Annals of Global Warming: Planetary energy budget, for beginners, and climate engineering — from GAO

December 28, 2011

From the General Accountability Office, an arm of Congress, a report to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Aug 25, 2011
01:16

Global Average Energy Budget of the Earth’s Atmosphere

In eight steps, this animation depicts the path of sunlight that enters the planet’s atmosphere, illustrating how that radiation is reflected, absorbed, and emitted as heat energy.

In less than 90 seconds, an animated, graphic description of how and why global warming occurs.  You didn’t get it in 90 seconds?  Watch it again.  This video was made to accompany a GAO report on climate engineering. (Emphasis added, in red.)

Climate Engineering: Technical Status, Future Directions, and Potential Responses

GAO-11-71, Aug 25, 2011

[135-page report, in .pdf, here]

Summary:  Reports of rising global temperatures have raised questions about responses to climate change, including efforts to (1) reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, (2) adapt to climate change, and (3) design and develop climate engineering technologies for deliberate, large-scale intervention in Earth’s climate. Reporting earlier that the nation lacks a coordinated climate-change strategy that includes climate engineering, GAO now assesses climate engineering technologies, focusing on their technical status, future directions for research on them, and potential responses. To perform this technology assessment, GAO reviewed the peer-reviewed scientific literature and government reports, consulted experts with a wide variety of backgrounds and viewpoints, and surveyed 1,006 adults across the United States. Experts convened with the assistance of the National Academy of Sciences advised GAO, and several reviewed a draft of this report. GAO incorporated their technical and other comments in the final report as appropriate.

Climate engineering technologies do not now offer a viable response to global climate change. Experts advocating research to develop and evaluate the technologies believe that research on these technologies is urgently needed or would provide an insurance policy against worst case climate scenarios–but caution that the misuse of research could bring new risks. Government reports and the literature suggest that research progress will require not only technology studies but also efforts to improve climate models and data. The technologies being proposed have been categorized as carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar radiation management (SRM). CDR would reduce the atmospheric concentration of CO2, allowing more heat to escape and thus cooling the Earth. For example, proposed CDR technologies include enhancing the uptake of CO2 in oceans and forests and capturing CO2 from air chemically for storage underground. SRM technologies would place reflective material in space or in Earth’s atmosphere to scatter or reflect sunlight (for example, by injecting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to scatter incoming solar radiation or brightening clouds) or would increase the planet’s reflectivity (for example, by painting roofs and pavements in light colors). GAO found these technologies currently immature, many with potentially negative consequences. Some studies say, for example, that stratospheric aerosols might greatly reduce summer precipitation in places such as India and northern China. Many experts advocated research because of its potential benefits but also recognized its risks. For example, a country might unilaterally deploy a technology with a transboundary effect. Research advocates emphasized the need for risk management, envisioning a federal research effort that would (1) focus internationally on transparency and cooperation, given transboundary effects; (2) enable the public and national leaders to consider issues before they become crises; and (3) anticipate opportunities and risks. A small number of those we consulted opposed research; they anticipated major technology risks or limited future climate change. Based on GAO’s survey, a majority of U.S. adults are not familiar with climate engineering. When given information on the technologies, they tend to be open to research but concerned about safety.

Transcript of the video, describing each slide, below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »


Hard truths about the debt ceiling and uncertainty in the Treasury market

July 16, 2011

Two organizations provide information to Congress in an unbiased manner, with great care for accuracy and completeness of information:  The Congressional Research Service (CRS), an arm of the Library of Congress, and the General Accountability Office (GAO), formerly the General Accounting Office.  Both agencies share the unique status of being organs of the Congress, and not the executive branch.

Consequently, we and Congress should give particular consideration to a report issued by GAO on February 22, 2011:

Debt Limit: Delays Create Debt Management Challenges and Increase Uncertainty in the Treasury Market

GAO-11-203 February 22, 2011
Highlights Page (PDF)   Full Report (PDF, 52 pages)   Accessible Text   Recommendations (HTML)

Summary

GAO has prepared this report to assist Congress in identifying and addressing debt management challenges. Since 1995, the statutory debt limit has been increased 12 times to its current level of $14.294 trillion. The Department of the Treasury (Treasury) recently notified Congress that the current debt limit could be reached as early as April 5, 2011, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that under current law debt subject to the limit will exceed $25 trillion in 2021. This report (1) describes the actions that Treasury traditionally takes to manage debt near the limit, (2) analyzes the effects that approaching the debt limit has had on the market for Treasury securities, and (3) describes alternative mechanisms that would permit consideration of the link between policy decisions and the effect on debt when or before decisions are made. GAO analyzed Treasury and market data; interviewed Treasury officials, budget and legislative experts, and market participants; and reviewed practices in selected countries.

The debt limit does not control or limit the ability of the federal government to run deficits or incur obligations. Rather, it is a limit on the ability to pay obligations already incurred. While debates surrounding the debt limit may raise awareness about the federal government’s current debt trajectory and may also provide Congress with an opportunity to debate the fiscal policy decisions driving that trajectory, the ability to have an immediate effect on debt levels is limited. This is because the debt reflects previously enacted tax and spending policies. Delays in raising the debt limit create debt and cash management challenges for the Treasury, and these challenges have been exacerbated in recent years by a large growth in debt. In the past, Treasury has often used extraordinary actions, such as suspending investments or temporarily disinvesting securities held in federal employee retirement funds, to remain under the statutory limit. However, the extraordinary actions available to the Treasury have not kept pace with the growth in borrowing needs. For example, unlike the past, the amount potentially provided by the extraordinary actions for 1 month in fiscal year 2010 was less than the monthly increase in debt subject to the limit for most months of the year. As a result, once debt reaches the limit, Congress will likely have less time than in prior years to debate raising the debt limit before there are disruptions to government programs and services. This trend is likely to continue given the long-term fiscal outlook. Failure to raise the debt limit in a timely manner could have serious negative consequences for the Treasury market and increase borrowing costs. Also, some of the actions that Treasury has taken to manage the amount of debt near the limit add uncertainty to the Treasury market. In the past, Treasury has postponed auctions and dramatically reduced the amount of bills outstanding, which compromised the regularity of auctions and the certainty of supply on which Treasury relies to achieve the lowest borrowing cost over time. GAO’s analysis suggests that borrowing costs modestly increased during debt limit debates in 2002, 2003, and most recently in 2010. In addition, managing debt near the debt limit diverts Treasury’s limited resources away from other cash and debt management issues at a time when Treasury already faces challenges in lengthening the average maturity of its debt portfolio. Observers and participants suggested improving the link between the spending and revenue decisions that drive debt and changes in the debt limit. Better alignment could be possible if decisions about the debt level occur in conjunction with spending and revenue decisions as opposed to the after-the-fact approach now used. This practice, which is similar to practices used in some other countries, might facilitate efforts to change the fiscal path by highlighting the implications of tax and spending decisions on changes in debt. To avoid potential disruptions to Treasury markets and help inform fiscal policy decisions in a timely way, Congress should consider ways to better link decisions about the debt limit with decisions about spending and revenue. Treasury provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which GAO incorporated as appropriate.

Recommendations

Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from “In process” to “Open,” “Closed – implemented,” or “Closed – not implemented” based on our follow up work.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Matters for Congressional Consideration

Recommendation: The projections of a growing debt burden have raised concerns both in Congress and in the public. Well-designed budget processes and metrics can help as Congress and the President seek to address the federal government’s long-term fiscal challenge. The current design of the debt limit does not engender or facilitate debate over specific tax or spending proposals and their effect on debt. In addition, the uncertainty it creates can lead to disruptions in the Treasury market and in turn to higher borrowing costs. To avoid these potential disruptions to the Treasury market and to help inform the fiscal policy debate in a timely way, Congress may wish to consider ways to better link decisions about the debt limit with decisions about spending and revenue. Such a process would build on the approach used in 2008 and 2009 when Congress passed and the President signed three laws that were expected to increase borrowing with a corresponding increase in the debt limit. This report presents a number of approaches that could serve as a basis for better linking decisions about spending and revenue with decisions about the debt limit.

Status: In process

Comments: When we determine what steps the Congress has taken, we will provide updated information.

Use the links near the top of the report to get to the full report.

Pay particular attention to this, repeated from above:

The debt limit does not control or limit the ability of the federal government to run deficits or incur obligations. Rather, it is a limit on the ability to pay obligations already incurred. While debates surrounding the debt limit may raise awareness about the federal government’s current debt trajectory and may also provide Congress with an opportunity to debate the fiscal policy decisions driving that trajectory, the ability to have an immediate effect on debt levels is limited. This is because the debt reflects previously enacted tax and spending policies. Delays in raising the debt limit create debt and cash management challenges for the Treasury, and these challenges have been exacerbated in recent years by a large growth in debt.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Michael A. Ryder.

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Wall of shame:  Bloggers and others who do not have a clue


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