Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
As a frequent contributor to your influential journal, which is, indeed, in the "Frontlines" of efforts to improve the U.S. energy and power infrastructure, I was especially interested in your February 2005 issue. The article by Sanne B. Jacobsen, Neil J. Numark, and Paloma Sarria titled "A Changing U.S. Climate" (pp. 25-33) is surprisingly balanced.
But as an advocate of the development and commercialization of emission-free sustainable energy sources that will replace fossil fuels with sufficient lead time to avoid damage to the economy and, in fact, allow continued improvement in human well-being through growing energy abundance, I was disappointed that the authors failed to cite the December 2004 report by the National Commission on Energy Policy titled (available at ). Rather than a jumble of mandatory and voluntary state, regional actions, and individual company initiatives to reduce the emissions of the major anthropogenic greenhouse gases, it proposes a mandatory reduction of greenhouse-gas intensity in metric ton of CO2 equivalents of 2.4 percent/year of the gross domestic product across the entire economy by 2010, with an economy-wide tradable permit system costing $7/metric ton of CO2 equivalent. All prices and costs are in constant 2004 dollars. Note that the qualification "anthropogenic" greenhouse gases is necessary since only about 4 percent of the 200 billion metric ton (gigatonnes) annual carbon cycle (as CO2) among the atmosphere, the ocean, and the terrestrial sources and sinks comes from human activities, and half of this is naturally sequestered.
The Bush administration has called for a voluntary declining intensity cap of 1.8 percent/year. The commission also recommends major increases in federal R,D&D programs and industry subsidies such as $7 billion over 10 years for advanced coal technologies allowing carbon sequestration and $2 billion for nuclear power research and deployment. Part of the $7 billion subsidy would be for early deployment incentives of integrated coal gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) plants. The remainder would be for public incentives to demonstrate commercial-scale carbon capture and geologic sequestration at a variety of sites. Similar incentives are recommended for nearly every major energy technology, including a $1.5 billion program over 10 years to increase domestic production of advanced non-petroleum transportation fuels from biomass and waste.
The findings and recommendations of the National Commission on Energy Policy summarized by Jeff Johnson (, Jan. 5, 2005, pp. 32-33) cites commission estimates that its program would cost $36 billion over 10 years. However, the commission emphasizes that its strategy would be revenue neutral because the government would recover these investments through the economy-wide tradable permit system costing $7/metric ton of CO2-equivalent. These CO2 equivalents are listed in the National Commission report.
These recommendations are, in my opinion, far preferable to the jumble of state and regional initiatives mainly on the Kyoto Protocol model that set a specific, usually CO2-equivalent reduction target over a limited number of years without consideration of whether this reduction is feasible technically and economically. Even worse are the initiatives that specify mandatory percentages of carbon-emission-free technologies, such as renewable sources for power generation and transportation fuels.
Why not let the industry make its own decisions on how to meet economy-wide reductions in greenhouse-gas intensity as a percentage of GDP? For example, the electric utility industry may find it most practical and economical to gain lead time for deployment of a truly sustainable power supply in coal-rich countries such as the United Sates, China, and India to use the advanced IGCC process modified for hydrogen production by catalytic water gas shift and CO2 removal and sequestration. It can be demonstrated easily that the land requirements for biomass to replace fossil fuels far exceed what is available in the world and the United States, including croplands, pastures, and meadows.1 Moreover, the progress of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by major segments of industry through voluntary profitable technology improvements suggests that we may all be surprised by how readily the United States could comply with an economy-wide 2.4 percent annual reduction in greenhouse-gas intensity measured in metric tons of CO2-equivalents of the GDP in constant 2004 dollars without any specific requirements for how to accomplish this. Political bodies are clearly the least qualified and most biased arbiters of which areas of the economy and which energy sources and technologies would offer a least-cost path.
I want to close with an endorsement of a global initiative patterned on the findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).2,3 These findings call for a stabilization of atmospheric CO2 concentration at 550 parts per million by volume (ppmv), about double the pre-industrial concentration of 280 ppmv. This would require capping cumulative anthropogenic carbon emissions between 1990 and 2100 at 1,000 billion metric tons (gigatonnes) and thereafter would limit them to the level of natural sequestration-currently about 4 gigatonnes/ year. Eventually, additional average global surface temperature increases at median climate sensitivity would stabilize at 1.6-2.8°C-still in the range of natural climate variations during the past 10,000 years. It is true that during the past 160,000 years, which includes the last 100,000-year ice age and the preceding and following interglacial periods, CO2 concentrations did not exceed 300 ppmv, but average global surface temperatures varied from 2°C above those at the beginning of the 20th century to 10°C below them without human intervention. Nevertheless, it seems prudent not to conduct a global experiment of the effect of more than doubling of the pre-industrial CO2 concentrations. The theoretical effect of the resulting radiative forcing of 4.4 watts/square meter is a 1.2°C increase in the effective emission temperature of the Earth of -18°C, 5.5 kilometers up in the troposphere.4
This compares with an average global surface temperature of +15°C. The 33°C difference (a lapse rate of 6°C/kilometer) is due to the benign effect of the major greenhouse gas-water vapor, which is responsible for about 97 percent of the greenhouse effect without which the Earth would be an arctic desert without most forms of life. However, because of a variety of feedback effects, due to various forms of water in the atmosphere (vapor at declining concentrations in the troposphere and stratosphere, clouds at different heights and reflectivity, etc.), the impact of this 1.2°C warming at 5.5 kilometers up in the troposphere on the surface cannot be predicted, except that it is likely to cause a higher temperature increase.
In any event, I am no longer a contrarian on anthropogenic climate change, but a pragmatist.4 However, I reject the unsubstantiated predictions of the alarmists and believe we should adopt the December 2004 recommendations of the National Commission on Energy Policy as a prelude for a global agreement to follow the recommendations of the U.N. IPCC outlined earlier. The United States, although responsible for about 24 percent of global energy consumption and anthropogenic carbon emissions (as CO2) and 29 percent of global GDP with less than 5 percent of global population, cannot be held responsible for what happens due to the other 76 percent of energy consumption-increasingly by the developing countries that soon will emit more carbon than the industrial countries. The Kyoto Protocol and schemes using its philosophy fail in not advocating a global agreement for mandatory, economy-wide annual reductions in greenhouse-gas intensity. This should be measured in metric tons of CO2-equivalents per unit of GDP designed to limit global anthropogenic carbon emissions to 1,000 gigatonnes between 1990 and 2100, then stabilized at a level that caps atmospheric CO2 concentrations at 550 ppmv.
1. Henry R. Linden, "Let's Focus on Sustainability, Not Kyoto," , Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 56-67, March 1999.
2. J.T. Houghton, , eds., "Climate Change 1995, The Science of Climate Change," Contribution of Working Group I to the Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 1996, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K. and New York.
3. J.T. Houghton, , eds., "Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis," Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K. and New York.
4. Henry R. Linden, "How to Justify a Pragmatic Position on Anthropogenic Climate Change," , Vol. 44, No. 5, March 2, 2005. Since Sept. 4, 2004, available on the World Wide Web.
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