I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.
By: RickyRood, 2:58 AM GMT on November 27, 2012
Energy Security – All the Oil We Want
The eighteenth Conference of the Parties opened in Qatar this week. Here is the link from the United Nations, which includes the meeting agenda and web casts. I will catch up on the events of this meeting over the next week. Much of the preliminary talk is about rich nations and the poor nations, the need for richer nations to bear the cost for the poorer nations to cope with climate change. You can read my coverage of the three previous Conferences of the Parties here: COP15-Copenhagen, COP16-Cancun, COP17-Durban.
The Conferences of the Parties is a time when reports are released, or at least, they get attention. Last week I wrote about a report from the World Bank that gives an analysis of the world four degrees warmer and comes to the conclusion that “a 4 degree Celsius warmer world must be avoided.” (PDF of Report). The emergence of the discussion of the world four degrees warmer follows from the fact that our behavior in both energy consumption and policy development suggests little chance that we will meet the “official” goals from the Conference of the Parties that we will limit global average. That official goal is that we will limit surface warming to 2 degree Celsius. It is my opinion that we will have a major challenge in limiting warming to 4 degrees, despite the consequences suggested by the World Bank report.
In middle November, there were many press stories that talked about the growing production of oil and natural gas in the United States. (for example) The news stores followed from a press release from the International Energy Agency. (press release: North America leads shift in global energy balance, IEA says in latest World Energy Outlook)
This press release was for the World Energy Outlook 2012 (Executive Summary). The gist of the report is that there have been fundamental changes in the production of oil and natural gas in the United States. The changes come from the successes of methods to release of “unconventional” oil and gas from reservoirs that were previously felt to be too costly to exploit. One of the core technologies used to release these stores of fossil energy is hydraulic fracturing or fracking. This report goes on to say that the U.S. will out produce Saudi Arabia in the mid-2020s, and that the U.S. is on its way to being energy independent by 2035.
I had several fast reactions to this report. My first was imagining the geopolitical landscape if the U.S. did not have deep energy roots in the Middle East, and indeed, in all parts of the world. Then I imagined other countries expressing their energy-related interests throughout the world. I also felt that this prediction will have profound impacts on how we think about climate, climate change, and ultimately, on the Earth’s climate.
Going beyond the happy headline of U.S. energy fortunes, the report goes on to talk about the rapidly growing energy demands in China, India, and the Middle East. It then discusses that we are “failing to put the global energy system onto a more sustainable path.” Much, nearly half, of the world’s growth in energy consumption in the past decade has used coal. Looking forward, coal remains central to energy use in China and India. Coal has many negative environmental consequences, including high carbon dioxide emissions. In market-driven energy policy, if the cost of coal remains competitive, then it is difficult to imagine coal being displaced from this central position.
If we have the U.S., and presumably other nations, generating oil and gas from unconventional sources of tightly held fuel, then this generates a new array of environmental consequences. Sticking to the subject of climate change, some of these sources of oil have very high carbon emissions. Also we introduce new challenges in the management of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. Therefore, this revelation of the technology to gather more oil and natural gas does not have obvious climate benefit.
World Energy Outlook 2012 does point out that renewable sources of energy are establishing themselves as an important part of the energy portfolio. Current projections are that by 2015, renewable energy will be the second largest source of electric power, and by 2035 renewables become comparable to coal. Note, that is comparable to coal, not displacing coal, and this 2035-world has far more energy production than today. Again, with regard to climate change, the report states that subsidies for exploiting fossil fuels are six times as high as subsidies to renewable energies. Therefore, current energy policy does not suggest high priority to addressing climate change through low-carbon energy.
The International Energy Agency report also discusses the continuing unfolding of the role of nuclear energy following the destruction of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in the 2011. (see also, Earthquakes and Climate Change) A salient point from the report is, again, the apparent decreasing role of nuclear energy in displacing fossil fuels. Further, if nuclear will be having a decreasing role, then the role of renewable energy must increase at the intersection of climate and energy policy.
I will bring it back to the World fours degrees warmer. A year ago the International Energy Agency in their World Energy Outlook 2011 stated that the emissions path we were on was headed to a World six degrees warmer. In the current 2012 report it is stated
“Successive editions of this report have shown that the climate goal of limiting warming to 2 °C is becoming more difficult and more costly with each year that passes. Our 450 Scenario examines the actions necessary to achieve this goal and finds that almost four-fifths of the CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 are already locked-in by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc. If action to reduce CO2 emissions is not taken before 2017, all the allowable CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing at that time.” (That would be a goal of limiting carbon dioxide concentrations to 450 parts per million.)
If there is a path to near-term, dramatic reductions of greenhouse gases it is anchored on efficiency. The International Energy Agency has developed a strategy they call the Efficient World Scenario. This “ scenario is, rather, based on a bottom-up analysis of currently available technologies and practices, and considers incremental changes to the level of energy efficiency deployed.” Like the Pacala and Socolow’s Stabilization Wedges, the proposed efficiency approach demonstrates that we do have the wherewithal to make a difference. The difference being - more time to develop energy producing technologies that do not contribute to the accumulation of more carbon dioxide.
I paint here a known picture. It is crystal clear that we cannot address our energy challenges and expect to automatically address our climate issues. Short-term energy and economic issues will always trump climate change. We have here a technological develop that by all indications makes global warming worse. We have great challenges in finding safe, secure sources of energy. Our easiest approaches to the energy security problem make the climate change problem worse. We cannot solve the climate change problem with fossil fuels – remember it is the accumulation of carbon dioxide, not the emission of carbon dioxide. Therefore, new technology that makes it possible to exploit unconventional oil and gas, which might make the U.S. energy independent, puts multiple stresses into the effort to address climate change. We have ingrained behavior and practice that continues to reward exploitation of fossil fuels more aggressively than renewable energy. We have, for example, the Heartland Institute gearing up to fight the progress that has been made in the U.S. on renewable energy. Though the World Bank analysis comes to the conclusion that “a 4 degree Celsius warmer world must be avoided,” we have no energy policy, we have no climate policy, and hence, there is little indication that we will taking steps to avoid that world.
By: RickyRood, 5:00 AM GMT on November 19, 2012
The World Four Degrees Warmer: A New Analysis from the World Bank
I ended my last article with the idea that our motivation to address climate change would likely be a series of climate disasters. Each hit will be a blow, and each blow will cause us to accumulate a bit more climate fatigue.
Back in 2011 I changed my class, and I started to teach that we needed to prepare for a world four degrees Celsius warmer. I felt that describing that warm world and developing adaptation strategies would make the climate change problem more concrete. It would make the costs more real and bring the problem home to cities, communities, and people. It would motivate technology, solutions. Ultimately, I feel it will motivate us to take the reduction of greenhouse gases more seriously.
Originally, much of my material was taken from a special issue of The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. In the Introduction by Mark New and colleagues, they argue that the projected rate of population growth and our current warming trajectory work to maximize stress at the same time. With warming approaching four degrees, stress on resources and human systems related to climate change become comparable to those from population stress.
Today a new report from the World Bank gives an analysis of the world four degrees warmer and comes to the conclusion that “a 4 degree Celsius warmer world must be avoided.” (PDF of Report). If the average increase of the global surface temperature is 4 degrees, then the regional changes will be much higher. In the analysis by the World Bank, they point out that the geographical size of regions of extreme heat and drought has increased and will increase significantly. This change in area is in concert with increased frequency of occurrence. The regional changes in the summer in the continental United States will be of order six degrees Celsius, say ten degrees Fahrenheit. Think about the last two summers in the United States, and add ten degrees.
The World Bank is worried about development and poverty. They spend much of the report analyzing the intersection of climate change, climate stress, population, and population stress. For example, water stress related to both precipitation and increasing temperature occurs in regions of increasing population, where stress is already high. This brings attention that this is a problem of population and climate change, not one or the other. The report talks about the compounded effects of drought, flood, extreme weather, people, and vulnerability. The report states, “A 4°C world is likely to be one in which communities, cities and countries would experience severe disruptions, damage, and dislocation, with many of these risks spread unequally. It is likely that the poor will suffer most and the global community could become more fractured, and unequal than today.” Each hit will be a blow, and each blow will cause us to accumulate a bit more climate fatigue.
And in the language of development bankers and economists: “Projections of damage costs for climate change impacts typically assess the costs of local damages, including infrastructure, and do not provide an adequate consideration of cascade effects (for example, value-added chains and supply networks) at national and regional scales. However, in an increasingly globalized world that experiences further specialization in production systems, and thus higher dependency on infrastructure to deliver produced goods, damages to infrastructure systems can lead to substantial indirect impacts. Seaports are an example of an initial point where a breakdown or substantial disruption in infrastructure facilities could trigger impacts that reach far beyond the particular location of the loss.”
The message of this report is that when considering the cost of a world four degrees warmer and the overlap of that warmer world with people, our built infrastructure, and fragile countries, then we must take the steps to avoid that warmer world. And, that is likely to be four degrees on the way to six degrees.
Next, I will consider this report in context of the International Energy Agency report North America leads shift in global energy balance, IEA says in latest World Energy Outlook.
New World Bank Report on a world four degrees warmer.
By: RickyRood, 7:19 PM GMT on November 12, 2012
Climate Case Studies – Hurricane Sandy (1)
Hurricane / Superstorm Sandy provides a case study of how climate impacts us. Such events demonstrate how many aspects of day-to-day life are interconnected, and how massive disruptions to that day-to-day life have both short-term and long-term consequences.
Previously I have written about the 2010 Pakistani Flood and Russian Heat Wave as climate case studies. In both the Pakistani and Russian cases there was damage across great swaths of land. In the case in Pakistan, there was loss of built infrastructure in regions of political unrest. In the case of Russia, there was threat to the wheat crop that propagated through commodity markets, which caused increases in food prices in, for example, Egypt. In the case of Hurricane Sandy there was great loss along the New Jersey Shore and in New York City. Though limited to a relatively small portion of the U.S., this part of the U.S. is highly populated, with great importance to the industrial and financial base of the country.
If a person chose, then a person could look at the impacts of Hurricane Sandy and maintain that the impacts of hurricane Sandy are due to there being too many people too close to the coast. They can then argue that this is a matter of bad planning, or choices that people make knowing that there is risk. This is a frequent argument made by those trying to dismiss the importance of climate change. The argument being, that this is “just weather,” and we have too many people who are in the wrong place. A focus on only population does not, in fact, make any statement about climate or climate change.
People have always lived with their climate, and the successes and failures of societies and civilizations have been influenced by climate. In the case of New York and New Jersey, some people will stay and some people will move. It may be that the people who stay and rebuild will make decisions of climate adaptation. Perhaps they will have higher sea walls, build on stilts, get rid of the basement, or build wetland buffers. They might demand governmental response. The people who move are adapting to the climate as well. They may have resources and decide that it is too risky to stay next to the sea. They may have no resources and can only retreat - to become climate refugees.
A comparison of Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey and the 2005 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans provides numerous useful contrasts. New Orleans is a city where great portions are below sea level. It is protected by levees that are themselves an adaptation to climate. These levees have been designed as a response to both flooding of the Mississippi River and to the historic hurricanes. The challenges in New Orleans are amplified by a wide array of water management and water use practices that have caused the city to sink. The natural barriers that might help protect New Orleans, especially the wetlands, have been managed and destroyed in way that increases the city’s vulnerability. Not only has the city’s vulnerability been increased, but also we have placed in those former wetlands houses and a large amount of the nation’s petroleum infrastructure. Thus we make ourselves direct risks of known extremes of climate.
Again, if a person takes a narrow view, then the argument could be made that the impacts of Katrina are the result of poor land use, poor environmental engineering, and people making decisions to live too close to the sea. However, this is an oversimplification of a complex problem; it ignores climate. People have already taken climate into account in their planning; they built levees. They already have proof from the present disaster that what they did was not enough. Therefore, it is logical that if they decide to persist in the same place, then they need to take climate into account in a different and more important way.
An important difference between hurricanes Katrina and Sandy is that people of wealth and insurance were more notably impacted in New York. A greater portion of poor people was damaged in New Orleans. The poor people had often not made the decision to live in low-lying areas near the sea because they liked low-lying areas near the sea. Their decision was made by affordability, and a requirement for short-term affordability to make a way of life. They are guided to their climate adaptation decisions by a lack of wealth. The well to do and the insured will be able to rebuild. The cost of the environmental disaster – the cost of climate - will be mitigated by insurance. This is also climate adaptation. I note that insurance companies are one of the sectors of our commercial enterprise that is most actively incorporating climate change knowledge into their business. This is climate-change adaptation, and it will change people’s behavior on the decisions that they make.
The concept that Hurricane Katrina lit in my mind was the how our response to climate change will likely be motivated by a series of climate disasters. Each hit will be a blow, and each blow will cause us to accumulate a bit more climate fatigue. The current method of building resilience to climate disruption, buying insurance, will fall to the side as insurance companies refuse to write policies in areas with high climate risk. They will see this risk growing either through model projections of climate change, or through the increasing number of Sandy-like events. This wealth-laden approach to adaptation is short-sighted, and it will prove inadequate. The impact of hurricanes in rich parts of the U.S. is often a small economic revitalization fueled by insurance and rebuilding. This will not always be the case, as the cost of insurance and rebuilding gets too high.
So the question arises, are we so entrenched that we have to rely on a series of climate disasters to show us the cost and to light up the path to address climate change? Our current approach to energy policy and land-use policy assures that our climate-related disasters will get larger. There will be increasingly frequent economic blows to fragile economies. There will be more frequent threats on the scale of the Pakistani floods and the Russian heat wave, which might bypass economies and go directly to nation stability. In a small way, Sandy showed us that using information from models to plan helps us reduce damage and risk. That is what the projections from climate change models provide us, the ability to smartly address the question of how do we carry our current adaptations to climate risk in the future of a changed climate.
By: RickyRood, 5:55 PM GMT on November 04, 2012
Election eve: Climate Science and the 2012 Election – Redux (2)
In the last entry I wrote about the forecast of Hurricane Sandy in light of the upcoming election. That begat a short special to The Globe and Mail, a major Canadian newspaper. In that piece, I stated that the hurricane was an opportunity to bring climate and climate change back as a serious political issue. Here, at the election I want to revisit, briefly, some of the political issues discussed in these blogs over the past four years, and think a little bit about the future.
In January of 2012 I wrote an entry on Climate Science and the 2012 Election. I ended it with this:
Looking forward to the 2012 election, I don’t expect that climate change will be an oft-articulated issue. The issue out front will be jobs, and the prominent link will be made between the exploitation of fossil fuels, new jobs, and energy security. Our approach to climate change will remain quietly in the hands of those savvy enough to use the unique knowledge provided by climate projections and those post-government truth tellers who no longer have to look away.
As we made it past the debates, a few pieces started to appear about the absence of climate change in the debates and in the political discussion as a whole. (Eugene Robinson (Washington Post), and Erika Bolstad (McClatchy, in Bradenton Herald)) There have been a few good political cartoons, such as this one by David Horsey.
Figure 1: By David Horsey and from the Los Angeles Times. Here is a link to the story that accompanies the drawing.
Climate change was thrown prominently into the headlines, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City endorsed President Obama, citing at the top of the list Hurricane Sandy and the need to address climate change. Though to my knowledge New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has not made any recent statements about climate change, his tour of the hurricane damage with President Obama has ignited a number of anti-climate change pieces and suggestions that the governor has strayed from the conservative mantra. Hurricane Sandy has put climate change into the headlines, and perhaps made it a small issue for the election, but it is not back as a substantive political issue.
If we look back over the past 4 years, then there are a couple of moments when climate change did appear overtly on the political agenda. Most prominently was in 2009 when the House or Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey, American Clean Energy and Security Act. (my blog at the time) The bill did not go very far in the political process. It was part of the run up to the 2009 United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP15) in Copenhagen. The other significant policy posturing prior to COP15 was U.S. EPA’s decision to regulate carbon dioxide. The threat of regulation is often a policy motivator in the U.S. Ultimately; however, any EPA action was burdened by strong bipartisan opposition to any action that would imperil the role of fossil fuels in the economic recovery.
After COP15 I felt that the U.S. had lost any leadership potential that it might have had on the global stage of climate policy. I also felt that we were squandering technological and economic advantage. I made a prediction prior to COP15: “I imagine that the machinations of legislation and lobbying will push climate change legislation close enough to the mid-term election that it will languish next to health care and Afghanistan and the economy. I think that there will be climate legislation, but I bet that it will be early in year 4 of the Obama administration, with its passage dependent on what Obama’s re-election looks like.”
So that prediction was wrong. What I did not anticipate was the sweeping change in the mid-term election that amplified the political attack on climate change, as well as an attack in general on the use of scientific information in policy and regulation. This attack on the use of knowledge in policy, which is complemented by assaults on very small parts of the U.S. federal budget in the name of budget cutting, only amplifies my concern that the U.S. is placing itself at technological, economic, and, now, research disadvantage. I would insert into the argument about, for instance, the bankruptcy of Solyndra, that our unstable policy on technological investment delayed U.S. development while foreign competitors built effective and market-friendly alternatives. We simply came to the game too late. The fragmented, up and down nature of both energy and climate policy hurt us everyday. For example, we are currently enamored of cheap natural gas and its potential to revitalize industry. This is a great local and short-term benefit. As far as climate policy, it does not serve as convincing reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, there are other environmental challenges with the acquisition of natural gas that will emerge rapidly in the next few years. Therefore, as far as energy policy, it is only short-term opportunism.
Despite the flurry of chatter of climate change as an issue that has followed Superstorm (nee Hurricane) Sandy, it is difficult to look across such a close election and see climate change emerging as a substantive issue on a national scale. To make progress on this issue requires support in the Legislative Branch. I expect that tribal partisanship will continue, and I hope that we spend our first quota of bipartisan behavior on stabilizing the federal budget, dealing with political-economic sequestration, and reconciling continuing resolutions. Thinking about voting, more than climate change in particular, the continued assault on science and the use of science-derived knowledge is, fundamentally, part of the threat to our thriving. This notion of American Exceptionalism takes on the hollow boosterism of Dust Bowl towns, which looked knowledge in the eyes and denied its existence. The world is changing in ways that we do not control, and it will not be good if we are the ones reliant on burning stuff for our way of life.
The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.