THE SCIENCE AND ECONOMICS OF CLIMATE CHANGE: Virginia and the Kyoto Protocol
By: Patrick J. Michaels, Ph.D.
Paul C. Knappenberger
An informed citizenry makes its decisions based upon facts, not feelings. Virginians will increasingly be faced with decisions concerning the earth’s environmental future that will have major implications for the Commonwealth’s economy. Within this purview there is probably no issue as emotionally charged as global warming caused by human changes to the atmosphere, mainly the emission of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuel.
However, informed decisions are based upon quantitative analysis of problems and their costs, not emotions. Despite the rhetoric we hear about climate change, there are historical records and hard data, such as observed and forecast changes in temperature, that provide a quantitative basis for action or inaction.
Climate change has occurred in the past and it will occur again in the future. These changes can be measured. Forecasts made by computer models are numerical quantities, and the differences between those projections and the actual measured temperature provide quantitative guidance about the reliability of those forecasts and the true nature of future climate change.
There have been many policy proposals put forth on the issue of global warming. Those that have attained law, such as the $0.05 per gallon gasoline tax of 1993 specifically enacted to ‘fight global warming,’ have not had any major environmental impact.
That may be about to change. Public concern about global warming produced an international treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), and the subsequent Kyoto Protocol to that treaty, which would make emissions reductions ‘legally binding’ under the FCCC. Notably, the U.S. Senate ratified the FCCC by acclamation, but has yet to consider the Kyoto Protocol where prospects appear very dim at this time.
That has not stopped de facto attempts to operationalize the Protocol. The International Center for Technology Assessment petitioned EPA on October 20, 1999, seeking regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. The Administration has proposed the sequestering of large amounts of federal forest
The ‘Greenhouse Effect’ is a very real thing. Certain natural constituents in the atmosphere, namely water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane, absorb the radiation emitted by the earth in response to the warming rays of the sun. If these molecules did not exist, the radiation would pass directly into space.
When these molecules re-emit this radiation, it can either go into space or be radiated back towards the earth’s surface. So the greenhouse gases ‘recycle’ some warming radiation, creating a warmer temperature in the lower atmosphere and a colder temperature in the thinner stratosphere which contains relatively few greenhouse molecules.
The earth’s natural greenhouse effect is about 33′ C (59′ F) at the surface. Without this warming, the planet would likely be a frozen iceball with whatever life evolved likely never to have developed beyond very low forms. Water vapor is by far the most important greenhouse gas. After allowing for water vapor, the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide is approximately 1.5′ C (2.7′ F), and that of methane is even less.
Until recently, scientists thought that the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, prior to the industrial revolution, was constant. Research published in 1999 in Science, by Frederick Wagner et al., demonstrates that it was not and concludes that the vegetation of the planet, which absorbs carbon dioxide in the process of photosynthesis, is very dynamic, with large natural changes in both forest and oceanic ecosystems occurring continually during the current interglacial period beginning some 11,000 years ago. According to Wagner, the background concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has varied between roughly 265 and 295 parts per million (ppm).
Since the industrial revolution, there has been a substantial rise from that background range, with the current concentration around 365ppm, or an increase of roughly one-third. But human activity also results in emission of other greenhouse gases, such as methane, chlorofluorocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and many other minor compounds. Together, the effect of all of these can be treated ‘as if’ they were all carbon dioxide. Doing this creates an ‘effective’ carbon dioxide concentration of approximately 460ppm today, or approximately 164 percent of the background value.
Scientists have known about the greenhouse effect since the 1870s, when it was quantified in experiments by British physicist John Tyndall. The original concern that combustion of fossil fuels might change the surface temperature dates back to 1896, when Svante Arrhenius published a paper in the journal Philosophical Transactionsindicating that doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide would raise the surface temperature around 5’C (9’F), and half of that doubling (we are beyond that point already) would warm the surface 3’C (5.4’F). This forecast was a clear failure as the earth has only warmed 0.64’C (1.1’F) in the last 100 years with half of that total before the major greenhouse changes. However, the computer-generated calculations of climate change that served as the basis for the FCCC bore considerable resemblance to Arrhenius’ forecast.
| land to remain unharvested, serving as a ‘sink’ for carbon dioxide that might be credited to some ultimate passage of Kyoto. In addition, several of these federal impoundments, such as the designation of the Grand Escalante in Utah as a national monument, will effectively prevent mining of vast amounts of coal, which also serves the intent of the Protocol, by raising the cost (increasing the scarceness) of energy sources that emit greenhouse gases. In addition, alternative legislation was proposed by the late Senator John Chafee that will provide economic credits to industries that follow the guidelines of the Kyoto Protocol prior to its passage, subject to the ultimate approval of the Protocol many years from now. In other words, despite the Protocol’s current unpopularity, attempts are being made to introduce it in piecemeal fashion.
The Senate is reluctant to approve the Kyoto Protocol, because, in toto, it has disastrous economic consequences and it also is not based upon sound science. However, the ‘incremental’ approach, noted above, can ultimately have the same effect as the Protocol itself, while piecemeal actions may individually appear only marginally disadvantageous. That is why it is necessary to examine the impact of the Kyoto Protocol as a whole. In this paper, we ask ‘what if’ questions ‘ what happens if we agree to the Protocol, and what happens if we do not. The diverse nature of Virginia’s economy and climate forms a rich background for such an analysis. However, it is first necessary to discuss the FCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, and how they work.
WHAT IS THE KYOTO PROTOCOL?
The Kyoto Protocol is an important amendment to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC). The original Convention was signed by President George Bush at the ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janiero and soon ratified by the U.S. Senate. On March 21, 1994, six months after it was ratified by 50 nations, the Framework Convention took effect. This treaty is unprecedented in its potential to dictate the domestic energy policy of its signatories, and represents a potential major transfer of national sovereignty to an international authority.
The stated goal of the FCCC is given in Article 2 as, ‘Stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference in the climate system.’ The operative word, ‘dangerous,’ is never defined. However, the FCCC gives a quantitative ‘goal’ of reducing the emissions of most major greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide and methane, to 1990 levels by the year 2000 in approximately 25 nations with relatively high gross domestic products (GDPs).
Less than two years after the FCCC was signed, it became apparent that global emissions of greenhouse gases continued to climb rapidly. In the United States, by 1998, carbon dioxide emissions had risen a considerable 10.4 percent since 1990 according to the highly reputable Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy. The EIA further predicts that without any limitations, carbon emissions by the year 2010 will be approximately 33 percent above 1990 levels.
As greenhouse gas concentrations continued to rise in spite of the FCCC, many came to believe that its failure occurred because it was not ‘legally binding’ inasmuch as the year 2000 emission reductions were only stated as a ‘goal.’ So, at the third meeting of the parties who had signed the FCCC, in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997, an alteration to the FCCC was adopted that is commonly known as the Kyoto Protocol.
Originally, President Clinton proposed that the United States would agree to legally binding commitments to reduce our greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2010. European nations and the developing world wanted larger cuts and the Kyoto meeting was deadlocked. Vice President Gore flew to Kyoto and instructed the U.S. representatives to be ‘more flexible,’ and they ultimately agreed to reduce our net greenhouse emissions for important compounds by 7 percent below 1990 for the aggregate period 2008-2012. The key points of this agreement are:
According to federal climatologist Tom Wigley, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the amount of global warming that the Protocol would prevent in the next fifty years is 0.07’C (0.13’F). This amount of temperature reduction is too small an amount to measure with any confidence.
Where will the reduction in emissions take place?
Our nation’s production of greenhouse gases is roughly equally divided among 1) transportation, 2) non-electrical uses in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors, and 3) electricity generation. Transportation shows little promise for any large net reduction in emissions. Population increases expected over the next fifteen years guarantee an increased demand for automobiles that will be difficult to balance with changes in fuel efficiency. Given the time for new technology to diffuse into production automobiles, it seems highly unlikely that vehicles manufactured ten years from now will be radically different than they are today. Further, vehicles purchased today, including the plethora of popular SUVs, are likely to still be on the road should Kyoto take effect in 2008.
|According to federal climatologist Tom Wigley, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the amount of global warming that the Protocol would prevent in the next fifty years is 0.07’C (0.13’F). This amount of temperature reduction is too small an amount to measure with any confidence.||The same problems that confront transportation are largely inherent in the other sectors. The baseline technologies that are in use around the home, office or at the mall today are not likely to be radically different in 10 years. In the manufacturing sector, reductions in net output, i.e. recessions, are politically unacceptable. However, manufacturing relies upon much of the same infrastructure as individual consumers and it is this infrastructure’mainly in electricity generation’where the largest greenhouse emission reductions may be obtained.|
|Nearly 70 percent of all American electricity is produced by the combustion of fossil fuel, with 56 percent of that produced by the combustion of coal, 10 percent from natural gas and 4 percent from other fossil sources, mainly liquid petroleum. There is no environmentally, politically and technologically acceptable substitute for fossil fuel in the vast majority of electricity generation. For example, nuclear power, which would appear as the logical substitute because it creates very few greenhouse emissions (mainly only from the mining and transport of fuel, and the construction of plants), is as unpopular with most proponents of the Kyoto Protocol as is fossil fuel. It is so unpopular, in fact, that the EIA predicts that the amount of energy produced by nuclear power will drop by more than one-half by the year 2020 as old plants are retired and no new ones take their place. The other major non-greenhouse source, hydropower, is also under attack from the environmental constituency. Solar energy and wind have long been promised, but will not deliver much power in their current incarnations. Both also have substantial esthetic problems.||Every attempt to meet the guidelines of the Kyoto Protocol requires a virtually complete switch in U.S. electricity generation from coal to natural gas, even though this only accomplishes 23 percent of the required emission reductions based on the linear EIA estimate for 2010. The fact that coal is a large portion of the Virginia export stream, and that the world’s largest marine terminal for coal is in Virginia, means that the impact of Kyoto on that particular segment of our economy is enormous.|
Some greenhouse emissions resulting from electricity generation can be reduced by substituting natural gas for coal combustion, as, depending on a number of variable assumptions, natural gas produces approximately 70 percent of the greenhouse emissions of coal per unit of electricity delivered. If the natural gas is burned in state-of-the-art combined-cycle turbines, compared to the currently on-line production, the net decrease in carbon dioxide emissions per unit power over coal is closer to 40 percent. Thus switching all coal-fired electricity generation to natural gas would result in a national emissions savings of only about 7 percent [.33 X .56 X (1-.60)]. This demonstration encapsulates the futility of the Kyoto Protocol.
Every attempt to meet the guidelines of the Kyoto Protocol requires a virtually complete switch in U.S. electricity generation from coal to natural gas, even though this only accomplishes 23 percent of the required emission reductions based on the linear EIA estimate for 2010. The fact that coal is a large portion of the Virginia export stream, and that the world’s largest marine terminal for coal is in Virginia, means that the impact of Kyoto on that particular segment of our economy is enormous.
According to EIA, 42 percent of the current electricity generated in the Commonwealth comes from coal, with an additional 39 percent from nuclear, which leaves only 19 percent remaining from natural gas, hydropower, wind, solar and the other sources of power production. Attempting to merely attain 23 percent of the goal established by the Kyoto Protocol means changing over nearly half of Virginia’s electricity production to natural gas in the next eight years.
|The economic costs, which have been estimated under various assumptions, are very important and need to be discussed prior to estimating the specific impact of Kyoto on Virginia. These costs are largely taxes and they represent increases in the cost of energy mandated by the federal government in an attempt to discourage the use of fossil fuels to the point that we meet our commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.|| This will not happen. The national infrastructure does not exist to supply this amount of natural gas to Virginia if every surrounding state is required to do the same, which will be the case. There is no known plan to create, in the few years between now and 2008, a supply network that would meet this demand. Finally, it is clear that this amount of natural gas consumption will greatly increase its price.
The economic costs, which have been estimated under various assumptions, are very important and need to be discussed prior to estimating the specific impact of Kyoto on Virginia. These costs are largely taxes and they represent increases in the cost of energy mandated by the federal government in an attempt to discourage the use of fossil fuels to the point that we meet our commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. The amount of cost varies under different scenarios depending on how Kyoto is implemented. The smallest costs occur because of something called ‘international emissions trading.’
WHAT IS ‘EMISSIONS TRADING’?
Emissions trading is an attempt to allow ‘market’ forces to determine the price of compliance with the Kyoto Protocol. The assumption is that markets are far more efficient than command-and- control government intervention in dealing with the costs of regulation.
Emissions trading creates emissions ‘credits’ that can be bought and sold between nations. First, each nation creates a national inventory of its greenhouse emissions, including the amounts from each specific economic sector and each corporation. Then each corporation is required to submit an annual update.
Assume, for example, that a country is able to reduce its net carbon emissions by planting trees to sequester carbon dioxide. The amount of ‘saved’ greenhouse gas generates a ‘credit’ that it can sell to another country. The price is determined by mutual agreement. If there are very few credits available, then demand will be high, and the price will be also. Consequently, some (directly competitive) countries might be rewarded handsomely by the more affluent United States, which might choose to purchase credits rather than substantially reduce emissions.
DIFFERENCES IN NATIONAL ECONOMIC IMPACT WITH EMISSIONS TRADING
The EIA calculates that compliance with the Kyoto Protocol will cost the U.S. a stunning reduction in GDP averaging 4.2 percent per year for the period 2008-2012 assuming domestic actions only and no emissions trading. Another calculation, by WEFA, Inc., which has been widely cited, estimates a 3.2 percent reduction per year, a similarly high number.
With complete emissions trading between Annex 1 countries, the DRI-McGraw-Hill Associates econometric model estimates a 1.6 percent decline in the annual GDP, while the EIA model predicts a decline of 1.0 percent per year.
The Administration’s Council of Economic Advisors produced a remarkably low estimate of a 0.01 percent decline per year. This estimate assumed complete and unfettered emissions trading not only between all the Annex 1 countries, but between ‘Key Developing Countries,’ such as China, India and South Korea. This will not happen.
Which of these scenarios is likely to be correct?
Emissions trading first requires an accurate inventory be made of national emissions from virtually every home and business. Then this inventory must be subject to international verification, presumably by a committee appointed by the United Nations (there seems to be no other alternative). Next the emissions reductions must be certified as genuine, a seemingly impossible task.
|The fact is that most nations do not keep records that have any large degree of reliability about how much carbon dioxide is actually emitted by industry and subsequently sequestered by the biota. All calculations for global carbon dioxide based upon accepted parameters compute the wrong answer, indicating that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere should be much higher than it is today. Either we are emitting less than we calculate, or the biota are absorbing more, or some combination thereof. The balance of recent scientific evidence indicates that the credit largely lies in the biosphere, but this is not known for sure.||Recently, Fan et al. published a calculation in Scienceindicating that the rapidly growing forests of North America actually absorb as much or more carbon dioxide than is emitted by the United States and Canada. Does this mean that the U.S. can sell emission credits without any reduction in the burning of fossil fuels?|
How, then, does one form a scientific basis to trade net reductions? Recently, Fan et al. published a calculation in Science indicating that the rapidly growing forests of North America actually absorb as much or more carbon dioxide than is emitted by the United States and Canada. Does this mean that the U.S. can sell emission credits without any reduction in the burning of fossil fuels?
|The Kyoto Protocol is an economic disaster for this nation and will cost Virginia dearly. Ironically, it will also produce no measurable change in global mean temperature through the middle of the next century.||How could this concept work betweenstates? How does the federal government ‘ration’ the amount of energy that Virginians can use? The same emissions trading principles apply. First, a state inventory is calculated, and the contribution of each and every corporation is determined. Then, after allowing for some small baseline, each company is required to reduce its net emissions to seven percent below 1990 levels, or to pay for a permit purchased from another corporation that exceeded this target. The costs to some businesses will be enormous, while others may notice little change. The level of intrusiveness into corporate practices and procedures, usually held as private information, is liable to be substantial. Whatever the result, we still have no valid model that explains the current concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.|
Our inability to understand national and state-level carbon dioxide budgets ensures that any emissions trading proposal is likely to become mired in the U.S. legal system for years. However, the Kyoto Protocol is insensitive to the legal processes (except for ratification) within the signatory nations. Given this scenario, the emissions deadline approaches at a constant rate while emissions trading stalls at a near-zero value. This argues strongly that the EIA and WEFA estimates of substantial loss in GDP are correct.
There are also international political obstacles to emissions trading. The Kyoto Protocol allows for emissions trading, but does not provide a mechanism. This was to be educed at a subsequent meeting of the signatories to the Framework Convention held in Buenos Aires in November, 1998. In reality, little progress was made concerning trading, even just between Annex 1 countries.
One main reason for this lack of progress is that many of the Annex 1 countries do not want emissions trading. If the U.S. can find a way to continue to emit at the expense of the other Annex 1 countries (as is implied by the Fan et al. study), European nations will suffer not only disproportionately large reductions in emissions, but also economic disadvantage with the U.S. As a compromise, the European Community has proposed that the proportion of emissions that can be traded not be allowed to exceed 50 percent. The EIA has analyzed this scenario and computed an annual reduction in GDP for the U.S. of 1.7 percent.
In summary, a legally defensible emissions trading scheme is years away, and may well be impossible to achieve. The first year, 2008, in which we are to somehow show massive reductions is rapidly approaching. The assumption that the Annex 1 countries will trade all their emissions is wrong. The Administration’s assumption that all Annex 1 countries, plus many developing nations, will do so, is a misleading fantasy. The WEFA and EIA models, which assume no trading, are much closer to reality. The Kyoto Protocol is an economic disaster for this nation and will cost Virginia dearly. Ironically, it will also produce no measurable change in global mean temperature through the middle of the next century. Embedded within this national economic decline are specific impacts in various economic sectors. The effect of Kyoto would be disproportionately concentrated in those states that rely on these sectors for economic growth and jobs.
IMPACT ON VIRGINIA
| The Kyoto Protocol only applies to the ‘developed’ world’ mainly the U.S., Canada, Europe, the southwestern Pacific and Japan. All of the Western Hemisphere south of the U.S. is exempt. All of Asia, except for Asian Russia (which receives ‘special considerations’ because of its economic disarray) and Japan, is exempt. All of Africa is exempt. All the states in America are affected.
WEFA, Inc. has conducted a state-by-state, sector-by-sector analysis of the Kyoto Protocol under the assumption of no significant international emissions trading. Note that the overall GDP loss estimated by WEFA is one percent smaller (3.2 percent per year vs. 4.2 percent per year) than the Department of Energy’s EIA model. WEFA defends its assumption on emissions with a rationale somewhat similar to what has been developed in this paper:
|The WEFA model and others are driven largely by estimates of the increasing price of energy that results from taxes on carbon that will be imposed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. As energy prices climb, so do the prices of all other products in proportion to their energy content. This a compounding problem that affects us all.|
‘As for permit-trading and other international market mechanisms, the Kyoto Protocol leaves all such instruments undefined, to be worked out in the future among the parties. Further, according to the Protocol, they are to be supplemental to indigenous [within-country] efforts, not primary mechanisms to reach country targets. And finally, there is great hostility on the part of many countries to their use. For these reasons, WEFA does not ascribe significant savings to them.’
Under these assumptions and rationale, Virginia’s economy is impacted at around the median value for other states. The key findings from WEFA are:
- a loss of 34,600 jobs;
- a statewide average unemployment rate of 5.1 percent (roughly double today’s rate);
- a loss of $2.3 billion per year (1996 dollars) in tax revenue;
- an industrial electricity price increase of 81 percent, and an industrial natural gas price increase of 103 percent;
- a residential electricity price increase of 54 percent, a residential natural gas price increase of 62 percent, and a residential oil price increase of 72 percent;
- a gasoline price increase of 50 percent;
- a reduction in gross state product of 3.0 percent;
- a direct cost per family of approximately $1000 per year (1996 dollars);
- a decline in real total personal income of 1.8 percent per year;
- food and housing price increases of about 11 percent relative to the baseline.
The WEFA model and others are driven largely by estimates of the increasing price of energy that results from taxes on carbon that will be imposed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. As energy prices climb, so do the prices of all other products in proportion to their energy content. This a compounding problem that affects us all.
| Consider the impact on agriculture. Virginia farmers currently compete in the international marketplace with nations that have no commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions via the Kyoto Protocol. In both the U.S. and elsewhere, crop yields are largely driven by the amount of fertilizer that is applied. Fertilizer input is usually among the largest non-equipment costs associated with production. Fertilizer is primarily a petroleum-based product. As WEFA indicates, the price of many petroleum products effectively doubles as a result of Kyoto. This means that the base cost for agricultural production increases proportionally. However, Virginia’s competitors in the agricultural export market, mainly Argentina and Brazil in our hemisphere, do not experience the increasing costs. Kyoto institutionalizes this inequality and disadvantages Virginia’s economy in perpetuity.
Econometric models such as WEFA’s ignore the nature of the climate and chemical changes that humans exert on the atmosphere. They do not call into question whether or not the Protocol is even warranted. In reality, some climate changes might be deleterious and others might be beneficial. Consider whether warming is expressed primarily as a heating of the coldest air of the winter or as a heating of the hottest air in summer. These clearly have effects that are opposite in nature. Warming the coldest winter air masses leads to a lengthening of the growing season and increased agricultural productivity, while heating the hottest, already stressful, summer air masses will clearly reduce crop yields unless it is mitigated with increased irrigation.
|CLIMATE CHANGE IN VIRGINIA
The climate models that served as the basis for the Framework Convention predicted that by 1990 approximately 1.5’C (2.7’F) of warming should have taken place globally as a result of human activity. Moreover, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its comprehensive 1990 report, the changes ‘would be larger in winter than in the summer’ and, in general, ‘greater over land than ocean,’ and greater in high latitudes than in the tropics. Virginia’s midlatitude land position places it in the mid-range of projected changes. This means that, in general, the winter temperatures should have risen dramatically. The models that formed the basis for the Framework Convention predicted winter temperatures should have warmed nearly 2.0’C (3.6’F) and summer temperatures nearly 1.0’C (1.8’F).
The Virginia climate history is readily available from the U.S. National Climatic Data Center, in Asheville, North Carolina, and statewide average temperatures are shown for summer and winter in Figures 1 (left) and 2. There is no statistically meaningful warming or cooling during the course of the entire century in Figures 1 and 2.
The community of climate models is much more equivocal about precipitation. However, models that show either an increase or a decrease in Virginia are simply wrong. As shown in Figure 3 , as is the case for winter and summer temperature, there is no change in annual Virginia precipitation.
There does appear to be a general warming trend in the coldest air masses of winter that are found over Siberia and northwestern North America. The fact that such a warming is not evident in Virginia is largely because these frigid air masses are only transient visitors for a few winter days in the Commonwealth, and any relative warming in them is swamped by the lack of change that takes place through the majority of the year.
|The most important aspect of the Kyoto Protocol and climate change is that the Protocol, if implemented, will have no measurable effect on climate in the next fifty years. Any discussion of the effect of the Protocol on an individual state is then necessarily constrained to the economic costs of Kyoto and to prospective climate changes that might occur whether or not it is implemented. Temperature (‘F) Precipitation (inches)|| The idea that climate change is either beneficial or harmful is a relative concept. Climate change may actually be benignrelative to Virginia’s agriculture and forests. However, efforts to reduce emissions would undoubtedly be harmful to those sectors of Virginia’s economy that involve the mining and transporting of coal. And further, the idea that climate change could cause great harmmight be deduced from prospects of rises in the sea level. These three areas’agriculture and silviculture, mining, and sea level rise’illustrate the complexity of the climate change issue and the widely held misconceptions concerning its significance.
The most important aspect of the Kyoto Protocol and climate change is that the Protocol, if implemented, will have no measurable effect on climate in the next fifty years. Any discussion of the effect of the Protocol on an individual state is then necessarily constrained to the economic costs of Kyoto and to prospective climate changes that might occur whether or not it is implemented.
|VIRGINIA’S FARMS AND FORESTS
The economic activity of human beings emits increasing amounts of carbon dioxide’an odorless, non-toxic (within foreseeable concentration limits) gas that is the primary raw material for plants. The largest temperature effect of carbon dioxide increases is forecast to be a warming of winters, mainly away from the tropics. This is being largely expressed as a warming of the coldest temperatures in winter, mainly in Siberia, western Canada and Alaska (Balling et al., 1998). As shown earlier, there are no discernible net changes in temperature and rainfall in Virginia for at least the last 100 years. Given that, we are left to speculate on how forecast changes would affect Virginia’s forests and farms.
History of Virginia crop yields
Scientists and economists who analyze crop yields all concur that the technological improvements to agriculture that occur on generational scales dwarf any effects of year-to-year weather and climate variability. The profound increases in Virginia crop yields that have occurred in the last fifty years are evident in Figures 4 and 5. It is very clear that the upward trend caused by technology is much more important, on the average, than the weather in a given year, which creates the high and low values that are observed around the upward trend. The dominance of technology in the long run over weather fluctuations demonstrates that the preeminence of weather in agriculture is a common misconception.
Figure 4. Corn yields from the Tidewater (solid circles) and Shenandoah Valley (open circles) of Virginia. Yields have been dramatically improving over the last 50 years as a result of technological innovation. Note that yields in ‘bad weather’ years, such as 1993, were higher than in previous bad weather years, such as 1957.
|Consider the impact on agriculture. Virginia farmers currently compete in the international marketplace with nations that have no commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions via the Kyoto Protocol. In both the U.S. and elsewhere, crop yields are largely driven by the amount of fertilizer that is applied. Fertilizer input is usually among the largest non-equipment costs associated with production. Fertilizer is primarily a petroleum-based product. As WEFA indicates, the price of many petroleum products effectively doubles as a result of Kyoto. This means that the base cost for agricultural production increases proportionally. However, Virginia’s competitors in the agricultural export market, mainly Argentina and Brazil in our hemisphere, do not experience the increasing costs. Kyoto institutionalizes this inequality and disadvantages Virginia’s economy in perpetuity.|
|Figure 5. Soybean yields from the Tidewater region of Virginia. Like corn yields, soybean yields have also been dramatically increasing over the last 50 years. As with corn, ‘bad’ years produce many more beans per acre than they did 40 years ago.|
On the other hand, a single year can have very low yields (note the very low values for the 1993 corn yields in Virginia). However, under scenarios of climate change, the major concern is not the individual year, but the overall production averaged over time. Whether or not greenhouse warming is large or small, inter-annual variability in crop yields will remain.
Two of Virginia’s major field crops are corn and soybeans. Figures 4 shows corn yields over the last fifty years for Virginia’s two most intensive agricultural regions, the Tidewater and the Shenandoah Valley, and Figure 5 shows Tidewater soybean yields.
Note the similarity in corn yields (given in bushels per acre) between the Tidewater and the Valley. This occurs despite the fact that the Valley has a notably shorter growing season than the Tidewater, and experiences, on the average, about two-thirds as much rainfall per year’averaging around 34 inches per year vs. the 50 inches that characterizes the Tidewater. The Valley is also, on the average, roughly 3.2’C (6’F) cooler than the Tidewater.
|The very slight difference in average yields across this much of a climatic range says much about the prospects for major changes in Virginia crop yields as a result of climate change. The climatic diversity that naturally occurs in the state is incapable of generating large disparities in crop yields. Changing the climate’s natural greenhouse effect is not likely to generate much larger mean differences in the state than naturally exist, and agriculture seems well adapted to that range. Perhaps more telling for agriculture is that the highest overall productivity is found in the Tidewater region, where the length of the growing season allows farmers to double-crop corn/soybean or small grain/soybean rotations. Warming the climate via greenhouse changes decreases the severity of winter, and will expand the area in Virginia that can take advantage of this favorable climate.||‘carbon dioxide is not accumulating in the atmosphere at the median rate estimated by IPCC in 1990 according to NASA scientist James Hansen whose early models initiated much of the public concern of the last decade. The second most important greenhouse emission, methane, began to decrease its rate of increase in 1981 (Etheridge et al., 1998), some 15 years before the 1996 IPCC report on climate change that projected an increased rate of emissions for the next 50 years.|
The dramatic rise that our data show in Virginia corn and soybean yields is largely a result of technological improvement, which includes the adoption of higher-yielding varieties, increased use of fertilizer, irrigation, and more efficient tillage practices. In the last fifty years, mean yields have more than doubled.
An additional component to the yield increase results from the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A voluminous scientific literature suggests that increased carbon dioxide results in a direct stimulation of plant growth and an increase in water usage efficiency. (See Idso and Idso, 1994, for a comprehensive review of the thousands of separate scientific experiments that demonstrate this, as well as a discussion of the mechanisms that result in increased water use efficiency and net growth as carbon dioxide increases.)
The basic equations of photosynthesis are dependent upon the availability of carbon dioxide, which is the atmospheric compound that plants use as the primary ingredient for synthesizing green matter. Sylvan Wittwer, chairman emeritus of the Board on Agriculture of the National Research Council, was one of the original scientists who discovered, nearly 50 years ago, that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide raises crop productivity. In his recent compendium of this subject, Food, Climate and Carbon Dioxide, Wittwer convincingly demonstrated the improvements in major crops that are created by enhancing carbon dioxide. He has since written that up to 10 percent of the observed increase in postwar crop yields may be due to the direct ‘stimulation’ effect of carbon dioxide.
|Actually, the sensitivity of climate to carbon dioxide appears to have been overestimated. The large warmings predicted by the failed models that serve as the basis for the Framework Convention rely on a roughly threefold amplification of carbon dioxide warming by increased atmospheric moisture (water vapor, like carbon dioxide, is a greenhouse gas and contributes to surface warming). However, Spencer and Braswell, writing in 1997 in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, found that the predicted moisture increase has not appeared.|| The year-to-year variations around the technological trend are largely caused by weather and climate fluctuations. However, people also adapt their agricultural practices to average environmental conditions as well as to expectations of extreme values that are acquired either by experience or by research. This adaptation is the reason that areas of Virginia that are as climatically distinct as the Shenandoah Valley and the Tidewater can show crop yields that are nearly the same.
All of the computer-predicted simulations of climate change in the next century produce linear (straight-line), not exponential (increasing rate), temperature increases. On a global scale, surface temperatures may have already established what that linear increase is. In the last three decades, when the most recent rise began (temperatures actually fell slightly between 1940 and 1970), the rate of increase in surface temperature not attributed to changes in the sun, has been 0.13’C (0.23’F) per decade. In the last half of this century, on a hemispheric scale, winter warming has been more than twice summer warming (Michaels et al., in press).
A computer model for Virginia corn yields developed at the Virginia State Climatology Office indicates that the average projected annual temperature change would result in a net reduction in yields of a mere four bushels per acre of corn and less than one bushel per acre of soybeans. However, this must be balanced against expected increases resulting from the direct fertilization effect of carbon dioxide, noted above. While carbon dioxide-related yield increases are not smoothly distributed between crops (those that use corn’s method photosynthesis respond less than those that use the soybean type), it seems clear that the net result for Virginia agriculture is either neutral or slightly positive. This occurs whether or not the Kyoto Protocol is enacted because the Protocol will have no detectable effect on climate in the foreseeable future. The inevitable adaptation that will take place to change further argues against net agricultural reductions.
It is equally hard to imagine net negative effects on Virginia forestry. Almost all of our trees use the photosynthetic pathway that responds most positively to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide. As noted in literally hundreds of laboratory experiments in the refereed scientific literature, one effect of enhanced carbon dioxide on these types of plants is to dramatically increase water-use efficiency. As a result, even if rainfall were to decline slightly, there would be little effect on forest growth.
Graybill (1993) documented a measurable increase in growth rate in a western species (bristlecone pine) that was attributed to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. This particular species tends to grow monoculturally in very severe high-altitude environments. The problem in Virginia is that any increase in tree growth will be very difficult to document because of the relative diversity of our forests and their highly dynamic nature. Major structural changes, caused by fire and by ice storms, are likely to mask, at least in the next few decades, any carbon dioxide-related growth enhancement. However, the evidence from laboratory studies is encouraging, even if it is hard to document in the real world at this time.
In summary, technological improvements in Virginia agriculture have increased yields, even in bad years, to the point where, on the average, prospective climate changes are likely to produce only small changes in yield compared to average values that are expected. Virginia forests are likely to remain the same or even show some growth enhancement, but the natural variability that affects them will make any changed climate effect difficult to detect.
The effects of Kyoto on Virginia coal mining are more straightforward. Kyoto costs the coal industry both jobs and infrastructure, and coal mining is a major economic activity in southwestern Virginia. Every attempt to meet the guidelines of the Kyoto Protocol virtually eliminates coal in America’s energy equation, especially with regard to the generation of electricity.
|WEFA estimates the job loss in the Virginia mining sector at 31 percent by 2010 and 34 percent by 2015. Institutionalizing high energy costs’which is what the Kyoto Protocol must create’produces a disproportionate impact on Virginia. While econometric models such as WEFA’s place the net economic effects of Kyoto on Virginia near the middle of the range for all states, it is clear that the direct effect on coal mining, left unattended, will produce a regional economic disaster in the Commonwealth. When questioned about the inordinate impact the Kyoto Protocol would have on certain workers, such as miners, U.S. Under Secretary of State Stuart Eizenstat told Congress that there would be ‘winners and losers’ resulting from Kyoto. Southwestern Virginia is, apparently, a loser.||When questioned about the inordinate impact the Kyoto Protocol would have on certain workers, such as miners, U.S. Under Secretary of State Stuart Eizenstat told Congress that there would be ‘winners and losers’ resulting from Kyoto. Southwestern Virginia is, apparently, a loser.|
Ancillary to the labor problems associated with the virtual elimination of coal for domestic power production under the Protocol is the damage caused to transportation. Virginia is currently the corporate home to two of the remaining handful of Class 1 railroads, Norfolk Southern and CSX Corporation. Both of these lines derive a major fraction of their revenue from the transport of coal, either as unit trains to domestic power plants, or as extensive shipments to the marine terminal at Portsmouth.
|‘we found that, despite common perceptions, temperature is becoming lessvariable from day-to-day, from season-to-season and from year-to-year as the greenhouse effect changes (Michaels et al., 1998). We found no evidence for an increase in rainfall variability on a global basis. We also found no statistically significant change, in a global sense, in the number of record high or low temperatures. When applied to Virginia, the same results generally accrue….||SEA LEVEL RISE
Everything else being equal (a dangerous proposition in any scientific discussion) warming the mean temperature of the planetary surface leads to a rise in sea level. The density of water varies slightly with temperature, and the warmer it is the larger volume it occupies. An additional component of sea level rise occurs from the melting of land-based ice. (Melting the Arctic ice cap has no influence; it is a floating mass, and sea level responds to its melting by remaining the same). Surface warming should generally deplete ice in the planet’s nonpolar glaciers, but melting them in their entirety, due to their relatively small size, would only raise total sea level about six inches. Total meltdown is exceedingly unlikely anyway as the largest nonpolar glacier, the Himalayan ice cap, cannot be completely melted under any global warming scenario, because of its high altitude.
The effect of warming on the high-latitude land ice regions of Greenland and Antarctica is more problematic. These environments are currently deserts with respect to annual precipitation. Warming them slightly will allow their atmospheres to contain (and therefore precipitate) more moisture. The very cold temperatures there will force this precipitation to fall as snow. Consequently, even computer models for the greenhouse effect disagree on what will happen over the foreseeable future of the next fifty years or so. Some predict ice accumulation, some foresee no change, and some predict a slight melting. However, we do know, as shown by geologist Eugene Domack, some 4,000 to 7,000 years ago when the earth was approximately 1-2’C (2-3’F) warmer than it is today, the Antarctic outflow glaciers were greatly expanded, which (everything else being equal) would have reduced sea level.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects several scenarios for sea level rise in the next century. Their midrange economic and energy scenario yields a median rise of 19.3 inches (4.5 mm/yr). Another scenario included in the same IPCC report and described by the IPCC as ‘internally consistent, plausible, and ‘state-of-the-art,” shows only 10.2 inches of rise (2.4 mm/yr). The IPCC’s own forecasts were lowered significantly from its original 1990 report in which they estimated sea level rise by the year 2100 to be 26 inches. The primary reason for the reduction was that the midrange forecasts of global temperature rise were reduced from 3.2’C to 2.0’C (5.8’F to 3.6’F).
| However, even the new IPCC scenarios are based on general circulation models (computer models designed to predict future climate) which increase the future concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide faster than is currently forecast, and much faster than has been observed, according to NASA scientist James Hansen, in the 1998 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Other contributory findings include too much warming from methane because the rate of increase was overestimated (Etheridge et al, 1998), and an overestimate of the direct effects of carbon dioxide (Myhre, 1998).
Taking into account these errors, the net total annual temperature rise in the next century should be less than previous estimates. Less temperature rise means less thermal expansion of sea water and less melting of glaciers. Applying this reduction in temperature to the forecasts of sea level rise results in sea level rises that are between 65 and 75 percent of the current IPCC forecast values. That means, using the IPCC two ‘equally plausible’ scenarios, the best estimated range of sea level rise during the next century should be approximately 7.4 to 13.5 inches (1.7 to 3.1 mm/yr). This is a rise that will not be noticed by most people, and to which adaptations can be made easily.
|‘if every nation of the world honored their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, the net planetary surface temperature savings between now and 2050 would be only 0.07’C (0.13’F) according to the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. There is no known monitoring system that could detect such a small change. The economy of Virginia suffers greatly with no discernable environmental benefit.|
In fact, there has already been a rather substantial relative rise in sea level of nearly one foot in southeastern Virginia this century. However, it was caused by land subsidence, and not by global warming. This rise is clearly not much different from what is projected for the next 100 years. The effects of the rise during this century were generally subtle and gradual (note the expansion and economic contribution of the tidewater coal export facility which seems quite unaffected).
Actually, slight changes in mean sea level are not nearly as important as the maximum tides that occur in tropical cyclones (hurricanes) and more common frontal low pressure systems (northeasters). These induce beach erosion and more general onshore flooding.
In general, a tidal elevation of 4.75 feet in the long running Sewell’s Point record produces a six foot surge in Portsmouth, enough to cause significant flooding, but examination of the history shows no trend for increased severity of storm surge flooding (historic high tides are shown in Table 1). Despite the secular rise in sea level, there is no clear increase in the maximum tidal elevation or in the frequency of highest tides.
|Table 1. Tidal elevations of greater than 4.75 feet at Sewell’s Point, 1928-present.|
|1||7.01||8/1933||Category 2 Hurricane|
|2||6.21||3/1962||“Ash Wednesday” Northeaster|
|3||5.71||9/1936||Category 2 Hurricane|
|6||5.11||9/1933||Category 2 Hurricane|
|8||4.91||9/1956||Tropical Storm Flossy|
|9||4.91||9/1960||Cat 2 Hurricane Donna|
Many of the historical hurricane-related floods of the previous three centuries have not been duplicated, including the massive inundation of August 1667, which appears to have produced a storm surge between 12 and 15 feet and may have been a Category 4 hurricane. The 20th century record reveals nothing above Category 2 in Virginia. With regard to overall sea level rise, the one notable location where substantial change has taken place is Tangier Island, but it is unclear how much of its reduction in area is due to sea level rise versus the natural processes that continually reshape low-lying islands in coasts and estuaries. Historical studies of other nearby locations, such as Hog Island, show major changes in size and shape over the course of centuries that are clearly not related to mean sea level.
IS THE KYOTO PROTOCOL WARRANTED?
Any legal instrument that can have such profound effects upon the economy naturally prompts questions about whether indeed it is necessary or proper. Several aspects of climate change science that are not common knowledge should be factored into this consideration.
Much of the scientific rationale for the Framework Convention came from the ‘First Scientific Assessment’ of climate change by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1990. The key sentence in the voluminous report was that ‘when the latest atmospheric models are run with the present concentrations of greenhouse gases, their simulation of climate is generally realistic on large scales.’
At the time, several prominent scientists questioned the validity of this statement. The average warming predicted to have already occurred by then was approximately 1.5’C (2.7’F), but the IPCC’s own temperature history only showed a rise of 0.5’C (0.9’F) in the last century. Further, at least half of that rise took place before 1940 when the changes in the greenhouse effect were quite modest compared to the period since then.
In its second comprehensive assessment of climate change, published a mere six years later, IPCC acknowledged that this criticism was correct, stating that ‘when increases in greenhouse gases only are taken into account…most [climate models] produce a greater mean warming than has been observed to date, unless a lower climate sensitivity [to the greenhouse effect] is used… There is growing evidence that increases in sulfate aerosols are partially counteracting the [warming] due to increases in greenhouse gases.’
IPCC is presenting two alternative hypotheses: either the base warming was simply overestimated, or some other anthropogenerated emission’sulfate aerosol from the combustion of coal’is preventing the warming from being observed. IPCC omitted a third source for the error: perhaps the greenhouse gases were not increasing at the projected rate.
As evidence comes in, the first and third reasons appear to be carrying the day. According to a 1998 paper by Myhre in Geophysical Research Letters, the direct warming effect of carbon dioxide was overestimated. As noted earlier, carbon dioxide is not accumulating in the atmosphere at the median rate estimated by IPCC in 1990 according to NASA scientist James Hansen whose early models initiated much of the public concern of the last decade. The second most important greenhouse emission, methane, began to decrease its rate of increase in 1981 (Etheridge et al., 1998), some 15 years before the 1996 IPCC report on climate change that projected an increased rate of emissions for the next 50 years.
Why did it not warm as predicted?
The idea that some other emission such as sulfate aerosol, which reflects away the sun’s radiation (and therefore cools the surface), is increasingly untenable as the excuse for the dearth of warming. The southern half of the planet is virtually devoid of sulfates, and should have warmed at a prodigious and consistent rate for the last two decades. Unfortunately, we have very few long-term weather records from that half of the planet, and almost all come from the relatively uncommon landmasses. However, we do have over two decades of satellite data (Figure 6), and a record of surface temperatures taken by weather balloons at point of release. Both show no warming at all except for the obvious El Ni’o spike of 1998, now departed. Yet this is the hemisphere that should be warming very rapidly because of the lack of sulfate aerosols.
|Figure 6. Satellite-measured temperature departures for the Southern Hemisphere show no change during the past two decades. The hypothesis that sulfate aerosols are masking greenhouse warming should not be relevant here because there are few sulfates in the atmosphere of the Southern Hemisphere. Note also how the El Ni’o spike during 1998 has dissipated.|
Actually, the sensitivity of climate to carbon dioxide appears to have been overestimated. The large warmings predicted by the failed models that serve as the basis for the Framework Convention rely on a roughly threefold amplification of carbon dioxide warming by increased atmospheric moisture (water vapor, like carbon dioxide, is a greenhouse gas and contributes to surface warming). However, Spencer and Braswell, writing in 1997 in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, found that the predicted moisture increase has not appeared.
OBSERVED VS. PREDICTED CLIMATE CHANGE
Greenhouse physics predicts that the driest air masses should respond first and most strongly to changes induced by human activities. These, in fact, are generally the coldest air masses, such as the great high pressure system that dominates Siberia in the winter, and its only slightly more benign cousin in northwestern North America. When the jet stream attains a proper orientation, it is this air mass that migrates south and kills orange trees in Florida.
|In a recent paper we examined seasonal temperature trends in the journal Climate Research (Michaels et al., in press). The overall postwar warming of the Northern Hemisphere, which contains better records than the Southern, is 0.26’C (.47’F). This amount is far beneath what was predicted by models that simply increased the greenhouse effect. Further, the ratio of winter-to-summer warming is over 2:1, and within the cold half-year (when most warming takes place), warming has been largely confined to the coldest winter air masses. A remarkable 78 percent of the observed cold half-year warming is confined to the inhospitably chilled high pressure systems that dominate Siberia and northwestern North America. In central Siberia the temperature in winter in these air masses has risen roughly from -40’C (-40’F) to -38’C (-36’F), and it is warming of this character that dominates the record. This analysis makes it very hard to paint the earth’s response during the period of largest greenhouse gas increases as a bad one. A warming of the coldest, driest air masses is, by definition, a relative warming of the nights compared to the days. By extension, this is the type of climate change that slightly lengthens the growing season, as the coldest temperatures occur at night.||The facts show’despite increasingly shrill rhetoric’ that planetary warming is not proceeding as originally predicted, and that it is evolving in a much more benign fashion than is generally portrayed. The facts show that there have been no major changes in Virginia’s climate. At the same time, the economic costs of the Kyoto Protocol are enormous.|
In a different paper in the same journal, we found that, despite common perceptions, temperature is becoming less variable from day-to-day, from season-to-season and from year-to- year as the greenhouse effect changes (Michaels et al., 1998). We found no evidence for an increase in rainfall variability on a global basis. We also found no statistically significant change, in a global sense, in the number of record high or low temperatures. When applied to Virginia, the same results generally accrue, except that we see no net change in winter temperatures.
The observed data on climate and recent emissions trends’ as opposed to the forecasts that served as the basis for the Framework Convention on Climate Change’clearly indicate that the concept of ‘dangerous’ interference in the climate system is at least distant. Further, if every nation of the world honored their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, the net planetary surface temperature savings between now and 2050 would be only 0.07’C (0.13’F) according to the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. There is no known monitoring system that could detect such a small change. The economy of Virginia suffers greatly with no discernable environmental benefit.
This brings the discussion back to the beginning: policy decisions need to be based on facts, not feelings. The facts show’despite increasingly shrill rhetoric’that planetary warming is not proceeding as originally predicted, and that it is evolving in a much more benign fashion than is generally portrayed. The facts show that there have been no major changes in Virginia’s climate. At the same time, the economic costs of the Kyoto Protocol are enormous. The conclusion should be obvious.
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