07 October 2009

Some Charity to CAP

UPDATE: Julian Wong explains in the comments.

My friend and colleague Ben Hale tells me that we political scientists are trained to be cynical whereas philosophers like him are trained to be charitable. Maybe so. Here is an attempt at a charitable reading of a perspective attributed to a climate expert at the Center for American Progress:
Julian Wong, a senior energy policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, noted that energy efficiency, while all well and good, doesn't alone influence a country's absolute emissions.
A charitable reading of this is that Mr. Wong was horribly misquoted mis-paraphrased. Because as everyone knows, energy efficiency does indeed alone influence a country's absolute emissions. In fact, energy efficiency is really only one of two levers that we have to influence emissions, the other is carbon intensity of energy supply. So Mr. Wong should act quickly to correct the apparent misquote mis-paraphrase, as less charitable readings would all but certainly conclude that with perspectives like that, CAP doesn't really know what it would take to decarbonize the global economy.

18 comments:

keith said...

Roger,

Not to be nitpicky, but this is a paraphrase. It may well be representative of Wong's "perspective" but he's not actually quoted.

So I'm inclined to be charitable.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Keith- You are right! I have revised accordingly.

Maurice Garoutte said...

Young philosophers may be trained to be charitable, but a few decades of dealing with big egos in the real world tends to bring out the cynic.

To this retired hillbilly philosopher it’s not too cynical to think that the Center for American Progress advocates a progressive policy.
Certainly efficiency affects emissions, assuming a fixed GDP. Mr. Wong may be wrong about the science but it’s the progressive policy that’s more important to the CAP.

Ok, ok in the spirit of this thread I need to be more charitable. The CAP is an effective surrogate for the administration’s energy policy.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Tom writes in by email with another charitable reading:

"Doesn't Wong mean that energy efficiency "isn't the only influence" on a country's absolute emissions?"

Perhaps so. But given that CAP just released a report in which energy efficiency is the major lever they propose to reduce emissions, I can't imagine why they'd downplay it.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

I have emailed Mr. Wong and we'll hear soon what he really meant!

Not Whitey Bulger said...

Roger

I don't know what your problem is with this statement. The operative word is "alone". It's a correct statement. There are other factors involved, and you cite one yourself in the next sentence. And in fact, when you say there are only two such factors, you are wrong. If you open 100 new factories, no matter how efficient they are, carbon intensity of the fuel supply may not matter either. The absolute carbon dioxide output of carbon fuel plants will go up as you add more smokestacks, efficiency or no.

That's my charitable read.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-6-NWB

If you change energy efficiency -- alone -- it will have the result of influencing a country's emissions. To say that it does not alone influence emissions would be incorrect.

If he said that other factors besides efficiency matter, that would be correct.

In the Kaya Identity there are 4 factors that lead to emissions:

1. Population
2. Per captia wealth
3. energy intensity (efficiency)
4 carbon intensity

I do not believe that policymakers will use 1 and 2 to influence emissions, hence the two remaining tools. Obviously otehrs disagree with my view on that:

http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2009/10/planned-economic-recession-why-didnt-i.html

Why CAP would pan efficiency remains a mystery to me.

Jesse Jenkins said...

Roger, isn't this a good sign from one of CAP's smarter analysts? I read this as Wong acknowledging that while efficiency is "all well and good" we can't afford not to address the decarbonization of our energy supply and just bank on "the low hanging fruit" of energy efficiency to solve all our climate woes - and at a negative net cost! - like so many greens love to believe. That's my charitable reading.

Maurice Garoutte said...

Greater efficiency justifies greater wealth.
The progressive goal is to spread the wealth around, not justify more wealth for the already wealthy.
CAP is a progressive organization.

So where’s the mystery with CAP panning efficiency? They are simply advocating their philosophy. As is Roger, as am I.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-8-Jesse

Yes, hence my curiousity

Ohio said...

Here's the ENTIRE quote from the New York Times article:

"But Julian Wong, a senior energy policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, noted that energy efficiency, while all well and good, doesn't alone influence a country's absolute emissions. And on that score, China is steadily rising. It is the world's largest emitter, at 6.8 billion tonnes annually, and a recent report from a Chinese think tank estimated that the country will likely reach 8.8 tonnes by 2035."

First basic idea of journalism: before you criticize someone's quote, quote them fully.

Now, read the entire quote. Does it make sense?

If you read the entire quote, it does make perfect sense. The goal is for China to reduce emissions. China has embarked on energy efficiency programs. Despite this, its overall emissions continue to rise. Energy efficiency is an important part of trying to achieve emissions reductions, however, if after these programs are implemented the emission levels continue to rise, the overall goal of reducing emissions is not achieved.

That's why climate change mitigation strategies must take a multi-pronged approach. There is no silver bullet. Dealing with climate change will require a cap-and-trade program, a greater emphasis on energy efficieny programs, a switch to cleaner fuels, an increase in renewable energy capacity and a focus on a reducing overall energy consumption.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-11-Ohio

No, unfortunately that does not help. The problem is the word "influence".

Julian said...

Roger and faithful readers of Roger's blog,

I am flattered that my comment tucked way at the back of a relatively quote-heavy article on ClimateWire would be singled out.

First, I want to make it clear that I am a big believer in energy efficiency. I am the last person to “pan energy efficiency,” as you suggest, Roger. Please read this piece I recently coauthored:
http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/08/systems_thinking.html

And I also provided research support for the paper CAP released with the UN Foundation in which energy efficiency is a core element in getting the emissions cuts we need.
http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/10/pdf/UNclimateissues.pdf

Second, Roger, I think you might have taken my point out of context by omitting the text that immediately follows from what you quoted above. Here it is in entirety:

“But Julian Wong, a senior energy policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, noted that energy efficiency, while all well and good, doesn't alone influence a country's absolute emissions. And on that score, China is steadily rising. It is the world's largest emitter, at 6.8 billion tonnes annually, and a recent report from a Chinese think tank estimated that the country will likely reach 8.8 tonnes by 2035.”

My point is exactly as a commenter above (Whitney Bulger) analyses it—energy efficiency by itself will not be enough to cut emissions if overall energy use grows (and fossil fuels are not replaced with clean energy as part of its overall energy mix). So, contrary to the suggestion by another commenter that I am “wrong about the science,” my point is precisely to provide a technical distinction between reducing energy efficiency (or in the case of China, I am specifically referring to its energy intensity reduction goals) and absolute emissions cuts.

China’s goal is to reduce energy intensity (energy consumption per unit of GDP) by 20% of 2005 levels by 2010. According to its own reports, China has made steady progress in achieving that (it is now at -13.4% of 2005 levels), but because GDP has continued to grow by 8 to 10% over the last few years, absolute emissions have increased.

Third, the main implication of my point is that while China has done a lot, it will need to do more going forward. China’s efforts on the clean energy front over the past 2 to 3 years have truly been remarkable and I have written about it extensively (See, e.g. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/06/china_energy_numbers.html, and http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/08/peaking_duck.html ). But we all know that at some point, it has to commit this pathway of reducing the growth of emissions (through energy intensity reduction targets and, soon, carbon intensity reduction targets) those emissions and bring those emissions down at an absolute level. I’ve also made this ask clear in my most recent piece:
http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/09/prc_anniversary.html

Finally, I will admit that the way the author of the article paraphrased me is a little odd, and Roger, to your last point, perhaps it would be clearer if she had used “reduce” instead of “influence”. But even then, it is absolutely correct to say that energy efficiency is not the only factor that affects absolute emissions. But it does seem like you are mischaracterizing my position in a way that the author doesn’t even come close to doing.

I hope this helps clarify things.

Julian L. Wong

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Julian-

Thanks for dropping by, I'm glad that we agree at least on the "reduce" vs. "influence" point.

Also, on the progress that China has made toward its efficiency target, I'd recommend that you not take claims at face value, see:

http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2009/09/is-chinas-energy-intensity-story-myth.html

Finally, if we agree that energy efficiency is not enough to reduce absolute emissions (using your phrase to refer to actual emissions, not a reference scenario)), do you really think that energy efficiency plus decarbonized supply will be enough to reduce China's absolute emissions?

Julian said...

Roger, I do not take China's claims at face value. I was careful to say "According to its own reports" and also have previously had a guest post on my blog precisely on this issue:

http://greenleapforward.com/2009/08/11/deconstructing-chinas-energy-intensity-a-lesson-in-fuzzy-math/

On your final point, I'm not sure exactly what you are getting at. I guess I would say that we need to look at managing both energy supply as well as demand. So we (China or anybody else) need to produce energy from cleaner sources in a more efficient way, we need to transport/transmit this energy efficiently, and we need to use energy smartly by reducing uncessary waste.

markbahner said...

"...doesn't alone influence a country's absolute emissions."

As "Ohio" notes, it could quite reasonably be interpreted as saying that energy efficiency alone does not result in lower absolute emissions.

In other words, "energy efficiency is not the only influence on a country's absolute emissions."

Let's move on, folks. No controversy here. :-)

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-15-Julian

Thanks for the pointer to your guest post, interestingly it says,

"Given these figures, which are calculated using NBS data, the energy intensity drop for the three year period 2006-2008 is only 7.7%, not the 10% commonly reported. It looks like they still have a long way to go to reach their goal."

Rather than include only on your blog, I'd encourage you to include such context when making remarks such as:

"According to its own reports, China has made steady progress in achieving that (it is now at -13.4% of 2005 levels), but because GDP has continued to grow by 8 to 10% over the last few years, absolute emissions have increased.

Third, the main implication of my point is that while China has done a lot, it will need to do more going forward."

Geckko said...

Don't forget the third lever that is being promoted by many with influence: reduced energy demand (the recession "solution")

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