March 21, 2007
Al Gore's appearance before Senate EPW
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Climate Change
Today's climate change hearing at Senate EPW with Al Gore as sole witness just finished. A few thoughts.
The hearing had a format slightly altered from the usual, with Chair Boxer and Ranking Member Inhofe giving opening statements, Mr. Gore getting 30 minutes to talk, Inhofe getting 15 minutes to question him, then the rest of the Senators getting their chances.
Sen. Inhofe tried hard to clown the hearing into irrelevance but Boxer struggled successfully to keep him in line and Gore did a good job of battling back. By the end of the hearing it was pretty clear that Inhofe has been pushed out to the fringes. He already was, of course, but previously he has had caucus members either behind him or willing to read directly from his sheaf of talking points. This time when the dust settled he looked startlingly alone.
During his talk Mr. Gore pushed a bunch of ideas, some of which were new and worth highlighting.
• The biggest bombshell was his second proposal: eliminate employment/payroll taxes and replace the revenue with a new carbon/pollution tax. This is the first time I've heard Mr. Gore specifically endorse a carbon tax, which automatically gives it new life in the policy debate. But more startling is the proposed revenue offset by eliminating payroll taxes.
• Mr. Gore's fourth proposal was to place an immediate moratorium on any new coal plant that is not outfitted with carbon capture and storage (sequestration) technology (CCS). This point was refreshed again and again throughout the hearing, especially as coal-state Senators asked their questions. This proposal is perhaps most interesting because it is not currently feasible and doesn't look like it'll be able to be implemented any time soon, so essentially Mr. Gore is saying, "stop building coal plants right now."
• The sixth proposal was to create an "electronet," meaning a distributed power system where small scale (to the level of individual homes) generators could put their power on the grid. This is an idea that has been around for a while and is the current buzz in clean energy policy, pushed pretty strongly by Amory Lovins and RMI. The thought is that centralized power in the form of massive coal and nuke plants is less efficient than distributed energy that can be used directly by the producer with excess sold back to the grid.
• The eighth proposal was to create a new federal mortgage lender that specifically deals in carbon neutral energy upgrades to homes (and call it "Connie Mae" following Fannie Mae). It was hard for me to grasp where he was going with this, but as far as I could tell it would be a lending instrument to borrow money for efficiency upgrades against the saving in energy costs produced by the upgrades. The loan would become a market-tradable financial instrument like home loans.
• Finally, Mr. Gore pressed for corporations to be required to disclose their carbon emissions to shareholders. He didn't say it, but I assume he meant that it would go on corporate SEC filings. This is something that has already been going around in the business world a bit, with companies starting to wonder if they need to disclose.
On the science: I was disappointed to see Mr. Gore stretching the science to his audience of Senators, but I'm willing to concede to Tom Yulsman (made in the 3rd comment to this post) that: "Should Gore be faulted for being an advocate? By definition, that's what politicians do. He is making a strong case for action, so of course he is going to emphasize some of the worst-case scenarios while downplaying less dire possibilities." Still, in his hearing testimony Mr. Gore highlighted recent sightings of manatees in unusual places, fires in Oklahoma and fires "raging out of control" all over the west as prime examples of global warming. I'm sticking to my point: Mr. Gore is representing the science now in a far more prominent way than any scientist, his words and presentations are based on many, many meetings with top climate scientists, and thus in a very real way, Mr. Gore is representing scientists. This time it wasn't even future projections but current events. No scientist would call the sighting of one manatee far up the Atlantic coast a clear indication of global warming. (These things happen –my graduate school advisor wrote a note in Nature describing why it wasn't strange to find coelacanths in the Sulawesi Sea.) The use of those examples to say "this is global warming, right here, right now!!" is perhaps not representing the science well.
Finally, some quick thoughts on Mr. Gore's interactions with the individual Senators on the panel. As the hearing went on I started to focus more on the R's than the D's and I finally realized why: the D's have been on board for a while, but up to this point the R's have been stalling. They aren't any longer, and almost to a person the R's made loud and positive noises about accepting the science and wanting to do something about it. So I started wanting to hear the next R, to hear how he (no female R's on EPW right now) was positioning himself on climate change, knowing that the R's are playing catch up.
Inhofe vs. Gore: Mr. Inhofe tried to trap Mr. Gore into a pledge to not use more energy than the average American household and to not use offsets/credits to buy off his increased energy use. This was a direct hit on the either well- or under-publicized (depending on your politics) blog post from the TN Center for Policy Research that Mr. Gore's house in TN uses more than twice the energy in one month than the average American family uses in one year. It seemed tough to wiggle out of but Mr. Gore responded by saying he buys wind power. Should have ended the conversation right there, but Inhofe had to keep clowning about it, of course. Still, I think Gore made his point.
Sen. Isakson (R-GA) was the first of many to push nuclear. Roger discussed Gore and nuclear previously here and Gore hasn't shifted much. He held throughout the hearing that nuclear would be part of the energy solution but only a small part. When pushed by the many pro-nuclear Senators he said the biggest reason for his bearish attitude was the cost. But I have to say: the cost-per-BTU of nuclear vs. the cost-per-BTU of coal with full CCS installed? I'm not sure CCS-coal is going to win that one.
Sen. Lieberman (I-CT) made a point I've been pushing for a while: that we are already passed the political tipping point for movement on climate change. I think if you consider the rhetoric and tone of the debate both among the elected and in the press, we are passed a tipping point on moving on climate change. Lieberman made the point that we better get past that political tipping point before we hit the climatological tipping point, which I suppose is a reference to a sudden Atlantic meridional overturning shutdown (few believe this is an immediate threat). Gore, however, disagreed that we've reached a political tipping point. But if we are not yet passed a tipping point, that implies that we could still slide back down, forget about all this and do nothing on climate change. I don't think that's going to happen; I think action is inevitable.
Sen. Craig (R-ID) pushed nuclear again (Idaho has a big national nuke lab) and accused the Clinton/Gore administration of killing some important nuclear funding. I find that pretty comical considering that Congress appropriates and Senator Craig has a very plush position on the approps committee. Craig also mentioned a new Dorgan/Craig bill on CAFE standards, but when I looked on Thomas I didn't see anything yet.
Sen. Baucus (D-MT) is an important voice in this debate because he is Chair of the Finance Committee. Remember Gore's proposal to kill payroll taxes and replace them with pollution (carbon) taxes? Anything like that would start and end with Baucus. And I have to say, Gore reiterated instituting a carbon tax and Baucus actually looked interested and engaged in thinking about it. Baucus also proclaimed his support for a cap-and-trade system and was adamant that it be economy-wide (i.e. not sector-based) without exemptions. Gore ended the interaction by saying, "put a price on carbon – tax is the best way, cap-and-trade will also do it."
Sen. Clinton (D-NY) is clearly engaged in the meat of these issues, regardless of her D'08 status. She asked pointed questions about whether we would need both a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade and when Gore said we should have both, she wanted to know how and why it would work to have both. (Kudos to her, I was wondering the same thing.) She also wanted more detail on the Connie Mae mortgage scheme and got into a quick back-and-forth with Gore on the details. Clinton's questions on the detail reminded me of her portrait in Joshua Green's Atlantic Monthly article.
Sen. Thomas (R-WY) – Here's where I saw the best bit of psychology of the afternoon. You could just tell from his first question/comment and demeanor that Thomas, like almost everybody else, was on board with trying to do something about climate. That he's from a coal state is only part of the equation; every time coal came up Gore went straight to the CCS card. But then Thomas, suddenly reading from his crib sheet, had to go to the standard dumb question about if weather prediction is bad so why can we rely on climate models? followed on by another ill-prepared skeptic standard. His staff should be fired.
Sen. Carper (D-DE) (one of my favorite policy wonk Senators) got into an exchange with Gore about the allocation of carbon pollution permits and input vs. output based caps. Gore had a chance to reiterate that if a cap-trade scheme comes along the permits should be auctioned, not distributed. Fine bit of inside policy there.
I've skipped a few of the more mundane exchanges. The hearing ended back with Sen. Boxer remarking that, "Senator Inhofe was waiting for this chance to have this conversation." And I'm sure he was. And he got rooked.
Posted on March 21, 2007 05:02 PM
Excellent summary. You hit the nails on their respective heads, particularly re: Inhofe's increasing isolation. I too was amused/pleased by Clinton's genuine interest (and pleasure) in the policy details.
Two notes. One, on the nuclear issue, I think Gore's cost comparison was not with CCS (which after all is another kind of big, centralized plant) but with distributed renewables/smart grid, which (to my immense delight) he kept emphasizing.
Second, Gore was pushing a carbon tax as far back as 1993, and laid out this particular proposal (along with Connie Mae and some of the others) in a speech to NYU several months back. This is certainly the highest profile venue for it, though.
Posted by: David Roberts at March 21, 2007 06:04 PM
Former VP Gore is more than an advocate, he's an investor who makes money directly and indirectly off his touts. If that wasn't enough, he pays himself to offset his carbon sins.
Posted by: McCall at March 21, 2007 08:34 PM
I've always been a fan of taxing bads vs. goods. A pollution tax is ideal.
However, based on what we actually know about increasing CO2 enhancing the food supply for the 3rd world, I wonder how the wannabe alarmists and carbon brokers going for the emission restrictions and trading schemes sleep at night, knowing how they're probably pushing for starving billions of people?
Posted by: Harry Haymuss at March 21, 2007 08:50 PM
Fine post & summary Kevin - I appreciate it.
Quick question regarding this "the cost-per-BTU of nuclear vs. the cost-per-BTU of coal with full CCS installed?"
Is the full cost of coal prior to CCS factored in? What I am referring to is the cost of mountain top referral, mostly carried by poorer citizens living downhill & downstream: http://www.grist.org/news/maindish/2006/02/16/reece/
I recently saw a presentation on mountain top removal and some of the facts were startling. It is thought that something like 30-50% of the mountains in SW West Virginia will be topped in the next 50 yrs or so. If you download the most recent version of Google Earth, you can see the impact of mountain top removal in the southern Appalachian Mountains as of today: http://www.gearthblog.com/blog/archives/2006/10/end_mountain_top_rem.html
Also, the economic costs of mountain top removal versus mining is bantered about. A new fact I hadn't heard before is that in 1960 there were ~120,000 coal miners in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Today there are ~ 15,000 coal miners. If there numbers regarding mountain top removal and changes in the number of coal related jobs are correct, well, this debate is starting to sound like the old-growth timber-forestry job debates of the 1980s & 1990s: there may be hardly any coal jobs in the near future due to the lack of coal [let alone mountains].
I guess I am just wondering if the full societal costs of energy extraction will be/are factored into policy decision models. And, I'm hoping this isn't too far off-topic.
Posted by: neil at March 22, 2007 05:42 AM
Is there a valley between the tipping point of action and the tipping point of meaningful, effective action?
Posted by: Lab Lemming at March 22, 2007 06:49 AM
Well, as someone who doesn't understand how any scientist can look at the data and not believe we are headed for a period of modest global cooling, this all seems very surreal to me. For the sake of argument, let's assume that I am wrong (as most readers probably do already), the question then is 'what do we hope to gain from all of this?'
While all of Gore's suggestions help the federal government gain more control over the population, they won't help us gain control over the climate. More importantly, they won't make anyone less vulnerable to weather or climate change.
I simply don't understand this notion that we are passing some kind of 'tipping point to action'. Is Congress moving forward because of political pressure to do so, or because they have a firm grasp of solutions to a well-defined problem? It appears to be completely about political pressure with almost no discussion about whether or not their actions will improve anything. It is symbolism over substance with a very high price tag.
Imagine that your car is starting to run a bit rough and seems to be getting worse. You reach a tipping point to action and decide that you will take it in to the shop. All the mechanics gather round and tell you how much they care for your car and are very concerned about what they are seeing. They too decide to take action; twisting bolts, adjusting screws and replacing small parts. In the end, the car is still running rough, but they promise that it will probably start improving in a couple of years, then give you $2,000 repair bill. Finally, they tell you to really make it run better will cost 10-100 times as much and that you will have to leave your car for 3 weeks!
That seems to be the kink of 'service' that we are being sold on AGW. I just don't get why so many are buying it!
Posted by: Jim Clarke at March 22, 2007 07:51 AM
Gore's one incandescent howler went unchallenged - he said CO2 has raised the temperature of Venus to "the boiling point of lead." , but nobody challenged this fourteen hundred degree Kelvin misunderstanding
Posted by: Russell Seitz at March 22, 2007 09:22 AM
I have a question for Kevin Vranes, who maintains that Gore is "representing scientists in a more prominent way than any scientist": How could anyone represent "scientists"? Has he ever heard the phrase "herding cats"?
Posted by: Sylvia S Tognetti at March 22, 2007 09:35 AM
"Mr. Gore's fourth proposal was to place an immediate moratorium on any new coal plant that is not outfitted with carbon capture and storage (sequestration) technology (CCS)"
Was Gore's proposal to build new coal plants that use CCS technology? Or was it to require new plants to be able to use CCS technology, but did not need to have it installed now?
If its being able to retrofit CCS, is this feasible using current technology and is it financially feasible?
Posted by: Joseph O'Sullivan at March 22, 2007 11:16 AM
So it is OK for politicians to make false claims and to stretch the truth if it gets the desired results? Bull! Adolph Youknowwho is the best example of where that can lead. This should not be tolerated especially by scientists who supposedly seek only truth. Whatever happened to honesty and integrity among public figures?
Posted by: Paul Dougherty at March 22, 2007 11:31 AM
Jordan -- thanks, fixed it
Sylvia -- already commented on your blog
Dave -- yea, and Charlie Komanoff at the Carbon Tax Center reminded me that Gore has been going down this road for a while: http://www.carbontax.org/blogarchives/2007/03/21/gore-affirms-support-for-carbon-tax-2/
(for those of you who haven't seen them yet, check out carbontax.org and http://www.carbontax.org/who-supports/ )
far as cost-per-BTUs, you may be right, he was kind of talking about everything at once
Neil -- you raise a very interesting issue to me and here's something to chew on: our economy has already internalized the pollution costs of coal mining one way or the other, since either the mining companies or local/state/federal governments pay for cleanup. When the money comes from general revenues then the taxpayer is paying the pollution costs, when the company is paying then the cost is passed on to consumers. Either way, the cost is not directly factored into the energy cost and it should be. I submitted a paper on abandoned mines policy a couple of weeks ago and I'll try to blog about it at some point.
Russell -- uh, ok, I think we can give him the slip (saying boiling instead of melting)
Jim -- have you bet Brian or James on your cooling guess yet? Let's just say that I haven't personally met a single climate-related scientist who would take a global cooling bet. Anyway, I think you make a valid point about taking action without having a well-defined set of solutions. But this is the essence of muddling through: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%22muddling+through%22+lindblom&btnG=Search
McCall -- ok, I'll bite. How is Gore paying himself to offset his carbon? Second, why does it matter? All he has to do to be credible to me is to be carbon neutral. If he's buying wind offsets for his electricity (as I do) and finding a legit offset for his transportation, that's fine with me.
Posted by: kv at March 22, 2007 11:43 AM
Thank you for your response. I would gladly take the bet that the Earth will enter a global cooling phase over the next 2 decades, but given the current confidence level of the IPCC, I think I should be given the current odds. 95 to 1 sounds about right:-)!
I understand the concept of ‘muddling through’, but we do not seem to be muddling through to any real solutions, just political solutions. When there are no specific, tangible, well-defined targets for governments to achieve, politicians have a tendency to spend an inordinate amount of money on doing nothing other than covering political backsides. Crusades against poverty, illegal drugs and even terrorism come to mind. Trillions have been spent, but without any bench marks for success, we have no indications that we have achieved anything!
I also understand that Prometheus is all about policy discussion in the hopes of setting and reaching some meaningful goals, but so far all the talk is all about carbon mitigation, which can not even produce knowable results. There is no hope of ever verifying the effectiveness of such a program, which is akin to signing over a blank check to federal politicians.
Getting the ball rolling is one thing; steering it in the direction it should go may be a whole lot harder. Right now, everyone just seems to be happy that the ball is moving and not caring at all where it is headed!
Posted by: Jim Clarke at March 22, 2007 01:20 PM
Can anyone point me to reports that show that wind-power based electricty offsets are carbon neutral over the complete life cycle of typical wind-power sources and electricity consumption?
The measured displacement percentage of conventional power sources by real-world installed wind power is running at about 2.4%.
If everyone buys carbon offsets and at the same time do not decrease energy consumption the total reduction in CO2 will be, ... hmmmm, let's see, exactly what would that be .... ?
Posted by: Dan Hughes at March 22, 2007 02:07 PM
You asked me… “What data points to global cooling?”
The simple answer…all of it!
If one looks at all the data without any preconceived notions (assumptions) of what the values are for the different forcing factors, one can only come to the conclusion that we are headed for global cooling.
Since this is a policy blog and not strictly a science blog, I will try to give you condensed version of why we will be cooling.
For more than 100 years, increasing CO2 has been producing a warming influence on climate. Historical climate data also indicates a strong solar connection to climate change, directly related to solar activity. Solar activity increased into the 20th century and has stayed at historically high levels for the last 50 years, but is showing signs of easing up. This solar forcing would also produce a general warming trend for the last 150 years.
The solar mechanism differs from the GHG effect in that the solar energy warms the surface (much of it water) which in turn warms the atmosphere. GHGs warm the atmosphere first and then would tend to warm the surface. While both effects would have a lag in climate warming, the lag would be much more pronounced with the solar forcing as more of the energy would be stored in the oceans to be released at a later time. So even though solar activity has not been increasing for the last 50 years, it has not been going down either. As much of this energy, stored in the worlds oceans, continues to be released into the atmosphere over time, the result is a fairly constant warming influence even after the solar activity stops increasing.
Both factors would have a warming influence for the entire 20th century, yet the mid-20th century cooled. In the AGW theory, this cooling is attributed to aerosols, but the aerosol explanation is not very scientific. It does not fit the climate observations and we do not even know how these aerosols actually affect the climate, or their quantity and spatial distribution over the time in question. Using aerosols to explain mid-20th century cooling is like using two jokers to complete a royal flush. In science, it is not appropriate to assign unknown variables any value you want to satisfy your world view, but that is what we do with aerosols in AGW theory. Unfortunately, the real world has a value for those aerosols and it does not appear to be what is needed to explain the observed cooling.
Is there anything that describes the cooling more accurately and completely than aerosols. YES! Cyclical oscillations in the world’s oceans, dominated by the PDO, actually fit the bill perfectly!
As far as planetary average temperature is concerned, the internal oscillations of the oceans should be neutral over a long period of time, but if the oscillations take decades to complete, it makes a big difference if don’t start and end at the same point in the cycle when trying to determine an overall trend. When we look at 20th century warming, we are looking from the depths of the cool phase of the PDO in 1900 to the peak of a warm phase of the PDO in 2000. I believe that this alone accounts for nearly half of the perceived warming of the last century.
Since the cool phase of the PDO last century overpowered the warming influence of both the solar and GHG effects, and since we are on the verge of entering another cool phase of the PDO, global cooling is likely. Add the fact that the solar effect, which was positive last century will likely go negative over the next few decades, and there is just no way that increasing CO2 can keep the atmosphere warming. If it were that powerful of a force, it would have kept us warming throughout the 20th century, when it had the help of the sun and the logarithmic affect of increasing CO2 was significantly larger.
While I developed this viewpoint by weighing all the known influences of global climate change (many leesor ones not mentioned here), a recent paper in Meteorology and Atmospheric Physics came to the same basic conclusion using a somewhat different method:
There is a lot more to it than what I have written above and there are certainly other interpretations of the data, but unlike the IPCC, I try not to ignore important things like the solar and ocean affects on climate.
Posted by: Jim Clarke at March 22, 2007 06:44 PM
Thanks for the interesting perspective. I will need some time to digest it (without bias of course). I would love to hear you and Gavin Schmitt debate this as I assume from previous posts that you are well qualified to do so.
Posted by: Paul Dougherty at March 22, 2007 08:27 PM
When you say we are headed for cooling, do you mean a relatively small fluctuation as opposed to an onset of a 'ice age'?
I am not a scientist, but I am puzzling over this paper by Daniel H Rothman
which has a nifty graph in Fig 4 that correlates inferred CO2 levels over 500 Myr with known cool periods. From this and other sources I have read, I am concluding that we are in the early portion of a warm period based on the geologic record of cycles. That is, we have at least 10Kyr before we have to worry about mastodons and such.
The author also says that his study could infer that CO2 is not a dominant climate driver, but hedges a bit.
Also, am I reading this paper wrong if I conclude that long term we are losing CO2 in the atmosphere?
Posted by: jdwill at March 23, 2007 11:57 AM
thanks all, but that's quite enough about global cooling and warming. this is a policy post, not a debate-the-science-for-the-F'ing-millionth-time post.
Posted by: kv at March 23, 2007 02:13 PM
Adding to Dave Robert's comment, I think Gore's been pushing the carbon-payroll tax switch for at least a year.
"But I have to say: the cost-per-BTU of nuclear vs. the cost-per-BTU of coal with full CCS installed? I'm not sure CCS-coal is going to win that one."
I think the IPCC is estimating CCS adds 30-60% to the cost of coal energy. Assuming we trust this (big assumption), I'd guess it generally beats nuclear power. Don't have nuclear power figures handy, though.
Posted by: Brian S. at March 23, 2007 03:18 PM
I trust you understand you are leaving reality out of this thread then. How can one determine policy if one doesn't know what one is "policying" about??
Aren't you putting the cart before the horse (if the horse is even there)?
Posted by: Harry Haymuss at March 23, 2007 10:11 PM
I apologize for the diversion into the scientific argument, but it does give me the opportunity to make the following point, which I believe is central to the purpose of Prometheus:
"How can one determine policy if one doesn't know what one is "policying" about??"
That is a very good question! It would seem unwise to write policy to address a problem that (in my mind) probably doesn't even exist. But if we break down the threat of AGW into its component parts, we find a myriad of problems that already exist and would simply be exacerbated if the planet continues to warm like the IPCC suggests.
If we can develop policy that effectively addresses problems of water usage, agricultural efficiency, severe weather resilience, the spread of disease and how we manage energy, then we win no matter what the future climate brings!
Even if AGW turns out to be “worse than we thought”, it is doubtful that focusing all of our efforts on CO2 mitigation will result in significant benefits, certainly not in our lifetimes and barely even measurable in the lives of our children. If the skeptics are closer to correct, efforts towards CO2 mitigation are a huge waste.
Right now, AGW supporters are seemingly stuck on advocating CO2 emissions regulation while skeptics are being portrayed as those who advocate ‘doing nothing’. Neither policy stance is constructive.
Prometheus has been portrayed as offering a ‘middle ground’ perspective. I strongly disagree! Prometheus is not advocating something that is half-way between doing nothing and the total regulation of CO2. Prometheus is advocating the best policy choices for dealing with real problems that could get worse in the future. Prometheus is about generating good policy; not about compromising between two bad policies!
That is why I come here and participate. Even though I disagree with Kevin and Roger on the science of climate change, this site has taught me that we can pursue effective policy together.
I think skeptics need to realize that the ball is rolling. Until temperatures start to cool, politicians are going to ‘do something’ about the threat of climate change. We can either sit and pout in the corner or try to steer the debate towards policies that generate a real bang for the buck, regardless of future climate.
Whether or not I agree with Al Gore's interpretation of the science is irrelevant here (as Kevin has indicated). The purpose of my original post was to argue that Al Gore's policy suggestions are almost totally focused on CO2 mitigation and will very likely be ineffective. I was trying to make the point that there is little reason to celebrate the ball finally moving, if it is not moving in the right direction!
Posted by: Jim Clarke at March 24, 2007 07:54 AM
Thanks for your response. Indeed, if it turns out that northern hemisphere temperatures are increasing primarily due to black carbon from dirty Chinese coal plants, the most effective mitigation may be for the developed world to simply buy them scrubbers. Contrast this with a 5 million square mile land mass that is not warming at all (Antarctica) and to think we know enough to develop "policy" is indeed putting the cart before the horse.
The only "policy" we should be espousing is to vastly increase research into climate, because the potential penalty for failure is in fact huge. As pointed out here:
Temperature rise has most definitely not increased, and in fact seems to have stopped, so there's really no crisis. We have time to figure this all out - an emotional reaction pushed by people wanting to make a buck off carbon trading sounds like the wrong thing to do.
Posted by: Harry Haymuss at March 24, 2007 09:00 AM
Correction: "Temperature rise" should be "Rate of temperature rise".
Posted by: Harry Haymuss at March 24, 2007 09:04 AM
Harry and Jim -- of course all of the policy discussion is predicated on the science, but if we need to rehash the science every time we want to talk about policy then we're never going to talk about policy, are we? There are hundreds of venues to discuss the science, from RC to climateaudit and everything in between. It's not worth bogging down a policy thread to question basic principles on the science. Our basic starting point around here is that there is a well-established risk, which I hope both of you would agree with.
Posted by: kv at March 24, 2007 02:41 PM
It's definitely agreed there is an established risk. There are also a multitude of losers either way.
Finally, the established risk itself cuts both ways:
so should not discussions of policy ramifications include those not able to afford to buy clean energy, but who have to sell and use their e.g. coal to bring their standard of living up to an acceptable level?
Posted by: Harry Haymuss at March 24, 2007 03:57 PM
Thanks for your commentary on the Senate EPW hearings. You mentioned "This is the first time I've heard Mr. Gore specifically endorse a carbon tax". I checked into that a bit -- it's not the first time, though I can't certify that Mr. Gore has been proposing a carbon tax for 14 years as he claimed at the NYU Law School:
Posted by: seekerblog at March 26, 2007 12:17 AM
You also questioned Gore's assertions regarding the competitive cost of nuclear power: "the cost-per-BTU of nuclear vs. the cost-per-BTU of coal with full CCS installed? I'm not sure CCS-coal is going to win that one."
The Australian government commissioned a 2006 study of power generation options by the University of Sydney -- which produced as a sub-report a survey of the literature titled "Life-Cycle Energy Balance and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Nuclear Energy in Australia" [PDF]. I hope you have a chance to review this work and comment on it. The study looked well-done to me -- shameless plug for a post on the study
which leads off:
Summary: greenhouse gas [GHG] intensities correlate closely with energy intensities. During their entire life cycle, conventional nuclear reactors generate about 20 times less GHGs than typical brown coal plants, and about half as much GHG as photovoltaics. Wind turbines and hydroelectric generate roughly three times less GHG than conventional nuclear.
Posted by: seekerblog at March 26, 2007 12:21 AM
Kevin said:"Harry and Jim -- of course all of the policy discussion is predicated on the science, but if we need to rehash the science every time we want to talk about policy then we're never going to talk about policy, are we?"
This statement/questions sums up much of what I have just read. The nature of the problem is not what is important - the solution is what is important. It is not even necessary that the action we take effectively address the problem, since we do not really understand the source of the problem. All that is necessary is that we "do" something - that we have a policy to address the problem. The symbolism of the action is far more important than the efficacy of that action.
Posted by: Frank at March 26, 2007 07:06 PM
A response to a response
Posted by: Mike Doran at March 28, 2007 12:57 AM
"Indeed, if it turns out that northern hemisphere temperatures are increasing primarily due to black carbon from dirty Chinese coal plants, the most effective mitigation may be for the developed world to simply buy them scrubbers."
If by "plants", you mean "electric power generation plants," most scientists agree that coal-fired electric power plants do not emit significant black carbon.
Black carbon is caused by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels such as coal and diesel. Electric power plants are generally thought not to emit significant black carbon because the combustion process at an electric power plant (of any reasonable size) is generally pretty efficient (i.e., producing little unburned carbon).
There are significant black carbon (BC) emissions from China. But those emissions are thought primarily to come from such activities as residential coal combustion and "beehive" and other obsolete coke ovens.
See Table 1 of this document. (Note: China represents somewhere around 90% of the emissions from "East Asia.") One can see from Table 1 that emissions of BC from "Power" are negligible, but BC emissions from "Residential and "Industry" in East Asia are very significant.
So the solution to greatly reducing China's black carbon emissions is to assure that all "beehive" and other primitive coke ovens are shut down, and to make sure that residential coal use is either eliminated or greatly reduced (e.g. replaced with natural gas, propane, electricity, or neighborhood coal-fired power plants that produce both electicity and hot water).
Also, "scrubbers," when used with respect to coal-fired power plants, generally means flue gas desulfurization (FGD) scrubbers. They remove mostly sulfur dioxide (SO2), not particulate. (Since SO2 actually cools the planet, reducing SO2 emissions will tend to warm the planet, not cool it.)
Putting in scrubbers would do wonders for China's acid rain problems and ambient air fine particulate concentration problems, but it would do virtually nothing to reduce black carbon emissions, and the reduction in SO2 emissions would actually tend to increase warming.
Posted by: Mark Bahner at March 28, 2007 03:34 PM