May 20, 2009

No Climate Impact from New National Fuel Efficiency Standards

Recently we worked through the steps required to derive a handy-dandy way to convert carbon dioxide emissions savings to global temperature savings and suggested a few ways in which to apply it. Our primary objective was to put into everyone’s hands a quick-and-easy way for the common man to do what most climate-change-through-emissions-reductions advocates won’t do themselves (or, rather, don’t want you to know the result)—that is, put a climate face on their proposed actions.

The reason that they don’t do this themselves, is that despite all the global warming bluster, their proposed actions have virtually no direct impact on the course of future climate change.

Such is the case with the recently proposed national automobile fuel efficiency standards.

Obama Administration climate czar Carol Browner discussed the generalities of the plan but didn’t come close to providing us with any clue as to what the climate impacts of even a completely successful program might be.

Instead, she preferred to gauge the “environmental” impact of the fuel efficiency improvements in terms of the total number of barrels of oil saved. But how does barrels of oil equate to the environment? Who knows. The announced total-program savings of 1.8 billion barrels of oil certainly sounds like a big number, so it must have a big effect on the environment, mustn’t it?

Over at the Prometheus blog, Roger Pielke Jr. took us one step closer to the answer. Roger took Browner’s 1.8 billion barrels of oil and converted it to a total-program carbon dioxide emissions savings. He found that saving a total of 1.8 billion barrels of oil reduced carbon dioxide emission by 320 million metric tons (mmt).

But still, Roger stopped short of telling us what we really need to know to gauge the program’s effectiveness—that is, what is the improved fuel-efficiency standards’ impact on the earth’s climate.

Never fear, our emissions-savings-to-temperature-savings converter to the rescue!

Recall that we calculated that it takes about 1,767,250 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions to raise the global temperature 1°C. So, to find out what the impact that Roger-cum-Browner’s 320 mmt total CO2 savings is, just divide 320 by 1,767,250. When you do this you get 0.00018°C, which effectively rounds to zero.

So the new national fuel efficiency standards may ultimately reduce the total amount of oil we use, but they will have no direct impact of the future course of global warming.

While this seems like good information to know, it seems like few people are actually pointing this out.

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