Terminating Prosperity

According to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, "the debate [over human-induced global warming] is over. We know the science, we see the threat and we know the time for action is now."[1] Schwarzenegger issued his call for action on climate change last week at the United Nations World Environment Day conference in San Francisco, where he unveiled an executive order establishing stringent greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets for California.[2]

In the absence of national action on GHG emissions, the Governator is just one of many state and local politicians seeking to impose GHG reduction requirements on their constituents. Climate alarmists promote GHG reductions on the basis of ostensible improvements in human welfare. Unfortunately, it is climate change activism and the public credibility of its misguided intellectual foundation, rather than climate change itself, that poses a threat to the safety and prosperity of humankind.

Figure 1

Emissions are in millions of metric tons (CO2 equivalent). Emissions are estimated actuals through 2001 and forecast afterward. Data are from the California Energy Commission. CEC forecast emissions through 2020. I extended the 2020 forecast out to 2050 based on the assumption of linear growth.

Erasing Fossil Fuel Emissions

When compared with projected "business-as-usual" GHG emissions, the Governor's order would require California to reduce GHGs 11 percent by 2010, 25 percent by 2020, and 87 percent by 2050. Schwarzenegger's plan calls for the virtual elimination of GHG emissions in California over the next few decades. This alone should give people pause, as the only way to achieve such large GHG reductions is to drastically curtail the use of fossil fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and natural gas.

True Lies

With the Governor calling for such a radical reorganization of Californians' lives, we need to ask what problem Schwarzenegger and his environmentalist allies are trying to solve. The Governor's executive order claims human-caused climate change threatens to increase California's air pollution, reduce its water supplies, increase heat-related mortality, infectious diseases and asthma, harm the state's agricultural industry, and flood the state's 1,100 miles of coastline.

This isn't the place for a treatise on climate change science and health impacts. But even a cursory survey of the research literature should make everyone queasy about using the claim of human-induced climate change as the pretext for forcing a drastic reorganization of human economies.

First, rising temperatures will at worst have no effect on heat-related mortality. Urban temperatures have been rising for decades, probably due to an expanding urban heat island effect. Nevertheless, between the 1960s and the 1990s, the rate of heat-related mortality declined more than 75 percent in U.S. cities.[3] No matter. Environmentalists and politicians continue to claim that climate change will increase heat deaths.[4]

But perhaps we shouldn't be too hard on environmentalists and politicians. They get help from scientists who lend credibility to their false claims. For example, despite large observed declines in heat-related mortality, a group of scientists recently published a study in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) claiming that rising temperatures will increase future heat-related deaths in California.[5] Several authors of the PNAS study are also the authors of Union of Concerned Scientists climate change reports.

Likewise, regardless of whether temperatures rise in the future, this will not increase air pollution.[6] For particulate matter, higher temperatures are associated with lower pollution levels. For ozone, most ozone-forming pollutants will be eliminated over the next 20 years, making future climate virtually irrelevant for ozone levels. Observations of the recent past should also put to rest any concerns about future air pollution levels in a changing climate. Despite rising urban temperatures over the last few decades, air pollution of all kinds has drastically declined.

Schwarzenegger's asthma-air pollution link is also spurious. Asthma prevalence has more than doubled in the U.S. since the early 1980s, but during the same period, air pollution of all kinds declined.[7]

We could also use a bit more skepticism regarding claims about human contributions to climate change. These claims depend on the output of climate models that purport to demonstrate a causal link between the observed atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases and surface temperatures. But these models do a poor job of reproducing the Earth's actual climate. For example:

  • Climate models predict that rising atmospheric CO2 should cause temperatures in the lower atmosphere to increase more rapidly than at the surface. But just the opposite has happened. Surface, balloon, and satellite temperature trend data show no change in lower atmosphere temperatures during the last few decades, even as surface temperatures have risen.[8] One potential explanation is that the surface temperature increases may be largely due to increasing urban heat island effects, rather than to greenhouse-gas buildup.[9]
  • Understanding clouds is key to predicting climate change, because clouds can cool or warm the atmosphere depending on their structure and location. A recent study compared measurements of cloudiness with predictions of ten climate models.[10] The study reported both large variations between models--as large as a factor of four for predictions of some types of clouds--and large discrepancies between the models and the observations.
  • Climate models predict that greenhouse-gas induced climate change should be most salient at the Earth's poles. But Antarctica is not cooperating. The southernmost continent has been cooling for decades, and sea ice and snowpack have been increasing.[11] The increasing Antarctic snowpack is also reducing sea levels, because the snow ultimately comes from evaporation of ocean water.

These are just a few among many examples of how climate models fail to represent the Earth's actual climate and of how the Earth's climate doesn't behave in accord with the predictions of human-induced-greenhouse theory.

Despite the inability of climate models to accurately represent global climate, this hasn't stopped scientists from using these same models to make precise predictions about the ostensible effects of human-induced climate change on relatively small regions of the Earth, such as California. For example, the Union of Concerned Scientists states without qualification "rising temperatures, possibly exacerbated by declining winter precipitation, will severely reduce snowpack in the Sierra Nevada" causing a substantial reduction in California's water supplies.[12]

UCS makes this claim based on the same PNAS study cited above.[13] But the study's conclusions are based on the output of a climate model that does no better than a table of random numbers in predicting measured U.S. temperatures during the 20th Century.[14] Furthermore, the model results don't appear to jibe with other key data. For example, data for the last hundred years show no correlation between average winter temperatures in California and subsequent Sierra Nevada water runoff during the spring.[15] There's also no correlation between average temperatures and average winter precipitation in California.[16] And despite rising temperatures during the late 20th Century, the last decade has had the wettest California winters of any decade during the last 50 years, and the 3rd wettest of the last 100 years.

According to a paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters ice melting in the Arctic Ocean will cause a large decline in winter rain and snowpack in California, resulting in future water shortages.[17] These results were based solely on the output of the National Center for Atmospheric Research's climate model. Unfortunately, the authors of that research didn't check their modeled results against actual data. If they had, they would have found that there is no correlation between the amount of Arctic sea ice and winter precipitation in the western U.S.[18] In fact, even as global-average surface temperatures have risen during the last few decades, U.S. precipitation has been rising as well.[19]

Once again, these problems with regional impacts studies are just the tip of the iceberg. Climate modelers admit privately that global climate models are not capable of providing accurate predictions of regional climate.[20]

Governor Schwarzenegger justifies his call for a near elimination of California's GHG emissions with scary stories about future human-wrought climate disasters. But the only "evidence" for these upcoming disasters is the output of computer models that don't jibe with reality. This is not evidence, but nonsense.

Collateral Damage

The case for reducing GHGs depends on whether GHG emissions are changing the climate in ways that harm human health. But the evidence for GHG-induced climate change is weak. Regardless of whatever harms might be caused by future human-induced climate change, measures to reduce GHG emissions will likely cause much greater harm.

The federal Energy Information Administration, the Department of Energy's independent research arm, recently provided a reality check on the costs of GHG reduction requirements.[21] EIA estimated that reducing national GHG emissions 11 percent below business-as-usual by 2025 would cost a total of $620 billion nationwide during the next 20 years. California has a somewhat different GHG mix than the nation, but assuming similar unit costs for California, the state's pro-rated cost would be about $40 billion, or an average of $2 billion per year.

Schwarzenegger wants to achieve by 2020 more than twice the percentage reduction in GHGs that EIA evaluated for 2025. Marginal costs increase with each increment of GHG reduction. California also has relatively low per-capita GHG emissions compared to the national average, due largely to a mild climate and virtually no use of coal for electricity. As a result, the state's unit GHG reduction costs will likely be greater than the national average.[22] Thus, even getting the state's GHG emissions down to 1990 levels is likely to cost at least several billion dollars per year, or several hundred dollars per year for each California household. Achieving the Governor's 2050 goal is simply a pipe dream (or nightmare, as the case may be). While reducing GHG emissions to 1990s levels would impose hardship, attempting to reduce GHGs 80 percent below 1990 levels would amount to destroying California in order to purport to save it.

A look at Europe suggests that California won't even be able to reduce future GHG emissions below current levels. Among the 15 EU countries, 13 expect to exceed their Kyoto protocol emission targets, most by a large margin.[23] Indeed, despite Kyoto, Europe predicts its GHG emissions will continue to rise.

The harm caused by Europe's self-inflicted shortage of affordable energy is all too real right now. For example, the European heat wave of 2003 was blamed for the deaths of thousands of people in France. But it wasn't the heat that caused those deaths, it was energy rationing.[24] Americans have air conditioning to protect themselves from hot summer temperatures, but many Europeans do not, in part because energy is so expensive there. Thus, while the summer of 2003 was much hotter in the American west than in France, it was in France where people died from the heat. Even if human-caused global warming is occurring, it can't be appreciably slowed without a "cure" far worse than the disease.

Judgment Day

The Golden State already has some expensive GHG reduction requirements. For example, the California Air Resources Board predicts its carbon dioxide limits for new automobiles will add $1,000 to the cost of a car. Californians must get 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2017, raising the costs of power production. If approved, the Governor's "million solar roofs" program will stick the state's electricity ratepayers with a surcharge to subsidize solar electricity systems.

These programs are just a subset of the state's GHG reductions efforts, and GHG reduction is just one among many of the state's expensive social engineering schemes. Each takes money out of the pockets of average Californians in order to fund the pet causes of special interest busybodies. Because most of the costs are hidden in the form of higher prices for goods and services, the people who pay them don't realize they've had their pockets picked.

When he first became Governor of California, Arnold created high expectations with his talk of "blowing up the boxes" of government bureaucracy. Unfortunately, California's regulatory bureaucracy remains intact. And with his foolhardy greenhouse activism, the Governator has handed his constituents yet another raw deal.

Joel Schwartz is a visiting fellow at AEI.

Notes

[1] Terence Chea, "Schwarzenegger to Unveil Emissions Plan," Associated Press, June 2, 2005.

[2] The press release and the executive order can be downloaded here.

[3] Robert E. Davis, et al. 2003. "Changing heat-related mortality in the United States," Environmental Health Perspectives, 111: 1712-18, http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/members/2003/6336/6336.pdf.

[4] Among many examples, see Union of Concerned Scientists. 2004 Climate Change: Choosing Our Future, http://www.climatechoices.org/data/.

[5] Katherine Hayhoe, et al. 2004. "Emissions pathways, climate change, and impacts on California," 101: 12422-427, http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/101/34/12422.

[6] For a detailed discussion of air pollution and climate change, see Joel Schwartz and George Taylor. 2005. Air Quality False Alarm, http://www.joelschwartz.com/pdfs/AIR_QUALITY_FALSE_ALARM.pdf.

For a more succinct discussion, see my TCS column here: http://www.techcentralstation.com/040805B.html.

[7] I present asthma and air pollution trends for California in slide 10 of the following presentation: http://www.joelschwartz.com/pdfs/AWMA_Bakersfield_4_05.pdf.

[8] T. N. Chase, et al. 2004. Likelihood of rapidly increasing surface temperatures unaccompanied by strong warming in the free troposphere. Climate Research, 25: 185-190.

[9] Recent research suggesting this includes A. T. De Laat, et al. 2004. "Industrial CO2 emissions as a proxy for anthropogenic influence on lower tropospheric temperature trends."

Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1029/2003GL019024. R. McKitrick and P. J. Michaels. 2004. "A test of corrections for extraneous signals in gridded surface temperature data." Climate Research, 26: 159-173.

[10] M. H. Zhang, et al. 2005. "Comparing clouds and their seasonal variations in 10 atmospheric general circulation models with satellite measurements," Journal of Geophysical Research, doi: 10.1029/2004JD005021.

[11] C. H. Davis. 2005. "Snowfall-driven growth in East Antarctic ice sheet mitigates recent sea-level rise." SciencExpress, May 19, 2005, http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/rapidpdf/1110662v2.pdf. Pat Michaels, "The Tip of the Iceberg: Yet another predictable distortion," April 22, 2005, http://www.worldclimatereport.com/index.php/2005/04/22/
the-tip-of-the-iceberg-yet-another-predictable-distortion/
. I. Polyakov, et al. 2002. "Trends and Variations in Arctic Climate Systems. EOS, 83: 547-48.

[12] Union of Concerned Scientists, Choosing Our Future: Climate Change in California.

[13] Hayhoe, et al. "Emissions pathways, climate change, and impacts on California."

[14] The model is the Hadley Center model. Pat Michaels demonstrates the model's poor performance in P. Michaels, Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media (Washington, DC: Cato, 2004). Michaels critiques the PNAS study here: www.co2andclimate.org/wca/2004/wca_23bpf.html.

[15] Based on California temperature data from the National Climatic Data Center and runoff data from the California Department of Water Resources.

[16] Based on data from the National Climatic Data Center.

[17] J. O. Sewall and L. C. Sloan, "Disappearing Arctic sea ice reduces available water in the American west." Geophysical Research Letters, 31, L06209-13.

[18] Pat Michaels of the University of Virginia shows this here: www.co2andclimate.org/wca/2004/wca_17bpf.html.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Quinn Schiermeier. 2004. "Modellers deplore 'short-termism' on climate," Nature, 428: 593.

[21] The EIA report can be downloaded here: http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/servicerpt/bingaman/pdf/sroiaf(2005)02.pdf. My TCS column on the report is located here: http://www.techcentralstation.com/041905F.html.

[22] California's GHG intensity is about half the national average. See California's greenhouse gas inventory here: http://www.energy.ca.gov/reports/600-02-001F/2002-09-14_600-02-001F.PDF.

[23] Europe Environment Agency. 2004. Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Emission Trends and Projections in Europe 2004, http://reports.eea.eu.int/technical_report_2004_7/en/
Analysis_of_GHG_trends_and_projections_in_Europe.pdf
.

[24] Pat Michaels, "Energy Tax Blacks Out Many Lives in Europe," Boston Herald, August 17, 2003.

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