Indur Goklany

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 IMF Pushes Carbon Tax as Energy Subsidy “Reform”

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently published a report urging the world’s governments to “reform” energy subsidies estimated at $1.9 trillion in 2011. Eliminating government policies designed to rig markets in favor of particular energy companies or industries is a worthy goal. Unfortunately, that’s not the agenda the IMF is pushing.

The IMF seeks to shame U.S. policymakers into enacting carbon and coal taxes by redefining the absence of such taxes as energy subsidies. The IMF’s rationale goes like this. Market prices do not reflect the harms (“negative externalities”) fossil fuels do to public health and the environment. Consequently, fossil fuels are under-priced and society consumes too much of them. Policymakers should enact corrective (“Pigou”) taxes to “internalize the externalities” (make polluters pay) and reduce consumption to “efficient” levels.

The IMF estimates that, by not imposing corrective taxes, the U.S. subsidizes fossil fuels to the tune of $502 billion annually, making America the world’s biggest energy subsdizer!

This is blackboard economics (the pretense of perfect information and flawless policy design and implementation) in the service of a partisan agenda.

Carbon taxers disclaim any intent to pick energy-market winners and losers, but that is in fact the core function of a carbon tax. As with cap-and-trade, the policy objective is to handicap fossil energy and, thereby, “finally make renewable energy the profitable kind of energy in America,” as President Obama put it.

Predictably, the IMF says not a word about the policy privileges widely bestowed on renewable energy (renewable electricity mandates, renewable fuel mandates, targeted tax breaks, feed-in tariffs, preferential loans, direct cash grants) or about the negative externalities associated with such subsidies (avian mortality, air and water pollution, food price inflation). 

This week at MasterResource.Org, I offer skeptical commentary on the “IMF’s Carbon Tax Shenanigans.” Here is a summary of key points (including two shrewd comments posted by Heritage Foundation economist David Kreutzer). [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 CO2 Emissions, Life Expectancy, Per Capita GDP: The Real Hockey Stick

That fossil fuels are bad for people and the planet is a cardinal tenet of both mainstream and radical environmentalism. Cato Institute scholar Indur Goklany offers a dramatically different assessment in Humanity Unbound: How Fossil Fuels Saved Humanity from Nature and Nature from Humanity.

Global average life expectancy (the best single indicator of health) hardly changed through most of human history, averaging 20-25 years during 1 A.D. to 1750. Similarly, global per capita output (the best indicator of material welfare) was equivalent to an estimated $470 in 1 A.D., even lower – $400 — in 1000 A.D., and only $640 in 1750. Through most of human history, the vast majority of people were “mired in poverty.” Thomas Malthus’s gloomy prediction that economic growth would only lead to overpopulation, famine, and death seemed to bespeak the wisdom of the ages.

However, the industrial revolution and the associated advances of science and technology freed humanity from its Malthusean trap. Goklany summarizes:

From 1750 to 2009, global life expectancy more than doubled, from 26 years to 69 years; global population increased 8-fold, from 760 million to 6.8 billion; and incomes increased 11-fold, from $640 to $7,300. Never before had the indicators of the success of the human species advanced as rapidly as in the past quarter millennium.

Fossil fuels are the chief energy source of modern civilization. Accordingly, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have increased rapidly along with life expectancy and per capita income. Goklany illustrates these trends with a graph that bears a striking resemblance to a hocky stick.

[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 Should the GOP Champion Climate Change as a National Security Issue?

Yes, argues Daveed Gartenstein-Ross in The Atlantic (Sep. 17, 2012). Gartenstein-Ross is the author of Bin Laden’s Legacy: Why We’re Still Losing the War on Terror. I haven’t read the book, but judging from the favorable reviews, Gartenstein-Ross has the ear of defense hawks of both parties. Does he offer sound advice on global warming?

In his Atlantic article, Gartenstein-Ross chides Republicans for taking a “decidely unrealistic tack” on climate change. “The available evidence overwhelmingly suggests that climate change is real; that extreme weather events are increasing; and that this dynamic will have an impact on American national security, if it hasn’t already,” he avers. He goes on to blame this summer’s drought on global warming, citing NASA scientist James Hansen’s claim that the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Russian heat wave, and the 2011 Texas-Oklahoma drought have “virtually no explanation other than climate change.” (For an alternative assessment, see these posts.) 

Since 2010, notes Gartenstein-Ross, the Department of Defense has classified climate change as a conflict accelerant — a factor exacerbating tensions within and between nations. Well, sure, what else is Team Obama at DOD going to say in an era of tight budgets when no rival superpower endangers our survival? The concept of an ever-deepening, civilization-imperilling climate crisis is an ideal mission-creep accelerant

Gartenstein-Ross concludes by urging Republicans to face “reality” and take action on climate change. However, he offers no advice as to what policies they should adopt. Does he favor cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulatory cascade, ’all of the above’? Gartenstein-Ross doesn’t say. He ducks the issue of what economic sacrifices he thinks Republicans should demand of the American people. 

Below is a lightly edited version of a comment I posted yesterday at The Atlantic on Gartenstein-Ross’s article: [click to continue…]

Post image for When Scientists Talk Like Lawyers . . .We Should Be Skeptical

“I’m not saying it is global warming, but it’s what global warming would look like. It’s consistent with the kind of weather climate scientists predict will become more frequent and severe as greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere increase.”

“It,” in the preceding, refers to the persistent heat wave affecting the Mid-Atlantic region and the derecho that uprooted trees, downed power lines, and deprived nearly a million households in the D.C. metro area of electricity and air conditioning. Warmists, or most of them, know they cannot actually link a particular weather event to global warming, but they’d like you to make the connection anyway.

This is standard rhetorical fare whenever extreme weather strikes somebody, somewhere on the planet. A commenter on Georgia Institute of Technology Prof. Judith Curry’s blog notes the resemblance to an old court-room trick:

Kind of like a lawyer asking a improper question and then withdrawing it, because all s/he really wanted was to put the idea in the jury’s mind.   [click to continue…]

Post image for Why Doesn’t Greenpeace Demand a Congressional Probe of James Hansen’s Outside Income?

The Heartland Institute plans to pay Indur Goklany, an expert on climate economics and policy, a monthly stipend to write a chapter on those topics for the Institute’s forthcoming mega-report, Climate Change Reconsidered 2012. Earlier this week, Greenpeace and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) called for a congressional investigation of Goklany. In addition to being an independent scholar, Goklany is a Department of Interior employee. Federal employees may not receive outside income for teaching, writing, or speaking related to their “official duties.”

But as I pointed out yesterday on this site, climate economics and policy are (to the best of my knowledge) not part of Goklany’s “official duties.” It would be shocking if they were. Goklany is a leading debunker of climate alarm and opposes coercive decarbonization schemes. Why on earth would the Obama Interior Department assign someone like that to work on climate policy?

Greenpeace and Grijalva have got the wrong target in their sites. The inquisition they propose might actually have some merit if directed at one of their heroes: Dr. James Hansen of NASA. Hansen has received upwards of $1.6 million in outside income. And it’s not unreasonable to assume that most or all of that income was for teaching, writing, and speaking on matters “related to” his “official duties.” [click to continue…]

Post image for Climate McCarthyism: Democrat Congressman Demands Hearing on Interior Employee Linked to Heartland

Yesterday, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) requested that the House Resources Committee investigate whether Department of Interior employee Indur Goklany accepted “illegal outside payments” from the Heartland Institute, and “what confidential information Goklany may have shared with Heartland officials in the course of negotiating his payment agreements.”

Grijalva made this request in a letter to Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-Mass.). The alleged ‘issue’ arose because one of the stolen Heartland documents, the Institute’s 2012 budget, proposes to pay Goklany $1,000/m to write a chapter on economics and policy for a forthcoming book, Climate Change Reconsidered: 2012 Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change.

Grijalva, citing a letter from Greenpeace to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, claims federal employees are not allowed to take payment from outside organizations, particularly for “teaching, speaking and writing that relates to [their] official duties.”

I fully understand why Greenpeace and Grijalva want to harass and silence Goklany. Goklany is one of a handful of indispensable thought leaders in the climate policy debate.  He has demonstrated, for example, that, largely because of mankind’s utilization of fossil fuels, global deaths and death rates related to extreme weather have declined by a remarkable 93% and 98%, respectively, since the 1920s. He has also demonstrated that, even assuming worst-case impacts from the UN IPCC’s high-end warming scenario, developing countries in 2100 are projected to be much richer than developed countries are today. Nobody takes the hot air out of climate hype like Indur Goklany! So naturally, Greenpeace guttersnipes want to besmirch and muzzle him. [click to continue…]