Chip Knappenberger

Post image for Social Cost of Carbon: Interagency Group Predictably Predicts Climate Change Worse Than Predicted

Hold the presses! A U.S. Government interagency working group has just released its updated Technical Support Document (TSD) on the social cost of carbon (SCC).

This is joyous news in some circles. “The ‘Social Cost of Carbon’ Is Almost Double What the Government Previously Thought,” Climate Progress enthuses. Why are they pleased? Because the higher the SCC, the stronger the (apparent) case for suppressing the production and export of hydrocarbon energy in general, and for blocking the Keystone XL pipeline in particular.

SCC is an estimate of how much damage an incremental ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions does to humanity and the biosphere. SCC estimates are driven by assumptions about such issues as climate sensitivity (how much warming results from a given increase in CO2 concentrations), climate impacts (how warming will affect weather patterns and sea-level rise), economic impacts (how changes in global temperature, weather, and sea-level rise will affect agriculture and other climate-sensitive activities), and technological change (how adaptive capabilities will develop as climate changes).

Modelers feed the assumptions into computer programs called “integrated assessment models” (IAMs). By tweaking those values, the modeler can get pretty much any result he desires. Outcomes also vary based on the discount rate selected, i.e., how much people are assumed to value income in the future compared to income in the present.

Using three IAMs, three discount rates (2.5,% 3,% and 5%), and a fourth value representing low-probability catastrophic impacts, the interagency group calculates four SCC estimates for the year 2020. In the working group’s 2010 TSD, the SCC estimates were $7, $26, $42, and $81 (2007$). In the updated TSD, the corresponding estimates are $12, $38, $58, and $129 (2007$). Excuse me, but even for the high-impact projections, the updated estimate ($129) is 59% higher than the 2010 estimate ($81), which is more than a tad shy of “almost double.”

Let’s cut to the chase. Those who say the SCC is bigger than the government previously thought merely recycle the old saw that climate change is ”worse than scientists previously thought.” They are mistaken. The climate change outlook is better than we have long been told.

One reason the updated estimates are higher is that the IAMs contain an “explicit representation” of sea-level rise “dynamics.” Are the modelers keeping up with the scientific literature? Consider two recent studies

  • King et al. (2012): The rate of Antarctic ice loss is not accelerating and translates to less than one inch of sea-level rise per century.
  • Faezeh et al. (2013): Greenland’s four main outlet glaciers are projected to contribute 19 to 30 millimeters (0.7 to 1.1 inches) to sea level rise by 2200 under a mid-range warming scenario (2.8°C by 2100) and 29 to 49 millimeters (1.1 to 1.9 inches) under a high-end warming scenario (4.5°C by 2100).

If 21st century sea-level rise is more likely to be measured in inches rather than feet or meters, shouldn’t SCC estimates decline?

And what about the 15-year period of no-net warming, which the climate science establishment did not predict and still struggles to explain? The warming pause is hard to square with the mantra of “worse than we thought.” It is evidence that the SCC is lower than they thought.

Let’s look at the disconnect between what they predicted and what happened.  The graph below comes from NASA scientist Roy Spencer[click to continue…]

Post image for Why Is Congress Lethargic about Energy?

This week National Journal’s Energy Experts Blog poses the question: “What’s holding back energy & climate policy.” So far 14 wonks have posted comments including yours truly. What I propose to do here is ‘revise and extend my remarks’ to provide a clearer, more complete explanation of Capitol Hill’s energy lethargy.

To summarize my conclusions in advance, there is no momentum building for the kind of comprehensive energy legislation Congress enacted in 2005 and 2007, or the major energy bills the House passed in 2011, because:

  • We are not in a presidential election year so Republicans have less to gain from passing pro-energy legislation just to frame issues and clarify policy differences for the electorate;
  • Divided government makes it virtually impossible either for congressional Republicans to halt and reverse the Obama administration’s regulatory war on fossil fuels or for Hill Democrats to pass cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, or a national clean energy standard;
  • Democrats paid a political price for cap-and-trade and won’t champion carbon taxes without Republicans agreeing to commit political suicide by granting them bipartisan cover;
  • The national security and climate change rationales for anti-fossil fuel policies were always weak but have become increasingly implausible thanks to North America’s resurgence as an oil and gas producing province, Climategate, and developments in climate science;
  • Multiple policy failures in Europe and the U.S. have eroded public and policymaker support for ’green’ energy schemes;
  • It has become increasingly evident that the Kyoto crusade was a foredoomed attempt to put policy carts before technology horses; and,
  • The EPA is ’enacting’ climate policy via administrative fiat, so environmental campaigners no longer need legislation to advance their agenda.

[click to continue…]

Post image for Global Lukewarming? Update: Norwegian Study Not Peer Reviewed

Last week the Research Council of Norway announced the results of a new assessment of the climate system’s “sensitivity” taking into account the leveling off of global temperatures during the decade from 2000 to 2010. The study projects that a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations over pre-industrial levels will increase global temperatures by between 1.2°C and 2.9°C, with 1.9°C being the most likely outcome. That is considerably cooler than the UN IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) estimate of 2°C to 4.5°C, with 3°C as the most probable outcome.

Climate sensitivity is an estimate of how much warming results from a given increase in CO2 concentrations. Estimates typically project the amount of warming from a doubling of CO2 concentrations over the pre-industrial (year 1750) level of 280 parts per million (ppm). At the current rate of increase (about 2 ppm/yr), a doubling to 560 ppm is expected by mid-century.

Climate alarm depends on several gloomy assumptions — about how fast emissions will increase, how fast atmospheric concentrations will rise, how much global temperatures will rise, how warming will affect ice sheet dynamics and sea-level rise, how warming will affect weather patterns, how the latter will affect agriculture and other economic activities, and how all climate change impacts will affect public health and welfare. But the chief assumption is the range of projected warming from a doubling of CO2 concentrations — the sensitivity estimate.

When the reseachers at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO) applied their computer “model and statistics to analyse temperature readings from the air and ocean for the period ending in 2000, they found that climate sensitivity to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration will most likely be 3.7°C, which is somewhat higher than the IPCC prognosis.” However, ”when they entered temperatures and other data from the decade 2000-2010 into the model, climate sensitivity was greatly reduced to a ‘mere’ 1.9°C.”

Referring to the IPCC AR4 warming forecasts, project manager Terje Berntsen, a geoscience professor at the University of Oslo, commented: “The Earth’s mean temperature rose sharply during the 1990s. This may have caused us to overestimate climate sensitivity.”

No single study can make a dent on the self-anointed “scientific consensus.” But the Norwegian study is one among several recent studies that call into question the IPCC sensitivity assumptions. Cato Institute climatologist Patrick Michaels recently summarized a partial list of such studies in Forbes magazine: [click to continue…]

Post image for Sen. Whitehouse vs the ‘Deniers’ – Addendum on Ocean Acidification

As discussed in an earlier post, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) took to the Senate floor in December last year to lash out at climate ‘deniers.’ Among other allegations, Whitehouse said “deniers tend to ignore facts they can’t explain away.” He cites “the increasing acidification of the oceans,” which ”is simple to measure and undeniably, chemically linked to carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. So we hear nothing about ocean acidification from the deniers,” he claims. Not so, I explained.

Prominent skeptics Patrick Michaels and Chip Knappenberger of the Cato Institute discussed the subject on their old blog, World Climate Report. Another leading skeptical Web site, CO2Science.Org, maintains an ocean acidification database, and the researchers – Drs. Craig, Sherwood, and Keith Idso – review another scientific paper on acidification just about every week. My earlier post concluded: “They don’t share Sen. Whitehouse’s alarm about ocean acidification, but they do not ignore it. The Senator should check his facts before casting aspersions.”

It’s a familiar pattern. Al Gore would have us believe that if we acknowledge the reality of anthropogenic global warming, then we must also believe in his ”planetary emergency” and embrace his policy agenda as a moral imperative. Similarly, the Gorethodox would have us believe that if CO2 emissions make sea water slightly more acidic (actually, slightly less basic), then corals and other calcifying organisms are headed for disaster and, again, we have a moral imperative to stop mountaintop coal mining, block the Keystone XL pipeline, etc.

Here I’d like to reproduce in full the Idsos’ latest review of an ocean acidification study, because it clearly demonstrates the difference between facts and alarmist interpretations of facts.

Growth, Calcification and Mortality of Juvenile Mussels Exposed to Ocean Acidification
Range, P., Pilo, D., Ben-Hamadou, R., Chicharo,M.A., Matias, D., Joaquim, S., Oliveira, A.P. and Chicharo, L. 2012. Seawater acidification by CO2 in a coastal lagoon environment: Effects on life history traits of juvenile mussels Mytilus galloprovincialis. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 424-425: 89-98.

Ocean acidification is considered by climate alarmists to be detrimental to nearly all sea creatures; and the early life-stages of these organisms are generally thought to be the most sensitive stages to this environmental change.

What was done
In a study designed to explore these assumptions, the authors tested the effects of seawater acidification by CO2 addition, leading to reductions of 0.3 and 0.6 pH units, on six-month-old juvenile mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis), which they obtained from a mussel raft on the Ria de Ares-Betanzos of Northwest Spain, focusing their attention on growth, calcification and mortality. [click to continue…]

Post image for President Obama’s Inaugural Speech: New Heat on Warming?

President Obama’s second inaugural speech featured climate change more prominently than did his first inaugural address. As Greenwire (subscription required) observed:

Gone was Obama’s roundabout reference to climate change through “the specter of a warming planet” from four years ago. This time, the president put the issue front and center.

Will that make any difference legislatively? Probably not. In the House, Republicans opposed to cap-and-trade, EPA regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs), and carbon taxes are still in charge.

Is the President’s renewed emphasis on climate change just a sop to his environmentalist base? Doubtful. As a second termer, Obama has less reason politically to restrain his ‘progressive’ impulses. Several regulatory options are now in play:

  • The Department of Interior could list more species as threatened or endangered based on climate change concerns.
  • The President could finally veto the Keystone XL pipeline — a key objective of the climate alarm movement.
  • The EPA could issue GHG performance standards for existing (as distinct from new or modified) coal power plants, as well as GHG performance standards for other industrial categories (refineries, cement production facilities, steel mills, paper mills, etc.).
  • The EPA could finally act on petitions pending from the Bush administration to set GHG emission standards for marine vessels, aircraft, and non-road vehicles.
  • The EPA could finally act on a December 2009 petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and 350.Org to establish national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for carbon dioxide (CO2) and other GHGs.

I’ll make one prediction: If Obama does not veto the Keystone XL Pipeline after talking the talk on climate change, green groups will go ballistic (even though, Cato Institute scholar Chip Knappenberger calculates, full-throttle operation of the Keystone XL Pipeline would add an inconsequential 0.0001°C/yr to global temperatures). My colleague Myron Ebell reasonably speculates that Obama’s tough talk on climate was a signal to green groups to organize the biggest anti-Keystone protest ever.

Now let’s examine the climate change segment of Obama’s inaugural speech: [click to continue…]

Post image for Climate Change Impacts in the U.S.: Sober Analysis, Cool Graphics from Patrick Michaels and Chip Knappenberger

Cato Institute scholars Patrick Michaels and Chip Knappenberger have produced a layman-friendly yet thoroughly referenced draft report summarizing “the important science that is missing from Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” a U.S. Government document underpinning the EPA’s December 2009 endangerment rule, the foundation of all of the agency’s greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations.

Pat and Chip’s draft report, titled Addendum: Climate Change Impacts in the United States, is a sober antidote to the climate fear-mongering patronized by the Obama administration, mainstream media, the U.N., corporate rent seekers, and the green movement. Among the best features are the numerous graphics, some of which I will post here.

Taking these in no particular order, let’s begin with the scariest part of Al Gore’s “planetary emergency”: sea-level rise. Is the rate of sea-level rise dangerously accelerating? No. Over the 20th century, there was considerable decadal variation in the rate of sea-level rise but no long-term trend.

Decadal rate of sea level rise from satellites (red curve) appended to the decadal rate of global sea level rise as determined from a nine-station tide gauge network for the period 1904–2003 (blue curve) and from a 177-station tide gauge network for the period 1948–2002 (magenta). Adapted from Holgate, S.J., 2007: On the decadal rate of sea level change during the 20th century. Geophysical Research Letters, 34, doi:10.1029/2006 GL028492 [click to continue…]

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…]

Post image for PTC: Costly Climate Policy Dud

The wind energy production tax credit (PTC) expires at the stroke of midnight, Dec. 31, unless Congress votes to renew the tax break. A one-year extension would add an estimated $12.1 billion to deficit spending over 10 years. A six-year extension, advocated by the wind industry, could add $50 billion.

The fiscal cliff looms and the national debt already exceeds GDP, but if Congress cared more about the general interest of taxpayers than about the special interests of campaign contributors, the nation would not be sliding towards insolvency.

Whether Congress should renew the PTC or let it expire is the topic of this week’s National Journal Energy Experts Blog. Twenty wonks weigh in, including your humble servant. I heartily recommend the contributions by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R.-Tenn.), Craig Rucker, Phil Kerpin, Benjamin Zycher, Thomas Pyle, James Valvo, and David Banks.

My contribution addresses the environmental side of the debate, in particular the claim that recent extreme weather events demonstrate “just how badly our nation needs to take advantage of our vast wind energy potential,” as one contributor put it.

Below is a lightly edited version of my comment.

* * *

Of all the lame arguments used to sell Americans on the proposition that wind power, an industry propped up by Soviet-style production quota in 29 states and numerous other policy privileges, deserves another renewal of the 20-year-old production tax credit (PTC), the lamest is the claim that the PTC helps protect us from extreme weather.

PTC advocates talk as if Hurricane Sandy and the Midwest drought were obvious consequences of anthropogenic global warming, and that subsidizing wind energy is a cost-effective way to mitigate climate change.

They are wrong on both counts.

Neither economic analyses nor meteorological investigations validate the asserted link between recent extreme weather events and global warming. When weather-related damages are adjusted (“normalized”) to account for changes in population, per capita income, and the consumer price index, there is no long-term trend such as might indicate an increase in the frequency or severity of extreme weather related to global climate change.

A 2012 study in the journal Climate Change  examined 370 years of tropical cyclone data from the Lesser Antilles, the eastern Caribbean island chain bisecting the main development region for landfalling U.S. hurricanes. The study found no long-term trend in either the power or frequency of tropical cyclones from 1638 to 2009. It did however find a 50- to 70-year wave pattern associated with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, a mode of natural climate variability. [click to continue…]

Post image for Sen. Whitehouse Fumes at ‘Climate Deniers’

In a fiery speech yesterday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) ”calls out” “climate deniers.” In the first half of the speech he goes ad hominem, attacking opponents as “front groups” who take payola from “polluters” to “confuse” the public by selling “doubt” as their product.

First a bit of free advice for the good Senator:

Your team has been playing nasty from day one. It didn’t get you cap-and-trade, it didn’t get you Senate ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, and it’s not going to get you a carbon tax.  

Vilification doesn’t work because biomass, wind turbines, and solar panels are not up to the challenge of powering a modern economy, and most Americans are too practical to believe otherwise.

So by all means, keep talking trash about your opponents. The shriller your rhetoric, the more skeptical the public will become about your bona fides as an honest broker of “the science.”

Okay, let’s examine Sen. Whitehouse’s argument. He accuses skeptics of peddling “straw man arguments,” such as that “the earth’s climate always changes; it’s been warmer in the past.” Well, it does, and it has! Many studies indicate the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) was warmer than the current warm period (CWP). A study published in July in Nature Climate Change concludes the Roman Warm Period (RWP) was warmer than both the MWP and CWP. The Northern Hemisphere was substantially warmer than the present for thousands of years during the Holocene Climate Optimum (~5,000-9,000 years ago). Arctic summer air temperatures were 4-5°C above present temperatures for millennia during the previous interglacial period.

None of this is evidence man-made global warming is not occurring, but Sen. Whitehouse sets up his own straw man by making that the main issue in dispute. What the paleoclimate information does indicate is that the warmth of the past 50 years is not outside the range of natural variability and is no cause for alarm. The greater-than-present warmth of the Holocene Optimum, RWP, and MWP contributed to improvements in human health and welfare[click to continue…]

Post image for Why the GOP Will not Support Carbon Taxes (if it wants to survive)

Last week on National Journal’s Energy Experts Blog, 16 wonks addressed the question: ”Is Washington Ready for a Carbon Tax?” Your humble servant argued that Washington is not ready — unless Republicans are willing to commit political suicide. That’s no reason for complacency, because spendaholics have on occasion gulled the Dumb Party into providing bi-partisan cover for unpopular tax hikes. President G.H.W. Bush’s disastrous repudiation of his ‘read-my-lips, no-new-taxes’ campaign pledge is the best known example.

To help avoid such debacles in the future, I will recap the main points of my National Journal blog commentary. Later this week, I’ll excerpt insightful comments by other contributors.

Nearly all Republicans in Congress have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a promise not to increase the net tax burden on their constituents. Although a “revenue neutral” carbon tax is theoretically possible, the sudden interest in carbon taxes is due to their obvious potential to feed Washington’s spending addiction. If even one dollar of the revenues from a carbon tax is used for anything except cutting other taxes, the scheme is a net tax increase and a Pledge violation. Wholesale promise-breaking by GOP leaders would outrage party’s activist base. 

Even if the Taxpayer Protection Pledge did not exist, the GOP is currently the anti-tax, pro-energy alternative to a Democratic leadership that is aggressively anti-energy and pro-tax. Endorsing a massive new energy tax would damage the product differentiation that gives people a reason to vote Republican. Recognizing these realities, House GOP leaders recently signed a ‘no climate tax’ pledge.

That’s good news. But this is a season of fiscal panic and I was there (in 1990) when the strength of Republicans failed. Perhaps the best time to kick carbon taxes is when they are down. So let’s review additional reasons to oppose a carbon tax. [click to continue…]