Posts tagged ‘pollution’

And I'm Anti-Science?

Would all those folks who so revel in calling folks like me "anti-science" (Dr. Michael Mann being foremost among them) please stop using cooling tower steam plumes as an illustration of CO2 production?  Not only is steam not pollution (though it sortof kindof can be made to look like it if you photoshop it right), but the cooling towers so often featured in these shots are not even emitting combustion products at all.

Want to Save The Ice in the Arctic?

I wrote below about Chinese pollution, but here is one other thought.  Shifting Chinese focus from reducing CO2 with unproven 21st century technology to reducing particulates with 1970s technology would be a great boon for its citizens.  But it could well have one other effect:

It might reverse the warming in the Arctic.

The reduction of Arctic ice sheet size in the summer, and the warming of the Arctic over the last several decades, is generally attributed to greenhouse warming.  But there are reasons to doubt that Co2 is the whole story.   One is that the sea ice extent in Antarctica has actually been growing at the same time the Arctic sea ice cover has been shrinking.  Maybe there is another explanation, one that affects only the northern hemisphere and not the southern?

I don't know if you have snow right now or even ever get snow.  If you do, find some black dust, like coal dust or dark dirt, and sprinkle it on a patch of snow.  Then come back tomorrow.  What will you find?  The patch of snow you sprinkled in dark dust melted a lot in comparison to the rest of the snow.  This is an albedo effect.  Snow takes a while to melt because it reflects rather than absorbs solar radiation.  Putting black dust on it changes that equation, and suddenly solar radiation is adsorbed as heat, and the now melts.  Fast.  I know this because I run a sledding hill in the wintertime, where snow falls on a black cinder hill.  The snow will last until even the smallest patch of black cinders is exposed.  Once exposed, that small hole will grow like a cancer, as it absorbs solar energy and pumps it into the surrounding ground.

By the way, if you have not snow, Accuweather.com did the experiment for you.  See here.  Very nice pictures that make the story really clear.

So consider this mess:

china_pollution_ap971430398958_620x350

Eventually that mess blows away.  Where does it end up?  Well, a lot of it ends up deposited in the Arctic, on top of the sea ice and Greenland ice sheet.

There is a growing hypothesis that this black carbon deposited on the ice from China is causing much of the sea ice to melt faster.  And as the ice sheet melts faster, this lowers the albedo of the arctic, and creates warming.  In this hypothesis, warming follows from ice melting, rather than vice versa.

How do we test this?  Well, the best way would be to go out and actually measure the deposits and calculate the albedo changes from this.  My sense is that this work is starting to be done (example), but it has been slow, because everyone who is interested in Arctic ice of late are strong global warming proponents who have incentives not to find an alternative explanation for melting ice.

But here are two quick mental experiments we can do:

  1. We already mentioned one proof.  Wind patterns cause most pollution to remain within the hemisphere (northern or southern) where it was generated.  So we would expect black carbon ice melting to be limited to the Arctic and not be seen in the Antarctic.  This fits observations
  2. In the winter, as the sea ice is growing, we would expect new ice would be free of particulate deposits and that any new deposits would be quickly covered in snow.  This would mean that we should see ice extents in the winter to be about the same as they were historically, and we would see most of the ice extent reduction in the summer.  Again, this is exactly what we see.

This is by no means a proof -- there are other explanations for the same data.  But I am convinced we would see at least a partial sea ice recovery in the Arctic if China could get their particulate emissions under control.

Update:  Melt ponds in Greenland are black with coal dust

 

Global Warming Folly

I have not written much about climate of late because my interest, err, runs hot and cold.  As most readers know, I am in the lukewarmer camp, meaning that I accept that Co2 is a greenhouse gas but believe that catastrophic warming forecasts are greatly exaggerated (in large part by scientifically unsupportable assumptions of strong net positive feedback in the climate system).  If what I just said is in any way news to you, read this and this for background.

Anyway, one thing I have been saying for about 8 years is that when the history of the environmental movement is written, the global warming obsession will be considered a great folly.  This is because global warming has sucked all the air out of almost anything else in the environmental movement.  For God sakes, the other day the Obama Administration OK'd the wind industry killing more protected birds in a month than the oil industry has killed in its entire history.  Every day the rain forest in the Amazon is cleared away a bit further to make room for ethanol-making crops.

This picture demonstrates a great example of what I mean.   Here is a recent photo from China:

20131211_china1

 

You might reasonably say, well that pollution is from the burning of fossil fuels, and the global warming folks want to reduce fossil fuel use, so aren't they trying to fight this?  And the answer is yes, tangentially.   But here is the problem:  It is an order of magnitude or more cheaper to eliminate polluting byproducts of fossil fuel combustion than it is to eliminate fossil fuel combustion altogether.

What do I mean?  China gets a lot of pressure to reduce its carbon emissions, since it is the largest emitter in the world.  So it might build a wind project, or some solar, or some expensive high speed rail to reduce fossil fuel use.  Let's say any one of these actions reduces smog and sulfur dioxide and particulate pollution (as seen in this photo) by X through reduction in fossil fuel use.  Now, let's take whatever money we spent in, say, a wind project to get X improvement and instead invest it in emissions control technologies that the US has used for decades (coal plant scrubbers, gasoline blending changes, etc) -- invest in making fossil fuel use cleaner, not in eliminating it altogether.  This same money invested in this way would get 10X, maybe even up to 100X improvement in these emissions.

By pressuring China on carbon, we have unwittingly helped enable their pollution problem.  We are trying to get them to do 21st century things that the US can't even figure out how to do economically when in actuality what they really need to be doing is 1970's things that would be relatively easy to do and would have a much bigger impact on their citizen's well-being.

Illustrating Pollution Articles with Water Vapor

I have written here before about how frequently steam plumes are used by the media to stand in as a proxy for pollution.  Here is another example, with extra points for artful photography and use of lighting conditions to make the white steam look dark and scary.

OMG -- More Smoke!

Kudos to a reader who pointed this one out to me from the Mail online.  It is a favorite topic of mine, the use by the more-scientific-than-thou media of steam to illustrate articles on smoke and pollution.

Check out the captions - smoke is billowing out.  Of course, what they are likely referring to -- the white plumes from the 8 funnel-shaped towers -- is almost certainly pure water.  These are cooling towers, which cool water through evaporative cooling.  These towers are often associated with nuclear plants (you can see that in the comments) but are used for fossil fuel plants as well.  There does appear to be a bit of smoke in the picture, but you have to look all the way in the upper left from the two tall thin towers, and one can see a hint of emissions.  Even in this case, the plume from the nearer and smaller of the two stacks appears to contain a lot of water vapor as well.  My guess is the nasty stuff, to the extent it exists, is coming from the tallest stack, and it is barely in the picture and surely not the focus of the caption.

The article itself is worth a read, arguing that figures from the UK Met office show there has not been any global warming for 16 years.  This is not an insight for most folks who follow the field, so I did not make a big deal about it, but it is interesting that a government body would admit it.

Government Pollution and Risk Prioritization

A number of times in the past I have pointed out that government bodies in the US tend to be among the worst polluters.  While we sit around and argue about parts per billion of CO2 in the atmosphere, billions of gallons of raw sewage are being dumped into rivers.  I remember when I lived in Boston, the city just piped sewage out into the harbor.  When it got to disgusting and finally garnered a bit of negative media attention, they solved the untreated sewage problem by ... building a longer pipe and dumping it further out in the  ocean.   I worked at an Exxon refinery for a few years and it was always frustrating the regulatory attention we got on the smallest discharge (in general, the water we discharged had to be cleaner than the body of water we were discharging into) when local municipalities were dumping untreated sewage during storms into the same water, without consequence.

Anyway, here is a post from John Hanger via the Unbroken Window blog

A main goal of this blog is to help its readers prioritize the biggest threats to water quality and to understand that, though gas drilling impacts are real, they are well down the list of the most serious causes of pollution of Pennsylvania’s waters.  A must read is yesterday’s Pittsburgh Post Gazette front page story about the massive amounts of sewer overflows that reach rivers in the Pittsburgh region multiple times each year.
http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/region/alcosan-sewer-project-gets-little-public-input-653713/.The annual volume of untreated sewage reaching rivers and streams is reported as 9 billion gallons per year and occurs in 30 to 70 storms annually, according to the Post Gazette.  And the bill for stopping this pollution and cleaning up is a staggering $2.8 billion.To make matters worse, the same problem of untreated sewage flowing into rivers and streams that the Pittsburgh region is confronting is found in many communities across Pennsylvania as well as in New York and other states.  While America’s sewage overflow problem dwarfs the impacts of gas drilling on water quality, it normally attracts little media attention or sustained public concern.  There are no Hollywood stars campaigning to stop these huge amounts of sewage from going into rivers.  There are no HBO movies on the problem.

Normally, this huge source of pollution that threatens public health and safety is ignored or draws a yawn.

Good risk prioritization is virtually impossible in the current state of the media and political dialog.   Mike Rizzo, writing at the blog, makes a good point:

if you asked people if the government should allow an odorless, tasteless, highly explosive gas to be piped into your house, where a small leak in a pipe could cause the entire house to explode, they would surely say No Way! But then ask them if natural gas stoves should be permitted in their homes and to a man they’d all say, “Of Course.”

Turning Water Vapor Into Pollution

Several years ago I wrote a post about how frequently steam plumes are used as illustrations to articles on pollution.  In the US, if you see a cloud coming out of a smokestack, adds are about 100:1 its steam, not smoke.  Look how many of the results today in Google images for "air pollution" are actually plumes of water vapor.

One trick environmental sites will play is to Photoshop the contrast and darkness of the steam plume to try to make it look smokier.  Here is a good example

This photoshopping of steam plumes to make them look like smoke is prevalent enough that I have written about it a few times.  That is why this image tickled me.  I don't know the artist.  He may be making the opposite plea (e.g. turning smoke to steam) but I'll interepret it the way I like:

Postscript:  This is my all-time favorite image in this category:

 

This image was used by Battelle labs (update:  still is) to illustrate their air pollution expertise.  The sad-faced girl with the inhaler is classic, but what makes this my favorite is the water vapor plume from the nuclear plant (you can see the nuclear reactor dome).  The water vapor from a nuclear plant cooling tower has only pure water -- it has no combustion products and no particulates that might give this poor girl asthma.  It does not even have any CO2 in it, if that is your particular bogeyman.

Shifting Capital from the Productive to the Sexy

My Forbes column this week focuses on the US rail system, and argues that despite all the angst that we are somehow missing the boat in emulating Europe, Japan and China in building expensive bullet trains, we actually have the best rail system in the world.

These writers worry that the US is somehow being left behind by China because its government builds more stuff.  We are “asleep.”  Well, here is my retort: Most of the great progress in this country occured when the government was asleep.  The railroads, the steel industry, the auto industry, the computer industry  -  all were built by individuals when the government was at best uninvolved and at worst fighting their progress at every step.

In particular, both Friedman and Epstein think we need to build more high speed passenger trains.  This is exactly the kind of gauzy non-fact-based wishful thinking that makes me extremely pleased that these folks do not have the dictatorial powers they long for.   High speed rail is a terrible investment, a black hole for pouring away money, that has little net impact on efficiency or pollution.   But rail is a powerful example because it demonstrates exactly how this bias for high-profile triumphal projects causes people to miss the obvious.

Which is this:  The US rail system, unlike nearly every other system in the world, was built (mostly) by private individuals with private capital.  It is operated privately, and runs without taxpayer subsidies.    And, it is by far the greatest rail system in the world.  It has by far the cheapest rates in the world (1/2 of China’s, 1/8 of Germany’s).  But here is the real key:  it is almost all freight.

As a percentage, far more freight moves in the US by rail (vs. truck) than almost any other country in the world.  Europe and Japan are not even close.  Specifically, about 40% of US freight moves by rail, vs. just 10% or so in Europe and less than 5% in Japan.   As a result, far more of European and Japanese freight jams up the highways in trucks than in the United States.  For example, the percentage of freight that hits the roads in Japan is nearly double that of the US.

You see, passenger rail is sexy and pretty and visible.  You can build grand stations and entertain visiting dignitaries on your high-speed trains.  This is why statist governments have invested so much in passenger rail — not to be more efficient, but to awe their citizens and foreign observers.

Bolivia Passes Law to Make Poverty Permanent

Via JoNova:

Bolivia is set to pass the world’s first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups, redefines the country’s rich mineral deposits as “blessings” and is expected to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry.

The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.

Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.

“It makes world history. Earth is the mother of all”, said Vice-President Alvaro García Linera. “It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration.”

Hmmm.  There is a big gap between thoughtful conservation and fetishism for the primitive.

Update:  By the way, the article says this is being driven by climate change already experienced in Bolivia.  I suppose it is possible that rainfall has changed, I don't have the numbers for Bolivia, but temperatures in the tropics have shown no trend up or down for decades.   Most of the warming the Earth has seen over the last 50 years (whatever the cause) has been in the Northern Hemisphere and in fact in the upper portions of the Northern Hemisphere.  Here are the temps for the tropics.   The spikes in 1998 and 2010 are El Ninos years.

Opportunity Cost

From New York City Councilman James Genarro's web site:

Gennaro has received numerous accolades for his work as Chairman of the Council's Committee on Environmental Protection, and has authored many of the Council's most progressive environmental bills. Gennaro has spearheaded efforts to cut the city's global warming pollution emissions,... put more "clean air" vehicles on city streets, ...make the city's electricity more reliable, clean, and affordable,... and promote "green buildings".

Thinking about the public and private resources invested in these efforts, I wonder how many snow plows they would have paid for.

Bring it On

Bloom Energy is introducing what looks like a 200kW fuel cell that runs on natural gas for about $700,000.  That compares pretty favorably with the current cost of at least $2,000 per KW to build a coal plant, especially when one factors in reduced distribution and pollution costs.  We have gobs of natural gas and are finding more all the time, and (unlike something like hydrogen) the distribution and storage infrastructure is already in place.  Hope it works.

I often critique new energy technologies here, and that critique is often confused with a hostility to new technologies.  This is far from the case.  Living here in Phoenix, I would love to have cheap solar cells to spread over my roof like carpet.  What I am opposed to is government subsidies for technologies that are not even close to economic compared to current alternatives.   I don't know the Bloom business model  (I am suspicious they have a large rent-seeking component if KP is funding them) but if they can make these work subsidy free, that's great.

Climate and Religious Fundamentalism

I thought this was funny.  I am not going to deconstruct or lampoon this guy's beliefs, nor am I knowlegeable enough to argue whether Genesis 1:28 really mandates that man should forecast the climate system.  I am in fact trying really hard to say that I am not making an ad hominem attack here, but merely pointing out an irony:  Many dismiss skeptics as all part of the religious fundamentalist Right, I presume to try to lump us in with evolution deniers.  I can't tell you how many emails I get calling me some sort of religious fundamentalist freak, which is actually hilarious given a) I never mention religion of the g-word on either of my sites almost ever and b) the actual nature of my beliefs.

So this is funny in an ironic way:  The guy that originally wrote a bunch of the CRU code that has since been criticized as forcing a warming result is Tim Mitchell, who has shared some of his thoughts online (via Odd Citizen):

The climate system is made up of the earth's atmosphere, oceans, ice, vegetation, and streams. It is both beautiful and complex. Humans have a mandate to forecast its behavior and use it (Genesis 1:28). However, we feel in awe of its destructive potential, seen in such things as hurricanes and floods, which are part of the curse inflicted upon the earth following the Fall (Genesis 3.17). Moreover, control and certainty belong to God alone (Job 38-41). So there is a possibility that our actions may affect the climate system in unexpected ways. It was claimed in the 1970s that the earth might be about to enter an ice age. The evidence for this was minimal, but the decades of painstaking research that have followed the 1970s have unveiled both the natural variability in the climate system, and the dramatic effects of human actions....

What can individual Christians do? Some, but not many, are called to be scientists and politicians. However, we all have the vote, and environmental issues ought to be among those that we weigh up carefully before casting our vote. We are also each responsible for a small part of the daily emissions of greenhouse gases. Do we use our energy-intensive cars wisely? Are we guilty of worldly attitudes to public transport? With domestic heating and insulation, do we spend more and pollute more than is necessary? The government urges us to reduce our energy usage so that we may indulge ourselves in other ways, but we have a higher motive for reducing waste (1 Timothy 6.17-19). Although I have yet to see any evidence that climate change is a sign of Christ's imminent return, human pollution is clearly another of the birth pangs of creation, as it eagerly awaits being delivered from the bondage of corruption (Romans. 19-22).

Tim Mitchell works at the Climactic Research Unit, UEA, Norwich, and is a member of South Park Evangelical Church.

Again, I am not trying to purge the scientific ranks of Christian fundamentalists, I just think this is funny given all the accusations of blind Christian fundamentalism aimed (often with no basis) at skeptics.

Sucking the Life Out of the Environmental Movement

One of the points I make in my climate lectures - global warming panic has sucked the life out of environmental concerns that matter.  Illustration - US sewage plants still making massive untreated dumps.

I know this might sound retro to some readers. But we need to finish what the early 1970s environmental pollution control laws set out to do: clean up all the sources of air and water pollution. The environmental movement has run out of steam and gotten distracted. Get back to the basics.

Agreed.  Another point I often make - we don't know how to keep growing China without creating CO2, but we do know how to grow China without making the air in cities like Beijing breathable.  Instead of talking to them about CO2 capture, what about air pollution 101 type things like ash bags and exhaust scrubbing?

And while I am on the topic, do we have to keep destroying the Amazon just to clear land to grow more plants for ethanol that in the end does nothing to abate CO2 emissions?

Hard To Believe For Anyone Who Trusted The Media in the 1970s

The media in the 1970's was filled with Club-of-Rome, the world is over-populated and running out of everything, Paul Ehrlich Population Bomb, end of the world stuff.  We know they were wrong on resources and pollution, but it turns out they were wrong on population too.  Again, the power of growth and wealth:

"When people got richer, families got smaller; and as families got smaller, people got richer. Now, something similar is happening in developing countries. Fertility is falling and families are shrinking in places"” such as Brazil, Indonesia, and even parts of India"”that people think of as teeming with children. As our briefing shows, the fertility rate of half the world is now 2.1 or less"”the magic number that is consistent with a stable population and is usually called "˜the replacement rate of fertility'. Sometime between 2020 and 2050 the world's fertility rate will fall below the global replacement rate."

Saturday Links

I almost never publish links posts.  But I was really stuck when I read Radley Balko's Saturday Morning Links post because every one was awesome.  Balko is not only one of the best bloggers out there, but a great journalist as well in a field of us pundits who put on pretensions of being pajama-clad investigators.  So here are all of his morning links:

Why there are 60 minutes in an hour

Bloomberg takes the next step down the road toward anti-tobacco hysteria.

Zimbabwean newspaper prints billboards on paper made from the country's worthless currency.

Legless frogs epidemic probably not caused by pollution, but by dragonfly nymphs with a jones for frogs' legs.

Obama administration will support indefinite detention of terror suspects without a trial; drops the news late in the evening on a summer Friday.

TSA detains man for comic book script. Kicker: Scropt was about a guy who gets wrongfully harassed by the government for writing fiction about terror attacks that came true.

This Can't Possibly End Well

Forget for a moment the real scientific questions about the future magnitude of anthropogenic global warming.  Just imagine the abuse of this new proposed statute, given that incredibly difficult nature of causality in a complex, chaotic system like climate:

An under-the-radar provision in a House climate bill would give plaintiffs who claim to be victims of global warming a way to sue the federal government or businesses, according to a report Friday in The Washington Times.

The Times reported that Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts added it into a bill they authored.

The provision, which was just released, reportedly would set grounds for plaintiffs who has "suffered" or expect to suffer "harm" attributable at least in part to government inaction. The provision defines "harm" as "any effect of air pollution (including climate change)," according to the Times. Plaintiffs could seek up to $75,000 in damages a year from the government, with $1.5 million being the maximum total payout.

Remember that it was just weeks ago that the President of the United States blamed flooding in North Dakota on global warming.  If flood damage that resulted from a colder-than-average winter and near record snowfall can be blamed on anthropogenic global warming, then anything can.

Government and the Environment

Somthing that all-too-seldom gets attention -- when it comes to water pollution, most of the worst private offenders were brought in line decades ago  (at least for point sources, like a particular factory;  agriculture and runoff are still issues in some areas).  Many or even most of the worst water pollution offenders in the US are actually municipal authorities, who dump raw sewage into open waters.  I remember that when I lived in Boston, there was this digusting spot in the bay where the sewer pipe ended.  They sort of fixed the problem ..  by making the pipe longer to dump further out into the bay.

Even in the Bay Area in these environmentally sensitized times, some egregious environmental practices remain in place, with little public scrutiny.

It's bad enough that there are cancer-causing chemicals in the bay. And Marin recently had a 500,000-gallon sewage leak into the body of water. But did you know that when it rains, the area's sewage treatment plants are designed to overflow into the bay?

The leaky pipes in drainage systems take in more than the system can handle. In last week's storms, Richmond loosed 890,000 gallons of untreated water into the Bay, about 10 percent of which"”or 8,900 gallons"”was pure, unadulterated sewage.

You mean government exempts itself from its own rules?  No way!

More of the Carbon Offset Folly

A while back, in relation to a company called Terrapass that sells carbon offset certificates (or smugness coupons, as I called them) I observed:

My guess is that TerraPass, when it sells the electricity from these
projects to customers, is selling it on the basis that it is
earth-friendly and causes no CO2 emissions.  This lack of emissions is
likely part of the "bundle" sold to electricity customers.  But note
that this would be selling the same lack of emissions twice -- once to
TerraPass certificate holders, and once to the electricity customers.
I am sure they are both told they are avoiding X tons of emissions, but
it is the same X tons, sold twice (at least).

We are starting to see this all over now.  From the WSJ, via Tom Nelson:

America's garbage dumps are reaping a windfall from the fight against
global warming. But their payday might not be doing much to reduce
greenhouse-gas emissions.

For more than a decade, the landfill
here has made extra profit simply by collecting methane given off by
rotting trash, and selling it as fuel. Last year, the landfill learned
that doing this also qualified it to earn hundreds of thousands of
dollars via a new program that pays companies to cut their
greenhouse-gas emissions.

Eliminating methane lets dumps sell
"carbon credits" to environmentally conscious people and companies. The
long-term goal of trading credits -- basically, vouchers representing
reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases -- is to reduce
global pollution by encouraging others to cut emissions when the buyers
of the credits can't or won't cut their own.

"It seemed a little suspicious that we could get money for doing nothing,"
says Charles Norkis, executive director of the Cape May County
Municipal Utilities Authority, which has raised $427,475 selling
credits since February, or 3% of the authority's projected solid-waste
revenue for the year.

The sale of credits by these landfills
undermines a premise of the global fight against climate change. The
credit system was designed to encourage pollution cuts that wouldn't
have happened without a financial incentive. But the credits aren't helping the environment if they're merely providing extra profit for cleanups already made. And dumps already have an incentive to capture methane because selling it can be profitable.

More on this same carbon offset issue in the European / UN system here.

Why a carbon tax, if we really feel we must limit CO2, is better than cap-and-trade / offset system here.

Why Politicians Favor Cap and Trade over a Carbon Tax

There are a lot of incredibly good reasons to favor a carbon tax over cap-and-trade if we simply most reduce CO2 emissions.  Even a minor inspection of the inner workings of the California Air Resources Board under their AB32 cap-and-trade style program provides lists of examples of abuses, rent-seeking, inefficiency, etc. under cap-and-trade.  But Joe Nation, one of the California legislators who authored AB32, told me that he could not get even a 5-cent gasoline tax through a legislature that enthusiastically embraced the 100x (or more) expensive AB32.  Why?  Silly rabbit, because public costs of cap-and-trade can be fudged, hidden, ignored, and, when they absolutely have to be recognized, blamed on private companies.

Via a reader, here is our Arizona governor discussing the costs of cap-and-trade in Arizona:

Napolitano brushed aside questions of what effect the plan will have on utility rates.

"First of all, that it may increase electric bills doesn't mean it will increase them now," Napolitano said.

Brave, isn't she?  They are already preparing the story line to blame private industry for future price increases:

Napolitano said there is "lots of data" to suggest that utilities
eventually will be able to save money "by moving to a system of 'green'
energy."...

Fox said that, on a long-term basis, there may be cost savings.

You get that?  We smart government guys conducted a lot of really high-power circle jerks among graduate students and the consensus was that forcing the electrical industry to obsolete much of its current capacity and rebuild with some other uproven but more expensive technology would save them money in the long term.  If utilities raise prices, it's because they were not smart enough to figure out what we already know and they are just greedy capitalist pigs so blame them for the price increases, not use faithful public servants.  You see?  Cap-and-trade is like money laundering for taxes.  The tax is there, but its hidden well enough that a lazy media will not bother to trace it back to its owner.

But I wouldn't want you to take my assertion on faith (as Obama does with his 5 million green jobs promise), so lets look at what will have to happen.

The exact goals are hazy, but it appears our governor has committed the state to cutting CO2 emissions by 15% over the next 10 years.  One of the main ways that calling CO2 "pollution" is misleading is to imply it is some kind of combustion by-product, like soot or SO2, that could be scrubbed out.  But it is not.  It is fundamental to combustion.  So a 15% cut in CO2 emissions is 10-15% cut in power generation  (we likely get numbers lower than 15% by assuming cuts in production are preferentially from higher carbon sources like coal plants). 

So, basically this law requires the state's electrical utilities to obsolete 10% of its installed capacity, and either a) have tons of rolling blackouts; b) raise prices enough to force a large cut in demand  (remember, demand must be cut 10% AND all future growth must be halted); or c) the industry must spend hundreds of billions of dollars to build a ton of capacity in some other technology.  Option a will never fly politically.  Option c is almost sure to fail as well.  The permitting and construction processes can take decades.  From a cold start, I don't think its possible to rebuild 10+% of the states generation capacity in 10 years, either in nuclear or some other not-yet-ready technology.  The numbers simply don't work.  The only possible way I can imagine is maybe to install a zillion natural gas turbines, but to make the CO2 balance work out, you probably would have to rebuild 15% or more of the capacity, not just 10%, because there would still be some carbon emissions. 

Really, realistically, one is left with option b.  Prices are going to go up (just they would have to in option c to pay for replacement production capacity).  The price increases would be about as much as the carbon tax would have had to be to get the same effect, but price increases are corporation's fault while taxes are politicians' fault.  See?  The only good news is that the price increase will go to private players rather than the government.  That is until someone thinks to put in a windfall profits tax on utilities that are making lots of money on the government-enforced shortage.

The Carbon Offset Sausage Factory

For quite a while, I have been arguing that cap-and-trade schemes are inferior to straight carbon taxes because of their susceptibility to rent-seeking and manipulation.  At the top of the list of problems is the carbon offset issue, the notion that someone can create and sell an offset to cap limits by reducing CO2 emissions in some novel way.  The offset products that exist to day are tremendously suspicious, as I wrote here and here.  In particular, the ability to resell the same emission reduction multiple times is a real danger.

The Guardian has an interesting look at the offsets being created by that bastion of good governance and management science, the United Nations.

The world's biggest carbon offset market, the Kyoto Protocol's clean
development mechanism (CDM), is run by the UN, administered by the
World Bank, and is intended to reduce emissions by rewarding developing
countries that invest in clean technologies. In fact, evidence is
accumulating that it is increasing greenhouse gas emissions behind the
guise of promoting sustainable development. The misguided mechanism is
handing out billions of dollars to chemical, coal and oil corporations
and the developers of destructive dams - in many cases for projects
they would have built anyway.

According to David Victor, a
leading carbon trading analyst at Stanford University in the US, as
many as two-thirds of the supposed "emission reduction" credits being
produced by the CDM from projects in developing countries are not
backed by real reductions in pollution. Those pollution cuts that have
been generated by the CDM, he argues, have often been achieved at a
stunningly high cost: billions of pounds could have been saved by
cutting the emissions through international funds, rather than through
the CDM's supposedly efficient market mechanism.

The key problem, as I have pointed out before, is how do you know the reduction is truly incremental?  How do you know that it would not have occured anyway:

The world's biggest carbon offset market, the Kyoto Protocol's clean
development mechanism (CDM), is run by the UN, administered by the
World Bank, and is intended to reduce emissions by rewarding developing
countries that invest in clean technologies. In fact, evidence is
accumulating that it is increasing greenhouse gas emissions behind the
guise of promoting sustainable development. The misguided mechanism is
handing out billions of dollars to chemical, coal and oil corporations
and the developers of destructive dams - in many cases for projects
they would have built anyway.

According to David Victor, a
leading carbon trading analyst at Stanford University in the US, as
many as two-thirds of the supposed "emission reduction" credits being
produced by the CDM from projects in developing countries are not
backed by real reductions in pollution. Those pollution cuts that have
been generated by the CDM, he argues, have often been achieved at a
stunningly high cost: billions of pounds could have been saved by
cutting the emissions through international funds, rather than through
the CDM's supposedly efficient market mechanism....

One glaring signal that many of the projects being approved by the
CDM's executive board are non-additional is that almost three-quarters
of projects were already complete at the time of approval. It would
seem clear that a project that is already built cannot need extra
income in order to be built.

LOL, yes that might be a good indicator something is amiss.  The other problem, beyond the staggering amount of outright corruption one would expect from any UN-operated enterprise, is this oddity:

Any type of technology other than nuclear power can apply for credits.
Even new coal plants, if these can be shown to be even a marginal
improvement upon existing plants, can receive offset income. A massive
4,000MW coal plant on the coast of Gujarat, India, is expected soon to
apply for CERs. The plant will spew into the atmosphere 26m tonnes of
CO2 per year for at least 25 years. It will be India's third - and the
world's 16th - largest source of CO2 emissions.

So nuclear plants, the one proven economic and scalable power technology that is free of CO2 emissions is the one technology that is excluded from the program?  But 4,000MW coal plants that can proves they are marginally more efficient than they might have been are A-OK?

California Energy Leadership: Leading the Race to the Bottom

California is apparently trumpeting its "leadership in energy."  The centerpiece of its claims is its low per capita electricity use.  Arnold is making the claim now, but Kevin Drum was pushing this a while back when he said:

Anyway, it's a good article, and goes to show the kinds of things we
could be doing nationwide if conservative politicians could put their
Chicken Little campaign contributors on hold for a few minutes and take
a look at how it's possible to cut energy use dramatically "” and reduce
our dependence on foreign suppliers "” without ruining the economy. The
energy industry might not like the idea, but the rest of us would.

Max Schulz of the Manhattan Institute is not impressed:

California's proud claim to have kept per-capita energy consumption
flat while growing its economy is less impressive than it seems. The
state has some of the highest energy prices in the country "“ nearly
twice the national average "“ largely because of regulations and
government mandates to use expensive renewable sources of power. As a
result, heavy manufacturing and other energy-intensive industries have
been fleeing the Golden State in droves.

Neither am I.  I addressed this issue a while back in response to Drum's post, but since the meme is going around again, I will excerpt from that old post.

The consumption data is from here.
You can see that there are three components that matter - residential,
commercial, and industrial.  Residential and commercial electricity
consumption may or may not be fairly apples to apples comparable
between states (more in a minute).  Industrial consumption, however, will not be comparable, since the mix of industries will change radically state by state.....

Take two of the higher states on the list.  Wyoming, at the top of
the per capita consumption list, has industrial electricity consumption
as a whopping 58% of total state consumption.  KY, also near the top,
has industrial consumption at 50% of total demand.  The US average is
industrial consumption at 29% of total demand.  CA, NY, and NJ, all
near the bottom of the list in terms of per capital demand, have
industrial use as 20.6%, 15.1%, and 16% respectively.  So rather than
try to correlate electricity consumption to local energy regulations,
it is clear that the per capita consumption numbers by state are a much
better indicator of the presence of heavy industry. In other
words, the graph Drum shows is actually a better illustration of the
success of CA not in necessarily becoming more efficient, but in
exporting its pollution to other states.
  No one in their
right mind would even attempt to build a heavy industrial plant in CA
in the last 30 years.  The graph is driven much more by the growth of
industrial electricity use outside CA relative to CA.

Now take the residential numbers.  Lets look again at the states at
the top of the per capita list:  Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana,
Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas.  Can anyone tell me what these
states have in common?  They are hot and humid.  Yes, California has
its hot spots, but it has its mild spots too  (also, California hot
spots are dry, so they can use more energy efficient evaporative
cooling, something that does not work in the deep south).  These
southern states are hot all over in the summer.  So its
reasonable to assume that maybe, just maybe, some of these hot states
have higher residential per capita consumption because of air
conditioning load?
  In fact, if one recast this list as
residential use per capita, you would see a direct correlation to
summer air conditioning loads.   This table of cooling degree days weighted for population location is a really good proxy for how much air conditioning is needed by state.  (Explanation of cooling degree days).
You can see that states like Alabama and Texas have two to four times
the number of cooling degree days than California, which should
directly correlate to about that much more per capita air conditioning
(and thus electricity) use....

OK, now I have saved the most obvious fisking for last.  Because
even when you correct for these numbers, California is pretty efficient
vs. the average on electricity consumption.  Drum attributes this,
without evidence, to government action.  The NY Times basically does
the same, positing in effect that CA has more energy laws than any
other state and it has the lowest consumption so therefore they must be
correlated.  But of course, correlation is not equal to causation.
Could there be another effect out there?

Well, here are the eight states in the data set above that the
California CEC shows as having the lowest per capita electricity use:
CA, RI, NY, HI, NH, AK, VT, MA.  All right, now here are the eight
states from the same data set that have the highest electricity prices:  CA, RI, NY, HI, NH, AK, VT, MA.  Woah!  It's the exact same eight states!  The 8 states with the highest prices are the eight states with the lowest per capita consumption.
Unbelievable.  No way that could have an effect, huh?  It must be all
those green building codes in CA.  I suspect Drum is sort of right,
just not in the way he means.  Stupid regulation in each state drives
up prices, which in turn provides incentives for lower demand.  It
achieves the goal, I guess, but very inefficiently.  A straight tax
would be much more efficient.

Is the Global Warming Hysteria Killing Environmentalism?

Of late, I have been getting the strongest sense that the global warming hysteria is sucking all the oxygen out of the rest of the environmental movement.  Quick, what is the last environment-related article you read that didn't mention global warming?

Here is an example:  I give a lot of my charity money to groups like The Nature Conservancy, because I personally value preservation of unique areas and habitats and I don't sit around waiting for the government to do it for me.  But it has become almost impossible of late to drum up enthusiasm from contributors for such causes, unless the land can be labeled a carbon-sink or something.  In fact, the global warming hysteria has really been a disaster for private land conservation because it has caused politicians to subsidize ethanol.  This subsidy is bringing much more wild land into cultivation in this country and has been the single biggest driver for deforestation in the Amazon over the last decade. 

Or take China.  China's cities are an unhealthy mess.  But focus on global warming has led environmentalists to take the position with China they have to stop coal combustion and growth in auto-miles entirely.  This is a non-starter.  There is no WAY they are going to do this.  But it is much more achievable to start getting China focused on a Clean-Air-Act type of attack on vehicle and coal plant emissions of real pollutants like SO2.   China could be made much more healthy, as the US has done over the last 30-60 years, but instead of working with China to get healthier, the focus is on getting them to shut down their growth altogether.

The UPI published a survey of people's environmental priorities:

  1. drinking water
  2. pollution of rivers, lakes, and ecosystems
  3. smog
  4. forest preservation
  5. acid rain
  6. tropical rain forests
  7. national parks
  8. greenhouse emissions
  9. ozone layer
  10. nature around "my" home
  11. urban sprawl
  12. extinction.

I feel like #1 is overblown based on a lot of media scare stories, but most of the top 6 or 7 would all be things I would rank well above global warming fears as well.  There are still real issues to be dealt with in these areas which can have far more of a positive impact on health and quality of living than CO2 abatement, but they are being suffocated by global warming hype.

Down With DST

I think that Arizona's decision not to go on DST is a great one.  Being outside in the summer sunshine in Phoenix can be miserable, but the desert cools very quickly once the sun goes down.  The earlier the sun goes down in the summer, the better as far as I am concerned.  Within an hour or two after sunset, it is pleasant to sit and eat and play outside.

A new study seems to show that DST increases electricity use, rather than reducing it.  DST was, if my memory serves, a WWII innovation to save electricity.  It does so quite well if electricity demand is driven mainly by lighting.  It lets one read and function by sunlight in the evening hours.   However, as air conditioning has become a larger element of electricity demand, that equation is changing.  DST can lead to higher air conditioning loads in the evenings.

Our main finding is that"”contrary to the policy's intent"”DST increases
residential electricity demand. Estimates of the overall increase range
from 1 to 4 percent, but we find that the effect is not constant
throughout the DST period. There is some evidence of electricity
savings during the spring, but the effect lessens, changes sign, and
appears to cause the greatest increase in consumption near the end of
the DST period in the fall. These findings are consistent with
simulation results that point to a tradeoff between reducing demand for
lighting and increasing demand for heating and cooling. Based on the
dates of DST practice before the 2007 extensions, we estimate a cost of
increased electricity bills to Indiana households of $8.6 million per
year. We also estimate social costs of increased pollution emissions
that range from $1.6 to $5.3 million per year.

More Useful Government Regulations

Henry Payne has an interesting tidbit:  The government is now concerning itself with what cars its employees purchase.

Your tax dollars at work. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week sent an email urging its 67,000 employees not to buy SUVs, lecturing that fuel efficiency should be their "top priority" when buying a car.

 

"Every
new sport utility vehicle on the road produces 60 percent more climate
threatening CO2 emissions than a smaller vehicle," said Energy News,
a quarterly newsletter from a department that has nothing to do with
energy, but everything to do with energy morality apparently.

 

"The
toll that vehicles take on the environment includes air pollution, oil
spills, pollution of our water supplies, and damage to natural
habitats," continues the HHS sermon. "In order to really cut CO2
emissions, higher fuel efficiency in all vehicles will be essential."

American auto makers were not amused by the recommendation to buy Toyotas or Hondas. 

This surprises me not at all.  A few weeks ago, I had an EPA audit of a marina and store I operate in Colorado (the report in all its glory is here).  In that audit, the Environmental Protection Agency recommended that we begin selling fair trade coffee in our store.  What that has to do with emissions into the lake, I have no idea.  They also recommended that I put an environmental message on our shopping bags, replacing the current boating safety message.  The audit did say that they could not require these two things.  Well, give them some time, they will probably make it a requirement soon.

On the Virtues of the Modern Economy

Best thing I have read in a long time:

Imagine an egalitarian world in which all food is organic and local,
the air is free of industrial pollution, and vigorous physical exertion
is guaranteed. Sound idyllic?

But hold on"¦ Life expectancy is 30 at most; many children die at or
soon after birth; life is constantly lived on the edge of starvation;
there are no doctors or dentists or modern toilets. If it is
egalitarian it is because everyone is dirt poor, and there is no
industrial pollution because there are no factories. Food is organic
because there are no pesticides or high technology farming methods. As
a result, producing food means long hours of back-breaking physical
work which may end up yielding little.

There is "“ or at least was "“ such a
place. It is called the past. And few of us, it seems, recognise the
enormous benefits to humanity of escaping from it. On the contrary,
there is a pervasive culture of complaint about the perils of affluence
and a common tendency to romanticise the simple life.

Via Hit and Run.  I made a fairly similar point here when I compared California "robber baron" Mark Hopkins mid-19th century house to one a friend of mine used to own in Seattle:

One house has hot and cold running water, central air conditioning,
electricity and flush toilets.  The other does not.  One owner has a a
computer, a high speed connection to the Internet, a DVD player with a
movie collection, and several television sets.  The other has none of
these things.  One owner has a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner, a
toaster oven, an iPod, an alarm clock that plays music in the morning,
a coffee maker, and a decent car.  The other has none of these.  One
owner has ice cubes for his lemonade, while the other has to drink his
warm in the summer time.  One owner can pick up the telephone and do
business with anyone in the world, while the other had to travel by
train and ship for days (or weeks) to conduct business in real time.