Thursday, September 23, 2010

Joe Romm Forecasts 4C Warming From 2000-2080

"The rate of human-driven warming in the last century has exceeded the rate of the underlying natural trend by more than a factor of 10, possibly much more. And warming this century on our current path of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions is projected to cause a rate of warming that is another factor of 5 or more greater than that of the last century. We are punching the climate beast — and she ain’t happy about it!"


That works out to 0.5ºC warming per decade, starting in the year 2000. So how is he doing so far? I overlaid HadCrut (pink) on his graph at the same scale. The thin red line shows where we are “supposed to be” in 2010. Way off the mark.

Instead of warming 0.5ºC this past decade, temperatures barely warmed at all. Even more damning, half of the 20th century warming occurred with CO2 levels less than 320 ppm – barely above pre-industrial values.

The warming from 1910 to 1940 was just as great as the warming from 1970 to 2000, yet it can hardly be blamed on CO2. And the graph since 2000 is not even remotely following his forecast.


"Green" Spain in big trouble

"Renewable" electricity has virtually bankrupted the country

On one side, angry coal miners are striking to force the government to save their jobs from a torrent of inexpensive imports. On another, the solar power industry, which was once booming, complains that it is being crippled by the mere prospect of an end to generous state subsidies.

The natural gas and nuclear industries are having their own problems. Meanwhile, the shortfall accumulated since 2000 between the cost of power generation in Spain and what regulated rates bring in is expected to reach 20 billion euros, or $26.7 billion, by the end of the year — a bill the government, with its ailing public finances, can no longer afford.

A new energy strategy to raise self-sufficiency at an affordable cost was to be delivered before the summer break. But the government, which is aiming to erase the tariff deficit by 2013, has not yet presented any sort of plan. Critics say that in trying to please everyone, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is pursuing conflicting goals.

“The Spanish government’s energy strategy has been erratic and incoherent,” said Gonzalo Diaz-Rato, a partner at Gala Fund Management, which has invested across the Spanish energy sector. “The government wants to increase its green credentials by paying unsustainable subsidies to renewable producers and talking tough to the nuclear lobby, be price-friendly to end customers who are also the voters, while also supporting coal producers, even if that is economically unfeasible and not environmentally friendly.”

Coal producers, meanwhile, are also blaming other energy producers for their distress, particularly those of natural gas.

Years ago, when foreign coal was more expensive and renewables not yet widely developed, the government emphasized the increased use of natural gas. Today, there is something of a supply glut, which was exacerbated by Spain’s recession. Electricity demand in the country fell 4.4 percent last year.

The share of coal in Spain’s electricity production was 13.5 percent last year, about half its level from a decade earlier, according to data from the national grid operator. Gas and renewable energies each accounted for almost a third of overall production, while nuclear energy represented about 20 percent.

Until recently, solar energy was an undisputed source of national pride. “For the first time in our history, we can say that we have a real leadership position in such a sector,” Pedro Luis Marín, the Spanish secretary of state for energy, said in July.

The concern, however, is that this leadership position has come too quickly and too expensively. About 50,000 solar power installations in Spain operate with the support of guaranteed rates, representing an annual cost of about 2 billion euros ($2.6 billion) to the government. In 2008 alone, Spain added 2,600 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity — more than five times what the government sought.

As a starting point for getting costs under control, the government has begun a review of the preferential rates it has set for green electricity, in particular for photovoltaic, which remains the most costly even though its costs have fallen about 50 percent in two years.

“Spain, which was a leader in renewable energies, has suddenly put the brake on the whole sector and created an environment of complete legal uncertainty that has made investors flee,” said Javier García Breva, a director of the Spanish Association of Renewable Energy Producers.

Reflecting falling margins in the Spanish market, some of the country’s largest power companies have shifted their growth ambitions overseas. Iberdrola, for instance, announced in February that the United States would account for almost 40 percent of its 18 billion euros ($23.6 billion) in planned capital spending until 2012.

The nuclear power industry has grown concerned about whether Spain might follow Germany’s lead in raising taxes on the sector, which is one of the most profitable.

Another way to sanitize the finances of Spain’s energy sector would be to allow utilities to significantly raise electricity prices, which, when adjusted for inflation, fell 38.8 percent from 1990 to 2008, Mr. García Breva said.

But amid a financial crisis and before pivotal regional elections, that option appears politically unpalatable. “There is a historic error that continues to be made in Spain, which is the belief that our energy policy must be aimed at not raising the electricity bill and allow people to believe that energy is an abundant and cheap asset,” Mr. García Breva said.

As to the forthcoming national energy strategy, few see the delay as a sign that politicians are working on a profound overhaul.

“The government must restructure the energy sector completely as the current situation is unsustainable,” said Mr. Diaz-Rato, the fund manager. “But this is politically very hard, as all stakeholders will need to suffer, and the government has little political capital to spend.”


Greenies fed up with Obama

Promising everything to everyone does catch up with you eventually. Excerpt from "Grist" below:

I confess that when I initially heard of it, I thought Bill McKibben's drive to return solar panels to the White House was essentially a waste of time: of all the things to ask the president, it seemed like the smallest, most insignificant, and easiest. It certainly wouldn’t solve the climate crisis. And it would allow President Obama to cloak himself in a symbolic green action that let him cover a rapidly worsening environmental record.

I realize now that its very simplicity made the solar panels a masterstroke that clearly exposed, more than any big policy ask ever would, President Obama's unwillingness or inability to confront our great planetary crisis. Because even in this smallest of disappointments, Obama responded in a way that was a caricature of his failure-by-committee administration: sending mid-level officials to tell the greatest American environmental activist of our time that the president was rejecting their request out of hand in favor of a continued "deliberative process." Huh? It's a solar panel, not the Afghanistan war strategy. Politico, in the course of its daily "mind-meld" with top White House officials, probably captured the truth behind the White House's craven response when they wrote that "the White House won’t like the symbolism" of anything associated with Jimmy Carter.

Of course, rejecting the solar panels, taken alone, is no reason to pass judgment on the entire administration. But this cowardly act came on the same day that the administration rolled out the latest plank in a growing legal assault on independent actions to fight climate change. On the ninth, the administration filed papers with the United Nations to try and prevent Europe from instituting pollution control measures on U.S. airlines' flights that take off or land in Europe. And just two weeks earlier, the Obama administration "appalled" environmentalists by intervening -- on the side of polluters -- in a lawsuit in which eight states and New York City are suing major Midwestern utilities to force them to clean up their carbon pollution (and doing so in a particularly egregious way, as outlined by Jonathan Zasloff of Legal Planet).

These aren’t the first times the Obama administration has weighed in for polluters -- they’ve also worked to stop environmentalists from using the Endangered Species Act to force polluters to clean up -- even though climate pollution is melting the sea ice that species like polar bears depend on for survival and imperiling more than a third of all species on Earth. Perhaps most tragically, they issued BP special permits exempting the Macondo well from several environmental laws -- and then assented to a sweetheart deal with BP that made BP’s compensation of people affected by the oil spill dependent on continued unsafe drilling in the Gulf.

To put the administration’s actions in context, it’s important to consider the seven major ways that progress has been made around the world against climate change: 1) Pollution caps instituted by Europe, Japan, and other Kyoto Protocol signatories 2) State-level action such as pollution caps in California and northeastern states, as well as state-level Renewable Energy Standards 3) Entrepreneurism and private investment 4) Voluntary actions by businesses to reduce pollution 5) Activism to pressure corporations, educational institutions, local governments, and other institutions to adopt climate-friendly measures 6) Lawsuits 7) Personal lifestyle changes.

Now the administration is actively working to undermine at least three of these seven pillars by fighting state efforts, publicly rejecting activist efforts such as the solar panel drive, and even going so far as meddling in efforts of other countries to tackle climate change.

Like many environmentalists, I’ve long criticized President Obama for not doing enough to protect the planet -- but now I fear that he is not only not doing enough, he is actively going out of his way to fight climate action on many fronts. It’s sad to say it, but he seems to prize the possibility of an unholy and illusory accommodation with polluters over a solution to the great environmental crisis that confronts us....

So what to do? As enthralled as environmentalists and progressives once were about Obama’s promise, we cannot ignore that for all his fine rhetoric, his accomodationism and reserve are allowing the planetary crisis to deteriorate and leaving America behind in the race for a clean energy economy. It pains me to say it, but success will require a new president -- and that means that after the midterm elections, we need to start looking for a primary challenger who has the heart and soul required to save the planet from catastrophe and rescue American from its economic morass -- even as we throw ourselves into grassroots action to do what we can to save the planet despite the president’s interference.


The waste of recycling

by Jeff Jacoby

I GENERALLY see her after dark: an old woman in a conical Vietnamese hat, making the rounds in my neighborhood the night before our weekly trash pickup. She is out in all kinds of weather, checking the bins that residents have set out on the curb, helping herself to the aluminum cans. I've smiled and nodded hello once or twice, but she looks right past me and moves on. I figure she's too busy working to lose any time on pleasantries.

That elderly woman engages in one of mankind's oldest means of employment: picking through rubbish, looking for things of value in other people's discards. Winslow Homer portrayed such scavengers — recyclers, we'd call them today — in Scene on the Back Bay Lands, Boston, an 1859 engraving of trash-pickers sorting through the landfill that eventually became one of Boston's most elegant neighborhoods.

Such "private sector recycling is as old as trash itself," notes Clemson University economist Daniel K. Benjamin, who reproduces the Homer image in Recycling Myths Revisited, a new monograph for PERC, the Montana-based Property & Environment Research Center. Like the "scow-trimmers" who once competed for the right to rummage through New York City's garbage barges, or like Cairo's modern-day "Zabbaleen," who collect much of that city's waste and support themselves by recycling what they find, Homer's Back Bay foragers were poor people who sifted through rubbish not because it was politically correct or required by law, but because it was a productive use of their time. It left them better off.

Similarly, the woman I see in my neighborhood pulls beverage cans out of trash bins not because she believes recycling is virtuous, but because there is a natural market demand for aluminum cans (bolstered by a 5-cent deposit) and she increases her wealth by supplying them.

By contrast, she doesn't take the old toothpaste tubes or Styrofoam cups that people have thrown out, because there is no natural market for them. That doesn't mean those items couldn't be recycled. It means that they're not worth recycling. To put it in environmental terms, recycling such rubbish would be a waste of resources.

Most of the stuff we throw out — aluminum cans are an exception — is cheaper to replace from scratch than to recycle. "Cheaper" is another way of saying "requires fewer resources." Green evangelists believe that recycling our trash is "good for the planet" — that it conserves resources and is more environmentally friendly. But recycling household waste consumes resources, too.

Extra trucks are required to pick up recyclables, and extra gas to fuel those trucks, and extra drivers to operate them. Collected recyclables have to be sorted, cleaned, and stored in facilities that consume still more fuel and manpower; then they have to be transported somewhere for post-consumer processing and manufacturing. Add up all the energy, time, emissions, supplies, water, space, and mental and physical labor involved, and mandatory recycling turns out to be largely unsustainable — an environmental burden, not a boon.

"Far from saving resources," Benjamin writes, "curbside recycling typically wastes resources — resources that could be used productively elsewhere in society."

Popular impressions to the contrary notwithstanding, we are not running out of places to dispose of garbage. Not only is US landfill capacity at an all-time high, but all of the country's rubbish for the next 100 years could comfortably fit into a landfill measuring 10 miles square. Benjamin puts that in perspective: "Ted Turner's Flying D ranch outside Bozeman, Mont., could handle all of America's trash for the next century — with 50,000 acres left over for his bison."

Nor do modern landfills — which are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency — pose a threat to human health or the environment. They must be sited far from wetlands and groundwater, thickly lined with clay and plastic, covered daily with fresh layers of soil, and equipped for drawing off the methane gas created by decomposition (the gas, in turn, is collected and purified for sale). Eventually they are capped, landscaped, and turned into public parks or other open space.

Recycling makes many people feel good, but feelings are not the best test of environmental soundness. When it makes more sense to recycle than to throw something away; government compulsion isn't needed. And when recycling is a profligate use of natural and human resources, government mandates can't change the fact. Big Brother can force you to recycle your garbage, but that doesn't make garbage-recycling green.


The bioethanol binge

Fuel made from corn is expensive, inefficient—and undrinkable

Aberdeen, South Dakota—“I’ve always wanted to know, can you drink what you guys make?,” I asked, sitting in Jim Lane’s office at the Advanced Bioenergy ethanol plant in Aberdeen, South Dakota. After all, ethanol plants ferment corn just like bourbon distilleries do. Lane smiled, pointed to a small jar of water-clear fluid on the table at which we were sitting, and said, “Open it up. Give it a smell.” I did. It felt like several layers of the cells lining my nostrils were being burned off. Lane smiled some more. The obvious answer was no. He explained that toxic stench in fuel ethanol emanates from fusel oil, a mixture of alcohols and fatty acids, which is used industrially to remove lacquer and enamel—that explains the eau de paint thinner—and is retained in fuel ethanol because it provides some extra energy. It also limits any temptation that a plant worker might have to take sip while on the job. In addition, to avoid paying beverage alcohol taxes the plant denatures its ethanol by adding two percent gasoline before shipping it.

Lane, a chemical engineer who is in charge of regulatory affairs at Advanced Bioenergy, generously agreed to give me a tour of the Aberdeen facility so that I could learn more about the process of producing fuel ethanol or bioethanol from corn. Last year, the country produced just over 11 billion gallons of bioethanol. In contrast, only about 1.2 billion gallons of ethanol were produced to drink in the form of wine, beer, and distilled spirits. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 [PDF] mandates that the country will use 36 billion gallons of ethanol for fuel by 2022, which is equal to about a quarter of the 138 billion gallons of gasoline consumed domestically last year.

Upon arriving at the Advanced Bioenergy facility, a pleasant, familiar smell pervaded the environs of the Aberdeen plant. As I later learned, what I was smelling was distillers grains, a close cousin to the sweet cattle feed we used to get from the Southern States mill when I was a farm kid. Distillers grains is the term for what is left over after alcohol has been extracted. As Lane explained, roughly about one-third of the corn is starch (converted to sugar) that is fermented into ethanol; another third, mostly proteins, becomes feed; and the last third is carbon dioxide produced by fermentation and which is vented into the atmosphere. Lane hastened to explain that the facility’s carbon dioxide emissions were recycled carbon dioxide captured by corn plants and did not add to the greenhouse gas content of the atmosphere. The livestock feed is an additional revenue stream for the plant (currently $147 per ton for wet and $120 per ton for dry distillers grains), but ethanol production always provides the larger share of the revenues.

The Aberdeen plant began as a small facility in 1992 producing just 3.5 million gallons annually. In 2008, the plant was expanded at a cost of about $100 million, and now produces about 50 million gallons of bioethanol per year. This is achieved by grinding up 51,000 bushels of corn (2.8 million pounds) per day 355 days per year for a total of more than 18 million bushels annually. Each bushel yields about 3 gallons of ethanol. The plant employs 45 full-time employees.

ethanol vatLane gave me a thorough tour of the plant, showing me where the corn was ground up, softened using enzymes into a mash, and dosed with brewers yeast. We climbed up to peer into one of the fermentation tanks in which the yellowish mash appeared to be boiling furiously, but was actually bubbling away carbon dioxide. It generally takes about 50 hours for one of the giant tanks to finish fermentation. Lane showed me how alcohol was distilled and stored.

After the alcohol has been extracted, the distillers grains are processed through centrifuges which remove water containing some solubles. An evaporator reduces them to a syrup that can be added later to enhance the nutritional value of the distillers grains. The solids leave the centrifuge and are dried to produce, yes, dry distillers grains. Lane also showed me the labs in which samples from the fermentation tanks are constantly tested to make sure that they have not become infected with bacteria. If an infection occurs, the tanks are treated with penicillin.

Lane is an earnest believer in the benefits of ethanol and was eager to persuade me that ethanol was good for the country and the economy. Like many others whom I’ve met in the renewable fuels sector, he forcefully argued that ethanol helped free us from foreign oil, provided good jobs, boosted the economies of rural communities, and helped reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. When I asked Lane about the $6 billion in tax credits given to the ethanol industry by the federal government last year, he retorted that oil companies get subsidies too. In fact, The New York Times reported in July that the oil industry got $4 billion in tax breaks last year. Many of the tax breaks, however, are standard ones like deducting interest expenses that nearly every industry enjoys.

Currently, corn-based ethanol producers receive a tax credit of 45 cents per gallon. The tax credit offsets some of the production costs of bioethanol making it more competitive to gasoline. In July, boosters of corn ethanol were dismayed by a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report [PDF] that found after adjusting for the difference in energy content between ethanol and gasoline plus adding in the amount of petroleum fuels burned to produce ethanol that actually the “the producers of ethanol made from corn receive 73 cents to provide an amount of biofuel with the energy equivalent to that in one gallon of gasoline.” The CBO further estimated that without the tax break bioethanol production would be about one-third lower than it is, which means that the “costs to taxpayers of using a biofuel to reduce gasoline consumption by one gallon are $1.78 for ethanol made from corn.” Historically, ethanol prices have generally been higher than gasoline prices [PDF], so ethanol has only been competitive with gasoline because of the tax subsidy.

And what about greenhouse gas reductions? The CBO cited life cycle calculations by the Argonne National Laboratory that found that a gallon of gasoline produces 12 kilograms of greenhouse gases whereas an energy equivalent amount of bioethanol produces 10 kilograms, about 20 percent less. So corn bioethanol would need to displace 424 gallons of gasoline in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1 metric ton. Multiplying this figure by the $1.78 cost to taxpayers of displacing one gallon of gasoline by bioethanol yields a cost of $754 to cut one metric ton of carbon dioxide. At the moment, carbon emission permits in the European market are going for just under $20 per metric ton.

In fact, whether or not producing corn ethanol actually reduces carbon emissions is still a hotly contested scientific question. Some researchers argue that land clearing to grow additional corn releases more carbon dioxide than bioethanol displaces by reducing the consumption of gasoline. Let's not forget the issue of how turning one-third of America’s corn crop into fuel impacts food prices, especially the prices of corn-fed beef and pork.

It’s past time for the ethanol industry (and all other energy supply industries) to stand on their own. Although this is probably a pipe dream, all energy subsidies should be ended and the market allowed to determine which fuels win. The ethanol tax credit expires at the end of this year. Congress should let it die.

Note: I am traveling back to the East Coast over the next couple of weeks from a summer in Montana spent working on a new book. Along the way I am visiting various energy production facilities. The goal of this circuitous trip is for me to get a better understanding of energy production and to geek out on technological marvels.


Malthus not a good guide for population policy

Jessica Brown talks about a Greenie idol in the context of a debate in Australia about cutting back immigration

Thomas Malthus, the eighteenth century British thinker who predicted that over-population would lead to global famine, has lately had something of a resurgence. With everyone from Bob Brown to Bob Carr in wild agreement that Australia’s population growth must be cut, Malthusian prophecies of doom are back in fashion.

But a new book by Fred Pearce, Peoplequake: Mass Migration, Ageing Nations and the Coming Population Crash, highlights just what a nasty character Malthus actually was.

Malthus’ issue wasn’t really with the growth in England’s population but the growth in the number of poor people. His solution was to stop them from marrying and, therefore, procreating. He was virulent in his opposition to charity on the grounds that giving food to the poor would just prolong their inevitable deaths.

Malthus was immortalised as the detestable ‘Scrooge’ in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

But his legacy did not only live on in literature. His teachings informed officials in charge of coming up with a solution to the Irish potato famine of 1845 to 1849. Spurred on in part by hatred of the Irish and in part by Malthusian logic, one English Treasury official argued that the famine was a good ‘mechanism for reducing surplus population’ and ‘a direct strike of an all-wise and all-merciful Providence.’ In what became a self-fulfilling prophecy, an estimated one million people died.

While this example is perhaps extreme in the context of Australia’s current population debate, it nevertheless highlights why liberals should be wary of the new Malthusianism.

At its heart, the theory is profoundly illiberal. Malthusian thinking has spawned countless policies across the globe – forced sterilisations in India are the best known example – that have tossed aside the rights of the individual in order to achieve some perceived greater good.

It’s also fundamentally pessimistic. It assumes that catastrophic consequences of population growth are inevitable, so we shouldn’t bother looking for solutions.

Malthus was an eighteenth century country pastor who didn’t get out much. In a sense, it’s not surprising that he took such a dim view of the world.

But this is 2010, and we live in an open, successful and entrepreneurial country. Surely, in our population debate, we can do better.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 17 September. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.


For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here


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