Tag Archives: Climate change

Wasn’t the U.S. Supposed to Be the Villain Here?

Source: ZeroHedge

Another Warning of Sea-Level Rise

Ashville Park subdivision in Virginia Beach after Hurricane Matthew. Photo credit: Virginian-Pilot

By 2030, $838 million worth of residential property in Virginia is at risk of being chronically inundated by high tides caused by rising sea levels, directly affecting more than 6,000 people and $8 million in property taxes, according to a new report by the Union for Concerned Scientists. The definition of “chronic” inundation is 26 times per year.

“Sea levels are rising. Tides are inching higher. High-tide floods are becoming more frequent and reaching farther inland. And hundreds of US coastal communities will soon face chronic, disruptive flooding that directly affects people’s homes, lives, and properties,” states the report, ” Underwater: Rising Seas, Chronic Floods, and the Implications for US Coastal Real Estate.” “Yet property values in most coastal real estate markets do not currently reflect this risk. And most homeowners, communities, and investors are not aware of the financial losses they may soon face.”

By the end of the century, the study warns, sea levels could rise by seven feet, exposing 115,000 Virginia homes worth $30 billion to routine flooding.

That’s the worst-case scenario, predicated on the assumptions that global warming-induced sea-level rise is accelerating and that communities are incapable of adapting, and it’s the one highlighted by the report and the Virginian-Pilot coverage of the report. Under the report’s low-rise scenario based on effective global action against climate change, sea levels will rise only a foot and a half, and projected losses would be much smaller.

Scientists skeptical of alarmist global warming scenarios counter that sea levels have been rising steadily by 20 centimeters per century for at least two centuries with no sign of accelerating. The implied sea-level rise globally would be six and a half inches by the end of the century. But the impact varies geographically depending on whether tectonic plates are rising or sinking. In Virginia, the tectonic plate is sinking, suggesting that the impact could be greater locally.

I react negatively to alarmist environmental scenarios, which I think are fed more by wishful thinking that the world is in desperate need of saving. But I don’t dismiss the UCS report out of hand. If these scientists’ worst fears are well founded, Virginia’s coastline could face massive dislocation. Even if the skeptics are right, periodic flooding will get worse — not catastrophically worse but enough to force us to think differently about coastal development.

Given the array of risks, we cannot continue business as usual. I’m not suggesting that it’s time for draconian action, but we can at least stop doing stupid stuff. By “stupid stuff,” I mean we should stop subsidizing coastal development through the National Flood Insurance Program and through implicit promises that state and local government will maintain roads, power lines, water-sewer and beach restoration regardless of cost in the face of increasing floods. Homeowners should bear the costs and risks associated with their decisions to live on or near the water.

Local governments also need to stop zoning for large developments in flood-prone areas. In a separate and unrelated article, the Virginian-Pilot describes the issues surrounding the proposed expansion of the Ashville Park development in Virginia Beach. The developers won zoning approval for the giant, high-quality subdivision more than a decade ago, before periodic flooding became a concern. In 2016 Hurricane Matthew overwhelmed the project’s storm water drainage system, flooding many houses and leaving families stranded for days. Fixes are expected to cost $11 million. The developer will share the cost of the first phase of $2.75 million; the city will cover the rest. Remarkably, the developer claims the right to be able to build up to 400 more houses.

I firmly believe that people should be able to build where they want — as long as they are willing to pay the full cost associated with their location decisions. The problem is not insoluble. Virginia Beach and other coastal localities should establish special tax districts in flood-prone zones, with provisions to expand the geographic scope of those zones as sea levels rise. Property owners in those zones would be assessed a tax surcharge to fund infrastructure projects — storm water drainage systems, flood control berms and dikes, the re-engineering of roads and bridges, whatever — deemed necessary to protect the community. The tax structure should be adjusted to penalize sprawling, low-density housing projects that require greater public investment and reward compact, infrastructure-efficient investment.

The risk of sea-level rise is likely exaggerated, but no one knows for sure. It is not right to transfer that risk — however great or small — from home-owners in flood-prone areas to the tax-paying public. The time to enact reform is now, not when the floods are upon us.

The Ticks Are Coming! The Ticks Are Coming!

More of these guys in Virginia… thanks to global warming.

There are multiple levels to the debate about global warming. The foundation level involves understanding the forces driving climate change, in particular, the extent to which rising temperatures over the past century can be explained by rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and to what extent they might be attributable to other factors not yet well understood. Embedded in this debate are projections of how precipitously temperatures will rise in the future.

Layered over the causes-of-climate-change debate is the effects-of-climate change debate. What impact will climate change have on the environment and mankind? The prevailing sentiment is that effect of rising temperatures will be universally baleful — there are no redeeming attributes worth discussing and, therefore, something must be done.

That view is reflected in a new paper by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “Climate Change and Health in Virginia.” From the summary:

Have you noticed that Virginia summers have gotten hotter and stickier? Does it seem like allergy season is more intense? Is your home flooding more often than it used to?

It’s not your imagination. Climate change is altering seasonal patterns, making our summers hotter, and fueling increased flooding from coastal storms, like Hurricane Sandy in 2012. As a result, we face more heat-related illnesses, air quality issues, food and water contamination, traumatic injuries, threats to our mental health, and infectious diseases. These threats will only get worse as big polluters continue to pump carbon from coal, oil, and natural gas into the air.

The paper goes on to elaborate several points:

  • Extreme heat is bad for Virginians’ health — and could become more deadly.
  • Coastal floods are getting worse — and could disrupt emergency health services.
  • Climate change could contaminate Virginia’s drinking water.
  • Rising temperatures could make Virginia’s seafood dangerous to eat.
  • Climate change puts Virginia’s progress toward cleaner skies at risk.
  • Allergy seasons are getting longer and more severe.
  • Mosquito- and tick-borne infections are increasing.

I am confident that some of these concerns are legitimate; as for the others, I don’t know. Sea levels are rising, and Hampton Roads is increasingly vulnerable to flooding. Rising water tables in coastal areas could well increase the infiltration of salt water in wells. Warmer waters could well promote the spread of vibriosis, a bacteria that can infect seafood and cause food poisoning in humans. NRDC is not making this stuff up.

But the Council is looking at just one side of the ledger.

Cold kills. The flip side of more extreme heat days is fewer extreme cold days. As it happens, cold kills a lot more people than heat does. According to a 2014 National Health Statistics Report, “During 2006–2010, about 2,000 U.S. residents died each year from weather-related causes of death. About 31% of these deaths were attributed to exposure to excessive natural heat, heat stroke, sun stroke, or all; 63% were attributed to exposure to excessive natural cold, hypothermia, or both.” In other words, cold kills twice as many people as heat in the U.S.

Cold viruses thrive in colder temperatures. Studies have found that rhinoviruses thrive in a slight chill, reproducing more quickly at 91.4° F than at normal body temperature. Lower temperatures in the nose also stifle the production of the body’s anti-immunity agents. In the words of Yale immunologist Akiko Iwasaki, “these temperature effects can result in an 100-fold difference in the level of cold virus” — enough to turn an asymptomatic viral population into a full-fledged cold.

If I wanted to draw the same kind of health connections as the NRDC, I would argue that pneumonia is a leading killer of the elderly, that pneumonia often results as a complication of catching a cold, and that a warmer climate could reduce the incidence of colds, pneumonia and hospitalization of the elderly.

CO2 promotes plant growth. The NRDC paper notes, “The carbon dioxide driving climate change is also stimulating plant growth,” but sees that as a bad thing! Apparently, plant growth boosts pollen pollution and makes allergies worse. But there’s a plus side to plant growth. A higher CO2 level helps crops and trees grow faster and makes them more drought resistant. CO2 could be a boon to Virginia’s agricultural and forestry productivity. It could mean cheaper locally growth foods and vegetables and better nutrition for all Virginians, including, of course, the poor.

If the only thing you look for are negative effects, then negative effects are all you will find. Years of climate-change research have focused exclusively on the negatives. No scientist wins research grants to study a positive benefit of global warming. I don’t pretend to be able to answer whether warmer temperatures are a net positive or negative to mankind. I suspect that a truly dispassionate approach to the matter might well reveal that, while the effects of climate change are a mixed bag, the net result is negative — based mainly on the impact of the rising sea level. But that’s only a hunch. We haven’t seen a dispassionate approach, so the answer at this time is unknowable.

The NRDC is cherry picking data that fits its case. This particular paper can’t be taken seriously. What Virginia needs is a comprehensive and dispassionate look at the evidence.

Put-up-or-Shut-up Time for the Sun Spot Theory

Recent sun spot cycles. The last time the sunspot cycle was almost as weak as the current one was in the 1970s, a period of declining global temperatures that prompted widespread concerns of a new ice age. Image credit: sunspotwatch.com

I have frequently expressed skepticism of dire Global Warming scenarios by noting that the increase in global temperatures over the past 20 years fits the lowest range of forecasts made by the climate models. Sorry, folks, I just can’t get exercised about warming-generated calamities, no matter how many after-the-fact justifications are proffered to explain the failure of reality to conform with theory.

On the other side, the anti-Global Warming crowd has advanced an alternative explanation for climate change. The extreme skeptics suggest that solar activity — sun spots, or the lack of them — have a far greater influence on earth’s climate than the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. According to this theory, solar radiation interacts with the earth’s magnetosphere to block cosmic radiation from penetrating to the atmosphere and seeding cloud formation. Boiling the argument down to its essence, more sun spots predict higher temperatures on earth, fewer sun spots predict lower temperatures. We may have reached put-up-or-shut-up time for that theory as well.

The skeptics are getting excited now because the incidence of sun spots is crashing. Indeed, sun spots have almost disappeared. The last time the sun exhibited similar characteristics was in the 1600s, the so-called Maunder Minimum which coincided with a decline in global temperatures known to history as the Little Ice Age. If the solar warming rejectionists are correct, “global warming” could disappear in a hurry.

Writes Robert Zimmerman with the Global Warming Policy Forum:

If the solar minimum has actually arrived now, this would make this cycle only ten years long, one of the shortest solar cycles on record. More important, it is a weak cycle. In the past, all short cycles were active cycles. This is the first time we have seen a short and weak cycle since scientists began tracking the solar cycle in the 1700s, following the last grand minimum in the 1600s when there were almost no sunspots.

If the planet is entering a new solar minimum, the theory would predict falling temperatures. Perhaps not immediately — there may be buffering effects that aren’t well understood — but in not too many years.

Here’s the nice thing about the sun-spot theory: It’s a testable hypothesis. The theory states in no-uncertain terms that solar radiation as measured by sun spots is a key driver of earth’s climate. The theory says that cycles in earth’s temperatures closely match cycles in sun spot activity. We appear to be entering a phase in which sun spots are going dormant. Temperatures should drop — not just for a year or two but in a sustained matter. We should be able to confirm or disprove the sun-spot hypothesis within a few years.

If the sun-spot hypothesis is confirmed by the data and we see a decisive shift in temperature trends, the theory that posits CO2 as the driving climate variable will be dashed. Conversely, if the sun-spot model  is proven incorrect, a lot of moderate Global Warming skeptics (like me) will be more receptive to the CO2 model — although it still has to explain the two-decade-long pause. (“Pause” is not quite the right word. Global temperatures have crept higher. They just haven’t conformed to predictions.)

Perhaps I’m being naive to think that reality will settle the debate. Reality has a way of being frustratingly complex and ambiguous, and zealots are endlessly creative at devising fallback theories. We didn’t account for the effect of increased particulates in the atmosphere. Or temperatures didn’t rise as expected because the missing heat is lurking undetected deep in the ocean. 

The stakes of this scientific debate are huge. Climate change advocates want to de-carbonize the economy in order to fight what they fear is runaway and calamitous global warming. That means converting motor vehicles to electricity, and it means converting electric power generation to renewable sources. Market forces are pushing the electric power industry toward renewables — especially solar here in Virginia — but not rapidly enough to suit the warmists. The next big debate is whether Virginia should join the Global Greenhouse Gas Initiative a cap-and-trade regime to squeeze out electric-power carbon emissions. Ancillary debates are occurring on how Hampton Roads should deal with the rising sea levels expected to accompany the higher temperatures.

Here’s another hypothesis: The urgency of combating global warming is a driving force behind the insistence of the social engineers to restructure the economy. If global temperatures cool, that sense of urgency will diminish. Hard-core believers won’t change their minds, but the general public will. Conversely, if temperatures rise in the face of a new sun spot minimum, the warmists will be vindicated.

Polar Vortex II Brings Gas Curtailments, Price Spikes

Virginia’s climate has been setting record low temperatures in the past few days, and state newspapers have been full of stories about poor people shivering in the cold, traffic accidents caused by black ice, and the defects of Virginia Department of Transportation snow removal. But I have seen nothing about the impact of the deep freeze on business and industry. That’s not to say that no one has written about it, rather to say that the topic hasn’t surfaced in any of the newspapers and Internet news feeds that I peruse every day.

Here follows the untold story. Or at least part of the untold story. I publish here a communication from Aaron Ruby, spokesman for Dominion Energy and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, who notes that the bitter cold caused a spike in natural gas prices and curtailment of service to major industrial customers. Bottom line: The disruptive Polar Vortex of 2014 was not a fluke. As the economy grows and natural gas supplies become even more constrained, we can expect more of the same in the future.

I fully acknowledge that Ruby’s remarks represent a corporate point of view and that there may be other ways to spin the economic repercussions of the recent cold wave. But, to be perfectly frank, given my other commitments, I don’t have time to flesh out a fully reported article. Instead, I post Ruby’s remarks with the idea of letting readers respond in the comments.

As our region recovers from the recent cold spell, I wanted to draw your attention to the significant challenges it posed for consumers who depend on natural gas for electricity, home heating and power for their businesses. The extreme cold and spikes in natural gas usage across the Mid-Atlantic over the last two weeks demonstrated in dramatic fashion the real and urgent need for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Severely limited capacity on the pipelines serving Virginia and North Carolina forced some utilities to curtail service to major industrial customers and raised consumer prices to historic highs. The reason is simple: our region’s pipelines are too constrained, and we don’t have enough access to lower-cost supplies from the Appalachian region. In response to urgent requests from utilities, we proposed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline more than three years ago to relieve those constraints and bring these lower-cost supplies to consumers in Virginia and North Carolina. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would significantly lower the risk of this kind of volatility in the future.

Virginia Natural Gas, which serves homes and businesses in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, reported service interruptions to 11 major industrial customers over the last two weeks, some lasting for as long as 4 days. Piedmont Natural Gas, which serves homes and businesses in North Carolina, reported that it too interrupted service to several industrial customers. In fact, Piedmont alerted federal regulators this week that it urgently needs new infrastructure by the end of 2019 to serve customers’ growing needs.

Constraints on the Transco pipeline in Virginia and North Carolina also sent natural gas prices soaring from $3 per dekatherm in late December to an all-time record high of $175 at the end of last week. Those higher costs will ultimately be reflected in higher electric and natural gas bills for consumers. Dominion Energy Virginia relied on the Transco pipeline for about 75 percent of its natural gas supply during the cold spell, while public utilities in North Carolina depended on this single pipeline for 100 percent of the state’s supply. Transco is currently the only natural gas transmission pipeline serving all of North Carolina, leaving the state particularly vulnerable to shortages and price volatility.

In contrast, prices in the Appalachian region where the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would originate remained low, trading between $4 and $6 per dekatherm during the cold spell. The problem is we don’t have the pipeline infrastructure to deliver these lower-cost supplies to consumers in Virginia and North Carolina. While we’re still calculating the impact, having access to a lower-cost source would have saved consumers in our region hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel costs over just the last couple weeks.

We’ve said for a long time that the pipelines serving our region are stretched too thin and cannot handle the coldest winter days. Our economy isn’t going to grow if we have to curtail our industries whenever it gets cold, or if consumer prices skyrocket when our pipelines are overstrained.

New infrastructure is the only way to solve these challenges. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline will open up access to lower-cost supplies in Virginia and North Carolina – access we currently do not have – and it will make service more reliable for consumers, especially when they need it the most on the coldest winter days.

The Cost of Cold

Vermont on Friday. Photo credit: Washington Post

When climate gurus calculate the net cost of a warmer climate, do they assign any benefit to the reduction in extreme cold? From a Washington Post article about how Vermonters are dealing with temperatures 25 to 30 degrees below zero:

This stretch of extreme cold has taken a toll on much of the Eastern United States, bursting water mains, fracturing pipes, rendering car batteries useless. The frigid weather has turned tragic with news reports of weather-related deaths from South Carolina to North Dakota, in a storm that led to rare snow in Florida and record coastal flooding in New England. … The cold has been especially hard on people like [Todd] Alexander, who have fixed incomes or live paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford higher than normal utility bills. ..

Even with low-income heating assistance, weather like the stretch residents are enduring now has the capacity to throw the working poor over the financial edge. Heat must constantly be running to survive. Furnaces can break down. Fuel will run out more quickly than anticipated. The cold costs money.

Here in the Richmond area, I’ve heard the same quip a half-dozen times this week: Where is global warming when you really need it?

Update: Coal exports through Virginia’s ports are slowing because coal cars are freezing and need to be run through thaw sheds, reports the Virginian-Pilot.

The Shamanistic Logic of Climate Science

Lowell Feld.

I’ve been mixing it up with Lowell Feld, publisher of Blue Virginia, who took exception to my argument that the debacle in Charlottesville represented a clash between the far Right and far Left. He accused me of “moral equivalency,” which is absurd, for I have thoroughly denounced the white nationalists who provoked the confrontation and made it clear that their crimes (including alleged murder) far exceed those of the Antifa and other Leftist elements in this particular instance. You can read his fulminations here, in which he hilariously highlights statements I made that he finds outrageous yet are undeniably true. And he renews his ongoing campaign to lambaste Dominion for sponsoring a blog that expresses opinions so far beyond the pale.

Among the many offenses I have committed, one is “climate science denialism.” I responded to his post as follows (with minor changes):

I love the way you proclaim to be an advocate of “science” in the global warming debate, in contrast to me, a supposed “denier.” But you have shown no indication of understanding what science is. The scientific method creates falsifiable hypotheses, then tests those hypotheses to see if they are valid, modifies the hypotheses to account for the data, and re-tests them in an iterative process. Climate models represent hypotheses regarding the relationship between various climatic variables and the effect they will have on future temperatures increases.

It’s frustratingly slow to test climate hypotheses because it takes many years to accumulate useful data. But enough time has passed since the creation of the early climate models, and the results are clear — the overwhelming majority of models failed to predict the modest temperature increase of the past 20 years.

Climate scientists are wrestling with this outcome and trying to find an explanation. While some scientists are modifying their hypothesis (predicting smaller temperature increases over the years ahead), some are sticking to the catastrophic-global-warming hypothesis and searching for explanations — the heat is hidden in the deep ocean, aerosols reflected the sunlight, whatever — that allows them to maintain predictions that temperatures will increase to an alarming degree.

This mental process reminds me of the writing of a certain Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, an anthropologist who studied the Dinka and Nuer tribes of the southern Sudan in the 1930s, with a particular emphasis on their practice of magic. Shamans would tell their customers, do X, Y, and Z, and your sickness will be cured, your husband will stay faithful, your rival will be struck dead, whatever. If the desired outcome came to fruition, the shaman would take full credit. If the husband continued to stray, the shaman would concoct an explanation — oh, you should have used eye of newt, not eye of frog, or you should have said the incantation this way, not that way. By such rhetorical devices, the shaman maintained a belief among the people in the efficacy of his magic. Evans-Pritchard called these explanations “secondary elaborations.”

As the most politically vocal Climate Change scientists confront the reality of data that don’t conform to the temperature predictions of their models, they are engaged in a vast exercise of secondary elaboration — they’re insisting upon the efficacy of their hypothesis (catastrophic global warming is coming) and creating explanations of why the predicted temperature increases are not yet visible.

So, you can call me a climate “denier,” which is a form of an ad hominem attack, not an argument. And you can make your appeals to authority — 97% of all scientists believe in global warming, etc. — echoing the Catholic Church’s attacks on Copernicus and Galileo. But at the end of the day, your arguments mimic those of the Dinka-Nuer shaman. Your reasoning is pre-scientific and based on faith. Your dogma is catastrophic global warming, and the pseudo-scientific justification for your dogma evolves as needed.

Feld replied that he would not dignify my post with a response. Perhaps that’s because he has no intelligible response.

As for Dominion, I have no idea what the company’s position is on climate change, or if it has a position on climate change at all.

Putting the Clean Power Plan in Perspective

climate_changeby James A. Bacon

Governor Terry McAuliffe has created a working group to recommend concrete steps on how to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from Virginia’s power plants. As the task force undergoes its deliberations, I hope it will consider the tradeoffs between economic costs and environmental benefits.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal today, Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, noted that implementation of the Clean Power Plan would reduce global temperatures a grand total of 0.023 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. From what I can glean from the Internet — readers, please point out if I have missed something — the Obama administration has not disputed that the magnitude of the change would amount to no more than a small fraction of a degree.

Rather than contest the numbers, the Obama environmental team has made two arguments: (1) that the Clean Power Plan regulating the electric power industry is only one element in a package of initiatives, such as promoting energy efficiency and improving better gas mileage for cars, that will have a much bigger impact, and (2) the United States needs to take the lead in order to persuade other CO2 emitters like India and China to accede to the United Nations framework for attacking man-made global warming.

Lomborg contends that the total U.S. package, of which the Clean Power Plan is only a part, will reduce global temperatures by only 0.057 degrees, and if the whole world follows through with commitments to the U.N. agreement, the forecast rise in global temperatures would moderate by only 0.3 degrees.

That’s the big picture. While one can reasonably argue that Virginia must “do its part” to achieve these benefits, it is also worth asking what difference Virginia’s contribution to that effort will make. In 2014, Virginia consumed 112 million kilowatt hours of electricity, about 3% of the national total. Assuming that Virginia’s implementation of the Clean Power Plan accounts for a comparable 3% of the national figure, the Old Dominion will contribute to a .0007-degree reduction. (Implementation of the administration’s other measures would increase Virginia’s total contribution to about .0017 degrees, but those are not an issue at the state level.)

For purposes of discussion, let’s assume that the Clean Power Plan wins the Supreme Court stamp of approval and moves forward as the law of the land. The plan provides states different paths to achieving its goals. The big decision facing Virginia at that point will be which of four broad approaches to adopt: one of four flavors of a “rate-based” plan or “mass-based” plan. (See here for details.)

All four options would reduce CO2 emissions, although one of the mass-based options would reduce it more than the others. Thus, the debate is over the difference between the two plans. When we ponder the trade-offs between the cost to Virginia rate payers, the reliability of Virginia’s electric grid, and benefits to the global environment, we should recognize that the most consequential decision Virginia can make will lead to a reduction (assuming the climate models are valid) of some fraction of .0007 degrees, with a margin of error of a couple ten thousandths of a degree, in global temperatures by 2100.

I fully concede that these are back-of-the-envelope calculations, and I’m sure they can be refined. I may have overlooked important considerations. I’m open to information that anyone can provide to help refine them, and I solicit your input. Consider this a starting point for discussion.

I’m not being a global warming “denier” here. I’m accepting the proposition that human-caused climate change is real, that the net impact to the world will be negative, and that the way to deal with the threat is to re-engineer the global energy economy. But I do think it is important to give Virginians an honest accounting of the costs and benefits. Citizens should press the McAuliffe administration either to acknowledge the rough validity of the numbers I have presented or to present their own numbers.

How Not to Turn Enemies into Friends

Governor Terry McAuliffe displays his CO2 emissions executive order. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

Governor Terry McAuliffe displays his CO2 emissions executive order. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

Does Governor Terry McAuliffe deliberately misrepresent what skeptics of the prevailing Global Warmig Orthodoxy think, or does he simply repeat what others have said about what skeptics supposedly believe? Either way, we have a problem. Here’s what he said yesterday before signing an executive order to convene a work group to deliver recommendations for carbon reductions:

Now, some of our legislators have trouble keeping up with the times on this topic. They don’t believe the overwhelming science supporting climate change.

Now, I can’t speak for Virginia’s legislators, but I can speak as a skeptic of Global Warming Orthodoxy, and I don’t know of a single reasonably informed observer who doesn’t believe in “climate change.” Skeptics believe that climate is dynamic, and that it has changed throughout human history. Indeed, they emphasize the cyclical nature of climate, as seen in the alternation between the Roman Warm Period, the Medieval Warm Period, and the modern era with cooler periods. The question is not whether “climate change” exists but what role human activity plays in causing climate change. As even the most ardent advocates of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change will acknowledge, it is difficult to tease out the human impact from natural climate variability.

Climate skeptics do understand that, all other things being equal, an increased percentage of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere will warm the planet. The question is how much will it increase warming? The computer models predicting steep temperature increases over the 21st century assume the existence of feedback loops in which more CO2 increases temperatures, which increases the evaporation of water (another greenhouse gas), which increases temperatures even more. How that process works still remains an object of scientific inquiry. An unresolved question is the extent to which water in the atmosphere leads to more cloud formation, which reflects sunlight, which cools the planet and counteracts the presence of greenhouse gases to some degree. For the most part, computer models have significantly over-stated warming compared to the historical record. Yes, global temperatures have risen, and, yes, this is the hottest decade since humans have been measuring global temperatures (not “in human history,” as Secretary of State John Kerry recently mis-spoke) but it is not as hot as the computer models of twenty years ago said it would be.

Once we move from the domain of “how fast are temperatures rising and what role do humans play” to “what do we do about it?”, we depart the realm of science and enter that of philosophy and public policy. The Global Warming Orthodoxy reaches far beyond science. It proclaims that the only proper response to warming temperatures is to re-engineer the world’s energy economy in order to reduce CO2 emissions. Even among environmentalists, there is disagreement how to go about this. While championing efforts to combat global warming, the Obama administration concedes that there is a legitimate role for natural gas as a transition fuel to renewable fuel sources, and for nuclear power as a source of base-line electric generation. Many Virginia environmentalists are hostile to both natural gas and nuclear, preferring all new electricity production be renewable. Reasonable people can debate the pros and cons of an all-renewable energy grid, but this is not a debate about “science,” much less about “settled science.” It is a debate about technology, economics, and the trade-offs between electric rates, grid reliability and clean fuels.

There appears to be a widespread prejudice that global warming skeptics (and by that, I mean skeptics of the Global Warming Orthodoxy) are anti-scientific knuckle draggers. In era of polarized politics, I suppose there is no dispelling that notion. But the skeptics themselves know differently. And McAuliffe, by suggesting those who disagree with him “haven’t kept up” with scientific thinking belittles their intellect and, thereby, diminishes any chance of winning cooperation with his agenda.

Republicans and Leftists Are Outraged, Outraged, I Tell You

Nishizaki Sakurako and Bando Kotji in "Yoshino Mountain"by James A. Bacon

Here’s what I missed in yesterday’s quickie post about Governor Terry McAuliffe’s plan to convene a clean energy task force: Both Republicans and leftist environmental groups are attacking the move, though for opposite reasons.

Republican legislators see the initiative as an end run around the state budget, which specifically prohibits any spending on the federal Clean Power Plan for reducing CO2 emissions from electric power plants while it is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court. Normally, such accusations strike me as political blather, but Brian Coy, a spokesman for the governor’s office, confirmed that that was precisely the motive. Here’s how the Washington Post summed up his statement: “The governor did not create the work group to assuage environmental groups but rather as a way to dodge the Republican-controlled General Assembly.”

House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, was not pleased: As quoted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he said: “This order is another deliberate attempt to circumvent the legislature and the will of Virginia voters.  The governor is developing a troubling tendency to prefer Washington-style executive action instead of the dialogue and collaboration that Virginians expect and deserve.”

Meanwhile, McAuliffe’s initiative was belittled from the left, who cited his support for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would supply natural gas to Virginia and other Southeastern markets, as evidence that he is not serious about combating climate change. A joint statement by the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Virginia Organizing called McAuliffe’s initiative “a minor environmental policy” dwarfed by the harm of natural gas transportation and combustion.

The kinds words came from mainstream environmental groups who have been working through the administration to implement the strictest of the Clean Power Plan alternatives available to the state.

The governor is trying to reconcile his desire to combat climate change with his priority of creating jobs. Thus, he defends construction of two natural gas pipelines through the state on the grounds that they will create economic opportunity for the Tidewater region of the state, which is effectively precluded from competing for important categories of industrial expansion due to an insufficient supply of natural gas. At the same time, he has supported the federal Clean Power Plan (CPP), which seeks to curtail CO2 emissions from Virginia power plants. If the CPP passes legal muster, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will be charged from choosing from one of four broad approaches for the state to implement the plan. Environmentalists favor the option that would curtail CO2 emissions the most, although industry consumer groups worry the approach would drive up electric rates. McAuliffe has not yet endorsed an option.

Bacon’s bottom line: I’m still not sure what the fuss is all about. McAuliffe has already enacted a series of measures driving state government to pursue energy efficiency goals and to purchase solar energy. There is not much else that he can legally do. This new working group can recommend anything it wants, but it won’t have power to spend a dime. Meanwhile, the big action revolves around the Clean Power Plan. If the Supreme Court upholds its constitutionality, the focus turns to the already-instated DEQ working group to recommend how to implement it. If the Supremes nix the CPP, regulatory decision-making effectively reverts to the State Corporation Commission, which responds to legislative guidance enacted into law, not to gubernatorial directives.

I regard this whole hoo-ha as political theater — a kabuki production in which the actors rigidly play out their assigned roles.