'Stand-up economist': How to be optimistic about climate

Seattle's Yoram Bauman talks about facing global-warming facts, dealing with carbon emissions and and lowering the state sales tax.
Yoram Bauman, Ph.D.: Making economics and climate change understandable.

Yoram Bauman, Ph.D.: Making economics and climate change understandable. Robin Lindley

Seattle’s Dr. Yoram Bauman is probably best known for clarifying the intricacies of economics with doses of humor as what he calls “the world’s first and only stand-up economist.” He has a national following and has shared the stage with luminaries from the late Robin Williams to Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.

Bauman now focuses his wit and economics expertise on the daunting issue of climate change with acclaimed illustrator Grady Klein in an educational and entertaining new book, The The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change (Island Press). In the book, Dr. Bauman offers — with jokes — a primer on climate history, the science of climate change, the consequences of human use of fossil fuels, predictions, and policy ideas on how to address the major culprits, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases — before it’s too late.

Bauman is a Ph.D. environmental economist and active in CarbonWA.org, an effort to bring a revenue-neutral carbon tax to Washington state. He taught for several years with the UW Program on the Environment. He also co-authored with Klein of the two-volume Cartoon Introduction to Economics. His website is www.standupeconomist.com.

Bauman recently talked about our climate at a coffee house in Seattle’s University District on his return from a round of talks for audiences ranging from the American Enterprise Institute and Research for the Future in Washington D.C. to a conference of New England public utilities commissioners in Vermont.

How did you decide to create a cartoon book to explain this complex subject?

You take something that’s daunting that people want to know more about and you put it in a format that’s more accessible and inviting for people. The challenge for cartoon books in this country is that they have the reputation of being just for kids. Kids can read them too, but there’s a lot of good information in the books and folks who are not experts on climate change can pick up a lot from this book.

How do you see climate change and why are most scientists convinced it’s occurring?

Climate change is occurring because of the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, mostly CO2 [carbon dioxide]. There’s a theory that goes back 150 years or so that says that this will warm the planet and will have other implications.

Lately, we’ve been learning about ocean acidification so that some carbon that goes into the atmosphere gets dissolved in the ocean and affects ocean chemistry and that can change things like the ability of ocean creatures to build shells. We also see changes in weather patterns and precipitation. A warmer atmosphere tends to hold more moisture so you get heavier and heavier rainstorms.

You also write about the history of climate. What are scientists learning from this history?

There are scientific efforts to figure out what the planet looked like 20,000 years ago at the peak of the Ice Age and then during earlier ice ages, going back millions of years. In Antarctica, we can drill down through the ice and pull up ice core samples that go back about 800,000 years. You can analyze air bubbles that are trapped inside the ice to find the percentage of CO2 and other gases in the air bubbles and to determine what the temperature of the environment over the 800,000-year period.

What are core samples telling us about the situation now?

There have been comings and goings of ice ages on a semi-regular time scale. It’s now known that those are basically related to changes in the earth’s orbit around the sun that leads to glaciation or deglaciation — the build up or melt down of glaciers — and that’s where the ice ages come from.

You can also measure the relative percentage of liquid water to ice on the planet. And you can look at CO2 levels over the past eight hundred thousand years and we’re certainly out of balance now when compared to that period. Basically, during the ice ages, CO2 concentration varied from 180 to 280 parts per million. We're now at 400 parts per million, and we’re headed up at 2 or 3 parts per million a year, and definitely headed to 560, a doubling of preindustrial levels.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Aug 27, 1:41 p.m. Inappropriate

The climate models that predicted global warming have fallen, and they can't get up. We are entering the 19th consecutive year of the so-called "hiatus" in global warming predicted by those models. At this late date, even the authors of the latest IPCC report are admitting that their models have collapsed.

Among other things, they know that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation will block the formation of a strong El Nino for at least another five to 10 years. It was their last hope for rescue, and it's gone.

Without the models, the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis is dead. The Seattle "progressives" who remain in thrall to the Church of Climatology don't realize it yet -- the provincials wait for it to appear on the front page of the New York Times, which is always a few years late.

Be that as it may, the trunk of your tree is climate modeling, and those models are dead, dead, dead. Your priests aren't even bothering to defend them anymore, and are reduced to begging people to "believe!"

NotFan

Posted Wed, Aug 27, 10:32 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't why I waste time responding to such patently and willfully ignorant crap posted by such a regularly insulting commenter, but here goes:

• "19 year hiatus": The heat has been going into the oceans. http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-stopped-in-1998-intermediate.htm; http://www.sciencemag.org/content/345/6199/897

• "it's all in the models": Read a few of the most recent studies in the field here-- http://scholar.google.com/scholar?as_ylo=2013&q;=accuracy+of+climate+models&hl;=en&as;_sdt=0,48 --and then post an exposition on how the models are wrong or how AGW isn't happening because the "models have collapsed."

• "Pacific Decadal Oscillation will block the formation of a strong El Nino for at least another five to 10 years": Really? Do you have a clue what you're talking about? Maybe start here, http://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov/research/divisions/fe/estuarine/oeip/ca-pdo.cfm , and produce a citation to some evidence or analysis that supports your prediction. If you can't do that, tell us what your expertise is to come to such a conclusion and on what basis. Also, even if what you say is accurate, how does it disprove AGW?

• "Without the models, the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis is dead." Even more meaningless (along with "Church of Climatology").

I believe most readers give your posts about the same consideration as to the fruit flies on their compost; an annoyance that must be tolerated. Why? Because the flies spontaneously appear where ever there is available fruit, just like your posts appear where ever there's an opportunity to rant against AGW or "progressives."

louploup

Posted Sun, Aug 31, 1:17 a.m. Inappropriate

louploup, you're a typical stupid Seattle "progressive" who thinks it has a brain in its head. "Sekptical science" is a propaganda website from the same people who gave us the phony claim that 97% of scientists endorse the AGW hypothesis.

So now that the models have failed, the Church of Climatology is trying to tell us that climate models don't mean anything. Problem is that the hypothesis was built on the models, so if the models have collapsed then the hypothesis is invalid -- if you follow the scientific method.

But the Church of Climatology has NEVER been about the science. It's always been faith plus politics. Our stupid Seattle "progressive" whackjob, louploup, is just as whacked out as Sarah Palin, except that at least she allows herself the sport of shooting wolves from helicopters. louploup hunts nothing more challenging than a latte.

louploup, you don't know anything about science, and like the other "progressives" here, your self-regard is as endless as your stupidity. You and George W. Bush are brothers under the skin, combining arrogance with mental impairment. Please post your address so a passing Republican can put you on the mailing list.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Sep 1, noon Inappropriate

After you've read http://www.aip.org/history/climate/co2.htm and devised a response that makes you look at least passably able to make a coherent point, I'll waste more time on you.

btw, I am already on various Republican and more reactionary mailing lists. Good to know what they're up to. And I don't waste money on lattés.

You remain in fruit fly territory.

louploup

Posted Thu, Aug 28, 8:56 a.m. Inappropriate

There are a couple of bright spots on the horizon: First solar is starting to become a major source of electrical energy:

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/08/24/3474972/ubs-europe-solar-batteries-evs/

Second, the Chinese are building a lot of renewable power generation plants.
http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-25623400

Thirdly the Chinese and India are building the next generation of nuclear power plants: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prototype_Fast_Breeder_Reactor

Lastly the organic foods movement helps because farming organicly sequesters carbon in the soil.
http://www.environmentalleader.com/2014/05/27/organic-farming-could-sequester-all-carbon-emissions/

The key will be can we turn the corner before the tundra melts and starts releasing all that methane gas.
http://www.livescience.com/37359-nasa-carve-thawing-permafrost-gas.html

If that happens it's going to be a different ball game all together.

GaryP

Posted Thu, Aug 28, 10:47 a.m. Inappropriate

We're in a race between running out of cheap fossil fuels (or a collapse of the global economy making it difficult to extract and use them) and the running out of the clock on global warming (tipping points and uncertainties galore). Check out http://www.hubbertpeak.com/hubbert/wwf1976/ ("Exponential Growth as a Transient Phenomenon in Human History") where the originator of "peak oil" laid out the basic dynamic 40 years ago.

louploup

Posted Thu, Aug 28, 11:58 a.m. Inappropriate

"Peak Oil" was a marketing campaign to sell nuclear power.

http://www.gregpalast.com/madhouse/index.php/32

Not that I disagree that there is such a thing as peak oil production, it's just that there is a trillion barrels of known recoverable oil and at $100 barrel, that's a $100 Trillion reasons to keep on digging it up and burning it whatever the consequences.

The good news is that people are starting to change anyway. And yes it's a race against the clock for the warming. But it's not about the oil.

GaryP

Posted Thu, Aug 28, 4:36 p.m. Inappropriate

When the cost to pull $1 of oil out of the ground gets close to $1, it won't matter if there are a gazillion barrels in the rock; it won't be pulled out. That's ROI (sometimes appearing in the form of life cycle analysis—LCA). When it takes close to 1 unit of energy to pull 1 unit of energy out of the ground; it won't be pulled out for much longer. That's EROI. You might also look up net energy cliff to get a better understanding of why both of these ratios have meaning in the real world.

Looking at a Hubbert curve for the total quantity of accessible oil on the planet, the EROI and ROI on the left side of peak is far higher than the ratios on the right side. If you think we're going to have has much fun "growing civilization" on the down side of Peak Oil, you are in fantasy land.

You cite to an article that turns out to be an extract of a Greg Pallast book from 2006 (btw impossible to read without copying the text off the page to read elsewhere); it is one of the poorest argued pieces on the oil subject I've ever seen. The last sentence—"Evil, not geology, has a chokehold on energy; nature is ready to give us crude at $12 a barrel where it was just a few short years ago."—is idiotic. I looked at the Amazon reviews of Pallast's 2006 book, and agree with the comments that call out his grossly ignorant misinterpretations of Hubbert as "shameful."

In response, I suggest http://ourfiniteworld.com/2014/07/23/world-oil-production-at-3312014-where-are-we-headed/ where you can read some oil analysis (and find links to others') that is actually based on real data and makes sense. According to credible analyses (including those by scientists/engineers in the big oil companies when allowed to be candid), we are at or within at most a decade or two of peak production. And the efforts at extending the inevitable down slope are increasingly costly (lower ROI and EROI): http://ourfiniteworld.com/2014/05/21/the-connection-between-oil-prices-debt-levels-and-interest-rates/ ; http://ourfiniteworld.com/2014/02/25/beginning-of-the-end-oil-companies-cut-back-on-spending/

The problems with almost all renewable energy alternatives include (not universal to every one): most produce electricity, not liquid fuels (and see "energy density"); they don't have the capacity to do as much work as the fossil fuels we've been partying on for over a century (how can current photosynthesis possibly produce as much energy as millions of years of stored fossil fuels?); the actual EROI and need for fossil fuels and other resources to construct and maintain them is complex, hidden, and probably worse than we think; they have their own large, difficult to address externalities (e.g., nuclear) that makes their effective EROI/ROI much lower than we think; they aren't currently viable (fusion, thorium breeders--let us know when someone gets those going at a commercial scale--seems like India is actually close).

louploup

Posted Sun, Aug 31, 1:20 a.m. Inappropriate

louploup, do you also have a patent on the 300 m.p.g. carburetor?

NotFan

Posted Sun, Aug 31, 1:18 a.m. Inappropriate

So now louploup trots out peak oil. Tell us, are you handing out free tinfoil hats? Typical Seattle "progressive," too stupid to walk and breathe at the same time.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 11:50 a.m. Inappropriate

GaryP is intelligent enough to have a conversation. What's your problem?

louploup

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 12:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Are you also a 9/11 truther, louploup?

NotFan

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 12:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Are you also a 9/11 truther, louploup?

NotFan

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 8:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Louploup: "When the cost to pull $1 of oil out of the ground gets close to $1,"...
Can't happen!... why? oil is demoninated in dollars!... What scam eh? But that's what we have going for us and why it pisses everyone else in the world off.

"When it takes close to 1 unit of energy to pull 1 unit of energy out of the ground; it won't be pulled out for much longer. "
That's more serious, but for the moment, you can extract the trillion barrels of oil from the tar sands of Canada and Venezulla for less energy than you get from it. Dirty? yes! Water fouling? Yes! Should we do it? doubtful but it's going to be a long time before we run out of the stuff. As the price rises the demand falls.

" we are at or within at most a decade or two of peak production. "
This is by design of the oil companies If you overproduce the price drops then your profits fall.

" they aren't currently viable (fusion, thorium breeders--"
Thorium salt reactors were on line in the '60's. They shut it down mostly because they don't have a byproduct of plutonium. Current civilian nuclear power is actually just nuclear bomb making production with a byproduct of electricity. It's a ruse to let them build one near you. Thoruium reactors don't make this stuff, and are way safer to operate as they don't require a high pressure containment dome etc. And coal contains Thorium. In fact so does coal ash which we have tons of both of which we could recover if we wanted to.

Every generation fears that the end is near when they see change on the horizion. Ours is no different. But as you can see most of our problems are political not technological.

GaryP

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 11:53 a.m. Inappropriate

You apparently haven't read a single one of the analyses I linked to because they address the points you raise and you haven't dealt with any of them. The cost of oil cannot be explained in a short incoherent paragraph. Please explain why the industry is pulling back from investing in long term exploration and production. Hint: Because it costs too much for the return obtained (ROI), and because the quantity of new discoveries and production for the same level of effort keep declining (EROI). (More dry wells, smaller fields, less oil produced.)

"you can extract ...oil from the tar sands ...for less energy than you get from it." Marginal: e.g.
http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20130219/oil-sands-mining-tar-sands-alberta-canada-energy-return-on-investment-eroi-natural-gas-in-situ-dilbit-bitumen I have seen not one credible estimate for EROI of tar sands in the double digits, and most estimates are at 5 or less.

"As the price rises the demand falls." This is not accurate; oil demand is much more closely tied to overall economic activity than to price. Read the studies. However, if the price rises too much, the economy goes into recession because too much money has to be shifted from other activities to the purchase of oil (see "net energy cliff"). But even then demand barely drops; look at the data for the 2008 "great recession." And if the price falls too much, the oil producers stop investing (in addition to not being able to produce enough to pay for the cost of exploration regardless of price). The sweet spot for oil prices is a shrinking window.

"[peak production within a decade or two] is by design of the oil companies..." This is a ridiculous claim. Can you produce any data or analysis to support it?

If thorium reactors are so swell, why aren't there dozens of them producing power? More conspiracy theories? I agree that coal ash is nasty stuff. Coal should stay in the ground for other reasons as well (AGW).

"Every generation fears that the end is near when they see change on the horizon." What does "the end" mean? Certainly change always means "the end of the world as we know it." It's also true that all civilizations have collapsed or evolved into something different. The current situation is unique because unlike prior civilizations, ours is global. There are no safety valves left like the Americas were for Europe. Limits to growth are real.

louploup

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 1:29 p.m. Inappropriate

It's obvious you have no clue about the politics of oil.

http://www.gregpalast.com/the-koch-brothers-hugo-chavez-and-the-xl-pipeline/

No one sells oil at $33/barrel if it costs more than that to dig it up. It's that same ROI you keep harping about. Oil is still dirt cheap. And there is a trillion barrels of recoverable known reserves.

Why are there no Thorium salt reactors in the USA? (or the rest of the world for that matter...) no plutoium by products for making bombs. Why does any country want a bomb? so their neighbors won't invade. Just ask Iraq and Iran.... who has the bomb making capibilty and who has the oil?....

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orinoco_Belt ... about a trillion barrels of tar sand oil. http://www.wallstreetdaily.com/2014/08/29/oil-sands/

GaryP

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 3:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Citing an irrelevant Greg Pallast post again. And Wikipedia for oil supply data! And regarding the Orinoco--so what?

Saying I don't understand the politics of oil when you yourself clearly don't know much about the subject, and even more clearly show no curiosity to learn more, is a 'lol' moment.

In looking for data on Orinoco (production, EROI, relation to world supply), I found an essay that summarizes much of the oil supply subject very well in an easy to understand narrative (by a physicist!)--http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/10/the-energy-trap/ Maybe you'll actually take the time to read some of it before responding. Beyond that, and since Crosscut has banished this page to its almost invisible archives, I'm done.

louploup

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 3:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Again, that you don't understand how having oil priced in dollars affects the cost of energy, and how excess supply depresses price is just "priceless".... and a LOL moment over here.

But then it's almost labor day weekend and time to grill some food. Have a good weekend.

GaryP

Posted Sat, Aug 30, 11:46 a.m. Inappropriate

I should know better; I can’t keep away and you are a reasonable correspondent (although IMO not curious enough), so:

I never disagreed that “excess supply depresses price”. I was responding to you saying "As the price rises the demand falls." I said: “oil demand is much more closely tied to overall economic activity than to price.” Oil is so fundamental to our economy and life style that demand is pretty price inflexible. Our two statements are not inconsistent.

I agree: increased supply pushes prices down, and I also agree that this continues to happen as a result of improved technology. Reduced demand also happens during recessions, but minimally.

However, “excess supply” is not sustainable. Yes, extended supply like tight oil and gas, Orinoco, fracking, etc. will drive the price down in the near term, and that lower price along with the increasing depletion of a finite and increasingly expensive to obtain resource, makes is harder to pay for continuing production.

It is a conundrum: more capital per barrel is needed to keep the production up to meet rising demand. But the short term "excess" supply drives the price down at the same time as depletion is driving the cost of production up. As a result, over time capital gets a lower rate of return, driving it elsewhere, like renewables. But those alternatives, while potentially non-depleting (“sustainable”), are lower yield and don’t support capitalism’s carcinogenic drive for growth.

Another easy to read synthesizing article on the matter: http://www.sustainable.unimelb.edu.au/files/mssi/MSSI-Issues-Paper_AlexanderS_1.pdf

Good weekend to you too.

louploup

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 12:14 p.m. Inappropriate

P.s. If you're really willing to dig into the subject, there is an excellent series of peer reviewed articles (Theme Issue ‘The future of oil supply’) published by the Royal Society. See
http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/372/2006.toc No one can seriously argue that these articles are the product of either "environmental extremists" or "industry stooges."

Most of the content except abstracts is behind pay walls. But I have them all, and if you send me an email (I'm not hard to find), I'll be happy to email them to you (or any other reader who won't be using them for commercial purposes).

Here is the abstract for the article on EROI:

Murphy DJ. 2014 The implications of the declining energy return on investment of oil production. Phil. Trans. R., Soc. A 372: 20130126.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2013.0126

Declining production from conventional oil resources has initiated a global transition to unconventional oil, such as tar sands. Unconventional oil is generally harder to extract than conventional oil and is expected to have a (much) lower energy return on (energy) investment (EROI). Recently, there has been a surge in publications estimating the EROI of a number of different sources of oil, and others relating EROI to long-term economic growth, profitability and oil prices. The following points seem clear from a review of the literature: (i) the EROI of global oil production is roughly 17 and declining, while that for the USA is 11 and declining; (ii) the EROI of ultra-deep-water oil and oil sands is below 10; (iii) the relation between the EROI and the price of oil is inverse and exponential; (iv) as EROI declines below 10, a point is reached when the relation between EROI and price becomes highly nonlinear; and (v) the minimum oil price needed to increase the oil supply in the near term is at levels consistent with levels that have induced past economic recessions. From these points, I conclude that, as the EROI of the average barrel of oil declines, long-term economic growth will become harder to achieve and come at an increasingly higher financial, energetic and environmental cost.

louploup

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