Thursday, November 19, 2009

Copenhagen - a process that will do nothing

The Copenhagen Climate Conference Dec 8th - 15th is unlikely to come out with anything useful for the world. I wish it was a functionally useful as the Copenhagen Consensus, but that is highly unlikely.

The Kyoto Protocol was a very political document that was a compromise. It set goals, but placed them too far into the future, it was outside of normal timeframes elected governments think about. The Kyoto Protocol was not based on a science or economics. It was a highly flawed document. Defenders have said something is better than nothing, I have to disagree.

Kyoto defacto penalized jurisdictions that were low CO2 emitters and rewarded the countries that had the highest emissions. It also concerns me that the places in the world where emissions are increasing the fastest are not being pushed to reduce their CO2 emissions.

1997 was a very different time in climate science, what people thought was happening in the climate in 1997 has in a number of cases turned out not to be true. We are still studying what the implications are of different actions. We now know that large scale hydro is not greenhouse gas free. We know much more about forests and changes to them and how this impacts greenhouse gasses. We know more about what makes a carbon offset and what does not. We had targets set for countries to meet without having the knowledge infrastructure in place to measure the outcomes in a meaningful manner.

Can we expect anything better from Copenhagen? Honestly I have no hope that the process will lead to anything functional, it will once again be a political feel good document. I do not believe that the draft document has any hope of being ratified as it has been written, and rightly so, it is a huge step in the wrong direction globally.

The Copenhagen draft calls for $70 to 140 billion a year to be transfered from developed countries to developing countries by 2020, the intent is to convince newly industrializing nations not to increase their greenhouse gas emisions. See page 36 clause 33 for details. We are talking about a transfer of money from the major indsutrialized countries that is anywhere from 50% to 150% higher than foreign aid at the moment. I find the idea that this will happen highly unrealistic. I also have no idea how it will be decided who will pay, how much they pay, who gets it, and who decides what it should be spent on. I can see trade disputes arrising from this. Managing this money is going to be a nightmare.

There are some options considered for how to raise the money in the page 135 range of the document. Some of the ideas being proposed would cause a global recession that would put this latest one to shame.

Copenhagen also seems to create a new 'government'? A global government? I am not clear as to I reading it correctly, but it seems that the Copenhagen draft is looking at creating a global government to implement the Treaty. I bothers me already that we do not elect our representative to the UN, we will also not be allowed to elect people to this body. If it is to be a government, there has to be a mechanism to allow for people to directly chose the representatives. This new 'government' will be responsible for managing the $100 billion ballpark of money coming in by 2020.

The UN is renowned for one thing above all else, an inability to get value for money for anthing they do. I have no hope that a new body would be able to manage a budget in the range of $100 billion a year in responsible manner.

Meanwhile the effect of what the draft document talks about in 187 pages includes not one concrete thing I can point to that will have a meaningful impact on climate change. It is interesting to note that the Copenhagen Treaty is suggesting something in the order of twice as much money being raised per year than what the Copenhagen Consensus tried to prioritize for a four year period.

Meanwhile, how much is it costing to have this Copenhagen Climate Conference? I suspect that with all the meetings leading up to it, that the costs will exceed those of a winter Olympics and will have had less direct impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions than the 2010 Olympics will have.

The Copenhagen Consensus also measured 15 different possible climate change solutions and prioritized them here. It makes for interesting reading, it is some real thinking outside of the traditional pro and con people on climate change.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BC is leading in North America

Over and over again it is clear that the jurisdiction in North America that is most willing to take action on climate change is BC. This is in the jurisdiction in North America that already has close to the lowest per capita CO2 emissions and will have the hardest time trying reduce them much at all.

Recently BC was praised by Prince Charles for the steps the province is taking. This is a very significant statement as the Prince would not have made it without have his staff research the issue in detail and giving him the confidence it is true. The Windors as a family have been amazingly good at keeping themselves out of politics. The biggest stirs on any potential political issue have been when Prince Charles derided modern architecture or his father has made some old school boneheaded upper class comments about society.

The problem here in BC is that the left can not deal with the fact that a centre right party that is free enterprise in nature is the most environmentally progressive government in all of North America. Really they should be rejoicing that BC has a government that can get the business community to come abroad with green issues. Instead there is a backlash against the government not being green enough or attacks on projects that will have major positive impacts on CO2 emissions in attempts to 'brown-wash' them.

People in BC that are not happy with the huge amount of work that the Liberals have done here need to consider the fact that they are complaining about being in the location that is leading everyone else. This is sort of like complaining that in a marathon your guy is winning but not by a large enough margin. They are complaining about a government that is aiming to set new world standards for how low CO2 emissions can be in a first world country.

In BC we are on par with the CO2 emissions of with many of the leaders in Europe. We are developing industries that will have an impact on CO2 emissions in all of western North America. It is realistic for BC to produce huge amounts of green electrical power, each Mw/h reduces the need for one tonne CO2 from coal fired power.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Just some thoughts on aspects of warming air and water

I was thinking about what happens when the ocean warms and gets a larger surface area, should this not lead to higher levels of evaporation of water? Seems like we will see higher levels of precipitation. But will that mean?

There are no good projections of what precipitation will look like on a regional basis, the IPCC 2007 report has some estimates but certainly cautions against using them as predictions.

More precipitation should mean more plant growth in many areas. It should mean the average humidity globally will be higher and this should be beneficial to plant growth as well. More plant growth means more carbon captured. The IPCC report indicates that soil moisture will increase in a number of crucial areas specifically the Sahel, northern China and the Steppes.

Higher precipitation will mean more clouds globally, this should mean a higher planetary albedo and less solar radiation reaching the earth. There are concerns about the implication to planetary albedo from an open ocean in the arctic, but would this not be offset by more cloud cover? I am working my way through the IPCC report section dealing with clouds and they are not ready yet to be able to apply the effects of increased clouds to the climate model. The system may be more resilient to change than we are projecting at the moment.

The increases projected for precipitation in 100 years is an increase in the 5% range. This may not sound like much, but many of the most important growing areas in the world are semi arid and the addition on average of one and a half centimeters per year could offer some very significant improvements to crop yields and reduce the need for irrigation.

The modelling for the future climate is still very rough in estimates and we are utterly unclear as to the implications of the changes to the climate. So much of the coverage about climate change is about the disaster scenarios, the Armageddon futures. It does not strike me that it will be apocalyptic in our future.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Why is it bad for electrical power to be produced by private industry?

The campaign against green power in BC seems to primarily be focused on the fact that the power will be developed by private companies and not by BC Hydro. Certainly this is what the Western Canada Wilderness Committee campaign sounds like. The Sierra Clus is a bit different, which is nice to see. The union COPE, local 378, seems to only be about public ownership of power. The Citizens for Public Power are also all about public ownership of power generation.

Why is the idea of private ownership of power production such a problem for so many people in BC? I do not hear any demands that food only be produced by a Crown Corporation. No one is talking about moving forestry into the hands of the government. Why is need to have power production in the hands of the government?

I can not think of any other business that is in as much in the hands of government as power generation. The ownership of power by government is left over piece of the 1950s economic thinking. BC Hydro was created in the 1950s by the Social Credit government to speed up industrial development in BC. The idea was to have the public sector swallow the cost the infrastructure and then provide artificially cheap power to business.

I can understand the case of government to own the transmission grid as this is the same sort of infrastructure like the highways are, but there does not seem to be any case for the public to own the power generation facilities. Certainly the economy of the province would benefit from private generation through more jobs and more taxes for governments.

What worries me the most about this demand for public ownership of power generation is that it will stifle innovation. Big corporations are bad at innovation and doing things in a new way. Government is by nature slow to change course and seems fundamentally opposed to innovative thinking. Here in BC was have a raft of small businesses that are coming up with all manner of innovative ideas around green power production.

In BC we can tap into cogeneration, biomass, landfill gas, micro-hydro, wind, ocean wave, geothermal and other sources of power. We are building a huge base of knowledge and expertise in all manners of green power in this province. This expertise would not be developing if did not have an open marketplace to sell the power.

With all these micro-hydro projects underway in BC, we have a host of companies being developed that can deal with all aspects of the development of a run of the river power project. We have engineers that know how to develop a project, builders that know how to put them in place, biologists that have expertise in ensuring the projects have no impact in fish, and many more people in BC gaining skills that can be applied around the world to expand green power.

Public power projects require the government to provide the investment dollars - money that should be used for schools, hospitals, highways and transit. Private projects get their financing from the capital markets at no cost to the provincial government. In fact green power projects in BC are attracting large amounts of capital investment into BC.

Unless people want political interference in how BC Hydro operates, there is no way in which public power is better for society than private power. Political interference in BC Hydro would normally be used by government to buy votes through making electrical power rates low.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Two videos on global warming I recently watched

While being with Max, I was watching some videos on YouTube that are taklking about global warming.

First there is this one from David Attenborough and I find it understated but compelling - to truly convinced of it I would have to see the data and the model used

And there is this one from Glenn Beck. This is a great example of casting dispersions on the current work by throwing enough mud up in the air. In the end the best they seem to be able to do is say that the scientific community does not have accurate data.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Just some thoughts on where we are at

It is clear that when it comes to climate change issues there are several clear camps of people:

  • The Armageddon crowd - the world is coming to an end and we have to end modern life as we know it now. These people really are the zealots that want to see an end of the world come because they are glass half empty group. Y2K and the rapture are some other events that have the same sort of believers
  • Time to change crowd - there is a crisis and we need to do something about rising levels of greenhouse gasses and this is best done through efficiency, market mechanisms, and targeted government regulation. This is were most of the rational environmentalists and scientists fall.
  • It is not happening crowd - this group believes that there is no climate change underway and nothing needs to happen.
  • It is happening but do not worry crowd -this is the second largest group in the scientific community, but they are very, very quiet as they have become pariahs in the world.

The group that is missing from the above groups is the mass of the public. It seems that the mass of the public is convinced that there is some sort of climate change going on but it is not real for them. Most people are not taking any action because the effects and impact of climate change are too far off to seem like anything urgent to people.

When the mass of people do not change their behaviour, it is unrealistic to think change will happen. It is because of this that carbon taxes are crucial so as to have any impact on CO2 emissions. A rise in the price of fuels will cause people to vote with their wallets. It will also raise the funds needed to be able to allow CO2 to captured and stored.

The typical family car in Canada uses about 3000 litres of fuel and this costs about $3000 a year. At $2 a year this rises to $6000 and at $4 it becomes $12 000. These costs are clearly enough to make people rethink the fuel economy of their car. At the moment the majority of the cost of car is the price paid to buy it. One can assume about a $5000 a year in loan payments and a total cost of having that car of about $9000 a year.

At $4 a litre this same vehicle would cost $18 000 a year, twice as much as today. This is high enough to have people change to a much more fuel efficient vehicle. It is realistic to be able to buy a suitable family vehicle that uses about 40% of the fuel of the typical family car at the moment - many people with small families buy minivans or SUVs and could easily live with a sedan. This change would bring the annual cost down to about $10500, not that much more than now. It also means that even with gasoline at $4 a litre, for many people the cost of fuel will still not be the majority of the cost of operating a vehicle.

This high and radical price of gasoline would be a great market signal for the general public and will fuel the demand for smaller and more efficient cars. You could not get there quickly, it would have to be phased in over years. To be able to do this you need a carbon tax.

The same can be done with home heating fuel and for non-green electrical power. Do this and you will see people figure out how to keep their homes warm and cool without using as much energy.

The reason we still use as much non-green energy in our society is because it is still rather cheap to use.