Keeping Global Warming in Perspective

 

The evidence for man-made global warming is now overwhelming. For example:

  • The extent of artic summer sea ice is steadily shrinking.
  • The world’s oceans are getting warmer.
  • Spring in the U.S. is coming sooner each year on average.

The three biggest carbon emitters in the world are China, the U.S. and India in that order. But what is also true, and not sufficiently well appreciated, is that carbon emissions in the U.S. are dropping while they are still increasing in China and India:

  • In the 2015 Paris climate agreement, China pledged that it would start reducing carbon emissions by 2030 but, in the meantime, is still continuing to open coal burning power plants.
  • In the U.S. carbon emissions have been steadily decreasing since 2000 (see chart).
  • In India the economy is growing at 7% per year and 240 million people still lack electric power. This means that carbon emissions from coal burning are likely to double in the years ahead.

Coal use in the U.S. will continue to drop with or without enforcement of the Obama era Clean Power Plan because natural gas is now so plentiful and so much less expensive than coal. The best way for the U.S. to continue showing leadership in combatting global warming is for it to adopt a revenue-neutral carbon tax.  This would let the market sort out which type of energy is the cleanest and most efficient in meeting our country’s growing energy needs.  In fact a carbon tax might even be beneficial for the coal industry by creating a strong incentive to develop carbon capture and storage technology.
Conclusion. Most Americans now agree that global warming is real and that this presents a huge threat to human civilization.  It is likely that a revenue-neutral carbon tax will be adopted by our country in the near future.

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Creating a Carbon-Free World

 

Tomorrow the United Nations climate conference opens in Paris.  According to Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist, “We can talk about a carbon-free world, or we can create one.” Continues Mr. Thiel, “The single most important action we can take is thawing a nuclear energy policy that keeps our technology frozen in time.”
CaptureConsider:

  • Wind and solar together provide less than 2% of the world’s energy and they aren’t growing anywhere near fast enough to replace fossil fuels.
  • China’s coal consumption is growing at 2.6% per year and India’s at 5%. In India there are 300 million people without access to electricity. The Paris plan wants India to be satisfied with a .6 metric ton of oil equivalent per person, when a minimum of at least four tons per person is needed for the development of an advanced nation.
  • Safety fears about nuclear power are overblown. The 1979 accident at Three Mile Island caused no significant amount of radiation to be released. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster was caused by a faulty design and operator incompetence. Fewer than 50 people were killed by released radiation compared with 13,000 killed every year by smoke from coal-fired power plants. The 2011 Fukushima disaster resulted in no deaths from radiation.
  • A new generation of American nuclear scientists has produced designs for better reactors which have the potential to overcome the biggest obstacle to the success of nuclear power: high cost.

I hear many people say that the U.S. needs to provide leadership in getting the world to stop using fossil fuels.  A carbon tax would provide an economic incentive to either move away from fossil fuels or clean them up.  But even a revenue neutral carbon tax would face strong political resistance. Climate change activists should consider supporting nuclear energy development as perhaps the most viable alternative to fossil fuels.

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The Evidence for Rapid Climate Change

 

My last post, “Why We Badly Need a Revenue Neutral Carbon Tax” makes the case for combatting global warming with a sensible free market mechanism such as a carbon tax rather than a hodge-podge of arbitrary national and state regulatory actions. Since many of the Facebook responders to this post deny the reality of global warming in the first place, I have decided to present the overwhelming evidence for its existence.
When ninety-seven percent of climate scientists worldwide agree that climate change is real and they have assembled a massive amount of measurement data to back up this claim, I think we have to take them seriously. For example:

  • The Global Surface Temperature is Rising. Global average temperature has risen 1.4 F since the early 20th century as shown in the chart just below which also shows the close correlation with carbon-dioxide concentration.
    Capture2
  • The Sea Level is Rising. It has risen at an average rate of 1.7 mm/year over the last 100 years and at the rate of 3.5 mm/year since 1993 which is equivalent to one inch every seven years.
  • Global Upper Ocean Heat Content is Rising. The top 700 meters have warmed by .3F since 1969. Thermal expansion of the ocean water as it warms contributes to the sea level rise.
  • Glacier Volume is Shrinking Worldwide. Just Greenland and Antartica alone have lost at 150 cubic kilometers of ice annually in recent years.
  • Declining Artic Sea Ice. Both the extent and thickness of artic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades (see chart below).
    Capture1I accept the reality of the scientific evidence for global warming but I am certainly no “alarmist” in terms of what our response should be towards addressing it. It will be many, many years before renewable energy sources like wind and solar are able to make a substantial dent in worldwide energy needs.
    The best thing to do in the meantime is to attempt to decrease carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels through carbon capture and storage. A carbon tax would create a huge economic incentive for the coal and oil industry to solve this problem. If and when they figure it out, it is likely that the technology involved would rapidly spread around the world.
    This would represent a real solution to a very serious problem.

What Is the Best Way to Cope with Climate Change?

 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just issued it’s latest and most definitive assessment about the extent of global warming.  The earth’s average temperature has increased by .85 degrees centigrade since 1880 and is on track to increase to 2 degrees centigrade in a relatively short time span.  Such a major climate change will have severe repercussions for human life.
CaptureThere is much evidence for the IPCC’s gloomy prognosis.  Most convincing for me is that the extent of the summer artic ice cap is steadily shrinking, as demonstrated in the above chart.
The Environmental Protection Agency is attempting to decrease carbon emissions by regulation but there is a limit to what can be accomplished in this way:

  • The EPA’s goal is a 30% reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2030. But the only way that this can possibly be achieved is by substituting the use of natural gas for coal, which reduces carbon emissions by 50%
  • The current low cost of natural gas is making nuclear power less economically viable even though nuclear power has no carbon footprint at all.
  • In addition to creating such constraints, this approach also has led the EPA to set complicated and arbitrary goals on carbon emissions for each state individually.

In other words, by employing onerous regulations the EPA will only, at best, be able to achieve a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. Of course, this is better than nothing but it is not nearly enough to significantly slow down global warming.  Even if European countries succeed in meeting similar targets as the ones set for the U.S., this leaves out the largest carbon emitter of all, namely China, as well as the rest of the developing world. Since it is impractical to eliminate the use of fossil fuels altogether, or even come close to doing so, the emphasis should be on limiting carbon emissions.  In other words, we should create incentives for carbon “sequestration,” i.e. the capture and storage of carbon when burning fossil fuels.   The way to do this is with a tax on the release of carbon into the atmosphere.  Such a carbon tax would provide a huge incentive for energy and power companies to develop the best possible sequestration techniques. With an economic incentive to do so, U.S. technological ingenuity will quickly develop effective methods for carbon sequestration.  Once discovered and perfected, their use would rapidly spread around the world. Climate change is real and we need an effective way to address it.  A carbon tax is the best way to get the job done.

Why We Need a Carbon Tax V. We’re Playing with Matches!

 

“Risk is like fire: If controlled it will help you; if uncontrolled it will rise up and destroy you.”                                                                            Theodore Roosevelt,   1858 – 1919

Just a few days ago I featured an Op Ed column in the New York Times “The Coming Climate Crash” by Henry Paulson, the former Secretary of the Treasury.  He discusses global warming as an economic issue.  The increasing number of severe storms, deeper droughts, longer fire seasons and rising sea levels it will cause will wreak tremendous economic damage on our country and the whole world as well.
CaptureA new report, “Risky Business” produced by the Risky Business Project, elaborates much further on this theme.  “The American economy is already beginning to feel the effects of climate change.  These impacts will likely grow materially over the next 5 to 25 years and affect the future performance of today’s business and investment decisions in the following areas: coastal property and infrastructure (damaged by storm surges and higher sea levels); agriculture (disrupted by higher temperatures); energy (costs will go up to provide more cooling).”
In addition to the large scale economic effects referred to above, global warming will affect each of us in a very direct way.  For example, in Omaha NE where I live, in just a few short years the current average of about 10 days per summer with a temperature over 95 degrees F, will increase to about 25 such summer days.
All of these effects are assuming that we continue on our present course of rapidly increasing CO2 build up in the atmosphere.  We do have a choice in this matter.  We can cut back but it will take a big effort to accomplish this.  The whole world needs to cut back and it is up to the U.S. to lead the way.
Republicans need to step forward on global warming.  It is highly irresponsible to say that any anti-carbon measures we take will just hurt our economy and ignore all of the harmful effects of proceeding on our present course.  It is also irresponsible to say that we can’t act unless everyone else does too.  If we are exceptional, and I agree that we are, then it is up to us to set an example for the whole world.
We need fiscal conservatives in office to address our very serious deficit and debt problems.  But fiscal conservative have to win the trust of a wider group of voters to show that they are deserving of broader support.

Why We Need a Carbon Tax III. Natural Gas Is Not a Real Solution

 

Most people agree that global warming is for real and that it is caused by a buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mostly from carbon dioxide.  We need to respond to this existential threat and the U.S. should lead the way.  The Environmental Protection Agency’s new regulations call for a 30% reduction in carbon emissions, from 2005 levels, by 2030.  Since fracking has led to a natural gas boom in the U.S. and the burning of natural gas only emits half as much carbon as the burning of coal, it is very likely that the new EPA rules will lead to a major replacement of coal by natural gas in U.S. energy production.
CaptureBut there is a downside to this approach as pointed out in yesterday’s New York Times, “The Potential Downside of Natural Gas,” as follows:

  • Natural gas is starting to replace nuclear power which has no carbon footprint. Last year five reactors announced that they would close because of the low cost of natural gas. This will increase CO2 in the atmosphere.
  • Fracking for oil produces natural gas as a side product which may not be easily marketable. This excess natural gas is either burned off or escapes unburned releasing methane which causes even more damage than CO2.
  • The low cost of natural gas is also slowing down the development of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.

A far more efficient system of reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be to tax its emission from any fuel source.  The most commonly mentioned amount is $20 per ton which would raise the price of gasoline by about 10 cents per gallon.   This way the use of all forms of fuel, including coal, oil and gas, would be taxed equally based on how much carbon they emit.  This would create a huge economic incentive for developing carbon capture in fuel combustion, which is the ultimate solution to eliminating CO2 emissions.
In other words, we have a huge problem on our hands which needs an effective solution.  Half measures will not get the job done and will just cause lots of confusion and political controversy in the meantime.  It’s time for some real leadership!