Monday, December 29, 2008

Voluntary Vaccination

In some places in the United States you are not required to have your child immunized against childhood diseases. For whatever reason, some people decline to do so and place all unimmunized children at risk. But that includes some children (under 12 months old) that are too young to be immunized. So the risk pool includes more than those whose parents have chosen not to have them immunized as a matter of choice. Assume there is some risk of immunization. Assume if everyone else gets immunized, I don’t need to – since the chance of my child becoming infected false to near zero. Then altruism aside, why should I get my child immunized? The set up is ready made for me to act as free rider – but so it is for everyone else, which would place us all at risk. Here is a prime example in which making choice an individual matter produces an outcome to the disadvantage of all. A collective choice sidesteps that by limiting individual choice. But in a democracy, we are then put in a position of having to (individually) choose to limit our own freedom. Why would we do that? If I elect not to be a free rider, I need to worry that others will. A vote guarantees that if I elect not to be a free rider, nobody else can either. But as with vaccination so with energy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The New Jersey 2050 Plan

New Jersey has released the draft of its green house gas reduction plan for 2020 and 2050: http://www.state.nj.us/globalwarming/home/stakeholder.html .
“The 2050 limit – reduce emissions to a level 80 percent below 2006 emission levels … represents the emission level necessary to avoid the worse potential effects from climate change. … Citizens of New Jersey will have to govern, work and live much differently than we do now, with an emphasis on smarter and greater efficiency. The existing and conventional policies, practices, behaviors, and technologies that brought us to the current problems will obviously not lead to their solutions.”

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Empirical Mind

At CSP we are committed to measuring the success of interventions to change people's behavior empirically – that is we want actual measure of things like energy behavior not people’s self reports. That is reasonably easy to do with a cooperating partner like a utility company. But what if you are interested in measuring changes in people’s attitudes? To my mind, the crisis of climate is much more a matter of winning citizen support for government policy than a matter of changing individual behavior. Individual behavior simply lacks the impact to make a difference – even in aggregate. It is not just that individual households are only part of the climate problem. It is more that changing our behavior is a function of the choices we have available to us and those are not under our control – even our collective control. Take public transportation. We may all be ready to take it but that is of no value if it is not there. And it won’t be there without a government decision to build it. But as government acts in the long run, its actions will inevitably chafe. Winning voter acquiescence for government action is therefore crucial. And so understanding how to do that is crucial as well. But how do you find an empirical measure of what works? Stay tuned.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Vacuum Cleaner for the Air?

Some people litter. It would be better if they didn’t. We can exhort them to do otherwise. It only helps a bit. So we threaten fines. But actually imposing the fines is just too costly. It is cheaper to hire street sweepers. Cleaning the environment is more practical than trying to change each miscreant’s behavior. As with littering, so with greenhouse gasses, I want to argue. It is not that we should stop trying to limit them at the source. But in the final analysis it may be more practical to concentrate on cleaning up the air after the fact.

When we release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere it eventually gets reabsorbed – some by trees and plants, but most by the oceans. In the pre-industrial world, atmospheric CO2 was stable at about 270 parts per million. It is now at 380 parts per million and there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that we need to limit carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to at most 450 parts per million, if only on grounds of prudence. So we have 70 parts per million left to spend. At our current rate of output we will do so within 25 years. After that we will only be able to put out what Nature can absorb if we want CO2 to remain at a steady state in the atmosphere. So once we reach our limit, Nature’s rate of absorption will determine our carbon allowance going forward. The prevailing popular assumption has been that the carbon cycle is about 100 years. That is to say, the CO2 put into the atmosphere prior to 1908 has now been fully reabsorbed. But Nature may not be nearly that forgiving. We may be off by a factor of 100! If it takes 10,000 years for CO2 to be fully reabsorbed, once we spend our budget and reach 450 parts per million that will be it! To remain in a steady state, we will effectively need to be on a zero CO2 diet – unless we can remove anything we put out.

Even if we do just that for coal fired power plants, that won’t solve the problem. They constitute only 25% of our total carbon output. The rest comes from many other sources. Some are large, like manufacturing processes. But much comes from you and me as we conduct our daily lives. That is only going to get worse as developing economies grow. Urbanization, electrification, and transportation will drive such carbon output. And even if we had the resolve to do so, regulating the effects of these kinds of social transformations will be extraordinarily difficult to administer.

Instead, cleaning up this output from the air may in the end be a more practical solution. It is a solution that has three other virtues. First, a 100 year cycle would have the virtue of wiping the historical slate clean in a reasonable amount of time. But in a 10,000 year cycle, the carbon output of the now developed world is still with us, and is going to be with us, as is an historical responsibility to clean up our mess. Second, if 450 part per million turns out to be too liberal a level for our collective well being, we would have a way to remove more CO2 to reach a more desirable level. Third, there is no guarantee that a world-wide consensus on what counts as a prudent level of CO2 will emerge. The tradeoff between economic growth and global warming may look very different depending on how well off you are in the here and now. An option to clean the air would allow those who care the most, and can afford to pay for it, to act on their own behalf even as everyone else might benefit.

But is there any prospect of us actually cleaning the air? The fact of the matter is that if carbon capture and sequestration can be developed for coal power plants, a variant of the same technology ought to be possible for ambient CO2. Research in this area is already underway – with the prospect of ambient CO2 capture units being placed in locations that have sustained winds that can be used to both move air through the units and power them. As always, God is in the details. But as we hopefully move forward with a well thought out program for climate research with a new administration, working out those details deserves to be given a high property.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Where are we?

In the outgoing congress, there were 45 reliable votes for serious climate change legislation in the Senate. The bad news is that despite the changed makeup of the Senate, the count is about the same – 6 votes short of a majority and 14-16 vote short of a veto proof majority (depending on how races in Minnesota and Georgia come out). That makes it all the more crucial to focus on the question of the White House. Not since the Johnson administration, has a president come in with the political capital to set an agenda and demand congressional assent. Climate change legislation may only occur to the extent that Obama is willing to spend that political capital to make it a priority. And we know such capital has a short shelf life. But the route to this legislation is unlikely to be direct. Before the economic crisis, one might have hoped for climate legislation to have been greased for passage with the promise of green job investments along with hand waving about energy independence. The collapse of oil prices removes the immediate political value of the second of these. But the economic crisis makes the green job investments central. So central, that we should no longer expect a climate bill with them a secondary but an employment bill with the climate provisions as secondary. That is not going to be easy to pull off. Climate provisions, like a 20% reduction by 2020 and 80% by 2050 are not in and of themselves politically attractive. So if they are add-ons to a (green) jobs bill there will be all sorts of incentives to lop them off. Still, it may be the only politically viable option at this point.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Changing Behavior

Just spent an interesting couple of days at a second annual conference on behavior and climate change - http://www.beccconference.org . Some thoughts about programs to change behavior:
1. What are the goals?: Is the goal to reduce peak demand? To reduce average energy use? To reduce green-house gasses? Or is it to win support for ongoing government policy on climate? All of these are worthy goals but the way to achieve them may not be the same. For example, reducing peak demand by shifting demand does not reduce average demand.
2. Who is the target?: For at least some of these goals, the largest energy users ought to be the target on grounds of efficiency. But if, for example, subsidies and incentives are involved, considerations of equity may come into play as well. Decisions need to be made on how to balance these competing goals. Either way, one thing we lack is good segmentation studies of these targets. Segmenting an audience into distinct groups that may have differing interests and motivation is crucial to both understanding whom to reach and how best to reach them. The best segmentation research on climate and energy has been done in the U.K.. However, new and creative ways of approaching segmentation outside the climate and energy field merit examination. Three different approaches to both segmentation and its application re worth keeping in mind going forward: the most traditional assumes we are looking for people of like mind qua climate (for example, committed environmentalists, deniers etc) and then seeks messages that “work” for each group. A second approach assumes an underlying psychology is more determinative than specific attitudes or beliefs and looks to divide people up on the basis of that underlying theory and its associated taxonomy. Finally, recently developed more experimental approaches attempt to construct a typology de novo out of raw data with a minimum of assumptions at the front end. Using this methodology, we first ask what works in a population and then seek to find out what characteristics the population that responds has.
3. What method?: Knowing the goals and the targets still leaves open the method of how to reach them. Intuition favors education on the assumption the knowledge drives belief which drives behavior. Evidence points to the limits of such models in favor of marketing approaches. Marketing approaches should be distinguished between those that promote messages using the subject of interest – for example, “save energy” and those that are willing to embrace indirection – for example, “Brad Pitt drives a Prius.” But it would be a mistake to limit the menu of choices to these two alternatives. Along with the provision of information, it is worth considering: i. incentives – including subsidies; ii. symbolic rewards – prizes, awards; iii. side-bets – like a commitment to pay money to your least favorite charity if you fail to reach an agreed upon savings goal; iv. opt outs; v. technology options and of course vi. pricing options. The question of how much information is needed to be effective is an open question.
4. An important unknown: Unfortunately, for any method that does work, a crucial missing datum is persistence. Will the change in behavior remain over time? Will the behavior decay? Even if it does not, how will it affect the projected energy growth path? Absent reliable data on persistence it will be hard to plan growth energy capacity with any confidence.
5. On-going evaluation: Nothing could be worse than to set out on a long-term course of action without the capacity to evaluate its effectiveness in near real time. Programs should be designed with this in mind so that they can be adjusted on the fly. For example, the more programs are narrow cast* to targets audiences the easier it is to design effective evaluations. (*The use of mail and the internet as opposed to broadcast and print media.)
6. We are not alone: Every state in the Union and many countries are addressing the same set of problems we face. It would be foolhardy not to learn from them and share our experiences with them. Putting in place a mechanism to do this ought to be a sine qua non. (A few utilities themselves have pioneered important research paradigms that deserve scrutiny.)
7. Cost-benefit analysis: We owe it to the citizenry to keep track of the costs of each renewable KwH or ton of CO2 saved and to take into account all of the costs. Direct subsidies for solar are the only subsidies to the end users. But from a social point of view, all of the advertising to recruit users should be taken into account as well. Only by understanding the full costs can we be in a position to consider alternatives.
8. Attend to core lessons for other fields: The goals we are concerned with may be unique but the tools we have at our disposal are not. There are lessons to be learned from the two most successful social policy programs of the last century: smoking cessation and seat belt use. Moreover, numerous fields are generating insights that merit examination, including: i. diffusion modeling – the study of how and who spreads ideas; ii. design theory – the study of how design influences behavior; iii. the use of cultural media – especially social dramas that ‘model’ the desired behavior change; iv. the study of barriers to adoption – including limited capital, inseparable features, and transaction costs; and v. behavioral economics – the study of deviations from rational choice models.
9. A key insight from the social sciences: Successful change is less an individual matter than a matter of collective change. We like to think of ourselves as more autonomous than we are. This has far reaching ramifications for designing a program for change. We de-emphasize the role of habit and imitation in the way we behave. We undervalue how much we follow and model others. We are embarrassed to admit how much we value social approval. And we forget how much “team spirit” can act as a motivator.
10. Externalities: In the final analysis, it is of the problem of externalities (costs we do not pay for) that drives the core set of problems we are concerned with when it comes to green house gasses. The more we can internalize those prices the easier the road ahead.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More is less

As summarized in the Research section of our web page (www.csp.rutgers.edu), a recent poll we did with support from the utility PSEG uncovered two disturbing results:
1. People who believe in anthropogenic climate change are more likely to have false beliefs about the causes of climate change than others.
2. They are also no more likely to engage in energy saving behavior than anyone else either!
How to explain these disturbing results? I think they both point to the danger of thinking, not unreasonably that knowledge shapes belief which guides action. Here we have something very different going on. Once you believe in human caused climate change, that belief shapes what you accept as knowledge not the other way around. And your actions turn out not to be governed by those beliefs irrespective of where they come from. All of this points to the need to think more creatively about the determinants of behavior and behavioral change.

Monday, November 10, 2008

More Gore

In “The Climate for Change,” NY Times editorial, Nov. 9th, Al Gore calls for the U.S. to pursue carbon cap and trade policies. What he does not call for is U.S. unilateral action to legislate mandated C02 reductions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% below by 2050. It is a crucial omission. I came away from conversations with Indian and Chinese government advisors on climate this summer with the clear sense that any and all international negotiations will bog down until and unless the U.S. establishes its bona fides. We need to engage in what a Chinese adviser called “a game changer”. Gore’s other prescriptions are all sensible – increasing alternative energy, building smart national grids, accelerating hybrid auto development and deployment – but they will take many years to implement. His ten year timetable ignores the fact that, assuming normal continued economic growth, U.S. energy demand is going to double within the next 30 years. We need action now that publically binds us to a course of development over time, come what may. The new administration is considering just such action - 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% below by 2050 – but the danger is that this objective will get trumped by the political pressure to the chimera of an energy independence policy.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Next year in Congress?

Nancy Pelosi’s chief of staff told us here at Eagleton that he thinks a climate bill will come to the floor of the Congress in the Fall of 09. Here is some information on what is under discussion taken from the Alliance to Save Energy - http://ase.org/files/5161_file_dingell_boucher.pdf

Monday, October 27, 2008

From Bad to Worse

WWF recently produced a summary of recent research. The main claim: “Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions released as a consequence of human activity have been accelerating, with their growth rate increasing from 1.1% per year between 1990 and 1999, to more than 3% per year between 2000 and 2004. The actual emissions growth rate since 2000 was greater than any of the scenarios used by the IPCC in either the Third or Fourth Assessment Reports. Over the past 15 years, about half the CO2 emissions arising from human activity have been absorbed by land and ocean. However, the capability of these natural ‘sinks’ is declining at a greater rate than forecast in earlier studies. This means that more of the CO2 emitted from human activities will stay in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.” The full report is available at: http://assets.panda.org/downloads/wwf_science_paper_october_2008.pdf

Monday, October 20, 2008

Now what?

With the economic down-turn, there are rumblings from both Europe and the United States that climate change policy has to be put off. Reinvigorating economic growth is the priority. Some are arguing that policies like cap and trade are growth promoting and hence there is no conflict. This strikes me as naive. The Polish economy's dependence on its domestic coal supply is not going to benefit from such a program even if others do. And even if others do, those economic benefits are not going to operate in the short term. I think the more telling policy is that all climate policies are long term policies. They are irrelevant to short term economic interests and neutral in their short terms effects. The worst thing one can do is to mix up the two. Relying on climate policies to promote short term economic growth simply leads to the temptation distort what needs to be done over many years into an excuse to spend a lot of money now. The result may benefit the economy but will disappoint when it comes to controlling greenhouse gas output.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Valuation

Suppose I tell you that buying a car with side-impact bags improves you survivability in a crash by x%. Crashes are low probability, high cost outcomes. The cost is high enough so that when you multiply it by the probability, it likely still outweighs the price of the side-impact bags. So it would seem to make sense for everyone to buy them. Not so fast! If I am really poor, suppose that money may be what I need to a health insurance policy. And, fair or not, having a health insurance policy will be important not just in a crash (unless it is fatal) but other times I get sick as well. When you take into account scarce resources, the calculus begins to look less obvious. As with cars, so with climate. Here is an argument I heard recently in India from a prominent government climate negotiator: if there is a trade off between economic growth and limiting climate change, being better off, if you are really poor, may put you in better shape to deal with climate change – even if the change is worse than it would have been without that growth. There has to be a limit on this argument – it could not be right for extreme climate change where survival in imperiled. But short of that, is there a range on climate change in which it does apply – say a 550ppm world as opposed to a 450ppm world? You might complain that this is a false polarity – if the Developed World cuts back on carbon output there would be lots of room for the Developed World to grow economically within safe limits. But as I discussed in an earlier post (on July 7th below), that is far from obvious.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Lackner's Trees

Klaus Lackner and his associates have been working on a model to capture climate from the air rather than the smokestacks of coal fired power plants. That has many many advantages if it works and is cost effective:
1. Lots of CO2 comes from places other than coal fired power plants.
2. Capturing CO2 from them is going to be next to impossible.
3. To put it politely, not everyone running a coal fired power plant is necessarily going to actually capture the CO2 given the additional costs of doing so, even if they say they are going to.
4. Separating out who and where CO2 is produced and where and when it is captured allows the Developed World to clean up some of its historic output.
I spoke to Lackner recently, and he is cited figures of $200 a ton going down to $30 a ton for the operating such a system at scale. This includes the cost of manufacture and the power needs of the system but excludes the costs of sequestration. He envisages deploying small units (the size of shipping containers) that each remove 1 ton of CO2 a day. Like all carbon capture, this approach uses power, so unless you use renewable energy as a source, it adds to the problem as it works to solve it. Cleaning up the CO2 that a coal fired power plant produces requires you to burn 30% more coal to produce the energy for the clean up. On the other hand, with an ambient system you could locate Lackner’s units in a desert and run them with solar power. How many would you need? If each extracts 1 ton of CO2 a day, 3 will take out roughly 1,000 tons a year. The world currently puts out about 27 gigatons (billion tons) of CO2 annually and we need to reduce to 18 gigatons to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at 450 parts per million. Lackner is about to publish data on his work which has been eagerly awaited by the scientific community. If it holds up, the real fly in the ointment of the whole scheme may be the sequestration of the carbon. But one way or another, there is no getting around the urgent need to test sequestration for safety on land or in deep sea locations. There is too much coal available to burn.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Knowledge, Belief ..... Action?

We recently conducted a survey of 1,003 New Jersey adults with funds provided by PSEG on beliefs and knowledge of the causes of climate change and what relation (if any) these might have to energy consumption habits. Here are some highlights.

Belief in human caused climate change:

A majority of respondents (54%) believe global warming is a proven fact and mostly caused by human activity. 18% believe it is a proven fact but not caused by human activity. 21% believe it is not as yet a proven fact.

80% of respondents reported lowering the use of their heating and cooling systems in the last 2 years. Roughly 75% said they had installed compact fluorescent light bulbs. Roughly two-thirds each said they had bought energy-efficient appliances in the last two years and had programmable thermostats in their homes A third or a bit more each had installed more efficient heating or cooling systems, replaced windows, or added or replaced insulation. “Clean energy" options of buying "green electricity" or installing solar panels were taken by less than 10%.
However, the results demonstrated few statistically significant relationships between belief in human caused climate change and reporting having engaged in energy saving actions. Believers were more likely to say they bought energy-efficient appliances, reduced the duration of use of heating and air conditioning, and installed compact fluorescent light bulbs than others, but did not differ on seven other actions. Respondents considered “saving money” to be the most persuasive argument for saving energy when asked to rate a list of hypothetical arguments.

Other noteworthy findings:

Although respondents who believe in human caused climate change have more accurate knowledge than others about the true causes of global warming (i.e., cars, the use of coal and oil by utilities, home heating and cooling and tropical forest destruction), they also have more false beliefs – for example, rating both ozone depletion and nuclear power as major causes as well. Among all respondents, 69% list ozone depletion as a major cause and 37% list nuclear power generation.

Support of the need for both the Federal and NJ State government to take action to stem global warming finds strong support among those who believe global warming is human caused (86%), and more generally by a majority OF all respondents. A belief that climate change will have a serious impact on NJ found similar rates of support.

Discussion and implications of the findings:

Although this study reports high rates of energy saving actions by respondents, self-reports are prone to be inaccurate. Such findings need to be corroborated with measurements of actual usage data. That said, these results may throw into question how much “low hanging” fruit there is for energy saving programs to target.

Although support for government action is high, these results are apt to fall dramatically when the actions specified could have a direct impact on the respondent as opposed to (for example) business and industry. As NJ moves to implement regulations to reduce green house gases, it would be valuable to understand the contours of support for government action better.

The fact that belief in human caused climate change is correlated with accurate knowledge of its true causes, but not with accurate knowledge of false causes, underscores the fact that the relationship between belief and knowledge is not nearly as straightforward as one might wish. Believing in human caused climate change may make one more prone to thinking that the causes of it are more widespread than they actually are.

The fact belief in human caused climate change is not correlated with many energy saving actions should give pause to any planning for education programs. The goals of such education programs need to be examined. If promoting energy efficiency is a goal, other than price, alternatives to improved education about climate change causes and effective solutions also merit examination – including norm based approaches, marketing strategies and the provision of real time consumption information.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Geoengineering and Experimental Design

Writing in the New York Times (September 19, 2008) Thomas Homer-Dixon and David Keith argue for the importance of settling some of the uncertainty about geoengineering climate solutions by experimentation. They write: “Of course, flooding the atmosphere with man-made particles poses real risks. So to reduce the uncertainty surrounding geo-engineering, research should include real-world tests of various technologies that poke the climate system just a little. At first, tests might use existing research aircraft like NASA’s ER-2, a heavy version of the U-2, to release small payloads of particles and then measure the effects on solar radiation and the ozone layer. If these early tests showed the risks were low, enough material could then be released to have a detectable climate impact, while still keeping the amount substantially less than that needed to offset all human-driven global warming. For the second stage of tests, we might use high-altitude aircraft to deliver a larger quantity of particles at about 65,000 feet in the tropics, which would then be carried much higher and toward the poles by the natural overturning circulation in the stratosphere. The reduction in climate risk from even a small-scale sun-shading scheme could easily be larger than the increase in risk from the scheme’s possible side effects. And in any case the effort would cost only a tiny fraction of the expense of meaningful efforts to reduce man’s carbon emissions.”

So far so good. But before we start down this track it is worth asking just what information we might expect to get to settle the question of whether or not to intervene at a level of intensity and scale that could actually make a difference. The problem is two-fold. In the natural progression of scientific inquiry, mathematical modeling might be expected to be followed by limited experimentation which (if the results merit it) can then be implemented at scale. In the case of aerosols, ‘limited experimentation’ comes in two forms:
1. Geographically limited interventions.
2. Low concentration insertions.
But in both cases, we ought to ask if they are feasible and if so, what sort of information they might be capable of yielding. The first raises issues of safety - could such experimental interventions be contained? The second raises issues of scale – could the results of low concentration interventions be reliably projected for higher level concentrations? These are not killer objections, but they merit attention – if only because they may matter less for some kinds of interventions as compared to others.

Monday, September 15, 2008

China

ChinaDialogue reports: The government should accept binding targets on greenhouse-gas emissions, Hu Angang, a leading Chinese academic, has written. The suggestion represents a break with the Chinese negotiating position on climate change. Hu, a Tsinghua University economist and chinadialogue contributor, told Reuters: "China is a developing country, but it's a very special one, with the biggest population, high energy use and sooner or later, if not now, the biggest total greenhouse-gas emissions. So this is a common battlefront we must join." According to Hu's proposal, which was published in the Chinese-language Journal of Contemporary Asia-Pacific Studies, China's greenhouse-gas pollution could continue to rise until around 2020, before the country would "dramatically" curb emissions, cutting them
to half the 1990 level by 2030, and then half that by 2050. China should make such a commitment even if the United States refuses to join a global pact on climate change, Hu said. The article is likely to spark debate about China's position during the negotiations toward the new agreement on climate change after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Good new from Russia

RIA Novosti reports:

Most Russians believe global warming is a reality, according to a poll conducted on June 14-15 by the Public Opinion foundation.

The poll said two thirds of respondents believe the climate has become warmer in recent years, while 86% of those polled "had heard about global warming occurring on the Earth." At the same time, 15% did not believe global warming was happening and 18% experienced difficulty in assessing whether the climate had changed at all.
Slightly more than half (51%) said that average temperatures in their region had risen, while 20% said that the local weather had remained unchanged, and 13% said the average temperatures had dropped over the past few years. Half of those who believe global warming is real think it has a negative impact on human life, with 5% believing it has a positive influence and 3% saying it had no effect. Half of those that believe global warming is real (or 33% of the total number) said it was completely down to human activity, while over 30% of the group (25% of the total number) said it was a result of a mixture of man-made and natural factors. And 8% said climate change was a natural phenomenon. The opinion pollster said 5% believe that global warming is natural, 3% blame the destruction of the ozone layer, 2% put it down to natural anomalies and 2% to solar influence. Less that 1% said climate change is God's punishment and evidence of the end of the world approaching. Over a third (36%) of respondents believe that global warming cannot be stopped. The poll was conducted in 100 towns and villages in 46 Russian regions, territories and republics with 1,500 respondents taking part. A first deputy emergencies minister said last week that by 2030 global warming and the melting of northern Russia permafrost could lead to a catastrophe destroying housing, infrastructure and forests. Speaking during a roundtable in the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament, Ruslan Tsalikov said over a quarter of housing in north Russia could be destroyed along with local airports, underground storage facilities, including oil reservoirs, if Siberia's huge permafrost started to melt further. It would also threaten to release huge quantities of methane gas - Russia's permafrost is believed to hold 30% of the world's entire supplies.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Consumers in developing countries lead in climate awareness

Here is a report that merits attention:
Consumers in developing countries lead in climate awareness

In order to understand how the perception of global warming and climate change is affecting consumer behaviour, Havas Media has undertaken research to explore how, across a number of markets, this consumer perception of climate change is – and has the potential to – impact on business. Working in nine markets – US, UK, France, Spain, Brazil, Germany, China, India and Mexico – the research explores consumer perception at three levels – the phenomenon itself, with respect to key sectors and finally with respect to leading brands within those sectors.

One clear observation is that in countries with lower average income, awareness for climate change and its effects, as well as the willingness to act upon it, are far more greater then, for instance, in the USA and the UK. The number of so called eco-apathetics amounts to six times the numbers in Mexico or Brasil.


Some of the key messages, according to Havas:

1. Consumers are extremely engaged with the climate change issue – nearly 80% at a global level are what we call either Attentive or Absorbed. That’s a lot of people ready to listen and act.

2. And act they will. Our research shows that the two most likely actions undertaken
by consumers to combat the issue in the near future, are stopping buying environmentally damaging goods and buying more environmentally friendly goods.

3. Consumers are under no illusion that we can continue with ‘business as usual’. Within our Absorbed and Attentive groups, more than 3/4 recognise climate change will affect them and their families and that they will need to change the way they live in order to address the problem. More than 3/4 also believe they can actively contribute to solving the problem at a personal level. That’s a lot of people ready to do their bit.

4. This represents an incredible opportunity for brands to help consumers fulfil this aspirational role. And consumers are highly expectant. In 2/3 of the markets we researched, consumers felt large corporations had a responsibility to lead the charge in combating climate change.

5. When it comes to motivation to be a green consumer, we’ve identified Passive and Active Self-Seekers and Altruists. Understanding where their consumers sit within these groups, offers brands a vital insight into how best to open a dialogue with them on this issue.

6. It’s not just brands in traditionally damaging sectors that should be considering green communications. Through understanding the Ecolasticity™ of brand, we can see that potentially all brands can use green communications to their benefit. In fact, the hyper-Ecolastic™ brands may be where we least expect them to be.

7. When it comes to actually buying green, 80% of our respondents said they would buy more if more were on offer. 79% said they would rather buy from companies doing their best to reduce their impact on the environment. 89% people are likely to buy more green goods in the next 12 months and 35% are willing to pay a premium for those goods. Again, that is a significant group of people who are willing to accept a green premium.

8. In the last of our segmentation analyses, we have identified three types of consumer when it comes to buying green and paying a premium - Logicals, Accepting and Absolutes. Although driven by different motivations, more than 40% of Logicals and Absolutes are prepared to pay a premium for green goods. And Logicals and Absolutes make up more than 2/3 of our research.

9. Increasingly consumers are recognising the good guys and bad guys within
sectors. Which is great news for those brands that are pursuing and communicating
legitimate abatement strategies, as the sky becomes the limit. But it’s bad news for the slow or non-starters in the sector, as their ability to borrow credibility from their more proactive peers looks set to slip away.

10. All of the points above point unequivocally to the fact that a legitimate and well-executed green communication strategy represents a significant opportunity for arguably any brand looking to develop stronger and more meaningful relationships with its consumers.
More info at: http://www.havasmedia.com

Monday, August 25, 2008

Contra Al Gore

Sometimes if you look to far ahead you miss what is front of your nose!
Al Gore’s call for the Unites States to convert to a 100% renewable energy portfolio within 10 years would be a great goal if it were realizable. One big problem stands in the way of such a plan. Large scale energy production is produced to match demand. But to rely on wind or solar power we would need to have massive storage capacity for energy to be available for use when there is no wind or sun. This is not a trivial problem. It is not an insoluble problem. But it is going to take scientific innovation and experimentation to solve – neither of which can be guaranteed to produce a desired result on a fixed timetable anymore than the cure for cancer or AIDS. None of this would matter were it not the fact that we pay an enormous price by focusing on Gore’s plan. For in doing so, we risk becoming sidetracked from the immediate priority – putting the developed world (and especially the United States) on a serious diet to wean it from its high per capita energy consumption and associated green-house gas emissions. That is what both Obama and McCain have indicated support for in their campaigns. Pushing U.S. consumption down by 20% of 2006 green-house gas levels by 2020 is a doable goal. Going on from there to an 80% (or even a 90%) reduction of 2006 green-house gas levels is going to be a challenge that is plausible, because it is not unreasonable to think that both massive storage capacity and carbon capture and sequestration will be mastered over the next 40 years – although here too there is no guarantee. But none of this is going to happen without a focus on the need for far reaching, binding legislation in the United States in the coming year. China and the rest of the world have a right to demand this before addressing their own long term energy planning.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Closer to home

A recently published report (http://www.cier.umd.edu/climateadaptation/NewJersey%20Economic%20Impacts%20of%20Climate%20Change.pdf ), produced by the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Environmental Research, states that "New Jersey’s coastal infrastructure and development are thought to be the most susceptible to the impacts of climate change. By the end of the century, 1 percent to 3 percent of New Jersey’s 210-mile shoreline is likely to be lost to rising sea levels, and 6.5 percent to 9 percent of the state’s coastal area will be inundated by occasional flooding. ... Due to the extensive development on vulnerable barrier islands such as Long Beach Island and Atlantic City, damage costs associated with a 4-foot rise in sea level (the upper end of potential sea level rise predictions) are expected to exceed $10 billion."

Monday, August 11, 2008

80% by 2050

How did an 80% reduction by 2050 of 21006 levels become the holy grail for climate legislation in the US? I suspect there must have been a time when people thought it was the level needed for stabalization at 450 ppm. But US per capita CO2 output in 2006 was (roughly) 20 tons per capita. So an 80% reduction puts you at 4 tons per capita. But if you assume an equal share per capita world wide - which is the only fair formula - and base it on current population levels, you would end up at 550 ppm not 450 ppm. To get to 450 ppm you would need about 2 tons per capita which translates into a 90% reduction for the US. In the long run this is a difference that matters. But does it in the short run? I suspect that 90% seems like a lot more of a reduction than 80%. Being left with 10% is afterall half of what you are left with on an 80% reduction. In fact, if the US gets serious about a path to an 80% reduction, squeezing out another 10% is unlikely to be that hard. And if 80% goes down easier than 90% now, so be it. But we should not kid ourseleves about what is actually needed. India and China will never sign onto a lower per capita target than the US. At 4 tons per capita that means a 550 ppm world.

Monday, August 4, 2008

India – more

Like China, India has an incredibly ambitious planned growth trajectory – something like 8% a year. In the case of China you need to add to that the expected urban move of 500 million people and the growth of cars from 50 to 250 million over the next 20 years to understand the challenge of developing a low carbon pathway. In the case of India you need to add two salient facts about its poor – only 40% of the country is electrified and the fuel of necessity is biomass. One development goal is to move to 100% electrification. One effect of increasing development will be a move away form very inefficient biomass (8-10%) that is used for cooking to the use of kerosene. Add the growth of transportation, and here too the challenge seems enormous – even if unlike China, India starts from a much lower level of CO2 output – 1.3 gigatons versus 6.0.

Monday, July 28, 2008

India’s Plans

Like China, India is planning for an energy efficient growth trajectory even if it is less detailed in its plan at least at this stage. The 2030 target puts total CO2 emissions at 3.9 gigatons down from a business as usual expected level of 5.5. What is more significant (at least in the short run) is that there is a high expectation that the US will enact some sort of serious legislation in the next year or two which should break the log jam on others making serious commitments. In India’s case, the unilateral commitment on the table is not to exceed the developed world. Of course, that is an easy promise to make given the current levels of developed world carbon output – there is no way India could come close to those levels on any plausible development path. The real issue is, if the developed world gets serious about reducing levels, will that downward trend create any sort of squeeze on India’s plans. Between now and 2030 the answer is certainly no. But what does this do to worldwide totals given the 450ppm stabilization goal?

Monday, July 21, 2008

China and Climate Change

Finishing up and intense round of meetings in 10 days - here is a mixture of comments in no particular order:
1.The biggest shock to me has been how incredibly open and direct people I have met have been – even those close to and advising the government. With the exception of a group of young journalists, I have not had to worry about causing offense by challenging their views or assumptions. And pretty much anything has been game for discussion.
2.The other big shock has been how small the number of people working on climate and advising the government is given the size of the country. Talk to about 25 people and you have the terrain pretty much covered. It is like dealing with he elite of a very small country. I am only beginning to get a feel for then range of views. A few think the whole international discussion is an expression of anti-Chinese politics by the West. But more important, many of those who do think (seriously) about climate change, seem to view it solely through the lens of national interest. I have been surprised by the small number of cosmopolitan intellectuals who take a global perspective – or both a global and national perspective. Cynicism about nationalism is hard to find!
3.What everyone agrees on is that development is a non-negotiable priority … as a moral duty and perhaps (sotto voce) a political one as well for those in power. Yet (nearly) everyone (who has thought about climate change) seems confident that development goals can be realized along with no more than a fair share of carbon output. That is going from the current per capita output to no more than China’s share of a world maximum needed to stabilize at 450 part per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I ran into very few knowledgeable skeptics - even as 500 million are going to move from the rural areas to the cities and 200 million cars will be added to the roads between now and 2030 along with a doubling of coal consumption. Lots of technical discussions about the assumptions underlying this optimism – but the upshot is that they are not assuming an major new scientific breakthroughs up to 2030 (aside from CO2 capture and sequestration at scale) and nothing really dramatic until after 2050.
4.Another surprise has been how little skepticism they show that the US will get serious post the next election – although from their point of view, a serious plan has to have a 2050 goal of a fair per capita carbon allowance that applies to the US as well as everyone else. I have been surprised by their attitude that takes it for granted that we and they are going to get serious about this – although they are also worried abut the Catholic Church and India blowing world population beyond 9.5 billion as a stabilizing goal for 2050.
5.Those close to the government, are trying to convince the leadership that China’s climate plan should be serious because it is consistent with domestic environmental needs and economic growth at 7-8% a year.

Monday, July 14, 2008

China's Growth

Let us assume everyone gets serious about a fair share of carbon for an eventual (stable) population of 10 billion (in 2050) on a per capita basis. 450ppm is roughly stable at 3 gigatons of carbon per annum – so it is 3 tons per capita. Per capita carbon for China is roughly 1.3 tons. The mantra in China is the development of a “low carbon economy”. That comes down to increasing energy efficiency and deploying existing technology. At issue is how much if a change in China’s carbon footprint that buys you given the rate of growth in the economy. Modelers here are talking about stabilization of carbon output in 2030. But even if that is right, I am not (as yet) clear at what level – especially given a projected growth rate of the economy at 8% per annum. The picture is daunting – even assuming the population stabilizes at 1.5 billion, 500 million people are projected to move from rural areas to cities where per capita energy consumption is triple the rural rate. And that does not take in to account the energy consumption for the concrete needed to build the houses and infrastructure which is a major source of CO2 output in China. Car ownership is projected to rise five fold to 250 million.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Blogger is out!

En route to China and India to try to get a better understanding of how policy makers view the challenge of climate change and their own energy growth this century, especially in the light of considerations like the following which is reprinted from ChinaDialogue (http://www.chinadialogue.net/):
Another Inconvenient Truth
by David WheelerKevin UmmelRobin Kraft

The international community now views global warming as a major threat, with particularly dire implications for developing countries. A common view on the problem in the South (the developing nations, as opposed to the North, or developed countries) was expressed in an address by India’s ambassador to the United Nations, who reportedly told developed nations that the main responsibility to mitigate climate change “rests with them”, while efforts to impose greenhouse-gas commitments on developing countries would “simply adversely impact” their prospects of growth. Although this view commands near-universal support in the south, it remains largely an article of faith. If the south begins aggressive mitigation now, will it actually damage its own growth prospects? Or will such mitigation improve those prospects by significantly reducing the impact of global warming on the south itself? A lot hinges on these questions, so an empirical test of the conventional wisdom seems warranted. Does the evidence support this view? If the answer is yes, then the south should indeed defer costly mitigation and a double burden should fall on the north: it should reduce emissions rapidly and compensate any mitigation undertaken by the south. If the answer is no, on the other hand, the converse is true: southern emissions are, by themselves, sufficient to damage southern growth prospects. In this case, the south’s interest dictates immediate action to reduce its own emissions, whatever the north has done or will choose to do in the future.
We will attempt to provide an unambiguous answer by isolating the southern experience, calculating historical and future emissions paths and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations for both north and south. We will also compare the southern path to the global path that has provoked alarm about global warming.
This experiment enables us to test the view, implicit in the Indian ambassador’s statement, that the isolated southern concentration path lags so far behind the global path that the south can defer worrying about its own emissions until it is much richer.
The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) is determined by the pre-industrial concentration, plus cumulative emissions from human activity, minus terrestrial and marine re-absorption of emitted carbon. In our study, we combine a country-level emissions database and a land-use database to calculate cumulative anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere since 1850, using an approximation to the standard Bern carbon-cycle model that accounts for the intertemporal distribution of emissions among three reservoirs: the atmosphere, ocean and land biosphere. The model implies that for one tonne of carbon emitted in 1850, decay, or re-absorbtion of CO2, is relatively rapid during the first 40 years, with about 40% remaining in the atmosphere in 1890. However, rapid decline in the re-absorption rate leaves 25% of the original tonne in the atmosphere in 2010. We use this model to estimate contributions to atmospheric accumulation of CO2.
We then separate countries into the north and south. The north comprises Europe (including Turkey), the Former Soviet Union (FSU), North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The south comprises Asia (excluding Japan and the FSU), Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific islands.
The north has dominated cumulative emissions from fossil-fuel combustion. In 2000, cumulative atmospheric CO2 measures from fossil-fuel emissions in the north and south were 372 and 115 gigatonnes (Gt), respectively. For land-use change, the converse has been true: Extensive deforestation in the south raised its cumulative CO2 contribution to 180 Gt by 2000, while reforestation in the north led to carbon re-absorption and a decline from a peak in the early 1960s to 58 Gt by 2000. For fossil fuels and land-use change combined, the cumulative CO2 from the south in 2000 -- 295 Gt -- was almost 70% of cumulative CO2 from the north -- 430 Gt.
To project conditions in the near future, we use a scenario that reflects the current aspirations of many developing countries: rapid economic growth in a globalising economy, low population growth, the rapid introduction of more efficient technologies, and an energy path -- unconstrained by carbon emissions reductions -- that is consistent with the current development strategies of countries with abundant domestic fossil-fuel resources.
In our projections, annual emissions for the south and north are already diverging toward southern dominance in 2007. By 2025, only 18 years from now, the south’s annual emissions are around 32 Gt -- 32% higher than emissions from the north (21 Gt). We use the Bern model to calculate cumulative atmospheric CO2 from the two regions. By 2025, the cumulative CO2 from the south -- 555 Gt -- is 91% of the north’s 609 Gt. The south takes the lead about five years later.
With separate cumulative emissions series for the north and south, we can compute the atmospheric CO2 concentrations that are attributable to each region. This provides an illuminating comparison between the historical global CO2 concentration and the projected concentration attributable to the south alone. The south’s isolated concentration in 2025 matches the measured global concentration in 1986 -- 350 parts per million (ppm) (see figure 1). And by 1986, serious scientific concern about the greenhouse effect had already generated the crisis atmosphere that catalyzed the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992.












Source: Wheeler and Ummel. 2007. “Another Inconvenient Truth.”
Projecting the consequences of southern development alone, with no historical or future contribution from the north, by 2040 the south surpasses the current global concentration; by 2060, it surpasses the 450 ppm threshold that the IPCC associates with large, irreversible impacts on developing countries. By the end of the century, the atmospheric concentration is nearing 600 ppm and the south has long since passed the extreme-danger threshold. It is important to bear in mind that these figures are, if anything, conservative. They do not include possible carbon cycle feedback effects -- such as increased soil carbon respiration or diminished ocean absorption -- as the Earth warms and the oceans acidify. Such processes would result in concentrations of atmospheric CO2 even higher than reported here. The clear implication is that emissions from the South alone are more than enough to catalyse a climate crisis for the south.
Our results reveal the dangerous fallacy in the notion that the south can utilise carbon-intensive growth to dramatically increase incomes -- a kind of last-minute, fossil-fueled development push -- before the onset of catastrophic climate change. In this scenario the south achieves rapid short-run development, but on a carbon-intensive path that virtually assures the crossing of critical climate thresholds, even if there had never been any emissions from the north. To reinforce the implication, it’s worthwhile to pursue the counterfactual a bit further. By the 2030s, the scientists in an isolated south would observe unequivocal global warming, widespread glacial and polar melting, and a rising sea level. Out of necessity and self-interest, the south’s governments would then replicate the recent global experience by convening to plan for a carbon-free future.
Unfortunately, things are even more precarious for the south in the real world, which also confronts the north’s legacy of fossil-fueled growth. If global emissions continue unabated, the resulting increases in temperatures and sea level, greater storm intensity, reduced agricultural productivity and dwindling freshwater supplies will likely undermine the south’s development long before it arrives at northern income levels. But from the perspective of the south’s own self-interest, focusing exclusively on the northern sources of this problem is a dangerous distraction. As our results indicate, the south’s own emissions have already moved it near the brink of rapid global warming. Cumulative emissions from the north have primarily served to shift fundamental and unavoidable southern decisions about mitigation a few years closer to the present.
This conclusion is sufficiently startling that the mind gropes for an alternative to such injustice. Why should the south have fallen into this trap, when the north has somehow managed to avoid it? On reflection, the answer is obvious. The south’s population is over four times greater than the north’s, so it has been trapped by the sheer scale of its emissions at a much earlier stage of development. The south finds itself weighed down by a mass of humanity, as well as the energy technologies and fuels of an earlier age. The question is not if the south will commit to emissions reductions -- under any scenario it eventually must for its own sake -- but whether it will do so in time, and how the costs of the transition are to be shared.
We conclude that the conventional wisdom is dangerously misguided. The south cannot relegate mitigation to the north until it achieves prosperity. In fact, cumulative emissions from a carbon-intensive south have already reached levels that are dangerous for the south itself. They are more than sufficient to create a global climate crisis, even if the north eliminates all of its emissions immediately. So we face another inconvenient truth: a carbon-intensive South faces environmental disaster, no matter what the north does. For its own sake, the south must recognize this hard truth, accept the necessity of serious, costly mitigation, and immediately embark on a low-carbon development path. The north must clearly do the same, while recognising that its own survival requires an immediate, large-scale commitment to assisting emissions reductions in the south.

David Wheeler is a senior fellow at the Washington-based not-for-profit think-tank, the Center for Global Development
Kevin Ummel and Robin Kraft are both research assistants at the Center for Global Development
This article was adapted from a working paper published by the CenterforGlobalDevelopment.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Not Reinventing the Wheel

As interest in consumer responses to price signals from utilities, simple assumptions about rationality should be tempered with attention to research that has been conducted over the last 30 years.

A few highlights:
1976: The importance of education that draws on the local, specific rather than the global and the abstract.
1978: Signaling devices decrease consumption by 15.7%.
1978: Token rewards produce savings (22.5%).
1980: Superior results for individuals in groups (20%) versus individuals alone (15%).
1985: Consumers underestimate efficiency savings and overestimate management and curtailment.
1999: Wide discrepancy between pro conservation attitudes and actual behavior.
2002: The value of goal setting independent of money saving – a 20% reduction.

Monday, June 23, 2008

My Meter is Running Backwards

“Ulysses and the Hedge trimmer” (see below) notwithstanding, my house has 20 solar panels on its roof as of Friday and my meter is running backwards. The company that installed it is leasing it to me for (almost) no money down at about $125 a month for a 4 KwH system. (They will increase that by 3% a year for the 15 year term of the lease – which I figure is likely a lot less than how much the price of electricity is likely to rise.) If this seems painless, it is. And that made it much easier to do than paying cash upfront for a system that would have taken 15 years to pay for itself. So how do they do it? The system cost $36,000. The upfront cost was about $25,000 with federal and State subsidies. But as a commercial lease deal, the leasee can write down the investment. And in recent legislation it can write the whole thing down in 5 years even though it has an anticipated life of 15-20 years! But you have to wonder if this is a rational way to allocate the incentives for renewable energy.

Monday, June 16, 2008

More on the Discount Rate

Stern versus Nordhaus is most importantly a disagreement about the discount rate.
But an underappreciated argument is offered by Martin Weitzman who argues that instead of viewing investment now for the future within the context of cost-benefit analysis, we should do so in terms of insurance. What we are doing is paying now to offset the chances of a worst case scenario, one that may have a low probability of occurring but would have catastrophic circumstances if it did. (See “The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change,” Journal of Economic Literature 45 (2207): 703-724.) But is there really a conceptual conflict here or not? First, an insurance policy is the wrong metaphor. Insurance does not prevent worst case outcomes, it distributes some measure of offsetting compensation over those who suffer such outcomes and those that do not. So insurance assumes an uneven distribution. Worst case climate would affect us all. Moreover our interest is in costs to prevent such outcomes not to offset their costs to those affected. If that is right, the issue is not a matter of cost-benefit analysis versus some alternative but rather how much weight to give to the worst case scenarios even if their probability is small.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Reality Bites

The incredibly fast demise of the Warner-Lieberman bill is cold reminder of political reality. It is not just a reminder of the sway of corporate interests but also how determinative short term interests of the electorate are as well. It is not so easy to sugar coat the bitter pill of the costs of reducing carbon output – the cost of energy can only go up – a hard sell given the recent rate of increase of the cost of oil. Even though both presidential candidates seem to support serious climate legislation, one has to wonder what the make up of the Congress will need to be for it to get pushed through.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Good news, bad news

The good news in a recent poll of consumers by Deloitte http://www.deloitte.com/dtt/cda/doc/content/us_er_EC2008Consumer_Survey_Data.pdf is this: 61.5% of those surveyed would accept an annual increase in rates to stop greenhouse gasses.The bad news? More than half would only support a 5% increase to do so! And another quarter would only suport a 10% increase. Another noteworthy result is that over half of those surveyed suport the development of nuclear power. But when asked if their answer would be the same if the plant were built within 20 miles, support drops by 50%.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Comparing Obama and McCain on Climate Change

This was written for ChinaDialogue (www.chinadialogue.org):

I am a vegetarian, but I am told that if you are going to eat sausage, you don’t want to see how it is made. It is often said that making political policy is almost as bad! That is especially true when it comes to political policy in the U.S. system. U.S. presidents have much less power than people think. They can propose policy to the Congress – but so can any member of the Congress. They can veto bills passed by the Congress – but those vetoes can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the Congress. So, when a president comes out with a proposed policy it is not the end of the story – it may not even be the beginning of the story! Nonetheless, if you read the Obama and McCain speeches on climate change, which were recently published here, I think something very important has happened. I say this not because of the details on which they differ, but because of how much they agree on. As all politicians do, in America, the two major parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, compete for supporters by looking for differences that they can highlight. One is for gun control, the other is not. One is for abortion, the other is not. And so on. The more the differences the better. Because the political parties are pretty close in the degree of support they have, this makes for stalemate. There aren’t enough Republicans or Democrats in the Congress to push through legislation on their own. Legislation only moves when there is consensus. And major legislation only moves on an issue when both sides have decided not to use that issue to highlight differences between the two parties. The reason there has been so little progress on climate legislation in the United States has been because it has been an issue the parties used to contrast each other. The degree of overlap between McCain and Obama’s position is significant because it shows that this is no longer the case. Climate change has been taken off the table as an area in which the parties are going to compete for votes. That makes the prospect for serious legislation in this arena under the next president very good. That is not say there are not important differences between Obama and McCain’s positions. The most important is that McCain calls for a 60% reduction of green house gasses over 1990 levels by 2050 while Obama call for an 80% reduction. (The scientific consensus is that 80% is the minimum necessary target to avoid serious consequences.) McCain sets specific intermediate greenhouse emission goals while Obama sets explicit intermediate efficiency and renewable goals. One other clear difference is that McCain sees a much larger role for nuclear energy than Obama. Both call for a cap and trade system in which permits are auctioned with the proceeds going to public use. McCain’s plan calls for a “transition over time” to such an auction system and also allows for the purchase of offsets outside the system. These are the kinds of issues in which, as we say, “the devil is in the details”. They might be reasonable or they might undermine the whole program. Obama’s plan is silent on these issues. That might be a good sign or a bad sign – depending on how cynical you are! Sticking with the theme of cynicism, I think it is a mistake to think of these plans as just about climate change. Both speeches make the re-assertion of U.S. leadership in the World a central theme, as they do the development of business opportunities for U.S. corporations. This is not just electioneering – for better or worse, these are two of the major traditional drivers of U.S. foreign policy. How much that matters remains to be seen. In some ways, the details of any U.S. legislation on climate change don’t matter as long as they are serious enough to establish the U.S.’s bona fides on the international stage. The more they are seen as an attempt to re-assert U.S. political and corporate power, the harder that goal may be to achieve.

You can read more details about the McCain and Obama plans at: http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/Issues/da151a1c-733a-4dc1-9cd3-f9ca5caba1de.htm and http://www.barackobama.com/issues/energy/

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Great Sea Change

John McCain’s recent speech on climate change marks an incredibly important turning point in US policy. Up until now, the U.S. position on greenhouse gas reduction has been tied to the condition that others would have to do likewise. Current legislation under consideration in Congress (Warner-Lieberman) proposes an import carbon tax on countries that fail to follow any unilateral U.S. action. That was deemed necessary for such a legislation to have a chance of passage but of dubious standing in the light of WTO and GATT rules. When copies of McCain’s speech were circulated to the press before he gave it , it called for such taxes. But in the actual speech the call was quite different, stating instead that: “If the efforts to negotiate an international solution that includes China and India do not succeed, we still have an obligation to act.” (The full speech is reproduced below.)
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Thank you all very much.
I appreciate the hospitality of Vestas Wind Technology. Today is a kind of test run for the company. They've got wind technicians here, wind studies, and all these wind turbines, but there's no wind. So now I know why they asked me to come give a speech.
Every day, when there are no reporters and cameras around to draw attention to it, this company and others like it are doing important work. And what we see here is just a glimpse of much bigger things to come. Wind power is one of many alternative energy sources that are changing our economy for the better. And one day they will change our economy forever.
Wind is a clean and predictable source of energy, and about as renewable as anything on earth. Along with solar power, fuel-cell technology, cleaner burning fuels and other new energy sources, wind power will bring America closer to energy independence. Our economy depends upon clean and affordable alternatives to fossil fuels, and so, in many ways, does our security. A large share of the world's oil reserves is controlled by foreign powers that do not have our interests at heart. And as our reliance on oil passes away, their power will vanish with it.
In the coming weeks, I intend to address many of the great challenges that America's energy policies must meet. When we debate energy bills in Washington, it should be more than a competition among industries for special favors, subsidies, and tax breaks. In the Congress, we need to send the special interests on their way -- without their favors and subsidies. We need to draw on the best ideas of both parties, and on all the resources a free market can provide. We need to keep our eyes on big goals in energy policy, the serious dangers, and the common interests of the American people.
Today I'd like to focus on just one of those challenges, and among environmental dangers it is surely the most serious of all. Whether we call it "climate change" or "global warming," in the end we're all left with the same set of facts. The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention, especially in Washington. Good stewardship, prudence, and simple commonsense demand that we to act meet the challenge, and act quickly.
Some of the most compelling evidence of global warming comes to us from NASA. No longer do we need to rely on guesswork and computer modeling, because satellite images reveal a dramatic disappearance of glaciers, Antarctic ice shelves and polar ice sheets. And I've seen some of this evidence up close. A few years ago I traveled to the area of Svalbard, Norway, a group of islands in the Arctic Ocean. I was shown the southernmost point where a glacier had reached twenty years earlier. From there, we had to venture northward up the fjord to see where that same glacier ends today -- because all the rest has melted. On a trip to Alaska, I heard about a national park visitor's center that was built to offer a picture-perfect view of a large glacier. Problem is, the glacier is gone. A work of nature that took ages to form had melted away in a matter of decades.
Our scientists have also seen and measured reduced snowpack, with earlier runoffs in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. We have seen sustained drought in the Southwest, and across the world average temperatures that seem to reach new records every few years. We have seen a higher incidence of extreme weather events. In the frozen wilds of Alaska, the Arctic, Antarctic, and elsewhere, wildlife biologists have noted sudden changes in animal migration patterns, a loss of their habitat, a rise in sea levels. And you would think that if the polar bears, walruses, and sea birds have the good sense to respond to new conditions and new dangers, then humanity can respond as well.
We have many advantages in the fight against global warming, but time is not one of them. Instead of idly debating the precise extent of global warming, or the precise timeline of global warming, we need to deal with the central facts of rising temperatures, rising waters, and all the endless troubles that global warming will bring. We stand warned by serious and credible scientists across the world that time is short and the dangers are great. The most relevant question now is whether our own government is equal to the challenge.
There are vital measures we can take in the short term, even as we focus on long-term policies to mitigate the effects of global warming. In the years ahead, we are likely to see reduced water supplies, more forest fires than in previous decades, changes in crop production, more heat waves afflicting our cities and a greater intensity in storms. Each one of these consequences of climate change will require policies to protect our citizens, especially those most vulnerable to violent weather. Each one will require new precautions in the repair and construction of our roads, bridges, railways, seawalls and other infrastructure. Some state and local governments have already begun their planning and preparation for extreme events and other impacts of climate change. The federal government can help them in many ways, above all by coordinating their efforts, and I am committed to providing that support.
To lead in this effort, however, our government must strike at the source of the problem -- with reforms that only Congress can enact and the president can sign. We know that greenhouse gasses are heavily implicated as a cause of climate change. And we know that among all greenhouse gasses, the worst by far is the carbon-dioxide that results from fossil-fuel combustion. Yet for all the good work of entrepreneurs and inventors in finding cleaner and better technologies, the fundamental incentives of the market are still on the side of carbon-based energy. This has to change before we can make the decisive shift away from fossil fuels.
For the market to do more, government must do more by opening new paths of invention and ingenuity. And we must do this in a way that gives American businesses new incentives and new rewards to seek, instead of just giving them new taxes to pay and new orders to follow. The most direct way to achieve this is through a system that sets clear limits on all greenhouse gases, while also allowing the sale of rights to excess emissions. And this is the proposal I will submit to the Congress if I am elected president -- a cap-and-trade system to change the dynamic of our energy economy.
As a program under the Clean Air Act, the cap-and-trade system achieved enormous success in ridding the air of acid rain. And the same approach that brought a decline in sulfur dioxide emissions can have an equally dramatic and permanent effect on carbon emissions. Instantly, automakers, coal companies, power plants, and every other enterprise in America would have an incentive to reduce carbon emissions, because when they go under those limits they can sell the balance of permitted emissions for cash. As never before, the market would reward any person or company that seeks to invent, improve, or acquire alternatives to carbon-based energy. It is very hard to picture venture capitalists, corporate planners, small businesses and environmentalists all working to the same good purpose. But such cooperation is actually possible in the case of climate change, and this reform will set it in motion.
The people of this country have a genius for adapting, solving problems, and inventing new and better ways to accomplish our goals. But the federal government can't just summon those talents by command -- only the free market can draw them out. A cap-and-trade policy will send a signal that will be heard and welcomed all across the American economy. Those who want clean coal technology, more wind and solar, nuclear power, biomass and bio-fuels will have their opportunity through a new market that rewards those and other innovations in clean energy. The market will evolve, too, by requiring sensible reductions in greenhouse gases, but also by allowing full flexibility in how industry meets that requirement. Entrepreneurs and firms will know which energy investments they should make. And the highest rewards will go to those who make the smartest, safest, most responsible choices. A cap-and-trade reform will also create a profitable opportunity for rural America to receive market-based payments -- instead of government subsidies -- for the conservation practices that store carbon in the soils of our nation's farms.
We will cap emissions according to specific goals, measuring progress by reference to past carbon emissions. By the year 2012, we will seek a return to 2005 levels of emission, by 2020, a return to 1990 levels, and so on until we have achieved at least a reduction of sixty percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050. In the course of time, it may be that new ideas and technologies will come along that we can hardly imagine today, allowing all industries to change with a speed that will surprise us. More likely, however, there will be some companies that need extra emissions rights, and they will be able to buy them. The system to meet these targets and timetables will give these companies extra time to adapt -- and that is good economic policy. It is also a matter of simple fairness, because the cap-and-trade system will create jobs, improve livelihoods, and strengthen futures across our country.
The goal in all of this is to assure an energy supply that is safe, secure, diverse, and domestic. And in pursuit of these objectives, we cannot afford to take economic growth and job creation for granted. A strong and growing economy is essential to all of our goals, and especially the goal of finding alternatives to carbon-based technology. We want to turn the American economy toward cleaner and safer energy sources. And you can't achieve that by imposing costs that the American economy cannot sustain.
As part of my cap-and-trade incentives, I will also propose to include the purchase of offsets from those outside the scope of the trading system. This will broaden the array of rewards for reduced emissions, while also lowering the costs of compliance with our new emissions standards. Through the sale of offsets -- and with strict standards to assure that reductions are real -- our agricultural sector alone can provide as much as forty percent of the overall reductions we will require in greenhouse gas emissions. And in the short term, farmers and ranchers can do it in some of the most cost-effective ways.
Over time, an increasing fraction of permits for emissions could be supplied by auction, yielding federal revenues that can be put to good use. Under my plan, we will apply these and other federal funds to help build the infrastructure of a post-carbon economy. We will support projects to advance technologies that capture and store carbon emissions. We will assist in transmitting wind- and solar-generated power from states that have them to states that need them. We will add to current federal efforts to develop promising technologies, such as plug-ins, hybrids, flex-fuel vehicles, and hydrogen-powered cars and trucks. We will also establish clear standards in government-funded research, to make sure that funding is effective and focused on the right goals.
And to create greater demand for the best technologies and practices in energy conservation, we will use the purchasing power of the United States government. Our government can hardly expect citizens and private businesses to adopt or invest in low-carbon technologies when it doesn't always hold itself to the same standard. We need to set a better example in Washington, by consistently applying the best environmental standards to every purchase our government makes.
As we move toward all of these goals, and over time put the age of fossil fuels behind us, we must consider every alternative source of power, and that includes nuclear power. When our cap-and-trade policy is in place, there will be a sudden and sustained pursuit in the market for new investment opportunities in low-emission fuel sources. And here we have a known, proven energy source that requires exactly zero emissions. We have 104 nuclear reactors in our country, generating about twenty percent of our electricity. These reactors alone spare the atmosphere from about 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released every year. That's the annual equivalent of nearly all emissions from all the cars we drive in America. Europe, for its part, has 197 reactors in operation, and nations including France and Belgium derive more than half their electricity from nuclear power. Those good practices contribute to the more than two billion metric tons of carbon dioxide avoided every year, worldwide, because of nuclear energy. It doesn't take a leap in logic to conclude that if we want to arrest global warming, then nuclear energy is a powerful ally in that cause.
In a cap-and-trade energy economy, the cost of building new reactors will be less prohibitive. The incentives to invest in a mature, zero-emissions technology will be stronger. New research and innovation will help the industry to overcome the well known drawbacks to nuclear power, such as the transport and storage of waste. And our government can help in these efforts. We can support research to extend the use of existing plants. Above all, we must make certain that every plant in America is safe from the designs of terrorists. And when all of this is assured, it will be time again to expand our use of one of the cleanest, safest, and most reliable sources of energy on earth.
For all of the last century, the profit motive basically led in one direction -- toward machines, methods, and industries that used oil and gas. Enormous good came from that industrial growth, and we are all the beneficiaries of the national prosperity it built. But there were costs we weren't counting, and often hardly noticed. And these terrible costs have added up now, in the atmosphere, in the oceans, and all across the natural world. They are no longer tenable, sustainable, or defensible. And what better way to correct past errors than to turn the creative energies of the free market in the other direction? Under the cap-and-trade system, this can happen. In all its power, the profit motive will suddenly begin to shift and point the other way toward cleaner fuels, wiser ways, and a healthier planet.
As a nation, we make our own environmental plans and our own resolutions. But working with other nations to arrest climate change can be an even tougher proposition. One of the greatest difficulties is to gain the cooperation of China. That nation today is dealing with a catastrophic earthquake and the loss of thousands of citizens, including many children and students. The United States government has offered to help in any way possible, and all of us hope that rescuers will be able to save more lives at a terrible time for the people of the Sichuan Province.
In addressing the problem of climate change, cooperation from the government of China will be essential. China, India, and other developing economic powers in particular are among the greatest contributors to global warming today – increasing carbon emissions at a furious pace – and they are not receptive to international standards. Nor do they think that we in the industrialized world are in any position to preach the good news of carbon-emission control. We made most of our contributions to global warming before anyone knew about global warming.
This set of facts and perceived self-interests proved the undoing of the Kyoto Protocols. As president, I will have to deal with the same set of facts. I will not shirk the mantle of leadership that the United States bears. I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges. I will not accept the same dead-end of failed diplomacy that claimed Kyoto. The United States will lead and will lead with a different approach -- an approach that speaks to the interests and obligations of every nation.
Shared dangers mean shared duties, and global problems require global cooperation. The United States and our friends in Europe cannot alone deal with the threat of global warming. No nation should be exempted from its obligations. And least of all should we make exceptions for the very countries that are accelerating carbon emissions while the rest of us seek to reduce emissions. If we are going to establish meaningful environmental protocols, then they must include the two nations that have the potential to pollute the air faster, and in greater annual volume, than any nation ever in history.
At the same time, we will continue in good faith to negotiate with China and other nations to enact the standards and controls that are in the interest of every nation -- whatever their stage of economic development. And America can take the lead in offering these developing nations the low-carbon technologies that we will make and they will need. One good idea or invention to reduce carbon emissions is worth a thousand finely crafted proposals at a conference table. And the governments of these developing economic powers will soon recognize, as America is beginning to do, their urgent need for cleaner-burning fuels and safer sources of energy.
If the efforts to negotiate an international solution that includes China and India do not succeed, we still have an obligation to act.
In my approach to global climate-control efforts, we will apply the principle of equal treatment. We will apply the same environmental standards to industries in China, India, and elsewhere that we apply to our own industries. And if industrializing countries seek an economic advantage by evading those standards, I would work with the European Union and other like-minded governments that plan to address the global warming problem to develop effective diplomacy, effect a transfer of technology, or other means to engage those countries that decline to enact a similar cap.
For all of its historical disregard of environmental standards, it cannot have escaped the attention of the Chinese regime that China's skies are dangerously polluted, its beautiful rivers are dying, its grasslands vanishing, its coastlines receding, and its own glaciers melting. We know many of these signs from our own experience -- from environmental lessons learned the hard way. And today, all the world knows that they are the signs of even greater trouble to come. Pressing on blindly with uncontrolled carbon emissions is in no one's interest, especially China's. And the rest of the world stands ready to help.
Like other environmental challenges -- only more so -- global warming presents a test of foresight, of political courage, and of the unselfish concern that one generation owes to the next. We need to think straight about the dangers ahead, and to meet the problem with all the resources of human ingenuity at our disposal. We Americans like to say that there is no problem we can't solve, however complicated, and no obstacle we cannot overcome if we meet it together. I believe this about our country. I know this about our country. And now it is time for us to show those qualities once again.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Geoengineering and Equity

My colleagues Alan Robock et. al. have just produced some surprising results modeling the introduction of (sulfur) aerosols into the stratosphere to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth. Such geoengineering interventions are shown to “work” by the evidence of volcanic eruptions. They cool the planet on average. But the unknown has been how even that cooling effect is. What is surprising about Robock et. al.’s results are that even though things do get cooler on average, for some places they get hotter. Hotter than they would have been by climate change alone! And drier to boot! The areas involved are sub-Saharan Africa and large parts of India – which means that roughly 10% of the World’s population might be worse off even if the other 90% was better off. Their results are reported in Robock, Alan, Luke Oman, and Georgiy Stenchikov, 2008: Regional climate responses to geoengineering with tropical and arctic SO2 injections. Submitted to J. Geophys. Res and can be downloaded from: http://climate.envsci.rutgers.edu/robock/robock_geopapers.html

Monday, May 5, 2008

How Many People does it Take?

Gallup reports (http://www.gallup.com/poll/106660/Little-Increase-Americans-Global-Warming-Worries.aspx ) that: "while 61% of Americans say the effects of global warming have already begun, just a little more than a third say they worry about it a great deal, a percentage that is roughly the same as the one Gallup measured 19 years ago". But may be that is not as bad as one might think. In order to promote US congressional action you don’t need everyone on board. And the same poll shows that: "when asked if additional, immediate, and drastic action is necessary concerning the environment about a third answer yes."

Monday, April 28, 2008

The New Jersey Plan

The New Jersey Energy Master Plan has been released and is available at at: http://www.nj.gov/emp/index.shtml.This plan incoporates strategies to reduce NJ’s greenhouse gasses to 1990 levels by 2020. Salient elements include nuclear and wind power commitments as well as State wide building codes. But a more exotic idea is to levy a "social benefits charge" on customers which would increase if customers usage exceeds specified levels. There are important opportunities here to research how the presentation of usage data, and how it is described, affects savings. The fact is that, as of toady, we have no real idea about the elasticity of demand.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Lawnless

I took out my front lawns last week and put in indigenous plants and shrubs. Never mind the cost, what has taken me aback is the psychological toll. I don't think I realized how psychologically consoling a large green expanse is. And how jarring a desert scape is. Some popular writers in evolutionary psychology have suggested that we feel at home in savannah-like settings because that is where we evolved. And it is true that I like meadows as much as lawns. But it seems like an hypothesis that is hard to pin down empirically. Still for a start one could ask if it is just me who is consoled by meadows and lawns or everyone. Perhaps desert dwellers are consoled by deserts. And perhaps, looking out at my desert-scape, familiarty will breed calm in me ..... after a while.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Malini Mehra

One of the most clearest voices on the international scene who is voicing the need for mutual responsibility and action is Malini Mehra, founder and chief executive of the Centre for Social Markets (www.csmworld.org). She writes that: “Climate change presents a clear and present danger to India and the world. But it also offers opportunities. We must seize the moment and re-frame the climate debate in India not as an agenda of despair, but as an agenda of hope and opportunity. India is a great nation with tremendous resources and talent. We need to deploy this - and our extended resource of 30 million Indians in the Diaspora – to make the right investments today such that our economic development path is truly sustainable and equitable. All our work across the country has shown that the people are ready for this. Our leaders now need to follow. Sustainability needs to become the central paradigm of our modernisation strategy. Anything less will not only be a disservice to today’s poor but to future generations.”

Monday, April 7, 2008

Either Or?

The recent flurry of commentary prompted by Pielke, Wigley and Green in Nature (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v452/n7187/full/452531a.html) suggests there is some sort of choice between market action to limit carbon output (like caps) and intense R&D for new technology. That is surely a pseudo-choice if ever there was one – unless you think that attempting to forge agreements on limits would some how undermine the impetus for funding R&D. But given the difficulty of forging such agreements, that seems farfetched. The fact is that even if intense R&D began today and produced results, the ramp up to “scale” would likely take decades. In the meantime, business as usual will only make things much much worse.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Cap and Trade versus Taxes

From and economic point of view Cap and Trade is not seen as much different than taxation. The only difference is that in one case you start by limiting supply which drives up price. In the other you start by driving up price itself. Either way that should push down demand. But as Dan Ariely demonstrates in his new book, Predictably Irrational, price changes do not produce a stable response. Consumers accommodate to price changes over time. That makes for a big difference in the policy effectiveness of Cap and Trade versus taxation. In contrast to a Cap and Trade program, the effectiveness of taxation will diminish over time and require ever increasing taxes to maintain stable carbon output levels. So in the one case, you only have to fight a one time political battle. In the other, it is an ongoing war.

Monday, March 24, 2008

How I Came to Think that Merely Feel Good Actions Do More

This year, 24 cities around the World will be part of Earth Hour by switching off lights and appliances from 8-9pm on Saturday. I used to think of this as the kind of project that is about as feel good a project as you can come up with – the kind of thing that breeds smugness while making (almost) no difference. The kind of thing that may actually diminish people’s likelihood of doing what really needs to be done – which will hurt a lot. But I have changed my mind. I still think the actual actions do (almost) no good. But what I think I ignored is the power of collectivity in drawing people into action that they would otherwise be unlikely to make on their own. Such imitative behavior, even when mindless, is an incredibly important engine that needs to be harnessed to bring about change. And what these kinds of actions do is get that process going. The real challenge is to capitalize on that initial success and build on it to more meaningful actions. Earth Hour is a project of the World Wild Fund for Nature which started the project in Sydney last year. This year’s cities are:
Aalborg, Denmark
Aarhus, Denmark
Adelaide, Australia
Atlanta, USA
Bangkok, Thailand
Brisbane, Australia
Canberra, Australia
Chicago, USA
Christchurch, New Zealand,
Copenhagen, Denmark
Dublin, Ireland
Manila, Philippines
Melbourne, Australia
Montreal, Canada
Odense, Denmark
Ottawa, Canada
Perth, Australia
Phoenix, USA
San Francisco, USA
Suva, Fiji
Sydney, Australia
Tel Aviv, Israel
Toronto, Canada
Vancouver, Canada

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why Things are Worse than You Thought

To see how much worse things are than you might have thought take a look at:
Maximilian Auffhammer and Richard T. Carson, "Forecasting the Path of China's CO2 Emissions Using Province Level Information" (August 7, 2007). Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UCB. CUDARE Working Paper 971.
http://repositories.cdlib.org/are_ucb/971
The upshot of their research is that the projected rate of growth of greenhouse gas output by China is 11.88% for 2000-2010 not the 2.58-4.82% projected by the IPCC.
Here is the abstract:
Our results suggest that the anticipated path of China's Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions has dramatically increased over the last five years. The magnitude of the projected increase in Chinese emissions out to 2015 is several times larger than reductions embodied in the Kyoto Protocol. Our estimates are based on a unique provincial level panel data set from the Chinese Environmental Protection Agency. This dataset contains considerably more information relevant to the path of likely Chinese greenhouse gas emissions than national level time series models currently in use.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Climate Change Deniers and Creationists

Many years ago, the philosopher Jerry Aronson convinced me that it was a mistake to even enter into debate with Creationists. To do so, he argued, was to grant them something that should not be granted in the first place: that they were bound by the communal rules of science … not just rules about the role of evidence but more importantly, rules about the structure of inference. Does the same hold true of those who deny climate change? For some of the most rabid perhaps. But I have come to think that for many the situation is different. For them the issue is whether anthropogenic climate change is certain enough to merit action. What is missing in this way of putting it though is the cost of being wrong. There may be disagreement there as well but it is not discussed nearly enough.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Truth that Nobody Wants to Face

When the west industrialized and radically uplifted its standard of living, the total population involved was at most 500 million. Take the rest of the world today that seeks to emulate that standard of living and it is at least 10 times that number. It is this simple arithmetic that lies at the heart of where the real crisis of combating global warming lies. Assume no further population growth (instead of the 9+ billion projection for 2050) and assume zero emissions from the West prospectively, then still, without a radical change in technology, the rest of the world will only achieve 10% parity with the standard of living of the West for an equivalent global warming output. There is no way we can begin to address equity issues in climate without addressing population – at least going forward. The notion of a fair distribution being based on a per capita calculation may be defensible looking at population as it is today but it can only be so looking forward if we incorporate some normative standards for reproductive rates in making equity calculations.