Tag Archives: climate change

Reactions to EPA’s Power Plant Regulations

In the week since Gina McCarthy approved the EPA’s Clean Power Plan draft regulations on state-level carbon emissions, seas of ink and gigabytes of pixels have been spilt in response and commentary. Even though I mention just a couple, this post has passed 700 words, so I’m hardly being laconic.

Glass Half Empty

“Doomed! Doomed, I say! Doomed! Doomed! Doomed!” [As best I can tell, this originated with Private James Frazer in the BBC comedy, “Dad’s Army.” But, this Rugrats YouTube clip is just too good.]

  • Ezra Klein at Vox.com sort of initiated the pessimist camp with his “7 reasons America will fail on climate change.” As other writers noted, it’s not that Ezra is wrong or misrepresented the facts, it’s just that everything is cast in the worst possible light. Agree or disagree, it was a catalyst for further discussion.My one comment is that the tone is almost narcissistic (maybe that’s overstating it, but I can’t think of a better word). It’s all about how the US political system is broken. When he mentions China and other carbon polluters, it’s about how they are in one way subject to our whims and in another way capable of scuttling any substantive progress. The blog title even hints at that with “America will fail.” To cut Ezra some slack, he is the renowned Washington Wonk, so he will write about what he knows best – political dysfunction in the US capital. After a while, that has got to blacken your soul and make you want to kick puppies and pop children’s birthday balloons.
  • Brad Plumer specializes in climate change at Vox.com and has multiple posts on the proposed regulations (quick link to all his posts, here). His first opinion piece is “Obama’s climate agenda is incredibly ambitious. It’s also not nearly enough.” Honestly, that title pretty well sums up the article. The US is no longer the largest carbon polluting country and represents a shrinking fraction of the total global emissions. Even significant domestic reductions will have diminishing returns overall.
  • Brad has another post on the elephant in the room, “Is China planning to put a cap on its carbon emissions?” The big news following the announcement of the draft regulations was that China might move forward on capping their carbon emissions. Brad rightly busts out a barrel of Morton’s salt on this announcement as the comment came from a “senior advisor to the Chinese government.” What little I know of China, that seems to be about the equivalent of a street preacher in downtown Chicago yelling into a bullhorn. Maybe he gets lots of attention, but the Political Machine is going to do its own thing.

Glass Half Full

“Always look on the bright side of life. [Whistling.]” Monty Python cast, “Life of Brian.”

  • Following Ezra’s post, Joe Romm at Climate Progress countered with “7 Reasons America Should Succeed On Climate Change.” Joe basically looks at each of Ezra’s points with a positive spin. Maybe he’s being a bit of a Pollyanna, but he identifies ways to break those very barriers instead of just kvetching about them.
  • Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine summarized the range of the liberal commentary in his post, “Has Obama Saved the Earth, or Doomed It?” I’ve linked to several of the same posts, plus he has a couple more. I can’t top his synthesis, so I’ll just quote him:

If you’re not sure whom to believe, the answer is that you should believe them all, because we’re all saying the same thing.

The only real difference in these putatively different assessments is the standard against which Obama is being held. Has Obama done everything within his power to protect future generations against climate change? Yes. Is everything within his power enough? No.

  • Finally, Paul Krugman has spent much of early June looking at the situation from his economist viewpoint. If you’re not doing so, just read his blog already. For the joy of ‘link-bait’ though, here are his recent op-ed pieces (2 Jun and 9 Jun 2014) and relevant blog posts (2 Jun, 7 Jun, and 10 Jun 2014). He notes that there will be some costs and job losses, but in the grand scheme of things the negatives are actually quite small, even without considering the positives.

If I can close on a cliché, my feeling is “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Edit: 17 Jun 14, corrected spelling of Brad Plumer’s name.

New Carbon Regs coming 2 Jun 2014

Quite a few sites I follow have noted that Obama will make a significant policy announcement on Monday. He is going to propose regulations for existing power plants. These plants are the source of 40% of US’ carbon dioxide emissions, so the regulations could have a dramatic impact on the country’s contribution to climate change. I imagine most major news outlets will provide coverage next week, but there is lots of information already available, if you are interested.

  • Scientific American, reprinting Climate Wire, provides a semi-brief primer on the policy (1,300 words).
  • Brad Plumer at the new Vox.com has a slightly longer primer (2,000 words). Plus, Vox has their “cards” to provide additional background and further reading sources.
  • There probably are shorter summaries out there, but the regulations will be complicated, so it is hard to cover concisely.

Predictably, not many talking heads are waiting to actually see the proposal before pontificating. The Chamber of Commerce has already issued a report saying that it will be the end of the world. Fortunately, this report has quickly been countered by two of my favorite writers, Jonathan Chait and Paul Krugman:

  • Chait at the New Yorker points out some of the questionable assumptions in the report.
  • Krugman at the New York Times highlights how the big scary numbers the Chamber tosses about are not really scary at all.

Long story short, the Chamber’s numbers are probably over-estimating the real cost. Further, even using the worst numbers, the US economy can easily cope and adjust. I’ve said it before, but the technical hurdles are solvable. There will be costs, but those are manageable as well. It is the drive and desire to overcome the status quo bias that is the only real problem.

Edit: 17 Jun 14, corrected spelling of Brad Plumer’s name.

Cosmos on Climate Change

I haven’t watched every episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new Cosmos series, but have enjoyed a few here and there. However, this weekend’s episode will deal directly with climate change. Chris Mooney at Mother Jones has a little highlight on the show as well as a short video explaining the difference between ‘climate’ and ‘weather.’ Catch it on your local Fox station, National Geographic Channel, or online.

El Niño Forecast up to 65-70%

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) has issued their monthly El Niño diagnostic discussion for May 2014 (permalink). The summary has increased the probability of an event from “exceeding 50%” to “exceeding 65%”. The CPC and International Research Institute (IRI) provides a quick look at the longer term forecasts, which peak at 78% to 79% for Nov or Dec of 2014. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology also issued their bi-weekly update on Tuesday, which cites the likelihood of an El Niño at least at 70%. As the more detailed discussion at Real Climate notes, even with an 80% prediction, there still is a 20% chance that an El Niño will not form.

At this point, however, the more interesting discussion is the forecast intensity. Currently, the average of all the models have the event peak at around 1°C (with the highest model at 1.5°C). This is significantly less than the record-breaking El Niño events in 1983 and 1997-8 of nearly 3°C. The expert discussions are careful to note that strength forecasts at this point are highly unreliable, so there is no guarantee that this will either be an especially mild or strong event.

Polar Vortex and Global Warming

Jeff Master’s has a post regarding a recent paper connecting the polar vortex and the California drought to climate change. The discussion itself isn’t all that interesting, but it does have an extensive list of past blog posts and research papers regarding weather circulation patterns. Jeff got me interested in the the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) several years ago when Greenland was warmer than Florida. Also, the NAO is oldest known climate oscillations, described several centuries ago by (as Jeff calls them) “seafaring Scandinavians,” which is probably a polite way of saying Vikings. I would like to find more about this history, but have not found much info yet.

Also of note, the strong dipole (high pressure/low pressure pair over North America) discussed in the paper naturally occurs prior to an El Niño event. This ties in to several of my previous posts. This isn’t a cause-and-effect matter, but probably coincident expression of conditions that lead to an El Niño season.

Mitigation of Climate Change

Well, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on mitigation is out. I’ve got lots of reading to do. Joe Romm at Think Progress and Brigitte Knopf at Real Climate have done a better job of summarizing this than I. The shortest of the short summary is that the worst effects of climate change can be avoided at very minimal costs.

Paul Krugman has a related blog post about the falling cost of solar. Paul’s readership is probably orders of magnitude larger than any climate-change site, so it’s good to have the publicity.

Plummeting Cost of Solar Modules

It’s also worth noting that onshore wind and hydroelectric power are already competitive with coal and natural gas. These are the pieces of information that make me hopeful for the future.

Climate Prediction Center Updates El Niño Watch

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center issued April’s El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Diagnostic Discussion a few days ago. There wasn’t much change to the text discussion, but the prediction for El Niño conditions increased from “about a 50% chance” to “exceeding 50%.” The simplest way to show the consensus is to compare the graphical summaries of the ENSO models for mid-Feb with mid-Mar.

Mid-Feb 2014 Plume of Model ENSO Predictions

Mid-Mar 2014 Plume of Model ENSO Predictions

Update to El Niño Forecast

Jeff Master’s has an update post from Dr. Michael Ventrice on the El Niño forecast. As Master’s said, it’s highly technical (and above my pay grade), but still interesting none-the-less. Short story, the models are in greater agreement of El Niño conditions and increased strength. To quote, “the latest climate model forecasts are now more aggressive with the amplitude of the potential emerging El Niño.”

The paired wind bursts around the equator (i.e., the washing machine wringers mentioned last week) have faded, but there appears to be potential activity in the Indian Ocean that could move east. This may form the southern half of a new pair of wringers.

The NOAA Climate Prediction Center April monthly expert assessment is due in a week or so and I’ll post more if that has interesting goodies.

Is X Caused by Climate Change?

Real Climate has a good post regarding the probability of climate change affecting extreme events. This is (at least in part) a response to Roger Pielke’s post at the 538 blog claiming that climate change is not increasing the cost of extreme events. Most of the statistics is above my head, but I think some of the contention is missing the forest for the trees.

As discussed by Real Climate, extreme events are by definition rare so determining a clear “cause” is difficult. The physics behind all this — higher temps, more moisture in the air, higher sea levels, etc. — is loading the dice in favor of heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, and more. But, can you really say climate change is the “cause?” Few, if any, scientists can give a definitive Yes or No. But, if the question is whether climate change is making matters worse, then the answer is more clearly, Yes.

The analogy I think of is whether speeding causes a car accident. Screaming down a country dirt road at 120 mph may cause an accident simply because you don’t have the reaction time to avoid that herd of wandering cows. But, even here you have both explicit and implicit extenuating circumstances: frakking cows on the road(!), poor traction on gravel, limited sight distance, time of day, weather, type of vehicle, and more. While speed may be the dominant factor, it is not the only one. Conversely, think about the damage to the car (much less those poor, innocent cows) at 55 mph? Or 25 mph? Maybe the accident would still happen, but the aftermath would be much less apocalyptic.

Which gets back to Pielke’s contention that costs are not increasing due to climate change. This thesis is more along the lines of my question than a cause-and-effect question. I concur with the rebuttals (see more below) that Pielke omitted a lot from his analysis. Another overlooked point is what is included in the cost calculation. Harking back to the car accident analogy, the 120-mph accident is an outlier and likely to make the news. People will mock the driver on Facebook; PETA will protest; Twitter will go aflutter. But, how often do you hear or think about the 90 or so people (pdf) that die in traffic accidents every day. Or mountain pine beetles migrating farther north and east. Or the gradual extinction of plants and animals. Or oysters that can’t form their shells.

Continue reading Is X Caused by Climate Change?

50% Chance of 2014 El Niño

In late February, Dr. Jeff Master’s blog on Weather Underground published a guest post from Dr. Michael Ventrice of Weather Services International (WSI). The post provided detailed explanation on the signs indicating a significant El Niño event for late 2014. Early in March, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center issued an El Niño alert. They estimate a 50% chance for an El Niño event in 2014. Following that, Dr. Master’s provided an explanation of the El Niño warning. Finally, Kim Cobb of Georgia Institute of Technology provided another explainer of the warning.

All this background is to note that the last major El Niño event was in 1997-98, prior to the high temperature year of 1998. Any time you hear someone discuss a “slow down” in global warming, they always reference 1998, even though that temperature has been met or exceeded four times since then (source, Goddard Institute for Space Studies). A prediction of an El Niño event is no guarantee of a future heat wave, but it does not bode well, either.