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The House race to watch
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | government November 07, 2008

One Big Reason Why We Have an Energy Crisis
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | Technology Policy July 30, 2008

Fuel Subsidies and the Politics of Higher Priced Energy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy July 28, 2008

The New Global Growth Path
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy June 16, 2008

Why Costly Carbon is a House of Cards
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Science + Politics | Scientific Assessments | Technology Policy June 12, 2008

An Order of Magnitude in Cost Estimates: Automatic Decarbonization in the IEA Baseline
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy June 09, 2008

IEA on Reducing The Trajectory of Global Emissions
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy June 06, 2008

A Few Bits on Cap and Trade
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy June 04, 2008

Idealism vs. Political Realities
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy June 03, 2008

Air Capture in The Guardian
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy June 03, 2008

Meantime, Back in the Real World: Power Plant Conversion Rates
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy May 28, 2008

IPCC Scenarios and Spontaneous Decarbonization
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy May 25, 2008

Nature Letters on PWG
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Scientific Assessments | Technology Policy May 22, 2008

Old Wine in New Bottles
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Prediction and Forecasting | Scientific Assessments May 19, 2008

Iain Murray on Climate Policy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Science + Politics | Technology Policy May 08, 2008

Elements of Any Successful Approach to Climate Change
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Environment | International | Sustainability | Technology Policy May 06, 2008

Boulder Science Cafe, May 13th 5:30 RedFish
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Site News May 06, 2008

The High Cost of Emissions Reduction Symbolism
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | Science + Politics May 01, 2008

Malaria and Greenhouse Gases
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Health | Sustainability | Technology and Globalization April 25, 2008

Germany's Energy Gap
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | R&D Funding | Technology Policy April 24, 2008

Joe Romm’s Fuzzy Math
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy April 23, 2008

The Central Question of Mitigation
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | R&D Funding | Technology Policy April 22, 2008

A Post-Partisan Climate Politics?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Science + Politics | Technology Policy April 21, 2008

Please Tell Me What in the World Joe Romm is Complaining About?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Science + Politics | Technology Policy April 21, 2008

Kristof on PWG
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy April 20, 2008

Bush CO2 Plan in Context
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy April 17, 2008

Biofuels and Mitigation/Adaptation
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology and Globalization April 15, 2008

Food Price FAQs
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | International | Technology and Globalization April 14, 2008

Holding the Poor Hostage
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Energy Policy April 11, 2008

Has German Policy Harmed Solar Power?
   in Author: Others | Energy Policy | Technology Policy April 10, 2008

Interview with Frank Laird
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy April 09, 2008

Carbon Intensity of the Economy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy April 08, 2008

Green Car Congress on PWG
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Risk & Uncertainty April 08, 2008

Joe Romm on Air Capture Research
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy April 07, 2008

Gwyn Prins on PWG in The Guardian
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy April 07, 2008

6 Days in 2012: Effect of the CDM on Carbon Emissions
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy March 19, 2008

UK Emissions
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy March 17, 2008

Interview at The Breakthrough Institute
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | Environment | Science + Politics | Technology Policy March 04, 2008

Matthews and Caldeira on the Mitigation Challenge
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy February 28, 2008

A Sense of Proportion
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy February 25, 2008

Carbon Emissions Success Stories
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy February 15, 2008

Worldwatch Wants You to Think
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | Technology and Globalization January 18, 2008

Laboratories of Democracy? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Laboratories of Democracy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy December 20, 2007

Shellenberger on Bali
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | International December 17, 2007

China's Growing Emissions
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy December 16, 2007

Chris Green on Emissions Target Setting
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy December 14, 2007

Reality Check
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | International December 13, 2007

Fun With Carbon Accounting
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy December 12, 2007

   in Author: Hale, B. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Environment December 05, 2007

It Will Take More than Holocaust Analogies
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy November 26, 2007

Not Ambitious Enough
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy November 14, 2007

A Range of Views on Prins/Rayner
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy October 30, 2007

Late Action by Lame Ducks
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy September 29, 2007

The nothingness that is the new energy bill
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy June 27, 2007

A little percolation on energy policy
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy June 11, 2007

Curious quote from the recalcitrant
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy June 06, 2007

The messy and messier politics of AGW solutions
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Climate Change | Energy Policy May 29, 2007

--It's sort of a screw-up--
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy May 09, 2007

A preview of things to come
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Climate Change | Energy Policy May 02, 2007

taking options off the table....
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy May 01, 2007

The Politics of Air Capture
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Science + Politics | Technology Policy April 26, 2007

Frank Laird on Peak Oil, Global Warming, and Policy Choice
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy April 16, 2007

New Peer-Reviewed Publication on the Benefits of Emissions Reductions for Future Tropical Cyclone (Hurricane) Losses Around the World
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Energy Policy April 12, 2007

The series of tubes pumps internets and horses and oil and gas
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy April 10, 2007

The state push to the federal push
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Climate Change | Energy Policy March 21, 2007

The future of coal
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy March 14, 2007

Al Gore 2008, Part 3: Washington Post on California Energy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | Science + Politics February 20, 2007

Understanding US Climate Politics
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy February 07, 2007

SOTU '07: An A or a D+ ?
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Climate Change | Energy Policy January 25, 2007

A Report from the Bureaucracy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy January 24, 2007

Will Toor on the CU Power Plant
   in Author: Others | Climate Change | Energy Policy January 24, 2007

Hypocrisy Starts at Home
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Education | Energy Policy January 20, 2007

The Steps Not Yet Taken
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Energy Policy January 08, 2007

Meantime, Back in the News Section
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy January 07, 2007

Profiling Frank Laird
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Technology Policy January 02, 2007

And I'm focused on adaptation?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy December 22, 2006

Senator Coal and King Coal
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Science + Politics December 15, 2006

Disquiet on the Hurricane Front
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Energy Policy December 11, 2006

Roger A. Pielke Jr.’s Review of Kicking the Carbon Habit: A Rebuttal by William Sweet
   in Author: Others | Climate Change | Energy Policy December 04, 2006

What Just Ain't So
   in Climate Change | Energy Policy October 18, 2006

Climate Porn
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy August 03, 2006

Energy Dependence, Part 2
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy July 06, 2006

Energy Dependence
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy July 06, 2006

New anti-wind politics details. Oh the irony, Senator Warner.
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy June 08, 2006

Petropolitics,, and The Politics of Decarbonization
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy June 02, 2006

PeakOil: whom do you believe? ChevronTexaco or ExxonMobil?
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy May 04, 2006

Some Simple Economics of Taking Air Capture to the Limit
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy April 20, 2006

Forbidden Fruit: Justifying Energy Policy via Hurricane Mitigation
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters | Energy Policy March 15, 2006

Senators Seeking Response to Climate Change White Paper
   in Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy February 28, 2006

Political Plate Tectonics and Energy Policy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy February 08, 2006

EPA Fuel Efficiency
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy July 29, 2005

Cart or Horse?
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy May 19, 2005

Bush Administration Goes Nuclear
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy April 28, 2005

The Coming Debate over Nuclear Power
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy March 28, 2005

Connecting Dots for a Nuclear Stratagem
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy March 24, 2005

There is a Lesson Here
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy January 26, 2005

Bring the Policy Back In
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy October 21, 2004

An Equation for Science in Politics: SM = f(PP)
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | Science Policy: General October 11, 2004

The Politics of Personal Virtue and Energy Policies
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy August 20, 2004

Blackouts Are Inevitable
   in Author: Fisher, E. | Energy Policy August 12, 2004

Designing the Electric Grid
   in Author: Ryen, T.S. | Energy Policy August 10, 2004

Distinguishing Climate Policy and Energy Policy: Follow Up
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy July 27, 2004

Distinguishing Climate Policy and Energy Policy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy July 26, 2004

Confusion about Science and Policy
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | Risk & Uncertainty July 15, 2004

Yucca Mountain, Politics, Science, and the NRC
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | Science Policy: General July 12, 2004

Frames Trump the Facts
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy | Environment | Water Policy June 29, 2004

Singing from the Same Sheet
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy April 29, 2004

Country of Origin Labels for Gasoline
   in Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy | Environment April 19, 2004

November 07, 2008

The House race to watch

Now that the election is over there's one House race left to watch: Dingell v. Waxman.

John Dingell is the Ann Arbor/Detroit Rep who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee. He's also been fairly unabashed in his reluctance to moving climate policy forward, and E&C is the key House committee for climate policy. For those playing in climate and climate-energy policy, he's been the main bottleneck on moving policy forward within the Dem caucus in advance of January 2009. Considering the aggressive moves by other Congressional Dems, particularly Bingaman, Boxer and Markey, Dingell has been notably slow to the table.

Now, the always-aggressive Henry Waxman, #2 on the committee, has started a push to wrest the gavel from Dingell. The differences in philosophy and approach between the two men are quite clear, especially on climate. Dingell has been upfront about protecting the auto industry at all costs and being reluctant on carbon regulations (see for example), while Waxman is clearly itching to move forward on carbon caps.

The politics behind this will be fascinating as it is no secret that many Dems, including Ms. Pelosi, would like to see Dingell relinquish control of the committee and the attendant control it will have over climate policy in the coming term. Pelosi tried to go around Dingell in 2006 by creating an ad hoc committee on climate change (chaired by Markey), only to see Dingell win a fight that ensured the ad hoc commitee would have no legislation-writing authority. Apparently Dingell is taking this challenge so seriously that he's formed a "whip team" to help him fight off Waxman.

You can bet that savvy watchers of climate policy are watching this "race" more closely than anything else in DC right now. Ultimately, the ramifications of this fight will have serious and long-lasting implications for the direction and scope of thr country's first real foray into carbon regulations.

July 30, 2008

One Big Reason Why We Have an Energy Crisis

Some hard-to-believe numbers reported in the Financial Times yesterday on the investments by major energy companies in R&D (emphasis added):

The west's biggest oil companies raised their research and development spending by an average of 16 per cent last year but still lag behind many other industries, a survey by the Financial Times has found.

There is also a wide variation in R&D budgets, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of revenues.

Royal Dutch Shell, already the top spender in 2006, raised its budget the fastest with a 36 per cent increase to $1.2bn for 2007. Last year it spent more than twice as much as BP on R&D.

ExxonMobil, the world's biggest oil company, has a market capitalisation almost twice that of Shell, but spent only two-thirds the amount on R&D, at $814m.

Relative to revenues, oil companies' R&D expenditures are strikingly low: about 0.3 per cent last year for Shell, and 0.2 per cent for Exxon. That compares with typical proportions of 15 per cent for technology and pharmaceuticals companies, and 4-5 per cent for motor companies.

In other words, compared to revenues technology and pharmaceutical companies spend 50 to 75 times the amount on research and development than Shell or Exxon. Is it any wonder that your desktop computer would have been considered a supercomputer a few decades ago, whereas you are still filling up your car with the same stuff that your great-grandparents did?

July 28, 2008

Fuel Subsidies and the Politics of Higher Priced Energy

Today's New York Times has a very interesting article by Keith Bradsher on fuel subsidies in developing countries, which sheds some light on the politics of efforts to increase the costs of energy. Here is an excerpt:

From Mexico to India to China, governments fearful of inflation and street protests are heavily subsidizing energy prices, particularly for diesel fuel. But the subsidies — estimated at $40 billion this year in China alone — are also removing much of the incentive to conserve fuel.

The oil company BP, known for thorough statistical analysis of energy markets, estimates that countries with subsidies accounted for 96 percent of the world’s increase in oil use last year — growth that has helped drive prices to record levels.

In most countries that do not subsidize fuel, high prices have caused oil demand to stagnate or fall, as economic theory says they should. But in countries with subsidies, demand is still rising steeply, threatening to outstrip the growth in global supplies.

While it is easy to call for the end of subsidies so as to let prices better reflect supply and demand, the politics are enormously complicated. The NYT reports (emphasis added):

Political pressures and inflation concerns continue to prevent many countries — particularly in Asia, where inflation has become an acute problem — from ending subsidies and letting domestic prices bounce up and down.

"You talk about subsidies, you’re not only talking about the economy, you’re talking about politics," said Purnomo Yusgiantoro, Indonesia’s minister of energy and mineral resources. He ruled out further price increases this year beyond one in May that raised the price of diesel and regular gasoline to $2.30 a gallon.

Central to the politics are the impacts of removing fuel subsidies on the poor. A UNEP meeting held in Sweden earlier this year found that these impacts are real but not well understood (PDF):

Due in part to differing price elasticities of consumption, subsidy removal has different impacts in various regions and among various classes of people of the world. More needs to be done to understand the ways in which subsidies and their potential reform will impact various socio-economic groups. Indeed, energy subsidies seem to improve energy supply and the standard of living of the poor in some cases, but may not help them as much as was previously assumed, and especially not in the long run. In addition, there may be ways to retain these benefits without also providing large subsidies to groups that don't need them. The degree to which a major reform of energy subsidies will disproportionately and negatively impact the world’s poor requires further study.

Removing subsidies in rapidly developing countries will have the effect of making fuel more expensive. Climate policies that seek to wean the world off of fossil energy will require increasing the costs of fuels to even higher levels. The willingness and ability of governments to remove subsidies will say something about the prospects for increasing the costs of fossil fuels in developing countries. Presently, there absolutely no indication that developing countries will be willing to increase the costs of energy in any significant way to better reconcile supply and demand, much less address the challenge of decarbonizing the global economy. The obvious solution of course is for carbon-free technologies to become cheaper than their (subsidized) fossil fuel competitors. Easy to say, of course.

Not only are the politics of addressing subsidies difficult, but the discussion of the issue is hampered by multiple definitions of a "subsidy". While there are good reasons for multiple definitions, it also allows political debates to enter the technical discussions. For instance, are countries without strong climate mitigation policies subsidizing fossil fuel use according to the expected costs of future climate changes attributable to the human emissions? Or should the baseline of subsidies reflect a baseline of global market supply/demand?

Wisely, UNEP has recommended moving past such debates:

The conventional wisdom on energy subsidies has been that a reliable working definition of the term is needed before reform efforts can go forward. The logic behind this idea is that subsidy data will not be comparable across sectors and regions if different figures capture different things. Proponents of a single definition have argued that a clear definition, even if not agreed upon by all parties, will help greatly with data gathering and analysis, as well as give subsidy studies credibility in the eyes of policy makers.

However, there is now disagreement as to the appropriateness of a single subsidy definition. Rather, definitions may depend on the particular organisation, or the question that is being answered. Instead of binding all studies by a universal and inflexible definition, a hierarchy of definitions could be employed with the recognition that not all analysts will use the same exact ones. This would also allow for a more nuanced approach that can account for various localised biases.

The NYT reports that President Bush has criticized subsidies for fuel use in developing countries, but you don't see the president or other politicians raising concerns about fuel subsidies in the United States. And you probably won't, especially as politicians top priority seems to be concern over high gas prices.

The bottom line? The politics of energy reform -- whether to better align supply/demand, to address rising costs, to enhance security, or to address climate change -- are going to be impossible if based on an approach that requires higher-priced energy. By contrast, progress toward these goals will be far simpler if accompanied by cheaper energy. How long will it take for this lesson to sink in?

Posted on July 28, 2008 09:34 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

June 16, 2008

The New Global Growth Path


A very important new paper is forthcoming in the journal Climatic Change which has been published first online. The paper is:

P. Sheehan, 2008. The new global growth path: implications for climate change analysis and policy, Climatic Change (in press).

The paper argues that:

In recent years the world has moved to a new path of rapid global growth, largely driven by the developing countries, which is energy intensive and heavily reliant on the use of coal—global coal use will rise by nearly 60% over the decade to 2010. It is likely that, without changes to the policies in place in 2006, global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion would nearly double their 2000 level by 2020 and would continue to rise beyond 2030. Neither the SRES marker scenarios nor the reference cases assembled in recent studies using integrated assessment models capture this abrupt shift to rapid growth based on fossil fuels, centred in key Asian countries.

This conclusion strongly supports the analysis that we presented in Nature (PDF)not long ago, in which we argued that the mitigation challenge was potentially underestimated in the so-called IPCC SRES (and pre- and post- SRES) scenarios due to overly aggressive assumptions about future trends in the decarbonization of the global economy. Such overly optimistic assumptions are endemic in the literature, found in the Stern Review, and IEA and CCSP assessments, among others.

Sheehan comes to similar conclusions:

To the extent that NGP is a reasonable projection of global trends on current policies out to 2030, it follows that all of the SRES marker scenarios seriously understate unchanged policy emissions over that time, and do so because they do not capture the extent of the expansion in energy use and emissions that is currently taking place in Asia. Nor, as a consequence, do they capture the rapid growth in coal use that is also occurring. . .

The SRES scenarios were a substantial intellectual achievement, and have stood the test of time for almost a decade. But the central feature of global economic trends in the early decades of the twenty-first century—the new growth path shaped by the sustained emergence of China and India, in the context of an open, knowledge-based world economy—could not be foreseen in the 1990s, and is not covered by these scenarios. Many of the SRES scenarios are no longer individually plausible, and as a whole the marker scenarios can no longer be said to ‘describe the most important uncertainties’. As a result, and especially given the emissions intensity of the new growth path, there is an urgent need for new approaches.

Unfortunately, a major obstacle to discussing (much less achieving) new approaches are the very public intellectual and political commitments that have been advanced, based on the earlier assumptions. Unwinding these commitments -- as we have seen -- will take some doing.

PS. See also the NYTs Andy Revkin and Elisabeth Rosenthal on China's growing emissions here. As yet, the dots remain to be connected between such trends unfolding before our eyes and their incongruity with assumptions in energy policy assessments. But reality and policy assessments can diverge only for so long.

June 12, 2008

Why Costly Carbon is a House of Cards

How can the world achieve economic growth while at the same time decarbonizing the global economy?

This question is important because there is apt to be little public or political support for mitigation policies that increase the costs of energy in ways that are felt in reduced growth. Consider this description of reactions around the world to the recent increasing costs of fuel:

Concerns were growing last night over a summer of coordinated European fuel protests after tens of thousands of Spanish truckers blocked roads and the French border, sparking similar action in Portugal and France, while unions across Europe prepared fresh action over the rising price of petrol and diesel. . .

Protests at rising fuel prices are not confined to Europe. A succession of developing countries have provoked public outcry by ordering fuel price increases. Yesterday Indian police forcibly dispersed hundreds of protesters in Kashmir who were angry at a 10% rise introduced last week. Protests appeared likely to spread to neighbouring Nepal after its government yesterday announced a 25% rise in fuel prices. Truckers in South Korea have vowed strike action over the high cost of diesel. Taiwan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia have all raised pump prices. Malaysia's decision last week to increase prices generated such public fury that the government moved yesterday to trim ministers' allowances to appease the public.

Advocates for a response to climate change based on increasing the costs of carbon-based energy skate around the fact that people react very negatively to higher prices by promising that action won’t really cost that much. For instance, our frequent debating partner Joe Romm says of a recent IEA report (emphasis added):

. . . cutting global emissions in half by 2050 is not costly. In fact, the total shift in investment needed to stabilize at 450 ppm is only about 1.1% of GDP per year, and that is not a "cost" or hit to GDP, because much of that investment goes towards saving expensive fuel.

And Joe tells us that even these "not costly" costs are "overestimated."

If action on climate change is indeed "not costly" then it would logically follow the only reasons for anyone to question a strategy based on increasing the costs of energy are complete ignorance and/or a crass willingness to destroy the planet for private gain. Indeed, accusations of "denial" and "delay" are now staples of any debate over climate policy.

There is another view. Specifically that the current ranges of actions at the forefront of the climate debate focused on putting a price on carbon in order to motivate action are misguided and cannot succeed. This argument goes as follows: In order for action to occur costs must be significant enough to change incentives and thus behavior. Without the sugarcoating, pricing carbon (whether via cap-and-trade or a direct tax) is designed to be costly. In this basic principle lies the seed of failure. Policy makers will do (and have done) everything they can to avoid imposing higher costs of energy on their constituents via dodgy offsets, overly generous allowances, safety valves, hot air, and whatever other gimmick they can come up with.

Analysts and advocates allow this house of cards to stand when trying to sell higher costs of energy to a skeptical public they provide analyses that support a conclusion that acting to cut future emissions is "not costly."

The argument of "not costly" based on under-estimating the future growth of emissions so that the resulting challenge does not appear so large. We have discussed such scenarios on many occasions here and explored their implications in a commentary in Nature (PDF).

One widely-know example is the stabilization wedge analysis of Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow (PDF. The stabilization wedge analysis concluded that the challenge of stabilizing emissions was no so challenging.

Humanity already possesses the fundamental scientific, technical, and industrial know-how to solve the carbon and climate problem for the next half-century. A portfolio of technologies now exists to meet the world’s energy needs over the next 50years and limit atmospheric CO2 to a trajectory that avoids a doubling of the preindustrial concentration. . . But it is important not to become beguiled by the possibility of revolutionary technology. Humanity can solve the carbon and climate problem in the first half of this century simply by scaling up what we already know how to do.

In a recent interview the lead author of that paper, Pacala provided a candid and eye-opening explanation of the reason why they wrote the paper (emphases added):

The purpose of the stabilization wedges paper was narrow and simple – we wanted to stop the Bush administration from what we saw as a strategy to stall action on global warming by claiming that we lacked the technology to tackle it. The Secretary of Energy at the time used to give a speech saying that we needed a discovery as fundamental as the discovery of electricity by Faraday in the 19th century.

We also wanted to stop the group of scientists that were writing what I thought were grant proposals masquerading as energy assessments. There was one famous paper published in Science [Hoffert et al. 2002] that went down the list [of available technologies] fighting them one by one but never asked "what if we put them all together?" It was an analysis whose purpose was to show we lacked the technology, with a call at the end for blue sky research.

I saw it as an unhealthy collusion between the scientific community who believed that there was a serious problem and a political movement that didn’t. I wanted that to stop and the paper for me was surprisingly effective at doing that. I’m really happy with how it came out – I wouldn’t change a thing.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things wrong with it and that history won’t prove it false. It would be astonishing if it weren’t false in many ways, but what we said was accurate at the time.

So lets take a second to reflect on what you just read. Pacala is claiming that he wrote a paper to serve a political purpose and he admits that history may very well prove its analysis to be “false.” But he judges the paper was successful not because of its analytical soundness, but because it served its political function by severing relationship between a certain group of scientific experts and decision makers whose views he opposed.

Why is this problematic? NYU’s Marty Hoffert has explained that the Pacala and Socolow paper was simply based on flawed assumptions. Repeating different analyses with similar assumptions doesn’t make the resulting conclusions any more correct. Hoffert says (emphases added):

The problem with the formulation of Pacala and Socolow in their Science paper, and the later paper by Socolow in Scientific American issue that you cite, is that they both indicate that seven "wedges" of carbon emission reducing energy technology (or behavior) -- each of which creates a growing decline in carbon emissions relative to a baseline scenario equal to 25 billion tonnes less carbon over fifty years -- is enough to hold emissions constant over that period. . . .

A table is presented in the wedge papers of 15 "existing technology" wedges, leading virtually all readers to conclude the carbon and climate problem is soluble with near-term technology; and so, by implication, a major ramp-up of research and development investments in alternate energy technology like the "Apollo-like" R&D Program that we call for, is unnecessary. . . .

The actual number of wedges to hold carbon dioxide below 450 ppm is about 18, not 7, for Pacala-Socolow scenario assumptions, as Rob well knows; in which case we're much further from having the technology we need. The problem is actually much worse than that, since the number of emission-reducing wedges needed to avoid greater than two degree Celsius warming explodes after the mid-century mark if world GDP continues to grow three percent per year under a business-as-usual scenario.

The figure below is from a follow-on paper by Socolow in 2006 (PDF) and clearly indicates the need for 11 additional wedges of emissions reductions from 2005 to 2055. These are called "virtual wedges" which is ironic, because their existence is very real and in fact necessary for the stabilization of emissions to actually occur. (Cutting emissions by half would require another 4 wedges, or 22 total).

If Pacala and Socolow admit that we need 18 wedges to stabilize emissions, and 22 wedges to cut them by half, and this is based on an rosy assumption of only 1.5% growth in emissions to 2055, then why would anyone believe that we need less? If it is conceivable that emissions might grow faster than 1.5% per year, then we will need even more than the 22 wedges. Perhaps much more. But analysts seeking to impose a price on carbon won't tell you this. Instead, some will resort to demagoguery, and others will simply repeat over and over again the consequences of assuming rosy scenarios. None of this will make the mitigation challenge any easier. But as Pacala says in the excerpt above, such strategies may keep more sound analyses out of the debate.

Policies based on the argument that putting a price on carbon will be "not costly' are a house of cards, and based on a range of assumptions that could easily be judged very optimistic. Looking around, what you will see is that the minute that energy prices rise high enough to be felt by the public, action will indeed occur, but it will not be the action that is desired by the climate intelligencia. It will be demands for lower priced energy. And policy makers will listen to these demands and respond. Climate policy analysts should listen as well, because there will be no tricking of the public with rosy scenarios built on optimistic assumptions.

Virtual Triangle.png

June 09, 2008

An Order of Magnitude in Cost Estimates: Automatic Decarbonization in the IEA Baseline

Last week I mentioned the conclusions of the IEA Energy Technologies Perspectives report. I have had a chance to look at the full report in some depth, with an eye to the assumptions in the report for the spontaneous decarbonization of the global economy.

All assessments of the costs of stabilizing concentrations of carbon dioxide start with a baseline trajectory of future emissions. The costs of mitigation are calculated with respect to reductions from this baseline. In the Pielke, Wigley, and Green commentary in Nature (PDF) we argued that such baselines typically assume very large, spontaneous decreases in energy intensity (energy per unit GDP). The effect of these assumptions is to decrease the trajectory of the baseline, making the challenge of mitigation much smaller than it would be with assumptions of smaller decreases in energy intensity (and a higher baseline trajectory). Obviously, the smaller the gap between the baseline scenario and the mitigation scenario, the smaller the projected costs of mitigation.

The annotated figure below is from the IEA ETP report (Figure 2.8, p. 74), and shows the assumptions of decreasing energy intensity in the baseline scenario (BASELINE), as well as the two mitigation scenarios (ACT [emissions stabilized at current values] and BLUE [emissions half current values]).

IEA Decarb.jpg

In the annotation I show with the red call out the difference between the BASELINE and BLUE scenarios, which the report identifies with a cost of $45 trillion. The magnitude of this difference is about 0.8% per year. However, the report assumes that about twice this rate of decarbonization of the global economy will happen spontaneously (i.e., the magnitude of the BASELINE reductions in energy intensity). With the green call out I ask how the baseline is actually to be achieved.

In numbers, the BLUE scenario assumes that by 2050 a trajectory consistent with stabilization at 450 ppm carbon dioxide will require reductions in emissions from 62 Gt carbon dioxide to 14 Gt. But what if we use a "frozen technology" baseline as recommended in PWG?

Using the assumptions from Annex B of the report for global economic growth (4.2% to 2015, 3.3% 2015-2030, and 2.6% 2030 to 2050 -- we could play with these assumptions as well) results in a frozen technology baseline of 115 Gt carbon dioxide. Thus, 53Gt of carbon dioxide are assumed in the BASELINE to be reduced by the automatic decarbonization of the global economy. This spontaneous decarbonization will occur without any of the technologies proposed in the report to get from the baseline to the mitigation level (otherwise the report would be double-counting the effects of these technologies). What these technologies are is anyone's guess, as the report does not describe them.

If the world does not automatically decarbonize as projected in the IEA baseline, then the costs of mitigation will be considerably higher. By how much?

If we take the report's marginal cost estimate of $200 to $500 per ton for mitigating carbon dioxide, then a simple estimate of the full costs from a frozen technology baseline would be an additional $210 to $530 trillion above the $45 trillion cited in the report. Yes, you read that right.

What if the assumption of automatic decarbonization was off by only 10%? Then the additional cost would be an additional $21 to $53 billion, or about the same magnitude of the IEA's total cost estimate of mitigation (i.e., of moving from the BASELINE to the BLUE trajectory) .

What does this exercise tell us about costs estimates of mitigation?

1. They are highly sensitive to assumptions.

2. Depending on assumptions, cost estimates could vary by more than an order of magnitude.

3. We won't know the actual costs of mitigation until action is taken and costs are observed. Arguments about assumptions are unresolvable.

Meantime, it will be easy to cherrypick a cost for mitigation -- low or high -- that suits the argument that you'd like to make.

Anyone telling you that they have certainty about the future costs of mitigation -- whether that certainty is about high costs or low costs -- is not reflecting the actual uncertainty. Action on mitigation will have to take place before such certainty is achieved, and modified based on what we learn.

June 06, 2008

IEA on Reducing The Trajectory of Global Emissions

The International Energy Administration released its Energy Technology Perspectives report today, with a view on the prospects of returning global emissions to present values by 2050 and also more aggressively cutting them by half in 2050.

The report has several interesting conclusions:

1. Its cost estimates for stabilizing emissions at current amounts have doubled over the past 2 years to $50 per ton of carbon dioxide.

2. Its estimates for halving emissions from today's levels are $200 to $500 per ton of carbon dioxide.

By contrast, the Stern Review's 2006 estimate of the average cost of a similar reduction in emissions to 2050 was $25 per ton of carbon dioxide (see Figure 9.5 here in PDF), with an uncertainty range that topped out at about $100 per ton. The IPCC AR4 scenarios led to costs ranging up to $200 per ton of carbon dioxide (consistent with a 550 ppm stabilization trajectory by 2050, as seen in figure TS.9 in this PDF). (Note: I am unclear as to how the report handles the baseline issue that we raised in our recent Nature paper, but if they handled it properly, the differences in cost estimates from Stern/IPCC may simply reflect a more transparent accounting.)

What to take from this? Estimates of the economic costs of mitigation are highly unstable and speculative. Consider that the Stern Review considered no costs of oil above $80/barrel. However, the trend in cost estimates is up, due to the higher costs of energy and infrastructure. Efforts to map out the costs of mitigation to 2050 (or 2030 for that matter) are little more than guesses, leaving plenty of room to find a pleasing result.

3. The IEA report sees no path to stabilizing or halving emissions without a massive investment in both nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (for coal and gas). These are both politically controversial and will generate resistance among some groups, perhaps limiting their future prospects. To the extent that this happens other avenues for emissions reductions will need to be found to meet these ambitious goals.

4. Here is what the IEA sees as necessary each year:

The average year-by-year investments between 2010 and 2050 needed to achieve a virtual decarbonisation of the power sector include, amongst others, 55 fossil-fuelled power plants with CCS, 32 nuclear plants, 17,500 large wind turbines, and 215 million square metres of solar panels. [Reducing 2050 emissions to half of today's] also requires widespread adoption of near-zero emission buildings and, on one set of assumptions, [by 2050] deployment of nearly a billion electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

5. Finally, while the report says that the technologies to stabilize emissions at current values by 2050 are, in principle, available, it observes that they are not for reductions below this level, and thus calls for:

A massive increase of energy technology Research, Development and Demonstration (RD&D) is needed in the coming 15 years, in the order of USD 10-100 billion per year.

In short, the IEA report should serve as a reminder that the challenge of mitigation is significant and costly. Consequently,the politics of adopting mitigation policies will continue to be difficult (to put it mildly). Efforts to couch mitigation policies as low cost (in the short term) or of immediate benefit will likely fail, because presently this simply is not true. Strategies that will have greater prospects for success will those that align the short term costs with short term benefits, by broadening the focus of mitigation policies beyond a narrow focus on long-term climate change, or, by capitalizing on technological advances that do in fact lead to demonstrable short-term benefits by reducing the costs experienced by consumers and voters.

Until this lesson is learned, climate policy will continue in its current form.

June 04, 2008

A Few Bits on Cap and Trade

The U.S. Senate is debating a cap and trade bill this week and next. Anyone wanting a look at the debate can find it on CSPAN-2.

Meantime here are a few minor related items:

I reviewed Earth: The Sequel by Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn of the Environmental Defense Fund. Unfortunately, the book adds little to understanding of or debate on cap and trade. My review can be found at Nature Reports: Climate Change here.

Monday's Denver Post has a column by David Harsanyi (opposing the cap and trade bill) in which he quotes from an analysis I did of the effectiveness of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Unfortunately he confuses my analysis of the effect of the CDM with an assessment of the entire Protocol. For that analysis he would have wanted to look at a 1998 paper by Tom Wigley, and make a few adjustments based on actual participation and performance of Kyoto. The amount of delay in emissions from all of Kyoto would be measured in months not days.

June 03, 2008

Idealism vs. Political Realities

David Cox writes in the Guardian on climate change: "It's surely time for a change of tack. Or should we just wring our hands?"

A further excerpt:

Perhaps, it's time to get real. Climate change activists should come to appreciate what religious reformers, communist revolutionaries and other utopian visionaries have learned before them. You can't change human behaviour in the interests of the supposed greater good.

Nonetheless, warming hasn't gone away, even if its character is less clear-cut than has been suggested by those urging us to make obeisance to it. What should we do about it?

The answer is surely to switch our efforts away from trying to change human behaviour towards other approaches to the problem. The most obvious is technological research into methods of alleviating warming. Up until now, mentioning this route has been considered a sinful attempt to divert attention from the hairshirt remedies on which the prophets of doom have insisted. Perhaps partly as a result, such research is proving surprisingly skimpy.

He raises a good point, which I'd characterize as, if efforts to put a meaningful price on carbon fail, what is plan B?

Air Capture in The Guardian

Saturday's Guardian has a story about a potentially important breakthrough in air capture technology:

It has long been the holy grail for those who believe that technology can save us from catastrophic climate change: a device that can "suck" carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, reducing the warming effect of the billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas produced each year.

Now a group of US scientists say they have made a breakthrough towards creating such a machine. Led by Klaus Lackner, a physicist at Columbia University in New York, they plan to build and demonstrate a prototype within two years that could economically capture a tonne of CO2 a day from the air, about the same per passenger as a flight from London to New York.

The prototype so-called scrubber will be small enough to fit inside a shipping container. Lackner estimates it will initially cost around £100,000 to build, but the carbon cost of making each device would be "small potatoes" compared with the amount each would capture, he said.

The scientists stress their invention is not a magic bullet to solve climate change. It would take millions of the devices to soak up the world's carbon emissions, and the CO2 trapped would still need to be disposed of. But the team says the technology may be the best way to avert dangerous temperature rises, as fossil fuel use is predicted to increase sharply in coming decades despite international efforts. Climate experts at a monitoring station in Hawaii this month reported CO2 levels in the atmosphere have reached a record 387 parts per million (ppm) - 40% higher than before the industrial revolution.

The quest for a machine that could reverse the trend by "scrubbing" carbon from the air is seen as one of the greatest challenges in climate science. Richard Branson has promised $25m (£12.6m) to anyone who succeeds.

Lackner told the Guardian: "I wouldn't write across the front page that the problem is solved, but this will help. We are in a hurry to deal with climate change and will be very hard pressed to stop the train before we get to 450ppm [CO2 in the atmosphere]. This can help stop the train."

My recent paper on the economics and politics of air capture is going to be obsolete before I even get the reviews back!! (Anyone wanting a copy of the paper as submitted just send me an email:

May 28, 2008

Meantime, Back in the Real World: Power Plant Conversion Rates

A reader writes in with positive things to say, but notes that as interesting as it is to see our focus on technical issues like the short-term predictive capability of models and the fidelity of IPCC pre/post/SRES scenarios we may also balance that out with some bigger picture stuff.

To that I say: guilty as charged, fair enough. I'll be returning to the short-term prediction stuff before long, but for today's big picture perspective, consider the following points on the scale of the mitigation challenge.

The Center for Global Development estimates that there are 25,339 power plants around the world that emit carbon dioxide. If the world starts replacing or converting these plants to carbon free energy production at the rate of one plant per day, then it will take 69 years to make all of these power plants carbon neutral, and an 80% conversion would take 56 years. If you'd like assume that most emissions come from the largest plants, you can cut those numbers in half or even by 2/3 and the point remains. At a conversion rate of one plant per week -- using only the top 1/3 emitters -- it would take 145 years to convert 80% of these 1/3 (162 years to convert the entire 1/3).

But energy production from fossil fuel power plants is of course increasing, so these are conservative numbers. The rate of conversion from carbon dioixde emitting power plants currently is negative (they are growing in number, at a rate of, what, several per week? Good data sources appreciated in the comments), so the conversion clock is running in reverse. And, oh yeah, power plant emissions according to CGD are 29% of the global total.

The point of this post is not that mitigation is impossible, but that it arguably is much, much harder a challenge than typically advertised. Any guesses on when the power plant conversion rate will become positive, and a what rate it will occur? Will it occur at all?

May 25, 2008

IPCC Scenarios and Spontaneous Decarbonization

Joe Romm has helpfully posted up his full reply to Nature on PWG (PDF), and we are happy to link to it as promised. And after reading Joe's original letter and his comments, the source of his complaint -- and confusion -- is now clear. This post explains that Joe has confused the differences between different IPCC SRES scenarios with spontaneous decarbonization within each individual scenario.

Figure 1.png

The Figure above is from our Nature paper. It shows for the six SRES families (A1B, A1FI, A1T, A2, B1, B2) cumulative emissions to 2100. For now lets ignore the light blue part of each bar (which represents the spontaneous or automatic decarbonization that we discuss in the paper, and which I return to below).

Joe Romm points out in his critique:

The Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES), which the Commentary cites, makes clear that while the SRES scenarios don’t technically have climate policies, they can and do have energy efficiency and decarbonization policies, which are the same thing. That’s clear from examining the B1 scenario, which includes aggressive policies that help limit total global warming to about 2°C

He is correct in this assertion. The effect of these policies in the B1 sceanrio can be seen in the difference between the height of the green plus red (G+R) parts of the B1 bar and the same G+R portion of the bars for the other scenarios. Clearly, the B1 G+R is closer to the dotted line than any of the others (though A1T is also close). The "energy and decarbonization policies" that Joe Romm refers to are those that account for the difference in height between the G+R parts of the bars in our graph across scenarios -- which is completely different than the assumptions of automatic decarbonization within each scenario which are reflected in the light blue parts of the bars.

Automatic decarbonization occurs in the IPCC scenarios not because of specific policies that the report discusses, but because of assumptions that it uses within individual scenarios (specifically, assumptions of decreasing carbon and energy intensities). Whatever policies are associated with these assumptions are not discussed by the IPCC. The decarbonization of the global economy reflected by the light blue portions of the bars in the figure above are indeed accurately characterized as being "automatic" or "spontaneous."

In its editorial discussing our paper, Nature clearly understood this. Joe Romm apparently does not. He has confused the differences between aggregate emissions across scenarios with assumptions of automatic decarbonization within scenarios.

Now that Joe has released his original letter to Nature, it is clear why they asked him to correct his error of interpretation. It is also clear why his claims that we have made an error in our analysis is incorrect.

May 22, 2008

Nature Letters on PWG

The 8 May 2008 issue of Nature published 4 letters in response to the Pielke, Wigley, and Green commentary on IPCC scenarios (PDF). This provides a few excerpts from and reactions to these letters.

Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba writes:

I largely agree with the overall conclusion of Pielke et al. that the IPCC assessment is overly optimistic, but I fear that the situation is even worse than the authors imply.

Smil is realistic about the challenge of mitigation:

The speed of transition from a predominantly fossil-fuelled world to conversions of renewable flows is being grossly overestimated: all energy transitions are multigenerational affairs with their complex infrastructural and learning needs. Their progress cannot substantially be accelerated either by wishful thinking or by government ministers’ fiats.

But pessimistic about action:

Consequently, the rise of atmospheric CO2 above 450 parts per million can be prevented only by an unprecedented (in both severity and duration) depression of the global economy, or by voluntarily adopted and strictly observed limits on absolute energy use. The first is highly probable; the second would be a sapient action, but apparently not for this species.

Christopher Field, from Stanford University agrees with our analysis and its implications:

The trends towards increased carbon and energy intensity may or may not continue. In either case, we need new technologies and strategies for both endogenous and policy-driven intensity improvements. Given recent trends, it is hard to see how, without a massive increase in investment, the requisite number of relevant technologies will be mature and available when we need them.

Richard Richels, of the Electric Power Research Institute, Richard Tol, of the Economic and Social Research Institute (Ireland), and Gary Yohe, of Wesleyan University support our analysis and our interpretation of its significance:

Pielke et al. show that the 2000 Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) reflects unrealistic progress on both the supply and demand sides of the energy sector. These unduly optimistic baselines cause serious underestimation of the costs of policy-induced mitigation required to achieve a given stabilization level.

This is well known among experts but perhaps not to the public, which may explain why some politicians overstate the impact of their (plans for) climate policy, and why others argue incorrectly that ‘available’ off-the-shelf technologies can reduce emissions at very little or no cost.

They also make an absolutely critical point about climate policy – it is necessarily incremental and adaptive:

The focus of policy analysis should not be on what to do over the next 100 years, but on what to do today in the face of many important long-term uncertainties. The minute details of any particular scenario for 2100 are then not that important. This can be achieved through an iterative risk management approach in which uncertain long-term goals are used to develop short-term emission targets. As new information arises, emission scenarios, long-term goals and short-term targets are adjusted as necessary. Analyses would be conducted periodically (every 5–10 years), making it easier to distinguish autonomous trends from policy-induced developments — a major concern of Pielke and colleagues. If actual emissions are carefully monitored and analysed, the true efficacy and costs of past policies would be revealed and estimates of the impact of future policy interventions would be less uncertain.

Such an approach would incorporate recent actions by developed and developing countries. In an ‘act then learn’ framework, climate policy is altered in response to how businesses change their behavior in reaction to existing climate policies and in anticipation of future ones. This differs from SRES-like analyses, which ignore the dynamic nature of the decision process and opportunities for mid-course corrections as they compare scenarios without policy with global, century-long plans.

Ottmar Edenhofer, Bill Hare, Brigitte Knopf, Gunnar Luderer Potsdam of the Institute for Climate Impact Research (Germany) suggest that the range of rates for the future decarbonization of energy in the IPCC reports is in fact appropriate:

Over the past 30 years, the decrease in energy intensity has been 1.1% a year — well above the 0.6% a year assumed in 75% of the energy scenarios assessed by the IPCC.

Developments in China since 2000 do raise concerns that the rate of decrease in energy and carbon intensity could slow down, or even be reversed. However, similar short-term slow-downs in technical progress have occurred in the past, only for periods of more rapid development to compensate for them. India, for example, does not show the decreasing trend in energy efficiency seen in China.

The figure of 75% of scenarios of the IPCC assuming 0.6% per year decrease in energy intensity is difficult to interpret. But here is what the IPCC itself says on this (WGIII Ch. 3, p. 183 PDF):

In all scenarios, energy intensity improves significantly across the century – with a mean annual intensity improvement of 1%. The 90% range of the annual average intensity improvement is between 0.5% and 1.9% (which is fairly consistent with historic variation in this factor). Actually, this range implies a difference in total energy consumption in 2100 of more than 300% – indicating the importance of the uncertainty associated with this ratio.

So if 5% fall below 0.5%, it is hard to understand what the authors mean by "0.6% a year assumed in 75% of the energy scenarios assessed by the IPCC." Contrary to the other letters Edenhofer et al. conclude:

The IPCC’s main policy conclusions stand: present technologies can stop the rise in global emissions.

The final letter is from Joseph Romm, of the Center for America Progress. He chooses to parse what is meant by the term "climate policies" in the vernacular of the IPCC:

They criticize the IPCC for implicitly assuming that the challenge of reducing future emissions will mostly be met without climate policies. But the IPCC’s Special Report on Emissions Scenarios makes clear that, although the scenarios don’t technically have climate policies, they can and do have energy efficiency and decarbonization policies, which amount to the same thing

It is not clear why this semantic point matters for interpreting our analysis as it has no implications for either our technical analysis or its interpretation. Of course, the IPCC defined the notion of "climate policies" quite precisely for a reason -- because the policies that relate to improved energy efficiency and decarbonization assumed by the IPCC to occur in their scenarios in the absence of climate policy mean that these other policies would be implemented with no effort focused on the stabilization of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (no cap and trade, no Kyoto, no carbon tax, etc. etc.). These policies, whatever they are, would happen spontaneously or automatically without any concern for climate. This assumption was explicit in the terms of reference for the IPCC SRES exercise for the purpose of clearly identifying the marginal benefits and costs of climate-specific policies.

Romm then simply repeats the conclusions of the IPCC:

the IPCC report makes clear that we have the necessary technologies, or soon will, and focuses on creating the conditions for rapid technological deployment

Interestingly, with a letter in Nature Romm, who has been a strong critic of our paper on his blog, had a perfect opportunity to explain what might have been incorrect in our technical analysis, and did not. We can assume that he was unable to find any flaws and thus chose to focus on the implications of the analysis, which he does not enagage, choosing simply to restate a position that he held before our paper came out.

As can be seen clearly in the letters, there is not a consensus among energy policy experts on the role of technological innovation in efforts to mitigate climate change. This is a debate which has only just begun, and for which there are a range of legitimate and informed points of view, despite the efforts of some to demagogue anyone who disagrees with their views.

May 19, 2008

Old Wine in New Bottles

The IPCC will be using new scenarios for its future work, updating those produced in 2000, the so-called SRES scenarios. This would be good news, since, as we argued in Nature last month, the IPCC scenarios contain some dubious assumptions (PDF). But from the looks of it, it does not appear that much has changed, excpet the jargon. The figure below compares the new scenarios as presented in a report from a meeting of the IPCC held last month (source: PDF) with those from the 2000 IPCC SRES report. I have presented the two sets of scenarios on the same scale to facilitate comparison. Do they look much different to you?


May 08, 2008

Iain Murray on Climate Policy

Over at his blog Iain Murray, who is with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, has a thoughtful response to my initial post on elements of any successful approach to climate change. I won't try to summarize Iain's lengthy post, so go there read it and come back. (Thanks to BP for the pointer.)

Here are some very quick responses of my own.

1. I appreciate Iain's efforts to "propose an alternative framework that may be more appealing to conservative policy-makers." In the U.S there is a wide gap between Democrats and Republicans on many aspects of climate policy. If this gap is to close in the form of shared agreement on action, it will result from having an open discussion of policies resulting in compromises, and not by the finger-pointing, name calling, and derision that so often accompanies political debates on climate change. As Walter Lippmann once wrote, the goal of politics is not to get people to think alike, but to get people who think differently to act alike.

2. On adaptation Iain and I see to agree more than disagree. I recognize that the concept of "sustainable development" carries with it much symbolic baggage and people read into the concept an awful lot. I don't see a Malthusian perspective in the concept, far from it. I actually see that technological progress that eliminates limits and opens possibilities as key to sustainable development. There is much more to say, but on issues of technology and trade, i see no real significant disagreements here.

3. Iain is correct in pointing out the real costs associated with making carbon-based energy more expensive. This is the main reason that I see that its political prospects are seriously limited. But even so, Iain probably recognizes that what he calls "costs" are viewed by many people as "benefits". That is, many people would like energy to be more pricier, even if it results in costs for some other people . For some, they focus on the non-market costs of carbon-based energy and thus evaluate the costs/benefits with some implicit valuation of the intangibles, but others simply prefer the outcomes associated with pricier energy. I have no expectation that people with vastly different values will come to agreement on costs and benefits associated with pricing carbon, hence, I see its prospects as limited in any case.

4. Iain likes the idea of making carbon-free energy "more affordable" but has some different recommendations than I do on how it might be done. Great. I don't think that anyone has a magic bullet solution, so agreement on the goal ought to be a enormous first step in its achievement. This is one reason why I listed a laundry list of options. I would hope that Iain would agree that the world really hasn't set forth in this direction in any real seriousness, at least not as compared to the intensity of action focused on pricing carbon. But we seem to agree on the goals here.

Iain has some more specific actions described at his blog that are worth a read. If anyone else wants to share their reactions to this discussion they are welcome to do so in the comments or as a guest blog.

May 06, 2008

Elements of Any Successful Approach to Climate Change

This post summarizes, in capsule form, what I believe to be the necessary elements of any successful suite of policies focused on climate mitigation and adaptation. This post is short, and necessarily incomplete with insufficient detail, nonetheless, its purpose is to set the stage for future, in depth discussions of each element discussed below. The elements discussed below are meant to occur in parallel. All are necessary, none by itself sufficient. I welcome comments, critique, and questions.

1. Adaptation

Whatever the world does on mitigation, adaptation will be necessary. And by adaptation I don’t simply mean adaptation to the marginal impacts of human-caused climate change, as presented under the Framework Convention on Climate Change. I mean adaptation to climate, and as such, a concept much more closely related to the original notion of sustainable development. Adaptation is therefore core to any approach to climate change that seeks to ameliorate the effects of climate on people and the environment. Much of my research over the past 15 years has focused on this subject, and long-time readers of this blog will know my position well.

2. Make Carbon Emissions Pricier

Unrestrained emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will no doubt have effects on the global earth system, including the oceans, atmosphere, and land surface. There is a chance that these effects could be relatively benign, but there is also a chance that the effects could be quite severe. I personally lean toward the latter view, but I recognize that there is ample scientific knowledge available for people to selectively construct any position they’d like along this spectrum. I have little expectation that climate scientists, despite their notable work alerting the world to the risks associated with unmitigated emissions, have much prospect for accurately predicting the evolution of the global climate system (and especially its regional manifestations) on the time scale on which decisions related to mitigation and adaptation need to be made. In fact, I think there is a very good chance that some enthusiastic climate modelers will overstretch their claims and hurt their own cause. Even so, I have concluded that it is only prudent to establish some cost to emitting carbon (a global carbon tax is the theoretical ideal).

At the same time, because the global energy system is driven almost entirely by carbon-emitting fuels, putting a price on carbon will necessarily result in higher costs for energy and everything that results from using energy. This is of course the entire point of putting a price on carbon. Anyone suggesting anything different is being misleading. Now some will argue that over the longer term putting a price on carbon will result in benefits, especially when non-market outcomes are considered. Perhaps this is the case, and for purposes of discussion I’d simply grant the point. But in the short term, it is equally true that the costs of energy will increase. For this reason I am not optimistic about the prospects of putting a meaningful price on carbon anywhere, much less via a global treaty. People will react strongly to increasing costs, whether they are associated with energy, food, transportation, or whatever. Strong reactions will be felt in the form of electoral outcomes and thus in policy positions (exhibit A = McCain/Clinton pandering with a gas tax holiday; exhibit B = Last week’s UK elections, etc.). I am certainly not opposed to efforts to put a price on carbon, but at the same time we also need to be fully aware of the realities of politics which suggest that putting a price on carbon may not actually occur or, if it does occur, may be implemented at a meaningless level in small parts of the global economy. Therefore, we’d better be ready with another strategy when these sorts of approaches inevitably fail.

3. Make Carbon Free Energy Cheaper

The flip side to making carbon pricier is to make carbon-free energy sources relatively cheaper. The first step in this part of the strategy is to shift the massive subsidies that government provides to fossil fuel to non-carbon fuel energy sources. This by itself won’t make carbon-free energy systems cheaper, but it will facilitate the deployment and adoption of some currently pre-commercial technologies that may be on the wrong side of being competitive. I can see no justification for continued subsidies of dirty energy, but here as well we need to recognize the political challenges of displacing entrenched interests, keeping in mind for instance the example of the challenges of removing agricultural subsidies around the rich world. Energy subsidies will be equally difficult to displace.

Therefore, perhaps more important are measures that focus government investments on accelerating the development and deployment of carbon-free energy technologies. These measures include robust public funding for research from exploratory to applied; pilot programs to test and demonstrate promising new technologies; public-private partnerships to encourage private sector participation in high risk ventures; training programs to expand the number of scientists and engineers working on a wide variety of energy R&D projects; government procurement programs to provide a predictable market for promising new technologies; prizes for the achievement of important technological thresholds; multilateral funds and international research centers to help build a global innovation capacity; as well as policy incentives to encourage adoption of existing and new energy-efficient technologies, which in turn fosters incremental learning and innovation that often leads to rapidly improving performance and declining costs.

If there are to be targets and timetables associated with international negotiations, then they should focus on the development and deployment of carbon-free energy systems in the context of ever-increasing global demand for energy. Such a focus will be far more meaningful than the easily gamed, mostly symbolic, and reality-detached focus on concentration targets or, even worse, degrees Celsius.

4. Energy Modernization

The world needs more energy, vastly more so. So a central element of any national or international energy policy will necessarily include creating access to reliable, cheap energy. Consider that something like 2 billion people have no access to electricity around the world. It is a, in my view, simply a moral obligation of those around the world with high standards of living to help those who do not. This means focusing on energy modernization, but doing so in full recognition that carbon-based energy technologies, which are so readily available in much of the developing world are poised for ever more intensive development. I recommend a focus on energy modernization not simply for altruistic reasons, but in full recognition that it is in the narrow self-interests of the rich world to help foster new markets, new trading partners, and a growing global economy. In the future the greatest potential for this growth is in the developing world.

5. Air Capture Backstop

All of the hand wringing, name calling, and finger pointing in the world won’t change the fact that steps 2, 3, and 4 may not limit the growth of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere at levels now deemed to be acceptable in policy discussions (pick your number – 560, 500, 450, 350, 280, whatever). Sorry, but it is true. Thus, so long as policy makers want to limit the growth in concentrations (which I think makes good sense), then they will want to focus on developing the capability to directly remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – a technology called “air capture”.

Even if approaches under 2, 3, and 4 above prove wildly successful I really doubt that such social policies can hit any target concentration within a few hundred ppm anyway. So the development of air capture technologies represents not only a backstop, but also a way down the road to fine tune carbon policies focused on concentrations, should that be desired. I have absolutely no doubts that with air capture as the focus of R&D over a few decades it can be achieved at pretty reasonable costs (but they will still be costs) using approaches today not yet commonly discussed. In fact I view the technical challenges of air capture much (!) more optimistically than suggestions that we can change the lifestyles and energy using habits of more than 6 billion people. In addition, the costs of air capture provide a hard estimate of the true costs of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and thus provide a valuable baseline for evaluating other approaches based on social engineering. In my view air capture is the only form of geoengineering that makes any sense whatsoever.

6. Recognize that Climate Change is Not Only Carbon Dioxide

Stabilizing concentrations of carbon dioxide makes good sense, but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that carbon dioxide emissions are the sole meaningful human forcing of the global earth system at local, regional, or global scales. Thus, we might with some effort successfully modernize the global energy system, and in the process decarbonizes it, but then find ourselves looking squarely at other human activities that affect the climate, and thus have human and environmental impacts.

These activities include other greenhouse gases, but also aerosol emissions, land use change, irrigation, chemical deposition, albedo effects, and others. We have entered an era where humans have a large and profound impact on the world, and to think that it is just carbon dioxide (or that carbon dioxide is all that matters) is myopic and misleading.

These are the elements that I believe together to be necessary in any approach to climate adaptation and mitigation that has any prospects to succeed. I will focus future posts on further discussing the specifics of each element, providing references and justifications, and connecting them each to actual policies that are the subject of current discussion.

Boulder Science Cafe, May 13th 5:30 RedFish

May 13, 2008. Roger Pielke Jr. CIRES, CU Boulder. "Have we underestimated the Carbon Dioxide Challenge?" Details. RedFish, 5:30PM, 2027 13th Street.

May 01, 2008

The High Cost of Emissions Reduction Symbolism


The U.S. Congress has its own power plant which provides steam and cooled water to the various congressional buildings. This plant is powered powered by coal, which makes it a large obstacle in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) goal of making the Congress carbon neutral. Thus, the power plant has been the subject of some political wrangling that has members of Congress from coal-producing states against those looking to avoid the hypocrisy of Congress calling for emissions limits while operating its own business in a carbon intensive manner.

Today the GAO released a report (PDF) on the costs associated with switching the plant from coal to natural gas. At first glance the costs are not terribly large -- in 2009, the costs would be from $1.0 to $1.8 million, with the difference largely due to uncertainties in the costs of natural gas. GAO estimates that the switch would save 9,970 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the case of no switch.

This equates to $370 to $650 per ton of carbon. This is far higher than the costs of carbon being considered in legislation, found in the market of in the ETS, an in the realm of the costs of simple air capture (PDF).

Now there is surely a lesson here, beyond the fact that members of Congress are willing to pay above market prices for policy outcomes. At these costs, the act of fuel switching at the Capitol power plant would clearly be only of symbolic value, but if emissions reductions can indeed be archived at a low cost, why would the Congress be paying up to $650 per ton of carbon? This doesn't seem like the right message to be sending to the American public, and could potentially backfire.

April 25, 2008

Malaria and Greenhouse Gases

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.

April 24, 2008

Germany's Energy Gap

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.

April 23, 2008

Joe Romm’s Fuzzy Math

[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.

Joe relies on a useful concept from Pacala and Socolow (2004, PDF) called the "stabilization wedge" defined as follows:

A wedge represents an activity that reduces emissions to the atmosphere that starts at zero today and increases linearly until it accounts for 1 GtC/year of reduced carbon emissions in 50 years.

Each wedge thus equates to a reduction of 25 GtC over 50 years.

Joe starts out by observing that we are at about 8.4 GtC ("30 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year") and "rising 3.3% per year" (for consistency I am expressing all units in GtC, though do note that Joe switches back and forth with carbon dioxide). He says that "We need to peak around 2015 to 2020 at the latest, then drop at least 60% by 2050 (to 4 billion tons a year or less)." Here I think that Joe actually means 4 GtC and not carbon dioxide, which we’ll adopt as Joe’s chosen mid-century target value. Joe presents 14 proposed wedges worth of implementation: 4 are focused on efficiency, 4 on sequestration, and 6 on carbon-free energy totaling about 12.5 terawatts (compare).

OK, let’s look at the math that Joe provides and how his proposed actions square with his goal. Let’s set aside political realism and all that, and just focus on the simple arithmetic of mitigation. If emissions continue to rise at 3.3% per year then by 2058 total global emissions will be about 42 GtC. With Joe’s 14 wedges all successfully implemented that would equate to an emissions reduction of 33% to 28 GtC per year, falling 24 GtC (i.e., 24 wedges)short of his goal of 4 GtC.

Well, you might say that emissions rising at 3.3% per year is unrealistic; after all, in the last two decades of the last century the global economy became more efficient and the world relied on less carbon intensive sources of fuel. The rate of this decline from 1980-2000 was about 1.0% per year, so maybe it’ll happen again at this rate from 2008-2058. Why not? Increasing emissions at the lower rate of 2.3% per year would indeed make a huge difference, meaning that total emissions in 2058 would be about 26 GtC – representing a reduction equal to the contribution of 16 wedges!! Yet even with this generous assumption of 16 free wedges, after we subtract Joe’s 14 wedges we’d still be left with an annual emissions gap of 12 GtC.

But wait, the careful reader might object, and report to us that Joe already assumes vast improvements in efficiencies -- in fact 4 total of his 14 wedges. Is it reasonable to assume that we can get 20 (16 free + 4 from Joe) wedges of improved energy efficiency and decarbonization of the energy supply? Maybe, maybe not, but the assumption sure helps the math. And yet it still doesn’t get us all of the way to Joe’s goal.

What about if we shorten the time frame? Joe did suggest that we need to implement each wedge over four decades and not five: "If we could do the 14 wedges in four decades, we should be able to keep CO2 concentrations to under 450 ppm." Of course, one wedge over four decades is equal to 20 GtC not 25 GtC, so we’ll call this a "short wedge."

A 3.3% growth in emissions to 2048 would result in annual emissions totaling about 31 GtC. Subtracting 14 of Joe’s short wedges would still leave us 13 GtC short of his goal of 4 GtC. OK, I guess that it’s probably time to invoke those assumptions again. With a return to the 1980-2000 rate of decarbonization of the global economy and a 2.3% rate of emissions increase, the 2048 emissions would be about 21 GtC. If we subtract out Joe’s 14 short wedges that still has Joe missing his target by 3 "short wedges," which we could probably erase by upping the assumed decarboniztion of the global economy to about 1.5% per year.

In short, the only way that Joe Romm’s ambitious solution even comes close to the mark is by assuming a significant spontaneous decarbonization of the global economy (i.e., reductions in energy and carbon intensities). Because Joe does not tell us how these spontaneous reductions will occur, his math is, at best, fuzzy. It seems quite odd that Joe, who has said that the fate of the planet is at stake, is willing to bet our future on baseline carbon dioxide emissions increasing at a rate of less than 2.0% per year, plus some fantastically delusional expectations of the possibilities of policy implementation (and the political realism of Joe's solution will have to wait for another post). It may be unwelcome and uncomfortable for some, but Joe’s fuzzy math explains exactly why innovation must be at the core of any approach to mitigation that has a chance of succeeding.

Is it possible that assumed decarbonization of the global economy carries the weight of future emissions reductions? Sure, its possible. Is this something you want to bet on? Maybe some do, but I'd be much more confident with an approach that can succeed even if carbon dioxide growth rates exceed 2.0% per year.

April 22, 2008

The Central Question of Mitigation

[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.


The figure shows carbon free energy required to achieve stabilization at 550 ppm carbon dioxide as a function of the rate of average energy intensity decline. The figure also shows 1990 total energy consumption (about 11 terawatts, TW) and the share of this valuefrom carbon-free sources (about 1.2 TW). I have updated both of these values to 2008 using data from the EIA, which I extrapolated to 2008 values, for which I arrive at 17.4 TW of total energy consumption of which 2.4 TW are carbon-free.

Hoffert et al. estimated that we'd need 10-30 TW of carbon free primary energy production by 2050, assuming energy intensity declines of 1.0-2.0% over the first 5 decades of the 21st century. So far at least, that assumption has proved optimistic, as actual energy intensity has increased, as indicated by the blue dot on the leftward-extended horizontal axis. If energy intensity does not improve beyond this value then the world will need 22 TW of carbon-free energy by 2025, and if this value works out to a net 0.5% decline through 2025, then this figure would be halved to 11 TW. For 2050 the values are 51 and 25 TW respectively.

The units of energy can be difficult to interpret. How much is 10 TW of energy? A run-of-the-mill nuclear power plant provides about 500 megawatts; so if you have 2,000 of these then you have 1 terawatt. So 20,000 nuclear plants -- or the equivalent -- by 2025 would do the trick of providing 10 TW.

In a subsequent paper in Science 2002 Hoffert et al. discuss the options available to meet technological challenge of providing 10 TW of carbon-free energy:

Combating global warming by radical restructuring of the global energy system could be the technology challenge of the century. We have identified a portfolio of promising technologies here--some radical departures from our present fossil fuel system. Many concepts will fail, and staying the course will require leadership. Stabilizing climate is not easy. At the very least, it requires political will, targeted research and development, and international cooperation. Most of all, it requires the recognition that, although regulation can play a role, the fossil fuel greenhouse effect is an energy problem that cannot be simply regulated away.

They responded to critiques of their 2002 paper with this (emphasis added):

Market penetration rates of new technologies are not physical constants. They can be strongly impacted by targeted research and development, by ideology, and by economic incentives. Apollo 11 landed on the Moon less than a decade after the program started. We are confident that the world's engineers and scientists can rise to the even greater challenge of stabilizing global warming. But it does not advance the mitigation cause to gloss over technical hurdles or to say that the technology problem is already solved.

Any discussion of the technologies needed to stabilize carbon dioxide concentrations is incomplete without showing the arithmetic of energy production and consumption. This simple math is too often overlooked in the highly politicized to and fro over mitigation.

The central question of the mitigation challenge is thus the following: What technologies will provide the world's future power needs, and do so in a carbon-free manner? Show your work.

April 21, 2008

A Post-Partisan Climate Politics?

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?

Please Tell Me What in the World Joe Romm is Complaining About?

Joe Romm has continued his hysterical, content-free attacks on me and my colleagues for daring to suggest a view not 100% the same as his own. How dare we. After taking a close look at some of Joe’s writing, it turns out that he seems to agree with just about everything I’ve written on energy policy, and his continued (mis)characterizations of my views simply don’t square with what I’ve actually written.

Here are some examples:

On whether current projections of future emissions growth may possibly underestimate the mitigation challenge, Joe agrees with us that they just might:

[Socolow and Pacala] assume "Our BAU [business as usual] simply continues the 1.5% annual carbon emissions growth of the past 30 years." Oops! Since 2000, we’ve been rising at 3% per year (thank you, China). That means instead of BAU doubling to 16 GtC in 50 years, we would, absent the wedges, double in 25 years. That would mean each wedge needs to occur in half the time, assuming our current China-driven pace is the new norm (which is impossible to know, but I personally doubt it is). . . A similar problem to this is that many of the economic models used by the IPCC assume BAU rates of technology improvement and energy efficiency that are very unlikely to occur absent strong government action, so they are probably overly optimistic.

This last statement is of course exactly what we say in our Nature paper. So our argument about the possibility of understating the magnitude of the mitigation challenge that that Romm has criticized repeatedly (without actually questioning our numbers, but writing a lot of overheated prose), he in fact agrees with. Interesting. Weird.

In addition, I have never written anything against the deployment of existing carbon-free technologies. Quite the opposite. So when Romm says that I have called for an R&D-only approach he is either ignorant or lying, to be blunt. In fact I have argued for a vigorous short-term focus, such as in testimony before the U.S. Congress in 2006 (PDF:

When it comes to effective substantive action on mitigation, I would argue that the available research and experience shows quite clearly that progress is far more likely when such actions align a short-term focus with the longer-term concerns. In practice, this typically means focusing such actions on the short-term, with the longer-term concerns taking a back seat. Examples of such short-term issues related to mitigation include the costs of energy, the benefits of reducing reliance on fossil fuels from the Middle East, the innovation and job-creating possibilities of alternative energy technologies, particulate air pollution, transportation efficiencies, and so on.

And last year Dan Sarewitz and I wrote more specifically of how such a challenge would be met in practice (PDF. After reading Romm's writings, I cannot figure out at all what in the world Joe Romm would disagree with in the following:

Nevertheless, the broad and diverse portfolio of policies and programs necessary to catalyze a long-term technological transformation to a low-carbon energy system is reasonably well understood, even if the path and timing of the transition cannot be precisely engineered. These measures include robust public funding for research spanning the gamut from exploratory to applied; pilot programs to test and demonstrate promising new technologies; public-private partnerships to incentivize private sector participation in high risk ventures (such as those now used to induce pharmaceutical companies to develop tropical disease vaccines); training programs to expand the number of scientists and engineers working on a wide variety of energy R&D projects; government procurement programs that can provide a predictable market for promising new technologies; prizes for the achievement of important technological thresholds; multilateral funds for collaborative international research; international research centers to help build a global innovation capacity (such as the agricultural research institutes at the heart of the Green Revolution); as well as policy incentives to encourage adoption of existing and new energy-efficient technologies, which in turn fosters incremental learning and innovation that often leads to rapidly improving performance and declining costs.

In fact, significant aspects of such a portfolio were proposed and modestly funded during the Clinton Administration in the mid 1990s (Holdren and Baldwin, 2002), but they were politically doomed from the outset because they were too narrowly promoted as climate change policies, rather than as advancing a broad set of national interests and public goals and goods. They did not survive into the Bush Administration; nor did they significantly find their way into the international climate regime. Indeed, the Kyoto approach is a disincentive to implementing many of the sorts of measures listed above because they will not contribute to a nation’s ability to meet its short-term targets.

So Joe Romm’s continued, overheated, and plain weird attacks are difficult to interpret given that that he (a) has written that he agrees with our analysis of the possibility that current baseline expectations for future energy use may underestimate the challenge of mitigation, and (b) he completely ignores the fact that I have consistently supported a broad approach to innovation, including a focus on R&D, but much more. It is true that Joe Romm and I disagree about the value of adaptation, but his complaints of late have been about mitigation. But even if we disagree a bit on the specifics of climate policy, so what? Is his energy really best spent attacking others trying to address this challenge in good faith?

I certainly can’t figure out his incessant attacks and name-calling, but it looks increasingly like they have nothing to do with the merits of our views on mitigation, since they appear to be pretty compatible. Should Joe continue to play the mischaracterization and attack game, I will respond as needed, but I am hoping that he can instead focus on making positive arguments for particular policies, and leave the junior high school chest thumping where it belongs.

April 20, 2008

Kristof on PWG

Nicholas Kristof has a column in the Sunday NYT on the recent Nature paper by Tom Wigley, Chris Green, and me. Here is an excerpt:

Three respected climate experts made that troubling argument in an important essay in Nature this month, offering a sobering warning that the climate problem is much bigger than anticipated. That’s largely because of increased use of coal in booming Asian economies.

For example, imagine that we instituted a brutally high gas tax that reduced emissions from American vehicles by 25 percent. That would be a stunning achievement — and in just nine months, China’s increased emissions would have more than made up the difference.

China and the United States each produces more than one-fifth of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. China’s emissions are much smaller per capita but are soaring: its annual increase in emissions is greater than Germany’s total annual emissions.

Please read the whole thing.

And if you are new to our site -- Welcome! -- and you can find our Nature paper here (in PDF), a short essay on adaptation here (in PDF), and my book The Honest Broker, here.

April 17, 2008

Bush CO2 Plan in Context

For those of you who might wish to place the plans announced by President Bush yesterday into context, according to data from the US EIA (xls):

US CO2 emissions from 2026-2030 are projected to increase by only 0.84% per year. So stabilizing at 2025 levels is not an ambitious goal, given the small rate of increase projected to be occurring for the US at that time. To put this another way, the average annual increase in US emissions from 2025 to 2030 will be equal to about 2.5 days of China’s projected 2030 emissions also using projections from the EIA (which in fact probably represents a dramatic underestimate of where China’s emissions are actually headed, as we suggested in Nature two weeks ago). For those wanting to spin things the other way, you might point out that the proposed five year effects on carbon dioxide of Bush's plans 2026-2030 are about twice the magnitude of the proposed five year effects of the Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol.

April 15, 2008

Biofuels and Mitigation/Adaptation

In Europe the debate over biofuels production targets has become the most recent example of the larger debate over mitigation versus adaptation. Biofuels have been held up by some as offering a carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels, and thus contributing in some way to the mitigation of climate change. The European Union has gone so far as to adopt biofuel production targets.

At the same time the world has seen food prices increase dramatically in recent times with some people pointing a finger at biofuels as contributing to those price increases. The increased price of food means that those with the most tenuous access to nutrition could slip into malnutrition or worse. This is why one UN official called biofuels production policies a "crime against humanity."

Deutsche Welle has a nice overview:

The European Union said it is sticking to its biofuel goals despite mounting criticism from top environmental agencies and poverty advocates.

"There is no question for now of suspending the target fixed for biofuels," Barbara Helfferich, spokeswoman for EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said Monday, April 14.

But her boss struck a different tone, acknowledging that the EU had underestimated problems caused by biofuels and saying that the 27-nation block planned to "move very carefully."

Yet the EU is wary of abandoning biofuels amid worries that doing so could derail its landmark climate change and energy package. In it, Europe pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020. Part of the package includes setting a target for biofuels to make up 10 percent of automobile fuel.

Biofuel a culprit in food crisis

Jean ZieglerBildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Ziegler called biofuel a "crime against humanity"

In recent months food prices have increased sharply. Biofuels are seen as one of several culprits. Land that used to be planted with food crops has been converted to biofuel production, which has increased prices.

UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food Jean Ziegler told German radio Monday that the production of biofuels is "a crime against humanity" because of its impact on global food prices.

The UN's Ziegler isn't alone in his criticism of biofuel.

The debate over biofuels illustrates that the debate over mitigation and adaptation is not just academic, but reflected in real world outcomes. It also highlights that policies can have unintended consequences. If we factor in recent research that claims that the carbon-cutting potential of biofules has been overstated, then it appears that the high hopes for biofuels as a contributor to mitigation probably need to be scaled back dramatically.

April 14, 2008

Food Price FAQs

Here are a few useful FAQs on recent increasing prices of food around the world:

International Monetary Fund (FAQ link)

UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAQ link)

World Bank (Link)

Gary Becker and Richard Posner (Link)

Please feel free to add useful resources in the comments.

April 11, 2008

Holding the Poor Hostage

Anyone who wants to see how the misplaced opposition to adaptation actually hurts poor people need look further than thie report out today from ClimateWire:

Environmental and humanitarian activist groups plan to formally ask the World Bank to back away from plans to create a $500 million trust fund aimed at helping poor nations cope with climate change.

The letter, which representatives of several organizations confirmed Thursday is being drafted and will be signed by more than 100 organizations, comes as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund launch their 2008 spring meeting, attended by finance ministers from across the world.

Among the reasons cited for opposing adaptation funds is that the World Bank is supporting the development of a giant coal plant in India:

Groups said their overarching concern, though, is the World Bank's fossil fuel-rich energy portfolio. The bank's approval this week of $450 million for a major coal-fired power plant in India, many said, undermines its attempts to go green.

"There's a lot of concern about the World Bank taking over of the [adaptation program] because of their ongoing funding of fossil fuel projects," said Steve Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, a nonprofit group based in Washington that advocates for clean energy and against foreign aid to the international oil industry.

"It is not a credible institution for managing these funds, especially given its poor environmental track record," added Karen Orenstein, extractive industries campaign coordinator with the environmental nonprofit Friends of the Earth.

"If the World Bank is truly interested in being a leader in fighting climate change, they shouldn't start out by financing a huge mega-coal project," she said.

So you read that right, lets take away money that could have positive benefits improving the lives of people in the developing world because of concerns about a fossil fuel project. This is a real-world example of how continuing efforts to place adaptation in opposition to mitigation have a material effect on people's lives.

Does anyone really think that opposing energy development and adaptation will make the climate agenda more appealing to people in India? Why can't these groups support adaptation and clean energy at the same time, rather than placing them in opposition?

April 10, 2008

Has German Policy Harmed Solar Power?

A Guest Post by Greg Nemet, University of Wisconsin.

The Economist has an article this week with the title "bureaucratic meddling has harmed solar power."

The article points out correctly that the cost of solar power has stopped falling in the past couple of years as a result of scarcity of purified silicon, the main material used to make solar panels. It's an informative article…as long as you ignore the headline and the conclusion that governments should not interfere with the development of new technologies.

Any subsidy program will put upward pressure on prices in the near term, as people are generally willing to pay more for something when someone else pays part of the cost. The important question is what happens in the longer term. And despite the recent rise in prices, the subsidy program in Germany and the market for solar it has created over the past eight years, have set in motion promising trends: new purified silicon plants are coming on line that will make the input material for solar panels much cheaper, the rise in silicon cost has led to rapid reductions in the amount of material used, and the scale of demand has made it worthwhile for German machine tool companies to develop PV-specific manufacturing machinery that they now export to low-cost PV factories in China. These developments are highly promising for cheaper PV; and they are very closely tied to important policy innovations, also known as "bureaucratic meddling."

The bigger problem, that the article misses, is that the solar technology being used today is unlikely ever to get cheap enough for truly massive deployment, even if the factors above engender substantial cost reductions in the next several years. In a recent study (PDF), we compared the effects of subsidies and R&D on the cost of solar power and found that you can't get to really cheap solar with subsidies alone. Subsidies can help enable economies of scale and learning-by-doing, but they are not enough. Technology breakthroughs are also needed if PV is going to get cheap enough to compete with coal or gas or, eventually, nuclear power—even with high carbon prices. Some of the technical improvements that will enable commercialization of cheap PV are certainly best left to the private sector. But the history of technology policy suggests that the fundamental breakthroughs required will need to come from more bureaucratic meddling in the form of publicly sponsored R&D funding.

Posted on April 10, 2008 02:13 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Others | Energy Policy | Technology Policy

April 09, 2008

Interview with Frank Laird

Center faculty affiliate Frank Laird is interviewed over at the Breakthrough Institute on energy policy and climate change.

April 08, 2008

Carbon Intensity of the Economy

It is always good when debates can be resolved by appeals to data, because it helps to eliminate ambiguity.

Joe Romm expressed concern that I had shown a graph of energy intensity of the global economy to suggest that the overall decarbonization of the global economy did not decrease over the poeriod 1890-1970. That was this figure:


Romm explained to his readers how serious a mistake I had made:

Obviously carbon per GDP can go in a completely different direction than energy per GDP. If Pielke’s analytical mistake isn’t crystal clear to anyone reading this blog, please let me know. So my problem with him isn’t semantics. Pielke’s argument is simply wrong. His analysis is flawed.

OK Joe, lets look at carbon per GDP over the same time period:

CI of GDP.png

Readers are now in a position to judge for themselves whether or not the argument I made is materially affected in this case by using one figure over the other. The alternative perhaps is that Joe Romm is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. As I said, thank goodness for data.

Green Car Congress on PWG

Here is a link to an excellent summary and thoughtful discussion of our Nature Commentary (PWG) at Green Car Congress written by Jack Rosebro.

April 07, 2008

Joe Romm on Air Capture Research

Joe Romm, whose voluminous, hysterical attacks on me and my co-authors Tom Wigley and Chris Green have become somewhat cartoonish, has far more in common with my views than he thinks. Here is what he says on a recent Real Climate post on air capture:

But we should surely do a fair amount of research on air capture, since, by not later than the 2020s, we’re going to get desperate for emissions reductions, and by the 2030s, we’re going to be very desperate and willing to pursue expensive options we that aren’t yet politically realistic.

Investment in research to support a potential breakthrough new technology -- what a great idea Joe!

Gwyn Prins on PWG in The Guardian

Gwyn Prins, a professor at the London School of Economics who is also a friend and collaborator, has a thoughtful op-ed in The Guardian with his views on the significance of our Nature commentary of last week. Here is an excerpt:

The global economy is not decarbonising - it is recarbonising. This was noticed by the experts in the IPCC but not reported in its Summary for Policymakers, the politically negotiated document mostly read by politicians and journalists. If the free rider of decarbonisation is not available, the challenge to move quickly to a radically different type of global climate policy is all the greater.

What would a materially effective policy do? It would break the link between poverty reduction and carbon emission. It would recognise that the developing world needs to consume - and will consume - more energy, not less. It would recognise that attempting to control human-created carbon emissions by setting binding output targets and relying on artificial carbon markets and dodgy offsets, as Kyoto does, has not and never will work.

Such policy would shift to the input side, and concentrate on radical improvements in the production and use of energy. It would focus first on the sectors of all economies that are the heaviest consumers of energy: power generation, building, cement and metals production. The sectors that western environmentalists have prioritised hitherto, such as road and air transport, should be much further down the list. If all automobile use in the US stopped tonight, the reduction in global emissions would be less than 6%. Instead, there must be a much larger commitment to fundamental energy technology research and development.

Read it here.

March 19, 2008

6 Days in 2012: Effect of the CDM on Carbon Emissions

This is a somewhat technical post on a fairly narrow issue. This week in class we had the pleasure of a visit by Wolfgang Sterk from the Wuppertal Institute (in Germany), who provided a really excellent presentation on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol and the European Emissions Trading Scheme.

His presentation discussed, and also raised some further questions about, the effectiveness of the CDM. So out of curiosity I have asked, and answered below, the question: What effect does the CDM have on carbon dioxide emissions to 2012?

The answer can be determined by looking at the excellent database of CDM projects provided by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies in Kanagawa, Japan.

What I did first is exclude all non-carbon dioxide-related projects in the CDM database. I then included projects that are "registered" (in the works) and "issued" (in the pipeline), and assumed that all projects so listed will be in fact implemented with 100% success.

Through 2012, the total reductions in future carbon dioxide emissions under the CDM totals about 175 millions tons of carbon, or about 35 million tons of carbon per year.

How much is this amount of carbon?

This means that the cumulative emissions that would have occurred on January 1, 2012 will now occur before noon on January 7, 2012. You read that right. The cumulative effect of the CDM on carbon dioxide emissions is to delay total emissions by about 6.5 days.

To be fair the CDM was never designed to be a solution to the climate problem. But even so, this seems to me to be an exceedingly small impact for such an incredibly complex program. I can not explain how complex it is (see the PDF linked in the following sentence). In fact, simply taking an unscientific qualitative ratio of complexity (PDF) to effectiveness (6 and a half days delay in cumulative emissions), I have come to the conclusion that the CDM offers little hope of contributing much to the challenge of transforming the global energy system. If it is part of the solution, then it is an understatement to say that that it it is a very, very, very, very small part.

March 17, 2008

UK Emissions

UK CO2.png

The graph above is from a report (PDF) of the UK government's National Audit Office, which explains some of the difficulties in accounting for carbon emissions at the national level.

The report has received some attention for this figure and what the following passage means for emissions reduction targets currently under consideration by the UK Parliament:

Figure 13 demonstrates that there have been no reductions in UK carbon dioxide emissions if measured on the basis of the Accounts rather than on the basis of the IPCC/Kyoto reporting requirements.

One point worth making is that the difference between UK Environmental Accounts and Kyoto accounting stems from international aviation and shipping (not included by Kyoto) and the treatment of tourists and nonresidents in the UK. These sort of issues obviously play a large role in the ability of countries to meet Kyoto targets. One wonders what the effect on the ability of countries to meet Kyoto targets would be if carbon emissions were accounted for on an UK Environmental Accounting Basis.

It would seem that the passage of ambitious targets and timetables for UK emissions reductions has been made less likely by this report, and yet at the same time it can't be good news for those wanting that third runway at Heathrow.

March 04, 2008

Interview at The Breakthrough Institute

I've gladly accepted an invitation to join The Breakthrough Institute as a 2008 Senior Fellow. They have an interview with me up on their blog here. And I'll be blogging over there regularly.

If you are not familiar with their advocacy efforts, check them out and add their blog to your blogroll.

February 28, 2008

Matthews and Caldeira on the Mitigation Challenge

Just when you thought that the mitigation challenge was dismal, Matthews and Caldeira publish a paper in GRL suggesting that things are in fact worse than that:

In the absence of human intervention to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere [e.g., Keith et al., 2006], each unit of CO2 emissions must be viewed as leading to quantifiable and essentially permanent climate change on centennial timescales. We emphasize that a stable global climate is not synonymous with stable radiative forcing, but rather requires decreasing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. We have shown here that stable global temperatures within the next several centuries can be achieved if CO2 emissions are reduced to nearly zero. This means that avoiding future human-induced climate warming may require policies that seek not only to decrease CO2 emissions, but to eliminate them entirely.

Have we mentioned that air capture is coming? And that is whether we like it or not.

February 25, 2008

A Sense of Proportion

3rd runway protest.jpg

At London's Heathrow airport today environmental activists evaded security and climbed onto the tail of a British Air 777 to protest plans for building a third runway at the airport.

Meantime, last month the Chinese government announced plans to build 97 new airports in the next 12 years.

China announced plans Saturday to build nearly 100 new airports by 2020 to cater for soaring demand.

The proposals will mean eight out of every ten residents will live within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of an airport within 12 years, the General Administration of Civil Aviation said.

It put the cost of building the 97 new airports at 450 billion yuan (61.6 billion dollars).

Air traffic volume rose 16 percent to 185 million passengers in 2007, according to official figures.

The General Administration predicts passenger traffic will grow by 11.4 percent a year between now and 2020, and freight traffic by 14 percent.

The number of airports serving more than 30 million passengers a year will rise from three now to 13, it said.

Posted on February 25, 2008 09:20 AM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy

February 15, 2008

Carbon Emissions Success Stories

Andy Revkin has an interesting post up about per capita emissions in various countries around the world. What countries have a per capita emissions level consistent with an 80 percent reduction from the world's current total emissions?

hypothetical emissions.png

The answer, as can be seen above in an image that I use in lectures (data from US EIA), is Haiti and Somalia. If everyone in the world lived as they do in these two countries, we'd have the emissions challenge licked.

What about the eco-sensitive UK? Sorry, if everyone lived as they do in the UK global carbon emissions would be more than twice the current world total. What about everyone lived as they do in eco-friendly Sweden? Sorry, emissions would be about one and a half times the current world total. United States? Don't even ask. China? just slightly below the current world total (and growing fast).

Bottom line? No country, save Haiti and Somalia, is currently producing emissions at a level even remotely consistent with levels consistent with an 80% reduction in the world's totals. Hence, all of the finger pointing and debates in political negotiations are based on relative hypocrisy ("We're doing relatively less bad that you are!") or faith-based assumptions in the efficacy of future policies ("Our targets are more aggressive than yours!").

There remains huge hurdles to achieving emissions reductions of the sort called for in current political debate. Until we see evidence of it actually occurring, somewhere, we should be very cautious about picking what policies will ultimately achieve results. Instead, we should try a diversity of approaches and see what works.

Posted on February 15, 2008 10:39 AM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy

January 18, 2008

Worldwatch Wants You to Think

prius v nano.png

Worldwatch asks a challenging question:

One car gets 46 miles per gallon, features fancy accessories, and sports two engines with a combined 145 horsepower. The other car reportedly gets 54 miles per gallon, runs on a diminutive 30-horsepower engine, and is positively spartan in its interior trimmings. The first is a darling of the environmentally conscious. The latter is reviled as a climate wrecker. These two vehicles are the Toyota Prius and the newly unveiled Tata Nano, dubbed "the people’s car." Is there a double standard?

December 20, 2007

Laboratories of Democracy? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Laboratories of Democracy

Yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency denied a request from the state of California for permission to exceed national standards on automobile emissions. It was the first such denial since the Clean Air Act was originally passed, marking a departure from 50-some such waivers previously granted.

It was not so long ago that the State Department's Harlan Watson spoke at the 2003 Ninth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on The Bush Administration's enthusiasm for state-level initiatives on climate policy:

I would like to highlight the efforts being made by State and local governments in the United States to address climate change. Geographically, the United States encompasses vast and diverse climatic zones representative of all major regions of the world -- polar, temperate, semi-tropical, and tropical -- with different heating, cooling, and transportation needs and with different energy endowments. Such diversity allows our State and local governments to act as laboratories where new and creative ideas and methods can be applied and shared with others and inform federal policy -- a truly bottom-up approach to addressing global climate change.

At the State level, 40 of our 50 States have prepared GHG inventories, 27 States have completed climate change action plans, and 8 States have adopted voluntary GHG emissions goals. In addition, 13 States have adopted "Renewable Portfolio Standards" requiring electricity generators to gradually increase the portion of electricity produced from renewable resources such as wind, biomass, geothermal, and solar energy. And, at the local level, more than 140 local governments participating in the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign are developing cost-effective GHG reduction plans, setting goals, and reducing GHG emissions

Yesterday, EPA's Steven Johnson explains why the Bush Administration is now opposed to state by state efforts to innovate:

"The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution — not a confusing patchwork of state rules," Mr. Johnson told reporters on a conference call. "I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone."

Climate policy needs more not less opportunities to learn from implementation. The Bush Administration's inconsistent actions are not only ham-handed politics, but just bad policy, whatever one's views on climate change, energy policy, or partisan politics.

H/T DotEarth

Posted on December 20, 2007 02:06 AM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

December 17, 2007

Shellenberger on Bali

Over at the Breakthrough blog, Michael Shellenberger offers some straight talk on the outcome of the Bali meeting.

December 16, 2007

China's Growing Emissions

According to this paper by two researchers at the University of California carbon dioxide emissions in China are projected to grow between 11.05% and 13.19% per year for the period 2000-2010. What does this mean? I hope you are sitting down because you won’t believe this.

In 2006 China’s carbon dioxide emissions contained about 1.70 gigatons of carbon (GtC) (source). By 2010, at the growth rates projected by these researchers the annual emissions from China will be between 2.6 and 2.8 GtC. The growth in China's emissions from 2006-2010 is equivalent to adding the 2004 emissions of Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia to China's 2006 total (source). The emissions growth in China at these rates is like adding another Germany every year, or a UK and Australia together, to global emissions. The graph below illustrates the point.

Think about that.

China Emissions.png

Posted on December 16, 2007 05:44 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy

December 14, 2007

Chris Green on Emissions Target Setting

Chris Green, an economist from McGill University (Canada), has written an op-ed for the Global and Mail explaining why he thinks that the setting of long-term emissions targets just kicks the can down the road. This is sure to be an unpopular opinion among many in the climate debate, but ultimately I think he is right. Here is an excerpt:

It is not difficult to set forth the outlines of a potentially effective climate policy. Unfortunately, what may be effective is not necessarily politically acceptable. It now seems that the main barrier to an effective climate policy is the obsession with emission targets — a legacy of the Kyoto Protocol. Emission targets stand in the way of concentrating on actions whose payoff is mainly beyond the targeted time frame. Worse, because of an effective effort by climate-change "campaigners" to portray the Kyoto Protocol as humankind's last best hope on climate change, emission targets have now taken on a life of their own, particularly in political arenas susceptible to grandstanding behaviour. The evidence is all around us.

The fundamental problem with mandated emission reduction targets is that they focus on ends rather than on the technological means of achieving those ends. Because targets are assessed only rarely in terms of what is doable but usually in terms of what pressure groups think ought to be done, target-based policies lack credibility in virtually the same proportion in which they are politically popular. The Conference of the Parties session in Bali will indicate whether there is a sufficient number of countries prepared to say that the target-setting emperor has no clothes, and are ready to put a moratorium on this failed approach to climate policy.

The op-ed is distilled from a longer piece from the magazine Policy Options, and a PDF of that essay can be found here. It is well worth a read regardless of your views on the climate issue.

December 13, 2007

Reality Check

From Alan Zarembo writing in the LA Times today, this dose of reality:

Here's a recipe to head off the worst effects of global warming:

1. Start with 30 new nuclear power plants around the world.

2. Add 17,0000 wind turbines, 400 biomass power plants, two hydroelectric dams the size of China's Three Gorges Dam, and 42 coal or natural gas power plants equipped with still-experimental systems to sequester their carbon dioxide emissions underground.

3. Build everything in 2013. Repeat every year until 2030.


It's an intentionally implausible plan presented this week by the International Energy Agency to make a point: For all the talk about emissions reductions, the actual work is way beyond what the world can achieve.

As delegates from 190 countries gather here on the Indonesian island of Bali to negotiate a "road map" for the successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming, some experts are wondering whether the meeting has lost touch with the reality of tackling climate change.

So far, the thousands of delegates have been consumed by a debate over caps on emissions of greenhouse gases that are the primary cause of global warming.

The United States and China -- the two biggest carbon polluters, each accounting for about 20% of worldwide emissions -- have opposed any hard caps.

But while the debate continues, the most fundamental question of what it will take to achieve meaningful reductions has gone largely forgotten.

December 12, 2007

Fun With Carbon Accounting

Dieter Helm of Oxford has a very interesting paper (PDF) on trends in carbon dioxide emissions in the UK (via Climate Feedback) when they are measured from a consumption basis versus the production basis used under the Kyoto Protocol. Here is an excerpt from the paper:

On the UNFCCC basis, UK greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 15% since 1990. In contrast, on a consumption basis, the illustrative outcome is a rise in emissions of 19% over the same period. This is a dramatic reversal of fortune. It merits an immediate, more detailed and more robust assessment. It suggests that the decline in greenhouse gas emissions from the UK economy may have been to a considerable degree an illusion. Trade may have displaced the UK’s greenhouse gas appetite elsewhere. . .

The UK’s record against the UNFCCC greenhouse gas indicator is impressive, achieving a fall in emissions between 1990 and 2005. It has already beaten its Kyoto target of 12.5% by 2008–12. Against its own domestic goal of a 20% CO2 reduction by 2010, progress has been
less impressive. The UK’s CO2 emissions have risen slightly recently, and last year lay only 5.3% below 1990 levels. This is despite the fact that the UK’s climate change policy programme focuses effort on tackling CO2.

All of the above figures were produced on a territorial accounting basis. When the account is extended to the Office for National Statistics’ residents’ basis, by including international transport and overseas activities, the picture looks worse. Emissions fell by only 11.9%, as shipping and international aviation boomed. Furthermore, airline passengers and firms from the UK consumed more greenhouse gases during their visits and activities abroad than overseas visitors and firms did in the UK, weakening the UK’s overall performance when these trade activities are included. The trend is an adverse one.

Yet, even this extended scope of measurement does not represent the true picture of the UK economy’s impact on the climate. To understand the UK’s true impact, the greenhouse gas accounts should be reported on a 'consumption basis'. On this basis, all greenhouse gases embodied in UK consumption are counted, and by adding greenhouse gases embedded in imports and subtracting greenhouse gases embedded in exports, the crude calculations presented here suggest that UK emissions have been rising steeply. Between 1990 and 2003 the crude calculation indicates a rise of 19%.

Posted on December 12, 2007 04:55 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy

December 05, 2007


Not only was there an announcement from Bali, but S. 2191 went from the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to the full senate. That's a pretty big deal too. It's endorsed by a variety of environmental groups, including the Apollo Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Defense, League of Conservation Voters, National Environmental Trust, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, The Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists and The Wilderness Society.

Who knows how it'll fare, but I thought it possibly worth commenting on this tired minority response from some guy in Oklahoma.

Yep. It'll cost money. Whether that'll deal a devastating blow to "American families, American jobs, and the American way of life" is harder to judge.

Say, just what is the "American way of life" anyway? For that matter, what are "American jobs"? I won't even ask about "American families." That one sure created a stir in the last election.

Anyone care to take a stab at a definition? Props if you can offer a coherent answer without begging the question.

November 26, 2007

It Will Take More than Holocaust Analogies

Andy Revkin reports on a spat between NASA's James Hansen and Kraig R. Naasz, the president of the National Mining Association. You can go read the details at Dot Earth. After you do that you might mull over the following factoids (emphasis added). . .

From the International Energy Association's 2007 World Energy Report (PDF):

In line with the spectacular growth of the past few years, coal sees the biggest increase in demand in absolute terms, jumping by 73% between 2005 and 2030 and pushing its share of total energy demand up from 25% to 28%. Most of the increase in coal use arises in China and India. . . Higher oil and gas prices are making coal more competitive as a fuel for baseload generation. China and India, which already account for 45% of world coal use, drive over four-fifths of the increase to 2030 in the Reference Scenario. In the OECD, coal use grows only very slowly, with most of the increase coming from the United States. In all regions, the outlook for coal use depends largely on relative fuel prices, government policies on fuel diversification, climate change and air pollution, and developments in clean coal technology in power generation. The widespread deployment of more efficient power-generation technology is expected to cut the amount of coal needed to generate a kWh of electricity, but boost the attraction of coal over other fuels, thereby leading to higher demand.

From some excellent reporting by the Christian Science Monitor:

In all, at least 37 nations [in Asia, Americas, EU, and elsewhere] plan to add coal-fired capacity in the next five years – up from the 26 nations that added capacity during the past five years. With Sri Lanka, Laos, and even oil-producing nations like Iran getting set to join the coal-power pack, the world faces the prospect five years from now of having 7,474 coal-fired power plants in 79 countries pumping out 9 billion tons of CO2 emissions annually – out of 31 billion tons from all sources in 2012.

One can understand why Stanford's David Victor offers a less-than-optimistic view of the issue, here is part of his comment posted at Dot Earth:

The reason coal matters so much is that it offers the best route for getting leverage on emissions–because coal is used mainly in large central generating stations that are managed by professionals and where economies of scale favor the installation of carbon storage, etc.

That means that simple-sounding solutions like shutting coal plants or passing moratoria are politically impractical and also probably will set back the cause. For example, some existing stations may offer cheaper routes for controlling emissions (such as through installation of post combustion capture) than building brand new units. We don’t know which routes will work, and until we know some more–which requires a much larger effort–it is hard to know what exactly to recommend.

Our group at Stanford has started tracking CCS projects, and what’s striking to us is that if you add up ALL the projects you get to an effort that is perhaps 1/100 of what is actually needed to halt emissions. The whole policy effort, so far, is Potemkin–it looks nice on the surface, but there’s little behind the facade. And to pin all that on coal isn’t right. The problem is us.

The reality is that energy from coal is here to stay. That David Victor sees coal plants as part of the solution to limiting greenhouse gas emissions and James Hansen does not illustrates how widely experts who agree on the need to limit emissions disagree on energy policy.

Posted on November 26, 2007 04:34 PM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy

November 14, 2007

Not Ambitious Enough

In today’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman has a column lamenting the failure of politicians to enact a gasoline tax following 9/11. I am a strong supporter for a dramatically increased gasoline tax in the United States. The problem with Friedman’s proposed gasoline tax is that it is not ambitious enough.

Here are some data:


U.S. gasoline prices
U.S. gasoline usage

On September 11, 2001 U.S. gasoline averaged $1.15 per gallon. By May 1, 2006 it was $2.90 per gallon. The difference of $1.75 per gallon is larger than the gasoline tax proposed by Friedman, and thus allows for a natural experiment on the effects on consumption.

US gasoline consumption in September, 2001 was 8.6 million barrels per day. In May, 2006 it was 9.3 million barrels per day. This does not suggest a strong relationship between price and consumption, although it is certainly possible to argue that consumption would have been higher with lower prices. Clearly, the $1.75 increase per gallon did not lead to reduced consumption.

One can look at the figures from the standpoint of the overall economy as well. In 2001 the US economy generated $3.22 of economic activity for every gallon of gasoline burned. In 2006 it generated $3.91 of economic activity for every gallon of gasoline burned. This does not suggest a strong relationship of gasoline use and economic growth. This is good news because it suggests that gasoline prices might be able to increase considerably without large negative economic effects.

One might argue that the $1.00 per gallon tax would be on top of the supply/demand fluctuations in price. But even gasoline at $4 or $5 dollars is unlikely to lead to dramatic changes in behavior or innovation.

Consider that a gasoline tax of $1/per gallon would have raised only about $3.4 billion in tax revenue in 2006, which is small in relation to overall U.S. incomes taxes, which in 2006 were more than $1 trillion (PDF). Thus it is very (!) misleading when Friedman quotes Philip Verleger in his column as saying, "We could have replaced the current payroll tax with a gasoline tax." Well, I suppose that if the gasoline tax was about $300/gallon under present levels of consumption then that statement would be accurate!

What does the literature say?

There is a very nice review paper on the elasticity of gasoline demand based on a wide range of studies by Graham and Glaister (2002)(PDF). This paper concludes:

There are differences between the short- and long-run elasticities of fuel consumption with respect to price. . . Therefore, it may be right to say that "it won’t make much difference" or "people will use their cars just the same", but only in the short run. The evidence is clear and remarkably consistent over a wide range of studies in many countries that in the long run there is a significant response, albeit a less than proportionate one. . .

So the effects of a gasoline tax are important and take place over the long term. However, the tax would have to be significant enough to generate significant responses, lest it be more symbolic than effective. I am not sure what that is in the United States, but I am sure that $1 per gallon is only a step in the right direction; it is not all that is needed by a longshot.

Both long- and short-term effects of gasoline prices on traffic levels tend to be less than their effects on the volume of fuel burned. . . Raising fuel prices will therefore be more effective in reducing the quantity of fuel used than in reducing the volume of traffic. . .

Anyone who has driven at rush hour in the UK where gasoline costs a lot more than the U.S. will be well aware of this reality. It is therefore misleading to suggest that a higher gasoline tax will reduce congestion, as some have suggested. It won’t. To reduce congestion would require other strategies.

The demand for owning cars in heavily dependent on income. . . The implication is that fuel prices must rise faster than the rate of income growth, even to stabilise consumption at existing levels.

Consider the difference between dollars of GDP per gallon in 2001 and 2006. US GDP increased over this period by 30% while gasoline prices increased by about 90%, and gasoline consumption still increased by 7%.

If goals of energy policy are to dramatically reduce the U.S. reliance on foreign sources of oil and to rapidly accelerate the decarbonization of the energy system, then a gasoline tax can certainly contribute to that end. However, it is misleading at best to suggest that $1 per gallon can do the job, or make a big step in that direction, when it can’t. Achieving a gasoline tax in the United States would be a monumental political achievement. It would be a shame to see such an achievement undercut by getting the policy wrong by reaching for too little. Of course, that might just be a good characterization of current debates on U.S. energy policy generally.

Posted on November 14, 2007 09:34 AM View this article | Comments (11)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

October 30, 2007

A Range of Views on Prins/Rayner

Here are a few reactions, and my comments in response, to the Prins/Rayner piece in Nature last week, which has generated a good deal of healthy discussion on climate policies.

At his new DotEarth blog Andy Revkin notes perceptively that debate over greenhouse gas reduction policies is emerging between those who think that setting a price for carbon is the most important action to be taken, versus others who think that setting a price for carbon can only have modest effects on efficiency, and by itself will not stimulate a transition to a post-fossil fuel world. Most everyone nowadays, including Prins/Rayner, would seem to agree that putting a price on carbon makes good sense. The debate is over the degree to which setting such a price will lead to a significant change in the trajectory of emissions paths. Prins/Rayner are not optimistic (and I agree), and others are more sanguine.

At Nature’s Climate Feedback, a number of informed commenters respond to Prins/Rayner by raising questions about the effectiveness of Kyoto mechanisms. Prins/Rayner emphasize the symbolic importance of Kyoto, but criticize its practical results. They suggest that more of the same – feel-good symbolism over actual, large emissions reductions – is not what the world needs at this point. On this point reasonable people will disagree, but ultimately atmospheric concentrations will arbitrate the debate.

The Wall Street Journal Energy Blog does a nice job identifying where Prins/Rayner agree with and disagree with the policies of the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, the role of technology in the climate debate has been caught up in partisan bickering. Some argue that all of the technologies that are needed to stabilize emissions (or at least make a big forward step in that direction) are already available. I find this argument unconvincing at best, and more likely just plain wrongheaded. Others, such as Nordhaus/Shellenberger suggest that a massive investment in new technologies are needed, a point on which I, and Prins/Rayner, agree. Many environmentalists do their arguments (and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) no favors by taking an anti-technological investment stance, which seems more like a reflexive reaction to be against anything that the Bush Administration might be for -- Note however that while the Bush Administration often uses the word "technology" in the context of climate change policy, they have never advocated the sort of investment advocated by Prins/Rayner/Nordhaus/Shellenberger.

There will be more to discuss when Prins/Rayner release the long version of their analysis, hopefully soon. We’ll link to it here when available.

Posted on October 30, 2007 07:05 AM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy

September 29, 2007

Late Action by Lame Ducks

I have a new column out in Bridges on a scenario for the climate policy end game by the Bush Administration -- read it here.

Posted on September 29, 2007 07:23 AM View this article | Comments (4)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy

June 27, 2007

The nothingness that is the new energy bill

First, as an aside, my favorite quote on the new web in a long time: 'This is what happens, he suggests, "when ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule."' From this review of Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur. I suspect Roger will agree with that sentiment as applied to blogs (the review specifically singles out blogs as fitting that mold). I actually don't. I think it takes some combing, but some blogs provide just as much insight and detailed intellectual analysis on our societal issues as the best full-time "professional" commentators.

Second, you've probably realized that Prometheus is now in the midst of its normal summerly slowdown. We are academics after all, and we like to take the summers off. I (and probably Roger, despite his telling y'all that he was done) will be throwing posts up here and there throughout the summer, but it's going to be slow until late August or early September.

Finally, to the subject of this post. For now I'll let Thomas Friedman say it for me about the "new" energy bill that the Senate passed last week:

The whole Senate energy effort only reinforced my feelings that we’re in a green bubble — a festival of hot air by the news media, corporate America and presidential candidates about green this and green that, but, when it comes to actually doing something hard to bring about a green revolution at scale — and if you don’t have scale on this you have nothing — we wimp out. Climate change is not a hoax. The hoax is that we are really doing something about it.

Then again, the debate on this energy bill was a lot less about climate than about energy independence. Watching how hard it was to get even this pidly little bill passed, that Congress will address energy independence and climate simultaneously now seems as remote as ever. It really makes you wonder who is talking to the editorial page writers of the major papers, some of whom ate the bait and ponied up that this was a significant new change in energy policy. The weakness of this bill tells me more than ever that we better start thinking a lot harder about adaptation to anthropogenic climate change, lest we follow the fate of Jared Diamond's not-so-shining examples.

Posted on June 27, 2007 08:32 PM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy

June 11, 2007

A little percolation on energy policy

Two things I noted today:

1- From the No S#%@! category, the Bush Administration seems eager to let everybody know that there will be no movement whatsoever on regulating carbon until January 2009 at the earliest. If you caught even a bit of the G8 news you already knew that (and somebody got me saying as much before G8). But apparently the Bush Administration wants to drive the point home, so last week they turned EPA Administrator Johnson loose at a House hearing:

U.S. President George W. Bush wouldn't sign into law an anti-global warming bill that includes a so-called cap and trade program, the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator told U.S. lawmakers Friday.

During a congressional hearing, Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. asked Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson if the president would sign into law legislation that would create the nation's first cap and trade program aimed at specifically limiting climate change-causing pollutants.

Johnson simply replied, "No."

In response, Inslee, a cap and trade policy proponent, criticized Johnson, saying he hopes Johnson has his prediction wrong.

"I hope you're premature. I hope you haven't checked with the president," he said, during a hearing held by the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. "I hope you're not authorized to say that."

Two things caught my attention here. As far as I can tell, Johnson's appearance before this House Select Committee was entirely voluntary [that's the first item of note] since this is a select committee with no legislation-writing authority, no subpoena power, no budget authority, and no jurisdiction over any federal agency. So Johnson's willingness to appear was either:

a) a really nice gesture, showing that he, the EPA, and the Bush Administration genuinely want to discuss climate change in the open in front of this House committee; or

b) a way for the Bush Administration to make a strong and very public statement to Congress to not bother wasting anybody's time on trying to pass a carbon tax or cap-and-trade [that's the second item] because it's going to be vetoed faster than Bush can click-click his ballpoint pen.

2- Senator Bingaman has been crazy busy getting energy legislation to the floor. His package passed cloture today and will start seeing floor action tomorrow. I am still very interested in how the whole coal synfuel mess will play out. I won't be surprised if the final bill includes either mandates or heavy subsidies for liquid coal synfuels without mandating that any coal-derived liquid fuels include carbon capture and sequestration. If this happens Congress will essentially be encouraging a strong ramp up in the carbon intensity of our fuel supply.

Secondly, if you peruse the legislation on the floor and the ancillary materials out there you might notice the conspicuous absence of yesterday's hot energy item: hydrogen. Hydrogen hype has apparently been replaced with biofuels hype, perhaps because there is a natural constituency for biofuels (the entire Midwest) and a much diminished one for hydrogen production. Or perhaps because energy thinkers finally got through to the speech writers that hydrogen is and always will be EROI negative?

Finally, I note the sad passing of Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming. His absence might change the tenor of the coal debate as he was a strong supporter of coal, the Powder River Basin being in his state. This change in debate might be a good thing, but Senator Thomas' passing was not, obviously for his family but also for the Senate in general. He was one of the nicest men I came across in my short time there, I had great interactions with his staff and I know he was well respected across both sides of the aisle.

Posted on June 11, 2007 10:59 PM View this article | Comments (4)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy

June 06, 2007

Curious quote from the recalcitrant

It's nothing new: rather than make better cars Detroit would lobby. So it's no surprise that the big-3 chiefs are running to DC together to beg that they not be held to even the most milquetoast efficiency regulations. What is curious, though, is GM's CEO's choice of words:

"It looks like within the climate that's being experienced now, it's very likely there will be increases in CAFE," Rick Wagoner, General Motors Corp. chairman and chief executive, said Tuesday in Wilmington, Del. "I think our concern is, let's make sure that we also fix the real problems while we're doing that."

Of course he meant "political climate" not "Earth's climate," which makes his quote ironic. But what I'm really curious about is what he sees as "the real problems" that Congress should be addressing instead of getting America far more energy efficient than it is, both for climate and energy supply reasons. It never ceases to impress me that Detroit can scream and cry about how being forced to improve the efficiency of their product will lead to a loss of jobs, without being challenged in the slightest. As if fewer cars will be sold because the cars are made slightly more efficient? Somebody explain....

Posted on June 6, 2007 11:47 AM View this article | Comments (19)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy

May 29, 2007

The messy and messier politics of AGW solutions

Back on May 2nd I wrote about the looming coal vs. global warming fight in Congress. Today the NY Times put the issue up as its lead article (at least in the national edition). Edmund Andrews covers the issue well, bringing out various issues of price, competing priorities and constituent politics. (To recap my post: despite Senate ENR staffers trying to paint a rosy picture about a four-bill markup of some easy and no-brainer energy packages, coal state Senators still made a big stink about mandating coal synfuels.)

This is an issue setting itself up well (and early) to be one of the major boondoggles in crafting policy that effectively brings down GHG emissions. It essentially pits energy independence goals against GHG reduction goals when they should be addressed simultaneously in the same direction. Smart policy will reduce exposure to global warming risk and energy provenance issues together; bad policy will allow the two issues to battle each other.

The elephant in this room, only hinted at in Andrews' article and only briefly mentioned in my post, is setting government targets for specific fuels. Coal state Members want to write into any energy/climate legislation either mandated volume purchase targets for liquefied coal fuels or heavy subsidies for the industry. But the coal-to-liquid conversion process releases a lot of carbon dioxide, and when confronted with this, coal supporters point out that carbon dioxide can be captured during the process and sequestered (known as carbon capture and storage, or CCS).

The key here is "can be" as in can be captured. It should be appended with "but won't" unless any legislation mandating or heavily subsidizing liquefied coal also provides a mandate that any fuel derived from coal captures CO2, and also provides the subsidies to make that CCS possible. Will legislators go that far? Listening to Congress, especially the language coming out of Jeff Bingaman's committee, I've heard a lot of discussion of subsidies to build synfuel plants and a lot of discussion about mandating fuel quotas or providing generous per-gallon tax credits, but nothing about also footing the bill for CCS. Keeping in mind that some lawmakers already want to give coal synfuels a $0.50/gal subsidy before even considering the carbon capture issues, requiring carbon CCS on the coal synfuel process means pricing coal synfuels well out of economic competitiveness.

The coal issue illustrates again the problems with government picking winners and losers instead of setting generalized targets to be met across a wide swath of economic players. Doing this with ethanol has already led to a international socioeconomic backlash, rightly or wrongly drawing in Mexican citizens decrying the rising price of the corn they depend upon for food. Anything close to a mandate for coal synfuels will mean a new avenue for climate change politicization. Have we learned yet from past lessons? Edmund Andrews hints that we probably haven't:

But some energy experts, as well as some lawmakers, worry that the scale of the coal-to-liquid incentives could lead to a repeat of a disastrous effort 30 years ago to underwrite a synthetic fuels industry from scratch.

When oil prices plunged in the 1980s, the government-owned Synthetic Fuels Corporation became a giant government albatross that lost billions and remains a symbol of misguided industrial policy more than 25 years later.

May 09, 2007

--It's sort of a screw-up--

From the LA Times today:

California homeowners are rejecting new rebates for solar power equipment, saying the state has made installing the rooftop panels far more costly than expected.

As a result, Public Utilities Commission reports show a decline of 78% in rebate requests in the first three months of this year, compared with last year, and the solar installation industry says it is threatened with collapse across much of California.

At issue is a requirement the state added Jan. 1 for getting a rebate under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Million Solar Roofs program. Applicants must first sign up for costly pricing plans offered by utilities that charge more for their electricity during hours of peak demand.


Posted on May 9, 2007 10:39 AM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy

May 02, 2007

A preview of things to come

In case you were one of those optimists thinking that the change in Congressional control meant a coming slew of passed legislation dealing with GHGs, or that January 2009 means welcome to the new era of GHG regulations or even clear sailing for logical no regrets policies that address oil dependence and carbon mitigation, you got a nice preview today of battles to come.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources, now chaired by Senator Bingaman of New Mexico, tried to hold an easy combined markup on four bills that deal with biofuels (S.987), energy efficiency (S.1115) and carbon CCS (S.962 and S.731). There was apparently a "divisive" roadblock in that the coal-state Senators wanted a new mandate on coal-derived transportation fuels (apparently they think we should be adding more CO2 to the atmosphere per VMT rather than less). There was a tentative deal to allay that issue until the bill package went to the floor, where it could be debated by the full Senate, but the deal broke down in a rather nasty way and forced a party-line vote, with some Dems voting against the coal fuels amendment that they otherwise supported. Ah, the era of bipartisan cooperation to solve our nation's most pressing problems.... (CQ story here) (And if you think the politicking on this was constrained to the ENR hearing room, see the players deployed to lobby in this story.)

That this package could not pass easily, with the contentious issues worked out before markup, is certainly a sign that meaningful climate mitigation legislation is going to be bloody and a long time in coming. It also illustrates some of the messy compromises that will come with climate legislation, some of which may actually increase carbon emissions. Sure, CO2 could be captured at the coal-to-synfuel plant, thus preventing the extra CO2 that coal synfuel production emits from hitting the atmosphere and leaving a zero-sum between burning synfuel or gasoline. But with a liquefied coal mandate sitting alongside a biofuels mandate who actually thinks that in the end a requirement for capturing CO2 at the coal synfuels production site is going to happen? With all the people who want to make it and want to use it (i.e. the military), the economic pressures on not driving up the price by requiring carbon CCS are already clear.

May 01, 2007

taking options off the table....

Interesting exchange between Bill Maher and Sheryl Crow and Laurie David. Or not. I saw it on the NEI Nuclear Notes blog, so you can go there to get the exchange, or see it on youtube. Basically the upshot that NEI reports is yes yes yes we need to cut GHG emissions but no no no way do we need nuclear to do that.

What's interesting to me is not the content but the tone of the conversation. Listen to Crow adamantly cut off Maher from bringing nuclear into the discussion. We want to talk about low-carb energy but we don't want you to talk about nuclear. When Crow stalls out on giving good reasons to disavow nuclear David comes in with a little misdirection, laying fuel economy standards down as a step to be taken to avoid bringing nuclear into the picture.

I'll give Crow/David the benefit of the doubt that they didn't have the time or the prep to really get into the hidden subsidy issues that make nuclear a more expensive option than it appears. But for being so concerned about GHGs, a staunchly anti-nuclear stance -- taking a major GHG reduction option off the table -- is curious.

The non-idealist reality is that all options need to be on the table, and all options -- including nuclear -- need to be honestly accounted for. Hidden subsidies of nuclear, including insurance issues (the U.S. government insures nuclear plants because private companies won't -- Price-Anderson was just renewed through 2025), should be compared to the true cost of solutions like wind, which currently gets a generous PTC to keep it competitive.

Wind and solar are not viable options for baseload power, which is what coal provides. What we should be talking about is replacing the dirty, old baseload coal plants with nuclear plants while also bringing renewables online. And while David is right that [aggressive] efficiency and waste issues would make a big dent in demand, thinking that we're going to solve our energy supply issues through efficiency gains shows a pretty deep misunderstanding of the way incentives and the market works here. You can wait and wait for efficiency gains to significantly reduce GHG emissions and you're going to be waiting for a very long time.

Beyond the sound bites, fairly thorough studies on the competing economics (and other issues) of nuclear, coal and renewables are here and here.

Posted on May 1, 2007 11:45 AM View this article | Comments (4)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy

April 26, 2007

The Politics of Air Capture

A while back we prepped our readers to get ready for air capture. This article from a New Jersey newspaper, the Star-Ledger, describes how one air capture technology is progressing and how different interests are already taking political positions on its merits:

Klaus Lackner's invention has been called many things -- a wind scrubber, a synthetic tree, a carbon vacuum, even a giant fly swatter.

The energy guru, inventor and professor at Columbia University prefers to call it an "air extractor." By any name, however, Lackner predicts that the giant machines he is building will one day stop global warming in its tracks.

After three years of intensive experiments, Lackner and scientists at Global Research Technologies LLC, in Arizona, have produced a working model of the device, which can sop up carbon dioxide, the dreaded greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere.

"Look, it's one arrow in the quiver," said Lackner, reached by telephone. "This begins to offer a solution to an overwhelming problem."

Others were more expansive.

"This significant achievement holds incredible promise in the fight against climate change," said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia. "The world may, sooner rather than later, have an important tool in this fight."

Here is one reaction to the technology:

"There's no magic bullet to save us from the problem of global warming," said Kert Davies, an energy expert for Greenpeace USA in Washington, D.C. Removing greenhouse gases so readily will not encourage people to develop alternate, renewable technologies, he said, and strive for energy efficiency.

Such techno-fixes also miss the point of the environmental degradation brought on by the use of fossil fuels, he said.

Carbon scrubbers won't stop oil spills, habitat-destroying strip mining and ozone, he said. "It's like having cancer and putting a Band-Aid on it," he added.

Besides, Davies said, the devices, which will in principle be larger than the prototype, will be eyesores. "Can you imagine thousands of acres of giant fly swatters across the land?"

If reducing fossil fuels is not really about carbon dioxde, as the Greenpeace spokesman suggests but also about many other benefits, then why shouldn't these benefits play a more central role in energy policy debates? And being so quick to abandon the carbon dioxide argument is not an effective strategy for compelling action on carbon dioxide. Greenpeace has come out in favor of wind power and the required acres of windmills across the land. This is hard to square with CO2-removal technologies as eyesores, unless one recognizes that the aesthetics of a technology appear to be a function of its political role.

I have no idea if Professor Lackner's ideas will prove to have technical merit or not. However, I do believe that all options should be on the table, and we should resist efforts to limit choice prematurely.

April 16, 2007

Frank Laird on Peak Oil, Global Warming, and Policy Choice

Frank Laird, from the University of Denver and also a Center affiliate, has the lead article in our latest newsletter. His topic is peak oil, climate change, and policy choice. Here is an excerpt:

A recent spate of books and articles proclaim the end of oil and an imminent crisis for the world. Likewise, global warming alarms sound from almost every corner of the press. What are policy makers to do? How should policy analysts help decision makers frame the debate and assess the alternatives? Many advocates are trying to do exactly the wrong thing: narrow policy makers’ options through a rhetoric proclaiming that policy makers will have no choice but to adopt their favored technology, so the sooner they get to it, the better. This approach both misunderstands how policy making works and does a disservice to policy makers. . .

Ironically, both renewable and nuclear energy advocates see themselves as possessing the key to an energy-abundant and climate-safe future. Both advocacy communities have been around for decades, have a history of mutual hostility, and think their time is nigh. Yet both groups are using a language of inevitability that suggests a naïveté about public policy, short-changes the policy process, and makes it all the harder to have intelligent, nuanced discussions of the difficult policy choices that lie ahead.

Their central point is that society or governments will have “no choice” but to adopt their preferred solution. They believe that the problems of peak oil and climate change present such severe problems to our society that policy makers will realize that they must adopt nuclear or renewable energy, that the lack of choice will be plain.

This language distorts the reality of policy making and short-changes society by trying to close off debate over the many and possibly creative solutions that policy could bring to bear on these problems. The central fact of policy making is that governments always have a choice. No circumstance, no matter how dire, leaves them with only one choice. To be sure, not all choices are equally good, and anyone familiar with history will know that sometimes governments make bad, even disastrous, choices. But they always have choices to make. Pretending otherwise just misunderstands all we know about public policy.

Read the whole thing.

April 12, 2007

New Peer-Reviewed Publication on the Benefits of Emissions Reductions for Future Tropical Cyclone (Hurricane) Losses Around the World

I have a paper accepted for publication that projects into the future a range of possible scenarios for increasing losses related to tropical cyclones around the world.

Pielke, Jr., R. A. (accepted, 2007). Future Economic Damage from Tropical Cyclones: Sensitivities to Societal and Climate Changes, Proceedings of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. (PDF)

The factors that comprise the different scenarios include changes in population, per capita wealth, tropical cyclone intensity, and also damage functions as a function of intensity. [Note: Tropical cyclone frequency is not included as scientists presently do not expect frequencies to increase. However, even if frequencies do increase it is possible in the scenarios to equate the effects of frequency in terms of intensity, as discussed in the paper.] The goal of the paper is to delineate a scenarios space as a function of permutations in these variables in order to assess the robustness of mitigation and adaptation responses to future losses. Here is the abstract:

This paper examines future economic damages from tropical cyclones under a range of assumptions about societal change, climate change, and the relationship of climate change to damage in 2050. It finds in all cases that efforts to reduce vulnerability to losses, often called climate adaptation, have far greater potential effectiveness to reduce damage related to tropical cyclones than efforts to modulate the behavior of storms through greenhouse gas emissions reduction policies, typically called climate mitigation and achieved through energy policies. The paper urges caution in using economic losses of tropical cyclones as justification for action on energy policies when far more potentially effective options are available.

Nothing new here for regular Prometheus readers, but now this analysis has been formalized and has gone through peer review. Here are the paper’s conclusions:

This paper finds that under a wide range of assumptions about future growth in wealth and population, and about the effects of human-caused climate change, in every case there is far greater potential to affect future losses by focusing attention on the societal conditions that generate vulnerability to losses. Efforts to modulate tropical cyclone intensities through climate stabilization policies have extremely limited potential to reduce future losses. This conclusion is robust across assumptions, even unrealistic assumptions about the timing and magnitude of emissions reductions policies on tropical cyclone behavior. The importance of the societal factors increases with the time horizon.

This does not mean that climate stabilization policies do not make sense or that policy makers should ignore influences of human-caused climate change on tropical cyclone behavior. It does mean that efforts to justify emissions reductions based on future tropical cyclone damages are misleading at best, given that available alternatives have far greater potential to achieve reductions in damage. The most effective policies in the face of tropical cyclones have been and will continue to be adaptive in nature, and thus should play a prominent role in any comprehensive approach to climate policy.

April 10, 2007

The series of tubes pumps internets and horses and oil and gas

A few days ago Roger had seen everything when Jim Hansen came out with some STSish words. This morning I heard an NPR interview with Alaska Senator Ted Stevens made me think the same thing – now I've heard everything.

I've been watching Alaska's R electeds dance around climate change for a while now – my experience starting with a Senate EPW markup of a transportation bill in 2003 where Sen. Murkowski tried to attach an amendment to study the effects of permafrost melting on infrastructure. (Stay with me now – it's in Section 502(c)(14)(D) of this bill and reads in total "develop better methods to reduce the risk of thermal collapse, including collapse from changes in underlying permafrost" in a section about research. Sniffing even the barest hint of global warming legislation, then-Chair Inhofe tried to kill the amendment but it passed with all of the Democrats and (I think) Senator Chaffee's vote.)

What to do in a state built on oil royalties but suffering under noticeable warming? Well, one thing you can do (especially if your name is Ted Stevens) is say that you have a problem while denying that you are in any way part of the problem. And so that's what Senator Stevens did this morning on NPR:

INSKEEP: "...Senator, you've been speaking out more and more about climate change." (minute 1:50)

Stevens then goes on to say that the noticeable effects on Alaska are that the storms are greater, the trees are growing further north and the permafrost is thinner. ("...we see the effects of change...")

And then it gets weird. Stevens starts talking about the results of climate change and that "we want to deal with the results now and let other people argue about the causes." Then, "the causes, if there are causes, are caused in Chicago and New York and not caused by our small population in Alaska."

Ok. Then it gets indecipherable. At minute 2:47 Inskeep asks if that explains why Stevens has signed on to a fuel economy bill. It slides into something about people "trying to shut down the area that is not any part of the cause" (he means North Slope oil). Inskeep presses again and you can hear Stevens get heated at 3:29 and then say (no joke), "oil and gas doesn't have anything to do with global warming! How do you make the connection between producing oil in Alaska and global warming?!? That global warming comes from the millions of automobiles that are burning the oil!" And so on... He tries to make the point that if the US didn't get it from Alaska it would get it from somewhere else (true I suppose, but totally missing the point) and that Alaska isn't part of the problem because there are only a couple of roads in the whole state. Truly bizarre.

Note to Senator Stevens' staffers: you are paid to prevent things like this episode. You just made it worse.

Posted on April 10, 2007 01:58 PM View this article | Comments (12)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy

March 21, 2007

The state push to the federal push

It seems pretty likely that we won't see anything signed on carbon emission restrictions (tax or cap-and-trade) at the federal level before January 2009, so once again we have the somewhat familiar situation of states leading the federal government on sticky issues.

You probably know about RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative formed by the New England and upper Mid-Atlantic states that sets a cap-and-trade system to reduce CO2 from power plants. You might have heard that the Guvernator recently corralled four other western state governors (OR, WA, AZ and NM) to join in to form their own cap-and-trade program, this one targeting not just electricity generators, but economy-wide emissions. And as the dominoes keep falling so come the other high population states like Illinois (thanks Jim A), who wants to join the CCX.

The environmental policy buzz is how this regionalism will, as usual, force federal action as businesses put hard pressure down on their duly electeds to create one system that they have to comply with instead of a patchwork of systems. The pressure seems to be coming hard already. In January, Alcoa and nine other companies formed the US Climate Action Partnership and yesterday

A dozen U.S. companies and dozens of institutional investors managing $4 trillion in assets have called on Washington to enact strong federal legislation to curb the pollution causing global climate change. The group outlined the business and economic rationale for climate action as they called for a national policy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions consistent with targets scientists say are needed to avoid the impacts of global warming.

Despite the pressure I'll reiterate the first sentence of this post: having anything signed on carbon emissions before January 2009 is unlikely at best, a pipedream at worst. But I think this delay creates an interesting scenario: what if a federal cap-and-trade scheme becomes irrelevant by the time it can pass?

With the announcement of the western five-state partnership, Gov. Schwarzenegger all but dared the RGGI states to expand their program and join with the western states. The western five plus the RGGI states represents 39% of the U.S. population and the addition of Illinois brings it to 43%. It's not hard to see other states falling in turn as the utilities and businesses in their states see the benefits to being part of the game and the drawbacks to being left out of it. Here we run into a couple of snags, though. First, the western and RGGI states, for the most part, represent a Democrat-heavy mix and today we saw fresh evidence of an unfortunate and widening D-R split within the voting public on attitudes about considering climate change a threat. Second, the southeastern (R-dominated) and Ohio Valley states (D-R mixed) that would be the next logical joinees in a regional-become-de facto national cap-and-trade system are coal-dominated, thus CO2-to-BTUs heavy.

Most curious to me is to track not only where the western state and RGGI partnerships take us on climate regulation, but what this regionalism does to the power structure in the U.S. as a whole. Robert Salladay on an LA Times blog covers the thoughts of Gar Alperovitz:

"The bold proposals that Mr. Schwarzenegger is now making for everything from universal health care to global warming point to the kind of decentralization of power which, once started, could easily shake up America’s fundamental political structure."

The United States, he says, is simply too big for meaningful democracy. Now, Alperovitz says, a new wave of regional devolution could also build on the more than 200 compacts that now allow groups of states to cooperate on environmental, economic, transportation and other problems. He adds:

"Governor Schwarzenegger may not have thought through the implications of continuing to assert forcefully his 'nation-state' ambitions. But he appears to have an expansive sense of the possibilities: this is the governor, after all, who brought Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain to the Port of Long Beach last year to sign an accord between California and Britain on global warming."

I'm not one for bold proclamations of radical changes or conspiracy theories or doomsday scenarios, but this is the kind of change that can happen subtly and slowly. And it would be fascinating to watch what should be a federal, nationwide system on carbon emissions instead be emplaced through decentralized but cooperative regional partnerships that work just as well or better than a federally-run system. If the feds wait too long on passing a nationwide system and the states have their own mechanisms in place covering more than 50% of the U.S. population by the time the feds get around to it, is that what will happen?

[UPDATE: as if on cue, I just got this news from Point Carbon: "The Climate Registry, an effort by members of existing US greenhouse gas registries in various regions, sent a letter to the governors of all 50 US states Friday requesting participation in the initiative to build a unified national registry for the entire US."]

March 14, 2007

The future of coal

Interesting stuff just released by a group at MIT on the outlook for coal in the US. Their main page is here and the executive summary is here.

They start with two realistic premises and take it from there:

Our first premise is that the risks of global warming are real and that the United States and other governments should and will take action to restrict the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Our second and equally important premise is that coal will continue to play a large and indispensable role in a greenhouse gas constrained world.

They also give a rather sobering factoid right off the bat:

If 60% of the CO2 produced from U.S. coal-based power generation were to be captured and compressed to a liquid for geologic sequestration, its volume would about equal the total U.S. oil consumption of 20 million barrels per day.

Perhaps because it is about as interdisciplinary as can be, with participants from political science to chemical engineering to economics, the report is refreshingly policy-prescriptive, urging specific government actions in dozens of ways, and even goes so far as

A more aggressive U.S. policy appears to be in line with public attitudes. Americans now rank global warming as the number one environmental problem facing the country, and seventy percent of the American public think that the U.S. government needs to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Willingness to pay to solve this problem has grown 50 percent over the past three years.

and is as politics/policy/current events aware as noting that

There is the possibility of a perverse incentive for increased early investment in coalfired power plants without capture, whether SCPC or IGCC, in the expectation that the emissions from these plants would potentially be “grandfathered” by the grant of free CO2 allowances as part of future carbon emissions regulations and that (in unregulated markets) they would also benefi t from the increase in electricity prices that will accompany a carbon control regime. Congress should act to close this “grandfathering” loophole before it becomes a problem.

We should note that the grandfathering loophole isn't a problem right now because it doesn't exist. It will only exist once cap-and-trade or carbon tax legislation is passed and only if a grandfather clause it written in. But their point is made: some coal plant builders think there is a good chance they will be grandfathered, although Senators Boxer and Bingaman have been telling them to fuhhggetaboutit. But it's a minor point and the report is good reading.

Posted on March 14, 2007 03:14 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy

February 20, 2007

Al Gore 2008, Part 3: Washington Post on California Energy

The Washington Post has an excellent article on California’s energy policies (Thanks BK!), which adds some context to our ongoing analysis explaining why Al Gore will be the next president of the United States. Here are several key excerpts:

Do 2004 Blue states in fact have higher energy costs?

The reason for California's success is no secret: Electricity there is expensive, so people use less of it. Thanks to its use of pricey renewables and natural gas and its spurning of cheap coal, California's rates are almost 13 cents a kilowatt hour, according to the Energy Information Administration. The other most-energy-frugal states, such as New Jersey and New Hampshire, charge about 12 cents and 14 cents a kilowatt hour, respectively. Hawaii, which relies on oil-fired plants, tops EIA's list at about 21 cents.

"If the history of energy consumption in the U.S. has taught us anything, it is that cost drives conservation," says Chris Cooper, executive director of the Network for New Energy Choices.

Three of the nation's most profligate users of energy -- Wyoming, Kentucky and Alabama -- have one thing in common: low prices. Their electricity prices range from 5.25 cents a kilowatt hour to 7.06 cents, according to the EIA.

"What's dirt cheap tends to get treated like dirt," Rosenfeld says.

The District, also a wasteful user of energy, has a rate of 10.70 cents a kilowatt hour, only after recent rate increases. Virginia charges average 6.78 cents, and Maryland is at 10.03 cents.

Answer: Yes, consider:

CA, NJ, NH, HI, MD = Blue
WY, KY, VA, AL = Red

What are some of the effects of increasing energy prices?

Many manufacturers complain that the high electricity prices make the state an unappealing place to do business. Since 2001, California has lost 375,000 manufacturing jobs, a 19.9 percent drop that slightly exceeded the nationwide decline of 17 percent. Some firms -- such as Buck Knives, with 250 jobs, or bottle manufacturer Bomatic, with 100 jobs -- moved to states such as Idaho or Utah, where they said expenses, including energy, were lower.

Gino DiCaro, a spokesman for the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, says manufacturing investment is also "stalled" because of uncertainty about how the new legislation authorizing limits on greenhouse gases will affect energy costs.

"We've lost a lot of manufacturing jobs and we can't replace them," says DiCaro. While it's hard to blame the state's high energy costs alone, he says, "we know that . . . energy is one of the largest portions of a manufacturer's operating budget."

But at some point do high prices become a virtue?

But for those homeowners and businesses staying in California, the high prices have provided a big incentive for greater efficiency.

Laura Scher, chief executive of Working Assets, a wireless, long distance and credit card company that donates part of its revenue to socially progressive organizations, said she checked her home's meter every week during the electricity crisis in the summer of 2001 and unplugged her family's second refrigerator. "Part of it is our prices got really high," she said. But she added that California's habits go back much further. "It's sort of a culture to be an energy conserver here," she said.

February 07, 2007

Understanding US Climate Politics

This graph from the 25 January 2007 issue of The Economist says a lot about the politics of energy policy in the United States. According to the article, "California's greenhouse-gas emissions per person are on a par with those of Denmark. Relative to the size of its economy, they are lower."


Posted on February 7, 2007 08:32 AM View this article | Comments (31)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy

January 25, 2007

SOTU '07: An A or a D+ ?

David Friedman of the Union of Concerned Scientists appeared in the NY Post yesterday, giving Prez. Bush an A on energy during the SOTU Tuesday night. I only knew that because the same reporter got a hold of me, but didn't print my response. I gave him a D+. Then again, I was looking at the combined energy/climate change picture, not just energy; perhaps Mr. Friedman was only referring to energy.

On energy and climate change it was hard to find an A in that performance, unless you take the pre-speech talking points released by the White House as saying something new. In the speech itself Bush barely mentioned energy and gave only the briefest gloss to climate.

The only thing new from past SOTU's was his 20/10 initiative: 20% less gasoline use in 10 years. Problem is, that is 20% less than the projected increase in ten years, not a 20% decrease from 2006 consumption. The release says, "The President's Plan Will Help Confront Climate Change By Stopping The Projected Growth Of Carbon Dioxide Emissions From Cars, Light Trucks, And SUVs Within 10 Years." Ok, fine, a worthy goal. But transport from the gasoline-burning vehicles is obviously only one small part of the emissions portfolio. Emissions from electricity generation, diesel-burning transportation, commercial flight, etc. are not addressed. Further, if some of the new alt fuels are coming from coal-derived liquid synfuels then we're talking about increases in GHGs, not decreases. California's EPA is already raising this flag.

There were a couple of things to like in the SOTU: new attention on CAFE, more attention on plug-in hybrids, and a heap of new (proposed) funding for alternative fuels. Unfortunately each of those comes with a "but." Plug-in hybrids I see as one of the best ways to reduce fuel consumption, but without a strong commitment to cleaner grid electricity plug-ins don't mean much, and I didn't hear anything of substance on electricity. Dealing with alternative fuels had better mean finding economically and energetically viable non-corn sources of ethanol, and there was some attention placed there with some proposed funding for biofuels, but history tells me that watching us develop alternative fuels will be like watching Bill Murray waking up every morning in Groundhog Day. In other words, corn, corn and more corn. As one expert is quoted in that Times article:

Mr. Goldstein said that rather than speed up the process of producing more ethanol, Congress should “step back and reflect on the damage we have already done.”

Briefly, some other issues with SOTU:

- The President's proposal on cutting gasoline consumption includes a safety valve clause. The EPA, DoE and Dept. of Ag. all have the authority to waive or modify a proposed Alternative Fuel Standard, which obviously weakens it.

- From the White House release: "By establishing such a visible and ambitious fuel standard, America's global leadership will help encourage our friends and allies to consider similar policies." Is that what we're relying on to solve a global problem? Hoping that bringing up an ambitious fuel standard "encourages" similar behavior from other countries?

- "Congress Should Not Legislate A Particular Numeric Fuel Economy Standard. The Secretary of Transportation should be given the authority to set the fuel standard, based on cost/benefit analysis, using sound science, and without impacting safety." Whether Congress or the DoT sets a standard is less important than whether it is set so as to be as protected as possible from political interference. I see an excess of objectivity problem creeping up here, with competing C/B analyses and fights over whose "sound science" is "sounder."

In short, I'm not sure where the UCS is coming up with an "A" for Bush's old/new proposals, and the NY Times clearly agrees with me. Other mixed reactions are summed up here.

Posted on January 25, 2007 01:38 PM View this article | Comments (4)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Climate Change | Energy Policy

January 24, 2007

A Report from the Bureaucracy

A report titled "Key Challenges Remain for Developing and Deploying Advanced Energy Technologies to Meet Future Needs"(PDF) from the Government Accountability Office, released last week, should be required reading for anything wanting to understand the challenges of transforming energy policy. Here is the bottom line (p. 53):

It is unlikely that DOE’s current level of R&D funding or the nation’s current energy policies will be sufficient to deploy alternative energy sources in the next 25 years that will reverse our growing dependence on imported oil or the adverse environmental effects of using conventional fossil energy. The United States has generally relied on market forces to determine the nation’s energy portfolio, primarily conventional supplies of oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy. In contrast, advanced energy technologies have higher up-front capital costs that make them less cost competitive than conventional technologies. As a result, despite periodic energy price spikes caused by disruptive world events and about $50 billion (in real terms) in energy R&D funding since 1978, the United States has made only steady incremental progress in developing and deploying advanced renewable, coal, and nuclear technologies that can compete with conventional energy technologies. However, continued reliance on conventional technologies leaves the United States vulnerable to crude oil supply disruptions, with economic, energy security, and national security consequences.

And here is what the report recommends to the Congress (p. 54):

To meet the nation’s rising demand for energy, reduce its economic and national security vulnerability to crude oil supply disruptions, and minimize adverse environmental effects, the Congress should consider further stimulating the development and deployment of a diversified energy portfolio by focusing R&D funding on advanced energy technologies.
Posted on January 24, 2007 08:35 AM View this article | Comments (5)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

Will Toor on the CU Power Plant

Will Toor, Boulder County Commissioner (and former Mayor of Boulder and Director of the CU Environmental Center) has provided a thoughtful response to our commentary earlier this week on the new University of Colorado power plant. Here are Will's comments:

Thanks Will!

Will Toor on the CU Power Plant

I think what this issue illustrates is the difficulty of achieving GHG reduction goals without regulatory authority. The City of Boulder, like other local governments, has a number of tools it can use; building codes to compel lower energy use in new and remodeled buildings; incentive programs to encourage investments in increased energy efficiency within existing buildings; transportation programs aimed at reducing vehicle miles travelled; incentive programs aimed at encouraging a shift to more efficient vehicles; and working with the utility to get more renewable energy on the grid. The city may have the ability to require that existing buildings be brought to a higher efficiency standard over some time period. But the city does not have the legal (or practical) ability to set up a cap and trade system, to tax motor fuels, to mandate vehicle standards,or to mandate the fuel mix of the utility. Also, as a state institution, CU is exempt from most regulations that the city may impose. While city action is important, it is pretty clear that regulatory requirements at the state and preferably national level are required.

What is rather fascinating to me is that this is an issue where CU could so easily reduce emissions by purchasing windpower from the local utility, at least during a transition period to some longer term solution, at a very modest cost. All of the moves towards renewable energy at CU have been driven by the university's customers - the students. Students not only voted to tax themselves to pay for windpower for the student controlled buildings, but also taxed themselves to set up funds to invest in energy efficiency and solar, and agreed to a very large fee increase to build new academic buildings only with a commitment from the campus administration that those buildings meet the LEED Gold standard of the US green building council and that the electricity for these buildings come from 100% Green-E ertified renewable sources. CU is unusual in that is has taken significant steps towards sustainability, but these have been driven from the bottom, not by leadership from the level of the chancellor or the president. So it may not be surprising that the chancellor is, at least initially, proposing to ignore the impact of the power plant decision on carbon emissions. However, given the very modest costs involved, I am guessing that the final outcome will be quite different. The surrounding community and students are likely to put some significant pressure on CU to take a different approach; and as a public institution CU now faces a new state administration and legislature that has a clean energy and climate change agenda, and is unlikely to agree to provide tens of millions of dollars of state capital funding for this project without the carbon emissions being addressed.

Posted on January 24, 2007 07:54 AM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Others | Climate Change | Energy Policy

January 20, 2007

Hypocrisy Starts at Home

If you want a sense of how difficult it will be for 6.5 billion people to reduce, much less eliminate, their emissions of fossil fuels, consider this telling vignette from the University of Colorado, my home institution, here in Boulder.

The Daily Camera, our local paper, reports today that the University is going to build a new power plant:

The University of Colorado is making plans for a new plant to replace the aging power facility near the corner of 18th Street and Colorado Avenue.

Originally built in 1909, it's both inefficient and too small to keep up with the university's growth, CU officials say.

The new plant would cost $60 million to $75 million and be running in 2011 at the earliest, said Paul Tabolt, CU's vice chancellor for administration. It is tentatively planned for a spot northeast of the Coors Events Center.

One thing the new power plant wouldn't provide is electricity, which could affect Boulder's ability to adhere to the Climate Action Plan passed by voters in November. That plan involves spending more than $820,000 a year on energy efficiency and other measures to reduce the city's heat-trapping gases 24 percent by 2012 so that Boulder meets Kyoto Protocol goals.

According to the CU Power Plant home page, as recently as 2003 the current power plant, powered by natural gas, not only provided for all campus electricity needs, but it also produced a surplus of power which it provided to the grid.

But due to the high cost of natural gas CU decided to stop using its own natural gas-powered power plant in favor of purchasing power from Xcel Energy. According to a December, 2006 campus study (PDF) of options for providing power:

The recent increase in the price of natural gas along with increasing turbine maintenance costs has forced Utility Services to reconsider the balance of reliability and economics. These increasing costs have compelled Utility Services to shut down both generators except for forced or planned outages.

Why does this matter from the standpoint of the city of Boulder's environmental goals? Again according to the December, 2006 study:

Gross [greenhouse gas] emissions to the environment are increased when the University purchases electricity from Xcel Energy since the electricity comes primarily from coal fired plants instead of the University’s gas fired system. Approximately 80% of Xcel Energy’s electricity is produced by coal fired generating stations, although wind and other sustainable sources are included in their grid areas.Also, Xcel Energy’s new coal fired plant will utilize extensive emission reduction equipment and existing coal fired plants are being retrofitted for emission reduction. These measures will make the emission from coal fired plants nearby equal to the emissions from gas fired plants. Since two alternatives of this study provide for the shutdown of the University’s cogeneration system and the purchase of all electricity from Xcel Energy Utilities, emissions from coal fired plants into the environment may increase under these two alternatives. An alternative is for the University is to purchase all power from wind sources, or Green renewable energy credits (REC’s), which will reduce emissions.

An alternative to this proposal is to maintain the cogeneration system at the University. Maintaining cogeneration capability allows the University the option of offsetting any or all of the coal fired emissions that would be produced if the electricity was purchased from Xcel Energy. This option comes at a significant operational cost on an annual basis, since abandoning the cogeneration system has a cost reduction of nearly $2 million per year.

According to this U.S. EPA website electricity from natural natural gas produces about half of the greenhouse gases that electricity produced from coal. Given the energy needs of the Boulder campus, it is not unreasonable to think that a permanent doubling of its greenhouse gas emissions for electricity will make Boulder's goal of meeting the Kyoto Protocol a moot point.

Here is what The Daily Camera reported about my Environmental Studies compatriot Professor Jim White's description the trade-offs involved, and also the reaction of the Chancellor, Bud Peterson:

Jim White, a CU professor of environmental studies, said generation that doesn't involve renewable energy, such as wind, would take some sheen off CU's reputation as an environmental hotbed. He said CU's national leadership in environmental-science research should be reflected in the university's actions.

"In the end, money drives a lot of what we're talking about," White said. "But I think there's a moral imperative. You've got to balance the money issues with doing the right thing."

CU Chancellor Bud Peterson said the university could buy wind-energy credits for $250,000 a year.

"Given our budget, that's not a lot. We could be bragging about how we're carbon-neutral," Peterson said. "Quite frankly, I'd rather take $250,000 a year and invest it in a way that can make a meaningful difference."

So keep these facts in mind:

*The University will be spending $60-$75 million to build a new power plant for steam.

*The University prides itself on being environmentally conscious.

*The University is about to institutionalize for a decade or longer a doubling of its greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation.

*The city of Boulder has passed a law to meet the Kyoto targets.

*The Chancellor has balked at spending $250,000/year, or 0.3% of the cost of the new power plant on this issue.

Whatever one thinks about climate change or greenhouse gas emissions, this story from the University of Colorado tells you all you need to know about the difficulties of actually reducing emissions even in the context of strong political support, strong public support, and the existence of a law providing a (modest) emissions target and timetable. This is the situation that on a much larger scale Europe is now grappling with, and I suspect, the United States eventually will be as well.

January 08, 2007

The Steps Not Yet Taken

Dan Sarewitz and I have a new chapter in press on climate policy:

Sarewitz, D. and R. Pielke, Jr., (2007, forthcoming), The Steps Not Yet Taken, Controversies in Science and Technology, Volume 2, edited by Daniel Lee Kleinman, Karen Cloud-Hansen, Christina Matta, and Jo Handelsman (publisher TBA). (prepublication version here in PDF)

Here is how we start off the chapter:

The climate system of the planet earth, and the energy system built by those who inhabit the earth, are today seen as the integrated elements of a single problem: global warming. In turn, scientific inquiry, public concern, and policy prescription have given rise to an international regime for controlling the behavior of the climate through management of the global energy system. In this chapter we explain why this regime, and in particular its codification through the Kyoto Protocol, is a failure. Our central point is simple: protecting people and the environment from the impacts of climate is a different problem from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming. The policies that have resulted from combining these two problems are, as a consequence, failing to meaningfully address either problem. Policies to reduce global warming must be pursued independently of policies to reduce climate impacts.

First we explain why the Kyoto Protocol is not achieving its environmentally modest goals, a failure that has no connection to the refusal of the United States to sign onto the treaty, but rather reflects the complexity of energy systems and their management. We then consider the impacts of climate on society through the lens of Hurricane Katrina. Such impacts are unrelated to global warming, and cannot be addressed by emissions reductions. Instead, they require policies specifically focused on reduction of socioeconomic vulnerability to climate.

But emissions reductions are a key societal goal, and next we discuss the role of technological innovation in pursuing that goal. Current policies, embodied in Kyoto, are inappropriate and insufficient for making the necessary progress. A cornerstone of our argument is that much of the failure to date of climate change policy originates in a misunderstanding of the appropriate roles of science and technology in social and political change. Proponents of action on global warming have treated scientific evidence as the central catalyst for motivating necessary change, while technological advance has been viewed as a second-order consequence of such change. We argue that this reasoning is backwards, and that technological innovation is a much more effective scaffolding upon which to address energy policies than scientific knowledge.

The Kyoto Protocol is not effectively addressing the climate impacts problem or the energy technology problem. Although Kyoto is often portrayed as only a first step toward establishing an effective international climate change regime, we conclude that it is a step in the wrong direction.

You can read a prepublication version of the whole chapter here in PDF. Comment welcomed!

January 07, 2007

Meantime, Back in the News Section

The NYT's Elisabeth Rosenthal has a very interesting article today on Europe's "car boom." She writes:

Since 1990, emissions from transportation in Ireland have risen about 140 percent, the most in Europe. But Ireland is not alone.

Vehicular emissions are rising in nearly every European country, and across the globe. Because of increasing car and truck use, greenhouse-gas emissions are increasing even where pollution from industry is waning.

The 23 percent growth in vehicular emissions in Europe since 1990 has “offset” the effect of cleaner factories, according to a recent report by the European Environment Agency. The growth has occurred despite the invention of far more environmentally friendly fuels and cars.

“What we gain by hybrid cars and ethanol buses, we more than lose because of sheer numbers of vehicles,” said Ronan Uhel, a senior scientist with the European Environment Agency, which is based in Copenhagen. Vehicles, mostly cars, create more than one-fifth of the greenhouse-gas emissions in Europe, where the problem has been extensively studied.

The few places that have aggressively sought to fight the trend have taken sometimes draconian measures. Denmark, for example, treats cars the way it treats yachts — as luxury items — imposing purchase taxes that are sometimes 200 percent of the cost of the vehicle. A simple Czech-made Skoda car that costs $18,400 in Italy or Sweden costs more than $34,000 in Denmark. . .

High taxes on cars or gasoline of the type levied in Copenhagen are effective in curbing traffic, experts say, but they scare voters, making even environmentalist politicians unlikely to propose them. When Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, revealed his “green” budget proposal, it included an increase in gas taxes of less than two and a half cents per quart.

Other cities have tried variations that require fewer absolute sacrifices from motorists. Rome allows only cars with low emissions ratings into its historic center. In London and Stockholm, drivers must pay a congestion charge to enter the city center. Such programs do reduce traffic and pollution at a city’s core, but evidence suggests that car use simply moves to the suburbs.

But Dublin is more typical of cities around the world, from Asia to Latin America, where road transport volumes are increasing in tandem with economic growth. Since 1997, Beijing has built a new ring road every two years, each new concentric superhighway giving rise to a host of malls and housing compounds.

In Ireland, car ownership has more than doubled since 1990 and car engines have grown steadily larger. Meanwhile, new environmental laws have meant that emissions from electrical plants, a major polluter, have been decreasing since 2001.

Urban sprawl and cars are the chicken and egg of the environmental debate. Cars make it easier for people to live and shop outside the center city. As traffic increases, governments build more roads, encouraging people to buy more cars and move yet farther away. In Europe alone, 6,200 miles of motorways were built from 1990 to 2003 and, with the European Union’s enlargement, 7,500 more are planned. Government enthusiasm for spending on public transportation, which is costly and takes years to build, generally lags far behind.

On energy at least, European and Americans (and Chinese and Indians) seem to share more in common than is commonly assumed in the debate over climate and energy.

Posted on January 7, 2007 08:26 AM View this article | Comments (5)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

January 02, 2007

Profiling Frank Laird

Andy Revkin’s article in the New York Times yesterday suggested that there are an untapped set of views on climate policy that might be worth hearing from. We thought it might be worth profiling some of these voices periodically. One such perspective is provided by Frank Laird, a professor in the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Frank is also a friend and a faculty affiliate at our Center at CU.

One of Frank’s areas of expertise is energy policy, and specifically renewable energy policies. His excellent 2001 book Solar Energy, Technology Policy, and Institutional Values, (Cambridge University Press), was a finalist (one of the top 3) 2004 Don K. Price Award for the best book in science and technology policy or politics, awarded by the American Political Science Association. I reviewed his book in 2002 for the journal Policy Sciences and you can see my review here in PDF. Frank's book illustrates how technologies become objects onto which political partisans map their valued ends and means. While values don’t always change quickly, a technology – in this case solar energy and nuclear energy -- can be favored at different times for difference reasons by different political camps. Politics does make strange bedfellows. Consequently we should be careful in linking a particular technology with a political perspective. In the case of solar energy, Laird argues, success in making such a linkage is one factor which arguably held back the further expansion of solar technologies in the 1970s. Laird also shows quite convincingly how energy policy decisions made in the 1950s and 1960s have shaped where we are at today.

Frank has written on climate change as well. In 2000 he wrote Just Say No to Greenhouse Gas Emissions Targets in Issues in Science and Technology. In that article he wrote:

The critiques in this paper are not based on skepticism about the nature and seriousness of climate change, and they are not intended to give aid and comfort to the diminishing band of greenhouse skeptics. I assume for this analysis that the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are correct. . . . Although the science still contains substantial uncertainty, as climate scientist Stephen Schneider and others remind us, that uncertainty cuts both ways, so that the effects of climate change could be significantly worse than the models predict. That downside potential is all the more reason why we need policies that will actually help us to put off and cope with whatever changes will come. The Kyoto Protocol emissions targets will only hinder our collective ability to do that.

His critique remains current today:

Effective international actions to cope with climate change should be based on three principles. First, the international institutions that will implement climate change treaties must be understood as catalytic, not regulatory. Second, actions on climate change need to make effective use of the substantial institutional developments already in place around the globe. Third, the goals of the treaty must be process-oriented, not descriptions of some final outcome. . .

The Protocol requires a major overhaul. It is based fundamentally on the monitoring, reduction, and trading of GHG emissions: a foundation that guarantees stiff political opposition and years of arcane technical arguments, absorbing the time, energy, and money of many participants. Nations, the UN, and NGOs organizations have so many diplomatic, financial, and technical resources tied up in Kyoto that it would be tragic for it to fail now; such a failure would set back international climate change efforts for years. It is time to let go of the failed emissions targets and seek new paths that will better serve everyone's needs.

I encourage everyone to read the whole article. It is short essay but prescient. Frank is current studying renewable energy policies in the United States and Germany.

December 22, 2006

And I'm focused on adaptation?

An excellent and eye-opening story from Keith Bradsher in yesterday's NYT provides a new angle on the economics of the Kyoto Protocol:

Foreign businesses have embraced an obscure United Nations-backed program as a favored approach to limiting global warming. But the early efforts have revealed some hidden problems.

Under the program, businesses in wealthier nations of Europe and in Japan help pay to reduce pollution in poorer ones as a way of staying within government limits for emitting climate-changing gases like carbon dioxide, as part of the Kyoto Protocol.

Among their targets is a large rusting chemical factory here in southeastern China. Its emissions of just one waste gas contribute as much to global warming each year as the emissions from a million American cars, each driven 12,000 miles.

Cleaning up this factory will require an incinerator that costs $5 million — far less than the cost of cleaning up so many cars, or other sources of pollution in Europe and Japan.

Yet the foreign companies will pay roughly $500 million for the incinerator — 100 times what it cost. The high price is set in a European-based market in carbon dioxide emissions. Because the waste gas has a far more powerful effect on global warming than carbon dioxide emissions, the foreign businesses must pay a premium far beyond the cost of the actual cleanup.

The huge profits from that will be divided by the chemical factory’s owners, a Chinese government energy fund, and the consultants and bankers who put together the deal from a mansion in the wealthy Mayfair district of London.

It seems that mitigation pays.

Posted on December 22, 2006 01:43 AM View this article | Comments (12)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Energy Policy

December 15, 2006

Senator Coal and King Coal

A few items on my desk related to coal are worth mentioning.

First, there has been some recent discussion about a letter from Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) to Exxon-Mobil. I saw it and didn’t think much of it. Politicians politicize. I don’t see the letter as an affront to free speech, quashing Exxon’s right to speech, or having much at all to do with science. What I did find interesting however was Senator Rockefeller’s response to a hometown newspaper taking him to task for writing the letter. In the letter Senator Rockefeller makes the following comment:

We didn't "attempt to squelch debate," as the Daily Mail suggested. Rather, our letter was, in fact, an attempt to create and foster greater debate.

And part of that debate, I believe, requires calling attention to Exxon-Mobil's funding of a pseudoscientific community whose purpose is to prevent us from tackling global climate change.

ExxonMobil is out of step even with its own industry. Other oil companies have explicitly acknowledged global climate change and are moving to develop and support new energy technologies and solutions.

Thankfully for West Virginia, clean coal technology is at the heart of these solutions. And I don't intend to allow deliberate misinformation to undermine our push for major national investments in the clean coal research and facilities that can help solve this problem.

The reality is that we need to have a free and honest debate about how we're going to address a problem that threatens to be of epic proportions.

So Mr. Rockefeller is using the issue of scientific integrity as a means to advance the interests of the coal industry over the oil and gas industry. In other words, he is politicizing the politicization of science. Presumably, Exxon doesn’t have too many jobs in West Virginia. Politics makes strange bedfellows, of course, but I do wonder how Mr. Rockefeller’s views play with those who don’t buy into the idea of "clean coal" such as Dave Roberts at Grist Magazine who keeps telling us that "Coal is the enemy of the human race." It seems like the strongest political consensus on climate change these days is that Exxon is bad; after that, it all breaks down.

This brings me to my second point on coal. I have sitting on my desk yet-to-be-read a book titled Sustainable Fossil Fuels: The Unusual Suspect in the Quest for Clean and Enduring Energy (Cambridge, 2007) by Marc Jaccard of Simon Fraser University. The book’s blurbs include positive statements from a crowd of people as varied as Bill Hare (formerly Greenpeace, now PIK) who recommends the book but "remains unconvinced," David Hawkins (NRDC), and the CEO of the World Coal Institute. Spiked-Online has a short essay from Prof. Jaccard, and here is an excerpt:

Some argue that fossil fuels should be abandoned because there are superior alternatives - energy efficiency, nuclear power and renewables such as wind, solar and hydropower. The aggressive pursuit of energy efficiency is desirable. But around the world, humans continue to crave ever-greater access to energy. The global energy system was 16 times larger in 2000 than in 1900. Two billion people today are without electricity and modern fuels, and by 2100 their offspring will be four billion. These people use less than one gigajoule of energy per year while a typical American uses over 300. Even with dramatic energy efficiency gains in wealthier countries, a subsistence level of 30 gigajoules for the planet’s poorer people will still require a three-fold expansion of the energy system during this century. Scale-up is the major challenge for nuclear power and renewable energy. Fossil fuels currently account for 84 per cent of the global energy system. Nuclear is at two per cent and renewables - mostly burning of wood and agricultural residues - at 14 per cent.

The wholesale replacement of fossil fuels in just one century will require a phenomenal expansion. The nuclear industry should grow, but its pace is limited by challenges in siting new facilities, storing radioactive waste and preventing nuclear weapons proliferation. Most renewable energy has low energy density and variable production, which increases land-use conflicts and capital costs.

An essential effort in research and development will decrease the costs of renewables. But zero-emission fossil fuels will remain cost competitive for at least this century. Acceptance of this economic reality means admitting that fossil fuels should be not be regarded as a foe, but rather humanity’s best friend in its quest for a clean, enduring and affordable energy system. Long live the king!

I’ll have more comments after I’ve read his book, but it is safe to say that we’ll be with fossil fuels for a long while.

December 11, 2006

Disquiet on the Hurricane Front

[This op-ed by Dan Sarewitz and Roger Pielke, Jr. on the 2006 hurricane season was not published by a number of major newspapers. So we are happy to share it here. Anyone interested in publishing it before a wider audience, please send us an email. -Ed.]

The 2006 hurricane season has ended without a single hurricane landfall along the Gulf or East coasts. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the destruction of New Orleans, journalists, politicians, and even some scientists were proclaiming that the catastrophe of global warming was upon us. A quiet year later, perhaps there is some room for clearer thinking about hurricanes, about global warming, and about society’s vulnerability to climate.

Before this year, the last years without a U.S. hurricane landfall were 2000 and 2001, just a blink of an eye in climate terms, but an eternity in the politics of global warming. In all, hurricane behavior over the past century and more has been highly variable, with periods of great intensity followed by lulls. Scientists remain deeply divided about the role of greenhouse gas emissions in hurricane behavior. But scientists have appreciated for decades the inevitability of a Katrina-like hit on New Orleans. The city was doomed for reasons that have nothing at all to do with global warming: it lies on a subsiding river delta in the heart of hurricane country.

Increasing damages from U.S. hurricane landfalls in the U.S. over the past century are entirely explained by growing socioeconomic vulnerability—that is, by coastal development trends that continually expose more people, more infrastructure, and more economic activity, to hurricanes. If one accounts for the effects of socioeconomic change, then there has been no observable increase in U.S. hurricane damage since data were first collected in 1900.

The future may indeed hold more frequent or intense hurricanes. However, the science at this point shows unambiguously that the effects of any such changes in storm behavior will be completely dwarfed by the effects of continued coastal development.

As Katrina made devastatingly clear, the hurricane problem is one of unsustainable coastal development combined with unconscionable socioeconomic vulnerability. Katrina’s blood relatives are the 2004 south Asian tsunami (220,000 dead) and the 2005 Pakistan earthquake (80,000 dead), not the Earth’s slowly warming atmosphere.

Feel-good appeals to buy hybrid vehicles cannot reduce the entrenched social inequities, irresponsible development trends, and inadequate hazard reduction policies that led to the worst of Katrina’s depredations and that are the cause of rising disaster vulnerability worldwide. Neither can the Kyoto Protocol, carbon trading markets, or other energy policies. There is simply no evidence that reductions in greenhouse gas emissions—as important as they are for other reasons—will lead to any discernible reduction in hurricane impacts over the next 50 to 100 years. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is about as relevant to controlling the impacts of hurricanes and other natural disasters as a nuclear non-proliferation treaty is to protecting public health.
Yet many well-tested policies are available to help reduce vulnerability to natural disasters. These range from building codes that can keep structures from collapsing in a storm or earthquake, to land use regulations that limit construction in disaster-prone areas, to environmental laws that preserve natural features, such as wetlands and forested slopes, that act as buffers against extreme events. The rising toll of disasters around the world demonstrates that nations are greatly underinvested in applying such policies, despite the fact that they are known to be effective, and despite the certainty that more disasters will soon occur.

From a political perspective, it is tempting to exploit the tragedy of Katrina and other natural disasters to promote action on greenhouse gas reductions. But no matter how strongly advocates may feel about global warming, if climate policies are based on the false expectation that emissions reductions will reduce hurricane losses, then political failure is inevitable, because the problem will get worse, not better. (To grasp this point, just consider the political impact of falsely linking Iraq to terrorism).

During this quiet hurricane season, more people moved to the coasts and other locations vulnerable to disasters, ensuring that future losses will be larger than those of the past. At the same time, more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were emitted into the atmosphere. These are separate problems that demand separate solutions. But by turning hurricanes into a greenhouse gas problem, we fail to focus sufficient attention and resources on reducing disaster vulnerability, and thus turn our backs on the victims of future disasters as well.

December 04, 2006

Roger A. Pielke Jr.’s Review of Kicking the Carbon Habit: A Rebuttal by William Sweet

[It is our pleasure to provide a rebuttal by William Sweet, author of Kicking the Carbon Habit, to a review on Mr. Sweet's recent book by Roger Pielke, Jr. which recently appeared in Nature. Mr. Sweet's book can be found online here and purchased through at a discount through Amazon and other online retailers. Pielke's review can be found here in PDF. We thanks Mr. Sweet for his contribution and welcome your comments. -Ed.]

What Just Ain’t So…Also Just Wasn’t Said in the First Place

In a review that appeared in the Oct. 19, 2006 issue of Nature, Roger A. Pielke Jr. praised my Kicking the Carbon Habit for recognizing that there are uncertainties in climate science and yet arguing convincingly that a reasonable person can "still believe that human influence on climate is a problem worth our attention and action." But then he proceeds to claim that the book’s discussion of policy is "regrettably grounded in a fundamental error that surprisingly was not caught in the review process" — an error having supposedly to do with the way the Pacala-Socolow carbon mitigation wedges is presented.

I am not aware that any such error exists, and in a personal communication, Robert Socolow has declared my capsule summary of the wedges model "exemplary." But that is really beside the point. The important thing is that my policy argument, which Pielke radically misconstrues, is not in fact grounded in the Pacala-Socolow model. Rather, it is grounded in story I tell at the critical juncture in Chapter 8 of the Book, the chapter called not coincidentally "Breaking the Carbon Habit." The story has do with Enrico Fermi and the issue of whether Hitler might be able to build an atomic bomb, as seen by Fermi and others at the beginning of World War II.

In a nutshell: Fermi had told the graduate student Isodor Rabi that the idea of an atomic bomb was "nuts." Rabi conveyed that opinion to Leo Szilard, who was sounding the alarm about the possibility of a Nazi nuclear weapon. Szilard suggested Rabi ask Fermi just why he thought the idea was nuts. Rabi did so, and Fermi told him he considered the possibility of a bomb being made successfully was ”remote.” So Rabi asked Fermi what he meant by that. Fermi said that the possibility of a bomb being built successfully was perhaps only about 10 percent. To which Rabi said: "Wait a minute. If I go to the doctor and the doctor tells me that there’s a remote possibility I might die, and that it’s 10 percent, I get excited."

Instantly—and this is mark of intellectual greatness and greatness in leadership as well—Fermi completely changed his mind about the issue. He started to work around the clock on graphite moderation, leading a couple of years later to the famous Chicago pile in which a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was first demonstrated.

The argument in my book is that even if the probability of a climate cataclysm in this century is very small, perhaps (say) only 1 percent, the magnitude of that cataclysm could be so dire, concerted action is warranted right now.* To say, by the way, that I characterize human-induced climate change something worthy of our attention and action is rather an understatement. I consider it the most urgent problem facing humanity today. But my argument about the case for strong immediate action is of a statistical character and is essentially identical to the one laid out by Richard Posner in his book Catastrophe (Oxford, 2004).

This brings me to a second drastic misunderstanding on Pielke’s part — and here I take some responsibility for not having made myself clearer. Kicking the Carbon Habit makes no claims about what is needed to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the long run. In fact it makes no claims about the long run whatsoever, except that the possibility of cataclysmic climate change cannot be ruled out. What the book does is make a case for the United States’ immediately joining in the Kyoto regime and, to that end, for its adopting a program to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by about 25 percent right away.

That means using the low-carbon and zero-carbon technology we can deploy right now, which happens to be the subtitle to the third section of the book. Contrary to what Pielke says in the review, I do not "dismiss the prospects for renewables and carbon sequestration." What I do is show that sequestration, solar energy, and hydrogen-economy technologies are not market-ready at this time and therefore not relevant to what the United States can do to cut its emissions by 25 percent today.

The zero-carbon and low-carbon technologies that are market-ready are conservation (of course in the widest sense), wind energy, natural gas, and nuclear energy. My position is that the United States should adopt a very stiff carbon tax that would result promptly in economy-wide conservation (including in the auto sector), and rapid replacement of dirty coal by some combination of wind, gas, and nuclear.

I do appreciate the positive things Mr. Pielke said in his review. But I would have been a lot happier if it had begun it more like this:

"In a book addressed squarely at American readers, William Sweet argues for prompt ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by the United States, which implies -- and this is the really important point -- adopting a program to immediately cut the country's greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 25 percent. Sweet proposes adoption of a stiff carbon tax, to induce rapid conversion of the coal industry to some combination of nuclear, natural gas and wind, and to prevent any further growth in U.S. energy demand.

"In building his case for that intrinsically controversial position, Sweet presents some important science in a way that's often interesting and even entertaining. However, he fails to address the question of how his aggressive program of U.S. carbon cuts would lead to long-term global stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations. In my view that is a serious shortcoming, because without that link being made, it's hard to see why the United States should do anything at all."

Having not explicitly addressed that important last point in my book, let me do so now. My view is that when we project future energy demand and greenhouse gas production out to the end of the century, relying on reasonable extrapolations from the situation we’re in today, the prognosis is utterly hopeless. I see any attempt to develop a comprehensive, global, long-term solution as not merely futile but as a recipe for inaction.

Therefore, frankly borrowing a principle from 12-step philosophy, my view is that when confronting a problem that is impossibly big and impossibly tangled, we should simply look at our part of it and address that. Accordingly, the United States, as the world’s main source of greenhouse gas emissions (about 25 percent), the world’s richest country, and the advanced industrial world’s most extravagant user of energy, should step up to the plate and do what it can as fast as it can.

The United States is in a position right now to do much more than any other country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But instead of doing the most, it is doing the least. That is my message.

—Bill Sweet
December 4, 2006

* By a cataclysm I mean a spontaneous reorganization of the world’s climate system, of a scale and magnitude similar to the ice ages, such that life could become unsustainable for a large fraction of the people living on earth. The change in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide associated with the onset and termination of ice ages has been about 100 ppmv; since the industrial revolution began, the concentration has increased by about that same amount, and in the next 50-100 years it could increase by as much as twice that amount again, unless we take radical actions to curtail its growth.

Posted on December 4, 2006 08:59 AM View this article | Comments (19)
Posted to Author: Others | Climate Change | Energy Policy

October 18, 2006

What Just Ain't So

I review William Sweet's Kicking the Carbon Habit in this week's Nature. Here is a link to the full review (in PDF).

Posted on October 18, 2006 01:38 PM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Climate Change | Energy Policy

August 03, 2006

Climate Porn

The BBC has an article today about a new report from the U.K. based Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which the BBC characterizes as a "Labour-leaning" think tank.

The alarmist language used to discuss climate change is tantamount to "climate porn", offering a thrilling spectacle but ultimately distancing the public from the problem . . .


Simon Retallick, IPPR’s head of climate change, has this to say:

If the public is to be persuaded of the need to act we must understand how climate change is being communicated in the UK. Currently, climate communications too often terrify or thrill the reader or viewer while failing to make them feel that they can make a difference, which engenders inaction.

Government and green groups should avoid giving the impression that 'we are all doomed' and spend less time convincing people that climate change is real. . .

I very much agree with these views, but I do have two quibbles with the overview of the report. First, missing here is a discussion of the role of the climate science community, within which many have taken on as a personal mission the task of convincing people not only that climate change is real, but that anyone who deviates from the "consensus" should be vilified or silenced. Yes, there is a scientific consensus on climate change as described by the IPCC, but it offers little prospect of compelling a political consensus. Consequently, efforts to use science to force political action are in my view one of the driving factors behind "climate porn."

Second, Retallick suggests a focus on "large actions" like hybrid cars or insulation instead of "small actions" like turning down the thermostat. From where I sit hybrid cars and wall insulation are "small actions" when compared to the challenge of stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. The report does not go far enough in discussing the complete transformation of the global energy infrastructure needed to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at anything close to today’s levels. Where is the discussion of nuclear energy, vast investments in energy R&D, or even air capture? The report does not apparently acknowledge that solutions will unlikely to be motivated by climate concerns alone (as I discussed in my recent testimony before the U.S. Congress, PDF), which further underscores the pathological role played by climate porn.

Here is a longer excerpt from the IPPR website which describes the report:

The research analysed more than 600 articles from the UK press, as well as over 90 TV, radio and press ads, news clips and websites to find out how the media, government and green groups are communicating climate change.

The report argues that the discussion on climate change in the UK is confusing, contradictory and chaotic, and with the likely result that the public feels disempowered and uncompelled to act.

The report says that climate change communications should avoid using inflated or extreme language and placing the focus on small actions to solve the problem.

The report identifies ten different ways of talking about climate change, of which the first two are dominant:

*Alarmism ("we’re all going to die"): this pessimistic approach refers to climate change as awesome, terrible, immense and beyond human control. It excludes the possibility of real action – "The problem is just too big for us to take on". Alarmism might even become secretly thrilling – effectively a form of "climate porn". It is seen in almost every form of discussion on the issue.

"A world of climate chaos spiralling out of control"

* Small actions ("I’m doing my bit for the planet – and maybe my pocket"): the "small actions" approach is the dominant one in campaign communications from government and green groups. It asks a large number of people to do a few small things to counter climate change. The language is one of ease and domesticity with references to kettles and cars, ovens and light switches. It is often placed alongside alarmism. It is likely to beg the question: how can this really make a difference?

"20 things you can do to save the planet from destruction"

July 06, 2006

Energy Dependence, Part 2

A recent op-ed by two professors at the Polytechnic University of New York in the Washington Post makes the case that biofuels offer no long-term alternative to fossil fuels. They write:

But as we've looked at biofuels more closely, we've concluded that they're not a practical long-term solution to our need for transport fuels. Even if all of the 300 million acres (500,000 square miles) of currently harvested U.S. cropland produced ethanol, it wouldn't supply all of the gasoline and diesel fuel we now burn for transport, and it would supply only about half of the needs for the year 2025. And the effects on land and agriculture would be devastating.

It's difficult to understand how advocates of biofuels can believe they are a real solution to kicking our oil addiction. Agriculture Department studies of ethanol production from corn -- the present U.S. process for ethanol fuel -- find that an acre of corn yields about 139 bushels. At an average of about 2.5 gallons per bushel, the acre then will yield about 350 gallons of ethanol. But the fuel value of ethanol is only about two-thirds that of gasoline -- 1.5 gallons of ethanol in the tank equals 1 gallon of gasoline in terms of energy output.

Moreover, it takes a lot of input energy to produce ethanol: for fertilizer, harvesting, transport, corn processing, etc. After subtracting this input, the net positive energy available is less than half of the figure cited above. Some researchers even claim that the net energy of ethanol is actually negative when all inputs are included -- it takes more energy to make ethanol than one gets out of it.

But allowing a net positive energy output of 30,000 British thermal units (Btu) per gallon, it would still take four gallons of ethanol from corn to equal one gallon of gasoline. The United States has 73 million acres of corn cropland. At 350 gallons per acre, the entire U.S. corn crop would make 25.5 billion gallons, equivalent to about 6.3 billion gallons of gasoline. The United States consumes 170 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel annually. Thus the entire U.S. corn crop would supply only 3.7 percent of our auto and truck transport demands. Using the entire 300 million acres of U.S. cropland for corn-based ethanol production would meet about 15 percent of the demand.

It is argued that rather than using corn to make ethanol, we can use agricultural wastes. But the amounts are still a drop in the bucket. Using the crop residues (called corn stover) from corn production could provide about 10 billion gallons per year of ethanol, according to a recent study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The net energy available would be greater than with ethanol from corn -- about 60,000 Btu per gallon, equivalent to a half-gallon of gasoline. Still, all of the U.S. corn wastes would produce only the equivalent of 5 billion gallons of gasoline. Another factor to be considered: Not plowing wastes back into the land hurts soil fertility.

Similar limitations and problems apply to growing any crop for biofuels, whether switchgrass, hybrid willow, hybrid poplar or whatever. Optimistically, assuming that switchgrass or some other crop could produce 1,000 gallons of ethanol per acre, over twice as much as we can get from corn plus stover, and that its net energy was 60,000 Btu per gallon, ethanol from 300 million acres of switchgrass still could not supply our present gasoline and diesel consumption, which is projected to double by 2025. The ethanol would meet less than half of our needs by that date.

And they end with the always-inconvenient issue of trade offs:

Finally, considering projected population growth in the United States and the world, the humanitarian policy would be to maintain cropland for growing food -- not fuel. Every day more than 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes -- one child every five seconds. The situation will only get worse. It would be morally wrong to divert cropland needed for human food supply to powering automobiles. It would also deplete soil fertility and the long-term capability to maintain food production. We would destroy the farmland that our grandchildren and their grandchildren will need to live.
Posted on July 6, 2006 08:15 AM View this article | Comments (6)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

Energy Dependence

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal John Fialka has an interesting article (free) that takes apart the notion of “energy independence.” Here is an excerpt:

The U.S. may be addicted to oil, but many of its politicians are addicted to "energy independence" -- which may be among the least realistic political slogans in American history.

Recently, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, perhaps warming up for another presidential campaign, gave a speech calling for energy independence and invoking the Fourth of July. "For the second time in our history, let's declare and win our independence," he said. Separately, 43 Democratic senators, including Mr. Kerry, launched a program to "Put America on the road to energy independence by 2020."

President Bush, meanwhile, has been talking for three years about setting a goal "to promote energy independence for our country." That is in line with Republican tradition: After the Arab oil embargo in 1973, President Nixon trotted out "Project Independence," a list of synthetic-fuel programs that would meet America's energy needs within 10 years. It failed within two.

Now, energy experts across the political spectrum are criticizing politicians' calls for "energy independence," saying the goal falls somewhere between pipe dream and economic impossibility.

Posted on July 6, 2006 08:08 AM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

June 08, 2006

New anti-wind politics details. Oh the irony, Senator Warner.

My last post about the politics of wind discussed the Cape Wind project and the cockamamie excuses -- some wrapped in science (surprise!!) -- being used to justify political interference with the project. (For what it's worth, politicians both left and right are fighting both for and against Cape Wind, although from what I can tell the only side to use dubious science as cover so far are the Kennedy's.)

Unfortunately it now appears that a recent Senate stall tactic on Cape Wind has caused a slew of other projects -- nowhere near Cape Cod -- to be stalled. The culprit? Senator John Warner (chair of Armed Services), who put this wordy one-liner in Section 358 (Title III, Subtitle F) of PL 109-163 (FY06 supplemental Defense approps):

Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the Committee on Armed Services of the Senate and the Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives a report on the effects of windmill farms on military readiness, including an assessment of the effects on the operations of military radar installations of the proximity of windmill farms to such installations and of technologies that could mitigate any adverse effects on military operations identified.

Apparently Warner's dubious addition (both the FAA and the Air Force had already signed off on Cape Wind) has delayed projects all over the country. The ironic thing about Warner's add? This line from the (original, non-supplemental) FY06 Defense Appropriations Act (HR 2863 / PL 109-148):

That of the funds made available under this heading, $4,250,000 is available for contractor support to coordinate a wind test demonstration project on an Air Force installation using wind turbines manufactured in the United States that are....

So, um, a wind farm out in the middle of the bay could block radar but one in the middle of an Air Force installation is not just ok, it's so ok that we're going to pay a contractor $4.25M to build one there? Brilliant.

Posted on June 8, 2006 12:45 PM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy

June 02, 2006

Petropolitics,, and The Politics of Decarbonization

Thomas Friedman is brilliant at capturing large-scale dynamics of the international scene. In the current issue of Foreign Policy he has an excellent article on the relationship of oil prices and the “pace of freedom” which he argues always move in opposite directions. His article provides a compelling justification for reducing reliance on fossil fuels:

Let me stress again that I know that the correlations suggested by these graphs are not perfect and, no doubt, there are exceptions that readers will surely point out. But I do believe they illustrate a general trend that one can see reflected in the news every day: The rising price of oil clearly has a negative impact on the pace of freedom in many countries, and when you get enough countries with enough negative impacts, you start to poison global politics.

Although we cannot affect the supply of oil in any country, we can affect the global price of oil by altering the amounts and types of energy we consume. When I say “we,” I mean the United States in particular, which consumes about 25 percent of the world’s energy, and the oil-importing countries in general. Thinking about how to alter our energy consumption patterns to bring down the price of oil is no longer simply a hobby for high-minded environmentalists or some personal virtue. It is now a national security imperative.

Therefore, any American democracy-promotion strategy that does not also include a credible and sustainable strategy for finding alternatives to oil and bringing down the price of crude is utterly meaningless and doomed to fail. Today, no matter where you are on the foreign-policy spectrum, you have to think like a Geo-Green. You cannot be either an effective foreign-policy realist or an effective democracy-promoting idealist without also being an effective energy environmentalist.

Reframing the greenhouse emissions issue beyond global warming is important if effective action is going to take place. Support for this assertion comes from a poll taken by participants in nationwide "house parties" organized by a liberal advocacy group. From an email in my inbox here are the results of this poll:

Health care for all 65091

Sustainable energy independence 61030

Restored constitutional rights 35675

Guaranteed accurate elections 35133

Diplomacy over militarism 28912

High quality education for all 27874

Solutions to global warming 26306

A guaranteed living wage 25527

Publicly funded elections 21096

A balanced federal budget 20945

Look at that -- global warming is #7 while sustainable energy independence is #2. If global warming doesn’t rank higher with participants, why would anyone expect that it will it ever rank higher among the general public?

There are good reasons to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Leading with global warming as a promotional strategy may seem like the right thing to do, but as a matter of political expediency, why not go where the policy arguments and political salience are strongest?

Posted on June 2, 2006 05:54 AM View this article | Comments (6)
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

May 04, 2006

PeakOil: whom do you believe? ChevronTexaco or ExxonMobil?

[Note: read the byline! I haven't posted on Prometheus in a while, and sometimes when I do Roger gets all the hate mail that should be sent to me.]

Although it's a favorite subject of mine, I haven't written about Peak Oil in a while. Last time I did it was to note Chevron's public education campaign to tell everybody about the Peak. Of course, Chevron isn't coming right out and saying "The Peak is here!" but if you know enough about the subject it's pretty easy to read between the lines.

Not surprisingly, Big Oil isn't too sure where to take the Peak Oil question, and that uncertainty might mirror the uncertainty in Peak Oil science. (Sound like any other issues we talk about around here?) Even though it seems clear from the quotes Matt Savinar posts that most involved closely in oil see the peak coming (link and link for example, and for what its worth a few people I have talked in oil have told me they all know it's coming soon, too...this includes an American who lived in Saudi Arabia for many years), Big Oil is trying to figure out how to frame the issue to a public more concerned about $3.159/10 gas than anything else.

Much like the climate change debate, on Peak Oil you have two sides with staunchly staked-out positions. Each side includes their own petroleum geologists, resource economists, energy investment bankers and multinational oil companies. Of course it is the latter we'll listen to most closely, since they ostensibly are in the best position to know about a peak and perhaps to drive policy toward or away from it.

So what are the majors saying and doing about Peak Oil? Chevron is clearly embracing the tactic of warning the public so that when the public eventually sees the light, Chevron can say, "Hey, we've been telling you about this for a while!"

But not so ExxonMobil. XOM is taking exactly the opposite tactic: "With abundant oil resources still available ... peak production is nowhere in sight."

This difference in opinion has interesting parallels to how these two companies have approached other environmental issues over the past few years. Chevron has been running ad campaigns touting their environmental stewardship while Exxon has been pouring money into muddying the climate change science waters. Further, many assume that XOM is well-aware of climate change risk, but has their own internal logic and reasons to muddy the debate. If so, it parallels their attitudes on Peak Oil, for while they are running NY Times op-ed ads saying "peak production is nowhere in sight," they apparently don't really believe that themselves.

Thankfully, although positions are staked out on Peak Oil, there does not seem to be a Left/Right, Republican/Democrat slant on the positions, which may make political action easier if/when this issue's time has come. And that might be the best indication that this isn't a clear "winners and losers" issue. If the Peakists are right, we're all losers.

Posted on May 4, 2006 10:06 AM View this article | Comments (34) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy

April 20, 2006

Some Simple Economics of Taking Air Capture to the Limit

A while back we discussed the notion of “air capture” which refers to the direct removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and referenced the work of David Keith at the University of Calgary. David has an excellent paper on this in the journal Climatic Change, available here, and David’s views on my earlier post can be found here.

With this post, I’d like to engage in some simple math on the economics of air capture. Think of this exercise a bit like the mathematician's tendency to take things to their limit. In a policy sense, exploring air capture is also a bit like taking things to the limit. If climate change is defined as a problem of increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 (and other greenhouse gases), then it is logical that the solution would be to stop that increase, and some form of air capture is a logical way to do that (please note that I have not said anything about technical feasibility or economic efficiency). The exercise below explores what sort of costs air capture implies using the lower end of Keith’s cost estimates of $200 per ton of CO2 removed from the atmosphere (the upper end is simply 2.5 times higher, for those interested in those numbers). I’d like to motivate some discussion on this subject, because I’d like to understand it further. A central question that I have been pondering is: Given the numbers below, why isn’t air capture technology at the center of debate on climate change?

If the end of the world is at risk, as some have warned, should a politically-neutral technology (i.e., requires no change in behavior, no complicated negotiations, no oversight or compliance regimes, no carbon markets, nada) that may cost as little as 1% of today’s global GDP (yes, a big number I realize) at least be on the table with other options of similar magnitude costs, but with huge political obstacles to their implementation? At a minimum why isn’t air capture technology research at the center of the governmental investment in climate change technologies? I remain completely baffled by this oversight in the policy debate.

Here is the math:

Starting points: 1 ppm of CO2 equals 2.08 billion tons (Thanks to CU faculty colleague Jim White for this info!) At $200/ton air capture cost this equals $416 billion per 1 ppm CO2 scrubbed from the atmosphere.

A. Total Cost for US to reduce emissions to 1990 levels:

A1. Annual cost

1990 US CO2 emissions: 5,005,300,000 tons
2004 US CO2 emissions: 5,988,000,000 tons
Source: US EPA

Lets just say roughly 1 billion tons, annual cost of compliance to 1990 levels via air capture = $200 billion or approximately 1.5% of US GDP.

A2. Incrementally increasing costs

Yearly increase in CO2 emissions = roughly 150,000,000 tons
Annual increase in costs = $30 billion or (0.2% of US GDP)

B. Cost for Global reduction of emissions

B1. To pre-industrial values

From 380 ppm to 280 ppm requires a reduction of 100 ppm or $41.6 trillion dollars (~67% of global GDP, assuming ~$60B global GDP), with an average annual recurring cost of reducing approximately 1.5 ppm or $624 billion (~1% of global GDP).

B2. Brute force stabilization to 350 ppm

Presumably, air capture could be used to “tune” the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to some desired concentration. From 380 to 350 ppm requires an initial reduction of 30 ppm or $12.5 trillion dollars (~21% of global GDP), with an average annual recurring cost of reducing approximately 1.5 ppm or $624 billion (~1% of global GDP).

B3. Brute force stabilization to 400 ppm

From 380 ppm to 400 ppm implies ~10 years of business as usual, and then with an average annual recurring cost of reducing approximately the annual increase of 1.5 ppm or $624 billion (~1% of global GDP). The US share of this cost would initially be approximately 25% (or somewhat less) of this total or $151 billion. Developing country costs would start out small and would increase as their economies (and emissions) grow. My first impression is that these numbers and time frame seem surprisingly reasonable.

How would any of this be paid for? I don’t know and haven’t given this much thought. But the numbers at the lower end, e.g., $151 billion for the U.S., seem to be well within the range of a gasoline or carbon tax, which could be phased in very gradually over the next 10 years.

Some caveats and notes: CO2 isn’t the only important greenhouse gas, but it is important. Cost estimates are estimates, Keith says they might be accurate to within a factor of 3, and given what I know about the uncertainty in past efforts at technological forecasting the costs could be much higher or much lower, and it is worth noting that cost estimates of this sort often wind up being far too high than what proves to be the case in reality. Nonetheless, the best data on air capture technologies will come from actual engineering experiments. As David Keith writes in his Climatic Change paper and on our blog, in reality air capture would make the most sense as a complement to other forms of mitigation and sequestration. My point here is not to propose an optimal policy in any way, but to take air capture to the limit. I am not advocating air capture as a solution (I simply don’t know enough), but I am advocating air capture as a contribution to the debate on climate change. And of course none of this addresses adaptation to climate or climate change. And above all – caveat emptor!

March 15, 2006

Forbidden Fruit: Justifying Energy Policy via Hurricane Mitigation

We’ve on occasion discussed a paper that we did in 2000 on the relative contributions to future damage of changes in intensity of hurricanes (called tropical cyclones worldwide) and changes in societal vulnerability, under the assumptions of the IPCC to 2050. Our paper found that the independent effects of changes in societal vulnerability are larger than the independent effects of changes in storm intensity by a factor of between 22 to 1 and 100 to one. The ratios are far larger the further one goes into the future. This would seems to provide pretty compelling evidence that even if scientists are underestimating the degree to which hurricane intensity will change in the future, energy policies simply are not going to be an effective tool of hurricane policy. Thus we have often recommended keeping separate the issues of greenhouse gas reductions and hurricane policy.

For obvious reasons some people find this argument inconvenient. One response to a talk I gave on this last week was, “if we don’t have the imagery of hurricane damage it is going to make the task of selling greenhouse gas reductions that much harder” (see also the recent discussion at Kevin’s NoSeNada blog, and thanks to Brian S. for motivating this further discussion). Below is some simple math that should make the point inescapable, drawn from the analysis in Pielke et al. 2000 (PDF). Have a look, and play around with the numbers yourself.

A = hurricane damages today = $1

B = increase in hurricane damages in 2050, according to high end of IPCC TAR = 10% increase = $1 * 0.10 = $0.10

C = increase in hurriane damage in 2050, according to low end of IPCC TAR in Pielke/Landsea normalization method = 220% increase = $1 * 2.20 = $2.20

D = combined effect of B and C = $2.20 * 0.10 = $0.22

E = Total increase in costs = B + C + D = $0.10 + $2.20 + $0.22 = $2.52

F = Total costs in 2050 = A + E = $3.52

Of E the part that can be addressed by intentionally modulating the intensity of hurricanes (a dubious proposition, but lets assume) is $0.32 (B + D), and the part that can be addressed by addressing vulnerability is $2.44 (C + D) (note: does not equal E because D is counted twice because it is influenced by both factors).

So if you focus on energy policies as a way to modulate hurricane behavior as a tool of disaster mitigation, and assuming that (a) you can instantaneously reduce GHGs to pre-industrial, and (b) that we are not committed to change already, then you can at best reduce the increase in future damages from $3.52 to $3.20, still representing a 320% increase from today.

But lets be slightly more realistic, how about Kyoto? Assuming that the effects of GHG reductions on hurricane intensity are instantaneous and exactly proportional to emissions concentrations (also dubious assumptions, but lets go with them) under full and successful implementation of Kyoto, including the participation of the US, the reduction in projected damages would be about $0.03. (Assuming: increase 2005-2050 = ~120 ppm, Kyoto’s effects = ~12 ppm, $0.32 * 12/120 = ~$0.03, but substitute numbers as you wish, I just made these up.) Now before people start writing to tell me Kyoto is a first step, please go ahead and substitute second, third, and fourth steps as you wish and see what effects they get. Then get back to the political realities such as Kyoto is not meeting its targets, and the subsequent steps look a long way off (not to mention the incorrect simplifying scientific assumptions above about the close connections of GHG reductions and corresponding reductions in hurricane intensity) .

Again, it is important for me repeat that I support emissions reductions, and I even think Kyoto makes good political sense for the U.S. to be a part of, however, it stretches credulity to think that Kyoto or any emissions reductions policy makes sense as a tool of hurricane (or more generally, disaster) mitigation. The important policy question is not whether or not global warming affects hurricanes, it probably does, but rather, what outcomes can be expected from different policies in response to hurricanes related to the things we care about, like property and life?

Moving on, if you focus on reducing vulnerability as a tool of disaster mitigation, then you can at best reduce the increase in future damages by $2.42 to $1.10, representing an increase of 10% from today. And of course mitigation need not stop at the level of damages we see today, and in principle can cut into that original $1.00 of losses, which proportionately reduces the increase related to changing storm intensity. It seems obvious that achieving the same $0.03 reduction in future losses from the $2.42 expected due to increasing vulnerability would be a much more tractable and cost effective approach to hurricane mitigation than an indirect effort to modulate storm behavior. Put another way, 100% success in implementation of Kyoto is the equivalent of about 1% success in addressing vulnerability. This is a huge difference in both the politics and the practicality.

Note that all of the above are calculated using the most favorable ratio toward emissions reductions of 22 to 1. The other end of the scale is 100 to one, so keep that in mind. Alos keep in mind that this anaysis goes to 2050, if you'd like to extend it to, say, 2085, probably should at least quadruple the vulneability numbers and increase the intensity numbers by a percent or three.

The bottom line: For advocates of emissions reductions, asserting a hurricane-energy policy linkage is tempting, very tempting. But it does not make good policy sense. It is a bad argument, perhaps even an abuse of science or immoral. If scientific accuracy is of concern, then look elsewhere for your justifications.

February 28, 2006

Senators Seeking Response to Climate Change White Paper

From the AGI monthly update:

In early February, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Ranking Member Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) released a white paper designed "to lay out some of the key questions and design elements of a national greenhouse gas program in order to facilitate discussion and the development of consensus around a specific bill."

Rather than advocate specific viewpoints on a potential greenhouse gas reduction program, the white paper poses four key questions that Senate staff hope will induce discussion between policymakers, industries, and environmentalists.

The questions are:

  1. Should regulations apply to specific sectors or to the economy as a whole, and should the regulatory process be “upstream” (targeting energy producers and suppliers) or "downstream" (targeting emitters)?
  2. Should regulatory costs be mitigated through allocation or auction of allowances, and who should receive allocated allowances?
  3. Should the U.S. system be designed to eventually allow trading with other systems worldwide?
  4. Should the U.S. system encourage “comparable actions” by major trading partners?

The committee is currently seeking public comments in response to the White Paper. Comments should be submitted to by 5 pm EST on Monday, March 13th following the guidelines.

A limited number of responders will be invited to participate in the Conference on Climate Change being held on Tuesday, April 4th.

The full text of the Climate Change White Paper is available here.

Posted on February 28, 2006 01:55 PM View this article | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Vranes, K. | Energy Policy

February 08, 2006

Political Plate Tectonics and Energy Policy

Does buying a hybrid car make its owner feel virtuous while helping the environment, or does it just make the driver feel virtuous?

According to an article in today’s New York Times, it may be the latter:

Each one becomes a free pass for its manufacturer to sell a few extra gas guzzlers. For now, this is less true for Toyota's cars, because they're above the mileage requirement. But Toyota's trucks and the American automakers are right near the limits. So every Toyota Highlander hybrid S.U.V. begets a hulking Lexus S.U.V., and every Ford Escape — the hybrid S.U.V. that Kermit the Frog hawked during the Super Bowl — makes room for a Lincoln Navigator, which gets all of 12 miles a gallon. Instead of simply saving gas when you buy a hybrid, you're giving somebody else the right to use it. The hybrid, then, is just about the perfect example of what's wrong with our energy policy. It's a Band-Aid that does a lot less to help the earth than we like to tell ourselves. When Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed conservation as "a sign of personal virtue" a few years back, a lot of environmentalists were disgusted. But that, sadly, is what a lot of well-meaning hybrid owners are driving: an expensive symbol that they're worried about our planet, rather than a true solution.

Vice President Cheney’s 2001 comment about the “personal virtue” of conservation hit a raw nerve among many observers (see, e.g., this PDF for examples), but consider the quote in broader context,

Now, conservation is an important part of the total effort. But to speak exclusively of conservation is to duck the tough issues. Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis all by itself for sound, comprehensive energy policy. We also have to produce more [energy].

In a passage that immediately follows the excerpt above from the New York Times today a representative from a leading environmental advocacy group says something remarkably similar to the Vice President’s 2001 comment,

You can consider yourself a conservationist and still see the logic in this. As Jon Coifman, the media director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, says, "We're not going to kick our oil addiction with good will and personal virtue. You do need market signals, and you do need rules. And you need virtue. You need it all."

Clearly, the Vice President and NRDC would disagree on what energy policy options make sense, but the fact that they have both signaled that new options are needed may be a sign that the status quo may be nearing its sell-by date. Could this be a sign of dramatic changes in energy policy to come?

[Note: We also discussed hybrids here.]

Posted on February 8, 2006 08:15 AM View this article | Comments (10) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

July 29, 2005

EPA Fuel Efficiency

Yesterday's New York Times contained an article about EPA's forthcoming report on fuel efficiency, noting that the report's release has been delayed a week,

"The executive summary of the copy of the report obtained by The Times acknowledges that "fuel economy is directly related to energy security," because consumer cars and trucks account for about 40 percent of the nation's oil consumption. But trends highlighted in the report show that carmakers are not making progress in improving fuel economy, and environmentalists say the energy bill will do little to prod them."

The article also notes that, "The average 2004 model car or truck got 20.8 miles per gallon, about 6 percent less than the 22.1 m.p.g. of the average new vehicle sold in the late 1980's, according to the report." This reminds me of a post here from last March which referred to a bill introduced by Representative Nancy Johnson (R-CT) and cosponsors, called that would require EPA to improve the accuracy of its fuel economy standards, which she claims are overstated. This would seem to be a powerful lever to actually improve fuel standards without entering into the CAFÉ debate.

Question: What happened to this bill? Anonymous insider accounts welcomed.

Here is an excerpt from my March post:

"Nancy Johnson (R-CT) and 24 bipartisan co-sponsors have introduced a bill in Congress that calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to improve the accuracy of its protocol for estimation of vehicle fuel economy (i.e., as measured in miles-per-gallon, mpg). According to a press release issued by Representative Johnson's office, "America's car buyers deserve truth-in-advertising when they buy a new car," said Johnson, who introduced the bill with Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and over two dozen bipartisan co-sponsors. "The current EPA tests clearly mislead car buyers. Car buyers think they're getting better mileage on the road and a better deal at the pump than they really are. This common-sense bill requires the EPA to update its 30-year-old tests to reflect today's driving conditions." The tests used by the EPA to measure fuel economy - the city/highway gas mileage figures that appear on a new car's sticker - are 30-years-old and are based on car technology from the late 1970s! and 1980s. According to government and auto industry experts, the tests produce gas mileage rates that are inflated from anywhere between 10% and 30%. The inflated rates mislead consumers into thinking they are getting better mileage on the road, and a better deal at the gas pump, than they really are."

Data should be accurate, who is going to argue with that? If the bill becomes law it may lead to profound effects on actual fuel economy and a political battle waged through EPA estimates of fuel economy....

Posted on July 29, 2005 12:18 AM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

May 19, 2005

Cart or Horse?

The energy policy debate over climate change has largely been framed as an issue of managing the global climate for long-term benefits with the extra benefits of reducing dependence on foreign oil, increased efficiency and decreased particulate pollution. For example, A New York Times editorial today restates this logic:

“there is some talk that Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman may offer a bill imposing industrywide caps as an amendment on the Senate floor. But a properly drawn energy bill has the potential to do much good, especially if it avoids rewarding the old polluting industries, as the House version does, and focuses instead on putting serious money behind cleaner fuels, cleaner power plants and cleaner cars. That these measures would also ease the country's dependency on overseas oil is, of course, a persuasive side benefit.”

But what if energy policy were to be characterized in terms of a primary need to reduce dependence on foreign oil, increased efficiency and decreased particulate pollution, and with the resulting side benefit of reducing the impacts of humans on the climate system?

The difference in framing is of critical importance for practical action, e.g., it shapes arguments made in advocacy, and influences the role of science in political debates. As progress on reducing emissions has yet to show any signs of success with respect to policy goals (e.g., such as those of the Climate Convention). A large body of experience -- including the adoption of Kyoto, Europe’s policy actions, the possibility of McCain/Lieberman, corporate and state endorsements of emissions limitations, etc. – might suggest that the current framing is not particularly effective. In this circumstance will there come a time when advocates for changes in energy policies consider how things might be done differently? Or are we, for better or worse, on the path that we are on for the long term? Thinking about degree to which changes to energy policy ought to be advocated in terms of their short term versus long term benefits might be a good place to start thinking about new options. Without a doubt, the current debate emphasizes the long term issues over the short term, which, and the Times states, are all but dismissed as merely a side benefit.

Posted on May 19, 2005 09:17 AM View this article | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

April 28, 2005

Bush Administration Goes Nuclear

From the Financial Times Wednesday:

“President George W. Bush will on Wednesday throw his support behind a worldwide expansion of nuclear power and announce plans for a new generation of oil refineries and natural gas terminals in the US… In addition to increasing capacity, Mr Bush believes nuclear power can also be part of the solution to climate change because it does not produce the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.”

From President Bush’s speech referred to by the FT,

“I'm looking forward to going to a G8 meeting in July in Great Britain. And there I'm going to work with developed nations, our friends and allies to help developing nations, countries like China and India to develop and deploy clean energy technology… With these technologies, with the expansion of nuclear power, we can relieve stress on the environment and reduce global demand for fossil fuels. That would be good for the world, and that would be good for American consumers, as well.”

Here is what we said a month ago (just in time!), “All of this looks to me like the Bush Administration is working towards some sort of major new initiative or announcement on nuclear power, all but certainly linked to the climate issue. Such an announcement would be responsive to Tony Blair’s calls for the U.S. to become more engaged in the climate issue, and would also raise some difficult issues for Bush’s historical opponents on the climate issue. The upcoming G8 meeting in Scotland in July would be a perfect opportunity to announce such an initiative.”

Now get ready for that debate.

Posted on April 28, 2005 01:05 AM View this article | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

March 28, 2005

The Coming Debate over Nuclear Power

Here is some background reading on this subject:

From the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, an article by Peter W. Huber and Mark P. Mills titled, “Why the U.S. Needs More Nuclear Power” arguing for more nuclear power. Here is an excerpt:

“Many Greens think that they have a good grip on the likely trajectory of the planet’s climate over the next 100 years…But serious Greens must face reality. Short of some convulsion that drastically shrinks the economy, demand for electricity will go on rising. Total U.S. electricity consumption will increase another 20 to 30 percent, at least, over the next ten years. Neither Democrats nor Republicans, moreover, will let the grid go cold—not even if that means burning yet another 400 million more tons of coal. Not even if that means melting the ice caps and putting much of Bangladesh under water. No governor or president wants to be the next Gray Davis, recalled from office when the lights go out.

The power has to come from somewhere. Sun and wind will never come close to supplying it. Earnest though they are, the people who argue otherwise are the folks who brought us 400 million extra tons of coal a year. The one practical technology that could decisively shift U.S. carbon emissions in the near term would displace coal with uranium, since uranium burns emission-free. It’s time even for Greens to embrace the atom.

It must surely be clear by now, too, that the political costs of depending so heavily on oil from the Middle East are just too great. We need to find a way to stop funneling $25 billion a year (or so) of our energy dollars into churning cauldrons of hate and violence. By sharply curtailing our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, we would greatly expand the range of feasible political and military options in dealing with the countries that breed the terrorists.

The best thing we can do to decrease the Middle East’s hold on us is to turn off the spigot ourselves. For economic, ecological, and geopolitical reasons, U.S. policymakers ought to promote electrification on the demand side, and nuclear fuel on the supply side, wherever they reasonably can.”

Read the whole essay here.

From CSPO’s policy perspective series an article by G. Pascal Zachary titled “Nuclear Resurgence, Part I” that discusses some possible obstacles and promises a second part on potential downsides. Here is an excerpt:

“A global revival of nuclear power is underway, spurred by higher oil and gas prices, rising demand for electricity in Asia, and growing worries of the role of carbon fuels in climate change.

Consider the following: China intends to build 24 to 30 nuclear plants in the next 15 years; this fall, the country issued a bid tender for the first 2 plants. India’s plans are less defined but possibly as ambitious, given the country’s growing need for electricity and its tiny reliance on nuclear power to date. Finland is building two new nuclear plants, Belgium is considering doing so, and France is studying a new generation of reactor technology. Oil-poor Japan, Korea and Taiwan, representing East Asia’s most important economies, are each building nuclear plants. In the U.S., which has the largest number of operating atomic power plants, no new plants are planned, yet operators of existing plants and the Bush administration are promoting a renewed building program around existing reactor technology and a new generation of commercial plants around so-called “high-temperature” reactors that are theoretically safer, cheaper to build and easier to run. Moreover, dozens of American nuclear-power plants, once thought to be destined for closure, are winning life-extension of at least 20 to 30 years, virtually guaranteeing that the U.S. will remain home to the largest number of commercial reactors in the world for the foreseeable future...

In recent months, I have been visiting nuclear power plants, interviewing their managers and the executives of utilities who own them. I have been surveying the recent literature in the field, talking with critics, and pondering the course of what others are identifying as a “nuclear spring.” In two short CSPO “Perspectives,” I will present several key questions arising from a revival of nuclear power. In the second paper, I will raise questions about security of nuclear plants, the potential for terrorist exploitation of these plants and the extent to which nuclear plants spur the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In this first paper, I will briefly survey four important questions about the economic, technical and environmental sustainability of nuclear power.”

Read the whole essay here.

Posted on March 28, 2005 08:35 AM View this article | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

March 24, 2005

Connecting Dots for a Nuclear Stratagem

Here are the dots that I am connecting:

According to yesterday’s New York Times,

(1) “In a speech on Monday at a two-day conference on "nuclear energy for the 21st century," Constance Morella, the American ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, told an audience of government officials and nuclear experts from more than 70 countries that American support of nuclear energy "has never been stronger." Nuclear energy is clean, reliable, necessary for the world to have a secure energy supply and "a benefit to humankind," she said. Ms. Morella cited a study estimating that global energy demand was expected to rise by about 60 percent over the next 25 years. "America hasn't ordered a nuclear power plant since the 1970's, and it's time to start building again," she quoted President Bush as saying recently.”

(2) According to an AP story, “In a message to the conference, U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman cited a University of Chicago study that showed nuclear power "can become competitive with electricity produced by plants fueled by coal or gas" because of new technologies delivering more efficient reactors. Echoing recent comments by President Bush, Bodman said: "America hasn't ordered a new nuclear power plant since the 1970s and it's time to start building again."”

(3) When President Bush’s science advisor John Marburger visited us last month he said, “We have a very big job ahead of us. Every country is going to have to use new technology, either to remove the Co2 from emissions from hydrocarbon burning power plants or to use some other way, some alternate method, of energy generation. So, this is what we have got to do and I think that we should get on with it and not get hung up over the Kyoto Protocol.”

(4) Dr. Marburger also said in reply to my question, “What is the future for the next four years on climate change like under the Bush Administration?”

“Well, I think we'll have to wait. I think perhaps the international conferences that are coming up, there is a G8 meeting, I think that there will be opportunities for the President to say what he intends to do. I don't have -- I mean, I can't talk too much of words in the President's mouth, but it is pretty clear where he has been and his commitment to this approach to taking responsibility for CO2 emissions is impressive to me. And I think that we ought to take advantage of the fact that we have a President who is willing to make and to advocate for that kind of investment, whatever we think about the details of the relation between Co2 emissions and actual climate change.”

(5) Condaleeza Rice recently said something similar in response to a question about climate change, “… from our point of view, from the point of view of the President, who has put forward an energy plan, a comprehensive energy plan to the Congress, we need to tap all supplies, all prospective supplies of energy, and that includes nuclear energy. The United States has not been in that business for a long time.”

All of this looks to me like the Bush Administration is working towards some sort of major new initiative or announcement on nuclear power, all but certainly linked to the climate issue. Such an announcement would be responsive to Tony Blair’s calls for the U.S. to become more engaged in the climate issue, and would also raise some difficult issues for Bush’s historical opponents on the climate issue. The upcoming G8 meeting in Scotland in July would be a perfect opportunity to announce such an initiative.

Posted on March 24, 2005 06:40 AM View this article | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

January 26, 2005

There is a Lesson Here

From Robert Bryce, writing in Slate yesterday,

“... a curious transformation is occurring in Washington, D.C., a split of foreign policy and energy policy: Many of the leading neoconservatives who pushed hard for the Iraq war are going green. James Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and staunch backer of the Iraq war, now drives a 58-miles-per-gallon Toyota Prius and has two more hybrid vehicles on order. Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy and another neocon who championed the war, has been speaking regularly in Washington about fuel efficiency and plant-based bio-fuels. The alliance of hawks and environmentalists is new but not entirely surprising. The environmentalists are worried about global warming and air pollution. But Woolsey and Gaffney—both members of the Project for the New American Century, which began advocating military action against Saddam Hussein back in 1998—are going green for geopolitical reasons, not environmental ones.”

Here is what Dan Sarewitz and I wrote on this two years ago,

“We believe that progress on developing cost-effective carbon-free energy sources will be more quickly stimulated through direct investments in energy research and technology justified for their own sake. If nothing else, the focus on climate uncertainty has distracted us from the fact that there are plenty of reasons to improve energy policy, not least of which are the national security benefits gained from energy independence, the environmental and health benefits of cleaner fuels, and the long-term economic efficiencies that can be delivered by renewable energy sources.”

Posted on January 26, 2005 08:27 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

October 21, 2004

Bring the Policy Back In

Consider the following imaginary scenario.

NGOs and a few other representatives of the oil and gas industry decide to band together to produce a report on what they see as needed and unnecessary policy actions related to climate change. They put together a nice glossy report with findings and recommendations such as:

*Coal is the fuel of the future, we must mine more.
*CO2 regulations are too costly.
*Climate change will be good for agriculture.

In addition, the report contains some questionable scientific statements and associations. Imagine further that the report contains a preface authored by a prominent scientist who though unpaid for his work lends his name and credibility to the report.

How might that scientist be viewed by the larger community? Answers that come to mind include: "A tool of industry," "Discredited," "Biased," "Political Advocate." It is likely that in such a scenario that connection of the scientist to the political advocacy efforts of the oil and gas industry would provide considerable grist for opponents of the oil and gas industry, and specifically a basis for highlighting the appearance or reality of a compromised position of the scientist.

Fair enough?

Ok, let's return to reality and consider a real world case. In this case the NGOs and other groups represent environmental and humanitarian groups that have put together a report (in PDF) on what they see as needed and unnecessary policy actions related to climate change. They put together a nice glossy report with findings and recommendations such as:

*Limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees (Celsius, p. 4) *Extracting the World Bank from fossil fuels (p. 15) *Opposing the inclusion of carbon sinks in the [Kyoto] Protocol (p. 22)

The report contains numerous references to specific weather events from 2004 as being caused by and evidence of human-caused climate change, which stretches the science to some degree (at least as assessed by the IPCC).

[From the press release is this statement: "This summer has been marred by the havoc wrought across the Caribbean by the hurricanes Jeanne and Ivan, and the worst flooding in recent years in Bangladesh. In a world in which global warming is already happening, such severe weather events are likely to be more frequent, and extreme."]

And here, finally, I get to the main point. The report has a forward written by R. K. Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC has adopted as a mandate an objective of being "policy relevant, but not policy prescriptive" (what this means is actually unclear).

It is troubling that the Chair of the IPCC would lend his name and organizational affiliation to a set of groups with members engaged actively in political advocacy on climate change. Even if Dr. Pachauri feels strongly about the merit of the political agenda proposed by these groups, at a minimum his endorsement creates a potential perception that the IPCC has an unstated political agenda. This is compounded by the fact that the report Dr. Pachauri tacitly endorses contains statements that are scientifically at odds with those of the IPCC. But perhaps most troubling is that by endorsing this group's agenda he has opened the door for those who would seek to discredit the IPCC by alleging exactly such a bias. (And don't be surprised to see such statements forthcoming.) If the IPCC's role is indeed to act as an honest broker, then it would seem to make sense that its leadership ought not blur that role by endorsing, tacitly or otherwise, the agendas of particular groups. There are plenty of appropriate places for political advocacy on climate change, but the IPCC does not seem to me to be among those places.

Let me also be clear on my views on the substance of report itself. Organized by the New Economics Foundation and the Working Group on Climate and Development, the report (in PDF) is actually pretty good and contains much valuable information on climate change and development (that is, once you get past the hype of the press release and its lack of precision in disaggregating climate and vulnerability as sources of climate-related impacts). The participating organizations have done a nice job integrating considerations of climate change and development, a perspective that is certainly needed.

More generally, the IPCC suffers because it no longer considers "policy options" under its mandate. Since its First Assessment Report when it did consider policy options, the IPCC has eschewed responsibility for developing and evaluating a wide range of possible policy options on climate change. By deciding to policy outside of its mandate since 1992, the IPCC, ironically, leaves itself more open to charges of political bias. It is time for the IPCC to bring policy back in, both because we need new and innovative options on climate, but also because the IPCC has great potential to serve as an honest broker. But until it does, its leadership would be well served to avoid either the perception or the reality of endorsing particular political perspectives.

Posted on October 21, 2004 12:32 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

October 11, 2004

An Equation for Science in Politics: SM = f(PP)

SM = Scientific Merit
PP = Political Perspective

The September, 2004 issue of Physics Today has an interesting story following up on the recent court decision on the status of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. The details of the case itself are interesting (we posted on this here and here), however I’d like to highlight a few passages from the story on how opponents on various sides of the issue characterize science.

The story notes how an opponent to Yucca Mountain characterizes the court’s ruling:

“Out in Nevada, where Yucca Mountain is located, State Attorney General Brian Sandoval all but pronounced the project dead, saying, "Simply put, Yucca is stopped in its tracks because the court recognizes that the project isn't rooted in sound science."”

It then notes how a proponent characterizes the same science:

“Back in Washington, DC, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), the organization that represents the nuclear industry, was expressing confidence that DOE would be able to meet the "eventual standard" of radiation safety for Yucca and that "the licensing process for the repository will continue without interruption or delay." NEI added that the "scientific basis for the facility . . . is still sound today."”

Then the Physics Today article comes to this conclusion:

“So the science is sound or it isn't, depending on whether you are in favor of or opposed to the federal government's plans to move some 77 000 tons of high-level radioactive waste into the mountain, beginning in 2010.”

In other words one’s perspective on the science is a function of one’s political views. One reaction to this situation, which is very common today in contested issues with a scientific element, has been to call for “more science” as a way to find unassailable proof or factual truth. But what if science does not provide a way out of difficult, contentious, and political issues like Yucca Mountain (or climate change or genetic modification, etc. etc.) and in fact makes things worse?

August 20, 2004

The Politics of Personal Virtue and Energy Policies

In April, 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney was criticized for downplaying the role of conservation as a tool of energy policy. He said,

“Now, conservation is an important part of the total effort. But to speak exclusively of conservation is to duck the tough issues. Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis all by itself for sound, comprehensive energy policy. We also have to produce more. The American people have worked very hard to get where they are, and the hardest working are the least likely to go around squandering energy or anything else that costs money. Our strategy will recognize that the present crisis does not represent a failing of the American people.”

This issue was sort of revisited by the New York Times last Sunday in an article about whether or not it is hypocritical for rich environmentalists to be jetting around on their private jets.

The article observes:

“Environmentalists in particular bear the imprint of their enemies. Most Americans think that so-called greens are "supposed to be dressing in wheat shoes and burlap and driving on donkeys," says Mr. [Bill] Blomquist [a political science professor at Indiana University-Purdue University]. As a result, he says, "any time they're not doing that, they're open to criticism." Environmental advocates privately admit that they'd prefer that their liberal donors fly commercial; some even call them outright hypocrites. But they also stress that policies matter more than purchases. "The Kerry energy plan has as its centerpiece an increase in fuel efficiency for automobiles, and they are a much larger environmental concern [than jets]," says John Coequyt, an energy policy specialist at Greenpeace. "Because there are more of them."”

It seems to me that the statement “[Conservation] is not a sufficient basis all by itself for sound, comprehensive energy policy” is pretty similar to “… policies matter more than purchases.”

The apparent bipartisan consensus that consumer choices about using energy matters less than the bigger picture decisions made by government may be exactly right. However, during an election year maintaining a focus on details of energy policy is difficult because of the importance of the symbols and stereotypes of personal virtue to the political contest. So we risk spending more time discussing who drives what or flies how, to the exclusion of discussing details of possible actions for effectively and beneficially providing the energy that modern society depends on.

Posted on August 20, 2004 11:18 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

August 12, 2004

Blackouts Are Inevitable

An editorial in the Washington Post on Aug. 10, "Blackouts Are Inevitable", argues that it’s not possible to prevent future blackouts. Instead, they suggest we should focus on fulfilling the mission of the electricity system and making the kind of changes that successfully transformed the air traffic control system.

They write:

“While making obvious improvements in control and operation of the grid, we should focus the greater part of our effort on fulfilling the mission of the electricity system, not on trying to prevent blackouts. When hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms or other problems black out the system, backup generators at hospitals, airports and other critical institutions prevent their missions from being interrupted.”

The editorial suggests a very different approach than that being articulated in Washington, such as using cost-effective and creative engineering approaches to accomplish critical missions. It ends with listing four tasks to accomplish their proposed objectives:

“The first task is to list the important missions that are accomplished by the electricity system. The second is to rank these missions in order of priority. Third, we must identify which missions are already protected. The fourth and final task is to find cost-effective ways of accomplishing the most important missions when the power fails.”

Posted on August 12, 2004 03:02 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Fisher, E. | Energy Policy

August 10, 2004

Designing the Electric Grid

Matthew Wald writes in today's Science Times that last August's blackout "spread so quickly that day largely because hundreds of components acted exactly as they had been programmed to do."

Meaning the nation's largest blackout was an unintended consequence, and a sobering reminder of the difficulties decision-makers face as science and technology become more powerful and complex. In this case, relays designed to protect electrical equiptment in the event of damaging currents tripped domino-like shutting down transmission and generation facilities. Not exactly a graceful failure, but not a catestrophic one either.

Anyone interested in more should check out the Kennedy School's Electricity Policy Group's site detailing information and analysis on the event.

Posted on August 10, 2004 11:07 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Ryen, T.S. | Energy Policy

July 27, 2004

Distinguishing Climate Policy and Energy Policy: Follow Up

In a post of mine earlier this week I observed that the climate mitigation community has largely ignored the geopolitical rationale for reducing dependence on fossil fuels. In a comment a reader asks for links to a bit more detail on this assertion. Here are a few articles of mine on this topic.

See this 1998 paper and also a related analysis now under review that updates and extends the 1998 argument:

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 1998: Rethinking the Role of Adaptation in Climate Policy. Global Environmental Change, 8(2), 159-170.

Pielke, Jr., R. A. (submitted). Misdefining Climate Change: Consequences for Science and Action, Environmental Science and Policy.

For a somewhat less wonky discussion see this 2000 article in The Atlantic Monthly I co-authored with Dan Sarewitz:

Sarewitz, D., R. A. Pielke, Jr., 2000: Breaking the Global-Warming Gridlock. The Atlantic Monthly, 286(1), 55-64.

Comments welcomed!

July 26, 2004

Distinguishing Climate Policy and Energy Policy

Yesterday’s New York Times included interesting story on the expected costs of climate change regulations to the auto industry. This excerpt is worth highlighting:

“"As a U.S. auto analyst, I'm very concerned about the risk side of the equation,'' said [John A. Casesa, an analyst at Merrill Lynch]. "For the domestic auto companies, we've had an accommodating energy policy, but there are new issues like climate change, and there are new geopolitical issues, defense issues, that relate to our energy policy.

"There's the potential for a confluence of events to occur,'' he added. "Americans could be more concerned about climate change, while at the same time we try to reduce our dependence on the Middle East for oil, for national security or political reasons. If these two strands come together, that would put a lot of pressure on policy makers, which would invariably lead back to higher fuel-economy standards.''”

For the most part, advocates of climate mitigation policies have ignored one of these strands.

July 15, 2004

Confusion about Science and Policy

A story on Yucca Mountain in today’s New York Times by Matthew Wald contains this interesting, and I think very misplaced, observation:

“Congress has made other decisions that substitute policy for science.”

What decisions are being referred to?

“In 1982, [Congress] decided that waste should be buried, and in 1987, it said waste should be buried at Yucca, one of three sites the Energy Department was then considering. There was no presumption that Yucca was best, only that it was a site on which everybody outside Nevada could agree, and was better than leaving the waste at reactor sites around the country.”

... and ...

“[Congress] alone decides what high-level waste is. It is considering a bill that would redefine some waste as not being high level, so the waste could stay where it is, in old steel tanks in South Carolina, rather than being solidified for burial at Yucca.”

"Science” alone cannot answer questions about whether or not to bury nuclear waste, where to bury that waste, what waste is risky, and how to bury or store that waste. The fact is that there is not a single technical answer to such questions because the answers involve considerations of different individuals’ and groups’ values and preferences, which differ widely. “Risk” is a subjective term. Politics is the process that we use to reconcile differences in values in preferences when we need to act together.

To suggest in this instance that Congress has made “decisions that substitute policy for science” is to fundamentally mischaracterize the role of science in decision making, and the differences between policy and politics.

On such confusion see:

Pielke, Jr., R. A. 2004. Abortion, Tornadoes, and Forests: Thinking about Science, Politics and Policy, Chapter 9, pp. 153-142 in J. Bowersox and K. Arabas (eds.) Forest Futures: Science, Policy and Politics for the Next Century (Rowman and Littlefield).

July 12, 2004

Yucca Mountain, Politics, Science, and the NRC

A fascinating dissertation is waiting to be written on the role of the National Research Council (NRC) in the policy and politics of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. NRC reports often (but not always) eschew explicit discussion of policy, and focus only on "the science." In practice, it is just about impossible to focus only on "the science" in cases where science is related to decisions. The case of Yucca Mountain makes this abundantly clear. Here is the short story:

An editorial in yesterday's Washington Post provided a nice summary of the situation:

"Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit complicated matters further, handing down a unanimous decision dismissing most of the objections that figured in multiple lawsuits against Yucca Mountain, save one -- but it's a big one. The court concluded that the Environmental Protection Agency acted wrongly when its regulations governing construction of the site demanded only that it guarantee its safety for 10,000 years. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences -- whose views Congress has said the EPA must comply with in these matters -- has declared that geological concerns should be considered for a much longer period, even up to a million years. If Yucca Mountain is to comply with the law, the entire project must be rethought or redesigned with that in mind. Alternatively, the law has to be changed."

For its part, the 1995 NRC report on the Technical Bases for Yucca Mountain Standards observes that there is no scientific basis for limiting predictions of risks to 10,000 years, and in principle such predictions could be made for 1,000,000 years. So in other words, there is no purely scientific basis for evaluating the risks of the facility, such decision must be made on factors other than science. Thus the NRC report observes,

"Although we have taken a broad view of the scientific basis for the standard, we have not addressed the social, political, and economic issues that might have more of an effect on the repository program than the health [risk] standard. In particular, we have not recommended what levels of risk are acceptable; we have not considered whether the development of a permanent repository should proceed at this time; nor have we made a judgment about the potential for Yucca Mountain to comply with the standard eventually applied."

But in fact, based on the decision rendered last week by the D.C. Circuit court, the NRC report did in fact determine what levels of risk are acceptable (i.e., 10,000 years is not enough) and it did stop the repository (i.e., as the Washington Post observes, "the entire project must be rethought or redesigned"). This is both ironic and dangerous because the NRC Committee that wrote the report on standards had no expertise or authority to determine acceptable risk, but this is exactly what it did. This is a scary thought because either (a) the NRC really did not consider extra-scientific factors and thus the D.C. Court's decision was based on an arbitrary scientific discussion, or (b) the NRC did consider extra-scientific factors but out of the public eye and behind the scenes. Either way, the process is not a shining example of how to connect science with politics.

Consequently, the D.C. District court has turned a discussion putatively about science into a question of politics. In other words, asking how many years into the future should Yucca Mountain be designed to be safe cannot be answered with science alone. An answer of 10,000 years, i.e., the standard that its development has proceeded under to date, is consistent with continuing the project's implementation. An answer of 1,000,000 years, i.e., the standard that the NRC report said could be done, is consistent with terminating the project's current implementation. There is not a scientific way to resolve this question. Appeals to "science" to make either case will clearly be a misuse of science via "arguing politics/morals through science." With John Kerry against Yucca Mountain and George Bush for it, there will be ample opportunities for both to misuse science in this case. We'll be watching.

One final note. The ultimate irony of this situation is that a prediction of 10,000 years and a prediction of 1,000,000 years are both nonsense (see our book Prediction for further discussion of predictions and Yucca Mountain). The idea that we can accurately predict risks to a nuclear waste storage site over thousands over years gives a new meaning to the notion of scientific hubris. So the D.C. Circuit Court's decision basically suggests substituting one set of nonsense for another, and opens the door to wages a political battle through supposedly objective science. There is cause for optimism. The National Research Council, in a 2003 report that deals explicitly with policy, recommends an approach to storing high-level radioactive waste called "adaptive staging" which instead of focusing on fictional predictions far into the future, focuses instead on the sort of decision processes on needs to keep waste safe in perpetuity, given that we can't accurately anticipate the future. Perhaps the D.C. Court decision will provide a chance for Congress to adopt this more sensible and practical approach.

The 2003 NRC report is titled One Step at a Time: The Staged Development of Geologic Repositories for High-Level Radioactive Waste.

June 29, 2004

Frames Trump the Facts

The July/August, 2004 issue of Sierra Magazine has an interesting interview with Berkeley’s George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics, on the “framing” of environmental issues.  (A side note, Lakoff seems to be a hot commodity as he also appears in the July/August issue of The Atlantic Monthly in an excellent article by James Fallows on the upcoming presidential debates.)

After being asked to define “framing,” Sierra asks Lakoff “How about "protecting the environment"? Is there a frame embedded there too?”  Lakoff’s reply includes the following:

“Environmentalists have adopted a set of frames that doesn’t reflect the vital importance of the environment to everything on Earth. The term "the environment" suggests that this is an area of life separate from other areas of life like the economy and jobs, or health, or foreign policy. By not linking it to everyday issues, it sounds like a separate category, and a luxury in difficult times.”

Then Sierra asks “What’s the alternative?”  Lakoff replies:

“When environmental issues are cast in terms of health and security, which people already accept as vital and necessary, then the environment becomes important. It’s a health issue–clean air and clean water have to do with childhood asthma and with dysentery. Energy that is renewable and sustainable and doesn’t pollute–that is a crucial environmental issue, but it’s not just environmentalism. A crash program to develop alternative energy is a health issue. It’s a foreign policy issue. It’s a Third World development issue.

If we developed the technology for alternative energy, we wouldn’t be dependent on Middle East oil. We could then sell or give the technology to countries around the world, and no country would have to borrow money from the International Monetary Fund to buy oil and then owe interest. This would turn Third World countries into energy producers instead of consumers. And it’s a jobs issue because it would create millions of good jobs in this country. So thinking and talking about environmentalism in limited terms like preservation of wilderness is shooting yourself in the foot.

That’s why the frame is so important. Most environmentalists believe that the truth will make you free. So they tell people the raw facts. But frames trump the facts. Raw facts won’t help, except to further persuade the people who already agree with you.”

This seems right on to me (as my students will attest!).  Four years ago, here is how Dan Sarewitz and I characterized the global warming debate in an article titled “Breaking the Global Warming Gridlock” which appeared in The Atlantic Monthly:

“In politics everything depends on how an issue is framed: the terms of debate, the allocation of power and resources, the potential courses of action. The issue of global warming has been framed by a single question: Does the carbon dioxide emitted by industrialized societies threaten the earth's climate? On one side are the doomsayers, who foretell environmental disaster unless carbon-dioxide emissions are immediately reduced. On the other side are the cornucopians, who blindly insist that society can continue to pump billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with no ill effect, and that any effort to reduce emissions will stall the engines of industrialism that protect us from a Hobbesian wilderness. From our perspective, each group is operating within a frame that has little to do with the practical problem of how to protect the global environment in a world of six billion people (and counting). To understand why global-warming policy is a comprehensive and dangerous failure, therefore, we must begin with a look at how the issue came to be framed in this way. Two converging trends are implicated: the evolution of scientific research on the earth's climate, and the maturation of the modern environmental movement.”

Here are links to the Sierra interview with Lakoff and to our 2000 paper on climate change.  (And for a more recent and wonky analysis of framing and climate change policy see this paper of mine, just out in Issues in Science and Technology.)

April 29, 2004

Singing from the Same Sheet

Does the debate over global warming and energy policy miss an important area of apparent bipartisan consensus on reasons to improve U.S. energy policy?

George W. Bush said on Wednesday,

“You can't be an innovative society if you're stuck on foreign sources of oil. You may be short-term, but long-term, I don't see how we can be the world leader if we're constantly dependent of foreign sources of oil.”

John Kerry’s campaign WWW site says,

“Americans spend more than $20 billion each year on oil from the Persian Gulf -- often from nations that are unstable and hostile to our interests and our values. [John] Kerry believes that we must end this dangerous dependence because it leaves American security and the American economy vulnerable.”

Posted on April 29, 2004 04:07 PM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Energy Policy

April 19, 2004

Country of Origin Labels for Gasoline

Imagine this -- you pull up to a gas station and you see labels on each pump identifying where the gasoline originated: “100% Saudi Arabian” or “50% Venezuelan, 50% Gulf of Mexico” or “100% Alaskan.” Such labels would allow consumers to express their preferences with their wallets and would allow different oil companies to differentiate their products by country-of-origin.

It is not too farfetched to imagine that all of those cars with American flags on them might have drivers who would pay more for non-Middle Eastern gasoline. Why would non-Middle Eastern oil cost more? Simple, there is much less of it. And greater demand for such oil would increase prices even further. Country of origin labels on gasoline would allow environmentalists, those concerned about U.S. reliance on Middle Eastern oil, and the “Buy USA” crowd to express their preferences through the market, and in the process, help to further national goals. It also would seem to appeal to an unlikely coalition of groups not traditionally aligned with one another.

Implementing such labels would not be easy. But we do have a precendent to learn from. In September, 2003 the U.S. General Accounting office released a report on challenges posed to certain agricultural markets by the 2002 Farm Bill, which required country-of-origin labels for certain foods that had previous been exempted from such requirements under the 1930 Tariff Act. A 1999 GAO report discussed some of the practical challenges of implementing country-of-origin labels.

If knowing country-of-origin makes sense for consumers of food, why not also for consumers of gasoline?

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