The Weekly Carboholic: Stalagmite suggests climate disruption may have changed monsoons


Stalactites are rock formations in caves that hang down from the cave ceiling, and they’re formed by water containing dissolved minerals as it drips penetrates the cave ceiling and drips to the floor (stalagmites are basically the same thing but sticking up from the floor instead). Given that stalactites and stalagmites are formed by water, you might expect that they grow faster or slower with the seasons, at least in areas where the climate includes seasonal variations in precipitation. After all, heavy rains add water to the water table and increase the growth rate of the stalactite as more water penetrates the cave. For similar reasons, you could probably expect that year to year variations growth rate variations would occur if there were rainy periods and droughts.

According to a Nature News article, a stalagmite has been found in a Chinese cave that, when analyzed, was found to contain 1800 years worth of monsoon information. Because the stalagmite had a large amount of uranium and few contaminants, the scientists who analyzed it were able to use radioisotope dating to very accurately measure the variations in monsoon strength. What the scientists found was that for most of the last 1800 years, monsoons have cycled between being strong when the years were warmer (as determined by other proxies) and weak when the years were colder. However, the correlation reversed after 1960, suggesting, according to the paper’s abstract, “anthropogenic forcing superseded natural forcing as the major driver of AM changes in the late 20th century.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the original Science paper so I can’t say whether the abstract’s claim is accurate or not. If anyone has access to it, I’d greatly appreciate a review copy or something similar.


Heritage Foundation’s math wrong on green jobs
A large number of economic studies have come out recently that claim to show that investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources creates more jobs than are lost in energy and carbon-intensive industries such as oil production. As you might expect, there has been a backlash against these studies by groups who, for one reason or another, oppose the results. The latest large think tank to come down against these green jobs studies is the Heritage Foundation. Last week, Dr. David Kreutzer of Heritage’s Center for Data Analysis released an analysis on the Heritage Foundation website that purports to debunk a couple of the studies. Shortly thereafter, the Heritage Foundation analysis was itself targeted by the co-author of one of the studies, Robert Pollin on behalf of the Center for American Progress (CAP), and the entirety of the Heritage analysis was attacked by Joseph Romm of Climate Progress.

According to Kreutzer’s Heritage analysis, there are a number of flaws in the economics. One is a thought experiment illustrating that a 30% reduction in energy use, when accompanied by a 50% increase in energy costs, can produce a net increase in energy cost. This thought experiment supposedly shows that, since energy consumers will necessarily be spending more money, there can’t possibly be money saved by energy efficiency. Kreutzer then goes on to say that a University of California study that found a significant number of jobs created in the state over the last 30 years as a result of energy efficiency is wrong and that the CAP Green Recovery study is based on a fallacy, and that all of the studies are wrong when it comes to job creation – large numbers of jobs will be lost, Kreutzer says, in all situations where carbon dioxide (CO2) is priced.

My own limited analysis of the thought experiment makes me suspect of Kreutzer’s analysis. Here’s part of the original thought experiment:

Suppose Jones used 1,000 kilowatt–hours (kW–h) when the price of electricity was $0.10 per kW–h. He spent $100 on electricity (1,000 kW–h x $0.10 = $100). Now suppose the price rises to $0.15 per kW–h. Responding to the higher price, Jones cuts his electricity consumption to 700 kW–h. How much better off is Jones with the higher price? Most would say, since he is now spending $105 for less electricity (700 kW–h x $0.15 = $105), he is worse off.

The details of the California provide an opportunity to compare this thought experiment to the real world. According to Kreutzer’s analysis, “per capita electricity use in California is 40 percent less than the national average” and “Californians pay 36 percent more for their electricity.” In other words, Jones 1000 kWh energy use dropped to 600 kWh while his energy costs rose from $0.10 to $0.136 per kWh. This results in Jones’ bill falling from $100 to $81.60 (600 kWh x $0.136 = $81.60). This suggests that Kreutzer’s original thought experiment is wrong, oversimplified to the point of uselessness, or both.

Kreutzer’s analysis was further deconstructed by Robert Pollin as Pollin pointed out that the Green Recovery plan makes a very different argument than Kreutzer claims it does. Pollin points out that the CAP plan claims a creation of 17 green jobs per $1 million spent in the “green” sector, vs. job creation in the oil industry of only 4.5 jobs per $1 million spent. This is partly because green jobs – erecting wind turbines, retrofitting homes, etc. – require more manual labor than oil industry jobs do, and partly because green jobs keep the vast majority of the money spent within the U.S. economy, while only about 80% of money provided to the oil industry would be spent within the U.S. In addition, Kreutzer’s analysis assumes implicitly that the money discussed in the Green Recovery plan will be offset by tax increases, something that Pollin explicitly rejects: “in ‘Green Recovery,’ we do not propose any tax increases whatsoever in the short term.” And finally, if the models used by Pollin (and described in detail in the Green Recovery plan, Appendix 1 – there is no similar discussion of the economic modeling used by Kreutzer) are accurate, even if taxation were added over the long term after a stimulus, the net gain would still be 17 green jobs – 4.5 oil company jobs for a net gain of 12.5 jobs per $1 million invested.

Joe Romm has an even more detailed deconstruction of Kreutzer’s analysis at Climate Progress. In it Romm points out that Kreutzer misrepresents at least some of the conclusions of the studies he’s critiquing. For example, Kreutzer claims that the University of California study found that the state of California “restricted access” to energy when it actually did nothing of the sort. Kreutzer ascribes California’s loss of manufacturing base to the energy efficiency losses when, as Romm points out, most the entire U.S. has seen declines in manufacturing since 1980. Check out the link above for the rest of Romm’s comments.


American Medical Association: address climate disruption
At their semi-annual meeting, the American Medical Association became the latest organization to call for their members to work and become educated about the adverse medical affects of climate disruption. According to the press release, the AMA has a vested interest in addressing climate disruption because of the medical impacts that increased incidence of tropical disease, heatstroke and similar heat-related maladies, and respiratory problems such as asthma will have on medical doctors.


Australia considers large scale desalinization
Most of the nation of Australia has been in the grips of a major drought for a decade, and some of the most adversely affected areas are those that are most populated or are where crops are grown. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology expects that there will be below average rainfall for the next several decades, not just the next few years. As a result, the states of Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales are considering desalinization plants large enough to supply entire cities with fresh drinking water.

Critics don’t like the plan for a variety of reasons, one of which is the plant’s large-scale use of electricity, most likely derived from carbon-intensive coal power plants. Local governments are trying to build huge plants (such as the 45 gigaliter plant that supplies the city of Perth, population 1.6 million, with 17% of it’s potable water needs) that are entirely powered by wind farms, with some success. However, beyond the climate concerns is the super-briny water that is released back into the ocean after desalination that doesn’t always mix efficiently with the sea water. This could create very dense (due to the salt content), low oxygen water that could create dead zones near the desalinization plant’s brine outlets.

If the climate projections for the Colorado River are correct (and we know that the Colorado River has a history of dropping to less than half of it’s current flow, which is significantly less than the amount of water dedicated to all of the states in the Colorado River Compact), then it’s only a matter of time before the cities of Southern California will need to create massive desalinization plants themselves. Orange County’s so-called toilet-to-tap program would help delay the need for such shoreline destroying facilities.


Rev. Cizek lobbying on environment in Australia
When most Americans think about environmentalism and evangelical Christians, they think of Dominionism, the school of Christian thought that focuses on God’s command in Genesis 1:28:

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

In other words, most evangelicals are not generally considered the most environmentally conscious people in the United States.

However, the leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, Rev. Richard Cizek, is trying to change that image. He’s an evangelical of a decidedly different stripe, more into caring for God’s creation than commanding it, and last week he was in Australia, trying to convince Australian evangelicals and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to lobby the government on climate disruption.

If Rev. Cizek can help convince evangelicals that addressing climate disruption (instead of ignoring it or actively making it worse) and other environmental issues, especially those with a strong social justice aspect to them, that would be, in my opinion, a very good thing.


Expectations on Obama’s changes to energy and climate policy
It’s only been a week since Barack Obama became President-elect. In some states the voting isn’t even complete yet, but already the experts are predicting what President-elect Obama will do starting at noon, January 20, 2009. Below is a sampling of those expectations as they relate to climate disruption and energy.

  • According to a story in the Charleston Gazette of Charleston, West Virginia, the National Mining Association doesn’t expect Obama to kill off the coal industry. The United Mine Workers union expects Obama to push hard for improved mine safety and to put control over mine safety back into the hands of a miners’ advocate instead of an industry representative.
  • A story in the Washington Post says that, while no plans to overturn Bush administration executive orders have been finalized, 48 advisers have been working for a month already identifying executive orders and regulations that will be overturned by the Obama administration immediately following Obama’s swearing in. Some of the regulations expected to be overturned is the ban on embryonic stem cell research, the global gag rule restricting abortion discussions in U.S. aid programs, and permitting California to implement its own CO2 restrictions that are more stringent than EPA regulations.
  • According to a San Francisco Chronicle story, oil executives are nervous about whether Obama will reinstate the OCS drilling ban and impose a windfall profits tax. Alternative and renewable energy executives, on the other hand, are giddy with expectation that Obama will implement his campaign’s energy plan such as a green jobs program for construction of solar and wind farms and a renewable energy standard. The executives interviewed for the story did not expect a cap-and-trade program immediately.
  • A story in the Great Falls Tribune of Great Falls, Montana, finds that there aren’t many changes expected in farm policy as it relates to the environment from the Bush to the Obama administrations. The VIPs the Tribune interviewed for the story didn’t expect that Obama’s campaign promise to reopen NAFTA will actually come to that, and they don’t think that he’ll work to overturn new rules on emissions from livestock feed lots.
  • Finally, according to the Grand Junction Free Press, Colorado Senator Ken Salazar expects a number of significant changes in the Bureau of Land Management’s approach to managing public lands. The Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States expects that western slope communities with access to oil shale will not have the economic growth under the Obama administration that they would have had under McCain, and Sen. Salazar expects that the regulations on how oil shale could be commercially developed will be very carefully scrutinized in 2009.

Image credits:

4 replies »

  1. The stalactite story is pretty neat.

    Kruetzer has it all wrong on multiple levels. For one, he’s obviously stuck in the short-term thinking mindset: we want this now, and fuck my grandchildren. For two, he’s arguing from a position that the only model of efficiency is economic efficiency. That was fine 150 years ago, but it doesn’t cut it anymore. I’m not suggesting that we should throw economic efficiency out the window, but we’d be well served to start measuring efficiency based on resources consumed and waste generated. Moreover, there’s the little matter of externalized costs that, if they’re calculated in, tend to blow arguments like his right out of the water. And then there’s Brian’s math…

    Desalinization is something we will have figure out, but it won’t be easy and there will be negatives. So perhaps there needs to be a very serious effort at water usage efficiency. While i think that concerns over toilet-to-tap programs are overblown, even they are attacking the problem backwards. How about starting with not using water for toilets?

    Composters are not only already quite good (and stank free), but could easily be made better…and they also disperse the waste so that there isn’t one giant toiletbowl somewhere in town (granted, then there won’t be anything to name after G.W. Bush…trade offs). They also turn your poop into something useful: toilet-to-salad, if you will. 2.5 gallons to sink a turd is ridiculous. And outside of the toilet water, nothing you pour down a drain is all that dirty. We could be recycling our water inside our own homes without too much trouble.

    But when we do come to the point of desalinization there are things we should look into like phytoremediation of the brackish water. Studies suggest hydroponic vegetables can handle very high EC (electrical conductivity, or how much salt is in the water) so long as a portion of the root system is exposed to low EC water.

    Of course, we’ll need to be in a position where we need to desalinate as little water as possible for the whole idea to work decently…which goes back to the argument for efficiency in resource use/waste generation.

  2. Or, the waste water could be evaporated in concrete pools and the salt never goes back to the sea…