Thursday, May 14, 2015

Are You A Global Warming Skeptic, Denier, or Contrarian?

A previous Blog Post discussed two Opinion Groups that have major disagreements with the IPCC Report on Global Warming/Climate Change -- Skeptics and Deniers. But a Washington Post story presented some thought that a 3rd Category is needed -- Contrarians. Today's Blog critiques these Groups, ways to differentiate between them, and why it's important.

(1) Good Faith Skeptics. Individuals within this Group generally have several distinct attributes in addressing human-driven Global Warming (called Anthropogenic or AGW):

Science Uncertainty Beliefs: Probably 99% of Climate Scientists agree on a core of basic beliefs that does represent a consensus on settled science:

  1. CO2 is a Greenhouse Gas;
  2. Adding CO2 will have a warming effect on the Planet;
  3. CO2 levels have risen dramatically during the Industrial Age;1 2
  4. In the past ~200 years, the Earth has warmed.
  5. Since the 1950's, a large part of this warming is human driven.3

(1) NOAA data for 650 million years; NOAA data for past 1,000 years; IPCC AR5.
(2) The level of CO2 is now 42% above pre Industrial Revolution levels.
(3) Views on what "large part" means -- a percentage of ~50% (Curry) to 100% (Schmidt).

But understanding Climate Science/Change is much more than just this "basic science". Called a "Wicked Problem", it involves extremely complex issues where Climate Scientists can and do sharply disagree in how much and how quickly human driven greenhouse gas emissions will effect global temperatures and regional climates (called attribution) through:

  1. Feedback Loops (e.g., cloud formation);
  2. Impacts on Natural Variability (climate oscillations, e.g., El Nino).
  3. The predictive ability of Forecasting Models (e.g., the "Pause").
"Good Faith Skeptics" fit into this above science paradigm: They accept a "consensus view of the basic science", but have valid questions of how much and how quickly AGW will effect climate.

Favored Policy Beliefs: "Good Faith Skeptics" never argue that no actions are needed on AGW. Rather -- based on the "How Much and How Fast" science uncertainty, it's a question of prioritizing actions for:

  1. Mitigation (Energy Efficiency, Renewables, Reducing Air Pollution4);
  2. Energy Technology Research (Nuclear Power, Battery Storage);
  3. Adaptation (Flooding, Health, Agriculture, Water Resources)

(4) Efforts to reduce short-lived-climate-pollutants (smog, methane, HFCs, and black carbon) -- called "Fast Mitigation".

Generally, this Group of Skeptics is supportive of both Research and "true" Adaptation initiatives (not just any special interest infrastructure project). AGW Policy conflict with the so-called mainstream "Consensus" primarily occurs over the ideological approach and perceived effectiveness of certain Mitigation options.

For Policy related current mitigation efforts, "Good Faith Skeptics" are more inclined to align themselves with Conservatism rather than Liberalism. This means that Bottom/Up Policies (flexible and de-centralized) would have much more favor than Top/Down options (e.g., rigid command and control).

Fundamental Ideological Differences Between Liberal Vs. Conservatism
When AGW Policy options are opposed/questioned such as a U.S. Carbon Tax (a regressive tax with a questionable global CO2 outcome5), Carbon Trading Schemes (another potential financial derivative play-toy of Wall Street), or a "Federal" Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (that puts decision making into the hands of Politicians in Congress rather than our Engineers) -- it can be the Policy approach, not the science that is being balked at.

Liberal Vs. Conservative Approaches to Global Warming Policy

(5) How would a U.S. Carbon Tax impact international trade? Would it simply out-source greenhouse gas emissions to Developing Countries (actually increasing overall emissions)?

"Good Faith Skeptics" recognize there is no "One-Size-Fits-All" current technology approach or geo-engineering "Silver Bullet" in addressing AGW on a Global basis. They also recognize that AGW is not a "stand-alone" issue (CO2 ppm) -- but is tied to many different issues that effect the prioritization of efforts to improve the quality of life in Developed (e.g., health concerns of smog4) versus Developing Countries (e.g., just having a toilet).

Portfolio of AGW Current Mitigation Technology Efforts:
"Good Faith Skeptics" truly care about the poor. That "Love Thy Neighbor" thing is serious, and not just a catch-phrase meme. They hate pubic debate that reduces this issue to partisan ideological differences/theatre and not specific actions to address World poverty.

Since this Group has strong conservative attributes, Market Capitalism is extremely important to them. They believe that while "compassionate conservatism" should be practiced to Developing Countries, the "big picture" measure of success shouldn't be things like how many home rooftop solar panels are installed through foreign aid.

It should be how many industrial parks have been created, making cost competitive and lower carbon footprint products for export -- creating prosperity and reducing poverty within a society.

(2) Deniers: This Group is comprised of those who deny the above widely held (consensus) core of Climate Science beliefs. Typically, this is a denial/dispute of (1) the modern temperature record (including conspiracy theories of manipulating data); and/or (2) any acknowledgement there has been meaningful human influence (AGW) on modern history temperatures.

In January 2014, U.S. Senator Schatz (D) introduced a Resolution that simply stated: "Climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change". But 49 out of 54 Republican Senators voted against this -- justly earning a label of "Deniers". Republican Senator Inhofe sums up the current Republican majority opinion: "If you don’t accept the disease (AGW), you don’t have to accept any potential cure".

Included in this Group is a very vocal sub-set of Religious Fundamentalists. Rather than focusing on science, Biblical scripture is cherry-picked (with simplistic literal interpretations) as a "major basis" of denial views.6 This type of "Denier" is especially toxic, demonizing their opposition as Cultist and Worshipers of "Mother Earth" (Gaia) or following a Satanic "Green Dragon".

This sub-Group needs to go to Sunday School more, studying God's Word that "Dominion Over" doesn't mean "Domination". They need to study science better that reinforces what the Bible teaches us about the consequences of man's actions (which can include changing the Climate).7


(6) Dr. Stephen Pope has a good lecture on science and religion (at the 56 minute mark)
(7) Article on Roger Pielke and Florida's changing climate which contradicts Senator Inhofe's statement: “The hoax is there are some people so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change the climate.” “Man can’t change the climate.”

(3) Bad Faith Contrarians: As described in the Washington Post article, Contrarians are believed to have a politico-psychological trait (some would say a downright obsession) against authoritarianism where issues are framed (staw-man arguments) in extreme terms of black or white, good and evil, individual rights versus socialism. There is rarely, if ever, any nuanced area of gray that could lead to compromise for any mitigation actions.

Make no mistake about this Group however -- they are highly educated in science/engineering and talk a "very good game" of Reasonableness. But it's a game of obfuscation. In the end-game of taking any meaningful policy action to mitigate the threat of Global Warming/Climate Change -- these "Contrarians" usually end up in the same policy place as "Deniers".

For Contrarians, Even If God Told Us Human-Driven Global Warming (AGW)
Was a Real Threat, They'd Demand a 2nd Opinion (probably from Ayn Rand).

For Contrarians, no scientific argument will ever be good enough; no economic analysis (cost/benefit) for mitigation will ever be justified. They distort and magnify uncertainties as an excuse for inaction for financial or ideological reasons.

For this Group, Conservatism has been hijacked and transformed from a philosophy of cautious stewardship into an ideology that often encourages individuals to pursue self interest, whatever the consequences to others.

Good Faith Skeptics Versus Bad Faith Contrarians: Since both Groups are often saying the same thing in AGW science or policy skepticism & opposition -- How does one differentiate between them in trustworthiness?

Historical Track Record: Reviewing One's overall body of opinion on major enacted or proposed environmental policy measures is the starting point. Is there a clear one-sidedness of only/primarily opposition, or is it a mixed bag (showing objectivity over ideology)? In opposition, are there examples of trying to find "common ground" by offering/supporting or at least having a constructive dialogue (other than just saying no) on mitigation options?

You Just Might Be a Global Warming "Contrarian" If You
Oppose/Opposed Most Other Environmental Regulations.

Environmental Issue:
Lead & MTBE (gasoline):
Mercury:
Smog:
Air Particulates:
Acid Rain:
Ozone Depletion:
Fluoridation (drinking water):
Methane:
Coal Ash:
Global Warming (AGW):
Supported
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Opposed

Contrarians "Frame" their opposition to environmental issues with straw-man arguments of "Big Government", "Socialism", "Conspiracy Theories", "Junk Science", or "Junk Economics" -- and never things like children cancers, autism, dental health, asthma, and IQ development.

Whether Contrarians run away from their environmental track record or wear it as a badge of honor, they do so with incredible hypocrisy. One one hand they criticize Mitigation Advocates as Catastrophic Alarmists (CAGW) -- but have no problem in their own brand of catastrophic messaging (which time and again has been incorrect) that compliance costs will destroy economies as "the absolute truth".

Being Disingenuous: Usually, a "dead give away" of a Contrarian is when you hear the statement:

I am opposed to the policy of Big Government that distorts the Market and picks winners and losers. The free market should be the Driver.

When Contrarians make their above "Winners vs. Losers" argument it is not their words or even an Ideology (Libertarian) that is the problem. It is their disingenuous inconsistency in "Walking the Talk". As conservative Republican U.S. Senator Grassley (Iowa) states, Contrarians want to have this debate in a vacuum. They show "bad faith" in not wanting to put all energy subsidies on the table for review.

You Also Just Might Be a Global Warming "Contrarian"
If You Have Been Inconsistent on Energy Subsidies.

Which Subsidies Should Be Eliminated?
Oil Tax Benefits 8
Electric Utility Tax Normalization 9
Nuclear Energy:
- Tax Credit
- Catastrophic Insurance 10
- Construction Cap Subsidies 11
- DOE Loan Guarantees
- U.S. Export/Import Bank
Renewable Energy:
- Wind, Solar, Biomass Tax Credits
- DOE Loan Guarantees (Solar)
- Solar Net Metering
- State Programs (Wind, Solar)
No
 
 
 
 
 
Yes
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

(8) Tax Credits specifically for oil (not general tax benefits taken by Oil & non-Oil Companies).
(9) Normalized versus Flow-Through Tax Benefits for Investor Owned Utilities in Ratemaking.
(10) Price Anderson Act.
(11) Energy Policy Act of 2005

Selective Outrage: But this isn't just about energy issues. As Contrarians (Anti-Authoritarian Ideologues and/or Special Interests) obsess over solar/wind tax credits, they also show their "bad faith" by continued obstruction to comprehensive tax reform. Where is their outrage over things like tax preferences to Wall St. Hedge Fund Managers? (who brought down the World's economies in 2008).

Looking For Good Faith: One must always remember though, "Good Faith" is a two-way street. Both sides must demonstrate fairness, objectivity, and grace themselves -- not always looking for a Gotcha! One does not have to agree with every enacted or proposed environmental initiative to be trustworthy. People can also evolve in good-faith from prior opposition positions -- especially in the spirit of trying to find current common-ground.

“What is the environmental platform of the Republican party? I don’t know either.” ~ Sen. Lindsey Graham A Republican Senator admits his party has no plan on climate change. Yet, they’re trying to block President Obama from acting to address the crisis. http://on.nrdc.org/1N8wn77

Posted by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) on Wednesday, March 25, 2015
The constructive dialogue between Republican Senator Lindsey Graham
and the environmental organization NRDC illustrates what's needed.

The Importance of "Good Faith Skeptics": If there is any hope in achieving bi-partisan actions, "Good Faith Skeptics" must play the key role. They must take on a role of "Peace-makers", turning down the thermostat of partisan rhetoric -- seeking, nurturing, and building trust in finding "common ground" among very different constituencies/interests.

Only Through Good Faith Skeptics Can We
Possibly Find Common Ground On AGW
As discussed in previous blogs, there are two areas of potential common-ground that may be especially promising:

  1. Reducing Short-Lived Climate Pollutants12("Fast Mitigation");
  2. International Trade (including selling U.S. natural gas to Developing Economies as they transition/bridge to lower-carbon standards13).

(12) Chemistry and the Linkages between Air Quality and Climate Change.
(13) But as part of a comprehensive plan -- not as a cherry-picked stand-alone policy action that would only benefit Special Interest Groups. A comprehensive plan of this type would place Deniers (e.g. Senator Inhofe) in a real dilemma, and force Contrarians to be more consistent.

A Needed Paradigm Shift: The most important thing that "Good Faith Skeptics" must achieve is to clearly demarcate themselves from the "Deniers" and "Contrarians". All too often in opposition to the the so-called 97% IPCC consensus, this line becomes blurred or even indistinguishable.

Making this distinction isn't about giving up one's values, principles, or beliefs in the name of compromise. It's about defining what one is FOR rather than just always what they are against (and angry all the time). It's about winning the "big picture war" rather than jumping into never ending battles du jour. Its about not allowing to be manipulated into a certain Group.

Incendiary Comments: Often in media settings, "Good Faith Skeptics" hear things they know shouldn't be said -- but just turn away in silence if the "verbal hand-grenade" supports battling the so-called 97% IPCC Consensus.

While this silence may "play well" with Deniers and Contrarians, it sure doesn't help in building trust within a critical target audience that is "sitting on the fence" (lukewarmers). When terms like "Fraud" or "Hoax" are used, they should be called out for the epithets they are.

Be Careful Who You Hang Out With: For a moment, let's assume that a parallel World exists -- a World were President Obama (not Reagan) is trying for the first time to address internationally the "Ozone Hole". What would this "debate" look like in today's toxic political environment?
What would be the reaction if no Montreal Protocol existed and Obama proposed EPA Regulations to unilaterally reduce CFCs in the U.S.? Would we be hearing many of the same arguments from the very Groups that have consistently opposed so many environmental issues in the past?

Especially for "Good Faith Scientists", they don't need to be loved and admired -- they need to be broadly respected and viewed as the "Fair Umpire". "Fair Umpires" just don't hang out with Las Vegas Bookies.

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Additional News Stories and Sources:
Gulf Power and Coal Ash

Monday, March 09, 2015

Top Ten List of Good Things About Global Warming (humor).

The New Yorker Magazine reports (Andy Borowitz) that after a study from Yale showed that the term “Climate Change” elicits relatively little concern from the American public, leading scientists are recommending replacing it with new terms like:
  1. You will be burnt to a crisp and die,
  2. Your cities will be ravaged by tsunamis and floods.

Gee Whiz -- What a Gloomy Gus.

Having a mind just as strange as Andy Borowitz or the folks at the Onion -- it took only 3.14159265359 nanoseconds (easy as pie) to compile some top positives.

Top Ten Good Things That Can Happen With Global Warming:

10
Undersea World of Cousteau Replaces NBC Nightly News.
9
Always Wanted to go to Antarctica for Spring Break!
8
Thong Bikinis on Casual Fridays at Work.
7
Citing EPA Health Benefits of Dry Heat, Hell Moves to Syria.
6
"Where's Waldo Hiding the Cold Brewskis?" is #1 World Game.
5
Russia Solves Economic Problems, Introducing Club-Med Siberia.
4
Carbon Tax on Hot Air Forces Congress to Shut Down.
3
Dinosaurs Reappear in Galapagos Islands After Million Year Hiatus.
2
Florida Washes Away Making Presidential Elections Much Easier.
1
Two Words (even in Nebraska, Alaska, or Sweden): SURF's UP!!!

Some Random Thoughts That Also Pop Into My Head:

The Fussin' and Fightin': In the Blogosphere, when people debate highly technical points (like temperature statistical methods), we are reminded of how Nerds Talk Trash/Smack.

Today's Horoscope for Climate Scientists: Being a Climate Scientist must be pretty stressful -- with everybody suing each other and now Congress inquiring about personal financial records.
A Wicked Problem: Most Climate Scientists agree that there are unknown unknowns (things that we don't even know that we we don't know) with Global Warming. When we get to the Pearly Gates, even Saint Peter might not exactly know what's going on.

When Calvinism "Pre-Destination" comes to the Global Warming Debate.

 

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Is Ethanol Being Forced Down Our Throats?

What Would We Replace Ethanol With?

In the U.S., ethanol has become a "Whipping Boy" -- especially among Tea Party Types as yet another example of "Big Government" intrusion on free markets and personal liberties. But in Media reporting and debate, three key aspects of ethanol blending in gasoline are almost never mentioned (as if these realities don't exist):

  1. Octane Requirements;
  2. An Oxygenate for Cleaner Air.
  3. Cancer Concerns with Ethanol Alternatives.

Octane: Octane is an additive needed to reduce the reaction of gasoline to combust/ignite under pressure in a car's engine cylinder (called anti-knock). Without proper octane levels in gas we buy at the pump, automobile performance levels will decrease and cause engine damage. Un-blended gasoline (E-0 ethanol free) has an octane rating of ~84 and thus needs an octane enhancer to achieve a minimum rating of 87.

Ethanol has a high octane rating (~113), where the majority of gasoline today is blended with ~10% ethanol (called E-10) to achieve the needed regular grade octane rating level of 87 for proper engine performance:

Reason #1 Why Ethanol is Blended With Gasoline

Gas
Component:
Octane
Rating
Percentage
Blend
Weighted
Octane
Unblended Gas (E-0)
84
90%
75.7
Ethanol (E-100)
113
10%
11.3
Gas @ Pump (E-10)
87
100%
87

Clearly the Media is not presenting the significance of this ~10% ethanol blending level -- which is not a "Big-Government Mandate" but an automotive engineering requirement for a minimum 87 octane rating in gasoline.

Octane's History: For decades, the principle source to meet minimum octane requirements in gasoline was lead. But according to every World Health Organization this results in severe health problems (e.g., central nervous system damage, neurological development in children, fertility problems, high blood pressure, kidney damage).

In fact, there are now only 4 Countries in the entire World that have not taken action to eliminate lead in gasoline -- North Korea, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Burma.

In the 1990's, the U.S. EPA began requiring that lead be phased out of gasoline. Initially, this was achieved by using the high octane and oxygenate additive MTBE (derived from fossil fuels). However in the early 2000's, research from numerous national and international Health Organizations found that high usage levels of MTBE was likely a cancer causing agent. While the EPA has not specifically banned MTBE, its use has been banned in about half of the U.S. by State Legislatures.

States Banning MTBE
Like on so many other environmental issues (assessing economic costs versus health benefits under scientific uncertainty), the opinion on MTBE generally followed the Red State versus Blue State deep cultural divide that exists in the U.S. (as the above map reflects).

For all practical purposes however, the MTBE controversy was settled not by Regulation but by the Courts. MTBE Manufactures and Blenders were being hauled into Courts (in hundreds of lawsuits) and losing. In an attempt to address this lawsuit problem by Blenders/Manufacturers occurring at State and local levels, Tea Party Members in the U.S. Congress (e.g., Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, Chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee) attempted to protect the MTBE Industry through Federal indemnification legislation -- which was rejected by the U.S. Senate.

Without Federal protection from environmental damage lawsuits (similar to what the Nuclear Power Industry receives for any accident)1, MTBE Manufacturers/Blenders decided it just wasn't worth the legal exposure and hassle.
(1) The Price Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act.

Energy Policy Act of 2005: This Federal legislation created the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to collectively address the following issues -- issues which still exist today:

  1. Octane Requirements in Gasoline;
  2. Oxygenate Requirements in Gasoline;
  3. Foreign Oil Dependence;
  4. Economic Development for U.S. Farmers.
In anti-ethanol rhetoric which the Media seems all to willing to accept, the following untruths are routinely presented to the American Public:

The Ethanol Mandate: A perception is often presented that the RFS "mandates" that the ethanol production volume used by Gasoline Blenders must increase by pre-determined levels every year. The EPA has clearly stated that this is just untrue -- and that scheduled increases in the RFS are targets, and not mandates.2

For 2015, the EPA proposed blending volumes of 2.9 billion gallons less than the RFS scheduled targets; which is also 1.34 billion gallons less than in 2014. According to EIA and EPA estimates, ethanol currently provides a little less than 10% (9.74%) of the total volume of finished motor gasoline consumed in the U.S.


(2) Under Section 211(o)(7) of the Clean Air Act, the EPA has the authority to reduce the renewable fuel standard requirements if implementing the standard could cause severe economic harm or if there is inadequate domestic supply to meet the requirements.

Ethanol Must Be Blended In All Gasoline: This myth is refuted by the fact that ethanol free gasoline is blended and marketed throughout the U.S. (e.g., Boat Marinas). The problem here is not "Big Government" Regulations -- its the lack of overall consumer volume demand for this pricier product (which has higher cost non-ethanol octane enhancers which we will discuss in a moment).

In fact, the RFS does exactly the opposite of what the Tea Party says. The RFS reduced/simplified a myriad of cumbersome Regulations for gasoline, giving Blenders much more flexibility including the blending of special niche (e.g., Watercraft) gasolines. While most notable was the removal of the 2% oxygenate blending requirement, other aspects included volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and Mobile Source Air Toxics (MSAT) regulations.

One question that anti-ethanol proponents never address is: If Congress just rescinds the RFS, what Regulations would the EPA then impose for clean air? The age old adage "Be Careful What You Wish For" could result in EPA Regulations more restrictive that what currently exist for Blenders.3


(3) This includes increased EPA focus on the health concerns (e.g., fine particulates, cancer risks) of any sizable increase in the use of aromatics for automotive octane requirements (benzene, toluene, xylene).

The U.S. Is No Longer Dependent on Foreign Oil: Another argument often repeated in the Media is that since the enactment of the RFS, circumstances have changed dramatically -- as foreign oil imports have decreased from ~60% to ~33% by 2013.4 The problem with citing this metric is that it's both irrelevant (to the octane and oxygenate requirements discussed above) and also highly misleading.

Arguments that the RFS is no longer needed are cherry-picking data -- citing U.S. Net Imports (i.e., Gross Petroleum Imports minus Exports). Using a dependency metric of Gross Imports reflects a very different story -- where the U.S. is importing a whopping ~50% of its Oil Demand.4

(4) Using incomplete data from the EIA for 2014, estimated Gross Oil Imports were ~49% and Net Oil Imports were ~28%.

Data is also being cherry-picked as to where this Foreign Oil is coming from. While Spin Doctors can be technically correct that Canada now represents the largest single country importing oil to the U.S, this fails to reflect that a tremendous amount of oil is still being imported by OPEC countries (collectively exceeding that of Canada per EIA data).

U.S. Petroleum Imports
(2013)
So why is the U.S. still dependent on so much foreign oil? As addressed in depth on a previous blog post, it comes down to two bullet points: (1) Not all oil is created the same; (2) Many U.S. Gasoline Refiners did some "Wrong Guessing".

Crude oil can come in numerous forms. It can be heavy or light, sour (high sulfur content) or sweet. The dramatic increase in recent U.S. Oil Production (from fracking) has primarily been in light oil.

But prior to this shale oil boom, many U.S. Gasoline Refiners spent billions of dollars to configure their plants for heavier and sour foreign oils -- from places like OPEC countries of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Venezuela. U.S. Gasoline Refiners using heavy oil (represented in the black dots on the chart below) are not going to just walk away en masse from their capital investment and reconfigure yet again for U.S. light oil.

Further, while it may be technically correct that U.S. dependence on foreign oil (using the metric of net imports) is at the lowest level in almost 30 years, the composition of this metric is very different between 2013 and 1986.
Dependency Metric
1986
2013
Change
Gross Imports
38%
52%
+14%
Exports
05%
19%
+14%
Net Imports
33%
33%
0%
The dramatic increase in U.S. Petroleum exports (primarily gasoline and diesel) reflects an "Inconvenient Truth" that Politicians, the Oil Industry, and the Media are not telling the American Public -- that the U.S. has a Refinery structural problem on foreign heavy oil dependency.
  1. The U.S. will continue to be very dependent on imported heavy oil until/unless many Refineries are re-configured to process light oils.
  2. Unless many U.S. Refineries are reconfigured, much of the U.S.'s light oil will be exported.5
  3. This results in higher cost heavy foreign oil ending up in U.S. consumer's gastanks, while lower cost domestic light oil is exported.
This last bullet point is extremely important in understanding foreign oil dependence. If U.S. Refiners were simply importing oil, refining it, and then exporting gasoline/diesel from this foreign oil, then the use of the Net Imports metric would be appropriate. But this isn't what's happening.

Current Oil Prices:
U.S. (WTI) Versus International (Brent)

With domestic oil (WTI) selling at a discount to the international Brent price, U.S. Refiners/Blenders have a competitive advantage over their international competitors. This explains why U.S. gasoline exports have increased so dramatically, as U.S. Gasoline Exporters have lower raw product crude oil cost.


(5) Either as refined products (primarily gasoline and diesel) or direct crude oil exports (if Congress rescinds the +30 year old U.S. Oil Embargo).

Applying the No Harm, No Foul Rule: Three octane alternatives to ethanol are the aromatic compounds benzene, toluene, and xylene. These aromatics can be produced via high-pressure catalytic reformers in the same refineries that produce other petroleum feedstock for gasoline blending. In a recent study from the University of Illinois, the price of these 3 aromatics was compared with ethanol over a two year period -- January 2013 through January 2015.

As the above graph illustrates, ethanol prices were almost always substantially lower than the price of the other aromatics (with the gap recently narrowing but still favoring ethanol even with the collapse of +$100/bbl oil prices).

Anyone doubting the validity of the above data should think about something. The price of premium octane grades at the pump (greater than 87) always are significantly higher than regular. Higher octane ratings in premium grades are being achieved by using these non-ethanol aromatics.

Thus, by considering three points we can put Tea Party ideological arguments that customers must always have a freedom of choice into a pragmatic context:

  1. Historically, the price of ethanol beats the costs of its alternatives as a needed octane enhancer for automotive engines.
  2. In light of Refiners resistance to commit extensive capital to reconfigure their facilities for domestic light oil, it is inconceivable they would commit billions of dollars in capital to produce octane enhancers to replace lower cost ethanol.
  3. But even if Refiners did want to commit extensive capital to produce non-ethanol replacement aromatics like benzene, they couldn't do it. Benzene is a Carcinogen and limited by the EPA to a blending level of 0.62 percent (in the E.U. it's 1%).
What Rescinding the RFS Would Do: As shown, simply rescinding the RFS would have very little (if any) impact on the current volume of ethanol blended into gasoline. What it would do is likely destroy the promising and emerging cellulosic (e.g., using feedstocks such as agricultural wastes instead of corn) ethanol industry.

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Additional News Stories & Sources:
Review of Octane Enhancers -- (NREL).
Technical White Paper on Ethanol -- (RFA).

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Failure of Conservatives on Global Warming.

Conservatives have allowed and seemingly even wanted Liberal
Ideology to Hijack the Global Warming/Climate Change Debate.

As a Pew Opinion Poll reflects, Global Warming has become yet another chapter in the ongoing U.S. Culture Wars between Liberals and Conservatives. This gulf in beliefs is especially wide with people who identify with the Tea Party movement (very anti "Big Government") -- where 41% surveyed were "Deniers", believing that Global Warming just isn't happening.

Where the News and Public Media emphasizes the extreme polarization and conflict, rarely is it conveyed what most climate scientists can actually agree on.

Agreement on the Basic Science: Global Warming Theory is based on Nobel Prize winning science1 -- which is clearly not "Junk Science". One basic concept area that everyone can relate to is Rayleigh scattering -- of why the the sky is blue. Applications
of the fundamental chemistry and physics of Global Warming theory are used in aircraft design, missile defense systems, and the space program.
1 This includes: Rayleigh scattering and distillation, van der Waals (equations of state), Wien's law, Planck's constant (central to radiation theory).

Probably 99% of Climate Scientists can agree on a core of basic beliefs that does represent "a consensus on settled science":

  1. CO2 is a Greenhouse Gas;
  2. Adding CO2 will have a warming effect on the Planet;
  3. CO2 levels have risen dramatically during the Industrial Age;2 3
  4. In the past ~200 years, the Earth has warmed.
  5. For the past 60 years, a large part of this warming is human driven.4

2 NOAA data for 650 million years; NOAA data for past 1,000 years; IPCC AR5.
3 The level of CO2 is now 42% above pre Industrial Revolution levels.
4 Views on what "large part" means -- a percentage of ~50% (Curry) to 100% (Schmidt).

CO2 Levels:
Temperature Levels:

Science Uncertainty: But understanding Climate Science/Change is much more than just this "basic science". Called a "Wicked Problem", this involves extremely complex issues of our Planet's natural variability (wind and ocean currents), geological events (e.g., volcanoes) and feedback loops.

Where Climate Scientists can and do sharply disagree is how much and how quickly human driven greenhouse gases will effect global temperatures and regional climates through:

  1. Feedback Loops (e.g., cloud formation);
  2. Impacts on Natural Variability (climate oscillations, e.g., El Nino).
  3. The predictive ability of Forecasting Models (e.g., the "Pause").

In describing "Wicked Problems", perhaps the best analogy ever coined was by U.S. Secretary of State, Donald Rumsfeld of knowns and unknowns -- where applied to Climate Change there are:

  1. Known Knowns (the Basic Science);
  2. Known Unknowns (natural variability and feedback loops).
  3. Unknown Unknowns (things we don't even know that we don't know).

The Rhetoric of Uncertainty: But it's important to understand that the current unknowns do not disprove a scientific consensus in the above "core beliefs". A good example of this is the current Global Warming "Pause" -- where for the past ~15 years there have been:

  1. No statistically significant increases in Earth's land temperature,
  2. Even though CO2 levels continue to significantly increase.5

5 Although the Earth's average surface temperature rose sharply by 0.9 degree Fahrenheit during the last quarter of the 20th century, it has increased much more slowly for the past 16 years, even as the human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen by ~25%.

Deniers or extreme Skeptics/Contrarians saying or implying this "Pause" disproves a core of "Basic Science Beliefs" is a classic application of anti-science. One can try to poke all the gotcha holes they want in "Theory X", but doing so doesn't prove an alternative "Theory Y" (e.g., a tactic used by Biblical Literalists that their attempts to cherry-pick supposed holes in the theory of evolution proves Creationism beliefs).

Ideological Hard-liners can also create all the ubiquitous "conspiracy theories" (i.e., Climategate) they want -- but this still won't change the above 99% Consensus either.

In Public Opinion Wars, the terms "settled science and consensus"
are a reaction to the incendiary statements of many Republicans.

Conversely, Anthropogenic (human driven) Global Warming Advocates need to do a much better job in their communication of uncertainty -- especially their defensiveness. A good start would be a well versed "consensus" recognition that Climate Scientists don't yet adequately understand the sensitivities of this "Wicked Problem" -- especially the ability of current Climate Models to predict near term decadal impacts.6


6 Called Transient Climate Response or TCR.

Clearly, CO2 parts per million levels and temperatures have not responded in a linear cause and effect fashion in the short-term (as many initially believed). Maybe the long-term progression of Global Warming is a stair-step function (with pauses of decades or more). Maybe its a exponential log function when some thresholds are broken through until equilibrium. Maybe, its a combination of these functions with warming interacting and compounding natural variabilities on things we currently just don't even know about (unknown, unknowns).

We do know this -- if anything does happen with severe consequences, we won't be able to fix it as changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration levels can persist for centuries. With a trajectory to double the Earth's CO2 levels, mankind is conducting the biggest science experiment of all time involving very deep uncertainties.

Reaching a Consensus: A TED presentation provides a good perspective of how to be effective when taking on difficult, wicked problems. The lecture uses a example of Dr. Alice Stewart, who in the 1950’s thought she had found a solid statistical link between expectant Mothers who had received x-rays and childhood cancers. But while Dr. Stewart was eventually shown to be correct, it took the medical science community over 25 years to achieve a consensus in proving and accepting this linkage.

For over two decades within the medical and public policy arena, Dr. Stewart was labeled an Alarmist in her Catastrophic warnings.

As the TED lecture explains, science is most often messy and laborious. In resolving challenges, the Right Kind of both Advocate and Skeptic is needed in an environment of some basic trust -- not driven by tribalism and hard-line ideologies of political, religious, economic, and even academic special interests or egos.

Conservative Hot Buttons:
In recent years, negative ideological "values" messaging from Conservative Think Tanks, Media Sources, and Religious Groups have associated and demonized environmental policy initiatives as big-government, socialism, anti-free markets, job loss, and even with Faith (worshiping the Green Dragon).
Global Warming is framed to hit all the hot
buttons of Conservatives to create a perfect storm.

The effectiveness of this negative messaging is absolutely evident in national polling, where partisan divides on environmental issues are greater than on major issues like the budget deficit, health care, and Social Security.

Widest Partisan Differences Over Issues
(% rating each a top priority)
Issue:
Rep
Dem
Ind
Diff
Protecting the Environment:
28%
65%
48%
-37%
Problems of Poor & Needy:
32%
64%
48%
-32%
Reducing U.S. Budget Deficit:
80%
49%
66%
-31%
Dealing with Global Warming:
14%
42%
27%
-28%

Clearly, environmental issues have become a "hot button" among many Conservatives -- a litmus test in defining one's personal values:

"Global warming is a religion of a secular left that rejects the God of creation in favor of worship of creation. . . Any of those involved in the science of global warming oppose capitalism in general and America in particular. They are maladjusted, Al Gore type angry people in need of prayer." (Erick Erickson of RedState.com)

History of Republican Environmental Leadership: The current adversarial and combative attitude toward environmental issues hasn't always been the case. The Republican Party has a rich history in leadership and bi-partisan cooperation to address numerous serious environmental issues.

Two vivid examples are ozone depletion (President Reagan) and air quality (under both Bush Administrations) -- where significant improvements have been achieved without destroying the economy, advancing socialism, or worshiping a supposed Mother Earth.

Air Quality
Click To See Improvement
Ozone Hole
Click To See Improvement

When past Republican EPA Administrators7 serving under every Republican President thinks Anthropogenic (emissions from human activity) Global Warming is a real and serious threat, this should mean something to Conservatives -- no matter what Al Gore believes.


7 Ruckelshaus (Nixon), Thomas (Reagan), Reilly (Bush), Whitman (Bush).

Where Have the Conservative Thinkers Gone?: By reducing Global Warming/Climate Change to Culture Warfare, Conservatives have and continue to fail miserably. The Problem isn't "Junk Science" of liberal scientists, its the "Junk Thinking" by Conservatives. They are forgetting the very core principles of conservatism, and how these principles should be applied to any policy issue.

Fundamental Ideological Differences Between Liberal Vs. Conservatism

The "True Problem" for Conservatives is that from the get-go, the issue of Global Warming was hi-jacked by Liberal Ideology policy proposals. Conservatives have never developed meaningful and consistent policy alternatives based on their principles to pro-actively tackle this issue.

By arguing that no or little actions are warranted, Conservatives are choosing to play a very dangerous and high stakes "winner take all" game. No person on this Planet knows how the science or politics of Global Warming will eventually play out. Two things can absolutely happen: (1) Breakthroughs in science confirming the theory where the timing and consequences are unquestionably serious; (2) The occurrence of extreme weather events which overwhelms public opinion (correct or not) to demand immediate major policy actions.

Waiting to develop, taking a pro-active leadership position, and establishing credibility on conservative policy alternatives is a non-starter. If swings in public opinion do occur to take action, it will be too late. Liberal policies (e.g., carbon taxes) will be too entrenched and Conservatives' credibility will be shot (labeled as obstructionists).

Liberal Vs. Conservative Approaches to Global Warming Policy
In their policy approaches to Global Warming, Liberals never really address:
  1. No matter how a U.S. Carbon Tax is packaged, it will still be a regressive tax -- disproportionately impacting the poor.
  2. Impact of a Carbon Tax on U.S. Manufacturing competitiveness. Will it result in increased imports, just outsourcing carbon emissions?
  3. Any Cap & Trade System would be a new Wall St. toy. Remember how these financial derivatives wrecked the World's economies?
  4. A Federal Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard would take Decision Making out of the hands of our Engineers and place it with Politicians.
A Conservative Path : By bashing Liberals less and studying science more, there just might be a way out of this mess. Using an approach advocated by Dr. Ramanathan called "Fast Mitigation", a sound-science foundation for "no regrets" climate policies can be developed -- reflecting
and consistent with the Republican Party's history of environmental leadership and commitment on hard issues (e.g., ozone depletion, acid rain, air quality).

Fast Mitigation (basically targeted to improving air quality) coupled with policies to spur high economic growth using international trade just might provide the ticket needed. With pro-active "smart and creative" conservative leadership, meaningful and immediate reductions in the "Global" trajectory path of greenhouse gas emissions could be achieved.

Fast Mitigation: While CO2 is about 77% of total greenhouse gas emissions, it is not the only thing that contributes to global warming. Other potent warming agents include three short-lived gases and dark soot particles -- called short-lived climate pollutants:
  1. Methane
  2. Ground-level Ozone (smog)
  3. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC)
  4. Dark Soot Particles
The warming effect of these short-lived climate and air quality pollutants (which stay in the atmosphere for several days to about a decade) delivers a very big punch. Methane is over 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in causing warming. Some HFCs can have a warming potential 11,000 times greater than CO2.

Global Warming Potential of CO2 & Short Lived Climate Pollutants 8

Greenhouse Gas:
Global Warming
Potential Factor
Warming Time
Potential
Carbon Dioxide:
1
>1,000 years
Methane:
21
12 years
Hydrofluorocarbons9:
1,300
14 years
Smog (O3):
.25
hours/days

9 Based on the most commonly used auto refrigerant (HFC-134a). A new refrigerant (HFO-1234yf) with a GWP that is just 4 times that of CO2 and exists for only 11 days is scheduled to become the new standard for automakers in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.

According to Dr. Ramanathan, the warming effect of these pollutants is currently about 80% of the amount that CO2 causes.

Changes in Radiative Forcing from Human Activity Emissions
Since the Industrial Revolution of 1750 (in W/m2)

Decision Making Under "No Regrets": Often the words "no regrets" are used as code "to kick the can down the road" by just calling for more research. Used in a correct context, "No or Low Regrets" should be a process of best efforts to make good decisions, especially under deep uncertainties.

With the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the authority to regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act (CAA)10 and EPA now promulgating Regs, Conservatives can try to:

  1. Overturn the law by re-writing the CAA (through the election of a GOP President & super majorities in Congress).
  2. Further fight the law in the Courts (e.g., current EPA Lawsuit).11
  3. Conduct Guerrilla Warfare (defunding EPA's Budget to enforce Regs).
  4. Make the law better (or less onerous) through Bi-partisan cooperation.

10 Defined as a pollutant agent under the CAA effecting weather or climate.
11 Both of the first two paths involve deep uncertainties. For example, to overturn EPA Regulations would likely require a super majority (60 votes) in the U.S. Senate. Also, based on other CAA legal precedents, overturning EPA authority is highly questionable.

What Conservatives should be very concerned about are the potential consequences if policy opposition is unsuccessful. By not developing pro-active alternatives, a huge void is created. If public opinion does ever demand immediate action (e.g., from catastrophic weather events) -- it will almost certainly be a liberal top/down approach based on command/control:

  1. Carbon Taxes
  2. Cap and Trade
  3. Federal Energy Mandates (Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard).
Attributes of a Conservative Plan: A pro-active approach to Global Warming based on Fast Mitigation and economic growth (through international trade) fills this current Policy void -- and directly addresses what many consider catastrophic messaging that liberal policy actions must be taken immediately (e.g., carbon taxes, etc).

Buying Time: While Fast Mitigation to reduce short lived carbon pollutants is not a long term cure-all to Global Warming (AGW), it could have a dramatic and immediate effect in decreasing the growth rate (trajectory) in global atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.

Trajectory of Global Greenhouse Gases Since 1850
In Policy decision making, Fast Mitigation can buy some time (perhaps several decades according to Dr. Ramanathan) for our scientists and engineers to hopefully figure out this "Wicked Problem" and how to best address it:
  1. Sensitivities of global temperatures and climate to increased CO2.
  2. Technology Breakthroughs (solar, natural gas fracking, nuclear, etc).
Improving Air Quality: In forming public opinion, a picture can be worth a thousand words. For many Americans, connecting with the need to reduce CO2 emissions (a colorless, odorless gas) can be difficult. Fast Mitigation targets known air quality pollutants (such as heavy truck diesel exhaust) that everyone can connect with for cleaner air.

Also, applied on a regional and local basis, Fast Mitigation can be tailored to reflect conservative principles of flexibility and de-centralized bottom-up approaches (compared to one-size-fits-all) targeted to where air quality issues are of higher concern.

Building Low Carbon Global Markets through Economic Growth: Using international trade to address concerns of Global Warming/Climate Change is a perfect example of applying conservative principles of bottom-up, de-centralized, flexible, and reward based no-regrets policy actions.

If reducing the trajectory path in green-house gases is to be truly treated as serious on a global stage, pragmatic lessons must be drawn from international trade -- where reciprocity reigns supreme. No country eliminates or reduces its trade barriers without reciprocal and meaningful concessions from trading partners.

As discussed in previous blogs (including criticism of the Obama Administration on coal use), the template of building low carbon markets is pretty straight forward:

  1. Developing countries would commit (with verifiable standards) to building low carbon intensity economies by purchasing high technology/energy efficient American products.
  2. In exchange, the U.S. would give Developing Countries unpreceded access into U.S. markets for their products.
  3. Simply stated, this Policy approach accentuates stuff we're good at (high technology products) and stuff that Developing Countries are good at (low labor cost products) -- a Win/Win.

An example of this would be current U.S. efforts to create a large free-trade zone encompassing 11 other Pacific Rim countries (excluding China) -- called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A good first-step would be for the U.S. to create some global "Enterprise Zones" with friendly developing nations (e.g., India, Philippines) to test the effectiveness of using trade to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

  1. Specific Industries would be targeted to develop and implement "Low Carbon Standards" (LCS) using U.S. high energy efficient technology.
  2. In return, the U.S. would give special access into U.S. markets for these LCS products.

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Additional News Stories:
Simple Explanation of Infrared Radiation
Basics on Global Warming Theory (Nobel prize winner, Dr. Molina)
Climate Etc. Blog thread on the Pause.
Wall St. Journal on Environmental Concerns since 1976.
Global Warming Potentials of Greenhouse Gases (GWP)
Climate Models -- (N.Y. Times)
Fast Mitigation in India -- (Washington Post)
U.S. Policy on Methane emissions -- (N.Y. Times)
U.S. Methane emissions -- (Slate Magazine)
CO2 Equivalents -- (Wikipedia)
Social Cost of Carbon -- (U.S. EPA)
Black Carbon and Arctic Sea Ice -- (What's Up With That Blog)
Estimated Impact of CO2 Power Plant Regs by State -- (Bloomburg News)
Comments on Fast Mitigation by Dr. Curry of Georgia Tech -- (Climate Etc.)
Comments on Black Carbon by Dr. Curry -- (Climate Etc.)
EPA Looking at New Regs on Methane Emissions -- (Fuel Fix).
Political Polarization and the Media -- (Pew Research).
Religion Vs. Evolution (Pew Research).
Who Wants What from the EU 2030 Climate Framework -- (Carbon Brief)
Global Carbon Trading -- (The Independent)
EPA Says U.S. Smog Rules Should be Tightened
True Conservative -- The American Conservative
Republicans Supporting a Carbon Tax? (Weekly Standard).
A Lesson that Carbon Tax Proponents Should Learn from Maryland.
Global Warming Blog/Twitter Wars -- How Much and How Fast.
Investors Support to Reduce Methane Emissions
Obama Readies Sweeping List of Executive Actions -- (Politico).
U.S. and China Reach Climate Deal -- (N.Y. Times).
Americans Trust Obama More Than Republicans on the Environment -- (Pew Research).
Air Pollution & Global Warming -- (Nature Magazine).
New Carbon Tax Bill Introduced in U.S. Senate.
Methane Reductions in Oil & Gas Industry.
GOP and Industry Will Fight EPA Proposed Reg on Smog -- (Politico).
Poll: Why People Don't Believe in Global Warming -- (Business Insider).
Advanced Nuclear Power Technology -- (MIT Research).
Obama Proposal on Methane.