November 2013

Post image for Skeptical Science’s Hiroshima Bomb Bombast

SkepticalScience.Com this week unveiled a downloadable app that supposedly shows how fast heat is building up in the Earth’s climate system due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The metric chosen is Hiroshima bombs. The Earth, according to SkS’s app, is warming at the rate of four Hiroshima bombs per second or 400,000 Hiroshima bombs per day.

I don’t know about you, but it sounds to me like someone is trying to tell us global warming could be the end of life as we know it.

SkS says the point of their Hiroshima bomb calculator is simply to explain in “ways that non-scientists can more easily relate to” how much heat anthropogenic greenhouse gases add to the climate system. It’s supposed to help us laymen understand the concept of radiative imbalance.

Let’s briefly examine that concept. Both incoming shortwave radiation (sunlight and ultraviolet light) and down-welling long-wave (infrared) radiation warm the planet. Conversely, reflected shortwave radiation and outgoing long-wave radiation cool the planet. Various observations (with varying degrees of uncertainty) indicate that incoming and down-welling energy exceed reflected and outgoing energy by 0.6 Watts per square meter (W/m2). That imbalance is attributed to mankind’s enhancement of the greenhouse effect. It is equivalent to the energy released by 400,000 Hiroshima bombs.

Today on WattsUpWithThat.Com, climate researcher Bob Tisdale posts a video commentary on SkS’s Hiroshima bomb calculator. To put 0.6 W/m2 into perspective, Tisdale references Stephens et al. (2012), a study of the Earth’s energy balance in Nature GeoScience.

Figure B1 from Stephens et al. illustrates six components (estimated from satellite and other data) of the Earth’s energy balance:

Energy Balance Stephens et al. 2012 [click to continue…]

Post image for House GOP: Last Laugh on “Carbon Pollution Rule”?

My colleague Will Yeatman reports some fantastic climate policy news in this week’s Cooler Heads Digest:

House GOP Outwits EPA on Carbon Pollution Standard

Leading members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently made the EPA look foolish by pointing out a glaring flaw in the agency’s proposed Carbon “Pollution” Standard.

The proposed regulation would require new coal-fired power plants to install carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). And yet, under the Clean Air Act, EPA cannot require a technology that isn’t commercially viable. On the one hand, industry claims that CCS isn’t market-ready, citing as proof the fact that there isn’t a single CCS system in operation. EPA, on the other hand, claims that CCS is adequately demonstrated. As evidence, the agency referenced three CCS pilot projects in the U.S. that are either in planning or under construction in Mississippi, California, and Texas.

Last week, leading members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee pulled the rug out from under EPA’s evidence. In a November 15th letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Reps. Fred Upton (R-Michigan), Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky), Joe Barton (R-Texas), and Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) brought to her attention a little-known provision of the 2005 Energy Policy Act that prohibits the agency from basing an “adequately demonstrated” determination on CCS projects that received subsidies pursuant to the law. As they helpfully note, each of the CCS projects in Mississippi, California, and Texas were beneficiaries of such subsidies, and are, therefore, inappropriate foundations for the Carbon Pollution Standard. The letter is available here.

Until I read the letter, I had been ignorant of this obscure provision of the 2005 Energy Policy Act. So, evidently, was EPA, which is quite rich.

Frankly, I’m impressed with these lawmakers. There’s a saying that Republicans are the stupid party. Not on this score. EPA’s Carbon Pollution Standard is the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s climate agenda. EPA Administrator McCarthy, in a July speech, said that the Carbon Pollution Standard was the agency’s top priority, necessitating an “all hands on deck” approach.  And yet, despite this sense of urgency and a funneling of resources into the regulation, the agency stumbled into a tripwire set 8 years ago by four smart House Republicans. Bravo.

An old joke springs to mind.

Comedian: Go ahead, ask me, ‘What is the secret of great comedy?’

Audience member: What is the secret of. . .

Comedian: Timing!

Putting the kibosh on the “carbon pollution rule” would not have been nearly as funny had Upton, Whitfield, Barton and Scalise nipped this mischief in the bud when the EPA was only rumored to be proposing CCS as an “adequately demonstrated” basis for setting “carbon pollution” standards. Instead, the congressmen waited until the agency — and the Obama administration — inserted foot firmly in mouth. Bravo indeed! [click to continue…]

Post image for Social Cost of Carbon: Does EPA Rig the Game?

In a new report, Heritage Foundation analysts Kevin Dayaratna and David Kreutzer examine one of the three main computer models the EPA uses to calculate the social cost of carbon (SCC).

The SCC is an estimate of how much economic damage an incremental ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions allegedly does over time periods as long as 300 years. The model examined by the Heritage analysts is called Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy, or DICE. Dayaratna and Kreutzer find it to be “flawed beyond use for policymaking.” Fittingly, they title their report: Loaded DICE: An EPA Model Not Ready for the Big Game.

The SCC estimates generated by DICE “shift substantially” — that is, are much lower — when reasonable alternatives are substituted for just a few of the assumptions made by the EPA. Specifically:

  • Using a discount rate (a measure of the time value of money) mandated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that the EPA omitted reduces the 2020 estimate of SCC by more than 80 percent;
  • An updated estimate of the equilibrium climate sensitivity distribution (ECS)—a measure of CO2’s temperature impact—reduces the 2020 estimate of SCC by more than 40 percent; and
  • With an updated ECS distribution, a time horizon up to 2150,* and with the omitted discount rate, the 2020 estimate of SCC falls by nearly 90 percent, from $37.79 to $4.03.

The two Heritage analysts also note that the DICE and similar models’ damage functions are inherently speculative. No one today can forecast what humanity’s technological capabilities will be 50, 100, or 150 years hence. Which means no one knows how humanity’s adaptive capabilities will develop in a warming world. So even if scientists could accurately forecast future warming, projections of future damages would still be guesswork.

Dayaratna and Kreutzer conclude: [click to continue…]

Today marks the conclusion of the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw, Poland.

For the uninitiated, COPs are the preeminent global climate confab for the green glitterati. The purpose of COPs is to facilitate negotiations for a global treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Each annual COP is a two week affair that follows a similar pattern. During the first week, participant nations send only lower level negotiators. As the second week progresses, ever-more important diplomats and dignitaries arrive, as the discussions ratchet up. On the final Friday, the parties will deliberate through the night, so that they might produce some sort of agreement, no matter how watered down, before they leave.

[N.B. I’m not being cheeky by describing COPs thusly. Consider: I wrote the paragraph above for a newsletter that we sent out last Friday, at the end of the first week of COP-19. [Sign up for the weekly, free Cooler Heads Digest newsletter on the top right of this webpage!]. That is, the above paragraph is a week old. Today is the final Friday of COP 19. Below, I’ve pasted a headline from this morning Energy & Environment News ClimateWire (subscription required):


I was able to predict, a week ago, that today’s negotiations would last all night, yet I’m not clairvoyant. I was able to do so for a simple reason: This is what happens every year! ]

It’s been a bumpy two weeks in Warsaw. First, the coal-dependent host country held a pro-coal summit the same week as COP-19. Then, developing countries walked out. Finally, environmentalists walked out. Needless to say, agreement has been few and far between.

Nonetheless, Nature, one of the top science journals, wrote a hopeful editorial this week about the prospects for success in Warsaw. Despite the discord to date, the editorial board took solace in the low expectations that had been set for COP-19. They note that, “The goal for Warsaw this week is not an agreement, but a viable roadmap to an agreement,” and conclude, “Surely that much can be achieved.”

[click to continue…]

Post image for Update on COP-19: Tuesday Was Climate Gender Day

Editor’s note: CEI’s Myron Ebell is at the 19th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw, Poland. Below is his first report.

Tuesday was one of the special theme days at COP-19 in Warsaw. It was Gender Day. I couldn’t go to many of the gender-related events because there were several important sessions that were part of the official negotiating process that I wanted to attend, but I was able to attend the high-level event organized by the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The UNFCCC has adopted several resolutions on gender equality and women’s participation beginning in 2001. Last year at COP-18 in Doha, Qatar, they committed to gender balance in the Secretariat and member delegations.

The gender event on Tuesday was moderated by the executive director of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres. She began by saying that we should keep our feet on the ground but raise our eyes to the stars. She asked the speakers to tell the audience (of several hundred people) what their dreams were and to talk from their hearts and souls rather than their minds.

Bianca Jagger’s remarks were low key and modest. She said that her dream was ending violence against women. Lakshmi Puri, deputy director of UN Women, said that women were more adversely affected by climate change, but could do more to stop it than men.  Helen Clark, the head of the UN Development Programme and former prime minister of New Zealand, seconded that and said that the climate justice agenda included universal access to sustainable energy.

Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and former UN high commissioner on human rights, noted that there were more than a billion people without access to electricity and more than two billion whose meals were cooked, usually by women, on open fires. She somehow thought that “doing the right thing on climate” will somehow relieve this widespread energy poverty by creating a more just world with less inequality. She added that fossil fuels are a stranded asset as people have come to realize that, “like asbestos, they are too dangerous to use.”

Tara Holonen, the former president of Finland, introduced the new Environment and Gender Index. It ranks 72 nations according to six performance categories. The gender equality measurements don’t seem to have any connection to the environmental quality measurements, so the index makes little sense. The index was produced by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which was once a respectable science and conservation group. The IUCN now describes itself as “a leader on gender issues in the environmental arena.” (

A young Australian climate activist was invited from the audience to join the panel when one of the speakers was unable to attend. She said that the sole reason she fights for climate justice is to improve the lot of poor women in the developing world.

The highlight of this gender event, which was only one among many held on this special Gender Day, was the singing of a song composed especially for the event. It was sung magnificently by Elizabeth Njorge, who heads a foundation in Kenya that is dedicated to bringing art and music education to some of the poorest children in Kenya. Titled Vision 50/50, the song’s chorus reads: “We have a dream, a dream of hopes to turn a page that marks a golden age, A greener course, a greener course for planet Earth.” Note that the lyricist refrained from calling it Mother Earth, although the word “sustainable” is used in one of the verses.

Post image for Social Cost of Carbon: How to Make Fossil Fuels Look Unaffordable No Matter How Low the Market Price

In a recent post, I discussed how the pseudo-science of social cost of carbon (SCC) estimation can be used to repackage uneconomic renewables as a bargain at any price. A White Paper by electric power industry analyst Bob Kapplemann makes the same point but, in addition, explains it by the numbers.

As background, the SCC is an assumption-driven guestimate of the long-term damage allegedly resulting from an incremental ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In May 2013, the Obama administration’s Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon published “updated” SCC estimates that were about 60% higher than its 2010 estimates.

Kappleman’s concise (4-page) White Paper contains three tables. Table 1 illustrates the current wide range of SCC estimates ($12-$129/metric ton CO2 in the administration’s 2013 update; $306/ton according to the Natural Resources Defense Council).

Table 2 illustrates how easily SCC estimation can make low-cost power look unaffordable. The administration attributes over $210 million a year in social costs to a 600 MW pulverized coal power plant and over $74 million a year to a natural gas combined cycle plan. In the case of the coal plant, the CO2 portion of the costs is 75% and in the case of the gas plant, CO2 is 97% of the costs.

Table 3 illustrates how easily SCC estimates can make wind, solar, and biomass look cheaper than energy from coal-fired power plants, and make “even radical reductions” in existing coal-fired generation look economically justified.

Let’s look at the tables and the accompanying figure explanations.

SCC White Paper Table 1

Figure explanation: As discussed previously, in addition to using non-validated climate sensitivity assumptions and completely speculative damage functions, the Interagency Working Group, flouting OMB best practices, further inflated its SCC estimates by not using a 7% discount rate and by not estimating the domestic SCC.  [click to continue…]

Post image for EPA Scales Back Ethanol Mandate for First Time!

For the first time in the history of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program, the Environmental Protection Agency today proposed to scale back the government’s overall biofuel blending target for the forthcoming year. Specifically, the EPA is proposing to cut the 2014 blending target from 18.15 billion gallons to 15.21 billion gallons.

Market realities forced the agency’s hand. Like all central planning schemes, there comes a point where even the commissar has to admit that it’s just not working.

Two factors compelled the EPA to make this adjustment. One is that the RFS requires obligated parties – refiners, blenders, and fuel importers – to sell 1.75 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2014. However, despite years of research and taxpayer support, commercial production of cellulosic biofuel was only 20,000 gallons last year.

The second factor is the blend wall — the maximum quantity of ethanol that can be sold each year given legal or practical constraints on how much can be blended into each gallon of motor fuel. The most common blend today is E10 — motor fuel with up to 10% ethanol. Although the EPA approved the sale of E15 in October 2010, potentially increasing by 50% the total amount of ethanol sold annually, lack of appropriate fueling infrastructure, warranty and liability concerns, and consumer skepticism effectively limit the standard blend to E10.

The EPA’s proposal is a welcome step in the right direction but does not go nearly far enough. Nobody likes the RFS program except the special interest groups who directly profit from it. Even as environmental policy, the RFS is a bust, as an extensive AP investigation published this week confirms.

Even if the RFS did not inflate food prices, increase pain at the pump, exacerbate world hunger, expand aquatic dead zones, or contribute to habitat loss, Congress should still repeal it, because the RFS flouts the core constitutional principle of equality under law. [click to continue…]

Corn Ethanol: Not Green – AP

by Marlo Lewis on November 15, 2013

in Blog

Post image for Corn Ethanol: Not Green – AP

An extensive investigation by the Associated Press (AP) confirms what many critics of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program have been saying for years — the ethanol mandate does more environmental harm than good.

The AP article begins with an overview of key findings:

But the ethanol era has proven far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today. 

As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found. 

Five million acres of land set aside for conservation – more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined – have vanished on Mr. Obama’s watch.

Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.

Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t survive.

* * *

All energy comes at a cost. The environmental consequences of drilling for oil and natural gas are well documented and severe. But in the president’s push to reduce greenhouse gases and curtail global warming, his administration has allowed so-called green energy to do not-so-green things. [click to continue…]

Post image for Re-Revised King James Bible for the Green Investor

Why do wind and solar power generate a mere 3.46% and 0.11% of U.S. electricity, respectively, despite billions of dollars in taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies and Soviet-style production quota for renewable electricity in 29 states?

The chief reason is the inherent economic and technical drawbacks of high-cost, low-density, intermittent energy.

A more politically-correct explanation these days is the so-called Valley of Death — a period when a high-tech startup firm may perish from poor or negative cash flow before it has had a chance to commercialize its invention.

Although most technology startups fail, the Valley supposedly got even deadlier for greentech companies in recent years. As Bloomberg BusinessWeek reporter Christopher Martin put it, “Hundreds of U.S. cleantech startups find themselves stuck on the road to serious revenues because of the toxic combination of a stalled economy, scarce funding, and Washington’s failure to enact comprehensive climate and energy legislation.”

The Department of Energy’s Stimulus loan guarantee program, administered under Section 1705 of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, was designed to plug the “funding gap” and shepherd greentech companies through the Valley of Death. Yet several recipients of DOE loan guarantees failed, most notably solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, which burned through more than half a billion taxpayer dollars before filing for bankruptcy. What went wrong?

Solyndra’s execs were counting on Congess to enact the Waxman-Markey legislation, with its cap-and-trade scheme and renewable electricity mandates. Like President Obama, they believed regulations handicapping fossil fuels would make renewable energy “the profitable kind of energy” in America. Rigging energy markets may indeed enrich campaign contributors; it can only make society as a whole poorer. But I digress.

The ongoing debate on DOE’s role as green venture capitalist (socialist?) inspired my colleague, Heritage Foundation economist David Kreutzer, to compose a psalm. I post it here with his permission.

[click to continue…]

“Obama’s green energy drive comes with an unadvertised environmental cost,” notes the Associated Press, in a story focusing on President Obama’s environmentally-destructive support for ethanol mandates:

The hills of southern Iowa bear the scars of America’s push for green energy: The brown gashes where rain has washed away the soil. The polluted streams that dump fertilizer into the water supply. . .It wasn’t supposed to be this way. With the Iowa political caucuses on the horizon in 2007, presidential candidate Barack Obama made homegrown corn a centerpiece of his plan to slow global warming. . .But the ethanol era has proven far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today.

As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.

Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama’s watch.

Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil. Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t survive.

The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact. Farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than before the ethanol boom, and the effects are visible in places like south central Iowa. The hilly, once-grassy landscape is made up of fragile soil that, unlike the earth in the rest of the state, is poorly suited for corn. Nevertheless, it has yielded to America’s demand for it.

“They’re raping the land,” said Bill Alley, a member of the board of supervisors in Wayne County.

The Obama Administration forced up the ethanol content of gasoline.  In doing so it, it made gasoline costlier and dirtier, increased ozone pollution, and raised the death toll from smog and air pollution. Ethanol mandates also have caused widespread deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution.  By driving up food prices, they fueled Islamic extremism in Egypt and the Middle East.  Ethanol mandates also increase world hunger and mortality.  The Obama Administration’s ethanol mandates have drawn intense criticism from experts across the political spectrum.

[click to continue…]