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Published: Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Wed, 26 Oct 2016 12:32:08 -0400


Greens Against a Carbon Tax in Washington State

Wed, 26 Oct 2016 09:30:00 -0400

If man-made global warming produced by rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels poses a significant problem, then most economists think that a revenue-neutral carbon tax imposed at the minehead and the well-head is the cheapest and most efficient solution. So too should most environmental activists who are concerned about climate change. However, many environmentalist groups are surprisingly opposed to just such a proposal in Washington State. Ballot Initiative 732 (I-732) would establish a tax on carbon emissions at $15 per metric ton of emissions in July 2017, $25 in July 2018, and then 3.5 percent plus inflation each year until the tax reaches $100 per metric ton. The tax would be phased in more slowly for farmers and nonprofit transportation providers. If adopted, I-732 could cut the state sales tax by one full percentage point from from 6.5 to 5.5 percent. It would fund the Working Families Rebate to provide up to $1,500 a year for 400,000 low-income working households to counter their increased energy expenditures. And it would essentially eliminate the Business and Occupation Tax for manufacturers, thus encouraging them to remain in the state. I-732 aims to neither increase nor decrease state revenues; the new carbon tax would offset other taxes and there would be no additional revenue left over for Washington State politicians and bureaucrats to spend. The goal of the tax is to lower greenhouse gas emissions by incentivizing people to switch to low- and no-carbon based fuels. One would think that environmentalists would cheer and be urging Washington State residents to support I-732. However, a remarkably interesting article, "The left v. a carbon tax," over at Vox explains how many Washington State environmentalist and progressive groups came to oppose I-732. One huge reason for their opposition is that the left-leaning groups against I-732 are against to revenue neutrality; they want to use climate policy as a way to increase tax revenues in order to "invest" in clean energy and to support "climate justice" redistribution programs. Consequently, as Ramez Naam, who has worked with the group CarbonWA to get I-732 on ballot, emailed me that its progressive opponents are essentially arguing, "Let's make the perfect the enemy of the really extremely good." He added, "On its merits, I-732 would be the strongest climate policy in North America, extremely market based, and the most progressive change to the tax code in Washington State (and possibly the biggest anti-poverty initiative here) in 40 years." Actually, it is highly debatable that the revenue increasing proposals that Washington State's soi-disant climate progressives would prefer to enact are in any sense more "perfect" than I-732. Jerry Taylor, the president of the Niskanen Center libertarian policy shop, favors a revenue-neutral carbon tax as a way to address concerns about climate change. When asked what he thought of I-732 Taylor responded in an email: I-732 gets it right for the state of Washington. The initiative make polluters pay for the risks and damages they are imposing on the rest of us...and then turns around and gives that money (in the form of a sales tax cut) to those they are putting at risk. Even if corporations passed all of the tax on to consumers, a majority of the citizens of Washington would gain more in tax reduction than they would pay in higher energy prices. It is not a perfect model for federal action in that existing regulatory authority to address greenhouse gas emissions would continue to exist, but it is nonetheless a very good start. Unfortunately, the opposition to I-732 by progressives is proving the salience of Cato Institute senior fellow Patrick Michaels' tart observation: "Do you really think $3 trillion will walk down K Street unmolested? That's what's required for a 'revenue neutral' tax." K Street is the notorious address for many of DC's more prominent lobbyists. On the other hand, if I-732 does succeed that will provide some hope for supporters that a carbon tax could p[...]

U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions at Lowest Level Since 1991

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 12:30:00 -0400

(image) The nations of the world agreed in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. The goal of the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations "at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system." It states that "such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner."

In 1991 U.S. carbon dioxide emissions were 5,064 million metric tons and rose to 5,170 million metric tons the next year. Now the Energy Information Administration reports:

U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions totaled 2,530 million metric tons in the first six months of 2016. This was the lowest emissions level for the first six months of the year since 1991, as mild weather and changes in the fuels used to generate electricity contributed to the decline in energy-related emissions. EIA's Short-Term Energy Outlook projects that energy-associated CO2 emissions will fall to 5,179 million metric tons in 2016, the lowest annual level since 1992.


Changing fossil fuel consumption mix. Coal and natural gas consumption each decreased compared to the first six months of 2015. However, the decrease was greater for coal, which generates more carbon emissions when burned than natural gas. Coal consumption fell 18%, while natural gas consumption fell 1%. These declines more than offset a 1% increase in total petroleum consumption, which rose during that period as a result of low gasoline prices.

In a 2015 report, the EIA noted, "Natural gas emissions have risen every year since 2009. Because it is the least carbon-intensive fuel, subsitution of natural gas for other fossil fuel inputs has served to mitigate overall CO2 growth in the industrial sector."

Those who worry about man-made global warming should thank shale gas fracking for this result.

Actively Open-Minded Thinking vs. Science Curiosity on Climate Change: New at Reason

Fri, 07 Oct 2016 07:00:00 -0400

(image) Americans remain deeply divided along partisan lines on the issue of climate change, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. Seven in 10 liberal Democrats trust climate scientists to give full and accurate information on the causes of climate change, whereas only 15 percent of conservative Republicans do. Why this partisan difference over what is essentially an empirical question? Recent social science research suggests that this type of polarization tends to occur when accepting or rejecting a scientific thesis becomes a signal to your fellow partisans that you're on their side. Now new research finds that actively open-minded thinking by partisans actually increases polarization. So when it comes to politically polarized scientific disputes, does this mean that all sophisticated reasoning tends toward confirmation bias? Not for folks who are "science curious."

Actively Open-Minded Thinking About Climate Change

Fri, 07 Oct 2016 00:01:00 -0400

Americans remain deeply divided along partisan lines on the issue of climate change, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. Seven in 10 liberal Democrats trust climate scientists to give full and accurate information on the causes of climate change, whereas only 15 percent of conservative Republicans do. In addition, 54 percent of liberal Democrats believe that climate scientists have a good understanding of the causes of climate change, compared to only 11 percent of conservative Republicans. Liberal Democrats also believe that climate research reflects that best available evidence most of the time. Only 9 percent of conservative Republicans agree. Why this partisan difference over what is essentially an empirical question? Some researchers have concluded that conservatives are less likely than liberals to be open-minded or to engage in effortful cognition when evaluating scientific evidence, especially when accepting those data means undermining their faith in free markets. But research from the Yale Cultural Cognition Project supports a different notion: This polarization tends to occur when accepting or rejecting a scientific thesis becomes a signal to your fellow partisans that you're on their side. For example, research by the Yale law professor Dan Kahan finds that as scientific literacy goes up, so too does partisan polarization on the issue of climate change. In other words, the more science people know, the more they are able to seek out and find information justifying their beliefs. In a new study, Kahan and his colleagues assess the relationship between accepting the evidence for man-made global warming with a measure for actively open-minded thinking and attitudes toward climate change. Actively open-minded thinking is defined as the "willingness to search actively for evidence against one's favored beliefs, plans or goals and to weigh such evidence fairly when it is available." In a survey, some 1,600 Americans were sorted by political orientation and their propensity toward actively open-minded thinking. Psychologists have devised various questionnaires that aim to measure an individual's propensity to engage in such salutary cognition; Kahan's survey used a seven-item scale that asked participants to rate their agreement with such statements as "allowing yourself to be convinced by an opposing argument is a sign of good character," and "changing your mind is a sign of weakness." In the past, many researchers have argued that political conservatives tend to be deficient with regard to actively open-minded thinking. Consequently, they contend that if for some odd reason a conservative did have such a disposition, he would be more likely to accept the scientific evidence in favor of climate change. In fact, the opposite occurred. Since most liberals in the survey already believed that there is solid evidence of recent global warming due mostly to human activity, their probability that that they would accept that conclusion rose only modestly with higher actively open-minded thinking scores. On the other hand, the higher conservatives scored on actively open-minded thinking, the lower the probability they would agree that there is solid evidence for man-made global warming. The gap between liberals and conservatives on beliefs about climate change widens the more that both engaged in actively open-minded thinking. What is going on? The researchers argue that "actively open-minded thinking in fact enhances the proficiency of reasoning aimed at forming identity-congruent beliefs." Actively open-minded thinkers are "simply better at screening information for identity-congruent inferences." In other words, sophisticated reasoning skills enable people to more easily find and espouse information that indicates their loyalty to their political affinity groups. That doesn't actually seem very open-minded. Kahan and his colleagues conclude that sophisticated reasoning skills have "become tragically entangled in the social dynamics [...]

2016 and 1998 in Near Tie for Hottest Year in Satellite Temperature Record

Wed, 05 Oct 2016 15:30:00 -0400

(image) "For the January through September average, 1998 was +0.56 and 2016 is +0.55 [degrees Celsius above the 30-year average (1981-2010)]. The two years are running neck and neck," said Dr. John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville in press release. The UAH researcher observed that the tropics continued a broad cooling trend from March, but this was counterbalanced by warming elsewhere, resulting in no change to the global average from August to September. Christy added, "In 1998 global temperatures fell substantially through the last three months of the year, so we will wait and see whether 2016 will follow suit or stay warm and become the warmest calendar year in the 38-year satellite temperature record." At the moment temperatures in the tropical Pacific seem to be going in an El Nino neutral direction rather than cooling toward a La Nina. That would suggest the 2016 will likely be a record breaker.


Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.12 C per decade

September temperatures (preliminary)

Global composite temp.: +0.44 C (about 0.79 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for September.

Northern Hemisphere: +0.50 C (about 0.90 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for September.

Southern Hemisphere: +0.39 C (about 0.70 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for September.

Tropics: +0.37 C (about 0.67 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for September.

Go here for the monthly satellite data since 1978.

Paris Climate Agreement Comes Into Effect

Wed, 05 Oct 2016 11:45:00 -0400

(image) The European Parliament voted to ratify the Paris Agreement on Climate Change on Tuesday. This approval means that the agreement has crossed the threshold for coming into effect by being ratified by at least 55 nations emitting 55 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. Initially, it was expected that the Paris Agreement would not be approved by a sufficient number of countries with the requisite emissions totals until 2018. Instead the Paris Agreement will come into force in less than a year. Officially, the Paris Agreement will come into effect one month after passing this threshold. This is remarkably fast since even the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiated in 1992 took almost two years before coming into effect.

As a consequence of this approval, the next U.N. climate change meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco that opens on November 7 will now be the first meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement, or CMA1 in U.N. parlance. This is significant because countries that have ratified the agreement have a decision-making power over all substantive, procedural, administrative and operational matters, while all others are observers.

The goal of the agreement is to keep the world from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial average. According to most temperature datasets, global average temperature is is already hovering around 1 degree Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels. Many researchers climate researchers believe that the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions promised by countries that have ratified the agreement fall far short of meeting that goal. In the Washington Post, Glen Peters, a professor at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, observed, "At the moment, most studies suggest the current pledges put us on a pathway to around 3 [degrees Celsius]. The current pledges move us away from high end scenarios like 4C, but they are not sufficient to keep us below 2C."

Under the Paris Agreement, countries are supposed to ramp up their commitments to cut greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels. However, a new study by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory finds that pursuing current policies the U.S. is unlikely to meet President Obama's commitment to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2025 by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels.

In addition, the U.S. presidential election on November 8 is a wild card. Clinton supports the Paris Agreement and Trump says that he would withdraw from it. If Trump is elected, the CMA1 in Marrakesh will feature much wailing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.

Note: I will be reporting daily dispatches from the CMA1 at Marrakesh, starting on November 14.

Richard Epstein: Why Obamacare Is Collapsing and He's Not Voting for Trump, Hillary, *or* Johnson

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 14:20:00 -0400

The architects of Obamacare could have foreseen today's crisis, says NYU Law Professor Richard Epstein, except they were intellectual "super jocks" with a "superior Ivy-League sneer," who knew so much better than anyone else "how to run this Rube Goldberg contraption" designed to "defeat the law of gravity." Epstein speaks as an insider to elite circles. A graduate of Columbia, Oxford, and Yale Law School, he's the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at New York University, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, and a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. A towering figure in his field, Epstein has had a profound impact on libertarian legal theory, especially with his 1985 book, Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain. Throughout his career, Epstein says, he's been surrounded by "people cleverer than myself putting up schemes that are dumber than you can imagine." Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with Epstein for an extended discussion about the collapse of the Obamacare exchanges (0:43); why cigarette companies don't owe smokers a dime (15:49); the recent legal campaign against Exxon Mobile related to global warming (27:00); Obama's dismal record (35:23); where the U.S. went wrong in Iraq (45:00); why he thinks Gary Johnson is a weak candidate (57:00); Hillary Clinton's criminal offenses (58:26); whether he favors Hillary or Trump (1:04:51); and why he's planning to sit out this election (1:05:34). A transcript of the conversation is below. Camera by Jim Epstein and Kevin Alexander; edited by Epstein. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript that has not been checked for accuracy and punctuation. Check any quotes against the video. Nick Gillespie: You were among the people who predicted that Obamacare would fail not simply because it was a bad idea but the implementation would be virtually impossible to do. In the Obamacare exchanges, now we are seeing basically some sort of death spiral or some kind of predictable outcome. Talk a little about that and what is happening and why didn't more people see it come Richard Epstein: Well, I think we start the second question first. Why didn't more people see it coming? I think the explanation really is that these were all the kinds of Ivy League super jocks. And what they always believe is that they can defeat the law of gravity by the ingenious schemes that they could put into place in order to keep things under control. So when this thing was actively debated in 2008 and 2009 there were two approaches to the problem. People like myself said look you know health care insurance is not really special. What you have to understand about all insurance schemes is the greatest chance of conniving is typically with the insured and not with the insurer. And I said the way in which we kind of know this is you go back to the history of marine insurance and you start to see that the insurance companies were always given the options to pull out because they understood that the concealment of information by the insured would have very adverse effects on what they did and it was also clear that the people who would come for insurance were those who had private information which made it more likely than average that they would be the ones who would need the stuff Nick Gillespie: You know you are at NYU and Chicago, not at an Ivy League school. We fixed that because you have to buy insurance. Richard Epstein: Well we didn't fix it because of that. First of all what we do is we say you have to buy it but the mandates were extremely unpopular and the idea that you were going to run a social program with very popular acceptance which says you have to pay if you don't take something that you don't want to buy really sticks in the craw of just about everybody, because this is sort of libertarian moment that is r[...]

Arctic Sea Ice At Second Lowest Extent in Modern Record

Fri, 16 Sep 2016 14:30:00 -0400

(image) Arctic sea ice extent is the second lowest in the satellite record beginning in 1979. Although the vagaries of storms and wind affect the amount of sea ice that survives summer melting, it is clear that increased warming in the region is responsible for most of the decline. The National Snow and Ice Data Center reports:

Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its seasonal minimum extent for 2016 on September 10. A relatively rapid loss of sea ice in the first ten days of September has pushed the ice extent to a statistical tie with 2007 for the second lowest in the satellite record. September's low extent followed a summer characterized by conditions generally unfavorable for sea ice loss.

(image) On September 10, Arctic sea ice extent stood at 4.14 million square kilometers (1.60 million square miles). This appears to have been the lowest extent of the year and is tied with 2007 as the second lowest extent on record. This year's minimum extent is 750,000 square kilometers (290,000 square miles) above the record low set in 2012 and is well below the two standard deviation range for the 37-year satellite record. Satellite data show extensive areas of open water in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and in the Laptev and East Siberian seas. ...

Why did extent fall to a tie for second lowest with 2007? The 2016 Arctic melt season started with a record low maximum extent in March, and sea ice was measured at record low monthly extents well into June. ...

The late season ice loss appears to have been greatest in an extended area of patchy ice reaching from the eastern Beaufort Sea to the northern Chukchi Sea. This is in the area influenced by the two strong cyclones ... —the strong winds appear to have compacted the ice cover and may have led to an upward mixing of warm ocean water.

Last December, a report from researchers associated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Arctic temperature trends reported that "the mean annual surface air temperature anomaly (+1.3°C relative to the 1981-2010 mean value) for October 2014-September 2015 for land stations north of 60°N is the highest value in the record starting in 1900. This is an increase of 2.3°C since the 1970s and 2.9°C since the beginning of the 20th century. The global rate of temperature increase has slowed in the last decade (Kosaka and Xie 2013), but Arctic air temperatures have continued to increase. Currently, the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of lower latitudes."(image)

Send Around This XKCD Climate Change Web Cartoon, But Really Look at It First

Wed, 14 Sep 2016 18:01:00 -0400

(image) XKCD has a web cartoon making the rounds that nicely summarizes 22,000 years of climate and human history. One important point: As the last ice age ended and temperatures heated up, humans did better and civilizations advanced. Vox invites readers to consider its implications and send it along to those folks who serenely opine, "The climate always changes." From Vox:

Randall Munroe, the author of the webcomic XKCD, has a habit of making wonderfully lucid infographics on otherwise difficult scientific topics. Everyone should check out today's edition on global warming. It's a stunning graphic showing Earth's recent climate history. Take some time with it. Stroll through the events like the domestication of dogs and the construction of Stonehenge. And then ponder the upshot here....

But Munroe's comic below hits at the "why worry." What's most relevant to us humans, living in the present day, is that the climate has been remarkably stable for the past 12,000 years. That period encompasses all of human civilization — from the pyramids to the Industrial Revolution to Facebook and beyond. We've benefited greatly from that stability. It's allowed us to build farms and coastal cities and thrive without worrying about overly wild fluctuations in the climate.

And now we're losing that stable climate.

During the last ice age global temperatures averaged about 4 to 5 degrees Celsius lower than the Holocene average. As one scrolls down the trendlines in the graphic, one notes that about 9,000 to 7,000 years ago global average temperatures were higher than currently. In the cartoon, Munroe says that temperatures "start to level out slightly above the 1961-1990 average" around 8,000 BCE.

Of course, determining what temperatures were thousands of years ago is a fraught exercise, but it is generally thought that during the Holocene Optimum global average temperatures were 1 to 2 degrees Celsius higher than they are now. (Yes, I know it's a link to Wikipedia, but I checked a bunch of different studies and it turns out that Wikipedia pretty much cited and linked to the most relevant of them, so click the links if you've got doubts.)

At the end of the XKCD cartoon, it shows current average temperature (which is around where it was 9,000 years ago), and then appends the steeply rising projections of various climate models. Since most doubters are contesting the model projections - not the actual temperature trends - I expect that sending the graphic along to them will do little to change their minds. It will, however, nicely feed into the confirmation biases of those who are fully on-board with those projections. I do note that the cartoon mentions that the Northwest Passage has recently opened. About 9,000 years ago, it was at least as warm in that region as it is now.

In any case, go check out the XKCD cartoon and learn some interesting history.

Just a reminder: I do think that man-made global warming could likely become a significant problem for humanity by the end of the century.

Climate Change Subpoenas Versus Free Speech

Tue, 13 Sep 2016 17:01:00 -0400

Climate change partisans are issuing subpoenas right and left in attempts to shut up their opponents. The first salvos were launched from the left when 20 Democratic state attorneys-general joined together at the behest of several environmental activist organizations to demand the oil giant ExxonMobil turn over 40 years of documents. New York Attorney-General Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney-General Maura Healey are leading the legal campaign and ordered ExxonMobil to turn over all internal communications regarding climate change including all those related to various think tanks, academicians, lobbying groups who question the urgency of man-made global warming. The Democratic attorneys-general have issued their subpoenas and civil investigatory demands on the pretext that they are investigating the possibility that ExxonMobil knowingly defrauded and misled investors and customers about how climate change will affect its business prospects. They also demand to know what was communicated to various skeptical public policy groups who they evidently believe could have been paid by the company to mislead policymakers and public about the dangers of climate change. ExxonMobil and some of the groups are fighting back arguing that the attorneys-general are engaging in a legal fishing expedition whose chief aim is to intimidate and thus stifle the free speech rights of those with whom they disagree. In the meantime, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), the chair of House Committee on Science, Space and Technology has issued subpoenas from his committee to Schneiderman and Healey as well as to nine environmental activist groups who evidently worked with both AGs to create the pretextual fraud investigation against ExxonMobil. Smith claims that the AGs and activists worked together to devise a strategy "to act under color of law to persuade attorneys general to use their prosecutorial powers to stifle scientific discourse, to intimidate private entities and individuals, and deprive them of their First Amendment rights and freedoms." Smith is demanding in the "interests of transparency" to see all documents relating to this plan exchanged between the AGs and the activists. The AGs and groups are refusing to cough up the demanded documents. As this legal battle over who can say what about climate change in public as evolved, several Republican attorneys-general have filed an amicus brief in the federal district court for Northern Texas in support of ExxonMobil's motions to quash Healey's civil investigative demand. They note: The Attorney General of Massachusetts is investigating Plaintiff's expressed opinions on the issue of climate change and those with whom they communicate about this subject. While vocal assaults from politicians, universities, professional societies, journalists, and others are a natural part of the discourse that accompanies free expression, the action by Defendant herein is of a different ilk. Here, a government official is using their law enforcement power to attack a company for expressing opinions, or asking questions, unpopular within their office or political constituency. Yesterday, several constitutional scholars sent a letter to Rep. Smith arguing that his committee has no authority to bedevil the AGs and their activist friends in this matter. The scholars assert: When UCS [Union of Concerned Scientists] and other organizations discussed their concerns about what they viewed as the apparently intentional distortion of climate science with state attorneys general and with each other, they were exercising their constitutional rights. The First Amendment guarantees, among other rights, the rights to speak freely, to petition the government, and to associate with others for the advancement of beliefs and ideas. The right to petition entitles citizens to commu[...]

Obama and Xi 'Ratify' Paris Climate Change Agreement

Sat, 03 Sep 2016 10:24:00 -0400

President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced at the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou today that both countries will join the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The White House must be annoyed that lots of headlines are declaring that President Obama is "ratifying" the the agreement. The Paris Agreement will come into effect 30 days after 55 countries emitting at least 55 percent of the world's greenhouse gases commit to it. The U.S. and China emit about 40 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. In March, 2015, President Obama submitted the U.S.'s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution pledge to cut by 2025 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below their levels in 2005. At the Hangzhou conference, President Obama reaffirmed those cuts and President Xi restated that China would begin cutting its emissions around 2030 or so. But what about that pesky "ratification" issue? The Constitution provides that the President "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur." In order for a treaty to be ratified two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of a resolution of ratification. If the resolution passes, then ratification takes place when the instruments of ratification are formally exchanged between the United States and the relevant foreign governments. The Paris Agreement was specifically crafted during the United Nations negotiations to try to get around this provision of the Constitution. As I reported in my article, "Obama's Possible Paris Climate Agreement End Run Around the Senate," back in 2014 from the United Nations Lima climate change conference: A 2010 Congressional Research Service (CRS) legal analysis of climate agreements ... notes that a 1992 Senate Committee on Foreign Relations report dealing with the ratification of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) flatly stated that a "decision by the Conference of the Parties to adopt targets and timetables would have to be submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent before the United States could deposit its instruments of ratification for such an agreement." The 1992 Senate report also explicitly added that any presidential attempt "to reinterpret the Convention to apply legally binding targets and timetables for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to the United States" would also require the Senate's prior advice and consent. The State Department's own Foreign Affairs Manual notes that presidents may conclude executive agreements in three cases, e.g., pursuant to a treaty already authorized by the Senate; on the basis of existing legislation; and pursuant to his authority as Chief Executive when such an agreement is not inconsistent with legislation enacted by the Congress. Consequently, President Obama might assert that he has the authority to bind the U.S. to take on international obligations under the Paris climate agreement because it is pursuant to the already authorized UNFCCC and is consistent with existing federal environmental legislation. On the other, the Manual offers guidance for deciding when a treaty or when an executive agreement is appropriate. Relevant considerations include (1) the extent to which the agreement involves commitments or risks affecting the nation as a whole, (2) whether the agreement is intended to affect State laws, and (3) the preference of the Congress as to a particular type of agreement. Clearly any international agreement that purports to impose legal limits on the emissions of greenhouse gases would involve risks to the nation as a whole and affect state laws. And, as noted earlier, the Senate has plainly stated that setting any greenhouse gas reduction targets and timetables under the UNFCCC would r[...]

August and Year-to-Date Are Second Hottest in Satellite Record: Global Temperature Trend Update

Fri, 02 Sep 2016 11:50:00 -0400

Through the first eight months of the year, 2016 seems to be racing toward what might be its place in history — as the second warmest year in the satellite temperature record. But just by a little bit, according to Dr. John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in a press release. "While global average temperatures peaked higher this year than they did in 1998, temperatures fell faster this spring and summer to levels that are cooler than they were at this same time of year in 1998. We had three months this year that were warmer than their 1998 counterparts, and five that were cooler. There is really no reliable way of predicting what the next four months will do, compared to those same months in 1998." With temperatures that were 0.55 C (about 0.99° F) warmer than seasonal norms, August 2016 was the warmest August in the Northern Hemisphere in the satellite temperature record. August 1998 was second warmest at 0.49 C warmer than normal. August 2016 was the second warmest August in the tropics, trailing August 2015 0.52 to 0.50 C. It was the third warmest in the Southern Hemisphere, where the August 2016 average was 0.32 C warmer than normal. August 1998's Southern Hemisphere average was hottest at 0.54 C warmer than seasonal norms. Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.12 C per decade August temperatures (preliminary) Global composite temp.: +0.44 C (about 0.79 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for August. Northern Hemisphere: +0.55 C (about 0.99 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for August. Southern Hemisphere: +0.32 C (about 0.58 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for August. Tropics: +0.59 C (about 0.90 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for August. According to the latest (July) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data global temperature was the hottest ever since the late 19th century: For the 15th consecutive month, the global land and ocean temperature departure from average was the highest since global temperature records began in 1880. This marks the longest such streak in NOAA's 137 years of record keeping. The July 2016 combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces was 0.87°C (1.57°F) above the 20th century average, besting the previous July record set in 2015 by 0.06°C (0.11°F). July 2016 marks the 40th consecutive July with temperatures at least nominally above the 20th century average. The last time July global land and ocean temperatures were below average was in 1976 (-0.09°C / -0.16°F). Although continuing a record streak, July 2016 was also the lowest monthly temperature departure from average since August 2015 and tied with August 2015 as the 15th highest monthly temperature departure among all months (1,639) on record. However, since July is climatologically the globe's warmest month of the year, the July 2016 global land and ocean temperature (16.67°C / 62.01°F) was the highest temperature for any month on record, surpassing the previous record set in July 2015. July 2016 was the 379th consecutive month with temperatures at least nominally above the 20th century average. The last month with temperatures below the 20th century average was December 1984 (-0.09°C / -0.16°F). Go here for UAH's monthly temperature data.[...]

Climate War: Bill McKibben's Really Bad Metaphor for Solving Man-Made Global Warming

Tue, 30 Aug 2016 11:11:00 -0400

"We are used to war as a metaphor," writes Bill McKibben in his new article on climate change at The New Republic. In "A World at War," McKibben insists, "But this in no metaphor. By most ways we measure wars, climate change is the real deal." The trend toward higher average global temperatures is seizing territory, sowing panic, killing people, and even destabilizing governments. "It's not that global warming is like a world war. It is a world war. And we are losing," he declares. McKibben then suggests we must look to the vast mobilization that took place during the last world war in order "to assess, honestly and objectively, our odds of victory." Honesty and objectivity are certainly important when trying to devise policies aimed at addressing problems, especially wicked problems like man-made climate change. It is therefore disappointing to find that McKibben cites some context-less weather disaster data to press his case for a WWII-scale economic onslaught against man-made. For example, with regard to Arctic sea ice trends, he quotes an unnamed climate scientist as saying, "In 30 years, the area has shrunk approximately by half." The quotation evidently comes from Christian Haas, an Arctic sea ice geophysicist at York University, Toronto, talking about June 2016 Arctic sea trends cited in an article in Arctic Deeply. As it happens Arctic sea ice currently is melting at the third fastest rate in the satellite records starting in 1979. But what does Haas mean by "half?" The average extent of Arctic sea ice in the 37-year record in June is 11.9 square kilometers and the June 2016 extent was 10.6 million square kilometers - about 10 percent less. Looking further in the article finds that Haas measures the average thickness of arctic sea ice of first year sea ice, which is apparently "more than 50 percent thinner than usual." While that's important data - thinner ice melts faster enabling the darker sea to absorb more warmth - it's not the same thing as the extent of sea ice. Nevertheless, the extent of Arctic sea ice is falling at a rate of 7.4 percent per decade. Or perhaps Haas meant to reference calculated Arctic sea ice volume where May 2016 sea volume was 45 percent below the highest level in May 1979. If you're trying to persuade people that there is a problem, accuracy matters. McKibben cites the vast fire this past June in northern Alberta that forced the evacuation of the city of Fort McMurray as evidence of climate change. Drought conditions enabled that fire to burn nearly 600,000 hectares (2,300 square miles) of boreal forest. While certainly of unusual size, the Fort McMurray fire is not the biggest in the region. Also following drought conditions, the Chinchaga fire in 1950 burned 1,700,000 hectares (6,500 square miles) of boreal forest in northern British Columbia and Alberta. McKibben points to the flooding of the Seine River earlier this year that threatened the storage basement of the Louvre Museum in Paris as further evidence for climate change. However, the Seine at flood was higher in 1982 (6.2 meters) and 1955 (7.1 meters), and its highest ever-recorded flood was in 1910, reaching 8.62 meters. But what about overall flood trends? The Dartmouth Flood Archive has been keeping track of floods only since 1985 reports that the numbers of large and extreme floods have trended upward, although they have dropped since peaking in 2007. The good news is that a 2015 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found with respect to river floods that "rising per-capita income coincided with a global decline in vulnerability between 1980 and 2010, which is reflected in decreasing mortality and losses as a share of the people and gross domestic product exposed to inundation[...]

Climate Change Will Impoverish Millennials, Says Study

Wed, 24 Aug 2016 12:50:00 -0400

The Demos think tank, which aims to enhance democracy and "elevate the values of community and racial equity," has just released an alarming report that argues that climate change will deprive millennials and those born after 2015 of massive amounts of income and wealth over the course of this century. The report, The Price Tag of Being Young: Climate Change and Millennials Economic Future, calculates that 21 year-old Millennial college graduates earning a median income will lose $126,000 in lifetime income, and $187,000 in wealth if no action is taken to slow and stop man-made climate change. Non-college graduates will lose $100,000 in lifetime income, and $142,000 in wealth. That's bad enough, but the kids of Millennials will do much worse. Unabated climate change will reduce median incomes and wealth of children born in 2015 who do not go to college by $357,000 in lifetime income and $581,000 in wealth. The college-educated children of Millennials will supposedly lose $467,000 in lifetime income, and $764,000 in wealth. The Demos analysis compares these climate change lifetime earnings losses to those associated with college debt ($113,000) and the Great Recession ($112,000). Sounds really bad, right? Digging into the calculations, Demos uses the worst-case projection of greenhouse emissions, known in the climate trade as Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 in which CO2 in the atmophere rises from about 400 to 1313 parts per million. Essentially no efforts at all will be taken to reduce emissions by 2100. The Environment Directorate at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has devised five shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs) that outline how the world's economy might develop by 2100. The SSPs include scenarios for population, economic, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions growth. Very interstingly, the Demos study selects the SSP5 scenario which features the highest economic growth, the lowest population growth, and no greenhouse emissions abatement. As I report in my book, The End of Doom: In the SSP5 "conventional development" scenario, the world economy grows flat out, which "leads to an energy system dominated by fossil fuels, resulting in high GHG emissions and challenges to mitigation." Because there is more urbanization and because there are higher levels of education, world population peaks at 8.6 billion in 2055 and will have fallen to 7.4 billion by 2100. The world's economy will grow fifteen-fold to just over $1 quadrillion, and the average person in 2100 will be earning about $138,000 per year. US annual incomes would exceed $187,000 per capita. Demos uses only wages, not personal income in its calculations. Nevertheless, for a rough calculation as a comparison, let's assume the U.S. per capita SSP5 income of $187,000 with a working lifetime of 44 years (age 21-65 years). That yields an average per capita lifetime income exceeding $8.2 million. The SSP5 analysis takes into account the costs of adaptation to a hotter world, but the Demos analysts are not satisfied with that. So they cite a 2015 study in Nature that suggests that unmitigated warming would reduce incomes by 23 percent by 2100. In other words, they take an already worst-case warming scenario and make it even worse. Even with that additional thumb on the climate change scales, average U.S. per capita lifetime income would be $6.3 million by 2100. For comparison, multiplying the current U.S per capita GDP of $56,000 by a working lifetime produces an total income of just under $2.5 million. What would happen if the world were to pursue the greatest efforts at cutting greenhouse gases under the SSP1 sustainability scenario. Surely this would be the preferred scenario f[...]

Gary Johnson on Climate Change and a Carbon Tax

Tue, 23 Aug 2016 15:05:00 -0400

First, my claim is anything that you may think of as an environmental problem is the result of a defect in property rights. Basically, environmental problems occur in open-access commons where the incentive is to plunder a resource before anyone else can beat you to it. This includes unowned fisheries, wild game, rivers, estauries, forests, and the atmosphere. There are two ways to handle problems of overuse and abuse in open access commons: Recognize or assign property rights to the resource or regulate the resource. Some resources are more easily enclosed than others, e.g., fisheries, rivers, and forests. It is arguably much more difficult to assign property rights to the global atmosphere. As a consequence, the nations of the world agreed in 1987 to regulate and ban the substances that where eroding the stratospheric ozone layer that protects the earth's surface from dangerous UV sunlight. So what about climate change? It is a fact that all temperature data sets agree that the globe was been warming in recent decades ranging from a low rate of 0.12 to a higher rate of 0.17 degrees Celsius per decade. In addition, all data sets agree that this past July was the hottest month ever recorded. For a review of the debate over man-made climate change, see my article, "What Evidence Would Persuade You that Man-Made Climate Change Is Real?", as well as refutations of my arguments. In any case, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson agrees with me that man-made climate change is happening. Furthermore, Johnson in a CNBC interview also suggested that a carbon tax might be a "very libertarian proposal" to address the open access commons problem of climate change. Johnson is tentative, saying that he is "open" to considering a carbon tax. He specifically notes that a carbon tax would be a simple comprehensive way to replace all sorts of clunky expensive top-down centralized regulations and subsidies that aim to limit carbon dioxide emissions. Johnson's thinking that a carbon tax might be a useful way to handle the open access problem of climate change is in line with that of some groups who are part of the larger free market intellectual movement. I discuss the pros and cons of a carbon tax in my article, "Can a Carbon Tax Solve Man-Made Global Warming?" Over at Scientific American I explore how speeding up economic growth can solve climate change. I argue: [F]aster economic growth provides the wherewithal to spur innovation and create cheaper and more efficient technologies. Swanson's Law is an example of increasing economies of scale: Every time global solar panel production capacity doubles, the price drops 20 percent. At the current rate of growth, electricity from solar panels will be cheaper than that produced by burning natural gas in less than a decade. Similarly, climate scientist James Hansen and his colleagues have urgently argued that there is "no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power." A recent study published in PLoS ONE by Swedish and Australian researchers estimates that replacing all fossil fuel energy generation with nuclear power could be done in 25 to 34 years. Economic growth supplies the capital needed to fund the global no-carbon energy transformation, not mandates to deploy current, expensive, clunky versions of renewable energy and nuclear technologies. A Johnson/Weld administration is far more likely than either a Trump or Clinton adminstration to adopt just the sort of free market policies that would speed up economic growth and technological progress. As a second-best proposal for handling the open access commons problem of climate change, a revenue neutral [...]