Cap and trade fiddling while the world burns: CO2 concentration spikes to unprecedented level

Item A1 on the left shows the most recent reported concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) at the Keeling Observatory in Mauna Loa Hawaii. Today, April 9 2015, it is showing at 404.65 parts per million. Correct me if I’m wrong, and I don’t think I am, but this is the highest it has ever been in human history.

It takes roughly 7.8 billion metric tons of CO2 dumped into the global air to increase the concentration by one part per million (according to the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at the Oak Ridge lab in Tennessee). One year ago the global concentration hit 400 ppm for the very first time. So for it to have gone from 400 to 404.65 ppm means we humans have, collectively, in the space of a single year, dumped 36.27 billion tons of the stuff into our air.

Meanwhile, there is a fresh round of talk about a carbon cap and trade scheme in Ontario. Cap and trade is a term that one hears bouncing around a lot in environmental echo chambers. Put a price on carbon, says the received wisdom, and it must follow as the night the day that people will realize the error of their ways and stop using so damned much energy.

My home jurisdiction of Ontario Canada has, since 2003, reduced annual electric power CO2 emissions by around 27 million tons. We did this not with a cap and trade system, nor with a carbon tax. We did it by simply adding and using more nuclear capacity. There were four nuclear reactors sitting idle and in need of refurbishment. So we refurbished them. Twenty-seven million tons. Done.

Well, first of all it it does not follow so automatically. People will continue to use energy regardless of its price: any time the outdoor temperature goes below about 15°C or above about 25° we need artificial energy to either heat or cool our indoor surroundings. The same applies to our need to move, in fact to any work we want done that requires wattage above the human average power output of about 100 watts.

(And this applies to brain work. The human brain even in rest mode accounts for about 20 to 25 watts—a quarter of our average power output, for an organ that makes up 2 percent of an average human’s physical mass. But brain work these days almost always involves the innumerable machines that make up the Internet. All of these, plus your computer or smartphone, are powered by tens of thousands of large electric-power generators around the world; that is what runs the connected servers that make the Internet a 24-hour-a-day non-stop enterprise.)

So we will simply not stop consuming either low-grade (heat) or high-grade (electric) energy.

Second, the example of actual cap and trade schemes does not inspire hope. Though the Canadian environmental echo chamber likes to pretend that these actual schemes, which are in current operation, do not exist, they offer a strong clue as to how a Canadian scheme is likely to shake out.

These schemes are the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which covers a number of northeastern American states, and the European Union’s Emission Trading Scheme (ETS).

I used to cover both in some detail in the early days of this blog.

I grew to suspect early on that both the RGGI and ETS are more public relations than anything else. The Obama Administration has attempted a number of times to determine the social cost of carbon (see article). The lowest value it arrived at was $37 per ton; the highest was well over $100.

Climate scientist Jim Hansen, who has been advocating a very interesting fee-and-dividend scheme whereby energy producers pay a per-ton fee up front and return monies collected to citizens in the authoritative jurisdiction in the form of a dividend, advocates a fee of $115 per ton.

Though the ETS price on a ton of carbon did, once, approach the lower Obama estimate of $37 per ton, it has mostly languished at well below €10. This is due to well-known collusion between emitters and their national governments, and those national governments and the European Commission. Articles in the Guardian and Economist describe why the scheme has been such a failure.

And the price of RGGI carbon allowances, US$5.41 at the latest auction, relegates them similarly to junk-bond status.

My home jurisdiction of Ontario Canada has, since 2003, reduced annual electric power CO2 emissions by around 27 million tons. We did this not with a cap and trade system, nor with a carbon tax. We did it by simply adding and using more nuclear capacity. There were four nuclear reactors sitting idle and in need of refurbishment. So we refurbished them. Twenty-seven million tons. Done.

Twenty-seven million tons, done. All it took was for the provincial government—which has jurisdiction over the electricity system—to have confidence in a superbly competent nuclear workforce to do the necessary work. The men and women that make up that workforce delivered as expected, and here we are with one of the cleanest electricity systems on the planet.

It is obvious that that is all we need to do to completely decarbonize electricity in this province.

With atmospheric CO2 at 404.65 ppm, it would be irresponsible not to.

4 comments for “Cap and trade fiddling while the world burns: CO2 concentration spikes to unprecedented level

  1. Jeff Walther
    April 9, 2015 at 12:15

    As with all your articles, an excellent point. I only wish more people would see it.

    Also, I think the number at the end of your second paragraph is missing a “billion” after the number and before the units. Unless that was some kind of per capita calculation? And 4.65 X 7.8 billion = 36.27 billion, not 39.27 billion.

    Apologies if I misinterpreted that paragraph.

    • April 9, 2015 at 12:41

      Jeff — no you didn’t misinterpret anything, you caught typos. Corrected and edited. Thanks!

  2. April 9, 2015 at 20:00

    There is a carbon tax-related measure that would help us to stop burning so damned much carbon. It is to return government’s fossil fuel income to the citizens.

    This could be done either by reducing fossil fuel royalty/severance rates, motor fuel excise taxes, etc., or by distributing those carbon taxes’ proceeds as a Hansen dividend.

  3. R Budd
    April 11, 2015 at 13:04

    An objective look at Ontario’s energy policy of at least the last 6 years would clearly show a gov’t using energy policy to reward supporters that keep it in power, while transferring social policy costs onto electricity rate payers.
    This so called climate change discussion is a feeble attempt to give a bit of social license to the cap and trade scheme Wynne and here corporate raiders were going to impose from the beginning. This will allow them to further game the energy sector for the benefit of their players and ensure they have the biggest aresenal come next election.
    The environment and citizenry ultimately suffer, but the social marketing wing of the Green Energy Alliance are well financed and ready to tell the masses what a marvelous progressive place Ontario has become.

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