Friday, February 18, 2005

How's Them Pet Goats

President Bush was criticized for spending seven minutes reading about pet goats after the first plane hit the World Trade Center.  Michael Moore and Bill Maher pounced on this like raccoons in a dumpster behind a McDonald's.  The fact is, though, those seven minutes did not and could not have made any difference. 

On the other hand, if one gets repeated warnings of a catastrophe, those warnings get progressively more strident and more specific, and one has the means to do something about it, and does nothing, then maybe it is fair to be critical.

Today, Middle Earth Journal -- a wonderfully-named blog, by the way -- has an update on climate change.  NewScientist.com published an update on the same subject on 2/12/2005.  They also published a piece called Meet the Skeptics, which purportedly shows that most of the skeptics are not scientists.  Indeed, most are economists or pundits of various stripes, funded by ExxonMobil. 

The Middle Earth and NewScientist articles show how the evidence for climate change due to greenhouse gasses is accumulating at a rapid rate, while the contrary evidence is both minimal and stagnant.  Most of the contrary evidence is based upon the uncertainty in the prediction of economic growth, since the production of greenhouse gas is roughly proportional to economic activity.  A few days ago, I linked to an article in The Economist that dealt with this.  Other objections to the near-consensus view of climate change are based upon objections to specific methodologies, such as the the interpretation of tree ring measurements as indicators of past temperatures.  But  the current view of climate change is based upon a convergence of data from multiple sources and multiple methodologies.  therefore, objecting to one or two of the methods is not a very effective counterargument. 

Is Mr. Bush ignoring all these warnings?  Does he go to bed every night and read about goats, rather than fretting about the melting of the polar ice caps and the disruption of the Gulf Stream? 

In February, 2003, he announced an initiative to develop a method of extracting energy from coal, while sequestering most or all carbon emissions.  This is called the FutureGen project
"Today I am pleased to announce that the United States will sponsor a $1 billion, 10-year demonstration project to create the world's first coal-based, zero-emissions electricity and hydrogen power plant..."
                           President George W. Bush
                           February 27, 2003
The program, as originally announced, would invest about $100 million per year, for ten years, to develop a prototype power plant that could make a big difference in the course of greenhouse gas production.  According to a 2005 House Budget Report, the House is recommending an expenditure of $9 million for 2005.  They recommend that $18 million that was appropriated previously, but apparently not spent, and another $237 million that was planned for, but not yet allocated, be deferred "for future FutureGen requirements."  They recommend a total federal commitment of $264 million.  This falls a bit short of the original $1 billion, and seems likely to put the project behind schedule.  In other words, two years have passed, and the project is barely getting started.  The House Budget report now says that they have "the goal of developing virtually pollution-free power plants withing the next 15 or 20 years".  They've extended the timeline from the original 10 years, to 15 to 20, and they haven't even hit any technical snags yet. 

I just hope that, once they get around to actually building something, they put it far enough inland so it isn't submerged when the ice caps melt. 

With the seven-minute thing, we have a nice film clip, showing Bush looking utterly bewildered.  That made a nice visual statement in Moore's last film, Fahrenheit 911.  It enraged Bush's minions to no end.  But in fact, it does not mean much.  On the other hand, the delays regarding the FutureGen project, in the face of mounting evidence of urgency, does mean something.  It means he doesn't learn from his mistakes.  Unfortunately, we do not have a film clip to illustrate this character flaw.

One of the quotes on Middle Earth Journal is this, from Dr. Hermann Ott of the Berlin office of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy:
It's too late to stop climate change, that's for sure, but we can still influence the degree of changes and the degree of impacts. We can prepare for a softer landing. Once the impact of climate change becomes visible, politics will react quickly and forcefully.
I disagree.  That may be the case in Germany, but it will not happen in the US.  We do not have politicians who are willing to admit that they were mistaken.  After all, humility is not one of the Ten Commandments, so it must not be important.