May 1, 2011
Adventures in the Climate Trade
Global warming, now called climate change, is a big industry with academic and commercial branches. One way or another the government provides the money to keep it in business. The academic side supports thousands of scientific workers churning out some good science larded with lots of junk science. The commercial side is busy turning out tank cars filled with corn ethanol and covering the landscape with windmills. Nobody would be doing any of this without government subsidies and mandates. A recent example of how the geniuses in Washington direct policy is the loaning of hundreds of millions to electric car companies like Tesla. Tesla is the stock that everyone is going to be trying to short when they aren't trying to short First Solar.
Some of this government support is direct, such as the 1.8 cents per kilowatt hour subsidy for windmill electricity. But much is mandated by regulations that result in increased consumer prices -- a hidden tax. For example utilities may be required to generate a certain percentage of their electricity from green sources such as windmills. Since the electricity from these sources is expensive, prices to the consumer must be raised.
Why the government even bothers trying to reduce CO2 emissions is a mystery. Rising CO2 emissions from China and the rest of Asia make any efforts to reduce CO2 emissions in the U.S. irrelevant. The numbers and trends are very obvious on this point. China currently generates 1/4 as much electricity per capita as the U.S. and China has 4 times the population. This suggests that China could eventually increase its electricity generation by a factor of 4* to match the per capita electricity usage enjoyed in the U.S. In the single year 2010 electricity production grew 15% in China, a pace that would double production in 5 years. Electricity in China comes mainly from coal, the indigenous fuel available in large quantities and the most CO2 emitting fuel. China is also consuming ever increasing quantities of oil to support its growing automobile population. Even at its current early stage of economic development China passed the U.S. in the generation of CO2 5 years ago. Some apologists for Chinese CO2 policy claim that China is leading in windmills and solar panels while neglecting to point out that these are export industries, selling hardware or emissions credits to Europeans who are even bigger believers in the climate change religion than we are. Those Chinese industries are currently suffering because the Europeans are running out of mad money.
How big is the climate change industry and how large could it become? Probably the research side is in the single digit billions. The mitigation, or CO2 reduction, side is where the big bucks are. To get an idea consider that the cost of electricity amounts to about $3 a day for each person in the U.S. or around $300 billion per year. Double the cost of electricity, something that is seen as good start by the preachers of climate change, and you have another $300 billion per year. That's half of the cost of Medicare in 2008. Some people in California are already paying 5 times[i] as much as people in areas less affected by the green virus. The beauty of green electricity mandates is that it results in a gradual creep upwards in the cost of electricity and it's not easy to know who to blame. Of course the climate change industry reaps the benefits as surely as if the government wrote them a check. Perhaps writing a check should be considered, because it would be a big savings if the government just bribed these people to stop building windmills.
The U.S. climate change industry, if allowed to grow, could surpass the trillion dollar mark. The uneconomic schemes will become a drag on every sector of the economy. We already have corn ethanol increasing the price of food and gasoline. More biofuel schemes are in the wings. Electric cars will give us a new and more annoying way to run out of gas. The power grid must be rebuilt to support the intermittent electricity from windmills. We' re supposed to bury CO2 emissions underground. The list is endless. Perhaps our young people can emigrate to China and get jobs in factories building windmills for export.
One financially minor, but intellectually important, part of the industry is the writing of alarming reports detailing the global warming catastrophe that awaits us if we don't support the industry. This is the marketing or propaganda side of the climate change industry. A constant drumbeat of propaganda is needed to generate support for the high cost borne by the rest of society to finance the industry. There are many of these alarming studies. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) generates the most prominent alarmist tract. The World Bank has a report. The National Academies of Sciences has a report. The British government did the well-publicized Stern Report. Even the state of California gets into the act, albeit with more amateurish[ii] reports.
The reports lend a scientific gloss to what otherwise would be science fiction type speculation. There are plenty of distinguished scientists who have looked at the global warming thesis and pronounced it nonsense. Notably absent are those scientists whose work is financed by the global warming juggernaut. Since the juggernaut controls the research money and has plenty of propaganda money, the global warming activists have controlled the public conversation until recently. Numerous scientific mistakes and scandalous revelations from bloggers and journalists have changed the public conversation and now the juggernaut is in retreat.
USGCRP stands for the U.S. Global Change Research Program. In spite of the name the USGCRP does not directly do any research. It writes reports. The research is done by numerous programs spread about federal government entities. The USGCRP is hard at work on its periodic national climate assessment. In the jargon of bureaucratic action, numerous conferences, workshops and inputs from stakeholders are driving this supposedly accountable and transparent project.
The report writers are well informed concerning the requirements of political correctness. They consider tribal (and Alaska native) interests as well as considerations of environmental justice. A federal advisory committee has been formed with more than 40 outside experts and representatives from various federal agencies. Supposedly this advisory committee will write the report and ensure its scientific validity. But a committee of 40 unpaid academics is unlikely to accomplish anything beyond a lot of talk. The staff will write the report and the purpose of the committee is to bless it and lend credibility. It's a status exchange. The unpaid academics get to add membership in the federal advisory committee to their resumes and the schemers in the bureaucracy get scientific credibility for their ideological promotions. The wizard behind the scenes is John Holdren, the president's science advisor, radical environmentalist and one of the most talented science politicians of our time.
I had the experience of attending a 3-day meeting of this federal advisory committee at a hotel in Washington, DC. Meetings of federal advisory committees are open to members of the public such as myself. The welcoming speech was given by presidential adviser Holdren. Most of the public attendees were professional climate change people, either working for the government or non-profits. The outside experts on the federal advisory committee were overwhelmingly academics professionally engaged in promoting or interpreting the alleged imminent global warming catastrophe. There did not appear to be any member of the committee even mildly skeptical of the global warming catastrophe story. This was surely not an accident. I was told that every member of the committee had to be approved by the White House, presumably by John Holdren.
The organizers were very welcoming to the members of the public. For a fee we were able to participate in the lunches and coffee breaks. A majority of the key staffers were women and that might account for the welcoming and friendly atmosphere. But even nice people have been known to waste taxpayers' money.
Those who work for the global warming juggernaut realize that public opinion and elite opinion are turning against them. For this reason there is a new emphasis on propaganda, called communication inside the climate change bubble. The climate change workers seem to think that people outside of the bubble can be won over if the message is dumbed down enough. For example, instead of the traditional term "greenhouse gases" we now have "heat-trapping gases." In order to make the global warming predictions of doom more meaningful the USGCRP will issue personalized predictions of doom for various regions of the country. These regional predictions will be based on downscaling studies. Downscaling is a complicated scheme for supposedly extracting regional long term climate forecasts from global climate models. The global climate models disagree with each other concerning global climate trends and often their predictions are contradicted by reality. Extracting regional forecasts from the dubious global forecasts requires extensive adjustments to the data in order to get anything remotely plausible. Downscaling lacks a convincing scientific basis. But, downscaling studies are very popular because they can be sold for cash to credulous local governments.
The Global Change Research program is mandated by the U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990 to produce a scientific assessment at least every 4 years. The scientific assessment, among other things: "analyzes current trends in global change, both human-induced and natural, and projects major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years." Never mind that a scientific basis for predicting global change trends for the next 100 years is nonexistent. If the Congress wants it, the Global Change Research program will provide it. A better name than scientific assessment would be the crystal ball report.
The 2009 previous scientific assessment is not an impressive document. The process that produced the document involved a previous federal advisory committee, various reviewers including so-called blue ribbon reviewers. The resulting document is a rehash of global warming alarmism doctrine. Annoyingly citations are not given for most of the claims. In the first paragraph of the executive summary the following unsupported claim is made:
The global warming observed over the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.
This statement could be called the fundamental theorem of global warming alarmism. If it is not true the whole house of cards collapses.
The evidence for the fundamental theorem is runs of various clashing computer climate models. The scientists who have fertile imaginations when imagining all the bad things that global warming will do are unable to think of anything that could have caused the warming of the last 50 years except CO2 and the other greenhouse gases. But, early in the 20th century from 1910 to 1940 there was a very similar warming not caused by greenhouse gases. Back then greenhouse gas generation was in its infancy. Neither the scientists nor their computers know what caused the early century warming. If the scientists can't explain the early century warming why are they so quick to pin the late century warming on greenhouse gases? There are plenty of alternative explanations available such as cosmic rays or oceanic climate cycles. But, if global warming is not our fault and we are the helpless victims of nature, we wouldn't need the climate change industry. Restraining their imaginations is a precondition for continued employment.
The 2009 crystal ball assessment report recites the dubious claims of global warming disaster so loved by the popularizers of environmental doom. The cute polar bears will die. We'll all get tropical diseases if we don't die in heat waves. Agricultural productivity will suffer from weeds, droughts and floods. The sea will rise up and flood the coasts. This stuff has been refuted by angry experts many times, but no matter, some stories are too good to check. No doubt we are in for more of the same with the new report to be published in 2013.
Norman Rogers is a Senior Policy Advisor at the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank. He is a member of the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society. His personal website is www.climateviews.com
*corrected figure 5/26/11
*corrected figure 5/26/11
[i] Pacific Gas and Electric residential tier 5 is $0.403 per kilowatt hour for usage 300% over baseline allowance.( http://www.pge.com/tariffs/tm2/pdf/ELEC_SCHEDS_E-1.pdf ).Compare this to the U.S. residential average of $0.1104 per KWH and many states with average costs between 8 and 9 cents per KWH. ( http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table5_6_a.html )
[ii] The California Air Resources Board wrote an allegedly scientific analysis of the wonderful results that would follow for the California economy from draconian greenhouse gas limitations. The Board was mandated by law to obtain a peer review of their report. The 4 peer reviewers, all hired hand professors, demonstrated that there are limits to corrupting academics with money. They all said, not very politely considering the source, that the Board's economic analysis was garbage. The Board ignored them.