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Carbon Tax: Climatically Useless

“No matter how much you pay with a carbon levy, virtually nothing is received climatically…. No matter the level of domestic action that we take, it will pale in comparison to the rapid expansion of carbon dioxide emissions in other parts of the world.”

How much global warming will result from U.S. emissions over the course of this century, and how much of that could be prevented by a carbon tax? These two questions have the same simple answer—virtually none. One or two tenths of a degree a century out with–and without–a carbon tax makes the whole climate debate a peculiar exercise.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that the earth’s average temperature will increase somewhere between 1.1°C and 6.4°C over the 21st century, depending on the assumed pathway of anthropogenic emissions (both greenhouse gases and aerosols) and the actual (but unknown) climate sensitivity.

A temperature rise towards the low end of this range is not worth worrying too much about (the ‘lukewarming’ position), while a rise near the higher end of the range is potentially much more problematic (the alarmist position). And while lukewarmers and alarmists stray apart when it comes to the amount of climate change they are expecting, they are bound together by the fact that there is practically nothing that can be done to change the situation, either way. Why? They use the same math.

But you won’t hear many alarmists admitting to that fact—if they did, you would never have heard of the terms like “cap-and-trade” or “carbon tax.” Instead, you’d be much more familiar with words like “planning” and “adaptation.”

How Much U.S.-Side Global Warming?

Lest alarmists protest, let’s work through the numbers to see just how much “global warming” is being caused by U.S. economic activity.

In other words, how much of the IPCC’s projected 1.1°C to 6.4°C of warming will the U.S. be responsible for in the next century? The answer is about 0.08°C of the low end estimate and about 0.35°C of the high end estimate (according to an IPCC-like analysis*). Using the IPCC’s mid-range scenario, carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. contribute about 0.19°C of the total 2.96°C global temperature rise.

Yep, that is it. For all the incessant talk as to how the highly consumptive U.S. lifestyle—from SUVs, to air conditioners, to big screen TVs and huge portion sizes—is leading climate catastrophe, the sum total of our contribution to “global warming” this century will amount to the neighborhood of about 0.2°C. Not five degrees. Not two degrees. But about two-tenths of a degree Celsius. And even this number may be on the high side if the climate sensitivity is lower than about 3°C (see here for more on recent findings concerning the climate sensitivity).

So all the U.S. carbon dioxide emissions restriction tactics—EPA regulations, cap and trade schemes, carbon taxes, efficiency programs, guilt-inducing ad campaigns, etc.—are aimed at chipping away at this already tiny 0.2°C. Big deal.

When considering any of these options, you have to ask yourself (or your representatives in Congress) how much are you willing to pay—in dollars or inconvenience, or both—to avert some portion of this 0.2°C of global temperature increase and its accompanying inconsequential and impossible to measure climate change?

Avertable Climate Change

No matter how much you pay with a carbon levy, virtually nothing is received climatically.

Consider the effect of the Waxman-Markey Climate Bill that was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives back in the summer of 2009. That cap-and-trade scheme was designed to step down U.S. carbon dioxide emissions ultimately by 83% by the year 2050. This would have taken a monumental effort that was sure to be disruptive in any number of ways.

The net climate result? Instead of 0.19°C of warming coming from the U.S. by the year 2100 (assuming the IPCC mid-range scenario), our contribution would have been reduced to 0.08°C—for a net “savings” of about 0.11°C of “global warming”. (See my analysis here.)  This amount is of virtually no environmental consequence and was repeatedly cited as one of the reasons that this legislation died in the Senate.

Much the same holds true for the present day fad for a carbon tax. The talk of a carbon tax—or more rightly a carbon dioxide tax—was bolstered recently by superstorm Sandy and its aftermath (widely, but wrongly, blamed on anthropogenic climate change). A tax on carbon dioxide emissions would be felt from the gas station to the grocery store and everywhere in between as virtually every aspect of our modern life benefits from cheap carbon dioxide emitting, fossil-fuel produced energy.

A carbon tax has become so trendy that even “no new tax pledge” champion Grover Norquist briefly flirted with it before quickly reconsidering.

And for good reason. For about the only thing that a carbon (dioxide) tax in the U.S. will not do, is produce a detectable mitigation of anthropogenic global warming and any associated effects.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency recently projected the impacts on carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. out to the year 2035 resulting from a carbon dioxide tax of $15/per ton emitted (beginning in 2013 and increasing by 5% per year out to 2035) and for a tax of $25/ton of CO2 (beginning in 2013 and increasing by 5% per year out to 2035). The EIA projections are shown in Figure 1. I have continued the same emissions reductions pathway out from 2035 until the year 2100—admittedly, this is a shot in the dark, but at least is gives us something to work with.

Figure 1. Energy Information Agency estimates for the future course of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions resulting from a $15/ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions (solid blue line) and a $25/ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions (solid red line), 2010-2035. I have extended these projections to the year 2100 (dotted lines).

When I substitute these carbon tax pathways for U.S. carbon dioxide emissions for the one already included in the IPCC mid-range scenario, I calculate that the amount of “global warming” contributed by the U.S. drops from 0.19°C by the year 2100 to 0.13°C and 0.08°C for the $15/ton and $25/ton carbon tax respectively (Figure 2).


Figure 2. Amount of total global warming (red bars) and the U.S. contribution to the total global warming (blue bars) over the 21st century under three different scenarios. BAU= business-as-usual as portrayed by the IPCC A1B mid-range emissions scenario; $15/ton CO2=$15/ton tax on U.S. carbon dioxide emissions as prescribed by the EIA to the year 2035 and extended to 2100; $15/ton CO2=$15/ton tax on U.S. carbon dioxide emissions as prescribed by the EIA to the year 2035 and extended to 2100.

A global warming “savings” of 0.06°C to 0.11°C across this century is of no scientific consequence, while a tax of carbon dioxide emissions of $15 to $25 per ton is sure to be of significant personal consequence (and, my guess, only very temporary, i.e., until the next election cycle).

Conclusion

Any tax on carbon dioxide is clearly a case of not getting what you pay for. You will pay a lot, and receive nothing in return, or at least nothing that you will ever realize, or that could be proven.

What is working against any form of a carbon tax is that the U.S. plays only a minor role in the future course of global warming driven by anthropogenic activities. The rest of the world—primarily the developing countries like China and India—is where the rubber meets the road for climate change. No matter the level of domestic action that we take, it will pale in comparison to the rapid expansion of carbon dioxide emissions in other parts of the world.

Instead of trying to make an expensive repair a very small and inconsequential leak, I would think that our attention ought to be directed at determining just how big the coming flood may be, and make our plans accordingly.

Appendix: Methodological Note

I have used the Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse-gas Induced Climate Change (MAGICC) for my analysis of the effect of U.S. emissions on projected global temperature rise. MAGICC is sort of a climate model simulator that you can run from your desktop (available here). It was developed by scientists at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research.

There are many parameters that can be altered when running MAGICC, including the climate sensitivity (how much warming the model produces from a doubling of CO2 concentration) and the size of the effect produced by aerosols. In all cases, I’ve chosen to use the MAGICC default settings, which represent the middle-of-the-road estimates for these parameter values (e.g., climate sensitivity equals 3.0°C).

I’ve had to make some assumptions about the U.S. emissions pathways as prescribed by the original IPCC scenarios in order to obtain the baseline U.S. emissions (unique to each scenario) to which I could apply the various emissions reduction schedules. The most common IPCC definition of its scenarios describes the future emissions, not from individual countries, but from country groupings. Therefore, I needed to back out the U.S. emissions.

To do so, I identified which country group the U.S. belonged to (the OECD90 group) and then determined the current percentage of the total group emissions that are being contributed by the United States—which turned out to be about 50%. I then assumed that this percentage remained constant over time. In other words, that the U.S. contributed 50% of the OECD90 emissions in 2000 as well as in every year between 2000 and 2100.

Thus, I am able to develop the future emissions pathway of the U.S. from the group pathway defined by the IPCC for each scenario (in this case, the B1, the A1B and the A1FI scenarios). The Waxman-Markey and carbon tax reductions were then applied to the projected U.S. emissions pathways, and the new U.S. emissions were then recombined into the OECD90 pathway and into the global emissions total over time.

It is the total global emissions that are entered into MAGICC in order to produce global temperature projections. My results are largely insensitive to minor changes in these assumptions.

23 comments

1 Sundance { 12.03.12 at 11:01 am }

Insignificant USA global contribution to future warming is a point that I have been making freguently in various forums, and I’m happy to see you address it.

The science shows that 55% of man made CO2 since 1959 has already been removed from the atmosphere. Energy use isn’t the sole contributor to CO2 emissions yet it is chosen by the UN as the benchmark for determining who is guilty of causing climate change and who should be made to pay. The scientific facts are that poor and developing countries are just as guilty when the GHG contributions from land use change are factored into added CO2.

The best thing to do is to educate the political leadership and arm them with your facts so that they can make intelligent responses to idiotic questions and guilt trip charges hurled at them by the ignorant anti-science progressive journalism tribe.

2 Ronald Walter { 12.03.12 at 12:04 pm }

Since everyone exhales approximately 1 kg of CO2 each day, each person is responsible for 365 kg of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.

.365 * 25 = ~9.00 per year

63 billion dollars revenue; a UN sponsored individual mandate to pay a carbon tax is feasible.

You have to extract that pound of flesh too.

3 Charles { 12.03.12 at 3:51 pm }

The hypocrisy (or utter stupidity) of those governments who pursue these carbon tax concepts is almost too much to bear. In Australia where the government recently established a carbon (actually carbon dioxide) tax of $23/tonne, they compensated the lowest income households for the increased costs associated with the tax. They also handed out significant amounts of money big mining companies to maintain the export coal industries.

Consequently, the result of all this money-go-round is that no consistent signal is sent as far as emissions of CO2 are concerned, and that we now have a brand new bureaucracy that oversees (costs) the whole process. Yet, there is not one person in the government who can explain what it will actually do for the environment and so far no emission reductions have taken place, they have actually grown.

The AGW religion continues on its way where real science is ignored in favour of the Gravy Train science that perpetuates this fraud on humanity

4 A carbon tax is misguided……placing a price on just being alive | The Drinking Water Advisor { 12.04.12 at 12:44 pm }

[...] Click here for additional discussion…. Share this:EmailPrintMoreDiggFacebookGoogle +1LinkedInRedditStumbleUponTwitter This entry was posted in Energy and Power and tagged energy. Bookmark the permalink. ← United Nations seeks central control… [...]

5 ElMadster { 12.04.12 at 3:39 pm }

I agree with your assessment that a carbon tax will be largely ineffective at stopping climate change but I believe conservatives are missing an opportunity here of replacing the income tax with a carbon tax and national sales tax and in general instituting true science as a guide for public policy. (I believe that science favors conservative free-market positions more so than liberal ones.)

I we play this right, we can cement permanent conservative tax policy.

So bring on the carbon tax!

6 Cass Sunstein’s Garbage In, Garbage Out on Cost/Benefit Analysis - American Products. American Power. { 12.04.12 at 3:45 pm }

[...] a point of reference, climate scientist Chip Knappenberger recently estimated that the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s own simulations show that unilateral US [...]

7 rbradley { 12.04.12 at 5:59 pm }

HBO’s Bill Maher termed Chip and Pat Michaels as “Climate change agreers and confusers” and complains the two are “winning”

http://www.real-time-with-bill-maher-blog.com/real-time-with-bill-maher-blog/2012/12/3/climate-change-semi-denial.html

“The insidious thing about guys like Michaels and Knappenberg[er] is that they’re masters of Not Getting Pinned Down. They keep a hand in and write scholarly papers in peer-reviewed journals, in which they seem to agree with the basics of climate science. And then they turn around on their blogs and in their congressional testimonies, and cherry-pick data and bash other people’s work in a manner that produces the results that oil and coal and ‘free market’ warriors want: A hodgepodge of ‘reasonable’ reasons why we don’t need to change what we’re doing. They’re the new generation of climate-change deniers — ‘Climate change agreers and confusers.’ And they’re winning.”

8 rbradley { 12.04.12 at 10:03 pm }

ElMadster

Robert Murphy in a recent study concluded that a carbon tax fails as a preferred tax to the status quo: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/11/16/conservatives-should-rethink-support-for-carbon-tax-swap-deal/

Technical explanation: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2012/10/robert_murphy_a.html

9 Potpourri { 12.05.12 at 7:11 pm }

[...] Chip Knappenberger uses the IPCC scenarios to estimate the effect on global temperatures in 2100 from a draconian but unilateral US carbon [...]

10 Potpourri - Unofficial Network { 12.05.12 at 7:40 pm }

[...] Chip Knappenberger uses the IPCC scenarios to estimate the effect on global temperatures in 2100 from a draconian but unilateral US carbon [...]

11 Ronald Walter { 12.06.12 at 9:57 pm }

Conservatives reject any income tax and rely upon excise taxes.

Liberals believe in income tax.

12 National Climate Assessment Draft Embraces Non-SolutionsInstitute for Energy Research | Institute for Energy Research { 01.15.13 at 9:24 am }

[...] climate scientist Chip Knappenberger walked through the IPCC emission scenarios and calculated how much of the total projected warming through the year 2100 would be due to US [...]

13 President Obama’s Inaugural Speech: New Heat on Warming? { 01.23.13 at 8:09 pm }

[...] U.S. contribution to global warming over the 21st century is projected to be small – about 0.2°C, according to the UN IPCC. Even an aggressive de-carbonization program costing hundreds of billions would theoretically [...]

14 A Tsunami of Governmental Global Warming Lies | Independent News Hub { 01.27.13 at 9:05 pm }

[...] believe that an effort is afoot  to revive cap-and-trade legislation that would tax so-called greenhouse gas emissions despite the fact that they play no role in either [...]

15 A Tsunami Of Governmental Global Warming Lies « PA Pundits – International { 01.28.13 at 6:04 am }

[...] believe that an effort is afoot  to revive cap-and-trade legislation that would tax so-called greenhouse gas emissions despite the fact that they play no role in either [...]

16 A Tsunami of Governmental Global Warming Lies | WatchdogWire - Florida { 01.28.13 at 7:32 am }

[...] believe that an effort is afoot to revive cap-and-trade legislation that would tax so-called greenhouse gas emissions despite the fact that they play no role in either [...]

17 Governmental Global Warming Lies Heating Up at US Action News { 01.28.13 at 7:33 am }

[...] not the result of a warming that is not occurring. Some believe that an effort is afoot to revive cap-and-trade legislation that would tax so-called greenhouse gas emissions despite the fact that they play no role in either [...]

18 A Tsunami of Governmental Global Warming Lies « Gds44's Blog { 01.28.13 at 9:37 am }

[...] believe that an effort is afoot  to revive cap-and-trade legislation that would tax so-called greenhouse gas emissions despite the fact that they play no role in either [...]

19 A Tsunami of Governmental Global Warming Lies - Capitol Hill Outsider { 01.29.13 at 9:28 pm }

[...] believe that an effort is afoot to revive cap-and-trade legislation that would tax so-called greenhouse gas emissions despite the fact that they play no role in either [...]

20 MURPHY: Brookings Study Misleads on Carbon TaxInstitute for Energy Research | Institute for Energy Research { 03.15.13 at 10:46 am }

[...] eliminate its carbon dioxide emissions through the end of the century, that would avert only about two-tenths of a degree Celsius of projected global warming, according to the mainstream models. And of course, the U.S. would [...]

21 Evaluating the President’s “Climate Action Plan” | Institute for Energy Research { 06.27.13 at 2:33 pm }

[...] and other developing regions will see the largest growth in emissions over the coming decades. As Chip Knappenberger has demonstrated—using the IPCC’s own models—the U.S. will only be responsible for about two-tenths of a [...]

22 Consensus Shmensus { 09.05.13 at 8:15 pm }

[...] that eliminated all U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions tomorrow would avert only a hypothetical 0.2°C of warming by 2100, the health and safety benefits of any politically-feasible carbon tax or [...]

23 California: Carbon Tax Hurts Just like Cap-and-Trade - American Products. American Power. { 03.03.14 at 7:03 am }

[…] it will largely by a symbolic gesture. Even stopping all United States emissions immediately would have a negligible impact on global temperatures in 2100 relative to the “business as usual” baseline, because the vast majority of growth in emissions […]

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