Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Xmas present from America?

The insincerity and deceit of PM Grub Rudd partly mirror the views of the Australian electorate and also Rudd’s perception of international political opinion. Politicians like Rudd just don’t get it – we need massive cuts in carbon emissions and an end to the use of carbon based fuels soon if the earth is not to very likely to experience catastrophic (2 degrees plus) climate change*. Rudd is not alone in his stupidity. The Europeans have reneged on commitments to address climate change seriously despite the leadership role of Germany’s scientist leader Angela Merkel.

French climate scientist Philippe Ciais argues the earth will experience 2 degrees warming even if all emissions stopped today. There is even one notable forecast by NASA scientist James Hansen of record global temperature highs during the first term of President Obama’s office and of the possibility of runaway warming with the destruction of all life on earth and in the oceans.

These are fearful scenarios and will be derided by climate change sceptics but the outcomes they point too as serious scientists are very adverse and are worthy of weight on that account alone. It is not alarmism but prudent regard for a serious risk that endangers life on earth.

Some of Obama’s appointments suggest a new US respect for science. Obama is committed to serious climate change policies and has:

...pledged to create 5 million green jobs and break U.S. dependence on foreign oil, investing $150 billion in the next decade to build an energy economy that relies on renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal energy.
Moreover, despite US economic problems these sorts of policies seem like a plausible and reasonable vision. Already the appointment of serious climate change scientists to key positions in his administration has led to forecasts that this will have a positive effect of Indian, Chinese and Brazilian climate policies.

The old US ‘enemy’ may yet arise to save the day - I have already posted that there is a conceivable economic rationale for doing just that. It would be a great Xmas present for the world for Obama to establish his position as a great US President by getting the world’s political leaders to take seriously climate change.

* My own work as an economist interested in climate change policy will emphasise adaptation policies on the assumption that (regrettably) mitigation policies are likely to be ineffectual.  I am also completing work on strategic aspects of mitigation policy.

7 comments:

conrad said...

It's good that Obama links the need to fix these problems not just with global warming, but buying oil from what often amounts to countries led by authoritarian assholes. Given the silly politicization of global warming into right-and-left, hopefully being fuel independent can appeal to both.

Sinclair Davidson said...

Conrad - this is a very rare occasion where I totally disagree with you. The facts are correct, many oil producers are authoritarian/totalitarian states, but that is no reason to stop trade.
http://www.fee.org/Publications/the-freeman/article.asp?aid=8340

conrad said...

SD,

I don't disagree there are harmful affects of it. However, I'd be interested to know to what extent prices really would rise if it was replaced by nuclear power and the uranium was properly recycled (as is done in France, just so they can avoid having to deal with these governments -- It's also relatively cheap). Surely this would cause an increase in the cost of uranium (who you can buy if people that are not going to screw your supply up, like Canada and Australia), but a dip in the petrol, since it would lower demand on that. I'd love to read a paper on that if you know of any.

Sinclair Davidson said...

Off the top of my head, I don't have any handy pointers to a paper like that. I think you're talking about electric cars powered by nuclear generated electricity. The limiting technologies include (cheap & safe) nuclear power, battery capacity and recharge times. The other issue is replacing the existing fleet of cars/trucks etc. The transactions costs of all this are also quite high even after the technology is viable and public concerns (re nuclear) are over come.

conrad said...

Actually, it's not just cars. They are certainly a part of it, but there is also a huge amount of energy being burnt up in the US for things like heating -- I was extremely surprised about this when I found out, since if you come from Australia, almost no buildings have this type of heating (I believe we're the exception incidentally -- I've seen this type of heating in Northern China a lot, and some parts of Europe). Thus I think a fair bit of burnt-oil style energy could be saved -- probably enough such that demand would be reduced for a while so that it would be far harder for any one country to mess the supply up. You can see this in the Wikipedia entry:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_use_in_the_United_States

Gasoline is 40% of the energy used, but the transport sector only uses 28%. So 12% is being used for non-transport related things, which I assume at least part of could be replaced. (not being an expert, I certainly could be wrong!)

Also, I'm not actually fussed whether it's nuclear or whatever else -- I can't see why all possible forms of energy production are not used depending on their price -- surely different places must be suited for different things. It's just that nuclear is the obvious one which can be exploited now whilst waiting for other technologies to come online. If I remember correctly, one of my friends who is an ex-nuclear plant inspector in France told me that they get around 7% of the total possible energy out of their uranium thanks to reprocessing, but most other countries which don't do reprocessing (which I believe includes most of the uranium used in the US) get only 1-2% (??) of the energy. The main reason reprocessing is disliked is that you get plutonium, which is why the UN won't let various countries have these plants, but I don't think that's a problem for the US. Thus with really good reprocessing, hopefully the price of uranium wouldn't go through the roof.

Spiros said...

Well said Harry.

Fortunately, if Obama leads, Rudd will follow, in the great tradition of Australian PMs for the past 60+ years.

Happy Christmas to you Harry, and to most of your readers.

Anonymous said...

Obama will, like all US president-elects, make all kinds of fabulous promises. Very, very few of them will be kept. Anyone who believes that he will do one tenth of what he promises, is in for a rude awakening. Just the way it is. I don't expect much and I am rarely disappointed. If he keeps the country safe, I'll be satisfied.