Saturday, December 19, 2009

Global Climate Deal

Well this hardly needs me to say it, but what a farce. Did it really take thousands of people showing up for two weeks in Copenhagen to decide that we ought to limit future temperature increases to 2C? This could have been done by email. While they were at it why didn't they just agree that all future hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and droughts would be canceled? To make this happen they are adding an appendix of what everyone is agreeing to, which will not be binding and in any event wouldn't get close to limiting emissions enough to meet the temperature goal.

Of course a six year old could have predicted this outcome. Since all these world leaders aren't that stupid they must be incredibly cynical to let this circus continue. Whoever thinks these negotiations are going anywhere doesn't seem to grasp that there is no we. It is not in the interest of any one country or block of countries to do this, so it simply won't get done. They can meet until the cows come home and it still won't get done.

And as an aside where in the world did these payments to developing countries get to be a main topic. I'm sure it is a very nice thing to do, and all those leaders like Mugabe are looking forward to their new cars and airplanes, but in what way does that lower planetary emissions? It sure looks like guilt money to me. And it has the advantage of being something that the leaders of the developed countries could possibly do, probably by just redirecting other aid.

The only way we could possibly limit emissions to the levels needed would be by shutting down trade with the developing nations until they would agree to stringent limits on emissions produced by their exports. Trying to do this would likely destabilize the planet politically, which could lead to war. Read up on the origins of world war two, both in Europe and Asia. Now that everyone has nukes this cure might be worse than the disease, but who knows. In any event I don't think anyone has the stomach for it. Especially since the developed countries probably don't have the will to put up with the economic hardships that would be required to switch off of fossil fuels fast enough anyway.

So the only possible answer is a massive effort in new low carbon energy technology along with figuring out some way to suck all this extra carbon out of the atmosphere. The sooner we realize that "joint self control" is a failed strategy, the sooner we can get on with doing something useful.

Monday, December 7, 2009

My Part in A Global Climate Deal

After reading about the bold proposals from China and India in the weeks leading up to the Copenhagen summit I realized that my family needed to act in concert to reduce the threat to our planet. Just like these great nations we need to do more than just talk about the issue we need to take a stand and make some firm commitments. As a result I have decided that by 2020 the Nierenberg family will reduce its carbon intensity by 50% compared to 1990 levels. Now I realize that this is even a larger commitment than China and India have made, and I also realize that they have picked a much later base year, but this issue is so important that I am willing to go the extra mile.

Carbon intensity is measured as the amount of Carbon emitted divided by the amount of output produced. In the case of China and India the output is defined as GDP. In my case the output is defined as income. I report that income each year to the IRS. You might be concerned that I would deliberately overstate my income, and use that to meet my targeted intensity goal. After all the higher my income the more carbon I can output under this proposal. But the IRS requires that I pay a substantial tax on my income so I have little incentive to do that. In the case of China and India there is no such penalty, but as they are national governments I'm sure that their reporting of GDP will be completely accurate.

On the output side all three of us will have to be on the honor system. There is really no way to tell exactly how much carbon any of us are producing. But we will all make a good faith effort to record our activities so that we can make an accurate calculation.

Now you may object that the US as a whole needs to reduce its total output of carbon, and that while my proposal reflects a significant effort on my part it won't do enough to help the entire country get to the kind of reductions that are necessary. I think in saying this you aren't taking into account the fact that many families in the US output more carbon than we do, and have been over a long period of time. After all my grandparents arrived in this country only at the beginning of the twentieth century, and since they had relatively small families the total number of their descendants is minuscule relative to families that arrived earlier and had much more time to procreate. My grandparents were also very poor for much of the early century so their relative output was small. Just as an example look at families like the Kennedys, and the Rockefellers. It is clear to me that those families bear the responsibility of cutting their carbon output long before relatively small and new families like ours should have to.

Itt is true that it is very likely that just for reasons of general efficiency, and economy, and because of the overall growth in my income, I was likely to make or even exceed these goals even before Copenhagen. But why should I be penalized for all the great work that I have been doing?

Of course I have some concerns about what will happen if we can't meet this ambitious goal. After all look what happened to the European countries that failed to meet their Kyoto commitments. But I am willing to take the risk knowing full well that India and China face the same risks that I am taking.

So I hope this adds to the political consensus that is building, and I am very happy to have done my part.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

There were a flurry of news articles recently covering a survey study by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. The BBC was typical with this headline "Major Sea Level Rise, as Antarctic Melts." The subhead of the article uses a 1.4M high end for the rise in sea level.

The article starts with the IPCC projections of 28-43 cm, which isn't the full range in any event. Says that the IPCC report concluded that this was "almost certainly too low", which is wrong, and then goes on with quotes from the director of the survey.

Colin Summerhayes, I guess sensing that the rest of the report's conclusions are dull, discusses the Antarctic contribution to sea level rise. He says it could add "tens of centimeters." So you might wonder how do get from tens of centimeters to a meter of additional rise. Well you have to add in melt from other areas. What is his basis for doing that. Well he doesn't have one. Maybe his feeling.

So, of course rather than trying to figure this out from a news story I went to the actual report. And what you learn when you do that is that it is even an attempt to make a new sea level estimate. The 1.4M figure is taken from my old friend Rahmstorf 2007. I wonder if they get a free shopping day for being the one millionth citation to this weakly argued paper.

The BBC says that many other studies support these conclusions but fail to mention any. And I might add that the only to the SCAR paper makes it clear that the conclusion is entirely based on the Rahmstorf paper. It would seem to be pretty embarrassing that one of the main conclusions that you talk about from your study group is based on a single paper from three years earlier.

Some might fall back on the conclusion that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would contribute tens of centimeters. This led them to look for the Rahmstorf study since perhaps it was so different than the IPCC report. But this seems to be based on the myth that the IPCC report didn't account for glacial melt in Antarctica. Section 10.6.3 fully discusses this contribution. There is no attempt in this study to reconcile their conclusions with the conclusions of the IPCC chapter.

Reading the SCAR release you can't blame this one on the press. They make the 1.4M meter forecast one of their main bullet points, even though they are just referencing a single three year old paper. I once again am tired of having to do forensic analysis on just about everything published by the scientific community to figure out what they really studied and what they are really concluding.