2010 April 15 Thursday
Natural Gas Worse Than Diesel On Global Warming?

Vehicles powered by natural gas would leak methane that would warm the planet way more than CO2.

In fact, using natural gas rather than diesel in vehicles could actually increase climate change, says Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University. "You're aggravating global warming more if you switch," he says.

Howarth is basing his conclusion on a preliminary analysis that includes not only the amount of carbon dioxide that comes out of a tailpipe when you burn diesel and natural gas, but also the impact of natural gas leaks. Methane, the main component of natural gas, is much more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, so even small amounts of it contribute significantly to global warming. When you factor this in, natural gas could be significantly worse than diesel, he says. Using natural gas would emit the equivalent of 33 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule. Using petroleum fuels would emit the equivalent of just 20 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule.

The problem with natural gas is that if it leaks before it is burned it is a far more potent warmer than if it is first burned and converted into carbon dioxide and water. Better to burn it in large electric power generator plants where it is burned with tight emissions controls in highly efficient furnaces.

Hydrogen is a bad idea for a similar reason (in addition to other reasons). Hydrogen leaks would damage the ozone layer. Hydrogen as a fuel storage medium is a bad idea.

By Randall Parker    2010 April 15 11:06 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (89)
2010 March 08 Monday
European CO2 Permits Lead To Political Profits

Count me in the crowd who think cap-and-trade as a method for cutting CO2 emissions is a bad idea. It gets gamed by industries that have the best lobbyists. Europe serves as a poster boy for how cap-and-trade leads to ridiculous outcomes. Powerful firms got more carbon emission permits than they needed and sold them for big profits.

PARIS—Europe’s system for industrial carbon quotas has enriched the continent’s biggest polluters, with 10 firms together reaping permits for 2008 alone worth $680 million, a new report revealed.

Dominated by steel and cement makers, the same “carbon fat cats” stand to collect surplus CO2 permits that—at current market rates—could be worth $4.3 billion by 2012, it said.

Of course, the whole point of the permits was to allow trading so that businesses that had a harder time cutting CO2 emissions could buy emissions permits from those who had an easier time cutting emissions. But some firms did an excellent job lobbying for more permits and so they have plenty to sell.

Meanwhile, government subsidies of solar and wind in Germany freed up permits so that some companies could get more CO2 permits from the government. (thanks "th" for this link) So the renewable power subsidies raised electric power rates while boosting profits of companies who got more CO2 permits.

Germany's renewable energy companies are a tremendous success story. Roughly 15 percent of the country's electricity comes from solar, wind or biomass facilities, almost 250,000 jobs have been created and the net worth of the business is €35 billion per year.

But there's a catch: The climate hasn't in fact profited from these developments. As astonishing as it may sound, the new wind turbines and solar cells haven't prohibited the emission of even a single gram of CO2.

In a more rational system I could imagine steel or cement makers subsidizing the construction of wind mills or paying for insulation in order to cut CO2 emissions from other sources. But no.

Even more surprising, the European Union's own climate change policies, touted as the most progressive in the world, are to blame. The EU-wide emissions trading system determines the total amount of CO2 that can be emitted by power companies and industries. And this amount doesn't change -- no matter how many wind turbines are erected.

We need cheaper cleaner energy sources so that market forces will push the shift to cleaner energy. Trying to this with government intervention leads to politically more astute firms making profit at the expense of everyone else.

On the bright side Germany's subsidies for solar panels (even though installed in a country with lower average insolation) have caused a scaling up of photovoltaics panel construction that has caused PV makers to go down learning curves that have cut PV costs for the rest of the world.

By Randall Parker    2010 March 08 06:51 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2009 December 15 Tuesday
Adapt To Global Warming?

Bjorn Lomborg argues that we could adapt to global warming more cheaply than we could prevent it.

Take malaria. Most estimates suggest that if nothing is done, 3% more of the Earth's population will be at risk of infection by 2100. The most efficient global carbon cuts designed to keep average global temperatures from rising any higher than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (a plan proposed by the industrialized G-8 nations) would cost the world $40 trillion a year in lost economic growth by 2100—and have only a marginal impact on reducing the at-risk malaria population. By contrast, we could spend $3 billion a year on mosquito nets, environmentally safe indoor DDT sprays, and subsidies for new therapies—and within 10 years cut the number of malaria infections by half. In other words, for the money it would take to save one life with carbon cuts, smarter policies could save 78,000 lives.

But I question the high costs claimed for CO2 emissions reduction. For example, one third of the CO2 emitted in the United States from human activity comes from burning coal to make electricity. Well, with 103 (104?) nuclear reactors the United States gets 20% of US electric power from nukes and almost 50% from coal. Well, build two and a half times as many nuclear reactors as now exist in the US and then all those coal electric plants could be retired for a one third reduction in CO2 emissions. Cost? Probably about $2 trillion if we assume $8 billion per nuclear reactor. Too low? Even at $10 billion per nuclear reactor we are still at only $2.5 trillion. That's not per year, that's total. Spread across 20 years to make the transition the cost is only $125 billion per year. Granted that's only the United States. But the same could be done in the rest of the world too.

The hardest part of emissions reduction is due to oil used for transportation. I'm expecting Peak Oil to take care of that problem - albeit at the cost of an economic depression. But suppose I'm wrong to think that Peak Oil is just around the corner. What to do? Switch to pluggable hybrid electric cars (recharged with nukes, wind, and solar power of course). Suppose they cost $10k extra each. If the United States builds, say, 10 million of them per year then the extra cost is $100 billion per year. Not much in an economy with a $14.2 trillion yearly GDP. Besides, pluggable hybrids lower cost of fuel and therefore much of the initial higher purchase cost eventually gets paid back by savings due to less money spent on fuel.

For anything we can switch to electric power we can avoid the burning of fossil fuels. We can also reduce pollution from soot and other stuff we don't want to breathe into our lungs. An electrified society is a cleaner and healthier society.

On a related note: a reduction in soot emissions would help improve human health and reduce global warming. Why not pursue policies that reduce conventional lung-damaging and heart-damaging pollutants which as a side effect also reduce the risks of warming? Conventional pollutant reduction doesn't get the attention that it deserves because global warming gets so much attention.

By Randall Parker    2009 December 15 10:40 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (63)
2009 September 28 Monday
Cheaper To Remove CO2 From Atmosphere?

Regardless of whether you think atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is a problem assume for the moment you want to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. How best to do this? Prevent CO2 from being released into the atmosphere or remove the CO2 once it is there because maybe that approach is cheaper?

Governments are doing practically nothing to study the removal of carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, but this technology could be a much cheaper form of climate protection than photovoltaic cells and other approaches getting lavish support, according to an article published today in Science.

David W. Keith, a physicist at the University of Calgary, reviews some of the technologies for air capture of carbon and notes that there is not a single government program devoted specifically to that purpose. Dr. Keith estimates that less than $3 million per year in public money is currently being spent on related research, even though it could potentially be a bargain.

The example cited by Dr. Keith as a very expensive way to avoid CO2 emissions is the use of photovoltaic panels. But I wonder if PV today is worse than expensive: How much CO2 gets released in the production of PV in the first place? The reason I ask that question is that expensive products on average require more fossil fuels in their manufacture than cheaper products. Products that require more expensive manufacturing require more energy to do the manufacturing. In the case of PV that includes mining materials, purifying materials, transporting materials, running production lines, and then transporting and installing the resulting products. That energy isn't just for the PV cells but also for the glass covering, aluminum and other rack material, grid tie inverters and other electrical equipment.

Now, I'm not arguing against the PV industry. Since demand for PV made from current tech provides revenue to develop newer and cheaper ways to make PV I expect the ratio of energy return on energy invested (EROEI in some circles) for PV manufacture will improve and become very favorable even if it isn't favorable now. So the PV industry is still going to eventually make a huge contribution toward cutting back on fossil fuels usage. But given the high (albeit rapidly falling) cost of PV it is not clear to me that it has a big positive EROEI.

Another point: We can also cut back on fossil fuels usage by using energy more efficiently. For example, better home design to lower heating and cooling needs will reduce fossil fuels usage. But in a world where China has surpassed the United States in CO2 emissions we might derive real benefit from the development of ways to remove CO2 that is already in the atmosphere. What I'd like to know: Could a massive program of tree planting, harvesting, and submersion in deep lakes remove CO2 at a lower cost than the cost of carbon capture and storage on coal electric plants?

By Randall Parker    2009 September 28 12:13 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (39)
2009 September 03 Thursday
Higher Density Housing To Do Little To Cut Fossil Fuels

A National Academy of Sciences report throws cold water on urbanism as a way to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Urban planners hoping to help mitigate CO2 emissions by increasing housing density would do better to focus on fuel-efficiency improvements to vehicles, investments in renewable energy, and cap and trade legislation now being voted on in Congress, according to the study, released Tuesday. It concludes that increasing population density in metropolitan areas would yield insignificant CO2 reductions.

Plus it amounts to trying to get people to do something they clearly don't want to do: live closer to each other.

Even if 75 percent of all new and replacement housing in America were built at twice the density of current new developments, and those living in the newly constructed housing drove 25 percent less as a result, CO2 emissions from personal travel would decline nationwide by only 8 to 11 percent by 2050, according to the study.

I find it curious that a doubling of density would cut miles driven by only 25%. I would expect a doubling of density to cut miles driven in half. Why isn't this the case? Zoning laws that keep housing away from commercial buildings?

I see a fundamental flaw in attempts to cut oil consumption to cut CO2 emissions: The oil is going to get burned no matter what any one country or group countries does with their energy policies. The uses of oil and users of oil are so many that an attempt to cut demand in one area will just free up oil to be used elsewhere. Oil production will peak and decline for reasons unrelated to global warming.

It makes more sense to me to focus on shifting from oil to nuclear, solar and wind for electric power generation. It seems more within the realm of the doable to cut global coal demand than the cut global oil demand.

Make car transportation expensive enough and people will live closer to work even without moving into higher density housing. People will effectively swap jobs and houses to live closer to work. Peak Oil will do that more effectively than any government policy.

Currently in the United States 95% of all transportation energy comes from oil and 71% of consumed oil gets used for transportation. Want to decrease the amount of oil burned in trucks, cars, trains, ships, and airplanes? Develop ways to use other energy sources in transportation. Most notably, better and cheaper batteries would allow most commuting to be done under electric power. A build up of more nuclear power plants along with some wind and solar would then cut emissions from fossil fuels burning.

I do not expect this report will have much impact on the urban enthusiasts who want us all to move into multi-story apartment buildings and ride on subways. They'll eventually get some satisfaction for their dreams when Peak Oil really starts to bite. But that crisis will come on too fast for many to move into cities as a way to adjust. I expect electric cars and electric bicycles to do more and faster than a big surge in urban construction.

By Randall Parker    2009 September 03 10:15 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2009 July 29 Wednesday
Global Warming And Personal Responsibility

Put aside for the moment whether you personally think that atmospheric CO2 build-up constitutes a serious threat to the human race. If highly educated scientists who think global waming is a threat won't make sacrifices to cut their CO2 emissions what are the odds the world as a whole will act to reduce risks that do not materialize for decades?

AT A recent dinner at the University of Oxford, a senior researcher in atmospheric physics was telling me about his coming holiday in Thailand. I asked him whether he was concerned that his trip would make a contribution to climate change - we had, after all, just sat through a two-hour presentation on the topic. "Of course," he said blithely. "And I'm sure the government will make long-haul flights illegal at some point."

I had deliberately steered our conversation this way as part of an informal research project that I am conducting - one you are welcome to join. My participants so far include a senior adviser to a leading UK climate policy expert who flies regularly to South Africa ("my offsets help set a price in the carbon market"), a member of the British Antarctic Survey who makes several long-haul skiing trips a year ("my job is stressful"), a national media environment correspondent who took his family to Sri Lanka ("I can't see much hope") and a Greenpeace climate campaigner just back from scuba diving in the Pacific ("it was a great trip!").

A lot of eco-tourism strikes me as simply amazing. People are flying to distant places to see glaciers that might melt in part because people fly to distant places to see them before CO2 emitted by airplanes wipes out glaciers and flows areas.

From the tropics to the ice fields, doom is big business. Quark Expeditions, a leader in arctic travel, doubled capacity for its 2008 season of trips to the northern and southernmost reaches of the planet. Travel agents report clients are increasingly requesting trips to see the melting glaciers of Patagonia, the threatened coral of the Great Barrier Reef, and the eroding atolls of the Maldives, Mr. Shapiro said.

Imagine you really believe that airplane exhaust is going to destroy something. Are you going to jump on an airplane to see it before people like yourself destroy it?

I'm also reminded of Al Gore's eye-popping monthly utility bills. This sort of "do as I say, not as I do" is not persuasive.

Again, I'm not calling on you to take a side in the climate debate. But if the threat is real then I do not see human nature as conducive to solving it via billions of people deciding to restrain their fossil fuels consumption.

Solution? Maybe technological advances will happen that make cleaner energy cheaper than fossil fuels. Then there won't be much sacrifice involved in switching. Another possibility: Peak Oil. We won't be able to burn as much oil as we want to use for eco-tourism.

Update: A recent study by David Hardisty, M.Phil., and Elke Weber, Ph.D., of Columbia University illustrates how people apply discount rates to future environmental losses and gains that make support for long term benefits hard to build up.

The researchers conducted three studies with 65, 118 and 146 participants, respectively. They presented participants with a series of situations, forcing them to choose between different outcomes involving air quality, mass transit, garbage pile-up from a workers' strike, and monetary gain and loss (for example, paying a parking ticket in a smaller amount now or a larger amount later).

As examples of the various scenarios presented, participants picked:

  • 21 days of clean air now over 35 days of clean air next year;
  • a short-term fix for mass transit now, instead of a long-term fix later;
  • a $250 lottery win now over a $410 win a year later.

Previous studies found that people are not particularly rational about personal finance. For example, if they came into some cash while carrying two loans, they might completely pay off the smaller loan right away, even though they could instead start paying off the larger, higher-interest loan – a strategy that would reduce their overall interest.

In the new studies, across scenarios, participants downplayed future gains significantly more than future losses. Employing a formula used by economists, "with our particular scenarios and measurement techniques, [we] found annualized discount rates that averaged out to roughly 34 percent for monetary and environmental gains and 9 percent for losses," Hardisty said.

By Randall Parker    2009 July 29 12:11 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (34)
2009 May 18 Monday
US Auto Fuel Efficiency To Rise Even Faster

Back in January 2007 the Bush Administration and Congress agreed to raise standards for auto fuel efficiency. Now the Obama Administration has decided to raise those standards even faster. The Obama Administration has decided to accelerate the rate at which car fuel economy must rise.

By 2016, passenger cars must average 39 miles per gallon and light trucks 30 mpg. A senior administration official said the proposal will boost the price of the average price of a vehicle by $1,300 -- or $600 more than the per vehicle increase predicted under a Bush administration fuel efficiency proposal.

The proposal will force automakers to meet a fleetwide average of 35.5 mpg by 2016 -- four years ahead of what Congress required in 2007, when it mandated 35 mpg by 2020. The higher costs could add $13 billion to $20 billion annually in total new car costs.

My take: this regulation will help prepare the auto makers for Peak Oil. Granted, the politicians in Washington DC seem oblivious to that approaching disaster. But by accident the US government is causing auto makers to take some steps to prepare for Peak Oil.

The effect on CO2 emissions won't be that large because cars account for less than a fifth of US CO2 emissions.

Cars and light trucks account for 17% of total U.S. greenhouse gases, according to EPA data.

By contrast in 2006 35% of US CO2 emissions came from electric power generation To cut CO2 emissions in a big way requires cutting coal electric power plant emissions in a big way. But doing that will increase electric bills in lots of states. So you do not hear the Obama Administration touting a similar scale agreement that cuts CO2 emissions from the electric power industry.

Internationally burning coal is the biggest single source of CO2 emissions.

Coal’s share of world carbon dioxide emissions grew from 39 percent in 1990 to 41 percent in 2005 and is projected to increase to 44 percent in 2030. Coal is the most carbon-intensive of the fossil fuels, and it is the fastest-growing energy source in the IEO2008 reference case projection, reflecting its important role in the energy mix of non-OECD countries—especially China and India. In 1990, China and India together accounted for 13 percent of world carbon dioxide emissions; in 2005 their combined share had risen to 23 percent, largely because of strong economic growth and increasing use of coal to provide energy for that growth. In 2030, carbon dioxide emissions from China and India combined are projected to account for 34 percent of total world emissions, with China alone responsible for 28 percent of the world total.

Flat and eventually declining oil production will increase the demand for coal and natural gas. But I expect one net effect of Peak Oil will be a lowering of CO2 emissions. Already the big run-up in oil prices that peaked in the summer of 2008 caused changes in consumer behavior that cut oil demand and the high oil prices contributed to the recession that cut oil demand even further.

What remains unclear to me: how fast will battery technology improve? Higher fuel efficiency standards and declining oil production will be a lot easier to handle with better batteries for longer range electric cars.

Update: Some argue against higher fuel efficiency standards based on safety concerns. However, while that's probably true overall there are some cases where it is not true. SUVs are safer for passengers than small cars - as long as you are in the SUVs hitting the small cars. But small cars are safer the fewer SUVs are on the road. Higher mass in a car makes that car more dangerous to other cars it runs into.

By Randall Parker    2009 May 18 11:47 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (41)
2009 March 05 Thursday
Global Warming Fears Translate Into Tax Increases

Why has the debate over global warming become so partisan with most on the Left and Right taking opposing positions? Some on the Left argue that people on the political Left are more willing to consider the evidence of science. But I see a more likely reason: People on the Right do not like high taxes and suspect the argument for restrictions on carbon dixoide emissions is just a convenient opportunity to increase tax revenues and the size of government. The Obama Administration demonstrates the truth of these suspicions. A half trillion dollars a year is a lot of money.

The budget includes $78.7 billion in projected revenues from the cap-and-trade system in its first year, 2012, and $525.7 billion total by 2019. According to Point Carbon, an energy-market analysis firm based in Olso, Norway, these numbers are based on the assumption that credits for a ton of carbon dioxide will sell for $13.70 in 2012 and $16.50 by 2020. These estimates are in line with carbon credits issued in Europe, says Veronique Bugnion, a managing director at Point Carbon. The 2012 price for carbon dioxide emissions will increase gasoline prices by 6 percent compared to current prices, she says. Average electricity prices will increase by 6.8 percent--perhaps more. According to calculations by Gilbert Metcalf, an economist at Tufts University, the average electricity price increase would be 9.7 percent by 2012 and 11.7 percent by 2020.

Suppose, however, that the atmospheric CO2 build-up really is going to cause us big problems. Carbon taxes that come with matching cuts in other taxes could (at least in theory) reduce fossil fuels consumption in a revenue neutral way. If proposals from the Left for cutting CO2 emissions came with tax changes that were revenue neutral I think the ideological divisions over global warming would lessen. If the Left wants to be seen as sincere about climate change then they should support only tax revenue-neutral ways to cut CO2 emissions.

Another idea: taxes on carbon dioxide emissions could be used as tax credits to lower the prices of cleaner replacements. For example, taxes on coal burning for electric power could provide tax credits for promising new nuclear power plant designs. Governments would not be enriched by carbon taxes.

Update: How much of the $525.7 billion is for 2019? Is it a sum total over 7 year? Does the expected take from such a tax go up each of those years? How much is the tax projected to go up after 2019? Anyone have a good source for detailed breakdown of these numbers?

By Randall Parker    2009 March 05 11:36 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (152)
2008 April 15 Tuesday
Anyone Happy About High Oil Prices?

With oil prices up over 80% since April 2007 you might think leaders of governments committed to CO2 emissions reductions would be happy that prices are restraining CO2 emissions growth. But if you thought that you would be wrong. The British Prime Minister wants OPEC to hike oil output (and does he seriously think OPEC can do this?).

Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Tuesday called on the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to boost production to counter rapidly rising oil prices, adding his voice to similar requests from the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

"We are not producing enough oil ... and we can take collective action to persuade OPEC and others to get the oil price down," Brown said in an interview on Sky Television.

Does this sound like a guy deeply fearful of anthropogenic global warming? I think not. When you hear other politicians calling on Saudi Arabia and other oil exporters to scale up production you'll know they too are less worried about CO2 emissions and more worried about economic growth and living standards in the short term.

People who are sincerely worried about global warming as a massive threat to humanity right now ought to be thinking one of two thoughts about high and rising oil prices:

  • Oh happy days, the world is running out of horrible polluting oil. Declining oil reserves are doing what 100 conferences of diplomats negotiating climate change treaties can never hope to accomplish.
  • Oh happy days, luckily the oil exporters see more money to be made by restraining production rather than let the gluttonous oil consumers burn much more every year.

Yet as I listen and read I do not hear anyone singing "Oh happy days". Why is that? Or are you singing secretly "Oh happy days" in the anonymity of your daily shower? Anyone want to fess up to happiness about the rising prices of gasoline, diesel fuel, and heating oil?

In after market trading on Tuesday oil hit a new high of $114.08 per barrel. My own reaction was "Oh I hope I do not find myself homeless when oil production starts declining 4+% per year".

If we are lucky the price of oil will hit $130 by the end of the year but world oil production won't start declining this year or even next year. Why lucky? Higher prices without an absolute decline in oil production will wake up more people in time to do more preparations for when world oil production starts declining at 4% or more per year.

By Randall Parker    2008 April 15 10:43 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (21)
2008 March 31 Monday
Greater Knowledge Of Global Warming Breeds Apathy

The more they know the less most people care. Anyone want to offer an explanation for this response?

COLLEGE STATION – The more you know the less you care – at least that seems to be the case with global warming. A telephone survey of 1,093 Americans by two Texas A&M University political scientists and a former colleague indicates that trend, as explained in their recent article in the peer-reviewed journal Risk Analysis.

“More informed respondents both feel less personally responsible for global warming, and also show less concern for global warming,” states the article, titled “Personal Efficacy, the Information Environment, and Attitudes toward Global Warming and Climate Change in the USA.”

The study showed high levels of confidence in scientists among Americans led to a decreased sense of responsibility for global warming.

The diminished concern and sense of responsibility flies in the face of awareness campaigns about climate change, such as in the movies An Inconvenient Truth and Ice Age: The Meltdown and in the mainstream media’s escalating emphasis on the trend.

The research was conducted by Paul M. Kellstedt, a political science associate professor at Texas A&M; Arnold Vedlitz, Bob Bullock Chair in Government and Public Policy at Texas A&M’s George Bush School of Government and Public Service; and Sammy Zahran, formerly of Texas A&M and now an assistant professor of sociology at Colorado State University.

Does just looking at Al Gore cause people to fall asleep? Or am I an outlier on this?

Maybe if people think scientists are all on top of it that scientists will figure out solutions. Someone's working the issue. Not to worry?

Maybe the perceived immensity of the problem breeds a feeling of hopelessness?

Maybe fear of the known is less than fear of the unknown? A well characterized problem strikes people as something they know how to work around? (don't buy that ocean front mansion in Fort Lauderdale - as if you could afford it anyhow)

I already think we should stop building coal-fired electric power plants for another reason: cleaner air down at ground level. We should switch to nuclear, solar, and wind. With excellent batteries we could shift most transportation to electric power and breathe cleaner air. I believe the amount of extractable oil and natural gas left is so small that only coal can cause climate problems. (and also see this PDF of a presentation by David Rutledge of CalTech)

By Randall Parker    2008 March 31 04:33 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (30)
2007 October 28 Sunday
How Big A Carbon Tax To Dampen Gasoline Demand?

An editorial in the Christian Science Monitor discusses the carbon tax idea as a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Economists agree that the real cost of burning fossil fuels – damage to the environment and health, not to mention the cost of replacing them as they run out – isn't reflected in today's prices. A carbon tax would directly send a market signal to reduce carbon use. And it would provide an incentive for investment in renewable sources, especially if the tax is set at the source: for natural gas, at the wellhead; for coal, at the mine entrance. Oil would be charged at the refinery because petroleum products create different levels of emissions when burned.

The World Resources Institute calculates that a tax of $15 per ton of carbon-dioxide emissions would double the costs for coal use and raise gasoline prices about 13 cents a gallon (or about 5 percent, at today's prices). Natural-gas prices would rise less than 7 percent. That would result in a 12 percent reduction in CO2 emissions.

So get this: Some carbon tax advocates who want to prevent global warming advocate a carbon tax that will increase the cost of gasoline by a mean 13 cents a gallon. Is that all we are arguing over when we argue about whether to take any expensive steps to stop global warming? I've previously read references to an even higher $30 per ton carbon tax. That's double the $15 per ton and so lets go with that for a 26 cents a gallon increase in gasoline cost. Now we need some historical perspective on gasoline costs to see if 26 cents amounts to much in terms of reduced gasoline demand.

Check out this table of refiner wholesale gasoline costs from 1998 to 2007. Back in the good old days of 1998 gasoline sold at wholesale for a mere 53 cents per gallon. The cost has more than quadrupled to $2.13 per gallon for 2007 and probably right now it is even higher. At the retail level gasoline bottomed out slightly below $1 per gallon in late 1998 and early 1999 and is around $2.80 as of this writing. So the price of gasoline increased by $1.80 per gallon just due to market forces (though by only about $1.50 per gallon if adjusted for inflation). Doesn't that make a 26 cent a gallon increase from a carbon tax seem, well, somehow inadequate for the goal of reduced consumption it is meant to achieve? Recently gasoline demand in the United States went down .2% as compared to early October 2006. The rising price of gasoline has finally stopped consumption growth. But a pretty big increase was necessary to stop consumption growth. If a far larger increase in gasoline prices has only barely stopped gasoline consumption growth why should a carbon tax of 13 or 26 cents a gallon make a big difference? Granted, it will make a difference. But the difference won't be large.

Maybe a carbon tax of between $15 and $30 per ton will have a much bigger impact on the use of coal for electric generation. I'd really like to know how much a dollar of carbon tax increases the price of coal electric per kilowatt-hour. How big a carbon tax on coal would make nuclear power cheaper than coal electric?

But if a carbon tax isn't going to make much difference in US demand far more powerful forces are already pushing up the price of oil, reducing US demand, and these forces promise to push up oil prices even higher. Can anyone guess what I'm thinking about the future when reading this paragraph?

Market Saturation -- The U.S. has reached the unusual position of having more vehicles than licensed drivers -- 1,148 registered personal vehicles (cars and light trucks) for every 1,000 licensed drivers. Britain has 700; Mexico, 208. Brazil has 137 per thousand eligible drivers, and India has 11 per thousand. while China has just nine cars per thousand eligible drivers.

What happens to the price of oil when China reaches 100 cars per thousand eligible drivers? Chinese drivers are going to force US drivers into smaller cars, public transit, electric cars, and electric mopeds.

By Randall Parker    2007 October 28 11:14 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (20)
2007 June 23 Saturday
New Jersey To Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The New Jersey legislature has passed legislation that will require the New Jersey economy to cut greenhouse gas emissions and Governor Jon Corzine says he will sign it into law.

Under the new law, greenhouse gas emissions generated by every aspect of the state’s economy, not just electricity-generating stations, will have to drop about 13 percent, to 1990 levels, by 2020. The bill further requires that emissions be capped at 80 percent of 2006’s levels by 2050.

Whether the federal government will allow state governments to regulate emissions of CO2 and other gases for the purpose of avoiding climate change remains to be seen. California and a few other states have also adopted laws for greenhouse gas emissions reduction but none go as far as New Jersey's.

The eventual cap at 80% of 2006's level by 2050 is probably easier to achieve than the 13% reduction by 2020. Technologies developed in the 2010s and 2020s will greatly lower the costs of a switch to nuclear, solar, biomass, geothermal, and wind power.

The longer range goal is also easier to achieve because it is easier for energy-intensive industries to migrate out-of-state in the longer run. Companies can make plans to stop enhancing capital plant and not to initiate new plant construction, for example. Notably, this new regulatry policy will probably gradually drive much of the chemical industry out of the state.

If the US federal government allows individual states to enforce their own greenhouse gas emissions regulations then expect business executives to invest more in states that are big coal producers. Why? Because the states that are big coal (and oil and natural gas) producers have governments that favor the continuation of fossil fuels resource extraction and use. We see this in national politics where Barack Obama of Illinois favors federal subsidies for coal-to-liquid plants for example. West Virginia, Kentucky, North Dakota, and Wyoming all make good bets for energy intensive industries that want to avoid state-level green house gas emissions regulations and taxes.

What I want to know: Even if states gain some legal standing to regulation greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions how will that play out with electric power purchased across state lines? If, say, New Jersey requires a big reduction in GHG emissions in electric power plants can the state regulate utilities to require even out-of-state electric power brought into the state be made from plants that emit fewer GHG? My guess is the US constitution's Interstate Commerce Clause will pose an obstacle for that sort of regulation and therefore coal states like West Virginia and Kentucky might become big electricity exports to New Jersey and other northeastern states that also regulate GHG.

I'm especially interested in how this gets applied to the electric power industry because at a national level electric power accounts for 39% of total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

The data in Table 11 represent estimates of carbon dioxide emissions for the electric power sector. These emissions when taken as a whole account for 39 percent of total U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions; in calculating sector-specific emissions, electric power sector emissions are distributed to the end-use sectors.

What I also want to know: How much is this law going to cost? Already New Jersey's electricity costs 12.8 cents per kwh as compared to coal-burning West Virginia at 6.2 cents per kwh or less than half New Jersey's cost. The people of New Jersey could find themselves paying New York prices (16.19 cents/kwh) or even Connecticut prices (18.51 cents/kwh - ouch). Though perhaps nuclear and wind power will put a ceiling on medium term electricity price rises.

Also see my post California Bill To Cut Greenhouse Gases 25% By 2020.

By Randall Parker    2007 June 23 04:03 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2007 June 21 Thursday
China Surpasses US In Carbon Dioxide Emissions

The rapidly expanding Chinese economy now emits more carbon dioxide than the American economy.

BEIJING (AP) - China has overtaken the United States as the world's top producer of carbon dioxide emissions - the biggest man-made contributor to global warming - based on the latest widely accepted energy consumption data, a Dutch research group says.

According to a report released Tuesday by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, China overtook the U.S. in emissions of CO2 by about 7.5 percent in 2006. While China was 2 percent below the United States in 2005, voracious coal consumption and increased cement production caused the numbers to rise rapidly, the group said.

What I want to know: how long will it take before China's emissions are twice as much as America's? Might be time to make a long term investment in a tropical Aleutian island.

China's per capita income and population size could grow for many years to come. If rising affluence make Chinese people more opposed to the One Child policy then China's population growth could accelerate and Chinese energy consumption could become a few times higher than that of the United States.

Massive construction in China is a major contributor to Chinese emissions.

Jos Olivier, a senior scientist with the Dutch environmental agency, said those statistics are the most accurate but that he and others wanted to find a way to get more immediate figures. He relied primarily on energy data collected by British Petroleum and added information about cement production, a major source of greenhouse emissions from chemical reactions.

Olivier said he believed his figures were fairly reliable. In a telephone interview from his office in the Netherlands, he said his calculations showed that carbon dioxide emissions by the United States declined 1.4% in 2006 — very close to the official figure of 1.3% released in May by the U.S. Department of Energy.

U.S. emissions declined partly because of mild weather in 2006, and partly because of increased use of natural gas instead of dirtier forms of fossil fuel, the Energy Department said.

My guess is that some of that carbon emissions decline in the US is due to rising energy prices. If we really are approaching "Peak Oil" (watch for news about production peaking of the Saudi Ghawar oil field) then we will shift toward coal in a big way. Total carbon dioxide emissions could rise during the early years after oil production peaks as more coal gets used.

To reiterate my basic argument on this topic: The best way to lower carbon emissions is to develop technologies that make other energy sources cheaper than fossil fuels. Photovoltaics and nuclear power combined with next generation batteries could enable us to shift away from fossil fuels for transportation.

By Randall Parker    2007 June 21 11:29 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (27)
2007 January 07 Sunday
A Scientific Middle Emerges On Global Warming

The New York Times reports that as climate alarmist catastrophists have painted the threat from global warming in increasingly extreme terms a more scientific middle ground school of thought has developed in reaction to the catastrophists.

They agree that accumulating carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping smokestack and tailpipe gases probably pose a momentous environmental challenge, but say the appropriate response is more akin to buying fire insurance and installing sprinklers and new wiring in an old, irreplaceable house (the home planet) than to fighting a fire already raging.

“Climate change presents a very real risk,” said Carl Wunsch, a climate and oceans expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It seems worth a very large premium to insure ourselves against the most catastrophic scenarios. Denying the risk seems utterly stupid. Claiming we can calculate the probabilities with any degree of skill seems equally stupid.”

I agree with this insurance premium argument. We can't prove either disaster or minimal impact. The amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) increase is large and, with rapidly industrializing China set to surpass the United States in CO2 emissions by 2009, the massive change in atmospheric CO2 content accelerating. It seems unwise to me to take a passive stance in response to this thread. I've been arguing that it is simply imprudent to do nothing.

My own argument for what to do: A massive research effort to develop cheaper non-fossil fuel energy sources. This approach holds several advantages, not least of which is that it will accelerate rather than decelerate economic growth in the medium to long term

Prometheus web log author Roger A. Pielke Jr. (who writes great stuff btw) says this middle group are not so much climate skeptics as they are heretics on what to do about it.

There are enough experts holding such views that Roger A. Pielke Jr., a political scientist and blogger at the University of Colorado, Boulder, came up with a name for them (and himself): “nonskeptical heretics.”

“A lot of people have independently come to the same sort of conclusion,” Dr. Pielke said. “We do have a problem, we do need to act, but what actions are practical and pragmatic?”

One practical and pragmatic thing to do is to decrease methane emissions. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas and the costs of lowering methane emissions are lower than the costs of lowering CO2 emissions.

Mike Hulme, Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, and Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research says as environmental political activists have adopted a more catastrophist approach he finds himself getting criticised by catatstrophist believers as well as by warming skeptics.

It seems that mere "climate change" was not going to be bad enough, and so now it must be "catastrophic" to be worthy of attention.

The increasing use of this pejorative term - and its bedfellow qualifiers "chaotic", "irreversible", "rapid" - has altered the public discourse around climate change.

This discourse is now characterised by phrases such as "climate change is worse than we thought", that we are approaching "irreversible tipping in the Earth's climate", and that we are "at the point of no return".

I have found myself increasingly chastised by climate change campaigners when my public statements and lectures on climate change have not satisfied their thirst for environmental drama and exaggerated rhetoric.

It seems that it is we, the professional climate scientists, who are now the (catastrophe) sceptics. How the wheel turns.

Catastrophe movies are exciting and the prospects of catastrophe in real life even more exciting. Plus, lots of people want to think they are fighting in a moral crusade for a great good against evil and ignorance. They think they need to paint an extremely disastrous picture of the future in order to motivate people. So the prospect of global warming has a lot to offer. Plus, Mother Gaia is morally superior to us human enviro-sinners. Never mind that we are the products or creations of Mother Gaia. We fell out of Eden somehow or other when Mother Gaia's natural selection made us too intelligent.

The biggest problem with the catastrophe scenarios is that they involve projections of trends that will not continue even if governments around the world do little to alter current trends. While fossil fuel consumption will likely rise for a decade or two the march of technology looks set to obsolesce fossil fuel even without government intervention. Nuclear, photovoltaics, batteries, and wind will all get cheaper and eventually their costs will fall below the costs of fossil fuels.

But we have several quite compelling reasons to take steps to bring the fossil fuel era to an earlier end. For example fossil fuel usage produces conventional pollutants such as particulates, mercury, and oxides of sulfur and nitrogen. Why expose ourselves to pollutants? Why let the neurotoxin mercury accumulate in the food chains for fish? Why breathe carcinogens and stuff that makes our eyes sting and our throats hurt?

The deep skeptic school on global warming is also making an economic mistake. They correctly point out that restraints on CO2 emissions will raise the price of energy and therefore slow economic growth and lower living standards. But when they fail to push instead for a huge acceleration of nuclear, solar, wind, and other non-fossil fuel technology development they miss the opportunity to help create technologies that lower energy costs and clean up environments at the same time.

Additional advantages of a big R&D push comes from the effects on trade. First off, the need for expensive energy imports will vanish along with the need for oil. US trade deficits will get smaller. Also, my grandmother always used to say "Idle hands are the devil's workshop". That certainly holds true for Wahhabi Middle Eastern oil emirates where oil allows plenty of Muslims to live the life of Riley (or his Arab equivalent). Fewer people would become terrorists if more had to get up each day and go to work. The cut-off of money for Saudi Arabia would also cut off money now used to spread Wahhibi Islam around the globe.

We have the real potential for large technological steps forward (e.g. nanodevice replicators to produce incredibly cheap photovoltaics) to make oil obsolete and to make clean energy sources very cheap. The late Richard Smalley, nanomaterials researcher and 1996 Nobel Prize winner for his work on fullerenes ("buckeyballs"), argued for a $10 billion a year research effort on a wide range of energy technologies and believed such an effort would lead to big breakthroughs in cost and cleanliness of energy technologies. This effort is worth doing even if the global warming skeptics are correct. Lower energy costs, reduced flow of money to the Middle East, and a cleaner environment each by themselves will pay back the money spent.

If we fail to do anything to accelerate the development of new energy technologies and the projections of the global warming catastrophists turn out correct then we will not suffer ruin by any means. The nanotechnology advances we gain in the next 50 years will make movement of equipment into space much cheaper. Nanotech beanstalk space elevators will lower costs by orders of magnitude. We'll be able to move up massive amounts of materials to build big deflector satellites to cool off the poles to stop and reverse ice melts. Climate engineering technologies will save us from catastrophe. But we can become wealthier and healthier sooner by accelerating the development of clean and cheap energy technologies.

By Randall Parker    2007 January 07 03:34 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (33)
2003 October 08 Wednesday
Will Sun Cooling And Oil Depletion Prevent Global Warming?

Scientists at the British Antarctic Survey say the Sun is not going to contribute as much to global warming in the rest of the current century as it is currently. Energy output from the Sun is expected to decline in the next 100 years.

New research on the sun's contribution to global warming is reported in this month's Astronomy & Geophysics. By looking at solar activity over the last 11,000 years, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) astrophysicist, Mark Clilverd, predicts that the sun's contribution to warming the Earth will reduce slightly over the next 100 years.

This is a different picture to the last century when solar flares, sunspots and geomagnetic storms, increased in number. This rise is simultaneous with emissions of greenhouses gases and an estimated increase in solar heat output, which together have warmed the Earth's temperature by a global average of 0.7 degrees centigrade.

The solar contribution to the increase is variously estimated to be around 4-20% leaving greenhouse gases to make up the remaining 80%. Clilverd and colleagues conclude that solar activity is about to peak and predict less activity in the next 100 years, with the occurrence of space storms likely to decline by two thirds. Their assumption is that the solar heat output will decline slightly accordingly.

You might think this decline in the Sun's output is good news because it will help offset the heating effect caused by a rise in greenhouse gases that is supposed to take place for the rest of the 21st century and beyond. Well, sorry, the conventional wisdom is all wrong if the folks at the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) are to be believed. While they have been making the argument for years that oil production is going to peak much sooner than others estimate they finally attracted a lot more attention to that argument by point out that if they are right then there is not enough oil to burn to cause the more pessimistic global warming scenarios to play out in reality.

But geologists Anders Sivertsson, Kjell Aleklett and Colin Campbell of Uppsala University say there is not enough oil and gas left for even the most conservative of the 40 IPCC scenarios to come to pass (see graphic).

Well hey, if there isn't enough oil to burn to keep the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere continually rising in the 21st century and if the sun is going to cool off as part of a turn in its natural cycles maybe Earth's climate is going to start getting more chilly later on in the century.

The fossil fuel production pessimists say natural gas production will peak later than oil production.

Conventional natural gas reserves also are heading for peak production as endowment is probably about the same as oil. Less gas has been used so far, but the global peak in conventional gas production is already in sight, in perhaps 20 years, forecast Robert W. Bentley of ODAC, "and hence the global peak of all hydrocarbons (oil plus gas) is likely to be in about 10 or so years."

It is worth noting that Russia has as many Btus of natural gas as Saudi Arabia has of oil. Natural gas is harder to transport, particularly over longer distances. But technologies to make it easier to transport are under development. Still, natural gas will peak in production not long after oil does.

Oil production has already peaked in 50 countries.

Roger Bentley, head of The Oil Depletion Analysis Center in London, insisted that the predictions made in the 1970s were basically correct. About 50 countries, including the United States, have already passed their point of peak oil output, he said.

The world's total reserves of crude, excluding oil found in shale and tar sands, are estimated to exceed 3 trillion barrels, according to the U.S. Geological Survey and other conventional sources of data.

Campbell insisted the true figure for reserves is closer to 2 trillion barrels, due partly to what he described as overstated reserves reported by Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations.

Investment banker Matt Simmons says US lower 48 state onshore production peaked in 1970. (PDF format)

The U.S. peaked at a daily production of about 9.6 million barrels per day. A decade later, this base had fallen to 6.9 million barrels per day, despite a drilling boom that produced 4 times more oil wells each year.

When Canada’s oil production is added to and viewed as a North American picture, one can see that Canada also reached peak production in 1973. Today, Western Canada’s oil output is only half of what it was when it peaked.

Today, the U.S. base has dropped to about 3.4 million barrels per day, down from 1970’s record 9.6 barrels per day production. This excludes Alaskan and deepwater oil, as neither had anything to do with the U.S. lower 48 and Gulf of Mexico shelf.

The argument is that once the rate of discovery of new fields starts declining there will be a decline in production within a number of years later. Since discovery is declining the world over it is reasonable therefore to expect a decline in production in the foreseeable future.

For the details of this claim see the 5 part set of PDF files for the The Study of World Oil Resources and the Impact on IPCC Emissions Scenarios, Anders Sivertsson, Uppsala Hydrocarbon Depletion Study Group, Uppsala University, Sweden. From the 4th part of the Results (PDF format) that is most dramatically apparent is the inevitability of increased world dependence on Middle Eastern oil production.

Furthermore, the production of non-regular gas is assumed to increase, mainly because of an increase of coal-bed methane production. The total peak of production of all hydrocarbons appear in 2010, thereafter production is heading downhill. The swing role of the Middle East Gulf countries was mentioned earlier and the scenarios determining world production/consumption of regular oil. Figure ## shows what will be required from Middle East Gulf production in order to achieve the five scenarios described in the oil depletion model. Regardless which scenario is chosen the Middle East Gulf countries must increase their yearly production compared to 2002. By following the base case scenario, as is illustrated in figure ##, the product must increase by about 42% until 2010 to keep world production/consumption flat. Following the very high scenario, the production must be doubled by 2013. Even the low scenario requires an increase in production of 55% until 2018, and although the very low scenario allows the production to decrease for a few years it still has to reach the 2002 level again before 2020.

Because the global resources are unevenly distributed, the oil production of the future will also be unevenly distributed. The Middle East Gulf has got roughly two thirds of the resources of regular oil and their share of world production will exceed 50% by around 2020 (base case scenario, illustrated in figure ##). Thereafter, their share will steadily increase. This is shown in figure ##, which shows different regions’ share of world oil production. USA obviously had more than a 60% share of the world’s total production towards the end of 1940 when the Middle East Gulf started increasing their share of the market.

The United States will probably respond, at least in part, by shifting more toward burning coal. Certainly, it is possible to develop much cleaner ways to burn coal and research toward that end should be continued and even accelerated. But we really need a massive push to develop a large number of technologies to develop replacements for oil and natural gas. The United States goverment ought to be spending tens of billions per year on energy research projects across a large number of areas including nuclear, biomass, cleaner coal, photovoltaics, and batteries.

Still not worried? Too abstract a problem for you to spend much time thinking about? Well, imagine the panic that would set in if we were going to run out of beer.

Colin:"Understanding depletion is simple. Think of an Irish pub. The glass starts full and ends empty. There are only so many more drinks to closing time. It’s the same with oil. We have to find the bar before we can drink what’s in it."

The world doesn't have enough oil bars.

By Randall Parker    2003 October 08 05:58 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
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