Topic: Energy and Environment

Current Wisdom: We Calculate, You Decide: A Handy-Dandy Carbon Tax Temperature-Savings Calculator

The Current Wisdom is a series of monthly articles in which Patrick J. Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science, reviews interesting items on global warming in the scientific literature that may not have received the media attention that they deserved, or have been misinterpreted in the popular press. In this special issue, we focus on the climate implications of a carbon tax.


A year ago, July 23, 2012 to be precise, former Republican congressman Bob Inglis famously predicted the facts on global warming will “overwhelm” GOP resistance to climate change action and alter the party’s stance.  In response, he proposed a carbon tax.

That’s the kind of thing that always pops up during the hottest time of the year, which is late July, and it’s again in the public yakstream.

Inglis is “former” because he lost his primary in a heavily Republican South Carolina district by an unprecedented—for an incumbent congressman with no scandal—70-29 margin, and he (correctly) blamed his defeat on his newly-found perseveration on global warming.

Since then, he has associated with R-Street Partners, which calls itself a libertarian think tank, but which is very vocal in support of his tax.

So, as discussions of a carbon tax continue in the halls and chambers of Washington, we provide a handy tool for tax fans to determine the global warming “savings” from whatever emissions reduction their hearts desire.

We leave it to the user (policymaker, Congressman, former Congressman, think tank scholar, President, voter, etc.) to decide how much of a carbon tax should be levied to produce the desired result.

Using our calculator, you can specify

  1. the carbon dioxide emissions reduction amount (calculated from the 2005 baseline) that will take place by the year 2050 (and remain in place thereafter),
  2. the region which will take part in the emissions reduction plan (the United States, or for the more optimistic, the industrialized nations of the world),
  3. and the climate sensitivity (how much you think the global average temperature will increase as a result of a doubling of the pre-industrial atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration). The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) modestly-educated guess is 3.0°C,  but a collection of reports from the recent scientific literature puts the value around 2.0°C, and based on recent global temperature behavior, a value of 1.5°C may be most appropriate.  Not wanting to leave firebrands like former NASA employee James Hansen out of the fun, we include the option of selecting an extremely high climate sensitivity value of 4.5°C.

We calculate, you decide.

Once you make your selections, the calculator will return the amount of global temperature rise that will be averted as a result of your choices by the year 2050 and also by the end of the century.

Try it using this example. Choose a 100% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from the United States and the IPCC’s sensitivity value of 3.0°C. Hit “Submit.” The amount of temperature savings that results is 0.052°C by the year 2050 and 0.137°C by the year 2100. (Why we are using three significant digits is in the fine print at the end of this article.)

A Handy-Dandy Carbon Tax Temperature-Savings Calculator

Global Temperature Rise Averted

Your results will appear here.

Sorry, Major Kong (h/t to “Dr. Strangelove”), those are the figures.  That’s the right answer. Assuming the IPCC’s value for climate sensitivity (i.e. disregarding the recent scientific literature) and completely stopping all carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. between now and the year 2050 and keeping them at zero, will only reduce the amount of global warming by just over a tenth of a degree (out of a total projected rise of 2.619°C between 2010 and 2100).

If you think that a rise of 2.482°C is vastly preferable to a rise of 2.619°C then all you have to do is set the carbon tax large enough to drive U.S. emissions to zero by mid-century—oh yeah, and sell that tax to the American people.

To explore other alternatives, use our handy-dandy calculator.

Have fun!

 

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The fine print:

Hot Enough For You?

Global Science Report is a weekly feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

Is it hot enough for you?

You don’t know, and neither do global warming policy wonks.

Climatologically speaking, temperatures peak in the second half of July, especially here in the East. Thanks to this, global warming horror stories also max out, followed by the usual pleadings for this or that regulation of dreaded carbon dioxide. The latest greatest rage in a direct tax on carbon dioxide emissions, which will no doubt be trotted out in this week’s eastern heat.

But how hot is it? We know what the thermometer reads, but how does that compare to past thermometer readings?

It turns out there are several factors that confound temperature histories—some obvious, some subtle, and no doubt an unknown number of things that are simply missed.

An obvious one is that bricks, buildings and pavement increasingly “urbanize” the climate, retaining the heat built up during the day and impeding cross ventilation from the local wind regime. To compensate, most long-term temperature histories adjust urban temperatures in comparison to neighboring stations.

A more subtle one is that a systematic change in the time of day in which the high and low temperatures are read (and reset) is also important. As an example, consider a station in which the observer records the previous 24-hour high and low temperatures at 5pm, local time. That’s near the time of day, in the summer, when temperatures are around their daily high. If the day is really hot, say, 100° or so, the temperature at 5:01 is likely to be the same, meaning there are two very hot days recorded when there may have only been one if temperatures were reset at midnight.

There are plenty of other adjustments made to local temperature histories such as accounting for movement of weather stations, changes to the local environment, and adjustments for technological changes, such as switching from mercury-in-glass to electronic thermometers.

And there are some factors that are completely ignored and unaccounted for, having to do with economic factors. Near-neighbor comparisons aren’t going to do a bit of good if an entire country (say, Chad) is too poor to spend anything maintaining weather stations. The fact is that as they “weather,” unattended stations get darker, which means that the temperature gets hotter.

Hurricane Bluster

Global Science Report is a weekly feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

When it comes down to scaring people into accepting onerous reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, it’s always a good idea to trot out the specter of increased hurricanes, despite the lack of backing for this in the science literature.

“Bluster” isn’t the name of an Atlantic hurricane (although it would be a good one*), but rather our description of the stories about new research out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology projecting an increase in the frequency and magnitude of hurricanes as a result of anthropogenic climate change.

Publishing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, M.I.T.’s Kerry Emanuel projects a rather large increase in the global frequency of tropical cyclones as well as their intensity over the course of the 21st century.

Emanuel is the first to admit that the changes he found were largely of a different character to those in the generally accepted literature, which projects little change in the frequency of tropical systems (with perhaps even a slight decline) and only a slight increase in the future intensity.

The difference between Emanuel’s results and those from the bulk of other studies arises primarily for two reasons; 1) the future emissions scenario used to drive the global climate models; and, 2) the method of downscaling coarse climate model output to the finer scale necessary to model tropical cyclones.

When it comes to emission scenarios, Emanuel chooses to use the most extreme scenario, which more than triples the effective atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration by the end of the century, while most other studies have used a more modest scenario which leads only to about a doubling. With new technologies opening up vast abundances of lower CO2-emitting natural gas available for power generation, the extreme emissions scenario used by Emanuel seems unlikely.

Great News from Greenland

Global Science Report is a weekly feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

I recently returned from a trip to Greenland’s Jokabshavn Glacier, which discharges more ice than any other in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Our route of flight from Reykjavik traversed the ice cap from about fifty miles north of Angmassalik to the airport at Ilulissat, on Disko Bay, about one-third of the way up Greenland’s west coast. In southeastern Greenland, we flew very close to the country’s second-highest peak, Mt. Forel (11,099 feet), and in the near future I will upload a image of a nearby mountain approximately 8,000 feet high completely covered by the ice cap.

It is obvious from the air that there is very little movement over the deepest regions of the ice, and the drift patterns in the lee of some of the submerged peaks are strongly suggestive of at least some regional accumulation. There is virtually no evidence for summer melt in the southeast, while the southwest portion of the ice cap is known to melt and refreeze at the surface on an annual cycle—I saw considerable evidence for multi-year, but small, lakes in that region.

In preparation, I read just about everything I could get my hands on, including a recent very remarkable paper by Dorthe Dahl-Jenson and about 70 coauthors. Dahl-Jensen heads up the Center for Ice and Climate at the University of Copenhagen. Dahl-Jenson’s team drilled to the bottom of the ice in northwestern Greenland, providing us with the first climate history of Greenland that includes the warmest period in the last interglacial period, from about 128,000 to 122,000 years ago, known as the Eemian. That was embedded in the Sangamon Interglacial, which ran from approximately 135,000 to 95,000 years ago. 

(For perspective, the last (Wisconsin) glaciation started then and lasted to (nominally) 10,800 years ago—that last date being about a blink of a geologist’s eye ago. Homo sapiens appeared in the ice age, and evidence is that proto-civilization developed while the hemisphere was glaciated.)

A Legal Blow to Cities That Want to Take Your Property

As Roger Pilon has previously noted, on Tuesday, June 25, the Supreme Court issued a decision that helps protect people’s property rights from greedy municipalities. On Thursday, the New York Times published an op-ed critical of that decision by Vermont Law School Professor John Echeverria, who considers it a blow to “sustainable development,” whatever that means. 

In the case, a Florida property owner named Coy Koontz Sr. wanted to fill and develop 3.7 acres of wetlands. To mitigate the wetland fill, Koontz offered to put 11 acres of his property (75 percent of the total) under a conservation easement. But the St. Johns River Water Management District denied the permit, saying it wanted either 13.9 acres of Koontz’s land (leaving him less than an acre, or just 5 percent of the total, for development) or for Koontz to spend a bunch of his money helping the district restore wetlands elsewhere.

Koontz sued, citing the Supreme Court’s Nollan and Dolan decisions. (Cato and the Institute for Justice filed an amicus brief supporting Koontz.) In the Nollan/Dolan cases, permits were granted on the condition that the property owners give some of their land to the public. The Supreme Court had held that such conditions were an unconstitutional taking of private property.

The Florida Supreme Court rejected Koontz’s argument, saying that there was a big difference between his situation and the Nollan/Dolan cases. In the latter cases, the permits were granted conditional upon the property owners giving up land. In Koontz’s case, the permit was denied unless he gave up land or money.

Echeverria considers these differences to be so clear and obvious that he is amazed that five Supreme Court justices were bamboozled into overturning the Florida court’s decision. After all, granting a permit conditional on giving up your land is completely different form denying a permit unless you are willing to give up your land. Moreover, giving you a choice between giving up your money or property is completely different from simply demanding that you give up your land.

Climate vs. Climate Change

Global Science Report is a weekly feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding in the difference between climate and climate change.

This is on very public display in the president’s recently unveiled Climate Action Plan, which details a series of executive actions designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to control the future course of the climate.

In justifying the need for these actions, and why he doesn’t have time to wait for Congress to act, the president points to numerous recent examples of extreme weather disasters while linking weather extremes to climate change brought about by anthropogenic greenhouse gases emissions.

In doing so, he goes awry of the best science.

Here’s why.

Did the President Give a Green Light to the Keystone XL Pipeline?

In his speech today laying out his Climate Action Plan, President Obama took a few minutes to address the Keystone XL pipeline.

The fate of the pipeline is still in the hands of the State Department, where the president said they are stilling mulling it over.

But he said today that he would only approve the pipeline if it did not “significantly exacerbate” carbon dioxide emissions and if the climate impacts of the pipeline were negligible. He said “The net effects of climate impact will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project will go forward. It is relevant.”

This is great to hear.

I testified before the House Subcommittees on Energy and Environment on exactly this topic back in the beginning of May.

Here is how I summarized the pipeline’s impact on the climate:

[I]f the Keystone XL pipeline were to operate at full capacity until the end of this century, it would, worst case, raise the global average surface temperature by about 1/100th of a degree Celsius. So after nearly 100 years of full operation, the Keystone XL’s impact on the climate would be inconsequential and unmeasurable. [emphasis in original]

According to the president’s criteria, that should pretty much guarantee his approval of the pipeline.