May 24, 2006
Gregg, Welcome to the NSH Club!
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change
Gregg, Welcome to the NSH Club!
In the New York Times today, author and commentator Gregg Easterbrook renounces his “climate skeptic” credentials in favor of accepting that there is a consensus on climate science. This qualifies him for membership in the burgeoning club of non-skeptic heretics (NSH). Here is an excerpt from Gregg says in his op-ed:
Yes: the science has changed from ambiguous to near-unanimous. As an environmental commentator, I have a long record of opposing alarmism. But based on the data I'm now switching sides regarding global warming, from skeptic to convert.
But what is it that I mean by “non-skeptic heretic”? These are people who accept the science of climate change but do not engage in meaningless exhortations or bland political statements, and instead openly confront some of the real but uncomfortable practical challenges involved with reducing emissions and adapting to climate. Easterbrook writes,
President Bush was right to withdraw the United States from the cumbersome Kyoto greenhouse treaty, which even most signatories are ignoring. But Mr. Bush should speak to history by proposing a binding greenhouse-credit trading system within the United States.
Easterbrook has previously commended the Bush Administration’s Methane to Markets program, which granted him immediate heretic credentials, coupled with his new NS status, qualify him to be in the NSH Club. Saying anything remotely non-negative about Bush Administration is a fast ticket to the NSH Club. Commenters here have almost gone so far as to call me a Republican (ouch!;-) for questioning certain firmly held "truths." NSH members don’t seem to fall on partisan lines, though most so far are defectors from the climate policy mainstream, which helps to explain why they do seem to receive a chilly reception from the mainstream non-skeptics. There are nonetheless growing members from the traditional skeptic crowd as well.
A brief foray into the archives provides the following list of people whose writings suggest strong canadacies for membership in the NSH Club:
There are of curse many more out there as well. And there seem to be others who are occasionally testing the waters of the NSH Club (the water is HOT!), such as reporter Andy Revkin, as well as some folks from the traditional skeptic community, such as John Christy.
For the mainstream climate advocates the NSH Club is a threat not only because it undercuts their primary point of authority in scientific cum political disputes, but it risks proposing practical and meaningful policy options that might in fact make a difference and thus allow them to leapfrog into a position of new authority on the climate issue. Consequently, there have been efforts to frame this group as traditional skeptics in new clothes, which are sometimes labeled as "impact skeptics" -- who have the temerity to suggest that some future impacts of climate change might be less-than-catastrophic (for some), or might be best handled by adaptation, and "policy skeptics" -- who have some doubts that the framework of the FCCC and its Kyoto Protocol are the last word on climate policy. And there are of course traditional skeptics who stand by their views, such as represented in he recent CEI commercials or by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK). Through such evolving framings of the debate we are seeing a mighty struggle to hold on to the status quo, which has been a fun and rewarding debate for many, but hopelessly ineffective from the standpoint of policy action.
The NSH Club seems to be here to stay and drawing members from both sides of the heretofore gridlocked debate. Expect much angst from those o both sides who will try very hard to preserve the old debate. At the same time expect much interesting discussion about policy, as science begins to take a backseat. Such discussion, like all important political discussions will sometimes uncomfortable and challenging, but it will be a breath of fresh air from the burgeoning ranks of the NSH!
Update: You can find Andy Revkin's blog here, where he has some writings along NSH lines.Posted on May 24, 2006 06:16 AM
What an absurd and transparently self-flattering way of framing things. I don't know a single person who thinks "the FCCC and its Kyoto Protocol are the last word on climate policy." Not one. And of course everyone knows that a certain amount of climate change is already guaranteed based on the CO2 already in the atmosphere -- so we can't very well to anything but adapt to that.
As to question of impacts. Yes, some limited areas may be better off, at least initially. But overall, globally, the effects will be horrendous, and it won't matter a damn if a piece of land becomes more arable if there are hundreds of thousands of refugees fighting over it. Easterbrook casually mentions sea-level rises of several feet. Oops -- there go some coastal cities. That's not so bad, right? Why, the people who get their panties in a twist about that are just hysterics!
You can Easterbrook share then tendency to set up strawmen and then proclaim your own intellectual heroism for disagreeing with them. Your eagerness to seen as a maverick completely distorts your perceptions.
This is a complicated discussion. There are a whole range of positions, defended by various people in good faith. Defining your little team seems like the least productive way of engaging the issue.
Posted by: David Roberts at May 24, 2006 09:36 AM
Thanks for including me in the club. Is it like AAA? Do I get discounts at hotels? Is there a glossy monthly magazine for members?
At any rate, I thought Easterbrook's oped was excellent. I only wish I'd written it. Of course, it probably wouldn't have gotten published if I had.
Posted by: Andrew Dessler at May 24, 2006 10:17 AM
I agree with your idea that there is a growing group of what I call climate *policy* skeptics who are not climate *science* skeptics.
I hadn't thought of a pithy name for them, however. And, I think the NSH club has been around for quite some time, and has a fairly distinguished pedigree both scientifically and economically.
I've been an NSH since my first policy studies on the subject in 1996. It seemed obvious to me then that one could accept the science (with reasonable caveats that apply to all scientific findings), but that the science only tells you what IS, it doesn't tell you what to do. (Though an awful lot of scientists involved in the debate from the pro-GHG-control camp don't seem to get this elementary concept.)
Unfortunately, extremists on both sides of the debate have tended to see heresy in what seems a reasonable position. When I first started publishing on this for Reason, I got quite a bit of flack from libertarians and others who mistakenly were suffering from the same misconception, that acknowledging the science meant one *had* to then agree to certain actions.
And, of course, those with a monomaniacal focus on near-term GHG reduction as their favored response to climate change have always preffered to either ignore we NSH types, or to lump us in with "climate skeptics" so they can slander all opposition as some kind of flat-Earth Society.
I think (well, I hope, anyway) that the NSH group will grow, particularly as we see the failure of GHG control schemes around the world, and as it becomes evident just how simplistic the assumptions of the wanna-be GHG rationers have been over the last 20 years. And, also, as people eventually realize how wasteful the monomaniacal focus on GHG reductions has been all the way along. Ultimately, when faced with the costs of GHG rationing, it'll be obvious that we NSH types have been right to argue for a greater focus on adaptation than mitigation, and that the alarmist types have caused great harm with their single-minded pursuit of GHG reductions in the short term.
Count me as an NSH!
Posted by: KenGreen at May 24, 2006 11:56 AM
While I don't particularly want to get into an argument about what it means to be an NSH, I will say that I am:
I hope we can all get along.
Posted by: Andrew Dessler at May 24, 2006 02:09 PM
I wasn't aware that Gregg Easterbrook has ever been a "climate skeptic." Do you know of any publications where he rejects the AGW paradigm? I don’t.
As far as I know, he announced, two years ago, if not earlier, his belief that "the scientific case for concern over an artificial greenhouse effect becomes stronger every year... The sooner the United States puts its shoulder against the global warming threat, the better for the world."
That doesn't sound very sceptical to me. So what does Easterbrook actually mean when he says he has recently converted from "skeptic to convert?"
I suggest his latest op-ed has little to do with the science of the greenhouse theory, but more with his personal alarm over future climate catastrophes. His conversion, as he accentuates himself, is one from rejecting alarmism to embracing it: “As an environmental commentator, I have a long record of opposing alarmism. But based on the data I'm now switching sides regarding global warming, from skeptic to convert. That research is now in, and it shows a strong scientific consensus that an artificially warming world is a real phenomenon posing real danger.”
Interestingly, two other popular commentators have made similar proclamations about their own conversion from alleged "scepticism" to certitude in recent days. First, there is Britain’s top conservationist David Attenborough:
“I was sceptical about climate change. I was cautious about crying wolf. I am always cautious about crying wolf. I think conservationists have to be careful in saying things are catastrophic when, in fact, they are less than catastrophic... But I'm no longer sceptical. Now I do not have any doubt at all.”
Now, Attenborough is anxious that “we may be facing major disasters on a global scale.” http://news.independent.co.uk/environment/article570935.ece
And then we have Michael Shermer. He accepts as true claims by climate alarmists that “even if we reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by 70 percent by 2050, average global temperatures will increase between two and nine degrees by 2100... If the Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melt, sea levels will rise five to 10 meters, displacing half a billion inhabitants….. Because of the complexity of the problem, environmental skepticism was once tenable. No longer. It is time to flip from skepticism to activism.” http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&articleID=000B557A-71ED-146C-ADB783414B7F0000&colID=13
What we are witnessing is not the conversion of former AGW sceptics to true believers of the anthropogenic contribution to the greenhouse effect. No, commentators like Easterbrook, Attenborough and Shermer have only joined the ever louder chorus of apocalyptic apprehension.
It would appear that it is no longer enough to proclaim one’s faith in AGW - now one has to be a declared neo-catastrophist as well. Thus, what I expect to happen next is an intensification of the onslaught on what you have called the non-skeptic heretics, that is those few colleagues who dare to question the worst case scenarios that are getting worse by the day. After all, the customary tactic of inquisitions in their battle against heretics is to go for the weakest link first, before confronting the second and more treacherous party.
Posted by: Benny Peiser at May 24, 2006 02:29 PM
Ok Andrew, does this mean that you think gov-wide or gov-sponsored mitigation/adaptation is vastly more preferable to individual mit/adapt actions? Because I think that other than some coastal residents, individual families won't have to do much mit/adap (in the US).
Peter May (earthquake policy expert from UW-Seattle) and I have done a little back and forth on the similarities between equake and climate change mit/adap. Peter sees the equake issue as a "problem without a public" which I think describes climate change well. Individuals and families in the U.S. (IMHO) are not going to be *so* affected by climate change that they have to go way out of their way to mitigate or adapt, which is why I think there isn't large-scale clamoring from the public for stark climate change policies. As with quakes, though, you can argue that somebody needs to pick up the slack even if the public isn't clamoring for it. Does that describe your position?
Posted by: kevin v at May 24, 2006 02:45 PM
I agree with the conclusion of Easterbrook's piece. Unless carbon emissions become a finite commodity, i.e. are capped in some way, they don't have value and therefore won't generate an economic interest. Several US states are experimenting with tradable permits (e.g. see RGGI in the northeast) and there is an interstate climate policy in CA, OR, and WA emerging as well (not yet extending to tradable permits). A President could indeed make a mark in history with a nationwide, binding emissions trading system. The key word is binding-- voluntary doesn't cut it.
Posted by: LDilling at May 24, 2006 03:30 PM
Not sure I'm ready to join the club (not withstanding my Groucho Marxist philosophy of not wanting to join any group that would have me as a member) but I certainly cringe at the Ad Council train ads and feel that trying to scare the hell out of people with wild scenarios is hugely counterproductive...and a lousy way to communicate the science.
I'm with Andrew --extremely pro-mitigation & extremely pro-adaptatio-- but doubt that we can all get along (since when did heretics ever agree on anything?). In my more cynical moments I agree with scientists who think it's inevitable that we will within the next century or so burn up every last bit of the concentrated buried solar energy we call fossil fuels and that it'll have a major impact on the climate system for many thousands of years...and in other moments I wonder if the peak oil doom and gloomers might be right-- that sky-high energy prices will force society to massively scale back (as Russia did in the 90s and Cuba has done for decades) fossil fuel use. Can human beings, especially with our standard of living, change essentially everything about the way we live our lives through political or even moral pursuasion? Call me skeptical.
Gore is talking about tipping points, like in the early 40s when we went from being able to make a few bombers a years to making over a thousand because there was the leadership and compelling need to change quickly. But in the case of mitigation/adaptation for human impacts on the climate system, it requires massive down-sizing and life-style changes to radically use less energy. When gas hits $5 a gallon (as it is in much of Europe now) or $100 a barrel, that will be a tipping point. But it remains to be seen which way things will tilt, especially when comfy life-styles are threatened.
There's a plethora of examples of propoganda on all sides that use fear (like the Ad Council) or sentimentality (the CEI "We Call It Life") that further muddy the waters. But there's some good research on what is effective in terms of communicating the science and framing the policy and social implications. I'm sure some of you are familiar with the FrameWorks Institute study that showed the fear factor backfires, encouraging people to become protectionists at a personal level rather than seeking adaptationist solutions. Focusing on long timescales or pretending changing light blubs will solve the problem will undermine credibility and make people feel that action is meaningless.
What works? If we're talking about communicating the pure science, we need to demystify "how" the science is conducted, develop strategies that not only profile the Konrad Steffens or Lonnie Thompsons in the field or the lab, but walking through the steps of how data are collected, analyzed, tested and modeled. Time consuming and difficult? You bet. But if we're serious about communicating the science and the inherent uncertainties of research, it's got to be done.
If we're talking about policy...or education or media, we need to get beyond the dueling opinions, placing the issue (whether mitigation and/or adaptation) in the context of higher-values, like responsibility, stewardship, competence, vision, ingenuity. Solutions (like, say, a national railsystem as a priority to help ween us from cars) need to be upfront, we need to use shorter time-frames (20 years rather than hundreds or thousands of years), and we should stress, especially for young people who, like my 14 year old, are rather freaked out about their gloomy future, new thinking, smartness, efficiency, balanced alternatives, prudence and (care I say) caring.
My 2 centavos
Posted by: Mark McCaffrey at May 24, 2006 03:47 PM
I *do* think that gov't-sponsored binding regulations are required. Other, softer methods, like the voluntary methods presently pushed by the Bush Administration, simply cannot get private actors to make hard choices.
I think that the reason there's no clamoring in the U.S. is that there's no political leadership here. If the President made this issue a priority, I think he could move public opinion. He convinced us to invade Iraq, after all.
Posted by: Andrew Dessler at May 24, 2006 04:04 PM
"I agree with the conclusion of Easterbrook's piece. Unless carbon emissions become a finite commodity, i.e. are capped in some way, they don't have value and therefore won't generate an economic interest."
This hypothesis is strongly contradicted by history. Here are the approximate decadal increases in anthropogenic CO2 emissions:
1950 - 1960 --> 57%
There is no reason to expect that CO2 emissions won't plateau and decline, regardless of government involvement.
As Jesse Ausubel has pointed out, the world has be "decarbonizing" for several hundred years.
The world economy will be a "hydrogen economy" by the end of this century, as a simple matter of technological and economic evolution.
Posted by: Mark Bahner at May 24, 2006 08:53 PM
"A President could indeed make a mark in history with a nationwide, binding emissions trading system."
And why even bother to involve Congress? He (or she) could simply dictate the nationwide binding emissions trading system.
After all, waiting for Congress to pass laws is so inconvenient; they take way too much time.
P.S. And of course, Heaven forfend that anyone might consider that the laws passed by Congress have to be within the bounds of something as old easily ignored as the Constitution. (As good ol' Jed Bartlett once remarked...the Constitution--in his case, he was only referring to the Second Amendment--was written "before there were even streetlights!")
Posted by: Mark Bahner at May 24, 2006 09:20 PM
No one should object to setting an emissions limit above the actual level of emissions. An analogy: if everyone is driving 65 mph, then no one should object to setting the speed limit to be 70 --- it won't cause anyone to slow down. So if, as you suggest, emissions decrease naturally and rapidly, no one should object to implementing emissions limits far above the actual emissions levels. So why do it then? What if emissions don't decrease? Then the emissions limits would do the job of heading off AGW. Seems like a prudent course of action.
Posted by: Andrew Dessler at May 24, 2006 10:47 PM
The trend toward decarbonization of the energy system has not happened out of concern for emissions-- it happened independently of that issue. Mostly has been due to the increased use of natural gas and nuclear power for other reasons. So the point that carbon emissions at this time have no intrinsic economic value is still valid. Additionally, it should be noted that while the rate of increase of emissions has gone down, total emissions into the atmosphere have steadily increased through time. In other words, we have seen and continue to see emissions growth, and most analysts predict higher growth as more countries industrialize.
Posted by: LDilling at May 25, 2006 12:44 PM
Sadly, it seems that I can’t count myself in the NSH club as I am pretty firmly convinced by the underlying science of AGW and the appropriateness of the FCCC and the KP as preliminary policy responses. Fundamentally, I think that it all comes down to differences of opinion about the magnitude of the risk and the ethical imperatives we have as individuals and governments to mitigate those risks. Having said that I accept that reasonable people can disagree about the magnitude of the risk (the science) and what that risk compels us to do (the policy response); admittedly I’m more risk-averse than others here, and as such am more inclined to action. Of course there is also the thorny issue of equity, both the intra- and intergenerational kind when considering action on climate change and I would humbly suggest that those who are less risk averse than I am are not giving these considerations the same weight I am when thinking about what is ‘appropriate’.
As I recall Roger mentioning before, AGW isn’t the same kind of problem as CFC’s and the ozone layer except in the crudest terms, and it also isn’t the same as the acid rain problem. In the ozone case there were viable, reasonably-priced alternatives in the pipeline, so the solution came down to details about timing and implementation, while for acid rain there were a much more limited number of pollution sources (which makes setting up the cap-and-trade system that much easier to setup and monitor).
For AGW the problem is much more complicated for a host of reasons including: baseline selection, treatment of LULUCF, and last but not least the asymmetry between past/present/future emissions and future impacts.
Apologies for the long (rambling) post, but it irritates me when people criticize the KP-FCCC process without offering any realistic alternatives that could achieve the same goal. What exactly is the problem? Is it:
- using the 1990 baseline (e.g. Russian hot air)?
I suspect for many people the real issue is the last one. Typically this is expressed as “The KP isn’t ‘fair’ because other countries don’t have to do anything” and/or “it won’t be ‘effective’ because growth in Chinese and Indian emissions will overwhelm any reductions made by the west”.
While I agree that there are legitimate concerns with both these sentiments, I would also point out that one of the cornerstone principles of the FCCC is “common but differentiated responsibilities” which in a nutshell argues that industrialized countries have an obligation to take the first steps in reducing emissions because they are responsible for historic emissions and because they have the technological and financial resources to do so.
While it would have been nice if China and India had agreed to binding targets, the reality IMO is that action is warranted now and if we wait for complete political consensus, or the magic cold-fusion-hydrogen-car bullet we’ll have waited too long and things may turn out badly…
Posted by: Marlowe Johnson at May 25, 2006 12:58 PM
I agree with 99% of what you say. However, I would not equate being convinced that we need to reduce GHG emissions with support for the KP and FCCC.
To begin, the KP is old news ... it only goes through 2012 and the approx. 5% reductions by developed countries is only a bump in the road toward the required approx. 80% reductions (from present emissions) required to stabilize the climate.
The real question is how to get from 2012 to the required 80% reduction. In our book, my coathor and I argue that the easiest way to reach this huge long-term reduction is to abandon the FCCC and its global participation in favor of an initial "coalition of the willing" (that will eventually expand to global participation). That's not say that it's impossible to get there using the FCCC, but it's going to be hard ...
Posted by: Andrew Dessler at May 25, 2006 01:31 PM
I agree that the KP is old news (almost 10 years!) and that we really need to focus on what the 2012- strategy should be. Having said that I think that the fact that the U.S. abandoned the protocol and many other countries have done relatively little IMO to meet their targets thus far (this may change) means that it will be much more difficult to get China et al. onboard, as they could quite understandably take the attitude "why should we do anything when you guys have done so little?"
While I agree that a voluntary program "among the willing" is probably the best we can hope for right now, I would also suggest that this pretty much describes the current situation with Annex B countries :), so I don't see what more an alternative coalition (e.g. the Asia-Pacific Partnership) could achieve. Presumably it would have even less teeth than the nominal ones under the KP, so there would be even less incentive for companies/countries to take action.
Now in fairness I haven't read your book yet (although I just received a reminder yesterday that it's avaialbe for pickup from the library :)) and I suspect your argument is more substantial than what I've described.
IMO the Kyoto Protocol will still be a success even if the targets aren't met because it was more about setting up a system for living in a carbon-constrained world. Given how complicated this is (e.g. setting up emission inventories, protocols for emission reduction projects, monitoring systems, etc.) I'm not really surprised that the targets weren't met. Do I think the targets were too ambitious? Absolutely. Was there an element of one-up-manship among the negotiators in 97' that caused them to adopt unrealistic targets? No question. Does that mean we should abandon the FCC-KP framework? No, but I'll reserve final judgement until I finish your book :)
Posted by: Marlowe Johnson at May 25, 2006 02:19 PM
Posted by: LDilling at May 25, 2006 02:28 PM
An effective "coalition of the willing" doesn't have to be that big ... the current group of countries participating in reductons under the KP is probably big enough (although of course you'd like to have as many big emitters as possible). The key is moving the negotiations outside the FCCC. In so doing, you avoid the fact that all countries sit at the table and negotiate, even those that not only don't want to mitigate but actually want to stop other countries from doing so, too. In addition, trying to negotiate how to entrain developing countries into the agreement has proven to be nearly impossible. It would be easier once the coalition of the willing has actually succeeded in implementing new technology to reduce emissions. Check out our proposal in section 5.4 of our book. Roger has a copy, and I'm sure he'll lend it to you. I just hope that all the dart holes haven't made it unreadable.
Posted by: Andrew Dessler at May 25, 2006 04:09 PM
You write, "No one should object to setting an emissions limit above the actual level of emissions."
Well, let me list some of the things to which I object. (Not a complete list, for sake of brevity ;-)):
1) I object to the idea, that I think was implied by Lisa Dilling's comment (and also by Gregg Easterbrook's piece) that a President has the power to set limits on CO2 emissions. Contrary to what seems to be popular sentiment in the United States, I firmly support the role of the President as laid out in the Constitution...which is *only* to enforce the laws that Congress has passed; not to create laws as he (or she) pleases.
2) I object to Congress passing any law that flagrantly violates the Constitution. (But that happens so often, we might as well not even discuss that.)
3) I object to Congress passing any law that that has no real practical benefits. For example, let's say Congress passes a law that limits the U.S. CO2 emissions to levels that are 10 percent above current levels (and calls it some nonsensical title such as, "The Climate Protection Act of 2007").
Well, what effect would such a law have on world temperatures in the 21st century? The answer is, to any practical degree, "Absolutely no effect." Here’s why:
a) First off, the world temperature rise in the 21st century is probably going to be less than 2 degrees Celsius anyway (even without any laws being passed).
b) U.S. CO2 emissions--absent any laws at all--will contribute less than 25% to the global temperature rise. So that’s 0.5 degrees Celsius from the U.S.
c) U.S. CO2 emissions—again, absent any laws at all—will probably never be more than 30 percent higher than they are now. So a cap at 10% above the current level will make less than 20% difference, over the course of the century. So that’s a grand total of 0.1 degree Celsius reduction from the hypothetical (but “based on truth”), “Climate Protection Act of 2007.”
4) I object to Congress passing laws that have no practical benefits (see Item 3) while not passing laws that could have tremendous practical benefits. Two examples of laws with potentially tremendous practical benefits:
a) A series of rewards for development of a hurricane reduction method. I don't know if Roger has ever performed this calculation, but I'm certain that reducing the strength of all landfalling hurricanes to the U.S. by 2 Saffir-Simpson categories (such that no hurricane would ever be above Category 3, and almost all would be Category 1 and 2) would have a present value of cost avoided of literally hundreds of billions of dollars. Many months ago, I recall reading a bill that was making its way through Congress proposing research dollars for hurricane reduction. Research dollars are fine, but a better system would be actual monetary rewards for goals achieved, rather than paying people simply to do research.
b) A series of rewards for development of (non-tokamak) fusion. Fusion is unique among all energy sources for its ability to deliver vast quantities of concentrated energy, with virtually no environmental impacts. Hydrogen -boron fusion, such as Dense Plasma Focus fusion, seems particularly impressive, even compared to other fusion possibilities.
Again, I don't support Congress merely spending research dollars...but a series of rewards for development of fusion would probably be the most cost-effective money Congress has ever spent on energy.
Posted by: Mark Bahner at May 25, 2006 07:29 PM
First, several decades of history suggests that the US Govt. does have the authority to regulate emissions of GHGs.
Second, the world needs to reduce GHGs by about 80% (from today's emissions) in order to stabilize the climate. Your argument, as I understand it, is that such reductions will occur naturally. If so, great --- any GHG-reduction regulations will therefore not cause any consternation. But if you're wrong and GHG emissions do not magically decrease on their own, then the a global regulation regime will play an important role in stabilizing the climate.
By that logic, I conclude that implementing global GHG-emission regulations is a prudent action.
Third, your last argument is a false choice. The choice is not between GHG regulations and your other options. We can and should pursue multiple options until we see which ideas will work out.
Posted by: Andrew Dessler at May 25, 2006 10:30 PM
Hi Andrew and MB,
Posted by: LDilling at May 25, 2006 11:05 PM
You write, "First, several decades of history suggests that the US Govt. does have the authority to regulate emissions of GHGs."
My actual comments were much more directed towards Lisa Dilling's statement that, "A President could indeed make a mark in history with a nationwide, binding emissions trading system. The key word is binding-- voluntary doesn't cut it."
I thought that statement implied that the President could act independently of Congress to set up a mandatory emissions trading system.
But now that we're on the subject,...which part of the Constitution do you think authorizes the federal government to regulate emissions of GHGs?
You also write, "Second, the world needs to reduce GHGs by about 80% (from today's emissions) in order to stabilize the climate."
That's an intriguing theory. At the risk of losing any chance of future membership in the "Non-Skeptical Heretics Club," ;-) I have some questions regarding that theory:
1) Human emissions of GHGs were about 80% reduced from today's emission up until roughly 1945 (or perhaps a bit later, considering methane):
If reducing emissions by 80% will make the climate stable, why wasn't the climate stable prior to 1945? Or do you think world climate was stable before 1945? (If so, what about the Holocene Climatic Optimum, the Medieval Warm Period, and the Little Ice Age...to mention just a few periods of temperature changes?)
2) James Hansen estimates that approximately 58% of CO2 emitted by humans remains in the atmosphere (see slide #4):
So why do the reductions have to equal 80%?
3) Why do the reductions have to be in *emissions*. Humans currently emit about 25 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. To "stabilize" the situation, why couldn't uptake of CO2 be increased by 20 billion tons per year of CO2?
You continue, "Your argument, as I understand it, is that such reductions will occur naturally. If so, great --- any GHG-reduction regulations will therefore not cause any consternation. "
Let's look at some analogies:
1) You wear your seatbelt all the time, right? Well, then, it should cause you "no great consternation" if the police stopped you briefly on your way home from work each day to check that you're wearing your seatbelt, right?
2) You brush your teeth before bed each night, right? Well, then, it should cause you "no great consternation" if the federal government asks you to have someone in your family take a digital photo of you brushing your teeth, and send it in to the Department of Health and Human Services (Dental Care Division) each morning. Right?
Heh, heh, heh! What gives you the idea that the people of India and other developing countries will allow their governments to deliberately make energy less affordable?
"By that logic, I conclude that implementing global GHG-emission regulations is a prudent action."
I don't follow your logic. Could you answer my questions about your theory on the 80% reduction in emissions? Would you experience "no great consternation" if the government checked your seatbelt wearing and tooth-brushing (considering you do both anyway)? Why do you think the people of India and other developing countries will allow their governments to deliberately make energy less affordable?
You conclude with, Third, your last argument is a false choice. The choice is not between GHG regulations and your other options. We can and should pursue multiple options until we see which ideas will work out.
My point was that GHG regulations--particularly U.S. GHG regulations--will have no practical effect on temperatures in the 21st century. Do you disagree? If so, based on what evidence?
Posted by: Mark Bahner at May 27, 2006 01:21 PM
A few responses.
My views that the gov't can regulat GHG emissions comes from my observation that the gov't has been doing it for decades. Why do YOU think the gov't suddenly cannot regulate GHGs?
When I say "make the climate stable," I mean with respect to human emissions. Other modes of variability, such as changes in solar output or orbital variations will continue to change the cliamte. But reducing our emissions by 80% will lead to atmospheric CO2 abundance to about level off. There's lots of literature out there on this ... I'm surprised someone as knowledgable about the topic is apparently unfamiliar with that field of study.
I agree that if there's a way to increase update of CO2 to offset CO2 emissions, then we should consider that as an alternative to reductions.
I wrote: "Your argument, as I understand it, is that such reductions will occur naturally. If so, great --- any GHG-reduction regulations will therefore not cause any consternation. "
You responded with two alternatives that are inappropriate. The better analogy is this: I drive at 65 mph. The gov't passes a regulation that lowers the speed limit from 80 to 70 mph. That has zero impact on me.
Thus, if CO2 emissions decrease rapidly and without any gov't intervention, which I believe you've argued, then putting in limits on CO2 emissions will have little impact on our society. However, if you're wrong and CO2 emissions do not decrease by themselves, then the regulations will provide an important safety net.
Thus, I stand by my statement that prudence dictates we implement GHG emissions regulations. Perhaps they'll be unnecessary ... perhaps not.
You write: "My point was that GHG regulations--particularly U.S. GHG regulations--will have no practical effect on temperatures in the 21st century. Do you disagree? If so, based on what evidence?"
There are literally thousands of articles published every year that shows that CO2 is causing AGW. Do you really want a list?
Posted by: Andrew Dessler at May 27, 2006 10:48 PM
You write, "My views that the gov't can regulate GHG emissions comes from my observation that the gov't has been doing it for decades. Why do YOU think the gov't suddenly cannot regulate GHGs?"
I didn't ask you why you think the federal gov't can regulate GHG emissions. I asked you what section of the Constitution you think authorizes the federal gov't to regulate GHG emissions. Again, what section of the Constitution do you think authorizes the federal government to regulate GHG emissions?
As far as your question, to my knowledge there is no section of the Clean Air Act, or any of its amendments, wherein Congress authorizes the President (via the Environmental Protection Agency) to regulate CO2 emissions. So I'd be curious, after you identify the section of the Constitution that (you think) authorizes Congress to regulate CO2 emissions, if you could also identify the section(s) of the Clean Air Act or its amendments that (you think) authorizes the President to regulate CO2 emissions. Or do you think it's some other piece of legislation, other than the Clean Air Act and its amendments, that authorizes the President to regulate CO2 emissions?
"But reducing our emissions by 80% will lead to atmospheric CO2 abundance to about level off."
Wouldn't reducing our emissions by 80% from current levels cause atmospheric CO2 concentrations to begin declining? After all, as I pointed out in my previous comments, according to James Hansen, only about 58% of CO2 emissions show up as increases in atmospheric concentration (with the other 42% being absorbed by the biosphere).
BTW...there's also the fact that atmospheric methane concentrations are *already* stable. So wouldn't reducing them by 80% would cause atmospheric methane concentrations (the second most important GHG) to drop very rapidly. Or don't you agree?
Regarding increasing uptake of CO2, what amount of research money money do you think is being spent on increasing uptake, rather than decreasing emissions? My guess is that the percentage of time and money devoted to increasing uptake is less than 10 percent of the time and money devoted to decreasing emissions. What percentage do you think is currently being spent on increasing uptake, and what percentage do you think is appropriate?
Finally, you write, "There are literally thousands of articles published every year that shows that CO2 is causing AGW. Do you really want a list?"
No, Andrew. If you read my comments and questions carefully, you'd see that I asked nothing remotely close to that question.
I asked whether you thought that reducing U.S. emissions of CO2 would have any practical effect on 21st century temperatures. We seem to agree that the U.S. alone reducing emissions won't have a practical effect.
You conclude with, "We need to reduce emissions of all countries."
Why do you conclude "We need to reduce emissions of all countries"? Why can't we, for example, increase uptake? Or why can't we wait 30-50 years, and see if CO2 emissions don't go down through normal technological and economic evolution? (Note: And methane emissions are already declining, such that we can expect to see a decrease in *atmospheric concentrations* of methane even in the next 0-20 years.)
Posted by: Mark Bahner at May 28, 2006 10:54 AM
A few thoughts.
I'm not a constitutional scholar, so I cannot answer your question. However, the question sounds like one of those ridiculous arguments about income tax: "the constitution doesn't give the gov't authority to tax us, therefore I'm not going to file my income taxes." People making that argument end up jail. Similarly, I'm quite certain the gov't can and eventually will regulate GHGs.
You wrote: "Wouldn't reducing our emissions by 80% from current levels cause atmospheric CO2 concentrations to begin declining?"
I agree that research on all aspects of climate change are woefully underfunded ... including CO2 removal.
You asked: "Why do you conclude "We need to reduce emissions of all countries"? Why can't we, for example, increase uptake?"
You asked: "why can't we wait 30-50 years, and see if CO2 emissions don't go down through normal technological and economic evolution?"
However, if emissions don't go down by themselves, the regulations will be a prudent safety net (e.g., the law does have an impact on those that don't wear their seatbelt). In my judgment, we need to be risk averse when dealing with the safety of the planet.
Posted by: Andrew Dessler at May 29, 2006 09:18 AM
While I'm also no expert on U.S. constitutional law, I suspect that the legal authority to regulate CO2 emissions derives from the same source which allows the EPA to regulate thousands of other substances.
Now this is probably where your "Aha!" moment comes in and you say "but CO2 isn't toxic or harmful like these other substances so the government has no authority to regulate".
To which I would reply that the bulk of the evidence to date suggests that there will likely be significant impacts if CO2 emissions continue to increase. Now you may disagree and argue that the the scientific evidence suggests otherwise or is inconclusive. It is true that the causal link between CO2 emissions and AGW is more complicated than other pollutants (e.g. acid rain, ozone depletion, dioxins/furans, lead, etc.) But I would suggest that you would have a very difficult time convincing a judge that a GHG regulation was unconstitutional/baseless on the grounds that AGW is an unproven theory whose harms can't be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt.
As an aside, I find your arguments about whether or not the U.S. is 'decarbonizing' unconvincing and largely irrelevant. If the U.S. is decarbonizing it likely has more to do with the changing nature of its economy -- exporting manufacturing jobs to Asia and increasing the proportion of knowledge-based and service-oriented jobs -- and less to do with using less carbon intensive fuels as a matter of course. Coal has, and will continue to be a very, very cheap source of energy even with control technologies for criteria air contaminants. Absent the GHG-reduction motive, it's tough to see why its use on a global basis will decline significantly over the next several decades.
Put another way, while countries in the west may be switching to less polluting technologies in response to concerns from their citizens about air quality effects, there isn't any reason to expect developing countries to skip coal and go straight to more expensive options like natural gas and/or nuclear. This basically means that we can probably expect absolute global CO2 emissions to increase for the foreseeable future. To talk about emissions on a global per capita basis isn't really useful because it is such a coarse statistic that lacks explanatory power. As others have already noted, energy consumption per capita is decreasing simply because population growth developing countries is outpacing growth in developed countries, not because of some virtuous drive to clean energy.
Your question about the absolute effect of U.S. emission reductions on AGW impacts in the distant future is also inappropriate IMO as it seems to suggest that regulations which don't immediately solve the problem aren't worth the effort (and may be unconstitutional?). In fact virtually all environmental legislation in the U.S. and the rest of the industrialized world uses a phased, gradualist approach; typically for the very sensible reason that abrupt change is usually too costly for the regulated community, i.e. a balance needs to be struck.
Now a more useful discussion IMO is whether or not 7% below 1990 levels by 2012 is an appropriate target or not. Is it too ambitious/costly? I've never heard an anwser, but I've always wondered why/how the particular targets of Kyoto were selected -- why wasn't stabilization for all countries chosen as the first step? Maybe Andrew, Roger, or others could shed some light on this. In my very limited experience, I've found that these sorts of things are often decided in a very arbritrary fashion by the political machinery and wonder if this was the case during Kyoto in 97'. On a somewhat related note to the original question about the constitutionality of GHG regulations, is anyone aware of any legal challenges involving Kyoto and other regulations/treaties, e.g. is anyone at the WTO level using Kyoto obligations as a defence for tariffs?
Posted by: Marlowe Johnson at May 29, 2006 02:14 PM
You asked: "I've never heard an anwser, but I've always wondered why/how the particular targets of Kyoto were selected -- why wasn't stabilization for all countries chosen as the first step?"
You still haven't read my book, have you? :) The reason that industrialized countries were tapped first in the KP is for both practical and normative reasons. First, industrialized countries have more resources to throw at the problem. Developing countries are unlikely to sign on to any agreement with uncertain costs that could negatively affect their economic development. Second, industrialized countries are responsible for most of the climate change we've realized to date. From a fairness point of view, it was judged reasonable that industrialized countries take the first step.
In this sense, the structure of the KP was essentially a xerox copy of the extremely successful Montreal Protocol. Unfortunately, there are enough differences between ozone depletion and AGW that what worked for ozone has not worked for AGW.
Posted by: Andrew Dessler at May 29, 2006 03:28 PM
Sorry I probably should have been clearer with my question. I didn't mean to suggest that ALL countries adopt stabilization as a first step; only Annex B would. This would still be consistent with the FCCC's "common but differentiated responsibilities principle", which as you note is itself based on normative and pratical considerations. My question was why were the specific targets selected, e.g. 6% below 1990 for Canada, 8% EU, 0% for New Zealand, etc? Was there any kind of consensus at the time that these targets were achievable?
The concept of fairness is very tricky IMO when applied to AGW. On the one hand one could argue that emission allowances should be allocated on a per capita basis. After all, what gives an American or European the "right" to emit ten times more than an Indian or an African? On the other hand, reducing American/European emissions to a theoritical average limit (i.e. total atmospheric capacity / total population) would have very serious economic consequences if implemented too quickly which would probably leave everyone worse off.
Of course, over the long term what will have to happen is some sort of convergence to this equal emissions per capita point. To be clear, I don't think that this means that 'actual' emissions per capita will converge; instead industrialized countries will purchase the "right" to emit from developing countries. The real question IMO is how quickly this convergence will happen -- what the targets and timetables will be -- and how much wealth will be transferred to developing countries as a result, i.e. how much will industrialized countries actually reduce their own emissions and/or increase sink capacity.
BTW I haven't *finished* your book yet -- been pretty busy getting the garden up to snuff -- but have enjoyed it so far :).
Posted by: Marlowe Johnson at May 30, 2006 08:24 AM
You write, "I'm not a constitutional scholar, so I cannot answer your question."
1) Can you search the Internet for a copy of the Consitution and its amendments? If not, here is a copy:
Constitution and its amendments
2) Can you read?
If you can do both those things, then you CAN answer my question, which I have now asked three times. Which part of the Constitution (and its amendments) do you think authorizes the federal gov't to regulate GHG emissions?
You continue, "However, the question sounds like one of those ridiculous arguments about income tax: "the constitution doesn't give the gov't authority to tax us, therefore I'm not going to file my income taxes.'"
Most people agree that the federal government is authorized to collect income taxes because of the Sixteenth Amendment:
"The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration."
Perhaps if you educate yourself by actually reading the Constitution and its amendments, then your opinions won't be so ignorant and obviously false.
I wrote: "Wouldn't reducing our emissions by 80% from current levels cause atmospheric CO2 concentrations to begin declining?"
You responded, "No. Cutting emissions to around 2 GtC/year will lead to stabilization of atmospheric CO2 at around 500-550 ppmv. If you are interested in educating yourself about this, pls see Fig. 6-1 and associated discussion in the IPCC TAR synthesis document."
OK, I've looked at Fig 6-1 and the associated discussion in the IPCC TAR synthesis discussion. I don't see any explanation of *why* reducing emissions by 58% relative to present wouldn't stabilize CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, if 58% of current emissions are showing up in the atmosphere.
Can you explain why, if 58% of current emissions are showing up in the atmosphere, reducing emissions by 58% relative to current values won't stabilize atmospheric concentrations?
While we're at it, you previously wrote that we would need to reduce *GHG* emissions by 80% (see your comments of May 25, at 10:30 PM). As you probably know, "GHGs" include methane as well as CO2. Do you really think we also need to reduce methane emissions by 80%?
Posted by: Mark Bahner at June 3, 2006 05:38 AM
You write, "While I'm also no expert on U.S. constitutional law, I suspect that the legal authority to regulate CO2 emissions derives from the same source which allows the EPA to regulate thousands of other substances."
OK...what part of the Constitution do you think that is?
You also write, "As an aside, I find your arguments about whether or not the U.S. is 'decarbonizing' unconvincing and largely irrelevant. If the U.S. is decarbonizing it likely has more to do with the changing nature of its economy -- exporting manufacturing jobs to Asia and increasing the proportion of knowledge-based and service-oriented jobs -- and less to do with using less carbon intensive fuels as a matter of course."
It is not just the *U.S.* that is decarbonizing. The entire world is decarbonizing. As I wrote previously, here are *worldwide* anthropogenic increases in CO2 emissions:
Here are the approximate decadal increases in anthropogenic CO2 emissions:
1950 - 1960 --> 57%
You also write, "This basically means that we can probably expect absolute global CO2 emissions to increase for the foreseeable future."
What is your definition of "foreseeable future?" (How many years do you consider to be the "foreseeable future?")
Finally, you write, "Your question about the absolute effect of U.S. emission reductions on AGW impacts in the distant future is also inappropriate..."
I didn't ask a question, so much as I made an assertion. No "forseeable" (i.e., politically practical, to the extent that they can actually be passed by Congress) U.S. regulations on CO2 emissions will have any practical effect on world temperature in the 21st century, in that the temperature reduction due to U.S. regulations will be less than 0.1 degree Celsius.
See my third comment on May 25, at 7:29 PM.
Posted by: Mark Bahner at June 3, 2006 05:52 AM
Constitution? You mean like creating the EPA, the USDA, or any number of other agencies? Executive and Legislative branch functions.
However, the refusal of the EPA to act in a certain way was (and I believe wrongly, even for them to have considered it) ruled on by the Supreme Court of the US.
As you no doubt know by now, the EPA was sued over its refusal to regulate "greenhouse gasses" (which I call GhG) As usual, the news botched it up, since it's specifically for, "regulating vehicle emissions for carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons" (or CMNH) Never mind that they meant to petition the EPA on chloroflurocarbons, and it only applies to vehicle emissions.
For those of you that might not be familiar with the 5-4 decision, here it is in summary:
The majority opinion of the Supreme Court (5), in 3 parts
The dissenters(4), in 2 dissents
KP is bogus; Bush refused to join it, but that was to be expected: the Senate under Clinton rejected an attempt by Byrd to pass a vote ('98 I think) to join KP by 95 to 0. (Which I guess means he didn't even bother to vote on it, was dead by then, or voted no. I don't know) They would have not ratified it regardless of what Bush did (which was the right thing, ignore it)
Roger, when your book comes out, they are all going to be blown away, it's going to be great. Deltoid and RC and all those have their days numbered, that's for sure.
Posted by: Lupo at April 20, 2007 05:26 PM