Detroit's Big Three and the EPA

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate the carbon emissions that cause global warming. In doing so they ruled for an assortment of states and environmental groups, and against the EPA and American automakers.

Add this decision to the daily litany of the Big Three’s woes: falling sales, layoffs and buy-outs, and staggering health care costs, for starters. In our Global Warming Goes to the Supreme Court show we delved into the specifics of the case, including states’ roles in emissions regulation, businesses’ claims they could handle the emissions themselves, and carbon trading. Now we’re wondering what this ruling means for Detroit’s Big Three, and the future of the American auto industry.

Those Big Three now say they’ll work with the EPA to craft new emissions standards. But what kinds of standards can we expect? And are efficiency standards alone the best method for reducing CO2 emissions — especially if our insatiable demand for speed and power remains unchanged?

James Womack

Chairman and Founder, Lean Enterprise Institute

Author, Lean Solutions and The Machine That Changed the World, among many others

Joseph Romm

Founder and Executive Director, Center for Energy & Climate Solutions

Author, Hell and High Water: Global Warming–the Solution and the Politics–and What We Should Do

Blogger, Climate Progress

Kevin Wilson

Senior Editor, AutoWeek

Extra Credit Reading

Jon Gertner, From 0 to 60 to World Domination, The New York Times, February 18, 2007: “By any measure, Toyota’s performance last year, in a tepid market for car sales, was so striking, so outsize, that there seem to be few analogs, at least in the manufacturing world. A baseball team that wins 150 out of 162 games? Maybe.”

David Shepardson, Auto emissions ruling could cost Big Three, The Detroit News, April 3, 2007: “Ann Klee, a former EPA general counsel in the Bush administration, said the decision ‘will dramatically change the regulatory landscape for decades to come, laying the groundwork for far-reaching new air standards based on potential global climate change.’”

Joel Makower, The Detroit Auto Show: Where Did the Green Go?, Joel Makower, January 8, 2007: “This year, environmentally minded vehicles and innovations seemed few and far between. The well-choreographed and elaborately staged press events focused far more on horsepower and high-technology than on hybrids and hydrogen. “Muscle” was probably the show’s most exercised buzzword.”

Sebastian Blanco, AFVI Show: notes on the opening speeches (CIA assassination, GM < Honda, and more), AutoblogGreen, April 3, 2007: “Pete McCloskey was the best of the bunch. He served in the U.S. military and as a Republican in the U.S. Congress and gave the most animated talk of the morning. He gave warnings about our energy future, and told stories about how he helped get Earth Day started and the power of the environment in politics in the ’70s and today.”

Kevin Meyer, That Sneaky Honda!, Evolving Excellence, March 11, 2007: “Our friend Mr. Womack even weighed in. You may recall that a year ago he was taking a pretty light stand on the problems with the Detroit Three until many of us in the blogosphere convinced him to start telling the brutal truth.”

Paul Niedermeyer, Detroit Deathwatch – The Prequel (Part 2), Thr Truth About Cars, March 6, 2007: “If you had to pick a moment when The Big Three’s hegemony ended, it’s October 17, 1973. On that day, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) initiated an embargo that effectively doubled the cost of crude oil. And the resulting price shock tipped the U.S. economy into recession. Even worse, Americans experienced massive gas shortages.”

Brij Singh, Joseph Romm on climate, One More Idea, February 18, 2007: “Dr Michio Kaku’s interview with scientist Joseph Romm was by the far the most chilling scenario I have heard in recent time. Coming from a scientist who knows what he is talking this should make people sit up and do something about this global issue. His book – Hell And High Water; uses tons of scientific data to make dire predictions. Which includes Manhattan under 10 ft of water by 2050!”


  • jmorela

    The big three have legitimate problems as you’ve outlined. However changes to fuel economy standards would be imposed on all manufacturers, not just Detroit. While adding another challenge certainly won’t help their situation, the big three need to focus their attention on putting out a product that is better than their competition (quality, style, price, performance). A good product, that people want, will go a long way to solving their other issues.

    As far as states or the federal government wanting to reduce CO2 emissions from vehicles, improved standards are good, but meaningful results will only be realized by reducing demand (i.e. encouraging us to drive less). A sustained $3.00+ gas price is the only way to get Americans to change their habits. We respond best to impacts on our wallets.

  • Lumière

    Are the auto lobbying efforts going to shift to the state level?

    One state can set the standard for an entire industry?

    Will a single state congressperson become a national power broker?

  • Sagebrush

    Even though George Bush is being dragged, kicking and screaming, back to his campaign 2000 Al-Gore-me-too promise to regulate carbon emissions, I doubt that we can even hope that he will stray from his oilman roots. A hundred years ago, cars and trucks replaced horses and wagons virtually overnight. Maybe part of that story was the lack of a President with buggy-whip-industry interests at heart.

    Under the Carter Administration energy rules, even after being Reagan-gutted, we reduced our oil consumption by about 20% in only five years. That was twenty-five super-high-tech years ago. We more than have the capacity to do all that again, and more… All we need is the political will to sweep Bush, Cheney and the rest of the oil cronies out of the way.

  • Ken Hall

    Since our economy is based upon an ever expanding market how will building higher mileage vehicles and simultaneously selling more and more to China, Russia and India decrease the total worldwide CO2 output? If one wishes to increase vehicle mileage today do what Jimmy Carter did reduce the speed limits. The total drag on a given vehicle doubles as one goes from 50 MPH to 70 MPH.

  • Potter

    Demand Gets Created…. bumper sticker of the evening.

  • Larryg

    Great show as always. Americans are cheap and self centered. Both consumers and producers. We want everything and don’t want to pay for it. Would you pay a $40K luxury SUV price for a small or efficient car?

    Probably not.

  • http://www.catsynth.com peoplestank

    Frankly, the US automakers are in a crisis of their own making, and blaming new EPA rules, or even the pension costs, doesn’t excuse them. No one wants to buy their cars, and fewer people are buying their trucks/SUVs. They’re simply not “cool” – the cars have reputation as being “old-people-mobiles” and the trucks/SUVs are big and fat (much like a good portion of the US population). I wouldn’t be caught driving one, and neither would a lot of my friends. Make something cool (which probably includes higher fuel efficiency), and maybe more of us would actually buy their vehicles again…

  • Puneet Talwar

    The issue with the BIG three is also of a CORPORATE CULTURE that is driven by a natural EXPECTATION of keeping thier position as a big firm no matter what. For a company that is losing 1% market share a year for 20 years and where the unions and executives continue to expect to make the highest salaries & wages – it just says they are asleep to the concept of globalization.

    The world is now filled with people not only willing & able to produce quality- but the economic forum is also an arena where these ‘foreign’ workers & companies are going to proce thier metal.

  • D0li0

    I would very much like to hear more about Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)! PHEV’s are/will be an entirely new type of vehicle which greatly improve effeciency and reduce CO2 emissions.

    I’m already driving a modified Prius PHEV which Toyota could be building. It cost me somewhat more than the $3000 it would have cost Toyota. Similarly the new Chevy Volt PHEV is an ideal solution, if they actually end up building the thing.

    My PHEV Prius is capable of driving 10 miles with no gas at all, instead using just 2.5 kWh of electricity. At higher speeds I can go 20 miles at 100mpg + 2.5kWh of electricity. I can recharge mine in less than 30 minutes and it’s using Lead-Acid batteries. That electricity is 100% domestic and potentially 100% clean and renewable. Even if the electricity were from coal or NG it’s far easier to clean up one power plant than thousands of tailpipes. And as our grid power gets cleaner such vehicles also get cleaner.

    For those who say batteries aren’t ready, the RAV4-EV is about 10 years old, had 100 miles of range, and they are still working today. I had a chance to drive one recently and also rented a GM EV1 in LA a few years ago. These were great cars to drive and I won’t buy another car untill I can plug it in!

    In the end, my take is that if our cars can be plugged in to use domestic and potentially clean electricity then we can be as irresponsible as we like. That is to say that if it’s electric I don’t care how heavy or fast the car is, it will be clean. EV’s can be just as, if not more, powerfull and fast as todays ICE vehicles, they can be also be charged rapidly. EVeryone wants to drive electric cars, they just don’t know it yet.

  • bc111

    Removing the subsidies to automobile use would reduce greenhouse gas emmissions more than any fuel efficiency standard under consideration. Donald Shoup calculates that eliminating driver-doesn’t-pay parking would have the effect of a $4.44 increase in the gas tax. People would drive much less if they actually paid for the parking they use. See “The High Cost of Free Parking.”

  • rc21

    More taxes. Yes, that is the answer.

  • knitwit

    I was shocked at CL’s and guest’s ignorance of Smart Cars. We’ve got ‘em here in the Northwest! One dealer at least in Seattle, and two or three in Oregon. I’m from Port Townsend on the peninsula, and there are several around here. They cost $25,000 or so, though, not the $15k estimated by one of your “expert” guests. Love the show anyway!

  • http://StudentsForTheEarth.org joneden

    C02 is now about 383 ppm and racing upwards thanks to fossil fuels vs a previous high of about 300 over the last 400, 000 years.

    What is an acceptable amount for us to continue pumping into the atmosphere? What would you find to be an acceptable level of DDT in your tissues or emissions of carcinogens from a neighboring plant or radiation from a nearby nuclear plant?

    We are not really serious. It is the same olde we’ll fix it with technology and you will not have to give up anything. Mean while, we have an ever increasing population demanding ever more resources from an ever declining resource base and we just put our head in the sands and pretend a little recycling here, some more renewable energy sources there, and a little tweaking of the technology and the spiral down will be reversed.

    Our failure to get our economic and social system aligned with the ecological facts of life will not repeal those facts, but it will keep us comfortable. We only need be willing to keep upping the spending on our military and homeland security to keep the growing population of impoverished evil doers at bay, turn our air conditioning up, and renew our belief in social Darwinism

    jon

    Connecting the dots: From human behaviors to ecosystem decline

    http://StudentsForTheEarth.org

  • http://www.formula1.com EnzoRomeo

    I’ve never liked American cars, they’re too big, don’t handle very well, mostly automatics, and the brakes are usually pretty bad. I never understood what the alure was for SUVs either. There wasn’t anything attractive about the design, they couldn’t turn without rolling over, and they get terrible gas mileage. Plus, the impression I have for American cars is that the quality isn’t good and they don’t last as long as the imports.

    Give me a German, Italian, or Japanese car that drives well on the Nurburgring and I’m a happy camper. Must be rear wheel drive, 5 speed manual, with good brakes and acceleration. Sadly, for the most part American cars are for people who only like to drive in a straight line.

  • arttua

    Can 6 billion people drive cars? More efficient cars in the US will be more than offset by more cars in China, then India, then… Do we need something more than Climate change, mass extinctions, oil wars to change this life style?

    As a start, we all can drive 55. What we really need is world class, ubiqitus, free mass transit paid for with transportation fuel taxes. So those that insist on driving will pay the rest not to. This can not include air travel, because those emisions are 230% more potent as greenhouse gasses. In the mean time I’ll continue riding a bicycle.

  • bc111

    RC21 wrote “More taxes. Yes, that is the answer.”

    I’d like to see us first remove the wealth transfers from everyone to automobile users. Eliminate the hidden tax we all pay by providing parking lots and structures whose costs drivers don’t directly pay. That would eliminate a subsidy to driving of about the size of the Medicare budget.

  • plnelson

    More taxes. Yes, that is the answer.

    So true. Those poor sheeplike consumers. They really need a strong parental government to take them in hand and guide them to do what’s best for them. They’re incapable of thinking for themselves, you know. They see an ad on TV and their eyes glaze over and they just start repeating whatever they heard while sleepwalking to the nearest SUV dealer and taking out a new home mortgage to buy one.

    It’s a good thing we have political progressives who’ve had metal plates surgically implanted in their heads to resist the thought-rays emanating from Madison Avenue so they can see things clearly and guide everyone else to the truth.

    The question is this: with the number of NEW (not replacement) cars in China and India and other developing nations WAY surpassing those in the US, and the total production in those places about to exceed ours, who’s going to supply them with liberals to tell what’s right for them? The world could be facing a dangerous shortage of liberals.

  • plnelson

    C02 is now about 383 ppm and racing upwards thanks to fossil fuels vs a previous high of about 300 over the last 400, 000 years.

    Exactly. The problem is much bigger than anyone has proposed a solution for. The “solutions” currently in the offing are symbolic- they have no realistic chance of making a dent in the real numbers.

    The other thing that’s being overlookd here is that political support for serious measures to fight global warming is a lot weaker than environmentalists imagine. This last winter was the warmest one on record. I heard VERY few people complain about it. Most people talked about how nice and springlike the days were.

    My guess is that when push comes to shove and people realize the HUGE changes necessary to make a real dent in global CO2 levels people will decide they can live with a much warmer planet.

    Don’t get me wrong – my heritage is Scandinavian and I love snow and winter. I do NOT like warm, sticky climates. But we have to be realistic – there is NO serious proposal right now to really roll back global CO2. And if there was people would freak out when they saw what it would take.

  • plnelson

    Give me a German, Italian, or Japanese car that drives well on the Nurburgring and I’m a happy camper. Must be rear wheel drive, 5 speed manual, with good brakes and acceleration.

    Rear-wheel-drive has poor traction on slippery surface. Front-wheel-drive or 4-wheel-drive is better.

    Manuals are terrible in urban stop-and-go driving. They’re only good on the highway. Anyway, modern automatics have as good fuel economy and acceleration as 5-speed manuals. (Since you like German cars, an example is the Mercedes Mclaren with a 5 speed automatic tranny it does 0-100 kms in 3.8 seconds according to Auto Motor und Sport magazine)

    Anyway German cars have been doing poorly in JD Powers and Consumer Reports reliability ratings rcently (we won’t even mention Italian cars in the same sentence with “reliability” – you know what Fiat stands for, right?)

    Japanese cars are great (I have a Subaru). American and European cars are on their way out except for niche markets.

  • plnelson

    Can 6 billion people drive cars? More efficient cars in the US will be more than offset by more cars in China, then India, then… Do we need something more than Climate change, mass extinctions, oil wars to change this life style?

    My point exactly. I’m fascinated by the way the liberals and environmentalists seem to think that if we have a 45 MPG CAFE standard and turned off a few more lightbulbs we could alter the course of this thing.

    Look at the numbers, people! Takng population, population growth, and economic growth in developing nations into account, if you took every US car off the road it would only make the briefest divot in the overall curve.

    I don’t expect oil wars because there is more money to be made from pumping oil than fighting over it. And there’s lots of coal. Basically, all the CO2 that USED to be in the atmosphere when earth was warmer is tied up in fossil fuels and ready to be liberated to power our lifestyles. Can we survive with 400 or 450 ppm CO2? Sure. Will it get kinda warm in here? Sure. Will there be mass extinctions? Sure. A few small island nations disappear? Probably. Will the world’s people give up their cars? No way.

  • bc111

    Somehow a tirade appears in this forum. Nevermind its ill-defined relation to the topic — (except in pinelson’s mind):

    “So true. Those poor sheeplike consumers. They really need a strong parental government to take them in hand and guide them to do what’s best for them. They’re incapable of thinking for themselves, you know. They see an ad on TV and their eyes glaze over and they just start repeating whatever they heard while sleepwalking to the nearest SUV dealer and taking out a new home mortgage to buy one.”

    Talk about “repeating whatever they heard”! Pinelson probably can’t even recognize its guilt driven motive of diverting attention from the issues in regurgitating this pseudo-libertarian boilerplate.

    Are we entirely unwilling to take the necessary measures to make a real dent in CO2 emissions as pinelson claims? Perhaps. Some of the loudest voices — many mainstream environmentalists and all polluters’ lobbyists — seem to agree that nothing we should consider would justify any politically unpopular reductions in near term consumption (as they would construe it). Of course, opinion-makers determine what is politically unpopular, and pinelson, arguing for indifference to the horrific costs of motoring, might just intend to shape opinion.

    I don’t accept that one can rationally and morally refuse to address human caused climate change.

  • plnelson

    I don’t accept that one can rationally and morally refuse to address human caused climate change.

    The question is not whether one “can” – the questoon is whether one “will”. I’m predicting that they “won’t”.

    Of course, opinion-makers determine what is politically unpopular,

    No they don’t.

    The PEOPLE determine what is unpopular. Claiming that the opinion-makers determine it simply supports the “sheep” model I mentioned above. You seem to be assuming that the people can’t decide for themselves what they like or want. I think otherwise.

    What I’m claiming is that the changes in lifestyle and the economic impact of making REAL, EFFECTIVE (not merely symbolic or gestural) reductions in CO2 will be unacceptable to people, and when they are faced with them they will choose, instead, to live on a warmer planet.

    This is not a discussion about what I would like to see – I’m making a prediction about what will actually happen in concrete, measurable, testable reality. Right now we are at 383 ppm CO2. In the 1980′s we were around 340, in 1950 we were around 300, in Ben Franklin’s day we were around 280.

    In the next few years we will blow through 400 ppm like a Ford Explorer through a lawn sprinkler. I’m predicting humans will see 450 and probably 500 ppm LONG before we ever see 350 again.

    What do you predict?

  • bc111

    Pinelson claims

    “This is not a discussion about what I would like to see – I’m making a prediction about what will actually happen in concrete, measurable, testable reality.”

    and asks

    “What do you predict?”

    If what happens happens and no information about the effects of our behaviors could modify our behaviors, anyone would commit quite a hollow act in making any prediction about a behavior’s effects.

    “I’m predicting humans will see 450 and probably 500 ppm LONG before we ever see 350 again.”

    Presumably blind personal preferences immutably drive this trajectory.

    SUV ads have no influence on people’s tastes (for the sake of ad agencies, don’t tell the car companies). Governments either have no role or simply unbiasedly accomodate everyone’s personal taste for automobility over irrelevant factors like health and quality of life. That shouldn’t wash with anyone who takes their role as a citizen seriously.

    Someone may have the personal satisfaction of seeing his or her prediction about CO2 levels bourne out. Beyond that private satisfaction, projecting trends gives us information. The value of that comes from it allowing us to make better choices.

  • plnelson

    I see that, so far, no one has taken me up on my request for a prediction to compare with my prediction. Oh well.

    Here’s the analogy – I was opposed to the Iraq invasion since it was first proposed. I said that the Bush, Blair, et al, were just not taking the sheer SCALE of the effort required seriously – they didn’t have a clue what they were up against. I posted a message to BBC’s “Talking Point” where I said, “if we invade Iraq we had better learn what the Arabaic word for quagmire is.” The rest, as they say, well, you know.

    Same with global warming. I’ve been an environmentalist for years. I’ve been pleading with people to do the math. None of what’s been happening should come as a big surprise. The dirty little secret of the IPCC reports is that the previous ones UNDERestimated the actual measured changes!

    So now we have people here talking about hybrid cars and higher CAFE standards, etc, all of which is the same thing as GWB’s little “surge” in Iraq. Way too little, way too late. It’s not going to have any effect whatsoever on the disasterous end-result.

    Good intentions are irrelevant. It matters not whether your intention is to bring democracy to Iraq, bring the troops home now, or assuage your conscience by driving an electric car or bicylcing to work. The actual concrete FACTS are the only things that matter to me, whether those facts are a hell-hole where Iraq used to be or 400 ppm CO2.

    American culture is all hollywood and this is reflected in our politics. Both the left and the right are more interested in theater, whether it’s landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier to declare “victory” or having non-binding Congressional votes to “send a signal” to Bush, or making some token effort to look green. Whether anything happens in reality doesn’t matter to anyone as long as it feels good.

  • plnelson

    SUV ads have no influence on people’s tastes (for the sake of ad agencies, don’t tell the car companies).

    As I said: do the math

    SUV’s are irrelevant to this. If every SUV driver in America switched to a Prius the effect on total atmospheric CO2 would be too small to measure. If we took away every American’s car keys it would create a tiny divot in the global CO2 curve that would be swamped in a year or two.

    Very soon China will be producing more cars than America. But here’s the thing – most cars in America are replacements for previous cars so a new car in America does not represent a new source of CO2. Most cars in China are someone’s FIRST car so it does represent a new source of CO2. And that’s just cars and it’s just China. All over the world people in developing nations are becoming affluent, buying cars, air conditioners (it’s getting warmer – we need more AC), refrigerators, and PC’s.

    Just like we liberated Iraq, we are liberating CO2 that’s been trapped in coal and oil for millions of years. And that’s just CO2, which has increased in the air by about 40% in the last 200 years. During that same time CH4, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas, has more than doubled.

    So do the math and get your mind off of SUV’s – they are too small to influence the end result.

  • Potter

    PLN What an argument that we should not do anything. China is already choking on their own pollution. There is no way that they can keep on their present course.

    Regarding If every SUV driver in America switched to a Prius the effect on total atmospheric CO2 would be too small to measure.

    I’d like a confirmation of that before I take it as a fact.

    Getting rid of SUV’s (regardless of the math) are important because every bit helps. Also we set the example. If we continue to promote and buy SUV’s the Chinese and the Indians will do the same. What if the first car in China or India or elsewhere may not be a Prius but a behemoth. Makes no difference? Same for AC and refrigeration-new technology is required.

    Everyone has to do their bit. China and India can’t do what we did 100 years ago.

    So when PLN says: So do the math and get your mind off of SUV’s – they are too small to influence the end result..

    If I were monstrously overweight person that’s like saying ” I’ll just eat this one more rich dessert and it will have no impact on my weight.”

  • plnelson

    Getting rid of SUV’s (regardless of the math) are important because every bit helps.

    Why do you think every bit helps? That’s like saying that raiding a house filled with terrorists in Iraq will change the course of the war because “every bit helps”. Unless it’s part of some overall strategy to end the war it does NOT help in the final outcome.

    The only thing that matters here is total atmospheric CO2 and CH4.

    Also we set the example. If we continue to promote and buy SUV’s the Chinese and the Indians will do the same.

    I know lots of Chinese and Indians and they buy cars because they want the freedom and convenience that cars provide. It has nothing to do with aping American tastes – let’s not flatter ourselves here.

    Everyone has to do their bit. China and India can’t do what we did 100 years ago.

    Why do you say that? They are already doing MORE than we did 100 yeas ago! Total steel production, concrete production (a big source of CO2) are way, vastly MORE than we were producing 100 years ago. And they are already producing more cars than we were producing thoughout all of the first few decades of our car industry (and by the end of this decade they will produce more than we are producing now).

    Between 1750 and 1950, a period of 200 years, atmospheric CO2 concentration went from about 280 to about 300 ppm. It rose that much again in the next 30 years. Now we’re up to 383 – the curve gets more vertical every year. And, as I said, it’s even worse for CH4 (methane).

  • plnelson

    Above, I compared this to Iraq. There we have two options -

    1. Come up with a PLAUSIBLE strategy for achieving success

    2. or accept our failure and abandon the war.

    It’s irresponsible to not do one or the other.

    Same with global warming. We have two options:

    1. Come up with a PLAUSIBLE strategy for achieving success

    2. Accept our failure and prepare to live with a much warmer planet.

    It’s irresponsible to not do one or the other.

    In both cases I’d prefer number 1 if such a proposal existed and had any reasonable chance of being politically acceptable but for both cases it doesn’t exist. What I find interesting is that the liberals and environmentalists are taking the same strategy as the supporters of Bush’s “surge” of saying that “a little bit is better than nothing” and “this will buy us a little time to get our act together”. In neither case are we given any evidence that we are doing any more than delaying the inevitable, and probably not delaying it by much.

    The most ambitious climate plan on the books right now is the EU’s 20/20 plan (and they are getting plenty of pushback domestically already). And even if that plan succeeeds it won’t cut emissions by anywhere near the amount that the rest of the world’s will go up over the same time period.

    Detached houses and personal cars are a big part of the problem but just try asking people to abandon them. Tell a homeowner in a Boston suburb that he has to give up his 4-bedroom colonial and his 5-passenger sedan or else the climate in Lexington MA will resemble that of New Jersey in 25 years, and that of Maryland 25 years later and he’ll laugh at you. He’ll take the climate change.

    You think most people will make big sacrifices to save polar bears? Most people won’t even make small sacrifices to save humans in Darfur.

  • Potter

    Above, I am not saying ” a little bit is better than nothing” even though it is. What if the PLAUSIBLE solution consists of many different changes, big and small? This business about coming up with a plausible strategy, your #1, ( who will?? and how do we prove it to get you on board??) ) for achieving success is a recipe for wasting time. It exerts a drag on moving forward and gathering force gradually (awareness, knowledge, enthusiasm) as we go, which is what is already happening.

    No question we are organized for the automobile and too many live spread out in big houses in the burbs. Not good. People are not going to abandon their homes but they may make small or large meaningful changes in them and their lives. As well the burbs will change- perhaps to small villages.

    ( what sacrifices do I make to save humans in Darfur?)

  • Potter

    PLN you say: If every SUV driver in America switched to a Prius the effect on total atmospheric CO2 would be too small to measure. If we took away every American’s car keys it would create a tiny divot in the global CO2 curve that would be swamped in a year or two.

    Can you direct me to where you get this information?

    “Each gallon of gasoline you burn creates around 20 pounds of CO2 or, in terms of volume, about 170 cubic feet. So, driving an energy efficient vehicle can reduce your CO2 emissions substantially—about 17 fewer tons (260 thousand fewer cubic feet) of CO2 per year by driving a car that gets 25 MPG instead of 20 MPG.”

    http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/co2.shtml

    Three things that we drivers can do:

    Keep your car as long as possible ( 1/3 of the environmental cost of a car happens before it leaves the showroom)

    Drive as little as possible

    When the time comes to replace your car, get a “green car”

  • plnelson

    What if the PLAUSIBLE solution consists of many different changes, big and small?

    If there was a plausible solution then it probably would consist of “many different changes, big and small” but no such solution has been proposed.

    WRT Iraq, anyone can point to tiny positive developments such as this person starting a new business or that couple getting married. But that doesn’t mean they add up to a successful Iraq strategy, and you have no illusions about that, so why do you have illusions that someone biking to work or trading their SUV for a Prius adds up to a successful global warming strategy?

    What if everybody in Iraq decided to start a new business or get married instead of blowing each other up? It’s a meaningless question because there’s no reason to think they will. Ditto with the environment.

    Are YOU going to tell a Chinese worker who comes from a long line of poor peasants, but who has finally made it far enough up in the middle class to buy his first car, that he should NOT buy that car because some polar bear might drown?

  • Potter

    Proposed to whom? Agreed upon by Whom? There are many separate reports proposals and actions on one aspect or another. More and more I suspect, believe that the only plausible solution IS many different changes big and small.

    Everyone in Iraq is not blowing everyone else up- and that example, the phrasing, is a good representation of your argument.

    PS-You don’t tell a Chinese worker not to buy his first car but you make his only choices responsible ones.

  • Potter

    BTW WRT Iraq- what the Iraqi’s do big or small or in the end to make or not make a country and what we do in order to “win” are two separate issues. We are not going to make their country for them. Bad analogy.

    so why do you have illusions that someone biking to work or trading their SUV for a Prius adds up to a successful global warming strategy?

    never said that alone would do it– a misrepresentation

  • Potter

    Why is that a bad analogy PLN?

    Iraq now is like an expanding balloon that gets pinched or squeezed forcing the air to relocate inside the balloon. Surge in Bagdad and insurgents go elsewhere.

    Take the expanding “balloon” of GHG, causing climate change, and poke little holes in it all over steadily and the air will at first not increase and then, especially if you keep poking bigger and/or more holes, will decrease.

    It may be that we cannot prevent climate change entirely but we can slow it down or TRY to, make a valiant effort, which will buy time and save a lot of suffering.

    What is trying to happen in terms of the human effort needed to do this is unprecedented in our history. I don’t think we can insist on total cooperation amongst nations on a “proposal”. That seems unrealistc. Look at Kyoto. Still, such efforts as Kyoto should continue as well.

    I can understand pessimism. I prefer not to go there.

  • plnelson

    Surge in Bagdad and insurgents go elsewhere.

    According to the supporters of the surge if you ARREST or KILL an insurgent in Baghdad he cannot fight eleswhere.

    Many of us think the surge just moves the violence elsewhere, which is also what happens with pollution. If you make stricter emission rules in one place then factories and even power plants move elsewhere. This is precisely what happens with steel and concrete production.

    I still haven’t heard you or anyone else make a CO2 (or even a CH4) prediction. If you think this grass-roots approach works then back it up with a prediction about when or whether it will start to go down and how high it will go before that.

  • rc21

    This is a funny issue. The reality of the situation is this in order to see man made pollution really reduced we must see the 3rd world and new world countries go back to the pre global economy that now exists.

    In other words we need the poor countries of the world to stay poor, remain in poverty, Do not let them grow their economy, Do not let the govts of these countries begin to provide heat and energy to its poor.Curtail all fresh water and plumbing projects. They must remain in abject poverty.

  • arttua

    I proposed that 6 billion people can not drive cars. I have read alot of good debate but no responce to 55mph now, and free, ubiquitous, world class mass transit in mind, if not the planning. Can someone please address this or insult me.

    Half of car trips in the US are less than 4 miles, a distance that almost anyone can do by bicycle. Here in rural Vt I’ve been doing it year round. Why go for a bike ride when you can ride somewhere?

  • plnelson

    In other words we need the poor countries of the world to stay poor,

    Exactly. Right now the US produces approximately 100 million metric tons of steel and China produces around 400 million metric tons. Everybody is aghast at this – what right do they have to produce so much steel (and all the attendant CO2 involved in that?) , they ask.

    But China is a desperately poor country and all that steel goes into to bringing their standard of living up to something which is STILL well below ours, but just not so wretchedly below as it was.

    Ditto with concrete. Concrete, or Portland cement to be more precise, is a very CO2-intensive production process. I recently saw a report that China may be producing almost 1/3 of the world’s output, almost all for domestic use, for bridges, office building, dams, apartments, etc.

    In today’s WSJ they did a review of a book on a coal-mine fire. As everyone knows, these can burn out of control for years or even decades. In the article they pointed out that China currently has coal mine fires producing as much CO2 as ALL the cars and light trucks in the US!!

  • plnelson

    I proposed that 6 billion people can not drive cars.

    But what about 3 billion? How about 2 billion? The point is that millions of additional cars are being driven every year as people become more affluent.

    I have read alot of good debate but no responce to 55mph now As I said to Potter, it’s easy to make lists of little things that theoretically could be done, but the problem is not theoretical, so if all you can offer is theoretical solutions it won’t change the ppm of CO2 in the actual, nontheoretical atmosphere.

    and free, ubiquitous, world class mass transit

    Mass transit is not a useful option unless you live in a dense, urban environment and don’t need to carry much stuff with you or travel point-to-point-point-to-point.

    I live in the suburbs; I work in a different town from where I live; I often go to many different places on the same trip; I almost ALWAYS stop for errands on my way to or from work, and I usually carry stuff in my car (for example, at the moment I have 40 pounds of corn-gluten I just picked up at the local Agway). So it doesn’t matter HOW “free” public transit is, I can’t use it.

    People don’t choose cars because they got brainwashed by advertising; they choose cars because they offer convenient 24/7 door-to-door transportation that you can use in any weather, day or night, and you can carry lots of stuff and passengers, and don’t have to share your personal space with strangers. Nothing else comes remotely close to this which is why any solution to global warming must accept the automobile, maybe with some futuristic technology, as inevitable.

  • plnelson

    Half of car trips in the US are less than 4 miles, a distance that almost anyone can do by bicycle. Here in rural Vt I’ve been doing it year round. Why go for a bike ride when you can ride somewhere?

    Because it’s raining? Because it’s cold? Because I can’t carry the 40 lb bag of corn-gluten I have in my car right now?

    Also my time is valuable and I can cover that 4 miles in less time in a car.

    Also because you are 7 times as likely on a per-mile basis to be injured riding a bicycle than driving a car.

    Because bicycles are a lot more dangerous on ice, which we have on the roads 5 or 6 months a year in this area.

    Also here’s a little problem with that “4 mile” statistic. For efficiency I combine my errands. I might drive from Chelmsford MA to Nashua NH, making many stops in N Chelmsford, Tyngsboro, south Nashua and Nashua center. The total trip might take me 20 miles from home but each leg of it might be less than 4 miles so it would match your statistic. It just has more legs than an octopus.

    Bicycles have their place but they are not practical alternatives to cars. You want more evidence? China and Taiwan are famous for having city streets filled with cyclists pedaling through the smog. But what do they do as soon as they can afford a car? They buy one.

  • rc21

    pln, nobody really wants to face these facts. Also lets not forget India They may someday equal China for the amount of pollution they contribute to the enviroment.

  • plnelson

    pln, nobody really wants to face these facts. Also lets not forget India They may someday equal China for the amount of pollution they contribute to the enviroment.

    Exactly. I lay out the facts, the numbers, the reality of the situation and notice that no one in the discussion addresses them. Infact it’s been 2 days since your post and no one has responded to either one of our comments!

    Business Week Magazine just ran a report on how car companies the world over are racing to produce good quality but INEXPENSIVE cars. Several Chinese companies are producing decent cars for $5000. Recently Renault came out with a car called the Logan for $7000 aimed at th eastern European market but it’s been a runaway best seller in western Europe, too. And Tata Motors in India is coming out with a $3000 car that they hope to get down to $2500!

    Granted these cars are smaller and have smaller engines than what we’re used to, so they are more fuel-efficient, but due to their low price they dramatically expand the number of car owners in those countries, way more than making up for their higher-fuel economy. Furthermore they help to create a car culture there that will reinforce the whole idea of car-ownership. China already has almost as many miles of interstate highway as the US. They’re mostly empty now but they’ll be filled up soon.

    As I said above, I don’t know why I bother to post all these facts and information. The people who disagree with me aren’t interested in facts and numbers. They think that that riding their bicycle to an Earth Day rally where they all hold hands in a circle and sing ‘Kumbaya’ will lower the ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere.

  • Potter

    PLN- I stopped posting here becuase you are only interested in what you are saying and not my responses. I’ll make a few points and you will pick one thing and think you have made a case. You have not.

    So how affordable are these cars to those living in their respoctive countries?

    It is true that China is creating a huge problem and soo they will be responsible for emitting more GHG than we are. Still you have not given ANY GOOD REASONS why we should not be setting an example trying to prevent catastrophic change and slow change down.

    All I get from you are bad analogies and strawman argument like :

    People don’t choose cars because they got brainwashed by advertising; they choose cars because they offer convenient 24/7 door-to-door transportation that you can use in any weather, day or night, and you can carry lots of stuff and passengers, and don’t have to share your personal space with strangers. Nothing else comes remotely close to this which is why any solution to global warming must accept the automobile, maybe with some futuristic technology, as inevitable.

    At the moment people need cars. What kind of cars they choose depends on government ( regulations,spending on mass transit) car company decisions. How much miles get driven depends on companies locating closer to where their workpool lives, workers living closer to where they work.

    Potter says: Take the expanding “balloon” of GHG, causing climate change, and poke little holes in it all over steadily and the air will at first not increase and then, especially if you keep poking bigger and/or more holes, will decrease.

    It may be that we cannot prevent climate change entirely but we can slow it down or TRY to, make a valiant effort, which will buy time and save a lot of suffering.

    What is trying to happen in terms of the human effort needed to do this is unprecedented in our history. I don’t think we can insist on total cooperation amongst nations on a “proposal”. That seems unrealistc. Look at Kyoto. Still, such efforts as Kyoto should continue as well.

    I can understand pessimism. I prefer not to go there.

    We certainly can’t insist on cooperation if we are not doing our part.

  • plnelson

    Still you have not given ANY GOOD REASONS why we should not be setting an example trying to prevent catastrophic change and slow change down.

    Because no one has provided any strong reason to believe that “setting an example” lowers the ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. It sounds like wishful hinking to me – sort of like the idea that the Iraqi’s would pelt us with flowers for invading them.

    At the moment people need cars. What kind of cars they choose depends on government ( regulations,spending on mass transit) car company decisions. How much miles get driven depends on companies locating closer to where their workpool lives, workers living closer to where they work.

    People choose where to live and they choose where to work, so people are making what is, for them a reasonable tradeoff. My current company is in a ritzy expensive town but I commute 22 miles from a less ritzy town so I can afford bigger, nicer house on a woodsier lot.

    Ditto with the cars themselves. There are plenty of high-mileage cars on the market – the reason why the big-three oppose tougher CAFE standards is because consumers seem to prefer big cars with big engines. If the people driving Ford Exploders suddenly all switched to Priuses and Civics big-three opposition to CAFE would become irrelevant because their fleet average fuel economy would automatically be better even without CAFE.

    WRT spending on mass transit, once again I implore you to do the math!. Passenger fares on Boston’s MBTA account for only 1/3 of the total operating cost of the system. So the taxpayers are ALREADY funding 2/3 of it! How much should the taxpayers pay? Contrast this with the Interstate Highway system I commute on to work. It’s paid for by gas taxes and is currently running in SURPLUS, i.e., drivers are paying 100% of it and then some.

    Potter says: Take the expanding “balloon” of GHG, causing climate change, and poke little holes in it all over steadily and the air will at first not increase and then, especially if you keep poking bigger and/or more holes, will decrease.

    Again if you really believe this is true then make a prediction about CO2. I’ve made mine: I predict we’ll cross 400 ppm within 10 years and 450 ppm by mid-century.

    I can understand pessimism. I prefer not to go there.

    I go where the facts take me.

  • rc21

    Potter what would you have developing countries like India and China do.

    We have entered the age of global economy so these emerging countries are gaining jobs for their population, As the population gains wealth it is only inevitable that they are going to want to spend their new found wealth on goods and services. Wheather it is cars, air conditioning,new and improved homes,new clothes etc it doesn’t matter, any thing and everything is going to require resources and energy to fill the needs of the new consumer.

    I think all pln is saying is this; Our small efforts in controlling pollution are microscopic and acomplish virtually nothing in controlling pollution when you compare it to the incredible amount of pollution that is going to be generated in the next few generations by these and other countries, All you and others are really doing is making your selves feel good and in the mean time you are going to raise my tax bill to pay for new government mandated programs that are basically useless.

    I think we would be better off spending our time and resources figuring out a way to live and thrive in a world that will have the amount of pollution that pln predicts. I don’t think he is far off.

    And if you think for a moment these emerging countries are going to slow down their production levels because the environmentilists in the USA tell them to, your dreaming. We all want a world with little or no pollution some of us have come to the realization that it just aint gonna happen.

  • plnelson

    The Economist magazine reports that least year alone China increased its electrical power output by an amount equal to that of California (a place which, if it were a country, would have the 6th or 7th biggest GDP on earth) and almost all of it was from coal.

    That’s just one year, and it’s just China. So if Potter or anyone else thinks that the impact of that can be balanced out by a few well-meaning grass-roots efforts by the green crowd then they just aren’t looking at the numbers.

    We’ve had several environment topics here on ROS and I feel like always the last one standing. As an environmentalist myself it’s very frustrating, because it illustrates why we can’t make any real progress on this issue. It’s almost impossible to get the “green” and “progressive” crowd to ENGAGE on these issues. They lose interest as soon as you start trotting out facts and numbers.

    I’m an engineer with a science background so I’m comfortable with science and numbers. Most of the greenies and liberals seem to come from humanities or social science backgrounds and numbers and hard science scare them off. But the environment is a relentlessly hard-science and numbers topic! In the end it comes down to numbers, science, engineering and other hard topics. That’s where the problems are and that’s where the solutions must be and no amount of wishful thinking and closing our eyes and hoping it all goes away because they “prefer not to go there” can change that.

  • Potter

    I can’t write a long answer at the moment but PLN says: “As an environmentalist myself it’s very frustrating, because it illustrates why we can’t make any real progress on this issue.”

    What does your environmentalism about? What do your propose ( beyond coming up with a plan that a priori can be agreed upon and proven to work-which to me is also fantasizing). Is RC21 correct in his characterization of what you are saying?

    By the way it’s a total mischaracterization of what I am saying to say “So if Potter or anyone else thinks that the impact of that can be balanced out by a few well-meaning grass-roots efforts by the green crowd then they just aren’t looking at the numbers.” That is why it’s frustrating to argue with you.

  • Potter

    Sorry for how that reads-

  • plnelson

    What does your environmentalism about?

    Preservation of as much habitat as possible in temperate climates, where we still have a fighting chance, protecting rainforest habitat, which is still a perfectly achievable goal (you can lose a lot of rainforest but still have enough left to maintain species diversity), restoring ocean fish stocks, protecting estuaries and wetlands, reducing the emission of toxics into the air and water, protecting species of migratory birds and bats, etc. Not only are these achievable goals but unlike CO2 emissions we have actually made POSITIVE progress in many of them in recent years!

    The hard part is triaging. There are some species and habitats that are probably goners and we need to recognize that and concentrate on the things that CAN be saved. From a PR standpoint people get very wrapped up in the fate of certain charismatic megafauna even though less glamorous species and habitats might be more important ecologically.

    The reason why I keep harping on ppm CO2 is because triaging requires that we know how to best spend our limited resources. Environmentalism has limited money and limited political capital and we have to use it intelligently. If we go to 450 ppm CO2 in 50 years, as I think we will, then the hope of saving certain arctic species and habitats, not to mention certain marine ones, is virtually nil so we should be applying our scarce resources to other problems. People keep forgetting that high atmospheric CO2 is not just a threat via global warming but also a threat to marine life due to dropping pH.

    Environmental policy and decisions are essentially technical and scientific so it’s disingenuous for people to say they care about the environment if they aren’t willing to grapple with the science and numbers. That’s like saying that they car about their kids’ education but they don’t know what subjects they’re studying, what their grades are, or how the local school budget is being spent.

  • arttua

    PLN, I found it hard to respond to your dismissing attitude towords possible changes in life style. As an environmentalist you don’t think mass transit should be free let alone subsidized. You won’t consider driving 55. I have found that bicycles are as fast as cars in alot of cases. I have been commuting by bicycle for over 20 years, year round. -10F was the coldest I rode in this past winter, every year it gets easier as it gets warmer. The snow is not a problem at all, there are studded tires and chains available for bicycles, but I find the need extremely rare. I often carry 40# on my bicycle, if more than that my bicycle trailer is rated for 100#, and yeah, I’ve exceeded that. Perhaps the funniest was when I took an old toilet to the dump, a car stop to photograph that one.

    Ivan Illich in his essay “Energy and Equity” says that the average car speed is 5mph after considering all the time spent working to pay for it, the gas, the insurance, the repairs, parking, tickets. “Beyond a critcal speed, no one can save time without forcing another to lose it.” idbid But of more serious concern is do we want to feed people or feed cars? The world is at peak oil. China has recently become a net importer of food. The US and other countries are now in race to produce ethanol and biodiesel. Sumatra is being felled and burned to make way for palm oil plantaions for biodiesel, say good bye to the orangatang. These is a crazy time we are living in and we need crazy solutions!

  • plnelson

    I have found that bicycles are as fast as cars in alot of cases. I have been commuting by bicycle for over 20 years, year round. -10F was the coldest I rode in this past winter, every year it gets easier as it gets warmer. The snow is not a problem at all, there are studded tires and chains available for bicycles, but I find the need extremely rare. I often carry 40# on my bicycle,

    Why is what you do WRT to bicycles relevant to this topic? You sound like someone with a fanatical commitment. Fanatics are not representative. I used to chair my town government’s solid-waste and recycling committee. Our state had a mandate for town’s to recycle 25% of their solid waste and we were only up to 18%. I PERSONALLY had no trouble recycling 70% of the my solid waste, but I’m a fanatic. Ordinary people don’t want to be bothered and eventually the state backed off of their target.

    As I said above, in places like China where bicycles have been king for generations, bicycles owners who can afford cars ditch their bikes as soon as they come home from the car dealership. So what’s your point?

    Ivan Illich in his essay “Energy and Equity” says that the average car speed is 5mph after considering all the time spent working to pay for it, the gas, the insurance, the repairs, parking, tickets.

    Again, who cares what Ivan Illich says? People don’t see things the way Ivan does. People the world over LIKE cars. More and more of them are being built and bought. Get over it. Deal with it. It’s a fact and you can’t change it.

    The US and other countries are now in race to produce ethanol and biodiesel. Sumatra is being felled and burned to make way for palm oil plantaions for biodiesel, say good bye to the orangatang. These is a crazy time we are living in and we need crazy solutions!

    It doesn’t matter how crazy or rational a solution is if no one adopts it. What’s your prediction about CO2 levels in the next 5 or 6 decades?

  • plnelson

    One of my complaints in these discussions is that people who disagree with me don’t grasp the numbers showing the sheer SCALE of the problem. Here are some more numbers: Michael Shermer in Scientific American cites a study showing that even if we REDUCE CO2 emissions by 70% by 2050 temperatures will still increase 2-9 degrees C by 2100 because there’s already so much CO2 in the atmosphere.

  • Potter

    PLN- I really do not think we disagree. I agree that we all can’t ride bicycles and we are organized for the car. What I am saying is that a lot of little gestures, perhaps what you disparage and call meaningless, that do add up and are important. And kumbaya IS important- getting people to pay attention and feel a part of the effort. That keys into the decisions that people make when they buy a house or choose a car or vote. People have to feel that they are helping. I believe I help when I recycle, save up my trips out, compost, take my own bags to the market, buy local….

    The sheer numbers are discouraging- but as catastrophic change starts happening people and their governments ( local and foreign included) will start paying attention more and more- they will have to- and doing things. Minds will be set to solving these problems.

    The NYTimes reported the Mayor of New York has announced an ambitious 100 point “green” plan/vision for the city which includes limiting cars, planting trees, cleaning up pollution, offer enticement for building more energy efficient buildings etc.

    NYC Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability

    I have not looked into how may other cities and towns are doing this, other things and more. These things add up.

    We might not stop change, but we can stall it while we rearrange our lives little by little, find other ways to heat our houses, other forms of transportation or ways to power our cars.

    PS – I like your plan.

  • Potter

    Addendum- about bicycles and Artua’s post. Anyone who can and is using a bicycle when they might otherwise have been using a car is helping. As well they are keeping in shape and healthy- less trips to the Dr.!

  • plnelson

    These things add up.

    Asserting they add up is not the same thing as producing the data that they add up in any meaningful way. Bloomberg wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in NYC 30%. He’s already getting pushback from business leaders and resistance in Albany and it’s not even law yet. If past experience is any guide he’s unlikely to meet his goal. He says he basing it on Livingston’s model and Livingston has turned his city into one of the most expensive, congested, unlivable cities in the EU. And as i noted above, even a 50% reduction WORLDWIDE won’t stall global warming, so how much will a 30% reduction in one city have? (evn if he achieves it).

    as catastrophic change starts happening people and their governments ( local and foreign included) will start paying attention more and more- they will have to- and doing things. Minds will be set to solving these problems.

    But again, this is just an assertion devoid of any supporting evidence! Minds are already set to solving these problems and BILIONS of dollars in R&D are being spent but these are hard problems because those minds can do the math!

    In reality, climate change is a very gradual process. In a few decades the climate in Lexington Massachusetss will start to resemble that of central New Jersey and after a generation or three it might be more like Maryland. I can grow Georgia Jet sweet potatoes in my garden in central Massachusetts now, and I couldn’t do that 30 years ago. The growing season in New England has increased about 12 days in the last 100 years. Hardiness zones are creeping northward.

    I don’t know what “catastrophic change” you’re anticipating – there’s unlikely to be one. If there is it will be in the form of some small island in the Pacific having to get evacuated – this will be a smaller scale than Darfur and THAT hasn’t caused global policy change.

    Large parts of Florida may eventually end up under water but that won’t be until next century by which time we’ll have 500+ ppm CO2 and will already be cutting back because we’ll have used up most of the readily-accessible fossil fuels.

    My invitation to make a CO2 prediction still stands.

  • Potter

    Regarding your response to the Bloomberg plan notice how you focus on the negative. If past experience is any guide he’s unlikely to meet his goal. Are you playing skeptic for the game of it?

    What if cities all over the world each had a plan-plans that improved on the first ones?

    Where does your assertion that a 50% reduction worldwide won’t stall climate change come from? (Do you mean the 70% Shermer assertion from your above post?)

    (I wonder if you have read Elizabeth Kolberts series in the New York magazine regarding catastrophic change.)

    If melt occurs such that one small island in the Pacific gets submerged do you think that it would be a lone incident? Stretches credulity. We have been on a few small islands (populated motus) in the south pacific that I would bet would go down in unison- and there are thousands of them. How about coastlines? What about weather patterns changing? Australia’s current disastrous drought and pending catastrophe?

    The fact that you are noticing climate change is alarming and proves the opposite of your assertion because when we talk about the history of change in climate it’s normally in geologic time. What if the changes in central MA ( if your assertion is correct-do you have a reference that this is not normal variation?) causes the Midwest to dry up?

    Dire Warming

    (By the way I am in central MA and I would not plant anything perennial out of my old hardiness zone yet even though you make my point. If you think your hardiness zone has changed beyond normal variation you are talking about the beginnings of catastrophic change).

    Large parts of Florida may eventually end up under water but that won’t be until next century by which time we’ll have 500+ ppm CO2 and will already be cutting back because we’ll have used up most of the readily-accessible fossil fuels.

    That is another assertion. Where is this predicted not to start happening sooner than that?. And before that happens will there be breakthroughs in technology (for instance hydrogen fuel)?

    PLN: This is not a discussion about what I would like to see – I’m making a prediction about what will actually happen in concrete, measurable, testable reality. Right now we are at 383 ppm CO2. In the 1980’s we were around 340, in 1950 we were around 300, in Ben Franklin’s day we were around 280.

    In the next few years we will blow through 400 ppm like a Ford Explorer through a lawn sprinkler. I’m predicting humans will see 450 and probably 500 ppm LONG before we ever see 350 again.

    Part of your contribution to this discussion’s has been to disparage small individual acts. I object to that- it exerts a drag. I agree people should not think that saving plastic bags are going to do the trick but I disagree that we all can’t make a difference in the way we lead our daily lives and in the choices we make across the board- big and small. You seem to be saying that it’s useless to try to slow the rate of increase down or aim for a stall.

    As well it’s contradictory to predict that since the rate of increase in CO2 is accelerating and will continue to no matter what we do ( an assertion) that catastrophic change will nevertheless happen gradually? And how can you say that if that happens it will not have any strong effects on our behavior?

  • Potter

    The Elizabeth Kolbert series is in the New Yorker Magazine and online, highly recommended:

    http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/04/25/050425fa_fact3

  • Potter

    If it is true that though China has the highest growth rate in CO2 emissions at the moment and that per person they are still below the global average, AND that the US and Europe EACH contribute more that 25% of accumulated global emissions of CO2, then the US and Europe need to step up their efforts drastically and thereby can make a difference. Since much of the problem is so concentrated in areas where there is stable goverment and mass media it suggests that mass concern/activism leading to action can produce a meaningful effect.

    http://www.csiro.au/news/ps2im.html

  • Potter

    Conservation May Limit Global Warming

    The article says that by 2010 ( that’s in three years) there may be as many as 50 million environmental refugees and urges preparation for international emergency response.

  • Potter

    PLN says: But the environment is a relentlessly hard-science and numbers topic! In the end it comes down to numbers, science, engineering and other hard topics. That’s where the problems are and that’s where the solutions must be and no amount of wishful thinking and closing our eyes and hoping it all goes away because they “prefer not to go there” can change that.

    In the end it’s what adds up to the collective will. Scientists have the numbers and can identify the problems, engineers can come up with solutions to problems but not if they are pessimists. My “prefer not to go there” is not about not recognizing the numbers or the enormity of the problems, but about pessimism, negativity, the condescension towards green movements and the the belittling of the effect of a million small efforts:

    I’m an engineer with a science background so I’m comfortable with science and numbers. Most of the greenies and liberals seem to come from humanities or social science backgrounds and numbers and hard science scare them off.

  • Potter

    ( continued )

    It’s the “greenies” the composed to the activist, and the “liberals from the humanities or social science backgrounds” who get the message out, who are the journalists who write the articles (ie such as the influential Kolbert series ), who start organizations like NDRC, Ocean Conservancy, Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense etc etc- that educate and mobilize the general public and lobby congress. Scientists and engineers ( with some exceptions) don’t go out there and fight battles like that by and large that is not their job.

  • plnelson

    If it is true that though China has the highest growth rate in CO2 emissions at the moment and that per person they are still below the global average,

    I think your data is old. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the IEA says that China will pass the US within the year on total CO2 output. The previous projection was that they wouldn’t pass us until 2010 but their economic growth rate moved things up.

  • plnelson

    The article says that by 2010 ( that’s in three years) there may be as many as 50 million environmental refugees and urges preparation for international emergency response.

    But they don’t say what they’re counting as an “environmental refugee” or what an average number of environmental refugees is using their reckoning. For example, droughts and floods happen routinely all over the world. Every year for all of its history Bangladesh has millions of people driven out of their homes by flooding. Hurricanes Rita and Katrina created lots of refugees. The deserts in North Africa (Sahara, etc) have been growing for thousands of years, each year creating new refugees. So the only meaningful number is the INCREASE in environmental refugees which I suspect is a lot smaller than 50 million.

    But in any case, what’s your point? We don’t disagree that global warming will cause all kinds of problems. We disagree about whether anything substantial will be done about it. I say it won’t and we need to concentrate our limited energy and resources in mitigating its impact.

    The article you quoted advocates a ban on new coal fired plants. China derives the vast majority of its energy from coal, which it has in abundance. So there is simply no way they’re going to not keep building them . Greenies telling China to not build coal-burning plants is a perfect example of why I say they’re totally out of touch with reality.

  • plnelson

    and the the belittling of the effect of a million small efforts:

    If you really think that those efforts add up to something substantial then why won’t you commit yourself to a prediction about their results? Do you really, in your heart-of-hearts believe that those million small efforts actually WILL (not “could” or “might” if the stars align and “if” major governments sign up, but actually really and truly WILL) make any significant difference by 2050? I’ll define “significant” as CO2 staying below 425 ppm, which is still 40 ppm higher than today. I’m predicting 450 by 2050.

  • Potter

    Yes- I believe that growing millions of small medium and large acts WILL make a difference with or without major governments signing up right away to a global plan. We do not have time to wait to agree. Each will do what they can now until then. It’s wrong to hold our environment hostage to some ideal plan/s and agreements that have to contend with politics.

    It’s happening bottom up, from people to cities to states to countries.

    I have to go- back later.

  • Potter

    I suggest checking out the Union of Concerned Scientists Northeast report for their suggestions as to how we can mitigate climate change in our area. There are two paths: high emissions and low emissions and the path we go on can make a difference.

    http://www.climatechoices.org/ne/resources_ne/nereport.html

    Also see and scroll down to “Choices and Solutions:

    The Changing Northeast Climate>/a>

    Also see:

    Reducing Heat Trapping Emissions in the Northeast

    (Check out the bar graph)

  • Potter

    China is denying that it will be top CO2 emitter this year.

    However they are apparently worried and it remains to be seen what they will do as they see more effects from their emissions and the global problem. “A Chinese government report warned of the impact of climate change on the country” according to the BBC a couple of days ago. Don’t forget that they have an authoritarian government and can change things quickly.

    (my bold):

    Though that gap could widen considerably in the coming years, he [Birol of IEA,Paris- International Energy Agency] said per capita emissions from China still remained well below those of the US and other developed countries.

    But he warned that both China and India – another fast-developing nation – needed to be involved in global efforts to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, otherwise there would be “no chance the climate change fight can be won”.

    He also said slowing China’s growth was not the answer to curbing high greenhouse gas emissions – rather it needed a change of approach to energy production.

    “China is a developing country and it needs growth,” he said. “The question is what kind of energy and policies will be used in order to get that high level of economic growth.

    “If they were to use much more sustainable policies and energy efficiency it would be good both for China’s economy and for the climate change issue.”

    China is heavily reliant on highly polluting coal for its energy, and mines far more coal than any other country.

    While the Chinese government has pledged to try to develop alternative energy sources, it says wealthy nations are the most to blame for high gas emissions.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6587493.stm

    We should stop pointing at China and India and deal with our own wild emissions garden. Until we start do that we have no credibility.

    China’s policy is volatile and changeable:

    China to Share Burden

  • Potter

    Sorry the first should be a link:

    China is Denying…

  • Potter

    I highly recommend watching this Frontline program available online:

    HotPolitics

    It starts with the warnings on climate change that our government had back in 1988 under GHW Bush and goes through the Clinton years to the current GW Bush administration (the worst of all). This is a long a parade of what I can only characterize (in my anger) as evil-doers making evil decisions, evil in the sense of acting out of pure self interest and to hell with everything else at stake. This is accomplished through outright denial, censorship, partisan politics, caving to special interests, you name it. So here we are no longer able to deny what we knew 20 years ago and did not a thing about waiting on China and India………. ( please hear Jessica Matthews interviewed on that)

    There are a few heroes that appear in this documentary. And then there are the cowards that would not appear.

  • plnelson

    We should stop pointing at China and India and deal with our own wild emissions garden. Until we start do that we have no credibility.

    They key word in the above is “should”. Ultimately what people or nations “should” do has no effect on the global climate.

    What affects the global climate is what they actually DO do. What I’m saying is that based on the basic science of global warming – the amount of CO2 being emitted, and its sources, the amount of methane being emitted, the changes that have already been set in motion (falling global albedo due to faster melting, permafrost melting and self-composting), plus my engineer’s understanding of available technology plus proposed/discussed technology for the coming decades, I don’t see any likely prospect that anything we will actually DO will come close to slowing this thing dowm, nevermind halting it.

    It’s like trying to stop a runaway freight train. The tax credits and wool cardigans of the Carter Administration were like throwing an ant onto the tracks. Kyoto and the EU 20/20 plan and Bloomberg’s Livingstonization of NYC altogether are like throwing a skunk onto the tracks – it’s no fun for the skunk but he suffers for nothing because it STILL has no real effect.

    If everybody in America gave up their car – something emotionally equivalent to throwing the family golden retriever onto the tracks – our suffering would produce only the tiniest impact (like the dog) because that’s still only a tiny contribution to world CO2. For years in northern China they have had ongoing coal-mine fires that, together, consume an estimated 200 million tons of coal a year, producing about the same amount of CO2 as all the cars and light trucks in the US.

  • Potter

    from the IEA press release 2/07:

    The IEA’s emissions projections to 2050, in a business-as-usual scenario, are consistent with the IPCC scenario leading to a global average temperature increase of 1.7 to 4.4oC, with a best estimate at 2.8oC. Energy-related CO2 emissions remain the core issue. The IEA estimates that under current policies, global emissions will increase 50% by 2030 and more than double by 2050. However, if we act now, this unsustainable and dangerous pattern can be curved. IEA findings also show that emissions could be returned to current levels by 2050 and even reduced thereafter, while an ever-growing demand for energy services, notably in developing countries, will be fully satisfied.

    http://www.iea.org/Textbase/press/pressdetail.asp?PRESS_REL_ID=201

    plnelson says: I think your data is old. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the IEA says that China will pass the US within the year on total CO2 output. The previous projection was that they wouldn’t pass us until 2010 but their economic growth rate moved things up.

    This is what I found: ONE person’s projection at the IEA:

    China may overtake the United States as the world’s biggest source of greenhouse gases within months, one of the world’s leading energy analysts predicted on Tuesday.

    Dr Fatih Birol, chief economist of the Paris-based International Energy Agency, said the country’s economic growth had been so fast in 2006 and 2007 that the historic global shift of climate-changing emissions from West to East, which was previously predicted for 2009 or 2010, could now happen by November.

    But these predictions paled into insignificance, said Dr Birol, if China took no measures to restrain emissions. At current rates, he said, it would be emitting twice as much CO2 as the world’s 26 richest countries together within 25 years.

    “[By then] CO2 emissions which come from China alone will be double the CO2 emissions which will come from all the OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries put together — the whole United States, plus Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand” said Birol.

    China has signed up to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, but, as a developing country, it does not have a cap on its emissions. The new prediction that it will become the world’s largest contributor of greenhouse gases this year will add to pressure for it to control emissions after 2012 when the treaty runs out.

    “Without having China on board, no international climate-change policy has any chance of success at all. Without China playing a significant role, all the efforts of every other country will make little sense. It is terribly important.”

    However, Birol accepted that on a per capita basis, people in rich countries still emit far more than individual people in China. US emissions in 2004, the most recent figures available, totalled 5 799-million tonnes of CO2 from 293-million people, compared with China’s 4 732-million tonnes of CO2 between 1 296-million people.

    Historically, China has also contributed little to the present build-up of greenhouse-gas emissions in the atmosphere.

    “By 2030 we calculate each individual in China will emit nearly seven tonnes of CO2 a year, but the average in OECD countries by then will be 13 tonnes,” said Birol

    Here is an article in USAToday that cites the WSJ article:

    http://www.usatoday.com/weather/climate/globalwarming/2007-04-24-china-emissions_N.htm

  • plnelson

    Also see:

    Reducing Heat Trapping Emissions in the Northeast

    (Check out the bar graph)

    The bar graph is from 2001. Things have gotten a LOT worse since then. Our numbers have become higher but despite that, China’s have roughly doubled in the time, as have several other countries. Thus the train is going faster, it’s added a few more (coal) cars, the grade is going downhill.

    BTW, there was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal today about global warming. They said that perhaps as many as 1/4 of the world’s species may become exinct in coming decades as a result. But they noted that some species seem to be evolving to adapt. Apparently leaf-cutter ants in Brazil living in the cities such as Sao Paulo where the heat island effect raises temperatures many degrees over the surrounding countryside have adapted to the higher temperatures and can now survive in hotter conditions than they country cousins.

  • plnelson

    IEA findings also show that emissions could be returned to current levels by 2050 and even reduced thereafter, while an ever-growing demand for energy services, notably in developing countries, will be fully satisfied.

    Specifically they say: “The world energy mix must combine greater energy efficiency improvements with more renewables, more nuclear energy and many more fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage, assuming that technological progress can make these solutions cost-effective and safe.”

    Speaking as an engineer who follows energy technology closely I see no prospect that any of that technology will ramp up far enough to become “cost-effective and safe” and politically palatable. Right now the technology that is the MOST advanced and ready to contribute to a solution is nuclear. But Yucca Mountain is stalled and the state of Nevada is trying to shut it down completely, and the Senate Majority leaders is from … guess where? And under the current Price-Anderson provisions I would certainly resist any attemp to put a nuke in MY neighborhood. All of the other technologies (carbon capture, hydrogen) are still pure pie-in-the-sky.

    So, again, “should”, “could”, “might” have no affect on climate change. I see nothing that will keep us from reaching 450 ppm CO2 by mid-century.

  • Potter

    According to today’s NYTimes CBS poll ( if you look at the pdf of the whole thing) people are getting more and more concerned.

    PLN- I don’t see any likely prospect that anything we will actually DO will come close to slowing this thing dowm, nevermind halting it.

    You differ with the opinions of scientists on the case linked above about what can be done now.

    Regarding the bar graph from USC( Union of Concerned Scientists) regarding emissions in our area, the Northeast in 2001, it shows that this region alone can make a difference ESPECIALLY if it is true that we have made it worse in the last few years. We rank 7th the in world with regard to CO2 emissions. This suggests STILL that it is up to us- see my above post.

    Regarding the damage that already has been set in notion that we have yet to actually feel it is claimed that we can mitigate or stall and FURTHER damage by acting precipitously now.

    From today’s NYTimes on a report to be released:

    Substantial new efforts will be needed worldwide to stem accelerating growth in greenhouse-gas emissions linked to rising global temperatures, according to a summary of a report being prepared by hundreds of climate scientists and economists working under the auspices of the United Nations.

    The summary, which is subject to revision, said that efforts to rein in the billions of tons of annual releases of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases would have to begin soon to limit risks of large changes in the climate and their impact on humans and nature.

    “Mitigation efforts over the next two to three decades will determine to a large extent the long-term global mean temperature increase and the corresponding climate change impacts that can be avoided,” the draft said.

    The document will undergo substantial revisions during a weeklong meeting starting Monday in Bangkok, said scientists involved in reviewing and writing it, and authors of the report declined to discuss specifics.

    Scientists working on the report said that some warming is unavoidable, but prompt action can make a big difference in the end.

    “We can’t be sure of avoiding dangerous climate interference, but it’s true we can identify a lot that can be done now, and over the next few decades, to increase the chances a lot,” said Michael Grubb, an author of the report and chief economist for the Carbon Trust, an organization financed by the British government to help promote cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/27/us/27climate.html?ref=washington

  • Potter

    Ira Flatow ( NPR Science Friday) was broadcasting today from the Genzyme building (a very “green” building) Cambridge MA today. The city has decided to reduce it’s carbon footprint to set an example and perhaps become test ground for new ideas that will spread.

    (Other cities are doing this.)

    Last month the Cambridge Energy Alliance announced the new plan. a “massive” energy efficiency program. The excitement is about getting the local brainpower on board.

    it was noted that 80% of the city’s emissions are from buildings.

    MIT itself has it’s own an energy initiative concentrating on new tech- solar-biofuels storage. A lot of students are passionate the MIT pres., guest on the show, says “It is clear that a portfolio of solutions is necessary”.

    Harvard has “Green Campus Initiative”.

    One of the guests at the end said that there are two kinds of people who “get it”: those who think that nothing can be done and those who think something can be done.

    Listen for the rest…..

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9878790

  • plnelson

    PLN- I don’t see any likely prospect that anything we will actually DO will come close to slowing this thing dowm, nevermind halting it.

    You differ with the opinions of scientists on the case linked above about what can be done now.

    No I don’t. Please note, above, the difference between “can” in your portion, and “do” in mine.

    Anything “can” be done in theory. But we enginners have a saying that the difference between theory and practice is greater in practice than it is in theory. My contention is that nothing actually WILL be done on a scale that will match the problem.

    In your narrow, little liberal world you have a distorted idea of people’s real attitudes about this. Your should have opened up your ears this last winter and heard all the people talking about how nice our mild winter was. As the climate in Massachusetts starts to resemble more and more the mid-Atlantic states this won’t make people into enviro-activists ready to ditch the car and start paying “carbon taxes”. Instead most people will say, “hmmm, I kinda like this!”

    Global warming will cause massive species extinctions, the innundation of low-lying areas, advancing dessertification, etc. These mostly affect poor people, far away. But many Americans and Europeans actually enjoy it. And as the Economist pointed out recently warmer climates have some advantages – On tree farms in Finland they can produce a new tree every 50 years; Brazilian tree farms can produce one every 7 years. French farmers get one grape harvest a year, Brazilians, two.

    You might think that Australia, with its liberal, cosmopolitan population and worst-drought-in-its-history (due to global warming) would be leading the fight against global warming. But care to guess what Australia’s leading export is? It’s not wool. It’s coal.

    All these little grass-roots efforts you cite are too small to amount to more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. And citing an example from The People’s Republic of Cambridge as though it’s likely to influence ordinary people in the rest of the world is unrealistic. You way overestimate both their impact and the political support that will exist for more stringent efforts.

    You have not presented one single shred of evidence that my prediction of 450 ppm CO2 is likely to be wrong.

  • plnelson

    BTW, just so you know – my prediction of 450 ppm CO2 by mid-century is based on the assumption that we institute at least SOME significant curbs on CO2 emissions – much MORE than the sort Potter is talking about! Many climate scientists think there is a very real possibility that we could be around 500 ppm CO2 by then. So anyone who thinks I’m being the pessimist in this conversation isn’t following the science – my 450 ppm prediction is regarded as being optimistic.

    BTW, just to give you an idea of what 500 ppm means – the last time we had 500 ppm there were crocodiles in Greenland and pine trees growing in Antarctica. The earth’s surface and especially the oceans, are a huge thermal mass so 500 ppm wouldn’t instantly turn it that warm, but it would get there over time. And remember, once you put CO2 INTO the atmosphere you can’t easily take it out again. Roughly haslf the CO2 you breathe out today will still be in the atmosphere in 100 years.

    I’m lucky to work in a company with a good scientific research library so I can read the scientific literature. But there are also excellent magazines for the reasonably well-educated general reader – Scientific American, Science News, and New Scientist – that discuss climate science and the kind of efforts needed to address global warming. These are much better than mainstream media such as NPR or New York Times at explaining the science and the numbers, and, IMO, everyone should subscribe to and read at least one of them.

  • plnelson

    I wrote there are also excellent magazines for the reasonably well-educated general reader – Scientific American, Science News, and New Scientist – that discuss climate science and the kind of efforts needed to address global warming. These are much better than mainstream media such as NPR or New York Times at explaining the science and the numbers, and, IMO, everyone should subscribe to and read at least one of them.

    I should make it clear that I think all three of these magazines are excellent ways of staying informed about science in general – they are entertaining, well-written, and cover a wide range of topics. They can be understood by any reasonably literate person with a grasp of basic high-school physics, chemistry and biology.

    We live in a world where no one can consider himself a a well-informed citizen if he is not informed about science. You can hardly open a newspaper (remember newspapers?) without seeing articles on climate, health and nutrition, stem-cells, DNA testing, new energy technologies, astronomy and planetary science, genetically-engineered plants and animals, and so forth. I read all three of the above magazines and I subscribe to SciAm. If you can’t afford to subscribe, most libraries have Science News and Scientific Americans – New Scientist is British and a little harder to find.

  • Potter

    Biotech firms sprint to cut ethanol’s cost : Two in Cambridge among many seeking practical ways to make the clean-burning alternative fuel

    If the car of the future runs on old cornstalks and scraps of sugarcane, you might be able to thank a group of executives sitting eight stories above the Charles River.

    That’s where energy-industry veteran Carlos Riva presides over Celunol Corp. , one of a host of new companies racing to turn farm waste into potent, clean-burning ethanol .

    It might seem unlikely that the fuel industry and big agriculture, two goliaths of the red-state American economy, would intersect at a conference table overlooking CambridgeSide Galleria. But increasingly, energy analysts say, the next major shift in American energy is likely to come from high-tech science being developed in places like Cambridge.

    “Historically, energy companies were located near the energy supply. You had oil companies in Houston, coal companies where they get the coal. I think what we’re going to see now is almost a new type of company emerge — an energy innovation company,” says Jeff Andrews , a venture capitalist with Atlas Venture of Waltham, which invests in several “cleantech” firms.

    Recently, privately held Celunol said it would merge with Diversa Corp., a public California firm, creating a 240-person national company. Diversa will buy Celunol for $115 million in stock, but the resulting company will be run by Celunol’s executives in Cambridge.

    Several competitors, including East Cambridge neighbor Mascoma Corp. , are jostling with Celunol to be the first to prove a new idea: that by using biotechnology, they can make affordable ethanol from something besides ears of corn.

    They’re all trying to solve a stubborn problem that vexes advocates for so-called biofuels, or fuel made by growing plants rather than drilling for oil. American ethanol, the most important domestic biofuel, comes from corn, and there’s a limit to how much corn American farmland can produce. Currently just a tiny percentage of US automobile fuel comes from ethanol, and it can’t get much higher without interfering with the food supply.

    “If you want to get to energy independence, you’re not going to get there from corn,” says Samir Kaul of Khosla Ventures , a firm that has invested in both Mascoma and Celunol.

    Better than using corn, say Kaul and others, would be to make ethanol from more profuse plant matter — cornstalks, extra woodchips, even grasses such as switchgrass.

    The phrase for that plant matter, cellulosic biomass, doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But if fuel can eventually be made from the junk parts of plants, “it really shifts the equation dramatically,” says John Preston, a technology investor and MIT lecturer.

    In February, Celunol broke ground on a pioneering new fuel plant in Louisiana to make ethanol out of bagasse, the residue left after sugarcane is pressed. Mascoma is building a $30 million plant in upstate New York to make ethanol from wood chips. A plant in Iowa is being built to make it from corn cobs and stalks. All of them are trying to set the course for the next wave of biofuel.

    And further down the line, they hope to apply genetic engineering more broadly to the process. Celunol, for instance, has developed a new form of sugarcane called energy cane, an inedible plant with ultra-high quantities of cellulose.

    “There’s no crusty old man of biofuels saying, ‘This is how it’s done,’ ” says Celunol chief Riva. “We’re making it up as we go along.”

  • Potter

    Recruiting Plankton to Fight Global Warming

    It begins:

    SAN FRANCISCO: Can plankton help save the planet?

    Some Silicon Valley technocrats are betting that it just might. In an effort to ameliorate the effects of global warming, several groups are working on ventures to grow massive floating fields of plankton intended to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and carry it to the depths of the ocean. It is an idea, debated by experts for years, that still sounds like science fiction — and some scholars think that is where it belongs.

    But even though many questions remain unanswered, the first commercial project is scheduled to get underway in May when the WeatherBird II, a 115-foot research vessel, heads out from its dock in Florida to the Galapagos and the South Pacific.

    The ship plans to dissolve tons of iron, an essential plankton nutrient, over a 10,000-square-kilometer patch. That’s equivalent to 2.47 million acres (3,861 square miles on land or 2,912 nautical square miles). When the trace iron prompts growth and reproduction of the tiny organism, scientists on the WeatherBird II plan to measure how much carbon dioxide the plankton ingests.

    The idea is similar to planting forests full of carbon-inhaling trees, but in desolate stretches of ocean. “This is organic gardening, not rocket science,” said Russ George, the chief executive of Planktos, the company behind the WeatherBird II project. “Can it possibly be as easy as we say it is? We’re about to find out.”

  • Potter

    PLN said: Regarding If every SUV driver in America switched to a Prius the effect on total atmospheric CO2 would be too small to measure.

    Potter said/asked but no response: I’d like a confirmation of that before I take it as a fact.

    Where do these “facts” come from??

    RC21/PLN agrees: In other words we need the poor countries of the world to stay poor,

    Sez who? No way to relieve poverty without destroying the environment? without putting more CO2 into the atmosphere?

    An engineer looks at such problems as unsolvable?

    We live in an interconnected world, PLN’s prescription is that we become even MORE interconnected. We are. What they do in China to grow their crops and feed their animals for instance (see today’s news, front page NYTimes) has it’s immediate effects here. So too how China chokes on pollution producing goods for us and others ( BBC report this AM). We pushed our pollution from our factories to them! How will they respond? What happens in the Middle East or Africa makes a difference in our lives here in New England especially in the price of fuel. Religious and tribal wars and regional hegemony are more important than pumping oil now. People are getting the connection of oil to war, to environment despite PLN’s condescension as to their intelligence or will.

    Those living in temperate zones may like the warmer weather but they will be feeling other effects of warming, perhaps drought or excessive rain, different weather patterns the rise in the cost of everything we import. If the south gets bearable populations may move north. The Midwest and the West may not be able to produce the food we rely on.

    PLnelson: In your narrow, little liberal world you have a distorted idea of people’s real attitudes about this.

    But we enginners have a saying…..My contention is that nothing actually WILL be done on a scale that will match the problem…

    bc111: Someone may have the personal satisfaction of seeing his or her prediction about CO2 levels bourne out. Beyond that private satisfaction, projecting trends gives us information. The value of that comes from it allowing us to make better choices.

    I suppose pessimism has it’s uses but it’s the spirit of the engineers and scientists in my above posts along with the increasing concern the rest of us ( see polls) due to increasing visible effects and effects in our daily lives that will save the planet from catastrophe if it can be done. We will not be saved from the worst coming at us fast by the pessimism of the sci-mag readers in their cubbies blowing pessimistic predictions while disparaging activist folks as “kumbayah” for their “liberalism” or their “enviromentalism”. PLN of course knew years ago about this while the rest of us ( he thinks) did not, just as we did not know as he did that Iraq was a mistake.

  • Potter

    That should read “If the south gets UNbearable populations may move north. The Midwest and the West may not be able to produce the food we rely on”

    While I am here- Can someone refer me to an authoritative article anywhere that says that no matter what we do we cannot slow down or stall climate change? Can anyone point me to an article that says that changing the way we fuel our vehicles will have no measurable effect?

  • plnelson

    Potter said/asked but no response: I’d like a confirmation of that before I take it as a fact.

    No problem. UC Davis “Quantifying the benefits of hybrid vehicles – Report prepared for CSAA” (Turrentine, Delucchi. et al) quotes total emissions from US light cars and trucks as approx 1000 million metric tons -expected to rise to 1273 by 2010). According to the EU’s energy office total world output is currently (2005) 10500 million metric tons and at its current rate of increase (~5% p.a.) that makes the total US car and light truck fleet about 3 year’s worth of the increase. I.e, if no one in the US started their car for a year total world CO2 production would catch up in 3 years. Furthermore, during that time TOTAL atmospheric CO2 would continue to INCREASE because in total the world produces about 3X what the environment can absorb.

  • plnelson

    While I am here- Can someone refer me to an authoritative article anywhere that says that no matter what we do we cannot slow down or stall climate change? Can anyone point me to an article that says that changing the way we fuel our vehicles will have no measurable effect?

    Anything can be measured. I’m saying it won’t have a significant effect, meaning that it won’t alter the overall impact of global warming, species extinction, islands disappearing, etc. If you do something drastic and manage to postpone the date that Miami disappears under the waves or the last polar bear dies by three years is it worth it?

    Look: the math isn’t rocket science. There is plenty of data from the EPA, the DOE, the EU, various college and university research programs etc on CO2 emissions from various sources. Just keep in mind that TOTAL world emissions have to be cut to somewhere around 1/4 of their current levels to get to break-even; ie., so the natural environment can absorb enough CO2 so the total CO2 in the atmosphere won’t keep going up.

    The other thing to watch out for that trips everyone up is carbon versus carbon dioxide. The atomic mass of carbon is 12, oxygen is 16. So CO2 is 44 i.e., (12 + (2*16)). So when someone says how many millions of metric tons this or that will save, make sure you know whether they mean tons of C or CO2.

    You’re looking for some simple answer from someone you can trust. It doesn’t exist. These are complex problems where the science is still in flux and and there are lots of political and technological uncertainties about what can be done and what people are willing to pay or support. You have to absorb the data and think for yourself based on the numbers. It’s no different than planning whether you have enough saved for retirement. You get out your calculator, get the numbers, make resonable estimates of next year and the year after, etc, and let the numbers tell the story.

    But I can tell you that the consensus of expert opinion among scientists is that if we take far more stringent efforts than the “green” programs of places like California and Europe’s 20/20 plan AND we manage to get some modest commitments from India and China we can hold mid-century CO2 to 450 ppm. That’s why I regard myself among the optimists. 450 ppm will still involve massive global warming, species extinction, etc, just not as bad as 500 ppm, which would be higher CO2 concentrations than we’ve seen in 30 million years.

  • plnelson

    If the south gets unbearable populations may move north.

    The south won’t get unbearable. People live happily on the equator.

    Furthermore the biggest temperature changes from global warming occur at the poles – the farther from the poles you get the smaller the changes are. Anyway, humans evolved in warm climates and many great civilizations grew up in warm climates. People in parts of Florida might have to leave if sea levels rise a lot but probably not as a result of the heat.

    The other thing your’re not taking into account is the sheer momentum of this thing – if we get to the point where the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets start sliding off bigtime – say at 500 ppm, then it’s too late to do anything anyway. At that point you’ve already put so much CO2 into the atmosphere that if you just plain stopped altogether – no fossil fuels whatsoever – everyone just sits on the ground and breathes quietly until they starve – it would still take CENTURIES for that CO2 to get absorbed again.

    A current theory about how the Eocene got started was that for about 10,000 years a bunch of volcanoes in what is now North America dumped about 2000 GT of carbon into the atmosphere. This set off a series of climate changes that lasted for 10′s of millions of years. Once you set this stuff in motion you reach a point where there’s no brake or reverse gear. (See the current issue of the journal Science (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/316/5824/527)

  • Potter

    PLN: You’re looking for some simple answer from someone you can trust. It doesn’t exist.

    Where do you read that in my posts?

    These are complex problems where the science is still in flux and and there are lots of political and technological uncertainties about what can be done and what people are willing to pay or support.

    But people are working at it- all levels. Unfortunately the Bush Administration has been working with the energy producing companies to resist and deny. A treason and crime even larger than taking us to war under false pretences is this denial, this wasted time on a matter of much higher strategic concern than Iraq. (Did you say you voted for Bush TWICE?- Yet you have the chutzpah complain about liberals and the Birkenstock crowd with their hemp bags… unbelievable!).

    The scientists and engineers (I assume not you) are on the case. It’s this administration that is costing the planet as it plays chicken with China. Where are our proposals, where is US leadership after objection to the Kyoto protocol?

    PLN: “The south won’t get unbearable. People live happily on the equator.

    Furthermore the biggest temperature changes from global warming occur at the poles – the farther from the poles you get the smaller the changes are..”

    What about New Orleans and Bangladesh? Australia? What about small islands everywhere? This is happening right now. It’s not only about temperature- it’s about flood and drought.

    Regarding your advice for everyone to go to the library and read sci-mags- LOL. But I agree people need to be more informed, even alarmed. (BTW we subscribed to Science news for 20 years! I even read it.)

    It’s the main stream media that has to get the story out. The LIBERAL ( progressive) rag “The Nation” has a whole issue out on it this week ( May 7th issue).

  • Potter

    PLN pointed to a report put out by UCDavis quantifying the benefits of Hybrid Vehicles. I am reading it. So far I don’t see any suggestion that switching to hybrid technology will be futile whic is not exactly what PLN said, but one can easily catch his pessimism based on what he chooses to repeat here from what he has read.

    http://pubs.its.ucdavis.edu/publication_detail.php?id=1055

    The report begins:

    ….. HEVs are making an impact beyond their incipient number, primarily by being the first “green” cars on the market and setting a standard of achievement for high fuel economy and low emissions. HEV sales and their halo effect on Toyota and Honda have spurred a contest between automobile makers to supply the latest high-tech, clean, and green technologies. In the California market, hybrids account for 3% of total new light duty vehicles sales, and hybrid sales growth outpaces that of conventional models (Automotive News Data). If this contest is noticed by more car and truck buyers, it may well transform the automotive market, accelerating the introduction of alternative fuels and other electric drive technologies such as plug-in HEVs and full electric vehicles to market.

    In the following sections, we review the problems motor vehicles cause, then describe the varieties of hybrid technologies. Then we analyze what difference HEVs are making right now and can make in the future for our air, water, security, and climate.

  • Potter

    Reading the report….

    Hybrids are estimated to reduce fuel emission by 20-40% (average reduction 35%) page 14 pdf ( 11 of the report) They assume that sales will remain the same in 2010 as in 2006. At that rate .4% of total oil and GHG’s will be saved, 10 tanker ships fewer per year. Reduction of CO2 5.1 million metric tones, each million representing the removal of 179,000 passenger vehicles, equal to 114 million gallons of gasoline (Figures of California Air Resources Board)

    Quote:

    Hybrids are expected to remain a small percentage of sales even in 2010, and because vehicles last so long nowadays, are even a smaller percentage of the over all fleet of vehicles in the US.

    But what if hybrids accounted for more than 1.2% of vehicle miles traveled (34,545 million miles) in 2010? Suppose hybrids accounted for 10% of VMT (289,960 million miles)in 2010.

    First, we would have to change some assumptions; we would have to assume that hybrids were available in all makes and models. 289,960 million miles of VMT (vehicle miles traveled) by the average vehicle mix would equal 14,300 million gallons of gasoline per year. (EIA Supplemental Table 33). With the calculated 35% overall reduction in fuel use per mile in this study, (0.35 times 14,300 million gallons) hybrids would then save just

    over 5,000 million gallons per year. That is 119 large SuezMax tanker ships fewer per year – almost one every three days. If instead of 10%, hybrids accounted for 20% of VMT, fuel savings would double to 10,000 million gallons per year. Total CO2 from cars and small trucks in 2010 is expected to be 1,273 million metric tons. Under our initial assumptions about the size of the HEV fleet, HEVs reduce GHG emissions by 5.1 million metric tons. If hybrids replaced an average mix of vehicle types in the 2010 US fleet of vehicles and accounted for 10% of VMT in 2010, the reduction in GHG would be 42.4 million metric tons, or at sea level on a sunny spring day in California, 5.5 cubic miles of CO2.

    Since each car creates about 8 tons per year of CO2 (USDOE, 2007), thus reducing CO2 by 42 million tons would be similar removing 5 million vehicles from the road. If it takes one mature tree to offset a ton of CO2, reducing CO2 by 42 million tons is like planting and growing to maturity 42 million trees.

  • Potter

    Okay- availability of hybrids are part of the problem. Another is leadership, in the WH and the Congress. One person I read suggested that campaign finance was part of the problem—I agree…ie corruption.

    the authors of the report are hopeful that the availability of these hybrids will increase. They are also hopeful that the older cars still on the road will be driven less and less ( due to their age).

    The authors of the report say:

    If hybrids become 80% of the market by 2030, then we imagine hybrids might account for 50 to 60% of

    total VMT by cars and trucks. Such a scenario could significantly offset petroleum

    imports, reduce CO2

    ( Oh I see PLN sitting in his padded chair saying “But WILL they?” and answering “NO!”)

  • plnelson

    So far I don’t see any suggestion that switching to hybrid technology will be futile

    Define “futile”. As I said, just do the math: If everyone in the US stopped driving completely – something that would obviously never happen – it would only move CO2 emissions back 3 years.

    BTW, more cheery news: It turns out the the global warming models we’ve been using were a little too optimistic. Apparently the rate of melting of Arctic ice is faster than the most pessimistic computer models predicted. Here’s a report from the BBC -

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6610125.stm

    And you know how I’ve been harping on 450 ppm CO2 by mid century? Here’s a report by the BBC that IPCC wanted to set 450 ppm as the maximm safe limit but they got too much pushback from China:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6615025.stm

  • plnelson

    If hybrids become 80% of the market by 2030, then we imagine hybrids might account for 50 to 60% of total VMT by cars and trucks. Such a scenario could significantly offset petroleum imports, reduce CO2

    Notice the use of the term “could”. Not “will” or “might”.

    Why apply a double standard here? The other day the head of the US military in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, said in an NPR interview that our current efforts “could” quell the insurgency. He didn’t say he actually thought it “would” and the reporter couldn’t get any sort of commitment from him. I don’t accept Petraeus’ wishful thinking on Iraq so why should I accept in on CO2 emissions?

    What the hybrid report overlooks is that just because a car is a hybrid doesn’t mean it gets better gas mileage! Most manufacturers have been using hybrid technology to get better PERFORMANCE, not MILEAGE. My wife’s old 4 cylinder conventional Honda Accord gets better mileage than Honda’s hybrid Accord! But the hybrid Accord will go 0-60 in 6.7 seconds.

  • plnelson

    At that rate .4% of total oil and GHG’s will be saved, 10 tanker ships fewer per year.

    As I said – do the math. Worldwide, fossil fuel use is going up approx 4.5% a year. So a reduction of .4% will be erased in about one month.

    If my fingers could get hoarse from repetitive typing they would: I repeat - get a grasp of the numbers! Do the arithmetic yourself and see if the numbers really do support the conclusions you’re quoting us. The CO2 problem is a lot bigger and growing a lot faster than you seem to think.

    How do you plan your retirement savings? Do you just read an article where someone says that if you “could” save $X/year you “could” have enough to live on? Personally, I do the math – I figure out how much I actually AM saving, what ROI I actually AM getting, how much I already have, how long I expect to actually work; I look at the rate of inflation and costs of living, I take into account things that could go wrong and when I’m done I have numbers that I understand and can have some confidence in.

  • Potter

    PLN-Thank you for referring me to this paper. I am posting the summary from the end- but the whole paper is worth reading. I do not come away from it feeling that hybrid vehicles are not going to matter as you seem to be saying. We are going to purchase hybrids after our current cars give up on us. We are hanging on to our old cars until the there are more choices and improvements.

    Quantifying the Benefits of Hybrid Vehicles

    http://pubs.its.ucdavis.edu/download_pdf.php?id=1055

    Summary

    To summarize the finding of this paper, hybrid electric vehicles are a broad set of technologies aimed at combining the attributes of gasoline combustion vehicles with electric vehicles. A number of hybrid vehicle designs can increase the fuel economy and emissions of conventional vehicles. While the cost of such vehicles is higher than conventional internal combustion only vehicles, buyers have been enthusiastic about these designs and the market has developed for HEVs faster than many anticipated. We conduct a detailed analysis of potential HEV impacts on US oil consumption and CO2 emissions for 2010, first using an average projection of sales based on current offerings. Secondly, we analyze a hypothetical scenario in which a broad market mix of HEVs account for 10% of the vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 2010. Those results are summarized in Table 3.

    Table 3: Summary of HEV Impacts

    HEV % of VMT Oil reduction CO2 reduction

    Projected HEV in 2010 1.2% 498 million gal 5.1 million metric tonnes

    Broad mix of HEVs accounting for 10% of VMT in 2010 10% 5,000 million gallons

    ≈ 119 SuezMax size oil tankers 42.4 million metric tones ≈ 5.5 cubic miles of

    CO2 gas ≈ 42 million mature trees

    This report shows that it will take decades for hybrids to replace a high percentage of VMT and therefore to have large effects on oil consumption and CO2

    emissions. But, even if HEVs account for only one to 10% of light-duty vehicle VMT (as currently projected), they loosen the stranglehold of petroleum on US consumers. Moreover, HEVs have had an energizing effect on vehicle technology and markets that extends well beyond their current numbers. HEVs have raised the bar on fuel economy and emissions.

    They create competition that will improve conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles, as well as encouraging improvements in electric drive trains and battery technologies for plug-in hybrids, fuel cell hybrids, and full battery electric vehicles.

  • Potter

    We have Honda Accords now and like them. One reason why we are waiting is b/c we are disappointed that Honda has made the choice to give more voom voom over mileage. That said Honda seems to have beaten out Toyota as far as being more eco-friendly or “green”. I am hoping that Honda will come around. I might write them….

  • Potter

    Regarding the overall argument we are having- I find that it reasonable to believe that we cannot stop global warming, that we are already in it and we have to adapt and get ready for catastophies that will happen around the world, including here in the USA. We, I mean the whole world has to get ready. China is already suffering and I just read that they have thousands of protests about the environment every year to contend with. That’s social unrest.

    The other part to this are ALL efforts at GHG mitigation to at least slow or stall the increases. This is what I have been arguing. This is what you seem to be saying is useless. Yours is the ONLY OPINION I know of that takes this position. You have not cited any other opinion of some authority to back you (unless I missed it) but you keep pushing the fact that you are an engineer and therefore I am supposed to think that this means you know something about this. What kind of engineer are you? Do you work in this field? The fact is that your opinion seems to be stemming less from your expertise than your layman’s assessment of human nature, betting on the continuing absense of collective will to deal with this, ignoring the evidence that the world is awakening more each day.

    The harsh numbers do not seem to scare sober scientists enough to say ” forget about it- it’s useless- don’t even try- don’t fool yourself etc etc”.

    Who is saying that?

  • Potter

    PLN Regarding the BBC report:

    The Chinese are also negotiating hard to ensure that the document does not imply any necessity for developing nations to tackle climate change.

    The original UN agreement, the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change, made it clear that rich nations had to cut emissions first.

    China is angry that the US is blaming it for pollution when its per capita emissions are six times higher than China’s, yet the Chinese are manufacturing goods for the rest of the world.

    Brazil and India are said to be supportive of the stance adopted by the Chinese on this issue.

    But critics of China’s hard-line approach point out that the nation will benefit it agrees to be bound by policies like building efficiency proposed by the Bangkok report.

    This is what I meant by game of chicken or maybe it’s betting to say holding our feet to the fire. It has been suggested that we need to work WITH the Chinese to address their concerns and offer them technology and incentives. We need to see serious action HERE first before we have any influence on China.

    Elizabeth Economy in an article on China in “The Nation” magazine says:

    The message is clear: Shanghai under water, Tibetan glaciers disappearing, crop yields in precipitous decline, epidemics flaring. These are just some of the dire consequences that Chinese scientists predict for their country this century if current climate change is not addressed. Yet China’s leaders pay about as much attention to the issue as does George W. Bush. In fact, a report issued last year by the Climate Action Network-Europe ranks China fifty-fourth out of fifty-six countries for its climate change response, just behind the United States and ahead only of Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

    Beijing knows the costs of inaction: A recent major official study on climate change predicts up to a 37 percent decline in China’s wheat, rice and corn yields in the second half of the century. Precipitation may decline by as much as 30 percent in three of China’s seven major river regions: the Huai, Liao and Hai. The Yellow and Yangtze rivers, which support the richest agricultural regions of the country and derive much of their water from Tibetan glaciers, will initially experience floods and then drought as the glaciers melt.

    Moreover, a one-meter rise in sea level will submerge an area the size of Portugal along China’s eastern seaboard–home to more than half the country’s population and 60 percent of its economic output. Already climate change-related extreme weather is taking its toll: In 2006 such disasters cost China more than $25 billion in damage. Finally, a study by Shanghai-based researcher Wen Jiahong suggests that the lethal H5N1 virus will spread as climate change shifts the habitats and migratory patterns of birds…….

    …….If there is a meaningful Chinese discussion about tackling climate change, it takes place largely behind closed doors, well out of sight of foreigners. Perhaps recent natural disasters will motivate Chinese leaders: Over just the past year China has suffered floods in the east that have affected more than 10 million people, while drought this spring left 13 million people and 12 million farm animals without enough drinking water.

    ……..When growth and green can be accomplished together, the Chinese government embraces environmentalism. For example, it actively discriminates in favor of CDM proposals that transfer technology and advance the country’s capacity in renewables, energy efficiency and methane recovery. But reforestation projects or projects that propose to reduce emissions of HFC-23–a greenhouse gas with global warming potential more than 11,000 times that of CO2–are discouraged because they do not involve enough capital or provide technology transfer. Working within these confines, the Kyoto-related CDM framework offers important ways for OECD countries to nudge China away from fossil fuels.

    Paradoxically, another reason climate change is not a bigger issue in China has to do with local pollution. Anyone who has visited an inland Chinese city knows how terrifyingly bad the air is. Chinese media are replete with horrifying statistics: An estimated 400,000 people die prematurely from respiratory diseases related to air pollution each year; one-quarter of China’s land is desert, and the desert is advancing at the rate of 1,900 square miles per year, producing tens of thousands of environmental migrants; and in China’s north and west, severe and growing water scarcity is impinging on economic growth, limiting agricultural and industrial output. As a result even the burgeoning environmental nongovernmental sector in China discusses climate change only as an afterthought. Strangely, few outside the scientific community make the connection that climate change may be exacerbating and exacerbated by these “domestic” problems.

    The world’s most industrialized countries started the climate crisis, but China might well finish the job. Not having China on board for a more stringent post-Kyoto accord is simply not an option.

    In late April the Chinese government is expected to release a national plan on global climate change. From all accounts, the document will reinforce the government’s commitment to energy efficiency and renewables while also setting forth prevention policies for natural disasters. What it will not do, unsurprisingly, is embrace any targets or timetables for greenhouse gas emission reductions. For that to happen, two things are necessary. First, the United States, preferably with Australia and India in tow, must agree to aggressive emission reductions, perhaps along the lines currently pursued by California. Without a strong US commitment, the international community has no credibility in pressuring the Chinese.

    Second, OECD countries will have to be far more generous and comprehensive in compensating China in its struggle to enforce tougher energy efficiency and renewable standards. That can be done with both financial incentives and technology transfers. What finally brought the Chinese on board with Kyoto and previous international environmental agreements was the attraction of getting paid to do the right thing. If the United States joins the fight against climate change–and if the price is right–there is every reason to believe that China can commit to doing the right thing again.

    China vs Earth: searching for a green path to growth

    In other words start here at home.

    The value of action (on a national local or personal level ) then would be much more than the numbers would indicate because of the reaction, additional action that it sets in motion ( momentum) elsewhere. The numbers do not take that into account.

  • plnelson

    This is what I have been arguing. This is what you seem to be saying is useless. Yours is the ONLY OPINION I know of that takes this position. You have not cited any other opinion of some authority to back you

    This has nothing to do with arguing from “authority” and anyway scientists don’t use words like “useless”. Why do you keep looking some “authority” to give you a bumper-sticker answer? Take a look at the September 2006 Scientific American – the whole issue is devoted to alternative energy – it discusses in detail the available mitigation possibilities and then goes on to discuss how hard they will all be to put into practice. But they never use words like “useless”. Read it and decide for youself. Pay special attention to their wedge charts.

    All the relevant numbers are readily available – the amount of CO2 already in the atmosphere, the amount it’s increasing every year, the available mitigation technologies, the amount of mitigation they provide, etc. The only “authority” in this discussion is THE MATH. I have repeatedly presented the numbers and their sources here – they speak for themselves.

    Nor does this have anything to do with a grim assessment of human nature by me – you’d need a 70% worldwide reduction in CO2 output by 2050 just to reach equilibrium and even if you did that you’d STILL have several degrees of warming by 2100 (source: IPCC) . Is ANYONE so optimistic about human nature that they think such a reduction is likely in such a short period of time?

    Think for yourself and show us your math!

  • plnelson

    The value of action (on a national local or personal level ) then would be much more than the numbers would indicate because of the reaction, additional action that it sets in motion ( momentum) elsewhere. The numbers do not take that into account.

    Maybe that’s because there’s no good evidence of it. Maybe the reason why the “numbers do not take that into account” is because there are no numbers to demonstrate that it’s more than wishful thinking that if we get greener it will make the Chinese get greener. What’s your evidence that it will?

    Between 1990 and 1999 the “energy intensity” (amount of energy per unit of GDP) in the EU improved more than the US (it improved in both places) but can you show any evidence that one influenced the other? And while we’re on the subject, of energy intensity – for all of your complaints about the US we are STILL more efficient than the Chinese, i.e., we use less energy to produce a unit of GDP than they do, i.e., we are ALREADY setting a good example.

    China has an economy growing at 10%/year and fossil fuel consumption that roughly tracks that. Put another way, if all the marginal (i.e., incremental) increase in consumption, i.e., all the new cars and factories, were 2X as energy efficient then China’s energy demands would still grow at 5%/year! (and in China’s case it’s almost all fossil fuels – oil and coal).

    OK, now what are the chances of a 2X efficiency improvement? 10-30% efficiency improvements in appliances and automobiles are feasible but to assess the odds of widespread 2X improvements you might want to refer to the Scientific American issue (Sept 2006) I cited.

  • Potter

    Maybe that’s because there’s no good evidence of it. Maybe the reason why the “numbers do not take that into account” is because there are no numbers to demonstrate that it’s more than wishful thinking that if we get greener it will make the Chinese get greener. What’s your evidence that it will?

    There are no numbers for the future period, only trajectories. Your numbers cannot account for every future possibility and certainly we don’t know what changes accumulated efforts might make. You just can’t have numbers for that.

    So–When you are in a boat with holes in it taking on water you start bailing the water out. The repair crew figures out what to do to plug up the holes. Maybe they figure the math. If someone is sitting on deck saying “it’s not going to work you fools!”- you think seriously about throwing him overboard.

    If a doctor says you have cancer and that there are treatments that will not cure it but CAN possibly put you into remission and give you more time- do you go for it or do you go to the stats and decide to go home and do nothing? Worse- do you hang out in the cancer ward and remind folks how futile their efforts are?

    The UCDavis report that you recommended says:

    HEVs are making an impact beyond their incipient number, primarily by being the first “green” cars on the market and setting a standard of achievement for high fuel economy and low emissions. HEV sales and their halo effect on Toyota and Honda have spurred a contest between automobile makers to supply the latest high-tech, clean, and green technologies. In the California market, hybrids account for 3% of total new light duty vehicles sales, and hybrid sales growth outpaces that of conventional models (Automotive News Data). If this contest is noticed by more car and truck buyers, it may well transform the automotive market, accelerating the introduction of alternative fuels and other electric drive technologies such as plug-in HEVs and full electric vehicles to market.

    That would be momentum, unquantifiable- but very plausible.

  • Potter

    for all of your complaints about the US we are STILL more efficient than the Chinese, i.e., we use less energy to produce a unit of GDP than they do, i.e., we are ALREADY setting a good example.

    You can’t pick the angle from which China looks at us. You may THINK we are setting a good example but we are not.

    Nevertheless- did you know that China’s central government has recently put in place a consumption tax? Does your math include that. Does your math include all the deaths due to environmental causes and the growing repercussions?

  • herbert browne

    There are some scenarios which may help slow down the rush to a 450 ppm CO2 future (with regard to the human contribution). One of them is the worldwide Muslim insurgency. Both China & India have “issues” in this arena. If Muslim revolutionaries get ahold of nukes, the price of oil runs to $200.+/ bbl and our country goes on a crash course to develop better batteries while we build nuke plants, coupled with the effects of the coastal worldwide flooding, this may possibly slow the growth of global trade… even, perhaps, send it into a retrograde movement for awhile. If the perception is that China is a “problem” in our growing awareness of global warming difficulties, Americans might choose to wean themselves of Chinese goods- esp if the Chinese find themselves in a pickle which requires them to cash in on the U.S. debt that they’re holding. (Of course, they might prefer to draw it down in wheat, corn & soybeans- essentially importing water in the form of foodstuffs- in order to keep their economy afloat.) H5N1 virulence might also be a “problem” all over the world, that cuts down consumers & potential consumers. Changing moisture patterns could make the “empty quarter” of Russia a very prosperous, pleasant place, while turning places farther South into “a living Sahel”- both in Africa & Asia. AIDS is working its magic- as are tribalism, nationalism, etc… and there are other factors (drought- a main driver of the Darfur debacle- for example). Whacking the world bovine population by 3/4 will eliminate 10% of greenhouse gases (methane, mostly), & free up a lot of ag production (for whatever purpose). Hell, American manufacturers of cigarets could revert to asbestos filters (or something even more lethal) a la the “gift” of blankets to indigenous peoples… blankets that had previously been wrapped around smallpox victims. How many smokers are there in China, anyhow?.. 500 million? Big, Fat Racist xenophobia could take a lot of the momentum out of globalized growth- whether in the name of saving polar bears (doomed, at present) or to save Florida & Louisiana (ditto). We might see the PHEV totally replace the ICE- just like Hi-def TV will replace the old stuff- by legislative edict. Hey, why not? Mag-lev “Bullet” trains instead of airlines… esp if we all have that fabulous promise of the IndustriaL REVOLUTION- “LEISURE TIME- to pursue Life in the “New world of disorder” as best we can… ^..^

  • arttua

    James Hansen has speculated of a Nurhemberg like trial in the future for americans regarding climate. Top insurance experts already see severe storm damage increasing at 10% a year while world gdp growing at only 3%. By 2010 insurance could run as high as 12% a year of insured value. In the dacades to follow insurance will become simply unaffordable. Again James Hansen says we have but ten years to make a drastic shift. Americans contribute 5 times as much ghg as the global average.

    What I find most depressing is a conversation with seemingly intellegent, well informed people but so little real change offered. I’ve done the math, as all here have, but to what effect, conversation?

    Paleoclimatologist are finding that in the past climate shifts have been gradual then often a drastic change in but ten years. Can we do nothing and adapt?

  • Potter

    I just bought those new-fangled lightbulbs. They are not bad, not bad at all. You get 60 watts for using only 14/15.

    We can’t live like Americans anymore.

    More later about the IPCC report that came out today. We should have a show about it. They are advising several approaches, many approaches. The first thing is to continue education and awareness. From that comes changes in lifestyle, behavior. We need new technologies and further development of ones that we have.

    The BBC had a segment on it today. They did a number of interesting interviews: with ordinary people, and with people on the case. This is a trememdous opportunity for the world to come together actually.

    Gosh it was so disappointing to hear the White House reaction to the IPCC report. The WH is scaring us about a world recession if we act on this advice ( measures that might save lives, save life as we know it from catastrophe for God’s sake!!! Unbelievable!)

    Quote of the Day- BBC

    “If the burdens are shared fairly, then I think the benefits are going to be there for all of us, not least in the fact that we will survive, rather than seeing a situation where much of the planet becomes uninhabitable” Mark Lynas

  • herbert browne

    Potter, I’m in agreement that our behavior as a nation can affect the rest of the world. Why would the Chinese (Indonesians, Malaysians, etc) build scads of skyscrapers, if not simply to ape the apparent prosperity that they imply? If we mandated a phase-in of the plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and offered real $$ incentives to solar pre-heated water systems (& tankless “on-demand” systems), and dealt with global warming the way we dealt with WWII (by accepting limits to classes of goods, planting Victory Gardens, supporting decentralized subsistence models, saving money, etc), the rest of the world will take notice. Our behavior is a form of Speech… and in a multi-linguistic world community, it may be the most effective form available… ^..^