Monday, September 23, 2013

Will a decrease in emissions postpone the need for policy?

In response to a comment by Stephanie, here is a recent article at the NYT regarding the recent decrease in C02 emissions in the US.  It seems that multiple factors are behind the decline: relatively mild temperatures last winter, the recession reducing the demand for heating fuel and the increased use of natural gas by energy plants (due to its recent price decrease). In other words, the demand for energy sources that produce a lot of C02 decreased for 3 reasons.

The price of natural gas has been rising more recently, but economic growth remains sluggish. It should be interesting to see if this trend continues.  Here is a look at emissions reductions in the US and EU from the Energy Collective, as well as some insight into potential causes for the declines.

Regarding the costs and benefits of a cap and trade program in the US, I found this short piece from the Brookings Institute, this short article at the NYT, and this summary of research from MIT (examining the distributional consequences).


S. Tanaka said...

It is a possibility for this to happen. But if approached from the right angle, the need for decreased carbon dioxide emissions can be revamped. Global warming has been a hot-button issue, but it is not the only carbon dioxide-based problem that is going on in the world. The largest sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide is actually the oceans. With the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations in the ocean, it overloads the natural pH buffer creating an increase in hydrogen ion concentration and leading to a slightly lower pH (since pH is a logarithmic scale, even the slightest change can have a huge effect). pH in the oceans is a huge factor in life in the ocean. Basically, the more amount of carbon dioxide that we put into the atmosphere, the more amount of that gets into the ocean which, in turn, makes the ocean more acidic.

With this system being overloaded with the anthropogenic carbon dioxide, it creates a sea in which calcifying organisms cannot live since basically it creates an environment that is corrosive to the organisms that require calcium carbonate to make their shells or tests (this includes coral). In the previous post we explored coral bleaching in the Caribbean. One of the other causes of this is ocean acidification in conjunction with the warming atmosphere that was mentioned in the previous post. Basically, the living organisms that make up coral are extremely sensitive to any change in their environment. So both temperature and the composition of the water that surrounds them is important to consider. Here is a good article by NOAA that shortly explains ocean acidification's role with coral bleaching.

Overall, the first time I have heard about ocean acidification was actually in my oceanography classes here at UNCW. I did not realize that this existed since most of the controversial science associated with carbon dioxide emissions was with the concept of the greenhouse effect which is why you hear more about it on a regular basis. Whether you believe in global warming or not, there is real evidence that there is an increase in anthropogenic carbon dioxide being absorbed into the ocean which is lowering the pH of the oceans. And the effects of this can be seen in our oceans now.

Another quick point to make in regards to the emissions policy question is the results that the IPCC have obtained (the article by NOAA that I listed the link to also mentions this). With international organizations like the IPCC that was created by the United Nations along with other world organizations that are recognized by the US, it should be even clearer that world is warming and that anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions might have something to do with it. It's beginning to become harder and harder to deny that global climate change is happening. The other bonus that international organizations backing the IPCC have is that they can possibly have policy influence on its member nations and possibly put pressure on nations like the US to make policy changes regarding its carbon dioxide emissions. Admittedly, international pressure may be a stretch but it is an option.

If you would like more information on ocean acidification, please visit the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's page on ocean acidification at:

S. Tanaka said...

Interestingly enough, this just happened:

The last sentence in this article I felt was a little harsh, but basically what it means is that putting together the long-term models is a very uncertain and extremely complicated process. But I believe that we should still be concerned about these increases. Also, sea level rise (which research on this actually banned in North Carolina) will vary by location.

Kerriann Jessamy said...

I don't think a decrease in emissions should postpone the need for policy. I must say I agree with S. Tanaka. We look at carbon dioxide emissions with relation to global warming, we need to look at ocean acidification also. the points made and the relevant readings are valid and very interesting.