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Monday, April 28, 2008

Real Cost of Tackling Climate Change

The Real Cost of Tackling Climate Change

The Wall Street Journal


The usual chorus of environmentalists and editorial writers has chimed in to attack President Bush's recent speech on climate change. In his address of April 23, he put forth a goal of stopping the growth of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2025.

"Way too little and way too late," runs the refrain, followed by the claim that nothing less than an 80% reduction in emissions by the year 2050 will suffice – what I call the "80 by 50" target. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have endorsed it. John McCain is not far behind, calling for a 65% reduction.

We all ought to reflect on what an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 really means. When we do, it becomes clear that the president's target has one overwhelming virtue: Assuming emissions curbs are even necessary, his goal is at least realistic.

The same cannot be said for the carbon emissions targets espoused by the three presidential candidates and environmentalists. Indeed, these targets would send us back to emissions levels last witnessed when the cotton gin was in daily use.

Begin with the current inventory of carbon dioxide emissions – CO2 being the principal greenhouse gas generated almost entirely by energy use. According to the Department of Energy's most recent data on greenhouse gas emissions, in 2006 the U.S. emitted 5.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, or just under 20 tons per capita. An 80% reduction in these emissions from 1990 levels means that the U.S. cannot emit more than about one billion metric tons of CO2 in 2050.

Were man-made carbon dioxide emissions in this country ever that low? The answer is probably yes – from historical energy data it is possible to estimate that the U.S. last emitted one billion metric tons around 1910. But in 1910, the U.S. had 92 million people, and per capita income, in current dollars, was about $6,000.

By the year 2050, the Census Bureau projects that our population will be around 420 million. This means per capita emissions will have to fall to about 2.5 tons in order to meet the goal of 80% reduction.

It is likely that U.S. per capita emissions were never that low – even back in colonial days when the only fuel we burned was wood. The only nations in the world today that emit at this low level are all poor developing nations, such as Belize, Mauritius, Jordan, Haiti and Somalia.

If that comparison seems unfair, consider that even the least-CO2 emitting industrialized nations do not come close to the 2050 target. France and Switzerland, compact nations that generate almost all of their electricity from nonfossil fuel sources (nuclear for France, hydro for Switzerland) emit about 6.5 metric tons of CO2 per capita.

The daunting task of reaching one billion metric tons of CO2 emissions by 2050 comes into even greater relief when we look at the American economy, sector-by-sector. The Energy Department breaks down emissions into residential, commercial (office buildings, etc.), industrial, and transportation (planes, trains and automobiles); electricity consumption is apportioned to each.

Consider the residential sector. At the present time, American households emit 1.2 billion tons of CO2 – 20% higher than the entire nation's emissions must be in 2050. If households are to emit no more than their present share of CO2, emissions will have to be reduced to 204 million tons by 2050. But in 2050, there will be another 40 million residential households in the U.S.

Today, the average residence in the U.S. uses about 10,500 kilowatt hours of electricity and emits 11.4 tons of CO2 per year (much more if you are Al Gore or John Edwards and live in a mansion). To stay within the magic number, average household emissions will have to fall to no more than 1.5 tons per year. In our current electricity infrastructure, this would mean using no more than about 2,500 KwH per year. This is not enough juice to run the average hot water heater.

You can forget refrigerators, microwaves, clothes dryers and flat screen TVs. Even a house tricked out with all the latest high-efficiency EnergyStar appliances and compact fluorescent lights won't come close. The same daunting energy math applies to the industrial, commercial and transportation sectors as well. The clear implication is that we shall have to replace virtually the entire fossil fuel electricity infrastructure over the next four decades with CO2-free sources – a multitrillion dollar proposition, if it can be done at all.

Natural gas – the preferred coal substitute of the moment – won't come close. If we replaced every single existing coal plant with a natural gas plant, CO2 emissions from electric power generation alone would still be more than twice the 2050 target. Most environmentalists remain opposed to nuclear power, of course. It is unlikely that renewables – wind, solar, and biomass – can ever make up more than about 20% of our electricity supply.

Suppose, however, that a breakthrough in carbon sequestration, a revival of nuclear power, and a significant improvement in the cost and effectiveness of renewables were to enable us to reduce the carbon footprint of electricity production. That would still leave transportation.

Right now our cars and trucks consume about 180 billion gallons of motor fuel. To meet the 2050 target, we shall have to limit consumption of gasoline to about 31 billion gallons, unless a genuine carbon-neutral liquid fuel can be produced. (Ethanol isn't it.) To show how unrealistic this is, if the entire nation drove nothing but Toyota Priuses in 2050, we'd still overshoot the transportation emissions target by 40%.

The enthusiasm for an 80% reduction target is often justified on grounds that national policy should set an ambitious goal. However, claims on behalf of alternative energy sources – biofuels, hydrogen, windpower and so forth – either do not match up to the scale of the energy required, or are not cost-competitive in current form.

How on God's green earth will we make up the difference? Someone should put this question to the candidates. And not let them slide past it with glittering generalities.

Mr. Hayward is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of the annual "Index of Leading Environmental Indicators," from which this article is adapted.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Food Price Riots

Behind the Food-Price Riots

The Wall Street Journal


April 18, 2008

With a dramatic rise in the prices of foodstuffs, riots have flared up in dozens of hotspots around the world. Panicky politicians are responding with precisely the wrong policies, including production subsidies and trade controls.

The problem is clear enough: According to the International Monetary Fund, food and beverage prices have risen 60% in the past three years, and more than doubled since 2001. Even in the U.S., increases in the food-price component of producer- and consumer-price indexes over the last 12 months have been in the neighborhood of 5%.

What is going on? We can discern four forces at work today pushing up food prices – forces that were also at work in the 1970s, the last time food prices increased so rapidly on a sustained basis:

- Monetary policy in overdrive. Consider the real federal funds rate – that is, the nominal funds rate less inflation. A low real fed funds rate both encourages interest-rate sensitive spending, such as business investment, and discourages global investors from supporting the dollar on foreign exchange markets. At 2.25%, the nominal fed funds rate is now below the prevailing rate of consumer price inflation.

The last time the real fed funds rate was negative for a prolonged period was the mid-1970s. This was also a period when overstimulated demand pushed food prices up and the dollar depreciated sharply. In the end, economic growth suffered as well. Remember stagflation?

- Exchange-rate arrangements in disarray. The 1970s were also noted for turmoil in exchange markets, following the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system. The schism today is that some exchange rates move too little and others too much.

The exchange rates that are moving too little are those of emerging market economies and oil producers. China, India, Korea and Taiwan, and key oil producers such as Saudi Arabia, have been preventing their exchange rates from appreciating significantly by rapidly accumulating international reserves.

They've also effectively adopted the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve by keeping their domestic interest rates close to the fed funds rate. That way, no interest-rate wedge opens between their markets and our own that would otherwise put pressure on their exchange rate.

As a consequence, they are following an accommodative monetary policy strategy totally unsuited to their already overheated domestic economies. Higher inflation has followed.

With exchange-rate movements capped by policy makers in so many parts of the world, the burden of adjustment falls more heavily on the nations that allow their currencies to float freely, such as Canada, those in the Euro area, and Japan. The depreciation of the dollar against these currencies is yet another reminder of the 1970s. As a result of these exchange-rate changes, the purchasing power of these regions for any internationally traded good denominated in dollars has gone up. Hence, it is no accident that the dollar price of food is up sharply.

- Unsound market interventions. Policy makers flailed about in the 1970s, enacting environmental legislation without due deference to the costs imposed on industry. They also tried to impede market forces with gasoline rationing and a brief flirtation with outright price controls.

This time round, our government has been force-feeding the inefficient production of ethanol.

The result: Corn prices have more than doubled over the past three years, adding to price pressures on commodities that are close substitutes, or which use corn as an input to production.
Meanwhile, policy makers in emerging market economies have bent under the weight of popular unrest to raise food subsidies. This strains their budgets. They are also imposing restraints on exports, thereby losing gains from trade.

- Oil prices on the rise. The lines stretching around filling stations in the 1970s should remind us that large energy-price increases are disruptive. And we have had a large one: Crude prices have more than quadrupled since 2001. Any industry dependent on energy will feel those cost pressures, and modern agriculture, with its oil-based fertilizers and large machinery, is no exception.

But there is an important difference between our troubles today and those of the 1970s. In that decade, aggregate supply sagged as oil producers scaled back production and anchovies disappeared off the coast of Peru. The 2000s have been about demand expansion. Millions of workers in China, India and Vietnam, among others, have joined the world trading system. Beginning from a point close to subsistence, most of their additional income is being spent on food. Thus, the price of food relative to other goods and services has risen.

The good news is that producers respond to relative prices, although it can take some time. Already, the acreage in which corn is planted in the United States is back to levels of the 1940s. More of a production response should follow in other areas as well.

Challenges abound as supply catches up with higher global demand. The Federal Reserve has to be sensitive not to stoke inflation pressures, and to monitor inflation expectations closely. The subsidies proffered to corn producers have to be trimmed, in part to set a new standard for emerging market economies to emulate. And the gains from an open trading system have to be protected to keep our economy efficient.

Mr. Reinhart, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, was director of the Division of Monetary Affairs at the Federal Reserve.

Climate Numbers a Big Old Mess

Our Climate Numbers Are a Big Old Mess


April 18, 2008

President George W. Bush has just announced his goal to stabilize greenhouse-gas emissions by 2025. To get there, he proposes new fuel-economy standards for autos, and lower emissions from power plants built in the next 10 to 15 years.

Pending legislation in the Senate from Joe Lieberman and John Warner would cut emissions even further – by 66% by 2050. No one has a clue how to do this. Because there is no substitute technology to achieve these massive reductions, we'll just have to get by with less energy.

Compared to a year ago, gasoline consumption has dropped only 0.5% at current prices. So imagine how expensive it would be to reduce overall emissions by 66%.

The earth's paltry warming trend, 0.31 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since the mid-1970s, isn't enough to scare people into poverty. And even that 0.31 degree figure is suspect.

For years, records from surface thermometers showed a global warming trend beginning in the late 1970s. But temperatures sensed by satellites and weather balloons displayed no concurrent warming.

These records have been revised a number of times, and I examined the two major revisions of these three records. They are the surface record from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the satellite-sensed temperatures originally published by University of Alabama's John Christy, and the weather-balloon records originally published by James Angell of the U.S. Commerce Department.

The two revisions of the IPCC surface record each successively lowered temperatures in the 1950s and the 1960s. The result? Obviously more warming – from largely the same data.
The balloon temperatures got a similar treatment. While these originally showed no warming since the late 1970s, inclusion of all the data beginning in 1958 resulted in a slight warming trend. In 2003, some tropical balloon data, largely from poor countries, were removed because their records seemed to vary too much from year to year. This change also resulted in an increased warming trend. Another check for quality control in 2005 created further warming, doubling the initial overall rate.

Then it was discovered that our orbiting satellites have a few faults. The sensors don't last very long and are continually being supplanted by replacement orbiters. The instruments are calibrated against each other, so if one is off, so is the whole record. Frank Wentz, a consulting atmospheric scientist from California, discovered that the satellites also drift a bit in their orbits, which induces additional bias in their readings. The net result? A warming trend appears where before there was none.

There have been six major revisions in the warming figures in recent years, all in the same direction. So it's like flipping a coin six times and getting tails each time. The chance of that occurring is 0.016, or less than one in 50. That doesn't mean that these revisions are all hooey, but the probability that they would all go in one direction on the merits is pretty darned small.

The removal of weather-balloon data because poor nations don't do a good job of minding their weather instruments deserves more investigation, which is precisely what University of Guelph economist Ross McKitrick and I did. Last year we published our results in the Journal of Geophysical Research, showing that "non-climatic" effects in land-surface temperatures – GDP per capita, among other things – exert a significant influence on the data. For example, weather stations are supposed to be a standard white color. If they darken from lack of maintenance, temperatures read higher than they actually are. After adjusting for such effects, as much as half of the warming in the U.N.'s land-based record vanishes. Because about 70% of earth's surface is water, this could mean a reduction of as much as 15% in the global warming trend.

Another interesting thing happens to the U.N.'s data when it's adjusted for the non-climatic factors. The frequency of very warm months is lowered, to the point at which it matches the satellite data, which show fewer very hot months. That's a pretty good sign that there are fundamental problems with the surface temperature history. At any rate, our findings have not been incorporated into the IPCC's history, and they probably never will be.

The fear of a sudden loss of ice from Greenland also makes a lot of news. A year ago, radio and television were ablaze with the discovery of "Warming Island," a piece of land thought to be part of Greenland. But when the ice receded in the last few years, it turned out that there was open water. Hence Warming Island, which some said hadn't been uncovered for thousands of years. CNN, ABC and the BBC made field trips to the island.

But every climatologist must know that Greenland's last decade was no warmer than several decades in the early and mid-20th century. In fact, the period from 1970-1995 was the coldest one since the late 19th century, meaning that Greenland's ice anomalously expanded right about the time climate change scientists decided to look at it.

Warming Island has a very distinctive shape, and it lies off of Carlsbad Fjord, in eastern Greenland. My colleague Chip Knappenberger found an inconvenient book, "Arctic Riviera," published in 1957 (near the end of the previous warm period) by aerial photographer Ernst Hofer. Hofer did reconnaissance for expeditions and was surprised by how pleasant the summers had become. There's a map in his book: It shows Warming Island.

The mechanism for the Greenland disaster is that summer warming creates rivers, called moulins, that descend into the ice cap, lubricating a rapid collapse and raising sea levels by 20 feet in the next 90 years. In Al Gore's book, "An Inconvenient Truth," there's a wonderful picture of a moulin on page 193, with the text stating "These photographs from Greenland illustrate some of the dramatic changes now happening on the ice there."

Really? There's a photograph in the journal "Arctic," published in 1953 by R.H. Katz, captioned "River disappearing in 40-foot deep gorge," on Greenland's Adolf Hoels Glacier. It's all there in the open literature, but apparently that's too inconvenient to bring up. Greenland didn't shed its ice then. There was no acceleration of the rise in sea level.

Finally, no one seems to want to discuss that for millennia after the end of the last ice age, the Eurasian arctic was several degrees warmer in summer (when ice melts) than it is now. We know this because trees are buried in areas that are now too cold to support them. Back then, the forest extended all the way to the Arctic Ocean, which is now completely surrounded by tundra. If it was warmer for such a long period, why didn't Greenland shed its ice?

This prompts the ultimate question: Why is the news on global warming always bad? Perhaps because there's little incentive to look at things the other way. If you do, you're liable to be pilloried by your colleagues. If global warming isn't such a threat, who needs all that funding? Who needs the army of policy wonks crawling around the world with bold plans to stop climate change?

But as we face the threat of massive energy taxes – raised by perceptions of increasing rates of warming and the sudden loss of Greenland's ice – we should be talking about reality.

Mr. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and professor of environmental sciences at University of Virginia.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Global Warming Nonsense

More Global Warming Nonsense

The Wall Street Journal


April 10, 2008

Today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on the implications of climate change for human health. Malaria will top the menu, but so will ignorance and disinformation.

The lead witness will be Dr. Jonathan Patz of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has suggested that U.S. energy policy may be "indirectly exporting diseases to other parts of the world." Dr. Patz, the World Health Organization (WHO) and others claim that global warming is now spreading disease and may be the cause of some 160,000 deaths a year.

In 2007, for example, WHO pointed to rising temperatures in an outbreak of a mosquito-borne virus, Chikungunya, in Italy. Yet WHO misdiagnosed the problem. Modern transportation, not climate change, caused the outbreak.

In that case, the transmitter of the disease, or vector, was the Asian Tiger mosquito. It is native to Asia, but exported world-wide in shipments of used tires. It is now abundant in parts of U.S. and in 12 countries in Europe. In cities, it breeds in man-made containers of water, such as saucers under flower-pots, water barrels, blocked gutters and so on. The virus was carried to Italy by an infected Indian who flew from Delhi, where an epidemic of the disease was then raging.

So the real technological villain in that case was the jet airplane. It was irresponsible, then, for WHO to state "although it is not possible to say whether the outbreak was caused by climate change . . . conditions in Italy are now suitable for the Tiger mosquito." And it was absurd for environmental alarmists to chime in with apocalyptic pronouncements.

The globalization of vectors and pathogens is a serious problem. But it is not new. The Yellow Fever mosquito and virus were imported into North America from Africa during the slave trade. The dengue virus is distributed throughout the tropics and regularly jumps continents inside air passengers. West Nile virus likely arrived in the U.S. in shipments of wild birds. These diseases are spread by mosquitoes and therefore difficult to quarantine.

It may come as a surprise that malaria was once common in most of Europe and North America. In parts of England, mortality from "the ague" was comparable to that in sub-Saharan Africa today. William Shakespeare was born at the start of the especially cold period that climatologists call the "Little Ice Age," yet he was aware enough of the ravages of the disease to mention it in eight of his plays.

Malaria disappeared from much of Western Europe during the second half of the 19th century. Changes in agriculture, living conditions and a drop in the price of quinine, a cure still used today, all helped eradicate it. However, in some regions it persisted until the insecticide DDT wiped it out. Temperate Holland was not certified malaria-free by the WHO until 1970.

The concept of malaria as a "tropical" infection is nonsense. It is a disease of the poor. Alarmists in the richest countries peddle the notion that the increase in malaria in poor countries is due to global warming and that this will eventually cause malaria to spread to areas that were "previously malaria free." That's a misrepresentation of the facts and disingenuous when packaged with opposition to the cheapest and best insecticide to combat malaria – DDT.

It is true that malaria has been increasing at an alarming rate in parts of Africa and elsewhere in the world. Scientists ascribe this increase to many factors, including population growth, deforestation, rice cultivation in previously uncultivated upland marshes, clustering of populations around these marshes, and large numbers of people who have fled their homes because of civil strife. The evolution of drug-resistant parasites and insecticide-resistant mosquitoes, and the cessation of mosquito-control operations are also factors.

Of course, temperature is a factor in the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases, and future incidence may be affected if the world's climate continues to warm. But throughout history the most critical factors in the spread or eradication of disease has been human behavior (shifting population centers, changing farming methods and the like) and living standards. Poverty has been and remains the world's greatest killer.

Serious scientists rarely engage in public quarrels. Alarmists are therefore often unopposed in offering simplicity in place of complexity, ideology in place of scientific dialogue, and emotion in place of dry perspective. The alarmists will likely steal the show on Capitol Hill today. But anyone truly worried about malaria in impoverished countries would do well to focus on improving human living conditions, not the weather.

Mr. Reiter is director of the Insects and Infectious Diseases Unit of the Institut Pasteur, Paris. Mr. Bate is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Climate Change Opportunity

Climate Change Opportunity


April 8, 2008

In the Frank Capra movie classic, "It's a Wonderful Life," the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan is facing a Depression-era bank run. George Bailey leaps over the counter, blocks the door, and says to the panicky investors that they're "thinking of this place all wrong."

Today's investors need to hear the same message: If you're worried that stopping global warming will wreck the economy, you're looking at this all wrong. Solving global warming will be an added cost, yes – but a bargain compared with the economic cost of unchecked climate change. And fixing this problem will create an historic economic opportunity.

Energy is the biggest business in the world, "the mother of all markets," says venture capitalist John Doerr, Google's first funder. The winners of the race to reinvent energy will not only save the planet, but will also make megafortunes. Venture capitalists and companies like Google are already jockeying to fund clean energy start-ups. In 2007, clean tech was the fastest growing category of venture investing in the U.S., growing four times as much as Internet investing, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Action on global warming is coming soon. Governors, mayors and CEOs are already making bold and binding commitments; the presumptive presidential candidates from both parties are strong supporters of new federal policy initiatives. Meanwhile, under the radar, smart entrepreneurs are inventing new technologies to cash in on the high-tech bonanza to come, offering clean, affordable energy without carbon emissions.

A Silicon Valley firm, Innovalight, has figured out a way to harvest solar energy much more cheaply than present technology allows by dissolving silicon nanocrystals in ink, which will ultimately be printed onto roof panels like we print ink onto paper. Using a platform they developed as postdoctoral students at Berkeley, the founding scientists of a company called Amyris have re-engineered yeast to ferment sugar into pure hydrocarbon fuels. Unlike ethanol, the fuel has the energy density of gasoline (or jet fuel, if that's what they program the yeast to produce) and can be shipped through existing pipelines and pumped into any car now on the road.

A company called GreenFuel is working to make biodiesel from the algae that feed on the carbon dioxide from power plant smokestacks. The fastest-growing plants on earth, algae can double their mass in a few hours and produce orders-of-magnitude more biomass per acre than plants grown in soil. Founder Isaac Berzin is optimistic that, at commercial scale, he will cut capital costs enough to beat oil at $60 per barrel. Burning the algae fuel means the carbon has been used twice before being released, displacing greenhouse gas emissions from burning oil, and adding to the power company's profitability when carbon is regulated.

There's much more. Scientists have traveled to the most extreme environments on earth – from deep-sea vents to Siberian volcanoes – to bio-prospect for "extremophile" micro-organisms that can digest wood and plant wastes to be fermented into fuel. The Makah tribe of Native Americans, for two thousand years fisherman in the roughest Pacific waters, are working to harvest the fierce power of the waves off the Olympic Peninsula. A neurobiologist, Michael Trachtenberg, has devised a filter to clean smokestack gases at coal plants using the same enzyme that removes carbon dioxide from the human bloodstream. A bioengineer, Angela Belcher, is redesigning viruses so that they assemble themselves into the most powerful batteries ever seen.

These bold ideas are nearly ripe, but without a strong economic incentive they won't come to market at a speed and scale sufficient to beat the swift pace of global warming. The big money, the billions of dollars required to take these technologies to the necessary scale, remains on the sidelines, waiting until the U.S. Congress sets a cap on carbon and makes the rules of the game fair and clear.

Under a cap-and-trade regime, Congress will set limits on greenhouse gas pollution, and ratchet down those limits over time. Congress won't dictate to business which technologies to use – the marketplace will determine the ones that work best at the lowest cost. Cap-and-trade is a proven approach. When applied to acid rain pollution in the 1980s, it solved the problem faster and cheaper than anyone thought possible.

Global warming skeptics notwithstanding, fixing global warming won't be a drain on the economy. On the contrary, it will unleash one of the greatest floods of new wealth in history. When Congress finally acts, America's entrepreneurs and inventors will find the capital they need to solve global warming – and a lot of people will make a killing.

Mr. Krupp is president of Environmental Defense Fund and co-author of "Earth: The Sequel – The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming" (W.W. Norton, 2008).

My Rant

The claim that climate change is direct result of man's energy consumption is simply unproven and politically motivated. While they propound lies that certain lightbulbs or cars will destroy the earth and raise ocean levels as much as 20 feet within the next century, fascists, like Al Gore, fly around in their Gulfstream jets and live in homes that use 22 times the energy of an average American's home! Their propaganda is outrageous and potentially catastrophic for the economies of United States, the developed world and developing world.

The proof of global warming or man's influence on climate change is not settled science. Just consider the source of the big lie: the proselytizing hypocritical high priest of the pagan environmental religion Al Gore or the other Kool-Aid drinking climateers from the left such as Learjet liberals, Hollywood high school drop-outs, billonaire elitists, the left-leaning mainstream media, the United Nations, academia, environmental radicals, socialists, other anti-capitalists and so called "researchers", "experts" and/or "scientists" whose paychecks depend upon the apparent existence of the "issue".

United States energy conservation and independence is a worthy goal that should be supported by Republicans, the Democrat Party, true Democrats, Independents and environmentalists. Energy independence is a major national security concern. However, lying to our people, implementing the cap & trade boondoggle which will crush our economy or doing anything that will cause the United States to transfer an portion of its sovereignty to the United Nations is idiotic. Not in my name!