“When the search for truth is confused with political advocacy, the pursuit of knowledge is reduced to the quest for power.“- Alston Chase, author of “Playing God in Yellowstone.”
‘Redd’ is another ort in the acronym soup of climate-speak from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); it stands for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation.” I’ll get into the particulars shortly on how Redd relates to Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006; Governor Schwarzenegger’s Executive Order S-13-08 directing state agencies to plan for sea level rise and climate impacts; and the attempt by the California Air Resources Board (Carb) to implement both. But first, the historical underpinnings of the global warming debate and why the hang-up on carbon dioxide.
The Genesis of the Greenhouse Effect
In 1895, Swedish chemist Svante August Arrhenius presented a paper to the Stockholm Physical Society titled, “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground.” Building on previous experiments by Tyndall (certain gases absorb radiation) and others, he argued that thermal radiation from the sun warmed the earth’s surface during the day; and at night, as the surface radiated that energy back into the sky, certain gases and water vapor acted as a blanket to retard the escape of heat. Thus, carbonic acid (carbon dioxide) influenced Earth’s climate, so its abundance or scarcity explained warm periods and ice ages.
About ten years later, he published “Worlds in the Making,” in which he described his “hot-house theory” in layman’s terms. The analogy of glass plates of a greenhouse allowing sunlight through and trapping heat inside was a convenient way to describe the process; hence the ‘greenhouse effect.’ Arrhenius felt that man’s contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere was beneficial because it warded off the return of an ice age.
The earth continued to warm and some thought Arrhenius might be on to something. Others continued to theorize on human-caused CO2’s affect on climate, most notably Guy Callendar and Gilbert Plass. In the 1950s, Plass calculated CO2 absorption of infrared radiation, predicting that doubling earth’s CO2 would produce a 3.6 degrees Celsius warming. Yet, scientific consensus discounted human’s contribution to the greenhouse effect, contending that natural forces exerted far greater influence. Until the 1980s, most scientists believed we were on the verge of another ice age.
Yet, temperatures began steadily rising in the late 1970s. In 1988, the United Nations created the IPCC to assess scientific information concerning human-induced climate change and the options for adaptation and mitigation. The IPCC has now published its fourth assessment (2007) showing that temperature has increased about one degree Celsius over the previous 100 years and a sea level rise of nearly 0.2 meters (0.56 feet). Though if the earth’s average temperature increases 3-5 degrees Celsius, as it has in previous epochs, then we might see a sea level rise of 16 feet.[i]
California Dreamin’: All the leaves are brown
Governor Schwarzenegger and California’s legislature apparently believe, along with much of the rest of the world, the appropriate response is to lower our CO2 emissions. So, about a century after Arrhenius penned his paper, Governor Schwarzenegger signed Executive Order S-13-08 directing all state agencies to develop CO2 strategies to deal with the human-caused portion of global warming. He told a crowd of dignitaries that due to ongoing climate change, “We have to adapt the way we work and plan [to] make sure the state is prepared when heavy rains cause flooding and the potential for sea level rise increases in future years.”
I am skeptical of lowering carbon is the best way to meet these potential threats, preferring direct methods such as effective flood control planning and diking to indirect methods. Nonetheless, due to the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32), Governor Schwarzenegger made Carb responsible for overseeing reductions of greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, now less than 10 years off.
This is where Redd comes in (remember Redd? “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation”). Trees do a good job of soaking up CO2 (“sequestering carbon” in IPCC jargon). So, in 2007, Carb embraced the California Climate Action Registry protocols for determining the climate benefits of forest carbon sequestration as part of a Cap-and-Trade system. The only hitch being that those protocols allowed timber harvesting and worse (in the view of some), they seemed to not expressly prohibit—gasp—clearcutting. This upset a number of environmental groups, including the Tucson-based “Center for Biological Diversity” (CBD).
They and their friends dislike timber harvesting in general and clearcutting in particular. You might recall that CBD and others brought suits against Cal-Fire for allowing Sierra Products Industries to practice even-aged management on the SPI forests saying, “A clearcut is about as beneficial to the climate as a new coal-fired power plant.” It turns out CBD and its friends have now persuaded Carb to reverse its earlier decisions.
Politics is Power
Regardless of whether you buy the argument that reducing CO2 will make any difference[i], if you care about reducing our reliance on carbon-based fuels, Carb’s reversal on the accounting protocols is counter-productive.
[i] Carbon Dioxide’s Role in Climate Change Calculations
While few dispute CO2 being a ‘greenhouse gas’ (GhG), it’s CO2’s role in climate change that is debated.
The “Warmers” frame the argument this way: since we have seen a increased CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels coupled with a warming trend in the earth’s mean temperature. QED, the cause must be CO2 and therefore lowering CO2 will begin reversing global warming.
The “Skeptics” say that the argument misapplies cause-and-effect. They ask ‘what accounts for the Minoan, Roman, and Medieval Warm periods and the facts that the earth has plunged into ice ages when CO2 has been ten times greater than today? Something else forces major climate changes.’