May 6 2014, 2:08pm CDT | by Forbes
The Obama administration released an impressive report this morning. The U.S. National Climate Assessment, titled “Climate Change Impacts in the United States” is an 829-page jeremiad. Its heft and depth demand that it be taken seriously. Its authorship by 300 respected gurus insists that its findings not be questioned. This is their holy book — the word of the climate gods communicated to President Obama and passed down to the people via word-searchable PDF file.
Herein, the climate change gospel:
Laments the destructive impact that man has wrought on our fragile climate.
“It is unequivocal that the planet is warming.”
Prophesizes certain doom if we do not change our ways.
“Sea level is expected to rise an additional 1 to 4 feet in this century.”
Blames fossil fuels for the devastation.
“Oil used for transportation and coal used for electricity generation are the largest contributors to the rise in carbon dioxide that is the primary driver of the observed changes in climate over recent decades.”
“The burning of coal, oil, and gas, and clearing of forests have increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than 40% since the Industrial Revolution, and it has been known for almost two centuries that this carbon dioxide traps heat.”
Castigates skeptics for their doubt:
“Data show that natural factors like the sun and volcanoes cannot have caused the warming observed over the past 50 years.”
And orders that penance be paid:
“Studies of price-based policies, such as a cap and trade system, indicate that a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050 could be achieved at a cost of a year or two of projected growth in gross domestic product over the period.”
The 300 climate gurus who wrote the report are advanced in their practice of modern-day augury. Instead of peering at the patterns of goat entrails, these sages instead squint at the secretions of complex computer models. With these models they have peered 100 years into the future, and with greater confidence than TV weathermen forecasting a chance of rain later in the week, they prophesy two possible outcomes for our future.
First, is the dreaded “A2″ scenario, where global carbon emissions continue to increase, thus summoning a dark age of raging seas, violent storms, submerged islands, melting permafrost, drought, acidified oceans, and a greater incidence of asthma.
Then there is “B1,” wherein global emissions are reduced significantly over the next 100 years, thus mitigating the worst of the Climate God’s wrath, but still punishing us with a slightly hotter world (temperatures up 2.5 degrees by 2090 under B1, versus up 4.7 degrees under A2).
The message: The change is upon us no matter what we do. You don’t want to live in an A2 world. B1 represents the least we should do if we care about the children. And the children’s children.
So how, oh blessed Oracle of the 300, can we strive towards B1?
Sack cloth and ashes, sort of. You know those underpinnings of the past 200 years of economic growth and human advancement — ever cheaper energy and ever expanding infrastructure? We’ve got to stop all that.
“Annual global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industrial sources like cement manufacture need to peak by 2035 to 2040 at around 44 billion tons of CO2, and decline thereafter. The scale of the task can be seen in the fact that these global emissions were already at 34 billion tons of CO2 in 2011″ — and rising at a rate of .92 billion tons per year.
And here are some powerful verses about how to do it:
Achieving the B1 emissions path would require substantial de-carbonization of the global economy by the end of this century, implying a fundamental transformation of the global energy system. Details of the energy mix along the way differ among analyses, but the implied involvement by the U.S. can be seen in studies carried out under the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Energy Modeling Forum. In these studies, direct burning of coal without carbon capture is essentially excluded from the power system, and the same holds for natural gas toward the end of the century – to be replaced by some combination of coal or gas with carbon capture and storage, nuclear generation, and renewables. Biofuels and electricity are projected to substitute for oil in the transport sector. A substantial component of the task is accomplished with demand reduction, through efficiency improvement, conservation, and shifting to an economy less dependent on energy services.
I know it sounds like a lot, dear reader, but don’t freak out yet. We all just have to give a little. Remember, “a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050 could be achieved at a cost of a year or two of projected growth in gross domestic product over the period.”
Got that? All we have to do to achieve the great de-carbonization is to accept slower economic growth than what we’re enjoying now. After all, that model is already proven — during the anemic economic years since 2007 the United States has already cut its carbon emissions by 10%. A Great Depression redux could really give us a push in the right direction.
On page 652 of the report there’s a graph depicting the forces that have driven carbon dioxide emissions since 1963. Helping to reduce emissions have been increases in energy efficiency and decreases in the carbon intensity of industrial processes. The structural change in the U.S. economy away from manufacturing has also helped. But there’s two factors that add to emissions: First, the increasing population, up 50% in those years. Second, and the the most significant driver — the rise in per capita income.
That’s right. The better off we are, the more carbon we emit, the more we destroy the world. So it follows directly that if we’re going to get on the B1 path, we will all have to live a little less high on the hog. Think of it as a tithe that we must willingly pay to the Carbon God.
The report suggests that the United States pursue some of the following mitigation measures: higher automobile mileage standards, limits on power plant emissions, emissions permits for industrial facilities, subsidies for weatherization, efficient appliances, biofuels, electric vehicles; loan guarantees for advanced energy technologies; executive orders requiring federal buildings to reduce energy use and buy alternative fuel vehicles. And carbon cap-and-trade programs.
And yet my favorite parts of this report are where the 300 admit a little bit of uncertainty, or talk about the unintended consequences of quashing fossil fuel emissions. Like this bit:/>/>
“Natural variations in climate include the effects of cycles such as El Nino, La Nina and other ocean cycles; the 11-year sunspot cycle and other changes in energy from the sun, and the effects of volcanic eruptions. Globally, natural variations can be as large as human-induced climate change over timescales of up to a few decades.”
And then there’s the matter of the historical record:
“Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are currently higher than any times in at least the last 800,000 years. Paleoclimate studies indicate that temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have been higher in the distant past, millions of years ago, when the world was very different than it is today.”
And there’s even some minor drawbacks to cutting coal emissions:
“The cooling in mid-century that was especially prevalent over the eastern half of the U.S. may have stemmed partly from such natural variations and partly from human influences, in particular the cooling effects of sulfate particles from coal-burning power plants, before these sulfur emissions were regulated to address health and acid rain concerns.”
When and if you read the report for yourself, keep in mind that the most recent data is from 2012 and much of it is even older. So when they state that hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin has gotten stronger, they are not factoring in the abnormally low activity of the past two years. When they state that winter comes later and leaves earlier and that ice cover on the Great Lakes is down 63% since the 1970s, they are not considering the effect of last winter’s unrelenting Polar Vortex. When they state that corn ethanol can help reduce carbon emissions associated with automotive transportation, they are a couple years behind the research.
Whether or not you are a true believer of the Carbon Gospel or a cynic, there’s no arguing that this National Climate Assessment represents the received Carbon Gospel consensus as revealed by the Oracle of the 300 (and we all know that the consensus is never wrong).
This is the science that will inform the debate and will serve as cover for President Obama and his agencies to assert control. First the control will be over the big emitters of carbon. Then the smaller emitters. And eventually it will get down to individuals. Remember page 652: the prime driver of increased carbon emissions in the United States is the rise in per capita income. With a correlation that direct, how long before “the rich” are assessed a personal carbon tax to offset the damage they do to the world?
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