Tuesday, July 02, 2013

More environmental "just as" can win the climate fight

(I wonder if bad puns will be enough to get Eli to kick me off the blog.)

My well-ordered response to Obama's speech and plan keeps getting delayed, so some random thoughts instead:

The reference to regulating existing power plants is comprehensive, not just about coal plants. This might seem unimportant but I think it fits well with NRDC's proposal for state level emission regulations for existing coal and gas plants. I've referenced it before, and the more I read it, the better I think it does in providing a price for carbon without expressly crossing the line of providing a price for carbon. To summarize, it sets a different emission limit for power plants for each state, with the limit always stricter than what coal can do. The limit is less strict if a state has lots of coal and fewer gas plants, but in such a state there will be many more coal plants that have to take action. Coal plants can't physically meet the limit, but they can make trades like subsidizing energy conservation and renewables, and those trades will set up de facto prices for carbon. As always, RTFP.

The devilish detail is how strict your emission limits will be. Likely it will ratchet over time, so more reason to keep electing non-Republicans to the White House, at least until a Republican accepts science.

For those who think the lack of the detail makes the plan completely meaningless, investors in coal disagreed in the two week run-up to his speech (which I think is a good time frame, the rumors of what Obama was doing were out for several weeks).

EDF had a good podcast discussing Obama's plan, worth your time as always. They gave a nod to their friendly competition at NRDC, more evidence that NRDC's proposal has oomph. They also pass on a rumor that the Keystone decision will be further delayed, which is good. Delays are good when you're fighting defense, because your goal is to not lose.

Eli's already pointed to Ray's excellent Slate article. My one disagreement with Ray is about controlling non-CO2 gases. Ray says they're short-lived and so can be controlled at a future point, and action on them now distracts from the need to cut long-lived CO2. I think that cutting them now means we don't need to use political capital to cut them in the future. More importantly, I think that success builds on success. When we can say "just as we controlled ozone-depleting chemicals, just as we limited HFCs, just as we slashed methane, so we will do the same on CO2", then we're in much better position. This is especially true on international action, where denialists are depending on futility arguments. Ray says he's got a more definitive argument coming up though, so we'll see.

15 comments:

raypierre said...

If you think political capital is finite (as I do, and as you seem to), then it makes no sense to spend political capital now to control the short-lived stuff, since any political capital you use now to control the short lived stuff is political capital you can't use now to control CO2. The CO2 will stick-around forever, so you will wind up with a worse outcome if you expend capital (political or otherwise) to control short lived stuff that you could have used on CO2. For the short-lived stuff, there's, by contrast, no harm in waiting a hundred years for more political capital to accrue, and then do something about it then. The problem goes away within a decade or so of when you take action. Not so for CO2, whose effects are essentially irreversible. How could anything be more simple?

For a preview of the more definitive argument, you can take a look at my article with Susan Solomon and Damon Matthews, but I'm going into more detail in something I'm currently writing for Annual Reviews. Probably, I'll put something short and zippy (no equations) out for Slate before the AREPS article goes to press, though.

raypierre said...

The "success builds on success" argument is a nice political speculation, and you are welcome to it if you like it. I can build nice political speculations, too, like the idea that politicians will say, "Aha, we did HFC's, so we can tick off the box that we've done something for climate and forget about CO2 for now." I'll match my speculation against yours anyday, but I basically don't put much credence in any political predictions. On the otherhand, we know with certainty that every 100 gigatonnes C (as CO2) we keep out of the atmosphere shaves another .2C or so off of future irreversible warming, so I'd put my money on going all out to get the maximum CO2 reduction we can. Nothing succeeds like success, and the only success that really counts for climate is reduction of CO2. Plenty of time to do the other stuff later, once we've got CO2 under control. If we DON'T get CO2 under control, I don't think we'll be worrying much about the comparatively piddling radiative forcing from the other stuff.

Russell Seitz said...

"The CO2 will stick-around forever, so you will wind up with a worse outcome if you expend capital (political or otherwise) to control short lived stuff that you could have used on CO2. For the short-lived stuff, there's, by contrast, no harm in waiting a hundred years for more political capital to accrue, and then do something about it then. The problem goes away within a decade or so of when you take action. "

Doesn't this shift the HCFC debate , to the question of refrigeration efficiency, and hence CO2 emission savings, rather than short-lived forcing from IR active refigerants ??

I haven't sen the question explicitly modeled.

raypierre said...

Russell sez:
"Doesn't this shift the HCFC debate , to the question of refrigeration efficiency, and hence CO2 emission savings, rather than short-lived forcing from IR active refigerants ??"

and I say "Smart man!" With the exception that you should be talking about HFC's, not HCFC's. Some of the HCFC's have rather long lifetimes, and so there's more justification for getting rid of them sooner, and that's already a done deal more or less through the Montreal Protocol so the political capital has already been spent and there's no reason to undo it. HFC's are short-lived, except for HFC23 which isn't really a refrigerant but just a nasty byproduct of making HCFC's, which are going to be phased out.

But for HFC's, if HFC replacements were to lead to less efficient refrigeration, that would tend to increase CO2 emissions, and that's a BAD THING. Better to use HFC's longer until a better replacement came along, or until electricity is decarbonized in that case. Similar issues for use of HFC's in cheap home insulation. Similar issues if methane leakage concerns lead to less fracking and more coal burning. Similar issues if black carbon control leads to less use of efficient diesel engines and hence more carbon emissions.

With few exceptions, control of the short-lived stuff is not a free lunch.

I'll have a bit of discussion of some of these things in my Ann. Rev. article, but there isn't room for much.

Brian said...

The problem with political speculations is that it's hard to say anything rigorous about them. That doesn't decrease their importance though.

raypierre said...

Regarding Brian's comment on political speculations ---

I would say that the difficulty of saying anything rigorous about political speculations means that if you have a choice between making a decision based on scientific predictions vs. making a decision based on political speculation, the former wins when it has a clear implication.

Russell Seitz said...

Raypierre:

I should have made the Hf-HCF distinction, but didn't want to sound like a Dow salesman.

I am however also concerned lest the gung ho drive for Green Refrigerants lead to the revival of NH3 , SO2 and other compounds that helped make the depression depressing- Ammonia burns in both senses and SO2 can blind you in you sleep as well, which is why early refrigerators were often kept on the back porch.

Mal Adapted said...

Everybunny's cryin' "Justice!", "just as" long as there's business first!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Du8W8xL-1LI

Russell Seitz said...

Speaking of business, the latesr advance in Japanese organlegging should make Ethon's 4th of July.

Brian said...

Some random thoughts:

I think political capital is finite but malleable - it can grow or diminish depending on how well it's handled. That's political speculation.

The worst climate impacts will be in the more distant future, 50-100 years from now. Actions that reduce the impacts that occur at that time provide the maximum benefit, regardless of whether the actions occur then or now.

Reducing short-lived gases now means we will have to do less reduction 50-100 years from now, or can do the reduction sooner or more completely. IOW, reducing short term gases now has a long term benefit. That's political speculation. OTOH, saying it won't have that effect is also political speculation. I don't think this is a science versus politics issue.

I think it's fair to say some present political capital will be spent on controlling short term gases. I think we'll get it back with interest by succeeding on them, but that's political speculation. So is the argument that its success will diminish willpower to do more on climate.

I think we can rack up successes on short term gases that we can't get on CO2, particularly in China and India. IOW, this isn't between incrementally better achievements on CO2 versus big action on short-term gases - it's between no improvement on CO2 versus action on short term gases. Again, political speculation on my part.

I have to pass some type of credibility threshold for this argument. I can't say that doing nothing on CO2 currently and spending all our effort on developing fusion reactors will increase political willpower in the future and that it's speculation to claim otherwise.

I would guess that the polisci literature may have dealt with the issue of whether success breeds success, but I'm not familiar with the literature.

EliRabett said...

Russell, ammonia is still used in large commercial refrigeration set ups, where it belongs. AFAEK it was never used in home units for obvious reasons. As a young bunny, the Rabett remembers the ice man dropping by with a 50 lb block of solid water.

raypierre said...

Don't know if anybody else is still listening, but Brian, you've succumbed to the same short lived gas delusion as a lot of others. Reducing short lived emissions NOW does not reduce warming in a hundred years. What reduces warming in a hundred years is the reduction in, say, methane or HFC that STARTS about 90 years from now. Whatever you paid up front to get the methane/HFC down sooner is mostly money down the drain, since it doesn't help the goal. What's more, you wind up spending more than you need because future technology will make it cheaper to achieve the reductions, and also in the normal way of discounting, you can invest money now in something productive and use the gains to pay for short-lived reduction in the future. This is one of the few cases in which conventional discounting really does apply. What's even more, something around half of the potential methane reductions would be gotten "for free" as a co-benefit of ultimate cessation of fossil fuel usage, whereas you have to pay cold-hard cash up front if you do the methane reductions now, rather than later.

So, all you're really left with is your fuzzy and unsubstantiated argument that "success breeds success." Not much of an argument on which to pin the fate of the world.

Hank Roberts said...

> half of the potential methane
> reductions would be gotten "for
> free" as a co-benefit of ultimate
> cessation of fossil fuel usage

How much difference does it make if AMEG gets their "depressurizing" drilling going to tap gas from around clathrate deposits, rather than leaving it alone, any estimate? I figure just the added infrastructure they'd be wanting is alreay a rathole.

But if it doesn't make much difference in the longrun I'll quit snarking at their Make Money Fast approach to climate amelioration.

Hank Roberts said...

> ammonia refrigeration

Berkeley's last ice skating rink closed a few days ago because of the risks associated with their old large commercial ammonia system.

Apparently a good wide area of open space is healthy to have around such chemical tanks. Who knew?

Pave it with solar panels, put a geothermal sink/source trench under it, and do the same with parking lots and other buffer spaces around any dangerous facility, is my suggestion.

Hank Roberts said...

Not many compared to the population, and the era, but there were some:

http://www.idsa.org/ge-monitor-top-refrigerator-1927

The first successful domestic refrigerator to enter full scale production in the US was the Kelvinator, in 1918....

Frigidaire, purchased by General Motors in 1919, introduced its first home refrigerator in 1921 ....

By 1923, there were 56 companies making refrigerators, using sulfur dioxide, methyl chloride, or ammonia gases, all of which were dangerously toxic.

....

Freon was discovered in 1930 by Delco chemist Thomas Midgely. Non-toxic, Freon was adopted by all manufacturers, and refrigerators became safe for use in the home.