Monday, September 23, 2013

Stifle the U.S. Economy to Set A Good Example on Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

One of the assumptions that guides the posts in this blog is that mankind's pumping of billions of metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is likely to result in an environmental calamity. Mankind is conducting an incredibly risky science experiment regarding the sensitivity of the atmosphere to increasing levels of CO2.  Yet, does it make sense for the U.S. to unilaterally hamstring our economy in order to set a "good example".

An editorial in the New York Times describes the Obama administration proposed federal limits on power plant emissions of carbon dioxide as a "welcome sign".  Yet, how does it make sense to feed the world's growing demand for coal by shipping U.S. mined coal to countries around the world, while restricting the use of coal by power plants in the U.S.  Restricting the U.S. use of cheap coal to generate power will hinder the U.S. economy while barely having any impact of global emissions of greenhouse gases. Try telling coal miners and communities that are dependent on coal mining that their jobs should be killed in order to set a "good example" for the rest of the world. Furthermore, making U.S. energy more expensive serves to unilaterally impose a tax on the U.S. economy while the rest of the world gets a free ride.

Frankly, I am glad that I don't have to make a decision on which way to vote on this proposed legislation. While a worldwide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is urgently needed, unilateral legislation that hamstrings the U.S. economy is challenging to support. And the New York Times rationale of endorsing the proposed power plant emissions limits in order to set a "good example" is not particularly compelling.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Climate Change Will Be Unstoppable By The Time Politicians Take Steps to Mitigate

It boggles the mind that climate change skeptics think mankind can continue to emit billions of metric tons of greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals into the atmosphere every year without altering the environment. Given that Los Angeles, Mexico City and Beijing demonstrate how severely pollution can foul the air on a metropolitan basis, is it such a leap to reach a conclusion that the global atmosphere may be sensitive to the massive greenhouse gas emissions produced by gasoline and diesel combustion in cars and trucks, coal fired power plants, and the plenitude of other sources of air pollution?

It seems unlikely that the pause in the rising global surface temperature during the last decade proves that "global warming is a hoax". Further, any claim that the pause in the earth's warming trend has been greater than a decade should immediately activate BS detectors. A claim that global warming stopped in 1998 can only be made by someone that is illiterate regarding statistics. While the trend of  increasing surface temperature of the earth has has taken a pause for the last decade, it is an exaggeration to indicate the pause has been for 15 or 16 years. The starting point of skeptics exaggerating the length of the pause in global warming is typically 1998, a particularly warm year because of a strong El Nino weather pattern. Cherry picking 1998 as a a starting point is either an indication of statistical illiteracy of an overt attempt to obfuscate the results.

The link between green house gas emission and climate change impacts are firm in some cases and circumstantial in others. The impact upon the oceans are almost certainly related to mankind's activity. The west coast fires, the cycle of heat waves, drought and flash floods around much of the world, and the increased destructiveness of storms such as Hurricane Sandy and other examples of weather on steroids all are indicative of a changing climate.

The greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals emitted to date are already having an impact on the world's oceans. Sea level is rising by 1/10th inch per year and the ocean is becoming more acidic. The mercury content in deep water fish is increasing. Fish are migrating away from the tropics.  Arctic sea ice is declining in the area it covers.

The negative impacts of climate change are leading to worrisome outcomes. As examples, 1) the migration of pests, and 2) reductions in the flow of the Colorado River, could have disastrous impacts if these trends pick up speed. Property insurance rates are increasing to unaffordable levels for many living in flood prone areas.

Yet the question becomes - how much loss of life, property destruction, famine, and economic harm must occur before action is taken to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions? Given that any action that would truly be meaningful to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions must be taken jointly by the U.S., China, and the world's other leading economies, it seems unlikely that anything significant will be agreed upon this decade. The Chinese are moving in slow motion in acting to control the life shortening pollution that clouds the country's major cities. It seems unlikely that a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will become a priority in that country. And in the U.S., much of the Republican party continues to spout a "global warming is a hoax" message.

Thus, given the growth  in greenhouse gasses and CO2 in the atmosphere, we may well be on the path to a climate catastrophe. If the predictions of the climate Cassandras turn out to be true, a very challenging environment awaits future generations. And mankind has no better option than to hope that the most pessimistic predictions of climate change are wrong, because the world's politicians are unlikely to take any action to avert climate change until the impact is upon us and unstoppable.