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In Focus: Obama’s SOTU Climate Change Remarks

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Those who haven’t seen my writing elsewhere may be surprised to learn that I’m a self-described proud, Liberal progressive Democrat who enthusiastically supports President Obama. Last night’s speech had a lot in it that I liked–and I’m well aware that many of my readers will disagree. But like I say, it takes all kinds…

He spoke on energy and climate–and some of the things he said were to my liking, while others I disagree with. So let’s favorably Fisk that part of the State of the Union Address.

“Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race. And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.”

Nope. Nanotechnology, biotechnology and robotics hold more promise than investments in American energy. I don’t care if all the solar panels in the world are made in China and/or Belgium. I care how much they cost, how much they’re subsidized and where they are put up. Same with wind turbines and biofuel. We’ve placed our bet on intellectual property–there’s not enough of it involved in renewable energy to power our economy.

“After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.”

All true and all a good thing. I join our President in congratulating America. So, where do we go from here?

“But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.”

I agree we must do more to combat climate change. Not because we’re convinced it’s a planet buster, but because it makes good common dollars and cents to do so. However, it’s trivially true that 12 of the last 15 years were the hottest on record–but the record is short and temperatures have ‘stalled’, to use the term of James Hansen. And I think it’s just sad that the President is citing Xtreme Weather in defiance of the IPCC, which says there is no connection between them and climate change. That is the overwhelming judgment of science, Mr. President–and you’re ignoring it. You have a lot of company, however.

“The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

I’m sure the President will use executive authority via the EPA to continue the nudge from coal to natural gas, and what incentives he can muster to encourage renewables. He’s already been doing it for four years and there’s no real reason for him to stop. And I like a market-based solution as well. I prefer a carbon tax, but I also supported cap and trade until my party loaded it up with so much pork as to make it unrecognizable. Sigh.

Let me describe a carbon tax that would be effective: Start with a low fee–I suggest $12/ton. Make the carbon tax revenue neutral with the money raised used to lower Social Security taxes. We do want this to pass, right? Incorporate a review every decade with the power to raise, lower or rescind the tax based on objective measurements of our emissions and global temperatures.

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – so let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

Except for the last sentence, I largely agree. With the proviso that we locate renewables where they are appropriate, not convenient. As for us keeping up with the Joneses, that part of it is just a vanity contest. I don’t care where it’s manufactured. Heck, most of the jobs are in installation anyhow.

“In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.”

I want more specifics about understanding what’s in fracking chemicals and better plotting of potentially affected aquifers. I’m not sure we need to be rushing so fast for natural gas–especially when the market is glutted.

Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long. I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.

What’s not to like about any of this? The only thing I don’t like in this last paragraph is we could and should have been doing it during the Eisenhower administration.

So–these are my top of mind reactions to a very effective speech from a President I support. I think this part of the speech had more that I disagreed with than any other section. I agreed with him about what he said on the economy, immigration, gun control and foreign affairs.

But nobody bats a thousand.

Original Article on The Lukewarmer’s Way

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The Climate Conundrum

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The theory of global warming is solid, staid and uncontroversial. All things considered, if we double the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, temperatures should increase by 1.1C over what they otherwise would have been.

The theory of atmospheric sensitivity is a different story. The political controversy that has raged since 1988 centers on the idea that our atmosphere is sensitive to changes and that changes produced by humanity–in particular our emissions of greenhouse gases–will cause more warming than just the 1.1C from the emissions themselves.

We don’t know what sensitivity is. In fact, there is more than one type of sensitivity and more than one definition. That doesn’t help matters.

Real Climate, the ‘voice’ of the climate establishment (that’s not meant to be a criticism, btw) has two posts up now on sensitivity. In their first post they acknowledge the difficulty of definitions:

“In practice, people often mean different things when they talk about sensitivity. For instance, the sensitivity only including the fast feedbacks (e.g. ignoring land ice and vegetation), or the sensitivity of a particular class of climate model (e.g. the ‘Charney sensitivity’), or the sensitivity of the whole system except the carbon cycle (the Earth System Sensitivity), or the transient sensitivity tied to a specific date or period of time (i.e. the Transient Climate Response (TCR) to 1% increasing CO2 after 70 years). As you might expect, these are all different and care needs to be taken to define terms before comparing things (there is a good discussion of the various definitions and their scope in the Palaeosens paper).”

The post talks about some recently published papers and ends with what appears to me to be a basic concession–that current thinking places sensitivity within a lower range than previously thought.

The IPCC has held that the likely range of sensitivity values are between 1.5C and 4.5C, writing in their Fourth Annual Report (known as FAR):

“The likely range[1] for equilibrium climate sensitivity was estimated in the TAR (Technical Summary, Section F.3; Cubasch et al., 2001) to be 1.5°C to 4.5°C. The range was the same as in an early report of the National Research Council (Charney, 1979), and the two previous IPCC assessment reports (Mitchell et al., 1990; Kattenberg et al., 1996). …”

we conclude that the global mean equilibrium warming for doubling CO2, or ‘equilibrium climate sensitivity’, is likely to lie in the range 2°C to 4.5°C, with a most likely value of about 3°C. Equilibrium climate sensitivity is very likely larger than 1.5°C.

For fundamental physical reasons as well as data limitations, values substantially higher than 4.5°C still cannot be excluded, but agreement with observations and proxy data is generally worse for those high values than for values in the 2°C to 4.5°C range.”

Real Climate concludes its first post by writing “In the meantime, the ‘meta-uncertainty’ across the methods remains stubbornly high with support for both relatively low numbers around 2ºC and higher ones around 4ºC, so that is likely to remain the consensus range.”

Their second post details recent work that attempts to work around our ignorance of cloud feedbacks and comes up with a high figure (4C) for sensitivity that doesn’t include cloud effects. (I don’t find it convincing–but I’m not a scientist and my lack of conviction on this is based on other data, not that which they looked at–caveat lector.)

Now, the very probable reason that Real Climate has published two posts on climate sensitivity at this time is that conflicting work has recently seen the light of day that points at lower levels of sensitivity. (This is the way the political fight around climate change works–the activists have a ‘rapid response team’ that springs into action when questions arise or conflicting data is published. There in all honesty appears to be a coordinated campaign to drive an agenda, something that they in turn accuse skeptics of doing.)

Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, highlighted recent work by Nic Lewis, who used observational data to postulate that a doubling of CO2 will lead to a warming of 1.6°-1.7°C (2.9°-3.1°F). Ridley’s piece was also published in the Wall Street Journal. The articles (and a vehement, if knee-jerk, response by Joe Romm, was discussed at Bishop Hill’s blog here, here, here and elsewhere.

My own contribution to the debate, published in my other weblog here, is based on decidedly lower math. I noted that during the recent (hotly debated) plateau in temperatures, humankind has managed to emit one third of all the greenhouse gases they have ever spit into the atmosphere–without any tangible effects on temperatures. Now, climate science allows for uneven steps in temperature change, and I am perfectly comfortable with that. The current warming period is certainly characterized as a sawtooth form imposed on a rising trend. It is conceivable that this is just another pause that will be followed by another period of temperature rises.

But this pause in the temperature rises has lasted longer than previous pauses. Since 1998 there has been little if any net rise in temperatures. Should this pause continue for just a few more years it will mathematically invalidate many of the climate models’ predictions.

And it almost beggars belief that the sheer quantity of emissions since 1998 can have so little effect–if sensitivity is high. On the other hand, if sensitivity is as low as Nic Lewis postulates (as have others before him), it would make more sense that a massive outgassing of CO2 in a short timeframe could still have a small effect.

What we’re left with is the realization that this period will be the proving ground for the various theories of sensitivity. Global emissions are hardly likely to go down–indeed, they will probably continue to increase, as developing countries continue to burn incredible quantities of coal in their race to provide modern lifestyles to their citizens. By the end of the decade humanity will have emitted one half of their historical total of greenhouse gases since 1998.

The results will be interesting. If the current temperature plateau holds, the climate activists will have to maintain that the lag between emission and response is so great that previous temperature rises were quite possible linked to other phenomena than human CO2–or else revise their sensitivity figures.

If, on the other hand, temperatures begin once again to rise quickly, many skeptics will have to acknowledge many uncomfortable conclusions of the climate scientists they have been fighting so bitterly.

In either case, this decade will provide something the debate has sorely needed for 25 years–answers.

Original Article on The Lukewarmer’s Way

The Climate Debate: Where Are We?

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There is only one important scientific question regarding climate change: Is atmospheric sensitivity high or low? If it is high the planet has big problems. If it is low we can deal with global warming with the technologies and societal mechanisms that currently exist.

So where do we stand on this issue? Enthusiasts for both extremes have very wrongly claimed the issue has been settled in their favor. This has not helped anyone. We don’t know what atmospheric sensitivity is. We don’t even know if there is one and one only value for atmospheric sensitivity. We are not likely to know for sure for 30 or more years, according to climate scientist Judith Curry, among others.

But remember that the very definition of Lukewarmer is one who believes that atmospheric sensitivity is lower than claimed by the activists–I for one think it is around 2C or a bit lower. Why on earth, if I say it cannot be determined with accuracy at this point, am I willing to ‘bet the planet’ on my belief/intuition/opinion/prayer/ limited understanding of incomplete science that it is low?

For starters, remember that the range of potential sensitivity values given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) includes low values as well as high. They estimate that the value of sensitivity could fall anywhere between 1.5C and 4.5C. So my ‘preference’ of 2C is well within the accepted range of possibility.

Furthermore, there is recent data that helps buttress my opinion. One finding is my own, explained in detail over at the other weblog I maintain, 3,000 Quads. I show that the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) estimates that one-third of all human emissions of carbon dioxide have occurred since 1998, a date I chose because it marks a plateau in temperature rises–after a disconcerting rise in temperatures between 1976 and 1998, temperatures have stalled. (This happens and is not really unexpected, although the plateau has lasted a bit longer than some would have thought.)

The point I made there and repeat here is that if temperatures aren’t moved by the emission of one-third of our global total of CO2 emissions, it is hardly an argument for high sensitivity. It doesn’t make it impossible–but it doesn’t reinforce the opinion of the activists.

The other, more widely publicized piece of news is reporting of new work done by Nic Lewis that finds some evidence of sensitivity ranges even lower than mine. As published by science writer Matt Ridley, “We can now estimate, based on observations, how sensitive the temperature is to carbon dioxide. We do not need to rely heavily on unproven models. Comparing the trend in global temperature over the past 100-150 years with the change in “radiative forcing” (heating or cooling power) from carbon dioxide, aerosols and other sources, minus ocean heat uptake, can now give a good estimate of climate sensitivity.

The conclusion-taking the best observational estimates of the change in decadal-average global temperature between 1871-80 and 2002-11, and of the corresponding changes in forcing and ocean heat uptake-is this: A doubling of CO2 will lead to a warming of 1.6°-1.7°C (2.9°-3.1°F).

This is much lower than the IPCC’s current best estimate, 3°C (5.4°F).”

Not surprisingly, Lewis’ finding and Ridley’s piece got quite a bit of press. Ridley’s piece was published in the Wall Street Journal, disputed by Climate Progress (Joe Romm has a habit of automatically criticizing any evidence that threatens the consensus and is not above ignoring facts when he does so) and discussed more rationally at places like Climate Etc. and The Way Things Break.

And again, neither my mashing up of data nor Nic Lewis’ more methodical examination of observations are going to settle the issue. But all of the argument is now looking at the possibility of low sensitivity. Just a year or two ago, the argument was about high sensitivity.

It may well be a pendulum-like discussion that swings back and forth. But for now, data seems to be on the Lukewarm side of the discussion.

 

Original Article on The Lukewarmer’s Way

 

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Climate Change and Biodiversity

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Boy, I sure wrote a lot over at Bart Verheggen’s place. Here’s some more.

I think that recent efforts to mitigate the potential impacts of climate change are important, but more because potential global warming can serve as a ‘last straw’ for certain portions of a beleaguered environment if it happens too fast.

However, 99% of stress on environments has other causes, most man-made, and addressing global warming in a mad and expensive rush without ameliorating our other impacts is madness, like treating a woman with cancer using a facial cleanser.

The environment has thrived at times in warmer climates, and if warming happens slowly enough it could do so again.

Just as the activists forget (functionally, when talking of impacts and mitigation) that the climate always changes, some seem determined to ignore that our biosphere constantly changes too. For some species, warming will be a blessing, especially if warming happens to come in at a lower sensitivity of the atmosphere to a doubling of CO2 concentrations. For some it will not. But that kind of lottery has been occurring for a couple of billion years.

My main concern is exemplified by activists hijacking iconic examples of negative effects caused by human activity and attributing the stress felt by or threats to, for example, polar bear populations and saying the major problem is global warming or climate disruption.

Climate is disruptive. It always has been. But species either adapt to the changes or make way for others that can. Our contributions to the disruptive nature of climate will not be welcomed by some species. However global warming is the least of their worries now, and is likely to remain so for the next century.

So how we use this century is critical. And my policy preferences are, just as with the human element affected by global warming, to make communities more resilient and able to withstand climate changes that we cannot control, to get off their backs with thoughtless development, pollution and dramatic changes in land use without environmental consideration.

The point in dispute quite simply is the relative degree of harm caused by anthropogenic climate change vs. other activities of man.

I submit that the ratio right now is 1% to 99% respectively. I further submit that if we do not address the other human impacts on our biosphere first and extensively, that there will be relatively little biosphere to feel the impacts of climate change.

I’m not presenting a false choice. I’m arguing for prioritization of efforts and clarity of goals.

If the ‘pilots’ are trusting Hughes, Ehrlich et al regarding extinction, if they are trusting Steig et al for Antarctic temperatures, if they are trusting Mann regarding temperature history, if they are trusting Prall, Schneider et al regarding the expertise of those supporting versus opposing the consensus, my conclusion is that the pilots are not using the correct navigational instruments.

But scientists are not piloting spaceship Earth. Politicians are. The debate I am interested in influencing is not scientific–I am not a scientist. It is political. I am a member of the polity.

We have a serious problem with biodiversity. It is caused by four factors: habitat loss, invasive competition, hunting and pollution. Global warming is not yet a factor. Is it likely to be in the future? Yes, as a ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’ for vulnerable species.

If we phrase it in qualitative terms rather than phony quantitative garbage, we have a chance of persuading people. Making stuff up works just long enough to get people to check on how you arrived at the statistics. And they don’t hold up.

If some want to tease out changes to phenotypes and think you can attribute some of it to global warming, as opposed to pollution and habitat loss, go do it and good luck.

As for species’ tolerance of change, remember that it varies widely from species to species. As for climate inertia, it’s an interesting concept and plausible. Now that the tools are coming online to actually measure effectively, we’ll be able to see over the next 30 years.

As I have always said, I believe global warming is occurring and that we need to both address the causes and the effects. I’m aware that the process of species loss occurs in slow motion, as well. Which is why it’s clear that anthropogenic climate change to date can only be held partially responsible for loss of species, because it is so new.

Meanwhile, the abandonment of scientific perspective by some in order to join the crusade to climate Jerusalem gives tacit permission to continue to those who are causing the real damage via habitat loss, pollution, lax procedures that allow invasive species to be introduced inappropriately, and over-hunting.

Anthropogenic contributions to climate change are recent. Anthropogenic pressures on biodiversity have been going on for millenia. You do the cause of environmental protection no favors when you jump on the bandwagon of mistaken attribution. I have no doubt that we can chart many species already feeling additional pressure because of climate change. That’s a given, because that’s a constant. The climate always changes and it always puts pressure on vulnerable species. Anthropogenic climate change will do the same.

Global warming will have a negative effect on some species, perhaps many. Species loss is currently a real problem. The two facts don’t have much to do with each other.

My thoughts about preserving the biodiversity remaining on this planet are fairly simple:

1. Policy that encourages urbanization density. Right now, over half the people on this planet live in cities that cover 3% of the land surface. This should be considered a good beginning, especially as most projected population growth is expected to be absorbed by the cities. However, given that only 2% of the population is required for modern agriculture, there should be room for improvement. Policies that make 3rd world cities more liveable, safe and sanitary can decrease pressure on the land.

2. It is time to renegotiate the law of the sea. Fortunately we have a good excuse that will appeal to conservatives in rampant piracy. Let’s take advantage of this to finally appoint conservators for individual fish species that have czar-like abilities to establish fishing regulations that keep the health of the fish paramount. Establish a multinational compensation fund that helps countries wean themselves off of their over-supplied and over-mechanized fishing fleets and just put them out of business slowly.

3. Focus some element of scientific research on creating best practices and standards for sustainable fish farms. Create sustainable certification standards and labeling. Focus more on rewarding winners than punishing losers–many bad fish farm practices are the result of poverty more than anything else.

4. Introduce best of breed agricultural practices to insure that needed agricultural product comes from better practices, not more land coming under the plough. Start at the geographic margins and work inwards, as it is at the margins that expansion of farms into new territory happens. Refine the food distribution system to reduce wastage, introduce GMOs liberally, etc.

If you want to protect other species, you must start by removing the need to harm them by improving the lot of the species that is threatening them. That would be us.

Original Article on The Lukewarmer’s Way