More hot air

Bush said something about climate change. Sounds like the usual nothing to me: My proposal is this: By the end of next year America and other nations will set a long-term global goal for making sure we don’t have to do anything in the near future. Sorry, that should read …for reducing greenhouse gases. Predictably enough, Blur hailed this as a Great Leap Forwards whilst Merkel was sensibly more cautious.

[Update: Nature has an editorial entitled “No more hot air”: The leaders meeting at this year’s G8 summit must grasp the opportunity to assert themselves and commit to real action on climate change… The Bush administration, however, seems once again to be working to foil any meaningful progress by the G8 on climate issues. Merkel should learn lessons from what happened to UK prime minister Tony Blair when he sought to pursue the same agenda at the G8 at Gleneagles, Scotland, two years ago: by accommodating US resistance and talking compromise, he achieved precisely nothing.

15 thoughts on “More hot air”

  1. It’s a bit more subtle than that. Bush knows that Europe is trying to get something done, and that China and India won’t do anything unless the US joins in. By sitting round a table together, they get to agree to do not very much. This effectively neuters European efforts, and derails the whole post-Kyoto process. The Australians are already rehearsing the “Kyoto’s dead” line. Expect the Bush administration to try to make it mainstream.
    It’s not just “go nowhere”, it’s do nothing, and at the same time screw up the prospects of action for years beyond the Bush reign. In other words: Democrat president with a strong climate change agenda? So sorry, you’re screwed. It’s playing realpolitik in the international and domestic arenas. Subtle, and very nasty.


  2. Well,

    What is the solution then? Isn’t the fight against the CO2 rise also the fight against the humans egoism? Or if you want, the fight against Richard Dawkins “shelfish gene”?


  3. Isn’t the fight against the CO2 rise also the fight against the humans egoism?

    The Great Global Warming Swindle pushed this meme so hard you would have thought that earning money (not emitting CO2) caused global warming.

    Humans egoism does not equate to CO2. Industrial activity does emit CO2, but you can have one without the other. Remember that fossil fuels are heavily subsidised in many countries, and that renewable energies are starting to become competitive.

    Nothing is set in stone. Just think back a few hundred years ago when someone would probably have said, “Isn’t the fight against slavery also the fight against human egoism?”


  4. I don’t really think that the US and Europe are all that far apart. I find this generic talk about “action” quite frustrating, the word is near meaningless without going into the detail of what action is actually meant.

    What’s the point of setting targets, and talking about 60% reductions by 2050, and 2C, when there are no obvious efforts to achieve this? Per capita CO2 emissions in both Germany and Britain for example went up between 2000 and 2004, Britain’s lowered real petrol taxes after the 2000 fuel protest and Germany wants to phase out nuclear power, and is even now subsidising domestic coal production.

    Methinks that European governments are all too happy to talk in the abstract about emissions reductions and action, and get applauded for doing so.

    I happen to think that Bush has actually been quite good on the action front:

    1. He’s pushed nuclear power, both at home and abroad. This shows great future promise, eg in the case of the deal with India to support their nuclear development work, and has had the domestic effect that most nuclear power plants are getting a 20 year lifetime extension.

    2. He’s resisted domestic pressure to lower gasoline taxes (or energy prices in general) to soften the blow for consumers. Gasoline taxes have still declined in real terms, because he didn’t push for an increase, but because taxes are a much lower proportion of gasoline costs in the US than Europe, the real costs of motoring were allowed to rise in the US between 2000 and now, rather unlike the UK.

    3. He’s been quite supportive of ethanol and wind power. This can be measured by the way these have grown since 2000 compared to the lack of growth before. Some of that is due to energy prices, but far from all of it, eg when governor he signed a renewable mandate for Texas, which has catapulted Texas from being a minor player to having more wind power than California, which has seen very little growth.

    Now, maybe these things are based on more than his concern for the climate, eg allowing energy prices to rise goes with favouring the workings of free markets, but I find it quite difficult to see why lots of empty talk by European leaders makes them praiseworthy.

    Sometimes it seems to me climate change gets purely used as a rhetorical means to hit out at Americans, and Republicans and Bush in particular.

    [“What’s the point of setting targets, and talking about 60% reductions by 2050, and 2C, when there are no obvious efforts to achieve this?” – agreed. But I disagree with your assessement of Bush, who has done his best to obfusticate the science and prevent action -W]


  5. Would you have some examples of Bush himself and personally being responsible for obfuscation of the science of global climate change?

    [I’m sure I could dig some up, but I would only bother if you really stated that you don’t believe this – to me it seems obvious. Would you insist on personal quotes from Bush or is he responsible for his administration? -W]

    As for preventing action, I don’t see a problem with that, depending on what action is being prevented. I am particularly critical of cap and trade, the European emissions trading system, the 2C target (in so far as that is even action rather than just talk) and what CDM does in practise.

    [I’m surprised to hear that you are particularly critical of the 2 oC limit – I’ve come to think that more meaningful as times go by -W]

    And I can give you an example of spinning the facts from a European minister of the environment I personally find close to deceptive, namely Sigmar Gabriel’s arguing that nuclear is only 3% of energy consumption and therefore isn’t contributing much, and can’t contribute much, and so we might as well do without it without that being much of an issue emissions wise. Literally, and using the right conversion factors (ie comparing nuclear on the basis of electrical output in kWh and comparing with coal, oil and gas on a basis of heat content in kWh) the basic statistic may be right, but the implication is not.

    [Well thats very nice but I don’t think that argument has had much influence. Let me add that I have no doubt that EU types have been spinning the facts in various ways -W]

    In essence, nuclear contributes about the same as hydro to electrical generation (in the 15-20% range) and going from that to 75% would cut CO2 emissions by around 40% for the world as a whole (and the figures for the US, UK and Germany are actually not that far from the world average).

    [Given its obvious virtues it is odd that so few people appreciate it -W]


  6. Yes, please. A little searching’s given me very little substantial. Searching for Bush on your blog leads to little. The closest is:

    I am quite willing to give him a bit of slack there (quoting an earlier comment by myself on selfsame subject):

    “You are reading way too much into his one sentence off the cuff remark. You know that there’s still debate as to how much of the warming to date is anthropogenic (50-130% or thereabouts) and how much is natural (-30 to 50% or thereabouts seems to be the consensus).

    I think he was merely trying to allude to that and got his meaning mangled a bit. I don’t think he believes (based on previous speeches) that there is still any real uncertainty as to whether anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have any warming effect on climate.”

    Remember the guy isn’t a climate scientist, where his formal speeches are concerned I think he’s been pretty good in choosing speech writers that check their facts.

    [If you’re going to give him lots of slack then I don’t think there is much to be done. I regard that quote as wrong: to represent the “fundamental” debate as about manmade or natural is just wrong. Its the std obfustication: pushing the uncertainties -W]

    Googling for Bush and obfuscation of science leads to all sorts of extreme left wing sites foaming at their mouths, but very little hard either. The closest to something substantial I’ve found there is the kerfuffle about Hansen supposedly being muffled. I don’t really know what went on there, but if some Bush appointee like Griffin told Hansen that he thought one of Hansen’s press releases was a bit too alarmist in tone, and Hansen got publicly and ostentatiously furious over that, I wouldn’t exactly call that muffling the science.

    [Its not just Hansen: -W]


    What troubles me about the 2C limit is that it’s so hard to operationalise given the uncertainties with regards to aerosols and climate sensitivity, and that there’s no scope for optimisation in there, as we learn more. Economists tend to favour a rising carbon tax instead, rather than a temperature limit.

    [Errrm, yes, but what if a 2 oC limit turns out to be necessary? You seem to be discarding the science unread -W]

    If the 2C target is a vague aspirational target, that’s fine.,,2069395,00.html

    Meinhausen’s work on probabilities for exceeding 2C is interesting. It leads Monbiot to say this:

    “In my book Heat, I estimate that to avoid two degrees of warming we require a global emissions cut of 60% per capita between now and 2030. This translates into an 87% cut in the United Kingdom. This is a much stiffer target than the British government’s – which requires a 60% cut in the UK’s emissions by 2050. But my figure now appears to have been an underestimate. A recent paper in the journal Climatic Change emphasises that the sensitivity of global temperatures to greenhouse gas concentrations remains uncertain. But if we use the average figure, to obtain a 50% chance of preventing more than 2C of warming requires a global cut of 80% by 2050.

    This is a cut in total emissions, not in emissions per head. If the population were to rise from 6 billion to 9 billion between now and then, we would need an 87% cut in global emissions per person. If carbon emissions are to be distributed equally, the greater cut must be made by the biggest polluters: rich nations like us. The UK’s emissions per capita would need to fall by 91%.”

    I am not sure I can follow all these calculations, but I’ve got my own pet subject of late, namely trends in aerosol emissions in the IPCC scenarios. I may be wrong on this, but it seems to me that if the IPCC assume rising aerosol emissions together with rising GHG’s, and we cut aerosol pollution by 90%+ (as a chemical engineer I can tell you that’s a lot more easily doable, ie cheaper, than cutting GHG’s by say sequestration) even that per capita cut of Monbiot’s may be on the low side to avoid 2C with 95% probability.

    [Monbiots figures may be a touch shaky. The SRES scenarios assume lowering sulphate aerosol in the future. Its one of the reasons for slightly higher warming than in the TAR, I think. And I don’t think we can possible avoid 2 oC with 95% prob, given that its 2 oC over pre-ind, ie 1.4 ish over now -W]


  7. Talking of hot air, I can’t seem to access

    This is not helpful when trying to bash denialists.

    Radio Scotland also broadcast some sort of “debate” between one of the people on TGGWS and someone who was against it. THey did it it at Ingliston, at some sort of Garden festival thingy. More publicity for denialists.


  8. That was a big, bogus promise. If Bush had kept it we’d have been started, six years ago, on the problem.

    Do you remember the excuse made at the time?

    His handlers announced that he’d never meant CO2, that he’d confused carbon monoxide with carbon dioxide, and — despite (because of) the startled praise from environmental groups all across the country before the vote for that one smart promise, his campaign figured they’d be better off waiting til after the election to have him say, oops, that promise was inoperative.

    I have a secret plan to end the war.
    I have a secret plan to end the warming.

    Fooled again.

    Read about it. Quoting from the above Newshour text:
    > we’ve been hearing all the right signals from both him and from
    > Christie Todd Whitman on this. And I think it’s very unfortunate that
    > they have caved to special interests on this in just a matter of weeks.

    See also Whitman’s political memoir:
    It’s My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America
    Grist reviewed it: “… hoodwinked and hamstrung by her superiors. Unable to implement her agenda at EPA, she was effectively captaining a ship that was on permanent autopilot. … a bold critique of the Republican party’s hard turn to the right and the extreme polarization of American politics today. Written by a Bush cabinet member who resigned rather than continue to promote a hard-line conservative agenda.”

    This phrase should appear on all securities offering statements:
    “Biologically rational decisions may not be politically possible once investment has occurred.”
    — 10.1126/science.1135767 Science Magazine v315, 5 Jan. 2007 at 45


  9. Energy Bulletin provides a nice overview of reaction to the Bush “initiative”. The analysis from Der Speigel and the Washington Post sum things up nicely – if a little less dramatically than my take above…


  10. Thanks, ok, it seems the accusation isn’t that scientists’ work has been hindered, but it’s primarily about the degree to which they can communicate their opinions on policy actions to the public (hmm, Griffin could have kept his personal opinions to himself for starters I suppose, that would have been leading by example). And yes that anthropogenic/natural stuff is obfuscation, I just grant him that it’s due to poor understanding rather than any malice, and more importantly, that he’s at least capable of choosing speech writers who don’t put such stuff in formal speeches.

    I am a little confused on your opinion on the 2C target. If you think it’s no longer possible to avoid this with 95% probability (geoengineering options and near immediate near 100% cuts aside), what does it mean that reaching the target might be “necessary”? And most importantly, what does the target mean in practise, ie how does it get converted into something more concrete?

    [You said “What troubles me about the 2C limit is that it’s so hard to operationalise…”. My response was, “What if this limit is necessary” – ie, what if the science says we need to stick to this target? If that were so, your qualms about difficultty become irrelevant. What it would mean would be then deciding what CO2 levels you need to stick to 2 oC -W]


  11. I think you didn’t quite get my question. You wrote earlier:

    “And I don’t think we can possible avoid 2 oC with 95% prob, given that its 2 oC over pre-ind, ie 1.4 ish over now”

    Fine, but how can you simultaneously say that the science could say that 2C is “necessary”? How can something simultaneously be “necessary” and “not possible”?

    [No, you just didn’t get my answer :-). By “2 oC is necessary” I meant, “what if it we were to discover by some means that it was necessary to limit the T rise to 2 oC” -W]


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