Marlo Lewis

Post image for Increase in Reported UK Floods Due to Population Growth, Not Climate Change – Study

For years, University of Colorado Prof. Roger Pielke, Jr. has been demonstrating that damages due to hurricanes are not increasing once economic data are adjusted (‘normalized’) for increases in population, wealth, and the consumer price index.

More people with more valuables at higher prices incur greater combined monetary losses when disaster strikes. There is no “greenhouse signal” in properly-adjusted hurricane loss data — no trend reflecting a potential warming-induced increase in hurricane frequency or power.

Pielke Jr Normalized US Hurricane Damage 1900-2012

Source: R. Pielke, Jr. Normalized U.S.  Hurricane Damages: 1900-2012. The gray bar indicates estimated damages from Hurricane Sandy.

University of Amsterdam Prof. Laurens M. Bouwer reviewed 22 studies of damages from tropical storms, thunder storms, tornados, floods, hail, brushfires, and earthquakes over multiple decades in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Australia. He came to the same conclusion:

The studies show no trends in losses, corrected for changes (increases) in population and capital at risk, that could be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. Therefore, it can be concluded that anthropogenic climate change so far has not had a significant impact on losses from natural disasters.

If that seems counterintuitive, it’s because detection and reporting of extreme weather has increased. The improved density and spatial coverage of monitoring systems coupled with round-the-clock weather news makes extreme weather seem much more common today than it was perceived to be, say, in the 1970s.

Apparent increases in one type of extreme weather — flooding — may have an even simpler explanation: more people living in places where floods occur.

A new study by scientists at the University of Southampton Tyndall Center for Climate Change Studies finds that population growth and urban expansion account for the reported increase in damaging floods in the UK over the past 129 years. In the words of lead author Andrew Stevens, a growing population means “more properties exposed to flooding and more people to report flooding.” [click to continue…]

Guest Post by Dave Juday, commodity market analyst and principal of The Juday Group

“Government mandates like RFS, subsidies, loan guarantees, and investments have not proven any better than the market for developing new energy resources – just much more costly.  It is time to let the market sort things out.”

KiOR, once the darling of the renewable energy world, reported in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), that it has a net deficit of $629.3 million and said it expects to continue incurring losses for the foreseeable future.  The details of the filing are not shocking; in March of this year KiOR released a statement that it had “substantial doubts about our ability to continue as a going concern.”

KiOR Chart 2011 - 2014

KiOR’s problems have repercussions beyond just shareholders and employees.  This isn’t just another high-tech start-up in the renewable fuels world. KiOR was considered the next great thing since sliced bread and in many ways was the cornerstone of advanced renewable fuels policy.  Following is short re-cap of the KiOR story. [click to continue…]

Post image for Are Fossil Fuels the Past, Renewables the Future?

Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously defined war as “the mere continuation of policy [politics] by other means.” An unstated implication of this oft-quoted maxim is that politics is a continuation of war by non-military means.

What is the optimal way to win wars, political or military? Chinese general Sun Tzu said that “supreme excellence” in the art of war “consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” Unsurprisingly, throughout history, political combatants often try to inculcate the belief that the future is already written, tomorrow belongs to them, hence, resistance is futile.

This psyops component of warfare explains one of the standard tropes of green rhetoric. Fossil fuels are belittled as outmoded energies destined for history’s dustbin whereas wind, solar, and biofuels – sources requiring Soviet-style production quota and other policy privileges to capture significant market share — are hailed as technologies of tomorrow.

Consider two recent examples.

In a speech to the League of Conservation Voters declaring opposition to a proposed coal export terminal, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber stated:

First, it is time to once and for all to say NO to coal exports from the Pacific Northwest. It is time to say Yes to national and state energy policies that will transform our economy and our communities into a future that can sustain the next generation. . . . The future for Oregon and the West Coast does not lie in 19th century energy sources.

Yesterday, the Illinois Commerce Commission hosted a stakeholder meeting on EPA’s proposed guidelines to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing power plants. Rebecca Stanfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council reportedly characterized “jockeying” by coal and nuclear interests as a “sideshow.” Climatewire (paywall protected) quotes her saying:

This is about leading the energy economy of the future, not about looking in the rearview mirror at the resources that powered the past.

The real “sideshow,” however, is you-are-obsolete rhetoric, which distracts public attention from the merits of competing energy technologies and, thus, from the costs and limitations of renewable energy. Whatever their date of origin, all energy technologies undergo continual modification and innovation. What matters is their value to consumers today and the foreseeable future, not when they first deployed at commercial scale.

Besides, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. It’s not just coal-based power that got its start in the 19th century. So did renewables, especially hydropower and wind. [click to continue…]

Post image for Can Natural Variability Save Climate Models?

Climate scientists Patrick Michaels and Chip Knappenberger have a blockbuster post on the Cato Institute blog. They claim to have uncovered a “clear example of IPCC ideology trumping fact.”

As is widely known, global mean surface temperature (GMST) has not increased over the past 13-plus years, contributing to a growing divergence between global warming predictions and observations.

Christy McKnider data v models

Figure source: John Christy and Robert McKnider

While acknowledging there are “differences” between modeled and observed temperatures for “periods as short as 10 to 15 years,” the IPCC’s 2013 Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) claims models and observations “agree” over the 62-year period from 1951 to 2012 (Summary for Policymakers, p. 15). Moreover, the IPCC has “very high confidence” the models’ long-term GMST trends are “consistent with observations” (Chapter 9, p. 769). The chart below illustrates “model response error” during two 15-year periods and the longer 62-year period.

Models vs Observations IPCC AR5 Box 9.2

In each panel, red hatching shows observed temperatures as compiled by the UK Hadley Center; the gray bars show GMST trend distribution from 114 climate models. IPCC AR5, Chapter 9, Box 9.2.

Panel (c) appears to depict a close match between simulations and observations. But when Michaels and Knappenberger unpack the information incorporated in the graphic, they find that 90 out of 108 models hind-cast more warming than actually occurred.

IPCC Model Simulated and Observed Temperatures 1951-2012 Disaggregated by Michaels and Knappenberger

Okay, that makes IPCC’s “very high confidence” seem misplaced, but why is Michaels and Knappenberger’s column a blockbuster? Because of what they show next.  [click to continue…]

Post image for Do Greens Oppose Keystone XL Because It Would Increase Gas Prices or Lower Them? Yes!

High gasoline prices are unpopular in America. For green politicians and activists, public anger over high gas prices has long been both a challenge and an opportunity.

It’s a challenge because greens advocate carbon taxes and cap-and-trade, which are designed to jack up gas prices, and biofuel mandates, which have the unintended (although not unforeseen) consequence of inflating fuel costs.

It’s an opportunity because angry people want someone to blame, predisposing many to believe green propaganda that oil companies collude to “manipulate” markets, “gouge” consumers, and amass “obscene” profits. The Federal Trade Commission’s most recent major investigation found no evidence of such skullduggery, BTW.

Since the only logic behind the anti-KXL campaign is political, we should not be surprised that greens denounce the pipeline both because it will increase gas prices — and because it will lower them!

For years green activists told us that, in addition to wrecking the climate system, the KXL will — horror of horrors — increase Midwest gasoline prices. Department of Energy analyst Carmine DiFiglio handily debunked that theory. It’s not my purpose to review the issue here. The point rather is that Tom Steyer, Bill McKibben, Sen. Ed Markey, Carl Pope, NRDC, and other prominent Keystone foes warn that the pipeline will raise gas prices — as if they consider that a very bad thing.

This week, however, Keystone opponents are abuzz about a new study warning that the KXL could be ‘worse than we thought’ because it could increase global oil supply and, thereby, lower gasoline prices. Lower prices = more consumption = more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Specifically, the authors, Peter Erikson and Michael Lazarus of the Stockholm Environment Institute, estimate that if all 830,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil flowing through the pipeline is additional oil in the global supply, KXL would lower global oil prices by $6 per barrel (see chart below). Consumption would then increase by an additional 0.6 barrels for every barrel produced, which in turn would increase global carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) emissions by 110 million metric tons per year. That’s about four times the emissions increase (27.4 tons) in the high-end scenario of the State Department’s January 2014 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS).

Erikson and Lazarus, Keystone XL Impact on Oil Supply & Prices

Erikson and Lazarus begin and end their study by quoting President Obama’s announcement that the decisive question for him is whether the KXL would “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” They fault State’s FSEIS for ignoring the KXL’s potential impacts on global petroleum supply and prices. They obviously hope their study influences Obama’s decision.

It does not deserve to. The authors acknowledge having no “new insights” on how much additional oil sands extraction KXL would induce. More importantly, even if KXL did increase incremental emissions by 110 million tons annually, it would still not “significantly exacerbate” the alleged problem of carbon “pollution.”

[click to continue…]

Post image for Is British Columbia’s Carbon Tax a Model for the U.S.?

To persuade Americans — especially conservatives and libertarians — that a carbon tax can “work” (reduce emissions) without harming the economy, some proponents tout British Columbia’s carbon tax, enacted in May 2008. How relevant is British Columbia’s (BC) experience to environmental and tax policy debates in the U.S.? Is BC’s carbon tax a model for the U.S.?

BC’s Carbon Tax Act imposes a tax on all fossil fuels based on their carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) emissions. The carbon tax started at (CAD)$10/ton CO2e in July 2008 and increased each year by $5/ton until reaching $30/ton in July 2012.

BC’s carbon tax is revenue-neutral — that is, all revenues must be used to reduce other taxes. In 2012/2013, the policy was actually revenue-negative because the tax reduced motor fuel sales more than forecast, hence raised less revenue than forecast. The carbon tax generated $1,120 million in revenues while the government decreased business and personal taxes by $1,380 million, yielding a net tax reduction of $260 million.

Writing last year in The American Conservative, my friend, R Street Institute economist Andrew Moylan described BC’s carbon tax as a success story — one that U.S. policymakers should emulate:

Early returns on the policy are quite positive. A recent study found that the province’s gross domestic product growth has outpaced the rest of Canada, while its corporate income tax rate has been reduced to among the lowest anywhere in the G8 countries. Despite concerns that it might grow government, the tax has stayed revenue neutral and enjoys broad public support. Polling of business and community leaders by the Pembina Institute found 64 percent believe the tax has been a positive move.

I find this general line of argument unpersuasive for reasons both small and large. [click to continue…]

Post image for IMF Calls for $1.60/Gal. Hike in Motor Fuel Taxes

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has just published a 277-page report advocating carbon taxes. Titled Getting Energy Prices Right: From Principle to Practice, the report is described by IMF officials as “an effort to push countries into action well ahead of new treaty negotiations,” according to Climatewire ($).

I have ordered a copy from Amazon.Com, but it won’t arrive until Monday. In the meantime, let’s review some of the arguments put forward by IMF spokespersons in media coverage of the report.

My overall impression is that the report doesn’t offer any new rationales for carbon taxes that I haven’t already rebutted in previous posts (here, here, and here).

For starters, IMF assumes that, despite “many controversies and uncertainties,” the social cost of carbon (SCC) is a knowable quantity, enabling benevolent central planners to ‘get energy prices right’ and, therefore, improve overall economic efficiency. To quote IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, setting corrective taxes to make businesses and consumers pay for environmental damage is “not rocket science” and “straightforward in principle.”

In reality, the SCC exists only in the eye of the beholder. It is a guesstimate derived from non-validated climate parameters, made-up damage functions, and (usually) below-market discount rates. Worse, SCC analysis is computer-aided sophistry designed to make uneconomic renewables look like a bargain at any price and make fossil energy look unaffordable no matter how cheap.

For the U.S., ‘getting energy prices right’ reportedly means hiking motor fuel taxes by an additional $1.60/gal. That implies an SCC of nearly $180/metric ton of carbon dioxide (CO2).* Yet the U.S. Interagency Working Group, on whom IMF relied last year for SCC estimates (and probably still does today), proposes a central estimate of $33/ton.

Ms. Lagarde says the costs to be “corrected” include not only local pollution and CO2 but also traffic accidents and congestion. Accidents and congestion are real costs but they have nothing to do with the carbon content of gasoline or motor-fuel emissions. If every car on the road today were replaced with an all-electric vehicle, there would still be accidents and congestion. [click to continue…]

Christopher Monckton of Brenchley yesterday posted an excellent commentary about the warming “pause” on Watts Up With That. In previous posts on this topic, Monckton has tracked the pause in the Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSS) satellite dataset. For example, in June, he reported that the global warming trend of the previous 17 years 9 months — September 1996 through May 2014 – was “zero.”

Monckton No Warming 17 Years 9 Months

In yesterday’s post, Monckton plots the average of five datasets: the RSS and UAH (University of Alabama in Huntsville) satellite datasets and the GISS (NASA), HadCRUT4 (UK Climate Research Unit), and NCDC (NOAA) surface station datasets. The averaged datasets show a period of 13 years 4 months with no net warming.

Monckton No Warming in Combined Datasets 13 Years 4 Months

This all flies in the face of the ‘worse than we thought’ school. Nearly a quarter of all fossil-fuel carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since the dawn of the industrial revolution occurred during 2001-2010 (see chart below). Yet in the past 13-plus years, not only has there been no acceleration in warming, there has been no warming trend.


Source: Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center

Now to the heart of the matter. Monckton compares the observed warming in the five datasets with the projected warming in IPCC reports. [click to continue…]

[EPA's Clean Power Plan] has the potential to comprehensively reorder the jurisdictional relationship between the federal government and states as it relates to the regulation of public utilities and energy development. . . . .[States] will have entered a comprehensive “mother-may-I?” relationship with the EPA that has never before existed. – FERC Commissioner Tony Clark

Five Commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) testified today on EPA’s Clean Power Plan before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

FERC's Tony Clark

FERC’s Tony Clark

EPA’s Clean Power Plan establishes carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reduction targets for the electric power sectors of 49 states. The Plan outlines four “building block” strategies states are likely use to meet their respective targets: (1) improve the efficiency of coal power plants, (2) shift base load generation from coal to natural gas, (3) shift electric generation from fossil fuels to renewables and nuclear, and (4) reduce electricity consumption through demand-side management (DSM) programs.

In his briefing memo, Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) asserts that EPA’s proposed rule “would require significant changes to the way electricity is generated, transmitted, and consumed in States across the country.” Two witnesses spoke directly to that point.

FERC Commissioner Philip D. Moeller described the fundamental change contemplated by the Clean Power Plan as a switch from “economic dispatch” to “environmental dispatch”:

For decades we have relied on the concept of “economic dispatch” of electric generation. Simply put, the power plants with the lowest operating cost are called first to generate electricity — with various reliability requirements and other factors as part of the decision, depending on the structure of various markets. By moving to what is essentially “environmental dispatch,” units will be called to generate primarily based upon the emission profile of the unit.

It is hard to imagine how giving low-carbon generation priority over low-cost generation would not increase electric rates. It is also not hard to imagine how pushing renewables higher in the “merit order of dispatch” could complicate the task of balancing loads and ensuring grid reliability.

Commissioner Tony Clark views the basic change in political terms. The Clean Power Plan replaces cooperative federalism with a hegemonic system in which EPA has final say on how states generate, transmit, and consume electricity: [click to continue…]

Post image for Wasted in Margarita Island: Hugo Chavez as Climate Action Hero (Some People Say There’s a Capitalist to Blame)

The top story in international climate news this week is the Margarita Declaration issued in the name of 130 ‘social’ (non-governmental) organizations participating in the July 15-18 Social Pre-COP meeting on Margarita Island, Venezuela. The groups don’t sign the document, so we don’t know which (or how many) of them actually endorse it. Basically it’s a rant demanding that ‘social’ organizations have more clout in climate treaty negotiations. Participants seek in particular to influence the UN-sponsored COP 20 negotiations in December, in Lima, Peru.

The Margarita Declaration is attracting media attention because it (1) blames the climate ‘crisis’ of the “current capitalist hegemonic system” (par. 46), and (2) rejects solutions “whereby wealthy industrialized countries and corporations ultimately seek to use climate change as a source of profit” (par. 19). The latter include such ‘green economy’ policies as carbon trading and restrictions on deforestation in developing countries.

Some commentaries have pounced on the Declaration as smoking-gun proof that climate activists are watermelons — green on the outside, red on the inside. The environmental movement has no lack of collectivist impulses. Consider the obsession with “consensus” (groupthink), the popularity of social cost of carbon analysis (a pseudo science reminiscent of Marx’s labor theory of value), the zeal for green energy mandates (Soviet-style production quota), and the relentless lobbying for political-pricing of energy (cap-and-trade, carbon taxes) to correct alleged “market failures.”

Nonetheless, there are important differences. [click to continue…]