Vol. VII, No. 1

Vol. VII, No. 1

February 13, 2008

Politics

Cap-and-Trade-It’s Baaack!

Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) plan to introduce a bill that would employ a cap-and-trade scheme to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.   On Wednesday, the Commerce Committee held hearings, chaired by McCain, at which Lieberman testified about the bill.

The draft bill’s targets and timetables are a little less onerous than those required under the Kyoto Protocol, but would still present a significant challenge.  It would require reductions in all greenhouse gases to 2000 levels by 2010 and to 1990 levels by 2016.  All sectors of the economy would be included.

Senator Lieberman testified that one of the major benefits of the bill would be to provide “regulatory certainty” for businesses that are in limbo on what Congress might do.  But the bill itself offers no comfort to businesses who think this will buy them certainty.  For example, the bill states that the tradable allowances that would be available to businesses are “not a property right, and nothing in this title or any other provision of the law limits the authority of the United States to terminate or limit a tradable allowance.”

The bill also requires the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere to re-evaluate the appropriateness of the allowances established under the bill every two years,  and to review the level of emissions reductions established by the bill in 2008 and 2012, and to submit a report to Congress along with legislative recommendations for modification of the level.  So much for regulatory certainty!

Lieberman claims that the bill is “the first realistic U.S. proposal to deal with the problem” of global warming.  But it is well known that even if the entire world complied with the Kyoto Protocol, it would have virtually no effect on the climate.  The McCain-Lieberman proposal is simply irrelevant.  Lieberman apparently thinks differently, however.  In a comment to the committee, he noted that the year 2002 was the second warmest in recorded history and probably would have been warmer had it not been for the fact that manufacturing output has dropped in the U.S. (see below).  Apparently Lieberman believes that an insignificant thing like a small drop in manufacturing output in one country has immediate effects on the climate.

Another witness at the hearing was Randy Overbey, President of Alcoa’s Energy Business.  His company wants greenhouse gas credits for reducing their emissions of perfluorocarbon, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas.  “These emissions usually occur when there is an interruption to the electrolytic smelting process, known as the ‘anode effect,’” said Overbey. 

Alcoa has reduced these emissions by 56 percent over the last decade.  But why should a company get valuable credits for something it would have done anyway?  Reducing interruptions to manufacturing processes saves the company money.  Alcoa is just one of many business enterprises that will be trying to double dip at taxpayer or consumer expense under McCain-Lieberman.

On a more positive note, Dr. James R. Mahoney, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, testified about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s strategic plan on climate research.  In response to questions about the need to move forward with policy, he pointed out that there are still major uncertainties in the science and that Congress should avoid leaping into policies that would inflict serious economic harm on U.S. citizens.  He also pointed out that the Kyoto Protocol would cost the U.S. as much as $400 billion per year.

Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Oreg.) attacked the administration’s emphasis on science and said that it looks bad for the U.S. to be dragging its feet when Europe and other allies are going forward with Kyoto.  Mahoney countered that it is much easier for Europe to comply with Kyoto.  Italy’s population, for instance, will fall over Kyoto’s compliance period and Germany’s population has leveled off, similar population trends are common throughout Europe.  The U.S. population on the other hand is still growing. 

Mahoney also explained to the Senator that the administration has a responsibility to weigh many concerns and issues, not just global warming and that those decisions must be made on the basis of good information, hence the strategic plan on global warming research.

Economics

EIA Releases U.S. Data on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The U.S. experienced a significant decline in greenhouse gas emissions during 2001, according to data released by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration.  Emissions totaled 1,883 million metric tons carbon equivalent in 2001, a fall of 1.2 percent from 2000.  This represents the largest percentage decrease in the U.S. during the 1990 to 2001 period.  The average growth rate of emissions since 1990 has been 1 percent per year, and 2001’s decline is the first since 1991, which saw emissions fall 0.6 percent.

EIA attributes the decline to a combination of factors:

·    A reduction in economic growth from 3.8 percent in 2000 to 0.3 percent in 2001.

·    A 4.4 percent reduction in manufacturing output that lowered industrial emissions.

·    Warmer winter weather that decreased demand for heating fuels.

·    A drop in electricity demand and coal-fired power generation.

Greenhouse gas emissions were still well above 1990 levels (11.9 percent), which is the baseline from which the U.S. would have to reduce its emissions by seven percent under the Kyoto Protocol. The report notes, however, that emissions rose more slowly in the 1990s than the average annual growth rate of the population (1.2 percent), primary energy consumption (1.2 percent), electric power generation (1.9 percent), or gross domestic product (2.9 percent).

Carbon dioxide, which accounts for 84 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, fell 1.1 percent to 1,579 million metric tons in 2001, according to EIA.  The report is available at www.eia.doe.gov.

Science

Antarctic Ice Sheet not in Danger from Global Warming

Fears that the Western Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS) is experiencing accelerated declines due to global warming are unfounded, according to a new study in the Jan. 3 issue of Science.  A team of scientists, led by John O. Stone with the Quaternary Research Center and Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, found that deglaciation of the WAIS began at least 10,000 years ago and that the rate of melting has remained constant until the present time.

Robert P. Ackert, Jr., of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, notes in a perspective on the research that only recently have scientists been able to determine conclusively that, “In large and critical areas, the ice sheet surface is lowering and ice volume is decreasing.”  This has caused concern because even a 1 percent decrease in ice volume would raise sea level by 5 centimeters and could eventually raise sea level by as much as 5 meters.

“Are we witnessing the early stages of rapid ice sheet collapse, with potential near-term impacts on the world’s coastlines?” asks Ackert.  “To answer this question, we must view the new short term measurements in the context of recent ice sheet history and ask whether the observed changes are unusual compared with those of the last 10,000 years.  Stone et al. provide a partial answer by reconstructing the recent history of a previously largely unexamined sector of the WAIS.”

Stone et al. found that, “Surface exposure ages of glacial deposits in the Ford Ranges of western Marie Byrd Land indicate continuous thinning of the West Antarctic ice sheet by more than 700 meters near the coast throughout the past 10,000 years.  Deglaciation lagged the disappearance of ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere by thousands of years and may still be under way. These results provide further evidence that parts of the West Antarctic ice sheet are on a long term trajectory of decline. West Antarctic melting contributed water to the oceans in the late Holocene and may continue to do so in the future.”

Ackert notes that, “Recent ice sheet dynamics appear to be dominated by the ongoing response to deglacial forcing thousands of years ago, rather than by recent anthropogenic warming or sea level rise.”  On the whole, the WAIS has thinned at a consistent rate of 2.5 to 9 cm/year over the last 9300 years.  Ackert also points out that contrary to prior assumptions, “The results suggest that the WAIS is not in equilibrium with present environmental conditions and has been thinning for the last 10,000 years.”

This means that predicting the future behavior of the ice sheet is significantly more difficult than simply building “quasi-steady state models that reproduce the current ice sheet and then perturb them with possible climate or sea-level forcing.”  Instead, scientists must use “dynamic models that reproduce the deglacial history…as a baseline.”

New Findings Lead to New Predictions

What happens when you feed real world data into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s climate models?  That is the question answered in a new study in the most recent issue of Climate Research.  The researchers, led by Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist at the University of Virginia, found that if the IPCC’s model is applied to scientific findings that have appeared since the release of its Third Assessment Report, the resulting predictions are significantly less frightening.

The researchers used the IPCC’s six major storylines, or projections about population and economic growth, and energy use, and incorporated assumptions that agree with recent scientific developments:

·    Research showing that black carbon aerosols offset the cooling affect of sulfate aerosols that scientists had assumed was masking anthropogenic warming.

·    The iris effect, where high-level tropical cloudiness diminishes in response to temperature increases, allowing the surface to cool, thereby offsetting anthropogenic warming.

·    Adjustments to the rate of increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, from a previously assumed exponential increase, to a constant increase as has been observed for the last 25 years.

·    Research showing that the carbon cycle does not intensify in response to higher temperatures.

Plugging this new empirical data into the models, the researchers found that projected warming over the next 100 years falls in the range of 1.0 to 1.6 degrees C, instead of the IPCC’s projection of 1.4 to 5.8 degrees C.

The study concludes that the upper bound of the new projection is the most likely outcome.  This is due to the fact that nearly all climate models show human-induced warming to be constant, and a simple linear extrapolation from those results leads to about 1.5 degrees warming over the next 100 years.  This is also borne out in the observed temperature data.

The study also notes that the lower range of its projection is also possible due to the well-known fact that the temperature response to carbon-forcing is logarithmic, or decreases as atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide increases.  Atmospheric carbon dioxide data “indicate that any exponential rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations is weak at best.