Wednesday, December 9, 2009

benefits of carbon capture projects unproven

A media story about climate change and carbon emissions is always good for a lot of comments and a Calgary Herald story citing Wildrose leader Danielle Smith is no exception.

The facts are that the benefits of spending billions on carbon emission mitigation are unproven. Responsible fiscal policy means conducting a cost/benefit analysis with respect to programs and why spending on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) gets a free pass here is beyond me. By how many fractions of a degree will the average temperature in Alberta be lower in 2050 for every billion of taxpayer dollars spent on CCS and how is that better for Albertans? If this is about helping Maldivians why are there no studies comparing the cost effectiveness of spending billions on CCS with spending billions on foreign aid to the Maldivians to help them adjust to climate change? Of course, there is a good chance we have not seen a cost/benefit analysis because climate cannot be reliably predicted.

As the BBC observes, "for the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures." Climate scientists are acknowledging that their models have failed to predict the stability in temperatures that the planet has seen over the last decade. One wonders if this outcome should really be so very surprising when, as a writer in the UK Telegraph points out, "world-ranking physicists such as Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT and Professor Will Happer of Princeton have been arguing... that the models are fatally flawed because they do not take proper account of all sorts of other factors which play a key part in shaping the world’s climate..." Britain's Met Office estimates the odds of a 10 year global temperature stall happening by chance variation amidst a genuine warming trend to be 1 out of 8. Especially telling is this conclusion by the Met authors: "The simulations rule out (at the 95% level) zero trends for intervals of 15 yr or more." In layman speak, this means that unless temperatures move up by 2013, the hypothesis of global warming should be REJECTED by those whose approach to the subject is evidence and science-based as opposed to faith-based.

The head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, says that the Alberta oil sands should be shut down. Alberta politicians cannot have it both ways here. If they are going to take Danielle Smith to task for not accepting the IPCC's work uncritically, then they should either accept this call to close down the oil sands or explain why they are cherry picking recommendations.

From an economist's perspective, people should be focusing on stopping methane leaks from refinery equipment since methane has a much greater greenhouse effect than CO2.

The real problem here is not the consumption of carbon products but consumption in general. Hence my advocacy of general consumption taxes. There are a legion of strains on the environment, of which carbon levels in the atmosphere are just one, and one whose harm to the environment is dubious. As I've noted before, according to Nature magazine,

The Palaeocene/Eocene thermal maximum, 55 million years ago, was a brief period of widespread, extreme climatic warming that was associated with massive atmospheric greenhouse gas input. We show that sea surface temperatures near the North Pole increased from 18°C to over 23°C during this event.

That's right: more than 23 degrees above Celsius at the north pole. Yet the world kept on turning.

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