Climate alarmists will be trying to scare us by pointing to  this, and this, and this, and this  (all in a month) with the flimsy story that global warming increases the intensity and frequency of extreme events.  Each of these ‘extreme events’ is only one event, that could have happened without climate change, so by mathematical induction, you can ignore all of them one by one.  Furthermore, they are happening to foreigners in faraway places, many of whom are not even Christians!

Move along, folks; nothing to see here, and you have Exxon and Peabody Coal shares in your 401K to protect.


Electric vehicles and more

Severin Borenstein, one of the high-candlepower sources in the energy/environment community, has an excellent post on things that make sense and things that don’t for improving energy behavior in transportation.  Just read it.

I would only cavil at his easy identification of a climate charge (erroneously called a carbon tax) and a cap-and-trade scheme (which is not his main point).  These are not Tweedledum and Tweedledee, no matter how many times economists assume the canopener of “when the market equilibrates we get the same result with either one”.    Just one example of a Really Big Difference: to set a climate charge, the government needs to know how much greenhouse gases (GHG) are being emitted now, and the damage one more ton causes at that level, i.e., the marginal benefit of reduction over a narrow range around current conditions.  This is not chopped liver, but consider that to set the cap for a cap-and-trade scheme the government needs to know this whole marginal benefit function for reducing discharges over a fairly wide range, and also the same function for costs of reduction, to see where they cross.  The latter of these has been historically very difficult to construct, as it comprises mostly predictions of the cost of doing things we have never done.  Remember in the seventies, when engineers and executives at all the car companies came to Washington and swore that the slightest messing with exhaust pollution would make all our cars stop in the middle of the street, cost a fortune, and generally cripple all of American culture.  They probably believed it, but it doesn’t matter: they were wrong by a country mile.  Estimates of the cost of GHG reduction will also be way too high, and one of the great advantages of the carbon charge is that it doesn’t require us to make them.


The reek of burning boats

Obama’s speech lays down a test the Keystone pipeline cannot meet.

Barack Obama, in yesterday’s big speech on climate change:

Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.

It’s impossible for the pipeline to meet this test honestly. For if it will not increase the sales and hence emissions of Alberta tar sands oil, why would anybody want to build it?

18 months ago I made a rash prediction:

My simple hydraulic model of energy politics predicts that the Keystone XL pipeline will never be approved.

Pity I didn’t back this on Intrade.

Please treat comments as an open thread on the speech. Keystone wasn’t the biggest announcement, which was the confirmation of EPA regulation of of CO2 emissions from coal power stations. The exhortation to “invest, divest” may be equally important as the moment Obama burnt the boats that would allow another centrist tactical retreat. It’s on to Senlac or Mexico.

This once, I’ll allow denialist ventings from our regulars, as long as they don’t derail the thread.

Things we won’t hear in the big climate speech tomorrow

By now all but the hopelessly stupid or deliberately ignorant understand the basics of climate change. Increasing the amounts of a few gases in the atmosphere traps heat and make the planet’s equilibrium temperature higher. The big three are methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and mainly carbon dioxide (CO2): humans are pumping these gases out like there’s no tomorrow – more precisely, as though we were all leaving the planet in a few decades.  CO2 is the big one, and it mainly comes from burning coal, oil, natural gas, and forests: if we want the planet to be habitable for the big 2076 parties, that’s what we have to stop doing.

These gases are, in effect, pollutants like the gunk in automobile exhaust that made the air in LA brown until we put a stop to it, or the phosphorus in your dish soap that makes algae grow in lakes and rivers, but they have two tragic and pernicious qualities that our familiar pollutants don’t have. First, because they last a long time in the air, and the atmosphere is well mixed with winds, their effects aren’t felt only in the legal jurisdiction in which they are emitted, but everywhere, by everyone. Second, because the processes are slow and easy to miss in the normal variation of weather, Exxon and Consolidation Coal can pay politicians and TV weather reporters to say it isn’t happening, and doing the right, expensive things about climate will not show results we can see before the next election or the one after that.

Continue reading “Things we won’t hear in the big climate speech tomorrow”

Green Australia coming to a grid near you

The Australian electricity grid operator confirms that a 100% renewable supply is doable.

Yet another study has come out, this one for Australia, concluding that all-renewable electricity is feasible while maintaining current standards for reliability. The difference here is the authors, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). These are conservative professional engineers not green activists. They prepared the report (technically still in draft) because their political masters told them to do it, not out of enthusiasm. As John Quiggin points out :

The AEMO is the body that manages the electricity market on a minute-to-minute basis, so it has the expertise to assess this claim, unlike the many amateurs who have tried their hands. And, since it might have to do the job, it has no reason to understate the difficulties of a renewables-based system.

The extra costs are significant but not absurd. Quiggin again:

Second, the estimated cost of $111 to $133 per megawatt-hour represents an increase of $60-80/MwH on current wholesale prices, or 6-8c/Kwh on retail prices. That’s much less than the increase we’ve seen thanks to the mishandling of electricity market reform.

AEMO modelled two scenarios: slow demand growth and rapid technological progress, and higher demand and slower progress. Continue reading “Green Australia coming to a grid near you”

Oklahoma tornado

Oklahoma is an oil state. Oklahomans vote for people like senators Inhofe and Coburn, who rail at the ‘myth’ of climate change.  After all, there are millions and millions of dollars still to earn selling oil to burn: what more evidence does a reasonable Sooner need?

People who think science is more than a political flag one can choose to wave or not, depending on whether there’s profit in it, are pretty sure that one of the effects of global warming is increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather.

I wish I believed that a just Providence sent things like today’s tornado upon people who vote for oil-whore Oklahoma Republicans.  I don’t, but could the devastation in Moore possibly give the survivors something to think about along these lines?

UPDATE (21 May):

I obviously wrote the foregoing too quickly and too elliptically.  Let me unpack it here:

The reference to a just Providence was a pointer to the repeated meme, trotted out (for example) after Katrina, that natural disasters happen to people who deserve to be punished. The reason I “wish I believed that” is that if I did, I would feel OK about the consequences, I guess even the children whose school was shredded around them.    But I don’t: I believe natural systems are ordered by an amoral, implacable, scientific reality that we understand much better by taking it seriously and being smart than by theodicy.  I believe actions like putting carbon back in the air from underground as fast as possible have consequences, consequences that fall most heavily on the least deserving: the poor people who will not have enough to eat as floods and droughts deepen and come more often, and all the children still unborn around the world who didn’t get to dance at the fossil fuel party but will still have to figure out how to live in a toasted planet – yes, and children in tornado alley who never voted for anyone.

I also believe that the time to talk about politics and how we engage with that amoral reality is while the manifestations of foolishness, especially their injustice, are salient, and that doing so shows respect and sympathy for those who suffered and died for no good reason other than the cupidity of their leadership and its wilful ignorance (or worse, putative ignorance)

Taking the fire pledge

The need for a zero-carbon pledge.

An American abstinence pledge from 1845
An American abstinence pledge from 1845


Barack Obama (2009) :

President Obama is offering a U.S. target for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the range of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020…. In light of the President’s goal for an 83% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050, the pending legislation also includes a reduction in GHG emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by 2025 and to 42% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Similar pledges from the EU and China.

They could learn something from the hard-nosed capitalists.

  • Google : If you add in our renewable energy and offsets, our [carbon] footprint is zero.
  • Ikea (pdf page 12) : By the end of FY 20 [2020] the IKEA group will produce as much renewable energy as we consume in our operations.
  • WalMart : We’ve set three aspirational sustainability goals: … to be supplied 100% by renewable energy.
  • News Corp. (pdf, page 3) : We will .. become carbon neutral.
  • Marks & Spencer (pdf, page 23): Three objectives and 33 commitments: … Reduce our operational carbon emissions by 35% and make our operations carbon neutral.

Notice the difference? Politicians talk in percentage reductions. Businesses, if they take climate disruption seriously at all, set a goal of sustainability – zero net emissions, or 100% renewable energy. (They come to much the same thing except for agriculture and forestry, unsurprisingly not represented in my sample.) They are right. Continue reading “Taking the fire pledge”

The Keystone pipeline as a Vietnam crisis

A letter to John Kerry on the Keystone pipeline and civil disorder..

Tomorrow (22 April) is the closing date for public submissions to the State Department on the Keystone pipeline approval. I just put in my pennyworth – it is an international issue, else why has it landed on Kerry’s desk? Here it is, raising an issue that’s not been properly aired.

Dear Secretary Kerry:
I invite you to consider that approval of the Keystone pipeline would be divisive and lead to months or years of turmoil. There is no doubt that its construction would be the target of massive civil disobedience and non-violent protest. I personally would think such action justified, but regardless of the merits it cannot be ignored as a factor in your and the President’s decision.

You are both, by temperament and conviction, conciliators. Your approval of the Keystone pipeline would ignite a bitter and long-drawn-out conflict that would be chalked up to your legacies and undermine your historic reputations. Lives might be lost; certainly some protesters would be injured and a good number serve time in jail. It is also a burden on policemen to ask them to use force to protect a private interest many of them will think insufficient.

It is sadly possible that the intense anger aroused, and the broad non-violent protest already announced, would lead fringe groups to engage in violent sabotage. A pipeline is very vulnerable to this. I’m sure that the overwhelming majority of opponents of the pipeline would join me in rejecting and condemning such tactics. Still, the possibility is a real cost of your decision.

Taking these severe risks into account is not “giving in to blackmail”. If the pipeline were truly necessary to US national security, the risks should be accepted. But no case has been made that it is. The pipeline would merely allow the commercial development of a dirty Canadian oil resource to proceed, and US oil prices to stay slightly lower than they would otherwise be, at enormous environmental cost. Any benefits it offers are largely private; the harms are public.

When you weigh all the costs carefully and soberly, the Keystone pipeline is simply not worth hazarding the credibility of your office, the President, and the US Government.

Yours sincerely”

Slime palaces

An experimental apartment block in Hamburg heated by a skin of algae.

It looks ordinary enough:
However, this is as far-out a building as you’ll ever likely to see. The green coating isn’t paint, it’s algae behind glass in a thin exothermic [Update] bioreactor.
The circuit includes biogas extraction and of course the algae eat carbon dioxide, so the building – with other less ostentatious tweaks – is claimed to be completely carbon-neutral.

Hamburg is cool and wet, so buildings need heating almost all of the year. The technology will therefore never take off in Haight-Ashbury or the liberal bits of Beverly Hills. [Update: this speculation retracted below in comments] But there’s nothing to stop Barack Obama from building himself a carbon-neutral slime palace retreat in Maine or Minnesota. And how about the Governor’s mansion in Alaska?

IBA website in German, via CleanTechnica.


Theme song of an African geothermal conference.

A nice bon enfant jingle for, say, other Luo socialist climate hawks:

What makes it even nicer is that every claim in the puff is true. East Africa is starting to exploit >15 GW of geothermal reserves under the Rift Valley complex, where the continent is slowly splitting in two. The reserves are the traditional and easily accessible hydrothermal sort, not the more widespread “hot dry rocks” targeted by the still experimental EGS technology. More with map in the latest newsletter of the American Geothermal Association.

Even war-torn newbie South Sudan, with dozens of rift valleys, showed up at the latest regional conference. John Kerry has an opportunity here for green peacebuilding, weaning the country away away from dependence on blood oil.