Archive for November, 2009


A Modest Proposal (for the rest of the world)

At this morning’s White House press gaggle, Obama’s climate czar, Carol Browner, announced “the President is prepared to put on the table a U.S. emissions reduction target in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels in 2020,” which roughly translates into a cut of 4% below the emission levels of 1990  (the year traditionally used for comparing the efforts of different countries).

A lot of people are going to be discouraged by this 4% number, which falls woefully short of the 40% cut that science says is needed to avoid dangerous climate change (though Atlanta’s flood victims from this fall might say it’s already too late for that, having suffered through unprecedented fall rains exactly three months after NOAA released a consensus climate science report predicting same).

Likewise, some countries waiting to hear the opening bid from the United States (e.g. China) might now be tempted to low-ball their own ambitions.  But there’s an interesting twist to the offering from the United States, one that might be skillfully exploited by countries seeking to build economic advantage over the United States.  Accordingly, and in the long literary tradition of the modest proposal, I make note of the following opportunity for China and Europe.

While Obama’s goal for 2020 falls way short of what’s needed, not to worry, says Browner, we’ll make up for it down the road, by steeply reducing emissions in the future:

“In light of the President’s goal to reduce emissions 83 percent by 2050, the expected pathway set forth in pending legislation would entail a 30 percent reduction below 2005 levels in 2025, and a 42 percent reduction below 2005 levels in 2030. Both the Senate and the House bills include interim measurements.  They’re slightly different, but they’re fairly similar.”

Back in July the Director of the Congressional Budget Office published this graph in his blog showing how emissions (in covered sectors) would rise until 2017 and then dive, crash dive really, under the House bill.

Estimated U.S. Emissions under the House-passed Bill

With Europe offering to reduce emissions 30% below 1990 levels by 2020,  its hard to ignore how unfair a 4% offering looks from the United States.  But if Obama is willing to lock the U.S. into a crash dive program, Europe and China might take a second look.   By starting on the task of re-tooling their economies now (a task that both the EU and China have actually already started), they will own economic advantage over the U.S. for decades.  In contrast, rather than preparing for a smart, efficient transfer over to clean energy, the U.S. will have to go on a crash diet, shedding economic output for the sake of shedding carbon pollution [and even with that, still pay other countries to make some of our reductions for us, through the use of so-called “offsets” – a controversial practice that some say deliver few real reductions].

The irony behind the U.S. numbers goes even further, however.  The numbers are only as anemic as they are to appease conservatives in the U.S. Senate who claim to be watching out for the U.S. economy, arguing that moving quickly to curb carbon pollution will cripple the U.S. economy.   However, as the graph above illustrates, delay threatens to undermine prosperity in our country for decades.  The International Energy Administration has estimated that every year of global delay will cost the global economy $500 billion.  The only winners from delay are those who profit from pollution – the fossil fuel industry.


Calling Out Climate Lies

The  hacked climate science email “scandal” once again raises the question of how to respond to climate “skeptics.”

The first chore is to sort out what kind of skeptic you are dealing with. And for the most part, they fall into two varieties: uninformed folks acting in good faith (sometimes to meet self-serving ends) and informed experts acting in bad faith (often to serve industry).

It’s one thing to debate science in good faith.  But when you find yourself debating someone arguing in bad faith, there’s nothing for it but to call out the dishonesty.

While it’s good and necessary to set the science record straight, continuing to answer false arguments made in bad faith only pours fuel on the fire.   In this setting, the very act of debating the science promotes the notion there is something to debate.  Climate deniers thrive on false debate.  Rising to rebut their arguments is simply taking the bait.

Yet remaining silent often won’t work – thus the need to call out the disingenuous nature of the “debate.”

This post by a climate scientist in response to NYT reporter Revkin about the hacked email story is a good example of how to douse fire with water.

“The tactics the inactivists have been using in the run-up to Copenhagen have been all outside the sphere of legitimate scientific discourse. Bogus petitions, sham attempts to gut the  A.P.S. climate statement, and now cowardly illegal outings of private emails from an individual scientist.”

November 2009
« Sep   Dec »