Ah, yes, everyone’s favorite subject. Ugh. If you prefer not to get into AGW discussions, you can just skip this post. I’ve tried to ignore it, but the news has gotten too backlogged to kick this post down the road any further, especially given today’s developments in the idiocy that is carbon credits.
The latest data are in and looks like July was the hottest month on record for the United States, causing a drought that is actually worse that the Dust Bowl but has not actually caused a dust bowl due to gigantic advances in land management.
Now, according to the satellite data, July 2008 was worse planet-wide. But, no matter how you slice it, we are entering a third very warm decade. Several studies, including the newest BEST results, are converging on a global trend of 0.15 degrees celsius per decade. Despite terrifying headlines, that is actually more or less in line with what we have identified as the preferred ceiling for the next century.
So is there a connection between global warming and the severe drought? Yes and no, but mostly yes. There is large variation in weather in any particular year. What global warming does is shift that variation so that high temperatures are more likely and low temperatures less likely. You can still get cool summers, but they will be fewer and further between. And the likelihood of extreme events really skyrockets. Take a look at this plot from the latest NASA research, showing the shift in temperature distribution. The green line is the range of temperatures we had from 1950 to 1980. The filled in parts are the last decade. The shift to the right is the warming. Note, however, that far right edge: that’s where extreme temperature events take place. And as you slide the bell curve over, those events become exponentially more likely. They are not destined to happen, but they are more likely to.
Caveat time again: even in this representation, 2012 is an outlier, a ridiculously hot and dry summer. It’s well beyond what any climate model can account for. But as time goes on and the planet warms, these outliers are becoming more likely. A few years ago, when we had a cold winter, it was Australia and East Asia getting hit by record high temperatures. Northern Canada has been getting hit by a lot of them. And about 97% of Greenland’s ice sheet is currently showing signs of melt due to a warm summer.*
(*Note to idiot Leftists: this does not mean that 97% of the ice sheet is melting. This means 97% of the surface ice is showing signs of melt. The ice sheet is thick. Even under the worst case scenarios, it would take centuries, if not millennia, to melt away. You don’t make this issue clearer by exaggerating.)
This isn’t just a matter of setting the thermostat a little lower. The heat wave is causing massive economic damage, from failing crops to dying fish to livestock farmers having to go elsewhere for feed. I have not seen hard estimates but I would be surprised if it weren’t in the tens of billions of dollars. This is a real price of climate change, not some Volume III IPCC fantasy.
We simply don’t have the luxury of pretending this isn’t a problem. While it’s not 100% proven that rising greenhouse gas levels are causing the warming, that is the explanation that best fits the data and best explains what we’re seeing. That CO2 would drive up the temperature of the planet by a degree or so per century was first predicted back in the 1950’s. That’s the basis of science: making a prediction. That it has not quite been as accurate as hoped is irrelevant: Richard Muller’s data shows quiet clearly that the broad theory is basically confirmed.
So the question becomes: what do we do about it?
Well, there are a lot of things we shouldn’t do. For example, shooting the messenger. Vilifying climate researchers, threatening them, slagging their research without reading it … these things are not helpful.
We also need to ditch carbon credit schemes and cap-and-trade schemes. You can read here about the latest global warming boondoggle. Companies were being given carbon credits for getting rid of gases that were far more potent warming agents. The result? They made more of the agents to get the money. They even made more of related coolants that are even worse for the environment so they could cash out on destroying the byproducts. Anyone familiar with basic economic would have seen this coming a mile away but economics has never been the Left’s strong suit.
Probably the best commentary I’ve read is from Roger Pielke. After noting the disaster that was the Copenhagen meeting, he suggests:
The key to securing action on climate change may be to break the problem into more manageable parts. This should involve recognizing that human-caused climate change involves more than just carbon dioxide. This is already happening. A coalition of activists and politicians, including numerous prominent scientists, have argued that there are practical reasons to focus attention on “non-carbon forcings” — human influences on the climate system other than carbon dioxide emissions. The U.N. Environment Program argues that actions like reducing soot and methane could “save close to 2.5 million lives a year; avoid crop losses amounting to 32 million tons annually and deliver near-term climate protection of about half a degree Celsius by 2040.”
This really isn’t controversial, or at least shouldn’t be. Even Inhofe, who thinks AGW is a hoax, is on board with it. Non-carbon forcings are a result of waste, inefficiency and incompetence. Reducing them doesn’t hurt the economy, it helps it. He also notes, as I have, that using natural gas dramatically improve the “bang for buck” — i.e., how much energy you get against how much CO2 you are producing. This is one of the big reasons the United States has actually cut it’s CO2 emissions over the last few years while the glorious forward-thinking European countries have stalled or gotten worse.
Neither of these is the solution, long-term. But the key here is that they buy time. They slow down the warming of the planet. And, in both cases, they do so while keeping our economy going.
And that’s key. One thing we’ve learned from the “green energy” debacles is that government’s ability to address global warming is limited. It throws money at companies that are politically connected rather that innovative. It drowns us in bullshit like ethanol and biofuels. It embraces cockamamie schemes like painting rooftops white or building windmills. Funding general research, like the kind that produced recent solar breakthroughs at UCLA, is good. But when you’re talking about specific technology, government has to stay out.
But it’s more than that. As Pielke notes, there is a simple crude estimate of how much CO2 you’re going to produce. It’s basically “Emissions = GDP x Technology”. He argues that reducing GDP is non-negotiable and we should instead concentrate on technology (really: you should read his entire article, which is excellent). I agree but would add something else to the math:
Technology = GDP x Innovation
Put simply: the technology can not advance without a healthy economy. Government can invest all it likes. All it will do is waste money on such things as Solyndra. For basic research, government funding can work. But when it comes to developing specific, applied, marketable technology, government is hopeless. We need healthy businesses to make the real advances.
This is not just academic theory. Over the last four decades, the US has seen dramatic improvements in GDP per unit carbon while the economy has swelled. We have seen that a healthy economy produces more technological breakthroughs than an unhealthy one, no matter how much government is pushing and prodding. So suggestions like this:
Only a period of planned austerity and an intensive effort to build a carbon-free energy system could now achieve the goal of avoiding dangerous climate change.
are not a solution, they are recipe for disaster. They are practically a guarantee that global warming will get worse.
A crippled economy can not produce innovation. Big government’s approach to energy efficiency has been a disaster in Europe and in the United States. Private innovation — switching to natural gas, controlling carbon forcings, developing efficient cars and appliances — has been the only real success. It may sound like an oxymoron, but you really do have to burn carbon to save carbon.
Calling for what amount to caps on human development while putting more money into government climate schemes is proven failure. To call for more of that is to sacrifice yet more goats on the altar of the pagan god of big government. We should reject these ideas not despite the reality of global warming but because of it.
We don’t have time to fuck around anymore with government carbon schemes and hyper-regulation. The biggest thing government can do is cut its own red tape. We are in a regulatory environment where just putting in a power line can take a decade. That has to stop.
Government can also fund basic research like ITER as long as it stays away from the applied research needed to bridge the gap from science discovery to science application. In short, fund research into solar cells but let the solar cell manufacturers figure out how to market their wares on their own. Give American companies the freedom — in taxation and regulation — to innovate. That is our only real hope.
I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating the words of Gregg Easterbrook: if a clean, renewable, large-scale energy technology is ever developed, we won’t need government to force us to use it. People will be lining up to get their perpetual motion machines. Our long hot summer is most definitely not making the case for poverty, control and central planning. It’s making the case for freedom. Now more than ever.