Topic: Energy and Environment

An Unhappy Birthday: Keystone XL Application Turns 5

It has now been five years since TransCanada made its first permit application to the U.S. State Department to build the Keystone XL. Under the permit, the firm would construct a cross-border pipeline to carry about 830,000 barrels of Canada-produced oil per day down to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Most of that oil would be mined from the tar sands of Alberta.

No decision has been reached on the current permit application—or rather, no decision has been announced. It’s fate is still guarded by the State Department and President Obama.

In 2009, the U.S. permit for a similar pipeline, Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper, was issued just over two years after the initial application. Then (just four years ago), the State Department spoke in glowing terms of the project, praising it for advancing “strategic interests” and being a “positive economic signal” and further adding that “reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are best addressed through each country’s robust domestic policies.” Here is a taste of the State Department’s press release announcing the pipeline’s approval:

The Department found that the addition of crude oil pipeline capacity between Canada and the United States will advance a number of strategic interests of the United States. These included increasing the diversity of available supplies among the United States’ worldwide crude oil sources in a time of considerable political tension in other major oil producing countries and regions; shortening the transportation pathway for crude oil supplies; and increasing crude oil supplies from a major non-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries producer. Canada is a stable and reliable ally and trading partner of the United States, with which we have free trade agreements which augment the security of this energy supply.

Approval of the permit sends a positive economic signal, in a difficult economic period, about the future reliability and availability of a portion of United States’ energy imports, and in the immediate term, this shovel-ready project will provide construction jobs for workers in the United States.

The National Interest Determination took many factors into account, including greenhouse gas emissions. The administration believes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are best addressed through each country’s robust domestic policies and a strong international agreement.

Oh how times have changed. 

Well, actually, no.

The IPCC Is Pretty Much Dead Wrong

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.”

As the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) nears completion of its Fifth Assessment Report, it is becoming obvious that not only is the report going to obsolete on the day that it is released, but that it will be dead wrong as well.

We have discussed the implications of the IPCC’s failure to adequately ingest new literature—a failure that results partially from the cumbersome IPCC process and partly because the IPCC doesn’t want to include some findings that run counter to its storylines. The major implication being, of course, that the IPCC reports mislead policymakers around the world, which has a trickle-down effect on all of us who are subject to any resulting policies.

In our post on Monday, we noted the following passage from the “leaked” Summary for Policymakers of the upcoming Fifth Assessment Report:

[Climate] Models do not generally reproduce the observed reduction in surface warming trend over the last 10–15 years. There is medium confidence that this difference between models and observations is to a substantial degree caused by unpredictable climate variability, with possible contributions from inadequacies in the solar, volcanic, and aerosol forcings used by the models and, in some models, from too strong a response to increasing greenhouse-gas forcing. [italics in original]

We were generally pleased to see the IPCC admit that climate models are largely failing to capture the rate of rise (or lack thereof) of the global average surface temperature observed over the past 10-15 years. As we pointed out on Monday, we had written as much ourselves a few years ago.

But, the IPCC went way wrong in this paragraph in which they stated:

There is very high confidence that climate models reproduce the observed large-scale patterns and multi-decadal trends in surface temperature, especially since the mid-20th century. [italics in original]

No, they don’t.

Peer-reviewed or Not, the IPCC Accepts Our Conclusion

At the end of this month, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is scheduled to release the physical science basis of it Fifth Assessment Report on climate change. Between now and then, the final wording of its highly visible and influential Summary for Policymakers (SPM) will be hashed out in a meeting in Stockholm. The current draft version of the SPM has been “leaked” in order to drum up some media attention for the upcoming meeting/report.

Among many interesting statements in the draft SPM, this one particularly caught our eye:

[Climate] Models do not generally reproduce the observed reduction in surface warming trend over the last 10–15 years. There is medium confidence that this difference between models and observations is to a substantial degree caused by unpredictable climate variability, with possible contributions from inadequacies in the solar, volcanic, and aerosol forcings used by the models and, in some models, from too strong a response to increasing greenhouse-gas forcing. [italics in original, bold added by us]

We found this interesting because back in 2010, we, along with several co-authors, wrote a paper titled “Assessing the consistency between short-term global temperature trends in observations and climate model projections.” In that paper, we demonstrated  that climate models do not generally reproduce the observed reduction in surface warming trend over the last 10-15 years. We also wrote that this was the result of some combination of inadequacies in the evolution of anthropogenic forcing (including aerosols), natural variability (both that which is captured and that which is insufficiently handled by climate models), as well as the strong possibility that climate models were producing too much warming for a given amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

Specifically, we wrote:

Helping Out the Times

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.”

Let us see if we can help New York Times’ global warming reporter Justin Gillis out.

In his article yesterday about the upcoming Fifth Assessment Report of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Gillis laments that the IPCC seems to be tamping down some of the more alarmist scenarios when it comes to the projected rate of rise of global temperatures and sea level.

Concerning projections of sea level rise, Gillis bemoans that the IPCC looks like (the final version of the Summary for Policymakers of the new report isn’t scheduled for release until the end of the this month at the conclusion of an IPCC editorial meeting in Stockholm) it will discount the “outlier” estimates that the rise this century will exceed five feet. Gillis writes “The drafters of the report went with the lower numbers, choosing to treat the outlier science as not very credible.”

When it comes to how fast the global average temperature is projected to rise, Gillis rues the possibility that the IPCC will lower its assessed value of the climate sensitivity, writing “In this case, the drafters of the report lowered the bottom end in a range of temperatures for how much the earth could warm, treating the outlier science as credible.”

As Congress Prepares for Vote, Syria’s Inflation Hits 257%

As prospects of a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria hang in limbo, the foreign exchange black market for the Syrian pound (SYP) has become increasingly volatile. In countries with troubled currencies, such as Syria, black-market exchange rates provide a reliable gauge of economic expectations. Judging by the erratic performance of the black-market Syrian pound/U.S. dollar (USD) exchange rate, the Syrian people’s expectations have been on quite the roller coaster ride, as the U.S. Congress prepares for what will likely be a very close vote on a Use of Force resolution.

  • Following Secretary of State John Kerry’s initial call for military intervention in Syria, on August 26th, the SYP experienced a one-day drop of 24%—reflecting Syrians’ heightened fears of U.S. military conflict.  
  • On August 29th, two events occurred that reversed this slide. In Damascus, the Syrian government renewed its attempts to crack down on black-market currency trading. And, over 4,000 miles away in London, the British Parliament voted down a motion authorizing military action in Syria. In consequence, the SYP rebounded by a whopping 26% over the course of two days.
  • The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s consideration of a use of force resolution seems to have once again raised Syrians’ expectations of a U.S. military strike, as it set the SYP on another slide. Since September 3rd, the pound has lost 10% of its value.

For some perspective on how the West’s march to war has affected Syria’s currency, and ultimately inflation, let’s take a look at how things have changed over the course of the past month: On August 6th, the black-market SYP/USD exchange rate was 205, yielding an implied annual inflation rate of 191%. As of September 6th, the black-market SYP/USD exchange rate sits at 250, yielding an implied annual inflation rate for Syria of 257%.

For more on the Syrian pound, see the Troubled Currencies Project.

Re: Did Global Warming Reduce the Impacts of Sandy?

And people thought I was being impertinent when I wondered in these pages whether or not global warming actually reduced the impacts of Superstorm Sandy.

Now comes this abstract from a paper by Elizabeth Barnes and colleagues just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

Superstorm Sandy ravaged the eastern seaboard of the United States, costing a great number of lives and billions of dollars in damage. Whether events like Sandy will become more frequent as anthropogenic greenhouse gases continue to increase remains an open and complex question. Here we consider whether the persistent large-scale atmospheric patterns that steered Sandy onto the coast will become more frequent in the coming decades. Using the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, phase 5 multimodel ensemble, we demonstrate that climate models consistently project a decrease in the frequency and persistence of the westward flow that led to Sandy’s unprecedented track, implying that future atmospheric conditions are less likely than at present to propel storms westward into the coast.

Just because global warming enthusiasts are quick to link all weather disasters to climate changes from human greenhouse gas emissions, doesn’t mean they really are. In fact, just the opposite may be the case—global warming may be acting to avert some weather disasters. I know, I know, I am being impertinent again.

Social Cost of Carbon Goes Mainstream

I have been worried that the social cost of carbon was a concept a bit too esoteric to grab the public’s attention despite the vast importance that it may play in our daily lives. I have heard it described as “a little wonky” and “difficult for a mainstream audience.”

But my worries have been alleviated a bit with yesterday’s article in the Wall Street Journal by Keith Johnson.

The social cost of carbon, or SCC, is the current dollar amount that is assigned to the future damage that each emitted ton of carbon dioxide from human activities (mostly energy-related) is purportedly going to cause. (For a broader discussion of “social costs,” see here.)

Johnson hits the nail on the head in summarizing the significance of the SCC:

The number is important because the more costly carbon pollution is deemed to be, the greater the apparent economic benefits of new environmental regulations. The climate plan hinges on such regulations, including restrictions on new power plants that the Environmental Protection Agency is set to release in late September.

As I and others (including Johnson in the Journal article) have pointed out, there are so many variables whose values are unknown (or unknowable) involved in its determination that the SCC can be set at virtually any value that the user desires it to be.