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Lindzen Illusion #3 and Christy Crock #5: Opposing Climate Solutions

Posted on 3 May 2011 by dana1981

Christy Crocks (200 x 70 pixels)Recently, "skeptic" climate scientist John Christy testified before U.S. Congress, and both Christy and fellow "skeptic" Richard Lindzen have been interviewed on an Australian radio talk show regarding the country's proposed carbon tax. 

In each situation, these two scientists spoke out against efforts to address climate change by reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Tragedy of the Commons Once Again

Their main argument seems to be becoming a favorite amongst "skeptics": "CO2 limits will make little difference."  In his radio interview, Christy applied the argument to California (which is attempting to implement a carbon cap and trade system), Australia (with the aforementioned proposed carbon tax), and in his congressional testimony, to the USA:

"We’re talking about less than a hundredth of a degree [if California cuts emissions by 26% by 2016]. It’s just so miniscule; I mean the global temperature changes by more than that from day to day. So this is what we call in Alabama “spitting in the ocean”."

"On the climate front, [Australia cutting its emissions by 5% by 2020] will be imperceptible or minuscule compared to what the rest of the world is doing."

"you're looking at most at a tenth of a degree [reduction in global temperature] after 100 years [if USA imposes CO2 limits]"

Lindzen attempted to apply the argument globally:

"The evidence is pretty good that even if everyone [cut emissions] in the whole world it wouldn't make a lot of difference."

We have previously addressed this argument as applied to Australia by Chris Monckton and David Evans, and applied to the USA by David Montgomery.  However, given that the USA is the largest historical CO2 emitter, the second-largest current emitter, and high on the list in terms of per capita emissions, it may be worthwhile to evaluate these claims.  Let's run the numbers using CO2 emissions data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration

Current global CO2 emissions total approximately 30 billion tons (Gt) per year, with the USA contributing approximately 20% (5.8 Gt per year).  US emissions have risen approximately 15% since 1990, so let's assume in a business as usual scenario, they will continue to rise at that rate.  In this case, total US CO2 emissions between now and 2050 will total approximately 275 Gt.  The IPCC projects that in business as usual, global CO2 emissions will total approximately 2,200 Gt over that period.

If the USA were to follow through with proposals to reduce CO2 emissions 83% below 2005 levels by 2050, the result would roughly cut the country's emissions over that period in half, to 140 Gt, reducing global emissions to approximately 2,060 Gt.

Approximately 55% of human CO2 emissions currently remain airborne (the remainder is absorbed by carbon sinks), and each 7.8 Gt CO2 emitted corresponds to roughly 1 part per million by volume (ppmv) increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration.  Thus the US cuts would reduce the atmospheric CO2 concentration to approximately 540 ppmv compared to 550 ppmv in business as usual in 2050.

Assuming the IPCC most likely climate sensitivity value of 3°C for doubled CO2 (incorporating only fast feedbacks - remember, long-term sensitivity is even higher) is correct, these US emissions cuts by themselves would reduce the amount of equilibrium warming by 0.08°C, from roughly 2.9 to 2.8°C surface warming above pre-industrial levels.  And of course Australia and California's cuts would have even less effect on global temperatures, as they have smaller populations and thus lower total emissions.  So Lindzen and Christy have a point here, right?

Well, no.  In particular, Lindzen claims that global emissions cuts "wouldn't make a lot of difference."  But let's say international negotiations succeeded in convincing countries all around the world to reduce global CO2 emissions by 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.  Now suddenly instead of 2,200 Gt CO2 emitted in the next four decades, it's only about 820 Gt.  Now instead of 550 ppmv in 2050, we're looking at about 450 ppmv. 

Instead of committing ourselves to 2.9°C warming above pre-industrial levels as in business as usual, we're only committed to 2°C, which keeps us right at the cusp of the global warming "danger limit."  Plus rather than blowing past the danger limit with CO2 levels continuing to rise rapidly, we'll have set up the technologies and infrastructure necessary to continue reducing emissions to safe levels.  Remember, the last time atmospheric CO2 was at current levels, global temperatures were 3 to 4°C warmer than pre-industrial, and sea levels were around 25 meters higher than current sea level.  So we really should aim to eventually stabilize atmospheric CO2 at no higher than 350 ppmv, and the more CO2 we emit now, the more difficult that will be.  We're currently adding another 2 ppmv  CO2 to the atmoosphere per year, continually moving further away from that 350 ppmv target.

So clearly Lindzen is wrong that global emissions cuts won't make a difference.  And the only way we're going to achieve large global emissions cuts is if major emitters like the USA and Australia lead the way in reducing their emissions.  And the USA is more likely to proceed if states like California demonstrate that CO2 limits can be implemented successfully.  Thus although these individual cuts won't have a significant direct impact on global temperatures, they can have a major indirect effect by triggering more widespread emissions cuts.

Costs vs. Benefits 

In his Australian radio interview, Lindzen also claimed that the costs of CO2 limits would outweigh the benefits.

"[CO2 limits are] a heavy cost for no benefit, and it's no benefit for you, no benefit for your children, no benefit for your grandchildren, no benefit for your great-great-great-great-grandchildren. I mean, what's the point of that?"

Christy made a similar argument both in his US Congressional testimony and his Australian radio interview.

"this issue has policy implications that may potentially raise the price of energy a lot, and thus essentially the price of everything else."

"I would think a couple of things will happen [if Australia cuts its emissions by 5% by 2020]. One is that your energy prices will rise and your economy then will begin to turn downward. And you will provide opportunities for other nations to take up the slack that Australia used to provide the world."

It's true that carbon limits would likely cause a modest rise in the market price of energy.  However, the funds from selling carbon emissions permits could be used to offset this price increase through improved energy efficiency and other measures.  Economic studies showed that the proposed CO2 limits in the USA would have virtually no impact on average electricity bills, for example.  It's important to distinguish between prices and bills – an increase in the former doesn't necessarily cause an increase in the latter, if other measures are taken to prevent bills from rising.

Moreover, the true cost of coal energy, on which Australia and the USA rely heavily, is approximately triple the market price, which does not account for factors like impacts on public or environmental health.  Thus a carbon price more accurately reflects this true cost in the market price, and also aids in the transition to other energy sources whose true cost is actually lower than fossil fuels.  So although market prices may rise, the total cost paid by Australians, Americans, etc. will actually fall.

This is one of the reasons that contrary to Lindzen's claims, the benefits of carbon limits outweigh the costs several times over.  This is something that economic studies and economic experts consistently agree about.  You could even call it an economic climate consensus.  A recent survey of 144 of the world's top economists with expertise on climate change found that 88% agreed that the benefits of carbon pricing outweigh the costs, and over 94% agreed the US should reduce its GHG emissions if other major emitters also commit to reductions (which many already have, particularly in Europe):

should US reduce emissions

 

NYU IPI survey results when asked under what circumstances the USA should reduce its emissions

Stick to What You Know

In their comments dissuading Australian and American efforts to address the threats posed by global warming and climate change, Lindzen and Christy made a number of erroneous and false statements.  Perhaps these climate scientists should leave the economic arguments to, you know, economists.  And they should certainly stop promoting the Tragedy of the Commons.  If the USA can argue that its emissions cuts won't make a difference, then every country can make the argument.  And if everyone makes it, we'll fail to achieve even modest emissions cuts, and as a result we will all doom ourselves to increasingly dangerous global warming and climate change.

A good scientist should not encourage us to play Russian Roulette with the climate, all the while adding more and more bullets to the chamber.

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Comments 101 to 110 out of 110:

  1. "Apart from the personal derogation" Hilarious, you're the one who accused me of being ignorant-I was merely responding in kind. I think someone is being just a little bit too precious for words-maybe because their arguments are being made mincemeat of, right Ken? "I am happy to engage you on the numbers Marcus, not florid claims about 'subsidies' by governments who seem to be hell bent on helping out vested interests in the 'fossil fuel' industries rather than serving the people." Are you really Ken? Well I've given some very clear numbers above (#97 & #98)-from no lesser an authority than the EIA. You care to dispute these figures, or try to justify such large subsidies for such a mature & profitable industry as the coal & oil industries clearly are? Also, I never made accusations of conspiracies. A large number of the subsidies date back to when the technology was still relatively new, & no-one has been bothered to remove them-a decision that certainly isn't helped by a very powerful fossil fuel lobby. Also, if you think politicians put the interests of the electorate ahead of powerful lobbies, then you really *do* live in a parallel universe. That's not conspiracy theory, that's a simple "whoever pays the piper, calls the tune". I really don't understand how you continue to be incapable of accepting these basic facts.
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  2. "Whereever you are Marcus - tell us what the life cycle costs of coal fired generation are compared with PV Solar." Its right there in the text you quote. Official industry figures put *generation* cost of coal at $0.06c/kw-h for coal (which I assume is based on all of the factors you mention), & $0.33c per kw-h for PV solar. Of course, the distribution costs for coal-fired electricity are considerably higher, which is why the *retail* cost of coal is closer to $0.30c per kw-h. Of course, I'm curious why you have this constant obsession with PV solar? I mean, you are aware that there are many other sorts of renewable energy technologies out there-most of them cheaper than PV's (though the cost of PV electricity is falling all the time). Solar thermal has a life-cycle cost of $0.10c/kw-h to $0.12c/kw-h (without storage). Wind is around $0.08c/kw-h (without storage). I can't recall what tidal or geothermal power cost, but do recall that they're around the same range as Wind or Solar Thermal. Hydro power is around $0.03c/kw-h to $0.05c/kw-h. So yes, PV's still have a way to go before their generation costs are competitive with those of coal but, for local energy supply (say, within around 5km-10km of the generation site) the total costs for PV solar even out quite nicely. "That includes the capital cost of the plant, fuel costs, maintenance and running costs divided by the total energy generated over the plant life." You are aware that there's more to calculating life-cycle costs than that. There is the so-called "Discount Rate", which factors in things like depreciation & expected return-on-investment times. Of course, there is a long history of economists applying higher discount rates to coal & nuclear than to renewable energy projects, thus causing the latter to appear even *more* expensive than they really are-or need to be. Also, how can you properly factor something like fuel costs, over a 30-50 year lifespan, when you have absolutely *no clue* how expensive the fuel is going to be in 20 years time or, even more importantly, how expensive the fuel needed to extract the coal is going to be.
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  3. Marcus Lets get the terms right for a start. I assume you mean that $0.06c/kW-hr means 6 cents. With a dollar sign and a cents sign it could be confusing to those who are assailed by errors of two orders of magnitude on this blog. Let us assume your costs per kW-hr are roughly in the ball park. PV Solar: 33 cents without storage or grid costs. Wind: 8 cents without storage or grid costs. Solar-Thermal: 10-12 cents without grid costs. Coal fired: 6 cents (as low as 4 cents) without grid coats. Hydro: 3-5 cents without grid costs. I pay 19 cents for business power so 30 cents seems too high for coal. This includes about 7 cents for the grid costs and 12 cents for the power 'retailer'. Why would you use the coal fired retail price as a comparison with the renewables? Are you suggesting Solar/Wind and other 'renewables' be sold to consumers with no gross margin for the retailer? The cost of PV Solar and Wind need to be increased to allow for storage devices, and some grid connection cost to get some comparison with 24/7 base load power provided by coal/hydro/nuclear. Even on the above numbers without storage devices PV Solar is still 5-8 times the cost of coal or hydro, with lower availability on cloudy days and in winter. Wind has an availability in the 12 - 25% range - Both need to be covered by other base load sources for the rest of the time. Do the 8 cent Wind costs cover the availability and storage issues? Certainly not the storage. Your assertion that "for local energy supply (say, within around 5km-10km of the generation site) the total costs for PV solar even out quite nicely." So what are your grid costs for these 'close' sites? Whichever way it is cut, PV Solar and Wind are a long way from providing base load at anything near coal and hydro costs. No doubt PV Solar will reduce more sharply than Wind which has theoretical limits to efficiency - but both suffer from the fundamental issues of sensitivity to variable weather systems and low energy density. If we could afford a 25-30% portion of Wind & PV Solar - what happens when a large weather system of heavy monsoon cloud and rain sits over a wide area for days or even 1-2 weeks as happened recently in Queensland. Where will the reserve capacity to cover large power losses come from?
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  4. Seriously Ken, if you're not even going to *try* & be honest, then there is absolutely no point in even having a discussion with you. First up, the ability to store energy-technology which is already available & relatively cheap-will actually improve the number of kw-h of electricity that renewable power can generate over its lifetime. Yes it will increase the capital cost, but the life-cycle cost will either be the same or possibly even lower. Second of all, you keep citing low availability for wind power, when every official study shows a capacity factor of around 30% to 40%. With storage, that capacity factor can be almost doubled. I've also pointed out that back-up does *not* have to come from coal or natural gas. Bio-gas is generated as a by-product of our everyday lives & could be easily burned to produce electricity in those rare instances when either solar or wind are not available. Also, why do you continue to ignore energy sources like tidal streams & geo-thermal, which are in no way hostage to the vagaries of weather systems, or to fluctuating fuel prices? Lastly, whether you choose to accept it or not, retail electricity costs in my area are close to 30c/kw-h. Maybe as a business user you get a discount, but you're really comparing apples & oranges. Either way, it still represents a massive mark up, given that generation costs are only 6c/kw-h. Even in your example, that still represents an almost 300% mark-up. So either someone is gouging, or the costs of long-distance transmission & distribution are significantly higher than people such as yourself want to admit. So my ultimate point is that, no matter how much you choose to ignore it, we can substitute a large proportion of our current coal-fired electricity use with renewable energy, especially if coupled with energy efficiency measures.
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  5. "Seriously Ken, if you're not even going to *try* & be honest, then there is absolutely no point in even having a discussion with you." Accusations of dishonesty are explicitly against the comments policy. Are you exempt from this policy Marcus? Who is against Geothermal?, Tide of Wave generators? Many of these things work - just too expensively to be a viable economic alternative. Tell us their cost and we will tell you if they are starters of not. Elsewhere I have identified Geothermal as a 24/7 alternative base load source. Coupled with things like solar cooling and a pentane cycle - Geothermal is a contender. Trial plants are underway. Problems of scaling up, capacity and distance from loads have to be addressed to get decent cost projections. "Even in your example, that still represents an almost 300% mark-up. So either someone is gouging, or the costs of long-distance transmission & distribution are significantly higher than people such as yourself want to admit." Please tell us what price you will **buy** your 'renewables'. "Second of all, you keep citing low availability for wind power, when every official study shows a capacity factor of around 30% to 40%." Which studies are these? From the top of the Tibetan Plateau? The experience in Victoria is as low as 12.5% availability.
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  6. "Which studies are these? From the top of the Tibetan Plateau? The experience in Victoria is as low as 12.5% availability. " Whereas a trial one in our Capital is available 95% and overall I think our wind capacity is 41% (90-95% availability). And no, I don't think we are the Tibetan Plateau. Reference
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  7. scaddenp #106 The shaky isles are certainly nicer than the Tibetan Plateau, but the wind is probably as prime. Relevant quotation from your reference: "Because of NZ’s exceptional wind resource, wind farms in New Zealand operate at a capacity factor of around 40%, which is almost twice the global average." Which puts the global average at about 20%. I said 12 - 25%, which is in the ballpark. The 12% relates to recent experience in Victoria - which is not prime wind territory.
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  8. Ken, fair enough but you said, Victoria was 12.5% availability, not capacity.
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  9. I'd also agree that PV is niche at moment. Too expensive. I'd say West Island should be looking at new gen nuclear and SCP. Plenty of resource in both but both really nascent and far more worthy of subsidy to the get started than FF. (Though I am anti-subsidy on anything except scientific research, healthcare and education).
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  10. Quite right scaddenup. I need to update my terminology for the renewables. In the 24/7 industry 'availability' and 'capacity factor' mean the same thing. When you fire up a 500MW turbine - you usually get 500MW at full load unless the builder has sold you a crock. The output and installed capacity are the same. Outages for maintenance reduce the 'availability' of the installed capacity - and reduced load running drops the effective capacity factor. This is to be avoided with baseload plant by load matching and topping with gas turbines, pumped storage etc. The big difference between base load plant and renewables is that short of an earthquake or tsunami, outages and disruptions to output are controllable (even programmable)with base load, but subject to weather and cloud cover with PV Solar and Wind. Storage devices are essential to make these viable base load supplies. The question is - what are the numbers when storage devices are added to the cost of PV Solar and Wind.
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