Last Monday the Anchorage Daily News printed an article with a New York Times byline titled Carbon dioxide emissions soar. It was a surprisingly bad article.
But it really isn’t fair to only blame the Times because the Anchorage Daily News edited the article before they printed it. They shortened the article by omitting 5 paragraphs. My local paper took a bad article and made it worse.
The Times article titled With Carbon Dioxide Emissions at Record High, Worries on How to Slow Warming is full of mistakes too.
The first paragraph tells us carbon dioxide will likely exceed the record levels of 2011 in 2012. Yup. It’s been going up steadily for 150 years, so year 151 wouldn’t be much of a surprise. We are also told efforts to limit emissions are failing. Let us continue…the second paragraph:
Emissions continue to grow so rapidly that an international goal of limiting the ultimate warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, established three years ago, is on the verge of becoming unattainable, said researchers affiliated with the Global Carbon Project.
Where to begin….the notion of ultimate warming is an odd one. We live on a planet with dynamic climate that routinely varies by 1 degree C in a century all by itself. Temperature changes in both short and long term cycles that are a part of natural climate variation. This background noise makes it difficult to tell which is natural and which is man made. Most climate change before 1950 is assumed by climate experts to be natural climate variation.
Here is some East Anglia University data that goes back to 1850. There are single year changes approaching .4 degree C. My favorite time, a period of rapid cooling in the late 1870’s.
Still not convinced…let’s look at an Antarctic Ice Core that goes back more than 400,000 years.
The notion we can limit climate to a 2 degree C (3.6 degree F) range and that there is an ultimate temperature must ignore history. In 2009, a goal surfaced to try to keep the world from warming by 2 degree C since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. It had already warmed by more than a degree so the goal really was 1 degree C from 2009 levels.
The 3.6 degree F goal stated in the article is I believe the same goal. This goal became very popular leading up to the climate meetings in Copenhagen in
December of 2009. That goal is not on the verge of becoming unattainable, it was unattainable in 2009 when it was adopted.
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) published their Fourth Synopses in 2007. On page 67 is table 5.1. That table states that we must reduce man made emissions by 85% from 2000 levels by 2050 to achieve the stated goal of 2 degree C. If we did that, the USA would have the same emissions level as Bolivia today. That was never possible…and nobody in the press even noticed.
The next 5 paragraphs talk about the failed international efforts to reign in man made carbon emissions. The paragraphs are full of advocates voicing concern, with only modest specific information, but I found no factual errors.
Paragraph 8 breaks the trend with some serious misinformation.
The new figures show that emissions are falling, slowly, in some of the most advanced countries, including the United States. That apparently reflects a combination of economic weakness, the transfer of some manufacturing to developing countries and conscious efforts to limit emissions, like the renewable power targets that many American states have set. The boom in the natural gas supply from hydraulic fracturing is also a factor, since natural gas is supplanting coal at many power stations, leading to lower emissions.
USA emissions are down for two mains reasons, the power switching noted, and reduced gasoline consumption because people are driving less and driving autos that get better fuel economy. Germany had an aggressive Solar program that has been reduced in recent years to save money. Spain, the second largest solar market in Europe has made significant cuts too for financial reasons. Wind projects all across the developed world are being put on hold to save money.
Renewable energy plays almost no role in the current changes in the USA. Environmental review of any major construction project takes years…and most green energy projects are still in the various stages of design or permitting with a very small number under construction. The Times article exaggerates the current benefit of renewable energy. It really is a hope for the future, not an alternative today.
The next paragraph goes like this
But the decline of emissions in the developed countries is more than matched by continued growth in developing countries like China and India, the new figures show. Coal, the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, is growing fastest, with coal-related emissions leaping more than 5 percent in 2011, compared with the previous year.
The paragraph is correct as far as it goes. It sounds like China and India are two examples of developing countries using more energy which is accurate, and unnecessarily vague. China matters and the Times has written the paragraph so that they seem to be a small part of a bigger problem….which is not true.
China passed the USA to become the biggest carbon dioxide producer in 2006. Since then they have continued to increase emissions by about 8% per year. In 2011 they increased their emissions by 9%. The Global Carbon Project estimates China’s share of the world total was 28% in 2011, more than the USA (16%) and the EU (11%) combined. The USA will be down again in 2012 and China continues to grow their emissions.
India is growing rapidly, but from a much smaller base (7%). It will matter more in time, but it is relatively less important right now. Another factor not mentioned in the article is the increase in coal use in Japan and Europe because of reduced Nuclear Energy use following the Fukashima nuclear disaster.
The article quotes lots of people warning of disaster and finishes with two paragraphs of standard global warming gloom and doom. Any article that has space (8 paragraphs) to express concern ought to include the China impact more completely. China matters and the Times barely notices.