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They have failed to convince Congress—even Congresses controlled by the Democratic Party—to impose limits on US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, despite decades of effort, political threats, and grandstanding. Given the election of Donald Trump, they are losing their efforts to use the regulatory bureaucracy—an interest group with powerful budgetary and ideological incentives to impose GHG emissions policies—as a substitute source of such policies in the face of that congressional inaction. They have failed to convince the “international community”—whatever that is—to impose emissions limits both meaningful and enforceable, as any dispassionate review of the Paris climate agreement demonstrates. And they have failed to induce the new president to salute the Paris accord despite its manifest weaknesses.
“They” are the cast of thousands populating the American and international climate industry generally, desperate to outlaw or severely limit the use of fossil fuels, for ideological reasons and as a tool to pursue massive wealth transfers for the climate industry and for favored constituencies. More narrowly, “they” include the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), now desperate to find a path to overcome the failure of the American electorate to listen to their intellectual and moral superiors.
Without Congress, the bureaucracy, or an “international” policy that would reduce GHG emissions even notionally, let alone with an enforcement mechanism, to whom are the climate activists to turn? Answer: The judiciary! The judges—unaccountable as they transform themselves into mini-executives—will impose the policies that any right-thinking person knows will save the planet.
Nor is the UCS shy about this strategy. In a recent press release touting the publication of a “study” purporting to calculate the contributions of individual “carbon producers” to temperature and sea-level increases, UCS makes it clear that climate policy “has long focused on the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ of nations.” But “attention has increasingly turned to non-state actors, particularly the major fossil fuel producers.”
Whose attention, precisely? UCS does not tell us. But the UCS’s turn to litigation as a final, desperate tactic is explicit: UCS stands foursquare in support of the proposition that the aforementioned study “may inform approaches for juries and judges to calculate damages in such lawsuits.” Thus is the UCS following in the footsteps of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and others as they abuse investigations and other powers of their offices to attack unpopular businesses and groups.
What is striking about that study is the absence of any discussion of the poor correlation between changes in atmospheric GHG concentrations and changes in temperatures and sea levels. Consider first the two time periods chosen for analysis: 1880–2010 and 1980–2010. Is it an accident that 1880 and 1980 were near the beginnings of two warming periods? Consider the temperature record since the end of the little ice age around 1850: After increasing, temperatures fell, initiated by the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 and continuing through 1910, well beyond the volcanic influence. Temperatures then increased through the mid-1940s, fell slightly through the late 1970s, and then increased through 1998 (a strong El Niño year). Temperatures then were roughly constant through about 2014, after which another strong El Niño yielded higher temperatures in 2015–16. Recently updated surface temperatures show that readings have fallen back to their pre–El Niño levels.
In short, the study applauded so loudly by UCS relies not on the actual temperature record, but instead wholly on a climate model, the predictive power of which, curiously, is not examined. Can the model explain the warming during 1910–45, a period when increases in GHG concentrations cannot have been the cause? Well, no. As for making inferences about the contributions of major “carbon producers” to sea level increases: The study, to be blunt, is preposterous. Analyzing the data from the tide gauge record over the last 117 years, Parker and Ollier conclude:
It is clear from the analyses of the tide gauges of the “NOAA-120”, “US 39”, “PSMSL-162”, “Mitrovica-23”, “Holgate-9”, and “California-8” data sets and the United States Pacific and Atlantic coasts that the sea level has been oscillating about the same almost perfectly linear trend line all over the 20th century and the first 17 years of this century.
In plain English: Increases in sea levels have not accelerated over the last 117 years despite increases in GHG concentrations.
Moreover, the vast majority of the climate models have done a poor job of predicting actual temperatures; in a nutshell, they run “hot.” And so the basic problem with the UCS study is the reliance on model projections rather than actual observations. The authors claim to have measured the temperature and sea-level contributions of individual “carbon producers,” but they have done no such thing. Instead, they have applied a climate model, the reliability of which they fail to demonstrate, and have used those projections to claim that measurement. This “methodology” simply shunts aside the issue of natural versus anthropogenic temperature changes—after all, the little ice age ended only about 165 years ago—among a long list of unresolved questions.
Why would the UCS study rely on a model rather than actual data? Obviously, it is because the contribution of any given carbon producer to anthropogenic climate change is vanishingly small—effectively zero—a reality that the UCS study demonstrates implicitly. In part b of Figure 2 (p. 585), the authors claim to show that the 20 “carbon producers” of interest together have contributed about 20 percent of the increase in GHG concentrations during 1980–2010.
Let us accept that figure for purposes of discussion, and let us apply the EPA climate model—the model used by the Obama administration to make assertions about the benefits of its climate policies—to ask what the aggregate temperature effect of those emissions have been. The answer is about 0.14 of a degree by 2100, under a set of assumptions that exaggerate the impact of the emissions produced by the “carbon producers.” (In particular: a climate sensitivity assumption of 4.5 degrees for a doubling of GHG concentrations by 2100.) And so for the average “carbon producer” examined by the UCS study, the effect is about 0.007 of a degree. Note that the standard deviation of the surface temperature record is about 0.11 of a degree.
Let us not stop there. Let us examine the magnitude of the temperature contributions of the “carbon producers” that are the obvious targets of the litigation process that UCS is promoting: ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Peabody Energy, and ConocoPhillips. (Does anyone believe that litigation against the two largest “carbon producers,” Saudi Aramco and Gazprom, would yield an actual payday for the lawyers?) The following table lists the UCS assertions about their respective contributions to the 1980–2010 increases in GHG concentrations and the respective imputed temperature effects using the EPA climate model.
Table 1. Individual Firms’ GHG Contributions and Magicc/Scengen Temperature Effects
|Firm||UCS GHG Contribution (percent)||Temp Effect (degrees C)|
|Royal Dutch Shell||1.0||0.007|
Note: Temperature effects assume 4.5 degree climate sensitivity for a doubling of GHG concentrations by 2100.
The standard deviation of the surface temperature record is, again, about 0.11 of a degree. Accordingly, the imputed temperature contribution of all of the “carbon producers” summed together—0.047 of a degree—is much smaller than that standard deviation; that is, the contribution of all of them, let alone any one of them, is swamped by the statistical variation (“noise”) in the data. Does UCS believe that judges and juries are that stupid?
The UCS litigation strategy for climate policy is deeply anti-democratic, but at a more fundamental level it is anti-human as well. Why is the litigation aimed only at the producers of fossil fuels? After all, the fossil-fuel sector is huge because other sectors demand energy, and fossil fuels overwhelmingly are the most efficient forms with which to provide it. If the producers of fossil fuels are responsible for the purportedly adverse effects of climate change, does the same principle not apply to industries that use energy? Should we sue the agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, retailing, household, and all the remaining economic sectors? Is only government immune? Well, no: Government, too, uses vast amounts of energy.
Moreover, all sectors demand energy because people demand the goods and services made affordable by fossil fuels. For the bottom three US income quintiles, the correlations between energy consumption and household income are about 0.75, 0.85, and 0.91. If fossil fuels are evil, so are rising incomes, as the latter drive up the demand for the former.
Accordingly, one implication of the UCS lawsuit campaign is a preference for poverty as a tool with which to dampen energy demands and thus incentives to produce fossil fuels. Thus has UCS fallen into, or sought out, an anti-human trap: Ordinary people are a scourge on the planet. They overwhelmingly prefer cheap energy, but the central rationale of the litigation push is diametrically opposed, and investments in people—education, health, and so forth—make matters worse by increasing human capital and wealth, and thus the demand for energy.
That the journal Climatic Change would publish such dubious work illustrates the deep and dishonorable politicization of climate science, a form of corruption entirely predictable—indeed, inevitable—given the massive amounts of government spending in this area. Whether this tragic trend can be reversed is not obvious, but a reform of climate science and the peer-review process will obviously not be achieved quickly.
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