26 July 2007
POLLUTION + CLIMATE
my last post (19th July, below) I analyzed the reports of the UNFCC,
the IPCC, and the
Stern Review. Those organizations produced reports on anthropogenic
generated greenhouse gases (GHG). I found reputable and persuasive
citations that claimed bias in IPCC4 and Stern. Even assuming that IPCC
and Stern were without bias, the central estimate of IPCC 4
was that there was a warming effect equivalent to an 0.15% increase in
the radiant energy of the sun, and that there was a 90% certainty that
half of the warming was caused by GHG, and that the sea level would
rise by less than one meter by 2100 AD.
In most professions (e.g. Engineering,
Criminal law, Psychology,) a 90% probability is not sufficient to
establish a case.
It is not good enough to merely suggest
"better be safe than sorry".
We should consider the probable cost of the damage that would be caused
by GHG warming and compare that with the probable cost to our economy
of halting or reducing GHG concentrations.
What is the cost of the damage by GHG?
Stripped of the alarmist
hyperbole, it is predicted that by the year 2100 there would be a two
degree centigrade temperature rise, a one meter sea level rise, and (as
a result of the elevated temperature) there might be increased weather
damage to housing and industry. The weather patterns would move to
higher latitudes with negative effects on agriculture in some
latitudes, positive effects on agriculture in others. (I note that
Stern could have copied his expected damage predictions, (chapter 5 of Part 2 of his review) directly from
the prediction that I made more than a year earlier).
Earlier IPCC worries that nett agricultural production might be
adversely affected seem to have dissolved as it was realized that
worldwide crop production would probably benefit from the increased CO2
concentration, although Stern has stated categorically (no cite noted)
that a higher than 2 deg C temperature increase would be disastrous.
The Stern report
has estimated that the tax on carbon to reduce or prevent further
increase of GHG might have to be set at $200 per ton. To put that
figure in comprehensible perspective:
The gravimetric analysis of crude oil is about 85%
carbon, SG is about 0.85, so one liter of crude contains about
0.85*0.85~720 grams of carbon. There are about 160 liters in a barrel
of oil, hence about 115 Kg of carbon. A carbon tax of $200/ton on crude
oil would thus add about $23 (which is approximately 30%) to the cost
of a barrel of oil. This would (after refining and distribution)
produce a price rise of over $US1 per US gallon of gas, or around 30
Australian cents per liter.
I ask my reader to reflect on the effect
of such an increase in the
price of fuel (~30%). It would have a huge impact on our economy and
cost of living. Especially after the multiplier effect that would
inflate production costs in farming, manufacturing and transport.
The effect of those carbon taxes would
fall disproportionately upon
the most financially distressed in our own (and other) countries.
Although I am not convinced by the
disaster scenarios painted by the
alarmists at UNFCC, IPCC and Stern, I am nevertheless concerned about
pollution. I am old enough to remember that fifty years ago the
sunrises in Australia were white, not red. Anecdotally, "Mary in
Hawaii" claims that the atmosphere in Hawaii is thick with pollutants
(presumably from China). When US President Bush grounded aircraft for
two days after 9/11, many reported that the stars
USA became visible.
Our air is thick with particles generated
by the dirty burning of
carbonaceous fuels. The right to dump those pollutants in the
atmosphere is an untaxed benefit to the polluter, and an uncompensated
nuisance and health hazard to the world population.
So although I am unconvinced that global
warming is purely
anthropogenic, and further unconvinced as to the merit of full
rectification of GHG, I nevertheless agree that pollution should be
reduced. To that end I believe that we should adopt the strategy
suggested by Economists more than a decade past (eg Nordhaus).
be a tax on the dumping of pollutants in the atmosphere,
and that tax should be paid by the polluting industry at source, and
should be proportional to the pollutants dumped. The value of the tax
would be determined by the market in the following manner:
First we would divide the total world
pollution by the world
population, and get the world "per capita pollution index" (PCPI),
units would be "tons of GHG equivalent per person per annum".
Next we must decide on the GHG tax rate
and who should benefit from
that tax. My vote would be to divide the world GHG tax income and
(nominally) pay it equally to each person on the planet. Presumably
nation states would accept the tax on behalf of their citizens, and
also police collection of tax from industries that produced taxable
GHG, and pay a rebate to industries that removed GHG from the
From there we could develop a market in
pollution credits (units
"tons of GHG"). A secondary market ("GHG futures") would rapidly
develop, and a price per ton of GHG efficiently established. In this
way, the various industries from food production to manufacturing to
energy sales would be able to adjust their cost structure in an
economically efficient manner.
Most of the Liberal Representative
Democracies, OECD and major oil
producing nations are probably producing more than their PCPI.
Countries like China, India & Brazil and the Asian tigers are
probably in approximate balance, and the rest of the world would be
owed money for their unused pcpi share. I would suggest that the value
of those credits be set at such amount as was required to repair the
damage done, and additionally compensate in part for the nuisance
I have so far ignored the fact that the
world is rapidly running out
of crude oil. Existing reserves would, at forecast growth, be exhausted
by 2040. Such anticipated exhaustion would provide further upward
pressure on crude oil prices, and produce even greater incentives for
the development of alternative energy sources for transport. Of course
we could transmute the other carbon minerals (shale, tar sands, coal)
into fuel. Such transmutation is costly (adding upwards of US$70 per
barrel) and the process produces large quantities of GHG.
19 July 2007
A previous post on GW was done in 2005. This is
the first of two new posts on Global Warming.
There are three instrumentalities that have made a contribution to
the Global Warming conversation. These are the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC),
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) together with it's better
known amendment, the Kyoto Protocol, and the UK government commissioned
Back in 1990, environmentalists concerned about the observed
increase in green house gas (CO2, CH4) concentration (CO2 went from
0.028% circa 1900 to around 0.035% circa 1990) persuaded their
governments to form the IPCC. Governments submitted lists of interested
scientists, and from those lists panel members were selected by the
conveners. Since then the IPCC has brought out four reports at
approximately five year intervals.
SUMMARY AND CRITIQUE OF THE REPORTS.
The First Assessment Report of the IPCC (FAR1990) reported that
environmental scientists on the committee agreed that there had been
about a one degree Fahrenheit rise in mean surface temperature since
1900. This might have resulted from man's activities, or could be
explained by natural variation. The FAR predicted that there would be a
further one degree F rise over the next decade.
The Second Assessment Report of the IPCC (SAR, 1995) confirmed the
findings of the FAR, and noted that GHG had increased, and that
aerosols were countering the warming effect. It noted that the
reliability of climate models had increased. The SAR was a
controversial report. Leading scientist panel members claimed variously
that "policy makers altered their final draft", and that there was
"corruption of the peer review process" and that the summary had been
altered to result in alarmist conclusions. The politically appointed
convener of the summary stated that "none of the changes made was
The Third Assessment report of the IPCC (TAR2001) reported that
there had been a 1.1 degree F rise in mean surface temperature since AD
1900. The models were getting better It was predicted that GHG
concentrations would continue to rise, the mean surface temperature
would continue to rise, (by a further ~3F to 8F by AD 2100) and the sea
level would rise by between 10 and 90 centimeters by AD 2100. Again
leading panel members claimed that the report was biased by ignoring or
misrepresenting their results, and that damage estimates had been
exaggerated by modifying economic variables.
The Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (IPCC4, 2007) determined
that the level of the ocean would rise by about half a meter over the
next 100 years. There was general agreement that the world has warmed
by above half a degree centigrade in the last few decades. There was
disagreement as to whether these changes are responsible for an
increase of more than about 1% of hurricane activity. The consensus is
that there is no persuasive evidence that weather patterns have
substantially moved from the normal range. According to IPCC4, there is
a 90% probability that 50% of (the one degree Fahrenheit of) global
warming measured since the 1960's was caused by green house gases (GHG).
Most economists in the IPCC seem to assume that global warming has
more costs than it has benefits. One of the obvious costs is that in a
warmer world we would use an air conditioner more frequently, so would
need more electricity and air conditioners. Other costs are more
speculative, such as increased hurricane activity leading to damage to
property. In temperate regions, (such as Dakotas, Canada, Northern
Europe, Russia, Patagonia) global warming is expected to increase
agricultural yields. In other places, such as Mediterranean Europe,
Southern California, failing rainfall is expected to decrease yields.
Another cost is expected to result from rising sea levels (less than
one meter by 2100) either flooding lowlands (e.g. Bangladesh,
Manhattan, Egyptian delta), or requiring construction of a dike system
such as in Holland. So far as I am aware, the IPCC did not quantify the
The KYOTO PROTOCOL
This was a 1997 amendment to UNFCCC 1992 which protocol came in to
force on February 16th 2005. Two "Annex I" (industrially advanced)
countries (Australia and USA) have not ratified the protocol. The
protocol determines a "carbon quota" for the "Annex I" countries, and
exacts a 30% penalty on countries that exceed their carbon quota. It
now appears that some of the various countries that ratified the
protocol acted precipitously. Some of the more enthusiastic countries (e.g.
Canada's obligation was to reduce GHG by 6%, currently they have
increased output by 27%, Spain was to reduce by 8%, currently increased
by 49%) have exceeded their treaty obligations by a very wide margin.
Since so many countries are failing to meet their quotas, it will be
interesting to see how they avoid paying the penalties.
More recent activity on the global warming issue has been led by
economists. The raison d'etre for economists is the optimization of
"utility". Utility has a precise meaning in economics, which differs
from the meaning in everyday English. It is an economist's word for the
enjoyment and satisfaction that people experience from the things that
they do, such as spending or saving money or camping out or whatever.
Economists have created a plethora of models for financial modeling
of the economy, most of which have well known failings and strengths.
As far back as 1992 economists like William Nordhaus
of Yale were publishing in Nature
that a carbon tax of $5/ton was the optimum utility price for carbon.
He reasoned that the right to pollute is an untaxed benefit. There is
no financial reason for a polluter to reduce pollution. Nordhaus had
calculated that a tax was an appropriate way for society to persuade
polluters to reduce their pollution. Taxes are the optimum method for
controlling the production of price sensitive goods. On the other hand,
economists have found that permits are the optimum method for
controlling price insensitive goods.
Expanding on this insight, the UK government commissioned public
servant Nicholas Stern to produce a "White Paper" on the economic cost
of climate change. This white paper became known as the Stern Report.
Stern was originally an academic who recently (1999) turned his hand to
the bureaucratic plowshare. Like all government "white papers" the
Stern Report was not peer reviewed, and has met a lot of criticism from
academics on that basis.
- Stern has introduced little new science or economics in the
- The review is considered unsound by many leading scientists
peers were not consulted and procedures were not transparent in the
selection of appropriate environment and economic models and in the
selection of values for applicable variables.
- Leading scientists (e.g. Noordhaus) are critical that Stern
to have utilized models and selected variables that have resulted in a
"worst case scenario".
- KYOTO introduced the world to the necessity of reducing GHG for
sake of environmental protection, in the hope of reducing serious but
nonspecific damage. Stern has brought the Kyoto public closer to modern
economist's thinking by application of the concept that an economic
analysis of the effects and consequent costs of global warming should
be used to determine our response.
Environmental economists agree that while Stern's numbers might be
extreme, the very important issue publicized by The Stern Review is
that we do not want the cost of reducing environmental damage to exceed
the cost which would be incurred as a result of that environmental
I have done some
calculations on just how significant is the carbon that is added
anthropomorphically to the atmosphere each year.
The total mass of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could be obtained by
formula: mass of atmosphere * proportion by mass of carbon dioxide in 1
Mass of atmosphere can be approximated by multiplying the
area of earth (Pi*D^4) by atmospheric pressure at mean sea level
(101,300 Pa), and divide by
Mass Atmosphere = (Pi * D^2) * (NTP) / g = (Pi * 12,700,000^2)
* (101,300) / 9.81 = 5.3 * 10^18 kg.
So proportion Carbon dioxide by weight is volumetric proportion *
CO2 (=12+2*16 = 44) / molar mass air (=0.8*2*14+0.2*2*16 = 29
Hence proportion CO2 in air by weight is 0.038/100) * 44/29 = 5.77 *
So mass of carbon dioxide in atmosphere is = total mass of
atmosphere (5.3 * 10^18) * 5.77 * 10^(-4) = 3.05*10^15 Kg.
From the US energy agency, world anthropomorphic CO2 is 30 billion
tons per annum (=30*10^12Kg). See http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/emissions.html
In other words, if fossil fuel were the only input, it would
take about 100 years at current
usage levels to double the carbon dioxide concentration in the
Or to put it another way, the proportion of CO2 in
the atmosphere rises by 0.00038$ p/a.
So it would take 4 - 5 years for CO2 concentration to rise to 0.04%
Comment by barvennon — 3 September 2007.
Revised to CO2 instead of Carbon use 12 June 2015.