See the Tabbed Pages for links to video tutorials, and a linked list of post titles grouped by topic.

This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Steven Chu, U. S. Energy Secretary, Advocates “Sputnik” Level Support for Energy R&D

Introduction.  On Nov. 29, 2010 U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu addressed the National Press Club   on implementing new programs to create domestic U. S. industries in the fields of alternative and sustainable energy.   He recognized a need for major federal support for research and development in this area, likening the present situation to the time when, after the first Soviet Sputnik was launched, President Eisenhower instituted massive new federal programs in education, training and research in the sciences, mathematics and technology.  In the present environment, Secretary Chu sees China as fulfilling the role in energy technology that the Soviet Union played with respect to space technology.  In both instances, the U. S. had ceded global leadership to the adversary.  Presently this requires major federal support to regain the U. S. initiative in alternative energy development.

Global Warming Is Proceeding More Rapidly, and with More Serious Consequences, Than Previously Thought.  In previous posts on this blog (see and we have discussed current analyses of global warming arising from man-made greenhouse gas emissions.  For example, the United Kingdom National Weather Service  found that greenhouse gas emissions are proceeding at an even higher rate than was thought only a few years earlier.  It predicts that the global average temperature could be 4 deg C (7 deg F) higher than today (note: 4.7 deg C higher than preindustrial revolution times) by 2100, using a “high-end emissions scenario”. 

These results are in broad agreement with predictions made in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations consortium of thousands of climate scientists from around the world.

The International Energy Agency released its World Energy Outlook 2010 in November 2010.  The Outlook analyzes the commitments that nations of the world made at the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference.  It finds that those measures are inadequate to restrict greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to keep the global average temperature within Copenhagen goal of 2 deg C above the temperature that prevailed in the pre-industrial revolution period.

In general, analyses such as these propose the need for a massive, immediate effort by the worldwide community significantly to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by mid-century.  Only in this way can the worst consequences of global warming on the planet be avoided, according to these scientific projections.

Secretary Chu Proposes That a “Sputnik” Moment in Energy Race Is Upon Us.  Secretary Chu, in his speech  proposes large expenditures in alternative energy research and development (R&D) to make up for the lead that China currently holds in this regard.  Dr. Chu, rather than basing the need for new programs in alternative energy on various dire predictions of excessive global warming such as those summarized above, stresses the need for the U. S. to regain leadership in technological innovation as the underlying reason for R&D programs in alterative and sustainable energy.  Basing this view on theories of economic development, he states that science and technology R&D form the basis for innovation.  This “Sputnik” moment must be seized to restore U. S. primacy in innovation, which has migrated in recent years to China and other countries in the world.  He states that, according to a report from the National Academy of Sciences, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” in 2010, U. S. “competitiveness … has … deteriorated” in the last five years.  This is illustrated in the following graphic:
Source: Note that the marks along the horizontal axis denote years, with the digits written from bottom to top and overlapping with each other, at each position.

© 2010 Henry Auer

It is seen that since about 2000, the U. S. share of global exports has declined (blue line), whereas China’s share has significantly increased (green line).  China is dedicated to developing a major portion of its energy and transportation economy with alternative energy sources that avoid the burning of fossil fuels which produce greenhouse gases.  It is already well along such a path, with major expansions of efficient electric transmission lines, nuclear energy plant construction, high speed rail systems, and renewable energy installations, for example.

U. S. Energy R&D Funding is Miniscule.  In view of the leading role of China in the world energy economy, Dr. Chu finds it is critical for U. S. economic competitiveness to provide federal funding for innovative energy R&D.  Yet, as of 2010, energy R&D represents only 0.14% of the federal budget.  Characterized more broadly, in 2007 energy R&D, both government supported and industrial, represented only 0.3% of sales, while that for computers and electronics was 7.5%, and that for pharmaceuticals was 18.7%. 

The U. S. Department of Energy Is Funding Innovative R&D Among Diverse Projects.  Only the federal government can provide the requisite support for innovation R&D in the energy sector.  The benefits of such funding include first, that the results of such support would benefit all of society, and so the research is a legitimate governmental activity; and second, that because of the high risks involved, it is unreasonable and unlikely that corporate R&D would/could support such projects.

Currently the Department of Energy (DOE) is undertaking several projects using a short-term increase in funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the “stimulus” act).  This funding endures for only a few years; it is hoped that it will be extended and expanded for the long term.  The following projects are examples of innovation “hubs” now being developed with the DOE and other sources, including many that support private or nonprofit R&D:

Affordable electric vehicle batteries with a 500-mile range.
Supporting research at Arizona State University, this project is directed toward using oxygen in the air, a metal such as lithium, and a molten salt electrolyte instead of a water-based solvent.  This permits operating at a much higher temperature and bases the charge-discharge cycle on the oxygen and the metal.

Transformative approaches to lowering the cost of bio-fuels.
Working with scientists at the California Institute of Technology, this project seeks to develop an artificial system that mimics the photosynthesis of green plants.  This would provide the carbohydrates (sugar-like molecules) made in green plants by absorbing the greenhouse gas CO2 from the air. (The carbohydrates can then be processed to bio-fuels.)

Abundant, domestic fuel produced directly from the sun. This research is aimed at providing a solar-fuels generator that provides fuels directly from sunlight with very high efficiency.

Other projects include
• Solar photovoltaic energy (solar panels) at 1/4th the fully installed cost.
• Dramatically reduce carbon capture and storage (CCS) costs.
• Design by computer simulation that will eliminate costly development cycles requiring physical construction of pilot concepts.

Conclusion:  Secretary Chu envisions the present era as being another “Sputnik” moment.  When the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik the U. S. responded with a massive, decades-long program to foster science and technology development leading to the U. S. space program that is now the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  This program included the promotion of education and training in science and engineering, as well as the myriad of technological developments required to sustain space exploration and space travel.

Similarly, Hoffert (Science 2010 Vol. 329, p. 1292-4; see Note 1; discussed in a previous blog), in analyzing the inadequacy of current strategies for addressing global warming, has stated that our present status requires “programs with the scale and urgency of the Manhattan atom bomb project. One goal should be to develop technologies that can … eventually provide [the required] power by mid-century…from ‘clean coal’ and from nuclear and renewable technologies.”

Whether characterized as a Manhattan Project or a Sputnik response program, it is important to recognize that nothing short of major long-term public financing, coupled with venture funding in the private realm, is needed to stem the inexorable accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, thus mitigating their effects on the global environment.  Funding support of this magnitude is readily achieved in a command economy such as is currently operating in China.  It is far more difficult, but no less critical, to implement in a representative democracy such as the United States.

                                                *          *          *          *

Note 1. Abstract available online free, or the full article for a fee or through personal or institutional subscription.  Many public libraries, and university libraries open to the public, receive the journal.

© 2010 Henry Auer

Monday, November 22, 2010

From Copenhagen to Cancun – Pursuing a Global Climate Agreement

Summary:  The United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009 in convened in Copenhagen during December 2009, under the United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change, to negotiate an agreement to combat global warming due to man-made greenhouse gas emissions.  The deliberations were contentious and failed to arrive at a definitive agreement.  Upon the personal intervention of President Barack Obama the nonbinding Copenhagen Accord was ultimately agreed to.  A renewed gathering of the participating nations is to convene in Cancun, Mexico for two weeks starting November 29, 2010.  An atmosphere of continued distrust, with divergent points of view, appears to persist.  In view of the urgent need for worldwide efforts toward deep reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases, it is hoped that significant progress can be made.

Introduction.  The Copenhagen Conference (United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen) was convened with the objective of agreeing on a follow-on procedure after the Kyoto Protocol, negotiated in 1997, expires in 2012.  Heads of state, presidents, prime ministers and others with authority from their states gathered, representing 192 nations of the world.    The Kyoto Protocol was negotiated among 37 developed nations including the U. S. and European countries, but excluding developing countries.  It went into force in 2005 after the requisite number of nations ratified it, although the U. S. has not.

Deliberations at the Copenhagen Conference. Over the two weeks of the Conference considerable wrangling broke out among various parties and factions.  Issues under discussion, or forming a backdrop to the deliberations, included:

  • The Kyoto Protocol excluded developing countries of the world from its terms, yet by the time of the Copenhagen Conference, the principal developing countries, China and India, had become major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.  China overtook the U. S. in total amount of emissions around 2009. 

  • The United States, historically the greatest contributor to global emissions of greenhouse gases, failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, so was never bound by its constraints.  The U. S. Senate refused to do so in view of the exclusion from the Protocol of developing countries, and because it was felt that ratification would limit job creation and economic growth within the U. S.

  • China’s position was that terms of any new accord be based on carbon intensity, i.e., the amount of greenhouse gas emitted per unit of economic activity (e.g., gross domestic product), rather than the absolute amount of emissions.  As measured in this way, China’s greenhouse gas intensity was trending lower year-by-year, though still higher than the U. S. or India.  The Chinese feel they should not be bound by limits to be placed on absolute amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, and should not be restricted from seeking to achieve a higher standard of living.

  • In general, developing countries object to being placed under future restrictions because of the past history of greenhouse gas emissions from the industrialized countries of the West.

  • Poor nations are insisting that they be granted financial help in developing power sources that would comply with any agreement put in place.  They also foresee unbearable expenditures that might be needed in the future to adapt to adverse effects of climate change within their boundaries, such as floods or drought, or a rising sea level. Their poverty level otherwise would preclude them from ever developing to a living standard prevalent elsewhere in the world.

The Copenhagen Accord. U. S. President Barack Obama personally intervened at the Conference in its last days, as it become clear that the initial objectives of negotiating a final agreement could not be met.  The resulting Copenhagen Accord included the following nonbinding pledges:

  • Recognizing that climate scientists believe the overall increase in average global temperature above the level of the pre-industrial period should be kept below 2 deg C, the Accord pledged to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations within accepted limits of man-made emissions that threaten the climate.  Although not explicitly stated in the Accord, it is generally agreed that this corresponds to limiting greenhouse accumulation to about 450 parts per million CO2-equivalents.

  • Deep cuts in overall emissions “consistent with science and on the basis of equity” will be made.  Equity includes recognizing that the time frame for achieving this objective will be longer in developing countries.

  • Adaptation to the detrimental effects of climate change, especially in developing countries and small island countries, will require that developed countries contribute financial and technological assistance to developing countries.

  • Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) and the corollary effect of promoting removal of atmospheric CO2 by forest growth is recognized as being a significant factor in certain countries for limiting greenhouse gas emissions, and is to be a supported activity of the Accord.

  • Collective commitment of up to US$30 billion during the period 2010-2012 is pledged to promote mitigation, REDD, adaptation and technology transfer with respect to developing countries, with a further pledge of US$100 billion by 2020.

The Cancun Conference, 2010. The Cancun, Mexico Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is due to convene for two weeks beginning November 29, 2010 in order to continue the negotiations that were begun in Copenhagen in 2009.  During the intervening year, discussions have been held at G-20 summit meetings in June and November 2010.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (email dated Nov. 19, 2010), the U. S. committed itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent of levels that were emitted in 2005 by the year 2020, and to further reduce emission by more than 80 percent by mid-century.  Commitments of this kind have not been codified yet because of the failure of the U. S. Congress to pass the required law.

Prospects for progress at the Cancun Conference are not high.  Areas of disagreement persist.   The U. S. insists on verifiable inspection and measurement of greenhouse gas emissions under an agreement.  China, on the other hand, alleges the U. S. and other developed countries have failed to undertake measures to reduce greenhouse gas emission that cause global warming, and that therefore the U. S. cannot be sincere in its negotiations.  Fulfillment of financial commitments appears to be failing.  Developed countries insist on deep world-wide verifiable reductions in global warming-producing gases.  Developing countries regret the unfettered emission of greenhouse gases by the developed countries for the last century, and the apparent lack of initiative currently among the latter nations to reduce their own emissions.  Nevertheless, in October 2010 the U. S. delegate, Todd Stern, reiterated that the Obama administration stands by its commitment to reduce emission by 17% by 2020.

Conclusion. Recent agency, scientific and governmental reports (International Energy Agency World Energy Outlook 2010; Hoffert, Science, 2010, Vol. 329, p. 1292-4 (see Note 1); United Kingdom National Weather Service) emphasize the dire situation the world faces currently if “business as usual” is continued.  These reports and others make clear the immediate and urgent need for major efforts at mitigation of greenhouse gas emission, leading to a stabilized level of atmospheric greenhouse gases such as 450 ppm, as well as financial assistance to less developed countries.  It is to be hoped that the Cancun meeting will make meaningful progress toward achieving these goals.

© 2010 Henry Auer

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

World Energy Outlook 2010: Climate and Energy Projections 2008-2035

Summary: The International Energy Agency recently published its World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2010.  The Outlook analyzes the commitments that nations of the world made at the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference.  It finds that these measures are inadequate to restrict greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to keep the global average temperature within 2 deg C above the temperature that prevailed in the pre-industrial revolution period.  The Outlook instead demonstrates that only more drastic actions, begun immediately, can achieve this objective.  This conclusion is in agreement with those expressed recently by individual climate scientists and other organizations.

Introduction. The International Energy Agency (IEA) is an autonomous organization associated with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  The IEA has 28 member states among developed countries of the world, including most European countries, the U. S., Japan, and Australia. 

The IEA recently published its World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2010, which analyzes present and projected world-wide production and consumption of energy over the period 2010-2035, and assesses scenarios for meeting various objectives for limiting the effects of global warming.  This posting is based on the WEO 2010 Press Release of Nov. 9, 2010, and the WEO 2010 Executive Summary, both of which are available as linked without charge.  The full publication is available for purchase.

The Copenhagen Accord of 2009.  The United Nations conference on climate change held in Copenhagen in 2009 was convened to establish an updated agreement to follow the Kyoto Protocol.  Considerable disagreement among the participants led to a weakened result.  The Copenhagen Accord is a nonbinding commitment to limit the increase in global temperature to 2 deg C (3.6 deg F) above pre-industrial levels.  (Currently the global average temperature is 0.7 deg C above this baseline.)  In addition the Accord set the goal for industrialized countries to provide funding directed toward reducing global warming and for remediation in developing countries, amounting to US$100 billion per year by 2020. 

WEO 2010.  According to WEO 2010, however, the actual commitments made, even if fully placed in effect, would fail to achieve the stated objective of limiting global warming to 2 deg C by in turn limiting emissions of greenhouse gases.  The significance of this finding is that considerably greater effort and higher expenditures will be needed in coming years, for example after 2020, to achieve the original objective.  The feasibility of this scenario is deemed questionable.  An important aspect of achieving this goal would be eliminating various national subsidies promoting the “wasteful” use of fossil fuels.

Three energy scenarios appear in WEO 2010.  The Current Policies Scenario projects developments in the global energy economy in the absence of overt actions limiting fossil fuel use or developing alternative energy sources.  The New Policies Scenario offers predicted changes in energy demand resulting from measures to be taken in response to the Copenhagen commitments (nonbinding and inadequate though they may be).  WEO 2010 judges that under this Scenario CO2 emissions continue to rise, by 21% over the level of 2008; this “trend would make it all but impossible to achieve the 2 deg C goal, as the required reductions in emissions after 2020 would be too steep” (emphasis in the original).  Rather, this Scenario would likely lead to an atmospheric concentration of 650 ppm CO2-equivalents, corresponding to a likely temperature rise of more than 3.5 deg C (6.3 deg F).

The more rigorous 450 Scenario, first presented in the WEO 2008 document, has the objective of restricting global average temperature rise to 2 deg C (3.6 deg F) above the average temperature of the pre-industrial revolution period, by limiting atmospheric greenhouse gas content to about 450 parts per million of CO2 equivalents (ppm).  Climate scientists concur that limiting global warming to 2 deg C requires very drastic reductions in CO2-equivalent emissions, including removal of fossil fuel subsidies, and pricing CO2-equivalents at about US$90-120 per ton by 2035.

A somewhat detailed summary of WEO 2010 appears directly below.  Those readers not wishing to go through those details can skip to the Conclusion at the end of this posting.

Projected Energy Demand Through 2035. The following table summarizes annual rates of increase in energy demand projected for each the three scenarios mentioned above.  As a point of reference, for the New

Energy demand, Annualized rates of increase
Historic (past)
Change 27 yrs, %/yr
Projected change
2008-2035, %/yr
Current Policies
New Policies



Policies Scenario, the overall projected increase is 36%, and represents an increase from the equivalent of about 12,300 million tons of oil-derived energy (Mtoe) as of 2008 to about 16,700 Mtoe in 2035 (see the graphic below).

Reproduced from World Energy Outlook 2010 © OECD/IEA.  The OECD has essentially similar membership as the IEA, plus 5 additional nations.   Data to the left of the solid vertical line at the year 2008 are actual.   Energy demand beyond 2008, to the right of the vertical line, is a projection based on the New Policies Scenario.  The dashed line indicates predictions based on the Current Policies Scenario (Reference Scenario).  Mtoe, energy demand (consumption) expressed as equivalents of millions of tons of oil.

The graphic above shows that the developed countries of the world, as represented by OECD (blue band), are projected not to contribute significantly to any increase in energy demand over the next 25 years.  Rather, China (orange band) and India and the rest of the countries of the world (yellow band) are projected to account for essentially all the increase in demand.  Together, nations outside the OECD account for 93% of the increase in overall energy demand in the New Policies Scenario (see the graphic above).  For example, the rate of growth of energy demand in China is projected to be 75%. 

This general result is understandable in view of the facts that
1.      these nations have populations far exceeding those of the OECD,
2.      their populations are growing at far faster rates than in the OECD, and
3.      their economic growth rates (and hence growth in energy demand) are higher than in the OECD, since they have only recently begun industrialization and urbanization.

The following Table illustrates some of these factors, for selected nations.  The U. S. and France are intended to exemplify OECD nations, whereas the other examples show data for developing, non-OECD, 

Population 2008, millions
Est. pop. 2050, millions
GDP, US$, billions, 2008
Rate of growth of GDP 2003-8, %

Source: The Economist, Pocket World in Figures, 2011 Edition, Profile Books, London, 2010.

The demand for energy is projected to be satisfied largely by conventional fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas).  Costs for these sources are likely to rise, contributing to a modulation in the demand for their use, being highest in the 450 Scenario.  Even so, the mix among these fuels is projected to shift, with demand for oil diminishing somewhat, and demand for coal and natural gas increasing.

China. WEO 2010 writes “[i]t is hard to overstate the growing importance of China in global energy markets.” China is now the largest national consumer of energy in the world in 2009, even though as recently as 2000 the country consumed only about half as much energy as the U. S.  Even so, its per capita energy use is still one third that of the OECD average.  China’s use of energy is expected to continue growing at similar high rates in coming years.  These observations may be visualized in the first graphic, presented above, and the following one, which includes China’s share of projected growth in sources of energy demand.

Reproduced from World Energy Outlook 2010 © OECD/IEA. 
The color scheme is the same as in the first graphic, above.  The bars for coal and oil to the left of the “0” line represent decreases in usage for these fuels over the period 2008-2035 in the OECD countries.  Single-handedly China accounts for profound increases in demand for fossil fuels over this period, as well as for renewable sources of energy.  Mtoe, energy demand (consumption) expressed as equivalents of millions of tons of oil.

Coal. According to WEO 2010, use of coal in the generation of electricity will expand greatly in the period 2008-2035 (see the following graphic).  Already in the period leading up to 2008, China was bringing new coal-burning facilities on line at a pace of 1-2 per week (note the expanding use of coal in that period).

Reproduced from World Energy Outlook 2010 © OECD/IEA.  Data to the left of the solid vertical line at the year 2008 are actual.   Coal-fired generation beyond 2008, to the right of the vertical line, is a projection based on the New Policies Scenario.   A watt-hour (Wh) is a unit of energy used in characterizing electricity generation and usage. TWh, terawatt-hours, or thousands of billion watt-hours.  The author presumes TWh refers to annual production of electric energy.

China has extensive domestic supplies of coal.  Use of coal is projected to almost double through 2035.  India is also greatly increasing its use of coal for electricity, whereas the OECD countries are projected to lower the use of coal for this purpose.

Oil.  Oil pricing has less than expected effects on supply and demand.  It is costly to identify and exploit new reserves, driving up the price, but demand does not respond accordingly, in part because of the use of oil in transport for which there is no alternative.  The graphic below depicts the projected growth in number of cars for 2020 and 2035.

Reproduced from World Energy Outlook 2010 © OECD/IEA.  Data through the year 2008 are actual.

In addition, many nations provide subsidies for purchase of oil products, as well as other fossil fuels, to their citizens.  Unconventional oil sources are being increasingly exploited, including tar sands in Canada and shale oil.  These sources require higher input of energy to extract the intended product than conventional drilling and pumping.

In the New Policies Scenario oil production grows to about 99 million barrels per day in 2035, up from 84 million barrels per day in 2009.  In this Scenario, production barely reaches a peak by the end of the period.  In the 450 Scenario, in contrast, oil production is seen to reach a maximum by 2020, and falls considerably thereafter.

Gas.  Use of natural gas increases strikingly in the projected period.  In the New Policies Scenario, its use grows by 44% by 2035, or about 1.4% per year.  Demand in China increases the most, averaging almost 6% per year.  Most expanded production originates in the Middle East.

Electricity Generation.  The global demand for electricity is projected to grow most intensely of all final forms of energy consumed.  In the New Policies Scenario it is expected to grow 2.2% per year, 80% of which occurs in non-OECD nations.  The profile of electricity generation is seen as shifting profoundly to use of alternative energy sources.  Coal, the least efficient source for generating electricity, is projected to fall from 41% of supply in 2008 to 32% by 2035.  Natural gas production, which is considerably more efficient both in terms of power generated and in terms of emitting less greenhouse gas, grows in absolute quantities but remains at about 21% of the overall mix. 

Renewable sources for electricity generation grow considerably (see the graphic below),

Reproduced from World Energy Outlook 2010 © OECD/IEA.  Mtoe, energy demand (consumption) expressed as equivalents of millions of tons of oil.

but will rely heavily on continued sizeable government support to sustain its growth.  The shift away from fossil fuels for electricity generation should reduce the emission of CO2 per unit of electricity provided by about one-third over the time period considered.  In order to make renewable fuels and biofuel production significant in the global energy economy, government support should increase from about US$57 billion in 2009 to about US$205 billion (present value) by 2035.

Conclusion.  WEO 2010 considers that the goal of limiting global warming to 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels is achievable using the 450 Scenario.  Oil demand would peak by 2020.  Coal demand likewise would peak at about the same time.  New coal-fired power plants to be built would largely be fitted with carbon capture and storage capability (which this author believes is unproven as of today), keeping their CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere.  Nuclear energy and renewable energy sources are foreseen playing a large and increasing role in the energy economy by 2035.

Because of global political delays in embarking on policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the recent past, WEO 2010 projects the additional expense to implement the more vigorous measures needed to compensate for the delay would add about US$1 trillion to the cost estimate of about US$11 trillion that was proposed in WEO 2009. 

Overall, WEO 2010 deems that achieving the Copenhagen goal of limiting global warming to 2 deg C is “still (just about) achievable”, by embarking on the 450 Scenario.
This conclusion is in accord with other evaluations of the present status of global warming.  Davis, Caldeira and Matthews showed that even if no new installations burning fossil fuels were put in operation in the future, existing facilities would still emit atmospheric CO2 that would lead to further global warming.  In view of this result, Hoffert, in his commentary on the Davis article, emphasizes the very dire situation that we will actually face in the future.  Recent predictions of future global warming from the United Kingdom and the United Nations suggest that average global temperatures could rise 4 deg C (7 deg F) or more from today by the end of the century.  Hoffert emphasized the immediate need to undertake major, drastic efforts to cut back on global greenhouse gas emissions, and to develop renewable and sustainable energy sources.

In summary, it is clear that both individual climate scientists and official organizations agree on the need for bold, rapid, large-scale programs to supplant a fossil fuel-driven energy economy with a renewable, sustainable one.

© 2010 Henry Auer

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

California Voters Preserve the State’s Law Combating Global Warming

Summary:  Voters in California overwhelmingly defeated a ballot referendum that would have suspended the state’s law that combats global warming, in the election of November 2, 2010.  As a result, the law, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, remains in effect.  The Act establishes the level of greenhouse gas emissions that occurred in the year 1990 as the goal, and mandates reducing the use of fossil fuels sufficient to attain that level by the year 2020.  The Act, and this referendum defeat, are especially significant in the present political environment, since the U. S. Congress has been unable to pass any legislation regulating emissions of greenhouse gases that exacerbate global warming.

Introduction.  In a previous posting on this blog, the campaign surrounding this ballot referendum, Proposition 23, was described. Proposition 23 on the ballot for November would have suspended the provisions of California’s AB 32 (2006), the "Global Warming Solutions Act" until unemployment falls below 5.5% or less for four quarters in a row.  Specifically, it would have suspended the statutory mechanisms established in the Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels prevalent in California in 1990 by the year 2020.  The unemployment rate in California has been in the range of 12% during 2010.  It was last at 5.5% or less during October 2005 through June 2007.  It is not likely to fall back to those levels for some years.

The Global Warming Solutions Act.  In more detail, the Global Warming Solutions Act requires in part
(1)   monitoring and annual reporting of all major sources of greenhouse gas emissions;
(2)   accounting for greenhouse gas emissions arising in particular from the generation of electricity used in the state, whether generated within or outside the state;
(3)   establishing the level of greenhouse gas emissions that occurred in 1990 and assuring that greenhouse gas emissions be lowered to that level by 2020;
(4)   establishing rules and regulations by Jan. 1, 2011, by means of public hearings and taking into account the technological feasibility and cost-effectiveness in order to achieve the Act’s objectives, for electricity generation, petroleum refining and fuel supplies, subject to exclusions for small businesses whose emissions fall below a level to be determined; and
(5)   affording the option of adopting regulations that establish a market-based system with successively lower annual limits to greenhouse gas emissions in order to achieve the objectives of the Act.
Current progress and the status of implementing the Act may be accessed here.  It’s generally understood that a market-based system in item (5) will be a cap-and-trade market mechanism, whereby successively lower maximum limits for emissions are established periodically, and rights to emit those levels are traded on an open market.

Donors Supporting the Referendum Initiative (seeking to suspend the Act).  According to records of the California Secretary of the State, a group called “California Jobs Initiative, A Coalition Of Taxpayers, Employers, Food Producers, Energy, Transportation And Forestry Companies” received donations of over $7,806,000 from out of state oil companies such as Valero, Tesoro Companies, Flint Hills Resources (owned by the oil billionaires, the Koch brothers), Occidental Petroleum, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, and other oil companies, as well as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (active in many California ballot initiatives to limit taxation), and the California Trucking Association (presumably a major consumer of oil products).  Thus, in spite of the referendum’s language seeming to be concerned with the plight of unemployed workers in California, the true interests behind the referendum appear to be oil companies.

Opponents of the Referendum Initiative (seeking to preserve the Act).  A large number of organizations is listed as opposing the Referendum.  The umbrella organization is called "Californians for Clean Energy and Jobs".  George Shultz, the former U. S. secretary of state during the Reagan administration, was the honorary co-chairman of the organization.  A large number of health organization, labor unions, organizations of African-Americans and of Latinos, municipal chambers of commerce, and alternative energy and technology associations all came out opposing the referendum.  Additional opponents included Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, now governor-elect Jerry Brown, his opponent Meg Whitman, U. S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, AARP, the League of Women Voters , the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and many others.  Major donors opposing the referendum include Thomas Steyer, Hedge Fund Manager, Farallon Capital Management; the National Resources Defense Council; the National Wildlife Federation; Ann and L. John Doerr (LJD is an investment partner with Al Gore); and the Environmental Defense Action Fund.  As of late October 2010, opposing groups had raised over $35 million.

The Referendum Initiative was Defeated by an overwhelming vote of 39% in favor, 61% opposed.  This is a resounding affirmation of the public’s understanding that global warming is a significant phenomenon adversely affecting the state’s economic and individual welfare, and that alternative sources of energy must be supported and developed.

Alternative Energy is Being Actively Promoted in California.  The state’s air quality regulator, the California Air Resources Board, adopted regulations requiring electric power generators to provide one-third of their power to California from alternative or renewable sources by 2020 .  This new requirement was handed down as part of the state’s mandate to meet the requirements of the Act.  This is an ambitious target, requiring major new investments in both generating capacity and new transmission lines.  Unfortunately, however, according to an analyst from the Union of Concerned Scientists, by working with a cap-and-trade regime, the Act would actually allow utilities to meet these requirements by purchasing greenhouse gas allowances from outside the state.  This would nullify a significant feature of the Act’s objective.

More generally, however, regions in the state are actively courting new construction for the manufacture of clean energy facilities (e.g. the Sacramento region).  Presumably this is why such a large number of municipal chambers of commerce opposed the Referendum.

Conclusion.  California’s voters acted resoundingly in support of efforts to combat global warming, and as an important secondary effect, in support of establishing new industries and enterprises statewide.  This new economic endeavor has the favorable result of providing new jobs for large numbers of workers in the state. 

California’s efforts complement those of many other states in the U. S.  The first was the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative , a consortium of the six New England States plus New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.  In a common agreement, which nevertheless required favorable action by each state’s legislature and governor, the RGGI commits to reducing CO2 emissions from electric power generation sources by 10% by the year 2018.  RGGI operates by a cap-and-trade auction mechanism.  It does not cover CO2 emissions from transportation, nor from space heating and cooling.

These state and regional initiatives demonstrate the capability of the people of America to begin combating global warming in the absence of national energy policy originating from Congress and the executive branch.  In view of the imperative to eliminate use of all fossil fuels as soon as possible , these developments are significant first steps.