December 3, 2007

The U.S. and Climate Change: Toward a better understanding...

Contrary to public perception outside the U.S., President Bush recognizes the need to address global warming; it is just a question of detail...

Ahead of this weeks, UNFCCC (United Nations Climate Change Conference) to be held in Bali 3 - 14 December, I thought it proper to extend an understanding of the U.S. position on this contested issue. The Conference, hosted by the Government of Indonesia, brings representatives from over 190 countries together with observers from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, as well as the media. In short, twenty thousand delegates, observers, business leaders, and government ministers. The meeting is expected to agree on a road map for extended negotiations aimed at framing a new climate change treaty to come into effect post 2012 when Kyoto expires.

Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky will head the U.S. delegation in Bali. “In recognition of the importance the United States attaches to this conference, the White House is sending Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality James L. Connaughton to join in leading the Ministerial sessions December 12-14. Chairman Connaughton is a senior advisor to President Bush and his personal representative to the Major Economies Process on Energy Security and Climate Change”.

Before I delve into some detail, I fell duty-bound to clarify my position. Firstly, on climate change and humankind's association, this blog post acknowledges that the problem is, in some measure, man made. However, and I want to be quite unequivocal about this point, I will promptly dismiss the doomsday predictions put forward from greens and leftist quarters. The environment and the mystery surround it is a classic liberal temptation, and I can both hear and picture them writing off solutions consistent with those proposed by the Bush administration (more on this below) or any other related proposals in preference for, binding Kyoto style caps.”

Secondly, in relation to Kyoto, and for the benefit of those familiar with my earlier writings. I was initially drawn to the convention, arguing that in spite of its obvious flaws, it represented a foundation point for addressing the problem and, whilst I remain loyal to its aims and values, I now see it as little more than a symbolic expression of Governments concern; one that ultimately fails as an instrument for achieving emission reductions. In addition, some recent writings by European experts (more below) convinced me beyond doubt, that it was time to authenticate the U.S. position. The argument evokes extreme views from all ends, from Al Gore who advocates that it is a planetary emergency to those like weather channel founder John Coleman who proposes that Global Warming is nothing but a con, or as he puts it, the “greatest scam in history."

The U.S. and Australia have endured much condemnation for there failing to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. In a decision that I now support Mr. Bush and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard rejected the treaty saying that emission targets would be very costly and that the agreement wrongly omitted goals for emerging nations. Indeed, had President Bush ratified it and taken effective steps to meet its targets it would have required a 30% reduction in U.S. emissions resulting in a 4% cut in GDP – a policy that would have literally put Americans out of work!

The protocol came into effect on 16 February 2005 and requires participating countries to reduce Carbon emissions by 5.2% from 1990 levels within the commitment period 2008 – 2012. The Kyoto pact was an early attempt at collective action but was never a good model to slow climate change for an effective treaty must engage broad participation because all countries emit greenhouse gases. To exempt Brazil, India and China made the agreement a debacle. The latter deserves special mention for it just overtook the U.S. as the biggest emitter in the world. Furthermore, Chinese President Hu Jintao recently vowed to double the nation’s wealth by 2020, a goal that if met, would emit plumes of seismic proportions. Notably, the United States reduced emissions on 2006.

Canada provides us with an example of Kyoto’s weakness. It was one of the first to ratify the agreement yet in 2005, its emissions were nearly 35% above the Kyoto target and rising. Its Government recently funded a round table of experts and concluded that emissions would exceed the targets by a whopping 45% by 2010.

Unlike Australia and the U.S., the Canadians appeased environmentalists by ratifying early and were loudly applauded for doing so. However, as Kyoto does not enforce compliance ratification becomes superfluous. As the round table concluded, the ultimate cost of compliance is “considerable”, meaning “completely unacceptable”. In any event, compliance would have had no discernible effect in the context of world emissions. Turkey, Spain, and New Zealand, all signatories, have reported increases of up to 50%.

British scientist Gwyn Prins of the London School of Economics and climate change researcher Steve Raynor of Oxford were recently cited in the journal Nature. Remarkably, whilst they urged Governments to ‘ditch Kyoto’ they did not detract from existing arguments about the seriousness of the greenhouse problem arguing instead that Governments engage in much more research through investment, rather that tightening Kyoto style caps. They added that the money be invested in clean energy research and development, a proposal consistent with the U.S. position.

There is common recognition in the U.S. that research leading to technological solutions holds the key to reducing emissions without restricting economies. This was the theme of the Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change held in Washington last September and attended by representatives from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, South Africa, United Kingdom, the EU, the EC, and the UN. In total, the participating nations represented 85% of the global economy. The gathering effectively initiated a post Kyoto process for agreeing on key elements of the emission problem. The assembly offered an opportunity to discuss the viability of both current and emerging technologies and how best address funding challenges.

Among the key points proposed by President Bush were:

  • To create an international clean energy technology fund to finance projects

  • Free trade in all associated technologies through the elimination of trade barriers on clean energy goods, and services and

  • A formal recognition of the important role played by forests and the urgent need to address de-forestation.
In summary, a technology based approach that advocates flexibility, innovation, and teamwork on a global scale and, a much needed acknowledgement that our carbon soaking ecosystems (natural forests) are to be protected.
In addition, the U.S. believes each country should find it own method of address. According to Chairman Connaughton, an incentive-based approach at the federal level, combined with mandatory commitments on industries that are set at the state level is preferable to nationwide mandatory caps on industrial emissions. “We have to be careful to avoid (a) one size fits all solution”, he said. “We are seeking the same global goal with a different mix.” The U.S. is also willing to discuss aid and technology transfers to help developing nations, says Connaughton. “Let’s work with China and India as they develop their future on this.”

Not surprising many climate change commentators failed to point out both Bush’s proposed action with respect to clean energy and affordable technologies. Of note, in 2006 the U.S. budget allocated $6.5 billion to developing technologies for using Coal, Hydrogen, and nuclear fusion and renewables. It also developed a range of tax incentives for companies to develop market-based solutions to curb emissions. Similarly, this too has not been reported widely, if at all.

In response to a technology-based solution, let us consider Los Angeles in 1975, a year that saw the capital experience no less than 192 days in which the ozone levels safe standard was exceeded. This was ozone formed near Earth's surface when the ultraviolet light in sunlight triggered a chemical reaction with other pollutants as emitted by cars, power plants, and industrial sources. That is 192 days or over 50% of the year where children and the elderly were advised to stay indoors because of smog. Thirty years later, in 2005, in spite of the city’s growth and a marked increase in automobile use, the standard was exceeded on just 27 days. This was not achieved by asking the population to use tricycles or a horse and buggy, the gains were a result of technological; innovations – catalytic converters and re-formulated gasoline.

It is critical that governments hasten the development of new technologies for with every week that passes, China is building one new coal fired power station as based on old technologies; power stations that collectively bellow out more greenhouse gases that one could possible imagine.

Aside from global endeavors such as Kyoto and Bali, the U.S. senate has no shortage of options to consider as generated from within its borders. Of the nine bills that have surfaced over the past 12 months, and although none have managed to gain the interest of environmental activists, surprise surprise, one in particular warrants mention here. A bi-partisan emissions cap and trade proposal from Senators Lieberman and John Warner “projected to reduce total U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by as much as 19% below the 2005 level (4% below the 1990 level) in 2020 and by as much as 63% below the 2005 level in 2050. The bill contains a robust set of measures to sustain U.S. economic growth, protect American jobs, and ensure international participation in emissions reductions”.

Whilst the bill offers the U.S. Senate another option, I would venture to add that any final agreement to curb emissions must be practical and economically responsible; one way to achieve this is to bring forward technologically based options similar to those presented in Washington last September.
I never believed that Washington would moderate its approach in Bali given that it has lost its main supporter, Australia following John Howard’s election loss recently, and am encouraged by comments made by the U.S. ambassador to Australia, Robert McCallum just last week. Mr. McCallum said the decision “of the new Labor Government to ratify the Kyoto Protocol will have no impact on America's decision not to. The new Australian Prime Minister Mr. Rudd has promised to commit Australia to the climate change agreement, but Mr. McCallum says while Australians support the policy, the situation in the US is different. In fact, contrary to public perception outside the U.S., President Bush recognizes the need to address global warming; it is just a question of details.

Useful link: http://www.onlineuniversity.net/earth-science/global-warming/

Feel free to comment…
addendum: What is greenhouse effect - a straightforward explanation.
The suns warmth heats up the surface of the Earth, which in turn radiates energy back into space. Some of the radiation (heat) is trapped in the atmosphere by ever-rising greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and chlorofluorocarbons). This trapped heat warms the lower atmosphere with some of the heat finding its way back to the surface making it warmer than it would otherwise be hence, the Greenhouse effect.

22 comments:

Debbie said...

A very level headed article on a very touchy subject. The followers of the Al Gore church on global warming ... that would be those who think humans living and breathing are a danger to the planet and universe ... and that the planet and universe are more important than humans ... are a scary bunch. I'm hoping they are a small group, but I fear I'm wrong.

The logical humans are those who believe, yes, there is some climate change and yes, there are things we can do to help the environment. I'm hoping these humans are in the majority. Count me in this group.

We do not fear the world will collapse around us in the next 20 years -- either in a ball of fire or a global flood from polar ice caps melting and drowning us all.

LOGICAL discussions are required, logical actions should be taken.

Nice post my friend.

Debbie
Right Truth
http://www.righttruth.typepad.com


p.s. I'm going to miss Howard.

American Interests said...

What's lacking is logical and balanced discussion, without the fear mongering hogwash that’s so often presented. You are right, a ‘touchy subject’, accordingly this post presented a challenge. I am glad you that you have deemed it as, “very level headed”.

The Liberal Lie The Conservative Truth said...

I agree that this is level headed. The left and the Gorwellion crowd have used GW as a means of fear in order to press a financial gain for their agenda.

Never once recognizing the proven fact that temperature changes are due to the only thing that can influence heat on earth...the sun.

They ignore the evidence that Mars, Titan, and even Neptune are experiencing similar changes without any influence by man...that is unless it is Dennis Kucinich and his alien encounters.

Well thought out and presented...bravo!

Goat said...

Heck our climate has been fluctuating for millions of years and nothing man can do will change that fact. I mean look at the range of teperatures man lives in now from Alaska to the African deserts I think we can handle a couple degrees of warming. I tend to side with Coleman in that it is a bunch of hooey and I am very green. Cutting atmospheric pollution is a good cause in itself and not for nutty claims of cities being drowned or whatever Al Gore claims. It is a scam to rape the poor for the benefit of the elite and wealthy that can afford the higher energy and food costs.
Otto, you might want to spend some time at this excellent site on the climate run by actual scientists and not politicians or buroucrats.
http://icecap.us/index.php

Goat said...

Temperatures on earth are a function also of changes in the earth's core and tectonic movement that effect ocean temperatures and currents that are the real engine of global climate changes, El Nino and La Nina patterns in the Pacific are one example.

Goat said...

You forgot to mention the most important and abundant greenhouse gas dihydrogen monoxide vapor and with 70% of the earth's surface covered by its liquid form you would think some importance would be given to water vapor.

Tapline said...

AI, Outstanding Post. Much research and sound reasoning. I think I will go with Goat. All we like sheep....And we are like Sheep. When these tree huggers get started, it isn't half way it way beyond what should be espected to affect change. I do agree that the rain forests of the world must be protected at all costs. However, I don't hear much about this. ....Stay well.....

Conservative Chic said...

Great post as usual. I agree with Ken and Debbie...very level headed. Gore and his Global Warming is an extreme and calls for extreme measures. It is not needed. Don't get me wrong, something needs to change regarding the future, it just needs to create a nice even balance.

I hope you don't mind, I linked my blog to this post.

Goat said...

Exactly, most of the "green" crowd are not so much concerned with the environment as in totalitarian control over how people live. I am a fan of free market forces and demand bringing affordable clean technology to the forefront. I grew up in a steel city with rivers polluted by industrial dioxin discharges and know what real pollution looks like, most of this "Green" crowd are impressionable young folks and old socialist academics not those that know how far we have come in the last 50 years in cleaning up the environment. I am an avid outdoorsman and amateur naturalist and former member of the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Federation and am personally very "green" just not stupid enough to fall for snake-oil and draconian bureaucracies telling me how to live especially anything even remotely connected to the uber-corrupt UN.

CresceNet said...

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American Interests said...

lib lie conserve truth: Natural changes to our weather patterns are rarely factored in to discussion about climate change. Thanks for coming by....

American Interests said...

goat: It seems yu have a good handle on this stuff. Examples like these scientific ones you raised are more oft than not, absent when reading about climate change.

It's a big area and it was challenging enough to keep the post sub 2000 words.

Your last comment is most illuminating. I despise control over how we live and would add that the young types are both susceptable ('impressionable') to looney discourse and not in the know - rather they embrace sensationalist views...

Thanks therefore, for the common sense...and the link.

tap: "when these tree huggers get started, it isn't half way.." Well said! They throw everything out of balance leading to the imposition of unecessary Gov't controls...

Jen: Thanks for linking to the post...

crescenet: Will check the link thanks...

heidianne jackson said...

great post, otto, i wish i hadn't had such a full week and taken so long to get here... it is important to remember that every time man has tried to control the balance of the environment we have failed miserably. doesn't anyone remember the yellowstone park debacle of yore?

anyhow, the thing is, it's not a zero sum equation. the earth, and all things associated with it (including we humans) is changing constantly. so the arctic ice caps are melting some - did you notice that the antarctic ice caps are growing and have reached epic proportions?

i'm all for reducing polution in all its forms. i am not for trading logic and common sense for some far off maybe.

http://biggirlpants.typepad.com

American Interests said...

Heidianne: Great to see you here. I too have had a pressing week... No never ever must we trade logic and common sense. Be interesting to see how Bali pans out...

Incognito said...

Interesting post Otto.

There was an article today about some Danish scientist who talks about the unecessary expense of the Kyoto Protocol and the whole fear mongering aspect of Global Warming.

As most everyone here agrees... the climate is changing, but to what degree man is at fault is questionable. I think we all realize the importance of not trashing the world we live in.. but other than that...

Goat said...

Otto, it is one of my favorite topics and most researched. I doubt much of anything will come out of Bali than more greenhouse gasses than most small towns emit. When I see UN bureaucrats and environuts moving into caves and eating nuts, berries and grazing like cows I might believe them. Heck Al Gore uses more energy a week than I use in a year and I drive a 4x4 truck. You might enjoy my latest post on the "peak oil" myth.
For others interested www.goatsbarnyard.blogspot.com
BTW, any of Otto's friends I don't have linked already let me know and we can crosslink.

American Interests said...

incog: That's great I'm glad your put your views here...

goat: What will come out of Bali may be nothing more than a huge Carbon footprint...There is much pressure being placed on the U.S. delegation but to best of my knowledge they are holding firm...

Gore's own emission's have been documented, am glad you cited that here...

WomanHonorThyself said...

youre so right Otto...not to be too dramatic but to remain fair and balanced..bravo my friend!

WomanHonorThyself said...

p.s. I noted the change in the comment policy too..sigh

Donald Douglas said...

An excellent, scholarly post!. Congratulations Ottavio!

I would only have one objection: There's still no consensus on whether climate change is "man made." Having said that, we know pollutants cause all kinds of environmental damage, and your suggested market-based, cooperative approach to limiting emissions is very sensible.

Thanks for sending me the link!

American Interests said...

Womanhthyself: Thanks for adding your words here Angel!!!

American Interests said...

donald: Thanks and I appreciate your candidness about the 'man made' question. Aside from this, I think we're pretty much on the same wavelength.