Friday, July 12, 2013

Climate snapshots

European Parliament approves a partial fix of its cap-and-trade program, whose allowance price collapsed because industry found it too easy to meet the overall cap goal. The fix, needing approval by member states, "backloads" some of the unneeded allowances to a future time (and hopefully they'll just be eliminated at some point). I criticized the EP for its failure to do this earlier, so they deserve acknowledgment when they fix it.

I'll just note that it's not the worst thing in the world for the Europeans to find they set too-easy goals on carbon. It reminds me a little of a post by Roger Pielke Jr where he claimed the German feed-in tariff on solar was a failure because so many people had installed solar panels that the funding for the program was being overwhelmed. Consider the contrary possibilities:  allocation prices through the roof because reductions were too hard, or no financing problems for solar because it was still too expensive to install.

I provoke a partial disagreement among Same Facts bloggers when two of them say that cap-and-trade has assessment problems that carbon tax doesn't, because a cap requires consideration of the social cost of carbon and mitigation, while a tax only considers the social cost of carbon. My response at the same post:

I’m not sure I’m buying this argument, although I can’t claim to be an expert. It does seem pretty clear that we need to be in the vicinity of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060 or so. Whether you get there in 2050, 2060, or 2070 might be a function of economic analyses, but that’s a marginal difference. So it might be easier to start with a cap allocation over time than it is to know you have to head in that direction and figure out a tax that takes you there.

The other and better argument IMHO is that allocating rights is how you grease the wheel. It’s not pure, but it gets things done.
A third blogger agreed it's not a technical issue, but argues a tax is still simpler.

More generally, I think scientists and some public policy academics may not accept political problems as being legitimately hard in the same way that scientific and engineering problems are legitimately hard. More about this at a later point, but for now I'll just say that if the politics are so easy to solve, then go make it happen.

Provocative paper arguing for what I'd call a boomerang carbon policy:  we overshoot the 2C target in this century and then use carbon-negative biomass-plus-carbon-sequestration to get back to the target by  2150. (BTW, I realize the economic argument they make somewhat contradicts my point #2 above about cost/benefit analysis.)

I think something like this is the reasonable-best case outcome: we overshoot, and then the wealth and technology of future generations allows carbon-negative solutions that pull us back from disaster. Not exactly a low-risk approach.

Noted with one comment:
The impact of adding such uncertainties would weigh for or against the conclusion that uncertainty should imply moderation.... And this is where I depart most sharply from Williams' conclusions. Uncertainty implies moderation only if the sources of uncertainty, on balance, add more to the risks of action than they do to the risks of inaction.
My comment is this wasn't written about climate change, but could have been pretty easily.

UPDATE:  I can't resist adding this from William:
This is just silly, you need to slap yourself about the face with a wet fish and reconsider.
I might have to try that the next time I get stuck on a problem.


Florifulgurator said...

On the "provocative paper". Methinks the most provocative aspect is its contiuing the pipe dream of CCS. Classic technological overkill.

Here's how it could work, planet wide, small scale as well as large scale, doing it stone age as well as doing it hyper tech: Make char coal. (No, not BBQ char coal, which still contains most of the energy.) Make a fire, throw the embers in water, marinate in urine for some months, then sequester the captured carbon in gardens and fields and forests. The benefits for soil productivity alone makes this profitable. But the char does not rot (in centuries) and catalyzes more soil organic carbon formation (if done right). Voila, there's your CCS!

Of course this takes playing with dirt and caring about soil life. Nothing for the Late Homo S "Sapiens".

If you need to, desperately, you can have some fancy tech like
1) carbon negative combined heat and power generation (like this German machine) or
2) a wood gas driven hybrid car using a micro gas turbine (someone should give it a try, go here for some data).

This stuff is even economically superior to using oil. The fossil fool's cost of one ton of biochar is ca. -300$

--Martin Gisser

Anonymous said...

I only skimmed the provocative paper, then did a quick ctrl+f search for a few terms. It doesn't seem that the proposal takes into account any kind of potential tipping points, ocean acidification, or other climate gotchas that would make the overshot-and-then-boomeranged climate system incomparable to the climate before the threshold was reached. There's no mention of what might happen, for example, if the Arctic is allowed to thaw out for the extra couple of generations that their model allows in the overshot scenarios.
I did the same (very cursory) search of their supplemental materials with similar results.

I realize that this isn't supposed to be an in-depth analysis so much as a first look into the idea. It would have been nice to see these kinds of issues mentioned in the paper, though, just to head off any premature trumpeting and spin by those who want to delay serious action on the climate.

Fortunately I don't think the denialists, rejectionists, or obstructionists will even deign to talk up this paper since it explicitly lends credibility to the situation they don't want to own up to: everybody else is right and climate change DOES need immediate action.


Anonymous said...

Jay Alt writes:
Re 3. The argument- 'Do little now, since AGW solutions are always cheaper for future generations.' should've been put to rest by recent economic sunamis. But bad ideas rarely meet such a fate. We already know it is scientifically bankrupt to do nothing since delta T = f(Cumulative emissions).
That theme has been touted for 30 years by the likes of Fred Singer. When in that long history of avoiding the problem did costs drop due to waiting? Did the cost of wind and solar power drop because EU & Germany twiddled their thumbs expecting a research breakthrough? No. Improvements happened incrementally in turbines due to competition, a steady market, etc resulting in a typical industrial cost reduction curve. The steady solar PV demand from Germany (and recently US) was enough to trigger a flurry of economic responses. Low Chinese labor costs, movement away from semi-conductor style batch processing to continuous processes. There was finally enough market for PV silicon to trigger refiners to invest in plants that make Six-9s silicon rather than selling semiconductor grade rejects.
Waiting is not a path to a low-carbon world.
Waiting is an immoral response.

Jeffrey Davis said...

Net zero by 2060.

1. We're at ~.9C or warming. When we get to 2C of warming, the GHG contribution from melting tundra and taiga will match current human contributions. That isn't an on and off switch. That means current Arctic contributions will grow. So, it's possible to imagine the globe running in place, GHG-wise. We cut back industrial production while outgassing from melting Arctic soil matches our cuts.

3. Profit!

Gaz said...

FYI, The Australian government has announced a change from a carbon tax to an emissions trading (cap'n'trade) scheme a year earlier than planned, ie in July 2014 rather than July 2015.

The reason is because the tax, always an interim measure, was the focus of an unrelenting scare campaign by the (conservative coalition) opposition.

I would suggest anyone wondering whether a carbon tax may be better than a cap'n'trade scheme should consider how easy it is for the coal lobby to characterise a carbon tax as a "Great Big New Tax".

In Australia, this negative campaign has been successful even though the tax was only going to raise 0.4% of GDP this year and be fully recycled back into the economy via tax cuts, pension increases, and business subsidies.

Just remember, the same people who've figured out they can convince a significant number of people that the laws of physics don't apply, have also figured out they can do the same for the laws of economics.

The fact that the tax has had no effect on economic growth or unemployment has not stopped large numbers of feckless boneheads from believing that it has.

I think it's likely that delayers and deniers will prefer a tax because of its greater vulnerability to fear campaigns.

Martin Vermeer said...

Gaz, I seem to remember that this was an important reason why Kyoto went for C&T. Tax is a four-letter word

bill said...

Seems Tony doesn't believe in The Market now, either.

I look forward to his denunciation of 'The Invisible Hand' with considerable interest...

bill said...

It's all rather inconsistent, you know; after all, Tony believes in lots of interesting and magical things...

Our slide into The Full Stupid as of later this year is not as inevitable as it was only a few weeks ago, but it's not all that evitable, either. The spirit of James Watt - 'G': not the good one - hovers over the Australian landscape. Poor fellow my country.

Aaron said...

#3 is just dumb. The economic concept of more wealth in the future rests on the assumption of the continued production of wealth from current assets. Climate change in the form of drought, flood, and storm is consuming assets. Climate change is reducing our wealth at an increasing pace. In a time of rapid global warming, future wealth will likely be much less.

#3 is like burning down your uninsured factory because every knows everyone will be richer tomorrow, and you can buy a new factory. No! the folks are dumb enough to burn down their factories will not be richer tomorrow.

The folks that are richer tomorrow are those who do the necessary to keep their current assets in good order. If we want to be richer, we need to make what every sacrifices are required to stop AGW before it consumes all of our resources.

Brian Dodge said...

I tried saving some of the cost of replacing brake pads on my car by allowing some overshoot at red lights. It worked! I now no longer have to worry about replacing brake pads(or tires, gasoline, engine oil, pretty much anything). If the cost of replacing shoe leather becomes exorbitant, I can always walk barefoot.

Brian said...

gaz - I think it's telling that the Australian politicians who want to do something about climate change think they're more likely to get through with cap and trade than a tax.

Brian Dodge - that's a really good analogy, I think, except that the proponents will say you only have to somewhat overshoot the red light once. Maybe it'll work out! What a great system for risk management, though.