Climate Emergency?

By Paolo von Schirach

WASHINGTON – Most sensible people would agree today that climate change due to global warming is a very serious problem. And everybody now knows that at the source of all this we find man-made increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And we also know that all this is happening because we humans keep burning significant –indeed increasing– amounts of high emissions fossil fuels in order to produce the energy we need to power the world economy.

Dealing with the problem?

That said, we also know that public opinion in the West and most elected leaders have come to agree that the most sensible way to stop global warming is to substantially reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, choosing instead zero emissions renewable energy technologies in order to keep the world economy moving.

On the surface this looks like a very good plan. Out with dirty energy, in with clean energy, such as solar and wind. Good plan in principle. But, according to some, not in practice. According to Bjorn Lomborg, Danish author of the recently released book False Alarm, (subtitle: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, And Fails To Fix The Planet), all the well meaning clean energy policies enacted or planned share a common defect: they will cost an enormous amount of money and they will not produce the intended effects. They simply will not work.

Wrong approach

How so? Well, because renewable energy technologies, at the current stage of development, are both still very expensive and not very efficient. While costs for solar and wind have come down dramatically in the last decade, these two main sources of clean, emission free, energy are still not cost-effective compared to the dirty fossil fuels. By forcing their large scale adoption now, via mandates, taxes and subsidies, many governments are diverting enormous resources to immature renewable energy technologies in a very inefficient way. We do get more clean energy. But at a very high cost, and not enough of it to make a real change.

Goals will not be met

Besides, and here is the real problem, forced adoption is manifestly not working as intended. While the adoption of renewable energy is definitely growing worldwide, the rate of growth is still too modest, if the goal is to replace fossil fuels before global temperatures climb up even further. In plain language, we have chosen a very expensive medicine that in the end will not be able to cure planet Earth –our intended goal.

And it gets worse. Notwithstanding the solemn pledges made by so many world leaders at the signing of the 2015 Paris Accord, two facts should get our attention. Number one, even if all signatories dutifully fulfilled all their pledges about fossil fuels consumption cuts, this would make practically no difference on world temperatures. Got that? No difference. Number two, at this stage, no country is on track to fulfill the energy consumption pledges they made.

So, argues Lomborg in his book, here the situation becomes almost absurd. Many countries are committed to spend a fortune on something that will produce almost no tangible effect. And we shall fail to meet our targets anyway.

A different approach?

If this is indeed so, may be it would be good to pause for one second and take stock. Please note that Lomborg is not a “climate denier”. In his book he repeatedly states that climate change is real, is man made, is due to fossil fuels consumption and that it will have mostly negative consequences for the planet.

So what is to be done? Lomborg proposes a different, two tracks approach. He argues that instead of spending a fortune on renewables that cost too much, (especially when it comes to the meagre budgets of poor developing countries), and produce little, it would be wiser to invest in adaptation measures aimed at mitigating the impact of climate change.

Mitigation measures

For instance, we know that higher temperatures are causing the increased melting of ice caps on the two Poles of the Earth. Ice turning into water is causing progressively higher sea levels. Overtime, higher sea levels will cause the flooding of many coastal areas around the world. If we do nothing, in a few decades scores of cities (think Miami, New York, Mumbai, Shanghai, Barcelona) will no longer be suitable for humans. We know all this. And this is very serious.

However, remedial actions are possible and reasonably inexpensive, provided we start working now on the necessary countermeasures. Indeed, Lomborg argues, humans have been building dikes to keep the sea away for centuries. Ask the Dutch, whose country is largely at zero elevation and about 30% below sea level. The Dutch have been building protective barriers aimed at preventing flooding for centuries.

Of course, it would be much better if we could prevent higher sea levels. But at the moment we simply lack the technologies to stop higher temperatures and hopefully reverse this global warming trend. Therefore, says Lomborg, let’s mitigate the impact of higher sea levels caused by melting ice. Let’s adapt to this unfortunate development by protecting coastal areas using engineering technologies that are well known and efficient.

More R&D spending will give us new energy sources

That said, Lomborg does not conclude that workable clean energy solutions are impossible. He simply says that what we have developed so far will not do the trick. Nonetheless, he strongly recommends that all advanced societies engage in a truly robust R & D effort aimed at exploring new energy technologies. Eventually we shall come up with something that will be both clean (zero emissions) and super efficient. At that point consumers will not need incentives, or tax breaks to adopt it. The new clean energy technologies will be chosen because they will be better and cheaper.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




Tesla Batteries and Climate Change

By Paolo von Schirach —

WASHINGTON – Notwithstanding solemn pledges issued by many governments, no country that really matters is taking the fight against climate change seriously. Headline grabbing global agreements detailing ambitious emission reduction goals mean almost nothing, as they are purely voluntary, and therefore non verifiable, and certainly not enforceable.

Policy-makers will not act

Do not expect more on this front. The truth is that all policy-makers live under the constraints and pressures of urgent matters that require immediate attention. Catastrophic climate change scenarios regarding what will materialize in our world years or even decades from now do not motivate anybody in a position of responsibility to engage –today– in serious and very costly policy changes.

Innovation will deliver results

That said, there is hope when it comes to drastically reducing dangerous emissions. And hope rests on coming up with cost-effective technological innovation. Man made global warming leading to climate change is largely due to the continuing use of dirty emission producing technologies and industrial processes, most of them developed quite a long time ago. The reason why we keep using them, with only some improvements here and there, is because any currently available alternatives would be far too expensive. However, innovation may change all this. Human ingenuity should not be discounted.

Tesla leading on new battery technologies

Take Tesla, for example. Under Elon Musk, its controversial founder, Tesla dared to think of commercially viable electric vehicles (EVs) many, many years ago, when nobody –literally nobody– in the automotive business believed that this might be possible.

Well, fast forward to today and we see how tiny Tesla has become an EVs sector leader. True, the jury is still out on Tesla’s long term commercial viability. However, a relentless effort to improve its battery technology and therefore reduce cost structure and increase both vehicle performance and company profitability may indicate that this maverick EV company may not just survive but actually lead a boom in EVs production.

We know that the main obstacle on the way to mass produced, affordable electric cars is relatively unsophisticated battery technology. While there has been progress, the batteries used to power most EVs are still expensive, very heavy, and not very efficient compared to the traditional internal combustion engines running on oil derived gasoline.

A game changer

Tesla, however, (and many others innovators around the world working on the same or similar issues), seem to have made very significant progress in improving battery performance on all fronts: life of the battery, cost and weight of the battery, amount of energy stored in the battery, and therefore distance that can be covered with a single charge, and shorter recharging time. Many of these battery technology breakthroughs have just been announced by Tesla, and it remains to be seen how the actual vehicles sold to real customers will perform. Still, assuming that most of what Tesla announced is true or close to becoming true, then we are getting to, or very close to a tipping point when it comes to the mass adoption of electric vehicles.

Cheap, high performance electric vehicles will generate mass markets

It is no secret that so far electric vehicles have had only limited appeal. They are still regarded by most consumers as too expensive. They are fancy gadgets for the rich who can afford to pay extra money for a high-tech car, so that they can brag about being green and cool.

Most budget conscious people considering buying a new car look at the price and then the operating cost of the car (mostly fuel) over the time in which they will use it. For these reasons, an expensive EV coming with the additional problems of limited range, limited numbers of charging stations and a long recharging time does not look appealing.

But a new generation of Tesla vehicles powered by a super efficient, low cost, lower weight, high performance battery that will essentially last for ever, would be a true game changer. It would signal a new era for EVs: from experimentation and tinkering to mass production based on proven superior technology and lower prices.

End of gasoline

When this happens, high performance and cheaper EVs will inevitably displace gasoline powered traditional cars. Assuming that these battery technology breakthroughs will work as expected, we can reasonably conclude that EVs will begin to dominate the global auto industry in just a few years. This will be the beginning of the end for traditional cars. And this will also be the end for many refiners currently producing the rivers of gasoline necessary to power hundreds of millions of traditional cars. Further upstream, the virtual end of gasoline will also mean significantly lower demand for crude oil.

Oil will survive, at least for a while

Of course, we do know that even if it all happens as planned regarding a new generation of batteries, with Tesla and many others inundating the global automotive market with affordable, state of the art, super efficient EVs, it will take years before the world automotive fleet will become totally electric. In the meantime, there will be still demand for gasoline and therefore oil.

The oil industry will survive. Let’s not forget that beyond gasoline oil is also used to make diesel fuel for trucks and other heavy vehicles, and powering ships’ engines, not to mention jet fuel, heating oil, and plastics, and what not. Therefore we can expect that there will still be an oil industry ten or even twenty years from now, (unless other technological disruptions will introduce alternatives to other oil-derived products). However, it will be a smaller, streamlined oil industry; and it will be dominated by the low cost producers, (think Saudi Arabia). In a world market characterized by lower and declining demand for oil, only those who can be and stay profitable with oil at $ 10 per barrel or less will be able to survive.

The end of shale?

This being the case, the future of the recently reborn US oil industry appears very uncertain at best. The economic sustainability of the US shale revolution, itself the fruit of American technological ingenuity, was and is predicated on fairly high oil prices. While the cost of fracking operations has come down significantly in the last few years, fracking is still a fairly expensive activity. It is hard to believe that companies struggling in 2019 to stay alive, let alone do well, with oil at around $ 50 per barrel or less, will be able to survive when crude will go down to $15 or less, on account of soft global demand.

Innovation spill over

Improved battery technologies will also transfer to other applications, such as efficient storage for electricity produced by renewable sources such as wind and solar, something that will most likely increase their appeal and marketability vis-a-vis traditional fossil fuel based electric power generation. Overtime, expect fewer (if any) coal fired power plants, and eventually fewer natural gas power plants that are now necessary given intermittent generation from renewables.

You see where we are going here. We are looking at the real possibility of cascading positive effects, affecting different sectors, all born out of technological innovation spurred by the goal of getting a better battery for Tesla’s EVs. And this is the magic of innovation. It spreads. Tesla was not born out of the need to address a well defined market need. True enough, American drivers were routinely complaining about the high cost of gasoline. But all they wanted was cheaper gas. They had not articulated this complaint into a demand for an alternative to the traditional car powered by an internal combustion engine.

And here is the beauty of innovative minds. Elon Musk launched into an industrial adventure that most analysts dismissed as silly, and therefore destined to failure. But now Tesla, the company he created, despite all its challenges, may be on the verge of deploying another generation of technological innovation that is likely to transform the EV sector, and consequently the entire automotive industry in the US and worldwide.

We need more than new batteries

Back to global warming, it is clear that even radical transformations in the automotive sector leading to sharply lower demand for gasoline and therefore crude oil will not be enough to cause dramatic emissions reductions. More innovation will be needed to radically transform industrial processes, from cement production to petrochemical plants and more, that currently produce harmful emissions.

Green and profitable can go together

However, the Tesla relentless quest for better and more efficient car batteries is a good illustration that it is possible to pursue at the same time profits, a more efficient propulsion technology, and drastically reduced greenhouse emissions. It is not true that trying to be green is a luxury that is simply not practical nor affordable for most industries.

Tesla’s innovation efforts may be driven in part by the desire to produce a perfectly green car. But we should keep in mind that Tesla is a business, not a charity. Ultimately Tesla has to serve its shareholders. They want to see a return on their investments. And this means more cars sold at a profit. By pursuing better batteries that will increase performance while reducing cost, the company is strengthening its competitiveness vis-a-vis conventional vehicles, with the hope that millions of consumers will prefer affordable EVs, not because they are green, but because they are better value for money.

By the same token, assuming that some new industrial technologies will be able to eliminate emissions and increase productivity and profits at the same time, you will have classic win-win propositions in which being green is also good for business.

A long shot, but the only one we have

While this innovation driven approach may be a long shot, this is the only practical way to cut down emissions, stay profitable, and avoid the dire effects of global warming. International agreements that cannot be enforced produce short-lived feel good moments, and not much else. Innovation will be the game changer.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Sciencand International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.




Self-Driving Electric Cars Coming Soon

By Paolo von Schirach –

WASHINGTON – Imagine this: affordable, driverless electric cars, EVs. This would be the true game changer for urban transportation and urban living. I say “would be” because this revolution, prophesized and announced many times, has not quite arrived. We know that there has been significant technological progress in these areas in the last few years; but not enough to make this vision into a reality. Still, I am hopeful that some day we shall see it.

When the revolution comes

If and when these affordable, autonomous EVs will hit the road, the impact of this radical technological revolution will be immense. I am not just talking about the environmental gains deriving from zero emissions electric engines, and therefore the overall reduction of greenhouse gases and significant air quality improvements in all large urban areas.

The real game changer will be that most people will no longer want to own a car, because hiring one will be very easy, and very cheap. Hence a true revolution in the way most of us will deal with all personal mobility needs, especially in large urban areas.

Changes in the way we think of mobility and cars

Even today, relying only on established, gasoline powered cars driven by humans who need to be paid for their driving, the availability of app-connected transportation services like Uber and Lyft convinced many city dwellers that calling a vehicle via smart phone whenever needed is easier and probably cheaper than owning and driving your own car.

How so? Uber of course is not free. However, for many users who rely on Uber or equivalent services any app-connected car service is more cost-effective than going through the trouble of buying and keeping a car.

It is true that you have to pay for each Uber ride, while you pay only a little (the cost of gasoline) each time you drive your own car. Still, you have to consider all the costs connected with owning a vehicle. You have to factor the substantial cost of the initial purchase, plus the cost of registration, insurance, parking, fuel, ordinary (oil changes) and extraordinary maintenance, (new tires, new brakes, new transmissions). Then add odds and ends like the cost of parking tickets, (some people collect many of those), the cost and aggravation caused by possible car accidents, and then the aggravation of the daily stress of driving on congested roads, and all of a sudden the Uber option, while it has a price, seems more cost-effective, at least for some.

Driverless, electric Uber

Well, if relying on smart phone connected car services as opposed to owning a car is the emerging trend today, imagine the appeal of this car hire option in a not so distant future in which your Uber or equivalent vehicle will have an electric engine and no driver. These radical innovations obviously will mean very low operating costs for the service provider, hence much lower fees charged to users, and guaranteed, fast 24 hour service.

The rides will be cheaper because there will be no payments to a human doing the driving. Besides, the driverless car will stay on the road day and night. It does not get sick and it does not need to take a break. And the cost of the electric charges will be much lower than gasoline.

The future of personal mobility

So, here is tomorrow’s scenario. Think of driverless EVs that will be on the road almost 24/7, (taking a break only for the time necessary to recharge the car’s battery). Since these vehicles will cost much less to operate, the companies providing the service will be able to pass on to the consumers significant savings.

And this will mean that almost anybody will be able to afford rides, probably several rides a day. At the same the service providers will be able to guarantee that there will be plenty of vehicles constantly on the road available to quickly meet demand for rides. And this means almost no wait time for your ride.

No more need for private cars

In this new scenario, for the vast majority of urban dwellers, owning a private vehicle will become unnecessary, because all mobility needs will be easily and inexpensively met by driverless EVs. If this is so, let’s think about the significant ripple effects of this radical reorientation of consumers’ preferences.

Fewer cars

As a result of all this, there will be a complete restructuring of the automobile industry. Only EVs will be manufactured, of course; but fewer of them, because it will no longer be one vehicle per individual driver. One vehicle on the road 24/7 will serve many customers during the day. This will mean far fewer cars on the road. And probably improved road safety, because driverless vehicles will not get distracted, they will not cause accidents. They will not be under the influence of alcohol. They will not be tired and sleepy.

Empty parking garages

Furthermore, far fewer cars constantly in circulation will mean plenty of redundant parking spaces. In most large cities enormous parking garages have been built for commuters. They are filled every day by tens of thousands of cars parked there by commuters. In the future commuters will be able to rely on services provided by driverless cars, therefore all these parking lots and garages will sit empty. This will create an opportunity for re-purposing a great deal of valuable urban real estate.

A better future

So, here the picture. No more private automobiles on the roads, or at least far, far fewer of them. And this means that the substantial capital devoted by millions of individuals to purchasing a vehicles will be used for other goals. Besides, given far fewer cars on the road, there will be no more road congestion, and no more street noise caused by the internal combustion engines and related air pollution. And, finally, no more stressed out drivers/workers who have to fight the traffic twice a day, every day, commuting to and from their work places. All in all, with the driverless EV doing the driving, this will translate into a much more enjoyable, more relaxing urban life experience for millions of people across the globe.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC




Coal Consumption On the Rise in Asia

WASHINGTON – The Paris climate talks may end up with new carbon reduction commitments made mostly by Europe and America. But the reality is that the largest developing countries (China, India, the Philippines, and Indonesia), plus Japan and South Korea rely and will continue to rely on massive use of coal, the worst possible fossil fuel in terms of noxious emissions. 

Coal is up 

Data from the WSJ indicate that China uses coal for 66% of its electric power generation. In India the percentage is 56%, in South Korea it is 31%, in Japan 28%, in Indonesia 35% and in the Philippines also 35%.

In the US coal is trending down because of the competition created by cheap natural gas. Still, even with reduced consumption levels, coal is used for about 30% of American electric power generation.

Even with the best of intentions, in Asia it will be really hard to displace coal as the main electrical power generation fuel. For instance, in China renewable energy is only 2% of total power generation. There you have it. Coal 66%, wind and solar 2%. A long, long way to go before renewables will catch up. 

More coal-fired plants 

And, in reality, in Asia there is no plan to cut coal consumption. In fact, exactly the opposite is happening. As world leaders convened in Paris to make solemn pledges to curb carbon emissions, in Asia coal plants construction is up. Japan, a G7 member, will build several new coal-fired plants. (The Japanese claim that the new generation of coal plants they designed will be much cleaner. Still, they will produce emissions).

And this is only a part of the story. According to the WSJ, the Philippines is planning“to open 23 coal-fired plants over the next five years to meet rising electricity demand”. If this construction plan will be executed, the Philippines will become the most coal dependent nation in Asia. Vietnam will also increase coal use, and so will Indonesia.

In Paris, just talk 

Anyway, you get the picture. The Paris talks would like to get to a global agreement that will move the world away from carbon. In reality, large parts of the world are moving exactly in the opposite direction.

But why is that? Why so much coal use, when everybody seems to agree that it is the main source of the emissions that cause greenhouse gases at the root of global warming?

Coal is cheap 

Very simple, Because coal is abundant, and very, very cheap. And what about emission free renewables? Well, they are coming along. But slowly. And this is mostly due to the fact that, while prices have come down, wind and solar are still considered too expensive in many parts of the world. (According to the WSJ, renewables make up only 2% of power generation in China, 2% in India, 3% in Japan, 1% in Indonesia, 0.5% in South Korea).

Development first 

In the end, whatever their governments may be pledging in Paris, the fact is that emerging countries want economic development first. For that, they need electricity. And, so far, dirty coal is still the cheapest option.

For those who believe that global warming is a real planetary emergency, these Asian energy policies amount to reckless behavior. However, the fact is that no Western government will seriously commit to a large enough plan aimed at subsidizing green energy deployment on a global scale.

Therefore, until renewable energy becomes truly affordable, (let’s hope soon), expect more coal-fired plants coming on line.




Obama’s Anti-Carbon Policies Will Have No Impact On Global Warming

WASHINGTON – President Obama is trying to transform the US energy industry via federal regulations. He just announced a new plan aimed at promoting renewable energy production while penalizing “dirty” carbon fuels: coal, of course, but also much cleaner and cheaper natural gas.

Expensive electricity 

If implemented, this new policy means that at least for many years we shall have higher electricity prices, simply because more costly solar and wind energy still need subsidies in order to stay afloat. Without government-imposed mandates, they would not be adopted. “Dirty” natural gas instead is abundant and cheap. (Thanks to shale gas and fracking technologies that allow us to extract it, the US is now the largest natural gas producer in the world).

What is most extraordinary in all this is that, according to the same Obama administration keen on re-engineering the entire US power generation industry, there will be practically no change in global temperatures as a result of this major domestic energy revolution. Well, if this is so, what is the point?

Dogmatic beliefs

Sadly, there is no point. This is all about taking actions that please the pious members of the “Church of the Environment”. While they claim that all their policy positions are based on “definitive science”, the Faithful think and behave just like other religious zealots. Their point is that anything that contributes to global warming is bad (in fact evil) and therefore it must be stopped. Cost-benefit analysis does not apply here. What they believe is the Truth and therefore it is rational. Period.

As most of them vote for the Democrats, Obama believes that his anti-carbon policies are an appropriate homage to his base.

Let’s protect our environment 

Let me state the obvious. Every sane citizen should be in favor of environmental protection. We should all be in favor of preserving the fragile ecosystems that support all life on Earth. We should also regulate, or forbid all human activities that have or may have an adverse public health impact.

We all want clean soil, clean water, and clean air. And if this means curtailing or outright forbidding economic activities that do have harmful public health effects, so be it.

We do not want another China 

Again, this is common sense. The alternative is what we had until the 1960s, before environmental issues awareness spurred land mark US legislation, (Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency, and so on), aimed at protecting the environment.

It is also clear that, If we stop protecting the environment, then we get something like China, a country that for 30 years promoted large-scale manufacturing without any concern whatsoever for the extraordinary pollution caused by unregulated industrial activities. And the result of this is an environmental disaster.

This is a religion 

That said, it is now clear that environmental protection has morphed into an anti-industrial religion. One of the key elements of its dogma is humanity’s moral duty to stop “man-made global warming”, most of it caused by burning fossil fuels.

As all dogmas, this absolute environmental belief assumes that man-made global warming is a settled issue, and that it is also settled that we must reverse it or at least stop it by outlawing or regulating all activities that will lead to an increase of greenhouse emissions, CO2 first and foremost.

Carbon is bad

As I said above, it should be possible to forge a consensus about regulating harmful emissions. If an old coal-fired power plant fouls the air around it, causing respiratory diseases or worse, let’s close it down.

However, it would be wise not to stretch our definition of harmful effects beyond the obvious. But this is precisely the problem we have with the environmentalists. Their dogma assumes that burning fossil will raise Earth surface temperatures so much that we shall end up cooking the planet, with anything and anybody in it. Hence the necessity, indeed the moral duty, to stop the use the use of all fossil fuels.

That said, the believers themselves agree that even drastic and costly action aimed at reformulating America’s energy mix will have almost no impact on global temperatures.

Set a good example? 

If so, then what is the point? Their point, I assume, is that America, as the leading per capita energy consumer, should set a good example. If other countries see that America is serious about “doing something” to stop global warming, then they may follow our example by cutting down their own fossil fuels consumption and emissions, this way allowing mankind to win this gigantic fight against global warming and climate change.

Irrational and crazy 

So, here is the thing. For the believers, It appears to be totally rational to embark in a policy that will have high immediate and medium term costs in terms of higher energy prices, even though we have no reassurance that it will produce any impact on the issue they want to address.

This is irrational and wasteful. In fact, it is crazy.

 




Historic US-China Deal To Fight Global Warming?

WASHINGTON – President Obama went to Beijing and –surprise, surprise– he pulled a huge rabbit out of a hat in the form of a “historic” agreement with China committing the latter to the reduction of its own green house gases…after 2030.

Joint US-China commitment

To be precise, China pledged “to intend to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030”.

As this is a bilateral committment, President Obama promised that the US by 2025 will reduce its own emissions by as much as 28% below 2005 levels.

We shall do something, after 2030

Got that? America pledges –now– to achieve further green house emissions reductions by 2025, in exchange for the vague promise that China, after peaking in 2030, will start reducing its own emissions after that date.

And, by the way, this is only a “declaration”. An interesting development, in as much as it seems to commit China to doing something about reducing emissions. But this is not a treaty. It is a non binding document. There are no penalties for non compliance. Which is to say that it is not enforceable.

And again, we are talking the vague “promise ” –today– to do something meaningful after 2030, long after Obama and most likely Xi Jinping will be out of the picture.

I am not impressed.

Little substance

There is very little substance here. And yet many commentators talked about this “deal” as a (needed) major breakthrough in the fight against global warming. You see, China at last set some clear emissions reduction goals and timetables, finally recognizing its responsibilities as the top world polluter, along with America.

All in all, we are told by “the experts” that out of this announcement we get that the two countries that produce the largest amount of harmful emissions are finally setting a good example.

We are also told that, after this Beijing China-US deal, in the future no country within the developed world will be able to hide behind the (lame) excuse that, until China is on board with concrete commitments to cut its own emissions, it makes no sense to take steps aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. Now China is “on board”, so everybody else should join in and do its part.

A new milestone?

Really? I find it bizarre that analysts and even serious media are willing to make so much out of so little.

Sure, I can recognize that this Xi-Obama deal may have some symbolic meaning. Who knows, may be China really means this. But we are talking about a promise today (2014) to do certain unspecified things many, many years later (2030).

In the meantime, in order to honor its side of the agreement, America would have to curb its own emissions at a faster pace, starting now.

So, US unilateral sacrifices beginning now, in exchange for the promise of Chinese action after 2030.

And this is a historic breakthrough based on shared principles, spelling out coordinated US-China actions to fight climate change?

To me, all this looks most unserious.

 




Man Made Global Warming? Not So Sure Anymore

WASHINGTON – Until a few years ago there was a semi-universal consensus on “global warming”. It was settled that the earth’s temperature is rising. It was settled that human activity, that is burning large amounts of fossil fuels, was the main cause. It was also settled that all countries, especially big ones that use most of the fossil fuels, would agree to drastically cut their consumption of coal, oil and gas, in order to stabilize the earth’s temperature. This change would be made possible by shifting to abundant, inexpensive and environmentally benign renewable energy.

Nothing is settled

Well, as the world leaders gather in New York to look again at this scenario, it appears that nothing is settled.

First of all, while emissions have been rising during the past 10 to 15 years, temperatures have not. This should be impossible. All models indicated that more emissions must result in higher temperatures.

Of course, climate scientists who support the “man-made global warming” theory have tried to come up with explanations. And, who knows, may be there is a plausible reason why there has been a lull in rising temperatures, despite higher emissions. May be we are experiencing just a short pause within a long-term trend indicating higher and higher temperatures caused by fossil fuels consumption.

Man made global warming?

Still, this so far unexplained glitch may raise some doubts. What if the supposedly established cause and effect relationship between higher emissions and higher temperatures is just not there? In that case, the basic rationale for mandating or even suggesting the whole –immensely complex– energy policy shift would disappear. In that case, we would go back to normal. Energy choices will be determined by cost effectiveness, and not by the desire to avoid unproven global warming effects of fossil fuels.

US should change its energy policies

Still, even assuming the validity of the “man-made global warming” theory, what should the United States do? Well, according to those who believe in the official global warming orthodoxy, it is clear that America, as the country with the highest per capita energy consumption and emissions, should be leading the anti-carbon battle.

Really? Well, the facts do not support this. The fact is that, while America is a major contributor to global emissions, (number 2 in the world), taken in isolation its efforts would have almost no impact. Indeed, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the very federal institution that has just come with a major plan aimed at moving America away from fossil fuels, the net outcome of this costly shift from fossil fuels to renewables would be a 0.18% reduction in global emissions.

Policy changes would have no impact

Got that? As a result of major and costly investments in new energy, while closing down coal-burning power plants, we would get 0.18% reduction in global emissions. That’s it.

And this is because all the other major offenders, including China, India, Russia are not on board. Ditto for other emerging countries.  Whatever they may think or believe about man-made global warming, they want to pursue economic development. And this requires affordable energy: coal, gas, and heating oil. Simply stated, from their perspective, renewable energy is still way too expensive, and therefore unaffordable.

Is this a good foundation for public policy?

So, here we are. We are confronted with an issue –global warming– whose causes are not quite understood. That said, even if we wanted to believe that rising temperatures are the direct result of higher emissions due to fossil fuels consumption, it is clear that forcing 300 million Americans to shift to still expensive renewable energy would not make any difference on global emissions.

And yet the President, the EPA and eminent scientists strongly believe that we should change our energy policies so that we can stop and reverse global warming.

Let me say this again. According to our national leadership, we should adopt a brand new energy policy in order to counter the effects of a problem we are not totally sure exists, while we know that this far reaching and expensive US effort would make no difference.

This does not make any sense.