January 2013

Global warming alarmists have seized upon an announcement by NOAA this week that 2012 was the warmest year in the U. S. historical record going back to 1895.  For example, Joe Romm writes on his ClimateProgress blog that, “2012 showed that the record-smashing weather extremes of 2011 weren’t a fluke, they were a pattern.”

According to the NOAA report released on January 8, the average annual temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 55.3F.  This is an increase of 3.3F above the 20th century average, and makes 2012 the warmest year on record. The report also states that the continental U.S. experienced its 15th driest year on record.

In a Politico article, Deke Arndt, chief of the climate monitoring branch at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center writes, “The heat that we saw in the U.S. (in 2012) is consistent with what we would expect in a warming world.

However, a previous blog by Joe Romm should be kept in mind when considering the significance of the 2012 record.  In 2010, Romm provided an answer to skeptics who point out that 1934 was the warmest year in the U. S. historical record: “1934 is the hottest year on record in the USA which only comprises 2% of the globe.”

Yes, that’s right, the United States comprises an insignificant 2% of the world’s surface area when we’re talking about the American heat wave in 1934, but it’s a highly significant 2% when we’re talking about last year’s high temperatures.

According to the global satellite temperature record maintained by John Christy and Roy Spencer at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, 2012 was the ninth warmest year globally since 1979.

Post image for How Many ‘Wedges’ Does It Take to Solve the Climate ‘Problem’?

In An Inconvenient Truth (pp. 280-281), Al Gore enthused about a Science magazine study by Princeton economists Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala. The study concluded that, “Humanity already possesses the fundamental scientific, technical, and industrial know how to solve the carbon and climate problems for the next half century.” Gore claimed the policies Socolow and Pacala recommend, “all of which are based on already-existing, affordable technologies,” could reduce emissions below 1970s levels.

But Gore could not know the solutions are “affordable,” because the authors did not attempt to estimate costs. The study basically shows that if political leaders can somehow coerce everybody to use less energy and adopt low- or zero-carbon energy technologies regardless of cost, they can significantly reduce emissions by 2054. We needed Princeton professors to tell us that?

If An Inconvenient Truth were a balanced presentation rather than a CGI-embellished lawyer’s brief, Gore would have mentioned that Socolow and Pacala’s (S&P) study was a response to an earlier analysis, also published in Science, by New York University Prof. Martin Hoffert and 17 colleagues.

Hoffert et al. found that all existing energy technologies “have severe deficiencies that limit their ability to stabilize global climate.” They specificially took issue with the UN IPCC’s claim that “known technological options” could stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels at 550 parts per million (ppm) or even 450 ppm over the next 100 years. Noting that world energy demand could triple by 2050, they found that zero-carbon technologies that can produce 100 to 300% of present world power consumption “do not exist operationally or as pilot plants.” Bottom line: “CO2 is a combustion byproduct vital to how civilization is powered; it cannot be regulated away.” They concluded that it is not possible to stabilize atmospheric CO2 concentrations and meet global energy needs “without drastic technological breakthroughs.”

I review this ancient history because Environmental Research Letters just published a study ‘updating’ (i.e. rebutting) the S&P analysis. The lead author is UC Irvine Prof. Steven Davis. One of three other co-authors is Martin Hoffert.

S&P estimated that seven “stabilization wedges” could limit atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 500 ppm by 2054. The Davis team estimates it will take 19 and possibly 31 wedges to solve the climate ‘problem.’ In other words, the challenge is much more difficult than S&P believed.

But what, you may be wondering, is a “stabilization wedge”?

[click to continue…]

On Sunday, the New York Times ran a story about how ethanol mandates are driving up child malnutrition and hunger in Guatemala.  That country now has the fourth-highest rate of child malnutrition in the entire world (higher than in most war-torn African countries):

With its corn-based diet and proximity to the United States, Central America has long been vulnerable to economic riptides related to the United States’ corn policy. Now that the United States is using 40 percent of its crop to make biofuel, it is not surprising that tortilla prices have doubled in Guatemala, which imports nearly half of its corn.

In a country where most families must spend about two thirds of their income on food, ‘the average Guatemalan is now hungrier because of biofuel development.’. . .Roughly 50 percent of the nation’s children are chronically malnourished, the fourth-highest rate in the world, according to the United Nations.

The American renewable fuel standard mandates that an increasing volume of biofuel be blended into the nation’s vehicle fuel supply each year to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and to bolster the nation’s energy security. Similarly, by 2020, transportation fuels in Europe will have to contain 10 percent biofuel.

Ethanol and biofuel mandates have shrunk the amount of land used for producing food in countries like Guatemala:

Recent laws in the United States and Europe that mandate the increasing use of biofuel in cars have had far-flung ripple effects, economists say, as land once devoted to growing food for humans is now sometimes more profitably used for churning out vehicle fuel.  In a globalized world, the expansion of the biofuels industry has contributed to spikes in food prices and a shortage of land for food-based agriculture in poor corners of Asia, Africa and Latin America because the raw material is grown wherever it is cheapest.

Many small farmers in Guatemala have been displaced, leaving their children hungry and physically stunted:

in rural areas, subsistence farmers struggle to find a place to sow their seeds. On a recent morning, José Antonio Alvarado was harvesting his corn crop on the narrow median of Highway 2 as trucks zoomed by.  “We’re farming here because there is no other land, and I have to feed my family,” said Mr. Alvarado, pointing to his sons Alejandro and José, who are 4 and 6 but appear to be much younger, a sign of chronic malnutrition.

In 2008, a Washington Post editorial by two prominent environmentalists described how ethanol mandates have harmed the environment and spawned hunger across the world.   In “Ethanol’s Failed Promise,” Lester Pearson and Jonathan Lewis observed that “Turning one-fourth of our corn into fuel is affecting global food prices. U.S. food prices are rising at twice the rate of inflation, hitting the pocketbooks of lower-income Americans and people living on fixed incomes.  .  .Deadly food riots have broken out in dozens of nations in the past few months, most recently in Haiti and Egypt. World Bank President Robert Zoellick warns of a global food emergency.” Moreover, they noted,

food-to-fuel mandates are leading to increased environmental damage. First, producing ethanol requires huge amounts of energy — most of which comes from coal. Second, the production process creates a number of hazardous byproducts. . .Third, food-to-fuel mandates are helping drive up the price of agricultural staples, leading to significant changes in land use with major environmental harm. Here in the United States, farmers are pulling land out of the federal conservation program, threatening fragile habitats. . .Most troubling, though, is that the higher food prices caused in large part by food-to-fuel mandates create incentives for global deforestation, including in the Amazon basin. As Time Magazine reported this month, huge swaths of forest are being cleared for agricultural development. The result is devastating: We lose an ecological treasure and critical habitat for endangered species, as well as the world’s largest ‘carbon sink.’ And when the forests are cleared and the land plowed for farming, the carbon that had been sequestered in the plants and soil is released. Princeton scholar Tim Searchinger has modeled this impact and reports in Science magazine that the net impact of the food-to-fuel push will be an increase in global carbon emissions — and thus a catalyst for climate change.

In Human Events, Deroy Murdock chronicled how rising food prices resulting from ethanol forced starving Haitians to literally eat dirt (dirt cookies made of vegetable oil, salt, and dirt), and fueled violent protests in unstable “powder kegs” like Pakistan and Egypt.

The Obama Administration has forced up the ethanol content of gasoline, heedless of the fact that ethanol makes gas costlier and dirtier, increases ozone pollution, and increases the death toll from smog and air pollution. Ethanol mandates also result in deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution.  By driving up food prices, they have fueled Islamic extremism in Afghanistan, Egypt, Yemen and other poor countries in the Middle East.

The Obama Administration persists in supporting ethanol mandates despite widespread criticism from experts across the political spectrum.  The legislation in Congress that it backed in the name of fighting global warming contained ethanol subsidies, even though ethanol subsidies have been linked to famine, hunger, food riots, and political unrest in poor countries.  That “cap-and-trade” legislation contained so many special-interest giveaways that it would have fleeced American consumers without helping the environment, even while driving industry overseas to countries with less environmental protections.  (In 2008, Obama admitted that “under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”)

Post image for Will the Supreme Court Review EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations? Part II

In Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA, petitioners — a coalition of industry groups, states, and non-profit organizations — sought to overturn the EPA’s endangerment, tailpipe, triggering, and tailoring rules for greenhouse gases (GHGs). In June of last year, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the EPA, upholding the four GHG rules. In August, coalition members petitioned for an en banc (full court) rehearing of the case. On Dec. 20, 2012 the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the petitions by 5-2.

However, given the importance of the issues and the strength of the two dissenting opinions, the case may go to the Supreme Court. Last week, I reviewed Judge Janice Rogers Brown’s dissenting opinion. Today, I review Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s dissent.

Judge Brown chiefly addresses the “interpretative shortcomings” of the Mass. v. EPA Supreme Court decision, which authorized the EPA to regulate GHGs via the Clean Air Act (CAA). Kavanaugh directs his fire at the opinion, shared by the EPA and the five-judge majority, that the CAA’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) preconstruction permitting program applies to GHGs, and at the agency’s attempt to “tailor” away the consequent “absurd results” by rewriting the statute. [click to continue…]

Post image for Will the Supreme Court Review EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations?

Powerful dissenting opinions can sometimes persuade a higher court to review a lower court’s ruling. Massachusetts v. EPA (2007), the Supreme Court decision empowering the EPA to act as a super legislature and ‘enact’ climate policy, is a prime example.

In 2005, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Bush administration EPA properly exercised its discretion when it denied a petition by eco-litigation groups to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new motor vehicles under §202 of the Clean Air Act (CAA). I remember feeling relieved but disappointed. The 2-1 majority ducked the central issue, namely, whether the CAA authorizes the EPA to regulate GHGs as climate change agents. In contrast, Judge David Tatel’s dissent made a strong argument that the EPA does have the power to regulate GHGs and, consequently, has a duty to determine whether GHG emissions endanger public health or welfare. Tatel’s opinion was a key factor persuading the Supreme Court to hear the case.

The Court in Massachusetts ruled in favor of petitioners, setting the stage for the EPA’s ongoing, ever-expanding regulation of GHG emissions from both mobile and stationary sources.

The EPA’s greenhouse regulatory surge, however, is not yet ‘settled law.’ Recent strong dissenting opinions by two D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judges may persuade the Supreme Court to review one or more of the agency’s GHG rules — or even reassess its ruling in Mass. v. EPA. [click to continue…]