Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Chad Tolman on Climate Change

The News Journal today published an op-ed by Chad Tolman on climate change. Chad may be Delaware's number one advocate for reversing global warming. He's a physical chemist who has studied the subject extensively, so he knows the subject in great detail. I have listened to him describe arcane points like changing ocean chemistry and the threat of methane release from thawing tundra.
This op-ed covers the basics, including what a climate change bill needs to achieve to be effective.

Cost of polluting needs to be high

The science of global climate change is solid, in spite of what you may have read from climate change deniers.
Human activities -- especially the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) and destruction of tropical forests -- are increasing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and upsetting the energy balance between visible radiation absorbed from the sun and infrared radiation from Earth going back into space.
Of the major GHGs -- water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and fluorochemicals -- CO2 is the major concern. It stays in the atmosphere for centuries and has increased in concentration by 38 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, from 280 to nearly 390 ppm (parts per million by volume), and is increasing by over 2 ppm per year. Annual CO2 emissions from human activities are over 30 billion tons, and have been increasing by about 3 percent each year.
Since 1750, global average temperatures have increased by about 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit), mostly during recent decades. Scientists and policy makers, in the U.S. and other countries, have generally agreed that an increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) could cause serious damage to the climate system, and must be avoided.
That may not sound like much, but keep in mind that the coldest time during the last ice age, 20,000 years ago, was only about 6 degrees Celsius cooler than it is today; sea levels were lower by about 400 feet! Continuing business as usual during this century could cause a warming of 6 degrees Celsius or more, with catastrophic results. (Delaware has an average elevation of only 65 feet above sea level and is particularly vulnerable.)
The concentration of CO2 and other GHGs that will cause the global average temperature to increase over 2 degrees Celsius is not known precisely, but is probably in the range of 350 to 450 ppm, and might be less than 350. (The atmosphere already has close to 390 ppm CO2, but it takes a long time to warm the oceans and melt mile-thick ice.) That means that GHG emissions must stop growing soon, and must then be decreased as rapidly as possible to near zero or even negative (meaning that more CO2 is absorbed by human activities than is emitted). The only practical way to discourage these emissions is by raising their price enough -- either through a direct carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system that sets a declining cap on GHG emissions. The principle is: The polluter pays. We already have a system like that for CO2 emissions from electric power plants in 10 states, including Delaware, called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
The energy bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in June involves a national cap-and-trade system for most of the economy. It aims to reduce U.S. GHG emissions to 83 percent of their 2005 levels (about their 1990 levels) by 2020 and to less than 20 percent of their 1990 levels by 2050. It's a good start, but it needs to be strengthened in the Senate.
Important features of a good Senate bill include:
• U.S. leadership in reducing per capita GHG emissions.
• Greater incentives to improve energy efficiency (including clean transportation) and to replace fossil fuels by renewable energy sources -- fewer free emission allowances for polluters. • Dealing with the oldest and dirtiest coal plants. • Supporting education and job training for the new green energy economy.
• Working with developing countries to reduce their emissions and adapt to climate changes that cannot be avoided.
• Boldly reducing U.S. GHG emissions is essential if we are to convince other big emitters like China to reduce theirs. Our per capita emissions are among the highest in the world -- over four times those of China and about twice those of most other industrialized countries. Getting back to 1990 in 2020 won't do it.
A recent study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy shows that we could get half of the emission reductions we need by using energy more efficiently. The rest can come from replacing fossil fuels by renewable energy sources. Here in Delaware, our largest and least expensive renewable resource is offshore wind. Let's get going to develop it fully and create jobs right here in Delaware.
Chad Tolman, who holds a doctorate in physical chemistry, has been studying and teaching about energy and climate change for more than 20 years. He is the Energy Chair of the Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club and serves on the LWV US Climate Change Task Force.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's fine if you hate ecomic growth.

Waxman Markey to crush Delaware business and reduce working Delawareans to penury.

I thought you would know about this with your MBA and all.

3:43 PM, September 09, 2009  
Blogger Tom Noyes said...

I have looked at the numbers you linked to.

Here's what I wrote in the Guardian earlier this summer: "Opponents reached these conclusions by exaggerating the downside and ignoring the upside altogether."

A week ago, I noted that one study estimated the cost to Delaware households to be $3.20 a month.

Another study by Environment Northeast projects that Waxman-Markey would generate $627 million in energy efficiency investment in Delaware, return $1.882 billion in savings and create 5,585 jobs in the process.

7:05 AM, September 10, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was directed to the numbers from a non-partisan Delaware think tank, so they must be true.

10:21 PM, September 10, 2009  

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