Archive for the ‘climate change’ Category

national energy commission announced

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Two days ago, China’s State Council announced the creation of the National Energy Commission (NEC). The Commission, led by Premier Wen Jiabao, includes Vice-Premier Li Keqiang and the ministers of 21 departments.

Debbi Seligsohn over at WRI has posted some good initial questions about the practical role of the new NEC. How will its authority and responsibility be balanced with those of the multiple other government institutions with some influence over energy and climate policy?

I am specifically interested in the institutional relationships of these multiple government and government-affiliated energy and climate change groups. As I was updating the Chinese Government Map for National Energy and Environmental Policy to include the NEC, I realized that China’s institutional structure for energy and climate change is now even more confusing.

According to the State Council, the National Energy Agency will undertake the specific work of the NEC (“国家能源委员会,具体工作由国家能源局承担“), while the NEA is managed by the NDRC (“国家能源局由国家发展和改革委员会管理“). Meanwhile, the NDRC maintains its own Energy Research Institute and Department of Climate Change, and undertakes the work of the National Leading Working Group on Addressing Climate Change, Energy Saving, and Emission Reduction (国家应对气候变化及节能减排工作领导小组,具体工作由国家发展和改革委员会承担“).

This is how I’ve mapped it. It’s circular and messy, but it’s all I can come up with. (Click on the image to go to the full map). Comments?

energy structure

three five zero rap for copenhagen

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Creative, epic climate rapping from Sustainable John and MC ?uestration:

If that wasn’t epic enough, be sure to check out Sustainable John’s Chinese version:

Another video, along with lyrics, here. Read more about 350 here.

krugman’s indictment of climate change deniers

Monday, June 29th, 2009

ts-krugman-190Paul Krugman’s column today is highly recommended. It is a scathing indictment of climate change deniers in the US Congress:

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

Because the overwhelming – and still increasing – scientific evidence demonstrates that climate change presents a “clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself,” he calls the denial of climate change “irresponsible and immoral.”

In an aside (and as an economist), he further bolsters his case with this zinger:

Given this contempt for hard science, I’m almost reluctant to mention the deniers’ dishonesty on matters economic. But in addition to rejecting climate science, the opponents of the climate bill made a point of misrepresenting the results of studies of the bill’s economic impact, which all suggest that the cost will be relatively low.

(Further info on the economic misrepresentation he mentions here and here.)

In the US-China climate debate, although there is still a lot to be settled, at the very least it seems that the top leadership of both nations agree on the core science of what is causing climate change and where we need to be – in terms of global emission reductions – by what date.

On this point, earlier this month, I was encouraged by what Todd Stern, the US’ top climate negotiator, had to say when speaking at the Center for American Progress:

Q: I wonder if you might comment, in talking to Chinese officials, do you feel you’re speaking on the basis of the same science?

MR. STERN: …I have not had a sense that [the Chinese] are in some completely different place with respect to what the underlying science is…in terms of the overall kind of dynamics – where we’re going, where need to go – I don’t think it’s a dramatically different assessment.

(Transcript here). Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the US’ own legislature.

excellent summaries of status of us-china climate change negotiations

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Last week, describing US-China negotiations related to climate change, Rep. Edward Markey quipped, “This is going to be on one of the most complex diplomatic negotiations in the history of the world.”

The netisphere is grateful this week to the incredible series of posts from both Charlie McElwee of China Environmental Law and Julian Wong of the Green Leap Forward /Center for American Progress on this topic.

First up, Charlie’s series on both China and the US’ positions six months out from Copenhagen, including tremendous summaries of the diplomatic challenges as well as in-fighting going on within each country:

6/1: Copenhagen Countdown China’s Climate Change Position
6/2: Copenhagen Countdown US’ Climate Change Pposition
6/3: Copenhagen Countdown T-6 Months Wrap Up
6/4: No Climate Deal Without China

(Also recommended is his three-part series from February: US China Climate Change Engagement Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

Charlie’s posts are so good, that having read them just before watching Todd Stern’s talk Wednesday at CAP, I was left with the distinct feeling that I wish Mr. McElwee were the US’ top climate negotiator instead of Mr. Stern…

Next, Julian’s great work for CAP on exactly what China has been up to on the climate front:

6/3: Climate Progress in China: A Primer on Recent Developments
6/4: China Begins Its Transition to a Clean Energy Economy

Like Charlie’s posts, these are comprehensive summaries that – along with the myriad links contained within them – are recommended reading both for people just getting up to speed on these issues and those buried deep in them.

Lastly, I haven’t posted too much on the US-China climate change negotiations largely because I think others out there (like Charlie and Julian) are already doing a terrific job. However, I did want to show one figure that I think is at the core of why this is such a diplomatic challenge. I like to call this this figure if you only look at one graph this year related to US-China climate negotiations, make it this one:

us china emissions

Source: the Asia Society’s Roadmap for US-China Cooperation on Energy and Climate Change

This is an excellent figure, because it encompasses in parallel perhaps the three most important numbers (both absolute and relative) that matter for each country going into the US-China climate dialogue. It is critical that all three of these graphs be acknowledged simultaneously, because the selective ignoring of any one can drastically change one’s perspective on who bears responsibility for acting and on what scale.

climate change drama on boingboing and thoughts on skeptics

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Over the course of the past day, an interesting drama related to climate change unfolded on boingboing, the internet’s most popular blog. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

I’ll describe what happened, then write a few words about my opinion and position on “climate change skepticism.”

First, boingboing guest blogger and science fiction author Charles Platt posted four consecutive “Climate Heresy” posts advocating climate change skepticism. (Links here, here, here, and here.) The posts contain lengthy reviews of books written by climate skeptics, selective presentations of evidence that supposedly refutes global warming, and a conspiracy theory info-graphic showing how everyone who believes in the threat of climate change is tied together in a tangled knot of fear.

The fact that Mr. Platt posted these to boingboing is mind-blowingly infuriating and irresponsible, and I’ll explain why in a moment. But first, the reason I referred to this as a “drama” is that, less than half an hour after Mr. Platt’s last post, boingbong’s Cory Doctorow responded with his own series of four consecutive posts defending the science and reality of climate change (links: here, here, here, and here). Shortly thereafter, bb’s Xeni Jardin weighed in with her own posts on the truth about climate change (here, here). Even bb’s Mark Frauenfelder got in on the climate change action, with his live-blogging of Al Gore’s TED2009 presentation.

Regular readers of boingboing will know that it is very, very unusual to see consecutive posts on the same topic, and almost never do multiple authors post on the same thing. And yet here we have 11 posts from 4 authors (one guest) in a single 24-hour period on one divisive subject. Mr. Doctorow and Mr. Platt even debate each other briefly in the comments of one post. Drama.

The politics of boingboing aside, let me try to explain why this is such a big deal to me.

First of all, I want to be clear that this post isn’t about the specifics of what Mr. Platt said. I do not, and will not, debate skeptics on a point-by-point basis. It is very difficult to win such debates. Dr. Joe Romm at Climate Progress has written a lot about this (examples here and here). The reason is because most climate skeptics are unwilling to concede defeat when scientific evidence contradicts their claims, even though skeptics are happy to use outdated science, refuted theories, and/or selective evidence when they seemingly support their cause. Even when you are successfully able to scientifically defeat climate skeptic theories or selective evidence, skeptics will almost never acquiesce; rather they will simply come back with a brand new argument, and the process must repeat. Whack-a-mole could not be a more accurate analogy.

(Side note: for reference and curiosity, I recommend these links for evidence refuting specific climate denier points:

Grist’s post on how to talk to a skeptic
RealClimate reponses to common contrarian arguments
Skeptical Science list of most popular skeptic arguments)

Moving on, if we ignore then the specific content of Mr. Platt’s posts, then the core issue becomes whether it is appropriate to doubt the world’s best and leading and consensus scientific position on climate change (that it is real and caused by humans) on the world’s most popular blog.

At certain points, Mr. Platt seems to frame his posts as just healthy debate / devil’s advocacy. He introduces his first climate post as follows:

At the risk of stimulating outrage, I’m going to ask some questions about climate. No one disputes that planetary warming occurred during the second half of the twentieth century; the question is whether it was primarily anthropogenic (i.e. caused by human beings). The Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that the debate on this issue is over. I’m not so sure anymore.

Later, in one of his comments replying to Mr. Doctorow, he says, “Instead you are appealing to authority, basically saying ‘My experts trump your experts.’ I don’t think this is a strong argument, if indeed it is an argument at all.”

But the problem here is that it is disingenuous and incorrect to describe the debate on the causes of climate change as having strong scientific arguments and experts on both sides. This is not a case of “some people believe this, some people believe that,” with both sides having merit.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t advocate a blind acceptance of anything, even science. By all means, if you don’t want to unquestioningly swallow the pill of anthropogenic climate change, then don’t. Let’s say you are a skeptic by nature who wants to read the evidence on your own and come to your own conclusion (as Mr. Platt seems to portray himself). But if you are serious about this – about reviewing the science, about understanding the evidence for anthropogenic climate change – and you perform a true and complete review of the real science of the issue, then there is only one conclusion you can come to, and that is the conclusion reached by serious, real scientists: that climate change is being caused by humans.

Given the urgency of climate change and the impending disasters that will result from continued inaction, propagating any other conclusion is dangerous and widely irresponsible.


Update 2/7/09: Charles Platt voluntarily decided to stop guestblogging at boingboing at couple of days early, writing (in the comments):

Of course I was not asked to leave! I certainly never meant to create that impression…

…To be fair, I did ask in advance, very carefully, if there were any rules for guest bloggers, and I also offered all my posts for preapproval.

I was dismayed by the anger response from two of the people involved, which made me wonder what else I might say that would trigger a similar reaction. Since I couldn’t predict it, and I didn’t want to provoke it, and I didn’t want to start censoring myself, it was easiest to stop.

CNN on climate change – the good and the bad

Thursday, January 29th, 2009



cnn 1 29 international

This morning, I was impressed to discover CNN.com leading with a story about Al Gore’s testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Gore spoke about the imperative for the United States to negotiate and agree this year to an international treaty to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

I was also encouraged by the tone in these two paragraphs in the article:

During the hearing, Republican staffers handed out a statement contending that there are “significant objections” to claims about climate change. The document, which did not name Gore, said there is “a continued international outpouring of skeptical scientists” along with research “to refute warming fears.”

The idea that the world’s climate is being changed by human activities is supported by studies accepted by the vast majority of scientists with expertise in the field. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science are among groups that have issued reports backing that position.

I am encouraged here for a couple of reasons. First, the article does not hedge on whether or not climate change is being caused by humans. The second paragraph here is simply strong, direct, factual journalism, which is desperately needed to bring US public opinion on climate change more closely in line with reality.

Second, although the article does describe the actions of the climate skeptics, the claims of those skeptics are presented as claims alone (with quotation marks), not as truths. To me, this is journalistically a step in the right direction. By following the Republicans’ “claim” of an “outpouring of skeptical scientists” with a real list of real scientific organizations, the article essentially discredits the claim. (To be fair, a perfect article would have discredited the claim directly, but nonetheless progress is still progress.)

That having been said, though, CNN doesn’t deserve all praise today. It is a daily habit of mine to read the CNN International home page followed by the CNN US page. I do this for a variety of reasons, but primarily I am curious about the differing emphasis and priority assigned to different news stories for the two markets.

And sure enough, my elation over a cover story on climate change was immediately quashed when I discovered that the US edition of CNN did not even feature the story at all on the home page:

cnn 1 29 us

What’s going on here? Gore testifying in front of the Senate on climate change is important enough to make the cover of the international page, but on the US page is usurped by such hard-hitting headlines as “Vegetable ad deemed too hot for TV”?

And so the long struggle to change US public opinion on climate change goes on…

highlights from BAQ2008 – IEA

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

As mentioned in my last post, I’d like to feature some highlights from the BAQ2008 conference earlier this month in Bangkok. I haven’t had a chance to go through even nearly all of the presentations, but there are some key slides / conclusions that I either remember from attending or found while browsing the files online that I’d like to post up here. Some of these will be a little out of context, but in all cases I will post the link to the original presentation for further info.

First, I’d like to post highlights from presentations I heard from Lew Fulton and Pierpaulo Cazzola of the IEA, based on energy demand projection research that went into the World Energy Outlook and Energy Technology Perspectives. (Side note: the just-released WEO 2008 Executive Summary is a must read.)

To start with, here are a couple of great slides from Mr. Fulton’s presentation, “Transport, Energy, and CO2 in Asia: Where are We Going and How Do We Change It?“:

IEA vehicle ownership

The above slide shows IEA projections of global car stock by region (y-axis is in millions). Note the exploding dominance of China, especially after 2015-2020. This graph highlights both the incredible challenge we face to limit the energy and environmental impacts of vehicles worldwide, as well as the critical importance of guiding the inevitable growth of vehicles in the developing world in as sustainable a direction as possible.

On energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, Mr. Fulton proposed that it is both economically and technologically reasonable to target a 50% reduction in global light duty vehicle energy intensity by 2030. This loosely means reducing average car energy consumption from approximately 8 to 4 l/100-km. Note that some vehicles, such as the Prius, already achieve a fuel economy in this range.

However, current policies are not even close to guiding the vehicle fleet to this target. The following slide shows baseline vehicle fuel economy projections to 2050, taking into account all current legislation:

IEA baseline FE

There is clearly a gap between what legislators (and the vehicle industry) are targeting, and what is currently possible (and required to meet necessary global GHG reductions).

Looking out to 2050, the IEA proposes that the majority of CO2 emissions savings from the transportation sector will come from improvements to conventional gasoline and diesel engines and traditional hybridization. This was surprising to me, as I expected electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids to play a bigger role. Additional savings are projected to come from some combination of electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles, but the extent of those savings will depend on future technology improvements:

IEA transport CO2 savings

Fortunately, in the case of conventional engine improvements and traditional hybridization, pricing (in theory) shouldn’t be the issue, as the fuel savings are on par with the additional technology cost for these vehicles:

IEA costs and fuel savings

Lastly, I’m posting up the conclusion slide from a talk with some overlapping content given by Mr. Cazzola called, “Fuel Economy as a Means to Avoid Future Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Transport“:

IEA Cazzola conclusions

The conclusion about monitoring increases in weight and power is critical, and something I will address in another post.

thoughts on runaway climate change

Friday, September 26th, 2008

This morning on the subway, I was so deep in thought about climate change that I missed my stop. Specifically, I can’t stop thinking about a Letterman video I watched a couple of days ago and a graph I saw this morning.

First, the Letterman video. The basic message, presented with classic Letterman deadpanning, is, “We’re Doomed.”

While I appreciate the attention given to global climate change, and I do enjoy the humor, I generally prefer a more optimistic approach to problem solving…

…But then I saw this graph, from the Global Carbon Project, showing the updated trend of global carbon emissions from fossil fuels:

fossil fuel emissions

(As reported on Climate Progress and Climate Feedback.)


Update: the data in this graph just made the front page of CNN: Carbon Dioxide Output Jumps to Record Level.

The data in this graph is terrifying, and it’s not just because the trend is going the wrong way (increasing as opposed to decreasing). It’s terrifying because actual emissions are outpacing assumed emissions even under the IPCC’s “worst case scenario” (actual growth has been 3.5% per year since 2000 as opposed to projected 2.7%). Even without these “extra” emissions, though, the effects of climate change are already being seen much earlier than anticipated by climate models (example: the faster than expected melting of Arctic sea ice). This is principally because the climate models underestimate the effects of certain feedback mechanisms that accelerate warming. A classic example is the fact that as Arctic sea ice melts, it reveals more dark ocean, which absorbs solar radiation more than reflective white ice; this absorption causes the earth to warm faster, which melts more ice, revealing more dark ocean, further perpetuating the cycle.

So then back to Letterman’s “It’s too late” argument. Though the optimist in me rejects the conclusion, there are days (like today) in which the cynical side of me looks at the data, recognizes how little progress we have made in the fight against global climate change, considers the challenges ahead towards even just slowing the growth in greenhouse gas emissions (not to mention reducing them!), and thinks, How are ever going to do this?

Lastly, the following animation, “Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip,” does a good job describing the “tipping point” of the earth’s climate system, beyond which catastrophic changes are inevitable:

(Note: I think the second half of the video is a little too apocalyptic, which I think undermines his conclusion that it’s not too late, but nonetheless the first half is quite good.)