Saturday, September 18, 2021

Get real about Climate Change. Part 2 : So far what we are doing about climate change is ineffective, anemic, symbolic, or counterproductive.

by Rod Williams, Sept. 12, 2021 - In my last essay on the topic of climate change, I said that climate change was an established fact and that time was running out to do anything about it and that given the path we are on we are facing a climate disaster. I said very little real progress is being made and expressed pessimism that any real progress would be made unless something changes.   Companies and nations cook the books to show progress when progress is not really happening, political leaders and titans of industry engage in meaningless greenwashing, and while the world's advanced countries make some progress it is dwarfed by increased production of greenhouse gases from developing countries, primarily China and to a lesser extent India. 

So much of what we are doing about climate change is ineffective, anemic, wasted effort, simply symbolic, and counterproductive.

Take an example from California for instance.  Forrest fires rage across California with increased frequency.  A management tool to combat forest fires is to have prescribed burns in which managed fires are set to reduce the fuel load available for wildfires. This is a proven strategy for reducing wildfires. It works.  Wildfires are terribly destructive, displacing populations, costing billions of dollars of loss of property, and loss of human life.  In addition, wildfires produce an enormous amount of greenhouse gases.  

California is the most aggressive state in the union in attempting to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and it calculates the volume of greenhouse gases produced in the State. Under California's calculation of greenhouse gas emissions, a prescribed burn is considered a human-caused source of emissions and included in the calculation while greenhouse gas emissions from a wildfire are not.  Think about that.  Is that logical? Apparently, environmentalists and California politicians cannot see that this policy not only leads to the loss of property and lives and causes misery and economic loss, but it actually increases the emission of greenhouse gases. This is insanity. (link)

Another example of how environmental activism leads to policies that if successful would lead to the production of more greenhouse gasses is the opposition to fracking. The improvement in the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions is primarily the result of coal having been supplanted by natural gas. Both coal and natural gas are fossil fuels and both produce greenhouse gases but natural gas produces far lower emissions than coal when used to produce electricity.  Power companies have been replacing aging coal-fired plants with natural gas plants, not because they have to but because it is profitable. In many cases, they are retiring coal-fired plants earlier than necessary to reap the benefits of cheaper and cleaner natural gas.  In 2016 natural gas passed coal as being the leading source of power plant fuel. 

The change that occurred to make this transition to natural gas possible is the result of fracking. Without fracking, natural gas would be too expensive and in too short of a supply to replace coal plants with natural gas.  Fracking, as readers probably know, is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks in order to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas. Environmentalist activists have fought fracking from day one. I support reasonable safety precautions to ensure that fracking does not harm water tables, but any negative consequences of fracking have been minimal.  Any negative consequences from natural gas production by fracking are probably less than the environmental consequences of coal production. 

If it was up to the environmentalist community we would not see this transition to cleaner natural gas. This improvement in greenhouse gas emission came about in spite of environmentalists and was the result of good old fashion market forces or  "greed," as liberals like to call it. The effect of opposing fracking is to support a higher level of greenhouse gas emissions. While President Biden initially took action to ban fracking on public land, he has taken no action to ban all fracking, and since his initial action, his administration has allowed fracking on public lands to resume.  Thankfully. Biden has not kept his campaign promise.   

One of the most highly touted efforts to combat climate change has been the Paris Agreement. Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has continued to rise. The goal of the agreement was to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2° above preindustrial levels and to reach global net-zero emissions by sometime in the second half of the current century. Under the agreement, each country is supposed to develop a carbon emissions reduction plan every five years and then evaluate its own progress. While this is a treaty, it has no mechanism to force a country to do anything and no penalties for not making progress.  It may be better than nothing, but not much better.  It amounts to not much more than a promise to do better.  

There are numerous other examples of the ineffective, anemic, wasteful, simply symbolic, and counterproductive measures adopted in the name of stopping global warming. The environmentalist's ten-year effort to stop the Keystone pipeline is one example.  For now, it is stopped but lawsuits are continuing that may start it back.  If it stays stopped, however, it will do nothing to reduce or slow the growth of climate change.  Some of the Canadian oil will still reach refineries but by the more environmentally dangerous trek by truck, rail, and ocean tanker.  What does not reach refineries will be replaced by oil imported from often unfriendly, mid-Eastern, authoritarian countries. Stopping Keystone was a feel-good symbolic victory that made no difference in the effort to combat climate change. 

A requirement that gasoline contains 10% ethanol is another primarily wasted effort that makes people feel good but accomplishes little. In fact, the growing of all of the corn necessary to produce ethanol has serious environmental harmful impacts. To learn much more about The Ethanol Fallacy,  see this link

A current misguided feel-good effort that will accomplish little is the development of plug-in hybrid cars. An article in the Wall Street Journal calls them "an Illusion of Eco-Consciousness." Real electric or electric-gas hybrids have their environmental problems and may not be as eco-friendly as they make the owner of such cars feel but they reduce carbon emissions.  The new generation of battery-powered cars, the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) may do nothing to reduce emissions.  They are "compliance babies." They provide plenty of power but have the battery to either meet the fleet requirements of regulators or industry public promises or to make the purchaser of such cars feel righteous.  They may actually be harmful to the environment. This excerpt from the WSJ article explains:

PHEVs may yet have a bigger problem: NOX, or nitrous oxide, a hazardous smog-forming product of combustion. At a workshop in May, CARB officials raised concerns about PHEVs’ excessive NOX emissions during full-power cold starts, as when an IC engine kicks on after a period of electric driving. One probable explanation: Emission-scrubbing catalytic converters in exhaust systems only work after they are well heated by the exhaust stream, typically requiring 20 seconds or so. It’s most cars’ dirtiest seconds; PHEVs often spend them with wide-open throttles.

There is much more that illustrates that our effort to combat climate change so far has been characterized as wasted efforts on things that don't really address the issue, anemic policies, pure stupidity, and policies that make the problem worse.  In part three of this series, I will share my thoughts on why our efforts have been so feeble and misguided and what I think needs to change to put us on a track to really address this serious issue. 

To see the first essay in this series see, Get real about Climate Change. Part 1: Climate change is an established fact and time is running out to do anything about it. 

Update, 9/17/2021- This excerpt from a Spectator article, further explains how we are failing in the effort to combat climate change:

The first 20 years after the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change saw carbon dioxide emissions rise 60 percent. From 2012 to 2019, they rose a further 5.4 percent. However this is dressed up, it’s failure.

Meanwhile, the West’s energy emissions have been more or less flat for nearly three decades and on a downward trend since 2007. Emissions from the Rest of the World account for all the growth in global emissions, suddenly accelerating in 2002 from an average of around 1 percent a year to nearly 5 percent a year in the 12 years until 2014.

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