Peer Pressure Pushing Climate Change Stroller

Ken Silverstein | Oct 24, 2012

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Ok, so the subject of climate change didn’t come up during any of the three presidential debates. Can we then conclude that any movement in that direction will get elbowed out over the next four years? Nope.

The nation will continue to develop cleaner energies. Further steps will therefore be taken to reduce such heat-trapping emissions but the means by which they are accomplished will deviate depending on the party in power. A Democratic White House would exercise the regulatory levers more while a Republican-led presidency would defer to the free market and allocate far fewer federal dollars.

“Climate change is a global threat that requires a global response,” says Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth Action. “Yet neither candidate saw fit to address climate change’s implications for foreign policy.”

Critics of that silence are fearful that the issue will now get shortchanged because of the partisan divide. Partly true. Political considerations kept it out of the three presidential debates: Ohio is considered the key battleground state and President Obama does not want to piss off the coal mining community there right before the election.

Many of those are actually coal miners, whose unions have neither endorsed Obama nor his challenger Mitt Romney. As for the GOP-hopeful, he is criticized for formerly favoring climate change legislation while calling a coal plant in Massachusetts a “killer.” For campaign purposes, he wants to stay away from that one, as well as from bringing up his pledge to nix the wind production tax credits, which many in Ohio favor.

Where does this leave things? For starters, the states are actively involved in the discussion and are moving forward without federal guidance. In November, California will kick off its cap-and-trade program, which will become the second biggest program on record next to the one in Europe.

At first, 90 percent of those allowances will be given to participants and 10 percent must be purchased. By 2016, the program is expected to be in full force, and a $10 billion market. About 600 industrial facilities will be affected: cement companies, oil refineries and electric power generators.


States Lead

In the Northeast, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is already in place and is a mandatory program is to reduce carbon levels by 10 percent by 2018. That plan requires large power producers to purchase credits for each ton of carbon dioxide emitted. That money is then allocated to state participants for investments in such initiatives as energy efficiency and clean energy projects.

At one point during his governorship of Massachusetts, Romney favored the plan. But he later backed away from it as the 2008 presidential race neared, although he did support modest penalties for coal-related releases. Now, of course, the Republican presidential nominee is vigorously opposing any types of mandated carbon curbs while also vowing to increase coal production.

Cap-and-trade is a program by which governments set pollution limits and then credits are either auctioned or allocated to industry. Those companies that are able to exceed the expectations can either bank their allowances for future use or sell them to other businesses that are unable to meet their obligations. As the ceilings come down, overall emissions then fall.

The aim is to push utilities toward cleaner burning fuels. But some of this is happening now as they switch from coal to natural gas, as well as because of higher oil prices that are causing people to drive less. According to the Energy Information Administration, carbon dioxide emissions are 2.4 percent less in 2011 than they were in 2010. They are also 9.1 percent than in 2007.

During the first leg of his presidency, Obama led the battle to enact a cap-and-trade program. But the fight died when the country’s economic climate worsened and when the congressional mix changed. Now the president’s focus is on using the regulatory agencies to enforce clean air laws while also pushing voluntary compliance measures.

Romney, meantime, is indebted to the fossil fuel communities and is likely to take a hands-off approach to regulation. Furthermore, part of his economic message centers on becoming increasingly energy independent and utilizing more domestic oil, natural gas and coal.

Environmentalists, though, are demanding federal guidance. Politics, for now, is paramount. But continued steps to reduce carbon emissions are forthcoming, albeit they may emerge more from peer pressure than from congressional mandates.

EnergyBiz Insider has been awarded the Gold for Original Web Commentary presented by the American Society of Business Press Editors. The column is also the Winner of the 2011 Online Column category awarded by Media Industry News, MIN. Ken Silverstein has been named one of the Top Economics Journalists by Wall Street Economists and one of MIN’s Most Intriguing People in Media.

Twitter: @Ken_Silverstein

energybizinsider@energycentral.com



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Comments

Peer Pressure Pushing Climate Change Stroller

From 2001 through 2011, US CO2 emissions decreased by 3.7% while worldwide CO2 emission increased by 32.6%. In 2011, China emitted 49% more CO2 than the US, and China’s CO2 emissions increase of 769 million MT (+9.4%) was more than seven times larger than US’s CO2 emissions decrease of 111 million MT (-1.8%). Thus, it is obvious that the US, by itself, cannot meaningfully reduce worldwide CO2 emissions. The efforts of individual US states, or groups of states, to effect worldwide CO2 emissions reminds one of Don Quixote.

A strategy of trying to control GHG emissions through a global treaty is doomed to fail because the World does not have the international institutions needed to enforce such a treaty. The UN’s sterling record of halting genocide, nuclear proliferation; slavery; religious persecution, and piracy on the high seas, which are EASY compared to controlling GHG emissions, should make it obvious that a global GHG emission control treaty is doomed to fail.

It should also be pointed out that, in addition to being incompetent and impotent, the UN is also racked with corruption. Remember the $40 billion Iraq Oil for Food Program? $2 billion to the Iraqi people, $1 billion to the UN for administrative costs, and $37 billion missing.

The various scandals and corruption in the EU’s GHG emission trading scheme (ETS) indicates that even the EU, which is a comparatively very strong international institution, cannot prevent theft by organized crime, tax evasion, and fraud (much of it through UN approved bogus Certified Emission Reduction projects located in China and India).

Thus, a strategy of preventing CAGW (catastrophic anthropogenic global warming) by controlling GHG emissions though an international treaty is destined to fail. Continuing with the current strategy is distressingly similar to well-meaning liberals during the 1930's, who outlawed war and agreed to disarmament treaties. Retrospectively, we not only realize the obvious futility of these international efforts, but many historians now believe these well meaning, but remarkably naive, efforts actually contributed to the start of WWII. Western democracies failed to re-build and modernize their military forces as Germany, Italy and Japan expanded their military and developed new weapons, believing that pieces of paper and moral suasion would stop a Hitler, Mussolini, or Tojo. These despots were much more cold-eyed; they saw the failure by western democracies to rebuild their defenses as an opportunity.

Similarly, unilateral GHG emission reductions by the US will not only be ineffective, but will also likely be counter-productive as industry migrates to countries that are more carbon intensive than the US (e.g. China, India, etc.). The economic benefits to these countries of having the US enact GHG emissions controls while they do nothing makes it less likely they will actually agree to reducing GHG emissions.

It is long past time for those who believe in CAGW theory to stop the charade of pretending a worldwide GHG emissions control treaty can be effective and develop strategies that actually have a realistic chance of working, given the political and economic realities of our world.

Climate Change

I agree with the first commenter that reducing U.S. carbon emissions will have little effect on the global climate picture. Thus, I doubt that it is wise to expend significant money on carbon emission reduction in a weak economy. Although, being in the power engineering business, I do appreciate the extra work it creates for me! From the longer term viewpoint, however, while the construction of elaborate and expensive carbon capure systems creates many short term jobs, in the longer term, we are spending money without creating tangible value. We plan to spend billions without any firm evidence that it will affect climate change and these expenditures will not generate one additional killowat of power.

We would better off to accept the fact that climate change is inevitablle and spend our money preparing for it.  For example, one effect is likely to be an increase in sea level. We should be spending our money on protecting our costal installations, such as is being done in Louisiana and Holland. It will take only a few feet of increase to put Los Angeles and New York in the same situation as New Orleans.

As far as the power industry is concerned, since another likely effect of climate change is reduction in fresh wate availability, we should be spending our money on reducing water use by conventional power plants and on developing large scale power storage systems to make generation technologies, such as wind and solar, that do not use water, practical by solving the intermittency problem.

Climate Change

I agree with the first commenter that reducing U.S. carbon emissions will have little effect on the global climate picture. Thus, I doubt that it is wise to expend significant money on carbon emission reduction in a weak economy. Although, being in the power engineering business, I do appreciate the extra work it creates for me! From the longer term viewpoint, however, while the construction of elaborate and expensive carbon capure systems creates many short term jobs, in the longer term, we are spending money without creating tangible value. We plan to spend billions without any firm evidence that it will affect climate change and these expenditures will not generate one additional killowat of power.

We would better off to accept the fact that climate change is inevitablle and spend our money preparing for it.  For example, one effect is likely to be an increase in sea level. We should be spending our money on protecting our costal installations, such as is being done in Louisiana and Holland. It will take only a few feet of increase to put Los Angeles and New York in the same situation as New Orleans.

As far as the power industry is concerned, since another likely effect of climate change is reduction in fresh wate availability, we should be spending our money on reducing water use by conventional power plants and on developing large scale power storage systems to make generation technologies, such as wind and solar, that do not use water, practical by solving the intermittency problem.

Perspective

“You’ve got to be careful, if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might end up somewhere else.”, Yogi Berra, American philosopher

In the ~35 years since the end of the global cooling panic, after the expenditure of more than $100 billion by the US alone, there is still no unique, broadly accepted GOAL for ultimate percentage reduction in global annual CO2 emissions, no PLAN to achieve that goal and no TIMELINE for such an effort. Simply, with regard to global annual CO2 reductions, we don’t know where we are going. Many technologies which might be useful if the ultimate reduction percentage is 50% would be totally useless if 100% reduction is required, as stated by Dr. James Hansen of NASA GISS.

Your post discusses approaches which might be used by the US to encourage or force reductions in US annual CO2 emissions. However, since CO2 is a globally well-mixed trace gas, a reduction in US emissions would have a trivial effect on global annual emissions and their impact on the atmospheric concentration of CO2. If global annual CO2 emissions were static, complete elimination of US CO2 emissions would result in a reduction of ~18% in global annual emissions. However, global annual emissions are not static, but rather are growing; and, it is highly unlikely that the US could reduce annual CO2 emissions rapidly enough to offset the increase in annual CO2 emissions currently occurring from Asia. Simply, it is not possible to begin reducing global annual emissions until you first stop increasing global annual emissions; and, those increases are occurring from Asia.

The effects of increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations over the next ~50 years are likely net positive, based on the increased rate of growth of field plants in an enriched CO2 environment. That would suggest that global annual CO2 emissions might need to be reduced to zero by ~2060. At the same time, against a background of increasing global annual CO2 emissions and increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2, there has been no statistically significant increase an global surface temperatures over the past ~16 years. That would suggest that the projected impact of increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations is being offset by some factor or factors which have not been identified.

There are currently only 147 sites, all in the US Climate Research Network, at which surface temperature data is being collected which does not require adjustments. Recent studies have suggested that up to half of the temperature anomaly currently attributed primarily to increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations is the result, not of measured values, but rather of adjustments to the measured values. Simply, we do not know what the global average surface temperature is, nor even how it has changed over the period of the instrumental temperature record, with any degree of certainty.

The concern regarding catastrophic anthropogenic global warming is based entirely on the outputs of climate models which have questionable skill at reconstructing the instrumented past, no less projecting the future. Current warming, based on the adjusted data, is less than Hansen of NASA GISS projected based on total elimination of global annual CO2 emissions, despite rapid growth in global annual CO2 emissions.

There is one approach which would directly and predictably drive the reduction of US (and global) annual CO2 emissions. That approach combines an initial emissions cap, a predetermined annual reduction in that cap until the required global annual CO2 emissions level is reached and the ability for the emitters to trade allowances among themselves to minimize both control costs and economic disruption. The independence property would suggest that the emissions allowances should be distributed at no cost to the emitters.

Actually reducing global annual CO2 emissions would require the investment of $trillions. A reduction to zero global annual emissions, as suggested by Hansen, would require the investment of ~$150 trillion globally. It would help to have a GOAL, a PLAN and a TIMELINE before we begin throwing that kind of investment at the “problem”.