A warmer and wetter world

I found a link the other day to a government website with global mean precipitation data from 1900 to 2000. Of course, I can’t find the link now (please comment if you have the link, but first see the note at the end of the post).

Anyway, I put the numbers into an Excel spreadsheet and graphed the data and added a trendline. (If you would like a copy of the xls file, please ask for it in the comment section below.) As the world warms it is getting wetter. As Matt Ridley writes in his book The Rational Optimist:

If you take the IPCC’s [International Panel on Climate Change] assumptions and count the people living in zones that will have more water versus zones that will have less water, it is clear that the net population at risk of water shortage falls by 2100 under all their scenarios. (emphasis added)

Global mean precipitation (1900-2000)

10 yr average-global mean precipitation (1900-2000)

Even the EPA cites the IPCC (2007) to say much the same thing:

As global mean temperatures have risen, global mean precipitation also has increased. This is expected because evaporation increases with increasing temperature, and there must be an increase in precipitation to balance the enhanced evaporation (IPCC, 2007). Globally, precipitation over land increased at a rate of 1.9 percent per century since 1901, but the trends vary spatially and temporally. Over the contiguous U.S., total annual precipitation increased at an average rate of 6.1 percent per century since 1901, although there was considerable regional variability. The greatest increases came in the South (10.5 percent per century), the Northeast (9.8 percent), and the East North Central climate region (9.6 percent). A few areas such as Hawaii and parts of the Southwest have seen a decrease.

Crops may flourish with warmer climes and more CO2. There is some indication that in California some trees are increasing their ranges in response to this change. While increasing temperatures do have their downside, they also have positive benefits as well.

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Making money out of thin air

What do the South Sea Company and carbon exchanges have in common? Everything.

In 1711, Britain’s treasurer, Robert Harley, had an extraordinary idea. He could finance Britain’s war debt by selling shares in a non-existent trading company: the South Sea Company. South America was just opening up and was imagined to be a place where silver and gold flowed as easily as water. But for the scheme to be pulled off, according to a recent Economist article, investors needed to “be persuaded to drive the stock above its par value” in order “to create wealth out of thin air.” It worked for a while. Speculation drove up the price but when negotiations with Spain faltered, the South Sea Company needed government backing to keep the party going. They went old school and bribed people close to the king. Eventually, despite the royal imprimatur, the investors discovered that the scheme contained no substance and was just hot air, and their shares’ par value equaled pond scum.

004 Carnival wind-peddler and wholesaler (stoc...

Today, a number of scientists, companies, and policy-makers are concerned with anthropogenic (man-made) global warming. And, carbon dioxide (CO2), a by-product of burning, has been fingered as the prime suspect. CO2 also happens to be the gas that you and I exhale with each breath. Simply put, CO2 reflects infrared radiation back to earth that would otherwise be lost to the cold cold depths of space–the so-called greenhouse effect.

Climate scientists have built complex computer programs to model the earth’s future climate. Using sophisticated equations with feedback loops and forcings they have “proven” the warming, which vary from 1 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit change, of the worldwide average by the end of this century. For our purposes we can simply say that more CO2 equals a hotter earth. People living at the start of the 20th century who could remember the “little ice age” thought this greenhouse effect beneficial. Today, the warming involved with the higher levels of climate change stands accused of everything from colder winters to cancer, and even illegal immigration (I am not making this up).

Some have suggested that a cap-and-trade system could reduce CO2 emissions; this would be similar to how regulators curbed other smokestack pollutants (such as sulfur dioxide) in the late 20th century. Essentially, regulators “cap” the total output of a pollutant with a limited allowance of CO2, and then polluters can trade their credits. Those who produce less of the pollutant can sell their remaining allowance to those who produce more. The state of New York has collected $282 million under a regional agreement from the auctioning of carbon dioxide credits.

In addition to selling allowances in a cap-and-trade system, indulgences can also be sold in the form of “carbon offsets.” Offsets provide a counter-balance to the CO2-emissions’ damage (presumably) done by flying in an airplane, driving a car, having a child, or all three and more. The offsets vary: one might buy a bit of rainforest (to grow and soak up CO2 through photosynthesis) or fund family planning in Ethiopia (to prevent another carbon emitter from entering the world) as atonement. By buying such carbon-coated indulgences, one can expiate the sins of extravagant western living and transform oneself into a holy carbon-neutral being.

It’s not about saving the world (except for the true believers), it’s about money. Follow the incentives. Baptists and bootleggers, true believers and the buck-seekers, have banded together to make markets out of thin air with offsets or allowances. At the United Nations’ climate change delegate meeting in Cancun that just ended, investment funds, insurance companies and banks have lobbied for a treaty, and not because they are altruistic. Ronald Bailey at Reason writes that the delegates there have decided “to kick the Cancun down the road” because the “rich countries continued their vague promises to hand over $100 billion in climate aid annually to poor countries beginning in 2020.”

Cutting 100 percent of our CO2 emissions lowers CO2 emissions by a whopping 1.5 percent of the carbon cycle, because the rest (210 billion metric tons per year) comes from natural processes. But, “if you’re looking to make money from the trading of carbon allowances (carbon credits) than (sic) it makes a great deal of sense….If you are in the renewable energy business it makes perfect sense to support the reduction of carbon dioxide ‘pollution’,” writes one energy analyst.

I could be wrong, but I see no “there” there. The investment has no portfolio. I think, just as what happened to the British South Sea Company, investors will eventually learn that these hyperventilated bubbles are simply full of hot air. What do the South Sea Company and carbon exchanges have in common? Nothing.


Buttonwood. “An early attempt to buy government bonds by creating money.” The Economist, November 11, 2010.

Christy, John R. “The Global Warming Fiasco.” In Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths, by Competitive Enterprise Institute, edited by Ronald Bailey, 423. Forum, 2002.

Derbyshire, David. “‘Climate change could give you cancer’: UN report warns of deadly pollutants from glaciers .” Mail Online. December 9, 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1336810/Climate-change-cancer-UN-report-warns-deadly-pollutants-glaciers.html#ixzz17qXOVfeT (accessed December 11, 2010).

Horn, Art. “The Utter Futility of Reducing Carbon Emissions.” Energy Tribune. December 1, 2010. http://www.energytribune.com/articles.cfm/5961/The-Utter-Futility-of-Reducing-Carbon-Emissions (accessed December 1, 2010).

Lindzen, Richard S. “Global Warming: How to approach the science.” Testimony: House Subcommittee on Science and Technology hearing on A Rational Discussion of Climate Change: the Science, the Evidence, the Response. Richard S. Lindzen, 2010.

Lomborg, Bjorn. “Human Welfare: Food and Hunger.” In The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World, by Bjorn Lomborg, 515. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

NAVARRO, MIREYA. “Carbon Auction Yields $16.9 Million for New York.” Dot Green. New York Times. December 3, 2010. http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/03/carbon-auction-yields-16-9-million-for-new-york/ (accessed December 12, 2010).

Optimum Population Trust. “Your questions answered.” PopOffets. Optimum Population Trust 12 Meadowgate, Urmston Manchester M41 9LB. http://www.popoffsets.com/faq.php (accessed December 11, 2010).
Revkin, Andrew C. “Cold Weather in a Warming Climate.” Dot Earth – New York Times blog. March 1, 2008. http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/01/reconciling-cold-weather-and-a-warming-climate/ (accessed December 11, 2010).

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York, New York: HarperCollins, 2010.

Shuaizhang Feng, Alan B. Krueger, Michael Oppenheimer. “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” Linkages among climate change, crop yields and Mexico–US cross-border migration. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. http://www.pnas.org/content/107/32/14257.long.

Vaughan, Adam. guardian.co.uk,. 10 31, 2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/oct/31/climate-change-computer-game (accessed 11 20, 2010).

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Escaping the climate energy trap

Nearly half the world uses wood to cook and heat with, contributing to deforestation. (Image credit: Freefoto.com)

CFACT hosts tour of energy poor village of La Libertad at Cancun climate talks

(Cancun, Mexico) Few things divide rich from poor like access to affordable energy.  Today, it’s estimated that 1 out of 5 people have never flicked a light switch while nearly half the world cooks with solid fuel, such as wood or dung.  On Wednesday, December 8, CFACT transported COP16 delegates, press and observers to the Mexican village of La Libertad, where people cook, heat and live without electricity.  La Libertad presents a compelling picture of the plight of the energy poor.

“As COP16 considers the future of the world’s energy policy, it is vital that the voices of those suffering energy poverty are heard,” said CFACT President David Rothbard.

“Today’s visit was both sobering and inspiring,” Rothbard said.  “We and our guests saw the harsh realities of what life is like without basic necessities, such as electricity, which we take for granted.  Yet among the people of La Libertad we saw remarkable joyfulness and hope in the midst of poverty – especially among the many school children – this humbled us.  CFACT believes these children deserve every opportunity that our children enjoy, including affordable, abundant electricity and all the benefits that brings.  We must not set energy policy in a vacuum and create obstacles to the progress of countless communities like La Libertad.”

Access to affordable energy has led to a cleaner, greener environment and a rebound of natural habitats and wildlife throughout the developed world.  Efficient agriculture and distribution, both of which require abundant energy, permit developed nations to devote less land to food production, while minimizing the need to forage for wood for cooking and heating.

Billions know a different reality.  Energy poverty means a life without the nutrition, health care, refrigeration, jobs, information and education the rest of us take for granted.  Without electricity, foraging for food and fuel leads to deforestation and pressures wildlife, while an estimated 1-2 million people die every year from respiratory diseases linked to the burning of wood, charcoal, dung and other solid fuels.

CFACT has worked for years with impoverished people around the world including Valle Verde and other villages in the Yucatan peninsula and witnessed the consequences of energy poverty first hand.

“Global warming campaigners are here in Cancun proposing treaty provisions that would frustrate recovery for developed economies while doing nothing to alter the climate,” said Craig Rucker, CFACT’s Executive Director.  “It is vital we also turn our attention to those in the developing world whom too many are callously willing to trap in energy poverty permanently.  Wealthy activists advocating policies that hold the poor down makes for a sorry spectacle indeed.  Payoffs to developing countries to do without efficient energy will benefit elites in those countries while leaving the needy behind.  This is a disaster for both the energy poor and the working people who pay the bills.”

International aid should focus on helping developing nations construct an efficient energy infrastructure including electricity generation and transmission.  Rucker said, “For villages like La Libertad if there is energy, there is hope.”

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