Posts tagged “global warming”
Global Experiment With the Climate
I want to preface this column by saying that I am very concerned about climate change. The rapid growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide shows no sign of abating, and I have concerns over what this will ultimately mean for the climate. The fact is that we are conducting a global experiment with the atmosphere, and predictions of severe consequences as a result should be taken with the utmost seriousness.
Having said that, I think it is important to maintain a healthy scientific discourse on the matter. “The science is settled” is just not a statement that I am comfortable with, and I am uncomfortable labeling those who question climate change with something that evokes comparisons with Holocaust denial.
Without a doubt, some of the attacks against climate science are ignorance-based. But some of those challenges and questions are by sincere people — sometimes scientists — who doubt the science in the same way that there have always been skeptics in science. In most cases the small band of skeptics is wrong, but sometimes they overturn entrenched paradigms. Those skeptics should be engaged on the basis of science, and not politics or personal animosity. (Hint: If your willingness to accept the conclusions of a report is based on whether it agrees with your position, then your position isn’t based on science nor is it objective — regardless of which side you are on).
So, in a nutshell I accept that accumulating carbon dioxide has the potential to change the climate — and may very well be doing so now — but I believe skeptics should be engaged scientifically rather than shouted down. On the flip side, I believe skeptics must engage on the basis of the science and not engage in ad hominem attacks.
Not all skeptics are idiots. But not all proponents are well-informed, as I show in today’s column.
In the first installment of this series, I reviewed U.S. and global oil reserves according to the 2012 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. The second installment covered oil production, and the third looked at global consumption trends. Today, I look at the growth of global carbon dioxide emissions since 1965. A great deal has changed over the past 46 years.
Major Worldwide Growth in CO2 Emissions
In the U.S., the public is bombarded with messages about climate change. One may get the impression that if we only stop the next pipeline and slow down the growth of Canada’s oil sands, we are one step closer to victory. But this is really akin to fighting a small local skirmish while a war rages on the other side of the globe. But the skirmish does not change the outcome of the war. I am going to take up this theme in a follow-up column, but for now let’s examine what’s going on in the world. CONTINUE»
In this week’s episode of R-Squared Energy TV, I answer the following questions:
- What are the chances that electric vehicles will be more than a boutique item, and will make up a noticeable portion of cars on the road by 2020?
- Do you agree with the recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that building the Keystone Pipeline will raise gasoline prices?
A recent study published in the subscription only Nature Climate Change (which I do not have a subscription for) found the price Americans are willing to pay to have 80 percent “clean” energy by 2035. Drum roll please … $13 bucks a month.
The researchers went a step further and calculated that the cost would have to drop even further to overcome political barriers:
The researchers — Joseph E. Aldy, Matthew J. Kotchen and Anthony A. Leiserowitz — ran a what-if exercise and found the current level of public support insufficient to overcome entrenched opposition in Congress.
Majority rule does not really apply there, of course: getting anything controversial through the Senate, for example, requires 60 votes to break filibusters. With some number-crunching and assumptions about how preferences back home would influence the votes of lawmakers, the researchers found that the annual added cost per household of a clean energy policy would have to drop below $59 a year to pass the current Senate and below $48 a year to pass the current House.
Earlier this week, the Washington Times wrote a particularly angry and irrational editorial arguing against the military planning for climate change. The proximate reason for their editorial was Secretary Panetta’s speech on May 2 at the Environmental Defense Fund in which he said “Climate Change has a Dramatic Impact on Our National Security.” ASP blogged about the speech last week.
Normally, I would not take the time to respond to the Washington Times editorial, as they are notorious for being at the far edge of the spectrum on this issue, and far away from any scientific mainstream, but some of the assertions are so scurrilous that they require a response. They simply cannot stand without being challenged.
They write that the national-security threat of climate change “is a fight America can’t afford.” However, as I have discussed before, a changing climate does pose real threats to America’s national security. Rising sea levels, changing precipitation patterns, increasingly dangerous weather disasters, and melting polar ice caps could destabilize countries, and the U.S. military must be prepared to react to the conflicts that could result from these changes. There is a robust academic argument about the precise linkages between climate and conflict, but that is not where this editorial goes.
Instead, there are some serious assertions in the editorial that must be responded to because they are so far from reality. I will precisely go through them.
In this week’s episode of R-Squared Energy TV, I answer questions about compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, and talk a little bit about global warming. Some of the topics discussed are:
- The environmental footprint of a CNG vehicle versus an electric vehicle operating on natural gas-derived electricity
- The prospects of CNG vehicles in the next 10 years
- Why I generally do not write much about global warming
- The basis of future climate change projections
- The role of feedback mechanisms in climate change
- The basis of the greenhouse effect
- My concerns about the tenor of the debate
- The real “carbon bomb” for the planet
I may bring down the wrath of the internet with this essay – I know from experience that talking climate change in a public forum draws out all the trolls. A changing climate, however, is important enough that our national security planners are studying it closely. The Defense Department, the Intelligence Community, and the Department of Homeland Security are closely studying the effects of climate change, particularly how it will impact our security.
A Changing Climate
First, I will try to pre-empt some criticism from the anti-science crowd by saying that we simply cannot know the future. The climate is notoriously difficult to predict, and models are imperfect. But – climate change is not a matter of ‘belief’ – it is a matter of fact. The fact is that the earth is warming, and has been for at least a century. And, that warming is accelerating: the warmest decade on record was the 2000s, with each of the three decades previous to that warmer than the decade before. Further – it is unequivocal that this warming is being driven by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. I am not a scientist, so I will leave the rest of the explanation to NASA scientist Jim Hansen, who discussed the science of climate change in a recent TED speech.
I will not get into arguments about the science of climate change: I will leave that to the scientists. But, we should all agree that the science is conclusive enough that we cannot simply ignore it – or claim that it’s some sort of UN plot.
Who could have dreamed solving climate change would be so easy? A new paper in Environmental Research Letters called “Greenhouse gases, climate change and the transition from coal to low-carbon electricity” concludes that replacement of all of the world’s currently operating coal-fired power plants — which produce about 40% of the world’s electricity — and replacing them with renewable energy would have an impact of 0.2 degrees Celsius 100 years from now.
Cherry-Picking Conclusions According to One’s Viewpoint
However, a number of climate change websites took away a very different message than I took away from the paper. Here is Joe Romm’s view:
I seem to recall another “bombshell” that he recently reported upon on the same theme: Natural Gas Bombshell: Switching From Coal to Gas Increases Warming for Decades, Has Minimal Benefit Even in 2100. I debunked that by showing that in that particular study, every possible alternative — including wind power, solar power, and even simply shutting down all of the coal plants — was projected to increase global warming in the short term: BOMBSHELL: Solar and Wind Power Would Speed Up, Not Reduce, Global Warming.
But Joe is back with the hyperbolic titles and exaggerations (which I get into below), and he missed the biggest story in the paper.
During my interview last week with Alan Colmes (embedded below), a few points were discussed that warrant some elaboration.
The first is the conversion from winter to summer gasoline, which I have written about in more detail at Why Summer Gasoline Means Higher Prices. Just to be clear, this is an underlying reason that gasoline prices rise at this time every year, but it is not the reason that gas prices are higher today than they were at this time last year. We started the year at a higher level for other reasons, but summer gasoline explains why — even if you took the geopolitical factors out of the equation — that gasoline prices will normally rise from about February to May and then fall from August to November. We do notice this especially in election years, and use it to confirm our belief that politicians or oil companies are influencing prices to win elections.
First There Was Climategate, Now There’s Gleickgate
In 2009, shortly before the Copenhagen summit on climate change, a server at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. was hacked. Numerous communications from climate scientists were released to the public, and the name “Climategate” was coined to describe the ensuing controversy. The controversy involved specific comments in some of the e-mails that climate change skeptics immediately seized upon as evidence that some climate scientists were not as objective as they should be, but even worse that dissenting views were being suppressed.
When the Climategate scandal first broke, I had a feeling that the implications were going to be a lot larger than many climate change advocates believed. In fact, I included it among my Top 10 Energy Stories of 2009, writing:
Then came Climategate, which gave the skeptics even more reason to be skeptical. A number of people have suggested to me that this story will just fade away, but I don’t think so. This is one that the skeptics can rally around for years to come. The number of Americans who believe that humans are causing climate change was already on the decline, and the injection of Climategate into the issue will make it that much harder to get any meaningful legislation passed.
Some people commented that the controversy would fade away in a few weeks, but I think in hindsight my assessment was correct. Skeptics had claimed for years that much of the climate change debate was ideological, and Climategate seemingly gave them concrete evidence that this was indeed the case. (I am not making judgments one way or the other; just trying provide the context for the incident and how I felt it would be used by skeptics).