Climate 101

Bipartisan Support for Carbon Tax

Bob Inglis, Former Republican Congressman from South Carolina, and Art Laffer, formerly an economic adviser to President Reagan are promoting a revenue neutral tax swap. Through the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, they are calling for an end to subsidies on all fuels, attachment of full  accountability including health, productivity and environmental costs to all fuels, and revenue neutrality. They see this as a campaign to unleash the power of free enterprise to deliver the fuels of the future and to mitigate the risks of a changing climate.

George Shultz, Secretary of State for President Reagan, has expressed confidence that conservatives will support a carbon tax, because all forms of energy should bear their full costs, and not make society bear the burden of their side effects. . He is leading a group studying  threats to national security and how our energy use affects the climate.

Shultz enjoys driving an electric car powered on sunlight from the solar panels on his house that have long since paid for themselves. In an interview,  he quips, “Take that, Ahmadinejad.” He says, “It’s not a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of fact that the globe warming. That’s why we should be looking at ways to lessen our dependence on oil at all.” “I have three great-grandchildren, and I have to do what I can to see they have a decent future. If we let this go on and on.. they’re not going to have one. “

Hurricane damage prevention

Hurricane warnings lead to flight and train cancellations, evacuations, and shut-downs of oil and gas output.


Hurricane warnings remind us of the need for another kind of preventive measure.

A dish of water on a windowsill evaporates faster on a sunny day than on a cool day. Higher temperatures mean more evaporation. More water vapor in air makes the air heavier, so when the air starts whirling, it packs a larger punch. That is why hurricanes, this year, with temperatures averaging 1.5oF higher, are likely to be, on the average,  more powerful, more destructive, than hurricanes 100 years in the past.

Scientists with NASA, the same agency that landed the rover Curiosity on Mars, tell us, with “high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gasses produced by human activities.” And they “forecast a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees F over the next century.

To keep the temperature rise at the low end of the predictions and reduce damage to our homes and businesses, we need to phase out the burning of fossil fuels. There is profit in the alternatives, which are now scaling up with new investment, $257 billion worldwide last year.  Renewable power capacity increased by 8% and the cost of PV cells dropped by over 50% last year, and according to a REN21 report.

If the  billions invested in fossil fuel capacity, $302 billion last year, were invested in renewables instead, we could speed up expansion of  cheaper energy and prevent of some of worst effects of global warming.

Why droughts will get worse

Variation in carbon dioxide concentration during the past 400,000 years (historical data from the Vostock ice core).

NASA  CO2 parts per million

A columnist says ‘evidence suggests that droughts will become more intense in many parts of the world if the planet keeps heating up.’


The planet is heating up, there is no uncertainty that it is happening or why, only how fast.

The basic facts of global warming are simple. In laboratories and videos we can see three processes:  when fossil fuels, namely oil, coal and natural gas, burn, they release carbon dioxide, a gas. Carbon dioxide holds heat in air, the more carbon dioxide in air, the warmer it gets. People have burned a LOT of fossil fuels since 1900. The level of carbon dioxide in air is higher than it has been in way over 650,000 years.

Temperatures are also increasing, as shown in this NASA graph.

Understanding of the basic process of global warming has been confirmed by study of its effects.  Melting ice, more evaporation causing more rain and snow in the wet season, and drier land in the dry season, causing forest fires removing cooling tree cover, leading to warmer air and so on in positive feedback loops.  The carbon dioxide  (carbonic acid in water) makes the oceans acid, dissolving shells and coral.

The columnist suggests that farmers can adapt by using organic techniques because they use water supplies more efficiently.  However, he also cites a 2011 paper by Michael Roberts and Wolfram Schenkler which estimated that average corn, soybean and cotton yields in existing U.S. farm regions are predicted to decline between 30 and 82 percent by the end of the century due to the warming.

The media needs to stop implying that climate change is uncertain, and help us stop it. We have options to reduce the burning of fossil fuels. We can pass a carbon tax, with rebates to the public. The government could specify that it will only purchase solar, wind, geothermal energy with an initial phase-in period. Citizens could vote against candidates who keep us under the domination of the fossil fuel interests. It is time to close ranks and get the climate stabilized.

Terrifying New Math

An article by Bill McKibben in Rolling Stones describes ‘Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe – and that make clear who the real enemy is.’ The three numbers are 2oC, 565 Gigatons and 2,795 Gigatons.

Wildfires, droughts, floods and record-breaking heat waves are evidence of a warming planet resulting from increasing burning of oil, coal and natural gas. Yet governments have not come to any agreement for action that would reduce the use of these fuels. The only thing they have agreed on is that we cannot raise the temperature more than 2oC  [3.6oF].

Bill McKibben points out that burning fuels have raised the average temperature of the world by 0.8oC, causing much more damage than scientists expected. The oceans are 30% more acidic, a third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone and there is 5% more humidity over oceans. Many scientists have stated that the rise of 2oC is too much and will cause long-term disaster.

Nevertheless, if we take that 2oC rise as our bottom line, what that means in terms of additional warming gases is that we can pour no more than 565 gigatons  of CO2   into atmosphere by 2050 and have an 80% chance of staying under 2oC. World temperatures will rise another 0.8oC because of the CO2 that is already in the air now, so we are actually three-quarters of the way to the  2oC target.

Last year carbon dioxide emissions rose 31.6 gigatons. If we continue greenhouse gas output at this rate, we will be past that 565 gigaton allowance by 2028 and within the century,  temperatures will increase by 6oC  [11oF].

Coal, oil and natural gas companies and regimes have fuel reserves that they plan to sell. They borrow money against them and nations base budgets on them as they are considered an asset. If all the coal, oil and natural gas in the proven reserves were burned,  2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide would be released into the air. This is five times higher than 565, the amount that would be safe for humanity, according to scientists.   80% of fossil fuel reserves need to be kept under ground if we are going to avoid catastrophe.

McKibben says that if the fossil fuel companies were suddenly not allowed to use their fuel reserves, the value of their companies would plummet.  Instead of a value of $27 trillion, they would own $7 trillion in assets, on paper, of course.  So, the real difference is in the balance sheets of those who now own the reserves.

Politicians worldwide have bowed to the pressure to patronize, subsidize, and otherwise support fossil fuel companies.  “Alone among businesses, the fossil fuel industry is allowed to dump its main waste, carbon dioxide, for free.”   The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which asked the EPA not to regulate carbon, has a bigger    political spending budget than both the Republican and Democratic National Committees. The Chamber, which donates  90% to Republicans who consistently vote against laws to encourage carbon reductions and clean energy said, “populations can acclimatize [get used] to warmer climates…”

McKibben’s suggested solution is for a citizen directed campaign to change the laws. Specifically he suggests, “If you put a price on carbon, through a direct tax or other methods, it would enlist markets in the fight against global warming. “ Families’ budgets could be protected by returning the amount collected back to people who could then invest it in increasingly cheaper clean energy.

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