There are essentially two kinds of reliability: sufficient generating capacity, and sufficient transmission capacity. Although it often receives the most attention, generation accounts for only...
AS YOU CHILL OUT IN YOUR TV CHAIR, WATCHING THE Winter Olympics from Nagano, Japan, think a moment about Kyoto, not far away, and what the climate change treaty might have in store.
On Jan. 8, federal climatologist Tom Karl announced that 1997 was the warmest year on record, with thermometer readings exceeding the mean (1961-90) by 0.42 degrees centigrade (0.75 degrees Fahrenheit). Writing in his World Climate Report, editor Patrick J. Michaels took Karl to task for reporting only half the story. Michaels, a professor at the University of Virginia, and the brother of frequent Fortnightly contributor Robert Michaels (the economist from Cal-State Fullerton), said Karl's report erred by combining land-based data with readings from ocean buoys designed to monitor El Niño, whereas satellite readings are more reliable, and show no consistent warming.
But Wait. There's More.
In the same issue, Robert C. Balling (Ph.D., Arizona State University) predicts boom times for soybean farmers. Citing studies from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and the United Kingdom Meteorological Office, Balling says that the combined effects of climate change and higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon-dioxide could boost soybean yields in Iowa 20 to 30 percent.
Along a similar vein, Balling cites a 1996 study by Y. Xue and J. Shukla (Journal of Climate, Vol. 9, 3260-3275): "[T]hey showed that increasing plant growth in the drylands could promote local precipitation, further acting to cool the surface and near-surface conditions."
So it's true after all. Rain does follow the plow. That will be news to Jonathan Raban, acclaimed author of Bad Land, the award-winning story of homesteading in eastern Montana during the early 20th century. Though rainfall appeared too scant to allow farming on the high plains, that didn't stop the homesteaders, notes Raban, who dotes on scientific pamphlets promising the heavens would open. As Raban writes, one such pamphlet noted the "common observation" that "rainfall in a new country increases with settlement, cultivation and tree planting." Raban adds that a certain professor Agassiz had predicted as early as 1867 that more rain would come about from "the disturbance of electrical currents caused by the building of the railroads."
On to Kyoto.
Late last month, consultant Vito Stagliano (Energy Security Analysis Inc., Washington, D.C.) sent me a study predicting a massive shift from coal to gas for electric generation to comply with the CO2 abatement measures apparently required in the as-yet-unsigned (and unexplained) Kyoto treaty, which assumes that rising CO2 will lead to global climate change.
Assuming the treaty would require a 7-percent reduction of 1990 CO2 emissions by 2010, and assuming that the Energy Information Administration is correct in estimating uncontrolled CO2 emissions at 663 tons in 2010 (up from 477 tons in 1990), ESAI predicts that Kyoto would cut coal-fired kilowatt-hours by a factor of 56 percent between 1997 and 2010 (from 1843 million to 806 million MWhs). Gas-fired generation would more than quadruple over the same period (from 460 million to 2438 million MWhs). That's a lot of turbines.
Christopher Ellsworth, Stagliano's coauthor from