Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I see the good Lord Stern is back in the news. Lord Stern famously produced an eponymous report a few years ago about how much it would cost to cut down carbon dioxide to try to cool down the planetary temperature. He said it would be dirt cheap, a percent or two of GDP would do it quite nicely … riiiight …
The amazing part of the Stern Report was his choice for the future value of money. Here’s the deal with the future value of money, which you already know, perhaps even without knowing you know it. If I said to you, “Which would you prefer, a thousand dollars now, or a thousand dollars next year”, I doubt you’d have much trouble noticing that money next year is not worth the same as money today. How about a thousand dollars either next year or in ten years? You’d greatly prefer next year. That is the future value of money. It is always worth less than money today. It gets discounted a bit, a few percent, for each year into the future. An iron-clad guarantee of a thousand dollars in a hundred years is worth almost nothing today.
Lord Stern’s brilliant contribution to the rapidly emerging field of Paleocarbophobic Economics was to do his entire study of CO2 reduction as if the presumed benefits of reduced temperatures in fifty years have the same value as if we got the putative future benefits today. His discount rate for the future monies was zero, which is the same as saying that future money paid to you fifty years from now is worth exactly the same as money paid to you today … you don’t have to be an accountant to know that’s bogus, you know a thousand bucks in fifty years is worth a whole lot less than a thousand bucks today, but that was Stern’s claim. Mindboggling.
Figure 1. Total cumulative carbon emissions (blue), cumulative carbon sequestered (absorbed) by the planet (green), and cumulative carbon remaining in the atmosphere (red). The purple line shows the “airborne fraction”, which is the amount of carbon remaining in the atmosphere as a percentage of the amount emitted. Note the underlying relationship, that the total emitted is the sum of the amount sequestered plus the amount remaining in the atmosphere, or Emitted = Airborne + Sequestered. Data Sources: Fossil fuel CO2 emissions – Land use CO2 emissions – Airborne CO2 levels The conversion factor of 2.13 gigatonnes of carbon equal 1 ppmv of atmospheric CO2 was used to convert between units.
Of course, Lord Stern had to make the ridiculous claim that the future benefits had huge value today in order to make the CO2 reduction scam appear to make any economic sense. As an accountant, I would have recommended un-Lording his noble keister for that particularly egregious economics transgression, but unfortunately the Queen of England doesn’t pay much attention to me. I know because I wrote to her Majesty once. Her private secretary replied.
He sent a lovely letter on a piece of paper that was so thick it looked like it would crack if it were folded, a gorgeous cream-colored slab of royal stationery, posted to me in an envelope the size of a small valise … unfortunately, if her Majesty’s secretary’s answer were translated into the dialect of the native tribes of the island of New Amsterdam, it could be best rendered as “Her Majesty has ordered me to tell you to fuggeddaboutit” … but I digress.
So what is Lord Stern’s latest claim? I’m sure you will be shocked and surprised to find out that he now says It’s Worse Than We Thought!™
The UK’s Guardian newspaper, that most British bastion of blatant bloviation, has the story here. I was most interested in the reasons why Lord Stern thinks that It’s Worse Than We Thought!™ This turns out to be the following, in Lord Stern’s own words:
“Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then.”
You can tell he’s a pro because of the number of errors he has managed to shoehorn into three short sentences. It takes true nobility to do that, a common man like myself couldn’t stand the pressure. Let me start with his most ridiculous statement, that “the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected”. Really? How much CO2 were we expecting the atmosphere to “absorb”? And what does it mean for the atmosphere to “absorb” CO2? There’s no meaning in that statement.
But let’s assume that “the atmosphere absorbs” means the atmosphere has taken up less carbon than we expected. I’m not sure how much he expected it to take up, so there’s no way to judge that … but it doesn’t matter because there’s another, larger problem. Since Emitted = Airborne + Sequestered, the only way for the airborne amount to be less than expected (as he claims) is for the sequestered amount to be greater than expected. The problem with that is that he has said that the planet is sequestering less CO2, not more.
But those are just the inherent internal contradictions in Lord Stern’s strange statement. More important are the actual mis-statements of fact. He claims that a reason that he underestimated the risks is that “emissions are rising pretty strongly”. But in fact there is little change from the emissions trend in 2006 when he wrote his infamous report.
And his claim that less and less is being sequestered by the planet? Absolute fantasy. The airborne fraction is the amount of CO2 remaining in the atmosphere. As shown by Figure 1, it has not changed significantly in the last fifty years, nor has the sequestration rate. What is he imagining is new since 2006? Lest you think I am making up my claim about the carbon sinks not changing, here’s a report of NOAA’s take on the question:
Natural sinks still sopping up carbon
Ecosystems haven’t maxed out ability to absorb fossil fuel emissions
May 15, 2012
BOULDER, Colo. — Earth’s ecosystems keep soaking up more carbon as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, new measurements find.
The research contradicts several recent studies suggesting that “carbon sinks” have reached or passed their capacity. By looking at global measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the new work calculates instead that total sinks have increased roughly in line with rising emissions.
“The sinks have been more than able to keep up with emissions,” said Pieter Tans, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. Tans presented the findings May 15 at an annual conference on global monitoring hosted by the lab.
(In passing, I just noticed that NOAA appears to have used the same method I used to determine the airborne fraction, by looking at global measurements of atmospheric CO2. Curious if true, but again I digress. Onwards to the finale …)
SUMMARY OF STERN’S STATEMENTS:
Every single claim that Lord Stern made about how things are getting worse is untrue.
• There have been no surprises on the emissions front. The average annual increases in the CO2 emissions are basically unchanged since he wrote his report in 2006. In fact, despite his claim of rising emissions, the increases are somewhat smaller than expected in 2006, due to the drop in emissions from the global financial crisis.
• The amount of CO2 sequestered by the planet has stayed quite constant at about 55% of the total emissions. There has been no decrease in sequestration as he claims, and there is no evidence that the carbon sinks are losing their ability to sequester CO2.
• Finally, although he says “the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought”, the earth placidly continues along with no statistically significant warming or cooling over the last 15 years, and there is no sign of any increase in extreme events … so exactly which effects of CO2 are “coming through”, quickly or not?
Not one true statement in the bunch … oh, my good Lord!
Three seventeen am, I guess that’s bedtime for me. Starlight and high night cirrus to y’all, with the full moon steaming majestically through the clouds in the middle of a ring of light, remember that the loup garou needs your prayers, I’m off to sleep …