Climate Change Commission a Waste of Effort?

Patrick Michaels, Global Warming skeptic, has weighed in on the Virginia Commission on Climate Change — and this time there’s no question that it’s him and not one of his colleagues (as was unclear in another recent communique discussed in “Low Hanging Fruit vs. Deep Green.”) This time, he has written a column in the Times-Dispatch under his own name.

In a nutshell, Michaels’ point is that nothing the Commission can do will have a discernible impact on climate change. One of the Commission’s goals is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2025, a goal which, if accomplished, would set Virginia emissions back to the level they were back in 2000. That’s way less ambitious, he notes, than the goals of the Kyoto protocols, which aspire to cut global emissions to about 5 percent below 1990 levels for the years 2008-2012.

And even the draconian Kyoto protocols would barely impact climate change. Citing scientists at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., Michaels says that Kyoto would reduce global temperatures by 0.07 degrees C in the next half-century. “That’s right: not 7 degrees or even seven-tenths of a degree, but seven hundredths of a degree.”

Adopting the Virginia plan across all Kyoto nations would result in about 72 percent of the emissions reductions of Kyoto itself by 2050, again according to data from the Energy Information Agency. That translates into five hundredths of a degree of warming by then, and 0.13 degrees by 2100. “The 2050 figure is about 20 times less than the mean annual temperature difference between downtown Richmond and suburban Short Pump.”

(In one sense, Michaels is being generous to the Commission. His figures assume that commission goals could be applied to all Kyoto nations, which they clearly cannot. Virginia accounts for only a tiny sliver of global economic output. The impact of Virginia actions on global climate will be so infinitesimal as to be unmeasurable.)

Michaels concludes: “It’s hard to believe that any member of Virginia’s commission really thinks he’s doing much about global warming. … People need to know that the proposed goal of the Governor’s Commission on Climate Change will simply have no detectable effect on global warming. So what’s the point?

Bacon’s bottom line: Michaels is missing the point. As I see it, the Commission has at least two valid missions. First, Virginia needs to understand the risks posed by climate change. Regardless of whether our actions can affect climate change, climate change can affect us. As we’ve discussed on this blog, there is a significant risk that rising global temperatures and sea levels could inundate large parts of Virginia’s low-lying coastline. How do we prepare for that possibility? I’d like to see that issue aired.

Secondly, there are sound reasons for reducing the energy intensity of Virginia’s economy that have nothing to do with climate change. You can be an agnostic on global warming (as I am) and still see value in cutting carbon dioxide emissions, which are a good metric of fossil-fuel energy intensity. The prices of oil, natural gas and coal are soaring. Because Virginia institutions are geared to a cheap-energy era, we are suffering needlessly as the world economy transitions to an dear-energy era. Rising energy prices are sucking billions of dollars out of our economy, crimping living standards and reducing the competitiveness of our businesses.

If the Commission on Climate Change can identify strategies for going “deep green” — changing transportation systems and human settlement patterns that keep Virginians stuck in an energy-intensive mode — we can all benefit. If reducing energy dependence and cutting CO2 emissions also happens to reduce global temperatures by .00007 of a degree, then so much the better!

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    If we are serious about the environment, then look to reduce and clean up real pollutants to the land, water and air (what I call the finitudes) of Virginia.

    Don’t waste time on the emission of the CO2 that comes out of our mouths when we breath.

    Look at reducing energy consumption through conservation. Energy consumption is an easy set of metrics and better than CO2.

  2. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Good points James Atticus.

    Great post and bottom line Jim.

    Now lets talk about the settlement pattern impact on energy consumption…


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    EMR – Dominion provided the following information to Fairfax County re electric demand requirements for an urban, mixed use Tysons Corner.

    “The load analysis model was done by starting with Tysons Substation peak load for summer 2005 which was around 216 MVA (mega volt ampere). Then I took the difference in square footage from today to each of the proposed buildout square footage scenarios for both residential and commercial, multiplied a watts per square foot basis to come up with the growth, then added this delta to the summer 2005 peak load.”

    For Prototype B (c. 127 M square feet), the capacity needed increases to 741 MVA.

    Lots of power needed.


  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here is the question de jure never answered to my satisfaction, in fact, never addressed in any meaningful way and that is from a location variable perspective and that is… WHERE should the prodigious power needs of dense “good” settlement patterns be generated?

    We have discussions about remote power plants and power lines but I don’t remember discussions about WHERE the power SHOULD be generated in the “correct” settlement pattern scenario.

    We actually have in the Washington Area – a close-to-home example with the Mirant Power Plant in Alexandria.

    The environmentalists want it out.

    these are the same environmentalists that usually align themselves with “smart growth”.

    EMR speaks of the access and mobility issues but I don’t think I’ve heard much on this issue.

    I find it totally ironic that the advocacy about the efficiency of settlement patterns relies on density while ignoring the tremendous power needs of density in terms of where that power should be generated.

    It’s hard to evade hypocritical “taint” in my mind to have a strong advocacy of dense settlement patterns .. that .. would not be possible – if it were not for remote power plants and a huge grid of power lines …both of which are decried as polluting and visually harmful.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    WHERE should the prodigious power needs of dense “good” settlement patterns be generated?”

    And how do you allocate that locational cost?


Leave a Reply