental than the logistical failures.
Problems with the UNFCCC Process
The two weeks of COP-15 illustrated four specific problems, most of which were apparent long before the Copenhagen meetings. First, the UNFCCC process involves too many countries – about 196 at last count — to allow anything of real significance to be achieved. As my colleague, Professor Jeffrey Frankel, observed in a panel session in which he and I participated at the ASSA meetings in Atlanta, "it's difficult enough to reach agreement in a room with 30 people, let alone close to 200." What is particularly striking about involving 196 parties in the discussion of international climate change policy is the reality that just 20 of them account for about 90% of global emissions!
The second problem – again, illustrated in spades at the Copenhagen sessions – is that the UN culture tends to polarize many discussions into two factions: the developed world versus the developing world. This is troubling, because the world is much more diverse than such a dichotomous distinction would suggest. Clearly, emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil, Korea, Mexico, and South Africa have more in common – along some key economic dimensions – with some countries in the so-called developed world than they do with the poorest developing countries, such as those of sub-Saharan Africa.
The third problem is that the voting rules of the UNFCCC process require consensus for nearly all decisions, that is, unanimity. It was lack of unanimity, by the way, which resulted in the Conference not "adopting" the Copenhagen Accord, but rather "noting" it. After all, only 190 of 196 countries voted to adopt it. Six nations voted in opposition, ironically accusing the 190 of "undemocratic procedures:" Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Sudan, Tuvalu, and Venezuela.
Fourth and finally, the UNFCCC leadership in Copenhagen was – to phrase it politely – problematic, not only administratively, but substantively as well, according to delegates from a diverse set of countries.
These problems (as well as others on which readers will probably comment) have caused many observers (as long as eight to ten years ago in the case of some academic economists and political scientists) to question whether the UNFCCC is the best institutional venue for productive negotiations and action on global climate change policy, or at least whether it ought to be the sole venue. So, what are the possible alternatives?
Potential Alternative or Supplementary Institutional Venues
One promising venue was initiated in 2007 by the Bush administration as the "Major Emitter Meetings" – the "MEM process." It was roundly condemned by environmental advocacy groups and by many supporters of the UNFCCC process. Greenpeace labeled it a "dead-end diversion" – "an attempt by the Bush Administration to deflect international criticism on their do nothing attitude on climate change." Whether or not that was the Bush administration's cynical motivation, the fact remains that it was a sensible venue for discussion.
Fortunately, the Obama administration recognized that this was a promising approach, adopted it, changed its name to the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, and continued the process, now commonly referred to as the "MEF." Several meetings have taken place – in Washington, Paris, and Mexico City – bringing together Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Those 17 countries and regions account for about 90% of global emissions. The U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, Michael Froman, chairs the meetings. Naturally, some nations (and some advocates) are concerned about a small set of large countries reaching decisions; and no doubt some are not comfortable with a process chaired by the United States.
Another conceivable institutional venue would be the G-20, the "Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors," established in 1999 to bring together the leading industrialized and developing economies to discuss key issues. They recently turned their attention to climate change policy (in Pittsburgh in September, 2009). The make-up of this group is similar to that of the MEF, but there are differences: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. For some people, the good news about the G-20 playing a key role as a venue for negotiations is the presence of economic thinking; of course, this is precisely what troubles many others.
No doubt, there are other conceivable multilateral negotiations that could be convened, as well as bilateral approaches, including, of course, ongoing talks between China and the United States.
Don't Nail Shut the Coffin
Anyone who predicts the death of the UNFCCC is probably letting their hopes infect their prognostication. It is simply much too soon for obituaries for this important and quite durable institution.
The Kyoto Protocol continues at least until the end of its first commitment period, that is, through 2012. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and annual national reporting functions (such as those that are key parts of the Copenhagen Accord) are likely to work through the United Nations, most likely the UNFCCC.
Also, the UNFCCC has a very large constituency of support, including at a minimum most, if not all, of the G-77 group of developing countries, which actually numbers much closer to 140. In addition, the UNFCCC has tremendous international legitimacy, and is potentially key for implementation, no matter what the venue may be for initial negotiation.
The Path Forward
Whether the next steps in international deliberations should be under the auspices of the UNFCCC or some smaller deliberative body, such as the MEF or the G-20, is an important and open question. Given the necessity of achieving consensus in the United Nations processes as currently defined and the open hostility of a small set of countries, other bilateral and multilateral discussions could be an increasingly attractive route, at least over the short term.
There are many questions, however, that need to be addressed before anyone can identify the best institutional venue (or venues) for international climate negotiations and action. Such questions are now among the major foci of research by the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements. More about this in future posts.
Posted: 06 Jan 2010 05:08 AM PST
Unlike the announcement yesterday of Sen. Dorgan (D-ND) to retire, this greatly increases Dem chances of holding the seat:
Dodd is a good Senator from a reliably Democratic state, but got tangled up by his presidential ambitions — he moved his family to Iowa "in the fall of 2007 in hopes of generating some excitement for his bid. The move backfired on the Democratic incumbent as many Connecticut voters bristled" — and the possibility received a favorable mortgage and the fallout of the financial crisis.
Posted: 06 Jan 2010 04:59 AM PST
People think you were elected to address more than one serious national problem a year!
Posted: 05 Jan 2010 04:14 PM PST
What's bad news for the Dems in the longer term could be good news for the climate bill in the short term. Nate Silver had given Dorgan a "Probability of Yes" vote of 22%. He was certainly going to be among the 5 toughest Dem votes to get.
But now he doesn't face a tough reelection, and the Senator from the state he himself calls "the Saudi Arabia of wind" is free to vote his conscience. Indeed, all things being equal, I think he'd like to vote 'yes' — see post "When Sen. Dorgan finds out what's in the climate bill — hint, hint, White House — he might just support it," which I'll excerpt and update here:
In July, Dorgan published an op-ed in The Bismarck Tribune with contents that mostly suggests he might actually be a real fence-sitter and filibuster buster if somebody actually explained the bill to him and worked to address his concerns — and if he didn't have to worry about reelection.
Indeed, the sole objections he raises to the bill — the potential for Wall Street to engage in questionable derivatives tradings and speculative bubbles that might drive the price of CO2 soaring — are actually addressed in Waxman-Markey by multiple provisions (as I discuss here). As an important aside, it would be almost impossible to write a bill reducing CO2 emissions that would not lead to "derivatives," which, after all, include futures contracts and options.
If you are going to create a CO2 price — really the only way of reducing CO2 other than mandatory, command-and-control, sector-based emissions regulations (which it is impossible to believe Dorgan supports) — then Wall Street is going to create futures and options to allow companies to mitigate risk. And that's a very good thing, as even conservative economists will tell you.
The only question is whether you design a system with checks and balances against fraudulent derivatives and speculation, which the House bill does and which the Senate bill will no doubt improve.
Now, you might say that Dorgan isn't interested in a real bill, that he is just positioning himself for a "no" vote. Well, if so, he has written a very strange op-ed. Let me excise all the "railing against Wall Street" stuff, and see for yourself:
Well, that's certainly Waxman-Markey. You can't argue the targets are too tough or that the bill doesn't spend tens of billions of dollars on technology development or deployment. In fact, as Waxman's summary explains, the bill "Invest[s] in new clean energy technologies and energy efficiency, including energy efficiency and renewable energy ($90 billion in new investments by 2025), carbon capture and sequestration ($60 billion), electric and other advanced technology vehicles ($20 billion), and basic scientific research and development ($20 billion)" — see "A useful summary of Waxman-Markey."
Again, that's Waxman-Markey (see Robert Stavins: "The appropriate characterization of the Waxman-Markey allocation is that more than 80% of the value of allowances go to consumers and public purposes, and less than 20% to private industry." and UPDATED exclusive report: Preventing windfalls for polluters but preserving prices — Waxman-Markey gets it right with its allocations to regulated utilities).
Check, check, and check. Ironically, the Senate energy bill is weaker than the House on the RES, so presumably Dorgan will vote to strengthen it on the Floor. And yes, the House RES cannot be called "ambitious" anymore, but that's in large part thanks to the huge push on renewable energy in the stimulus (see "EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus! Now can we get a stronger renewable standard?").
That's already in Waxman-Markey (and was in the stimulus). Love to do more, Senator.
If that were his entire op-ed, you'd say he was at least 50-50 for the bill and certainly would be a realistic possibility for voting against a filibuster, like Sherrod Brown (D-OH). But he rails at length against Wall Street speculators and derivatives. Yet, his concerns about speculators and market fraud — which Mississippi Governor (and global warming denier/delayer) Haley Barbour has been playing up, along with James Hansen and Robert Shapiro — are ones that the authors of Waxman-Markey were quite aware of when they wrote the bill.
That's why the bill has many provisions (and realities) that would stop "a financial meltdown from speculators trading frantically in the permits and their derivatives," as Hansen put it, or someone cornering the market, as Barbour put it.
First off, the permit market is huge. Even purchasing 2% of the permits in, say, 2015, would probably cost $1 billion. And speculators would have to purchase several times that to significantly run up the price.
Second, it will be so easy to meet the targets for at least the first decade (see here) that the "real" price of a permit will probably be slightly below the auction price (which has a floor). So it will be highly unprofitable to buy lots of permits, which would run up the price, in an effort to make money selling those permits sometime in the future. I can't imagine a plausible scenario in which this would make economic sense for any entity even if they could get away with it, which they cannot.
Third, the bill requires EPA to promulgate regulations to cover the auction. As CQ's summary of the bill explains:
So it would be very difficult to do any major purchasing in secret and virtually impossible to acquire a large fraction of the permits.
Fourth, the bill has a whole section devoted to "Carbon Market Assurance." As the WRI summary describes it:
That section explicitly includes derivatives, with further oversight by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Fifth, the bill has a Strategic Reserve (with tons originally skimmed off from each year's total target) that an entity can purchase permits from if the price sees a short-term run up of about 60%. So again the bill will is designed to prevent someone from cornering the market or running up the price.
So these concerns, while potent from a populist perspective, are simply not a reason to oppose this bill if one supports the general goal of a shrinking cap that doesn't force reductions down at an alarming pace, does mitigate most of the price risk to consumers, does spend many tens of billions of dollars on clean energy development, demonstration, and deployment, and promotes renewables (albeit not enough) and electrifying transportation system.
I expect the Senate bill will be even tougher in this arena — perhaps aided by a new financial services oversight bill — since that will be needed to get the vote of other senators with similar concerns (see "Cantwell, Collins join bipartisan call for market-based carbon pricing to achieve shrinking cap on carbon").
So let's say for now that Dorgan is 50-50 or better to vote for the final bill — and maybe higher for at least cloture. After all, what possible reason could he give to support a filibuster?
Posted: 05 Jan 2010 12:48 PM PST
Once upon a time in a galaxy not very far away there was some scientific research that found the global carbon sinks (oceans, soils, vegetation) were not saturating — assuming, of course, that its general methodology and simplifying assumptions were in fact correct.
The research, by Wolfgang Knorr, had a title that tried to do too much in too few words: "Is the airborne fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions increasing?" And so when the American Geophysical Union published this interesting-if-true study, it issued a press release with the catastrophically wrong headline, "No rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide fraction in past 160 years."
As an aside, Joseph Pulitzer's "standing order to his staff" of reporters was: ACCURACY. TERSENESS. ACCURACY. For science reporting, you probably need to drop "terseness." My motto is "better a long headline, than a wrong headline" — especially since a large fraction of people never go much beyond the headline, even more especially in the internet age, where the headline can truly take on a life of its own.
Now it's kind of scary this particular headline got through whatever editors AGU uses, since it is directly at odds with what is arguably the single most famous chart of observational data in the entire climate arena, the Keeling Curve of "Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2)":
In fact, not only has the atmospheric CO2 fraction (i.e. concentration) risen sharply in recent decades, it has risen at a rate that is unprecedented in the past million years (see "Humans boosting CO2 14,000 times faster than nature, overwhelming slow negative feedbacks"). As the author of 2008 study on this subject noted, "the average change in the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide over the last 600,000 years has been just 22 parts per million by volume." Humans have run up CO2 levels 100 ppm over the last two centuries! The author added, ""Right now we have put the system entirely out of equilibrium."
And that makes this a truly scary fable (see Science: CO2 levels haven't been this high for 15 million years, when it was 5° to 10°F warmer and seas were 75 to 120 feet higher — "We have shown that this dramatic rise in sea level is associated with an increase in CO2 levels of about 100 ppm.").
Back to our story. The bad headline was then picked up by Science Daily, as is their wont:
The anti-science gang leaped all over themselves to turn this story into a real fairy tale — without the benefit of actually having read and/or understood this study and/or, apparently, even the press release. Ken Ward Jr. of the WV Charleston Gazette did a great debunking of one such piece of muddled nonsense by the Charleston Daily Mail's Don Surber, who declared on his blog that he had discovered "The Final Nail in the Global Warming Coffin," ending "You can fool all of the people some of the time — and some of the time is all Al Gore needed to make a pile of money."
You can in fact fool some of the people all of the time, as the professional deniers prove every day. Ward then notes that in an editorial published yesterday, the Daily Mail summarized Knorr's study this way:
Seriously. And they still haven't retracted this egregious blunder.
For the spin by a true extremist, see "Climate Change Fanatics Shocked as New Scientific Paper Reveals Zero Atmospheric Carbon Increase."
ARE THE CARBON SINKS SATURATING OR NOT
Knorr's study is, of course, only about whether the fraction of human-emitted CO2 that stays in the atmosphere — the "airborne fraction — changes over time. He finds that it hasn't. His work is at odds with work by Le Quéré and more than two dozen colleagues as part of the Global Carbon Project. For an open-access paper led by the GCP, see Canadell et al., "Contributions to accelerating atmospheric CO2 growth from economic activity, carbon intensity, and efficiency of natural sinks."
The GCP seem to me to be doing a much more impressive and thorough job of looking at all the data and analyzing it. Here's what they find:
Skeptical Science has an excellent analysis of the issue and these papers, "Is the airborne fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions increasing?" I must confess, though, that headline remains too opaque for the general reader. I'd prefer something simpler and clearer, like "Are the carbon sinks saturating or not." SS notes that if the answer is no, it's not really the "bombshell" WattsUpWithThat claims it is:
It is a tricky calculation with large uncertainties, especially the farther you go back in time, since we have less accurate measurements in key areas:
The emissions from land-use change (LUC) are especially tough because there are so many hard-to-measure factors, include CO2 uptake and loss from the soils. As the GCP explains:
Knorr makes a few simplifying assumptions about LUC which may or may not be correct, including this remarkable statement:
I'd welcome a comment from an expert on this tricky arena of modeling net CO2 emissions from LUC, but it certainly looks like Knorr has to change his scale factor over the past decade to get a consistent answer. That does not, of course, mean he's wrong, but again GCP and Le Quéré et al. seem to me to be doing a much more comprehensive job of trying to model this.
If we're seeing the saturation of the ocean carbon sink, it looks to be a relatively recent phenomena. After 10 years and more than 90,000 ship-based measurements of CO2 absorption in the North Atlantic, University of East Anglia researchers reached this stunning conclusion in 2007:
In general, it would be awesome news if the sinks weren't saturating. Many major climate models predict that they will — and, even worse, that some sinks will become major sources — leading to various positive or amplifying feedbacks:
Needless to say, this would complicate efforts to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of CO2 at levels needed to preserve a livable climate and makes action now all the more urgent.
The moral of our fable is write better headlines and read the whole damn press release and paper before writing about it. And since this is a fable for our times, what better way to end than with a talking bunny, Dr. Rabett, providing a version for children of all ages on Tobis's "Only In It For The Gold":
Lindsey Graham censured again by SC county party for trying to create clean energy jobs in the state, clean its air and reduce the nearly $1 billion a day we ship overseas to buy oil, "some of which finds its way to extremist or terrorist organizations."
Posted: 05 Jan 2010 10:47 AM PST
CNN Politics reported yesterday on GOP efforts in SC to make averting catastrophic global warming and promoting clean energy jobs a litmust test. This doubly self-destructive trend is nothing new (see Honey, I shrunk the GOP, Part 3: RNC Chair Steele withdraws support for Rep. Kirk over his vote on climate and clean energy bill).
CNN Politics ran this caption on its photo of Graham above), "Sen. Lindsey Graham has frustrated grassroots conservatives in his home state for years." That's pretty scary considering Graham has a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 89.79. Graham is an ACU "Senate Standout," among the 20 most conservative U.S. Senators in 2008! Just how right-wing do you have to be not to frustrate grassroots conservatives?? They'd have impeached Reagan for agreeing to save the ozone layer!
If you read this profile of Graham, then you'll know that these attacks are not likely to move him. Indeed, he knows that he bipartisan climate and clean energy bill would be very good for South Carolina and the nation:
But that's not the way the far right see it, as CNN reported:
It's going to be an epic struggle this year in the Senate — more on that later.
The bottom line for now, though, is that if Graham ain't pure enough for the Palin crowd, the party is gonna have troubles (see Honey, I shrunk the GOP, Part 4: Moderate GOP candidate yields to angry conservative. Gingrich says if this keeps up, "we'll make Pelosi speaker for life and guarantee Obama's re-election.")
Posted: 05 Jan 2010 10:30 AM PST
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