CO2 Abatement

Why Kyoto Used 1990 as a Base Year

I have made this point several times, but the 1990 reference date for Kyoto was not just picked randomly.  In fact, on its face, it was a bit odd for a treaty negotiated in 1997 to use a 1990 base year.   But 1990 allowed signatory countries to claim credit for alot of improvements in CO2 output that had nothing to do with the treaty.  For example, in Germany, 1990 was after unification but before wildly inefficient east German factories had been shut down.  In England, 1990 was just before a concerted effort to substitute North Sea oil and nuclear to shut down Midlands coal use.  In France and Japan, 1990 was the beginning of a period of slow economic growth (and, as an added special bonus, punished the US because it was the beginning of strong economic growth here).

Here is further proof:

In an odd twist on market economics, Europe's ex-communist states are starting to exploit a new market. Thanks to the Kyoto climate-change agreement, they can, in effect, now make money off the pollution their onetime central planners were willing to tolerate as the price for rapid industrialization and universal employment.

Ukraine, Hungary, the Czech Republic and other countries of the region not exactly renowned for clean air have made or are close to signing deals to sell the rights to emit greenhouse gases, and their main customer is environmentally friendly Japan.

This carbon windfall dropped into Central and East Europe's lap because the Kyoto Protocol sets 1990 as the reference year for future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The socialist states at that time were producing gargantuan amounts of CO2 and other gases implicated in global warming from unfiltered coal-fired power plants and factories; when those unprofitable industries withered, countless thousands of workers went on the dole — but the air got cleaner. In the coming years, in line with European Union mandates, would-be members gradually adopted better environmental policies. It's the difference between the often unspeakably bad air of 1990 and the comparatively clean air of today that allows them to sell "carbon credits" potentially worth billions of euros.

In effect, signatory countries are still making their Kyoto goals with actions that had nothing to do with Kyoto, in this case the modernization and/or shut down of communist-era industry.  This continues the charade that a) Europe is actually making real progress on CO2 emissions, which it is not and b) emissions reductions are cheap.

Update:  Before the treaty, but for which the treaty supporters claim credit by selecting 1990 as the base year, signatory countries had large CO2 reductions due to the forces at work detailed above:

CO2 Emissions Changes, 1990-1995

EU -2.2%
Former Communist -26.1%
Germany -10.7%
UK -6.9%
Japan 7.2%
US 6.4%

Since the treaty was actually signed, from 1997 to 2005, countries that ratified the treaty had emissions rise 21%.  When the treaty was signed in 1997, they signatories knew they had this pool of 1990-1995 emissions reductions to draw on to claim victory.  To this day, this is the only improvement they can show, improvement that occured before the treaty and through steps unrelated, in the main, to CO2 abatement.

Sucking the Oxygen Out of the Environmental Movement

I have written on a number of occasions that, years from now, folks who would like to see meaningful reductions in man's negative impacts on the environment are going to look back on the global warming charade as a disaster for their movement -- not just in terms of credibility, but in terms of lost focus on real, meaningful improvements.

China is a great example.  Like London in the 19th century or Pittsburgh in the early 20th, China's air quality is a mess.  Real steps need to be taken to clean up the air, for the health and safety of its residents.  The Olympics might have been a venue for people around the world to apply pressure to China to clean up its act.

But, in fact, there is little real pressure from outside for China to clean up the soot, unburned hydrocarbons, NO2, SO2 and other such pollutants from its vehicles and coal plants.  That is because all the pressure, all the attention, is on China's CO2 production.  But there is nothing China can do to slow down CO2 growth without killing its economy and probably destabilizing its government in the process.  So, it gives the world a big FU to such admonitions. 

Which is a shame.  Unlike for CO2 abatement, there are real technologies that are proven to be economic that can abate the worst of China's pollution problems.  Had we instead been spending our moral capital pressuring China to take such steps, there might be real progress. 

This is all the more true as we learn that some of the problems we ascribe to CO2 may in fact be more linked to soot from Chinese industry.  John Goetz recently linked one such story:

Smog, soot and other particles like the kind often seen hanging over Beijing add to global warming and may raise summer temperatures in the American heartland by three degrees in about 50 years, says a new federal science report released Thursday.

These overlooked, shorter-term pollutants — mostly from burning wood and kerosene and from driving trucks and cars — cause more localized warming than once thought, the authors of the report say.They contend there should be a greater effort to attack this type of pollution for faster results.For decades, scientists have concentrated on carbon dioxide, the most damaging greenhouse gas because it lingers in the atmosphere for decades. Past studies have barely paid attention to global warming pollution that stays in the air merely for days.

This is consistent with other recent work that hypothesizes that increase of melting rates of Arctic sea ice may be as much due to Chinese black carbon falling on the ice  (and thereby decreasing its albedo and increasing solar heating) than from rising global temperatures.  This makes sense to me, and may help explain why melting in the Arctic sea ice was nearly as great as last year's record, despite much lower Arctic temperatures (see below) over the last year.


CO2 Limits Most Harmful to Low-Income Minorities

The Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative has issued a report that rising temperatures, supposedly from CO2, will hurt American blacks the most.

Blacks are more likely to be hurt by global warming than other Americans, according to a report issued Thursday.

The report was authored by the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, a climate justice advocacy group, and Redefining Progress, a nonprofit policy institute. It detailed various aspects of climate change, such as air pollution and rising temperatures, which it said disproportionately affect blacks, minorities and low-income communities in terms of poor health and economic loss.

“Right now we have an opportunity to see climate change in a different light; to see it for what it is, a human rights issue on a dangerous collision course of race and class,” said Nia Robinson, director of the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative. “While it’s an issue that affects all of us, like many other social justice issues, it is disproportionately affecting African-Americans, other people of color, low-income people and indigenous communities.”

Heat-related deaths among blacks occur at a 150 to 200 percent greater rate than for non-Hispanic whites, the report said. It also reported that asthma, which has a strong correlation to air pollution, affects blacks at a 36 percent higher rate of incidence than whites.

Existing disparities between low-income communities and wealthier ones, such as high unemployment rates, are exacerbated by such negative effects of climate change as storms and floods, the report said.

Hmm, no mention of reductions in cold-related deaths, which typically are larger in a given year than heat-related deaths.  But a more serious issue is the CO2-abatement measures this advocacy group supports.  These abatement efforts could easily increase gas prices by as much as $20 a gallon, along with similar increases in electricity and natural gas prices.  In addition, strong CO2 abatement programs are likely to knock a percent or two off economic growth rates and, if ethanol is still a preferred tactic, will likely substantially raise food prices as well.  I am no expert, but I would say that rising gas, electricity, and food prices and falling economic growth are all likely to hit low-income minorities pretty hard. 

CO2 abatement is a wealthy persons cause.  The poor of America and the world at large will be demonstrably worse off in a world that is cooler but poorer.

1990: A Year Selected Very Carefully

Most of you will know that the Kyoto Treaty adopted CO2 reduction goals referenced to a base year of 1990.  But what you might not know is exactly how that year was selected.  Why would a treaty, negotiated and signed in the latter half of the 90's adopt 1990 as a base year, rather than say 1995 or 2000?  Or even 1980.

Closely linked to this question of base year selection for the treaty is a sort of cognitive dissonance that is occurring in reports about compliance of the signatories with the treaty.  Some seem to report substantial progress by European countries in reducing emissions, while others report that nearly everyone is going to miss the goals by a lot and that lately, the US has been doing better than signatory countries in terms of CO2 emissions.

To answer this, lets put ourselves back in about 1997 as the Kyoto Treat was being hammered out.  Here is what the negotiators knew at that time:

  • Both Japan and Europe had been mired in a recession since about 1990, cutting economic growth and reducing emissions growth.  The US economy had been booming.  From 1990-1995, US average real GDP growth was 2.5%, while Japan and Europe were both around 1.4% per year (source xls). 
  • The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and Germany began unifying with East Germany in 1990.  In 1990, All that old, polluting, inefficient Soviet/Communist era industry was still running, pumping out incredible amounts of CO2 per unit produced.  By 1995, much of that industry had been shut down, though even to this day Germany continues to reap year over year efficiency improvements as they restructure old Soviet-era industry, transportation infrastructure, etc.
  • The UK in the late 1980's had embarked on a huge campaign to replace Midlands coal with natural gas from the North Sea.  From 1990-1995, for reasons having nothing to do with CO2, British substituted a lot of lower CO2 gas combustion in place of higher CO2 coal production.

Remember, negotiators knew all this stuff in 1997.  All the above experience netted to this CO2 data that was in the negotiators pocket at Kyoto (from here):

CO2 Emissions Changes, 1990-1995

EU -2.2%
Former Communist -26.1%
Germany -10.7%
UK -6.9%
Japan 7.2%
US 6.4%

In the above, the categories are not mutually exclusive.  Germany and UK are also in the EU numbers, and Germany is included in the former communist number as well.  Note that all numbers exclude offsets and credits.

As you can see, led by the collapse of the former communist economies and the shuttering of inefficient Soviet industries, in addition to the substitution of British gas for coal, the European negotiators knew they had tremendous CO2 reductions already in their pocket, IF 1990 was chosen as a base year.  They could begin Kyoto already looking like heroes, despite the fact that the reductions from 1990-1997 were almost all due to economic and political happenings unrelated to CO2 abatement programs.

Even signatory Japan was ticked off about the 1990 date, arguing that it benefitted the European countries but was pegged years after Japan had made most of their improvements in energy efficiency:

Jun Arima, lead negotiator for Japan's energy ministry, said the 1990 baseline for CO2 cuts agreed at Kyoto was arranged for the convenience of the UK and Germany. ...

Mr Arima said: "The base year of 1990 was very advantageous to European countries. In the UK, you had already experienced the 'dash for gas' from coal - then in Germany they merged Eastern Germany where tremendous restructuring occurred.

"The bulk of CO2 reductions in the EU is attributable to reductions in UK and Germany."

His other complaint was that the 1990 baseline ruled inadmissible the huge gains in energy efficiency Japan had made in the 1980s in response the 1970s oil shocks.

"Japan achieved very high level of energy efficiency in the 1980s so that means the additional reduction from 1990 will mean tremendous extra cost for Japan compared with other countries that can easily achieve more energy efficiency."

So 1990 was chosen by the European negotiators as the best possible date for their countries to look good and, as an added bonus, as a very good date to try to make the US look bad.  That is why, whenever you see a press release from the EU about carbon dioxide abatement, you will see them trumpet their results since 1990.  Any other baseline year would make them look worse.

One might arguably say that anything that occured before the signing of the treaty in 1997 is accidental or unrelated, and that it is more interesting to see what has happened once governments had explicit programs in place to reduce CO2.  This is what you will see:

Just let me remind you of some salutary statistics. Between 1997 and 2004, carbon dioxide emissions rose as follows:

Emissions worldwide increased 18.0%;

Emissions from countries that ratified the protocol increased 21.1%;

Emissions from non-ratifiers of the protocol increased 10.0%;

Emissions from the US (a non-ratifier) increased 6.6%;

A lot more CO2 data here.

Postscript:  One would expect that absent changes in government regulations, the US has probably continued to do better than Europe on this metric the last several years.  The reason is that increases in wholesale gas prices increase US gas retail prices by a higher percentage than it does European retail prices.   This is because fixed-amount taxes make up a much higher portion of European gas prices than American.  While it does not necesarily follow from this, it is not illogical to assume that recent increases in oil and gas prices have had a greater effect on US than European demand, particularly since, with historically lower energy prices, the US has not made many of the lower-hanging efficiency investments that have already been made in Europe.

The Cost of the Insurance Policy Matters

Supporters of the precautionary principle argue that even if it is uncertain that we will face a global warming catastrophe from producing CO2, we should insure against it by abating CO2 just in case.  "You buy insurance on your house, don't you," they often ask.  Sure, I answer, except when the cost of the insurance is more than the cost of the house.

In a speech yesterday here in Washington, Al Gore challenged the United States to "produce every kilowatt of electricity through wind, sun, and other Earth-friendly energy sources within 10 years. This goal is achievable, affordable, and transformative." (Well, the goal is at least one of those things.) Gore compared the zero-carbon effort to the Apollo program. And the comparison would be economically apt if, rather than putting a man on the moon—which costs about $100 billion in today's dollars—President Kennedy's goal had been to build a massive lunar colony, complete with a casino where the Rat Pack could perform.

Gore's fantastic—in the truest sense of the word—proposal is almost unfathomably pricey and makes sense only if you think that not doing so almost immediately would result in an uninhabitable planet. ...

This isn't the first time Gore has made a proposal with jaw-dropping economic consequences. Environmental economist William Nordhaus ran the numbers on Gore's idea to reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent by 2050. Nordhaus found that while such a plan would indeed reduce the maximum increase in global temperatures to between 1.3 and 1.6 degrees Celsius, it did so "at very high cost" of between $17 trillion and $22 trillion over the long term, as opposed to doing nothing. (Again, just for comparative purposes, the entire global economy is about $50 trillion.)

I think everyone's numbers are low, because they don't include the cost of storage (technology unknown) or alternative capacity when it is a) dark and/or b) not windy.

A while back I took on Gore's suggestion that all of America's electricity needs could be met with current Solar technology with a 90 mile x 90 mile tract of solar.  Forgetting the fact that Al's environmental friends would never allow us to cover 8100 square miles of the desert in silicon, I got a total installation cost of $21 trillion dollars.  And that did not include the electrical distribution systems necessary for the whole country to take power from this one spot, nor any kind of storage technology for using electricity at night  (it was hard to cost one out when no technology exist for storing America's total energy needs for 12 hours).  Suffice it to say that a full solution with storage and distribution would easily cost north of $30 trillion dollars.

In Search of Honesty

Both major presidential candidates have endorsed CO2 abatement targets for the US, with Obama advocating for the most stringent -- the "20 by 50" target by which the US would reduce CO2 emissions by 80% in the next 40 years.

Given that they support such targets, the candidates' public positions on gasoline prices should be something like this:

Yeah, I know that $4 gas is painful.  But do you know what?  Gas prices are going to have to go a LOT higher for us to achieve the CO2 abatement targets I am proposing, so suck it up.  Just to give you a sense of scale, the Europeans pay nearly twice as much as we do for gas, and even at those levels, they are orders of magnitude short of the CO2 abatement I have committed us to achieve.  Since late 2006, gas prices in this country have doubled, and demand has fallen by perhaps 5%.  That will probably improve over time as people buy new cars and change behaviors, but it may well require gasoline prices north of $20 a gallon before we meet the CO2 goal I have adopted.  So get ready.

You have heard Obama and McCain say this?  Yeah, neither have I.  At least Obama was consistent enough not to adopt McCain's gas tax holiday idea.  But it's time for some honesty here, not that I really expect it. 

We need to start being a lot clearer about the real costs of CO2 abatement and stop this mindless "precautionary principle" jargon that presupposes that there are no costs to CO2 abatement.  When proponents of the precautionary principle say "Well, CO2 abatement is like insurance -- you buy insurance on your house, don't you," I answer, "Not if the insurance costs more than the cost to replace the house, I don't."

Map of Pain Created by CO2 Abatement Efforts

Government treaties and legislation will of necessity increase the cost of energy substantially.  It will also indirectly increase the cost of food and other staples, as fertilizer, equipment, and transportation costs rise.  This is not to mention the substantial rise in food costs that will continue as long as governments continue their misguided efforts to promote and subsidize food-based ethanol as a global warming solution. 

I found the map below in another context at economist Mark Perry's site.  It shows the percentage of the average person's income that is spent on food, fuel, and drink, with low percentages in green and high percentages in red.  However, this could easily be a map of the pain created by CO2 abatement efforts, with the most pain felt in red and the least in green.  In fact, this map actually underestimates the pain in yellow-red areas, as is does not factor in the lost development potential and thus lost future income from CO2 abatement efforts.


Update on food prices:

Biofuels have caused a 75 per cent increase in world food prices, a new report suggests.

The rise is far greater than previous estimates including a US Government claim that plant-derived fuels contribute less than three per cent to food price hikes.

According to reports last night, a confidential World Bank document indicates the true extent of the effect of biofuels on prices at a crucial time in the world's negotiations on biofuel policy.

Rising food prices have been blamed for pushing 100 million people beneath the poverty line. The confidential report, based on a detailed economic analysis of the effect of biofuels, will put pressure on the American and European governments, which have turned to biofuels in attempts to reduce the greenhouse gases associated with fossil fuels and to reduce their reliance on oil imports.

The report says: "Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate."

The Cost of the Insurance Policy Matters

I once found myself in a debate with someone advocating the precautionary principle, that we should abate all CO2 production "just in case" it might cause a catastrophe.  The person I was debating with said, trying to be reasonable, "you buy car insurance, right?"

I answered, "Yes, but I wouldn't buy insurance on my car if the insurance itself cost more than my car."  The point is that in most forecasts, the cost of CO2 abatement with current technologies tends to outweigh even some of the more dramatic catastrophic costs of warming, particularly since the best defense against climate disaster is wealth, not less CO2.  Here is another example:

Climatologist Patrick Michaels thinks it would have virtually no effect on the climate, an additional 0.013 degrees (Celsius) of "prevented" warming. That's another little bitty fact that will never see the light of day on most press reports. Instead what we'll get is the usual hot air, except this time it has the price tag of 660 hurricanes.

Update:  "the sexiness has gone out of the movement...AGW was fun ... as long as nobody lost an eye."  Or as long as no Senator had to put his name on a $4 a gallon gas tax (about what they have in Europe, an amount that is still way insufficient to force compliance with Kyoto goals).

You Make the Call

A half degree cooler or $45 trillion poorer?  You make the call.  And remember, these are the cost numbers from climate alarmists, so they are very likely way too low. 

The press is so used to the politically correct language of victimization, that they don't even think about it before applying it.  As a result, global warming alarmists get a pass on claiming to be helping the poor by fighting global warming.

But this is absurd.  The poor don't care about polar bears or bad snow at the ski resort or hurricanes hitting their weekend beach house.  They care about agriculture, which has always been improved by warmer weather and longer growing seasons, and development, which relies on the profligate expenditure of every hydrocarbon they can get their hands on.  Can anyone really argue that a half degree warmer world is harder on the poor than a $45 trillion dollar price increase in energy costs?

Why Congress Likes Cap and Trade

The current Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill would, even by alarmists admission, have an unmeasureably small impact on global temperatures.  Further, most economists (and I) have argued that a carbon tax is a much more efficient way of achieveing the same goals.

So why does Congress like cap-and-trade so much  (Capital Games and Gains via TJIC)

…Political leaders don’t want

1. an explicit tax with their name on it;
2. an efficient tax that hurts their supporters; and
3. an effective tax may not encourage the alternatives they support.

They prefer a hidden tax, which is why they are considering a cap-and-trade system of carbon allowances instead of a direct carbon tax.

They prefer a less efficient tax, which reduces the impact on the worst greenhouse gas emitters and spreads it around on others.

They prefer a less effective tax, which allows them to pick which alternatives to support and to pick which impacted Americans to compensate…

I used to think cap-and-trade was a good idea, because it is sort of elegant.  Determine how much emissions we want to allow, divvy it up into certificates, and let market forces distribute the certificates to those who can use the emissions most productively.  Environmentalists even have a productive, non-lobbying way to spend their money, buying up certificates and pulling them out of circulation.

And perhaps when focusing on a single source or industry, like SO2 from coal plants, that makes sense.  But CO2 is produced so many different ways, and the whole offset idea is so screwed up in its accounting, that it just is not really feasible.

In particular, there is nothing Congress loves so much as a hidden tax.  If people actually see a tax line on their bill, they might get mad at their Congressperson.  But if a company has to raise their prices to offset the cost of carbon allowances, well, Congress can just demagogue that this is just another evil corporation hosing the little guy.  They might even be able to use it in turn to get a reasonable profits board passed.

The only thing Congress like more than hidden taxes is earmarking, being able to hand out special favors to valued party supporters and campaign donors.  And boy oh boy does the current cap-and-trade proposal open up a whole new trough for pork (WSJ via Tom Nelson)

Sponsored by Joe Lieberman and John Warner, the bill would put a cap on carbon emissions that gets lowered every year. But to ease the pain and allow for economic adjustment, the bill would dole out "allowances" under the cap that would stand for the right to emit greenhouse gases. Senator Barbara Boxer has introduced a package of manager's amendments that mandates total carbon reductions of 66% by 2050, while earmarking the allowances....

Ms. Boxer expects to scoop up auction revenues of some $3.32 trillion by 2050. Yes, that's trillion. Her friends in Congress are already salivating over this new pot of gold. The way Congress works, the most vicious floor fights won't be over whether this is a useful tax to create, but over who gets what portion of the spoils.

More Carbon Trading Double Counting

From the Guardian:

Leading academics and watchdog groups allege that the UN's main offset fund is being routinely abused by chemical, wind, gas and hydro companies who are claiming emission reduction credits for projects that should not qualify. The result is that no genuine pollution cuts are being made, undermining assurances by the UK government and others that carbon markets are dramatically reducing greenhouse gases, the researchers say.

The criticism centres on the UN's clean development mechanism (CDM), an international system established by the Kyoto process that allows rich countries to meet emissions targets by funding clean energy projects in developing nations. Credits from the project are being bought by European companies and governments who are unable to meet their carbon reduction targets.

A working paper from two senior Stanford University academics examined more than 3,000 projects applying for or already granted up to $10bn of credits from the UN's CDM funds over the next four years, and concluded that the majority should not be considered for assistance. "They would be built anyway," says David Victor, law professor at the Californian university. "It looks like between one and two thirds of all the total CDM offsets do not represent actual emission cuts." . . .

The Stanford paper, by Victor and his colleague Michael Wara, found that nearly every new hydro, wind and natural gas-fired plant expected to be built in China in the next four years is applying for CDM credits, even though it is Chinese policy to encourage these industries.

"Traders are finding ways of gaining credits that they would never have had before. You will never know accurately, but rich countries are clearly overpaying by a massive amount," said Victor.

A separate study published this week by US watchdog group International Rivers argues that nearly three quarters of all registered CDM projects were complete at the time of approval, suggesting that CDM money was not needed to finance them.

"It would seem clear that a project that is already built cannot need extra income in order to be built," said Patrick McCully, director of the thinktank in California. "Judging additionality has turned out to be unknowable and unworkable. It can never be proved definitively that if a developer or factory owner did not get offset income they would not build their project."

It's not like this was not predictable or anything.

Politically Uncorrect Guide To Carbon Abatement

Many of the folks who are the strongest supporters of global warming theory could not actually explain the theory well if you put a gun to their head.  They became global warming believers not because they were compelled by the science, but because widespread acceptance of man-made catastrophic global warming theory seemed to give a boost to their pet policy proposals.  That is why socialists, anti-globalists, anti-capitalists, zero-population crusaders, limits-to-growth Malthusians and back to nature Rousseau-ists have all greedily latched onto the cause.

As a result, proposed solutions to global warming are sometimes an odd fit.  To this end, Wired has an interesting article that says, what if you really started from science, rather than activists pre-existing pet projects, to get to approaches for reducing CO2.  They get a very different list of approaches than one usually sees:

  • Live in Cities:
    Urban Living Is Kinder to the Planet Than the Suburban Lifestyle

  • A/C Is OK:
    Air-Conditioning Actually Emits Less CO2 Than Heating

  • Organics Are Not the Answer:
    Surprise! Conventional Agriculture Can Be Easier on the Planet

  • Farm the Forests:
    Old-Growth Forests Can Actually Contribute to Global Warming

  • China Is the Solution:
    The People's Republic Leads the Way in Alternative-Energy Hardware

  • Accept Genetic Engineering:
    Superefficient Frankencrops Could Put a Real Dent in Greenhouse Gas Emissions

  • Carbon Trading Doesn't Work:
    Carbon Credits Were a Great Idea, But the Benefits Are Illusory

  • Embrace Nuclear Power:
    Face It. Nukes Are the Most Climate-Friendly Industrial-Scale Form of Energy

  • Used Cars — Not Hybrids:
    Don't Buy That New Prius! Test-Drive a Used Car Instead

  • Prepare for the Worst:
    Climate Change Is Inevitable. Get Used to It

The fourth point is one that I have made myself, that if you really care about carbon sequestration, what you want to do is cut down old growth trees, which are sequestering little incremental new carbon, bury them deep, and plant lots of new, fast-growing trees.  Now, there may be good reasons not to do this for other reasons, but we should adopt a clarity about carbon processes that is unfiltered by pre-existing notions.

This is a Plan?

This is from the Arizona Republic:

Two decades from now, Americans could get as much electricity from windmills as from nuclear-power plants, according to a government report that lays out a possible plan for wind-energy growth.

The report, a collaboration between Energy Department research labs and industry, concludes wind energy could generate 20 percent of the nation's electricity by 2030, about the same share now produced by nuclear reactors. Wind energy today accounts for about 1 percent of the nation's electricity.

To reach the 20 percent production level, wind turbines would have to produce 300,000 megawatts of power, compared to about 16,000 megawatts generated today. Such growth would envision more than 75,000 new wind turbines, many of them larger than those operating today. Turbines in offshore waters would produce about 54,000 megawatts.

I am sure we also could have 3 billion hamsters on little wheels hooked up to generators.  Or we could fill, as Al Gore wants, 5 million acres of Arizona desert with solar panels.  Of course I calculated the latter plan to cost about 20 trillion dollars.

Just because the megawatt numbers add up to some target, does not make it a feasible plan.  The cost per megawatt needs to be balanced against other potential sources of power, and technological deficiencies (e.g. no solar at night, no wind power when there is no wind) also need to be addressed. 

Solar Panel County

Via Tom Nelson and Schlotzville, comes this from our modern day Savonarola, Al Gore:

Gore mentioned a few statistics that drove home the notion that we actually have the capability to be oil free with existing technology. If, he said, we were to build on a 90 mile x 90 mile tract of land in the Southwest a field of solar panels, we would have enough electricity to power the entire United States. So, why don't we build it? What is stopping us?

Its kind of cool to think about - I always get excited about man-made structures you can see from space.  When I think about this, my mind keeps jumping to the Sunflower fields in Larry Niven's Ringworld.

So, is this feasible?  Well, I was suspicious, since I live in one of the best solar sites in the world (Phoenix) and could not even come close to making solar pay on my house, even with 50% subsidies. 

First, is it enough power?  Well, its turns out the answer is "sortof."  I looked around at solar panels, and decided to assume a 200 watt panel that was 13 sq ft and cost $900.  Actually, you can't quite get that panel today.  You can get a 200 watt panel that is that cheap, but bigger, or you can have one that is that small and more expensive.  But you will see soon that it does not matter.  I assumed a third of the 8100 sq. miles would be dead space between the panels, roads, transformers, access paths, etc.  I assumed you put the installation in the best solar sites in the southwest, which yield on average about 6 peak-sun-hour-equivalents a day.  I assumed a 20% loss in conversions and transformers.

So 8100 sq miles  x  2/3  x  200 watt/12sq ft  x  6 hours x 365 days x 80%  (with necessary unit conversions thrown in) yields 4.08 billion Megawatt-Hours of electricity, which is about exactly our current US generating capacity.  (Way to go!  Al got a number right!)

I say sortof for the following reason:  This does not cover elimination of fossil fuels in the transportation sector.  And it does not address the problem of how you store this power at night, which of course is a catastrophic problem for the idea.

Al doesn't know what is stopping us.  Well, other than the storage problem, one thing might be the cost.  Using the assumptions above, and assuming that installation costs (with land acquisition, transformers, inverters, roads, mounting, installation, etc) is as much again as the panel costs themselves, the total installation would cost just under $21 trillion dollars.  This is orders of magnitude more than a nuclear program of the same size would cost.  And presupposes the environmentalists would let you cover 5 million acres of desert with metal and silicon. 

Postscript:  Al Gore thinks its the oil companies at fault (of course):

Well, he gave one possible answer - the oil companies. Apparently, according to Gore, the oil companies drive up prices reducing supply and then depress them in a telling pattern. As soon as the political will swells to a light boil, the companies reduce prices/increase supply. And we, really the pols that be, fall for it all the time and the political will it is vanquished

LOL.  Environmentalists have one card to play - its the oil companies fault! - and they are going to play it every chance they can.  Of course, the boom-bust patterns in oil are characteristic of nearly every other commodity out there, which therefore presupposes that if oil prices are the result of manipulation, then every other commodity must be as well since their prices demonstrate the same patterns.  We see these patterns in commodities that politicians have never even heard of and in which they have never thought to exercise their "political will."  (political will in this context defined as use of government force against a segment of the populace).

A reasonable person might suppose that the surge in prices followed by a drop a number of years later is better explained by the time delay in increasing oil production after oil prices spike. In many ways, Al's theory is simply delusional.  If your friend started trying to tell you, in all seriousness, that every action Microsoft takes is actually aimed at thwarting him personally, you would think him insane.  But this is effectively Gore's argument, showing the immensity of the politician's ego.  Oil prices move not because of supply and demand, but because of us politicians.  Every tick up and down is carefully managed to thwart us brave Congressmen!

I had a long post here on why conspiracy and manipulation can't possibly drive oil prices but for the shortest possible periods.

Update:  Here is my spreadsheet if anyone thinks I made an error in the numbs.  Download solar.xls

CO2 Suffocating the Environmental Movement

Bird Dog has a good post that follows up from mine on the CO2 obsession sucking the life out of more pressing environmental issues that are more amenable to being fixed.

Cost of CO2 Reductions

In this terrific little 7-minute video, Steven Hayward helps us understand just what a drastic task it will be to cut CO2 emisions by 80% in fifty years (the target advocated by many catastrophists and adopted by both Democratic candidates).  I don't think hanging out the laundry is going to be quite enough.  He makes the same point I made a while back, that this target implies a per capita CO2 emission level this country last experienced in 1875, and one that can only be found in the dirt poorest countries of the world.  (HT:  Tom Nelson)

Al Gore Saved Biofuels

The NY Sun writes:

Mr. Senauer said climate change advocates, such as Vice President Gore, need to distance themselves from ethanol to avoid tarnishing the effort against global warming. “Crop-based biofuels are not part of the solution. They, in fact, add to the problem. Whether Al Gore has caught up with that, somebody ought to ask him,” the professor said. “There are lots of solutions, real solutions to climate change. We need to get to those.”

But Al Gore brags about being biofuel's number one supporter, nay, their "savior:"

Vice-President Al Gore
Third Annual Farm Journal Conference, December 1, 1998

"I was also proud to stand up for the ethanol tax exemption when it was under attack in the Congress -- at one point, supplying a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to save it. The more we can make this home-grown fuel a successful, widely-used product, the better-off our farmers and our environment will be."

Is the Global Warming Hype Killing Environmentalism?

Cross posted from Coyote Blog:

Of late, I have been getting the strongest sense that the global warming hysteria is sucking all the oxygen out of the rest of the environmental movement.  Quick, what is the last environment-related article you read that didn't mention global warming?

Here is an example:  I give a lot of my charity money to groups like The Nature Conservancy, because I personally value preservation of unique areas and habitats and I don't sit around waiting for the government to do it for me.  But it has become almost impossible of late to drum up enthusiasm from contributors for such causes, unless the land can be labeled a carbon-sink or something.  In fact, the global warming hysteria has really been a disaster for private land conservation because it has caused politicians to subsidize ethanol.  This subsidy is bringing much more wild land into cultivation in this country and has been the single biggest driver for deforestation in the Amazon over the last decade. 

Or take China.  China's cities are an unhealthy mess.  But focus on global warming has led environmentalists to take the position with China they have to stop coal combustion and growth in auto-miles entirely.  This is a non-starter.  There is no WAY they are going to do this.  But it is much more achievable to start getting China focused on a Clean-Air-Act type of attack on vehicle and coal plant emissions of real pollutants like SO2.   China could be made much more healthy, as the US has done over the last 30-60 years, but instead of working with China to get healthier, the focus is on getting them to shut down their growth altogether.

The UPI published a survey of people's environmental priorities:

  1. drinking water
  2. pollution of rivers, lakes, and ecosystems
  3. smog
  4. forest preservation
  5. acid rain
  6. tropical rain forests
  7. national parks
  8. greenhouse emissions
  9. ozone layer
  10. nature around "my" home
  11. urban sprawl
  12. extinction.

I feel like #1 is overblown based on a lot of media scare stories, but most of the top 6 or 7 would all be things I would rank well above global warming fears as well.  There are still real issues to be dealt with in these areas which can have far more of a positive impact on health and quality of living than CO2 abatement, but they are being suffocated by global warming hype.

You Mean There is a Cost?

Via the Junk Science Blog:

EPA’s analysis of the Lieberman-Warner (LW) global warming bill is out — and it ain’t pretty.

EPA estimates that LW may reduce GDP by $2.9 trillion in 2050 while reducing atmospheric CO2 by around 25 ppm by 2095.

What a bargain — reduce GDP by an estimated 6.9 percent for no meaningful change in atmospheric CO2!

Warmer and Richer

It is finally good to see someone making this point:  That even if one accepts the worst of the IPCC scenarios (which I do not) the cost of CO2 abatement, particularly in terms of lost economic growth, is far higher than the cost of rising temperatures -- ESPECIALLY for the poor.

“The surprising conclusion using the Stern Review’s own estimates,” Dr. Goklany writes, “is that future generations will be better off in the richest but warmest” of the I.P.C.C.’s scenarios. He concludes that cutting emissions will do much less good than encouraging sustainable development in poor countries and policies of “focused adaptation” to deal with disease and environmental problems like coastal flooding. For a fifth the cost of the Kyoto Protocol, he calculates, these adaptation policies could yield more immediate and also long-term benefits than would a policy that entirely halted global warming (which would cost far, far more than Kyoto). He argues that this path isn’t merely an economic but also a moral imperative:

For the foreseeable future, people will be wealthier—and their well-being higher—than is the case for present generations both in the developed and developing worlds and with or without climate change. The well-being of future inhabitants in today’s developing world would exceed that of the inhabitants of today’s developed world under all but the poorest scenario. Future generations should, moreover, have greater access to human capital and technology to address whatever problems they might face, including climate change. Hence the argument that we should shift resources from dealing with the real and urgent problems confronting present generations to solving potential problems of tomorrow’s wealthier and better positioned generations is unpersuasive at best and verging on immoral at worst.

He also makes a point I have made for a long time -- that the case for strong abatement is more of an aesthetic choice than a practical one.  There are a core of people who don't like the fact, aesthetically, that man has somehow modified Gaia.

Here is a link to the report itself

I Don't Think it Mattered

A while back, the US Congress decided it was important to be seen as carbon neutral:

As government waste goes, $89,000 will barely register on the meter. However, it did provide a relatively inexpensive demonstration on the costliness of political fads and the vacuousness of carbon-offset markets…

In November, the Democratic-led House spent about $89,000 on so-called carbon offsets. This purchase was supposed to cancel out greenhouse-gas emissions from House buildings…

Some of the money went to farmers in North Dakota, for tilling practices that keep carbon buried in the soil … farmers were already doing this, for other reasons, before the House paid a cent.

Other funds went to Iowa, where a power plant had been temporarily rejiggered to burn more cleanly. But that test project had ended more than a year before the money arrived…

I don't think Congress cared one bit where the $89,000 was spent.  They were spending $89,000 for the tag "carbon neutral" -- for the name itself.  If the money was [quietly] dumped in a storm sewer or if it the sum had been broken down into $100 bills and used to light the after-dinner cigars at the latest Sierra Club meeting, it wouldn't matter to Congress one bit.  They were buying an $89,000 fig leaf.

The Technocratic Trap

Technocrats tend to hate and/or distrust bottom up economic solutions that result from a spontaneous order resulting from changing pricing signals and incentives.  As a result, technocrats in government tend to not only want a problem solved, but solved their way.  They get just as mad, or even more upset, at a problem solved by the market in a way in which the don't approve than they get from the problem going unsolved altogether.

TJIC brings us a great example of this technocratic trap as applied to CO2 abatement:…

Greenhouse gas emissions from Northeast power plants were about 10 percent lower than predicted during the last two years…

But the decrease may have some unanticipated consequences for efforts to combat global warming: It could have the perverse effect of delaying more lasting reductions, by undercutting incentives intended to spur power plants to invest in cleaner technologies and energy efficiency…

I wonder if environmentalists are really as pathetic and perpetually grumpy as they always sound, or if that’s just some sort of kabuki political theater?

Massachusetts and nine other Northeast states are part of a landmark pact called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that is designed to cap power plant emissions in 2009 and then gradually reduce them by 10 percent over the next decade. Power plants will have to buy emission allowances…

But if emissions are significantly lower than the cap, there would be less demand for allowances, driving down their price and giving power plants little financial incentive to invest in cleaner and more efficient technologies…

It’s almost as if people are hung up on the means, and not the ends.

Oh noz, the industry has realized that the cheapest way (which is to say “the way that bes preserves living standards) to cut carbon emissions is to switch from coal to natural gas…which means that they’re not taking the more expensive way (which is to say “way that destroys living standards”) that we want them to. Boo hoo!

“If the cap is above what power plants are emitting, we won’t see any change in their behavior,” said Derek K. Murrow, director of policy analysis for Environment Northeast, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization. “They just continue business as usual.”

(a) Umm…you’ve already seen a change in their behavior

(b) what do you want? Lower carbon emissions, or to force them to use some pet technology?...

Officials of states involved in RGGI and energy specialists are discussing ways to ensure that allowances have enough value to spark investments in cleaner technologies.

Again, the insistence on technologies. Why?

One solution would be to lower the cap, but that’s likely to be politically difficult…

Laurie Burt, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, said she and other state officials are aware of the problem and discussing ways to solve it.

What problem?

Read it all.

Burying Trees

[Cross-posted from Coyote Blog]

A few weeks ago I argued that if we really thought that CO2 was the biggest threat to the environment (a proposition with which I do not agree) we should not recycle paper or Christmas trees - we should wrap them in Saran Wrap and bury them.  Earlier I wrote this:

Once trees hit their maturity, their growth slows and therefore the rate they sequester CO2 slows.  At this point, we need to be cutting more down, not less, and burying them in the ground, either as logs or paper or whatever.  Just growing forests is not enough, because old trees fall over and rot and give up their carbon as CO2.  We have to bury them.   Right?

I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek, trying to take CO2 abatement to its illogical extreme, but unfortunately the nuttiness of the environmental movement can outrun satire.  These folks advocate going into the forests and cutting down trees and burying them:

Here a carbon sequestration strategy is proposed in which certain dead or live trees are harvested via collection or selective cutting, then buried in trenches or stowed away in above-ground shelters. The largely anaerobic condition under a sufficiently thick layer of soil will prevent the decomposition of the buried wood. Because a large flux of CO2 is constantly being assimilated into the world as forests via photosynthesis, cutting off its return pathway to the atmosphere forms an effective carbon sink....

Based on data from North American logging industry, the cost for wood burial is estimated to be $14/tCO2 ($50/tC), lower than the typical cost for power plant CO2 capture with geological storage. The cost for carbon sequestration with wood burial is low because CO2 is removed from the atmosphere by the natural process of photosynthesis at little cost. The technique is low tech, distributed, easy to monitor, safe, and reversible, thus an attractive option for large-scale implementation in a world-wide carbon market

Its a little scary to me that I can anticipate this stuff.

Another Government Boondoggle

The NY Times has an interesting article on the government subsidized boondoggle to build a zero-emissions coal plant.  First, we see all the usual aspects of what happens when the government steps in to fund non-economic projects no private investor would touch:

But choosing the location was perhaps the least daunting step. The project, announced by President Bush in 2003, seems to be in perpetual creep mode. The budget, as Matt Wald wrote yesterday, has ballooned 50 percent (because of the worldwide shortage of basics like cement). The timetable has slid. Components are being shed. The portion of the eventual $1.8 billion cost paid by the government is shrinking.

Though I have never studies the numbers in depth, it has been my intuition (from years working as an engineer with power plants and oil refineries) that it will be almost impossible to make this technology economic.  Apparently, others agree:

There are plenty of experts who still doubt that capturing carbon dioxide and putting it in cold storage will ever work at a meaningful scale. Vaclav Smil at the University of Manitoba has calculated that capturing, compressing and storing just 10 percent of current CO2 emissions — here and now — would require as much pipeline and plant infrastructure as are now used worldwide to extract oil from the ground. And oil is a pricey commodity while carbon dioxide is a waste gas.

Handling and compressing gasses are a lot more difficult than liquids, and liquefying them may take almost as much energy as you get out of the combustion.  So, what does the government do if a technology is so uneconomic and unworkable that it can't even scrape up enough money to subsidize one plant?  Why, it mandates the technology:

Mr. Hawkins said adequate construction of CO2-trapping plants would happen more swiftly if a “performance standard” requiring this technology were added to climate legislation like the Warner-Lieberman bill being considered in the Senate. Such a provision would require new coal-plant construction to incorporate such systems and spread the cost over the economy so utilities aren’t hit too hard.

Such a mandate would effectively end the construction new coal plants, which may in fact be the motive of supporters. 

This is what happens when government tries to pick winning technologies.  If carbon combustion is really bad (a proposition with which I do not agree) then a carbon tax needs to be instituted, so that individuals can figure out on their own which carbon combustion is the most economic to eliminate and with what technologies.  If the government insists on picking winners with subsidized technology programs, then nuclear strikes me as much more fruitfull, as it is already proven and close to economic and investment can be concentrated on marginal problems like waste disposal, rather than fundamental problems like "will this approach even work."

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