Sunday, April 21, 2024

Rethinking Climate Change: Lessons From The African Humid Period

The African Humid Period (AHP) is a well-documented climatic event that occurred in the Sahara and Sahel regions of Africa, at pre-industrial levels of GHGs, transforming these typically arid areas into lush landscapes with an abundance of flora and fauna.

It serves as a crucial case study in understanding past climate dynamics and their drivers. This article explores the AHP, its underlying mechanisms, and how such dramatic climate swings challenge the simplicity of attributing all modern climate changes directly to anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The AHP, which occurred approximately between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago, was a time when huge areas of North Africa, now arid or semi-arid, experienced significantly wetter conditions. This period, which occurred during remarkably stable CO2 concentrations, is commonly attributed to changes in the Earth’s orbit and axial tilt.

Which enhanced the monsoon systems and led to increased rainfall across the Sahara, transforming it into a savannah-like environment rich in lakes, rivers, and abundant vegetation. However, multiple recent studies suggest a much more rapid transition into and out of the AHP.

For example, a study published in Science Advances titled, “Rainfall regimes of the Green Sahara”, uses leaf wax isotopes from marine sediments to quantitatively reconstruct past precipitation in the western Sahara, a method that offers new insights into the rainfall patterns and the spatial extent of the Green Sahara. They conclude…

Our data indicate that the Green Sahara extended to 31°N and likely ended abruptly.

The findings indicate that during this period, the region received much higher rainfall than previously quantified, and suggests an abrupt end to the Green Sahara conditions. Importantly, the study highlights a temporary “pause” in these conditions around 8,000 years ago, which coincides with archaeological evidence of a hiatus in human occupation in the region.

This pause in rainfall aligns with the 8.2-ka cooling event, suggesting a connection between global climate events and regional climate changes in the Sahara.

The study emphasizes the critical role of vegetation and dust feedback in the climate system, noting that these natural mechanisms greatly influence rainfall patterns. Climate models that do not adequately simulate these feedbacks fail to accurately reproduce past climatic conditions, such as those of the Green Sahara, and challenge the notion that climatic shifts like those observed during the Green Sahara period occur gradually and over long timescales, as the data suggest that transitions can be relatively abrupt.


Wind/Solar/Alt-Energy Subsidies To Cost Federal Taxpayers $425 Billion Between Now And 2033

New Treasury Department estimate shows the 10-year cost of alt-energy tax credits has gone up 21-fold since 2015

Last month, Senator Chuck Grassley, the 90-year-old Republican from Iowa, celebrated Sunshine Week by taking to the Senate floor with a speech about “the importance of whistleblowers in promoting transparency and accountability.” According to Whistleblower Network News, Grassley, who has frequently touted his efforts to fight waste, fraud, and abuse in government, declared that “to control a government as big as ours, it takes a lot of very bright light shining on every agency and office.”

A government as big as ours should be shining more light on alt-energy tax credits. Back in 2015, Grassley declared, “As the father of the first wind energy tax credit in 1992, I can say that the tax credit was never meant to be permanent.” Grassley made that statement while lauding a deal to phase out the production tax credit (PTC), the lucrative federal subsidy that has driven the wind industry’s growth for decades.

When he made that statement, the estimated 10-year cost to federal taxpayers of the PTC was $16 billion, and the investment tax credit (ITC), primarily used for solar energy, was about $3.9 billion.

Those were the good old days. The tax credits that were “never meant to be permanent” have not only become permanent, they have exploded in cost.

According to a March 11 report by the Office of Tax Analysis at the Treasury Department, the alt-energy sector will collect a staggering $424.6 billion over the next decade via the PTC and ITC. The agency estimates that between 2024 and 2033, the PTC will cost taxpayers $276.6 billion, and the ITC will cost $148 billion. The PTC and ITC are the most expensive energy-related preferences in the tax code. (The 10-year cost of tax credits for “clean vehicles” comes in third, at an estimated cost of $112 billion.)

Thus, since 2015, when Grassley (who has been in the U.S. Senate for 43 years) lauded the phaseout of the subsidies for wind energy, the tax credits for alt-energy haven’t decreased at all. Instead, they increased by a factor of 21!

This year alone, again, according to the Treasury, the PTC will cost taxpayers $7.5 billion, and the ITC will cost taxpayers $27.5 billion. Thus, alt-energy subsidies will cost the federal treasury $35 billion in 2024. For reference, the oil and gas industry’s biggest tax credit, the depletion allowance, will cost taxpayers about $1.6 billion. The total of all hydrocarbon tax credits this year will be about $2.1 billion.

Although the Office of Tax Analysis doesn’t explain why the cost of the ITC and PTC is skyrocketing, it’s clear evidence that the Inflation Reduction Act has become one of the biggest corporate giveaways in American history.

In just two years, the expected 10-year cost of PTC and ITC has nearly quadrupled. In its fiscal year 2023 report (the federal government’s fiscal year begins on October 1 and ends on September 30), the Treasury projected that the ITC and PTC together would cost taxpayers about $112.8 billion between 2022 and 2031.

So where is all this money going? The expansion of the PTC and ITC under the Inflation Reduction Act allows a panoply of non-hydrocarbon technologies to feast on federal tax credits. That includes a lucrative boost for existing nuclear plants. Under the revised PTC, owners of nuclear plants can collect up to $15 per megawatt-hour for the juice they generate. Over the next few years, the big money will be doled out through the ITC. Between now and 2027, the Treasury expects the ITC to cost taxpayers nearly $75 billion. Offshore wind projects will likely be among the biggest winners because the ITC provides a tax credit of up to 30% of the project’s cost. Offshore projects can get another 10% under the ITC if they use sufficient quantities of domestically produced iron and steel. Offshore wind is only part of the story. As the Treasury report explains, the ITC covers:

Solar and geothermal energy property, qualified fuel cell property, stationary micro-turbine property, geothermal heat pumps, waste energy recovery property, small wind property, offshore wind, energy storage technology, qualified biogas property, microgrid controllers, and combined heat and power property. The credit is 30 percent for projects that begin construction before 2020 and 26 percent for projects that begin construction in 2020-2022. The credit returns to 30 percent for projects that begin construction after 2022 but the full credit rate is dependent on meeting prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements.

Recall that on August 16, 2022, when President Joe Biden signed the IRA, he said the measure “invests $369 billion to take the most aggressive action ever — ever, ever, ever — in confronting the climate crisis.”

Today, less than two years later, the Treasury is projecting that the cost of the IRA’s climate provisions will be nearly $425 billion over the next decade, or 15% more than what Biden claimed. Furthermore, the March 11 estimate from the Treasury likely understates the long-term cost of that legislation. In April 2023, Goldman Sachs estimated the IRA “will provide an estimated $1.2 trillion of incentives by 2032” for alt-energy incentives, including tax credits for electric vehicles.

As the Cato Institute’s Travis Fisher explained last September, the IRA is supposed to move to technology-neutral tax credits for low-carbon electricity production starting in 2025. Those tax credits will begin winding down by 2032 or when the power sector’s CO2 emissions are slashed by 75% compared to 2022 levels. (Note that the Department of Energy uses confusing phrasing for this requirement, saying the phaseout will only occur after emissions fall to 25% of 2022 levels.) But Fisher (who has an excellent Substack) points to a 2023 Energy Information Administration analysis, which found that even with a high uptake of IRA subsidies, emissions from the power sector are likely to decline by about 35% by 2050.

Indeed, the idea that the U.S. power sector will be able to slash its emissions by 75% — even by 2050 — is little more than wishful thinking.


Examining the High Costs and Questionable Gains of Bag ban and carpet recovery

As we approach Earth Day, it is time to evaluate how green policies have performed. One such policy is the New Jersey bag ban, which was ostensibly designed to tackle plastic pollution, requiring stores over 2,500 square feet in size to replace disposable plastic bags with reusable ones.

The ban bag is an example of “extended producer responsibility,” which is a waste policy that forces companies to use only reusable or recyclable products. Advocates of extended producer responsibility champion measures such as plastic bag bans, but the real-world implementation has only fueled inflation with minimal environmental benefits.

Despite the ban effectively being a regressive tax on poorer residents, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy praised the state for “addressing the problem of plastic pollution” that will “help mitigate climate change and strengthen our environment.”

Unfortunately for the governor and other advocates of extended producer responsibility policies, a new study by the Freedonia Group has found a threefold increase in plastic consumption since the beginning of the May 2022 ban—from 53 million pounds to 151 million pounds—to create heavier, reusable bags (despite a 60% reduction in disposable plastic bag use). In addition, Freedonia found a $42 million increase in profits from a single 50-store retailer from selling these reusable bags.

Researchers concluded that 90% of these reusable nonwoven polypropylene plastic bags are used only two to three times before being thrown away or lost. To add insult to injury, reusable bags use 15 times more plastic and emit five times the greenhouse gases during production compared to regular plastic bags.

Additionally, reusable bags contain little to no recyclable materials and are often not recyclable themselves. These bags would need to be used 11 to 59 times just to break even on the increased greenhouse gas emissions from production.

The American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, an association of plastic bag manufacturers that commissioned the Freedonia study, argues that the environmental effect of disposable plastic bags is being overstated. The alliance claims that plastic bags account for less than 0.6% of litter cleanups and less than 0.3% of municipal solid waste.

Instead of forcing everyone to use reusable bags that emit more greenhouse gases, the alliance argues that disposable bags should be properly recycled. These disposable plastic bags are then more easily used to create new bags. The alliance has a goal of 20% being made of recyclable material by 2025.

California’s Carpet Stewardship Act provides another example of extended producer responsibility leading to suboptimal outcomes. The law has been imposing an increasing fee schedule on new carpets to support carpet recycling efforts. The enforcement of this extended producer responsibility in California raises input costs for producers, increasing the cost of carpeting, and substantially leading to increased costs of housing, which disproportionately affects poorer residents.

The Carpet America Recovery Effort is the organization in charge of the stewardship program, and its executive director, Bob Peoples, admits that the tax “undoubtedly is a serious burden for the approximately 2,000 California carpet retailers and the 79 carpet mills with operations in the state.” In January 2023, the price of carpet tiles increased by almost half. Naturally, the cost of the tax falls on consumers, who now pay nearly 50% more for their carpets.

Extended producer responsibility policies often result in regressive, inflationary pressures without delivering on their environmental promises. Americans are grappling with soaring costs, from new homeowners needing 80% more income than they did four years ago to credit card debt reaching all-time highs. This is all while the federal deficit and interest rates soar.

Inflationary pressures will continue to increase further if the Environmental Protection Agency’s push for Americans to buy expensive zero-carbon emission vehicles and trucks becomes law. Simultaneously, electricity costs have risen 20% since 2020 and will rise by another 20% in some states to meet renewable energy requirements imposed by state lawmakers. California residents alone have seen an 11% rise in electricity prices just over this past year.

From Earth Day to every day, it is crucial to recognize that green policies like extended producer responsibility are often touted as beneficial; however, many of these initiatives are simply using green code-phrasing to justify inflating the cost of goods while ignoring their minimal environmental impact.


House approves bipartisan bill aimed at bolstering nuclear energy

The House on Wednesday evening approved bipartisan legislation that aims to bolster nuclear energy. The vote was 365-36, with one additional lawmaker voting present.

All of the “no” votes were Democrats and included several members of the Progressive Caucus. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) voted present.

The legislation aims to bolster the U.S.’s nuclear energy production by speeding up environmental reviews for new nuclear reactors and reducing fees that applicants for advanced nuclear reactor licenses must pay.

It would also extend a law that limits the industry’s legal liability for nuclear accidents by 40 years.

In addition, the bill would also seek to bolster nuclear approvals by requiring “efficient, timely, and predictable reviews and proceeding” for licensing reactors.

The bipartisan legislation was sponsored by Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.).

“The Atomic Energy Advancement Act restores American leadership in nuclear energy and technology which is critical to our economic and national security. I’m proud to lead the most significant update to nuclear energy policy in the United States in over a generation,” Duncan said in a written statement on its passage.

While it has bipartisan support in the House, it’s unclear whether the bill will advance in its current form, as the Senate has its own nuclear energy bill.

Both bills have bipartisan support and reports have indicated that both chambers have been in talks on how to reconcile the legislation.




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