September 5, 2006

California Retro

For nearly 100 years, Californians have claimed to be the innovators that the rest of the United States and the world ultimately follow. Not so on global warming. Instead, the California Legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger have just passed and signed global warming legislation that is an awful lot like a watered-down version of the failed Kyoto Protocol. That’s sooo 1990s.

That Protocol was supposed to reduce our emissions of Carbon Dioxide, the main human-generated global warming gas, to 7% below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. Nationally, emissions are up about 18% since then. Recognizing this failure, the California law merely cuts back California emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a 25% cut.

Why on earth did they do this, and what will it accomplish?

In a word, politics. Arnold is up for re-election, and California is (and has always been) politically very green. Hint: “Sierra Club” stands for Sierra Nevada Mountain Club. While everyone back east pretty much yawns over its antics, people in California pay attention to it much the same way that Euros worship Greenpeace (another organization simply ignored here).

Greens are in record high dudgeon over global warming. Al Gore’s movie has them pumped. Scientists don’t see any incentive to quell the hysteria, after all, it’s quite a living. The California public is alarmed. So, it’s totally logical that there has been a political and policy response.

Specifically, the current clamor revolves around a scientific absurdity: unless we drastically cut our emissions of carbon dioxide in the next nine years, there will be an irreversible climate catastrophe caused by the rapid shedding of Greenland and Antarctic ice. While climate populists still say “ten years,” they’ve been making this claim for a year now. Time marches on.

It’s science fiction. The slight loss of Greenland ice in the last few years is hardly unprecedented. Its cause is thought to be a reversal of a fifty-year cooling trend that ended in the late 1990s over the southern (melting) part of the landmass. Prior to then, for several decades, it was much warmer than it has averaged in the last decade. Look the UN’s climate history for the region for yourself, here .

In the early 20th Century, Greenland had to have been shedding ice at a much higher rate than today (or, God forbid, today’s loss isn’t being driven by warmer temperatures!), and indeed this is documented. Check out “The Present Climate Fluctuation,” published in 1948 by Hans Ahlmann, in The Geographic Journal, a periodical of the Royal Geographical Society.

Antarctica? Suffice it to say that every recent climate model for the 21st century predicts that it will gain, not lose, ice.

Another big driver of the current wave is the notion that hurricanes are getting worse because of global warming. Again, there’s little that’s unprecedented. Today’s frequency of Category 4 and 5 storms, the worst kind, is mathematically indistinguishable in the Atlantic and Western Pacific (the world’s most active hurricane regions) from what it was a half-century ago…right around the time Ahlmann published his paper.

The idea is simple. Warmer water yields more energy for stronger storms. But that notion is simplistic, as other factors that correlate with warmer water serve to mitigate storms.

Further, the oceans just haven’t been cooperating recently. An upcoming paper, by John Lyman, in Geophysical Research Letters is sending waves of anxiety into the scientific cheerleaders for Gore’s apocalypse. It shows, inexplicably, that the world’s oceans lost 20% of the heat they have gained in the last half century in the last two years!

So, it’s an easy argument that California’s global warming bill is being driven by nonsensical overkill. But if people insist that all of these horrible things are being caused by global warming, what will California’s “leadership” do about it?

The answer, under the rosiest of policy scenarios, is simple: absolutely not one detectable thing. Further, if global warming is overall bad (a debatable hypothesis), California’s law could easily make things worse.

Lets be real rosy, and say that California does lead the nation, and that Congress passes a similar law. Further, let’s say that California leads the world, and every nation that has to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol (quotas that virtually no one has met) indeed adopts and meets the California mandates. The amount of global warming that will be “prevented “ by 2060 will be 0.05 degrees Celsius. That’s right, one-twentieth of a degree.

That’s an easy calculation, because it’s well-known that Kyoto would prevent 0.07 degrees of warming along this timeframe, and California’s law doesn’t reduce emissions quite as much as Kyoto. Whatever, there’s no network of global thermometers or satellites that will ever be able to detect that change because global surface temperature fluctuates about three times that much from year-to-year.

Will California itself meet it’s own legally-imposed emissions limits? Doubtful, unless there will be some chicanery whereby carbon dioxide is fobbed off on, say, power plants in neighboring states. Reducing emissions 25% has to be accomplished while, thanks to immigration, population rises rapidly. It is not expected that the entry-level car for entry-level Californians is a $30,000 hybrid, either. While the chi-chi may buy them (and then loudly complain that they just don’t get their advertised MPG), they will sell their existing cars to the newcomers. Thanks to California’s largely snow-free climate, beaters live a long life in the Golden State.

All of this will lead to the tragedy of California’s “leadership.” If people think that current hurricanes are being juiced by global warming, if they think that the calving of Greenland is unprecedented (despite decades of warmer temperatures in the early 20th century), then they will expect some return for their grief. Hurricanes will continue, and more people will be exposed to them. The earth’s temperature trajectory won’t be altered a measurable iota. Ultimately, despite their efforts to lower emissions, people will see absolutely no alteration in current weather that could possibly be ascribed to this policy.

Basing policy upon hysterical exaggeration is a sure recipe for failure, when the policy will accomplish nothing but sour people on carbon dioxide emission restrictions. So much for Californian “leadership.” Sounds much more like politics as usual, much sound and fury, and little accomplished.

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