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".

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The European Union’s Energy Roadmap for 2050

Summary.  The European Union (EU) has issued an Energy Roadmap for 2050.  It calls on the 27 member nations of the EU to reduce energy consumption by 20%, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, and increase use of renewable energy by 20%, with respect to levels in 1990, all by 2020.  Subsequently, the Roadmap sets the goal of decreasing emissions by 80% to 95% below 1990 levels by 2050.  A major contributing mechanism to attaining these goals is the EU’s energy trading system, an emissions cap-and-trade regime. 

Introduction.  Over the last several decades it has become increasingly clear to climate scientists and policy makers that burning of fossil fuels for energy by humans around the globe emit carbon dioxide, CO2, an important greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.  CO2 and other greenhouse gases lead to increased global average temperatures.  These have adverse climatic effects on a regional scale, leading variously to aridity and drought, or extreme rain and floods, and sea level rise, among other harmful effects.

The Kyoto Protocol of 1998. In response to this realization the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) established guidelines for reducing humanity’s emissions of greenhouse gases, in the 1990’s.  The Kyoto Protocol, developed in 1998, established the goal of reducing the emission of CO2 by at least 5%, depending on the nation, below the level for 1990 by the period 2008 to 2012.  The European Union (EU) members at that time acceded to the Protocol with a reduction minimum of 8%, and began implementing programs intended to achieve this goal.  (Today’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, China and the United States, are not covered by the Kyoto Protocol, China because it was considered a developing country and so excluded, and the U. S. because the U. S. Senate voted against accession.) 

The EU has expanded.  The EU has expanded in more recent years, and currently numbers 27 countries, including nations of the former Soviet Union and others, encompassing 500 million people.  As such, climate agreements directed toward the EU cover more countries, with more inhabitants, than at the time of the Kyoto Protocol.  In 2005, the EU began operating its Emissions Trading System (ETS; a “cap-and-trade” regime).

Goals for 2020. The EU recently issued a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below the levels of 1990 by the year 2020, to increase energy production from renewable sources to 20% and to reduce overall energy use by 20%.  In the period from 1990 to 2009, the gross domestic product of the EU, a measure of the total production of goods and services, grew by 40%, while overall emissions were reduced by 16%.

EU’s Energy Efficiency Goals for 2020 Will Not Be Met Future projections for efficiency improvements based on detailed global and EU modeling and scenario development, however, do not sustain the historical efficiency recorded through 2009, as seen in the following graphic for projections based both on 2007 and 2009.

Mtoe, millions of metric tonnes of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions.
Source, European Commission “Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050”, issued in 2011;

As noted in the graphic, policies and activities directed toward reducing energy consumption that are currently in practice would achieve only about a 10% reduction compared to no action (“Business as usual”) by 2020.

The European Union’s Roadmap For a Low Carbon Economy in 2050.  The EU issued its Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050” on March 8, 2011.   It was developed using a detailed atmospheric model assembled within the EU.

A Need to Develop the Roadmap.  The Roadmap points out the failing identified above, and others.  Listing reasons for striving toward a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, it identifies benefits for energy security, including relief from the EU’s current increasing dependence on foreign sources for fossil fuels and economic risks arising from unpredictable and higher prices for fuels.  It recognizes that at the time of writing, impacts of severe weather increasingly may have negative impacts on economic development; these include more frequent and/or more severe consequences of extreme weather such as storms and floods, hot weather including heat waves and drought, and rising sea levels.  The following graphic shows such effects as a bar chart of the number of events plotted for each calendar year from 1980 to 2009.

Green: meteorological events such as storms; Blue: hydrological events such as floods; and Yellow: Climatological events such as extreme temperature, drought and forest fires.  The Solid Line is a long-term trend line for the yearly totals.  
Source: European Commission “Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050”, issued in 2011;

Even though the year-by-year counts of events show variability, merely a subjective estimate across the time presented in the graphic shows that the counts for the meteorological events (green bars), the hydrological events (purple bars), and climatological events (yellow bars), each in turn, are about 2 to 3 times more numerous by 2006 to 2009 compared to 1980 to 1983.  These increases correlate with increases in emissions of greenhouse gases over this time frame, and with the corresponding increase in average global temperature as well.  Indeed, two reports in the scientific journal Nature in February 2011 for the first time show direct statistical causality between global warming trends and extreme rain and flooding events.  

Global Temperature Objective
.  Furthermore, the Roadmap stands by the objective of restricting global warming to no more than 2°C (3.6°F) above the average global temperature that prevailed prior to the industrial revolution that was agreed to at the Copenhagen (2009) and Cancun (2010) meetings held under the UNFCCC.  Currently the average global temperature has increased by about 0.75°C during that time.  Various climate models predict that further global temperatures may increase anywhere from 1.1°C to 6.4°C beyond today’s level.

Climate Modeling Provides Details on Reductions in Energy Use by Economic Sectors.  The climate model prepared the EU’s energy objectives in the context of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.  In order to keep the globe as a whole on track to limit average temperature rise to 2°C, global emissions of greenhouse gases must decline by about 50% by 2050, which is the recommendation of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  Since it is understood that developing countries may need to continue using energy and emitting greenhouse gases during this period, their contribution to meeting these goals may be reduced.  In recognition of this need the EU in its Roadmap sets forth the stringent restriction for itself of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95% from the emission level of 1990, by 2050, as recommended by the Cancun Agreement.  Analysis of the sectors of the economy contributing to this goal yields the projections of greenhouse gas emissions shown in the following graphic.

Relative greenhouse gas emissions charted at 5 year intervals by economic sector.  Actual results shown through 2010; projected results thereafter.  The red line shows projected results using policies in place prior to the Roadmap.  The remaining projections include technologies and policies to be implemented under the Roadmap.  Source: European Commission, “A Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050” March 8, 2011.

Achieving this objective envisions reductions in emissions of 1% per year until 2020, then 1.5% per year from 2020 to 2030, and finally 2% per year until 2050.  These should provide about 25% reduction in emissions by 2020, about 40% by 2030, and about 60% reduction by 2040.  A main mechanism for achieving the target is the ETS cap-and-trade regime covering industrial sources, and other efficiencies from building improvements, services, agriculture and transport.  The ETS program will provide both the needed clear price signal for CO2 emissions and long-term predictability so that the private sector can lay plans to progress toward these objectives. The 2020 goal also relies on an increase to 20% in the use of renewable energy sources, and on specific energy efficiency programs covering operations and activities throughout the economy.

Details of various technologies and practices that will lead to the significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions required are presented in the Roadmap and in an accompanying publication on energy efficiency.

In an earlier post on this blog Warmgloblog proposed that the earth’s atmospheric concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases was analogous to a bathtub containing CO2. The bathtub had a faucet delivering new CO2 into it, and a drain that removed little or no CO2, leading to a buildup of CO2 in the bathtub.  In a second post, Warmgloblog discussed a commentary by Hoffert in the journal Science stating the critical necessity of acting immediately to eliminate new emissions of greenhouse gases.

Costs and benefits envisioned for the Roadmap.  The EU Roadmap projection identifies investment expenditures required for implementation, as well as benefits resulting from the program.  They provide compensating amounts, as well as non-material benefits, so that major expenditures are not foreseen to be required.

Expenditures projected for investments.  The Table below shows anticipated annual expenditures arising internally within the EU according to the Roadmap, for each year from 2010 to 2050.  The EU’s figures in euros are converted to U. S. dollars at the exchange rate in March 2011.

Billions of €
Billions of US$ (2011)
Buildings and appliances
Vehicles and transportation infrastructure
Electricity generation and grid
Total including other expenses not shown

The Roadmap points out importantly that delay in starting the program would increase the total required expenditures, and would cut into investment and startup timelines.

Benefits foreseen under the Roadmap.  It is predicted for the interval 2010 to 2050 fuel savings would range from €175 to 320 billion per year (US$ 250 to 457 billion per year).  Consumption of energy would be about 30% below the level of 2005 without adversely affecting energy services.  The EU economy would have a more secure energy base, since oil and gas imports would be about half of today’s needs.  The savings would be about €400 billion (US$ 570 billion) in 2050, equivalent to more than 3% of today’s EU GDP.  In addition, the Roadmap points out that all the money spent as investments stays within the EU rather than being sent abroad to pay for fuel imports.

The Roadmap estimates that up to 1.5 million new jobs will be created by 2020.  In the short term these would arise from the need to renovate and retrofit buildings, provide insulation materials and develop the fixed assets to be used for renewable energy sources.  Long term job prospects under favorable conditions will result from new energy research and technology development, and creation of new ventures focused on energy innovation.

Conclusions.  The EU Roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to the range of 5% to 20% of the levels that prevailed in 1990 is a very ambitious, but essential, undertaking.  It puts the EU, and the nations of the world, on a path to limiting atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations to a level that climate scientists have agreed should not be exceeded. 

The EU Roadmap is an affirmation of the need to achieve a low-carbon economy that is absent from the goals of other major emitters of greenhouse gases.  China is on a path that is predicted to continue to increase its use of fossil fuels at least through 2035.  As of 2008, coal, the fossil fuel yielding the highest amount of CO2 per unit of energy provided, constituted 71% of the total energy consumed in China.  Thermal power generation capacity, based mostly on coal, is estimated to increase from 650 GW in 2009 to 1,000 GW by 2020.

The U. S. has no national energy policy of any kind in place at this time.  It produces about one quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases, but its emission rate is relatively mature, and is predicted to grow modestly from 2009 to 2035. Three regional consortia of states have been formed within the past four years, and so don’t have the history of working within the Kyoto Protocol.  The (Northeast and Mid-Atlantic) Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has been operating since 2005.  It has very modest goals and affects only electric power generation.  The Western Climate Initiative was formalized in 2007 and will begin operation in 2012.  It aims to achieve 15% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across the region’s economy by 2020.  The Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, organized in 2007, has goals that are numerically identical to those set forth in the EU Roadmap.  Currently prospects for new energy legislation in the U. S. Congress establishing a single national policy are bleak.

The nations of the world have to date been incapable of reaching agreement on central aspects of limiting greenhouse gas emissions, as seen for example by the outcomes of the UNFCCC conferences in Copenhagen (2009) and Cancun (2010), although the Cancun meeting did reach important binding agreements.  The EU Roadmap appears to be first significant effort to implement the “deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions … required according to [climate] science, and as documented in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change” as set forth in the Cancun Agreement.  The rest of the world, both developed and developing countries, should begin similar efforts as soon as possible.

© 2011 Henry Auer

Friday, March 11, 2011

Public Attitudes on Global Warming and Effects on Politics

Summary.  A survey of Americans in 2010 shows a majority believe in global warming, many of whom understand that greenhouse gases are responsible for global warming.  Half of respondents believe that human activity is responsible for global warming, and two-thirds understand that carbon dioxide, a significant greenhouse gas, arises from burning fossil fuels.  Those surveyed understand that many remedial actions can be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The individual attitudes reflected in the survey results are mirrored in the way people identify with the political parties active in the U. S.

Introduction.  In the United States, political action to establish a framework addressing global warming under law has so far not been possible.  In spite of persistent efforts by environmental groups helping to draft an environmental policy act, other interests from the energy industry and related sectors of the economy have mounted effective campaigns opposing environmental advocates, seeking to weaken or defeat proposed legislation. 

In such a polarized political environment, it is important to understand the opinions of the public on this issue.  This post presents the results of a survey of Americans on the topic of global warming.

A Survey of Public Opinion on Climate Change.  A. Leiserowitz and coworkers (see Note below) conducted a detailed survey of 2030 American adults in the summer of 2010. 

The survey asked over 50 questions, some of which included more than one part.  Some questions were directed toward beliefs or opinions. Other questions sought to establish the level of objective knowledge about global warming that the respondents have; these questions had factually correct and incorrect answer choices.

Global warming.  63% of respondents think global warming is happening, and 19% didn’t know.  Of those who did think global warming is happening, 95% were at least somewhat sure.  Of those who did not think global warming is happening, 94% were at least somewhat sure.

Scientific basis for global warming.  If it is assumed that global warming is occurring, 50% of those surveyed correctly believe that it is due mostly to human activities, and 35% think incorrectly that it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment.  39% correctly think that most scientists believe global warming is happening.  38% think there is disagreement among scientists on whether global warming is or is not happening.  66% correctly understand that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap heat.  However, 21% think incorrectly that greenhouse gases refer to gases that deplete the UV-protective ozone layer in the atmosphere.  This likely is a holdover from the 1990’s alarm over, and subsequent international agreement to limit, the fluorocarbon gases that were used in refrigerators and in other applications.  67% of respondents correctly understand that carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas, is produced by burning fossil fuels.  Even so, more than 75% of respondents did not know the amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now, or in 1850 before the industrial revolution began.  40% correctly understand that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is growing exponentially (compounding year-by-year), while a similar 41% of respondents incorrectly believe that this growth follows a straight line.

Sources of greenhouse gases.  More than half of respondents correctly identify cars and trucks, and use of fossil fuels for generating electricity and for heating, deforestation and raising of cows and cattle as being origins of greenhouse gas emissions.  On the other hand, they incorrectly identify such sources as aerosol cans and nuclear power generation as giving rise to greenhouse gases.  Again, the misidentification of aerosol cans probably comes from the earlier scare concerning destruction of the ozone layer.

Past and present patterns of climate.  Only 41% of respondents understand correctly that the earth has been warmer in the past 10,000 years compared to the past million years.  The survey provided the information that the current global average temperature is about 58ºF.  Many respondents think incorrectly that the average temperature during the last ice age was 32ºF; the actual estimate is 46-51ºF.  Respondents tended to guess that average temperatures would be slightly higher in 2020 and 2050 than the climate scientific models, 58.4ºF and 60-61ºF, respectively.

If burning of fossil fuels and the production of carbon dioxide were to stop now, 62% of respondents correctly understand that global warming would continue.  Even so, 57% of respondents incorrectly believe that the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere would immediately fall.  Furthermore, only 19% of respondents correctly understand that carbon dioxide endures in the atmosphere for hundreds of years or more.

Personal concern about global warming.  55% of those surveyed were at least somewhat worried about global warming, while 45% were not very worried or not at all worried.

In a series of related questions, respondents felt that they were at least fairly well informed, or very well informed, in a range of 62-66%, about the causes of, the consequences of, and things that could be done about, global warming.

Beliefs related to arguments expressed by global warming skeptics or deniers.  42% of respondents confuse weather prediction with climate prediction, for they believe incorrectly that since weather cannot be forecast for longer than a few days ahead, the same is true of global or regional climate predictions.  One third of respondents incorrectly feel that humans should not be held responsible for global warming today because the earth’s climate has undergone natural variations in the past.

Understanding the consequences of global warming.  68% of those surveyed correctly understand that warming will not be uniform across the globe, causing some places to become wetter and others to become more arid.  They understand that such effects will also impact crop yields, raising them in some places and decreasing them in others.

Only 21% of those surveyed correctly understand that most of the glaciers are melting across the planet, whereas 48% say that only some glaciers are melting.  Of these, 84% correctly understand that the rate of melting of glaciers is increasing over the past 100 years.  Large majorities, in the range of 60-73%, correctly understand that melting of glaciers over land in Antarctica, mountain glaciers, and warmer temperatures in the oceans, will contribute to a rise in sea levels.

Remedial actions to reduce global warming.  Americans surveyed correctly identified several measures that can be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emission, in the range of 65-75% for reducing use of fossil fuels by changing to renewable sources, planting new trees, reducing deforestation in tropical forests, changing from gasoline-fueled cars to electric cars, driving less, increase the use of public transit, and insulating buildings.

Many respondents, however, had misconceptions when asked about other measures that might reduce greenhouse gases, incorrectly believing that toxic waste contributed to global warming, and that banning aerosol spray cans would contribute as well.

53% of respondents either didn’t know or did not think that imposing a large tax on all fossil fuels would reduce global warming, or limiting families to 2 children (zero population growth, 60%), or stopping the consumption of beef (69%).  But about one-third of respondents picked switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources to be the one step that would do the most to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Political affiliation and global warming.  In a related survey of American voters , belief in global warming was distinguished by political party or affiliation of the respondents.  The Democratic party is the more liberal or progressive party, and the Republican party is the more conservative party, frequently supporting positions that are favorable to businesses and corporations.  The tables below give respondents’ answers to the questions heading the tables (columns may not add to 100% due to rounding errors).

Do you think that global warming is happening? (%)
Don’t Know

This result indicates that Democrats are very likely to believe in global warming and extremely unlikely not to believe.  Only half of Republicans, on the other hand, believe in global warming and almost 2/5 of them do not believe.  A majority of Independents or Others believe in global warming; this group has a larger percent that doesn’t know than either Democrats or Republicans.

How worried are you about global warming? (%)

Very worried
Somewhat worried
Not very worried
Not at all worried

The results in this table show that almost 80% of Democrats are somewhat or very worried about global warming, but that only 32% of Republicans have this concern.  This is consistent with the results in the first table, showing that Republicans believe in global warming to a far less extent than do Democrats.  Among Independents and Others, almost 70% of respondents were only somewhat worried or not very worried, i.e., chose answers in the middle range of the choices offered.

Assuming global warming is happening, what do you think is mostly the cause? (%)
Human activities
Natural changes
Both human and natural
None, because global warming isn’t happening

If it is given that global warming is occurring, almost 70% of Democrats believe that human activities are responsible, and only 2% dismiss the premise by saying that global warming is not happening.  Among Republican respondents, on the other hand, only one-third believe that human activities are mostly responsible.  Instead, exactly half of Republicans believe that global warming arises from natural changes.  This could help explain why Republicans are not very worried or not at all worried about global warming (2nd  Table).

Democratic respondents were quite consistent, since 3% of Democrats do not believe global warming is happening (in the 1st Table) and 2% say global warming is not happening (in the 3rd Table), and 7% of Democrats are not at all worried about global warming (2nd Table).  Among Republicans, the answers to these questions are more scattered.  While 38% say global warming is not happening (1st Table), only 11% say it is not happening (3rd Table), and 34% are not at all worried about global warming (2nd Table).   Further, among Republicans, the fact that 50% believe that the occurrence of global warming is due to natural changes is consistent with the fact that almost 70% of Republicans are not very worried or not at all worried about global warming.

The behavior of American politicians concerning global warming.  Our legislators are elected by voters who reflect the attitudes, according to party, that are discussed in the preceding section.  The legislators, in turn, are likely to make voting decisions based on their constituents’ feelings as well as on other considerations such as the urgings of interested persons and corporations, and perhaps financial contributions to their election campaigns as well.

In the United States, in the 111th Congress, elected in November 2008, the House of Representatives (the lower chamber) had a Democratic majority.  It passed an energy bill (the Waxman-Markey bill) incorporating a cap-and-trade mechanism for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in 2009 by a vote of 219-212 with 3 not voting.  Of 254 Democrats voting, 210 voted in favor.  169 of the 179 Republicans voting opposed the bill. This bill was not taken up for consideration in the Senate (the upper chamber), where as few as 40 votes of the total of 100 can prevent passage.  The Senate of the 111th Congress had 41 Republicans.   

In the 112th Congress, elected in November 2010, the House of Representatives now has a Republican majority, 242 of a total of 435 members.  The House is considering a bill to strip an executive agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, of its power, granted by statute and reinforced by a decision of the Supreme Court, to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases. (If passed this bill will likely not become law because the Senate is not expected to pass it, and in all likelihood the President would not grant his approval even if passed by the Senate.)

These efforts in the U. S. Congress show that, although the legislators should reflect the opinions and interests of the voters that elected them, their voting decisions can be affected by other factors as well.  When all is said and done, it is the voters who must decide whether their elected representatives reflect and support their own attitudes.

Conclusion.  In a survey of about 2000 Americans taken in the summer of 2010, 63% believe global warming is happening, but may not fully understand how this comes about.  Lack of knowledge, or misconceptions about the scientific basis of global warming is reflected in smaller percentages of people who understand that greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, or who realize that human activities lead to global warming.  Significantly, a majority also mistakenly believes that the ozone hole in the atmosphere, and use of aerosol spray cans, are related to global warming.  On the other hand, many Americans do realize that emissions from burning fossil fuels, including the fuels for cars and trucks, are a source of global warming, and that a transition from use of fossil fuels to renewable energy sources would be an important way to help change the trend of increasing warming of the globe by greenhouse gases.

When political beliefs of respondents are taken into account, Democrats (more liberal) believe that global warming is occurring, are worried about global warming, and believe that human activity contributes to global warming.  Republicans (more conservative), on the other hand, are likely not to believe that global warming is occurring, that, if it is occurring it is due to natural changes, and are not worried about it.  These attitudes are reflected among the Democratic and Republican lawmakers elected to Congress in their votes on energy policy and regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

If public opinion could more vigorously support the objectives of limiting global warming and measures needed to achieve this goal, perhaps lawmakers would be more disposed to enacting laws that promote remedial measures to combat this phenomenon.

Leiserowitz, A., Smith, N. & Marlon, J.R. (2010) Americans’ Knowledge of Climate Change. Yale University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

© 2011 Henry Auer