Political Movement Behind the Scenes on Climate Change

By August 24, 2013 Myths, politics, Solutions

From Al Gore’s Ezra Klien’s interview in the Washington Post on 8/21/13
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/08/21/al-gore-explains-why-hes-optimistic-about-stopping-global-warming/

 

Al Gore has a really important Climate Change Initiative that is gaining steam, participants and press. It is called the Climate Reality Project (https://www.climaterealityproject.org). There are a few really important things that Al said about the politics of our climate future that I have been witnessing and that need to have a greater reach.

Movement in politics is something that one hears if one is listening with a glass against a wall, or paying attention to a lot of mundane details and keeping an eye on the pulse of the conversation from an intently interested position. al talks of movement among Republicans. This is not something that one hears in my case, but Al does have these conversations and he is reporting. But I do see telltale signs buried deep in articles about environmental issues where Republican lawmakers are pitted against Tea Partiers. There is movement. much of it towards the opposite end of the scael with the Tea Partiers, but this is the obvious end of the deal.

Rank and file Republicans are having a really tough time with tea partiers. They are giving the Republican party a really bad name and making Democrats look good in comparison. Their votes are starting to show some push-back too. Not about climate yet, or anything really environmental that I can think of without a little research. But there have been a few key votes this summer that have seen Republicans jumping off the burning Tea Partier ship.

Like Al says: this is the beginning. Like I say: they have dug a hole so deep that it will collapse in on themselves very soon. Radical political parties like the Tea Partiers have come and gone throughout American history. If the tea leaves are any indication, Tea partiers will become ineffectual –at some point. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

The other key thing that Al mentioned involves a myth about global dysfunction with a carbon tax. The myth is that: “if the US enacts a carbon tax, business will move to other countries because they do not have carbon taxes.” Al reminds us that the playing field has been leveled with regards to this myth: “…remember the World Trade Organization rules explicitly allow the recapture of carbon taxes at the border, much in the manner of a value-added tax.”

As for what Al has to say about Obama’s regulatory push, left out of the interview was the fact that new stationary source emissions of CO2 are now regulated by the EPA. Rules were complete in late 2012. More rules for upgrades to existing power plants and mobile sources are now in the process of being written and will be completed in 12 to 18 months. The three interview questions about my update are below the next section on Category 6 hurricanes.

Hurricane Cat 6 Not (Yet)

For those of you who read, or will read the full interview:  There is no hurricane Cat 6. Al said this in jest, or edits to the interview made it appear that the NWS has added a category to their Hurricane Intensity Scale. This has not happened, but it may. The real story about hurricane intensification is that all tropical storm systems are now more powerful as are all precipitation events.

A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture (humidity). Moisture is the fuel for weather events. As it rises because of one weather reason or another it encounters cooler air and condenses into water droplets (clouds). This process gives off heat. The extra heat creates more rising air that allows more moisture to feed into the system and condenses in a self-perpetuating feedback loop. So by definition, because our atmosphere is warmer, storms are more powerful.

Superstorm Sandy is but the latest example. It was the biggest storm to ever occur in the Atlantic Basin at 1,000 miles wide, yet 3 hours before landfall when it was at its largest, it was downgraded from a Cat 1 to extratropical. When it was at its largest it was never more powerful than a Cat 1. It set the record for lowest pressure on the NE Coast and highest storm tide and it made that unprecedented left turn. Irene—before Sandy—in had unprecedented inland flooding. Ike had a Cat 4 storm surge but was only rated a Cat 2 at landfall and Ike was also a tremendously large hurricane, especially for a Cat 2.

So the take-home is, when hurricane scientists said that hurricanes were going to be more powerful, they meant two things: that we will be seeing those storms that go above Cat 5 in strength, but more importantly, all hurricanes will be stronger in ways that are surprising and unexpected.

 

Ezra Klien’s interview question:

EK: Let me push back on your optimism here. To again use “An Inconvenient Truth” as a time marker, when that came out, Republicans in the Senate were still introducing bills to fight climate change through policies like cap-and-trade or cap-and-dividend. In 2008, there was a cap-and-trade plan in the McCain/Palin platform. In 2009, Waxman-Markey passed the House. But since then, Republican opposition has solidified, and cap-and-trade and carbon tax ideas seem completely off-the-table in American politics.

AG: Well, it’s not unusual to find big political shifts that take place beneath the surface before they’re visible above the surface. A lot of Republicans have shared with me privately their growing discomfort with the statements of some of the deniers in their ranks. Even though they’re not yet willing to come back to advocate constructive policies, there is definitely movement. You have now the formation of the first organized caucus in the Senate, with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse joining with others in a hard-hitting effort.

But you see it at the local level a bit more than at the national level. You see these state initiatives and laws. And you see maybe the biggest shift of all in the business community. I think that in order to be competitive internationally we’ll have to make the shift towards a price on carbon. People are increasingly aware that we’re already paying the costs of carbon and so it makes sense to put a price on it.

 

 

EK: But to play the pessimist again, wouldn’t carbon prices in other countries give us a competitive advantage the longer we resist them at home? It seems that if India is taxing fossil fuels and we’re not, that’s a slight edge for us. It’s easy to imagine it becoming a kind of protectionist, save-our-manufacturing-sector issue.

AG: It’s certainly something that can’t be dismissed out of hand. But remember the World Trade Organization rules explicitly allow the recapture of carbon taxes at the border, much in the manner of a value-added tax. The U.S. is in danger if it did not change of being subjected to those recapture provisions. And as the cost curve for renewable electricity continues plunging, the low-cost electricity in the future will be renewables. At Apple, for example, 100 percent of its server farms and headquarters are on renewables, and they’re on the way to 100 percent for the company. Google is going down the same road. The pressure is only going to build as the price of renewable electricity continues to fall.

 

EK: What do you think of the Obama administration’s intentions to push regulatory approaches to limiting carbon emissions?

AG: I’m very encouraged. I thought the president’s speech on climate was terrific and it followed the inspiring comments in his inaugural address and his post-election State of the Union. And remember the impact of policy direction on business calculations is forward-looking. When business begins to understand the direction of policy, they have to start adjusting to where the policy is going. When you look at the EPA process, it’s undeniably clear that there will be a price on carbon one way or the other. Then when you look at the movement in other countries and the states and local measures being enacted, the direction is now quite clear and businesses are making plans to adjust to it.