Posts tagged ‘co2’

Why the Historical Warming Numbers Matter

First, let's settle something.  The world has warmed since 1850.  While there always is an error bar on nearly every statement about nature, I think there is little point in questioning this past warming.  There is ice core data that suggests that the little ice age, which ended some time in the very early 19th century, was perhaps the coldest period, or one of the two or three coldest periods, in the last 5000 years (ie in nearly the entire span of human civilization).  Temperatures are inevitably warming from this low point.(*1)

So, if the point is not to deny warming altogether, what is the point in discussions of Climategate of picking over and trying to audit historical temperature records like the Hadley CRUT3 or NASA's GISStemp?  Skeptics often argue that much of the warming is due to bogus manual adjustments in the temperature records and biases such as urban warming.  Alarmists argue that the metrics may understate warming because of masking by manmade anthropogenic cooling agents (e.g. sulfate aerosols).  Why bother?  Why does it matter if past warming is 0.6C or 0.8C or 0.3C?  There are at least two reasons.

1.  The slope of recent temperature increases is used as evidence for the anthropogenic theory.

We know greenhouse gasses like CO2 have a warming effect in the lab.  And we know that overall they warm planets because otherwise ours would be colder.  But how much does an incremental amount of CO2 (a relatively weak greenhouse gas) warm the Earth?  A lot or a little?  Is the sensitivity of the climate to CO2 high or low?

Every time I try to express this, it sounds so ridiculous that people think I must have it wrong.  But the main argument supporting a high climate sensitivity to CO2 is that scientists claim to have looked at past warming, particularly from 1950-2000, and they can't think of any natural cause that could behind it, which leaves CO2 by process of elimination.  Yeah, I know this seems crazy - one wants to ask if this is really a test for CO2 sensitivity or of scientists' understanding and imagination, but there you have it.

Now, they don't always say it this directly.  What they actually say is that they ran their climate models and their climate models could not produce the warming from 1950-2000 with natural forcings alone, but could reproduce this warming with forcings from CO2.  But since the climate models are not handed down from the gods, but programmed by the scientists themselves to represent their own understanding of the climate system, in effect this is just a different way of saying what I said in the previous paragraph.   The climate models perform the function of scientific money laundering, taking an imperfect knowledge on the front end and somehow converting that into settled science at the output.

Now, there are a lot of ways to criticize this approach.  The models tend to leave out multi-decadal ocean cycles and don't really understand cloud formation well.  Further, the period from 1957-2008, which supposedly can only be explained by non-natural forcings, has almost the exact same temperature profile and increase as the time from 1895-1946, which of necessity must be mostly "natural."  I go into this more here, among other places.

But you can see that the amount of warming matters to this argument.  The more the warming falls into a documented natural range of temperature variation, the harder it is to portray it as requiring man-made forcings to explain.  This is also the exact same reason alarmist scientists work so hard to eliminate the Medieval Warm Period and little ice age from the temperature record.  Again, the goal is to show that natural variation is in a very narrow range, and deviations from this narrow range must therefore be man-made. (*2)

This is the sort of unified field theory of everything we are seeing in the CRU emails.   We see scientists using every trick they can find to lower or smooth out temperatures numbers before 1950, and adjust numbers after 1950 upwards.  Every single trick and programming adjustment all tended to have this effect, whether it be in proxy studies or in the instrumental record.  And all the efforts to prevent scrutiny, ignore FOIA's, and throw out raw data have been to avoid third party replication of the statistical methods and adjustments they used to achieve these ends.

As an aside, I think it is incorrect to picture this as a SPECTRE-like cabal scheming to do evil.   These guys really, really believed they had the right answer, and these adjustments were made to tease out what they just knew the right answer to be.  This is why we are only going to see confused looks from any of these guys - they really, really believed they were doing God's work.  They are never going to understand what they did wrong.  Which doesn't make it any less bad science, but just emphasizes that we are never going to get data without spin until total sunlight is brought to this process

2.  It is already really hard to justify the huge sensitivities in alarmist forecasts based on past warming -- if past warming is lower, forecasts look even more absurd.

The best way to illustrate this is with a few charts from my most recent climate presentation and video.  We usually see warming forecasts by year.  But the real relationship is between warming and CO2 concentration (this relationship is called climate sensitivity).   One can graph forecasts at various levels:

Slide57

The blue line corresponds to the IPCC no-feedback formula that I think originally goes back to Michael Mann, and yields about 1-1.2C of warming for greenhouse gas warming from CO2 before feedback effects.  The middle two lines correspond to the IPCC mid and high forecasts, and the top line corresponds to more alarmist forecasts from folks like Joe Romm who predict as much as 8-10C of warming by 2100 (when we will be at 650-800ppm CO2 per the IPCC).  By the way, the IPCC does not publish the lines above the blue line, so I have taken the formula they give for the blue line and scaled it to meet their end points.  I think this is reasonable.

A couple of things - all climate models assume net positive feedback, what skeptics consider the key flaw in catastrophic global warming theory.  In fact, most of the catastrophe comes not from global warming theory, but by this second theory that the Earth's temperature system is dominated by very high positive feedback.  I illustrate this here.  The blue line is from CO2 greenhouse gas warming.  Everything above it is from the multiplier effects of assumed feedbacks.

Slide21

I won't go into the feedback issue much now - search my site for positive feedback or else watch my video for much more.  Suffice it to say that skeptics consider the feedback issue the key failure point in catastrophic forecasts.

Anyway, beyond arguing about feedbacks, there is another way to test these forecasts.   Relationships that hold for CO2 and warming in the future must hold in the past (same Earth).  So lets just project these lines backwards to the CO2 level in the late 19th century.

Slide61

Can you see the issue?  When projected back to pre-industrial CO2 levels, these future forecasts imply that we should have seen 2,3,4 or more degrees of warming over the last century, and even the flawed surface temperature records we are discussing with a number of upwards biases and questionable adjustments only shows about 0.6C.

Sure, there are some time delay issues, probably 10-15 years, as well as some potential anthropogenic cooling from aerosols, but none of this closes these tremendous gaps.  Even with an exaggerated temperature history, only the no feedback 1C per century case is really validated by history.  And, if one assumes the actual warming is less than 0.6C, and only a part of that is from anthropogenic CO2, then the actual warming forecast justified is one of negative feedback, showing less than 1C per century warming from manmade CO2 -- which is EXACTLY the case that most skeptics make.

Those who control the past control the future. Those who control the present control the past.- George Orwell

Footnotes:

(1) More than once I have contemplated how much the fact that the invention of the thermometer occurred at perhaps the coldest point in human memory (early 17th century)  has contributed to the perceptions of current warm weather being unusual.

(2) For those who are on the ball, perhaps you can spot an amazing disconnect here.  Scientists claim that the natural variation of temperatures is in a very narrow band, that they never move even 0.2C per decade by natural means.  But they also say that the Earth's temperature system is dominated by positive feedback, meaning that very very small changes in forcings are magnified many fold in to large temperature changes.  I won't go in to it in depth from a systems perspective, but trust me that "high stability in a narrow range" and "dominated by high positive feedback" are not very compatible descriptions of a system.

New Climate Video: Catastrophe Denied

The video from my climate lecture on November 10, 2009 is now available online. I have overlaid the slides on the video so you can see them better. If I have time, I may some day re-record the sound track over the slides in a studio setting.

The HD video is available full length via Vimeo embedded below. This is a lower resolution version -- to see it in its full high-resolution glory click here. This higher resolution version is greatly recommended - the Vimeo engine works well and I find it streams even better than low-resolution YouTube videos on most computers.

Catastrophe Denied: A Critique of Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming Theory from Warren Meyer on Vimeo.
Full Resolution Version Here

You can also view it on YouTube, though by YouTube's rules the resolution gets crushed and it has to be broken up into nine (9!) parts. The YouTube playlist is embedded below or is here.

The slides from this presentation can be downloaded here.

Get Ready for the Carbon Offset Accounting Follies

I have already written before about carbon offset companies apparently double or even triple counting carbon credits or offsets.  Here is another example, sent by a reader:

Reilly and Herrgesell, the company's president and project manager, respectively, have been trying to develop a way to "incentivize the consumer" for nearly two years. What they came up with was a model for selling personal carbon credits.

"(It's) a new idea," said Herrgesell, "but a very powerful idea."

To get started, you create a personal profile with usage data from your utility bills over the last year at My Emissions Exchange. Then, you reduce your energy consumption. My Emissions Exchange certifies your personal carbon credits, and sells them for you in the global voluntary carbon market.

The carbon credits are equal to a one-ton reduction in carbon emission, and are currently trading between $10 and $25, according to the site.

"This is the only effort out there that can align green activity with financial benefit," said Reilly.

First, I have looked at the site in question, and find no differentiation for how one's power is generated.  My power in Phoenix comes from a big honking non-CO2-emitting nuclear plant, so my actual carbon credits for reduction in electricity use are theoretically more complex.  Is the clean nuclear power I didn't used sold so it substitutes for fossil fuel power?  Did I cut my power peak or off-peak?  And does it substitute for gas (not much CO2) or coal ( a lot of CO2)?  Its amazing that there are real markets that will accept such soft savings as real credits to be paid for.

Second, in the proposed Waxman-Markey bill, utilities get counted directly on their CO2 output, so either this program will have to go away or else it will represent a double counting of the same benefit (as at the utility level your reduction in electricity use will also "count").

Third, the economic knowledge of the author quoted above is just staggeringly low.  I mean, all this time I thought electricity prices were how consumers were "incentivized" [sic] to use less power.  The implication is that somehow incentives are out of alignment and this is the "only effort" aimed at aligning them.  But consumers already save money by reducing their utility use (does anyone have a utility contract that reads the opposite?)  One might argue that these guys can provide an additional financial incentive that will create incentives for more conservation at the margin, but that's about it.

You Can't Have It Both Ways

I cannot believe I actually have to write this, but apparently there are a number of folks in Washington and the media for which this will be a surprise.  Specifically:  A carbon tax or a cap-and-trade bill must either greatly increase prices of fossil fuels and the products of their combustion, or else they will have no impact on CO2 emissions.   Placing a high cost on emissions, and then giving everyone with a modicum of lobbying power an exemption is not going to move the meter either.  All the absurd talk of stimulation from new green jobs not-withstanding, either a climate bill imposes huge new costs or it has no real impact on emissions.  One simply cannot get to an end point of obsoleting the entire US electrical generation and transportation infrastructures for free.

As someone who thinks the threat from Co2 is greatly exaggerated, this is why I have never worried overly much about American legislative efforts.  Congress will mandate something or other that will not have much effect and will impose a lot of cost, but politicians will stop way short of the draconian legislation that would be necessary to achieve their stated carbon goals (e.g. 80% reduction).  European politicians are way more committed than ours are to Co2 reductino, and Europe hasn't really done much at all either.  A legislative body that continues passing costs to our kids in the Social Security ponzi scheme and an administration that plans already to add 10 trillion to the national debt doesn't really care about future generations.  If they are unwilling to bear current pain for future benefits in fiscal policy, they certainly aren't going to do it in the much more uncertain arena of climate policy.

Postscript: Note that the costs can show up in other ways.  For example, if one puts carbon caps in place as well as price controls, the cost would appear in the form of massive shortages, lines, and blackouts.  If one tried to address the problem via command and control solutions, the cost appears in massive capital spending requirements that cannibalize from economic growth  (which are likely to be made all the worse given that the commanders will probably not mandate the best solutions -- in fact, given variations from individual to individual, they simply cannot mandate the best solution for everyone).

Not the Onion

A reader sent me this, and I was just floored.  The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is asking for legislation to ban black cars in California

The California legislature is considering regulating the color of cars and reflectivity of paint to reduce the energy requirements to cool them. A presentation on the proposed legislation by the California Air Resources Board is below.

The problem isn't the color per se, but the reflectivity of the paint overall. And dark colors just don't reflect well, so they are likely out. "Jet black remains an issue," says the report.

Anyone who's ever entered a very hot car knows that it can be cooled down immediately by driving a few feet with the windows open, effectively neutralizing any color-caused heat issues before engaging the air conditioner. But whatever, black is evil.

Un-freaking-believable.  This is what happens when you satisfy an emissions reduction goal (in this case CO2) via complex command-and-control legislation rather than simpler price mechanisms.   Earlier, I told the story of how California adopted an increasingly sprawling CARB micro-management of their economy to reduce CO2 rather than implementing earlier proposals for a simple carbon tax.

My Idea For the World's Worst-Selling Product

This bit of eco-goofiness got me thinking

I ran into a friend at the corner drugstore the other day. This friend happens to have both beautiful looks and powerful progressive politics. She was standing in the cosmetics aisle looking bewildered. Which products might be best for the planet and healthiest for her face?

What would be the worst-possible green product, from a financial perspective?  I finally settled on this one:  Low carbon handgun ammunition, for the progressive Bay Area resident who is worried that her concealed carry Glock 9 is creating too many greenhouse gasses down at the firing range.

Postscript: Because I almost never post much on gun topics, I will take the opportunity to plug my friend's new product, a barrel stabilizer for a Ruger mini-14.  It looks great, it works, and it is about half the price of other solutions.  His web site for the Mo-rod mini-15 barrel stabilizer is here.

Are We Crazy?

I don't think younger folks really comprehend the staggering environmental improvements we have made over the last 40 years.   Virtually every metric you can think of on air and water pollution has improved, not to mention the return to health of a number of high-profile species like the bald eagle.

So I am sure that had you told me in the early seventies that the main toxic threats that the government would be campaigning to protect us from in 2009 were carbon dioxide and salt, I would have thought you were crazy.

Another Reason Why We'll Never See A Carbon Tax, But Instead Will Get A Crazy Cap-And-Trade Scheme

I have written enough on how much superior carbon taxes are to cap-and-trade as a CO2 reduction methodology (if we really are going to do "something," which I hope we don't).  An index of these articles is here.

In the title, I say "another" reason, becuase the number one reason we won't see a carbon tax is that politicians greatly prefer an indirect tax over a direct one, even if it is far more inefficient.  This was explained directly and clearly to me by the author of California's cap-and-trade program.

Close behind this, in second place, is the fact that cap-and-trade spawns a dizzying array of lobbying and special interest influence possibilities that carbon taxes do not, and all those lobbyists mean more power and campaign contributions for politicians.

But here is another reason why it will never happen:  Too many very influential Democrats have substantial investments in start-up companies whose entire existance depends on living in the cracks of cap-and-trade, particularly in generating various dubious offset schemes.  Al Gore is the most obvious example, but apparently Obama's new climate czar Carol Browner sits on boards of such companies as well.

More on "Green Jobs"

It is interesting watching a group of folks sink into mass hypnosis.  Specifically, much of the left is working really hard to convince itself that obsoleting much of the current energy and transportation infrastructure and raising the price of electricity and fuel will result in net jobs growth.  And, that despite 100 years of failure in countries too numerous to name, the government will suddenly become able to successfully plan and manage investment to the greatest economic benefit.  Here is just one example:

My meditation comes in the wake of reading an article about green jobs. Obama and (other) progressives have been making a case for government spending to develop a green energy infrastructure. As Van Jones said in his powerful speech at GreenFest, that's how we got the highway system and the space program that, to some extent, fueled the prosperity of the 50s.

The article makes the point that when the government picks favorites, it sometimes picks wrong, terribly wrong, as is the case with ethanol. That had me scratching my head for a minute, but then I remembered some key differences:

  • Ethanol was an invention, lock stock and barrel, of the agribusiness lobby. It wasn't promoted by scientists as a good source of energy, as solar power is.
  • The government already picks winners. It gives huge subsidies and incentives to the fossil fuel industry.
  • If solar power turns out to be a boondoggle like ethanol, we should push the government to dump its incentives.

However, it seems unlikely that solar power will be such a dud, given that it's already boosting the economy as a sole sector of growth in these bleak economic times, according to the L.A. Times article.

Here was my response (with some links and additional thoughts added) from his comments section:

With your ethanol statement, aren't you contradicting your point about the government's ability to make sensible energy choices?  I agree that ethanol is a bad energy and environmental strategy, and that most scientists who were not industry shills thought it a break-even proposition at best.  But the fact is that Congresses and Administrations of both parties have backed tens of billions of subsidies for ethanol.  No matter what the rhetoric, when the rubber hits the road, politicians make political, not sensible, decisions.

The study you cited a while back about job gains is just silly - most economists laughed it off.  The study claimed 1.5 million net job gains from California electricity and energy efficiency regulations.  Based on October job numbers, this would mean 9.8% of Californians in October would not have had a job if these regulations hadn't been passed.  Really?  Does this pass any kind of smell test?  These regulations created a few visible jobs and killed some invisible jobs, which is how politicians always manipulate these numbers in their favor.

California has low per capita electricity consumptions primarily for three reasons:  1) it has the mildest climate in the country (when weighted for population location) 2) it has among the ten highest state-average electricity prices in the country and 3) its regulatory regime has driven a disproportionate number of heavy industrial electricity users out of the state (as demonstrated by manufacturing job losses higher than the national average and a low percentage of industrial electricity use vs. other states).

One may believe all of these things are a good thing from an environmental standpoint, but they certainly don't add up to net job gains.  Since you often drape yourself in the scientific mantle when responding to climate skeptics, I will do the same -- economics a science, and it is just as bad to willfully ignore this science as any other.  Claiming that being forced, by CO2 concerns, to obsolete current energy infrastructure and rebuild it in a different form is a gain to the economy is falling into Bastiat's broken window fallacy.

But here is the real argument for not letting the government pick winners -- any small body of people, no matter how smart, has too little information to do such planning on a national scale.  The better alternative is simply to raise the price (ie via a carbon tax) of the fuel or electricity that is viewed to have a high environmental cost (the tax can be made less regressive by offsetting the tax with a reduction in payroll taxes).

When prices rise due to the tax, you don't have a few hundred folks in government trying to figure out how to reduce demand, you have 300 million people trying to figure out how to reduce their consumption  (or start a business to help others reduce their consumption), all with their own knowledge of the opportunities they see around them.  Technocrats hate this kind of solution -- its too anarchic, its not "controlled" or "planned" -- but the fact is that it works.  In a large sense, since you are the environmental guy, I will say that it's more like nature.  Nature isn't planned or controlled from above - order and behaviors emerge bottom up from the responses of individual living things to stimulus.

I Have Been On-Board For A While

I don't think that anthropogenic global warming will be substantial enough to justify massive and expensive interventions to limit Co2.  I won't go into the reasons for this statement, as I have a whole other blog dedicated to climate.  If you are unfamiliar with the arguments that Co2 is likely warming the Earth, but not by nearly as much as alarmists claim, you might start with some of these videos.

However, it seems almost inevitable that the new Congress and Administration will do "something" on Co2, if for no other reason that it has become a self-image issue on the left  (i.e. I am a good person because I care about global warming).  We libertarians are seldom very good at engaging on issues of how such government interventions should be done best.  Every time people ask us our opinion of how to structure such a program to do the least harm, we get about 5 seconds into an answer before we just break down and start yelling, "this is crazy!  Do nothing!  Leave us alone!" (actually, emissions laws are one of the few areas where government regulation helps to protect private property rights).

Bryan Pick at Q&O points to a number of folks advocating an increase in carbon taxes offset by reductions in payroll taxes (Bryan's plan is more comprehensive than this, and is here).  I actually advocated something similar over a year ago.  Here is my logic chain:

  1. The carbon tax is a much, much better approach to reducing CO2 than cap-and-trade systems.  Cap-and-trade is bad for the same reason that politicians like it -- it offers a near infinite playing field for lobbying, special rules, influence-peddling, special exemptions, government chosen winners, etc. while hiding the fact that it is in fact a huge new tax.  My more detailed argument on this can be found here and here and here.
  2. A new carbon tax should be revenue neutral.  After all, the point in the first place is not to raise revenues, but to provide a pricing signal that Americans need to switch away from carbon-based fuels.
  3. A good place to offset revenues is the payroll tax.  Both fuel taxes and payroll taxes are criticized for being regressive, so it is an easy place to try to forge a compromise with the left.  Further, the payroll tax acts effectively as a tax on hiring, so a reduction would certainly be welcome any time, and particularly in a recession.
  4. We need to create a streamlined licensing program for nuclear reactors.  Utilities, particularly ones dependent on coal today, need a realistic option to continue to provide power at reasonable cost in their communities.  Solar and wind are just not reasonable alternatives today.  Nukes are the only carbon-free scalable generating technology we have.

Again, I don't think the dislocations required here are worth the effort, but this is the best way to do it if we must.

Postscript: By the way, here is one thing no one is telling you.  Folks in Congress have tossed around carbon and fuel tax ideas that might add, say 25 cents per gallon.  But if we are truly in thrall to the climate alarmists and take their recommendations, then Co2 outputs must be reduced 50-80% in this country.  We are talking about reducing Co2 output to levels before 1920!  To do this will require a truly massive tax.  Just to scale it, over the last year gas prices doubled by about $2 a gallon, and total miles driven fell by less than 5%.   Europe is at around $8-$9 gas and are nowhere near these climate goals.  I don't think it would be too much to say that gas prices would have to top $20 to reach these goals.

This is why I think the most likely case for climate regulation is that we will have some kind of tax or cap system but that this system will be far short of anything that will really reduce Co2 or even stop its growth.  The costs are just too high, and the benefits too shaky.  You can see that in Europe, as countries back off Kyoto goals  (and even Kyoto goals are far short of what alarmists think we need to be hitting).  And any progress they have made against Kyoto goals has mainly been accidents of changing enconomic and political structures rather than the result of any real targeted action.  What we will get is something that costs a lot without accomplishing much, but will make the left feel better about themselves.  Sound familiar?