Tag Archives: Nature Magazine

As planet’s temperatures rise, world’s economies fall

Repost from the Associated Press

Study finds the warmer it gets, the more world economy hurts

By SETH BORENSTEIN,  Oct. 21, 2015 3:55 PM EDT
Warming Economy
FILE – In this June 3, 2013 file photo, Pakistani laborers bathe at a leaked water hydrant at the end of a day on the outskirts of Islamabad. With each degree, unrestrained global warming will singe the overall economies of three quarters of the nations in the world and widen the north-south gap between rich and poor countries, a new economic and science study found. Compared to what it would be without more global warming, the average income globally will shrivel 23 percent at the end of the century if heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution continues to grow at current trajectories, according to a study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — With each upward degree, global warming will singe the economies of three-quarters of the world’s nations and widen the north-south gap between rich and poor countries, according to a new economic and science study.

Compared to what it would be without more global warming, the average global income will shrivel 23 percent at the end of the century if heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution continues to grow at its current trajectory, according to a study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature.

Some countries, like Russia, Mongolia and Canada, would see large economic benefits from global warming, the study projects. Most of Europe would do slightly better, the United States and China slightly worse. Essentially all of Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East would be hurt dramatically, the economists found.

“What climate change is doing is basically devaluing all the real estate south of the United States and making the whole planet less productive,” said study co-author Solomon Hsiang, an economist and public policy professor at the University of California Berkeley. “Climate change is essentially a massive transfer of value from the hot parts of the world to the cooler parts of the world.”

“This is like taking from the poor and giving to the rich,” Hsiang said.

Lead author Marshall Burke of Stanford and Hsiang examined 50 years of economic data in 160 countries and even county-by-county data in the United States and found what Burke called “the goldilocks zone in global temperature at which humans are good at producing stuff” — an annual temperature of around 13 degrees Celsius or 55.4 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take a degree.

For countries colder than that economic sweet spot, every degree of warming heats up the economy and benefits. For the United States and other countries already at or above that temperature, every degree slows productivity, Burke and Hsiang said.

The 20th-century global average annual temperature is 57 degrees, or 13.9 degrees Celsius, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Last year — the hottest on record — was 58.24 degrees and this year is almost certain to break that record, according to NOAA. Burke and Hsiang use different population-weighted temperature figures than NOAA calculates.

But the U.S. economy is humming despite the heat. When asked how that can be so, Burke said there were many factors important for growth beyond just temperature. He said one year’s temperature and economic growth in one nation isn’t telling. Instead, he and Hsiang looked at more than 6,000 “country-years” to get a bigger picture.

Burke compared the effect of global warming on economies to a head wind on a cross-country airplane flight. The effects at any given moment are small and seemingly unnoticeable but they add up and slow you down.

While it is fairly obvious that unusual high temperatures hurt agriculture, past studies show hot days even reduce car production at U.S. factories, Burke said.

“The U.S. is really close to the global optimum,” Burke said, adding that as it warms, the U.S. will fall off that peak. The authors calculate a warmer U.S. in 2100 will have a gross domestic product per person that’s 36 percent lower than it would be if warming stopped about now.

But because the U.S. is now at that ultimate peak, there’s greater uncertainty in the study’s calculations than in places like India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Nigeria and Venezuela where it’s already hot and there’s more certainty about dramatic economic harm, Hsiang said.

The authors’ main figures are based on the premise that carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise at the current trajectory. But countries across the world are pledging to control if not cut carbon pollution as international leaders prepare for a summit on climate change in Paris later this year. If the current pledges are kept, the warming cost in 2100 will drop from 23 percent to 15 percent, Burke said.

Gary Yohe, an environmental economist at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, praised the study as significant and thorough, saying Burke and Hsiang “use the most modern socio-economic scenarios.” But Richard Tol, an economist at the University of Sussex in England, dismissed the study as unworthy to be published in an economics journal, saying “the hypothesized relationship is without foundation.”

Other experts found good and bad points, with MIT’s John Reilly saying it will spark quite a debate among economists.

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    California Gov. Brown: keep the oil in the ground

    Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle
    [Editor – This report signals a highly significant shift in the discussions surrounding climate change and the oil industry: cut demand … or cut supply?   A must read!  – RS]

    Gov. Brown wants to keep oil in the ground. But whose oil?

    By David R. Baker, July 26, 2015 8:16pm
    California Gov. Jerry Brown, right,  delivers his speech flanked by the head of the pontifical academy of Science, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, during  a conference on Modern Slavery and Climate Change in the Casina Pio IV the Vatican, Wednesday, July 22, 2015.  Dozens of environmentally friendly mayors from around the world are meeting at the Vatican this week to bask in the star power of eco-Pope Francis and commit to reducing global warming and helping the urban poor deal with its effects. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino) Photo: Alessandra Tarantino, Associated Press
    California Gov. Jerry Brown, right, delivers his speech during a conference on Modern Slavery and Climate Change in the Casina Pio IV the Vatican, Wednesday, July 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

    Even the greenest, most eco-friendly politicians rarely utter the words Gov. Jerry Brown spoke at the Vatican’s climate change symposium last week.

    To prevent the worst effects of global warming, one-third of the world’s known oil reserves must remain in the ground, Brown told the gathering of government officials from around the world. The same goes for 50 percent of natural gas reserves and 90 percent of coal.

    “Now that is a revolution,” Brown said. “That is going to take a call to arms.”

    It’s an idea widely embraced among environmentalists and climate scientists. Burn all the world’s known fossil fuel supplies — the ones already discovered by energy companies — and the atmosphere would warm to truly catastrophic levels. Never mind hunting for more oil.

    But it’s a concept few politicians will touch. That’s because it raises a question no one wants to answer: Whose oil has to stay put?

    “They’ve all got their own oil,” said environmental activist and author Bill McKibben, who first popularized the issue with a widely read 2012 article in Rolling Stone. “Recognizing that you’ve got to leave your own oil — and not somebody else’s — in the ground is the next step.”

    Take California.

    No state has done more to fight global warming. By 2020, under state law, one-third of California’s electricity must come from the sun, the wind and other renewable sources. Brown wants 50 percent renewable power by 2030 and has called for slashing the state’s oil use in half by the same year.

    But he has shown no interest in cutting the state’s oil production. He has touted the economic potential of California’s vast Monterey Shale formation, whose oil reserves drillers are still trying to tap. And he has steadfastly refused calls from within his own party to ban fracking.

    “If we reduce our oil drilling in California by a few percent, which a ban on fracking would do, we’ll import more oil by train or by boat,” Brown told “Meet the Press.” “That doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

    California remains America’s third-largest oil producing state, behind Texas and North Dakota. The industry directly employs 184,100 Californians, helps support an estimated 271,840 other jobs and yields $21.2 billion in state and local taxes each year, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

    ‘Phasing out oil drilling’

    Any governor, no matter how environmentally minded, would have a hard time turning that down. Even if many environmentalists wish Brown would.

    “Just like we have a plan for increasing renewables, we need a plan for phasing out oil drilling in California,” said Dan Jacobson, state director for Environment California.

    It’s difficult for politicians to even talk about something as stark as putting limits on pumping oil, he said.

    “Solar and wind and electric cars are really hopeful things, whereas keeping oil in the ground sounds more like doomsday,” Jacobson said.

    And yet, Jacobson, McKibben and now apparently Brown are convinced that most fossil fuel reserves must never be used.

    The percentages Brown cited come from a study published this year in the scientific journal Nature. The researchers calculated that in order to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius — 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — above preindustrial levels, the world’s economy can pump no more than 1,100 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere between 2011 and 2050. Burning the world’s known fossil fuel reserves would produce roughly three times that amount, they wrote.

    Most governments pursing climate-change policies have agreed to aim for a 2-degree Celsius warming limit, although many scientists consider that dangerously high. So far, global temperatures have warmed 0.8 degrees Celsius from preindustrial times.

    “The unabated use of all current fossil fuel reserves is incompatible with a warming limit of 2 degrees Celsius,” the study concludes.

    Nonetheless, states, countries and companies with fossil fuel reserves all have an obvious and powerful incentive to keep drilling.

    The market value of oil companies, for example, is based in part on the size of their reserves and their ability to find more. Activist investors warning of a “carbon bubble” in their valuations have pushed the companies to assess how many of those reserves could become stranded assets if they can’t be burned. The companies have resisted.

    President Obama, meanwhile, has made fighting climate change a key focus of his presidency, raising fuel efficiency standards for cars, pumping public financing into renewable power and pushing for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

    Cut demand or cut supply

    But Obama has also boasted about America’s surging oil and natural gas production — and tried to claim credit for it. Last week, his administration gave Royal Dutch Shell the green light to hunt for oil in the Arctic Ocean. Keeping oil in the ground does not quite square with his “all of the above” energy policy, observers note. At least, not American oil.

    “The same government that is working very hard to get a Clean Power Plan is allowing Shell to go exploring for hydrocarbons in the middle of nowhere, oil that may never be producible,” said climate activist and former hedge fund executive Tom Steyer, with audible exasperation.

    He notes that Obama, Brown and other politicians intent on fighting climate change have focused their efforts on cutting the demand for fossil fuels, rather than the supply. Most of the policies that climate activists want to see enacted nationwide — such as placing a price on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases — would do the same, ratcheting down demand rather than placing hard limits on fossil fuel production.

    “The political thinking is the market itself will take care of figuring out which fossil fuels have to stay in the ground,” Steyer said.

    Some climate fights, however, have focused on supply. And again, the issue of whose fossil fuels have to stay put has played a part.

    Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline extension, for example, see blocking the project — which would run from Canada to America’s Gulf Coast — as a way to stop or at least slow development of Alberta’s enormous oil sands. James Hansen, the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, famously declared that fully developing the sands would be “game over for the climate.”

    Obama has delayed a decision on the pipeline for years. Given America’s own rising oil production, rejecting a project that could be a boon for the Canadian economy would be difficult, analysts say.

    “The message would be, ‘We’re not going to help you develop your resources — we’ll essentially raise the cost,’” said UC Berkeley energy economist Severin Borenstein. He is convinced that Canada will develop the tar sands, regardless.

    “It’s become such a huge symbol that it’s impossible for Obama to make a decision on it,” Borenstein said. “I think he’s just going to run out the clock.”

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