Why we are losing the War on Global Warming
December 4, 2006
Global Warming could end life. Food chains destroyed, coastal cities abandoned, ecosystems gone, crop failures, glaciers melted, killer weather, social breakdown, extinctions?. Many, including me, know such disasters are possible. Too few of the world’s politicians do, or so they pretend. Is it real or a fad, such as the famously wrong Club of Rome disaster forecasts? Answer: No. Global Warming is real, deadly and here.
I need your attention. These disasters and much more may happen. There is plenty of evidence supporting that view. But there are ways to save us. We must act now. Politicians must act decisively . International solidarity must be enlisted. The key words are “ACT NOW”. Act now means act now. There is plenty of urgency. I’ll provide the truth, you decide what to do.
THIS IS AN EXTRACT AND PREVIEW OF MY UPCOMING GLOBAL WARMING ESSAY
Is Global Warming Real?
Global Warming, or Climate Change, stands for the actual and forecasted increase in world average temperature, both in the atmosphere and, a little later, in the oceans. This increase is associated with a sharp increase in GreenHouse Gases, such as CO2 and methane, also known as GHGs.
Temperatures are currently up about 1.2 degrees Celsius since the 1750s. Carbon emissions are up by 600%. The increase in the atmosphere’s GHG concentration is about 55%. GHG concentration is far above historical levels, going back thousands of years. Both trends are accelerating, not slowing.
An example: The Yellow River is crucial to China and its thrust for modernization, supplying water for 140 million people, supporting thousands of factories and many of the new cities. It is essential to diverse and threatened older cultures, such as nomads. From an article in the New York Times:
“Grasslands were turning to desert, raising fears that the [Yellow] River’s source could be endangered…. [Scientists] found that the problem is much broader and is being caused by global climate change.
[Chinese officials] found that the glaciers feeding the river had shrunk 17 percent in 30 years. …. Glaciers across the entire Qinghai-Tibet plateau, which includes the Yellow River source region, are now melting at a rate of 7 percent a year because of global warming. The report also said average temperatures in Tibet had risen by 2 degrees since the 1980s
…. The combination of less rainfall and warming temperatures had thawed the surface layer of active permafrost and disrupted the underground water channels. Moisture is being absorbed deeper into the warmer ground, and less water is funneling into the Yellow River,
The warming trend has literally moved the ground. Some sections of Highway 214 now gently undulate because of melting permafrost. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the marvel that recently opened as the world’s highest railroad, has already reported track problems from the warming ground surface.
A nomad in a camouflage jacket described how the shoreline had receded more than 20 yards during the past decade. Other nomads have noted steadily rising temperatures,”
Perhaps the Yellow River has little impact on life in your part of the world. But there are similar abnormalities happening much closer to you, wherever you are. If not, there soon will be. You’ll notice if you have not already.
China is the second biggest emitter of GHGs and will be number one in a few years. The US currently holds the top position. Politicians in both countries see no need to effectively control emissions. Let’s look at the tale of concerned scientists. It’s about current events in the seventh biggest emitter: the Northeast US:
Changes consistent with global warming are already under way across the Northeast [US]. Since 1970, the region has been warming at a rate of nearly 0.5 degrees F per decade. Winter temperatures have risen even faster, at a rate of 1.3 degrees F per decade from 1970 to 2000. This warming has been correlated with many noticeable changes across the Northeast, including:
- More frequent extreme-heat days (maximum temperatures greater than 90°F).
- A longer growing season.
- Earlier leaf and bloom dates for plants.
- Shifts in the mating cycles of frogs to earlier in the year.
- Earlier migration of Atlantic salmon in northeastern rivers.
- An increase in heavy rainfall events.
- Earlier breakup of winter ice on lakes and river.
- Earlier spring snow melt resulting in earlier high spring river flows.
- Less precipitation falling as snow and more as rain.
- Rising sea surface temperatures and sea level.
- Reduced snow pack and increased snow density.
If Global Warming trends continue unabated, we will be extinct. If current trends flatten out, we are still in serious trouble. A big break in trends may save us, such as using 60% less fossil fuels. This is not an alarmist forecast. It is based on clear evidence seen in real life today. My upcoming essay in its three parts is meant to explain why.
CO2‘s life cycle in the atmosphere is about 100+ years. That of methane is shorter but still substantial. That means the emissions in the early 1900s are still around in the atmosphere. Current record emissions will affect the climate up to a hundred years into the future. That means the required break in our current emissions pattern must be that much more dramatic and painful.
Global Warming is a complex, interrelated system with three influences: 1) Compounding effects (aka risks) include: Continued GHG releases. There is a potential vicious loop where the warming trend causes the release of additional gases – one example is the warming of Siberian lakes, currently releasing vast amounts of methane. 2) Mitigating factors (aka opportunities) include: Conservation of energy, shift to non carbon fuels, capturing and storing carbon gases and geoengineering (modification) of carbon gases. We also have 3) Adaptation (aka band-aids) – we can adapt our ways to the climate changes by, say, moving to a safer area or substituting an extinct food source with a viable one.
The oceans serve as a huge depository for carbon, amounting to 36 TERATONNES. That’s 36 thousand billion metric tons – a whole lot. The atmosphere contains 0.8 teratonnes and biomass stores 1.9 teratonnes. Oceanic carbon is freely exchanged with the atmosphere in a complex balancing act. Let’s hope this precarious balance is not upset by, say, warming of the atmosphere and/or the oceans. Remember the Amazon rainforests – once a depository for carbon, now the deforested Amazon is a major emitter of carbon.
Although most agree the problem is real, there is less consensus about what precisely the future will bring and when things will happen. Every one acknowledges the huge uncertainties. You deal with a) the effects that are already present – temperatures and carbon emissions are up, b) the possible future catastrophic events due to continued GHG emissions and c) the uncertain political willingness to deal with the problem and – d) the impact of those who still argue there is no problem.
The Doomsday extremist scenarios assume no change or too little change, too late. A few scientists argue that we have already entered the positive, vicious feedback loop that cannot be reversed. Such a loop truly dooms mankind. Most still see solutions, difficult and hugely expensive. Politicians balk at such costs. What and who will prevail?
The other extreme, believing Global Warming is a myth, argues that the rise in temperature is a normal cyclic event. Some even claim that the temperature is cooling, allegedly based on satellite data. Some other opinions: Forecasts of future temperatures are worthless (I might partly agree there). Human acts have no significant impact on GHGs – the gases are practically all natural. Melting ice caps and coastal flooding are science fiction fantasies and political fear mongering. The enormous cost of reducing carbon gases does not produce benefits, only hardship.
THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXAMINATION OF A FEW ISSUES INVOLVING GLOBAL WARMING. THE UPCOMING ESSAY WILL DISCUSS MANY MORE ISSUES
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was born in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. This treaty did not set any mandatory limits on emissions of GHGs. Instead, it opened the door to subsequent Protocols to deal with limits.
The Kyoto Protocol of 2005 is such an agreement. It requires signatories to reduce GHGs. Here is the original press release:
The Kyoto Protocol is an agreement under which industrialized countries will reduce their collective emissions of GHGs by 5.2% compared to the year 1990 (but note that, compared to the emissions levels that would be expected by 2010 without the Protocol, this target represents a 29% cut).
The goal is to lower overall emissions of six GHGs – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, HFCs, and PFCs – calculated as an average over the five-year period of 2008-12. National targets range from 8% reductions for the European Union and some others to 7% for the US, 6% for Japan, 0% for Russia, and permitted increases of 8% for Australia and 10% for Iceland.” (Wikipedia)
About 160 countries have signed the Protocol. The protocol splits the requirement of nations to reduce emissions into two categories: “Annex 1” countries, mostly highly industrialized, are required to reduce emissions by large amounts and “Non-Annex 1” countries, mostly less developed, are not subject to any targets at all. “Annex 1” countries, groups and individual companies may purchase carbon credits (CERs) if they are unable to reduce gases as dictated.
The US and Australia signed but did not ratify the protocol and do not recognize the Kyoto goals. India and China, Non-Annex 1 countries, are not required to control gases at all, in spite of being major polluters. China is the largest polluter after the United States. India’s contribution to emissions is sky-rocketing. The US, Australia, China and India spew out 45% of the world’s CO2 emissions. None of this output is regulated by the Protocol.
The EU 25 (25 countries making up the European Union) contribute about 15%, Russia about 6%; Japan some 5% and Canada 2% of world emissions. These countries are about the only ones obliged to deal with the problem. Many of them already are very low level carbon polluters, making it close to impossible to meet the Kyoto reduction goals. These countries only stand for some 28% of the emissions. Suppose they cut their emissions to zero. The Kyoto goal of a 29% reduction would still fall short.
The remaining 128 countries stand for 27% of the GHG pollution – most with no obligation to control emissions. The bottom line is that most polluters get away with it – The US and Australia on legalities, China and India on, perhaps, superb negotiating skills. The developing world is actually making money on the deal using the carbon credit (CER) system. Mysteriously, this distribution of capital (CERs) from a few industrial countries to the less developed world was deemed necessary to reduce GHGs. My view is this is a highly inequitable system, likely to kill the whole process. There are better ways to finance development – much more to come.
The 12th Conference on Global Warming just finished its business in Nairobi, Kenya. A follow up to the Kyoto Protocol, 189 countries participated in the 2 week session. The US attended as an observer but made it perfectly clear that any decisions by the Conference would be utterly ignored by the US. The conference ended, as expected, with no decisions and a no-urgency attitude, deep divisions and much disagreement. These conferences, sponsored by the UN, have little to do with seeking solutions. They are political
showcases where some 6,000 attendees argue a lot, eat terrifically expensive meals, sneak off to a safari or two and contribute amazing amounts of rhetoric platitudes. Here is a sample:
The idea [about using sulphur dioxide to fight GHGs] is circulating at the UN climate change conference at Nairobi, where the reaction ranged from caution to concern about side effects. “Yes, by all means, do all the research,” Indian climatologist Rajendra Pachauri, who heads the UN network on climate change, told the Associated Press.
How is that for encouraging new ideas? The concerns are most likely right (SO2 can kill) but condescending platitudes are not. I’m sorry, but this conference just makes me mad.
The apparent Conference goal was to determine/renegotiate who can pollute how much beyond 2012 and how to sell carbon credits at the maximum dollar price. None of the goals were achieved. Interestingly, 2012 and beyond goals are supposed to be established although none of the goals from Kyoto 2005 are even close to be realized. No solutions. No urgency. This is $200 million and around 800,000 man hours spent on nothing every year. This is the 12th annual conference since the 1992 Rio meeting. Assume the same cost each time: that means $2.4 billion and 9.6 million man hours have been spent on these non events so far. Wasteful?
Trading CERs – carbon credits – is by now a major industry. A CER is a note allowing the buyer to emit a specific amount of GHGs, usually expressed as tons of CO2 equivalent. It is priced at, depending on CER market conditions, around $20 per ton of GHG emissions. CER prices fluctuate wildly, partly because of the market’s immaturity. Here are sample statements from Nairobi showing the open greed:
“…. A British merchant bank that has established the $1 billion Climate Change Capital fund that invests in carbon markets. She thinks there’s plenty of money to be made if the politicians and bureaucrats set stringent limits on how much carbon companies can emit.
“…. Every unit of carbon dioxide that goes out the window is a unit that could be sold.”
“…. Poor nations…. also are very eager to get their hands on funds that they believe will be generated when rich countries impose limits on CO2 emissions on themselves and begin trading emissions permits.
Less developed countries stand to benefit from selling their carbon credits manipulating, for instance, their deforestation practices. Some say this will transfer several hundred billion dollars from mostly Western Europe, Canada and Japan. That kind of money gets the additional attention of bankers and investment houses, eager to become clearing houses and trading partners against a modest fee.
A Non Annex 1 country that voluntarily reduces its emissions receives a carbon credit it can sell to any country, group or company that cannot meet its quota. The monitoring of actual improvements in emissions from the less developed world is spotty and unreliable, making it almost impossible to verify their rights to CERs. The oil rich, polluting OPEC countries also look for a piece of the pie. So do high polluting countries from the former Soviet block, such as Belarus.
There is no wonder many view the Kyoto Protocol as dead. Apart from the opposition of the US and Australia, many economists question the effectiveness of the Protocol. It is critiqued as inefficient, naively over-optimistic, inequitable and unlikely to significantly reduce Global Warming.
Cost benefit analysis generally shows it is more cost effective to stay out of the Kyoto Protocol than to comply. I’m not sure how such a cost benefit analysis deals with the possible extinction of mankind.
Kyoto and its predecessor UNFCCC have done little to reduce carbon gases or temperatures. It resembles an elephant stumbling along in a glass shop with a case of political brinkmanship. How will this thing make a difference?
What is the alternative? George W. Bush’s hands-off “voluntary industry policy”? I don’t think so. The Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate which the US does support? The countries involved do account for 50% of GHGs. The Partnership imposes no mandatory limits or incentives. It is up to each country to set its own policy. This, of course, brings on the wrath from the rest of the world for very good reasons. Global Warming is not a local or national problem; its scope is and must be world wide.
Here is a piece of news that came in from Bloomberg late November 2006:
Nobel Laureates Pushing Bush to Act on Global Warming
[Nov 20 2006] Environmentalists concerned about global warming want the U.S. Supreme Court to turn up the heat on President George W. Bush.
The justices, taking their first plunge into the debate over emissions that scientists blame for increasing the Earth’s temperature, hear arguments Nov. 29 in a case brought by conservation groups and 12 states. Their goal is to force Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency to regulate so-called greenhouse- gas emissions from new cars and trucks.
Bush argues that the government needs more scientific evidence before it acts against such emissions. A victory for environmentalists in the case, which may scramble the court’s usual ideological lineup, would “light a fire” under the administration, says Carol Browner, who headed the EPA under President Bill Clinton.
Below is an extract from a letter to George W. Bush from Senators Boxer, Binganam and Lieberman:
[Nov 15, 2006] As incoming Chairs of three important Senate Committees on global warming, we seek your commitment to work with the new Congress to pass meaningful climate change legislation in 2007. The U.S. must move quickly to adopt economy-wide constraints on domestic GHG emissions and then work with the international community to forge an effective and equitable global agreement.
Scientists are now warning that we may be reaching a “tipping point” beyond which it will be extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible, to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
The recent elections have signaled a need to change direction in many areas, including global warming. If we are to leave our children a world that resembles the earth we inherited, we must act now to address GHG emissions.
Maybe, just maybe, there are signs of hope. Any start, any initiative is good enough for me. I’m sure to follow this carefully. But George W. Bush is a formidable obstruction to all initiatives labeled climate change.
Hundreds of other organizations and agencies involve themselves in Global Warming. None, to my knowledge, has sufficient clout to deal with a world wide issue. In the final analysis, the UN is the only organization that can act on this scale. The UN has made its choice and that is the Kyoto Protocol. Let’s hope Kyoto develops into a more effective instrument – very soon.
Some higher echelons of society currently concern themselves with the notion of carbon taxes. This tax, not implemented internationally, would be levied on those that cannot or will not meet emission reduction targets. This concept is similar to the CERs (carbon credits) already in effect. The first goal is to make polluters pay, thus providing the incentive for them to better their ways. The second goal is to use the money to reward those exceeding the targets, thereby encouraging successful programs. The second point is valid for the CER system. It may or may not be the way a carbon tax would work.
Some countries already have carbon taxes. Sweden implemented its version in 1991. Finland, the Netherlands and Norway followed. The idea is discussed in the EU and a few other countries, including the US (at some level, certainly not that of George W. Bush) and Canada.
As an example, the Norwegian tax amounts to about 1.7% of total tax revenues and may have reduced carbon emissions by about 2.3% from what it might have been (Source: the Stern Report). As a result, emissions increased far less than economic growth. This program has been in effect for more than 10 years. The results are modest compared to the goals of the Kyoto Protocol that looks for emission reductions of some 70%.
The revenues from the Norwegian tax goes to the government’s regular tax income stream, not to low polluters as the CERs do. Further, the tax is not coordinated with that of any other country, including the rest of the Nordic countries, all of which have carbon taxes. Thus, the cost of pollution differs from country to country, which is both inequitable and unwise from a competitive stand point.
Therein lies the problem: although a carbon tax may be quite effective, it takes real political guts to make it ruthless enough to ensure emission goals. It’s equally difficult to coordinate national taxes with the rest of the world in an equitable manner.
To maximize the payoff of a political solution to Global Warming, it really is not critical to include every country in an initial stage. Getting the EU, the US and Canada, Japan and Russia to enact a coordinated tax system is easier than the Kyoto attempts to make 200 nations agree. Once these industrial countries have effective programs in place, strong pressure could be placed on China and India to join. At that point, over 70% of GHG emissions would be controlled by an equitable system. The rest of the world could join the club only if they prove willing to take action, not subsidies, to reduce their emissions.
The CER system, on the other hand, is coordinated internationally and nationally. A CER is a CER, wherever you live. The CER price is based on a supply and demand. Many view the CERs as an equitable and fair system. I disagree, given its current form, being effectively a subsidy or entitlement from a few to a mass of countries with no obligations.
In EU, CER trading is handled by a its Emissions Trading Scheme, operating like a specialized commodity market where the trading partners are companies, groups and nations involved in emissions. Its may top $100 billion within a few years. This market is a prototype of what might be installed on a world wide basis – or at least in the Kyoto countries. Whether or not the biggest player – the US – will participate depends on a) the next President – Democrat or Republican? or b) whether a better solution than CERs is on the table. George W. Bush will not take action on any alternative under any circumstance.
Summary carbon taxes, CERs
Get the EU, the US and Canada, Japan and Russia to enact a coordinated, hard core tax system. Once these countries have effective, agreed on programs in place, place strong pressure on China and India to join. At that point, over 70% of GHG emissions would be controlled by an equitable system. The rest of the world could join the club only if they prove willing to accept the responsibility, not subsidies, to reduce their emissions.
The US passed the Clean Air Act in 1963. It was amended in 1966, extended in 1970 and amended again in 1977 and 1990. I’ll deal with the 1970 version here. Canada, the UK and others also have enacted Clean Air legislation.
The 1970 law empowers EPA to establish and enforce emission standards for certain airborne pollutants. These standards are quite demanding and in some cases overly ambitious. The auto industry, for instance, required extensions due to technical and economic issues. The law has four main parts: 1) a national air quality standard, 2) a performance standard specifying limits for different industries and regions, 3) limits specific to cars (90% reduction of certain emissions), 4) rules for engaging states in the enforcement of the law.
At the time, acid rain was quite an issue, destroying forests, fresh water supplies and soils. Acid rain is caused by industrial emissions of SO2. Power plants and the pulp and paper industries are examples of SO2 polluters. These industries faced major capital expenses to reduce emissions to the set standards. Typical remedies are elaborate scrubbers attached to smoke stacks. These are expensive, both as capital investment and as operating costs.
Emission trading is a related scheme: a facility is issued a license to emit a certain level of a pollutants. After installing clean up equipment, the facility has the right to sell the surplus part, if any, of the license. This is similar to CERs but with the important difference that the emission trading is not a subsidy from one nation to some non-regulated country. It is a US company to a US company trade.
The 1970 Act resulted in major reductions in many polluting emissions. SO2, for instance, turned almost immediately from a rapid increase in the ‘sixties to an equally rapid decline, starting very soon after the Act was passed. SO2 emissions today are only 30% of what they would have been without the Act. The Act was expensive to industry but very friendly to the environment.
Some say the Act does not sufficiently reduce SO2 even at the current 70% reduction. Another major problem is the lack of targets for CO2 – an obvious issue today.
The landmark 1970 Act was amended and extended several times up till 1990. Ronald Reagan did his best to ignore the Act. The Candidate Bush promised mandatory reduction targets for SO2, CO2, mercury and nitrogen oxide. The President Bush forgot that promise immediately after taking office. VP Dick Cheney is doing all he can to ROLL BACK the Clean Air Act as a favor to his buddies.
The issue of the EPA refusing to regulate CO2 using the CAA and its mandatory limits is now a case before the US Supreme Court. The case is brought by 11 states and a few cities. The case goes back to 1999 and was heard before the Supreme Court in late November 2006. Transcripts from the hearing reveals total confusion, misunderstandings and an apparent unwillingness by the court to take on such a “complex issue”. Source: Slate and others.
Under previous administrations [Clinton] the EPA did enforce these very same regulations [on CO2]. Now [under George W. Bush] they are saying they aren’t required to use this authority.
“The Supreme Court’s first public discussion of global warming was, in large part, an inquiry into the opportunity — or lack of it — to bring a lawsuit to try to force the government to promptly address the problem (the ‘standing’ issue)”.
Chief Justice John Roberts—whose distaste for the baby penguins, the polar ice caps, and anything else ….characterizes the scientific reports in this case as “spinning out conjecture on conjecture”.
Scalia shoots back that he’s not a scientist, laughing, “That’s why I don’t want to have to deal with global warming, to tell you the truth.”….Justice Antonin Scalia asked, “When is the predicted cataclysm?”
The EPA’s argument, presented by Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Garre, quickly sounds very familiar. 1) I can’t clean it up; 2) Even if I could, I don’t want to clean it up; 3) You can’t make me clean it up; and 4) China is making an even bigger mess.”
Roberts chimes in that even if the United States reduces its own emissions, it would be irrelevant if China doesn’t regulate its own greenhouse gasses. Scalia wants reassurance that a “reduction by two and a half percent in carbon dioxide … would save two and a half percent of the coastline.”
Garre insists that there is a “likely connection” between greenhouse gases and global warming but that “it cannot unequivocally be established.”…. argues that carbon dioxide is not a “pollutant” within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.
“A decision dismissing the case on standing grounds is a real possibility.”
That, dear Reader, is the Supreme Court in action. They sound like a hapless sub committee to the UN chaotic and inefficient Nairobi Conference. Scalia LAUGHING about it?
Bush and Cheney are trying to pass a Clear Skies Act watering down the CAA. EPA estimates this Clear Sky Act would kill 4,000 Americans a year due to its lax standards, not to mention no coverage of GHGs. Of all people on Earth, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are the two biggest human contributors to Global Warming and environmental problems. It’s a crime, it’s a shame and it’s unbelievably stupid. America and the world deserves better than these two lunatics. To be polite about it.
Summary imposing limits
Extending the Clean Air Act to cover GHG emissions is an obvious, simple common sense initiative. That would curb the disastrous US carbon gas emissions. CAA has a proven, successful track record. Extending the CAA concept internationally could reduce many ill effects of Global Warming. Criminally incompetent and corrupt, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney see it differently. They do their best to go the opposite way. They force us all to face disaster.
THE ABOVE IS AN EXTRACT AND PREVIEW OF MY UPCOMING GLOBAL WARMING ESSAY
Global Warming is a very complex issue indeed. It is also a very serious problem facing all of us. That is why I have invested in a 120+ page essay, examining many of its facets ranging from what is happening in GHG emissions, temperatures, polar regions, tundras, coral reefs, ocean currents, precipitation and much else. I evaluate the effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol and the Stern Report. I look at the hopelessly ineffectual political playground. I’ll even suggest some approaches to reduce the ill effects of Global Warming. Stand by!
Thanks – Karl