Posts Tagged ‘Greenhouse Gasses’

U.S. greenhouse emissions have fallen since 2000

January 14, 2017


Emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses remained level during the administration of George W. Bush and actually fell during the administration of Barack Obama, even though economic output rose.

This means that economic growth doesn’t depend on making global warming worse.  It means that, to the contrary, it is feasible to do something about global climate change.

It won’t mean that the Greenland ice cap will stop melting or the American Southwest will stop suffering from drought or coastal cities such as Miami or Houston will be safe.  It took a long time to create the buildup of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, and it will be a long time before they go away.

The benefit of reducing greenhouse gasses will go to future generations, not to us.  But is good news, just the same.

Part of this is due to technological progress, which has made renewal energy competitive (or more nearly competitive) with fossil fuels.  But credit also is due to the actions of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy under President Bush and especially President Obama.

Sadly, this may all change for the worse under President Donald Trump, who denies the reality of human-made climate change and is filling his administration with climate change deniers.


President Obama’s modest Clean Power Plan

August 5, 2015

President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is a step in the right direction, which he advocates with his usual eloquence and which is blindly opposed by most of the Republican leaders.  Sadly it is insufficient to significantly mitigate global warming.

Source: Mother Jones

Source: Mother Jones

The plan is intended to reduce the burning of coal in electric power plants.  This is a good thing because, of all the possible sources of energy, coal is the most destructive to the environment, to the health and safety of workers and to public health, and is the worst contributor to greenhouse gasses.

Even so, under the plan, the United States would still be burning a lot of coal by 2030.  The chart at right is by Kevin Drum of Mother Jones, and it shows that the reduction of power plant emissions from 2005 to 2030 will be less than half.

The plan is intended to reduceincrease the use of renewable energy, which is a good thing.  Sadly it also is based on an energy strategy of fracking for natural gas and of Arctic and other ocean drilling for oil.  This is in the context of a national economic strategy based on exporting raw materials rather than reviving manufacturing.

Obama’s plan is intended to increase energy efficiency, which is a good thing.  The drawback is that making energy use more efficient makes it cheaper, and making it cheaper encourages people to use more.

The goals of the plan are to be achieved after Obama leaves office, so its success depends on whether his successors carry through with it.

I hate to think that Obama’s plan is the best that is economically and politically feasible, but maybe it is.  Too bad for future generations that we couldn’t do more.


Here’s a 2-Minute Video Explaining Obama’s New Plan to Fight Global Warming by Tim McDonnell for Mother Jones.

Why Obama’s epic climate change plan isn’t such a big deal by Michael Grunwald for Politico.

Hidden in Obama’s new climate plan, a whack at red states by Michael Grunwald for Politico.

Obama climate change plan: The clean power plan is supposed to be bold, but it isn’t by Eric Holthaus for Slate.

The Last Defining Court Battle of Obama’s Presidency by Rebecca Leber for The New Republic.   The whole thing could be overturned by Chief Justice Roberts’ Supreme Court.

The greenhouse effect is a planetary problem

May 8, 2013

Greenhouse gas emissions are an international problem, not just a U.S. problem, as my friend Richard Brown pointed out and as the charts below show.

China has overtaken the United States as the largest producer of greenhouse gasses overall. But the United States is still a leader among the world’s major industrial nations in greenhouse gas emissions per person.

This is a difficult problem for which I don’t see a good answer.  Obviously it is no solution if one nation reduces its greenhouse gas emissions and all the rest keep pumping more carbon into the atmosphere.  But if every nation waits for all the others to go first, then nothing will happen until global warming becomes unendurable.

A partial answer is that there are a lot of things that will help alleviate global warming that are good in and of themselves—increasing energy efficiency, reducing air pollution, eliminating waste, developing renewable sources of energy.

Greenhouse Gasses Climate Change Global Warming

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Click to enlarge.

The situation is ever-changing, and some of this information may be out of date. Germany once set an example to the world in renewable energy, but reportedly is shifting to increased use of coal and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. I don’t think the United States is the only bad nation in the world, but I do think we Americans have a responsibility to get our own house in order if we intend to lecture other nations on their responsibilities.

Experimenting with the planet Earth

May 7, 2013

We’re now in the midst of an experiment whose subjects are everyone who lives on the surface of the planet Earth.

The experiment is to determine how much greenhouse gasses can be injected into the atmosphere without reaching a tipping point of irreversible global warming.


We know that methane, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses trap the reflected heat of the sun and make the Earth warmer than it otherwise would be.   Without this greenhouse effect, we’d be living in an ice age.   The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 275 parts per million 200 or so years ago, when the industrial revolution was in its infancy.  The concentration is steadily rising and will soon reach 400 parts per million.  Some climate scientists say that it would be catastrophic to let the concentration get above 450 ppm; others say we need to get it down to 350 ppm.

I don’t know who is right, but it would be too bad to find out the hard way.   The only things of which we can be sure is (1) there is some concentration that will be a catastrophic tipping point and (2) if the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses continues to increase, we will reach that tipping point, whatever it is.

Click on 400ppm: A Tree Falling in the Forest | 400 Parts Per Million for more about the 400 parts per million milestone (and a hat tip for the chart).

Click on The Science of 350, the Most Important Number on the Planet for an essay by environmental writer Bill McKibben.

Click on The ‘Climate Change Debate’ Is Science  Versus Snake Oil for a list of organizations that accept the reality of global climate change and a list of those that question it.

Now it is true that evidence suggests that, in past geologic ages, the carbon dioxide concentrations were greater and the temperature of the Earth was a lot hotter than it is now.  The evidence also suggests that sea levels were 75 feet higher than they are now.  This would be another interesting experiment—to see how extreme conditions can be without crashing civilization.


Evidence that global warming is human-made

May 3, 2013

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The reason to think that global climate change is caused by human activity is that human civilization increases the amount of greenhouse gasses, such as methane and carbon dioxide, that are known to trap the heat of the sun as it is reflected in infra-red rays.  Never before have greenhouse gasses increased as so rapid a rate, and never before, so far as is known, have average global temperatures increased at so rapid a rate.  The world has been hotter in the past than it is now, but the evidence from tree rings and glacial cores is that the change has never been as rapid as it is now.

If there is another cause, it is not known, and greenhouse gasses make it worse.

Click on the following links for more

How do we know global warming is human-caused?

Hockey Stick Graph Now Even More Stickish

The Scariest Climate Change Graph Just Got Scarier

Large rise in CO2 emissions sounds global climate change alarm

John Kerry on global warming and clean energy

February 5, 2013

Senator John F. Kerry, questioned during his Secretary of State confirmation hearing, spoke of the need for action to avoid global climate change.  He spoke of the need for the United States to compete in the growing clean energy market, and the record heat waves in many parts of the world last summer.

I think his answers were good, but they indirectly illustrate why global warming is so hard to deal with.  Competing in the world market for windmills, solar panels and other clean energy equipment is one thing.  Regulating industry to prevent greenhouse gas emissions is another.

The Chinese are leaders in the manufacture of clean energy equipment.  They also have a lot industrial pollution and emission of greenhouse gasses from the burning of coal. The opposite situation also is possible.  A country can have a serious commitment to clean energy, and import all its equipment from abroad.

The problem with controls on greenhouse gas emissions is that they will not have an immediate effect.  They will only keep things from getting worse in the future.  In the short run, economic interests in states such as Wyoming will indeed suffer.

I expect the U.S. government will do a lot to promote domestic clean energy industries in the next decade.  Whether or not there will be action on greenhouse gasses is another question.

Hat tip for the video to Hal Bauer

The carbon clock is ticking

January 14, 2013
Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

Prediction is risky, especially when, as physicist Niels Bohr said, it is about the future.

But do we want to gamble the livability of our planet on a bet that these predictions are wrong?

Hat tips to Ambika Melville and Information Is Beautiful.


Why climate change is such a tough problem

January 10, 2013

HOTTEST YEARLast year was the hottest year on record for the continental United States (lower 48 states).  There were cool spots elsewhere in the world, but overall it was another very hot year.


Given the fact of global climate change, why is it such a hard problem to address?

First, the facts are not readily available to the average person, especially here in the United States.  You can find all the information you need on the Internet, but in order to do that, you have to first realize that you need to look for the information, and you need to be able to separate bogus information from fact.  It is hard for the average, hard-working person to find time to do this, and the need is not obvious, especially if you rely on Fox News and talk radio as your main sources of information.

Second, there is nothing to be done to to prevent the droughts, storms, melting glaciers and rising oceans which now afflict us.   What we do now about greenhouse gasses will not affect us, it will affect future generations, just as what is going on now is the result of the actions of past generations.

Third, action on global climate change requires an effort on not just one nation, but the whole world acting together.  It will go little good for the United States to limit greenhouse gasses if China does not set any limits.  Or vice versa.

So we’re asking people to become well-informed about a subject in which the facts do not seem obvious.  We are asking them to put the needs of future generations ahead of their own desires and needs.  We are asking them to trust strangers to voluntarily do the same things.  That is a lot to ask.  But it is necessary if our descendants are to have liveable planet to inhabit.

If I had the power of a dictator, I would create a world governing body with the powers of the World Trade Organization or the International Standards Organization, but which would set standards for goods in world commerce based on their impact on the climate.  I know this is unrealistic.  Do you have a better idea?