Monday, May 2, 2016

Delayed Recovery from Climate Change Gases

Delayed Recovery from Climate Change Gases

The actual letter to the editor

Dear Editor,
Your Editorial opinion (Messenger News, Feb. 17, 2012) about coal, gas emissions, and global warming seems to be misinformed. You referred to a new article in Science to oppose “Obama’s EPA.” You also stated that the American people have been misled and that Congress should be furious with [President] Obama.

I looked up the research report and found that CO2 emissions are still important because they produce “long-term inertial responses.” One conclusion, however, was that efforts to reduce emissions of methane and soot (which act more quickly) should receive additional priorities in order achieve greater short-term benefits.

Also, it seems that coal mining releases methane and burning coal emits soot. Therefore, your argument against the actions of our government to protect our welfare is weakened. I also came across information that the health costs related to burning coal is approximately equal to the value of the energy produced.

I, for one, am glad that research is already reducing production costs for systems such as the wind generators that help make Iowa a net exporter of energy.
David Satterlee

[An extended and detailed comment follows.]

The complete article

This morning, I opened the Fort Dodge Messenger News, my local daily newspaper. I’ve been skipping past the editorial section because it tends to feature mostly conservative columnists beating the same old drums. Today, feeling the sap rising in the grass-roots democratic arm of the Democratic Party, I decided to start reading the paper regularly.

The publisher’s editorial was featured in a top outside corner. It was an uninformed rant about President Barack Obama, and how “his EPA” should be stopped by a furious Congress. As I started to turn the page, yet again, I felt a flush of heat that so many readers were being led down the wrong path; that an editor was improperly echoing the inflammatory language and rants of conservative pseudo-authorities to lie to people who have been primed to accept the word of their authorities.

As an aging hippie, I was raised to “question authority,” so I decided to get back in the game. Here it is. Please read on. We’ll start with the full text of the editorial:

Have we been misled? [Publisher’s Editorial]
February 17, 2012
Messenger News [Fort Dodge, Iowa, USA]
"The science is settled," President Barack Obama insists in defense of his scheme to wreck the coal industry.
Well, no. It is not.
Obama insists the threat of global warming requires drastic new curbs on industrial emissions. Coal-burning power plants have been a primary target of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Unless discharges of carbon dioxide into the air are reduced dramatically, the planet faces severe changes in climate, Obama, the EPA and supportive liberals have maintained.
A new study on the issue is out. It has been published in the online journal "Science."
And guess what?
The international team of scientists involved in the study concludes cutting emissions of soot and methane - not CO2 - is the key to slowing global warming.
That is hardly settled science.
Members of Congress, who have the power to stop Obama and his EPA, should be furious. Clearly, they and the American people have been misled.

Okay, so here’s where I’m going with my argument. [The number of each summary comment corresponds with a more-detailed comment to follow. Also, the extended comments are somewhat out of order because I thought it improved the clarity of a linear reading.]

High points 

1)   Ha! By highlighting some gasses that contribute to global warming over others, the editor may have accidently conceded the issue of global warming.
2)   The scientific study does NOT actually discount CO2 as a major greenhouse gas.
3)   The science on methane and soot is hardly new.
4)   Coal fired power plants are, themselves, major contributors to methane and soot.
5)   The EPA is also already concerned about methane and soot.
6)   President Obama is not pursuing a scheme to “wreck the coal industry” so much as to increase our energy resources, make our air and water cleaner and, commendably, help save the world.
7)   This kind of misinformation is bad for America. The editor should think more carefully. We should work to improve the functions of government in areas where government is best suited to helping make our lives better.
8)   We should each work to become better informed, more involved in civic discourse, and supportive of leaders who are committed to the goal of making the lives of individual citizens better.
9)   The argument that the United States should fight to keep up with developing countries in the emission of pollutants because it is more profitable, is simply less honorable.

Expanded discussion

1)   Many conservative commentators continue to use words such as myth, swindle, and hoax to describe the results of climate science research. I am afraid these simple negative messages, repeated frequently, are taken by many as persuasive and factual. Not wanting to be carried along blindly by that agenda, I looked up the actual study.

2)    The editorial alludes to, but does not cite, the article “Simultaneously Mitigating Near-Term Climate Change and Improving Human Health and Food Security” on pages 183-189 of the January 13, 2012 issue of Science.

The authors took advantage of continuing research to create a detailed computer model of our atmosphere’s response to pollutants and (for the first time) possible economic, energy generation, social, political and developmental influences. However, it does not yet make predictions for major societal shifts such as switching to electric vehicles or increased levels of public transportation. The research is available online at The research is designed to support international negotiations and strategy coordination.

The study points out that CO2 emissions produce “long-term inertial responses” but that reducing soot and methane emissions is more likely to produce short-term benefits. This does not affect the understanding of the effect of CO2 on global warming; it just adds more urgency to our priorities in also addressing soot and methane reductions.

5)   Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is already on top of this situation with projects such as those to reduce methane released by coal mining and soot released by burning coal in electrical power generating plants. Dang, the editor must have overlooked these pollutants as additional results of burning coal.

3)   Our understanding of the influences on global climate change has included soot and methane for years. The same Science journal has already published related articles including, “Soot Takes Center Stage” (Sept. 27, 2002), and “Study Fingers Soot as a Major Player in Global Warming” (Mar. 28, 2008). The Nov. 10, 2000 article “A New Route Toward Limiting Climate Change?” explored short-term pollutants such as soot.

4)   Coal fired power plants do more than emit CO2. It seems they are a major source of other greenhouse gasses as well. Generating electricity from coal also emits more arsenic, mercury and lead than any other U.S. industrial pollution source. According to a Chesapeake Bay Foundation report, “A Coal Plant’s Drain on Health and Wealth,” the health costs of coal power plants are estimated to be equal to the price of the electricity they produce. (This sucker is already getting too long, so let’s move on.)

6)   Yeah. So there. Take that. The balanced liberal approach is to gradually retire the worst of the coal power plants, add pollution controls to the rest, and promote research and development of alternatives. This is clearly in the public interest. However, companies in the energy generation business have little incentive to make changes until the costs of a crisis exceed the costs of a new technology. By then, everyone will be wringing their hands and wondering why nobody thought to look into making alternatives more price-competitive.

By the way, while our use of coal can be improved, why do I keep hearing the term “clean coal” like someone has discovered a completely new thing, blessed it with holy water and invested in infomercials? Okay, now I’m just getting cranky.

7)   This kind of editorial misinformation is bad for America. The editor should take care to be better informed, such as actually reading his source material. We should work to improve the functions of government in areas where government is best suited to helping make our lives better.

8)   We should each work to become better informed. We all benefit by being more involved in civic discourse and supporting leaders who are committed to the goal of improving the lives of individual citizens.

9)   The United States of America began with the blessing of a vast, resource-laden, productive, unexploited continent at its disposal. Much of America’s success in the era of industrialization can be attributed to an “aggressive pioneer spirit.” That disposition moved us inexorably west, killing wantonly, cutting trees, setting fences, building roads, plowing fields and leveling mountains as we went. 

Our fertile fields, open waterways and abundant minerals rewarded new settlers with relatively easy wealth to harvest. Profits from exploiting this natural abundance were even greater for the privileged robber barons, industrialists and financiers.

Unbridled exploitation and consumption worked well for several hundred years. I can understand why some people want to be allowed to continue taking, wasting and polluting however they want just like they have been doing so far. However, we are reaching the limits of our clear vistas, standing timber, open prairies and clean rivers bounding from unexplored wilderness. It is time to be conservative – protecting, defending and wisely using what remains of our resources.

And, by the way, if it is primarily liberals petitioning for moderation, caution, and conservation, what has happened to the meaning of the word “conserve”ative?

David Satterlee