Open Thread

For continued discussion of things that have gone on a while … Be nice.

59 responses to “Open Thread

  1. Regrettably, comments to the article “Global Warming: How Long Do We Have Left?” have been closed.

    This is in reply to the comment by Doc Snow, who advocagted fee & dividend as a climate solution, citing “BC, where the carbon tax has had a measurable effect on emissions.”

    The sector of BC’s economy which is subject to BC’s carbon tax has actually increased its emissions from the time the carbon tax was put in place. What improvements BC has accomplished were in the sectors that are directly regulated instead of being under the carbon tax. See the Food & Water Watch report “The British Columbia Carbon Tax: A Failed Experiment in Market-Based Solutions to Climate Change”

    • I remember reading something on the BC tax, many years ago and the article showed that BC’s emissions were already on a downward path when the tax was introduced and simply continued down, at the time. Compared to other territories it didn’t seem to have had much of an effect. As you say, BC’s emissions are increasing, as reported in this article.

      I think we have to be careful when declaring any initiative a success after very little data and without looking at the bigger picture. Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, territorial emissions are not the full picture, in any case.

    • That’s an interesting analysis, and thanks for providing it. Still, I would hesitate to declare victory, if I were you.

      First, it’s a different way of looking at the success or failure of the scheme than prior analyses, which have compared BC emissions to pan-Canadian ones over the same time frame. Those have previously found that BC emissions followed a lower trajectory than the rest of the country. I can’t help but ask myself why this current report doesn’t address this type of metric, relying instead on purely internal BC data (apparently–I’m so far just going by the summary linked.)

      Second, there is in fact a marked drop in taxed emissions immediately following the introduction of the tax, and there’s a falling trend out four or five years from that date (albeit one that is by far largest in the first year). Yet rather than acknowledging that obvious fact, they seem to try to rationalize it away:

      The one-time drop in emissions from 2008 to 2009 does not appear to be driven by the carbon tax. The average annual year-to-year change in taxed greenhouse gas emissions barely changed after the carbon tax went into effect.

      Well, it’s not really ‘one-time, as noted. But beyond that, I don’t even know what they mean by “average annual year-to-year change in taxed greenhouse gas emissions”. Are they trying to characterize the variability of the year-to-year data? If so, what time spans are they considering? And why, exactly, *should* a carbon tax–relatively stable over time–affect the year-to-year variability anyway? In short, I don’t see why their ‘supporting evidence’ for dismissing the drop in emissions actually supports dismissing it.

      Third, the comparison of taxed vs. untaxed emissions strikes me as a red herring. They seem to want to suggest that it’s like an experimental control: the ‘treated’ vs. ‘untreated’ components of the economy. But that kind of comparison only works if all other factors are equal–and they are not. The untaxed things are sectors such as land use and cement-making (IIRC, at least). So the drivers in those sectors are quite distinct from those in taxed sectors like petroleum refining.

      My take: Emissions are not driven purely by the tax; many other factors come into play. (And they still would if you substituted straight regulation for the tax, one way or another.) In particular, I think markets work by ‘pricing in’ costs, such as a carbon tax. Once the tax was fully phased in, and markets had adjusted to the price change, BC was essentially at a new, lower equilibrium. But other factors–population increase, economic growth, demand–still *do* change, and can drive trends. That doesn’t mean the tax hasn’t worked at all, or that it has stopped working; decisions will still be driven in part by the cost it imposes on emissions, so increases (or decreases) will be from a lower baseline value. But visible changes in emissions will be driven by factors that *are* themselves exhibiting change.

      As I say, that would be my interpretation, right now. Looking at the comparable Canadian data could help clarify.

      I anticipate that the response will be, “Well and good, but we still need to see emissions decrease.” True! But I’ve never said that the only thing we should or must do is a carbon tax, just that it appears to be something that can be highly effective if done right.

      If Trudeau’s government does succeed in bringing in their national-level carbon tax (sadly, that’s no longer the sure thing it initially seemed) that would be much more effective than a single province doing so, since nation can impose carbon tariffs that provinces can’t, thus limiting so-called ‘leakage.’ And if the amount of the tax–BC’s is a modest $30/ton, limited by political concerns about said ‘leakage’ damaging the provincial economy–then you’d see a much more robust response.

      Mike said “I think we have to be careful when declaring any initiative a success after very little data and without looking at the bigger picture.” That is, of course, true–but it’s just as true if you substitute the word “failure” for the word “success”.

      • Of course, “before declaring any initiative a success or a failure”. I’ve been digging around a little and found this chart from Statistics Canada showing GDP growth for various regions of Canada and it seems BC underperformed the national GDP growth for the three years following the introduction of the tax. I don’t know if a tax was introduced elsewhere in Canada but, for a better picture of how the tax may have affected things, one should look at how other areas did, rather than just compare against the nation as a whole, since there may be several factors involved in any data trend.

        Although I’m a bit of a pessimist when it comes to looking for success stories about what is being done to mitigate climate change, I think we need to look at supposed success stories very critically otherwise we’re at risk of being complacent about what needs to be done. I seem to remember Al Gore virtually declaring victory in a Ted speech a couple of years ago. Nothing could be further from the truth.

      • Mike, that’s not what more rigorous analysis has found on that front. For example, note the table comparing BC with the rest of Canada through 2014 in this analysis:

        And note that the ‘outperforming’ provinces were the petro-provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan! Theirs is not the example we want to follow!*

        I would agree with Russell that a really full study of such examples as the BC tax would be desirable, so we really understand in depth what we might expect from them. But I’d regard the claim, advanced as fact, that such approaches don’t work, as a rather extraordinary one. And i’m not seeing much real evidence for it.

        *Digression: Well, except that Alberta is now bringing in a carbon levy on, essentially on liquid fuels–ie., they are not taxing their coal-heavy electric generation.

        They are partially rebating the money directly, partially giving tax relief to small business, and partially spending it on mitigation measures:

        $1.6 billion over 3 years to provide carbon levy rebates to over 60% of Albertans to offset costs associated with the carbon levy
        $680 million over 3 years to support Alberta’s transition away from coal-generated electricity, including financial supports for coal workers and communities, and to cap electricity prices to protect families, farms and small businesses
        $662 million over 3 years to support energy efficiency projects to help Albertans and businesses reduce energy use
        $145 million over 3 years to support climate leadership initiatives in Indigenous communities
        $1.3 billion in funding for a variety of programs to enable greater public use of transit
        $521 million over 3 years to support innovation and technology development
        $386 million over 3 years for future programming or an expansion of existing programs and initiatives, as well as funding for delivery of programming across government

        An additional $632 million will provide tax relief to businesses through the small business tax rate cut and the Capital Investment Tax Credit – Clean Tech Stream.

        Concurrently, they have an RE goal to begin to address the generation issue–5 GW of RE capacity by 2030. They are a northern jurisdiction, but also a dryish one, so their solar resource is not bad, and those prairies in the eastern part of the province make for some good winds.

      • Doc, I don’t think I claimed that “such approaches don’t work” but I don’t see evidence that they do. Indeed, without consumption based emissions data, we can’t tell either way.

        I think it would be great if taxing carbon worked but I just don’t think the evidence is there. Perhaps we’ll see if it has any effect in my country, New Zealand, where petrol prices have just increased by about 5% in the most populous city, Auckland. After a couple of months, I’m not detecting any decrease in petrol consumption (though that’s anecdotal, of course, at this stage). The reason for the extra tax isn’t environmental but I can’t see how that changes the dynamic.

      • No, I don’t think you said that either, Mike, but that did seem to me to be a fair paraphrase of Larry’s original comment, and that was what I was referring to.

        The carbon tax is a specific case of what are in general called “Pigovian (or ‘Pigouvian’) taxes,” after the British economist, Arthur Pigou, who suggested and researched them.

        Perhaps the biggest test in real-world terms is the taxing of cigarettes in order to discourage smoking. And there the record is really not that clear; sure enough, smoking has declined enormously–from over 40% to around 15%–but taxation was just one tool in the toolbox used. Notably, public education and restrictive legislation on advertising and physical spaces available for smoking were both important tools. So it’s not clear how much credit cigarette taxes should get.

        Although there is evidence that today, further tax raises don’t produce much additional ‘quitting.’ As the economists say, the demand has become ‘inelastic.’

        It may be that the same is true WRT carbon mitigation–we need more tools than just Pigovian taxation. If so, the current Republican plan’s prohibition on direct regulation could be a true ‘poison pill.’

        Which brings us back to the desirability of breaking GOP control of Congress. As Tamino said to US readers, this November VOTE CLIMATE!

    • I would favour fee and dividend if I trusted politicians to implement it properly – and I don’t. So I’d just go with a straight carbon tax, which is pretty much fee and dividend, but without fancy financial instruments…

      But if you look at fee and dividend at a fundamental level it says something like, “Everyone is entitled to emit 2 tonnes of CO2 per year. Emit less, and you can sell your unused CO2 to someone who wants to emit more. Want to emit more? Then you’ll have to buy the right from someone who has emitted less”. On the surface, people like me would come out well ahead, because my emissions are low. But I’m thinking inside my own country (Australia). In reality this is a worldwide problem. And the sensible per capita emission allowance for the world might only be 0.5 tonnes or so. Which means I have to pay someone in a third world country for my excess emissions.

      Now I happen to reckon that this is perfectly reasonable. Except that (a) I don’t trust some countries to estimate their emissions correctly, and (b) I certainly don’t trust their governments to get the money I pay to the right people.

      So I’d rather have a straight up carbon tax, with the bulk of the money raised going as foreign aid to help developing nations develop low emission power generation.

      And I find the argument that somehow a fee and dividend approach doesn’t reduce emissions to be utterly wrong.

    • I’m not convinced we’ve seen a carbon price implemented anywhere that has been applied with real conviction and that has not included numerous exemptions and compromises, let alone applied at levels consistent with the scale of the climate problem. Those industries directly effected tend to be opposed and their use of economic fear still undermines most attempts to apply such methods at levels needed. Alarmist economic fear and undermining confidence in climate science have been the mainstay memes, used still to great effect.

      I think the nature of longer term energy infrastructure investments should be the real measure of their effectiveness rather than shorter term direct changes to emissions – although they are clearly related. Like weather and climate. However, short term responses to carbon pricing aren’t always what was desired – in Australia for example, Tasmanian Hydro operators took advantage of a commercial opportunity, and ran their water reserves down lower than usual in pursuit of short term profits; it backfired because lower than expected rainfall failed to bring levels back up. A significant problem with supply resulted. Note that their initial response was not in investment decisions.

      Yet a decade later, after the carbon price was repealed, plans for future infrastructure investments that can make Hydro more suited to an emerging role as backup to renewables have emerged. We can’t ever know what would have happened had the carbon pricing mechanism remained and been used more aggressively, but I suspect such planning to make Tasmanian Hydro a significant energy storage system would have emerged earlier. I would still like to see carbon pricing used more, preferably without concessions to the very industries that are the biggest emitters; it’s not like investors have had no warning.

      But I do wonder if we are not seeing a de-facto pricing of carbon emerge as a consequence of increased proportions of low cost intermittent solar and wind; the reduction of the daytime peak demand in Australia due to solar for example – reduces the profitability of fossil fuel plants. I expect greater proportions of solar and wind will continue to make unresponsive generation like old coal and, by default, nuclear as well, less commercially viable, whilst the economic value of responsive supply (gas, hydro and batteries) is increased.

      Nuclear is always going to require it’s own suite of regulations and support mechanisms, which can be used to insulate it from unfavourable market conditions – a low emissions subsidy perhaps, in the absence of being a beneficiary of broader carbon pricing.

      Ultimately the mire of climate politics prevents the lack of clear policy being applied consistently and with conviction; foresight and planning are, like truth, amongst the first casualties.

      • Certainly the case of British Columbia, arguably successful (see previous discussion for caveats), still evinces that. The top rate was limited to $30/ton for fear of ‘leakage’; and there were some broad exemptions as well, the motivation for which was fear of disadvantaging extant business.

        Similarly the EU cap-and-trade system, which basically handed out credits like candy at the start, resulting in carbon prices so low as to be pretty meaningless. (Actually to zero, in 2007.) As the caps tighten, the system should gain in effectiveness, and there’s some evidence of that happening (ie., an increasing trend in credit prices finally emerged.) But you have to ask, is 10 wasted years a reasonable trade-off for political palatability? Particularly when one of the results was windfall profit for fossil-fuel generation operators? This sort of thing has an opportunity cost!

        But because a thing can be done badly does not mean that it should never be attempted, nor that it’s not worth learning to do well.

  2. Susan Anderson

    Two entries for an open thread, thanks for creating it:

    1. NYTimes covers exporting emissions, an important point (we are almost all guilty as charged): Unfortunately, not much reader response to this: “You’ve Heard of Outsourced Jobs, but Outsourced Pollution? It’s Real, and Tough to Tally Up”

    2. A68 (huge Antarctic berg that broke last winter) has moved. Neat 30 second video, “Master iceberg’s pivot and turn”

    PS. Atlantic hurricane seasons seems to be revving up.

    • I’m eagerly awaiting the resulting hurricane induced swell on the north coast of South West England!,2237.msg171390.html#msg171390

      Florence is now a category 4 hurricane

      Since dropped back to 3, but forecast to increase again in due course.

      • Susan Anderson

        I’ll wait a few days. Looks bad, and more behind it. But if you have sympathy for all the victims, try Japan, wildfires, algae, red tide, etc. etc.

      • At present, it looks pretty likely that we’ll see some serious impacts here in South Carolina. Governor McMaster may be in denial about climate change, but he’s learned from the missteps of predecessors that you’d damn well better take hurricanes seriously in the Palmetto State, and has proactively declared a state of emergency.

        I’m starting to think about what steps we may want to take here; we’re 140 miles inland and better than 300 feet above sea level, so no worries personally about storm surge. And we took down the most threatening trees on our property earlier this year, so I’m not too worried about wind damage, either. We’re also well above any plausible flood level–if we ever got enough water, fast enough, to threaten the house, the dam at the downstream end of the lake would probably fail first.

        So I’m thinking I probably need to plan for a worst case of several days without power. Out here in the boonies, we won’t be the first to get it back.

    • David B. Benson

      Chris Halstead is simply wrong about nuclear power but this is not the place to detail his errors. Instead, in a separate post, I will suggest the virtues of growing lots of greenery.

  3. David B. Benson

    Yes, the carbon dioxide concentration is now 400+ ppm and steadily growing. Yes, the last time the concentration in the atmosphere was that high was during the mid-Pliocene when the sea stand was about 25 meters higher than now. If the carbon dioxide concentration is kept at 400+ ppm for some centuries the sea stand will be that elevated again.

    So stop that. Ending of the burning of so-called fossil fuels will be part of it and the carbon dioxide concentration will decrease for the next 100,000 years or so. See “The Long Thaw” by University of Chicago climatologist David Archer.

    But if that takes too long for you, consider “Irrigated Afforestation of the Sahara desert and the Australian outback …” by Ornstein et al., with the pdf freely available for you to read the full version. Completing all that, it would take some time, results in removing at least 2 ppm of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per annum, provided that all fossil fuel use is curtailed or the CO2 is sequestered. To energize the desalination I suggest a combination of solar panels in the short run and nuclear power plants in the longer term.

    Affordable? The USA currently spends well over $700 billion per annum on the military. Half that would certainly make for a big public works project. Assign it to the Army Corps of Engineers.

    • Corps of Engineers? Well, that’s my thoughts, too, but ask a conservative whether to spend a trillion dollars slaughtering untold hundreds of thousands to fight a group of people who supported the dead folks who killed 3000 people, or to spend a trillion dollars to prevent the deaths of billions and the destruction of the biosphere. The conservative will look at you like you’re crazy. There is NO upper limit to spending when it comes to fighting our “enemies” and there is NEVER any reason to interfere with the Godly Invisible hand of Capitalism. (And besides, fighting climate change would require the writing off of untold zillions of dollars in fossil reserves and infrastructure, and that, my friend, is not acceptable – unless, of course, the poor are taxed so as to compensate the rich for their losses.)

      Basically, conservatives reject any and all data that doesn’t support their “religious” beliefs.

  4. A request, Tamino-san.

    Loooong ago you posted on the PDO, promising to investigate further:

    PDO, like ENSO, has impacts throughout the Pacific ocean and surrounding landmasses, including nontrivial effect in the southern hemisphere. In upractical terms, one of the greatest differences about PDO is that its root cause remains a mystery. Predicting its future course is not yet possible, and the true character of its long-term patterns is difficult to define because of the limited time span (compared to the time scale of long-term changes) of direct observations.

    In an imminent post, I’ll take a look at the patterns present in observed and proxy-reconstructed PDO estimates, and discuss how it may be related to the climate change earth is now experiencing.

    Far as I can tell you didn’t follow up on that. If so, I’d love to know which post.

    The PDO and AMO cycles are a big deal in ‘skeptic’ circles, for explaining the rise in global temps. Sometimes a combination of both, sometimes one or the other is touted as the primary cause or the major contributing factor.

    It would be great to get a statistical take on these cycles and their potential impact (if any) on global temps).

  5. “I think we have to be careful when declaring any initiative a success after very little data and without looking at the bigger picture”

    Agree completely. I have spent a fair amount of time trying to find evidence of any carbon tax success demonstrated in a properly-done study. I do not think it exists.

    One does not see analyses where other factors are taken into account – the vast majority of reports simply document a simple correlation between the initiation of a carbon tax and various (different) variables. And even then, most reports show failure to produce any significant effect.

    And a variable never discussed, which I would argue is the only meaningful outcome, would be whether the CT in question resulted in a significant increase in the construction and deployment of new RE infrastructure.

    Another troubling aspect of the issue of CT’s, is the lack of discussion about whether it is a better idea than targeted subsidies. In the U.S., until the Republicans lose their majorities, we can not have both. Any discussion of a CT is predicated on the elimination of all RE subsidies.

    Every dollar of a targeted subsidy buys RE infrastructure. So far, the effect of CT’s has generally been small decreases in fossil fuel use or increases in wood burning because of the economic austerity imposed by the CT. But if the punitive nature of a CT on consumers does not translate into macro decisions by giant corporations (and, really, let’s be honest – how could it?) should we even be going down this road at all?

    Here is NREL report discussing the lack of proper rigor of CT analyses:

    [page 23]

    “Efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of existing carbon taxes have been limited. Some studies assessing carbon emissions levels in countries that instituted taxes in the early 1990s show overall GHG emissions reductions, with some as high as 15%. However, these studies have generally not attempted to account for the impact of other carbon mitigation policies. Most
    recently implemented carbon taxes emphasize evaluation and estimating impacts, but their effectiveness remains to be seen. ”


  6. Whilst pondering the extent of pollution and waste it became apparent to me that CO2 is probably the single largest waste product humankind currently produces – and by a very large margin. My (very rough) back of envelope calculations based on an average Australian – a more average Australian than me – came up with 6 times more CO2 than all other waste combined.

    Usually wastewater is counted as the largest single form of waste, however it is much more water than waste – much as combustion exhaust gases are more air than CO2. With biosolids waste counted rather than total wastewater (like the Australian National Waste Report 2016 that I used does) an average Australian makes 2.7 metric tons of waste each year, versus over 17 metric tons of CO2.

    I’ve been following the climate issue for a long time now, but I was and am shocked at that. In all the publicised debates about climate change or about pollution I don’t recall anyone ever referring to CO2 as our most abundant waste product.

    • I suspect that you’re correct Ken. I drive a jelly bean and take public transport and ride-share whenever I can, and I am very strict on unnecessary trips, but I still produce about ten times more direct waste carbon than I do all the other wastes combined (more with embodied carbon accounted for…).

      I’ve managed to whittle down actual ‘garbage’ to an almost negligible amount, home power is renewable, and no water or organic material leaves my property (the benefits of not having utilities…) but transport carbon is the killer. If we had a decent public transport system I’d be looking mostly at embodied carbon as my contribution to emissions, but Australia is still decades away from an enlightened public transport policy…

      • Nothing is secret about just how much CO2 or that we make more of it than any other waste, nor of it’s major sources although it is not simple easy to get a reliable accounting. Smokestacks and exhaust pipes are all around us, in full view, but largely go unnoticed.

        Enlightened transport policy or any enlightened policy around fossil fuel use is in short supply in more places than Australia, but as someone who too often knows better but ends up doing – or not doing – something anyway, I think leaving things to informed personal lifestyle decisions won’t ever be enough.

        We need some enlightened leadership – no, we need a lot of enlightened leadership – most of all by those holding positions of trust, responsibility, influence and power. Aiming for zero emissions isn’t extremism and the alarmist fears of economic disaster being it’s unacceptable cost are no longer so compelling in the face of renewable energy successes. Divestment is making inroads in investment choices. I’m cautiously optimistic that ending excess fossil fuel use will become a goal that can exist within the Overton Window.

  7. David B. Benson There is not much sign of any afforestation (or reforestation) in South Australia or Australia
    Our state government would prefer to burn the dirt rather than plant ‘native plants’.
    “The Government’s approval means the group is able to commence a three-month trial of underground coal gasification — a process that involves setting fire to coal underground to extract synthetic gas, known as syngas.”
    and it may not be entirely clear what parts of any of these biomes will cope with the changes.

  8. “They know Australia is working to slow down action on meeting Paris targets, they know Australia is promoting coal, and they know it’s going to cause a climate catastrophe. Australia has dedicated and able diplomats across the region, but the political leadership of the government is so far removed from reality, it opens up major problems for the country.”
    -Dr Bill Hare, managing director of Climate Analytics and a lead author on the IPCC fourth assessment report

  9. The following link is an excellent presentation of the Australian snow pack:

  10. John from London

    “Deadline for climate action – Act strongly before 2035 to keep warming below 2°C”

    “Using information from climate models, the team determined the deadline for starting climate action to keep global warming likely (with a probability of 67%) below 2°C in 2100, depending on how fast humanity can reduce emissions by using more renewable energy. Assuming we could increase the share of renewable energy by 2% every year, we would have to start doing so before 2035 (the point of no return).”

    I find this kind of science incredibly frustrating. What use is a 67% chance? Who would want to know this date? Given this information, what year do we *have* to start in order to have a 99-100% chance of staying under 2°C?

    Do climate scientists not realise the magnitude of the problem? Do they not realise that the actual problem – as far as seriously tackling global warming is concerned – is the psychological one, namely human procrastination.

    Do they not realise that, to a procrastinating person (and species), the year mentioned in a “67% chance” is going to be taken as the year that we can *wait until*? The 67% will be forgotten, if it was even noticed, and the 2035 will be taken as a deadline that’s comfortably far off so … there’s no hurry!

    The climate change emergency needs more psychologists, and probably advertising experts, and fewer climate scientists with their procrastination-enabling language.

    • +1 for that, John. Unfortunately, these graphs are drawn and it makes some people think that there isn’t a problem in staying below some limit because there is a curve we can go down. But you wouldn’t get on your bike to make a journey if there was only a 67% chance of your reaching the other end. Scientists, IMO, should concentrate on what is needed for, as you say, a 99% chance of avoiding breaching some limit.

      I saw a scenario today for warming no more than 1.4C by the end of the century. Apparently, there is a curve that gets us there (with huge negative emissions) but, to my mind, given that we’re at 1.2C+ already (by some estimates), it’s just not feasible to avoid warming of 1.5C. So why even show such curves?

      • I’m guessing that we passed the ‘99% chance’ window a long time back. So if they brought it up, it would just play into the ‘it’s too late to do anything, we’re all doomed’ meme. Which is, if anything, still less helpful.

      • Doc, you’re probably aware that I’m pretty vocal these days about the dim prospects for the planet. I am firmly of the belief that we should try with every fibre of our beings to mitigate from whatever point we’ve reach, but I am also firmly convinced that we should not pretend that it’s not bad, and that in being frank we ensure that those responsible for denial, dissembling and delay are held absolutely responsible for what they’re wrought.

        We cannot pretend that it’s going to be better than it is. Not because we should all be shocked into futility and inaction, but for the opposite – we should hold the worst offenders to account and disarm their influence, so that we can do our best to recover whatever shreds remain to be salvaged. And those who refuse to cooperate should pay the heaviest costs and penalties…

      • There’s a Scylla of over-optimism, which can indeed amount to a form of denial, and a Charibdis of over-pessimism, which can lead to despair, fatalism, and inaction, which at the least abets denialism.

        Unfortunately, there are large uncertainties affecting what will actually happen, not least those around what the collective human response will be. And there seems to be no shortage of folks who–in my opinion, at least–are nevertheless enormously certain that they are able to discern the future in detail, anyway. They, of course, will proclaim whatever truth they think they see.

        For the rest of us, it’s a matter of judgment, and best guesses, and different observers will make different assessments.

        Accordingly, it sounds as if you see it as somewhat toward the pessimistic end of the spectrum. I’d say, present your view. That will be a tonic for those who fail to say clearly “It will be bad.” But I appreciate that you are clear that the “bad” prognosis does not obviate the need for, nor point of, action.

        I also think that hardcore ‘doomers’ ought to just STFU and have another drink (or other anodyne of their choice.) If their detachment were really so Olympian, they’d presumably be able to find cynical enjoyment in the frantic scurryings of those trying to actually do something–and they’d be conveniently out of our way. (I seem to have badly mixed my Classical metaphors here, as I now have them simultaneously in Olympian heights and Charibdian depths. Oh, well.)

        There was a reason that the denialati published a book called “Unstoppable Global Warming.” And you can just bet it was highly tactical.

  11. Hello all,
    shameless plug (hope that’s OK, Tamino):
    On we are building a twitter like social network for earth scientist and enthusiasts.
    Head on over, check it out and sign up if you like.

  12. “Sweeney and Yang believe that a giant-clam-inspired bioreactor could be both cheaper and more productive than existing biofuel production methods. Whether they can build one is the question at hand.”

    I doubt there is much hope for giant clams in the long run but I have been wondering about the calcium carbonate production potential of terrestrial gastropods for co2 sequestration.
    Many species even eat decomposing plant matter….
    Would farming a combination of species be a viable sequestration model ?
    Especially if the protein produced was usable for other primary production.
    What of the pathogen issues associated with some gastropods ?
    Who wants to be my snail farming slave ;) ?

    …and thanks John of London for that link. I will send it through to my local MP who is also mining and energy minister…..

  13. Looks like Sheldon Walker has acknowledged you taught him something here
    Sadly doesnt appear to have learnt much…

  14. Currently at The Weather Channel:
    “Hurricane Florence will hammer the Carolinas and other parts of the Southeast for several days. While impacts from wind will be destructive, Florence’s rainfall is likely to trigger catastrophic flooding in some areas, and will flirt with all-time state rainfall totals from tropical cyclones.”

    From Wikipedia:
    “Hurricane Harvey of 2017 is the second costliest tropical cyclone in United States history … The hurricane inflicted $125 billion in damage, primarily from catastrophic rainfall-triggered flooding in the Houston metropolitan area. …. In a four-day period, many areas received more than 40 inches (1,000 mm) of rain as the system slowly meandered over eastern Texas and adjacent waters, causing unprecedented flooding.

    One can’t help noticing similarity in the way these storms linger over affected areas. Rainfall totals are also remarkable. Is there a trend? Is it scientifically traceable to more humidity, more evaporation, slower jet streams, etc.?

    • David B. Benson

      S.B. Ripman — Nonlinearly increasing rainfall with increased temperature is a robust prediction of climatology. See “Principles of Planetary Climate” by Ray Pierrehumbert.

  15. “The carbon tax is a specific case of what are in general called “Pigovian (or ‘Pigouvian’) taxes…
    Perhaps the biggest test in real-world terms is the taxing of cigarettes in order to discourage smoking. “

    Huge difference between cigarettes and fossil fuels. A cigarette tax affects the very people who make economic purchase decisions. A carbon tax, on the other hand, falls on consumers, who have zero influence on electric utility plans to build new Re rather than extract more profits from sunk FF infrastructure costs. They simply make little sense.

    About the only influence a CT might have on consumers is whether more expensive gasoline encourages them in a significant way to buy an EV rather than an ICE vehicle. We can see from past data that rises in gasoline costs does very little to influence that decision. Gasoline doubled in price a few years ago, and the only real result was a small dip in miles driven. Because of the economic hardship those price increases caused.

    Economic hardship, I would contend, is the worst possible way to get people to support RE. Rather, we should simply make RE less expensive than FF’s. And we know this works – Subsidies for electric vehicles, more efficient boilers, etc, significantly increase their sales. And every dollar of RE subsidies buys a dollar of RE. There has never been a study of any carbon tax which has even looked at such a metric. Because they would fail it.

    Again, there has never been a well-controlled analysis of any carbon tax which shows they are effective at any measure, let alone successful in encouraging new RE or more effective than RE subsidies would have been.

    This is important in the U.S., where the Republicans have said explicitly we can not have both a carbon tax AND subsidies. To even consider a CT, RE subsidies have to disappear to satisfy them. Fine with me. Much better to focus our time and energy increasing RE subsidies.

    • Subsidies involve picking winners and ultimately you pay for them in tax anyway. A fee and dividend approach to carbon tax means the poorer (who most certainly burn less FF than the rich) have their usage paid for by higher than average burners. If they can reduce FF further than their income is actually increased by the dividend. I suspect that in many places, RE is cheaper anyway if you just remove subsidies on FF. We have near 80% RE electricity generation without any subsidy.

      • If the income of the poor rises, due to the dividend, then surely they are even more likely to spend that increase than the well off? This would translate to more emissions by the poor but emissions by the well off would likely not go down much, even if their income decreases a little as a result of the tax. (BTW, I’m not against redistributing income, but I’m interested in whether a fee and dividend approach would decrease emissions by much, if at all).

        The most interesting idea I’ve heard off was something called Tradable Energy Quotas. A reducing total quota, year by year would ensure emissions reductions. I can’t see its ever being implemented, though.

      • “This is important in the U.S., where the Republicans have said explicitly we can not have both a carbon tax AND subsidies. To even consider a CT, RE subsidies have to disappear to satisfy them. Fine with me. Much better to focus our time and energy increasing RE subsidies.”

        Better to render GOP opinion on the topic meaningless by turfing them out of power; after all, they are unlikely to increase RE subsidies, either. Like it or not, they are hopelessly addicted to Big Fossil campaign donations (Koch donor network) and simultaneously terrified of being ‘primaried’ by someone still crazier than they are–with the support, naturally, of ‘alternate media’ such as Breitbart, which are completely dominated by FF propaganda. (Not surprisingly, since the creation of such was no fluke, but rather a strategy for social engineering by the oligarchs, along with parallel efforts in academia. law, and politics. See accounts such as Jane Mayer’s Pulitzer-winning “Dark Money.”)

        One moral of which is:


        Returning to the more general point, gingerbaker’s argument also fails because taxes don’t depend solely (nor even necessarily largely) on *consumer* choice. They operate very powerfully at the level of business and even governmental investment as well. Would Amazon buy, for instance, 20,000 conventional Sprinter vans for delivery purposes (as they just did), or 20,000 EV Sprinters (as they could have done)? Operational factors matter, of course, but so too does the financial analysis, and the consequence of a carbon tax in such a purchasing decision could very well be decisive.

      • Mike Roberts:
        Your claim that emissions would not be affected is incorrect.

        If the price of carbon goes up than large fossil fuel users like power plants will switch to renewables because they will be even cheaper than they are now compared to fossil fuels. Industry will use electrical heating instead of fossil fuels and the electricity will come from renewables.

        More people (including the poor) will buy electric cars and not internal combustion cars. People will install solar panels and batteries instead of using kerosene lanterns.

        The biggest problem in the past was people were not serious about the carbon fee. It is set so low ($10-15 per ton) that it has little effect on the price of energy. If the fee ramps up to $100-150 or more, than it will affect the car people will buy and the cost of electricity.

      • Mike Roberts – an enlightening comparison of Tradable Energy Quotas and Fee and Dividend at

      • Michael Sweet, thanks for pointing out the most common error in thinking about a carbon price. It is obvious that higher prices have little effect on human demand for energy. But it is equally obvious that an electricity generator will choose the cheapest way to do it – and with a suitable carbon price the cheapest way won’t be by burning coal, oil or gas.

        So we can keep consuming energy. The desire to be virtuous and wear a hair shirt is all well and good, but that is not what will save the world.

        Of course in some cases the price signal alone won’t work. Since a petrol powered car is a lot cheaper than an electric one to buy (but not in the long term), it may be necessary to simply ban new petrol powered cards at some point, because there will always be people who will take the short term gain and the long term pain. Or push the price of petrol so high that no one in their right mind would drive a petrol car (except a billionaire with a love of V8s, I guess).

        Either way, price signals will work best.

  16. Thanks for the feedback, Mr. Benson. My point is that we are experiencing both increasing rainfall and slower moving storms. It would seem that the combined effect will produce a trend towards far more damage.

    • David B. Benson

      Slower moving is plausible as the temperature difference between the equator and the Arctic region is diminishing.

  17. More of the same. “For a meandering storm, the biggest concern — as we saw with Harvey — is the huge amount of rainfall,” said Chris Landsea, chief of tropical analysis and forecast branch at the National Hurricane Center.

  18. “They [Carbon Taxes] operate very powerfully at the level of business and even governmental investment as well.”

    Well, if that is actually true, it should be easy to prove or demonstrate. Yet it has never been demonstrated.

    As the link to the NREL statement and review I provided, shows, despite the fact that studies of carbon taxes are poorly-designed and biased to show positive effects of carbon taxes, nevertheless almost all carbon taxes still fail to demonstrate significant benefit.

    In other words, No – they do not operate powerfully anywhere.

  19. Thank you Snape. Yes the number of landfalls should diminish in a scenario where you have slower migrating storms … but still, when storms do hit, the fact that they are wetter than ever before AND they are moving more slowly could result in significantly increased damage for each storm.

  20. Michael Sweet,

    Your claim that emissions would not be affected is incorrect.

    Well, I didn’t actually claim that, though I think the effect will be far lower than the advocates of F&D would hope for.

    If the price of carbon goes up than large fossil fuel users like power plants will switch to renewables because they will be even cheaper than they are now compared to fossil fuels. Industry will use electrical heating instead of fossil fuels and the electricity will come from renewables.

    I don’t know if those power plants “will” switch to renewables. That seems a hope more than a definite.Remember that those least able to afford higher prices will get a bigger dividend than the increase in price, whilst the richer are more likely to be able to afford the increases. For companies, it all comes down to whether they think they can make more money by shifting. If so, they will, if not, they won’t.

    More people (including the poor) will buy electric cars and not internal combustion cars. People will install solar panels and batteries instead of using kerosene lanterns.

    I don’t see the poor buying electric cars. They are expensive to buy even if their lifetime costs are lower. This claim of yours seems to be more hopeful than likely, to me. The poor use less energy than the rich (as Jasess’s link about TEQs also mentions) and so get an income boost by a Fee and Dividend. What are they likely to do with that increase? I think a study is needed to assess the overall economic activity likely with F&D. If it results in more activity, we get more emissions. If it results in less, we get fewer emissions. I think F&D is unlikely to be implemented in the way Hansen wants but I also think that, if it is, it’s unlikely to result in much emissions reduction, with the risk that it might result in more. TEQs may have issues with it’s implementation but a decreasing quota will undoubtedly result in fewer emissions.

  21. Mike, the poor might some more FF but where I live, poor income goes mostly on rent and food. Not many plane flights. More income would definitely result in more spent on heating in winter but here at least wood fires, electric heaters/heat pumps (80% renewable) dominate the heating options.

    Also, what do you consider the main advantage of TEQ over ETS schemes with reducing credits? We have an ETS which government in just strengthening.

    Gingerbaker – I am not aware of any real fee and dividend carbon taxes actually in operation so please provide a link to the evaluation. I am very interested in both the schemes and how well they worked. I am not seeing your link however.

  22. “Could you repost the link? I’m not seeing it for some reason…”

    Sorry – was having log-in problems, so I have posted here using two different names. :(

    Here is the link:

    Click to access 47312.pdf

    And, if I may, I would also like to address another way in which the commonly-made argument that a carbon tax is just like the Pigovian tax on cigarettes is misguided.

    A cigarette tax is a sin tax. By making cigarettes more and more expensive, you price them out of reach of more and more consumers. But fossil fuels are not like cigarettes, because they are not a luxury that people can simply forego without consequence. Because until the renewable energy infrastructure needed to replace FF’s is built, people who pay more for fossil fuels will simply use less of them.

    So, yes, you do see consumption drop a small amount where carbon taxes have been tried. But reducing consumption of fossil fuels a tad is not a worthy goal – making FF’s irrelevant is the worthy goal. And the only way we make FF’s irrelevant is to build and deploy the RE to replace them.

    Reducing energy consumption, improving energy efficiency DO reduce emissions a bit, but more importantly, they do NOT build new RE – indeed, the lessen the need and pressure to do so. This may sound prosaic, but it is actually quite profound – the only crucially important goal is to build and deploy new RE. That is the only relevant criteria for the measurement of success for any carbon tax, as well as any targeted subsidy.

    And it has *never* been measured in any analysis of any CT. Which, to me, makes all existing studies of CT’s meaningless. Interestingly, there are also plenty of examples of regions without CT’s which flat out out-performed regions that did have CT’s when various criteria were compared.

    If we can accept that RE B&D (the building and deployment of RE) is what is truly important, then we should look to see what makes for successful RE B&D. Two answers are dramatically evident:

    1) Government mandates (China has outperformed the world in new RE B&D)

    2) Targeted RE subsidies (every dollar spent buys one dollar of new RE)