Friday, December 2, 2016

Climate Change

Should we talk about the weather? Should we talk about the government? HAR HAR, I'm a cornball. Let's talk climate change.

Things certainly look like they could get even grimmer for ol' planet Earth with Donald Trump at the helm of the US of A.  However, nothing is set in stone, and perhaps it won't be that bad after all, or such is the gist of this article from the NYT.  Do I necessarily buy into the premise that it might not be that bad after all?  Not really, but the article is worth examining regardless.

First of all, a recent report points out that the progress thus made on reducing carbon emissions has come more from the evolution of industry than from government diktat, and that as long as the Trump administration takes a hands off approach, to a certain extent, that won't change:

Ted Nordhaus and Jessica Lovering, in a report published on Tuesday by the Breakthrough Institute, pointed out that real progress on reducing carbon in the atmosphere has been driven so far by specific domestic energy, industrial and innovation policies, “not emissions targets and timetables or international agreements intended to legally constrain national emissions.”

It’s certainly possible that a Trump administration will drop the Clean Power Plan and renege on the Paris accord. But as long as it keeps the nation’s nuclear power plants online, continues tax incentives for wind and solar energy and stays out of the way of the shale energy revolution, Ms. Lovering and Mr. Nordhaus write, “the U.S. might outperform the commitments that the Obama administration made in Paris.”

(Emphases added mine, throughout).

Regardless of Donald Trump's rhetoric, his promises to bring coal jobs back, coal may just plain get its ass whupped by natural gas.  Now, natural gas is still a dirty energy source, but it's cleaner than coal.  Trump has talked up natural gas as well as coal, and it's quite possible coal will be sidelined, despite the hopes of many who voted for Trump.

In the past, nations have sped ahead of their own emissions targets...

Striking a meaningful deal on climate has proved an elusive goal. The first try, in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, committed advanced nations to reduce emissions between 1990 and 2010. But they actually achieved more in terms of reducing dependency on fossil fuels in the decade before the agreement than in the decade after.

However, much of that decline in carbon emissions had to do with a global economic collapse that reduced demand for carbon.  Should Trump Make America Great Again, and perhaps the world with it, that demand will increase, and so will carbon output.

Is Donald Trump actually committed to energy independence, as he has stated he is?  If so, the best thing for him to do might be to simply not rock the boat:

Most importantly, climate objectives could mesh with Mr. Trump’s goal of energy independence. According to the 2016 edition of the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook, the United States could pretty much become energy independent by 2040 — reducing its annual oil imports to 1 million barrels a day from 6 million in 2014 — as long as Washington sticks to current policies.

Part of this has to do with rising shale oil and gas production. But the main driver would be efficiency. The Trump administration only has to maintain the Obama administration’s CAFE standards, which require the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks to rise to 49-to-50 miles per gallon by 2025, from 34 today.

So!  It's possible that Donald Trump might not be so bad for the environment after all. 

With all that said, if the upside is that the Trump admin just leaves everything currently in place be, that's still unlikely to cut it:

A recent analysis by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that the promises made in Paris would reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at the end of the century to 710 parts per million from 750. That is still far from the 450 p.p.m. ceiling needed to tip the odds in favor of staying under the temperature threshold scientists consider safe.

According to the International Energy Agency, the commitments made in Paris will cap the growth of greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2040 to 13 percent. The 450 p.p.m. target requires them to fall by 43 percent. Getting there will require rich countries like the United States to help finance much of the transition for poor countries. The role of global diplomacy will rise.

Paris, like Kyoto, is only a beginning.  Every real climate scientist knows we need to get serious about climate change not tomorrow, not now, but yesterday, to speak rhetorically.  The article concludes thus:

“If a Trump administration lasts only four years, the process could maybe absorb that,” said Oliver Geden, head of research at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

The bomb is ticking, but the world still has some time.

There is a rumor that Ivanka Trump wants to make climate change one of her "signature issues".  She seems like an odd emissary, but hey, if she wants to give it a shot I'm all for it personally - better than nobody in the Trump administration making climate change a signature issue.

Even if Donald and Ivanka Trump surprise us all with clean energy initiatives, there remains China to worry about.  It was previously thought that last year's 3 percent decline in coal production was a signal that China had reached its peak of coal production and now its coal production would go into absolute decline.  Instead, some forecasters are saying China's coal production won't peak for another ten years.

It appears the speculators may have pushed up the price of coal in China.  The magic of the market!  Not just the magic of the market, but official government-sanctioned financial rules to boot:

But developments were coming together to push prices up. Chinese investors piled into Chinese commodities markets, betting prices would rise. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as more speculators rushed in and bought more coal when prices rose.

An unusually hot summer and early autumn added to power demand. China’s banking regulators decided to let banks release a flood of mortgages to home buyers to bolster economic growth. That produced strong demand for electricity from the steel and cement industries.

Make China Great Again? 

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