Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The EPA, Copenhagen and Climategate

lisa_jackson Obama administration officials claim that the EPA announcement and the opening of the Copenhagen Climate Conference are "coincidental."
Except that the administration knew when the conference was starting so could have chosen to hold the announcement. Not choosing to wait is a pretty good definition of “not a coincidence.” However, the EPA’s announcement has been long expected – and dreaded in some quarters – and identifies six gases for regulation:
The Obama administration had signaled its intent to issue an endangerment finding for carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride) since taking office in January. Ms. Jackson announced a proposed finding in April and has since taken steps to draft the rules needed to back it up.
And that’s what happened yesterday.
Jeff Holmstead, head of air policy at the E.P.A. under the administration of George W. Bush and now an industry lobbyist, said the finding was mainly symbolic.
“It does not have any immediate effect and does not impose any regulations or requirements on anyone,” he said. “Today’s announcement comes as no surprise and is clearly designed to set the stage for the Copenhagen conference.”
The EPA acted because the Supreme Court essentially demanded it in 2007. There was a first stab at it then, but the Bush administration would not allow EPA to release its findings.
Holmstead is exaggerating that the EPA has not indicated what the rulemaking might include. Let EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson tell you:
Earlier this year, EPA established this country’s first … nationwide greenhouse gas emissions reporting system. Next month, large emitters in the U.S. will begin working with EPA to monitor their emissions. Beginning in 2011, large emitters will … submit publicly available information that will allow us to meaningfully track greenhouse gas emissions over time.

And starting next spring, large emitting facilities will be required to incorporate the best available methods for controlling greenhouse gas emissions when they plan to construct or expand.
That sounds like a plan. We don’t quite understand how facilities can incorporate anything before the greenhouse gas emission figures go public in 2011 – presumably when they expect to have the bugs worked out - but let’s put that to the side for now.
Whatever else is true, announcing the inevitable clears the deck on a long simmering issue and indicates to industry that something will happen to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, whether Congress passes climate change legislation or not. That means there are two paths forward. And no fork in the road.
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And if this was or wasn’t a coincidence, how did it go over in Copenhagen?
“This is very significant in the sense that if (…) the Senate fails to adopt legislation (on emissions), then the administration will have the authority to regulate,” Yvo de Boer, head of the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), comments, according to Reuters.
As you’d expect from de Boer, that’s pretty diplomatic. We might have to wait until the President’s trip next week to get a better reading on this.
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We noticed in the comments that we were dinged for failing to mention Climategate, the emails and files from Britain’s University of East Anglia that were put on the internet – we read that they were “stolen” but might also be a whistle blowing effort, which we might consider stealing with an asterisk. We just don’t know for sure.
However, like email in general, the posted material generates enough ambiguity to make it most useful as a Rorschach test. We haven’t seen anyone on either side of the global warming debate change their minds based on this email, which indicates that there’s nothing there compelling enough to change minds. (We admit we don’t like efforts to keep raw data proprietary, especially for no good reason. Information is better free.)
But there are some investigations going on. See here for a little more on that. Let’s wait for the results and then let’s choose sabers or pistols.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm always pleased by the even-handedness of NEI's blogmasters. But, to borrow a British expression, the UEA climatologists really take the biscuit for muddying the climate change waters. They appear to have done a profound disservice to the scientific process and have kicked a serious dent in the public's trust.

Those of you in this industry may remember the uproar caused by three USGS personnel working on the Yucca Mountain Project who discussed the taboo subject of falsifying data in a number of peevish email exchanges. In reality, no data was ever falsified. It was just three somewhat arrogant PhDs grousing about the burdensome requirements of the project's quality assurance program, which in their view was overseen by glorified pencil-pushers and bureaucrats who wouldn't know the difference if falsified data were indeed submitted, as long as the paperwork was filled out properly.

But this recklessly foolish and petty speculation on their part was enough to scuttle the whole data gathering effort, not to mention the reputations of the three USGS scientists. In the end, the work of over 30 individual scientists gathering data was hopelessly tainted by the mere appearance of scandal, even though the data was demonstrated to be valid (even that gathered by the three disgruntled PhDs).

The entire dataset was purged from the various models that used it, and a new dataset and model were developed at significant cost (about $15 million).

So I think that cautionary tale illustrates what these climatologists at UEA may have done to the climate change cause specifically and the reputation of scientists generally. Never a good thing when this kind of stuff comes to light, unless it is addressed forthrightly and with an attitude of "zero tolerance."

gman said...

"we read that they were 'stolen' but might also be a whistle blowing effort, which we might consider stealing with a lighter complexion. We just don’t know for sure"

what the heck does that (lighter complexion) mean?

Anonymous said...

It's funny how the greens who jumped on the Yucca Mountain whoopsie are the same ones telling us to ignore the East Anglia whoopsie.

I appreciate anon#1 reminding us of that story.

-anon#2

Mark Flanagan said...

gman - you're absolutely right. Obviously (to me), I meant the moral complexion of the crime, but it is insensitive given the common meaning of complexion. I apologize and have changed it to something much less charged with extra meaning (except the meaning I intended) in the post.

Mark

Anonymous said...

Looks like we need an Obama carbonated beverage summit as a consensus-building moment to dial down the rhetoric on this whole climate holocaust denying data-supressing complexion baiting issue... served with some CopenHagenDaaz instead of pretzels this time...

DocForesight said...

I remain befuddled by the adherence to the basic premise forwarded by the researchers (formerly known as "scientists") relating to CO2 as a primary causative factor in climate change rather than as merely having a correlational factor. Isn't it a basic fact of research that correlation does not equal causation?

Considering that the climate models can't begin to compute the complexity of clouds' effect on temperatures; can't account for modifying effects of ocean currents; don't distinguish between positive or negative forcings (or assume all forcings are positive - therefore, the effect of CO2 is to magnify temperatures and climate sensitivity); basically ignore the effect of water vapor (a 95% factor on climate) in predicting future events.

Talk about Russian Roulette with unknown-unkowns. And these people want to regulate economies and energy production based on this?

Anonymous said...

"And these people want to regulate economies and energy production based on this?"

These people would retroactively tax those SUV-Driving Wooly Mammoths that caused the end of the last Ice Age if they could. Its all about control over other people's lifestyle and the ability to tax.

Science has nothing to do with it. I can't wait for the solar output to drop again as it periodically does and watch the chicken littles start screaming "We're all going to freeze to death."

Doesn't Time Magazine have alternating cover stories on impending global freezing and baking every 40 years or so??

Joffan said...

Doc, you "remain befuddled" by choice, it seems. Your litany of the difficulties of climate models is not new and is not current. These factors are indeed all significant challenges but they have all been addressed. The approach to climate study is not simplistic, as you appear to imply, but is as complex as its subject. CO2 is not the only radiative forcing gas accounted for and not the only factor considered.

Spending a little time with a learning attitude on realclimate.org (for example) would be of great benefit to you for an updated view of the state of the art.

Anon on Dec 11 - there's hyperbole and beyond that there's rabidity. You may be attempting to create yet another category.

DocForesight said...

@Joffan - I remain openly unconvinced by the MMGW promoters. I base that on a healthy dose of common sense and an active BS detector.

When the IPCC admits, in AR4, that they don't know how to adjust or account for cloud cover; that they admit their climate models don't account for the possibility for negative-feedback forcings, then that should tell you to hold back on the all-in on blaming CO2.

Realclimate.org may be a valuable site but it does not have a claim as being the font of all climate knowledge. Joe Romm doesn't have a corner on the market in this arena. There are others, far smarter than you or me, that can debate his understanding of these factors - I'm thinking Drs. Richard Lindzen and Roy Spencer, just off hand.

Clarify this: If CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, how is drastically reducing our emissions of it over the next 20, 40, 50 years going to have any short-term effect?

Anonymous said...

Talk about Russian Roulette with unknown-unkowns. And these people want to regulate economies and energy production based on this?

Or, you can look at it this way:

"And these people want to pump billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere based on this?"

Let's go ahead and destroy the environment, because we're not sure how thoroughly we're destroying it. OK...

Joffan said...

DocF
Clarify this: If CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, how is drastically reducing our emissions of it over the next 20, 40, 50 years going to have any short-term effect?

Your question doesn't really make sense to me; it sounds like "If the Titanic stayed underwater for a hundred years, how come everyone drowned so quickly?" But I'll try to answer anyway.

We're putting a hell of a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere right now. More than we ever have before. Atmospheric concentrations are going up faster as a result. (No disagreement so far, right?) While these CO2 concentrations will have serious long-term effects as they remain in the atmosphere, they will have short-term effects too. Right now we need to survive the decade-range effects and hopefully prepare to deal with the century-range stuff too, and both of these tasks will be more feasible at lower CO2 concentrations. I hope.

DocForesight said...

@Joffan - Thanks for the attempt at the comparison with the Titanic - those pesky icebergs, you know.

My understanding is that CO2 concentrations are increasing at 2 ppmv per year, not all of which is human-caused, since 96% of atmospheric CO2 is emitted by nature while 4% is human emissions. We are currently at 388 ppmv (of which 15 ppmv is from human-caused, leaving 373 from nature). We also know from ice cores and other proxy measurements that CO2 increases FOLLOW temperature increases by several hundred years (800, +/-200).

Do we really know the optimum CO2 concentration in the atmosphere? Do we really know how the earth self-regulates the atmosphere? Do we really think we can modify something as complex as climate and use computer models that are notoriously inadequate at "predictions" out 100 years?

Expand the use of nuclear power plants and the climate will take care of itself.

Joffan said...

DocF

The steady state of the atmosphere before fossil fuel burning was 280ppm CO2. The rise since then is entirely man-made - all of the current 2ppm per year increase rate is down to us. It doesn't matter how much CO2 exchange the previous steady state involved - we are responsible for the disturbance of that equilibrium. 100% of it.

We really know the concentration of CO2 under which our civilization developed (280ppm, Law dome) and under which our species arose (180-280ppm, Vostok).

DocForesight said...

@Joffan - Thanks for that information. So we are 100 ppmv over the "steady state". What do we say then about the ice cores indicating higher CO2 concentrations centuries prior?

Has there ever been a true "steady state" in regard to climate? Or has it changed over hundreds and thousands of years and regained equilibrium on its own?

Joffan said...

DocF - steady state is a matter of timescale. On the timescale of human civilization, a few thousand years, the climate has been stable. On the timescale of our species, say a million years, it's been fairly regularly cycling between glacial periods and interglacials (like now).

Equilibrium relies on predictable inputs, I'd say, and the input of humanity is not predictable in this regard. We can't indefinitely pump out CO2 at current rates on climate-equilibrium timescales of several more hundred years. Basically we are giving the atmospheric state an almighty shove and seeing how things wobble thereafter (and we only have one atmosphere).

I do not know of any ice cores that show CO2 concentrations higher than about 290ppm in the last ten thousand years (pre-industry), or the last half-million for that matter. If you can produce such data we can discuss it.