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Posted on 26 March 2014 by Andy Skuce &
The British Columbia Sustainable Energy Association (BCSEA) organizes a series of free seminars on climate change and sustainability issues. BCSEA was founded by Guy Dauncey. On February 11th, 2014 BCSEA held a webinar on the recent work done by the Carbon Tracker Initative. Guy has written a detailed summary of their recent work on the BCSEA webpage.
The seminar starts at 8:30 minutes and a very good Q&A session begins at 39 minutes. The slides that accompany the seminar can be downloaded here.
Posted on 3 March 2014 by Andy Skuce &
An editorial by the Editor-in-Chief of Science Magazine, Marcia McNutt, conditionally endorses the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline. Her argument is that:
Both of these arguments are wrong; let me explain why.
Pipelines promote production
The Mildred Lake oil-sands plant in Alberta. Note the tailings pond behind the huge yellow piles of sulphur, a by-product of bitumen upgrading. The sulphur may come in handy later for use in solar radiation management. Photo Wikipedia
It should be obvious from the intense lobbying and advertising efforts of Canada's Federal Government, the Alberta Provincial Government and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers that the KXL pipeline is a very big deal indeed for those with a stake in expanding oil sands production. Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver accuses his domestic political opponents of putting tens of thousands of Canadian jobs at risk by urging Washington not to approve KXL. At least on this matter, he is right; without new transportation infrastructure, the massive investments that result in growth in oil sands production will be postponed or cancelled. But that's the message provided to a Canadian audience.
Posted on 7 January 2014 by jg & Andy Skuce
While attending the recent AGU conference, some of us were struck by a statistic presented by Professor Richard Alley: On average, a person's contribution of carbon dioxide waste to the atmosphere is forty times greater than their production of solid trash to landfills when measured as mass.
It can be difficult to grasp the huge quantities of CO2 that we emit. It’s an invisible gas with no odour and we are not used to thinking about amounts of gas in terms of mass. But we do have a good sense of how much solid waste we throw out, since we all have to lug our garbage to the curb. If we had to do the same with our greenhouse gases, instead of one can a week, we would have to haul forty.
Every time we see a garbage truck, let’s imagine forty others following it, all taking our carbon dioxide to a dump site. When we hear of municipal politicians struggling to find new landfill sites, imagine the problems we would have finding forty subterranean landfill sites if we ever tried to dispose of our CO2 in the subsurface instead of dumping it freely into the air.
Posted on 31 October 2013 by Andy Skuce &
Hans Rosling is a Swedish medical doctor and statistician who is determined (in his own words) "to fight devastating ignorance with a fact-based worldview that everyone can understand".
Here is a video of him giving a talk on September 28th, 2013 at a public forum that introduced the latest IPCC report. The meeting was hosted by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme in Stockholm.
During the talk he asks a couple of questions, one on how many more children there will be in the year 2100 compared to today and another on what percentage of world energy is produced by solar and wind. I was in the minority that got the first one correct, but only because I had already seen one of Rosling's earlier talks. On the second question, I was among the majority that got the answer wrong. How will you do?
Posted on 25 July 2013 by Andy Skuce &
Stewart Elgie and Jessica McClay of the University of Ottawa have a peer-reviewed article in press in a special issue of the journal Canadian Public Policy. The article is summarized in the report BC’s Carbon Tax shift after five years: Results. An environmental (and economic) success story. The report can be downloaded here and is summarized here.
The results are similar to a previous report that I wrote about in the article BC’s revenue-neutral carbon tax experiment, four years on: It’s working, but updated, with one more year of data. The new data show that the carbon tax is working even better than reported previously.
Fuel consumption per capita has fallen in BC by nearly 19% relative to the rest of Canada; these are just the fuels that are subject to the carbon tax. (Note that the years in these tables begin on July 1, in the previous report, they were calendar years, so the numbers do not match exactly.)
Note that all fuel use for the various types of fuel fell faster per-capita in BC than for the rest of Canada. The one exception is aviation fuel, which is mostly exempt from the carbon tax and showed no differential fall in use in BC.
Posted on 27 June 2013 by Andy Skuce &
British Columbia is the only jurisdiction in North America with a revenue-neutral carbon tax that taxes greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from individuals and businesses alike. The tax was announced in February 2008 and was implemented in July 2008 at a rate of $10 per tonne of CO2, rising in $5 annual increments to the current price of $30/tonne. It is designed as a revenue-neutral tax, meaning that all carbon-tax proceeds collected by the government are returned in the form of income tax cuts and rebates. The tax is now raising over C$1.2 Billion per year, about C$270 per person, and the proceeds are distributed roughly equally between personal and business tax reductions.
People on low incomes get a per-person payment of C$115 annually, and homeowners who live outside the SW of the province can get additional rebates of up to $200 annually. The personal income tax reductions are focussed on earnings below C$75,000. The allocation of carbon tax revenue has to be reported in the annual budget.
A Miss by Myles: Why Professor Allen is wrong to think carbon capture and storage will solve the climate crisis
Posted on 11 June 2013 by Andy Skuce &
(This post was co-written by rustneversleeps and Andy Skuce).
A recent opinion piece in the British newspaper Mail on Sunday by University of Oxford climate scientist Myles Allen argues that the best way to combat climate change is to pass laws requiring fossil fuel producers to capture and sequester a rising proportion of the carbon dioxide emissions that the fuels produce. We argue here that such a policy, with its emphasis on carbon sequestration, would not be successful in achieving the carbon emission reductions that Allen himself advocates—for a variety of political, economic, technological and logistical reasons. A more recent article by Allen in The Guardian covers the same ground.
Nevertheless, Allen’s prescription does succeed in focussing the mind on the scale of the problem that we face in mitigating climate change.
This is a very long post, so here is a clickable summary.
A good starting framework, then... Allen's diagnosis is clear and his framing of targets in terms of cumulative emissions is unabiguous. But his prescription is flawed.
Politics There is no reason to assume a fixed emissions cap schedule would be easier to sell to the public than a carbon tax. Caps would produce greater certainty of longer-term emission reductions at the cost of uncertain economic consequences.
Economics (i): Efficiency Imposing emissions caps without allowing trading through brokers would be very inefficient. It is not clear whether Allen supports or opposes trading.
Economics (ii) Innovation by fiat? Prescribing one form of technology as the principle solution is risky. Nobody can predict how technology will evolve and what problems may emerge in future.
Economics (iii): The information conveyed by prices The cost of one technology should not be used as a basis for carbon pricing. There is a wide range of mitigation options, with highly variable prices, all with variable and uncertain potential to contribute to solutions. Experience in British Columbia shows that even a modest carbon tax can reduce emissions significantly without harming the economy.
Scaling it up to climate relevance Even promoters of aggressive deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) do not envision it as more than a partial contribution to mitigating climate change by 2050.
Timing and feasibility The mass of the CO2 to be sequestered is about double the mass of the fossil fuels themselves. To develop a new industry, from scratch, to capture, transport and dispose of these quantities will involve vast amounts of capital and many decades, even if it were technically possible.
Hazards The magnitude of the CO2 to be sequestered in the subsurface is such that environmental risks from leakage, aquifer contamination and induced earthquakes are likely to be much larger than those from the already contentious shale gas industry. Getting public licence for CCS projects in inhabited areas is likely to be very difficult and time consuming.
Summing up The climate crisis is so vast that we need to throw everything we have at it. Claiming that any single technology will solve the problem can lead to complacency that the fix is simple. It isn't.
Posted on 19 April 2013 by Andy Skuce &
Let's start with two skill-testing questions:
1. If we stop greenhouse gas emissions, won't the climate naturally go back to the way it was before?
2. Isn't there "warming in the pipeline" that will continue to heat up the planet no matter what we do?
The correct answer to both questions is "no".
Global warming is not reversible but it is stoppable.
Many people incorrectly assume that once we stop making greenhouse gas emissions, the CO2 will be drawn out of the air, the old equilibrium will be re-established and the climate of the planet will go back to the way it used to be; just like the way the acid rain problem was solved once scrubbers were put on smoke stacks, or the way lead pollution disappeared once we changed to unleaded gasoline. This misinterpretation can lead to complacency about the need to act now. In fact, global warming is, on human timescales, here forever. The truth is that the damage we have done—and continue to do—to the climate system cannot be undone.
The second question reveals a different kind of misunderstanding: many mistakenly believe that the climate system is going to send more warming our way no matter what we choose to do. Taken to an extreme, that viewpoint can lead to a fatalistic approach, in which efforts to mitigate climate change by cutting emissions are seen as futile: we should instead begin planning for adaptation or, worse, start deliberately intervening through geoengineering. But this is wrong. The inertia is not in the physics of the climate system, but rather in the human economy.
This is explained in a recent paper in Science Magazine (2013, paywalled but freely accessible here, scroll down to "Publications, 2013") by Damon Matthews and Susan Solomon: Irreversible Does Not Mean Unavoidable.
Since the Industrial Revolution, CO2 from our burning of fossil fuels has been building up in the atmosphere. The concentration of CO2 is now approaching 400 parts per million (ppm), up from 280 ppm prior to 1800. If we were to stop all emissions immediately, the CO2 concentration would also start to decline immediately, with some of the gas continuing to be absorbed into the oceans and smaller amounts being taken up by carbon sinks on land. According to the models of the carbon cycle, the level of CO2 (the red line in Figure 1A) would have dropped to about 340 ppm by 2300, approximately the same level as it was in 1980. In the next 300 years, therefore, nature will have recouped the last 30 years of our emissions.
Figure 1 CO2 concentrations (A); CO2 emissions (B) ; and temperature change (C). There are two scenarios: zero emissions after 2010 (red) and reduced emissions producing constant concentrations (blue). From a presentation by Damon Matthews, via Serendipity.
Posted on 1 March 2013 by Andy Skuce &
In an earlier article, I reviewed sociologist Kari Norgaard’s book Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life in which she records the response of rural Norwegians to climate change. She analyzes the contradictory feelings Norwegians experience in reconciling their life in a wealthy country that is at once a major producer and consumer of fossil fuels and, at the same time, has a reputation of being a world leader in its concern for the environment, human development, and international peace.
Canada shares many characteristics with Norway; they are both northern lands that distinguish themselves from larger southern neighbours by their cold climates and progressive social policies. Both countries are wealthy, thanks in large part to exploitation of their abundant natural resources. In this article, I will try to look at Canada through the same lens that Norgaard used in her study of Norway. Because I am not aware of any kind of field study in Canada similar to the kind that Norgaard did in Norway, I will rely on how socially organised denial expresses itself through Canadian political discourse on climate change.
According to polling by Environics a majority of Canadians in 2012 (57%) are convinced that the science is conclusive that global warming is happening and is caused mostly by humans. Only 12% believe that the science of global warming is not yet conclusive. Majorities are also in favour of carbon taxes in most areas of the country. It is also worth noting that none of Canada's political leaders take a denialist stance on climate change. In a speech in Berlin in 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper affirmed his government's commitment to "...the fight against climate change, [is] perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today." Later in the same speech he acknowledged; "But frankly, up to now, our country has been engaged in a lot of "talking the talk" but not "walking the walk" when it has come to greenhouse gases". It is that disengagement between thought and action that is at the heart of implicatory denial.
Posted on 28 February 2013 by Andy Skuce &
Norway is one of the most wealthy countries on Earth, with the very highest levels of human development, it is among the most generous donors of foreign aid and, for a country of its size, makes enormous efforts to promote peace. A former Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brundtland, has done as much as anyone to promote global sustainable development and public health. The world would surely be a better place if everyone on Earth behaved like Norwegians.
Norway, on the other hand, is also the largest per capita oil producer outside of the Middle East, producing more oil per capita even than Saudi Arabia, about 150 barrels per person per year from its fields in the North Sea. Five million Norwegians also emit 11 tonnes of greenhouse gasses each per year, a little higher than the European mean and twice as high as the global average. The world would surely become uninhabitable if everyone on Earth behaved like Norwegians.
Every other country and community has its own contradictions, of course. Despite the fact that the majority of Americans and Canadians believe that climate change is a concern, no progress has been made at national levels to introduce the carbon pricing policies that institutions like the International Energy Agency and the World Bank believe to be an essential step in reducing emissions. And neither, generally speaking, have many people voluntarily made the lifestyle changes—like giving up non-essential air travel—that are necessary if we are to achieve a low-carbon future. Concern about climate change is broad, but often shallow. We mostly carry on in our daily lives as if climate change was not happening.
Among the majority of us who recognize the threat of climate change, there’s clearly a disconnection between thought and action. We know that things have to change, but we have a lot of reasons why change is not up to us, or why now is not the time, or why our inaction is somebody else’s fault. The exact reasons will vary from person to person and from country to country, but they all serve the same purpose, to help ease the anxiety and helplessness we all feel, while doing nothing substantial to alleviate the problem. Kari Norgaard, an American and a sociology professor at the University of Oregon, calls these responses “socially organized denial” and has written several articles on the subject (available here) and a book, Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life (MIT Press, 2011) based on sociological field work that she conducted in rural Norway.
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