Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Climate change is being slowed by plants far more than expected, researchers reveal
So much for "settled science". But this is a report of CO2 effects, not climate change. The two have been unrelated for at least 18 years and probably millennia
Plants are slowing the effects of climate change far more than expected, researchers have found. They said the impact of rising CO2 levels on plant growth has been underestimated by 16 per cent, as they thrive with more of the gas in the atmosphere.
And as plants absorb CO2, this has led to overestimates of how much of the greenhouse gas is left in the atmosphere.
In a separate study, reported in the same journal, scientists artificially elevated CO2 levels in a US prairie grasslands ecosystem for eight years.
They found that the added carbon had increased the overall volume of the plants and promoted the ecosystem's stability by reducing the growth of normally dominant plant species.
The study was conducted by climate and earth scientists at the University of Texas at Austin and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
It says a 16 per cent 'correction' would be 'large enough to explain the persistent overestimation of growth rates of historical atmospheric CO2 by earth system models'. 'Our study will lead to improved understanding and modelling of carbon–climate feedbacks,' the paper says.
Lianhong Gu, from the Climate Change Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States, said most carbon-cycle models had over-predicted the growth rate.
Dr Gu said the growth rate of carbon levels had been over-predicted by 17 per cent over a 100-year period.
The study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences focusses on the slow diffusion of CO2 in plant leaves, with particular attention to the mesophyll or their inner tissue.
It concludes: 'Carbon cycle models that lack explicit understanding of mesophyll diffusion will underestimate historical and future terrestrial carbon uptake.
'Consequently, they will overestimate historical and future growth rates of atmospheric CO2 concentration due to fossil fuel emissions, with ramifications for predicted climate change.'
Professor Peter Cox, Professor of Climate System Dynamics at the University of Exeter, said even if the study was correct, the effect will be 'relatively small' compared to uncertainties about how much carbon will be absorbed by plants and soil.
He said: 'Avoiding 2C of global warming is a huge challenge for humanity even if this effect is taken into account.'
Prof Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts Research at the Met Office and Chair in Climate Impacts at the University of Exeter, said: 'This is a very interesting paper adding to our understanding of plant physiology. 'The authors remark on the potential importance of their results for global carbon cycle modelling, and this is indeed relevant, but as a priority for improving carbon cycle modelling there are other processes which current models treat either very simplistically or not at all.
'Fire disturbance, for example, is not included in some of the models examined here – its inclusion could be more important than any improvements in modelling CO2 fertilization, as it seems likely to be an important feedback on climate change.
'Changes in global soil respiration at the global scale are also poorly understood.
'So while this is an interesting and useful contribution, it should be put into context with the bigger picture – disturbance mechanisms as well as physiological processes are important.'
'Absolutely ridiculous': Joe Hockey denies Australia is dirtiest greenhouse gas emitter in OECD
Australia is very large (3 million sq. miles) so it has a large animal population (both wild and domestic) which emits various gases. The human population is however small (22 million) so blaming all the animal emissions on people and their activities is absurd
Treasurer Joe Hockey has been bombarded with questions on climate change, the economy and Australia's relationship with China during an interview on the BBC World News airing at 2:30pm and 7.30pm on Tuesday.
Hockey has denied that Australia is the highest greenhouse gas emitting country in the OECD per capita, telling a British journalist the statement is "absolutely ridiculous".
He has also refused to explicitly back the democracy movement in Hong Kong, and says Australia's free trade negotiations with China will not be damaged by China's shock move last week to introduce new tariffs on imports of Australian coal.
On his first trip to London since becoming treasurer, Mr Hockey has also told an audience at the Institute of Economic Affairs that Australia's Reserve Bank has only a "limited capacity" to stimulate economic growth and Australia can no longer afford a "she'll be right" approach if it wants to avoid recession or high unemployment.
On the BBC's Hardtalk program recorded overnight, Mr Hockey faced tough questions about Prime Minister Tony Abbott's views on coal, Clive Palmer's recent explosive appearance on the ABC's Q&A during which he called the Chinese government "mongrels who shoot their own people," and Labor leader Bill Shorten's criticism that Australia is now seen as the climate change sceptic capital of the world.
He told BBC host Stephen Sackur that Europeans had a "fundamental misunderstanding" of Australia's economic ties with Asia, particularly China, and the view that Australia had a "massive reliance and dependence" on China for exports was a "complete misread".
He also laughed at the suggestion that Australia was "one of the dirtiest most greenhouse gas-emitting countries in OECD group of developed countries". "The comment you just made is absolutely ridiculous," Mr Hockey told Sackur.
"We've got a small population and very large land mass and we are an exporter of energy, so that measurement is a falsehood in a sense because it does not properly reflect exactly what our economy is," Mr Hockey said.
"Australia is a significant exporter of energy and, in fact, when it comes to coal we produce some of the cleanest coal, if that term can be used, the cleanest coal in the world."
His comments contradict the Garnaut Climate Change Review, which says Australia was the highest per capita emitter of greenhouse gas emissions in the OECD, even without exports of energy.
"Australia's per capita greenhouse gas emissions are the highest of any OECD country and are among the highest in the world," the review says. "Australia's per capita emissions are nearly twice the OECD average and more than four times the world average."
When asked on the BBC program, which will air in full on BBC World News on Tuesday evening, about China's surprise decision last week to introduce 3 per cent and 6 per cent tariffs on coal imports, Mr Hockey said Australia had no political problem with China at the moment. But he would not say if negotiations with China on a free trade agreement would end if there was no agreement by the end of this year.
Just Say NO to a Carbon Tax
By S. Fred Singer
I am against instituting a carbon tax, but my reasons are rather different from the conventional ones. I see three major problems with any proposed carbon tax:
It irrationally discriminates against some forms of energy and subsidizes others.
It ignores the considerable benefits of atmospheric carbon dioxide in promoting the growth of plants, advancing agriculture, and lowering the cost of food for a growing world population.
Focusing on a carbon tax emphasizes the idea that Carbon Dioxide is a pollutant -- a claim that is rapidly becoming scientifically unacceptable.
Assuming we can maintain a revenue-neutral tax stream, I favor an energy tax (BTU tax) over a carbon tax, and will explain why.
A carbon tax is of course a consumption tax that raises the price of all manufactured goods and their transportation. Its burden falls most heavily on households in lower income brackets, which spend a larger fraction of their income on essential goods and services. Yet many economists favor a consumption tax as a more effective way of financing government operations and promoting economic growth than other forms of taxation, like taxes on income or capital.
Many politicians have favored a consumption tax from time to time. A good example was presidential candidate Herman Cain, who proposed a consumption tax when he ran for the Republican nomination in 2012. Economists who favor such a tax often insist that it must be revenue-neutral, by reducing some other taxes so as to keep total revenue constant. This means it is not superimposed on other taxes -- although in the current political environment there’s no guarantee this will happen.
But let’s first discuss the drawbacks of alternatives, such as a VAT (Value-Added Tax) or a Federal sales tax. As is the case for all consumption taxes, these are all regressive; some adjustments will have to be made to protect low-income households. Aside from that, we should compare the four methods in the matter of efficiency and the cost involved in running such a tax.
A VAT is the most invasive of all of these taxes, involves large amounts of bookkeeping, inspections, control, and other costs. European experience with VAT has shown that it must be at least 15% of the value of goods to make any sense.
A Federal sales tax has some of the same problems as a VAT. In addition, one can visualize a large amount of cheating going on -- especially if the tax is 10% or greater and provides incentives for such behavior. And there are always the problems of defining exemptions for certain goods and for particular classes of users.
Collecting the Energy Tax
An energy tax is the simplest because it can be applied at a small number of choke points: at oil refineries and at electric power stations. In other words, instead of being collected at millions of points like a VAT or a sales tax, collections take place at only several hundred points and can be just as effective. We already have a Federal tax on gasoline -- so it will be only a matter of increasing its amount; a federal tax on electricity does not appear to present much of an administrative problem.
The major advantage of an energy tax over a tax on emitted carbon dioxide is that it does not discriminate against coal, our cheapest and most plentiful fuel for electric power. Nor does it provide an implicit subsidy for hydro, nuclear, solar, and wind. Once it is recognized that CO2 is not a pollutant (in the sense of having adverse effects on climate), it can be seen that an energy tax is much preferable to a CO2 tax.
Note: We’ve had suggestions of an energy tax before; it was often known as a BTU tax. It must be realized that there will be some forms of energy that will avoid being taxed under the proposed collection scheme. It then becomes necessary to see if it is worthwhile to capture such a form of energy or whether to ignore it because it’s so small.
Neutrality of Tax Revenues
Returning to the main theme of revenue-neutrality, I’m sure that tax experts can figure out which tax to reduce to compensate for an energy tax. Many would favor lowering the corporate income tax, as Herman Cain suggested in 2012. (In a properly operating competitive market, corporate profits are really an indicator of increased efficiency of operation.)
There are a number of advantages to such a proposal. It will make US corporations more competitive on the international market and avoid the problem of “leakage” of corporate headquarters to countries with lower tax rates. In the final analysis, a corporate income tax is somewhat perverse; since a corporation is not a person, it does not consume goods. It may transform them, but it does not consume them as a person would. Instead, corporations should be encouraged to distribute their profits to their shareholders, who are now suffering from double taxation: first, when corporate profits are taxed, and later, when dividends are taxed as part of a shareholders’ personal income.
Motor-fuel tax and Environmental concerns
A quick word about the advantages of (what amounts to) an increase in the Federal tax on motor fuels; the last such increase was imposed during the Reagan Administration. The various States would remain free to collect whatever their voters approve. But with fuel efficiency of vehicles rising, revenues derived from current State and Federal taxes are woefully inadequate to maintain highways and repair bridges. Also, a significant portion of federal and state gasoline taxes have been diverted to other uses such as local rail transit; according to a study by NCPA, only 60% of the federal fuel tax revenue goes to highways, bridges, etc. Raising the cost of driving will also reduce traffic accidents, air and noise pollution, as well as traffic congestion -- although road and bridge tolls may be the best way to fight congestion.
Last but not least, environmental activists have always campaigned for an increased tax on gasoline --considering cars and trucks as enemies of an equitable global climate. Although evidence for any significant influence of CO2 on climate is rapidly evaporating, a tax on fuels (and reduced use of motor vehicles) is bound to gain the support of the Greens and the media -- and of a sizable fraction of the public.
Gradually also, it has become clear that increased levels of CO2 are not only not harmful, but positively benefit the growth of plants worldwide – contributing to global agricultural prosperity. The publication of NIPCC’s (Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change) Climate Change Reconsidered, by the Heartland Institute in 2014, of a massive compendium of relevant biological research, underlines these beneficial effects.
So to sum up, a carbon tax NO; an energy tax, MAYBE. A lowering of taxes overall, YES.
How donuts cause global warming
What they fail to mention is that food firms use palm oil because food freaks have demoninized first saturated fats and then trans fats. Palm oil is what is left. So it is the do-gooders who have created the demand for palm oil -- and the resultant cutting down of native trees to grow the trees that produce the palm oil. So it is clear who is to blame for any adverse effects
McDonald's, Burger King, Yum Brands (Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut) and other members of the fast food industry are often the focus of negative attention for the effect on our heath, but did you know they are also having a big effect on our climate?
America's top fast food brands use palm oil, an ingredient linked to climate change and deforestation, in their products. As tropical forests are cleared to make way for palm oil plantations, carbon is released into the atmosphere, driving global warming and shrinking habitats for endangered species. Tropical deforestation currently accounts for about 10 percent of the world's heat-trapping emissions.
The good news is that two of the country's largest fast food chains, Krispy Kreme and Dunkin' Brands (who owns both Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins), just pledged to buy deforestation-free palm oil. The rest of the fast food industry should also set the bar high and make a firm commitment to use only deforestation-free palm oil.
Pentagon Declares War on Climate Change
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, in South America for a six-day trip leading up to the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas in Arequipa, Peru, will talk about how climate change has become an increasingly urgent issue for the military and what it plans to do to address it.
Hagel spoke at a news conference in Santiago, Chile, Saturday, previewing the gist of his remarks, according to a Pentagon press release “Climate Change Can Effect Security Environment.”
At the news event, he said that rises in the sea level bring new potential security threats. “When there is any natural disaster event that occurs, there always is some element of a security risk—law and order, individuals attempting to take advantage of those catastrophes, adjusting to shifts in security requirements,” said Hagel.
He also pointed to the increased competition for natural resources leading to conflict.
“We see an Arctic that is melting, meaning that most likely a new sea lane will emerge,” he said. “We know that there are significant minerals and natural deposits of oil and natural gas there. That means that nations will compete for those natural resources. That’s never been an issue before. You couldn’t get up there and get anything out of there. We have to manage through what those conditions and new realities are going to bring in the way of potential threats.”
According to the Pentagon, he will amplify on these remarks today, talking about how meeting military challenges need to be rethought in light of climate change.
It’s not the first time Hagel has spoken about the military challenges related to climate change. Last spring he met with defense ministers from southeast Asian countries to talk about meeting “non-traditional” security challenges created by climate change and natural disasters. He also addressed the issue at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia in November 2013.
“Climate change does not directly cause conflict, but it can add to the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict,” said Hagel at that event. “Food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, more severe natural disasters—all place additional burdens on economies, societies and institutions around the world.”
He pointed to efforts already being undertaken by the military, such as Afghan combat posts using tactical solar gear, keeping 20 millions gallons of fuel off battlefield, developing more efficient routes, and investments in renewable energy on military installations.
Britain needs to generate an energy revolution
After years of dithering, negotiations and reviews, it finally looks like a new nuclear power plant will be built in the UK – the first since Sizewell B on England’s east coast started generating power in 1995. But the news is cause for relief, not celebration.
The new plant, to be built on the site of two existing stations at Hinkley Point, will cost nearly £25 billion to build and won’t start generating power until well into the 2020s. The plant’s operators, EDF, have been guaranteed a price for electricity that is roughly double the current price, a guarantee that will last at least 35 years. Even now, having got the go-ahead from the EU, Hinkley Point C may be blocked by objections from other EU countries over excessive state aid. But even this much-delayed and wildly expensive power station is still a step forward. Maybe next time, the UK government will learn to negotiate a better deal. If it can’t, Hinkley Point could be the start and end of the nuclear revival.
The pressing need for new nuclear power stations was confirmed earlier this week, when it was reported that cracks had been found in two of the 3,000 graphite bricks in the core of one of the reactors at the Hunterston B nuclear power plant in Scotland. The news has led to suggestions that Britain’s ageing gas-cooled nuclear reactors, which have had as many career revivals as Bruce Forsyth, may not keep going as long as hoped, possibly exacerbating a supply crunch. But it’s the cracks in UK energy policy that we should really be worried about.
Britain is already facing an uncomfortable few years where peak energy demand will be only marginally smaller than peak energy supply. For the past few years, and for some time to come, Britain will be closing power stations rapidly. Some are nuclear power stations that are coming to the end of their lives, but others are fossil-fuel stations that are being closed because they don’t meet emissions standards. The EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) means coal- and oil-fired power stations must strict meet (non-carbon) pollution standards. Many of these plants could have been upgraded, but in any event, the UK has already committed to producing 15 per cent of all energy requirements from renewable sources by 2020 – which in effect means 30 per cent of electricity will need to come from renewables. The result is that many older coal and gas stations would be out of business even if what came from their chimneys was scrubbed clean.
One consequence of all these commitments and plant closures is that, this coming winter, the gap between peak demand and peak generation will be small. By next winter, the gap will be as little as four per cent. Given that currently four power stations are out of action, the risk of shortfalls is substantial. However, the lights are unlikely to go out in our homes thanks to a series of emergency measures, which include the ability to bring mothballed coal and gas plants back online, and paying companies to not use electricity – a facility for which National Grid will have to pay those firms fairly handsomely. Moreover, the UK government is investing in more connectors with continental Europe so that shortfalls can be made up with French nuclear power, for example.
The problem has been years of indecision on the part of politicians, combined with an excessive obsession with climate change. The three fundamental requirements of an energy system are that the power is reliable, abundant and as cheap as possible. However, environmental concerns have muddied the waters.
A simple way to square the circle on climate change would have been to push for a mix of energy supply including a new wave of nuclear power stations, combined with increased use of gas and renewables. But for years, building new nuclear stations was ruled out on environmental grounds. (In Scotland, the SNP government is still committed to blocking new nuclear plants.) Eventually, kicking and screaming, new nuclear stations like the one planned at Hinkley Point, have been approved – but given the weak negotiating position that the government has with energy companies, the government has, to recycle an old quote from postwar Labour politician Nye Bevan, ‘stuffed their mouths with gold’.
In all this, realism and ambition have been absent.
Realism, in the sense that the only way in which Britain could hope to cut greenhouse-gas emissions while maintaining security of supply was to generate a substantial proportion of power from nuclear. Renewables are too expensive and too unreliable, and require backup from gas-powered stations for those times when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.
Ambition, because there seems to be little drive to produce energy cheaply and abundantly. For the economy to grow and for society to develop materially, we are going to need a lot more energy and at as low a cost as possible. Instead, planning for the future has been obsessed with producing only as much energy as necessary, with as few emissions as possible, while trying to force us to be as energy efficient as possible. While nuclear might finally be getting somewhere, the production of shale gas using fracking – which could be the simplest and cheapest way to get lower-carbon energy – is now being delayed by endless, mostly specious concerns from scaremongering protesters.
While solar and wind, in the right conditions, can and will make a useful contribution to energy supply in the future, they also have fundamental problems of unreliability that need to be solved. What we really need to do is to invest in researching technologies that could make really dramatic leaps forward in energy production. Yet the nearest thing to such an attempt right now – the ITER project to build a nuclear fusion power plant in France – has been bedevilled by delays, poor management and politicking.
Let’s put the holy trinity of cost, reliability and abundance back at the heart of energy policy, stop panicking about global warming (we can’t solve the problem overnight and we don’t need to) and start thinking long-term about revolutionising energy production – and the possibilities that could open up for society.
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Posted by JR at 1:36 AM