Global Warming - Kyoto Protocol

(See here) a somewhat scathing critique of the Kyoto Protocol written by Professor Roger A. Pielke, Jr that appears on the Encyclopedia Britannica website. I myself have been critical of the Kyoto Protocol. Learned Professor Pielke points out a wrinkle I had not thought of:
The architecture of the Kyoto Protocol focuses on a country-by-country accounting of emissions and tends to place countries that have a moderate to high population growth at a disadvantage. For example, the U.S. is expected to see a 40% increase in its population between 1990 and 2025, whereas the population of Europe as a whole is expected to be about the same in 2025 as it was in 1990. Assuming that greenhouse-gas emissions remain constant on a per capita basis, then most countries in Europe need only follow business as usual to equal its 1990 emissions, whereas the U.S. would need to achieve a 30% decrease in its per capita emissions.

George Dubyah Bush has pointed to how America already leads the world in reducing per capita emissions. In his 2006 State of the Union address he proposed cutting America's dependence on Middle Eastern oil by 75%. It is important to note that Dubyah points to achieving his goal by developing greenhouse gas friendly alternative fuel sources such as ethanol and hydrogen, not by exploiting something like America's vast shale oil reserves. If this goal is achieved, it will greatly decrease America's per capita emissions.

Additionally Professor Pielke points to a conclusion that I myself had reached, however he points to a study to back up the conclusion:

In 1998 Tom Wigley, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and a longtime participant in climate-change-assessment activities, sought to study the effectiveness of the protocol by using a climate model similar to those underlying assessment reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He ran the climate model under one scenario in which greenhouse-gas emissions were reduced as called for by the Kyoto Protocol and under another scenario in which no reductions were made. He found that the influence of the protocol would be not detectable for many decades.

I would even dispute that the influence of the protocol would be detectable even after many decades. Why? Because every drop of oil that stops going out an American tailpipe is allowed to got out of a Chinese or Indian tailpipe according to the Kyoto Protocol. We are already facing peak oil and the world is capable of consuming every barrel of oil that is produced. Easing up on American demands for oil (although this might help America geopolitically) will not hinder global warming if the decreased American demand is replaced by demand from the developing world.

Are we doing enough to turn back global warming? No we are not, we need to do more. But the Kyoto Protocol is nothing more then "feel good" bullshit. It is a whole lot of wasted effort.


Blogger Little David said...


I wish to point with some pride that I managed to post my first article with "block quotes" not appearing as garbage.

I still do not have it completely figured out. One method worked once, but was unsuccessful on the second attempt, but I think I am on the trail.

Egads. you'd think that as good as Google is in what they do they would not force me to figure it out on my own!

4/23/2006 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

There is usually a gap in opinion between US and non-US counterparts in environmental policy makers and economists.

It should be quite clear that Kyoto is not beneficial to the US from an economic point of view. However, that stands to reason as the US is by far the highest consumer of energy and producer of greenhouse gas emissions on a per capita basis.

As for the US leading reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, do you have a link to that? I do not believe that to be true (except in perhaps some states / cities where there is a vigorous environmental policy).

Kyoto is important because it is an international framework and forum for the development of world environmental policy.

The US refusal to join Kyoto was not because of issues with the rising China and India. That is only a smoke screen. The fact is that the US (insofar as the current Administration) is unwilling/unable to meet the targets of Kyoto. Talk of the US "doing it by itself" is also junk. If it could exceed its Kyoto obligations, then there is no particularly reason why it would not join.

Phase I of the Kyoto protocol targets are definitely soft, so that nations would join up, so yes, the purported environmental benefits based on those targets are going to be mild to modest at best. However, this is the first step. Having a forum for a world environmental policy is more important.

Michael Tam
vitualis' Medical Rants

4/23/2006 07:41:00 PM  
Blogger Little David said...

I stand corrected. The decrease I was trying to refer to actually was a decrease as measured per dollar of GDP. (See here) a link from the US Envionmental Protection Agency that includes a graph that shows this. Please note the graph also shows that from 1990 to 2000 (where the graph stops) per capita emissions by the US remained flat. So Professor Pielke's assertion that the US would be penalized for having a growing population is valid.

Just think of it, this could give anti-immigration advocates here in the United States a strong, valid argument why we should round up the "illegal immigrants" and ship them back home!

The above link also has a graph that shows Australia is tied with America for emissions per capita. This fact seems to be under some dispute however. (See here) a PDF file from The Australia Institute that claims Australia owns this "award" by herself. To quote "At 27.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (t CO2-e) per person, emissions by Australians are 27 per cent higher than those of US citizens (21.4 tonnes) and more than double the average for industrialised countries."

I have read elsewhere that Luxemburg and Canada exceed US per capita emissions, although Luxemburgs emissions probably have receded due to contraction in her steel industry (production has probably moved to China - Grin).

As for the reason I object to the Kyoto Protocol being a "smoke screen", while that might be true of Dubyah, it is not true in my case. While Dubyah might have only come up with the "right answer for the wrong reasons" it is still the right answer. If emissions are scaled back in the developed world only to have these savings replaced/exceeded by emissions from the developing world we have accomplished nothing.
Jumping into the Kyoto Protocol just so that we can have a "forum for world environmental policy" is just downright foolish when the "world environmental policy" is that there will be no restrictions placed on the developing world.

For example, in order to help meet industrial targets a developed country could close up a large scale polluter, like a steel plant, and move it to China or India where there are no restrictions. Would there have been a real benefit to global emissions? Nope, but it would look good on paper.

4/24/2006 07:58:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

As for Australia's higher "emissions" status, that is true, though there is debate about it because of how it is measured. In Australia, a large proportion of our "emissions" result from land clearing.

In fact, Australia can easily reach its Kyoto targets by scaling back clearing of land - something, which is already earmarked in government policy.

As for the US being "penalised", that is a matter of opinion. Reaching 1990s level of emissions for the US would still be much higher on a per capita basis than much of Western Europe. I think other nations would consider it "fair", especially as the US is the single largest (human) contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the world.

US policy at the moment is riding on "hope" and "faith", that "technology" will bring deliverance. IMHO, that is foolish optimism.

Michael Tam
vitualis' Medical Rants

4/24/2006 11:17:00 PM  
Blogger Little David said...

As for Australia, I seem to recall reading somewhere that Australia is also the world's leading exporter of coal. I would imagine that Australia would hope Dubyah's hopes for "clean coal" technology pans out or perhaps this export stream might slow to a trickle.

Nope, Australia probably has nothing to fear. She can always just sell the coal to China and India where there are no emissions restrictions.

I do not think that American policy depends only on the development of new technology (although this would help and efforts there should continue). It is only a matter of economics. We already know how to produce ethanol and bio-diesel.

I am a trucker. I burn tens of thousands of gallons of diesel annually. When the point is reached that I can make more money using bio-diesel I will switch to it, at least during all but the coldest winter months. With crude oil now selling for $75 a barrel, the point where bio-diesel can be economically competitive has to be near. E-85 ethanol blend (85% alcohol, 15% gasoline) was already selling for considerably less then regular gasoline back when gasoline was selling for a couple bucks a gallon. Toyota has announced plans to start producing and selling cars in America that can run on either regular gasoline or ethanol. My guess is that other manufacturers will be forced to follow Toyotas lead.

4/25/2006 07:22:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Do not be too comfortable with the existing technologies for producing ethanol and "bio-diesel".

Not only is cost an issue, but also capacity. There isn't a chance in hell that production of either ethanol or bio-diesel will reach any level that would make it feasible to replace standard petrol on a consumer level. Yes, some companies or organisations may be able to use it for their fleet, but it would be impossible to implement on a wide-scale.

The environment impact of these nascent technologies should also not be underestimated. Although both are technically CO2 "neutral" (in that CO2 produced by burning the fuel is offset of the CO2 extracted in growing the original crop) the production of ethanol and bio-diesel also produces significant amounts of other organic and chemical wastes.

Michael Tam

4/25/2006 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger Little David said...

I am not aware of all the environmental concerns with the production of ethanol and bio-diesel. However I do not understand how refining an organic substance into an organic product can be of any more harm to the environment then refining an inorganic substance (crude oil) into inorganic products.

Perhaps bio fuels will not be the sole answer, however it seems they can be part of it. Perhaps some combination of bio fuels and hydrogen will be necessary. My concern with dependence on bio fuels is that it will take away production of arable land for food and focus it on production of fuel. With global warming we might see increased incidences of drought, which could mean existing arable land may not be as productive in the future as it is today.

Some type of solution will have to be reached. Crude oil is not going to last as a fuel source forever. Since alternatives are going to have to be adopted eventually, we might as well get to work on them now so as to solve the problem with CO2 emissions as soon as possible.

4/25/2006 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

The refinement of crude oil is simply one of distillation. Easy, cheap and clean.

The problem with biodiesel is that it is produced by a chemical reaction to turn vegetable oils into something usable. The usual catalyst used is sodium hydroxide.

The end waste product of biodiesel production is glycerine, BUT, this is mixed with the catalyst (NaOH). Removing the NaOH from the glycerine is an expensive process -- however, the glycerine cannot be used for subsequent purposes without this process. NaOH contamination of waste water is also a significant problem.

Again, on the smaller scales that biodiesel is produced now, it isn't much of an issue, but if we are talking about it replacing a significant fraction of petrol, these are serious issues - ones which have not be solved.

Michael Tam

4/26/2006 02:43:00 AM  
Blogger Little David said...

Well all the environmental groups that advocate the use of bio-diesel do not seem to think this is a problem.

Seeing as environmentalists can always come up with some kind of problem for anything we might try to do, I would think they would be pointing towards these problems if they were of any real concern. But they have not been doing so, they have been actively advocating the use of bio-diesel.

I also find it interesting that you describe the refining of crude oil as clean. So you would suggest then that there is no groundwater contamination from crude oil refineries?

4/26/2006 08:23:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Refinement of crude oil is a fairly simple process. Heat up the crude - the light weight hydrocarbons go to the top of the column, and the long chain ones (tar) sinks to the bottom. Since we use basically all the refined elements, there isn't really a "disposal" problem.

So yes, refinement of oil is relatively "clean". It's usage is another matter, of course.

I believe that when we use a new technology to replace oil, the environmental impacts should be well considered. It would be stupid to be simply replacing one environmental problem for another.

Michael Tam

4/27/2006 07:28:00 AM  
Blogger Little David said...

I am not an expert on the production of bio-diesel, however what I have read on the internet indicates nothing is wasted there either. Websites I visited indicated the glycerin need not be further refined unless it is going to be sold to the cosmetic industry.

Proponents of bio-diesel make the claims that it combusts more cleanly then fossil diesel. So in addition to being CO2 neutral (or nearly so) there might be other environmental positives.

4/27/2006 09:11:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

The sodium hydroxide needs to be removed from the glycerine before it can be used for any other purpose (e.g., cosmetics, food industry, further production of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, etc.)

On its own, biodiesel does have issues. Firstly, unlike petrol, it degrades. That is, bacteria would love to feed on your fuel. Secondly, at lower temperatures (and we are not talking particularly low), biodiesel can form solids.

These aren't real issues with petrol/biodiesel mixtures, but they are substantial issues if we use the biodiesel exclusively.

Michael Tam

4/27/2006 08:45:00 PM  
Blogger Little David said...

Believe it or not, and contrary to your statement, bacteria also attacks fossil diesel. If fossil diesel sits in a storage tank for too long it developes "green goo". This process is hastened if the storage tank was previously contaminated with the bacteria. This is why I try to only fuel at high volume truckstops. The quicker the fuel gets from the refinery to my truck's tank the happier I am. I do not want any stale diesel that has been sitting in a storage tank at a low volume truckstop.

It would make sense to me that biodiesel, coming from an organic source, would suffer from this problem more severely, however it should not be too hard to come up with an additive that would discourage the bacteria.

Fossil diesel also suffers from "gelling" at low temperatures although it is true this temperature is lower then it is for biodiesel. For three quarters of the year this should not be a problem. Additives are available that discourage gelling. Some even advertise they will pay the tow if your fuel should gel. I am not sure if this guarantee would be extended to pure biodiesel, however they have not yet seemed to modify their their guarantee for the blends of the fuel currently being marketed. The additives are expensive when bought by the gallon or quart, but should be cheaper if bought in bulk. It is my understanding these additives come from organic sources themselves.

5/24/2006 07:05:00 AM  

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