Alton coal strip mine outside of Bryce Canyon National Park
Climate scientists have found the Obama administration’s assessment of climate change for a proposed coal strip mine to be severely flawed. In email interviews with ThinkProgress Green organized by the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, two top climate scientists criticized the draft environmental impact statement prepared by the Bureau of Land Management for the proposed expansion of the Alton coal strip mine
near Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.
The BLM did not analyze the effects of mining and burning this coal on global climate change because, it claimed, “existing climate prediction models are not at a scale sufficient to estimate potential impacts of climate change within the analysis area.”
Dr. Werner Aeschbach-Hertig, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Heidelberg’s Institute of Environmental Physics, says the BLM reasoning “makes scientifically no sense.”
Dr. Michael Raupach, a top Australian climate researcher who has done influential research on carbon emissions, agreed that “the problem is irrelevant, because single-source impacts are globally shared.” The BLM’s reasoning “leads directly to a tragedy-of-the-commons,” Raupach explained, “in which nobody takes any action and climate change is locked in.
Research examining the social cost of climate change offers guidance on impacts of incremental greenhouse pollution, the scientists said. In the Stern review, the social cost of carbon (SCC) is estimated to lie between $25 and $30 per ton of CO2. More recent valuations estimate the cost between $28 and $893 per ton, rising each decade.
Even with an extremely conservative SCC of $25 per ton, the impact of mining the project’s 100 million metric tons of recoverable coal would be on the order of $7 billion. A proper analysis would take into account that the cost of carbon rises over time, so coal mined in 2040 has higher damages than coal mined now.
The BLM’s statement also contained a skeptical assessment of the impact of burning fossil fuels on the global climate, using qualifiers like “possible”, “potential”, and “may” to question the strength of the scientific conclusion that greenhouse pollution is causing dangerous changes. Dr. Raupach sharply criticized the BLM assessment, saying the language is “far from an accurate reflection of the state of climate science”:
The qualifiers (“possible”, “potential”, “may”) completely understate the confidence of the scientific community in the broad conclusions of climate science and the consequent imperative for action to reduce emissions. The conclusions of the IPCC (2007) Fourth Assessment were essentially that warming is unequivocal and attribution to human influence can be made with very high confidence. Numerous national scientific academies and peak bodies have released their own assessments over the last few years, reinforcing this position. Hence the qualifiers in the question are far from an accurate reflection of the state of climate science.
Dr. Aeschbach-Hertig specifically showed how the BLM statement systematically lowballed the scientific understanding of climate change, as represented by the IPCC in 2007 : Read more