Tuesday, February 15, 2005
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In honor of the Kyoto Protocol...
As the Kyoto Protocol goes into effect on Wednesday, here's a roundup of environmental links that have caught my eye over the past week:
1) On Monday Antonio Regalado had a front-pager in the Wall Street Journal (the link should work for non-subscribers) about the famous/infamous "hockey stick" graph that showed a dramatic climb in temperatures since the start of the Industrial Revolution:
Astonishingly, neither weblog mentioned in the piece has posted any correction of substance about the article -- so bravo to Regalado for apparently writing an accurate article on a technical and controversial subject.
2) Over at a new international law blog called Opinio Juris, Julian Ku notes that while the Bush administration is no fan of Kyoto, it is leading the way in reducing methane. He links to this Gregg Easterbrook essay in The New Republic which contains the following:
[Easterbrook? Easterbrook? Is he a reliable source on enviro-stuff?--ed. There have been some problems in the past, yes. However, I'm taking Kevin Drum's lack of criticism (he's usually all over Easterbrook's environmental posts like Paris Hilton on the cover of a magazine) to be a good sign.]
Ku graciously points out that I blogged about the "Methane to Markets" initiative back in July of last year.
3) John Quiggin has been all over the question of whether Bjorn Lomborg stacked the deck of the Copenhaen Consensus to ensure that global warming would be ranked at the bottom of the world's problems. Alex Tabarrok disputes this, pointing out that Lomborg picked an ardent advocate of the Kyoto Protocol. However, as I read this, Tabarrok's point is consistent with Quiggin's: Lomborg picked someone knowing they would make a radical argument, this ensuring his panelists would reject it.posted by Dan on 02.15.05 at 11:34 PM
This has to be one of the most weasel-word filled paragraphs ever written:
Some this, some that.
Some bullshit.posted by: Aaron on 02.15.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]
The New Scientist has an article that goes into more detail on the warming skeptic's claims:
posted by: Carl on 02.15.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]
Astonishingly, neither weblog mentioned in the piece has posted any correction of substance about the article -- so bravo to Regalado for apparently writing an accurate article on a technical and controversial subject.This is incorrect. RealClimate posted a specific correction to the article the day before your post as well as extensive discussion of McIntyre and McKitrick in the recent past.
I am awestruck that you have concluded the article is "apparently accurate" on the stated basis that RealClimate didn't post anything on the subject when you clearly didn't bother to look. Really, that's just sloppy. posted by: Craig Stuntz on 02.15.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]
Craig -- I specifically said "neither weblog mentioned in the piece has posted any correction of substance." In the very post to which you link (which I saw before writing this post), down in the comments, one of RealClimate's contributors points out, "We aren't particularly criticising WSJ, merely addressing a possibly misleading characterisation of the site."posted by: Dan Drezner on 02.15.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]
Re methane, there are several reasons it is of significantly less concern than carbon dioxide:
1) Methane's contribution to global warming is much smaller, about one-third of that of CO2.
2) The primary source of anthropogenic CO2 is the burning of hydrocarbon fuels, and the trend in those is quite clearly upwards. The major sources of methane are a much more mixed bunch, including for example cattle & landfill emissions. The trends in these are not so clearly upward, and in fact direct measurements over the past 10-20 years show methane concentrations levelling off (the rate of increase is still positive but decreasing.)
3) The lifetime of methane in the atmosphere is short, about 10 years. The 'lifetime' of CO2 is more like 100-200 years. Thus today's methane emissions are irrelevant for the climate in the year ~2015 and afterwards, whereas today's CO2 emissions will be with us for over a century. Since we are mainly concerned with the large warming projected in the future, methane emissions today are not as vital a concern.
(~2 deg C warming is often bandied about as a limit we should try not to cross; currently we are at ~0.6 C. The most pessimistic IPCC scenarios reach 2 deg warming around the 2040's.)
Dan, I really recommend you don't take Easterbrook seriously on scientific topics -- he often has no idea what he is talking about but seems bizarrely intent on holding strong opinions anyways. I'm a physics PhD student and I'm consistently baffled & annoyed by his deeply confused posts on physics topics where he does this...posted by: Ali on 02.15.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]
Daniel, the "recent" McIntyre and McKitrick posts I linked are corrections of substance, albeit to the claims themselves rather than the WSJ's repeatition of them. Should the site's authors be required to repeat themselves every time a journalist mentions McIntyre and McKitrick in order for the pair's claims to be considered "challenged?" That seems like an odd position to me.
A few things of note:
Second - here's a link to M & M's site detailing further information:
Third - in all this talk of "global warming", where is the discussion of historical context? It is a fact that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are nearly at the lowest levels of the last 600 million years - the early carboniferous era, for example, had levels approaching 1,500 ppm.
Fourth - Water vapor? Heliothermal variations? Plate tectonics? Astral dust? Orbital eccentricities? Ocean currents? Where is the discussion of these phenomenon vis a vis global warming?
The fact of the matter, is the global warming and cooling has been occuring for 5 billion years and will continue to occur despite what miniscule effects we humans may have. Do our actions have "an effect"? Butterflies flapping their wings in China.....
To change and control the global economy based on statistically suspicious data derived from an unexplained growth pattern in bristlecone pines - this strikes who exactly, as the logical thing to do?posted by: Jon on 02.15.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]
Here again we see the handiwork of the evil genius Karl Rove. By manipulating Europeans into a belief in anthropogenic global warming, and tricking them into adhering to an economy wrecking but totally ineffectual remedy, he guarantees the decline of Europe. Meanwhile, the US, China, and India remain unhampered by the absurd treaty and are free to expand their economies.posted by: Bob Frunk on 02.15.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]
To respond to a commenter here:
'Water vapor?' - Yes, water vapor is taken into account in some studies. It has a small but possibly significant effect.
'Heliothermal variations?' - It is possible to take these into account to some extent, particularly over the last 50 years when solar data have been available.
'Plate tectonics?' - Uh? This is a serious suggestion that tiny changes in the conformation of the continents contribute significantly to climate change? Because tiny changes is all we've had over the last few thou years. Or do earthquakes cause climate change?
'Astral dust?' - Indeed! We need look no further than home-produced dust coming from coal-burning, volcanos, internal combustion engines, etc., which produces a noticeable 'dimming' by blocking out some solar radiation. Recently such things have been taken into account more thoroughly in simulations.
'Orbital eccentricities?' - These are predictable via Newton's Laws of Motion. Not too difficult really.
'Ocean currents? Where is the discussion of these phenomenon vis a vis global warming?'
Right in the literature if you care to look, I think.
Easterbrook has on Op-Ed in the New York Times about the proposed "Clear Skies" law today which struck me as kind of weird.
The "Clear Skies" proposal does two things. First, it weakens restrictions on air pollution. Second, it allows companies to by and sell air pollution credits, which should increase economic efficiency.
How long does it take Easterbrook to explain these basic points?
Suppose Al Gore had become president and proposed a law to cut pollution from power plants by about 70 percent at a low cost, to discourage the lawsuits that often stall clean-air rules from being enforced, and to serve as a model for a future system to regulate greenhouse gases. Chances are Mr. Gore would have been widely praised. Instead George W. Bush got the White House and announced a plan to do those very things, yet it has been relentlessly denounced by Democrats, environmentalists, editorial pages and even characters in a Doonesbury cartoon.
Easterbrook finally tells us why the "Clear Skies" law has been such a target for attack: Despite its name, it raises allowable pollution levels. But he uses every trick in the book to minimize this point. For example, he doesn't say that the "Clear Skies" law raises sulfur dioxide levels 43%. Instead, he talks about percentages of the 1970 level, which makes the difference appear smaller. Easterbrook's next sentence reads:
But here's the rub: the existing Clean Air Act, though successful, is a complex set of rules that requires a case-by-case drawing up of plans for states, localities and even individual power plants.
By using this phrasing, he manages to create the impression that he is answering critics of the increased pollution levels in "Clear Skies," when in fact he is changing the subject to the second aspect of "Clear Skies"--the pollution credit trading. I'll skip some of his discussion of that, but here's one paragraph:
Here is the real beauty of the Clear Skies plan, something that even its backers may not see: many economists believe that the best tool for our next great environmental project, restraining greenhouse gases, will be a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide. Should President Bush's plan prove that the power industry as a whole can be subjected to a sweeping cap-and-trade rule without suffering economic harm or high costs, that would create a powerful case to impose similar regulation on carbon dioxide, too.
Cap-and-trade of carbon dioxide is what the Kyoto treaty is all about. The argument against Kyoto is that burning anything that carbon dioxide is an inherent byproduct of burning fossel fuels, and that reducing the use of fossel fuels will seriously harm the economy. Experience with reducing other types of power plant emissions won't refute that argument because other types of emissions can be reduced without reducing the amount of energy produced from fossel fuels.
I'm not challenging the merits of the Kyoto treaty; I'm just saying that the United States is not going to be ratifying it any time soon--no matter what happens to the "Clear Skies" bill.
What is Easterbrook up to here? I don't believe that he is begin paid to push the Bush agenda, although other commentators have been, so I can't totally rule that out.
I suspect that part of the problem is that the stuff he's writing about is old news. The idea of tradable emissions credits dates back to at least the 1970's, and is now conventional wisdom. The "Clear Skies" law was proposed in 2003. In my view, it would be perfectly reasonable for the New York Times to publish an Op-Ed which reviewed the issues without saying anything new, but Easterbrook may have felt that he had to say something new in order to have a reasonable chance of being published. He attacks the conventional wisdom that "Clear Skies" is bad for the environment, claims that it is a surprise that trading in emissions credits for sulfur dioxide has worked out so well (without saying who he thinks was surprised), and asserts that passing "Clear Skies" will make it easier to pass Kyoto--an assertion that is sufficiently off the wall that it's a safe bet that no one has made it before. The result may not serve his readers very well--but the New York Times published it.
A reader asks:
...To respond to a commenter here:
...'Water vapor?' - Yes, water vapor is taken into account in some studies. It has a small but possibly significant effect.
Yes - I'd assume that water vapor might have a possibly significant effect - after all it does comprise *60* to *95*% of atmospheric greenhouse gas activity (Depending on your source). Which of course, vastly overshadows the effects of CO2 - of which anthropogenic CO2 emissions (Including human respiration) are but a small part. Hmmmmmm
...'Heliothermal variations?' - It is possible to take these into account to some extent, particularly over the last 50 years when solar data have been available.
Oddly enough, sunspot activity and solar cycling tracks quite nicely with temperature changes....imagine that.
....'Plate tectonics?' - Uh? This is a serious suggestion that tiny changes in the conformation of the continents contribute significantly to climate change? Because tiny changes is all we've had over the last few thou years. Or do earthquakes cause climate change?
And volcanos do not exist?
....'Astral dust?' - Indeed! We need look no further than home-produced dust coming from coal-burning, volcanos, internal combustion engines, etc., which produces a noticeable 'dimming' by blocking out some solar radiation. Recently such things have been taken into account more thoroughly in simulations.
Perhaps you missed this recent story from Nature?
...'Orbital eccentricities?' - These are predictable via Newton's Laws of Motion. Not too difficult really.
Absolutely - where is the accounting?
...'Ocean currents? Where is the discussion of these phenomenon vis a vis global warming?'
...Right in the literature if you care to look, I think.
"The large spike in global temperature in 1998 was associated with one of the strongest El Ninos of recent centuries, the scientists say, and a weak El Nino contributed to the unusually high 2002-2003 global temperatures."
That's wonderful equivocation, don't you think? A strong *and* a weak El Nino cause high temperatures?
posted by: Jon on 02.15.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]
Yes, you're right that climate is very, very complicated. There's not a climatologist out there who would say otherwise. And anyone who claims the question of climate change is a simple one doesn't know what they're talking about. So that means:
1) arguing that water vapor or sunspots affect climate doesn't add anything to the debate. These are now included in all serious climate models. And just because they can affect climate doesn't mean that CO2 can't.
Finally, the term "climate change" is not a meme. A huge chunk of climate scientists are paleoclimatologists, who study the climate of the earth's past -- and as you know that's not just warming, that includes cooling as well. Hence, "climate change". If you think climatologists are conveniently ignoring cooling/warming periods in the past, you are seriously mistaken.posted by: Jesse on 02.15.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]
Excellent points and I'm quite glad you made them for they add to this discussion.
What frustrates me greatly is that the majority of discussion re GW/CC centers simply on anthropogenic CO2 causes - which simply ignores the other factors involved. Even if we simply eliminate all anthropogenic causes of CO2 emission, the effect will be negligible wrt to the other and frequently nonmentioned factors. For us to be able to honestly and accurately assess the effects of a Kyoto, we have to have to be realistic and honest about what change we actually do and can cause.
As for paleoclimatology - I'll iterate my earlier point that GW/CC has occured for billions of years. The carboniferous era for example, had CO2 concentrations in the 1,500 ppm range - far above our current level of about ~400. What caused prior GW/CC fluctuations and *why are they not relevant now*? For clearly, prior GW/CC was not anthropogenic in nature - why are we automatically assuming that a significant portion of the current GW/CC is *now* caused by us?
Correlation does not equal causation.posted by: Jon on 02.15.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]
Jon states "Correlation does not equal causation."
Especially when, as M & M are showing, the "correlation" of Mann disappears.posted by: Robin Roberts on 02.15.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]
Bottom line is, we in the US produce, per capita, more total greenhouse emissions overall than almost anyone else. To look specifically at methane is to grasp at straws.
On CO2, we are more than double the UK per capita, despite the fact that the combination of British high-mileage driving habits and British gridlock traffic (lots of wasteful idling, lots of wear and tear on engines) puts them in worse shape than you might expect on transportation.
On methane, much of our power generation is now undergoing the same shift to natural gas that characterized western Europe and the UK in particular ten years ago, so even though we are "better" than they are now (but not enough, I suspect, to offset our huge lead in CO2), we won't be for long.
It's a particular outrage when you consider that we are much more endowed than western Europe with renewables -- sunshine for solar panels in particular, but also that Great Plains wind providing an unusual inland boost for wind generation, which is usually confined to the coasts.
Maybe what we need is a dose of $75 per barrel oil and $2 per therm natural gas. That will make zero-emissions look like the Wal-Mart of energy.posted by: daniel on 02.15.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]
Re the hockey stick, will somebody explain why temperatures were rising just as fast in the 30s and 40s as they did in the 90s, but not so in the 60s and 70s? I know, I know, the climate is complicated, other factors, blah blah blah. The problem with this argument is that both sides use the complexity of the climate whenever their data fails them. If you're willing to claim the 30s and 40s where an anomaly, how can you state so definitively that the 90s and 00s arent? And vice versa. This field is just replete with bad science and politics. And please dont try using climate models as any kind of crutch. Until they manage to retrodict how we got here in the first place, much less predict anything, they are less than useless. After all, the climate is incrediably complex, remember?posted by: Mark Buehner on 02.15.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]
FWIW, RealClimate has just posted a "Hockey Stick for Dummies" guide.posted by: Craig Stuntz on 02.15.05 at 11:34 PM [permalink]
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