This is a guest post from a scientist who feels like FishOutOfWater when looking at America’s discourse over science issues, most notably climate change …
We may be slipping into one of the greatest mass extinctions in the history of the earth, but just how worried should we be?
The world’s oceans are turning acidic at what’s likely the fastest pace in 300 million years. Scientists tend to think this is a troubling development. But just how worried should we be, exactly?
Dear Brad Plumer:
- It’s a troubling development when your cat persistently coughs up fur balls on your bed when you’re sleeping.
- It’s a troubling development when your car starts vibrating every time it hits 60 mph.
- When the chemistry of the ocean is reverting towards a primordial condition when it emitted poisonous sulfurous gases, it is not a troubling development. It is the beginning of a fucking catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.
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Tags: Global Warming · Washington Post · climate change · environmental · guest post
To America’s School Boards,
What if I could you offer you a reliable path to …
- Improve Educational Results
- Improve Student, Teacher, and Staff morale
- Improve Student, Teacher, and Staff health
- Create Jobs in the Local Economy
- Improve Economic Performance in the near-, mid-, and long-term
- Save money …
You should be.
And, the great news:
A path exists to do all this.
This is the simple reality of the benefits that come from serious (aggressive, even) efforts to green the school environment.
Take the time to understand why greening should be core to your leadership … You have the opportunity to foster better educational performance, improve your community’s economy, help clean up the environment, save money … and to be heroes.
Be heroes …
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Tags: economics · green · green schools
When there are spills in the kitchen, most Americans run for the paper towels. “Bounty: the thicker, quicker picker-upper” and all that. In the face of what is reported to be an “oil spill in New Bedford Harbor” that is “one of the largest … seen in New England,” it looks as if the response crews saw those ads.
August 14th, 2013 · 1 Comment
An MIT economist publishes a paper explaining that key economic modeling of climate change is wrong primarily because the models do not account for the risk of catastrophic climate chaos, but essentially have linear analysis that fosters a greatly understated accounting of the risks that climate chaos will devastate not just human prospects in the decades/centuries to come but the economy.
The climate risk downplaying and dismissing Institute for Energy Research (IER) leverages this study in support of its generalized opposition to any and all climate mitigation and investments to move toward a clean energy future. IER’s perspective: since the modeling is questionable, we should totally discount it and not include it to support any decision-making.
A fair read of the paper suggests something far different: be careful of taking the results from these models as perfectly accurate because they are almost certainly wrong by being too optimistic about plausible risks and plausible outcomes. And, thus, the results could be used as a low threshold for consideration even as we should seek to develop better modeling approaches to assessing economic costs and economic risks from linearly developing climate change and from potential catastrophic climate chaos.
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As part of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), self-described “snarky” Professor Laurel Whitney gave the following presentation about leveraging humor in climate communication.
Professor Whitney’s DeSmogBlog’s bio provides a window on her self-deprecating alternative approach to communications. Rather than emphasizing that she teaches “climate change issues” or such to university students,
she gets to depress aspiring freshman about how the world is riding a flaming rollercoaster towards ecological disaster
And, she evidently was scratching her head in confusion listening to climate-denial talking as she looks back on her education and attendance of (well, too many?) academic conferences:
Laurel takes the newfangled attack on scientific integrity quite personally as she doesn’t ever remember taking a class on How to Make Up and Manipulate Your Data 101 or How to Get Rich Off of Government Research Contracts 110 while attaining her multiple science degrees
Professor Whitney’s discussion is interesting and, as is she generally, insightful. As I watched, one subtext indicated the necessity of actually paying attention to her — while climate change is certainly a serious (extremely, terrifyingly, overwhelmingly, etc … serious) issue, there does not seem to have been a single laugh from the the AGU session’s attendees. Perhaps Professor Whitney might wish to add another message to those attendees and other climate scientists — lighten up a little bit, it might help get people to pay more attention to climate change and the necessity for action.
UPDATE: A tweet from “Snarky” Professor Whitney:
Tags: Global Warming · climate change · science
At the Georgetown University climate speech, President Obama gave a tip-of-the-hat to the fossil fuel “disinvestment” campaign by commenting “invest, divest”.
Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. (Applause.) Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. (Applause.) Invest. Divest.Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.
Today, I took an action in line with the President’s call by investing in solar power via . This investment is far from my first in solar, as my home makes clear. Today’s move was a bit different and has more meaning for me because there is far more behind this than simply choosing to “invest”.
For the past 15 or so years, much of my professional life has been involved participating in efforts to help move the U.S. military toward a smarter approach to energy issues. This has involved work on issues like Fully-Burdened Cost of Fuel, helping run (pro bono) a DOD-funded energy lecture series, giving presentations, writing articles (many without my name on them), participating in seminars and wargames, advising government offices (sigh, essentially also pro bono), and … well, a wide range of interactions, work, etc … I have been investing — my time, my passion, my intellectual contributions — along with many others in seeking to move the U.S. military toward more sensible energy policies and practices. My investment portfolio (sadly, not Koch-like, but still a “portfolio”) has not reflected this work and this investment. At least, not until a few hours ago.
And email from Billy Parish, founder of Mosaic, sparked a change to the equation. Mosaic is crowd-sourcing solar projects — giving people a chance to invest their money in putting up solar panels $25 at a time. Billy’s email announced their latest project: putting up 12.27 megawatts of solar panels at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington
County, New Jersey (McGuire Air Force Base, Fort Dix and Naval Air Station Lakehurst). Part of the larger move to make U.S. military bases more resilient by having on-base power production and cleaner through energy efficiency and renewable energy, the solar panels will be installed on 537 homes and supply an estimated 30 percent of home energy requirements. (Note that it is unclear whether the Mosaic-funded project is part of or in addition to the January 2013 announced plans to put solar on 1500 of 2200 United Communities homes at Joint Base McGuire.)
Thanks to Mosaic and the ability to invest $25 at a time (thus, my $100 counts as four times???), when it comes to renewable energy and the U.S. military, I’ve put my money where my mouth has been for over a decade.
Tags: Energy · Solar Energy · solar
The deadly Yarnell Hill Fire continued to rage out of control on Monday, a day after the flames fanned by erratic winds and temperatures topping 100°F overwhelmed a team of elite firefighters, killing 19 of the 20-member crew. The fire has burned about 200 homes and has burned through at least 8,400 acres — more than quadrupling in size since it began on June 28, according to news reports.
The deaths of the Prescott, Ariz.-based “Granite Mountain Hotshots” was the worst wildland firefighting disaster since a 1933 wildfire killed 25 firefighters in Los Angeles. It was the largest loss of firefighters in the U.S. since the September 11 terrorist attacks. Until Sunday, Arizona had suffered 22 wildland firefighting deaths since 1955, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
A lightning strike is the suspected cause of the blaze, and a brutal heat wave in the West, combined with bone-dry conditions, likely aided its spread. The high temperature at Prescott on Sunday was in the triple digits. The forecast for Monday called for high temperatures to hover near the century mark, with continued low humidity.
Thunderstorms near the fire are a suspected cause of the erratic behavior of the flames on Sunday, when the firefighting crew was forced to deploy their last-resort fire shelters to try to deflect the flames.
Statewide temperature trends in Arizona since 1920, with the post 1970 trend line drawn as well.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: Climate Central.
The Yarnell Hill fire, like other wildfires in the West right now, is taking place in the context of one of the most extreme heat waves on record in the region, as well as a long-running drought. While the contributors to specific fires are varied and include natural weather and climate variability as well as human factors, such as arson, a draft federal climate report released in January found that manmade climate change, along with other factors, has already increased the overall risk of wildfires in the Southwest.
And projections show that the West may be in for more large wildfires in the future. Climate models show an alarming increase in large wildfires in the West in coming years, as spring snowpack melts earlier, summer temperatures increase, and droughts occur more frequently or with greater severity.
In Arizona, the current drought, combined with the regional heat wave, has created extremely dangerous wildfire conditions. Three quarters of the state of Arizona is experiencing “severe” to “exceptional” drought conditions, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor. In neighboring New Mexico, conditions are even more dire, with about 45 percent of the state experiencing “exceptional” drought, the worst-possible category.
Long-running precipitation deficits, including a below-average winter snowpack, have led to extremely dry soil moisture conditions in Arizona and New Mexico, in particular, and in other states across the West.
In recent years, the Southwest has trended toward drier and warmer conditions, which is consistent with climate-model projections that show that the region may become more arid in the coming decades, due in large part to manmade global warming. In fact, Arizona was the fastest warming state in the contiguous U.S. since the mid-1970s, with average surface temperatures increasing by 0.639°F per decade since 1970.
Other contributors to wildfire trends include the consequences of decades of fire-suppression policies, which have left many forests with large amounts of vegetation to serve as fuel for wildfires. Another factor is population growth, and more specifically, development that has taken place at the edge of areas that have a history of wildfires, known as the “wildland-urban interface.”
Compared to an average year in the 1970s, during the past decade there were seven times more fires greater than 10,000 acres each year, and nearly five times more fires larger than 25,000 acres each year, according to Climate Central research.
Trends in large wildfires (greater than 10,000 acres) in Arizona, between 1970-2011.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: Climate Central.
Due to a combination of drought and record heat, 2012 saw one of the most destructive wildfire seasons on record, with 9.3 million acres going up in flames, the third-highest since 1960.
Over the shorter-term, firefighters battling the blaze may face more extreme heat through midweek, when temperatures may moderate slightly. Monthly and all-time temperature records have already been set across the West, including a high temperature of a scorching 129°F at Death Valley, Calif., on Sunday. That tied the all-time U.S. record for the highest temperature on record for the month of June, and came close to tying the record for the world’s hottest temperature, which is 134°F, set in Death Valley in 1913.
In Phoenix, even the overnight lows have been toasty, with an overnight low temperature of 91°F on June 30, for example, which tied the record-high minimum temperature for the date.
While individual heat waves have ties to short-term natural weather variability, increasingly common and intense heat waves are one of the most well-understood consequences of manmade global warming, since as global average surface temperatures increase, the probability of extreme heat events increases by a greater amount.
The heat this week poses a formidable obstacle for firefighters, since it affects wildfire behavior as well as human health. Heat is the No.1 weather-related killer in the U.S., according to the National Weather Service.
Deadly Heat Wave Continues in West; Wildfire Danger High
The Age of Western Wildfires
Heat Wave May Threaten World’s Hottest Temp. Record
Global Warming Behind Australia’s ‘Angry Summer’: Study
Hansen Study: Extreme Weather Tied to Climate Change
8 Images to Understand the Drought in the Southwest
Today, the President will be giving a speech at Georgetown University on climate change issues, with announcements of initiatives that will be taken leveraging the powers of the Administrative Branch because the Congress is unable (and, to a large extent, unwilling) to take meaningful action to address climate change: whether mitigation or adaptation.
There are two things that we know, without question, before the President opens his mouth …
- Those in denial on climate science will scream that the President is doing too much and those who understand climate risks will be concerned that the actions are inadequate.
- Everyone — EVERYONE — will overstate the costs of action and understate the benefits of climate change mitigation and action.
As to the second, there are a myriad of reasons why people get the cost-benefit calculation wrong that range from outright deceit to cautiousness about the power of innovation.
As to that last, Ramez Naam’s the Infinite Resource: the power of ideas on a finite planet is a powerful discussion of how innovation can enable us, even at this stage, to address climate change successfully. Naam presents a strong version of what I describe as ‘pessimistic optimism’ — he is quite clear as to the extent of our challenges and problems while also providing cogent arguments as to why and how unleashing innovation can enable a transformation of American (and global) society toward a prosperous, climate-friendly future.
Naam has, among other things, an excellent discussion of how opponents and proponents have gotten the cost-benefit equation wrong on past policy discussions of addressing environmental issues (pages 201-204).
- Addressing Acid Rain
- Industry groups predicted annual costs of $25 billion per year, EPA projected $6 billion per year, over the past 20 years the costs habe been “only $3 billion per year, just one-eight of the industry estimates, and half of what the EPA estimated.”
- Benefits: ”regulations saved an estimated $118 billion per year in reduced health expenses”.
- And … Americans still have electricity for their big-screen TVs.
- Ozone layer
- “Don Hodel … [Reagan] secretary of the interior after James Watt argued that any near-term risk of thinning ozone layer could be handled by telling people to wear hats and put on more sunscreen. … [DuPont] warned that phasing out CFCs could cost the United States more than $130 billion and “that entire industries could fold.” … the Competitive Enterprise Institute … phasing out CFCs would cost the countgry between $45 billion and $99 billion. … The EPA expected the phase-out to cost a total of $28 billion. …. the actual cost across the entire US economy turned out to be less than $10 billion … less than a tenth of what DuPont had estimated, less than a quarter of the lowest cost estimates from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and only slightly more than a third of what the EPA itself had estimated.”
- While opponents of action had warned that refrigerators would become a thing only multi-millionaires could afford, “the country’s air conditioning and refrigeration kep on working without disruption.”
- And …
- Benzene: When putting limits on benzene emissions at industrial sites, chemical companies forecast costs of $350,000 per plant. Within a few years, changed processes that eliminated benzene entirely (beating the regulations) reduced this cost to … zero. Health benefits > $billions.
- Asbestos: OSHA estimated costs of $150 million to end asbestos use in insulation and the costs turned out to be $75 million. Health benefits > $billions.
- Reduced coke oven pollution: EPA estimated costs of $4 billion in 1987 learning by 1991 led to revised cost estimates of $400 million. Health benefits > $billions.
“Everywhere we look, the cost of reducing either resource use or pollution drops through innovation. Even the cost estimates of regulators turn out to be too high.” (205)
Much will (and should be said) about the President’s speech and the 21 page plan released at 0600 this morning. That the President is speaking — seriously — about climate change matters is good. That President Obama is demonstrating a willingness to take — in wide public view — Administration action in the face of a do-nothing Congress is good.
What is not good is that, inevitably, the entire discussion will exaggerate the costs of action and understate the benefits of action.
- Cannot afford to get the cost-benefit equation wrong any more.
- Should understand that there are bad (very bad) and good reasons that this error occurs.
- Must fight to turn the discussion toward a closer understanding of the situation.
We are already facing massive costs due to inaction and inaction will increase costs.
Action is not a “cost” but an investment.
Because the “benefits” from action will be almost incalculably huge.
Advocates for climate mitigation again understate case?
Tags: Obama Administration · President Barack Obama · analysis · climate change · political symbols · politics
“Social Cost of Carbon” (SCC) is a tool to provide a fiscal accounting for all the damage implications of adding carbon to the atmosphere. The U.S. government has a SCC figure of about $20 per ton, which is radically below what reasonable. Even though a radically low figure, it matters that SCC has made its way into numerous Federal analyses as per this 2010 EPA report (pdf):
To date, economic analyses for Federal regulations have used a wide range of values to estimate the benefits associated with reducing carbon dioxide emissions. In the final model year 2011 CAFE rule, the Department of Transportation (DOT) used both a “domestic” SCC value of $2 per ton of CO2 and a “global” SCC value of $33 per ton of CO2 for 2007 emission reductions (in 2007 dollars), increasing both values at 2.4 percent per year. It also included a sensitivity analysis at $80 per ton of CO2. A domestic SCC value is meant to reflect the value of damages in the United States resulting from a unit change in carbon dioxide emissions, while a global SCC value is meant to reflect the value of damages worldwide.
A 2008 regulation proposed by DOT assumed a domestic SCC value of $7 per ton CO2 (in 2006 dollars) for 2011 emission reductions (with a range of $0-$14 for sensitivity analysis), also increasing at 2.4 percent per year. A regulation finalized by DOE in October of 2008 used a domestic SCC range of $0 to $20 per ton CO2 for 2007 emission reductions (in 2007 dollars). In addition, EPA’s 2008 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Greenhouse Gases identified what it described as “very preliminary” SCC estimates subject to revision. EPA’s global mean values were $68 and $40 per ton CO2 for discount rates of approximately 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively (in 2006 dollars for 2007 emissions)
A huge range — from as high as $80 (still too low …) to as little as $2 — in these figures but at least some effort to include the “costs” of carbon in decision-making.
It is with the SCC — whether the drastically inadequate $2 to $20 or a more sensible $80+ — in mind that I contemplated the most recent bid for a coal lease. In Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management opened bidding for 21.3 million tons of coal. As is typical, only one company bid.
Blue Mountain Energy, submitted a bid for the coal. The coal company, which hopes to expand its Deserado mine that supplies coal to the Bonanza coal plant in Utah, offered $6,390,000 – amounting to just 30 cents a ton.
Remember that Social Cost of Carbon only deals with “carbon” and not other pollutants / economic impacts from burning coal (such as mercury, particulates, etc …).
And, remember that each pound of coal burned for electricity translates into roughly two pounds of CO2 emissions.
Thus, working with the absurdly low $2 SCC translates into, roughly, a $4 per ton “Social Cost of Coal (Carbon Emissions)”.
Working with that lowest figure, the Blue Mountain Energy bid is under ten percent of that figure. Without accounting for land reclamation, mercury (and other) pollution costs, etc …, the societal cost for leasing this coal for mining is easily far more than 10x the money the Federal Government will receive.
While the “direct” bank account might seem to look good, with $s coming into the Treasury, the “externalities” in this case massively exceed that marginal incoming flow — without, again, attempting to account for the massive additional costs from coal on society.
With this in mind, a very simple rule should be put into place:
The Bureau of Land Management should not allow a mine sale to go ahead where the revenue raised is exceeded by the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) implications from the sale.
Tags: Energy · coal
Organizing for America (OFA) is moving toward an ever-more aggressive positioning when it comes to clean energy and climate change issues.
Added this past week to the website, “Call Out Climate Change Deniers“:
Climate change is real, it’s caused largely by human activities, and it poses significant risks for our health. Some members of Congress disagree with this simple, scientifically proven fact. We need to work to curb climate change, and a big step is to raise our voices to change the conversation in Washington. Call these deniers out. Hold them accountable. Ask them if they will admit climate change is a problem.
On the page, quote after quote demonstrating an utter disdain for science and disregard for the very real threat(s) that climate change creates for American prosperity and security. Not surprisingly, some of America’s favorite Anti-Science Syndrome suffering Haters Of a Livable Economic System appear prominently in this list.
Let’s start with the Speaker of the House, John Boehner:
“George, the idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide.”
How about Rep. Ralph Hall (hint: Chairman Emeritus of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, which he previously chaired from 2011 to 2013)?
“I’m really more fearful of freezing. And I don’t have any science to prove that. But we have a lot of science that tells us they’re not basing it on real scientific facts”
Senator Rand Paul
“[Scientists] are making up their facts to fit their conclusions. They’ve already caught them doing this.”
Sadly, this is a target-rich environment.
But, it is now an environment where OFA is making moves to start shooting the fish in the barrel.
Check out the OFA material on House and Senate climate science deniers.
And, as OFA asks, start doing your part to “call them out”.
We will continue updating the list below as supporters get answers to the basic question of whether their representatives in Congress accept the science on climate change. We hope that this list will shrink as members clarify what they truly believe about climate change.
OFA is taking on calling out Climate Zombies.
This is a good step.
Let’s help make it an ever-more powerful and continuing one.
Again, leverage OFA to call out and put pressure on climate science deniers.
NOTE: At the end of the page is this note:
Thanks to RL Miller for contributing to some of the original research in tracking down this information.
We all owe a serious tip of the hat to RL Miller who has done quite a bit of work tracking down material on Climate Zombies and has been pushing for years for just this sort of major political action to ‘call them out’.
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Tags: Obama Administration · anti-science syndrome · barack obama · climate change · climate delayers · climate zombies