Archive for April, 2008

Global Cooling Consistent With Global Warming

April 30th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

For a while now I’ve been asking climate scientists to tell me what could be observed in the real world that would be inconsistent with forecasts (predictions, projections, etc.) of climate models, such as those that are used by the IPCC. I’ve long suspected that the answer is “nothing” and the public silence from those in the outspoken climate science community would seem to back this up. Now a paper in Nature today (PDF) suggests that cooling in the world’s oceans couldthat the world may cool over the next 20 years few decades , according to Richard Woods who comments on the paper in the same issue, “temporarily offset the longer-term warming trend from increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere”, and this would not be inconsistent with predictions of longer-term global warming.

I am sure that this is an excellent paper by world class scientists. But when I look at the broader significance of the paper what I see is that there is in fact nothing that can be observed in the climate system that would be inconsistent with climate model predictions. If global cooling over the next few decades is consistent with model predictions, then so too is pretty much anything and everything under the sun.

This means that from a practical standpoint climate models are of no practical use beyond providing some intellectual authority in the promotional battle over global climate policy. I am sure that some model somewhere has foretold how the next 20 years will evolve (and please ask me in 20 years which one!). And if none get it right, it won’t mean that any were actually wrong. If there is no future over the next few decades that models rule out, then anything is possible. And of course, no one needed a model to know that.

Don’t get me wrong, models are great tools for probing our understanding and exploring various assumptions about how nature works. But scientists think they know with certainty that carbon dioxide leads to bad outcomes for the planet, so future modeling will only refine that fact. I am focused on the predictive value of the models, which appears to be nil. So models have plenty of scientific value left in them, but tools to use in planning or policy? Forget about it.

Those who might object to my assertion that models are of no practical use beyond political promotion, can start by returning to my original question: What can be observed in the climate over the next few decade that would be inconsistent with climate model projections? If you have no answer for this question then I’ll stick with my views.

Tom Friedman on Education

April 28th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Tom Friedman warms the hearts of policy professors everywhere:

I think it’s so great that so many schools are teaching ecology and the environment, and I would have taken that if I could have; I’ve had to learn that myself. The thing I would love to see? We really need a course in every school on environmental policymaking. Do you know how a utility works? I didn’t before I wrote [Hot, Flat, and Crowded]. I had no idea where the regulations got written. You really need a course in policymaking. If you don’t understand where the choke points and the leverage points are in the system, you can have all the environmental awareness in the world and you’re not going to be able to tilt the system. I’d love to see courses on environment and ecology because you need that foundation in science, but I think you also need to know where the policy is made. It’s much more important to change your leaders than your light bulb.

CSU Silencing Bill Gray?

April 28th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Colorado State is apparently or perhaps will be reducing its media relations support for Bill Gray, as he is simply calling too much attention to the school. Dr. Gray thinks that it has something to do with global warming. I am sure that both the science community and the blogosphere will be rushing to Bill Gray’s defense, full of outrage.

ScienceDebate2008 – Lessons Learned?

April 26th, 2008

Posted by: admin

No, it’s not officially dead, but with the recent cancellation of a North Carolina debate that wasn’t focused on science, and Senator Clinton’s challenge today for an unmoderated debate, the likelihood that the event ScienceDebate 2008 first thought would happen in Pennsylvania, then in Oregon, rapidly approaches zero.

ScienceDebate 2008 has already been criticized here for being confusing about the intended purpose. Others have supported the effort, suggesting that at least it got people motivated about the problem. But ScienceDebate isn’t the first groups to assemble a collection of dignitaries to prove the value of their message. Between them, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Scientists and Engineers for America, various groups of scientists for past presidential candidates, and the plethora of business and other consortia agitating for attention to science and technology, we haven’t gotten very far. Whether they like it or not, ScienceDebate 2008 happened in Boston this past February during the AAAS meeting.

ScienceDebate 2008 is another example of good intentions horribly executed. Some possible reasons after the jump.


Science Advisor Confirms His Existence

April 25th, 2008

Posted by: admin

Correcting two Nobel Prize Winners, Science Advisor to the President, Dr. John Marburger responded in today’s Wall Street Journal to last week’s Op-Ed from Drs. David Baltimore and Ahmed Zewail bemoaning the lack of a science debate. Marburger was generally supportive of the piece until he noted what I did in an earlier post here – that the assertion that there is no science adviser nor science office in the White House is false. He was a good sport about it, which is all the better to him.

While I had much evidence to the contrary, a Google search on “presidential science adviser” reassured me that my office and I do in fact exist in the virtual as well as in the real world.

My thanks to the OSTP Communications Director for letting us know of the letter – and that Prometheus is on their radar.

The original Journal piece has since been amended with a correction – something that can’t help the advocacy of Baltimore and Zewail. It’s hard to respect the arguments of someone who can’t get their facts straight.

Malaria and Greenhouse Gases

April 25th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Did you know that today is “World Malaria Day“? I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t; a search of Google News shows 233 stories on “world malaria day” published in the past 24 hours. A search of “climate change” over the past 24 hours shows 45,819 stories. This post is about the inevitable conflict in objectives that results when we frame the challenge of global warming in terms of “reducing emissions” rather than “energy modernization.” The result is inevitably a battle between mitigation and adaptation, when in reality they should be complements.

Why does malaria matter? According to Jeffrey Sachs:

The numbers are staggering: there are 300 to 500 million clinical cases every year, and between one and three million deaths, mostly of children, are attributable to this disease. Every 40 seconds a child dies of malaria, resulting in a daily loss of more than 2,000 young lives worldwide. These estimates render malaria the pre-eminent tropical parasitic disease and one of the top three killers among communicable diseases.

The Economist reported a few weeks ago on efforts to eradicate malaria. The article referenced a study by McKinsey and Co. on the “business case” (PDF) for eradicating malaria. Here are the reported 5-year benefits:

• Save 3.5 million lives

• Prevent 672 million malaria cases

• Free up 427,000 hospital beds in sub-Saharan Africa

• Generate more than $80 billion in increased GDP for Africa

I want to focus on the prospects for increasing African GDP, for as we have learned via the Kaya Identity, an increase in GDP will necessarily mean an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. So what are the implications of eradicating malaria for future greenhouse gas emissions from Africa?

To answer this question I obtained data on African greenhouse gas emissions from CDIAC, and I subtracted out South Africa, which accounts for a large share of current African emissions. I found that the average annual increase from 1990-2004 was 5.2%, which I will use as a baseline for projecting business-as-usual emissions growth into the future.

The next question is what effect the eradication of malaria might have on African GDP. The McKinsey & Co. report referenced a paper by Gallup and Sachs (2001, link) which speculates (and I think that is a fair characterization) that complete eradication could boost GDP growth by as much as 3% per year. This would take African emissions growth rates to 8.2%, which is still well short of what has been observed in China this decade, and thus not at all unreasonable. So I’ll use this as an upper bound (not as a prediction, to be clear). So if we graph future emissions under my definition of business-as-usual and also the Gallup/Sachs upper bound, we get the following curves to 2050.

Malaria Scenarios.png

The figure shows that by eradicating malaria, it is conceivable that there will be an corresponding increase in annual African emissions of more than 11 GtC above BAU. Today, the entire world has about 9 GtC. For those following our debate with Joe Romm earlier this week, this would mean that he would have to come up with another way to get 10 more “wedges,” as rapid African growth is included in none of the BAU emissions scenarios. Put another way, the success of his proposed policies depends on not eradicating malaria since rapid African GDP growth busts his wedge budget.

The implications should be obvious: If a goal of climate policy is simply to “reduce emissions” then this goal clearly conflicts with efforts to eradicate malaria, which will inevitably lead to an increase in emissions. But if the goal is to modernize the global energy system — including the developing the capacity to provide vast quantities of carbon-free energy, then there is no conflict here.

This distinction helps to explain why there persists an adaptation vs. mitigation debate, and why it is that advocates of adaptation (to which eradicating malaria falls under) are often excoriated as “deniers” or “delayers” — adaptation just doesn’t help the emissions reduction challenge. The continued denigration of those who support adaptation will continue until we reframe the climate debate in terms of energy modernization and adaptation, which are complementary approaches to sustainable development.

Over at The New Scientist Fred Pearce takes a broader view and warns of “green fascism” on the issue of development and population:

But there is another question that I find increasingly being asked. Should we be trying to stop others having babies, especially people in poor countries with fast-growing populations?

I must say I thought this kind of illiberal thinking had been banished from the environmental movement. But it keeps seeping back. When I give public talks on climate change, I am often asked if all the efforts in the rich world won’t be wiped out by rising populations in the poor world.

Isn’t overpopulation more dangerous than overconsumption? I say no. But the unpalatable truth is that a lot of environmental thinking over the past half century has been underpinned by an unhealthy preoccupation with the breeding propensity of Asians and Africans. . .

Only recently, US groups opposed to all migration tried to get their policies adopted by the blue-chip environment group, the Sierra Club. To many they sounded like a fringe group. Actually they were an echo of the earlier mainstream.

And the echo is becoming louder. We hear it in the climate change debate. No matter that the average European or North American has carbon emissions 10 times greater than the average Indian or African, somehow it is those pesky breeding foreigners who are really to blame.

And now food shortages are growing and we will get more. Ehrlich, we are bound to be told, was right after all. You have been warned: green fascism could soon be on the march.

It is long overdue to rethink how we think about the climate debate.

Germany’s Energy Gap

April 24th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Germany's Energy Gap.jpg

Der Spiegel has an excellent article on the future of Germany’s energy supply. Even with projections of a falling population, Germany has a looming gap between the energy it needs and the energy it projects to be available. Why is this? According to the article:

Nuclear power is too dangerous. Coal is too dirty. Gas involves too much dependence on Russia. And renewables are insufficient. So just where is Germany going to get its power from?

How did Germany, with its forward-thinking renewable policies and ecologically sensitive populace, get into this situation?

The problem is that up until now the Germans have been too passive in working towards achieving an energy supply that satisfies all requirements; in other words, one that is environmentally friendly, safe and cost-efficient at the same time. They have chosen to fritter away the fruits of their prosperity on day-to-day problems instead of investing them in intelligent preparations for the future — in other words, in energy research.

In fact, Germany actually offers the ideal conditions to achieve even more impressive technological advances than in the past. The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), with its 7,500 staff, is a perfect illustration of this potential.

Engineers on the campus of the KIT are testing, for example, a prototype system that converts straw into fuel. In another lab, engineers are developing a highly efficient geothermal power plant, and in yet another, physicists are building giant magnets for the experimental ITER fusion reactor to be based in France.

Everywhere at KIT, solutions are being developed which will not only help Germany, but also the rest of the world, to overcome the most serious energy problems. But the engineers and scientists at the Karlsruhe technology park sense — precisely because they are so ambitious — the limits of what they can do. Peter Fritz, the institute’s head of research, says that the threat of an energy gap in Germany is not the only reason that “a great deal of know-how and money needs to be mobilized very quickly.”

In comparison to the size of the problem, energy research in Germany has tended until now to be somewhat relegated to the sidelines. But it is also a decisive weak point, including in the debate over the expected power shortfall. This is because cutting-edge research offers the best way to limit the costs associated with a massive expansion of renewable energy.

From a global perspective, government research expenditures have hardly increased since the early 1970s, and the situation is especially bleak in Germany. After the 1973 oil crisis, annual expenditures for energy research, adjusted for inflation, were almost doubled to €1.5 billion ($2.37 billion). But then, as the pressure of high oil prices subsided, research budgets were gradually reduced before reaching a record low of just under €360 million ($569 million) in 2001.

Energy research budgets have gone up again since then, but far too slowly. Ironically, the grand coalition makes no secret of its pride in having brought the government’s energy research budget back up to above €500 million ($790 million).

KIT research director Fritz isn’t surprised that so many important questions still haven’t been answered, including the issue of long-term storage of nuclear waste. “It is critical that we bring expenditures back up to €1.5 billion ($2.37 billion),” he says, and he even has a provocative idea to offer: “The government should sell extended operating periods for German nuclear power plants at auction and invest the proceeds in research.”

It’s a provocative idea: Use yesterday’s dirty technology to make a clean future possible? Nuclear money for the great efficiency revolution?

Even Foreign Minister Steinmeier, the architect of Germany’s nuclear phase-out, sometimes succumbs to temptation. “Longer operating lives for nuclear power plants would certainly be the easier approach,” he says, but adds: “However, accelerated technology development is much better in the long run and provides us with new export markets.”

There is a technology policy lesson for the U.S. to be learned in Germany’s energy policies. Specifically, yes do everything that you can in the short-term to make energy more secure, more efficient, and more clean — and above all, available. But don’t forget that to invest in innovation, lest you find yourself in an impossible situation.

Joe Romm’s Fuzzy Math

April 23rd, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

[UPDATE: Joe Romm replies in the comments: "Roger -- Thanks for catching my C vs CO2 error.those are very hard to avoid. And thank you for this post. I probably should have elaborated on this issue already -- so I'll just do it in a new post, which will take me a few hours to put together. As you'll see, there actually isn't a gap in my math -- there is a gap in Socolow's and Pacala's math that most people (you included) miss. I'll leave it at that, for now, and Post the link when I am finished."]

Readers here will know that Joe Romm has been extremely critical of the idea that we need any new technological advances to achieve stabilization of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at a level such as 450 ppm. Now Joe helpfully lays out his plan for how stabilization at such a low level might be achieved. It turns out that there is a significant gap in Joe’s math. Even the remarkably ambitious (some would say impossibly fantastic) range of implementation activities that he proposes cannot even meet his own stated goals for success. The only way for him to close the mathematical gap that he has is to rely on – get this — assumptions of spontaneous decarbonization of the global economy (and by this I mean specifically reductions in energy per economic growth and reductions in carbon per unit energy). In fact, the emissions reductions that he needs to occur automatically (i.e., assumed) for his math to work out are larger than those he proposes through implementation.


The Central Question of Mitigation

April 22nd, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

[Updated: In the comments Skipper points out a units error (Thanks!). That would be 20,000 nuclear plants, not 2,000!]

The central question can be found at the bottom of this long, technical post. In 1998 Hoffert et al. published a seminal paper in Nature (PDF) which argued that:

Stabilizing atmospheric CO2 at twice pre-industrial levels while meeting the economic assumptions of “business as usual” implies a massive transition to carbon-free power, particular in developing nations. There are no energy systems technologically ready at present to produce the required amounts of carbon-free power.

Hoffert et al. provide a figure which illustrates the amount of carbon-free energy that will be needed assuming that concentrations of carbon dioxide are to be stabilized at 550 ppm, and the global economy grows at 2.9% per year to 2025 and 2.3% per year thereafter. I have updated this figure to 2008 (estimated) values as indicated below.



A Post-Partisan Climate Politics?

April 21st, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Californina Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger provides a positive and optimistic view of of climate policy in a speech yesterday at Yale. You can watch it here. Here is an excerpt:

So I urge you to continue to be open‑minded on our environment. Do not dismiss or do not accept an idea because it has a Republican label or a Democratic label or a conservative label or a liberal label. Think for yourself. This is especially true on environment. So I have great faith in your ability to find new answers and to find new approaches. Don’t accept what the old people say. Don’t accept the old ways. Don’t accept the old ways or the old politics of Democrats and Republicans. Stir things up. Be fresh and new the way you look at things.

Is a post-partisan climate politics possible?