A Better Way Forward on Climate Change

 

PethWarmingThe EPA’s new carbon emission rule, which environmental activists are praising as historic and momentous, is built on three big assumptions: First, global warming is happening, and human activity is playing a key role. That even though Earth’s surface air temperature has unexpectedly been flat for 15 years while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to rise. (As I have written, however, the data seem compelling enough to warrant action.)

Second, a cap-and-trade system is an effective way of reducing carbon emissions. While the Obama Administration plan doesn’t specify what action individual states must take to meet their carbon emissions targets, the new rule seems likely to nudge them into creating or joining cap-and-trade programs. But as the Breakthrough Institute has pointed out, “Cap and trade has repeatedly failed because it doesn’t address the main barrier to the widespread deployment of clean energy technologies: the technology-based price gap between new clean energy and mature fossil fuels.”

A recent New York Times piece on cap-and-trade outlines the troubled history of Europe’s Emission Trading System and notes that despite reform, emission permits are trading at just a fourth of the price level “many analysts believe is needed to spur investment in cleaner energy sources.” California’s trading system works better, but prices are still only around a third of the necessary level.

Already, in fact, many environmentalists are calling for the EPA to toughen the proposed rule, which mandates US power plants cut emissions 30% by 2030 from levels seen in 2005. As David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council told Grist, “We’ll be pushing for 2020 reductions of at least 35 percent below 2005 levels, ramping up to more ambitious targets later in the decade.” And Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen’s energy program, “It’s a good first step, and only the proposed rule. We’ll submit comments pushing for a stronger standard.”

All of which leads to a third assumption: Americans will tolerate sharply higher energy prices to fight global warming, which is the whole point of cap-and-trade. The New York Times:

Poll questions, however, often struggle to convey the political arguments on both sides of the climate debate — which may mean that climate proposals fare less well in actual political debates than in polls. … In December, the Stanford/USA Today survey randomly assigned respondents to one of three different questions on the policy, all of which explained a cap-and-trade system. Support ranged from 48 percent to 70 percent. Yet none of the questions warned that consumer prices may rise — the main argument opponents make against cap-and-trade.

Not to mention that this push for higher energy prices comes in the wake of a sluggish post-recession recovery which may signalling a permanent downshift in US growth rates. Rather than President Obama’s back-door cap-and-trade plan, better an expanded public investment agenda into clean energy, including advanced nuclear technologies. One such bipartisan approach was sketched in a joint 2010 report from AEI, Brookings, and the Breakthrough Institute:

To accelerate energy innovation and modernization, we propose a role for government that is both limited and direct. It is limited because it is focused, not on reorganizing our entire highly complex energy economy, but rather on specific strategies to drive down the real cost of clean energy technologies. Instead of subsidizing existing technologies hoping that as they scale up, costs will decline, or providing tax credits to indirectly incentivize research at private firms, this framework is direct because  the federal government would directly drive innovation and adoption through basic research, development, and procurement in the same way it did with computers, pharmaceutical drugs, radios,  microchips, and many other technologies.

Or as that Breakthrough report argues:

History shows that such technological transformations do not occur through modest shifts in market price signals. We didn’t tax the telegraph to get telephones or put a cap on typewriters to see the birth of the personal computer, as Breakthrough’s Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus often note.

Instead, time-and-time again, the most reliably successful driver of new innovation and transformative technology changes has been an active partnership between private-sector entrepreneurs and innovators and a public sector acting as both an initial funder and demanding customer of new, cutting-edge technologies.

Government has a role to play here, just not the one demanded by the Obama administration and its green activist supporters.

There are 11 comments.

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  1. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    I’m skeptical about a tsunami wiping out my house (I live in Illinois) but taking your logic to its natural conclusion I better take action just in case by sinking my IRA into tsunami-protection insurance.

    I’m finding it almost impossible to track back to any hard science that supports anthropogenic global warming, CO2-based or otherwise. Just terabytes of appeals to authority and psuedo scientific bumf shoveled into the MSM echo chamber and repeated ad nauseum. If there were really a crisis, people like Barack Obama, Al Gore, Tom Friedman, Jerry Brown, and all would ramp back their lifestyles before forcing lifestyle austerity down on us proles.

    Who benefits? Who gets all the green gravy for alternative energy, windmill farms and so forth? If these were technologies that could really pay their own way, they’d be taking off by now.

    • #1
  2. user_82762 Thatcher
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Jim,

    This is madness.  There is no appeasement with Green Lunacy.  There is no man made global warming threat.  To continue on a policy of total stupidity is criminal at this point.  There is no break out for these so called green technologies.  They have been given massive amounts of research dollar, development dollar, government regulatory favoritism, and finally the artificial inflation of competitive energy source pricing.

    They failed because they are failures.  There is no conspiracy to hold these technologies back.  In fact there is a conspiracy to drive these energy sources forward.  They still can’t make it. Growth in the first quarter was -1%.  Jim get it, either we stop this nonsense or the ship sinks with us in it.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #2
  3. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    AGW is the perfect socialist scare. The time horizon for disaster is so far away that no living person can possibly be held to account for the hysteric predictions of death and devastation… as if leftists ever say “I’m sorry.”

    CO2 is NOT a pollutant (even FOXNews fails to reject the premise). It’s plant food. There is no green (anything) without CO2.

    That surface temperature hasn’t increased with increasing human CO2 production is devastating to the alarmists’ case. Devastating. The failure of AGW computer models is complete, and reveals the shoddiness of the underlying “science.” 

    “Warming,” if it occurs, is good for people. Civilization tends to flourish in warming periods. “Change” is the very ground of existence. Things come into existence and pass out of existence.
    “Chaos” is what will happen to societies (particularly affecting the poor) with these inane and insane policy prescriptions for “controlling” something as complex as climate.

    I will continue to reject the Big Lie that is AGW hysteria. And you should too, James.

    • #3
  4. TeeJaw Inactive
    TeeJaw
    @TeeJaw

    What if it’s not true that CO2 (40 ppm of the atmosphere) is a significant regulator of climate?  What if water vapor (zero ppm to 40,000 ppm) is the main regulator of climate?  Humans have no control over water vapor.  What if these new regulations are dealing a death blow to the economy over a non-existent threat?

    I hope Mr. Pethokoukis is better at economics than he is at understanding the political motivations of climate change alarmists.

    • #4
  5. Chris Member
    Chris
    @Chris

    To accelerate energy innovation and modernization, we propose a role for government that is both limited and direct. It is limited because it is focused, not on reorganizing our entire highly complex energy economy, but rather on specific strategies to drive down the real cost of clean energy technologies. Instead of subsidizing existing technologies hoping that as they scale up, costs will decline, or providing tax credits to indirectly incentivize research at private firms, this framework is direct because the federal government would directly drive innovation and adoption through basic research, development, and procurement in the same way it did with computers, pharmaceutical drugs, radios, microchips, and many other technologies.

    Or as that Breakthrough report argues:

    History shows that such technological transformations do not occur through modest shifts in market price signals. We didn’t tax the telegraph to get telephones or put a cap on typewriters to see the birth of the personal computer, as Breakthrough’s Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus often note.

    Instead, time-and-time again, the most reliably successful driver of new innovation and transformative technology changes has been an active partnership between private-sector entrepreneurs and innovators and a public sector acting as both an initial funder and demanding customer of new, cutting-edge technologies.

    Government has a role to play here, just not the one demanded by the Obama administration and its green activist supporters.

    Maybe it’s a little early for me, but I never realized that the government was so intimately involved with:

    The Wright Brothers
    Henry Ford’s assembly line
    The great leap forward in quality of autos (for the masses) by Japanese competition
    Apple Computer for the Mac
    Blackberry and Apple for the Smart Phone
    All the uses of the internet rather than scientist email
    Deep sea drilling technologies in general
    George Mitchell’s development of the Fracking process and the swing to LNG

    Fracking, which all the left hates,  is the only reason we haven’t had a very large increase in our energy costs so far.  The brain trust, however is soon to raise them anyway.  I am keen to see the spin which turns our ever increasing energy prices into “the thing we always wanted!”.

    As Dave Carter said after the 2012 election to all the Obama voters, Good Luck.  You’re going to get what you voted for soon enough!

    • #5
  6. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    TeeJaw:

    What if water vapor (zero ppm to 40,000 ppm) is the main regulator of climate? Humans have no control over water vapor. What if these new regulations are dealing a death blow to the economy over a non-existent threat?

    I hope Mr. Pethokoukis is better at economics than he is at understanding the political motivations of climate change alarmists.

     What if “the effectiveness of CO2 as a greenhouse gas diminishes logarithmically with increasing concentration and from the current level of ~390 ppmv, (parts per million by volume).”? And, “[a]ccordingly only ~5% of the effectiveness of CO2 as a greenhouse gas remains beyond the current level.”?

    And what if the IPCC agrees, but buried that inconvenient undisputed fact in its report?

    What if regulating CO2 did absolutely nothing to reach politicians’ ostensible goal of limiting warming to ~+2.0 C?

    It’s crap science, and any decent scientist would be embarrassed and ashamed to have anything to do with the hysteria.

    • #6
  7. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    The facts from a human perspective since we are talking AGW.

    World population in 1860 – 1B, urban percentage in 1910 – 20%

    World population today – 6B, urban percentage 2008 – >50%

    Energy consumption per capita in KG of Coal equivalents. circa 1860 – 100Kg (Total consumption therefore 100B Kg)

    Energy consumption per capita in Kg of Coal equivalents circa 2000, 2000 Kg (Total Consumption 12T Kg or a 120X increase in energy usage since 1860).

    As mentioned before the total warming effect since 1860 is 1.9C of which .4C is said to be attributable to human activity.

    2 things immediately spring to mind –

    First is that since a 120X increase in human energy consumption only leads to .4C increase in temperature, one can reasonably conclude that the Global Climate is remarkably insensitive to human activity. (Meaning, we have virtually no effect on climate.)

    Second – were one to be given the power to regulate human energy consumption to erase the .4C change it would require changing the standard of living from that experienced in Iceland (consuming 16882.5 KG of oil equivalent – the most on the planet) to Eritrea (at 141KG of oil equivalent – the least on the planet) (wikipedia)

    • #7
  8. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Half measures won’t do it Jimbo… Since the rest of the world is unwilling to curb their carbon emissions it makes zero sense for us to further hobble our economy by more-then-doubling the price of energy.

    Not that it matters anyway, the global climate is remarkably insensitive to human activity as measured by energy consumption.

    • #8
  9. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

    I reject the premise of your piece, Mr Pethokoukis. Climate alarmism is based entirely on computer model predictions, the reliability of which is dubious. As you noted, temperatures have been flat for 15 years. The models failed to predict this. The scientific case for action to combat climate change is weak. To make the economic case, you’d have to show that the risks are enough to justify the costs. This is a difficult task as the risk is hard to quantify, while the costs are substantial. 

    You have seduced by the Precautionary Principle. Had we been guided by this principle in the past, we would have no cars, no airplanes, no blight-resistant crops. Yours would be a smaller and more miserable world. Energy is at the root of all human material needs. To interfere with energy is to strike at the very basis of life itself.

    It’s easy for us in the developed world to muse about climate change. In the Third World, access to energy is a matter of life and death. How many must be sacrificed at this Green altar?

    • #9
  10. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

    One more thing: the US has met the Kyoto targets for CO2 without imposing cap & trade or any other scheme:

    New EIA data shows USA inadvertently meets 1997 Kyoto protocol CO2 emission reductions without ever signing on thanks to a stagnant economy. Lowest level of CO2 emissions since 1994.

    See also this:
    allan-shale-article-1

    How was this miracle achieved? Recession is part of the answer, but fracking is key. According to the WSJ,

    U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions have fallen dramatically in recent years, in large part because the country is making more electricity with natural gas instead of coal.

    Have more faith in markets than in government.

    • #10
  11. user_278007 Inactive
    user_278007
    @RichardFulmer

    Mr Pethokoukis touches on the cost of cap-and-trade but doesn’t mention benefits.  Suppose that we meet the goals.  What are the benefits?  An immeasurable reduction in model-projected temperature a century from now?

    • #11

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