Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wind Power does not make people sick

Through Tyler Hamilton of the Toronto Star, I was made aware of a major study of Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects.

The study was done for the Canadian Wind Energy Association and the American Wind Energy Association, so I assume that the results will be dismissed by the people working against wind power. The study was done by the two industry groups because no government agency was willing to do the study.

I looked through the list of the expert panel for the study, and they seem to cover all the bases for the issue and seem to be a reasonable representation for the study. The fact that there were seven people on the panel from all different areas of expertise lends credence to the conclusions. Here is the list of conclusions from the study:

  • There is no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects.
  • The ground-borne vibrations from wind turbines are too weak to be detected by, or to affect, humans.
  • The sounds emitted by wind turbines are not unique. There is no reason to believe, based on the levels and frequencies of the sounds and the panel’s experience with sound exposures in occupational settings, that the sounds from wind turbines could plausibly have direct adverse health consequences.
These seem to fairly clear conclusions. The study is now being out forward for publication in peer reviewed journals. The case is now there for the people arguing that there are health impacts to come up with a study of a similar quality.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An InconvenientTruth About Canada

One of the problems with Canada at the Copenhagen talks is that the environment is a provincial issue of responsibility and not a federal one. The problem is that the Federal government signs international treaties for the country even in areas that the Federal government has no role in.

International treaties that deal with areas of responsibility of the Provincial Crown should be dealt with through instructions from the provinces and not from Federal Crown. The Federal government may sign a treaty, but it can not enact the changes needed to achieve what is promised. The Federal government has no authority to make laws with respect to the provincial environment.

In 1997 Canada signed the Kyoto Accord. The Liberals remained in power for seven more years and clearly showed the problem with the Federal government going ahead with something in the provincial realm, the country achieved nothing. Chretien and Martin did nothing more to reduce greenhouse gasses than Harper has done. The biggest difference is that the Liberals pretended they cared and would do something. Gordon Campbell has had a bigger impact on greenhouse gas emissions than any Prime Minister.

BC should have a seat at these talks, the whole nature of who gets to sit at the table and who does not is crazy. Certainly BC is a more important player globally than New Zealand. BC has the legislative tools to make cuts in emissions, in fact it has more power to do so than countries in the EU. If BC were on its own, it would have the 50th largest national economy in the world. I can hear you, but what about PEI?

There are 17 countries at these talks that have smaller populations than PEI. These countries all have the same vote as Canada does. But you can not mix sovereign nations and sub national units. Actually you can if it makes sense to do so.

The Copenhagen talks would not suffer from having relevant sub national units of countries represented at the table. There are actually few countries where the sub national units have the responsibility for the environment. If it was not Canada at Copenhagen, but the ten provinces, I suspect the talks in Copenhagen would benefit. The biggest provinces in Canada are the leaders in North America on climate change issues. Alberta owns the tar sands.

Canada could easily state that the treaty needs to be signed by the Provincial Crown and not by the Federal Crown.

When it comes to doing something about emissions, a Canadian province is a better size and scope to be able to make functional changes that will reduce emissions. The Federal government often tries for a one size fits all approach in the country and normally fails with this. With ten provinces, there will be ten different approaches, each tailored for the local area. There will also be ten different models in use. In five to ten years it should be clear which model works the best.

Canada should hold regular first minister meetings on climate change. It is from these meetings that the Federal government should take its direction. When the Federal government works outside of its area of expertise and competence problems arise. The best the Federal government could do is work as a facilitator for the provinces.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Carbon Credits - The Modern Indulgences

I have looked a carbon credits for about ten years now. On a first glance I thought they were an interesting way to finance projects that would improve the environment, but the more I looked into them, the more I was uncomfortable with how they work and how they are measured.

I have thought about writing about them from time to time over the last couple of years, but watching the Carbon Hunters on CBC today pushed me to move forward on the idea.

Carbon credits feel more like the indulgences the Catholic church sold in the past. The idea was that if you paid cash ahead of time, you could sin. Carbon credits means you can emit carbon but feel like a non-sinner about it. The medieval system was inherently corrupt and did nothing to convince people that living a moral life was a good idea. Carbon credits are much the same.

Carbon Trade Watch covers many of the issues I have with carbon credits, though they seem to come from anti-market point of view.

Carbon Credits May Not Reduce Emissions

There are various carbon credit ideas out there that are all about not doing something. As an example paying people not to cut down trees. Company X offsets Y tonnes of CO2 because someone is choosing not to cut down a set of trees. The level of emissions is no lower, but the company can claim to be carbon neutral.

The crazy thing is that these same trees that do not get cut can get carbon credits each and every year. Farmers that practice no till farming can get annual carbon credits.

If someone buys land in the Amazon and does not log it, they can get carbon credits. This ignores the fact that there has been reduction in the demand for more land to cleared in Brazil. There is no way this can be counted as a benefit, but it is. There is no net reduction of CO2, just a transfer of money from one business to another for a green washing.

At the end of the day the total global emissions has not been reduced, only the potential for more emissions.

Carbon Credits are Hard to Monitor

Much of the carbon offset business is based on the idea of someone doing something, but there is not a very rigorous audit and compliance system in place. If someone plants some trees, there is an assumption of the carbon credit value. It is rare to have anyone actually quantify the amount of carbon that has been captured by the trees.

On small projects it is all done on the basis of trust that the people will do as they promised. There is no consistent monitoring. In many developing countries the legal and business infrastructure is fundamentally corrupt and untransparent. In these countries there is no way to monitor what is happening. The best example is China, the nation is well known for not having any effective monitoring of anything. It is also well known as being impossible to enforce a contract. The government is one that spends huge energy on a fake image and does not allow scrutiny of actions. I highly doubt that third party monitoring will be possible.

The buying and selling of carbon credits moves people and businesses a long way away from the actions they are taking. They are not taking a personal responsibility for their actions.

Many Carbon Credit Projects Would Happen Anyway

The idea of a carbon credit project is that is either removes or avoids green house gas emissions. How do you deal with projects that would happen anyway? As an example, no till farming in Saskatchewan is better for long term farming the than the status quo, a smart farmer is already using no-till farming.

Micro-hydro in BC will dramatically reduce CO2 emissions in North America by displacing coal fired power, but these micro-hydro projects will go ahead without the money from credits because it makes financial sense to do so.

Large Scale Carbon Credit Projects are Dangerous

One of the reasons climate change is an issue because we are doing too much the global environment. If we take on some truly huge carbon projects that use natural systems to make them happen, we have a strong potential for unintended consequences. When messing with the global climate through plants or grandious for algae die offs in the ocean, we have too many unknowns in the equation.

Carbon Credits Will be a Disaster as Part of Cap and Trade

I will post about cap and trade in the future, I have no faith that cap and trade will make any difference to emissions. Carbon credits are an integral part of cap and trade. The idea is company A reduces their total emissions below their cap and they can sell the 'extra' as a carbon credit to company B.

Cap and trade has been a corrupt nightmare where it has been used
. The carbon credits coming from this source are worthless hot air.

How Can You Make Carbon Credits Work?

Simple, you physically capture CO2 or methane and sequester it. You do not capture it through a natural process such as growing trees unless there is a plan to long term harvest and sequester the timber. Ideally you would strip the CO2 out of the air and have an actual measurement of the CO2 captured. There are industrial processes for this and the more of a demand there is for this, the cheaper the process will get.

I would like to ideally see a carbon tax that uses the proceeds to pay for industrial extraction of CO2 from the air. This sort of connection will create a clear price that a carbon tax needs to be at.

It is also important that certified carbon credit projects occur in countries with a free press, democratic government and transparent processes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change

I have some strong reservations about the Stern Review primarily because the economic assumptions within it are not realistic. You can read the whole report here,

1) Economic projections that go out more than one generation are little more speculation. If someone had told us in 1979 that we would see low inflation, long term strong global growth, the decline of Japan or the rise of China, I suspect no one would have taken it seriously. I have this great Omni book from 1979 that predicts where we will be in the future. Suffice it to say they got most of it wrong for 2009.

To think that we can know what will be the driving factor in the global economy in 2050 or later is hubris. We can make some broad assumptions based on past experience: more free trade, more and consistent economic growth, lower use of energy per dollar of global GDP produced, and fewer poor people. How we will achieve these things is not something we can see.

The Stern Review looks out not only over a generation, but out to 2200. Within the review's projections, there are few economic impacts till 2070 or 2080. That is two generations out.

The Stern Review projections are based on one major assumption - nothing will change from the current world. No new technology, no change in consumption rates, no change in governance, no change in anything from today. The report feels like what 2005 would look like if we had a much warmer planet and nothing else is changed. This is simply unrealistic.

2) The discount rate Stern uses is remarkably low. Discount rate is how much you reduce the value of something in the future to measure its value today. Stern uses a rate of 1.4%, in no other economic projections I have seen anyone use a number that low. A low discount rate means you are assuming a high degree of risk. Stern also assesses a risk premium in his review. You can not both have a discount rate and a risk premium, it is double counting. He is effectively assuming a discount rate over a generation of 0.8%.

A discount rate should reflect something roughly comparably to what the expected average rate of return of an investment would be over the same term. Looking at long term bonds, something in the order of 3% is a realistic conservative discount rate or risk premium.

3) The Stern Review assumes the cost of mitigation is based on the current day costs of actions to be taken. This is not realistic. Mitigation becomes cheaper as technologies change. A simple example is the LED light.

A few years ago there were very few of them and they were very expensive for lighting. Now I have seen LED lightbulbs for about $10 a piece. I assume that in a couple of years LEDs will displace all other lighting. This will dramatically reduce electrical usage. We could not have predicted this was coming as a specific change, but we can assume there will be other reductions in mitigation costs.

The cost of ending oil use will be nothing, actually it will be an economic benefit to society as we will be replacing oil with a cheaper and cleaner fuel.

Spending money now to have an ineffective impact on CO2 levels makes no sense. We need to wait till have the tools that can allow us to reduce CO2 levels at no cost to the economy. This is within our reach, within a generation we will have the tools to make this happen and not bankrupt us.

Stern also assumes that if there is no mitigation action taken now, none will be taken in the next 100 years. The Stern review is missing any model that assumes we take action in 10 to 20 years with tools that not only do not cost us anything, but give us positive economic impacts.

4) Stern does not include any useful measure of the impact of improving technology on climate change. I think it is realistic to assume that fossil fuels will not be a major part of the energy mix in a generation. This is not because we will run out, it is because it will be cheaper to obtain energy from other sources through technological changes.

We can look back at the last 150 years and see multiple energy crisis's that were solved because we moved from a scarce and more expensive fuel to a cheaper and more plentiful fuel. It is reasonable to assume this pattern will continue into the future because people will be able to make money from new and cheaper energy. Any company that is not looking at how to make its energy use lower and cheaper will be out of business quickly.

We do not know what will be driving the economy in 30 years, but it is safe to assume that there will be changes in technology that will create new jobs that no one has ever thought of and done with little or no energy. Who would have thought people in China would have jobs playing online video games to make advancing in levels easier for people in the first world? These "Gold Farmers" in China earn a better income more than 60% of the population.

The Stern Review is alarmist and puts forward an apocalyptic view of the future. The IPCC report is the bulk of the New Testament of Climate change. The Stern Review is Revalations, an odd depature from the rest of the narrative that only serves to get people caught up in worry. I view Bjorn Lombrog as a climate change Gnostic if I were to continue the analogy.

All in all the Stern Review has been a huge red herring in the climate change debate and has dramatically harmed work towards solutions to climate change. People need to forget it and get on with rational debate and action on climate change.

The Munk Debates take on Climate Change

Tonight the Munk Debates will take on the issue of Climate Change.

Be it resolved climate change is mankind's defining crisis and, demands a commensurate response

Elizabeth May - Green Party of Canada leader
George Monbiot - British author on climate change issues

Bjorn Lomborg - Danish Academic and founder of the Copenhagen Consensus
Nigel Lawson - Former British Conservative cabinet minister

I heard a short debate between Lomborg and Monbiot on CBC Radio One just now. The one issue that came up was a disagreement about the Stern Review.

I plan on watching tonight.