Tuesday, May 30, 2006

One small step

Some news from the other side of the Atlantic. New drivers in the UK will be forced to learn efficient driving - like accelerating and braking slowly - as a part of standard driving education (see this month-old article in The Observer).

It brings to mind the important point not stressed nearly enough by all the organizations promoting hybrid cars: it is not just what you drive, it is how you drive. Before you start laughing - where does some scientist who cycles to work tell me get off telling me how to drive or maintain my car? - here's an example.

Keeping your tires properly inflating, besides being safe and an all-around good idea, will save most folks about one mile per gallon (mpg). U.S. cars drove a total of 2.3 trillion miles in 2001 (latest year with data, from the Energy Information Administration). So if the average fuel efficiency increased from the current 25 mpg to 26 mpg, that would save 3.54 billion gallons of gas.

How much is that? The median estimate from the US Geological Survey of extractable oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is 7.7 billion barrels (a conservative estimate). It would take about 50 years to extract all that oil. Since there are about 19.6 gallons of gas in a barrel of oil, the ANWR oil equates to just under 3 billion gallons of gas a year.

In other words, Americans checking their cars' tire pressure every few weeks = all the oil in ANWR.

Is this comparison a cheap ploy? Of course. I wouldn't write a PhD dissertation on the subject. Nor would I claim checking your tires, cutting down on the a/c or not slamming on the gas could ensure there's no oil drilling in ANWR. I merely hope to remind everyone that the small actions do matter.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

From Canada.com: "Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has bowed to international pressure, reluctantly taking a step toward a ''Kyoto 2'' agreement on climate change". It's too early to say exactly what this will mean. At least the obstructionist stance has been dropped for now.

Now the Harper government has to get the policy right within Canada. The proposed Alberta emissions policy reported in Saturday's Globe and Mail -- to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per barrel of oil produced -- is exactly the type of tricky logic I warned about in a column a couple weeks back.

Don't forget to let me know once you've used the carbon calculator (below)!


Saturday, May 27, 2006

If you're stuck in front of the computer this weekend, read Bill McKibben's column in the Washington Post about how to tell whether politicians take climate change seriously. And afterwards, take a few minutes to estimate your personal CO2 emissions (see below).


Thursday, May 25, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

Last night, I went to see the new Al Gore documentary about climate change [opened in New York at Landmark Sunshine Theatres on E. Houston, between 1st and 2nd – order tickets ahead if you can, it is crowded].

Go see it. And tell others.

As we walked out of the theater, my old flatmate Abby, a social worker in New York, summed it up best: “That was fabulous. I feel so empowered. I want to go do something”.

The film focuses on the presentation about global warming that Al Gore has been giving around the world over the past few years. His beautiful and largely accurate multi-media presentation puts to shame the lousy powerpoint slideshow most of us scientists deliver on the subject. Abby was riveted throughout: “I knew about global warming, but no one had ever explained it so well”.

The film cuts away periodically from the presentation to Gore talking about how the issue became his passion, tracing the story from a college class with the famous scientist Roger Revelle, who first began measuring atmospheric CO2 levels, through attempts to educate other his Washington, the near-death of his son in 1989, the 2000 election and finally to today, where he is trying to increase public understanding, presentation by presentation. Watching the former US vice-president deliver such a literate and passionate explanation of the science will leave you - whether Democrat and Republican, liberal or conservative, American or not - wondering about the direction of, and the competence of, the present administration in Washington. Abby and I had trouble imagining the current president working the slideshow, let alone discussing the science.

Gore stresses that climate change, at heart, is a moral issue. The take-home message is that the future is in our hands, that it is the responsibility of everyone on the planet, especially Americans, to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, to be complete, I noticed a few minor mistakes in the science – things like the timing in the temperature reconstruction of the last 1000 years, the exact predictions for melting of glaciers in atop Kiliminjaro, etc. – but they do not detract from the overall presentation. The numbers about global emissions appear wrong because Gore is talking about just carbon emissions, rather than all greenhouse gases. The list of Kyoto signatories is misleading; 180 countries signed Kyoto but that includes all the developing countries that do no have binding emissions targets (not what most people think of when they hear Kyoto). I also thought Gore could offer much more on less carbon-intensive energy technologies, though that is more a point of style than substance.

That all being said, Gore does a terrific job in explaining the basic science, better than most scientists, better than any other documentary I had seen. I'd say scientists could learn more from Gore about how to present climate change to a general audience than he could learn from us about climate science.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A number of media outlets have had reported on the draft of the next IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) assessment report. The report itself will not be officially released until next year. While there may not be any substantial changes in the general results and message between now and then, we should still hold off on reporting anything until the official report is released. It is like reporting the results of a paper that it still undergoing review (for you scientists) or circulating a story or column before it has been vetted by your editor (for you writers) .

And in Canada, the provinces are starting to fight back. Quebec pledged to abide by Kyoto even if the federal government does not (cover on this morning's Globe and Mail). Quebec has always been in a good position to meet Kyoto - because of plentiful opportunities to expand hydropower - so the move is not surpising. It does show that the federal decision to balk on Kyoto is rapidly turning into a real political nightmare for the ruling Conservatives. The Conservatives' best hope for a majority in the next election is to gain more seats in Quebec. Could the provinical decisions influence the federal government to reverse its anti-Kyoto stance? Or might we look back one day and conclude the Kyoto decision was the Conservatives' downfall?


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Kyoto and how we got here (IV)

Some final thoughts on the state of climate policy in North America (for now).

Is it "impossible" for Canada to meet the Kyoto commitments, as the Conservative Government claims? Not really. It may be expensive but it is far from impossible. The main reason is that the Kyoto Protocol contains a number of flexible mechanisms designed exactly for Canada's predicament (previous post). The other is that the European nations understand Canada's difficult position and may be lenient – but only if Canada makes a genuine effort.

Under Kyoto, there are four means a country can use meet its emissions target:

1. Reduce emissions.

Yes, Canada must reduce the actual GHG emissions by over 30% in only five and a half years. And, yes, accomplishing the 30+% drop through domestic emissions reductions alone is almost impossible (especially with the expansion of drilling in the Alberta tar sands). But that doesn't mean you give up on the effort entirely. There is so much low-hanging fruit here it would be unconscionable to not to at least take a shot. Here are a few pieces of fruit, off the top of my head:

i) federal support for the proposed closure of coal-fired power plants in Ontario (this would pretty much achieve the Kyoto target for Ontario)
ii) similarly, the fed could support more hydro power in Quebec
iii) incentives for consumers buy fuel efficient vehicles and to drive more efficiently
iv) similarly, joining California in a lawsuit against automakers to improve fuel efficiency
v) supporting public transit (possible through the tax break on transit passes, but the program outlined in the budget could operated in a much more efficiently manner)
vi) incentives for energy efficiency in the home (unfortunately, these are being cut!)
vii) program to get businesses to shut lights at night (you laugh, but this would be a significant dent in the country's energy bill)

If you look at the province-by-province emission breakdown, what becomes clear is that had the development in the tar sands not taken off in the past decade, the Kyoto target would not seem so unattainable.

2. Purchase emissions credits

This is what the PM Harper means by "buying hot air" from overseas. Under Kyoto, emissions credits will be available from Eastern Europe. The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in a shutdown of many industrial activities and drop in GHG emissions since 1990. As a result, Russia and maybe other nations will have reduced emissions beyond their Kyoto targets, and can sell "credits" to the slackers like Canada.

3. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)

Under Kyoto, "Annex 1" countries, which are the developed countries like Canada and the European nations that agreed to an emission reduction target, can fund projects in developing ("non-Annex 1") countries, and claim the emissions credits. In other words, Canada can build a solar farm in Ghana and get credit for emissions savings. The effort to meet Kyoto should be (or have been) coupled with funding for projects through CIDA. Why more people were not talking about this, given all the screaming about increasing international aid, is a mystery to me.

4. Joint implementation (JI)

Under Kyoto, Annex 1 countries can also invest in emissions reducing projects in other developed or Annex 1 countries, and get credit for the emissions reductions. This is the least likely of the flexible mechanisms to be exploited.

So, impossible? No. Prohibitively expensive? Possibly. But if Canada puts a serious plan to get just part of the way on the table, the other Kyoto participants may be willing to renegotiate the target, perhaps to the 0-3% below 1990 levels Canada initally intended (PM Chretien lowered it to 6% at the last minute, upon word the Americans were going to aim for 5%. Ah, politics). It is in the other participants' interest to keep Canada a part of the international process. But the Canada - the government and the people - must do its part.


Monday, May 22, 2006

The pressure on the Canadian government to take climate change and Kyoto seriously continues to mount. This from Al Gore, quoted in this morning's Globe and Mail:

"What Canada does matters, and I know enough about Canada to know the Canadian people take their obligations as citizens of the world perhaps more seriously than the people of any other nation on the face of this Earth. . . That is why nations around the world look up to Canada as a source of moral leadership, and if the Harper government -- which is, after all, in thrall to the tar-sands interests and other polluting interests -- tries to take the Canadian people for granted, personally, it's not for me as a non-Canadian to say, but I do not for one minute believe that the people of Canada would ever turn their backs on that noble political tradition."

It may not be fair to claim the Harper government is any more influenced by the tar sands interests than the previous government. It is fair to say that the extremely energy-intensive development in the tar sands - driven by high oil prices (if oil was $30 a barrel, drilling in the tar sands would not be economical) - is the prime cause for the sharp rise in Canada's GHG emissions in the past few years. It is also the cause of Canada's strong economic performance. That is what makes reducing emissions a challenge: Canada chose to couple its future economic growth not just to fossil fuels, but to a very emissions-intensive source of oil.


Sunday, May 21, 2006

The mess continues

According to the Canadian Press, a leaked document shows that Canadian negotiators at the climate talks in Bonn were instructed to avoid deeper emissions cuts for Canada and "block other countries from taking on more stringent commitments". People are calling for the Environment Minister, Rona Ambrose, to resign.

There is a lot of blustering from all sides here. I'd say the take-home message is the Canadian government has officially joined its neighbour to the south as an obstacle to international climate policy.

Word is that Canada will join the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. The APP is a loose agreement between Australia, China, the United States, South Korea and Japan to work on the development and deployment of clean(er) energy technologies.

The APP should not be confused, however, with an international climate policy like the Kyoto Protocol or [Kyoto's origin] the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The APP does not and will not contain any emissions targets, binding or voluntary. It is essentially a agreement to make a trade agreement about some lower emissions energy technologies.

Deals like the APP are not necessarily a bad idea. We all support the proliferation of lower emitting energy technology that could combat air pollution and climate change. Right now, the plan has no specifics and almost no money, so expectations are low. And the real fear is that by involving the major emitting countries, the APP may take away from Kyoto and the development of future "post-Kyoto" international policy under the UNFCCC specifically directed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stabilize the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at an acceptable level.


Friday, May 19, 2006

Climate change politics

I've spent the past two days at a meeting on "Climate Change Politics in North America" at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. If you're interested in the state and future of climate policy in the U.S. and Canada, I suggest taking a look at some of the papers from the meeting, available online.

The Trenton Times had a story about the climate change event held in Princeton earlier this week sponsored by NJ Community Water Watch. The event was part of the indie band Guster's "Campus Consciousness Tour". I nearly did a spit-take when the band's leader referred me as 'the good doctor'.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

More Gore

There's a lot I could write about today. The post-Kyoto negotiations in Bonn, Germany. The ongoing mess that is Canadian climate policy. The data showing ice cover in the Arctic was an all-time (winter) low this past winter, signalling a possible acceleration of polar melting. The new science, closely related to my own work, about the impact of climate-induced "bleaching" on coral reef health.

For something more uplfiting, I suggest you watch this hilarious video of Al Gore's surprise appearance on Saturday Night Live (on May 13).

Gore's film about climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, comes out nation-wide next week. With gas prices soaring, the Bush Administration's approval rating sinking, and news of climate change filling the news more and more, the film and Gore himself will cause a very big stir.

Many editorial writers of late have dipped into their pop culture dictionary and declared the climate is at the "tipping point". Maybe this is wishful thinking, but I wonder if the release of Gore's film will be the "tipping point" for action on climate change in the US.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Good news, bad news in Canada

The opposition parties in Canada are joining forces on a resolution demanding the Conservative government develop a plan to meet Canada's commitments to the Kyoto Protocol, as reported in the Globe and Mail this morning. The Globe article mentions that "criticism over Canada's position on Kyoto dominated Question Period" yesterday.

Good timing. The government just cut the EnerGuide for Houses program, another popular, successful and cheap program aimed to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions. Read about it here. Cancelling EnerGuide for Houses is possibly even more foolish than cancelling the One Tonne Challenge.

Hopefully, the opposition parties will be able stop the government from abandoning the efforts to reduce emissions and enacting a 'Made-in-Canada' plan like that I described in Monday's Toronto Star. Your input can help on this too. Write or call your local MP to show support.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Quick update

Here's the link for my column in this morning's Toronto Star.

For anyone in Princeton tomorrow, the indie rock band Guster will be in town as part of their Campus Consciousness Tour to raise awareness about climate change. I'll be speaking at small press conference at Cafe Vivian (in the Frist Center, on campus) at 1 pm. It will be followed by a game of "Climate Change Jeopardy" featuring students, faculty and members of the band.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Check Monday's Toronto Star

I wrote a column about the state of climate policy in Canada [and the U.S.] that will appear in Monday's Toronto Star. Just click on Opinions/Editorials tomorrow and you should find it.

On a funny note: today's NY Times has an article attributing the surge in home runs in Major League Baseball this April to the warm weather.

Some of you may remember that back in 2000, I called an editor at Sports Illustrated and (half-jokingly) proposed that climate change was causing the surge in home runs. On a hot day, a batter's muscles are looser, so they may hit the ball a bit harder, and the warmer air will allow any ball hit to travel a bit more. I looked at the numbers, and it turns out that the years all the home run records were broken happen to be the warmest in recorded history. I was not really serious - the evidence is correlative, not necessarily causal - though if you look at the weather data the summer Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa broke the old single season record, it does make you wonder if the hot weather gave a couple long balls that extra boost over the fence.

The idea became a story in SI - it included my argument and some, frankly, ridiculous quotes from a supposed expert on the physics of baseball - and filtered out into the media. I joke about the whole experience in this old dispatch on my website.

The NY Times story is surely convergent evolution. With all the media coverage of weather and climate, someone was bound to think about this again. Still, it makes me smile.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Wal-Mart goes organic?

Following on the subject of food and energy efficiency, some of you may have seen the article in Friday’s NY Times about Wal-Mart’s move into the organic food market. It raises a lot of interesting issues and conflicts.

First, even Wal-Mart’s biggest detractors must concede one important point. The retailer has such a huge share of the market in, well, everything, that the organic decision could have a huge influence on the food industry. If Wal-Mart decides it wants to sell organic breakfast cereals, then Kellogg will find a way to produce some green Rice Krispies (I mean that figuratively, though I wouldn’t put past them to release a St. Patty’s special cereal). That will make organic food products cheaper to produce and more affordable for the consumer. In that sense, it could be good news for the environment and for consumers

I’ll give you what I think is an even bigger example. As part of this effort to be more environmentally friendly and reverse the company’s image, Wal-Mart may start pushing the sale of energy efficient products. Word is if Wal-Mart really moves into the sale of energy efficient light-bulbs, the US lighting market will complete change and, as a result, significantly increase household energy efficiency and reduce US greenhouse gas emissions.

A second issue is whether Wal-Mart’s decision will change the meaning of “organic”. Many consumers wrongly assume organic food is raised only on small farms (not necessarily) where animals graze on open meadows (not necessarily) and no chemicals or fertilizers are used (more or less). Well, one of three ain’t bad. Many experts worry that with the big companies moving into organic food, the definition of organic will be compromised more to accomodate more industrialized production. The disconnect between what agricultural practices organic food consumers think they are supporting and the reality will grow even more. On a related note, others wonder if large-scale production, where food is raised organically but still travels thousands of miles to reach your plate, is even a desirable objective.

The final concern is that none of this changes the fact that Wal-Mart has a de-facto monopoly on most retail goods, often does not pay workers a living wage, drives out the small or even moderately-sized retailers, and contributes to the spread of drive-only suburbia and exurbia. Are we willing to make a deal with the seller of the dust-devil?


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Food miles

Last night, I went to a screening of the documentary "The Future of Food" at the Princeton Human Rights Film Festival. The post-film discussion touched on a variety of subjects including the issue of "food miles": how far food travels.

The common statistic is most food in N. America travels 1500 - 2500 miles to reach your plate (it comes partly from the study Food, Fuels and Freeways done by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State). There is a lot more research on this in the UK because the government realizes reducing "food miles" is way to become more energy efficient and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There's an interesting article in the journal Food Policy that reports the full costs of travel for the average weekly food "basket" in the UK. The BBC website has a good introduction to the issue.

Here, there is a lot you can do. As I mention on the what you can do section of my website, we can cut down on the energy used in transporting food - from the farm to the processing center to the distributor to the grocery store to your home - by purhcasing from local Community Supported Agriculture farms, farmer's markets and grocery stores specializing in local and organic produce. Beware of the organic produce from another continent. Sure, maybe no pesticides were used to grow those oranges, but the fruit didn't fly to the shelf on its own.


Hot summer ahead?

Hard to miss this on the cover of the Globe and Mail. The seasonal forecast from Environment Canada calls for a hot, dry summer across almost all of Canada. If correct, it would be an interesting backdrop for a debate about the Conservative government's upcoming "Made-in-Canada" climate plan.

The Globe and Mail story has this quote:

"We never forecast records . . . [but] when you roll the dice, it comes up warmer day after day, year after year," said David Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada. "Our ancestors dealt with colder seasons than we have now," he added in an interview yesterday. "You could be seduced into thinking this is climate change. I think it is."

Phillips, the primary Env't Canada voice to the media, is always careful to point out that you cannot attribute a weather event or warm season to climate change. All you can definitively say is that climate change should be making particular events, like warmer summers, more probable. So, Canadians, think of the hot, dry summer - if the forecast are correct - as a little bit more evidence of a shift in the probability distribution.

Seasonal forecasts for the summer (0-3 month lead forecasts) are available for the US from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Iraq vs. Kyoto

In today's Washington Post:

It's Only $300 Billion: If We Can Fund the War in Iraq, Why Can't We Fund the Kyoto Protocol?

By Cass R. Sunstein Wednesday, May 10, 2006; Page A25

"For the United States, the cost of the Iraq war will soon exceed the anticipated cost of the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement designed to control greenhouse gases. For both, the cost is somewhere in excess of $300 billion."

For more check the link. The cost estimates of Kyoto are rough but the article makes a good point.


More on hurricanes

Last week, in a post about the Katrina project, I mentioned the issue of whether climate change is affecting hurricane activity. For more, there's a good article in a recent issue of Science that summarizes the debate in the scientific community. It's worth a quick read.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Atmospheric science in the pod world

In keeping with the times, Nature now does a weekly podcast (transcripts also available) featuring brief interviews with scientists about research published in the journal.

The most recent one includes an interview with Gabriel Vecchi, who in addition to being a good frisbee player, is a scientist working at GFDL, a US government atmosphere and ocean modeling laboratory in Princeton. His important paper in Nature on examines how climate change is affecting atmospheric circulation in the tropics. You may have seen this mentioned in the general news last week (try Newswise or the SF Chronicle)

For years people have suggested that climate change will reduce circulation in the tropics (in part by reducing the north-south gradient in temperature). Gabe and his colleagues used observations and computer simulations to demonstrate that human-induced warming since the has weakened something atmospheric scientists call the Walker Circulation by 3.5%. Sounds obscure, but hold on. The Walker Circulation is the movement of air across the tropical Pacific - rises in the west, sinks in the east - a fundamental part of the climate system, something you learn in very basic atmospheric science. So that seemingly small percent change amounts to a substantial change in the movement of air around the planet.


Monday, May 08, 2006

National Bike Month (US)

The month of May is National Bike Month in the US. Since 1956, the League of American Bicyclists has been supporting bike-related festivals, bike-to-work promotions and contests around the country each May. Their site has a list of the events in each state.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Urban living

Ever think about how urban living, with the close proximity to work, to the store, etc. must be more efficient? Here's some evidence (thanks to Grist for pointing this out).

These great maps show that cities like Chicago and LA produce a lot of C02 from automobiles. However... only because there are a lot of people living in the city proper. When you map the emissions per capita, the surrounding area of suburbs and exurbs jump out as disproportionatly responsible for emissions by automobiles. The maps illustrate how urban planning and public transit are a crucial to controlling greenhouse gas emissions (and smog-forming emissions).

Separate note: if you're on the Princeton campus today, Congressman Rush Holt is speaking at the "Levee for life" (see next post) at noon.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Katrina, climate and a way to contribute

A group of students in Princeton started something called the Katrina Project to raise funds for rebuilding the New Orleans Public Library. At the "levee of books" on campus - the size of the levee represents the donations to date - students and other volunteers are reading from books about New Orleans and poverty in the US. You can watch and donate online.

On Monday afternoon, I read a chapter from "Why New Orleans matters" by Tom Piazza. It got me thinking about some of the climate lessons from Katrina.

Did climate change cause Hurricane Katrina? No - it is an unanswerable question. You cannot connect a particular weather event to a long-term climate trend.

A better question is, will climate warming increase the frequency of intense hurricanes like Katrina? Most likely. Is this already happening? Possibly.

The issue was very poorly covered in the media last fall, in part because of US government scientists were dissuaded from discussing a link between climate change and hurricanes (for more, check this story in the Washington Post). There is evidence that warming waters in the tropical Atlantic - believed to be caused by human-induced climate change - have increased hurricane intensity since the 1970s. By that, it means not more hurricanes, but a greater likelihood that a hurricane will build to category four or five.

There is still disagreement among scientists. For further discussion, I suggest the site maintained by Tom Knuston, a climate scientist working on the subject, or the terrific Realclimate blog.

There is one important lesson to be learned from experience of Hurricane Katrina. As my colleague Michael Oppenheimer says in "Too Hot not to Handle", Katrina showed that even an advanced industrialized society can be completely unprepared to handle a climate disaster.


US gov't report confirms human-induced warming

An article in today's NY Times reports "A scientific study commissioned by the Bush administration concluded yesterday that the lower atmosphere was indeed growing warmer and that there was "clear evidence of human influences on the climate system."

The report, available here, reconciled [what some perceived to be] a disagreement between satellite and surface observations of global temperature. The results may be no surprise to a lot of people in the climate community, but it will help silence one noted and often unfoudned crtique of the evidence for global warming.

The NY Times article quotes John Christy from University of Alabama, one of the authors of the study and often a skeptic of climate change, as saying he endorses the conclusion that "part of what has happened over the last 50 years has clearly been caused by humans."


Tuesday, May 02, 2006


From today's Canadian budget speech:

"A substantial amount, $2 billion over the next five years, will be devoted to a Made-in-Canada climate change program currently being developed by the Minister of the Environment. "

Stay tuned. And read about the Made-in-the-USA plan below.


Kyoto and how we got here (III)

As promised, I'll explain the climate policy enacted by the Bush administration in lieu of the Kyoto Protocol. Canadians should also pay attention; the Bush approach will probably be the model for Canadian PM Harper's"Made-in-Canada" climate policy.

The plan put forth in 2002 calls for an 18% reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas intensity by 2012. The intensity is not the total GHG emissions. It is the GHG emissions per dollar of GDP. The idea is that the economy become more greenhouse gas efficient. On the surface, it sounds sensible.

The hole in this policy is so big you could drive a Hummer through it. I say this not out of politics or any feelings about the current administration. The hole will be obvious anyone who owns a calculator, who sat through Economics 101 or who likes to scribble out equations on a cocktail napkin.

The economy or the GDP grows at roughly 3% a year. Your calculator can tell you that works out to about a 34% increase in GDP over ten years. Compound interest, from Economics 101.

Remember, the stated goal is to reduce the GHG intensity – the emissions divided by the GDP – by 18%. A bit of multiplication and division, and you’ll discover that means the actual GHG emissions can increase by 10% over those same ten years. So the proposed reduction in intensity is actually an increase in total emissions.

Hold on, you might say. If the GHG intensity remained the same over those ten years, the total emissions would increase by 34%. An increase of only 10% is still better than “business as usual”. This is better an improvement, right?

Er, no. The GHG intensity of the US economy had already been decreasing.

How much? I have to pause here, and admit, this is my favourite part. About 18% between 1990 and 2000. I'm not kidding.

The reduction in emissions intensity is not an "ambitious national goal" as the White House claims. It is a statement of what was already happening with no policy in place. It would probably take effort not to continue that trend.

There it is, kids, the Bush climate policy, and Stephen Harper's model for the made-in-Canada solution to climate changes, debunked in about three minutes with a calculator.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Kyoto and how we got here (II)

The Conservative gov't in Canada will announce a new budget tomorrow (read here). It is expected to cancel the $10 billion that the previous goverment allocated to implementing the Kyoto Protocol. In other words, RIP Canada's effort to abide by Kyoto.

In an earlier post, I began to explain how climate policy in North America got to this point. I'll fill in the rest of the story throughout this week.

Both the US and Canada are original signatories to the Kyoto Protocol, but the US government under President Bush chose not to ratify. Keep in mind, it would have be a challenge to get Kyoto through Congress regardless of who won the presidency, but you have to assume that Gore, an expert on the issue, would have made a serious effort.

The Bush administration decision to balk on Kyoto led Canada to postpone ratification. Reports in Canada said joining Kyoto without the major trading partner would be an economic disaster. The federal assessment at the time said Kyoto would come at a net cost of $0-5 billion per year, or 0-2% of GDP growth (not GDP, GDP growth). A report by the anti-Kyoto Alberta government claimed a supposedly much greater $40 billion cost to the economy. It received a lot of attention by media outlets, who all seemed to miss the fine print (and forget their times tables). That $40 billion? $5 billon/year X 8 years.

Despite what you may have heard, the dilly-dallying over Kyoto in Canada had more to provincial-federal politics and a bit of fearmongering about economic disaster than these or any other cost assessments. Even the maximum, $5 billion/yr, while not trivial, was manageable. Since it was a net cost - a few sectors of the economy would benefit, a few would be hurt, many would be unaffected - some economists argued it could be easily addressed through tax measures and the like.

The diasgreement between the pro-Kyoto forces (some Liberals, the Bloc, the NDP) and the anti-Kyoto forces (the Alliance, the Alberta gov’t, some Liberals) delayed any actual effort on emissions reductions and made meeting Kyoto increasingly difficult. By time the Protocol was finally ratified in late 2002, Canadian greenhouse gas emissions had grown to more than 20% greater than 1990 emissions. Add in a couple years of waffling over the implementation of Kyoto - the Liberals put together a weak plan because of strong opposition from industry and Alberta - and you get where Canada is today, about 24% greater than 1990 emissions, and more than 30% off the Kyoto target for 2012.

Over that same period, US emissions also grew -- by only 13%. So the country that not only rejected Kyoto, but was the excuse used by anti-Kyoto forces in Canada, was actually doing better than Canada. How could that be? Mostly economics. The US experienced a major economic downturn after 9/11. The Canadian economy, however, continued to grow, in fact it led the G8 in economic growth. Given that neither country is making a serious effort to address greenhouse gas emissions, emissions in both countries tend to follow the economy. Had the US experienced the same economic growth as Canada in 2001-2, the emissions today would be 19% greater than in 1990, closer to the Canadian growth rate.

There we are. The Conservative government in Ottawa now plans to shy away from Kyoto, claiming the it will be impossible to meet the commitment. The goverment will instead reveal a "Made-in-Canada" climate policy, based on a "Made-in-the-USA" policy developed under the Bush Administration.

On tomorrow’s show, I'll demonstrate how you to debunk the Bush Climate policy in a few minutes with nothing more than a calculator and Q-tip.